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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019: We’ll fight them both

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Nov. 20, 2019: The Under-armed Hero of the Iceland-Faroe Passage

Here we see the P&O R-class steamer SS Rawalpindi, a passenger liner who spent most of her life in the Far East and colonial India but earned everlasting fame with a scratch crew of reservists and naval pensioners during her last 13 minutes in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, 80 years ago this week.

The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co Ltd, London which is usually just referred to as P&O, in the 1920s built a series of 16,697-grt R-class liners for the UK to Bombay mail and passenger run. The four sisterships– SS Ranpura, SS Ranchi, SS Rawalpindi and SS Rajputana— were designed by the same people who made the Titanic a decade prior, Harland & Wolff Ltd., Belfast, with the first two built by R & W Hawthorne Leslie on the Tyne, and the last pair by H&W’s Greenock yard in Scotland.

Using a twin set of reciprocating engines with their aft 2nd funnel a dummy used for ventilation, they had a design speed of 17.8 knots although made 19 on trials. With interiors designed by Lord Inchcape’s daughter Elsie Mackay, they were set up with accommodation for 307 first-class and 280 second-class passengers with public lounges, music rooms, dining saloons and smoke rooms separated by class. Capable of carrying large amounts of refrigerated stores, they were popular ships on the run to the Orient.

Laid down at Greenock as Yard No. 660, Rawalpindi was named for the historic Indian (now Pakistani) city and launched 26 March 1925 with Lady Birkenhead as her sponsor. She was delivered to P&O that September and began a quiet 15-year run in regular service uniting the Home Isles with Britain’s colonial Indian Empire.

Rawalpindi notably showed up in Pathe newsreels of the era when she brought the survivors of the lost Parthian-class submarine HMS Poseidon (P99) home from China in 1931.

Once the balloon went up in 1939, the Admiralty called in their markers with London shipping lines and requisitioned more than 50 fast passenger liners for conversion to armed merchant cruisers for patrol and convoy use. Typically outfitted with surplus six-inch guns that had been removed from the casemates of old battlewagons and cruisers, the liners landed much of their finery and art, received a coat of grey paint, and were rushed into service with a crew largely composed of their former civilian mariners who volunteered for active duty in the RNR.

For Rawalpindi, her transformation amounted to removing her fake funnel then picking up eight 6″/45 BL Mark VII guns, a pair of QF 3-inch AAA guns, and a half dozen Vickers machine guns– the newest of which dated to 1916. The armament was intended to plug away at enemy armed surface raiders of the type the Kaiser put to sea during the Great War, fight it out on the surface with U-boats, or warning off the occasional Condor long-range patrol bomber.

6″/45 (15.2 cm) BL Mark VII bow gun on monitor HMS Severn during the Great War. Rawalpindi had eight of these mounts. IWM Q 46247.

Rawalpindi’s conversion was completed on 19 September 1939– just over two weeks after the Germans marched into Poland. Her wartime skipper was CPT Edward Coverley Kennedy, RN, a 60-year-old Great War vet of the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand who had been on the retired list since 1921, a collateral victim of the Washington Naval Treaty.

Requisitioned at Tilbury the day the war started, SS Rawalpindi became haze grey His Majesty’s Armed Merchant Cruiser Rawalpindi just 19 days later after conversion by R&H Green & Silley Weir at the Royal Albert Dock, London.

Note her aft funnel, which was vestigial, has been amputated.

Sailing Northwest for patrol duties in the Iceland Gap, our converted liner had a chance to get muscular with the 4,500-ton German tanker Gonzenheim at 63.25N, 12.00W, in the Denmark Strait on 19 October while the latter was trying to run the blockade home from Argentina. With the gig up, the German tanker scuttled as Rawalpindi recovered her crew. A second vessel, a Swedish freighter with a German destination, was stopped and rerouted the next week towards Scotland.

At the time, there were no less than eight British AMCs, backed up by several actual RN cruisers, prowling between Scotland and Iceland and were effective in stopping German blockade runners, typically catching 8 to 10 a week during this early stage of the war. This led to a sortie by the brand-new Kriegsmarine battleship SMS Scharnhorst, in her first operation, accompanied by her sister Gneisenau, to clear out the area.

Gneisenau (foreground), Admiral Hipper (center) and Scharnhorst (background) at Trondheim, Norway June 11, 1940

Sailing from Wilhelmshaven late on 21 November, the lead ship of the strong German task force was observed through the snow at 15,000 yards by lookouts on the Rawalpindi at 1531 on 23 November in the Iceland-Faeroes channel, about 100 miles to the East of Iceland itself.

Steaming alone but with other units nearby (the light cruisers HMS Newcastle, Delhi, Ceres, and Calypso; heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk and Norfolk) Kennedy twice signaled (incorrectly) that Rawalpindi had found the German pocket battleship SMS Deutschland at 63.40N, 12.31W, an alert that drew emergency orders from the Admiralty to Clyde to send the gorilla squad– consisting of the battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney, along with the heavy cruiser HMS Devonshire and seven destroyers– north.

However, stuck with a ship that at the time could only make 14 knots, and outgunned even if confronting a pocket battleship much less a full-grown brawler, Kennedy decided to stand and fight rather than surrender.

The fast-approaching Scharnhorst fired a warning shot across Rawalpindi’s bow at 1603 from a range of 10,000 yards and signaled the Brit to stop transmitting and halt. Soon after, Gneisenau emerged from the fog and made her presence known. The converted liner faced 18 11-inch, 24 5.9-inch, and 28 4.1-inch guns as well as a dozen torpedo tubes between the two German battleships. As they had 13-inch belts, the best the merchant cruiser’s own 6-inch guns could do was scratch their paint.

“We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that. Good-bye,” Kennedy reportedly told his crew and ordered his guns to fire.

The action was over within 13 minutes or so, with the unarmored Rawalpindi pummeled by 11-inch shells from the two German capital ships, causing the death of over 260 of her crew, Kennedy included. The British ship was a burning hulk but had landed shells on Scharnhorst’s foc’sle causing Hitler’s newest battlewagon slight damage.

Norman Wilkinson’s “Rawalpindi’s final action,” a painting that hung in P&O’s main London office for decades.

A final signal came from a morse lamp on the British ship “please send boats,” to which the Germans launched whaleboats. Between the two German battleships, they picked up at least 20 survivors (some reports list numbers as high as 38) from the flaming wreck who went on to become POWs for the duration, largely at Stalag X-B, a merchant lager near Bremervorde.

They Sailed the Seven Seas: The P & O Story — “We’ll Fight Them Both”

German ADM Wilhelm Marschall, aboard Gneisenau, ordered his task force to withdraw into an approaching gale, doubled back towards the Arctic to lose their pursuers, and returned to Wilhelmshaven on 27 November after successfully evading the alerted, and very revenge-minded, British fleet.

The responding 6-inch gun-armed light cruisers Newcastle and Delhi spotted the Germans at a range of 6 miles as they left Rawalpindi’s last location around 1900 on 23 November but chose, wisely, not to engage.

Another P&O passenger ship converted to an armed merchant cruiser, HMS Chitral (F57), moved in to search Rawalpindi’s floating wreckage field for survivors the next morning, in the end rescuing 10 and landing them at Clyde on 24 November where the Second Sea Lord, ADM Sir Charles Little, was on hand to greet them in a special parade in London.

Around the world, the incorrect headline, “Rawalpindi sunk by the Deutschland” flashed.

While there had been a number of warships sunk by aircraft (see= Polish Navy) and significant individual submarine vs. ship actions– for instance between the carrier HMS Courageous and U-29 on 17 September that left British carrier and 518 of her crew in the cold embrace of Poseidon– the often forgotten scrap between Rawalpindi and the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst was the first large surface clash of World War II and the first the British had seen since 1919 when RADM Tich Cowan tossed around the Red Navy in the Baltic during the Russian Civil War.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told Parliament of the Rawalpindi: “These men might have known, as soon as they sighted the enemy, that there was no chance, but they had no thought of surrender. They fired their guns until they could be fired no more, and many went to their deaths in the great tradition of the Royal Navy. Their example will be an inspiration to those that come after them.”

On the 6 December 1939, then-First Sea Lord Winston Churchill honored the sacrifice of the Rawalpindi in Parliament, “Whose glorious fight against overwhelming odds deserves the respect and honor of the House (of Commons) and of the nation.”

Of Rawalpindi’s sisters, Ranchi served on East Indies Station and in the Pacific during the war as an armed merchant cruiser and was returned successfully to P&O in 1947. She was then used on 15 lengthy emigrant voyages from Portsmouth to Australia carrying thousands of “Ten Pound Poms” to Oz on one-way trips before she was broken up in 1953.

Rajputana was likewise transformed into an armed merchant cruiser during WWII and was torpedoed and sunk off Iceland on 13 April 1941 by U-108, after escorting convoy HX 117 across the North Atlantic. In all, the British lost 15 out of 57 of their armed merchant cruisers in WWII: 10 to U-boats, three to German surface raiders, one (the converted A. Holt & Co liner HMS Hector) to Japanese carrier aircraft and one (the converted P&O liner HMS Comorin) to fire.

HMS Ranpura (F93) was used as an armed cruiser in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean during WWII and notably moved Britain’s gold reserves to Canada in 1940 for safekeeping. She finished the war as a repair and depot ship in Malta and was retained by the RN through the 1950s in such a role, participating in the Suez Crisis, before she was finally scrapped in 1961, the last of her class.

Rawalpindi is remembered extensively in maritime art by the likes of Jack Spurling, William McDowell, and Norman Wilkinson.

HMS Rawalpindi by William McDowell incorrectly shows her with two stacks

The original 1:48 scale (2155 x 4045 x 900 mm) P&O builder’s model of SS Rawalpindi, complete with its ornately carved mahogany display case, is on display at the Maritime Museum Greenwich, London.

As for P&O, they went defunct in 2006 with their assets spun off to Maersk and Carnival.

“Bulldog” Kennedy is remembered in a memorial at High Wycombe, Bucks, on a panel in Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, at the Plymouth memorial, and on an altar rail at All Saints Church, Farringdon, as well as wherever old sea dogs gather to tell stories.

The Admiralty mentioned him in dispatches, but he was not posthumously decorated. Perhaps a VC would have been appropriate or, alternatively, the entire crew of Rawalpindi collectively could have been recognized with the George Cross, much like the population of Malta was in 1942.

Kennedy’s son, Ludovic, went on to be a noted journalist and BBC broadcaster. In 1971 he hosted an hour-long documentary entitled “The Life and Death of the Scharnhorst.”

Notably, he spoke with eloquence of the stand of the Rawalpindi saying, “In Britain, this action caught the imagination in a way that it might not have done later. For it was the first naval action of the war and it showed people that they could still rely on the Navy and that, even in a ship manned by pensioners and reservists, the Navy was going to fight this war’s battles as it had in the past, whatever the outcome, whatever the cost.”

Specs

Model of the armed merchant cruiser HMS Rawalpindi MOD 381 IWM

Displacement: 16,697 grt / 9,459 nrt
Length: 547.7 ft
Beam: 71.3 ft
Draft: 25.9 ft
Engines: 2- Screw 2 shaft 2xQ4cyl (33, 47, 67.5, 97 x 60in) Harland & Wolff engines, 2478nhp, 15000ihp, 17.8 knots
Crew: (1939) 276
Armament: (1939)
8 x 6″/45 (15.2 cm) BL Mark VII guns
2 x QF 3 in (76 mm) 20 cwt anti-aircraft guns

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So I watched Midway…

To be clear, the current Midway movie is at least the third film– counting John Ford’s WWII-era propaganda short and the verbose 1976 Henry Fonda flick– to be centered around the pivotal battle of the Pacific War.

What I liked:

Great effort overall.

Lots of little known stories were highlighted such as efforts of Station Hypo and the vastly unsung work of CDR Joseph J. Rochefort and his busy swarm of ex-musicians from the stricken battleships USS California and West Virginia.

Also, as 15 submarines were present at Midway, and the straggling Japanese destroyer Arashi— detailed to sink USS Nautilus without luck– led the U.S. planes to the unexpecting Japanese carrier task force, it was nice to see SS-168 detailed a bit. This included filming scenes in the torpedo room and control tower aboard the ex-USS Bowfin (SS-287), which was a nice period touch.

The Marines and Midway-based air groups are given a few minutes of camera time. Many forget they were part of the battle as well. More on the Marines of Midway, here.

Obsolete fabric-covered SB2U-3 dive bombers of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 taking off to attack the Japanese fleet striking force on the morning of 4 June 1942, during the Battle of Midway. Part of Marine Aircraft Group 22 (MAG-22), they would earn a Presidental Unit Citation for their role in the epic naval clash.

As there are exactly zero functional TBD Devastator torpedo bombers that made it out of WWII, it was amazing to see them digitally recreated and flying in squadron order, Ride of the Valkyries-style, to their doom.

Wreck of the Lexington showing TBD Tare-3 flown by Ensign N. A. Sterrie USNR who claimed a hit on the carrier Shoho during the second attack at the Coral Sea. Tare-4 flown by Lt. R. F. Farrington USN who claimed a hit during the first attack. This is amazing as there are only four known TBDs in existence anywhere in the world– all crashed. Only 130 were made and 35 lost at Midway alone (Photo via RV Petrel)

Likewise, in many scenes, the Chicago Piano, the quad 1.1-inch AAA gun mounted across the U.S. fleet in the early part of WWII, was shown in action although most examples are at the bottom of the Pacific at this point.

These…(RV Petrel)

Unlike the 1976 film, which tried to tell the story of the battle through the eyes of a fictional third party staff officer, much like Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914, the new version is told through a focus on Dick Best, the legendary leader of Enterprise’s VB-6; and LCDR Edwin T. Layton, Nimitz’s intel boss.

In another departure from the 1976 film, rather than fill the ranks of the IJN with Hawaiian nisei actors and a token Toshiro Mifune (whose lines were dubbed in English!), the current production used a number of high-profile Japanese actors including Etsushi Toyokawa and Tadanobu Asano (you will recognize him from all of the Thor movies as well as 47 Ronin).

What I didn’t like

A lot of this is nitpicky from a nerd who built SBD, F4F and TBD models as a kid in the 1980s while dog-eared copies of Infamy and At Dawn We Slept sat on the desk, so take it with a grain of salt.

While the movie spends the first 45~ minutes or so delving into the six months of the Pacific War from Pearl Harbor to Midway, this seems like too much of a setup, one that could have been condensed to spend more time on the actual battle itself. For instance, of the aforementioned amount, a good 10-15 mins are spent on the Doolittle Raid (with Aaron Eckhart lending his magnificent chin to portray Doolittle himself). While those “30 Seconds over Tokyo” were important to the war effort, they had little to do with Midway.

While the story of SBD gunner AMM1c Bruno Gaido is told– and deservedly so– his execution at sea was botched in the film. Gaido and his pilot, Ensign Frank O’Flaherty, were picked up by the destroyer Makigumo and tortured for over a week then tied to weighted gas cans and thrown overboard on/about 15 June. The movie implies they were killed soon after rescue during the battle and that O’Flaherty may have given actionable intelligence that was used to sink Yorktown. This is shameful.

Speaking of Yorktown, there were three U.S. flattops at Midway but Yorktown is only glimpsed a couple times and Hornet barely even gets a mention, leaving the otherwise uninformed viewer to think Enterprise pulled off the whole thing on her own. Sure, the seagoing action is largely from Dick Best’s point of view, but still…

As for the Japanese fleet, the bushido code of RADM Tamon Yamaguchi– a Princeton alumnus who clashed with Nagumo and was the commander of the Japanese Carrier Striking Force’s Carrier Division Two– is retold and he is shown going down with his stricken flagship, IJN Hiryu, on the predawn of 5 June. However, the movie has him only meeting this fate accompanied by Hiryu’s commander when in fact he had 20-30 men of his staff all resolutely remain behind to ride her to “enjoy the moon together.”

Carrier flagship Hiryu: Last Moments of Admiral Yamaguchi at the Battle of Midway. oil painting by Renzo Kita, 1943.

Even with the above complaints lodged, the movie is still a much better effort than I hoped for. Of course, it is very CGI/greenscreen heavy, but this is the nature of the cinema these days.

All-in-all, it could be used as an educational tool in high school history classes, in my humble opinion.

For those interested in delving more into Midway, check out Shattered Sword.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019: A Dazzling Flivver

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Nov. 13, 2019: A Dazzling Flivver

Catalog #: NH 67991

Here we see the narrow stern of the Paulding/Drayton/Monaghan-class “flivver” type destroyer USS Fanning (DD-37) filled with “ashcans” as she rests in an Irish port, likely Queenstown in 1917-1918, alongside the larger four-piper Wickes-class destroyer USS Sigourney (DD–81). Note her double ship’s wheel and a trainable twin 18-inch torpedo tube set shoe-horned into the narrow space as well. Don’t let her size fool you, though, Fanning would go on to prove herself well.

The 21-vessel Pauling class, built across four years from 1908 to 1912 were smallish for destroyers, tipping the scales at just 742-tons. Overall, they ran 293-feet long, with a razor-thin 26-foot beam. Using a quartet of then-novel oil-fired Normand boilers (later boats like Fanning used Thornycroft boilers) pushing a trio of Parsons direct-drive steam turbines, they could gin nearly 30-knots when wide open, although they rattled and rolled while doing so. This earned them the “flivver” nickname after the small and shaky Ford Model Ts of the era. Armament was five quick-firing 3″/50 cal guns and a trio of twin 450mm torpedo tubes, to which depth charges would later be added.

Fanning was the first ship named for famous 18th Century American spy, privateer, and naval officer Nathaniel Fanning. A native of Stonington, Connecticut, and son of a sea merchant, Fanning suffered at the hands of the British in 1775, with his home and those of his neighbors bombarded by the Royal Navy and his brothers Gilbert and Thomas, held prisoner on the infamous prison hulk HMS Jersey, where one died. Fanning got his licks in and during the war served on a number of privateers, including commanding the privateers Ranger and Eclipse, and signed on with John Paul Jones as a midshipman aboard Bonhomme Richard in 1779, distinguishing himself in the famous battle with HMS Serapis, charging aboard the British vessel with cutlass and pistol at the head of a boarding party.

Captain John Paul Jones hailing HMS SERAPIS during the action from the deck of USS BON HOMME RICHARD, 23 September 1779. During the action, all firing ceased for several moments and Captain Pearson of SERAPIS called out “have you struck your colors?” “I have not yet begun to fight” replied Captain Jones, whereupon the firing resumed. SERAPIS later struck her colors. NH 56757-KN

Mr. Fanning went on to serve on the frigate Alliance and later the captured sloop HMS Ariel. Finishing the war intact despite being captured several times by the RN, he later died of yellow fever in 1805 while an officer in the early U.S. Navy.

USS Fanning was laid down at Newport News, 29 April 1911. Her cost, in 1912 dollars, was $639,526.91, which adjusts to $16.5 million in today’s script, on par with an 85-foot Mark VI patrol boat today, a deal by any means. She was commissioned at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 21 June 1912 and spent the next five years in a series of drills, exercises, experiments, high profile port calls, gunboat diplomacy, and tense neutrality patrol– where she came face to face with but did not engage German U-boats prowling just off the U.S. coastline as well as the auxiliary cruiser Prinz Eitel Friedrich.

USS FANNING (DD-37) Running trials before installation of armament, 28 May 1912. While many Paulding-class destroyers had three funnels, Fanning, along with sisters DD 32, 34,36, 39, and 40, which were all constructed at Newport News, had four. NH 54055

Fanning, recently commissioned, at the Naval Review held at New York City in October 1912

USS FANNING (DD-37) Photographed by Waterman before World War I. Note her forward 3-inch gun does not have a shield. Courtesy of Jack L. Howland, 1983. NH 95196

Once the balloon went up in April 1917, Fanning stood to and readied herself for war. By June, she served as part of the escort for the first American Expeditionary Force (AEF) convoy to sail for France, although she did so without depth charges.

USS FANNING (DD-37) Photographed during World War I. Note the dazzle camo and a now-shielded 3-inch forward gun. NH 54057

By Independence Day 1917 Fanning was in Queenstown, Ireland, where the ship “landed all unnecessary stores,” while workmen fitted her with depth charges “and chutes for releasing the same,” in addition to splinter mattresses, preparing her for operations in European Waters. She began her first anti-submarine patrol on 10 July and proceeded to play cat-and-mouse games with the Kaiser’s U-boats. Just three days in, she rescued survivors of the Greek steamship Charilaos Tricoupis, that had been torpedoed by SM U-58 (Kptlt. Karl Scherb) that morning while en route from Dakar to Sligo, Ireland, with a cargo of corn. They would meet with U-58 again soon enough.

A new U57-type boat, U-58 had commissioned 9 Aug 1916 and would claim some 21 ships in just an 11-month active career across 8 combat patrols, mostly Scandinavian sailing vessels that her crew would send to the bottom with charges or surface gunfire. U-58‘s new skipper on her 8th sortie was Kptlt. Gustav Amberger, formerly of U-80. Amberger and U-58 would leave Germany for the British Isles on Halloween 1917 and take the small schooner Dolly Varden on 14 November.

Then, Fanning and U-58 would meet again.

As noted by the NHHC 

At 1145 on 17 November 1917, the six American destroyers and two British corvettes that comprised the escort of convoy O.Q. 20, steamed out of Queenstown harbor under the command of the senior officer, Commander Frank D. Barrien, Nicholson’s captain. Throughout the afternoon, the convoy’s eight merchant vessels fell in with the escort and set about forming into four columns arranged abreast. Fanning, under acting commander Lieutenant Arthur “Chips” Carpender, guarded the rear port flank of the convoy as O.Q. 20’s formation slowly took shape. At 1610, seven miles south of Queenstown, the convoy encountered SM U-58.

The battle almost ended before it began. When the sound of propellers announced O.Q 20’s presence, the German commander ordered a torpedo prepared to fire and brought his boat to periscope depth. Soon after surfacing, poor visibility nearly led the submarine to ram Nicholson accidentally, and Amberger had the engines put full back to avert disaster. Nicholson continued, oblivious to the close encounter, and the submarine escaped unnoticed. After avoiding detection, U-58 again raised its periscope to reestablish contact with the target.

Victory in “The Action of 17 November 1917” rested less on a sophisticated new technology or a brilliant tactical maneuver, and more on the eyes of Fanning’s Coxswain David D. Loomis, who was standing watch on the bridge. He was already renowned for his remarkable eyesight, with a Fanning officer later recalling Loomis’s possession of “a most extraordinary set of eyes.” In foggy conditions, Loomis spotted the 1.5-inch-diameter periscope protruding 10 inches out of the water at 400 yards away on the port bow. Although lookouts usually spotted submarine periscopes by the telltale wake, they caused, U-58 was proceeding so slowly at the time of the sighting that it was not producing any noticeable disturbance in the water. After the eagle-eyed Loomis called out the periscope, officer-of-the-deck Lieutenant Walter O. Henry sounded General Quarters as he ordered the rudder hard left and rung up full speed. Through his periscope, Amberger suddenly saw a destroyer emerging from the mist, close aboard, and threatening to ram his boat. The U-boat skipper had no time to react before Fanning was upon him. On the destroyer’s bridge, Lieutenant Carpender, now on deck, ordered Fanning’s rudder right, swinging the ship into the submerged U-boat’s path before dropping a single depth charge off the fantail.

U-58’s crew felt the shock of the exploding depth charge, which damaged the U-boat’s stern and disabled its electrical gear. Fanning’s depth charge exploded prematurely in the water, slightly damaging the destroyer as well. Amberger, underestimating the damage to his vessel, attempted to dive and elude his assailant. To his dismay, Fanning’s attack left U-58 unmanageable and leaking badly, with the diving gear, motors, and oil leads all wrecked. The U-boat dangerously sank to between approximately 150 and 250 feet, below its maximum diving depth, before Amberger blew the tanks and surfaced.

On the surface, approximately 500 yards away, sailors aboard Nicholson witnessed Fanning’s attack and Commander Barrien turned his ship toward the spot of the explosion. As the destroyer completed its turn, U-58’s conning tower breached the surface. Nicholson rapidly closed and dropped a depth charge close aboard, scoring another hit on the submarine. The second explosion brought the U-58’s bow up rapidly before it righted itself. Fanning, having turned in Nicholson’s wake, again closed on the submarine. Gun crews on Fanning’s bow and Nicholson’s stern opened fire on the doomed U-boat. After three shots from both destroyers’ guns, the German sailors flung open U-58’s hatches and poured on deck, arms raised in surrender. The battle had lasted approximately 15 minutes.

This diagram, taken from the War Diary of USS Fanning, details the battle between the ship and the German submarine U-58. Fanning became the first American ship to capture an enemy U-boat. NHHC

German Submarine U-58 on the surface to surrender after engaging USS FANNING (DD-37) and USS NICHOLSON (DD-52) on 17 November 1917. The photo was taken from NICHOLSON. Courtesy of Reverend W.R. Siegert NH 54060

German submarine U-58, alongside USS Fanning (DD-37) to have her crew removed after being forced to surface, 17 November 1917. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 54063.

USS FANNING (DD-37) Taking prisoners aboard from the submarine U-58 which is alongside, 17 November 1917. NH 54059

USS FANNING (DD-37) With German submarine U-58 sinking alongside, 17 November 1917. Courtesy of Lieutenant Robert B. Carney, USN NH 54058

Fanning made history as she was the first U.S. Navy ship to capture a German submarine and she was photographed extensively after the event, leaving a great record of a dazzle-flauged Great War Paulding.

As noted by DANFS: 

On 19 November 1917, Adm. Sir Lewis Bayly, RN, Commander-in-Chief, Coast of Ireland, came on board and read a congratulatory cablegram from the Admiralty addressed to the ship. Capt. Joel R. P. Pringle, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Destroyer Flotilla operating in European Waters, also visited, reading similar laudatory cables from Adm. William S. Benson, the Chief of Naval Operations, and Vice Adm. William S. Sims, the Force Commander. Adm. Bayly authorized the Fanning’s crew to paint a coveted star on her forward funnel to proclaim her victory over U-58. For their part in the victory Lt. Carpender received the Distinguished Service Medal, Lt. Henry and Cox. Loomis the Navy Cross.

Crew group photo of USS Fanning posing with inflatable life jackets and German enlisted men’s caps salvaged from U-58. S-549

The star carried on Fanning’s funnel after her encounter with U-58. August 1918, Underwood & Underwood Press photo. NARA 165-WW-136A-26

USS Fanning (Destroyer # 37) In port, probably at Queenstown, Ireland, after her 17 November 1917 fight with the German submarine U-58. She is painted in pattern camouflage. Catalog #: NH 2060

As for the 36 survivors of U-58, they became celebrities on their own accord, being among the first of the Kaiser’s guests sent back to the States that were captured in combat and not taken into custody from interned vessels. One of their crew, engineering Petty Officer Franz Glinder drowned in the engagement and his body was recovered by Fanning’s crew and later buried at sea with full honors. A second man, first machinist Franz Baden, went down with his ship.

USS Fanning (DD 37), German Prisoner of War from U-58 under guard on board Fanning in November 1917. The submarine had been sunk on 17 November. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 54064.

ObLt. Otto von Ritgen, Imperial German Navy at left, prisoner of war, on board USS DIXIE (AD-1), circa November 1917. He had been captured when USS FANNING sank U-58, of which he was Executive Officer. Courtesy of Lieutenant Commander Robert B. Carney, USN. NH 2615

The remaining survivors eventually shipped across the Atlantic on USS Leviathan (formerly the giant Hamburg-American liner Vaterland, which during WWI was helmed by none other than a young Humphrey Bogart) and were put up as guests of President Wilson at the EPW Barracks in Fort McPherson, Georgia.

A group of images from U-58‘s crew’s imprisonment at Fort McPherson, Georgia are in the Library of Congress. 

Officers and crew of the German submarine U.58, captured by the U.S.S. Fanning, entering the War Prison Camp at Fort McPherson, Georgia under Marine Guard. 165-WW-161AA-1

Officers and crew of the German submarine U.58, captured by the U.S.S. Fanning, entering the War Prison Camp at Fort McPherson, Georgia. Amberger and Ritgen are in front along with Lt. Frederick Mueller, Lt. Paul Schroeder. Mathewson & Winn., 04/1918 U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier:165-WW-A161(4)

Following the war, the men of U-58 returned home in 1919 with Amberger and Ritgen at least later serving in the Kriegsmarine in WWII, albeit in training capacities.

Back to our destroyer

Just three days after her tangle with U-58, Fanning sailed again on 20 November to escort convoy O.Q. 21 and would spend another year taking part in fighting U-boats and the cold, stopping to rescue survivors and batten the hatches against the heavy seas. She would drop depth charges on numerous further occasions, often resulting in oil slicks.

USS FANNING (DD-37) at “Base Six”, circa 1918. That base was Queenstown, Ireland, but the photo may show the river up towards Cork. Note her battery of depth charges, and hull number painted on the stern. Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1987. NH 101630

When the Great War ended, Fanning stood by for the arrival at Brest of President Wilson on 13 December in the troop transport George Washington and passed in review with other U.S. warships.

USS Fanning (Destroyer # 37) Moored with other destroyers in a French port, late 1918. Probably photographed from USS Mercury (ID # 3012). All these destroyers are dressed in flags in honor of a special occasion, likely the review by President Wilson. Note Fanning’s pattern camouflage. Courtesy of James Russell, 1980. NH 103744

Post-war, she would return to the States while, with other destroyers, shepherding dozens of small submarine chasers from the Azores to Charleston, arriving 3 May 1919. On 24 November her remaining men were transferred to Henley (Destroyer No. 39) and she was decommissioned.

Placed on red lead row, just five years later Fanning was reactivated, although in poor shape, and transferred to the Treasury Department for service with the Coast Guard on 7 June 1924.

As deftly retold in a paper by the USCG Historians Office, the service, then part of the Treasury Department, was hard-pressed to chase down fast bootlegging boats shagging out to “Rum Row” where British and Canadian merchants rested in safe water on the 3-mile limit loaded with cases of good whiskey and rum for sale. This led the agency to borrow 31 relatively new destroyers from the Navy, an act that would have been akin to the USN transferring most of the FFG7 frigates to the Coast Guard during the “cocaine cowboy” days of the 1980s.

From the USCG Historian:

In the end, the rehabilitation of the vessels became a saga in itself because of the exceedingly poor condition of many of these war-weary ships. In many instances, it took nearly a year to bring the vessels up to seaworthiness. Additionally, these were by far the largest and most sophisticated vessels ever operated by the service and trained personnel were nearly nonexistent. As a result, Congress authorized hundreds of new enlistees. It was these inexperienced men that made up the destroyer crews and contributed to the service’s greatest growth prior to World War II.

A total of 31 destroyers served with the Coast Guard’s Destroyer Force. These included three different classes, the 742-ton “flivver-class,” “1,000-ton class”, and the 1,190-ton “Clemson-class” flush-deckers. Capable of over 25 knots, the destroyers had an advantage in chasing large rumrunners. They were, however, easily outmaneuvered by smaller vessels. The destroyers’ mission, therefore, was to picket the larger supply ships (“mother ships”) and prevent them from off-loading their cargo onto smaller, speedier contact boats that ran the liquor into shore.

USS Fanning (DD-37) as Coast Guard destroyer USCGC CG-11, taking a break from working Rum Row.

Still able to make 25-knots on her worn plant, Fanning would patrol extensively from New England to the Caribbean under the Coast Guard ensign on anti-smuggling interdiction duties. However, with little funds to keep her running, by 1929 she was in an exceptionally rundown condition. The Coast Guard decommissioned Fanning at New London on 1 April 1930 and returned her to the Navy Department on 24 November.

Stricken from the Navy list on 28 June 1934 at the age of 22, she was scrapped under the terms of the London Treaty, and her materials sold.

Fanning was celebrated in U.S. military history with a 1921 painting by Edwin Simmons depicting U-58 surrendering. As the first of Uncle Sam’s destroyers to catch one of the Kaiser’s sneaky boots, she was popular in period art.

NH 54061

A Fast Convoy painting by B. Poole, showing USS FANNING (DD-37) escorting another ship during World War I. NH 54066

Once she left the fleet for good in 1934, her name was recycled for a Dunlap (Mahan)-class destroyer, DD-385, sponsored by Miss Cora A. Marsh, the great-great-granddaughter of Nathaniel Fanning; and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., on 8 October 1937. This very active tin can receive four battle stars for her World War II service, taking part in the Doolittle Raid. This, however, did not save her from being scrapped in 1948, surplus to the Navy’s needs.

USS FANNING (DD-385) escorting USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6) during a raid on Wake Island, late February 1942. 80-G-63344 D

A third Fanning, FF-1076, a Knox-class frigate, commissioned in 1971 and had deployments in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, participating in Desert Storm. She decommissioned in 1993 and spent another seven years with the Turkish Navy as Adatepe (F-251).

An aerial direct overhead view of the Knox Class Frigate USS Fanning (FF 1076) underway, 7/22/1991 PH2 Mark Correa, USN. NARA 330-CFD-DN-SC-04-10038

Perhaps the SECNAV will name a new DDG-51 after Nathaniel Fanning to perpetuate the long and distinguished line. I do believe that I have some letters to write!

Specs:
Displacement:
742 long tons (754 t) normal
887 long tons (901 t) full load
Length: 293 ft 10 in
Beam: 27 ft
Draft: 8 ft 4 in (mean)
Installed power:12,000 ihp
Propulsion:
4 × Thornycroft boilers
3 × Parsons Direct Drive Turbines
3 × screws
Speed:
29.5 kn
29.99 kn on Trials
Range: 2175(15) on 225 tons oil
Complement:4 officers 87 enlisted U.S. service. 75 in Coast Guard
Armament:
5 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 caliber Mark 3 low-angle guns
6 × 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes (3 × 2)
Depth charges, in two stern racks and one Y-gun projector, added in 1917, removed in 1924

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Happy birthday, USMC

Semper Fidelis! To salute the 244th Anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps, established at Tun’s Tavern, November 10, 1775, here is the 168th poster, issued during the Corps’ hard-fought campaign for Guadalcanal.

Happy Birthday, Marines, (wherever you are)

 

Feldgrau is so hot right now for Fall fashion

This month Hermann Historica has a special auction, Die kaiserliche Armee in Feldgrau (The Imperial Army in Field Grey) which includes the famed Lacey Collection of more than 100 often rare uniforms of German uhlan, hussar, field artillery, Marine and infantry regiments from the armies (and sometimes navies) of Prussia, Saxony, and Bavaria. The prices aren’t as bad as you expect, with many of the tunics having starting prices of around 200-300 euros and cap visors less than half that.

There is, naturally, lots of M1910 and wartime grey uniforms, including this gem:

Tunic M1910 for officers of the Seebataillon, German marines

There is also a smattering of bright peacetime uniforms.

Uhlanka for officers in the 2nd Royal Saxon Uhlan Regiment No. 18 

Attila for a Gefreiter in the Hussar Regiment Landgraf Friedrich II. von Hessen-Homburg (2nd Kurhessian) No. 14 

And I thought this set was interesting: demobilization clothes issued of feldgrau cloth, for those members of the army headed back home post-Versailles. Swords to plowshares, it seems.

More here.

Reverence, 88 years ago today

You almost get a sense of storm clouds on the horizon here in this beautiful image of a “treaty cruiser,” USS Indianapolis (CA-35) at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, 7 November 1931, her launch day.

Getting the creeps at Fort Morgan

Every year the good folks at Fort Morgan run a historic nighttime tour around Halloween focusing on the more morbid side of things there. As the fort is 200 years old (construction began in 1819) and was the centerpiece in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 as well as being garrisoned off and on from the 1830s through 1945, there is a lot to hear and see. As a bonus, these tours often open up sometimes closed areas of the fort, which is always a treat.

Besides, as I made the Fort central to the plot of my 2013 zombie novel (shameless plug), it just made sense.

I caught these images during the tour, which was very worthwhile, so if you can take advantage of the event or others like it, please find the time to do so.

Inside the casemates before sunset

The handprints inside the usually sealed magazine of Battery Duportail, a reinforced concrete, Endicott Period M1888MII 12-inch disappearing gun battery at Fort Morgan. These are about 12 feet off the ground and were made by gunners moving around about stacks of 268-pound shells and tons of bagged powder with their sweaty, chemical-laden hands forever staining the salt and calcium of the walls. The battery was decommissioned in 1931.

Dylan Tucker, Cultural Resource Specialist, Fort Morgan, portraying Confederate B. Gen. Richard Lucian Page, the Virginia-born former U.S. Navy officer who resigned his commission in 1861 to join the Confederate Navy, only to be saddled with an Army command that was on the receiving end of 3,000 shells from the USN!

Overlooking the Endicott-era Portland concrete battery towards Mobile Bay at dusk

Now to try to get to Fort Pickens, who has a similar program, next October…

Battery Langdon, Fort Pickens, NPS photo

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