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Welcome to the flying boat gap you didn’t even know we had

Curtiss A-1, The first Navy seaplane at the Curtiss airfield, Hammondsport, NY, June 1911, with Curtiss employees and early Naval aviators. NARA #: 80-G-418895

Almost from the time of the Wright Brothers, the U.S. Navy utilized an increasingly complex series of amphibious “flying boat” aircraft. From hundreds of Curtiss C, F, and MF model flying boats acquired from 1911 through the Great War, the Navy in 1919 used the four huge NC boats to cross the Atlantic, making history.

The 1920s brought the PN flying boats while the 1930s saw the early P2Y-1 Clippers, followed by the PBY Catalina and PBY2 Coronado– with both of the latter going on to be World War II workhorses.

Then came the twilight of the U.S. Navy flying boat era with lumbering Martin PBM Mariner and P5M Marlin, which replaced the Catalina and Coronado, and the aborted Martin P6M SeaMaster, the latter a seriously capable jet-powered sea-based strategic bomber capable of dropping nuclear ordnance. With no desire to continue in the art of seaplanes and their associated tenders, the final flying boat operations of the U.S. Navy were the 1965 Market Time patrols of VP-40 in Vietnam.

USS Guavina (AGSS-362), refueling a P5M-1 Marlin flying boat off Norfolk, Virginia (USA), in 1955. Prior to World War II several submarines were fitted to refuel seaplanes.  

And just like that, the Navy was out of the seaplane biz.

Since then, the military use of seaplanes, once surplus USAF Hu-16 Albatrosses aged out, have been left to countries like Canada, Russia, and Japan.

However, the stirring dragon, China, is now getting very serious about a very serious flying boat, the AVIC AG600 Kunlong. The size of a 737, the AG600 had its first flight in 2017, and, while not in production yet, already has orders from the “little blue men” adjacent China Coast Guard.

Most importantly, the AG600 just had its first water takeoff last week. 

While pitched as ideal for civilian uses such as firefighting, you would have to be smooth brained to gloss over the potential of a giant seaplane with a 2,800nm range to China, a country that is increasingly looking to build its Spratly Island territory across the contested South China Sea.

As noted by Kyle Mizokami at PM:

The AG600, with a maximum takeoff weight of 53.5 tons, can transport personnel and equipment to places like Mischief Reef in the South China Sea. The ability to take off and land from water will allow the PLA to keep Mischief Reef supplied even if the islet’s airfield is shut down by military action. Other military missions for the AG600 would include rescuing downed pilots at sea, convoy escort, reconnaissance, and anti-submarine warfare.

It increasingly seems like we are in 1940 rather than in 2020.

That sweet .223 AK, 1989 edition

While today the .223/5.56 NATO-caliber AK is a staple product on the U.S. commercial market– and indeed, companies like Kalashnikov in Russia are making them for export elsewhere– back in the 1980s, they were downright unheard of, only floating around in a few high-dollar Valmet M71/S and Hunter models.

Then, China Sports, Inc.– located in Ontario, California of all places– introduced a couple of new Norincos to the market in late 1988, notably chambered in calibers other than the traditional AK 7.62x39mm. This included the 5.45x39mm Type 88 and the Type 84S AKS in .223 Remington.

This. You could pick these up, new in the box with two mags, a bayonet, and accessories, for $275 in 1989.

The thing is, they were only imported for one year.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Nipping at the heels

Apparently taking the sidelining of the Teddy Roosevelt carrier battlegroup in Guam and the Ronald Reagan group in Japan during the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis as the blood trail of a wounded beast, Iran, China, and Russia are sniffing around and flexing a bit where the U.S. is forward-deployed.

WestPac

China’s six-ship Liaoning carrier group (Liaoning along with two type 052D guided-missile destroyers – the Xining and Guiyang – two type 054A guided-missile frigates – the Zaozhuang and Rizhao – and a type 901 combat support ship, the Hulunhu) passed through the tense Miyako Strait, between Okinawa and Taiwan, over the weekend, under the eyes of various JMSDF, U.S. and ROC assets.

Chinese carrier ‘Liaoning with escorts. Photos via Chinese Internet

Further, as reported by the South China Morning Post: “On Thursday [9 Apr], an H-6 bomber, J-11 fighter and KJ-500 reconnaissance plane from the PLA Air Force flew over southwestern Taiwan and on to the western Pacific where they followed a US RC-135U electronic reconnaissance aircraft.”

Of note, the ROC Army has sent some of their aging but still very effective M60A3 tanks out into public in recent days in what was announced a pre-planned exercise. Still, when you see an MBT being camouflaged in the vacant lot down the block, that’s a little different.

Photo via Taiwan’s Military News Agency (MNA)

Note the old KMT cog emblem. Taiwan’s Military News Agency (MNA)

Very discrete. Taiwan’s Military News Agency (MNA)

Meanwhile, in the Arabian Gulf

A series of 11 Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels on Wednesday (15 April 15) buzzed the expeditionary platform USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), and her escorts, the destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), the 170-foot Cyclone-class patrol craft USS Firebolt (PC 10) and USS Sirocco (PC 6), and two 110-foot Island-class Coast Guard cutters, USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Maui (WPB 1304), while the U.S. vessels were conducting operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters.

The below footage seems to be from the running bridge of one of the Coast Guard 110s, likely Maui from reports, and you can see what the Navy terms a Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC), armed with a heavy machine gun with a deck guy’s hands on the spades.

The IRGCN fields hundreds of such 30- to 50-foot fast boats, armed with a variety of rockets, machine guns, and small mines, and have been the organization’s bread and butter since the early 1980s.

For reference

As noted by the 5th Fleet:

The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50 yard closest point of approach (CPA) and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow.

The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN.

After approximately one hour, the IRGCN vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened the distance between them.

ARABIAN GULF (April 15, 2020) Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels conducted unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in international waters of the north Arabian Gulf. U.S. forces are conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Potomu chto ya byl perevernut

Not to feel left out, 6th Fleet reports (emphasis mine) that a Syrian-based Russian Flanker-E came out over the Med to buzz a P-8:

On April 15, 2020, a U.S. P-8A Poseidon aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-35. The interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-35 conducting a high-speed, inverted maneuver, 25 ft. directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk. The crew of the P-8A reported wake turbulence following the interaction. The duration of the intercept was approximately 42 minutes.

While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible. We expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents, including the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA). Unsafe actions‎ increase the risk of miscalculation and the potential for midair collisions.

The U.S. aircraft was operating consistent with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.

Dragon’s Roar

“Front view of 240mm howitzer of Battery `B’, 697th Field Artillery Battalion, just before firing into German-held territory. Mignano area, Italy.” SC photo by Boyle, January 30, 1944, some 76 years ago today.

111-SC-187126. National Archives Identifier: 531176

Nicknamed the Black Dragon, the M1 240mm (9.4-inch) howitzer was the largest boom stick deployed with U.S. Army artillery units during World War II, able to fire a 360-pound shell some 25,000 yards. Other than coastal artillery, the Cold War-era 280mm Atomic Annie series, and naval guns adapted for railway use, it remains the biggest artillery piece ever used by the Army.

They are still used in Taiwan today as low-tech coastal artillery where, based on Kinman Island, they can reach mainland China some 14 miles away as the shell flies.

 

Warship Wednesday Jan 8, 2020: Maru Floatplane Carriers

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, Jan 8, 2020: Maru Floatplane Carriers

Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Here we see the Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship, Kimikawa Maru, converted to a Tokusetsu Suijokibokan (special seaplane carrier) of the Imperial Japanese Navy, at Oominato in northern Honshu, in late 1942. As you can tell, this interesting ship and her sisters could carry a serious load of armed, and often very effective, floatplanes.

Constructed in the late 1930s through a joint endeavor of the Japanese shipping firm Ōsaka Mercantile and Kawasaki Kisen in the latter’s Kobe-based shipyard, the five 6,800-ton ships of the class were intended for the Japan-New York route, a trip of some 15,000 nautical miles. This was no sweat as, using a single efficient MAN-designed Kawasaki-made diesel, they had an incredible 35,000nm range at 17 knots.

However, these ships were also ready to chip in should the Empire require it.

As noted in ONI 208-J, the U.S. Navy’s 400+ page WWII intelligence book on the 1,300 assorted Japanese merchant ships over 1,000-tons:

Modern Japanese merchant ship design provides for deck-gun positions up to 5-inch or 6-inch caliber, the largest pieces being hand-loaded under service conditions. Heavier framing and plating and large diameter stanchions (extending down through two decks) are built in integral parts of the hull to support these positions. Ventilator trunks are conveniently arraigned close by for rapid conversion to ammunition hoists. These trunks always lead to specially prepared watertight compartments suitable for use as magazines. Dual-purpose 3-inch guns and anti-aircraft machine guns are often mounted in rows on lateral platforms.

As such, the U.S. Navy was very interested in these ships on the lead-up to the war, with several high-res images of these vessels taken in the 1930s as they transited the Panama Canal, still located in the ONI’s files.

KAMIKAWA MARU Japanese Merchant Ship Port bow view taken off Panama on 23 July 1937 NH 45577

KAMIKAWA MARU Japanese Merchant Ship overhead taken off Panama on 23 July 1937 NH 45576

KUNIKAWA MARU in Gatun Lake, Panama Canal. Altitude 1000 feet, Lens 10 inches. December 22, 1937, NH 111574

Japanese Ship KUNIKAWA MARU. Panama Canal. Altitude 1000 feet, Lens 10 inches. March 11, 1938. NH 111576

Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship as AP AV, via ONI 208-J 1942

Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship, via ONI 208-J 1942

With Japan increasingly embroiled in the conflict in China, the Kimikawa Maru-class vessels were soon called up for service, many years before Pearl Harbor.

Notably, four out of the five– Kamikawa Maru, Kiyokawa Maru, Kimikawa Maru, and Kunikawa Maru (nothing confusing about that) were converted to armed seaplane carriers, capable of carrying more than a dozen such single-engine floatplanes aft, for which they had two catapults installed to launch them and large boom cranes for recovery. They would also be equipped with as many as six 4.7- or 5.9-inch guns as well as several smaller AAA mounts and machine guns.

Kawanishi E17K “Alf ” (Japanese floatplane) Being hoisted aboard a Japanese seaplane tender, circa 1939. Note details of the aircraft handling crane NH 82463

Alternatively, twice that many aircraft could be carried stowed below, to be assembled and deployed at some far-off port or atoll if need be. Four similar Mitsubishi-built freighters– Noshiro Maru, Sagara Maru, Sanuki Maru, and Sanyo Maru— were also converted but could only carry about eight seaplanes each. Subsequently, these less successful vessels would be re-rated to transports by 1942.

Notably, many of the IJN’s carrier commanders and admirals learned their trade on these special seaplane carriers to include RADMs Ando Shigeaki, Hattori Katsugi, Shinoda Tarohachi, Matsuda Takatomo, Hara Seitaro, and Yokokawa Ichihei; VADMs Arima Masafumi, Yamada Michiyuki, and Omori Sentaro.

In the late 1930s, their airwing would include Kawanishi E17K (Alf) and Nakajima E8N Type 95 (Dave) scout aircraft, primitive single-float biplanes that couldn’t break 175 knots and carried just a few small bombs and a couple machine guns for self-defense. These would later be augmented by planes like the Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete.

KAMIKAWA MARU (Japanese seaplane tender, 1936) Anchored off Amoy, China, 16 July 1939, with a deck load of KAWANISHI E17K-2 and NAKAJIMA E8N floatplanes both forward and aft. I can count at least 14 aircraft. This vessel, the first of the class converted to a seaplane carrier, saw extensive service in Chinese waters in 1938 to 1940, with her planes often bombing and strafing key Chinese positions. NH 82154

F1M Japanese Pete Kamikawa Maru’s ZII tail code 1940-41

Another view of the same

By 1942, this airwing would grow to as many as 14 much more capable Aichi E13A Type Zero (Jake) armed reconnaissance planes and four Daves– the airwing Kamikawa Maru took to Alaska during the Midway operation. Later types like the Nakajima A6M2-N (Rufe) Type 2 Sui-Sen (‘Rufe’) floatplane version of the Zero fighter soon joined them.

At least four Japanese navy pilots chalked up at least three kills while at the controls of floatplanes, most in the A6M-2N: CPO Shigeji Kawai, WO Kiyomi Katsuki, CPO Keizo Yamaza, and CPO Maruyama, although it should be noted that Katuski downed his first aircraft, a Dutch KNIL PBY, while flying an F1M2 Pete. Katsuki, who had 16 kills, spent at least some of his time flying from Kamikawa Maru.

IJN Seaplane Tender Kamikawa Maru in 1942, likely taken from Kimikawa Maru as her X tail code is on the Jake

E13A-34 Aichi with Kimikawa Maru’s X tail code

Their tail codes:

  • Kamikawa Maru– ZII (15 November 1940) ZI (September 1941) Z (May 1942) YI (14 July 1942)
    L-1 (1943)
  • Kunikawa Maru– YII tail code (November 1942) L-2 (January 1943)
  • Kiyokawa Maru– R (1941) RI (14 July 1942–November 1942)
  • Kimikawa Maru– X (December 1941) C21 (1943)

Once the big balloon went up in December 1941, these four freighters-turned-carriers were used extensively across the Pacific.

Kamikawa Maru would participate in the Malaya campaign and the Battle of the Coral Sea then sail with the fleet for Midway, going on to play a big part in the Aleutians campaign. She would then switch to the Guadalcanal Campaign, and be sent to the bottom by torpedoes from USS Scamp (SS-277) northwest of Kavieng, New Ireland in May 1943.

Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete reconnaissance floatplane on the catapult of the seaplane carrier Kamikawa Maru, 1942

A6M2-N Type 2 floatplane fighter, Sep-Oct 1942, on seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru

Japanese Navy Aichi E13A seaplane, most likely from the seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru. The location of the photo is unknown but may be at Deboyne Islands in May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Kamikawa Maru, with a deck chock full of planes

A6M2-N ‘Rufe’ seaplane pilots deployed from the Kamikawa Maru under the command of ace Kiyomi Katsuki, in middle, digging a trench in the Aleutians, 1943.

Kiyokawa Maru helped capture Guam and Wake Island in December 1941, then was later rerated as a transport. She was ultimately sunk in an air raid at Kaminoseki in 1945 but was later raised and returned to a brief merchant career.

A6M2 Rufe hydro fighters with the R tail code of Kiyokawa Maru

Lae-Salamaua Strike, 10 March 1942 Enlargement of the picture of KIYOKAWA MARU (Japanese seaplane tender, 1937-1945), showing what appears to be a bomb hole aft. Note planes on deck-three Mitsubishi F1M2 (“Pete”) and one E8N2 (“Dave”). Taken by a VT-5 TBD-1, from the USS YORKTOWN (CV-5) air group. NH 95446

Kimikawa Maru, like her sister Kamikawa Maru, would take part in the Midway and Aleutian campaign in 1942-43. A line would be drawn through her name on Poseidon’s ledger in October 1944 after an encounter with the submarine USS Sawfish (SS-276) off Luzon’s Cape Bojeador.

KIMIKAWA MARU (Japanese Seaplane Tender) Photographed in April 1943, at Ominato Bay, Japan, with a load of “PETE” seaplanes aft. NH 73056

Kunikawa Maru would go on to live through a myriad of actions in the Solomons, including the Battle of Santa Cruz Island, and assorted convoy duties until she hit a mine off Balikpapan in March 1944 and was never the same again. She would be finished for good by an airstrike in May 1945 in that Borneo port.

Petes & Rufes on the beach somewhere in the South Pacific, possibly Tulagi Harbor in the Solomons, although I have seen this captioned elsewhere as being in the Marshall Islands. The foreground F1M2 has tail code “L2” of Kunikawa Maru

Another view of the same

By the end of the war, all of the K-Marus had been sunk and their planes either shot down, abandoned or otherwise captured.

Japanese Navy Type 0 Reconnaissance E13A ‘Jake’ at Imajuku, Kyushu Island 1945 

In all, the K-Maru carriers were an interesting concept, a quick and easy way to send a small expeditionary airwing to sea short of converting the ships to more proper escort carriers such as done by the Allies.

A very interesting postwar interrogation of CDR Kintaro Miura, Kamikawa Maru‘s senior air officer from the outbreak of war until December 1942, is in the NHHC archives.

Several scale models of these vessels and their aircraft are in circulation, as is their accompanying artwork, and they have sparked the imagination of warship fans the world over.

Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete floatplane by Robert Taylor. L2 Tail code indicates the plane belongs to the Kunikawa Maru a cargo ship converted to a seaplane tender

Specs:


Displacement: 6,863 tons standard
Length: 479 feet
Beam: 62 feet
Draft: 30 feet
Installed power: 7,600 shp
Propulsion: 1 Kawasaki-M. A. N. diesel, 1 shaft
Speed: 19.5 knots, 17 in military service
Armament: 2 x 5.9-inch, 2 x Type 96 25 mm (0.98 in) AA, 2 x 13.2 mm (0.52 in) MG
Aircraft carried: 12-18 seaplanes (24 stored)
Aviation facilities: Two catapults, cranes

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. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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.

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Carriers on the move from the Liaoning to Hampton Roads

The first clear images of the Type 002 carrier, Shāndōng (17) have been released as the vessel was commissioned yesterday into PLAN service. The vessel, China’s second semi-operational flattop after the old Soviet-made Liaoning (ex-Varyag), and the first to be domestically-built, is conventionally-powered.

From the South China Morning Post

With a 70,000-ton displacement, she is larger than any other carrier in service save for nuclear-powered U.S. Nimitz and Ford-class supercarriers and is roughly about the same size as the old Forrestal-class CVAs– but only carry about half of the airwing. It is further argued that her airwing, restricted to a ski-jump, cannot maintain the same sortie rate as a U.S. ship.

Her commissioning was attended by President Xi Jinping, and it is expected the PLAN will have a four carrier fleet within a decade.

Meanwhile, PCU John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), the U.S. Navy’s newest nuclear-powered Ford-class carrier, was quietly launched into the James River this week.

Indianapolis arriving, Delaware delivered, Finally Ford, McCain in play, and the Tulagi Shuffle

Over the weekend in the freshwater Great Lakes harbor at Burns Harbor, Indiana, USS Indianapolis (LCS-17), the latest Freedom-class littoral combat ship, commissioned. She is the fourth such vessel, and second surface combatant, to carry the moniker. While I would personally have liked to see a cruiser, LHA, or destroyer carry the name due to the legacy of CA-58, the second Indianapolis, I am nonetheless happy to see the name on the Navy list once again. Indy is the 19th LCS to be commissioned and is expected to be assigned to Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two in Mayport. She is the fifth such Freedom assigned to LCSRON2.

USS Delaware

Elsewhere in U.S. Navy news last week, the latest Virginia-class attack submarine, PCU USS Delaware (SSN 791) was delivered to the Navy by Ingalls. Notably, when she is fully commissioned as the 7th Delaware, it will end a nearly century-long drought on the Navy List for that name which was last issued to Battleship No. 28 in 1909, a vessel that was broken up for scrap under the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty. SSN-791 is the 18th Virginia and last of the Block III boats.

USS Gerald R. Ford

Further, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) finally departed Newport News Shipbuilding and returned to sea for the first time since beginning their post-shakedown availability in July 2018 (!) to get back to the business of conducting sea trials, now well over a year since she was commissioned. Navy officials hope she will be ready for regular fleet service by 2024.

John S. McCain

Speaking of gone for a while, USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) is underway to conduct comprehensive at-sea testing. She has been sidelined for repairs and extensive, accelerated upgrades over the last two years, following a collision in August 2017.

“This whole crew is eager to get back to sea, and that’s evident in the efforts they’ve made over the last two years to bring the ship back to fighting shape, and the energy they’ve put into preparing themselves for the rigors of at-sea operations,” said CDR Ryan T. Easterday, John S. McCain‘s commanding officer. “I’m extremely proud of them as we return the ship to sea, and return to the operational fleet more ready than ever to support security and stability throughout the region.”

Tulagi?

And in South Pacific news, the planned 75-year lease on the entire island of Tulagi (Tulaghi) in the Solomon Islands looks like it is going to fall through. Well known to students of WWII, the Japanese occupied Tulagi in May 1942 in the days just before the Battle of the Coral Sea and was captured by the 1st Marine Raiders that August, forming an important PT-boat base during the Guadalcanal Campaign (JFK’s PT-109, part of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2, operated from there.) They proved important in winning control of “The Slot” during that campaign. Likewise, if the Japanese had held Tulagi that summer, the whole operation would have been just that much harder to pull off.

Japanese Navy Type 1 land attack planes (Betty) make a torpedo attack on the Tulagi invasion force, 8 August 1942. The burning ship in the center distance is probably USS George F. Elliott (AP-13), which was hit by a crashing Japanese aircraft during this attack. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 97766

As the crow flies, Tulagi could have been a strategic key to that part of the region as it is directly between Hawaii and Australia. This is especially true if you could pick up those keys for cheap on an extended multi-generational lease.

”I want to applaud the decision of the Solomon Islands attorney general to invalidate the Chinese effort to lease the island of Tulagi for 75 years,” said Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper. “This is an important decision to reinforce sovereignty, transparency, and the rule of law. Many nations in the Pacific have discovered far too late that Chinese use of economic and military levers to expand their influence often is detrimental to them and their people.”

China on track to have six (6) carrier battle groups by 2035

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) of China is hard at work on their second Type 001A class aircraft carrier, CV18. It will use an electromagnetic aircraft launch system and displace somewhere on the order of 80,000-tons, making it the largest Chinese warship ever built and second only to a modern U.S. fleet carrier.

Chinese carrier Liaoning with escorts.

The PLAN has actually been in the carrier business in part since the mid-1970s, a dream realized in part when they picked up the retired Majestic-class light carriers HMAS Melbourne (R21) in 1984. Though she had a scant 868,893 nautical miles on her and was a mess, the Chinese slowly disassembled the WWII-design over a 15-year period and reportedly made extensive notes on her construction and steam catapult and landing systems as first steps towards their own carrier program. Reportedly, the Chinese Navy reverse-engineered a land-based replica of Melbourne‘s cat by 1987 and has used it in a series of trials of their own carrier-based aircraft.

The PLAN further compared the 1940s British carrier to that of the 1970s Soviet helicopter carriers Kiev and Minsk, purchased in the 1990s as floating amusement parks for tourists, to help with their own best practices in flattop construction moving forward. Then came the 67,000-ton Admiral Kuznetsov-class strike carrier, laid down as the Soviet carrier Varyag in 1985, and finally completed by the Chinese in 2011 as Liaoning after she was sold in 1998 by the Ukrainians as a floating casino (!).

China’s first locally built carrier, the Type 001A aircraft carrier or CV-17, a modified Kuznetsov based on the Liaoning improvements, was launched on 26 April 2017 and is fitting out with a completion date expected sometime around 2020 as the carrier Shi Lang. The yard reportedly is using lots of Ukrainian experts and a staff of 5,000 skilled shipbuilders.

Media reports from the country now say China plans to have up to six aircraft carrier battle groups in service by 2035, according to naval experts, with Liaoning, one or two new Type 001A class vessels, as well as nuclear-powered follow-on ships as the centerpiece.

That’s a pretty aggressive growth plan with lots of potential for failure, but you have to admit, it is starting to look like a whole new Pacific in the next generation.

Close enough to get a rash

Here we see a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type-052C destroyer, specifically CNS Lanzhou (170) giving static to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Decatur (DDG-73)  while underway in the South China Sea.

The U.S. Navy accused Lanzhou of acting “in an unsafe and unprofessional maneuver in the vicinity of Gaven Reef” while the DDG was engaged in a freedom of navigation operation — a “FONOP.”

More photos here.

On the bright side, while Lanzhou closed to within a second base pitch from home plate to Decatur, at least it is not the bad old days of the Cold War…yet.

Remember the Black Sea Bumping incident between two Soviet frigates and the cruiser Yorktown (CG 48) and the destroyer USS Caron (DD 970) in Feb 1988?

Soviet frigate Bezzavetny intentionally collides with USS Yorktown (CG-48) to push it into international waters 1988 in the Black Sea Bumping incident

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018: The last of the Royal Navy’s peculiar may bugs

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018: The last of the Royal Navy’s peculiar may bugs

Here we see the Insect-class of “China” or “Tigris” river gunboat HMS Cockchafer (P95, P83, T72) of the Royal Navy. The hardy gunboat would give long service and be both the last of her class and the last of four RN warships over two centuries to carry the name.

The dozen vessels of the Insect class, some 237-feet long and 635-tons displacement, were flat-bottomed ships designed by Yarrow to operate in shallow, fast-flowing rivers, with a shallow draft of just four feet and enough muscle (2,000IHP plant on Yarrow boilers and twin VTE engines and three rudders) to make 14 knots, thus capable of going upstream against the flow as needed. While ordered as a class in February 1915 for emergency war service in Europe (e.g. to fight on the Danube against Austrian river monitors), the consensus is that they would, after the Great War had wrapped up, see China service on the Yangtze and similar large waterways to protect the Crown’s interests in the often lawless region.

These guys: Two Austro-Hungarian river monitors of the Danube Flotilla, in 1916. The closer vessel is a Körös, a Kovess class monitor, while the other appears to be one of the ‘Sava’-class.

They were well-armed for such endeavors, with a BL 6-inch Mk VII naval gun forward and another one in the rear (to poke holes in said Austrian river monitors), a group of six modern Maxim water-cooled .303 machine guns in a central battery, and a couple of smaller QF Mk I 12-pounders.

According to the excellent site on these ships, maintained by Taylor Family Collection:

Their steel plating was thin by warship standards – only five-sixteenths of an inch amidships tapering to about one-eighth of an inch at the ends. The decks were strengthened in the vicinity of the main armament mountings with steel doublers three-eighths of an inch thick and a three quarter-inch steel doubler was also fitted on the sheer strake over the mid-ships section as extra stiffening. Beyond this they carried no armour and had no double bottoms unlike most ships.

That their armour was so minimal is not surprising given that these were essentially “kitset” ships specially designed to be broken down and reassembled. Heavy armour plating or additional construction “stiffening” was counterproductive. Active service with the Tigris Flotilla however resulted in rearming – a 2 – pounder pom-pom added, four of the .303 – inch maxim guns removed and a 3 – inch anti-aircraft gun installed in their place. All were fitted for towing kite balloons (to carry artillery observers). Initially sandbags were built up around the battery deck for protection of personnel, but later a 5 – foot shield made of ¼ inch chrome steel plate was built all around this deck as can be seen in the photos.

HMS Tarantula (1915); Fighting vessel; Gunboat; Shallow draught river gunboat
Read more at http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/67390.html#gRgFTCqgIPYgJP2e.99

All were named for insects (Mantis, Aphis, Scarab, Moth, Gnat, Bee, Cicala, Cricket, Tarantula, Glowworm and Ladybird) as befitting their role and, to speed up delivery, were ordered simultaneously from at least five different yards. The hero of our tale, Cockchafer, was one of four built at Barclay Curle, Glasgow, Scotland. The name, a common term for a particular may bug or doodlebug that was almost eradicated in the 20th Century has been around in the Royal Navy for a long time before these emergency gunboats.

This guy.

The first HMS Cockchafer was a 5-gun schooner– previously the American schooner Spencer— captured during the War of 1812 and put to good service by the Brits.

Watercolor by Warren showing the May 1814 engagement by the British schooner HMS COCKCHAFER, 5 guns (1 long 12-pounder and 4 12-pounder carronades) and 22 men, Lieutenant George Jackson, cruising off the Chesapeake, against the American letter-of-marque JAVA, 8 long 9-pounders and 22 men, which Jackson captured. USN 902808

Then came two other purpose-built gunboats of the Albacore-class and Banterer-class, respectively, that carried the Cockchafer name for the rest of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

While most of the Insect-class were sent to the Med or to fight the Ottomans in Mesopotamia on the Euphrates when completed in 1916, Cicala, Cockchafer, Cricket and Glowworm instead were assigned to defensive duties in British Home waters, remaining there quietly through the Great War.

HMS COCKCHAFER (FL 22629) Underway in the company of HMS CRICKET, HMS GLOWWORM, AND HMS CICALA. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205121724

Cicala was based at Hull, Cockchafer at Brightlingsea, Cricket at Norfolk ports and Glowworm at Lowestoft. Their two 12-pdrs swapped out for QF 3-inch 20 cwt anti-aircraft guns, they were deployed in the air defense of Britain against German bombers and Zeppelin raids.

An Insect-class gunboat with shells exploding overhead by William Lionel Wyllie via National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Read more at http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/114226.html#Q1C9LuTkg7wCMhHa.99

Then, in late 1918, the four gunboats, along with monitors M.23 & M.25, sailed to Russia as part of the North Russian Expeditionary Force in the Murmansk-Archangel area lead by White Russian Gen. EK Miller. As part of this expedition, they penetrated the Northern Dvina river, where both Glowworm and Cockchafer were severely damaged due to an ammunition barge explosion in May 1919.

Postcard & caption – Dvina River Flotilla, Bolshevik Campaign, 1919 (Left to Right) “Hyderabad”, “Humber”, “Cicala”, Seaplane Barge, M.31. (c Abraham 1241) Reverse handwritten note – 375 Versts up the River Dvina, N Russia, Aug 1919 off Troitsa Via WWI At Sea http://www.worldwar1atsea.net/WW1z05NorthRussia.htm#10

This service soon over as the British withdrew from the region, in January 1920, Cricket, Cockchafer, Moth, Mantis, and Cicala (Glowworm was scrapped due to her Russian damage) all set out as a group for China.

HMS Cockchafer on passage from England to Shanghai January to July 1920

Our subject was soon settling in on the Yangtze River where she became hotly involved in the so-called Wanhsien Incident in 1926 against local warlords.

HMS Cockchafer at Hong Kong. Note her extensive awnings she would carry for her 30+ years of China service. Via Australian Naval Historical Society

As noted by the December 1984 edition of the (Australian) Naval Historical Review:

Typically, these gunboats…carried two officers and sometimes a doctor; six or seven petty officers and leading seamen, plus 17 able seamen. The remainder of the 50-odd souls aboard were Chinese servants, cooks, seamen, and black gang. Obviously, British ability to mount a landing force fell well below the capabilities of the ‘new six’ US gunboats, with their 4 line officers, doctor, and about 50 US enlisted. However, the British POs enjoyed more responsibility and authority than the American, as all RN officers could be off the ship at the same time.

Still in Chinese waters in 1939, the Brits transferred Cockchafer (minus her local auxiliaries) to the East Indies Squadron where, in June 1941, she took part in operations in the Persian Gulf in support of landings at Basra.

Bandar Shapur, Iran, 1941-08. HMS Kanimbla, manned by an Australian crew, bows on with the following vessels alongside, L To R:- Two Anglo-Iranian Oil Company tugs, HMS Arthur Cavanagh (trawler), HMS Snapdragon (corvette) And HMS Cockchafer (river gunboat). AWM 134371

Transferred to the Mediterranean in 1943 after the Persian Gulf was well in hand, Cockchafer took part in support of assault landings in Sicily (Operation Husky) and remained in the theatre until late 1944 when it was decided she head back to the Far East, sailing for Trincomalee and the Burma Theatre. Returning to Singapore after VJ Day, she was paid off and put in reserve until being sold locally for breaking up in 1949.

As such, Cockchafer had a better WWII experience than most of her class. Ladybird was sunk at Tobruk by German aircraft in 1941. Gnat was effectively knocked out of action by U79 at Bardia the same year. Cricket was lost off Cyprus in 1944. In the Pacific, Cicala was sunk by Japanese aircraft just before Christmas 1941 at Hong Kong only days after Moth was scuttled by own crew to avoid a similar fate. The Japanese later salvaged Moth, repaired her and, commissioned as Suma, was mined on the Yantzee in 1945. Besides Cockchafer, only sisters Aphis and Tarantula were still in active RN service on VJ Day, and they were soon disposed of.

The last of her class, Cockchafer is remembered in maritime art by Tony Bryan, being featured as she was in 1926 at Wanhsien on the cover of the 2011 Osprey book Yangtze River Gunboats 1900–49.

Specs:

Displacement:625 long tons
Length: 237.5 ft
Beam: 36 ft
Draught: 4 ft
Propulsion:2 shaft VTE engines, 2 Yarrow type mixed firing boilers 2000 IHP, 35 tons coal + 54 tons oil
Speed: 14 knots
Complement: 54-65
Armament:
(1916)
2 × BL 6-inch Mk VII guns
2 × QF 3-inch 20 cwt
6 × .303-cal Maxim machine guns
(1945)
2 x QF 6 inch /40 naval gun,
2 x 1 – 76/45 Mk II
2 x 1 – 40/39 Mk VIII

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