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Berlin Wall, now gone for 30 years

As the “Iron Curtain” descended across Europe, the tensions along the border between the two new Germanys escalated until 1961 when construction began on a wall surrounding West Berlin from East Berlin. Dubbed a means to keep fascism out of the People’s Republic (antifaschistischer), the Berlin Wall was more of a mechanism to keep East Germans from escaping the soul-crushing misery that was Communism by fleeing to the West. It is estimated that more than 3 million Germans fled from East to West between 1949 and 1961. If they weren’t stopped, eventually all the workers would have fled the worker’s paradise and the country would be empty!

The guns of those two forces, with the DDR’s heavily indoctrinated Grenztruppen on the East, and the FGR’s Bundesgrenzschutz to the West, were interesting.

In 1975-76, Walther produced a limited run of 5,200 P38 P4 pistols, a shortened version of the P1, specifically for use by the West German Border Patrol and Customs agencies. The above, in the author’s personal collection, is one of those former BMI guns. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

More in my column at Guns.com

The Gipper gets an Unexpected Guest

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works recently partnered with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Insitute and National Museum of the USAF by reconfiguring F-117 Nighthawk 82-0803, nicknamed “Unexpected Guest” for permanent display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

Just 64 (5 YF-117As, 59 F-117As) Nighthawks were produced with one, 82-0806 Something Wicked, shot down over Serbia.

Of interest, four of the early YF-117A Scorpion prototypes are on public display with Unexpected Guest being the first production Nighthawk put on a pedestal. The aircraft formerly flew 78 combat missions with the USAF 8th FS during Operation Allied Force over Kosovo in 1999 and Operation Enduring Freedom over Iraq in 2003 and was last spotted in the air in 2007 at Nellis. 

Retired in 2008, Unexpected Guest has been in climate-controlled storage since then with the rest of the F-117 fleet, which is still seen in the air over Tonopah from time to time. 

“The F-117 Nighthawk reminds us of our country’s ability to rapidly develop disruptive technology critical to national security,” said Michele Evans, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. “Lockheed Martin is proud to partner with the Air Force and the Reagan Foundation to install a permanent symbol of American innovation at the Reagan Library for all to see.”

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019: Italian Mosquitos of the Baltic

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019: Italian Mosquitos of the Baltic

Motortorpedbåt T 28 i full fart i skärgården 1943 Fo196168

All photos, Swedish Sjöhistoriska Museet maritime museum unless noted. This one is file no. Fo196168

Here we see HSwMS T 28, a T 21-class motortorpedbåt (motor torpedo boat) of the Svenska Marinen (Royal Swedish Navy) in 1943 as she planes on her stern, her bow completely above the waves. If she looks fast, that’s because she was– like 50 knots fast.

The Swedes in the 1930s had the misfortune of being sandwiched between a resurgent Germany and a newly ambitious Soviet Union, both having come up on the losing side of the Great War and suffered much during the generation immediately following. This fear went into overdrive as World War II began.

With a lot of valuable coast to protect, the Flottan’s plan to do so was the new Tre Kronor (Three Crowns)-class of three fast cruisers (kryssaren) who were to each serve as a flotilla flagship of a squadron of four destroyers and six motor torpedo boats while three  pansarskepps (literally “armored ships”) bathtub battleships would form a strategic reserve.

For the above-mentioned MTBs, Stockholm turned south, shopping with the Baglietto Varazze shipyard in Italy– which is still around as a luxury yacht maker). Baglietto’s “velocissimo” type torpedo boat, MAS 431, had premiered in 1932 and was lighting quick but still packed a punch.

MAS 431, via Baglietto

Just 52.5-feet long overall, MAS 431 was powered by a pair of Fiat gasoline engines, packing 1,500hp in a hull that weighed but 12-tons. The 41-knot vessel carried a pair of forward-oriented 18-inch torpedoes, a couple of light machine guns, six 110-pound depth charges for submarines (she had a hydrophone aboard) and was manned by a crew of seven.

MAS 431 craft proved the basis for the very successful MAS 500 series boats, with more than two dozen completed. These boats used larger Isotta-Fraschini engines which coughed up 2,000hp while they could putter along on a pair of smaller 70hp Alpha Romero cruising motors. The Swedes directly purchased four of these (MAS 506, 508, 511, and 524) which became T 1114 in 1939. These 55-foot MTBs could make 47 knots.

MAS 500 in the Mediterranean 1938, via Regina Marina

However, the Swedes weren’t in love with the wooden hulls of the Italian boats and went to design their own follow-up class of MTBs in 1941. The resulting T 15 class, built locally by Kockums with some support from Italy, went 22-tons in weight due to their welded steel hulls. However, by installing larger Isotta-Fraschini IF 183 series engines, they could still make 40+ knots.

Swedish Motortorpedbåt T 15. 5 Just four of these craft would be built by Kockums. The camo scheme and white “neutral” racing stripe were standard for Sweden’s wartime fleet. Fo101806

Nonetheless, there was still room for improvement. Upgrading to larger 21-inch torpedo tubes and stretching the hull to 65-feet, the T 21 class carried 3,450hp of supercharged 18-cylinder IF 184 engines which allowed a speed listed as high as 50 knots in Swedish journals. They certainly were a seagoing mash-up of Volvo and Ferrari.

T 28 MTB Fo200188

Motortorpedbåten T 28. 1943 Fo88597A

T30. Bild Sjöhistoriska Museet, Stockholm SMM Fo88651AB

Besides the torpedoes, the craft was given a 20mm AAA gun in a semi-enclosed mount behind the pilothouse while weight and space for two pintle-mounted 6.5mm machine guns on either side of the house and one forward was reserved. As many as six depth charges were also carried.

Torpedbåt, motortorpedbåt typ T 21

The T 21s proved more numerous than the past Swedish MTB attempts, with a total of 11 boats produced by 1943. They proved invaluable in what was termed the Neutralitetsvakten (neutrality patrol) during the rest of WWII.

Assorted Swedish splinter boats clustered at Galo Island in Stockholm, 1943. (Motortorpedbåtar vid Gålö år 1943 Fo88679A)

Hkn Prince Bertil, Duke of Halland, who in the 1970s served as heir to his nephew King Carl XVI Gustaf, clocked in on Swedish torpedo boats during the first part of WWII before he was reassigned in 1943 as a naval attaché to London.

HRH Prince Bertil of Sweden aboard a torpedo boat, holding a pair of binoculars Nordiska Museet NMA.0028790

Due to their steel hulls, the craft proved much more durable than comparable plywood American PT-boats or the Italian MAS boats and, while the latter’s days were numbered immediately after WWII, the Swedish T 21s endured until 1959, still keeping the peace on the front yard of the Cold War.

In late 1940s service and throughout the 1950s they carried a more sedate grey scheme.

1947 Janes entry

Motortorpedbåt T 25. Propagandaturen på Vättern, Juli 1947 Fo88595A

T24, note another of her class forward, with the M40 20mm cannon showing

Swedish torpedo boat Motortorpedbåten T29, 1950 Gota Canal. Note the 20mm cannon, which is now better protected, and the depth charges with two empty racks. The Swedes, then as now, were not squeamish when it came to dropping cans on suspect sonar contacts in their home waters. 

The T 21s were later augmented by the similar although up-gunned (40mm Bofors) T 38 class and finally replaced by the much-improved Spica-class, which remained in use through the 1980s with the same sort of tasking as the craft that preceded them.

At 139-feet oal, the Spicas were more than twice as long as the T 21s and carried a half-dozen torpedoes in addition to a 57mm Bofors gun.

However, that welded steel hull and the mild salinity of the Baltic has meant that at least one of the old T 21s, T 26 to be clear, has been preserved as a working museum ship in her Cold War colors and is still poking around, although she probably could not make her original designed speed at this point.

Fo196168

Specs:

Displacement: 28 tons
Length: 65.66-feet
Beam: 15.75-feet
Draft: Puddle
Engines: 2 Isotta-Fraschini IF184 supercharged gas engines, 3450hp
Speed: 50 knots max
Range:
Crew: 7 to 11
Armament:
2 21-inch torpedo tubes forward
1 20 mm LuftVärnskanon M.40 AAA gun, rear
up to 6 6.5mm machine guns (if using dual mounts on three pintles)
6 depth charges

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Speaking of 1960s technology…

The MiG-25 Foxbat dazzled NATO when it was first spied in 1964. Theoretically capable of Mach 3 and reaching altitudes as high as 115,000 ft., the giant interceptor sent a chill through the West, especially when it was feared it was a strike aircraft.

Then, in September 1976, when Soviet Red Air Force Lt. Viktor Belenko famously defected with his late-model Foxbat-P and U.S. analysts got a first-hand look at the beast, they saw it was terribly flawed. Constructed of stainless steel due to its size and weight, its engines were fragile and could be easily damaged, especially at high speeds. The electronics left a lot to be desired. Lacking a look-down-shoot-down radar, it was limited in combat.

To fix some of the MiG-25’s shortcomings, the Soviets developed what was termed the “Super Foxbat” in the late 1970s. The airframe was crafted from a blend of composite nickel steel, various alloys, and titanium. Featuring a longer fuselage to accommodate a more advanced PESA-style radar able to track 24 airborne targets even among ground clutter and an RIO to take advantage of it, the MiG-31 Foxhound was born.

Although out of production since 1994, the Russians have about 100 updated MiG-31BM models, complete with glass cockpits, HOTAS controls, the late gen Zaslon (Flash Dance) phased array radar, and other good stuff. Still, the 26-ton monster looks like a Cold War pterodactyl.

Check out this recently released video of the aircraft operating around Perm, notably the very region where Gary Powers was lost in 1960.

Last flights, from Dublin to Virginia Beach

A few platforms with a decidedly long life are fading away this week with others being on their last legs.

The Republic of Ireland in 1972 picked up nine French-built Cessna 172 variants which have proved solid workhorses in the past 47 years. The Reims Rocket FR172H were originally intended for border patrol during “The Troubles” and could be fitted with a pair of Matra rocket pods under each wing.

Using a Rolls-Royce built, fuel-injected, Continental IO-360D 210 hp engine with a constant-speed propeller, the Reims (Cessna) FR.172 Rocket got its name from the fact it could carry twin 12x37mm Matra pods, as above. No. 207 Irish Air Corps, seen taxiing in at Casement Aerodrome Baldonnel Circa 1980. Via Flickr 

Over the course of 63,578 hours clocked up (7k hours per airframe), they fulfilled various roles besides border surveillance including “explosive escorts, cash escorts, in-shore maritime surveillance, target towing, bog surveys, wildlife surveys, general transportation flights, and even one air ambulance mission.”

They will be replaced by a trio of (unarmed) Pilatus PC-12NG Spectres.

Meanwhile, as noted by Naval Air Forces Atlantic, the last Navy F/A-18C Hornet, aircraft number 300, made its official final active-duty flight at Naval Air Station Oceana, Oct. 2.

“Assigned to the Navy’s East Coast Fleet Replacement Squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 at Cecil Field, Florida, aircraft number 300 completed its first Navy acceptance check flight Oct. 14, 1988. Lt. Andrew Jalali, who piloted the Hornet for its final flight was also born in 1988.

The aircraft has remained with the Gladiators for its entire 31-years of service. The aircraft took off from NAS Oceana accompanied by three F/A-18F Super Hornets for a one-and-a-half-hour flight and return to Oceana where it will be officially stricken from the inventory, stripped of all its usable parts and be scrapped.”

The last Navy F/A-18C Hornet assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 made its official final active-duty flight at Naval Air Station Oct 2. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nikita Custer)

Notably, the Marines still fly the type while overseas allies such as Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Finland, Spain, Malaysia, and Kuwait also keep the older Hornets around.

Meanwhile, in semi-related news, the “Rhino” looks short-listed to be adopted by the Germans to replace their increasingly aged Panavia Tornados. Then-West Germany went with the swing-wing Cold War classic in 1974 to replace the scary dangerous F-104 Starfighter for both ground strike/air defense by the Luftwaffe and maritime strike in the Baltic by the Bundesmarine’s Marinefliegerkommando.

How about some of that old school 1970s Tornado goodness?

Today, just 90~ active Tornados are left of the original 359 picked up by Bonn and are slated to be phased out by 2025. The RAF has already put the type out to pasture while the Italians are not far behind.

Apparently, it is the Super Hornet’s easy likelihood of being able to quickly be cleared to carry NATO-pooled B61 tactical nukes– a mission currently dedicated to the German Tornados– that gave it the upper hand over the Eurofighter Typhoon and others.

Germany currently uses the Typhoon for air superiority tasks and Quick Reaction Alert duties. 

U-Boote der Klasse 206

Built to replace the troublesome Type 205 submarines of the West German Bundesmarine, which in turn had replaced the largely experimental Type 201 boats– Germany’s first class of submarines built after World War II– the Klasse 206 U-Bootes were interesting little subs.

The German Type 206s were basically the Volkswagen Beetles of the submarine word. However, they worked and remained in service for 35 years.

Just 500-tons submerged, they were 159-feet long but could remain at sea with their 22-man crew for weeks with the ability to deliver an impressive, one-time, spread of eight 21-inch torpedoes to a target, enough to sink a Soviet battlecruiser if needed. The first of the class, U13 (S-192) was commissioned in 1973 and the 18th, U30 (S-210) followed by 1975. Capable of an impressive 4,000-mile sortie, two of these Baltic u-boats even crossed the Atlantic unsupported, visiting New York City.

Check out this (German) video of one underway in 1975.

The Germans kept the class around through the Cold War, updating a dozen to Type 206A standard in the 1990s, and only fully retired the boats in 2010. Indonesia and Colombia picked up surplus models.

Enterprise’s anchor heads to sea once more

While a number of relics from the country’s first nuclear-fueled supercarrier, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), are being incorporated into her replacement, CVN-80, which is set to join the fleet sometime in 2027ish, at least one large chunk of the old warrior is headed to sea much sooner. A 32-ton chunk at that, circa 1957.

According to Ingalls:

USS George Washington’s (CVN 73) mid-life refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH), currently underway at Newport News Shipbuilding, includes extensive upgrades and modernization. But this time it also includes a bit of U.S. Navy history – an anchor from Enterprise (CVN 65). Instead of trying to repair a damaged anchor on CVN 73, the Navy suggested shipbuilders swap it for one from the decommissioned CVN 65.
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