Category Archives: cold war

Mines, Mines, Mines

While today seagoing mine warfare is frequently neglected, at least in the West, it was a staple of naval technology from the sinking of the USS Cairo on the Yazoo River to the more current antics in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Sure, sure, there are still half-hearted regular drills to airdrop mines in addition to MCM activities of all stripes, especially by the “small navies” of NATO, but dedicated minelaying vessels have long ago fallen out of fancy in the U.S. and Royal Navy.

Which makes this circa 1976 training doc (Admiralty catalog no. A2788) on RN minelaying, filmed on the “exercise minelayer” HMS Abdiel (N21)*, extremely interesting.

Enjoy!

*As a side, when Abdiel was paid off in 1988, Ian Stewart, Secretary of State for Defence, commented in the House of Commons:

We have not felt it necessary to have a specialist replacement ship for mine laying, because mines can be laid by a wide variety of vessels. They can be laid by submarines, offshore patrol vessels, Royal Maritime auxiliary vessels, Royal Fleet auxiliaries, and aircraft. The task can be done by any suitably modified vessel at short notice. We do not regard it as cost-effective to have a specialist ship for that replacement.

News of Cutters Past and Present

Lots of interesting Coast Guard news lately.

The frigate-sized National Security Cutter USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753), with an embarked MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, has been on a European cruise in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations to include a stint in the Black Sea, the first time a cutter has been in that ancient body of water since USCGC Dallas (WMEC 716) visited in 2008. Hamilton has been working closely with U.S. allies who share the littoral with Russia and Ukraine to include the Turks and Georgians.

Hamilton and an unidentified marine mammal, who probably wasn’t sent by the Russian Navy. Probably. (Photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia)

BLACK SEA (April 30, 2021) U.S. Coast Guard members conduct boat and flight procedures on the USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753) with Turkish naval members aboard the TCG Turgutreis (F 241) in the Black Sea, April 30, 2021

210502-G-G0108-1335 BLACK SEA (May 2, 2021) USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753) and Georgian coast guard vessels Ochamchire (P 23) and Dioskuria (P 25) conduct underway maneuvers in the Black Sea, May 2, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo)

Those with a sharp eye will note the Georgian boats are former U.S.-built 110-foot Island-class cutters, USCGC Staten Island (WPB-1345) and USCGC Jefferson Island (WPB-1340), respectively, which had been transferred in 2014 after they were retired from American service.

Notably, the Georgian Islands are carrying an M2 .50 cal forward rather than the MK 38 25mm chain gun which had been mounted there in Coast Guard service.

Adak Update

Speaking of Island-class cutters, the story of the USCGC Adak (WPB-1333), a veteran of the “American Dunkirk” of Sept. 11th and the past 18 years of tough duty in the Persian Gulf, has thickened. Slated to be sold to Indonesia later this summer as she completes her service, the USCGC Adak Historical Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that wants to bring her back from overseas and install her as a museum ship in Tampa Bay, where she would also help with a youth program.

So far, a few lawmakers have signed on to help, writing the Coast Guard and State Department, and VADM Aan Kurnia, the head of the Indonesia Maritime Security Agency, has gone on record saying he didn’t want the aging patrol boat.

We shall see.

Morris saved

In related news, the 125-foot “Buck and a Quarter” Active-class patrol craft/sub chaser USCGC Morris (WSC/WMEC-147), who saw service during Prohibition and WWII in her 43-year career with the Coast Guard, has been bopping around the West Coast in a series of uses since then the 1970s include as a training ship with the Sea Scouts and as a working museum ship in Sacramento.

USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) late in her career. Note her 40mm Bofors forward, which was fitted in 1942. (USCG photo)

We wrote how she was for sale on Craigslist for $90K in 2019, in decent shape.

Now, she has been saved, again.

The Vietnam War Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, announced on Thursday that they have officially taken the title of the historic ship with an aim to continue her operations.

Vale, Idriss Déby, Emir of the Toyota Wars

The Chadian government last week reported that recently reelected six-time president (!) Idriss Déby, 68, died of injuries following clashes with rebels in the north of the country at the weekend. Deby’s son, leader of the Presidental Guard, has been installed as the country’s leader.

The Deby government came to power in 1990 as part of a military coup while he was head of the military. Although we aren’t in the habit of celebrating African authoritarian strongmen, it should be noted that Deby was a legend of asymmetric warfare.

He was the head of the Chadian National Armed Forces (FANT) during the Toyota Wars of the 1980s.

Trained in a series of French officer schools to include the prestigious École de Guerre, Deby’s Mad Max-style troopers pulled off a French-funded Deserts Rats-esque campaign against Gaddafi’s set-piece Libyan armored columns in Chad’s northern deserts, pitting 400 Milan- and machine gun-armed technicals against T-54s– and coming out on top. 

Since literally taking office 30 years ago, Deby has remained a big friend to Paris in backing up the old colonizer’s fight against Islamists on the Continent and setting up Chad as the model of stability in the region. 

With that, there should be no surprise that France– who has long looked the other way on Chad’s intermittent border clashes with Nigeria– is supporting the Chadian military’s seizure of power following Deby’s death on the battlefield.

Speaking of which…

Chad and France have a unique bond that goes back to WWII.

On 26 August 1940, just two months after the fall of metropolitan France to the Axis, Chad was the first French territory in Africa to break with the Vichy government and join De Gaulle’s Free French movement.

With the blessing of colonial governor Felix Ebouse and Lt. Col Pierre Marchand, commander of the Senegalese infantry regiment of Chad (Régiment de Tirailleurs Sénégalais du Tchad, RTST), the local unit, DeGaulle sent a young Major Philippe Hauteclocque (under the nom de guerre, Leclerc) who handpicked a column of 400 to strike out from the colony against the key oasis of Koufra in Italian Libya in January 1941 to aid the British push in the Western Desert.

1940 uniform of Régiment de Tirailleurs Sénégalais du Tchad, via the Musee d’la Armee

Free French infantryman, a native of the Chad colony, who was awarded the Croix de Guerre, 1942 for combat in North Africa. Note the tribal face scars, British helmet, and fouled anchor insignia common to French colonial troops (NARA)

Leclerc’s truck-borne unit, augmented by some old armored cars and a couple of 75mm guns, kicked the Italian Sahariana di Cufra around the desert for two months and, upon victory, which was hugely symbolic to the Free French, Leclerc and his men (some 3/4ths were Africans from Chad), took the so-called “Koufra Oath,” promising not to lay down their arms until the Free French flag flew from the Strasbourg Cathedral.

Fast forward to 23 November 1944 and Leclerc, then general in charge of his own armored division of Sherman tanks and on his way to becoming a Marshal of France, liberated Strasbourg.

The Régiment de Marche du Tchad still exists in the modern French Army today, based in Meyenheim in Alsace, as a mechanized infantry unit of some 1,200 soldiers. 

Keeping that in mind, the odds of the French ever quitting Chad are somewhat lower than zero.

What they carried: Bay of Pigs Editon

Today is the 60th anniversary of the final counter-attack by Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces near Playa Girón, 19 April 1961– in which over 25,000 Cuban regulars backed up by at least twice as much armed militia and under definitive air cover– rolled up the remaining 1,300~ men of Brigada Asalto 2506, the Cuban exile unit armed and equipped by the U.S. government.

Speaking of which, the National Archives has a ton of interesting Bay of Pigs documents digitized online.

Rather than a low-key infiltration of small teams to set the countryside against Havanna, which may have succeeded, the CIA went all-in on an overly ambitious plan to seize and hold territory in an effort to give the anti-Castro movement a tangible slice of “Free Cuba.” 

The bulk of these reports were declassified in 2011, after 50 years.

The documents include a list of small arms and munitions for the brigade detail a shopping list of WWII surplus gear: 485 M1 Garands (although some were seen with Johnson M1941 rifles), 150 M1 Carbines, 470 SMGs (mostly M3 Grease Guns although some Reisings were used as well), 465 pistols, 108 M1918 BAR light machine guns, 30 M1919 Browning .30 cal GPMGs, 44 .50 cal heavy machine guns, 75 M20 Super Bazookas (with 2,400 rockets), 18 57mm recoilless rifles, 3 75mm recoilless rifles, 36 60mm light mortars, 18 81mm mortars, 6 4.2-inch mortars (the brigade’s largest weapons), 5 76mm M5 anti-tank guns, as well as demo kits and lots of hand grenades (22,000). To feed this collection, just over 1 million cartridges were to be provided.

“Three members of Brigade 2506’s honor guard stand with their new unit flag while training at Trax Base before the Bay of Pigs invasion.” Note the WWII-era duck hunter camo and M1 Garands. Via a 2012 San Antionio Times article.

To provide support moving off the beach, five M41 Walker Bulldog light (23-ton) tanks were taken from U.S. Army stocks and provided to the brigadistas to form an armored platoon. Mounting 76mm guns, the M41s went on to go head-to-head with large numbers of Cuban T-34/85s and acquitted themselves fairly well despite the Soviet-made tanks’ heavier armor and larger gun.

It was a pretty significant amount of gear, loaded on a “ghost fleet” of old LCIs and LCUs (some crewed by American MSTS mariners) as well as leased Garcia-line N-3 type liberty ships with the intention of landing the first 15 days worth of supplies with the initial wave, then returning with the second 15 days worth ASAP.

The initial load included 18,000 C-rations and 22 tons of bulk rations (rice, beans, dried meat et. al) as well as 54 19-foot aluminum skiffs with outboard motors and a range of LCVPs to be used as ship-to-shore connectors.

Via NARA

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As Castro’s forces were able to retain air superiority via a handful of T-33 Shooting Stars, B-26 Invaders, and Hawker Sea Furies, the most crucial phase of the landings– keeping the men on the beach supplied and able to move inland– never had a chance.

SS Houston, an N-3 type cargo ship, was one of two sunk during the landing. She carried 183 tons of Brigade 2506’s equipment including its 50-bed field hospital. 

Between April 17th and 20th, 10 Cuban pilots fly a total of just 70 missions for Castro’s forces, bringing down nine B-26 planes, and sinking two 5,000 ton freighters, one communication boat, three landing craft for transporting equipment, and five for troops. (“Playa Girón Primer Tomo, 114-115)

Some 25 miles over the horizon in International Waters, a U.S. Navy task force including the carriers Boxer and Essex, was ready to provide cover for the Cuban exiles but was ordered to stand down at the last minute. Their air wings could have made quick work of Castro’s air force, and hammered the lines around the beachhead with everything from 500-pound bombs to napalm, but it could have triggered a much larger conflict, possibly including Soviet intervention in Europe. 

“For maritime historians, the Bay of Pigs invasion has become known as the world’s most disastrous amphibious operation,” notes Capt. James McNamara in Freightwaves

Such an outcome was theorized in advance by an Air Force advisor, Lt. Col. B.W. Tarwater, who had given the idea of an amphibious assault against Cuban aviation assets as pretty low, urging that it should have been an airlift with adequate air support.

Trained for over 13 weeks by American advisors in Nicaragua and elsewhere, the top-level plan had been for Brigade 2506 to “go guerilla” if they received pushback from conventional forces that they could not defeat or found themselves cut off from the beaches. However, on the ground level, this was more wishful thinking than anything and such discussions had not filtered down to the rank-and-file.

“It was mutually agreed that these contingency plans would be discussed only down to the level of battalion commanders prior to landing to avoid defeatist talk and apprehension concerning the success of the operation,” reads a report from the time.

Locked into the beachhead with dwindling supplies under constant air and artillery attack, the brigadistas were wrapped up and nearly 1,200 were captured by the end of D+3.

Several brigadistas were executed or otherwise perished in Castro’s custody after being captured.

Most were later repatriated to the U.S. after nearly two years in Cuban prisons, exchanged for millions in American aid.

As a good bookend to the event, Raul Castro recently confirmed he is stepping down as Cuba’s Communist party boss, ending the six-decade Castro-era in the country.

The Brigade 2506 Museum, maintained by the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, has much more information for those who are curious. 

57-Year Old SSBN Finally Retires

Long the last remaining boat of her class still afloat, the Moored Training Ship Sam Rayburn (MTS 635) was originally commissioned 2 December 1964 as SSBN-635, part of the James Madison-class of Cold War-era fleet ballistic missile (FBM) submarines.

USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN-635) c. 1964, with her missile hatches showing their “billiard ball” livery

A member of the famed “41 for Freedom” boats rushed into service to be the big stick of mutually assured destruction against the Soviets, Rayburn was named for the quiet but determined WWII/Korea War speaker of the House, Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn.

After carrying Polaris SLBMs on a rotating series of deterrent patrols from the East Coast and Rota, Spain, Rayburn had her missile compartment removed in 1985 as part of the SALT II treaty and decommissioned, transitioning to her role as an MTS.In the meantime, all of her sisters were disposed of through recycling by 2000, leaving Rayburn to linger on in her training role. Similarly, MTS Daniel Webster (MTS-626), originally a Lafayette-class FBM decommissioned in 1990, has been in the same tasking.

However, all things eventually end. As the MTS role is now transitioning to a pair of recently sidelined 1970s-construction Los Angeles-class attack boats– La Jolla (SSN/MTS 701) and San Francisco (SSN/MTS 711)Webster and Rayburn are ready for razorblades.

Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) recently welcomed the Rayburn in advance of her inactivation, from where she will be towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for recycling

Navy Photo 210405-N-XX785-003 by Danny De Angelis

USS Sam Rayburn has proudly served the U.S. Submarine Force and Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program since 1964, and we now welcome it to America’s Shipyard,” said Shipyard Commander Captain Dianna Wolfson. “Performing the first inactivation of a Moored Training Ship will develop another important facet in our service to the Fleet, and we look forward to excelling in our mission as one team.”

Buffs. Still clocking in at 67 years later

Few weapons systems survive active use longer than a generation before they are replaced by something more advanced developed from lessons learned from the previous system’s hard use in the field. Scratch that when it comes to the B-52 Stratofortress.

Below is an image of B-52A #1 at the Boeing employee rollout ceremony, Seattle, Washington March 18, 1954– 66 years ago today. The tailfin was too high for the hangar door and was later hoisted into place.

Now, in the platform’s 7th decade in service, the good old Buff is still ready and willing to go in harm’s way– and does so regularly.

Please don’t feed the Buffs…it will ruin their diets.

The last production Strat, B-52H AF Serial No. 61-0040, left the factory on 26 October 1962. As they are expected to remain in service until 2050, the youngest of the fleet will still be flying at age 92.

Warship Wednesday: March 17, 2021, Shamrock Cans

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, March 17, 2021: Shamrock Cans

In deference to the date, St. Patrick’s Day, we are departing from our normal Warship Wednesday format and instead are touching on the U.S. Navy’s interesting shamrock-carrying destroyers– the Spru/Kidd-Cans USS O’Brien (DD-975) and USS Callaghan (DDG-994). If you want a more Irish WW experience, I’ve covered the story of the doomed Irish schooner Cymric and the Irish Naval Service’s Long Éireannach (LÉ) Cliona (03) in years past.

Also, yes, I know about the three-time battlestar earning Casablanca-class jeep carrier USS Shamrock Bay (CVE-84) and Sea Control Squadron 41 (VS-41) “The Shamrocks,” but today we are talking about destroyers. 

DD-975

O’Brien was named in honor of old-school swashbuckling patriot, Capt. Jeremiah O’Brien, of the Massachusetts Colonial Navy– effectively one of the first American naval heroes. The skipper of the armed sloop Unity, who flew the Appeal to Heaven pine tree flag, he captured the British schooner HMS Margaretta off Machias, Maine, just two months after Lexington and Concord, the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War. Several ships were later named for the legendary Irish-American before DD-975, including a 1900s torpedo boat (TB-30), an early class-leader four-piper destroyer (DD-51) that served in the Great War, a Sims-class destroyer (DD-415) that was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in 1942, a Liberty Ship and an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer (DD-725) that received 14 battle stars across WWII, Korea and Vietnam.

Our Spruance, like all the others of her class, was built at Pascagoula and commissioned 3 December 1977 and, during the Cold War and follow-on unrest in the Med and the Persian Gulf, would complete seven WestPac cruises and another seven in the Persian Gulf.

An aerial port side view of the Spruance class destroyer USS O’Brien (DD 975) underway, 1985. (Photo PH3 C. Yebba, NARA DN-SC-85-06885)

It was while in the Sandbox that O’Brien took part in one of the few naval surface actions since WWII, being part of the surface action group that sank the Iranian guided-missile frigate Sahand during Operation Praying Mantis in 1988. She would later go on to be front and center for Desert Sheild.

She ran a three-leaf clover on her bridge wing in honor of the ancestral origins of Capt. O’Brien. Her NECG callsign on the leading edge of the house, under the CIWS, is done in shamrock-shaped flags as well. Note the sandbagged M2 mount and pintel M60. This would be while the ship was in the Persian Gulf during Praying Mantis. (Photo by PH2 M.A. Harnar, NARA DN-SN-89-03402)

What? Me, worry? Official caption: Members of the Stinger anti-aircraft missile detachment man their stations aboard the destroyer USS O’Brien (DD-975), 4/18/1988 (Photo PH2 Harnar/DN-SN-89-03405)

O’Brien had a shamrock on her official crest and assorted ship’s patches as well.

Unloved by Big Navy in the end, O’Brien would be decommissioned in 2004 after 26 years of faithful service and disposed of in a SINKEX less than two years later.

Can-Do Callaghan

A port bow view of the guided-missile destroyer USS CALLAGHAN (DDG-994) underway in the harbor, 7/16/1993 NARA DN-ST-93-05601

A better-armed offshoot of the Spruance-class, the Kidd-class guided-missile destroyer USS Callaghan (DDG-994) was commissioned at Pascagoula on 29 August 1981. She was the second ship named for RADM Daniel Judson Callaghan (USNA 1911), a naval hero who was killed on his flagship San Francisco in 1942 when his cruiser/destroyer task force intercepted and spoiled the attack of two Japanese battleships headed to plaster the Marines on Guadalcanal. Sadly, the first warship named in honor of the late admiral, Callaghan (DD-792), was also lost in WWII, sent to the bottom off Okinawa after being struck by a kamikaze.

The second (and so far final) Callaghan was much luckier, spending much of her career in sometimes tense but relatively bloodless Cold War service in the Pacific. She circumnavigated the globe with the Kitty Hawk Battle Group in 1987, escorted reflagged tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, and missed the first Gulf War due to spending a year in New Threat Upgrade (NTU) overhaul.

Like O’Brien, Callaghan’s crew used lots of Shamrocks on their caps, cruise books, and coins.

In 1994, while in the Persian Gulf enforcing sanctions against Saddam, her embarked helo spotted something strange in a floating fishing net.

Per DANFS:

In a most “unusual yet fulfilling” search and rescue (SAR) mission, Cmdr. Joseph J. Natale, Callaghan’s commanding officer, led a team in the ship’s boat to assist the trapped mammal. Crewmembers cut through the fishing line, and the dolphin, dubbed “Shamrock” by the crew, swam free.

On 31 March 1998, Callaghan was decommissioned at age 17, stricken from the Naval Vessel Register, and laid up at Bremerton. Five years later, she was transferred to Taiwan along with the rest of the Kidds.

There, she still serves as ROCS Su Ao (DDG-1802), although her crew likely doesn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

***

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Sailing on Hermes for the Falklands

Timely now due to the fact that, as this is written, the famous old WWII-era HMS Hermes (95) is being slowly cut to pieces in the shallows of Alang, is the below video that was just posted online.

This great 24-minute color film story, from the AP Archives, was filed 21 May 1982 as the British Operation Corporate Task Force was heading to liberate the Falklands.

It starts out with some interesting shots of the force as a whole as it pulled out of Portsmouth, then soon switches to life on the Hermes. The film crew goes from her flight deck where Harriers are buzzing around working up with some live-fire exercises while underway, to the hangar deck and down to engineering, talking to assorted ratings including a 16-year-old snipe who is bummed that his planned 10-day libo was canceled to go fight the Argies.

One interesting part, at the 17:17 mark, shows Hermes training a 100 man group, drawn from the crew, as an internal security force, equipped with SLRs and other small arms. The thought at the time, from the officer over the training, was that the volunteers could be utilized as a landing force ashore if needed, ready to guard ammo dumps, prisoner control, etc. Even with the prospect of possible ground combat on the horizon, three times the amount of tars needed for the force volunteered. To put that into perspective, keep in mind that the light carrier only had a 500– 2,100-man crew.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021: The Jeep of The Deep

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Feb. 17, 2021: The Jeep of The Deep

U.S. Navy Museum 26-G-4078

Here we see USCG-6, one of the hardy members of the skull-and-crossbones emblazoned Coast Guard “Match Box Fleet” that rode shotgun in the shallows off Normandy during the Neptune/Overlord landings in June 1944. Unlikely– and quite frankly very dangerous– vessels, these 83-foot patrol boats provided unsung service not only during WWII but for generations after.

The Coast Guard’s first modern 20th Century mid-sized offshore vessels, the massive 203-vessel 75-foot “six-bitter” patrol boats, were a child of the Prohibition-era crackdown on rumrunners and bootleggers. However, these cabin cruiser-style all-wooden boats were some of the slowest boats in the sea. Equipped with two 6-cylinder gasoline engines, they could make 15.7 knots– on a calm sea and with a light load.

A 75-foot Coast Guard boat, CG-242, at Boston in 1928, looking like it is wide open. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

By the 1930s and with the rapid expansion in the number of powerboats in consumers’ hands, the Coast Guard ordered 19 so-called “400 series” patrol boats with speed as a requirement. These craft, built by five different yards in four different types, were an important evolutionary step, not only for the USCG but also by the Navy, who about the same time was looking to get into the PT boat game. Shallow-draft wooden-hulled boats with streamlined cabins, they were packed with multiple high-octane engines below deck with the goal of breaking 20+ knots with ease.

CG 441, one of the two experimental “400 series” 72 footers built by the service in the 1930s. “New Coast Guard boat capable of 35 miles an hour. Washington, D.C., May 17, 1937. One of the fastest things afloat, the new U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat #441 was put thru its paces on the Potomac River today for the benefit of treasury officials. The cruiser, which is one of eight to placed in law enforcement and life-saving service of the Coast Guard, is powered with four 1,600 horsepower motors and is capable of doing 35 miles an hour.” This craft, built by Chance Marine Construction in Annapolis, would serve on the sea frontier in WWII and be sold in 1947 for scrap. Photo. LOC LC-DIG-hec-22721

By 1941, the Coast Guard had settled on a new design following lessons learned by the “400 series.”

The original 83 footer plan

Designed to use a pair of large, supped-up gasoline engines, the agency ordered 40 of these new 83-foot crafts on 19 March 1941 from Wheeler Shipyard in Brooklyn. Powered by two 600hp Hall Scott Defenders, it was expected they could make 20.6 knots at delivery. Armament was slight, just a manually loaded 1-pounder (37mm) gun forward, and a pair of .30-06 Lewis guns on the wheelhouse wings.

With a plywood interior separated by three bulkheads sandwiched between a Cedar/Oak hull and a wood deck, the crew spaces on an 83 was described by one former crewman as “a dog kennel almost big enough for 14 men.”

The first boats of the series, as it turned out, were very different from what the class would soon evolve to become. Designed to use a smooth prefabricated Everdur bronze wheelhouse, as wartime material crunches came to play just 135 hulls would have these, the rest making do with a flat and angular plywood affair. In a below-deck change, after the first five hulls, the powerplant changed to a pair of the Sterling Engine Company’s TCG-8 “Viking II” engine, a beast referred to by Engine Labs today as the “World’s Largest Inline Gasoline Engine.”

Via Engine Labs:

The TCG-8 was an inline-eight-cylinder, four-stroke engine, which consumed gasoline… and lots of it. An undersquare design, the engine featured an 8.00-inch bore and 9.00-inch stroke, for a total displacement of 3,619.1 cubic inches, or 59.3 liters, making it one of, if not the largest inline gasoline engine in the world.

The engine itself was relatively compact, at 12 feet, 2-9/16 inches long and only 44-9/16 inches wide, which allowed the two engines to fit comfortably side-by-side in the 83-footer’s hull. Housed in a gray-iron block, the crankshaft was a forged chromoly steel piece, with separately attached counterweights, which were affixed to the crankshaft via a dovetail and bolts. There were nine traditional babbit-style bearings, 4.00 inches in diameter, which measured 2.75 inches in width on eight journals, with the thrust bearing measuring a beefy 3.437 inches wide

The Sterling TCG-8 Viking.

Sterling was known among cabin cruiser builders in the 1930s and the Viking II was sold to power 60- and 70-footers of the day. The USCG’s 83 footers used two such engines, the same setup used in the 95-foot MV Passing Jack in the above ad.

Working on a Viking below the deck of an 83 in 1942. William Vandivert/LIFE

In all, 230 of these boats would be constructed for the Coast Guard and another 12 for overseas allies (19 units originally delivered to the USCG were also transferred). The initial 1941 contract was for $42,450 per hull, a cost that would rise to $62,534 by 1944 due to the increasing sensor and armament load.

By the end of the war, these boats were carrying depth charges aft, Mousetrap ASW projectors forward, and a 20mm Oerlikon as well as a SO-2 radar and QBE sonar when fully equipped. That’s a lot for an officer and a 13-man crew to take care of.

The  general wartime plan, extracted from U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Crafts of World War II by Robert Scheina

All were numbered 83300 through 83529, with corresponding (and confusing) hull numbers CG 450 through CG 634, although boats after 83384 apparently did not get said overly complicated hull numbers.

A great shot of CG 83301 with a lifeboat astern. Note the four twin can depth charge racks. The second 83 completed in 1941, she spent four years as a harbor defense boat in NYC before shipping out for the 7th Fleet in June 1945. She was lost at Buckner Bay, Okinawa 9 October 1945 to a typhoon

Aboard an 83 in 1942 during a coastal convoy, photo by William Vandivert from the archives of Life Magazine. Note the riveted bronze wheelhouse and searchlights

This example has an M1917 water-cooled Browning forward. William Vandivert/LIFE

And two Lewis guns on the bridge wings. Note the smooth lines of the bronze superstructure. William Vandivert/LIFE

Note the older ratings and the loaded Lewis magazine. William Vandivert/LIFE

William Vandivert/LIFE

Note the two can gravity depth charge racks port and starboard. Two more racks were over the stern. William Vandivert/LIFE

Stern racks. William Vandivert/LIFE

William Vandivert/LIFE

Arming Mark VI depth charges. William Vandivert/LIFE

Note the Chief and the Navy blimp. William Vandivert/LIFE

William Vandivert/LIFE

CGC 624 in pristine early war condition. Note the 20mm/80 on her quarterdeck and the depth charge racks off her stern. This craft would later become one of the Matchbox Fleet as USCG 14 and would go on to serve post-war as WPB-83373. Photo released on 29 October 1942, No. 105197F, by Morris Rosenfeld, New York (USCG photo)

Riding A “Jeep of The Deep”. These two SPAR cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut, take a lively interest in their trip aboard a “jeep of the deep”, an 83-foot Coast Guard patrol craft. The two future SPAR officers are Leila Leverett, left, and Helen D. Darland. U.S. Coast Guard Photograph. Of note, over 10,000 women volunteered for the SPARs during WWII, the Coast Guard’s version of the WAVES

“Due to their low silhouette and slight wake, these craft are often mistaken for submarines,” notes the Sept 1943 ONI 56 on the Coast Guard 83 foot cutters as sub busters. 

The most significant combat “kills” attributed to the 83s came from a Cuban-manned boat, Caza Submarino 13 (CS-13). One of 10 delivered to the Cubans at Miami, CS-13 splashed U-176, a Type IXC on 15 May 1943 in the Florida Straits north-east of Havana. 

CS13, the smallest U-boat killer.

Lifesavers

Deployed far and wide, the 83s in USCG service were often the first on the scene to pick up wrecked mariners after a U-boat slipped back under the sea, especially during 1942’s Operation Drumbeat offensive.

83305– Rescued 11 from the freighter City of New York.
83309– Pulled nine survivors of the schooner Cheerio from the water.
83310– Rescued 25 from the tanker C.O Stillman and another 50 from the tanker William Rockefeller.
83322– Rescued 14 from the freighter Santore.

In the lead-up to Overlord/Neptune, a group of 60 83s along with 840 Coasties were assembled on the eastern coast of England, under the suggestion of FDR himself. Dubbed Rescue Flotilla One under the command of LCDR Alexander V. Stewart, Jr., they would accompany the waves of LCIs and other landing craft into the beaches and, using their 5-foot draft, close in with sinking vessels to recover survivors and floaters. To keep things easy, the craft were renumbered USCG 1 through USCG 60 and given a large white star on their wheelhouse for aerial recognition. They landed most of their armament and trained in triage and lifesaving– ready to lower rescue swimmers over the side with a rope if need be.

A superb reference for the “Matchbox Fleet” at Normandy is the 1946 Coast Guard at War: The Landings in France which covers the operation of the flotilla across some 30 pages. Drawn from that is this page on the prep on these “Sea Going Saint Bernards”: 

US Coast Guard Cutter 16 at Poole, England in 1944. Notice USCG 10 to the left. CG 16, under LT (j.g.) R.V. McPhail, achieved the Flotilla’s rescue record, picking up 126 survivors and one cadaver on D-Day from three landing craft stricken within a half-mile of the beach, all handled in less than six hours. UA 555.03

Two U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot patrol boats operating off the Normandy beaches as rescue craft, in June 1944. They are USCG-20 (83401) and USCG-21 (83402). 26-G-3743

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

They earned the nickname “Matchbox Fleet” due to their wooden hulls and two Sterling-Viking gasoline engines — one incendiary shell hitting a cutter could easily turn it into a “fireball.”

They were assigned to each of the invasion areas, with 30 serving off the British and Canadian sectors and 30 serving off the American sectors. During Operation Neptune/Overlord these cutters and their crews carried out the Coast Guard’s time-honored task of saving lives, albeit under enemy fire on a shoreline thousands of miles from home. The cutters of Rescue Flotilla One saved more than 400 men on D-Day alone and by the time the unit was decommissioned in December 1944, they had saved 1,438 souls.

“Normandy Landings, June 1944. Coast Guard Invasion Rescue Flotilla Men on Alert. They wear the Death’s-Head emblem of skull and crossbones on their helmets, these Coast Guard invasion veterans, but theirs is an errand of mercy. Here, members of an 83-foot Coast Guard rescue cutter, part of the famous flotilla which rescued hundreds of men from the cold channel waters off France, keep alert while on patrol.” 26-G-2388

The 83-foot Coast Guard cutter USCG 1 (83300) off Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944, tied up to an LCT and the Samuel Chase. Escorting the first waves into Omaha her crew pulled 28 survivors from a sunken landing craft before 0700 on D-Day. 

Do not get it confused, the Coasties weren’t just there as sort of a seagoing ambulance service, untargeted by enemy bullets. They took fire of all sorts all day. McPhail’s CG 16 for instance “nosed in among the struggling groups of men floundering in diesel oil and debris. Although shells were splashing around it and mines were detonating, the cutter’s crew calmly went about the rescue work. With 90 casualties as its first load, the cutter sped to the Coast Guard transport Dickman.”

“Normandy Invasion, June 1944. Coast Guard Rescue Craft Shelled by Nazis. Twin spouts boil close off the stern of a U.S. Coast Guard invasion rescue craft in the English Channel as Nazi shore batteries pour shellfire into the mighty Allied liberation fleet.” 26-G-2374

The boats of the Matchbox Fleet remained offshore for days, dodging gunfire from marauding E-boat raids, magnesium flares dropped by German planes at night and bumping up against parachute mines.

“Normandy Invasion, June 1944. Towed back from Death. Torn by German shells, the landing barge was sinking. American soldiers aboard appeared lost as the little craft settled in the English Channel waters. Along came a Coast Guard Rescue Cutter poking boldly into the shoal waters. A line was cast and made fast.” 26-G-06-24-44(2)

“Sub Busters in Invasion Role. The U.S. Coast Guard’s famous 83 footers, sub-busters in the Battle of the Atlantic, and to their laurels as rescue craft in the D-Day sweep across the English Channel to the French Coast. These swift, little, intrepid craft are the Coast Guard boats that have been mentioned over and over again in radio and news dispatches for their gallant rescue role during the initial smash on France.”

Coast Guard 83-foot rescue boat CGC-16 unloading wounded troops off Normandy France June 6, 1944, to USS Joseph T. Dickman APA-13 0930 hrs morning of D-Day LIFE Archives Ralph Morse Photographer

Casualties are transferred from a U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot rescue boat to a larger ship, for evacuation from the combat zone, June 1944. Note the name Miss Fury on the boat’s superstructure as well as the large white star for aircraft recognition and the radar on the mast. 26-G-2346

USCG 20 was driven ashore in Normandy during the storm that destroyed the artificial Mulberry harbors in June 1944. She was later repaired and transferred to the Royal Navy.

In the days immediately after the landings, six of these crafts were detailed to operate a rush cross-channel courier service, making four crossings a day carrying mail and urgent Army dispatches to France every six hours. While the Army had originally planned to use planes for the task, it was found that the boats could get there more reliably, even if they had to maneuver around floating mines and unmarked wrecks in the process.

U.S. Navy motor torpedo boats (PT) and U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot patrol boats use the waterfront as a temporary base while operating out of Cherbourg, 30 August 1944. CG 5, with her depth charge racks refitted, is closest to the camera. The PT boat at left is PT-199, a 78-foot Higgins that famously carried ADM Harold R. Stark to Allied invasion beachhead at Normandy. Note the depth charges on the sterns of the USCG patrol boats in the foreground. 80-G-256074

The Pacific

Meanwhile, the 83s were involved in the push towards Tokyo as well. In January 1945, 30 boats were formed into USCG PTC Flotilla One and sent to Manicani Island in the Leyte Gulf, where the U.S. was busy rooting out Japanese holdouts in the quest to liberate the Philippines. Some eight miles west of Guiuan, Manicani would become a major destroyer repair base and a ship repair unit. Another 24 boats were dispatched late in the war to operate with the 7th Fleet at Okinawa, Saipan, Guam, Eniwetok, and elsewhere to serve as harbor defense vessels, on guard against Japanese suicide attacks and frogmen.

Speaking of which, one such vessel, USCGC 83525, was dispatched with Navy RADM M.R. Greer (COMMFLTAIRWING 18) from Tinian to remote Aguijan Island in the Northern Marianas on 4 September 1945 to accept the surrender of the tiny garrison from 2nd LT Kinichi Yamada of the Imperial Army. The Coastie was sent as a larger vessel could not negotiate the shallows of the island.

As detailed by one of the attendees of the event:

When Yamada climbed aboard from a landing craft, his greenish pallor matched the color of his faded uniform. He looked even smaller than he had at our first meeting, encumbered as he was with an outsized dispatch case. The confined deck space on the slender vessel posed a problem: where to place the surrender documents for the signing. Finally, the skipper of the Coast Guard boat suggested using the cover of a ventilator just behind the wheelhouse, and that was where the parties arrayed themselves, the Americans on one side and the three Japanese on the other. Nobody invited me to be part of the U.S. contingent, so I positioned myself directly behind Yamada.

Further, the 83s were influential to the war effort in a quiet way, as they were a big feature on period recruiting posters for the Coast Guard. Of course, less than 3,000 of the service’s 170,000 men at its wartime peak were assigned to these hardy boats at any given time, but you got to get the kids off the farm somehow.

Post-war

Their wartime service largely forgotten, the 83s earned no battlestars and unit citations. Those sent overseas were largely left there, either to rot or to be transferred to overseas allies. Several were lost during the war: 83301 and 83306 to a 1945 typhoon in Okinawa; 83415/CG 27 and 83471/CG 47 sank in a storm off Normandy two weeks after D-Day, their hulls were torn open on submerged wreckage; and 83421 was lost due to a midnight collision with a subchaser while on a blackout convoy. Others were soon disposed of in the inevitable postwar constriction of funds.

These wooden boats, after several years of hard work, were overloaded, stressed, and could typically by 1945 just plod along at about 12 knots, sustained. By 1946, around 100 remained in Coast Guard custody, with many of those laid up. The Navy picked up a handful for such miscellaneous use as range control boats, yard boats, and torpedo retrievers.

Some were upgraded with Cummings diesel engines and all-white peacetime schemes and continued in Coast Guard service through the 1950s. Notably, their armament in peacetime seems to have solidified with a single 20mm Oerlikon over the stern, four abbreviated two-can depth charge racks clustered around the gun, and two mousetraps forward although the latter feature was not always mounted.

CG 83464 in 1949. Delivered in July 1943 from Wheeler, she served out of Charleston before joining the D-Day fleet as CG 43. She was decommissioned in 1961 and sold.

CG 83499 at Biloxi’s annual blessing of the fleet. Note the canvassed 20mm on her stern under an awning. This boat spent WWII as a training ship at Coast Guard HQ and was disposed of in 1959.

CGC 83499 in Pascagoula, MS circa late 1950s

With the service gaining new and improved patrol boats of the Cape and Point classes, the days of the old 83s was fading. In the early 1960s, the remaining 44 hulls still holding on were liquidated, with many being disposed of by fire or scuttling post decommissioning. The last on the USCG’s rolls was CG 83506, disposed of by sinking on 22 March 1966. 

Vessels in overseas service remained around for a few more years. The type was used by Cuba (12), the Dominican Republic (3). Haiti (1) Venezuela (4), Colombia (2), Peru (6), and Mexico (3).

Notably, four transferred to Turkey in 1953 were noted in Janes as late as 1995, still with their mousetraps.

Survivors

Some remaining vessels were converted into yachts, or fishing boats, dive charter vessels, or workboats and ultimately faded into history.

Others had more pedestrian fates.

CGC 83499, the old ghost of the Mississippi Sound shown in the two above photos, was ashore as Pandoras steak house in Destin until 2005. 

Stripped 83s for sale in the Tacoma area in the 1960s, as-is, how-is, where-is

CG-83527, which served on anti-submarine duties in the Gulf of Mexico in WWII, ended her career in Tacoma, Washington in 1962. She was saved in 2003 and restored slowly and extensively over the course of a decade to roughly her 1950 appearance. Its operators have an extensive website with many resources on the class including a full set of plans.

Another of the class, 83366/D-Day CG 11, was purchased by a Seattle couple in terrible condition for $100 and they are in the process of returning her its 1944 arrangement.

Notably, CG 83366 still has her bronze pilothouse.

LT Linwood A. “Tick” Thumm, one of the last of the wartime 83 skippers, passed at age 105 last year.

Speaking of vets, the 83-Footer Sailor portal, long maintained by Al Readdy, seems to be offline but can still be found via archives. Meanwhile, those interested in Coast Guard patrol boat history, in general, should check out HMC James T. Flynn, Jr., USNR(ret)’s excellent 61-page essay.

Today, the USCG Museum has a panel dedicated to the work of the Matchbox Fleet in their D-Day exhibit.

Specs: (extracted from U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Crafts of World War II by Robert Scheina)

A wartime 83 by Jack Read

Displacement: 76 tons fully loaded
Length: 83 ft
Beam: 16 ft
Draft: 5 ft. 4″
Main Engines: 83343 through 83348: 2 Hall Scott Defenders, 1.200 rpm; all others: 2 Sterling Viking II SHP All units: 1,200
2 Propellers: 34″Dia X 27° Pitch (Pitch varied with mission)
2 Kohler Generators 120/240 VAC 60 cycle
Max Speed 15.2 kts, 215 mi radius (1945); 23.5 statute mi (trials,1946)
Max Sustained 12.0 kts. 375 mi radius (1945)
Cruising 10.0 kts, 475 mi radius (1945)
Economic 8.2 kts, 575 mi radius (1945)
Gasoline (95%) 1,900 gal
Complement 1 officer, 13 men (1945)
Electronics (1945)
Detection Radar SO-2 (most units)
Sonar QBE series (none on 83339. 83367-83369, 83427, 83476-83480)
Armament
1941 1 1-pounder. 2 .30cal mg
1945 1 20mm/80,4 dc racks with 8 Mark VI depth charges. 2 Mousetraps; none on 8330
83312, 83335, 83342, 83367, 83387, 83388, 83392, 83427, 83470, 83475. 83491. 83492. 83494,
83501, 83507, 83512, 83515, 83516, 83518-83521, 83529

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Trailblazing Eagle 0291

Only narrowly missing out on Vietnam, Frame 71-0291 was the second two-seat pre-production F-15B (TF-15A) Eagle off the McDonnell Douglas production line in 1975 and soon picked up a striking Bicentennial scheme that she showed off at a number of events to include the 1976 Farnborough International Air Show and the Japan International Aerospace Exhibition.

The company soon modified the scheme to make it a company showboat.

Eventually, 0291 became a test frame for a number of improvements including Langley Research Center’s non-axisymmetric two-dimensional (2-D) STOL nozzles, the Eagle’s FAST Pack Conformal Fuel Tank Program, LANTIRN, and the F-15E Strike Eagle Program.

Pre-production F-15B No. 2 (USAF S/N 71-0291) with 2D engine nozzles and canards, early 1980s, as research that was a part of the abandoned Eagle STOL/MTD program (NASA Glenn Research Center Collection)

Side view of prototype F-15E (converted F-15B, S/N 71-0291). (U.S. Air Force photo)

McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle prototype modified F-15B-4-MC-71-0291 in period “European 1” camouflage with 16 500-lb bombs

According to TDIA, “71-0291 was retired from the active inventory in the early 1990s and was used for battle damage repair training at Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. It is reported to be on display at the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in RSAF colors and markings.”

Of course, the Strike Eagle itself is still around and the USAF is slated to receive some new F-15EX examples, showing just how much 0291 continues to pay off.

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