Category Archives: military history

Last ‘Ace in a Day’

On this day in 1945, LT Oscar Francis Perdomo, USAAF, became the last American Ace of WWII, bagging four Ki-84 “Frank” fighters and one Yokosuka “Willow” trainer. (While the 507th Fighter Group mission reports confirm his kills as “Oscars”, they were actually Franks from the 22nd and 85th Hiko-Sentais.)

Via the Commemorative Air Force, Perdomo in front of Republic Lil Meatie’s Meat Chopper, his P-47N-2-RE Thunderbolt (serial number 44-88211), based on Ie Shima in 1945. The baby is an ode to the young officer’s boy who at the time, Kris Mitchell Perdomo, was still in diapers.

The combat took place over Seoul, Korea when Perdomo’s formation of 38 P-47 Thunderbolts, from the 507th Fighter Group of US 20th Air Force, encountered approximately 50 enemy aircraft. It was Perdomo’s last combat mission, and the five confirmed victories made him an “Ace in a Day” for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Medal with one leaf cluster.

An El Paso Texas native whose daddy rode with Pancho Villa, Perdomo received his wings on January 7, 1944, and only flew his first combat mission on July 2, while escorting a B-29 to Kyushu. Six weeks later, he was the last American ace.

Perdomo remained in the Air Force after the war, serving in Korea, then left the military in 1958 as a major. Sadly, he succumbed to self-destruction after the loss of Kris, who died when his Huey exploded in Vietnam, and died in 1976, aged 56.

Meanwhile, the CAF has flown a P-47N made up to salute Perdomo’s Meat Chopper since 2017. 

Playing the hits

Happy National Vinyl Record Day!

Finnish soldiers play a gramophone they found on 8 August 1941 in recently-liberated Jaakkima, Finland (today’s Yakkima, Russia), during the opening offensive of the Continuation War. The Karelian village had been lost to the Soviets in 1940 during the Winter War.

“Vallatulla gramofonilla soitetaan.” Via Sa-Kuva

The gentleman in the center three of the four helmeted men to the left appear to have the new Finnish M40 turtle-style helmet while the three to the center-right have Hungarian M38s. If you notice the man almost totally behind the NCO, standing by the tree, has a Stalhelm complete with a Great War style add-on brow plate, an item that was almost universally despised by those who wore one due to the added weight. There is also a Mosin rifle in the back. The undersergeant to the right with the cigarette looks to have a Polish wz. 33 (Granat Obronny) “screw top” grenade on his belt, no doubt captured by the Germans in 1939 and passed on as military aid. Meanwhile, the gentleman in the center, possibly a machine gunner, has a Lindholmin-style universal holster for the Lahti L-35 9mm pistol, or a rarer m/23 Luger in .30-caliber. Also, note the two brand-new Soviet SVT-40s which have been given a new home.

Can you imagine the struggle being a QM in the Finnish Army in 1941? We’ve talked about the confusing variety of helmets used by the force previously.

USCG at the ‘Canal

In July 1940, the Coast Guard numbered just 13,766 officers and men of all ranks, spread out from the Philipines to the Virgin Islands. By July 1942, it would balloon to 58,998 men (and was starting to recruit women as well) on active duty (excluding the CONUS “Corsair Fleet” in the Temporary Reserve), with many of those overseas serving under Navy control. Besides manning sub-busting cutters, frigates, and destroyer escorts, one of the main uses for the Coasties by its bigger brother was in manning landing craft desperately needed in amphibious warfare.

A dedicated landing craft school at the U.S. Marine Base, New River, North Carolina, instructing cutter boatswains, coxswains, and surfboat crews in landing craft handling and engine operation. Pioneering the art of taking Marines and Soldiers from troopships and transports via strange new flat-hulled LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) and LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized) to the beach and returning with wounded and prisoners. It was there, along North Carolina’s Onslow Beach, that the foundations of the Torch, Husky, Avalanche, Overlord, Iceberg, and Detachment landings, among others, were laid.

In the spring of 1941, the Navy formed Transport Division Seven out of former U.S. Army troop transports, including the 21,000-ton Coast Guard-manned troopships USS Hunter Liggett (AP-27), USS Joseph T. Dickman (AP-26), and USS Leonard Wood (APA-12), along with the smaller (9,000-ton) USS Arthur Middleton (AP-55). Of these, Hunter Liggett was tapped for Operation Watchtower, the invasion of Guadalcanal while 18 of the 22 other Navy-manned transports on that mission would carry USCG landing crews to man their small boats.

USS Hunter Liggett (AP-27) Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1942. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 86976

It was in August 1942 that the Coasties caught their first whiff of landing craft operations in a war zone.

From the USCG Historian’s office on Hunter Liggett off “The Canal” some 80 years ago this week:

She arrived off Guadalcanal the night of 6 August 1942. In this assault, America’s first amphibious operation since 1898, the ship was assigned to a later wave but sent her boats to aid in the initial landings, on 7 August. Air attacks began on the day after the landing, sinking fellow transport George F. Elliott, Hunter Liggett’s gunners shot down several of the attackers as she remained off the beaches. Early on the morning of 9 August, men in the transport area could see the flashes of light from an engagement off Savo Island. As the Japanese attempted to reinforce their Solomons garrison and destroy the transports they surprised an American Task Force and inflicted heavy losses. The Hunter Liggett and the other vulnerable transports got underway but soon returned to the transport area. After noon on 9 August, they began the grim job of rescuing survivors from the sunken cruisers Vincennes, Astoria, and Quincy. That afternoon the transport sailed with the wounded, in company with the damaged Chicago, to Noumea, where she arrived 2 days later. With the Guadalcanal campaign began the refinement of amphibious techniques which was to pay off so handsomely as the war progressed.

Original caption: As landing craft, manned by Coast Guard crews, bring in streams of supplies to the American base on Guadalcanal, a Coast Guardsman directs traffic with his signal flags. In the distance, a transport and a cargo ship stand on the horizon. From the landing barge in the foreground, a jeep emerges and runs down the ramp on the beach.

Original caption: With the nonchalance of long practice, Coast Guard-manned barges are lowered away as dawn breaks over Guadalcanal. For troops aboard the transport it means the end of a long trip, the beginning of a great adventure.

Original caption: Three Coast Guardsmen from a Coast Guard-manned assault transport in the South Pacific are engaged in salvaging useful material from battered and beached Japanese landing craft on an island near Guadalcanal. They are, left to right: Peter Caruso, seaman second class of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Frank Brewer, fireman first class, of Chicago, Illinois; and Lieut. (j.g.) Gordon C. Reinoehl, of Jasper, Texas.

Keep in mind the Coast Guard’s only MOH recipient, Signalman First Class Douglas Munro, earned his decoration posthumously while taking Marines off of a surrounded beach position in Guadalcanal via landing craft in September 1942.

Douglas A. Munro Covers the Withdrawal of the 7th Marines at Guadalcanal by Bernard D’Andrea. 

A display containing Petty Officer First Class Douglas Munro’s Medal of Honor and accompanying citation hangs in Munro Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, N.J., (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer John Edwards)

By 1943, the Coast Guard had evolved to manning larger LCI(L)s and LSTs, running 28 of the former and no less than 77 of the latter.

USS LST-831 approaching the beachhead at Okinawa on D-Day, 1 April 1945. (Note: the unauthorized letters “USCG” stenciled on her inner hull above the main ramp. US Coast Guard photo from the collections of the Office of the US Coast Guard Historian.

United States Coast Guard-manned LST beaching at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Bismarck Islands, Dec 1943

LCI landing craft in the wake of a USCG-manned LST en route to Cape Sansapor, New Guinea, mid-1944

Photograph of Coast Guard Landing Barges Ferrying the Flood of Fighting Men Who Are Spreading Our Over Normandy. Original caption: The Invasion Stream Floods the Beaches of France. Bulging with reinforcements from the liberation waves that struck the French beaches and beached the vaunted Atlantic Wall, Coast Guard landing barges ferry the flood of fighting men who are spreading our over Normandy. They are transferred from a Coast Guard assault transport in the English Channel. In the distance, in a rhino loaded with ambulances easing toward the beach.

“The Coast Guard-manned landing craft LCI(L)-85 approached the beach at 12 knots. Her crew winced as they heard repeated thuds against the vessel’s hull made by the wooden stakes covering the beach like a crazy, tilted, man-made forest… The Coast Guard LCI(L)-85, battered by enemy fire after approaching Omaha Beach, prepares to evacuate the troops she was transporting to an awaiting transport. The “85” sank shortly after this photograph was taken. The LCI(L)-85 was one of four Coast Guard LCI’s that were destroyed on D-Day.”

US Coast Guardsmen assisting a wounded Marine into an LCVP after the Marine’s LVT sustained a direct hit while heading to the landing beaches on Iwo Jima, Feb 18, 1945.

US Coast Guard LCVP landing craft carried invasion troops toward Luzon in Lingayen Gulf, 9 Jan 1945

Besides this, some 288 of the Army’s ships— AMRS (Army Marine Repair Ship), TY (tankers), LT (large tugs), FS (freight and supply vessels), and F (Freight vessels)– were manned by the Coast Guard and were responsible for keeping those chains of islands in the Pacific as well as ports along the Med supplied and running.

By 1945, with the Coast Guard counting 171,192 officers and enlisted (including 8,877 women in the SPARS), the service was more than pulling its own. If it came across a beach in any theatre, odds are the Coasties had a hand in putting it there.

Museum Ship Maintenance via 3D Printing

USS Massachusetts (BB-59), the third of four SoDak super dreadnoughts built during WWII, turned 80 this year.

USS Massachusetts underway somewhere in the pacific (1943)

Of course, she only spent five of those years on active duty (earning 11 Battle Stars fighting the Vichy French and Japanese) and another 15 years in mothballs before shuffling to Fall River, Massachusetts in 1965 to assume an enduring auxiliary role as a museum ship.

Using donations and support from the Commonwealth, “Big Mamie” has been getting a lot of work done including “prepping, priming, and painting the main deck waterways, a complete hull repainting to include all numbers and her name, and welding work to repair main deck stanchions,” while her “her main deck fantail and 40mm gun tubs aft are being completely prepped, primed, and painted as well.”

Museum staff are also taking advantage of a new 3D printing lab aboard the vessel to craft new parts to replace those that have long ago broken or walked off with visitors over the years.

Now that is beautiful.

Admiralty to stop printing paper nautical charts after 227 years.

The UKHO, which assumed the role of printing Admiralty charts some time ago and has some 3,500 such nautical works of art on file, recently announced they are going digital-only, because why worry enough to have paper backups, right?

Today’s world is unrecognisable to the one that existed in 1795, when our organisation was founded. Back then, mariners navigated by the stars using a magnetic compass and surveying with a leaded line marked in fathoms. They could fix where they had been, but not where they were. 

Every aspect of modern life is now driven by technology. Mariners use global navigation satellite services combined with electronic navigational charts (ENCs) and inertial navigation systems to determine where they are, in near real-time, to centimetric accuracy. This enables them to navigate and berth vessels of all shapes and sizes more safely and with incredible precision.  

Shipping is steering rapidly towards a future underpinned by digital innovations, enhanced connectivity at sea and optimised data solutions, all of which are bringing about the next generation of navigation. 

The UKHO aims to be at the forefront  of this digital transition, continuing to provide the assured and globally trusted ADMIRALTY navigation services that seafarers the world over depend on. Withdrawing from paper chart production will allow us to increase our focus on advanced digital services that meet the needs of today’s seafarers. 

Importantly, the past few years have seen a decline in demand for paper charts, driven in part by the SOLAS-mandated transition to ECDIS and by the growing recognition of the benefits of digital products and services.

As we look to the future, our core purpose remains the safety of shipping operations and delivering the best possible navigation solutions to achieve that. Whether for the Royal Navy, commercial vessels or other ocean users, our focus is on developing and delivering ADMIRALTY digital services that promote and underpin safe, secure and thriving oceans. 

On the bright side, the phase-out is supposed to take until 2026, so at least you have a minute to stock up. 

Brown Shoes of Fighting Six

80 years ago: Four aviators of Fighter Squadron Six (VF-6) — two of which are enlisted “silver eagle” NAP pilots– pose beside a Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat (Bureau # 5126) on board the Yorktown-class carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), 10 August 1942. The quartet were credited with shooting down eight Japanese aircraft during the Guadalcanal-Tulagi operation a few days earlier.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-11092

The men are (from left to right): NAP Machinist Donald E. Runyon, credited with four planes at the time; NAP Aviation Pilot First Class Howard S. Packard (one plane); Ensign Joseph Donald “Joe” Shoemaker (one plane); and Ensign Wildon M. Rouse (two planes). Note the shoulder holster rigs for GI .45 pistols worn by the three in khaki while Packard, in dungarees, is armed with a utility/fighting knife on his belt.

Runyon was one of the leading Wildcat Aces, credited with shooting down 8 Japanese aircraft while flying F4Fs.

NAP Machinist Donald E. Runyon, USN of Fighting Squadron Six (VF-6) On board USS Enterprise (CV-6). He is standing by the tail of his F4F-4 (Bureau # 5193, VF-6’s # 13), which is decorated with a tombstone containing 41 meatballs, each representing a Japanese plane claimed by the squadron. During his second combat tour in the Pacific in 1943 as a commissioned officer, he scored three more victories while flying F6F Hellcats with VF-18 off of USS Bunker Hill. 80-G-11103

Ensign Wildon M. Rouse, USNR of Fighting Squadron Six (VF-6) In the cockpit of an F4F-4 Wildcat fighter, on board USS Enterprise (CV-6), 10 August 1942. Ensign Rouse was credited with shooting down two Japanese aircraft during the Guadalcanal-Tulagi operation a few days earlier. These victories are represented by two flags painted below the cockpit. Rouse would survive the war but never make it home, dying in a crash in the Philippines on 4 Dec 1945. LT(JG) Rouse is buried at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. Catalog #: 80-G-11089

Soon after the above pictures were taken, on 24 August, Enterprise would suffer bomb hits off during the Guadalcanal campaign that would force her back to Pearl Harbor where the famed Enterprise Air Group, with which the carrier had fought her first five WWII deployments, was disestablished on 1 September 1942.

When she emerged again in October, she would be carrying the newly formed Air Group 10, whose fighter squadron was the Grim Reapers of LCDR William R. “Killer” Kane’s VF-10, the first time Enterprise would sail without the cover of “Fighting Six,” although NAP aviator Howard “Pack” Packard, pictured in the first image wearing dungs, would be with them. 

As for Ensign Shoemaker, standing next to Packard in the top image, he would be killed in action on 29 September 1942, aged 22.

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022: Savo Pig Boat Avenger

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Aug. 11, 2022: Savo Pig Boat Avenger

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-33750

Above we see the bearded and very salty-looking crew of the S-42-class “Sugar Boat” USS S-44 (SS-155) manning the submarine’s 4″/50 cal Mark 9 wet-mount deck gun, circa January 1943. Note the assorted victory flags painted on the boat’s fairwater, she earned them.

The S-class submarines, derided as “pig boats” or “sugar boats.” were designed during the Great War, but none were finished in time for the conflict (S-1 was launched by the builders on 26 October 1918, just two weeks before the Armistice). Some 51 examples of these 1,000-ton diesel-electrics were built in several sub-variants by 1925 and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online. While four were lost in training accidents, six were scrapped and another six transferred to the British in World War II, a lot of these elderly crafts saw service in the war, and seven were lost during the conflict.

The six boats of the S-42 subclass (SS-153 through SS-158) were slightly longer to enable them to carry a 4-inch (rather than 3-inch) deck gun with its own dedicated gun access hatch in the deck. Some 225 feet long overall, their submerged displacement touched 1,126 tons, making them some of the largest of the breed. Armed with four forward tubes (and no bow tubes), they had enough storage space to carry 10 21-inch torpedoes but were restricted in size to 16-foot long WWI-era fish as their tubes were shorter and couldn’t handle the newer 21-foot long Mark 14 torpedo which was introduced in 1931.

The Mark 10 of the 1920s, compared to the Mark 14, was slower and had shorter legs, but still carried a 500-pound warhead. The older torps were simple and dependable– provided you could get close enough to make them count.

It was thought the Sugar Boats, after testing, had enough fresh water for their crews and batteries to enable a patrol of about 25-30 days, and provision and diesel/lubricants for slightly longer.

S-42 subclass. Drawing & Text courtesy of U.S. Submarines Through 1945, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. Naval Institute Press. Via Navsource

Referred to as the “2nd Electric Boat/Holland” type of the S-boat series, all six were built at Bethlehem’s Fore River yard.

Commissioned on 16 February 1925 (all six of the class were similarly commissioned inside 10 months across 1925-26) S-44 completed her shakedown in New England waters and then headed south for Submarine Division (SubDiv) 19, located in the Canal Zone, where she joined her sisters. For the next five years, homeported at Coco Solo, they ranged across assorted Caribbean, Pacific, and Latin American ports. This idyllic peacetime life continued through the 1930s as the Division’s homeport shifted to Pearl Harbor, then to San Diego, and back to Panama.

USS S-44 (SS-155) In San Diego harbor, California, during the later 1920s or the 1930s. Note how big her deck gun looks and her high-viz pennant numbers. NH 42263

USS S-44 (SS-155) Underway during the later 1920s or the 1930s. NH 42262

USS S-44 (SS-155) Leaving Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 1929. Photographed by Chief Quartermaster Peck. NH 42264

With the “winds of war” on the horizon and the realization that these small and aging boats may have to clock in for real, sisters S-42, S-44, and S-46 were sent to Philadelphia Naval Yard in early 1941 to be modernized. By August 1941, S-44 was on a series of shakedown/neutrality patrols along Cape Cod and Rhode Island, conducting mock torpedo runs on the destroyer USS Mustin (DD-413), a tin can that would go on to earn 13 battle stars in WWII. Still on the East Coast when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor hit, she soon got underway for Panama.

S-44’s principal wartime skipper, from October 1940 through September 1942, covering her first three War Patrols, was Tennessee-born LT. John Raymond “Dinty” Moore (USNA 1929).

While most Sugar Boats still in the fleet in 1942 were relegated to ASW training and new submariner school tasks as well as defense of the Panama Canal Zone and Alaska, some were made ready to go to the West Pac and get active in the war. Though small and armed with obsolete torpedoes, a handful of Sugars– our S-44 included– were rushed to block the Japanese progress in the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands, until larger and more capable Fleet Boats (Balao, Gato, Tench classes, etc.) could be sent to the area.

First Patrol

Assigned to SUBRON Five, S-44 got underway from Brisbane for her patrol area on 24 April 1942, she haunted the Cape St. George area of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago for three weeks and reported a successful hit on a Japanese merchant of some 400 feet/4,000 tons on 12 May after a four-torpedo spread.

From Moore’s report: 

Post-war, this was confirmed to be the Japanese repair ship Shoei Maru (5644 GRT) returning to Rabaul after coming to the assistance of the minelayer Okinoshima, sunk by S-44′s sistership S-42 earlier in the day. Talk about teamwork.

USS S-44 returned to Brisbane on 23 May, just shy of being out for a month.

Second Patrol

After a two-week refit and resupply, S-44 left Brisbane again on 7 June 1942– just after the Battle of Midway– ordered to patrol off Guadalcanal where local Coastwatchers reported a Japanese seaplane base to be under construction. There, she compared the coastline to old Admiralty charts of the area and watched for activity, noting fires and shipping traffic. Midway into the patrol, the Sugar boat fired three torpedoes at a 200-foot/2,000-ton freighter with “69” on the side of her bridge and one visible deck gun.

From Moore’s report: 

This was post-war confirmed to be the Japanese auxiliary gunboat Keijo Maru (2626 GRT, built 1940) sent to the bottom about 12 nautical miles west of Gavutu, Solomon Islands.

As noted by DANFS:

The force of the explosion, the rain of debris, and the appearance and attack of a Japanese ASW plane forced S-44 down. At 1415, S-44 fired her torpedoes at the gunboat. At 1418, the enemy plane dropped a bomb which exploded close enough to bend the holding latch to the conning tower, allowing in 30 gallons of sea water; damaging the depth gauges, gyrocompass, and ice machine; and starting leaks. Her No. 1 periscope was thought to be damaged; but, when the submarine surfaced for repairs, a Japanese seaman’s coat was found wrapped around its head.

Two patrols, two kills under her belt, S-44 arrived back at Brisbane on 5 July.

Third Patrol

After three weeks of rest and airing out, S-44 headed North from Brisbane on 24 July, ordered to keep her eyes peeled off the New Britain/New Ireland area. After stalking a small convoy off Cape St. George in early August but unable to get a shot due to heavy seas, she began haunting the Japanese base at Kavieng Harbor on New Ireland. This, likewise, proved fruitless and she ranged the area until when, on the early morning of 10 August 1942 (80 years ago today), some 9,000 yards away, she sighted four enemy heavy cruisers steaming right for her.

What a sight it must have been!

Just 18 minutes later, having worked into a firing position for the oncoming column– over 30,000 tons of the Emperor’s bruisers in bright sunlight on a calm sea — S-44 fired all four tubes at the heavy bringing up the rear then dived deep to 130 feet. Four old reliable Mark 10s launched from just 700 yards did the trick.

Moore would later detail, “We were close enough to see the Japanese on the bridge using their glasses” and that the looming cruiser looked bigger than the Pentagon building. While submerged and listening, Moore would later say, “Evidently all her boilers blew up…You could hear hideous noises that sounded like steam hissing through the water. These noises were more terrifying to the crew than the actual depth charges that followed. It sounded as if giant chains were being dragged across our hull as if our own water and air lines were bursting.”

The details of action from Moore’s official report:

Post-war, it was confirmed this target was the Furutaka-class heavy cruiser HIJMS Kako, one of the four heavy cruisers of Cruiser Division 6 (along with Aoba, Furutaka, and Kinugasa) which just five hours before had jumped the Allied cruisers USS Astoria, Quincy, Vincennes, and HMAS Canberra off Savo Island, leaving all wrecks along Iron Bottom Sound. During that searchlight-lit surface action, Kako fired at least 192 8-inch, 124 4.7-inch, and 149 25-mm shells as well as ten Long Lance torpedoes, dealing much of the damage to the Allied vessels.

Furutaka Class Heavy Cruiser Kako pictured at Kure Naval Arsenal on March 30th, 1926

While Kako had received no damage at Savo, her meeting with S-44 was lopsided in the other sense.

As told by Combined Fleet: 

The Kawanishi E7K2 “Alf” floatplane from AOBA, patrolling overhead, fails to send a timely warning and at 0708 three torpedoes hit KAKO in rapid succession. The first strikes to starboard abreast No. 1 turret. Water enters through open scuttles of the hull as the bow dips and twists further within three minutes of being hit. The other torpedoes hit amidships, in the vicinity of the forward magazines, and further aft, abreast boiler rooms Nos. 1 and 2. KAKO rolls over on her starboard side with white smoke and steam belching from her forward funnel. An enormous roar ensues as seawater reaches her boilers.

At 0712, the Japanese start depth charging the S-44, but without success. S-44 slips away.

At 0715, KAKO disappears bow first in the sea to the surprise and dismay of her squadron mates. She sinks off Simbari Island at 02-28S, 152-11E. Sixty-eight crewmen are killed, but Captain Takahashi and 649 of KAKO’s crew are rescued by AOBA, FURUTAKA and KINUGASA.

“The S-44 (SS-155), vs HIJMS Kako. Patrolling off New Ireland, the veteran S-boat ambushes the enemy cruiser division at the entrance to Kavieng Harbor. Four torpedoes (range 700 yards) send Kako to the bottom, an 8,800-ton warship sunk by an 850-ton sub. This sinking of the first Japanese heavy cruiser avenged the defeat at Savo Island.” Drawing by LCDR Fred Freemen, courtesy of Theodore Roscoe, from his book “U.S. Submarine Operations of WW II”, published by USNI. Original painting in the LOC. 

S-44 returned to Brisbane, Australia, on 23 August 1942, where the sinking of Kako was a big deal for a Navy that had just suffered its worst night in history.

Truth be told, it was a big deal for the American Submarine Force as well.

In the first 245 days of the Pacific War, suffering from a mix of bad torpedoes (mostly the vaunted new Mark 14s) and timid leadership, U.S. subs had only accounted for nine rather minor Japanese warships, even though the Navy had no less than 56 boats in the Pacific at the beginning of the war and soon doubled that number:

  • Submarine I-73, sunk by USS Gudgeon, 27 January 1942.
  • Destroyer Natsushio, sunk by USS S-37, 9 February 1942.
  • Seaplane carrier Mizuho, sunk by USS Drum, 2 May 1942.
  • Minelayer Okinoshima, sunk by USS S-42, 11 May 1942.
  • Submarine I-28, sunk by USS Tautog, 17 May 1942.
  • Submarine I-64, sunk by USS Triton, 17 May 1942.
  • Destroyer Yamakaze, sunk by USS Nautilus, 25 June 1942.
  • Destroyer Nenohi, sunk by USS Triton, 4 July 1942.
  • Destroyer Arare, sunk by USS Growler, 5 July 1942.

Indeed, by that time in the war, the Japanese had only lost one heavy cruiser, Mikuma, which was finished off by carrier aircraft at Midway after she was crippled in a collision with another ship.

So of course, Dinty Moore earned hearty congrats and would eventually pin on a Navy Cross for S-44s action against Kako.

Captain Ralph W. Christie, USN, Commander Task Force 42 and SUBRON5 (left) Congratulates LCDR John R. Moore, USN, skipper of USS S-44 (SS-155), as he returned to this South Pacific base after a very successful week of patrol activity. (Quoted from original World War II photo caption) The original caption date is 1 September 1942, which is presumably a release date. 80-G-12171

Fourth Patrol

Dinty Moore would leave his first command to take control of the more advanced Sargo-class boat USS Sailfish (SS-192) and S-44 would head back out from Brisbane on 17 September with LT Reuben Thornton Whitaker as her skipper.

Dogged by Japanese ASW patrols as well as a persistent oil leak and a battery compartment fire, S-44 returned to Australia on 14 October after a 4,262-mile patrol with nothing to add to her tally board despite a claimed attack on an Ashashio-class destroyer that was not borne out by post-war analysis.

The boat needed some work, that’s for sure. She had spent 150 of the past 220 days at sea, with 120 of that on war patrol. She leaked and had numerous deficiencies, all exacerbated by repeated Japanese depth charging. Her crew, which was largely original men that had shipped out with her from Philadelphia in 1941, had lost up to 25 pounds apiece, and nerves were frayed.

Refit

On 4 November 1942, with LT Whitaker sent on to the Gato-class fleet boat USS Flasher (SS-249), S-44 was sailed for the East Coast via the Panama Canal under the command of LT Francis Elwood Brown (USNA ’33) (former CO of USS S-39) and slowly poked along until she arrived at Philadelphia Navy Yard in April 1943.

USS S-44 (SS-155) Underway off the Panama Canal Zone, circa February 1943, while en route to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for overhaul. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. 19-N-41382.

At PNSY, S-44 was reworked over the summer and picked up a 20mm Oerlikon as well as a JK passive sonar and SJ/ /SD radars.

USS S-44 (SS-155) Underway off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, after her last overhaul, on 11 June 1943. 19-N-46194

Same as above, 19-N-46193.

“S-44 (SS-155), was one of six E.B. boats extensively modernized during WW II. The refit included the installation of air conditioning, with the unit installed in the crew space abaft the control room, alongside the refrigerator. S-44 was fitted with radar (SJ forward, SD abaft the bridge), a loop antenna built into the periscope shears for underwater reception, & a free flooding structure carrying a 20-mm anti-aircraft gun, with a box for 4-in ready-service ammunition below it. A JK passive sonar, probably installed at Philadelphia during a refit between November & December 1941, was located on the forward deck. On the keel below it was a pair of oscillators.” Drawing by Jim Christley. Text courtesy of U.S. Submarines Through 1945, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. Naval Institute Press, via Navsource.

Fifth, and Final, Patrol

Departing PNSY on 14 June 1943, S-44 transited the Ditch once again and arrived at Dutch Harbor, Alaska on 16 September, with Brown still in command. After 10 days of making ready, S-44 sortied out past the Russian church on her 5th War Patrol on 26 September, bound for the Kuriles, where she never came back from, although two survivors eventually surfaced in 1945.

The story of what happened to her was only learned after VJ Day.

It is believed that S-44 was sunk east of the Kamchatka Peninsula by the Japanese Shimushu-class escort vessel Ishigaki.

As detailed by DANFS:

On the night of 7 October, she made radar contact with a “small merchantman” and closed in for a surface attack. Several hundred yards from the target, her deck gun fired and was answered by a salvo. The “small merchantman” was a destroyer. The order to dive was given, but S-44 failed to submerge. She took several hits, in the control room, in the forward battery room, and elsewhere.

S-44 was ordered abandoned. A pillowcase was put up from the forward battery room hatch as a flag of surrender, but the shelling continued.

Possibly eight men escaped from the submarine as she went down. Two, Chief Torpedoman’s Mate Ernest A. Duva and Radioman Third Class William F. Whitemore, were picked up by the destroyer. Taken initially to Paramushiro, then to the Naval Interrogation Camp at Ofuna, the two submariners spent the last year of World War II working in the Ashio copper mines. They were repatriated by the Allies at the end of the war.

Epilogue

S-44 remains one of the Lost 52 U.S. submarines from WWII still regarded on eternal patrol.

S-44 was one of six Sugar Boats lost during WWII. Their names here are inscribed on a memorial at the USS Albacore Museum in New Hampshire. Similar memorials are located in all 50 states. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery USS S-44 memorial in Illinois, installed in 2003 by Members of U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War Two

Thus far, her wreck, believed off Paramushir (AKA Paramushiro or Paramushiru) Island, has not been located and as that windswept volcanic rock has been occupied by the Russians since August 1945, she likely will never be discovered.

S-44’s war records from August 1941 – October 1942, including her first four War Patrols, have been digitized and are in the National Archives. She earned two battle stars during World War II.

She was remembered in postal cachets on the 40th anniversary of her loss when the USPS issued an S-class submarine stamp in 2000, among others. 

For what it is worth, her killer, the escort Ishigaki, was herself sent to the bottom by the American submarine USS Herring (SS-233) in May 1944.

S-44’s most famous skipper, Dinty Moore, would command Sailfish on that boat’s 6th, 7th, and 8th War Patrols, sinking the Japanese merchant Shinju Maru (3617 GRT) and the Japanese collier Iburi Maru (3291 GRT) in 1943. He would join Admiral Lockwood’s Roll of Honor in 1944 and ultimately retire as a rear admiral in 1958. The Navy Cross holder would pass at age 79 and is buried in Georgia. 

RADM Dinty Moore 11 Oct 1905-10 June 1985.

Of S-44’s five Fore River-built EB-designed sisters, all survived the war and gave a full 20+ years of service in each case. They conducted over 25 patrols, mostly in the West Pac, and claimed a half dozen ships with class leader S-42 being the most successful (besides S-44) with the aforementioned minelayer Okinoshima confirmed as well as an attack on a destroyer logged. All these sisters were paid off just after the war and sold for scrapping or sunk as a target by the end of 1946.

None of the 51 Sugar Boats are preserved. Those ancient bathtubs held the line in ’42-43 during the darkest days of the Pacific War and proved their worth.

The Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee post-war attributed 201 Japanese sunken warships, totaling some 540,192 tons, to American submarines.

Specs:

Displacement: 906 tons surfaced; 1,126 tons submerged
Length: 216 feet wl, 225 feet 3 inches overall
Beam: 20 feet 9 inches
Draft: 16 feet (4.9 m)
Propulsion: 2 × NELSECO diesels, 600 hp each; 2 × Electro-Dynamic electric motors, 750 horsepower each; 120 cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 15 knots surfaced; 11 knots submerged
Bunkerage: 46,363 gal
Range: 5,000 nautical miles at 10 knots surfaced
Test depth: 200 ft.
Crew: 38 (later 42) officers and men
Armament (as built):
4 x 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 10-12 torpedoes)
One 4″/50 deck gun


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Carpetbagger Enfields

In the 1970s and 1980s, Val Forget’s Navy Arms was a go-to in my childhood when it came to catalog dreaming. I used to flip through its pages and plan to pick up assorted Mosins, SKS carbines, Canadian-made Inglish Hi-Powers, and the like for what– even to a kid who collected Tops baseball cards and ate Spaghetti-Os– seemed affordable.

I mean just look at that!

Well, Navy Arms disappeared for a long time but, now based in Martinsburg, West Virginia with Val still associated with it, are back and back with some really cool stuff.

FR F2 Snipers

During the last NRA Annual Meeting in Houston earlier this summer I swung by their booth and checked out their stock of former French Army FR F2 bolt-action sniper rifles, which have long been unobtainable over here.

Good looking gun. Not sure if it is worth $7K, but it is still a good-looking (and rare) piece (Photo: Chris Eger)

Check out the flyer that I scanned:

9-Hole Reviews had a great trial of the FR F2 recently.

French Enfields?

Another thing the Navy Arms guys were talking about in Houston, although they didn’t have any on-hand to show off as they were still clearing Customs, were original World War II No 4 Mk I* Enfields that were dropped to the French partisans (see Operation Carpetbagger which dropped over 20,495 containers and 11,174 packages of vital supplies to the resistance forces in western and northwestern Europe in 1944 and 1945 alone ranging from batteries and radios to guns and explosives) in the lead-up to the Allied invasions of France to drive the Nazis out.

What’s really cool about them is they are all in original condition– complete with original slings and matching bolts– as they were not refurbished or rebuilt after the war, just unloaded, cleaned, and put in deep storage. They also had lots of codes we’ve never seen before (such as “PP,” “BS,” and “BT”) that haven’t been documented.

The flier for the Frenchie Enfields:

Well, it seems Navy Arms has finally gotten those Resistance Enfields. Check out this photo dump:

They have them listed at Old Western Scrounger (another of Val’s companies) with (as of Monday night) about 60 listed with prices ranging from $995-$1375 depending on rarity and condition. 

Kind of a steep price for an Enfield, but when you think about the backstory and condition on these, it may be an interesting addition to the safe.

The Worst Night in U.S. Navy history at 80

USS Quincy (CA-39) photographed from a Japanese cruiser during the Battle of Savo Island, off Guadalcanal, 9 August 1942. Quincy, seen here burning and illuminated by Japanese searchlights, was sunk in this action (NH 50346).

Known today as the Battle of Savo Island British RADM Victor Crutchley’s Task group 62.6 cruiser and destroyer covering force, subordinated under U.S. ADM Richmond K. Turner for the amphibious landings at Guadalcanal, seemed mighty on paper: three Australian and five American cruisers, 15 destroyers, and some minesweepers.

The thing is, most were huddled around the beach and those that weren’t were separated into a number of smaller groups including:

  • Two tin cans on radar picket (USS Blue and USS Ralph Talbot)
  • A Southern cruiser group with the heavy cruisers HMAS Canberra and USS Chicago along with the destroyers USS Bagley and USS Patterson; and…
  • A Northern cruiser group with the heavy cruisers USS Vincennes, USS Quincy, and USS Astoria along with the destroyers USS Helm and USS Wilson.

Running a barricade to defend the landing beaches and ‘phibs, this immediate force of five Allied heavy cruisers and six destroyers– equipped with radar!– seemed a good match for Japanese VADM Gunichi Mikawa’s incoming striking group from Rabaul and Kavieng of five heavy cruisers (Chokai, Aoba, Furutaka, Kako, and Kinugasa) two light cruisers (Tenryu and Yubari) and the destroyer Yunagi.

Seemed.

However, ineffectively deployed into three separate and spread-out forces against Mikawa’s unified squadron, the Australian-American task group was sleepwalking with fatigued crews in the dark without properly using their radar (which was so new that tactics were still being developed for its use) and largely ignoring aerial spotting reports that should have warned the force while the Japanese, skilled in night fighting and armed with formidable Long Lance torpedos, took the Allies out with almost spooky ease, pounded to the seabed while fixed under the gaze of enemy searchlights.

Battle of Savo Island, 9 August 1942. cruisers USS Astoria (CA-34), USS Vincennes (CA-44), USS Quincy (CA 39) shown torpedo attack and shellfire from the Japanese cruisers. by John Hamilton NHHC

Japanese cruiser Yūbari shines searchlights toward the northern force of Allied warships during the battle of Savo island

Heavy cruiser Furutaka during the Battle of Savo Island.

“Night Battle of Savo Island by an unknown Japanese artist.”

In the short pre-dawn hour between 01:31 of 9 August 1942, when Mikawa ordered “Every ship attack” and 02:20 when he ordered them to retire, Vincennes, Quincy, Astoria, and Canberra were all mortally wounded while Chicago and two destroyers were very seriously damaged. Only two Japanese cruisers were damaged but could still make it back to base.

It was a mauling, an execution by large caliber shells at point blank range.

Canberra was hit at least 24 times. Astoria took 65 hits. Vincennes was struck an estimated 74 times. They were the first ships to be sunk in what today is named “Ironbottom Sound.”

HMAS Canberra’s last moments off Savo Island, 9th August 1942

Hits sustained by Astoria at the Battle of Savo Island off Guadalcanal on August 9, 1942

The Allies suffered at least 1,077 killed and missing while the Japanese a mere 58. 

Some 500 no doubt traumatized survivors of the lost American cruisers would be held under Marine guard at Treasure Island for weeks with orders not to talk about the defeat– something that only hit the papers back home nearly three months later. After all, nothing stays secret forever. 

James D. Hornfischer’s Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal, covers this sad tale in great detail. See chapter “The Martyring of Task Group 62.6” in particular.

An interesting conversation on the battle from the Australian point of view– Canberra was the RAN’s largest warship loss in any conflict– the Naval Studies Group at the University of Canberra held a panel of Dr. Greg Gilbert, Vice Admiral Peter Jones, and Dr. Kathryn Spurling to discuss the engagement a few years ago.

And the Tico slaughter begins

When I was a kid growing up in Pascagoula, I remember the sleek and modern Ticonderoga class of Aegis cruisers leaving the ways at Ingalls like clockwork. They were majestic “billion-dollar” ships– back at a time when that meant something– described at the time as floating computers, something akin to being able to “death blossom” like the fictional craft in The Last Starfighter to defeat an incoming wave of Russian Backfire bombers and their cruise missiles. Literally the most lethal and capable surface warships afloat anywhere in the world.

I went to the launching for the class leader when I was in second grade. When the last of 27 left Ingalls for the fleet, I was in college. While in High School, I was on the NJROTC honor guard at the christening of the Cape. St. George (CG-71) and Port Royal (CG-73), and have the coins to prove it. 

While the five first flight ships of the class (Ticonderoga, Yorktown, Vincennes, Valley Forge, and Thomas S. Gates)– those with older MK 26 twin-armed launchers rather than VLS systems– were decommissioned in 2004/2005 after right at 20 years of service, the other 22 Ticos have continued on their regular deployment and upgrade schedules.

Until now, anyway.

This year, five especially high-mileage ships are set for retirement: San Jacinto (CG-56), Monterey (CG-61), Hué City (CG-66), Anzio (CG-68), Vella Gulf (CG-72), and Port Royal (CG-73), with Vella Gulf being the first to lay off her crew.

Commissioned on 18 September 1993, the Ingalls-built Vella Gulf was decommissioned at Norfolk on 4 August 2022, just a few weeks shy of her 29th year in the fleet.

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) is decommissioned in Norfolk. Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jacob Milham

Ironically, she was decommissioned a week prior to the 80th anniversary of the Guadalcanal campaign’s beginning at the Battle of Savo Island. Of course, the ship was named in commemoration of the August 1943 Battle of Vella Gulf that saw six American destroyers successfully disrupt the Imperial Japanese Navy’s supply lines without taking a single casualty or damage from enemy fire. It was a decisive victory for the United States and a repudiation of the legacy of Savo.

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