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50 years of unbroken patrols

In 1962, with the “Skybolt crisis,” which arrived when the promised GAM-87 Skybolt cruise missile tanked, leaving British Vulcan bombers hamstrung, the Royal Navy announced they would add a ballistic missile program to HMs Submarines and moved to produce five Resolution-class SSBNs, a 8,400-ton vessels each armed with 16 U.S.-made UGM-27 Polaris A-3 ballistic missiles, each able to deliver three British-made 200 k ET.317 warheads in the general area of a single metropolitan-sized target. This enabled a single British Polaris boomer (they actually call them bombers) on patrol to plaster the 16 most strategic targets in the CCCP.

With all of the moving parts and ominous tasking, the Resolutions, a modified Valiant-class design, were given traditional battleship/battlecruiser names (Resolution, Repulse, Renown, Revenge, and Ramillies) although just four were ultimately completed.

On 15 February 1968, HMS Resolution fired the first British Polaris on a test range off Florida and on 15 June began her first deterrent patrol.

HMS Resolution control room

By the next April, with Repulse and Renown accepted and ready for action, the Brits had enough bombers to keep a boat at sea at all times.

Now, fast forward 50 years and the British are celebrating an unbroken chain of deterrent patrols, of which they have completed nearly 400, having long ago switched to Trident-based SSBNs.

“The Continuous At-Sea Deterrence is the longest sustained military operation ever undertaken by the UK and this 50th anniversary year presents a valuable opportunity to recognize and thank those from the Naval Service and their families, the wider Ministry of Defence and our many industrial partners who have contributed to this vital national endeavor,” said First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones in an RN presser this week.

To celebrate the feat, the RN will issue special patrol pins to bomber submariners this year.

New silver ‘badges of honor’ will be given to veteran submariners as part of the 50th anniversary (Photo: RN)

As noted by the service, “Up to now, submariners who complete a single patrol have been awarded a pewter pin and those achieving 20 or more patrols presented with a gold deterrent pin. The new silver award bridges the gap between the two, being awarded after ten patrols.”

 

Brush up on your Leo I’s

Tank Museum Curator David Willey at the Bovington Tank Museum covers the Cold War classic, the good old Kampfpanzer Leopard I, which, in my opinion, in 1964 when they were introduced, were the king of the hill when it came to MBTs.

Ultimately, they were used by not only West Germany but also Australia, Belgium, Britain (the Hippo BARV), Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway while the tank, which has been out of production since 1984, is still serving with Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Greece, and Turkey.

Harold Brown, the MIRV-maker

Brown helped make the SSBN the go-to element of the nuclear triad and went on to become the 8th Secretary of the Air Force and 14th Secretary of Defense.

One of the most interesting SECDEFs to ever hold the position, Harold Brown, has passed away. A nuclear physicist, he joined the team (and later became the director at) what is now Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1952 and led the group that created a smaller nuclear reentry vehicle for the Polaris missile and its replacements. To have a grasp on what this meant, the follow-on Poseidon could carry as many as 14 367-pound W68 warheads, each capable of 50 kilo-tons, whereas a MIRV’d Polaris could only carry 3 W58 warheads with a yield of 200 kilotons each. A lot more bang for the buck.

Brown was tapped by McNamara to become DoD’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering in the Kennedy administration and was the 8th SecAF under Johnson (during which the F-4 quickly replaced the F-105, which was taking a beating over Vietnam). Taking a break from government positions while Republicans were in the White House, he returned to become Carter’s SECDEF. While Carter gets a bad wrap for miserly military spending– which he actually inherited from Ford– it should be pointed out that Brown managed to shepherd modest increases in the Pentagon’s budget in FY78-80, and was a cheerleader for Trident, ALCMs for B-52s, and the MX missile, as well as deploying Pershing IRBMs to Western Europe– staying true to his nuclear roots, while pushing for the SALT II treaty. It can be argued that all of the above helped keep the Soviets, who had a massive tactical advantage, on their side of the Curtain in the 1980s.

On the downside, Brown canceled the B1 bomber (which Reagan rebooted), eschewed increasing the armament on the Spruance-class destroyers (they were so ill-armed when first built that they were called “Love Boats”) and presided over the Desert One Debacle.

Brown passed over the weekend of pancreatic cancer at the age of 91.

Operation STAGE: The FBI sleeper agent plan in case Alaska was invaded

A Colt Detective, a copy of a selected pulp novel from an NYC magazine rack, a J-41 telegraph key, 1950s map of Alaska…yup, all you needed to be a stay-behind for the FBI in case the Russians set up shop in Anchorage (Photos by Chris Eger)

Just a half-decade after the end of WWII, it was thought that the Soviets could soon make a push to reclaim their lost North American colony, and the U.S. government turned to Hoover’s “G-men” to establish a plan to continue to generate clandestine intelligence from “somewhere in occupied Alaska” in that event.

The program started in January 1950 when a U.S. Navy Captain, Minor Heine, who held the position of director of intelligence for the service’s Alaskan Command, called FBI Special Agent in Charge John H. Williams at Anchorage– the new state’s largest city, which held about a third of Alaska’s 135,000-person population– to see how the Bureau could fit into the intel game in the event of a Soviet invasion or occupation. By the end of the month, Williams was meeting with Heine; Col. Wallis Perry, the U.S. Army’s top intelligence officer in Alaska; Lt. Col. Donald Springer, Perry’s corresponding representative with the U.S. Air Force; and other top military intelligence officers in the state. The subject of the meeting, which had been cleared by Heine with Gen. Nathan Farragut Twining– one of top commanders of the USAF and just a few years later appointed by President Eisenhower to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff– was to enlist the FBI in establishing a network of sleeper agents from among the local Alaskans that would be trained and placed in stasis during peacetime, then activated in the event of a potential future occupation. The role performed would be two-fold: to spy on the Soviets, sending back information of tactical and strategic importance to U.S. forces; and provide a system of safe houses for shot down U.S. and friendly aircrews or other military personnel behind the lines.

The local FBI went for the idea, then contacted Washington where the military’s Interdepartmental Intelligence Conference committee at the Pentagon– where the Bureau had a seat on the table due to their traditional role in counter-intelligence– hashed out some behind the scenes details over the next several months, the minutia of which are still classified. This small and very select chamber predated the efforts of today’s Defense Intelligence Agency, which was only formed in 1961. The newly-formed CIA was deliberately kept out of the loop in the discussion, with one FBI memo on the subject openly saying, “The principal advantage to the FBI’s assuming joint responsibility in these two programs is that it will preclude any other intelligence agency, such as the CIA, getting into the intelligence field in Alaska at this time.”

By May 1950, Washington, with the blessing of infamous FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, decided to greenlight the effort in Alaska, to be headed by the Anchorage FBI office, using local contacts that had already been vetted by the agency– confidential informants and local sources who the Bureau was already using to keep tabs on possible Communist agitators in dockworkers unions, movie theater operators who showed Russian-language films, and the like. This latter suggestion was rebuffed by the agents on the ground in Alaska, who cabled back via coded radiogram in June, “Anchorage informants presently prevailing not believed to be the type suitable for this project, although office has contacts who possibly could function in such a program.”

Among those the G-Men thought would work as stay behind operatives were the sort of hard, frontier men who had proven themselves in the unforgiving region and had established ties that would keep them there in the event of a foreign invasion. In fact, most of the proposed stay-behinds had previously weathered WWII in the territory, a conflict that saw Japanese troops occupy several islands in the Western part of the state.

One of the proposed operatives was a 45-year-old hunting guide in Anchorage. Another was a native-born Alaskan who was a medical doctor and avid outdoorsman who had helped the local agents in cases from time to time. A third was a 69-year-old Italian immigrant who had come to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush as a teenager and was considered something of a local legend. Another immigrant, a Croatian who the FBI noted was rumored to have been a bootlegger during the Prohibition-era, owned an area bar and hotel. In all, the youngest considered was 29-years of age, while the bulk were over age 35. A third were big game hunters and guides, with the famous Holger Larsen, the bush-pilot head of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the state, instrumental in helping the Bureau with its recruiting efforts.

The men selected by the local FBI agents were typically older, seasoned outdoors-men, familiar with the privatizations of Alaska after decades of hunting, mining and other pursuits. Some were local legends.

Many of the men owned boats or small airplanes and were skilled in their use in the poorly-mapped state. Others had dog teams. About a third already had experience using radios. All were known to the Bureau as dependable and had –mostly– clean records. Most had occupations and pursuits that had required them to travel across broad swaths of Alaska and knew the vast and rugged territory like the back of their hand after a lifetime of adventures. Some were employed by local and state governments in survey, conservation and road work. The skillset was unlike any that could be taught.

What had to be explained to the planned 75-100 operatives across the state to be recruited, was a crash course in being a hidden agent. Initially each man– there were no women– was to be given about two weeks of intense training in the Washington D.C area by and FBI subject matter experts in aircraft and ship recognition, Russian language, firearms, first aid, bacteriological and nuclear warfare and, most importantly, sending and receiving coded messages via hidden radios.

When it came to codes and ciphers, each was trained in the use of pocket-sized Diana Cryptosystem one-time pads, double meaning words to signal distress, and issued a common paperback novel– for example the 25-cent pulp “Trouble on the Border” by Gordon Young– as an emergency key.

This would later be expanded to include the use of secret writing to include “damp pressure” and “aniline pencil” methods. They were also prepped in techniques known to be used by the Soviets in the past to ferret out espionage agents.

The FBI was prepared to lose a lot of stay behinds…

Finally, each trainee was given courses in selecting and training subagents and informants, close in use of knives, and defensive tactics such as disarming assailants.

The Remington PAL RH36 knife was common with outdoorsmen at the time. Shown against a handout from FBI knife training lesson for stay-behinds

Although each candidate was approached quietly by the FBI to gauge their willingness to participate in the program– which was voluntary– they were to be paid for training ($150 per week plus $11 per diem for expenses, about $1,500 and $100, respectively, in today’s greenbacks) and, naturally, in the event of their activation in standby periods and full-scale invasion. To hide the fact from local bankers who may talk in small communities and blow the operative’s cover, each had a bank account established at a bank in the lower 48 to which their payments were made. The recruit was vetted locally before they were recruited, then given a more extensive background check prior to their travel to Washington. A cursory medical exam by an Army doctor at Fort Richardson “for deformity” was also part of the onboarding process.

By the end of June 1951, three operatives had been trained and another 75 were in the recruiting pipeline. Four dedicated FBI agents in Anchorage were detailed to the run the top-secret program, which had become known by that time as Operation STAGE.

Earnest efforts were made to maintain the secrecy of the sleepers’ identity. All the stay-behinds were given a cover name. At no time during the recruitment or training process did any operative learn about the identity of others in the program. Candidates were never told about other stay-behinds, always met with controlling agents one-on-one, and traveled to training alone. Classes, staggered to begin every three days, were attended by only a single student and the instructors. Stay-behinds were forbidden to talk about the program or their new job to anyone outside of their handler, including their family, and were coached to provide cover stories about their travel, for which the FBI would help provide receipts and items such as postcards and fake documents to support.

Correspondence for the program was directed to a Post Office Box secured at the Anchorage Post Office in the name of Alfred Burr. The program was handled from Room #1533 in the Anchorage FBI office on a strict “need-to-know” compartmentalized basis. When the balloon went up, the six personnel at the office familiar with STAGE were to be evacuated from the state after destroying their files, with a backup set of files maintained in Washington.

Once the stay-behinds returned to Alaska from training, they were encouraged to become civilian “ham” radio operators to provide cover for their regular practice sending and receiving coded transmissions from an FBI agent in the Anchorage office that had been given 45-hours of radio training in Washington for that purpose. In the event of activation, pre-planned radio call signs, protocols and frequencies were established.

Still, the program plodded along. By late July 1951, the first dedicated escape and evasion stay behinds, with orders to help shepherd downed aircrew to “Free America” or Canada, were sent off for training.

At times, typical Washington bureaucracy reared its head in Kafkaesque ways. One memo, ordering 504 pencils for the use of the stay-behinds, specified that the writing instruments should logically not be stamped “property of the U.S. Government” and that “we do not want all the pencils to look alike.”

Another round of memos debated the value of planned parachute training for operatives, with the main issue being increased per diem costs to Uncle Sam at a time of tight budgets. Still another urgent radiogram requested a cash increase of $1,000 to the Anchorage office as two trainees were scheduled to come and get $500 advances and the office was low on funds.

Further, to protect the carefully manicured persona of the suit-wearing college-degreed FBI special agents that Hoover had spent decades nurturing, it was specifically ordered that the stay-behinds, characteristically flannel and wool-clad backwoodsmen, should never be termed “agents,” and instead be referred to only as “contacts” or “informants.” Similarly, use of the word “spy” was forbidden.

By August 1951, an effort was made to scout out hidden cache locations for the stay-behinds at abandoned mines, cabins and ghost towns, each to include a full year’s worth of food, survival gear, radios, generators, and other supplies sealed in weatherproof packaging along with shelter for the operative and a guest. The list of recommended supplies was immense for each location, to include as many as 5,000 gallons of gas, a tractor, three tons of fuel oil for heating, 150 pounds of canned meats, 400 pounds of dried fruits and vegetables, extensive fishing kits and lockers full of clothes. It was estimated that each location would take a team of six men a period of 10-days to install and cost some $2,800 to complete. When you multiply this by 75-100 planned stay-behinds, it was a small fortune.

This drew fire from Hoover, who penciled on one memo on the cache proposal, “What about this? Are we left holding the bag with no assistance?”

Then, on Sept. 17, 1951, the rug was pulled out from under the feet of the STAGE program with Hoover personally firing off an order to shutter the operation and for agents in Anchorage to tell stay-behinds that the FBI was pulling out of the operation– although redacted documents infer that other unnamed agencies or services had expressed interest in stepping into the Bureau’s now-vacated spot. By November, the program had been wound down as far as the FBI was involved, although the Anchorage office would continue to process background checks on stay-behinds for several additional months, possibly in support of whatever “unnamed agency” or service had poked its nose into the program. In all, just 20 stay-behinds completed FBI training of the 78 selected and cleared. Some 140 individuals were considered. According to meticulous records, the law enforcement agency spent $10,260.62 on the program– about $100K in today’s dollars, which was a bargain for what was accomplished.

As for Alaska, the invasion never came, but the more than 2,100-pages of documents related to STAGE were only recently declassified after some 50 years.

The above published by yours truly in last month’s Eye Spy Intelligence Journal

Bad day for museum ships

A few of the last of their kind, which had been planned to be turned into floating museum ships, will now have another fate.

In Jacksonville, a group has been trying for years to obtain the USS Charles F. Adams (DDG-2) to install downtown as a museum.

(DDG-2) Underway at high speed while running trials, 31 August 1960. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 106724

The first of her extensive class of 23 ships– to include spin-offs for the West German and Royal Australian Navies– Adams was ordered in 1957 and commissioned three years later. Leaving the fleet in 1990, she has been rusting away at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard ever since.

Adams as she looked in 2008. Remember, this was a decade ago. Imagine what she looks like today! The Navy may have made the right call on this one (Via Wiki)

Now, the ship has moved from museum hold to the scrap list.

From Jax:

“Unfortunately, the United States Navy has reversed course and determined the ex USS Adams will not be donated to the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association (“JHNSA”) as a museum in Jacksonville but instead will be scrapped. This decision is counter to the Navy’s recommendation in 2014 that the ex USS Adams be released to the JHNSA for donation. We wish to thank Congressman Rutherford, Senators Rubio, and Nelson, Governor Scott, and all the City officials for their efforts with the Secretary of the Navy to have the ex USS Adams brought to Jacksonville. Although disappointed by this development, the JHNSA will continue to pursue bringing a Navy warship to downtown Jacksonville.”

The group has been collecting items to display including a not-too-far-from-surplus SPA-25G radar panel and Adams’ bell, but they want a ship to put them on. Perhaps a recently retired FFG-7?

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the final two members of the USCG’s WWII-era Balsam-class 180-foot buoy tenders have run out of time. USCGS Iris (WLB-395) and Planetree (WLB-307) were decommissioned after helping with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1995 and 1999, respectively, and have been sitting in the rusting quiet of the SBRF, Suisun Bay, CA mothballs fleet ever since.

While efforts have been off and on over the past couple decades to save one or both, they have been sold for scrap and are headed to Texas by the same long-distance sea tow.  As such, it will end more than 75 years of service tended by these vessels to Uncle.

Photo: Mike Brook, Tradewinds Towing, via USCGC Storis – Life and Death of a CG Queen

Finally, in a bright sign, the retired U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bramble (WLB-392) could be repeating her historic 1957 voyage through the Northwest Passage. Another of the “180s,” Bramble has been a museum ship in Port Huron for years but was recently sold to a man who wants to repeat the famous five-month trek of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Storis, SPAR and Bramble, along with the crew of the Canadian icebreaker HMCS Labrador from May to September of 1957.

Storis, fore, SPAR, and Bramble bringing up the rear. The NWP doesn’t look like this anymore.

Things are easier up there these days, and the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maple, a 225-foot Juniper-class seagoing buoy tender, did the trip in just 47 days last year with no icebreaking involved, so it’s not that hard to fathom.

Either way, you have to love Bramble‘s patch.

And just like that, the Burkes are 30

A port bow view of the guided-missile destroyer USS ARLEIGH BURKE (DDG-51) underway in rough seas. Camera Operator: PH3 JAMES COLLINS Date Shot: 31 Mar 1993 DNSC9303708

USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), the paterfamilias of the largest class of warships built in the West since Korea and longest production run for any post-WWII U.S. Navy surface combatant, was laid down at Bath Iron Works in Maine on this day in 1988, set for a 1991 commission.

Elsewhere that day, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack at age 52, Nelson Mandela was transferred to Capetown’s Victor Vester Prison, Mikhail Gorbachev was Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and Ronald Reagan was busy packing for the ranch in California as George H. W. Bush was slated to move into the Oval Office.

The top of the Top 100 that week, as related by Casey Kasem, was Chicago’s power ballad Look Away.

To borrow a line from the song, the Navy may have been looking (hard) but they haven’t “Found someone else” and Burke remains on active duty. In 2011, she completed a hull, mechanical and electrical (HM&E) modernization to extend her service life to 40~ years, well into the 2030s. By that time, as many as 104 Burke-class destroyers could be on the Navy List.

Last of the Yarrow diesel tin cans gets a reprieve

Just after VE-Day, the Royal Navy was able to skate on WWII production destroyers for a while, but by the early 1950s, it was realized that more…um…economical vessels could take up the slack that didn’t require fully-armed 30+ knot greyhounds to accomplish. Roles like ocean surveillance, escorting amphibious task forces and convoys could be filled by a reasonably seaworthy tin can of some 100m in length who, outfitted with a number of fuel-sipping diesels, could run on the cheap and at a lower speed than that needed by HMs carriers. Enter the Type 61 (Salisbury) and Type 41 (Leopard) class vessels.

First of the line, laid down in 1951, the Salisbury-class frigate HMS Salisbury (F32), seen here 5 December 1974. She would later be sold to Egypt and, after that deal was canceled Sale to Egypt canceled whilst on the delivery trip, was retained by the RN as a harbor training ship Devonport. She was later sunk as a target, 30 September 1985. Image via IWM http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205396006

Preceding the 27 iconic Leander-class frigates (which were 113.4m long and used steam turbines), it was planned to have 15 or 16 Salisbury/Leopards in service both with the RN and allied Commonwealth nations.

In the end, three of the planned ships– Exeter, Gloucester, and Coventry— were canceled post-Suez in favor of building more Leanders while another three went to India. The RN kept the rest around well into the late 1970s when they were scrapped or sold abroad (HMS Lynx went to Bangladesh who continued to use her until 2013 while the same country had ex-HMS Llandaff in inventory until 2016).

The last of these still afloat, was a kind of one-off design based on the Type 41/61 to be named the Black Star. Ordered specifically for the government of Ghana– the first British possession in Africa to gain independence– in 1964, she was completed by 1967 but languished at Yarrow Shipbuilders on the River Clyde in Scotland, with an unpaid balance and the regime that ordered her overthrown. Finally, in 1971, some £3,803,148 in outstanding loans made by the Crown to Ghana for the ship’s construction were written off and the ship was absorbed the next year by the Royal Navy, commissioning after modifications 16 May 1973 as HMS Mermaid (F76), the 16th such vessel to carry the moniker.

Mermaid saw brief and interesting service in the Cod Wars with Iceland– ramming and being rammed by Icelandic Coast Guard cutters.

The UK frigate HMS Mermaid collides with the Icelandic Coast Guard Vessel Thor in March 1976, in one of the incidents in the Cod Wars between the two countries. At the time she was one of the few frigates still in the RN with a twin QF 4 inch Mk XVI gun mount, designed in WWII. 

Tragically, just after a NATO exercise, Mermaid sank the wooden-hulled Ton-class minesweeper HMS Fittleton (M1136) during what should have been a routine mail transfer at sea, which resulted in the death of 12, the worst peacetime accident involving the Royal Naval Reserve.

After just four years service with the RN, Mermaid was transferred to the Royal Malaysian Navy in April 1977 to replace a 1944-vintage Loch-class frigate. Commissioned by the RMN as KD Hang Tuah (with the same pennant number), she has been on active duty ever since.

As reported by The New Straits Times, Tuah, now 45 with over 250K miles on her hull, is set for retirement and will be turned into a naval museum.

The transformation of the ship into a museum will be done through collaboration between Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS) Sdn Bhd and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

KD Hang Tuah, ex-HMS Mermaid, ex-Black Star, soon to be museum ship. Note, her 4-incher was replaced by a more modern 57mm Bofors in 1992

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