First flown in 1959, some 757 P-3 Orions were made by Lockheed and Kawasaki by 1990. The Royal Australian Air Force got into the P-3 biz in 1968, one of the first non-U.S. users, when No 11 Squadron started flying the type. In all, 10 P-3C Update II Orions replaced No 10 Squadron’s aging SP2H Neptunes in 1978 while 11 Squadron’s P-3Bs were in turn phased out by 10 P-3C Update II.5 Orions in 1984–85.
In 1997, 18 of the legacy P-3C models were upgraded to the country’s unique AP-3C Orion variants, which have continued to operate. In all, the type put in an impressive 50 years in Cold War ASW keeping tabs on Soviet subs, long-range SAR (two wrecked yachtsmen in the Vendee Globe race were located 1,200 miles from shore in 1996 by a P-3), and support missions all over the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
The RAAF is replacing the type with 12 Boeing P-8 Poseidon (8 of which have been delivered) and as many as 8 MQ-4C Triton UAVs.
One survivor, AP-3C Orion #A9-659, is slated to be handed over to the Australian War Memorial in flying condition to preserve.
Built in 1985, it took its final flight on 28 June 2018, having accumulated 16,800 flight hours. 659 spent three solid decades undertaking operations with the RAAF, including during the Cold War and in East Timor. In 2003 it was one of the first aircraft to deploy to Afghanistan as part of Operation Slipper.
It also conducted the first Australian P-3C operational combat mission over Iraq during Operation Falconer on 16 March 2003. The craft also took part in the 2014 search for Malaysian Airlines MH370, the largest and longest-range airborne maritime search operation ever conducted.
P-3s are still flown by Australia’s neighbor, New Zealand (who is set to fly them through 2025) as well as 15 other countries. The U.S. Navy continues to fly increasingly limited numbers of P-3C Baseline III Orions until Poseidon is fully fielded.
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.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, Mar. 13, 2019: Putting the Yeoman back into the Einmann-Torpedo
Here we see one Walther Gerhold, a smiling young sailor just past his 23rd birthday in August 1944. Note his Marine-Schreiber (yeoman) rate, Matrosenobergefreiter rank (roughly equivalent to E4 or Petty Officer Third Class) Zerstörerkriegsabzeichen (Destroyer War Badge issued 24.12.42 along with his original Iron Cross II. Class) and, around his neck, a newly-awarded Knight’s Cross. Our good Schreibobergefreiter had just been decorated for single-handedly depriving the Allies of one, albeit well-used, light cruiser off the Normandy coast, a feat that led to his Ritterkreuz.
This is his ride:
Gerhold joined the Kriegsmarine on 16 October 1940 and served as a yeoman in administrative tasks in various torpedo boat units, seeing a share of hot action on T 111 and T 20 which resulted in an EAK as well as a bonus fractured collarbone that sidelined him to shore duty in late 1943 at the Baltic seacoast base at Heiligenhafen. Ready to get back into something other than pushing paper, in early 1944 he volunteered for a new force then being assembled from across the German Navy, the Kleinkampfverbänden der Kriegsmarine (Small Combat Units of the Navy). The group was to contain some 794 officers and 16,608 NCOs and men, although throughout 1944-45 fewer than 10,000 passed through the ranks of the organization.
With Germany largely out of the large surface combatant business, these men would take a page from the operations of the Italians and Japanese and become combat divers and operate such desperate weapons as midget submarines (Seehund, Hecht, Biber, Molch); motorboats filled with explosives (Linse), and manned torpedoes.
To inspire the troops, a series of Kampfabzeichen der Kleinkampfmittel badges were created in seven different grades and clasps for service in the unit, all featuring a sawfish.
The first such German-produced manned torpedo was inventor Richard Mohr’s’ idea to take a pair of electrically driven G7e torpedoes and make a stand-alone weapon system from them. The 533mm G7e could run at a speed of 30 knots for 7.5kms on its Siemens AEG-AV 76 9 kW DC electric motor and 52-cell battery. By using one “war shot” torp filled with 616-pounds of Schießwolle 36 high explosive, the top-mounted fish of the pair ditched the warhead for a tiny cockpit for a human operator who could squeeze into the body of the 21-inch-wide torpedo.
With the motor of the top “mother” torpedo adjusted to run at a more economical rate, the battery would last long enough to give the contraption a theoretical 40-ish mile range at 3.2- to 4.5-knots.
The device, branded the Neger (partially a racist take on Mohr’s last name and partially because the craft were painted in a matte black finish), the volunteer pilot would be shoehorned into the driver’s seat of his one-man semi-submersible (the vessel would run awash and could not fully submerge on purpose) and a plexiglass dome bolted closed over his head from the outside.
Effectively trapped inside their bubble with no way to get out, it was estimated that as much as 80 percent of Negerpiloten were lost in missions, mostly due to suffocation. Navigation instruments were nil other than a compass, and the weapon was aimed by lining up a mark on the tip of the craft with the general direction of the target. Due to their low vantage point in the water, operators could typically see less than two miles.
The concept of their use, owing to their low-speed, poor operator visibility and total lack of protection, was that the weapons were to be used in large flotillas– with several dozen common in one mission– and at night, which further reduced the range of the pilot’s Mark I eyeballs. Once lined up on target, a mechanical lever would (hopefully) release the underslung war shot G7e for its moment and book it for home before the sun came up.
In March 1944, the first trial copy of Mohr’s double-torpedo was ready for trials carried out by veteran U-boat ace Oberleutnant Johann Otto Krieg who was not impressed. Nonetheless, the device was put into rapid production and the first combat unit– to be commanded by the unfortunate Krieg– was stood up as K-Flottille 361. Consisting largely of desk types (see Gerhold) and some rear echelon Army troops, 40 volunteer pilots and some 160 support crew were hastily trained.
On the night of 19/20 April, a group of 37 Neger operating from Nettuno on the Italian coast was released to attack Allied ships at the Anzio beachhead.
It was crap.
None of the Negerpiloten in the sortie released his torpedo. Three of the devices were lost. Worse, a fully-intact model washed up to fall into American hands.
Shifting operations to Favrol Woods (west of Honfleur) in Normandy by train just after the D-Day invasion, on the night of 5/6 July a force of 24 Negers sortied out against the Mulberry Harbors defense line. The result was much better than at Anzio.
The 1,400-ton Captain-class frigate HMS Trollope (K575) has hit near Arromanches at about 0130 on 6 July and later written off. Some sources put this on Gerhold while others attribute the attack to a German E-boat. What is known for sure is that about an hour later the manned torpedoes sank the two Catherine/Auk-class minesweepers HMS Magic (J 400) and HMS Cato (J 16), with Cato stricken while responding to Magic‘s distress.
Not to be outdone, on the clear moonlit night of July 7/8, K-Flottille 361 managed to muster 21 Neger boats for a repeat attack. During the action, the Auk-class minesweeper HMS Pylades (J 401) was sunk and 4,300-ton Free Polish cruiser ORP Dragon (D 46)-– formerly the RN’s Danae-class cruiser HMS Dragon, launched in 1917– so extensively damaged that she was written off and used as a breakwater for Mulberry.
While Gerhold was given credit for the destruction of Dragon at the time by the Germans, 19-year-old Midshipman Karl-Heinz Potthast, captured in the aftermath of the attack and placed in a British POW camp, has subsequently been credited by most with the damage inflicted to the aging warship.
On the way back to their base, the Negers, running high in the water without their torpedoes, bumped into a group of well-armed and much more maneuverable British Motor Torpedo Boats. In the light of the cloudless full moon, their plastic bubble cockpits glowed like a beacon on the surface of the sea and it was easy pickings. Although the HMC MTB-463 was lost to what was thought to be a mine during the brawl, just nine manned torpedoes made it back to be recovered by Germans.
Gerhold, tossed around by the explosions and in a leaky craft filled with stale air, seawater, oil slick, toxic battery fumes and human waste (there was no head on board, after all), was picked up from the water near Honfleur by ‘Heer soldiers, his device’s power supply exhausted.
There were a few other, less spectacular victories, chalked up to Herr Krieg’s manned torpedo suicide squad:
-Some sources attribute the sinking of the 1,800-ton I-class destroyer HMS Isis (D87) on 20 July off Normandy to K-Flottille 361 torpedoes, although it was more likely to have come from a mine.
-The 1,300-ton Hunt-class destroyer HMS Quorn (L66), sunk 3 August, succumbed to a human torpedo during a combined attack on the lone British tin can by a determined force of E-boats, Linse explosive motorboats, Einmann-torpedoes, and aircraft.
-On the same night, the 7,000-ton British EC2-S-C1 class Liberty ship SS Samlong was hit by a torpedo purposed to have been fired by KF-361 pilot Oberfernschreibmeister (telegraph operator) Herbert Berrer. German records say “Berrer sank on 3.8.44 in the Seine Bay with a one-man torpedo despite strong enemy security a fully loaded 10,000-ton freighter. Already on 20.4.44 Berrer sunk in front of the landing head in Nettuno another enemy ship [which was false].” Samlong was written off as the victim of a mine.
-Neger pilots attacked the old Free French battleship Courbet off Sword Beach at Normandy on the nights of 15/16 and 16/17 August, despite the fact that she had been scuttled as a Gooseberry blockship on 9 June.
-Further up the coast, off Ostend, the Isles-class armed trawler HMS Colsay (T 384) met with a Neger on 2 November and was sent to the bottom.
For the survivors, in a Germany faced with the prospect of the Allies just months away from Berlin and no news to report, it was decoration time.
Most of the pilots were given the EAK II, while two– “cruiser killer” Gerhold “freighter buster” Berrer– were given Knights’ Crosses in a ceremony attended by none other than K-Verbande commander VADM Hellmuth Heye and Kriegsmarine boss Adm. Karl Dönitz himself in August. Oberleutnant Johann Krieg, 361’s skipper, was also given a Knights Cross.
The awards were important in the terms of recognition for the downright insane task the manned torpedo pilots accepted.
Less than 600 Ritterkreuz were issued by the Germans in WWII, many posthumously. Only 318 of these went to the Kriegsmarine, almost all successful U-boat/destroyer/S-boat commanders and senior officers killed in battle. In fact, just three enlisted sailors picked up the decoration besides Berrer and Gerhold– Bootsmannsmaat Karl Jörß who commanded a flak team on a bunch of crazy F-lighter ops in the Med in 1943 and had already received two iron crosses, lead machinist Heinrich Praßdorf who saved submarine U-1203, and Oberbootsmannsmaat Rudolf Mühlbauer who did the same on U-123.
As such, the decorations and deeds of K.361 spread wide across what was left of the Reich.
In all, just 200~ Negers were made, and most that got operational did so on one-way trips. Of the 158 deployed between June to August 1944, almost all in French waters, 106 were lost.
An advanced version, the upgraded Marder (Marten), capable of diving to 90 feet, was produced to replace the more beta version of a human torpedo that was the Neger, was fielded. Two Marder-equipped K-Verband units in the Med, K-Flottille 363 and 364, tried to give the Allies grief from August- December 1944 but wound up losing almost all their craft with nothing to show for it.
K-Verbande attacks got even more desperate in the final months of the war, with victories even slimmer. While midget subs like the Molch and Seehund were built in larger numbers, they never had much luck operationally. Overall, it could be argued that the Einmann boots of K.361 were the most effective fielded by the force. Of the five K-fighters who received Knights Crosses, three were part of Kleinkampf-flottille 361.
In the end, these naval commandos and their all-guts David vs Goliath style operations earned the Kriegsmarine, long the redheaded stepchild to the Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht, and Waffen-SS as seen by the Chancellery, a bit of redemption. In one of the final acts of the war, Hitler ordered Donitz to form a bodyguard for him drawn from K-units due to his distrust of the SS Leibstandarte. The company-sized force never made it to the bunker in Berlin as there was no safe place for them to land. They later surrendered with Donitz, who had inherited the role of President of Germany, at the Naval Academy at Mürwik in May.
Post-war, dozens of the German human torpedoes were captured, but few retained.
One on display at the Verkehrsmuseum in Speyer, Germany.
Further, the craft has been the subject of numerous scale models.
Of the men behind the devices, K.361 commander Johann Krieg was wounded in the last days of the war and captured by the British. He later joined the West German federal navy (Bundesmarine) in 1956 and retired from the Ministry of Defense in 1975 with the rank of Fregattenkapitän. He died in 1999.
Midshipman Karl-Heinz Potthast, the battered young man who is today usually credited with the hit on ORP/HMS Dragon, made numerous connections in England while a POW and returned to his studies in Germany post-war. Later, he became a noted historian and educational theorist, earning the Bundesverdienstkreuz from the Bonn government in 1985 for special achievements in the spiritual field. He died in 2011.
Gerhold, after he picked up his Knights Cross, managed a transfer to Norway and resumed his life as a yeoman with a promotion to Schreibermaat, having had enough of the torpedo biz. He was repatriated home in June 1945 and later, living in Westphalia, became a police officer. He often autographed several period “Einmann-Torpedo!” postcards and magazine articles for collectors and was active in veteran’s groups. As for the debate between whether he crippled Dragon or it was the work of Potthast, camps are divided and Gerhold largely took credit for sinking HMS Trollope. He died in 2013.
As far as a legacy, today Germany’s Minensuchgeschwader/Minentaucher, coastal mine warfare units, still carry the swordfish logo of the K-Verbande units. With the thousands of mines still bobbing around in the Baltic and the North Sea, they are very active. Likewise, Draeger-equipped Kampfschwimmer frogmen of the German Navy’s Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM) carry the lineage of the old K-fighters as well—and still get lots of work with mini-subs and the like.
Displacement: 2.7-tons FL
Draft: 533mm x 2 plus a bubble
Machinery: AEG-AV 76 Electric motor 9kW, 52-cell battery.
Range: 40~ nm at 4 knots.
Armament: One G7e electric torpedo, aimed via eyeball
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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.
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.
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.
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.
For these things:
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.
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?
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.
Which makes sense.
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.
Due to automation, the factory can now produce 10,000 of these specialty rounds per day.
More in my column at Guns.com
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)