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WESTERN PACIFIC (Nov. 12, 2017) The aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and their strike groups are underway, conducting operations, in international waters as part of a three-carrier strike force exercise. The U.S. Navy has patrolled the Indo-Asia Pacific region routinely for more than 70 years promoting regional security, stability, and prosperity. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. James Griffin/Released)

Currently, the Navy has 11 commissioned nuclear aircraft carriers in service (as well as two under construction and two conventional carriers laid up pending disposal). Well, for the first time in a long time, 7 of those 11 are underway with three– USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)— fully armed and conducting operations forward deployed in the Western Pacific. Those three flattops are currently off the Korean Peninsula with vessels of the Republic of Korean Navy and the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.

WESTERN PACIFIC (Nov. 12, 2017) Three F/A-18E Super Hornets, assigned to the Eagles of Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 115, fly in formation over the aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and their strike groups along with ships from the Republic of Korea Navy as they transit the Western Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Aaron B. Hicks/Released)

There haven’t been seven carriers underway since 2004 and it’s been a decade since three carrier strike groups operated together in the big blue of the Pacific during exercise Valiant Shield 2007.

“It is a rare opportunity to train with two aircraft carriers together, and even rarer to be able to train with three,” said U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, Adm. Scott Swift in the Navy’s presser on the ops in the West Pac. “Multiple carrier strike force operations are very complex, and this exercise in the Western Pacific is a strong testament to the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s unique ability and ironclad commitment to the continued security and stability of the region.”

Let’s roll that beautiful bean footage:

Getting Kiffe

Here we see a rundown of the standard bayonet fare for U.S. military rifles from the early 20th Century through the early days of the Vietnam conflict.

From top to bottom: an M1905 sword bayonet with a 16-inch blade on the M1903 Springfield rifle, an M1 bayonet on an M1 Garand, a chopped down bayonet (10-inch blade) made from the legacy M1905 pigsticker redesignated M1905E1 on an M1 Garand, and finally an M4 bayonet on M1 Carbine.

The M4 is very interesting in the respect that it originally wasn’t suppose to exist, and then went on to be both widely used and extensively cloned.

Initially, the M1 Carbine did not accept a bayonet. However, beginning in June 1944, the front band included a bayonet lug. Most earlier carbines were subsequently retrofitted with the bayonet-lug front band. Most U.S.-made M4 bayonets were produced by W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co., Turner Manufacturing Co, Imperial Knife Co., Conetta Manufacturing Co, and Bren-Dan Manufacturing Co. using the M8/8A1 sheath, and ran into the early 1960s at least.

Early models used the leather washer handles while post-WWII production shifted to hard rubber or plastic grips. Standard blade length on military spec models was 6.5-inches, overall is 11.5-inches. The M4 bayonet blade even went on to form the pointy end of a later Korean-era M1 Garand bayonet, the M5A1, which replaced both the M1905E1 and M1 bayonet.

The M4 model I just picked up is a Kiffe made in Japan, which would obviously make it a Post-WWII variant.

Though the company was founded in New York in 1875 by Herman H. Kiffe and remained in operation through the 1960s, they contracted their M4 bayos to unknown Japanese makers in the 1950s.

Not meant for military contracts (at least from the U.S.) these were popular with new civilian buyers of surplus M1 Carbines which were widely available for a song at the time. These new bayonets sold for $3 at the time via mail order– about $23 in 2017 greenbacks, which is a deal both then and now.

1967 ad for Kiffe, note the “M8 Bayonet” in the top right with “self-sharpening plastic sheaths” (!)

Overall length is 11.25-inches, while weight is 8.6-ounces, in each case without the scabbard.

The blade is marked simply “Kiffe Japan” as is the hilt.

While not a true martial bayonet, it is beautiful and this specimen is very minty– no doubt because it was purchased during the Atomic-era as a keepsake to complete a privately owned M1, rather than for field use. At 50~ years old, it looks great and I think it will hold up for another 50 with no problem.

66 years ago today: ‘Spitting death at the Communists in North Korea’

Seaman Leroy Kellam weighed down with belts of 20-millimeter cannon ammunition, hustles up the flight deck of USS Essex (CVA-9) to load a waiting Banshee fighter (examples seen behind him) as the WWII-era fleet carrier cruises somewhere off the Korean coast.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97271

From the Navy:

“These same shells were spitting death at the Communists in North Korea a short time after this picture was taken. Photograph and caption were released by Commander, Naval Forces, Far East under date of 12 October 1951.”

The McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee was a single-seat carrier-based fighter developed from the older FH Phantom I– the first jet fighter flown from flattops– and was introduced to the fleet in 1948. Though nearly 900 were made for the U.S. and Royal Canadian Navy (they had carriers back then!), these straight wing jets were 100 kts slower than MiG-15s, which made them a bad investment after 1950 and they were all subsequently retired by the early 1960s.

They did carry four sweet 20 mm Colt Mk 16 cannons, though, for which they carried a total of 940 shells of the kind Seaman Kellem is swathed in Frito Bandito-style.

As for the mighty Essex, she was decommissioned for the last time in 1969 after extensive service and sold for scrap in 1975.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017: I’d like to be back on my horse

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, Oct. 11, 2017: I’d like to be back on my horse

USN photo courtesy of Scott Koen & ussnewyork.com via Navsource

Here we see the Balao-class diesel-electric fleet submarine USS Tilefish (SS-307) returning to San Diego on 5 December 1958 for inactivation. You may not recognize her in the photo, but she was always ready for her closeup.

A member of the 128-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were ‘fleet’ boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home.

Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their 4-inch/50 caliber and 40mm/20mm AAA’s. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

We have covered a number of this class before, such as Rocket Mail slinging USS Barbero, the carrier-sinking USS Archerfish, the long-serving USS Catfish and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

Laid down at Mare Island Navy Yard in Vallejo, California, on 10 Mar 1943, USS Tilefish was the first and only naval vessel named for homely reef fish found in the world’s oceans.

1916 USBOF sheet on the Tilefish, via NARA

Commissioned just nine months later on 28 Dec 1943, Tilefish completed her trials and shakedown off the California coast and made for the Western Pacific in early 1944.

Broadside view of the Tilefish (SS-307) off Mare Island on 2 March 1944. USN photos # 1434-44 through1436-44, courtesy of Darryl L. Baker. Via Navsource

Her first war patrol, off Honshu in Japanese home waters, was short and uneventful.

Her second, in the Luzon Strait, netted a torpedo hit on the 745-ton Japanese corvette Kaibokan 17 south of Formosa on 18 July.

Her third patrol, in the Sea of Okhotsk and off the Kuril Islands, resulted in sinking a sampan in a surface action, as well as two small cargo ships, a larger cargo ship and the 108-ton Japanese guard boat Kyowa Maru No.2. Tilefish also picked up a Russian owl in these frigid waters, which was duly named Boris Hootski with the ship’s log noting, “He is now official ship’s mascot and stands battle stations on top of the tube blow and vent manifold.”

She closed the year with her fourth patrol in the Kurils and Japanese home waters with sinking the Japanese torpedo boat Chidori some 90 miles WSW of Yokosuka.

Early 1945 saw her fifth patrol which sank a small Japanese coaster and effectively knocked the IJN minesweeper W 15 out of the war. She also plucked LT (JG) William J. Hooks from the USS Hancock (CV-19) of VF-80 out of the water after he had to ditch his F6F at sea off Amami Oshima in the Ryukyus.

After refit on the West Coast, Tilefish completed her sixth patrol on lifeguard station off the Ryukyus where she ended the war, being ordered back to California on 7 September.

In all, Tilefish received five battle stars for World War II service. Her tally included 7 vessels for a total of 10,700 claimed tons– though many were disallowed post-war by JANAC. Her six patrols averaged 48 days at sea.

While most of the U.S. submarine fleet was mothballed in the months immediately after WWII, Tilefish remained in service. She even managed a sinkex in August 1947 against the crippled Liberty tanker SS Schuyler Colfax, at 7,200-tons, Tilefish‘s largest prize.

Her war flag represented as a patch from popularpatch.com. Note the 10 vessels claimed and the parachute for Lt. Hooks.

When the Korean War kicked off in 1950, Tilefish made for the region.

As noted by DANFS:

“From 28 September 1950 through 24 March 1951, the submarine operated out of Japanese ports conducting patrols in Korean waters in support of the United Nations campaign in Korea. She made reconnaissance patrols of La Perouse Strait to keep the Commander, Naval Forces Far East, informed of Soviet seaborne activity in that area.”

Tilefish received one battle star for Korean service.

Hula dancers Kuulei Jesse, Gigi White and Dancette Poepoe (left to right) welcome the submarine, as she docks at the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base after a Korean War tour. Crewmen placing the flower lei around Tilefish’s bow are Engineman 3rd Class Donald E. Dunlevy, USN, (left – still wearing E-3 stripes) and Torpedoman’s Mate 1st Class Gordon F. Sudduth, USNR. This photograph was released by Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, on 26 March 1951. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the All Hands collection at the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97068

The next nine years saw her conducting regular peacetime operations and exercises including a goodwill visit to Acapulco; a survey mission with four civilian geophysicists on board from the Hydrographic Office of Eniwetok, Wake, and Midway; and other ops.

USS TILEFISH (SS-307) Caption: Photographed during the 1950s. Description: Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN (MSC), 1974. Catalog #: NH 78988

These “other ops” included filming some scenes for the 1958 Glen Ford WWII submarine flick Torpedo Run, which were extensively augmented by scale models, and more extensive shoots for Up Periscope, a film in which James Garner, a Korean war Army vet and Hollywood cowboy, plays a frogman ordered to photograph a codebook at an isolated Japanese radio station.

The film was an adaption of LCDR Robb White’s book of the same name.

Garner was not impressed by the Tilefish.

James Garner as Lieutenant Kenneth M. Braden in Up Periscope

As related by a Warren Oaks biographer, Garner, bobbing along on the old submarine offshore at 9-kts in groundswells, said, “You know something? I’d like to be back on my horse.”

After her brief movie career and service in two wars, Tilefish was given a rebuild at the San Francisco Navy Yard and was decommissioned in May 1960.

Tilefish was then sold to Venezuela, which renamed her ARV Carite (S-11). As such, she was the first modern submarine in that force. She arrived in that country on 23 July 1960, setting the small navy up to be the fifth in Latin America with subs.

ARV S-11 Carite El 4 de mayo de 1960

As noted by El Snorkel (great name), a Latin American submarine resource, Tilefish/Carite was very active indeed, making 7,287 dives with the Venezuelan Navy over the next 17 years. She participated in the Argentine/Dominican Republic/Venezuelan -U.S. Quarantine Task Force 137 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and intercepted the Soviet tug Gromoboi in 1968.

In 1966, she was part of the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program (GUPPY) conversion program and (along with 20 other boats), was given the very basic Fleet Snorkel package which provided most ofthe bells and whistles found on the German late-WWII Type XXI U-boats– which would later prove ironic. This gave her expanded battery capacity, steamlined her sail conning tower fairwater into a so-called “Northern or North Atlantic sail”– a steel framework surrounded by thick fiberglass– added a snorkel, higher capacity air-conditioning system, and a more powerful electrical system and increased her submerged speed to 15 knots while removing her auxillary diesel. A small topside sonar dome appeared.

ex-Tilefish (SS-307), taken 12 Oct. 1966 after transfer to Venezuela as ARV Carite (S-11). Note the GUPPY series conversion, the so-called very basic “Fleet Snorkel” mod.

However, during this time, her most enduring exposure was in helping film Murphy’s War, in which a German U-boat (U-482) hides out in the Orinoco River in Venezuela after sinking British merchant steamer Mount Kyle, leaving Peter O’Toole as the lone survivor on a hunt to bag the German shark. The thing is, she looked too modern for the film after her recent conversion.

For her role, Carite was given a far-out grey-white-black dazzle camo scheme and, to make her more U-boat-ish, was fitted with a faux cigarette deck after her tower complete with a Boffin 40mm (!) and a twin Oerlikon mount (!!). Her bow was fitted with similarly faked submarine net cutting teeth.

Her “crew” was a mix of U.S. Peace Corps kids working in the area (to get the proper blonde Germanic look) with Venezuelan tars at the controls.

The movie, filmed in decadent Panavision color, shows lots of footage of the old Tilefish including a dramatic ramming sequence with a bone in her teeth and what could be the last and best images of a Balao-class submarine with her decks awash.

That bone!

Ballasting down– note the very un U-boat like sonar dome. I believe that is a QHB-1 transducer dome to starboard with a BQR-3 hydrophone behind it on port

By the mid-1970s, Tilefish/Carite was showing her age. In 1972, the Venezuelans picked up more two more advanced GUPPY II conversions, her Balao-class sister USS Cubera (SS-347), renaming her ARV Tiburon (S-12) and the Tench-class USS Grenadier (SS-525) which followed as ARV Picua (S-13) in 1973.

The Venezuelan submarine ARV Carite (S-11) demonstrates an emergency surfacing during the UNITAS XI exercise, in 1970. via All Hands magazine

Once the two “new” boats were integrated into the Venezuelan Navy, Tilefish/Carite was decommissioned on 28 January 1977 and slowly cannibalized for spare parts, enabling Cubera and Grenadier to remain in service until 1989 when they were replaced by new-built German Type 209-class SSKs, which still serve to one degree or another.

According to a Polish submarine page, some artifacts from Tilefish including a torpedo tube remain in Venezuela.

Although she is no longer afloat, eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also on borrowed time)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

However, Tilefish will endure wherever submarine films are enjoyed.

Specs:

Displacement, surfaced: 1,526 t., Submerged: 2,424 t.
Length 311′ 10″
Beam 27′ 3″
Draft 15′ 3″
Speed surfaced 20.25 kts, Submerged 8.75 kts
Cruising Range, 11,000 miles surfaced at 10kts; Submerged Endurance, 48 hours at 2kts
Operating Depth Limit, 400 ft.
Patrol Endurance 75 days
Propulsion: diesels-electric reduction gear with four Fairbanks-Morse main generator engines., 5,400 hp, four Elliot Motor Co., main motors with 2,740 hp, two 126-cell main storage batteries, two propellers.
Fuel Capacity: 94,400 gal.
Complement 6 Officers 60 Enlisted
Armament:
(As built)
10 21″ torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 24 torpedoes,
one 4″/50 caliber deck gun,
one 40mm gun,
two .50 cal. machine guns
(By 1966)
10 21″ torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 24 torpedoes,

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Warship Wednesday, August 16, 2017: Possibly the most Devil Dog carrier, ever

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, August 16, 2017: Possibly the most Devil Dog carrier, ever

Here we see the Commencement Bay-class escort carrier, USS Sicily (CVE-118), as she enters San Diego Bay on her return from her first deployment to the Korean War zone, 5 February 1951. Note the Marine Corps F4U Corsairs, OY-2 Sentinel spotter planes and the early Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter on deck. The aircraft to the rear are Grumman AF-2W Guardians, an early ASW plane. The baby flattop had already marked her place in Marine Corps history when this image was taken.

Of the 130 U.S./RN escort carriers– merchant ships hulls given a hangar, magazine, and flight deck– built during WWII, the late-war Commencement Bay-class was by far the Cadillac of the design slope. Using lessons learned from the earlier Long Island, Avenger, Sangamon, Bogue and Casablanca-class ships. Like the Sangamon-class, they were based on Maritime Commission T3 class tanker hulls (which they shared with the roomy replenishment oilers of the Chiwawa, Cimarron, and Ashtabula-classes), from the keel-up, these were made into flattops.

Pushing some 25,000-tons at full load, they could make 19-knots which was faster than a lot of submarines looking to plug them. A decent suite of about 60 AAA guns spread across 5-inch, 40mm and 20mm fittings could put as much flying lead in the air as a light cruiser of the day when enemy aircraft came calling. Finally, they could carry a 30-40 aircraft airwing of single-engine fighter bombers and torpedo planes ready for a fight or about twice that many planes if being used as a delivery ship.

Sound good, right? Of course, and had the war ran into 1946-47, the 33 planned vessels of the Commencement Bay-class would have no doubt fought kamikazes, midget subs and suicide boats tooth and nail just off the coast of the Japanese Home Islands.

However, the war ended in Sept. 1945 with only nine of the class barely in commission– most of those still on shake down cruises. Just two, Block Island and Gilbert Islands, saw significant combat, at Okinawa and Balikpapan, winning two and three battle stars, respectively. Kula Gulf and Cape Gloucester picked up a single battle star.

With the war over, some of the class, such as USS Rabaul and USS Tinian, though complete were never commissioned and simply laid up in mothballs, never being brought to life. Four other ships were cancelled before launching just after the bomb on Nagasaki was dropped. In all, just 19 of the planned 33 were commissioned.

The hero of our tale, the only ship in the U.S. Navy ever named after the island of Sicily, or more correctly the 1943 military campaign for that island, was laid down at Todd-Pacific Shipyards, Tacoma, Washington, 23 October 1944 and commissioned 27 February 1946. Ironically, seven earlier sisters were decommissioned the same year.

Arriving on the East Coast in July 1946 after shakedown and outfitting Sicily served in the Atlantic Fleet in a number of support and ASW roles, experimenting new types and tactics for the next three years while stationed at Norfolk. By 1950, she was one of the few escort carriers still in active service and embarked big AF-2W (TB3F-1S) Guardians (at 22,000-lbs takeoff weight, the largest single-engine piston-powered carrier aircraft, and likely the largest aircraft period, operated from escort carriers), aboard.

USS SICILY (CVE-118) at New York City, September 1947. Courtesy of The Marine Museum, Newport News, Va. Ted Stone Collection. Catalog #: NH 66791

Navy blimp K-125 operations aboard USS Sicily (CVE 118) during the recent maneuvers in the Caribbean. As the blimp descends, the flight deck crewmen take hold of the handling lines and bring her to rest on the deck of the ship, released April 6, 1949. U.S. Navy Photograph, 80-G-707078, now in the collections of the National Archives.

On 3 April 1950, Sicily was reassigned to the Pacific Fleet, arriving at San Diego later that month. While preparing for summer exercises, the North Koreans crossed over into South Korea and the balloon went up.

Gregory “Pappy” Boyington’s famous Black Sheep Squadron, VMF-214, then under Major Robert P. Keller, were given orders to embark for Korea on Sicily as soon as possible. While the Corsairs weren’t front-line fighters in the burgeoning jet age, they could still perform CAS, interdiction, and armed reconnaissance missions and look good doing it.

The ship was commanded by noted WWII aviator, Capt. John S. Thach (USNA 1927), inventor of the “Thach Weave”, a tactic that enabled the generally mediocre U.S. fighters of 1942 to hold their own against the Japanese Zero.

Captain John S. Thach and Lieutenant J.V. Hames, USMC, on board USS Sicily (CVE 118) during Inchon Invasion. Lieutenant Hanes is a member of VMF-214) and is from Santa Monica, California. 80-G-420280

With a line up like Thach and the Black Sheep, you know what happened next.

On 3 August 1950, a group of 8 F4U-4B Corsairs from VMF-214 became the first Marine squadron to see action in Korea, launching from Sicily and executing a raid against DPRK positions near Inchon. At the time, the little jeep carrier was flagship of Carrier Division (CarDiv) 15.

U.S. Marine Corps F4U-4B Corsair fighter-bomber Receives final checks to its armament of bombs and 5-inch rockets, just prior to being catapulted from USS Sicily (CVE-118) for a strike on enemy forces in Korea. The original photograph is dated 16 November 1950, but was probably taken in August-October 1950. Note battered paint on this aircraft. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-419929

The withdrawal of the marines from the Chosin Reservoir to Hungnam was covered by Corsairs from Sicily. HVAR rockets and napalm make good party favors.

Speaking of that napalm smell…

One of the Black Sheep pilots at the time was 1Lt. Donald “The Great Santini” Conroy, a storied figure who entered the Marines as an enlisted man in WWII and later retired as a full colonel in 1974 after pushing A-4s in Vietnam. More on Conroy later.

National Archives footage of VMF-214 on board Sicily, United States Naval Photographic Center film #246. (no sound)

The jeep carrier also supported SAR ops via helicopters and recon/spotting missions with OY-2s.

USS Sicily (CVE-118) launches a U.S. Marine Corps OY-2 Sentinel spotter plane during operations in the Yellow Sea, off the west coast of Korea, 22 September 1950. Sicily was then supporting the campaign to recapture Seoul. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-420239

The Black Sheep eventually left and Sicily picked up the Death Rattlers of VMF-323 for her second tour with the 7th Fleet, from 13 May to 12 October 1951.

F4U-4 Corsair aircraft of VMF-323 lined up on the flight deck of USS Sicily (CVE-118) in waters off MCAS Sesebo, Japan. 1951. Note the rattlesnakes painted on some aircraft, due to the squadron’s nickname “Death Rattlers”.

F4U-4 Corsair aircraft of VMF-323 armed with bombs, napalm tanks and HVAR rockets are launched for a mission from the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118) off Korea, in 1951.

On her third tour in Korea, 8 May to 4 December 1952, she had a few new tricks up her sleeve.

In late August 1952, Sicily took aboard the Sikorsky HRS-1 helicopters of Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 (HMR-161) and tested the first vertical envelopment (moving combat-ready Marines from ship to shore via whirlybird) combined with an amphibious assault in what was termed Operation “Marlex-5” off the coast of Inchon. While the tactic had been trialed in California earlier that year with HMR-162, the op with Sicily was the first time it was used overseas, much less in a combat zone.

USS Sicily (CVE-118) launches U.S. Marine Corps HRS-1 helicopters during Operation Marlex-5 off the west coast of Korea in the Inchon area. Photo is dated 1 September 1952. Nearest HRS-1 is Bureau # 127798. It wears the markings of squadron HMR-161. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-477573

U.S. Marine Sikorsky HRS-2 helicopters lined-up ready on the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118). Note U.S. Marines on the Sicily’s elevator. U.S. Navy photo. Navsource NS0311818

On 4 September 1952, the Checkerboards of Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (VMF-312) moved from airfields ashore to Sicily’s decks and over the next several days their Corsairs had a number of run-ins with North Korean MiGs. The hardy Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, which could do Mach 0.87 at sea level and had a pair of 23mm cannon supplemented by a big 37mm mount, was a brawler.

Well about that…

On 10 September, Marine Capt. Jesse Folmar in his F4U-B (BuNo 62927) destroyed a North Korean MiG-15 in aerial combat over the west coast of Korea while flying with his wingman. Outnumbered 4:1 the two Marine Corsairs were outnumbered by eight MiGs.

From VMF-312’s unit history:

Folmar and Walter E. Daniels were attacked by eight MIG-1 5s which made repeated firing runs on the slower F4Us as they tried to get out of the area. After one of the MIGs completed a run on the Corsairs, instead of breaking off to the side, the jet pulled up directly in front of Captain Folmar’s guns. A quick burst of the 20mm cannon soon had the MIG ablaze and heading for the ground. The kill marked the first time an American had downed a jet fighter with a propeller-driven aircraft. Another MIG retaliated with a burst of 37mm fire which forced Captain Folmar to bail out, but he was rescued and returned to the ship. Captain Daniels’ plane was not hit and safely landed on board the carrier.

It was quite a feat.

While USAAF, Soviet and British piston-engine fighters chalked up something like 150~ German Komets and Me262 kills in the latter stages of WWII, the MiG was a much more formidable adversary. There were few comparable events.

The Brits, in their only air-to-air victory in Korea, chalked up a similar action to Folmar’s when on 9 August 1952, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Lt. “Hoagy” Carmichael of 802 Squadron downed a Nork MiG 15 while flying a Sea Fury of the carrier HMS Ocean, while in Vietnam Navy A-1 Skyraiders accounted for several MiG-17s.

Sicily’s Guardians, of Navy Reserve Anti-Submarine Squadron VS-931, also gave unsung service, conducting maritime patrol and keeping an eye out for submarines. Two of the big sub hunters, with their four-man crews, were lost while on Sicily‘s third war cruise– BuNo 124843 and 126830– though their crews were saved.

The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118) underway, with Grumman AF-2S and AF-2W Guardians of SV-931, circa in October 1952, en route to Hawaii. Photo by LtJG Philip Nelson, USN via Wiki

Sicily finished the war in the United Nations Escort and Blockading Force, deploying to the Far East from 14 July 1953 to 25 February 1954.

USS Sicily (CVE-118) photographed at the Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, circa February 1954, with USS Yorktown (CVA-10) at right and eleven LCM landing craft in the foreground. Grumman AF Guardian anti-submarine aircraft are parked on Sicily’s flight deck. Douglas AD Skyraider attack planes are parked aft on Yorktown’s flight deck. Catalog #: NH 97318

USS Sicily (CVE-118) underway with F4U aircraft parked aft, April 1954. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97317

And just like that, with a tad over eight years of service, five Korean War battle stars, and legends under her belt, Sicily was decommissioned 4 Oct 1954. Though retained in mothballs until 1960, the days of the short-deck carrier were over for the jet powered Navy and newer purpose-built Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ships, with about half the crew of the Sicily and her sisters, were being commissioned to carry Marine helicopters into battle. Like the Commencement Bay-class, the Iwo’s were named after battles.

On 31 October 1960, Sicily was sold to the Nicolai Joffe Corporation for scrap.

Of the rest of the Commencement Bay-class, most saw a mixed bag of post-WWII service as Helicopter Carriers (CVHE) or Cargo Ship and Aircraft Ferries (AKV). Most were sold for scrap by the early 1970s with the last of the class, Gilbert Islands, converted to a communication relay ship, AGMR-1, enduring on active service until 1969 and going to the breakers in 1979. Their more than 30 “sisters below the waist” the other T3 tankers were used by the Navy through the Cold War with the last of the breed, USS Mispillion (AO-105), headed to the breakers in 2011.

As for Sicily‘s heroes, their tales endure.

MiG-killer Folmar’s deeds from Sicily in 1952 were commemorated in a painting by Lou Drendel, which now hangs at the Naval Air and Space Museum in Pensacola.

The Aviator himself was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame and is buried in Foley, Alabama, passing away in 2004.

Remember the (literal) Black Sheep pilot, The Great Santini? Conroy’s son, Southern storyteller Pat Conroy, later based Lt. Col. Bull Meechum, USMC (played by Robert Duvall in the movie) as the wild man Marine Corps pilot with a host of family issues on his father in a book and film of the same name.

Conroy, who called MCAS Beaufort home and graduated from the Citadel, filled his works with many references to Marines and, obliquely, to his father. Col. Conroy is buried at Beaufort and in later life he attended book signings alongside Pat, inking “The Great Santini” with his signature.

Of Sicily‘s Marine squadrons, all are still around. VMFA-312 flies F/A-18Cs based out of MCAS Beaufort (Santini’s base) while the Black Sheep of VMA-214 are pushing AV-8Bs out of Yuma until they get their shiny new F-35Cs. The Death Rattlers of VMFA-323? They are assigned to Miramar and still deploy on carriers regularly, as their Hornets are a part of Carrier Wing 11.

Meanwhile, the Korean People’s Army Air Force remain the last military operator of the MiG-15, as some things never change.

Specs:


Displacement:
10,900 long tons (11,100 t) standard
24,100 long tons (24,500 t) full load
Length: 557 ft. (170 m)
Beam:
75 ft. (23 m)
105 ft. 2 in (32.05 m) flight deck
Draft: 30 ft. 8 in (9.35 m)
Propulsion: 2-shaft geared turbines, 16,000 shp
Speed: 19 knots (22 mph; 35 km/h)
Complement: 1,066 officers and men
Armament:
2 × 5″/38 caliber guns (1 × 2)
36 × 40 mm Bofors gun (3 × 4, 12 × 2)
20 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons
Aircraft carried: 34

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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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Atomic age Shermans in downtown Motown

While the concept of a platoon of main battle tanks rattling down a major metro street these days sounds foreign outside of Third World coups, in Korean War-era Detroit, it was just another parade.

It should be noted Chrysler’s Detroit Tank Arsenal built over 15,000 M4s during the war, in no less than eight variants, or about a third of the entire Sherman production line.

sherman-tanks-detriot-july-28-1951-detroits-250th-birthday-festival

View of tanks on Woodward Ave. during the parade celebrating the 250th Birthday Festival of Detroit. Large American flag is draped on office building; spectators stand on sidewalks. Stamped on back: “Don Cooper, advertising & illustrative photography, 8619 Grand River, Detroit 6, Michigan. Detroit, 1701-1951, 250th Birthday Festival, official committee.” Handwritten on back: “Views of the big parade, July 28, 1951, Detroit’s 250th Birthday Festival.” Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Principles of Operation (1943) United States Rifle, Caliber .30, M1

The above U.S. Army training film explains the principles of operation of the M1 (Garand) Infantry Rifle.

John Garand’s M1 rifle was developed at Springfield Armory over a five-year period and put into production in August 1937, with over 5 million produced by SA, Winchester, Rock Island Arsenal, International Harvester and Harrington & Richardson by 1957 when it was theoretically replaced by the M14.

Gen. George S. Patton called it “the greatest battle implement ever devised” after seeing it in action during some of the heaviest ground combat in World War II. It went on to hold the line in Korea, the Cold War, and the early days of Vietnam. The old M1 remained in National Guard armories through the 1970s and as many as 250,000 DoD-owned Garands still serve with various military and civilian honor guards.

Enjoy!

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