Avenger down der periscope

Paintings of Naval Aviation during World War II: Abbott Collection. #98: “The Kill” Artwork by Robert Benney.

“In this dramatic presentation of sea-sky battle, a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber, bomb bay doors open, leaves death in its wake as it zooms away from a conclusive attack on a surfaced enemy submarine. All the vivid action in this scene has been repeated many times in actual combat by U.S. Naval airmen. Naval planes from escort aircraft carriers wreaked havoc on submarine wolf packs attacking Atlantic convoys, and they virtually blasted them from the ocean for many months. Bombers were fitted with depth charges, one of which is pictured exploding off the U-boat’s beam here. In the attack, the plane’s rear ‘stinger’ gun splits death at the gun crews attempting to ward off these lethal hawks from the sky.” National Museum of the U.S. Navy Lot 3124-14

While the Grumman TBF Avenger was a war baby– the first production TBF-1 was completed on 3 January 1942– and saw its best use in the Pacific from Midway (where it saw its inaugural action) to Tokoyo Bay, chalking up a long list of layups in delivering torpedos against Japan’s surface ships and Marus of all types, it also did its work in the Atlantic.

Tapped to make up the sub-busting part of the composite air wings on escort carriers, Avengers would tally no less than 35 U-boat “kills” during the Battle for the Atlantic, running from U-569 (Oblt. Hans Johannsen)– scuttled on 22 May 1943 in the North Atlantic east of Newfoundland after being badly damaged by depth charges from two Avenger aircraft (VC-9 USN/T-6 & T-7) of the escort carrier USS Bogue— to U-711 (Kptlt. Hans-Günther Lange), sunk on 4 May 1945 at Kilbotn, near Harstad, Norway by bombs from Avenger and Wildcat aircraft (846, 853 and 882 Sqn FAA) of the British escort carriers HMS Searcher, HMS Trumpeter, and HMS Queen.

The crew of German submarine U-664 prepares to go over the side of the ship during an attack by two Avenger aircraft from USS Card (CVE 11), August 9, 1943. Note, the laughing sawfish insignia on the conning tower of the 9th U-boat Flotilla. 80-G-43638

Attack on German U-boats, 1943. Aerial attack on U-378, Incident #4786, October 20, 1943. The U-boat was sunk by Fido homing torpedo and depth charges from Avenger and Wildcat aircraft from Composite Squadron Thirteen (VC-13) based on USS Core (CVE-13). 80-G-207651

Air Attacks on German U-boats, WWII. U-801 was sunk on March 17, 1944, by a Fido homing torpedo by two Avengers and one Wildcat aircraft (VC-6) from USS Block Island (CVE-21), along with depth charges and gunfire from USS Corry (DD-463) and USS Bronstein (DE-189). Note, Lieutenant Junior Grade Paul Sorenson strafed and Lieutenant Junior Grade Charles Woodell depth charged U-801. 80-G-222854

Arizona Marine Det flotsam

While at Gunsite earlier in the month, I spent some downtime wandering around (so I didn’t cramp up in the Arizona heat, to tell you the truth) and saw lots of plaques and trophies dotting the walls of the classrooms. As legendary Marine Col. Jeff Cooper originally founded the training facility as the American Pistol Institute (API) in 1976, wall decorations abounded. Besides the myriad of police and LE plaques and letters, there were tons of Army SF (mostly 10th Group) and, as expected with the pedigree, lots of “thank yous” from assorted Marine units.

One of these I thought you guys would find interesting:

Yup, the old school FBM Simon Lake-class submarine tender USS Canopus (AS-34), the first submarine tender in the United States Navy capable of refitting and maintaining a submarine with the UGM-73 Poseidon SLBM System– hence her Marine detachment.

Laid down in 1964 at Ingalls in Pascagoula, Canopus repeated the name of a WWII-era tender (AS-9) lost in the Philippines in 1942.

USS Canopus (AS-34) after its launch in Pascagoula, Mississippi on 12 February 1965. “The Polaris submarine tender Canopus (AS-34) made her slide into the Singing River following her launching at Ingalls Shipbuilding Division of Litton Industries, Pascagoula, Mississippi today and came one step closer to becoming an indispensable part in support of the US Navy’s Polaris Weapons System. Upon her scheduled delivery this September, Canopus, from an overseas base, will be capable of fully supporting nine nuclear-powered submarines on patrol, keeping them in a high state of combat readiness.” NHHC Catalog #: L45-42.08.08

USS Canopus (AS-34) Underway at sea, circa 1968. This photograph, taken by Airman T.J. Sharpe, was received by All Hands magazine on 8 July 1968. NH 107767

On active duty for 29 years, Canopus shuffled between Rota, Spain; Bremerton; Holy Loch, Scotland; Charleston, and Kings Bay, being a mothership to her incredibly powerful brood.

Decommissioned on 7 October 1994 (after Trident I was phased in and Poseidon was retired), she was disposed of in 2010.

As the plaque refers to API and not Gunsite, it dates to pre-1992, which tracks.

Remember those front sight presses when using 1911s, guys.

Budget Commander Line Grows Further

I’ve talked about the Commander-sized Tisas Tanker a few different times here previously and found it held up well in testing. Using a 4.25-inch hammer-forged chrome-lined barrel on a full-size frame that is crafted of forged steel, the 8+1 shot Tanker is an excellent value in the $400 range but comes with some basic sights and plastic grip panels.

The Tanker…not a bad little Commander-sized 45 at all

The new Tank Commander gives it a step up.

Standard features of the Tisas Tank Commander include a rowel style (circular) hammer spur rather than the standard spur, checkered Walnut “double diamond” style grips, wears improved serrated front and rear sights, has a rounded mainspring housing, and uses flush-fitting 7-shot magazines, shipping with two of the latter.

While the Tisas Tanker comes in plain black, the Tank Commander is offered in either a Cerakote matte gray that mimics old-school military parkerizing or what Tisas calls a “Marine” nickel finish.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022: The Final Figurehead

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022: The Final Figurehead

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N3908

Above we see the Cadmus-class steel-hulled 10-gun sloop HMS Espiegle, shortly after she was commissioned around 1902. Note her fine lines and almost yacht-like appearance. You would be mistaken to think she had been built with lessons learned from the Sino-Japanese War or Spanish-American War. Still, she would prove herself under fire in a most unusual place.

The Cadmus class was one of the last gasps of British colonial gunboats with the “first” two (Clio and Cadmus) laid down on 11 March 1902 at Sheerness Dockyard after the “latter” four (Espiegle, Fantome, Merlin, and Odin) already afloat. Designed by Sir William Henry White, the Royal Navy Director of Naval Construction, they were based on the preceding class of six White-designed Condor-class sloops (980t, 204 ft. oal, circa 1898) but with several minor improvements.

Some 210 feet long with a broad (33 foot, 1:6 ratio) beam and a mean draught of just over 11 feet, they could put in at just about any port worthy enough to be termed such a place. Carrying a 1,400 hp engineering suite of four Niclausse or Babcock boilers and two VTE engines along with three masts equipped with an auxiliary barque rig (although some reportedly never received sails), they could make just over 13 knots on steam alone and maintain a stately 10 knots for 4,000nm. To protect those spaces, they carried an inch to an inch and a half of armor plate extending over the machinery and boilers.

Not built for speed, they carried six manually-trained 4″/40 QF Mark III 25-pounder guns (two aft, two amidships, and two forward, protected by armored shields of 6mm steel) along with a quartet of 3-pounder 47mm/40cal Hotchkiss Mark I guns and three .303 Maxim water-cooled machine guns, they carried all the armament of a large destroyer or small unarmored cruiser sans torpedo tubes.

In short, they were flag wavers, meant for economic foreign service, and looked more 18/19th Century than 20th as their arrangement was very, um, vintage, including figureheads (the last class built with such ornaments), a scrolled trail board, sloping sterns, and clipper bows with a long bowsprit spar– they were only 185 feet at the waterline. Their steel hulls were sheathed in timber, which helped them in terms of corrosion between dry dock periods but did nothing for speed and marine growth.

HMS Espiegle c1902. Note her scrollwork and sloping stern. Her shielded 4″/40 is trained to port as is one of her “stinger” 3-pounders. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N11384

It was explained by Mr. Ernest George Pretyman, the Secretary of the Admiralty to Parliament in 1905:

“The Clio and Cadmus were both laid down on March 11th, 1902. The Clio was completed in January and the Cadmus in April of 1904. The first cost of these vessels is as follows: Clio, £80,796; Cadmus, £76,657. They were never designed for fighting purposes but for subsidiary work in peace or war, for which they are still available, and in which they are at the present moment engaged.”

They were the final “masted” sloops in the Royal Navy, a type of vessel the Admiralty would pause until 1915 when they recycled the classification for slow corvette/frigate-sized escorts.

The sloop Cadmus, exemplifying the class, was pictured at Devonport in 1904 just after she was completed. Note the scrollwork and figurehead, her sailing rig complete with stowed canvas on the foremast, and the gun shields on her forward 4″/40s. Also note the searchlight between her forward guns, one of the few nods to the 20th Century. If you look at her waterline, you can see where the timber sheathing ends on her hull about three feet up from the waves.

Cadmus Class Sloop HMS Fantome pictured at Port Melbourne. Note the extensive small boats. The class was designed to carry a 23-foot steam cutter, two 27-foot whalers, a 25-foot cutter, and two 16-foot skiffs.

The name Espiegle, Webster tells us, “Is a corruption of Ulespiegle, the French name for Till Eulenspiegel a peasant prankster of German folklore,” which would seem odd for a British man-o-war, but the Royal Navy was incredibly open to borrowing from folklore not of their own for ship names.

The wandering 14th-century rouge, Eulenspiegel– whose name is a rough Low German corruption of “wipe-arse” — plays a prank (Illustration from the Johannes Grüninger edition of 1515 via the Gießen University Library, colored by TofuJoe)

With that, our sloop was at least the seventh HMS Espiegle to serve the Admiralty since 1793 with the first two, logically enough, being French ships captured during the Napoleonic Wars and recommissioned under their previous names.

HMS Espiegle c1900s, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N10133

With all six class members were constructed side-by-side at Sheerness Dockyard between late 1900 and early 1904, all completed within months of each other, with Espiegle being the first to reach the fleet, commissioned on 21 January 1902.

Once commissioned Espiegle was sent to the China Station.

HMS Espiegle. You can make out all of her starboard gun emplacements. IWM Q 43300

Dispatched to stand guard at Yingkou (Newchwang), she wintered on the Liao River 1903-04 protected in a mud fort/dry dock alongside the Russian gunboat Sivoutch (Sealion) and the American gunboat USS Helena (PG-9). The three vessels were landlocked there in the snow and ice when the Russo-Japanese War broke out in February 1904, making it kind of awkward as the British were allied to the Meiji Empire.

USS Helena (PG-9) in mud dock in Liao-Ho River, Yingkou, China with Russian gunboat Sivoutch and British sloop Espiegle 1903-1904. Courtesy of Captain E.B. Larimer, USN, 1931. NH 134

Officers of the USS Helena (PG-9) and HMS Espiegle alongside the Helena, 1903-1904. Courtesy of Captain E.B. Larimer, USN, 1931.NH 133

HMS Espiegle hid in her Chinese mud dock, winter 1903-04, with ensigns from every mast and on her stern. Note the forest of stovepipes sticking up through the canvas. In the distance looks to be the Russian Sivoutch, which was roughly the same size but mounted a single 9-inch gun. Photo via lossow. vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

HMS Espiegle’s officers and men alongside mud dock, winter 1903-04, note her White Ensign flying over the stern. She carried a 120-130 man complement, enabling them to land a platoon-sized force for service ashore, armed with rifles, bayonets, revolvers, and a couple of the ship’s Maxim guns if needed. Photo via Lossow. Vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

HMS Espiegle’s officers keeping warm in a gently comical photo clad in locally acquired sheepskins while in mud dock, winter 1903-04. The average nightly low temperature in Newchwang in January hovers around 0°C with snow and ice. Note the extensive canvassing of the sloop’s deck and smoking stovepipes. Photo via Lossow. Vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

Once the ice melted, Espiegle made passage to the British treaty port of Wei-hai-wei, passing the disputed enclave of Port Arthur at daylight on 13 April 1904, witnessing the battle between Japanese and Russian ships there.

HMS Espiegle c. 1905

War!

By 1914, with the class seen as useless or worse in the event of a modern conflict, two of the class, Merlin, and Fantome had been disarmed and seconded to the Royal Navy Survey Service Squadron, tasked with making Admiralty charts. They were joined by a Condor, a class that had similarly been sideline with one (Condor) lost and two others converted to submarine depot ships.

HMS Merlin and Fantome in the 1914 Jane’s, lumped in with HMS Mutine, a Condor Class sloop near-sister. Fantome was in Australian waters while Merlin was in Hong Kong.

This left four Cadmus class sloops still on active service, making up some 40 percent of the 10 sloops in the Royal Navy in 1914.

It should be noted at the time that Clio was laid up in Hong Kong in ordinary in August 1914. They had extensively been used in the years before the war for training, with Odin, for instance, tasked as drillship for South African Cape Naval Volunteer Corps in 1905-1910.

Espiegle— which had served as a cadet school ship back in England 1907-1910 at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth– at the time was assigned to the East Indies Station, shuffling from Colombo to Trincomalee and Mumbai (Bombay), where she was when Germany and England went to war. Her skipper from 1912 to 1916 was Capt. Wilfrid Nunn (passed out of Britannia in 1889) on his first command.

In early September, the Brits only had the wooden paddlewheel gunboat HMS Lawrence and Espiegle’s sister Odin based in the Persian Gulf with the latter was dispatched to keep an eye on the British Abadan Island oil refineries at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, ostensibly an Ottoman Lake of sorts due to the latter’s control of most of the Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia. And the Turks were making noises like they were going to shut down the strategic Shatt-al-Arab waterway to international traffic. 

As detailed in the 1921 Naval Staff Monographs Vol.15:

At the time, tensions were heating up between the Turks and London as the Brits had seized the nearly-complete battleships Sultan Osman and Reşadiye from the builder’s docks at Vickers and Armstrong, sparking a scandal that was capped when German RADM Wilhelm Souchon’s Mediterranean Squadron– the battlecruiser SMS Goeben and light cruiser Breslau— were allowed to be interned by (then “sold” to) the Turks in August 1914.

With rumors that the boogeyman cruiser SMS Emden was headed to the Persian Gulf to repeat what Goeben did by docking at Basra and joining the Ottoman fleet, Espiegle rushed to join sistership Odin off the Shatt-al-Arab by mid-September, in what would have been an interesting but hopeless battle had the German arrived to press the issue.

As detailed in the Monograph: 
 
In case the Emden should arrive, a line of extempore mines was prepared by the Espiegle to stop her from coming up the Shatt-al-’Arab ; the Espiegle was to join the Odin in the Shattal-’Arab, and the two ships were to wait for the Emden in such a position as to neutralize the extra range of the German cruiser’s guns and force her to engage at close range.

There, protecting Constantinople’s interest, was the shiny new French-built 170-foot unarmored coast guard boat  Marmaris, which, along with a modern 4-gun shore battery at Fort Fao (Al Faw) and a quartet of 60-foot Thornycroft-built motor patrol craft (armed with two 1-pr. Vickers-Maxim pom-poms—one forward and one aft), barred the Shatt-el-Arab entrance.

One of the assorted warships ordered abroad in the lead-up to the Great War– the Ottomans bought ships from France, Britain, and America– Marmaris was built by Schneider-Canet in 1907 and carried a quartet of 9-pounder (65mm) popguns along with a trainable 17.7-inch tube for Whitehead torpedoes.

The unique brigantine-rigged Marmaris in the 1914 Jane’s 570t (full load), length 52m, speed 11knots, 4x9pdr (3”), 2x1pdr(37mm), 1x450mm TT.

Royal Navy LCDR Geoffrey Spicer-Simson standing on the foredeck of the Thornycroft-built 40-foot mahogany-hulled launch HMS Mimi as she was undergoing initial sea trials in the Thames River in 1915. Mimi and her sister Toutou would be used against the Germans on Lake Tanganyika in 1916. The Turkish Thornycroft boats as encountered on the Tigris were longer but had the same general concept, mounting two 1-pounders rather than the 3-pounder and Maxim gun seen here. It was discovered that the frames of these 40-footers could not endure the 3-pounder’s recoil unless it was fired straight ahead.

On 7 October, the Ottomans delivered a formal letter to Capt. Nunn on Espiegle advising the British sloops were violating Turkish sovereignty and must leave the Shatt-el-Arab. Pointing out that the east bank of the river belonged to Persia, where the British had a commercial grant for the oil fields worked by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP), the two sides maintained an uneasy peace for the rest of the month until Halloween, when a cable arrived detailing Souchon’s 28 October raid by the “Ottoman” Navy on Russian ports in the Black Sea, an event that would pull Turkey into the Great War whether they wanted to or not. The Turks sank two hulks in the river and started laying mines.

Espiegle and Odin were soon reinforced in early November by a motley scratch force made up of the old Canopus-class battleship HMS Ocean, the armed yacht Lewis Pelly, the armed launch-tugs Garmsir, Sirdar-I-Naphti, Mashona, Shaitan, and Miner; and HMS Dalhousie (a paddle-wheel powered troopship of 1,960 tons in service of the Royal Indian Marine), which were, in turn, carrying most of the embarked Anglo-Indian 6th (Poona) Infantry Division, the latter grandly classified as “Indian Expeditionary Force D” under the old colonial campaigner Maj. Gen. Arthur Barrett. To this force, Cadmus-class sister Clio and the armed tug Comet would join before the end of the year.

With that, the war came to Mesopotamia.

Starting on 6 November, the British forced the issue with Odin bombarding Fort Fao, killing the Turkish “Bimbash” in a 40-minute naval gunfire display, and a group of Royal Marines subsequently drove the battalion-strong Turkish force upriver. Meanwhile, Espiegle opened her guns on the Turkish trenches opposite their positions across from the British-controlled Barain oil refineries on Abadan Island, similarly scattering the Turks. She also sank a Thornycraft motor launch which was later raised and put to use by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and then taken into service as the HMS Flycatcher.

Marmaris likewise withdrew upriver. British casualties for the Fao Landing were light.

November 1915 Fao landings via History of the Great War Naval Operations vol 1 by Corbett

By 23 November, the British, with Espiegle up front, captured Basra after a ten-day envelopment that left some 1,300 Turkish casualties versus about a third that for the Anglo-Indian force.

Basra, from the Shat-el-Arab, with HMS Espiegle in the foreground

The upriver campaign, with the British pressing everything from dhows and barges to old paddlewheels into use to carry troops and supplies, continued into early December when the expedition arrived at Kurnah/Al Qurnah, some 45 miles North of Basra at the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The five-day battle ended when Capt. Arthur Hayes-Sadler, commander of the battleship Ocean, accepted the surrender of the city by Colonel Subhi Bey, who then marched 1,000 of his men into captivity.

Moving into 1915, the Turks tried repeatedly to recapture Qurnah and Basra, as Odin, Espiegle and company formed the Euphrates Blockade Flotilla to block Ottoman traffic, destroying eight and capturing four local Turkish vessels. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Charles Townshend of Omdurman fame had arrived to take control of the land action, setting up his HQ on Espiegle. His opposite, Young Turk Maj. Gen. Süleyman Askerî Bey, was killed in a British ambush in April 1915.

Indian troops in the firing line, January 1915. The bulk of the British forces engaged against the Ottoman Turks in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) was from the Indian Army. Here a group from the 120th Rajputana Infantry train with a machine gun and rifles while their British officer, Captain W. Andrews, looks on. Andrews was later killed in action at the Battle of Shaiba on 12 April 1915. From an album of 121 photographs compiled by Captain C O R Mosse, 120th Rajputana Infantry. NAM Accession Number NAM. 1966-02-97-31

Known today as the Battle of Amara (or Second Qurna), the largest set-piece battle thus far of the Mesopotamian campaign took place from 31 May to 3 June with the British amphibious attack moving up-river against a Turkish force at Amara that, in the end, suffered 120 killed against Anglo-Indian casualties of just 24. The British riverine amphibious force included the sistership sloops Clio, Odin, and Espiegle (flagship), the armed tug Comet, armed launches Lawrence, Lewis Pelly, Miner, Shaitan, Sumana, and the stern wheelers Muzaffari/Mozaffir, and Shushan, with Espiegle’s Capt. Nunn in general command of the fleet.

In this, Marmaris stopped running and stood her ground, err, river, next to the armed transport Mosul.

As detailed by George Fletcher MacMunn and Cyril Bentham Falls in the official history “Military operations, Egypt and Palestine.”:

[P]receded by the mine-sweeping armed launches Shaitan and Sumana, the Espiegle and Clio now moved up and anchored off Norfolk Hill to join in the bombardment of One Tower hill, and the Odin, Lawrence, and Miner also moved up in support. These warships continued to be the main target for the Turkish guns and both the Espiegle and Odin were hit by shells, without, however, sustaining much damage or loss.

In a short action along the river, Espiegle, Odin, Clio, and Shaitan stopped the Mosul and damaged the Marmaris so badly she was left abandoned, officially scuttled by her withdrawing crew.

From the Monograph: 

Turkish gunboat Marmariss sunk in Tigris at Amara by HMS Espiegle

MacMunn and Falls go on to point out that, Lt. Gen. Sir John Eccles Nixon, the overall commander, “could not speak too highly of the part played by the officers and men of the Royal Navy under the command of Captain Nunn.”

Some 1,700 surrendered Turks, the transport Mosul, and the hulk of the battered Marmaris were in British hands at the end of the scrap.

Turkish gunboat and transport Mosul captured on the Tigris The Sphere,’ 9th October 1915

The offensive continued upriver and Nasiriyah fell on 25 July with the remaining Turkish troops retreating to Kut, where the Battle of Es Sinn on 28 September between Townsend’s troops and Nureddin Ibrahim Pasha’s 4th Turkish Infantry Division would leave Kut– and control over the lower Tigris and Euphrates rivers– to Townsend.

The Red Sea

With Townsend secure in Kut (which would later be the subject of the victorious Ottoman siege in 1916), and the river too shallow to continue their use, the sloops were withdrawn.

Espiegle and Odin would be tasked with a variety of operations in the Red Sea, in conjunction with Lawrence of Arabia’s local indigenous forces, throughout 1916 and 1917. 

1916: Bodyguard Of The Sheikh Of Mahommerah Onboard HMS Espiegle Desert fighters

Speaking to which, on 21 January 1917 the two sloops joined the old cruiser HMS Fox and lent their guns to the capture of Wehj, then the next month, following reports from Ismailia that mines had been laid in the anchorage, landed Marines and Tars to drive the Turks out from that enclave.

On 11 June 1917, Espiegle and Odin engaged in the operation to remove the Turkish post at Salif, overlooking Kameran in what is now Yemen.

As the Turks fell back and ceded control of Arabia to the Arabians, the British (with lots of help from Indian troops and in conjunction with Archibald “Old Archie” Murray’s Siani-Palestine campaign) were again on top of things in the Mesopotamian campaign, the war in that part of the world wound down.

Epilogue

According to The London Gazette (25th May 1923), the modest prize money from the salvage of the hulk of Marmaris and the intact Mosul along with 14 barges and river vessels was ruled shared between the crews of Espiegle, Odin, Clio, and Shaitan. Our sloop was also deemed eligible for shares in two unnamed Thornycraft gunboats credited on 9 and 19 November, both of which were raised.

Espiegle, who returned to Far East Station after the war, was at the time of the prize announcement already paid off at Bombay, with her officers and ship’s company transferred to the P&O Steamer SS Syria for return to England on 12 May 1923. Her stripped hulk was sold on 17 September 1923 for breaking.

Of her fellow Cadmus-class sloops, Odin (who had caught the German auxiliary raider Iltis near Aden in March 1917) was sold at Bombay on 12 November 1920 on the same day as Clio.

Cadmus— who had been on the China Station during the entirety of the war– was listed as “unallocated” in Hong Kong and sold there on 1 September 1921.

Merlin, on survey duty, was similarly disposed of in Hong Kong in 1923.

Fantome, the last member afloat, was rearmed with a mixture of guns taken from the old cruiser HMAS Psyche and used by the Australians as a gunboat during the war, then returned to the Royal Navy for use as a survey ship until 1925 when she was disposed of. Her hulk remained afloat as a coaling and limestone barge in Tasmania, still with her fine lines, as late as 1956.

1955: The once elegant RN and RAN Espiegle Class survey sloop HMS/HMAS Fantome ends her days as a limestone barge in Bell Bay on Tasmania’s Tamar River. Fantome was finally sold to Mr. John Challenger of Launceston in August 1956 and broken up in the Tamar River in the following year. Photo NHSA.

Espiegle’s famed 1912-1916 skipper, Capt. Wilfrid Nunn would go on to become commander of the Flotilla on the Tigris from December 1916 to March 1917 and end the war in command of the new light cruiser HMS Curlew. Invested with a C.M.G. and D.S.O. for his services during the war, in the 1920s he would command the battleship Ramillies and would be promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on the Retired List on 8 May 1930. While on the Retired List, he would assist with a variety of civilian efforts on the home front in WWII. VADM Nunn would pass in 1956, at age 82. He chronicled the campaign he knew first hand in “Tigris Gunboats: A Narrative Of The Royal Navy’s Co-operation With The Military Forces In Mesopotamia From The Beginning Of The War To The Capture Of Baghdad (1914-1917),” published in 1932.

During WWII, the British would recycle the names of many of these sloops for the large (110-ship) Algerine-class minesweepers. These included HMS Cadmus (J230), Fantome (J224), Odin (J460), and yes, Espiegle (J216).

HMS ESPIEGLE (FL 11768) Underway. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120961

Speaking of recycling, the masked figurehead for Espiegle, a wooden maiden whose eyes watched the siege of Port Arthur, sailed up the Tigris and Euphrates to battle the Turks and plied the ancient seas of the world, was saved and is preserved at the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard museum.

Specs:

HMS Espiegle 1899 plan National Maritime Museum, Greenwich NPB1618

Displacement tonnage 1,070.
Length: 210 feet (oal) 185 wl
Beam: 33 feet
Load draught, 11’ forward, 11’ 6 aft.
Machinery: Four Niclausse water tube boilers, two White of Cowes triple expansion vertical engines, 1,220 IHP natural draught, 1,400 IHP forced draught. Twin screws by JS White & Co.
Coal bunkers, 222 tons. Water, 20 tons.
Speed: 13.2 sustained.
Endurance: 4,000nm @ 10knots.
Instruments: Adie mercurial barometer and aneroid, Negretti & Zambra/Hicks wet and dry screened thermometers on the chart house roof, sea thermometer.
Complement: 120-130, Typical peacetime establishment (115): 8 Officers, 24 Seamen, 4 Boys, 12 Marines, 30 Engine Room, 17 non-executive ratings.
Armor: 25mm-38mm over machinery, 6mm on gun shields
Armament:
6 x 4″/40 25-pounder QF Mk III P1.
4 x 3 pdr 47mm/40 3-pounder QF Hotchkiss Mk I.
3 x .303 Maxims.


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80 Years Ago: Welcome to the Fleet, Big Al

Ordered on April Fool’s Day 1939 from Norfolk Navy Yard, at a time when Czeechlovakia had ceased to exist and Poland was looking to their borders, Battleship No. 60 would be the final super-dreadnought of the South Dakota class before the Navy would move on to the penultimate Iowa-class battlewagons. Some 1,233 days later, with the entire globe at war and the U.S. Navy with most of its capital ships either at the bottom of the Pacific or undergoing reconstruction at West Coast yards, the sixth USS Alabama (and second battleship with the name) was commissioned at Norfolk, 80 years ago today: 16 August 1942.

“Battle Wagon” – an etching of USS Alabama fitting out at the Norfolk navy yard in 1942. The crane ship USS Kearsarge (AB-1) is alongside. Etching by John Taylor Arms. NH 57758

USS Alabama (BB-60) Commissioning ceremonies Norfolk navy yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 16 August 1942. She is berthed at the uncompleted Pier 6, on 16 August 1942. In the foreground, note the open top of turret# 3 on Alabama. In the distance on the left, note the center swing span on Beltline Railroad Bridge, in the extreme distance, you can see the uprights of the now-gone Jordan Bridge. Note the small rail crane to the right of the bow, as dredging of the turning basin and construction of Dock# 8 & Berth 42/43 continued. NH 57760

USS Alabama (BB-60) Commissioning ceremonies Norfolk navy yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 16 August 1942. Piping the first watch on deck. NH 57762

However, Alabama would not immediately head to the Pacific where Nimitz was at the time sorely in need of ships– a decision had been made to keep the battleships out of the contest for Guadalcanal due to the immense quantity of fuel they needed and the shortage of oilers. Therefore, she would shakedown slowly on the East Coast and, when she finally got operational eight months later, it would be on loan to the British Home Fleet to help cover North Atlantic convoys in case Tirpitz or other German surface raiders broke out from Norway.

Finally, released by the British, Alabama departed Norfolk on 20 August 1943– a year and a week after she was commissioned– for the Pacific where she would spend the next two years earning nine battle stars for her World War II service.

USS Alabama (BB-60), August 9, 1943. An aerial port side view was taken at an altitude of 200’. From by a Naval Air Station, Weeksville, North Carolina aircraft. 80-G-80012

A lucky ship, Alabama suffered no casualties during the war and decommissioned on 9 January 1947.

After spending 15 years assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet, stationed in Bremerton, she was saved from the scrappers by a public drive from her “home” state and towed to Mobile, where she opened in 1965 as the centerpiece of the Battleship Memorial Park that is still going very strong today.

At this point, she has spent 14 years as a museum ship for every year she spent on active service!

Via All Hands, August 1964

I’ve toured Alabama dozens of times over the years, and she has always been beautiful, even at age 80.

(Photo: Chris Eger)

Importantly, the Park is amid a five-phase $8.5 million Teak Deck Replacement Project that is slated to be completed in 2024, and she has never looked better.

Starvation Island

Via the National Museum of the U.S. Marine Corps:

The decision by the Navy to remove all transports and cargo vessels around Guadalcanal on 9 August 1942 [following the slaughter of TG 62.6 in the Battle of Savo Island on D+3] left the Marines perilously short supplied. Marines subsisted on two meals a day to stretch out their meager stock. Guadalcanal would become known as “Starvation Island.”

In the months after the battle, Marine veterans created an unofficial medal, which poked fun at their Navy comrades. Known as the “George Medal”, it depicts an extended arm with admiral rank on its sleeve, dropping a literal “hot potato” to a scurrying cartoon Marine. The rear includes “remembrance of happy days” and the Two examples of these “awards” can be seen in the Museum’s current WWII Gallery.

The men purposefully chose the heraldry of the medal to reflect their dark humor. The outstretched hand, displaying the rank of a U.S. Navy admiral is depicted dropping a literal “hot potato” into the scrambling hands of a small Marine. The island itself is represented with a small cactus and sliver of land denoting the codename for the island of Guadalcanal. Under the scene, inscribed in Latin is the term Faciat Georgius, an approximate translation of “Let George Do It”.

The reverse of the medal was even more direct. Recalling the well-used expression “Sh-t had really hit the fan!”, the officers designed a cartoon showing the posterior of a cow pointed directly at an electric fan. Beneath it is the sarcastic script, “In fond remembrance of the happy days spent from Aug. 7th 1942 to Jan. 5th 1943. U.S.M.C.”

Certificate #2 awarded to MGEN William H. Rupertus

An initial purchase of 100 crude medals was from a small engraving shop off Little Collins Street, in Melbourne, Australia. A deliberately pretentious and humorous certificate was also printed by the Division’s lithographic branch to accompany each award. According to 1st Marine Division veteran Vernon Stimpel, the popularity of the medal soared and a second order was soon made for an additional 400 medals. These were to be presented with a large laundry bag pin, furthering the absurdity of the division’s award. Lore also has it that the manufacturing mold broke during this period. This made the determination of exactly how many original medals were produced in Australia forever unknown. In later years another mold was created and new versions were made and distributed more widely among all veterans of the 1st Marine Division. 

Comandos Marching on…

While generally forgotten in the West these days, the bad old European colonial powers stood fast in Africa in the 1960s and 70s against a tide of Marxist-Communist insurgencies during the chilliest part of the Cold War. One of the least chronicled is the fight that the Portuguese military put up against the Moscow-backed insurgents in Angola, Guinea, and Mozambique. Most of this war was fought by local troops augmented by small fire brigade-type Comando units led by men with the hearts of lions.

One of those was João de Almeida Bruno.

Bruno, during the 1970s. He earned the First Class War Cross and the Silver Medal of Military Valor, with palm, leading small units of Comando in the bush.

Born in 1935, Bruno graduated from Portugal’s historic (founded in 1640) officer academy in 1952 and saw his first posting to Africa as a cavalry captain in command of the Companhia de Cavalaria nº 108 in 1961.

Portuguese dragoon in Angola. Note the HK G3. The Portuguese used horse-mounted cavalry in COIN operations well into 1974

Passing the 5th Comando Course held by the Portuguese Army, he soon rose to command such special operations units and by 1972 was a major in command of the Batalhão de Comandos da Guiné.

In all, some 9,000 operators served in 67 Comando companies, attached to a variety of Caçadores (hunter) battalions, fought in Africa between 1962 and 1974, suffering no less than 1,156 casualties.

A gentleman, Bruno would avoid the stain suffered by some such officers fighting “dirty wars” on the Continent and go on to command the Portuguese military academy (Academia Militar) from 1989 to 1993 and head the country’s Supreme Military Court from 1994 to 1998 before retiring after 46 years of service.

He joined his last muster on Aug.10, 2022, at age 87. His body was in state at the Military Academy over the weekend.

“The President of the Republic evokes, with respect, admiration and friendship, General João de Almeida Bruno, presenting his condolences to the Family and the Portuguese Army, which served with independence, a sense of mission and integral devotion”, reads the statement of the Presidency of the Republic.

Today, after a decade in which they were disbanded, the reformed Regimento de Comandos is one of NATO’s premier Ranger-style organizations.

Their motto is Audaces Fortuna Juvat (Latin for “Luck Protects the Bold”) and their war cry is “Mama Sumae” a Bantu phrase they picked up in the 1960s in Angola that roughly translates to “here we are, ready for the sacrifice.”

‘The Boss’ Just Doing What She Does

I’ve talked about Staff Sgt. Amanda Elsenboss a few times in the past. A Woodbury, Connecticut native and marksman/instructor on the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit’s Service Rifle Team, she picked up the 2019 NRA National Long Range Championships at Camp Atterbury, Indiana with a win in the Mustin match and a shoot-off score of 100-9x. She also won the Leech Cup with a 200-15X and 100-6X shoot-off score as well as the Viale (with a 198-11x) and Critchfield Memorial Match (200-12x) then shot a 200-12X in the Kerr Match– going on to win the Overall Long Range Champion title with a 1,641 – 95x.

At the 56th Interservice Rifle Championships in 2017, she won the High Service Woman Title, the Interservice 1000-yard Individual Match (Open Division), and the Interservice Individual Long-Range Match. She was also an integral member of two match-winning teams during this 56th annual competition between the military services. Tabbed into the President’s Hundred, she joined the Army in 2010 and has been competing with the AMU since at least 2014 after a prep career where she made the Connecticut All-State Rifle Team out of Nonnewaug High School.

And this month, “The Boss” made history at age 33, becoming the first woman to win the President’s Match an event that’s been in existence since 1894, firing a very impressive 391-12X (ST-99-1, P-RF-99-4X, P-SF-99-4X, Final-94-3X).

More over at The Gun Bulletin.

1st USS Jacob Jones found

Laid down in Camden, New Jersey in August 1914, the day after the Kaiser’s troops crossed into Belgium, the Tucker-class tin can USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61) was the first U.S. Navy vessel named in honor of Commodore Jacob Nicholas Jones who, as skipper of the USS Wasp in 1812, was most notable for capturing the Royal Navy sloop of war HMS Frolic after an intense battle.

USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer # 61) underway in 1916, soon after she was completed. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 52123.

Sent to Europe after the U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917, the 1,225-ton four piper was steaming independently from Brest to Queenstown, Ireland on 6 December 1917 when she caught a torpedo in her starboard side three feet below the water line, rupturing her fuel oil tank located below the auxiliary and engine rooms. Shipping water, her stern depth charges went off and just eight minutes after the German fish struck, she went down some 25 miles southeast of Bishop Rock, Scilly Islands.

Kptlt. Hans Rose, commander of the U-51 class submarine SM U-53, had made a record (for the time) hit from over 3,000 yards. A gentleman of the old order, Kplt. Rose surfaced, took two seriously wounded blue jackets aboard, and radioed the approximate location and drift of the survivors to the American base in Queenstown, requesting rescuing ships give him an hour to leave the vicinity.

USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer # 61) Sinking off the Scilly Islands, England, on 6 December 1917, after she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-53. Photographed by Seaman William G. Ellis. Smithsonian Institution Photograph. Catalog #: Smithsonian 72-4509-A

Speaking of the survivors, DD-61‘s XO at the time was one LT Norman (Nicholas) Scott, a fighting salt who as a rear admiral would go on to lead his cruiser-destroyer force to victory at the Battle of Cape Esperance off Guadalcanal in October 1942 then perish under the lackluster command of the inexperienced RADM Daniel J. Callaghan the next month. Rose, at the time, was back in uniform complete with his Kaisarian-awarded Blue Max training officers for Donitz as a recalled Fregattenkapitän in 1. Unterseeboots-Ausbildungsabteilung.

Fast forward to yesterday and a group of divers in England have identified the bones of DD-61 in 400 feet of water 60 miles south of Newlyn, Cornwall.

USS Jacob Jones bell by Rick Ayrton

Ironically, the second USS Jacob Jones (DD-130) was also sunk by a German submarine albeit in WWII off New Jersey. It is possible that the good FKpt. Rose may have had a hand in training the young men who sent that tin can to the bottom.

Army Gets in the Game against Goering

While Pacific-based U.S. Army Air Forces fighter pilots, running P-39s and P-40s, had already taken a few bites out of the assorted Japanese air forces at Pearl Harbor, the CBI, and over Guadalcanal, it wasn’t until eight months after the U.S. entered the war against the Germans that the Army could claim its first “kill” against the Luftwaffe.

Eighty years ago, the USAAF achieved its first Army Air Forces aerial victory in the European theater on 14 August 1942.

Via U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa:

In August, the 27th Fighter Squadron began ferrying P-38 Lightnings to England as part of Operation BOLERO. While en route the squadron stopped in Iceland to refuel, rest, and prepare. During a mock dogfight between two 27 FS P-38s and a P-40 assigned to Iceland Base Command, an RAF Nomad tracked a German FW- 200 C-4 Condor, as the Luftwaffe aircrew flew around the perimeter of Iceland and near Reykjavik collecting information on weather and allied shipping.

P-40 pilot, 2d Lieutenant Joseph D.R. Shaffer, 33 FS assigned to Iceland, performing air defense of the island, first attacked the Condor, damaging one of the bomber’s engines. Soon after 2d Lieutenant Elza E. Shahan, 27 FS P-38 pilot, followed Lt Shaffer’s attack, hitting the bomb bay, causing the aircraft to explode and crash into the sea. For their actions that day, Lts Shaffer and Shahan earned the Silver Star and achieved the first active-duty shoot down of German aircraft in World War II.

Summer 1942: U.S. Army Air Forces Lockheed P-38F-1-LO Lightning fighters (identifiable are s/n: 41-7540, 41-7594, 41-7598) of the 1st Fighter Group during a refueling stop in Iceland on their way to England. 41-7540 was flown by Lt. Elza E. Shahan (27th Fighter Squadron) on 14 August 1942. He shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor over the Atlantic, together with 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Shaffer of the 33rd FS Squadron, 8th FG, (flying a Curtiss P-40C). This was the first USAAF victory over a German aircraft in World War II. (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 050524-F-1234P-002)

As noted by Lockheed:

Within six months, as the P-38 showed its versatility in North Africa, a lone hysterical German pilot surrendered to soldiers at an Allied camp near Tunisia, pointing up to the sky and repeating one phrase—“der Gableschwanz Teufel”—over and over. Once the phrase was translated, U.S. officials realized the focus of the pilot’s madness. The P-38 had been given a new nickname: the “fork-tailed devil.”

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