First Antarctic Pistol Tournament

The Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB 10), earlier this month departed to support the annual joint military service mission called Operation Deep Freeze (OpDFrz or ODF), a mission that involves traveling to Antarctica to break miles of ice up to 21 feet thick in the regular push to resupply McMurdo Station.

Deep Freeze I was held back in 1955-56 and involved a full task force (TF43)  under RADM Richard E. Byrd himself, consisting of three (well-armed) icebreakers, three freighters, and three tankers.

With that in mind, check out this great shot of the “First Antarctic Pistol Tournament,” held during Deep Freeze II, some 65 years ago.

Original caption: “The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) sponsors the first pistol tournament ever held in the Antarctic (January 20, 1957).”

Note Northwind’s twin 5″/38 DP mount. Commissioned 28 July 1945, “The Grand Old Lady of the North” had a 44-year career, a span of time recently bested by Polar Star, which celebrated her 46th anniversary earlier this year. Photo: National Archives NAID: 205581182

From the back of the image:

Chilled thumbs pull the triggers at targets lined up in ice 7 feet thick at Helleric Sound. Probably the most unusual setting in the history of match shooting, this was one of those rare Antarctic days with the atmosphere crystal clear, the temperature hovering around 26 degrees, a light breeze of six knots bloating down from the ranges of Victoria Land. The intensity of the sun’s reflection on the snow makes it necessary for the shooters to wear dark gloves. Competitors were divided into groups, of Old-Timers and TYROs. Old-Timers included all NRA (National Rifle Association) card holders handicapped according to their classifications. TYRO entries were limited to non-NRA members who had qualified with the .45 caliber pistol over Services qualification courses. At this time the Northwind lay moored at McMurdo Sound where she had been helping the Navy cargo ship Towle (visible at the stern of the icebreaker) unload cargo for the Williams Air Operation Facility located five miles away.

A close-up detail shows the firing line equipped with what look to be new Smith & Wesson Model 41s or, more likely, High Standard Victors, both popular with Bullseye target shooters of the era for 25 and 50m work.

U.S. Increasingly the Arsenal of Democracy as Ukraine turns Western Front

“The Arsenal of Democracy,” a term coined by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during one of his 1940 Fireside Chat radio broadcasts, came as FDR was pushing Congress for an increasingly large bill of war goods for Great Britain and her exiled European allies as the U.S. remained a cautious neutral in the great fracas. This included lots of arms and ships taken directly from U.S. reserves.

Speaking of which, the Pentagon last week announced the latest withdrawal of equipment from U.S. military inventories for Ukraine since August 2021.

The 26th draw-down authorized by the Biden Administration includes 150 heavy machine guns fitted with thermal sights to counter Russian drones, 250 vehicles, 10,000 120mm mortar rounds, and “over” 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition among other items. In all, the latest stockpile is valued at up to $400 million. Overall, this brings the total of American military assistance to Ukraine this year to more than $19 billion. By comparison, Ukraine, whose government is a few degrees less democratic than that of the circa 1940 western allies, spent just $5.9 billion on its entire military in 2021 against a Russian budget of $65 billion.

“To meet Ukraine’s evolving battlefield requirements, the United States will continue to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with key capabilities,” noted the Pentagon.

When it comes to the running tally of equipment transferred from U.S. stocks to Ukraine this year, more than 104 million rounds of small arms ammunition of .50 caliber or smaller have been allocated along with 198 pieces of artillery and over 1.2 million shells. Add to this over 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, 8,500 Javelin tank killer missiles, and 38,000 “other anti-armor systems.”

The list of U.S. stocks, as of 23 November:

Meanwhile, from the Bakhmut region, comes these images of trench warfare, that, if they would have been in black & white tint, could have easily been mistaken for Passchendaele, Verdun, or the Somme.

So I went to see Devotion…

I weighed in last week on the behind-the-scenes attention to detail of the new J. D. Dillard/Erik Messerschmidt Sony Pictures war biopic Devotion, focusing on the too-short life of Ens. Jesse Leroy Brown and his “Fighting Swordsmen” wingman, Lt. (j.g) Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who flew side-by-side at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.

1950 photo of Fighting 32 (VF 32) ahead of USS Leyte’s Med deployment that soon became a Korean combat tour

If you missed that, the production went all-out, leasing real MiG-15s, F4U Corsairs, A-1 Skyraiders, and F8F Bearcats, then constructing an Essex-class straight deck carrier in a field to put them all on for static shots.

I mean, Dillard is the son of a Blue Angel and his first memory is touching the nose of his dad’s just-landed F-18– so what do you expect?

Said the director on his use of these vintage war birds:

It was by far the most meticulous part of the filmmaking process, but it was important to me aesthetically that we put as much realism in front of the camera as we could. There aren’t even enough of these period planes still flying to fill the skies in the way that we wanted to. But what we always prioritized is that the action happening closest to the camera was practical. That 17th plane, half a mile off, can totally be CGI. But the plane flying very close to the camera is a real Corsair painted with the real squadron’s letters and numbers, and there are real stunt pilots in those planes, executing real maneuvers. That was very important to me and ultimately worth the prep and the planning.

And, besides tapping in actor Glen Powell– who played the cocky “Hangman,” the modern Iceman substitute in the new Maverick movie– Dillard also used the same aerial photography team that worked on that project but with the benefit of fewer restrictions.

“I joke that they spent 200-plus million dollars on R&D, then came to work with us,” Dillard says. And since his film didn’t use modern U.S. Navy planes, he had more freedom. “There is significantly less red tape when you want to take that plane 15 feet over the water at more than 100 miles an hour and photograph it, which at one point we did,” he says. “There are also technical differences in photographing those aircraft… As a small example, you can’t put a camera directly behind an F-18, because there’s jet blast. But we could sit our camera plane right on the tail of the Corsair because it has a propeller — you’re not worried about the camera melting from the afterburner.”

With this lead-up, how could I NOT go see the movie on opening night last week?

I can report that it was a good film, that should be seen on the biggest screen possible to drink it in, full of amazing and unique warbird shots. As far as the plot, it is based on a true story and they stick to most of the real details with only minor deviations. The dialog was a little hokey at times but certainly not any worse than that seen in other modern war films.

As Brown was the first African-American U.S. Navy officer killed in action, he has long deserved a decent film telling his story and this is it. Going past that, it is entertaining and, while circling back to the racial elephant in the room several times, doesn’t make it the prime driving point of the film. I’m no movie rater but if you had to ask me, I’d give it at least an 8 out of 10 overall.

If you have some time to kill, you could find worse ways to spend two hours.

Perhaps it will lead to Brown getting a destroyer named after him. 

Speaking of which.

Welcome home, Hudner

Of interest, the SURFLANT-tasked Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116), commissioned in 2018, just returned this weekend from the inaugural deployment of the Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group.

As detailed by the ship’s social media page:

-We sailed 15,148 miles,
-Conducted 7 replenishments at sea,
-Set 8 Sea and Anchor details
-Completed 2 Straits Transits
-Saw winds as high as 52 knots,
-Completed 78 flight quarters,
-Inducted 4 new Chief Petty Officers,
-Qualified 3 new Officers of the Deck, 2 new Tactical Action Officers, and 8 new Engineering Officers of the Watch
– Expended 52,266 rounds of ammo,
– Passed 1 Engineering Certification,
– Visited 2 new countries,
And made countless memories along the way.

    Mighty Mansfield

    56 Years Ago Today: Sumner-class destroyer USS Mansfield (DD 728) letting rip her 5″/38 DP Naval Guns at water-borne craft off the coast of North Vietnam, north of the demilitarized zone.

    Photographed by PH1 V.O. McColley, November 25, 1966. USN photo 428-GX-K-35025.

    Named for Marine Sergeant Duncan Mansfield of circa 1804 “Shores of Tripoli” fame, Mansfield (DD‑728) was laid down 28 August 1943 by the Bath Iron Works and commissioned just short of eight months later on 14 April 1944.

    Earning five battle stars in the Pacific– including downing 17 Kamikazes in one day off Okinawa and later taking part in a daring high‑speed torpedo run with DesRon61 into Nojima Saki, sinking or damaging four enemy ships — she witnessed the formal Japanese surrender ceremony in September 1945 in Tokyo Bay.

    Picking up a further three battle stars for Korean service while almost breaking her back on a mine off Inchon, Mansfield would be FRAM II’d in 1960, trading in her WWII kit for Cold War ASW work, and ship off for the 7th Fleet.

    USS Mansfield (DD-728) Underway at sea, circa 1960-1963, after her FRAM II modernization. Taken by USS Ranger (CVA-61), this photograph was received in July 1963. NH 107137

    Rotating through four deployments off Vietnam between 1965 and 1969, she also had enough time to serve as an alternate recovery ship for Gemini XI (and slated for the Apollo 1 mission).

    Her Vietnam “Top Gun” Results, 1965-69:

    • 5″ Rounds Fired: 40,001
    • Days on Gun Line: 220
    • Times Under Hostile Fire: 8
    • Enemy KIA: 187
    • Active Artillery Sites Silenced: 30
    • Secondary Explosions: 59
    • Structures/Bunkers Destroyed: 495
    • Ships/Junks/Boats Sunk: 224

    Decommissioned on 4 February 1971, Mansfield was disposed of and sold to Argentina on 4 June 1974 where she was mothballed at Puerto Belgrano and scavenged for spare parts to support that country’s other American surplus tin cans, then was eventually cut up for scrap in the late 1980s.

    Santa Jumps with the Marines to Honor Toys for Tots

    Parachutes? Check. Dress Blues? Check. C-130? Check. Santa Claus? Oh, you know that’s a check.

    High over Camp Shelby, Mississippi earlier this month, Marines of the 3rd Reconnaissance Company and the Marine Forces Reserves climbed in the back of a perfectly good C-130 Hercules and bailed out as part of Operation Santa Drop. The event saluted both the 75th anniversary of the Marine Corps Reserve’s long-running Toys for Tots program and the Corps’ 247th birthday on Nov. 10, 2022. Because of this, the uniform of the day was Marines Dress Blues and one regulation Kringle Suit.

    (Photos: 2nd Lt. Desmond Jones/U.S. Army National Guard)

    (Photos: 2nd Lt. Desmond Jones/U.S. Army National Guard)

    The drop is in honor of the 75-year national Toys for Tots charitable program run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, “which provides happiness and hope to less fortunate children during each Christmas holiday season. The toys, books, and other gifts collected and distributed by the Marines offer these children recognition and a positive memory for a lifetime.” (Photo: Chris Eger)

    “To this day, the Toys for Tots program, which includes about 147 of your Marine Forces Reserve units, has helped support and bring a smile to the precious lives of 272 million children,” said Retired Lt. Gen. James Laster, Toys for Tots Foundation president and CEO.

    Chilly Turkey Day, 80 Years Ago

    Official caption: “Thanksgiving Day Exercises For Men Of 2nd Service Group in Air Force Engineering Shop At An Airfield Somewhere In Iceland. 26 November 1942.”

    (U.S. Air Force Number 75406AC) Via NARA 

    Note the mix of leather flight jackets, utilities, overalls, and field dress, with Brodie helmets and gas masks on the wall at the ready. Also, note the proximity of the wood stove– essential on the wind-swept outpost in winter.

    Snow Scene At 2nd Service Group Airfield, Reykjavik, Iceland. Note The Douglas A-20 ‘Miss Carolina’ To The Left. 30 November 1942. (U.S. Air Force Number 75412AC) via NARA 

    When the U.S. arrived in Iceland in the summer of 1941— months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and while still ostensibly neutral– to take over the occupation of the Danish colony from the British, the USAAF soon flew in elements of the 33d Pursuit Squadron (P-40s), 9th Bomber Squadron (H)(A-20s), and 1st Observation Squadron to relieve the RAF’s own force (one squadron of 15 Wellington bombers, a flight of Hurricane fighters, a Norwegian squadron of 6 Northrop reconnaissance float planes, and 30 utility planes) for use elsewhere. It was the 2nd SG that supported these operations, part of a force that would grow to almost 30,000 Allied troops by 1943.

    Notably, the USAAF achieved its first Army Air Forces aerial victory in the European theater on 14 August 1942 when Iceland-based fighters shot down a Luftwaffe FW- 200 C-4 Condor.

    Meanwhile, the Navy’s VP-73 (PBY Catalinas) and VP-74 (PBM Mariners) would set up operations at Keflavik in August 1941 (and stay there for a while!)

    Warship Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022: Black Sea David and Goliath

    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, Nov. 23, 2022: Black Sea David and Goliath

    Above we see about half of the crew of the 97-ton Bulgarian torpedo boat Drazki (a name also seen in the West as Druzki, Drzki, and Drsky), some 110 years ago this week after they seriously damaged the fine 4,000-ton British-built Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye at the Battle of Kaliakra during the Balkan Wars, one of the best examples of a humble torpedo-armed fast attack craft landing a confirmed and debilitating hit on a much larger enemy warship. Note the shrapnel hole in Drazki’s aft stack.

    The Early Bulgarian Navy

    Founded on 13 January 1899 as the first modern maritime arm of what was then the Principality of Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Navy was cut from whole cloth with a dash of assistance from German, French, and Russian naval experts. Just a dozen years old at the start of the eight-month First Balkan War with Turkey, in which Bulgaria was allied in the Balkan League with Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro against the “Sick Old Man of Europe,” the Bulgar fleet was tiny by all comparisons.

    In fact, it fits on a single page of Jane’s Fighting Ships with lots of white space left over.

    Besides a couple of armed coasters, spar-torpedo launches, and river gunboats, the Bulgarian Navy could count just the French Chantier-built “cruiser” Nadezhda (715t, 2×4″ guns, 17 kts) — a craft that held the first Bulgarian wireless telegraph station and doubled as a royal yacht– and six Schneider & Creusot-built Drazki-class torpedo boats (Drazki, Smeli/Smyeli, Hrabri/Khrabri, Shumni, Letyashti, Strogi) and which had been shipped to Varna in sections and assembled there by the Bulgars in 1907-08.

    Bulgarian Drazki class boats under assembly via Varna Maritime Museum

    The six 124-foot Drazki boats used a pair of Temple/Norman water-tube boilers trunked into two stacks to generate 2,000 shp on their sole VTE engine, capable of making turns for 26 knots on a single screw. Armament was three torpedo tubes– one in the bow, two on a stern turnstile directed to opposing sides, with no reloads– and two 3-pounder (47mm) Schneider M1902 low-angle guns arranged port and starboard behind the closet-sized wheelhouse. capable of floating in just under nine feet of water, they were ideal for littoral combat.

    With a normal coal supply of 11 tons, they could steam for 500 miles at 16 knots. However, they could overload with as much as 27 tons of coal, stretching their legs past 1,000.

    As it turned out, the Battle of Kaliakra, fought some 30 miles from Varna, would be the first fleet action for the Bulgarian Navy when, on 21/22 November 1912 (Nov. 7/8 Gregorian), the Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye (commanded by Hussein Rauf Bey) and two destroyers were escorting a convoy of two cargo ships from Constantinople to Constanta and, presenting the Bulgarian fleet an ultimatum to surrender the next morning, the Bulgarians came out to play.

    The Ottoman cruiser (classified as a battleship by the Turks) Hamidiye and its commander, Captain Hüseyin Rauf Bey, early 1900s

    In a running night action with Captain Dimitar Dobrev’s (an officer who has survived the sinking of the Russian cruiser Dmitry Donsky at Tsushima in 1905) torpedo boat squadron consisting of Drazki and three of her sisters– Letyashti, Smeli, and Strogi— the Bulgarians pressed their attacks increasingly closer but failed to make a hit against the big Turk.

    Letyashti, leading the charge with Dobrev aboard, fired and missed at 1,500 feet then pulled away.

    Smeli closed to within 1,000 feet and missed, earning a shrapnel hit that wounded her executive officer.

    Strogi held her fish until she got to within 300 feet, then missed.

    Finally, Drazki, the last in line and last to attack and commanded by Midshipman 1st Class (Acting LT) Georgi Petrov Kupov, closed to within 150-200 feet, effectively point-blank range, and landed a torpedo against Hamidiye. The Turkish armored cruiser was hit in her bow, the explosion opening a 10-foot hole and allowing the Black Sea to flood the vessel. Covered by the Turkish destroyers, Hamidiye, bow almost underwater, was able to retire back home carrying eight dead and 30 wounded with her.

    According to most accounts, it was only the fact that the Black Sea was exceptionally calm that night that the Turkish cruiser didn’t head for the bottom.

    Catching a hit in her stack from the Turkish torpedo boat destroyer screen, Drazki and company would sail back to Varna by dawn and a heroes’ welcome, the Ottoman blockade of the Bulgarian coast effectively broken.

    The photograph of the crews of the torpedo boats that attacked the Turkish cruiser “Hamidiye” on November 8, 1912.

    It would be the only significant Bulgarian naval action of the Balkan Wars and Hamidiye, after repairs, would transition to the Aegean and fight the Greeks.

    Two World Wars, and Beyond

    Drazki and her sisters would, somewhat confusingly, not attempt to block the Romanian Danube River landings during the Second Balkan War in 1913, a task left to a force of four smaller gunboats that, when confronted with a larger Romanian force centered around the gunboat Grivița and backed up by several monitors, elected to scuttle instead.

    When Bulgaria threw its lot in with the Germans and Austrians in 1915– largely to get at Serbia– the Bulgarian Navy was tasked with a mine/counter-mine war with the Russian Black Sea Fleet during the Great War that was heavy with nighttime mine-dropping in Russian-held areas and daytime sweeping in their own. In this, Shumni and Letyashti would be lost.

    In Sept. 1916, Drazki and three of her sisters would conduct a series of battalion-sized amphibious landings against the Romanians, who had just entered the war on the other side– a bit of payback for 1913.

    Meanwhile, the small Bulgarian cruiser Nadezhda, sent to occupy Sevastopol along with the Turko-German fleet in April 1918 following Russia’s withdrawal from the war, would be left there in 1920 and seized by the Reds who eventually scuttled her.

    With the Bulgarian Navy disbanded as part of the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly, the four remaining Drazki class torpedo boats lost their torpedo tubes and became river gunboats as part of the country’s Danube Flotilla– officially under police control for interior counter-smuggling duties, their crews listed as civilians. In this lightened configuration and with a half-bunker of coal, they were able to float in as little as 4.25 feet of freshwater.

    Jane’s 1931 Bulgarian Listing, showing the four remaining Drazki patrol boats.

    By World War II, the Drazkis, thoroughly obsolete, still served as patrol boats.

    Cadets from the Navy of H.V. school on the decks of the patrol boats Hrabri, Smeli and Drazki, port of Varna, 1941

    On 15 October 1942, due to improper storage of powder on board Drazki, she suffered an explosion and sank at the quay in Varna. Nonetheless, she was soon raised and repaired.

    Smeli would founder at sea in May 1943 while the other three boats were captured by advancing Soviet Red Army forces at Varna on 9 September 1944. Two, Drazki and Hrabri, were placed into Soviet service (‘temporarily requisitioned’) for the remainder of the war (with Drazki picking up the name Ingul and Hrabri as Vychegda), then would be repatriated in July 1945. To comply with the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, they were again disarmed.

    The Bulgarians would keep the three sisters around in one form or another until 1954– an impressive 47-year run for vessels of a type that typically only lasted a decade.

    Epilogue

    Drazki’s daring young skipper during the attack on Hamidiye, LT Georgi Kupov, after leading the above-mentioned amphibious assaults during the 1916 Romanian campaign, became the Bulgarian Navy’s chief of staff in September 1917, a job he held until the navy was dissolved in 1919. During the interwar period, he served as commander of the Danube Flotilla and then taught Astronomy and Spherical Trigonometry at the country’s Maritime School until 1944 when the Soviets arrested him although he was soon released.

    Георги Петров Купов. He passed in 1959, aged 74, and is well-remembered in Bulgaria

    Ironically, Hamidiye, which had been seized by the British for seven years as part of the Treaty of Sèvres after the end of the Great War, was returned to Turkish service in 1925 and would solder on as a training cruiser through 1947. 

    The Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye. She would only be scrapped in 1966 after a spell as a museum ship.

    Speaking of which, in 1957, it was decided by the People’s Republic of Bulgaria to preserve Drazki as a museum ship for her role in 1912 but, as the three ships had largely been dismantled, the current ship that carries the legacy is mostly the hull of Strogi with the topside of Drazki and parts of Hrabri.

    Kupov, 72 at the time, was present at her grand opening.

    She looks good for all the Frankenstein nature of her current form, maintained by the Varna Maritime Museum.

    And, importantly, her Battle of Kaliakra-perforated stack endures.

    Druzki and the Battle of Kaliakra have been a favorite subject for Bulgarian illustrators over the years.

    The Bulgarian Navy recycled her name at least twice, once in 1950 for a guardship (strazhevik) and then in 2004 for the Wielingen-class frigate Wandelaar, which was acquired that year after the Belgian Navy retired her.

    BLACK SEA (May 14, 2017) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79), background, and the Bulgarian navy frigate Drazki (F41) conduct maneuvers during a passing exercise. Oscar Austin is on a routine deployment supporting U.S. national security interests in Europe and increasing theater security cooperation and forward naval presence in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean Spratt/Released) 170514-N-AX546-1037


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    Echohawk

    The 45th Infantry (“Thunderbird”) Division Museum in Oklahoma recently shared a gripping series of combat drawings by Brummett Echohawk.

    An unofficial war artist, Echohawk was a Pawnee, Kit-Kahaki (warrior band) and “saw the elephant” firsthand as an infantryman with the 45th’s 179th Infantry Regiment, earning the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart (3), after enlisting in the Oklahoma National Guard in 1940 at age 18.

    His outfit was filled with depression-era cowboys, farmers, and more than a thousand Native Americans– recently brought back into the attention of many due to the recent Liberator series on Netflix– with Echohawk and William Lasley, a Potawatomie, leading a successful charge at Anzio Beach to take the “Factory” which insured that the Allied toe-hold at Anzio Beach was secure.

    A number of his drawings made it into wartime publications.

    The Thunderbirds suffered 26,449 casualties in 230 days of combat across Europe, some 187.7 percent of its authorized strength.

    As for Echohawk, he went on to become a well-recognized artist specializing in Western and Native themes and is well-exhibited at the Gilcrease Museum and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center.

    Trail of Tears, by Brummett Echohawk, black, and whitewash, 1957 via the Gilcrest

    SGT Echohawk passed at age 83 in 2006 and is buried in Pawnee’s Highland Cemetery.

    For more information, visit the Echohawk Project and pick up his books, including Drawing Fire: A Pawnee, Artist, and Thunderbird in World War II.

    Mr. Stoner, at 100

    Indiana’s own Eugene Morrison Stoner cut his teeth in small arms as a Marine Corps armorer in World War II and left the world some of the most iconic black rifles in history.

    Born on Nov. 22, 1922, in the small town of Gosport, just outside of Bloomington, Indiana, Stoner moved to California with his parents and graduated from high school in Long Beach. After a short term with an aircraft company in the area that later became part of Lockheed, the young man enlisted in the Marines and served in the South Pacific in the Corps’ aviation branch, fixing, and maintaining machine guns in squadrons forward deployed as far as China.

    Leaving the Marines as a corporal after the war, Stoner held a variety of jobs in the aviation industry in California before arriving at ArmaLite, a tiny division of the Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corporation, where he made soon made his name in a series of ArmaLite Rifle designs, or ARs, something he would later describe as “a hobby that got out of hand.”

     

    Mines: Still a Thing Even as USN’s MCM Force Fades

    Deployed to the Baltic, Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) just found a cluster of old Russian M/12 moored pendulum contact mines laid in 1917 along Parnu Bay on the Estonian coast. Latvian Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams rendered them safe. It is estimated that there are 80,000 sea mines left over from the two World Wars in the Baltic.

    Currently, SNMG1 comprises flagship Royal Netherlands Navy HNLMS Tromp (F803), Royal Norwegian Navy HNoMS Maud (A530), and Royal Danish Navy HDMS Esbern Snare (F342).

    Mine warfare has been a task that the U.S. Navy has been fine with increasingly outsourcing to NATO and overseas allies over the past generation, as its own capabilities in this specialty have declined.

    Cold War Force fading

    Probably the peak of post-Vietnam mine warfare in the Navy was reached in about 1996 when the old amphibious assault ship USS Inchon (LPH-12) was converted and reclassified as a mine countermeasures ship (MCS-12) following a 15-month conversion at Ingalls. Based at the U.S. Navy’s Mine Warfare Center of Excellence at Naval Station Ingleside, it could host a squadron of the Navy’s huge (then brand new) Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon mine-sweeping helicopters.

    Going small, the Navy had just commissioned 14 new 224-foot/1,300-ton Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships by 1994 and another full dozen 188-foot/880-ton Osprey-class coastal minehunter (modified Italian Lerici-class design) with fiberglass hulls by 1999.

    MEDITERRANEAN SEA (1 March 1999). USS Inchon (MCS-12) underway for a scheduled five-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. US Navy photo # 990301-N-0000J-001 by PH1 Sean P. Jordon.

    Ingleside, Texas (Sept. 23, 2005) A cluster of Avenger and Osprey class mine warfare ships at NS Ingleside. The base’s first homeported warship was the new Avenger-class sweeper USS Scout (MCM-8) in 1992. U.S. Navy photo 050923-N-4913K-006 by Fifi Kieschnick

    This force, of an MCS mine-sweeping flattop/flagship, 26 new MCM/MHCs, and 30 giant MH-53E Sea Dragons– the only aircraft in the world rated to tow the Mk105 magnetic minesweeping sled, the AQS-24A side-scan sonar and the Mk103 mechanical minesweeping system on four-hour missions– in three Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons (HM)s, was only to last for a couple of years.

    As part of the slash in minesweeper money during the Global War on Terror, the increasingly NRF mission dwindled in assets with Inchon decommissioned in June 2002 following an engineering plant fire.

    In 2006, USS Osprey (MHC-51), just 13 years old, was the first of her class decommissioned with all of her still very capable sisters gone by 2007.

    Naval Station Ingleside, hit by BRAC in 2005, transferred all its hulls to other stations and closed its doors in 2010, its property was turned over to the Port of Corpus Christi.

    The first Avenger-class sweeper, USS Guardian (MCM-5), was decommissioned in 2013 and so far she has been joined in mothballs by USS Avenger, Defender, and Ardent, with the eight remaining members of her class scheduled for deactivation by 2027, meaning that within five years, the Navy will have no dedicated mine warfare vessels for the first time since the Great War.

    Speaking of shrinking assets, the Navy’s three Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons (HM 12, HM 14, and HM 15) are soon to become just two, with the disestablishment ceremony of HM 14 to be held on March 30th, 2023. HM-15 will absorb “102 full-time and 48 reserve enlisted personnel and four full-time and eight reserve officers” from her sister squadron and keep on rolling for now at least with a mission to “maintain a worldwide 72-hour Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) rapid deployment posture and a four aircraft forward-deployed AMCM and VOD capability in the Arabian Gulf,” in Manama, Bahrain in support of the U.S. 5th Fleet.

    HM-12, on the other hand, serves as a fleet replacement squadron for the declining Sea Dragons in service, making HM-15 the sole deployable MH-53E squadron. After 2025, when the big Sikorsky is planned to be retired, the Sea Dragons will be gone altogether without a replacement fully fleshed out yet.

    HM-14 currently has a four-aircraft forward-deployed detachment in Pohang, South Korea, in support of the U.S. 7th Fleet, and they recently had a great Multinational Mine Warfare Exercise (MN-MIWEX) with ROKN and Royal Navy assets last month, giving a nice photo opportunity.

    The future

    The Navy’s Mine Warfare Training Center (MWTC), located at Naval Base Point Loma, looks to have graduated about 18 Mineman “A” School classes so far this year, each with a single-digit number of students. These 150 or so Minemen will join their brethren and be eventually relegated to a few Littoral Combat Ships that plan to have a secondary mine mission with embarked UUVs and supported by MH-60S Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) helicopters that are closer to being a reality.

    Let’s hope so.

    The planned future is deployable Expeditionary Mine Countermeasures (ExMCM) teams, using UUVs off LCS platforms: 
     

    PHILIPPINE SEA (Dec. 28, 2021) – Sailors assigned to Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5, transport a simulated Mk 18 Mod 2 Kingfish unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) during a mine countermeasures exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden) 211228-N-PH222-1507

    SEA OF JAPAN (May 15, 2022) – A Mark 18 MOD 2 Kingfish is lowered out Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) during Exercise Noble Vanguard. Kingfish is an unmanned underwater vehicle with the sonar capabilities to scan the ocean floor for potential mines. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign James French) 220515-O-NR876-104

    A standard ExMCM company is comprised of a 27-person unit with four elements: the command-and-control element (C2), an unmanned systems (UMS) platoon, an EOD MCM platoon, and a post-mission analysis (PMA) cell, all working in tandem, just as they would in a mine warfare environment.
     
    The mission begins with and hinges on the UMS platoon providing mine detection, classification, and identification. The platoon, composed of Sailors from mixed pay grades and ratings, is led by a senior enlisted Sailor and employs the Mk 18 UUV family of systems.
     
    The UMS platoon deploys the MK 18 Mod 2 UUVs to locate potential mine shapes. Upon completion of their detection mission, the data from the vehicles is analyzed by the five-person PMA cell using sonar data and produces a mine-like contact listing to the C2 element for review.
     
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