Archive | Australia RSS for this section

The Red Baron Down Under

The below shows the interesting sight of American Wayne Anderson’s replica Fokker Dr.I Dreidecker triplane in Australia for a trans-Australia air race, cuddled among camouflaged Royal Australian Air Force Mirage IIID and IIIO(A) strike fighters at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales, October 1976.

The Mirages in the back of the photo are from No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit, the RAAF’s storied fighter training unit, and sport their traditional flash and striking period camo.

A left side view of a Mirage IIID (top) and Mirage IIIE aircraft of No. 2 OCU in flight during a combined U.S.-Australian Air Force exercise, Pacific Consort. (USAF photo)

The Mirages in the foreground belong to 77 Sqn, which formed in 1942 and flew Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawks over Northern Australia, downing the first Japanese Betty ever shot down over the continent. They later moved with the tide of the war over New Guinea and the Dutch East Indies, flying the borderline obsolete P-40 right until the last days of the war. They later switched to P-51 Mustangs and Gloster Meteors over Korea before switching to Australian-made F-86 Sabre variants that they flew during the Malayan Confrontation and on to the Mirage, which they flew from 1969 to 1988 when they transitioned to the F-18. They are still stationed at Williamtown.

As for Anderson and his Fokker, I can’t find much information on him other than the fact that his was one of some 179 private planes, mostly light single-engined aircraft, that took part in the 1976 Benson & Hedges Australian Air Race from Perth to Sydney, covering some 2,400 miles in four days between 19-23 October.

Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday), Dec. 13, 2018: Franz Ferdinand’s Pacific platypus slayer

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 (on a Thursday), Dec. 13, 2018: Franz Ferdinand’s Pacific platypus slayer

Photographed by B. Circovich of Trieste, Via Capuano 17, Trieste, NH 88933, colorized by my friend Diego Mar at Postales Navales

Here we see the Kaiser Franz Joseph I-class “torpedo ram cruiser,” SMS (Seiner Majestät Schiff =His Majesty’s Ship) Kaiserin Elisabeth, of the Austro-Hungarian k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, probably soon after her completion in November 1892 while in the Adriatic. She would have a history filled with oddities.

Laid down at Marinearsenal Pola in June 1888 for the dual monarchy’s navy, her only sister, SMS Kaiser Franz Joseph I, was named for the country’s tragic emperor. Old Franz Josef, had lost his brother, Maximillian, after the Mexicans stood him up against a wall in 1866. His only son, Rudolph, died in 1889 in the infamous Mayerling Incident. His wife, Elisabeth, a German princess, had been Empress of Austria for 44 years when she was stabbed to death by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni in Geneva in 1898.

A picture made available 04 September 2008 shows the triangular file with which Austria Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898) was murdered, in the Sisi Museum at the Vienna Hofburg, 03 September 2008, in Vienna, Austria. EPA/ROBERT JAEGER

It was for said consort that our cruiser was named, although she was very much alive at the time of the ship’s construction.

Just 4,500-tons, the 340-foot (overall) torpedo ram cruiser named for the ill-fated Empress earned her designation from the fact that she carried a ram bow (a weapon the Austrians had used to good effect at the Battle of Lissa just two decades earlier) and four 14-inch deck-mounted trainable torpedo launchers for early Whitehead-style fish. That is not to say that she did not carry a decent gun armament, as it should be noted that she carried a pair of 9.4-inch Krupp breechloaders as well as a number of short-barrel 5.9-inch guns.

Photographed early in her career, probably in about 1892 at Pola. The hulk in the right background is unidentified. The layout of the ship’s armament-two single 24cm (9.4 inch), one forward and one aft, and six 15cm (5.9 inch) guns, three to a side, can be seen clearly. NH 88908

However, being a steam warship for the 1880s, she was not very fast, capable of only 19-knots when all 8 of her boilers were aglow with Bohemia’s finest coal. Her bunkers could carry over 600-tons of the latter, which enabled her to steam some 3,500nm between station. This set up Kaiserin Elisabeth for overseas service.

Note that big 9.4-inch gun forward, looking right at home on a boat the size of today’s light frigates. Photographed while on trials. Note temporary rig NH 87329

How she looked when complete, notice different rig. KAISERIN ELISABETH Austrian Cruiser NH 87337

Commissioned 24 January 1892, by the next year she was headed to wave Austria’s flag in the Far East.

KAISERIN ELISABETH Photographed early in her career, possibly during her round-the-world cruise of December 15, 1892, to December 19, 1893. Notice her extensive awnings, common when the ship was in the Far East. NH 92041

Although the country had no colonies, Austria was allied to Germany who had several territories in both Africa and the Pacific, which allowed the cruiser ample opportunities for coaling.

Her first mission: take the Kaiser’s cousin and then second in line to the throne, a young Franz Ferdinand, on a world tour that included stops in India, Ceylon, and other points East. (Franz Ferdinand’s father, Karl Ludwig, was at the time first in line to the throne but died of typhoid fever in 1896, leaving Franz to become Archduke).

Franz Ferdinand and his hunting companions pose by a dead elephant in Ceylon, from the Austrian National Library / Ehzg Franz Ferdinand und vier Jagdbegleiter beim erlegten Elefanten

In May 1893, Kaiserin Elisabeth made port at Sydney, where aboard was Ferdinand, along with other such personages as the Archduke Leopold of Tuscany. As told The Monthly, an Australian magazine, in a 2011 issue, for the next several weeks Ferdinand and company, “accompanied only by his personal taxidermist, three counts, a major-general, the Austrian consul,” took over 300 animals on a series of great hunts across the Australian continent including kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and at least one likely very surprised platypus for which the Archduke had a “burning desire” to take.

Kaiserin Elisabeth went on become involved in Chinese politics and landed forces in 1900 along with the Austrian cruisers Zenta, Maria Theresia and Aspern to take part in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion as part of the Eight-Nation Alliance.

Sailors from the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth in the streets of Tsingtau. The four Austrian cruisers would land a 300-man force for duty ashore.

The two-year conflict netted Vienna a paltry 150-acre concession from the failing Manchu Dynasty in the city of Tianjin in 1902, which was duly protected by a platoon of Austrian marines. During the Boxer Rebellion, the commander of the Austrian force, RADM Count Rudolf Monecuccoli, used Kaiserin Elisabeth as his flagship. He would in 1904 go on to become Marinekommandant (Navy Commander) and Chef der Marinesektion (Chief of the Naval Section of the War Ministry), so it was evidently a good stepping stone for him.

Photographed at Pola on 1 October 1901 on her return from East Asia and the Boxer Rebellion, in a grey scheme. NH 87336

Returning to Europe, Kaiserin Elisabeth underwent a major two-year refit and modernization starting in 1905 after more than a decade of hard service including two extensive world cruises. This saw the replacement of her dated Krupp 9.4-inch guns with a pair of long-barreled 5.9-inch L/40 K.96s. This gave her a broadside of five 5.9-inch guns on each side, with three ahead and three astern. Her sister, which became a harbor defense ship at Cattaro, had a similar refit.

Photographed after reconstruction of 1906. NH 87341

Photographed at Kobe, Japan on 18 August 1909 with her decks almost completely covered in canvas. The ship had been rebuilt in 1906. NH 87339

Her 1914 entry in Janes

Caught in the German Chinese colony of Tsingtau when the Great War kicked off, Kaiserin Elisabeth originally didn’t have anything to fear from the growing Japanese fleet that was massing just offshore. This changed when Japan declared war on Austria-Hungary on August 25, 1914– two days after the Empire of the Rising Sun did so on Germany.

While the Germans managed to evacuate most of the ocean-going warships from the harbor during the Japanese ultimatum prior to the balloon going up, the elderly and, by 1914 obsolete, Austrian cruiser was left behind along with the small German coastal gunboats and torpedo craft Iltis, Jaguar, Luchs, Tiger, and S-90. The stripped and crewless old German Bussard-class unprotected cruiser SMS Cormoran (2,000-tons), was also in the harbor, but her crew had already beat feet with the condemned ship’s guns and vital equipment in a captured Russian steamer that assumed the latter’s name.

When the Japanese siege began, Kaiserin Elisabeth‘s 5.9-inch and 3-pounders were removed and mounted ashore in what became known as “Batterie Elisabeth.”

SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth’s guns as part of the defenses at Tsingtau, August-Nov 1914

During this period, as the largest ship in the defender’s hands, she suffered no less than three ineffective air raids including the first documented attack by a ship-based airplane when Japanese Navy Maurice Farman seaplanes from the seaplane carrier Wakamiya dropped small bombs around her. If the curiosity of French balsa-wood flying machines piloted by English-trained Japanese pilots bombing an Austrian warship crewed largely by Yugoslavs (and commanded by Hungarians) in a German-held port in China doesn’t make you shake your head, I don’t know what will.

An abortive sortie out of the harbor by the partially disarmed cruiser failed, although it did allow the crew of the German torpedo boat S-90 to escape to nearby Nanking– after she sank the Japanese mine cruiser Takachiho (3,700-tons).

One by one, as the Japanese grew closer, the bottled up Austro-German ships were scuttled and Kaiserin Elisabeth was no exception, being sent to the bottom by her own crew on 2 November 1914, just two days before the city fell.

In all, more than 300 members of Kaiserin Elisabeth‘s crew that survived the siege became Japanese prisoners, with most of them held at Camp Aonogahara, near Kobe, for the duration of the war. They only returned to Europe in 1920– to a country that no longer existed. As for Franz Josef, he died in 1916 while Elisabeth‘s crewmen were in Japanese EPW camps. As for Tianjin, it was indefensible and the Chinese took it over in 1917 after the formality of a bloodless declaration of war.

For our cruiser, she is remembered in maritime art:

S.M.S. Kaiserin Elisabeth in Tsingtau by Fritz Marschner, shown with the Austrian naval ensign on her stern and the German ensign aloft.


Photographed at Pola Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization NH 87342

Displacement: 4,494-tons FL
Length: 340 ft 3 in
Beam: 48 ft 5 in
Draught: 18 ft 8 in
Propulsion: 2 triple expansion engines, 8 boilers, 8,450 ihp at forced draft, two shafts
Speed: 19 knots (near 20 on trials)
Range: 3,500 nm on 600 tons coal (max)
Complement: Listed as between 367 and 450, although only had 324 at Tsingtau.
Armor: Up to 4 inches at CT, 2.25-inches deck
(As designed)
2 × 9.4 in (24 cm)/35
6 × 5.9 in (15 cm)/35
2 × 66 mm (2.6 in)/18
5 × 47 mm SFK L/44 Hotchkiss guns (3 pdr)
4 × 4.7 cm L/33 Hotchkiss guns (3 pdr)
3 × 3.7 cm L/23 Hotchkiss guns
2 x 5.9 in (15 cm)/L/40 K.96
6 × 5.9 in (15 cm)/35
16x 47 mm SFK L/44 Hotchkiss guns (3 pdr)
1 MG
4 × 360mm (14 in) torpedo tubes

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find.

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Good deal on slightly used minesweepers, some assembly required

If you are in the market for some pre-owned warships, the Royal Australian Navy wants to make a deal. Working through a commercial service, the Navy advertised the HMAS Hawkesbury and HMAS Norman for sale “Sold As Is Where Is.”

The 172-foot long mine hunters have composite hulls designed to “flex inwards if an undersea explosion occurs nearby,” which is always a good thing.

HMAS Hawkesbury left, and HMAS Norman are Huon-class coastal mine hunters commissioned in 2000. They have been in reserve for the past seven years. (Photo: Royal Australian Navy)

Built in 2000 as part of a six-ship class to an Italian design (Lerici-class, the same as the U.S. Navy’s short-lived Osprey-class MHCs) both Hawkesbury and Norman were laid up in 2011 and have been in storage ever since while the other four ships have remained with the fleet.

Sadly, it looks like their DS30B 30mm Bushmaster cannons and M2 .50-cal machine guns have been removed, but the vendor offering them for sale suggests they could be turned into luxury yachts or charter vessels.

The vendor suggests they could be converted to charter vessels or yachts. (Photo: Grey Online)

Not mentioned is a Jacques Cousteau/Steve Zissou-style recycle.

No price is listed but the vendor, Grays Online, does caution that the ships have had their shafts and propellers removed and would have to be towed off by the buyer, saying, “inspection is highly recommended.”

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a .50 cal at your side, kid

In a case study of why a sword is of little use against a .50 caliber BMG, take this Japanese Kai-gunto sword, broken in three pieces in the collection of The Australian War Memorial.

The hilt has the standard Japanese Navy guilded brass fittings of a Fushi, kabuto-gane and cherry blossom menuki under the brown handle binding over black rayskin. A gilt family mon is attached to the kabuto-gane of a square with a diagonal line within a circle. The guard is a plain blackened brass tsuba with two large Seppa of a sunray pattern (one on each side) and four smaller Seppa (two on each side) with serrated edges. On the rear of the broken blade parts are solder marks where the sword has been mounted on a board for display.

The tang has three peg holes with the remains of a signature that translates as Hida no-kami and possibly the top section of the character for Fuji.

This Japanese sword was captured in action at Marova, New Georgia, by Major Donald Gilbert Kennedy, D.S.O., a New Zealander of the British Soloman Islands Protectorate Defence Force.

This guy:

He served in WWI with the ANZACS, from the 15th of April 1918 to 9th September 1920, rising from the rank of Corporal to be 2nd Lieutenant, in the 10th North Otago Rifles.

In the interwar years was a school teacher and later headmaster in the Pacific Islands, principally in the Solomons. In that line of work, he became fluent in several native languages and became adept in the use of wireless radios– two skills that would become useful during his WWII exploits as

Kennedy became an outstanding leader of the Coastwatchers in that area in 1942- 1943. His exploits are described in Commander E. A. Feldt’s book “The Coastwatchers” and in “Among Those Present,” an official U.K. publication.

Outstanding among his many clashes with the Japanese was an action between his 10-ton schooner Dadavata and a patrol of Japanese in a whaleboat during which the whaleboat was rammed and all the Japanese accounted for. Termed the Battle of Marovo, Kennedy and 12 islanders were armed with a Browning machine gun salvaged from a downed American plane. Donald fired his recycled machine gun, although he was wounded in the thigh until it jammed. The Islanders threw Japanese-made grenades among the hapless and bewildered occupants of the whaleboat until there was no more resistance.

It was during this action that the sword was captured. The incident is described in “Among Those Present” page 52. The sword is broken in two places. One break approximately 4 inches from the hilt bears the mark of a bullet but the other break 5 inches from the point is unaccounted for.

Kennedy’s simple account as to how the sword became broken is as follows:

“It was broken by a bullet fired by me from a Browning 50 at the same time as the Japanese N.C.O. who wore it fired a burst from a Bren gun from which I collected a bullet in the leg. This was at Marovo Lagoon in New Georgia in May 1943 in an encounter between my native scouts and a Japanese patrol which was hunting for us.”

Besides the DSO, he was awarded the Navy Cross, “for extraordinary heroism in action against Japanese forces as a Coast Watcher at Sergi Point, New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. Capt. Kennedy led his men in numerous skirmishes and destroyed or captured many Japanese troops, machine guns, and barges, with a negligible injury to his own force. He also rescued many downed American airmen.”

Admiral A.W. Fitch and Major Kennedy D.S.O. Photo: Feldt p.107.

He died in 1976 and the sword has been in the AWM collection ever since.

For our Canadian military subscribers

On October 17 the Cannabis Act came into force. It puts in place a new, strict framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis in Canada. New rules are also in effect for members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Want to see em?

That’s one shaggy dog

Recently C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment, of Royal Australian Army’s 1st Brigade deployed to Cultana Training Area to conduct live fire field training and squad-level battle runs. The “shaggy dog” camo used by their LAVs I thought was particularly effective in visually breaking up their outline.

FLIR, of course, is always going to be a mother without a Barracuda system.  I know Saab has long-supplied Multispectral Camouflage Systems to the Ozzies for their M1s, but I don’t know about their LAV. If these dogs incorporate MCS, then so much the better.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018: Father goose and his guard fish

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, Oct. 10, 2018: Father goose and his guard fish

National Archives 80-G-13551

Here we see a Japanese merchant steamer wallowing in the Pacific off the Home Islands in September 1942 after taking a torpedo from the subject of our tale today, the Gato-class submarine USS Guardfish (SS-217), whose periscope the image was snapped through. One of the most successful submarines of WWII, she earned 11 battle stars and two Presidential Unit Citations across a full dozen war patrols— and saved a small village worth of Coastwatchers.

One of the 77 Gatos cranked out by four shipyards from 1940 to 1944 for the U.S. Navy, they were impressive 311-foot long fleet boats, diesel-electric submarines capable of extended operations in the far reaches of the Pacific. Able to swim an impressive 11,000 nautical miles on their economical power plant while still having room for 24 (often cranky) torpedoes. A 3-inch deck gun served for surface action in poking holes in vessels deemed not worth a torpedo while a few .50 and .30-cal machine guns provided the illusion of an anti-aircraft armament. A development of the Tambor-class submarines, they were the first fleet boats able to plumb to 300 feet test depth, then the deepest that U.S. Navy submersibles were rated.

Our hero, Guardfish, was the first U.S. Navy ship to carry the name of the “voracious green and silvery fish with elongated pike-like body and long narrow jaws,” as noted by DANFS.

USS Guardfish (SS 217), ship’s insignia probably dates from WWII. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 67779-KN (Color).

Built by Electric Boat Co. of Groton, Conn., she commissioned 8 May 1942, five months and a day after Pearl Harbor, EB’s 144th submarine for Uncle.

Bow view at rest of the Guardfish (SS-217) at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT., 19 April 1942, three weeks before commissioning.

She was the first of the so-called “Mod 1A” Gatos, as described by Floating Dry Dock.

Starting with Guardfish, EB shortened the forward to aft length of the covered navigation bridge on their boats. This change was incorporated into production several months prior to the war starting so it may have been economically driven, rather than by operational feedback from the fleet. Compare the photo below of Guardfish with that of Growler above and the difference becomes readily apparent. Shortening the navigation bridge also eliminated several of the round portholes that were used by the helmsman. Manitowoc incorporated this change in their very first boat, with construction of Peto starting ten weeks after that of Guardfish.

By 22 August, she was in the Pacific and on her first war patrol, the inaugural U.S. submarine to poke around off Honshu in the Japanese Home Islands. In a two-week period, she made 77 contacts, scratched an armed trawlers and at least five Japanese freighters– including three in a single day. Evading escort vessels, Guardfish sank 5,253-ton Kaimei Maru and 1,118-ton Tenyu Maru. The Chita Maru, a 2,376-ton freighter, retreated and anchored in Kinkasan Harbor. In one of the war’s longest torpedo shots, Guardfish sank the Chita Maru from over three nautical miles (7,500 yards) out, which is pretty good for unguided torps. This was the year after serious depth flaws in U.S. torpedoes had finally been proven and properly fixed. Returning to Midway to complete her first war patrol, the exploit earned her first Presidental Unit Citation.





Her second patrol only yielded one merchant ship while her third, switching to the Bismarck Archipelago on her way to Australia, netted the 1,390-ton Japanese Patrol Boat No.1 and the 1,600-ton destroyer Hakaze in January 1943.

She took a licking on her 3rd patrol when she unsuccessfully attacked a large convoy near Simpson Harbor on the surface but was driven off by concentrated shore fire and escort attacks. Over a two day period from 11-12 February 1943, the Japanese destroyers Makigumo, Hayashio, and Oyashio plastered her with literally every depth charge they had, only stopping their combined attack once they were out of ASW weapons. When Guardfish made Brisbane on the 15th for repairs it was determined she suffered at least 8 direct hits.

It was while operating out of Australia that Guardfish, in the summer of 1943, came to the aid of the Coastwatcher program.


A local wireless telegraphist operator operating an AWA 3BZ teleradio at Segi Coastwatchers station, British Solomon Islands. [AWM 306814]

Established to monitor the operations on Australia’s far-flung outer territories as well as in the British-controlled Solomons chain (itself seized from the Germans in WWI), the Royal Australian Navy’s Coastwatcher program proved a godsend to the Allies when these remote atolls and green archipelagos became prime real estate in 1942. In all, some 600 Coastwatchers and their native police and tribal allies provided yeomen work spotting Japanese planes and vessels. Arguably, had it not been for their intelligence gathering ability behind the Japanese lines, the Guadalcanal Campaign would have been a lot harder if not impossible.

As Halsey said later, “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.”

Bougainville, Solomon Islands. c. 1944-02. Group portrait of Coastwatchers and native police, some of whom are armed with rifles. Fourth back row, left to right: two native policemen; Flight Lieutenant J. A. Corrigan, RAAF; Lieutenant (Lt) J. R. Keenan, RAN; Lt J. H. Mackie, AIF; Captain R. C. Cambridge, AIF; Sergeant (Sgt) G. McPhee, AIF; Corporal (Cpl) N. D. Thompson, AIF; Sgt T. R. Aitkin, AIF; Corporal (Cpl) E. D. Otton, AIF. (Naval Historical Collection) (Formerly Y007) AWM

The best-known Coastwatcher reference in the U.S. is Father Goose, the tale of Walter Ecklund, a boozy American beachcomber played by Cary Grant who is shanghaied into the program and later inherits a group of female students and their French schoolmarm. [Spoiler] Threatened by encroaching Japanese patrols, they are all saved at the last minute by an American submarine (we are getting to that later).

Besides operating the teleradio “tip line” that allowed the Cactus Air Force and Halsey’s South Pacific command to repeatedly jump incoming waves of Japanese aircraft and tin cans of The Tokyo Express coming down The Slot, the Coastwatchers shepherded downed Allied aircrews and shipwreck survivors.

Amazingly, some 165 crew of the St. Louis-class light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50) lost at the Battle of Kula Gulf, 6 July 1943, were rescued and cared for by Coastwatchers Henry Josselyn and Robert Firth along with Methodist Missionary Rev. A.W.E. Silvester and the natives of Vella LaVella until they could be picked up by a fast destroyer convoy under the cover of night.

Lt. (JG) John F. Kennedy, and the survivors of PT-109, sliced in half by a Japanese destroyer, were saved by native Coastwatchers Biaku Gasa, Eroni Kumana and Reginald Evans.

The Coastwatchers also actively fought on occasion, disappearing Japanese patrols that stumbled across them, vowing to kill every man lest they be betrayed, always making sure to bring the captured guns and munitions back.

New Georgia, Solomon Islands. 1943-03. Part of the Coastwatchers arsenal of the United States and captured Japanese weapons held by Captain D.G. Kennedy, British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force at his Segi (Zgj5) Station. The weapons include a quantity of Springfield M1903 Rifles, leaning against the wall, two Japanese Type 92 heavy machine guns (Woodpeckers) on stands, a Browning M1919A4 .30 caliber air-cooled medium machine gun on its tripod and two Browning M1917A1 .30 caliber water-cooled medium machine guns leaning against the wall. (Naval Historical Collection) (Formerly Y082) AWM

A few Japanese were taken alive and, with captured airmen of the Emperor, guarded and shipped out to Australia.

An armed guard of native scouts trained and commanded by Captain D.G. Kennedy escorts a captured Japanese pilot into captivity at the Segi coastwatchers station on New Georgia in March 1943

That’s where PBYs and submarines came in, frequently landing new coast watching teams, as well as evacuating recovered Allied sailors and airmen, and EPOWs.

The ill-fated team of Coastwatchers on the U.S. Submarine DACE, about to be landed at night on the beach near Hollandia, New Guinea. They were ambushed, and all killed shortly after landing. Back Row: Private (Pte) Phil Jeune, Lieutenant (Lt) Ray Webber, Captain G.C. (Blue) Harris, Pte Jack Bunning, Gregory Shortis, Sergeant (Sgt) Launcelot (NEI Interpreter), Sgt Ron (Percy) Cream (Developed Malaria and Stayed on Board); Front Row: Private Mariba, Sgt Yali, Able Seaman Julius McNicol,DSM, Sgt Buka, Sgt Mas. (Donor J. Shortis) (Another Copy, From the Naval Historical Collection, Formerly at Y014/02/02)

One such Coastwatcher was the ‘overage, undersized, slightly deaf, a bit shortsighted’ Sub. Lieut Paul Mason, RANVR:

This guy. The long-running joke is that the reserves used wavy lines for sleeve rank as the upstanding men who served on the list did not want anyone to make the dreadful mistake that the Navy was their full-time job! As for Mason, he originally was enlisted as a petty officer and later elevated to sub-lieutenant.

Based on Malaita Hill near the southern coast of Bougainville, Mason had been in the Solomons most of his life. Described by Walter Lord in his book on the Coastwatchers entitled Lonely Vigil: Coastwatchers of the Solomons, the author wrote that “At first glance, Paul Mason looked like a bank clerk who had somehow strayed into the jungle. He was small; his mild blue eyes seemed to abhor violence, and he had a self-effacing diffidence that would seem far more appropriate in an office than in the bush.”

However, Mason was famous for his exploits on Bougainville, spending 17 months calling in Japanese bomber raids headed towards the Allies– at times giving them as much as two hours’ warning– while remaining one step ahead of the Japanese. Dealing with the double-crosses and betrayal, he narrowly avoided Japanese troops hunting for him, becoming a pied piper for still-loyal Solomans native police, Chinese refugees, Australian commandos in the area, and even other Coastwatchers– Jack Keenan, Eric Robinson, and Jack McPhee– chased out of their areas.

Needing emergency evac, Guardfish was sent in to collect Mason’s group at Atsinima Bay on the evening of 24 July 1943. Inching close into the bay with pre-1914 German charts, Guardfish surfaced at dark and inflated eight rubber boats, sending the rescue craft ashore.

From Lonely Vigil:

On the beach, the evacuees watched with mounting excitement as the little flotilla shot the breakers and spun ashore. In half an hour the first boats were loaded and, on their way, out again. Now they were even harder to row and one capsized in the surf. Righting it the men clamored back in, grunting and cursing but with no loss except an officer’s cap that floated away in the night.

On the Guardfish, [Lt.Cdr. Norvell Gardner] “Bub” Ward watched incredulously as the motley collection of Australians, Chinese, natives, men, women, and children swarmed aboard. “We gathered a bit more of a crowd than we’d anticipated,” Paul Mason explained, adding apologetically, “There are still some more on the beach.” When the submarine finally headed to sea, a total of 62 evacuees were jammed aboard.

On 28 July, Guardfish swooped in and picked up another 22 Coastwatchers, natives, police and scouts from a coastal plantation at Kuuna.

Later, squeezing in a couple more war patrols, Guardfish found time to sink the Japanese transport ships Suzuya Maru and Kashu Maru before 1943 was up.

Then, on 27 October, in the conclusion of the Coastwatchers’ war she landed two U.S. Marine officers, six Coastwatchers– including three that she had picked up in July– and 40 Bougainville native scouts near the mouth of the Laruma River close to Cape Torokina, returning them to the same island they had been chased from so they could again work against the Japanese, providing crucial intelligence for the landing at Empress Augusta Bay in November.

As for Mason, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

Mason’s unexpected return in November 1944 impressed locals, wavering in their opposition to the Japanese, with his possible indestructibility. He recruited a small partisan band which terrorized the enemy and was credited with a record body count of 2,288. Always he put his scouts’ welfare before his own. His daring rescues were notable for the care taken of former prisoners, especially missionaries, and the lack of vindictiveness towards collaborators. His continued wrangling with headquarters over supplies and the deficiencies of regular soldiers probably led to his transfer home in May 1945 before final victory.

Mason received a DSC for his efforts. He later died in 1972.

Back to Guardfish.

Her role with the Coastwatchers over, she continued her war, sinking the Japanese destroyer Umikaze off the southern entrance to Truk Atoll in 1944, and at least five other Japanese merchant ships, earning her second nod from the President for her 8th Patrol.

Sadly, she also claimed the Anchor-class salvage ship USS Extractor (ARS-15) in January 1945 in a case of mistaken identity while on her 10th patrol, though DANFS points out that “Guardfish succeeded in rescuing all but 6 of her crew of 79 from the sea.”

Guardfish finished the war on lifeguard duties, picking up two downed aviators off Saipan in March 1945.

Guardfish at the close of the war. Photo courtesy of David “Hutch” Hutchinson, MOMM 1st Class, SS 217 via Paul S. Hobbs, Submarine Veteran ET1 (SS), Thomas Jefferson SBN 618. Via Navsource

Decommissioned at New London on 25 May 1946, two years later Guardfish was one of 28 Gatos preserved as pierside trainers (sans propellers) for Naval Reserve personnel to hold their weekend drills, the last service of this great class. She continued in this role until struck from the Navy List 1 June 1960.

USS GUARDFISH (SS-217) Serving as naval reserve training submarine at New London, Connecticut, circa the 1950s. Courtesy of D. M. McPherson, 1974 Catalog #: NH 81356

USS Dogfish (SS-350) and USS Blenny (SS-324) sank her with the newly-developed Mk-45 torpedoes off New London 10 October 1961.

She was commemorated in an episode of The Silent Service, with her Presidential Unit Citation-winning Honshu patrol the subject of the dramatized short, that includes a horse story.

Other Gatos lived on, although an amazing 20 were lost in the Pacific during WWII. The last two Gato-class boats active in the US Navy were USS Rock (SS-274) and Bashaw (SS-241), which were both decommissioned on 13 September 1969 and sold for scrap. Nine went to overseas allies with the last, USS Guitarro (SS-363) serving the Turkish Navy as TCG Preveze (S 340) in one form or another until 1983.

A full half-dozen Gatos are preserved in the U.S. so please visit them when you can:

USS Cavalla is at Seawolf Park near Galveston, Texas
USS Cobia is at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin
USS Cod is on display in Cleveland
USS Croaker is on display in Buffalo, New York
USS Drum is on display on shore at Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama
USS Silversides is on display in Muskegon, Michigan

In 1965, the Navy launched a second Guardfish, SSN-612, a Thresher-class nuclear submarine commissioned the next year that remained in service until 1992. A crew reunion group exists for this boat, the last to carry the name.


1,525 long tons (1,549 t) surfaced
2,424 long tons (2,463 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft 9 in
Beam: 27 ft 3 in
Draft: 17 ft maximum
4 × General Motors Model 16-248 V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
4 × high-speed General Electric electric motors with reduction gears
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
21 knots (39 km/h) surfaced
9 kn (17 km/h) submerged
Range: 11,000 nautical miles surfaced at 10 kn
48 hours at 2 kn submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 300 ft
Complement: 6 officers, 54 enlisted (plus up to 62 evacuees!)
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, 6 forward, 4 aft
24 torpedoes
1 × 3-inch (76 mm) / 50 caliber deck gun
Two each, .50-caliber and .30-caliber machine guns

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find.

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Yokosuka Sasebo Japan

The U.S. Navy and the Western Pacific

The Writer in Black

News and views from The Writer in Black

Stephen Taylor WW2 Relic Hunter

World War 2 Historian, Relic Hunter and expert in identification of WW2 relics

USS Gerald R. Ford

Mission Ready, Qualified & Competent, On Time Execution!

The Unwritten Record

Exploring History with the National Archives Special Media Division

Stuff From Hsoi

Writing about whatever interests me, and maybe you.

Louisville Gun

Thoughts and Musings on Gun Control & Crime


Identifying the Best Training, Tools, and Tactics for the Armed Civilian!


Nous Defions!

Under Every Leaf.

A Site for the British Empire 1860-1913


Military wings and things

Western Rifle Shooters Association

Don't lose the upcoming fracas. You and your family won't like what the victors have planned for you.

Meccanica Mekaniikka Mecanică

The Mechanix of Auto, Aviation, Military...pert near anything I feel relates to mechanical things, places, events or whatever I happen to like. Even non-mechanical artsy-fartsy stuff.


Where misinformation stops and you are force fed the truth III

The LBM Blogger

Make Big Noise

%d bloggers like this: