Category Archives: hero

Final WWII Royal Navy destroyer skipper joins the big fleet

John Errol Manners was the youngest son of RADM Sir Errol Manners, KBE, so it was natural that young John at age 17 became a midshipman in the Royal Navy in 1932. After all, his two brothers had preceded him in the “family business” and even his sister had served as a WREN.

After pre-war service on the royal yacht Britannia and a variety of torpedo boats in the Mediterranean and the Far East– while working on his cricket game– John was a junior officer on the cruiser HMS Birmingham on China Station when Hitler marched into Poland in 1939.

Quickly reassigned to the I-class destroyer HMS Eglinton (L87), then under construction in England, he rose fast and by February 1942 John was the temporary captain of the F-class destroyer HMS Fame (H78).

He then served as the first lieutenant of the hard-charging Tribal-class tin can HMS Eskimo (F75)— a ship that had famously lost her bow at Narvik and had to be rebuilt. By May 1943, after serving on Eskimo on dangerous convoy escort runs and Malta lifelines as well as supporting the Torch Landings in North Africa, John moved up to become the destroyer’s skipper in time for the Husky Landings in Sicily.

At the end of 1943, John, by then a lieutenant commander, was given the somewhat lateral position of commander of the elderly Great War era W-class destroyer HMS Viceroy (D91).

On that ship, while escorting Convoy FS 1874 off Sunderland, Viceroy counterattacked the German submarine U-1274 after the latter torpedoed the tanker Athelduke, eventually sinking the U-boat in a drawn-out action that left a dozen bottles of good French brandy floating on the surface and the German sub on the bottom. The booze saved, John forwarded it to the Admiralty– who in turn sent it to Churchill– with the regards of the Viceroy’s crew.

After accepting the German surrender of Trondheim, Norway in May 1945, followed up by anticlimactic post-war assignments on troopships and the battleship HMS King George V, LCDR John Manners, DSC, moved to the reserve list, moving on to his cricket game full time.

Manners, the world’s longest-lived first-class cricketer, who coincidentally held commands on three of HMs destroyers during WWII and accounted for a tricky U-boat with panache, passed last week, aged 105.

Recognizing the WWII Rangers, Merchant Mariners

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

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

Between June 1942 and the end of WWII, the Army formed from volunteers 6 Ranger Infantry Battalions (numbered 1st-6th) and 1 provisional Ranger battalion (29th, from Army National Guardsmen of the 29th ID).

S.1757 just passed the Senate on a unanimous voice vote last week.

“This bill directs the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to arrange for the award of a single gold medal to the U.S. Army Ranger veterans of World War II in recognition of their dedicated wartime service.

Following its award, the gold medal shall be given to the Smithsonian Institution where it shall be available for display and research.”

It now heads to the House.

In related news,

On Friday, March 13, 2020, the President signed into law:

H.R. 5671, the “Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2020,” which provides for the award of a Congressional gold medal collectively, to the United States Merchant Mariners of World War II, in recognition of their dedicated and vital service during the conflict.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Battle Standard bears the number “142” on its field of red, white and blue, representing the academy’s cadets killed in WWII.  

I guess we know how that chess game ended

As a kid, Emperor Ming terrified me, while as an adult I found appreciation for the drawn-out game of chess between Death and nihilistic Danish crusader Antonius Block. In between, I saw the same familiar face show up as one of the best classic Bond villains and in most of the good sci-fi films of the 80s and 90s from the sands of Dune to the dystopian wastelands of Judge Dredd.

Carl Adolf “Max” von Sydow, the consummate professional of European filmmaking who lent his chops to numerous works on this side of the pond, died in France this week, aged 90, leaving a history of more than 100 films behind.

A son of Swedish aristocrats, he did his military service in 1947-48 as a lowly enlisted man in the Intendenturkåren, the Army Quartermaster Corps, in some of the scariest times of the early days of the Cold War, sandwiched between shadowy Nazi remnants using Scandanavia as a way station on their way to Latin America, and an immensely powerful Soviet Red military machine that was making en roads to the kingdom of the three crowns almost daily. Ironically, he would go on to play both a German WWII Army Major (Victory, 1980) and a Russian Navy Admiral (Kursk, 2018), among others.

Fun fact: it was during his time in uniform that Von Sydow picked up his nickname, Max, after attending a traveling flea circus, showing that your stint in the service often carries with you for the rest of your life.

I guess Max has rejoined the big army.

Welcome aboard, Woody

Named for MoH recipient Cpl. Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the U.S. Navy commissioned its newest expeditionary sea base– USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams (ESB 4) in Norfolk, Virginia over the weekend.

Importantly, Williams, who earned his decoration while holding onto a 70-pound M2 flamethrower on Iwo Jima, where he used it like a surgeon, is the last MoH recipient from the Pacific War.

Happy National Napping Day

Just in case you didn’t know, the Monday after Daylight Savings Time spring’s back is National Napping Day. In true LSOZI fashion, this is my take.

Marine Sgt. Robert Gwinn, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, takes a nap waiting for a helicopter to transport him back to base after a five-day recon patrol in the hills near Da Nang, Vietnam, 1969.

Official USMC photo by Gunnery Sergeant Bob Jordan via Marine Corps History Division

Official USMC photo by Gunnery Sergeant Bob Jordan via Marine Corps History Division

Of note, the likely exhausted Gwinn carries an aircrew/pilot’s survival knife and not a traditional K-Bar fighting knife. You can tell by the bolt-shaped pommel and sharpening stone pouch on the sheath.

As Gwinn’s patrol, according to the MCHD, “worked closely with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing pilots and aircrews,” he likely got the knife in trade. Below he is shown filling his canteen in another shot from the Corps Archives. That CAR-15 XM177, tho…

Robert Gwinn Fills His Canteens, 1969 1st Recon Danag Vietnam Marines CAR15 XM177

Hand salute to Woody

One of the most popular weapons used to root out the Japanese on Iwo Jima, 75 years ago this week, was the M2 flamethrower, and with good reason.

Defending the fortress was Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s 21,000 Japanese troops, which had largely evacuated the civilian population on Iwo and has spent months preparing the island’s difficult terrain to best resist the amphibious assault. They dug 16 miles of tunnels, broken up into 1,500 different bunkers, underneath the island. Most would never leave on their own two feet.

Flamethrowers were useful in routing the defenders from the honeycomb of underground tunnels and bunkers on the island, a tactic that evolved into what was known as the “blowtorch and corkscrew,” method.

Marine CPL Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific War, carried a 70-pound M2 on Iwo Jima and used it like a surgeon to successfully take on a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, with four riflemen in support.

He is currently 96 years old.

In all, the Medal of Honor was presented to 22 Marines and five Sailors for their actions on Iwo Jima, many of those given posthumously. Adm. Chester Nimitz observed after the hellish battle that, “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Red Beach at 75

Men of U.S. Marine Corp’s 5th Division advancing through the black volcanic ash hills of Red Beach No. 1 at Iwo Jima, Japan, 19 February 1945. They are inching toward Suribachi Yama as the smoke of the battle drifts about them.

National Archives, # 127-N-110249. USMC photo by Dreyfuss

Notably, Marines of the 5th Division’s 28th Regiment would raise the iconic national ensign on Suribachi, twice, just four days after the above image was taken.

The Fighting Fifth, formed 21 January 1944 at Camp Pendleton, would see its first combat as a unit on Red Beach and of the three other Marine divisions of V Corps would suffer the highest number of casualties. In all, the “Spearhead” would enumerate 2,482 killed, 19 missing, and 6,218 wounded in action by 26 March, forcing the battered division to sail for Hawaii to re-form.

“The ghastly price of freedom….”

Warship Wednesday Jan 29, 2020: The Lion of Goa

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

Warship Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020: The Lion of Goa

Here we see the Aviso de 1ª Classe NRP Afonso de Albuquerque (F470) of the Marinha Portuguesa in the 1950s. A British-built sloop intended for colonial service, her crew made a heroic, if often forgotten, last stand in 1961.

Looking to refresh their navy to provide some new ships to patrol the Portuese empire, which included Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau in Africa as well as the Goa, Daman, Diu, and Timor enclaves in India and Macau in China, Lisbon contracted for a four-pack of avisos, two first-class and two second-class, from the British shipbuilding firm of Hawthorn Leslie, Tyne.

The second class ships– Goncalaves Zarco and Goncalo Velho— were 1,400-ton vessels mounting a trio of 4.7-inch guns.

The two first-class units, our own Afonso de Albuquerque and her sister Bartolomeu Dias (F471) were larger, at about 2,400-tons full load, and carried a quartet of 4.7-inch Vickers DP guns. Capable of making 21 knots, a speed they surpassed in trails, they could voyage 8,000nm at 10-knots. Ironically, while they would have been third or fourth-tier warships in virtually any other European navy of the day, they were the largest and most formidable Portuesese surface combatants of the 1930s.

Afonso de Albuquerque was named after the famous Duke of Goa, a 16th Century Portuguese admiral and governor of India who grew the country’s empire. Her sister, Bartolomeu Dias, is named after a famous Portuguese explorer surpassed only by the great navigator, Vasco De Gama.

NRP Bartolomeu Dias (F471)

Completed in 1935, Afonso de Albuquerque soon got into trouble as her green crew revolted in 1936 while in Lisbon harbor. The revolt didn’t work out too well for the ship who was damaged by shore batteries and was grounded.

Portuguese warship Afonso de Albuquerque entering Tagus River, in Portugal. via Gazeta dos Caminhos de Ferro magazine No. 1135, of the 1st April 1935

Repaired and sent on her way, she spent her early career in African waters. There, while operating from Mozambique in November 1942, she responded to the sinking British troopship RMS Nova Scotia (6,700t)— packed with Italian internees– off the coast of South Africa, torpedoed by U-177. Alerted by the Kreigsmarine through diplomatic channels in Berlin and Lisbon, the Portuguese sloop sailed to the area but was only able to rescue 194 of the 1,052 people aboard.


Continuing her neutrality patrol work, Afonso de Albuquerque was part of the convoy to liberate East Timor from Japanese occupation in September 1945.

Fast forward to 1961, and tensions between Nehru’s India and the Portuguese enclave at Goa, Daman, and Diu on the Indian subcontinent were boiling over. Whereas the Indian fleet contained an aircraft carrier, Vikrant (ex-Hercules), and two cruisers– Delhi (ex-Achilles) and Mysore (ex-Nigeria), as well as numerous modern destroyers, submarines, and frigates, the Portuguese only had four aging 1930s-era avisos in the area: Afonso de Albuquerque, Bartholomeu Bias, Gonsalves Zarco, and Joao de Lisbon (1,200t, 2×4.7-inch) along with a handful of even lighter gunboats.

However, in early December, Bartholomeu Bias, Gonsalves Zarco, and Joao de Lisbon withdrew to Africa, leaving Afonso de Albuquerque as the only significant Portuguese naval asset in Goa.

On the morning of 18 December 1961, she spied two brand-new Indian warships, the Leopard/Type 41-class frigates INS Beas (F37) and INS Betwa (F38), rapidly approaching Goa. Each of the Indian frigates carried two twin 4.5-inch Mark 6 rapid-fire guns.

The opening salvos were fired by the Indians at around 1200, who were soon plastering Afonso de Albuquerque with a combination of air-burst and HE rounds at a range of 7,500 yards. The Portuguese sloop, outgunned and in a terrible tactical situation, returned fire and tried to sortie out to engage her twin opponents.

Within 20 minutes, Afonso de Albuquerque was in bad shape and made for the shallows where she could beach and allow her crew to evacuate to shore. By 1410, the ship was a wreck and her crew ceased firing, in all letting some 400 shells fly at the Indian task force.

The Portuguese losses were negligible, with radioman Rosário da Piedade killed, commander CMG Cunha Aragão seriously wounded and 50 others lightly wounded. To this day, the Portuguese Navy contends they made several hits on their Indian opponents and inflicted several casualties, although the New Dehli denies this.

The next day, the Indian military took control of Goa, and CMG Aragão’s crew surrendered ashore to invading forces. In all, by sunset of 19 December, the 45,000-strong Indian force had 4,668 Portuguese soldiers and sailors in custody.

Indian officers inspect Afonso

Portuguese POWs at the Indian Prison camp at Vasco de Gama, Goa, December 1961.

Afonso remained grounded at the beach near Dona Paula for a year when she was towed to Bombay and her hulk subsequently renamed Saravastri by Indians, although she was never put in service. Various items and relics from her fill Indian museums while the bulk of the ship was sold as scrap in 1963.

Afonso de Albuquerque flag in Indian Naval museum

As for her sister, Bartolomeu Dias, she was converted to depot ship and renamed São Cristovão in 1967 then later broken up.

The Bay-class frigate HMS Dalrymple (K427), sold to Portugal in 1966, became NRP Afonso de Albuquerque (A526) and remained in service until 1983.


1,811 tons standard,
2,100 tons normal load,
2,435 tons full load
Length: 328 ft 1 in
Beam: 44 ft 3 in
Draught: 12 ft 6 in
Propulsion: 2 Parsons geared turbines; 4 Yarrow 3-drum boilers, 8,000 shp
Oil fuel: 600 tons
Speed: 21 knots as designed, 23 on trials
Range: 8,000 mi at 10 knots
Complement: 189 to 229
4 × 1 – 4.7″/50 Vickers-Armstrong Mk G
2 × 3″/50 Mk 2 Vickers-Armstrong guns
8 × 20mm/70 Oerlikon Mk II anti-aircraft guns (installed 1944)
4 × throwers for depth charges
Fitted to carry 40 mines
Aircraft carried: Fitted for one seaplane (Fairey III)

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Some mariners are harder to kill than they look

The Australian War Memorial has this great (audio) show, Collected, where they talk about artifacts and the history behind them. The latest episode, below, runs 25 minutes and details the stories behind four maritime disasters and “the people who survived against the odds.”

Most interesting among them is the tale of the Dutch oil tanker Ondina which, escorted by the corvette HMIS Bengal (J243), stumbled across the path of two well-armed Japanese armed merchant cruisers, Aikoku Maru and Hōkoku Maru.

The two Japanese warships had eight 6-inch and four 3-inch guns between them as well as torpedo tubes and armed floatplanes while Bengal only had a single 4-inch deck gun and Ondina’s merchant sailors manned a 4-inch piece of their own. Incredibly, both the Allied ships survived a pitched sea battle that sent Hōkoku Maru to the bottom then managed to limp on to Australia.

The show is very interesting.

Dorie Miller to be remembered in a new carrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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