Category Archives: cold war

Radio Free Europe, Belarusian edition

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

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

Meet the F-110A Spectre

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

McDonnell Aircraft Corporation F-110A Spectre SN 149405.

The corporate propaganda from 1962:

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

Saving the Falcon

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

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

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

From Mr. Clancy’s classic:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dan McCafferty, USS Chicago.”

“You were there?”

“Yes.”

“You shoot missiles?”

“Yes.”

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

“What the hell is this?” Simms asked.

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

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

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

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

“You hit her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are sure we killed that tin can?”

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

“Not too shabby, Dan,” Simms observed.

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

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

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

Norwegian Kobben-class via Janes 1975-76

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

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

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

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

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

Although there is still an outside chance…

Ukrainian AR love

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

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

However, their new look is very western:

Photo: State Border Guard Service of Ukraine

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

More in my column at Guns.com. 

30 Years Ago Today: Salamandre

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

Photo: Marine Nationale

The reason? Saddam, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mission was dubbed Opération Salamandre.

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

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

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

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

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

Bofors/Breda 40s still at work

NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2) recently poked around in the Black Sea, operating with the Bulgarian and Ukrainian navies, which no doubt gave the Russians a bit of heartburn.

SNMG2, under Spanish RADM Aguirre (no Klaus Kinski jokes, please) included three frigates, one each from Spain, Romania, and Turkey– the latter two being Black Sea countries.

Meanwhile, SNMCMG2, under CDR Katsouras of the Greek Navy, consisted of three minesweepers, one each from Italy, Spain, and Turkey, with Katsouras commanding the group from his flagship HS Aliakmon (A470).

Built during the 1960s at Bremer-Vulcan in then-West Germany as the 3,700-ton Type 701 Lüneburg-class trossschiff (TS= supply ship) Saarburg (A1415), Aliakmon served with the Bundesmarine in the Baltic and the North Sea, acting as a mothership to minesweepers and patrol boats, until 1994 when she was sold to the Greeks to began her second career.

The image of the Greek support vessel from NATO this month showed something interesting:

How about that beautiful Breda Type 106 Twin 40 mm/L70s

These guns were 1950s Italian updates to the venerable old twin Bofors designs and use a 32-round ready mag, topped off by 4-shell clips, much like the WWII models. This specific style of gun was just used by the Germans, primarily on their Hamburg-class destroyers and Lüneburg-class tenders.

Their continued use by the Greeks now means they are almost the last twin Bofors-style 40mms still afloat as the Canadians retired theirs, used on the Kingston-class OPVs, in 2014.

A few coast guards, such as in Iceland, still run 40mm Bofors for warning shots or to destroy derelicts at sea, and a couple mounts are in the Philipines on old PCEs– which are rapidly being retired– but that’s about it.

Aliakmon carries two twin Bredas as well as two twin Rheinmental 20mm guns, all of them optically-guided and manually-operated.

Battleship Nukes

While a number of battleships met their end at the hand of atomics at Bikini Atoll, likely the only dreadnoughts to carry nuclear weapons for tactical use were the Iowa class.

Those fast battleships “may have” toted such devices in two forms.

Between 1956 and 1962, the Navy had a limited stockpile of about 50 MK-23/W23 “Katie” nuclear shells for the Iowas‘ 16-inch guns, each with a yield of some 15-20 kilotons, with most ships of the class equipped to carry as many as 10 of these mushroom makers. Of note, Hiroshima’s Little Boy was a 15kt bomb.

Per NavWeaps:

USS Iowa, USS New Jersey, and USS Wisconsin had an alteration made to Turret II magazine to incorporate a secure storage area for these projectiles (the Nuclear projectile). USS Missouri was not so altered as she had been placed in reserve in 1955. This secure storage area could contain ten nuclear shells plus nine Mark 24 practice shells.

These nuclear projectiles were all withdrawn from service by October 1962 with none ever having been fired from a gun. One projectile was expended as part of Operation Plowshare (the peaceful use of nuclear explosive devices) and the rest were deactivated. USS Wisconsin did fire one of the practice shells during a test in 1957. It is not clear whether or not any of the battleships ever actually carried a nuclear device onboard, as the US Navy routinely refuses to confirm or deny which ships carry nuclear weapons.

At least one inert Mark 23 shell body still exists at the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Enter TLAM-N

Then in the 1980s came TLAM-Ns, the so-called nuclear Tomahawk cruise missile with its W80 150 kiloton warhead. First fielded in selected fleet units, only about 300 made were produced and the Obama administration dismantled them in 2010.

Below is a great video done by the curator of the USS New Jersey (BB-62) Museum, where he shows off the (possibly) TLAM-N related areas of the ship, including the panels, Marine guard post, and ABLs.

The Glory of the Devils’ TOW-MUTTs

While the U.S. Army started to field the TOW anti-tank system in the Fulda Gap in the late 1960s, the Marines, with their oddball M50 Ontos vehicle that packed a half-dozen M40 106mm recoilless rifles, took the latter to Southeast Asia with them as Charlie didn’t have very many tanks at the time.

However, things soon changed.

The South Vietnamese Marines used jeep-mounted TOW teams to good effect in the bitter end of the war in that country against NVA armor in 1972.

Meanwhile, the Devils were left with a more improv way to get around with their anti-armor support weapons.

Circa 1969,”Rough Going: Leathernecks of the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Marine Regiment find the going rough in ‘Dodge City’ as they attempt to maneuver a ‘mechanical mule’ bearing 106mm recoilless rifle across rugged terrain. The Marines are participating along with the Vietnamese Army elements and Vietnamese rangers and Korean Marines in Operation Pipestone Canyon, in the Dodge City-Go Noi Island area 12 miles south of Da Nang (official USMC photo by Sergeant A. V. Huffman).”

With the Ontos put to pasture in the early 1970s, the Marines eventually went TOW, mounted on the downright ugly (and downright dangerous to its passengers) Ford M151 MUTT, the same combo used by the Army in its “leg” infantry units at the time.

DF-ST-86-07566

Those chocolate chips! “U.S. Marines drive an M-151 Light Utility Vehicle from a Utility Landing Craft (LCU) to shore during the multinational joint service Exercise BRIGHT STAR’85. The vehicle is armed with a BGM71 Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missile launcher,” 8/1/1985 NARA 330-CFD-DF-ST-86-07566

The first TOW “platoons” envisioned by the Marines for attachment to infantry battalions in the late 1970s were actually almost the size of companies, equipped with 37 M151s, 24 launchers, 69 enlisted men and one officer.

Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment, fire a jeep-mounted tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) heavy anti-tank weapon during Combined Arms exercises Five and Six. Wires used to guide the TOW missile can be seen extending from the barrel of the weapon, 5/1/1983 NARA 330-CFD-DM-ST-83-09020

Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment, fire a jeep-mounted tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) heavy anti-tank weapon during Combined Arms exercises Five and Six. Wires used to guide the TOW missile can be seen extending from the barrel of the weapon, 5/1/1983 NARA 330-CFD-DM-ST-83-09020

A typical six-Marine TOW squad had three M151s, two of which had launchers and the third used as spare missile carrier. The squad packed 16 missiles, two in each of the launcher-vehicles’ racks, six in the racks on the missile carrier, and six on a trailer pulled by the carrier. In a pinch, should one or even two of the vehicles go down, the third could be used to evac the squad’s Marines, provided they were so inclined to hold the hell on and leave a bunch of gear behind.

Still, the ability for a half-dozen Marines in three jeeps to zap as many as a dozen of the bad guy’s armored vehicles from a distance of 3,000m then scoot away led the Corps to pronounce a TOW squad as “the world’s largest distributor of tank parts,” in the early 1980s.

A Marine looks through the sight of a tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile launcher mounted on an M151 light utility vehicle, 1/1/1988 NARA 330-CFD-DM-SN-88-09381

The Marines kept the TOW-MUTTS in operation though the Reagan years, eventually replacing them with HMMWV-TOWs by 1989. But that is a different story.

Then I Guess I’ll see You In Hell

With the temperatures hovering around 100 already and another three months of summer to go, I needed a bit of chill in my life.

Maybe not as much as this poor guy, though, busy putting the “cold” back in the Cold War.

A U.S. Army soldier stands guard in the snow armed with an M16A1 rifle at an undisclosed location, 17 September 1985. NARA DA-ST-85-12838

If you ask me, the Joe is certainly rocking a similar vibe to one certain scruffy nerf herder of the same era

The F-4 Phantoms of the Colonial Navy

Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm FG.1 Phantoms of No. 892 Naval Air Squadron back on board the carrier HMS Ark Royal (R09) after a visit to a US Naval Air Station (NAVSTA) Oceana where they worked up with USS Saratoga. The Royal Navy roundels had been “zapped” and replaced with interwar American Navy “meatball” insignia, and on XV590 001/R, the “Royal Navy” flash had been replaced with one for the “Colonial Navy.”

Photo by Lt. Colin Morgan, RN via IWM Catalog No. HU 73946

Originally founded in 1942 to operate Grumman F4F Wildcats (Martlets) from escort carriers, 892 NAS in the 1970s was the only operational RN Phantom squadron, and the force’s only fixed-wing carrier-capable squadron at the time– hence the Omega tail code–and flew from Ark Royal until the mighty British flattop was decommissioned in 1978.

892 NAS was disbanded on 15 December 1978 and its Phantom FG.1s were transferred to the RAF who continued to fly the type, sans tailhooks, until 1992.

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