Category Archives: military history

Texan Warming Up

80 Years Ago: A North American SNJ-4 Texan trainer aircraft warms up. The photograph was released on December 5, 1942.

Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.80-G-22075

Dubbed the AT-6 by the Army and the Havard by Commonwealth forces, the Navy used the “J-Bird” as an all-purpose trainer for instrument flight, aerobatics, bombing, and gunnery, acquiring the first 40 in 1936 and then keeping them in the field as late as the mid-1950s.

Many of these wore a distinctive high-viz “chrome” paint livery, giving them the nickname of “yellow perils.” 

View of SNJ-6B Texans on the flight line at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Barin Field in 1954 Foley

NATC Pensacola, NAAS Barin Field, Foley Alabama. 1943. Rare image of this period. Notice the mixture of national insignias on the SNJs.

If it was not for the thousands of these humble trainers on hand to school future naval aviators at Pensacola and elsewhere, the pilot pipeline for all those beautiful Corsairs, Hellcats, Dauntless, Avengers, and Hellcats that went on to win the Pacific War would have been very narrow indeed.

US Navy SNJ Texan training aircraft making a low-level pass near a three-masted sailing ship Joseph Conrad, built in 1880, photo taken in 1942.

North American production totaled 15,495 of all variants and they have remained durable and popular warbirds in retirement, with over 400 still airworthy in the U.S. alone.

And they went on to fill the void as both Japanese and American carrier aircraft in a number of films. 

A motion picture camera rests on the flight deck during the filming of the ABC-TV movie “War and Remembrance. An SNJ Texan aircraft is in the background. Image from the USNI

Battery X at 80

Via the Army’s Center for Military History and the U.S. Army Women’s Museum:

On 5 May 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, the War Department formed the Military District of Washington (MDW) to plan and execute the ground and anti-aircraft defense of the nation’s capital. As the Army transformed its wartime stateside logistical structure from nine corps areas to the Army Service Forces (ASF) and its subordinate Support Commands, MDW became one of those commands. In its new role, MDW assumed responsibility for supporting the Army Headquarters commandant and the newly-completed Pentagon, in addition to Walter Reed Army Hospital, as well as ceremonial activities in Washington with the U.S. Army Band as a subordinate unit.

General George C. Marshall, began thinking about allowing women to serve in a limited combat role, in assignments to the anti-aircraft units of the Coast Artillery Corps (CAC) in the Continental United States.

In early December 1942, “Battery X” was formed. About 70 Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) members were selected to perform duty in anti-aircraft dugout emplacements. They received six weeks of training as range-finder operators, and in manning (no pun intended) anti-aircraft defenses. These WAACs were the first women in U.S. history to be part of a combat unit and were authorized to wear the branch insignia of the Coast Artillery.

“Battery X” personeel training on a 40mm/60 Bofors

Battery X at Bethany Beach Delaware working with a 90mm M1 AAA battery, 1943

They were expected to train other women to eventually replace male range-finder instrument operators at harbor defense installations in the Continental United States and mixed into the ranks of the 71st and 89th Coastal Artillery Regiments.

Despite the potential it may have unleashed, the experiment proved short-lived, disbanded in August 1943. It remains relatively unknown, not even declassified until the 1970s.

In more detail:

In the experiment, General George C. Marshall and Colonel Oveta Hobby hand-picked eleven WAC officers and fifty-eight enlisted women to compose the WAC component of Battery X, and the two complimented units worked around the clock in three 8-hour shifts to operate the M1A1 90mm heavy antiaircraft gun batteries and their supporting radar stations. The experiment ran from February to August 1943, when the experiment concluded with a radar tracking and gun-laying test on Bethany Beach, Delaware. In the concluding test, the WACs used radar to aim the connected 90mm gun at a moving target attached to a B-17 heavy bomber. This test was deemed to be successful by General Marshall and Colonel Hobby, though the units were quickly disbanded for other roles in other theaters. The WACs served until the end of the war, where most enlisted women were discharged from service and resumed their civilian lives. Others continued serving in the WACs, creating the core of the peacetime WAC organization.

Seabee Technical

30 years ago this month: Members of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion FORTY (NMCB 40)’s Air Detail drive through the streets of Mogadishu shortly after their arrival in Somalia, December 1992.

Dig the M16A1s and the Milverado

As noted by the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, “The Seabees established base camps at each of the humanitarian relief sites and provided construction support to U.S. and Coalition Forces during Operation Restore Hope. They also built and repaired schools and orphanages for local Somalian children.”

Nicknamed “Fighting Forty,” NMCB 40 was formed 6 November 1942 and carved facilities out of raw Pacific foliage throughout WWII– earning an Army Distinguished Unit Citation while attached to the 1st Cavalry Division– then continued its mission in Vietnam and the Cold War. Then came a series of deployments throughout the GWOT.

Based out of Port Hueneme, California, it was decommissioned on 12 September 2012.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

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, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives, 80-G-216014.

Above we see the lead ship of her class, the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans (CA-32) camouflaged at Tulagi in the then hotly contested Solomon Islands, shortly after she was torpedoed during the Battle of Tassafaronga on 30 November 1942– some 80 years ago today. Note that her stern is riding high and that her forward end is low in the water as the Japanese Type 93 Long Lance she caught had severed her bow between # 1 and # 2 eight-inch gun turrets, killing 182 men and lopping off almost a fifth of her length.

About the class

Classified as the “Second Generation of Treaty Cruisers” by Friedman who has an entire chapter on the subject in his USNI Press U.S. Cruisers book– a bible on the subject– the seven New Orleans class vessels came after America flirted with the more cramped and often extremely lightly armored Pensacola class (Pensacola and Salt Lake City) Portland class (Portland and Indianapolis), and Northampton-class (Northampton, Chester, Louisville, Chicago, Augusta, and Houston) cruisers. For reference, the P-colas, which carried 518 tons of armor, had just 4-inches of armor at their thickest, with just a maximum of 2.5 inches on their turret face and 1.25 inches on the conning tower, making them vulnerable to 5-inch shells and derided as being “tin clads” or “eggshell” cruisers.

Some 588 feet overall with a 61-foot beam, the New Orleans class carried 1,507 tons of protection (three times as much as Pensacola) and ran a belt and central conning tower that carried up to five inches of plate while the thickest parts of the turret faces went eight, making them capable of withstanding hits from the 8-inch shells of the day– if they were fired from far enough away.

In a further improvement, while carrying nine 8″/55 Mark 9 main guns of the same type as the previous U.S. Treaty heavy cruisers, the New Orleanses carried them in better-designed turrets with more room and would be upgraded during the war to Mark 12, 14, or 15 guns.

8-inch guns of the New Orleans-class cruiser USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), Norfolk, VA. December 1940

As noted by Friedman concisely, “The New Orleans class represented a shift in U.S. cruiser priorities toward protection, gained in part because of a determined use of the entire available treaty tonnage.”

Speaking to which, while rated as 10,000 tons on paper– in line with the Washington Naval treaty limits– during WWII they pushed almost 13,000 when fully loaded and carrying scores of AAA guns for which they weren’t designed. By comparison, the standard weight of the 585-foot P-Colas and 600-foot Northamptons were just 9,138 and 8,997 tons, respectively, leaving a lot of treaty weight on the table.

USS New Orleans artist impression by I.R. Lloyd, circa early 1930s NH 664

USS New Orleans (CA-32) builder’s model, photographed circa 1936. NH 45123 and NH 45122.

Earlier heavy cruisers USS Salt Lake City (CA-25) and USS Pensacola (CA-24), left, alongside USS New Orleans (CA-32) to the right, seen nested together at Pearl Harbor, 31 October 1943. Ford Island is at the left, with USS Oklahoma (BB-37) under salvage at the extreme left, just beyond Salt Lake City’s forward superstructure. Note the radar antennas, gun directors, and eight-inch guns on these three heavy cruisers as well as how much different their bridges, turrets, and masts are. The rounded roofs of early Mark 9 twin and triple turrets of USS Salt Lake City and USS Pensacola contrast greatly with the later turrets of USS New Orleans on the right.80-G-264236

They also had extensive floatplane facilities including two catapults and a large hangar, with corresponding avgas bunkerage and aviation magazines. They typically operated up to four Seagulls, though the number of catapults and extremely dangerous gasoline stores were whittled down late in the war and only a pair of floatplanes carried.

New Orleans class mate USS Quincy (CA-39) looking forward over the boat deck from the secondary conn over her hangar, while the ship was at the New York Navy Yard after her last overhaul, 29 May 1942. Crude # 1 in white circle (center) marks the location of the 5″/25cal loading practice machine. Other notable items includeboats and boat cradle in foreground; four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes atop the catapults; crated food piled by the after smokestack; and USS Marblehead (CL-12) at left. NHHC 19-N-30725

 

Curtiss SOC Seagull scout-observation aircraft leaves the port catapult of a New Orleans-class heavy cruiser, circa 1942

Our subject

The Mississippi River city of New Orleans, the site of two different battles in 1815 and 1862, had previously lent her name to a ship-of-the-line that was begun the same year as the former and sold while still in the stocks over 20 years past the latter.

Then came a protected cruiser — laid down by Armstrong in England as Amazonas for the Brazilian Navy— that was rushed into service in 1898 and would remain in the line through the Great War. 

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans (later PG 34 and CL 22), port bow. Reproduction of a painting by Koerner & Hayes, circa 1897-98.

As such, our cruiser is the only the second USS New Orleans to reach the fleet. Laid down on 14 March 1931 at the New York Navy Yard, she was commissioned on 15 February 1934.

A great pre-war shot of the USS New Orleans shows her profile. NH 660

Her brief peacetime period took her as far as Scandinavia, a showboat for the Navy and the country before finding herself increasingly after 1936 in Pacific waters.

May 1934– heavy cruiser USS New Orleans at Stockholm along with the pansarskeppet Gustav V Sverige. Marinemuseet Fo39197

A superb image of USS New Orleans (CA-32) in English waters, in about June 1934. Note her gunnery clock and no less than four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes on her catapults. Photographed by Wright & Logan, Southsea, England. Donation of Captain Joseph Finnegan, USN (Retired), 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 71787

USS New Orleans (CA-32) in port, circa 1937. Note the broad band painted on her after smokestack, probably a recognition feature. NH 50757

Cruiser USS NEW ORLEANS (CA-32) under St John Bridge, Portland

War!

In it from the very first bullet, on 7 December 1941, New Orleans was moored at Berth 16, Navy Yard Pearl Harbor undergoing engine repairs on shore power.

As noted by her report of the attack:

At 0757 sighted enemy planes “dive bombing” Ford Island and went to General Quarters immediately. At 0805 sighted enemy torpedo planes on port quarter flying low across our stern. Rifle fire and Pistol fire was opened from our fantail as the first planes flew by to launch their torpedoes at the battleships. This ship saw several planes launch their torpedoes headed in the direction of the battleships. Our 1.1/75 battery and Machine Guns aft were manned in time to actually fire at three or four enemy planes passing our stern. About 0810 all batteries, except the 8″ battery, were in action engaging such enemy planes a presented themselves as targets.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 9 February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor. NH 97846

Lightly damaged– her crew found no less than 29 small holes in her above water-line hull and superstructure due to flying fragments but she suffered no casualties– with the Pacific Fleet’s battleships out of service, she was soon expected to fill the gap along with her sisters.

She was soon escorting convoys throughout the South Pacific and screened the carrier USS Yorktown at Coral Sea (taking 580 of Lexington’s survivors off) in May, USS Enterprise at Midway in June, and was standing by USS Saratoga at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942.

USS New Orleans underway during exercises in Hawaiian waters, 8 July 1942. This was just weeks after Midway, where she screened Enterprise. Note the extensive float nets and rafts on her superstructure and turrets. 80-G-10115

When Sara was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, New Orleans spent almost 12 weeks escorting the precious flattop back to Pearl, waiting for her to be repaired (and picking up more AAA guns of her own), then escorting her back to the Solomons.

As the Japanese had fought a string of cruiser/destroyer vs cruiser/destroyer night actions at Savo Island in August (with three of New Orleans’s sisters– Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes— lost in minutes), Cape Esperance in October (Salt Lake City lost) and Guadalcanal in November (Portland and sister San Francisco seriously damaged) in which the U.S. attrition rate when it came to heavy cruisers became untenable, it was inevitable that New Orleans would soon find herself in a scrap. One that would be the last large surface ship clash of the Solomons campaign.

This brings us to…

Tassafaronga!

RADM Carleton H. Wright’s Task Force 67– including the heavy cruisers USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Northampton (CA-24), and USS Pensacola (CA-26), the light cruiser USS Honolulu (CL-48) and the destroyers USS Drayton (DD-366), USS Fletcher (DD-445), USS Maury (DD-401), USS Perkins (DD-377), USS Lamson (DD-367), and USS Lardner (DD-487)— had a rendezvous with destiny when it acted against a partially surprised and all-around inferior (on paper) Japanese “Tokyo Express” force of RADM Raizō Tanaka’s eight cargo-burdened destroyers of the IJN’s DesRon2 on the night of November 30, 1942, on the surface of Iron Bottom Sound near Lunga Point.

It went…badly.

As described by the National Museum of the Navy:

U.S. force of five cruisers and six destroyers intercepted eight Japanese destroyers bringing reinforcements to Guadalcanal and were crippled by a brilliantly executed Japanese torpedo counterattack. Heavy cruiser Northampton was sunk, while Pensacola, New Orleans, and Minneapolis were badly damaged. The Japanese only lost the destroyer Takanami. In this action, the last of the Guadalcanal campaign’s five major surface battles, the Japanese once again demonstrated their tactical superiority at night. The Navy was learning though, as would be demonstrated in 1943.

It turned out that, while the New Orleans class had better armor than the first generation of American Treaty Cruisers, they suffered from a lack of below-waterline protection and dramatic bow loss ran in the family, at least at Tassafaronga.

Sister Minneapolis, who scored many of the hits on Takanami, took two torpedo hits from Japanese destroyers, one on the port bow, the other in her number two fireroom, and her bow collapsed.

USS Minneapolis (CA-36). En route to Pearl Harbor for repairs, circa January 1943. She had lost her bow when hit by Japanese torpedoes during the Battle of Tassafaronga, off Guadalcanal on 30 November 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, 80-G-44544.

New Orleans also took her lumps.

Detailed from DANFS:

When flagship Minneapolis was struck by two torpedoes, New Orleans, next astern, was forced to sheer away to avoid collision, and ran into the track of a torpedo which ripped off her bow. Bumping down the ship’s port side, the severed bow punched several holes in New Orleans’ hull. A fifth of her length gone, slowed to 2 knots, and blazing forward, the ship fought for survival. Individual acts of heroism and self-sacrifice along with skillful seamanship kept her afloat, and under her own power she entered Tulagi Harbor near daybreak on 1 December.

For New Orleans, her Battle Damage Report is stark:

  1. During the night of 30 November 1942, NEW ORLEANS was a unit of a task force which engaged a Japanese force in the action subsequently named the Battle of Lunga Point. NEW ORLEANS, firing with her main battery and steaming at 20 knots, had just started to swing to the right to avoid MINNEAPOLIS when a torpedo struck the port bow in way of turret I and detonated.
  2. The torpedo detonation was followed immediately by a second and much heavier detonation. As a result, the bow, including turret I, was severed almost completely between turrets I and II. It swung out to port and tore loose, probably due to the starboard swing of the ship. It then floated aft and banged against the port side. Holes were torn in the shell at frames 53, 130 and 136 and the port inboard propeller was wrecked.

That secondary explosion was later determined to be from one of New Orleans’s aviation bomb and mine magazine, A-502-1/8-M, which “contained the 160-pound demolition charge and forty-nine 100-pound bombs” and that of an adjacent small arms magazine, A-502-M, which contained five 325-pound depth bombs.

From her battle damage report

She limped into Tulagi some eight hours after the battle and remained there shoring up her bow with coconut logs under a camo net for 11 days.

Port bow view as she entered Tulagi harbor about 8 hours after being struck by a torpedo, 1 December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA-32) under camouflage at Tulagi, December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA 32) Cruiser shown soon after the battle. 80-G-44447

Minneapolis did much the same, with the help of Seabees. 

New Orleans then slowly sailed for Sydney, Australia, arriving on Christmas Eve 1942, her crew finally getting some much-needed rest. She would remain there until March, when, after a temporary stub bow was fitted in dry dock, she left for Puget Sound and arrived on the West Coast on 3 April 1943 after stops at Pago Pago and Pearl Harbor

USS New Orleans (CA 32) comes into the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, for a new bow after battling with Japanese warships in Southwest Pacific. In this view, she is almost ready for joining to a new bow. The photograph was released 11 January 1944. 80-G-44448

USS New Orleans (CA-32) steams through a tight turn in Elliot Bay, Washington, on 30 July 1943, following battle damage repairs and overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. She is likely “creating a slick” for recovering a sea plane– making a smooth patch of becalmed water for the aircraft to land upon. NH 97847

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, following battle damage repairs and overhaul, 5 August 1943. NH 97848

Back in the fight

After post-rebuild workups, New Orleans sailed 5-6 October 1943 with RADM Alfred E. Montgomery’s Task Force 14 to shell Japanese-occupied Wake Island.

Wake Island Raid, October 1943. A heavy cruiser’s 8-inch guns bombard Wake, as seen from USS Minneapolis (CA-36), 5 October 1943. The two following ships are (in no particular order): USS San Francisco (CA-38) and USS New Orleans (CA-32). National Archives photograph, 80-G-81973

New Orleans would also help support Allied landings at Hollandia and the invasion of the Marianas.

Saipan Invasion, June 1944. Units of Cruiser Division SIX bombard Saipan on 14-15 June 1944. The nearest ship is USS New Orleans (CA-32). Beyond her is the light cruiser USS St. Louis (CL-49). 80-G-K-1774

She would lend her increased AAA batteries to help swat down Japanese aircraft during the Battle of the Philippine Sea while revisiting her old days of screening carriers. Then came the big shows in the Philippines and at Iwo Jima.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 8 March 1945. The city of Vallejo is in the background. Note the ship’s welded bow structure (forward of her second 8/55 triple gun turret). This replaced her original riveted construction bow, which was lost during the Battle of Tassafaronga at the end of November 1942. Circles mark recent alterations to the ship. 19-N-80232

A rare shot at the same time and place as the above that shows her hangar open. Note that her portside catapult has been landed by this time in her career.

After a final wartime refit at Mare Island, she was back at it, hammering Japanese positions at Okinawa and was at Subic Bay when hostilities ceased.

After supporting the post-war occupation of Korea and Manchuria, she made two trips back stateside on Magic Carpet missions returning Pacific War vets to the U.S. Arriving at Philadelphia Navy Yard in March 1946, she spent an 11-month period preparing for mothballs and was decommissioned 10 February 1947.

She had earned 17 battle stars for her war– tying for third most in the theater– and gained a new bow.

From her nine-page War History in the National Archives.

Of her seven-ship class, only four were still in commission on VJ Day and three of those were so grievously damaged in action against the Japanese off Guadalcanal that they had to be extensively rebuilt. Only sister USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), which had “luckily” fought most of her war in the ETO, was never damaged in battle.

The remainder of the New Orleans class in the 1946 edition of Janes.

Cruisers and other warships laid up in the Philadelphia Yard Reserve Fleet Basin, circa 1947. The outboard ship in the left group is USS St. Louis (CL-49). Ships in the background include (in no order): USS San Francisco (CA-38), USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Louisville (CA-28), and USS Portland (CA-33). Courtesy of “All Hands” magazine. Catalog NH 92254

After spending 12 years along Philly’s red lead row, the vaunted USS New Orleans had her name struck from the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and was sold for scrapping on 22 September 1959 to the Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md. Similar fates were met by her three remaining sisters at the same time.

Epilogue

Our cruiser was remembered by the (apparently now defunct) USS New Orleans Reunion Association and most of her war diaries along with some architectural and engineering drawings are digitized in the National Archives.

Her ship’s bell– presented to the cruiser by the Louisiana State Museum in 1933– is on display in New Orleans City Hall, just outside the Mayor’s Office.

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has other artifacts including a piece of the coconut log shoring from Tulagi.

With the old New Orleans sent to the breakers, the Navy soon recycled her name for a new Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship commissioned in 1968 and would go on to serve three decades.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans (LPH-11) underway in San Diego Bay, California (USA), on 16 June 1988. AH-1 Cobra, CH-53E Sea Stallion, and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters line the flight deck. In the background is the submarine tender USS McKee (AS-41) and the submarine rescue ship USS Florikan (ASR-9). Date 16 June 1988. NH 107677-KN

Then came the Ingalls-built USS New Orleans (LPD-18), a massive 25,000-ton San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, commissioned in the Crescent City in 2007 and still in service.

The U.S. Navy (Pre-Commissioned Unit) San Antonio Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) sails beneath the Huey P. Long Bridge as it moves on the Mississippi River towards New Orleans, La., on March 5, 2007, in preparation for its commissioning ceremony on March 10, 2007. MCS Kurt Eischen, USN.


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First Antarctic Pistol Tournament

The Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB 10), earlier this month departed to support the annual joint military service mission called Operation Deep Freeze (OpDFrz or ODF), a mission that involves traveling to Antarctica to break miles of ice up to 21 feet thick in the regular push to resupply McMurdo Station.

Deep Freeze I was held back in 1955-56 and involved a full task force (TF43)  under RADM Richard E. Byrd himself, consisting of three (well-armed) icebreakers, three freighters, and three tankers.

With that in mind, check out this great shot of the “First Antarctic Pistol Tournament,” held during Deep Freeze II, some 65 years ago.

Original caption: “The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) sponsors the first pistol tournament ever held in the Antarctic (January 20, 1957).”

Note Northwind’s twin 5″/38 DP mount. Commissioned 28 July 1945, “The Grand Old Lady of the North” had a 44-year career, a span of time recently bested by Polar Star, which celebrated her 46th anniversary earlier this year. Photo: National Archives NAID: 205581182

From the back of the image:

Chilled thumbs pull the triggers at targets lined up in ice 7 feet thick at Helleric Sound. Probably the most unusual setting in the history of match shooting, this was one of those rare Antarctic days with the atmosphere crystal clear, the temperature hovering around 26 degrees, a light breeze of six knots bloating down from the ranges of Victoria Land. The intensity of the sun’s reflection on the snow makes it necessary for the shooters to wear dark gloves. Competitors were divided into groups, of Old-Timers and TYROs. Old-Timers included all NRA (National Rifle Association) card holders handicapped according to their classifications. TYRO entries were limited to non-NRA members who had qualified with the .45 caliber pistol over Services qualification courses. At this time the Northwind lay moored at McMurdo Sound where she had been helping the Navy cargo ship Towle (visible at the stern of the icebreaker) unload cargo for the Williams Air Operation Facility located five miles away.

A close-up detail shows the firing line equipped with what look to be new Smith & Wesson Model 41s or, more likely, High Standard Victors, both popular with Bullseye target shooters of the era for 25 and 50m work.

So I went to see Devotion…

I weighed in last week on the behind-the-scenes attention to detail of the new J. D. Dillard/Erik Messerschmidt Sony Pictures war biopic Devotion, focusing on the too-short life of Ens. Jesse Leroy Brown and his “Fighting Swordsmen” wingman, Lt. (j.g) Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who flew side-by-side at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.

1950 photo of Fighting 32 (VF 32) ahead of USS Leyte’s Med deployment that soon became a Korean combat tour

If you missed that, the production went all-out, leasing real MiG-15s, F4U Corsairs, A-1 Skyraiders, and F8F Bearcats, then constructing an Essex-class straight deck carrier in a field to put them all on for static shots.

I mean, Dillard is the son of a Blue Angel and his first memory is touching the nose of his dad’s just-landed F-18– so what do you expect?

Said the director on his use of these vintage war birds:

It was by far the most meticulous part of the filmmaking process, but it was important to me aesthetically that we put as much realism in front of the camera as we could. There aren’t even enough of these period planes still flying to fill the skies in the way that we wanted to. But what we always prioritized is that the action happening closest to the camera was practical. That 17th plane, half a mile off, can totally be CGI. But the plane flying very close to the camera is a real Corsair painted with the real squadron’s letters and numbers, and there are real stunt pilots in those planes, executing real maneuvers. That was very important to me and ultimately worth the prep and the planning.

And, besides tapping in actor Glen Powell– who played the cocky “Hangman,” the modern Iceman substitute in the new Maverick movie– Dillard also used the same aerial photography team that worked on that project but with the benefit of fewer restrictions.

“I joke that they spent 200-plus million dollars on R&D, then came to work with us,” Dillard says. And since his film didn’t use modern U.S. Navy planes, he had more freedom. “There is significantly less red tape when you want to take that plane 15 feet over the water at more than 100 miles an hour and photograph it, which at one point we did,” he says. “There are also technical differences in photographing those aircraft… As a small example, you can’t put a camera directly behind an F-18, because there’s jet blast. But we could sit our camera plane right on the tail of the Corsair because it has a propeller — you’re not worried about the camera melting from the afterburner.”

With this lead-up, how could I NOT go see the movie on opening night last week?

I can report that it was a good film, that should be seen on the biggest screen possible to drink it in, full of amazing and unique warbird shots. As far as the plot, it is based on a true story and they stick to most of the real details with only minor deviations. The dialog was a little hokey at times but certainly not any worse than that seen in other modern war films.

As Brown was the first African-American U.S. Navy officer killed in action, he has long deserved a decent film telling his story and this is it. Going past that, it is entertaining and, while circling back to the racial elephant in the room several times, doesn’t make it the prime driving point of the film. I’m no movie rater but if you had to ask me, I’d give it at least an 8 out of 10 overall.

If you have some time to kill, you could find worse ways to spend two hours.

Perhaps it will lead to Brown getting a destroyer named after him. 

Speaking of which.

Welcome home, Hudner

Of interest, the SURFLANT-tasked Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116), commissioned in 2018, just returned this weekend from the inaugural deployment of the Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group.

As detailed by the ship’s social media page:

-We sailed 15,148 miles,
-Conducted 7 replenishments at sea,
-Set 8 Sea and Anchor details
-Completed 2 Straits Transits
-Saw winds as high as 52 knots,
-Completed 78 flight quarters,
-Inducted 4 new Chief Petty Officers,
-Qualified 3 new Officers of the Deck, 2 new Tactical Action Officers, and 8 new Engineering Officers of the Watch
– Expended 52,266 rounds of ammo,
– Passed 1 Engineering Certification,
– Visited 2 new countries,
And made countless memories along the way.

    Chilly Turkey Day, 80 Years Ago

    Official caption: “Thanksgiving Day Exercises For Men Of 2nd Service Group in Air Force Engineering Shop At An Airfield Somewhere In Iceland. 26 November 1942.”

    (U.S. Air Force Number 75406AC) Via NARA 

    Note the mix of leather flight jackets, utilities, overalls, and field dress, with Brodie helmets and gas masks on the wall at the ready. Also, note the proximity of the wood stove– essential on the wind-swept outpost in winter.

    Snow Scene At 2nd Service Group Airfield, Reykjavik, Iceland. Note The Douglas A-20 ‘Miss Carolina’ To The Left. 30 November 1942. (U.S. Air Force Number 75412AC) via NARA 

    When the U.S. arrived in Iceland in the summer of 1941— months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and while still ostensibly neutral– to take over the occupation of the Danish colony from the British, the USAAF soon flew in elements of the 33d Pursuit Squadron (P-40s), 9th Bomber Squadron (H)(A-20s), and 1st Observation Squadron to relieve the RAF’s own force (one squadron of 15 Wellington bombers, a flight of Hurricane fighters, a Norwegian squadron of 6 Northrop reconnaissance float planes, and 30 utility planes) for use elsewhere. It was the 2nd SG that supported these operations, part of a force that would grow to almost 30,000 Allied troops by 1943.

    Notably, the USAAF achieved its first Army Air Forces aerial victory in the European theater on 14 August 1942 when Iceland-based fighters shot down a Luftwaffe FW- 200 C-4 Condor.

    Meanwhile, the Navy’s VP-73 (PBY Catalinas) and VP-74 (PBM Mariners) would set up operations at Keflavik in August 1941 (and stay there for a while!)

    Warship Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022: Black Sea David and Goliath

    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, Nov. 23, 2022: Black Sea David and Goliath

    Above we see about half of the crew of the 97-ton Bulgarian torpedo boat Drazki (a name also seen in the West as Druzki, Drzki, and Drsky), some 110 years ago this week after they seriously damaged the fine 4,000-ton British-built Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye at the Battle of Kaliakra during the Balkan Wars, one of the best examples of a humble torpedo-armed fast attack craft landing a confirmed and debilitating hit on a much larger enemy warship. Note the shrapnel hole in Drazki’s aft stack.

    The Early Bulgarian Navy

    Founded on 13 January 1899 as the first modern maritime arm of what was then the Principality of Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Navy was cut from whole cloth with a dash of assistance from German, French, and Russian naval experts. Just a dozen years old at the start of the eight-month First Balkan War with Turkey, in which Bulgaria was allied in the Balkan League with Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro against the “Sick Old Man of Europe,” the Bulgar fleet was tiny by all comparisons.

    In fact, it fits on a single page of Jane’s Fighting Ships with lots of white space left over.

    Besides a couple of armed coasters, spar-torpedo launches, and river gunboats, the Bulgarian Navy could count just the French Chantier-built “cruiser” Nadezhda (715t, 2×4″ guns, 17 kts) — a craft that held the first Bulgarian wireless telegraph station and doubled as a royal yacht– and six Schneider & Creusot-built Drazki-class torpedo boats (Drazki, Smeli/Smyeli, Hrabri/Khrabri, Shumni, Letyashti, Strogi) and which had been shipped to Varna in sections and assembled there by the Bulgars in 1907-08.

    Bulgarian Drazki class boats under assembly via Varna Maritime Museum

    The six 124-foot Drazki boats used a pair of Temple/Norman water-tube boilers trunked into two stacks to generate 2,000 shp on their sole VTE engine, capable of making turns for 26 knots on a single screw. Armament was three torpedo tubes– one in the bow, two on a stern turnstile directed to opposing sides, with no reloads– and two 3-pounder (47mm) Schneider M1902 low-angle guns arranged port and starboard behind the closet-sized wheelhouse. capable of floating in just under nine feet of water, they were ideal for littoral combat.

    With a normal coal supply of 11 tons, they could steam for 500 miles at 16 knots. However, they could overload with as much as 27 tons of coal, stretching their legs past 1,000.

    As it turned out, the Battle of Kaliakra, fought some 30 miles from Varna, would be the first fleet action for the Bulgarian Navy when, on 21/22 November 1912 (Nov. 7/8 Gregorian), the Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye (commanded by Hussein Rauf Bey) and two destroyers were escorting a convoy of two cargo ships from Constantinople to Constanta and, presenting the Bulgarian fleet an ultimatum to surrender the next morning, the Bulgarians came out to play.

    The Ottoman cruiser (classified as a battleship by the Turks) Hamidiye and its commander, Captain Hüseyin Rauf Bey, early 1900s

    In a running night action with Captain Dimitar Dobrev’s (an officer who has survived the sinking of the Russian cruiser Dmitry Donsky at Tsushima in 1905) torpedo boat squadron consisting of Drazki and three of her sisters– Letyashti, Smeli, and Strogi— the Bulgarians pressed their attacks increasingly closer but failed to make a hit against the big Turk.

    Letyashti, leading the charge with Dobrev aboard, fired and missed at 1,500 feet then pulled away.

    Smeli closed to within 1,000 feet and missed, earning a shrapnel hit that wounded her executive officer.

    Strogi held her fish until she got to within 300 feet, then missed.

    Finally, Drazki, the last in line and last to attack and commanded by Midshipman 1st Class (Acting LT) Georgi Petrov Kupov, closed to within 150-200 feet, effectively point-blank range, and landed a torpedo against Hamidiye. The Turkish armored cruiser was hit in her bow, the explosion opening a 10-foot hole and allowing the Black Sea to flood the vessel. Covered by the Turkish destroyers, Hamidiye, bow almost underwater, was able to retire back home carrying eight dead and 30 wounded with her.

    According to most accounts, it was only the fact that the Black Sea was exceptionally calm that night that the Turkish cruiser didn’t head for the bottom.

    Catching a hit in her stack from the Turkish torpedo boat destroyer screen, Drazki and company would sail back to Varna by dawn and a heroes’ welcome, the Ottoman blockade of the Bulgarian coast effectively broken.

    The photograph of the crews of the torpedo boats that attacked the Turkish cruiser “Hamidiye” on November 8, 1912.

    It would be the only significant Bulgarian naval action of the Balkan Wars and Hamidiye, after repairs, would transition to the Aegean and fight the Greeks.

    Two World Wars, and Beyond

    Drazki and her sisters would, somewhat confusingly, not attempt to block the Romanian Danube River landings during the Second Balkan War in 1913, a task left to a force of four smaller gunboats that, when confronted with a larger Romanian force centered around the gunboat Grivița and backed up by several monitors, elected to scuttle instead.

    When Bulgaria threw its lot in with the Germans and Austrians in 1915– largely to get at Serbia– the Bulgarian Navy was tasked with a mine/counter-mine war with the Russian Black Sea Fleet during the Great War that was heavy with nighttime mine-dropping in Russian-held areas and daytime sweeping in their own. In this, Shumni and Letyashti would be lost.

    In Sept. 1916, Drazki and three of her sisters would conduct a series of battalion-sized amphibious landings against the Romanians, who had just entered the war on the other side– a bit of payback for 1913.

    Meanwhile, the small Bulgarian cruiser Nadezhda, sent to occupy Sevastopol along with the Turko-German fleet in April 1918 following Russia’s withdrawal from the war, would be left there in 1920 and seized by the Reds who eventually scuttled her.

    With the Bulgarian Navy disbanded as part of the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly, the four remaining Drazki class torpedo boats lost their torpedo tubes and became river gunboats as part of the country’s Danube Flotilla– officially under police control for interior counter-smuggling duties, their crews listed as civilians. In this lightened configuration and with a half-bunker of coal, they were able to float in as little as 4.25 feet of freshwater.

    Jane’s 1931 Bulgarian Listing, showing the four remaining Drazki patrol boats.

    By World War II, the Drazkis, thoroughly obsolete, still served as patrol boats.

    Cadets from the Navy of H.V. school on the decks of the patrol boats Hrabri, Smeli and Drazki, port of Varna, 1941

    On 15 October 1942, due to improper storage of powder on board Drazki, she suffered an explosion and sank at the quay in Varna. Nonetheless, she was soon raised and repaired.

    Smeli would founder at sea in May 1943 while the other three boats were captured by advancing Soviet Red Army forces at Varna on 9 September 1944. Two, Drazki and Hrabri, were placed into Soviet service (‘temporarily requisitioned’) for the remainder of the war (with Drazki picking up the name Ingul and Hrabri as Vychegda), then would be repatriated in July 1945. To comply with the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, they were again disarmed.

    The Bulgarians would keep the three sisters around in one form or another until 1954– an impressive 47-year run for vessels of a type that typically only lasted a decade.

    Epilogue

    Drazki’s daring young skipper during the attack on Hamidiye, LT Georgi Kupov, after leading the above-mentioned amphibious assaults during the 1916 Romanian campaign, became the Bulgarian Navy’s chief of staff in September 1917, a job he held until the navy was dissolved in 1919. During the interwar period, he served as commander of the Danube Flotilla and then taught Astronomy and Spherical Trigonometry at the country’s Maritime School until 1944 when the Soviets arrested him although he was soon released.

    Георги Петров Купов. He passed in 1959, aged 74, and is well-remembered in Bulgaria

    Ironically, Hamidiye, which had been seized by the British for seven years as part of the Treaty of Sèvres after the end of the Great War, was returned to Turkish service in 1925 and would solder on as a training cruiser through 1947. 

    The Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye. She would only be scrapped in 1966 after a spell as a museum ship.

    Speaking of which, in 1957, it was decided by the People’s Republic of Bulgaria to preserve Drazki as a museum ship for her role in 1912 but, as the three ships had largely been dismantled, the current ship that carries the legacy is mostly the hull of Strogi with the topside of Drazki and parts of Hrabri.

    Kupov, 72 at the time, was present at her grand opening.

    She looks good for all the Frankenstein nature of her current form, maintained by the Varna Maritime Museum.

    And, importantly, her Battle of Kaliakra-perforated stack endures.

    Druzki and the Battle of Kaliakra have been a favorite subject for Bulgarian illustrators over the years.

    The Bulgarian Navy recycled her name at least twice, once in 1950 for a guardship (strazhevik) and then in 2004 for the Wielingen-class frigate Wandelaar, which was acquired that year after the Belgian Navy retired her.

    BLACK SEA (May 14, 2017) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79), background, and the Bulgarian navy frigate Drazki (F41) conduct maneuvers during a passing exercise. Oscar Austin is on a routine deployment supporting U.S. national security interests in Europe and increasing theater security cooperation and forward naval presence in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean Spratt/Released) 170514-N-AX546-1037


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    They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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    Echohawk

    The 45th Infantry (“Thunderbird”) Division Museum in Oklahoma recently shared a gripping series of combat drawings by Brummett Echohawk.

    An unofficial war artist, Echohawk was a Pawnee, Kit-Kahaki (warrior band) and “saw the elephant” firsthand as an infantryman with the 45th’s 179th Infantry Regiment, earning the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart (3), after enlisting in the Oklahoma National Guard in 1940 at age 18.

    His outfit was filled with depression-era cowboys, farmers, and more than a thousand Native Americans– recently brought back into the attention of many due to the recent Liberator series on Netflix– with Echohawk and William Lasley, a Potawatomie, leading a successful charge at Anzio Beach to take the “Factory” which insured that the Allied toe-hold at Anzio Beach was secure.

    A number of his drawings made it into wartime publications.

    The Thunderbirds suffered 26,449 casualties in 230 days of combat across Europe, some 187.7 percent of its authorized strength.

    As for Echohawk, he went on to become a well-recognized artist specializing in Western and Native themes and is well-exhibited at the Gilcrease Museum and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center.

    Trail of Tears, by Brummett Echohawk, black, and whitewash, 1957 via the Gilcrest

    SGT Echohawk passed at age 83 in 2006 and is buried in Pawnee’s Highland Cemetery.

    For more information, visit the Echohawk Project and pick up his books, including Drawing Fire: A Pawnee, Artist, and Thunderbird in World War II.

    Tesla’s Fever Dream: Killer Kayaks

    From the spark that was Nikolai Tesla wowing the crowds of New York’s Madison Square Garden with his four-foot long, steel-hulled, radio-controlled boat (patented in 1898) and his follow-on “dirigible wireless torpedo,” we are now going on 125 years of unmanned surface and subsurface vehicles, with an easy bent towards using them in warfare.

    With stops at the German Fernlenkboot (FL) of the Great War and the Italian Motoscafo da Turismo (MTS) unmanned explosive motorboats of WWII, today’s maritime lingering/loitering USV munition has been well proven in the Black Sea.

    Following up on the dramatic attack late last month on the Russian 4,000-ton Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate Admiral Makarov and smaller Natya-class minesweeper Ivan Golubets by Ukrainian USVs more information on these “killer kayaks” have surfaced including an excellent photo essay that has popped up on Reddit of no less than a half-dozen of these little black boats under construction and testing, including design details and the mix of commercial-off-the-shelf components and local supplies (Rotax 3-cylinder engines from a Canadian Sea Doo jet ski– which only run about $2-3K each— a Starlink receiver, old Warsaw Pact-era contact exploders, et. al).

    Like Tesla’s boat, they are low-lying and relatively deep of hull for stability

    Note they appear to be arranged on portable launching cradles that can be reused.

    H.I. Sutton over at Covert Shores, who has been covering these boats since the beginning, has compiled this rough specs list for these crafts which reportedly cost a bargain of just $250K each (as opposed to an MK-48 Mod6 torpedo which runs $10m in its current format):

    Length: 5.5 meters
    Full weight: up to 1,000 kg
    Operational radius: up to 400 km
    Range: up to 430 NM (800 km)
    Autonomy: up to 60 hours
    Combat load: up to 200 kg
    Max speed: 43 knots (80 km/h)
    Navigation methods: automatic GNSS, inertial, visual
    Video transmission: up to 3 HD video streams
    Crypto protection: 256-bit encryption

    Odds are, Tesla can feel the connection.

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