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Loaded for bear, or asymmetric warfare, either way

Nice loadout on this Zulu Cobra for littoral warfare in The Strait: M197 3-barreled 20mm gun (with 750 rounds likely loaded), a four-pack of Hellfire missiles for big boats, a seven-cell LAU-68C/A APKWS rocket pod for small boats, a drop tank for extra loiter, and a pair of AIM-9X Sidewinders for the possible random IRIAF F-5 or F-4 that wants to get muscular.

Also, note the Marine LAV-25 on the lookout. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck/Released)

Official caption: “STRAIT OF HORMUZ (Aug. 12, 2019) An AH-1Z Viper helicopter attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) takes off during a strait transit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th MEU are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the Western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points.”

 

Shades of Balikpapan

The largest Australian-led amphibious landing and offensive assault in history were the OBOE 2 landings at Balikpapan, Borneo (then the Japanese-held Dutch East Indies) in which some 33,000 troops hit the beach in July 1945. We’ve talked about that operation a couple weeks ago on a Warship Wednesday. 

With the path cleared by UDT-18, 7th Division Australian troops come ashore from landing craft during landing near Balikpapan oil fields in Borneo in July 1945. Some 33,000-strong combined Australian and Royal Netherlands Indies amphibious forces, the largest ever amphibious assault by Australian forces, hit the beach. 

Therefore, it is fitting that this month’s Talisman Saber ’19 exercise saw the largest Australian-led amphibious landing since OBOE with an extended multi-day combined force assault on Langham Beach, near Stanage Bay, Queensland, involving not only the Australians but also U.S. Marines, New Zealand troops, and elements of the British MoD, Japanese Self-Defense Force (ironically) and Canadian Forces.

As part of the exercise scenario, the fictional Pacific nation Kamaria invaded nearby “Legais” island, sparking global outcry and a response from the Blue Forces to liberate the occupied territory. Recon elements were inserted on D-3 with a full-on landing on D-Day with amphibious assault vehicles, landing craft, and helicopters bringing troops to shore.

The imagery was great.

More here. 

Splash one drone in the SOH

Back in my slimmer days, I used to crawl around at Ingalls in Pascagoula as part of the long-running effort to put flesh against steel to produce warships. One of the hulls that I worked on during that period was USS Boxer, to include getting underway on her during builder’s trials. With that being said, LHD-4 carved herself an interesting footnote in the annals of modern asymmetric warfare last week.

The Pentagon reported Friday that she splashed an unidentified Iranian drone (labeled by multiple analysts as a Mohajer-4B Sadegh) in the Strait of Hormuz that came inside the ship’s defense bubble while a WSJ writer onboard reported an Iranian helicopter and small craft came almost as close. 

The ship, with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked, has had Marines positioned topside with their light vehicles arrayed on her flight deck so they could bear crew-served weapons on low-key targets if needed. It was apparently one of the lightest of these, a Polaris MRZR 4×4, that was used to pop the drone.

A what?

The little brown thing on Boxer’s deck in the below image.

190718-M-EC058-1558 STRAIT OF HORMUZ (July 18, 2019) A UH-1Y Venom helicopter assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) during a strait transit. The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th MEU are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck/Released)

Outfitted with a Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) system, the go-cart-sized vehicle killed the Iranian UAV via aggressive freq interference.

An LMADIS operated by the 22nd MEU on the flight deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) in May. The system was developed specifically to combat the weaponized commercial drone development. It is equipped with state-of-the-art sensors, optics to track and monitor targets at extensive ranges, and capabilities to physically disable a UAS on approach.

1st Lt. Taylor Barefoot, a low altitude air defense officer with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, programs a counter-unmanned aircraft system on a Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) during a pre-deployment training exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Nov. 13, 2018. The LMADIS is a maneuverable, ground-based system, mounted to a Polaris MRZR that can detect, identify and defeat drones with an electronic attack. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)

Of course, the Iranians, in their best Baghdad Bob Act, said they recovered their drone safe and sound and they have the video to prove it. 

The same day, CENTCOM announced the start of Operation Sentinel:

U.S. Central Command is developing a multinational maritime effort, Operation Sentinel, to increase surveillance of and security in key waterways in the Middle East to ensure freedom of navigation in light of recent events in the Arabian Gulf region.

The goal of Operation Sentinel is to promote maritime stability, ensure safe passage, and de-escalate tensions in international waters throughout the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait (BAM) and the Gulf of Oman.

This maritime security framework will enable nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance.

Meanwhile, off Venezuela

Maduro can’t afford much, but he can still flex some Flankers from time to time apparently.

U.S. Southern Command released a series of short (20 sec) videos of a Venezuelan SU-30 Flanker as it “aggressively shadowed” a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II reportedly at an unsafe distance in international airspace over the Caribbean Sea July 19, jeopardizing the crew and aircraft.

“The EP-3 aircraft, flying a mission in approved international airspace, was approached in an unprofessional manner by the SU-30 that took off from an airfield 200 miles east of Caracas.”

And the beat goes on…

Last of the Cacines

Here we see the Portuguese Navy Cacine-class coastal patrol vessel patrol craft (patrulha) NRP Zaire (P1146) off the African archipelago nation of Sao Tome e Príncipe, a former colonial possession of Portugal which maintains strong economic and military ties with Lisbon.

Built in 1969 as part of a class of 10 vessels, she has been used in fisheries protection role (SIFICAP) and search and rescue (SAR) roles in addition to defense patrol taskings, the Cacine-class replaced the WWII-era craft used by the Portuguese until the disco era and were built at Estaleiros Navais do Mondego (Figueira da Foz, Portugal) and the Arsenal do Alfeite over a half-decade period.

Some 157-feet long overall, they could float in 7 feet of saltwater. These 300-ton OPVs were powered by a pair of Maybach (later MTU) diesel engines which gave them enough speed (20-knots) to overtake poaching trawlers and illegal coasters landing guns to African rebel groups (Portugal was involved in a series of crazy colonial brush wars when the Cacines were produced). To help with their tasking on Africa patrol, they had a decent range of some 4,500nm.

In the interest of saving cash, the Portuguese used recycled WWII deck guns for these boats and gave each Cacine a 40mm/L60 Bofors single forward and a 20mm/80 Oerlikon over the rear along with a pair of MG3 machine guns.

NRP Cacine (P 1140), with her Bofors, forward.

Bring on the kamikazes! 

Over the past several years, all of the Cacines have been put to pasture, replaced by the new and significantly larger (1,600-ton/272-feet) Viana do Castelo-class OPV

Zaire was the final to go, is decommissioning this month and her crew final crew is being decorated by the Sao Tome government for their efforts at saving lives and stopping poachers.

Just hailing a ride on a Narco Sub

In the bonkers short video below, you see a U.S. Coast Guard Deployable Specialized Forces TACLET guy deployed on the U.S. Coast Guard Legends-class National Security Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) going for a ride on a 31-foot Long Range Interceptor “somewhere in the Eastern Pacific.”

Said Coastie makes a perfect landing on what JIATF-South calls “a self-propelled semi-submersible suspected drug smuggling vessel (SPSS)” but best just known as a Narco-Sub. The below happened June 18, 2019.

This is the SPSS when surfaced, to give a scale at just how much of the hull was below the sea:

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) crew members inspect a self-propelled semi-submersible June 19, 2019, in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) crew members inspect a self-propelled semi-submersible June 19, 2019, in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Just two weeks after the above video was shot, crewmembers of the USCGC Mohawk (WMEC 913) and Tactical Law Enforcement Team South interdicted a second SPSS while conducting counter-trafficking operations in the Eastern Pacific.

(Coast Guard Photos)

The Coast Guard hasn’t been this busy fighting submarines since the Germans!

Warship Wednesday, July 3, 2019: The Frogmen of Balikpapan

Here at LSOZI, we are going to 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 (or unit) each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, July 3, 2019: The Frogmen of Balikpapan

U.S. National Archives 80-G-274676 via NHHC

Here, on a special WW where we take a break from an actual warship, we see a group of young U.S. Navy Underwater demolition personnel of UDT-18 aboard the fast transport (converted destroyer) USS Kline (APD-120) watching as Army B-25 bombers of the 13th Bomber Command plaster the Operation OBOE 2 invasion beaches off Balikpapan, Borneo circa 3 July 1945– 74 years ago today. They are waiting orders to leave their boat to clear underwater obstacles to go clear the beach to allow allied Australian troops to land. While the Pacific War would be over in less than two months, these frogmen, many of which are on their first mission, could not know that was looming and they had a Japanese-held beach to clear of obstacles.

According to Lt. JG C.F. Waterman, who took these amazing pictures, “Things looked rather bad at the moment and everyone was thoroughly scared.”

Originally formed in May 1943 as Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU), teams were created to clear beach obstacles in enemy-held areas. During the Torch Landings in North Africa, a group of Navy salvage personnel with a one-week crash course in demo hit the beaches but it was obvious a more dedicated force would be needed. That led to LCDR Draper L. Kauffman’s efforts to train teams ready to go ashore to clear a path. By Normandy, 34 NCDU teams would land on D-Day, suffering 53 percent casualties. They would repeat their efforts in the Dragoon Landings in Southern France in August 1944.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific, nine dedicated Underwater Demolition Teams were formed, largely from Seabees with a smattering of Marines, to work across Japanese-held atolls. First hitting Kwajalein on 31 January 1944, the Pacific teams initially were dressed for land combat like many of the NCDU members in Europe, with uniforms, boots, M1 helmets, and small arms in addition to their demo charges.

Underwater demolition team members boarding a landing craft off Saipan. Note belt equipment, life belt equipment, life belt and M-1 carbine of man in right center. His shirt indicates that he is a member of UDT-6. Photographed by Commander Bonnie Powell. 80-G-274665

Underwater demolition team members boarding a landing craft off Saipan. Note belt equipment, life belt equipment, life belt and M-1 carbine of man in right center. His shirt indicates that he is a member of UDT-6. Photographed by Commander Bonnie Powell. 80-G-274665

This soon changed as men skipped down to their swim trunks and swam on night missions to map the beaches before the landings. This later morphed into standard gear.

A model of the typical late-war UDT swimmer shown at the SEAL/UDT Musesum in Ft. Pierce. Note the dive mask, boots for use on coral, swim trunks, emergency life belt, demo bag, fins and knife. Around his chest is a board for drawing his section of beach. (Photo: Chris Eger)

A model of the typical late-war 1944-45 UDT swimmer shown at the SEAL/UDT Museum in Ft. Pierce. Note the dive mask, boots for use on coral, swim trunks, emergency life belt, demo bag, fins, and knife. Around his chest is a pencil to use on a board for drawing his section of beach. Around his right wrist is a plumb for measuring depth and distance. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Across Peleliu, the Philippines, Guam, and Iwo Jima, UDTs left their mark and went in first to guide the landing craft in and make a hole for them to hit the beach if needed.

A UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) explosive charge blows up an underwater obstacle off Agat Beach, Guam, during the invasion of that island, July 1944 80-G-700639

A UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) explosive charge blows up an underwater obstacle off Agat Beach, Guam, during the invasion of that island, July 1944 80-G-700639

By Okinawa, no less than eight full teams with 1,000 frogmen were utilized. There the nearly naked combat recon swimmers used aluminum paint (yikes!) to camouflage their skin against Japanese snipers– and to help insulate against the chilly Northern Pacific waters which could quickly lead to hypothermia.

Okinawa UDT members daubed aluminum paint on their bodies as camouflage to throw off Japanese marksmen. Photographed on the fantail of a fast transport (APD), circa Spring 1945 80-G-274695

Okinawa UDT members daubed aluminum paint on their bodies as camouflage to throw off Japanese marksmen. Photographed on the fantail of a fast transport (APD), circa Spring 1945 80-G-274695

Balikpapan would be the swan song of WWII frogmen ops with the final UDT demolition operation of the war on 3-4 July 1945, as the swimmers UDT-11 and UDT-18 removed their helmets and slid over the side of their landing craft before paddling to destiny in broad daylight.

Balikpapan Beach Map AWM

Under the watchful eyes of Gen. MacArthur, whose flagship was just offshore, the frogmen, armed just with knives and demo charges, first mapped the beaches and then helped clear them, coming within range of Japanese mortars and small arms.

Back to the swan song:

Balikpapan was to be no walkover, as the roughly 2,000 Japanese regulars there (augmented by 3,000 local Indonesian conscripts) defended the beaches well and, while they did not have Rommel’s Atlantikwall complete with Belgian Gates and Czech Hedgehogs, they did have thousands of punji stakes to impale infantry, mines, fougasse oil traps to burn men alive, wire obstacles, log barriers to hole landing craft, and the like.

Beach invasion spikes Posts were sunk in sunk in sand, 2 feet and interlocked with barbed wire. Balikpapan, Borneo, 4 July 1945

Off-shore log barricade on the beach at Balikpapan, Borneo.

Underwater demolition swimmers, awaiting the signal to enter the water, watch American planes strafe the invasion beach, 3 July 1945. 80-G-274677

Underwater demolition swimmers, awaiting the signal to enter the water, watch American planes strafe the invasion beach, 3 July 1945. 80-G-274677

An underwater demolition swimmer checks his swim fins and face mask, during UDT operations at Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. Name on his trunks is "Hopper". Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. Note tattoos. 80-G-274693

An underwater demolition swimmer checks his swim fins and face mask, during UDT operations at Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. Name on his trunks is “Hopper”. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. Note tattoos. 80-G-274693

An underwater demolition team's LCPR leaves its fast transport (APD), towing a rubber boat, 3 July 1945. This shows the way the rubber boat is positioned for UDT swimmer discharge and pickups. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274700

An underwater demolition team’s LCPR leaves its fast transport (APD), towing a rubber boat, 3 July 1945. This shows the way the rubber boat is positioned for UDT swimmer discharge and pickups in a method still used 75 years later. The machine guns of the LCPR are the only direct support the swimmers had– and they were typically out of range by the time the swimmers closed with the beach. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274700

UDT swimmers prepare to recover their gear and swim towards their objective area, after being dropped off by a landing craft. Photograph released circa 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion that July. 80-G-274690

UDT swimmers prepare to recover their gear and swim towards their objective area, after being dropped off by a landing craft. The photograph released circa 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion that July. 80-G-274690

Underwater demolition swimmer prepares for pickup, after he had completed his work off the Balikpapan beaches, 3 July 1945. Pickup boat is a rubber raft towed alongside a powerboat. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274701

Underwater demolition swimmer prepares for pickup after he had completed his work off the Balikpapan beaches, 3 July 1945. Pickup boat is a rubber raft towed alongside a powerboat. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274701

Recovery of a UDT swimmer, using a rubber raft towed alongside a power boat. Note swimmer's life belt, sheath knife and other equipment. Photo released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan operation early in July. 80-G-274683

Recovery of a UDT swimmer, using a rubber raft towed alongside a power boat. Note swimmer’s life belt, sheath knife, beach markers, and other equipment. Photo released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan operation early in July. 80-G-274683

Underwater demolition team swimmers wait in the rain to be taken aboard their fast transport, off Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. The swab mounted on the stern of their LCP(R) means "Clean sweep, day's work done". They are watching casualties going aboard from another LCP(R). Boat is from USS KLINE (APD-120). Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waterman. 80-G-274686

Underwater demolition team swimmers wait in the rain to be taken aboard their fast transport, off Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. The swab mounted on the stern of their LCP(R) means “Clean sweep, day’s work done”. They are watching casualties going aboard from another LCP(R). The boat is from USS KLINE (APD-120). Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waterman. 80-G-274686

Amazingly, the UDT teams at Balikpapan only suffered one, non-fatal, injury.

Underwater demolition swimmer, SF1c John Regan gets a drink and smoke after setting charges off Balikpapan, circa early July 1945. Note his sheath knife 80-G-274698

Underwater demolition swimmer, SF1c John Regan gets a drink and smoke after setting charges off Balikpapan, circa early July 1945. Note his sheath knife 80-G-274698

Ensign S.E. Lanier holds the nose of a Japanese 37mm shell which hit, but did not pierce, his helmet. Photographed released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion, early that July. 80-G-274691

Ensign S.E. Lanier holds the nose of a Japanese 37mm shell which hit but did not pierce, his helmet. Photographed released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion, early that July. 80-G-274691

Underwater demolition swimmers, MoM2c G.J. Bender, rests on board his UDT fast transport after working near the invasion beach, 3 July 1945. He is covered with oil, which was thick on the water near the beach. Note the boots. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waterman. 80-G-274678

With the path cleared by UDT-18, 7th Australian Division troops come ashore from landing craft during landing near Balikpapan oil fields in Borneo. Some 33,000-strong combined Australian and Royal Netherlands (KNIL) troops would land in OBOE 2, the largest ever amphibious assault by Australian forces.

As for our frogmen, it was expected that if they would have hit the beaches at Honshu in late 1945, a mission they were detailed to until the A-bombs intervened, the men of UDT-18 would have suffered 100 percent casualties.

As it was, their unit was disestablished 3 November 1945, at Coronado.

At the SEAL/UDT Museum in Fort Pierce, where NCDU’s and UDTs were formed and trained in WWII, they have a massive 7-foot long model of the old USS Kline on display and a statue of an era frogman dedicated to the “naked warriors” of Balikpapan and all the other beaches in which their brothers landed.

USS Kline (APD-120) at Seal Museum Fort Pierce (Chris Eger)

(Chris Eger)

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