Category Archives: hero

Vale, Capt. Groom

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

Groom in Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

As noted in his obit: 

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

Meet Sgt. Maj. Thomas P. Payne, MOH

From the DOD & the White House: On September 11, 2020, President Donald J. Trump will award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry while deployed five years ago as an assistant team leader in Iraq as part of a Special Operations Joint Task Force in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Then-Sgt. 1st Class Thomas “Patrick” Payne on Oct. 22, 2015, was part of a force given a mission to rescue over 70 Iraqi hostages being held by ISIS in a prison compound in the northern town of Hawija.

The rescue footage:

 

His story in his own words:

Happy 151st, Herr Lerch, err, Lerch-San

In Japan today is a 100~ strong Alpine-style skiing club named Lerch no Kai, or the Society of Lerch in honor of one Theodor Edler von Lerch, late a general officer in the Imperial and Royal Army of the Austro-Hungarian Kaiser.

This guy, note his bamboo ski pole

Wha?

Lerch, born 31 August 1869 in Pressberg–now the capital of Bratislava in Slovakia– to a noble family, graduated from the Theresian Military Academy which still trains Austrian Army officers today, in 1891 before a series of postings in Galicia along the Russian frontier. This included the 102nd Infantry Regiment, then on the staff of the 59th Infantry Brigade in Czernowitz, and finally the 11th Infantry Brigade in Lemberg.

Finding a posting to 14th Corps headquarters in Innsbruck as a captain in 1902, he trained with famed Alpine ski pioneer Mathias Zdarsky, who was perhaps Europe’s greatest ski bum in the 1900s, and was a member of the prestigious Internationale Alpen Ski-Verein, then probably the largest ski club in the world.

Austrian ski troops– Gruppenaufnahme von Infanteristen mit Alpinausrüstung- (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum)

Following the Russo-Japanese War, then-Major Lerch was detailed to the Austrian military mission (Instruktionsoff) to Japan in 1910, where he remained for two years, specifically requested to train the Emperor’s soldiers in the work of Gebirgstruppe, or mountain troops. This included not only alpine-style climbing but also distinctive single-pole skiing, in the style popularized by Zdarsky and the IAS-V.

Lerch taught the techniques to officers and soldiers of the Imperial Army’s 58th Infantry Regiment of Count Gaishi Nagaoka’s 13th Infantry “Mirror” Division in Jōetsu and in 1911 was the first man on record to ski up Mt. Fuji, to a delighted crowd.

Japanese soldiers practice skiing using the method taught by Austro-Hungarian Army Maj. Theodor Edler von Lerch in this photo believed to have been taken around 1912 in Niigata Prefecture. (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum)

Imperial Japanese Army officers’ wives in 1911 with the “Von Lerch method”

He later toured Japanese troops in Korea and Manchuria, where he no doubt brought his skis along.

The Mirror Division was later tapped to serve in Siberia during the Japanese 1918-1922 intervention there in Russia’s Civil War, as it had ski-equipped infantry, a skill later abolished in 1925 as a cost-cutting measure. Meanwhile, at about the same time, the old single-pole method of alpine skiing was forgotten in Europe.

As for Lerch…

Returning to Austria in 1913, Lerch was made commander of the 4th Tiroler Kaiserjager Regiment (4.TJR), a crack force of alpine sharpshooters along the Italian border and his star continued to rise when war beset Europe. He went on to become a brigadier general, command the 20th Gebirgsbrigade in Albania, then the 93rd Infantry Brigade, and, as a major general, was assigned to the staff of German Kronprinz Rupprecht von Bayern in Flanders in October 1918.

Demobilized in 1919 with the rest of the Austrian army, he wrote and skied late into life. Too old for WWII, he died in Allied-occupied Vienna on Christmas Eve, 1945, aged 76.

A formal portrait hangs at the Austrian military’s Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna, noting him as the father of modern skiing in Japan.

Nonetheless, in Japan, he is much better remembered.

January 12, the day he began instruction there, is considered “Ski Day” in the country and at least two monuments exist to Lerch, including a 21-foot persona erected in 1960, complete in K.u.K officer’s uniform, bamboo ski pole, and alpine skis, in Jōetsu.

Further, he is still very much alive, in mascot format.

 

The last surface action of World War II

While the daring overnight anti-shipping raid in July 1945 by the nine American destroyers of DesRon 61in Tokyo Bay, an action remembered today as the Battle of Sagami Bay, is largely seen as the last fleet combat involving commissioned warships in WWII as they tied up with a Japanese minesweeper and submarine chaser, it was not the last surface action.

No, that claim goes to a scrap between (sail-powered) gunned-up junks off the coast of China 75 years ago today, a full week after VJ Day. Ironically, by American military personnel who were previously training pirates to fight to the common enemy.

A junk in Chinese waters, prior to World War I. A U.S. Navy armored cruiser is in the background. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, Corte Madera, California, 1973. NHHC Catalog #: NH 77414

A force of two Ningpo junks with Chinese fishermen crews under the command of one LT Livingston “Swede” Swentzel, Jr., USNR manned by six other Americans along with 20 Chinese guerrillas, were set upon by a heavily-armed Japanese junk– carrying a crew of 83 as well as a 75mm pack gun– while at sea between Haimen and Shanghai, China.

From Swentzel’s citation:

The first round from the 75-mm. howitzer struck Swentzel’s junk shearing off the foremast. The Chinese crew left their posts and Swentzel took over the helm. Meanwhile, he established contact by means of handy talkie with his second junk and gave orders to close with the enemy. He also ran up the American Flag…

The ensuing 45-minute action saw the Americans fight it out with everything from bazookas and Thompson submachine guns to carefully tossed grenades. When the smoke cleared, the Allied junk force counted 10 casualties across their two vessels while the Japanese craft, boarded by a prize crew while dead in the water and smoking, held 45 dead and another 35 injured.

Not a lot of ballistic protection in a junk, it would seem.

The story ran in the October 5 Stars & Stripes (CBI Edition) and was picked up by papers stateside. 

Both Swentzel and Gunner’s Mate Third Class James Ralph Reid, Jr., USNR each received the Navy Cross in February 1946 from Commander Naval Group China, “in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” They were the last two Navy Crosses issued in WWII.

The Pirate Connection

The reason why Swentzel and Company were in China was that they were assigned to the Sino-American Special Technical Cooperative Organization (SACO), working at Camp Eight training local forces against the Japanese, with their first clients being the rather infamous Chang Kwei Fong’s pirate group, the “Green Circle Brotherhood.” 

It would seem that Swentzel and his boys learned a little bit from the pirates as well.

Of course, it would not be the last time the U.S. Navy fought from junks– with Tommy guns.

Tommy guns, aviators, and khakis! “Ensign Caldwell of Houlton, Maine, stands guard in a motor whaleboat with a .45 caliber submachine gun M1928AL (it is actually an M1A1) off the coast of South Vietnam. The Vietnamese men wait as their junk is searched by USS FORSTER (DER-334) crewmembers, 15 April 1966.” Catalog #: K-31208. Copyright Owner: National Archives Original Creator: Photographer, Chief Journalist Robert D. Moeser

From the Gulf of Alaska to the Gulf of Tonkin, 52 years of service

The Seattle-based Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) moors at U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak’s fuel pier in Kodiak, Alaska, July 10, 2020. Photo by Chief Petty Officer Matthew/USCG

The 378-foot Hamilton-class Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) just completed her final patrol.

As noted by the USCG, Mellon and her “150-person crew left Seattle April 17 to conduct missions throughout the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea. During the patrol, the crew conducted 38 law enforcement boardings, four search-and-rescue cases, and enforced federal regulations governing Alaska’s $13.9 billion commercial fishing industry.”

She returned to her longtime homeport at Seattle earlier this month and is scheduled for decommissioning August 20, 2020, bringing an epic 52-year career to a close.

Laid down in 1966 at Avondale in New Orleans, she commissioned on January 9, 1968.

A modern ship with her helm controlled via a joystick, she carried a 5″/38 DP mount forward, a half-dozen ASW torpedo tubes, sonar, an 80-foot helicopter deck, and used a then-innovative CODAG engineering suite. Contemporary accounts held that she was able to reach a speed of “20 knots in less than 20 seconds and go from full ahead to full astern in less than one minute.”

The Hamilton-class cutters were one of the first naval vessels built with a combined diesel and gas turbine propulsion plant. At the time: “The twin screws can use 7,000 diesel shaft horsepower to make 17 knots, and a total of 36,000 gas turbine shaft horsepower to make 28 knots. The diesel engines are Fairbanks-Morse and are larger versions of a 1968 diesel locomotive design. Her Pratt-Whitney marine gas turbine engines are similar to those installed in Boeing 707 passenger jet aircraft.”

Mellon served regular weather station duty on Ocean Station November in the Northern Pacific– and even had a balloon shelter for such work, in addition to SAR, maritime fisheries patrol, and counter-smuggling duties.

Once, she even got involved in responding to a mutiny on the high seas.

She also went to a real-live shooting war.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

Mellon saw extensive service during the conflict in Vietnam. She was twice awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation as part of Task Force 115 (U.S. Navy Coastal Surveillance Force) which maintained close surveillance over 1,200 miles of Vietnamese coastline and 64,000 licensed watercraft.

The task force seized large quantities of war material, preventing it from reaching enemy hands. During her service in the waters adjacent to Vietnam, Mellon also conducted numerous naval gunfire support missions, rescue operations, medical civic action programs, and training programs for Vietnamese military personnel.

She saved lives.

Mellon rescued passengers from the burning Holland-America luxury liner MS Prinsendam off the Alaskan coast in 1980 in conjunction with another cutter, pulling 510 passengers and crew members from lifeboats after they abandoned ship. Remarkably, and in vast contrast to the Titanic, this occurred with no deaths or serious injuries, and all passengers and crew from the Prindsendam accounted for.

Added to this tally over the years were mariners from the doomed Italian supertanker Giovanna Lollighetti, the MV Carnelian, and the downed crew of a C-130 surviving among the frozen scrub of Attu Island.

She held the line

A regular on the Bearing Sea Patrol, Mellon’s sonarmen counted more sonar contacts with Soviet subs in the 1980s than many active-duty tin cans.

Updated for the Cold War, she was given frigate-level armament, trading her 5″ gun for a more modern 76mm OTO Melera Mk.75, picking up more modern air search radars, a “Slick-32” EW suite, and improved AN/SQS-26 bow-mounted sonar. She also got a modicum of anti-air protection from a CIWS and an anti-ship armament of 8 Harpoon cans. The idea was that if the balloon went up, the Hamiltons could easily chop over to add a few more hulls to the “600 Ship Navy” and help out with ASW and convoy duty.

Speaking of which, she was the only cutter in USCG history to fire a live Harpoon, during tests off Oxnard in January 1990.

PAC Ken Freeze, USCG

The Coast Guard certainly got their $14.5 million FY65 original costs out of her, and, as with most of her class, will surely go on to serve an overseas ally for another generation or two.

Her motto is Primus Inter Pares (First Among Equals).

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) crew and an Air Station Barbers Point MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew conduct searches just before sunset 24 miles south of Oahu, March 18, 2019. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Joshua Martin/Released)

Warship Wednesday, July 22, 2020: A Hard 73 Days

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, July 22, 2020: A Hard 73 Days

U.S. Navy Department Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42868

Here we see the Clemson-class “four-piper” destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) sometime during the early 1920s. This humble flush-decker was completed too late for one World War but made up for it in her brief 10-week career in a second.

One of the massive fleets of Clemson-class flush decker destroyers, like most of her sisters, Peary came too late to help lick the Kaiser. An expansion of the almost identical Wickes-class destroyers with a third more fuel capacity to enable them to escort a convoy across the Atlantic without refueling, the Clemsons were sorely needed to combat the pressing German submarine threat of the Great War. At 1,200-tons and with a top speed of 35 knots, they were brisk vessels ready for the task.

The subject of our story today was the first warship named after RADM Robert Edwin Peary, famed for his Arctic explorations in which he went down in the history books as being in the first successful dash to the North Pole.

This guy.

Peary died in February 1920, and his crossing of the bar gave natural inspiration to the naming of a new destroyer in his honor. USS Peary (DD-226) was constructed at William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, and launched 6 April 1920– two months after the famed explorer’s passing– sponsored by his daughter, Mrs. Edward Stafford. The new tin can was commissioned on 22 October 1920.

USS Peary (DD-226) at anchor, circa 1921.NH 50902

After shakedown, Peary passed through the ditch and kept going, assigned to the Asiatic Fleet for the rest of her service. With her shallow draft, she spent most of that period providing the muscle to the exotic “Sand Pebbles” Yangtze Patrol Force.

See the world! View at Amoy, China taken from Kulangsoo showing the port and U.S. destroyers anchored there, circa 1928. Two of the ships identifiable are USS PEARY (DD-226), on right, and USS PRUITT (DD-347) on left. Sightseeing Sailors in crackerjacks and Marines in dress blues are on the foreground. NH 50709

This sometimes-tense peacetime service, which saw lots of bumping up against increasingly cold Japanese forces in the region during the latter’s undeclared war with China, turned very hot after 7 December 1941.

Less than 48 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Peary was caught in Cavite Naval Yard in the Philippines during a Japanese high-altitude bomber strike on the yard.

As noted by her damage report of the incident her foremast caught a 250-pound bomb dropped from about 25,000 feet. The bomb detonated on impact with the mast and rained the vessel’s decks with a deadly storm of shrapnel which in turn started a fire that was quickly extinguished.

The effect was to destroy her gun director, torpedo director, degaussing girdle, sound gear, radio receivers, bridge overheads, charts, sextants, and navigational equipment– so possibly the most devastating 250-pound bomb in naval history!

The ship’s skipper and Engineer Officer were severely injured and sent ashore for hospitalization. Her XO was dead. Just two days later, her torpedo officer, the most senior afloat, was steaming her around the harbor without defenses to avoid another Japanese attack.

On 14 December, LCDR John Michael Bermingham (USNA 1929), the former XO of the Peary’s sister ship, USS Stewart (DD-224), who had completed his tour on 1 December and was in Manila waiting for transportation home., became Peary’s new skipper. The plan– displace and live to fight another day.

Escape and Regroup

As the Japanese poured into the Philippines, the Asiatic Fleet increasingly was pressured out of the islands. Ordered to proceed to Australia for repair, Peary’s masts were removed and the ship camouflaged with green paint and palm fronds in an effort to avoid Japanese bombardiers on the way. LT. William J. Catlett, Jr. a Mississippian and the ship’s First Lieutenant, held on to her original commissioning pennant.

In such a manner, the damaged Peary managed to survive very close air attacks on both the 26th and 27th of December. In both incidents, she reportedly only avoided enemy bombs and torpedoes which passed as close as 10 yards.

By New Year’s 1942, she was safe in Darwin. Well, reasonably safe anyway.

Patched up, she soon joined in an ill-fated effort by way of Tjilatjap and Koepang in the Dutch East Indies to resupply Australian forces on Timor in early February. The force consisted of the Northampton-class “medium” cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) and the two Australian sloops, HMAS Warrego and HMAS Swan.

C 1942-02. The Timor Sea. USS Peary. The photograph was taken from HMAS Swan by a member of the crew probably during the abortive Koepang voyage. AWM P01214.008

Darwin, Nt. C.1942-02. USS Peary and USS Houston (CA-30) in the Harbor. These Ships, together with HMAS Swan and HMAS Warrego Formed the Naval Escort of the Convoy Which Made an Unsuccessful Attempt to Reinforce the Timor Garrison. Houston was sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea less than a month after this image was taken. AWM 134952

Looking from the Australian Bathurst Class Corvette, HMAS Warrnambool (J202), towards the American Northampton class heavy cruiser, USS Houston (CA30) (right), with the Destroyer USS Peary (DD226) alongside. AWM P05303.011

Houston and Peary sailed back towards Tjilatjap on 18 February, but Peary soon broke off her escort to chase a suspected submarine, and burned up so much oil in doing so that she was diverted back to Darwin instead of continuing with Houston back to Java.

The hard-working tin can arrived in Australia late that evening, with her crew no doubt eager to have a quiet morning the next day after being at sea since the 10th.

The Attack on Darwin

The Japanese air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942, by artist Keith Swain. Japanese aircraft fly overhead, while the focus of the painting is the Royal Australian Navy corvette HMAS Katoomba, in dry dock, fighting off the aerial attacks. Peary can be seen in the distance to the right. AWM ART28075

Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who had also led the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, was in the air over Darwin 73 days after.

As noted by the Australian War Memorial:

Early on the morning of 19 February, 188 aircraft were sighted by observers on Bathurst and Melville islands to Darwin’s north. The attack on Darwin began when Zero fighters began strafing an auxiliary minesweeper, HMAS Gunbar, as it passed through the boom protecting the entrance to Darwin harbor. Soon, ships in the harbor and buildings and installations ashore came under attack. For 40 minutes the aircraft bombed and machine-gunned the harbor and town. They shot down nine of the 10 United States Army Air Force P-40E Warhawks over the town and sank eight of the 47 ships in the harbor, including the motor vessel Neptuna. Its cargo included 200 depth charges which exploded as the ship lay beside the Darwin wharf. Another victim was the US Navy destroyer USS Peary which sunk with great loss of life.

LCDR Bermingham, aboard Peary at the time, managed to slip anchor and get his ship underway. The four-piper tried to build up steam and maneuver in the restricted water of the harbor while her crew filled the air with as much lead as they could, but Peary was hit with at least five bombs. Incredibly, her stern may have been blown off very early in the action, as recently it was discovered that her props and shafts are several kilometers from where she rests today on the seafloor.

Nonetheless, by all accounts, the doomed ship kept fighting.

USS PEARY (DD-226) afire shortly after being attacked. Courtesy of Arthur W. Thomas NH 43644

Darwin Raid, 19 February 1942 Wharf and SS NEPTUNIA burning at left. USS PEARY (DD-226) and SS ZEALANDIA can be seen faintly at right. Courtesy of Arthur W. Thomas NH 43657

USS PEARY (DD-226) afire and beginning to drift from where she was moored at the time of the attack. Australian hospital ship MANUNDA is at right. Courtesy of Arthur W. Thomas NH 43651

The description from DANFS tells the tale as:

At about 10:45 a.m. on 19 February Peary was attacked by single-motored Japanese dive bombers and suffered 80 men killed and 13 wounded. The first bomb exploded on the fantail, the second, an incendiary, on the galley deckhouse; the third did not explode; the fourth hit forward and set off the forward ammunition magazines; the fifth, another incendiary, exploded in the after engine room. A .30 caliber machine gun on the after-deck house and a .50 caliber machine gun on the galley deck house fired until the last enemy plane flew away. Peary sank stern first at about 1:00 p.m.

A .30-06 Lewis gun, recovered from the wreckage and now in the collection of the NHHC, may very well have been the above-mentioned machine gun.

In a two-page war diary held in the collection of the National Archives, Peary’s crew’s actions were described by doctors on the nearby Australian hospital ship Manuda as being heroic, speaking of “gun crews who remained at the stations firing their anti-aircraft guns until the water came up around them, and then swam away as the ship went down. No men abandoned ship until the ship sank completely under them.”

The Aftermath

Of the more than 60 Japanese air raids on Darwin in 1942-43, the 19 February strike went down in history as the most deadly, credited as the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia.

A third of the dead were American.

Kaname Harada, a Zero pilot who saw the attack on Peary, later said, “It was a dive-bomb attack from 5000m and the plume of smoke went up 200m in the air. When the smoke was gone, there was nothing left.” Harada would be shot down over Guadalcanal and died in 2016, aged 99. The four Japanese carriers that participated in the attack on Darwin whose planes sent Peary to the bottom– Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, and Sōryū— were later “scratched” at Midway.

Bermingham and at least 80 of Peary’s crew went down with the ship, reportedly leaving just 54, mostly injured survivors, struggling in her oil slick. The late skipper’s family was posthumously presented his Navy Cross and an Evarts-class destroyer escort was named in his honor the next year.

John Bermingham. Of note, the Navy Cross recipient was in the same class at Annapolis with Robert A. Heinlein.

Speaking of legacies, Peary’s name was soon installed on a new Edsall-class destroyer escort (DE-132) with LT. Catlett providing the old destroyer’s pennant and the departed explorer’s widow breaking the bottle. After an active career, DE-132 was scrapped in 1966.

In 1972, a Knox-class destroyer escort/fast frigate, DE-1073/FF-1073, became the third USS Richard E. Peary and served two decades with the Pacific fleets then another quarter-century with the navy of Taiwan, only being expended in a submarine exercise last week.

In 2008, an MSC-crewed 40,000-ton Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship, USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE-5), received the name fit for a destroyer.

As for her sisters, seven Clemsons were lost at the disaster at Honda Point in 1923, and 18 (including six used by the British) were lost in WWII including one, USS Stewart (DD-224), which was famously raised by the Japanese and used in their Navy only to be recaptured by the USN and given a watery grave after the war.

Those Clemsons not sold off in the 1930s or otherwise sent to Davy Jones were scrapped wholesale in the months immediately after WWII. Sister USS Hatfield (DD-231) decommissioned 13 December 1946 and was sold for scrap 9 May 1947 to NASSCO, the last of her kind in the Navy.

The final Clemson afloat, USS Aulick (DD-258), joined the Royal Navy as HMS Burnham (H82) in 1940 as part of the “Destroyers for Bases” deal. Laid up in 1944, she was allocated for scrapping on 3 December 1948.

None are preserved and only the scattered wrecks in the Western Pacific, Honda Point, the Med and Atlantic endure.

For more information on the Clemsons and their like, read CDR John Alden’s book, “Flush Decks and Four Pipes” and/or check out the Destroyer History Foundation’s section on Flushdeckers. 

In memoriam

Resting in just 87 feet of water on a silty seabed, Peary was extensively salvaged– ironically by a Japanese firm– in 1959 and 1960. Today, however, the remains are protected by Australia’s Heritage Conservation Act which brings heavy fines ($50,000) and threats of jail time to souvenir-seeking skin divers.

In Darwin, an extensive memorial in the city’s Bicentennial Park– centered around one of the Peary’s 4-inch guns pointing towards the site where she remains as a war grave– was erected in 1992. The event was attended by an honor guard provided from FF-1073.

Further, in 2012 on the 70th anniversary of her loss, a plaque was lowered to the seabed over her hull.

The Peary memorial is frequented by both U.S. and Australian forces.

Commanding Officer HMAS Coonawarra, Commander Richard Donnelly, lays a wreath at the USS Peary Memorial Ceremony. Defense personnel joins local dignitaries in Darwin to commemorate the Japanese air raids on the city on 19 February 1942, the largest single attack by a foreign force on Australia. RAN Photo

Lt. Col. Matthew Puglisi, the officer in charge, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, places a wreath at the USS Peary monument. The USS Peary lost 89 of its crewmembers after an air raid by Japanese forces at Darwin Harbor, Feb. 19, 1942. USMC Photo by Sgt. Sarah Fiocco

Specs:

Inboard and outboard profiles for a U.S. Navy Clemson-class destroyer, in this case, USS Doyen (DD-280)

Displacement:
1,215 tons (normal)
1,308 tons (full load)
Length: 314 ft. 4.5 in
Beam: 30 ft. 11.5 in
Draft: 9 ft. 4 in
Propulsion:
4 × boilers, 300 psi (2,100 kPa) saturated steam
2 geared steam turbines
27,600 hp (20,600 kW)
2 shafts
Speed: 35.5 knots
Range: 4,900 nmi (9,100 km) @ 15 knots
Crew: (USN as commissioned)
8 officers
8 chief petty officers
106 enlisted
Armament:
(1920)
4- 4″/51 cal guns
1 x 3″/23 cal AAA
12 × 21-inch torpedo tubes (4 × 3) (533 mm)

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The fires are dying

The news from San Diego is that hose teams and DC crews have moved into the ship itself and are seeking out hotspots, putting “The Beast” on its heels. Unofficial images that have leaked out show pretty bad internal damage on the vehicle deck and holes on the flight deck. Nonetheless, she is still afloat and on a semi-even keel.

The latest on BHR from the Navy:

“Fire teams consisting of Federal Fire San Diego and U.S. Navy Sailors have been fighting the fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). The fire teams consist of more than 400 Sailors from 12 San Diego-based ships. The ships providing firefighting support include:

The Merlins of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 have conducted more than 1,500 helicopter water bucket drops, which is cooling the superstructure & flight deck enabling fire crews to get on board internally to fight the fire. Tugs are also providing firefighting support from the waterline.

Currently, there are no personnel hospitalized. 63 personnel, 40 Sailors, and 23 civilians have been treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

On the bright side, just as the Navy learned from the massive USS Enterprise and USS Forrestal fires in the Vietnam era and the Inchon fires in 1989 and 2001, there will be a lot of teachable lessons to be had here that will (hopefully) translate to saving lives and ships down the line.

Meanwhile, USS Tripoli (LHA-7) was quietly commissioned today. The free space at Ingalls may be needed soon.

Taking the tube

The U.S. Navy’s early Plunger-class (SS-2) submarines were small. What we would consider midget submarines today.

Submarine Boat Plunger 1905 L.H. Nelson Company news photo NYPL collection

When Teddy Roosevelt took a trip on Plunger when she called at Oyster Bay (which we will cover in a future Warship Wednesday), he decreed that submariners would get hazard pay– a legacy that remains today.

Just 64-feet long they did not even have on-board accommodation for their six-man crew, requiring the Navy to develop the practice of having submarine tenders primarily to provide barracks space for the boat’s crew, a task that old monitors, with their freeboard low to the surface, proved a life-extension for.

When the Navy wanted to ship submarines to the Philipines after 1898, it was the Plunger-class that was tapped for the job, strapped as deck cargo to the collier USS Caesar for the trip.

So small, apparently some were simply chucked over the side when they arrived in the PI.

This 1909 LA Herald article says “English” submarine, but I can only find that, in 1908 and 1909, Ceasar moved Plunger class boats to the Far East, while the Brits did not.

Too small for a deck gun, their armament was only a single 18-inch torpedo tube in the bow.

Plunger sisters USS Porpoise and Shark. Two submarines in drydock with crews posed on bows, 1905. Note the bluejacket in the single bow tube

As noted by the Submarine Force Library and Museum Association, one early Plunger-class skipper, Ensign Kenneth Whiting (USNA 1905), utilized his boat, USS Porpoise, in what could be the first U.S. Navy submerged escape trunk-test– sans escape trunk.

Relinquishing control of PORPOISE to his crew, Whiting opened the inner door of the tube and squeezed himself inside; he reached forward and held onto the crossbar that braced the outer door. The crew closed the inner door behind him and then opened the outer, sending water rushing into the tube. His hold on the crossbar drew Whiting forward until his forearms up to his elbows were outside the tube. Once the pressure equalized, which happened quickly given the small size of the tube, he was able to shimmy the rest of the way out and pop to the surface, where the boat met him moments later.

The entire evolution took just 77 seconds.

In the log, he described the event thusly: “Whiting went through the torpedo tube, boat lying in [the] water in [a] normal condition, as an experiment….”

He passed the word of the escape along to his flotilla commander, but sought no further recognition for the accomplishment—he was apparently happy simply to prove that it could be done.

While Porpoise and the rest of her class would soon disappear from the Navy List, the daring young Whiting would go on to become a  distinguished Naval Aviator commanding Langley and Saratoga, and various air squadrons prior to his retirement as Captain 30 June 1940.

Warship Wednesday, July 8, 2020: Service Guarantees Citizenship

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, July 8, 2020: Service Guarantees Citizenship

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 108363

Here we see the Wickes-class tin can USS Roper (Destroyer No. 147) in an undated overhead bow-on shot early in her career. As yesterday was the 113th birthday of her most famous crewmember, it only seemed important to shine some light on this often-overlooked but well-traveled warship.

Roper was one of the iconic first flight of “Four Piper” destroyers that were designed in 1915-16 with input from no less an authority as Captain (later Admiral) W.S. Sims. Beamy ships with a flush-deck, a quartet of boilers (with a smokestack for each) were coupled to a pair of Parsons geared turbines to provide 35.3-knots designed speed– which is still considered fast today, more than a century later. The teeth of these 314-foot, 1250-ton greyhounds were four 4-inch/50 cal MK 9 guns and a full dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes.

They reportedly had short legs and were very wet, which made long-range operations a problem, but they gave a good account of themselves. Originally a class of 50 was authorized in 1916, but once the U.S entered WWI in April 1917, this was soon increased and increased again to some 111 ships built by 1920.

Roper was laid down on 19 March 1918, at the height of the German’s Michel Offensive in France, at the William Cramp & Sons yard in Philadelphia. She was the first ship to carry the name of LCDR Jesse M. Roper (USNA 1872) who, as skipper of the gunboat USS Petrel in 1901, lost his life in a fire attempting to rescue a trapped seaman.

However, USS Roper came too late to join the Great War, commissioned on 15 February 1919. Nonetheless, after shakedown, she crossed the Atlantic and served in the Med and the Black Sea during the tumultuous period that included the breakup of the old Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire coupled with the heartbreak of the Russian Civil War.

Roper, pre-1922. NH 108361

Transferring to the Pacific Fleet, Roper would be placed decommissioned in 1922 and rest in mothballs until 1930 when she was refit and reactivated. In contrast to her quiet time during the 20s, the 1930s would be a time of active participation in a series of fleet problems and maneuvers that ranged from the Eastern seaboard to the Caribbean and Alaska.

An undated overhead image of Roper underway, likely early in her career and after her 1930 reactivation. Note her stern depth charge racks. NH 108364

From the same set, with a good overview of her guns and profile. NH 108362

Enter Mr. Heinlein

With a tradition that his family fought in every American war going back to the days of Bunker Hill, Robert Anson Heinlein, born in Missouri in 1907, entered the U.S. Naval Academy as a Mid in 1925. He had a bit of family support on campus, as his brother Rex had been admitted the previous year, a factor that led Robert to have to pester U.S. Sen. Jimmy Reed to burn another service academy appointment on a Heinlein, reportedly hitting the senator with over 50 letters.

The younger Heinlein, “Bob” to his classmates, was an expert rifleman and a member of the fencing team, winner of the 1927 Epee medal. Academically 5th in his class of 243, he graduated 20th due to demerits with the 1929 class– one that included the future RADM Edward J. O’Donnell, RADM Warner S. Rodimon and VADM James H. Flatley– and has a very entertaining page in that year’s Lucky Bag. Headed to the fleet, the newly minted ensign shipped out for one of the choicest assignments, the brand-new carrier USS Lexington (CV-2).

LEXINGTON at the fleet concentration, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaiian Islands, 16 February 1932. Heinlein would have been aboard her at the time. NH 67634

Lex’s skipper, while Ensign Heinlein was aboard, was the taciturn Ernest J. King, future WWII CNO. This cheerful guy:

Captain Ernest J. King, USN, Commanding officer of USS LEXINGTON (CV-2), is shown the Olympic Cup by Chief Gunner Campbell, on 5 September 1931. The cup had recently been won by LEXINGTON’s runabout crew. 80-G-462576

In 1933, Heinlein left the mighty turbo-electric carrier for the much smaller and almost in comparison “retro” tin can, Roper, where he would serve as gunnery officer until he left the Navy on a medical discharge due to a case of TB.

Over the course of 46 novels and dozens of short stories, Robert Heinlein was always flanked by what he learned and remembered from his days as an Annapolis Mid and as a young line officer in the fleet.

Of course, Bob would settle for a career as a renowned science fiction author; winner of several Hugo Award prizes for groundbreaking science fiction. He was able to loop back around during WWII as an aeronautical engineer at the Navy Aircraft Materials Center at PNSY, bringing fellow sci-fi legends Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp with him to do their part.

Meanwhile, Roper had a war of her own to fight

Off Cape Cod on 7 December 1941, the Great War-era destroyer was soon on convoy duty during the height of what the German U-boat skippers deemed “The Happy Time” of Operation Drumbeat (Paukenschlag) due to the widespread availability of targets in American waters. As such, this included several instances of picking her way through floating wreckage and rescuing lifeboats crammed with U-boat survivors.

USS Roper (DD-147) Escorting a convoy, out of Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1942. Ships of the convoy are visible on the horizon. Roper is wearing Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage. NARA 80-G-K-580

USS ROPER (DD-147) View taken while underway in Hampton Roads, on convoy escort duty, circa 1942. Note camouflage. 80-G-K-467

On the night of 13-14 April 1942, Roper made a weak sonar contact in shallow water off North Carolina’s Bodie Island lighthouse, inside an area dubbed “Torpedo Junction” due to the high rate of submarine actions in the region and began prosecuting it. The contact turned out to be the Type VIIB German U-boat U-85 of 3. Flottille. Realizing he was caught in the shallows with no room to move, the sub’s skipper, Oblt. Eberhard Greger, made for the surface to fight it out, making turns for 17 knots while snapping a torpedo from its aft tube at his pursuer– from just 700 yards away- which only narrowly missed, running down the port side of the oncoming tin can’s hull.

The engagement went down to deck guns at a range of 2,100 yards, with Roper’s forward 3-incher busting the sub’s pressure hull just aft of the conning tower on her third round as one of her .50-caliber Brownings, manned by a Chief Boatswains Mate, kept the Germans from their own guns. The U-boat disappeared below the waves, stern first, before Roper’s torpedo tubes could be brought to bear.

A painting of the destroyer USS Roper (DD-147) engaging the German Type VII submarine U-85, during the night of 13/14 April 1942, near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Artist unknown. Image from the 1967/68 Edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/147.htm

Greger and crew apparently attempted to abandon ship as it was going down but, in a sad fog of war incident, all perished as Roper’s crew, in the dark and fearing another U-boat was in the area due to another, albeit unrelated sonar contact, continued depth charging the area after the sub submerged for the final time. When dawn broke, Roper’s crew recovered 29 bodies, which were later interred at Hampton National Cemetery.

Roper’s attack report is in the National Archives and makes for interesting reading. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/133887377

The wreck and war grave that is U-85 is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and protected as part of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. In just 100 feet of water, she is a popular dive site.

With her “kill” Roper became an inaugural member of the U.S. Navy’s sub-busting club in the Atlantic War, although the milestone of the lonely battle was kept secret until after the war. She was in good company, as her sister ship, USS Ward (DD-139), fired the first U.S. shots of the Pacific War, sinking a Japanese midget submarine outside of Pearl Harbor just before the attack there.

The rest of Roper’s 1942 was spent in less eventful coastal patrol and escort service, shifting to riding shotgun on Caribbean-to-Mediterranean convoys building up Allied forces in North Africa and the 1943 push to Sicily and Italy.

In October, entered Charleston Navy Yard for conversion to her next role, that of a WWII littoral combat ship.

Green Dragon Days

With the changing pace of the new naval war, the Roper, as with most of her class, was converted to other uses, being too small for fleet work. She lost her 4-inch guns, which went on to equip armed merchant ships, as well as her torpedo tubes. Also leaving were half of her boilers, which dropped her speed down to 25-knots. She was given a trio of newer high-angle 3-inch/50 guns, one 40 mm AA gun, and five 20 mm AA guns, and the capability to carry up to 300 Marines or soldiers for a brief period. In this new role, she was re-designated as a high-speed amphibious transport (APD-20). Where her torpedo tubes once were, she now carried four 36-foot LCP landing craft on davits.

Such converted, these ships, usually painted in an all-over alligator green scheme, became known as “Green Dragons.”

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Quarter. File 11-21-43-4.” Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Bow, Down View. File 11-21-43-6. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Bow. File 11-21-43-2. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Bow. File 11-21-43-7. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Stern View. File 11-21-43-5. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

These conversions had a hard war. They transported troops to beachheads, served as escorts for transports and supply vessels, conducted anti-submarine patrols and survey duties, operated with Underwater Demolition Teams and commando units, performed messenger and transport duties, conveyed passengers and mail to and from forward units, and were involved in minesweeping operations.

On 13 April 1944, Roper steamed across the Atlantic to join the massing 8th Fleet at Oran and subsequently landed units of the reformed French Army on the Italian coast at Pianosa on 17 June. By August, she was part of the Dragoon Landings in southern France, landing troops on Levant Island with TF 86/Sitka Force. Her charges were 14 officers and 269 men of the elite “Black Devil” commandos of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force who landed, and subsequently fought the small Battle of Port Cros in which they captured the five forts on the islands from the German Army.

Roper’s report of landing operations on the Ile du Levant with Sitka Force is digitized and in the National Archives. 

Reaping the Devine Wind

With the days of amphibious landings in Europe at an end in 1945, Roper sailed for the Pacific for the first time in WWII. Just three days after arriving at Nakagusuku Bay on the southern coast of Okinawa, she was hit by a Japanese kamikaze, a Zeke that was being pursued by three F4U Corsairs, the latter being a factor that prevented AAA fire from being directed at the incoming suicide plane. The Zeke hit Roper’s forecastle at 0922 on 25 May, starting fires in the CPO and Wardroom country which were extinguished in about an hour but left her forward magazines flooded. Her First Lieutenant, Lt. (JG) Thomas Walsh, was killed on deck via flying debris. Ten of her crew were lightly wounded with seven being evacuated to the hospital ship USS Relief. 

USS ROPER (APD-20) as damaged by a suicide plane attack, 26 May 1945. The plane’s port wing had sheared off and entered the ship’s starboard side, making a 6-foot hole about f-feet above the waterline. The fuselage of the Zeke glanced off the ship’s forecastle and exploded 30 feet off her beam. The plane’s propeller chewed several 3-foot-long gashes in the forecastle’s deck. The pilot’s helmet, jacket, and “pieces of his anatomy” were found hanging from Gun. No. 1. Courtesy of Admiral H.W. Hill. NH 66192

Roper’s kamikaze report is digitized and available in the National Archives. 

Of her class, 13 of her sisters were sunk in WWII, most early in the war while trying to stem the Japanese tide off Guadalcanal or, in the case of two, due to German U-boats in the Atlantic. The famous Ward, similarly, converted to an APD, was sunk off Ormoc in the Philippines on 7 December 1944 by a kamikaze. A similar fate befell sister USS Palmer (DD-161/DMS-5) in the Lingayen Gulf. Likewise, sister USS Dickerson (DD-157/APD-21) was so badly hit by a kamikaze in April 1945 off Iwo Jima that she was scuttled.

As for Roper, ordered back to the States to complete her own kamikaze repairs, she departed the Ryukyus on 6 June and reached San Pedro a month later. With the end of the war, her those repairs were not undertaken, and she was instead decommissioned on 15 September 1945 and scrapped the following year.

Roper earned four battle stars during World War II and the largest part of her currently in existence is an anchor that is on display at an entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There has not been a second USS Roper on the Navy List.

Most of Roper’s WWII war diaries, as well as a set of her plans, are in the National Archives. 

Today no Wickes-class tin can survive. The last one afloat, USS Maddox (DD–168), was scrapped in 1952 after serving in the US, then RN, then Canadian, then Soviet navies.

However, one of the class, USS Walker (DD-163), has been given new life in the excellent alternate history series Destroyermen written by Taylor Anderson. It is, um, science-fiction. Go figure.

As for Heinlein, whose wartime work for the Navy ironically included kamikaze detection and defense, died in 1988, aged 80. His body was eventually cremated, and his ashes scattered over the Pacific from the deck of a warship. Before that, he addressed the Mids in 1973 during which he noted:

What you do have here is a tradition of service. Your most important classroom is Memorial Hall. Your most important lesson is the way you feel inside when you walk up those steps and see that shot-torn flag framed in the arch of the door: ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship.’ If you feel nothing, you don’t belong here. But if it gives you goose flesh just to see that old battle flag, then you are going to find that feeling increasing every time you return here over the years… until it reaches a crescendo the day you return and read the list of your own honored dead – classmates, shipmates, friends – read them with grief and pride while you try to keep your tears silent.

In 2001, Virginia Heinlein, who had a long naval history herself and was the prototype of the strong female characters in many of her husband’s novels, endowed the Robert Anson Heinlein Chair in Aerospace Engineering at Annapolis.

Specs:

USS Roper (DD-147): Booklet of General Plans – Inboard Profile / Outboard Profile. National Archives Identifier: 109188795 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/109188795

(As completed)
Displacement: 1,247 long tons (1,267 t)
Length: 314 ft 4 in
Beam: 30 ft 11 in
Draft: 9 ft 10 in
Propulsion: 2 × geared steam turbines, 2 × shafts
Speed: 35 kn
Complement: 231 officers and enlisted
Armament:
4 × 4 in /50 cal guns
2 × 3 in /50 cal anti-aircraft guns
12 × 21 in torpedo tubes (4×3)

(1943, APD conversion)
Speed: 25kn
Complement: 180 officers and enlisted, up to 300 troops for short periods
Armament:
3 x 3inch/50
1 x 40mm Bofors
5 x 20mm Oerlikons

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Happy Father’s Day, Gentlemen

“His seven sons hoist father Clarence F. Patten, F1c, USN, into the air, onboard USS NEVADA (BB-36), following his enlistment into the Navy, 9 September 1941. Present are (left-right): Myrne, Ray, Allen, father, Bruce, Gilbert, Marvin, and Clarence, Jr. All were members of NEVADA’s crew.”

NH 45468

Notably, the above happy image was in peacetime and less than three months away from the Infamous Day that brought lasting sadness to Battleship Row.

Nevada, the only dreadnought to get underway during the Pearl Harbor attack on 7 December and ended the morning run aground on the Navy Yard side of the channel off Hospital Point, just south of Ford Island, lost 57 officers and men of her 1,500 man crew that day and over 100 more were wounded.

Amazingly, the list of the fallen that day does not contain a single “Patten.”

Hold your family close, gentlemen.

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