Category Archives: for those lost at sea

Warship Wednesday, May 18, 2022: Spaghetti Battleship Slayer

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

Warship Wednesday, May 18, 2022: Spaghetti Battleship Slayer

Via the Archivio Centrale dello Stato (ACS), the Italian Central State Archives

Above we see a tonnage flag flown by the Marcello-class submarine R. Smg. Barbarigo after she sank a
Colorado-class battleship, specifically the USS Maryland (BB-46), some 80 years ago this month. What’s that? You didn’t know Maryland was Deep Sixed by the Royal Italian Navy during WWII? Well, about that…

The nine submarines of the Marcello class were all constructed in 1937-38 by Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico in Trieste for the Italians, drawing from lessons learned during the Spanish Civil War in which Italian Sottomarini Legionari (Submariners Legion) “pirate” submarines fought a not-so-secret war on behalf of Franco. Small vessels compared to American and Japanese “fleet boats,” the Marcellos were only 1,300-tons submerged and 239 feet overall. However, they were speedy for the time, able to make 17 knots on the surface, had long enough legs (7,500nm range at 9 knots) for operations outside of the Med, and carried eight 21-inch torpedo tubes as well as two 4″/47cal deck guns.

Launch of Regio Sommergibile Cappellini, one of the Marcello class. Note her two forward starboard bow tubes. The class had four tubes forward and four stern, an unusual arrangement compared to American subs. Note that her deck guns have not been fitted.

A trio of brand new Italian Marcello-class submarines in Venice, 1939, complete with deck guns. They carried one 4″/47 forward of the sail, another aft, as well as fittings for two twin 13.2mm Breda (Hotchkiss) Model 1931 AAA machine guns. In the foreground on the right is an H-class submarine and in the background are some cruisers and Folgore-class destroyers.

Overall, the Italians could have done worse, and the class was successful in WWII.

Our subject was named for the 15th-century Doge of Venice, Agostino Barbarigo, the commander of the Venetian fleet in the Battle of Lepanto and a figure made infamous by the Assassin’s Creed video game series.

Agostino Barbarigo by Paolo Veronese, Cleveland Museum of Art.

As such, she was the second submarine Barbarigo in the Italian Navy, with the first being the leader of a four-boat class designed during the Great War that served through the 1920s.

The first R. Smg. Barbarigo was active from 1918 through 1928.

Laid down at C.R.D.A. Monfalcone, (Trieste) on 6 February 1937, R. Smg. Barbarigo (2°) was commissioned 19 September 1938 and was assigned to 2º Gruppo Sommergibili at Naples.

Early War Service

When the war started, with the Italian kick-off coming during the last weeks of the Fall of France in June 1940, under the command of Capitano di Corvetta (CC) Giulio Ghiglieri, Barbarigo’s first war patrol was a sortie off the coast of Algeria that yielded no results. Her second patrol, the next month between Cape de Gata and Cape Falcon, was much the same.

Once France fell and the Germans were setting up shop in the English Channel, Barbarigo was one of the Italian submarines assigned to the BETASOM group which would become operational in the North Atlantic from Bordeaux. Passing Gibraltar on 14 August 1940, four days later the boat was in an unsuccessful surface action with the British steamer Aguilar (3,255 GRT) bound from Lisbon to the Canary Islands.

Italian sumergible Barbarigo going up the Garonne river to reach her BETASOM base in Bordeaux.

Italian submarine Barbarigo in Bordeaux 1942.

Submarine Barbarigo, Bordeaux, note her deck gun

Stern shot in Bordeaux

Barbarigo in Bordeaux.

Ghiglieri would command Barbarigo on her 4th, 5th, and 6th War Patrols, never officially bagging anything although she was highly active, ranging from Ireland to the Bay of Biscay. Ghiglieri would leave the boat in June 1941, having commanded her under combat conditions for a full year. He would go on to command the Pisani-class boat Des Geneys for a year, also unsuccessfully, then rode a desk for the rest of the war.

Barbarigo’s new skipper, CC Francesco Murzi, was immediately successful, sinking the British freighter Macon (5,141 GRT) and tanker Horn Shell (8,272 GRT) back-to-back in July 1941.

The Grossi Era

With Murzi transferred to command the new, and larger, Cagni-class submarine Ammiraglio Millo in August, Barbarigo’s third wartime skipper would be CC Enzo Grossi. Born in Brazil in 1908, Grossi was a seasoned commander, having joined the Italian Navy in 1929 and risen to command the submarines Tito Speri and Medusa earlier in the war, earning both the Silver and Bronze military medals for valor in operations in the Med.

Barbarigo’s 8th War Patrol (22 Oct- 11 Nov) saw her operate against convoy H.G.75 off the Portuguese coast in conjunction with German U-boats and have a stalking duel with the British submarine HMS/m Una, ultimately returning to port without sinking anything.

The boat’s 9th patrol (18 Jan – 16 Feb 1942), west of the Azores, saw more success with the unarmed Spanish cargo ship Navemar (5,301 GRT) sent to the bottom, although Grossi claimed to have sunk a large armed merchant cruiser.

Her 10th patrol, run some 300 miles off the Brazilian coast from 25 April to 16 June, would become famous, at least in her time.

On 18 May, she seriously damaged the Brazilian tanker Comandante Lyra (5,753 GRT) bound for Pernambuco, and two days later came across a battleship and escorting destroyer(s).

Via Uboat.net:

At 0245 hours, Barbarigo was steering 020°, when an officer of the watch, First Officer T.V. Angelo Amendolia, observed a dark shadow. He immediately put the helm hard to starboard and summoned C.C. Grossi to the bridge. It was a large destroyer. The submarine was ready to make a stern attack when a much larger shadow appeared, which was identified as an American battleship of the MARYLAND-CALIFORNIA class because of her lattice masts. A second destroyer followed her.

At 0250 hours, two stern torpedoes were fired at 650 meters, aimed at the “battleship” (one of 533mm and one 450mm of type A 115) which was steering 200° at 15 knots. After 35 seconds, two explosions were observed. G.M. Tendi who was observing with binoculars reported that the battleship was sunk, and this confirmed Grossi’s impressions. From a distance of 800 meters, Grossi saw the battleship sinking bow first.

Grossi did not waste time in forwarding his claim and, at 1500 hours on 22nd May, he received a signal from Rome informing him of his promotion and the congratulations from the Duce and a grateful Nation.

The patrol also included an attack on the British freighter Charlbury (4,836 GRT) that was sent to the bottom after a five-hour, six-torpedo engagement on 29 May.

Returning to Bordeaux with his kill flags flying, Grossi and crew were feted by the German and Italian media.

Grossi, in the sweater, regaling the crowd with the stories from the patrol

The conning tower slogan reads, “Who fears death is unworthy of living.”

Although Grossi had not even been on the bridge at the time, he was dutifully photographed, shirtless and engrossed, recreating the attack at the boat’s periscope.

Of course, as you likely know, the USS Maryland (Battleship No. 46) in May 1942 was in training exercises in Hawaiian waters alongside her sister USS Colorado, having just been patched up at Puget Sound Navy Yard after Pearl Harbor. Her third sister, USS West Virginia, was still at Puget Sound for a longer, two-year, reconstruction and modernization. Of the visually similar California class, both USS California and USS Tennessee were likewise at PSNY under repair from Pearl Harbor. In short, there were no such battleships as Grossi claimed off Brazil in May 1942.

The postwar analysis points to the target Grossi engaged were the elderly Omaha-class light cruiser USS Milwaukee (CL-5) — a ship of 7,000 tons rather than 32,000– escorted by the lone Porter-class destroyer USS Moffett (DD-362), neither of which knew they were attacked.

On Grossi’s next patrol, Barbarigo’s 11th during the war, the boat sortied from Bordeaux on 29 August and returned a full month later, having dealt deadly blows to the Americans once again while steaming off the Brazilian coast and West Africa.

In the pre-dawn hours of 6 October, with Grossi again not in the control room, he bagged another battleship. What luck!

Times 05.40 of the day 6 – Stq. 23 of the q.d.p. n. 6718 (lat. 02’10/20’N, long. 14°10/20’W) time 02.34 I have sunk a unit type Nb (battleship) Cl. (class) ” Mississippi ” (U.S.A.) course 150° speeds 13knots four forward torpedoes hit 6 meters seen the ship sink avoided reaction I direct zone – 043106.

Two days later, when the news hit an embattled Central Europe, Hitler conferred the Iron Cross to Grossi. El Duce likewise promoted him to C.V. and awarded him the Medaglia d’Oro, the highest Italian award.

Grossi became one of the most decorated naval officers in the Axis fleets, personally receiving two EAKs from Donitz and Italy’s highest award from El Duce

The slayer of two battleships, a feat greater than Günther Prien, Hans-Diedrich von Tiesenhausen, Eli Thomas Reich, Johannes Spiess, and Rudolf Schneider, submarine skippers who only had one battleship to their name across two world wars.

In actuality, USS Mississippi (Battleship No. 41) was at the time participating in exercises off Hawaii and escorting convoys back and forth to Fiji. Her sisterships USS New Mexico (BB-40) and Idaho (BB-42) were at the time both at PSNY undergoing modernization.

As noted by Uboat.net:

Unfortunately, the “battleship” was the Flower-class corvette HMS Petunia (K 17) who had sighted five torpedo tracks (not four!). One torpedo passed under her (the torpedoes had been set for a depth of 6 meters) and another missed close astern, but her ASDIC and R.D.F. were inoperative and her counterattack, at 2255 hours, with only one depth charge was ineffective.

With such a high-value personality on their hands, Grossi was promoted to the safety of shore duty and made the commander of BETASOM at Bordeaux in December 1942. After the Italians dropped out of the war in September 1943, the last four Italian boats pierside in France (Bagnolini, Giuliani, Cappellini, and Torelli) were handed over to the Germans.

Grossi then cast his lot with Mussolini’s remnant fascist Italian Social Republic, assuming command of the 1ª Divisione Atlantica Fucilieri in the Marina Nazionale Repubblicana, a paper force of some 5,000 shipless Italian sailors and Marines employed piecemeal by the Kriegsmarine to build and equip coastal batteries on the Atlantic Wall and in the Channel Islands. The unit took part in the Battle of Normandy, with some isolated garrisons– Lorient, Saint-Nazaire, and La Rochelle– only surrendering at the end of the war.

Grossi also apparently was key in a plan to smuggle Mussolini to Japan in 1945 that, obviously, fell through.

As for Barbarigo, her days were numbered as well. Under LT Roberto Rigoli, the submarine would sink the freighters Monte Igueldo (Spain, 3,453 GRT), Affonso Penna (Brazil, 3,540 GRT), and Stag Hound (U.S. 8,591 GRT) across a week in February-March 1943 on Barbarigo’s 12th War Patrol.

Her 13th Patrol would turn out to be her unluckiest. Sailing with her 5th wartime skipper in four years– LT Umberto De Julio– Barbarigo was converted to a blockade-running transport submarine, code name Aquila V, and sailed from Bordeaux on 16 June 1943 to Singapore with 130 tons of materials and 5 billion Lire. She was never seen again and was believed sunk sometime around 24 June, the cause is unknown. De Julio, five officers, 47 ratings, and two passengers– Imperial Japanese Army Colonels Gondo and Miura– disappeared with her. 

Epilogue

During their missions in the Atlantic, the 27 Italian submarines assigned to BETASOM sank a total of 109 ships for 593,864 gross tons, with Barbarigo accounting for 7 of those ships for 39,300 GRT. These are the hard numbers, not the unverified figures. This puts Barbarigo in fifth place among the BETASOM boats, behind Da Vinci (17 ships, 120,243 GRT, the most successful non-German Axis sub of WWII), Tazzoli (18/96,650 GRT), Torelli (7/42,871), and Morosini (6/40,927).

Barbarigo was one of 88 Italian submarines lost during the war, some two-thirds of their force. Keep in mind the U.S. Navy “only” lost 52 boats during the conflict, giving you a window on how dangerous it was to be an Italian submariner.

Of Barbarigo’s sisters, only Dandolo was in operational condition at the end of the war, having sailed to the United States after the Italian armistice in Sept. 1943. She was scrapped in 1948, the Italians soon moving on to surplus American boats.

Barbarigo’s best-known skipper, Enzo Grossi was cashiered and stripped of all ranks in 1945 by the post-war Italian government. A subsequent investigative commission by the Italian Navy, working in conjunction with Allied archivists, revoked his WWII awards and discredited his battleship sinking claims. Grossi, who emigrated to Argentina after the war, died from a tumor in 1960, aged just 52. The findings of the 1948 commission were later confirmed by a second board in 1962.

Of note, USS Maryland and Mississippi became two of the longest-living American battlewagons, with “Fighting Mary” only sold to the breakers in 1959, some 43 years after she was ordered, and the “Mighty Miss” still on active duty as a missile trials ship as late as 1956.

Specs:

 

U.S. Navy ONI-202 circa 1942 listing for the Marcello class


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Falklands in their own words

As you probably are already aware, we are in the midst of the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War.

British soldier aboard the passenger line SS Canberra waiting for an Argentine air attack with his FN MAG. Falklands War, 1982 IWM

Forces News has a good, new, 25-minute mini-doc on the British effort, with recent interviews from many involved in the liberation, including Maj. Gen Julian Thompson (3 Commando), Ivar Hellberg (CO RM Logistics) Lt. Robert Lawrence (Scots Guards, Tumbledown) and others.

For another take, the Royal Navy has a three-part series with a trio of enlisted RN vets from the conflict– Steve Tinney (MM, HMS Brilliant, aged 31 at the time), Mark Eve (SK, HMS Heckler, 23 years at the time) and John Strachan (GM, HMS Broadsword, age 23) speaking with current recruits. It is a really good take.

 

A brutal season, 80 years ago today

There are dozens of photos taken by the assembled escorts of the stricken aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) as she underwent her death throes on the morning of 8 May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea, but this one– probably the great explosion from the detonation of torpedo warheads stowed in the starboard side of the hangar at 1727 hrs– always caught my attention.

USS Lexington explodes while being scuttled following the Battle of the Coral Sea, 8 May 1942

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-16651

In the above photo, the smaller carrier, USS Yorktown (CV-5), can be seen on the horizon in the left-center, while the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412) is at the extreme left.

To further punctuate the viciousness of the first year of the Pacific War, both Yorktown and Hammann, a Sims-class destroyer, would be lost in the same torpedo salvo at Midway less than a month after this image was taken. Likewise, Hammann‘s class-leader, Sims (DD-409) was sunk at the Coral Sea the day before Lexington was lost.

Before 1942 was over, Yorktown‘s sistership, Hornet (CV-7) would also rest on the bottom of the Pacific as would two other Sims-class tin cans, Walke (DD-416) and O’Brien (DD-415). In 1943, the tide turned, but there would still be years of hard effort to go.

Speaking of the Coral Sea, check out this great NHHC graphic that was just released.

The Sullivans: The Pumps are on and She is Looking Better

We’ve covered the porous hull saga of the USS The Sullivans several times in the past couple of years and the latest is (a modest) improvement.

First, the flooding is at least being controlled and the ship is slowly dewatering after several hull patches have been applied. Her list is slowly correcting.

Next, a lot of irreplaceable relics– that did not get harmed– have been removed and safely stored ashore.

“At least 40 key artifacts have been removed safely from the ship completely unharmed, including a scale model of the ship, pictures of the Sullivan brothers, artifacts from the Sullivan family church in Waterloo, Iowa, historic flags, and the Sullivan family tree.”

The latest video update is below.

Warship Wednesday, April 27, 2022: Sparks Paratus

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

Warship Wednesday, April 27, 2022: Sparks Paratus

U.S. National Archives Local Identifier 26-G-01-19-50

Here we see the U.S. Revenue Cutter U.S. Grant, in her original scheme, seen sometime late in the 1890s, likely off the coast of New York. With the Union general and 18th President’s birthday today– coincidentally falling on National Morse Code Day– you knew this was coming, and interestingly, the above cutter, which had served during the SpanAm War, was the first post-Civil War U.S. vessel named in honor of Ulysses S. Grant.

Built at Wilmington, Delaware at the yards of Pusey & Jones Corp in 1871, Grant was a one-off Barque-rigged iron-hulled steam cutter ordered for the Revenue Cutter Service at a cost of $92,500. With the Revenue Marine/Cutter Service one that typically ran quick little sloops and schooner-rigged vessels between 1790 and 1916 when it became part of the newly-formed U.S. Coast Guard, Grant was one of the few built for the seagoing service with three masts.

Some 163-feet in length (overall) the 350-ton ship was the largest of four new steam cutters– the other three were paddle-wheelers– authorized by Congress in 1870 as part of a plan by N. Broughton Devereux, head of the Revenue Marine Bureau, in an effort to revitalize the force that had languished in the days immediately after the Civil War despite having been the sole federal agency tasked with patrolling the broad and wild seas off Alaska.

Cutter Grant via the New York Historical Society

Despite the massive amounts of left-over Civil War ordnance being sold as surplus, Grant was given a battery of four bronze M1841 24-pounder muzzleloading howitzers– field guns that had been considered obsolete at Gettysburg– and a small arms locker made up of rare .46 caliber (rimfire) single-shot Ballard carbines. She was known to still have this armament into the early 1890s. Her crew consisted of about 35 officers, engineers, and men.

Her shakedown complete just after Christmas 1871, Grant was assigned to the New York station on 19 January 1872 a cruising ground that covered from Montauk Point to the Delaware.

For the next 20 years, she maintained a very workaday existence in the peacetime Revenue Service. This included going out on short patrols of coastal waters, assisting with the collection of the tariff, catching the occasional smuggler, responding to distress calls (helping to save the crew of the reefed Revenue Cutter Bronx in 1873, saving the schooner Ida L. Howard in 1882, the British steam-ship Pomona bound from this port for Jamaica in 1884, and the demasted three-masted schooner William H. Keeney in 1887), policing posh ocean yacht races (even hosting her namesake President aboard in July 1875 for the Cape May Regatta), taking President Rutherford B. Hayes’ Treasury Secretary John Sherman (Gen. William T. Sherman’s brother) for a tour of all Revenue Cutter stations along the east coast in 1877, searching for lost cargo (notably spending a week in December 1887 along with the sloop-of-war USS Enterprise on the hunt for a raft of logs towed from Nova Scotia hat had departed its line off New England), suppressing mutinies (the steamer Northern Light in November 1883), and getting in the occasional gunnery practice.

In 1877, Grant had the bad fortune of colliding with the schooner Dom Pedro off Boon Island on a hot July night. Standing by, the cutter rescued all nine souls aboard the sinking vessel and brought them safely into Boston. An inquiry board found the Dom Pedro, who had no lights set while in shipping lanes at night, at fault.

In July 1883, Grant inspected– and later seized under orders of the U.S. Attorney’s office and at the insistence of the Haitian government– the tugboat Mary N. Hogan, which had reportedly been fitting out in the East River as a privateer under finance from certain British subjects to carry arms to rebels in Haiti.

Grant would serve as a quarantine vessel hosting Siamese royalty, as well as Hawaiian Queen Kapiʻolani and Princess Liliʻuokalani, the latter royals stopping in New York on their way to attend the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in London.

From November 1888 through April 1889, Grant had her steam plant replaced at the DeLamater Iron Works docks– the same plant that had constructed the steam boilers and machinery for the ironclad USS Monitor.

Shortly afterward, Grant landed her ancient Army surplus howitzers for a pair of brand-new rapid-fire Mark 1 Hotchkiss Light 1-pounders, from a lot of 25 ordered by the Revenue Cutter Service from a Navy contract issued to Pratt & Whitney of Hartford.

Unidentified officers around an early 1-pdr on the gunboat USS Nahant. Detroit Publishing Company Collection Photograph. Library of Congress Photograph ID LC-D4-20046.

Her skipper at the time, a man who would remain with Grant for the rest of her career, was Captain Dorr Francis Tozier. Something of a legend in the service already, the Georgia-born Tozier received his commission from Abraham Lincoln one month before the president’s assassination and was awarded a Gold Medal by the President of the French Republic “for gallant, courageous, and efficient services” in saving the French bark Peabody in 1877, while the latter was grounded on Horn Island in the Mississippi Sound.

Tozier, 1895

In July 1891, it was announced that the 11 large sea-going cutters of the RCS would switch to a white paint scheme– something that the modern Coast Guard has maintained ever since.

In October 1893, as part of beefing up the Bearing Sea Patrol which enforced a prohibitory season on pelagic sealing as well as protecting the Pac Northwest salmon fisheries, the East Coast-based cutters Perry (165 ft, 282 tons, four guns)– which had been based at Erie Pennsylvania to police the waters of Lake Ontario– along with our very own Grant, were ordered to make the 16,000-mile pre-Panama Canal cruise from New York to Puget Sound, where they would be based. The two vessels would join the cutters Rush, Corwin, Bear, and Wolcott, giving the RSC six vessels to cover Alaskan waters, even if they did so on deployments from Seattle.

The re-deployment from Atlantic to Pacific was rare at the time for the RSC, as vessels typically were built and served their entire careers in the same region. Sailing separately, the two cutters would call in St. Thomas, Pernambuco, Rio, Montevideo, Stanley, Valparaiso (which was under a revolutionary atmosphere), Callao, and San Diego along the way.

Leaving New York on 6 December, Grant arrived at Port Townsend on 23 April 1894, ending a voyage of 73 days and 20 hours, logging an average of 8.45 knots while underway, burning 358 pounds of coal per hour.

Late in her career, with an all-white scheme. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections. Oliver S. Van Olinda Photographs and Ephemera Collection. PH Coll 376, no UW22223

1898!

Rather than chopping as a whole to the Navy as the Coast Guard would do in WWI and WWII, President McKinley’s Secretary of the Treasury, John D. Long, implemented a plan to transfer control of 20 cutters “ready for war” to the Army and Navy’s control during the conflict with Spain.

Supporting the Army, from Boston to New Orleans, were seven small cutters with a total of 10 guns, crewed by 33 officers and 163 men, engaged in patrolling, and guarding assorted Army-manned coastal forts and mine fields.

A force of 13 larger revenue cutters, carrying 61 guns, staffed by 98 officers and 562 enlisted, served with the Navy. Eight of these cutters, including the famed little Hudson, served under the command of ADM Simpson off Havanna while the cutter McCulloch served with Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron for the conquest of the Philippines. Meanwhile, four other cutters (ours included) served with the Navy on the Pacific coast, keeping an eye out for potential Spanish commerce raiders, and filling in for the lack of Navy vessels along the West Coast at the time.

The four cutters patrolling the Pacific:

Arriving at San Francisco from Seattle on 7 April 1898, U. S. Grant and her crew were placed under Navy control four days later, on 11 April, operating as such through June.

Dispatched northward once again to search for a rumored Spanish privateer thought seeking to prey on the U.S. whaling and sealing fleet in Alaskan waters ala CSS Shenandoah-style, Grant found no such sea wolf and returned to the Treasury Department on 16 August, arrived back in Seattle on 18 September.

Back to peace

Returning to her peacetime duties and stomping grounds, Grant ran hard aground on an uncharted rock off Saanich Inlet just northwest of Victoria on 22 May 1901. Abandoned, she languished until her fellow cutters Perry and Rush arrived to help pull her off, patch her up, and tow her to Seattle for repairs.

Portside view of Revenue Cutter Grant at anchor without her foremast, likey after her wreck in 1901. Port Angeles Public Library. SHIPPOWR206

Fresh off repairs, in December she was part of the search for the lost Royal Navy sloop HMS Condor, which had gone missing while steaming from Esquimalt to Hawaii. Never found, it is believed Condor’s crew perished to a man in a gale off Vancouver. Grant recovered one of her empty whaleboats, along with a sailor’s cap and a broom, from the locals on Flores Island, with Tozier, the cutter’s longtime skipper, trading his dress sword for the relics. The recovered boat was passed on to the British sloop HMS Egeria, and Tozier’s sword was later replaced by the Admiralty, a matter that required an act of Congress for Tozier to keep.

Switching back to her role as a law enforcer, Grant was busily interdicting the maritime smuggling of opium and Chinese migrants from British Columbia to the Washington Territory in the early 1900s.

She also was detailed to help look for one of the last of the Old West outlaws, Harry Tracy, “the last survivor of the Wild Bunch.” After a shootout that left six dead in 1902, Tracy was at large in the region, taking hostages and generally terrifying the citizenry.

The Seattle Star, Volume 4, Number 113, 6 July 1902

By early 1903, with Tracy dead, it was announced the aging cutter would be sold.

The San Juan islander February 19, 1903

To tame the airwaves!

Grant, mislabeled as “USS” at Discovery Bay off Washington’s Strait of Juan de Fuca, October 1903. NOAA photo

Nonetheless, as part of a maintenance period, Grant was fitted by the Pacific Wireless Company while berthed in Tacoma with experimental Slaby Arco equipment to receive wireless messages. Regular use of wireless telegraphy by the Revenue Cutter Service was inaugurated by Grant on 1 November 1903. This was an important achievement for the service, as the Navy had only three ships with wireless equipment installed at the time.

As detailed by the Coast Guard Historian’s office: 

Tozier’s initial wireless tests proved successful, allowing the Grant to keep in contact with the Port Townsend Customs House throughout its patrol area—a 100-mile radius from the cutter’s homeport. After testing and adjustment of the new equipment, the Grant was ready for its first practical use of wireless for revenue cutter duties. On April 1, 1904, the Grant switched on its wireless set and began a new era of marine radio communication between ship and shore stations.

The new wireless radio technology proved very effective in directing revenue cutters and patrol boats in maritime interdiction operations. However, it took another three years to convince Congress of the importance of “radio” (which superseded the term “wireless telegraph” in 1906) to both its law enforcement and search-and-rescue missions. In March 1907, Congress finally appropriated the $35,000 needed to fund wireless installations on board 12 cruising cutters.

However, Grant would not get a chance to use her new radio equipment much, and by 1906 she was reported condemned, although still in service.

The San Juan Islander, Volume 15, Number 49, 6 January 1906

Grant’s last official government duty, in February 1906, was to solemnly transport bodies from the Valencia accident from Neah Bay to Seattle for burial. The affair, the worst maritime disaster in the “Graveyard of the Pacific” off Vancouver Island, left an estimated 181 dead.

Epilogue

Grant was sold from government service in 1906 to a Mr. A.A. Cragen for $16,300, and then further to the San Juan Fishing and Packing Co. who rebuilt her as a halibut fishing steamer. The old cutter was wrecked for the last time in 1911 on the rocks of Banks Island.

Her logs are in the National Archives but, sadly, have not been digitized. 

As for her longtime skipper Tozier, while stationed in Seattle he became a renowned collector of local artifacts. As related by the Summer 1992 issue of Columbia Magazine:

The assignment gave Tozier the opportunity to put Grant into remote rivers and harbors where natives were as eager to trade the things they made and used as their forefathers had been to trade fur pelts. He became imbued with collecting fever, realizing that his was a rare opportunity to bring out from the wilderness, to be seen, preserved, and appreciate, the elements of a civilization that was rapidly being superseded by that of the white settlers.

Captain Dorr F. Tozier, USRC Grant, top row right. He brought the cutter around the Horn from New York in the 1890s and remained in command for 14 years. Here he is visiting Numukamis Village on Barclay Sound, Vancouver Island, BC. Photograph by Samuel G. Morse. 21 Jan. 1902. Courtesy of the WA. State Historical Society. # 1917.115.217

In all, once retired from the RSC in 1907, Tozier sold his collection of some 10,000 artifacts including 2,500 baskets, 100 stone chisels and axes, carved jade pipes, harpoons, war clubs, knives of copper, ivory, shell and iron, a war canoe, and “12 mammoth totems, each weighing between 600 to 20,000 pounds.” In all, the collection weighed 60 tons and required 11 large horse-drawn vans to move to the Washington State Art Association’s Ferry Museum in 1908.

A fraction of Capt. Tozier’s artifacts, c. 1905. Model canoe, house posts, sculptures, part of a house front, masks, and a replica of a copper. The collection was first exhibited at the Ferry Museum (Tacoma,) then removed to Seattle in 1909, and finally to the National Museum of the American Indian under the Smithsonian, WA. DC. This photo c. 1905 courtesy of the WSHS #19543.19

When the Ferry Museum was dissolved in the 1930s, the collection was scattered and spread out across the world, with some pieces making their way to the Smithsonian.

Speaking of museums, the last pistol owned by the Outlaw Tracy is on display at the White River Valley Museum in Auburn, Washington. Bruce Dern portrayed him in the 1982 film Harry Tracy, Desperado.

As for Grant’s name, neither the RCS nor its follow-on USCG descendant reissued it.

The Navy only felt the need to bestow the moniker post-1865 to a successive pair of unarmed Great War-era transports before finally issuing it during the centennial of the Civil War to a James Madison-class FBM submarine, USS Ulysses S. Grant (SSBN-631), which served from 1964 to 1992.

The Coast Guard, however, did mention our old revenue cutter in its last HF CW transmission, sent by station NMN from Chesapeake, Virginia, at 0001Z on April 1, 1995. As an ode to the first wireless message transmitted in 1844, “What hath God wrought,” the message concluded with, “we bid you 73 [best regards]. What hath God wrought.”

Specs:

Displacement: 350 tons
Length: 163’
Beam: 25’
Draft: 11’ 4”
Machinery: Barque rigged steamer, vertical steam engine, two boilers, one screw, 11 knots max
Complement: 35-45
Armament:
4 x M1841 24-pounder guns, small arms (1871)
2 x Hotchkiss MK 1 37mm 1-pdrs, small arms (1891)


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

They are 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.

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93 Meters Down

The wreck of a British warship has been found off the west coast of Scotland, almost 105 years to the day she sank

Commissioned in 1893, the 800-ton Alarm-class torpedo gunboat HMS Jason was the 11th warship to carry that name for the Royal Navy going back to 1673. Capable of just 18 knots when new and outclassed by later destroyer classes, the Alarms were paid off or converted to other purposes in the 1900s. As such, this saw Jason turn into a minesweeper in 1909. It was in such a role that, on 3 April 1917, Jason struck a mine laid by the German submarine U-78 off the Island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides, sending the little vessel and 30 of her crew to the bottom.

Now, reports the Admiralty, Jason has been located, 93 meters down:

They found the warship in surprisingly good condition – but minus her bow, blown off when she struck the mine… ironically during a minesweeping operation in company with HMS Circe.

The depth, weather and water conditions, the undulating seabed, and the fact that dives are only possible at certain times of year have meant the wreck had not been found – despite Jason’s loss being accurately documented, even photographed, at the time.

The discovery is the work of historians Wendy Sadler and Kevin Heath from Lost in Waters Deep, who research contemporary records and the personal history of crew, and a team from Orkney-based SULA Diving led by Steve Mortimer and their support boat MV Clasina, skippered by Bob Anderson.

A sonar scan earlier this year suggested HMS Jason had been found – no other wrecks were known in the area – but it needed visual confirmation.

At 93 meters down, divers had just 20 minutes to inspect the wreck before returning to the surface.

They found tell-tale features of a warship: a pointed stern, a distinctive propeller, two 4.7in guns, and Admiralty crockery.

Moskova (Slava) confirmed sunk, prepare the lasers!

The old Cold War headline, familiar again, “TASS reports….”

The official Russian state media announcements on the Project 1164 Atlant cruiser Moskova/Moskva (ex-Soviet Slava), in three headlines and ledes, posted some 21 hours apart:

With that, Russia has admitted to the largest warship sunk in combat since 1982 (ARA Belgrano/ex-USS Pheonix) and its first cruiser lost since 1941 (Chervona Ukraina/ex-Bogdan Khmelnitsky/ex-Admiral Nakhimov).

Moskova is also the largest warship lost (reportedly) to an anti-ship missile in combat, surpassing the Royal Navy’s well-documented loss of the 4,800-ton Type 42 destroyer HMS Sheffield (D80), which, like Moskova, foundered under tow after a missile attack left her a burnt-out hulk.

Speaking of anti-ship missile news, the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research announced on the same day Moskova was hit by the Ukrainians, that it had conducted (in February) a “Historic Test of New Laser Weapon System.”

The test involved Lockheed Martin’s Layered Laser Defense (LLD) weapon, intended “as a multi-domain, multi-platform demonstration system. It can counter unmanned aerial systems and fast-attack boats with a high-power laser—and also use its high-resolution telescope to track in-bound air threats, support combat identification, and conduct a battle damage assessment of engaged targets.”

And it splashed a drone “representing a subsonic cruise missile in flight.”

Sure, just about every dangerous wave skipper out there is super (or hyper) sonic these days, but don’t get lost in the sauce that this was a shootdown by an all-electric, high-energy laser weapon, which could be the way of the near future.

“It’s a challenging problem, but Navy leadership at all levels see the potential for laser weapons to really make a difference,” Dr. Frank Peterkin, ONR’s directed energy portfolio manager, said. “The next few years are going to be very exciting as we work with the Navy and joint partners to make the capability we just saw demonstrated by the LLD a reality for the naval warfighter.”

The last T-bone, 10 cents a peek

“Jamboree Day” on USS Yorktown (CV-5), 10 April 1942. Parading the last T-bone steak on board. Two sailors displaying a sign that reads “Special Slide Show. Big T-Bone Steak. The only one in captivity. 10 cents a peek. Do Not Touch.”

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 95570

Note the Marines with newly-issued M-1 (Garand) rifles and fixed bayonets surrounding the steak and the clarinet player with beard and sunglasses.

At the extreme right is the tail of an F4F-3 Wildcat fighter (Bureau # 3999) that had been transferred to Fighting Squadron 42 (VF-42) from Fighting Squadron Two (VF-2) in March 1942. Note Bombing Squadron Five (VB-5) SBD-3 aircraft parked in the background and volleyball net in the upper center.

Yorktown, still nursing grave damage from the Battle of Coral Sea, would be sunk at Midway less than two months after this somber celebration.

Fighting Two and Bombing Five would go on to fight another day, as would another carrier with the name Yorktown, and by 1945 steaks would be back on the menu.

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2022: Jesse James of the Java Sea

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

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2022: Jesse James of the Java Sea

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #NH 99230

Here we see the Salmon-class fleet submarine USS Sturgeon (SS-187) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 3 May 1943. Note the barrage balloon in the right background as it is just 18 months past Pearl Harbor and just over a year past when Japanese Navy submarine I-17 shelled the Ellwood Oil Field to the South in Santa Barbara. While the Cold War-era USS Sturgeon is well known to the current generation of naval enthusiasts, her WWII namesake gets little attention.

The Salmon class boats, and the successive very similar 10-boat Sargo class submarines, set the Navy on the road for the mass-produced WWII “fleet boats” of the Gato, Balao, and Tench classes. Some 308 feet in length, they were the first American boats able to hit 21 knots while surfaced, meaning they could help screen and scout for the fleet, and conduct a lengthy 75-day/11,000nm patrol without refueling/replenishment. They took with them a 3″/50 DP deck gun capable of sinking a small craft under 500 tons as well as space available for 24 torpedoes stored both in the hull and in topside deck storage. This put the whole Pacific at the feet of these vessels, and it was no surprise that Admiral Hart’s Philippine-based Asiatic Fleet in 1941 included all 16 Salmon and Sargo-class boats. 

The six boats, all with fish names beginning with an “S” (Salmon, Seal, Skipjack, Snapper, Stingray, Sturgeon) were ordered in 1936 from three yards: Electric Boat (SS 182-184); Portsmouth (SS 185,186), and Mare Island (SS 187) with our vessel being the sole West Coast model.

Class leader USS Salmon (SS-182) running speed trials in early 1938. Note the S1 designator. NH 69872

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

Same as the above, Submerging. NH 77089

Sturgeon, named for the large, bony-plated fish with an elongated body. It is found in both fresh and saltwater, was the second such vessel in the Navy with that name, the first being an early E-class submarine (SS-25) that was christened USS Sturgeon but was renamed USS E-2 before she entered the fleet in 1911 and went on to make four war patrols against the Germans in 1918.

Laid down at Mare Island on 27 October 1936, our Sturgeon was sponsored at launch by the wife of a Great War Navy Cross holder who retired as a vice admiral.

USS Sturgeon (SS 187) was launched by Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, CA. Note St. Vincent Church in distance and the temporary “S6” designator on her hull. Via Mare Island Navy Museum

Commissioned on 25 June 1938, she was assigned to SubRon 6 and conducted her shakedown along the coast of Latin America, then made two summer squadron cruises (1939 and 1940) to Hawaii with the Pacific Fleet.

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) arriving at Pearl Harbor pre-war, likely on summer maneuvers in 1939 or 1940. Note the Somers-class destroyer USS Sampson (DD-394) in the distance. An East Coast-based tin can, Sampson was in Hawaii for both the 1939 and 1940 fleet exercises. 

It was around this time that LCDR William Leslie “Bull” Wright (USNA 1925), a colorful six-foot-three cigar-chomping Texan, arrived as her skipper.

A brand new beautiful West Coast submarine, the Navy detailed her to help film the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer action movie, Thunder Afloat, whose plot involved a piratical submarine, played by Sturgeon on screen.

Stock footage of Sturgeon surfacing, her crew dutifully barefoot and bare-chested, firing her deck gun at targets unseen and resubmerging all within a couple of minutes, was reused in other films for years.

On 18 November 1941, the submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) with Salmon, Swordfish (SS-193), Skipjack, and our Sturgeon, arrived at Manila and formed SubDiv 21 of the Asiatic fleet.

War!

Sturgeon was moored in Mariveles Bay at the southern tip of Bataan on 7 December 1941, then put to sea the next afternoon to patrol an area between the Pescadores Islands and Formosa. After missing a chance at a target on the third day of the war, she spotted a Japanese cruiser escorting a coastwise invasion convoy on 18 December– the whole reason the Salmons were in the PI– but her attack was spoiled, and she received her first depth charge attack instead.

From her First War Patrol records:

Bull Wright and company returned to embattled Mariveles Bay on Christmas, then left again just three days later for her second war patrol.

Hart ordered Sturgeon and two other S-boats to patrol off Tarakan, Borneo, in the oil-rich Netherlands East Indies, with the hope of sniping Japanese convoys in the Makassar Strait. Meanwhile, other members of his submarine forces were left to try to run the blockade around the PI to keep Bataan in the fight. 

While Sturgeon claimed torpedo hits that were not borne out by post-war examination boards– and after believing she sank a Japanese ship, signaled to Pearl Harbor “Sturgeon no longer virgin!”– she ended her second war patrol at Surabaya on Java on 13 February 1942. She was then was forced to head for Australia within the week due to the looming fall of Java. She sailed with sisters Sturgeon and Stingray, escorting Holland, and the destroyer tender USS Black Hawk (AD-9) safely to Fremantle. Bull Wright received a Navy Cross. 

Departing on her third war patrol on the Ides of March, she headed for the Makassar Strait once again and, 80 years ago today, chalked up her first confirmed kill, that of the Japanese AK Choko Maru (842 GRT) off Makassar city.

Another notable incident of this patrol was to put ashore LT Chester William “Chet” Nimitz Jr. (yes, that Nimitz’s son) and a small search party looking for evading Australian personnel on Japanese-held Java.

Her fourth war patrol, which began on 5 June 1942 from Freemantle, would be both successful and incredibly tragic.

Montevideo Maru

Constructed at Nagasaki in the 1930s, the 7,266 ton, twin-screw diesel motor vessel passenger ship MV Montevideo Maru was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a troop transport in the early days of the war, supporting the landings at Makassar in February 1942 and was part of the Japanese seizure of New Britain. The vessel and her two sisters were well-known to U.S. Naval Intelligence before the war.

Via ONI 208J.

Sailing 22 June unescorted for Hainan Island off China, Montevideo Maru ran into Sturgeon eight days later. Our submarine pumped four fish into the “big fella” in the predawn hours of 1 July, after a four-hour stalk, with young Nimitz as the TDC officer.

Tragically, in what is now known as the “worst maritime disaster in Australian history,” Montevideo Maru was a “Hell Ship,” carrying more than 1,000 prisoners of the Japanese forces, including members of the Australian 2/22nd Battalion and No.1 Independent Company of the incredibly unlucky Lark Force which had been captured on New Britain.

All the prisoners on board died, locked below decks. Of note, more Australians died in the loss of the Montevideo Maru than in the country’s decade-long involvement in Vietnam.

Sturgeon, of course, was unaware that the ship was carrying Allied POWs and internees.

DANFS does not mention Montevideo Maru‘s cargo.

Four days later, Sturgeon damaged the Japanese oiler San Pedro Maru (7268 GRT) south of Luzon, then ended her 4th war patrol at Fremantle on 22 July.

A new skipper

On 13 August, Bull Wright left his submarine, replaced by LCDR Herman Arnold Pieczentkowski (USNA 1930), who would command Sturgeon for her 5th and 6th war patrol.

Of the Piaczentkowski period, only the 5th patrol, which sank the Japanese aircraft ferry Katsuragi Maru (8033 GRT) off Cape St. George on 1 October 1942 with a spread of four torpedoes, was the boat’s only success.

IJN Katsuragi Maru had just delivered A6M fighter aircraft to Bougainville when Sturgeon found her. Struck by at least three torpedoes, she carried two crew members and 27 ship gunners to the bottom. Here she is seen in an ONI photo taken in 1937 as she passed through the Panama Canal. NH 111553

On Christmas 1942, Sturgeon was sent to California for a five-month refit that would include swapping out her original diesels for a more reliable set of GM Detroit’s, relocating her main deck gun from aft of her sail to forward, and installing new sensors and equipment.

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) At the Hunters Point Navy Yard, San Francisco, California, 23 April 1943, following overhaul. White outlines mark recent alterations, among them the relocation of Sturgeon’s 3/50 deck gun, installation of watertight ready service ammunition lockers in her sail, and fitting of 20mm machine guns. Note the large concrete weight on deck, indicating that Sturgeon was then undergoing an inclining experiment to check her stability. 19-N-46405

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 3 May 1943. Note the barrage balloon and tall radio towers to the right. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. 19-N-46400

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 3 May 1943. Ship in the left-center distance is the Fulton-class submarine tender USS Bushnell (AS-15), which was then completing her post-commissioning outfitting. Of note, Bushnell would remain in service until 1970 and be expended in a 1983 SINKEX– appropriately enough sent to the bottom by submarines. NH 99231

Another new skipper and five more patrols

Getting back into the war in June 1943, Piaczentkowski would command Sturgeon for her 7th patrol– another quiet one despite being in Japanese home waters– then leave the boat on 6 August, replaced by LCDR Charlton Lewis Murphy (USNA 1932) who had already commanded the old R-boat USS R-7 (SS-84) on the East Coast.

Murphy and the gang would embark on a fruitless 8th war patrol then strike the Empire hard on the 9th. Conducted in Japan’s Home Waters, Sturgeon sank the transport Erie Maru (5493 GRT) on 11 January 1944, blew both the bow and stern off the destroyer Suzutsuki— killing 135 including the tin can’s skipper– four days later, then sank the transport Chosen Maru (3110 GRT) before the month was up. This earned Philadelphia-born Murphy a Navy Cross. 

On her 10th patrol, she sank the Japanese transport Seiryu Maru (1904 GRT) north of Chichi Jima on 11 May 1944.

Her 11th patrol, like her encounter with the Montevideo Maru, would earn the boat a degree of infamy.

Toyama Maru

Built in 1935 at Nagasaki as a 7,090-ton cargo ship for Nippon Yusen Kaisha, K. K. (NYK) Line, Tokyo, MV Toyama Maru was requisitioned by the Imperial Army as Army No. 782 in January 1941 to help move troops to Manchuria.

Japanese cargo ship Toyama Maru at the dock in Vancouver before the war. Photograph by Walter E. Frost, Vancouver City Archives CVA 447-2781.

Departing Koniya on 29 June 1944 for Naha as part of Convoy KATA-412, Toyama Maru was transporting over 6,000 men of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade’s 298th IIB, 299th, 300th IIB, and 301st IIBs and a cargo of gasoline in cans, all of which would have proved a formidable reinforcement to the defenders on Okinawa.

Would have.

Sturgeon found her the same day and, four torpedoes later, she was ablaze and sinking, carrying some 5,400 IJA troops and ship’s crew members to the bottom in very short order– often described as the greatest loss of life in a ship sunk by a U.S. submarine. As payment for the title, Sturgeon’s crew withstood an estimated 273 depth charges and aircraft bombs between 29 June and 3 July, as the boat’s war history says, “All went for naught, for she was as tough-skinned as the fish whose name she bore.”

Murphy’s report on Toyama Maru sinking

As noted by RADM Cox in H-Gram 33, “Yanagi Missions and Submarine Atrocities”:

Of 6,000 Japanese troops of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade on board, over 5,400 died, the highest death toll of any ship sunk by a U.S. submarine (and the fourth highest of any ship sunk by a submarine of any nation. The two highest tolls were German ships packed with thousands of civilian refugees sunk by Soviet submarines, and the third-highest was a Japanese “hell ship” crammed with thousands of Allied prisoners of war and native forced laborers unknowingly sunk by a British submarine).

Sturgeon ended her final patrol when she returned to Pearl Harbor on 5 August 1944 then was sent back to California for further overhaul, with it being likely those 273 depth charges and bombs left more damage than the war history would imply. Sent to the East Coast in early 1945, she ended the war as a training boat with SubRon 1 out of New London.

Sturgeon earned ten battle stars for World War II service, with seven of her war patrols deemed successful enough for a Submarine Combat Insignia.

She was decommissioned on 15 November 1945.

Epilogue

Ex-Sturgeon was sold for scrapping, on 12 June 1948, to Interstate Metals Corp., New York, New York, just short of 12 years after she was laid down.

Her class was very successful– and lucky– with all six boats still afloat on VJ Day, earning a total of 54 battle stars after completing 70 war patrols:

  • Class leader Salmon (nine battle stars, 11 patrols) was a constructive loss due to battle damage after a late war surface action with Japanese surface escorts that earned her the Presidential Unit Citation, was soon disposed of in late September 1945.
  • Seal (10 battle stars, 11 patrols) was used as a Naval Reserve training ship after the war and sold for scrapping in 1956.
  • Skipjack (seven battle stars, 10 patrols) was sunk as a target twice after the war, the first time at Bikini atoll in 1946 and then, raised and examined, off California in 1948.
  • Snapper (six battle stars, 11 patrols) assisted with training for a while post-war then was sold for scrap in 1948.
  • Stingray, with an impressive one dozen battle stars after 16 war patrols (the record for any American submarine), was scrapped in 1946 but two of her GM diesels were saved and are now part of the Gato-class museum sub USS Cod (SS-224) in Cleveland.

Speaking of relics and museums, few relics are around of the Sturgeon, but her war patrol reports are digitized and in the National Archives.

Her war flag is preserved at the USS Bowfin Museum in Hawaii.

There is also a smattering of period art.

Sturgeon Herz Postcard via the UC San Diego Library

Of her seven skippers, Bull Wright was the best known but, despite his Navy Cross, he never commanded a submarine again– perhaps dogged over the Montevideo Maru, or perhaps because he was 40 years old when he left Sturgeon— and he retired quietly from the Navy after the war as a rear admiral. Although a number of WWII submarines and skippers with lower tonnage or fewer patrols/battle stars under their belt were profiled in the most excellent 1950s “Silent Service” documentary series, Bull Wright and Sturgeon were skipped.

In late 1945, an author by the name of Carl Carmer, after sitting with Bull Wright, would pen the 119-page “Jesse James of the Java Sea,” which is filled with gems reportedly from the mouth of the submariner including, “You fire a fish, and it hits or misses. You sink one or get pasted. There isn’t much variety in our pattern, you know.”

Another anecdote about Bull:

He passed in 1980 in Corpus Christi, a Texan to the end.

Her other Navy Cross-earning skipper, the quieter CDR Charlton Lewis Murphy, who commanded the boat during her 8th-11th War Patrols and chalked up five big marus including the brigade-carrying Toyama Maru, ended the war on the USS Carbonero (SS-337) and retired as a rear admiral before passing in 1961, aged 53.

Don’t worry, we aren’t throwing rocks at Piaczentkowski, he too would earn a star before he retired.

Speaking of admirals, Chet Nimitz would skipper two submarines of his own after he left SturgeonUSS Haddo (SS-255) and USS Sarda (SS-488)— then retire as a one-star in 1957, commanding SubRon 6– which was ironically the old Sturgeon’s first squadron. He saw the 21st century and passed in 2002.

The third, and so far, final, USS Sturgeon was the lead ship (SSN-637) of the last class of American submarines named for fish. Ordered in 1961, she had a career more than twice as long as “our” Sturgeon and was decommissioned in 1994, earning two Meritorious Unit Commendations and a Navy Unit Commendation. Her sail is preserved at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington, while her control center is now on display at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut, giving her the distinction of stretching from coast to coast.

A starboard bow view of the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS STURGEON (SSN-637) underway off Long Island, N.Y, 2/1/1991 Photo by PH1 Grant. National Archives Identifier:6467979

As for Montevideo Maru, in July 2012 a new memorial by Melbourne sculptor James Parrett was dedicated on the grounds of the Australian War Memorial to commemorate those Australians who died in the defense of Rabaul, and those who later died as prisoners in the sinking of the Japanese transport.

Specs:

Displacement: 1,449 tons Surfaced; 2,198 tons Submerged.
Length: 308 feet
Beam: 26 ft. 2 in.
Draft 14′ 2″
Watertight Compartments: 7 plus conning tower.
Pressure Hull Plating: approx. 11/16 in. mild steel.
Propulsion:
4 main motors with 2,660 shaft horsepower (Hoover, Owens, Rentschler Co. diesels replaced in 1943-1944 with four General Motors 278A diesel engines
4 Elliot Motor Co. electric motors, 3,300 hp
2 126-cell main storage batteries.
Maximum Speed: 17 knots surfaced; 8.75 knots submerged.
Cruising Range: 11,000 miles surfaced at 10 knots.
Submerged Endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots.
Fuel Capacity: 96,025 gallons.
Patrol Endurance: 75 days.
Operating Depth: 250 feet.
Complement: 5 Officers 50 Enlisted
Armament:
Torpedo Tubes: 4 bows; 4 sterns.
Torpedo Load, Max: 20 internal, 4 external (later removed)
Deck Guns:
1 x 3″/50-cal Mk21 (relocated in 1943)
2 x .50 caliber M2 machine guns
2 x .30 caliber M1919 machine guns


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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Houston, departing

Here, 80 years ago today, we see the Northampton-class heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA-30), as viewed through the sight of an Australian 4-inch gun on the beach at Darwin, Australia, on 18 February 1942. Houston– which had been RADM Thomas C. Hart’s Asiatic Fleet’s flagship until he was scapegoated and relieved of operational responsibilities the week before– was then leaving Darwin for the Dutch East Indies and a rendevous with destiny.

As such, this is one of the last photos taken of the doomed ship, as she would be sent to the bottom at the Sunda Strait just 11 days later.

Photo courtesy of Otto Schwartz, 1983. Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog #: NH 94458.

Houston would earn the Presidential Unit Citation and two battle stars for her World War II service, in the hardest kind of way.

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