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Japanese Convoy HI-88J Meets Apaches, 75 Years Ago Today

On 29 March 1945, Japanese Convoy HI-88J was intercepted in the South China Sea some 35 miles off Cap Batangan, French Indochina by B-25 Mitchell bombers of the 498th and 501st Bomb Squadrons of the 345th Bomb Group (Air Apaches), U.S. Fifth Air Force. In a running battle, the Japanese Type D-class escort ship CD-18 was strafed, bombed and sunk with the loss of her skipper and 184 crewmen.

USAAC Photo B-57672

The escort was followed quickly by her sistership, CD-130, which carried her entire 178 crew to the bottom, as well as the tanker Kaiko Maru.

Also sent to the bottom that day was CD-84, another Type D, scratched by the Gato-class fleet sub, USS Hammerhead (SS-364), torpedoed and sunk with her entire crew. Onboard CD-84 were also a number of survivors from the tanker Honan Maru, which had been sunk by the submarine USS Bluegill the previous day.

On 30 March, the next day, the Apaches went out again and found HI-88J off Yulin, China, where they sank the auxiliary sub chaser Shinan Maru before the convoy made it out of range.

Sortie of the Gunboat Submarines

From the very first U.S. Naval submarine commissioned, USS Holland (SS-1)— which was designed with a “dynamite cannon” in addition to her torpedo tube– American subs have tended to tote around some sort of gun to either make short work of small craft or at least fire the literal “shot across the bow” to make a vessel heave to.

Sure, there have been some classes that didn’t mount a piece on the roof, and since the end of Vietnam when the final WWII-era diesel fleet boats were withdrawn, about the biggest piece of artillery available to a surfaced U.S. submarine is a 5.56mm light machine gun, but in between you had everything from 3-inchers to 6-inchers carried.

Thus:

Perhaps the pinnacle of gun-armed U.S. submarine surface actions was the cruise of “Latta’s Lancers,” under CDR Frank D. Latta aboard his flagship boat USS Lagarto (SS-371) some 75 years ago last month.

CDR Frank D. Latta

Lagarto, a Balao-class boat commissioned in late 1944, was given a very gun-heavy suite to include a pair of 5″/25 caliber Mark 40 wet mounts as well as two 40mm/60 Bofors singles augmented with eight .50-cal M2 pintels.

This battery, enhanced with additional topside ready-use lockers, an expanded small arms magazine and the ability to store 220 80-pound 5-inch shells, gave the 311-foot boat a decent surface armament that rivaled a patrol frigate.

The Mark 40 was an interesting piece, weighing as much as a smaller 3-incher, but packing much more punch. Further, it could be put into action within a minute of surfacing.

USS Sea Dog (SS-401) with 5″/25 deck gun in action, as the submarine operates near Guam, preparing for her final war patrol into the Sea of Japan, circa mid or late May 1945.

The Mark 40. With a weight of 7-tons, a trained crew could make one of these stubby boys sing at about 15 rounds per minute– provided the shells could be hustled up the hatch from below at a fast enough rate.

A Mark 40 preserved today on the USS Drum, sistership to Lagarto. These guns had a maximum range of 14,200 yards.

Coupled with the similarly up-gunned submarines USS Haddock (SS-231), and USS Sennet (SS-408), Latta’s Lancers, formed a three-craft American wolf pack tasked with causing a ruckus off southern Honshū, Japan.

“Gunboat” submarines with two 5″/25 (12.7 cm) guns and centralized fire control. The submarine closest to the picture appears to be USS Sennet (SS-408). Note the two 5″/25s on deck and two 40mm guns on her sail

The goal was a diversion intended to lure early warning craft some 200 miles away from the track of carrier air strikes against Tokyo.

Surfacing in the predawn hours of 13 February 1945 and using their SJ surface radars to track a set of small Japanese trawlers-turned-gunboats that they dutifully opened fire on– and allowed said trawlers to transmit a warning back to Tokyo– before the subs sank same. The prey was no mighty craft, Kotoshiro Maru No.8 (109 tons) and Showa Maru No.3 (76 tons), but the mission was accomplished.

Later that night, around 2200, the Lancers began stalking two more auxiliary patrol boats and were able to engage the pair in the dark hours of 14 February. That action left the Kanno Maru No.3 (98 tons) damaged and Sennet with a number of holes in her sail. In the end, all three subs were out of 5-incher shells, leaving the trio to finish their patrols separately and through the use of torpedos.

Haddock would successfully return to port, then spent the rest of the war on lifeguard station near Tokyo, standing by to rescue downed airmen after raids on Japanese cities. Used as a reserve boat off and on after the conflict, she was sold for scrap in 1960.

Sennet had a much longer life, serving until 1968, and was sold for scrap in 1973.

Sadly, Lagarto would be sunk on her 2nd patrol by the Japanese net layer Hatsutaka on 3 May 1945, in the South China Sea, with all hands lost. This included CDR Latta, who sailed his boat to join the flotilla of 51 other American submarines on Eternal Patrol in WWII.

She has been visited several times since, and her twin 5″ guns helped in her identification.

One of Lagarto’s two deck guns. Photo via Navsource courtesy Steve Burton. http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/08371.htm

Only the Greybeards Left

100 years ago in Ukraine, after four years of the Great War and two of Civil War:

Official caption:

Only the Greybeards Left. When the principal men of the Cossack village of Prochnookopskara, South Russia, were called together to meet the representative of the American Red Cross there were none of the fighting age left. Only the old warriors, whose scars gave a good account of their former days but whose bodies had no longer enough vigor to fight under the fearful campaigning conditions of the struggle against the Bolshevists, met in the market place and doffed their astrakhan hats in honor of the visitor who brought help. The American officer at the left of the center surrounded by hetman in huge white caps is Prince Ourousow

Sadly, once the Reds won the Civil War in South Russia in November 1920, just months after the above photo was snapped, commissars began a state campaign of Raskazachivaniye (decossackization) that was genocide by any other name. Many of the old greybeards shown here soon likely found themselves labeled as “kulaks” or “money bags” (bogatei) for owning a few acres of land and were deported to Siberia in chains or stood up against a wall. The lucky ones just lost their land, horses, and guns and were allowed to join the local collective.

Although the Don and Kuban Cossacks were deemed “counter-revolutionaries” by Moscow and targeted for special treatment, it should be noted that at least one-fifth of all of the men in arms from the stanistas (about 30,000) did so under Red banners, with a full division, the First Don, being composed primarily of Cossacks. As such, many of the young men who rode with Budyonny’s Red Cavalry (Konarmiya) returned home to the farm in 1921 to be shown the light of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Paradise.

Babel didn’t cover that.

75 Years Ago Today: The Rolling W Across the Rhine

On this day in 1945, the below image caught Soldiers of the U.S. 89th Infantry Division rolling across the Rhine at Oberwesel, Germany, 26 March 1945, carried by landing craft.

Note the above highlights the range of infantry weapons carried at the time including M-1 rifles– one with a rifle grenade attachment, Thompson M1 submachine gun, and an M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle.

NARA Photo U. S. Signal Corps 202464

The 89th “Rolling W” Division landed in France on 10 January 1945 and saw first combat on 12 March– just two weeks before the above image was taken. In their 57 Days under fire in the ETO, they suffered 1,029 casualties and produced no less than 46 Silver Star recipients. In addition, they helped liberate Ohrdruf, a Buchenwald subcamp.

Surface warfare work never really changes

USS DeKalb, officer firing a 1-pounder (37mm) Hotchkiss gun while a Sailor observes, 18 May 1918.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41702

Fast forward 102 years:

PHILIPPINE SEA (March 10, 2020) Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Shelby Wilkes fires a Mark 38 25mm machine gun during a live-fire exercise aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89).

(U.S. Navy photo 200310-N-AJ005-1173 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cody Beam/Released) 

Warship Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Lady Lex off Panama

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

(This week’s WW abbreviated due to events.)

Warship Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Lady Lex off Panama

Original negative given by Mr. Franklin Moran in 1967. Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 64501

Here we see the U.S. Navy’s second aircraft carrier, the brand-new USS Lexington (CV-2) off Panama City, Panama on 25 March 1928, some 92 years ago today.

The fourth U.S. Naval vessel named for the iconic scrap against Minutemen and a detachment of British troops on 19 April 1776, Lexington had originally been designed and laid down as a battlecruiser, designated CC-1.

Authorized to be converted and completed as an aircraft carrier 1 July 1922 she commissioned 14 December 1927, Capt. Albert W. Marshall in command.

The above photo and the four that follow were taken while the $39 million “Lady Lex” was on her shakedown cruise, deploying from her East Coast builders to her homeport at San Pedro, California, where she would arrive on 7 April 1928 and spend the next 13 years of her life.

NH 64697

NH 64699. At the time, she carried her inaugural air group to include Curtiss F6C fighters and Martin T3M torpedo planes, which can be seen on deck.

Note her twin 8″/55 gun mounts. NH 64698

“‘A close squeeze.’ U.S.S. Lexington. 33,000-ton aeroplane carrier, going through Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal.” Courtesy Jim Ferguson via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/02.htm

Of note, Lex had only received her first aircraft aboard only two months prior to her Panama photoshoot.

First plane on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington– a Martin T3M –at the South Boston Naval Annex January 14, 1928, Leslie Jones Collection Boston Public Library. Note her 8-inch guns

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After 100 Years, Marines Could Lose Their Tanks

M1A2 Abrams Tank 1st Marine Division TIGERCOMP Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Aug 2019. 1st Marine Division photo by Sgt. Tayler P. Schwamb

The Wall Street Journal has a report that the Marines are set to drastically reboot in the next decade. In short, they will get leaner and lighter, shedding about 15,000 Marines, ditching lots of old-school 155mm tube artillery in favor of mobile truck-mounted anti-ship missile batteries. The 8th Marines would be disbanded along with some helicopter squadrons while the number of UAV squadrons will be doubled.

The focus of the new 2030 USMC would be an updated Wake Island 1941 program-– landing on and defending small Pacific islands to deny the use of an area to a Chinese naval force.

Oh yeah, and the Marines will also lose all of their beautiful and hard-serving Abrams main battle tanks.

A century of support to the Devils

The Marines got into the tank game in the 1920s and has employed armor in every major combat action ever since– with the exception of Wake Island.

In 1923, the Marines established Light Tank Platoon, East Coast Expeditionary Force at Quantico with a handful of Great War surplus U.S. Army (a trend that would continue) M1917 Renault light tanks, two-man 6-ton vehicles armed with a light machine gun.

Marine M1917 Renault Light Tanks, “Tanks Going into Action, Antietam, 1924”

In 1927, this platoon was assigned to the 3d Marine Brigade in China, where it would operate for a year before it returned to the States and was disbanded in 1930.

Then came two armored platoons stood up in the mid-1930s equipped with the light (5-ton) Marmon-Harrington tankettes, of which a whopping 10 were acquired.

Marine Marmon-Herrington tankette landing from lighter, 1930s

On 1 August 1940, the USMC established the 3d Tank Company with M2A4 light tanks. This unit the next year became Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion and by early 1942 were rushed to defend American Samoa. By August, they were landing at Guadalcanal.

A Marine M2A4 light tank on Guadalcanal, 1942 “MOP UP UNIT– Two alert U.S. Marines stand beside their small tank which helped blast the Japanese in the battle of the Tenaru River during the early stages of fighting on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Those well-manned, sturdy machines readily mopped up strong points of enemy resistance.”

Upgrading to M4 Shermans in time for 1943’s Cape Gloucester, New Britain operation, the Marines would continue to use the hardy medium tank in a force that would grow to six battalions.

1944 M4A2 Sherman tank Company A, 1st Tank Marine Battalion passing a Japanese blockhouse at Peleliu

By Korea, the Marines were able to put their Shermans to pasture and begin using the 90mm-equipped M26 Pershing and the M46 tank.

“Marine tanks parked in the southwest part of the perimeter of Koto-ri. The high ground was within the perimeter. 1950”

Lessons learned in Korea brought about the medium-and-heavy combo that was the M48A1 and the M103, which were used in Lebanon in 1958, the Cuban Missile Crisis (where Marine tankers were ashore at GTMO) and the 1965 landing in the Dominican Republic.

Then came Vietnam, where the Marines continued to utilize the upgraded M48A3 although the Army was switching to the M60 Patton.

6 March 1967, a Marine M48A3 in Vietnam. Note the Playboy Bunny. “Tankers Construct Road: A blade-wielding tank of the 1st Tank Battalion carves a road for Leathernecks of the 2d Battalion, 26th Marines [2/26] during an operation south of Da Nang (official USMC photo by Private First Class Warren E. Wilson).”

The Marines would only upgrade to the M60A1 in 1975, once Vietnam was in the rearview, a tank they would keep– with much modification– through the First Gulf War. Importantly, it was the M60s of the Marines that were the first serious armor on the ground in Saudi Arabia in Desert Storm.

Since 2001, Abrams-equipped Marine tank platoons have been very busy, deploying multiple times to the Middle East. This included company-size deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as well as carving platoons off to float around with MEUs in the Fleet.

Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, 3d Platoon during the Battle of Nasiriyah in 2003– note the M1 tank support

The Corps currently fields 403 M1A1/A2 variants, less than one-tenth of the amount the Army/National Guard has on hand. Of course, as the Marines just have three tank battalions, one of which is a reserve unit, there are only about 180 of these tanks in unit service, with the rest of the hulls forward-deployed in places like Norway and in other forms of long-term storage.

If all goes according to plan, by 2030 the Marines will have zero Abrams.

Planned upgrades, scheduled to take place through 2024, naturally will be a footnote.

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