Category Archives: canada

The Remnants of 1 & 2 Can Para, 80 Years on

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was formed in July 1942 with an authorized strength of 26 officers and 590 other ranks, formed into a battalion headquarters, three rifle companies, and an HHC. Incidentally, 2 Can Para was formed shortly after and shipped south to Montana to join a U.S. force to form the First Special Service Force (aka The Devil’s Brigade).

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion shakes hands with Russian officer Wismar Germany on May 4 1945. Source: Photo by Charles H. Richer Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-150930.

1 Can Para jumped into Normandy during Overlord/Tonga alongside the 6th British Airborne division– the first Canadian unit on the ground in France since Dieppe– and after reforming (the battalion suffered 367 casualties in the D-Day operation) would fight in the Ardennes and jump across the Rhine in Operation Varsity.

32 Canadian paras with 22IPC Pathfinders, were the first Canadians in France on D Day

Uniform and equipment worn by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratrooper via Legion Magazine, note his helmet and toggle rope

2 Can Para would fight with the Devils Brigade up the length of Italy earning battle honors at Monte Camino, Monte Majo, Monte La Difensa/Monte La Remetanea, Anzio, and Rome.

Devils Brigade…

Post War

With its battalion-sized parachute units disbanded after WWII in favor of a few smaller units dispersed through its infantry regiments, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was stood up in 1968, composed of two “commando” battalions (one English speaking, one partially French) at Edmonton, Alberta, then later shifted to Petawawa, Ontario. The Regiment was soon at work in Cyprus in 1974 (and would return there several times in future years).

By 1977, this changed to an airborne-capable commando company in each of Canada’s three active infantry regiments (The Royal Canadian Regiment, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and the “Van Doos” of the Royal 22e Régiment), seen as capable of landing at a remote strip in the Canadian far wilderness (or Greenland, Iceland, or Alaska) and setting up for fly-in units in the event of a Soviet incursion over the North Pole, while the Canadian Airborne Regiment was reduced to a battalion-sized rump.

Today

Following a terrible scandal stemming from the Canadian Airborne Regiment’s 1992 tour in Somalia, the regiment was disbanded. However, that doesn’t mean the canucks don’t still maintain an airborne capability.

The 1977 program, with the 3rd Battalion of the RCR, PPCLI, and The Van Doos all maintaining a parachute-certified company, typically the “M” company, persisted. Further, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), carrying the lineage of the old Devil’s Brigade, was formed in 2006 to pull off the sort of ops that the old Canadian Airborne Regiment was tasked with from 1968-1995. In short, the Canadians could put together a reinforced airborne battalion combat team if needed, i.e. the old 1 Can Para. 

As the RCAF only has 29 active CC-130J/CC-130H Hercules and a few elderly CC-130Es in storage, they could only combat drop a battalion-sized force in one go anyway, so the size fits what the Air Force can deliver. 

Today, M(3)PPCLI and M(3)R22R are airborne-capable while the entire 3rd Battalion, RCR, is rated as airmobile/air assault and includes a paratrooper company as well, and they recently got some canvas time in, conducting parachute and helocast maneuvers in Petawawa, Ontario as part of Exercise Royal Trident.

Remembering Dieppe at 80

The colossal foul-up that was Operation Jubilee or the Dieppe Raid, using a brigade-sized mix of mostly Canadian troops augmented by a few U.S. Army Rangers and Allied Commandos to capture and hold a French Channel port in a dress rehearsal for taking Europe back, was 80 years ago today. It turned out to be the Canadian Army’s costliest day of WWII with 907 men killed, another 2,500 wounded, and 1,976 captured.

Two Canadians received the Victoria Cross for their bravery.

German officer and soldiers examining a Churchill tank stuck on the beach in front of the boardwalk after the battle, its left track broken. Wounded men lying on the ground are about to be evacuated. Dieppe, August 19th, 1942. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada C-017293.

The poor showing led to putting off the liberation of France for two years as the Allies concentrated on opening the second front in the Axis’s “soft underbelly” in the Med. 

This year’s commemoration includes a few of the remaining Veterans, contingents from the Canadian Army, and HMCS Kingston.

Assiniboine takes a scalp

Some 80 years ago today, on 6 August 1942, the Royal Canadian Navy’s C-class destroyer leader HMCS Assiniboine (I18) turned herself into a knife to slice up a German sausage in the form of a U-boat

Ordered in 1929 for the Royal Navy as HMS Kempenfelt, she joined the British fleet in 1932 and served until the outbreak of World War II, when shortly after Hitler sent his legions over the Polish border, the 1,400-ton tin can moved over to the Canadians and was given her Assiniboine moniker (just “Bones” to her crew) and was soon busting German blockade runners in the Caribbean. Allocated for mid-ocean escort service in June 1941, she would ride shotgun on a staggering 71 convoys.

This brings us to Kptlt. Rudolf Lemcke’s U-210, a Krupp-built Type VIIC operating with the Steinbrinck wolfpack some 20-days into her first war patrol.

From the excellent Post Mortems On Enemy Submarines – Serial No. 4 in the NHHC collection:

At 1325 on August 6, in a patch of clear weather, H. M. C. S. Assiniboine, forming part of the escort of S. C. 94 from Halifax to the United Kingdom, sighted a conning tower bearing 30° range 6 miles. At 1338 she fired three salvos, before the last of which the U-boat altered course to port and dived. It has been positively established by survivors’ statements that this boat was not U-210Assiniboine arrived in the vicinity of this U-boat’s diving position at 1357 and altered course to 330°, this being the estimated course of the U-boat before she dived. Assiniboine then carried out a box sweep in the area, at 1418 firing a pattern of depth charges set at 100 to 225 feet, but with no evident results, and continued to sweep in the presumed track of this U-boat.

At 1912 Assiniboine sighted a conning tower bearing 120° at 2,000 yards retiring at full speed into the fog. At 2036, with visibility about 2,000 yards, she established a Radar contact bearing 270°. Almost immediately she sighted U-210, stopped. Then U-210 went ahead at full speed and altered course to starboard, disappearing into the fog after Assiniboine had fired one round. Assiniboine, hearing H. E. at this time bearing 300°, increased speed, but misjudged the distance she had run and, thinking she had passed the U-boat’s position, altered to 345°, the target’s estimated course. She then realized her mistake, and altered course back to 190°. Visibility was then 600 to 800 yards.

At 2000 the bridge watch was relieved aboard U-210, the following men coming on duty: Quartermaster Holst, Coxswain Krumm, Monbach, and Meetz. Mueller relieved Mycke at the helm. Mueller is believed to have stood alone in the conning tower at this time. As none of the bridge watch survived the following action, accounts of the sinking of U-210 are limited to his statements and those of men below decks.

According to Mueller, fog closed around the U-boat as the watch was relieved and Lemcke, thinking that U-210 was safely hidden, came below to eat his supper. A few minutes later Mueller heard confused sounds of shouting and firing above, and Lemcke and Tamm passed him on the way to the bridge. General alarm was sounded throughout the U-boat, by buzzers in the forward compartments and by flickering green and red lights in the engine room, as the crew were eating their evening meal.

–13–

View from aboard Assiniboine.
Assiniboine.

–14–

Closing in on the sub.
closes

–15–

Ship along side submarine.
enemy.

–16–

Assiniboine takes a scalp.
Assiniboine takes a scalp.

–17–

At 2050 Assiniboine gained another Radar contact at 035° on the starboard bow, range 1,200 yards. She closed it at full speed and about 1 minute later sighted U-210, still on the surface. She closed to ram at full speed, having first housed the dome and prepared a 50-foot depth-charge pattern.

Both vessels opened fire and for about 25 minutes a furious action ensued at almost point-blank range. U-210 took a constant evading action, and Assiniboine was forced to go full astern on the inside engine to prevent U-210 getting inside her turning circle, which the U-boat seemed to be trying to do. During some of this action the two vessels were so close that Assiniboine‘s company could see Lemcke on U-210‘s bridge bending down to pass wheel orders.

Aboard U-210 no effort was made to dive immediately nor could anyone reach the 8.8-cm. gun, but fire from Assiniboine was returned by Holst, manning the 2-cm. gun at a range of approximately 200 yards. Explosive bullets were used and started a second-degree fire in Assiniboine‘s forecastle, spreading aft almost to the bridge.

Lemcke was blamed posthumously by his men for not submerging at once, but the volume of smoke pouring from the destroyer apparently led him to believe that he had damaged her considerably, and encouraged him to prolong the action. Prisoners also stated that he felt he could escape on the surface through the protecting fog, if need be.

Assiniboine‘s first hits damaged one of U-210‘s port trimming tanks. The bridge was then struck by machine gun bullets. Holst was shot through the neck and killed outright, and Krumm was badly wounded. An instant later Assiniboine scored a direct hit with her 4.7 gun on the conning tower, the shell making a shambles of the bridge.

A prisoner stated that Lemcke was literally blown to pieces, and that Krumm, lying wounded, was virtually decapitated. It is assumed that Tamm also suffered a violent death.

Mueller believed that a body was flung against the torpedo firing mechanism, releasing an unset torpedo. Between them prisoners counted three more direct hits: One through the forward torpedo tubes, another which carried away the deck covering between the 8.8-cm. gun and the forward torpedo hatch – neither causing leaks in the pressure hull – and one aft which smashed the screws, water entering the boat. The boat was down by the stern, the electric motors had caught fire, and the round hitting the conning tower had severely damaged the Diesel air-intake.

During the action an attempt was also made to fire one torpedo.

The tube’s crew was told to stand by, but the order was never given.

With the conning tower practically demolished, Sorber, the engineer officer, now attempted to dive U-210. As the boat submerged, she

–18–

was rammed to starboard by Assiniboine abaft the conning tower and over the galley hatch (Kombüsenluke). U-210 descended to a depth of 18 meters. Water was flooding into the boat through the damaged Diesel air-intake, and through the battered stern. The electric motors had failed and everything breakable within the boat had been shattered.

Sorber gave the order to blow tanks and abandon ship, under the misapprehension that Göhlich, who had received superficial cuts, was too badly injured to make the ultimate decision. Sorber later reproached himself for surfacing and surrendering as he believed, upon subsequent reflection, that he might have been able to escape submerged. On surfacing, it was found that the water in the air-intake prevented the Diesels from being started and, according to survivors, U-210 remained stopped and slightly down by the stern. Assiniboine rammed again aft as U-210 surfaced, firing a shallow pattern of depth charges as she passed. The C. O. of the destroyer stated that the U-boat then sank by the head in 2 minutes.

Mueller stated that he stayed at his post until he heard the order. “Blow tanks; stand by life jackets!” He then left the helm as his life jacket was in the forward torpedo compartment and the men had been told never to take any but their own. He clambered through to the bow compartment, where he found a number of men abandoning ship through the forward torpedo hatch. Water was flooding through the hatch as he followed them. The majority of the engine-room personnel thought they were trapped when they found, first, that the galley hatch was jammed, and then, that they could not move the conning tower hatch which had become jammed by the direct hit on the bridge. Through their combined exertions they finally got the conning tower hatch open. The last man out of the control room stated that water was well over his boots there as he left.

When all were mustered, the engineer officer and one of the control room petty officers apparently went below, opened flooding valve 5 and put an explosive charge in the periscope shaft. There is a special opening in the shaft inside the boat for this purpose. The radio men threw overboard a number of secret papers, or burned them with incendiary leaflets. They also smashed the radio equipment with a hammer. Sorber himself denied that he had done anything more than open the seacocks before leaving the boat, as the last man out.

U-210 sank at 2114, H. M. S. Dianthus appearing out of the fog in time to see her go under. Although at the time of her sinking her after aerial was out of action and her Morse key broken, the chief radioman said he was able to send a signal reporting her sinking. Although this signal was much under power, he was sure that if B. d. U. did not receive it, one of the other U-boats in the vicinity did.

–19–

One survivor said that the radioman told them afterward that he had not been able to send any signals.

In view of the tremendous punishment taken by U-210 it is remarkable that the entire crew below decks escaped with their lives.

Bones would survive the war and be scrapped in 1952 with three Battle Honours (Atlantic 1939-45, Biscay 1944, English Channel 1944-45).

Four years later a new St-Laurent class destroyer (234) would perpetuate her name in the RCN, carrying it until 1995.

The battle between Bones and U-210 is remembered in maritime art. 

HMCS DIANTHUS IN THE DISTANCE. BONES BEATS U210 THE AUGUST 1942 SINKING OF THE GERMAN SUBMARINE, U210 BY HMCS ASSINIBOINE Tom Forrestal CWM 20110023-001

HMCS ASSINIBOINE by SubLt Beatty Grieve CWM 19740552-002-2487×2160

ASSINIBOINE VERSUS U-BOAT U-210 CDR Harold Bement CWM 19710261-1021

A Night Raid

“In this charcoal sketch by H.J. Mowat, six Canadians leave the trenches to go on a raid. Given the apparent absence of sandbags, they are possibly exiting from an advanced listening post. Under the moonlight, they will thread through their own wire and into No Man’s Land before slipping through the enemy’s wire and launching their attack. Raids could involve only a few soldiers sneaking quietly forward, like the one depicted here, or several hundred attacking with coordinated support from the artillery, mortars, and machine guns.”

Sketch by H.J. Mowat. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-0431

Warship Wednesday, July 20, 2022: Four Stacker Convoy King

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, July 20, 2022: Four Stacker Convoy King

Above we see the stern of the Clemson-class tin can USS McCook (Destroyer # 252), in her second career as the Royal Canadian Navy’s Town-class HMCS St. Croix (I 81), with her White Duster flapping in the windy North Atlantic, likely while on convoy duty in 1942. Note her Q.F. 12-pdr. (12-cwt.) gun over the stern with ready rounds in the rack and splinter mats rigged for a modicum of protection. While McCook had a quiet life in her stint with the U.S. Navy, St. Croix throughout her work with the RCN would log time with 28 convoys and bust two of Donitz’s U-boats– not bad for a second-hand “four piper.”

One of the massive fleets of 156 Clemson-class flush decker destroyers, like most of her sisters, McCook came too late to help lick the Kaiser. An expansion of the almost identical Wickes-class destroyers with a third more fuel capacity to enable them to escort a convoy across the Atlantic without refueling, the Clemsons were sorely needed to combat the pressing German submarine threat of the Great War.

At 1,200 tons and with a top speed of 35 knots, they were brisk vessels ready for the task.

Inboard and outboard profiles for a U.S. Navy Clemson-class destroyer, in this case, USS Doyen (DD-280)

Carrying a legacy

Our vessel laid down at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp in Quincy, Massachusetts in September 1918, was the first named in honor of CDR Roderick S. McCook, USN. The Ohio-born McCook was appointed a Mid in 1854 at age 15 and gave 28 years to the Navy, including service on the steam frigate USS Minnesota, the gunboat USS Stars and Stripes, and as XO of the monitor USS Canonicus during the Civil War, distinguishing himself in the latter during the assaults on Fort Fisher to the special thanks of Congress and ADM Porter.

CDR Roderick S. McCook, USN. Promoted to commander on 25 September 1873, McCook died in 1886. NH 47933

U.S. Navy Service

McCook commissioned on 30 April 1919 and, following her shakedown on the East Coast, was folded into the rapidly-shrinking Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet. She soon shipped out for Europe at a time when the U.S. was heavily involved in shaping the post-Great War redrawing of the map of that continent and the ensuing cycles of revolution, civil war, and nationalist uprisings.

USS McCook (Destroyer # 252) Dressed in flags in a European port, circa 1919. Photographed by R.E. Wayne (# J-50). NH 46470.

Wicks-class destroyer USS Gridley (DD-92) and USS McCook (DD-252) in Venice during 1919. From the John Dickey collection, via Navsource.

Once Europe began to quiet down, and the Roaring 20s set in, the Navy found McCook (as well as many other tin cans) surplus to its immediate needs, and she was decommissioned at Philadelphia on 30 June 1922 at laid up.

Her entire active USN service would run 1,157 days– barely enough to get her hull dirty.

View of the Reserve Fleet Basin of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard circa the early 1920s. Visible ships include (left to right): the destroyers USS McCook (DD-252) and USS Benham (DD-49). U.S. Navy photo S-574-M.

Headed to serve the King

With Europe again at war, on 2 September 1940, FDR signed the so-called Destroyers for Bases Agreement that saw a mix of 50 (mostly mothballed) Caldwell (3), Wickes (27), and Clemson (20)-class destroyers transferred to the Royal Navy in exchange for limited basing rights on nine British overseas possessions. Canada would receive seven of these ships including two Clemsons: McCook and her sister USS Bancroft (DD-256).

In respect of Canada’s naming tradition for destroyers, all seven RCN flush deckers were named for Canadian rivers, ideally, those that ran in conjunction with the U.S. border, a nice touch. McCook, therefore, became HCMS St. Croix, so named after the river on the Maine/New Brunswick border, while Bancroft became HMCS St. Francis after the Rivière Saint-François which makes up part of the Maine/Quebec line.

Sailed by scratch USN crews from Philadelphia, McCook was handed over at Halifax on 24 September in a batch of five destroyers.

Transfer of U.S. destroyers to the Royal Navy in Halifax, Sept 1940. Wickes-class destroyers USS Buchanan (DD-131), USS Crowninshield (DD-134), and USS Abel P. Upshur (DD-193) are in the background. The sailors are examining a 4-inch /50 deck gun. Twenty-three Wickes-class destroyers were transferred to the RN, along with four to the RCN, in 1940 under the Destroyers for Bases Agreement. (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3199286)

HCMS St. Croix passed through the anti-submarine gates at Halifax, before receiving her camouflage.

Made ready for local patrol, she joined her first convoy, the Halifax-to-Liverpool HX 080, on 12 October– just 18 days after she was handed over. The seas were not kind to the small destroyer.

A battered HCMS St. Croix enters Halifax Harbor on 18 Dec 1940 after enduring a powerful North Atlantic storm. This photograph shows some of the damage inflicted on the ship, including guardrails hanging over the ship’s side (center) and broken windows on the ship’s bridge (top center). Less visible but more serious storm damage included bent steel plating on the bridge and below-deck flooding caused by massive waves. The photograph also emphasizes the ship’s narrow hull, which contributed to its instability in heavy seas and to poor handling. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19900085-1040

As part of the handover, some systems and armament were changed out, after all, McCook had been laid up since 1922 and was all-Yank. Ultimately, three of her four triple-packed torpedo turnstiles were landed as was the aft 4-inch gun, the latter replaced by a British 12-pounder. She also eventually picked up a couple light AAA guns, depth charge racks, British radar (Type 273), medium-frequency direction finders (MF/DF), ASDIC, and depth charge throwers. At least one boiler was removed to increase fuel capacity.

Unidentified personnel manning a four-inch gun aboard HCMS St. Croix at sea, March 1941. LAC 3567312

Manning a .50-caliber water-cooled AAA mount aboard HCMS St. Croix at sea, March 1941. LAC 3571062.

Once modified and updated, she was sent for work with convoys between St Johns and Iceland by April 1941, joining troopship Convoy TC 10.

In October 1941, while part of ON 019A, St. Croix picked up 34 survivors from the Dutch merchant Tuva that was torpedoed and sunk the previous day by the German U-boat U-575 southwest of Iceland.

HCMS St. Croix (Canadian destroyer, 1940) taken circa 1941, at Reykjavik, Iceland. Note camouflage. NH 49941

HMCS St Croix (ex-USS McCook, DD-252) underway circa 1942 via Navsource

On 24 July 1942, while part of the outbound ON 113 convoy from Liverpool to Halifax, St. Croix, under command of 40-year-old LCDR Andrew Hedley Dobson, RCNR, she depth-charged U-90 (Kptlt. Hans-Jürgen Oldörp) to the bottom east of Newfoundland after the boat had attacked her convoy the day before. The U-boat took all 44 of her crew with her on her final dive, now 80 years ago this week.

Commodore L.W. Murray congratulated the Ship’s Company of HCMS St. Croix for sinking the German submarine U-90 on 24 July. St. John’s, Newfoundland, 29 July 1942. LAC 3231215

St. Croix’s crew gathered around her sole remaining set of torpedo tubes during the pier side celebration after sinking the U-90. Note the depth charges to the right. LAC 3231215

Dobson would earn the Distinguished Service Cross on 25 November 1942 for the U-90 sinking. He was still in command when she shared a second submarine kill with the Flower-class corvette HMCS Shediac (K100), against U-87 (Kptlt. Joachim Berger) off the Iberian coast on 4 March 1943 as part of Convoy KMS 10. A killer, U-87 had accounted for 5 Allied merchant ships (38,014 tons) before Shediac/St. Croix would end her budding career.

Speaking of endings, in the spirit of living and dying by the sword in epic proportions, St. Croix would come under the sights of Kptlt. Rudolf Bahr’s U-305 while escorting convoy ON-202 southwest of Iceland on the night of 20 September 1943. One of the first victims of the newly developed Gnat acoustic torpedo, she took three hits from the weapon and sank in the freezing waters in six minutes.

In all, she had served the RN/RCN for just 1,091 days, two months shy of her USN career.

After surviving 13 hours afloat, some five officers and 76 men who had survived St. Croix’s loss were picked up by the River-class frigate HMS Itchen (K 227) the next morning only to have that ship sunk by a Gnat fired from U-666 on 23 September. A single member of St. Croix’s crew, Stoker William Fisher, survived his second sinking in 72 hours. He was rescued by a Polish merchant ship, the Wisla, along with two men of the Itchen.

As noted by the Canadian War Museum, “St. Croix’s loss was felt nationwide because the crew, as on many Canadian ships, was drawn from across the country.”

For what it is worth, U-666, the slayer of HMS Itchen, the event that also claimed 80 of St. Croix’s waterlogged and traumatized crew, would meet her end in 1944 at the hands of 842 Sqn Swordfish of the British escort carrier HMS Fencer, with all hands lost. The Battle of the Atlantic was unforgiving no matter the flag.

Epilogue

All 2,852 Canadian and Newfoundland sailors and soldiers lost at sea in WWII were added to the Great War’s Halifax Memorial at Point Pleasant Park in 1966. RCN vessels and visiting warships render honors when passing the memorial in daylight.

Halifax Memorial

St. Croix’s lost crew is chronicled in a page at For Posterity’s Sake. 

As for her sisters, seven Clemsons were lost at the disaster at Honda Point in 1923, and 18 (including six used by the British) were lost in WWII including one, USS Stewart (DD-224), which was famously raised by the Japanese and used in their Navy only to be recaptured by the USN and given a watery grave after the war. Notably, the other Clemson-class RCN Four-Stacker, HMCS St. Francis (ex-USS Bancroft) who sailed as escort to 20 convoys and engaged the enemy on five occasions somehow managed to survive the conflict.

Those remaining Clemsons not sold off in the 1930s or otherwise sent to Davy Jones were scrapped wholesale in the months immediately after WWII. Sister USS Hatfield was decommissioned on 13 December 1946 and was sold for scrap on 9 May 1947 to NASSCO, the last of her kind in the U.S. Navy.

The final Clemson afloat, USS Aulick (DD-258), joined the Royal Navy as HMS Burnham (H82) in 1940 as part of the “Destroyers for Bases” deal. Laid up in 1944, she was allocated for scrapping on 3 December 1948, the end of an era.

None are preserved and only the scattered wrecks in the Western Pacific, Honda Point, the Med and Atlantic endure.

Few elements of the first USS McCook— or the first HMCS St. Croix— remain today other than engineering documents in the National Archives.

St. Croix is remembered in maritime art.

“HMCS St. Croix and U-Boat in North Atlantic” by Ronald Weyman. Canadian War Museum Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-5628. Weyman served aboard the St. Croix as a naval gunnery officer and only narrowly missed being on the ship when she was sunk and later went on to become an award-winning film and television director and producer after the war. His artwork likely depicts the moment U-90 was sunk on July 24, 1942.

A well-done scale model of HMCS St. Croix is on display at The Military Museums in Calgary along with photos of her service.

(Credit: Naval Museum Assoc. of Alberta via The Military Museums).

Meanwhile, the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum has an exhibit that includes letters from Stoker Fisher, St. Croix’s sole survivor.

The U.S. Navy quickly reused the McCook name in WWII, christening in April 1942 the Gleaves-class destroyer DD-496 (later DMS-46), sponsored by Mrs. Reed Knox, granddaughter of CDR McCook.

Commissioned on 15 March 1943, McCook received three battle stars for World War Il service, all in the ETO. Sent to the Pacific post-war, she was laid up in 1949 at San Diego then at Bremerton before being sent to the breakers in 1973. She was the last USS McCook.

The Canadians likewise commissioned a second St. Croix, a Restigouche-class destroyer (DDE 256) built in the 1950s in Quebec. The Cold Warrior was a big part of the RCN’s ASW plans until paid off early in 1974 due to constrained defense budgets as part of that grinning fool Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal/socialist policies.

The beautiful HMCS St. Croix (DDE 256). She was laid up in 1974, just 18 years after joining the fleet, and was sold in 1991 for scrapping. CFB Esquimalt Museum photo.

Perhaps the RCN could do with a third St. Croix.

Specs:

HMCS St. Croix plan and elevation by LB Jenson

Displacement:
1,215 tons (normal)
1,308 tons (full load)
Length: 314 ft. 4.5 in
Beam: 30 ft. 11.5 in
Draft: 9 ft. 4 in
Propulsion:
4 × boilers, 300 psi (2,100 kPa) saturated steam
2 geared steam turbines
27,600 hp (20,600 kW)
2 shafts
Speed: 35.5 knots
Range: 4,900 nmi (9,100 km) @ 15 knots
Crew: (USN as commissioned)
8 officers
8 chief petty officers
106 enlisted
Armament:

(1920)
4 x 4″/51 cal guns
1 x 3″/23 cal AAA
12 × 21-inch torpedo tubes (4 × 3) (533 mm)


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Wind of the Great North

We’ve covered the Wind-class “battle icebreakers” several times on Warship Wednesday including USS Atka (AGB-3)/USCGC Southwind (WAG-280) (then became the Soviet Kaptian Bouleve then later Admiral Makarov) and USCGC Northwind (WAG/WAGB-282).

USCGC Northwind in Antarctic waters, 16 December 1956. K-21429.

In all, an impressive eight Wind-class ships were built. Equipped with 5″/38 DP mounts and with the ability to carry floatplanes (later helicopters as soon as 1945), they fought the Germans in the “Weather War” while on Greenland Patrol in WWII, were the coldest boats of the frozen front lines of the Cold War where they helped establish the DEW Line and made sure Thule AB could exist in the Arctic and McMurdo in the Antarctic. Operations Deep Freeze, Nanook, Blue Nose, High Jump (aka “The Battle of Antarctica”), and more. They also proved to have long lives, with several still clocking in for hard work crunching ice in the late 1980s.

However, one of the Winds that got little love from the history books was a special one-off sister HMCS Labrador (AW50), the Royal Canadian Navy’s only polar icebreaker. She was almost amazingly advanced for the “old school” Tars of the RCN, being the first fully diesel-electric vessel in the Royal Canadian Navy as well as the first to have central heating and ventilation, air conditioning, and bunks instead of hammocks.

Built domestically under license by Marine Industries Limited in Sorel, Quebec (Yard No. 187), she was laid down on 18 November 1949, making her all-Canadian. Her seven American sisters were all built at San Pedro while her unarmed freshwater half-sister USCGC Mackinaw (WAGB-83) was built for Great Lakes service at Toledo.

Speaking of unarmed, the 6,500-ton HMCS Labrador was completed with a much-reduced fixed armament, mounting two 40mm Bofors and a single 3″/50 gun platform on the forecastle– though the latter was never mounted.

Note her forward gun platform is empty

As noted in her 141-page operational history:

The ship was by no means an exact copy of the American icebreakers, for advantage was taken of USN experience to incorporate many improvements. The stem of the Canadian ship, for instance, was given a knife-edge instead of the U shape of the American vessels, and the bow propeller fitted in the original Wind Class was omitted. The flight deck was made about half as big again as those fitted in the American ships and could accommodate three helicopters. Another major deviation from the US design was the fitting of retractable Denny-Brown stabilizing fins in an attempt to cut down the excessive roll of the Wind Class ships in rough weather. A great many changes involving accommodation of personnel were also made in order to provide better quarters and more recreational space for the ship’s company. Further modifications were necessitated by the fact that the RCN communications and radar requirements were about twice as great as those of the American ships. The ship’s first Commanding Officer, Captain O.C.S. Robertson, GM, RD, RCN, was responsible for many of the improvements made to the ship. He spent several months working with USN icebreakers, and his fertile mind conceived improvements and modifications at a rate that almost had the Naval Constructor in Chief wishing the ship had been assigned a less efficient and enthusiastic CO.

Commissioned 8 July 1954– some 68 years ago this week, later that November Labrador became the first warship to circumnavigate North America in a single voyage, sailing North from Halifax, crossing the Northwest Passage, sailing down the Pacific Coast, and back up to Halifax via the Panama Canal.

She could carry three helicopters including two Bell HTL-4 and a HUP II. Along with the 36-foot (11 m) all-aluminum hydrographic sounding craft Pogo. 2

She was Canada’s first heavy icebreaker and the Royal Canadian Navy’s first vessel capable of reliably operating in the waters of the Arctic, in essence, the country’s first Arctic patrol ship. She was the first warship as well as the first deep-draught ship of any type to transit the Northwest Passage and only the second vessel ever to accomplish the feat in one season.

USCGC Eastwind W279 coming alongside HMCS Labrador in the Arctic Ice

However, scandalously cash-strapped (a heritage the service continues to carry to this day), Labrador decommissioned on 22 November 1957 and transferred to civilian control in 1958 after just four years of RCN service.

Operating with the Department of Transport as the Canadian Government Ship (CGS) Labrador and then after 1962 with the newly-formed Canadian Coast Guard as CCGS Labrador, she endured until 1988 and was sent to the breakers. Today, the RCN hopes to field six new new “ice-capable” patrol ships, this time armed– the Harry DeWolf-class offshore patrol vessels– which are, at 6,600 tons, actually bigger than Labrador. It seems sending armed ships to the Arctic has finally become popular in Canada.

For more on Labrador, see her page on For Posterity’s Sake, a Royal Canadian Navy Historical Project.

Warship Wednesday, June 22, 2022: The Emperor’s Wrath

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, June 22, 2022: The Emperor’s Wrath

Above we see a WWII-era propaganda image portraying a 1942 bombardment of the U.S. West Coast by a surfaced submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Unlike Italy’s claim of sinking the battleships USS Maryland and Mississippi via the same Atlantic-cruising submarine at around the same period, this actually happened, 80 years ago this week in fact.

Without getting too much into the weeds, in mid-December 1941, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, VADM Mitsumi Shimizu, commander of the Dai-roku Kantai, the fleet containing the Japanese fleet submarine force, ordered nine boats involved in the Hawaii episode– I-9 (flag of Capt. Torajiro Sato, embarked), I-10, I-15, I-17, I-19, I-21, I-23, I-25, and I-26— to proceed to the U.S. mainland and surface on Christmas night to fire 30 shells apiece at selected shore targets in what would have surely been a special gift to America.

Apart from Sato’s ride and I-10 which were specifically built to have headquarters accommodations, all were Type B cruiser submarines. Large boats for the era, the assorted Type Bs went some 2,200 tons and as long as 356 feet overall, capable of hitting as much as 23 knots while carrying up to eight torpedo tubes into battle, thus making them a good match for the American fleet boats of the Gato-class (2,400t; 311 feet; 21 knots, 10 tubes). They had an unrefueled range of over 14,000 nm.

Here we see a World War II U.S. Navy schematic of a Japanese I-15, a Type B1 cruiser submarine. NH 111756

However, unlike the Gatos, the Type Bs could carry a stowed Navy Type 96 Watanabe E9W1 (Allied reporting name Slim) or, more typically, a Yokosuka E14Y2 (Glen) reconnaissance seaplane in a sealed dry dock. They could be made ready for surface launches over the bow and recovered via a desktop-mounted crane.

Yokosuka E14Y Glenn floatplane I-19 a Japanese Type B1 submarine. Nicimo box art

E14Y Type 0 Reconnaissance Seaplane Glen floatplane Japanese ONI221

The stern of the submarines carried a 14 cm/40 (5.5″) 11th Year (1922) Type deck gun, a piece superior to most American submarine guns.

14 cm/40 (5.5″) gun postwar. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

The Japanese completed no less than 29 Type B cruiser submarines in three different generations between 1938 and 1944 and canceled at least 20 others due to a lack of materials and shipyards not on fire.

In the end, Yamamoto put the Christmas raid on hold and the force was recalled home on 27 December. The units were needed as supporting assets for “Operation K” a flying boat attack on Hawaii to bomb Pearl Harbor’s “Ten-Ten Dock” and disrupt ship repair activities. Despite the lofty goal, Op K only resulted in the loss of I-23 with all hands somewhere off the Oahu coast in late February 1942.

Nonetheless, the new year would see several of these boats return on their own to conduct raids via deck gun on the mainland.

I-17

As detailed by RADM Sam Cox’s H-Gram H-010-6 on the matter: 

On 23 February 1942, the Japanese submarine I-17 shelled the Ellwood Oil Field west of Santa Barbara, California, inflicting minor damage (but triggering an invasion scare on the U.S. West Coast, which served as additional pretext for interning Japanese-American U.S. citizens). 

Japanese propaganda postcard depicting the submarine I-17 shelling Ellwood. Japanese captions “Our Submarine bombarding the coast of California” Artwork by Chuichi Mikuriya, Navy Battlefield Artist. Card via the California military museum.

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Feb 1942: Japanese Submarine I-17 bombarded Santa Barbara California. photos by LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon

Battle of LA

Cox:

It was followed on the night of 24–25 February by the “Battle of Los Angeles,” in which jittery American anti-aircraft gunners unleashed an intense barrage over the city at non-existent Japanese aircraft, an action “extremely” loosely depicted in the Steven Spielberg/John Belushi movie 1941. In the movie, the submarine that provoked the movie hysteria was the “I-19” which in reality was the floatplane-equipped Japanese submarine that sank the USS Wasp (CV-7) on 15 September 1942.

I-26

On 20 June, I-26 surfaced off Canada’s Pacific Coast and made her gun ready, the first enemy attack on Canadian soil since the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1871.

As noted by Combined Fleet: 

West coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Around 2217 (local), I-26 surfaces five miles off the coast and fires 17 shells (including two exercise rounds filled with sand) from her deck gun at the Hesquiat radio direction finding station. As a result of limited visibility and rough sea, none of the targets is hit. Most 5.5-in shells fall short of the Estevan Point lighthouse or explode nearby; one unexploded round is recovered after the attack and another in June 1973.

“Wireless station and light at Estevan Point shelled by enemy aircraft for 40 minutes commencing at 1025 PM June 20 [1942]. No damage was done except two windows cracked or broken. Station unscathed.”– reported the station’s keeper.

One of the recovered shells from I-26, via LAC

Canadian Naval staff inspects a Japanese shell from Estevan Point, B.C. Photo: Gerald Thomas Richardson.

Estevan Point Lighthouse & Wireless Station on Vancouver Island Photo via BC Archives. Today the Canadian Rangers hold a yearly commemoration on this spot to reinforce their current mission

This brings us to I-25

During the night of 21-22 June 1942, I-25 surfaced near the mouth of the Columbia River and opened fire on what her navigator took from outdated 1920s charts to be an American submarine base that, in fact, was never built. Instead, the rounds by coincidence hit within the campus of Fort Stevens, a U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps installation on the Oregon coast whose grounds dated back to the Civil War.

Fort Steven’s most modern emplacements in WWII were the two shielded 6-inch guns of Battery 245, supported by SCR 296 radar. However, it wasn’t begun until after the raid and was not completed until October 1944. 

Although obsolete– its main guns were 10-inch mortars and 10-inch disappearing guns from the late 19th century, the batteries at Fort Stevens were manned by elements of the 18th Coast Artillery Regiment (Harbor Defense) of the Regular Army and the 249th Coast Artillery Regiment of the Oregon National Guard, the only American Coast Artillery units to ever see combat in CONUS.

As described by the Oregon State Archives: 

Despite the confusion, soldiers at the fort soon manned their guns and searchlights, and lookouts could see the submarine firing in the distance. But the enemy ship was inaccurately determined to be out of range, and the artillerymen never received permission to return fire. The fort’s commander later claimed he didn’t want to give away the precise location of the defenses to the enemy.

The I-25’s shells left craters in the beach and marshland around Battery Russell at the fort, damaging only the backstop of the baseball diamond about 70 to 80 yards from the facility’s big guns. A shell fragment also nicked a power line, causing it to fail later. Casualties amounted to one soldier who cut his head rushing to his battle station. By about midnight the attack ended and the enemy vessel sailed off to the west and north.

While the submarine fired 17 shells, witnesses on land only heard between 9 and 14 rounds. Experts surmised that some shells might have been duds or fallen into the sea. Despite causing no significant damage, the attack certainly raised awareness of the threat of future strikes and went into the history books as the only hostile shelling of a military base on the U.S. mainland during World War II and the first since the War of 1812.

RADM Cox points out, “U.S. shore gunners requested permission to open fire on the submarine, but were denied out of concern that doing so would give away number, position, and capability of U.S. defenses before an actual invasion, thus depriving U.S. coastal artillery of their only opportunity to shoot at a real Japanese ship during the war.”

Crater, Fort Stevens, from I-25. NARA 299678

I-25 bombardment of Fort Stevens, by Richard L. Stark

Within days, the beaches near Fort Stevens were swathed in barbed wire and a defiant sign hung from its camouflaged emplacements.

“To Hell With Hirohito” sign refers to nine misses from I-25. NARA 299671

As I-25 sailed away to end her third war patrol, it would be the last Japanese submarine bombardment of the West Coast.

Epilogue

In a swan song of the Empire’s manned strikes on mainland America, I-25 would return to Oregon on her fourth patrol would launch Warrant Officer Nubuo Fujita and Petty Officer Okuda Shoji in their little Glen floatplane to drop a pair of 170-pound incendiary bombs in the dense forests over the Oregon Mountains near Brookings across two sorties on 9 and 29 September.

Painting of the I-25 launching her E14Y floatplane on a scouting mission, via Combined Fleet

From Combined Fleet:

9 September 1942: The First Bombing of the Continental United States:
25 miles W of the Oregon coast. The sea condition calms. I-25 surfaces just before dawn and the Glen is assembled and readied for the attack. Fujita catapults off at 0535 and drops two incendiary bombs near Mount Emily, but the rain has saturated the woods and renders the bombs ineffective. [7] Fujita heads for I-25. On his way back he spots two merchants steaming N at 12 knots. To avoid detection, I-25 moves NNE.

29 September 1942:
Cdr Tagami makes another attempt to start a forest fire in the Oregon woods. I-25 surfaces after midnight about 50 miles west of Cape Blanco. Fujita’s plane is launched by catapult at 2107 (I). Although the entire western coast of Oregon is blacked out, the Cape Blanco lighthouse is still operating. Using that light to navigate, Fujita flies east over the coast and drops his bombs. At least one starts a fire; however, it goes out before US Forest Service foresters can reach it. The bombing is unsuccessful. On his way back, Fujita manages to find his sub by following an oil slick. During the following days, the rough sea and heavy mist permitted no further attacks.

In the end, of the boats that had been detailed by VADM Shimizu to shell America on Christmas 1941, all were sent to the bottom long before VJ Day.

The war was not kind when it came to Japanese submariners:

  • I-9 was sunk in June 1943 northwest of Kiska– killed in American waters– by the destroyer USS Frazier (DD-607).
  • I-10 was lost in 1944 during her seventh war patrol, sunk on Independence Day by the greyhounds USS Riddle (DE-185) and USS David W. Taylor (DD-551).
  • I-15 was sunk off San Cristobol on 2 November 1942 by the destroyer USS McCalla (DD-488).
  • I-17, the Santa Barbara raider, was sunk by the New Zealand trawler Tui and two U.S. Navy aircraft off Noumea on 19 August 1943.
  • I-19 sank the carrier Wasp but was later sent to the bottom west of Makin Island by the destroyer USS Radford (DD-446) on 25 November 1943.
  • I-21 disappeared in November 1943, off the Gilbert Islands.
  • I-23 likewise vanished, as mentioned above, while on Operation K.
  • I-25, the main subject of our tale, was sunk by American destroyers (with four possibly getting licks in) on 25 August 1943 off the New Hebrides.
  • I-26, who had bombarded Canada, created a five-Gold-Star mother with the sinking of the cruiser USS Juneau, and holed the carrier Saratoga, was herself Deep Sixed in the Philippines in late October 1944, her final grave unknown.

Even Capt. Torajiro Sato, “the pride of the submarine units,” who had been detailed to command the Christmas 1941 mass bombardment, was killed while commanding the Sendai-class light cruiser Jintsu during the Battle of Kolombangara in July 1943. In death, he was promoted to rear admiral.

The Dai-roku Kantai’s 1941-42 commander, submarine big boss VADM Mitsumi Shimizu, was reassigned after his units’ lackluster performance during that period to head the Home Islands-bound 1st Fleet, which largely consisted of battleships that drank too much oil to be risked in combat until the final Mahanan fleet action that never really came. Even from this caretaker task, he was soon cashiered in late 1943 when the Nagato-class battlewagon Mutsu spectacularly detonated her No. 3 turret magazine while swaying in the Hashirajima fleet anchorage with a loss of over 1,100 irreplaceable men. Shimizu was in civilian attire months before the end of the war and would pass away quietly in 1971, aged 83.

About the only survivor of note to retain any honor from the whole endeavor was Warrant Officer Nubuo Fujita, the pilot of I-25’s Glen. Saved from going down on the sub’s seventh and final patrol as he had been detailed to shore duty as a flight instructor, Fujita survived the war just days before he was scheduled to fly out on a one-way kamikaze strike in a decrepit biplane filled with explosives. His crewman from his days on the I-25, Petty Officer Okuda, was not so lucky and never returned home.

The only Japanese pilot to bomb the U.S. mainland became a successful businessman but Fujita’s role in the conflict ate at him and, in agreement with the town of Brookings, Oregon, he returned there in mufti for the city’s 1962 Azalea Festival.

At the event, he formally handed over his family’s 400-year-old samurai sword— one of the few allowed to be retained by the post-WWII Japanese government. Brookings hailed Mr. Fujita an ”ambassador of goodwill” and proclaimed him an ”honorary citizen” of the town.

Fujita would ultimately return to Brookings three times and was a good sport about it, eating a submarine sandwich (complete with a floatplane pickle garnish) prepared for him in 1990, planting redwood seedlings two years later in the forests he firebombed during the war, and briefly taking the stick of a Cessna while flying over the coastline he first crossed back in September 1942.

He would pass in 1997 of lung cancer, aged 85. In compliance with his wishes, some of his ashes were spread on the crater outside of Brookings on Mount Emily in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest that he created.

The Fujita sword is on display at the Chetco Public Library located at 405 Alder Street in Brookings. 

Nobuo Fujita’s family sword, the only weapon still in existence that flew over the mainland USA during WWII in the hands of an enemy pilot. (Photo: Oregon Pubic Broadcasting)

A good children’s book on Fujita is Thirty Minutes Over Oregon by Marc Nobleman.

As for other relics of I-25’s actions in Oregon, local markers abound.

Japanese Bombardment Marker

For more on the Japanese submarine campaign of 1942, read Bert Webber’s excellent Retaliation: Japanese Attacks and Allied Countermeasures on the Pacific coast in World War II

 


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The C20, sure you’ve seen it Before (Probably not)

From the Great North this week comes images of a rarely-seen designated marksman rifle, frolicking in the snow.

The C20 DMR was made in low numbers by Colt Canada of Kitchener, Ontario. Using an 18-inch chrome-lined barrel with a 1:10 RH twist, the 7.62 NATO semi-auto is outfitted with an LMT adjustable stock, a free-floating M-LOK handguard with a full-length top Pic rail, and a Geissele SSA two-stage trigger.

Probably less than 500 of these have been made, all for service in the Canadian and Danish military. (Photo: Colt Canada)

The funny thing is, the gun actually owes its lineage to the equally elusive Colt Modular Carbine of more American extraction.

This thing.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Montreal with a Bone

In the great image below, recently released by the Royal Canadian Navy, you see the 5,000-ton Halifax-class patrol frigate HMCS Montréal (FFH 336) flanked by her embarked CH-148 Cyclone helicopter (Sikorsky S-92) while on NATO Op Reassurance.

You gotta love a great “bone in the teeth” shot

Commissioned in 1994 and based at CFB Halifax in Nova Scotia, Montreal and her companion Cyclone are currently assigned to Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 along with a single shore-based Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 Aurora (P-3C Orion with the ASW gear of an S-3A Viking) detached from No. 405 Squadron RCAF out of CFB Greenwood.

Bison spotting!

Black Creek Labs in Canada a few years back designed a handy little bolt-action rifle envisioned to be “comfortable in its scabbard on the side of a horse, packed, slung or mounted onto a Utility Vehicle for ranch, range or backcountry duty.”

Dubbed the MRX Bison, it runs a Remington 700 chassis with a 16.5-inch barrel, accepts AR15 mags in 5.56 and .300BLK variants and AR10 mags in .308 and 6.5CM, uses AR pistol grips and stocks, and weighs under 7 pounds.

Now that looks handy.

The good news, that I learned firsthand from the company, is that the MRX Bison is headed to the U.S. and will be available via ATI this fall at a price under $1K.

More in my column at Guns.com.

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