Category Archives: littoral

Now that’s a bass boat

In a former life, I spent a good bit of time in and out of Stennis Space Center in that great green buffer zone along Mississippi’s Pearl River back when I was doing a lot more federal contract firearms training and, besides all the NASA stuff and the Navy’s AGOR/METCOM guys, there is also another very low-key tenet DOD tenant on the huge complex– the river rats of Special Boat Team 22 and NAVSCIATTS.

The Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School dated back to the 1960s and was based at Rodman in the Canal Zone for decades, specializing in running a hands-on schoolhouse for teaching riverine warfare, mainly to students from Latin America. Basically the Navy’s version of the old Army’s School of the Americas.

These days, they have expanded their reach but still run regular courses for brown water navies and coast guards from not only down south but from points more Asia, Africa, and the Middle East as well. They recently posted some photos of AFRICOM students on a training ex in the muck of the Pearl River showing some interesting watercraft.

“NAVSCIATTS students from U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of operations participate in a Patrol Craft Officer Riverine training exercise on the Pearl River near the John C. Stennis Space Center, Dec. 2, 2020. Our 21-1 semester consists of AFRICOM students from Chad, Ghana, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierre Leon, and Togo. (Photos by Michael Williams)”

Note the twin M240 GPMGs. Now that’s a go-getter

While SBT22 runs 33-foot SOC-Rs (built here in Gulfport), the NAVSCIATTS schoolhouse seems to be using some pretty neat Gator-Tail aluminum skiffs. Made in Loreauville Louisiana, Gator-Tail is well-known (around here anyway) for their mud motor outboards, which are ideal in moving around in the swamp and bayou where traditional motors would get gummed up by vegetation and sediment every five feet.

Speaking of which, it is getting duck season.

Sneaky, Sneaky

Here at LSOZI, we have talked about several of the Italian and German midget subs of WWII, including a whole Warship Wednesday dedicated to the spooky little craft that sank the HMS/ORP Dragon off Normandy and another on the Italian explosive motorboats that crippled HMS York.

With that being said, I recently ran into two things you guys would find interesting. Below is a great 26-minute Oct. 1945 newsreel on German and Italian sneak attack that was recently archived by the AP:

The second is a write up by H I Sutton over at Covert Shores on the Untersee-Gleitflächen-Schnellboot Manta, a craft I had never even heard of until now.

The designers hoped to combine the transit speed of a speedboat with the stealth and survivability of a submarine. To do this it would need to combine several advanced technologies which Germany had been developing. Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) and hydrofoils.

More on the Manta over at Covert Shores.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020: Spaghetti & Stringbags

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

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020: Spaghetti & Stringbags

U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1977.031.085.071

Here we see a great bow-on shot of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (87) underway in the Indian Ocean during the Spring of 1944, while the British flattop was operating with USS Saratoga (CV-3) during WWII. “Lusty” was one of the luckier of HM’s early fleet carriers during the conflict, and a handful of hopelessly obsolete aircraft flying from her decks, borrowing a bit of that luck, would pull off an amazing feat some 80 years ago today.

While today the U.S. Navy is the benchmark for carrier operations, the British would be incredibly innovative in the use of such vessels in warfare. This included being the first country to lose a carrier in combat when HMS Courageous (50) was lost to a German U-boat in the third week of the war and sistership HMS Glorious was embarrassingly lost to the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the withdrawal from Norway in June 1940. With that being said, it was a good thing that Illustrious was on the way to make up losses.

Laid down at Vickers Barrow-in-Furness on 27 April 1937, 13 months after German troops marched into the Rhineland as part of the British rearmament due to such muscular action, Illustrious was the lead ship of a new class of a planned six aircraft carriers designed from the first steel cut to be modern flattops. Displacing 25,000-tons full load, they had a 740-foot overall length and the ability to touch 30-knots on a trio of steam turbines.

U.S. ONI sheet on the Illustrious class

Carrying up to 4.5-inches of armor– to include an armored flight deck designed to withstand 1,000-pound bombs– and protected by 16 excellent QF 4.5-inch Mark I guns, both of which would have rated her as a decent light cruiser even without aircraft, the class could carry 36 aircraft in their hangars, which was smaller than American and Japanese carriers of the same size, but keep in mind the Brits guarded their birds inside an armored box. Further, they were fitted with radar, with Illustrious having her Type 79 installed just before she joined the fleet.

HMS Illustrious (87) underway 1940. Note the 4.5″ (11.4 cm) Mark I guns in twin Mark III UD mountings. IWM FL2425

Commissioned 25 May 1940, during the fall of France, Illustrious was to do her workup cruise to Dakar but plans changed once the French surrendered, sending the carrier instead to do her shakedown in the relative safety of the West Indies. Meanwhile, Italy had clocked in on Germany’s side, declaring war on 10 June.

HMS Illustrious landing Swordfish in June 1940. Picture: Fleet Air Arm Museum CARS 1/171

By 30 August, she set out for the Mediterranean on her first operational deployment, sailing for Alexandria in convoy with Force F. Within a week, her airwing, which included Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers of Nos. 815 and 819 Squadrons, would be flying combat missions against Axis-held airfields on Rhodes.

While Illustrious carried a mix of quaint Fairey Fulmar and Sea Gladiator fighters, it was her embarked Swordfish, biplanes capable of just 124 knots and nicknamed “flying stringbags,” that made up the bulk of her strike capability.

Swordfish could carry a torpedo or up to 1,500 pounds of bombs or mines, although their combat radius while doing so was only about 200nm. Self-defense amounted to two .303-caliber Vickers guns.

On the 17th, Swords from Illustrious drew blood during shipping attacks on Benghazi harbor, sending the Italian Turbine-class destroyer Borea to the bottom while air-dropped mines would take out several merchantmen. The proven carrier then spent the next several weeks riding shotgun on convoys between Malta and Egypt.

Then, on 10 November, Illustrious was detached on Operation Judgement, a planned midnight home invasion of the Italian fleet’s main base at Taranto under the cover of darkness, where her airwing would target Rome’s mighty battleships at anchor. As an ace in the hole, they had up-to-date reconnaissance photographs of the harbor, taken by Martin Maryland light bombers flying from Malta.

The carrier strike force? Even including aircraft cross-decked from HMS Eagle, Illustrious could count a mixed bag of just 21 Swordfish of Nos. 813, 815, 819, and 824 Squadrons. To give them a boost in range, each would be fitted with a spare av gas tank that they only had to leave their rear gunner behind to accommodate– what could go wrong?

The first wave, of 12 aircraft, would launch at 20:40 on 11 November and consist of six Swords each with a single 18-inch torpedo, backed up by four Swords each with a half-dozen light 250-pound bombs, and two aircraft with a mix of 16 parachute flares and four bombs each.

The second wave (!), of nine aircraft, would launch an hour later and included five torpedo carriers, two with bombs and two flare-droppers. In all, the Brits planned to bring a total of 11 Mark XII torpedoes and 52 almost lilliputian bombs.

250-pound bombs that would later be dropped on the Italian fleet at Taranto on HMS Illustrious’s flight deck

The tiny force of biplanes faced some serious opposition.

Besides the masses of guns on the Italian ships themselves– which were under standing orders to keep their AAA batteries at least half-manned even when the vessels were anchored– around the Regia Marina’s primary roadstead were land-based anti-aircraft batteries that held no less than 21 4-inch, 84 20mm and 109 13.2mm guns at the ready in addition to smaller numbers of 125mm, 90mm, and 40mm guns. While there was no air-search radar at Taranto, the Italians did have at least 13 “war tuba” sound-detection devices capable of hearing aircraft engines as far out as 30 miles away. Two dozen powerful searchlights scanned the heavens.

Even if the British bombers could get inside the harbor, the Italians had over 23,000 feet of counter-torpedo netting ready to catch any trespassing Royal Navy fish. Further, there was a flotilla of 90 barrage balloons tethered by steel cables, deployed across the harbor in three rows.

While the Brits caught some breaks– two-thirds of the barrage balloons were not on station due to storms and a lack of hydrogen; and 2.9km of the torpedo nets were coiled up, in need of repair– it was still a dangerous mission as witnessed by the more than 12,000 shells of 20mm or greater from shore-based batteries alone during the strike.

Cobb, Charles David; Taranto Harbour, Swordfish from ‘Illustrious’ Cripple the Italian Fleet, 11 November 1940; National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/taranto-harbour-swordfish-from-illustrious-cripple-the-italian-fleet-11-november-1940-116445

In the end, just two Swords were lost while three of six Italian battleships present were seriously damaged, and the last of 18 recovered aircraft were aboard Illustrious by 0230 on 12 November.

The brand-new 35,000-ton fast battleship Littorio suffered three torpedo hits, while the older battlewagons Caio Duilio and Conte di Cavour picked up one each, with the latter so wrecked she would not be repaired for the duration of the war. Bombs lightly damaged the 13,000-ton heavy cruiser Trento, the destroyers Libeccio and Pessagno, and two fleet auxiliaries in addition to falling on the dockyard and oil depot. The fleet suffered nearly 700 casualties, although less than 10 percent of that figure was mortal.

The raid upset the balance of power between the strong Italian fleet and the weaker British force in the Med at a crucial period.

As a booby prize, the Italians captured two downed British Fleet Air Arm members and were left with several dud bombs and torpedoes to examine. Two RN aircrewmen were killed. The morning after the Taranto raid, the undamaged battleship Vittorio Veneto, assuming ADM Inigo Campioni’s flag from the crippled Littorio, led the Italian fleet to Naples. Campioni would be relieved of command three weeks later, replaced by ADM Angelo Iachino.

Interestingly enough, this attack took place while both America and Japan were at peace and each country’s navy took notes from the engagement, although they were applied very differently by the respective note takers a year later.

As encapsulated by the Royal Navy today, “The Fleet Air Arm’s attack on Taranto ranks as one of the most daring episodes in the Second World War. It transformed the naval situation in the Mediterranean and was carefully studied by the Japanese before their carrier-borne strike on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour in December 1941.”

Much more on Operation Judgement can be read at Armoured Carriers.com and the 26-page paper, The Attack at Taranto, by Angelo N. Caravaggio in the Naval War College Review.

Post-Taranto

How do you top a 20-aircraft raid from a five-month-old carrier that sidelined half of the Italian battlefleet? For the rest of the war, Illustrious was a one-ship fire brigade supporting operations in the Med to include earning honors for keeping Malta alive during Operation Excess.

Her luck ran out on the Excess run on 10 January 1941– hit by five bombs from a swarm of 18 He 111s and 43 Stukas 60 miles west of Malta. “Illustrious was the main target and was enveloped in waterspouts and mist of exploding bombs. Some bombers diving from an altitude of 12,000 feet delayed bomb release until they pulled-out lower than the height of Illustrious’ funnel.”

THE BOMBING OF HMS ILLUSTRIOUS AT MALTA. 10 JANUARY 1941, ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER. (A 9793) The view of the flight deck from the ship’s bridge.(Same as MH 4623). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205143579

Even so, she reached Malta that day and would suffer 126 dead and 91 wounded by the time she departed the besieged island stronghold– the subject of continuing German and Italian air attacks the entire time she was there.

She was sent to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the ostensibly neutral United States for repair, eventually arriving there via the Suez Canal on May 27.

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS At the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, following battle damage repairs, November 1941. NH 96323

Post repairs, Illustrious was soon back in the war, covering the landings at Diego Suarez in Vichy-held Madagascar during Operation Ironclad in 1942, where her Swords were back at work.

The Royal Navy battleship HMS Valiant fires its 38.1 cm guns during exercises as seen from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (87). 22 December 1942, Indian Ocean. The planes in the foreground are Fairey Fulmars of B Flight, 806 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, with Grumman Martlets of 881 NAS parked aft. Lt. D.C. Oulds, Royal Navy official photographer IWM A 15152

She then shipping back to the Med for the Salerno landings in 1943.

BIG SHIPS AT MALTA. OCTOBER 1943, ON BOARD HMS FORMIDABLE AT GRAND HARBOUR, VALLETTA, MALTA. (A 19815) The aircraft carrier HMS ILLUSTRIOUS steams into Grand Harbour, as men line the flight deck of HMS FORMIDABLE to watch her progress. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152374

From there she set out for the Indian Ocean in 1944 where she worked alongside USS Saratoga and raided the Japanese-held island of Sabang (Operation Cockpit).

HMS Illustrious and USS Saratoga Trincomalee, Ceylon part of Operation Cockpit

HMS Illustrious (87) steaming past the U.S. carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) in the Indian Ocean, 18 May 1944. Note the crews of both ships assembled on deck to pay farewell. NNAM.1977.031.085.012

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, part of the Eastern Fleet, stationary, coastal waters (photographed from the cruiser HMS MAURITIUS). IWM A 13559

HMS Renown and Illustrious in Trincomalee Harbor, Ceylon in early 1944.

Royal Navy aircraft repair carrier HMS Unicorn (I72, left) and HMS Illustrious (87), probably pictured at Trincomalee, Ceylon, in 1944. NNAM No. 1996.488.037.044

Corsairs in the armored box hangar of HMS Illustrious. Tight spaces!

A long way from Sea Gladiators! HMS Illustrious in the Indian Ocean. The flight deck being cleared of Corsairs at sunset ready for the Avenger dusk patrol to land on. May 1944

By January 1945, she was off Sumatra in the Japanese-held Dutch East Indies, launching raids on the vital Soengi Gerong oil refineries near Palembang while dodging kamikazes.

She was the first ship in Green Island’s Captain Cook dock, 11 February 1945

Speaking of which, she continued to reap the divine wind off Okinawa in April, with a Japanese D4Y3 Judy making contact with her deck, leaving the carrier with a vibration in her hull and the remains of a Japanese rubber dinghy as a trophy.

Sailing at a reduced speed of 19 knots for Sidney and emergency repairs, she ended the war in the dockyard.

Post-war

The Illustrious class entry in the 1946 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships

Post-VJ-Day, Illustrious was used for deck-landing trials until being place in reserve in late 1947.

Armoured carrier HMS Illustrious carrying out flying trials in 1947. Seafire is on an out-rigger just forward of the island, and the aircraft aft is a Sea Fury

Hawker Sea Fury about to land on HMS Illustrious 1947. Just a great view of her stern QF 4.5″ gun batteries as well, with the turrets trained seaward

Recommissioned the next year, she was used for further trials and training duties, clocking in as a troop carrier to Cyrus in 1951.

HMS Illustrious, off Norway, 1954, at the tail-end of her career. Note the long-serving TBM Avengers on her deck and twin 4.5-inch guns forward. Via the Municipal Archives of Trondheim

She attended Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Review at Spithead in June 1953 and continued to provide some service, she never again deployed as an operational carrier. 

Battleship HMS Vanguard at Spithead on June 1953, with the bruiser old aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious.

Illustrious was sold to BISCO for breaking-up at Faslane, arriving there on 3 November 1956.

As for her three sisters that were completed, HMS Formidable (67) and HMS Indomitable (92) had been broken up shortly before Illustrious leaving only HMS Victorious (R38) to soldier on, paid off in 1968 and scrapped the next year.

What could have been: Blackburn Buccaneer flies past Illustrious-class aircraft carrier HMS Victorious note Sea Vixen, Gannetts and Westlands on deck

Epilogue

While the name HMS Illustrious would go on to be used by an Invincible-class Harrier carrier, which was retired in 2016, several artifacts of the WWII-era vessel endure.

Of course, as a great ship, she was the subject of great maritime art:

HMS Illustrious entering the Basin at John Brown’s Shipyard, Clydebank (Art.IWM ART LD 1371) image: the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious is guided into the basin of John Brown’s shipyard at Clydebank in Scotland by three tug boats. Another Royal Navy warship is moored to the side of the dock. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/3031

Hamilton, John Alan; HMS ‘Illustrious’ under Attack: Excess Convoy, January 1941; IWM (Imperial War Museums); http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-illustrious-under-attack-excess-convoy-january-1941-7670

Cobb, Charles David; Operation ‘Excess’, ‘Illustrious’ under Air Attack, 19 January 1941; National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/operation-excess-illustrious-under-air-attack-19-january-1941-116447

Macdonald, Roderick; HMS ‘Illustrious’ under Air Attack, 10 January 1941. The scene of the attack is viewed from the cockpit of one of ‘Illustrious’ own Fairey Swordfish aircraft. By Roderick Macdonald circa 1980 via the Fleet Air Museum E00728/0001http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-illustrious-under-air-attack-10-january-1941-40645

Macdonald, Roderick; HMS ‘Illustrious’ under Attack in the Grand Harbour, Malta; Fleet Air Arm Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-illustrious-under-attack-in-the-grand-harbour-malta-40646

“Task Force of Two Navies” Watercolor by Dwight Shepler, USNR, 1943, depicting U.S. and British warships in the Pentland Firth during an operation toward the Norwegian coast, coincident with the Sicily invasion, July 1943. Alabama (BB 60) is in the lead, followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS King George V. Three British carrier-based fighters (two “Seafires” and a “Martlet”) are overhead. Official USN photo # KN-20381, courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC, now in the collections of the National Archives.

No place to land by Michael Turner, showing FAA Royal Navy F4U Corsairs return to their carrier HMS Illustrious after the April 1945 Kamikaze attack

And of a variety of scale models from Heller, Aoshima, Revelle, and others.

The plans for Illustrious are in the Royal Museums Greenwich.

The rubber survival dinghy recovered from the kamikaze that struck her deck off Okinawa is in the IWM.

Japanese Kamikaze pilot’s aircraft dinghy (MAR 595) Dinghy from a Japanese Kamikaze aircraft, recovered from HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, 1945. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30004058

While both her original ship’s bell– which was damaged in 1941 by the Germans off Malta– and her U.S.-cast replacement, presented while she was at Norfolk, are preserved.

This week, the Royal Navy is planning a spate of remembrance activities concerning the 80th anniversary of Taranto, keeping the memory of Lusty and her 21 stringbags alive.

Specs:
Displacement: 28,661 tons, full load
Length: 710 ft
Beam: 95 ft
Draft: 28 feet
Propulsion: 6 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, 3 Parsons geared turbines producing 110,000 shp, three shafts
Speed: 30.5 knots, range= 10,700nm @ 10 knots
Complement: ~1,200 designed. Up to 1,600 during 1944-45
Armor: 3 to 4.5-inches
Aircraft: 36, later increased to 60
16 × QF 4.5-inch naval gun (8 × 2)
40 x QF 2 pounder naval gun (5 × 8)
Later fitted with:
3 x Bofors 40 mm gun (3 x 1)
38 x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon (19 x 2), (14 x 1)

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Pushing the Coasties into the Western Pacific

Almost on cue in the past week, two maritime-focused events transpired which are obviously related.

First, National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien announced a push to take on Red China’s “illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and harassment of vessels operating in the exclusive economic zones of other countries in the Indo-Pacific,” with some muscle from the U.S. Coast Guard, using the force to protect both American sovereignty, “as well as the sovereignty of our Pacific neighbors.”

In an effort to bolster our capacity and presence in the Indo-Pacific region, in Fiscal Year 2021, the USCG plans to evaluate the feasibility of basing Fast Response Cutters in American Samoa. If the survey is favorable, the United States could further expand its presence in the South Pacific.

Of note, the U.S. is responsible for the defense of not only Samoa and the territories of Guam (where four FRCs are already to be based) as well as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, but also the American associated states of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia‎, and the Republic of Palau, covering the bulk of the old Trust Territories of the Pacific.

In other words, most of the real estate between Hawaii and Japan. All they are missing is Wake Island, French Frigate Shoals, and Midway. 

With that being said, the Hawaii-based Fast Response Cutter Oliver Berry (WPC 1124) just returned to Pearl Harbor following a 6-week nearly 10,000 nm patrol of many of those western islands in conjunction “with the governments of Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia strengthening maritime domain awareness and resource security within their Exclusive Economic Zones.”

Official caption: The crew of the Oliver Berry travel in a round-trip patrol from Sept. 12 to Oct. 27, 2020, from Hawaii to Guam, covering a distance of approximately 9,300 miles during their journey. The crew sought to combat illegal fishing and other maritime threats across the Pacific to protect the United States and our partner’s resource security and sovereignty. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of the CGC Oliver Berry)

As we have talked about extensively before, the 154-foot $27 million-per-unit FRCs have a flank speed of 28 knots, state of the art C4ISR suite, a stern launch and recovery ramp for a 26-foot over-the-horizon interceptor cutter boat, and a combat suite that includes a remote-operated Mk38 25mm chain gun and four crew-served M2 .50 cals. The addition of other light armaments, such as MK-60 quadruple BGM-176B Griffin B missile launchers, MK19 40mm automatic bloopers, and MANPADs, would be simple if needed, provided the Navy wanted to hand it over.

It is thought the ultimate goal for the Coast Guard is to have at least 58 FRCs for domestic (ish) work– and six additional hulls for use in the Persian Gulf with the Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, a regular front-facing buffer force with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The 41st FRC, USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC-1141), was delivered to the Coast Guard last week.  

Just frogmen doing frogmen stuff

140121-N-KB563-148 CORONADO, Calif. (Jan. 21, 2014) Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDs) students participate in Surf Passage at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. Surf Passage is one of many physically demanding evolutions that are a part of the first phase of SEAL training. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Russell/Released)

In two separate incidents within the same week, quiet groups of maritime commandos were out getting it done.

From the U.S. Department of Defense:

Statement by Jonathan Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

“U.S. forces conducted a hostage rescue operation during the early hours of 31 October in Northern Nigeria to recover an American citizen held hostage by a group of armed men. This American citizen is safe and is now in the care of the U.S. Department of State. No U.S military personnel were injured during the operation.

We appreciate the support of our international partners in conducting this operation.

The United States will continue to protect our people and our interests anywhere in the world.”

Word is the SEAL unit parachuted in from CV-22s, supported by a circling P-8A for comms and surveillance and an AC-130 gunship on standby if things went pear-shaped, then scratched six of seven kidnappers in short order.

One counterterrorism source told ABC News, “They were all dead before they knew what happened.”

Meanwhile, in the UK…

The SBS, the seagoing and much more low-profile nautical companion to the SAS, stormed the Greek-owned Liberian-flagged crude oil tanker Nave Andromeda off the Isle of Wight after seven Nigerian stowaways popped up and started threatening the merchant vessel’s 22-man crew, who retreated to a fortified compartment.

Ending a 10-hour standoff, 16 SBS operators boarded the ship, with some fast-roping from two Royal Navy Merlin helicopters and the others rappelling up the side from a rigid inflatable boat under the watchful eye of snipers in a Wildcat helicopter and the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond. Clearance divers were also on hand if there were EOD needs. 

The entire ship was secured in just seven minutes and all stowaways were accounted for. 

It was not the first time in recent memory that SBS had to get to work in home waters, having boarded an Italian cargo ship, Grande Tema, in the Thames Estuary in 2018 after it had been hijacked by four Nigerian nationals.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020: Horse Trading and Gun Running

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

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020: Horse Trading and Gun Running

Cropped LIFE Archives photo by Carl Mydans

Here we see the Barnegat-class seaplane tender USS Orca (AVP-49) showing off the welcome sign  “Where the occident meets the Orient by accident,” signed by her skipper, CDR Morton K. Fleming, Jr, while in Philippine waters, likely Ormoc Bay, in December 1944.

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

We’ve covered them in the past to include the former “Queen of the Little White Fleet” USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) and the 60-year career of USS Chincoteague (AVP-24) but don’t worry, they have lots of great stories.

Our armed tender was (kind of) the fourth Orca in the U.S. Navy, as submarine USS K-3 (SS-34) carried the name as a PCU in 1911 but never served as such. The second Orca was an 85-foot steam yacht out of Boston taken into service as SP726 for patrol operations in the 1st Naval District during World War I. The third Orca was to be a Balao-class fleet submarine (SS-381) but, like SS-34, was changed before commissioning, in this case to USS Sand Lance, a boat that subsequently served until 1972, completing five WWII war patrols.

The hero of our study, which was officially named after Orca Bay, Alaska, in line with the naming convention for seaplane tenders to be named after bays and lakes, was laid down 13 July 1942, built by the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Washington, and commissioned 23 January 1944.

USS Orca (AVP-49) ready for launch on 4 October 1942. The ship Her builder’s number, Hull 538, is displayed on her bridge. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-44301

USS Orca (AVP-49) being launched at the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Washington, on 4 October 1942. 19-N-47209

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Houghton, Washington, on 6 February 1944, about two weeks after commissioning. She was completed with three 5/38 guns, including an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-61647

USS Orca (AVP-49) from the port side in Puget Sound on February 6, 1944, wearing camouflage 32/2Ax. The vertical colors are dull black, ocean gray, and light gray. Photo source: NARA BS 61646. H/T USN Dazzle

USS Orca (AVP-49) again in Puget Sound this time from the starboard wearing camouflage 32/2Ax on February 6, 1944. Orca was commissioned on January 23, 1944. Photo source: NARA BS 61645. H/T USN Dazzle

After shakedown, she shipped out for the 7th Fleet off Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, arriving there 26 May 1944. There, she would be the floating home to Patrol Bombing Squadron 11 (VPB-11) whose black-painted PBY-5 Catalinas were busy wrecking Japanese shipping and bases in night attacks while clocking in for air-sea rescue during the day.

PBY-5 Catalina of US Navy Patrol Squadron VPB-11 on the Sepik River in Australian New Guinea bringing supplies to a coast-watcher working in the area, Jan 1943. VPB-11 was Orca’s first squadron

Over the course of the war, Orca would go on to support VPB-33 and finally VPB-34, with all three squadrons being so active as to earn Presidential Unit Citations.

In early November, Orca moved into the Leyte Gulf area in the PI, where the next month her Cats proved lifesavers in Ormoc Bay right under the noses of the Japanese as they taxied around the bay for nearly an hour picking up survivors of the Sumner-class destroyer USS Cooper (DD-695), sunk the previous night by Long Lances from the Japanese destroyer Take.

From her 18-page War History, in the National Archives:

A cartoon from VPB-34 of the Cooper rescue

For his role in the Cooper rescue, VPB-34’s Lieutenant Frederick J. Ball, the lead pilot, would receive the Navy Cross.

Orca would then go on to have repeated run-ins with air attacks and later “the kamikaze boys” as her diary states, with her crew sending up reportedly impressive amounts of fire to meet incoming Japanese planes. The report comes from Tokyo Rose, who announced that, following a raid in an area where Orca was the primary ship, “The volume of Ack-Ack which met the previous night’s raid, indicated that a U.S. battleship of the Wisconsin class had been sighted by Japanese planes…” which is certainly something to brag about for a seaplane tender.

While in the Lingayen Gulf, raids were so heavy that she experienced attacks for six nights in a row, bagging a couple aircraft but coming out unscathed. As her diary states, “Fortunately for us, our first attackers appeared to have not been confirmed Lodge members- Kamikaze Local No. 269, for none of them made suicide dives unless actually hit and out of control.”

Then came the, often frustrating, efforts to recover downed Japanese aircrew.

Other rescues by Orca’s Cats and later Mariners while operating in the PI included the 12 crew and passengers of an Army C-47– which included female nurses– a P-51 pilot, five survivors of a downed B-25 from a raid over Formosa, nine Filipino women whose fishing vessel had capsized 20 miles offshore leaving them to cling to wreckage for three days, and the curious case of CDR McPherson B. Williams of Augusta Georgia. Williams, who was Yorktown’s ComAirGrp 3, had been downed and rescued by Filipino guerillas who kept him out of Japanese hands for seven weeks and, in a twist of fate, was picked up by a Mariner piloted by his Annapolis roommate.

More Carly Mydan photos of Orca, with her crew performing maintenance on PBMs

Speaking of Filipino guerillas, Orca would spend much of her time in local waters supporting Gen. Walter Kreuger’s Sixth Army’s effort to arm, support, and equip bands of insurgents behind Japanese lines, running guns, uniforms, radio equipment, and medicine to these plucky freedom fighters.

VJ Day found Orca at sea, having just completed an overhaul at Manus Island in preparation for “the big push” on Tokyo. On 26 September, Orca arrived at Okinawa to assist in the occupation of the Japanese Islands.

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. 19-N-92247

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. Her 40mm quadruple mount had been moved forward replacing one 5/38 mount, but she retained two 5guns, including one in an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-92245

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. Her 40mm quadruple mount had been moved forward replacing one 5/38 mount, but she retained two 5guns, including one in an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-92246

After supporting the Bikini Atoll A-bomb tests, Orca then decommissioned on 31 October 1947 and joined the reserve fleet in San Francisco. According to her War History, 82 percent of her plank owners, the majority of which were green on commissioning, completed the war with the tender.

She had earned three battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation for service in the conflict.

The 1950s…

Orca re-commissioned 15 December 1951, as the push was on in Korea, and went on to serve the rest of the decade in a variety of West Pac cruises and training evolutions, including tense China service, with much of her WWII armament landed.

USS Orca (AVP-49) moored at Naval Station San Diego, circa 1950s. Dave Schroeder and John Chiquoine. Via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/43/4349.htm

USS Orca (AVP-49) Underway on 4 April 1955. Note the aviation insignia on the bow aft of the hull number. The open 5/38 mount formerly on her fantail was removed between late 1951 and 1955. 80-G-668276

To the Horn of Africa!

Decommissioned in March 1960, at Tongue Point Naval Station, Astoria, Oregon, she was subsequently laid up in the Pacific Reserve Fleet, Columbia River Group. Her second stint in mothballs, however, did not last long and the following year she was towed to SFNSY and reactivated for transfer to the brand-new Imperial Ethiopian Navy in January 1962, named, well, Ethiopia (A01). Along with a group of 95-foot PGMs and some surplus LCMs, they would prove the backbone of the force.

Formed in 1955 with a group of retired British naval personnel served as advisers and training supervisors, Ethiopia’s Navy was not a huge armada, with our repurposed seaplane tender being the fleet’s largest vessel, training ship, and flagship/imperial yacht for three decades. It was from her deck that Emperor Haile Selassie regularly inspected visiting foreign ships for the country’s annual Navy Day each January, an event that often saw a decent turnout.

“Haile Selassie is Host to British, French, theU.S. and Soviet Ships. January 1969, At Massawa, during Ethiopia’s Navy Days. The British frigate HMS Leander took part along with USS Luce, Russian destroyer Gnevy, French frigate Commandant Bory and the Ethiopian flagship, Ethiopia. On the sea day, all ships sailed in company, with Emperor Haile Selassie onboard Ethiopia. Later, the Emperor dined onboard HMS Leander. The international line-up during the Ethiopian Sea Day. Left: HMS Leander (lower) and Gnevy (Above). Right: USS Luce (above), Ethiopia (center) and Commandant Bory (lower).”” IWM A 35201

HMS CHICHESTER AT ETHIOPIA NAVY DAYS. FEBRUARY 1970, MASSAWA. THE FRIGATE HMS CHICHESTER REPRESENTED GREAT BRITAIN AT THE ANNUAL ETHIOPIAN NAVY DAYS. OTHER SHIPS TAKING PART INCLUDED US FLEET ESCORT SHIP FOREST ROYAL, THE FRENCH FRIGATE COMMANDANT BORY, THE SOVIET DESTROYER BLESTIYASCHYJ AND PATROL BOATS OF THE SUDANESE NAVY. INCLUDED IN THE PROGRAMME WAS A GRADUATION PARADE FROM THE ETHIOPIAN NAVAL COLLEGE AT MASSAWA AND A SERIES OF INTERNATIONAL SPORTING EVENTS BETWEEN TEAMS FROM THE VISITING SHIPS. (A 35268) Royal salute from Emperor Haile Sellasie on board his yacht ETHIOPIA as HMS CHICHESTER steams past. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205165107

The 1,300-man Imperial Ethiopian Navy took up –almost– a full page in the 1973 Jane’s, with ex-Orca as the largest vessel.

After Selassie was deposed in 1974, and the socialist regime pivoted towards Moscow and away from the West by 1978, Soviet advisors replaced the Brits, Americans, Dutch, and Norwegians. By the 1980s, the force tripled in size as Petya, Osa and Turya-class fast attack craft arrived as military aid to help with the country’s low-key wars with its Western-backed neighbors.

Still, Orca/Ethiopia endured as the largest ship.

By 1990, Ethiopia had lost its ports as the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front had captured Massawa, prompting the
Ethiopian admiralty to pull stumps and migrate their homeless fleet to nearby Yemen. This situation came to a head when Eritrea gained de jure independence. In 1993, the Yemenis pulled the plug on the Ethiopian nautical squatters and asked them to leave in a bar closing sort of way (you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here…).

However, at that point, Orca/Ethiopia could no longer fire up her engines and, with her ~200 crewmembers interned as refugees, was sold for scrap to pay off delinquent dock fees in 1995.

As for the Ethiopian Navy, over the past couple of years, there has been an effort to reboot it, a curiosity for a land-locked country. The general plan would seem to be for the force to work out of Djibouti. Nonetheless, last year Adm. Foggo, commander of Naval Forces Africa, met with Brig. Gen. Kindu Gezu, Ethiopian Head of Navy in “the first staff to staff talks.”

Here in the U.S., Orca’s ship engineering drawings as well as 30 assorted war diaries and reports are digitized in the National Archives. She is also remembered on the Commemorative Plaque Wall at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington.

As for her sisters, they have all gone on to the breakers or been reefed with the final class member afloat, ex-Chincoteague/Ly Thuong Kiet/Andres Bonifacio scrapped in the Philippines in 2003.

Specs:

Displacement 1,766 t.(lt) 2,800 t.(fl)
Length 310′ 9″
Beam 41′ 2″
Draft 13′ 6″ (limiting)
Speed 18.6kts.
Complement: 73 officers, 294 enlisted (including 152 members of embarked seaplane squadron)
Fuel Capacities: Diesel 1,955 Bbls; Gasoline 71,400 Gals
Propulsion: two Fairbanks Morse Diesel 38D8 1/4 engines, single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gear, two propellers, 6,080shp
Ship’s Service Generators: two Diesel-drive 100Kw 450V A.C., one Diesel-drive 200Kw 450V A.C.
Armament:
3 single 5″/38 cal dual-purpose gun mounts
1 quad Bofors 40mm AA gun mount, 2 twins
4 twin Oerlikon 20mm AA gun mounts
Stern depth charge racks
Changes as a training ship, 1960:
Radars: RCA SPS-12 air search radar, I-band navigation radar, RCA/General Electric Mark 26 I/J-band fire control
Armament:
1 single 5″/38 cal dual-purpose gun mount
1 single Bofors 40mm AA gun mount, 2 twins

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Hạ Long Bay Vacation, 70 years ago

From the French military archives, this group of photos of the Marine Commando de Montfort catching some rays in Hạ Long Bay, in what is now Northern Vietnam, just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from mainland China, October 1950.

Just 60-strong, the Montforts had been formed in Indochina in late 1947, named after the late Ensign Louis de Montfort, a commando killed in Haiphong in March 1946. Using a mix of German, French, U.S., and British gear, they fought the Viet Minh extensively along with the coastal and border areas, carrying out various raids and reconnaissance operations borne by local craft and LCIs.

Like their companion unit, Commando Jaubert, the Montforts integrated local Vietnamese volunteers into their ranks, which at times accounted for half of the unit.

Their heaviest artillery were 60 mm mortars

…as well as lots of submachine guns, with the German MP40 being preferred.

Their go-to infantry arm was the U.S. M1 Carbine, light and handy for jumping around out of small boats for coastal operations in the jungle area

Note the M1 Carbine over the Marine’s shoulder, French OF37 ouef (egg) grenades on his pockets, and twin mag pouches. You would hope to have more than 60 spare rounds and a couple of grenades for a firefight in Indochina…

Montfort Commando-marine Moïse Saillant with a Châtellerault FM 24/29 LMG, in Ha Long Bay, circa 1950, note the cross draw pistol, which could be a MAB Model B. The FM 24/29 would remain in French service well into the 1970s, although it was a forerunner of the BREN

When it came to uniforms, you can tell their old WWII Commando Kiefer origins, as they made extensive use of the green beret with left-oriented cap badge and Denison smocks.

Note the flatbottom punts, possibly bridging pontoons, being towed by launches

After seven years of combat, Commando Montfort was disbanded in December 1954, its Indonchines members dismissed. It would soon be reformed in Metropolitan France, as a new war was brewing in Algeria.

Fed Ex’ing a PBRON

During the late 19th Century and early 20th, attaching a flotilla of small torpedo boats to repurposed old warship such as a monitor– ideal for their low freeboard– was the standard operating procedure. The small boats didn’t have luxurious accommodation and messing facilities while at the same time they had short legs and could only carry so much ordnance. Being a cub to a mama bear was able to fix those shortcomings to a degree.

Fast forward to WWII, and you saw the same thing with PT-Boat squadrons.

3 US Navy PT-boats Aleutians in June 1943 eaplane tender GILLIS AVD12 PBY Catalina Higgins boats Mk 19 torpedo tubes.

Official USN Photographs (National Archives) 80-G-K-9454 (Color).

In Vietnam, the Brown Water Navy often supped in the gallies of LSTs detailed to the task.

USS Garrett County (LST 786) in the Co Chien River, June 1968, with PBRs alongside and HAL-3 Seawolf Hueys aboard. Note the –manned –40mm Bofors on deck. U.S. Navy Photo K-51442

Today, we have the Expeditionary Transfer Docks (ESD), such as USS Montford Point, ready to serve as forward-deployed floating seabases for small craft, special warfare assets, and light aviation.

There are also other ideas on the table, thus:

PHILIPPINE SEA (Oct. 4, 2020) A Mark VI patrol boat assigned to Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron (MSRON) 3 prepares to board the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Sgt. Manuel A. Serrano)

USS Comstock (LSD-45) is a 16,000-ton Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship capable of holding 5 LCACs or 21 LCMs in her dock while carrying around ~400 Marines of a MEU as part of an amphibious ready group. Currently, she is underway after loading Mark VI patrol boats and expeditionary mine countermeasure (ExMCM) elements in Guam for a security patrol in the Philippine Sea as part of the 7th Fleet.

“This level of integration of Mark VI patrol boats with surface Navy assets has never been accomplished before,” said Lt. Andy Bergstrom, Alpha Company Commander. “The Mark VI patrol boat provides a presence capability in the littorals beyond sheltered bays and harbors with additional mission capabilities including high-value asset escort, visit, board, search and seizure support, and theater security cooperation.”

The Mark VI, or Wright-class patrol boats are 85-foot vessels with a 10 man crew and a pretty decent armament for their size to include a pair of stabilized MK 38 25mm chain guns and six weapon stations.

SANTA RITA, Guam (May 8, 2019) Three Mark VI patrol boats attached to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 2, maneuver in formation during a training evolution near Apra Harbor. CRS-2, assigned to Coastal Riverine Group 1, Det. Guam is capable of conducting maritime security operations across the full spectrum of naval, joint, and combined operations.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey Adams)

Sure, they would be toast against an anti-ship missile, but they are meant more for counter-insurgency, anti-piracy, and coastal/riverine control, making them ideal for special operations platforms and recovering/supporting small UAVs/USVs (they have operated RQ-11 Ravens in the past).

Further, the Mark VI design is, as shown above, well-deck friendly, with as many as 8 able to be carried in an LSD-41-class vessel.

The above graphic shows how 4 MKVI patrol boats can be transported inside the well deck of either an LHD-1, LPD-17, or LSD-49 class amphibious warfare vessels. Even the older LPD-4 types can carry a pair of the super swifts. The huge LCAC-designed well-deck of the LSD-41 type landing docks can carry an entire expeditionary squadron of 8 MkVI boats inside her hull. Couple this with berthing for brown water sailors, flight deck spots for SH/MH60 helicopters, and UAVs and you see how a group of MKVIs can be UPS’d to a contested strip of coastline.

Battery Free

Official caption: The crew of medium endurance cutter USCGC Northland (WMEC-904) conducts a live firing of the MK 75 76mm weapons system while underway, September 20, 2020, in the Atlantic Ocean. The cutter returned to its homeport of Portsmouth, Virginia, Wednesday after a 47-day patrol conducting counter-drug and migrant interdiction operations in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

(U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo 200920-G-G0105-1003)

Once the standard main gun for all U.S. Navy warships smaller than a destroyer in the 1980s and 90s, the OTO Melera 76mm/62 caliber Super Rapid was at its height carried by 51 Perry-class FFGs, 6 Pegasus-class PHMs, and 25 Coast Guard cutters. The first MK 75 gun produced in the U.S. was delivered in August 1978, with U.S. production handled by FMC.

Today, with the PHMs and FFGs gone, just 13 Bear-class 270-foot cutters such as Northland and two remaining 378-foot Hamiltons are the torch carriers for the system.

Built at the by the Tacoma Boatbuilding Company of Tacoma, Washington, Northland was commissioned on December 17, 1984, making her 36 years young in a few weeks.

Coast Guard picks up even more FRCs, go Glock

If you have followed me here for even a minute, you know that I am a fan of the Coast Guard’s 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter program.

Sept 24, 2020: Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139) arrives in Guam, where four of her class will form a squadron in the U.S.’s most forward-deployed territory, so to speak. 

The $27 million-per-unit FRCs have a flank speed of 28 knots, state of the art C4ISR suite, a stern launch and recovery ramp for a 26-foot over-the-horizon interceptor cutter boat, and a combat suite that includes a remote-operated Mk38 25mm chain gun and four crew-served M2 .50 cals.

The addition of other light armaments, such as MK-60 quadruple BGM-176B Griffin B missile launchers, MK19 40mm automatic bloopers, and MANPADs, would be simple if needed, provided the Navy wanted to hand it over.

Based on the Dutch Damen Stan 4708 platform with some mods for U.S. use, Louisiana’s Bollinger Shipyards won a contract for the first unit, USCGC Bernard C. Webber (WPC-1101), in 2008 and has been plowing right along ever since.

Speaking of Bollinger, the yard just announced the USCG has exercised the contract option for another four craft, bringing the total number of hulls to 60, not an insignificant number.

It is thought the ultimate goal is to have 58 FRCs for domestic work– where they have proved exceedingly capable when operating in remote U.S. territories such as Guam, in the Caribbean, and in the Western Pacific– and six hulls for use in the Persian Gulf with the Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, a regular front-facing buffer force with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Changing pistolas

Guardsman on patrol somewhere along the Atlantic coast shown in the new uniform of the U.S. Coast Guard Mounted Beach Patrol, 1943. Note the M1917 revolver holster  S&W Victory Model in .38 Special and Army-pattern tack 

While under the Treasury Department, from 1790 to 1968, the Revenue Marine/Revenue Cutter Service/Coast Guard most commonly relied on pistols for their day-to-day work in countering smugglers, pirates, and other assorted scoundrels. These guns usually came from commercial sources. In fact, the old Revenue Cutter Service was one of the first organizations to buy large numbers of Mr. Colt’s revolvers, long before they were popular.

By WWI, the Cuttermen started using more standard handguns in line with the Navy, switching to .45ACP revolvers and pistols, which they utilized until switching to Beretta M9s in the mid-1980s– becoming the first branch of the military to be issued with the new 9mm.

In 2006, with the Coast Guard transferred to Homeland Security, they went with the then-common pistol used by the Secret Service and Federal Protective Service (the old GSA Police with better funding)– the Sig Sauer P229R DAK in .40S&W.

Fast forward to 2020 and the USCG is now using Glocks, piggybacking off the recent CBP contract, rather than go with the Sig Sauer M17/M18 as used by the rest of the military. 

The Coast Guard is now using the Glock 19 Gen5 MOS in 9mm as their standard handgun

Say it with me: Alto Tu Barco!

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