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Warship Wednesday, Aug 5, 2020: Number 52

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Aug 5, 2020: Number 52

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, taken by Stephen F. Birch, now in the collections of the National Archives Catalog #: 80-G-49466

Here we see the bow of the Balao-class fleet boat USS Bullhead (SS-332) approaching a Chinese junk to pass food to its crew, during her first war patrol, circa March-April 1945. Of the 52 American submarines on eternal patrol from World War II, Bullhead was the final boat added to the solemn list, some 75 years ago this week. In another grim footnote, Bullhead was also the last U.S. Navy vessel lost before the end of the war.

A member of the 121-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were ‘fleet’ boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.

Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5,000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their deck guns. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

Some 311-feet long overall, they were all-welded construction to facilitate rapid building. Best yet, they could be made for the bargain price of about $7 million in 1944 dollars (just $100 million when adjusted for today’s inflation) and completed from keel laying to commissioning in about nine months.

An amazing 121 Balaos were rushed through five yards at the same time, with the following pennant numbers completed by each:

  • Cramp: SS-292, 293, 295-303, 425, 426 (12 boats)
  • Electric Boat: 308-313, 315, 317-331, 332-352 (42)
  • Manitowoc on the Great Lakes: 362-368, 370, 372-378 (15)
  • Mare Island on the West Coast: 304, 305, 307, 411-416 (9)
  • Portsmouth Navy Yard: 285-288, 291, 381-410, 417-424 (43)

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish the long-serving USS Catfish, the sub-killing USS Greenfish, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

Commissioned 4 Dec 1944, Bullhead’s war diary reports that the “training at New London was of little value because of the bad weather, shallow water, and restricted areas. Ten practice approaches were made and three torpedos fired.”

Bullhead

The ship proceeded to Key West with sister USS Lionfish and had better training opportunities in Panama, where she fired 26 practice torpedos. From The Ditch to Pearl, she continued training while shaking down. From Pearl to Guam, in the company of USS Tigrone and USS Seahorse, the trio would join USS Blackfish there and, on 21 March 1945 “Departed Guam for first war patrol to wage unrestricted submarine warfare and perform lifeguard service in the northern part of the South China Sea.”

Her first skipper and the man who would command her for her first two patrols was CDR Walter Thomas “Red” Griffith (USNA 1934), a no-nonsense 33-year-old Louisianan who had already earned two Navy Crosses and a Silver Star in command of USS Bowfin earlier in the war.

An officer on the bridge, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. He may be Commander Walter T. Griffith, who commanded Bullhead during her first two war patrols. 80-G-49448

An officer looks through one of the submarine’s periscopes, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. Note the shorts. 80-G-49459

Aboard Bullhead as she headed for war with her Yankee wolfpack was veteran newsman Martin Sheridan. One of the first reporters who enlisted as a noncombatant with the Army, Boston Globe correspondent Sheridan reported on Pacific conflicts for the North American Newspaper Alliance and was the only newsmen to go to see combat on an American fleet boat, covering Bullhead’s entire 38-day inaugural war patrol. He had the benefit of a Navy photographer among the crew, Stephen F. Birch.

A War Correspondent chatting with crewmen in the submarine’s galley, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. He is probably Martin Sheridan, who rode Bullhead during her first war patrol in March-April 1945. Note War Correspondent patch on his uniform, “Greasy Spoon” sign, and pinups in the background. This photo was taken by Stephen F. Birch. 80-G-49455

Via Birch’s camera, the candid moments of Bullhead’s crew hard at work under the sea were very well-documented, something that is a rarity. The photos were turned over to the Navy Photo Science Laboratory on 20 June 1945, just seven weeks before the boat’s loss.

A crewman examines medical supplies, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. Note the copy of Navy Ordnance Pamphlet No. 635 in the lower right. 80-G-49453

Treating an injured crewman, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. 80-G-49454

A crewman talks with an injured shipmate, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. 80-G-49450

Church service in the submarine’s after torpedo room. 80-G-49458

Crewman reading in his bunk, atop a torpedo loading rack in one of the submarine’s torpedo rooms. Note the small fan in the upper left. 80-G-49457

A crewman washing clothing, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. Note the small lockers above the washing machine. 80-G-49451

A crewman writes a letter home as another looks on, in one of the submarine’s berthing compartments. 80-G-49449

Officer takes bearings on the submarine’s bridge, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. 80-G-49446

Crewmen loading .50 caliber machine gun ammunition, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. 80-G-49447

Bullhead’s First Patrol was active, bombarding the Japanese radio station on Patras Island twice with her 5-inch gun with the first string delivered from 4,700 yards, Griffth noting, “The first 18 rounds landed beautifully in the area near the base of the radio tower with one positive hit in the building nearest to the tower.”

While conducting lifeguard duty, she only narrowly avoided friendly fire from the very aviators she was there to pluck from the sea. One B-24 came dangerously close.

Nonetheless, on 16 April, she rescued a trio of American airmen at sea off Hong Kong, recovering them from the crew of a Chinese junk to which they thanked with cigarettes and C-rations. They were from a downed B-25 of the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group, 5th Air Force.

Rescue of three injured crew from a downed B-25 with the help of Chinese fishermen, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. Note the Asian small sailing craft alongside the submarine. For the record, the aviators were 2LT Irving Charno (pilot), 2LT Harold Sturm (copilot) and SGT Robert Tukel (radioman) 80-G-49461

Putting in at Subic Bay on 28 April, Bullhead landed the recovered aviators as well as Sheridan and Birch, refueled, rearmed, and restocked, then departed on her Second War Patrol just three weeks later.

On 30 May, she destroyed her first vessel, a two-masted lugger of some 150-tons, in a surface action in the Gulf of Siam. The ship was scratched with 12 rounds of 5-inch, 16 rounds of 40mm, and 240 rounds of 20mm.

She would break out her guns again on 18 June when she encountered the camouflaged Japanese “Sugar Charlie” style coaster Sakura Maru No.58, 700 tons, off St. Nicholas Point near the Sunda Strait. In a 20 minute action, it was sent to the bottom.

The next day, Bullhead came across a three-ship convoy with picket boats and went guns-on, sinking Tachibana Maru No.57, another Sugar Charlie, while the rest of the Japanese ships scattered.

One of the most numerous small Japanese merchant vessels, especially in coastal trade, was Sugar Charlie variants, in ONI parlance.

On 25 June, a third 300-ton Sugar Charlie was sunk by gunfire in the Lombok Strait. Hearing the cries of her crew, she picked up 10 men who turned out to be Javanese and “stowed them in the empty magazine” and later landed ashore.

The next day she fired torpedos unsuccessfully on a Japanese ASW vessel and received a depth charging in return for her efforts.

Of interest, all of the vessels sent to the bottom by Bullhead were in surface gun actions.

On 2 July, Bullhead put into Fremantle, Australia, marking her Second War Patrol as a success. There, Griffith and some others left the vessel.

Fremantle was a submarine hub in the WestPac during WWII, with Allied boats of all stripes to include British and Dutch vessels, mixing with locals and Americans. In all, some 170 Allied subs at one time or another passed through Fremantle between 1941 and 1945.

Final Patrol

With a new skipper, LCDR Edward Rowell “Skillet” Holt, Jr (USNA 1939), Bullhead departed Australia on her Third Patrol on 30 July, ordered to patrol the Java Sea.

As detailed by DANFs:

She was to transit Lombok Strait and patrol in the Java Sea with several other American and British submarines. Bullhead rendezvoused with a Dutch submarine, Q 21, on 2 August and transferred mail to her. Four days later, the submarine reported that she had safely passed through the strait and was in her patrol area.

When all U.S. and Allied subs in the Pacific were ordered to cease fire and return to port on 13 August, Bullhead was the only submarine not to acknowledge receipt of the message.

No further word was ever received from her, and, on 24 August, she was reported overdue and presumed lost.

Her name was struck from the Navy list on 17 September 1945. Bullhead received two battle stars for her World War II service.

Postwar analysis of Japanese records revealed that a Mitsubishi Ki-51 Sonia dive bomber of the Japanese Army Air Force’s 73rd Independent Flying Chutai, depth-charged a submarine off the Bali coast near the northern mouth of Lombok Strait on 6 August [ironically the same day that an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima].

The pilot claimed two direct hits and reported a gush of oil and air bubbles at the spot where the target went down. It was presumed that the proximity of mountains shortened her radar’s range and prevented Bullhead from receiving warning of the plane’s approach. The submarine went down with all hands, taking 84 with her.

Her crew was among the 375 officers and 3,131 enlisted men lost on the 52 submarines during the war. To put this in perspective, only 16,000 men served in the submarine force during the conflict.

Legacy

Sheridan, the war correspondent, would go on to write a book about his time with the crew of the Bullhead after the war. Entitled Overdue and Presumed Lost, it was originally published in 1947 and reprinted by the USNI Press in 2013. The hard-living writer died in 2004 at age 89.

At least 16 one-time members of her crew, mostly plankowners, didn’t make Bullhead’s eternal patrol and in 1981 the Washington Post chronicled their enduring haunting by that fact.

Griffith, who lived to become a post-war rear admiral reportedly told a friend, “My boys shouldn’t have gone down without me. All so young. I should have been with them.” He later took his own life in a Pensacola motel, aged 54.

As for the three aircrewmen Bullhead plucked from the Chinese junk? As far as I can tell, Irvin Chano, Harold Sturm, and Robert Tukel all apparently survived the war and lived long lives.

Memorials exist for the Bullhead and her crew at the Manila American Cemetery, the National Submarine Memorial (West) in Seal Beach, California and at the National Submarine Memorial (East) in Groton as well as in San Diego and the dedicated USS Bullhead Memorial Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 1997, Congress noted her sacrifice in the official record.

Bullhead’s engineering plans, reports of her early patrols, and notes on her loss are in the National Archives.

Although Bullhead’s name was never reused, eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also on borrowed time)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Specs:

Displacement:
1,848 tons (1,878 t) surfaced (as built);
2,440 tons (2,479 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft as built; 307 ft.
Beam: 27 ft 4 in
Draft: 17 ft
Propulsion:
4 × General Motors Model 16-278A V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
4 × high-speed General Electric motors with reduction gears
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
Speed:
(Designed)
20.25 knots surfaced
8.75 knots submerged
Range: 11,000 nautical miles surfaced at 10 knots
48 hours at 2 knots submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement: 10 officers, 70–72 enlisted
Armament:
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
6 forward, 4 aft
24 torpedoes
2 × 5-inch (127 mm) /25 caliber deck guns
1x Bofors 40 mm and 1x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
two .50 cal. machine guns

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!

Amtracs are no joke

For years we had a company of the 4th Amtrac Bn stationed here in Gulfport and you often saw the giant AAVP7s moving around and operating offshore. They even responded to flooded neighborhoods after Katrina.

If you have ever seen an amtrac hit the water, you instantly realize why they call these cavernous tracks, “Iron Ducks.”

Sadly, one Marine is confirmed dead as well as seven additional Marines and one Sailor are missing and presumed to have likewise perished off the coast of Southern California following the swamping of an amtrac in a training exercise.

From I MEF: 

After an extensive 40-hour search, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). I Marine Expeditionary force. and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) concluded their search and rescue operation for seven missing Marines and one Sailor, today.

All eight service members are presumed deceased. The 15th MEU and the ARG leadership determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident.

On July 30, 15 Marines and one Sailor were participating in a routine training exercise off the coast of San Clemente Island, California, when the amphibious assault vehicle they were riding in, began to take on water and sank. Of the 16 service members, eight Marines were rescued, one died and two others are in critical condition at a local hospital.

“It is with a heavy heart, that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort,” said Col. Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU Commanding Officer. “The steadfast dedication of the Marines, Sailors. and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous.”

Over the course of the at-sea search, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard helicopter, ships and watercraft searched more than I,000 square nautical miles.

Assisting in the search efforts were the USS John Finn. the USS Makin Island, the USS Somerset, and the USS San Diego. Eleven U.S. Navy SH-60 helicopters and multiple Navy and Manne Corps small boats were also involved. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Forrest Rednour and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector San Diego assisted as well

“Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will continue to be with our Marines’ and Sailor’s families during this difficult time,” said Bronzi. “As we turn to recovery operations we will continue our exhaustive search for our missing Marines and Sailor.”

Efforts will now turn to finding and recovering the Marines and Sailor still missing. Assisting in the recovery efforts is the offshore supply vessel HOS Dominator, as well as Undersea Rescue Command, utilizing their Remotely Operated Vehicle to survey the sea floor.

The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated. The names of the Marines and Sailor will be released 24-hours after next of kin notification.

Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper issued the following statement:

A grateful nation and the Department of Defense grieves the tragic loss of the Marines and Sailor lost in the amphibious assault vehicle accident off the coast of San Clemente Island. Our prayers and condolences are with the family and friends of these brave young men:

Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas
Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California
Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California
Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California
Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon
Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas
Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon
Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California

Their service, commitment and courage will always be remembered by the nation they served. While the incident remains under investigation, I want to assure our service members and their families that we are committed to gathering all the facts, understanding exactly how this incident occurred, and preventing similar tragedies in the future.

A Special Warship Wednesday

Pausing our regular coverage to acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the tragic loss of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, a vessel we have covered in past Warship Wednesdays.

From Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs:

WASHINGTON (NNS) — Today, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday sent a message to the fleet asking for a moment of silence on July 29, between 11:03 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. EDT, to honor the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis (CA 35).

Below is the text of his message:

“On July 30, 1945, just three minutes after midnight, the heavy cruiser USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA 35) was struck by two Japanese torpedoes in the dark of night while conducting a solo transit of the Philippine Sea.  Despite their best efforts, the ship went down in 12 short minutes.  While around 900 of the 1,195-member crew escaped the ship that night, tragically only 316 were rescued.

While much is written about the crews four harrowing days in the waters of the Pacific waiting to be found with few lifeboats, over-exposure to the elements, and almost no food or water, one thing is certain: those brave Sailors and Marines endured impossible hardships by banding together.  And we must do the same today.

So, I ask you to pause and take a moment on July 29, between 11:03 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. EDT, to remember the brave Sailors and Marines of INDIANAPOLIS. Remember their courage and devotion to each other in the face of the most severe adversity.  Remember their valor in combat and the role they played in ending the most devastating war in history.  Honor their memory and draw strength from their legacy.

America. Has. A. Great. Navy.  Our nation counts on you and so do I.  Never more proud to be your CNO.”

The current USS Indianapolis (LCS-17) held their own ceremony in Mayport last week.

Finally, Congress has presented the Indy’s crew with a Congressional Gold Medal for their service. (Nevermind Nancy)

 

The Gun Writing World is Diminished

Jeff Quinn– the gun writer not the current and much younger Notre Dame coach of the same name– has reportedly passed. Every year, I enjoyed bumping into Jeff at SHOT Show and NRA Show. He was most certainly a character and his Gunblast site was unique in the firearms industry.

Jeff, with his brothers Boge and Gregg behind the camera, teamed up in January 2000 to become one of the very first in the online firearms review game back when a 56K dial-up connection was still considered fast in many parts of the country. Keep in mind, they predated Vimeo and YouTube which were founded a half-decade later!

The full-time firearms writer game only has about 100 active players. After all, when compared to other enterprises it is a smallish industry, despite what the left screams. Losing Mr. Quinn feels like we are diminished by far more than just one voice.

So long, Jeff.

Warship Wednesday, July 22, 2020: A Hard 73 Days

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, July 22, 2020: A Hard 73 Days

U.S. Navy Department Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42868

Here we see the Clemson-class “four-piper” destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) sometime during the early 1920s. This humble flush-decker was completed too late for one World War but made up for it in her brief 10-week career in a second.

One of the massive fleets of Clemson-class flush decker destroyers, like most of her sisters, Peary came too late to help lick the Kaiser. An expansion of the almost identical Wickes-class destroyers with a third more fuel capacity to enable them to escort a convoy across the Atlantic without refueling, the Clemsons were sorely needed to combat the pressing German submarine threat of the Great War. At 1,200-tons and with a top speed of 35 knots, they were brisk vessels ready for the task.

The subject of our story today was the first warship named after RADM Robert Edwin Peary, famed for his Arctic explorations in which he went down in the history books as being in the first successful dash to the North Pole.

This guy.

Peary died in February 1920, and his crossing of the bar gave natural inspiration to the naming of a new destroyer in his honor. USS Peary (DD-226) was constructed at William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, and launched 6 April 1920– two months after the famed explorer’s passing– sponsored by his daughter, Mrs. Edward Stafford. The new tin can was commissioned on 22 October 1920.

USS Peary (DD-226) at anchor, circa 1921.NH 50902

After shakedown, Peary passed through the ditch and kept going, assigned to the Asiatic Fleet for the rest of her service. With her shallow draft, she spent most of that period providing the muscle to the exotic “Sand Pebbles” Yangtze Patrol Force.

See the world! View at Amoy, China taken from Kulangsoo showing the port and U.S. destroyers anchored there, circa 1928. Two of the ships identifiable are USS PEARY (DD-226), on right, and USS PRUITT (DD-347) on left. Sightseeing Sailors in crackerjacks and Marines in dress blues are on the foreground. NH 50709

This sometimes-tense peacetime service, which saw lots of bumping up against increasingly cold Japanese forces in the region during the latter’s undeclared war with China, turned very hot after 7 December 1941.

Less than 48 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Peary was caught in Cavite Naval Yard in the Philippines during a Japanese high-altitude bomber strike on the yard.

As noted by her damage report of the incident her foremast caught a 250-pound bomb dropped from about 25,000 feet. The bomb detonated on impact with the mast and rained the vessel’s decks with a deadly storm of shrapnel which in turn started a fire that was quickly extinguished.

The effect was to destroy her gun director, torpedo director, degaussing girdle, sound gear, radio receivers, bridge overheads, charts, sextants, and navigational equipment– so possibly the most devastating 250-pound bomb in naval history!

The ship’s skipper and Engineer Officer were severely injured and sent ashore for hospitalization. Her XO was dead. Just two days later, her torpedo officer, the most senior afloat, was steaming her around the harbor without defenses to avoid another Japanese attack.

On 14 December, LCDR John Michael Bermingham (USNA 1929), the former XO of the Peary’s sister ship, USS Stewart (DD-224), who had completed his tour on 1 December and was in Manila waiting for transportation home., became Peary’s new skipper. The plan– displace and live to fight another day.

Escape and Regroup

As the Japanese poured into the Philippines, the Asiatic Fleet increasingly was pressured out of the islands. Ordered to proceed to Australia for repair, Peary’s masts were removed and the ship camouflaged with green paint and palm fronds in an effort to avoid Japanese bombardiers on the way. LT. William J. Catlett, Jr. a Mississippian and the ship’s First Lieutenant, held on to her original commissioning pennant.

In such a manner, the damaged Peary managed to survive very close air attacks on both the 26th and 27th of December. In both incidents, she reportedly only avoided enemy bombs and torpedoes which passed as close as 10 yards.

By New Year’s 1942, she was safe in Darwin. Well, reasonably safe anyway.

Patched up, she soon joined in an ill-fated effort by way of Tjilatjap and Koepang in the Dutch East Indies to resupply Australian forces on Timor in early February. The force consisted of the Northampton-class “medium” cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) and the two Australian sloops, HMAS Warrego and HMAS Swan.

C 1942-02. The Timor Sea. USS Peary. The photograph was taken from HMAS Swan by a member of the crew probably during the abortive Koepang voyage. AWM P01214.008

Darwin, Nt. C.1942-02. USS Peary and USS Houston (CA-30) in the Harbor. These Ships, together with HMAS Swan and HMAS Warrego Formed the Naval Escort of the Convoy Which Made an Unsuccessful Attempt to Reinforce the Timor Garrison. Houston was sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea less than a month after this image was taken. AWM 134952

Looking from the Australian Bathurst Class Corvette, HMAS Warrnambool (J202), towards the American Northampton class heavy cruiser, USS Houston (CA30) (right), with the Destroyer USS Peary (DD226) alongside. AWM P05303.011

Houston and Peary sailed back towards Tjilatjap on 18 February, but Peary soon broke off her escort to chase a suspected submarine, and burned up so much oil in doing so that she was diverted back to Darwin instead of continuing with Houston back to Java.

The hard-working tin can arrived in Australia late that evening, with her crew no doubt eager to have a quiet morning the next day after being at sea since the 10th.

The Attack on Darwin

The Japanese air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942, by artist Keith Swain. Japanese aircraft fly overhead, while the focus of the painting is the Royal Australian Navy corvette HMAS Katoomba, in dry dock, fighting off the aerial attacks. Peary can be seen in the distance to the right. AWM ART28075

Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who had also led the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, was in the air over Darwin 73 days after.

As noted by the Australian War Memorial:

Early on the morning of 19 February, 188 aircraft were sighted by observers on Bathurst and Melville islands to Darwin’s north. The attack on Darwin began when Zero fighters began strafing an auxiliary minesweeper, HMAS Gunbar, as it passed through the boom protecting the entrance to Darwin harbor. Soon, ships in the harbor and buildings and installations ashore came under attack. For 40 minutes the aircraft bombed and machine-gunned the harbor and town. They shot down nine of the 10 United States Army Air Force P-40E Warhawks over the town and sank eight of the 47 ships in the harbor, including the motor vessel Neptuna. Its cargo included 200 depth charges which exploded as the ship lay beside the Darwin wharf. Another victim was the US Navy destroyer USS Peary which sunk with great loss of life.

LCDR Bermingham, aboard Peary at the time, managed to slip anchor and get his ship underway. The four-piper tried to build up steam and maneuver in the restricted water of the harbor while her crew filled the air with as much lead as they could, but Peary was hit with at least five bombs. Incredibly, her stern may have been blown off very early in the action, as recently it was discovered that her props and shafts are several kilometers from where she rests today on the seafloor.

Nonetheless, by all accounts, the doomed ship kept fighting.

USS PEARY (DD-226) afire shortly after being attacked. Courtesy of Arthur W. Thomas NH 43644

Darwin Raid, 19 February 1942 Wharf and SS NEPTUNIA burning at left. USS PEARY (DD-226) and SS ZEALANDIA can be seen faintly at right. Courtesy of Arthur W. Thomas NH 43657

USS PEARY (DD-226) afire and beginning to drift from where she was moored at the time of the attack. Australian hospital ship MANUNDA is at right. Courtesy of Arthur W. Thomas NH 43651

The description from DANFS tells the tale as:

At about 10:45 a.m. on 19 February Peary was attacked by single-motored Japanese dive bombers and suffered 80 men killed and 13 wounded. The first bomb exploded on the fantail, the second, an incendiary, on the galley deckhouse; the third did not explode; the fourth hit forward and set off the forward ammunition magazines; the fifth, another incendiary, exploded in the after engine room. A .30 caliber machine gun on the after-deck house and a .50 caliber machine gun on the galley deck house fired until the last enemy plane flew away. Peary sank stern first at about 1:00 p.m.

A .30-06 Lewis gun, recovered from the wreckage and now in the collection of the NHHC, may very well have been the above-mentioned machine gun.

In a two-page war diary held in the collection of the National Archives, Peary’s crew’s actions were described by doctors on the nearby Australian hospital ship Manuda as being heroic, speaking of “gun crews who remained at the stations firing their anti-aircraft guns until the water came up around them, and then swam away as the ship went down. No men abandoned ship until the ship sank completely under them.”

The Aftermath

Of the more than 60 Japanese air raids on Darwin in 1942-43, the 19 February strike went down in history as the most deadly, credited as the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia.

A third of the dead were American.

Kaname Harada, a Zero pilot who saw the attack on Peary, later said, “It was a dive-bomb attack from 5000m and the plume of smoke went up 200m in the air. When the smoke was gone, there was nothing left.” Harada would be shot down over Guadalcanal and died in 2016, aged 99. The four Japanese carriers that participated in the attack on Darwin whose planes sent Peary to the bottom– Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, and Sōryū— were later “scratched” at Midway.

Bermingham and at least 80 of Peary’s crew went down with the ship, reportedly leaving just 54, mostly injured survivors, struggling in her oil slick. The late skipper’s family was posthumously presented his Navy Cross and an Evarts-class destroyer escort was named in his honor the next year.

John Bermingham. Of note, the Navy Cross recipient was in the same class at Annapolis with Robert A. Heinlein.

Speaking of legacies, Peary’s name was soon installed on a new Edsall-class destroyer escort (DE-132) with LT. Catlett providing the old destroyer’s pennant and the departed explorer’s widow breaking the bottle. After an active career, DE-132 was scrapped in 1966.

In 1972, a Knox-class destroyer escort/fast frigate, DE-1073/FF-1073, became the third USS Richard E. Peary and served two decades with the Pacific fleets then another quarter-century with the navy of Taiwan, only being expended in a submarine exercise last week.

In 2008, an MSC-crewed 40,000-ton Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship, USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE-5), received the name fit for a destroyer.

As for her sisters, seven Clemsons were lost at the disaster at Honda Point in 1923, and 18 (including six used by the British) were lost in WWII including one, USS Stewart (DD-224), which was famously raised by the Japanese and used in their Navy only to be recaptured by the USN and given a watery grave after the war.

Those Clemsons not sold off in the 1930s or otherwise sent to Davy Jones were scrapped wholesale in the months immediately after WWII. Sister USS Hatfield (DD-231) decommissioned 13 December 1946 and was sold for scrap 9 May 1947 to NASSCO, the last of her kind in the Navy.

The final Clemson afloat, USS Aulick (DD-258), joined the Royal Navy as HMS Burnham (H82) in 1940 as part of the “Destroyers for Bases” deal. Laid up in 1944, she was allocated for scrapping on 3 December 1948.

None are preserved and only the scattered wrecks in the Western Pacific, Honda Point, the Med and Atlantic endure.

For more information on the Clemsons and their like, read CDR John Alden’s book, “Flush Decks and Four Pipes” and/or check out the Destroyer History Foundation’s section on Flushdeckers. 

In memoriam

Resting in just 87 feet of water on a silty seabed, Peary was extensively salvaged– ironically by a Japanese firm– in 1959 and 1960. Today, however, the remains are protected by Australia’s Heritage Conservation Act which brings heavy fines ($50,000) and threats of jail time to souvenir-seeking skin divers.

In Darwin, an extensive memorial in the city’s Bicentennial Park– centered around one of the Peary’s 4-inch guns pointing towards the site where she remains as a war grave– was erected in 1992. The event was attended by an honor guard provided from FF-1073.

Further, in 2012 on the 70th anniversary of her loss, a plaque was lowered to the seabed over her hull.

The Peary memorial is frequented by both U.S. and Australian forces.

Commanding Officer HMAS Coonawarra, Commander Richard Donnelly, lays a wreath at the USS Peary Memorial Ceremony. Defense personnel joins local dignitaries in Darwin to commemorate the Japanese air raids on the city on 19 February 1942, the largest single attack by a foreign force on Australia. RAN Photo

Lt. Col. Matthew Puglisi, the officer in charge, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, places a wreath at the USS Peary monument. The USS Peary lost 89 of its crewmembers after an air raid by Japanese forces at Darwin Harbor, Feb. 19, 1942. USMC Photo by Sgt. Sarah Fiocco

Specs:

Inboard and outboard profiles for a U.S. Navy Clemson-class destroyer, in this case, USS Doyen (DD-280)

Displacement:
1,215 tons (normal)
1,308 tons (full load)
Length: 314 ft. 4.5 in
Beam: 30 ft. 11.5 in
Draft: 9 ft. 4 in
Propulsion:
4 × boilers, 300 psi (2,100 kPa) saturated steam
2 geared steam turbines
27,600 hp (20,600 kW)
2 shafts
Speed: 35.5 knots
Range: 4,900 nmi (9,100 km) @ 15 knots
Crew: (USN as commissioned)
8 officers
8 chief petty officers
106 enlisted
Armament:
(1920)
4- 4″/51 cal guns
1 x 3″/23 cal AAA
12 × 21-inch torpedo tubes (4 × 3) (533 mm)

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After four days…

Below is a statement from RADM Philip E. Sobeck Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group THREE – ESG-3:

After four days of firefighting, all known fires have been extinguished aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).

Our fire teams are investigating every space to verify the absence of fire. Until every space is checked and there are no active fires we will not be able to commence any official investigations.

We do not know the origin of the fire. We do not know the extent of the damage. It is too early to make any predictions or promises of what the future of the ship will be.

We cannot make any conclusions until the investigation is complete.

What we do know is, that brave Sailors from commands all across San Diego worked tirelessly alongside Federal Firefighters to get this fire extinguished and I want to thank them for their efforts. This was a Navy team effort. We had support from the air and sea. Three helicopter squadrons conducted more than 1,500 water bucket drops, fighting the fire and cooling the superstructure and flight deck enabling fire crews to get on board to fight the fire. Tugs also provided firefighting support from the waterline, cooling the ship’s hull.

We had 63 personnel, 40 U.S. Navy Sailors, and 23 civilians, treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. We have no personnel hospitalized.

The Navy continues to work together with regulators, county, and state in protecting our environment and preparing to address the community’s concerns as we move forward to the next phase.

I’d like to thank our partners from state and county, the U.S. Coast Guard, and all agencies for continued support.

Now comes the assessment. The worst damage to a U.S. carrier-style vessel since the 1967/1969 fires on Forrestal and Enterprise. Perhaps the worst since the Franklin in 1945. Like what occurred with USS Belknap in 1975, there will be another round of questions as to the use of aluminum in naval shipbuilding. We shall see what comes next.

As a former Ingalls employee that worked on LHDs back in the day (of note, I worked on Boxer, not BHR) and know first-hand the danger of hotwork on these vessels while in the yard, I can’t help but feel connected to “Bonnie Dick.” Whether or not the Navy decides to rebuild– which I would bet that they would, citing past total losses that were reconstructed for the sake of saying it will be done– that remains to be seen.

The fires are dying

The news from San Diego is that hose teams and DC crews have moved into the ship itself and are seeking out hotspots, putting “The Beast” on its heels. Unofficial images that have leaked out show pretty bad internal damage on the vehicle deck and holes on the flight deck. Nonetheless, she is still afloat and on a semi-even keel.

The latest on BHR from the Navy:

“Fire teams consisting of Federal Fire San Diego and U.S. Navy Sailors have been fighting the fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). The fire teams consist of more than 400 Sailors from 12 San Diego-based ships. The ships providing firefighting support include:

The Merlins of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 have conducted more than 1,500 helicopter water bucket drops, which is cooling the superstructure & flight deck enabling fire crews to get on board internally to fight the fire. Tugs are also providing firefighting support from the waterline.

Currently, there are no personnel hospitalized. 63 personnel, 40 Sailors, and 23 civilians have been treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

On the bright side, just as the Navy learned from the massive USS Enterprise and USS Forrestal fires in the Vietnam era and the Inchon fires in 1989 and 2001, there will be a lot of teachable lessons to be had here that will (hopefully) translate to saving lives and ships down the line.

Meanwhile, USS Tripoli (LHA-7) was quietly commissioned today. The free space at Ingalls may be needed soon.

I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight

200712-N-MJ716-0498 SAN DIEGO (July 12, 2020) A fire continues to be fought into the evening onboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 12. On the morning of July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. Base and shipboard firefighters responded to the fire. Bonhomme Richard is going through a maintenance availability, which began in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist/Released)

LHD-6 continues to burn pierside at San Diego, now for 36 hours, with multiple federal, state, and local agencies responding, as well as her crew and those from other ships at the base.

Meanwhile, Oceanhawks from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 are dropping dump buckets as fast as they can.

 

Latest from the Navy: 

UPDATED 9:06 p.m. July 13, 2020: firefighting teams continue operations onboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). 59 personnel, 36 U.S. Navy Sailors, and 23 civilians have been treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. Currently, there are no personnel hospitalized.

Gallery here 

While her rebuild– and the Navy will almost certainly rebuild just to show it can be done, see:  USS Squalus, USS Shaw, USS Forrestal, USS Cole, USS Samuel B. Roberts, USS Stark, USS Fitzgerald, and USS McCain— will probably cost $1 billion or more, at least the Navy will get some priceless after-action damage assessment lessons once the smoke clears. After all, the LHDs are set to be increasingly on the tip of the spear in the Lightning Carrier concept and, in the event they are actually needed, will surely take some hits.

Bonnie Dick in trouble

Commissioned in 1998, the Wasp-class gator carrier USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6)— the third ship to carry the name of John Paul Jones’ short-lived famous frigate, with the second being the hard-serving CV-31— has spent most of the past two years at Naval Base San Diego undergoing a long-term maintenance availability.

That availability is certainly to get much longer as she suffered, what seems from the outside anyway, to be a serious fire over the weekend.

The official statement:

Federal Fire San Diego is the on-scene lead for firefighting efforts on Naval Base San Diego combatting the fire on USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).

“Currently there are two firefighting teams fighting the fire aboard the ship,” said Federal Fire San Diego Division Chief Rob Bondurant. “Federal Fire is rotating their crews aboard the ship with U.S. Navy firefighting crews from the waterfront to fight the fire in order to, find the seat of the fire and extinguish it. Also, Navy Region Southwest tugs are also continuously combatting the fire from the bay”

The origin of the fire is still unknown and is pending investigation.

Sailors reported a fire aboard the wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) while moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego July 12, at approximately 8:30 a.m.

Thus far seventeen Sailors and four civilians are being treated for non-life-threatening injuries at a local hospital. All crew members have been accounted for.

At approximately 1:00 p.m. the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS Russell (DDG 59) shifted berths to a pier further away from the fire.

Bonhomme Richard is in San Diego for a regularly scheduled maintenance availability.

Naval Base San Diego, the City of San Diego Fire Department, Harbor Police fireboats, and fire teams from other ships continue firefighting efforts.

More information will be released as it becomes available.

200712-N-BL599-1044 SAN DIEGO (July 12, 2020) Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department boats combats a fire onboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 12. On the morning of July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. Local, base and shipboard firefighters responded to the fire. USS Bonhomme Richard is going through a maintenance availability, which began in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christina Ross) 

Navy Gallery here 

Touring the Caisson Platoon’s home

Located in the legacy stables leftover from the 3rd Cavalry at Ft. Myer– where Patton kept his own horses back in the day– the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard)’s Caisson Platoon stables are an interesting place steeped in history.

Of note in the short virtual tour just posted by the Old Guard, they have the Gipper’s 2004 caparison horse, SGT York, as well as a caisson that has Great War damage to its limber.

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