Category Archives: Korean War

Saving The Sullivans: A Call to Action

The Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537) was launched at Bethleham Steel on 4 April 1943, sponsored by the grieving Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan, mother of the five late Sullivan brothers, and was commissioned five months later. The brothers Sullivan had requested (“We will make a team together that can’t be beat,” one had written) to be ship out together and joined the light cruiser Juneau (CL-52) at the New York Navy Yard on 3 February 1942, just before that ship’s commissioning, and were all lost just before Thanksgiving in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

The destroyer received nine battle stars for World War II and two for Korean service. Laid up in 1965 at Philadelphia, in 1977, she and cruiser Little Rock (CG-4) were processed for donation to the city of Buffalo, N.Y., where they now serve as a memorial.

However, 78 years of water have not proved kind to her hull and today The Sullivans is in serious risk of sinking. The Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park is urgently seeking $100,000 to fund emergency repairs of her hull.

The Last American Bayonet Charge at 70

This month remembers the fateful day on 7 February 1951 when the footsoldiers of Company E of the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry (Wolfhounds) Regiment, under the command of 30-year-old CAPT Lewis Lee Millett Sr., would undertake a successful bayonet charge on an enemy position atop frozen Hill 180 near Anyang, South Korea.

An understrength unit of just ~100 men, they fought their way up every step of what later became known as Bayonet Hill, and for good reason. 

S.L.A. Marshall described the attack as “the most complete bayonet charge by American troops” since Cold Harbor in 1864.

Millett, who had received a Silver Star for driving a burning ammunition truck away from a group of soldiers before it exploded during WWII, would become a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions. He went on to found the famous Recondo school and left the military in 1973 as a colonel. He passed in 2009.

Here is Col. Millett describing his service and the action at Hill 180.

The U.S. Army in Korea remembered the event earlier this month.

For more on the Army in Korea, please visit the CMH site. 

Hey, That Bush is Shaped Like an L-5

Check out this great image of a row of camouflaged Army Vultee-Stinson Sentinel L-5s undergoing maintenance “somewhere in Korea” on 12 July 1950.

U.S. Army Transportation Museum photo.

The pokey little L-5, introduced late in WWII to replace the Army’s Grasshoppers, was Big Green’s primary liaison and spotting aircraft in Korea– a conflict that came just three years after the Air Force was split away from its parent service, taking just about everything fixed-wing with it in the move.

Notably, unlike the Grasshoppers, Birdogs, and Piper Cubs used by the Army for the same purpose, the L-5 was purpose-designed for military use and had no commercial variant.

Capable of buzzing around at 100 knots for three hours or so, the L-5 was rugged and could operate from just about anywhere.

CPL Morehead, 7th Infantry Division Air Section, refuels an L-5 at 7th ID liaison airstrip, Tanyang, Korea. Jan. 15, 1951.

The Army phased out the L-5 by 1962

The Borinqueneers! 70 Years ago today

The Borinqueneers, South Korea — February 2, 1951 — by Dominic D’Andrea

Via the National Guard Bureau:

In August 1950 the Korean War was less than two months old, and Puerto Rico’s 65th Infantry Regiment was on its way to the combat zone. The regiment landed at the port city of Pusan on the Korean Peninsula’s southern tip, where U.S. forces had been holding a perimeter against the Communist North Korean invaders. Sent into action immediately, the Puerto Ricans took part in the U.S. breakout and drive to the north. Following the brilliantly planned and executed surprise landings at Inchon, U.S. and other United Nations forces drove deep into the mountains of North Korea.

At that point a huge Chinese Army entered the war. The U.S. Eighth Army was overrun, and the 1st Marine Division, with attached U.S. and British Army units, was completely encircled. In one of the greatest fighting retreats in history, the outnumbered Marines battled their way south to the coast. The first friendly troops they saw on the frozen ridgetops were the Puerto Ricans of the 65th Infantry Regiment, sent to hold the perimeter around the vital port of Hungnam. The Puerto Ricans supervised the evacuation of Hungnam, finally sailing themselves on Christmas Eve, 1950.

The 65th landed in Pusan as they had five months before, and again fought their way northward. Late January 1951 found them south of the Korean capital of Seoul, under orders to take two hills being held by the Chinese 149th Division. The assault began on January 31st, and took three days. On the morning of the third day the top of the hills were within reach, and two battalions of the 65th fixed bayonets and charged straight at the enemy positions. The Chinese fled.

During its service in Korea, the men of the 65th Infantry won four Distinguished Service Crosses and 125 Silver Stars. The “Borinqueneers” were also awarded the Presidential and Meritorious Unit Commendations, two Korean Presidential Unit Citations and the Greek Gold Medal for Bravery.

The 65th Infantry Regiment’s gallant service in a difficult war is exemplified by its regimental motto, “Honor and Fidelity,” and the regiment itself exemplifies the National Guard’s leading role in our nation’s military history.

Warship Wednesday, Jan.27, 2021: Of Kamikazes, Space Monkeys, and Exocets

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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.27, 2021: Of Kamikazes, Space Monkeys, and Exocets

Photo by Robert Huhardeaux via Wikicommons.

Here we see the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Borie (DD-704), in all her Cold War glory, anchored off Cannes, France, circa 1963. She would have a curious and extremely active 40-year career, bookending two eras of naval warfare with some stops in between.

The Sumners, an attempt to up the firepower on the previous and highly popular Fletcher-class destroyers, mounted a half-dozen 5″/38s in a trio of dual mounts, as well as 10 21-inch torpedo tubes in a pair of five-tube turntable stations. Going past this, they were packed full of sub-busting and plane-smoking weapons as well as some decent sonar and radar sets for the era.

Sumner class layout, 1944

With 336 men crammed into a 376-foot hull, they were cramped, slower than expected (but still capable of beating 33-knots all day), and overloaded, but they are fighting ships who earned good reputations.

Speaking of reputation, the subject of our tale today was named after Adolph Edward Borie, who appreciated bespoke top hats and served for a few months as Grant’s SECNAV in 1869.

Honorable Adolph E. Borie, Secretary of the Navy, and his top hat. Matthew Brady photograph via the LOC

The first ship to carry the former SECNAV’s name was the Clemson-class four-piper tin can, Destroyer No. 215, which joined the fleet in 1920, some 40 years after Mr. Borie’s passing. Earning three battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation, on All Saints Day 1943, DD-215 rammed and sank the surfaced German submarine U-405 in the North Atlantic. With 27 men lost and too badly damaged by the collision to be towed to port, Borie was scuttled by USS Barry (DD-248) the next day.

Painting of the action between USS Borie (DD-215) and German submarine U-405 in the Atlantic, 1 November 1943. Borie rammed and sank the U-Boat but was so badly damaged that she had to be scuttled. Painting by US Coast Guard artist Hunter Wood, 1943. 80-G-43655

The second Borie, our Sumner-class destroyer, was constructed at Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Kearny, N.J.; and commissioned 21 September 1944.

By 24 January 1945, she had completed shakedown trials and shipped to the Pacific, announcing her arrival with the fleet in a bombardment of Iwo Jima that day while part of DESRON 62’s Destroyer Division 124, a group of brand-new Sumners that besides Borie counted USS John W. Weeks (DD-701) and USS Hank (DD-702).

Joining Task Force 58, acting as an escort for the battleships USS New Jersey and South Dakota as well as the carriers Bunker Hill and Essex, they carried out a raid on the Tokyo area in February before switching to the push on Okinawa. This included a close-in destroyer raid on Japanese airstrips on the night of 27/28 March via shore bombardment and star shell illumination.

“After three minutes of rapid salvoes, fires were observed in the vicinity of the airstrips. March proved to be a fighting moth for the Borie with almost continual picket and screening duty with the powerful “58” that was striking Japan a blow from which she would never recover,” noted her war history.

However, she was soon sidelined after smashing into Essex on 2 April while transferring pilots and mail via breeches buoy in heavy seas, demolishing her aft stack, one of her 40mm mounts, and “bending the mast at a crazy angle.”

USS Borie (DD 704) collides with USS Essex (CV 9) while transferring the mail during a storm. Damage to Borie was light and the ship was still operational on 2 April 1945. Note damage to the smokestack. 80-G-373755

Sent to Ulithi for repairs, she returned to Spruance’s merry band on 1 May. Assigned to nearly perpetual radar picket duty against kamikazes, alternating with more shore bombardment runs on Minami Daito Jima, Borie also clocked in as needed for lifeguard duty, plucking one of the battleship USS Alabama‘s Kingfisher pilots from the drink on 23 June and returning him home. She would later pick up an F6F pilot as well as two crewmen of a downed SB2C while tagging along on a carrier air strike against Kyushu.

Then came the afternoon of 9 August– notably just six days before the Japanese surrender. On that day, the four tin cans of Destroyer Division 124 were on radar picket duty just off the Japanese port of Sendai, just hours after a USAAF B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a force of five Imperial Navy Aichi B7A Grace torpedo bombers came out looking for some payback.

As covered in H-Gram 51 from NHHC:

At 1454, somehow the first B7A Grace reached the picket group undetected and without being engaged by combat air patrol fighters. Despite the surprise, the destroyers opened fire and the Grace was hit multiple times but kept on coming. The damaged Grace flew right over Hank at low altitude as fuel pouring from perforated fuel tanks soaked the destroyer’s bridge crew in gasoline. The plane then went into a sharp bank and came in on Borie from the port quarter. The Grace released a large 1,764-pound bomb just before it crashed into Borie’s superstructure just aft of the bridge between the 5-inch gun director and the mast. This started a large fuel fire and blew many men over the side (most of whom were not recovered). Fortunately, the bomb passed clean through Borie and detonated off the starboard side, but the ship was sprayed with many bomb fragments that cut down even more men. All communications from the bridge were knocked out and control was transferred to after steering. Firefighting was complicated by 40-mm ready-use ammunition continuing to cook-off, but, finally, the fires were brought under control and, as the ship had suffered no below-the-waterline damage, she was not in danger of sinking.

Over the next hour, the other four Graces attacked the destroyers, and all were shot down without significant damage. Hank suffered one man missing and five wounded. Despite the fires and damage, Borie remained in her position in the formation and her guns continued to fire on the following Japanese aircraft. Borie’s casualties were high: 48 killed or missing and 66 wounded. Commander Adair was awarded a Silver Star for his actions in saving the ship and continuing to fight despite the severe damage.

This would also be the last battle damage suffered by the U.S. Fast Carrier Task Force.

As detailed in the destroyer’s after-action report, that afternoon alone she fired 191 5-inch, 810 40mm and 1,426 20mm shells at her attackers.

One of the first ships to respond to the stricken Borie, Alabama transferred a medical party to the destroyer in payback for her Kingfisher pilot.

Borie Kamikaze damage

Her men buried at sea were the last lost to the Divine Wind

USS Borie (DD-704) at Saipan in late August 1945, after being damaged by a kamikaze off Japan on August 9. Note wreckage at fore stack and bridge. It was after transferring her wounded to the hospital ship Rescue and while heading to Saipan for emergency repairs that her radio shack picked up the flash that Japan had surrendered. NH 74693

Heading to Hunter’s Point for more permanent repairs, by February 1946 peace had settled on the world, and Borie, made new again, was dispatched to join the Atlantic Fleet. She received three battle stars for her World War II services.

As a sobering aspect, she was luckier than several of her sisters. Between December 1944 and May 1945, USS Cooper, USS Mannert L. Abele, and USS Drexler were all sunk in the Pacific– the latter two by kamikazes.

Jane’s entry for the class in 1946.

The Cold (and sometimes hot) War

Shipping back to the Pacific in 1950, Borie earned four battle stars for her participation in the Korean conflict as part of TF 77, proving key in the Hungnam Evacuation of Chosin survivors. She also supported the Marines at Wonsan and was the only NGFS available to cover the U.S. Army landing at Iwon. Finally, Borie was near the beach for the second Inchon landing.

She was also a familiar sight in the Med, where she helped evacuate American citizens and UN truce teams from Israel and Egypt in 1956. It was then that she was the first U.S. warship through the Suez Canal after its nationalization by Nasser.

Borie, like many ships, also clocked in as a recovery vessel for NASA.

Before Alan Shepard lifted off on Freedom 7 in 1961 and became the first American astronaut in space, there were over 20 unmanned Program Mercury launches with boilerplate capsules and animals. The one most related to Borie was that of a seven-pound rhesus macaque named Sam who hailed from the U.S. Air Force School of Aviation Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas.

Sam was locked into a restraining couch then buckled into an erector-set-like cradle in the capsule of a boilerplate Mercury vehicle dubbed Little Joe 2 (LJ-2). Lit off from Wallops Island, Virginia on 4 December 1959, Sam flew 194 statute miles, reaching a suborbital altitude of 53 miles above ground, and did so in just 11 minutes, 6 seconds, which works out to a max speed of 4,466 miles per hour, grabbing over 14 G in the process.

The same type of rocket fired the next month: LITTLE JOE IV LAUNCH, 1/21/60, FROM WALLOPS ISLAND, VIRGINIA. LAUNCH VEHICLE-LITTLE JOE SUBORBITAL MERCURY CAPSULE TEST, MONKEY “MISS SAM” USED. REF: NASA HG LITTLE JOE 1/13. (MIX FILE)

And the little guy made it, landing in 20-foot seas while Borie made for the splashdown site, arriving “several hours later.”

As noted in an interview with a Borie crewman who was there:

“The monkey was inside in a large aluminum can, which was bolted down. We took the top off, and I crooked my finger and put it down in there. He took a hold of it. So, we got some [diagonal wire cutters] to cut him out of his contour couch. I set him down and told the chief petty officer to go get some apples and oranges. The monkey was hungry. He ate up most of the oranges.”

“After his ride in the Little Joe 2 Spacecraft, Sam the Monkey is safely aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer,” NASA photo via Johnson Space Center.

Other notable recoveries that Borie was a part of was Gemini VI-A in 1965– carrying Wally Schirra and
Thomas Stafford– although our destroyer was in a supporting role to USS Wasp.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

FRAM!

Noting that their WWII-era destroyers were increasingly anachronistic against nuclear-powered submarines and jet aircraft, the Navy in the late 1950s/early 1960s embarked on a sweeping Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization program. As part of it, no less than 33 Sumners were given the FRAM II treatment while others received the less invasive FRAM I upgrade. Borie picked her modernization in 1961, just in time to take part in the Quarantine of Cuba during the Missile Crisis.

Gone were the myriad of anti-aircraft guns, 21-inch torpedo tubes, depth charges, and obsolete sensors. Added was an AN/SQS-29 fixed sonar dome on the bottom of the bow, an AN/SQR-10 variable depth towed sonar on the stern, Mk. 32 ASW torpedo tubes amidships, a stubby helicopter deck for QH-50 DASH drones in place of the aft torpedo tube station, lots of EQ antennas, and a big SPS-40 surface search radar.

1968 Charleston Naval Shipyard plans for USS Allen M. Sumner (DD-692), Borie’s FRAM II sister/class leader. Via DD692.com. Click to big up.

Borie post-FRAM underway at sea, June 1968. NH 107165

Borie at sea, pounding in hard, as the class was notorious for. Note the AS-1018/URC UHF antenna on the forward mount and broadband whip antenna receiver on the No. 2 mount.

USS Borie (DD-704), post FRAM

A Navy Memorial Interview with a radioman who was part of her crew at the time:

Showing up for her third war, the destroyer made for Vietnam where she worked as part of the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, delivering over 7,000 rounds of naval gunfire support against NVA and VC targets ashore in a repeat of her 1944-45 and 1950-51 days.

By 1969, she was back home from the gunline and placed in semi-retirement as an NRF training vessel for reservists, a role she maintained until 1972, at which point the Navy had tired of the class.

Some 29 Sumners, all FRAM vessels, were sold/transferred to overseas allies around the world, with a dozen serving as the backbone of the Taiwanese Navy throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Among those shipped overseas were four vessels to Argentina– USS Hank (DD-702), USS Collett (DD-730), USS Mansfield (DD-728), and our own Borie.

On to Puerto Belgrano

From Jane’s 1972

Entering Argentine service as the ARA Hipolito Bouchard (DD-26) in honor of the Latin American corsair of the same name, Borie was modernized in 1978 to include a four-pack of MM38 Exocet anti-ship missiles and a French-made Aerospatiale SA-319B Allouette III in place of a Sea Sprite/OH-50.

Argentine Sumners, 1978. Note the Exocets between the stacks of the closest destroyer. Photo via Histamar

During the Falklands conflict, at one point it was thought that the Bouchard and her sisters could close within 20 miles of the British fleet and ripple off their Exocets, then beat feet. Thankfully for their crews, this crash test dummy plan was not attempted. Photo Via Histarmar

Via Histamar

She was a proud vessel and served more than a solid decade on active service with the Argentine fleet.

When the Falklands conflict erupted, Borie/Bouchard and her sister Collett/Piedra Buena were assigned escort duty for the Argentine carrier Veinticinco de Mayo during the initial invasion of Port Stanley on 2 April 1982. Soon after, the two destroyers picked up screening duty for the pride of the fleet, the Brooklyn-class light cruiser ARA General Belgrano (ex-USS Phoenix).

What the two dated destroyers didn’t know was that a very quiet British hunter-killer, the Churchill-class SSN HMS Conqueror (S48), stalked Belgrano for three days before her skipper was cleared to splash the 12,500-ton Pearl Harbor veteran. Firing a trio of appropriately WWII-era Mk 8 mod 4 torpedoes rather than the new and unproved Mk 24 Tigerfish, two hit the Argentine cruiser and sent her to the bottom, making Conqueror the sole nuclear-powered submarine to have a combat kill (so far) in history.

By many accounts, Borie/Bouchard was hit by the third British Mk 8, which luckily for her did not explode, but did cause flooding and hull fissures. Together with Collett/Piedra Buena and a passing Chilean vessel, they stood by a rescued 772 men from the Belgrano.

Returning to the mainland, Borie/Bouchardaccording to Argentine reports — tracked a British Sea King HC.4 carrying eight SAS men on 18/19 May off Rio Grande, leading to the commandos aborting their mission to take out the country’s small stockpile of air-launched Exocets. The “Plum Duff” recon element was a prelude to a raid to be carried out either by SBS landed by the diesel attack sub, HMS Onyx, or 55 SAS men on an Entebbe-style assault via C-130 crashlanding, then displace 50 miles overland to Chile.

Her fourth war over, Borie/Bouchard was deactivated in early 1984 at Puerto Belgrano and on 15 November 1988 was authorized to be used as a naval target for airstrikes.

While repeatedly mentioned as being scrapped in 1984 by U.S. sources, several images are circulating that contend the vessel, in hulked and holed condition, was still around in the shallows near Puerto Belgrano as late as 1992 and perhaps beyond.

Either way, she may have outlived her old foe Conqueror in usefulness, as the submarine was decommissioned in 1990.

Epilogue

Today, little remains of the Borie in the U.S. besides a range of war diaries, logs, and histories in the National Archives, many of which are digitized. The Navy has not recycled her fine name.

Her 1945 battle flag is reported to still be in circulation, although I cannot find out where.

Tin Can Sailors has a Shipmate Registry for the Borie, where the former crew can get in touch with each other.

The last two Sumners in foreign service– USS Stormes (DD-780) and USS Zellars (DD-777) — were used by the Shah until 1979 and then inherited by the modern Islamic Republic of Iran Navy who retained them in a semi-active state into the mid-1990s.

Of note, the only Sumner retained in the U.S. as a museum ship, USS Laffey (DD-724) located at Patriots Point in Charleston, South Carolina, is a FRAM II vessel like Borie.

USS Laffey, DD-724 as a museum ship today

As for Sam, the intrepid space monkey that Borie fished from the Atlantic during the Eisenhower administration, according to a 2017 story by Richard A. Marini published in the San Antonio Express-News:

Sam underwent 11 years of medical scrutiny by researchers at the School of Aerospace Medicine — formerly the School of Aviation Medicine — at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio. He retired to a quiet life at the San Antonio Zoo.

“Sam died Sept. 19, 1978, at 21, several years short of the expected rhesus monkey lifespan,” the Express-News reports. “Even after death, Sam served the cause. A necropsy performed at Brooks found no space-related abnormalities, only that Sam had signs of old age and arthritis.”

In Riga, Estonia, a 36-foot tall simian in an astronaut’s pressure suit was installed in honor of the early furry space pioneers in 2016. Known by the artist as “First Crew” the statue is commonly referred to today simply as “Sam.”

Specs:
Displacement: 2610 tons standard displacement
Length: 376’6″
Beam 40’10”
Draft 14’2″
Machinery: 2-shaft G.E.C. geared turbines (60,000 shp), 4 Babcock & Wilcox boilers
Maximum speed (designed) 36.5 knots, actual usually about 33.
Range: 3300 nautical miles (5300 km) at 20 knots on 504 tons fuel oil
Complement: 336
Sensors: SC air search radar, SG surface search radar, QGA sonar
Post FRAM II: Variable Depth Sonar (VDS), SQS-20, SPS-40
Armament
3 x 2 5″/38 dual-purpose guns
2 x 4, 2×2 40mm Bofors AA guns
11 20mm Oerlikon AA guns
2 x 5 21″ torpedo tubes
6 depth charge throwers
2 depth charge tracks (56 depth charges)
(1961, post-FRAM-II)
6 x 5 in/38 cal guns (127 mm) (in 3 × 2 Mk 38 DP mounts)
2 x triple Mark 32 torpedo tubes for Mark 44 torpedoes
2 x single 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes for Mark 37 torpedoes
1 x Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH)
(1982)
6 x 5 in/38 cal guns (127 mm) (in 3 × 2 Mk 38 DP mounts)
2 x triple Mark 32 torpedo tubes for Mark 44 torpedoes
4 x MM38 Exocet AShMs
1 x SA-319B helicopter

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Warship Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

Photograph A 31788 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Here we see the crew of the Royal Navy light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) tooling up snowballs while frosty Fleet Air Arm Sea Furies and Fireflies sit by in cold storage, some 70 years ago this month. Don’t let the snap fool you, the British carrier at the time was off Korea, which was ridiculously hot when it came to combat, and both her crew and airwing were doing their part.

Theseus was one of 16 planned 1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot-long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25-knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers were lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies or remain on station in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

Capable of carrying up to 52 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry. Click to very much big up so you can read the details. 

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Two were completed as a peculiar RN invention of a “maintenance carrier,” intended just to repair and ferry but not operate aircraft. Some were immediately transferred to expanding Commonwealth fleets. Suddenly, the Australians, Canadians, and Indians became carrier operators. The Dutch (then Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader Colossus was sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Laid down 6 January 1943 at the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland, the same yard that built the famous Cunard liners RMS Campania and RMS Lucania, the mighty 32,000-ton carrier HMS Implacable (R86), and two-thirds of the infamous “Live Bait Squadron” cruisers, HMS Cressy and HMS Aboukir, Theseus came too late for the war, entering the fleet 9 February 1946. She was the third RN warship to carry the name of the mythical Athenian king, following in the footsteps of a ship-of-the-line that fought at the Nile and a Great War-era protected cruiser of the Edgar class.

Originally assigned to serve in the British Pacific Fleet, she sailed for Singapore to serve as the flagship for the 1st Carrier Squadron in the Far East. The brand-new carrier made a splash in Australia and the Western Pacific on her arrival.

HMS Theseus, Gibraltar 25th February 1947 on the way to the Pacific. Deck hockey on the Flight Deck, on the port side of the carrier island. Note the Sea Otter amphibious aircraft

HMS Theseus (R64) 11 July 1947 arriving in Australia. State Library of Victoria – Allan C. Green collection of glass negatives. H91.250/183

The same day, H91.250/181. Note her starboard elevated 40mm Bofors mounts.

And another, H91.250/179. Again, note her Bofors and extensive raft collection. Keep in mind that, while this was 1947, there were still plenty of unaccounted-for sea mines left around the world from the war, and tensions between the East and West were ramping up, with the Berlin Airlift approaching.

However, as soon as she arrived, the Admiralty was forced, due to dire post-war cost-cutting measures, to pull most of its capital ships back to Home Waters. Subsequently, the Fleet Air Arm Naval Air Bases in Ceylon and Singapore were closed, and Theseus returned prematurely from abroad.

Nonetheless, she would be back soon enough.

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel, Theseus’s sister, HMS Triumph, happened to be in Japanese waters with the rump occupation fleet of Task Force 95 and soon, in conjunction with the American Essex-class fleet carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), was performing air strikes on North Korean airfields within a week of the outbreak of the conflict.

As for Theseus, she had served in UK waters as Flagship of the 3rd Aircraft Carrier Squadron, Home Fleet, and trained with Vampire jet aircraft. On 14 August, she cast off from Plymouth to relive the understrength and rapidly wearing-out Triumph.

HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea carrying 23 Furies from 807 Squadron and 12 Fireflies from 813 Squadron, 17th Carrier Air Group, beginning strikes on North Korean targets on 9 October 1950. The day before, RADM William Gerrard “Bill” Andrewes, a Jutland veteran on his third war, arrived aboard and raised his flag.

THE KOREAN WAR 1950-1953 (KOR 638) A raid in progress on warehouses on the waterfront at Chinnampo in North Korea by Fairey Firefly aircraft from HMS THESEUS. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205020623

By 10 October, one of her planes, Sea Fury VW628, had been lost in a strike against the Chang-you railway bridge but its pilot, LT Stanley Leonard, was recovered by an American helicopter, a novelty, and returned (eventually) to the ship.

Speaking of helicopters, a U.S. Navy HO3S-1 (Sikorsky S-51) was assigned to Theseus to act as a ResCap plane guard in place of Sea Otter floatplanes, a mission they had also conducted with Triumph.

As noted in an excellent article on the subject by the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia:

HU-1’s first RN plane guard detachment consisted of one helicopter a few mechs, who doubled as aircrew, and one pilot, a Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Engine Mechanic Dan Fridley. Fridley was called a naval aviation pilot, to distinguish him from a naval aviator. Naval Aviators were officers, and Naval Aviation Pilots were enlisted men. ADC(AP) Fridley went the whole hog for Theseus, painting the Union Jack, “ROYAL NAVY” and “HMS THESEUS” on the side. The British tars, having no previous close-up experience with this new-fangled thing called a helicopter dubbed her “The Thing,” an appellation Fridley and his crew quickly embraced, going so far as to add that name to the rest of the whirlybird’s livery.

A USN HU-1 aboard HMS Theseus in the Korean campaign. Christened “The Thing” by RN sailors who had never seen such a contraption, the helicopter was on loan for SAR duties. Note the nickname painted on the side, and, further aft, the Union Jack and the words “HMS Theseus”. The helicopter transferred to HMAS Sydney when first Theseus and then Glory were relieved on Station. Via Fleet Air Arm of Australia.

As noted by a reunion site for the carrier:

The American helicopter rescue service cannot be too highly praised. Lts. Leonard, Humphreys, Keighley-Peach and Bowman were picked up behind enemy lines by these grand helicopter crews and Lts. Hamilton, Pinsent and Mr. Bailey and Acmn. II Loveys were picked up out of the sea by them. Lt.-Cdr. Gordon-Smith and Lt. Kelly were picked up by destroyers.

It was the stuff of newsreel footage.

The Thing was not the only American whirlybirds carried by Theseus. She also embarked helicopters from USS Worcester (CL-144) who specialized in counter-mine operations, another innovation.

By November 1950, with the North Koreans on the ropes, things kicked into high gear as hundreds of thousands of Chinese “Volunteers” poured across the Yalu River, starting an entirely new war for those tired of the old one.

And all of it in bitterly cold winter weather with snow and ice present.

HMS THESEUS IN WINTER WEATHER OFF KOREAN COAST. 8 DECEMBER 1950, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS OFF THE WEST COAST OF KOREA. (A 31790) On the flight deck of HMS THESEUS, Firefly, and Sea Fury aircraft covered with snow on the deck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162768

From Air Space Historian on the intensity of air ops from what was essentially a CVL:

Between 9 October and 5 November 1950, Theseus’ Furies (avg 19.3) made 492 sorties. From 5 December to 26 December, 423 Fury sorties were flown by an average of 19.6 aircraft. From 7 January 1951 to 23 March, 20.8 Furies flew 718 sorties, for a total of 1634 sorties over 98 days of operation (of which only 65 days were suitable for flying). All told, Theseus launched 3,500 sorties on 86 days during its seven-month deployment. During the first six months, Theseus’ air wing dropped 829,000 lbs. of explosives and fired 7,317 rockets and “half a million rounds of 20mm ammunition.” In recognition of these efforts, Theseus and the 17th Carrier Air Group was awarded the Rear-Admiral Sir Denis Boyd trophy for 1950 for “outstanding feat of naval aviation”

HMS Theseus Operating in Korea. 18 March 1951, on Board the Carrier at Sasebo, Japan. Vice Admiral W G Andrewes, KBE, CB, DSO, Commander of the British Commonwealth and Allied Fleet in Korean Waters, also responsible for the naval blockade of Korea, inspects the Marine Guard onboard HMS THESEUS. He is accompanied by Captain R S L Muldowney, RM, who commands the Marine detachment in THESEUS, and the Commanding Officer Captain A S Bolt, DSC, RN. The Marines are, left to right: Bugler J Noyes, Windsor, Berks; Sgt J Money, Deal, Kent; Marine G A Reckless, Rochdale, Lancs; Cpl A R Mead, Budliegh, Salterton, Devon; Marine J Neal, Portsmouth, Hants; Marine A D Whicker, Finsbury Park, London; Marine G P Quinn, Liverpool; Marine G Stevenson, Hatfield, Herts.

The British light fleet aircraft carrier HMS Theseus (R64) approaches Sasebo, Japan at the end of her deployment in Korea. Admiral A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command Far East, inspects the ship’s company who are formed up to spell out the ship’s name for the camera. April 1951. IWM A31901.

A stern-shot of the same image. Note the recognition stripes on her air wing, an easy solution borrowed from 1944 to try and avoid blue-on-blue air combat with so many different types of planes aloft over Korea

On 23 April 1951, sistership HMS Glory arrived from the UK to relieve her, with Bill Andrewes remaining behind to carry on the British efforts with the UN forces. Throughout the war, Commonwealth-manned Colossus and Majestic-class light carriers endured off the coast– the Admiralty tasking them rather than larger flattops to save money– with Glory being replaced by HMS Ocean and HMAS Sydney, while HMCS Warrior transported replacement aircraft from Britain. In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget carriers during the Korean conflict.

Her epic Korean tour over, Theseus sailed back for Portsmouth, arriving 29 May 1951, having been away from home for 285 days. In 215 days at sea, rotating back to Japan five times to re-arm and re-provision, she steamed 36,401 miles. She is mentioned extensively in the U.S. Navy’s history of the conflict.

Her Korean Campaign saw:


Number of Deck Landings: 4,594
Number of Catapult Launchings:  3,593
Number of Hours Flown: 10,189
Number of Flying Days: 114
Average number of Hours per Pilot: 268
Her scorecard:

Destroyed— 93 Junks, 153 Railway Trucks, 25 Railway Bridges, 485 Buildings, 73 Road Trucks, 66 Store Dumps, 6 Railway Tunnels, 17 Warehouses, 33 Gun Positions, 16 Road Bridges, 13 Railway Engines, 8 Tanks, 3 Railway Stations, 19 Factories, 5 Power Stations, 10 Command Posts, 4 Railway Sheds, 2 Jetties, 3 Cars, 1 Hangar, 5 Roadblocks, 12 Carts, 51 Barrack Buildings, 2 Steam Rollers, 2 Omnibuses, 1 Tug, 1 Excavator, 1 Floating Bridge, 1 “Bulldozer,” 1 Pump House.

Damaged— 18 Road Bridges, 77 Junks, 69 Railway Wagons, 1 Gun Position. 35 Buildings. 2 Store Dumps, 22 Warehouses, 34 Road Trucks, 1 Tractor, 15 Railway Bridges, 5 Railway Tunnels, 1 Airfield Runway, 4 Tanks, 18 Barrack Buildings, 1 Excavator, 4 Railway Sheds, 5 Factories, 10 Vehicle Revetments, 42, Sampans.

 

Peace

After an extensive refit and working back up, Theseus was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet in February 1952 to relieve sistership HMS Ocean, which was being prepared for service in Korea.

HMS THESEUS AT TRIESTE. NOVEMBER 1952, THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS FLOODLIT DURING A VISIT TO TRIESTE. (A 32386) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163257

The aircraft carrier HMS THESEUS leaving Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta. Astern are HMS GLASGOW, HMS CUMBERLAND, and HMNZ BLACK PRINCE. July 1953 IWM A 32611

In September 1953, she responded to the Paphos earthquake in Cyprus, which had left 50,000 without food or water. Her crews and embarked Dragonfly helicopters were just the ticket in the humanitarian crisis, buzzing around lending a hand while bringing aid and medical attention.

Theseus entering Malta starboard bow circa 1953 via Clydeships 201607061331400.C3

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Theseus and her sister Ocean should be re-tasked from operating fixed-wing aircraft and refitted for helicopters and a battalion-sized element of marines, then deemed “Commando Carriers,” a concept akin to a U.S. LPH. 

This brings us to…

Suez Crisis: Operation Musketeer.

After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, our two new commando carriers were part of the Anglo-French intervention, embarking troops and stores for passage to Cyprus and then on to North Africa. There, Whirlwinds and Sycamores from their decks took part in an early combat experiment in vertical envelopment from the sea, seizing Port Said.

Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) is shown with a crowded deck of Westland Whirlwind and Bristol Sycamore helicopters of the joint RAF/Army unit which operated alongside Royal Navy helicopters from her flight deck, November-December 1956. Note the French hospital ship in the background. IWM A 33639.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade [actually a mortar bomb] before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. Note his sand goggles, Pattern 37 webbing, and Denison smock– all looking very WWII. IWM A 33636.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. Note the desert goggles and MK V STEN gun of the Marine closest to the camera as well as the 2-inch patrol mortar with bomb tubes on deck. A 33635

British Royal Marines of 45 Commando loading into Royal Navy Westland Whirlwinds aboard the Colossus-class light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) to assault Egyptian positions during the Suez

Royal Navy Westland Whirlwind helicopters taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from the commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) during “Operation Musketeer”. November 1956. IWM A 33640.

After the Suez Crisis abated, she withdrew elements of the Army’s 16th Parachute Brigade from Egypt to Malta.

Troops, probably from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Port Said Egypt embarking on HMS THESEUS for the journey to Malta after the withdrawal from the crisis zone. Note the MK III “turtle” helmets on their packs and all of the No. 4 Enfields. The Brits had officially adopted the inch-pattern FN FAL, the L1A1 SLR, two years prior but they were not widespread at the time of the Suez and the old bolt guns were still around for some time, especially in support units. IWM HU 104203

After spending another year at Portsmouth in the Training Squadron, Theseus was mothballed in October 1957, having served just 11 years with the fleet. Paid off the next year, she was laid up until sold to BISCO for breaking-up at Inverkeithing, arriving at the breakers yard on 29 May 1962.

The last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 then scrapped. The final vessel of her class sent to the breakers, the third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang.

Since 1958, there has not been a Theseus in the Royal Navy.

A memorial marker to the six men lost from Theseus in Korea is in Cobham Hall at the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

She is also remembered in maritime art.

HMS Theseus by John S Smith. Via the Illustration Art Gallery https://bookpalace.com/acatalog/info_SmithJSCarrierLL.html

HMS Theseus by Ivan Berryman. Two Fairey Firefly fighter-bombers of 810 Sqn, Fleet Air Arm, overfly the carrier HMS Theseus during the Korean War. Via Ivan Berryman.com https://www.ivanberryman.com/ivan_berryman_art.php?ProdID=3212

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MiG Alley at 70

Original Caption July 1953: “Fifth Air Force, Korea; As a bright mid-day sun beams its warm rays upon a forward UN airstrip in Korea, two sleek U.S. Air Force F-86 ‘Sabre’ jets of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing become airborne, landing gear going up, fuel tanks filled to capacity and gun chambers filly loaded, bound for MIG-Alley in search of more Russian-built MIG-15s. Protecting Fifth Air Force fighter bomber operation from enemy swept-wing aircraft, MIG-killing ‘Sabre’ pilots daily patrol the skies over North Korea. Since shooting down their first MIG in December 1950, ‘Sabre’ jet pilots have destroyed 765 of the enemy interceptors.”

Photo 342-FH-4A-26483-91482AC via NARA https://catalog.archives.gov/id/148728240

The first Air Force F-86 MiG “kill” over Korea occurred 70 years ago today, 17 December 1950, when Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton, “commander of the 336th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, led a flight of four F-86s over northwestern North Korea. To trick the communists, the Sabre pilots flew at the same altitude and speed as F-80s typically did on missions, and they used F-80 call signs. Hinton spotted four MiGs at a lower altitude, and he led his flight in an attack. After pouring a burst of machine gun fire into one of the MiGs, it went down in flames.”

DAYTON, Ohio – Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton stands beside the North American F-86A Sabre in the Modern Flight Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The museum’s F-86 is marked as the 4th Fighter Group F-86A flown by Lt. Col. Bruce Hinton on Dec. 17, 1950, when he became the first F-86 pilot to shoot down a MiG. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The F-86 would chalk up an impressive 10.15-to-1 kill ratio over the MiG-15 in “MiG Alley,” downing 792 (another 118 were scored as “probables”) against a loss of 78 Sabres.

To be fair, however, it should be noted that Navy LCDR William T. Amen, in a VF-111 “Sun Downers” F9F-2B Panther from the deck of USS Philippine Sea (CV-47), splashed a MiG-15 piloted by Soviet Air Force KPT. Mikhail F. Grachev (139th GIAP, 28th IAD) over the Yalu River on 9 November 1950, to claim the first jet-on-jet Navy “kill” in the conflict.

Pardon me, is that a Daewoo on Your Roof?

South Korean carmaker Daewoo International, founded in 1967 by Kim Woo-Choong, a figure seen as something of the Henry Ford of Seoul, looked to diversify into other avenues of manufacturing in the 1970s. This led to a spin-off, Daewoo Precision Industries, which soon launched an effort to gen up a modern rifle/carbine that could replace both the license-produced M16A1 and WWII/1950s-vintage M3 Grease Guns, M1 Garands, and M1 Carbines in ROK service.

The effort, borrowing a little from just about every modern autoloading rifle that preceded it, resulted in the Daewoo K-series rifles, which were adopted in the early 80s. These interesting guns, which used a DGI system in its first generation before moving to an adjustable gas piston setup for the second, were imported in sporter format to the U.S. in two brief runs from 1984-89 and 1995-96, making them hard to find for black rifle collectors here in America.

But they are distinctive in every way.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Frozen Chosin at 70

Take a minute sometime in the next couple of weeks to remember the Marines– along with Navy Corpsmen and U.S. Army troops— who were trapped in what could be called the Chosin Pocket along the Changjin Reservoir in North Korea.

But today, we do not remember the Chosin as a pocket that was surrounded and reduced, because, well, the Marines “attacked in another direction” and broke the hell out.

“First Division Leathernecks Counter Fire with Fire When Attacked by Well Entrenched Chinese Reds During the Division’s Heroic Breakout from Chosin.” 7 December 1950. Note the WWII tropical “frogskin” camo, of little use in Korea in winter, along with an M1919 LMG and an M1903 Springfield, the latter likely a sniper rifle Marine Photo 127-N-A5434, taken by Sgt. F. C. Kerr, via NARA 

Upward and Onward, 70 years ago

19 November 1950: “A pilot of the Flying Cheetahs, the South African Squadron fighting in Korea with the Unified Forces, getting ready to take off for a mission.”

Flying Cheetahs, the South African Squadron fighting in Korea P-51 188081

UN Media Photo # 188081

You’ll note the pilot is at the stick of a P-51D Mustang, the “Cadillac of the Sky” during WWII. However, just a half-decade later the renowned dogfighter was obsolete at best when compared to the early jets of the day and in the USAF had been relegated to second-line service with the Air National Guard in favor of the P-80 Shooting Star.

Nonetheless, the South Koreans flew the Mustang and the U.S. Navy, using the carrier USS Boxer as a ferry, carried a deck load of the aircraft to the theatre just a couple months after the balloon went up, for use not only with the ROKAF but also with UN forces– such as the Royal Australian Air Force’s No.77 Squadron and the South African Cheetahs– in need of a supportable tactical fighter still capable of mixing it up with North Korean Yak-9s while able to drop rockets and 500-pound bombs on things below.

The Cheetahs, officially No. 2 Squadron, SAAF, was only a decade old in 1950 but had flown Hurricanes, P-40s and Spitfires in World War II, seeing plenty of action across North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Yugoslavia.

Deploying to South Korea in September 1950, they picked up loaned American P-51Ds at Johnson AFB in Japan and landed in Korea, 49 officers and 206 men strong, two months later. Their first combat sortie staged from K9 Airfield on 19 November– 70 years ago today– and it would be the first of many. They would soon switch to K13 and K10, operating from the latter through December 1952.

North American F-51D Mustang fighters of No. 2 Squadron of the South African Air Force in Korea, on 1 May 1951.USAF Photo HD-SN-98-07604

Used primarily for interdiction missions while attached to the 18th (U.S.) Fighter Bomber Wing, the standard per aircraft loadout against road and railway targets was two 500lb bombs, six 5-inch (127mm) HVAR rockets, and a maximum load of .50-cal ammo.

For attacks on supply areas and for close support missions the bombs were usually replaced with two 110-gallon drop tanks filled with napalm and fused with modified white phosphorous grenades.

The Cheetahs were considered “mud movers” due to the amount of dirt they threw in the air on ground attacks and, likely due to the airfields they worked from.

THE SOUTH AFRICAN AIR FORCE DURING THE KOREAN WAR (KOR 641) Leading Air Mechanic J J Dauth, Air Mechanic P H A Reilley and Sergeant L F Bussio working on an F-51D Mustang, during a spell of poor weather when rain and low cloud grounded the aircraft of 2 Squadron, South African Air Force. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194937

As noted by the SAAF, “While equipped with Mustangs, the squadron flew 10,373 sorties and out of a total 95 Mustangs acquired, no fewer than 74 were lost due to enemy action and accidents. Twelve pilots were killed in action, 30 missing and four wounded.”

South African Air Force No 2 Squadron Korean War. Lt H. Joyce’s F-51D No.334 (ex USAF 44-74757)

Finally jumping to the jet age, the Cheetahs transitioned to (loaned) F-86F Sabres in January 1953 and began missions from K55 two months later. “The squadron flew a total of 2 032 sorties in the Sabres. Only four Sabres were lost out of 22 supplied,” notes the SAAF.

A South African Air Force North American F-86F Sabre from No. 2 Squadron at Tsuiki Air Base, Japan, in 1953. National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 100608-F-1234S-027

They earned over 420 individual decorations as well as Presidential Unit Citations from both the U.S. and South Korean governments.

Leaving Korea on 31 October 1953, the Cheetahs gave their Sabres back to Uncle Sam but, after returning to Waterkloof AFB, would later be equipped with Canadair Sabre Mk.6s until transitioning to Mirages in the 1960s, although some lingered on into the early 1970s.

10 Dassault Mirage IIIs, four F-86 Sabres, three Buccaneers, and four Canberras of the SAAF on the tarmac in the 1970s. At the time the force was heavily involved in various bush wars both officially and unofficially. 

Today the Cheetahs of 2 SAAF fly Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripens.

Their motto is Sursam Prorsusque, “Upward and Onward.”

As for the Mustang’s legacy in the country, today, the SAAF Museum at Swartkop Air Force Base maintains a former Swedish & Dominican Air Force P-51D, SN 44-72202 –”Patsy Dawn” the only such aircraft preserved in Africa.

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