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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020: Ely’s Shotgun

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, Nov. 18, 2020: Ely’s Shotgun

U.S. Navy Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Lot 918-2. Also, at NHHC as NH 76511

Here we see a famous shot, taken in Hampton Roads, Virginia some 110 years ago this week, of aviation pioneer Mr. Eugene Burton Ely flying his “Hudson Flyer” Curtis pusher aeroplane— the first to take off from a warship of any kind. While Ely flew from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2), a storied ship we have covered in the past, this Warship Wednesday is focused on the unsung first carrier plane guard– the Paulding-class tin can USS Roe (Destroyer No. 24), visible in the background.

The 21-vessel Pauling class, built across four years from 1908 to 1912 were smallish for torpedo boat destroyers, tipping the scales at just 742-tons. Overall, they ran 293-feet long, with a razor-thin 26-foot beam. Using a quartet of then-novel oil-fired Normand boilers (although a range of other boilers was experimented with) pushing a trio of Parsons direct-drive steam turbines, they could gin nearly 30-knots when wide open, although they rattled and rolled while doing so. This earned them the “flivver” nickname after the small and shaky Ford Model Ts of the era. Armament was five quick-firing 3″/50 cal guns and a trio of twin 450mm torpedo tubes, to which depth charges would later be added.

Constructed by four different yards at the same time, the class had vessels completed with either four or three stacks, of which Roe was in the latter category.

The 1914 Jane’s entry for the class, note the varied boiler fit and funnel scheme.

Roe was the first ship named in honor of RADM Francis Asbury Roe (USNA 1848) who explored the Northern Pacific and fought off Chinese pirates on the brig USS Porpoise before the Civil War, during which he served first as XO of the gunboat USS Pensacola before skippering the gunboat USS Katahdin in the fight against the Confederate ram CSS Arkansas. He finished the war as captain of the sidewheeler USS Sassacus and again fought a second Rebel ironclad, CSS Albemarle. Post-war he helped escort the French out of Mexico and exercise gunboat diplomacy in Brazil. Promoted to Commodore in 1880, he gained his star on the retired list in 1885 and is buried at Arlington.

CDR Roe 1866 (NH 46948-KN) and RADM Roe, retired, 1893, at age 70 (NH 103530-KN)

Laid down by Newport News Shipbuilding on 18 January 1909, USS Roe commissioned 17 September 1910, built for $642,761.30, which adjusts to about $17 million in today’s dollars.

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) Ready for launching, at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company shipyard, Newport News, Virginia, 24 July 1909. Collection of the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy. NH 103520

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) Sliding down the ways during her launching, at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company shipyard, Newport News, Virginia, 24 July 1909. The original print is a halftone reproduction. Collection of the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy. NH 103519

Like the coal-fired Smith-class that preceded them, the Pauldings used a layout of three Parsons turbines with a high-pressure center turbine exhausting to two low-pressure “cruising” turbines on outboard shafts, with the latter used to conserve fuel at low speeds.

The above shows USS Flusser (DD-20)’s engines under construction in 1909 showing the three-shaft/turbine arrangement. Photo from Bath Iron Works – General Dynamics Company.

Roe was a testbed for her type, being the first of her class to run trials and enter service although she was technically the third ordered. Departing from the standard quartet of Normand boilers, she was fitted instead with Thornycroft boilers, two in each engine room, fed by Sirocco forced draft fans. Each room was supplied with 22 oil sprayers and two oil heaters, doing away with coal.

“The enlisted man in the navy is said to be very much interested in oil fuel and in the consequent abolition of the dirty job of ‘coaling ship,’ an expression which will now have to give way to ‘oiling ship,” noted the October 1910 Marine Review.

Designed for a top speed of 28-to-29-knots, she bested that on her all-oil-fired suite of geared turbines, making headlines.

Attached to the Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet after commissioning, Roe would spend the next six years in a cycle of winter maneuvers in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, followed by summers cruising off the mid-Atlantic and southern New England sea coasts, completing exercises, interspaced with downtime spent in reserve with a reduced complement– a common fate for the vessels of the rapidly-expanding manpower-poor American steel Navy of the era.

USS Roe In port, circa 1910-1915. NH 43764

USTBD Roe with a bone in her mouth, 1911, NARA 165-WW-335E-20

That’s not to say during that time she didn’t see some interesting events.

In November 1911, Roe, with her paint still fresh, was partnered with a quartet of other vessels in an aviation experiment. Besides the already mentioned scout cruiser Birmingham, the little task force included the torpedo boats USS Bailey (TB-21) and the USS Stringham (TB-19), and Roe’s recently completed sistership, USS Terry (Destroy No. 25). The two destroyers were selected to accompany Birmingham and to follow the course of Mr. Ely’s aeroplane and render service if necessary while the two torpedo boats were ordered to standby as backups.

On that fateful day in the Chesapeake Bay, as superbly detailed in an essay by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Roe embarked the aviator’s wife, Mabel Ely, a collection of naval officers, “and a corps of newspapermen from Washington to cover the flight, as well as Brig. Gen. Allen (who may have been aboard Birmingham).”

While the short flight went off without any disastrous hitches, Roe stood by a recovered Ely after the event and was the immediate host to the celebration for the daring young man and his flying machine.

The launch took Ely and the officers to the Roe, where, gathered in the mess room, they were photographed by cameramen. Everyone congratulated Ely and they talked about the flight as they returned to Norfolk.

“The spray got on my goggles,” Ely explained, “so that I could not see or tell which direction I was going for a time. When I got my goggles clear I saw I was heading for a beach that looked like a convenient landing place, so I kept on.” “The splash in the water was my own fault. “The front push rod was a little longer than the one I am used to and I didn’t handle it quite right. Then of course the fact that the ship was not under way was a great disadvantage to me.” The naval officers agreed. They were unanimous in declaring that the flight was rendered much more difficult by the fact that the ship had not gotten underway when the aeroplane left her deck. They observed that Ely had lost all the advantage of the head-on breeze. If the ship had been going ten knots the aeroplane would have arisen much easier. “Had it been necessary I think I could have started right back and landed on the Birmingham” he said. “I think the next test along this line might be that of landing on a ship in motion. There should be no difficulty in accomplishing this. This would mean that an aeroplane could leave the deck of a ship, fly around and then return to the starting point.” While discussing the flight someone brought it to his attention that Ryan had offered a prize of $500 for the first flight made by a USAR member from the deck of a warship more than one mile out at sea to shore. Ely said he had not heard of the prize

Her initial flight activities behind her, Roe got back to fleet work.

In January 1912, Roe, along with four other destroyers battled a two-day storm at sea off Bermuda that scattered the group. As a result, Roe suffered some pretty gnarly damage from a rogue wave during the storm, crumpling two of her three funnels.

USS Roe, Showing Stacks Damaged by Storm, Brooklyn Naval Yard 1/22/1912 LOC 6880371 + 6281761, along with Jan. 9, 1912 edition of the NY Herald

She frequented Pensacola throughout 1916 in further support of the Navy’s aviation operations, with local newspapers in that Navy town running numerous articles on her activities pier-side. Her crew’s “strong” baseball team even repeatedly crossed bats with the local Pensacola Peps and Old Timers clubs.

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) Ship’s officers and crew, circa 1915-1916. The two officers in the center are possibly (from left to right): Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Aaron S. Merrill, and Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Guy C. Barnes, Roe’s commanding officer. Note the African American stewards in the right corner and the ship’s mascots including a pit-bull in the life ring. The original photograph, by Rox, 518 So. Palafox, Pensacola, Florida, was printed on a postal card, which was mailed at Pensacola on 23 September 1916 with the message: Look natural? Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1982. NH 93718 + Article from the Pensacola Journal, Aug. 4, 1916

When America finally joined the Great War, Roe was ready on day one, seizing the interned 5,800-ton German steamer SS Hohenfelde on behalf of the U.S. Shipping Board, 6 April 1917, at Savannah, Georgia, the same day that Congress responded with the declaration of War requested by President Wilson. The fine British-built Hohenfelde was captured in fairly good shape and would go on, like most captured German ships in 1917, to be repurposed for U.S Navy use, entering the fleet as the cargo ship USS Long Beach (AK-9), 20 December 1917.

Meanwhile, Roe made ready to go “Over There,” sailing for France in early November 1917, where she would spend the next year on coastal patrol and escort duty.

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) Laying a smokescreen, before World War I. Photographed by Waterman. Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1985. NH 100400

Oiling ship! USS Roe (Destroyer # 24), at right, taking on oil from USS Warrington (Destroyer # 30), at sea off the coast of Brest, France, 1 June 1918. Note Warrington’s dazzle pattern camouflage. NH 41760

She crossed paths with at least one German submarine. Per DANFS:

On 8 August 1918, Roe went to the rescue of the U.S. freighter Westward Ho, a 5,814-ton steamer, which had been torpedoed in the Bay of Biscay by U-62 (Kapitänleutnant Ernst Hashagen commanding) while en route from New York to LaPallice, France, in convoy HB-7. The destroyer took on board the 46 members of the sunken ship’s crew. While in formation the next day, 9 August, Roe received a signal of “submarine ahead.” The ship maneuvered until a wake was visible on which she dropped depth charges, but with no discernible results.

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) On patrol in 1918. She is painted in dazzle camouflage. Collection of Peter K. Connelly. Courtesy of William H. Davis, 1967. NH 64986

Arriving back in the States on 1 December 1918, she was given a much-needed overhaul at Charleston then was placed out of commission exactly a year later on 1 December 1919.

In all, Roe only served nine years and three months with the fleet but in that abbreviated decade had been the Navy’s inaugural plane guard, survived a tempest, and fought in at least one shooting war. With that, she joined her fellow low-mileage greyhounds in mothballs.

Panoramic of the Reserve Fleet Basin, Philadelphia Navy Yard, PA, ca. 1920-1921. Visible are a vast number of laid-up destroyers including USS Sturtevant (DD-240), USS Roe (DD-24), and USS Gregory (DD-82). NHHC S-574

Rum Row

As deftly retold in a paper by the USCG Historians Office, the service, then part of the Treasury Department, was hard-pressed to chase down fast bootlegging boats shagging out to “Rum Row” where British and Canadian merchants rested in safe water on the 3-mile limit loaded with cases of good whiskey and rum for sale.

Rumrunners in Canada and in the Bahamas had the cry, “For some, there’s a fortune but others will die, come on load up the ship boys, the Yankees are dry.”

This led the agency to borrow 31 relatively new destroyers from the Navy, an act that would have been akin to the USN transferring most of the FFG7 frigates to the Coast Guard during the “cocaine cowboy” days of the 1980s.

From the USCG Historian:

In the end, the rehabilitation of the vessels became a saga in itself because of the exceedingly poor condition of many of these war-weary ships. In many instances, it took nearly a year to bring the vessels up to seaworthiness. Additionally, these were by far the largest and most sophisticated vessels ever operated by the service and trained personnel were nearly nonexistent. As a result, Congress authorized hundreds of new enlistees. It was these inexperienced men that made up the destroyer crews and contributed to the service’s greatest growth prior to World War II.

A total of 31 destroyers served with the Coast Guard’s Destroyer Force. These included three different classes, the 742-ton “flivver-class,” “1,000-ton class”, and the 1,190-ton “Clemson-class” flush-deckers. Capable of over 25 knots, the destroyers had an advantage in chasing large rumrunners. They were, however, easily outmaneuvered by smaller vessels. The destroyers’ mission, therefore, was to picket the larger supply ships (“mother ships”) and prevent them from off-loading their cargo onto smaller, speedier contact boats that ran the liquor into shore.

Via The Rum War at Sea, USCG

Roe was reactivated and transferred to the Treasury Department on 7 June 1924 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for service with the Coast Guard and was among the first group of destroyers loaned to the Coast Guard for the war on booze. Commissioned as CG-18 at the New York Navy Yard 30 May 1925, she was stationed at Boston.

As described by CDR Malcolm F. Willoughby, USCGR, ret, in The Rum War at Sea, the 229-page 1964 work on this period in Coast Guard history, these destroyers, which in many cases were mothballed in poor shape, were run on a shoestring once transferred, at least until a larger force was literally created from scratch.

Outside of a half dozen old-time Coast Guard men, the crew were enlisted and shipped directly from the recruiting office to the ship. They might have been shoe salesmen or clerks one week, the next week they were on board a destroyer with the rating of apprentice seaman or fireman third class. Great were the difficulties of running a specialized ship with an inexperienced crew.

U.S. Coast Guard destroyers at the New York Navy Yard, 20 October 1926 These former U.S. Navy destroyers were transferred to the Coast Guard to help fight the illegal rum-running traffic along the East Coast. They are (from left to right): USCGC Monaghan (CG-15, ex USN DD-32); Unidentified; USCGC Roe (CG-18, ex USN DD-24) with a damaged bow; USCGC McDougal (CG-6, ex USN DD-54); and USCGC Ammen (CG-8, ex USN DD-35). Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. NH 69025

One of Roe’s most curious cases during her career as a Coastie involved that of the two-master John R. Manta— who in 1925 had been the “last vessel to complete a whaling voyage in New England.” Found aground in shallow water off Nantucket in May 1929, once towed in, the converted whaler was founded to have no Americans aboard, no manifest, no log entries, and, besides a few guns and bottles of booze, also held 11 “aliens all in exhausted conditions” hidden in a compartment secreted under a linoleum deck. Each had paid a whopping $250 for their undocumented passage– $3,800 in today’s greenbacks.

USCGD Roe CG-18 at sea. Coast Guard destroyers typically spent 60-day cruises at sea, scouting long-range sweeps along their patrol zone in a lookout for motherships which they would picket in a game of interference as the vessels were typically beyond the jurisdictional 12-mile limit. DVIDS Photo 1119155

In poor condition, Roe was placed in a reduced-manning status 25 October 1929, her now-experienced crew transferred to the newly-fielded Coast Guard destroyer Trippe (CG-20), a Paulding class sistership who had served in the Navy as USS Trippe (DD-33).

Officially returned to the Navy on 18 October 1930, she was returned to the Navy List and stored in Philly but never rejoined the fleet. Instead, she was stricken and sold for scrap in 1934 per the London Naval Treaty, a fate shared by the rest of the class.

Her engineering drawings are in the National Archives along with 100 pages of work orders.

RADM Roe’s name was reissued to the new Sims-class destroyer (DD-418), commissioned 5 January 1940. The hardy new tin can served from Iceland to the Torch Landings and Iwo Jima, earning six battle stars during World War II. She was sold in 1947 to the breakers. There has not been a third Roe on the Navy List.

USS Roe (DD-418) Underway at sea, circa 1943-1944. NH 103528

Specs:
Displacement:
742 long tons (754 t) normal
887 long tons (901 t) full load
Length: 293 ft 10 in
Beam: 27 ft
Draft: 8 ft 4 in (mean)
Installed power:12,000 ihp
Propulsion:
4 × Thornycroft boilers
3 × Parsons Direct Drive Turbines
3 × screws
Speed:
29.5 kn
31kt on Trials
Range: 2175(15) on 225 tons of oil
Complement: 4 officers 87 enlisted U.S. service. 75 in Coast Guard
Armament:
5 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 caliber Mark 3 low-angle guns
6 × 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes (3 × 2)
Depth charges, in two stern racks and one Y-gun projector, added in 1917, removed in 1924

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Remember to take a moment today

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are about 20 million living American Veterans including 1.6 million over age 85. The largest group, some 7.7 million, are Gulf War-era vets followed by 6.2 million who served during the Vietnam-era. There are 1 million Korean War-era vets.

The smallest group are living World War II-era veterans, whose numbers have declined to about 325,000. Keep in mind over 16 million members of the Greatest Generation served during those trying years.

By the end of the decade, the VA expects the number of WWII vets to decline into the low four-digit numbers.

Remember to thank all Veterans for their sacrifices today.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020: Spaghetti & Stringbags

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, Nov. 11, 2020: Spaghetti & Stringbags

U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1977.031.085.071

Here we see a great bow-on shot of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (87) underway in the Indian Ocean during the Spring of 1944, while the British flattop was operating with USS Saratoga (CV-3) during WWII. “Lusty” was one of the luckier of HM’s early fleet carriers during the conflict, and a handful of hopelessly obsolete aircraft flying from her decks, borrowing a bit of that luck, would pull off an amazing feat some 80 years ago today.

While today the U.S. Navy is the benchmark for carrier operations, the British would be incredibly innovative in the use of such vessels in warfare. This included being the first country to lose a carrier in combat when HMS Courageous (50) was lost to a German U-boat in the third week of the war and sistership HMS Glorious was embarrassingly lost to the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the withdrawal from Norway in June 1940. With that being said, it was a good thing that Illustrious was on the way to make up losses.

Laid down at Vickers Barrow-in-Furness on 27 April 1937, 13 months after German troops marched into the Rhineland as part of the British rearmament due to such muscular action, Illustrious was the lead ship of a new class of a planned six aircraft carriers designed from the first steel cut to be modern flattops. Displacing 25,000-tons full load, they had a 740-foot overall length and the ability to touch 30-knots on a trio of steam turbines.

U.S. ONI sheet on the Illustrious class

Carrying up to 4.5-inches of armor– to include an armored flight deck designed to withstand 1,000-pound bombs– and protected by 16 excellent QF 4.5-inch Mark I guns, both of which would have rated her as a decent light cruiser even without aircraft, the class could carry 36 aircraft in their hangars, which was smaller than American and Japanese carriers of the same size, but keep in mind the Brits guarded their birds inside an armored box. Further, they were fitted with radar, with Illustrious having her Type 79 installed just before she joined the fleet.

HMS Illustrious (87) underway 1940. Note the 4.5″ (11.4 cm) Mark I guns in twin Mark III UD mountings. IWM FL2425

Commissioned 25 May 1940, during the fall of France, Illustrious was to do her workup cruise to Dakar but plans changed once the French surrendered, sending the carrier instead to do her shakedown in the relative safety of the West Indies. Meanwhile, Italy had clocked in on Germany’s side, declaring war on 10 June.

HMS Illustrious landing Swordfish in June 1940. Picture: Fleet Air Arm Museum CARS 1/171

By 30 August, she set out for the Mediterranean on her first operational deployment, sailing for Alexandria in convoy with Force F. Within a week, her airwing, which included Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers of Nos. 815 and 819 Squadrons, would be flying combat missions against Axis-held airfields on Rhodes.

While Illustrious carried a mix of quaint Fairey Fulmar and Sea Gladiator fighters, it was her embarked Swordfish, biplanes capable of just 124 knots and nicknamed “flying stringbags,” that made up the bulk of her strike capability.

Swordfish could carry a torpedo or up to 1,500 pounds of bombs or mines, although their combat radius while doing so was only about 200nm. Self-defense amounted to two .303-caliber Vickers guns.

On the 17th, Swords from Illustrious drew blood during shipping attacks on Benghazi harbor, sending the Italian Turbine-class destroyer Borea to the bottom while air-dropped mines would take out several merchantmen. The proven carrier then spent the next several weeks riding shotgun on convoys between Malta and Egypt.

Then, on 10 November, Illustrious was detached on Operation Judgement, a planned midnight home invasion of the Italian fleet’s main base at Taranto under the cover of darkness, where her airwing would target Rome’s mighty battleships at anchor. As an ace in the hole, they had up-to-date reconnaissance photographs of the harbor, taken by Martin Maryland light bombers flying from Malta.

The carrier strike force? Even including aircraft cross-decked from HMS Eagle, Illustrious could count a mixed bag of just 21 Swordfish of Nos. 813, 815, 819, and 824 Squadrons. To give them a boost in range, each would be fitted with a spare av gas tank that they only had to leave their rear gunner behind to accommodate– what could go wrong?

The first wave, of 12 aircraft, would launch at 20:40 on 11 November and consist of six Swords each with a single 18-inch torpedo, backed up by four Swords each with a half-dozen light 250-pound bombs, and two aircraft with a mix of 16 parachute flares and four bombs each.

The second wave (!), of nine aircraft, would launch an hour later and included five torpedo carriers, two with bombs and two flare-droppers. In all, the Brits planned to bring a total of 11 Mark XII torpedoes and 52 almost lilliputian bombs.

250-pound bombs that would later be dropped on the Italian fleet at Taranto on HMS Illustrious’s flight deck

The tiny force of biplanes faced some serious opposition.

Besides the masses of guns on the Italian ships themselves– which were under standing orders to keep their AAA batteries at least half-manned even when the vessels were anchored– around the Regia Marina’s primary roadstead were land-based anti-aircraft batteries that held no less than 21 4-inch, 84 20mm and 109 13.2mm guns at the ready in addition to smaller numbers of 125mm, 90mm, and 40mm guns. While there was no air-search radar at Taranto, the Italians did have at least 13 “war tuba” sound-detection devices capable of hearing aircraft engines as far out as 30 miles away. Two dozen powerful searchlights scanned the heavens.

Even if the British bombers could get inside the harbor, the Italians had over 23,000 feet of counter-torpedo netting ready to catch any trespassing Royal Navy fish. Further, there was a flotilla of 90 barrage balloons tethered by steel cables, deployed across the harbor in three rows.

While the Brits caught some breaks– two-thirds of the barrage balloons were not on station due to storms and a lack of hydrogen; and 2.9km of the torpedo nets were coiled up, in need of repair– it was still a dangerous mission as witnessed by the more than 12,000 shells of 20mm or greater from shore-based batteries alone during the strike.

Cobb, Charles David; Taranto Harbour, Swordfish from ‘Illustrious’ Cripple the Italian Fleet, 11 November 1940; National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/taranto-harbour-swordfish-from-illustrious-cripple-the-italian-fleet-11-november-1940-116445

In the end, just two Swords were lost while three of six Italian battleships present were seriously damaged, and the last of 18 recovered aircraft were aboard Illustrious by 0230 on 12 November.

The brand-new 35,000-ton fast battleship Littorio suffered three torpedo hits, while the older battlewagons Caio Duilio and Conte di Cavour picked up one each, with the latter so wrecked she would not be repaired for the duration of the war. Bombs lightly damaged the 13,000-ton heavy cruiser Trento, the destroyers Libeccio and Pessagno, and two fleet auxiliaries in addition to falling on the dockyard and oil depot. The fleet suffered nearly 700 casualties, although less than 10 percent of that figure was mortal.

The raid upset the balance of power between the strong Italian fleet and the weaker British force in the Med at a crucial period.

As a booby prize, the Italians captured two downed British Fleet Air Arm members and were left with several dud bombs and torpedoes to examine. Two RN aircrewmen were killed. The morning after the Taranto raid, the undamaged battleship Vittorio Veneto, assuming ADM Inigo Campioni’s flag from the crippled Littorio, led the Italian fleet to Naples. Campioni would be relieved of command three weeks later, replaced by ADM Angelo Iachino.

Interestingly enough, this attack took place while both America and Japan were at peace and each country’s navy took notes from the engagement, although they were applied very differently by the respective note takers a year later.

As encapsulated by the Royal Navy today, “The Fleet Air Arm’s attack on Taranto ranks as one of the most daring episodes in the Second World War. It transformed the naval situation in the Mediterranean and was carefully studied by the Japanese before their carrier-borne strike on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour in December 1941.”

Much more on Operation Judgement can be read at Armoured Carriers.com and the 26-page paper, The Attack at Taranto, by Angelo N. Caravaggio in the Naval War College Review.

Post-Taranto

How do you top a 20-aircraft raid from a five-month-old carrier that sidelined half of the Italian battlefleet? For the rest of the war, Illustrious was a one-ship fire brigade supporting operations in the Med to include earning honors for keeping Malta alive during Operation Excess.

Her luck ran out on the Excess run on 10 January 1941– hit by five bombs from a swarm of 18 He 111s and 43 Stukas 60 miles west of Malta. “Illustrious was the main target and was enveloped in waterspouts and mist of exploding bombs. Some bombers diving from an altitude of 12,000 feet delayed bomb release until they pulled-out lower than the height of Illustrious’ funnel.”

THE BOMBING OF HMS ILLUSTRIOUS AT MALTA. 10 JANUARY 1941, ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER. (A 9793) The view of the flight deck from the ship’s bridge.(Same as MH 4623). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143579

Even so, she reached Malta that day and would suffer 126 dead and 91 wounded by the time she departed the besieged island stronghold– the subject of continuing German and Italian air attacks the entire time she was there.

She was sent to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the ostensibly neutral United States for repair, eventually arriving there via the Suez Canal on May 27.

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS At the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, following battle damage repairs, November 1941. NH 96323

Post repairs, Illustrious was soon back in the war, covering the landings at Diego Suarez in Vichy-held Madagascar during Operation Ironclad in 1942, where her Swords were back at work.

The Royal Navy battleship HMS Valiant fires its 38.1 cm guns during exercises as seen from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (87). 22 December 1942, Indian Ocean. The planes in the foreground are Fairey Fulmars of B Flight, 806 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, with Grumman Martlets of 881 NAS parked aft. Lt. D.C. Oulds, Royal Navy official photographer IWM A 15152

She then shipping back to the Med for the Salerno landings in 1943.

BIG SHIPS AT MALTA. OCTOBER 1943, ON BOARD HMS FORMIDABLE AT GRAND HARBOUR, VALLETTA, MALTA. (A 19815) The aircraft carrier HMS ILLUSTRIOUS steams into Grand Harbour, as men line the flight deck of HMS FORMIDABLE to watch her progress. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152374

From there she set out for the Indian Ocean in 1944 where she worked alongside USS Saratoga and raided the Japanese-held island of Sabang (Operation Cockpit).

HMS Illustrious and USS Saratoga Trincomalee, Ceylon part of Operation Cockpit

HMS Illustrious (87) steaming past the U.S. carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) in the Indian Ocean, 18 May 1944. Note the crews of both ships assembled on deck to pay farewell. NNAM.1977.031.085.012

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, part of the Eastern Fleet, stationary, coastal waters (photographed from the cruiser HMS MAURITIUS). IWM A 13559

HMS Renown and Illustrious in Trincomalee Harbor, Ceylon in early 1944.

Royal Navy aircraft repair carrier HMS Unicorn (I72, left) and HMS Illustrious (87), probably pictured at Trincomalee, Ceylon, in 1944. NNAM No. 1996.488.037.044

Corsairs in the armored box hangar of HMS Illustrious. Tight spaces!

A long way from Sea Gladiators! HMS Illustrious in the Indian Ocean. The flight deck being cleared of Corsairs at sunset ready for the Avenger dusk patrol to land on. May 1944

By January 1945, she was off Sumatra in the Japanese-held Dutch East Indies, launching raids on the vital Soengi Gerong oil refineries near Palembang while dodging kamikazes.

She was the first ship in Green Island’s Captain Cook dock, 11 February 1945

Speaking of which, she continued to reap the divine wind off Okinawa in April, with a Japanese D4Y3 Judy making contact with her deck, leaving the carrier with a vibration in her hull and the remains of a Japanese rubber dinghy as a trophy.

Sailing at a reduced speed of 19 knots for Sidney and emergency repairs, she ended the war in the dockyard.

Post-war

The Illustrious class entry in the 1946 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships

Post-VJ-Day, Illustrious was used for deck-landing trials until being place in reserve in late 1947.

Armoured carrier HMS Illustrious carrying out flying trials in 1947. Seafire is on an out-rigger just forward of the island, and the aircraft aft is a Sea Fury

Hawker Sea Fury about to land on HMS Illustrious 1947. Just a great view of her stern QF 4.5″ gun batteries as well, with the turrets trained seaward

Recommissioned the next year, she was used for further trials and training duties, clocking in as a troop carrier to Cyrus in 1951.

HMS Illustrious, off Norway, 1954, at the tail-end of her career. Note the long-serving TBM Avengers on her deck and twin 4.5-inch guns forward. Via the Municipal Archives of Trondheim

She attended Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Review at Spithead in June 1953 and continued to provide some service, she never again deployed as an operational carrier. 

Battleship HMS Vanguard at Spithead on June 1953, with the bruiser old aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious.

Illustrious was sold to BISCO for breaking-up at Faslane, arriving there on 3 November 1956.

As for her three sisters that were completed, HMS Formidable (67) and HMS Indomitable (92) had been broken up shortly before Illustrious leaving only HMS Victorious (R38) to soldier on, paid off in 1968 and scrapped the next year.

What could have been: Blackburn Buccaneer flies past Illustrious-class aircraft carrier HMS Victorious note Sea Vixen, Gannetts and Westlands on deck

Epilogue

While the name HMS Illustrious would go on to be used by an Invincible-class Harrier carrier, which was retired in 2016, several artifacts of the WWII-era vessel endure.

Of course, as a great ship, she was the subject of great maritime art:

HMS Illustrious entering the Basin at John Brown’s Shipyard, Clydebank (Art.IWM ART LD 1371) image: the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious is guided into the basin of John Brown’s shipyard at Clydebank in Scotland by three tug boats. Another Royal Navy warship is moored to the side of the dock. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/3031

Hamilton, John Alan; HMS ‘Illustrious’ under Attack: Excess Convoy, January 1941; IWM (Imperial War Museums); http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-illustrious-under-attack-excess-convoy-january-1941-7670

Cobb, Charles David; Operation ‘Excess’, ‘Illustrious’ under Air Attack, 19 January 1941; National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/operation-excess-illustrious-under-air-attack-19-january-1941-116447

Macdonald, Roderick; HMS ‘Illustrious’ under Air Attack, 10 January 1941. The scene of the attack is viewed from the cockpit of one of ‘Illustrious’ own Fairey Swordfish aircraft. By Roderick Macdonald circa 1980 via the Fleet Air Museum E00728/0001http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-illustrious-under-air-attack-10-january-1941-40645

Macdonald, Roderick; HMS ‘Illustrious’ under Attack in the Grand Harbour, Malta; Fleet Air Arm Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-illustrious-under-attack-in-the-grand-harbour-malta-40646

“Task Force of Two Navies” Watercolor by Dwight Shepler, USNR, 1943, depicting U.S. and British warships in the Pentland Firth during an operation toward the Norwegian coast, coincident with the Sicily invasion, July 1943. Alabama (BB 60) is in the lead, followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS King George V. Three British carrier-based fighters (two “Seafires” and a “Martlet”) are overhead. Official USN photo # KN-20381, courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC, now in the collections of the National Archives.

No place to land by Michael Turner, showing FAA Royal Navy F4U Corsairs return to their carrier HMS Illustrious after the April 1945 Kamikaze attack

And of a variety of scale models from Heller, Aoshima, Revelle, and others.

The plans for Illustrious are in the Royal Museums Greenwich.

The rubber survival dinghy recovered from the kamikaze that struck her deck off Okinawa is in the IWM.

Japanese Kamikaze pilot’s aircraft dinghy (MAR 595) Dinghy from a Japanese Kamikaze aircraft, recovered from HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, 1945. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30004058

While both her original ship’s bell– which was damaged in 1941 by the Germans off Malta– and her U.S.-cast replacement, presented while she was at Norfolk, are preserved.

This week, the Royal Navy is planning a spate of remembrance activities concerning the 80th anniversary of Taranto, keeping the memory of Lusty and her 21 stringbags alive.

Specs:
Displacement: 28,661 tons, full load
Length: 710 ft
Beam: 95 ft
Draft: 28 feet
Propulsion: 6 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 3 Parsons geared turbines producing 110,000 shp, three shafts
Speed: 30.5 knots, range= 10,700nm @ 10 knots
Complement: ~1,200 designed. Up to 1,600 during 1944-45
Armor: 3 to 4.5-inches
Aircraft: 36, later increased to 60
16 × QF 4.5-inch naval gun (8 × 2)
40 x QF 2 pounder naval gun (5 × 8)
Later fitted with:
3 x Bofors 40 mm gun (3 x 1)
38 x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon (19 x 2), (14 x 1)

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“He’s as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us”

The Treasury-class United States Coast Guard Cutter George W. Campbell (WPG/AGC/WHEC-32) was 327-feet of rock and roll. Entering service on the eve of WWII, she spent the conflict first on the razor edge of FDR’s neutrality patrol, then, once the balloon went up, as a Navy gunboat on the more frozen regions of the North Atlantic, shepherding 19 convoys across the big, U-boat infested waters.

It was on this duty that maritime artist Anton Fischer famously accompanied the ship.

Coast Guard Cutter Campbell by Fischer.

Campbell would end the war as an amphibious warfare command ship in the Pacific then go on to have tours in the Korean War and Vietnam before she was finally dispatched in 1984 in a SINKEX.

After that final mission, the Commandant of the Coast Guard flashed, “The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen,” celebrating her 46-year career.

However, this post is about Campbell’s equally famous mascot, Sinbad.

Sinbad of the USCGC Campbell (WPG-32) keeps an eye on the convoy in the North Atlantic with his fellow crewman, circa 1943

“Sinbad,” mascot on Coast Guard cutter Campbell, circa 1944, shown at “General Quarters” on the cutter’s 5″/51. Note the “kill” mark for a U-boat

As detailed by the USCGC’s Historian’s Office:

The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Campbell adopted a mixed-breed puppy in 1938. Little did they know that their canine companion would become a world-famous Coast Guard veteran. He was, literally, a member of the crew, complete with all the necessary enlistment forms and other official paperwork, uniforms, and his own bunk. He sailed on board the combat-tested cutter through World War II and saw much action, both at sea and in port.

As Life Magazine reported: “An Old Sea Dog Has Favorite Bars and Plenty of Girls in Every Port.” Until recently he had the honor and distinction of being the only Coast Guardsman to be the subject of a biography! It was Sinbad of the Coast Guard, written by Chief Specialist George R. Foley, USCGR and published by Dodd, Mead and Company of New York during the war. The book made him an international celebrity.

Sinbad was a common figure in recruiting-centered advertising during WWII.

Sinbad, who was aboard when Campbell fought U-606 on her convoy duty, was also kinda squirrely and got in trouble a lot. For instance, he was ashore on liberty one night in Southern Greenland and created quite a ruckus by chasing the residents’ sheep around the country-side. Sinbad was then duly masted and banished from shore leave in Greenland for the remainder of his days:

“Sinbad is a salty sailor but he’s not a good sailor. He’ll never rate gold hashmarks nor Good Conduct Medals. He’s been on report several times and he’s raised hell in a number of ports. On a few occasions, he has embarrassed the United States Government by creating disturbances in foreign zones. Perhaps that’s why Coast Guardsmen love Sinbad, he’s as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us.”

The old USCGC Campbell‘s name was recycled some 30 years ago in a 270-foot Famous-Class cutter homeported in Kittery, Maine. While she has had her own run-ins with a different kind of submarine in recent years.

A bronze Sinbad holds a place of honor over the cutter’s mess. 

Returning to her namesake’s stomping grounds, the current Campbell recently operated in conjunction with the Danish Navy in Greenland’s waters.

USCGC CAMPBELL transited south along the west coast of Greenland overnight with the HDMS KNUD RASMUSSEN and rendezvoused in a position just offshore of Evighedsfjorden (Eternity Fjord). CAMPBELL received KNUD’s Executive Officer, Commander Bo Ougaard, on board to serve as an ice pilot and provide local knowledge to assist CAMPBELL in safely entering and transiting Evighedsfjorden. Once inside Eternity Fjord, CAMPBELL launched her MH-65 Dolphin aircraft and proceeded up the fjord to the head where the glacier begins. (Photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy)

While in Greenland, they also took Sinbad ashore, with the Chiefs taking him drinking at a local dive.

Sinbad at the Port of Nuuk Greenland Campbell (Photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy)

As noted by Campbell’s goat locker:

Our Chief Petty Officers (the only ones allowed to touch the bronze Sinbad statue on our messdeck) brought Sinbad ashore in Nuuk, Greenland, for his return today. It’s good to see Sinbad back in Greenland again!

Bravo Zulu!

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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