Category Archives: Commandos

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022: Spyron

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, Dec. 28, 2022: Spyron

Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum Photo.

Above we see the Tambor-class fleet submarine USS Gudgeon (SS-211), her glad rags flying, in the Mare Island Channel after her launching at Mare Island on 25 January 1941. Commissioned just three months later, her peacetime service would soon be over and she would be in the thick of the upcoming war with the Japanese, sinking the first of the Empire’s warships to be claimed by the U.S. Navy. However, the 307-foot boat would also kick off the American equivalent of the Tokyo Express, leaving Freemantle some 80 years ago this week, bound for the Japanese-occupied Philipines with a very important cargo.

As detailed in Edward Dissette’s Guerrilla Submarines:

Two days earlier the sub had taken aboard a ton of special gear for a landing party to be transported under secret orders to Mindanao and Panay, two major islands in the Philipines. All gear, except gasoline in 5-gallon cans, had been stowed under the floor plates in the forward torpedo room. The gasoline was stored in the escape trunk, where it was safely sealed off from the rest of the ship.

The cargo was pecuilar. Besides the obvious radio equipment, small arms, ammo, and medical equipment, there were also supplies of paper matchbooks and bags of wheat flour– the latter to be used to make communion wafers. To this was added three inflatable boats, stowed deflated below deck, and an 18-foot wooden dingy, strapped– to the skipper’s great frustration– to the top of the hull by her aft 3″/50 deck gun.

After an inspection by RADM Charles A. Lockwood (COMSUBSOWESPAC), a group of seven men arrived:

“Filipino mess boys, neatly attired in clean, faded dungarees, white mess jackets, and white hats, filed aboard and saluted smartly. Ashore a kookaburra bird brayed its raucous jackass laugh as if it found seven mess boys boarding a submarine a funny sight, which it would have been under normal circumstances.”

Rather than common Philipino stewards, a familiar sight on the old Asiatic Fleet’s destroyers and cruisers, the seven men were hastily trained commandos returning to their homeland under the command of Maj. Jesús Antonio Villamor, late of the Philippine Army Air Corps and, following his epic escape from the islands after the fall of Manila, now an intelligence officer tasked with contacting the scattered resistance groups in the Philippines and making them a cohesive force that could help retake the islands.

Villamor, 28, was already a bonafide hero, having flown his obsolete P-26 Peashooter against Japanese Zeroes in December 1941, reportedly downing two of the fighters, and making his way to Australia after the Allied collapse. He was decorated by Dugout Dug with the Distinguished Service Cross– right before he donned a mess boy’s uniform and set sail to return back home.

Using Spanish charts last updated in 1829, Gudgeon crept in close enough for Villamor and his commandos to make for shore at Catmon Point on the late night of 14 January 1943, ultimately just taking two rafts and electing to leave behind the dingy and the cranky third raft along with the gear they could not carry.

A second such mission was carried out by sistership USS Tambor (SS 198) on 5 March at Mindanao.

Gudgeon would return in April, landing 6,000 pounds of equipment and a four-man team commanded by 2LT Torribio Crespo, a U.S. Army officer of Philipino descent. The gear and commandos arrived in Panay to support Lt. Col. Peralta’s growing battalion-sized guerilla band.

And so began the long-running submarine resupply effort in the Philipines.

Instead of the airdrops frequently seen in Europe from SOE and OSS, the Navy organized an effort by Tagalog-speaking LCDR Charles “Chick” Parsons, an officer well aware of the PI coastal waters, to supply the insurgents with vital material. Parsons’s “Spy Squadron” of 19 submarines delivered 1,325 tons of supplies in at least 41 missions to the guerrillas between Gudgeon’s initial sortie in December 1942 and when USS Stingray (SS-186) landed 35 tons of supplies off Tongehatan Point on New Years Day 1945, with an emphasis on medicine, weapons, ammunition, and radio gear.

Salmon class subs USS Stingray (SS-186), foreground Operating in formation with other submarines, during Battle Force exercises, circa 1939. The other three submarines are (from left to right): Seal (SS-183); Salmon (SS-182) and Sturgeon (SS-187). Collection of Vice-Admiral George C. Dyer, USN (Retired). NH 77086

The cargo got weirder and weirder, including propaganda items such as cigarettes, chocolates, and gum whose packages were stamped with big “Made in USA” and “I Shall Return” logos, with the concept that they would unnerve the Japanese to find such trash blowing down the streets in front of their barracks.

5-gallon cans of MacArthur swag, ranging from hotel soaps to pencils, matchbooks, and playing cards, all with “I Shall Return” were landed along with the commando training teams

Added to this were clothing and shoes to outfit ragged guerillas. Flashlights, batteries, binoculars, magazines, books, playing cards, typewriter ribbon, sewing needles– just about everything you could think of to win hearts and minds in remote areas under occupations and cut off from consumer goods.

Guerilla Situation Southeast Luzon, as of March 15, 1945, as reported by U.S. Sixth Army. Notes include Philippine-led units and their U.S.-supplied weapons. They detail at least four battalion-sized elements and eight company-sized groups. (“Maj. Barros 400 rifles 30 MGS, Faustino 400 rifles, Sandico 10 rifles 2 mortars 2 bazookas, Monella 80 rifles, Gov Escudero 300 rifles 19 bazookas 10 pistols, et. al”). Note that these are just the ones the HQ was aware of and in contact with, as there were certainly dozens of smaller partisan groups floating around outside of the communication chain.

“Padre kits,” consisting of five-gallon kerosene tins filled with wheat flour and several small bottles of Mass wine with eyedroppers attached– to be delivered to parishes across the islands to help maintain morale– were also smuggled in.

Each bundle had to be sealed in waterproof boxes and cans, no larger than 23 inches at any point so they could fit through the sub’s hatches. Radio kits took up four boxes and included not only the transmitter/receiver but also a 40-foot antenna in sections, batteries, and enough spare parts to keep everything glowing for at least a year.

The Philippine General Radio Net was Developed during the Japanese Occupation, as of 9 October 1944. Most of these radio kits had been brought into the islands via submarines from Australia

They also delivered 331 agents and officers of all sorts– including Parsons who spend most of 1943 in and out of the islands, piecing together the resistance network.

The subs also exfiltrated 472 individuals, including downed aircrews, American civilians trapped in the islands during the 1942 withdrawal, and key personnel. This included at least one German and three Japanese POWs. USS Angler (SS-240), in March 1944, evacuated a record 58 U.S. citizens, including women and children from Panay back to Darwin– talk about cramped for a 311-foot submarine!

While the fleet boats could only carry a few tons of cargo and a 6-7 person team, the two huge V-class cruising subs, USS Nautilus (SS-168) and USS Narwhal (SS-167), stripped to the bone and only armed with the 10 torpedoes in their tubes for self-defense, could carry a whopping 92 tons of cargo and 25 or more men, earning them the nicknames of “Percherons of the deep.” 

To get a feel for how big these subs were, here we see the Nautilus (SS-168) photographed from her sister ship, the Narwhal (SS-167). Photo credit; Navsource.

In all, by the time MacArthur finally “returned” in October 1944, the Philippine insurgency had grown to an estimated 255,000 guerillas in the field, organized in 10 military districts, who controlled 800 of 1,000 municipalities in the country as well as the lion’s share of the countryside. It was an effort every bit as large and complex as that shown by the Partisans in Yugoslavia or the French Resistance.

Shortly after MacArthur started operations in Leyte, the Navy was able to land supplies directly via amphibious assault ships and flying boats while the Army was able to begin airdrops from cargo planes and bombers. 

Nonetheless, it was the submarine delivery service of Chick Parsons and company that got to that point. 

The breakdown of the 41 supply runs by boat:

USS Bowfin (SS-287) (Balao class): 9 runs
USS Narwhal: 9 runs
USS Nautilus: 6 runs
USS Stingray (SS-186) (Salmon class): 5 runs
*USS Trout (SS-202) (Tambor class): 2 runs
USS Redfin (SS-272) (Gato class): 2 runs
USS Gar (SS-206) (Tambor class): 2 runs
USS Gudgeon: 2 runs
*USS Seawolf (SS 197) (Sargo class): 2 runs
One each: USS Angler, USS Crevalle, USS Harder, USS Cero, USS Blackfin, USS Gunnell, USS Hake, USS Ray, USS Grayling, USS Tambor.

These *subs had seen the Philippines in a previous effort, the submerged blockade run into besieged Corregidor between January and May 1942. Carrying 144 tons of antimalarial drugs, small arms and anti-aircraft ammunition, and diesel for the island fortresses generators, they unloaded these under cover of night and then evacuated the Philippines national treasury, 185 key personnel, codes, and vital records that could not fall into Japanese hands– along with 58 torpedos and four tons of submarine spare parts to continue operations from Java and Australia. On both the entry and exit they had to evade destroyer and aerial patrols, weave through minefields and navigate using primitive tools and often inaccurate charts, typically just surfacing at night.

It was hazardous work.

Seawolf did not make her planned 6 October 1944 landing on her second trip under Spyron taskings and was listed overdue as of that date– the only submarine lost during the operations. Likewise, Gudgeon would be lost at sea on or around 18 April 1944 while Trout and Harder would also be lost that year while on patrol. Grayling (SS-209) was lost on patrol off Manila in 1943.

Their names here are inscribed on a memorial at the USS Albacore Museum in New Hampshire. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Epilogue

Today, Bowfin, which conducted no less than nine runs to support the partisan archipelago of the Pacific– tying for first place– is preserved as a museum in Hawaii, and recently just completed a dry dock period to keep her around for future generations.


Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a
soul.


If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Christmas in Rayon City

Starting 30 November and running through the first week of December 1944, the “Angels” from the 11th Airborne Division made their first combat jump– Operation King II, better known later as “Operation Table Top,” for reasons that will be obvious. 

Unlike the huge brigade, division, and even corps-sized jumps seen in Europe from the Allied airborne forces already in the war, Table Top– targeting a short airstrip near Manawarat on Leyte in the Philippines to cut off a Japanese withdrawal– was a more pin-point operation. Rather than squadrons of C-46s/47s, each dropping sticks of a dozen men at once, Table Top came down to one Paratrooper at a time from grasshopper single-engined liaison aircraft, L4/L5 Cubs/Stinsons. Anything larger would have left men hanging in coconut trees.

Those dropped amounted to 241 Paratroopers drawn from across the Division with the 11th Abn. Div. RECON platoon going in first followed by a platoon of “Sky Beaver” engineers of Co.C, 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion; followed by one platoon element each from Co.C., 187th Glider (Parachute) Infantry Regiment, 221st Airborne Medical Company, 457th Parachute Field Artillery Bn, and HQs Grp 511th Parachute Signal Company.

In his book “Love in an Altered State” about his father, SSG Bill Potoka, Platoon Sergeant of 3rd Platoon, Co C, 127th AEB, Mr. William Potoka describes Sky Beaver actions: 
 
“Named Operation Table Top, the drop zone was 600′ x 200′ and fringed with coconut trees. Manarawat was to become the hub of all operations of the Division in Leyte Mountains. 1st Platoon supported C Co, 511th PIR. The jump was made one paratrooper at a time from L4 and L5 Cub airplanes. The cub planes zoomed the drop zone and pushed out a paratrooper on each zoom.”
 
In his book “When Angels Fall” about his Grandfather, 1LT Andrew Carrico III, of the 511th PIR, 11th A/B, Jeremy Holm describes Sky Beaver actions: 
 
“Engineers from the 127th AEB soon jumped on Manawarat to clear a larger landing with explosives which increased the range of the Division’s L-4s (L-5s couldn’t handle landing there) for artillery spotting, unit locating and casualty evacuation. Medical staff from 221st Airborne Medical Company airdropped soon after along with equipment for a Portable Surgical Hospital that further enlarged “Rayon City”. 
 
Casualties carried to Manawarat were cared for by three surgeons, ten surgical technicians and other medical staff working out of a thatched and parachute-covered bamboo structure.  Once the wounded were stabilized, they either recuperated on Manawarat then went back to their units or were flown to San Pablo then on to larger hospitals at Dulag (or back to the states).

With such a shoestring op, as the paratroopers remained on the ground at Manawarat, they had to make do with what they had for the rest of the month and “Rayon City” was born. After all, what would you make from hundreds of yards of parachute shrouds and thousands of feet of paracord?

December 1944. Official caption: “Rayon City,” the camp at Manawarat on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Shown here are men of the 11th Airborne Division, preparing for evening chow. House in the background is a native hut, now used as a radio shack and Command Post.

(U.S. Air Force Number 58643AC) National Archives Identifier: 204950331

“A shortwave radio being used in the Manawarat mission against the Japs on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Here, T/4 Warren Scott of Portland, Oregon repairs the set. [Note, he is likely from HQs Grp 511th PSig Co.]”

(U.S. Air Force Number 58644AC). National Archives Identifier: 204950127

“The Manawarat strip on Leyte Island in the Philippines is named ‘Randolph Field’ because many of the pilots there were trained at Randolph Field, Texas. The perimeter of the strip is marked with discarded parachutes. When large para-packs full of supplies, dropped on Randolph Field on Leyte Island in the Philippines, they made large holes in the strip, so the Engineers stand by to fill in the holes as soon as the pack is carried away.”

(U.S. Air Force Number 58641AC) National Archives Identifier:204950327

“The 11th Airborne Division Spends Christmas At Manawarat On Leyte Island In The Philippines And To Properly Celebrate The Occasion, Turkey Was Flown In And Shown Here Is A Vultee L-5 Dropping Fresh Bread Packed In Barracks Bags.”

(U.S. Air Force Number A58653AC) National Archives Identifier:204951950

“The 11Th Airborne Division Spends Christmas At Manawarat On Leyte Island In The Philippines And To Properly Celebrate The Occasion, Turkey Was Flown In. Shown Here Are A Group Of Men Carrying The Cases Of The Tinned Bird To The Food Dump.”

(U.S. Air Force Number 58653AC) National Archives Identifier: 204951948

This included a drop of five gallons of ice cream especially for those “Angels” that had been hurt on landing or taken sick due to assorted jungle malaise and had been laid up in the strip “hospital” where apparently making grass skirts was a thing.

“The Recuperation Ward of the hospital at Manawarat on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Here the men with less serious wounds or sicknesses are hospitalized until they are well enough to return to duty. The man at left is making a ‘grass skirt’ from rayon shrouds of discarded parachutes. (U.S. Air Force Number 58648AC)

Honneur à nos Anciens!

70 Years ago today: 13 Décembre 1952 – Indochine française. Portrait of Master Corporal (caporal-chef) Auguste Apel, legionnaire with the 2e Bataillon Étranger de Parachutistes (2e BEP).

Photo Pierre Ferrari/ECPAD/Défense TONK 52-217 R45

Note MCpl. Apel’s bandaged left hand and U.S.-supplied M1 helmet. The above image was taken at a support point during the battle of Na San, one of the forgotten victories won by the French army over the Vietminh.

Formed in October 1948 at Sidi-bel-Abbès from volunteers of other Legion units, 2 BEP landed at Saigon just four months later and would remain there for the duration of the French conflict in Indochina. By that time, the battalion has suffered 1,500 casualties while its cased colored was decorated with six citations and the fourragère of the Legion of Honor. 
 
Disbanded in 1955, it was expanded to a full regiment with the same number, 2e REP, which earned more decorations in Algeria, Chad, Kolwezi, Lebanon, Kuwait, Somalia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.
 
The regiment still exists, based since 1962 in Corsica, and probably still has gruff old master corporals smoking cigarettes, bemoaning the long ago “good old days.”

Armed Overwatch Aircraft to pick up OA-1K designation

SOCOM plans to designate the new L3 Harris/Air Tractor AT-802U Sky Warden “Armed Overwatch” aircraft as the OA-1K in service, borrowing the old “O” (observation) and “A” (attack) nomenclature but mashing them together with the same “1” as used by the legendary A-1 Skyraider and O-1 Bird Dog of Vietnam fame.

The last operational “OA” type (disregarding the fact that forward air controller-piloted A-10 Warthogs are deemed OA-10s as they are physically unchanged and remain fully combat capable despite the redesignation) was so long ago that it meant something different– the OA-4 Dolphin was a circa 1930s Army flying boat with the designation standing for Observation, Amphibian.

If you ask me, the new aircraft should be the OV-11, following in the path of the OV-10 Bronco and OV- 1 Mohawk, but of course, nobody asks me.

Air Tractor has been pushing this variant as a “strike ISR” platform for the past few years, which made a lot of sense when the U.S. was heavily engaged in COIN warfare for the past 20 years. 

SOCOM plans to procure a total of 75 OA-1Ks, organized into four operational 15-aircraft squadrons and the remainder used by a training and conversion unit. Falling under AFSOC, some 200 pilots and another 1,000 ground crew will be learning how to fly and maintain tail dragger combat aircraft— something not fielded by the U.S. since the 1940s– over the next few years.

The overall maximum program cost if everything is fully funded is $3 billion, which is a staggering $40 million per aircraft but includes the training pipeline and support.

The mission statement, per L3 Harris:

The fleet of modern multi-mission aircraft will address SOCOM’s need for a deployable, sustainable single-engine fixed-wing, crewed and affordable aircraft system. It will provide close air support, precision strike, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike coordination and forward air controller requirements for use in austere and permissive environments. The aircraft will be used in irregular warfare operations.

Freshman at 80

Remembering Operation Freshman in Norway on 19 November 1942, the first glider mission by British airborne forces– and the first for any Allied force as a matter of fact.

A group of engineers set out by glider to link up with Norwegian resistance fighters to destroy a German research establishment working to develop an atomic bomb. All of the troops were killed, either when their gliders crash-landed in bad weather or were captured and executed.

While a failure, the mission showed the reach, flexibility, and audacity of airborne forces

Read more, here.

Tesla’s Fever Dream: Killer Kayaks

From the spark that was Nikolai Tesla wowing the crowds of New York’s Madison Square Garden with his four-foot long, steel-hulled, radio-controlled boat (patented in 1898) and his follow-on “dirigible wireless torpedo,” we are now going on 125 years of unmanned surface and subsurface vehicles, with an easy bent towards using them in warfare.

With stops at the German Fernlenkboot (FL) of the Great War and the Italian Motoscafo da Turismo (MTS) unmanned explosive motorboats of WWII, today’s maritime lingering/loitering USV munition has been well proven in the Black Sea.

Following up on the dramatic attack late last month on the Russian 4,000-ton Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate Admiral Makarov and smaller Natya-class minesweeper Ivan Golubets by Ukrainian USVs more information on these “killer kayaks” have surfaced including an excellent photo essay that has popped up on Reddit of no less than a half-dozen of these little black boats under construction and testing, including design details and the mix of commercial-off-the-shelf components and local supplies (Rotax 3-cylinder engines from a Canadian Sea Doo jet ski– which only run about $2-3K each— a Starlink receiver, old Warsaw Pact-era contact exploders, et. al).

Like Tesla’s boat, they are low-lying and relatively deep of hull for stability

Note they appear to be arranged on portable launching cradles that can be reused.

H.I. Sutton over at Covert Shores, who has been covering these boats since the beginning, has compiled this rough specs list for these crafts which reportedly cost a bargain of just $250K each (as opposed to an MK-48 Mod6 torpedo which runs $10m in its current format):

Length: 5.5 meters
Full weight: up to 1,000 kg
Operational radius: up to 400 km
Range: up to 430 NM (800 km)
Autonomy: up to 60 hours
Combat load: up to 200 kg
Max speed: 43 knots (80 km/h)
Navigation methods: automatic GNSS, inertial, visual
Video transmission: up to 3 HD video streams
Crypto protection: 256-bit encryption

Odds are, Tesla can feel the connection.

SIG Rattler, now in 7.62x39mm for SOCOM?

SOCOM– which earlier this year for up to $5 million worth of “Reduced Signature” PDW weapons in the form of modified commercial SIG MCX Rattlers in both 5.56 NATO and .300 Blackout– posted the notice for 7.62x39mm uppers for the platform in late October.

“Due to developing requirements,” explains the notice, the force at the tip of the spear is seeking conversion kits to include all “required hardware and ammunition magazines that will fit with the SIG Sauer Rattler and RSAR/PDW converted M4A1 lower receiver groups.”

SOCOM may be in luck as SIG recently debuted their first 7.62×39-chambered offerings in the MCX Spear-LT series. One of the options in that series is a factory SBR with an 11-inch barrel and an overall length of 29.75 inches, something that puts the company within striking distance of the RFI notice.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022: Of Baklava & Inflatable Intruders

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Nov. 16, 2022: Of Baklava & Inflatable Intruders

Archive of the Naval Museum of Greece

Above we see the French-built Protefs-class submarine Υ/Β Τρίτων (Triton) (Υ5) of the Royal Hellenic Navy, part of the “Free Greek” forces in exile in the Second World War, while docked in Port Said in August 1941 following the German occupation of her homeland. Both the Greek Navy and merchant fleet would provide solid service fighting with the Allies during the war and, in this effort, many to the bitter end including the subject of our tale, lost 80 years ago today.

Greek subs, 1886-1940

The Greek Navy began its long love affair with submarines when it bought the Swedish-built Nordenfelt steam-powered submersible in 1886 for £9,000.

Swedish Nordenfelt I normal buoyancy at the Ekenberg shipyard. Tekniska museet submarine

The small 64-foot boat was less than ideal, requiring 12 hours to build up enough steam to sail and without the ability to fully submerge but it was nonetheless equipped with a single 14-inch tube for a Whitehead automobile torpedo (which could only make 10 knots and carried a 40-pound guncotton warhead), sparking the nearby Ottoman Turks to buy their own, larger, 100-foot Nordenfelt. Remaining in service until the 1900s, the Greeks later ordered a pair of more modern subs from France.

In 1910, with their Nordenfelt experiment in the rearview, the Greeks ordered two new subs from the Schneider Shipyards in Toulon– Delfin and Xifias. Some 162 feet overall and 450 tons displacement, they could make 12 knots on the surface and carried five 17.7-inch torpedo tubes.

Loading of torpedo on Greek submarine Xiphias 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Greek submarine Xiphias at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Ordered just before the Balkan Wars, Delfin was rushed into action with a green crew and in December 1912 made an unsuccessful torpedo attack on the Cramp-built Ottoman light cruiser Mecidiye, an incident commonly regarded as the first recorded launch of a self-propelled torpedo by a submarine in battle. The torpedo reportedly broached and sailed past the cruiser without doing any damage.

Fast forward to the Great War and both Delfin and Xifias were seized by the French in 1916. Returned after the war, they were in such poor shape that the Greeks simply scrapped them in 1919.

They would soon be replaced one-for-one with a new class, also ordered in France in 1925. Built to a Schneider-Laubeuf design based on the French Circé 600t class, they were named Y/B Katsonis (Y1) and Papanikolis (Y2). Some 204 feet overall– which is about perfect for a Mediterranean-sized boat (for reference, modern German Type 209s run 211 feet while Type 214s are 213 footers) — they used Schneider-Carels diesels to make 14 knots on the surface and 9.5 submerged (which proved less in practice). Mounting a 4″/40 Schneider deck gun protected in a shielded barbette built into the leading edge of the conning tower, their torpedo armament consisted of four 21-inch bow tubes (2 internal, 2 externals) and two bow tubes (both external) with stowage for 7 torpedoes and 100 shells for their 4-inch gun. They had a dive depth of 240 feet and were capable of two-week patrols.

Via Jane’s, 1931 ed

The Greeks then doubled down with the more advanced four-boat Protefs class, ordered from Ateliers & Chantiers de la Loire and CNF in 1927 (wait for it) France for £119,000 per hull. Built to a Loire-Simonot design, they were rough copies of the French Sirene-class 600 Series boats with minor changes. They would all carry nautical-tied names drawn from Greek mythology: Y/B Protefs (Y3), Nirefs (Y4), Triton (Y5), and Glafkos (Y6). Just shy of 1,000 tons, they were slightly larger than the Katsonis class and ran 225 feet long overall.

Powered by twin Sulzer diesels and electric motors, they could make a stately 14 knots on the surface and 9.5 submerged. With a dive depth of 275 feet, they were armed with eight 21-inch tubes (6 bows, 2 sterns, with space for 8-10 torpedoes) all inside the pressure hull, along with a topside 4″/40 Schneider shielded tower gun and a 40/39 2-pounder mount oriented over the stern.

Via Jane’s, 1931 ed

Triton and Glafkos were delivered and commissioned in France in 1930, the last two Greek submarines that would be completed as new construction until 1972– something we will get to in a minute.

War!

The Greek Navy entered the war with two old (circa 1908) Mississippi-class pre-dreadnought battleships (14,000t, 4×12″ guns, 17 knots), Kilkis (ex-Mississippi) and Lemnos (ex-Idaho) that had been largely disarmed and turned to training/barracks hulks, four minelayers, two old cruisers, 10 assorted destroyers, a few torpedo boats, and 6 submarines.

In a precursor to the Italian invasion, the elderly protected cruiser Helli/Elli was sunk at anchor off the island of Tinos by the Italian submarine Delfino in August 1940. The hulked Kilkis and Lemnos were sunk at their moorings in Salamis by German Stukas in April 1941, sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. Other ships were crippled in Greek waters by Luftwaffe aircraft.

Photo #: NH 77440 Greek battleships Kilkis and Lemnos Sunk in the basin of the Greek naval base at Salamis after they were hit by German air attacks on 23 April 1941. Seen from the harbor pier following the arrival of the German army. Kilkis, the former USS Mississippi (Battleship # 23), is in the foreground. Lemnos, ex-USS Idaho (Battleship # 24), is in the distance, with her guns removed. Franz Selinger, via the U.S. Naval Institute, provided photograph and some caption information. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

One bright spot was the Greek submarine forces’ efforts to attack Axis merchant shipping, especially Italian during the six-month Greco-Italian War before the Germans got involved.

Protefs bagged the Italian troop transport Sardegna (11,452t) in December 1940 off Brindisi, which was carrying part of the 7th “Lupi di Toscana” (“Wolves of Tuscany”) Infantry division to Albania. Sadly, Proteus was sunk immediately after this attack, rammed, and sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Antares. All 48 crew members were lost.

This did not deter Greek dolphins and Papanikolis deep-sixed the freighter Firenze (3945t) and Italian sailing vessel Antonietta before the month was out while Katsonis sank the coaster Quinto (531t) in the Adriatic on New Year’s Eve.

Triton hit the seas hard on six Adriatic/Ionian war patrols from Greek ports, credited by Greek sources as sinking the Italian Adua-class submarine Neghelli on 19 January 1941 (post-war Allied panels credit the British destroyer HMS Greyhound with her fate, however, as noted by Uboat.net, “the results of the attack were inconclusive and there is no absolute certainty of her fate.”)

Triton underway

Triton would also log two unsuccessful torpedo attacks on Italian freighters off the Albanian coast on 20 March 1941 before sinking the transports Carnia (51541t) and Anna Capano (1216t) on 23 March in the Adriatic Sea about 30 nautical miles east of Cape Galo.

The photo shows the commander of the submarine “Triton” LCDR D. Zepos, HN, together with the Commander of Submarines Captain Ath. Xiros at the Salamina Naval Station. Submarine NCOs stand behind. Naval History Service. Zepos would command the boat through March 1941, a period in which she is sometimes credited with sinking an Italian submarine and two tankers.

Nonetheless, Mussolini’s legions were successfully able to send 400,000 men, another 50,000 beasts, and 500,000 tons of supplies to the Greek front– a full 22 divisions– by April 1941, primarily by sea. They only lost 23,000 tons of shipping to the Greek navy’s submarines, amounting to seven merchant vessels and a submarine. It was a losing game that was finished once the Germans entered the contest.

As the country was being overrun, the Greeks under ADM Epaminondas Kavadias were able to sortie their surviving cruiser and default flagship Georgios Averof, six destroyers, and the five remaining submarines to Alexandria and Malta from where they would continue the struggle.

The fight goes on

While the obsolete Averof spent most of the rest of the war safely in harbor, the Greek subs and tin cans were assigned RN pennant numbers by the British and went on to operate in the Mediterranean under Admiralty control. Triton’s first mission was to carry urgently needed medical supplies to trapped British, Australian, and Greek troops on Crete, then, after a refit in Alexandria, Triton went out again in September 1941. The refit was key as the Greek submarines had reportedly all missed their 10-year mid-life overhauls due to peacetime budgetary constraints in the late 1930s and were mechanically suspect because of this.

September 1941. Triton Submarine in Alexandria

In her first six war patrols from Greece (Oct 1940-April 1941) Triton racked up 1,147 hours underway with about half that submerged, and (by Greek sources) had sunk an Italian submarine (Neghelli) and two merchies (Carnia and Capano). In her 7th-15th war patrols, all under British orders between June 1941 and November 1942, she logged another 2,626 hours (with about two-thirds of that submerged) and was credited with just four small coastal vessels off Thera and failed attacks on two large Italian merchies. This was largely because she was tasked with landing agents and commandos behind Axis lines on most of those patrols or running supplies through the German gauntlet around Malta with offensive anti-shipping activities secondary to those missions.

Heraklion

Triton carried a multinational early SAS raiding party as part of Operation Albumen to German-occupied Crete in June 1941, with the goal of the commandos hitting the Luftwaffe field at Heraklion.

The six-man group was led by French-speaking British Army reserve Major George Jellicoe (yes, ADM Jellicoe’s son), a parliamentarian on loan from the Coldstream Guards to L Detachment, Special Air Service at the invitation of David Stirling himself; four Free French commandos –Maj. Georges Bergé, Jacques Mouhot, Pierre Léostic, and CPL Jack Sibard— and Free Greek Army 2LT Kostis Petrakis, the latter a Cretan officer who would serve as a guide.

The Heraklion attack was timed to coincide with similar efforts at three other Crete airfields at Kasteli, Tympaki, and Maleme, to reduce German bombers available on the eve of an important convoy operation through that part of the Med. Of note, the Maleme team was delivered to Crete by the Greek sub, Papanikolis.

They were heavily loaded with satchels of dozens of Lewes bombs, a specialty incendiary device named for British SAS legend Jock Lewes, but lightly armed with just a Colt .45 each and a single sub gun for the whole patrol. The plan was that they would evade capture for a week or more among the locals and then be recovered by small boat.

Jellicoe, who in 1990 recorded an oral history of his WWII service for the Imperial War Museum described the Triton part of the operation as follows:

We sailed on a Greek submarine– the Triton— bought from the French in the ’20s. She was then getting a bit long in the tooth and was quite small. She was about 15 years old. I don’t think I’d recommend anybody wanting comfortable Aegean travel taking passage in a small Greek French-built submarine…Any case, we took passage in the Triton, which was very well commanded by an absolutely first-rate Greek naval officer [LT Epameinóndas Kontogiánnis], to Crete.

I remember my first sight of Greece was through the periscope of the Greek submarine on the northeast coast of Crete. We came in a bit closer to Heraklion– there was a westerly wind blowing…The submarine surfaced, we had our two or three rubber boats which we paddle in in. We thought we were going to be about a mile offshore, but it was actually about two miles, so we had a very long paddle in, indeed. We then landed– there was nobody on the beach, the beach was clear. Mouhot and I, we undressed and swam out with the rubber boats, loaded with shingle and rock, then we sank them.

After rough going inland and the “dis-imbalance” of an overload of equipment, they evaded a German patrol but nonetheless were able to reach the airfield and, in penetrating the wire outside of the field, were busted by another German patrol. Mouhot hit on the idea of rolling over and loudly snoring to give the impression they were drunken Cretan peasants, which the Jerries bought and moved on, allowing them to proceed with their havoc. Using an RAF air raid by a brace of Blenheim bombers as cover, Jellicoe and company placed their charges on a motor pool filled with 20 trucks as well as a staging area with 23 German Ju-88 bombers and then, as he says, “had the pleasure of marching out in what we thought was good German formation out of the main gate” back to their lay-up hide to wait for the devices to explode.

While not of the Crete operation, this artwork gives a good flavor of a similar operation in Egypt, depicting Robert Blair “Colonel Paddy” Mayne, SAS, shown placing a Lewes bomb on an aircraft in one of the desert airfields raids. The Lewes bomb was a blast-incendiary field expedient explosive device, manufactured by mixing diesel oil and Nobel 808 plastic explosive. Created by LT Jock Lewes, one of the original members of L Detachment SAS in 1941. Via Stirling’s Desert Triumph – The SAS Egyptian Airfield Raids 1942 by Osprey Publishing.

As for Jellico’s team, the Germans executed 62 local Cretans as a reprisal– despite the fact the British had taken pains to leave behind tell-tale objects such as helmets and food wrappers to take credit for the attacks. Betrayed by a local villager, the Germans ambushed the commando patrol, resulting in the death of 17-year-old Free French commando Pierre Léostic being killed, and the other three Frenchmen being arrested after trying to shoot their way out of a German sweep. Interrogated by Luftwaffe officers for a week at Heraklion, they would be sent to German POW camps as they were in uniform, with Bergé ending up at Colditz with David Stirling of all people. Meanwhile, Jellicoe and the Greek officer, Petrakis, escaped back to Egypt with the three other (intact) SAS commando patrols after being exfiltrated 10 days after the raid via a caique run by John Campbell and “Paddy” Leigh Fermor’s operation.

Endgame

Returning to the tale of Triton, sailing on her 15th war patrol, her 9th under British control, the boat was tasked with landing five Greek agents and 750 pounds of war material on the southeastern coast of Evia then, once free of her passengers and cargo, proceed to look for targets of opportunity. Spotted while stalking a German convoy at Kafireas on the evening of 16 November 1942 and attempting an attack on the 5,700-ton Romanian freighter Alba Julia, our submarine became locked in a six-hour/49 depth charge nighttime running battle with the German destroyer ZG3/Hermes (former Greek British G-class destroyer, Y/B Vassilefs Georgios) and the auxiliary subchaser (U-Jäger) UJ-2102 (converted ex-yacht Brigitta, owned by Evgenios Evgenidis) that ended with Triton dead in the water and slugging it out on the surface, Kontogiannis reportedly ordering his crew to abandon ship while he fired at the Germans from the fairwater with a revolver.

At least 20 of her crew and two Allied officers (LT. Andrew Carter, from the South African Naval Forces, and an RN LT Cole, likely as commo/liaison officers) were killed in the action, their bodies carried to the bottom after UJ-2102 rammed her.

Among the fallen:

Vice-Captain A. DANIOLOS
Vice-Captain K. ANNINOS
Ensign Eng. I. STARAKIS Kelefstis
Tor. P. BINDERIS Kelefstis
Mech. N. PAVLAKIS
Petty Officer Second Arm. A. KOUSOULAS
Petty Officer Second Fire. T. BAGIOS Under-
Secretary Second Elector S. SCHOINAS
Under-Secretary Second Elector P. PAPATHANASIOU
Under-Secretary Second Elector D. KAKANDRIS
Diopos Arm. H. BAKIRTZIS
Diopos Tor. N. MERETZIS
Diopos Tor. C. CHARITOS
Diopos Note. I. KYVELOS
Diopos Tel. B. PALOURIS
Diopos Mech. E. PATRIARCHEAS
Diopos Mech. A. TSITSAKOS
Sailor Electrician M. GEDEON
Sailor Electrician I. GEDEON
Sailor TH. MASTROGIANNIS

Two men, Nikolaos Maroulas (Chief electrician) and Dimitros Papadimitriou (electrician mate), escaped by swimming three miles to nearby Evia where they found refuge in the village of Thymiani, then to Allied lines in the Middle East.

The Germans captured at least 17 Greek submariners (some sources say 27, some 28), including Kontogiannis and LT Christos Soliotis, and sent them to the Marlag-Milag Nord, a site near Bremen that housed mainly British Merchant Navy and Royal Navy personnel.

Kontogiannis

They were liberated in late April 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division.

She is remembered by a seaside monument at Karystos.

Epilogue

Of Triton’s two Protefs -class sisters that escaped Greece, Nereus would finish the war with the Italian freighter Fiume (662 GRT) to her credit and was decommissioned on 3 May 1947.

Glavkos, credited with sinking two small vessels in 1941 and damaging the German merchant Norburg (2392 GRT) off Crete, was bombed, and sunk by German Ju-88s of II./KG77 in Malta on 4 April 1942.

Glavkos

As for the older Katsonis and Papanikolis, they would account for at least 15 small vessels including the shifty Spanish/German merchant San Isidro/Labrador (322 GRT) while under British control. Like Triton, they would also land assorted agents and commandos as needed. It was on one such mission that Katsonis was sighted by German submarine chaser UJ 2101 on 14 September 1943 and sent to the bottom, taking down 32 men with her while UJ 2101 rescued 14 survivors, including the British W/T operator. Papanikolis outlived her sister and was decommissioned post-VE Day.

Greek submarine Y1 Katsonis

All told, of the six Greek subs that started WWII in 1940, four would be lost in combat and of her small corps of ~300 prewar professional submariners, fully half would perish.

For those curious, George Patrick John Rushworth Jellicoe, 2nd Earl Jellicoe, Baron Jellicoe of Southampton, KBE, DSO, MC, PC, FRS, FRGS, FRSGS, ended the war as commander of the Special Boat Regiment and eventually hung up his uniform as a brigadier. He passed in 2007, aged 88, having served 68 years in Parliament and having an assault boat (“Jellicoe Inflatable Intruder Mark One”) named in his honor.

An informative book on the junior Jellicoe is Windmill’s “A British Achilles” with a foreword by Paddy Fermor no less, the officer who took him off the beach in Crete after the Heraklion operation.

In the Historical Museum of Crete, in the WWII section, there is a special tribute to the Heraklion airfield raid and the “62 martyrs” that followed the op. The portraits of those executed are displayed.

The Greek submarine force 1942-present

The British made up Greek losses after 1942 and by the end of the conflict, the Greek exile Navy consisted of no less than 26 warships and auxiliaries.

This would include seven submarines starting with the captured Italian submarine Perla, which was turned over to the Greeks in 1943 and renamed Y/B Matrozos (Υ-7). The new V-class boat HMS Veldt was transferred to the Greek Navy upon completion on 1 November 1943 and renamed Pipinos (P-71). Sistership HMS Vengeful would become Y/B Delfin in April 1945, while HMS Untiring would become Y/B Xifias and HMS Upstart would switch colors as Y/B Amfitriti in July 1945. Two further V-class boats, HMS Virulent and HMS Volatile, would become Y/B Argonaftis and Y/B Triaina in 1946.

Greek submarine RHS Pipinos at a quay WWII IWM FL17464

The six British boats would make up the post-war Greek submarine program, as shown by this 1946 Jane’s entry.

The current Greek submarine service badge emulates one of these late-war British boats.

Hellenic (Greek) Navy’s current submarine badge

Post-war, the Americans stepped in as the British boats were retroceded and transferred several Gato, Tench and Balao-class GUPPY’d diesel subs, including USS Hardhead (transferred to Greece as Papanikolis 26 July 1972; sold for scrap 1993), USS Jack (transferred to Greece as Amfitriti 21 April 1958; sunk as target 5 September 1967), USS Lapon (transferred to Greece as Poseidon 10 August 1957; retired April 1976), USS Scabbardfish (transferred to Greece as Triaina 26 February 1965; stricken 1980). and USS Remora (transferred to Greece as Katsonis on 29 October 1973; stricken 1993).

Protefs (S-78) (Greek Navy), ex USS Lapon (SS-260) in 1961

Hellenic Navy submarine Y/B Katsonis (S-115) in the Corinth Canal. She is the former Tench-class Guppy III updated USS Remora (SS-487)

In the late 1960s, Greece decided it had enough of the GUPPY life and ordered a series of new Type 209/1100 diesel boats from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) in West Germany. One of these advanced SSKs was named Y/B Triton (S112) and commissioned in 1972.

The current Triton is part of a four-boat class that includes Y/B Glaukos (S110), Nireus (S111), and Protefs (S113), all very familiar names indeed. In addition, the Greeks have purchased the three-boat Poseidon class (Type 209/1200), the one-off Y/B Okeanos (Type 209/1500AIP), and the four Papanikolis class (Type 214) from Germany as well, showing just how important Athens considers a strong submarine force.

And they know how to use them. 

Transport ex-Evros (A-415), sunk by SST-4 torpedo from the Hellenic Navy submarine Y/B Pipinos (S-121) off Karpathos island.

Triton’s WWII colors endure. They had been saved by Oberleutnant zu See (der Reserve) Gero Kleiner, the skipper of the subchaser that sank her. He had been presented with the wrecked banner by a German sailor snatched who them down before the submarine went to the bottom in 1942. Holding on to his trophy for 30 years, he handed it over to Greek naval representatives in a short service in 1972 at the Naval School of Murwik in Kiel when her Type 209 replacement was launched.

They are preserved in a Greek museum at Salamis.

Kleiner, aged 67 at the time, had to make do with just the DKiG he was decorated with for sinking Triton, handing over her flag in 1972 to Greek ADM Ioannis Maniatis with a simple “this belongs to you.” Notably, the Greeks were the first to order the Type 209, picking up four of the original 209/1100s followed by another four 209/1200s.


If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships, you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Explosive drone jet skis make a difference in the Black Sea

Although the Russians by far outstripped Ukraine’s naval forces (which were mostly coast guard in nature) at the outset of the war in February, the smaller country has proved an underdog with a lot of bites when it comes to littoral operations. Besides sinking the 14 April 2022 sinking of the cruiser Moskva and a handful of other incidents, the Ukrainians keep slugging away.

Russia’s current Black Sea flagship vessel, the relatively newly commissioned 4,000-ton Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate Admiral Makarov, was damaged and possibly disabled during an audacious Ukrainian drone attack on Sevastopol over the weekend. The attack included a swarm of aerial drones coupled with a flotilla of small water-borne USVs. TASS reported that all the air drones had been destroyed, but it nonetheless seems Makarov is badly hurt and possibly two or three other ships damaged as well with the Russians confirming at least some problems with the Natya-class minesweeper Ivan Golubets.

The attack videos, widely available, look like something out of a Bond movie.

HI Sutton has been chronicling the Ukrainian explosive USVs over at Covert Shores for the past few months. They first popped up back in September when Russian naval forces in Sevastopol found one aground there.

They appear made of several commercial off-the-shelf components including a jet ski drive train with a contact exploder on the bow and a Starlink antenna for uplink

Via Covert Shores

While the propaganda victory to Kiev/Ky’iv is great, the Russians soon retaliated by canceling the ongoing grain shipping program from Ukraine ports to hungry third-world countries, which is kind of a bummer for places like Ethiopia and Sudan.

Still, those who are interested in anything expeditionary who are not paying attention to the great possibilities– and the great threats– that go with drones are not really paying attention. 

Black Cat Para

Happy Halloween, folks.

Check out this timely period image from 31 October 1956. Taken on Cyprus, it is of paratrooper Robert Gebhardt, of the 2e Régiment de Parachutistes Coloniaux (2e RPC) with his cat named “Nasser,” the commando unit’s mascot.

Paul Corcuff/ECPAD/Défense Réf. : MO 56-1B R4

Note his Denison-style smock with huge jump wings over his right pocket, his M1 helmet, and the muzzle of his MAS 36 rifle slung over his shoulder. 

2e RPC was originally formed in 1947 as a commando battalion of the same number (2e BCCP) and fought in Indochina as such before it relocated to Marrakech in 1954. Jumping into the Suez in 1956 (hence, Nassar), 2e RPC also got to see lots of combat in Algeria.

When France left its North African colonies in 1962, it was recast as the 2e Régiment de Parachutistes d’Infanterie de Marine (2e RPIMa), dropping its colonial moniker in exchange for a marine one despite the fact it is still part of the French Army rather than the French Navy. Confusing, right?

Today, the still parachute-capable 2e RPIMa is a battalion-sized light infantry unit based in the Indian Ocean colony of Réunion, where it serves as an RDF for France’s interests in the region. They spend lots of time on the continent conducting training with former French colonies.

No word on if they still stock black cats.

« Older Entries