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Warship Wednesday, Sept 13, 2017: The Queen of the Little White Fleet

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, Sept 13, 2017: The Queen of the Little White Fleet

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 97629

Here we see the Barnegat-class seaplane tender, converted to a floating command ship, USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38), illuminated at night during a two-day visit to Basra, Iraq, as Middle East Force flagship in December 1960. You start life wanting to refuel PBYs and end up bobbing around the Persian Gulf for years…

The 41 Barnegats were 2,500-ton, 311-foot long armed auxiliaries capable of floating in 12 feet of water. They had room for not only seaplane stores but also 150 aviators and aircrew. Their diesel suite wasn’t fast, but they could travel 8,000 miles at 15.6 knots. Originally designed for two 5-inch/38-caliber guns, this could be doubled if needed (and often was) which complemented a decent AAA armament helped by radar and even depth charges and sonar for busting subs.

All pretty sweet for an auxiliary.

The subject of our story, USS Duxbury Bay, is named for a popular 3-mile long bay on the coast of Massachusetts between Duxbury Beach on the east, Saquish Neck on the southeast, and the mainland on the west. The bay is also home to a maritime school that currently cycles through some 2,000 young mariners per year, so there’s that.

Laid down at the Lake Washington Shipyards, in Houghton, Washington, she was a fine craft easily mistaken for a destroyer escort or patrol frigate, as exhibited by these pre-commissioning builder’s photos:

USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) Photographed off the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Washington, on 28 December 1944. Her camouflage is Measure 33 Design 1F. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-82815

19-N-82816

19-N-82817

Commissioned on New Year’s Eve, 1944, she sailed for the war in the Pacific, arriving to support the 3rd Fleet at Kerama Retto off Okinawa, 26 April 1945 and fought in the campaign for that island through June, tending both seaplanes and small craft/PT-boats when needed while dodging kamikazes.

In July, Duxbury Bay shifted to Japanese home waters before ending the war off China. She served on occupation duty in the Far East through 13 July 1948, with two short breaks stateside, supporting patrol squadrons at Okinawa and Yokosuka, Japan; Jinsen, Korea; Shanghai and Tsingtao, China; before the victory of the Communists under Mao brought a general evacuation from the latter area.

In all, Duxbury earned two battle stars for World War II service and suffered no damage, the latter an accomplishment for any ship.

Starting 17 March 1949, she left Long Beach, California on a five-month circumnavigation sailing through the Pacific and Med to Norfolk, where she arrived in time for the Independence Day holiday.

While on this trip, she tagged in as the flagship of Task Force 126, the small body of U.S. warships and auxiliaries in the Middle East, primarily in the Persian Gulf.

During WWII, the so-called “Persian Corridor” was a vital route through Iran into Soviet Azerbaijan that the Allies used to pump over 4 million tons of Lend-Lease supplies through to the East Front– and turn Tehran away from Axis influence. While the Persian Gulf Command sunsetted in late 1945, TF 126 kept the lights on for the Navy in the increasingly important part of the globe.

Duxbury Bay would see much more of the region.

USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) photographed during the decade following World War II in haze gray. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 97626

Beginning in 1950, the Navy disestablished TF 126 and replaced it with the Middle East Force, which would be made up of two rotating destroyers and a dedicated flagship, which would also rotate. The three command ships for the MEF were all converted Barnegat-class ships: USS Valcour (AVP-55), USS Greenwich Bay (AVP-41) and our very own Duxbury— the oldest of the lot and the only one of the trio that had seen overseas WWII service.

Among the conversions done to the vessels were the installation of air conditioning and extensive canvas awnings over the decks, a white paint job to help reflect heat and show their status as “peace boats” (which earned them the title of the “Little White Fleet” a play on Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet”), more commo gear, and a reduction in armament.

In general, the three flagships would swap out every four months and conduct leisurely cruises back and forth through the Med, waving the flag everywhere they went. As time went by, they became very active in President Eisenhower’s People-to-People program, delivering humanitarian aid ranging from food to coloring books and sewing machines in small backwater ports throughout the region– remember, as long as the harbor was at least 12 feet deep, they were good-to-go, and they went!

They served not only as a task group commander, interacting with Western allies (they were familiar sights at HMS Jufair, the Royal Navy base in Bahrain and its counterpart, HMS Sheba in Aden) but as a growing diplomatic tool for the State Department and U.S. companies (think=oil) looking to do business in the region, hosting state visits from local leaders and royalty (Duxford herself carried Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to Somaliland in 1953).

The ships performed search-and-rescue missions for lost aviators and overdue boats, helped evac Western civilians in times of tension, served on the periphery of the 1956 Suez Crisis (which sent rotating MEF ships around the Cape of Good Hope rather than through the Med), and just generally served as modern station ships, a throw back to the old 19th century practise of gun boat diplomacy.

Now gleaming white, photographed in Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 3 October 1957. Note her lack of 5-inch mounts. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) Photographed during the late 1950s. Note the extensive awnings fitted. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 95370

USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) photographed in the Shatt-al-Arab off Basra, Iraq, during her visit there on 12-14 December 1961 as Middle East Force flagship. Note she has the old-school Navy seaplane tender marking complete with pre-WWII “meatball” by her hull number. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 102678

In all, Duxbury Bay served 15 tours of duty in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean as flagship for ComMidEastFor between 1950 and 1966, plus her original stint with TF 126.

While on stateside “down time” at Norfolk, she participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis, refueed the occasional seaplane, helped run UDTs and amphibious training out of Little Creek, and was on the USS Kearsarge battle group that plucked Maj. Gordon Cooper’s “Faith 7,” the last Mercury space mission, out of the Atlantic on 16 May 1963 after 22 orbits.

Navy frogmen deploy from a hovering helicopter to begin the recovery process of the Mercury-Atlas 9 “Faith 7” Capsule, with astronaut Gordon Cooper on board. Accession #: UA 343.01 Catalog #: UA 343.01.02

After 15 rotations, it was decided to move to a more permanent forward-deployed flag and two of the three members of the LWF was pulled from service.

USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) photographed ca. 1965 as Middle East Force flagship in her final configuration. She received a new mast and air search radar and a deck house extension during her last shipyard overhaul in the summer of 1962. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 69826

Duxbury Bay was decommissioned on 30 April 1966, and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the next day. Both Duxberry and Greenwich Bay were sold for scrapping in July 1967, with just over 20~ years of service on their hulls.

Of their sisters, many endured for a good while longer than Duxbury.

These hardy seaplane tenders gave yeoman service to the Coast Guard and Navy through the Vietnam conflict. The last member of the LWF, Valcour, remained as the standalone forward deployed flag for the Middle East Force, dubbed AGF-1, until she was relieved by USS La Salle (AGF-3) in 1972. Valcour went to the scrappers herself in 1977.

The last of the Barnegat afloat was the USS Chincoteague/Ly Thuong Kiet/Andres Bonifacto, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, South Vietnamese, and Philippine navies that was finally withdrawn from frontline service with the later in 1993. She endured another decade as a pierside hulk used for the occasional training until she was sent to the breakers in 2003.

The closest thing to a monument for these vessels is the USS/USCGC Unimak (AVP-31/WAVP/WHEC/WTR-379), the last of the class in U.S. service, which was sunk in 1988 as an artificial reef off the Virginia coast in 150 feet of water after three years with the Navy and 40 with the Coaties. .

For their part, veterans from our ship visit Duxbury Bay in Mass often and hold ceremonies to remember their vessel.

As for the Middle East Force, it grew into CENTCOM in 1983, with the Navy contingent labeled United States Naval Forces Central Command (USNAVCENT) of course, and it is quite a bit larger than three little white seaplane tenders.

Also, if you are in Texas, Faith 7 is currently displayed at Space Center Houston.

Specs:

Barnegat type AVPs, WWII configuration, via Shipbucket

Displacement 1,766 t.(lt) 2,800 t.(fl)
Length 311′ 6″
Beam 41′ 1″
Draft 12′ 5″
Speed 18.2 knots (trial)
Fuel Capacities
Diesel 2,055 Bbls
Gasoline 84,340 Gals
Propulsion
Fairbanks-Morse, 38D8 1/2 Diesel engines
single Fairbanks-Morse Main Reduction Gears
Ship’s Service Generators
two Diesel-drive 100Kw 450V A.C.
two Diesel-drive 200Kw 450V A.C.
two propellers, 6,400shp
8,000 miles at 15.6 knots
Complement (as designed)
USN
Officers 14
Enlisted 201
USN Aviation Squadrons
Officers 59
Enlisted 93
Armament:
(1945)
one single 5″/38 cal. Mk 12, Mod 1 dual purpose gun mount
one quad 40mm AA gun mount
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
four twin 20mm AA gun mounts
depth charge racks
(1950)
one single 5″/38 cal. Mk 12, Mod 1 dual purpose gun mount
one quad 40mm AA gun mount
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
one Mk 52 Mod 3 director
one Mk 26 fire control radar
(1957)
one quad 40mm AA gun mount (deleted 1962)
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts (deleted 1962)
Assorted .50 cal M2 machine guns, small arms

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They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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Getting some live-fire Griffin time in

Five TF55-based Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships —USS Tempest (PC 2), USS Squall (PC 7), USS Chinook (PC 9), USS Firebolt (PC 10) and USS Thunderbolt (PC 12)— recently had the chance to sling Griffin SSMs at moving target sleds to demonstrate their ability to hit surface targets, like small boats.

170718-N-VG873-0159 ARABIAN GULF (July 18, 2017) A griffin missile is launched from the coastal patrol ship USS Chinook (PC 9) during a test and proficiency fire. USS Chinook is one of 10 coastal patrol ships assigned to Coastal Patrol Squadron (PCRON) 1, which is forward deployed in Manama, Bahrain, in support of maritime security operations and theatre security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin L. Simmons/Released)

The tests came late last month, around the time of increased Iranian challenges in international waters from Revolutionary Guard small craft in the PG.

The MK 60 Griffin Missile System uses a four-cell box launcher about the size of a Barcalounger, with one each mounted port and starboard on the 179-foot PC, giving them 8 modified Hellfire missiles at hand to regulate small craft–and I would bet low/slow-flying aircraft as well.

The system began fielding in 2015 and uses a Battle Management System (BMS) based on a ruggedized “Toughbook” laptop is operated from the bridge drawing from target imagery from the ship’s mast-mounted Bright Star EO/IR camera. Range is listed at 3nm, but is likely a good bit longer.

While the 13-pound warhead isn’t likely to sink a frigate, it and the kinetic energy of the missile itself is probably good enough to scratch anything less than 100-footer while a salvo of four (as they can be ripple fired to the same illuminated target) could ruin the day of a corvette-sized warship if needed. Good news is they can’t be chaffed or EW’d away due to the IR nature of their warhead seeker. Bad news is the target has to be lit up the whole time by Bright Star which limits a shoot-and-scoot engagement.

Just when you thought the Red Sea was a nice place again

On Saturday 25th March the Italian Navy Maestrale class frigate, ITS Espero, joined the EU Naval Force off the coast of Somalia. Odds are, they are going to need it, and a few minesweepers.

Saudi Naval forces along the Hodeida coast have found and cleared a number of Houthi-placed sea mines.

From Al Arabiya:

Saudi and Yemeni naval engineers cleared Iranian-made mines which Houthi militias planted along the coast of the Hodeida area.

Mines were swept by the water currents to the sea so the coalition forces had to look for them and remove them to protect fishermen and oil tankers in international waters.

Few days ago, a mine blew up killing a number of fishermen and injuring others.

The largest number of mines was planted along the coasts in north and south Hodeida with technical help from Iranian and Hezbollah experts who entered Yemen for this particular task, according to the Yemeni legitimate army.

Meanwhile, it’s apparently open season on Somali refugees encountered at sea, with 42 reportedly killed off the Yemeni coast near Hodeida in a helicopter-borne attack. Word on the street is that the chopper came from allies of the recognized Yemeni government (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have all reportedly used AH-64s in the conflict), while other sources pin it on the Houthi who are lacking in helicopter gunships.

And, to further amp up regional tensions for mariners, Somali pirates recently returned from retirement due to bad fishing grounds have reportedly hijacked a dhow in the vicinity of Eyl, a city in northern Somalia that was once a hub for maritime piracy. Local authorities suggest that they may intend to use the small vessel for hijacking a merchant ship further offshore.

And the beat goes on…

A beautiful Naval image that is sure to be a classic

You could imagine this in a sepia tone and easily see an old Connecticut-class predreadnought here rather than a modern DDG.

VILLEFRANCHE, France (Dec. 19, 2016) The guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) is moored in the bay of Villefranche during a port call to France. Nitze, currently deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Joshua Murray/Released)161219-N-WC455-158 Join the conversation: http://www.navy.mil/viewGallery.asp http://www.facebook.com/USNavy http://www.twitter.com/USNavy http://navylive.dodlive.mil http://pinterest.com https://plus.google.com

VILLEFRANCHE, France (Dec. 19, 2016) The guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) is moored in the bay of Villefranche during a port call to France. Nitze, currently deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Joshua Murray/Released)

Nitze is named for Paul Henry Nitze, who served first as LBJs SECNAV and later as his SECDEF, replacing Cyrus Vance. Before that he was on James Forrestal’s staff in the big one, served Truman in NSC  positions, and had been appointed by JFK to be an Assistant Secretary of Defense. He would later be one of the main players behind the scenes in the SALT talks and Reagan’s chief negotiator of the INF Treaty in 1988.

As for the vessel, she was commissioned 5 March 2005 as the 43rd Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. A Flight IIA Burke with the super-length 5″/62 forward, she has been very active in the Gulf region in recent years to include hammering some Houthi radar sites involved in the recent missile launches threatening USS Mason and other vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb via TLCMs.

Navy’s newest PBs seem to be moving right along

Sailors assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron Two (CRS-2), conduct a live-fire weapons exercise on a Mark VI Patrol Boat in Santa Rita, Guam, Sept. 30, 2016. CRS-2 is assigned to Commander, Task Force (CTF) 75, the primary expeditionary task force responsible for the planning and execution of coastal riverine operations, explosive ordnance disposal, diving engineering and construction, and underwater construction in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy Combat Camera photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Arthurgwain L. Marquez)

The U.S. Navy Mark VI patrol boat is a very well-armed successor to classic PT boats of WWII (sans torpedoes), Nasty boats of Vietnam, and Cold War-era PB Mk IIIs. The Mk IIIs, a heavily  armed 65-foot light gunboat, was replaced by the Mk V SOC (Special Operations Craft), a somewhat lighter armed 82-foot go fast and the 170-foot Cyclone-class patrol ships.

Now the Navy coughed up the Mk VI back in 2012, and plan on obtaining as many as 48 of these boats and are deployed in two separate strategic areas of operation: Commander, Task Force (CTF) 56 in Bahrain and CTF 75 in Guam.

161104-N-ZC343-293 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 4, 2016) A U.S. Navy Mark VI patrol boat wards off a simulated attacker during show of force strait transit exercise involving aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and Carrier Strike Group 1. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Joe Kane/Released)

161104-N-ZC343-293 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 4, 2016) A U.S. Navy Mark VI patrol boat wards off a simulated attacker during show of force strait transit exercise involving aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and Carrier Strike Group 1. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Petty Officer Joe Kane/Released)

At $6-million a pop they are twice as expensive as USCG 87-foot WPBs and with much shorter legs, but they have huge teeth. Notice the 25mm MK38 Mod 2 forward and aft, the M2 RWS mount atop the wheelhouse, and the four crew-served mounts amidships and aft for Dillion mini-guns, M240Gs, MK19 grenade launchers, or other party favors. Of course these would be toast in a defended environment like the China Sea, but are gold for choke points like the Persian Gulf, anti-pirate ops, littoral warfare against asymmetric threats etc.

They also provide a persistent capability to patrol shallow littoral areas for the purpose of force protection for U.S. and coalition forces, as well as safeguarding critical infrastructure.

Sailors assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 3 Mark VI boat crew provided exercise support during USS Carl Vinson’s (CVN 70) Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPTUEX), Nov. 4, marking a first for the patrol boat.

Operating off the California coast, the MK VI crew assisted with the COMPTUEX, which aligned with the squadron’s ongoing pre-deployment training.

“The event also coincided with our Final Evaluation Problem as we reach the end of our training cycle and prepare to step off for the squadron’s upcoming deployment,” said Cmdr. Mark Postill, commanding officer, CRS 3.

SECDEF, arriving

gen-mad-dog-mattis

And I heard, as it were, the voice of thunder. A voice spake, saying, “Come and see.” And I saw. And a thousand PT belts were rent, and blood spilt upon the earth, wherefore the grass did grow. -1St Fallujans, Chapter 17, verse 75.

Of course, Mattis is something of a modern day Patton. A warrior monk with gregarious and outspoken nature.Let’s just hope there is a modern day Ike, Bradley, and Beetle in place to provide mid-course input as needed.

They towed the Cold War mine line: The Agile/Aggressive/Dash-class MSOs

The U.S. Navy has a long history of mine sweeping, having lost the first modem ships to those infernal torpedoes in the Civil War. As a byproduct of Mr. Roosevelt’s Great North Sea Mine Barrage of the Great War, the Navy commissioned their first class of minesweepers, the Lapwing or “Old Bird” type vessels which lingered into WWII, followed by 1930s-era 147-foot three-ship Hawk-class and the much larger 220-foot Raven and Auk-classes early in the first days of that second great international hate.

Then came the 123-ship Admirable (AM-136)-class of 180-foot/950-ton vessels built during WWII– many of which remained in hard service through Korea before being passed on to allied nations.

With the lessons learned from that conflict, in which the Koreans used literally thousands of Soviet, Chinese and leftover Japanese mines up and down the coastline, a class of MSO (Mine Sweeper Ocean), sweepers was placed on order during that police action, with class leader USS Agressive (MSO-422) laid down at Luders Marine in Stamford, Connecticut 25 May 1951 and commissioned just weeks after the cease fire in 1953

At some 867-tons (fl) and 172-foot overall, they were roughly the same size as the steel-hulled minesweepers Admirable-class ships they were replacing, but they had a bunch of new tricks up their sleeve including using laminated wood construction with bronze and stainless steel fittings and to minimize their magnetic signature.

The main propulsion plant consisted of four Packard 1D1700 non magnetic diesel engines driving twin controllable pitch propellers (CRP). This was one of the earliest CRP installations in the navy.

They were also fitted with a UQS-1 mine-locating sonar, an important next step in minehunting.

UQS-1 mine-locating sonar panel currently at the Museum of Man in the Sea in Panama City. Photo by Chris Eger

UQS-1 mine-locating sonar panel currently at the Museum of Man in the Sea in Panama City. Photo by Chris Eger

Thus equipped, they could sweep moored mines with Oropesa (“O” Type) gear, magnetic mines with a Magnetic “Tail” supplied by three 2500 ampere mine sweeping generators, and acoustic mines by using Mk4(V) and A Mk6 (B) acoustic hammers.

Their armament, when compared to the Admirable-class steel hulls they replaced, was much lighter, consisting of a single Bofors 40mm/60 gun forward and two .50 cals. It should be pointed out the WWII sweepers carried a 3″/50, 4x Bofors, 6x20mm Oerlikons, Hedgehog ASW mortars plus depth charge racks and projectors on a hull roughly the same size.

USS Lucid as commissioned, she is the only MSO afloat in the Western hemisphere

USS Lucid as commissioned, she is the only MSO still afloat in the Western hemisphere. Note her 40mm gun.

Some 53 hulls were completed by 1958 by a host of small domestic yards for the U.S. Navy (Luders, Bellingham, Higgins, etc) that specialized in wooden vessels, and often had created PT-boats and sub-chasers during WWII. In addition to this, 15 were built for France, four for Portugal, six for Belgium, two for Norway, one of Uruguay, four for Italy, and six for Holland. The design was truly an international best-seller and in some cases the last hurrah for several of these small yards.

In U.S. service, they were quickly put to work everywhere from the Med to the South China Sea, performing general yeoman tasks for the fleet itself, participating in mine exercises and running sweeping ops in areas that still had the occasional WWII-era contact mine bobbing around. In addition, they helped with missile and torpedo tests, harbor defense exercises, acoustic ranging experiments, noise reduction experiments, located downed aircraft, performed special operations in 1962 during the nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean, were instrumental in the Palomares hydrogen bombs incident, performed midshipman training cruises to the Caribbean, made repairs to cables and helped in the recovering of boilerplate and capsules for the Mercury and Gemini NASA programs.

Their shallow draft (10-feet in seawater) made them ideal for getting around littorals as well as going to some out of the way locales that rarely see Naval vessels. USS Leader (MSO-490) and USS Excel (MSO 439) became the first U.S. warships ever to visit the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh when they completed the 180-mile transit up the Mekong River on 27 August 1961, a feat not repeated until 2007. USS Vital (MSO-474) ascended the Mississippi River in May 1967 to participate in the Cotton Carnival at Memphis, Tennessee.

USS Gallant (MSO-489) was used in 1966 for the filming of the Elvis Presley film, Easy Come, Easy Go.

Vietnam is where the class really shined, arriving early to the conflict, taking part in the party, and then sticking around for the clean up afterward.

As early as 1962, USS Fortify (MSO-446) was deployed off the coast of South Vietnam with her minesweeping gear removed and an electronic countermeasures “box” was installed on the fantail. The ship was involved in monitoring and intercepting Viet Cong radio transmissions, vectoring RVN gunboats to interdict large junks coming down the coast from the North that were suspected of furnishing arms and ammunition to cadres in the south. This led to some near-misses with NVA torpedo boats even before the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Many of the class participated in Operation Market Time (11 March 1965 to December 1972) in an effort to stop the flow of supplies from North Vietnam into the south by sea. According to Navy reports, “The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club” was very successful, but received little credit. Eventually all the supply routes at sea became non-existent, which forced the North Vietnamese to use the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

USS LEADER (MSO-490) Caption: Is seen from a Saigon based SP-2H Neptune aircraft while on a Market Time patrol during the later 1960s. The plane and ship are exchanging information on coastal traffic in the area. Description: Catalog #: NH 92011

USS LEADER (MSO-490) Caption: Is seen from a Saigon based SP-2H Neptune aircraft while on a Market Time patrol during the later 1960s. The plane and ship are exchanging information on coastal traffic in the area. Description: Catalog #: NH 92011

As part of this effort, the shallow water craft boarded and searched South Vietnamese fishing junks for smuggled weapons and other contraband (during USS Loyalty‘s first patrol alone, her crew boarded 348 junks, detained two and arrested 14 enemy smugglers), served as mother ships for replenishing the needs of “Swift” boats, provided gunfire support to U.S. forces ashore, (on 22 and 23 March 1966 the USS Implict alone fired nearly 700 rounds of 40mm ammunition supporting small South Vietnamese naval craft under fire from enemy shore batteries), gave special operations support to the American Advisory units and performed hydrographic surveys on shoreline depths.

After the war, it was the Aggressive-class MSOs who were tasked with Operation End Sweep–removing mines and airdropped Mark 36 Destructors laid by the U.S. in Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam and other waterways.

End Sweep's line in action

End Sweep’s line in action

In all some 10 MSO’s were part of Seventh Fleet’s Mine Countermeasures Force (Task Force 78), led by Rear Adm. Brian McCauley, during this six-month operation in the first half of 1973.

At the height of their involvement in Vietnam, the Navy started a mid-life extension and modernization process for roughly half of their MSOs. Running at $1.5 million per ship, the old Packard engines were removed and replaced with new aluminum block Waukesha diesels. The first generation mine sonar was swapped out for the new SQQ-14. As additional space on the foc’sle was needed for installation of the SQQ-14 cabling, the WWII-era 40mm Bofors bow gun was replaced with a mount for a twin 20 mm Mk 68. New sweep gear to include a pair of PAP-104 cable-guided undersea tools were added as was accommodation for clearance divers and two zodiacs powered by 40hp outboards.

Just 19 were updated to the new standard, and the MSO fleet began to severely contract.

Several took some hard knocks, especially when it came to fires.

USS Avenge (MSO-423) was gutted by a fire while drydocked at Bethlehem’s Fort McHenry Shipyard in Baltimore in 1969 and stricken the next year after a survey found her too far gone. An earlier flash fire on USS Exultant (MSO-441) while underway in 1960 claimed five lives though the ship herself was saved. USS Force (MSO-445) was not so lucky when on 24 April 1973 she lost off Guam after when a fuel leak was ignited by the No.1 Engine turbocharger and spread rapidly throughout the ship. USS Stalwart (MSO-493) capsized and sank as a result of fire at San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 25, 1966. USS Enhance (MSO-437), USS Direct (MSO-430) and USS Director (MSO-429) likewise suffered serious fires but were saved.

USS Prestige (MSO-465) ran aground and was stranded in the Naruto Straits, Inland Sea, Japan on 23 Aug 1958 and was abandoned as a total loss. Similarly, USS Sagacity (MSO-469) in March 1970, grounded at the entrance to Charleston harbor, causing extensive damage to her rudders, shafts, screws, keel, and hull, leading her to be stricken that October.

The Royal Navy diesel submarine HMS Rorqual bumped into the USS Endurance (MSO-435) while docking at River Point pier in Subic Bay, Philippines in 1969 while USS Forrestal (CVA-59) collided with the USS Pinnacle (MSO-462) at Norfolk in 1959. In all cases, the damage was slight.

USS Valor (MSO-472), just 15 years old, was found to be “beyond economical repair” in a survey in 1970 and scrapped.

By the end of Vietnam, the MSOs retained were converted to U.S. Naval Reserve Training (NRT) tasking classified as Naval Reserve Force (NRF) ships, used for training their complements of reserve crews one weekend a month two-weeks during the summer. This changed the crews from 7 officers, 70 enlisted (77 total) when on active duty, to 5 officers, 52 enlisted plus 25 reserve while a NRF vessel.

USS Energy (MSO-436) and Firm (MSO-444) were transferred to the Philippines, while USS Pivot (MSO-463), Dynamic, Persistent and Vigor went to Spain. Others, unmodernized, were sold for scrap.

By the 1980s, the European war scenario relied on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to participate substantially in mine warfare operations, and U.S. mine hunters continued to decline until just the 19 modernized 1950s MSOs, built for Korea and validated in Vietnam, remained in the NRF.

A bow view of the ocean minesweeper USS FORTIFY (MSO 446) underway, 6/8/1982

A bow view of the ocean minesweeper USS FORTIFY (MSO 446) underway, 6/8/1982. National Archives Photo.

A starboard view of the ocean minesweeper USS ILLUSIVE (MSO 448) underway, 8/13/1984

A starboard view of the ocean minesweeper USS ILLUSIVE (MSO 448) underway, 8/13/1984. National Archives Photo.

During this period they often spent much time at the Mine Countermeasures Station at Panama City, Florida where they tested the first versions of the AN/WLD-1 (V) unmanned Minehunting systems, developed to scour the water for bottom and moored mines.

wld-1-2 wld-1-mms

A few NRF MSOs were activated to assist in the Persian Gulf in 1987-88 during the tanker escort period (Operation Earnest Will) that involved Iranian sea mines, typically old Russian M08 contact types, swept.

Three sweepers: USS Fearless (MSO-442), USS Illusive (MSO-448), and USS Inflict (MSO-456), were towed 9,000 miles by the salvage ship USS Grapple (ARS-53) from Little Creek, Virginia, to the Persian Gulf.

While conducting minesweeping operations in the northern Persian Gulf, Inflict discovered and destroyed the first of 10 underwater contact mines deployed in a field across the main shipping channel.

Crewmen handle a minesweeping float on the stern of the ocean minesweeper USS INFLICIT (MSO 456), 4/27/1988

Crewmen handle a minesweeping float on the stern of the ocean minesweeper USS INFLICIT (MSO 456), 4/27/1988. National Archives Photo

Then came the affair with Saddam in 1990.

Four minesweepers, USS Leader (MSO-490), USS Impervious (MSO-449), USS Adroit (MSO-509) and the brand new USS Avenger (MCM-1), were loaded aboard the Dutch heavy lift ship Super Servant 3 on 19 August 1990 at Norfolk and offloaded 5 October 1990 in the middle east.

Impervious, foreground, and Adroit (MSO 509) sit aboard the Dutch heavy lift ship Super Servant 4 as its deck is submerged to permit minesweepers to be unloaded. Photo by PHAN Christopher L. Ryan

Impervious, foreground, and Adroit (MSO 509) sit aboard the Dutch heavy lift ship Super Servant 4 as its deck is submerged to permit minesweepers to be unloaded. Photo by PHAN Christopher L. Ryan

You may not remember now, but Desert Storm at sea was a mine war, with USS Tripoli and USS Princeton (CG 59) rocked by exploding mines. Saddam sewed more than a 1,000 of his deadly easter eggs across the northern Gulf and it was the job of the sweepers, along with allied boats and helicopters and some 20 different EOD clearance teams, to clear the way for a possible D-Day style amphibious invasion by the Marines as well as hacking a path through the danger zone for battleships to approach for NGFS.

And with the victory in the desert, the MSOs were paid off, replaced nominally by a new class of (since disposed of) Osprey-class MHCs and the rest of the Avengers.

Between 1989-1994 the last of the MSOs were decommissioned and stricken with the healthiest four units transferred to the Republic of China Navy (Taiwan) in 1994-95: USS Conquest (MSO-488), USS Gallant (MSO-489), USS Pledge (MSO-492), and USS Implicit (MSO-455) as ROCS Yung Tzu (MSO-1307), ROCS Yung Ku (MSO-1308), ROCS Yung Teh (MSO-1309), ROCS Yung Yang (MSO-1306), respectively, are still in service.

exconquestandgallant

Six were held on red lead row until as late as 2002, when they were scrapped despite the pleas from veterans’ groups to preserve one, with the MARAD claiming it was policy not to donate wooden ships due to the cost and magnitude of the maintenance required for upkeep.

In all, some 50,000 sailors served at one time or another on these wooden ships and are very well organized in The Navy MSO Association.

Finally, the MSO sailors were came across the old USS Lucid (MSO-458) which had been sold as scrap for $40,250 back in 1976 and had been used as a houseboat ever since.

Donated, the ship has become part of the Stockton Historical Maritime Museum since 2011 and is open to the public.

lucid

She is the only MSO preserved in the West.

In Holland, HNLMS Mercuur (A856), after her decommissioning in 1987, was preserved as a museum ship, first in Amsterdam, later in Scheveningen. She will be towed to the city of Vlissingen at some point this winter, and re-open as a museum ship in Vlissingen’s Perry dock around March 2017.

In all, the class served 40 years in a myriad of tasks and a few are still around and kicking.

Not bad for some forgotten old wooden boats.

The ocean minesweeper USS INFLICIT (MSO 456) heads towards the Persian Gulf to support US Navy escort operations, 9/1/1987

The ocean minesweeper USS INFLICIT (MSO 456) heads towards the Persian Gulf to support US Navy escort operations, 9/1/1987

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