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Petrel does it again

Wasp dresses with flags for Navy Day while she anchors in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, 27 October 1940. Note the old flush-deck destroyer in the distance. (U.S. Navy Photograph NH 43463)

Built with 15,000 leftover tons allocated for U.S. aircraft carriers under the Washington Naval Treaty, the ninth USS Wasp (CV-7), was a lightweight version of a fleet carrier. Some 5,000-tons lighter than the preceding Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown, she was only about 80-feet shorter and could still carry roughly the same-sized airwing. In addition, she had a 4th catapult whereas the preceding and much larger half-sisters only had three. Granted it was a hangar deck cat, but still.

Commissioned on 25 April 1940 at the Army Quartermaster Base, South Boston, Mass, the war in Europe was on and the U.S. was out of it for another 20 months, but Wasp soon wandered into the periphery of the conflict. In August 1941, after shakedowns, she carried 30 Army Curtiss P-40C’s and three Stearman PT-17 trainers from the AAF 33rd Pursuit Squadron to Iceland– where they flew off her deck to land on the U.S.-protected island, one of the first times Army planes took off from an operational U.S. carrier.

After the U.S. entered the war, she was quickly assigned to watch over convoys routed to North Russia, looking for German surface raiders, and twice carried RAF Spitfires to embattled Malta.

To make good the losses of the Lexington (CV-2) at Coral Sea and Yorktown (CV-5) at Midway, Wasp was recalled from her North Atlantic and Med adventures and rushed to the Pacific, where her service was brief. Wasp arrived off Guadalcanal in early August and her aircrew was soon delivering “stings” to Japanese positions in the area.

Narrowly missing the Battle of Eastern Solomons on 24 August, on 15 September Wasp, Hornet, the battleship North Carolina, with ten other warships, were escorting the transports carrying the Seventh Marine Regiment to Guadalcanal as reinforcements. That day, Japanese submarine I-19 fired a spread of 6 torpedoes at the ripest of targets. Four hit Wasp, one hit the destroyer USS O’Brien and the final hit North Carolina— surely the most effective torpedo attack in naval history.

Abandoned later that afternoon, Wasp was scuttled by torpedoes from the destroyer USS Lansdowne. Of the 2,162 on board, 176 were killed as a result of the attack.

Now, after 77 years on the bottom, the research vessel RV Petrel has located her sitting upright in 4,345 meters (14,255 feet) of water.

Wasp represented the U.S. Navy at the lowest point after the start of WWII. Her pilots and her aircrew, with their courage and sacrifice, were the ones that held the line against the Japanese when the Japanese had superior fighter aircraft, superior torpedo planes, and better torpedoes,” said Rear Adm. (Ret.) Samuel Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command. “The first year of the war, it was touch and go. Those who served at that time deserve the gratitude of our nation for holding the Japanese back.”

The follow-on 10th USS Wasp, (CV-18), was an Essex-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943 and sold for scrap in 1973 after a very busy and successful career. The 11th Wasp, (LHD-1), is the lead ship of her class of very aircraft carrier-like (nearly three times larger in tonnage than CV-7) amphibious assault ships and was launched in 1989.

Ironically, at about the same time Petral discovered Wasp‘s namesake, LHD-1 was working alongside the JMSDF amphibious transport dock ship, JS Kunisaki (LST 4003) in a training exercise off Japan.

USS Wasp (LHD 1), JS Kunisaki (LST 4003) and USS Green Bay (LPD 20) transit in formation in the East China Sea, Jan. 12 (U.S. Navy/MC1 Daniel Barker)

Italians discover long lost cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere

Commissioned 1 January 1931, the Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere (John of the Black Bands) was a sleek warship of the Regia Marina, though not quite up to the same quality as her three sisters.

The 7,000-ton, 555-foot cruiser had a lot of speed– 37 knots– and eight 6-inch guns but had *razor thin* armor (less than an inch at its thickest) as an Achilles heel. To make it worse, the class had virtually no underwater protection at all.

When WWII came, Bande Nere managed to escape serious damage in the Battle of Calabria and follow-up Battle of Cape Spada in 1940 but hit HMAS Sydney in turn, then went on to survive another close call at the Second Battle of Sirte in 1942. As such, she was much luckier than her three sisters– Alberico da Barbiano and Alberto da Giussano, sunk December 1941, by Royal Navy and Dutch destroyers during the Battle of Cape Bon; and Bartolomeo Colleoni, sent to the bottom at Spada.

Her luck ran out on 1 April 1942 when she came across HM Submarine Urge who fired a pair of torpedoes at the Italian cruiser, one of which broke the Bande Nere into two sections, and she sank quickly with the loss of more than half her crew in 1,500m of water some 11 miles from Stromboli. In a cruel bit of karma, Urge, a Britsh U-class submarine was herself lost just three weeks afterward with all hands, most likely near Malta as a result of a mine.

Bande Nere was discovered over the weekend by the now-Marina Militare, and her crown of Savoy clearly seen on a released video.

“Over a seaman’s grave, no flowers grow.”

Remembering Perth

HMAS Perth 1941

Commissioned 29 June 1933, HMS Amphion was a Leander-class light cruiser in the Royal Navy. In 1939, she was reborn in a sense and her name was changed to HMAS Perth (D29) on the occasion of her transfer to the Royal Australian Navy.

Her RAN career was tragically short. After much sharp service in the Med during the whole Crete debacle, she was sent back home to assist in the defense of Australia.

After surviving the hell of the Battle of the Java Sea, she picked up four Japanese torpedoes in the space of a few minutes at the midnight pitch-black engagement at Sunda Strait on 1 March 1942.

Of her 681 souls aboard, 353 were killed in battle. Her survivors may have been spared from Posideon’s grasp but had to endure three years as Japanese POWs, with nearly half never seeing home again.

Even her hulk, stripped over the years by unlicenced Indonesian marine salvagers who used explosives to break her apart on the seafloor, was desecrated.

However, her 1939 bell, cast to commemorate her new life in the RAN, was located in Indonesia by Australian wreck diver David Burchell and returned through the auspices of the government in 1978.

The Australian War Memorial on Friday, on the 77th anniversary of her loss, held a special Last Post Ceremony in honor of HMAS Perth, including the striking of the ship’s bell.

Remembering the Tampa

Signal boost here, from the USCG:

R 261000 FEB 19
FM COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC//CG-092//
TO ALCOAST
UNCLAS //N05700//
ALCOAST 062/19
COMDTNOTE 5700
SUBJ:  USS TAMPA PURPLE HEART MEDAL CAMPAIGN

1. The U.S. Coast Guard needs your help with locating and contacting descendants of the USS TAMPA, which was tragically sunk during World War I with all hands lost. The Service has yet to present 84 of the outstanding Purple Heart Medals awarded posthumously to the crew. We intend to recognize as many of the descendants as possible this Memorial Day. We need your help to do this.

2. Background:
   A. USS TAMPA, a Coast Guard ship and crew serving under the Department of the Navy, was lost with all hands after being torpedoed by a German U-boat off Wales on 26 September 1918. This tragic loss occurred just weeks before the end of World War I. It was the single largest loss suffered by the Coast Guard during that conflict.
   B. At the time of TAMPA’s loss, the Purple Heart Medal was not in use. In 1942, eligibility was extended to include the Coast Guard, but it was not until 1952 that the awarding of the Purple Heart Medal was made retroactive for actions after 5 April 1917. However, TAMPA was overlooked until 1999, when a retired Coast Guardsman submitted a proposal to award the Purple Heart to her crew.
   C. In 1999, then-Commandant Admiral James Loy authorized the posthumous awarding of the Purple Heart Medal to the crew of USS TAMPA. Today, over one hundred years after TAMPA was lost and twenty years after the first TAMPA Purple Heart was awarded, the Coast Guard is still
attempting to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ Purple Heart.

3. The purpose of this ALCOAST is to raise awareness of the Purple Heart award program and to continue to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ medals. You can help.

4. Summary of USS TAMPA Purple Heart Medals awarded:

   A. There were 130 men on TAMPA, including 111 Coast Guardsmen and 4 Navy men.
   B. 26 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals have been claimed since 1999.
   C. 3 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals are presently in progress.
   D. 84 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed.

5. The names of the 84 TAMPA crew whose Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed are listed here: https://www.history.uscg.mil/tampa/.

6. To submit applications for TAMPA Purple Heart Medals, please contact Ms. Nora Chidlow, Coast Guard Archivist, at Nora.L.Chidlow@uscg.mil or 202-559-5142. She has served as the primary point of contact between the Coast Guard and many TAMPA descendants, and also with the Medals &
Awards branch.

7. To apply for their ancestor’s Purple Heart Medal, descendants are required to provide documentation showing the descendant’s relationship to the TAMPA crew member, such as family trees, pages from family Bibles, birth/death certificates, and/or pages from Ancestry or other
genealogical applications. Please expect about 4-6 weeks’ time for processing.

8. I encourage all members of our Coast Guard family to share this ALCOAST with the widest possible audience. We owe it to our shipmates in USS TAMPA and their descendants to ensure their heroism and sacrifice are recognized and remembered.

9. RDML Melissa Bert, Director of Governmental and Public Affairs, sends.

10. Internet release is authorized.

Knitting an island back together

In 1859, the U.S. Army began construction on a Third System masonry fort on Ship Island in the Mississippi Sound with the idea of covering the approaches to Lakes Borgne and Ponchartrain– the back door to New Orleans. As far as shipping was concerned, he who controlled Ship Island held the strategic key to both Mobile Bay and the Mighty Mississippi, or so it was thought.

Fort Massachusetts

By January 1861 when Mississippi seceded, little had been accomplished in the shifting sands of the barrier island and the local greycoats sailed out the 12 miles from Biloxi to take over the unfinished works. Soon, the venerable steam frigate USS Massachusetts would come along and run the interlopers off, making it one of the first of the Union seacoast defenses seized by the Confederacy to be recaptured when the Stars and Stripes was run up in September.

Soon, the island would be packed with nearly 8,000 men of the 4th Wisconsin, 8th New Hampshire, 8th Vermont, 6th Michigan, 21st Indiana; 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th Maine; 12th Connecticut, and 26th & 31st Massachusetts.

Farragut used the island for a base and it proved a stepping stone to capture New Orleans in early 1862. One of the first African-American infantry units, the Second Louisiana Native Guard would call the mosquito-infested, yellow-fever ridden island home for a longer period of time.

2nd Louisiana Native Guard Company Formation on Ship Island

The Native Guard, working with the shallow-draft sloop-of-war USS Vincennes, raided nearby Pascagoula in a sharp skirmish in 1863.

After that, the island was used as a POW camp for captured rebels and blockade runners.

Due to the nature of the camps, poor sanitation and an influx of disease would claim at least 153 Confederates and 230 bluecoats. The former were interred near their stockade in the middle of the island while the latter buried closer to what is now Fort Massachusetts.

The horseshoe-shaped fort itself was only completed after the Civil War and in many ways is unique. With the conflict over and brick forts shown to be ineffective against rifled naval guns, it was soon reduced to a caretaker status just after 1866.

The graves of the U.S. troops were moved to what is now Chalmette National Cemetery, which was founded in 1864 to house Union dead.

Chalmette

The graves of the Confederates were left on the island and, in 1969, Hurricane Camille sliced a path through Ship Island, dividing the thin strip of sand and sea oats in half. The split, deemed “Camille Cut” for obvious reasons, crossed over the site of the rebel graveyard.

Now, a $400 million plan — the second largest environmental restoration project in the 100-year history of the National Park Service–  has united the two sides of the island back together into one. The sand replenishment will take about three years, and once that work is complete, dune grass and other vegetation will be planted on what was the Camille Cut to help stabilize it.

As for the Confederates, they are considered buried at sea but a marker at Fort Massachusetts remembers them.

The cold and quiet of the South Pacific at 17,500 feet

USS Hornet (CV-8) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, probably in June or July 1942. Note the pattern of her Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage

Best known for her role in the Doolittle Raid just weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Yorktown-class aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) was the seventh such vessel to carry the storied name for the U.S. Navy, going all the way back to 1775.

Commissioned 20 October 1941, her career was all too brief, ending in a hail of torpedoes as part of the Battle of Santa Cruz Island in the Solomons on 26 October 1942, aged just two years and six days. She took 140 of her 2,200-man crew to the bottom with her.

“With the loss of Hornet and serious damage to Enterprise, the Battle of Santa Cruz was a Japanese victory, but at an extremely high cost,” said retired RADM Samuel Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command. “About half the Japanese aircraft engaged were shot down by greatly improved U.S. Navy anti-aircraft defenses. As a result, the Japanese carriers did not engage again in battle for almost another two years.”

Now, 77 years later, she has been discovered in the cold and dark embrace deep below, remarkably intact. Her guns still look ready to fire. An International Harvester plane tractor still has tread on its tires and gives the impression it would turn over if only you could get to it to crank it. An F4F Wildcat rests in her debris field, its wings still folded for storage.

Photos from RV Petrel.

“As America’s Navy once again takes to the sea in an uncertain world, Hornet‘s discovery offers the American Sailor a timeless reminder of what courage, grit, and commitment truly look like,” said Vice Chief of Naval Operations ADM Bill Moran. “We’d be wise as a nation to take a long, hard look. I’d also like to thank the crew of Petrel for their dedication in finding and honoring her sacrifice.”

Over a seaman’s grave, no flowers grow: USS Thresher to be remembered at Arlington

USS Thresher. Starboard bow view, July 24, 1961. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph)

More than a half-century after their loss, 129 brave submariners will be given a standing memorial at Arlington.

USS Thresher (SSN-593), commissioned in August 1961, was the lead ship of a new class of nuclear-powered, fast-attack submarines and was the most technically advanced ship in the world.

On April 10, 1963, she sank approximately 200 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. All souls aboard were lost that day; 129 U.S. Navy Sailors and civilian workers. Thresher was the first nuclear-powered submarine lost at sea, and the largest loss of life in the submarine force’s history.

As a result of this, the Navy immediately restricted all submarines in depth until the causes of this tragic loss could be fully understood, leading to SUBSAFE.

Loss of the Thresher by A. L. Karafylakis NH 86731-KN

Now, Veteran Navy submariner and president of the non-profit USS Thresher Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Foundation Kevin Galeaz formally announced Monday night that a proposed memorial had received approval of Secretary of the Army Mark Esper.

“This is a long time coming for the families, 55 years, and I have tears of joy that it is finally being realized,” said Galeaz.

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