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Dorie Miller to be remembered in a new carrier

The (A)SECNAV over the weekend announced that, in honor of MLK Day, USS West Virginia Pearl Harbor hero cook PO3 Dorie Miller will be the namesake of a new Gerald Ford-class carrier, the future CVN-81.

Of course, it does kinda rub me a skosh the wrong way as far as naming conventions go, with aircraft carriers generally named after famous battles, other aircraft carriers, and presidents. Traditionally, destroyers and frigates were named in honor of naval heroes up to and including Medal of Honor winners. In fact, Miller formerly had a Cold War-era Knox-class frigate named after him (DE/FF-1091)

USS Miller (DE/FF-1091) underway off Cape Henry, Va., on 20 May 1974. (U.S. Navy photograph K-103414, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.) NHHC K-103414

Still, in my mind, it is far better to name a carrier for Miller than for Carl Vinson and John Stennis, as have been done in the past, just saying.

Sure, you can argue that Vinson and Stennis both held and pulled important purse strings while in Capitol Hill for the military– but they never had to face down an incoming Japanese Val with a machine gun they were never trained to use.

As noted by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly’s office:

This will be the second ship named in honor of Miller, and the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African American. This will also be the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of a Sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.

“In selecting this name, we honor the contributions of all our enlisted ranks, past and present, men and women, of every race, religion and background,” said Modly. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, ‘Everybody can be great – because anybody can serve’. No one understands the importance and true meaning of service than those who have volunteered to put the needs of others above themselves.”

On Dec. 7, 1941, Miller was collecting laundry on the battleship West Virginia (BB-48), when the attack from Japanese forces commenced. When the alarm for general quarters sounded he headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it. Miller was ordered to the ship’s bridge to aid the mortally wounded commanding officer, and subsequently manned a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition. Miller then helped move many other injured Sailors as the ship was ordered abandoned due to her own fires and flaming oil floating down from the destroyed Arizona (BB-33). West Virginia lost 150 of its 1,500 person crew.

Miller’s actions during the attack earned him a commendation from then Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and the Navy Cross, which was presented to him personally by Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time.

Nimitz stated: this marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I’m sure the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.

“Doris Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation, and his story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue the watch today,” said Modly.

In 1943, Miller died aboard USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) when the ship was hit by a torpedo and sank off Butaritari Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.

The future USS Doris Miller and other Ford-class carriers will be the premier forward asset for crisis response and humanitarian relief, and early decisive striking power in major combat operations. The aircraft carrier and the carrier strike group will provide forward presence, rapid response, endurance on station, and multi-mission capability throughout its 50-year service life.

Meanwhile, USS Gerald R. Ford is apparently making good progress when it comes to launches and traps on Hornets, Greyhounds and T-45 Goshawks, working through teething problems on its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), which is good news as far as the class itself goes.

Hopefully, they will get the bugs worked out before the next “big one,” a factor that could help deter just such an event.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019: A Tough Christmas in the Lingayen Gulf

Here at LSOZI, we are going to 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, Dec. 25, 2019: A Tough Christmas in the Lingayen Gulf

Courtesy of the Submarine Force Library and Museum, Groton, Connecticut, 1972. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 78922

Here we see a prewar photograph showing the S-class diesel submarine USS S-38 (SS-143) underway, sometime in the 1930s.

The S-class, or “Sugar” boats, were actually three different variants designed by Simon Lake Co, Electric Boat, and the Bureau of Construction and Repair (BuC&R) in the last days of the Great War in which U.S.-made submarines had a poor record. Looking for a better showing in these new boats, of which 65 were planned, and 51 completed in several subgroups, these small 1,000~ ton diesel-electric “pig boats” took to the sea in the 1920s and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online.

The hero of our tale, USS S-38, was a first flight EB/Holland design that ran some 219-feet oal, could dive to 200 feet and travel at a blistering 14.5-knots on the surface on her two 600hp NELSECO diesel engines and two GE electric motors for 11-knots submerged. Armament was a quartet of 21-inch bow tubes with a dozen deep-running but reliable Mark 10 torpedos (which carried a then-huge 500-pound warhead) and a 4″/50 cal popgun on deck for those special moments. Crew? Just 38 officers and men.

Laid down 15 January 1919 Bethlehem Steel Company’s Union Plant, Potrero Works, San Francisco, she commissioned 11 May 1923.

Fitting out at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, San Francisco, California, 29 March 1923. NH 97960

Fitted out at Mare Island, S-38 joined Submarine Division 17 (SubDiv 17) at San Pedro on 24 May and immediately began preparations for a cruise to the Aleutians, a deployment that would validate the class working out of Dutch Harbor– which many would see during the coming conflict with Japan.

By August 1924, S-38 was detailed to join many of her sisters in the Asiatic Fleet, which she would call home for the next two decades.

On regular operations there, she cruised off the Philippines, along the Indo-China coast, and into the Dutch East Indies. In the 1930s, except for trading in their Great War-era torpedos for the new-fangled Mark 14, the boats were otherwise unmodified from their original 1918 design.

Description: Crewmen posing with a 4″/50cal deck gun onboard an S-Type submarine, March 1929, with another 4″/50cal in the foreground. Photographed from USS Beaver (AS-5). In the background is USS Pittsburgh (ACR/CA-4), in the Dewey drydock. Catalog #: NH 51830

USS S-38 (SS-143) nested between sister submarines S-40 (SS-145), at left, and S-41 (SS-146), at right, alongside USS Canopus (AS-9) off Tsingtao, China, in 1930. Note these submarines’ 4/50 deck guns. NH 51833

On 8 December 1941 (7 December east of the International Date Line), the U.S. was hauled in from the sidelines of WWII and “the indomitable old” S-38 departed Manila Bay on her first war patrol on the first day of the U.S. involvement in the war.

Poking around the PI archipelago, S-38, under command of Lt. Wreford G. ″Moon″ Chapple, the aging sub fired a torpedo on an enemy vessel off the coast of Mindoro on 9 December without a hit. Looking for better hunting, she headed into the Lingayen Gulf in the predawn hours of 22 December and promptly saw an enemy convoy at first light. Firing a spread of four unreliable Mark 14s, she garnered nothing but a counter-attack from Japanese destroyers.

Two hours later, she fired two more fish at an anchored cargo ship, Hayo Maru (5446 GRT) which blew up less than a minute later. It was only the *second Japanese vessel sunk in the war by a U.S. submarine up to that point.

*[ The first Japanese vessel claimed by an Allied submarine was the troopship Awajisan Maru which had been bombed by RAAF Hudsons and set on fire, then sank by a torpedo from the Dutch submarine HNLMS K XII on 12 December. The same day, HNLMS K XII also sank the tanker Toro Maru. On 13 December, the Dutch sub O 16 splashed the transports Asosan Maru and Kinka Maru in the Gulf of Siam while K XII increased her own tally with the tanker Taizan Maru off Indochina the same day. Meanwhile, the first U.S. submarine to get on the board was USS Swordfish (SS-193) with the freighter Atsutasan Maru sent to the bottom in the East China Sea on 16 December. ]

However, the next three days– across both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day– was an epic fight for survival.

According to DANFS:

The enemy destroyers again closed the submarine. Depth charges went off close aboard. From 0804 to 0930, the S-boat ran silent, using evasive tactics. At 0930, she grounded at 80 feet; then coasted up the bank to 57 feet. The destroyers, joined by small boats, continued the search through the day. At 2130, the hunted submarine began efforts to clear by backing. During the maneuvering, her port propeller was damaged; but, by 2201, she was free and underway for the Hundred Islands area on the western side of the gulf.

S-38 remained there through the 23d and, on the 24th, moved to the southern section of the gulf where she closed a formation of six large auxiliaries just prior to 1130. Her presence, however, was discovered. At 1152, a depth charge exploded on her port side. She went deeper. Between 1206 and 1208, eight more exploded around her. At 1209, she stopped all motors and sank to the bottom in 180 feet of water. The depth charging continued, but the explosions were more distant. At 1230, the submarine began to move again. At 1245, the enemy hunters again located her and resumed depth charging. S-38 again settled to the bottom. The depth charging continued until after 1300. The search continued until after 1800.

At 1842, the submarine got underway, heading back to the Hundred Islands area. At 2235, she surfaced to recharge her batteries. Five minutes later, her after battery exploded. At 2304, she went ahead on her starboard engine, making her way out of Lingayen Gulf.

Soon after 0200 on the 25th, she sighted two enemy destroyers, but remained undetected. At 0346, however, she sighted a third, which sighted her. S-38 submerged. The destroyer closed the submarine’s last surface position and, at 0350, commenced depth charging. From then until after 0900, the submarine evaded the destroyer, using her one quiet propeller. She then grounded on a steep bank at 85 feet. For the next two hours, the destroyer circled. S-38 slid down to 200 feet, used her motor to bring herself up; then repeated the maneuver. The destroyer moved off; and, at 1235, the S-boat got underway for Manila. An hour later, she grounded, but only briefly; and, at 2145 on the 26th, she entered the outer minefield at the entrance to Manila Bay.

Ordered to Soerabaja in the Dutch East Indies, S-38 arrived there on 14 January and spent her 2nd War Patrol in the Makassar Strait off Balikpapan. Moon Chapple left the boat then, headed to the larger and newer USS Permit (SS- 178) and later the USS Bream (SS-243). S-38 would continue on her 3rd Patrol under the command of Lt. Henry Glass Munson.

The old boat’s 3rd Patrol was unproductive but on her 4th Patrol Munson would surface and shell the Japanese facilities at Sangkapura on 26 February and two days later go on to rescue 54 haunted survivors of the heroic British E-class destroyer HMS Electra (H27) which had been pummeled by the Japanese at the Battle of the Java Sea.

On 2 March, S-38 spotted the Japanese Nagara-class light cruiser Kinu and a destroyer off Cape Awarawar and, although she fired six torpedoes, did not achieve a hit, and was in turn depth charged for 24-hours straight for her effort. Kinu would later be sunk in the Philipines in October 1944 by carrier aircraft.

Transferred to Brisbane in Australia to join the other Sugar boats of SubRon5, S-38 completed a 4th, 5th, and 6th Patrol without much to show for it.

On her 7th Patrol splashed the Japanese freighter Meiyo Maru (5628 GRT) in the St. George Channel on 8 August 1942.

A Chief Torpedoman paints another hashmark on the Torpedo Shop scoreboard of Japanese ships claimed sunk by SubRon 5’s S-Boats, operating out of Brisbane, Australia, during April-November 1942. Photographed on board USS Griffin (AS-13), tender to the squadron. Submarines listed on the scoreboard include S-37 (SS-142), S-38 (SS-143), S-39 (SS-144), S-40 (SS-145), S-41 (SS-146), S-42 (SS-153), S-43 (SS-154), S-44 (SS-155), S-45 (SS-156), S-46 (SS-157), and S-47 (SS-158). NARA 80-G-77065

At the end of her 8th Patrol, S-38 headed to California for a much-needed overhaul– attempting to sink a fat Japanese tanker off Tarawa on the way without success– then completed one final patrol, from Pearl Harbor, on 27 July 1943.

USS Harris (APA-2) moored in the background of this photo of USS S-38 (SS-143) following overhaul at San Diego, April 1943. US Navy photo # 1198-43 from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard collection now held at Seattle NARA

From there, S-38 spent a year in ASW training duties in the relatively safe New Hebrides, an OPFOR for air and surface units passing to the real war in the West.

Ordered to San Diego, she was decommissioned on 14 December 1944, struck from the Navy list a month later, and sunk as a target by aerial bombing on 20 February 1945, her last full measure.

In all, S-38 earned three battle stars during the war.

Following the conflict, the tale of her harrowed Christmastime raid in the Lingayen Gulf during the darkest days of the war was retold in the first season of The Silent Service in 1957. A guest on the show was Moon Chapple, who at the time was a double Navy Cross recipient and a full Captain. After he left S-38 in 1942 he would go on to bag another half-dozen Marus and heavily damage two Japanese cruisers before going on to skipper the reactivated heavy cruiser USS Pittsburgh (CA-72) in the Korean War

When asked if anything else could have happened to one submarine on one patrol, Moon answered, “I don’t see how. By the time you’ve been through depth charge attacks, groundings, broken instruments, mechanical damage and a battery explosion you sorta run out of ideas of how to get into trouble.”

Moon would go on to retire as a rear admiral in 1959. He died in 1991, aged 83.

As for S-38’s sisters, though obsolete, several S-boats remained on the Navy List and served the Navy well in both the Atlantic and Pacific (including several lost to accidents) during WWII. A half-dozen were even transferred to the Royal Navy as Lend-Lease including class leader and the former submersible aircraft carrier, USS S-1.

None of these hardy, if somewhat unlucky, craft endure though Pigboats.com keeps their memory alive.

Specs:


Displacement: 854 tons surfaced; 1,062 tons submerged
Length: 219 feet 3 inches
Beam: 20 feet 9 inches
Draft: 16 feet
Propulsion: 2 × New London Ship and Engine Company (NELSECO) diesels, 600 hp each;
2 × General Electric electric motors, 560 kW each; 120 cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 14.5 knots surfaced; 11 knots submerged
Range: 5,000 miles at 10 knots surfaced on 168 tons (41,192 gals) oil fuel
Test depth: 200 ft
Crew: 4 Officers, 34 Enlisted as designed. Up to 42 during WWII.
Armament (as built):
4 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 12 torpedoes first Mk 10 then later Mk 14)
1 × 4-inch (102 mm)/50 cal Mark 9 “wet mount” deck gun

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

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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.

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Warship Wednesday (on a Tuesday), Dec. 17, 2019: The Count’s Bones

Here at LSOZI, we are going to 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 (on a Tuesday), Dec. 17, 2019: The Count’s Bones

Photo by Ensign Richard D. Sampson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 51977

Here we see the aftermath of this very day in history some 80 years ago– the scuttled German “pocket battleship” SMS Graf Spee, resting on the bottom in 25 feet of water off the harbor of Montevideo, Uruguay, following the 1939 Battle of the River Plate.

While internet warships commentators and naval museum fans will fight to the death that Graf Spee and her fellow 1930s-era Deutschland-class “Panzerschiff” (armored ships) were an abomination when compared to regular battleships– vessels the Germans were unable to build due to Versallies limits– they did pack a half-dozen bruising 11-inch SK C/28 guns and another eight 5.9-inch SK C/28 guns in a 16,000-ton hull with a minimum of 3.9-inches of belt armor.

While incapable of holding off even a serious pre-dreadnought battlewagon, by nature of their 28-knot speed and amazing 16,000nm range (at 18 knots!) they were ideal for commerce raiding and able to chew up anything that could catch them that was smaller than a battlecruiser.

Admiral Graf Spee Preliminary artist’s impression of the ship by Dr. Oscar Parkes, Editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, circa 1932. When completed in 1936, Admiral Graf Spee’s superstructure differed from that shown here. NH 91874

Named after Vizeadmiral Maximilian Johannes Maria Hubert Reichsgraf (Count) von Spee, who was lost at the December 1914 Battle of the Falkland Islands along with his two sons, our pocket battleship was laid down 1 October 1932 at Reichsmarinewerft, Wilhelmshaven when Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was still Germany’s president, she was commissioned 6 January 1936 after the Machtergreifung brought Hitler to power. In a nod to the latter, she picked up a giant bronze Nazi eagle on her stern to complement her Von Spee coat of arms on her bow, a blend of Kaiser and Fuhrer, if you will.

Admiral Graf Spee moored in the harbor, circa 1936-1937. Note the coat of arms mounted on her bow. NH 81110

Her brief peacetime career was filled with intrigues as the ship participated in the Spanish Civil War and the lead up to the Big One in 1939.

Kriegsmarine Panzerschiff Admiral Graf Spee in Spithead U.K. 1937. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

With that, she was soon at her job of reaping British merchantmen in the Atlantic and had sunk nine such vessels (taking care to preserve the lives of their mariners) before a force of three much smaller British cruisers– HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax, and HMNZS Achilles-– fought a running battle with the big German at sea off the coast of Uruguay near the mouth of the River Plate on 13 December.

While all four ships involved were damaged, they were all still afloat at the end of the engagement with 36 of the Graf Spee‘s complement killed and the Royal Navy consigning 72 of their own to the sea at the end of the day.

Watercolor by Edward Tufnell, RN (Retired), depicting the cruisers HMS Exeter (foreground) and HMNZS Achilles (right center background) in action with the German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee (right background). Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. Donation of Melvin Conant, 1969. NH 86397-KN

HMS ACHILLES against the ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE off River Plate. by John S. Smith, via Royal New Zealand Navy

Admiral Graf Spee vs Ajax, Achilles, and Exeter, painting by Adam Werka

For a more detailed account of the battle, which would be wasted here, see the Royal Navy’s “The Battle of the River Plate: An Account of Events Before, During and After the Action Up to the Self Destruction of the Admiral Graf Spee, 1940” at the National Archives. It is 16-pages including three great maps.

Suffering from over 30 hits from the British guns, the German vessel needed time to lick her wounds and bury her dead ashore.

Admiral Graf Spee anchored off Montevideo, Uruguay in mid-December 1939, following the Battle of the River Plate. NH 59657

Denied a lengthy stay in neutral Montevideo, German CPT Hans Langsdorff believed a British bluff that a much stronger force was waiting for him offshore and scuttled his vessel on 17 December to comply with the local demand that he leave the port in 72 hours. This included misinformation that the battlecruiser Renown was offshore when, in fact, she was not.

With most of his crew looking on from shore, Graf Spee began to sink, ablaze. She would burn for three full days.

As Graf Spee only had enough fuel for about one more day of steaming anyway, and the Uruguayans would not transfer any more, it was an academically sound choice to scuttle the German ship. Even if it managed to break out, she would have been dead in the water the next day in a very unfriendly South Atlantic more than 6,000 miles from home. Instead of a watery grave, the surviving crew of the pocket battleship lived to see another day.

Of course, the Battle of the River Plate was the first chance since the loss of the auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi the month before for the Royal Navy to exact some measure of revenge for that ship’s heroic stand against the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst.

And on the 18th of December in a broadcast to the Nation, Churchill would compare the tragic but heroic end of Rawalpindi to the inglorious scuttling of the German pocket-battleship Admiral Graf Spee in Montevideo Roads (the day before) with the comment, “Once in harbour she had the choice of submitting in the ordinary manner to internment, which would have been unfortunate for her, or, of coming out to fight and going down in battle, like the Rawalpindi, which would have been honourable to her”.

On 19 December, two days after Graf Spee settled in the muck of the river, Langsdorff led 1,038 men across the border with Argentina into exile, where they would be held together under local custody. Despite telling the local press that he was “satisfied,” Langsdorff, a Great War veteran who earned his Iron Cross at Jutland, fatally shot himself in his Buenos Aires hotel room with his Mauser pocket pistol. He was lying on Graf Spee‘s battle ensign.

Some 300,000 Argentines attended the 45‐year‐old captain’s funeral.

Funeral procession of Captain Hans Langsdorff NH 85636

On 2 February 1940, just six weeks after the German ship was scuttled, the brand new light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50), with the U.S. Navy still officially neutral in the conflict, called on Montevideo while on her shakedown cruise. Soon, a boarding party that included ENS Richard D. Sampson motored over to the wreck and boarded her to collect what intel they could. After all, the Germans still had two other sisterships to Graf Spee in active service at the time.

Ship’s Number Two 10.5cm/65 twin anti-aircraft gun mount (port side, amidships), photographed on board her wreck on 2 February 1940 by Ensign Richard D. Sampson, USN, of USS Helena (CL-50). The shield of her Number Four 15cm/55 gun is partially visible in the lower right. Her port side crane is in the upper left. NH 50959

Photograph of the mounting for a 20mm machine gun, on the upper platform of the ship’s forward superstructure, with a sketch showing the location of that platform’s two machine gun mounts. NH 51979

Photograph of the ship’s forward broadside (15cm gun) director, with a USS Helena crew member sitting on it. The view looks aft, with the forward superstructure in the background. The director has partially collapsed to starboard. The sketch below shows the director’s arrangement, extending down to the main deck. NH 51982

Photograph of a shell hole in the ship’s forward superstructure tower, made by an eight-inch shell fired by the British heavy cruiser Exeter. The hole was described as large enough to crawl through. NH 51986-A

Photograph of the interior of the ship’s forward superstructure tower, showing damage caused by an eight-inch shell fired by the British heavy cruiser Exeter during the Battle of the River Plate. Cut wires and the absence of a fire control tube were noted on the original report in which this image appeared. NH 51987-A

Photograph of the ship’s partially collapsed smokestack, with its searchlight platform, seen from the after port end of the forward superstructure. The aircraft recovery crane’s boom is in the lower right. NH 51991-A

Graf Spee would be partially broken up above the waterline in situ, with its good German steel ironically– according to legend– going on to be used to make Ballester Molina M1911-ish pistols in Argentina for a British SOE contract.

Ian McCollum over at Forgotten Weapons opines on that in the below:

As Graf Spee‘s 1942-43 salvage was done by a British contractor, much of her salvageable secrets were uncovered.

Today, numerous parts of the ship are on public display around Latin America including a large salvaged optical rangefinder, telegraphs and several small deck guns. One of her anchors stands at a memorial in Montevideo. Further, hundreds of small relics of the vessel are in personal collections around the world.

Her 880-pound stern eagle was recovered by divers in 2006 as part of a government effort to further scrap the ship but has been the subject of much bickering over its final ownership, and it has been in storage onshore ever since.

It is set to be auctioned off in the coming weeks to comply with a court order with possible winners paying upwards of $30 million for the item, which includes a large swastika in the dirty bird’s talons.

Of Graf Spee’s foes at the River Plate, HMNZS Achilles‘ Y-turret was preserved when (as the Indian cruiser INS Delhi) she was scrapped at the end of the 1970s, and since the mid-1990s has been sitting outside HMNZS Philomel (a Royal New Zealand Navy shore station) at Devonport, Auckland. HMS Exeter (68) was sunk during the Second Battle of the Java Sea, 1 March 1942 and her wreck has been destroyed by illegal salvagers. However, Exeter’s bell, removed in a 1940 refit, is on display at the White Ensign Club in Portsmouth. HMS Ajax (22), scrapped in 1949, has her bell on a monument in Montevideo, donated by ADM Sir Henry Harwood and Sir Eugen Millington-Drake, the latter responsible for circulating the rumors that a large British force was off the port in 1939, waiting for Graf Spee.

Of the more than 1,000 Graf Spee sailors shipwrecked in South America in 1939, nearly 200 managed to escape their loose Argentine custody and, either make for Chile and other points North, or return to Germany by other means. One of these, KKpt Jürgen Wattenberg, reached Germany in May 1940 and would join the U-boat arm only to be captured again in 1942 when his submarine was sunk by the British, spending the rest of the war in the clink in Arizona. Another, Oblt.z.S Friedrich Wilhelm Rasenack, managed to make it back home by June 1941 and would later write a book about his former ship.

In all, between the sailors who never left and those who returned to Latin America after seeing how bad life was in post-war Allied-occupied Germany, some 500 survivors settled in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. They established large colonies in Bariloche, Villa Belgrano, and Cumbrecita, among others. The Waldschanke club in Buenos Aires still held raucous Graf Spee crew reunions well into the 1970s.

The last survivor of pocket battleship’s 1939 crew died at age 89 in Montevideo in 2007.

As for Langsdorff, to this day, his crew’s descendants regularly visit his grave in Argentina’s La Chacarita National Cemetery in Buenos Aires to commemorate him, with many holding that his decision saved their father’s or grandfather’s respective lives.

“The affection, gratitude and unwavering trust of many former Spee soldiers in many encounters over the years have made me proud and defined my joy at the rescue of the many men by my father,” the Captian’s 82-year-old daughter, Nedden, recently told German media. “So I hope one will find a way for him to be honored publicly as well.”

His actions are still celebrated in the German navy today.

“In this respect, it is a historical example of timeless soldierly virtues,” the spokesman for the German Defense Ministry said. “These are recognized in the Bundeswehr and his example is used at the naval school in Mürwik, in teaching and training, to support the young officer candidates in their personal confrontation with the political, legal and ethical dimensions of the military and naval service.”

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Internationales Maritimes Museum in Hamburg has an extremely detailed 1:100 scale model of Graf Spee, built by master Helmut Schmidt, on display on deck 5 of the museum. It is the closest thing to a memorial to the ship in her home country.

Photo: Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg

Specs


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!

Happy Turkey Day from Da Nang to Bagram

Official caption: TURKEY TIME—Lance Corporal Walter R. Billetdeoux (Johnstown, PA) takes a healthy bite from a turkey leg on Thanksgiving Day in Vietnam. Sitting in a foxhole on the front lines, just outside of Da Nang, the combat-clad Marine is enjoying his first hot meal in more than two weeks. LCpl Billetdeoux is a member of L Company, 3d Battalion, 9th Marines.

3m-1-142-65, III MAF, Da Nang, Vietnam, 26 Nov 1965, Photo By: Sgt W. Weih. Defense Dept Photo (Marine Corps) A186195

The more things change:

 

Bloody Tarawa

As a note, this week is the 76th anniversary of the bloody and hard-fought Battle of Tarawa.

Maj. Gen. Julian C. Smith’s 2nd Mar Div– consisting of the 2nd, 8th, 10th, and 18th Marines– hit the Red Beach 1, 2, and 3 and Green Beach. The Marines were opposed by 4,800 mixed Imperial Japanese Navy SNLF and Korean construction troops, who were holed up in more than 500 sand-and-log pillboxes under command of RADM Keiji Shibazaki.

The effort for the Gilbert Islands atoll raged for three days, resulting in 3,301 Marine casualties out of the 18,000 that landed– a rate of one-in-six.

Of the four Marines who received the Medal of Honor for Tarawa, three did so posthumously.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019: We’ll fight them both

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Nov. 20, 2019: The Under-armed Hero of the Iceland-Faroe Passage

Here we see the P&O R-class steamer SS Rawalpindi, a passenger liner who spent most of her life in the Far East and colonial India but earned everlasting fame with a scratch crew of reservists and naval pensioners during her last 13 minutes in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, 80 years ago this week.

The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co Ltd, London which is usually just referred to as P&O, in the 1920s built a series of 16,697-grt R-class liners for the UK to Bombay mail and passenger run. The four sisterships– SS Ranpura, SS Ranchi, SS Rawalpindi and SS Rajputana— were designed by the same people who made the Titanic a decade prior, Harland & Wolff Ltd., Belfast, with the first two built by R & W Hawthorne Leslie on the Tyne, and the last pair by H&W’s Greenock yard in Scotland.

Using a twin set of reciprocating engines with their aft 2nd funnel a dummy used for ventilation, they had a design speed of 17.8 knots although made 19 on trials. With interiors designed by Lord Inchcape’s daughter Elsie Mackay, they were set up with accommodation for 307 first-class and 280 second-class passengers with public lounges, music rooms, dining saloons and smoke rooms separated by class. Capable of carrying large amounts of refrigerated stores, they were popular ships on the run to the Orient.

Laid down at Greenock as Yard No. 660, Rawalpindi was named for the historic Indian (now Pakistani) city and launched 26 March 1925 with Lady Birkenhead as her sponsor. She was delivered to P&O that September and began a quiet 15-year run in regular service uniting the Home Isles with Britain’s colonial Indian Empire.

Rawalpindi notably showed up in Pathe newsreels of the era when she brought the survivors of the lost Parthian-class submarine HMS Poseidon (P99) home from China in 1931.

Once the balloon went up in 1939, the Admiralty called in their markers with London shipping lines and requisitioned more than 50 fast passenger liners for conversion to armed merchant cruisers for patrol and convoy use. Typically outfitted with surplus six-inch guns that had been removed from the casemates of old battlewagons and cruisers, the liners landed much of their finery and art, received a coat of grey paint, and were rushed into service with a crew largely composed of their former civilian mariners who volunteered for active duty in the RNR.

For Rawalpindi, her transformation amounted to removing her fake funnel then picking up eight 6″/45 BL Mark VII guns, a pair of QF 3-inch AAA guns, and a half dozen Vickers machine guns– the newest of which dated to 1916. The armament was intended to plug away at enemy armed surface raiders of the type the Kaiser put to sea during the Great War, fight it out on the surface with U-boats, or warning off the occasional Condor long-range patrol bomber.

6″/45 (15.2 cm) BL Mark VII bow gun on monitor HMS Severn during the Great War. Rawalpindi had eight of these mounts. IWM Q 46247.

Rawalpindi’s conversion was completed on 19 September 1939– just over two weeks after the Germans marched into Poland. Her wartime skipper was CPT Edward Coverley Kennedy, RN, a 60-year-old Great War vet of the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand who had been on the retired list since 1921, a collateral victim of the Washington Naval Treaty. Kennedy, who had first joined the Royal Navy as a 13-year-old cadet in 1892, could have easily sat out WWII but volunteered to return to the colors.

Requisitioned at Tilbury the day the war started, SS Rawalpindi became haze grey His Majesty’s Armed Merchant Cruiser Rawalpindi just 19 days later after conversion by R&H Green & Silley Weir at the Royal Albert Dock, London.

Note her aft funnel, which was vestigial, has been amputated.

Sailing Northwest for patrol duties in the Iceland Gap, our converted liner had a chance to get muscular with the 4,500-ton German tanker Gonzenheim at 63.25N, 12.00W, in the Denmark Strait on 19 October while the latter was trying to run the blockade home from Argentina. With the gig up, the German tanker scuttled as Rawalpindi recovered her crew. A second vessel, a Swedish freighter with a German destination, was stopped and rerouted the next week towards Scotland.

At the time, there were no less than eight British AMCs, backed up by several actual RN cruisers, prowling between Scotland and Iceland and were effective in stopping German blockade runners, typically catching 8 to 10 a week during this early stage of the war. This led to a sortie by the brand-new Kriegsmarine battleship SMS Scharnhorst, in her first operation, accompanied by her sister Gneisenau, to clear out the area.

Gneisenau (foreground), Admiral Hipper (center) and Scharnhorst (background) at Trondheim, Norway June 11, 1940

Sailing from Wilhelmshaven late on 21 November, the lead ship of the strong German task force was observed through the snow at 15,000 yards by lookouts on the Rawalpindi at 1531 on 23 November in the Iceland-Faeroes channel, about 100 miles to the East of Iceland itself.

Steaming alone but with other units nearby (the light cruisers HMS Newcastle, Delhi, Ceres, and Calypso; heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk and Norfolk) Kennedy twice signaled (incorrectly) that Rawalpindi had found the German pocket battleship SMS Deutschland at 63.40N, 12.31W, an alert that drew emergency orders from the Admiralty to Clyde to send the gorilla squad– consisting of the battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney, along with the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire and seven destroyers– north.

However, stuck with a ship that at the time could only make 14 knots, and outgunned even if confronting a pocket battleship much less a full-grown brawler, Kennedy decided to stand and fight rather than surrender.

The fast-approaching Scharnhorst fired a warning shot across Rawalpindi’s bow at 1603 from a range of 10,000 yards and signaled the Brit to stop transmitting and halt. Soon after, Gneisenau emerged from the fog and made her presence known. The converted liner faced 18 11-inch, 24 5.9-inch, and 28 4.1-inch guns as well as a dozen torpedo tubes between the two German battleships. As they had 13-inch belts, the best the merchant cruiser’s own 6-inch guns could do was scratch their paint.

“We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. Good-bye,” Kennedy reportedly told his crew and ordered his guns to fire.

The action was over within 13 minutes or so, with the unarmored Rawalpindi pummeled by 11-inch shells from the two German capital ships, causing the death of over 260 of her crew, Kennedy included. The British ship was a burning hulk but had landed shells on Scharnhorst’s foc’sle causing Hitler’s newest battlewagon slight damage.

Norman Wilkinson’s “Rawalpindi’s final action,” a painting that hung in P&O’s main London office for decades.

A final signal came from a morse lamp on the British ship “please send boats,” to which the Germans launched whaleboats. Between the two German battleships, they picked up at least 20 survivors (some reports list numbers as high as 38) from the flaming wreck who went on to become POWs for the duration, largely at Stalag X-B, a merchant lager near Bremervorde.

They Sailed the Seven Seas: The P & O Story — “We’ll Fight Them Both”

German ADM Wilhelm Marschall, aboard Gneisenau, ordered his task force to withdraw into an approaching gale, doubled back towards the Arctic to lose their pursuers, and returned to Wilhelmshaven on 27 November after successfully evading the alerted, and very revenge-minded, British fleet.

The responding 6-inch gun-armed light cruisers Newcastle and Delhi spotted the Germans at a range of 6 miles as they left Rawalpindi’s last location around 1900 on 23 November but chose, wisely, not to engage.

Another P&O passenger ship converted to an armed merchant cruiser, HMS Chitral (F57), moved in to search Rawalpindi’s floating wreckage field for survivors the next morning, in the end rescuing 10 and landing them at Clyde on 24 November where the Second Sea Lord, ADM Sir Charles Little, was on hand to greet them in a special parade in London.

Around the world, the incorrect headline, “Rawalpindi sunk by the Deutschland” flashed.

While there had been a number of warships sunk by aircraft (see= Polish Navy) and significant individual submarine vs. ship actions– for instance between the carrier HMS Courageous and U-29 on 17 September that left British carrier and 518 of her crew in the cold embrace of Poseidon– the often forgotten scrap between Rawalpindi and the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst was the first large surface clash of World War II and the first the British had seen since 1919 when RADM Tich Cowan tossed around the Red Navy in the Baltic during the Russian Civil War.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told Parliament of the Rawalpindi: “These men might have known, as soon as they sighted the enemy, that there was no chance, but they had no thought of surrender. They fired their guns until they could be fired no more, and many went to their deaths in the great tradition of the Royal Navy. Their example will be an inspiration to those that come after them.”

On the 6 December 1939, then-First Sea Lord Winston Churchill honored the sacrifice of the Rawalpindi in Parliament, “Whose glorious fight against overwhelming odds deserves the respect and honor of the House (of Commons) and of the nation.”

Of Rawalpindi’s sisters, Ranchi served on East Indies Station and in the Pacific during the war as an armed merchant cruiser and was returned successfully to P&O in 1947. She was then used on 15 lengthy emigrant voyages from Portsmouth to Australia carrying thousands of “Ten Pound Poms” to Oz on one-way trips before she was broken up in 1953.

Rajputana was likewise transformed into an armed merchant cruiser during WWII and was torpedoed and sunk off Iceland on 13 April 1941 by U-108, after escorting convoy HX 117 across the North Atlantic. In all, the British lost 15 out of 57 of their armed merchant cruisers in WWII: 10 to U-boats, three to German surface raiders, one (the converted A. Holt & Co liner HMS Hector) to Japanese carrier aircraft and one (the converted P&O liner HMS Comorin) to fire.

HMS Ranpura (F93) was used as an armed cruiser in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean during WWII and notably moved Britain’s gold reserves to Canada in 1940 for safekeeping. She finished the war as a repair and depot ship in Malta and was retained by the RN through the 1950s in such a role, participating in the Suez Crisis, before she was finally scrapped in 1961, the last of her class.

Rawalpindi is remembered extensively in maritime art by the likes of Jack Spurling, William McDowell, and Norman Wilkinson.

HMS Rawalpindi by William McDowell incorrectly shows her with two stacks

The original 1:48 scale (2155 x 4045 x 900 mm) P&O builder’s model of SS Rawalpindi, complete with its ornately carved mahogany display case, is on display at the Maritime Museum Greenwich, London.

As for P&O, they went defunct in 2006 with their assets spun off to Maersk and Carnival.

“Bulldog” Kennedy is remembered in a memorial at High Wycombe, Bucks, on a panel in Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, at the Plymouth memorial, and on an altar rail at All Saints Church, Farringdon, as well as wherever old sea dogs gather to tell stories.

The Admiralty mentioned him in dispatches, but he was not posthumously decorated. Perhaps a VC would have been appropriate or, alternatively, the entire crew of Rawalpindi collectively could have been recognized with the George Cross, much like the population of Malta was in 1942.

Kennedy’s son, Ludovic, went on to be a noted journalist and BBC broadcaster. In 1971 he hosted an hour-long documentary entitled “The Life and Death of the Scharnhorst.”

Notably, he spoke with eloquence of the stand of the Rawalpindi saying, “In Britain, this action caught the imagination in a way that it might not have done later. For it was the first naval action of the war and it showed people that they could still rely on the Navy and that, even in a ship manned by pensioners and reservists, the Navy was going to fight this war’s battles as it had in the past, whatever the outcome, whatever the cost.”

Specs

Model of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi MOD 381 IWM

Displacement: 16,697 grt / 9,459 nrt
Length: 547.7 ft
Beam: 71.3 ft
Draft: 25.9 ft
Engines: 2- Screw 2 shaft 2xQ4cyl (33, 47, 67.5, 97 x 60in) Harland & Wolff engines, 2478nhp, 15000ihp, 17.8 knots
Crew: (1939) 276
Armament: (1939)
8 x 6″/45 (15.2 cm) BL Mark VII guns
2 x QF 3 in (76 mm) 20 cwt anti-aircraft guns

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So I watched Midway…

To be clear, the current Midway movie is at least the third film– counting John Ford’s WWII-era propaganda short and the verbose 1976 Henry Fonda flick– to be centered around the pivotal battle of the Pacific War.

What I liked:

Great effort overall.

Lots of little known stories were highlighted such as efforts of Station Hypo and the vastly unsung work of CDR Joseph J. Rochefort and his busy swarm of ex-musicians from the stricken battleships USS California and West Virginia.

Also, as 15 submarines were present at Midway, and the straggling Japanese destroyer Arashi— detailed to sink USS Nautilus without luck– led the U.S. planes to the unexpecting Japanese carrier task force, it was nice to see SS-168 detailed a bit. This included filming scenes in the torpedo room and control tower aboard the ex-USS Bowfin (SS-287), which was a nice period touch.

The Marines and Midway-based air groups are given a few minutes of camera time. Many forget they were part of the battle as well. More on the Marines of Midway, here.

Obsolete fabric-covered SB2U-3 dive bombers of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 taking off to attack the Japanese fleet striking force on the morning of 4 June 1942, during the Battle of Midway. Part of Marine Aircraft Group 22 (MAG-22), they would earn a Presidental Unit Citation for their role in the epic naval clash.

As there are exactly zero functional TBD Devastator torpedo bombers that made it out of WWII, it was amazing to see them digitally recreated and flying in squadron order, Ride of the Valkyries-style, to their doom.

Wreck of the Lexington showing TBD Tare-3 flown by Ensign N. A. Sterrie USNR who claimed a hit on the carrier Shoho during the second attack at the Coral Sea. Tare-4 flown by Lt. R. F. Farrington USN who claimed a hit during the first attack. This is amazing as there are only four known TBDs in existence anywhere in the world– all crashed. Only 130 were made and 35 lost at Midway alone (Photo via RV Petrel)

Likewise, in many scenes, the Chicago Piano, the quad 1.1-inch AAA gun mounted across the U.S. fleet in the early part of WWII, was shown in action although most examples are at the bottom of the Pacific at this point.

These…(RV Petrel)

Unlike the 1976 film, which tried to tell the story of the battle through the eyes of a fictional third party staff officer, much like Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914, the new version is told through a focus on Dick Best, the legendary leader of Enterprise’s VB-6; and LCDR Edwin T. Layton, Nimitz’s intel boss.

In another departure from the 1976 film, rather than fill the ranks of the IJN with Hawaiian nisei actors and a token Toshiro Mifune (whose lines were dubbed in English!), the current production used a number of high-profile Japanese actors including Etsushi Toyokawa and Tadanobu Asano (you will recognize him from all of the Thor movies as well as 47 Ronin).

What I didn’t like

A lot of this is nitpicky from a nerd who built SBD, F4F and TBD models as a kid in the 1980s while dog-eared copies of Infamy and At Dawn We Slept sat on the desk, so take it with a grain of salt.

While the movie spends the first 45~ minutes or so delving into the six months of the Pacific War from Pearl Harbor to Midway, this seems like too much of a setup, one that could have been condensed to spend more time on the actual battle itself. For instance, of the aforementioned amount, a good 10-15 mins are spent on the Doolittle Raid (with Aaron Eckhart lending his magnificent chin to portray Doolittle himself). While those “30 Seconds over Tokyo” were important to the war effort, they had little to do with Midway.

While the story of SBD gunner AMM1c Bruno Gaido is told– and deservedly so– his execution at sea was botched in the film. Gaido and his pilot, Ensign Frank O’Flaherty, were picked up by the destroyer Makigumo and tortured for over a week then tied to weighted gas cans and thrown overboard on/about 15 June. The movie implies they were killed soon after rescue during the battle and that O’Flaherty may have given actionable intelligence that was used to sink Yorktown. This is shameful.

Speaking of Yorktown, there were three U.S. flattops at Midway but Yorktown is only glimpsed a couple times and Hornet barely even gets a mention, leaving the otherwise uninformed viewer to think Enterprise pulled off the whole thing on her own. Sure, the seagoing action is largely from Dick Best’s point of view, but still…

As for the Japanese fleet, the bushido code of RADM Tamon Yamaguchi– a Princeton alumnus who clashed with Nagumo and was the commander of the Japanese Carrier Striking Force’s Carrier Division Two– is retold and he is shown going down with his stricken flagship, IJN Hiryu, on the predawn of 5 June. However, the movie has him only meeting this fate accompanied by Hiryu’s commander when in fact he had 20-30 men of his staff all resolutely remain behind to ride her to “enjoy the moon together.”

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

Even with the above complaints lodged, the movie is still a much better effort than I hoped for. Of course, it is very CGI/greenscreen heavy, but this is the nature of the cinema these days.

All-in-all, it could be used as an educational tool in high school history classes, in my humble opinion.

For those interested in delving more into Midway, check out Shattered Sword.

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