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Warship Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019: A Tough Christmas in the Lingayen Gulf

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, Dec. 25, 2019: A Tough Christmas in the Lingayen Gulf

Courtesy of the Submarine Force Library and Museum, Groton, Connecticut, 1972. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 78922

Here we see a prewar photograph showing the S-class diesel submarine USS S-38 (SS-143) underway, sometime in the 1930s.

The S-class, or “Sugar” boats, were actually three different variants designed by Simon Lake Co, Electric Boat, and the Bureau of Construction and Repair (BuC&R) in the last days of the Great War in which U.S.-made submarines had a poor record. Looking for a better showing in these new boats, of which 65 were planned, and 51 completed in several subgroups, these small 1,000~ ton diesel-electric “pig boats” took to the sea in the 1920s and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online.

The hero of our tale, USS S-38, was a first flight EB/Holland design that ran some 219-feet oal, could dive to 200 feet and travel at a blistering 14.5-knots on the surface on her two 600hp NELSECO diesel engines and two GE electric motors for 11-knots submerged. Armament was a quartet of 21-inch bow tubes with a dozen deep-running but reliable Mark 10 torpedos (which carried a then-huge 500-pound warhead) and a 4″/50 cal popgun on deck for those special moments. Crew? Just 38 officers and men.

Laid down 15 January 1919 Bethlehem Steel Company’s Union Plant, Potrero Works, San Francisco, she commissioned 11 May 1923.

Fitting out at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, San Francisco, California, 29 March 1923. NH 97960

Fitted out at Mare Island, S-38 joined Submarine Division 17 (SubDiv 17) at San Pedro on 24 May and immediately began preparations for a cruise to the Aleutians, a deployment that would validate the class working out of Dutch Harbor– which many would see during the coming conflict with Japan.

By August 1924, S-38 was detailed to join many of her sisters in the Asiatic Fleet, which she would call home for the next two decades.

On regular operations there, she cruised off the Philippines, along the Indo-China coast, and into the Dutch East Indies. In the 1930s, except for trading in their Great War-era torpedos for the new-fangled Mark 14, the boats were otherwise unmodified from their original 1918 design.

Description: Crewmen posing with a 4″/50cal deck gun onboard an S-Type submarine, March 1929, with another 4″/50cal in the foreground. Photographed from USS Beaver (AS-5). In the background is USS Pittsburgh (ACR/CA-4), in the Dewey drydock. Catalog #: NH 51830

USS S-38 (SS-143) nested between sister submarines S-40 (SS-145), at left, and S-41 (SS-146), at right, alongside USS Canopus (AS-9) off Tsingtao, China, in 1930. Note these submarines’ 4/50 deck guns. NH 51833

On 8 December 1941 (7 December east of the International Date Line), the U.S. was hauled in from the sidelines of WWII and “the indomitable old” S-38 departed Manila Bay on her first war patrol on the first day of the U.S. involvement in the war.

Poking around the PI archipelago, S-38, under command of Lt. Wreford G. ″Moon″ Chapple, the aging sub fired a torpedo on an enemy vessel off the coast of Mindoro on 9 December without a hit. Looking for better hunting, she headed into the Lingayen Gulf in the predawn hours of 22 December and promptly saw an enemy convoy at first light. Firing a spread of four unreliable Mark 14s, she garnered nothing but a counter-attack from Japanese destroyers.

Two hours later, she fired two more fish at an anchored cargo ship, Hayo Maru (5446 GRT) which blew up less than a minute later. It was only the *second Japanese vessel sunk in the war by a U.S. submarine up to that point.

*[ The first Japanese vessel claimed by an Allied submarine was the troopship Awajisan Maru which had been bombed by RAAF Hudsons and set on fire, then sank by a torpedo from the Dutch submarine HNLMS K XII on 12 December. The same day, HNLMS K XII also sank the tanker Toro Maru. On 13 December, the Dutch sub O 16 splashed the transports Asosan Maru and Kinka Maru in the Gulf of Siam while K XII increased her own tally with the tanker Taizan Maru off Indochina the same day. Meanwhile, the first U.S. submarine to get on the board was USS Swordfish (SS-193) with the freighter Atsutasan Maru sent to the bottom in the East China Sea on 16 December. ]

However, the next three days– across both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day– was an epic fight for survival.

According to DANFS:

The enemy destroyers again closed the submarine. Depth charges went off close aboard. From 0804 to 0930, the S-boat ran silent, using evasive tactics. At 0930, she grounded at 80 feet; then coasted up the bank to 57 feet. The destroyers, joined by small boats, continued the search through the day. At 2130, the hunted submarine began efforts to clear by backing. During the maneuvering, her port propeller was damaged; but, by 2201, she was free and underway for the Hundred Islands area on the western side of the gulf.

S-38 remained there through the 23d and, on the 24th, moved to the southern section of the gulf where she closed a formation of six large auxiliaries just prior to 1130. Her presence, however, was discovered. At 1152, a depth charge exploded on her port side. She went deeper. Between 1206 and 1208, eight more exploded around her. At 1209, she stopped all motors and sank to the bottom in 180 feet of water. The depth charging continued, but the explosions were more distant. At 1230, the submarine began to move again. At 1245, the enemy hunters again located her and resumed depth charging. S-38 again settled to the bottom. The depth charging continued until after 1300. The search continued until after 1800.

At 1842, the submarine got underway, heading back to the Hundred Islands area. At 2235, she surfaced to recharge her batteries. Five minutes later, her after battery exploded. At 2304, she went ahead on her starboard engine, making her way out of Lingayen Gulf.

Soon after 0200 on the 25th, she sighted two enemy destroyers, but remained undetected. At 0346, however, she sighted a third, which sighted her. S-38 submerged. The destroyer closed the submarine’s last surface position and, at 0350, commenced depth charging. From then until after 0900, the submarine evaded the destroyer, using her one quiet propeller. She then grounded on a steep bank at 85 feet. For the next two hours, the destroyer circled. S-38 slid down to 200 feet, used her motor to bring herself up; then repeated the maneuver. The destroyer moved off; and, at 1235, the S-boat got underway for Manila. An hour later, she grounded, but only briefly; and, at 2145 on the 26th, she entered the outer minefield at the entrance to Manila Bay.

Ordered to Soerabaja in the Dutch East Indies, S-38 arrived there on 14 January and spent her 2nd War Patrol in the Makassar Strait off Balikpapan. Moon Chapple left the boat then, headed to the larger and newer USS Permit (SS- 178) and later the USS Bream (SS-243). S-38 would continue on her 3rd Patrol under the command of Lt. Henry Glass Munson.

The old boat’s 3rd Patrol was unproductive but on her 4th Patrol Munson would surface and shell the Japanese facilities at Sangkapura on 26 February and two days later go on to rescue 54 haunted survivors of the heroic British E-class destroyer HMS Electra (H27) which had been pummeled by the Japanese at the Battle of the Java Sea.

On 2 March, S-38 spotted the Japanese Nagara-class light cruiser Kinu and a destroyer off Cape Awarawar and, although she fired six torpedoes, did not achieve a hit, and was in turn depth charged for 24-hours straight for her effort. Kinu would later be sunk in the Philipines in October 1944 by carrier aircraft.

Transferred to Brisbane in Australia to join the other Sugar boats of SubRon5, S-38 completed a 4th, 5th, and 6th Patrol without much to show for it.

On her 7th Patrol splashed the Japanese freighter Meiyo Maru (5628 GRT) in the St. George Channel on 8 August 1942.

A Chief Torpedoman paints another hashmark on the Torpedo Shop scoreboard of Japanese ships claimed sunk by SubRon 5’s S-Boats, operating out of Brisbane, Australia, during April-November 1942. Photographed on board USS Griffin (AS-13), tender to the squadron. Submarines listed on the scoreboard include S-37 (SS-142), S-38 (SS-143), S-39 (SS-144), S-40 (SS-145), S-41 (SS-146), S-42 (SS-153), S-43 (SS-154), S-44 (SS-155), S-45 (SS-156), S-46 (SS-157), and S-47 (SS-158). NARA 80-G-77065

At the end of her 8th Patrol, S-38 headed to California for a much-needed overhaul– attempting to sink a fat Japanese tanker off Tarawa on the way without success– then completed one final patrol, from Pearl Harbor, on 27 July 1943.

USS Harris (APA-2) moored in the background of this photo of USS S-38 (SS-143) following overhaul at San Diego, April 1943. US Navy photo # 1198-43 from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard collection now held at Seattle NARA

From there, S-38 spent a year in ASW training duties in the relatively safe New Hebrides, an OPFOR for air and surface units passing to the real war in the West.

Ordered to San Diego, she was decommissioned on 14 December 1944, struck from the Navy list a month later, and sunk as a target by aerial bombing on 20 February 1945, her last full measure.

In all, S-38 earned three battle stars during the war.

Following the conflict, the tale of her harrowed Christmastime raid in the Lingayen Gulf during the darkest days of the war was retold in the first season of The Silent Service in 1957. A guest on the show was Moon Chapple, who at the time was a double Navy Cross recipient and a full Captain. After he left S-38 in 1942 he would go on to bag another half-dozen Marus and heavily damage two Japanese cruisers before going on to skipper the reactivated heavy cruiser USS Pittsburgh (CA-72) in the Korean War

When asked if anything else could have happened to one submarine on one patrol, Moon answered, “I don’t see how. By the time you’ve been through depth charge attacks, groundings, broken instruments, mechanical damage and a battery explosion you sorta run out of ideas of how to get into trouble.”

Moon would go on to retire as a rear admiral in 1959. He died in 1991, aged 83.

As for S-38’s sisters, though obsolete, several S-boats remained on the Navy List and served the Navy well in both the Atlantic and Pacific (including several lost to accidents) during WWII. A half-dozen were even transferred to the Royal Navy as Lend-Lease including class leader and the former submersible aircraft carrier, USS S-1.

None of these hardy, if somewhat unlucky, craft endure though Pigboats.com keeps their memory alive.

Specs:


Displacement: 854 tons surfaced; 1,062 tons submerged
Length: 219 feet 3 inches
Beam: 20 feet 9 inches
Draft: 16 feet
Propulsion: 2 × New London Ship and Engine Company (NELSECO) diesels, 600 hp each;
2 × General Electric electric motors, 560 kW each; 120 cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 14.5 knots surfaced; 11 knots submerged
Range: 5,000 miles at 10 knots surfaced on 168 tons (41,192 gals) oil fuel
Test depth: 200 ft
Crew: 4 Officers, 34 Enlisted as designed. Up to 42 during WWII.
Armament (as built):
4 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 12 torpedoes first Mk 10 then later Mk 14)
1 × 4-inch (102 mm)/50 cal Mark 9 “wet mount” deck gun

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Shades of Balikpapan

The largest Australian-led amphibious landing and offensive assault in history were the OBOE 2 landings at Balikpapan, Borneo (then the Japanese-held Dutch East Indies) in which some 33,000 troops hit the beach in July 1945. We’ve talked about that operation a couple weeks ago on a Warship Wednesday. 

With the path cleared by UDT-18, 7th Division Australian troops come ashore from landing craft during landing near Balikpapan oil fields in Borneo in July 1945. Some 33,000-strong combined Australian and Royal Netherlands Indies amphibious forces, the largest ever amphibious assault by Australian forces, hit the beach. 

Therefore, it is fitting that this month’s Talisman Saber ’19 exercise saw the largest Australian-led amphibious landing since OBOE with an extended multi-day combined force assault on Langham Beach, near Stanage Bay, Queensland, involving not only the Australians but also U.S. Marines, New Zealand troops, and elements of the British MoD, Japanese Self-Defense Force (ironically) and Canadian Forces.

As part of the exercise scenario, the fictional Pacific nation Kamaria invaded nearby “Legais” island, sparking global outcry and a response from the Blue Forces to liberate the occupied territory. Recon elements were inserted on D-3 with a full-on landing on D-Day with amphibious assault vehicles, landing craft, and helicopters bringing troops to shore.

The imagery was great.

More here. 

Talisman Sabre ’19

I just love PHOTOEX shots!

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anaid Banuelos Rodriguez)

TASMAN SEA (July 11, 2019) The U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), top left, the U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), left, the Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Regina (FFH 334), center, the Royal Australian Navy Canberra-class landing helicopter dock ship HMAS Canberra (L02), top right, and the Legend-class cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752), right, transit by the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) in a photo exercise (PHOTOEX) during Talisman Sabre 2019. Green Bay, part of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group, with embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, is currently participating in Talisman Sabre 2019 off the coast of Northern Australia. A bilateral, biennial event, Talisman Sabre is designed to improve U.S. and Australian combat training, readiness and interoperability through realistic, relevant training necessary to maintain regional security, peace, and stability.

Hermes, Clamagore, and Newcastle to be no more

Lots of changes among the world’s floating museum ships and those otherwise long in the tooth this week.

Hermes/Viraat

Centaur-class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (R12) bouncing around the North Atlantic with her bow mostly out of the water, 1977.

Laid down at Vickers-Armstrong on 21 June 1944, two weeks after the Allies stormed ashore at D-Day, as HMS Elephant, the RN carrier HMS Hermes only joined the fleet on 18 November 1959 (after 15 years at the builders) with a much-altered plan that included an angled flight deck to allow the operation of jet-powered aircraft at sea. After legendary Cold War service and a pivotal part in the Falklands War in 1982, she was sold to India in 1987 and took the name INS Viraat (R22) and, homeported in Mumbai, served the Indian Navy for three more decades, undergoing a further five refits while in Indian service.

The last British-built ship serving the Indian Navy, Viraat was the star attraction at the International Fleet Review held in Visakhapatnam in February 2016. Her last Sea Harrier, (White Tigers in Indian service), flew from her deck on May 6, of that year and was given a formal farewell at INS Hansa, in Goa two days later. She was to be preserved as a floating museum, commemorating an amazing career.

Fast forward three years and this is not to be. Deli announced this week that she will soon be scrapped.

Clamagore

In formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

Subron-21’s GUPPY IIIs in formation on 18 April 1966. The boats seen are: USS BLENNY (SS-324), CLAMAGORE (SS-343), COBBLER (SS-344), and CORPORAL (SS-346)

The submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343), a Balao-class 311-foot “fleet boat” of the type that crushed the Japanese merchant fleet during WWII, commissioned on 28 June 1945– just narrowly too late for the war. However, her Naval service was rich, being converted to a GUPPY II snorkel boat in 1947 and later GUPPY III in 1962– one of only a handful to get the latter upgrade.

Decommissioned in 1973, the boat was still in pretty good shape when she was donated at age 36 to become a museum ship at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina where she has been since 1981, near the WWII carrier USS Yorktown.

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

The Clamagore (SS-343) being brought to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston, SC. 1981. Courtesy Tommy Trapp via Navsource

Now, she is suffering from extensive decay and, although a group of subvets is trying to save her (and taking the state to court) Palmetto State lawmakers have voted to spend $2.7 million in public dollars to sink the Cold War-era submarine off South Carolina’s shores.

Newcastle

To replace their aging Adams (Perth)-class DDGs, the Royal Australian Navy in the 1980s ordered a six-pack of Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates. Known locally as the Adelaide (FFG01)-class in RAN service, the first four vessels were built in the U.S. at Todd in Seattle, while last two were constructed by AMECON of Williamstown, Victoria.

Besides the names of large Australian cities, the vessels carried the names of past RAN vessels including two HMS/HMAS Sydney’s that fought in WWI and WWII, and Oz’s two aircraft carriers.

Photo by ABPH Tracey Casteleijn/RAN/ #950365-10

Photo by ABPH Tracey Casteleijn/RAN/ #950365-10

Canberra and Adelaide were paid off in 2005 and 2008 respectively, then sunk as dive wrecks. Sydney struck in 2015 and began scrapping soon after, while Darwin was broken up in 2017. Melbourne and Newcastle were to stick it out until the new Hobart-class destroyers arrive to replace them by 2019.

With that, HMAS Newcastle (FFG06), was put to pasture this week after she traveled more than 900,000 nautical miles, visited over 30 countries, conducted six maritime security operations and earned battle honors in East Timor, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East.

Lieutenant Commander Nick Graney salutes during the national anthem as part of HMAS Newcastle’s decommissioning ceremony at Fleet Base East, Sydney on Sunday 30th June 2019.

Lieutenant Commander Nick Graney, RAN, salutes during the national anthem as part of HMAS Newcastle’s decommissioning ceremony at Fleet Base East, Sydney on Sunday 30th June 2019.

The final Australian FFG, Melbourne (FFG05), is set to be decommissioned 26 Oct 2019 and, like Newcastle, will be sold to Chile to begin a second career on the other end of the Pacific. Should that somehow fall through, the Hellenic Navy has also expressed interest in acquiring these classic but hard-used Perries.

And the beat goes on…

Jack Warne has passed the bar

Jack Warne spent over 50 years in the gun industry across two continents. (Photo: Warne Scope Mounts)

Firearms designer and gun culture legend John “Jack” Llewellyn Warne, responsible for the birth of at least three iconic shooting industry brands, has died at age 96.

Raised in the small town of Kimba, South Australia, a 23-year-old Warne went on to found Sporting Arms Limited, best known as Sportco, in 1947. At the time, Sportco was the only private gun maker in Australia and over the next three decades produced dozens of rifle models, with Warne at the drawing board for their designs.

Of course, he would later leap the Pacific in a single bound and, with his son, found Kimber of Oregon and Warne scope mounts.

Vale, Jack. You were one of a kind.

The Last Ozzie Aardvark

Back in the 1960s, there were big plans for the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark. It was intended to arm both the U.S. Air Force and Navy as well as overseas allies as an interceptor and fighter bomber that could be used as a strategic bomber and recon plane in a pinch. Most of those roles– and users– never materialized but in the end, some 563 F/EF-111s of all kinds were produced and used by the U.S. and Royal Australian Air Forces.

Photo Courtesy of RAAF (1 Squadron F111 A8-114 near Cunningham’s Gap, Qld) F-111C

RAAF No. 1 Squadron F-111C #A8-114 near Cunningham’s Gap, Qld

While the USAF pulled the type for good in 1998, they continued to soldier on Down Under until much more recently. Flown by No. 1 and No. 6 Squadron RAAF out of Amberley, the 28 Australia-unique F-111C/RF-111C models were on the front line until 2010, arguably the most capable strike aircraft in South East Asia.

One of the more historic of the RAAF fleet was RF-111C #A8-134, which was delivered by Gen Dyn in 1973. After service as a strike bomber, in 1980 reconnaissance and tactical equipment was added to a special bay in its underbelly to turn it into a camera bird, a task it maintained until retirement on 3 December 2010.

Handover of RF-111C #A8-134 by the Royal Australian Air Force to the Memorial May 29, 2019

A8-134 has now been handed over to the Australian War Memorial and will be housed at the Treloar Technology Centre in Mitchell.

Colossus, the original

The Royal Navy has counted six warships named HMS Colossus over the centuries to include– possibly the best known among modern scholars– the Colossus-class dreadnought battleship of Jutland fame. Other famous vessels with the same name are the class-leading WWII-era light aircraft carrier that went on to be the French Indochina-era flattop Arromanches (R95), and a previous early battleship of the 1880s.

Going even further back, the first Colossus in the Royal Navy was the 74-gun Courageux-class third rate ship of the line launched at Gravesend on 4 April 1787. Fighting at the Siege of Toulon and the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, the latter one of the greatest British naval victories that no one has ever heard of, she was lost in bad weather off Samson Island in the windswept Isles of Scilly in December 1798.

Extensively salvaged in the 20th Century, divers discovered eight cannons in the 1970s and brought to the surface. Five were retained by a chap named Roger Smith, who brought them to Tasmania, Australia. One was provided to Penny Royal Gunpowder Mills where it takes part in displays.

Now, three of Smith’s guns, a 32-pdr, and two 24-pdrs, just went to auction with an estimate of between $4,000 and $5,000. Too bad it was in Australia.

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