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Warship Wednesday, July 8, 2020: Service Guarantees Citizenship

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, July 8, 2020: Service Guarantees Citizenship

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 108363

Here we see the Wickes-class tin can USS Roper (Destroyer No. 147) in an undated overhead bow-on shot early in her career. As yesterday was the 113th birthday of her most famous crewmember, it only seemed important to shine some light on this often-overlooked but well-traveled warship.

Roper was one of the iconic first flight of “Four Piper” destroyers that were designed in 1915-16 with input from no less an authority as Captain (later Admiral) W.S. Sims. Beamy ships with a flush-deck, a quartet of boilers (with a smokestack for each) were coupled to a pair of Parsons geared turbines to provide 35.3-knots designed speed– which is still considered fast today, more than a century later. The teeth of these 314-foot, 1250-ton greyhounds were four 4-inch/50 cal MK 9 guns and a full dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes.

They reportedly had short legs and were very wet, which made long-range operations a problem, but they gave a good account of themselves. Originally a class of 50 was authorized in 1916, but once the U.S entered WWI in April 1917, this was soon increased and increased again to some 111 ships built by 1920.

Roper was laid down on 19 March 1918, at the height of the German’s Michel Offensive in France, at the William Cramp & Sons yard in Philadelphia. She was the first ship to carry the name of LCDR Jesse M. Roper (USNA 1872) who, as skipper of the gunboat USS Petrel in 1901, lost his life in a fire attempting to rescue a trapped seaman.

However, USS Roper came too late to join the Great War, commissioned on 15 February 1919. Nonetheless, after shakedown, she crossed the Atlantic and served in the Med and the Black Sea during the tumultuous period that included the breakup of the old Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire coupled with the heartbreak of the Russian Civil War.

Roper, pre-1922. NH 108361

Transferring to the Pacific Fleet, Roper would be placed decommissioned in 1922 and rest in mothballs until 1930 when she was refit and reactivated. In contrast to her quiet time during the 20s, the 1930s would be a time of active participation in a series of fleet problems and maneuvers that ranged from the Eastern seaboard to the Caribbean and Alaska.

An undated overhead image of Roper underway, likely early in her career and after her 1930 reactivation. Note her stern depth charge racks. NH 108364

From the same set, with a good overview of her guns and profile. NH 108362

Enter Mr. Heinlein

With a tradition that his family fought in every American war going back to the days of Bunker Hill, Robert Anson Heinlein, born in Missouri in 1907, entered the U.S. Naval Academy as a Mid in 1925. He had a bit of family support on campus, as his brother Rex had been admitted the previous year, a factor that led Robert to have to pester U.S. Sen. Jimmy Reed to burn another service academy appointment on a Heinlein, reportedly hitting the senator with over 50 letters.

The younger Heinlein, “Bob” to his classmates, was an expert rifleman and a member of the fencing team, winner of the 1927 Epee medal. Academically 5th in his class of 243, he graduated 20th due to demerits with the 1929 class– one that included the future RADM Edward J. O’Donnell, RADM Warner S. Rodimon and VADM James H. Flatley– and has a very entertaining page in that year’s Lucky Bag. Headed to the fleet, the newly minted ensign shipped out for one of the choicest assignments, the brand-new carrier USS Lexington (CV-2).

LEXINGTON at the fleet concentration, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaiian Islands, 16 February 1932. Heinlein would have been aboard her at the time. NH 67634

Lex’s skipper, while Ensign Heinlein was aboard, was the taciturn Ernest J. King, future WWII CNO. This cheerful guy:

Captain Ernest J. King, USN, Commanding officer of USS LEXINGTON (CV-2), is shown the Olympic Cup by Chief Gunner Campbell, on 5 September 1931. The cup had recently been won by LEXINGTON’s runabout crew. 80-G-462576

In 1933, Heinlein left the mighty turbo-electric carrier for the much smaller and almost in comparison “retro” tin can, Roper, where he would serve as gunnery officer until he left the Navy on a medical discharge due to a case of TB.

Robert Heinlein, transitioning from 1929 Mid to 1931 carrier Ensign to 1934 tin can Lieutenant

Of course, Bob would settle for a career as a renowned science fiction author; winner of several Hugo and Nebula Award prizes for groundbreaking science fiction. He was able to loop back around during WWII as an aeronautical engineer at the Navy Aircraft Materials Center at PNSY, bringing fellow sci-fi legends Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp with him to do their part.

Meanwhile, Roper had a war of her own to fight

Off Cape Cod on 7 December 1941, the Great War-era destroyer was soon on convoy duty during the height of what the German U-boat skippers deemed “The Happy Time” of Operation Drumbeat (Paukenschlag) due to the widespread availability of targets in American waters. As such, this included several instances of picking her way through floating wreckage and rescuing lifeboats crammed with U-boat survivors.

USS Roper (DD-147) Escorting a convoy, out of Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1942. Ships of the convoy are visible on the horizon. Roper is wearing Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage. NARA 80-G-K-580

USS ROPER (DD-147) View taken while underway in Hampton Roads, on convoy escort duty, circa 1942. Note camouflage. 80-G-K-467

On the night of 13-14 April 1942, Roper made a weak sonar contact in shallow water off North Carolina’s Bodie Island lighthouse, inside an area dubbed “Torpedo Junction” due to the high rate of submarine actions in the region and began prosecuting it. The contact turned out to be the Type VIIB German U-boat U-85 of 3. Flottille. Realizing he was caught in the shallows with no room to move, the sub’s skipper, Oblt. Eberhard Greger, made for the surface to fight it out, making turns for 17 knots while snapping a torpedo from its aft tube at his pursuer– from just 700 yards away- which only narrowly missed, running down the port side of the oncoming tin can’s hull.

The engagement went down to deck guns at a range of 2,100 yards, with Roper’s forward 3-incher busting the sub’s pressure hull just aft of the conning tower on her third round as one of her .50-caliber Brownings, manned by a Chief Boatswains Mate, kept the Germans from their own guns. The U-boat disappeared below the waves, stern first, before Roper’s torpedo tubes could be brought to bear.

A painting of the destroyer USS Roper (DD-147) engaging the German Type VII submarine U-85, during the night of 13/14 April 1942, near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Artist unknown. Image from the 1967/68 Edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/147.htm

Greger and crew apparently attempted to abandon ship as it was going down but, in a sad fog of war incident, all perished as Roper’s crew, in the dark and fearing another U-boat was in the area due to another, albeit unrelated sonar contact, continued depth charging the area after the sub submerged for the final time. When dawn broke, Roper’s crew recovered 29 bodies, which were later interred at Hampton National Cemetery.

Roper’s attack report is in the National Archives and makes for interesting reading. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/133887377

The wreck and war grave that is U-85 is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and protected as part of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. In just 100 feet of water, she is a popular dive site.

With her “kill” Roper became an inaugural member of the U.S. Navy’s sub-busting club in the Atlantic War, although the milestone of the lonely battle was kept secret until after the war. She was in good company, as her sister ship, USS Ward (DD-139), fired the first U.S. shots of the Pacific War, sinking a Japanese midget submarine outside of Pearl Harbor just before the attack there.

The rest of Roper’s 1942 was spent in less eventful coastal patrol and escort service, shifting to riding shotgun on Caribbean-to-Mediterranean convoys building up Allied forces in North Africa and the 1943 push to Sicily and Italy.

In October, entered Charleston Navy Yard for conversion to her next role, that of a WWII littoral combat ship.

Green Dragon Days

With the changing pace of the new naval war, the Roper, as with most of her class, was converted to other uses, being too small for fleet work. She lost her 4-inch guns, which went on to equip armed merchant ships, as well as her torpedo tubes. Also leaving were half of her boilers, which dropped her speed down to 25-knots. She was given a trio of newer high-angle 3-inch/50 guns, one 40 mm AA gun, and five 20 mm AA guns, and the capability to carry up to 300 Marines or soldiers for a brief period. In this new role, she was re-designated as a high-speed amphibious transport (APD-20). Where her torpedo tubes once were, she now carried four 36-foot LCP landing craft on davits.

Such converted, these ships, usually painted in an all-over alligator green scheme, became known as “Green Dragons.”

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Quarter. File 11-21-43-4.” Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Bow, Down View. File 11-21-43-6. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Bow. File 11-21-43-2. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Bow. File 11-21-43-7. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Stern View. File 11-21-43-5. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

These conversions had a hard war. They transported troops to beachheads, served as escorts for transports and supply vessels, conducted anti-submarine patrols and survey duties, operated with Underwater Demolition Teams and commando units, performed messenger and transport duties, conveyed passengers and mail to and from forward units, and were involved in minesweeping operations.

On 13 April 1944, Roper steamed across the Atlantic to join the massing 8th Fleet at Oran and subsequently landed units of the reformed French Army on the Italian coast at Pianosa on 17 June. By August, she was part of the Dragoon Landings in southern France, landing troops on Levant Island with TF 86/Sitka Force. Her charges were 14 officers and 269 men of the elite “Black Devil” commandos of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force who landed, and subsequently fought the small Battle of Port Cros in which they captured the five forts on the islands from the German Army.

Roper’s report of landing operations on the Ile du Levant with Sitka Force is digitized and in the National Archives. 

Reaping the Devine Wind

With the days of amphibious landings in Europe at an end in 1945, Roper sailed for the Pacific for the first time in WWII. Just three days after arriving at Nakagusuku Bay on the southern coast of Okinawa, she was hit by a Japanese kamikaze, a Zeke that was being pursued by three F4U Corsairs, the latter being a factor that prevented AAA fire from being directed at the incoming suicide plane. The Zeke hit Roper’s forecastle at 0922 on 25 May, starting fires in the CPO and Wardroom country which were extinguished in about an hour but left her forward magazines flooded. Her First Lieutenant, Lt. (JG) Thomas Walsh, was killed on deck via flying debris. Ten of her crew were lightly wounded with seven being evacuated to the hospital ship USS Relief. 

USS ROPER (APD-20) as damaged by a suicide plane attack, 26 May 1945. The plane’s port wing had sheared off and entered the ship’s starboard side, making a 6-foot hole about f-feet above the waterline. The fuselage of the Zeke glanced off the ship’s forecastle and exploded 30 feet off her beam. The plane’s propeller chewed several 3-foot-long gashes in the forecastle’s deck. The pilot’s helmet, jacket, and “pieces of his anatomy” were found hanging from Gun. No. 1. Courtesy of Admiral H.W. Hill. NH 66192

Roper’s kamikaze report is digitized and available in the National Archives. 

Of her class, 13 of her sisters were sunk in WWII, most early in the war while trying to stem the Japanese tide off Guadalcanal or, in the case of two, due to German U-boats in the Atlantic. The famous Ward, similarly, converted to an APD, was sunk off Ormoc in the Philippines on 7 December 1944 by a kamikaze. A similar fate befell sister USS Palmer (DD-161/DMS-5) in the Lingayen Gulf. Likewise, sister USS Dickerson (DD-157/APD-21) was so badly hit by a kamikaze in April 1945 off Iwo Jima that she was scuttled.

As for Roper, ordered back to the States to complete her own kamikaze repairs, she departed the Ryukyus on 6 June and reached San Pedro a month later. With the end of the war, her those repairs were not undertaken, and she was instead decommissioned on 15 September 1945 and scrapped the following year.

Roper earned four battle stars during World War II and the largest part of her currently in existence is an anchor that is on display at an entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There has not been a second USS Roper on the Navy List.

Most of Roper’s WWII war diaries, as well as a set of her plans, are in the National Archives. 

Today no Wickes-class tin can survive. The last one afloat, USS Maddox (DD–168), was scrapped in 1952 after serving in the US, then RN, then Canadian, then Soviet navies.

However, one of the class, USS Walker (DD-163), has been given new life in the excellent alternate history series Destroyermen written by Taylor Anderson. It is, um, science-fiction. Go figure.

As for Heinlein, whose wartime work for the Navy ironically included kamikaze detection and defense, died in 1988, aged 80. His body was eventually cremated, and his ashes scattered over the Pacific from the deck of a warship. Before that, he addressed the Mids in 1973 during which he noted:

What you do have here is a tradition of service. Your most important classroom is Memorial Hall. Your most important lesson is the way you feel inside when you walk up those steps and see that shot-torn flag framed in the arch of the door: ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship.’ If you feel nothing, you don’t belong here. But if it gives you goose flesh just to see that old battle flag, then you are going to find that feeling increasing every time you return here over the years… until it reaches a crescendo the day you return and read the list of your own honored dead – classmates, shipmates, friends – read them with grief and pride while you try to keep your tears silent.

In 2001, Virginia Heinlein, who had a long naval history herself and was the prototype of the strong female characters in many of her husband’s novels, endowed the Robert Anson Heinlein Chair in Aerospace Engineering at Annapolis.

Specs:

USS Roper (DD-147): Booklet of General Plans – Inboard Profile / Outboard Profile. National Archives Identifier: 109188795 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/109188795

(As completed)
Displacement: 1,247 long tons (1,267 t)
Length: 314 ft 4 in
Beam: 30 ft 11 in
Draft: 9 ft 10 in
Propulsion: 2 × geared steam turbines, 2 × shafts
Speed: 35 kn
Complement: 231 officers and enlisted
Armament:
4 × 4 in /50 cal guns
2 × 3 in /50 cal anti-aircraft guns
12 × 21 in torpedo tubes (4×3)

(1942)
Speed: 25kn
Complement: 180 officers and enlisted, up to 300 troops for short periods
Armament:
3 x 3inch/50
1 x 40mm Bofors
5 x 20mm Oerlikons

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

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The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

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Sun is getting low for the 210s

When the 16 Reliance-class medium endurance cutters were ordered in the 1960s, they were the first cutter built as part of the Coast Guard’s post-World War II fleet revitalization and the first new USCG-designed seagoing cutter construction since the 1930s, with the 255-foot cutters and Wind-class icebreakers wartime Navy-oriented designs.

This black and white photo shows newly the commissioned Reliance (WMEC-615) with an HH-52 Sea Guard helicopter landing on its pad and davits down with one of its small boats deployed. Notice the lack of smokestack and paint scheme pre-dating the Racing Stripe or “U.S. Coast Guard” paint schemes. She has a 3″/50 forward as well as 20mm cannons for AAA work and weight and space for Mousttraps, a towed sonar, and Mk.32 ASW tubes, although they were never fitted. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Humble 210-foot cutters, they had a lot of innovation for the period.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office, they were the first class of cutter with a combined diesel and gas (CODAC) powerplant that “drove the cutter at speeds of up to 20 knots, so it could tow a 10,000-ton vessel or keep pace with Navy carrier fleets.” Other groundbreaking facets included the first use of air conditioning on a cutter and the first fleet of cutters designed with a flight deck for helicopter operations, a new-fangled device the USGC helped developed in the 1940s.

Built in four yards, 16 Reliance-class cutters joined the fleet in just four years, at a program cost of $54 million ($446M today), which is a deal in any decade.

In the 1980s, the 210s were given a mid-life upgrade in which their CODAC suite became diesel-only with a pair of pitch controlled main diesel engines capable of reaching a max speed of 18 knots, a midship exhaust stack, and her WWII-era armament landed for a 25mm Mk.38 and two .50 caliber machine guns. Her flight deck, although shortened due to the new stack, was still capable of carrying and deploying an HH/MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, albeit without a hangar.

Coast Guard Cutter Reliance patrols the Western Caribbean in support of the Joint Interagency Task Force – South October 2014. The cutter’s crew worked with an aviation detachment from the Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron based in Jacksonville, Fla., to detect and interdict suspected smugglers. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Clinton McDonald)

They even appeared in a number of films, with class member USCGC Dauntless (WMEC-624) showing up in the Peter Benchley/Michael Caine vehicle The Island as both a supporting actor and set for the last act of the movie.

(Check out from the 3:21 mark on)

With that being said, the 210s are in their last days and several have been decommissioned and given away as military aid. The Galveston-based USCGC Dauntless (WMEC-624) and the Pascagoula-based USCGC Decisive (WMEC-629), the latter of which I toured several times for an article in Sea Classics magazine, transferred to Pensacola in 2017, where the service is gathering the last of the tribe “to better leverage efficiencies gained by clustering vessels of the same class.”

And such, Reliance, which has been based at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the town of Kittery, Maine for the past 32 years, pulled stumps for P-Cola on Monday, set for her last chapter in U.S. maritime service.

The Coast Guard will soon build the “Heritage”-Class 360-foot Offshore Patrol Cutters, often recycling 210-class cutter names, to replace both the Reliances and the 270-foot Bear/Famous-class cutters. Or at least that’s the plan, anyway.

Warship Wednesday, July 1, 2020: The Hunchback of Nord Virginia

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, July 1, 2020: The Hunchback of Nord Virginia

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-DIG-PPMSCA-33402

Here we see the steam ferry-turned-gunboat USS Hunchback somewhere on the James River, likely in late 1864. Note leisurely sitting officers on the lower deck with the sailors carefully posing assorted nautical actions above, complete with spyglasses. The only U.S. Navy warship to bear the name (so far), she was extensively chronicled by Matthew Brady (or someone of his group) in period photographs during the Civil War.

A wooden-hulled sidewheeler steamer, Hunchback was constructed in New York in 1852 for use by the New York and Staten Island Ferry Company. Some 179-feet overall, she could make 12 knots, making her a reliable– and fast– way to move people and light cargo around the boroughs of the bustling metropolis.

Side-wheel ferry Hunchback in commercial service, in 1859. Note horses and carts on her stern and passengers enjoying the upper deck chairs. Image from Maritime New York in Nineteenth-Century Photographs, P.11, Pub. by E. & H. T. Anthony-Johnson, Dover Publications Inc., New York, via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/09949.htm

Purchased by the Navy 16 December 1861, she sailed to Hampton Roads soon afterward and was commissioned there two weeks later, retaining her peacetime name. She joined such interesting vessels on the Naval List as USS Midnight, and USS Switzerland, likewise taken up from trade with their names intact, a necessary evil as some 418 existing ships were purchased for naval use by the Union fleet during the war in addition to the more than 200 new vessels ordered from various yards.

Armed with a trio of soda-bottle-shaped IX-inch Dahlgren smoothbore shell guns (two forward, one stern) and a fearsome 100-pound/6.4-inch West Point-made naval Parrott (capable of a 7,800-yard range) over her bow, she was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron as a fourth-rate gunboat and by 5 February was in combat– only six weeks after her purchase– using her newly-mounted cannon to bombard Fort Barrow in support of Gen. Burnside’s invasion of Roanoke Island. She reportedly had to move in close to the Confederate works and received extensive punishment from the rebels in exchange.

No rest for the weary, her shakedown cruise continued with supporting landings up the Chowan River throughout the next month, coming to a head with a sortie up the Neuse River to New Bern where she and other gunboats of the Squadron engaged batteries and landed troops, capturing the key depot.

“The Battle at Newbern– Repulse of the Rebels, March 14, 1862.” Line engraving, published in Harper’s Weekly, 11 April 1863, depicting the action at Fort Anderson, Neuse River, North Carolina. U.S. Navy gunboats Hunchback, Hetzel, Ceres, and Shawsheen are firing from the river at Confederate forces, as Union artillery and infantry move into position on the near shore. NH 95121

Hunchback continued to see hot service in the sounds of North Carolina through September 1863, especially up the Chowan. During her 20 months in Tar Heel waters, she broke up the Confederate siege of Washington (N.C.) on the Pamlico River, helped defend Fort Anderson, captured at least four small ships, and engage rebels in an extended action below Franklin, Virginia.

It was against Franklin that one of her crew, Ohio-born bluejacket Thomas C. Barton, earned the Medal of Honor. His citation read,

“When an ignited shell, with cartridge attached, fell out of the howitzer upon the deck, S/man Barton promptly seized a pail of water and threw it upon the missile, thereby preventing it from exploding.”

Barton would go on to rise to Acting Master Mate and perish aboard the old 74-gun ship of the line USS North Carolina in 1864, likely from illness. It should be remembered that most of those who died in the Civil War did so from disease and sickness, rather than bullet and shrapnel.

Withdrawn from the line in late 1863, Hunchback would make for Baltimore where her war damage was repaired, her hull corrected, and her steam plant overhauled.

Thus reconditioned, the armed ferry returned to the fleet in May 1864, towing the new Canonicus-class monitor USS Saugus up Virginia’s James River where the armored beast, along with her sisters Canonicus and Tecumseh, could support operations against Richmond and defend against Confederate ironclads.

The 500-ton Hunchback would continue her time in the James River, based at Deep Bottom, for the next 10 months and was used as a fire engine of sorts, splitting her time running supplies and dispatches up the river while pitching in to provide brown water naval gunfire support along the muddy banks whenever the Confederates obliged to come within range. Her most notable action on the James was on 30 June when accompanied by Saugus, she clashed with Confederate batteries at Four Mills Creek.

It was during this Virginia period, sometime between May 1864 and March 1865, that she hosted a photographer, often chalked up as Matthew Brady– or at least someone associated with him, perhaps Egbert Guy Fowx. Notably, and something that is backed up by muster rolls that state many of her crew were enlisted “on the James River,” her complement included several apparent recently freed slaves.

Ship’s officers and crew relaxing on deck, in the James River, Virginia, 1864-65. Formerly attributed to Mathew B. Brady. One man is playing the banjo in the foreground, another is holding a small white dog, while others are reading newspapers. Men seated in the center appear to be peeling potatoes. Many crewmen are wearing their flat hats in the style of berets and most have no shoes, a standard practice in naval service until the 20th Century. About a fifth of this ship’s crew appears to be African Americans. Also, note the two IX-inch Dahlgrens to the port and starboard. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-2011. Catalog #: NH 59430

Some of the ship’s officers and crewmen pose on deck for the novelty of a photograph, while she was serving on the James River, Virginia, in 1864-65. Note swords, folding chairs, and details of the officer and enlisted uniforms to include informal straw hats at a jaunty angle. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-470. NH 51955

Deck of gunboat Hunchback on James River attributed to Matthew Brady. Note the detail of the ensign’s jacket and Model 1852 Officer’s Sword as well as the beautiful bottle-shaped IX-inch Dahlgren on a wooden Marsilly carriage with its crew tools and three shells on deck. The smoothbore beast weighed around 4.5-tons and used a 13-pound black powder charge to fire a 73-pound shell or 90-pound solid shot to 3,450 yards. LOC ARC Identifier: 526212

Boilermakers at work on Hunchback. Note the portable furnace and anvil. Formerly attributed to Mathew B. Brady, via The Met, accession no. 33.65.323

Officers at work on the Hunchback. These include a pair of Acting Ensigns aboard ship under a canopy. Note the sponge and ramrod for a naval gun overhead as well as a gun rack filled with muskets just inside the P-way. The elevation screw of what looks to be the ship’s single 6.4-inch Parrot is to the far left. Formerly attributed to Mathew B. Brady, via The Met, accession no. 33.65.321

Brady/Fowx apparently found the ship’s landing guns fascinating.

Gunners loading a 12-pounder Dahlgren smooth-bore howitzer, which is mounted on a field carriage. Note three of the gun crew appear to be teenage (or younger) “powder monkeys.” Also, observe the roping around the wheels to provide traction on the ship’s wooden decks. Photographed in the James River, Virginia, 1864-65. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-6193. NH 59431

Two bosuns–wearing their photo best to include crisp cracker jacks and brogans– standing by a Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled howitzer mounted on an iron field carriage. Note Hunchback’s walking beam steam engine pivot mechanism overhead. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-635. NH 59434

Two of the ship’s officers standing by a Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled howitzer mounted on an iron field carriage. Note M1852 officer’s swords and very informal uniforms. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-639. NH 59432

Loading drill on a Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled howitzer mounted on an iron field carriage. Note the combination sponge/ramrod in use and monkey at right with powder can. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-620. NH 59433

Two of the ship’s officers seated in folding chairs on the upper deck. Note the excellent view of Hunchback’s walking beam mechanism at right and 12-pounder Dahlgren smooth-bore howitzer in the background. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-613. Name “Rand” appears, erased on the back of the image. NH 59435

Just before the end of the war on 17 March 1865, Hunchback was sent back to her old stomping grounds in the coastal sounds of North Carolina– loaded with solid shot and three spar torpedoes (mines) in case she ran into a rebel ironclad— resulting in once again being sent up the Chowan River to clear the way for Sherman, who was marching North.

RADM David Porter, in writing to Commodore William H. Macomb, was blunt about the flotilla’s ability to halt any expected sortie by the Confederate ram CSS Neuse, sistership of the infamous CSS Albemarle— which was in fact not a threat at the time.

By 1 April, Hunchback made contact up the Chowan with advanced scouts of the 1st New York Mounted Rifles, part of the Army of the James pushing South, near Stumpy Reach (Point?), where her war effectively ended.

On 1 June, Hunchback was “sent north” on orders from Porter, along with at least 20 other converted steamers, no longer needed for any sort of naval service, and swiftly disarmed and decommissioned at New York 12 June 1865.

She was sold 12 July 1865 to the New York & Brooklyn Ferry Co., was renamed General Grant in 1866, and remained in service until 1880. While some records have her on the Brooklyn-to-New York ferry run for the next 15 years, the City of Boston has records of her purchase, for $23,000 in December 1865, to the East Boston Ferry Company.

Her final fate is unknown, but as she was a wooden-hulled vessel, it is not likely she endured much beyond the 1880s.

The muster rolls of the Hunchback, as well as extensive disapproved pension applications for her former crew members, are in the National Archives.

Specs:

Painting/Computer-generated imagery by Orin 2005, via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/09949.htm

Displacement: 517 tons
Length: 179 ft.
Beam: 29 ft.
Depth of Hold: 10 ft.
Propulsion: One 40-inch bore, 8-foot stroke vertical walking beam steam engine; twin sidewheels
Speed 12 knots
Crew: Listed as “99” although some muster rolls have her with as many as 125 aboard
Armament: Hunchback was listed in naval returns as having 7 guns, however, DANFS just lists:
3 x 9-inch guns
1 x 100-pounder 6.4-inch Naval Parrott rifle
She also carried at least two if not three 12-pounder landing guns, as extensively shown in photos, which could explain the apparent discrepancy.
In 1865 she also apparently carried a spar torpedo

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Torpedoes at work, Med edition

In a follow-up to the post on the German Type 212A submarines earlier this week, check out this SINKEX of the former Hellenic Navy transport Evros (A-415)— herself the ex-West German Navy Type 706 replenishment ship Schwarzwald (A1400)— sent to the bottom of the Agean by the Greek Papanikolis- (German Type 214)-class submarine HS Pipinos (S-121) through the use of a warshot SST-4 Mod. 0 Robbe (Seal) torpedo off Karpathos island last month.

The SST-4, introduced by Atlas Elektronik in 1980, is a Cold War-era 533mm heavyweight wire-guided/passive homing torpedo that has been replaced in German service with more modern fiber-optic guided torps. Still, it seems to work well enough to do the job against a stationary target ship, anyway.

In the video below, you can see the fish track all the way on the surface to make a near-perfect hit.

Of note, the Turks, who also operate German-made subs, had a SINKEX, two years ago, with TCG Yıldıray (S-350) using an SST-4 against a retired tanker, TCG Sadettin Gürcan (A 573)– of course putting the Greeks on notice.

Aboard U32, a modern German shark

WELT has recently posted this super interesting 50~ minute English-language doc on the German Type/Klasse 212A Unterseeboot, U32 (S182) “on its journey from the Eckernforde naval base through the difficult-to-navigate Kiel Canal to Plymouth in England,” for a NATO exercise.

I caution you now, when compared to U.S. bubbleheads, the modern crop of Germans are a bit sloppy looking and sport a lot of hair, but then again, that has been pretty common in the past few decades with Western European NATO militaries with the exception of the French, Brits, and Italians. 

Nonetheless, Type 212s are excellent platforms.

Commissioned in 2005, U32 is tiny when compared to U.S. boats, tipping the scales at 1,800-tons (submerged) and having a length of just 183.7-feet.

She carries up to 13 fiber-optic-guided torpedoes in time of war or tension. With her X-tail, she can dive in seas as shallow as 55-feet– making her able to operate almost to the edge of the 10-fathom curve in littoral space– and, using AIP, remain submerged for weeks without poking a snorkel up. Periscope depth is just 44 feet.

On such a compact vessel, everything is a bit cramped and every compartment serves multiple purposes– the boat’s small arms locker is under the skipper’s bunk.

Sister U31. I still think a laughing sawfish would look great on her sail. 

U31

Of note, Germany only has six of these vessels in a single squadron and a total of just about 80 active submariners in four crews, each of about 20~ men (and women).

“There are more Bundesliga footballers than submariners in Germany.”

The German boat also has beer aboard, enough for two cans per sailor per day– stored in empty torpedo tubes.

Donitz is surely rolling in his grave!

Why hello there, ELCO

Lt. John F. Kennedy’s PT-59, photographed in an unspecified location near Vella Lavella and Choiseul, played a key role in the diversionary mission at Choiseul Island in early November 1943. Note the shielded 40mm Bofors on her stern and broadside .50-cals. (John F. Kennedy Library)

In case you haven’t seen it, USS PT-59, an S-Class (ELCO) Patrol Torpedo boat originally intended for Lend-Lease to the British in World War II (as PTC-27) she was instead placed in U.S. service.

Deployed to the Solomons with MTBRon 3(2) in 1943, the 77-foot PT boat in 1943 landed her torpedoes and gained an all-gun armament including two 40mm guns (fore and aft singles) and no less than 10 M2 .50 cal machine guns, used to help stop the regular “Tokyo Express” at Guadalcanal.

One of her skippers was a young JFK after he was recovered from the much more famous PT-109.

While Kennedy’s life is well-chronicled, PT-59, reclassified as C102584, was transported back to the Motor Torpedo Boat Training Base in Rhode Island in late 1944. Used for tests at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, she was sold in 1947 on the private market and, after a mixed career, sank at a pier adjacent to the 207th Street railroad bridge in Harlem following a fire around 1976.

Now, what is left of her wreck (she was of wooden construction after all) has been identified and is being raised by MTA crews.

Historians at the Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts, home of the USS Massachusetts (BB-59) and the National PT Boat Memorial and Museum, are assisting with the efforts to preserve what is left.

From the Museum:

Battleship Cove was contacted by NY MTA regarding the possible salvaging of a PT boat. We sent a team of volunteers to identify and remove items from PT-59s remains to save as much as we could for display and preservation in our extensive PT Boat exhibit. For the most part, all that remained of PT-59 in 2020 was the very lower portions of the engine room and lazarette areas. Some of the wood even at this lower level presents burn marks from the fire.

The enclosed circle in red shows the main sections of the boat that we have recovered for preservation. It is only a small section of the 77′ boat but also an original section as she was built.

We are still working on this project with more hull section recovery planned.

We feel this completely volunteer-led project is worthwhile. To save historic items from a very early combat veteran PT Boat is of great importance. Add to it that President JFK turned the helm to move the rudders and shafts that are being recovered is a bonus for history.

To donate to the effort, click here. 

A Close Look at a Shinyo

Just three Japanese Shinyo (Sea Quake) suicide boats are in existence today. One is in the collection of the Australian War Memorial, where it has been since the end of the war.

“A Japanese Shinyo suicide launch which was captured by the crew of the Bathurst-class corvette/minesweeper HMAS Deloraine (J232/M232), brought back to Australia and presented to the Australian War Memorial. Six of the 24 captured boats were in operational readiness. This image is from the collection of Lieutenant Paul Merrick (Mick) Dexter, who enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RANV) in 1943, and was a watchkeeper and anti-submarine specialist on Corvettes between 1944 and 1946. He continued to serve in the RANV after the Second World War, resigning his commission in 1964.”

From AWM:

Japanese suicide launch (Shinyo). Plywood hulled vessel over frames, with a rear open-topped compartment for a single pilot. Powered by a Chevrolet straight 6 cylinder engine housed in the central compartment. Painted emerald green above the waterline and red below. The original Japanese pea-green paint survives below more modern paint coats. The missing steering wheel and some controls.

“This launch was recovered by HMAS Deloraine at Sandakan Harbour, British North Borneo, during the period of the occupation of that area by Australian Naval & Military Forces in October 1945. It was one of six that were in an immediate state of operational readiness complete with petrol, out of a total of thirty discovered. An opportunity of using this type of craft in the area was never presented. There was a further eighteen similar craft in different states of repair. This launch was used by sailors from the Deloraine as a ski boat on Sandakan Harbour. It returned to Australia with the Deloraine in late 1945 and was presented to the Australian War Memorial.

Construction of these boats began in 1943. The boats were designed to be one-man suicide craft armed with a 300kg charge of TNT. By the end of the war, about 6,000 had been produced, most of them built of wood but a few built from steel. Most of these boats were deployed around the Philippine Islands and the Japanese Home Islands and hidden until they could be of use. Because of their green color, they were referred to as ‘frogs’ by Japanese troops. The launch when transferred to HMAS Deloraine was painted to conform to the ship’s color scheme, but the correct colors should be dark olive green with red below the waterline.”

To further detail how the Dexter boat got back to the AWM, check out the below radio (podcast) interview, which is very informative.

Warship Wednesday, June 17, 2020: Mohican Motorboat

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, June 17, 2020: Mohican Motorboat

Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN (Medical Service Corps), 1974. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 78973

Here we see the future section patrol craft, USS Chingachgook (SP-35), described in the 1916 photo as a “Submarine Chaser,” flying a Yachting Ensign but with a pair of deck guns installed, presumably as part of the popular civilian preparedness movement, in preparation for service with the new Naval Coast Defense Reserve.

The tradition of the Navy quickly acquiring commercial or consumer vessels in times of war and, after a quick retrofit with a few guns and, perhaps, a coat of paint, placing them back into service as a patrol craft or armed dispatch boat, dates back to the Revolutionary War. The tactic remained through the Civil War and saw a huge resurgence in the brief conflict with Spain in 1898. During the latter fashionable little war, whole squadrons of yachts, readily made available by scions of Wall Street, became plucky auxiliary patrol boats sent willingly into harms’ way.

Fast forward to the Great War and the terrifyingly incremental lead up to America’s involvement in that terrible conflict, and the Navy Department took steps in that period of armed neutrality to expand their reach.

Under provisions of the “Big Navy” Act of August 29, 1916, which established the Naval Reserve Force to be composed of six classes:

First. The Fleet Naval Reserve.
Second. The Naval Reserve
Third. The Naval Auxiliary Reserve
Fourth. The Naval Coast Defense Reserve
Fifth. The Volunteer Naval Reserve
Sixth. Naval Reserve Flying Corps.

The Naval Coast Defense Reserve was to be composed of:

“Members of the Naval Reserve Force who may be capable of performing special useful service in the Navy or in connection with the Navy in defense of the coast shall be eligible for membership in the Naval Coast Defense Reserve.”

The NCDRF, seen today as opening the door for women to serve in the Navy, also started cataloging in at first hundreds and then later thousands of craft like the Chingachgook for future inclusion in the fleet.

Dubbed “Section Patrol” craft, these boats were given SP hull numbers that they typically did not carry while they retained their pre-war civilian names. Reporting to the Naval Districts they were mobilized in, they would be responsible for keeping an eye peeled for spies, saboteurs, submarines, and assorted other strange goings-on. Keep in mind the Black Tom Island explosion had occurred on July 30, just under a month before the Act was put into effect and German cells were active along both coasts to one degree or another. 

As for Chingachgook, she was built by the Greenport Basin & Construction Co. of Long Island— best known for fishing craft, tugs, and yachts– in 1916, not as a civilian craft, but in hopes of offering her as a prototype sub-buster along motor yacht lines to the U.S. Government. Some 60-feet long, she could make a reported 40 knots on her two 300hp Sterling gasoline engines.

The below 23 January 1917 image shows Chingachgook, not yet in Navy service, lifted out of the waters of New York’s East River and placed on a truck for transport to the Motor Boat Show at Grand Central Palace. Note her stern gun, “10” pennant number on her pilothouse, and twin screws/rudders. Keep in mind that Bannerman’s military surplus, located in Manhattan, would sell both vintage and modern artillery pieces of all kinds, cash and carry, as the NFA of 1934 was still decades away.

War Department image 165-WW-338A-19, LOC ARC Identifier: 45513537

Our hearty little craft, of course, borrows her name from the supporting character of Chingachgook, the fictional Native American warrior featured in four of James Fenimore Cooper’s five Leatherstocking Tales, including his 1826 novel, The Last of the Mohicans.

Chingachgook was purchased by the Navy 25 May 1917 from Theodore W. Brigham of Greenport– six weeks after the U.S. entered the war– and placed in service on 6 June 1917, assigned to the 3rd Naval District (New York) for patrol duty. At least nine other dissimilar Greenport-built motorboats went on to become SP craft including USS Ardent (SP-680), USS Atlantis (SP-40), USS Beluga (SP-536), USS Perfecto (SP-86), USS Quest (SP-171), USS Sea Gull (SP-544), USS Uncas (SP-689), USS Vitesse (SP-1192), and USS Whippet (SP-89).

Chingachgook underway at high speed, October 1916. Like the first image in the post, she is flying yachting flags but is armed with a Colt M1895 “potato digger” machine gun forward and a small (1-pounder) cannon aft, probably for service with the pre-World War I Coast Defense Reserve. Note, while the mate up front is in naval-style crackerjacks, the two men in her wheelhouse are wearing boaters and bespoke suits. Photographed by Edwin Levick, of New York City. NH 101040

Chingachgook’s wartime service ended just two months later.

As noted by DANFS: “On 31 July 1917 her gasoline tank exploded, injuring members of the crew and igniting the ship. A survey of 13 October found her hull worthless and beyond repair, and she was subsequently disposed of by burning.”

She was struck from the Navy Register 19 February 1918.

A one-off design, the Navy went much bigger on their 110-foot sub chaser designs which, like the smaller Chingachgook that preceded them, were wooden-hulled gasoline-engined vessels developed by yacht makers that were intended to be mass-produced in small boatyards. The subsequent “splinter fleet” of SCs grew into the hundreds by 1919.

Later, in WWII, the Navy also used hundreds of small trawlers, yachts, drifters, former Coast Guard Cutters and the like in the same role as the Great War’s myriad Section Patrol craft, but typically designated them as Patrol Yachts (PYc), Patrol Craft (PC), Civilian Vessels (ID), or Yard Patrol Craft (YP) which were, perhaps, more descriptive terms, some of which continue to this day.

As for the Greenport Yacht & Shipbuilding Company, which is still in business, they went on to build coastal minesweepers, subchasers, and LCM landing craft in WWII.

Specs:
Displacement: 13 tons
Length: 60 feet
Beam: 10 feet
Draft: 3 feet
Propulsion: Two 300hp Sterling gasoline engine, two shafts.
Speed: 40 knots (although listed as “22 mph” by some sources)
Armament: One 1-pounder (37mm) and one Colt 30.06 machine gun

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, May 27, 2020: The Showboat and the Speedboats

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, May 27, 2020: The Showboat and the Speedboats

Photograph by Walter E. Frost, City of Vancouver Archives Photo No. 447-2863.1

Here we see the lead ship of her class of “treaty-era” heavy cruisers, HMS York (90) looming out of the fog in Vancouver, British Columbia, 10 August 1938.

Sometimes referred to as the “Cathedral” class cruisers, York and her near-sister HMS Exeter (68) were essentially cheaper versions of the Royal Navy’s baker’s dozen County-class cruisers, the latter of which were already under-protected to keep them beneath the arbitrary 10,000-ton limit imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. Weighing in at 8,250-tons, the Yorks were intended not for fleet action but for the role of sitting on an overseas station and chasing down enemy commerce raiders in the event of war.

York mounted six 8″/50 (20.3 cm) Mark VIII guns in three twin Mark II mounts. Fairly capable guns, they could fire a 256-pound SAP shell out past 30,000 yards at a (theoretical) rate of up to six rounds per gun per minute. Importantly, they carried 172 rounds per gun, up from the 125-150 carried by the preceding County-class, a factor which allowed a slightly longer engagement time before running empty.

Bow turrets of HMS York. Photograph by Mrs. Josephine Burston, via Navweaps

Notably, Exeter was completed with the same main gun but in Mark II* mounts, which allowed for a shallower 50-degree elevation. That vessel also had a slightly different arrangement for her funnels and masts, giving her a distinctive profile.. (A 3553) HMS EXETER. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205137940

Rounding out the cruisers’ offensive armament was a half-dozen deck-mounted 21-inch torpedo tubes and a battery of DP 4-inch guns and Vickers machine guns to ward off aircraft, the latter of which was apparently never installed. Built with overseas service in mind, they could cover 10,000nm at 14 knots. Able to achieve 32.3-knots due to having 80,000-shp via Parsons geared steam turbines, they sacrificed armor protection for speed and magazine space, with just 1-inch of steel on their turrets and a belt that was just 3-inches at its thickest.

As noted by Richard Worth in his excellent tome, Fleets of World War II:

In trimming down the County layout, designers managed to retain several features, though sea keeping suffered. Protection also received low priority; the armor scheme (similar in proportion to the County type) included some advances, but all in all, the Yorks seemed even more vulnerable, especially in the machinery spaces.

Ordered 1926 Build Programme, York was the ninth such RN vessel to carry the name since 1654 and was constructed at Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, Jarrow. Commissioned 1 May 1930, she was a striking vessel for her age. A true peacetime cruiser.

British Royal Navy heavy cruiser HMS York (90) secured to a buoy 1930 IWM FL 4185

York’s motto was Bon Espoir (“Good Hope”) borrowed from Edmund Langley, First Duke of York, and she exemplified that for her early career.

For the next decade she would embark on a series of “waving the flag” port visits around the globe as she shifted between North America and West Indies Station to the Mediterranean Fleet. A beautiful ship, she was often the subject of amazing period photos and newsreel footage.

She would log 61,000 miles at sea between November 1936 and April 1939 alone, as ably told by Robert John Terry on his website.

A British man of war at Washington, D.C. H.M.S. York, the flagship of the British West Indian Fleet, docks at the Navy Yard at Washington, D.C. She brought Vice Admiral, the Hon. Sir Matthew R. Best, K.C.B., D.S.O., M.V.O., R.N., to Washington where he will be the guest of honor at a round of social functions, 30 October 1935. Harris & Ewing photo in LOC collection.

The same day, with bluejackets inspecting the British man-o-war from the Navy Yard docks. Note her Fairey IIIF floatplane, an anemic biplane that dated back to the Great War. LOC Photo.

Same day. This photograph was made from the deck of the USS Sequoia, the yacht used by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. LOC Photo.

HMS York in the port of Montreal 20 June 1937 via the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Vieux-Montréal, photo P48S1P01697

“Picking up the Plane at 20 MPH.” Note her 4-inch DP gun in the foreground. The new Supermarine Walrus floatplane was picked up in late 1936. As noted by Leo Marriot, in his book, Catapult Aircraft: Seaplanes That Flew From Ships Without Flight Decks, “By no stretch of the imagination could the Walrus be considered a graceful aircraft and it was universally and affectionally known as the ‘Shagbat.'” Photo via Robert John Terry’s excellent galleries on HMS York https://sites.google.com/site/robertjohnterry/hms-york-gallery-2

HMS York Anchored St Lucia, Walrus on deck. Photo via Robert John Terry’s excellent galleries on HMS York https://sites.google.com/site/robertjohnterry/hms-york-gallery-2

HMS York entering Havana, Cuba, with the historic Morro Castle in the background, 14 January 1938. Created from personal photograph in the collection of RN CPO(Tel) George A (“Art”) Browness, “Sparks” (Wireless Telegraphist) onboard HMS York, by Ian Browness, his son. Via Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 1939, York would receive a new skipper that would see her throughout the war, CAPT Reginald Henry Portal, DSC, RN, a naval aviator turned surface warfare officer who earned his DSC in 1916, “For conspicuous gallantry during a combat with an enemy aeroplane in the Dardanelles.”

CAPT Reginald Henry Portal by Walter Stoneman, bromide print, January 1943, NPG x164616

Deployed with the 8th Cruiser Squadron on the America and West Indies Station when Hitler marched into Poland in 1939, York made for Halifax and by 15 September was escorting convoys going across the Atlantic from Canada to Europe. Before the end of the year, she would be a part of a half-dozen Halifax (HX) convoys, keeping an eye peeled for German raiders.

York with her warpaint on

By February 1940, she was reassigned to 1st Cruiser Squadron, Home Fleet at Scapa Flow, and worked with the Northern Patrol looking for Axis blockade runners trying to make it back to the Fatherland. With a degree of success in the latter, she sent the 3,359-ton German freighter Arucas to the bottom of the Atlantic off Iceland on 3 March.

HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN) intercepts the German passenger ship Arucas, via U-boat.net

HMS York (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN) intercepts the German passenger ship Arucas, via U-boat.net

April through June saw her extensively involved in the Norway campaign from supporting landings at Andalsnes to the evacuation of Narvik.

Transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet in August, she ran the gauntlet from Alexandria to Gibraltar for the next several months, escorting UK-to-Egypt troopship convoys, and often brushing up against the Italian fleet. Once such instance found York stumbling upon the Italian Soldati-class destroyer Artigliere, stopped, and on fire after the Battle of Cape Passero on the morning of 12 October.

Artigliere struck her flag, cleared her crew, and was promptly finished off by a brace of torpedoes from York.

The Italian destroyer Artigliere is finished by torpedoes from HMS York at 9.05 on the morning of October 12th, 1940, after the battle of Cape Passero. The ship’s stern ammunition magazines explode after the torpedo hit. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A lucky ship thus far in the war, York screened the carrier HMS Illustrious during the famous Operation Judgement airstrikes on Italian Fleet at Taranto and increasingly became a player in the actions off Crete, as well as keeping the supply lines open to Malta. This saw her in 1941 start to fend off sustained air attacks by German aircraft.

In March, she took part in Operation Lustre, the move of Allied troops from Egypt to Greece, shepherding fast 3-day convoys from Alexandria to Piraeus. This left her in Suda Bay, Crete with the bulk of the Mediterranean Fleet cruiser force, safely behind a triple torpedo net array that left her impervious to attack from the sea.

Enter Xª Flottiglia MAS

On the night of 25/26 March, the old Italian destroyers Francesco Crispi and Quintino Sella hove to some 10 miles out from Suda Bay. Using special cranes, they deployed LT (Tenente di Vascello) Luigi Faggioni of the 10th MAS Flotilla and his five shipmates. Faggioni & Company each helmed an 18-foot Motoscafo da Turismo (Modified Tourism Motorboat).

The MTs, 18-foot long boats powered by a 95-hp Alfa Romeo AR outboard motor, could make 33-knots while floating in just a few inches of water– shallow enough to jump over torpedo nets.

With the single boat operator hanging 10 off the end of the MT, the bow of the vessel was filled with a 660-pound high-explosive warhead that could be rigged to either detonate on impact or detached and allowed to sink alongside a target for a later, timed, explosion.

Not intended to be a suicide craft, akin to the Japanese Shinyo/Maru-ni, the operator ideally would bail out over the back of the boat on the final leg of the attack run, and paddle to safety on their backrest which, predating today’s air travel briefing, doubled as a flotation device.

To make a long story short three MT boats managed to penetrate the harbor and braved the near-freezing water to make the final attack just before dawn. Two boats, piloted by future admiral Angelo Cabrini and petty officer Tullio Tedeschi, hit York’s portside– although it should be noted that numerous wartime reports are that just one boat struck the British cruiser. The third boat, piloted by Emilio Barberi, hit the 8,324-ton Norwegian tanker Pericles. Faggioni’s boat hit a pier.

The 1954 Dino De Laurentiis action film, Siluri umani, released as “Human Torpedoes” in English-speaking markets, highlighted the MTMs of Xª Flottiglia MAS and the Suda Bay raid.

The highly dramatized meat and potatoes of the raid starts at about the 1:16 mark

York, crippled, was beached with two of her crew dead, five men injured, and most of her below deck machinery spaces full of water.

The British continued to use York as a AAA battery for another two months with her hull resting on the bottom of the Bay as her engineering gang tried to pump out and shore up her spaces in the hope of putting to sea for Alexandria and more repairs.

To provide power to her ship’s systems, the submarine HMS Rover tied up alongside and arranged electrical lines enough to work the big ship’s guns and communications. This, however, left her in a fixed position in an increasingly German part of the globe, which left her a target.

Various sources list a range of German air attacks by JU-88 bombers on 12, 21, 22, and 24 April– two of which caused further damage to the ship– with one such raid leaving a pair of divers working over the side on her broken hull dead from a near miss.

At the same time, some of the ship’s company were detailed to provide beach parties for the evacuation of Greece.

On 18 May, the party was over and York was hit and seriously damaged by a German JU-87 dive-bomber attack, ending her usefulness, at the time the largest surface ship chalked up by Stuka pilots (Hans-Ulrich Rudel would later be able to claim a kill on the Great War-era Soviet Battleship Marat/ex- Petropavlovsk in Leningrad in November).

With the endgame in Crete being written and the German airborne invasion starting on the 20th, York was abandoned and blown up in place on the 22nd, her remaining crew withdrawn to Egypt where the understrength Mediterranean Fleet was licking their wounds.

The hype

By June, the Italians outnumbered the British in the Eastern Med four operational battleships to two and with 11 cruisers stacked up against three, nonetheless, this would soon be rectified by coming events after December.

Sir Henry, York’s skipper, would go on to become commander of the battleship Royal Sovereign, serve as an ADC to King George VI, become a member of the Bath in 1946, and retire as an admiral in 1951.

As a result of her damage from the Luftwaffe, the Germans claimed to have destroyed York in battle for the remainder of the war, although the Italian Navy cited their own MTM attack as her principal method of death. Half a dozen of one, six of the other, I suppose.

Both countries circulated images of her smashed hull and deck spaces for their own purposes.

Epilogue

After the war, the rusty hulk of York was raised and towed to Bari, where it was scrapped by an Italian shipbreaker in March 1952.

Her boat badge is in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

She was also remembered in maritime art and several scale model companies over the years have recreated her in plastic.

Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Her only sister, Exeter, would famously go toe-to-toe with the “pocket battleship” KMS Adm. Graf Spee in December 1939 and be left nearly crippled after seven 11.1-inch shells found a home in her spaces. Patched up, she would be sunk at the Java Sea by 8-inch Japanese shells in 1942.

York’s name was recycled in 1981 for a new Batch III Type 42 Destroyer, HMS York (D98), the last of her class. She was decommissioned in 2012 after more than three decades of hard service to the Crown and is the 12th in an exceptionally long line of HMS Yorks.

Type 42 Destroyer, HMS York (D98) making a turn on her 2005 Far East deployment. MOD Photo 45145563 by LA(Phot) Kelly Whybrow. She was broken up in Turkey in 2015, and the name “York” has not appeared on the RN List since.

As for the MTM drivers, the six Italian frogmen were picked up floating around Souda Bay by the British, and kept as POWs until after the Italian armistice in 1944 although they would be decorated in absentia with the Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare, Italy’s highest military honor. Faggioni would become an admiral, working with COMSUBIN commandos after the war, and died in 1991.

Likewise, Cabrini and Tedeschi would later lend their names to a class of high-speed multipurpose patrol boats for the modern Italian Navy, intended to carry frogmen on deeds of daring-do.

Tullio Tedeschi was launched in 2019 by Tullio Tedeschi’s daughter, Rosangela Tedeschi.

The Angelo Cabrini-class patrol boat, Tullio Tedeschi (P421). Some 144-feet oal, they can carry a team of 20 commandos at speeds up to 50 knots

Specs:

1932 Jane’s listing. Both ships of her class would be gone from Janes by 1942

Displacement:
8,250 long tons (8,380 t) (standard)
10,620 long tons (10,790 t) (deep load)
Length: 575 ft
Beam: 57 ft
Draught: 20 ft 3 in
Propulsion: 8 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, Parsons geared steam turbines, 4 shafts 80,000 shp
Speed: 32.25 knots
Range: 10,000 nmi at 14 knots
Complement:628
Armor:
Belt: 3 in
Decks: 1.5 in
Barbettes: 1 in
Turrets: 1 in
Bulkheads: 3.5 in
Magazines: 3–4.375 in
Aircraft: FIVH style catapult, one Fairey IIIF seaplane (1930-) Walrus flying boat (1936-)
Armament:
3 × twin 8-inch (203 mm) guns
4 × single QF 4-inch (102 mm) anti-aircraft (AA) guns
2 × single 2-pounder (40 mm) AA guns
2 × triple 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes

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Navy zaps drone via laser

Just missed May the 4th, but this just happened last week.

“Amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) successfully disabled an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a Solid State Laser – Technology Maturation Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) MK 2 MOD 0 on May 16. ”

As noted by U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs:

LWSD is a high-energy laser weapon system demonstrator developed by the Office of Naval Research and installed on Portland for an at-sea demonstration. LWSD’s operational employment on a Pacific Fleet ship is the first system-level implementation of a high-energy class solid-state laser. The laser system was developed by Northrup Grumman, with full System and Ship Integration and Testing led by NSWC Dahlgren and Port Hueneme.

“By conducting advanced at sea tests against UAVs and small crafts, we will gain valuable information on the capabilities of the Solid State Laser Weapons System Demonstrator against potential threats,” said Capt. Karrey Sanders, commanding officer of Portland.

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