Category Archives: Commandos

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle & the Forgotten Ocean

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, Oct.5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle and the Forgotten Ocean

U.S. National Archives photo 80-G-446967

Above we see the crew of the British Colossus-class light aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) on deck for an inspection by Field Marshal Earl Alexander, the British Defense Minister, on 14 June 1952. Ocean was at the time off the Korean coast– a peninsula where she was highly active some 70 years ago– and she has Hawker Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fairey Fireflys of 825 Squadron aboard. It looks like the light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) is off her stern.

Ocean is often forgotten when it comes to British carriers, as it seems everyone just cares about the ones that were active in WWII and the Falklands and forgot about everything between 1946 and 1982, however, she was important in naval history– being the first flattop to host a jet (intentionally) as well as probably the last to have a combat-ready biplane take off from her deck. As you can tell in the above, she also saw a good bit of combat as well.

Ocean was one of 16 planned “1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers” for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot-long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25 knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies or remain on station in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry with 12 of the 16 sisters listed.

Capable of carrying up to 45 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Two were completed as a peculiar RN invention of a “maintenance carrier,” intended just to repair and ferry but not operate aircraft. Some were immediately transferred to expanding Commonwealth fleets. Suddenly, the Australians, Canadians, and Indians became carrier operators. The Dutch (later passed on to the Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader HMS Colossus was even sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Our Ocean, a long time coming

The fifth HMS Ocean in the Royal Navy since 1761 was laid down in Scotland on 8 November 1942 at Alexander Stephen & Sons Limited in Glasgow. However, she was a slow build-out and wasn’t launched until after D-Day, with the Australians showing an interest in acquiring her. (While the Australian deal fell through, they did ultimately operate no less than three of her sisters after the war.)

Ocean was captured by noted English painter, Sir Henry George “Harry” Rushbury, at the time, while Sir Henry was working as an official war artist– a job the 56-year-old had done in the Great War as well– around the port of Glasgow.

Shipbuilding, Glasgow, a view looking up at the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) under construction from the quayside. A crane transporting a component onto the deck of the ship looms above while cables and wires cross from the ship to the quay, by Sir Henry Rushbury, 1944. © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/23522

This left the Admiralty to commission Ocean on 8 August 1945, three months after the war ended in Europe and just a week before the surrender of the Empire of Japan in World War II was announced by Emperor Hirohito on 15 August.

The aircraft carrier HMS Ocean at sea, late 1945. IWM A 30618

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JULY 1945, AT SEA. (A 30619) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161723

Although it had been intended to rush her to join the British Pacific Fleet as a dedicated night fighter carrier in the last push to take down Japan, that plan evaporated soon after she was commissioned and Ocean, therefore, spent the rest of 1945 in home waters at Rosyth as a trials ship, including the final embarkation of the iconic Fairey Swordfish “Stringbag” torpedo bomber that had won laurels at Taranto and against the Bismarck early in the war.

Capable of just 140 knots when wide open, while dated when it came to any sort of warfare in WWII, the Fairey Swordfish became a formidable ASW asset against surfaced U-Boats due to their low-speed and stable flight. Ocean was the last British carrier to operate the type. IWM A 24981

She was also the trials ship for the new twin-engine De Havilland Sea Hornet F.20, with prototype PX219– the full naval version– conducting carrier deck trials on board Ocean in late 1945 with renowned test pilot Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown at the controls. The plane was notable for being the fastest production piston-engine aircraft ever put into service.

The Sea Hornet was designed with cues from the successful De Havilland DH98 Mosquito and powered by a pair of massive 2,070 hp Merlin engines. Brown would later describe it as “Like flying a Ferrari in the sky.”

Winkle Brown also made a bit more history on Ocean in 1945, just before the year was out.

On 4 December 1945, he made the world’s first carrier landing by a jet, bringing the second prototype De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, No. LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean.

De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, on 3 December 1945.

Peacetime service

Deployed to the Mediterranean Fleet in late 1945 with a wing of Seafires and Fireflys, Ocean left her aircraft behind in Malta to run troops to Singapore the next summer, then responded that October to the stricken destroyers HMS Saumarez (G12) and HMS Volage (R41), both of which had been damaged by Albanian infernal devices while conducting mine-clearing operations in the Corfu Channel.

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JUNE 1948, GRAND HARBOUR, MALTA. (A 31456) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162475

In 1948, Ocean covered the British withdrawal from their troublesome Palestine mandate-– leaving the Jews and the Arabs to fight it out in the war that followed.

A rare sight post-1945: three British carriers at sea. HMS Ark Royal (R09), HMS Albion (R07), and the little HMS Ocean (R68) bringing up the rear. IWM

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel in June 1950, Ocean’s sister, HMS Triumph, happened to be in Japanese waters with the rump occupation fleet of Task Force 95 and soon, in conjunction with the American Essex-class fleet carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), was performing air strikes on North Korean airfields within a week of the outbreak of the conflict. By October, another sister, HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea to join her, with her two dozen Sea Furys logging almost 500 sorties a month by December and a whopping 3,500 sorties in just 86 days. 

Soon, Ocean was being prepped to head to the Pacific to give her sisters some relief.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION. 1951, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN AS SHE RECEIVED HER NEW COMMISSION TO JOIN THE MEDITERRANEAN FLEET. (A 31944) Some of the aircraft of Nos 807, 810, and 898 Squadrons, were stowed on HMS OCEAN’s flight deck after the first landing on the light fleet carrier’s new commission. HMS OCEAN sailed from Portland and joined the 2nd Aircraft Carrier Squadron at Malta on August 3rd. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162892

HMS Ocean. Firefly F.R.5s of 810 squadron ranged on deck, engines running ready for takeoff. Commander (Flying) observes from FlyCo. Working up in the Mediterranean from September 1951 to April 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

On April 5th, 1952, HMS Ocean passes the liner Empress of Australia while leaving Grand Harbor, Malta for the Far East. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

HMS Ocean passing through the Suez Canal on passage to East Asia, May 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

Her first tour off Korea would run from May to November 1952, with Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fireflys of 825 Squadron embarked.

ON BOARD HMS OCEAN DURING OPERATIONS IN KOREAN WATERS. 10 JULY 1952. (A 32250) A Firefly of 825 Squadron landing on HMS OCEAN on return from attacking enemy targets. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163137

HMS OCEAN IN KOREA, 1952 – 1953 (KOR 32) A Hawker Sea Fury, with RATOG (Rocket Assisted Take Off Gear), taking off from the carrier HMS OCEAN in Sasebo Harbour, Japan. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205191739

THE ADMIRAL PAID A VISIT. 11 JULY 1952, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN. DURING PATROLS OFF KOREA REAR ADMIRAL A K SCOTT-MONCRIEFF, DSO, FLAG OFFICER SECOND IN COMMAND, FAR EAST STATION, TRANSFERRED FROM HIS FLAGSHIP HMS BELFAST TO HMS OCEAN AND SPENT 4 DAYS ABOARD WHILE HER AIRCRAFT ATTACKED TARGETS IN NORTH WEST KOREA. (A 32243) HMS OCEAN at speed, with planes ranged on deck, in the Yellow Sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016293

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32259) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016296

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF, AND ONBOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN, AS SHE TOOK PART IN OPERATION PRESSURE PUMP, TARGETING THE NORTH KOREAN CAPITAL OF PYONGYANG. (A 32261) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016298

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32262) Sea Furies and Fireflies ranged on the flight deck of HMS OCEAN. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163145

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32260) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016297

The Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) approaching the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) off Korea, before the transfer of RADM Alan Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command, Far East Station from his flagship Belfast to Ocean to observe air operations against targets in north-west Korea. IWM A 32244

HMS Ocean at flying stations, a Sea Fury is on the catapult ready to launch. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

West coast of Korea. At least 33 Sea Furys and Fireflies with WWII D-day style invasion stripes were applied to avoid misidentification as North Korean aircraft, ready to launch as part of Operation Pressure Pump, on 11 July 1952, targeting railways outside the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. IWM KOR 27

On 9 August 1952, FAA LT Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, who flew Corsairs at the end of WWII, was at the controls of his Sea Fury and logged the only official victory of a piston-engine aircraft over a jet fighter during the Korean War. His four-plane section was attacking railroad facilities near Chinnampo when they were jumped by eight MiG-15s, leaving at least one of the latter burned into the countryside and two others reportedly smoking. While today the kill is usually credited to Carmichael’s young No. 4, Sub-LT Brian “Shmoo” Ellis, the fact remains that on that day a Sea Fury from Ocean bested a MiG and all four British aircraft returned safely to their carrier, where they received a “pretty euphoric” welcome, whereas the MiGs could not say the same. 

From 802 Squadron’s War Diary for the Day: 

Lieutenant Carmichael, Lieutenant Davis and Sub-Lieutenants Haines and Ellis started the ball rolling this morning by flying the first AR of the patrol. By 0600 they had entered the area and had commenced their Hanchon and Pyongyang to Chinnampo rail search. By 0630 they had reconnoitered as far south as Chinji-ri, a small village about 15 miles north of Chinnampo. As they meandered down the line, checking the bridge state as they went, they suddenly saw eight jet bogies to the north. Almost immediately the bogies were identified as MiGs – and were closing. By this time drop tanks were fluttering earthwards and the flight had assumed proper battle formation and No.4 – Sub Lieutenant Ellis – had noticed a shower of red tracer streaming past both sides of his fuselage. He cried “Break” over the R/T and the flight commenced a “Scissors”. It was soon apparent that four MiGs were after each section of two Furies but by continuing their break turns our aircraft presented practically impossible targets to the enemy who made no attempt to bracket.

‘On one occasion a MiG came head-on to Lieutenant Carmichael and Sub Lieutenant Haines – they both fired –  it broke away and proceeded to go head-on to Lieutenant Davies and Sub Lieutenant Ellis – they both fired and registered hits. On another occasion, a MiG pulled up in front of Ellis with its air brakes out and he was amused to find the range closing. He gave a long burst and noticed hits on the enemy’s wings. The aircraft then proceeded northwards and a reduced speed with two other MiGs in company. Meanwhile, the flight, still in its battle formation, managed a dozen or so more firing passes at the MiGs head-on. The dog fight lasted 4-5 minutes and then the MiGs disappeared as quickly as they had arrived – as they departed an aircraft was seen to crash into a hillside and blow up. At first Lieutenant Carmichael thought it was one of his flight and ordered a tell-off. However when No.4 came up “loud and clear” it was realized that the Royal Navy had shot down its first communist aircraft. Lieutenant Carmichael as flight leader is being credited with its destruction officially but the rest of the flight are claiming their quarter as well’

“Sea Fury – MiG Encounter” by Robert Taylor: Flying an 805 Sqn. Sea Fury from HMS Ocean in Korean waters, 1952, Hoagy Carmichael became the first piston engine pilot to destroy a jet aircraft during the war, when he downed a North Korean MiG-15.

Royal Navy Fairey Firefly FR.IV from 825 Naval Air Squadron flying a reconnaissance mission from HMS Ocean (R68) along the eastern seaboard of Korea. 16 September 1952. IWM KOR29

In all, Ocean would log 5,945 sorties in her first Korean tour, dropping 3,884 500/1000-pound bombs and launching 16,490 rockets– not bad for a light carrier with just two squadrons of single-engine aircraft embarked.

After some downtime, she would return to Korean waters from May to November 1953 with two new squadrons aboard– 807 (Sea Furys) and 810 (Firefly).

The British and Australians would keep a light carrier or two off Korea throughout the conflict, all from the same class. Besides Theseus, Triumph, and Ocean, HMS Glory would clock in for a tour in 1951 while the Australian HMAS Sydney would also get into the act. Lending a hand, the Canadian sister, HMCS Warrior, transported replacement aircraft to Korea from Britain. Another sister, the Centaur-class maintenance carrier HMS Unicorn (I72), spent most of the war ferrying aircraft, troops, stores, and equipment in support of Commonwealth efforts in Korea and became likely the only aircraft carrier in history to conduct a shore bombardment when she engaged North Korean observers coastwatchers at Chopekki Point with her QF 4-inch Mk XVIs.

In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget flattops during the Korean conflict.

The war is over – HMS Ocean moored at Sasebo in October 1953.

HMS Ocean with her paying off pennant streaming from her mast sailing from Sasebo on October 31st, 1953, for the voyage home to the UK, via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

One last hurrah for Empire!

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Ocean and her sister Theseus should be re-tasked from operating fixed-wing aircraft and refitted for helicopters and a battalion-sized element of marines, then deemed “Commando Carriers,” a concept akin to a U.S. CVHE of the period or later LPH.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION (circa August 1954). (A 31947) Naval air-sea rescue Supermarine Supermarine Sea Otter taxis into a pickup position alongside HMS OCEAN before being hoisted on board. The Supermarine Sea Otter was the last biplane amphibian in Fleet Air Arm service. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162895

This brings us to the Suez Crisis (Operation Musketeer). After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, our two new commando carriers were part of the Anglo-French intervention, embarking troops and stores for passage to Cyprus and then on to North Africa. There, Whirlwinds and Sycamores from their decks took part in an early combat experiment in vertical envelopment from the sea, seizing Port Said.

Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) is shown with a crowded deck of Westland Whirlwind and Bristol Sycamore helicopters of the joint RAF/Army unit which operated alongside Royal Navy helicopters from her flight deck, November-December 1956. Note the French hospital ship in the background. IWM A 33639.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade [actually a mortar bomb] before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. Note his sand goggles, Pattern 37 webbing, and Denison smock– all looking very WWII. IWM A 33636.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. Note the desert goggles and MK V STEN gun of the Marine closest to the camera as well as the 2-inch patrol mortar with bomb tubes on deck. A 33635

British Royal Marines of 45 Commando loading into Royal Navy Westland Whirlwinds aboard the Colossus-class light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) to assault Egyptian positions during the Suez

Royal Navy Westland Whirlwind helicopters taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from the commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) during “Operation Musketeer”. November 1956. IWM A 33640.

A Westland Whirlwind helicopter of the joint Royal Air Force/Army unit is leaving the Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Ocean (R68) with troops for Port Said during the Suez Crisis. November 1956. IWM A 33643

With the Egyptian affair wrapped up, the British chose to pull back “West of Suez” in 1956 and, other than a Baltic cruise that gave the Soviets some heartburn when she called at Helsinki, just over the horizon from Leningrad, Ocean’s days were numbered. Just 13 years old, she was laid up in 1958 and soon nominated for disposal, being sold for scrap in 1962.

Epilogue

Few relics of Ocean remain today.

A large scale model of Ocean is on display in the city of her birth, housed at the Glasgow Transport Museum.

She is remembered in maritime art.

“Ocean Firefly” HMS Ocean in the Korean war, by Roy Gargett

She was outlived by the legends that flew from her deck. 
 
“Winkle” Brown went on to be dubbed the “world’s greatest test pilot,” a title he earned after flying a whopping 487 types (a record verified by Guinness) over his career, interrogating Goering, becoming the only Allied pilot to fly both the rocket-powered Me 163 and more advanced Me 262, and making 2,407 carrier traps while testing the arrestor wires on more than 20 British flattops. He died at Redhill, Surrey, England, on 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years. The Vampire he landed on Ocean is preserved at Yeovilton. 
 

Captain Eric M. Brown with his De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

 
Commander Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, OBE, DSC, would go on to command 806 Squadron in the 1960s and retire from service in 1984. He passed in 1997, aged 73. His young No. 4 over Chinnampo (now known as Nampo) in 1952, Sub-LT Brian “Schmoo” Ellis, was still alive as late as 2018 and being hailed for his deeds over Korea. (For the record when it comes to prop vs. jet combat, a Marine Corsair of VMA-312 would also later down a MiG in Korea and U.S. Navy Skyraiders would bag a MiG-17 over Vietnam on at least two occasions in the mid-1960s)
 
Meanwhile, Ocean’s four hard-working Korean War squadrons– 802 NAS and 807 NAS (Sea Fury); along with 810 NAS and 825 NAS (Fireflys)– would endure for the most part long past the time their carrier was scrapped: 
 
  • 802 Squadron would fly Sea Hawk FB5s from HMS Albion on top cover during Suez and was then disbanded in 1959. 
  • 807 Squadron would upgrade to Supermarine Scimitars and became well-known for running their new jets hot in airshows across the UK. They would also fire the first British Sidewinder in 1961. 
  • 810 Squadron would fly Hawker Sea Hawks from HMS Bulwark in the Suez, ending several Egyptian MiGs on the runway. Later flying Fairey Gannets before transitioning to become a rotary winged unit, they would fly Sea Kings as late as 2001. 
  • 825 Squadron became a helicopter squadron in 1960 and, after flying Sea Kings during the Falklands, is still around as the Royal Navy’s Operational Conversion Unit for the new AW159 Wildcat. 

As for Ocean’s sisters, the last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 and then scrapped. The Australians kept HMAS Melbourne (R21)/ex-HMS Majestic, on hand until 1980, including using her with A-4 Skyhawks and S-2 Trackers in the Vietnam-era (her bones, sold for scrap for a paltry A$1.4 million, would be slowly picked over by the Chinese for 15 years, jump-starting their domestic carrier program). The third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, also a Skyhawk/Tracker carrier, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang. The Indian ex-INS Vikrant/ex-HMS Hercules, which has used Sea Harriers as late as 1997, was saved briefly as a museum ship and then scrapped in 2014 ending the era of these well-traveled light carriers. While no less than five American carriers of the same vintage are preserved, there are no British-built carriers as museum ships.

The Admiralty in 1993, perhaps in recognition of Ocean’s work as a commando carrier at Suez, named the new 23,000-ton Vickers-built one-of-a-kind helicopter carrier HMS Ocean (L12). Although not capable of launching heavily loaded Sea Harriers due to the fact she didn’t have a ski-jump, the new Ocean would for a time be the only British flattop in operation, following the decommissioning of the old Harrier carrier HMS Illustrious (R06) in 2014.

Capable of hosting as many as 20 helicopters including a mix of Wildcats, Merlins, Chinook, and Apaches, HMS Ocean (L12) was in active service with the Royal Navy between 1998 and 2018, the last four as its fleet flagship and the closest thing the Brits had to a carrier.

Decommissioned in 2018, both Brazil and Turkey wanted the ship with the former winning out. She currently operates as NAM Atlântico with an airwing of EC725s, S-70B Seahawks, and AS350s.

The Royal Navy has not had an “HMS Ocean” since, something that should change, in my opinion.


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Bush hat aesthetic

70 Years Ago Today: October 1, 1952 – French Indochina. “Adjudant Louis Gire, head of the Gin-Coc post, explains to Commandos the tactics to adopt when moving on the ground for an upcoming operation.”

Photo by Paul Corcuff in the French military’s ECPAD collection. TONK 52-176 R55

Note the British STEN Mk II and beret on colonial trooper in the center while the sandal-clad European to the left seems to have a STEN Mk V with a wood stock. The colonial to the right has OF 37 grenades and seems to be armed with a Berthier carbine. Also note the leather EO two-cell mag pouches, worn two different ways. Also, you have to dig the French Mle 47/49 bush hat, “Le Chapeau de Brousse,” no matter what you think of the Indochina wars.

The Remnants of 1 & 2 Can Para, 80 Years on

The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion was formed in July 1942 with an authorized strength of 26 officers and 590 other ranks, formed into a battalion headquarters, three rifle companies, and an HHC. Incidentally, 2 Can Para was formed shortly after and shipped south to Montana to join a U.S. force to form the First Special Service Force (aka The Devil’s Brigade).

1st Canadian Parachute Battalion shakes hands with Russian officer Wismar Germany on May 4 1945. Source: Photo by Charles H. Richer Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-150930.

1 Can Para jumped into Normandy during Overlord/Tonga alongside the 6th British Airborne division– the first Canadian unit on the ground in France since Dieppe– and after reforming (the battalion suffered 367 casualties in the D-Day operation) would fight in the Ardennes and jump across the Rhine in Operation Varsity.

32 Canadian paras with 22IPC Pathfinders, were the first Canadians in France on D Day

Uniform and equipment worn by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratrooper via Legion Magazine, note his helmet and toggle rope

2 Can Para would fight with the Devils Brigade up the length of Italy earning battle honors at Monte Camino, Monte Majo, Monte La Difensa/Monte La Remetanea, Anzio, and Rome.

Devils Brigade…

Post War

With its battalion-sized parachute units disbanded after WWII in favor of a few smaller units dispersed through its infantry regiments, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was stood up in 1968, composed of two “commando” battalions (one English speaking, one partially French) at Edmonton, Alberta, then later shifted to Petawawa, Ontario. The Regiment was soon at work in Cyprus in 1974 (and would return there several times in future years).

By 1977, this changed to an airborne-capable commando company in each of Canada’s three active infantry regiments (The Royal Canadian Regiment, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and the “Van Doos” of the Royal 22e Régiment), seen as capable of landing at a remote strip in the Canadian far wilderness (or Greenland, Iceland, or Alaska) and setting up for fly-in units in the event of a Soviet incursion over the North Pole, while the Canadian Airborne Regiment was reduced to a battalion-sized rump.

Today

Following a terrible scandal stemming from the Canadian Airborne Regiment’s 1992 tour in Somalia, the regiment was disbanded. However, that doesn’t mean the canucks don’t still maintain an airborne capability.

The 1977 program, with the 3rd Battalion of the RCR, PPCLI, and The Van Doos all maintaining a parachute-certified company, typically the “M” company, persisted. Further, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), carrying the lineage of the old Devil’s Brigade, was formed in 2006 to pull off the sort of ops that the old Canadian Airborne Regiment was tasked with from 1968-1995. In short, the Canadians could put together a reinforced airborne battalion combat team if needed, i.e. the old 1 Can Para. 

As the RCAF only has 29 active CC-130J/CC-130H Hercules and a few elderly CC-130Es in storage, they could only combat drop a battalion-sized force in one go anyway, so the size fits what the Air Force can deliver. 

Today, M(3)PPCLI and M(3)R22R are airborne-capable while the entire 3rd Battalion, RCR, is rated as airmobile/air assault and includes a paratrooper company as well, and they recently got some canvas time in, conducting parachute and helocast maneuvers in Petawawa, Ontario as part of Exercise Royal Trident.

Ah, the sound of CRRCickets in summer

Check out this great photo essay, shot in the Philippine Sea (Aug. 19, 2022), featuring Maritime Raiding Force Boat Company Marines of 2/5 with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit conducting a boat launch aboard the 25,000-ton San Antonio-class amphibious assault dock USS New Orleans (LPD 18).

Official caption: “Boat companies launch from the well-deck to provide the landing force a ship-to-shore capability. The 31st MEU is operating aboard ships of the Tripoli Amphibious Ready Group in the U.S. 7th Fleet to enhance interoperability with Allies and Partners and serve as a ready response force to defend a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez)

15 CRRCs of a full boat company, carrying at least 90 Marines, trailed by a RHIB serving as a control boat. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez)

The craft are Enhanced Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft (CRRC, or just “Crick”) of the type made by Wing Inflatables of Arcata, California.

Wing’s five-chamber P4.7 series inflatable runs 15′ 5″-feet long, has a 6′ 5″-foot beam, and offers 38.32ft² of usable deck space on a 12×3-foot deck. Empty weight is 180-pounds not counting the 274-pound rollup hard deck insert and can accommodate a 65hp outboard and 10 passengers/2,768-pounds of payload. The whole thing folds up into a 27″x29″x56″ package or roughly the size of a curbside garbage can.

Each of the 7 Marine Expeditionary Units (a battalion landing team with a bunch of stuff bolted onto it and a harrier/helicopter airwing for support) has a bunch of different ways to get to the beach. These include of course the choppers, navy landing craft (LCU, LCAC, etc), and the Marines own amtrac swimming APCs. However, each one of these MAUs also has 18 (15 active and 3 spares) of these little rubber zodiac-style boats.

A little larger than a sectional couch and powered by an outboard (or two) these can motor out from a task force still some 20 miles out at sea and approach an enemy-held beach, port, or vessel with very little footprint. They are hard to spot by eyeball, radar, or other means, especially in a light chop state. It’s a wet ride for the Marines aboard and anyone who has ever ridden one through the surf doesn’t look forward to doing it a second time– especially on a contested beach.

For landings, a company of the battalion landing team is designated the “Boat Company” and they spend a couple weeks figuring these boats out. This includes sending as many as 36 of its force before deployment through a four-week coxswains school where they learn basic sea-nav, and what not to do with these temperamental crafts.

Meanwhile, a few other members of the Boat Coy head off to scout swimmer school where they learn the finer points of exiting a rubber raft on fins and doing lite frogman shit.

In the end, Cricks allow two-thirds of a 144-man company to be landed on a strip of beach or empty pier in three, five-boat waves. The latter third can be shipped in follow-on elements or landed by helicopter. This type of landing was done under OOTW conditions by Marines in Somalia in 1992.

Air transportable, Cricks can be slid out the rear ramp of MV-22s or parachuted from cargo planes such as the C-130 (and Navy C-2 CODs), can be launched from surface vessels ranging from Amphibious assault ships (shown) or smaller craft like patrol boats, LCS and frigates.

They can also be (and are) carried up from submerged submarines by divers for inflation on the surface.

Suitcased-Sized Marine Eyeball and Targeting Teams

Earlier this summer, members of Task Force 61 Naval Amphibious Forces Europe/2d Marine Division (TF-61/2), operating under U.S. Sixth Fleet, joined their Estonian counterparts to kick off exercise Siil 22, also known in English as Exercise Hedgehog 22. While not a large force of Marines involved, TF-61/2 took advantage of the deployment to test out the new Commandant’s concept for Stand-in Forces (SIF) to generate small, highly versatile units that integrate Marine Corps and Navy forces and have “multi-domain reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance (RXR)” capabilities.

When talking of Maritime Awareness in 2022, the above references little groups of Marines– a team small enough to be inserted in a UH-1Y Venom which can only lift 8-10 combat-loaded men– equipped with back-packable/UTV-mountable Small Form Factor surface search radars, SATCOM, small UAS, and enhanced observation telescopes/binos to provide actionable intelligence and targeting data to upper headquarters.

Check out the highlight reel:

Highly mobile SATCOM on a UTV:

U.S. Marines with 2nd Marine Division test a Small Form Factor Satellite Communication (SATCOM) on the move (SOTM) device, while it’s attached to a Utility Task Vehicle (UTV) on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, April 10, 2019. The CopaSAT STORM is a replacement for the current Networking on the move (NOTM) system, which will allow Marines better communication services while stationary or forward deployed. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Q. Hamilton)

The Marines in the video are shown with Lockheed-Martin’s Stalker VXE Block 30 VTOL UAV, which can be shipped in three large pelican-style cases.

Another new tool is the Next-Generation Handheld Targeting System, or NGHTS, which allows the deployment of laser designation and target location at extended ranges, day and night, in a GPS-denied environment with high accuracy and “allows Marines to prosecute targets at increased standoff ranges.” 

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – Marine peers through a prototype version of the Next-Generation Handheld Targeting System, March 2021 at U.S. Army Garrison Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia. The Next-Generation Handheld Targeting System, or NGHTS, is an innovative, man-portable targeting system allowing Marines to rapidly and accurately conduct target location and laser guidance during combat operations. Photo By: MCSC_OPAC

More on NGHTS: 
 
Years of market research, technology maturity and miniaturization resulted in NGHTS. The unit, lighter and less bulky than past targeting systems, includes a selective availability anti-spoofing module GPS, a celestial day and night compass, a digital magnetic compass, a laser designator and a laser range finder, all in a single handheld system weighing less than ten pounds.

The Marines have recently been fielding more AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (GATOR) systems, including one in Estonia but there may be something smaller at play here that was kept off-camera.

GATOR, for reference:

All in all, this all seems right on point for use across nameless Pacific atolls in addition to its already-interesting use in the Baltic.

Comandos Marching on…

While generally forgotten in the West these days, the bad old European colonial powers stood fast in Africa in the 1960s and 70s against a tide of Marxist-Communist insurgencies during the chilliest part of the Cold War. One of the least chronicled is the fight that the Portuguese military put up against the Moscow-backed insurgents in Angola, Guinea, and Mozambique. Most of this war was fought by local troops augmented by small fire brigade-type Comando units led by men with the hearts of lions.

One of those was João de Almeida Bruno.

Bruno, during the 1970s. He earned the First Class War Cross and the Silver Medal of Military Valor, with palm, leading small units of Comando in the bush.

Born in 1935, Bruno graduated from Portugal’s historic (founded in 1640) officer academy in 1952 and saw his first posting to Africa as a cavalry captain in command of the Companhia de Cavalaria nº 108 in 1961.

Portuguese dragoon in Angola. Note the HK G3. The Portuguese used horse-mounted cavalry in COIN operations well into 1974

Passing the 5th Comando Course held by the Portuguese Army, he soon rose to command such special operations units and by 1972 was a major in command of the Batalhão de Comandos da Guiné.

In all, some 9,000 operators served in 67 Comando companies, attached to a variety of Caçadores (hunter) battalions, fought in Africa between 1962 and 1974, suffering no less than 1,156 casualties.

A gentleman, Bruno would avoid the stain suffered by some such officers fighting “dirty wars” on the Continent and go on to command the Portuguese military academy (Academia Militar) from 1989 to 1993 and head the country’s Supreme Military Court from 1994 to 1998 before retiring after 46 years of service.

He joined his last muster on Aug.10, 2022, at age 87. His body was in state at the Military Academy over the weekend.

“The President of the Republic evokes, with respect, admiration and friendship, General João de Almeida Bruno, presenting his condolences to the Family and the Portuguese Army, which served with independence, a sense of mission and integral devotion”, reads the statement of the Presidency of the Republic.

Today, after a decade in which they were disbanded, the reformed Regimento de Comandos is one of NATO’s premier Ranger-style organizations.

Their motto is Audaces Fortuna Juvat (Latin for “Luck Protects the Bold”) and their war cry is “Mama Sumae” a Bantu phrase they picked up in the 1960s in Angola that roughly translates to “here we are, ready for the sacrifice.”

Museum ship adding to real-world training

In the Western Pacific, both Australia and Japan could see an increase in American flattops crowding their ports in a time of heightened tensions. The thing is, likely opponents in the region who carriers and LHD/LHAs would be arrayed against field well-trained and likely very dedicated frogman forces who can use some decidedly old-school methods to keep such vessels sidelined.

So how do you train for that?

Well, Clearance Divers from the Royal Australian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force recently conducted a combined training activity, involving the clearance and removal of limpet mines, on the USS Midway Museum Ship in San Diego, California during the current Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 exercises. Ex-USS Midway (CVB/CVA/CV-41) provides a great static training installation as the 1,000-foot long, 65,000-ton warship is the only supercarrier in the world that is preserved as a museum. 

Now that makes a lot of sense.

Pegasus at 80

The Parachute Regiment was established on 1 August 1942 from No 2 Commando/No. 11 Special Air Service Battalion (which had already conducted the first British airborne operation, Operation Colossus, against the Tragino aqueduct, on 10 February 1941, and been renamed 1st Parachute Battalion in September 1941) and volunteers who were forming the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Battalions. This new regiment was placed under the Army Air Corps, alongside the existing Glider Pilot Regiment (air-landing infantry), as the 1st Parachute Brigade and, before 1942 was up, was tossed into action in French Morocco and Algeria during Operation Torch.

“The Parachute Regiment in Training, Ringway, August 1942.” A paratrooper armed with a STEN gun equipped for a jump. Malindine E G (Lt), Puttnam L (Lt), Spender H (Lt), War Office official photographer. IWM H 22754.

Same spread as above, IWM H 22759, note the Pegasus flash on the Para’s smock and No. 4 Enfield bayonet for his STEN.

By Overlord in June 1944, the British had five parachute brigades consisting of 17 battalions, most of which were under the 1st (British) Airborne Division, and 6th (British) Airborne Division. By the end of the war, the Brits had an impressive 31 battalions of Denison smock-wearing airborne troops in a mix of glider-borne infantry (10), SAS (3), and parachute light infantry (18) units, not even counting hard-charging Indian (6) and Gurkha (1) airborne battalions who were very active that year against the Japanese in the CBI theatre.

The “PARAS” have been paired down quite a bit over the years but are still very much around.

Today, 2 Para and 3 Para Bns serve as part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, the UK’s rapid deployment “fire brigade” force, while 1 Para serves as a support group alongside elements of the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force in the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG). The Army Reserve has 4 Para Bn which retains its airborne/air assault capability through a far higher level of training typically seen in other Reserve units.

As a salute to the Regiment that over the weekend, Paratroopers of all four Battalions, the Red Devils (Britain’s version of the Golden Knights), and some 250 cherry berry vets gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum for a Service of Remembrance and recognition of the 80th Anniversary of the formation of the Regiment in 1942.

“Utrinque Paratus”

MK25 Gets some Screentime

The “Terminal List,” which debuted earlier this month on Amazon Prime, is based on the best-selling novel by Navy SEAL veteran Jack Carr and follows Navy Lt. Commander James Reece (Chris Pratt) after his entire platoon SEALs is killed in an ambush during a covert mission overseas. Besides Pratt– who has fast become a staple of Hollywood sci-fi/action films, the series stars Constance Wu, Taylor Kitsch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jai Courtney, Patrick Schwarzenegger, and, oh yeah, a SIG P226 MK25.

Besides a slew of serious hardware and edged weapons, the MK25 gets a lot of screentime, especially in the first episode, and is even included in the opening credits. The gun is such a key plot point, in fact, that you can’t get two seconds into the trailer for the series without seeing it.

The MK24/25 series P226 models go back to at least the early 1990s in service with the Navy’s frogman corps.

A pair of SIG MK25 1962-2012 50-Year SEAL Team Commemoratives I ran into at the company’s headquarters in New Hampshire. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

More in my column at Guns.com.

SEAL Vet Holds Class on SOPMOD History

Every gun nerd knows about SOPMOD. SOPMOD refers to Special Operations Peculiar MODification kit.

This stuff:

The purpose behind SOPMOD is to provide rifles with the flexibility and versatility to adapt basic issue weapons to meet mission-specific requirements.

It started off a lot less high-speed. 

Retired Navy SEAL Mark “Coch” Cochiolo talks about his career in SOPMOD, with a great 11-minute show and tell below going from the old days of pipe-clamping Maglights on MP5s, and drilling eye-bolts through handguards to where we are at today.

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