Category Archives: cold war

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!

 

Ghosts of Torpedo Tubes Past

Alternatively described by the Soviets/Russians as a “submarine chaser” or a “frigate” the vintage Udaloy I-class destroyer Marshal [Boris] Shaposhnikov (BPK 543) was commissioned the same year that young upstart Gorbachev was named General Secretary of the CPSU and had been ordered while Brezhnev was still around.

The 8,000-ton Shaposhnikov recently emerged from a three-year modernization that included the installation of 16 huge vertical-launched Kalibr cruise missiles to augment his (Russian warships are always masculine) Uran anti-ship missiles and Kinzhal SAMs. Assigned to the Pacific Fleet, Shaposhnikov just pulled off a complete live-fire test of all systems in the waters of the Sea of ​​Japan.

The below shows not only the missiles, 100mm AK-190 main gun, and AK-630 CIWS going loud but has a great view of the distinctive trainable four-pack 21-inch torpedo tubes, reminiscent of old-school WWII era tubes.

I guess if it ain’t broke…

Just three Udaloys are in fleet service with the Russians today although several others are in reserve with at least two of those sidelined ships– Admiral Levchenko and Admiral Chabanenko— expected to be reworked to the same standard as Shaposhnikov.

By comparison, the oldest American Tico, USS Bunker Hill (CG-52), is still almost two years newer than Shaposhnikov and is expected to head off to red lead row very soon.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020: All I Want for Christmas is a New SSK

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Dec. 23, 2020: All I Want for Christmas is a New SSK

Photo via the Taiwanese MNA

Here we see the beautifulTench-class diesel attack sub, ROCS Hai Shih (SS-791) of the Republic of China Navy during a celebration at Keelung Port last summer. Formerly USS Cutlass (SS-478), the Taiwanese boat is the oldest operational submarine in the world, at some 76 years young, and is set to continue to hold that title for a few more years.

Designed by the Bureau of Ships in conjunction with the Portsmouth Navy Yard and Electric Boat, the Tenches were the epitome of WWII U.S. Navy fleet boats. Some 311-feet overall, these 2,000-ton boats were an enlarged version of the preceding Balao-class. Strong, with 35-35.7# high-tensile steel pressure hull plating and eight watertight compartments in addition to the conning tower, they had a 400-foot operating depth. Their diesel-electric arrangement allowed a surfaced speed of just over 20-knots and a submerged one of 8.75 while a massive fuel capacity granted an 11,000nm range– enough to span the Pacific.

Some 80 Tenches were planned (some reports say over 120) but most– 51– were canceled in the last stages of the war when it became clear they would not be needed.

Janes’s referred to the class in 1946 somewhat curiously as the Corsair-class.

With construction spread across three yards– Boston NSY, Electric Boat and Portsmouth– the subject of our tale, the first and only U.S. Navy ship to be named after the Cutlass fish, was laid down at the latter (as were most of those that were completed) and commissioned 5 November 1944.

After shakedowns, she headed for the Pacific and left out of Pearl Harbor on her maiden war patrol on 9 August 1945 from Midway. By the night of the 14th she reached the Kurile Islands, some 1,700 miles to the West.

As described in her 17-page patrol report, by 0700 on 15 August, Cutlass received the initial news that the Japanese may be surrendering while surfaced seven miles offshore of the enemy’s coastline.

As noted by a history of Cutlass on a reunion site:

Everyone was at his station when the Chief Radioman yelled up the open hatch from the control room, ‘Sir, they are celebrating, in New York; the war is over”

Nonetheless, Cutlass was still in an active war zone and soon busied her crew with the task of sinking floating mines, a sport she spent the next two weeks pursuing. After detonating one such floating device on the 24th, her log noted, “the explosion came as a surprise because the mine was old, rusty and filled with barnacles.”

Mooring at Midway again on 27 August, Cutlass’s war was effectively over and the next month she departed the Pacific for the East Coast, hosting curious visitors for Navy Day in New York on 24 September.

USS Cutlass, likely in 1948, with only one 40mm gun mounted. USN photo # 80-G-394300 by Cdr. Edward J. Steichen

Spending most of the next two years on a spate of service around the Caribbean– tough duty– she entered Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in March 1949 for modernization.

A New Life, a New Look

She was to become a GUPPY, specifically an SCB 47 GUPPY II series conversion, ditching her topside armament, picking up a new sail, better batteries, and, most importantly, a snorkel.

Of the 48 GUPPY’d WWII diesel boats that were given a second life in the Cold War. Cutlass was one of the 14 Type II conversions

Cutlass (SS-478) port side view, circa the 1950s with stepped “Portsmouth Sail” as an early Guppy type. Photo courtesy of John Hummel, USN (Retired) via Navsource.

In her Cold War career, she spent the early 1950s at Key West, then shifted to Norfolk for the bulk of her career before returning to Florida to cap it. This included hosting President Truman on at least one occasion in March 1950.

Via NARA

Note the differences in sails. Cutlass (SS-478), Trutta (SS-421), Odax (SS-484), Tirante (SS-420), Marlin (SST-2) & Mackerel (SST-1), alongside for inspection at Key West. Wright Langley Collection. Florida Keys Public Libraries. Photo # MM00046694x

USS Cutlass (SS-478) Torpedoman’s Mate Second Class William Meisel prepares to load a torpedo in one of the submarine’s torpedo tubes, circa 1953. Photographed from inside the tube. #: 80-G-688314

Cutlass: Quartermaster Seaman Ronald Petroni and Henry Seibert at the submarine’s diving plane control, circa 1953. 80-G-688318

On 28 June 1961, Cutlass was given the task of testing Mark 16 War Shot torpedoes, by sinking the ex-USS Cassiopeia (AK-75) (Liberty Ship, Melville W. Fuller, Hull No. 504), 100nm off the Virginia Capes. She did so with a brace of four fish, earning the sub the distinction of claiming 10,000 tons on her tally sheet.

She would later receive the partial GUPPY III treatment in the early 1960s to include a tall, streamlined fiberglass sail and fire control upgrades but not the distinctive BQG-4 PUFFS passive ranging sonar. This much-changed her profile for the third time in as many decades. 

USS Cutlass (SS-478), early 1960s NH 82299

Cutlass photographed 9 May 1962, while operating with USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN (CVS-29). USN 1107442

Cutlass (SS-478) at Genoa Italy, 29 June 1968. Note the windows in the sail. Photo courtesy of Carlo Martinelli via Navsource

USS Cutlass (SS-478) photographed circa 1970. NH 82301

Busy throughout the 1950s and 60s, she would hold the line during the Cuban Missile Crisis and deploy to the 6th Fleet on Med cruises at least four times, one of which she would extend by a tour around the Indian Ocean, operating with the Pakistani Navy– a fleet that would go on to use a few of her sisters (losing PNS/M Ghazi, ex-USS Diablo in the Bay of Bengal in 1971).

She ended her career as part of the rusty and crusty GUPPYs of SUBRON12 in Key West, tasked primarily with being a target vessel for destroyers, aircraft, and SSNs to test out their sonar and fire control on, often making daily trips out to the Florida Straits to be the “fox” for the hounds.

An anecdote from that time:

While on these operations, CUTLASS was a target for destroyers going through Refresher Training. During the week CUTLASS would outwit the destroyers by firing beer cans from the signal gun, so as to give the destroyers a false target for their Sonar while the CUTLASS evaded them. Then on Saturday CUTLASS went out to get “Sunk” so as to allow the destroyers to pass their exercise.

On her last Med Cruise in early 1972, she was able to get close enough to the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt to fire a signal flare within torpedo distance of her in an exercise, to the reported dismay of FDR’s destroyer screen. It wasn’t just American carriers the 28-year-old diesel boat counted coup upon that cruise, she also came close enough to the Soviet Moskva-class helicopter carrier Leningrad to get a snapshot. 

Nonetheless, she was not long for the U.S. Navy. 

Another New Life

Finally, as SUBRON12 was disbanded and the last GUPPYs were liquidated in the early 1970s, many were gifted to U.S. allies overseas. With that, Cutlass was refurbished, her torpedo tubes sealed, then was decommissioned, struck from the Naval Register, and transferred to Taiwan under terms of the Security Assistance Program, 12 April 1973. 

There, she was renamed Hai Shih (Sea Lion) (SS-1) and was intended to serve as an ASW training platform, essentially an OPFOR for Taiwan’s destroyer and S-2 fleet.

1973 entry in Jane’s, noting that Cutlass and Balao-class near-sister USS Tusk (SS-426), were the country’s first submarines.

As a matter of course, the long-held belief is that the Taiwanese soon got both Cutlass and Tusk’s combat suite up and running with a combination of assistance from freelance Italian experts and West German torpedoes.

While the GUPPY combat record in 1982 wasn’t impressive, it should be noted that even old SSKs can prove extremely deadly in a point defense role of an isolated island chain when operating on home territory. They can basically rest with almost everything but their passive sonar off and wait for an enemy invasion force to get within torpedo range. After all, there are only 13 beaches that are believed suitable for an amphibious landing in Taiwan.

She recently underwent extensive refurbishments of her hull, electronics, and navigational systems to allow her to continue operations for another six years. 

Those tubes sure look well-maintained for being sealed dead weight.

Check out the below video of Cutlass/Hai Shih in action (go to the 2:58 mark).

 

While Taiwan currently has Cutlass on the books until 2026 (Tusk is sidelined as a pier-side trainer) and operates a pair of 1980s vintage Dutch-built Zwaardvis/Hai Lung-class boats, the country is set to produce their own design moving forward and is requesting MK-48 Mod6AT torpedoes and UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the under FMS sales. 

It would be interesting if Cutlass came “home” in 2027 after her then-54-year career with Taipei. At that point, she will be well into her 80s.

As for her remnants in America, the Cold War logbooks, WWII war diaries, and ship drawings of USS Cutlass remain in the National Archives, with many of them digitized. Two of her classmates, the “Fleet Snorkel” converted USS Requin (SS-481) and USS Torsk (SS-423), are preserved as museums in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, respectively. 

A Cutlass reunion site was updated as late as 2018 and has some interesting ship’s lore archived. 

Specs:
(1945)
Displacement: 1,570 tons (std); 1,980 (normal); 2,415 tons submerged
Length: 311 ft. 8 inches
Beam: 27 ft. 3 inches
Operating depth: 400 feet
Propulsion: diesel-electric reduction gear with four Fairbanks Morse main generator engines, 5,400HP, two Elliot Motor Co. main motors with 2,740HP, two 126-cell main storage batteries, two propellers.
Speed: 20 surfaced, 10 submerged
Fuel Capacity: 113,510 gal.
Range: 11,000nm @ 10 knots surfaced, 48 hours at 2 knots submerged, 75-day patrol endurance
Complement 7 officers 69 enlisted (planned), actual manning 10 officers, 76 men
Radar: SV. APR and SPR-2 receivers, TN tuning units, AS-125 antenna, SPA Pulse Analyzer, F-19 and F-20 Wave Traps, VD-2 PPI Repeater
Sonar: WFA projector, JP-1 hydrophone
Armament:
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 28 torpedoes max or up to 40 mines
1 x 5″/25 deck gun
2 x 40mm guns
2 x .50 cal. machine guns

(1973, as GUPPY II+)
Displacement: 1,870 tons (std); 2,420 tons submerged
Length: 307.5 ft.
Beam: 27 ft. 3 inches
Propulsion: 3 Fairbanks Morse (4) (FM 38D 8 1/8 x 10) diesels, 2 Elliot electric motors, 504 cell battery, 5400 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 18 surfaced, 15 submerged
Range:  
Complement: 80
Armament:
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft

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Auf Wiedersehen, SB 105

The Austrian Air Force, long fond of flying unusual Swedish types to stay as neutral as possible during the Cold War, is saying a hard goodbye to the Saab 105ÖE after 50 years of long and hard use.

The Saab 105ÖE in Austrian service. Easy to maintain and operate, it was also less likely to ruffle Soviet feathers

Evolved from a turbofan business jet concept by the Swedish firm, the 105 first flew in 1963, and in all less than 200 were produced over the course of a decade.

Featuring side-by-side seating for its two-man crew, in many ways, it was similar to the Cessna T-37 Tweet/A-37 Dragonfly as it could serve as either a training or light attack aircraft, although it was nowhere near as popular. In fact, outside of Sweden, Vienna was the only buyer of the type, ordering 40 in 1970 to replace aging second-hand Saab 29 Tunnan “flying barrels.”

Don’t be fooled, these Saabs could be deadly

The Austrians had a wide array of options for their SB 105s, across rockets, gun pods, and light bombs. They added Sidewinders in the early 1990s.

In regular service with the Austrians ever since, the 105ÖE (ÖE= for Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte) not only served a dual-hatted peacetime training/combat ground attack role, it was used by both of the country’s demonstration teams and in surveillance and air sovereignty missions until it was replaced in the latter by reconditioned Saab 35 Drakens in the late 1980s. (The Drakens proved useful, chasing down errant Yugoslav MiG-21s on more than one occasion.)

Plus, as with most of Saab’s aircraft, it could operate from unimproved sites and roadways

The Austrians currently run two understrength squadrons of Tranche 1 Typhoons, with Pilatus PC-7s providing training, although that is subject to change. Nonetheless, the SB 105’s time will cease at the end of the year.

The Austrian Air Force currently has two of their 18 remaining SB 105s painted in amazing livery and a terrific photo dump is online.

Pardon me, is that a Daewoo on Your Roof?

South Korean carmaker Daewoo International, founded in 1967 by Kim Woo-Choong, a figure seen as something of the Henry Ford of Seoul, looked to diversify into other avenues of manufacturing in the 1970s. This led to a spin-off, Daewoo Precision Industries, which soon launched an effort to gen up a modern rifle/carbine that could replace both the license-produced M16A1 and WWII/1950s-vintage M3 Grease Guns, M1 Garands, and M1 Carbines in ROK service.

The effort, borrowing a little from just about every modern autoloading rifle that preceded it, resulted in the Daewoo K-series rifles, which were adopted in the early 80s. These interesting guns, which used a DGI system in its first generation before moving to an adjustable gas piston setup for the second, were imported in sporter format to the U.S. in two brief runs from 1984-89 and 1995-96, making them hard to find for black rifle collectors here in America.

But they are distinctive in every way.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Harrier Carrier, 1976

As we did Warship Wednesday on a Monday this week, try these historical maritime shots on for size, taken 44 years ago today.

Official Caption: “USS GUAM (LPH-9) Operating with Marine AV-8A Harrier VTOL aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea, 9 December 1976, she drew these planes from USS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT for her goodwill visit to Kenya.”

Note the four airborne Harriers in a diamond formation, flown by VMA-231 “Ace of Spades” squadron Marines, and at least five more on deck. Catalog #: USN 1169189

Guam, a 17,000-ton Iwo Jima-class large amphibious transport (helo), commissioned 16 January 1965 and had already been extensively used by the Navy, first off the Dominican Republic in the intervention there, then in the space program.

Importantly, she had served between 1971 and 1973 as the Interim Sea Control Ship, derived from ADM Elmo Zumwalt’s idea for a 15,000-ton light carrier equipped with Sea Kings for ASW and Harriers for self-defense/anti-shipping, which made her ideal for embarking the V/STOL craft once again in squadron-quantity in 1976.

USS Guam (LPH-9) Underway in the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of Africa, on 9 December 1976. Her crew is forming KENYA 76 on the flight deck in conjunction with her visit to Mombasa, Kenya for the celebration of that nation’s independence. Adams-class destroyer USS Claude V. Ricketts (DDG-5) is steaming in company. Guam is shown carrying 13 AV-8A Harrier jet aircraft and two Marine CH-53D helicopters on her flight deck. FDR had deployed with 14, meaning one Harrier is either airborne or below-deck. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, Photographer: PH3 Greg Haas, Atlantic Fleet Audio Visual Command. NH 107675

Guam would go on to serve off Somalia and in the first Gulf War, then was decommissioned and stricken on the same day, 25 August 1998, and disposed of as a target three years later.

As for the accident-prone AV-8As, derived from the original British Hawker Siddeley aircraft, the Marines purchased 102 AV-8A and 8 TAV-8A models between 1971 (just two years after the Harrier GR.1 entered service with the RAF) and 1976, later replacing them with the larger, marginally safer, more advanced, and more American-built McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II in the mid-1980s.

Which brings us back to the Aces of VMA-231, who are still flying the Harrier today, one of the few who are.

Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 231 “Ace of Spades” AV-8B+ at Boca Chica Field, NAS Key West, Dec.1, 2020. U.S. Navy photo by Danette Baso Silvers

Forging a Marine, the Garand Way

The saying goes is that “you join the Army, you join the Navy, you join the Air Force, but you become a Marine.”

With that in mind, check out this circa 1961 training film, Making of a Marine, featuring recruits at MCRD Parris Island with M1 Garands, an interesting time capsule of “carrying yesterday’s rifle tomorrow” as the M14 had been officially adopted four years earlier and the M16, ushered in with Vietnam, would be inbound in roughly the same amount of time. 

Albany Sunsets

70 years ago today: Oregon City-class heavy cruiser USS Albany (CA-123) moored between two British cruisers (appear to be Fiji class) in Valletta Harbor, Malta. Sunset, 28 November 1950

Catalog #: 80-G-429269

Albany, commissioned 15 June 1946, was a 14,000-ton brawler completed too late for WWII– she wasn’t laid down until three months before D-Day– but she did spend some significant time with the 6th Fleet in the Med (hence the image above) and would go on to be extensively converted to a guided missile cruiser (CG 10) by 1962, serving another 18 years.

Speaking of which:

HMS London (D-16), USS Albany, and USS Lawrence (DDG-4) anchored at Malta in 1971.

Albany was sold for scrapping on 12 August 1990.

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