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The Brits really dug camo for their snipers

Common among snipers the world over today, the ghillie suit or bush suit, traces its origin to Scottish gamekeepers with a Scotland-raised yeoman regiment, the Lovat Scouts, using them for the first time in modern combat in the Boer War.

These Highlanders, drawn largely from outdoorsmen, were described as “half wolf and half jackrabbit” in their tactics when down in the veldt and the suit draws its name from the Gaelic faerie Gille Dubh, a forest character clad in moss and leaves that hides among the trees. The use of “scrim” often from repurposed potato sacks, helped break up their outline.

What is scrim?

Scrim is nothing but a basic fabric that has a light, almost gauzy weave to it. It’s used in bookbinding (that woven fabric in the back of hardcover books), theatre and photography (to reflect light), and in simple industrial applications like making burlap sacks.

(H 10707) A camouflage suit for a sniper. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205215212

The suits became widespread in sniper use in the Great War. Take this superb example in the IWM under review:

“First World War period British Army sniper’s camouflage robe. Many British Army snipers were trained by former Highland gamekeepers and deer stalkers of the Lovat Scouts, who gave extensive guidance regarding their skills of personal camouflage and concealment. As a result, many items of clothing were adopted on the Western Front, either improvised or officially produced, including mittens, gaiters, and robes” Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30097861

Here is another.

“Robe loose-shaped single-breasted robe, made of linen, complete with a fitted hood that incorporates a face mask with apertures for the mouth and eyes. The smock is dabbed and smeared with various shades of paint to achieve a random (disruptive) camouflage finish.” Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30100483

And a third:

“Smock: loose-shaped single-breasted robe, made of canvas, complete with a fitted hood that incorporates a face mask with openings for the mouth and eyes. The smock is painted in colors of various shades to achieve a random camouflage finish and, additionally, has tufts of dried organic vegetation sewn to break up the outline.” Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30092440

When the Second World War came in 1939, the Brits fell back on what worked.

“Experiments in camouflage, 1940. One figure is trying on the upper portion of a prototype sniper suit. He is being watched by a man wearing Khaki and smoking a pipe, who is holding the suit trousers. On the floor behind them are some pots of paint and another suit hung on a mannequin. There are more sketches of the suit in the upper right corner of the page.” Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/38898

A Camouflaged Sniper watching his Target, Llanberis, North Wales (Art.IWM ART LD 3422)”A head and shoulders depiction of a British infantry sniper in training in Wales. The sniper is shown wearing camouflaged kit and black face paint, aiming his rifle at a distant target.” Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/21861

British Snipers on the Island of Ubbea near Khakio : 10th Infantry Brigade (Art.IWM ART LD 5040) image: In the foreground three carefully camouflaged British snipers wearing camouflaged smocks have positioned themselves
amongst the rocks and vegetation of a hill side. They appear to be overlooking a road that winds through a hilly coastal country. The sea and a neighboring island are visible in the top right of the composition. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/5318

Normandy Campaign (B 8177) A sniper demonstrates his camouflage at a sniper school in a French village, 27 July 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202430

The practice continues across MoD today, using low-IR fabric to keep down detection by modern optics, because if it ain’t broke…

Pictured are Snipers from 34 Squadron, The Royal Air Force Regiment based at RAF Leeming, undertaking Live Firing Tactical Training at the Otterburn Training Area. (MoD Crown Copyright)

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Those who haven’t been to sea have never really seen the sky

The amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) patrols waters off the coast of Australia under a star-lit night during Talisman Saber 17.

U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Clay

Part of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, the “phibron” is being up-gunned by USS Sterett (DDG 104) and the old Adelaide-class guided-missile frigate HMAS Darwin (FFG 04) in charge of the air defense of the ESG while MH60Rs cross-decked from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group were embarked on Big Rich.

More on that here

Looks like a story board from Apocalypse Now, but it’s real

On the night of October 27-28, 1965 Viet Cong forces launched an attack on a newly built helicopter facility at Marble Mountain, southeast of Da Nang, RVN.

“Reflected Night Battle, Marble Mountain” Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Gene Klebe; 1965; Framed Dimensions 31H X 39W NHHC Accession #: 88-162-I

After 30 minutes of fighting, American casualties were three dead, 91 wounded, 19 helicopters destroyed, and 35 damaged.

The Royal Tank Regiment is having a 1980’s throwback, but it’s not for a parade

The British Army’s RTR is using a series of urban camo-painted Challenger 2 MBT’s in a series of tests to judge their ability to lay low in ruined cities. Of their three Sabre Squadrons (Ajax, Badger, and Cyclops), one has had their 18 tanks given a throwback paint scheme.

From RTR:

AJAX have just taken delivery of their latest tanks. These have been specially painted in the Berlin Brigade urban camouflage scheme and will be used for UK training as part of an ongoing study into proving and improving the utility of Main Battle Tanks in the urban environment.

AJAX are the urban specialists within the Regiment and will be looking to test current doctrine, tactics and procedures whilst experimenting with other techniques from across NATO and the rest of the world.

The brick red, slate gray marine blue and arctic green of the camo hails from the old pattern used on 18 Chieftain Main Battle Tanks assigned to the armored squadron of the British Army’s Berlin Brigade in the 1980s.

British Army Chieftain tanks of the Berlin armored squadron, taking part in the Allied Forces Day parade in June 1989 via Wiki

According to the Tank Museum, the “Berlin” pattern originates back to 1982 when the CO commanding the 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards tank squadron in Berlin felt that the normal Green paint scheme of the British Army was incompatible with its current urban environment.

The story of how “well” it worked, from the Tank Museum:

[A] senior MOD official was invited to Germany to inspect the new camo, and when he looked out of the window he is said to have remarked: “I can’t see your f*****g tank, must be a good idea” – what he wasn’t told was the Chieftain had typically broken down en route and no tank was there at all.

By the way, if you are curious about the eye painted on the turrets: These were painted on many of the tank corps vehicles and dates back to 1918, when one Eu Tong Sen, a prominent Malayan businessman of Chinese decent, paid £6,000 for a rather expensive Mark V tank via subscription. He insisted that, like Chinese river junks that have eyes to guide them in their travels, it should have eyes painted on it. British regulars familiar with Hamsa evil eye charms from prior Indian service also likely chimed in that they would repel evil.

The eyes seemed like a good idea either way to Tommies in France and was copied on other tanks in the field, a tradition that has endured in 1 RTR today.

Warship Wednesday, August 23, 2017: Wilhelmina’s Tromp card

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, August 23, 2017: Wilhelmina’s Tromp card

Here we see the Tromp-class light cruiser Hr. Ms. Tromp (D-28) of the Koninklijke Marine as she appeared in late 1941/early 1942 in the Dutch East Indies complete with her distinctive splinter camo. The leader of a class of four fast but small cruisers intended as “flotilla leaders” for a group of destroyers, she was a survivor and the largest Dutch warship to survive the hell of that lowland country’s combat in the Pacific.

At just 3,400-tons and 432-feet in length, the Tromp-class ships were about the size of big destroyers of their day (or frigates today), but they made up for it with an armament of a half-dozen 5.9-inch Mk 11 Bofors/Wilton-Fijenoord guns which were firmly in the neighborhood that light cruisers lived.

A suite of six torpedo tubes ensured they could perforate larger targets while geared steam turbines capable of pushing the ship at up to 35-knots gave it the option of a clean getaway from battleships. A Fokker C 11W floatplane gave long eyes while some 450-tons of armor plate (13 percent of her displacement) coupled with a dusting of AAA guns offered piece of mind against attack from low/slow aircraft and small vessels.

Laid down in 1936 at N.V. Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw Maatschappij, Amsterdam, the hero of our tale was named after noted Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp, a 17th-century naval hero whose name was carried by several of Holland’s warships going back to 1809.

Billed by the Dutch as “flotilla leaders” they were meant to replace the elderly coast defense ships Hertog Hendrik and Jacob van Heemskerck and only reclassified as light cruisers in 1938 after funding was secured.

HNLMS Tromp lead ship of the Tromp-class light cruisers at high speed on trials, where she generated over 35 knots over the course.

HNLMS Tromp during her first day of trials on the North Sea, 28 March 1938. Collection J. Klootwijk via NetherlandNavy.NL

Tromp would be the only one of her class completed to her intended design, commissioning 18 August 1938. Her sister Jacob van Heemskerck was still on the ways when the Germans invaded in 1940 and was later completed to a much different design while two other planned vessels were never funded.

TROMP Starboard side, from off the starboard bow circa 1938. Catalog #: NH 80909

TROMP view taken circa 1939. Catalog #: NH 80910

Following several naval reviews and waving the flag in Europe on the edge of meltdown, she sailed for the important colony of the Dutch East Indies to help beef up the KM’s strength in a region where Japan was eager to obtain Java and Sumatra’s natural resources by force if needed.

TROMP Anchored at Port Moresby, New Guinea, 4 March 1941. #: NH 80908

Netherlands east indies. 1941-03-13. Aerial starboard bow view of Dutch flotilla cruiser Tromp, at anchor in calm water with one of her boats and native craft alongside. she is painted in her pre-war scheme of light grey. note the searchlight position on the foremast. She carries a Fokker c.14w floatplane amidships which is handled by the derricks on the two Sampson posts. Her prominent rangefinder is trained to port and a turret is trained over the starboard bow. on the deckhouse, aft are twin bofors 40 mm aa guns on triaxially stabilized hazemeyer mountings which were very advanced for the period. (AWM Naval historical collection).

When Holland fell in May 1940, the Dutch government in exile under Queen Wilhelmina maintained control of the East Indies from London and Tromp spent the first two years of WWII with her eyes peeled for German raiders and U-boats in the Pacific and put on her war paint.

Then the Japanese went hot in December 1941, striking at the Dutch, British and Americans simultaneously. Soon Tromp, arguably the one of the most capable ships at Dutch Rear Adm. Karel Doorman’s disposal, was engaged in the thick of it.

Netherlands east indies. C.1941-02. Starboard side view of the Dutch flotilla cruiser Tromp prior to the Badung Strait action in which she was seriously damaged. She wears a splinter type camouflage scheme, apparently of two shades of grey, common to Dutch ships involved in the defense of the Netherlands East indies. Note the searchlight position on the foremast. Her floatplane has been landed as has her port Sampson post. Note the prominent rangefinder above the bridge. On the deckhouse, aft are twin bofors 40 mm aa guns on triaxially stabilized hazemeyer mountings which were very advanced for the period. (AWM naval historical collection).

During the three-day running action that was the Battle of Badung Strait, Tromp and the destroyers USS John D. Edwards, Parrott, Pillsbury, and Stewart clashed with the Japanese destroyers Asashio and Oshio in a sharp night action in the pre-dawn hours of 18 February 1942.

Dutch cruiser HNLMS Tromp The Battle of Badung Strait Painting by Keinichi Nakamura, 1943.

Tromp landed hits on both enemy ships, but was also plastered by 5-inch shells from the Japanese tin cans and forced to retire.

The flotilla leader “Tromp” of the Royal Netherlands Navy, in dry dock at Cockatoo Island, for repairs after being damaged in action in the Java Sea. By Dennis Adams via AWM

Emergency repairs in Australia saved Tromp from the crushing Battle of the Java Sea at the end of February that saw the Dutch lose the cruisers Java and De Ruyter sunk and Doorman killed, effectively ending the defense of the East Indies.

After surviving the crucible, Tromp became known to her crew as “the lucky ship” which, when you realize what the Dutch went through in the Pacific, was apt.

The Dutch Navy lost 57 ships during WWII, and amazingly half of those were in the East Indies in the scant four-month period between 15 December 1941- 15 March 1942. These included the two aforementioned cruisers, eight submarines, six destroyers and 15 smaller escorts (minelayers, gunboats, minesweepers). Even the old coast defense ship, De Zeven Provinciën was sunk at her moorings in Surabaya harbor. In contrast, the country only lost 16 ships in May 1940 when metropolitan Holland fell to the Germans.

Based out of Newcastle and later Fremantle, Australia, Tromp was augmented by several Bofors 40mm and Oerlikon 20mm mounts, given a series of surface and air warning radars, and served as a convoy escort and patrol vessel in and around Australian waters, picking up U.S. Measure 22 camo in her work with the 7th Fleet.

Sydney, NSW. C.1943. Starboard side view of the Dutch flotilla cruiser Tromp. The splinter type camouflage scheme worn earlier in the war has been replaced by the American measure 22 scheme, the colors probably consisting of navy blue below haze grey. Note the searchlight position on the foremast above which an American SC radar has replaced that carried earlier. Type 271 surface search radar is mounted before the mast. Amidships, above her torpedo tubes, twin AA machine guns and a small rangefinder have been mounted in the space once occupied by her floatplane. The Sampson posts once fitted at the break of the forecastle have been replaced by 4-inch aa guns. Note the prominent rangefinder above the bridge. On the deckhouse, aft are twin Bofors 40 mm aa guns on triaxially stabilized hazemeyer mountings which were very advanced for the period. Single 20 mm Oerlikon aa guns are sited on the crowns of b and y turrets and abaft the bridge. (naval historical collection).

She was transferred to the control of the British Eastern Fleet in January 1944. Around this time, she swapped out her aging Dutch V53 torpedoes for British Mark 9s along with new mounts.

Tromp conducting anti-aircraft defense exercises with the assistance of an RAAF Consolidated Catalina flying boat off the West Australian coast via AWM.

When the Allies began pushing back into the East Indies, Tromp was there, plastering Surabaya and supporting the amphibious landing at Balikpapan in Borneo. In September 1945, as part of the end game in the Pacific, she landed Dutch Marines in Batavia to disarm the Japanese garrison and reoccupy the former colonial capital.

Tromp participated in magic carpet duty after the end of hostilities and returned to Holland for the first time since 1939, arriving at Amsterdam in May 1946, carrying 150 Dutch POWs liberated from Japanese camps.

HNLMS Tromp docked in 1946

Tromp was one of just two cruisers left in the Dutch Navy at the end of the war (the other being her sister), but she had seen hard service and carried an amalgam of Swedish, American, and British weapons and electronics, many of which were no longer supported. Following a two-year overhaul that saw much of her armament removed, she served as an accommodation and training ship with a NATO pennant number.

VARIOUS SHIPS AT ANCHOR IN MOUNT’S BAY, ENGLAND. 1 JULY 1949. (A 31535) The Dutch cruiser TROMP at anchor in Mount’s Bay. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016274

The highlight of her post-war service was a few midshipmen cruises and attending the Spithead fleet review in 1953.

Tromp was decommissioned 1 December 1955 and, after more than a decade in reserve status, was sold to be scrapped in Spain in 1969. Her half-sister, Jacob van Heemskerk, shared a similar fate and was scrapped in 1970.

Since then, her name has been reissued to the class-leader of a group of guided missile frigates (HNLMS Tromp F801) and in a De Zeven Provinciën-class frigate commissioned in 2003.

For more on Tromp‘s history, please visit NetherlandsNavy.NL, which has it covered in depth.

Specs:

Hr Tromp (Cruiser) – Netherlands (1938) via blueprints.com

Displacement: 3,350 long tons (3,404 t) standard
Length: 432 ft. 11 in
Beam: 40 ft. 9 in
Draught: 14 ft. 2 in
Propulsion:
2 Parsons/N.V. Werkspoor geared steam turbines
4 Yarrow boilers
2 shafts
56,000 shp (41,759 kW)
860 tons of fuel oil
Speed: 32.5 knots designed, 35 on trials
Complement:
290 as commissioned, 380 in WWII
Armor: 15mm belt, up to 30mm on bulkheads
Armament:
(1938)
6 × 150 mm Bofors Mk 11 (5.9 in) guns (3×2)
4 × 40 mm Bofors (2×2)
4 × .50 cal in two twin mounts
6 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes (2×3), 12xV53 torpedoes
(1944)
6 × 150 mm Bofors (5.9 in) guns (3×2)
4 × 75 mm U.S. AAA
8 × 40 mm Bofors (4×2)
8 × 20 mm singles
6 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes (2×3), 12xMk9 torpedoes
Aircraft carried: 1 × Fokker C.XIW floatplane

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Case colored

I came across this at an airshow event I attended and was struck by it, so I figured I would share with like-minds.

Photo Chris Eger

Note the beautiful discoloration on the airskin from the flame exhaust of the muscle that is a Packard V-1650-7 Merlin. The liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce V-12 piston engine was capable of well over 1,300 hp probably contributed more to the defeat of the Germans over Western Europe than any other single mechanical invention.

The beast powers a TP-51C Mustang owned and operated by the Collings Foundation. Born as P-51C 42-103293 “Betty Jane” to North American at its Dallas Facility, the plane was restored and converted in 2002 to a 2 seat version of the P-51C and is an airshow regular.

Warship Wednesday, August 16, 2017: Possibly the most Devil Dog carrier, ever

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, August 16, 2017: Possibly the most Devil Dog carrier, ever

Here we see the Commencement Bay-class escort carrier, USS Sicily (CVE-118), as she enters San Diego Bay on her return from her first deployment to the Korean War zone, 5 February 1951. Note the Marine Corps F4U Corsairs, OY-2 Sentinel spotter planes and the early Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter on deck. The aircraft to the rear are Grumman AF-2W Guardians, an early ASW plane. The baby flattop had already marked her place in Marine Corps history when this image was taken.

Of the 130 U.S./RN escort carriers– merchant ships hulls given a hangar, magazine, and flight deck– built during WWII, the late-war Commencement Bay-class was by far the Cadillac of the design slope. Using lessons learned from the earlier Long Island, Avenger, Sangamon, Bogue and Casablanca-class ships. Like the Sangamon-class, they were based on Maritime Commission T3 class tanker hulls (which they shared with the roomy replenishment oilers of the Chiwawa, Cimarron, and Ashtabula-classes), from the keel-up, these were made into flattops.

Pushing some 25,000-tons at full load, they could make 19-knots which was faster than a lot of submarines looking to plug them. A decent suite of about 60 AAA guns spread across 5-inch, 40mm and 20mm fittings could put as much flying lead in the air as a light cruiser of the day when enemy aircraft came calling. Finally, they could carry a 30-40 aircraft airwing of single-engine fighter bombers and torpedo planes ready for a fight or about twice that many planes if being used as a delivery ship.

Sound good, right? Of course, and had the war ran into 1946-47, the 33 planned vessels of the Commencement Bay-class would have no doubt fought kamikazes, midget subs and suicide boats tooth and nail just off the coast of the Japanese Home Islands.

However, the war ended in Sept. 1945 with only nine of the class barely in commission– most of those still on shake down cruises. Just two, Block Island and Gilbert Islands, saw significant combat, at Okinawa and Balikpapan, winning two and three battle stars, respectively. Kula Gulf and Cape Gloucester picked up a single battle star.

With the war over, some of the class, such as USS Rabaul and USS Tinian, though complete were never commissioned and simply laid up in mothballs, never being brought to life. Four other ships were cancelled before launching just after the bomb on Nagasaki was dropped. In all, just 19 of the planned 33 were commissioned.

The hero of our tale, the only ship in the U.S. Navy ever named after the island of Sicily, or more correctly the 1943 military campaign for that island, was laid down at Todd-Pacific Shipyards, Tacoma, Washington, 23 October 1944 and commissioned 27 February 1946. Ironically, seven earlier sisters were decommissioned the same year.

Arriving on the East Coast in July 1946 after shakedown and outfitting Sicily served in the Atlantic Fleet in a number of support and ASW roles, experimenting new types and tactics for the next three years while stationed at Norfolk. By 1950, she was one of the few escort carriers still in active service and embarked big AF-2W (TB3F-1S) Guardians (at 22,000-lbs takeoff weight, the largest single-engine piston-powered carrier aircraft, and likely the largest aircraft period, operated from escort carriers), aboard.

USS SICILY (CVE-118) at New York City, September 1947. Courtesy of The Marine Museum, Newport News, Va. Ted Stone Collection. Catalog #: NH 66791

Navy blimp K-125 operations aboard USS Sicily (CVE 118) during the recent maneuvers in the Caribbean. As the blimp descends, the flight deck crewmen take hold of the handling lines and bring her to rest on the deck of the ship, released April 6, 1949. U.S. Navy Photograph, 80-G-707078, now in the collections of the National Archives.

On 3 April 1950, Sicily was reassigned to the Pacific Fleet, arriving at San Diego later that month. While preparing for summer exercises, the North Koreans crossed over into South Korea and the balloon went up.

Gregory “Pappy” Boyington’s famous Black Sheep Squadron, VMF-214, then under Major Robert P. Keller, were given orders to embark for Korea on Sicily as soon as possible. While the Corsairs weren’t front-line fighters in the burgeoning jet age, they could still perform CAS, interdiction, and armed reconnaissance missions and look good doing it.

The ship was commanded by noted WWII aviator, Capt. John S. Thach (USNA 1927), inventor of the “Thach Weave”, a tactic that enabled the generally mediocre U.S. fighters of 1942 to hold their own against the Japanese Zero.

Captain John S. Thach and Lieutenant J.V. Hames, USMC, on board USS Sicily (CVE 118) during Inchon Invasion. Lieutenant Hanes is a member of VMF-214) and is from Santa Monica, California. 80-G-420280

With a line up like Thach and the Black Sheep, you know what happened next.

On 3 August 1950, a group of 8 F4U-4B Corsairs from VMF-214 became the first Marine squadron to see action in Korea, launching from Sicily and executing a raid against DPRK positions near Inchon. At the time, the little jeep carrier was flagship of Carrier Division (CarDiv) 15.

U.S. Marine Corps F4U-4B Corsair fighter-bomber Receives final checks to its armament of bombs and 5-inch rockets, just prior to being catapulted from USS Sicily (CVE-118) for a strike on enemy forces in Korea. The original photograph is dated 16 November 1950, but was probably taken in August-October 1950. Note battered paint on this aircraft. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-419929

The withdrawal of the marines from the Chosin Reservoir to Hungnam was covered by Corsairs from Sicily. HVAR rockets and napalm make good party favors.

Speaking of that napalm smell…

One of the Black Sheep pilots at the time was 1Lt. Donald “The Great Santini” Conroy, a storied figure who entered the Marines as an enlisted man in WWII and later retired as a full colonel in 1974 after pushing A-4s in Vietnam. More on Conroy later.

National Archives footage of VMF-214 on board Sicily, United States Naval Photographic Center film #246. (no sound)

The jeep carrier also supported SAR ops via helicopters and recon/spotting missions with OY-2s.

USS Sicily (CVE-118) launches a U.S. Marine Corps OY-2 Sentinel spotter plane during operations in the Yellow Sea, off the west coast of Korea, 22 September 1950. Sicily was then supporting the campaign to recapture Seoul. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-420239

The Black Sheep eventually left and Sicily picked up the Death Rattlers of VMF-323 for her second tour with the 7th Fleet, from 13 May to 12 October 1951.

F4U-4 Corsair aircraft of VMF-323 lined up on the flight deck of USS Sicily (CVE-118) in waters off MCAS Sesebo, Japan. 1951. Note the rattlesnakes painted on some aircraft, due to the squadron’s nickname “Death Rattlers”.

F4U-4 Corsair aircraft of VMF-323 armed with bombs, napalm tanks and HVAR rockets are launched for a mission from the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118) off Korea, in 1951.

On her third tour in Korea, 8 May to 4 December 1952, she had a few new tricks up her sleeve.

In late August 1952, Sicily took aboard the Sikorsky HRS-1 helicopters of Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 (HMR-161) and tested the first vertical envelopment (moving combat-ready Marines from ship to shore via whirlybird) combined with an amphibious assault in what was termed Operation “Marlex-5” off the coast of Inchon. While the tactic had been trialed in California earlier that year with HMR-162, the op with Sicily was the first time it was used overseas, much less in a combat zone.

USS Sicily (CVE-118) launches U.S. Marine Corps HRS-1 helicopters during Operation Marlex-5 off the west coast of Korea in the Inchon area. Photo is dated 1 September 1952. Nearest HRS-1 is Bureau # 127798. It wears the markings of squadron HMR-161. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-477573

U.S. Marine Sikorsky HRS-2 helicopters lined-up ready on the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118). Note U.S. Marines on the Sicily’s elevator. U.S. Navy photo. Navsource NS0311818

On 4 September 1952, the Checkerboards of Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (VMF-312) moved from airfields ashore to Sicily’s decks and over the next several days their Corsairs had a number of run-ins with North Korean MiGs. The hardy Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, which could do Mach 0.87 at sea level and had a pair of 23mm cannon supplemented by a big 37mm mount, was a brawler.

Well about that…

On 10 September, Marine Capt. Jesse Folmar in his F4U-B (BuNo 62927) destroyed a North Korean MiG-15 in aerial combat over the west coast of Korea while flying with his wingman. Outnumbered 4:1 the two Marine Corsairs were outnumbered by eight MiGs.

From VMF-312’s unit history:

Folmar and Walter E. Daniels were attacked by eight MIG-1 5s which made repeated firing runs on the slower F4Us as they tried to get out of the area. After one of the MIGs completed a run on the Corsairs, instead of breaking off to the side, the jet pulled up directly in front of Captain Folmar’s guns. A quick burst of the 20mm cannon soon had the MIG ablaze and heading for the ground. The kill marked the first time an American had downed a jet fighter with a propeller-driven aircraft. Another MIG retaliated with a burst of 37mm fire which forced Captain Folmar to bail out, but he was rescued and returned to the ship. Captain Daniels’ plane was not hit and safely landed on board the carrier.

It was quite a feat.

While USAAF, Soviet and British piston-engine fighters chalked up something like 150~ German Komets and Me262 kills in the latter stages of WWII, the MiG was a much more formidable adversary. There were few comparable events.

The Brits, in their only air-to-air victory in Korea, chalked up a similar action to Folmar’s when on 9 August 1952, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Lt. “Hoagy” Carmichael of 802 Squadron downed a Nork MiG 15 while flying a Sea Fury of the carrier HMS Ocean, while in Vietnam Navy A-1 Skyraiders accounted for several MiG-17s.

Sicily’s Guardians, of Navy Reserve Anti-Submarine Squadron VS-931, also gave unsung service, conducting maritime patrol and keeping an eye out for submarines. Two of the big sub hunters, with their four-man crews, were lost while on Sicily‘s third war cruise– BuNo 124843 and 126830– though their crews were saved.

The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118) underway, with Grumman AF-2S and AF-2W Guardians of SV-931, circa in October 1952, en route to Hawaii. Photo by LtJG Philip Nelson, USN via Wiki

Sicily finished the war in the United Nations Escort and Blockading Force, deploying to the Far East from 14 July 1953 to 25 February 1954.

USS Sicily (CVE-118) photographed at the Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, circa February 1954, with USS Yorktown (CVA-10) at right and eleven LCM landing craft in the foreground. Grumman AF Guardian anti-submarine aircraft are parked on Sicily’s flight deck. Douglas AD Skyraider attack planes are parked aft on Yorktown’s flight deck. Catalog #: NH 97318

USS Sicily (CVE-118) underway with F4U aircraft parked aft, April 1954. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97317

And just like that, with a tad over eight years of service, five Korean War battle stars, and legends under her belt, Sicily was decommissioned 4 Oct 1954. Though retained in mothballs until 1960, the days of the short-deck carrier were over for the jet powered Navy and newer purpose-built Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ships, with about half the crew of the Sicily and her sisters, were being commissioned to carry Marine helicopters into battle. Like the Commencement Bay-class, the Iwo’s were named after battles.

On 31 October 1960, Sicily was sold to the Nicolai Joffe Corporation for scrap.

Of the rest of the Commencement Bay-class, most saw a mixed bag of post-WWII service as Helicopter Carriers (CVHE) or Cargo Ship and Aircraft Ferries (AKV). Most were sold for scrap by the early 1970s with the last of the class, Gilbert Islands, converted to a communication relay ship, AGMR-1, enduring on active service until 1969 and going to the breakers in 1979. Their more than 30 “sisters below the waist” the other T3 tankers were used by the Navy through the Cold War with the last of the breed, USS Mispillion (AO-105), headed to the breakers in 2011.

As for Sicily‘s heroes, their tales endure.

MiG-killer Folmar’s deeds from Sicily in 1952 were commemorated in a painting by Lou Drendel, which now hangs at the Naval Air and Space Museum in Pensacola.

The Aviator himself was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame and is buried in Foley, Alabama, passing away in 2004.

Remember the (literal) Black Sheep pilot, The Great Santini? Conroy’s son, Southern storyteller Pat Conroy, later based Lt. Col. Bull Meechum, USMC (played by Robert Duvall in the movie) as the wild man Marine Corps pilot with a host of family issues on his father in a book and film of the same name.

Conroy, who called MCAS Beaufort home and graduated from the Citadel, filled his works with many references to Marines and, obliquely, to his father. Col. Conroy is buried at Beaufort and in later life he attended book signings alongside Pat, inking “The Great Santini” with his signature.

Of Sicily‘s Marine squadrons, all are still around. VMFA-312 flies F/A-18Cs based out of MCAS Beaufort (Santini’s base) while the Black Sheep of VMA-214 are pushing AV-8Bs out of Yuma until they get their shiny new F-35Cs. The Death Rattlers of VMFA-323? They are assigned to Miramar and still deploy on carriers regularly, as their Hornets are a part of Carrier Wing 11.

Meanwhile, the Korean People’s Army Air Force remain the last military operator of the MiG-15, as some things never change.

Specs:


Displacement:
10,900 long tons (11,100 t) standard
24,100 long tons (24,500 t) full load
Length: 557 ft. (170 m)
Beam:
75 ft. (23 m)
105 ft. 2 in (32.05 m) flight deck
Draft: 30 ft. 8 in (9.35 m)
Propulsion: 2-shaft geared turbines, 16,000 shp
Speed: 19 knots (22 mph; 35 km/h)
Complement: 1,066 officers and men
Armament:
2 × 5″/38 caliber guns (1 × 2)
36 × 40 mm Bofors gun (3 × 4, 12 × 2)
20 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons
Aircraft carried: 34

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