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Group Captain Hemingway at 100

Born July 1919 in Dublin, John Allman Hemingway, the Irishman picked up a short service flying officer’s commission in the Royal Air Force in April 1938 at age 18 and went on to become one of the RAF’s “so few” just months later.

He flew Hurricanes with No. 85 Squadron over France and the Lowlands in May 1940, chalking up a German Dornier Do 77 light bomber, before covering the Dunkirk Beaches and switching back to England for the Battle of Britain, picking up a DFC after ripping up Heinkels and Messerschmitts. He later flew Spitfires with No. 43 Squadron over Italy as a Squadron Leader and retired from the RAF in 1969 as a Group Captain. In all, he had to hit the silk at least four times during WWII to abandon flaming/falling aircraft.

Capt. Hemingway celebrated his 100th this month, one of the very few RAF WWII fighter jocks left among us and the final Irishman who flew such craft during the Battle of Britain.

His secret:

“I can’t say don’t drink. I can’t say don’t fool about with people. I can’t say don’t fly aeroplanes. I can’t say don’t shoot and get shot at – I’ve done everything, and I’m an Irishman. The only advice I can give to people is be Irish!”

Warship Wednesday, July 24, 2019: Splashdown!

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, July 24, 2019: Splashdown!

On this special edition of Warship Weds, you know we had to cover this. Although technically out of our time frame, Hornet was a WWII steam-powered flattop that was in her 26th year of service during this memorable occasion, so this is WWeds territory all day:

Here we see Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King No. 66 (BuNo 152711) from Helicopter Squadron Four (HS-4), piloted by CDR Don Jones, operating from the primary recovery ship USS Hornet (CVS-12) which is 12 miles over the horizon and coming fast at 22 knots. Old 66 is moving to retrieve the crew of Apollo 11 from their Columbia command module in the Pacific Ocean. The date is 24 July 1969, some 50 years ago today.

Hornet, an early “short-hulled” Essex-class fleet carrier built during the darkest days of World War II, had originally been laid down as the third USS Kearsarge, 3 August 1942, at Newport News but her name was switched to honor the lost USS Hornet (CV-8), which had been sunk in the Battle of Santa Cruz on 26 October 1942. Commissioning on 29 November 1943 (try to get a 40,000-ton carrier built in just 15 months today!) she went on to fight her way across the Pacific and earned seven battle stars along with a Presidential Unit Citation for her service in WWII.

Following a 1950s SCB-27A conversion, Hornet reentered the fleet as an attack carrier (CVA-12) too late for Korea and by 1959, following a subsequent SCB-125 conversion, was pulling down regular anti-sub duty as an ASW carrier (CVS-12) from San Diego to Japan. She clocked in on Yankee Station off Vietnam following an SCB-144 upgrade and did her part in supporting NASA operations.

USS Hornet (CVS-12) operating off the coast of North Vietnam, 5 September 1967. Photographed by PHCM Cox. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NH 97469

Which brings us to the moment she brought the Apollo 11 crew home.

On 16 July 1969, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins were launched from Cape Kennedy atop a massive Saturn V rocket with the first two aforementioned space travelers descended to the surface of the Moon on four days later on the Lunar Command Module Eagle before rejoining the Columbia Command Module for the trip back home. Of the 6.5-million-pound Saturn, just the 9,130-pound Columbia capsule was destined to return to Earth via splashdown at sea, and Hornet was tasked to take it from there.

Named primary recovery ship on 1 June, after six weeks of prep work, our vintage carrier staged to Pearl from San Diego and sailed out for the Mid-Pacific Line at 1600 on 12 July, she initiated some 600 Hornet and civilian (NASA and press) personnel into the Realm of Neptunus Rex along the way. While waiting for Columbia’s splashdown some 800 miles southwest of Hawaii, she conducted training from Apollo boilerplates and received RADM (later ADM) Donald C. Davis, Commander, Task Force 130, on 22 July and CINCPAC ADM John S. McCain Jr. on 23 July.

The Black Knights of HS-4, having previously recovered both Apollo 8 and Apollo 10, was tasked with executing the recovery mission. Five SH-3 Sea Kings (dubbed RECOVERY) would deploy to the splashdown area: one to recover the astronauts, two to deploy swim teams, one to photograph the mission, and one as an escort and standby for the primary recovery aircraft.

Three E-1B Tracers (Stoofs with a roof, dubbed RELAY for the operation) were launched from Hornet for support. Two HC-130s SAR Herks flying out of Hawaii were overhead for support, dubbed RESCUE.

Four specially equipped swimmers of UDT-11 (John Wolfram, Clancy Hatleberg, Mike Mallory and Wes Chesser, fresh from Vietnam combat rotations and veterans of the Apollo 10 recovery) were prepped for the waterborne portion in two teams (Swim One and Two). The swimmers’ first task was to stabilize the command module by attaching and inflating a custom-made flotation collar around the blunt end of the spacecraft. The next task was to attach a large, seven-man raft to the flotation collar into which the astronauts, after donning special Biological Isolation Garments (BIG) exited from the Command Module. After further decontamination, the astronauts were to be flown to Hornet while the swimmers would prepare Columbia for recovery by the carrier via crane.

RADM (later ADM) Donald Cooke Davis, Commander, Task Force 130, arrived aboard Hornet on July 22. President Nixon, who had notably been a naval officer in the Pacific in WWII and only moved to the retired list in 1966, was inbound.

From Hornet’s cruise book, the events on 24 July:

(All times listed are GMT, local time was XRAY +11)
1518- LAUNCHED AIRCRAFT~ FIVE SH-3Ds and three E-1Bs
1600 MARINE ONE 12 miles from HORNET
1603 1MC Announcement · “United States arriving”
1604 Hawaii Rescue ONE (HC-130) on station
1605 Hawaii Rescue TWO (HC-130) on station
1612 President arrived in MARINE ONE
1613 President greeted by CINCPAC, CTF 130 and Commanding Officer
1614 President entered Hangar Bay TWO
1617 President inspected MQF (Mobile Quarantine Facility)
1618 President inspected BIG (Biological Isolation Garments)
1619 President departed Hanger Bay TWO
1633 All aircraft on station; ship speed 14 knots, steering north by northeast.
1635 Apollo 11 entry
1636 Begin blackout
1639 End blackout
Rescue ONE and Rescue TWO reported S-band contact
Rescue ONE reported visual fireball
1640 Rescue TWO reported visual fireball
HORNET radar contact 230 degrees true 130NM
HORNET Lookouts reported visual fireball 210 degrees true
1642 HORNET radar contact 65NM. Drogue chutes open.
1644 Double sonic boom reported by lookouts
1645 Main chutes open
1646 RELAY reported Command Module three main chutes and flashing light
HORNET established communications with Apollo 11 Crew reported “in good shape”
1648 Swim ONE, Swim TWO, Recovery and HORNET reported recovery beacon contact. CM passing 2500 feet
1649 Swim ONE reported visual contact with Apollo 11 as it passed through 800 feet.
Apollo 11 splashdown
1650 Apollo 11 reported in Stable TWO
1651 Dye marker deployed chutes severed
RECOVERY on station
1654 Three helos on scene 11.5 miles to CM, heading SW
1655 Speed 20 knots; CM 11.4 miles dead ahead
1656 Apollo 11 in Stable ONE.
1658 First swimmer in the water
1700 Swim team #2 in water
1701 Astronauts reported their check-off list complete
Three swimmers in water; flotation collar in water, HORNET speed 22 knots
1703 Flotation collar installed and inflated
1704 Raft in water
1705 Raft inflated and tethered to CM
1707 Sea anchor deployed from raft #2. BIG Swimmer in water (Lt Clancy Hatleberg)
1709 Bag of BIGs and decontaminate lowered to raft #2
1711 Astronauts reported, “all of us excellent, take your time.”
1712 BIG swimmer dons garment
1113 Range 7 miles
1715 Range 6.25 miles, report by astronauts to the effect that they are doing fine. Their spacecraft “not as stable as HORNET but stable enough”
1717 Raft 10 feet from CM; range 5.5 miles
1718 BIG swimmer in raft #1, secured it to CM
1719 BIG swimmer placed the bag of BIGs in CM.
1720 BIG swimmer made preparations for CM decontamination
1725 Range 2.75 miles course 244; speed 21 knots
1727 Astronauts open the hatch and commence exit, the first astronaut in the raft
1728 Second astronaut in the raft
1729 Third astronaut in a raft.
1731 BIG swimmer secures hatch. All water wings inflated
1733 Speed 13 knots; BIG swimmer scrubbing lower portion of CM (reportedly with Betadine)
1734 BIG swimmer commenced decontamination of CM
Speed 11 knots, the ship is turning; BIG swimmer completed decontamination of CM
1735 BIG swimmer scrubbing down first astronaut
1736 Speed 8 kts; course 000; decontamination of first astronaut completed
1737 Commence decontamination of the second astronaut, speed 7kts, ship passing through 025.
1738 Decontamination of second astronaut completed
1739 Commenced decontamination of the third astronaut
1742 RECOVERY surgeon states all okay; no breaks in the decontamination procedures
1744 Decontamination process completed, commence decontaminating raft #1
1745 Course 075′; DIW Command Module 950 yds to port. Swimmers taking their positions
1748 RECOVERY making approach for the first astronaut
1749 First astronaut hoisted in sling into RECOVERY
1750 Commence second approach second astronaut in sling hoist
1752 Third astronaut in sling hoist
1757 RECOVERY landed on the flight deck
1801 RECOVERY lowered to Hangar Bay #2 on #2 elevator.
1802 RECOVERY enters Hangar Bay #2,
1804 RECOVERY guided in front of MQF.
1807 Astronauts leave aircraft and enter MQF door of MQF closed behind astronauts; walk area decontaminated
1808 RECOVERY removed.
1839 Mr. Ben James~ NASA spokesman announces doctor has found astronauts fit.
1853 President enters MQF area to sound of ruffles and flourishes
1854 Astronauts draw curtain open.
1855 President addresses astronauts.
1903 President leaves MQF area en route to the flight deck.
1905 President on the flight deck where he greets flight deck crew
1908 President enters Marine ONE.
1911 President departs. Time on board 9 3 hours.
1912 CINCPAC addresses crew over 1MC.
1930 CINCPAC departs.
1931 Commenced approach to CM from a range of 2500 yards
1949 CM out of water
1952 Flotation collar cut from CM

NASA Photo S69-21698 (24 July 1969) — The three Apollo 11 crewmen await pickup by a helicopter from the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic Apollo 11 lunar landing mission. The fourth man in the life raft is a United States Navy underwater demolition team swimmer, Lieutenant Clancy Hatleberg. All four men are wearing biological isolation garments. Clancy was the first to welcome the first humans to walk on another planetary body–Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins– back to earth. He later said that, although it wasn’t in the protocol, he shook their outstretched hands when he opened the capsule. He is now 75 and lives in Virginia.

Recovery of the Apollo 11 space capsule by USS Hornet, Hatleberg securing hatch on Columbia. Hatleberg and the three other UDT swimmers remained with the command module until the Hornet could arrive to retrieve the module via crane while the astronauts were recovered in Sea King #66. LT (JG) Wes Chesser, along with two other UDT-11 divers dropped from Helicopter #64, cleared away the parachutes, deployed a sea anchor to slow the module’s drift, and attached and inflated a floatation collar around the module. NHHC UA 44.02.01

NASA Photo 6900595 (24 July 1969) — Donned in biological isolation garments, the Apollo 11 crew members, (L-R) Edwin Aldrin, Neil Armstrong (waving), and Michael Collins exit Old 66, the recovery pick up helicopter, to board the USS. Hornet aircraft carrier after splashdown.

President Richard M. Nixon talks with the Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin, Jr., on the hangar deck of USS Hornet (CVS-12), in the Pacific Ocean, 24 July 1969. The astronauts are inside the mobile quarantine station that temporarily housed them after their return from the Moon. Photographed by PHCS R.L. Lawson. Official U.S. Navy Photograph. Catalog #: KN-18093

UDT swimmers wait for USS Hornet to arrive to recover Columbia. NHHC photo

And the recovery itself…

NASA Photo S69-21294 (24 July 1969) — The Apollo 11 spacecraft Command Module is photographed being lowered to the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet. Note the floatation collar has been removed.

NASA S69-40758 (24 July 1969) — The Apollo 11 spacecraft Command Module (CM) and the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) are photographed aboard the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic first lunar landing mission. The three crewmen are already in the MQF

The ship enjoyed a special “Splashdown” Menu

Buzz Aldrin filed the travel voucher to get reimbursed for the trip.

Note, Hornet’s reference and travel by “Government Air”

The relics of the Columbia recovery are very well preserved. After touring the country, the module itself was donated to the collection of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum 

CDR Don Jones, Black Knights Sea King #66’s pilot, donated his helmet to the U.S. Navy Museum, where it is in their collection.

Helmet, Flight, HS-4, USS Hornet (CVS-12), Apollo 11 NHHC 1969-452-D

Helicopter 66 would also be used for the Apollo 12 and 13 recovery, with HS-4 being presented with Meritorious Unit Commendations for their efforts in the program. Tragically, after 3,245.2-hours of service, “Old 66” crashed while on a training mission off Imperial Beach in 1975, sinking to 800 fathoms but at least three replicas exist in aviation museums today wearing the famous chopper’s livery.

As for the Knights themselves, they are still around, dubbed Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Four (HSC-4), flying MH-60S Seahawks with CVW-2.

On the UDT side of the house, Wes Chesser’s duck feet from the Apollo 11 splashdown are in the NHHC collection.

Fins, Swim, UDT, USS Hornet (CVS-12), Apollo 11 NHHC 1969-452-F

With frogmen being frogmen, there are of course other keepsakes in private hands. In the period they were left alone in the water with Columbia after the Sea Kings had departed, the four UDT divers were able to score small pieces of the aircraft’s gold reentry shield that were flaking off in the water after a 500,000-mile round trip.

“We knew once they got that capsule back to the Hornet, they would guard it like Fort Knox and we wouldn’t get anywhere near it,” Wolfram told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently.

The floatation collars and bag used on Apollo 11 is at the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles displayed on an Apollo program egress trainer command module used by the UDT team prior to the recovery. It was transferred from NASA to the Smithsonian in 1977 and is set up next to the Mobile Quarantine Facility trailer. I made sure to check it out this week as I am in the DC area on business.

(Photo: Chris Eger)

And of course, Hornet was decommissioned less than a year after Columbia’s recovery, on 26 June 1970, although she did find the time to recover Apollo 12’s Yankee Clipper as well.

NASA Photo s69-22271– A United States Navy Underwater Demolition Team swimmer assists the Apollo 12 crew during recovery operations in the Pacific Ocean. In the life raft are astronauts Charles Conrad Jr. (facing camera), commander; Richard F. Gordon Jr. (middle), command module pilot; and Alan L. Bean (nearest camera), lunar module pilot. The three crewmen of the second lunar landing mission were picked up by helicopter and flown to the prime recovery ship, USS Hornet. Apollo 12 splashed down at 2:58 p.m. (CST), Nov. 24, 1969, near American Samoa. While astronauts Conrad and Bean descended in the Lunar Module (LM) “Intrepid” to explore the Ocean of Storms region of the moon, astronaut Gordon remained with the Command and Service Modules (CSM) “Yankee Clipper” in lunar orbit.

In 1998, she opened to the public as USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, California, where she remains today.

One small step, indeed.

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Coming home from Bloody Tarawa

D-Day On Tarawa. Drawing, Charcoal on Paper; by Kerr Eby; 1944; Framed Dimensions 39H X 51W. NHHC

From the DOD:

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced today the remains of at least 22 servicemen, killed during the 1943 Battle of Tarawa in World War II, are being returned to the United States in an Honorable Carry Ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, July 17, 2019.

The Battle for Tarawa was part of a larger U.S. invasion (Operation GALVANIC) to capture Japanese-held territory within the Gilbert Islands. The operation commenced on November 20, 1943, with simultaneous attacks at Betio Island (within the Tarawa Atoll) and Makin Island (more than 100 miles north of Tarawa Atoll). While lighter Japanese defenses at Makin Island meant fewer losses for U.S. forces, firmly entrenched Japanese defenders on Betio Island turned the fight for Tarawa Atoll into a costly 76-hour battle.

Over several days of intense fighting at Tarawa, approximately 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded, while the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Servicemen killed in action were buried where they fell or placed in large trench burials constructed during and after the battle. These graves were typically marked with improvised markers, such as crosses made from sticks, or an up-turned rifle. Grave sites ranged in size from single isolated burials to large trench burials of more than 100 individuals.

Postwar Graves Registration recovery efforts were complicated by incomplete record-keeping and by the alterations to the cemeteries shortly after the battle. The locations of multiple cemeteries were lost. The alternations to other cemeteries resulted in the relocation of grave markers without relocating the remains beneath. These sites became known as memorial graves. As a result, many of the Tarawa dead were not recovered.

“Today we welcome home more than 20 American servicemen still unaccounted for from the battle of Tarawa during World War II,” said Acting Secretary of Defense Richard V. Spencer. “We do not forget those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and it is our duty and obligation to return our missing home to their families and the nation.”

190717-M-PO745-2033 PEARL HARBOR (July 17, 2019) U.S. service members from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific (MARFORPAC), and guests stand as “Taps” is played during an honorable carry for the possible remains of unidentified service members lost in the Battle of Tarawa during WWII conducted by DPAA and MARFORPAC at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, July 17, 2019. The remains were recently recovered from the Republic of Kiribati by History Flight, a DPAA partner organization, and will be accessioned into DPAA’s laboratory facility in Hawaii to begin the identification process in support of DPAA’s mission to provide the fullest possible accounting for our missing personnel to their families and the nation. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jacqueline Clifford/Released)

Same as it ever was

From the National WWI Museum and Memorial, this 1919 Independence Day flyer, with a sentiment that is 100 years old today, and is still on target.

Don’t think so? Check out this Pentagon Hall of Heroes speech by Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia, MOH:

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.

Courbet

Courbet

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.

On 18 July 1940, De Gaulle addressed France, and Frenchmen everywhere, with his famous “Report to me” speech in which he specifically mentioned French sailors. (“J’invite les chefs, les soldats, les marins, les aviateurs des forces françaises de terre, de mer, de l’air, où qu’ils se trouvent actuellement, à se mettre en rapport avec moi.”)

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.

Specs:

Courbet class, 1914 Jane’s

Displacement:
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)
Armor:
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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