Category Archives: cold war

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.

Allons! Blackhorse at 120

After the Civil War, the U.S. Army in 1866 recast its myriad of legacy light cavalry and dragoon-type mounted rifle units into ten U.S. Cavalry Regiments, numbered 1-10. Of course, these included such historic units as the circa 1833 1st Dragoons, the 1836-dated 2nd Dragoons, the 3rd “Brave Rifles,” and the new Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cav. It was these ten regiments that held the line in the Old West, scattered in isolated detachments across the sparsely settled territories, only coming together in larger units for the assorted campaigns of the Plains Wars.

The first new mounted regiment formed after the big 1866 reorganization wasn’t until the 20th Century when the 11th Cavalry was constituted on 2 February 1901 and organized on 11 March 1901 at Fort Myer, soon thereafter leaving to fight insurgents in the Philippines.

Led by its regimental band and mascot, the 11th U.S. Cavalry is shown passing in review on the parade ground of Fort Des Moines, in the summer of 1904. The unit is barely three years old in this image and had just returned from fighting overseas in the Philipines. Via Mike Brubaker. 

Going on to serve in the Villa Expedition, they spent the Great War on the Mexican border– just in case– but, after hanging up their horses in 1942 became a mechanized unit and haven’t looked back.

Fighting their way across Northwest Europe in 1944-45, they remained stationed in Germany (while vacationing in Vietnam from time to time) as the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment until 1993, waiting as a speedbump in the Fulda Gap for a Third World War that, gratefully, never kicked off. Since then, they have been the OPFOR at Fort Irwin.

The regiment this week celebrated their 120th.

Well, that’s a wrap for Hermes

Laid down at Vickers late during WWII, the Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) languished on the builder’s ways and was only completed post-Suez, joining the Royal Navy in 1959. Converted to a “commando carrier” then made a default Harrier carrier, she spearheaded the British operation to liberate the Falklands in 1982– an operation that probably could not be pulled off without the aging flattop.

Moving to India, she continued to serve as the INS Viraat (R22) for another 31 years, only retiring in 2017 after 58 years of service, making her arguably the longest-serving carrier in naval history. For reference, USS Enterprise (CVN-65) “only” served 56 years and the smaller USS Lexington (CV-16), the famed Blue Ghost, served 48. Similarly, HMS/HMAS Vengeance/NAeL Minas Gerais tied Enterprise at 56– although it was under three different flags– before she was towed off to the shipbreaking yards at Alang.

Speaking of Alang, the final effort to save Hermes/Viraat is disbanding, as it has been confirmed the dismantling of the old girl there is too far advanced to try to make a go of it.

She deserved better.

870 Love, Sh-tty Kitty Edition

Official caption: “A Marine armed with shotgun and ammunition belt stands guard at a rail aboard the aircraft carrier USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63), 12/15/1984”

Dig those crisp cammies and leather shell bandolier. Talk about Cold War esthetic. Photo 330-CFD-DN-ST-87-09135 by PH3 Davidson via NARA 

While many just talk about the Marines going from the Winchester 97 Trench Gun in WWI, to the Winchester 12 in WWII and the Mossberg 590 and Benelli M4 today, for years the Corps fielded a specialized version of the Remington 870, dubbed the M-870, Mark 1, complete with a bayonet lug forend over a lengthened mag tube. These guns are highly collectible when encountered in the wild today.

USNS JOSHUA HUMPRHEYS (T-AO-188), Marine FAST team member with an M870 MK1 Remington shotgun, notably missing the front sight post

A Marine demonstrates a standing firing position with a Remington 870 M-870, Mark 1 12-gauge shotgun, 5.3.1989. Note the kevlar, woodland BDUs, and Bianchi M84 holster with the M9 Beretta. DM-SN-93-00537 et.al via NARA.

As for Kitty Hawk, one of the Navy’s last conventional supercarriers, she was decommissioned in 2009 and is awaiting disposal. The Navy recently said she will undergo a drydocking in early 2021 at Puget Sound NSY’s Dry Dock 6 to remove sea life in anticipation of being moved to the breakers. She long outlived shotgun-wielding Marine Dets, which were pulled from flattops and disestablished in 1998.

Vale, Great Grandfather Frog

Harry Milton Beal was born Aug. 16, 1930, in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania. Not wanting any part of the coal mines, he volunteered for the Navy in 1948 as a gunner’s mate, his first duty was aboard the destroyer tender USS Shenandoah (AD-26). Sounds boring, right? So much so that Harry, after his first three-year stint was up, tried to join the circus but in the end, remained working for Uncle Sam. 

Soon volunteering for more exotic duty, Harry made the ranks of the Navy’s frogmen of Underwater Demolition Team 21 in 1955 where he had a chance to “run around in swim trunks and boondockers all day.”

Then came parachute training, helo casting, and all sorts of other stuff. When the call went out for the SEALs, Harry was on record as being the first on the roster of plankowners in 1962.

“President Kennedy wanted some idiots who could see lightning, hear thunder, bounce a ball off their nose and has stupid written right there and I put my hand up,” said Harry. 

After retiring from the Navy in 1968 after a couple turns in Vietnam, Harry went back home to the Keystone State, where he worked for PennDOT for another 20 years.

He pushed off from the beach for the last time on 26 January, striking out for his next assignment.

Here he is speaking in 2017, at age 87.

Warship Wednesday, Jan.27, 2021: Of Kamikazes, Space Monkeys, and Exocets

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, Jan.27, 2021: Of Kamikazes, Space Monkeys, and Exocets

Photo by Robert Huhardeaux via Wikicommons.

Here we see the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Borie (DD-704), in all her Cold War glory, anchored off Cannes, France, circa 1963. She would have a curious and extremely active 40-year career, bookending two eras of naval warfare with some stops in between.

The Sumners, an attempt to up the firepower on the previous and highly popular Fletcher-class destroyers, mounted a half-dozen 5″/38s in a trio of dual mounts, as well as 10 21-inch torpedo tubes in a pair of five-tube turntable stations. Going past this, they were packed full of sub-busting and plane-smoking weapons as well as some decent sonar and radar sets for the era.

Sumner class layout, 1944

With 336 men crammed into a 376-foot hull, they were cramped, slower than expected (but still capable of beating 33-knots all day), and overloaded, but they are fighting ships who earned good reputations.

Speaking of reputation, the subject of our tale today was named after Adolph Edward Borie, who appreciated bespoke top hats and served for a few months as Grant’s SECNAV in 1869.

Honorable Adolph E. Borie, Secretary of the Navy, and his top hat. Matthew Brady photograph via the LOC

The first ship to carry the former SECNAV’s name was the Clemson-class four-piper tin can, Destroyer No. 215, which joined the fleet in 1920, some 40 years after Mr. Borie’s passing. Earning three battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation, on All Saints Day 1943, DD-215 rammed and sank the surfaced German submarine U-405 in the North Atlantic. With 27 men lost and too badly damaged by the collision to be towed to port, Borie was scuttled by USS Barry (DD-248) the next day.

Painting of the action between USS Borie (DD-215) and German submarine U-405 in the Atlantic, 1 November 1943. Borie rammed and sank the U-Boat but was so badly damaged that she had to be scuttled. Painting by US Coast Guard artist Hunter Wood, 1943. 80-G-43655

The second Borie, our Sumner-class destroyer, was constructed at Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Kearny, N.J.; and commissioned 21 September 1944.

By 24 January 1945, she had completed shakedown trials and shipped to the Pacific, announcing her arrival with the fleet in a bombardment of Iwo Jima that day while part of DESRON 62’s Destroyer Division 124, a group of brand-new Sumners that besides Borie counted USS John W. Weeks (DD-701) and USS Hank (DD-702).

Joining Task Force 58, acting as an escort for the battleships USS New Jersey and South Dakota as well as the carriers Bunker Hill and Essex, they carried out a raid on the Tokyo area in February before switching to the push on Okinawa. This included a close-in destroyer raid on Japanese airstrips on the night of 27/28 March via shore bombardment and star shell illumination.

“After three minutes of rapid salvoes, fires were observed in the vicinity of the airstrips. March proved to be a fighting moth for the Borie with almost continual picket and screening duty with the powerful “58” that was striking Japan a blow from which she would never recover,” noted her war history.

However, she was soon sidelined after smashing into Essex on 2 April while transferring pilots and mail via breeches buoy in heavy seas, demolishing her aft stack, one of her 40mm mounts, and “bending the mast at a crazy angle.”

USS Borie (DD 704) collides with USS Essex (CV 9) while transferring the mail during a storm. Damage to Borie was light and the ship was still operational on 2 April 1945. Note damage to the smokestack. 80-G-373755

Sent to Ulithi for repairs, she returned to Spruance’s merry band on 1 May. Assigned to nearly perpetual radar picket duty against kamikazes, alternating with more shore bombardment runs on Minami Daito Jima, Borie also clocked in as needed for lifeguard duty, plucking one of the battleship USS Alabama‘s Kingfisher pilots from the drink on 23 June and returning him home. She would later pick up an F6F pilot as well as two crewmen of a downed SB2C while tagging along on a carrier air strike against Kyushu.

Then came the afternoon of 9 August– notably just six days before the Japanese surrender. On that day, the four tin cans of Destroyer Division 124 were on radar picket duty just off the Japanese port of Sendai, just hours after a USAAF B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a force of five Imperial Navy Aichi B7A Grace torpedo bombers came out looking for some payback.

As covered in H-Gram 51 from NHHC:

At 1454, somehow the first B7A Grace reached the picket group undetected and without being engaged by combat air patrol fighters. Despite the surprise, the destroyers opened fire and the Grace was hit multiple times but kept on coming. The damaged Grace flew right over Hank at low altitude as fuel pouring from perforated fuel tanks soaked the destroyer’s bridge crew in gasoline. The plane then went into a sharp bank and came in on Borie from the port quarter. The Grace released a large 1,764-pound bomb just before it crashed into Borie’s superstructure just aft of the bridge between the 5-inch gun director and the mast. This started a large fuel fire and blew many men over the side (most of whom were not recovered). Fortunately, the bomb passed clean through Borie and detonated off the starboard side, but the ship was sprayed with many bomb fragments that cut down even more men. All communications from the bridge were knocked out and control was transferred to after steering. Firefighting was complicated by 40-mm ready-use ammunition continuing to cook-off, but, finally, the fires were brought under control and, as the ship had suffered no below-the-waterline damage, she was not in danger of sinking.

Over the next hour, the other four Graces attacked the destroyers, and all were shot down without significant damage. Hank suffered one man missing and five wounded. Despite the fires and damage, Borie remained in her position in the formation and her guns continued to fire on the following Japanese aircraft. Borie’s casualties were high: 48 killed or missing and 66 wounded. Commander Adair was awarded a Silver Star for his actions in saving the ship and continuing to fight despite the severe damage.

This would also be the last battle damage suffered by the U.S. Fast Carrier Task Force.

As detailed in the destroyer’s after-action report, that afternoon alone she fired 191 5-inch, 810 40mm and 1,426 20mm shells at her attackers.

One of the first ships to respond to the stricken Borie, Alabama transferred a medical party to the destroyer in payback for her Kingfisher pilot.

Borie Kamikaze damage

Her men buried at sea were the last lost to the Divine Wind

USS Borie (DD-704) at Saipan in late August 1945, after being damaged by a kamikaze off Japan on August 9. Note wreckage at fore stack and bridge. It was after transferring her wounded to the hospital ship Rescue and while heading to Saipan for emergency repairs that her radio shack picked up the flash that Japan had surrendered. NH 74693

Heading to Hunter’s Point for more permanent repairs, by February 1946 peace had settled on the world, and Borie, made new again, was dispatched to join the Atlantic Fleet. She received three battle stars for her World War II services.

As a sobering aspect, she was luckier than several of her sisters. Between December 1944 and May 1945, USS Cooper, USS Mannert L. Abele, and USS Drexler were all sunk in the Pacific– the latter two by kamikazes.

Jane’s entry for the class in 1946.

The Cold (and sometimes hot) War

Shipping back to the Pacific in 1950, Borie earned four battle stars for her participation in the Korean conflict as part of TF 77, proving key in the Hungnam Evacuation of Chosin survivors. She also supported the Marines at Wonsan and was the only NGFS available to cover the U.S. Army landing at Iwon. Finally, Borie was near the beach for the second Inchon landing.

She was also a familiar sight in the Med, where she helped evacuate American citizens and UN truce teams from Israel and Egypt in 1956. It was then that she was the first U.S. warship through the Suez Canal after its nationalization by Nasser.

Borie, like many ships, also clocked in as a recovery vessel for NASA.

Before Alan Shepard lifted off on Freedom 7 in 1961 and became the first American astronaut in space, there were over 20 unmanned Program Mercury launches with boilerplate capsules and animals. The one most related to Borie was that of a seven-pound rhesus macaque named Sam who hailed from the U.S. Air Force School of Aviation Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas.

Sam was locked into a restraining couch then buckled into an erector-set-like cradle in the capsule of a boilerplate Mercury vehicle dubbed Little Joe 2 (LJ-2). Lit off from Wallops Island, Virginia on 4 December 1959, Sam flew 194 statute miles, reaching a suborbital altitude of 53 miles above ground, and did so in just 11 minutes, 6 seconds, which works out to a max speed of 4,466 miles per hour, grabbing over 14 G in the process.

The same type of rocket fired the next month: LITTLE JOE IV LAUNCH, 1/21/60, FROM WALLOPS ISLAND, VIRGINIA. LAUNCH VEHICLE-LITTLE JOE SUBORBITAL MERCURY CAPSULE TEST, MONKEY “MISS SAM” USED. REF: NASA HG LITTLE JOE 1/13. (MIX FILE)

And the little guy made it, landing in 20-foot seas while Borie made for the splashdown site, arriving “several hours later.”

As noted in an interview with a Borie crewman who was there:

“The monkey was inside in a large aluminum can, which was bolted down. We took the top off, and I crooked my finger and put it down in there. He took a hold of it. So, we got some [diagonal wire cutters] to cut him out of his contour couch. I set him down and told the chief petty officer to go get some apples and oranges. The monkey was hungry. He ate up most of the oranges.”

“After his ride in the Little Joe 2 Spacecraft, Sam the Monkey is safely aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer,” NASA photo via Johnson Space Center.

Other notable recoveries that Borie was a part of was Gemini VI-A in 1965– carrying Wally Schirra and
Thomas Stafford– although our destroyer was in a supporting role to USS Wasp.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

FRAM!

Noting that their WWII-era destroyers were increasingly anachronistic against nuclear-powered submarines and jet aircraft, the Navy in the late 1950s/early 1960s embarked on a sweeping Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization program. As part of it, no less than 33 Sumners were given the FRAM II treatment while others received the less invasive FRAM I upgrade. Borie picked her modernization in 1961, just in time to take part in the Quarantine of Cuba during the Missile Crisis.

Gone were the myriad of anti-aircraft guns, 21-inch torpedo tubes, depth charges, and obsolete sensors. Added was an AN/SQS-29 fixed sonar dome on the bottom of the bow, an AN/SQR-10 variable depth towed sonar on the stern, Mk. 32 ASW torpedo tubes amidships, a stubby helicopter deck for QH-50 DASH drones in place of the aft torpedo tube station, lots of EQ antennas, and a big SPS-40 surface search radar.

1968 Charleston Naval Shipyard plans for USS Allen M. Sumner (DD-692), Borie’s FRAM II sister/class leader. Via DD692.com. Click to big up.

Borie post-FRAM underway at sea, June 1968. NH 107165

Borie at sea, pounding in hard, as the class was notorious for. Note the AS-1018/URC UHF antenna on the forward mount and broadband whip antenna receiver on the No. 2 mount.

USS Borie (DD-704), post FRAM

A Navy Memorial Interview with a radioman who was part of her crew at the time:

Showing up for her third war, the destroyer made for Vietnam where she worked as part of the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, delivering over 7,000 rounds of naval gunfire support against NVA and VC targets ashore in a repeat of her 1944-45 and 1950-51 days.

By 1969, she was back home from the gunline and placed in semi-retirement as an NRF training vessel for reservists, a role she maintained until 1972, at which point the Navy had tired of the class.

Some 29 Sumners, all FRAM vessels, were sold/transferred to overseas allies around the world, with a dozen serving as the backbone of the Taiwanese Navy throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Among those shipped overseas were four vessels to Argentina– USS Hank (DD-702), USS Collett (DD-730), USS Mansfield (DD-728), and our own Borie.

On to Puerto Belgrano

From Jane’s 1972

Entering Argentine service as the ARA Hipolito Bouchard (DD-26) in honor of the Latin American corsair of the same name, Borie was modernized in 1978 to include a four-pack of MM38 Exocet anti-ship missiles and a French-made Aerospatiale SA-319B Allouette III in place of a Sea Sprite/OH-50.

Argentine Sumners, 1978. Note the Exocets between the stacks of the closest destroyer. Photo via Histamar

During the Falklands conflict, at one point it was thought that the Bouchard and her sisters could close within 20 miles of the British fleet and ripple off their Exocets, then beat feet. Thankfully for their crews, this crash test dummy plan was not attempted. Photo Via Histarmar

Via Histamar

She was a proud vessel and served more than a solid decade on active service with the Argentine fleet.

When the Falklands conflict erupted, Borie/Bouchard and her sister Collett/Piedra Buena were assigned escort duty for the Argentine carrier Veinticinco de Mayo during the initial invasion of Port Stanley on 2 April 1982. Soon after, the two destroyers picked up screening duty for the pride of the fleet, the Brooklyn-class light cruiser ARA General Belgrano (ex-USS Phoenix).

What the two dated destroyers didn’t know was that a very quiet British hunter-killer, the Churchill-class SSN HMS Conqueror (S48), stalked Belgrano for three days before her skipper was cleared to splash the 12,500-ton Pearl Harbor veteran. Firing a trio of appropriately WWII-era Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes rather than the new and unproved Mk 24 Tigerfish, two hit the Argentine cruiser and sent her to the bottom, making Conqueror the sole nuclear-powered submarine to have a combat kill (so far) in history.

By many accounts, Borie/Bouchard was hit by the third British Mk 8, which luckily for her did not explode, but did cause flooding and hull fissures. Together with Collett/Piedra Buena and a passing Chilean vessel, they stood by a rescued 772 men from the Belgrano.

Returning to the mainland, Borie/Bouchardaccording to Argentine reports — tracked a British Sea King HC.4 carrying eight SAS men on 18/19 May off Rio Grande, leading to the commandos aborting their mission to take out the country’s small stockpile of air-launched Exocets. The “Plum Duff” recon element was a prelude to a raid to be carried out either by SBS landed by the diesel attack sub, HMS Onyx, or 55 SAS men on an Entebbe-style assault via C-130 crashlanding, then displace 50 miles overland to Chile.

Her fourth war over, Borie/Bouchard was deactivated in early 1984 at Puerto Belgrano and on 15 November 1988 was authorized to be used as a naval target for airstrikes.

While repeatedly mentioned as being scrapped in 1984 by U.S. sources, several images are circulating that contend the vessel, in hulked and holed condition, was still around in the shallows near Puerto Belgrano as late as 1992 and perhaps beyond.

Either way, she may have outlived her old foe Conqueror in usefulness, as the submarine was decommissioned in 1990.

Epilogue

Today, little remains of the Borie in the U.S. besides a range of war diaries, logs, and histories in the National Archives, many of which are digitized. The Navy has not recycled her fine name.

Her 1945 battle flag is reported to still be in circulation, although I cannot find out where.

Tin Can Sailors has a Shipmate Registry for the Borie, where the former crew can get in touch with each other.

The last two Sumners in foreign service– USS Stormes (DD-780) and USS Zellars (DD-777) — were used by the Shah until 1979 and then inherited by the modern Islamic Republic of Iran Navy who retained them in a semi-active state into the mid-1990s.

Of note, the only Sumner retained in the U.S. as a museum ship, USS Laffey (DD-724) located at Patriots Point in Charleston, South Carolina, is a FRAM II vessel like Borie.

USS Laffey, DD-724 as a museum ship today

As for Sam, the intrepid space monkey that Borie fished from the Atlantic during the Eisenhower administration, according to a 2017 story by Richard A. Marini published in the San Antonio Express-News:

Sam underwent 11 years of medical scrutiny by researchers at the School of Aerospace Medicine — formerly the School of Aviation Medicine — at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio. He retired to a quiet life at the San Antonio Zoo.

“Sam died Sept. 19, 1978, at 21, several years short of the expected rhesus monkey lifespan,” the Express-News reports. “Even after death, Sam served the cause. A necropsy performed at Brooks found no space-related abnormalities, only that Sam had signs of old age and arthritis.”

In Riga, Estonia, a 36-foot tall simian in an astronaut’s pressure suit was installed in honor of the early furry space pioneers in 2016. Known by the artist as “First Crew” the statue is commonly referred to today simply as “Sam.”

Specs:
Displacement: 2610 tons standard displacement
Length: 376’6″
Beam 40’10”
Draft 14’2″
Machinery: 2-shaft G.E.C. geared turbines (60,000 shp), 4 Babcock & Wilcox boilers
Maximum speed (designed) 36.5 knots, actual usually about 33.
Range: 3300 nautical miles (5300 km) at 20 knots on 504 tons fuel oil
Complement: 336
Sensors: SC air search radar, SG surface search radar, QGA sonar
Post FRAM II: Variable Depth Sonar (VDS), SQS-20, SPS-40
Armament
3 x 2 5″/38 dual-purpose guns
2 x 4, 2×2 40mm Bofors AA guns
11 20mm Oerlikon AA guns
2 x 5 21″ torpedo tubes
6 depth charge throwers
2 depth charge tracks (56 depth charges)
(1961, post-FRAM-II)
6 x 5 in/38 cal guns (127 mm) (in 3 × 2 Mk 38 DP mounts)
2 x triple Mark 32 torpedo tubes for Mark 44 torpedoes
2 x single 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes for Mark 37 torpedoes
1 x Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH)
(1982)
6 x 5 in/38 cal guns (127 mm) (in 3 × 2 Mk 38 DP mounts)
2 x triple Mark 32 torpedo tubes for Mark 44 torpedoes
4 x MM38 Exocet AShMs
1 x SA-319B helicopter

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Festina lente

RN photo of frigate HMS Active escorting Lanistes through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, mid-1987, on the Armilla patrol

The Royal Navy’s 12th HMS Active, a Vosper-built Amazon/Type 21-class frigate (F171), was a child of the Cold War.

Launched in 1972, she fought in the Falklands during Operation Corporate a decade later as part of an epic 93-day cruise in which Active not only weathered persistent Argentine airstrikes while supporting landings by British troops of 3 Commando and 5 Guards, but also closed with land positions in East Falkland to break out her relatively short-range 4.5-inch Mark 8 gun (max range 24,000 yards with an HE shell) on five occasions, softening up the Argies at Bluff Cove, Fitzroy, Berkley Sound, Mount Tumbledown, and Port Stanley in the last ten days of the conflict.

She was sold to the Pakistan Navy in 1994 and was renamed PNS Shah Jahan (DDG-186), where she served as a destroyer for another two decades.

Active/Jahan, pushing age 50, was sent to the bottom in the Northern Arabian Sea earlier this month on 12 January after a barrage of anti-ship missiles and torpedoes from an Agosta-class submarine and a Zulfiqar-class frigate.

While in RN service, her motto was Festina lente, Hasten Slowly.

America’s Hornet

How about this beautiful Full-Scale Development (FSD) YF-18A Hornet prototype #3 (BuNo 160777) grabbing some deck? I know the scheme isn’t practical, but it is striking.

Official caption: An F/A-18 Hornet aircraft touches down and prepares to tailhook the arresting wire on the aircraft carrier USS AMERICA (CV-66). The aircraft is undergoing sea trials, 11/1/1979

330-CFD-DN-ST-83-09015 Via NARA https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6372739

The first U.S. Navy YF-18A Hornet (BuNo 160775) had only been delivered from the McDonnell Douglas plant at St. Louis, Missouri in October 1978, making the trials aircraft shown above very early indeed. At this time, the Navy still fielded lots of Vietnam-era aircraft including the A-7, A-4, and F-4, which the Hornet was intended to phase out. Heck, there were still a few EA/KA-3B Skywarriors around as well.

As noted by Joe Baugher: 

A total of nine FSD F/A-18As were built. Carrier qualifications began with the third FSD aircraft (Bu No 160777) aboard the USS America (CV-66) on October 30, 1979. These tests went extremely well. Before the carrier qualifications got underway, the Navy had determined that it would no longer be necessary to have distinct attack and fighter versions of the Hornet. The aircraft was deemed sturdy and versatile enough to carry out both jobs, and plans for separate F-18s in fighter (VF) squadrons and A-18s in attack (VA) squadrons were abandoned. The Navy introduced a new type of unit, the strike fighter squadron (VFA) to carry out both fighter and attack missions.

Sadly, while 160775 is preserved at NAWS China Lake, 160777, much like USS America herself, is long gone. Incidentally, “Triple 7” traded in her blue livery for red tips sometime in the 1980s while at Patuxent.

Nonetheless, it will live on forever in vintage Monogram model kits!

 

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