While in Pascagoula a few days ago, I spotted this familiar old girl in the shallow waters of the muddy Pascagoula River along Ingalls SB’s West Bank.
Note her Union Jack on the bow, which was only recently raised a couple of weeks ago.
Commissioned at Bath in 1995, USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) carries the nickname of “Fightin’ Fitz” and recently made international news when, on 17 June 2017, the destroyer was involved in a collision some 50 miles off Japan with the 40,000-ton Philippine-flagged container ship MV ACX Crystal. The encounter damaged the ship, killed seven of her crew were killed– lost in a flooded berthing compartment in the predawn collision– and left a number seriously injured. With her hull open to the sea, swift and effective damage control by her crew saved the vessel.
Fitz has since been in Pascagoula for the past 18 months undergoing a $400~ million repair/refit.
Three weeks ago, at morning colors on June 17, 2019, her crew unveiled a commemorative flag honoring the Sailors who died in a collision in the Sea of Japan two years ago. In addition, the National Ensign and Union Jack were raised on the ship for the first time since November 2017.
From the Navy’s presser:
Designed by current crewmembers, the flag memorializes their seven fallen shipmates. The flag is blue with “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP” emblazoned above the names of the seven Sailors. The motto is a common Navy phrase, but all Fitzgerald Sailors embodied that spirit on June 17, 2017, when they fought significant flooding and structural damage following the collision.
“I am proud of this flag and proud of our shipmates who helped design it, as it is a product of respect and professionalism that symbolizes their great service and sacrifice,” said CDR Garrett Miller, Fitzgerald commanding officer, who unfurled the commemorative flag for the first time.
“Fitzgerald’s crew designed this flag from scratch as a way to embody those shipmates we lost,” said Cmdr. Scott Wilbur, Fitzgerald’s executive officer. “It will be flown every year on 17 June to honor them and to never forget their sacrifice. The current crew continues to live out that motto while bringing the ship back to the Fleet.”
Burt Reynolds was, of course, a guy’s guy. Besides his prep and college (FSU) athletic career and work on the large and small screen, he was also an avid hunter and firearms collector. As his father was the Chief of Police of Riviera Beach, Florida while he was a youth, Burt no doubt felt a sort of kinship to cop roles, especially those set in the South, and in 1989-90 he played a retired New Orleans PD detective turned Florida houseboat-residing private detective B.L. Stryker for two seasons.
While it was not his best acting, he apparently really dug the guns from the show as he kept the S&W Model 10 .38 special that was used on camera in his “B.L” role until he died and it was later sold at an estate sale, reportedly in unfired condition.
Notably, the Smith was without the on-screen holster used by Reynolds.
That, according to auctioneers, went on to be used in his real life to carry his EDC wheelgun around his Florida homestead. It was an old-school 1970s-era carbon steel round-butt Rossi .38 that had its 4-inch barrel chopped to 2.75-inches and a new sight added.
It has a lot of honest wear.
I have a couple of these old (pre-Taurus) Rossis and will vouch that they are reliable. When talking recently with a friend of mine who cut his teeth in the Brazilain Army’s mountain troops, he also stood by those old Smith-pattern Rossis.
Sold by Julien’s Auctions, it is now on the market again (for $4K), with the verbose tag that “Every day Burt carried this Rossi concealed, where he knew if required he could draw and defend himself from any crazed maniac or other threat.”
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship (or unit) each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, July 3, 2019: The Frogmen of Balikpapan
Here, on a special WW where we take a break from an actual warship, we see a group of young U.S. Navy Underwater demolition personnel of UDT-18 aboard the fast transport (converted destroyer) USS Kline (APD-120) watching as Army B-25 bombers of the 13th Bomber Command plaster the Operation OBOE 2 invasion beaches off Balikpapan, Borneo circa 3 July 1945– 74 years ago today. They are waiting orders to leave their boat to clear underwater obstacles to go clear the beach to allow allied Australian troops to land. While the Pacific War would be over in less than two months, these frogmen, many of which are on their first mission, could not know that was looming and they had a Japanese-held beach to clear of obstacles.
According to Lt. JG C.F. Waterman, who took these amazing pictures, “Things looked rather bad at the moment and everyone was thoroughly scared.”
Originally formed in May 1943 as Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU), teams were created to clear beach obstacles in enemy-held areas. During the Torch Landings in North Africa, a group of Navy salvage personnel with a one-week crash course in demo hit the beaches but it was obvious a more dedicated force would be needed. That led to LCDR Draper L. Kauffman’s efforts to train teams ready to go ashore to clear a path. By Normandy, 34 NCDU teams would land on D-Day, suffering 53 percent casualties. They would repeat their efforts in the Dragoon Landings in Southern France in August 1944.
Meanwhile, in the Pacific, nine dedicated Underwater Demolition Teams were formed, largely from Seabees with a smattering of Marines, to work across Japanese-held atolls. First hitting Kwajalein on 31 January 1944, the Pacific teams initially were dressed for land combat like many of the NCDU members in Europe, with uniforms, boots, M1 helmets, and small arms in addition to their demo charges.
This soon changed as men skipped down to their swim trunks and swam on night missions to map the beaches before the landings. This later morphed into standard gear.
Across Peleliu, the Philippines, Guam, and Iwo Jima, UDTs left their mark and went in first to guide the landing craft in and make a hole for them to hit the beach if needed.
By Okinawa, no less than eight full teams with 1,000 frogmen were utilized. There the nearly naked combat recon swimmers used aluminum paint (yikes!) to camouflage their skin against Japanese snipers– and to help insulate against the chilly Northern Pacific waters which could quickly lead to hypothermia.
Balikpapan would be the swan song of WWII frogmen ops with the final UDT demolition operation of the war on 3-4 July 1945, as the swimmers UDT-11 and UDT-18 removed their helmets and slid over the side of their landing craft before paddling to destiny in broad daylight.
Under the watchful eyes of Gen. MacArthur, whose flagship was just offshore, the frogmen, armed just with knives and demo charges, first mapped the beaches and then helped clear them, coming within range of Japanese mortars and small arms.
Back to the swan song:
Balikpapan was to be no walkover, as the roughly 2,000 Japanese regulars there (augmented by 3,000 local Indonesian conscripts) defended the beaches well and, while they did not have Rommel’s Atlantikwall complete with Belgian Gates and Czech Hedgehogs, they did have thousands of punji stakes to impale infantry, mines, fougasse oil traps to burn men alive, wire obstacles, log barriers to hole landing craft, and the like.
Amazingly, the UDT teams at Balikpapan only suffered one, non-fatal, injury.
As for our frogmen, it was expected that if they would have hit the beaches at Honshu in late 1945, a mission they were detailed to until the A-bombs intervened, the men of UDT-18 would have suffered 100 percent casualties.
At the SEAL/UDT Museum in Fort Pierce, where NCDU’s and UDTs were formed and trained in WWII, they have a massive 7-foot long model of the old USS Kline on display and a statue of an era frogman dedicated to the “naked warriors” of Balikpapan and all the other beaches in which their brothers landed.
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Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden poses with a British Pattern 1853 Cavalry Trooper’s Sword at the National Army Museum’s “Britain’s Greatest Battles” exhibit in March of 2013.
Which of course, if you had a Trooper poster from the Maiden on your wall in the 1980s (like me) gives you a sense of nostalgia.
A member of the U.S. Army’s elite Marksmanship Unit’s Service Rifle Team landed all 80 rounds in the 10-ring at a High-Power Rifle Course earlier this month.
The competitor, Sgt. Benjamin Cleland of Swanton, Ohio, pulled off the feat with a score of 800-34x. This means Cleland not only notched 80 back-to-back hits in the 10-ring but that 34 of those nailed the even smaller “X” ring at the target’s dead center. For reference, at 600 yards, the 10-ring measures 12 inches while the “X” is 6 inches.
According to the AMU, it is something that has never been recorded as on a service rifle in this type of match. Outstanding job, Sgt. Cleland!
More in my column at Guns.com.
A lot of people forget that the U.S. Coast Guard often carries a serious load in American military history, punching way out of their weight class. This had held true from the War of 1812 to the current standoffs in the East China Sea and the Persian Gulf, with stops at every conflict in between.
During WWII, besides putting some 250,000 men and women in uniform, put the equivalent of four infantry divisions on stateside Beach Patrol, manned squadrons of surface escorts (not only cutters but DDs, DEs, PFs, PCMs, and armed icebreakers), stood up the “Hooligan Navy” to protect the homeland from German and Japanese subs, conned flotillas of other landing craft and support craft, fielded patrol squadrons that included 120 PBY Catalinas, and put a fleet of small craft off the beaches of Normandy that pulled 1,500 men out of the water in June 1944. In all, the Coast Guard manned 802 of their own commissioned ships as well as 351 Navy, and 288 Army vessels during the conflict.
One of these unsung Coasties is Capt. Quentin Walsh.
Born in 1910, he graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1933 and was soon working Rum Row during the final days of Prohibition. He clocked in for peacetime service on the Clemson-class destroyer USS Herndon (DD-198)— which had been chopped to the USCG for the war on booze– as well as the famed cutters Yamacraw and Campbell. When the war began, he shipped out on the Coast Guard-manned troop transport Joseph T. Dickman which served across the globe, ferrying Allied troops across five continents.
Then-CDR Walsh in 1944 found himself on the staff of Commander U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, located in London, and was given command of a special scratch force (Task Unit 127.2.8) of about 50~ Navy Sea Bees that landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, armed with bazookas, hand grenades, rifles and submachine guns. Heading right for Cherbourg to the West, you could say he soon gained the keys to the city in a huge win.
As noted by the Coast Guard:
“Despite heavy casualties, his small force seized the port facilities and took control of the harbor the day after they entered the city.
After he discovered that the remaining German garrison at Fort du Homet held 52 U.S. Army paratroopers as prisoners, Walsh, under a flag of truce, exaggerated the strength of the forces under his command and persuaded the commanding officer of the remnants of the German garrison to surrender. These actions earned him the Navy Cross and, all told, he accepted the surrender of over 700 German soldiers.”
“Heroism as Commanding Officer of a U.S. Naval party reconnoitering the naval facilities and naval arsenal at Cherbourg June 26 and 27, 1944. While in command of a reconnaissance party, Commander Walsh entered the port of Cherbourg and penetrated the eastern half of the city, engaging in street fighting with the enemy. He accepted the surrender and disarmed 400 of the enemy force at the naval arsenal and later received the unconditional surrender of 350 enemy troops and, at the same time, released 52 captured U.S. Army paratroopers. His determination and devotion to duty were instrumental in the surrender of the last inner fortress of the Arsenal.”
Walsh later helped open up the ports of Brest and La Harve, enabling Patton and Monty to get the gas and gear they needed to liberate Northwestern Europe. Leaving the service in poor health in 1946, he returned to active duty for Korea and retired as a captain in 1960.
Last week, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, SECNAV Richard V. Spencer named a future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, DDG 132, in honor of Walsh, in a ceremony at Cherbourg aboard the Coast Guard Training Ship Eagle (herself a captured German WWII-era vessel).
“For over two centuries, the Navy and Marine Corps team and the Coast Guard have sailed side by side, in peacetime and war, fair weather or foul,” said Spencer. “I am honored the future USS Quentin Walsh will carry Capt. Walsh’s legacy of strength and service throughout the world, and I am proud that for decades to come, this ship will remind friends and adversaries alike of the proud history of our services and the skill and professionalism of all those who stand the watch today.”