Category Archives: for those lost at sea

Light a candle for the Dorchester Chaplains today

USAT Dorchester during 1942. Note her 4-inch deck gun forward. NHHC Catalog #: SC-290583

Some 80 years ago today, 3 February 1943, the 5,200-ton Gulf & West Indies Steamship Lines passenger steamer-turned-troopship SS Dorchester, while sailing from New York to Narsarssuak, Greenland as part of West-bound convoy SG 19, when she came across German type VIIC submarine U-223 (Kptlt. Karl-Jürg Wächter) as part of Wolfpack Nordsturm.

Besides 1,069 tons of general cargo, lumber, and 60 bags of mail, Dorchester carried a complement of seven officers, 123 crewmen, some 23 Navy Armed Guards (the ship was armed with one 4 in, one 3 in, and four 20mm guns) and 751 assorted U.S. Army troops and civilian passengers.

It was all over very rapidly after U-223 loosed five torpedos around 0452. With lifeboats scarce, although the escorting U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Comanche, Tampa, and Escanaba stood by immediately to rescue those seeking to leave the ship, within 30 minutes the Dorchester was on the bottom, taking 675 souls with her including her master, three officers, 98 crewmen, 15 Armed Guards, and 558 troops and passengers.

Painting of the crew from Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba rescuing survivors from the torpedoed USAT Dorchester. U.S. Coast Guard image

Four Army chaplains representing the four different faiths: Rev Lt George Lansing Fox (Methodist); Rabbi Lt Alexander David Goode; Rev Lt. Clark Poling (First Reformed Church) and Father John Washington (Catholic) gave up their lifebelts to soldiers who have none, and all perished with the ship.

The four “Immortal Chaplains” were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the DSC.

The Army’s Chaplin Corps marks their passage every February 3rd.

 

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023: A Hectic 133 Days

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023: A Hectic 133 Days

The photo was taken from USS Fletcher (DD-445). National Archives 80-G-284577

Above we see a rare photograph of the new Fletcher-class destroyer USS DeHaven (DD-469) passing North of Savo Island, which can be seen on the horizon, on 30 January 1943, immediately after the Battle of Rennell Island— the last major naval engagement of the Guadalcanal Campaign. Commissioned just the previous September in Maine, DeHaven would be sunk two days after this image was captured, on 1 February 1943 (80 years ago today) in these same waters by a Japanese air attack, sort of a parting shot to the Empire’s withdrawal from the embattled island.

Fletcher class background

The Fletchers were the WWII equivalent of the Burke class, constructed in a massive 175-strong class from 11 builders that proved the backbone of the fleet for generations. Coming after the interwar “treaty” destroyers such as the Benson- and Gleaves classes, they were good-sized (376 feet oal, 2,500 tons full load, 5×5″ guns, 10 torpedo tubes) and could have passed as unprotected cruisers in 1914. Powered by a quartet of oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers and two Westinghouse or GE steam turbines, they had 60,000 shp on tap– half of what today’s Burkes have on a hull 25 percent as heavy– enabling them to reach 38 knots, a speed that is still fast for destroyers today.

USS John Rodgers (DD 574) at Charleston, 28 April 1943. A great example of the Fletcher class in their wartime configuration. Note the five 5″/38 mounts and twin sets of 5-pack torpedo tubes.

LCDR Fred Edwards, Destroyer Type Desk, Bureau of Ships, famously said of the class, “I always felt it was the Fletcher class that won the war . . .they were the heart and soul of the small-ship Navy.”

Our DeHaven

DD-469 was the first Navy ship named in honor of LT Edwin Jess De Haven. Born in Philadelphia in 1816, he shipped out with the fleet age the ripe old age of 10 as a midshipman and made his name as an early polar explorer, shipping out with the Wilkes Expedition (1839-42), and looking for Sir John Franklin’s lost polar expedition as skipper of the humble 81-foot brigantine USS Advance in 1850 as part of the Grinnell expedition. Placed on the retired list in 1862 due to failing eyesight, he passed in 1865.

His aging granddaughter, Mrs. Helen N. De Haven, made the trip to Bath Iron Works in 1942 to participate in the destroyer’s launching ceremony.

De Haven (DD-469) was launched on 28 June 1942 by Bath Iron Works Corp., Bath, Maine; sponsored by Miss H. N. De Haven, granddaughter of Lieutenant De Haven; and commissioned on 21 September 1942, T/CDR Charles Edward Tolman, USN, in command.

Launch of USS De Haven (DD-469) at Bath Iron Works, Maine (USA), on 28 June 1942 (80-G-40563

De Haven spent four weeks on shakedown cruises and post-delivery yard periods then sailed from Norfolk, reaching the Tonga Islands, on 28 November 1942. There, she attached to escort a convoy of troopships filled with soldiers of the Army’s 25th Infantry (Tropic Lightning) Division headed to Guadalcanal to relieve the “Old Breed” of the 1st MarDiv who had been there since the invasion landings in August.

De Haven screened the transports off Guadalcanal from 7 to 14 December, then sailed out of Espiritu Santo and Noumea in the continuing Solomon Islands operations.

Then, attached to Capt. Robert Pearce Briscoe’s Tulagi-based Task Group 67.5 (known as the “Cactus Striking Force”) along with the destroyers USS Nicholas, Radford, and O’Bannon, she patrolled the waters of the Southern Solomons to stop the “Tokyo Express,” the nightly effort to supply the beleaguered Japanese troops still fighting on the invaded islands.

Cactus Force took part in two bombardments of Kolombangara Island in late January 1943. During the latter, DeHaven fired 612 5-inch shells, which is some decent NGFS.

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS De Haven (DD-469) off Savo Island, viewed from USS Fletcher, 30 January 1943, two days before she was lost. NARA image 80-G-284578

Cactus Force was then sent on the night of 31 January/1 February to escort a scratch landing team of six small LCTs and the old converted “green dragon” fast transport (formerly a Wickes-class destroyer) USS Stringham (APD-6) to land the 2nd Battalion, 132nd Infantry Regiment and a battery of four 75mm pack howitzers near Kukum via Verahue Beach the other side of Guadalcanal, with the intention to outflank the Japanese who were rapidly evacuating the area.

However, they had the misfortune of being caught –in– Operation Ke-gō Sakusen, the Japanese withdrawal near Cape Esperance, and DeHaven became a victim to incoming waves of enemy aircraft screening that effort.

It was over in minutes. Four bombs– including one that hit the superstructure squarely, killing the commanding officer at once– sent the destroyer directly to the bottom as if on an elevator, taking 167 of her crew with her in the process.

She was the 15th American destroyer lost in the Guadalcanal campaign and had been in commission just four months and 11 days. The post-war analysis determined she was lost due to extreme and rapid flooding, specifically a “loss of buoyancy on relatively even keel” a fate only suffered by one other tin can in the war, sistership USS Aaron Ward (DD 483), also lost at a heavy air attack off Guadalcanal.

DeHaven’s six-page loss report is in the National Archives, submitted just four days after the ship took up her place on Iron Bottom Sound. As 10 of her officers were missing in action and three others seriously wounded on Navy hospital ships headed East, it was penned by her only unwounded officer, Ensign Clem C. Williams, Jr. Heady stuff for a 21-year-old O-1 to have to write.

Epilogue

As with the above-mentioned reports, DeHaven’s engineering drawings are in the National Archives.

She has a memorial at the National Museum of the Pacific War, located in Fredericksburg, Texas.

The man who wrote her loss report and compiled the names of her missing and dead, Ensign Williams, who was the son of a Washington dentist that had served in the Navy in the Great War, would survive his own war, become a physician in Indiana, and pass in 1992, aged 71.

Capt. Briscoe, leader of the Cactus Striking Force, would go on to command the fighting cruiser USS Denver (CL-58), earning a Navy Cross during the Northern Solomon Islands campaign from her bridge, then go on to lead the 7th Fleet during Korea. The Mississippian would conclude 41 years of service and retire in 1959 as a full admiral. He is buried at Arlington and a Spruance class destroyer, USS Briscoe (DD-977)— appropriately built in Pascagoula– was named in his honor.

When it comes to DeHaven’s fellow Fletcher-class destroyers, five of her sisterships– USS Pringle (DD-477), USS Bush (DD-529), USS Luce (DD-522), USS Little (DD-803), and USS Morrison (DD-560)— would go on to be sunk by kamikaze aircraft off Okinawa in a three week period. Life was not easy for Fletchers working the picket line in the Spring of 1945. 

The rest of her surviving sisters were widely discarded in the Cold War era by the Navy, who had long prior replaced them with more modern destroyers and Knox-class escorts. Those that had not been sent overseas as military aid were promptly sent to the breakers or disposed of in weapon tests. The class that had faced off with the last blossom of Japan’s wartime aviators helped prove the use of just about every anti-ship/tactical strike weapon used by NATO in the Cold War including Harpoon, Exocet, Sea Skua, Bullpup, Walleye, submarine-launched Tomahawk, and even at least one Sidewinder used in surface attack mode. In 1997, SEALS sank the ex-USS Stoddard (DD-566) via assorted combat-diver delivered ordnance. The final Fletcher in use around the globe, Mexico’s Cuitlahuacex-USS John Rodgers (DD 574), was laid up in 2001 and dismantled in 2011.

Today, four Fletchers are on public display, three of which in the U.S– USS The Sullivans (DD-537) at Buffalo, USS Kidd (DD-661) at Baton Rouge, and USS Cassin Young (DD-793) at the Boston Navy Yard. Please try to visit them if possible. Kidd, the best preserved of the trio, was used extensively for the filming of the Tom Hanks film, Greyhound.

DeHaven’s name was quickly recycled for a new Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer (DD-727) that was building at Bath Iron Works in Maine– the birthplace of “our” destroyer. Sponsored by Mrs. H. N. De Haven– who also cracked the bottle on the bow of the first De Haven— she commissioned 31 March 1944 and was screening the fast carriers of TF38 striking Luzon in support of the invasion of Leyte by that November. In a much longer 49-year career, this second DeHaven received five battle stars for World War II service and in addition to her Navy Unit Commendation picked up a further six for Korean War service and decorations for 10 tours in off Vietnam between 1962 and 1971.

Transferred to the South Korean Navy in 1973, she was renamed ROKS Incheon (DD-98/918) (she was present at the landings there in 1950) and served under the flag of that country until 1993.

The USS DeHaven Sailors Association remembers both tin cans today and is very active on social media.


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


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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Mush v the Harusame

80 years ago today: The Shiratsuyu-class destroyer Harusame of the Imperial Japanese Navy was torpedoed by the famed Gato-class submarine USS Wahoo (SS-238) under the command of LCDR Dudley Walker “Mush” Morton, near Wewak, New Guinea. It would be the third of 11 attacks logged during the boat’s Third War Patrol

Harusame’s back is clearly broken. Wartime intelligence evaluated this photo as showing one of the Asashio-class (see Photographic Intelligence Report # 82, 17 March 1943). However, the ship’s bridge structure identifies her as a Shiratsuyu-class destroyer, with the # 2 (single) 5 gun mount removed. Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-35738 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

From Wahoo’s patrol report, in “Mush’s” words. 

Just two weeks after the above image:

Lieutenant Commander Dudley W. Morton, commanding officer of Wahoo (SS-238), at right with his executive officer, Lieutenant Richard H. O’Kane, on Wahoo’s open bridge at Pearl Harbor after her very successful third war patrol, circa 7 February 1943. Official U.S. Navy photograph now in the collections of the National Archives, 80-G-35725.

Beached to avoid sinking with her keel broken, Harusame was salvaged and towed to Truk where she was fitted with an emergency false bow, then sailed in convoy in May to Yokosuka for rebuilding. She returned to service in late November 1943, joining Desdiv 27, Desron 2, IJN Second Fleet.

Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Harusame underway after rebuild on November 30, 1943. Shizuo Fukui – Kure Maritime Museum, Japanese Naval Warship Photo Album: Destroyers, edited by Kazushige Todaka, p. 81

Her service would come to an end just seven months later, dispatched by USAAF B-25s 30 miles northwest of Cape of Good Hope near Manokwari on 8 June 1944 while on a troop transport run to Biak. She was lost with 74 of her crew.

As for Wahoo, she had already been lost by a remarkably similar fate– sent to the bottom by Japanese aircraft in October 1943 while returning home from her Seventh War Patrol, sunk with all 79 hands by a sustained air and surface attack as she was attempting to exit the Sea of Japan via the La Perouse Strait.

Detailed by DANFS:

The loss of Morton and Wahoo caused profound shock in the submarine force. All further forays into the Sea of Japan ceased, and it was not again invaded until June 1945, when special mine-detecting equipment was available for submarines. Morton was posthumously awarded a fourth Navy Cross. When he died, his claimed sinkings exceeded those of any other submarine skipper: 17 ships for 100,000 tons. In the postwar accounting, this was readjusted to 19 ships for about 55,000 tons. This left Morton, in terms of individual ships sunk, one of the top three skippers of the war. So ended the career of one of the greatest submarine teams of World War II: Wahoo and “Mush” Morton.

Blue water sailor…

“If you’re not shippin’ green you don’t deserve sea pay…”

This was recently posted on the social media page maintained by the frigate-sized Legend-class National Security Cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752). Stationed at Alameda, California, and assigned to the Coast Guard Pacific Area, she is currently on a Bering Sea patrol.

On the way to the Arctic, CGC Stratton transited north through some heavy seas off the Pacific Northwest. At times, the sea spray reached as high as CGC Stratton’s mast, which is nearly 150 feet tall.

Built at Pascagoula alongside Burke-class DDGs like all her sisters, Stratton joined the fleet in 2012.

Importantly, Ingalls is getting close to the end of the road with the class, as the future USCGC Calhoun (WMSL-759), NSC 10, just recently christened and is expected to commission later this year.

The final ship, USCGC Friedman (WMSL-760) would end the nominal 11 ship class although some Long Lead Time Materials funds for a 12th hull have been allocated. As the class was ordered to replace the 12-vessel Hamilton-class cutters built in the 1960s, it would only seem correct to run the full dozen. 

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022: Spyron

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022: Spyron

Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum Photo.

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

As detailed in Edward Dissette’s Guerrilla Submarines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The breakdown of the 41 supply runs by boat:

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

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

It was hazardous work.

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

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

Epilogue

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Maritime Mystery: Death of a Wooden Shoe

Some 80 years ago today, a warship and her entire crew vanished from the waves and not a single confirmed piece of her has ever been seen since.

Constructed in 1941 at Snow Shipyards in Rockland, Maine, the 225-ton, 116-foot wooden-hulled longline trawler F/V Belmont was acquired for $2,122 on 19 June 1942 by the U.S. Coast Guard for use on the newly-formed Greenland Patrol, watching over the Danish possession and fighting the “Weather War,” keeping German radio and meteorological stations out of the frozen land.

Commissioned as USCGC Natsek (WYP-170), named in honor of a geographical feature on Greenland, her armament was slight– an old 6-pounder 57mm gun taken from prewar cutter stocks that was deemed still deadly enough to haul over German weather trawlers in spotted, two 20mm Oerlikons should she encounter a German Condor patrol plane, and two short depth charge racks should she see a U-boat.

Assigned to CINCLANT control out of Boston with the rest of the Greenland Patrol, Natsek could make a stately 11 knots and cruise at 9.5. Her and her Snow-built half-sisters USCGC Nanok (ex-F/V St. George) and USCGC Nogak (ex-F/V North Star), earned the nickname of “wooden shoes” as they looked, well, like large wooden shoes and had about the same characteristics.

Other vessels of the Greenland Patrol converted at the time included seven larger and sturdier steel-hulled trawlers (F/V Helka, Lark, Weymouth, Atlantic, Arlington, Winchester, and Triton) that likewise received similar armament and Greenland geographical monikers but starting with an “A” to set them apart as a class (USCGC Alatok, Amarok, Aklak, Arluk, Aivik, Atak, and Arvek, respectively).

Besides keeping the Germans out of Greenland, the Patrol’s primary task was to establish and supply a series of 14 “Bluie” met and HF/DF stations around the coastline. Airfields would soon be added to these isolated stations to allow them to serve as way stations for the North Atlantic ferry route, running planes from bases in Labrador to Scotland with stops in Greenland and Iceland. 

The fact that these converted trawlers could carry 90 tons of cargo below decks and draw but 11 feet of seawater when doing so helped greatly. While it would seem folly to us today to task 10 small vessels (the largest of these, Winchester/Aivik, was only 590 tons and 128 feet overall) with such a mission, keep in mind that the locations chosen for the Bluie stations were often only reachable by snaking through dense fields of icebergs and narrow fjords, so chosen to remain hidden from German surface raiders.

Natsek’s first patrol, began just ten days after she was commissioned, with newly-minted Lt. (jg) Thomas La Farge, USCGR, skipper. La Farge, who had no prior military experience, received his temporary commission as he was “a yachtsman and lover of ships” and noteworthy as a grandson of the late, great, muralist, John La Farge.

She set sail for Greenland waters in company with the minesweeper USS Bluebird (AM-72), and fellow USCG-manned armed trawlers Atak and Aivik, as part of CTG 24.8 on 29 June. Arriving at Bluie West #1 (Narsarssuak) on 20 July, Natsek plied Greenland waters, supplying Bluie stations through the month of August. Beginning on 28 September, she set sail from Narsarssuak to transport supplies, equipment, and personnel to Skoldungen to establish and build a weather station. She arrived there on 12 October. She continued on to help establish another weather station, this time at Torgilsbu and later that month another one at Skjoldungen.

On 9 November she was ordered to assist in looking for a downed plane along the southeast coast of Greenland.

On 15 November she then received orders to escort the Army cargo ship Belle Isle to Torgilsbu from Skjoldungen. She accomplished the escort without incident and arrived at Torgilsbu on 16 November. She departed Torgilsbu on 23 November and arrived at Narsarssuak on 30 November.

On 14 December 1942 Natsek departed Narsarssuak in a convoy with Bluebird and fellow “wooden shoe” USCGC Nanok, to return to Boston via Belle Isle Strait.

Natsek never arrived.

In January, the Navy made it official after she was several weeks overdue.

From the 1/24/43 issue of the NYT:

The detailed story of her disappearance, via the 1947 report, “The Coast Guard at War: Lost Cutters”

Click to make bigger

This, from “Death of a Wooden Shoe :A Sailor’s Diary of Life and Death on the Greenland Patrol, 1942” by Thaddeus D. Nowakowski, a journal kept by a Coast Guardsman during his six crucial months as a seaman on board Natsek’s sister, USCGC Nanok, and digitized by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office in 1994:

Besides LaFarge, Natsek vanished with a crew of 23 including 10 Coast Guard regulars (counting both her chiefs) a Navy radioman, and 12 wartime-era recruits. Considered lost at sea, their names are inscribed on the World War II East Coast Memorial in Manhattan’s Battery Park as well as a marker at Arlington that notes of the Natsek:

The entire crew of 23 men and one commissioned officer are considered to have met death in the line of duty on or after 17 December 1942, as a result of drowning.”

Natsek at the time was the fourth Coast Guard ship to be lost in WWII and 107th American vessel overall. Ultimately, the USCG would lose no less than 40 vessels in the conflict.

As for the Weather War, the Allies won and today, Bluie West Six is Thule Air Base, still an important enough asset that the Pentagon on Friday awarded a $4 billion civil engineering and maintenance contract to a local firm in Greenland, Inuksuk A/S, running through 2034.

Lost flags

Flags captured from the Japanese Type A kō-hyōteki midget submarine HA-19 at Pearl Harbor in the days immediately after the attack on 7 December 1941, one of five luckless vessels whose part in the attack (likely) yielded nothing.

Note what seems to be a signed personal yosegaki hinomaru “good luck flag” at the top that likely belonged to one of the crew, probably Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki (IJNA 1940), a Japanese rising sun (Kyokujitsu-ki), and a same-sized U.S. ensign, which is curious. National Archives Photo 80-G-13033

The third Japanese Type A boat spotted by American forces in and around Pearl Harbor– after one famously sunk by the old four-piper destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) and another less known sub dispatched by the newer USS Monaghan (DD-354) on the morning of that infamous day– the abandoned HA-19 was dubbed “Midget C” when Army Air Corps pilots spotted her grounded on an offshore reef near Waimanalo on 8 December after the craft’s scuttling charge failed to go off.

Washed ashore near where Sakamaki, the only survivor of the hapless vessel, swam ashore, HA-19 was captured in remarkable condition and towed from the surf zone by an Army tractor.

HA-19. (Japanese “Type A” midget submarine). Beached in eastern Oahu, after it unsuccessfully attempted to enter Pearl Harbor during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after 8 December 1941. 80-G-32683

Same, 80-G-32682

Other items besides the flags were recovered, including a map of the harbor with HA-19‘s planned route.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Chart of Pearl Harbor recovered from a Japanese midget submarine captured after the attack. The chart shows various courses around Ford Island and gives ship locations that do not necessarily correspond to actual 7 December ship positions. Since it presumably came from the midget submarine HA-19, which was unsuccessful in its attempts to enter the harbor, these details probably represent expected ship locations and intended maneuvers by the submarine. 80-G-413507

Disassembled in three large pieces and inspected, HA-19 served as a traveling war bonds trophy before being put on outdoor display for 40 years before the boat was semi-restored and moved inside the Nimitz Museum (National Museum of the Pacific War) in Texas a while back, and it is still there.

In the George Bush Gallery at the National Museum of the Pacific War, HA-19 endures 

As for Sakamaki, he was not only the sole survivor of his boat but was also the lone survivor of the crews of the five Japanese midgets that participated in the attack.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Wartime painting in oils on silk, by an unidentified Japanese artist, depicting the four officers and five crewmen who were lost with the five Japanese midget submarines that participated in the attack. The single survivor of that effort is omitted from the painting, which features a view of the attack on Ford Island in its center. NH 86388-KN (Color)

Sakamaki, the first Japanese prisoner of war in U.S. captivity during World War II, had his file and name stricken from the Japanese records once his story was flashed around the world. Repatriated after VJ Day, he ultimately retired from Toyota, visited HA-19 on at least two occasions, and passed in 1999, one of the last Japanese Pearl Harbor vets.

Four of the five Pearl Harbor midget submarines have been found– all lost before they could penetrate the harbor– and, as noted by NHHC, could be the most controversial and a missing piece of naval history: 

One of the five Pearl Harbor midgets is still unaccounted for. Recent studies of Pearl Harbor attack photograpy have led some observers to argue that one of the midgets was in place off “Battleship Row” as the Japanese torpedo planes came in, and may have fired its torpedoes at USS Oklahoma (BB-37) or USS West Virginia (BB-48). This contention is still controversial, but, if it is true, the “missing” Type A midget submarine may lie undiscovered inside Pearl Harbor.

USS Arizona on the way

In probably the best commemoration of the 81st anniversary of the one-sided attack at Pearl Harbor, Electric Boat held a ceremony to lay the keel for the future Virginia-class attack boat USS Arizona (SSN 803), the first ship to carry the name since BB-39 was lost.

As noted by EB:

WWII veterans Bill Stewart, Cliff Sharp, Billy Hall, Wallace Johnson, and Tony Faella were able to be with us in person for this occasion. Ken Potts and Lou Conter, the last two living survivors of the battleship USS Arizona, offered their virtual presence and remarks. On behalf of the men and women of Electric Boat, thank you all for your dedication, bravery, and service to our country.

General Dynamics Electric Boat is proud to build SSN 803 Arizona, a submarine that symbolizes and honors the legacy and courage of all those who died 81 years ago today serving their country.

The ship’s sponsor is Nikki Stratton, following the passing of her grandfather, Donald Stratton, at the age of 97.

The elder Stratton was on the battleship during the Japanese attack and, despite being badly burned and discharged as a result of his injuries in 1942, Donald reenlisted in 1944, then worked throughout his life to help honor the memory of Pearl Harbor and those who gave their lives in service to their country.

Kidō Butai Warming up

Artwork from John Hamilton’s War at Sea shows the six fleet carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s fearsome Kidō Butai (“Mobile Force”) launching the striking force on Pearl Harbor on the early morning of 7 December 1941. It would be their swansong in a very real sense.

From the Art Gallery of the US Navy

Kaga steams through heavy north Pacific seas, enroute to attack Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa early December 1941. Carrier Zuikaku is at right. Frame from a motion picture film taken from the carrier Akagi. The original film was found on Kiska Island after U.S. recapture in 1943. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Lieutenant Ichiro Kitajima, group leader of the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carrier Kaga’s Nakajima B5N bomber group, briefs his flight crews about the Pearl Harbor raid, which will take place the next day. A diagram of Pearl Harbor and the aircraft’s attack plan is chalked on the deck. Photo Chihaya Collection via Wenger

For the attack on Hawaii, the Kidō Butai consisted of six aircraft carriers (commanded by VADM Chūichi Nagumo and RADMs Tamon Yamaguchi and Chūichi Hara) with 414 aircraft (353 of which would launch as part of the two-wave attack) escorted by two battleships (Hiei and Kirishima), three cruisers (Tone, Chikuma, and Abukuma) and nine destroyers, followed by eight tankers (all impressed merchantman) of the 1st and 2nd Supply Train. In a separate operation, 23 sea-going and four midget submarines would mount their own operation.

They would all meet their end soon enough. 

Of the carriers, the flagship Kaga, along with Akagi, Sōryū, and Hiryū, would be sent to the bottom not too far away at Midway less than six months later in the U.S. Navy’s epic “scratch four flattops” moment, taking the bulk of the aircrews with them that had flown the Hawaii strike. The twin holdouts, Shōkaku and Zuikaku, would be lost in the Philipines in 1944 to the submarine USS Cavalla (SS-244) and aircraft from the USS Essex, the latter the only Japanese fleet carrier sunk by aircraft-launched torpedoes.

Carrier flagship Hiryu: Last Moments of Admiral Yamaguchi at the Battle of Midway. oil painting by Renzo Kita, 1943.

Hiei and Kirishima were the first Japanese battleships lost in the war, sunk following the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on 13 November 1942.

Carrier Akagi, battleship Hiei, and battleship Kirishima in the Pacific Ocean en route toward US Territory of Hawaii, 6 Dec 1941

Japanese Battleship Hiei sits at sunset in Saiki Bay, October 1941

Of the cruisers, Chikuma would likewise be sunk in the Philippines by TBMs from a trio of escort carriers– USS Kitkiun Bay, Ommaney Bay, and Natoma Bay; the day after Abukuma was sent to the bottom by Army B-24s off Negros Island in the Mindanao Sea.

Of the principal Japanese ships of the Kidō Butai on that Day of Infamy, only the heavy cruiser Tone would see 1945, finally deep-sixed by American carrier aircraft from the carriers Wasp, Bataan, Shangri-La, and Ticonderoga as she lay at the once-mighty IJN base at Kure in the formerly impregnable Japanese Home Islands.

Air Raids on Japan, 1945. Japanese cruiser Tone under air attack near Kure, 24 July 1945. Photograph by USS Shangri-La (CV 38) aircraft. Note the camouflage nets hanging over its sides. The heavy cruiser settled to the bottom of the bay that day. 80-G-490148

The End of the Inferno

The U.S. Navy’s darkest nightmare, even worse than Pearl Harbor, was the sea campaign in and around Guadalcanal.

“Fantasma de Guerra,” Battle of Santa Cruz, Pacific, 26 October 1942. Artwork by Tom Lea. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 89605-KN (Color)

Exceedingly well-told by the late (great) James D. Hornfischer in Neptune’s Inferno, while the land campaign, spearheaded by the “Old Breed” of the 1st Marines then closed out by the follow-on 2nd Marines and the Army/s 23rd and 25th Infantry divisions lasted six months and two days (from the first landings on 7 August 1942 to U.S. Army Major General Alexander Patch realizing on 9 February 1943 that the last intact Japanese force of Gen. Harukichi Hyakutake’s 17th Army withdrew two days prior), the Naval conflict was more compressed. It is generally bookended by seven deepwater sea battles conducted between the nights of 9 August to 30 November 1942– a span of just 113 days.

Seven tragic clashes in just 16 weeks:

  • Savo Island (9 August).
  • Eastern Solomons (24 August).
  • Cape Esperance (11 October).
  • Santa Cruz Islands (25/26 October).
  • 1st Guadalcanal/”Cruiser Night Action.”
  • 2nd Guadalcanal/Battle of Friday the 13th/Battleship Night Action (13 November).
  • Tassafaronga (30 November).

While three– Cape Esperance and 1st/2nd Guadalcanal– are narrow Allied victories, the other four went to the Japanese, often lopsidedly so.

Battle of Tassafaronga in Guadalcanal painting by Yoshio Shimizu, 1943, possibly showing the lost Japanese destroyer Takanami getting plastered by the American cruisers USS Minneapolis and New Orleans

As chronicled by Hornfischer, the balance sheet ended up almost balancing in terms of tonnage and warships with the U.S. and Japan each losing 24 ships apiece with a combined tonnage of 160,815 vs 155,330, respectively.

While the Americans/Australians lost six heavy (including HMAS Canberra) and two light cruisers, this compares to the Japanese leaving two battleships along with three heavy and one light cruiser behind. The U.S. lost 14 destroyers against 11 Japanese. When it comes to submarines, the Japanese lost six while American diesel boats suffered no losses in the campaign. Two American flattops (USS Hornet and Wasp) were sunk while the Japanese lost the smaller Ryujo.

Via Hornfischer. Not in Hornfischer’s calculations were 14 Japanese and 5 American auxiliaries nor three U.S. destroyers lost in the periphery nor at least six PT boats lost.

Of note, the last American warship lost during the campaign was MTBRon 3’s PT-37, destroyed by the Japanese destroyer Kawakaze, off Guadalcanal, Solomons, on 1 Feb. 1943, still fighting the Tokyo Express in the last week of the land battle.

Map of the location of World War II shipwrecks in Ironbottom Sound in the Solomon Islands. Some wreck positions are not exactly known. (Photo by Wikipedia user Vvulto)

In terms of aircraft, each side again was balanced, with both leaving over 600 airframes apiece on the bottom of the South Pacific or strewn across jungle impact sites.

The butcher’s bill amounted to over 31,000 Japanese and 7,100 Americans perished. To express how much the conflict was a Japanese land battle lost and a bloody U.S. Naval victory eventually won, of the American losses no less than 5,041 were U.S. Navy personnel KIA while the Empire suffered over 23,800 lost in ground combat or died of disease ashore.

Still Life Guadalcanal By Aaron Bohrod, 1943

As noted by ADM Halsey in 1947:

This battle was a decisive American victory by any standard. It was also the third great turning point of the war in the Pacific. Midway stopped the Japanese advance in the Central Pacific; Coral Sea stopped it in the Southwest Pacific; Guadalcanal stopped it in the South Pacific. Now, nearly five years later, I can face the alternative frankly. If our ships and planes had been routed in this battle, if we had lost it, our troops on Guadalcanal would have been trapped as were our troops on Bataan. We could not have reinforced them or relieved them. Archie Vandergrift would have been our “Skinny” Wainwright, and the infamous Death March would have been repeated. (We later captured a document which designated the spot where the Japanese commander had planned to accept Archie’s surrender.) Unobstructed, the enemy would have driven south, cut our supply lines to New Zealand and Australia, and enveloped them.

But we didn’t lose the battle. We won it. Moreover, we seized the offensive from they. Until then he had been advancing at his will. From then on he retreated at ours.

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