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Remembering the Battle of the Atlantic

In an effort to commemorate the upcoming 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Atlantic next May and the Royal Canadian Navy’s role in that epic U-boat war, the Canadian Admiralty has authorised a special paint throwback paint scheme to be carried by the Kingston-class coastal defence vessel HMCS Moncton (MM708) and the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Regina (FFH-334).

As noted by the RCN, “These historical paint schemes provide a wonderful opportunity to honour the sailors of our past, embrace the sailors of our present, and look ahead to our bright future.”

Kingston-class coastal defense vessel HMCS Moncton (MM708), in her new livery

During WWII, Canadian vessels escorted over 181 million tons of cargo across the pond, sinking 27 German U-boats in the process as well as accounting for a further 42 Axis surface ships. In return, the Canadians lost 24 ships of their own during the war, along with 1,800 men with hearts of steel. Among the Canadian vessels sent to the bottom was the Flower-class corvette HMCS Regina (K234), torpedoed by U-667 off the coast of Cornwall while the brave escort was busy rescuing survivors of the American Liberty ship Ezra Weston. Regina sank in just 28 seconds, taking a third of her crew to the deep with her.

This, naturally, makes the choice of today’s Regina to carry “the old colors,” a memorable one.

Flower-class corvette HMCS REGINA (K234) circa 1942 – 1943, prior to her WWII loss.

Tiger roar

In a follow-up on the Leopard jump yesterday, let us show a little love to some Detriot muscle with a bit of Tiger roar.

1st Marine Division photo by Sgt. Tayler P. Schwamb

Official caption: An M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank with the 1st Marine Division fires during the Tank Gunnery Competition (TIGERCOMP) on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, August 29. TIGERCOMP is an annual force competition that determines the Marine Corps’ most lethal tank crew. The winning crew from 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserve, will have the opportunity to represent the Marine Corps in the Sullivan Cup, which is the Army’s total force tank gunnery competition.

Raubkatze zum Sprung!

Described by the modern German Bundeswehr as a Kampfpanzer (battle tank) the modern Leopard 2A6 is a thing of beauty in motion. The war engine evolved.

Seen in Altmark this month. All photos via Der Heer. That Rheinmetall 120 mm L/55 smoothbore gun, tho…

Nonetheless, its MTU MB 873 Ka-501 12-cylinder twin-turbocharged diesel engine is beefy enough to push the 59-ton Leo2 at speeds topping 40mph, proving the big cat can jump with the proper application of throttles.

Monsters from Mars, or Forts from Seattle, either way

Official caption: “Giving them the appearance of Monsters from Mars, the vapor trails left by these B-17 Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army 8th AF leave their marls in the sub-stratosphere. Vapor trails left by Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Army 8th AF leave their marks in the sub-stratosphere. The curved trails were made by the fighters accompanying the B-17’s. The deadly .50 Cal. Machine guns, bristling from the leading Fortress, are plainly visible against the light reflected from the contrails.”

Note the fighter top cover. U.S. Army A.A.F. photo No. 26566 A.C. LC-USZ62-107648

Warship Wednesday, Sep 4, 2019: The White Lady

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, Sep 4, 2019: The White Lady

*While not a warship, we have covered iconic sail training ships several times in the past due to their interesting, often winding history, and their role in making the men of steel that go on to conn and crew a seagoing nation’s battle lines. This has included the four-masted barque, Abraham Rydberg; the German/American Gorch Fock/Eagle, the Christian Radich out of Norway, Soviet Tovarish, and the Danish East Asiatic Company schoolship  and mystery of the sea, København*

Via Gdynia Wsieci MMG-HM-II-502-27

With this week being the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland in World War II, it is only fitting that we see here the famed sail training ship Dar Pomorza in about 1930, one of the few flying the Polish flag that escaped destruction during the conflict and went on to serve another four decades.

However, before she was Polish, she flew a different flag.

Built in 1909 by Blohm & Voss (Hull #202) as the full-rigged sail training ship Prinzess Eitel Friedrich, she was originally named for Duchess Sophia Charlotte of Oldenburg. She and her three sisters–Großherzogin Elisabeth, Großherzog Friedrich August, and Schulschiff Deutschland (the latter built in 1927) — were all owned and operated Deutscher Schulschiffverein (DSV), or the German School Ship Association, for the purpose of educating young mariners in association with Norddeutsche Lloyd. These were among the first purpose-built sail training ships. As both the Kaiser and Grand Duke Friedrich August von Oldenburg were patrons, the names of the ships are no-brainers.

Prinzess Eitel-Friedrich launching April 3, 1909, Foto via Schulschiff Deutschland

Capable of carrying 25 sails with a total sail area of some 1,950 sq. meters, the 305-foot-long vessels looked like flying clouds when they were in the wind.

Schulschiff Prinzess Eitel Friedrich, 1915

Prinzess Eitel Friedrich between 1910 and 1914 State Library of Victoria SLV H99.220-2588

Commissioned in 1910, Prinzzess Eitel Friedrich sailed on her maiden voyage to Christiansand and Antwerp. Nonetheless, the Germans only got three years of active service from her before the Great War, primarily short summer cruises for officer candidates in European waters and longer winter cruises to the Caribbean Sea and Latin America while the Baltic was iced in.

During the war, the three existing sisters all managed to come through unscathed while conducting limited training evolutions in the Baltic, but by 1919, two the marine training ships were allocated to the victorious Allies as war reparations– causing Schulschiff Deutschland to be constructed in the 1920s.

Grossherzog Friedrich August went to the British, while Prinzess Eitel Friedrich was allocated to the French where she was used as the sail training ship Colbert at the St-Nazaire seaman’s school (Société Anonyme de Navigation Les Navires Écoles Français).

By 1926, the French sold her to British gentleman race car driver and yachtsman Baron (Maurice) de Forest who very soon after looked to rid himself of the giant three-master as it did not fit his needs.

Enter Poland

When Poland re-emerged in November 1918 after more than a century of partition by the recently deceased Austrian, German, and Russian Empires, she needed a Navy to defend her thin share of the Baltic. Having to cough up one from scratch, most of her professional officers came from the fleets of the former occupiers– the Polish Navy’s 1939 commander, Counter-Admiral Józef Unrug, was a German U-boat commander during the Great War while the Navy’s chief of staff, Vice-Admiral Jerzy Świrski, was a destroyer commander in the Tsar’s Black Sea Fleet.

Besides a few inherited former German torpedo boats and slow Russian gunboats bought from Finland, the new Navy was able to score the elderly French cruiser D’Entrecasteaux (8,100-tons) for her value in scrap in 1927, renaming her ORP Bałtyk, which became the new force’s flagship. To help train mids for the new navy, the three-masted gaff schooner ORP Iskra was acquired.

With the new Polish state maritime school in Tczew needing a training ship at the same time to replace the circa 1867-built three-master Lwow (former Chinsura), funds were raised through public donations to purchase the laid-up Colbert/ex-Prinzess Eitel Friedrich, which was idle in Western Europe. In July 1929, she was purchased by the purpose formed Pomorski Komitet Floty Narodowej (Pomeranian National Fleet Committee) for £7000 and by the next year was in Polish hands. On her arrival, the Tczew school closed and moved to Gdynia, where it is today known as the Gdynia Maritime University.

Originally to be named Pomorze (Pomerania), she was instead given the name Dar Pomorza (Gift of Pomerania), to honor the society formed to purchase her. She arrived at Gdynia on 19 June 1930 after tow by two Dutch tugs from France to Denmark and a four-month refit at Nakskov, Lolland (the same yard that later built the full-rigged ship Danmark for the Danish Maritime Authority). There, she received a surplus MAN diesel engine that had formerly powered a German U-boat to serve as her “iron topsail.”

The impressive sight of Dar Pomorza, with her white eagle crest and proud Polish ensign, was massive to the country’s spirit.

Via Gdynia Maritime University (UMG)

Via Gdynia Maritime University (UMG)

Via Gdynia Maritime University (UMG)

Via Gdynia Maritime University (UMG)

Known affectionately as the “Białej Damie” (White Lady) or the “Białej Fregata” (White Frigate), Dar Pomorza was the grande dame of the burgeoning new Polish maritime fleets and traveled extensively around the globe until 1939.

Polish Training Ship DAR POMURYA or DAR POMORZA in St. Thomas Harbor, January 6, 1936, NH 111890

This included an epic 352-day circumnavigation of the globe under famed Capt. Konstanty Maciejewicz-Matyjewicz, a former Tsarist submarine commander, in 1934-35 that logged over 21,000 miles, crossed the equator three times and sliced through every meridian. It was the first such event by a Polish-flagged ship.

Dar Pomorza in Tahiti 1935

Then came WWII.

September 1, 1939, German Battleship SMS Schleswig-Holstein, ostensibly on a goodwill mission in Danzig, firing on the Polish ammunition depot at Westerplatte. Colorized by Mikołaj Kaczmarek

Dar Pomorza was one of the few Polish ships to escape initial destruction in September 1939.

The butcher’s list in that month included:

-Bałtyk, abandoned and captured by the Germans
-The destroyer-sized minelayer ORP Gryf, lost on the third day of the war as was the French-built destroyer ORP Wicher
-All six Jaskółka-class minesweepers, each sunk or captured
-The old Russian gunboats ORP Generał Haller and ORP Komendant Pilsudski, sunk
-The former German torpedo boat ORP Mazur, sent to the bottom
-The entire Pinsk riverine flotilla of more than a dozen monitors and gunboats, scuttled or likewise captured

Dar Pomorza, along with other key maritime assets, were saved by design.

Adm. Unrug (who spent the rest of the war in German POW camps) crafted his “Peking Plan” that sent the new destroyers ORP Burza, ORP Błyskawica, and ORP Grom to British waters in late August 1939, where they formed a new Free Polish Navy under the escaped Chief of Staff VADM Świrski after Warsaw fell.

Likewise, the wily former Great War U-boat skipper sent his five submarines abroad after their initial war patrol under his Worek Plan with orders to sail to England if possible, and otherwise to be interned in a neutral Swedish port. ORP Wilk made it to England as did ORP Orzeł (after a narrow escape from Estonia) while ORP Sęp, ORP Ryś, and ORP Żbik sailed for Sweden. The training ship ORP Iskra, on a Med cruise, sailed for Casablanca and spent the war as an MTB tender in Gibraltar.

Under the command of Capt. Konstanty “Cat” Kowalski, Dar Pomorza sortied from her Polish homeport in late August 1939 and made Stockholm, where the ship was interned. Not to be kept from the war, Cat left the White Lady with seven volunteers commanded by the ship’s radioman and subsequently bugged out for England with the rest of her crew and 149 cadets, destined for Polish-flagged freighters and Free Polish naval ships. Once there, he reformed the Polish merchant school in Southampton where its trained replacement sailors for the Gdynia-America Shipping Lines who sailed with Allied cargoes under the Polish flag during the conflict.

Polish merchant ships carried more than 5 million tons of cargo during the war and were part of every campaign in the ETO from Dunkirk to the liberation of Denmark. Meanwhile, former cadets from Iskra and Dar Pomorza filtered out not only through the Polish vessels but also the Royal Navy proper—four such students went down with HMS Hood in 1941.

Once the war was over, Dar Pomorza sailed for home in October 1945, arriving there with a scratch crew.

As for Cat, eschewing a return to Soviet-occupied Poland, he elected to emigrate to the U.S. and became a merchant mariner there. He was not alone. VADM Świrski, the former Tsarist officer who led the Free Polish Navy, did not return to Poland and remained in London exile until his death. Unrug, the fleet’s 1939 boss, likewise settled in France after his liberation from Oflag VII-A Murnau by the U.S. 12th Armored Division in 1945.

Other flag officers were not so lucky. Polish RADM Xawery Czernicki, another former Tsarist naval captain and engineer who had supervised the construction of the Gdynia naval base, was captured by the Soviets in 1939 and was among the 22,000 slaughtered Polish officers in the so-called Katyn Massacre in early 1940.

Post War

Regardless of the country’s location behind the Iron Curtain, Dar Pomorza remained Poland’s ambassador, taking part in regular merchant training cruises around Europe beginning again in 1946. Notably, Capt. Konstanty Matyjewicz-Maciejewicz, her former skipper during her round-the-world cruise, was head of the merchant marine academy at the time, having survived the war under occupation despite some rough handling from the Gestapo.

In 1972’s Operation Sail, the Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Races, she was the first Eastern Bloc windjammer to participate in an international sail event and she became a regular at such outings over the next decade.

The Olympische Segelwettbewerbe, coinciding with the 1972 Munich Olympics, showing Dar Pomorza, the USCGC Eagle and the German Bundesmarine’s Gorch Fock August 5, 1972. Via Stadtarchiv Kiel

A night scene from the same event, showing not only Dar Pomorza, Gorch Fock and Eagle but also the Columbian square-rigger Gloria and Danish Danmark Via Stadtarchiv Kiel 53.812

Dar Pomorza, Amsterdam 1975, via Dutch National Archives

This included being one of the top 16 tall ships to sail into the New York City leg of OpSail 1976 to celebrate the Bicentennial.

Square rigger Dar Pomorza during the Parade of Sail on 4 July 1976 (US Bicentennial) via Wiki Commons

Square rigger Dar Pomorza during the Parade of Sail on 4 July 1976 (US Bicentennial) via Wiki Commons

In 1980, she won the Cutty Sark Trophy in OpSail80

While not an active warship per se, she was carried in Poland’s entry in Jane’s for decades.

Finally, on 4 July 1982, Dar Pomorza was retired from active service. In her 52 years of service to Poland, she covered more than 500,000 miles under sail on 102 training cruises and educated 13,384 students.

She has been maintained as a floating exhibit and national treasure by the National Maritime Museum in Gdansk since 1983, typically visited by more than 100,000 every year.

She is extensively remembered in maritime art and postcards.

…And has repeatedly been represented on Polish postage stamps and coins throughout the Republic’s 20th Century history.

A lucky ship, having survived both world wars as well as the Cold War, all three of Dar Pomorza‘s German-built sisters are intact as well. The former Grossherzog Friedrich August was handed over to the Norwegians as a war trophy in 1945 and is currently the privately-owned training vessel Statsraad Lehmkuhl. Schulschiff Deutschland, commissioned in 1927, is a museum ship in Bremen. Finally, the former Großherzogin Elisabeth, handed over to France as a war reparation in 1946, has been the French-flagged tall ship Duchesse Anne ever since.

Dar Pomorza, pushing 110-years young, is permanently moored at the Pomeranian Quay next to Kosciuszko Square in Gdynia.

Specs:
Displacement: 1561 tons gross, 2,500 full
Length with bowsprit: 305 feet
Length, between perpendiculars: 240 feet
Beam: 39ft
Draft: 17ft
Rig: 25 sails, 2,100 sq. m, full-rigged including royals, topgallant, double topsail
Auxiliary engine: 430 HP MAN, 6-cyl diesel, installed 1929
Speed under sail: max 17 kts.
Complement: 190: 8 officers, 32 petty officers/primary crew, 150~ cadets
1934-35 Circumnavigation: 104: Commandant, 10 officers including doctor and chaplain, 4 instructors, 20 crew members, 11 2nd year students, and 58 1st year candidates

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The eerie quiet before the end, 74 years ago

Pre-Surrender Nocturne Tokyo Bay.”

Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Standish Backus; 1945. Depicting the old forts at Futtsu Saki, a narrow point of land jutting into the eastern side of Uraga Strait at the entrance to Tokyo Bay, a burnt-out Japanese destroyer, and the eeriness of the moonlight:

(NHHC: 88-186-Z)

The artist’s notes:

The forts at Futtsu Saki had to be approached and demobilized early on the morning of 30 August 1945. No landings from the sea had yet occurred and we did not know what sort of reception we would receive from the Japanese. From past experience, it was not expected to be healthy in all respects. Was there a division of troops in those forts waiting to mow us down as we hit the beach? Its very silence, the haunted quantity of the burnt-out Japanese destroyer, and the eeriness of the moonlight gave us all a foreboding.

The forts were, in fact, well defended, by a full regiment but the artillery on hand was old. One of the first coastal defense forts in the country, the batteries used 15cm Krupp guns in steel cupolas and several emplaced Model 1890 Osaka-made (Armstrong-Whitworth designed) 28cm howitzers that the Japanese had at least twice dismounted and used as siege guns (at both Port Arthur and Tsingtao) back when they were still relevant.

It was a pucker factor for sure.

As related by Backus in his painting “The First Wave on Japan”

Watercolor on Paper; by Standish Backus; 1945; Unframed Dimensions 16H X 23W. (NHHC: 88-186-B)
“Futtsu Peninsula, Tokyo Bay: Seal-like Higgins boats create their own heavy seas as they carry Marines of the 2nd Battalion 4th Regiment ashore for the first test of whether the Japanese will resist or abide by negotiated surrender terms. It is tense for the next five minutes. The Japanese would logically wait until the Marines were at the shoreline to open a withering fire that could be a massacre. Since there could be no preparatory bombing or bombardment, it had to be done the hard way by head-on assault. The main group of boats landed here at Fort #2 while a small group landed at Fort #1 at the end of the spit beyond the hulk of a burned-out Japanese destroyer. The setting moon, which stood watch over the landing of the boats from the transport, is now relieved by the misty rays of the early sun.”

But the Forts were captured with no bloodshed on either side.

The first landing craft carrying Marines of 2/4 touched the south shore of Futtsu Saki at 0558; two minutes later, the first transport plane rolled to a stop on the runway at Atsugi, and the occupation of Japan was underway. In both areas, the Japanese had followed their instructions to the letter. On Futtsu Saki the coastal guns and mortars had been rendered useless, and only the bare minimum of maintenance personnel, 22 men, remained to make a peaceful turnover of the forts and batteries. By 0845, the battalion had accomplished its mission and was reembarking for the Yokosuka landing, now scheduled for 0930.

Members of the Yokosuka Occupation Force, 2/4 Marines, inspect a Japanese fortification on Futtsu Saki. [USMC 134741]. Besides the Marines, the landing force was accompanied by 10 U.S. Navy gunners mates familiar with large naval pieces to disable the captured guns. 

The Charge of the Light Brigade, Audregnies installment

On this day some 105 years ago, British Army Cpt. Francis Octavius Grenfell– aged 33 and a noted polo player– led the 9th (Queen’s Royal) Lancers into combat against the Germans at Audregnies, a small village west of Mons in Northern France. The Germans were advancing on the far west flank of the British Expeditionary Force during the Battle of Mons and threatened to encircle the Old Contemptibles of the 5th Division. Grenfell and his lancers were busy that day, both charging the on-coming Germans and later pulling back some abandoned British field guns, keeping them from being captured.

Richard Caton Woodville later immortalized the action at Audregnies in the below painting, from the National Army Museum collection.

NAM. 1978-09-22-1

NAM. 1978-09-22-1

As noted by the NAM:

Although not the first action of World War One (1914-1918) for which the Victoria Cross was awarded, Grenfell was the first to be gazetted, that is, officially listed in ‘The London Gazette’ as a recipient. The citation was for ‘gallantry in action against unbroken infantry at Audregnies and for gallant conduct in assisting to save the guns of the 119th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, near Doubon the same day’.

Notably, the 9th later took part in the final “lance-on-lance” action by British horse-soldiers when, on 7 September 1914 at Montcel à Frétoy, Lt. Col. David Campbell led a charge of two troops against a squadron of lance-armed Prussian Guards Dragoons.

After service in the Great War and as a tank unit in WWII, the 9th was amalgamated with the 12th Royal Lancers to form the 9th/12th Royal Lancers in 1960. They were later further amalgamated with the Queen’s Royal Lancers in 2015 to form the Royal Lancers, which today is an armored recon battalion equipped with Scimitar vehicles. They are the only “lancers” still in the British Army although they officially retired the weapons for field use in 1928.

However, they still use the famous skull and crossbones badge that is one of the most recognizable in the British Army with the motto: ‘Death or Glory’.

As for the heroic Capt. Grenfell, he later fell in action near Ypres in 1915, as did his twin brother, Riversdale.

Buried in the Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery in Belgium, his VC is in the regimental museum of the 9th/12th Royal Lancers in Derby.

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