Category Archives: military history

Vale, Idriss Déby, Emir of the Toyota Wars

The Chadian government last week reported that recently reelected six-time president (!) Idriss Déby, 68, died of injuries following clashes with rebels in the north of the country at the weekend. Deby’s son, leader of the Presidental Guard, has been installed as the country’s leader.

The Deby government came to power in 1990 as part of a military coup while he was head of the military. Although we aren’t in the habit of celebrating African authoritarian strongmen, it should be noted that Deby was a legend of asymmetric warfare.

He was the head of the Chadian National Armed Forces (FANT) during the Toyota Wars of the 1980s.

Trained in a series of French officer schools to include the prestigious École de Guerre, Deby’s Mad Max-style troopers pulled off a French-funded Deserts Rats-esque campaign against Gaddafi’s set-piece Libyan armored columns in Chad’s northern deserts, pitting 400 Milan- and machine gun-armed technicals against T-54s– and coming out on top. 

Since literally taking office 30 years ago, Deby has remained a big friend to Paris in backing up the old colonizer’s fight against Islamists on the Continent and setting up Chad as the model of stability in the region. 

With that, there should be no surprise that France– who has long looked the other way on Chad’s intermittent border clashes with Nigeria– is supporting the Chadian military’s seizure of power following Deby’s death on the battlefield.

Speaking of which…

Chad and France have a unique bond that goes back to WWII.

On 26 August 1940, just two months after the fall of metropolitan France to the Axis, Chad was the first French territory in Africa to break with the Vichy government and join De Gaulle’s Free French movement.

With the blessing of colonial governor Felix Ebouse and Lt. Col Pierre Marchand, commander of the Senegalese infantry regiment of Chad (Régiment de Tirailleurs Sénégalais du Tchad, RTST), the local unit, DeGaulle sent a young Major Philippe Hauteclocque (under the nom de guerre, Leclerc) who handpicked a column of 400 to strike out from the colony against the key oasis of Koufra in Italian Libya in January 1941 to aid the British push in the Western Desert.

1940 uniform of Régiment de Tirailleurs Sénégalais du Tchad, via the Musee d’la Armee

Free French infantryman, a native of the Chad colony, who was awarded the Croix de Guerre, 1942 for combat in North Africa. Note the tribal face scars, British helmet, and fouled anchor insignia common to French colonial troops (NARA)

Leclerc’s truck-borne unit, augmented by some old armored cars and a couple of 75mm guns, kicked the Italian Sahariana di Cufra around the desert for two months and, upon victory, which was hugely symbolic to the Free French, Leclerc and his men (some 3/4ths were Africans from Chad), took the so-called “Koufra Oath,” promising not to lay down their arms until the Free French flag flew from the Strasbourg Cathedral.

Fast forward to 23 November 1944 and Leclerc, then general in charge of his own armored division of Sherman tanks and on his way to becoming a Marshal of France, liberated Strasbourg.

The Régiment de Marche du Tchad still exists in the modern French Army today, based in Meyenheim in Alsace, as a mechanized infantry unit of some 1,200 soldiers. 

Keeping that in mind, the odds of the French ever quitting Chad are somewhat lower than zero.

Hitting the Beach: 60 Years Ago Today

Porto Tramazzu, Sardinia: The first assault wave hits Blue Beach, landing the Teufelhunden of the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines (3/6) for an exercise, on April 27, 1961. The assorted LCVPs are from the Bayfield-class attack transport USS Fremont (APA-44) and the Andromeda-class attack cargo ship USS Muliphen (AKA-61/LKA-61).

The 3rd Battalion had just three years prior taken part in the landings in Lebanon and, four years after this image, would go on to take part in the wildly confusing intervention in the Dominican Republic. (National Archives KN-2431 via NHHC)

The scene looks much like the landings during WWII. Heck both Fremont and Muliphen were built during the war as were likely the landing craft, whose hull numbers look right out of D-Day.

Besides the easy propaganda purpose that such shots sent to Moscow during the Cold War, ops like this were also good fodder for camera crews to shoot high-quality B-roll for Hollywood movies on the war, which always helped as recruiting tools. Sure, the Devils are wearing ODs instead of HBTs or frogskins, but Tinsel Town wouldn’t care.

While the concept of such “wet” landings fell rapidly out of popularity with the USMC in favor of vertical envelopment via helicopter during the 1960s and the following on air-cushioned landings by LCAC, the use of landing craft never fully went away and, in the near future, Marines could once again be getting their feet wet more often.

Echoes of Victoria in the Falklands

The Falklands, of course, have a key page in naval history due to the events of 1914 surrounding Graf Spee’s Squadron and an entire chapter involving the events of 1982. However, there is also another, older facet of the Royal Navy that endures in Port Stanley.

From the Falkland Islands Defense Force:

The FIDF, a volunteer Territorial force in the islands, operates two saluting guns on Victory Green marking key ceremonial occasions and acts of remembrance.

The guns are Hotchkiss 3-Pounder [47mm] Quick Firing guns manufactured in 1896 and marked with Queen Victoria’s Royal Seal on the breech. The guns reportedly arrived in the late 1990s from Gibraltar to “replace the previous guns that were in poor condition.”

Now that’s a beautiful mount

The guns were originally used as torpedo boat busters in the Royal Navy and a number endure around the Commonwealth as saluting guns and gate guards. The saluting cases are reloaded and restamped war shots, with the FIDF having some cases with manufacture dates going back to the 1920s.

During public events, each gun is normally crewed by two FIDF members, and the guns are commanded by the FIDF Company Quartermaster Sergeant(CQMS) who is also responsible for maintenance.

Happy National Book Day

Official caption:

With a loaded M2 .50-caliber machine gun close at hand, one crewman reads a book while another keeps watch off the stern as their PB Mark III patrol boat cuts through the water of the gulf. This patrol boat is among the Navy assets operating in support of efforts to provide security for US-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf.

U.S. Navy Photo 330-CFD-DN-ST-89-08778 by PH1 Smith, labeled 1/1/1989

U.S. Navy Photo 330-CFD-DN-ST-89-08778 by PH1 Smith, labeled 1/1/1989

Now go grab a book, you heathen.

Off the CUF at West Point

Little known fact: West Point’s Cadet Uniform Factory (CUF) stems from an 1878 act of Congress and operates under regulation 10 USC 4340. No lowest bidder or overseas contractors here.

As noted by West Point Magazine in 2016:

CUF Manager Joe Weikel describes its mission: “to manufacture and supply uniforms and services to the Corps of Cadets at cost. The cadets purchase these uniforms. We cut, sew, alter, and repair these garments and provide those services to the cadets at cost. They are paying for the Full Dress Coat’s 44 gold-plated buttons, the 16-ounce wool used in all of the gray uniforms, the 32-ounce wool in the black parka, the zippers, shoulder pads, the sleeve heads, and all 300 or so other raw materials that go into our product lines: as well as my salary, and the salaries of the 45 employees, as well as the government’s share of the benefits paid to the employees of the uniform factory. All of that gets wrapped up into our garment pricing. Each year we calculate how many minutes we spent and whose minutes they were, because there are different salary rates on each garment, and allocate those minutes and dollars towards that garment, then add in the employee benefits and the amount of raw materials we used to make, for instance, the full dress coat. Divide that by the number that were produced, and you come out with the cost per unit made. Average that cost out after subtracting the remaining inventory, and you have the new price for a full dress coat—$676.01 this year.”

The USMA just posted a great video on the CUF and its continued operation.

Warship Wednesday, April 21, 2021: Let’s Vote on It

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 21, 2021: Let’s Vote on It

Library and Archives Canada 4951041

Here we see a beautiful original color photo of the Improved Fiji-class (alternatively described as Colony-class, Mauritius-class, or Ceylon-class) cruiser HMCS Quebec (31) in Copenhagen, Denmark, on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, 21 April 1954– some 67 years ago today. She battled the Germans, Italians, and Japanese withstood the divine wind and “Fritz X” only to have her reputation mired in undeserved controversy.

A borderline “treaty” cruiser of interwar design, the Fijis amounted to a class that was one short of a dozen with an 8,500-ton standard displacement. In WWII service, this would balloon to a very top-heavy weight of over 11,000. Some 15 percent of the standard displacement was armor. As described by Richard Worth, in his Fleets of World War II, the design was much better off than the previous Leander-class cruisers, and essentially “the Admiralty resolved to squeeze a Town [the immediately preceding 9,100-ton light cruiser class] into 8,000-tons.”

With a fine transom stern, they were able to achieve over 32 knots on a plant that included four Admiralty 3-drum boilers driving four Parsons steam turbines, their main armament amounted to nine 6″/50 (15.2 cm) BL Mark XXIII guns in three triple Mark XXI mountings in the case of our cruiser and her two immediate full sisters (HMS Ceylon and HMS Newfoundland).

The standard Fiji/Colony-class cruiser had four Mark XXI turrets, as shown in the top layout, while the “Improved Fijis/Ceylon-variants of the class mounted three, as in the bottom layout. Not originally designed to carry torpedo tubes, two triple sets were quickly added, along with more AAA guns, once the treaty gloves came off. (Jane’s 1946)

Ordered from Vickers-Armstrong’s, Walker in March 1939, just six months before Hitler sent his legions into Poland, Quebec, our subject vessel was originally named HMS Uganda (66) after that African protectorate. A war baby, she commissioned 3 January 1943.

HMS Uganda sliding down the slipway at the Walker Naval Yard, 7 August 1941. Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM ref. DS.VA/9/PH/12/17).

HMS UGANDA, MAURITIUS CLASS CRUISER. JANUARY 1943, SCAPA FLOW. (A 22963) Broadside view. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155098

After workups and interception patrols on the lookout for German blockade runners, in May she escorted the RMS Queen Mary (with Churchill aboard) across the Atlantic for a meeting with President Roosevelt at what later became known to history as the Washington Conference.

Transferred to the Mediterranean for service with the 15th Cruiser Squadron, she helped escort convoy WS31/KMF17 on the way before arriving in Malta with Admiral Cunningham aboard on 4 July. Then came the Husky landings in Sicily, where she was very busy covering the landings of the British 1st Airborne Division near Syracuse, rescuing 36 survivors from the hospital ship Talamba, and delivering naval gunfire support.

Cruisers HMS Orion and HMS Uganda on patrol with Mount Etna towering in the distance, some 40 miles away. Taken from HMS Nubian, 12th July 1943. The ships had bombarded Augusta the previous day.

A pom-pom crew of HMCS Uganda examining Kodak pictures. Note the “tropical kit” to include sun helmets and shorts. NAC, PA 140833

Then came the Avalanche landings at Salerno in September, where she provided NGFS for the British X Corps. Four days after reaching the beachhead, she was hit by a 3,000-pound German Fritz X precision-guided, armor-piercing bomb at 1440 on 13 September. Passing through seven decks and through her keel, it exploded under her hull, crippling but not quite killing the ship. When the smoke cleared, amazingly just 16 men of Uganda’s complement were dead.

The damage was very similar, albeit much less costly in lives, to the hit that the same-sized treaty cruiser USS Savannah (CL-42) suffered off Salerno two days prior. In the Fritz attack on that Brooklyn-class light cruiser, the early smart bomb hit the top of the ship’s number three 6/47-gun turret and penetrated deep into her hull before its 710-pound amatol warhead exploded. The damage was crippling, blowing out the bottom of the ship’s hull, immediately flooding her magazines– which may have ironically saved the ship as it prevented them from detonating– and killed 197 of her crew. In all, she would spend eight months being rebuilt.

As for Uganda, she was moved to Charleston Naval Shipyard in South Carolina for extensive repairs– just in time to become the most capable warship in another navy.

Oh, Canada!

By 1944, the Royal Canadian Navy could rightfully claim to be about the third strongest in the world when it came to warship tonnage. However, it was almost all in small escorts such as sloops, corvettes, frigates, and destroyers as well as armed yachts, trawlers, and torpedo boats. The RCN did have three armed merchant cruisers– the “Prince” class Canadian National Steamships passenger liners, which, at 6,000 tons, carried a dozen 6-, 4- and 3-inch guns, as well as depth charges and assorted Bofors/Oerlikons– but Ottawa had no proper cruisers on its naval list.

To rectify this, the brand-new light cruiser HMS Minotaur (53), transferred to Royal Canadian Navy in July 1944, and became HMCS Ontario (C53), although she did not finish working up in time to contribute much to the war effort. She was soon joined by Uganda, who kept her name when she was recommissioned 21 October 1944– Trafalgar Day– but replaced HMS with HMCS.

Uganda’s new crew, drawn from throughout the Canadian fleet, was assembled in 80-man teams and shipped out on a range of British 6-inch cruisers to train on their vessel while it was being repaired. These included a team that, while on HMS Sheffield, braved the Murmansk run and the Boxing Day 1943 fight against Scharnhorst. Curiously, and a bone of contention with the crew, she carried an RN duster rather than a Canadian ensign.

The Canadian cruiser would be commanded by Capt. Edmond Rollo Mainguy, who had previously served on several large RN warships including the battleship HMS Barham in the Great War.

Dispatched for service with the British Pacific Fleet, which was preparing for the final push against Japan, she stopped in the UK for sensor upgrades on the way, swapping Type 284 and 272 radars for newer Type 274 for fire control and Types 277 and 293 for surface warning and height finding. Nonetheless, the choice of the ship for tropical service, as it at the time lacked both onboard exhaust fans for air circulation and a water distillation plant capable of supporting the crew, was questionable. Belowdecks, when not on duty, many men simply wore “a towel and a pair of shoes.”

Regardless, she was a beautiful ship and her crew, most of whom were Battle of the Atlantic vets, were ready to fight.

A great shot of HMCS Uganda with a bone in her teeth. H.F. Pullen Nova Scotia Archives 1984-573 Box 1 F/24

British light cruiser HMS UGANDA underway. 14 October 1944. IWM FL 17797

HMS UGANDA, BRITISH CRUISER. 1944, AT SEA. (A 27728) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205159166

HMCS Uganda in 1945 while in the British Pacific Fleet. IWM ABS 698

She joined the BPF on 9 March, arriving that day in Sydney via the Suez and the Indian Ocean. Joining British TF 57 as part of the U.S. 5th Fleet, Uganda soon became a close escort for the fleet’s carriers, particularly HMS Formidable and HMS Indomitable. This included fighting off kamikaze raids, delivering NGFS, and acting as a lifeguard for downed aviators as the fleet pushed past Formosa, through the Philippines, and on to Okinawa.

Task Force 57 at anchor, HMS Formidable (foreground) and HMS Indomitable w 4th Cruiser Squadron- (L to R) Gambia, Uganda, and Euryalus-San Pedro Bay, Leyte April 1945

Japanese aircraft attacking H.M.C.S. UGANDA. Ryukyu Islands, Japan, 4 April 1945. LAC 3191649

Bombardment by H.M.C.S. UGANDA of Sukuma Airfield on Miyoko Jima, 4 May 1945, the ship’s QF 4 in (102 mm) Mark XVI guns in action. LAC 3191651

Decks of HMCS Uganda after her bombardment of the Sakishima Island airstrip of Sukama, south of Okinawa, 12 May 1945, with her 6-inch guns swamped with powder tubes. The ship in the distance is her Kiwi-flagged sistership, HMNZS Gambia (48). (Photo: CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum, VR2014.1.1)

Ratings sleep amidst 4-inch shells on HMCS Uganda, 1945 (Photo: CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum, VR2014.1.26)

HMCS UGANDA and HMS FORMIDABLE, the latter burning after a Kamikaze airstrike, May 9, 1945, Royal Canadian Naval photograph. (CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum /Photo Catalogue VR2014. 1.24 from the museum collection.)

Life aboard the ship continued to decline for the crew. Compounding the uncomfortable heat aboard– which led to rounds of tropical bacteria, viruses, and fungus infections among the crew– the BPF had logistical issues trying to supply its ships. This led to mechanical issues as spare parts were not available and poor food.

As noted by Bill Rawling’s A Lonely Ambassador: HMCS Uganda and the War in the Pacific, a 25-page article in The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du nord, VIII, No. 1 (January 1998), 39-63, one firsthand report of the time detailed:

In the tropics everything multiplied — of a crew of 900, two men were detailed for spraying cockroach powder through the mess decks to at least try to control them. It was not out of the ordinary to be munching on your de-hydrated peas and carrots to feel a sharp “crunch.” That was another roach being broken up. Flour deteriorated into a life form — a tiny worm with a white body and a little black head. It would be found in the bread which was baked aboard ship. At first, we would pick the worms out, but as we were told, and came to realize, they would not hurt us, we just ate them with the bread and called it our meat ration for the day.

This set the stage for what became known as the “Uganda Episode.”

As explained by the Naval and Marine Museum at CFB Esquimalt:

Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced on 4 April 1945 that the Canadian Government no longer intended to deploy personnel, other than volunteers, to the Pacific Theatre. The “Volunteers Only” policy, as it was called, required that all naval personnel specifically re-volunteer for service in the Pacific Theatre before they would be dispatched to participate in hostilities.

On the eve of the vote, in which it seemed many of Uganda’s crew were on the fence about going home, Capt. Mainguy reportedly gave a tone-deaf speech that went as high as a lead balloon with one crew member’s recalling that he, “Called us four flushers and quitters. Those who were in doubt soon made up their minds at a statement like that.”

The June 22 crew vote found that 556 of Uganda’s men preferred to head home, while just 344 re-volunteered to stay in the Pacific despite the daunting risk of kamikaze attack and a war that, at the time, was expected to drag out at least another year. With the prospect of swapping out so many of the cruiser’s complement while still deployed a non-starter, the plan was to send her back to Esquimalt, update her for continued service, and sail back to the war with a reformed crew in time to join Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyūshū which was slated for November.

Relieved on station by the British cruiser HMS Argonaut on 27 July, ironically the Japanese signaled they were ready to quit the war just two weeks later, making the Uganda vote– which left a bitter pill with the RN– almost a moot subject. Uganda arrived at Esquimalt on 10 August, the day the Japanese officially threw in the towel.

While labels of mutiny and cowardice were unjustly lobbed at her crew by historians, her skipper would go on to become a Vice Admiral.

Better years

Postwar, Uganda would spend the next two years in a training role.

Cruiser HMCS Uganda photographed on 31 November 1945.

A color shot of HMCS-Uganda (C66) as seen from the Canadian aircraft carrier HMCS Warrior circa 1946, note the Fairey Firefly and Maple Leaf insignias. LAC-MIKAN-No 4821077

Transferred to the reserves in August 1947, her slumber was brief.

Recommissioned as a result of the Korean War on 14 January 1952 as HMCS Quebec (C31), she soon sailed for Halifax to continue her service, notably under a Canadian flag and with belowdecks habitability improvements.

Guard of Honor and Band at the recommissioning of H.M.C.S. QUEBEC, Esquimalt, British Columbia, 14 January 1952 LAC 3524549

For the next four years, she was a global traveler, heavily involved in NATO exercises.

HMCS QUEBEC coming alongside for a ship-to-ship transfer receiving supplies from HMCS Magnificent, during  Exercise Mainbrace in 1952. LAC 4951392

A closer view, from HMCS Magnificent. Note the carrier’s 40mm mount and the folded wing of a fighter, likely a Hawker Sea Fury judging from the pair of wing-root 20mm cannons. LAC 4951382

H.M.C.S. QUEBEC heeling in rough seas during exercises. 18 Sept 1952 LAC 3524551

HMCS Quebec (C-31) leads HMCS Magnificent (CVL-21), HMAS Sydney (R-17), and multiple destroyers as they return from the Queen’s coronation, July 1953

Sperry radar scan of Gaspé Bay anchorage, HMCS Quebec 12 July 1953 LAC 3206158

HMCS QUEBEC Parading the White Ensign in Rio-South America cruise, 1954. Note the Enfield rifles, with the rating to the right complete with a chromed bayonet. Also, note the local boy to the left giving a salute to the RCN duster. LAC 4950735

Port broadside view of H.M.C.S. QUEBEC after having been freshly painted by ships’ company, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 29 June 1955 LAC 3524552

She also became the first Canadian naval ship to circumnavigate Africa, during her 1955 cruise. In 1946, she had claimed the first such Canadian warship to “Round the Horn” of South America.  

King Neptune and the pollywogs! Original color photo of HMCS QUEBEC’s crossing the line equator ceremony during her fall cruise to South America, 1956. LAC 4950734

HMCS Quebec (C-31) and USS Newport News (CA-148) at Villefranche.

With all-gun cruisers that required a 900-man crew increasingly obsolete in the Atomic era, Quebec was paid off 13 June 1956 and laid up in Nova Scotia. Four years later, she was sold for her value in scrap metal to a Japanese concern.

She is remembered in period maritime art, specifically in a piece by official war artist Harold Beament, who was on the RCNVR list and later president of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

HMCS Uganda in Drydock, Esquimalt, during a post-war refit. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-1030

Today, the RCN remembers Quebec fondly. Narrated by R.H. Thomson, the script in the below tribute video is based on a memoir by LCDR Roland Leduc, RCN (Ret’d) who served on the post-war cruiser. 

An exceptional veterans’ site is also online, with numerous photos and remembrances. 

For a great deep dive into HMS Uganda, especially her 1945 service, check out Bill Rawling’s A Lonely Ambassador: HMCS Uganda and the War in the Pacific, a 25-page article in The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord, VIII, No. 1 (January 1998), 39-63.

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A Visit to USS Trenton, circa 1886

The first warship to carry the name of the New Jersey capital city famous for a Christmas-time visit from General Washington was a 3,800-ton steam frigate commissioned on 14 February 1877, armed with 11 8-inch guns and a pair of 20-pounders. She would spend her first three years on European Station, ranging from Alexandria, Egypt to Copenhagen, Denmark.

The below images, letterpress reproductions of photographs by Mr. E.H. Hart, 1162 Broadway, New York City, were published by the Photo-Gravure Company of New York, circa 1886, and capture USS Trenton at her peak, highlighting the frigate’s state-of-the-art weaponry.

USS Trenton explosion of a spar torpedo deployed from the ship’s starboard side, during exercises in a U.S. east coast harbor, 6 September 1886. NH 42103

USS Trenton: Explosion of a spar torpedo carried by the ship’s steam launch, during exercises in a U.S. east coast harbor, 6 September 1886 U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42104

Ship’s Marines on the spar deck, 1886. They are armed with trap-door Springfield rifles, with fixed bayonets, and still have Civil War-style kepis. The view looks forward on the starboard side, from abaft the mainmast. NH 60756

USS Trenton sailors of the ship’s port watch pose on the spar deck amidships, with the landing force’s artillery piece and two cats, 1886. The view looks forward on the port side, from abaft the mainmast. NH 42107

USS Trenton ship’s apprentices pose with Colt revolvers, cutlasses, and a Gatling gun, 1886. The view looks forward on the spar deck, from abaft the mainmast on the starboard side. Note the steam launch on its davits, in the left-center background. NH 42108

The photos were taken at the conclusion of Trenton’s three-year West Pac tour cruise, which she completed after a term in ordinary following her return from Europe in 1881.

Via DANFS:

Reactivated on 18 September 1883, Trenton departed New York in November for duty on the Asiatic Station. Steaming via the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, Ceylon, and Singapore, she arrived at Hong Kong on 1 May 1884 to begin two years of cruising in the Far East. She visited ports in China, Korea, and Japan, carrying out various diplomatic missions. On occasion, Trenton sent landing parties ashore in China and Korea to protect American nationals and other foreigners during periods of internal unrest. The warship completed this tour of duty in the spring of 1886; departed Yokohama, Japan, on 9 May; retraced her voyage back across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea, and across the Atlantic to reach Hampton Roads on 2 September. She entered the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va., on 9 September and was decommissioned for repairs on the 17th.

Trenton would again head for the Pacific in May 1887 but only make it as far as Samoa, which the warship reached on 10 March 1889 and joined other units of the Pacific Squadron.

“Six days later, while still at anchor in Apia harbor, Trenton was wrecked by a hurricane. Before abandoning ship, however, her crew assisted in the rescue of Vandalia’s ship’s company. Trenton was declared a total loss, and her name was stricken from the Navy list on 13 April 1891,” notes DANFS.

Save the Adak

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak (WPB 1333) transits at maximum speed. Adak is assigned to Commander, Task Force 55 and is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by: Quartermaster 2nd Class Kendall Mabon/Released)

Commissioned in 1989, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak (WPB-1333), is one of the last remaining 110-foot Island-class patrol boats in the service.

She is also perhaps the most historic.

Serving initially in New York City, operating from the now-closed Coast Guard base on Governor’s Island, she was the on-scene commander for the response to TWA Flight 800. Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, she was the command boat for the “American Dunkirk” seaborne evacuation of more than 500,000 people trapped in lower Manhattan.

Then, deployed to the Persian Gulf in 2003 with three of her sisters, Coalition Warship 1333 carried Navy SEALs and Polish GROM special forces on raids to seize Iraq’s two primary oil terminals intact before they could be destroyed. During that mission, on 23 March 2003, she was one of the first units to capture Iraqi PWs.

Still forward deployed to Bahrain, she has seen more of the Persian Gulf than many, and most of her recent crews have been younger than the aging patrol boat. Slated to be disposed of in the coming months, replaced by a larger and more capable 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter that is already in the Med and on the way to the sandbox, a group wants to bring her back home instead.

From the USCGC Adak Historical Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that wants to bring her back from overseas and install her as a museum ship in Tampa Bay, where she would also help with a youth program, a worthy idea that, when the size and condition of the vessel are taken into account, very achievable:

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Adak is slated to be decommissioned on July 14, 2021. The Adak is a historic ship that led the largest waterborne rescue in world history in New York City on September 11th, 2001, and later captured some of the very first enemy prisoners of war in Iraq. Without a budget to bring her home, and due to current limitations on how to dispose of the ship, the Coast Guard is planning to give the USCGC Adak to the government of Indonesia. This ship is a national historic treasure and we cannot let this happen!

If nothing else, at least sign the petition.

What they carried: Bay of Pigs Editon

Today is the 60th anniversary of the final counter-attack by Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces near Playa Girón, 19 April 1961– in which over 25,000 Cuban regulars backed up by at least twice as much armed militia and under definitive air cover– rolled up the remaining 1,300~ men of Brigada Asalto 2506, the Cuban exile unit armed and equipped by the U.S. government.

Speaking of which, the National Archives has a ton of interesting Bay of Pigs documents digitized online.

Rather than a low-key infiltration of small teams to set the countryside against Havanna, which may have succeeded, the CIA went all-in on an overly ambitious plan to seize and hold territory in an effort to give the anti-Castro movement a tangible slice of “Free Cuba.” 

The bulk of these reports were declassified in 2011, after 50 years.

The documents include a list of small arms and munitions for the brigade detail a shopping list of WWII surplus gear: 485 M1 Garands (although some were seen with Johnson M1941 rifles), 150 M1 Carbines, 470 SMGs (mostly M3 Grease Guns although some Reisings were used as well), 465 pistols, 108 M1918 BAR light machine guns, 30 M1919 Browning .30 cal GPMGs, 44 .50 cal heavy machine guns, 75 M20 Super Bazookas (with 2,400 rockets), 18 57mm recoilless rifles, 3 75mm recoilless rifles, 36 60mm light mortars, 18 81mm mortars, 6 4.2-inch mortars (the brigade’s largest weapons), 5 76mm M5 anti-tank guns, as well as demo kits and lots of hand grenades (22,000). To feed this collection, just over 1 million cartridges were to be provided.

“Three members of Brigade 2506’s honor guard stand with their new unit flag while training at Trax Base before the Bay of Pigs invasion.” Note the WWII-era duck hunter camo and M1 Garands. Via a 2012 San Antionio Times article.

To provide support moving off the beach, five M41 Walker Bulldog light (23-ton) tanks were taken from U.S. Army stocks and provided to the brigadistas to form an armored platoon. Mounting 76mm guns, the M41s went on to go head-to-head with large numbers of Cuban T-34/85s and acquitted themselves fairly well despite the Soviet-made tanks’ heavier armor and larger gun.

It was a pretty significant amount of gear, loaded on a “ghost fleet” of old LCIs and LCUs (some crewed by American MSTS mariners) as well as leased Garcia-line N-3 type liberty ships with the intention of landing the first 15 days worth of supplies with the initial wave, then returning with the second 15 days worth ASAP.

The initial load included 18,000 C-rations and 22 tons of bulk rations (rice, beans, dried meat et. al) as well as 54 19-foot aluminum skiffs with outboard motors and a range of LCVPs to be used as ship-to-shore connectors.

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As Castro’s forces were able to retain air superiority via a handful of T-33 Shooting Stars, B-26 Invaders, and Hawker Sea Furies, the most crucial phase of the landings– keeping the men on the beach supplied and able to move inland– never had a chance.

SS Houston, an N-3 type cargo ship, was one of two sunk during the landing. She carried 183 tons of Brigade 2506’s equipment including its 50-bed field hospital. 

Between April 17th and 20th, 10 Cuban pilots fly a total of just 70 missions for Castro’s forces, bringing down nine B-26 planes, and sinking two 5,000 ton freighters, one communication boat, three landing craft for transporting equipment, and five for troops. (“Playa Girón Primer Tomo, 114-115)

Some 25 miles over the horizon in International Waters, a U.S. Navy task force including the carriers Boxer and Essex, was ready to provide cover for the Cuban exiles but was ordered to stand down at the last minute. Their air wings could have made quick work of Castro’s air force, and hammered the lines around the beachhead with everything from 500-pound bombs to napalm, but it could have triggered a much larger conflict, possibly including Soviet intervention in Europe. 

“For maritime historians, the Bay of Pigs invasion has become known as the world’s most disastrous amphibious operation,” notes Capt. James McNamara in Freightwaves

Such an outcome was theorized in advance by an Air Force advisor, Lt. Col. B.W. Tarwater, who had given the idea of an amphibious assault against Cuban aviation assets as pretty low, urging that it should have been an airlift with adequate air support.

Trained for over 13 weeks by American advisors in Nicaragua and elsewhere, the top-level plan had been for Brigade 2506 to “go guerilla” if they received pushback from conventional forces that they could not defeat or found themselves cut off from the beaches. However, on the ground level, this was more wishful thinking than anything and such discussions had not filtered down to the rank-and-file.

“It was mutually agreed that these contingency plans would be discussed only down to the level of battalion commanders prior to landing to avoid defeatist talk and apprehension concerning the success of the operation,” reads a report from the time.

Locked into the beachhead with dwindling supplies under constant air and artillery attack, the brigadistas were wrapped up and nearly 1,200 were captured by the end of D+3.

Several brigadistas were executed or otherwise perished in Castro’s custody after being captured.

Most were later repatriated to the U.S. after nearly two years in Cuban prisons, exchanged for millions in American aid.

As a good bookend to the event, Raul Castro recently confirmed he is stepping down as Cuba’s Communist party boss, ending the six-decade Castro-era in the country.

The Brigade 2506 Museum, maintained by the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, has much more information for those who are curious. 

Parabéns Fuzileiros!

One of the oldest marine corps in the world, the Corpo de Fuzileiros of the Marinha Portuguesa, are celebrating 400 years of service this month.

The Fuzileiros date back to 1621, with some arguing they go back even further into the 16th Century.

Formed originally as the Terço da Armada da Coroa de Portugal, today they form two light battalions geared towards force protection and a special forces unit focused on maritime raids.

And are still users of the HK G3 battle rifle! (Marinha Portuguesa)

They have a rich history including centuries of colonial warfare, the Napoleanic wars, WWI, the Cold War– some 14,000 Fuzileiros fought in Portuguese Guinea, Angola, and Mozambique against Soviet-backed insurgents in the 1960s and 70s– and in international peacekeeping. Naturally, the Brazilian Marine Corps traces its origin to the Fuzileiros as well.

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