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Filed Under: Other Navy Ships Named for Coasties

With the news earlier this month that SECNAV will be naming one of the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers after the late (great) Capt. Quentin Walsh, USCG, I’ve seen several news sources– both mainstream and in the military blogosphere— say this is the first occasion that the U.S. Navy has named a warship after a member of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Simply not true.

To the best of my knowledge, there are at least three other occasions (and likely more that I can’t think of) that have predated them.

1. USS Newcomb (DD-586), a Fletcher-class destroyer is named for Commodore Frank H. Newcomb of the Revenue Cutter Service, the Coast Guard’s predecessor. After Civil War service in the Navy, Newcomb was commissioned as an officer in the USRCS and in 1898 while in command of the plucky little USRC Hudson, came to the assistance of the crippled torpedo boat USS Winslow during the Battle of Cárdenas in the war with Spain.

Cutter HUDSON rescues the USS Winslow from Spanish land batteries off Cardenas Bay, Cuba

He was given a special Congressional Gold Medal for his part in the Spanish–American War– the only one issued by Congress for the conflict. USS Newcomb only made it to the Pacific in 1944, but received 8 battle stars for World War II service, having been present from Saipan to Okinawa. At the former, she sank Japanese submarine I-185, and on 4 July 1944 “her well-directed fire broke up a Japanese banzai attack north of Garapan.”

2. Canadian-born S1C Douglas Albert Munro, USCGR, was 22 when he gave his last full measure at the Second Battle of the Matanikau on Guadalcanal in September 1942 when he was placed in charge of the extrication of a force of the 7th Marines that had been overrun by the Japanese. He was killed while using the boat he was piloting to shield a landing craft filled with Marines from Japanese fire and received the MOH for his “extraordinary heroism,” endorsed by Halsey himself. His dying words before he slumped into the great beyond were, “Did they get off?”

Douglas A. Munro Covers the Withdrawal of the 7th Marines at Guadalcanal by Bernard D’Andrea.

The Butler-class destroyer escort USS Douglas A. Munro (DE-422) was named in his honor in 1944, serving in both WWII and the Korean War. Further, the Coast Guard has named two large sea-going cutters after Munro, who is the service’s only MOH recipient.

3. DDG-133 was named earlier this year for former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn. Of course, the fact that he served as the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1987 to 1995 likely had more to do with that than his time in the Coast Guard (1959-60) and USCGR (1960-68), but nonetheless, it was mentioned in the calculus of the decision by SECNAV for bestowing his name to a $1 Billion+ cruiser-sized destroyer.

190506-N-DM308-001 WASHINGTON (May 6, 2019) An artist rendering of the future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sam Nunn (DDG 133). (U.S. Navy photo illustration/Released)

Honorable mention:

Then, of course, there is the case of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, who as Secretary of the Treasury founded the Revenue Marine (the Coast Guard’s ancestor) in 1790. While the Revenue Cutter Service/USCG has named at least four ocean-going cutters after the storied Revolutionary War hero and service founder– one of which was lost to a U-boat in WWII– the Navy has also counted a warship with the same name on the Navy List: the ballistic missile submarine USS Alexander Hamilton (SSBN-617), from 1963 to 1993.

Any others that you know of? Please share with me so we all do!

Quentin Walsh gets a well-deserved nod

A lot of people forget that the U.S. Coast Guard often carries a serious load in American military history, punching way out of their weight class. This had held true from the War of 1812 to the current standoffs in the East China Sea and the Persian Gulf, with stops at every conflict in between.

During WWII, besides putting some 250,000 men and women in uniform, put the equivalent of four infantry divisions on stateside Beach Patrol, manned squadrons of surface escorts (not only cutters but DDs, DEs, PFs, PCMs, and armed icebreakers), stood up the “Hooligan Navy” to protect the homeland from German and Japanese subs, conned flotillas of other landing craft and support craft, fielded patrol squadrons that included 120 PBY Catalinas, and put a fleet of small craft off the beaches of Normandy that pulled 1,500 men out of the water in June 1944. In all, the Coast Guard manned 802 of their own commissioned ships as well as 351 Navy, and 288 Army vessels during the conflict.

One of these unsung Coasties is Capt. Quentin Walsh.

Born in 1910, he graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1933 and was soon working Rum Row during the final days of Prohibition. He clocked in for peacetime service on the Clemson-class destroyer USS Herndon (DD-198)— which had been chopped to the USCG for the war on booze– as well as the famed cutters Yamacraw and Campbell. When the war began, he shipped out on the Coast Guard-manned troop transport Joseph T. Dickman which served across the globe, ferrying Allied troops across five continents.

Then-CDR Walsh in 1944 found himself on the staff of Commander U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, located in London, and was given command of a special scratch force (Task Unit 127.2.8) of about 50~ Navy Sea Bees that landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, armed with bazookas, hand grenades, rifles and submachine guns. Heading right for Cherbourg to the West, you could say he soon gained the keys to the city in a huge win.

As noted by the Coast Guard:

“Despite heavy casualties, his small force seized the port facilities and took control of the harbor the day after they entered the city.
After he discovered that the remaining German garrison at Fort du Homet held 52 U.S. Army paratroopers as prisoners, Walsh, under a flag of truce, exaggerated the strength of the forces under his command and persuaded the commanding officer of the remnants of the German garrison to surrender. These actions earned him the Navy Cross and, all told, he accepted the surrender of over 700 German soldiers.”

German prisoners march out of surrendered Cherbourg under U.S. Army guard. U.S. Navy photo

Members of the German Cherbourg garrison await transfer to prisoner of war camps, after the city’s capture by the Allies, 28 June 1944. 80-G-254358

His citation:

“Heroism as Commanding Officer of a U.S. Naval party reconnoitering the naval facilities and naval arsenal at Cherbourg June 26 and 27, 1944. While in command of a reconnaissance party, Commander Walsh entered the port of Cherbourg and penetrated the eastern half of the city, engaging in street fighting with the enemy. He accepted the surrender and disarmed 400 of the enemy force at the naval arsenal and later received the unconditional surrender of 350 enemy troops and, at the same time, released 52 captured U.S. Army paratroopers. His determination and devotion to duty were instrumental in the surrender of the last inner fortress of the Arsenal.”

Cmdr. Quentin R. Walsh in his dress blues bearing his recently awarded Navy Cross Medal. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Cmdr. Quentin R. Walsh in his dress blues bearing his recently awarded Navy Cross Medal. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Walsh later helped open up the ports of Brest and La Harve, enabling Patton and Monty to get the gas and gear they needed to liberate Northwestern Europe. Leaving the service in poor health in 1946, he returned to active duty for Korea and retired as a captain in 1960.

Walsh crossed the bar in 2000 at age 90 and is buried in Hurlock, Maryland.

Last week, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, SECNAV Richard V. Spencer named a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, DDG 132, in honor of Walsh, in a ceremony at Cherbourg aboard the Coast Guard Training Ship Eagle (herself a captured German WWII-era vessel).

“For over two centuries, the Navy and Marine Corps team and the Coast Guard have sailed side by side, in peacetime and war, fair weather or foul,” said Spencer. “I am honored the future USS Quentin Walsh will carry Capt. Walsh’s legacy of strength and service throughout the world, and I am proud that for decades to come, this ship will remind friends and adversaries alike of the proud history of our services and the skill and professionalism of all those who stand the watch today.”

190606-N-YG104-4001 NORMANDY, France (June 06, 2019) Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Richard V. Spencer announces the nanming of a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Quentin Walsh (DDG 132), in honor of Coast Guard Capt. Quentin Walsh, who was awarded the Navy Cross for his service during World War II at Normandy, France. Spencer made the announcement alongside Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, in a ceremony aboard the U.S. Coast Guard training ship Eagle in Cherbourg, France. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sarah Villegas)

190606-N-YG104-4001 NORMANDY, France (June 06, 2019) Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Richard V. Spencer announces the naming of a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Quentin Walsh (DDG 132), in honor of Coast Guard Capt. Quentin Walsh, who was awarded the Navy Cross for his service during World War II at Normandy, France. Spencer made the announcement alongside Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, in a ceremony aboard the U.S. Coast Guard training ship Eagle in Cherbourg, France. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sarah Villegas)

Warship Wednesday, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

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, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

NH 110742 French Warships in port, circa 1939 Mediterranean palm trees and old fort 2400-tonne type destroyer battleship Courbet, while a Duguay Trouin class light cruiser is to the right

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 93575

Here we see the first French dreadnought, Courbet, class leader of a four-ship group of mighty warships built for the French Third Republic. She is the largest ship to the far left, seen at Villefranche during late 1938 or early 1939. She gave her last full measure some 75 years ago this week but left an interesting legacy.

When built, Courbet and her sisters were the Republic’s answer to the growing trend of all-big-gun battleships started with the launch of the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought in 1906.

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

Part of the 1909 Naval Plan, these big French battlewagons went nearly 26,000-tons (FL) and carried an impressive main battery of a dozen new design 12-inch (305mm) 45 Modèle 1906 guns. These big boys, in six twin turrets, were comparable to the U.S. Navy’s 12″/45 caliber Mark 5 gun on five classes of American battleships (Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, Delaware, and Florida) as well as the British BL 12-inch Mk X naval guns which were mounted on not only  Dreadnought herself but also a dozen other RN battleships and battlecruisers of the day.

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet 12-inch and 5.5-inch (138mm) guns photographed by Robert W. Neeser. These ships carried an impressive 22 of the latter, each with 225 shells. NH 42848

Laid down at Arsenal de Brest, our 21-knot beastie, named after famed French Admiral Amédée Courbet of Indochina fame, was soon followed by sister ship Jean Bart, constructed at the same time by the same yard. Two other sisters, France and Paris, were built by A C de la Loire, St-Nazaire and F C de la Méditerranée, La Seyne, respectively.

French battleship Paris, trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L'Illustration

French battleship Paris, the trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L’Illustration

Courbet commissioned in November 1913 and the entire class were all at sea by the time the lamps went out across Europe in August 1914. Their design was essentially recycled to create the follow-on Bretagne (Brittany)-class dreadnoughts who were up-armed with 13.5-inch guns.

Courbet entered the Great War monitoring of the Otranto canal, a vital sea route connecting the Adriatic with the Ionian while keeping an eye peeled for the German battlecruiser SMS Goeben. She served at the time as flagship for Vice Admiral Boue de Lapeyrère, who led a force that comprise most of France’s battlefleet along with two British cruisers.



On 16 August 1914, the fresh new battleship and her task force came across the small (2,500-ton) Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser SMS Zenta and a companion destroyer, SMS Ulan, off the coast of Bar, Montenegro. The ensuing action, remembered today as the Battle of Antivari, was brief, with Ulan escaping destruction and Zenta, her guns far outranged by the French, destroyed, taking 173 of the Austrian Kaiser’s men to the bottom of the Adriatic with her. The war was just two weeks old.

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, with Courbet and company in the distance, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

When the Italians entered the conflict on the Allied side in May 1915, the Austrian fleet was bottled up for the rest of the war and Courbet, along with most of the French capital ships, were likewise sidelined, waiting the next four years just in case for a fleet action that would never come. After 1916, most of her crew was pulled and detailed to submarines and small craft, a common occurrence with the French navy at the time.

Remaining rusting in Corfu until April 1919, Courbet returned to Toulon where she became the nominal flagship of the West Mediterranean Fleet while she conducted extensive repairs through 1923.

Put back into service, she suffered a major electrical fire at the French North African port of Mers El Kebir which required further extensive repairs at FCM in La Seyne Sur Mer through 1924. Courbet was a member of an unlucky class perhaps, as sister ship France foundered at sea and was lost at about the same time.

In 1927, with Courbet‘s original design increasingly dated, she was hauled out of the water and given a three-year rebuild and modernization. This included retrunking into two funnels, down from three, updating her propulsion plant by taking her old coal boilers and direct drive turbines with oil-burning small-tube boilers and new geared turbines which provided 43,000 shp (up from 29,250). She lost her torpedo tubes (like battleships really used them) and reinforced her anti-air defenses in the form of 76mm high-angle pieces and a smattering of 13.2mm machine guns. Jean Bart and Paris were given similar overhauls.

She emerged looking very different:

Courbet original and post modernization

Courbet original, top, and postmodernization, bottom

In 1934, she was made a full-time gunnery school ship, her place in the French battle line going to the new 26,000-ton Dunkerque-class of fast (29.5-knot) battleships ordered for the French Navy the same year. Likewise, her sister Jean Bart, renamed Ocean, was made a training hulk at about the same time while Paris was used as a school ship for signals rates.

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

With World War II on the horizon, Courbet and Paris were taken from their taskings on the training roster in June 1939 and placed in the French Navy’s 3eme Division de Ligne, fleshing out their ranks, taking on power and shell, and installing more AAA guns.

Reportedly, the ships had troublesome engineering suites, only capable of making about 15 knots and even that speed could not be sustained.

Tasked with coastal defense, Courbet was moved to Cherbourg on the English Channel in May 1940. From there, she engaged  German aircraft poking their nose over the harbor and helped support the withdrawal from the beaches of Dunkirk. Later, as the German Army broke through and swept towards Paris, Courbet fired on advancing Boche columns of Rommel’s 7. Panzerdivision outside of Cherbourg before she raised steam and headed across the Channel to Portsmouth on June 19/20. Her sister Paris, damaged by German bombs, likewise left Brest for Plymouth, England at about the same time.

With France officially dropping out of WWII and the Third Republic voting to give full powers to Philippe Petain, the elderly battleships Paris and Courbet were seized and disarmed at their British moorings by Royal Marines on order of Churchill on 3 July as part of Operation Catapult.

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow IWM

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow and false bow wave. IWM

Paris, in bad condition, had her crew totally removed– who largely decided to return to France. She would be turned over to the Free Polish Navy who would use her for a dockside trainer and clubhouse until 1945 when she was returned to French custody and scrapped.

As for Courbet, she was turned over to the brand-new Forces Navales Françaises Libres (Free French Naval Forces) forces under Admiral Emile Muselier, allied with then-renegade Maj Gen. Charles de Gaulle ,on 10 July, becoming the largest and arguably most effective French warship not under Vichy control. Meanwhile, hulked sister Jean Bart remained in Vichy hands in Toulon on the Med, along with the bulk of the French Navy that wasn’t hiding out in Africa or the Caribbean.

Cuirassé Courbet à Portsmouth 1940, note the false bow wave painted on her bow.

Rearmed in August 1940, Courbet‘s AAA gunners managed to splash five German bombers over Portsmouth during the Battle of Britain. She continued her role as a floating symbol for De Gaulle and receiving ship for the rapidly forming Free French Navy for the next four years but sadly never left port under her own steam again.

Enter Monsieur Philippe Kieffer, stage left.

Philippe Kieffer

This guy.

The day after World War II started with the German invasion of Poland, Kieffer, a 40-year-old Haitian-born Alsatian bank executive in New York City, presented himself at the French consulate in Manhattan and signed up for the Navy. Having been schooled as a reserve naval officer in university but graduating too late in 1918 to fight in the Great War, the skilled financial analyst was given a sub-lieutenant’s commission and assigned to help flesh out Courbet‘s ranks, where he was assigned as an interpreter and cipher officer. Still aboard her when she left for England, he volunteered for the Free French Forces on 1 July 1940 and remained on her during the Battle of Britain.

In Portsmouth in May 1941, he formed a group of 40 volunteers, largely drawn from Courbet and Paris’s remaining crew who chose to not be repatriated to Vichy France, dubbed the 1re Compagnie de Fusiliers Marins (1st Company of Naval Rifles). Soon, his handful of bluejackets were wearing British uniforms and learning from the likes of former Shanghai Police Inspectors William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes at the commando training center in Achnacarry, Scotland. There, they picked up the general tricks of the dirty deeds done dirt cheap trade.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French naval insignia-- likely Keiffer -- and carries a Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French sub-lieutenant naval insignia– likely Keiffer — and carries a Great War-era Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

His force became No. 1 Troop, No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando. Taking part in the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, his forces were expanded to include a second troop, No. 8, and his men were often used in small scale raids and intelligence ops along the coasts of occupied Holland and Belgium for the next two years.

In early 1944, Kieffer’s two troops, along with a smattering of new recruits (including a few Belgians and at least four Luxembourgers) were carved off from No. 10 Commando and formed the new 1re Compagnie du Bataillon de Fusiliers-Marins Commandos (1st Company of the Battalion of Marine Fusilier Commandos, or just BFMC). Geared up for Operation Overlord, they were part of British No 4 Commando of Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade and landed on Sword Beach on D-Day, some 177-men strong, for their official return to France, Tommy guns in hand.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was killed on D-Day by a sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (making friends with the pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was fatally shot on D-Day by a German sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Kieffer’s Bérets Verts (Green Berets) would soon push from the beach to link up with the 6th Parachute Division at Pegasus Bridge and go on to suffer 21 killed and 93 wounded in the days that was to follow, with the latter including Kieffer.

French villagers welcome French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. thompson tommy gun Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944.

French villagers welcome BFMC French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944. Note the green beret’s M1928 Thompson and Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife.

Before the war was out, his men were the first unformed members of the Free French to enter Paris, see the elephant again at Walcheren, liberate Flessinge, help capture the port of Antwerp, and carry out raids along the Dutch Coast. Not bad for a banker.

As for Courbet, she was at Sword Beach as well, just a few days behind Kieffer’s famed 177.

By 1944 she was old news. The Free French Navy, after the collapse of Vichy France in November 1942, had picked up the scratch and dent but much newer fast battleships Jean Bart and Richelieu, which were given extensive refits in America, as well as the still (somewhat) combat effective Bretagne-class dreadnought Lorraine, the latter of which was soon to see combat in the Operation Dragoon landings in the Med.

With her marginalization as De Gaulle’s unneeded 4th battleship, Courbet‘s bunker oil was pumped out and replaced with concrete as her crew removed their possessions. She was towed out of Portsmouth by HMRT Growler and HMRT Samsonia with her remaining French skeleton crew along for the ride on 9 June, bound for the invasion beaches of Normandy with TF 128.

Stopping some 3,360 meters in front of Hermanville near Ouistreham, her crew was evacuated at 13:15 and 10 minutes later her skipper, Capt. Wertzel, triggered the detonation of a series of installed scuttling charges that soon sent France’s first dreadnought 33 feet to the bottom, still flying her tricolor flag adorned with De Gaulle’s Cross of Lorraine, to give the impression that she was still in some form of service.

French Battleship Courbet was sunk as part of Gooseberry 5 on D+3. Note her decks almost awash, the benefit of having a 29-foot draft in 33 feet of water.

Courbet was part of a line of blockships laid off the beaches to form a reef before the rest of the Mulberry dock system was assembled to bring supplies to the beach.

There were to be five “Gooseberry” breakwaters, one for each beach:
No. 1 Utah Beach at Varreville
No. 2 Omaha Beach at St. Laurent (Part of MULBERRY A)
No. 3 Gold Beach at Arromanches (Part of MULBERRY B)
No. 4 Juno Beach at Courseulles
No. 5 Sword Beach at Oistreham

In all, the breakwaters were to be formed by about 60 blockships (approximately 12 in each Gooseberry) which were all merchant vessels except the disarmed King George V-class battleship HMS Centurion, Free Dutch Java-class light cruiser HNLMS Sumatra, Danae-class light cruiser HMS Durban and our Courbet.

A typical Gooseberry breakwater

The sinking of blockships was to commence p.m. D+1 and the Gooseberries were to be completed by D+3, with Courbet being one of the final pieces of the puzzle at Sword Beach (Gooseberry 5), which was to include the merchant ships Becheville, Dover Hill, Empire Defiance, Empire Tamar, Empire Tana, and Forbin along with the old cruisers Durban and Sumatra.

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Courbet, still with her war flag flying, was one of the few blockships to be “manned” with generators supplying power to her eight searchlights and a radio. A crew of 35 men from the Royal Artillery was left in charge of her AAA guns for the next several weeks with the intention of drawing away Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine attacks on the vulnerable beachhead while at the same time possibly splashing a couple of raiders.

The concept worked, as reportedly the very grounded Courbet was hit by German Neger human torpedoes (Einmann-Torpedo) of K-Flottille 361 during the nights of both August 15/16 to 16/17, without effect.

As the breakout occurred and the fighting moved inland, her British gunners were withdrawn in September and Courbet‘s flag hauled down, presented to De Gaulle’s government with honors.

On 14 February 1951, the wrecks in Gooseberry 5 were auctioned by the French government to be salvaged and slowly scrapped, a process that took until 1970 to be completed. By coincidence, Jean Bart, the last French (or European for that matter) battleship afloat, was scrapped the same year at Brégaillon near Toulon, making Courbet and big Jean something of bookends on the tale of French dreadnoughts.

As for Kieffer, Courbet‘s star, he would die at age 63 in 1962, a Commandeur du Légion d’Honneur.

Of the current seven French Commando battalions today, three bear the name of officers of the WWII 1st BFMC: Augustin Hubert, Charles Trépel and Kieffer. Meanwhile, French marine commandos still wear the badge Kieffer designed and issue the Fairbairn-Sykes.

French Fusiliers marins et commandos marine fighting knife green beret via French marines

In the seven decades since the 1st BFMC, more than 8,300 French commandos have followed in their footsteps. To say they have been extremely busy in the past 70 years is an understatement.

French heartthrob Christian Marquand would portray Kieffer in 1962’s The Longest Day, correctly wearing BFMC-badged green berets during the seizure of the Ouistreham casino (which had actually been destroyed prior to the landing). If Marquand looks familiar, he also played the holdout French plantation owner in Apocalypse Now Redux. Notably, Kieffer served on the film as a technical adviser just before he died.

Last week, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, a monument to Kieffer and his 177 commandos was unveiled on Sword Beach, with Commando Kieffer frogmen and past veterans in attendance. A piece of salvaged steel plate from Courbet is incorporated into the display.


Courbet class, 1914 Jane’s

23,475 t (23,104 long tons) (normal)
25,579 t (25,175 long tons) (full load)
Length: 544 ft 7 in (o/a)
Beam: 88 ft 7 in
Draught: 29 ft 8 in
Machinery (1913)
24 Niclausse coal-fired boilers with Bellville oil spray systems
4 shafts; 4 × Parsons direct drive steam turbine sets
28,000 PS (20,594 kW; 27,617 shp)
2,700 tons coal/1,000 tons oil.
Range of 8,400nm at 10 knots
Machinery (1934)
16 oil-fired boilers
4 shafts; 4 × Geared steam turbine sets
43,000 PS
Speed: 21 knots (designed) only 20.74 on trials in 1913. 16 knots by 1940
Complement: 1,115 (1,187 as flagship)
Waterline belt: 140–250 mm (5.5–9.8 in)
Deck: 40–70 mm (1.6–2.8 in)
Turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
Conning tower: 266 mm (10.5 in)
Armament: (1913)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
22 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
4 × single 47 mm (1.9 in) M1902 3-pdr AAA guns
4 × 450 mm (17.7 in) Model 1909 submerged torpedo tubes with 12 torpedoes
30 Blockade mines
Armament: (1940)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
14 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
8 x 75mm/50cal M1922 AAA guns
14 x 13.2mm machine guns

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Ramrod to get a well deserved MoH

Born in 1975, Staff Sergeant David Bellavia loved show tunes and theatre before he found himself on his 29th birthday leading the “Ramrods” of Coy A, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment as the Big Red One made its way through Fallujah. You see, he was in charge as his sergeant major, company commander and executive officer had all been cut down by enemy fire.

Charging into a tough what could politely be called a persistent strong point in the form of a multi-story house during the city fighting that took place there, he started off with an M249 and ended fighting room-to-room with guys jumping out of closets and getting super CQB on him at bad breath distances. In the end, he ended up falling back on a Gerber Gator to get out of there.

“I have had better birthdays, for sure,” Bellavia later said.

I read his book, House to House: An Epic Memoir of War, then saw him speak at the Pritzker back in like 2009 and found his experience and the way he told it haunting.

The recipient of the Silver Star, SSG Bellavia, now 43, is set to the Iraq War’s first (living) Medal of Honor recipient.

Combat Gallery Sunday: Opening Up the Beach edition

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: Opening Up the Beach edition

U.S. Army combat artist/infantryman Mitchell Jamieson, who we covered on our 75th Anniversary of D-Day post, spent a week after landing at Normandy on Day 1 with the men of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Beach Battalion, the precursor to today’s Beachmaster Units, as they worked on Omaha.

Writer A.J. Liebling described the 6th as “sailors dressed like soldiers, except that they wore black jerseys under their field jackets; among them were a medical unit and a hydrographic unit. The engineers included an M.P. detachment, a chemical-warfare unit, and some demolition men. A beach battalion is a part of the Navy that goes ashore; amphibious engineers are part of the Army that seldom has its feet dry.”

Navy Beach Company personnel, Normandy. Note their red half-circle insignia on their M1 helmets

[ORIGINAL CAPTION] INVASION … Carrying full equipment, American assault troops move onto a beachhead on the northern coast of France. Landing craft, in the background, jams the harbor. June 6, 1944. Omaha Beach. [If you note, he is a Navy man and has the same Beach Company markings on his helmets as above.] National Archives # 111-SC-189902.

Landing on the Fox Red sector of Omaha Beach, the young men of the unit grew old quick as the tended their task of moving out the wounded and clearing the beach of obstacles so that larger landing craft could move in.

Jamieson chronicled them well.

Placing a Charge on a “Belgian Gate”

Placing a Charge on a Belgian Gate dday beach demolition Mitchell Jamieson 88-193-hq

NHHC 88-193-HQ

“Naval demolition men are preparing a charge that will blow up this “Belgian Gate” type of obstacles, which is a framework of steel mounted on rollers, with the flat side facing seaward, about 10′ high and 8’wide. The explosive charge used for this type of obstacle was very pliable and could be bent around steel or stuffed in crevices. Tetrytol, a stronger charge, but not easily handled was also used.

These demolition units were started as part of the beach battalions and were trained intensively for this type of work. After they cleared channels through the barriers and the beach was secured, their most important job was over, but there still remained plenty of demolition work to do on the beach.”

Naval Demolition Men Blowing Up Obstacles

Naval Demolition Men Blowing Up Obstacles DDay Mitchell Jamieson 88-193-hp


“Another beach obstacle was the log ramp. This was nine to ten feet high, consisting of two upright logs driven into the sand, one short and one long, with a third log placed on top slanting backward from the sea. This was constructed to catch an incoming landing craft and slide it upward towards the mine placed on the end. Stakes pointing seaward with mines attached were a variation of this, but perhaps the most commonly used obstacle was the hedgehog or tetrahedron or “element C” as it was variously called. This was an ingenious contrivance of three steel rails, riveted together and flattened on their ends to prevent sinking too far into the sand. All these devices were used in combination, usually with “Belgian Gates” and log ramps, forming an outer barrier with hedgehogs and stakes thickly placed inside all along the beach. Some of the beaches were found to be much more formidable in barriers than others.”

Old Campaigners (Cold and Wet)

The Old Campaigners Mitchell Jamieson Navy's 6th Beach Battalion in the Omaha sector. 88-193-ig


“These are men of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Beach Battalion in the Omaha sector. The terrible, confusing experience of the landing and the first two days on the beach had by now turned into a routine pattern of hard work, sleeplessness and the kind of living conditions generally described as “rugged.” The men already had the look of old campaigners, each adapting himself in his own way to his surroundings. Beach battalion losses were heavy here. They hit the shore with the first waves, but in this sector where resistance was so fierce, the work of organizing the unloading was virtually impossible until it was secured to some degree. The sign in the background pointed to one of the exits from the beach, which was just to the right of the picture. The men live in foxholes between here and the water’s edge.”

Many of Jameison’s paintings are in museums across the country, to include the Smithsonian.

D-Day at 75: An Epilogue

P-47 with invasion stripes knocked out Sherman M4 Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, France, 1944

As The Greatest Generation ages and increasingly drifts from the present and into memory with each passing day, their footprints on those hallowed beaches on Normandy are washed away. With that, I find tributes tying today’s active military units, to their historical forebearers very important, a sign that those heroic deeds will continue forward.

At Pointe Du Hoc, overlooking Omaha Beach, the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion climbed the almost vertical cliff face to take out (what they were told) was a battery of strategically placed 155mm guns which could control the entire beach.

U.S. Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings on D-Day M1 Garand BAR 80-G-45716

U.S. Army Rangers show off the ladders they used to storm the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, which they assaulted in support of Omaha Beach landings on D-Day. NARA # 80-G-45716

Of the 225 men with the 2nd Rangers at the dawn of D-Day, just 90 were still standing on D+1 when they were relieved.

To salute the Pointe Du Hoc Rangers, active duty Rangers of 2nd Battalion, 75th Rangers, some in period dress, reenacted the climb yesterday.

The 101st Airborne and 1st Infantry, meanwhile, had their own representatives on hand to walk in the footsteps of their predecessors that landed on the Cotentin (Cherbourg) Peninsula and on Omaha Beach.

Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa (CNE-A), dedicated a Lone Sailor statue on the seawall over Utah Beach, in honor of the bluejackets who cleared the beaches.

“The Frogmen swam ashore to the beaches of Normandy to make them safer for the follow-on wave of Allied forces,” said Foggo. “The Lone Sailor statue is a reminder to honor and remember their bravery and to act as a link from the past to the present as we continue to protect the same values they fought to protect.”

“The Lone Sailor statue stands on a plaza at the Utah Beach Museum overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from where the U.S. invasion force appeared on that historic morning. Although people come and go from this statue, the Lone Sailor will continue to serve as a universal sign of respect towards all Sea Service personnel for generations to come.”

At the same time, down the beach, CNE-A Fleet Master Chief Derrick Walters and U.S. Navy SEALS assigned to Special Warfare Unit 2 re-enacted the D-Day mission that Navy Combat Demolition Unit Sailors conducted in the cover of darkness to clear the beaches for the main invading force on Utah Beach, to include blowing up a recreated Czech Hedgehog beach obstacle with a bit of C4, as one does.

Meanwhile, the crew of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CV-69), read Ike’s famous D-Day Message

Make no mistake, a few precious Veterans of that Longest Day were able to be on hand in Normandy this week, such as 97-year-old 101st Airborne trooper Tom Price who came in just how he did back in 1944– jumping from a C-47.

As men like Mr. Price rejoin their units in the halls of Valhalla, memory is everything. It echos through eternity.

Vale, Herman Wouk

As a kid, I was a naval film junkie and the War and Remembrance, and The Winds of War miniseries along with Humphrey Bogart’s The Caine Mutiny were standard fare. Who can ever forget the ultimate toxic skipper that was LCDR Philip “Old Yellowstain” Queeg?

With that, the bell should be rung at the passing of author, Pulitzer Prize-winner, and WWII destroyerman Herman Wouk who shipped out for that great Libo call in the sky at age 103 last Friday.

Born in 1915, Wouk, a 27-year-old radio dramatist, signed up for the U.S Navy Reserves shortly after Pearl Harbor and was soon bobbing around on the aging WWI-era destroyer-minesweeper (“any ship can be a minesweeper, once”) USS Zane (DMS-14).

USS Zane (DMS-14) Off San Francisco, California, 21 September 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-57504

USS Caine, err, I mean USS Zane (DMS-14), Off San Francisco, California, 21 September 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-57504

Wouk had a very active war, participating in eight invasions from New Georgia to Okinawa and later becoming XO of Zane‘s Clemson-class sistership, USS Southard (DD-207/DMS-10). While aboard the latter, he survived numerous kamikaze attacks and Typhoon Ida. Importantly, his fictional USS Caine was a destroyer-minesweeper in WWII whose pivotal “mutiny” scene revolves around a Pacific typhoon.

He said of his time in the Navy during the war, “I learned about machinery, I learned how men behaved under pressure, and I learned about Americans.”

Wouk reportedly passed in his sleep.

Be sure to have a nice bowl of strawberries sometime this week in his honor.

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