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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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Limpet mine update: ‘With high confidence’

U.S. Navy CDR Sean Kido, head of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One One (EODMU 11) explains the attack on the Panama-flagged chemical/oil tanker Kokuka Courageous (19,349t) and the Norwegian-owned (International Tanker Management) Marshal Islands-flagged oil tanker Front Altair, allegedly by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, in the Gulf of Oman on June 13th, 2019:

Boom!

“GULF OF THAILAND (June 7, 2019) The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Pioneer (MCM 9) observes a controlled mine detonation while conducting a joint mine countermeasures exercise with the Royal Thai Navy during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand 2019.” :

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Corbin Shea/Released)

With the premature scrapping/disposal of the 12 Osprey-class mine hunters (which only had a decade on their hulls when put out to pasture), the now 11-ship (out of 14 built) Avenger-class are all that is left of the dedicated U.S. counter-mine vessels. Of course, the Mine Counter-Measures Modules of the Littoral Combat Ships currently in commission are expected at any time. (Holds breath. Turns blue. Dies of circa 1908-designed mines in a littoral).

Mr. Limpet makes his daytime appearance in the Gulf of Oman

Not this guy who everybody loved:

This guy:

(Or approximate)

The attack in International waters hit the Panama-flagged chemical/oil tanker Kokuka Courageous (19,349t), owned by Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) and carrying a load of methanol; along with the Norwegian-owned (International Tanker Management) Marshal Islands-flagged oil tanker Front Altair (62,849t) with a load of crude, early on June 13. Both were carrying what Japan’s Trade Ministry says were “Japan-related” cargo.

The attacks occurred off the Emirati port of Fujairah, also on the Gulf of Oman, approaching the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.

Kokuka Courageous Front Altair

“The timing was considered sensitive as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran on a high-stakes diplomacy mission.”

5th Fleet’s release on the matter through CENTCOM:

TAMPA (NNS) — U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time from the motor tanker (M/T) Altair and a second one at 7a.m. local time from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

Both vessels were in international waters in the Gulf of Oman approximately 10 nautical miles apart at the time of the distress calls. USS Bainbridge was approximately 40 nautical miles away from the M/T Altair at the time of the attack and immediately began closing the distance.

At 8:09 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair.

At 9:12 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observes the FAC/FIAC pull a raft from the M/T Altair from the water.

At 9:26 a.m. local time the Iranians requested that the motor vessel Hyundai Dubai, which had rescued the sailors from the M/T Altair, to turn the crew over to the Iranian FIACs. The motor vessel Hyundai Dubai complied with the request and transferred the crew of the M/T Altair to the Iranian FIACs.

At 11:05 a.m. local time USS Bainbridge approaches the Dutch tug Coastal Ace, which had rescued the crew of twenty-one sailors from the M/T Kokuka Courageous who had abandoned their ship after discovering a probable unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion.

190613-N-N0101-115 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), not pictured, approaches the damaged ship. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

190613-N-N0101-116 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), not pictured, approaches the damaged ship. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

While the Hendijan patrol boat appeared to attempt to get to the tug Coastal Ace before USS Bainbridge, the mariners were rescued by USS Bainbridge at the request of the master of the M/T Kokuka Courageous. The rescued sailors are currently aboard USS Bainbridge.

190613-N-SS350-0135 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) render aid to the crew of the M/V Kokuka Courageous. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Waite/Released)

At 4:10 p.m. local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

The U.S. and our partners in the region will take all necessary measures to defend ourselves and our interests. Today’s attacks are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.

The U.S. and the international community, stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation.

The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.

The attack comes a month to the day after what is described as “Coordinated teams of divers using limpet mines incapacitated the vessels in a series of timed detonations” to damage four tankers from the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Norway off the Emirati coast.

The underwater damage to the Saudi Arabian tanker Al Marzoqah May 12

Saudi Arabian tanker Amjad was one of those attacked in the Port of Fujairah May 12

And the beat goes on…

Google Operation Praying Mantis to see how this is going to end up.

Coming at your from 1988:

D-Day Plus Seven

Here we see what Normandy looked like a week after Overlord in combat artist and Combat Gallery Sunday alum Dwight Shepler‘s 1944 watercolor, “D-Day Plus Seven, Omaha Beach Head, Landing scene with the Landing Ship Tanks on the beach discharging their cargo.

Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. Accession #: 88-199-EY

Official caption by the artist:

On Omaha beachhead the wreckage of assault has been thrust aside and reinforcements pour from LSTs which line up to spew forth their mobile cargo. It was not an uncommon sight to see thirty LSTs “dry out” and discharge their load on one ebb tide, and float away on the flood. The tide was 20 foot. With the sight repeated on Utah beach and the British beaches, the lift carried by various amphibious craft was enormous. The great offensive that broke out at St. Lo, swept through Avranches to ship off Brittany and swing for Paris, was mounted with men and material that came in over the beach.

As a footnote, classicly-trained Shepler learned his trade at Williams College and worked at the Boston Museum School of Fine Art prior to the war, then enlisted as an officer in the Navy Reserve in 1942 at age 37 to lend his brush to Uncle Sam. He took part not only in Normandy but in the landings at Ormoc Bay and Lingayen Gulf and operations at Corregidor and Bataan. In all, he produced more than 300 works for the military before returning to civilian life where he went back into teaching art and producing landscapes, sports scenes, and portraits. He passed in 1974.

His best-known work is perhaps The Battle for Fox Green Beach”, showing Warship Weds alum, Gleaves-class destroyer USS Emmons (DD-457) bombarding in support of the Omaha Beach landings.

“The Battle for Fox Green Beach,” watercolor by Dwight Shepler, showing the Gleaves class destroyer USS Emmons (DD 457) foreground and her sister ship, the USS Doyle, to the right, within a few hundred yards of the landing beach, mixing it up with German shore batteries on D-Day

 

Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss, now 75 years on

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 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 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss

D-Day Map showing Firing Plan from USS Texas (BB-35) NHHC_1969-232-A_full

NHHC 1969-232-A

Here we see a British Admiralty chart entitled “Iles St Marcouf to Cap Manvieux,” covering a span of the Normandy Coast in France. This chart was used by the venerable New York-class battleship USS Texas (BB-35) during her bombardment operations in support of the Operation Neptune landings, 6 June 1944, the seaside part of Operation Overlord. If you note in the top right-hand quarter of the chart is a set of two parallel lines marked with dan buoys marking a 900-meter-wide channel that was swept of mines immediately prior to and on D-Day.

In short, if it hadn’t had been for those minecraft that cleared the aforementioned path, the whole invasion would have gone a good bit different. With that, today’s Warship Wednesday is on the loss of the Raven-class minesweeper USS Osprey (AM-56), which sunk 75 years ago on 5 June 1944. As noted by military historian and D-Day guru Stephen Ambrose, the six bluejackets killed on Osprey that day were the first Allied casualties of Overlord.

The two ships of the Raven-class were basically all-diesel predecessors of the later Auk-class minesweepers (which had diesel-electric drives) and came in a tad lighter, giving them a draft that was almost two feet shallower.

Osprey and Raven in Drydock 2 at Norfolk Navy Yard Aug 23 1940 NHHC

USS Raven (AM-55), Osprey’s sole sister, off Rockland, Maine, 19 March 1941, while running trials 19-N-24352

Built side-by-side in 1939-40 at the Norfolk Navy Yard as AM-55 and AM-56, the much more prolific (95 hull) Auks followed them with hull numbers that started at AM-57.

Named for the large, hawk-like bird with a dark brown back and a white breast, Osprey was the second such warship for the Navy with that moniker, with the first being the Lapwing-class minesweeper AM-29 which was commissioned in 1919 then soon transferred to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as USC&GS Pioneer.

USS Osprey (AM-56) soon after her completion. Note her hull numbers. USN Photo 120-15

USS Osprey (AM-56) soon after her completion. Note her hull numbers and two-part scheme. USN Photo 120-15

Commissioned 16 December 1940, by mid-1941 Osprey was detailed with coastal patrol duties off the U.S. Eastern seaboard and, once America got more active in the European war after Pearl Harbor, soon found herself in England.

USS Osprey (AM-56) Underway, circa April 1941, probably while running trials. Note that her bow numbers have been freshly painted out. Photograph was received from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1972. NH 84026

USS Osprey (AM-56) underway with a bone in her teeth, circa April 1941, probably while running trials. Note that her bow numbers have been freshly painted out and she wears an all-over dark scheme. The photograph was received from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1972. NH 84026

Osprey Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 1941 19-N-23990

Osprey Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 1941. Note she has been freshly fitted with depth charge racks on her stern. 19-N-23990

By November 1942, she convoyed with the USS Texas and company and later helped direct and protect the waves of landing craft moving shoreward at Port Lyautey, Morocco for the Allies Torch Landings.

North Africa Operation, November 1942 Invasion convoy en route to Morocco, circa early November 1942. Ships include more than twenty transports, with USS TEXAS (BB-35) and USS AUGUSTA (CA-31) in the distance. Photographed from an SBD off one of the invasion force aircraft carriers. Catalog #: 80-G-1032486

North Africa Operation, November 1942 Invasion convoy en route to Morocco, circa early November 1942. Ships include more than twenty transports, with USS TEXAS (BB-35) and USS AUGUSTA (CA-31) in the distance. Photographed from an SBD off one of the invasion force aircraft carriers. Catalog #: 80-G-1032486

After completing anti-submarine patrols off Casablanca, Osprey returned to Norfolk for a year of coastal escort assignments aimed at helping to curb the German U-boat threat off Hampton Roads. With other minesweepers, she escorted convoys from Norfolk and New York to ports in the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast.

Raven photographed in camouflage paint in 1943 with depth charge rack at stern. Osprey had a similar scheme at the time NH 43519

Raven photographed in camouflage paint in 1943 with filled depth charge rack at the stern and additional AAA weapons. Also, note her false bow-wave and smaller but visible hull numbers. Osprey had a similar scheme at the time. NH 43519

By April 1944, Osprey was back across the pond and assigned to the growing invasion flotilla heading for Normandy. Rommel, who had wanted to sow millions of landmines in France to seal off the beaches from invasion, was also a fan of their seagoing variants.

“The Generalfeldmarschall himself had quickly grasped the value of naval mines in his system of defense. He continually requested an increased use of this weapon,” notes a U.S. Navy history.

Dropping mines from a German mine layer during World War II. The Seemine looks to be an EMC-type contact mine which used a charge of 551-pounds. The Germans were fans of contact (with both Hertz and three horns) and magnetic influence mines in moored and drifting flavors and used them liberally during the war from Greece to Norway, often with anti-sweep obstructors. NH 71333

Dropping mines from a German minelayer during World War II. The Seemine looks to be an EMC-type contact type which used a charge of 551-pounds. The Germans were fans of contact (with both Hertz and switch horns) and magnetic influence mines in moored and drifting flavors and used them liberally during the war from Greece to Norway, often with anti-sweep obstructors. NH 71333

German sea mines in a railroad car, abandoned in the railway station at Cherbourg, France, 3 July 1944. 80-G-254312

German sea mines in a railroad car, abandoned in the railway station at Cherbourg, France, 3 July 1944. 80-G-254312

The German naval minefield facing the Overlord invasion stretched 120 km across the Bay of Normandy and was 16 km deep.

The Allied plan was to use 255 vessels to clear 10 channels through the mine barrage– two channels per beach– in the immediate predawn hours of D-Day, with each sweeper ship, such as Osprey, clearing paths by cutting the moored contact mines. Specially equipped trawlers would follow on the search for magnetic mines while dan-laying launches would mark the swept zone. The channels were to be from 400 to 1,200 yards in width depending on their route.

The danger of mines in inshore waters was to be disregarded during the assault, but the areas were to be searched as soon as sweepers were available.

British Admiral Bertram Ramsay noted that “There is no doubt that the mine is our greatest obstacle to success,” when discussing the Cross-Channel attack. “And if we manage to reach the enemy coast without being disorganized and suffering serious losses, we should be fortunate.”

After months of intensive practice in combined sweeping operations with MinRon 7 off Torbay, England, en route to the Normandy invasion beaches on 5 June, Osprey soon struck an enemy mine. The crew put out the resultant fires but could not save their vessel. She sank that evening.

Early on the 6th, the mine division started sweeping the coast of France in assault and check sweeps to assure safe passage channels for the landing craft and the primary naval gunfire support for the beaches.

The only loss to mines on 5 June, Osprey was soon joined by numerous other craft who could not stay in the same cleared channel as the battleships or were hit by floating contact mines, cut free in the initial sweeping. This was later compounded by the Germans air-dropping mines and sowing them at night from E-boats and coasters.

On 6 June, the landing craft USS LCI(L)-85, LCI(L)-91, LCI(L)-497, LCT-197, LCT-294, LCT-305, LCT-332, LCT-364, LCT-397, LCT-555, LCT-703 and destroyer HMS Wrestler all struck mines just off the beachhead and were lost.

The next day saw the loss of the Army transport ship USAT Francis C. Harrington, Navy transport USS Susan B. Anthony, landing craft LCI(L)-416, LCI(L)-436, LCI(L)-458, LCI(L)-489, LCI(L)-586, and the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125), all to the infernal devices. Meanwhile, the Allen Sumner-class destroyer USS Meredith (DD-726) was damaged by a mine and sunk the next day by a Luftwaffe bombing which split her in two.

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. USS PT-509 and USS Pheasant (AM-61) are standing by. Photographed from USS Threat (AM-124). 80-G-651677

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. USS PT-509 and USS Pheasant (AM-61) are standing by. Photographed from USS Threat (AM-124). 80-G-651677

On 8 June, the net layer HMS Minster was sunk by a mine off Utah Beach while the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) struck two mines and sank in the English Channel off Normandy.

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy, France, on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. NH 44312

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy, France, on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. NH 44312

Through the end of the month, mines off Normandy would continue to claim another dozen landing craft and steamers, as well as the British RN destroyers HMS Fury and HMS Swift along with the Dido-class cruiser HMS Scylla, proving just how hazardous the belt laid by the Germans, had been. It is easy to forget, with the scale of Overlord, but mines caused one hell of a butcher’s bill in June 1944 off the French coast.

As for Osprey‘s sister ship, Raven would sweep at least 21 German and Italian naval mines on D-Day alone. She would survive the war and pass into mothballs with three battle stars to her credit.

Raven seen flanked in the 1946-47 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships, shown as a single outlier among 63 Auk-class and 106 Admirable-class minesweepers in U.S. service.

Raven seen flanked in the 1946-47 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, shown as a single outlier among 63 Auk-class and 106 Admirable-class minesweepers in U.S. service.

Struck in 1967, she was sunk as a target in deep water off the coast of southern California.

As noted by DANFS, the name Osprey was assigned to AM-406 on 17 May 1945, but the construction of that ship was canceled just three months later with the end of the war.

Osprey would go on to grace the hulls of two later U.S. Navy minecraft: AMS-28, a small YMS-1-class minesweeper which served in Korea where she prepared a firing base anchorage for the big guns of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) at the Inchon landings– a true namesake to her predecessor– and MHC-51, the lead ship of late Cold War Osprey-class coastal mine hunters.

Four U.S. Navy minesweepers (AMS) tied up at Yokosuka, Japan, following mine clearance activities off Korea. Original photo is dated 30 November 1950. These four ships, all units of Mine Division 31, are (from left to right): USS Merganser (AMS-26); USS Osprey (AMS-28); USS Chatterer (AMS-40) and USS Mockingbird (AMS-27). Ship in the extreme left background is USS Wantuck (APD-125). Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-424597, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Four U.S. Navy minesweepers (AMS) tied up at Yokosuka, Japan, following mine clearance activities off Korea. The original photo is dated 30 November 1950. These four ships, all units of Mine Division 31, are (from left to right): USS Merganser (AMS-26); USS Osprey (AMS-28); USS Chatterer (AMS-40) and USS Mockingbird (AMS-27). Ship in the extreme left background is USS Wantuck (APD-125). Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-424597, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Osprey (MHC-51), a coastal minehunter in commission from 1993 to 2006. Of note, one of her sister ships was USS Raven (MHC-61), a familiar name on her family tree. NHHC L45-221.03.01

As for our D-Day Osprey, her bell surfaced some time ago, but I believe is in private hands in the UK.

USS Osprey ships bell Ivan Warren Michelle Mary Fishing & Diving Charters 2007 via wrecksite.eu

USS Osprey ships bell, via Ivan Warren Michelle Mary Fishing & Diving Charters in 2007, via wrecksite.eu

Still, if it had not been for Osprey and those like her, the Longest Day could have proved even longer.

Specs:

USS Osprey (AM-56) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 194119-N-23989

USS Osprey (AM-56) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 194119-N-23989

Displacement: 810 tons, 1040 tons full load
Length: 220 ft 6 in overall, 215 w.l.
Beam: 32 ft 2 in
Draft: 9 ft 4 in mean
Machinery: Diesel, 2 shafts, 1,800 BHP
Speed: 18 knots
Complement:105 officers and men
Armament:
2 × 3″/50 caliber guns
2 × 40 mm AA guns
8 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons (added 1942)
2 × depth charge tracks (added 1941)

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Sending a lot of small UAVs to the WestPac

Saw the below pop up on the DoD’s contracts list. Apparently, there are lots of hungry hungry hippos looking to get ScanEagle UAVs in the Western Pacific. Good for watching that littoral on the cheap.

DOD:

Insitu Inc., Bingen, Washington, is awarded $47,930,791 for firm-fixed-price delivery order N0001919F2602 against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-17-G-0001) for 34 ScanEagle unmanned air vehicles for the governments of Malaysia (12); Indonesia (8); Philippines (8); and Vietnam (6). In addition, this order provides for spare payloads, spare and repair parts, support equipment, tools, training, technical services, and field service representatives. Work will be performed in Bingen, Washington (77 percent); and multiple shore and at sea locations in Malaysia (9 percent); Philippines (5 percent); Vietnam (5 percent); and Indonesia (4 percent), and is expected to be completed in March 2022. Foreign Military Sales funds in the amount of $47,930,791 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the fiscal year. This order combines purchases for the governments of Malaysia ($19,329,334; 40 percent); Philippines ($9,633,665; 20 percent); Vietnam ($9,770,120; 20 percent); and Indonesia ($9,197,672; 20 percent) under the Foreign Military Sales program. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

Of note, ScanEagles have been deployed from vessels as small as 65-feet oal, making even patrol craft capable of operating these interesting little UAVs as they can launch from a small catapult and be captured in-flight to be recovered in very little deck space.

In short, ScanEagle is essentially the WWII floatplane of the 2020s.

The Vought OS2U Kingfisher that appears here on the USS Missouri (BB-63) shakedown cruise was taken after an abandon ship drill in August 1944. (Click to embiggen)

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