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The briefly loved Grand Rapids, on the block

The U.S. Navy has always had a weird love-hate relationship with gunboats. Over the past two centuries, they crank them out for use in littoral operations that do not warrant a destroyer or cruiser, then quickly shed them while almost new to buy a couple more destroyers or cruisers that they can’t use in littoral situations.

One such example was the 17 Asheville-class gunboats built in the 1960s. Just 244-tons, the 164-foot ships were fast due to their CODOG hybrid gas turbine/diesel plant, could float in 10 feet of water, and packed a 76mm gun as well as other assorted party favors.

Builder’s model of the design that became USS ASHEVILLE (PG-84). Photographed circa the mid-1960s. NH 95837

However, once Vietnam wrapped up and they lacked much of an immediate mission (never mind that Iran would implode in 1979 and leave the Persian Gulf as a chokepoint nightmare for a half-century), most of the class was pulled from the fleet and given to Third World allies who it was thought could better use them. A few stuck around in niche (non gunboat) roles into the 1980s and 90s, but they were the exception to the rule.

USS Grand Rapids (PGM-98/PG-98), Tacoma Boat Building Co. photo 33218, via Navsource

One of the last in such a niche was USS Grand Rapids (PGM-98/PG-98). After just seven years with the fleet, she was decommissioned on 1 October 1977 and transferred to the same day to the Naval Sea Systems Command where she was used as the disarmed research vessel Athena II (165NS762) for another 40 years.

Liquidated by the Navy in 2017, she is now docked in the Mobile, Alabama area in private hands and is for sale for $350K, should you be interested.

Navy gives LCS’s minesniffer a thumb’s up (finally)

The Navy last week announced the completion of developmental testing for Raytheon’s AN/AQS-20C mine-hunting sonar system at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division.

This thing:

For these things:

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 27, 2019) The Independence variant littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), left, USS Manchester (LCS 14), and USS Tulsa (LCS 16) are underway in formation in the eastern Pacific. Littoral combat ships are high-speed, agile, shallow draft, mission-focused surface combatants designed for operations in the littoral environment, yet fully capable of open ocean operations. As part of the surface fleet, LCS has the ability to counter and outpace evolving threats independently or within a network of surface combatants. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe/Released)

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 27, 2019) The Independence variant littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), left, USS Manchester (LCS 14), and USS Tulsa (LCS 16) are underway in formation in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe/Released)

The presser:

The AQS-20C is the next generation of the AN/AQS-20 system designed to be incorporated into the Littoral Combat Ship Mine Countermeasures Mission Package. The system consists of four sonar arrays: two side-looking arrays; a gap-filler sonar array; and a forward-looking sonar array providing simultaneous detection, localization, and classification of bottom mines, close-tethered moored mines, and volume-moored mines.

The system delivers high-definition images of bottom mines, providing the operator with both range and contrast data that combine to form a three-dimensional image during post-mission analysis to aid in mine identification.

Developmental testing verifies that a system’s design meets all technical specifications and that all contract requirements have been met. During testing the Raytheon-developed towed sonar sensor conducted 12 underway missions in various operational modes and at different depths at four separate NSWC PCD test ranges. The missions were conducted aboard the test vessel M/V Patriot.

The AQS-20C will now be integrated with and deployed from the Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MCM USV), a long-endurance, semi-autonomous, diesel-powered, all-aluminum surface craft that supports the employment of various mine countermeasure payloads. The MCM USV can be launched and recovered by the LCS, from other vessels of opportunity or from shore sites to provide minesweeping, mine-hunting, and mine neutralization capabilities. The MCM USV is currently undergoing developmental testing as a component of the Unmanned Influence Sweep System at the South Florida Test Facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Test results will now undergo scoring and performance assessment leading up to a final developmental testing report that is expected to be completed in the spring. Findings from this report will be used for future performance improvements of the system.

RN adding a pair of ‘Littoral Strike Ships’ which sound cooler than what they are

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson this week announced a concept and development phase for two new vessels – called Littoral Strike Ship.

These are defined in a presser as:

Littoral Strike Ship are vessels which can command an assault force from anywhere in the world – carrying everything from helicopters and fast boats to underwater automated vehicles and huge numbers of troops. They are designed to be able to get in close to land – with ‘littoral’ literally meaning the part of the sea which is closest to the shore.

And could look like this converted container ship concept:

Why are they needed?

The RN’s “Gator” assets currently number just a pair of 21,000-ton Albion-class landing platform docks (LPDs)– HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark— as well trio of relatively new 16,160-ton Bay-class dock landing ships (LSD)– the latter used to be four but they sold one, Largs Bay, to Australia in 2011. The Bays are manned by civil mariners of the RFA, which is basically the British version of the MSC. Each of the five aforementioned British LPD/LSDs can comfortably carry about one half of a Commando battalion (of which the RMs have two, 40 Commando and 45 Commando) as well as a smattering of Chinooks, LCUs, and LCVPs.

Only one vessel on the RN’s list in recent years could carry a full Commando unit, HMS Ocean, and she was just sold to Brazil with a lot of life left in her.

So, on the outset, it looks like between the five current ‘phibs available to the RN, they could land the two 700-man Commandos available to them without much of an issue. With that, why the new vessels?

From the press conference:

Under plans being looked at by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, these assault ships would be forward deployed permanently away from the UK.

Said Williamson, “Our vision is for these ships to form part of 2 Littoral Strike Groups complete with escorts, support vessels, and helicopters. One would be based East of Suez in the Indo-Pacific and one based West of Suez in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Baltic. And, if we ever need them to, our two Littoral Strike Ships, our two aircraft carriers, our two amphibious assault ships Albion and Bulwark, and our three Bay Class landing ships can come together in one amphibious task force. This will give us sovereign, lethal, amphibious force. This will be one of the largest and best such forces anywhere in the world.”

Ahhhh, so basically Littoral Strike Ship = Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) platform but with a British jack.

USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. T-ESB 3 is able to carry four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.

Which makes sense.

Russia can crank out 10K rounds per day for their Thunderball-era underwater gatts

Long considered essential beachwear for Russian frogman-types, production is ramping up for the special 4.5mm and 5.66 mm dart-projectile ammo used in the country’s underwater-capable guns. The 4.5mm round fires a mild-steel flechette dart loaded atop a 39.5mm bottlenecked case and is used in the 4-shot SPP-1 pistol while the larger 5.66mm cartridge was designed for the APS rifle system.

The SPP-1 and its darts

The APS

Due to automation, the factory can now produce 10,000 of these specialty rounds per day.

More in my column at Guns.com

Cook, arriving

Always something captivating about a night transit of a place like this while “haze gray and underway.” Just keep your eyes out.

Official caption: “The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) transits the Bosphorus Strait, en route to the Black Sea, Jan. 19, 2019. Donald Cook, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is on its eighth patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa.”

(U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ford Williams/Released)

Navy continues to experiment with expeditionary packages

A few years ago the Navy put together a Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) built around just 250 Marines with a quartet of four CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters. Deployed to Central America in a series of joint exercises and nation-building projects under Southern Command, they spent six months underway.

In recent months, a few additional pages in the same book have been added.

Sailors and Marines assigned to Littoral Combat Group One (LCG-1) just returned to Hawaii after spending six months in the Eastern Pacific– an area that sees few USN deployments. Consisting of just two-three vessels– USS Somerset (LPD 25) and USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), along with the occasional support of the oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202) — they embarked the 300~ Marine SPMAGTF-Peru augmented by Coast Guard LEDETs, the latter to perform stops on narco subs prone to the region. They conducted ops and exercises with partners in Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 22, 2018) – USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) and Cuenca (LM27), an Ecuadorian naval vessel, perform a passing exercise in the Pacific Ocean, Nov. 22, 2018 as part of an exercise with the Ecuadorian navy to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing in the Pacific. Cuenca is a German-made Lürssen TNC 45 Seawolf-class fast attack craft. (U.S. Navy Photo by Littoral Combat Group 1 Public Affairs/Released)

Air assets on Somerset included at least two CH-53Es, assigned to the “Heavy Haulers” of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 462 and a couple UH-1Y Hueys assigned to the “Vipers” of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 169.

A member of the Peruvian marines watches as a CH-53E Super Stallion assigned to the “Heavy Haulers” of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 462 flies by the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25) Nov. 19, 2018, in the Pacific Ocean. USS Somerset is part of Littoral Combat Group One, which is deployed in support of the Enduring Promise Initiative to reaffirm U.S. Southern Command’s longstanding commitment to the nations of the Western Hemisphere. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kyle Carlstrom)

Moving past the LSG and SPMAGTF’s, there was the single-vessel Task Force Koa Moana 2018.

Using a company-sized force of Marines embarked aboard USNS GySgt Fred W. Stockham (T-AK-3017), an MSC-manned Shughart-class container & roll-on roll-off support vessel, the 55,000-ton prepositioned supply ship sailed around the Pacific, stopping at a string of islands from Tahiti to Palau, Tinian and Guam, performing joint operations with local governments and French military assets (Tahiti is still a Paris-controlled colony, after all.)

Some 130-ish TFKM Marines and Sailors called the civilian-manned Stockman home for two months last year, in humanitarian assistance missions across Oceania.

As described by the USNI, “TF Koa Moana included 130 members from the West Coast-based I Marine Expeditionary Force, officials said, plus fly-in detachments of Marines and Navy personnel from Okinawa, Japan, and Guam.”

Sure, they aren’t units capable of forcing a beach against a top-tier enemy, but, besides disaster response, LE support, training, and humanitarian missions, groups such as these–if needed– could probably pull off TRAP recoveries, non-combatant evacuations, and FAST-team style legation reinforcements, which in the end, can help take up the slack from overworked Amphibious Ready Groups and Carrier Task Forces.

Just keep them out of harm’s way in contested areas as this could be a way to get a handful of guys in a lot of trouble, fast.

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 (of 448)

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, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 of 448

Collection of George K. Beach, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 91189

Here we see the mighty 110-foot Submarine Chaser No. 330 of the U.S. Navy en route across the Atlantic, circa September-October 1918, to take the fight to the Kaiser’s unterseeboot threat. The hearty little class, more akin to yachts or trawlers than warships, were hard to kill and gave unsung service by the hundreds, with SC-330 one of the longer-lasting of the species.

In an effort to flood the Atlantic with sub-busting craft and assure the U-boat scourge was driven from the sea, the 110-foot subchasers were designed by Herreshoff Boat Yard Vice President, the esteemed naval architect Albert Loring Swasey (Commodore of the MIT Yacht Club in 1897) on request of Asst Naval Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1916 and rushed into construction the next year. It was believed the vessels could be rushed out via commercial boat yards at $500K a pop.

Submarine Chaser SC-49 parading with other Sub Chasers off an unknown East Coast port

Derided as a “splinter fleet” the SCs were built from wood (the most excellent Subchaser Archives says “Frame/floors: white oak. Planking: yellow pine. Deck planking: Oregon pine”), which, when powered by a trio of Standard 220-hp 6-cylinder gasoline (!) engines, a 24~ man crew could get the narrow-beamed vessel underway at a (designed) top speed of 18 knots, which was fast enough for U-boat work at the time.

View in the engine room, looking aft, circa 1918. Taken by Louis Harder, at The Naval Experimental Station, New London, Conn NH 44355

Armed with a 3″/23cal low-angle pop gun forward– which was still capable of punching a hole in a submarine’s sail or pressure hull out to 8,000 yards– a couple of M1895 Colt/Marlin or Lewis light machine guns for peppering periscopes, and assorted depth charges (both racks and projectors), they were dangerous enough for government work.

3-inch gun drill, Submarine Chaser operating in European waters, 1918 NH 124131

Deck scene aboard a U.S. Navy Submarine Chaser during World War I. Caption: This photo, taken from the top of the pilot house, shows the boat’s “Y” gun depth charge thrower aft of amidships and a 12-foot Wherry dinghy coming alongside (each chaser carried one as well as a liferaft stowed on the engine room trunk). The submarine chaser in the picture is not identified but may be USS SC-143. Original photograph from the collection of Mr. Peter K. Connelly, who was Boatswain on the SC-143 in 1918-1919. NH 64978

For finding their quarry, they were equipped with hydrophones produced by the Submarine Signal Company of Boston (which today is Raytheon), of the C-tube and K-tube variety.

As noted by no less authority than Admiral William S. Sims in a 1920 article reprinted in All Hands in 1954:

“The C-tube consisted of a lead pipe-practically the same as a water pipe which was dropped over the side of the ship fifteen or
twenty feet into the sea; this pipe contained the wires which, at one end, were attached to the devices under the water, and which, at the other end, reached the listener’s ears.”

When a cavitation submarine was near it “showed signs of lively agitation. It trembled violently and made a constantly increasing hullabaloo in the ears of the listener.”

C-Tube Illustration #2 Caption: This diagram shows the inner workings of a C-tube listening device. Original Location: Submarine Signal Company Descriptive Specifications of General Electric Company’s “C” Tube Set, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 338, National Archives, Washington, DC

C-Tube Illustration #1 The C-Tube over the side

“At work aboard a U.S. Navy submarine chaser (SC),” at the U.S. Naval Experimental Station, New London, Connecticut, circa 1918. Photo by Louis Harder, New London. NH 2460

Besides escorting coastal convoys (subchasers had short legs) and watching for surfaced boats, 3-packs of the hardy little vessels would drift and listen, their K-tubes and C-tubes in the water, depth charges at the ready.

From Sims:

The three little vessels, therefore, drifted abreast-at a distance of a mile or two apart-their propellers hardly moving, and the decks as silent as the grave; they formed a new kind of fishing expedition, the officers and crews constantly held taut by the expectation of a “bite.” The middle chaser of the three was the flagship and her most interesting feature was the so-called plotting room. Here one officer received constant telephone reports from all three boats, giving the nature of the sounds, and, more important still, their directions. He transferred these records to a chart as soon as they came in, rapidly made calculations, and in a few seconds, he was able to give the location of the submarine. This process was known as “obtaining a fix.”

This photograph captioned “Battle Formation of Sub-chasers”, seems to depict the vessels in a columnar formation, which would be unusual for engaging with a submarine. The battle formation was most commonly ships arranged in a line abreast. From the T. Woofenden Collection at subchaser.org. https://www.subchaser.org/battle-formation via NHHC

The first of the class, SC-1, was built at Naval Station New Orleans and commissioned in October 1917. Others were built at Mare Island, New York (Brooklyn), Charleston, Norfolk and Puget Sound Naval Yards; by Matthews Boat in Ohio, Hodgdon Yacht in Maine, Hiltebrant in Kingston, College Point Boat Works, Mathis Yacht in New Jersey, Barrett SB in Alabama, Great Lake Boat Building Corp in Milwaukee…well, you get the idea…they were built everywhere, some 448 vessels over three years.

110-foot subchaser under construction in Cleveland. Photo by Cleveland Parks

110-foot wooden submarine chaser being built at an unidentified shipyard. NARA 165-WW-506a-111

Our subject, SC-330, was handcrafted with love by the Burger Boat Co., Manitowoc, Wisconsin— the only such craft built by the yard– and commissioned 8 February 1918. Of note, Burger is still in the yacht biz today.

She cut her teeth with the early submarine hunter-killer group centered around the Paulding-class four-piper destroyer USS Jouett (DD-41) on the East Coast.

Assigned to Division 12 of Submarine Chaser Squadron 4 for service overseas during the Great War, SC-330 headed overseas in September 1918, ending up in the Azores.

U.S Navy Submarine Chasers at sea in August 1918. NH 63449

Submarine chasers at sea in European waters during World War I NH 2687

Rushed into service, at least 121 of the 110s made it “Over There” before Versailles, including no less than 36 that operated in the Med from the island of Corfu. Not bad for ships that only hit the drawing board in late 1916.

The boat carried two officers, a CPO, five engine rates, three electricians (radiomen), a BM, a QM, 3 hydrophone listeners, a couple of guys in the galley, and 5-7 seamen. Crews were often a mix of trawlermen serving as rates, Ivy League yachtsmen as officers, and raw recruits making up the balance. In many cases, the Chief was the only regular Navy man aboard. Life was primative, with no racks, one head and hammocks strung all-round.

Most crews went from civilian life to getting underway in just a few months. The fact that these craft deploying to Europe did so on their own power– effectively in a war zone as soon as they left brown water on the East Coast– with very little in the way of a shakedown is remarkable.

Subchaser refueling, on the voyage from the Azores to Ireland

Fueling sub chasers at sea, 1918. Capable of an 880-mile range on their 2,400 gallons of gasoline, each chaser needed to refuel 4-5 times while on a crossing of the Atlantic. Pretty heady stuff in the day. NH 109622

In an Azores harbor with other ships of the U.S. and foreign navies, circa October 1918. The six sub chasers in the left center of the view, with bows to the camera, are (from left to right): SC-223, SC-330, SC-180, SC-353, SC-331 and (probably) SC-356. Ships nested with them, to the right, include a bird type minesweeper and two converted yacht patrol vessels. The four sailing ship masts to the extreme right probably belong to the French Quevilly, which was serving as station tanker in the Azores. Collection of George K. Beach, who was a crewmember of USS SC-331 at the time. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99742

Mosquito fleet U.S. Navy submarine chasers of the “Mosquito Fleet” at the Azores, circa 1919. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 67714

The ships did what they could and, when used in a littoral, performed admirably. For example, a squadron of 11 of these chasers screened the British-French-Italian naval forces during the Second Battle of Durazzo in Oct. 1918, destroying mines that threatened the bombarding ships and driving off an Austrian submarine trying to attack the Allied fleet.

However, when in open ocean, things could get really real for them.

As noted by an Irish site referencing the 30 110s under Capt. A.J. Hepburn that arrived in August 1918:

The 110 foot subchaser was a fine sea boat, but was never designed to withstand the wild Atlantic seas off Ireland. Constant leaks from decks and windows, choking petrol fumes in the officers quarters, and constant seasickness from the rolling motion, were the lot of crews of these craft.

In heavy weather they would be almost awash, with only the pilot house showing above the waves. The depth charge racks were felt to be too heavy and made the vessels prone to taking seas over the stern. Many reports of German submarines from coastwatchers and others were actually subchasers ploughing through heavy seas.

Subchaser in heavy seas, showing how, from a distance, it could be mistaken for a u-boat

Once the war ended, SC-330 was sent back to the states, served in Gitmo for a time, and was laid up in the Gulf Coast in 1919.

Submarine chasers awaiting disposition. Caption: Part of the hundreds of World War I submarine chasers tied up at the Port Newark Army Base, New Jersey, awaiting disposition, 13 May 1920. Those identified include: USS SC-78, USS SC-40, USS SC-47, USS SC-143, and USS SC-110. Description: Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69166

SC-330 caught a reprieve. In the summer of 1920, she was sent up the Mississippi River system and served on semi-active duty through the 1920s and 30s, training Naval Reservists in the Midwest. As such, the little boat and those like her cradled the USNR through the interwar period, and, without such vessels, WWII would have looked a lot different.

S-330 underway in Midwestern waters, during the 1920s or 1930s. Sign on the building in the right distance reads Central Illinois Light Co. Note that she has lost her depth charges and Y-gun, not needed for use on the Mississippi River. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41996

Three of the 110s that made it to WWII service: USS SC-330; USS SC-412; and USS SC-64, in port, circa the 1920s or 1930s. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Note the difference in lettering, with some using abbreviations (“S.C. 64”) and some not (“SC412”) Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Photo #: NH 103096

Of her 448 sisters, more than 100 were transferred to the French during the war, some to the Coast Guard in the 1920s, and most liquidated by the early 1930s as they grew long in the tooth. Wood vessels with gasoline engines weren’t highly desired by the Navy at the time, after all.

USCGC Vaughan, ex-USS SC-152, was built by the Gibbs Gas Engine Co., Jacksonville, FL but served her career in Coastie White off Key West and San Diego during Prohibiton. With Volstead on its way out, she was decommissioned 28 March 1928 and sold. Her end is similar to most SCs., discarded before they had 10 years on their rapidly deteriorating wooden hulls.

Few of the 110s survived the Depression on Uncle’s inventory and SC-330 was the only one of her 100-ship block (from SC 301-400) to serve in WWII, likely continuing her role as a training ship. As most of her life had been spent in freshwater– usually wintering ashore to keep out of the ice– the likely contributed to her longevity.

SC-330 out of the water for maintenance, from an article in the Marengo-Union Times relating a 1940s interaction with the vessel at St. Louis, MO http://marengo-uniontimes.com/news/1567-what-did-you-do-in-the-war-daddy

Only about a dozen or so 110s were carried on the Naval List during the Second World War. (The other 12 were: SC-64, SC-102, SC-103, SC-185, SC-412, SC-431, SC-432, SC-437, SC-440, SC-449, SC-450, SC-453, one of which was lost and three were retired before the end of the war. In addition, SC-229 and SC-231 were in USCG service as the cutters Boone and Blaze, respectively). Most were in YP or training duties, although some did mount ASW gear to include mousetrap bomb throwers and depth charges, just in case.

SC-330, was one of the last four of her type in service, decommissioning and struck from the Navy Register 22 June 1945, then transferred to the War Shipping Administration on 8 October 1946. (The only longer-lasting 110s were: SC-431 transferred to WSA on 12/9/46, SC-437 on 3/21/47, and SC-102 on 1/3/47).

While these craft are all largely gone for good, extensive plans remain of the vessels in the National Archives.

For more on these craft, please visit Splinter Fleet and The Subchaser Archives.

Specs:


Displacement: 85 tons full load, 77 tons normal load
Length: 110 ft oa (105 ft pp)
Beam: 14 ft 9 in
Draft: 5 ft 7 in
Propulsion: Three 220 bhp Standard gasoline engines (!) as built, replaced by Hall & Scott engines in 1920.
Speed: 18 kn as designed, 16 or less in practice
Range: 880 nmi at 10 kn with 2,400 gallons fuel
Complement: Two officers, 22-25 enlisted
Sonar-like objects: One Submarine Signal Company C-Tube, M.B. Tube, or K Tube hydrophone
Armament:
1 × 3 in (76 mm)/23-caliber low-angle gun mount, fwd (2 designed, only one mounted in favor of Y-gun aft)
2 × Colt/Marlin M1895 .30-06 caliber machine guns (some seen with Lewis guns)
1 × Y-gun depth charge projector, depth charge racks

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