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The *Other* Sole Survivors of Torpedo EIGHT

80 Years Ago Today: Here we see the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola (CA-24) as she disembarks Marine reinforcements at the Sand Island pier, Midway, on 25 June 1942. Note M1903 Springfield rifles and other gear along the pier edge. The Sand Island seaplane hangar, badly damaged by the Japanese air attack on 4 June 1942, is in the left distance, with a water tower beside it. Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) TBF-1 Avenger (Bureau # 00380) can be seen on the beach, in line with the water tower.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-12146

Another view of P-cola, same day and place, and the aircraft in the foreground, with a damaged tail, is TBF-1 Avenger (Bureau # 00380) The ship in the right distance is probably USS Ballard (AVD-10):

Catalog #: 80-G-12147

A closer look at Avenger 380, photographed at Midway, 24-25 June 1942, prior to shipment back to the United States for post-battle evaluation:

Catalog #: 80-G-11637

Rear cockpit and .50 caliber machinegun turret of Avenger 380. Damage to the turret can be seen in this view. The ship in the left background is probably USS Ballard (AVD-10):

Catalog #: 80-G-11635

Another look, 80-G-17063

While most know the well-publicized tale of Ensign George “Tex” Gay, the “Sole Survivor” of the 4 June 1942 VT-8 TBD torpedo plane attack on the Japanese carrier force during the Battle of Midway, there is a little more to the story.

Ensign George H. Gay at Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital, with a nurse and a copy of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper featuring accounts of the battle. Gay’s book “Sole Survivor” indicates that the date of this photograph is probably 7 June 1942, following an operation to repair his injured left hand and a meeting with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. 80-G-17678

You see, on 4 June, VT-8 was in two different elements.

Gay was part of 15 criminally obsolete Douglas TBD Devastators torpedo bombers of the squadron that had launched from USS Hornet (CV-8), led by the squadron skipper, LCDR John C. Waldron. Riding their Devastators right to Valhalla in a vain attempt to sink the Japanese carrier Soryu, all 15 were shot down and Gay, his gunner already dead, was left floating in the Pacific to be recovered after the battle.

Six other aircraft of VT-8, new TBF Avengers, were based at Midway and likewise flew against the Japanese on 4 June. These planes were the first Navy aircraft to attack the Japanese fleet that day. They attacked without fighter cover led by LT Langdon Kellogg Fieberling and of those six aircraft, five were shot down.

Avenger 308, mauled by Japanese fighters during the attack, was able to limp back home. Seaman 1st Class Jay D. Manning, who was operating the .50 caliber machinegun turret, was killed in action with Japanese fighters during the attack.

The plane’s pilot was Ensign Albert K. “Bert” Earnest (VMI 1938) and the other crewman was Radioman 3rd Class Harry H. Ferrier. Both survived the action.

Albert K. “Bert” Earnest ’938 is one of VMI’s most decorated graduates. He was awarded three Navy Crosses during World War II. Photos courtesy VMI Archives.

Earnest would earn two Navy Crosses that day, “for dropping his bomb on the Japanese fleet and a second Navy Cross for bringing his aircraft and crew back to Midway. Inspections later found 73 large-caliber bullet holes in his aircraft.”

Courtesy of Captain A.K. Earnest, USN (Ret) and Robert L. Lawson, 1990. NH 102559

As noted by the VMI Alumni Assoc: 

Of the squadron’s planes, Earnest’s was the only one to return to Midway. One pilot, Ensign George Gay, was plucked from the ocean. He is depicted in the 2019 movie “Midway.” Gay enjoyed the attention and wrote a book, “Sole Survivor,” about his Midway experiences. Earnest often joked that he and Ferrier were the “other sole survivors.”

While serving off Guadalcanal during the battle of the Eastern Solomons, Earnest earned a third Navy Cross and was rotated back to the U.S. for the duration of the war.

He continued in the Navy, retiring with 31 years of service in 1972. He had an eventful career, testing enemy aircraft, becoming a “Hurricane Hunter” and qualifying to fly jets.

Earnest died in 2009 and is buried with his wife, Millie, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Welcome, USS John Basilone

Over the weekend, Bath Iron Works in Maine hosted the christening of the USS John Basilone (DDG-122), a late-batch Burke-class destroyer, with Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Troy Black delivering the ceremony’s principal address.

Basilone via General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

The warship was transitioned to launch over a three-day period last week.

Who was Basilone?

Born in Buffalo, New York in November 1916, John (no middle name) Basilone, Roman Catholic, son of Salvatore and Dora Basilone, had done his bit for his country prior to World War II. He had served in the Regular Army from 5 February 1936 to 7 September 1939 and was still in the Army Reserves (3rd Corps) from which he had to petition the force for a discharge to join the Marines, a move that was approved 11 July 1940.

His civilian job listed on intake to the Corps was that of a truck driver.

Via Basilone’s 327-page file at the NARA

His Navy physical, when he joined the Marines, listed in addition to several minor scars and burns, two tattoos on his biceps. On his right, the “bust of a western woman.” On the left, a sword and the words “Death Before Dishonor.”

By September 1940, newly-promoted PFC Basilone was standing tall and would make Corporal the following May before grabbing his third stripe as a Sergent on 23 January 1942, just six weeks after Pearl Harbor.

Less than nine months later, SGT Basilone would become a legend for his actions at Guadalcanal.

Medal of Honor citation:

“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area. Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marines’ defensive positions, Sgt. Basilone, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault.

In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its guncrews, were put out of action, leaving only 2 men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived.

A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”

His battlefield promotion to Platoon Sergent was signed by Lt. Col Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, 1st Bn, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, FMF, in November 1942.

Basilone has long been a Marine Corps icon, and his actions on 24/25 Oct 1942 were recreated in The Pacific.

Basilone could have sat out the war and signed War Bonds and taken pictures for the cameras back home, which he did for a minute, but he voluntarily returned to action at the Battle of Iwo Jima in February of 1945, where he single-handedly destroyed an enemy blockhouse and led a Marine tank under fire safely through a minefield. He was killed in action later that day and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his unwavering devotion and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice.

He was the only enlisted Marine to receive both decorations in World War II.

On June 6, 1948, the John Basilone American Legion Post in Raritan dedicated the life-size statue of Basilone holding a water-cooled M1917 Browning machine gun.

The statue was sculpted by childhood friend Phillip Orlando. (New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs photo by Mark C. Olsen)

This is the second ship to honor Basilone. The first, USS Basilone (DD-824/DE-824), was a Gearing-class destroyer sponsored by his widow, a stern-faced Sergeant Lena Mae Basilone, USMC(WR). That destroyer remained in service from 1945 to 1977.

It is about time the Navy has another USS John Basilone on the Navy List.

The Last Ride of Jack Frost

Captain John Everitt “Jack” Frost, age 22, climbs into a Hawker Hurricane Mk. II of No. 3 Squadron South African Air Force at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 9 June 1941 after rejoining his unit as “A” Flight commander following an attack of appendicitis. By the time this image was captured, he already had four Fiat CR.42 fighters of the Regia Aeronautica Italiana to his credit, for which he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. Note the “Semper Pugnans” (Always Fighting) boxing wasp insignia on the cowling of his fighter, and its closely arranged port wing quartet of .303 Brownings.

Photo by Clements (Lt), No 1 Army Film & Photographic Section Army Film & Photographic Unit, via IWM E 3410 https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211980

Frost was the most successful fighter pilot in the SAAF. Having joined up in 1936, after a stint as an instructor he was posted to No. 1 Squadron SAAF in 1939 before making his way to the newly formed No. 3 Squadron the next year for combat in East Africa.

Soon after this image was snapped, he was given command of No. 5 Squadron SAAF, flying P-40 Kittyhawks. Earning at least 16 confirmed victories in his short career, he was killed 80 years ago today while escorting bombers over the El Adem area on 16 June 1942.

He was one month shy of his 24th birthday. 

As noted by SA Military History

On 16 June, whilst escorting Douglas Bostons, Frost and other P-40 pilots encountered Bf 109s from Jagdgeschwader 27 near Bir Hakeim, Egypt. Rod Hojem, one of the South African pilots involved in this combat commented:

“There was one hell of a dogfight, and after it was over I can clearly remember Jack calling up the squadron on the R/T, he said “Form up chaps I am heading North”, and that was the last we heard of him.”

Frost’s aircraft and remains have never been found, and his fate remains unclear. Some sources suggest that Frost fell victim to one of the most prominent German aces, Hans-Joachim Marseille scored six of his 158 victories that same day.

Warship Wednesday, June 15, 2022: Torpedoed…Again?

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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 15, 2022: Torpedoed…Again?

Above we see a tow line to the British Town-class light cruiser HMS Liverpool (C11) during Operation Harpoon, one of the Allied convoys desperately raced in a pincer movement to supply besieged Malta in the Axis-dominated central Mediterranean, now some 80 years ago this week. While the damage to Liverpool, a cruiser that is shown listing and billowing black smoke, looks bad, she had already toughed out worse during the war and would come back to serve again.

In the mid-1930s, the British didn’t have a shortage of cruisers, as for generations they had kept large numbers of the type around to police their global Empire and sea lanes in the event of war. The thing is, in a “modern problems require modern solutions” situation was the appearance of very large “light” cruisers (under 10,000 tons, guns smaller than 8-inch bore) such as the four Japanese Mogami class (“8,500” declared tons, 15×6-inch guns, 5 inches of armor) and their American echo, the nine Brooklyn-class (9,500 tons, 15×6-inch guns, 5.5 inches of armor) cruisers, the Admiralty decided they needed something like Mogami/Brooklyn of their own.

As Richard Worth put it, “Aware of Japanese and American decisions to build large light cruisers, the British reluctantly admitted their ships had begun to look puny. Arethusa [the best Royal Navy light cruiser of the day, at some 5,200-tons and carrying just a half dozen 6-inch guns] had a broadside of 672 pounds while Brookly had one of 1,950 pounds.”

This led to the eight original Southampton or “Town” class light cruisers, all named after large cities (Southampton, Glasgow, Sheffield, Birmingham, Newcastle, Gloucester, Liverpool, and Manchester) in the UK. Designed at 9,100 tons– a figure that would balloon over 12,000 during WWII– and 591-feet long overall, the class was intended to carry a full dozen 6″/50 (15.2 cm) BL Mark XXIII guns in four triple turrets, allowing a 1,344-pound broadside. To this were added eight 4-inch guns and two triple torpedo tube launchers.

The class’s circa 1939 layout via the 1946 ed of Janes. The class had a 3-to-4-inch side belt, about half that thickness on the turrets, and 4 inches on the CT so, while an answer to the Mogami/Brooklyn, they didn’t have quite as many guns or as much hull structure and steel plate.

Stern Mark XXII turrets on classmate HMS Sheffield after she had sunk the German tanker Friederich Breme in the North Atlantic on 12 June 1941. The cylinders are empty propellant canisters. As noted by Navweaps, Tony DiGiulian describes the 6″/50 Mark XXIII as, “A reliable weapon, although somewhat obsolescent in its use of bag ammunition, manual ramming, and manually-operated breech mechanism.” IWM photograph A 4401.

The latter three of the class– Gloucester, Liverpool, and Manchester— were modified slightly while under construction, adding improved armor protection and fire control systems. Two further half-sisters, Edinburgh, and Belfast, ordered in 1939, continued with the up-armoring trend, adding steel plate to the point that it made up some 18 percent of their displacement, the best British light cruisers in terms of armor. They would need them as the British would use the Towns in much the same role as they did their beefier County-class heavy cruisers which went about 40 feet longer and 2,000 tons heavier.

As with the contemporary light cruisers of the day, the Towns were fitted with extensive aviation facilities and could carry a trio of Supermarine Walrus flying boats.

Supermarine Walrus floatplane being catapulted from a Town Class Light Cruiser, HMS Edinburgh, during a Mediterranean Convoy. Aug 1941

Liverpool, the eighth such ship in the RN to carry the name since 1741, was ordered in March 1935 from Fairfield SB at Govan, Glasgow as part of the 1935 Estimates and laid down on 17 February 1936. The Liverpool immediately prior was a 4,800-ton Great War light cruiser that served off West Africa and in the Adriatic and Aegean during WWI before heading to the breakers in 1921.

NH 59874 HMS LIVERPOOL (British Cruiser, 1909)

Commissioned 2 November 1938, the 9th Liverpool visited her namesake town and shipped out for the East Indies and China stations, joining the 5th Cruiser Squadron at the latter just before WWII broke out.

Her initial taskings included working out of Aden on the hunt for German raiders and blockade runners in the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean before moving to Hong Kong just before Christmas 1939 to continue interception duty.

On 21 January 1940, Liverpool intercepted the Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) (Japan Mail Steam Ship Co. Ltd) liner Asama Maru off Japan just 35 miles off Tokyo Bay’s Nozaki Lighthouse, during the liner’s final leg of a scheduled run from San Francisco for Yokohama. Although she would later be requisitioned by the IJN in 1941 and converted to a troopship, at the time Liverpool boarded her, Asama Maru was still a commercial ship under a neutral flag operating in her home waters.

As noted by Combined Fleet:

At 1315, Captain Read sends a boarding party armed with pistols. The British officer in charge explains to Captain Watabe that it will be necessary to take 21 German passengers as prisoners of war. At 1435, the boarding party leaves the ship with the Germans, all former officers or technicians discharged from Standard Oil tankers. At 1440, HMS LIVERPOOL signals “Proceed”. Shortly after nightfall ASAMA MARU arrives at Yokohama. LIVERPOOL takes the Germans to Hong Kong.

The resulting public indignation felt in Japan over the high-handed incident further strained relations between London and Tokyo, which of course would erupt in open warfare the next year.

Transferred to the Red Sea Force by April, Liverpool would work alongside HMAS Hobart and support operations around the Horn of Africa.

The Med!

By June 1940, Liverpool would enter the Med, where things, since the Italians had entered the war, had really gotten interesting. Attached to the 7th Cruiser Squadron, before the month was out she had bombarded the Italians at Tobruk, where she scrapped with shore batteries and sank the minesweeper, Giovanni Berta, then fought a surface action off Zante on the 27th where she sent the Italian Turbine-class destroyer Espero (1,700 tons) to the bottom and damaged two others, catching a 4.7-inch shell hit during the latter fight.

The Italian minesweeper Triglia was later reclassified gunboat and rechristened Giovanni Berta, at La Spezia in 1933; she was the first Italian warship to be sunk in action during WWII at Tobruk, on 12 June 1940, shattered by 6-inch shells from HMS Liverpool.

July 1940 also proved hectic, with Liverpool covering British convoys between Alexandria and Greek Aegean ports, suffering through repeated air attacks from land-based bombers (coming away with damage twice), escaping further damage during the confusing Battle of Calabria, and ending the month assigned to 3rd Cruiser Squadron, under much-needed repair.

Emerging from the dockyard at Alexandria at the end of August, Liverpool was soon back in the thick of it, accompanying the battleships HMS Valiant, Malaya, Ramillies, and Warspite as well as the carriers HMS Illustrious and Eagle in operations ranging from the Dodecanese Rhodes to Malta throughout September and into October.

Who needs a bow?

It was on 14 October, while retiring from screening Illustrious and Eagle during air attacks on the Greek island of Leros (a place Alistair MacLean would use as the loose basis of “The Guns of Navarone”), Liverpool was the subject of an attack by land-based Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 three-engine torpedo bombers.

The Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero wasn’t much to look at– their crews called them il Gobbo maledetto (“damned hunchback”), but they were maneuverable and effective when modified into torpedo bomber roles, sinking or damaging over 270,000 tons of Allied ships in the Med in 1940-43.

The hit caused a leak of aviation fuel which later ignited after the fumes spread. The resulting detonation caused so much damage in her forward frames that it wrecked the cruiser’s “A” turret and caused her bow to fall off while under tow to Alexandria. In all, the cruiser suffered 65 casualties in the incident.

View of ship’s wrecked forecastle, after the cruiser, was taken under tow. Note wreckage of #1 6″ turret. NH 60360

View of ship’s wrecked forecastle, after the cruiser, was taken under tow. Note wreckage of #1 6″ turret. NH 60361

View of ship’s wrecked taken while under tow. NH 60363

Bow breaking off, after the cruiser had been under tow for Alexandria. NH 60368

Ship’s bow breakage off. NH 60369

Ship’s bow sank after breaking off just forward of “A” turret. NH 60370

Stopped in the Med, with crew members inspecting the damage after the ship’s bow had broken off on 15 October. NH 60371

Ship underway again, after the loss of bow. NH 60372

HMS Liverpool arrives at Alexandria, Egypt, on 16 October for emergency repairs, after being torpedoed by Italian aircraft two days prior. NH 60374

Ship at Alexandria, Egypt, after the action. Description: NH 60373

HMS Liverpool at Alexandria, Egypt, after being torpedoed by Italian Aircraft in October 1940. Note wreckage around #1 6″ turret. NH 60378

HMS Liverpool in dry dock at Alexandria, Egypt, for repairs, of damage inflicted by Italian Torpedo Bombers in October 1940. Most wreckage has been removed before the installation of the temporary bow. NH 60376

Liverpool would remain under repair in Egypt for five months until it was arranged for her to steam, under her own plant, and with her abbreviated temporary bow, on a two-month trip through the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and across the Pacific to California. There, in a country still in an uneasy peace, she would be patched up by U.S. Navy workers at the Mare Island Navy Yard with stops at Manila and Pearl Harbor on the way.

She would arrive on 16 June 1941.

HMS Liverpool In dry dock at the Mare Island Navy Yard, 26 June 1941, for the repair of damage received in the Mediterranean Sea the previous October. The false bow had been fitted at Alexandria, Egypt, shortly after the cruiser was torpedoed. NH 60379

Back in the fight

With a new bow and extra batteries of 20mm AAA guns, Liverpool would leave Mare Island on 20 November, arriving back in the UK via the Panama Canal by 5 December– just two days before Pearl Harbor. As for Mare Island, they would have a chance to do lots of repair work in the coming days for “the home team.”

HMS Liverpool Underway 28 February 1942 IWM FL 004984

HMS Liverpool wearing camouflage, likely in early 1942

After further outfitting with radar (Type 273 surface warning, Type 281 aircraft warning, Types 284/285 fire control), Liverpool would sail for Scapa Flow on 6 February 1942 for work-ups. By the next month, she would be patrolling the Barents Sea on the lookout for German surface raiders (Tirpitz, anyone) in conjunction with Convoy PQ12 to Murmansk. She would also help screen returning Convoys QP10 and QP12 from Russia and help provide cover for outbound PQ16 into May.

Then, in early June, she was sent back to the Med for a second tour.

SM.79, Part II

In a plan to split German/Italian efforts to interdict British convoys to Malta, the Admiralty in June 1942 hit on the idea to send two at once– from different vectors. This included the Harpoon convoy which would sail West from Gibraltar and the Vigorous convoy which would make the run from Alexandria in the East.

Liverpool would be part of the Force W distant cover group for Harpoon, which had a lot of muscle including the Great War battleship HMS Malaya and the equally old carriers HMS Eagle and Argus, the latter with few aircraft. Rounding out Force W was the cruisers HMS Kenya and Charybdis as well as eight destroyers. Meanwhile, the close escort group, Force X, was made up of the cruiser HMS Cairo and 18 small combatants of which almost half were motor launches.

Departing the Clyde for Gibraltar on 6 June, Harpoon left “The Rock” for Malta on the morning of the 12th, headed eastward at a stately 12 knots in two loose columns, with Liverpool leading the starboard and Kenya the port.

Shadowed immediately by German and Italian aircraft, the pucker factor for the route would be the Skerki Channel in the Sicily-Tunis Narrows, and the first attacks started at 1030 on the 14th. Shortly after, Liverpool would have a chance to do more damage control.

Italian photograph of Town-class cruiser LIVERPOOL falling victim to a torpedo from an SM.79, roughly amidships

As detailed by Uboat.net: 

A much more serious attack followed half an hour later when 28 132º Gruppo SM.79 Savoia torpedo aircraft escorted by 20 Macchi fighters conducted a combined attack with 10 Cant. high level bombers. The Savoia approached from the northward in two waves of equal strength. The first wave came in at 1110 hours and the second soon afterwards. The first wave passed through the destroyer screen at 500 feet above the water, rounded the rear of the convoy, and attacked from the starboard side, splitting into groups before firing. They dropped their torpedoes from a height of 100 feet at a range of 2000 yards. They hit HMS Liverpool, which was leading the starboard column, when she was turning to meet the attack. Also, the Dutch merchant Tanimbar was hit in the rear, and she sank within a few minutes in position 36°58’N, 07°30’E.

HMS Liverpool was hit in the engine room and severely damaged. She could only make 3 to 4 knots on one shaft. She was ordered to return to Gibraltar being towed by the A-class destroyer HMS Antelope (H36) and screened by the destroyer HMS Westcott (D47). A long voyage during which the first 24 hours she was attacked from the air.

At 1640 hours, five CR. 42 fighter-bombers attacked from astern out of the sun, luckily without hitting, though one or two bombs fell close enough to increase the ships list. At 1800 hours, the tow having parted, there was a harmless attempt by eleven high-level bombers followed by an equally harmless attempt by seven torpedo aircraft which were heavily escorted by fighters. The Liverpool and Westcott each claimed to have destroyed a torpedo plane.

At 2015 hours, now once more in tow, fife high-level bombers attacked but their bombs fell wide.

At 2230 hours, six torpedo bombers made a twilight attack from very long range only to lose one of their number to the barrage HMS Liverpool put up.

At 1420 hours on 15 June, three torpedo aircraft made a final unsuccessful attempt to attack HMS Liverpool after which she, HMS Antelope and HMS Westcott were not again molested. That afternoon the tug HMRT Salvonia arrived from Gibraltar, and they took over the tow. Antelope then joined Westcott as A/S screen. With Salvonia also came the A/S trawler HMS Lady Hogarth. HMS Liverpool and her escorts safely arrived at Gibraltar late in the afternoon of the 17th.

Liverpool in dry dock at Gibraltar showing the point of impact of the Italian torpedo

Seriously damaged, Liverpool managed to mount a fighting retreat– by tow– while her crew saved the ship. It proved an example of damage control for the rest of the fleet, one that would come in handy later in the war such as in the Pacific in 1945.

Sidelines

Speaking of the war, Liverpool was so badly smashed up and repair assets so limited that, after temporary patches at Gibraltar, she was sent to HM Dockyard, Rosyth in early August 1942 and would languish there for the next two years as she was slowly rebuilt, a modernization that saw her radars upgraded and her stern “X” turret removed to accommodate more AAA batteries.

The County-class heavy cruiser HMS Berwick, forward, and HMS Liverpool, in dock Liverpool, 1943.

Although she probably could have been sent back to the lines in time to take part in the Normandy or Dragoon landings in France, the Royal Navy was short-staffed, and Liverpool remained in ordinary essentially for the rest of the war in Europe. She was used briefly as a cruise ship, with a skeleton crew, to take the Allied Tripartite Commission to occupied Germany in June 1945 and would only be brought back to full service in October 1945, a month after VJ Day.

She earned four battle honors for WWII service: Mediterranean 1940, Calabria 1940, Arctic 1942, and Malta Convoys 1942.

Post-War Victory Lap

Liverpool’s swan song in 1945 was assigned to the restructured 15th Cruiser Squadron, as part of the rapidly shrinking Mediterranean Fleet. There she would remain, usually in flagship roles with an admiral or commodore aboard, for the next seven years.

Liverpool, post-war, at Malta. Note her aircraft handling gear has been deleted.

This included a lot of tense early Cold War moments, especially in Greek and Egyptian waters, but these never came to blows.

VISIT TO NORTH AFRICAN PORTS BY C IN C MEDITERRANEAN IN HMS LIVERPOOL. JANUARY 1946, ALGIERS, ADMIRAL SIR JOHN CUNNINGHAM, C IN C MEDITERRANEAN, FLYING HIS FLAG IN HMS LIVERPOOL AND ACCOMPANIED BY HMS MUSKETEER AND HMS MARNE, VISITED TANGIER FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SEVEN YEARS. (A 31070) HMS LIVERPOOL and HM destroyers MUSKETEER and MARNE at Algiers during a visit by Admiral Sir John Cunningham. HMS SCOUT is lying between the destroyers and the cruiser. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162120

HMS LIVERPOOL, BRITISH SOUTHAMPTON CLASS CRUISER. OCTOBER 1949, MALTA. (A 31583) HMS LIVERPOOL, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Earl Mountbatten of Burma, returning to Malta after the Second Summer Cruise. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162567

HMS LIVERPOOL ACTED AS A FLOATING SHIPPING OFFICE AT PORT SAID. DECEMBER 1951, ON BOARD HMS CORUNNA. (A 32035) HMS LIVERPOOL (Captain J D Luce, DSO, OBE) lying off Navy House, Port Said. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162964

MARSHAL TITO’S VISIT TO HMS LIVERPOOL. 1951?, ON BOARD THE CRUISER HMS LIVERPOOL WHEN SHE VISITED SPLIT, YUGOSLAVIA. IT WAS TITO’S FIRST VISIT TO A BRITISH WARSHIP. (A 31977) Marshal Tito inspecting a Royal Marine Guard of Honour on board HMS LIVERPOOL. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162916

Liverpool remained in commission until 1952 when she was reduced to Reserve status before her name appeared on the Disposal List in 1957. She was sold to BISCO for demolition by P&W MacLellan at Bo’ness, arriving at the breakers on 2 July 1958.

Epilogue

Few remnants of Liverpool exist today, but her bell is on display at Tobruk, where she fired her guns in anger in June 1940.

She is also remembered in maritime art.

Of Liverpool’s sisters, HMS Gloucester, Manchester, Southampton, and Edinburgh were all lost during the war, three of the four in the Med. Five other sisters, like Liverpool, saw limited Cold War service with HMS Birmingham, Belfast, and Newcastle seeing action again against North Korean gun batteries in the 1950s– and the latter sister even pounding Malayan Communist targets in 1955 and again in 1957.

HMS Newcastle firing at Korean enemy batteries, Chuinnapo Estuary, 1953. IWM A 32585

Belfast was the last of the Town-class cruisers afloat, serving as an accommodation ship into 1970 when she was marked for disposal and saved as a museum ship on the Queen’s Walk in London, a task she has performed admirably since Trafalgar Day 1971.

Please visit HMS Belfast if ever in London, it is well worth it.

Meanwhile, the 9th Liverpool, a Type 42 Batch 2 destroyer, has come and gone, ordered in 1977 and scrapped in 2014 after spending a solid 30 years in active service that spanned stints on Falkland patrol, Persian Gulf operations, time in the naval blockade of Libya that included 200 rounds of 4.5-inch delivered in NGFS in 2011, and your general Cold War/Post-Cold War sea ops.

The British destroyer HMS Liverpool (D-92) pulls alongside the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61) for an underway replenishment during NATO exercise Northern Wedding ’86. DN-ST-87-09368 via NARA

It is time for a 10th Liverpool.

 


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A Special Flag Day, looking back 80 Years

A popular trope is that on U.S. military bases the flagpole’s finial– the golden ball at the top of the pole–contains a razor, a match, and a bullet, just in case the base falls, so that the banner doesn’t fall into enemy hands.

(Photo: Chris Eger)

With that being said, the West Point Museum holds a small strip of cloth, a fragment of an American Flag, formerly carried by Black Knights legend, Paul D. Bunker (USMA 1903).

As noted by the Museum:

(Photo: West Point)

This artifact in the West Point Museum collection rotates on and off exhibit. Following his graduation, Bunker served 40 years in the Army. During World War Two he was on the island of Corregidor when it was captured by Japanese forces, becoming a prisoner of war. On 6 May 1942, Colonel Bunker was ordered to remove the U.S. Flag from its pole for destruction and raise a white sheet (signifying the American surrender). Prior to the U.S. Flag’s destruction, he cut a piece out of the red stripe. On 10 June he cut this piece of the flag into two segments giving one piece to fellow POW Colonel Delbert Ausmus and holding on to the other. Bunker would not survive his time in captivity and died of starvation and illness on 16 March 1943. He was cremated with the segment of the flag he kept. Ausmus kept Bunker’s war diary, as well as this segment of the flag through his time in captivity.

Ausmus said, “On several occasions, the shirt and all of my possessions were examined by the Japanese without the piece of flag being discovered”. Upon liberation, Ausmus presented this segment of the U.S. Flag at Corregidor to the Secretary of War.

Colonel Bunker’s cremated remains were recovered in 1948 and re-interned at West Point. His legacy still lives as an inspiration in the West Point Community. During his time at West Point Bunker was an outstanding football player, contributing to three victories over Navy. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame in 1969, as well as the Army West Point Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.

The RN STILL has a Falklands-era pilot on the Job

One of the toughest sells of the new Top Gun movie is to digest the mere possibility that a 1986-era F-14 jock would still be in uniform and on flying status in 2022– as an O-6.

But wait, the British have a Sea King pilot who went down to the Falklands in 1982 on the “Harrier carrier” HMS Invincible who is still clocking in for work.

LCDR (yes, LDCR) Phil Thornton was the youngest pilot during the Falklands conflict and continues to serve in the Royal Navy, 40 years since facing danger in the South Atlantic.

Then LT Phil Thornton, baby-faced and headed for war. Note the Sea Harrier behind him.

Complete with “war beard” in the Falklands. His aircraft is a Westland Sea King HAS.5 XZ920. Decommissioned in 2016, XZ920 is now in private service with HeliOperations in the North Sea. The ship behind him is the Round Table-class LST RFA Sir Tristram (L3505) 

Sailing with No. 820 Squadron, Thornton spent the war on a mix of anti-submarine sorties, logistics missions, scouting for surface contacts, and acting as a decoy when needed for possible incoming Argentine missiles.

One C-SAR mission, to look for a missing Sea Harrier pilot with no top cover, brought him just off-shore of the area where said Harrier had just been knocked down. Acting in conjunction with another ‘King, his job was to draw off SAMs.

He said: “I climbed to 4,000 feet and started to release my eight flares in a line about three miles apart, all the time looking towards land for the tell-tale indications of a missile launch. It was very nerve-wracking.

“On reflection, after the war, I realized that we had been called forward early for this mission because we were all young, single men with little or no commitments.”

Of the deaths, 255 British military personnel killed in the Falklands across ten weeks of 1982, 86 were sailors.

 Thornton continues to serve the Royal Navy, working in the Flight Safety Centre at RNAS Yeovilton.

More here.

Yomping

From the first shots to the last, the Royal Marines were involved in ground combat in the Falklands in 1982.

To open the conflict, it was the platoon-sized Naval Party 8901 that fired 6,450 rounds of 7.62 (along with five 84mm and seven 66mm rockets) in defense of the initial Argentine landings on 2 April, suffering three casualties. One section of RMs, led by Corporal York was even able to displace and hide out in the sparse countryside for three days.

Providing the muscle for most of 3 Commando Brigade in Operation Corporate, the RMs sent all three Commando battalions at the time (40, 42, and 45) along with most of the crack SBS frogmen and even the Mountain and Arctic Warfare training school cadre down to liberate the islands. The men of NP 8901, repatriated by the Argentines, clocked back in to get some payback, forming J Company of 42 Commando.

Royal Marines lined up for weapons check-in the hanger of HMS Hermes in the South Atlantic on their way to the Falklands in 1982

A Westland “Junglee” conducting fast rope training with RM Commandos on the way to the Falklands. It was an 8,000 mile trip from the UK to the “front”

The first ground combat of the liberation came with the recapture on 26 April of the windswept island of South Georgia in Operation Paraquet, conducted by 42 Commando and assorted SAS/SBS operators. 

Members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines hoisting the Union Jack and White Ensign over Grytviken, capital of South Georgia, April 1982. Before the Falkland Islands could be recaptured the island of South Georgia had to be taken. On 26 April 1982, after a short naval bombardment, a force of Royal Marines, Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) went ashore and the Argentine garrison surrendered. NAM. 1988-09-13-22

Then came the landings on East Falkland, kicking off the 25-day land campaign to liberate the island, ending with the Argentine surrender of Port Stanley. 

THE FALKLANDS CONFLICT, APRIL – JUNE 1982 (FKD 178) A Royal Marine of 3 Commando Brigade helps another to apply camouflage face paint in preparation for the San Carlos landings on 21 May 1982. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124181

40 Commando Royal Marines. Note the L1A1 Sterling sub machine guns .Falklands 1982

Royal Marine Snipers and a GPMG Gunner prior to the Assault on Mount Kent. Falkland’s War, May 1982. Note the L42 sniper rifle and early starlight scope

British Royal Marine armed with a Lee Enfield L42a1 during the 1982 Falklands war. AN PVS starlight scope sniper

Royal Marine RSM Chapman at Teal Inlet, a member of the elite Mountain Arctic Warfare Cadre with an M16, June 1982 Falklands. The MAWC fought it out with Argentine special forces for Top Malo House

Lacking transpo, 45 Commando famously “yomped” 56 miles in three days from their beach landing at San Carlos harbor to engage the Argentines, carrying everything they had on their backs.

“They faced bleak conditions – horrendous boggy terrain, wind, rain, sleet, low temperatures – not to mention a series of battles on hills outside the islands’ capital Stanley before reaching their objective,” notes the RN. “The Plymouth [based] unit then skilfully ousted Argentine defenders from the slopes of Mount Harriet in one of the final set-piece actions of the war before marching down into Stanley after the surrender.”

A column of 45 Royal Marine Commandos yomp towards Port Stanley. Royal Marine Peter Robinson, carrying the Union Jack flag on his backpack as identification, brings up the rear. This photograph, taken in black and white and color, became one of the iconic images of the Falklands Conflict. IWM FKD 2028

Retracing the Yomp in 2012: 

42 Cdo attack Mount Harriet

14 June, Royal Marines raised the Jack at liberated Government House, some 10 weeks after they saw it come down.

June 14 1982 Royal Marines prepare to raise the Falklands flag outside Government House

Royal Marine Commandos hoisting the original Union Jack at Government House, Port Stanley, 14 June 1982 NAM. 1988-09-13-24

The RN recently had three Falklands Royal Marines veterans; Russel Craig (then a 23-year-old RM), Stephen Griffin (also 23 at the time), and Marty Wilkin (then 26) talk to current recruits about their experiences in an incredible series, below:

Besides the initial invasion opposition, an outnumbered separate platoon of RMs famously gave the Argentines a “bloody nose” at South Georgia Island (followed later by Operation Paraquet by 42 Commando), and the men of 3 Cdo fought set-piece battles for the hills outside of Stanley at Mount Kent, Mount Harriet, and Two Sisters.

Of 255 British personnel killed in the conflict, the Royal Marines lost 27; two officers 14 NCOs, and 11 Marines, in addition to about three times that many wounded. While official battle honors fell on the Royal Navy (“Falkland Islands 1982”), RAF (“South Atlantic 1982”), and the British Army (“Falkland Islands 1982” with unit honors earned for “Goose Green,” “Mount Longdon,” “Tumbledown Mountain” and “Wireless Ridge”) for the campaign, as noted by Parliament:

“In accordance with a long-standing tradition which dates back more than 150 years, the Royal Marines do not receive battle honours for any individual operation or campaign in which they have been engaged. Instead, the corps motif of the globe surrounded by laurel is the symbol of their outstanding service throughout the world.”

The beret badge of the Royal Marines. The badge of the Royal Marines is designed to commemorate the history of the Corps. The Lion and Crown denote a Royal regiment. King George III conferred this honor in 1802 “in consideration of the very meritorious services of the Marines in the late war”. The “Great Globe”, itself surrounded by laurels, was chosen by King George IV as a symbol of the Marines’ successes in every quarter of the world. The laurels are believed to honor the gallantry they displayed during the investment and capture of Belle Isle, off Lorient, in April-June 1761.

Vale, Carl Stiner

Born in Tennessee in 1936, Carl Wade Stiner graduated from Tennessee Tech and joined the Army in 1958, spending his platoon leader days with the 9th Infantry “Manchu” Regiment. Earning a beret with the 3rd Special Forces Group in 1964, he went to Vietnam in the S-3 shop of a battalion in the 4th Infantry Division in 1967 after CGSS school, picking up a Purple Heart for his trouble. By 1970, he was jumping out of planes again as battalion commander of 2/325th Infantry, with the “All Americans” of the 82nd Airborne.

Passing through Carlise Barracks and picking up his first star, he later became the 82nd’s assistant division commander, commanded JSOC as a major general from 1984-87– a time that included the Achille Lauro affair– then went back to the 82nd as divisional commander.

Running XVIII Airborne Corps and JTFS, he was the brain behind taking down the Panama Defense Force in Blue Spoon/Just Cause in 1989.

Following up on that, he pinned on a fourth star and became the second commander on USSOCOM in 1990, a job he held for three years, a time that included running all special ops during Desert Shield/Storm.

Besides his Ranger and Airborne tab along with CIB, he wore a Master Parachutist Badge and Vietnam Service Medal with four campaign stars, showing he knew how to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk.

You may best know Gen. Stiner from his Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces (Commander Series) book with Tom Clancy, a great 400-page treatise on SOCOM’s first decade.

Gen. Carl Stiner, inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2004 and the 82nd Airborne’s hall of fame in 2019, died in Knoxville last Thursday, at the age of 85.

He is surely off leading the way into a brave new drop zone.

Overlord Hearts and Minds

Listen, Pierre…

Original Caption, June 6,1944: “French civilians give directions to American paratroopers who made successful landings, on Utah Beach, at St. Marcouf, France.”

Note the ready M1911A1 in the paratrooper’s shoulder holster along with a Mk. 2 pineapple grenade. Original Field Number: ETO-HQ-44-4810. Photographer: Werner. Signal Corps Photo 111-SC-189927-S, National Archives Identifier: 176887768

I’m not sure which unit the above Camel-smoking junior officer is from, but the same photo is identified in other records as “Capt. Kenneth L. Johnson and paratroopers of HHC S-2 Intelligence Section, 508th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division ‘All Americans,’ talking with two Francs-tireurs partisans in the village of Saint Marcouf, Normandy, France. D-Day, 6 June 1944.” The Frenchman certainly looks to have a slung rifle or shotgun over his shoulder, something the Captain would surely be interested in. 

The interaction was captured on film as well. 

Saint-Marcouf saw scattered sticks of both the 101st Airborne’s 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) as well as the 508th PIR landed in the area.

They were one of the first to make contact with the Germans as, at 0220, Naval Commander Normandy (Konteradmiral Walther Hennecke) reported paratroopers near Batterie Marcouf.

The fight for the city and its nearby battery was an all-paratrooper affair until the afternoon of 7 June when the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment (4th Infantry Division) arrived inland from Utah Beach.

Via 508thPIR.com: These men are from Hq & Hq Co. S- 2 Intelligence Section, 508th PIR of the 82nd US Airborne in Ravenoville. The group consists of: Capt. Kenneth L. Johnson, Capt. Robert Abraham (Company CO), SSgt Worster M. Morgan, Pfc Luther M. Tillery, Pfc Joel R. Lander, Pvt John G. McCall, Pfc James R. Kumler, and T / 5 Donald J. MacLeod. The photo was taken by T/4 Reuben Wiener, a combat photographer attached to the 508th

It certainly looks like later pictures of Johnson. 
 
His jacket: 
 
Brigadier General (later Major General) K. L. Johnson enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard in 1940 and was called to active duty with the 135th Infantry, 34th Division in February 1941. After serving at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana; Fort Barrancas, Florida; and Fort Dix, New Jersey, he entered OCS and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Infantry on 3 July 1942. 
 
General Johnson joined the 363rd Infantry, 91st Infantry Division at Camp White, Oregon, in November of 1942, volunteered for parachute training and was reassigned to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia. Subsequently, the organization was moved to Camp McCall, North Carolina, for advanced training.
 
In October of 1943, General Johnson proceeded to North Ireland as a member of the Advance Detachment of the 2nd Parachute Brigade. After a brief period of training, his regiment joined the 82nd Airborne Division and was moved to Nottingham, England, where it prepared for the invasion of France. General Johnson made combat parachute jumps in Normandy and Holland, and fought with the 82nd Airborne Division throughout the European Campaign, including the Battle of the Bulge.
 
Following World War II, he returned to the U.S. briefly and was reassigned to Europe to join the U.S. Constabulary in July of 1946. After serving in the 68th Constabulary Squadron and the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment, he returned to the U.S. in 1949 to attend the Advanced Course at The Infantry School. Subsequently, he served as an instructor and group chief in the Airborne Department of The Infantry School.
 
Following graduation from the Regular Course at the Command and General Staff College in 1953, he joined the 40th Infantry Division in Korea where he served as G-3. Later, he was assigned as Plans Officer, I Corps (Group) until he returned to the U.S. in November 1954 for assignment to the Officers Assignment Division, Department of the Army. 
 
After four years on the Department of the Army Staff, General Johnson was selected to attend the Army War College, graduating with the class of 1959. His next assignment was to the Staff of the Commander in Chief Pacific where he served as a Joint Plans Officer and Executive Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff for Foreign Affairs and Logistics. In 1961, he joined the 25th Infantry Division where he commanded the 2nd Battle Group, 21st Infantry and 1st Battle Group, 5th Infantry, successively until the fall of 1963.
 
Returning to The Pentagon, he served briefly as Chief of Plans and Policy, Enlisted Personnel Directorate, Office of Personnel Operations and then for the next two years on the General Staff as Chief of the Special Review Division, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel. He was selected for promotion to Brigadier General in November 1965 and assigned to the 2d Infantry Division. He joined the Division as Assistant Division Commander (Maneuver) in April 1966. 
 
General Johnson has been awarded the Senior Parachutist Badge with two combat-stars; the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star w/ V for Valor and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Commendation Medal w/3 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.
 
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Johnson died on August 21, 1990 at the age of 71 and is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA.

Tonga! Tonga! Tonga!

While the U.S. airborne landings in Normandy during Operation Overlord, involving 13,100 paratroopers of the 82nd and  101st Airborne Divisions making night parachute drops early on D-Day followed by 3,937 glider troops flown in after dawn– are well known, especially following Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, the British companion drops the same morning gets less attention.

Official caption: “Paratroopers from the 22nd Independent Parachute Company of the British 6th Airborne Division with their divisional “Pegasus” mascot before the start of Operation Tonga (part of Operation Overlord, the Allied landings in Normandy) at RAF Harwell. June 5, 1944.”

By War Office official photographer, Capt. E.G. Malindine. Photograph H 39057 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Operation Tonga, involving 8,500 men of the British 6th Airborne Division (which included the unsung 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion), was given the key tasks of seizing the two strategically important bridges over the Caen Canal and Orne River at Bénouville and Ranville and destroying the Merville Gun Battery behind Sword Beach.

By War Office official photographer, Capt. E.G. Malindine. This is photograph H 39070 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-37)

IWM caption: OPERATION OVERLORD (THE NORMANDY LANDINGS): D-DAY 6 JUNE 1944. The Final Embarkation: Four ‘stick’ commanders of 22nd Independent Parachute Company, British 6th Airborne Division, synchronizing their watches in front of an Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle of No 38 Group, Royal Air Force, at about 11 pm on 5 June, just prior to taking off from RAF Harwell, Oxfordshire. This pathfinder unit parachuted into Normandy in advance of the rest of the division in order to mark out the landing zones, and these officers, left to right, – Lieutenants, Bobby de la Tour Don Wells John Vischer Bob Midwood were among the first Allied troops to land in France. Comment: This was Operation Tonga.

British paratrooper during Operation Tonga, note the skrim helmet and Mills bomb.

Pegasus Bridge by Gerald LaCoste who was with British 6th Airborne Division HQ in Normandy. Via The Parachute Regiment Museum.

Tonga was overall successful, though not without the same sort of brutal fighting that the 82nd and 101st had to pull off on D-Day. While the 6th Airborne Division lost 10 percent of the men who alighted on French soil that day, their war was just beginning, and would within a couple of months lead them to a “Bridge too far.”

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