Category Archives: littoral

Coast Guard Clears Northwest Passage, Marks Increasing Overseas Deployments

One of the smallest of the armed forces– in manpower terms only about a tenth the size of the U.S. Navy, and roughly equivalent in the same metric to the much better-funded French Navy — the U.S. Coast Guard has been showing up overseas a lot recently.

Yesterday, the icebreaker USCGC Healy (WAGB 20), arrived in Baltimore following a recent transit of the Arctic’s Northwest Passage for the first time since 2005. Importantly in terms of polar commerce, Healy’s skipper said the ice had receded to the point that the cutter’s crew couldn’t even get an “ice liberty” call.

“A lot of the floes had melt ponds with holes in them like Swiss cheese,” Capt. Kenneth Boda, commander of the Seattle-based icebreaker, told the Seattle Times. “We couldn’t get the right floe.”

Healy left her Seattle homeport on July 10, arrived at Dutch Harbor 19 July, conducted operations in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, then entered the Chukchi Sea, crossed the Beaufort Sea, entered the Northwest Passage which involved transiting the straits between Banks and Victoria Island and Devon and Baffin Island, proceeded down Baffin Bay and the Devon Strait, calling at Nuuk, Greenland on 13 September. From there, she proceeded through the Labrador Sea to Halifax (9 October) and Boston (14 October) before calling at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore after a 102-day cruise starting in the Pacific, running through the Arctic Ocean, and ending up on the Atlantic coast.

It should be pointed out that Healy is one of the Coast Guard’s polar-capable icebreakers and the service operates her as a “multi-mission vessel to protect American interests in the Arctic region.” However, she is only termed a “medium icebreaker,” built more for science than for crushing ice. Further, her only provision for armament is pintel mounted crew-served weapons, such as .50 cals, which are almost always stowed.

In stark contrast, the planned new Russian Arctic patrol ship class is intended to carry the very deadly and long-ranged Kalibr-K “Club K” (NATO: SS-N-27 Sizzler) container-type cruise missile system. Keep in mind that the Russians tossed Kalibrs from small corvette-sized warships in the Caspian Sea some 1,500 miles over Iranian and Iraqi airspace to hit targets in Syria 2015.

Club K missile containers at the stern of the Russian ice-class project 23550 patrol ship

Keep in mind that in 2018, then-USCG Commandant Paul Zukunft said while speaking at the Surface Navy Association that the service’s new heavy icebreaker (I mean Polar Security Cutter) class building in Mississippi will have space, weight, and electrical power set aside to carry offensive weapons, such as the Naval Strike Missile.

WestPac cruises

Besides talking about polar presence, the Coast Guard is increasingly showing up in points West, as exemplified by the return this week of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) and crew returned to their Alameda homeport Wednesday following a 102-day, 22,000-nautical-mile deployment to the Western Pacific.

The 418-foot National Security Cutters like Munro, essentially an old school fast frigate sans ASW weapons (but with sonar), have been making WestPac cruises under the tactical control of Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, with much regularity. Big Navy likes these white hulls as they are arguably more capable than the LCS and free up precious DDGs from nation-building and flag-waving evolutions so they can spend more time with the carrier and phib groups.

September 2021, HMAS Sirius (AO-266) conducts a dual replenishment at sea with HMAS Canberra (LHD-2) and USCGC Munro (WMSL-755), during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021. (RAN Photo by LSIS Leo Baumgartner)

During her deployment, in addition to meshing with U.S. Navy assets, Munro worked alongside the Japan Coast Guard, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Royal Australian Navy, and the Indonesia Maritime Security Agency. She also kept tabs on a Chinese naval task force found unexpectedly operating just off the Aleutians. 

Since 2018, three other National Security Cutters – Bertholf, Stratton, and Waesche – have deployed to the Western Pacific.

Overseas training 

Finally, as many gently-used former Coast Guard assets, including 110-foot Island-class and 87-foot Maritime Protector-class patrol boats, are being gifted to overseas allies, the USCG has been training the incoming new owners. Such an example is the below video from VOA, posted this week, of USCG personnel training Ukrainian navy bluejackets.

The Gremlin to Join the Fleet

Pennsylvania-born Emlen Lewis Tunnell earned a nickname in his football career of “The Gremlin” and was both the first African-American to play for the Giants (14 seasons before going to Green Bay, at the insistence of then-assistant coach Vince Lombardi) and the first to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

However, before all that, he was 17 years old during the attack on Pearl Harbor and, cutting short a subsequent college football career at the University of Toledo due to a broken neck (!) in a game against Marshall, he tried to enlist in first the Army, then the Navy, during WWII once he recovered.

Rejected by both, he kept trying and was accepted into the Coast Guard as a volunteer enlistee in the USCGR, serving on the Coast Guard-manned Crater-class cargo ship USS Etamin (AK-93) in the Pacific. When Etamin was disabled by a torpedo hit in Milne Bay in April 1944, Tunnell “saved a fellow crew member who was set afire in the blast, beat out the flames with his hands, sustained burns to his own hands, and carried the shipmate to safety.”

Just after the war, while assigned to frigid Naval Station Argentia in Newfoundland, Tunnell again saved a life by leaping into the water to save a man overboard, despite the fact that it was 32 degrees.

Tunnell was active in USCG team sports– playing on the racially integrated All-Pacific Coast service football team and the San Francisco Coast Guard basketball team– as well as served close enough to the fighting to catch a Japanese torpedo.

While the Coast Guard awarded two Lifesaving Medals to Steward’s Mate 1st Class Tunnell (one posthumously) and named an athletic building on the Coast Guard Academy campus in his honor, this week they will welcome a new 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter into the fleet named after the Coastie and NFL great who kept knocking on recruiters’ doors to get in the game.

The USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) will be commissioned in Philadelphia this week.

USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145)

The 45th of her class, like her namesake, however, will soon be headed overseas. The new cutter will join the USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144) for transit to homeport later this year in Manama, Bahrain, and serve as one of six Sentinel-class FRCs with the U.S. Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) as part of CENTCOM. Very much on the sharp end.

Silver Ships gets a 110-boat nod

If you have ever been to Bellingrath Gardens along Mobile Bay or driven the long way to Fort Gains at the mouth of the Bay itself, you have passed a quiet little tan-yellow warehouse/workshop in Theodore with an aluminum patrol boat on display up front. Blink and you miss it.

That is Silver Ships.

While you may not have heard of them, you have probably seen their work as they have made hundreds of small aluminum-hulled workboats and RHIB style fast boats over the years that have been used by marine patrols, conservation, and fire agencies around the country, as well as the U.S Corps of Engineers and all five branches of the military, especially in the Gulf South region.

With that being said, this just came out on the DOD’s Contract announcements (emphasis mine):

Silver Ships Inc.,* Theodore, Alabama, was awarded an $8,239,095 firm-fixed price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity single award contract (N00024-21-D-2205) for design and construction of up to 110 Navy 8-meter and 11-meter Surface Support Craft and Coast Guard Special Purpose Craft Law Enforcement Generation II (SPC-LE II). Work will be performed in Theodore, Alabama, and is expected to be completed in August 2023. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $51,663,787. Fiscal 2020 other procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $3,242,628 (39%); fiscal 2021 other procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $3,187,680 (39%); and fiscal 2021 other procurement (Coast Guard) funds in the amount of $1,808,787 (22%) will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract is a small business set-aside. This contract was competitively procured via the beta.sam.gov website, with four offers received. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity. (Awarded Sept. 30, 2021)

Via Silver Ships’ presser on the award: 

8m Cabin SSC

8m Open SSC

The NSW SSCs are 8- and 11-meter aluminum deep-vee hulled boats with a protective collar.  Variants of the SSC include both open center console and cabin versions. These craft are used from inland bays and waterways to deep water over-the-horizon transits, in all operating conditions and weather. The Navy SSC vessels will support the Naval Special Warfare community via ocean diver and swimmer support, medical transport, vessel towing and water airdrop training, among other missions.

USCG 11m SPE-LE

The 11-meter craft has a multipurpose deck for carrying various payloads or mission gear. The 11-meter Coast Guard SPC-LE vessels are armed and will be operated in varying conditions along the length of the borders of the United States and the Caribbean. Typical SPC-LE missions involve intercepting suspicious vessels entering U.S. waters; the boats will also be used for port security. In addition to the U.S. Coast Guard, other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security will operate some of the boats.

More details on the 11-meter Surface Support Craft, via Silver Ships.

“Silver Ships has been building the AM1100 11-Meter Naval Special Warfare – Surface Support Craft (SSC) RHIB for the past seven years. There are three variants of the vessel; the most recent delivery is the Open Center Console version. The U.S. Navy uses these vessels for training and support of swim and dive operations, among other missions.”

Forager Pontoon Bees

A motley but proud 302nd Naval Construction Battalion (Seabee) barge crew pose with captured Japanese yosegaki hinomaru “good luck” flag and Arisaka rifles aboard a beached 3×7-foot pontoon barge on Saipan, Mariana Islands, June 1944.

(l to r) S2c Charles, W. Barrett, BM1c Wally Jalloway, S2c Robert Fisher, CCM(AA) Ragnar Farnum, MM3c Paul Rhoades, and SF3c Carl Jones. Via U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

The 302nd NCB hit the beaches during Operation Forager supporting Lt. Gen. Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith’s V Amphibious Corps (2nd MarDiv, 4th MarDiv, Army 27th “New York” Inf Div) and was “one of the most unique Seabee groups that fought in the Pacific in WWII.”

302nd NCB pontoon barge, “Somewhere in the South Pacific” circa 1944

Formed in 1944 from five scattered company-sized CB Pontoon Detachments (1035, 1038, 1039, 1043, and 1054), which had already learned their trade “on the job” in a variety of landings, the Bees of the 302nd went on to operate pontoon structures for the assaults on Peleliu, Angaur, Luzon, and other points towards Tokyo.

Check out this snapshot of how 1944 went for the 302nd.

On orders of CINCPOA, the 302nd NCB was inactivated on 10 December 1945 at Intrepid Point and its men were transferred for leave, reassignment, or discharge.

Kingstons Growing Up to Fill the Role(s) After 25 Years

This week in 1996, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Kingston (700) was commissioned to Canada’s Atlantic Fleet.

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Kingston, while deployed on Operation CARIBBE on November 8, 2016. Photo By: 12 Wing Imaging Services XC03-2016-1002-566

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Kingston, while deployed on Operation CARIBBE on November 8, 2016. Photo By: 12 Wing Imaging Services XC03-2016-1002-571

With the motto: “Pro Rege et Grege” (For Sovereign and People), HMCS Kingston was the first of 12 Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDV).

For the maximum price of $750 million (in 1995 Canadian dollars), Ottawa bought 12 ships including design, construction, outfitting, equipment (85 percent of Canadian origin), and 22 sets of remote training equipment for inland reserve centers.

These 181-foot ships were designed to commercial standards and intended “to conduct coastal patrols, minesweeping, law enforcement, pollution surveillance and response as well as search and rescue duties,” able to pinch-hit between these wildly diverse assignments via modular mission payloads in the same way that the littoral combat ships would later try.

That is one chunky monkey. These boats, despite the fact they have deployed from Hawaii to the Baltic and West Africa, are reportedly slow and ride terribly. I mean, look at that hull form

Like the LCS, the modules weren’t very good and are rarely fielded because they never really lived up to the intended design. In all, the RCN has enough minesweeping modules to fully equip just two Kingstons as minehunters and partially equip four or five others. 

When it came to MCM, they were to run mechanical minesweeping (single Oropesa, double Oropesa, or team sweep) at 8 to 10 knots, Full degaussing (DG) capability was only fitted in three ships, although the cables were fitted in all vessels. The route survey system– of which only four modules were ever procured– was to be capable of performing at speeds of up to 10 knots with a resolution as high as 12 centimeters per pixel in any ocean of the world.

It is joked that the bulk of the force could act as a minesweeper– but only do it once.

Armed with surplus manually-trained Canadian Army Bofors 40mm/L60 Boffins (formerly Naval guns leftover from HMCS Bonaventure), which had been used for base air defense in West Germany for CFB Lahr/CFB Baden during the Cold War, they never had a lot of punch. Later removed, these WWII relics were installed ashore as monuments, and the Kingstons were left with just a couple of .50 cal M2s as topside armament.

Manned with hybrid reserve/active crews in a model similar to the U.S. Navy’s NRF frigate program, their availability suffered, much like the Navy’s now-canceled NRF frigate program. This usually consisted of two active rates– one engineering, one electrical– and 30 or so drilling reservists per hull. Designed to operate with a crew of 24 for coastal surveillance missions with accommodation for up to 37 for mine warfare or training, the complement was housed in staterooms with no more than three souls per compartment. 

With 12 ships, six are maintained on each coast in squadrons, with one or two “alert” ships fully manned and/or deployed at a time and one or two in extended maintenance/overhaul.

Canadian Kingston-class coastal defense vessel HMCS Saskatoon (709), note 40mm gun forward, bridge wing .50 cals, and CEU container– the hallmark of “modular” designs. They could accept three 20 foot ISO containers.

Intended to have a 15-year service life, these 970-ton ships have almost doubled that with no signs of stopping anytime soon. They have recently been given a series of two-year (and shorter) refits that included upgrades to their hull, galley, HVAC, and fire fighting systems while the RCN is spitballing better armament to include remote-operated stabilized .50 cal mounts. Notably, they are getting new degaussing systems. 

Canadian Kingston class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel with remote 50 cal that may replace the old 40mm mounts that were removed.

With all that out there in the sunlight, these shoestring surface combatants have been pushed into spaces and places no one could have foreseen and they have pulled off a lot– often overseas despite their official “type” and original intention.

Besides coastal training and ho-hum sovereignty and fisheries patrols, the ships of the class are tapped to deploy regularly as part of narcotics interdiction missions in Operation Caribbe in the Caribbean and the Central American Pacific coast, with they work hand-in-hand with SOUTHCOM and the U.S. Fourth Fleet.

About half of Caribbe deployments have been by the Kingstons. Note that this chart is from 2016, and at least a dozen more deployments have been chalked up since then

They also regularly deploy to the Arctic as part of the annual Operation Nanook exercises.

HMCS Summerside Kingston-class coastal defense vessel. While not robust ice-going vessels, the ships are nevertheless built to operate safely in 40 centimeters of first-year ice, which puts them capable of summer cruises in the Arctic. 

With a small footprint (just 25~ man typical complement, mostly of naval reservists on temporary active duty) they often deploy in pairs.

Recently, they have been experimenting with UAV operations from their decks, as well as working closely with USN and USCG helicopter detachments for HOISTEXs and HIFR while, especially in Caribbe deployments, with embarked USCG Law Enforcement Detachments.

One could argue that these “coastal defense” vessels have spent more time off the coasts of other countries than their own.

Some highlights:

Kingston, in company with HMCS Anticosti and her sister-ship HMCS Glace Bay (701), in 1999 was deployed to the Baltic Sea to participate in Exercise BLUE GAME, a major minesweeping exercise with other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) units. They were the smallest Canadian warships to cross the Atlantic since the Second World War. In 2003, Kingston spent 144 days at sea, sailing over 19,000 nautical miles in SAR missions, training Maritime Surface Operations Naval cadets, operating with the RCMP, and, with sister-ship HMCS Moncton, plucked two Marine Corps F-18 pilots from the Atlantic after the two Hornets collided in an exercise. In 2014, Kingston was part of the expedition that searched for and found one of the ships that disappeared during Franklin’s lost expedition. In 2018, she and sistership HMCS Summerside sailed for West Africa to take part in Obangame Express 2018 with the U.S. Navy and several African navies, a trip that was repeated in 2019 for Operation Projection.

Glace Bay (701) has also helped after the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia in 1998 and, with MCM gear, was part of a team searching in Lake Ontario in 2004 for some of the last remnants of the legendary CF-105 Avro Arrow. In 2014, she seized $84 million worth of drugs with working as part of Operation Caribbe. In 2018, she pulled down a Baltic minesweeping deployment. In 2020, Glace Bay and sistership HMCS Shawinigan departed Halifax as part of Operation Projection off West Africa.

Northern Lights shimmer above HMCS GLACE BAY during Operation NANOOK 2020 on August 18, 2020. CPL DAVID VELDMAN, CAF PHOTO

HMCS Nanaimo (702) has been part of two RIMPACs and, while deployed on Caribbe in 2017, made two large busts at sea with a USCG LEDET aboard, seizing almost three tons of blow. She doubled down as a narco buster in her 2018 Caribbe deployment.

HMCS Edmonton (703), and participated in RIMPAC 2002. This voyage to Hawaii was the longest non-stop distance traveled by vessels of the Kingston class at that time, and they acted in route clearance roles for the larger task force. She has also had three very successful Caribbe deployments. From August to September 2017, Edmonton and sistership Yellowknife sailed to the Arctic Ocean to perform surveillance of Canada’s northern waters as part of Operation Limpid.

HMCS Shawinigan (704) has operated alongside Canadian submarine assets, been part of NATO international mine warfare exercises, and was the HQ platform for the Route Halifax Saint-Pierre 2006. In 2014, Shawinigan’s Operation Nanook deployment set the record for traveling the furthest north of any ship in the history of the Royal Canadian Navy, reaching a maximum latitude of 80 degrees and 28 minutes north. She went to West Africa in 2020 and down to SOUTHCOM’s neck of the woods twice.

HMCS Whitehorse (705) has survived a hurricane at sea and, in 2006, while conducting route survey operations, rescued a group of local teenagers from the waters in the approaches to Nanoose Harbour B.C. then rescued another group stranded on Maude Island. She has participated in at least two RIMPACs and three Caribbe deployments. One of the latter, with sistership HMCS Brandon in 2015, made seven different seizures from smugglers, totaling 10 tons of cocaine.

HMCS WHITEHORSE conducts weapon maintenance during Operation CARIBBE on February 10, 2020

HMCS Yellowknife (706) earned a Canadian Forces Unit Commendation for saving the F/V Salmon King in 2001. In 2002, she and three of her sister ships deployed to Mexico and for the first time in 25 years, conducting two weeks of operations with the Mexican Navy. The next year, she joined a task force of French and Canadian ships in the Pacific and joined a U.S. task force in 2014. She has taken part in at least three RIMPACs and, during her 2019 Caribbe deployment with sistership Whitehorse, seized three tons of coke.

HMCS Goose Bay (707) in 2001 accompanied by sister ship HMCS Moncton, took part in the NATO naval exercise Blue Game off the coasts of Norway and Denmark. The next summer, along with sister HMCS Summerside, marked the first Arctic visit by RCN naval vessels in 13 years as part of Operation Narwhal Ranger, an area that later became her regular stomping ground in successive Nanook deployments. She has been to warmer waters with Caribbe and deployed with the USCG for their Operations Tradewinds through the Caribbean for training with local forces there.

HMCS Moncton (708) besides multiple Nanook and Caribbe deployments, has been very active in the Baltic as part of Trident Juncture. She has also worked off West Africa in Neptune Trident. In 2017, with sistership HMCS Summerside, conducted missions against pirates and illegal fishing off the African coast, along with making port visits to Sierra Leone, Senegal, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. She has recently been sporting a North Atlantic WWII scheme. 

Kingston-class coastal defense vessel HMCS Moncton (708) with her Atlantic WWII camo, 2019

HMCS Saskatoon (709) in addition to Nanook and Caribbe, she has been in at least one RIMPAC and Pacific Guardian exercise, the latter with the USCG “involving various scenarios focused on drug or immigrant smuggling, pollution detection, marine mammal sightings, shellfish poaching, illegal logging, and criminal activities,” along the Pac Northwest coastline.

HMCS Brandon (710) has been in several Caribbe deployments.

HMCS Summerside (711) the newest Kingston, is still 21 years old. Her credits include a Narwhal Ranger deployment, followed by later Nanook trips, at least four Caribbe deployments, NATO exercise Cutlass Fury (North Atlantic) and Trident Juncture (Baltic), as well as a Neptune Trident cruise to West Africa which notably involved joint training exercises with naval vessels from Morocco and Senegal.

One could spitball that, when you calculate the bang for the buck that penny-pinching Canada has gotten from these humble vessels over the past quarter-century, perhaps the U.S. Navy should have gone with a similar concept for the LCS and put the billions saved into, I don’t know, actual frigates.

Since you came this far, the RCN offers a free paper model for download, should you be interested. 

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021: Horsefly of the Fjords

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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. 8, 2021: Horsefly of the Fjords

Here we see the artillerieschulschiff (artillery school ship)  Bremse of the German Reichsmarine shortly after commissioning in 1931. Roughly equivalent to a small, unarmored, and torpedo-less cruiser or large destroyer leader in size and characteristics, she was a very interesting ship whose war would last two short, often painful, years.

With her German name meaning roughly “horsefly,” she was the third Bremse in the German fleet, following in the footsteps of an 1880s gunboat and a Brummer-class cruiser that was surrendered at Scapa Flow and never left.

With the post-Great War Reichsmarine allowed by the Treaty of Versailles to maintain a gunnery training ship, the old (circa 1907) artillerieschulschiff SMS Drache (800 tons, 4×4″ guns, 11 knots) was soon replaced by a model that offered more bang for the type.

Moving past the simple gunboat style of her predecessor, the vessel that would become Bremse would be light, at just 1,870-tons, run 345-feet in overall length, and have a narrow 31-foot beam, drawing less than 10 feet of water under normal loads. While her secret plans allowed for a set of torpedo tubes in the event of war (which were never fitted) her peacetime main battery was a quartet of low-angle 10.5 cm/55 (4.1″) SK C/28 guns (the first post-WWI naval gun developed by Germany and used by the Type 23/Wolf class torpedo boats) and four 20mm/65 C30 AAA mounts with weight and space reserved for four 37mm SK C/30 mounts as well. She could also carry up to 156 EMA-type mines or smaller numbers of the larger EMC (102) or UMA (132) types. It was thought that she would be able to carry a small floatplane and crane, but this was never fit.

While the Reichsmarine dearly wanted the new “Ersatz Drache” to have a steam turbine plant and make upwards of 30 knots, it was agreed that this would draw too much attention from London and Paris when used on what was supposed to be an auxiliary ship and, instead, it was decided to give Bremse a unique all-diesel plant made up of eight MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Numberg) M8Z 30/44 two-stroke double-acting marine diesel engines with Vulkan gearboxes. Generating 26,800 hp directed down twin shafts, this allowed the new gunnery ship to make 27+ knots (she hit 29.12 on trials) and steam for 8,000 miles at a still very fast for the day clip of 19 knots.

The Reichsmarine, similarly, would use MAN diesels exclusively to power the Deutschland-class panzerschiff large cruisers, with eight very similar M9Z 42/58 engines providing 56,800 hp to push those 14,000-ton pocket battleships to a speed of 26 knots and allow a 10,000 nm range at 20 knots. Essentially, Bremse had this same engineering suite, only scaled down. 

One of the 24 nine-cylinder MAN M9Z 42/58 engines built for installation in Deutschland-class cruisers, eight apiece. Bremse used eight slightly smaller eight-cylinder MAN M8Z 30/44s. Such similarity allowed the vessel to double for engineering training for the pocket battleships.

With a peacetime crew of eight officers and 190 sailors, she could carry another 90 trainees to sea with her. In wartime, with extra armament added, this would swell to 300. Her hull was divided into 15 watertight compartments with a central and two auxiliary damage control centers.

Laid down at Reichsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven in April 1930, she was launched the following January, sponsored by VADM Wilhelm Prentzel– the last commander of the old cruiser SMS Bremse during WWI– and commissioned 14 July 1932.

Soon, after her first training summer, it was decided to modify the design as she was top-heavy. This led to several changes to her superstructure, stern, and masts while her 4-inch guns were replaced with excellent 12.7 cm/45 (5″) SK C/34 guns, the same that would be mounted on the German navy’s Z1, Z17, and Z35 (Types 1934, 1936 and 1936B) destroyer classes and some T61 class torpedo boats.

Artillery training ship Bremse after her modifications. Note her different guns and changed mast, superstructure

Her peacetime service, assigned to the Schiffsartillerieschule in Kiel, was a proving ground for the rebuilding surface fleet of the Kriegsmarine. Her first five interbellum skippers– Paul Fanger, Bernhard Liebetanz, Erhard Tobye, Wilhelm Matthies, and Eberhard von Goetze– all became senior German admirals during WWII.

Artillerieschulboot Bremse (Artillery training sloop) via M. Dieterle & Sohn, Kiel 1935

In addition, she served as a soft target for the top-secret 48cm Dezimeter-Telegraphie DeTe-Geraet “grey switchboard” marine radar tests before ADM Raeder in the summer of 1935. This led to the development of the first experimental FuMO 22 sets that the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee would carry to sea in late 1937.

Movie Star

Bremse was loaned in the summer of 1939 to support the Max Kimmich (brother-in-law of Joseph Goebbels) propagandistic film, Der letze Appell (The Last Rollcall) which focused on a fictionalized account of the HAPAG resort steamer Königin Luise (2,160 tons) which had been converted just before the outbreak of the Great War to become an auxiliary minelayer (hilfsminenleger), camouflaged in the livery of a British Great Eastern Railway steamer, her topside armament consisting of a pair of obsolete Hotchkiss 37mm revolver cannons.

Leaving Emden on August 4, 1914– the day England entered the war in Belgium’s defense– to lay 200 mines in the Thames estuary, she was predictably intercepted the next day while “throwing things overboard” by the Active-class scout cruiser HMS Amphion (4,000 tons, 10×4″ guns) and the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla (HMS Lance, Linnet, Landrail, and Lark).

HMS Amphion, note her four stacks. IWM Q 43259

After a brief engagement that amounted to the first Royal Navy shots fired in the war, Königin Luise was sent to the bottom due to a mix of open sea valves and British shells. On 6 August, however, Amphion herself struck one of the German mines and became the Royal Navy’s first casualty.

Bremse, which was a lighter vessel by half due to her lack of armor and reduced armament but was roughly the same overall length, was fitted with two fake stacks to emulate the circa 1911 British warship for the production.

Artillery training ship Bremse as British cruiser Amphion on the set of the never-finished feature film Die Letzte Appell, just weeks before WWII

Alas, although the film sucked up a huge amount of reichsmarks for the time, it was never finished and there are no video references to this Goebbels-era naval epic. The world is likely the better for it. 

WAR!

By the time things went sour in September 1939, Bremse had already landed her Amphion faux stacks and soon got underway on a series of mine-laying missions in the Baltic and escorting coastal convoys while keeping an eye peeled for smugglers.

In March 1940, she was transferred west to Kiel where she was being assembled under Gruppe III (RADM Hubert Schmundt) for Operation Weserubung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway.

For her role, she would escort some 1,900 troops of the Wehrmacht’s 69. Infanterie-Division and their bicycles to the key Norwegian port of Bergen. Of those, a company of the division’s 159th Infantry regiment was embarked directly aboard Bremse. Gruppe III would also include the sistership light cruisers Köln and Königsberg, the Type 24 torpedo boats Wolf and Leopard, the MTB tender Karl Peters, and two armed trawlers (Schiffs 9 and 18).

Set for the early morning of 9 April, Weserubung had a lot of moving parts and required just about every ship the Germans had to pull off. Gruppe III’s prong to Bergen is circled.

The Germans didn’t think the Norwegians would put up much resistance or that Britain and France would be able to do much in the theater. This would prove wrong.

At 0358, the ~300 Norwegian reservists at Kvarven Fort (augmented by some 80 at Fort Hellen) opened fire with their elderly 8.3-inch Krupp (!) guns and hit Bremse at least one if not two times (accounts vary) along with two very near misses, Karl Peters was also hit once, and Königsberg hit three times. Had Kvarven been able to get their shore-mounted Whitehead torpedo tubes working, it could have proved disastrous for the Gruppe III (see the battle between the Norwegian Oscarsborg Fort and the German heavy cruiser Blücher the same morning).

While the Germans were able to knock out the Norwegian forts through a mix of infantry action and counterbattery fire by 0700, 16 British Blackburn Skua dive bombers of 800 and 803 NAS, launched from RNAS Hatston in the Orkney islands, arrived the next day and sent the already heavily damaged Königsberg to the bottom with hits from at least five 500-pound bombs.

From the ONI’s September 1940’s Information Bulletin Vol. XV111 No. 3, on the German Occupation of Norway:

On 17 April, Skuas of 803 NAS returned to Bergen and bracketed Bremse with a series of bombs that caused minor distress but no serious damage. She would also be hit two days later by a small bomb dropped by one of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s handful of operational Heinkel He 115N seaplanes, but it would fail to detonate. The Norwegians would try again with the same results. 

Special Hobby No. SH48110 1:48 Heinkel He-115B Box Art by Stanislav Hajek. Both the Norwegians and Germans flew these in the same air in 1940, with mixed results.

Sent down the coast to the Herøysund strait on 20 April where the Norwegians were holding out at the seaside canning village of Uskedal, Bremse and the armed trawler Schiff 221, with members of the 69th Infantry aboard, engaged the fearless Norwegian Trygg-class torpedo boat HNoMS Stegg (256 tons, 2x76mm guns, 4x450mm tubes) in a lopsided surface action that left Stegg ablaze with her keel on the bottom of the fjord. In mopping up, the old minelayer HNoMS Tyr (290 tons, 1x 4.72″ gun) was captured by boarding parties before her crew could scuttle her and towed back to Bergen with a German crew.

The scorecard for the Germans at the end of Weserubung, as reported by ONI in Sept. 1940, which incorrectly record Bremse as being sunk. The Kriegsmarine alone would suffer some 5,300 casualties, lose one heavy and two light cruisers along with 10 destroyers and numerous minor vessels, in addition to crippling others. It was a pyrrhic naval campaign that the German surface fleet would struggle to bounce back from.

Bremse spent a period in drydock after her first stint in Norwegian waters

Heading back to Kiel for repairs, Bremse was to take part in Zeelow (Sealion) the planned invasion of Britain post-Dunkirk, but when that fell through, she was again sent to Norwegian waters, arriving in Stavanger in November. However, just a week later she ran aground and required six months’ worth of repair in Bergen to make right again. When she emerged from the yard, she carried the now-classic German “Baltic” camouflage of dark gray with zigzag black and white stripes.

Artillery training ship Bremse in Baltic type camouflage. Kirkenes, August 1941

In support of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, she was escorting coastwise convoys to Kirkenes, the closest occupied Norwegian port to the vital Soviet base at Murmansk, and crossed paths with the British carrier HMS Victorious on 30 July in the Barents Sea, fending off Albacore torpedo bombers of 817 and 827 NAS without damage.

She would continue her hazardous Northern Norway convoy and support duties in the face of an attack from the Soviet Northern Fleet submarine K-2 and another from the British T-class submarine HMS Trident.

Her luck would run out on the early morning of 7 September.

Battle of Cape Nordkinn

The British Fiji-class light cruiser HMS Nigeria (60), along with the Arethusa-class light cruiser HMS Aurora (12), with 30 6- and 4-inch guns and 12 torpedo tubes between them, were involved in operations to Spitzbergen and Bear Island (Operation Gauntlet) to land Canadian troops to demolish mines and evacuate Russian and Norwegian nationals, when they came across one of Bremse’s convoys near Cape Nordkinn just after midnight. Guided by radar in the pre-dawn darkness, the engagement opened at just after 0200 at a range of under 2,000m, and, in the ensuing blackness and smoke, Nigeria apparently rammed Bremse, shearing the front of the cruiser’s bow off.

Nigeria, in drydock at Tyne after the battle. She would spend three months under repair.

By 0430, the battle had ended, with Bremse surviving numerous salvos at point-blank range before slipping under the waves.

It was a tactical win for the Germans, however, as the unprotected convoy of troopships was allowed to slink away over the horizon while Nigeria and Aurora retired to Scapa Flow at a speed of 15 knots, handicapped by Nigeria’s damage. Soon after dawn, German armed trawlers arrived in the debris field left behind and recovered 37 survivors of Bremse’s crew, all enlisted.

Epilogue

The only ship of her kind, Bremse was not survived by any sisters.

The Kriegsmarine named a Minensuchboot 1935-class minesweeper (M 253) after the lost training ship in late 1941. She would survive the war, work for the post-war German Minesweeping Administration under Allied observation, and was then ceded to France in 1947 who kept her around as Vimy for a decade. Sold to the West German Bundesmarine in 1956, she was renamed Bremse (F 208) for use as a coastal escort and finally sold for breaking in 1976, one of the last of that fleet’s WWII-era Kriegsmarine vessels.

Bremse (F 208) in West German service in the early 1960s

Finally, the East German Volksmarine’s sea border guard would name a class of 10 coastal patrol boats after the humble horsefly during the Cold War.

The training ship’s bell and most relics went to the bottom of the Barents Sea with her, but one of her prizes from 1940, the Norwegian minelayer Tyr, survived the war and endures as the coastal ferry Bjørn-West today. Likewise, the Bergen forts, maintained for much of the Cold War, are preserved as museums

Specs: 


Displacement 1,870 tons
Length 345 ft
Beam 31 ft
Draft 9 ft
Propulsion: 8 MAN diesel engines, two shafts, 28,400 shp
Speed 29.1 knots on trials, reportedly 23 by 1941
Range 8,000 nautical miles @19kts on 357 tons of diesel oil
Complement: 192 + 90 trainees (peace), 300 (wartime)
Armament:

(1932)
4 x 10.5 cm/55 (4.1″) SK C/28
4 x 20mm/65 FlaK 30
Weight saved for 4 x 3.7 cm SK C/30 AA guns
102-156 mines depending on the type

(1941)
4 x 12.7 cm SK C/34 naval guns
4 x 3.7 cm SK C/30 AA guns
8 x 20mm/65 FlaK 30
Mines

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Marines to get upto 904 new CRRCs, which is way more than they ‘should’ need

From DOD: 

Wing Inflatables Inc., Arcata, California, is awarded a $31,921,100 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the purchase of up to a maximum 904 Enhanced – Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft. Work will be performed in Arcata, California, and is expected to be complete by August 2026. Fiscal 2019 and 2022 procurement (Marine Corps) contract funds in the amount of $3,126,894 will be obligated on the first delivery order immediately following contract award and funds will expire the end of the fiscal 2022 and 2023, respectively. This contract was competitively procured via the System for Award Management website, with three proposals received. The Marine Corps Systems Command, Quantico, Virginia, is the contracting activity (M67854-21-D-1801).

Wing’s five-chamber P4.7 series inflatable runs 15′ 5″-feet long, has a 6′ 5″-foot beam, offers 38.32ft² of usable deck space on a 12×3-foot deck. Empty weight is 180-pounds not counting the 274-pound rollup hard deck insert and can accommodate a 65hp outboard and 10 passengers/2,768-pounds of payload. The whole thing folds up into a 27″x29″x56″ package, or roughly the size of a curbside garbage can.

Each of the 7 Marine Expeditionary Units (a battalion landing team with a bunch of stuff bolted onto it and a harrier/helicopter airwing for support) has a bunch of different ways to get to the beach. These include of course the choppers, navy landing craft (LCU, LCAC, etc), and the Marines own amtrac swimming APCs. However, each one of these MAUs also has 18 of these little rubber zodiac-style boats, designated Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC, or “Crick”).

PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 30, 2013) Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (13th MEU) depart from the stern gate of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) in a combat rubber raiding craft (CRRC). Boxer is underway as part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, comprised of Boxer, the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian P. Biller/Released)

A little larger than a sectional couch and powered by an outboard (or two) these can motor out from a task force still some 20 miles out at sea and approach an enemy-held beach, port, or vessel with very little footprint. They are hard to spot by eyeball, radar, or other means, especially in a light chop state. It’s a wet ride for the Marines aboard and anyone who has ever ridden one through the surf doesn’t look forward to doing it a second time– especially on a contested beach.

For landings, a company of the battalion landing team is designated the “Boat Company” and they spend a couple weeks figuring these boats out. This includes sending as many as 36 of its force before deployment through a four-week coxswains school where they learn basic sea-nav, and what not to do with these temperamental crafts. Meanwhile, other members of the Boat Coy head off to scout swimmer school where they learn the finer points of exiting a rubber raft on fins and doing lite frogman shit.

In the end, Cricks allow a 144-man company to be landed on a strip of beach or empty pier in three, six-boat waves. The former was done under OOTW conditions by Marines in Somalia in 1992.

Air transportable, Cricks can be slid out the rear ramp of MV-22s or parachuted from cargo planes such as the C-130 (and Navy C-2 CODs), can be launched from surface vessels such ranging from Amphibious assault ships (shown) or smaller craft like patrol boats, LCS and frigates. They can also be (and are) carried up from submerged submarines by divers for inflation on the surface.

The thing is, if you do the basic math on 7 MEU boat companies x 18 E-CRRCs, you get just 126 boats. Even if you double that amount to cover training and attrition, then add some for SEAL ops from submarines and for the use of Force Recon/Raider units, you still have like ~500 extra small boats.

That’s an interesting thing to ponder. 

I’d like to mention that a few months back, I theorized that the Marines might use Cricks to displace human assets from anti-ship missile batteries after they have fired their missiles from isolated atolls before the Chinese show up in force. Fire off their NSSMs, drop some WP grenades on their trucks, hop in the inflatables, and meet with a passing SSN or EPF just past the 15-fathom curve. May be easier to accomplish and have less of a footprint than an MV-22 pickup. 

Farewell, Ingraham, you deserved better (but NMESIS works)

Smoke billows from the decommissioned guided-missile frigate ex-USS Ingraham during a sinking exercise in the Pacific, Aug. 15. (U.S. Navy/MC1 David Mora Jr.)

Same, (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Danny Kelley)

VADM Steve Koehler, C3F, on a SINKEX in the Pacific as part of Large Scale Exercise (LSE) 2021, where U.S. joint forces — the USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group, Submarine Forces Pacific, I Marine Expeditionary Force, 3rd Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, 3rd Marine Division, and U.S. Army Multi-Domain Task Force– conducted coordinated “multi-domain, multi-axis, long-range maritime strikes” on the decommissioned frigate ex-USS Ingraham (FFG-61):
“Lethal combat power was effectively applied to a variety of maritime threats over the last two weeks in a simulated environment as part of the U.S. Navy’s Large-Scale Exercise and expertly demonstrated Sunday with live ordnance. The precise and coordinated strikes from the Navy and our joint teammates resulted in the rapid destruction and sinking of the target ship and exemplify our ability to decisively apply force in the maritime battlespace.”
Ingraham was the final Perry (FFG-7)-class guided missile frigate commissioned in 1989 and was decommissioned in 2015 after 26 years of hard service and could surely have been transferred for FMS as have many of her younger sisters. Notably, 34 of her sisters are still on active duty with overseas allies.
The ship was named for Captian Duncan Nathaniel Ingraham, who entered the Navy during the War of 1812 at the age of 10 (!)  and earned a Gold Medal from Congress for gunboat diplomacy in the 1850s while on a Med cruise. Ending his career dual-hatted as Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrographer of the Navy in 1860 to cast his lot with the Confederacy, he commanded the Charleston (SC) naval station while wearing a grey uniform in the Civil War.
FFG-61 is the fourth Navy ship with the namesake. It is the second of its name to be used in a sinking exercise; ex-USS Ingraham (DD 694), which was decommissioned in 1971 and sold to the Greek Navy, was sunk in 2001.
Importantly, the Marines got to confirm their brand new Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) anti-ship missile truck in the sinking, firing a Norwegian Naval Strike Missile from a position onshore some 100 miles away.

A Naval Strike Missile is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands during the sinking exercise. (U.S. Marine Corps/MC2 Lance Cpl. Dillon Buck)

A Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System launcher deploys into position aboard Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, Hawaii, Aug. 16, 2021. The NMESIS and its Naval Strike Missiles participated in a live-fire exercise, here, part of Large Scale Exercise 2021. During the training, a Marine Corps fires expeditionary advanced base sensed, located, identified, and struck a target ship at sea, which required more than 100 nautical miles of missile flight. The fires EAB Marines developed a targeting solution for a joint force of seapower and airpower which struck the ship as the Marines displaced to a new firing position. The Marine Corps EABO concept is a core component of the Force Design 2030 modernization effort. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Maj. Nick Mannweiler, released)

Curious Craft from Austal

Mobile, Alabama-based Austal USA, builder of the Navy’s Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF)– which have gotten good reviews– and the Independence-class littoral combat ship– you know, the class of LCS that kinda-sorta works– released these interesting artist depictions of future designs without much context or details.

The company was recently given a $44 million contract from the Navy to develop one of its EPFs as an autonomous surface vessel, so keep that in mind.

This appears to be a larger version of the EPF with a huge 96-cell VLS section, a concept that could be a budget arsenal ship. A Tomahawk raft, if you will. The Spearheads use 40~ man crews. 

Speaking of arsenal ships, this looks to be a larger version of the company’s 58m OPV, stretched to add a long (strike length?) 32-cell VLS section. Note the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV) designator on the hull and the airborne sensor off the stern. Besides the VLS, the only other armament visible is four M2 .50 cal mounts. The small number of liferafts hint at accommodations for a tiny transit or combat crew. 

Odds are, this is an autonomous design for ISR purposes

Look at this sweet trimaran. Envision a 53-foot container that can hold anything from ASMs to IRBMs or a mine-hunting det, which would make sense if the design incorporates a composite hull. An MCM LSUV, if you will. 

Codename Snake Eyes and Jungle Green

Royal Marines exercise “Codename Snake Eyes” circa 1960 documentary– in Color!— by the Central Office of Information for the Admiralty. A great way to spend a half-hour. 

The exercise involves a combined-arms amphibious attack on a fictitious Mediterranean island nation that looks suspiciously like Cyprus, complete with an airfield and radar station.

It is jolly good stuff, complete with pipe smoking, beards, Denison smocks, a wet predawn paradrop from an RAF Boxcar by SBS frogmen, Fleet Air Arm Vampires launched from an RN carrier conducting rocket attacks to soften things up, dory-landed (and Enfield/Sterling-armed!) Royal Marines from 45 Commando leaping ashore from LCVPs to complete a rock face free climb, then reinforced by Wessex helicopter-delivered 40 Commando (“choppers may be useful but they have no natural dignity”), finished off by LCM-landed 42 Commando (who finally have some FN FALs/L1A1s) on the third wave after NGFS from gun-armed cruisers.

And that’s just in the first 10 minutes!

Enjoy.

For a less varnished but no less fascinating look at Royal Marines at the sharp end, check out “Jungle Green,” a 1964 BBC documentary following an isolated 25-man long-range patrol/listening post of 40 Commando and their two Iban trackers some 50 miles deep in the bush in Borneo during the very Vietnam-ish Konfrontasi, the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation.

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