Author Archives: laststandonzombieisland

Canberra Forever

In my normal travels around the Gulf Coast, I often find myself at the USAF Armament Museum outside of Eglin in NW Florida and one of the neater aircraft there, in my opinion, has always been a Martin EB-57B Canberra “Night Intruder,” SN 52-1516. 

This EB-57B S/N 52-1516 was last flown by the 158th Defense Systems Evaluation Group (158 DSEG) stationed at Burlington, Vermont, and was retired in 1980 when the 158th switched to an Air Defense, Tactical Air Command fighter role, running Phantoms.

Resplendent in its black scheme, the ECM aircraft was one of 22 converted from a standard B-57B bomber in the late 1960s after the aircraft was withdrawn from its bombing role due to block obsolescence (58 were lost by the USAF in Vietnam, half to ground fire).

Noir bomber…

The B-57 was the first aircraft of foreign design to be chosen for U.S. production since 1918 and was based wholly on the English Electric Aviation Canberra— the RAF’s first jet-powered bomber. While Martin built 403 over here, English Electric cranked out an armada of 949 in both the UK and Australia.

Low pass by RAAF 2SQN Canberra Bomber, Biak in the early 1970s

Developed immediately after WWII, Canberra was an amazing aircraft for its day. Using rotating bomb bay doors, it could carry up to 8,000 pounds of ordnance including early atomic weapons such as the British Red Beard and the Mark 7 Thor fission bomb. It had a speed of 580 mph– Mach 0.88– on its twin Rolls-Royce Avon R.A. 3 engines and an 800-mile combat radius. The type set a slew of aviation records in the early 1950s, including the first nonstop unrefuelled transatlantic crossing by a jet, and setting a 70,310 ft altitude record. It could cover the Aldergrove – Gander Atlantic crossing in just over 4 hours.

When you consider Canberra first flew in 1949– less than a half-decade after VJ-Day– this was top-notch stuff.

However, the Canberra, though used in combat as a bomber as late as 1982– more on that in a second– its second life saw it become not only a great ECM plane but also serve in weather and photo recon. In fact, the final U.S. use of the Canberra by the USAF was in such a role while the Brits flew the PR.9 variant with No. 39 (1 PRU) Squadron until July 2006 on strategic reconnaissance and photographic mapping missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, a span of 57 years of operational use.

Speaking of the Brits and the Canberra, besides its U.S and Australian use, the type was exported to 13 countries including Argentina who bought 10 B.62 bombers and two T.64 trainers in the early 1970s– when they were already considered obsolete– replacing downright ancient WWII-era piston-engined Avro Lincolns in the bomber role.

Argentina B.62 Canberra # B-102

Pressed into service in the Falkland Islands in 1982– some 40 years ago this month– eight flyable Argentine Canberras of Grupo 2 de Bombardeo made 54 sorties, with most combat missions being against British ground troops at night to help mitigate their age.

Nonetheless, two of those eight were swatted out of the sky:

  • One, B-110, was splashed by a Sea Harrier on 1 May, losing both its crew.
  • The second, B-108 was shot down by a Sea Dart from the Type 42 destroyer HMS Cardiff (D08) at an altitude of 39,000 feet on the next to the last day of the war, taking its pilot with it. 

As far as I can tell, it was the last combat loss for the type. 

Ironically, the RAF used Canberras in the conflict as well.

A pair of PR.9 photo recon aircraft were dispatched to Chile, where they were to operate with RAF crews under Chilean markings.

RAF Canberra PR 9 Photo Reconnaissance variant. Note the lack of wingtip tanks as seen on the U.S. Martin-made models

Ranging from Punta Arenas, at the very southerly-most tip of mainland South America, they could just make the Falklands and back and, as they could hang out comfortably above Angels 50, were immune to anything the Argies had to knock them down. The mission was hush hush and the stuff of a Tom Clancy novel.

From The Royal Air Force Museum Midlands

The Canberras were to fly via RAF Wyton to Keflavik in Iceland), then to Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, from there to March AFB, California, Belize in Central America, and then skirting the west coast of South America down to a point 30 miles (50 km) south of the Peruvian/Chilean border to land at dawn on a deserted stretch of the Pan-American Highway, with the road marked out by ground personnel firing Very lights. There, an RAF Hercules, masquerading under Chilean Air Force markings, would have been waiting to pump fuel from its own tanks.

From there it would fly to its final destination at Punta Arenas. From there they would have flown reconnaissance missions over the Falklands.

An RAF Lockheed Hercules actually carried out a test landing on the Highway, with Chilean Air Force personnel on board to close the road. But the political risks to Chile and the UK were such that the project was abandoned when the aircraft was still in Belize.

Finally, it would be remiss to talk of Canberra and not mention the last (known) user: a trio of Martin-built WB-57Fs flown by NASAs for high-altitude scientific research (and the occasional Air Force-tasked overseas deployment).

As described by NASA Astronaut (and former Navy SEAL) Jonny Kim last month: 

Why the WB-57? Because it provides high-altitude, pressure-suited operations to NASA astronauts in the space-equivalent zone (physiologically incompatible with human life). The WB-57 is a platform that enhances our understanding of the design elements behind pressure suits and the background required to operate procedures in a vehicle while being constrained to a pressure-suited environment. It’s a unique bird with a wingspan of 122′, max altitude of 65,000′ and powered by twin engines capable of 15.5k lbs of thrust each. Fun fact, the WB-57 was modified from the B-57 which was retired from the Air Force in 1983. When it’s not training astronauts, it’s performing research missions with its various science payloads.

Making like 1914

Recently seen in London, via the Ministry of Defence, HQ Household Troops:

In a series of stunning photos which could have been taken at the turn of the 20th century, the horses and riders of the Queen’s Birthday Parade showed off their movements and equestrian skills as they paraded around Horse Guards for their Mounted Review this morning.

Over 350 horses drawn from The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery conducted the same movements they will do at Trooping the Colour, just without those on foot to distract them (or the horses), to enable them to focus on the timings and commands required for the historic day.

In their khaki No.2 Service Dress, they looked like they could be off to the front lines of the First World War with the WWI-era QWF 13-pounder guns drawn by the King’s Troop just adding to the effect.

Save for the helmets, it could pass for the early 1900s. The men in the background are from the Blues and Royals. The Blues and Royals wear blue tunics while on ceremonial duties and metal helmets with red plumes. The Life Guards, seen in the foreground, wear scarlet tunics and white plumed helmets.

Almost like one of those old uniform plates, showing a variety of officers milling around posing for the artist. Note the Life Guards on the left, and Blues & Royals to the right. The Royal Horse Artillery is at the caissons and an assortment of guards officers, including two in bearskins, are in the center. 

All you are missing is a Kitchener poster

When is the last time you saw a full squadron’s worth of horse-mounted cavalry on parade, with four classic troops in formation? This evokes memories of the Sudan, the Crimea, or even Waterloo. Besides headquarters and training cadres, the Blues and Royals, taking up the rear as they are “younger” consist of a half-strength horse-mounted saber squadron that contains two “divisions” which are troop-sized (one subaltern and 24 troopers) while the more senior Life Guards have the same strength. Of course, as you see, the entire combined force is still just the size of a Great War-era squadron of four troops. All told, the force is termed the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR), authorized at 341 members and 250 horses. 

Cutty-Capa of the Northwest

In a move illustrating the shoe-string kinds of ops the Coast Guard has to pull off, the recently decommissioned 110-foot Island-class patrol boat USCGC Cuttyhunk (WPB 1322), which was just removed from active duty after 34 hard years, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, still has an ounce of life to give.

Cutter Cuttyhunk, paying off. Note her forward 25mm gun has been removed

Instead of heading off to different assignments, the crew of “The Pest of the West” sailed their old boat to Ketchikan, Alaska. There, they have taken possession of the sidelined classmate USCGC Anacapa (WPB-1335), which was previously stationed in Petersburg, Alaska.

Commissioned 13 January 1990, Anacapa is actually just a little older than Cuttyhunk but is in apparently better material condition– except for the engines. So with that, the crew of Cuttyhunk, along with dockside help, are turning the 2,100~ bolts required to remove the two diesels (both mains and generators) of both ships, and doing a transplant, moving Cuttyhunk’s old suite to the hollowed-out Anacapa. It seems the best way to get some spare Paxman Valenta 16-CM RP-200Ms is to take them from an old cutter. 

“We have a long road ahead of us, but we are having a great time doing it,” noted the ship’s social media.

After that, Anacapa will be shifting homeports to Port Angeles to continue to serve the Pacific Northwest, with Cuttyhunk’s old crew, engines, and generators, until further relieved.

Maybe the 17th Coast Guard District will spring for new oil for the engines, although since it’s going back to the 13th District in Washington, odds are Cuttyhunk had to bring that up to Alaska as well. 

FN Teases new HiPer Combat Pistol

Belgian-based FN Herstalis teasing a new full-sized 9mm pistol, intended to be the heir to the vaunted Hi-Power, the HiPer. 

“Since its inception over 130 years ago, FN Herstal has continuously brought innovative, small caliber oriented solutions, with most of them becoming world references on the Defense and Security markets,” noted the company in a statement on Tuesday. “One of the most legendary examples is the FN Hi-Power, which was the reference pistol for military and law enforcement for a long time.”

Of note, the Hi-Power was the default military sidearm for most of the Free World (and some of the guys on the other side) from World War II until the Glock 17 came around and dethroned it in the 1990s. Legacy stocks of Hi-Powers soldier on in the militaries of Australia, Canada, and India, among others. 

Speeding past any mention of this year’s new High Power, unveiled at SHOT Show in Las Vegas in January by FN America, the Belgians this week released a 42-second sizzle reel showing off elements of the FN HiPer to include a magazine capable of holding at least 15 rounds, a very slim straight grip, forward slide serrations, an optics-ready slide, and what appears to be a sliding magazine release. The overall profile is much different from current FN models such as the FNXor 509 series. 

About the best image I  could get from the HiPer teaser video. Alternatively, the sliding surface control on the grip or the apparent switch to the rear could be a selector switch, which is very cool but drops the possibility of it ever reaching the U.S. to about zero.

The official release is set for May 31. Plumbing the depths of trademark and patent filings, FN Herstal secured the HiPer trademark with the USPTO last September.

I reached out to FN America and were told that the HiPer, for now at least, is an FN Herstal product, and they will not have it on display at the upcoming NRA Annual Meetings.

Either way, stay tuned for updates.

Fantail shooting

Growing up in Pascagoula, I had a neighbor that was an old GM2 (who one day became a GM3 out of the blue) who would regale and amaze me with sea tales of guns big and small. One weekend, he had a load of rifles and shotguns in his van that he had brought home to clean– from a small arms locker somewhere– and I dutifully helped him with that. Now, these weren’t Uncle’s guns, they were Browning A5s, bolt-action hunting rifles, plinkers, and the like. He said they were personal guns stored on ship. Before the weekend was over I helped him load them back up to take back to the Singing River Island.

Hey, it was the early 1980s, what can I say? Different time, I guess.

We’ve talked about non-standard weapons in lockers at sea before, for instance, trap guns for MWR use underway, and there are lots of images floating around the NHHC and NARA of unusual small arms being used informally.

Such as this:

Official caption: “A member of the Marine detachment assigned to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN 69) prepares to fire an M1911 .45-caliber pistol during small arms practice from the ship’s fantail.” Of course, the First Sgt. is using a Browning Hi-Power, likely a personally-owned gun. NARA DN-SC-87-05848

With all this being said, check out this circa 1976 commercial Browning Hi-Power target model that we recently got at the shop:

The story from the owner is that he bought it new and often carried it on duty with the Navy in lieu of a signed-out M1911. An aviator, he carried it while flying King Ranch nighttime poacher patrols in the wilds of NAS Kingsville in 1982-83, then used it on in-port watches on board the USS Lexington (AVT-16) in the 1980s. Or so goes the story, anyway.

Hey, it was the early 1980s.

Warship Wednesday, May 18, 2022: Spaghetti Battleship Slayer

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, May 18, 2022: Spaghetti Battleship Slayer

Via the Archivio Centrale dello Stato (ACS), the Italian Central State Archives

Above we see a tonnage flag flown by the Marcello-class submarine R. Smg. Barbarigo after she sank a
Colorado-class battleship, specifically the USS Maryland (BB-46), some 80 years ago this month. What’s that? You didn’t know Maryland was Deep Sixed by the Royal Italian Navy during WWII? Well, about that…

The nine submarines of the Marcello class were all constructed in 1937-38 by Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico in Trieste for the Italians, drawing from lessons learned during the Spanish Civil War in which Italian Sottomarini Legionari (Submariners Legion) “pirate” submarines fought a not-so-secret war on behalf of Franco. Small vessels compared to American and Japanese “fleet boats,” the Marcellos were only 1,300-tons submerged and 239 feet overall. However, they were speedy for the time, able to make 17 knots on the surface, had long enough legs (7,500nm range at 9 knots) for operations outside of the Med, and carried eight 21-inch torpedo tubes as well as two 4″/47cal deck guns.

Launch of Regio Sommergibile Cappellini, one of the Marcello class. Note her two forward starboard bow tubes. The class had four tubes forward and four stern, an unusual arrangement compared to American subs. Note that her deck guns have not been fitted.

A trio of brand new Italian Marcello-class submarines in Venice, 1939, complete with deck guns. They carried one 4″/47 forward of the sail, another aft, as well as fittings for two twin 13.2mm Breda (Hotchkiss) Model 1931 AAA machine guns. In the foreground on the right is an H-class submarine and in the background are some cruisers and Folgore-class destroyers.

Overall, the Italians could have done worse, and the class was successful in WWII.

Our subject was named for the 15th-century Doge of Venice, Agostino Barbarigo, the commander of the Venetian fleet in the Battle of Lepanto and a figure made infamous by the Assassin’s Creed video game series.

Agostino Barbarigo by Paolo Veronese, Cleveland Museum of Art.

As such, she was the second submarine Barbarigo in the Italian Navy, with the first being the leader of a four-boat class designed during the Great War that served through the 1920s.

The first R. Smg. Barbarigo was active from 1918 through 1928.

Laid down at C.R.D.A. Monfalcone, (Trieste) on 6 February 1937, R. Smg. Barbarigo (2°) was commissioned 19 September 1938 and was assigned to 2º Gruppo Sommergibili at Naples.

Early War Service

When the war started, with the Italian kick-off coming during the last weeks of the Fall of France in June 1940, under the command of Capitano di Corvetta (CC) Giulio Ghiglieri, Barbarigo’s first war patrol was a sortie off the coast of Algeria that yielded no results. Her second patrol, the next month between Cape de Gata and Cape Falcon, was much the same.

Once France fell and the Germans were setting up shop in the English Channel, Barbarigo was one of the Italian submarines assigned to the BETASOM group which would become operational in the North Atlantic from Bordeaux. Passing Gibraltar on 14 August 1940, four days later the boat was in an unsuccessful surface action with the British steamer Aguilar (3,255 GRT) bound from Lisbon to the Canary Islands.

Italian sumergible Barbarigo going up the Garonne river to reach her BETASOM base in Bordeaux.

Italian submarine Barbarigo in Bordeaux 1942.

Submarine Barbarigo, Bordeaux, note her deck gun

Stern shot in Bordeaux

Barbarigo in Bordeaux.

Ghiglieri would command Barbarigo on her 4th, 5th, and 6th War Patrols, never officially bagging anything although she was highly active, ranging from Ireland to the Bay of Biscay. Ghiglieri would leave the boat in June 1941, having commanded her under combat conditions for a full year. He would go on to command the Pisani-class boat Des Geneys for a year, also unsuccessfully, then rode a desk for the rest of the war.

Barbarigo’s new skipper, CC Francesco Murzi, was immediately successful, sinking the British freighter Macon (5,141 GRT) and tanker Horn Shell (8,272 GRT) back-to-back in July 1941.

The Grossi Era

With Murzi transferred to command the new, and larger, Cagni-class submarine Ammiraglio Millo in August, Barbarigo’s third wartime skipper would be CC Enzo Grossi. Born in Brazil in 1908, Grossi was a seasoned commander, having joined the Italian Navy in 1929 and risen to command the submarines Tito Speri and Medusa earlier in the war, earning both the Silver and Bronze military medals for valor in operations in the Med.

Barbarigo’s 8th War Patrol (22 Oct- 11 Nov) saw her operate against convoy H.G.75 off the Portuguese coast in conjunction with German U-boats and have a stalking duel with the British submarine HMS/m Una, ultimately returning to port without sinking anything.

The boat’s 9th patrol (18 Jan – 16 Feb 1942), west of the Azores, saw more success with the unarmed Spanish cargo ship Navemar (5,301 GRT) sent to the bottom, although Grossi claimed to have sunk a large armed merchant cruiser.

Her 10th patrol, run some 300 miles off the Brazilian coast from 25 April to 16 June, would become famous, at least in her time.

On 18 May, she seriously damaged the Brazilian tanker Comandante Lyra (5,753 GRT) bound for Pernambuco, and two days later came across a battleship and escorting destroyer(s).

Via Uboat.net:

At 0245 hours, Barbarigo was steering 020°, when an officer of the watch, First Officer T.V. Angelo Amendolia, observed a dark shadow. He immediately put the helm hard to starboard and summoned C.C. Grossi to the bridge. It was a large destroyer. The submarine was ready to make a stern attack when a much larger shadow appeared, which was identified as an American battleship of the MARYLAND-CALIFORNIA class because of her lattice masts. A second destroyer followed her.

At 0250 hours, two stern torpedoes were fired at 650 meters, aimed at the “battleship” (one of 533mm and one 450mm of type A 115) which was steering 200° at 15 knots. After 35 seconds, two explosions were observed. G.M. Tendi who was observing with binoculars reported that the battleship was sunk, and this confirmed Grossi’s impressions. From a distance of 800 meters, Grossi saw the battleship sinking bow first.

Grossi did not waste time in forwarding his claim and, at 1500 hours on 22nd May, he received a signal from Rome informing him of his promotion and the congratulations from the Duce and a grateful Nation.

The patrol also included an attack on the British freighter Charlbury (4,836 GRT) that was sent to the bottom after a five-hour, six-torpedo engagement on 29 May.

Returning to Bordeaux with his kill flags flying, Grossi and crew were feted by the German and Italian media.

Grossi, in the sweater, regaling the crowd with the stories from the patrol

The conning tower slogan reads, “Who fears death is unworthy of living.”

Although Grossi had not even been on the bridge at the time, he was dutifully photographed, shirtless and engrossed, recreating the attack at the boat’s periscope.

Of course, as you likely know, the USS Maryland (Battleship No. 46) in May 1942 was in training exercises in Hawaiian waters alongside her sister USS Colorado, having just been patched up at Puget Sound Navy Yard after Pearl Harbor. Her third sister, USS West Virginia, was still at Puget Sound for a longer, two-year, reconstruction and modernization. Of the visually similar California class, both USS California and USS Tennessee were likewise at PSNY under repair from Pearl Harbor. In short, there were no such battleships as Grossi claimed off Brazil in May 1942.

The postwar analysis points to the target Grossi engaged were the elderly Omaha-class light cruiser USS Milwaukee (CL-5) — a ship of 7,000 tons rather than 32,000– escorted by the lone Porter-class destroyer USS Moffett (DD-362), neither of which knew they were attacked.

On Grossi’s next patrol, Barbarigo’s 11th during the war, the boat sortied from Bordeaux on 29 August and returned a full month later, having dealt deadly blows to the Americans once again while steaming off the Brazilian coast and West Africa.

In the pre-dawn hours of 6 October, with Grossi again not in the control room, he bagged another battleship. What luck!

Times 05.40 of the day 6 – Stq. 23 of the q.d.p. n. 6718 (lat. 02’10/20’N, long. 14°10/20’W) time 02.34 I have sunk a unit type Nb (battleship) Cl. (class) ” Mississippi ” (U.S.A.) course 150° speeds 13knots four forward torpedoes hit 6 meters seen the ship sink avoided reaction I direct zone – 043106.

Two days later, when the news hit an embattled Central Europe, Hitler conferred the Iron Cross to Grossi. El Duce likewise promoted him to C.V. and awarded him the Medaglia d’Oro, the highest Italian award.

Grossi became one of the most decorated naval officers in the Axis fleets, personally receiving two EAKs from Donitz and Italy’s highest award from El Duce

The slayer of two battleships, a feat greater than Günther Prien, Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen, Eli Thomas Reich, Johannes Spiess, and Rudolf Schneider, submarine skippers who only had one battleship to their name across two world wars.

In actuality, USS Mississippi (Battleship No. 41) was at the time participating in exercises off Hawaii and escorting convoys back and forth to Fiji. Her sisterships USS New Mexico (BB-40) and Idaho (BB-42) were at the time both at PSNY undergoing modernization.

As noted by Uboat.net:

Unfortunately, the “battleship” was the Flower-class corvette HMS Petunia (K 17) who had sighted five torpedo tracks (not four!). One torpedo passed under her (the torpedoes had been set for a depth of 6 meters) and another missed close astern, but her ASDIC and R.D.F. were inoperative and her counterattack, at 2255 hours, with only one depth charge was ineffective.

With such a high-value personality on their hands, Grossi was promoted to the safety of shore duty and made the commander of BETASOM at Bordeaux in December 1942. After the Italians dropped out of the war in September 1943, the last four Italian boats pierside in France (Bagnolini, Giuliani, Cappellini, and Torelli) were handed over to the Germans.

Grossi then cast his lot with Mussolini’s remnant fascist Italian Social Republic, assuming command of the 1ª Divisione Atlantica Fucilieri in the Marina Nazionale Repubblicana, a paper force of some 5,000 shipless Italian sailors and Marines employed piecemeal by the Kriegsmarine to build and equip coastal batteries on the Atlantic Wall and in the Channel Islands. The unit took part in the Battle of Normandy, with some isolated garrisons– Lorient, Saint-Nazaire, and La Rochelle– only surrendering at the end of the war.

Grossi also apparently was key in a plan to smuggle Mussolini to Japan in 1945 that, obviously, fell through.

As for Barbarigo, her days were numbered as well. Under LT Roberto Rigoli, the submarine would sink the freighters Monte Igueldo (Spain, 3,453 GRT), Affonso Penna (Brazil, 3,540 GRT), and Stag Hound (U.S. 8,591 GRT) across a week in February-March 1943 on Barbarigo’s 12th War Patrol.

Her 13th Patrol would turn out to be her unluckiest. Sailing with her 5th wartime skipper in four years– LT Umberto De Julio– Barbarigo was converted to a blockade-running transport submarine, code name Aquila V, and sailed from Bordeaux on 16 June 1943 to Singapore with 130 tons of materials and 5 billion Lire. She was never seen again and was believed sunk sometime around 24 June, the cause is unknown. De Julio, five officers, 47 ratings, and two passengers– Imperial Japanese Army Colonels Gondo and Miura– disappeared with her. 

Epilogue

During their missions in the Atlantic, the 27 Italian submarines assigned to BETASOM sank a total of 109 ships for 593,864 gross tons, with Barbarigo accounting for 7 of those ships for 39,300 GRT. These are the hard numbers, not the unverified figures. This puts Barbarigo in fifth place among the BETASOM boats, behind Da Vinci (17 ships, 120,243 GRT, the most successful non-German Axis sub of WWII), Tazzoli (18/96,650 GRT), Torelli (7/42,871), and Morosini (6/40,927).

Barbarigo was one of 88 Italian submarines lost during the war, some two-thirds of their force. Keep in mind the U.S. Navy “only” lost 52 boats during the conflict, giving you a window on how dangerous it was to be an Italian submariner.

Of Barbarigo’s sisters, only Dandolo was in operational condition at the end of the war, having sailed to the United States after the Italian armistice in Sept. 1943. She was scrapped in 1948, the Italians soon moving on to surplus American boats.

Barbarigo’s best-known skipper, Enzo Grossi was cashiered and stripped of all ranks in 1945 by the post-war Italian government. A subsequent investigative commission by the Italian Navy, working in conjunction with Allied archivists, revoked his WWII awards and discredited his battleship sinking claims. Grossi, who emigrated to Argentina after the war, died from a tumor in 1960, aged just 52. The findings of the 1948 commission were later confirmed by a second board in 1962.

Of note, USS Maryland and Mississippi became two of the longest-living American battlewagons, with “Fighting Mary” only sold to the breakers in 1959, some 43 years after she was ordered, and the “Mighty Miss” still on active duty as a missile trials ship as late as 1956.

Specs:

 

U.S. Navy ONI-202 circa 1942 listing for the Marcello class


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Keeping up with traditions

Newport News Shipbuilding welded a time capsule inside the flight deck control room of PCU John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) in April. The time capsule – which contains letters to future ship leaders, miscellaneous coins, and memorabilia– will be opened during the aircraft carrier’s mid-life refueling and complex overhaul, an event tentatively planned for 2050ish.

This reminds me of the time they dismantled the Todd-built FFG7-class frigate HMAS Sydney in Australia a couple of years back and recovered a bottle of blended MacNaughton Canadian whisky, which had been wrapped in pipe insulation in the forward starboard leg of the mainmast back in April 1982.

Schneller Adler, Guest Starring the Kings!

Last week some 200 German marines from the Seebataillon were on maneuvers for a major non-combatant evacuation exercise, Schneller Adler, or Swift Eagle. Together with the Dutch Corps Mariniers, Feldjäger, and an electronic warfare specialist team, they operated from aboard the Dutch Navy dock landing ship Rotterdam (L800). At the same time, the German and Dutch armies trained on land, supported by the Luftwaffe.

Bundeswehr/Nico Theska

In all, a total of around 2,000 soldiers and other participants took part in the regular exercise this year.

Of note to observers on this side of the pond is a familiar old girl in the form of SH-3 Sea Kings on deck and still in front line service.

Bundeswehr/Nico Theska

Bundeswehr/Nico Theska

Bundeswehr/Nico Theska

The German Navy’s Marinefliegerkommando unoffically traces it origins to the old Kaiserliche Marine’s Zeppelins and rascals like Kapitän Gunther Plüschow. More officially, they date to 1956 when West Germany’s Bundesmarine Federal Navy was founded. During the Cold War, the Marineflieger consisted of not only P-3 Orions and two whole wings of anti-ship capable Tornado strike aircraft, but a sea-going force of Sea Lynx and Sea Kings.

The old West German Navy had no less than 112 Tornado IDS models for anti-shipping and marine reconnaissance roles, carrying AS.34 Kormoran anti-ship missiles. Here one is seen at NAS Fallon at 1989.

Built on license from Sikorsky by Westland in the UK, Germany ordered 22 Mk 41 Sea Kings with an enlarged cabin arrangement similar to the Westland HC4 Commando in 1969 to replace Grumman HU-16 Albatross flying boats in a SAR/transport role. Lacking ASW gear or the capability to drop torpedos, they were later fitted with a Ferranti Seaspray radar in a nose radome (which they still have) to aid them in carrying up to four British Sea Skua AShMs (which have since been retired).

Bundeswehr/Nico Theska

These days, 19 German Kings are left, flying operationally for Marinefliegergeschwader 5 out of Nordholz. Showing their age, they are set to be replaced by 18 NHI NH90 Sea Lions within the coming decade.

Besides the Germans, Egypt, India, Norway, and Pakistan still fly the old bird, an aircraft that ended production in 1995.

Speaking of which, India just test-fired a new helicopter-launched anti-ship missile from a Sea King this week. The missile is known as the “Naval Anti-Ship Missile-Short Range” or NASM-SR.

Go, Kings!

Is the Army going back to Battle Rifles?

While initial media briefs on the systems set to replace the M4 Carbine and M249 SAW on the Army’s frontlines held back some details, the specs are now public. 

The largest and most sweeping small arms program developed by the U.S. military since the 1950s, the Next Generation Squad Weapon initiative recently picked Sig Sauer to provide the XM5 rifle and XM250 light machine gun to replace the M4 and M249, respectively. Both weapons use Sig’s in-house developed SLX suppressor system and 6.8x51mm cartridge– sold on the consumer market as the .277 Sig Fury. Meanwhile, the platforms will use an integrated optics system developed for the purpose by Vortex. 

A briefing by the Army last month immediately after the announcement that Sig was the tentative winner to supply the XM5 and XM250 was fuzzy when it came to weights and dimensions. 

“So, I — so the weights are — I’ll give a comparison to the M4 and the 249 in general weight difference,” said Col. Scott Madore, PM Soldier Lethality when asked. “So, the rifle — the Next-Gen Squad Weapon rifle is about two pounds over the M4. Now the automatic rifle is actually four pounds less than the current M249 squad automatic weapon.”

Now the Army has released the figures, with the XM5 listed as 8.38 pounds, and 9.84 with its suppressor attached. The overall length, with the suppressor attached, is 36 inches with the side-folding stock extended and the standard 15.3-inch barrel. By comparison, the service lists the weight of the M4A1, complete with backup iron sight, sling, adapter rail system, and an empty magazine, as 7.74 pounds. The length of the M4A1 with its stock extended and without a suppressor is 33.82 inches. 

The NGSW-R, the XM5 rifle, is Sig Sauer’s MCX Spear. Using a 20-round magazine, it is chambered in a new 6.8×51 caliber. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

Like the combat load of the XM5 compared to the M4, the XM250 user will carry fewer rounds at a heavier weight, described as four 100-round pouches, at 27.1 pounds. The M249 light machine gun combat load, which is three 200-round pouches, weighs 20.8 pounds.

The XM250, Sig Sauer’s light machine gun, is the tentative NGSW-AR winner. Like the XM5, it is chambered in 6.8x51mm. It is expected to replace the M249 SAW in front-line service with the U.S. Army. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

Is the juice worth the squeeze? The Army thinks so, saying the benchmark for the 6.8 cartridge was that it weigh less per round than the 7.62 NATO.

With that in mind, in a very real sense, comparing the XM5/XM250 to the M4/M249 is an apple to oranges situation, and it may be more appropriate to journey back to about 1965 and compare the new guns to the M14 battle rifle and M60 machine gun, both of which were in 7.62. 

The basic wood-stocked M14 hit the scales at 9 pounds empty and was, initially, carried with five 20-round magazines, later increased to seven mags. A 140-round combat load of 7.62 carried in seven steel M14 mags is 11.2 pounds, or about 1.5 pounds less than the same quantity of 6.8 as carried with the XM5.

A demo of the then-new M14 at Fort Dix in June 1959. Similar in size to the M1 Garand, with 29 of 116 parts interchangeable with that .30-06 semi-automatic rifle, the M14 was select-fire and had a larger, 20-round magazine. (Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)

The M60, which was often derided as “The Pig” due to its weight, took cues from the German MG42 machine gun and, even with the use of early plastics in its furniture, weighed 23 pounds when introduced, although this was later whittled down to a more carry-friendly 18.5 pounds, both figures significantly heavier than the XM250. 

A demo of the then-new M60 before troops. The 23-pound 7.62 NATO belt-fed machine gun replaced the awkward M1919A6 and was considered much lighter than the latter 32-pound weapon, so much so that it was demonstrated firing one-handed overhead. (Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site)

As noted by the Army, “The 6.8 mm has proven to outperform most modern 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammunition against a full array of targets.”

Darby et al, get the Gold

U.S. Army Rangers assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, including some in vintage WWII-era uniforms of Darby’s 2nd Rangers, climb the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, in Cricqueville en Bessin, France June 4, 2019, in commemoration of D-Day. (U.S. Army photo)

Between June 1942 and the end of WWII, the Army formed from volunteers 6 Ranger Infantry Battalions (numbered 1st-6th) and 1 provisional Ranger battalion (29th, from Army National Guardsmen of the 29th ID).

S.1872, legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to the United States Army Rangers Veterans of World War II, was passed by Congress on 11 May 2022 and goes to the President next.

“This bill directs the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to arrange for the award of a single gold medal to the U.S. Army Ranger veterans of World War II in recognition of their dedicated wartime service.”

Introduced by U.S. Sen. Jodi Ernst (R-Iowa), it is broadly bipartisan with 74 Cosponsors (36 Republicans, 36 Democrats, 2 Independents). Nice to see such a thing still exists.

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