Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time 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, Jan 22, 2020: Oh, Mr. Volstead, what have you done?
Here we see, a U.S. Coast Guard Loening OL-5L seaplane flying majestically over a pair of new-built 75-foot “six-bitter” patrol boats, likely around 1927 off Glouchester, Mass. While the Coasties only operated three OL-5s, they went much bigger on the contract for the 75-footers.
The so-called “noble experiment” that was perhaps always doomed to fail, Congressman Andrew Volstead’s championed 18th Amendment, which survived President Woodrow Wilson’s veto to bring about an official prohibition on liquor from sea to shining sea, became the law of the land on 17 January 1920– 100 years ago this month.
However, all it did was spark a new war, the so-called Rum War, which pitted federal law enforcement against often international smugglers and criminal syndicates of all sizes. Increasingly, this forerunner of the War on Drugs became an actual military campaign.
That’s where the Coast Guard came in.
Charged with policing “Rum Row,” the line of booze-laden ships parked just off the international limit with all the best Canadian whiskey, Cuban rum and bottles of European hootch rushed to the thirsty market, the USCG was rapidly expanded to sever the link between this liquor line and coastal bootleggers in fast boats, fishing luggers and skiffs. Some 10 million quarts of liquor left Nassau alone in 1922, headed to points West.
To do this, the service was loaned a whole fleet of mothballed Navy destroyers (20), subchasers (21) and Eagle boats (5) leftover from the Great War as well as being granted a sweeping raft of new construction. Between 1924 and 1926, the USCG doubled in size from 5,900 to 10,000 uniformed personnel, a manning crisis that caused the Coast Guard Academy to switch to a two-year program to speed up the pipeline for new officers.
The largest group of new vessels, at least in terms of hulls and manpower to sail them, were the 203 “cabin cruiser-style” patrol boats that are the subject of our tale.
At 75-feet overall length, these humble craft became known in service as “six-biters.”
Equipped with two 6-cylinder gasoline engines, they could make 15.7 knots with their powerplant wide open and sortie out for about a week or so until their eight-man crew ran out of groceries or the 1,000-gallon fuel tank started sounding hollow.
Initially, they were to be armed with a single 3″/23 caliber gun, considered good enough to fire a warning shot across the bow of a bootlegger. However, to save weight, these patrol craft instead were equipped with a single-shot one-pounder 37mm gun of about 1898 vintage. Nevertheless, the go-to weapons for their crews were small arms.
To speed things up, these patrol boats were mass-produced in 1924 and 1925 by nearly 20 yards, both public and private, simultaneously with hull prices running between $18,000 and $26,000 per vessel. Their construction, of white oak frames and keel with fir and yellow pine planking and bulwarks, ensured their short lifespan but quick construction.
They were built to a design finalized by noted yacht maker John Trumpy. With simply too many cutters to name, they were numbered CG-100 through CG-302 and delivered on an average of four to five cutters per week.
The boats soon swarmed the coastline from Maine to the Florida Keys, along the Gulf Coast, and from Seattle down to San Diego while others served on the Great Lakes.
The renewed offensive on booze escalated as the development forced the slower bootleggers, in other words, the part-timers using trawlers and sailboats, dropped out of the business and left the heavy lifting to professional, and increasingly armed and squirrely smugglers.
In one incident, with the Liberty-engined fast craft Black Duck and the 75-foot cutter CG-290, the bootlegger zigged when they should have zagged while blasting away from the slow patrol boat and got a blast of Lewis gun in the boathouse, killing two rumrunners and wounding another two.
Another incident, between the six-bitter CG-249 and the motorboat V-13997 while en route to Bimini, left the cutter’s skipper, BM Sidney Sanderlin, killed in a one-way shootout and two other Coasties wounded. In a sign of the times, the master of V-139977 who pulled the trigger was captured and later hung at the Fort Lauderdale Coast Guard station.
These cutters of course also contributed to traditional USCG missions such as search and rescue and fisheries enforcement. In fact, once Prohibition was repealed in 1933, it became their primary tasking. This led to 52 of the vessels being quickly passed to the Army, Navy, and USC&GS for use as dispatch boats for coastal defense batteries, district patrol craft (YPs) and survey ships.
Others suffered losses while in service. CG-114 was lost at sea in 1925 only weeks after she was completed. The “Great Miami” hurricane in September 1926 wrecked CG-247 and CG-248. A similar cyclone in 1928 claimed CG-188. CG-111, CG-113, CG-256, and CG-243 were lost in fires, groundings or collisions. C-245 went down in unexpected heavy seas within view of El Morro Fortress in 1935. CG-102, which at the time was serving as YP-5 with the Navy, accidentally caught a practice torpedo in 1938 and sank.
Yet others were sold off for their value as scrap.
By 1941 when the Coast Guard was chopped to the Navy’s service, Only 36 were still on the USCG’s list, although six that had previously been sold to the public were re-acquired and put back to use.
As an update with the times and to acknowledge they were intended to fight U-boats and Japanese submarines, the lingering six-bitters picked up a 20mm/80 Oerlikon AAA gun or .50 caliber machine gun forward, and two depth charge racks aft. Likewise, most received QBE sonar listening sets and BK detection radars late in the war. They were used for inshore convoy escort, coastal anti-submarine patrol and port security duties.
During the war, CG-74327, one of the renumbered six-bitters who started life as CG-211, was sunk in a collision with the Tench-class submarine USS Thornback (SS-418) of Portsmouth in November 1944, claiming the life of BM2 Ireneus K. Augustynowicz. CG-152, as YP-1947, similarly sank in a collision while in Navy service in 1943. CG-267, stationed in Guam in 1941 as YP-16, was scuttled to prevent capture by the Japanese. Sistership CG-275, serving at Guam as YP-17, was scuttled but later salvaged and used by the Japanese.
By 1946, the smattering of six-bitters still in the Navy and USCG service was transferred to MARAD and sold off. Many of the 75-foot craft went on to endure for another couple decades as yachts, fishing vessels, houseboats, and research ships. I cannot find an example of one that was still afloat today.
Still, the legacy of the rowdy wooden six-bitters is today upheld by the Coast Guard’s 87-foot Marine Protector-class patrol boats.
Displacement: 37 tons designed, 42 tons (1945)
Length: 74.9 feet
Beam: 13.75 feet
Draft: 3.6 feet as designed, 5 feet (1945)
Machinery: Sterling 6cyl gas engines, 400 SHP, twin screws
Speed: 15.7 designed, although some made 17 when new.
Crew: 8 as designed, 13 in 1945
1 x 37mm 1-pounder as designed, small arms
1x 20mm/80cal and/or 12.7mm machine gun, 2 depth charge racks in WWII.
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At SHOT Show this week and found this bad boy, the Laugo Arms Alien.
The innovative-looking handgun, with a mug much like the Xenomorph extraterrestrial in Ridley Scott’s Alien series, has been popping up on social media for the past couple of years. The Prague-based company announced its first run of 500 production guns at the 2019 IWA Outdoor Classics trade show in Nuremberg, Germany and announced this week they are coming to America.
The 9mm semi-auto has what is billed as the lowest bore axis available on a handgun, with the positioning of its fixed barrel some 1.7mm below the line of the grip axis. With an overall length of 8.2-inches, the Alien yields a 7.3-inch sight radius and 4.8-inch barrel length. With a standard 17+1 round capacity, the gun weighs in at 39.6-ounces with an empty magazine.
And you should see what they look like on this inside.
The Australian War Memorial has this great (audio) show, Collected, where they talk about artifacts and the history behind them. The latest episode, below, runs 25 minutes and details the stories behind four maritime disasters and “the people who survived against the odds.”
Most interesting among them is the tale of the Dutch oil tanker Ondina which, escorted by the corvette HMIS Bengal (J243), stumbled across the path of two well-armed Japanese armed merchant cruisers, Aikoku Maru and Hōkoku Maru.
The two Japanese warships had eight 6-inch and four 3-inch guns between them as well as torpedo tubes and armed floatplanes while Bengal only had a single 4-inch deck gun and Ondina’s merchant sailors manned a 4-inch piece of their own. Incredibly, both the Allied ships survived a pitched sea battle that sent Hōkoku Maru to the bottom then managed to limp on to Australia.
The show is very interesting.
Here we see a warrant officer in dress whites aboard USS Walke (Destroyer # 34) leaning jauntily on a stanchion-mounted machine gun, circa 1914. This weapon is a .30 caliber U.S. Model 1909 Machine Rifle (Benét-Mercié), a modification of the French Hotchkiss Portative. The gun appears to be on an AAA mount, which is novel for the time.
Walke, an early Paulding-class destroyer, carried as her main battery a half-dozen 18-inch deck-mounted torpedo tubes, intended to poke holes in enemy ships. Her gun armament consisted of five 3-inch guns and a few European-designed machine guns, as shown. Commissioned in 1911, she remained in the fleet until 1934.
Fast forward 105 years…and you still have destroyers with a few .30-caliber European-designed machine guns as well as a half-dozen deck-mounted torpedo tubes, intended to poke holes in enemy ships, albeit of the submarine nature.
The below historical video was recently posted by the Forsvaret, the Royal Danish armed forces. Filmed 1 August 1951, it covers the visit to the country of then five-star Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who just four months prior had been named the first Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).
The occasion of the visit was for Ike to stress how important Denmark was to the new NATO alliance, expressed through the handover of surplus Republic F-84 Thunderjets to the rebuilding Danish Air Force, which would soon be bolstered by 240 new F-84Gs over the next four years– a huge upgrade from their previous force of 40~ WWII surplus RAF Spitfires handed over in 1948.
An especially interesting part of the video for me– which incidentally is about 60 percent in English– is the Danish Army honor guard for the occasion.
Outfitted in British-pattern wool uniforms and American M1 helmets, M1 Garand rifles (adopted as the M/50 GarandGevær) and canvas-holstered Swiss-made SIG P210 pistols (adopted as the M/49), they are very exotic in a sense. Danish by way of Portsmouth, Neuhausen, and Springfield.
The Danes would continue to use the Garand as their primary infantry arm until 1975 when it was replaced by the German-made HK G3, adopted as the Gevær M/75.
Garands would continue to soldier on with the Danish as a second-line and Home Guard rifle through the 1990s, when it would finally be replaced by Colt Canada C7 (M16A2) rifles and C8 (M4A1) carbines, which would be adopted as the Gevær M/95 and Karabin M/96, respectively. As such, the Danes would be the last Western European NATO member to field John Garand’s vaunted 30.06.
The (A)SECNAV over the weekend announced that, in honor of MLK Day, USS West Virginia Pearl Harbor hero cook PO3 Dorie Miller will be the namesake of a new Gerald Ford-class carrier, the future CVN-81.
Of course, it does kinda rub me a skosh the wrong way as far as naming conventions go, with aircraft carriers generally named after famous battles, other aircraft carriers, and presidents. Traditionally, destroyers and frigates were named in honor of naval heroes up to and including Medal of Honor winners. In fact, Miller formerly had a Cold War-era Knox-class frigate named after him (DE/FF-1091)
Still, in my mind, it is far better to name a carrier for Miller than for Carl Vinson and John Stennis, as have been done in the past, just saying.
Sure, you can argue that Vinson and Stennis both held and pulled important purse strings while in Capitol Hill for the military– but they never had to face down an incoming Japanese Val with a machine gun they were never trained to use.
As noted by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly’s office:
This will be the second ship named in honor of Miller, and the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African American. This will also be the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of a Sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.
“In selecting this name, we honor the contributions of all our enlisted ranks, past and present, men and women, of every race, religion and background,” said Modly. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, ‘Everybody can be great – because anybody can serve’. No one understands the importance and true meaning of service than those who have volunteered to put the needs of others above themselves.”
On Dec. 7, 1941, Miller was collecting laundry on the battleship West Virginia (BB-48), when the attack from Japanese forces commenced. When the alarm for general quarters sounded he headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it. Miller was ordered to the ship’s bridge to aid the mortally wounded commanding officer, and subsequently manned a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition. Miller then helped move many other injured Sailors as the ship was ordered abandoned due to her own fires and flaming oil floating down from the destroyed Arizona (BB-33). West Virginia lost 150 of its 1,500 person crew.
Miller’s actions during the attack earned him a commendation from then Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and the Navy Cross, which was presented to him personally by Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time.
Nimitz stated: this marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I’m sure the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.
“Doris Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation, and his story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue the watch today,” said Modly.
In 1943, Miller died aboard USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) when the ship was hit by a torpedo and sank off Butaritari Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.
The future USS Doris Miller and other Ford-class carriers will be the premier forward asset for crisis response and humanitarian relief, and early decisive striking power in major combat operations. The aircraft carrier and the carrier strike group will provide forward presence, rapid response, endurance on station, and multi-mission capability throughout its 50-year service life.
Meanwhile, USS Gerald R. Ford is apparently making good progress when it comes to launches and traps on Hornets, Greyhounds and T-45 Goshawks, working through teething problems on its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), which is good news as far as the class itself goes.
Hopefully, they will get the bugs worked out before the next “big one,” a factor that could help deter just such an event.
Recently I’ve been fooling about with some rarely-encountered but nonetheless very cool guns:
Both are aristocratic hand cannons from a different era. We call it the 1970s and 80s.
With that in mind, I’ll be in Las Vegas for SHOT Show all week, so stay tuned for updates on cool guy stuff.