Category Archives: for those lost at sea

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020: Horse Trading and Gun Running

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, Oct. 28, 2020: Horse Trading and Gun Running

Cropped LIFE Archives photo by Carl Mydans

Here we see the Barnegat-class seaplane tender USS Orca (AVP-49) showing off the welcome sign  “Where the occident meets the Orient by accident,” signed by her skipper, CDR Morton K. Fleming, Jr, while in Philippine waters, likely Ormoc Bay, in December 1944.

The 41 Barnegats were 2,500-ton, 311-foot armed auxiliaries with destroyer lines capable of floating in 12 feet of water. They had room for not only seaplane stores but also 150 aviators and aircrew. Their diesel suite wasn’t fast, but they could travel 8,000 miles at 15.6 knots. Originally designed for two 5-inch/38-caliber guns, this could be doubled if needed (and often was) which complemented a decent AAA armament helped by radar and even depth charges and sonar for busting subs. All pretty sweet for an auxiliary.

We’ve covered them in the past to include the former “Queen of the Little White Fleet” USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) and the 60-year career of USS Chincoteague (AVP-24) but don’t worry, they have lots of great stories.

Our armed tender was (kind of) the fourth Orca in the U.S. Navy, as submarine USS K-3 (SS-34) carried the name as a PCU in 1911 but never served as such. The second Orca was an 85-foot steam yacht out of Boston taken into service as SP726 for patrol operations in the 1st Naval District during World War I. The third Orca was to be a Balao-class fleet submarine (SS-381) but, like SS-34, was changed before commissioning, in this case to USS Sand Lance, a boat that subsequently served until 1972, completing five WWII war patrols.

The hero of our study, which was officially named after Orca Bay, Alaska, in line with the naming convention for seaplane tenders to be named after bays and lakes, was laid down 13 July 1942, built by the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Washington, and commissioned 23 January 1944.

USS Orca (AVP-49) ready for launch on 4 October 1942. The ship Her builder’s number, Hull 538, is displayed on her bridge. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-44301

USS Orca (AVP-49) being launched at the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Washington, on 4 October 1942. 19-N-47209

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Houghton, Washington, on 6 February 1944, about two weeks after commissioning. She was completed with three 5/38 guns, including an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-61647

USS Orca (AVP-49) from the port side in Puget Sound on February 6, 1944, wearing camouflage 32/2Ax. The vertical colors are dull black, ocean gray, and light gray. Photo source: NARA BS 61646. H/T USN Dazzle

USS Orca (AVP-49) again in Puget Sound this time from the starboard wearing camouflage 32/2Ax on February 6, 1944. Orca was commissioned on January 23, 1944. Photo source: NARA BS 61645. H/T USN Dazzle

After shakedown, she shipped out for the 7th Fleet off Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, arriving there 26 May 1944. There, she would be the floating home to Patrol Bombing Squadron 11 (VPB-11) whose black-painted PBY-5 Catalinas were busy wrecking Japanese shipping and bases in night attacks while clocking in for air-sea rescue during the day.

PBY-5 Catalina of US Navy Patrol Squadron VPB-11 on the Sepik River in Australian New Guinea bringing supplies to a coast-watcher working in the area, Jan 1943. VPB-11 was Orca’s first squadron

Over the course of the war, Orca would go on to support VPB-33 and finally VPB-34, with all three squadrons being so active as to earn Presidential Unit Citations.

In early November, Orca moved into the Leyte Gulf area in the PI, where the next month her Cats proved lifesavers in Ormoc Bay right under the noses of the Japanese as they taxied around the bay for nearly an hour picking up survivors of the Sumner-class destroyer USS Cooper (DD-695), sunk the previous night by Long Lances from the Japanese destroyer Take.

From her 18-page War History, in the National Archives:

A cartoon from VPB-34 of the Cooper rescue

For his role in the Cooper rescue, VPB-34’s Lieutenant Frederick J. Ball, the lead pilot, would receive the Navy Cross.

Orca would then go on to have repeated run-ins with air attacks and later “the kamikaze boys” as her diary states, with her crew sending up reportedly impressive amounts of fire to meet incoming Japanese planes. The report comes from Tokyo Rose, who announced that, following a raid in an area where Orca was the primary ship, “The volume of Ack-Ack which met the previous night’s raid, indicated that a U.S. battleship of the Wisconsin class had been sighted by Japanese planes…” which is certainly something to brag about for a seaplane tender.

While in the Lingayen Gulf, raids were so heavy that she experienced attacks for six nights in a row, bagging a couple aircraft but coming out unscathed. As her diary states, “Fortunately for us, our first attackers appeared to have not been confirmed Lodge members- Kamikaze Local No. 269, for none of them made suicide dives unless actually hit and out of control.”

Then came the, often frustrating, efforts to recover downed Japanese aircrew.

Other rescues by Orca’s Cats and later Mariners while operating in the PI included the 12 crew and passengers of an Army C-47– which included female nurses– a P-51 pilot, five survivors of a downed B-25 from a raid over Formosa, nine Filipino women whose fishing vessel had capsized 20 miles offshore leaving them to cling to wreckage for three days, and the curious case of CDR McPherson B. Williams of Augusta Georgia. Williams, who was Yorktown’s ComAirGrp 3, had been downed and rescued by Filipino guerillas who kept him out of Japanese hands for seven weeks and, in a twist of fate, was picked up by a Mariner piloted by his Annapolis roommate.

More Carly Mydan photos of Orca, with her crew performing maintenance on PBMs

Speaking of Filipino guerillas, Orca would spend much of her time in local waters supporting Gen. Walter Kreuger’s Sixth Army’s effort to arm, support, and equip bands of insurgents behind Japanese lines, running guns, uniforms, radio equipment, and medicine to these plucky freedom fighters.

VJ Day found Orca at sea, having just completed an overhaul at Manus Island in preparation for “the big push” on Tokyo. On 26 September, Orca arrived at Okinawa to assist in the occupation of the Japanese Islands.

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. 19-N-92247

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. Her 40mm quadruple mount had been moved forward replacing one 5/38 mount, but she retained two 5guns, including one in an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-92245

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. Her 40mm quadruple mount had been moved forward replacing one 5/38 mount, but she retained two 5guns, including one in an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-92246

After supporting the Bikini Atoll A-bomb tests, Orca then decommissioned on 31 October 1947 and joined the reserve fleet in San Francisco. According to her War History, 82 percent of her plank owners, the majority of which were green on commissioning, completed the war with the tender.

She had earned three battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation for service in the conflict.

The 1950s…

Orca re-commissioned 15 December 1951, as the push was on in Korea, and went on to serve the rest of the decade in a variety of West Pac cruises and training evolutions, including tense China service, with much of her WWII armament landed.

USS Orca (AVP-49) moored at Naval Station San Diego, circa 1950s. Dave Schroeder and John Chiquoine. Via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/43/4349.htm

USS Orca (AVP-49) Underway on 4 April 1955. Note the aviation insignia on the bow aft of the hull number. The open 5/38 mount formerly on her fantail was removed between late 1951 and 1955. 80-G-668276

To the Horn of Africa!

Decommissioned in March 1960, at Tongue Point Naval Station, Astoria, Oregon, she was subsequently laid up in the Pacific Reserve Fleet, Columbia River Group. Her second stint in mothballs, however, did not last long and the following year she was towed to SFNSY and reactivated for transfer to the brand-new Imperial Ethiopian Navy in January 1962, named, well, Ethiopia (A01). Along with a group of 95-foot PGMs and some surplus LCMs, they would prove the backbone of the force.

Formed in 1955 with a group of retired British naval personnel served as advisers and training supervisors, Ethiopia’s Navy was not a huge armada, with our repurposed seaplane tender being the fleet’s largest vessel, training ship, and flagship/imperial yacht for three decades. It was from her deck that Emperor Haile Selassie regularly inspected visiting foreign ships for the country’s annual Navy Day each January, an event that often saw a decent turnout.

“Haile Selassie is Host to British, French, theU.S. and Soviet Ships. January 1969, At Massawa, during Ethiopia’s Navy Days. The British frigate HMS Leander took part along with USS Luce, Russian destroyer Gnevy, French frigate Commandant Bory and the Ethiopian flagship, Ethiopia. On the sea day, all ships sailed in company, with Emperor Haile Selassie onboard Ethiopia. Later, the Emperor dined onboard HMS Leander. The international line-up during the Ethiopian Sea Day. Left: HMS Leander (lower) and Gnevy (Above). Right: USS Luce (above), Ethiopia (center) and Commandant Bory (lower).”” IWM A 35201

HMS CHICHESTER AT ETHIOPIA NAVY DAYS. FEBRUARY 1970, MASSAWA. THE FRIGATE HMS CHICHESTER REPRESENTED GREAT BRITAIN AT THE ANNUAL ETHIOPIAN NAVY DAYS. OTHER SHIPS TAKING PART INCLUDED US FLEET ESCORT SHIP FOREST ROYAL, THE FRENCH FRIGATE COMMANDANT BORY, THE SOVIET DESTROYER BLESTIYASCHYJ AND PATROL BOATS OF THE SUDANESE NAVY. INCLUDED IN THE PROGRAMME WAS A GRADUATION PARADE FROM THE ETHIOPIAN NAVAL COLLEGE AT MASSAWA AND A SERIES OF INTERNATIONAL SPORTING EVENTS BETWEEN TEAMS FROM THE VISITING SHIPS. (A 35268) Royal salute from Emperor Haile Sellasie on board his yacht ETHIOPIA as HMS CHICHESTER steams past. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205165107

The 1,300-man Imperial Ethiopian Navy took up –almost– a full page in the 1973 Jane’s, with ex-Orca as the largest vessel.

After Selassie was deposed in 1974, and the socialist regime pivoted towards Moscow and away from the West by 1978, Soviet advisors replaced the Brits, Americans, Dutch, and Norwegians. By the 1980s, the force tripled in size as Petya, Osa and Turya-class fast attack craft arrived as military aid to help with the country’s low-key wars with its Western-backed neighbors.

Still, Orca/Ethiopia endured as the largest ship.

By 1990, Ethiopia had lost its ports as the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front had captured Massawa, prompting the
Ethiopian admiralty to pull stumps and migrate their homeless fleet to nearby Yemen. This situation came to a head when Eritrea gained de jure independence. In 1993, the Yemenis pulled the plug on the Ethiopian nautical squatters and asked them to leave in a bar closing sort of way (you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here…).

However, at that point, Orca/Ethiopia could no longer fire up her engines and, with her ~200 crewmembers interned as refugees, was sold for scrap to pay off delinquent dock fees in 1995.

As for the Ethiopian Navy, over the past couple of years, there has been an effort to reboot it, a curiosity for a land-locked country. The general plan would seem to be for the force to work out of Djibouti. Nonetheless, last year Adm. Foggo, commander of Naval Forces Africa, met with Brig. Gen. Kindu Gezu, Ethiopian Head of Navy in “the first staff to staff talks.”

Here in the U.S., Orca’s ship engineering drawings as well as 30 assorted war diaries and reports are digitized in the National Archives. She is also remembered on the Commemorative Plaque Wall at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington.

As for her sisters, they have all gone on to the breakers or been reefed with the final class member afloat, ex-Chincoteague/Ly Thuong Kiet/Andres Bonifacio scrapped in the Philippines in 2003.

Specs:

Displacement 1,766 t.(lt) 2,800 t.(fl)
Length 310′ 9″
Beam 41′ 2″
Draft 13′ 6″ (limiting)
Speed 18.6kts.
Complement: 73 officers, 294 enlisted (including 152 members of embarked seaplane squadron)
Fuel Capacities: Diesel 1,955 Bbls; Gasoline 71,400 Gals
Propulsion: two Fairbanks Morse Diesel 38D8 1/4 engines, single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gear, two propellers, 6,080shp
Ship’s Service Generators: two Diesel-drive 100Kw 450V A.C., one Diesel-drive 200Kw 450V A.C.
Armament:
3 single 5″/38 cal dual-purpose gun mounts
1 quad Bofors 40mm AA gun mount, 2 twins
4 twin Oerlikon 20mm AA gun mounts
Stern depth charge racks
Changes as a training ship, 1960:
Radars: RCA SPS-12 air search radar, I-band navigation radar, RCA/General Electric Mark 26 I/J-band fire control
Armament:
1 single 5″/38 cal dual-purpose gun mount
1 single Bofors 40mm AA gun mount, 2 twins

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215 and a coat of paint

The fifth Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer completed (more than 68 are with the fleet today, can you believe that?), USS Stout (DDG-55) rolled out of Pascagoula for the first time in 1994.

Now in her 26th year, the “Bold Knight” has been on a COVID-extended quest of sorts overseas, completing a nearly seven-month deployment in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations as part of the Nimitz and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike) Carrier Strike Groups with detours to serve in TF50 and TF51/5.

Without hitting a port call, relying on VERTREPS and RAS to keep up her never-ending voyage. Stout conducted two port visits in Rota, Spain, bookending a record-breaking 215 days at sea.

Stout even chalked up the first-ever “Mid-Deployment Voyage Repair period at sea,” which is something that could prove a lesson if the fleet is pressed on unending West Pac cruises in a future crisis.

She just returned to Naval Station Norfolk on 11 October, marking the end of a nine-month deployment across U.S. 2nd, 5th, and 6th Fleet areas of operation. She had left home in mid-January and has covered 60,000 miles since then. For reference, the distance around the Earth at the Equator, its greatest circumference, is 24,901 miles.

And, for sure, she looked rough when she pulled into her homeport.

This photo has been shared worldwide, showing honest rust and bust, but she could doubtless still fight if she had to

Which of course drew quick attention from Big Navy.

As noted by RADM Brad Cooper on this image posted yesterday:

Last week, USS STOUT (DDG 55) returned home after the longest consecutive period at sea in the history of the modern Navy. During this pandemic, we ask a lot of our Sailors and our families.

It’s not business as usual for any of us, but the amazing young Americans on STOUT stepped up and exceeded our every expectation. STOUT Sailors are Tough, Resilient, Self-Sufficient and Ready.

Picture taken this evening. Ship looks amazing. I couldn’t be prouder of every Sailor on this ship.

Sure, the rust is covered up, but the bluejackets who were away from home for nine months without a real reason other than “the Coof” surely deserved better.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

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, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

National Archives 80-G-703401

Here we see Balao-class fleet submarine USS Atule (SS-403), left, torpedoing ex-U-977 during weapon tests off Cape Cod, 14 November 1946. The (in)famous German boat was far from Atule’s only kill, although it was likely her easiest. However, in the end, she would meet a somewhat ironic fate that had, some contend, an aspect of divine intervention.

A member of the 180+-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. They 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 completed 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 sub-killing USS Greenfish, rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish, the long-serving USS Catfish, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

The first (and only) U.S. warship named for the bluish-olive colored fish, Atule (SS-403) was laid down 25 November 1943 at Portsmouth; launched on 6 March 1944; and commissioned on 21 June 1944, LCDR (later RADM) John Howard Maurer (USNA 1935) in command. Maurer would be Atule’s only wartime skipper, coming to the new boat from a stint as Engineer Officer and later XO of USS Harder (SS-257) across three successful patrols that saw him receive the Silver Star.

Launch of USS Atule at the Portsmouth Navy Yard 3.6.44. NARA

Following a rushed wartime shakedown cruise and fortnight at the sonar school at Key West, Atule was soon off to the Pacific, leaving Pearl Harbor on her first patrol in company with sisterships USS Pintado (SS-387) and USS Jallao (SS-368) as a Yankee wolfpack on 9 October under the latter sub’s skipper’s nominal tactical control.

Aerial photo USS Atule (SS-403) 15 August 1944. Note she is just wearing her 5″/25 aft and two M2s on her sail, an armament that would soon be augmented with a 40mm and a 20mm. NARA 80-G-313787

Heading for patrol areas in the Luzon Strait and the South China Sea, partner Jallao bagged the Japanese Kuma-class light cruiser Tama (5,200 tons) on 25 October northeast of Luzon.

On Halloween night, it was Atule’s turn and she bagged a big one, stalking a large Japanese surface contact in a night surface radar attack and into All Saints Day.

From her Patrol Report:

0305 hours – In position 19°59’N, 117°25’E obtained radar contact bearing 225°, range 26000 yards. Started tracking.

0325 hours – Obtained radar contact on escort vessel.

0331 hours – Obtained radar contact on a second escort vessel.

0359 hours – Started attack, during the approach a third escort was sighted.

0432 hours – In position 20°09’N, 117°38’E commenced firing six torpedoes from 1850 yards. The target was a large passenger liner. Two torpedoes were seen to broach and then disappear.

0434 hours – A terrific explosion threw material three times the height of the target’s masts. Range to one of the escorts was only 1200 yards. Decided to dive. When clearing the bridge, a second torpedo hit the target. Atule dived to 450 feet.

0440 hours – 9 depth charges were dropped but they were not close.

0445 hours – Heard very loud and crackling breaking up noises on the bearing of the target.

0740 hours – Lost contact with the escorts.

The contact was the Japanese NYK liner Asama Maru (16,955 GRT), escorted by two armed minesweepers and a torpedo boat.

Asama Maru was a beautiful ship that in her peacetime service had such personalities as Baron Nishi Takeichi, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Hellen Keller grace her decks. In wartime, she repatriated U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Grew and hundreds of American diplomats and their families back to the West before serving as a shuttle carrying up to 5,000 of the Emperor’s troops at a time to the front lines while hauling Allied POWs back on “hell ship” missions back to the Home Islands. While a troopship, she was armed with depth charges, listening gear, 8cm deck guns, and an assortment of AAA mounts.

Asama Maru and her sisters were literally page no. 1 in ONI 208J “Japanese Merchant Vessels,” hinting at how big a prize she was for American sub skippers.

When Atule found her, Asama Maru was carrying a mix of 1,383 military personnel, civilian employees for the military, and survivors from sunken Japanese merchant ships as well as 170 tons of iron scrap, 80 tons of hemp, 80 tons of raw rubber, and other items. As noted by Combined Fleets, “98 of 201 crew, 21 of 266 gunners and armed guards and 355 of 1,383 military personnel and passengers are KIA. Survivors are rescued by the three escort vessels.”

On 20 November, Atule drew blood once again, sinking the Japanese minesweeper W-38 (648 tons).

Just five days later, Atule haunted Japanese convoy MATA-34 just after midnight on 25 November, with six overlapping torpedoes from her bow tubes reaping the freighter-turned-sub tender Manju Maru/Santos Maru (7,266 GRT)  and the escort patrol boat No.38 (935 tons) in the same salvo. Santos Maru was carrying 2,400 troops and sailors including 430 survivors of the battleship Musashi. In the end, she took almost a third of those men to the bottom with her. As for No.38, it “disintegrated.”

Finally, Atule bagged a 4,000-ton freighter on 27 November, anchored between Dequey and Ibuhos Islands, Philippines. “Fired four bow torpedoes,” said her patrol report. The rest of the report was eloquent if terrifying:

Via NARA

Postwar, Atule was not given credit for the almost certain kill, although Nanko Maru No. 6, which went missing at about the same time, seems a good fit.

Wrapping up her first patrol at Majuro on 11 December, which ran 63 days/16,570 nm with a green crew (53 of 77 men were on their first patrol) and expended 22 Mk 18 torpedoes for 11 hits, Atule claimed five ships for a total of 26,600 tons. Postwar, this would be confirmed at four ships and 25,804, which is fairly close to the estimate tonnage wise.

Atule shipped from Majuro on her second war patrol on 6 January 1945, bound for the Yellow Sea. There, she sent the brand-new freighter Daiman Maru No.1 (6888 GRT) to the bottom on 24 January, having to break ice off her deck gun in the process. Not as exciting as her inaugural cruise, she ended her 2nd war patrol at Midway on 7 March.

Her third patrol left out of Midway on 2 April, tasked with lifeguard duties off the Japanese Home Islands which were under constant attack by Navy and USAAF planes, with her crew often taking the time to sink floating mines and wreckage found in her operational area and (unsuccessfully) stalk an elusive Japanese submarine near the Ashizuri lighthouse.

In a twist of irony– she would have many in her career– the only aviator she would rescue was a Japanese naval observer on 5 May. The observer was retrieved from the water from a downed Jake, which had been smoked by a passing B-29 gunner with spotting provided by the sub.

Once again, Maurer, Atule’s skipper– who was a near classmate of Robert Heinlein— showed his prose in detailing the scene in the patrol log.

“A thick wad of currency, a vial of perfume and several condoms showed he was ready for any eventuality.” (NARA)

Putting into Pearl Harbor on 30 May, she had some downtime to train and resupply, then left on her fourth patrol on 3 July– no Independence Day leave in Honolulu for them– bound once again for Japan’s front yard. On that cruise, in a night action across 12/13 August, she spotted two Japanese frigates, Kaibokan 6 and Kaibokan 16 (both 740 tons), sinking the former and damaging the latter with a brace of six torpedoes.

And that was it, the ceasefire was called on the 15th when Emperor Hirohito announced that his country would accept unconditional surrender. With that, she was ordered to terminate her patrol on the 45th day by COMSUBPAC and return to Pearl via Midway, arriving in Hawaii on the 25th.

By the end of August, even before the official surrender, she was headed to New London.

Reaching the East Coast, Atule was assigned to Submarine Squadron 2 and was used as a training and trial boat. In this role, she traveled to the Arctic in July 1946 as part of Operation Nanook in company with the icebreaker USS Northwind (WAG-282), two auxiliaries, and the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, the latter embarking PBM flying boats.

Atule off the northwest coast of Greenland, on 20 July 1946, during Operation Nanook. Note that she has her full AAA armarment on her sail. 80-G-636420

It was on this frozen trip along the coast of Greenland that she “reached latitude 79 degrees 11 minutes north in the Kane Basin, setting a record for the United States Navy,” and rescued a PBM that had to put down with engine trouble.

Then came her dramatic sinking of U-977, the Type VIIC that famously ignored the formal German surrender order for U-boat at sea on VE-Day and made for South America instead. The rouge boat entered the port of Mar del Plata, Argentina on 17 August 1945, some 108 days and more than 7,600 nm after it had departed Norway.

U-977 lies in in Mar del Plata, Argentina; rusty and weather beaten after 108 days at sea – Photograph courtesy of Carlos J. Mey – Administrator of the Historia y Arqueologia Marítima website http://www.histarmar.com.ar/ via U-boat Archive

In the end, turned over to the U.S. Navy and towed to Boston for a photoex, Atule sent her to the bottom in the test of a prototype steam-powered torpedo off Massachusetts.

View showing torpedoing of U-977 by ATULE (SS403) on 13 November 1946. As noted by the Navy: The pressure hull of U-977 has apparently been completely severed by the detonation and that the forward and after portions of the hull have jack-knifed. U-977 was a standard German Type VII-C design: length 220′-2″; maximum beam 20′-4″; diameter of pressure hull 15′-5″; pressure hull plating thickness .73″; and submerged displacement 880 tons. The torpedo used by ATULE was a Mark 14 body fitted with a Mark 16, Mod. 4 magnetic proximity-fuzed warhead containing 660 lbs. of Torpex and is believed to have detonated almost directly underneath the keel of U-977. This photograph demonstrates the great destructive power of torpedoes when used against unprotected ships such as submarines.

Her wartime service complete, on 8 September 1947, she was placed out of commission, in reserve, with the New London Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Atule earned four battle stars for World War II service.

Her confirmed WWII tonnage tally stood at 33,379

Atule’s WWII battle flag eventually found its way to the USS Bowfin Museum in Pearl Harbor, where it remains on display today. Note the 51 mines zapped, the rescued Japanese flier chit, and four Rising Suns (Kyokujitsu-ki) and four Hinomaru flags for the eight ships she claimed sunk or damaged

As for Maurer, who earned the Navy Cross on Atule, he went on to hold two surface commands, including the cruiser USS Saint Paul, and be both COMSUBPAC and COMSUBLANT. His final assignment was as Commander of Naval Forces in Key West, retiring from the Navy in 1974.

When it comes to Atule’s sisters, of the schools of Balaos which were commissioned, 10 were lost in the war during operations while another 62 were canceled on the builders’ ways as the conflict ended. In 1946, the Navy was left with 120 units.

Jane’s entry on the Balao class, 1946

Rebirth

After three years on red lead row, Atule was towed to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard– her birthplace– for reactivation and conversion to a Guppy 1-A type submarine.

Of the 48 GUPPY’d WWII diesel boats that were given a second life in the Cold War, Atule was one of the first 10 IA series boats which recieved the most basic reboot when compared to the other Balaos and Tenches modified later.

Outfitted with a German-style snorkel not too different from the one the Navy inspected on U-977, and a streamlined superstructure sans deck guns, Atule rejoined the fleet a stronger, more versatile warship, recommissioned 8 March 1951.

GUPPY-1A USS Atule (SS-403). NHHC L45-15.02.01

For the next 19 years, she led a quiet life, participating in operations with Latin American allies in a series of UNITAS exercises, working with NATO allies on Mediterranean deployments as part of the 6th Fleet, visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras, training naval reservists, and, as part of SUBRON12, alternated duty at Key West with service at Guantanamo Bay supporting ASW training for the destroyer force while keeping an eye on Castro.

Reclassified AGSS-403 on 1 October 1969, Atule was decommissioned on 6 April 1970, and her name was struck from the Navy list on 15 August 1973.

In all, she had spent 29 years on the Naval List, with nearly 24 of those on active duty. Not a bad return to Uncle Sam for the $7,000,000 original cost to build her.

The GUPPY-1A entry from the 1973 Jane’s, listing Atule and the last four of her type in U.S. Navy service, USS Sea Poacher, USS Becuna, USS Blenny, and USS Tench, then in reserve.

Points South

Ex-Atule was sold to Peru in July 1974, and renamed BAP Pacocha (S 48), duplicating the name of an earlier boat used by the Marina de Guerra del Perú. She was sent south in tandem with BAP Pabellón de Pica/La Pedrera (SS-49), ex-USS Sea Poacher (SS/AGSS-406) after a refit. Atule/Pacocha was commissioned on 28 May 1974 into the MGP, where she continued her quiet life of training and exercises over the course of the next 14 years. Then came disaster.

On the evening of 26 August 1988, with a reduced crew of 49 men aboard, the 44-year-old submarine was operating on the surface with her hatches open when, just off the port of Callao, a 412-ton Japanese fishing trawler with a reinforced ice-breaking prow collided into her aft port quarter, opening her like a tin can with a 2 meter by 10 centimeters split in the pressure hull. Pacocha didn’t even have time to sound her collision alarm.

Via U.S. Navy Submarine Medical Research Labratory Special Report SP89-1

It was almost as if the ghosts of the Asama Maru, Santos Maru, and others, had returned as wraiths and exacted retribution for the Atule’s past actions.

Nonetheless, the Peruvians had a spirit of their own, it seems.

With the boat taking on water and three men dead, including the skipper, 23 submariners were able to scramble off the submarine before she raced for the bottom of the Pacific some 140 feet down. As the boat was drowning, Teniente Roger Cotrina Alvarado was somehow able to dog a partially flooded hatch to compartmentalize the sub’s forward torpedo room with 21 other survivors, a feat he chalked up to the help of Marija of Jesus Crucified Petković, a Croatian nun who had traveled extensively through Latin America helping the poor and sick.

A 61-page U.S. Navy report on the resulting rescue, compiled in 1989 through first-hand interviews, is fascinating but somewhat outside the scope of this. Suffice it to say, rescue divers were able to use the escape trunk in the forward torpedo room to retrieve the remainder of the crew 23 hours later in six groups, utilising Mark V dive lines.

Naturally, after spending almost a full day 140 feet down in a compromised atmosphere and making a swim to the surface with only the assistance of a rescue hood, most suffered from the bends, but in the end, only one perished.

As for Alvarado, a documentary was made of his efforts and his personal beliefs on the source of his “humanly impossible” strength that day.

Some 11 months after Atule/Pacocha hit the bottom, she surfaced again following 800 hours of work by Peruvian Navy salvage crews, raised on 23 July 1989.

Towed ashore and drydocked, she was studied for the effects of the ramming and sinking, then her hulk was cannibalized for spare parts for other Peruvian submarines.

In the U.S., Atule’s war engineering drawings, patrol diaries, post-war deck logs, and complete WWII muster rolls have been digitized and are online at the National Archives. A veteran’s group was active for several years, but their webpage has since been archived.

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 hopefully in the process of being saved and moved to Kentucky)
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:
(1944)
Displacement: 1,526 tons (surfaced), 2,391 (submerged)
Length: 311.7 ft.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 13.75 ft.
Machinery: Fairbanks Morse diesel engines, 5,400 HP, fuel capacity, 116,000 gals.; four Elliot Motor Co. electric main motors 2,740 shp, two 126-cell main storage batteries, 2 shafts
Speed: 20.25 kts. (surfaced) 8.75 kts. (submerged)
Endurance: 11,000 miles surfaced at 10 knots; submerged endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots; 75 days
Test Depth: 412 ft.
Complement: 6 officers, 60 enlisted
Radar: SJ
Armament:
1 5″/25cal deckgun, 25 rounds
1 40mm/60 Bofors AAA
1 20mm/80 Oerlikon AAA
2 M2 .50-cal machine guns
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft), 24 torpedoes
(Post GUPPY 1A)
Displacement: 1,870 tons standard (surfaced), 2,440 (submerged)
Length: 308.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 17
Machinery: 3 Diesels; 4,800 bhp. 2 Electric motors; 5,400 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 17 kts (Surfaced) 15 kts. (Submerged)
Endurance: 90 days
Complement: 8 officers, 73 men
Armament:
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft) 24 torpedoes

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!

Victory At Sea: 245 Years

A 13 October 1775 resolution of the Continental Congress established what is now the United States Navy with “a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months….” After the American War of Independence, the U.S. Constitution empowered the new Congress “to provide and maintain a navy.” Acting on this authority, Congress established the Department of the Navy on 30 April 1798.

In 1972, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt authorized official recognition of 13 October as the birthday of the U.S. Navy. Since then, each CNO has encouraged a Navy-wide celebration of this occasion “to enhance a greater appreciation of our Navy heritage, and to provide a positive influence toward pride and professionalism in the naval service.”

NORWEGIAN SEA (Nov. 22, 2019) The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley (DDG 101) fires its Mark 45 5-inch gun during a live-fire exercise. Gridley is underway on a scheduled deployment as the flagship of Standing NATO Maritime Group One to conduct maritime operations and provide a continuous maritime capability for NATO in the Northern Atlantic. (U.S. Navy photo by Master-At-Arms 1st Class Joseph Broyles)

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020: Of Stars and Moonstone

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, Sept. 23, 2020: Of Stars and Moonstone

Here we see the Archimede-class diesel-electric submarine, Galileo Galilei (SS90) of the Regia Marina, at Aden in 1940, after the Italian boat mixed it up with a plucky British trawler. A heroically fought warship (note the shell hole in her busted sail), she went on to work to have a curious third (yes, third) life.

The Italian Navy sometimes gets a lot of rocks thrown at it for the fleet’s overall performance in the two world wars but make no mistake, the force was competent when it came to undersea warfare. Italy had a robust domestic sub-building capability and throughout the first few decades of the 20th Century supplied boats to customers not only in Europe but in the Americas as well. Then, of course, they also fielded working midget subs and frogman-driven human torpedoes, which were used with great skill.

The four boats of the class– Archimede, Galileo Ferraris, Galileo Galilei, and Evangelista Torricelli— were all built by Franco Tosi at Taranto in the early 1930s and named for famous men of science who, more often than not, were accomplished in the field of astronomy.

Launch of RIN Galileo Galilei in Taranto 19 March 1934 via http://www.naviearmatori.net/

Updated versions of the previous Settembrini-class, the Archimedes went some 1,200-tons when submerged. They were classic Mediterranean boats, just 231-feet in length. Speedy, they could make 17-knots on the surface and they had long legs, capable of a 10,000 nm range. Armament was a pair of 3.9-inch deck guns and eight torpedo tubes, four each in the bow and stern of the boat.

A row of Italian submarines at Naples, Italy, just before the 5 May 1938 naval review. The first several vessels are large submarines, possibly of the Archimede class, in which case they would include FERRARIS (1934-1941) and GALILEI (1934-1946). NH 86240

The focus of our tale, Galileo Galilei, commissioned 16 October 1934. However, her time in peacetime service was limited as she was soon to fly a black flag of sorts.

Franco’s jackals

After being used in 1936 in a form of “underwater piracy” fighting a semi-secret war against socialist Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War as Sottomarini Legionari (Submariners Legion) allies to the fascist Nationalists, the Italian Navy officially sold two of their submarines directly to Franco’s government in 1937 and loaned four others. This was mainly because the Republican Almirante Cervera-class light cruiser Miguel de Cervantes caught two torpedoes from sistership Torricelli that November while anchored off the port of Cartagena but survived, and, when she was repaired, was found to have fragments in her hull from said fish with Italian markings.

Italian submarines. Archimede Class. NH 111495

Under the nominal “command” of a Spanish flag officer, the quartet of loaned boats still had their Italian crews, though they flew the colors and wore the uniforms of their adopted new country. The boats sold included class leader Archimede, who sailed as the submarino General Mola; and Torricelli, who sailed as General Sanjurjo. Those loaned included Galileo Galilei, who sailed as the uninspired General Mola II; sister Galileo Ferraris, who sailed as the equally uninspired General Sanjurjo II; along with the Perla-class subs Onice and Iride who sailed as (Aguilar Tablada and Gonzalez Lopez, respectively, with pennant numbers L1 through L6.

Fighting for Franco was lackluster, and the Italian-manned boats bagged several small steamers but failed to repeat the success seen against Miguel de Cervantes–although Iride did fire a torpedo at the British H-class destroyer HMS Havock, who she mistook for a Republican tin can and received a 9-hour depth charge attack for her misidentification.

With that, the four returned to Italy in February 1938, their Spanish Navy service over. Archimede/General Mola and Torricelli/General Sanjurjo would remain behind, the property of Franco’s government, which very much wanted to keep them as those two units had accounted for a variety of fairly important merchantmen during the Civil War.

Back in the spaghetti

With half their class still under a Spanish flag, the two Galileos (Galileo Ferraris and Galileo Galilei) resumed their Italian service including their old names and pennants on Rome’s naval list. When the Axis country entered the war against France and Great Britain on 10 June 1940, some 10 months after the conflict kicked off, Galileo Galilei was part of Italy’s doomed Red Sea Flotilla. Based along the coast of Italian Somaliland and Eritrea, it consisted of a handful of destroyers, subs, and torpedo boats, and were no match for a British squadron, but they could close off the Suez Canal to merchant traffic.

Just hours after receiving word that a state of war existed between Italy and the Allies, Galileo Galilei, part of the LXXXI Squadriglia Sommergibili out of Massawa, undertook her inaugural WWII patrol under the command of Capitano di Corvetta Corrado Nardi and promptly came across the Norwegian-flagged James Stove (8,215 tons) under British charter to the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company, off Djibouti, sending the enemy tanker to the bottom with three torpedoes on the 16th. Nardi had stopped the vessel on the surface and allowed her crew to board lifeboats before letting his fish fly, the very application of the cruiser rules. A British report on the incident had the Norwegian skipper relay that Nardi “spoke courteously and behaved in the Chief Officer’s words as a ‘Perfect Gentleman’.”

While Galileo Galilei made her escape, some 34 mariners from the James Stove were picked up about an hour later by the 600-ton armed trawler HMT Moonstone (T 90) and landed in the British colonial Aden that same day.

HMT Moonstone underway. Formerly the 151-foot Hull-based cod trawler Lady Madeleine, she could only make 11-knots, but she carried a 4-inch gun, ASDIC listening gear, and depth charges, making her deadly enough. Further, her crew of regulars had been in steady service since August 1939, with Boatswain W.J.H. Moorman, RN, in command. AWM FL 16385.

Two days later, the Italian sub stopped the (then neutral) Yugoslav freighter Drava and, finding no reason to send her to the bottom, let her go about her way. However, Drava reported her interaction with the green-painted Italian sea serpent, and later that night the destroyer HMS Kandahar (F28), along with No. 203 Squadron RAF Blenheims out of Aden, were soon bird-dogging Galilei.

Moonstone soon joined in on the morning of the 19th.

As detailed by Paul Lund in his 1971 work, Harry Tate’s Navy: Trawlers Go to War:

[J]ust before noon, Moonstone’s ASDIC operator reported a strong submarine echo and the trawler immediately steamed to the attack, dropping depth‑charges; but again, the enemy escaped. Then, barely an hour later, the trawler regained contact and dropped more depth‑charges. The explosions had scarcely subsided before the submarine, a big ocean‑going boat, suddenly heaved itself to the surface a mile astern, streaming the Italian flag from a pole above its conning tower.

Moonstone wheeled hard round and steamed full‑ahead with all guns fixing, some of the crew even joining in with rifles as the distance between the two vessels narrowed. Though the submarine, which was fully three times the size of Moonstone, quickly returned fire, the hail of lead and shell from the trawler prevented the Italians from getting to their big gun, and finally, Moonstone’s four‑inch crashed a shell into the conning tower, killing all inside it. Some of the Italians began to wave white clothes in surrender, while others scrambled into the wrecked tower to haul down the flag.

There were far too many Italians for the trawler’s small crew to handle, so after warning the enemy commander not to scuttle or she would reopen fire, Moonstone stood off while Kandahar raced in to take the prisoners aboard and fix a tow to the big submarine, the Galileo Gafflei [sic]…

Kandahar then towed Moonstone’s prize to Aden, where it was warmly received as it was the RN’s first enemy submarine captured in the War.

The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Kandahar (F28) preparing to take the Italian submarine, Galileo Galilei, in tow after it was captured in the Gulf of Aden by the trawler HMT MOONSTONE. The submarine’s periscope was spotted, and an attack was made with depth charges which forced it to the surface. The submarine was then captured. IWM A109

Boatswain (later LCDR) Moorman and his XO, Midshipman M.J. Hunter, would receive the DSC for his battle with the Italian sub while PO Frederick Quested, in charge of the 4-inch gun crew that cracked her sail, received the DSM. As for Moonstone, she would survive the war– including operations in the evacuation from Crete– and eventually return to the fishing fleet, ending her days in the 1960s as the trawler Red Lancer.

Nardi and 15 of his crew lay dead after the battle. Their war had lasted nine days. They would not be alone.

During WWII, some 116 Italian submarines sailed against the Allies or supported those that did, chalking up 130 ships sunk for a total of some 700,000 tons of shipping. In exchange, they lost 96 of their submersibles, many with all hands, their hulls cracked on the seafloor. Some 3,000 submariners of the Regina Marina are still on eternal patrol.

Via the 1943 ONI Guide, confusing Torricelli with the Brin-class submarine that recycled the name 

Under the White Duster

Galileo Galilei‘s sole Red Sea patrol had logged just 160 miles on the surface and 35 submerged. However, even with her damaged sail and in reportedly poor material condition (the Italians don’t seem to have overhauled the boat after her Spanish service, as the Norwegian master of the James Stove had reported very foul exhaust and “a cloud of black smoke hung about her all the time she was visible”), the British nonetheless put their prize to as good a use as possible.

As detailed by Stephen Roskill in his The Secret Capture: U-110 and the Enigma Story:

The prize was a very valuable one and from her we obtained intelligence regarding the disposition of other Italian submarines in the Red Sea and Indian ocean. As a result, we caught and sank the [Brin-class submarine] Torricelli on 23rd June and [her sister] the Galvani, which was patrolling the Persian Gulf to catch our tanker traffic, on the following day…

…In December 1940, Galilei was brought up the Red Sea by a British crew and passed through the Suez Canal to Alexandria, where her hull and equipment were thoroughly inspected.

Used for two years as a floating battery charger for HMs submarines at Port Said, the Italian boat was eventually repaired enough to put to sea by June 1942. Christened HMS X.2, then HMS P. 711, she was equipped with British Type 286W radar and Type 129 sonar, then used for training out of Alexandria for the rest of the war.

She was broken up in 1946 without ceremony. Her ship’s motto was “Pur cieco vedo” (While blind I see)

Epilogue

As for Galileo Galilei‘s sisters, Galileo Ferraris was sunk 25 October 1941 off Gibraltar an RAF Catalina with the destroyer HMS Lamerton for the lay-up. Meanwhile, the two units sold to Spain in 1937, Archimede/General Mola and Torricelli/General Sanjurjo, would endure until 1959, far outliving the Regia Marina.

They were still carried in the NATO submarine spotting guide long after WWII.

Specs:

From “The Italian submarines between the two world wars” by Alessandro Turrini – MariStat / UDAP – 1990, for gc Sergio Mariotti

Displacement: 986 t (surfaced) 1,259 t (submerged)
Length: 231 ft 4 in
Beam: 22 ft 6 in
Draft: 13 ft 6 in
Installed power:
3,000 bhp (2,200 kW) (diesels)
1,100 hp (820 kW) (electric motors)
Propulsion:
2 Tosi diesel engines with a total of 3,000 HP
2 Ansaldo electric motors with a total of 1400 HP. 124-cell battery
Speed: 17 knots (surfaced) 7.7 knots (submerged)
Range:
10,300 nmi at 8 knots (surfaced) on 100 tons diesel oil
105 nmi at 3 knots (submerged)
Test depth: 300 ft
Crew: 6 officers, 49 non-commissioned officers and sailors
Armament:
2 × single 100mm/43cal Mod. 1927 deck guns
2 × single Breda Mod. 31 13.2 mm MGs
8 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes (4 bow, 4 stern) 16 torpedoes

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!

Fire Fire Fire, or, “Hey, why does the stack look like that?”

Always a pucker factor when you look back from the stern while underway and see this.

Via USCG Pacific Area:

By PA3 Aidan Cooney – U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Southwest public affairs

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Waesche crews battled a fire Sunday aboard the cutter that broke out during a scheduled deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet’s area of operations.

Black smoke was reported at 5:18 p.m. (local time) and investigations revealed fires in the exhaust stack and nearby spaces.

The crew’s training and quick actions extinguished the fire after battling the blaze at sea for 90 minutes.

Five crew members reported minor injuries sustained during firefighting efforts and were treated by the onboard medical team.

“The rapid response and courageous efforts from the crewmembers aboard Waesche to quickly contain and extinguish the fire are a testament to the bravery and skill of this crew,” said Capt. Jason Ryan, Waesche’s commanding officer.

The extent of the damages and cause of the fire are currently under investigation.

Waesche arrived at Yokosuka, Japan, today. While at Fleet Forces Yokosuka, the cutter will undergo further inspection and potentially repairs.

The cutter is under the tactical control of the U.S. 7th Fleet as part of routine presence operations in support of the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

More photos here. 

Vale, Capt. Groom

He may have been born in D.C. but Winston Francis Groom Jr. was a true “Son of the South,” having graduated from UMS-Wright Military Academy and then the University of Alabama before spending much of his life as a Mobile Bay fixture. Commissioned through the Crimson Tide’s ROTC program, he served with the 245th PSYOP Company as a PSYOP Team Leader supporting the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of Vietnam from 1966 to 1967.

Groom in Vietnam

“My age and lowly rank notwithstanding, my impression was that I was headed for some exalted position worthy of a John le Carré novel,” Groom later wrote of his time as a “dirty trickster” in Vietnam.

Following four years on active duty and an honorable discharge, he spent eight years as a reporter and columnist for the Washington Star newspaper before, with the encouragement of Willie Morris, a literal Good Old Boy from Mississippi, he resigned and began making pages of his own.

In the end, Groom finished some 20 books, many of them excellent military non-fiction works such as Shiloh 1862, Vicksburg 1864, 1942, and his Aviators/Generals/Allies trilogy of WWII. He was a Pulitzer finalist for Conversations with the Enemy: the story of P.F.C. Robert Garwood.

He also dabbled in fiction, with the main characters often having a connection to both Vietnam and Alabama. Write what you know, they say…

A natural raconteur in that most Southern of ways, I saw Capt. Groom speak on two occasions and was all the better for it.

He passed last week, aged 77. He will certainly be missed.

As noted in his obit: 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the University of Alabama Libraries Special Collection, Post Office Box 870266, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487, or the Gary Sinise Foundation, Post Office Box 368, Woodland Hills, California, 91365. A graveside service will be held Wednesday, September 23, at 11:00 am at Pine Crest Cemetery, 1939 Dauphin Island Parkway, Mobile, Alabama 36605.

Grenadier found

USS Grenadier (SS-210) Off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 27 December 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 99403

Commissioned 1 May 1941, the Gar/Tambor-class fleet boat USS Grenadier (SS-210) was only just past her East Coast shakedown cruise when the attack on Pearl Harbor put her on course for the immediate war patrols in the Pacific, the first of which she began on 4 February 1942– bound for Japanese home waters.

Over the course of six patrols, she drew a fair amount of blood from the Emperor’s supply lines, most important of which was the 15,000-ton Japanese Army transportTaiyō Maru (ex-Hamburg-America liner Cap Finisterre), sent to the bottom 120 nautical miles southwest of Kyushu with over 600 Japanese bureaucrats and technicians intended to run occupied the Dutch East Indies, as well as 2,500 tons of munitions.

In April 1943, while in the Straits of Malacca, Grenadier ran into trouble and became one of the 52 American submarines of WWII On Eternal Patrol. 

As noted by DANFS:

Running on the surface at dawn 21 April, Grenadier spotted, and was simultaneously spotted by, a Japanese plane. As the sub crash-dived, her skipper, Comdr. John A. Fitzgerald commented “we ought to be safe now, as we are between 120 and 130 feet.” Just then, bombs rocked Grenadier and heeled her over 15 to 20 degrees. Power and lights failed completely and the fatally wounded ship settled to the bottom at 267 feet. She tried to make repairs while a fierce fire blazed in the maneuvering room.

After 13 hours of sweating it out on the ‘bottom Grenadier managed to surface after dark to clear the boat of smoke and inspect damage. The damage to her propulsion system was irreparable. Attempting to bring his ship close to shore so that the crew could scuttle her and escape into the jungle, Comdr. Fitzgerald even tried to jury-rig a sail. But the long night’s work proved futile. As dawn broke, 22 April, Grenadier’s weary crew sighted two Japanese ships heading for them. As the skipper “didn’t think it advisable to make a stationary dive in 280 feet of water without power,” the crew began burning confidential documents prior to abandoning ship. A Japanese plane attacked the stricken submarine; but Grenadier, though dead in the water and to all appearances helpless, blazed away with machine guns. She hit the plane on its second pass. As the damaged plane veered off, its torpedo landed about 200 yards from the boat and exploded.

Reluctantly opening all vents, Grenadier’s crew abandoned ship and watched her sink to her final resting place. A Japanese merchantman picked up 8 officers and 68 enlisted men and took them to Penang, Malay States, where they were questioned, beaten, and starved before being sent to other prison camps. They were then separated and transferred from camp to camp along the Malay Peninsula and finally to Japan. Throughout the war they suffered brutal, inhuman treatment, and their refusal to reveal military information both frustrated and angered their captors. First word that any had survived Grenadier reached Australia 27 November 1943. Despite the brutal and sadistic treatment, all but four of Grenadier’s crew survived their 2 years in Japanese hands to tell rescuing American forces of their boat’s last patrol and the courage and heroism of her skipper and crew.

The AP is reporting that Grenadier has been located at about 270 feet, some 92 miles south of Phuket, Thailand. It was discovered last year by Singapore-based Jean Luc Rivoire and Benoit Laborie of France, and Australian Lance Horowitz and Belgian Ben Reymenants, who live in Phuket, and recently identified with a high level of certainty.

An image on a sonar screen shows a silhouette shape of a submarine lying on the ocean floor somewhere in the Strait of Malacca on 21 October 2019. The Grenadier (SS-210) lies in approximately 83 meters of water & identified with a probability of 95%. Photo courtesy of Jean Luc Rivoire, submitted by Steve Burton from the article written by Grant Peck of the Associated Press. via Navsource

Grenadier received four battle stars for World War II service and her name was later re-issued to a new boat, the Tench-class GUPPY SS-525.

Her 12-page war diary is in the National Archives in digital format. 

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020: Haida Maru

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, Sept. 16, 2020: Haida Maru

Cordova Historical Society.

Here we see the Tampa-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter/Gun Boat Haida (WPG-45) at the dock in Cordova, Alaska Territory likely in the 1930s. Only 240-feet long, Haida had a long and interesting career that, while it only ran along the West Coast north and south from Oakland to Nome, spanned 26 very busy years.

The four Tampas were designed as the USCG’s first true “multi-mission” cutters, vessels that would be able to perform constabulary work in far-flung U.S. territorial waters, run the newly established post-Titanic International Ice Patrol, serve as gunboats for the Navy in time of war, and perform the service’s traditional SAR, derelict destruction, and at-sea towing roles. For their use in time of conflict, each carried a pair of 5″/51-caliber guns with a provision for a third as well as a 3’/50– big medicine for vessels that before the Great War typically ran 6-pounders. Running a novel turbo-electric drive, they could make (up to) 16.2 knots. Some 240-feet long with a plumb bow and counter stern, they weighed 1,506-tons on builder’s trails.

Guns on USCGC Tampa, note the big 3-incher. The class also carried two 5-inch guns 

Rush-ordered to take on the fleet of Rum Runners coming down from Canada and up from Mexico during Prohibition, all four of the class– Tampa, Mojave, Modoc, and Haida— were built side-by-side on the West Coast by Oakland’s Union Construction Company. The first keel was laid on 27 September 1920 and the last of the four was commissioned 14 January 1922– the entire class delivered in just under 16 months for $775,000 per hull with the armament provided by the USN from stores at Mare Island Navy Yard.

These “proof of concept” ships in turn led to a larger class of 10 multi-mission 250-foot Lake-class cutters ordered in 1927 at $900,000 a pop, and finally, seven fast 327-foot $2.4-million Secretary-class cutters ordered starting in 1935.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian,

Haida was first stationed at Seattle, Washington, and began a peacetime career on the annual Bering Sea Patrols. She first sailed to Unalaska, the headquarters for the Patrol, and then sailed on her assigned tasks, which included acting as a floating court for the inhabitants of the isolated areas she sailed, caring for the sick, conducting search and rescue activities, checking on aids to navigation, regulating fisheries, and other duties.”

U.S. Judge Simon Hellenthal on U.S. Cutter Haida, outbound from Dutch Harbor in 1940 – conducting floating court. Via Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center AMRC-B1990-014-5-Pol-20-51

Aerial view of Seward, Alaska, taken from Bear Mountain. The Coast Guard Cutter Haida is tied up at the dock. 1923-1930. Original size of photograph: 5 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ Seward Community Library SCLA-1-1504

Haida in Unalaska. For her prewar career, she carried USCG-standard scheme including a gleaming white hull and superstructure, buff stack, mast and vents; and black caps with wooden decks. Via NOAA Collection from Van Woert album

A hand-embossed photo of Haida, likely in the 1930s. USCG Historians Collection.

For much of the year, especially before 1939, the random Seattle-based cutters were the only “military” force in Alaska, and on occasion, her skipper was dual-hatted as the United States Commissioner for the Territory. 

Which meant parades. Here, an armed a contingent from HAIDA march in the 4th of July parade in downtown Juneau c.1936.

The Haida’s warrant officers photographed on her quarterdeck. The photo is dated 04 August 1926. Note their distinctive Treasury Service swords. Provided courtesy of Ray Sanford in the Coast Guard Historians Collection

Grandaddy of NorPac SAR

It was on this hardy tasking in the frozen north that Haida shined when it came to pulling souls from the peril of the sea. In 1928, she along with the old (1911) 190-foot cutter Ungala and lighthouse tender Cedar, went to the assistance of the grounded Alaska Packers’ windjammer Star of Falkland on remote Akun Island. 

“Star of Falkland Rescue by Tom Hall” The Coast Guard cutter Haida and the lighthouse tender Cedar prepare to rescue the passengers and crew from the sailing vessel Star of Falkland near Unimak Pass, Alaska on May 23, 1928. The Star of Falkland, a commercial fishing ship, was returning for the fishing season from its winter port in San Francisco when it ran into high winds and fog and struck stern first on rocks at Akun Head near Unimak Pass. The 280 Chinese cannery workers and 40 crewmen spent a night of terror while the ship pounded on the rocks – eight passengers committed suicide. The next morning, the U. S. Lighthouse Service buoy tender Cedar and the Coast Guard cutter Haida arrived on the scene and managed to take all the passengers off Star of Falkland without loss of life. This rescue is one of the most successful in Coast Guard history, and one of the few instances where the United States Coast Guard and one of its future integrated agencies worked together to perform a major rescue. (USCG Art Collection)

Haida also rescued the crew of the steamship Victoria grounded off Pointer Island, British Columbia on 30 December 1934, the survivors of the Patterson, which went aground and was smashed “to pieces” near Lituya Bay in 1938

Patterson aground at Cape Fairweather, Alaska, 1938. Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society

And others…

Her crew even trialed some of the first “Gumby” style exposure suits.

A state-of-the-art military issue survival suit issued onboard cutters on Arctic duty. Shown is a member of Coast Guard Cutter Haida wearing one of the survival suits. U.S. Coast Guard Collection.

Taking a break from saving lives, investigating volcanos, warning the Graf Zeppelin of weather from 1,800 miles away, conducting rowboat crew races in Ketchikan, and otherwise policing Alaska, Haida supported a polar leg of the U.S. Army’s daring Around The World Flight and exercised with the fleet, showing just how “joint” the USCG could be.

Two of the Army’s World Cruisers on the water at Atka, Alaska, on 5 May 1924 with Coast Guard Cutter Haida in the background. The Aleuts of Atka, being unfamiliar with flying apparatus, applied the term “thunder-bird” from their mythology to the Cruisers. National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution Photo Number: NASM USAF-11533AC

One period newspaper article covered her annual cruises thus:

Haida Back After Long Stay At Sea: Weathers Four Storms And Has Busy Night In Dutch Harbor Gale”

After nearly two months’ absence from Juneau during which she cruised into the shadow of the Arctic Circle and back again for 6,200 miles on the log, the Coast Guard cutter Haida is back at her moorings at the Government Wharl. She sailed from Juneau to Attu, the outermost island in the Aleutian chain. Other points on Haida’s voyage were Seward, Kodiak, Chignik, Unalaska. Chemofski. Atka, Nome, Sabonga, and King island.”

The Haida, during Bering Sea Patrol. took medical aid to many, gave help to two storm-tossed vessels, saved two men from drowning. worked on a third who did not revive, and weathered four severe storms heightened by winds at 80 mph or better. One of the gales blew so hard that the plates of the ship were battered and damaged.”

On Armistice Day in Dutch Harbor, the old Alaska Line vessel Northwestern, now a temporary floating barracks and powerhouse at the navy base, nearly broke away from her moorings as an 80-mph wind lashed the harbor. The Haida crew made the Northwestern safely fast to the dock with a 12-inch hawser. and also secured the Wildlife Service vessel Penguin. On the same night, the cook from the Penguin fell overboard from the Northwestern’s plunging gangplank. A Haida resuscitation crew worked for three hours but were unable to revive him.

At Nome, two of the Alaska Line freighter Sutherland’s crew were pulled from the icy waters of the Bering Sea when they fell overboard, Haida crew making the rescue. At Chignik, ship’s doctor Dr. L.W. Brown saved three of four cases of septic throat, stemming an epidemic, and assisted a woman in childbirth.

Then came war

Before Pearl Harbor the entry of the U.S. into WWII, the Coast Guard had been assigned to the Neutrality Patrols in the Atlantic (5 Sept 1939), ordered to stand up the Greenland/Iceland adjacent Atlantic Weather Observation Service (Jan 1940), lost 10 of its fairly new Lake-class cutters to the Royal Navy as part of Lend-Lease Program (April 1941), stood up the Greenland Patrol against German weather stations in the Arctic (July 1941) and was officially transferred to the Navy by executive order (1 November 1941).

This saw the 240-foot cutters converted for war with depth charges, additional guns, sonar, and radar. Modoc, Mojave, and Tampa— who had been stationed on the East Coast before the war– were assigned to the Greenland Patrol to chase Germans.

U.S. Coast Guard Combat Cutter, The Tampa, which patrols the North Atlantic, in the resumption of the International Ice Patrol World.” Accession #: L41-03 Catalog #: L41-03.02.02

Meanwhile, humble Haida, dubbed Haida Maru by her crew, was tasked to patrol the Pacific Northwest and Alaskan waters, assigned to NOWESTSEAFRON.

CGC Haida in the Bering Sea sometime in 1945. Note her wartime appearance and armament including camo scheme. Photo courtesy of Jack Alberts in the USCG Historian’s Collection.

Haida’s wartime armament was considerable for a tub her size, at the end including four 40mm Bofors mounts for AAA, two depth charge racks, four Y-guns, and two Mousetrap ASW mortars in addition to her 5-inch guns. However, with her weight now pushing almost 2,000-tons, her 20+-year-old GE electric motor did not push her at blistering speeds.

As described in Fern Chandonnet’s Alaska at War, 1941-1945: The Forgotten War Remembered:

On one eastbound escort– remembered by crew member Robert Erwin Johnson– the Haida steamed straight ahead at about 14 knots while the steamship being escorted zigzagged back and forth to avoid overtaking her escort.

Haida prosecuted various possible Japanese submarine contacts, dropping ASW weapons on at least four of them in 1943, at a time when assorted Japanese boats were in fact in that part of the North Pacific, while escorting troopships and freighters to Alaska.

By 1944, she began a regular albeit boring job of manning Weather Station “A” at fortnightly intervals through March 1946, an important facet of trans-oceanic shipping and air traffic.

With the end of the war at hand and the USCG chopped from the deep-pocket FDR-era Navy to the strapped-for-cash post-conflict Treasury Department, all four Tampas were deemed surplus, replaced by a baker’s dozen of newer 255-foot Owasco-class cutters. As such, they were all decommissioned in 1947 and thereafter sold for breaking.

Haida was sold in 1948 and later scrapped in 1951 by the Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company, within sight of her traditional Seattle home port. One of her crew, Robert Erwin Johnson, penned a book of his war experience, Bering Sea Escort: Life Aboard a Coast Guard Cutter in World War II.

Her plans and logbooks are in the National Archives, with most of the latter fully digitized. 

Specs:

The Coast Guard Cutter HAIDA’s sister, MODOC, seen in pre-1941 arrangement. USCG

Displacement: 1,506 tons (trial); 1,955 tons (1945)
Length: 240 feet oa (220 ft at waterline)
Beam: 39 feet
Draft: 13′ 2″ (designed) 17′ 9″ max (1945)
Machinery: 1 x General Electric 2,040 kVa electric motor driven by a turbo-generator; 2 x Babcock & Wilcox, cross-drum type, 200 psi, 750° F superheat
Performance:
Maximum speed/endurance: 16.2 knots on trial (1921)
Maximum sustained: 15.5 knots, 3,500 mile radius (1945)
Economic speed/endurance: 9.0 knots @ 5,500 mile radius (1945) on 87,400 gal fuel oil
Complement:
14 officers, 2 warrants, 80 men (1945).
Electronics: (1944)
Detection Radar: SA
Sonar: QCJ-3
Armament:
1921: 2 x 5″/51 single mounts; 2 x 6 pounders; 1 x 1 pounder
1942: 2 x 5″/51 single mounts; 1 x 3/50 (single); 2 x .50 caliber machine guns; 4 x “Y” guns; 2 depth charge tracks.
1943: 2 x 3″/50 single mounts; 4 x 20 mm/80 (single); 2 x depth charge tracks; 4 x “Y” guns; 2 x mousetraps.

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