Category Archives: cold war

60 Years Ago Today: Welcome Aboard, Big E

View of the christening of the world’s largest warship at the time as well as the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Newport News, Virginia on Saturday, 24 September 1960. Enterprise was sponsored by Mrs. William B. Franke, wife of the U.S. Secretary of the Navy.

Note the brand-new George Washington-class fleet ballistic missile (FBM) submarine, USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN-601) to the left– a name that would bring a tremendous amount of pearl-clutching today– which had been commissioned the week prior and the cutting-edge Douglas A4D-2 Skyhawk borrowed from Carrier Air Group 8 on the deck of the Big E.

Enterprise was deactivated on 1 December 2012 at Norfolk after a 51-year career and she is still there, although far from the same material condition that she is seen above. She far outlived Lee who was decommissioned in 1983 and recycled by 1991.

Here’s MIRV: 50th Anniversary of Minuteman

The LGM-30G Minuteman III, the first deployed ICBM with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV), is the land leg of the storied U.S. nuclear triad. The platform is also 50 years old this year, first fielded in 1970– akin to the era of the Apollo moon missions.

Keep in mind there are currently 45 underground launch control centers manned by USAF missile officers ready to deliver these terrifying birds anywhere worldwide within 30 minutes.

With the ability to carry up to three W62 or W78 warheads on Mk12 delivery vehicles, the 450 remaining Minutemen missiles have been downgraded to accept recycled W87 warheads from the MX missile program. However, with a circular error of probability of fewer than 800 feet after a 6,000+nm trip, that is, like horseshoes, close enough.

The Air Force plans to keep the Minuteman around until 2030ish, at which point the planned Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent will be online.

With that, let us gather around Brig. Gen. Jimmy Stewart and hear about the Air Force Missile Mission and consider visiting one of the decommissioned early ICBM sites currently open as museums. 

Operation Allied Sky

A Minot-marked 5th BW B-52H and vintage Belgian Air Force F-16As last Friday, as part of the Buff’s 30-nations-in-one-day tour. 

Even while about half of the USAF’s meager Stratofortress pool was greatly disrupted by the temporary relocation of B-52s from Barksdale AFB in Louisiana to escape Hurricane Laura, a flight of six B-52Hs– forward-deployed 5th Bomb Wing Bomber Task Force (BTF) ships operating from RAF Fairford after flying cross-continental from Minot on 22 August — overflew every single one of the 30 NATO member states last Friday while being escorted in turn by a rotating force of 80 fighters belonging to 19 European air forces and Canada.

Most importantly, they did it all in a single day.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said:

“Today’s training event demonstrates the United States’ powerful commitment to NATO, and Allied solidarity in action. As US bombers overfly all 30 NATO Allies in a single day, they are being accompanied by fighter jets from across the Alliance, boosting our ability to respond together to any challenge. Training events like this help ensure that we fulfill our core mission: to deter aggression, prevent conflict, and preserve peace.”

Of course, the Russians also buzzed the B-52s as they operated over the Black Sea, popping by with Su-27s. The below Russian Ministry of Defense video shows that briefly, ending with a clip of a different series of intercepts buzzing a Danish Challenger, a Swedish Gulf Stream, and an RC-135 over international air space in the Baltic.

Here is the B-52 intercept from the view of the U.S. side of things, showing the Russian antics.

 

All over for the longest-serving aircraft carrier

As we have talked about previously, the WWII vintage Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) spent 28 years in the Royal Navy– including as flagship of the Falklands task force– then went on to give the Indian Navy another 31 years of hard service as INS Viraat (R22) before she was retired in 2017. For reference, she was laid down 21 June 1944, just two weeks after D-Day.

As far as I can tell, Hermes/Viraat was the longest-serving aircraft carrier under any flag, surpassing USS Lexington (CV-16/AVT-16) which clocked in for 48 years in a row– although the last couple of decades of that were as a training ship out of Pensacola– and USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which was a hard charger for 51 years. USS Nimitz (CVN-68) has been with the fleet since 1975 by comparison, “just” 45 years.

While the Indians had tossed around the idea of making Viraat a museum in Mumbai, no cash could be spared and she went to the auction block in 2019 with no bidders. Likewise, a prospect for the old warrior to return back home to the UK where veterans groups aimed to preserve her there also fell through.

She is set to arrive at Alang Ship Breaking yard for demolition in the first week of September.

Hanoi’s Shpagin MAT-50

The (North) Vietnamese People’s Revolutionary Army and its allied Viet Cong organization south of the DMZ, throughout the wars in Indochina, received extensive support from both Warsaw Pact countries and Communist China.

Among the military aid sent to Hanoi was the Chinese Type 50 submachine gun, which is easily recognizable to any firearm buff as a clone of the iconic PPsh-41 “pe-pe-sha” of WWII, chambered in 7.62x25mm Tokarev.

The Chinese Type 50 Via RIAC 

However, the gun was frequently modded in Vietnamese service to be more modern (for the 1960s) with a new sheet metal lower with simple telescoping wire stock and a pistol grip in place of the clunky wooden buttstock, chopping down the distinctive barrel jacket and crimping the stub of it to the barrel, then installing a new front AK-style front sight.

1967: Type K50M PPS Viet-Chinese submachine gun, captured in South Vietnam, note the modification. U.S. Marine Photo A189433 via the National Archives 

In short, they made the gun more like the French MAT-49, which they already had large stocks of post-Dien Bien Phu, and were familiar with.

French army recruitment poster during the period of the Indochina and Algerian wars, for the Colonial Airborne Troops, “My fortune is my glory, my trade is combat,” featuring the MAT-49 SMG

The NVA-modded PPsh-41, dubbed the K50M, was certainly more compact and visually much different on the outside, but internally identical to the gun that defended Stalingrad. Plus, at just 22-inches long with the stock pushed in, it was ideal for use by sappers, insurgents, and raiding parties, who no doubt appreciated the ability to use it at 700 rounds-per-minute, especially at close range as noted in the December 2011 issue of Vietnam Magazine.

Due to many of these guns being captured in the war, they exist in the West in a number of military museums, including the IWM.

Radio Free Europe, Belarusian edition

In a sign of the times, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is going back to medium waves (MW, AM) to provide Belarusians with independent (Western) news coverage on the radio waves as the state-funded media is in full Baghdad Bob mode while protestors are in the streets over the recent landslide election results.

RFERL Belarusian will be accessible on frequency 1386kHz from 21:00 to 22:00 and from 23:00 to 0:00

Meet the F-110A Spectre

Originally pitched by McDonnell to the Air Force as the F-110A Spectre, this smokey J-79 twin-engined beast was the Air Force’s version of the famed, albeit Navy, F4H-1.

McDonnell Aircraft Corporation F-110A Spectre SN 149405.

The corporate propaganda from 1962:

Ultimately, the McNamara Pentagon would just call both versions of the plane the F-4 Phantom II, with the Navy using at first the F-4B (the old F4H-1) and the USAF the F-4C (the F-110A). The first Air Force Phantom flew on 27 May 1963.

Saving the Falcon

Kobben klasse undervannsbåt KNM Svenner (S309) og KNM Stord (S308) babord side (MMU.942589)

In the 1960s, West Germany’s Rheinstahl Nordseewerke in Emden built 15 small Type207 submarines for Norway with the cost split with the Pentagon.

A Development of the Bundesmarine’s own Type 205 “Baltic” subs, they were small, just 155-feet long/500-tons, but had an impressive bite in the form of eight forward-firing 21-inch torpedo tubes– enough to sink a Soviet battlecruiser if one came poking its nose in a Norwegian fjord (see Red Storm Rising).

From Mr. Clancy’s classic:

They found a gathering of submarine officers, which was not a surprise, but the center of attention was. He was a Norwegian captain, a blond man of about thirty who clearly hadn’t been sober for several hours. As soon as he drained one jar of beer, a Royal Navy commander handed him another.

“I must find the man who save us!” the Norwegian insisted loudly and drunkenly.

“What gives?” Simms asked. Introductions were exchanged. The Royal Navy officer was captain of HMS Oberon.

“This is the chappie who blasted Kirov all the way back to Murmansk,” he said. “He tells the story about every ten minutes. About time for him to begin again.”

“Son of a bitch,” McCafferty said. This was the guy who had sunk his target! Sure enough, the Norwegian began speaking again.

“We make our approach slowly. They come right”–he belched–“to us, and we creep very slow. I put periscope up, and there he is! Four thousand meters, twenty knots, he will pass within five hundred meters starboard.” The beer mug swept toward the floor. “Down periscope! Arne–where are you, Arne? Oh, is drunk at table. Arne is weapons officer. He set to fire four torpedoes. Type thirty-seven, American torpedoes.” He gestured at the two American officers who had just joined the crowd.

Four Mark-37s! McCafferty winced at the thought. That could ruin your whole day.

“Kirov is very close now. Up periscope! Course same, speed same, distance now two thousand meters–I shoot! One! Two! Three! Four! Reload and dive deep.”

“You’re the guy who ruined my approach!” McCafferty shouted.

The Norwegian almost appeared sober for a moment. “Who are you?”

“Dan McCafferty, USS Chicago.”

“You were there?”

“Yes.”

“You shoot missiles?”

“Yes.”

“Hero!” The Norwegian submarine commander ran to McCafferty, almost knocking him down as he wrapped the American in a crushing bear hug. “You save my men! You save my ship!”

“What the hell is this?” Simms asked.

“Oh, introductions,” said a Royal Navy captain. “Captain Bjorn Johannsen of His Norwegian Majesty’s submarine Kobben. Captain Daniel McCafferty of USS Chicago.”

“After we shoot Kirov, they come around us like wolves. Kirov blow up–”

“Four fish? I believe it,” Simms agreed.

“Russians come to us with cruiser, two destroyers,” Johannsen continued, now quite sober. “We, ah, evade, go deep, but they find us and fire their RBU rockets–many, many rockets. Most far, some close. We reload and I shoot at cruiser.”

“You hit her?”

“One hit, hurt but not sink. This take, I am not sure, ten minutes, fifteen. It was very busy time, yes?”

“Me, too. We came in fast, flipped on the radar. There were three ships where we thought Kirov was.”

“Kirov was sunk–blow up! What you see was cruiser and two destroyers. Then you shoot missiles, yes?” Johannsen’s eyes sparkled.

“Three Harpoons. A Helix saw the launch and came after us. We evaded, never did know if the missiles hit anything.”

“Hit? Hah! Let me tell you.” Johannsen gestured. “We dead, battery down. We have damage now, cannot run. We already evade four torpedoes, but they have us now. Sonar have us. Destroyer fire RBU at us. First three miss, but they have us. Then–Boom! Boom! Boom! Many more. Destroyer blow up. Other hit, but not sink, I think.

“We escape.” Johannsen hugged McCafferty again, and both spilled their beer on the floor. The American had never seen a Norwegian display this much emotion, even around his wife. “My crew alive because of you, Chicago! I buy you drink. I buy all your men drink.”

“You are sure we killed that tin can?”

“You not kill,” Johannsen said. “My ship dead, my men dead, I dead. You kill.” A destroyer wasn’t exactly as good as sinking a nuclear-powered battle cruiser, McCafferty told himself, but it was a whole lot better than nothing, too. And a piece of another, he reminded himself. And who knows, maybe that one sank on the way home.

“Not too shabby, Dan,” Simms observed.

“Some people,” said the skipper of HMS Oberon, “have all the bloody luck!”

“You know, Todd,” said the commanding officer of USS Chicago, “this is pretty good beer.”

Ordered in 1959, the 15th Kobben-class SSK was delivered to Norway before the end of 1965, talk about expedited fulfillment!

Norwegian Kobben-class via Janes 1975-76

At the end of the Cold War in 1990, two of the Kobbens were disposed of, four were transferred to Denmark to jump-start that country’s submarine forces, and the rest reconditioned for another decade of service with the Norwegians as six new 1,100-ton Type 210 (Ula-class) SSKs were added to the fleet to make up the difference.

By 2001, Norway put their remaining 35-year-old Type 207s to pasture, passing five of the retired boats in better condition on to Poland, which had only just joined NATO and was looking to upgrade their Soviet-patterned fleet to something more western.

Today, the Polish Navy still operates two ~55-year-old Kobbens (as ORP Bielik and ORP Sęp) and has recently decided to preserve one of these boats– that have been serving their new country for two decades– as a floating museum ship.

ORP Sokół (Falcon), formerly His Norwegian Majesty’s Submarine Stord (S308)– shown at the top of the post– is now at the Muzeum Marynarki Wojennej w Gdynia, being readied for her new role.

Sokół/Stord will not be the only one of its class on display. The Norwegians have had ex-KNM Utstein (S302) as a museum ship at Horten since 1998 while the Danes have ex-HDMS Sælen (S323)/ex-KNM Uthaug (S304) on display at Copenhagen since 2004. Notably, the Danish boat clocked in for an epic 385-day deployment during the 2003-04 Gulf War, proving these little submarines remarkably able, even if they never did sink that Russki battlewagon.

Although there is still an outside chance…

Ukrainian AR love

Over the past several years, one of the most active units in the on-again/off-again asymmetric war with Russian proxies for the Donbas and Crimea has been the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine (DPSU). Currently some 42,000-strong, they are fundamentally set up as light infantry equipped on the lines of Warsaw Pact foot soldiers from the 1980s, complete with AKs.

Note the AKMS, complete with wooden furniture, and the Ukrainian flash on his sleeve. The traditional “opolcheniye cross” DPSU insignia dates back to the 1800s (Photo: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine)

However, their new look is very western:

Photo: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine

The DPSU reported earlier this month that the first units, the Dozor rapid-reaction teams, have moved to the new select-fire 5.56mm NATO caliber UAR-15 carbines and the whole force is expected to soon make the transition. The change is reportedly to make the service more compatible with EU and NATO standards. Best yet, the guns are made in Ukraine, with a little help from some household U.S. names.

More in my column at Guns.com. 

30 Years Ago Today: Salamandre

Here we see “le Clem,” the French Navy’s Clemenceau (R98), the service’s first domestic-built fleet carrier, with her deck full of…Army trucks and helicopters as well as a handful of Bréguet 1050 Alizé ASW aircraft.

Photo: Marine Nationale

The reason? Saddam, of course.

Commissioned in 1961 as the first of a two-ship class to replace the WWII-era British Colossus-class light carrier Arromanches (R95) [ex-HMS Colossus] and the Independence-class light carriers LaFayette (R94) [ex-USS Langley] and Bois Belleau (R96) [ex-USS Belleau Wood], the Clemenceau-class ships were roughly comparable to an Essex-sized carrier with their 869-foot flight deck.

By the early 1990s, the airwing of Clemenceau and her sister ship Foch (R99) included a mix of 40 or so F-8 Crusader fighters, Super Etendard strike aircraft, Alize sub-busters, and Dauphin helicopters.

Beautiful French Navy Vought F8 Crusaders. The Aéronavale began fielding 42 modified F8s to replace downright elderly WWII-era F4U Corsairs in 1964, going on to operate them in combat off Djibouti (against Yemeni MiGs), Lebanon, Libya, Bosnia, and Kosovo. France saw their last Crusader flight in December 1999– the final country fielding them– and to their credit has over a dozen of these aircraft preserved in museums around the country. (Photo: Marine Nationale)

A Vought F-8 Crusader lines up for landing on the French aircraft carrier Foch (R99). Date and location unknown

With their 32-knot max speed, Clemenceau and Foch could also be used as a fast “commando carrier,” transporting French Army troops or Marines and an assortment of Puma, Super Frelon and Alouette helicopters to carry them ashore.

That’s what you kinda see in the top image.

As part of France’s early involvement in the First Gulf War, reacting to Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait, le Clem was ordered to land most of her traditional airwing (save for its Alize and Dauphins) and take on elements of the Force d’Action Rapide to include a reinforced company of the French Foreign Legion’s 1er Régiment, an anti-air detachment (11e RAMa), and a full Army heavy aviation regiment (5e R.H.C.) to include a dozen SA 330B Puma and 30 SA 341/342 Gazelle helicopters. Added to the mix were 80 assorted trucks and combat vehicles. In all, some 800 French troops were embarked.

With escort provided by the cruiser Colbert (C611) and support of the Durance-class replenishment ship Var (A608), the whole thing was put together in 72 hours from the green light and sailed from Toulon as Task Force 623 on 13 August– just 11 days after Saddam crossed the border.

Cruiser Colbert escorts Clemenceau, who is carrying 42 helicopters of the 5e RHC (Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat), during Opération Salamandre along with four Bréguet-Alizé ASW aircraft and two SA365 Dauphins of the Aéronavale. Note the big 11,000-ton cruiser’s double ramp ECAN Masurca surface-to-air missile launcher, comparable to the Mk26, on her stern. Photo: ECPAD

Clemenceau, Colbert, and Var during Opération Salamandre. Photo: ECPAD

The mission was dubbed Opération Salamandre.

Crossing into the Red Sea via the Suez, the force had a brief stopover in the French colony of Djibouti before making for the Strait of Hormuz, where Gazelles combat-loaded with HOT anti-tank missiles and 20mm cannon stood on alert while Marines with Mistrals kept an eye peeled.

Helicopters of 5e RHC (Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat) operate from Clemenceau during Salamandre. (Photo: Marine Nationale)

Ultimately, the helicopters and trucks were offloaded at Yanbu in Saudi Arabia and TF 623 remained in the Persian Gulf area until early October, handing over naval operations to the Opération Artimon task force of frigates, as the semi-armored Daguet Division was slowly being built ashore, preparing for action the next year when the Gulf War went from a Shield to a Storm. When Daguet went into action the next February, almost half of the Division’s aircraft had been carried to the theater by le Clem.

Ultimately, Clemenceau went on to have a more lively part in a shooting war with no less than five deployments off the former Yugoslavia from 1993 to 1996– which included having one of her Etendards take a SAM over Bosnia.

She would be decommissioned in 1997 and later partially stripped to provide spare parts for her sister, Foch, which was transferred to Brazil. Le Clem was scrapped in 2010. Salamandre mate Colbert followed in 2016 after spending almost two decades as a museum ship, while Var is still active.

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