Category Archives: military art

Transylvanian Cheetahs

Offical caption via NATO last week, “Romanian Gepards of Battle Group Poland training in command and control procedures and target selection and distribution.”

Photos by Romanian Army Cpt. Liviu Burtica.

Unlike the U.S. Army– which has been trying to play SPAAG catch-up in recent years following the retirement of the 20mm VADs and many of the M3 .50cal/Stinger-equipped Avengers– the Germans have long felt a decent gun-armed anti-aircraft vehicle was a must. After all, their brass remembered getting hammered relentlessly by P-47s, Typhoons, and Sturmoviks back in WWII.

Thus, Flugabwehrkanonenpanzer Gepard (Cheetah) was first fielded by the Bundeswehr in the 1970s.

Equipped with a pair of radar-guided superfast 35mm/90cal Oerlikon GDF autocannon, each capable of 550 rounds per minute (although Gepard only carries about 700 rounds) they are spooky deadly to low-flying aircraft and helicopters not to mention any light vehicle short of a main battle tank.

While the Germans have moved on to the LeFlaSys system, which is just a Wiesel with Stingers (while keeping a number of these gun systems in reserve), they gifted the Romanians some 43 ex-Bundeswehr Gepards in recent years.

Of course, everything is going to be counter-drone in the coming years, as witnessed in the recent dust-up between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but, provided enough jamming can keep the quadcopters and other UAVs away, some good AAA never really goes out of style. Doubtless, the NATO forces in Poland are happy to have a few around in the event that things get hot suddenly and a couple of Krasnovian Hinds pop up on the horizon. 

And I am not even going to comment on the irony of Romanians using surplus German gear to fight the Russians

America’s Hornet

How about this beautiful Full-Scale Development (FSD) YF-18A Hornet prototype #3 (BuNo 160777) grabbing some deck? I know the scheme isn’t practical, but it is striking.

Official caption: An F/A-18 Hornet aircraft touches down and prepares to tailhook the arresting wire on the aircraft carrier USS AMERICA (CV-66). The aircraft is undergoing sea trials, 11/1/1979

330-CFD-DN-ST-83-09015 Via NARA https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6372739

The first U.S. Navy YF-18A Hornet (BuNo 160775) had only been delivered from the McDonnell Douglas plant at St. Louis, Missouri in October 1978, making the trials aircraft shown above very early indeed. At this time, the Navy still fielded lots of Vietnam-era aircraft including the A-7, A-4, and F-4, which the Hornet was intended to phase out. Heck, there were still a few EA/KA-3B Skywarriors around as well.

As noted by Joe Baugher: 

A total of nine FSD F/A-18As were built. Carrier qualifications began with the third FSD aircraft (Bu No 160777) aboard the USS America (CV-66) on October 30, 1979. These tests went extremely well. Before the carrier qualifications got underway, the Navy had determined that it would no longer be necessary to have distinct attack and fighter versions of the Hornet. The aircraft was deemed sturdy and versatile enough to carry out both jobs, and plans for separate F-18s in fighter (VF) squadrons and A-18s in attack (VA) squadrons were abandoned. The Navy introduced a new type of unit, the strike fighter squadron (VFA) to carry out both fighter and attack missions.

Sadly, while 160775 is preserved at NAWS China Lake, 160777, much like USS America herself, is long gone. Incidentally, “Triple 7” traded in her blue livery for red tips sometime in the 1980s while at Patuxent.

Nonetheless, it will live on forever in vintage Monogram model kits!

 

Main Battery, Away

Check out this series of great images from LIFE photographer Bill Ray in 1964, chronicling Douglas A-1J Skyraiders from Attack Squadron 196 (VA-196) “Main Battery” aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) gearing up for a strike in Vietnam.

VA-196 was part of Carrier Air Wing 19 (CVW-19), tail code NM, aboard the “Bonnie Dick” for the carrier’s West Pac deployment to Vietnam from 28 January to 21 November 1964.

Commissioned in late 1944, Bonnie Dick was the first ship in the modern Navy to commemorate the name of John Paul Jones’ famous Revolutionary War frigate– and she got in enough licks in during WWII to earn one battlestar.

Her WWII cruise

She was much more active in Korea, carrying the F9F Panthers and AD-4 Skyraiders of first Carrier Air Group 102 (CVG-102) then CVG-7.

Stretched and given the SCB-125 overhaul in the mid-1950s, BHR was in the thick of the air war off Vietnam from 1964 onward.

USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) with her crew spelling out Hello San Diego, while en route to San Diego on 9 February 1963. She returned to San Diego, her home port, on 11 February, following a Western Pacific cruise that had begun seven months earlier, on 12 July 1962. Aircraft on her flight deck include three E-1, 11 F-8, six F-3, 13 A-4, and nine A-1 types. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97343

Completing her sixth and last deployment to Yankee Station on 12 November 1970 (again with CVW-5), she was decommissioned the next year and, after spending 21 years on red lead row as a source for potential spare parts for the similarly laid-up but slightly younger USS Oriskany (which the Navy saw as a mobilization asset through the Reagan years), she was scrapped in 1992.

As for CVW19, it was disestablished in 1977, having conducted nine Vietnam tours from the decks of Essex-class flattops (BHR, Oriskany, Ticonderoga).

The end of VA-196 came on 21 March 1997, after more than 48 years of service, with the squadron switching to A-6 Intruders in 1966, an aircraft they put to good use not only over Indochina but also in the Persian Gulf, but that is another story. 

38 Special Standing By: Mine No More

Below we see the watercolor entitled “Mine No More” by Chip Beck, showing, “An Iraqi mine is blown in place by U.S. Navy EOD divers from USS Missouri as USS Curtis [sic] hovers in the background in the northern Arabian Gulf.”

NHHC Accession #: 91-159-D

The painting is based on a real photograph and depicts the long-hull Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Curts (FFG-38) hard at work in the Persian Gulf some 30 years ago today.

14 January 1991: The Persian Gulf – An Iraqi mine is detonated by an explosives ordnance disposal team near Curts during Operation Desert Storm. (U.S. Navy photo DVID #DN-SN-91-09317 by PH3 Brad Dillon)

During Desert Storm, Curts was very busy, supporting a mix of Navy and Army helicopters to capture the 51-man Iraqi garrison on occupied Qaruh Island, Kuwait. While the speck of land, just 275 meters long by 175 meters wide, is tiny, Qaruh was symbolically important as it was the first section of Kuwaiti liberated in Desert Storm on 21 January.

Curts also reportedly destroyed two mines, sank an Iraqi minelayer, and provided further support to combat helicopter operations during the Battle of Bubiyan Island.

Part of the Missouri Battleship Group, Curts, used her sonar to gingerly lead USS Missouri (BB-63) northward to get within striking range of Iraqi strongpoints ashore. Missouri gun crews then sent 2,700-pound shells crashing into an Iraqi command and control bunker near the Saudi border. It marked the first time the battlewagon’s 16-inch guns had been fired in combat since March 1953 off Korea. Missouri‘s gun crews returned to action 5 February, silencing an Iraqi artillery battery with another 10 rounds. Over a three-day period, Missouri bombarded Iraqi strongholds with 112 16-inch shells.

For her part, Curts received the Navy Unit Commendation for her exceptional operational performance, as well as the Admiral Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy.

Decommissioned in 2013 after three decades of hard service, “38 Special” was slated for possible transfer to Mexico but has since been placed on the list of target ships. Laid up at Pearl Harbor, she will likely be expended in an upcoming RIMPAC Sinkex.

Repel Boarders!

Happy New Year and man your scissors, gentlemen.

Detail of “A possible future of Naval Warfare,” by noted artist Will Crawford, published in Puck, Oct. 27, 1909:

My favorite part is the Tar in the forward mast reaching forward to cut the apparently French balloonist’s canvas bag with a pair of scissors.

See the splendid full-sized (141 MB) image at the Library of Congress, showing armed zeppelins, flying machines, Holland-style submersibles, battleships, and the like, some a bit ahead of its time.

In all, a really great image that fans of the page will no doubt find enjoyable.

Caption: Surely the world is growing better! Whereas formerly we fought our naval battles on top of the water only, we now may fight them on the water, over the water, and under the water!

Redlegs Stretch theirs out to 70 Clicks

Who says Tube Arty is irrelevant? The Army contends they have made the longest distance precision-guided shot in history using one.

The Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA), designated the XM1299 howitzer, was developed in 2019 by BAE Systems. Based on the pre-existing M109A7 Paladin, it uses a much-longer XM907 155mm/58 caliber gun rather than the legacy 155/39, as well as a host of other improvements above the turret ring, and is planned to enter service in 2Q FY2023.

From an Army Presser:

The first successful test of a 70 km (43 miles) shot with a precision-guided munition took place on December 19, 2020 at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground.

The live fire demonstration used the Excalibur projectile and was the culmination of a campaign of learning on multiple systems.

“Not only did the test show the design robustness of a current fielded projectile to demonstrate lethality at extended ranges, it did so while maintaining accuracy, marking a major milestone in support of Long Range Precision Fires objectives of achieving overmatch artillery capability in 2023,” said Col. Anthony Gibbs, Project Manager for Combat Ammunition Systems.

Providing longer range than that of potential adversaries, is a significant combat multiple for maneuver commanders and the Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team (LRPF-CFT) was established to tackle that objective. Their mission includes increasing lethality, improving rates of fire, and enabling deep fires to shape the battlefield and set conditions for the brigade combat team close fight.

Multiple efforts including new propellant charges, an Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) system, multiple projectiles with varying capabilities, and target identification and tracking systems, are under development to increase range and reduce the time from target identification to effects on target.

Personally, I’d like to see one or two of these guns navalised and put in low-profile mounts on the Zumwalts, perhaps alongside if not in place of the fabled Naval Rail Gun system, replacing the failed 155mm AGS. But that would make too much sense. 

Distant Escort

Distant Escort: The cruisers HMS Sheffield (C24) and HMS Jamaica (44) along with the King George V-class dreadnought battleship HMS Duke of York (17) on patrol along the Convoy Route to Russia.

Painting by maritime artist John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993), via the Imperial War Museum London (LD7427-001) Courtesy of the Art UK Trust. ‘ 

Just over the horizon from the convoys, such sluggers would be on tap in case German surface raiders sortied out from occupied Norway to ambush passing by on the way to Murmansk, with the idea to bushwack said Kriegsmarine vessels.

Of note, the wrecking crew of Duke of York & Co would deliver Winston Churchill an excellent Boxing Day present in 1943 by utterly smashing KMS Scharnhorst in just such an engagement at what became known as the Battle of North Cape, some 77 years ago today. 

Another of Hamilton’s paintings:

The Battle of the North Cape: HMS ‘Duke of York’ in Action against the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943, by John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993) via the Imperial War Museum London. Painted 1972, transferred from the Belfast Trust, 1978.

Christmas at Sea

The ship-rigged screw sloop-of-war USS Monongahela under sail, with starboard studding sails spread in very light wind, while serving as U.S. Naval Academy Practice Ship in 1894-99. Courtesy of Edward Page, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 89732

Christmas at Sea (by Robert Louis Stevenson)

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ’twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
‘All hands to loose top gallant sails,’ I heard the captain call.
‘By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,’ our first mate, Jackson, cried.
… ‘It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,’ he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Auf Wiedersehen, SB 105

The Austrian Air Force, long fond of flying unusual Swedish types to stay as neutral as possible during the Cold War, is saying a hard goodbye to the Saab 105ÖE after 50 years of long and hard use.

The Saab 105ÖE in Austrian service. Easy to maintain and operate, it was also less likely to ruffle Soviet feathers

Evolved from a turbofan business jet concept by the Swedish firm, the 105 first flew in 1963, and in all less than 200 were produced over the course of a decade.

Featuring side-by-side seating for its two-man crew, in many ways, it was similar to the Cessna T-37 Tweet/A-37 Dragonfly as it could serve as either a training or light attack aircraft, although it was nowhere near as popular. In fact, outside of Sweden, Vienna was the only buyer of the type, ordering 40 in 1970 to replace aging second-hand Saab 29 Tunnan “flying barrels.”

Don’t be fooled, these Saabs could be deadly

The Austrians had a wide array of options for their SB 105s, across rockets, gun pods, and light bombs. They added Sidewinders in the early 1990s.

In regular service with the Austrians ever since, the 105ÖE (ÖE= for Österreichische Luftstreitkräfte) not only served a dual-hatted peacetime training/combat ground attack role, it was used by both of the country’s demonstration teams and in surveillance and air sovereignty missions until it was replaced in the latter by reconditioned Saab 35 Drakens in the late 1980s. (The Drakens proved useful, chasing down errant Yugoslav MiG-21s on more than one occasion.)

Plus, as with most of Saab’s aircraft, it could operate from unimproved sites and roadways

The Austrians currently run two understrength squadrons of Tranche 1 Typhoons, with Pilatus PC-7s providing training, although that is subject to change. Nonetheless, the SB 105’s time will cease at the end of the year.

The Austrian Air Force currently has two of their 18 remaining SB 105s painted in amazing livery and a terrific photo dump is online.

Hail, Achilles!

In honor of the 81st anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate, which saw three British cruisers chase down the German pocket battleship KMS Admiral Graf Spee on 13 December 1939, below is the original White Ensign flown by one of those heroic warships, the Leander-class light cruiser HMS Achilles (70) on that day. 

NHHC Catalog #: NH 85979-KN

The Flag was loaned to the Navy Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., by the New Zealand Navy for the 1976 Bicentennial and was photographed there in early 1977.

HMS Achilles (HMNZS from 1941) painting by Frank Norton is part of the National Collection of War Art held by Archives New Zealand Archives reference: AAAC 898 584/ NCWA Q223

A the time of the battle, some 60 percent of her crew was from New Zealand. Transferred outright in September 1941 to New Zealand and recommissioned HMNZS Achilles, she later went on to serve India as INS Delhi until 1978.
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