Category Archives: military history

80 Years Ago: Boyington is Back, Baby

Born in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho in December 1912, Gregory Boyington sought out the military at age 21. Commissioned a 2nd LT in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1934, serving with the cannon cockers of the 630th Coast Artillery on the Washington coast for 11 months, Boyington was then accepted to the Marine Corps Reserve Aviation Cadet program where he trained from 18 February 1936 to July 1937.

Pappy Aviation Cadet Gregory Boyington taken during his flight instruction at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, 1936

Gregory Pappy Boyington NAS Pensacola Class 88-C standing second from right

After finishing the program, he was granted a regular commission in the Marines, where he served until 27 August 1941 when he resigned his commission with an understanding “that I would be reinstated without loss of precedence when I returned to United States Service,” then left the Corps as a 1st LT to join the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers) fighting for the KMT forces in China against the Japanese.

Boyington was a private military contractor of sorts with the original Flying Tigers, operational from December 20, 1941. Note the P-40 Warhawks in the background. Boyington claimed six victories, but that number is unconfirmed with some sources just saying he got two. The Chinese eventually paid him bonuses for 3.5 meatballs at $500 per kill.

Returning home from China in July 1942, he promptly sought to return to the Corps in a flying assignment, after all, there was something of a war on.

This was granted after passing a new flight physical and obtaining several endorsements, on 16 September 1942– some 80 years ago today– as a 1st LT in the USMC Reserve. After fighting with the brass for two weeks over getting a reserve commission when he left on a regular one and being told essentially “we will see,” Boyington went ahead and accepted the appointment on 29 September.

The Corps’ Director of Aviation nonetheless recommended to the Commandant that Boyington’s recommissioning halted, noting his previous stint with the Marines prior to leaving for China did not point to him as becoming a career officer and that Claire Chennault with the Tigers had noted, “This pilot was a capable flyer and would have been of valuable service were it not for his excessive drinking,” despite the fact Boyington was officially credited with at least 2 “kills” in China.

Cooling his heels, Boyington kept the telegrams to Marine HQ rolling.

Finally, on 10 November– the Birthday of the Corps– he was ordered for a second physical at Pasco, Washington (he lived at the time at Okanogan) and, if passed, to proceed to San Diego where he would report to Marine Airwings Pacific for assignment to “active duty in the Aeronautic Organization of the Marine Corps Reserve.” Passing his cough check, Boyington was duly promoted to Major (temporary) in the USMCR on 24 November.

Working through enhanced flying training on the West Coast, he was then appointed in January 1943 to XO of the “Candystripers” of VMF-122 on Guadalcanal, operating F4F Wildcats with the Cactus Air Force at Henderson Field until July of that year. Raised up to become the squadron’s skipper in July, he was there for the unit’s transition to F4U Corsairs.

Soon after, he was made commander of VMF-214 which he joined at Turtle Bay Airfield on Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides in August 1943.

It took roughly a year from the time he was reinstated before he would become the head of VMF-214.

Marine Attack Squadron Two Hundred and Fourteen – VMF 214 (Black Sheep Squadron) on Turtle Bay Fighter Strip, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. They are shown before leaving for Munda, with an F4U in the background, on 11 September 1943. Note, Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, 8th from left, front row. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-54288.

Flying with his famed “Black Sheep” the elderly — at age 31– “Gramps” Boyington claimed 13 kills in aerial combat over the Solomans between 15 September and 20 October 1943.

Remarkably, an act of Congress (S.1427) was introduced in October 1943 to grant him a regular commission (as a 1st LT). Over time, the Gramps nickname would fade to be replaced by the more lovable “Pappy” and the rest, as they say, is history…

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022: Continuing the Legacy

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, Sept. 14, 2022: Continuing the Legacy

Above we see a superb example of the Ceres sub-class of the Royal Navy’s C-type light cruisers, namely HMS Coventry (D43), pictured after her anti-aircraft conversion refit modernization in May 1937. While the 10 new QF 4″/40 Mk Vs she is fitted with sound formidable, she met a swarm of German bombers she wouldn’t be able to swat away exactly 80 years ago today.

Laid down as Yard No. 1035 at Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend on Tyne in April 1916 just before the launch of the Somme Offensive in the third year of the Great War, Coventry was a member of the 28-strong “C”-class of new-fangled oil-fired light cruisers. Sturdy 446-foot ships of 4,000~ tons, their eight-pack of Yarrow boilers trunked through two funnels and pushing a pair of Brown-Curtis turbines coughed up 40,000 shp– enough to sprint them at 29 knots.

The first entry for the class in the 1914 edition of Jane’s, shows the eight initial vessels and the original layout of the first ships.

HMS Cardiff, a C-class cruiser in a dry dock. Note how thin of beam these sea-going stilettoes were. With a 446-foot overall length and a 41-foot beam, the ratio was roughly 1:10, akin to a destroyer

Split into seven incrementally modified subclasses with minor changes among them, usually in terms of armament layout, superstructure arrangement, and turbine fit (some with Parsons-made equipment, others with Brown-Curtis) they were built across the UK at eight different yards during the War years with the first, Comus, laid down in November 1913 and the 28th, Colombo, completed in July 1919.

Comparable in size to a smallish frigate today, they packed three to five single BL 6-inch Mk XII guns arranged fore and aft along with a more distributed battery of six or eight QF 4-inch Mk IV guns in addition to two bow-mounted or four beam-mounted 21-inch torpedo tubes.

HMS Cardiff, a C-class cruiser, firing one of her beam deck-mounted torpedo tubes

With up to 6-inches of steel armor (conning tower, just 2.5 inches on the belt), they could hold their own against similar cruisers, slaughter destroyers, and gunboats, and run away from larger warships.

The five Ceres-variant sisters (HMS Cardiff, Ceres, Coventry, Curacoa, and Curlew), which joined the fleet in the first half of 1917, had a much-reduced secondary armament, dropping the 4-inch guns in favor of a few new 3-inch and 2-pounder high-angle AAA mounts, with the latter seen as more useful against increasingly encountered and very pesky Jerry seaplanes and Zepps.

After just 18 months on the builder’s ways, Coventry, originally laid down as HMS Corsair, was commissioned on 8 February 1917, the fourth of HMs vessels to carry the name one of the Midlands city since 1658. Tragically, all three of the previous Coventrys had been captured by the French in battles across the 17th and 18th centuries and the cruiser was the first to carry the name since 1783.

HMS Coventry cruiser in her early layout. Imperial War Museum image

Note her shielded 6-inch mounts

Assigned to the 5th Light Cruiser squadron along with many of her sisters, Coventry stood in case the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet sortied out once again and spent her WWI service on guard but without the opportunity to fire a war shot.

During this period, Royal Navy war artist Phillip Connard captured images from her decks that endure today.

Lowering the Whaler HMS Coventry by Phillip Connard, 1918, IWM ART1297

Between Decks, HMS Coventry by Phillip Connard,1918. Note the twin torpedo tubes on her port beam. IWM ART1300

While none of the 28 C-type light cruisers were lost during the Great War– despite several showing up in U-boat periscopes and being present at Jutland and the Heligoland Bight– Coventry’s sister HMS Cassandra was sunk by a mine in the Baltic on 5 December 1918 while acting against the Reds.

Interwar

Joining the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron back in the Atlantic in 1919, Coventry would often be employed as a flagship for destroyer flotillas and, in the early 1920s, would be transferred to the Mediterranean where she would continue in the same vein.

HMS COVENTRY (British Cruiser, 1917), pictured in the 1920s. NH 61317

HMS Coventry in Malta, interwar period, sporting extensive peacetime awnings. Note the carrier HMS Glorious in the background

A 1928 refit saw her little-used flying platform removed and in 1935 she was paid off, reduced to reserve status at the ripe old age of 18.

With the times passing and newer cruisers coming online eating up valuable treaty-limited tonnage, many of the class were paid off and sold for their value in scrap metal. These included almost all the early ships of the class– HMS Carysfort, Cleopatra, Comus, Conquest, Cordelia, Calliope, Champion, Cambrian, Canterbury, Castor, Constance, Centaur, and Concord. Others were converted for new purposes– for instance, HMS Caroline, stripped of her guns and boilers in 1924, became a headquarters and training ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve’s Ulster Division at Belfast.

Just under half of the class, 13 vessels, made it out of the Depression still in the fleet, and most went on to serve in one form or another in the Second World War, despite their advanced age and outdated nature.

Some were converted to meet the needs of the age.

Coventry and Curlew were taken from reserves and morphed into early “AA cruisers,” landing their large 6-inch guns and smaller secondaries for an all-up battery of 10 improved 4″/45 MK Vs along with an updated fire control layout and redesigned magazines, able to carry a total of 2,000 such shells. Three other remaining vessels of her sub-class– Ceres, Cardiff, and Curacoa— were slated to get the same conversion but tight budgets precluded this and only the latter of that trio would ultimately pick up 8 4-inchers, and even that was not until WWII. Receiving a similar fit would be the last of the C-types– HMS Carlise, Cairo, Calcutta, Colombo, and Cape Town— picking up six 4″/45s after hostilities commenced.

The 4″/45 MK Vs were the standard high-angle DP guns of the Royal Navy in the 1930s. With a rate of fire that went to 10-15 rounds per minute depending on the training of the gun crew, they could fire a 53.5-pound HE shell to an anti-aircraft ceiling of 31,000 feet or a 56-pound SAP shell against a surface target to 16,430 yards. Historic Naval Ships Association image.

Two 4″/45 MK Vs on HMAS Sydney ca. 1940, for reference. Note the No. 1 gunners on each outfitted with asbestos flash hoods and mittens. State Library of Victoria Image H98.105/3249.

Coventry, refit at HM Dockyard, Portsmouth, over the first ten months of 1936, would spend the following two and a half years in a series of trials work helping to develop mountings for the multiple barreled 2-pounder “Pom Poms” that would become a notable fixture on Royal Navy surface ships in WWII, as well as new degaussing gear and 20mm Oerlikon guns. She would soon also start work with early sea-going radar sets.

HMS Coventry is shown after her conversion into an anti-aircraft cruiser with 10 x 4-inch high-angle guns in open mounts

HMS COVENTRY (FL 5186) Underway coastal waters postthe  AA conversion, late 1930s. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124848

Then, came war, again.

Outpost duty and the Barents Sea

In August 1939, with the war on the horizon, Coventry joined the newer light cruisers Danae and Dauntless for passage to the Med, arriving at Alexandria on 3 September.

Recalled to Home Waters, she was the urgent task of convoy escort then as a floating AAA battery at the Sullom Voe seaplane base in the Shetland Islands, she fought off German aircraft on 21 October and again on 13 November, shooting down a Heinkel He 111 in the latter effort. Further German attacks on Christmas Day 1939 and New Year’s Day 1940 ensued, with Coventry’s gunners rushing out from the holiday meals to fire at Goering’s party crashers. It was in the latter that a near-miss (the first of many she had during the war) left her with a leaking hull.

Once the Army arrived at Sullom Voe to install shore-based ack-ack batteries, Coventry was relieved and entered refit at Chatham where she got her leaks fixed and landed her after 4″/40s (No. 6 and No. 7 mount) then picked up a Type 279 dual-purpose air- and surface-warning set with an instrumented range of an optimistic 65 miles (airwave) and about 6 miles surface wave. Her installation complete, Coventry became the flagship of the 1st AA Squadron (flying the flag of Rear-Admiral J.G.P. Vivian, RN) with Humber Force alongside her sisters Curlew and Cairo, in April 1940, just in time for the Allied intervention in Norway.

Coventry would support the landings at Bodo in mid-May– her Pom Poms credited with an AAA kill on 18 May off that port– followed by the assault on Narvik, and ultimately cover the withdrawal from the latter in June, even embarking evacuating troops. She both bombarded German positions ashore and served up hot anti-air to Luftwaffe aircraft overhead.

It was during the Norway operation that sister Cairo was hit by hit by two bombs and severely damaged, suffering 12 killed while Coventry herself would take splinters from a near-miss that left one rating killed. Curlew, meanwhile, was sent to the bottom by German bombers of Kampfgeschwader 30 on 26 May, near Narvik.

Of Junkers and Spaghetti

Patching up damage from Norwegian rocks and German shells, Coventry helped cover Convoys WS 2, AP 1, and AP 2, then was ordered back to the Med in August where the Italians were now in the war.

Picking up troops in Gibraltar, she made Malta with Force F in what was termed Operation Hats on 1 September, screening the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. Making Alexandria on 6 September, she would cover Convoys BN 5A, MAQ 2, MF 3, and MF 4. In October 1940, she was part of Operation BN, the landing of British troops on Crete. In the latter, she would prove a successful minesweeper, discovering and partially sweeping without loss an enemy minefield using her paravanes– a rare occurrence.

In early November, with available escorts few and far between, two Allied convoys, A. N. 6, and M. W. 3 set out from Port Said/Alexandria in Egypt for the Aegean Sea and Malta. The ships were covered by Coventry and her sister Calcutta, along with the destroyers Dainty, Vampire, Waterhen, and Voyager. Then came Operation Barbarity, the transport of British troops from Alexandria to Piraeus in Greece.

Sailing with Force D in November 1940, Coventry, and company, joined by Gibraltar-based Force H, briefly engaged a superior Italian force south of Sardinia’s Cape Spartivento in an inconclusive battle that led to ADM James Somerville almost being cashiered by Churchill when he did not pursue the retreating Italians.

The next month, while supporting operations against the Italian army in Cyrenaica and screening the battleships HMS Barham and Valiant, 2042 on 13 December, Coventry, while some 80 miles off Mersa Matruh, Egypt, was hit by a torpedo in the bow from the Italian Adua-class submarine Neghelli. The damaged cruiser, losing part of her stern but suffering no casualties made it back to Alexandria under escort the next afternoon. For what it’s worth, Neghelli disappeared on her fifth war patrol a month later.

Repaired, Coventry soon again joined on the regular Med convoy route, lending her guns to Convoy AN 13 in January 1941, AS 14 in February, AN 17, AN 18, MW 6, AN 22, AN 23, and ANF 20 in March– claiming her share of six Junkers Ju88s shot down on the 26th off Piraeus; ASF 23, ANF 29, GA 14, and AS 25 in April– stopping to help evacuate a British battalion at Mudros in an act very similar to the withdrawal from Narvik the year before.

At this point, the barrels on her guns had to be replaced, as they were considered too worn for use– one had exploded on 26 April during air attacks, killing one gunner and injuring the rest of the gun crew. The approximate barrel life on these mounts was between 600 and 850 shells depending on type and charge, giving you an idea of just how many Coventry had been firing.

May saw Operation Tiger, riding shotgun over aborted reinforcement “Tiger convoy” through the Eastern Mediterranean to Malta. It was on this sortie that Coventry came to the assistance on 17 May of the hospital ship Aba (7938 GRT, built 1918) which had been attacked by German aircraft to the south of the Kaso Strait.

Rescue of the Hospital Ship HMHS Aba by HMS Coventry, painting by Charles Pears at the Royal Cornwall Museum

The cruiser suffered nine casualties when she was strafed by enemy aircraft during her efforts. It was during this rescue that 30-year-old Petty Officer Alfred Edward Sephton, one of Coventry’s director layers, would earn the VC the hard way, posthumously. It would be the first such award of the Mediterranean campaign for the Royal Navy.

“No. 35365”. The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 November 1941. p. 6889

The end of May saw Coventry and her sister Calcutta covering the desperate nighttime evacuations of British and Commonwealth troops of Creforce from the village of Sphakia, situated on the southern coast of Crete.

The two ships were attacked on 1 June by German Ju 88 bombers of Lehrgeschwader 1 while 100 miles north of Alexandria and, while Coventry was narrowly missed, two bombs hit Calcutta and she sank the cruiser in minutes with Coventry standing by to pluck 254 survivors from the water. Sadly, Calcutta took 107 with her to the bottom.

Shrugging it off, Coventry was on point for Operation Exporter, the Syria–Lebanon campaign, during which the cruiser was subjected to regular day and night air raids while off Haifa and Beirut, with Vichy French coastal artillery also taking pot shots at her.

The rest of the year saw the cruiser allowed to rest in the quieter waters of the Red Sea then begin a six-month refit in November at Bombay that saw additional AAA mounts fitted.

In June 1942, fresh from the yard, she took on gold in Alexandria and transported it to Jeddah to pay the Saudis for oil then escorted the battered old HMS Queen Elizabeth for part of the dreadnought’s sail from the Med via the Red Sea to America for modernization.

Coventry was back in the shooting war by August, part of Operation Pedestal, the last ditch effort to resupply Malta before the besieged island was forced to surrender. Her role would be with MG 3, a dummy convoy of three merchant ships, escorted by three light cruisers (Coventry, HMS Arethusa, and Euryalus) and ten destroyers that would function as a diversionary force in the Eastern Med, shuffling around Port Said to Beirut/Haifa and then dispersing.

Then, on September 1942, with the British gearing up for a Commando raid against Axis-held Tobruk, (Operation Agreement), Coventry was operating with a force of six destroyers, was swarmed by a force of at least 16 German Ju 88s of I./Lehrgeschwader 1— the same force that sunk Calcutta— followed up by a dozen Stukas of III. /Sturzkampfgeschwader 3. Despite RAF Beaufighters running interference and seven German aircraft downed between the AAA and the British fighters, Coventry was hit by at least four bombs. With fires out of control and at least 64 of her crew killed, Coventry was abandoned and sunk by torpedoes from the Tribal-class destroyer HMS Zulu (F18).

Shortly after, Zulu was sunk as well.

The sinking of Coventry on 14 September 1942. HMS COVENTRY, with the destroyers HMS DULVERTON and HMS BEAUFORT alongside picking up survivors from the attack by German dive bombers. Soon after she was sunk by British gunfire and torpedoes. Sixty-three men on board COVENTRY were killed in the attack. IWM HU 89668

THE SINKING OF HMS COVENTRY ON 14 SEPTEMBER 1942. (HU 89668) HMS COVENTRY, with the destroyers HMS DULVERTON and HMS BEAUFORT alongside picking up survivors from the attack by German dive-bombers. Soon after she was sunk by British gunfire and torpedoes. Sixty-three men on board COVENTRY were killed in the attack. See also HU 89667. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205084854

Epilogue

Of the 13 active C-types that entered WWII, almost half of those, six, were lost. In addition to Coventry, Calcutta, and Curlew– all victims of German land-based bombers as discussed above– sisters Calypso and Cairo were claimed by submarines while Curacoa was taken out in a collision with the Queen Mary. Of special distinction, one member of the class, Carlise, was credited with more AAA kills (11) than any other British cruiser, not a bad distinction for the old girl especially considering the Royal Navy had several more modern and better-armed cruisers in the thick of it.

By the end of 1945, the seven survivors were paid off, waiting for disposal, and were soon scrapped.

The C-class survivors from WWII, are listed in the 1946 Jane’s.

Just one C-class cruiser survived past 1948, Caroline, a past  Warship Wednesday alum. Having served as an RNVR drillship in Alexandra Dock, Belfast until 2011, since 2016 she has been a museum ship. She is the last remaining warship that was at Jutland.

Epilogue

As she was lost during WWII, little remains in terms of relics from our subject cruiser. Even the VC issued to the hero Alfred Sephton– who was buried at sea– was stolen in 1990 from its display case at the Coventry Cathedral and has never been recovered. The Sephton Cross is one of only 17 VCs, and the only one awarded to a member of the Royal Navy, to be reported stolen.

The Royal Navy recycled “Coventry” with a new Type 42 destroyer in 1974. Faithful to the legacy of the four warships with the same name that preceded it– three of which were captured and the fourth scuttled after being abandoned– this new destroyer would also perish in combat.

HMS Coventry (D118), shown in Hong Kong in 1980.

Sunk 25 May 1982 by Argentinean airstrikes, 19 sailors went down with said destroyer and another died 10 months later. As the survivors awaited rescue from the nearby ships, they sang Always Look on the Bright Side of Life in true Monty Python fashion.

A sixth Coventry, a Type 22 frigate (F88) commissioned in 1988, broke the chain of sacrifice and served 14 years before she was sold in a wave of post-Cold War drawdowns to Romania, where she still sails as Regele Ferdinand (F221), that country’s flagship. Fingers crossed she doesn’t hit a loose mine in the Black Sea.

Thus far, there has not been a seventh HMS Coventry.

Specs:

HMS Coventry cruiser layout WWII and Med camo scheme, via AJM Models. Note her Type 279 radar.

Displacement: 3,750 tons (designed); 4,320 fl; 4,799 deep load
Length: 446 ft (o/a)
Beam: 41 ft 6 in
Draught: 14 ft 10 in (with bunkers full, and complete with provisions, stores, and water: 16 feet 3 inches mean)
Propulsion: 8 Yarrow small tube boilers, 2 Brown-Curtis steam turbines, 2 shafts, 30,000 shp natural/40,000 forced draught
Speed: 28.5 knots max (some hit 29 on trials)
Number of Tons of Oil Fuel Carried: 841
Quantity of Water carried: For boilers, 70 tons, for drinking 49.25 tons
Ship’s Company (typical)
Officers: 31
Seamen: 149
Boys: 31
Marines: 36
Engine-room establishment: 88
Other non-executive ratings: 44
Total: 379
Boats:
One motorboat 30 feet
One sailing cutter 30 feet
Two whalers 27 feet, Montague
One gig 30 feet
Two skiff dinghies 16 feet
One motorboat 30 feet for Commodore’s use
Armor:
Waterline belt: 1.5–3 in
Deck: 1 in
Conning tower: 6 in
Armament:
(1918)
5 x single BL 6″/45 Mk XII guns on Forecastle, Forward superstructure, Aft Forward superstructure, and Quarterdeck
2 x QF 3-inch 20 cwt IV on Mark IV AAA mounting on foc’sle
2 x QF 2 pounder Pom-pom AAA on the aft superstructure
2 x twin 21-inch deck beam mounted torpedo tubes, typically with eight Mark IV Torpedoes
(1937)
10 x QF 4″/40 Mk Vs in open mounts


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A Field of Devastators

13 September 1941, 81 years ago today: Douglas TBD-1 Devastator aircraft of Torpedo Squadron Five (VT-5) parked at Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia. Douglas SBD-3 Dauntlesses of Bombing Squadron Five (VB-5) are beyond the TBDs, with Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters and Curtiss SB2U Vindicator scout bombers further in the left background.

U.S. Navy photo # 80-CF-55215-7
U.S. Navy photo # 80-CF-55215-7

The TBDs have recently been repainted in the new blue-gray and light gray color scheme, while the other planes are still in the earlier overall light gray. VT-5 and VB-5 were assigned to the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5), which left Norfolk on the following day for operations in the North Atlantic.

In late May 1942, VS-5 and VT-5, badly depleted at Coral Sea, were both replaced in Yorktown’s airwing with Bombing Three (VB-3) and Torpedo Three (VT-3), drawn from the sidelined USS Saratoga which was on the West Coast undergoing a repair from a Japanese torpedo, meaning they missed the battle of Midway.

History takes a hit…

It should come as no surprise that I’ve always loved living history stuff ever since I was a kid.

In my 20s, I even owned a McClellan saddle– the most uncomfortable saddle I have ever used– and took part in such activities myself.

The thing is, in a state of 20 million, the hobby has now effectively been blackballed.

Following a 6-3 ruling this summer from the U.S. Supreme Court concerning New York’s unconstitutional “may issue” concealed carry permitting scheme, state lawmakers scrambled to pass a flurry of new anti-gun bills in a matter of days. Breathlessly signed into law by Kathy Hochul, New York’s unelected governor, these included NY Senate Bill S51001 which bans the carry of legally possessed firearms– even with a permit– in “sensitive” places.

The thing is, on S51001’s sweeping list are libraries, museums, parks, performance venues, schools of all stripes, and just about any facility owned by Federal, state, or local governments, with zero exceptions. What this means for reenactors at New York’s historical forts and battlefields is that, while they may be welcome, their antique flintlocks, percussion muskets, pistols, and revolvers are not– under a threat of a felony charge.

Oof.

Welcome Back, Nautilus

The Submarine Force Museum Association, adjacent to U.S. Navy Submarine Base, Groton, welcomed the old USS Nautilus (SSN-571) in from the Thames River over the weekend following a $36 million drydocking and restoration.

Laid down on 14 June 1952– making her hull now 70 years old– she was the first American nuclear-powered submarine when she was commissioned on 30 September 1954 and soon set out making and breaking records.

In this file photo taken Jan. 21, 1954, the nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN 571) is in the Thames River shortly after a christening ceremony.

Following 25 years of hard service during which she covered 300,000 nautical miles, she retired in 1980 and, following an unprecedented $4.7 million conversion that saw her reactor and still-classified components removed, from 1986 served as an exhibit at the Submarine Force Museum– one that allowed patrons to walk the decks of the only nuclear submarine open to the public.

“The unique museum ship continues to serve as a dramatic link in both Cold War-era history and the birth of the nuclear age,” notes DANFS.

To keep her shipshape, she was closed last year and moved next door to Naval Submarine Base New London in 2021 for dry-dock and refurbishment, her first since 2002. Structural maintenance, such as the ship’s wooden deck replacement, repairs to the vessel’s superstructure, and restorations to the ship’s hull, were performed to extend the vessel’s longevity.

Nautilus revolutionized not only submarine warfare, but all of naval warfare. The capability to operate virtually indefinitely without the need to surface to run diesel engines or recharge batteries gave it an immense tactical advantage,” said Naval History and Heritage Command’s (NHHC) Director, RADM Samuel Cox last week. “Today we forget the existential nature of the Cold War, which drove the incredible pace at which Nautilus was conceived, designed, and built, truly a testament to American ingenuity. NHHC is proud to deliver this vessel back to the public and give future generations an opportunity to see it.”

The full ceremony 1.5 hours of the re-opening of USS Nautilus (SSN-571):

For more details on Nautilus, browse the NHHC.

And the guns rang out

Traditional gun salutes honoring the late Queen Elizabeth rang out across the United Kingdom on Friday “and at saluting stations at home and abroad as the world watched on and mourned her loss.”

The 96-gun salutes, one for each of her years, typically took an average of 16 minutes to ring out in slow fire, one round every 10 seconds.

The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired the Death Gun Salute in Hyde Park from Great War-era 13-pounder Field Guns.

The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery fire the Death Gun Salute in Hyde Park

And at the same time, it was also fired at the Tower of London by the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) in ceremonial attire. The latter salute is fired from four 25- pounder guns located on Tower Wharf facing the River Thames.

The Death Gun Salute was fired at the Tower of London by the Honourable Artillery Company.

Meanwhile in Scotland 96 rounds also rang out from the battlements of Edinburgh Castle as 105 Regiment Royal Artillery, an Army Reserve regiment that recruits across Scotland and in Northern Ireland, fired the salute with Major Brian Robson RA in charge. They use the current 105mm light howitzer the L118 (the U.S. Army uses a modified version, the M119 for airborne and light infantry units.)

Soldiers of 105 Regiment Royal Artillery fired three L118 Light Guns at Edinburgh Castle

In Wales, salutes rang out as 104 Regiment Royal Artillery, the only Army Reserve Artillery regiment in Wales, fired their salutes amid the sunshine and showers at Cardiff Castle.

In Colchester and East Essex Cricket Club, the salutes were fired by members of 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery from Colchester Garrison.

The Airborne gunners of F (Sphinx) Parachute Battery 7 Royal Horse Artillery fired 96 rounds from their L118s

In York, where the salutes took place at the York Museum Gardens, Lt Col Matt Brockleby, Commanding Officer, 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, said: “This is an honor for the Regiment.”

L118s of 4 Regiment Royal Artillery fire their Gun Salute at York Museum Gardens on Friday 9 September 2022

And over in Northern Ireland, Captain Joshua McKee, of 206 Battery 105 Regiment Royal Artillery, gave the order to fire the salutes as people laid flowers outside the walls of Hillsborough Castle.

A 96 Gun salute, conducted by 206 (Ulster) Battery, Royal Artillery at Royal Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland.

The ship’s company of HMS Queen Elizabeth mustered on the flight deck mid-Atlantic for their own 96-gun salute and to mark the passing of “the boss.”

A Good Pilot in a Capable Plane Goes a Long Way

On this day: 70 years ago (September 10, 1952), Captain Jesse Gregory Folmar (MCSN: 0-26438), from the “Checkerboards” of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 312 of the jeep carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118), shot down a North Korean (marked) MiG-15 to become the only F4U Corsair pilot to claim a MiG kill during the Korean War. After successfully engaging the MiG, Folmar was himself shot down by four other MiGs. He survived the attack and was rescued.

By Lou Drendel

The performance between the two aircraft is about 200 knots and 10,000 feet in ceiling, to the MiG’s advantage. However, Folmar, age 32 at the time, was no novice to his aircraft.

Born 13 Oct 1920 in Montgomery County, Alabama, he joined the Marines in WWII and learned his trade with the Corsair against the Japanese.

From Folmar’s Silver Cross citation for the dogfight:

When the two-plane flight which he was leading to the target area near Chinnampo was suddenly attacked by eight hostile jet interceptors, Captain Folmar immediately initiated effective defensive measures so that he and his wingman could bring fire to bear on the enemy aircraft. Aggressively maneuvering his plane to the inside of one of the attacking hostile jets, he skillfully fired a burst from his guns that ripped into the side of the jet, causing it to burst into flames and forcing the enemy pilot, with his clothing ablaze, to abandon the flaming jet which subsequently crashed into the Taedong estuary.

While Captain Folmar was maneuvering his aircraft to ward off another attack, his plane was hit and severely damaged by hostile fire, forcing him to parachute. With the hostile jets continuing to make firing runs, he landed in the water from which he was rescued by friendly forces.

By his indomitable courage, outstanding airmanship, and gallant devotion to duty, Captain Folmar was directly responsible for the complete destruction of a hostile jet aircraft and contributed materially to the safe return of his wingman, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Folmar died in 2004, aged 83, and is buried in Foley, Alabama. 

For reference, the Marines’ “tally sheet” for Korea, showing Folmar as both the last Corsair victory and the only one of a prop plane against a jet.

Shilling’s photo ‘Hawk

What a great original 80-year-old color photo of the American Volunteer Group “Flying Tigers” posing on one very special aircraft.

A group of AVG pilots poses for the camera. Erik Shilling is on the nose, William Bartling is next, with Frank Adkins is in the cockpit. Charles Bond and Robert Little are standing on the ground, Joe Rosbert and George Paxton are on the wing. The photograph was taken at Kunming on 11 APR 1942 by LIFE photographer Clare B. Luce. Luce was elected to Congress later that year and the photo would appear in the magazine in July, after the Tigers had been disbanded.

The “Blue Lipped” KMT Chinese-marked Tigers’ P-40 Warhawk above is Eriksen Emerson Shilling’s unarmed photo recon aircraft. It had been stripped of its guns and extra weight, then fitted with a 20-inch Fairchild camera in the baggage compartment behind the cockpit. Among other vital missions, Shilling had documented over 90 Japanese military aircraft on airfields around Bangkok at a time when Thailand was considered neutral.

While it took stones to fly against the much more numerous Japanese air forces in 1942 China-Burma, to do it sans armament was even more so.

The Flying Tiger pilots posing are the blonde Shilling (age 26 at the time), ace Bill Barthing, ace and future USAF MGen. Charles Bond, ace Frank Adkins, double ace Robert Laing “Bob” Little, ace Joe Rosbert, and the downright “elderly” paymaster George “Pappy” Paxton.

The same group was shown with Shilling (in a brown jacket and the same blue shirt) along with a uniformed Bartling, Paxton, Rosbert, and Adkins in a photo listed as being taken the next month but could have been the same day.

A group of “Hell’s Angels” pose for the camera in front of Charles Older’s #68 P-40 at Yunnan-yi on 28 MAY 1942. They are (sitting) Robert Smith, Ken Jernstedt, Bob Prescot, Link Laughlin, and Bill Reed. Standing are Erik Shilling and Arvid Olsen.

The photos were taken shortly before the AVG became the new, by-the-book, 23rd Fighter Group, which may account for Shilling wearing a blue shirt and no uniform.

Rather than join the 23rd FG, Shilling– who had served in the USAAF from 1938-41 and helped pioneer aerial recon at the time– opted instead to remain a pseudo-civilian and, along with several other Tigers, signed up with the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), the Pan Am-KMT operation moving supplies from India to Free China over the Himalayas.

Of note, just five of Chennault’s pilots (and 19 ground crewmen) went to the 23rd FS in July 1942 while at least 16 pilots, Shilling included, elected to go CNAC instead. The Regular Army life did not appeal to men who had already had it and went for something more exotic. 

Other volunteers went back to the states to see what they could find there, with the nation now officially in the war. These included a hard-drinking Marine first lieutenant by the name of Gregory Boyington who had resigned his regular commission in August 1941 as he was leaving for China with an unrealized understanding “that I would be reinstated without loss of precedence when I returned to United States Service.”

As for Shilling, he would go on to make no less than 350 dangerous trips over “The Hump” in WWII and go on to fly post-war for Chennault’s (paid for by the CIA) Civil Air Transport (CAT) line, delivering agents and supplies to places off the record throughout the Korean War and into Dien Bien Phu. CAT would, of course, go on to become Air America.

Meanwhile, Shilling would return to the U.S. in the 1960s and turn to a quieter, less-spooky life, passing in his mid-80s. 

More on Boyington later.

So long, Liz

Unless you have been under a rock for the past 24 hours, we have witnessed the end of the second Elizabethan age as Queen Elizabeth II died peacefully at Balmoral, Scotland, aged 96. Born early in one century and laid to rest well into another, she was crowned the same year Edmund Hillary ascended Mount Everest and an unsteady truce neared in the Korean War. Since then, she saw 14 U.S. Presidents, met with 15 Prime Ministers (Churchill was in office when she was coronated!), and saw the last leader of the Soviet Union buried.

I’m not here to eulogize, and indeed around the world lots of leftists and know-nothings, who bemoan everything British– without noting the ascendance of guys like Idi Amin/Yoweri Museveni, Robert Mugambe, and Yahya Jammeh to fill the vacuum the old Empire left behind– are celebrating her passing like a bunch of ghouls.

What I am going to do is point out her WWII military service, and the fact that she served at least 80 years continuously in the military.

Per the IWM:

queen eliz

During the Second World War, King George VI was reluctant to let his daughter – and heir – join any of the organisations that women could serve in during the war. However, in February 1945, Princess Elizabeth was allowed to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor, as she was known, was part of Number 1 ‘Beaufront’ Company and trained as a mechanic and truck driver in Surrey. Her classes included practical maintenance, mechanics theory and map reading. She told a friend, “I never worked so hard in my life. But I enjoyed it very much.” The princess graduated as a fully qualified driver, but the war ended before she was able to make practical use of her new skills

She remained a Junior Commander, Women’s Royal Army Corps after the war, rising to Captain by 1952 with semi-regular periods of service.

Like all monarchs and members of the Windsor family, she kept up her military obligations, and for the past 70 years, from 6 February 1952 through 8 September 2022, was Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces. As such, it is possible she inspected more troops than any leader in history.

RoyalLadiesMilitaryUniformQueenElizabeth

On Elizabeth’s sixteenth birthday, 21 April 1942, she was appointed Colonel of the Regiment of the Grenadier Guards and promptly inspected them in her first solo appearance. It was a responsibility she took seriously, after all, a war was on and some of the men were shipping out to North Africa shortly. 

She would inspect “her” Grenadiers as well as the Paras just prior to D-Day. 

Princess Elizabeth inspecting the 2nd (Armoured) Battalion Grenadier Guards, 5th Guards Armoured Brigade, Guards Armoured Division, at Hove in East Sussex, England prior to DDay – May 1944. IWM – Malindine E G (Captain) Photographer. © IWM H 38532

Princess Elizabeth visits British Airborne Troops prior to DDay May 1944 IWM H 38603

Ultimatley, she was named Colonel-in-Chief of the: Royal Australian Engineers, Royal Australian Infantry Corps, Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps, Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps, le Régiment de la Chaudière, 48th Highlanders of Canada, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s), Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery,  Governor General’s Horse Guards, King’s Own Calgary Regiment, Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Royal 22e Régiment, Governor General’s Foot Guards, Canadian Grenadier Guards, Carleton and York Regiment, Canadian Guards, Royal New Brunswick Regiment, Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps, Calgary Highlanders, Wellington Regiment, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps, The Life Guards, Royal Horse Guards, Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards, Irish Guards, Welsh Guards, Royal Regiment of Artillery, Corps of Royal Engineers, Royal Tank Regiment, Malawi Rifles, Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons), Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Corps of Royal Military Police, Queen’s Gurkha Engineers,Queen’s Royal Lancers, Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry, Royal Welsh, Royal Regiment of Scotland, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.

As well as the Air-Commodore-in-Chief of the Territorial Air Force of New Zealand, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, Royal Air Force Regiment, Royal Observer Corps; Captain-General of the Honourable Artillery Company, Commandant-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force College, Countess of Ranfurly’s Own Auckland Regiment, et.al…

She was tied to the Forces in both public and private in every way, and it could be argued her primary job since the age of 16 had been that of a service member. 

Special ties to the Fleet

Elizabeth was closely associated with the Royal Navy. After all, she was the daughter, wife, and mother of naval officers.

She was also a battleship sailor, having embarked on HMS Vanguard in 1947 for the Royal Cruise to Africa. She was familiar with the Royal Navy’s final (and largest) dreadnought, having christened her in 1944 while still Princess Elizabeth– the first time her standard was broken out on an RN vessel.

She also became possibly the only Queen in history with a Shellback certificate, as she took part in the traditional festivities upon Crossing the Line. 

Elizabeth participated in the traditional line-crossing ceremony and was initiated into the Kingdom of Neptune. Elizabeth was a good sport but was excused from a few of the harsher hazings meted out to Pollywogs

She even got in some target practice from Vanguard’s decks in 1947 and was reportedly a good shot. Of note, while I have seen several images of her with a rifle, I have never seen her use eye or ear protection– and tough old bird indeed.

The 1953 Spithead Review, while smaller than some that came before, was the largest gathering of British warships that has not been surpassed since– and likely never will. Of note, Vanguard would grace the cover of the official commemorative as flagship.

The 1953 Spithead Coronation Review.

She also sponsored five other warships and submarines including the new carrier that holds her name, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), the largest British warship ever built, and attended her christening in 2014. A bottle of fine Scotch from the 240-year-old Bowmore Distillery was broken across the carrier’s bow via an actuator that the Queen controlled via a push button. 

In remembrance

Now, across the corners of the Commonwealth, there will be celebrations of her passing– heck, Biden has ordered all federal ensigns half-masted. The most notable, besides the looming pageantry of her state funeral, will be “Death Gun” 96-gun salutes fired from Cyprus to Sydney.

As noted by the New Zealand Army: 

𝗗𝗲𝗮𝘁𝗵 𝗚𝘂𝗻 𝗦𝗮𝗹𝘂𝘁𝗲 𝗺𝗮𝗿𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗮𝘀𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗼𝗳 𝗛𝗲𝗿 𝗠𝗮𝗷𝗲𝘀𝘁𝘆 𝗤𝘂𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗘𝗹𝗶𝘇𝗮𝗯𝗲𝘁𝗵 𝗜𝗜, 𝗪𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗴𝘁𝗼𝗻 𝗪𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗳𝗿𝗼𝗻𝘁, 𝟵 𝗦𝗲𝗽𝘁𝗲𝗺𝗯𝗲𝗿 𝗮𝘁 𝟲.𝟬𝟬𝗽𝗺
 
We will fire a Death Gun Salute marking the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the Wellington waterfront this evening.
 
16 Field Regiment will fire 96 rounds – one round for every year of Her Majesty’s life. The Death Gun Salute will commence at 6pm. The salute is expected to last at least 16 minutes. 
 
Given the length of time the gun salute will take to conduct, it is recommended that hearing protection is worn by those planning to attend.

After 60 years you’re still the most beautiful ship in the world

As we covered in a past Warship Wednesday on the Italian Navy’s historic nave scuola (training ship) Amerigo Vespucci (A5312), according to legend, while sailing in the Med in the 1960s, the 80,000-ton Forrestal-class supercarrier USS Independence, on a deployment with the Sixth Fleet duty in support of President John F. Kennedy’s firm stand on the newly-established Berlin Wall, came across a strange tall ship at sea.

The carrier flashed the vessel, Vespucci, with the light signal asking, “Who are you?” The answer, “Training ship Amerigo Vespucci, Italian Navy,” came back. Independence was said to have replied, “You are the most beautiful ship in the world.”

AMERIGO VESPUCCI Italian Training Ship, Sails past USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62) in the Mediterranean, 12 July 1962. The Navy later used this image on recruiting posters and advertising in the 1960s and 70s. USN 1061621

Well, in a salute to that exchange, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) transited the Adriatic Sea alongside Vespucci on 1 September to commemorate the (just passed) 60th anniversary of the 1962 meeting between Indy and Italy’s senior national vessel.

As related by the Marina Militare, the signal from the big American flat top remained very similar: “Amerigo Vespucci, after 60 years you’re still the most beautiful ship in the world”

The Navy also marked the Bush’s 25 August passage through the Strait of Gibraltar with a nice time-lapse video. 

Of note, the GHWBCSG is comprised of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, Destroyer Squadron 26, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55).

“The GHWBCSG is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe area of operations, employed by U.S. Sixth Fleet to defend U.S., allied and partner interests.” 

Speaking of carrier news…

In case you missed it, the Indian Navy’s third aircraft carrier– after the Kiev-class INS Vikramaditya (ex-Admiral Gorshkov) and Centaur-class INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes)– and first to be indigenously built, the brand new INS Vikrant (R11), was commissioned last week on 2 September after a 23-year planning and construction period.

The new $3 billion (which is a bargain compared to a $13 billion Ford-class CVN) carrier runs 860 feet overall and hits the scales with a 45,000-ton displacement, making her roughly the size of an old Essex-class fleet carrier of WWII or a current LHA/LHD but sans landing equipment. Using a COGAG suite of four LM2500 gas turbines– the same as an Arleigh Burke— she can make 30 knots. 

She actually compares well to the new $7.4 billion 65,000-ton British Queen Elizabeth class carriers, although it should be pointed out that the QEs operate F-35s (if they ever get enough of them). 

The Indian carrier’s armament is Italian/Israeli/Russian, electronics are from all over Europe, and her air group (for now) will be 30-ish STOBAR ski-jumped MiG-29Ks and a few Kamov Ka-31 ASW helicopters. However, this is set to change as the Indians are receiving MH-60Rs from the U.S. and it is between Dassault Rafale-M and the F-18E/F (with odds going towards the cheaper French option). 
 
Boeing recently completed ski jump tests with a Super Hornet loaded with two 500lb laser-guided bombs, AIM9Xs, and AIM-120s.
 
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