Category Archives: cold war

San Fran Triple Flats

San Francisco Naval Shipyard: a trio of Essex-class carriers, left-to-right, USS Hancock (CVA-19), USS Oriskany CVA-34), and USS Bennington (CVA-20), 3 October 1957.

Denham/NARA # 80-G-K-23227.

Of note, Oriskany is in drydock in the middle of her SCB-125A modernization, which took place from 1 October 1956 to 29 May 1959. She was the last of her class to gain her angled deck, steam catapults, and hurricane bow and would have an exceptionally long life– the last Essex to operate as a combat carrier.

Decommissioned on 30 September 1976, she would languish in mothballs through the Lehman “600 Ship Navy” period even though she had grass growing on her decks, and be stricken in 1989, just four months before the Berlin Wall came down.

‘Home port Yokosuka’

Caption: “Painting by Arthur Beaumont, 1961. USS Duncan (DD-874) leads USS Mansfield (DD-728) and other destroyers into the Yokosuka, Japan, naval base. In the background is the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CVS-18).”

Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog #: NH 73366-KN

If you aren’t aware of Mr. Beaumont’s work, the NHHC and Navy Museum have lots of it digitized, most suitable for framing. A true maritime artist, he could make even life on a weather-beaten icebreaker or a slow-poking minesweeper seem just as exotic and stirring as serving on a cruiser with a bone in her teeth– just add humble local sailing craft or penguins.

USS Glacier (AGB 4) passes Beaufort Island, Arthur Beaumont. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 428-GX-KN 1388

USS Prime (MSO 466), artwork by Arthur Beaumont. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Photographed from small reference card. 428-GX-K-42971

NH 94735-KN (Color). USS Providence (CLG-6). Watercolor by Arthur Beaumont, 1965

Ukraine gets Western Armor (in six months)(maybe)

With the muddy season in Ukraine morphing into the frozen season with the arrival of General Winter on the front, Western military allies in the proxy international war with Russia have decided to up the ante from just supplying small arms, air defense systems, artillery of all sorts and anti-tank weapons, to delivering some significant medium armor to Kyiv.

Germany is sending hulking 40-ton Marders, armed with a 20mm cannon. France is sending AMX-10 RCR– neat little 16-ton 6×6 wheeled tank destroyers with a 105mm gun that we have covered several times before. The U.S. is sending 50 Bradley CFV/IFVs, which typically mount a 25mm chain gun and a dual TOW launcher and has infamously ballooned to 30 tons over the years.

AMX-10 RCR (RCR stands for Roues-Canon, or wheeled gun, Revalorisé, upgraded)

Why the light armor rather than Leopards, Leclerc’s, and Abrams? Well, several reasons. One, there are few roads and bridges anywhere in the world that support such heavy tracks. Two, the tracks themselves are much more fragile than you would think, and require massive tractor-trailers such as the Oshkosh M1070A0 Heavy Equipment Transporter and its 5-axle trailer, just to be able to move around the countryside to the battlefield. Third, a tank isn’t just a vehicle but a collection of advanced mechanical, mobile artillery, and electronic systems that all need their own dedicated training and support pipeline.

And it is the latter that is the biggest deal, by far.

It takes months for the U.S. Army to mint new armor MOS Soldiers and they still require extensive training once they reach their units to be able to operate their tracks at a platoon, company, and battalion level. Just training in basic vehicle operation takes a long time, and that isn’t even getting into gunnery or maneuvering.

You don’t just whistle up an armored brigade from nothing.

See, Desert Sheild Round Out Woes

For reference, in Desert Sheild, the Army called up three National Guard “Roundout brigades” (48th, 155th, and 256th Brigades from Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, respectively) just in case they were needed to fight a North Africa 1941-style armored campaign against Saddam’s armored legions. The Roundout process was a holdover from the old REFORGER days when it was expected to rapidly activate units that were in supposed “enhanced readiness” and bolt them on to understrength active duty divisions to make them combat-ready should the Russkis cross the Fulda Gap. This saw National Guard units in the 1980s and 90s take possession of M1 Abrams, M1 Bradleys, and AH-64 Apaches at a time when a lot of active duty units still had M60s, M113s, and AH-1s.

Prior to Desert Sheild, the three Guard brigades were reporting C-2/C-3 readiness ratings meaning that they could go to war anywhere from 15 to 42 days after the “balloon went up.” However, this soon changed to 120 days minimum to get to a basic acceptable standard once they were actually called up, not including the 15 day alert warning they got before mobilization.

Besides the dental and health issues of the reservists that would sideline as many as 2,400 troops in one brigade alone, almost a quarter of those called up hadn’t met basic training goals with more than 600 Soldiers still needing to go to A-school across 42 specialties, even though all units were required as part of their Round Out status to qualify 100 percent of its crews on their Abrams or Bradley during a gunnery cycle.

Check out this breakdown of the 12 mandatory events for minimum deployability requirements, just based upon the more realistic 86-day Desert Sheild post-mobilization training plan and how long it actually took the 155th to get validated (131 days). The 48th managed to pull this off in a more compressed 115 days (30 November 1990 to 28 February 1991, ironically the day the ground war ended in the Gulf War) while the 256th wasn’t ready until M+160. And remember, this was for National Guard brigades– which included a large percentage of prior active service personnel– that had been regularly training for this in monthly drills and yearly summer camps in peacetime long before they were called to pack their duffles for real.

So how long to get the Ukrainian tracks running?

The plan, at least for now, is to allocate the equipment at some future date, which is likely to be stripped from active duty units, and perform crew training somewhere in the safety of the West. I’d bet in a maneuver area in Poland’s Silesia region that has recently been expanding.

Then, picked Ukrainian crews would have to be taken from the lines or depots and sent West to undergo 4-5 months’ worth of training before they could be minimally capable of fighting their mixed bag of Bradleys, Marders, and AMX-10s. Even if they had been schooled on T-64s and BTRs/BMDs, those are nothing like the vehicles they are getting, so it would actually be better to train guys from scratch so they don’t have to “unlearn” things from their Warsaw Pact equipment.

The crews would probably not be trained on the actual vehicles they would use, which in the end would have to be shipped over the border by train under threat of Russian attack. Once the crews would be married up with their (surplus) tracks in a staging area in Ukraine, they would require additional weeks to make ready. 

So even with today’s good news, it will probably be sometime in the summer before this second-hand ex-NATO armor arrives on the frontlines in Ukraine, if at all. At that point, it may very well be a moot point.

The Flight to Freedom’s final chapter

We pause to remember a North Korean fighter pilot today, No Kum-sok.

Born in 1932 as Okamura Kyoshi in the Japanese-occupied Hermit Kingdom, he was the son of a baseball player. The teen considered becoming a kamikaze during the latter stages of WWII but was dissuaded from it and nonetheless later became an aviator for the Korean People’s Air Force.

Training in Manchuria under his new, more Korean name, he would complete no less than 100 combat sorties in the Korea War. Just after the truce was announced, and with his father dead and his mother in the West, he decided it was time to pull stumps for the South.

At the stick of his advanced MiG-15bis, he would famously streak from Sunan outside of Pyongyang to Kimpo Air Base in South Korea on 21 September 1953, a flight of just 17 minutes, and become probably the highest-profile defector of the day.

After being debriefed by the CIA, he was given $100K as authorized by Operation Moolah, although he was not aware of the reward for defectors who brought their MiGs over.

1.2 million of these pamphlets were dropped on North Korea in 1953. Operation Moolah promised a $100,000 reward to the first North Korean pilot to deliver a Soviet MiG-15 to UN forces, or just $50K for either a pilot or aircraft. The pamphlet carried the photo of LT Franciszek Jarecki, who had flown his Lim2 (license version of MiG 15bis) from Poland to political asylum in Denmark in March 1953.

No’s MiG, repainted in USAF markings and insignia, the under guard and awaiting flight testing at Okinawa. Note the M3 grease gun at the ready. (USAF image)

Taking the name Kenneth H. Rowe, he emigrated to the U.S.– where his mother had already escaped to– and, picking up several engineering degrees and a Korean-American bride, worked in the American aviation community and then as a professor at Embry-Riddle. Mr. Rowe, late of the DPRKAF, passed in Florida over the weekend, aged 90.

As for his MiG, following a career as a test aircraft in USAF custody, it was sent to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, where No visited it before his death. It has been restored to its original #2057 livery. 

Gather ’round the spent brass tree

“Echo Company Christmas Tree,” by Maj. John T. Dyer, Jr., USMCR (16 February 1938 – 31 July 2014).

National Museum of The Marine Corps Collection (2012.1001.362)

LT Randy Rule carefully re-linked spent brass cartridges to decorate the tree, topped by a small American flag, for Echo Company (likely of 2/6 Marines), which overlooks Amal Village in Beirut, Lebanon, on 26 December 1983.

Swanky Franky Coming Home

In December of 1956, the crew of the Midway-class “Attack Aircraft Carrier”USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) assembled on the ship’s flight deck to send holiday greetings to the world. As noted by the Virginia Pilot archives of this U.S. Navy image, the ship was on the way back from the eastern Atlantic to Norfolk Naval Shipyard following a tense scratch deployment in response to the Suez Crisis.

Originally laid down as the future USS Coral Sea in December 1943, she was renamed in honor of the late FDR in May 1945– first time (but not the last) that the Navy made an exception to the traditional naming of fleet aircraft carriers for battles or famous ships.

Commissioned too late for WWII as CVB-42, the big (968-foot/45,000-ton) carrier lost her very 1945 strait-deck, open bowed appearance via a two-year SCB-110 modernization at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard between 1954 and 56, and emerged at some 51,000-tons standard displacement with the more modern angled deck and hurricane bow that is still distinctive among American flattops today. 

The above image was taken as FDR was rushed from her post-modernization sea trials to complete a surge operation with Carrier Air Group 17 (CVG-17) embarked for Sixth Fleet.

Carrier Air Group 17’s composition during FDR’s Suez Crisis run, via Go Navy

At the time, Roosevelt was arguably the largest and most capable carrier anywhere in the world– sisters USS Midway (CVA-41) would not complete her SCB-110 in Sept. 1957 and USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) wouldn’t complete her SCB-110A mod until 1960; while the two new “supercarriers,” class leader USS Forrestal (CVA-59) and USS Saratoga (CVA-60) were so busy with shakedowns and post-delivery refits they weren’t ready to deploy overseas with air wings for real until 1957. 

Nonetheless, the still-infant Forrestal and the newly rebuilt FDR were called up to bat.

As noted by DANFS:

The U.S. received information on 6 November 1956, that the Soviets intended to deploy six ships from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. Just four minutes before midnight the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered Forrestal (CVA-59), Franklin D. Roosevelt, a cruiser, and three divisions of destroyers to the vicinity of the Azores Islands to reinforce the Sixth Fleet. Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, CNO, in the meanwhile dispatched Coral Sea and Randolph to steam off the Egyptian coast, from where they could support the evacuation of Americans or strike against the Soviets. Submarines deployed to reconnaissance stations, and antisubmarine warfare aircraft and ships patrolled multiple areas across the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The operations by the Sixth Fleet during subsequent weeks included the logistic support of the initial UN peacekeeping forces that arrived in the area on 15 November. Franklin D. Roosevelt returned home from the tense voyage on 9 December 1956, and on the 13th the Sixth Fleet stood down from a 24-hour alert status.

Kiwis Exit, 50 Years ago

Via the National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand, the end of an era, 50 years ago today:

22nd December 1972, the NZ Army withdraws its troops from Vietnam. Today we acknowledge the service of the 3,400 New Zealanders who served in Vietnam during the war between June 1964 and December 1972. We honor the 37 personnel who died on active duty, the 187 who were wounded, some very seriously, and all those who have suffered long-term effects.

The Vietnam War was our longest and most contentious military experience of the twentieth century. Back home, the Vietnam War led to enormous political and public debate about New Zealand’s foreign policy and place in the world.

Note the kiwi tattoo

Note the mix of kit on these recce guys, including triple canteens, Boonie hats, M16A1s, and inch pattern L1A1 FALs

That M60, tho…

Honneur à nos Anciens!

70 Years ago today: 13 Décembre 1952 – Indochine française. Portrait of Master Corporal (caporal-chef) Auguste Apel, legionnaire with the 2e Bataillon Étranger de Parachutistes (2e BEP).

Photo Pierre Ferrari/ECPAD/Défense TONK 52-217 R45

Note MCpl. Apel’s bandaged left hand and U.S.-supplied M1 helmet. The above image was taken at a support point during the battle of Na San, one of the forgotten victories won by the French army over the Vietminh.

Formed in October 1948 at Sidi-bel-Abbès from volunteers of other Legion units, 2 BEP landed at Saigon just four months later and would remain there for the duration of the French conflict in Indochina. By that time, the battalion has suffered 1,500 casualties while its cased colored was decorated with six citations and the fourragère of the Legion of Honor. 
Disbanded in 1955, it was expanded to a full regiment with the same number, 2e REP, which earned more decorations in Algeria, Chad, Kolwezi, Lebanon, Kuwait, Somalia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.
The regiment still exists, based since 1962 in Corsica, and probably still has gruff old master corporals smoking cigarettes, bemoaning the long ago “good old days.”

Plumbing the Archives (and finding some gems!)

While I spend a lot of time digging through various archives, a new one is proving interesting. While the Associated Press’s video news archive on YouTube has been around since 2015 and has chalked up over 2 billion views, it is normally ho-hum at best, simply reposting the latest Hollywood gossip or political talking head that aired three days ago.

However, they have been blitzing the channel almost every morning for the past couple of weeks with some great short clips from the 1960s and 70s.

Among the more interesting gems I’ve noticed popping up lately (and getting single-digit views no less!):

The very early XV-6A (P1127) Harrier prototypes doing landing tests on the supercarrier USS Independence (CV-62) in June 1966.

An XB-70A Valkyrie prototype (#AV-2) crash out of Edwards AFB in the same month, featuring amazing footage of both AV-1 and AV-2 in flight.

The newly-commissioned (and soon to be tragically lost) Skipjack-class nuclear-powered submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589) cruising on the surface.

A May 1974 clip of the amphibious assault ships USS Inchon (LPH-12) and Iwo Jima (LPH-2) in the Suez operating RH-53D minesweeper birds of HM-12 in an effort to clear the canal of mines sown in the Yom Kippur War, including a shot of Iwo with no less than seven big Sikorsky’s on her deck. The TF65 (Operation Nimbus Star) mission saw HM-12 sweep some 7,600 linear miles in about 500 hours of on-station time.

B-52 Strat carpet bombings in the jungle outside of Saigon in Nov. 1965, with fighter escort from an F-100 Super Sabre.

Israeli self-propelled artillery guns of the Yom Kippur War era including rare Soltam L-33 Ro’ems which were M4 Sherman tanks modded with a huge hull and a 155mm L/33 howitzer.

April 1978 clip of white-painted UN-marked French Panhard armored cars (including some 90mm gun-armed variants) rolling off an LST into Beirut

And a longer August 1978 piece on the Panavia Tornado– likely early prototype XX946– in tests with the RAF, including some great low-level passes at MOD Boscombe Down. Keep in mind that the RAF only accepted their first two production Tornado in July 1980.

Christmas Scene in Mallorca, or Maybe Not

What a great Cold War image!

The GUPPY’d fleet boats USS Sirgao (Tench-class Guppy II) (SS-485) and USS Piper (Balao-class Fleet Snorkel) (SS-409) and the Cleveland/Galveston-class cruiser USS Little Rock (CLG-4, former CL 92) of the U.S. Sixth Fleet stand draped with lights while moored during the late evening hours at Palma, Mallorca, Spain.

As noted, “All sailing units deployed with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean displayed such lights while in port.”

DANFS notes that Little Rock visited Palma several times while in the Med: 30 July-3 August 1969, 25-30 May 1970, 28 February-3 March 1974, and 2-24 September 1974. This would seem to dispel the possibility of the above being a Christmastime image, although it does seem very “Feliz Navidad.”

Nonetheless, comparing the records for Sirgao, which was decommissioned on 1 June 1972, and Piper, which transitioned to a pierside training hulk in 1967, would point towards a more likely date of December 1963, when the latter was last in the Med, and Little Rock was just wrapping up a stint as VADM William E. Gentner Jr.’s Sixth Fleet flagship, relieved at Rota by sistership USS Springfield (CLG-7) on 15 December that year. This becomes solidified when you look at Little Rock’s more detailed chronology on her veterans’ association page, which notes she was at Palma 11-14 December, just prior to leaving the Med.

So maybe it is a Christmastime image, after all.

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