Category Archives: military history

Repel Boarders!

Happy New Year and man your scissors, gentlemen.

Detail of “A possible future of Naval Warfare,” by noted artist Will Crawford, published in Puck, Oct. 27, 1909:

My favorite part is the Tar in the forward mast reaching forward to cut the apparently French balloonist’s canvas bag with a pair of scissors.

See the splendid full-sized (141 MB) image at the Library of Congress, showing armed zeppelins, flying machines, Holland-style submersibles, battleships, and the like, some a bit ahead of its time.

In all, a really great image that fans of the page will no doubt find enjoyable.

Caption: Surely the world is growing better! Whereas formerly we fought our naval battles on top of the water only, we now may fight them on the water, over the water, and under the water!

Flash and the locals

Here we see a Daimler Mk. 1 Scout Car, apparently named “Flash”, crewed by Troopers W. Balinnan and A. Gallant of an unidentified Canadian reconnaissance regiment [likely the 4th Reconnaissance Regiment/IV Princess Louise’s Dragoon Guards], after the capture of Bagnacavallo, in Northern Italy’s Ravenna region, 3 January 1945.

The Canucks are speaking with a pair of local partisans, Louisa and Italo Cristofori. Note Louisa’s M1928 Thompson sub gun.

Photographer: Alexander Mackenzie Stirton. Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No.

Five regiments operated the Daimler in Canadian service during WWII besides Princess Louise’s– the Royal Canadian Dragoons, 12th Manitoba Dragoons, 17th Duke of York’s Royal Canadian Hussars and 14th Canadian Hussars– besides numerous smaller units that had a car or two for liaison and recce tasks.

The Daimler typically carries a 2-pounder (40mm) gun as well as a coaxial light machine gun. It could make 50 mph on good roads but only had enough armor to defeat machine gun rounds. It apparently remained in service with some Commonwealth countries as late as 2012.

Happy New Year, guys!

New Year’s Day off Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 1 January 1912:

A boat from USS South Dakota (Armored Cruiser No. 9) alongside the embarkation ladder of USS Maryland (Armored Cruiser No. 8), paying a traditional New Year’s Day call. The boat appears to be rigged as a brigantine, probably purely for decoration.

Photographed by McDaniel. Courtesy of Lloyd Harmon. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 50361

It was customary to exchange visits among ships in the same harbor on New Year’s Day. Note the caption: “14 Saluting Gun Crews Man Your Batteries!”

This is just shy of the 15-gun salute required of an Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, pointing to the fact that a somewhat lesser figure– perhaps Father Time or Baby New Year– has just arrived.

Regardless of who was on the launch, let’s hope this year will be better than the last…

‘Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Hitler?’: So Long, Dad’s Army, 75 Years Ago

LDV ( Local Defence Volunteers – the forerunner of the Home Guard) in instructed on how to fire a rifle at the National Shooting Centre in Bisley, Surrey, 22 June 1940.  

On 31 December 1945, with Hitler long gone and Tojo under Allied custody, the final, skeletonized units of the British Home Guard were formally disbanded.

Initially founded as the Local Defence Volunteers, or LDV, on 14 May 1940, the force took on a new urgency and

meaning after Dunkirk when it became seen as very real insurance against a looming German invasion (Unternehmen Seelöwe) that never left port. From motley beginnings, they grew to a peak strength of 1.6 million men and boys.

Their most common tasking was in guarding downed Luftwaffe aircraft and UXO, and rounding up German aircrews that hit the silk over the British Isles.

They did, reportedly, down at least one Dornier with “concentrated rifle fire.”

One of the most popular arms in the Home Guard, at least after 1941, was the M1917 “American Enfield,” with a whopping 500,000 transferred, replacing the sorry state of affairs the lads began with that included everything from old fowling pieces and Napoleanic War relics to homemade pikes and fireplace pokers. 

The December 1945 disbandment was quiet and without much ceremony. The closest that Dad’s Army came to a public farewell was when a massed 7,000-man force paraded through Hyde Park the year prior as the operations were increasingly being drawn down.

Service was unpaid, although men who completed three years with the Home Guard could petition for a Defense Medal in recognition of their, wholly voluntary, service. 

Most were simply mustered out with a handshake, a bit of kit they were able to squirrel away as a memento, and a certificate that read simply:

In the years when our Country was in mortal danger, (name) who served (dates) gave generously of his time and powers to make himself ready for her defence by force of arms and with his life if need be. George R.I.

 

Aging Icebreaker Sets Polar Record

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) underway in the Chukchi Sea, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, at about 10:30 a.m. The 44-year-old heavy icebreaker is underway for a months-long deployment to the Arctic to protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham.

The country’s only heavy icebreaker, U.S Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10), on Christmas Day reached a record-breaking winter Arctic latitude while in the course of a grueling 30-day winter deployment to wave the flag in the increasingly crowded northern seas.

As noted by the USCG:

Polar Star‘s crew navigated beyond 72 degrees latitude shortly before noon Friday before changing course and heading south to continue their Arctic deployment.

“The crew achieved a notable milestone Christmas Day by traversing farther into the harsh, dark winter Arctic environment than any cutter crew in our service’s history,” said Capt. Bill Woitrya, the cutter’s commanding officer.

“Our ice pilots expertly navigated the Polar Star through sea ice up to four-feet thick and, in doing so, serve as pioneers to the country’s future of Arctic explorations.”

With frigid Arctic winds and air temperatures regularly well below zero, Polar Star‘s engineers work around-the-clock to keep frozen machinery equipment running and the ship’s interior spaces warm enough for the crew.

The 44-year-old icebreaker is underway to project power and support national security objectives throughout Alaskan waters and into the Arctic, including along the Maritime Boundary Line between the United States and Russia.

The Polar Star crew is also working to detect and deter illegal fishing by foreign vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and conduct Arctic training essential for developing future icebreaker operators.

The Polar Star’s record-breaking winter Arctic latitude is 72° 11′ N.

It should be noted that Polar Star, while on her regular McMurdo resupply to the Antarctic last year– a mission suspended in 2020 due to the coof– suffered a serious electrical/engineering casualty underway, so it is nice to see that she is doing better this year and is headed back home.

Of course, her crew is having to battle that age-old boogeyman of the Arctic– knocking ice off the ship that accumulated from sea spray to keep topside weight to a manageable level. 

Those who have done the task know first hand it is one of those jobs that looks fun until you do it for about two minutes. 

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

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, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

Photograph A 31788 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Here we see the crew of the Royal Navy light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) tooling up snowballs while frosty Fleet Air Arm Sea Furies and Fireflies sit by in cold storage, some 70 years ago this month. Don’t let the snap fool you, the British carrier at the time was off Korea, which was ridiculously hot when it came to combat, and both her crew and airwing were doing their part.

Theseus was one of 16 planned 1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot-long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25-knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers were lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies or remain on station in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

Capable of carrying up to 52 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry. Click to very much big up so you can read the details. 

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Two were completed as a peculiar RN invention of a “maintenance carrier,” intended just to repair and ferry but not operate aircraft. Some were immediately transferred to expanding Commonwealth fleets. Suddenly, the Australians, Canadians, and Indians became carrier operators. The Dutch (then Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader Colossus was sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Laid down 6 January 1943 at the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland, the same yard that built the famous Cunard liners RMS Campania and RMS Lucania, the mighty 32,000-ton carrier HMS Implacable (R86), and two-thirds of the infamous “Live Bait Squadron” cruisers, HMS Cressy and HMS Aboukir, Theseus came too late for the war, entering the fleet 9 February 1946. She was the third RN warship to carry the name of the mythical Athenian king, following in the footsteps of a ship-of-the-line that fought at the Nile and a Great War-era protected cruiser of the Edgar class.

Originally assigned to serve in the British Pacific Fleet, she sailed for Singapore to serve as the flagship for the 1st Carrier Squadron in the Far East. The brand-new carrier made a splash in Australia and the Western Pacific on her arrival.

HMS Theseus, Gibraltar 25th February 1947 on the way to the Pacific. Deck hockey on the Flight Deck, on the port side of the carrier island. Note the Sea Otter amphibious aircraft

HMS Theseus (R64) 11 July 1947 arriving in Australia. State Library of Victoria – Allan C. Green collection of glass negatives. H91.250/183

The same day, H91.250/181. Note her starboard elevated 40mm Bofors mounts.

And another, H91.250/179. Again, note her Bofors and extensive raft collection. Keep in mind that, while this was 1947, there were still plenty of unaccounted-for sea mines left around the world from the war, and tensions between the East and West were ramping up, with the Berlin Airlift approaching.

However, as soon as she arrived, the Admiralty was forced, due to dire post-war cost-cutting measures, to pull most of its capital ships back to Home Waters. Subsequently, the Fleet Air Arm Naval Air Bases in Ceylon and Singapore were closed, and Theseus returned prematurely from abroad.

Nonetheless, she would be back soon enough.

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel, Theseus’s sister, HMS Triumph, happened to be in Japanese waters with the rump occupation fleet of Task Force 95 and soon, in conjunction with the American Essex-class fleet carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), was performing air strikes on North Korean airfields within a week of the outbreak of the conflict.

As for Theseus, she had served in UK waters as Flagship of the 3rd Aircraft Carrier Squadron, Home Fleet, and trained with Vampire jet aircraft. On 14 August, she cast off from Plymouth to relive the understrength and rapidly wearing-out Triumph.

HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea carrying 23 Furies from 807 Squadron and 12 Fireflies from 813 Squadron, 17th Carrier Air Group, beginning strikes on North Korean targets on 9 October 1950. The day before, RADM William Gerrard “Bill” Andrewes, a Jutland veteran on his third war, arrived aboard and raised his flag.

THE KOREAN WAR 1950-1953 (KOR 638) A raid in progress on warehouses on the waterfront at Chinnampo in North Korea by Fairey Firefly aircraft from HMS THESEUS. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205020623

By 10 October, one of her planes, Sea Fury VW628, had been lost in a strike against the Chang-you railway bridge but its pilot, LT Stanley Leonard, was recovered by an American helicopter, a novelty, and returned (eventually) to the ship.

Speaking of helicopters, a U.S. Navy HO3S-1 (Sikorsky S-51) was assigned to Theseus to act as a ResCap plane guard in place of Sea Otter floatplanes, a mission they had also conducted with Triumph.

As noted in an excellent article on the subject by the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia:

HU-1’s first RN plane guard detachment consisted of one helicopter a few mechs, who doubled as aircrew, and one pilot, a Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Engine Mechanic Dan Fridley. Fridley was called a naval aviation pilot, to distinguish him from a naval aviator. Naval Aviators were officers, and Naval Aviation Pilots were enlisted men. ADC(AP) Fridley went the whole hog for Theseus, painting the Union Jack, “ROYAL NAVY” and “HMS THESEUS” on the side. The British tars, having no previous close-up experience with this new-fangled thing called a helicopter dubbed her “The Thing,” an appellation Fridley and his crew quickly embraced, going so far as to add that name to the rest of the whirlybird’s livery.

A USN HU-1 aboard HMS Theseus in the Korean campaign. Christened “The Thing” by RN sailors who had never seen such a contraption, the helicopter was on loan for SAR duties. Note the nickname painted on the side, and, further aft, the Union Jack and the words “HMS Theseus”. The helicopter transferred to HMAS Sydney when first Theseus and then Glory were relieved on Station. Via Fleet Air Arm of Australia.

As noted by a reunion site for the carrier:

The American helicopter rescue service cannot be too highly praised. Lts. Leonard, Humphreys, Keighley-Peach and Bowman were picked up behind enemy lines by these grand helicopter crews and Lts. Hamilton, Pinsent and Mr. Bailey and Acmn. II Loveys were picked up out of the sea by them. Lt.-Cdr. Gordon-Smith and Lt. Kelly were picked up by destroyers.

It was the stuff of newsreel footage.

The Thing was not the only American whirlybirds carried by Theseus. She also embarked helicopters from USS Worcester (CL-144) who specialized in counter-mine operations, another innovation.

By November 1950, with the North Koreans on the ropes, things kicked into high gear as hundreds of thousands of Chinese “Volunteers” poured across the Yalu River, starting an entirely new war for those tired of the old one.

And all of it in bitterly cold winter weather with snow and ice present.

HMS THESEUS IN WINTER WEATHER OFF KOREAN COAST. 8 DECEMBER 1950, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS OFF THE WEST COAST OF KOREA. (A 31790) On the flight deck of HMS THESEUS, Firefly, and Sea Fury aircraft covered with snow on the deck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162768

From Air Space Historian on the intensity of air ops from what was essentially a CVL:

Between 9 October and 5 November 1950, Theseus’ Furies (avg 19.3) made 492 sorties. From 5 December to 26 December, 423 Fury sorties were flown by an average of 19.6 aircraft. From 7 January 1951 to 23 March, 20.8 Furies flew 718 sorties, for a total of 1634 sorties over 98 days of operation (of which only 65 days were suitable for flying). All told, Theseus launched 3,500 sorties on 86 days during its seven-month deployment. During the first six months, Theseus’ air wing dropped 829,000 lbs. of explosives and fired 7,317 rockets and “half a million rounds of 20mm ammunition.” In recognition of these efforts, Theseus and the 17th Carrier Air Group was awarded the Rear-Admiral Sir Denis Boyd trophy for 1950 for “outstanding feat of naval aviation”

HMS Theseus Operating in Korea. 18 March 1951, on Board the Carrier at Sasebo, Japan. Vice Admiral W G Andrewes, KBE, CB, DSO, Commander of the British Commonwealth and Allied Fleet in Korean Waters, also responsible for the naval blockade of Korea, inspects the Marine Guard onboard HMS THESEUS. He is accompanied by Captain R S L Muldowney, RM, who commands the Marine detachment in THESEUS, and the Commanding Officer Captain A S Bolt, DSC, RN. The Marines are, left to right: Bugler J Noyes, Windsor, Berks; Sgt J Money, Deal, Kent; Marine G A Reckless, Rochdale, Lancs; Cpl A R Mead, Budliegh, Salterton, Devon; Marine J Neal, Portsmouth, Hants; Marine A D Whicker, Finsbury Park, London; Marine G P Quinn, Liverpool; Marine G Stevenson, Hatfield, Herts.

The British light fleet aircraft carrier HMS Theseus (R64) approaches Sasebo, Japan at the end of her deployment in Korea. Admiral A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command Far East, inspects the ship’s company who are formed up to spell out the ship’s name for the camera. April 1951. IWM A31901.

A stern-shot of the same image. Note the recognition stripes on her air wing, an easy solution borrowed from 1944 to try and avoid blue-on-blue air combat with so many different types of planes aloft over Korea

On 23 April 1951, sistership HMS Glory arrived from the UK to relieve her, with Bill Andrewes remaining behind to carry on the British efforts with the UN forces. Throughout the war, Commonwealth-manned Colossus and Majestic-class light carriers endured off the coast– the Admiralty tasking them rather than larger flattops to save money– with Glory being replaced by HMS Ocean and HMAS Sydney, while HMCS Warrior transported replacement aircraft from Britain. In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget carriers during the Korean conflict.

Her epic Korean tour over, Theseus sailed back for Portsmouth, arriving 29 May 1951, having been away from home for 285 days. In 215 days at sea, rotating back to Japan five times to re-arm and re-provision, she steamed 36,401 miles. She is mentioned extensively in the U.S. Navy’s history of the conflict.

Her Korean Campaign saw:


Number of Deck Landings: 4,594
Number of Catapult Launchings:  3,593
Number of Hours Flown: 10,189
Number of Flying Days: 114
Average number of Hours per Pilot: 268
Her scorecard:

Destroyed— 93 Junks, 153 Railway Trucks, 25 Railway Bridges, 485 Buildings, 73 Road Trucks, 66 Store Dumps, 6 Railway Tunnels, 17 Warehouses, 33 Gun Positions, 16 Road Bridges, 13 Railway Engines, 8 Tanks, 3 Railway Stations, 19 Factories, 5 Power Stations, 10 Command Posts, 4 Railway Sheds, 2 Jetties, 3 Cars, 1 Hangar, 5 Roadblocks, 12 Carts, 51 Barrack Buildings, 2 Steam Rollers, 2 Omnibuses, 1 Tug, 1 Excavator, 1 Floating Bridge, 1 “Bulldozer,” 1 Pump House.

Damaged— 18 Road Bridges, 77 Junks, 69 Railway Wagons, 1 Gun Position. 35 Buildings. 2 Store Dumps, 22 Warehouses, 34 Road Trucks, 1 Tractor, 15 Railway Bridges, 5 Railway Tunnels, 1 Airfield Runway, 4 Tanks, 18 Barrack Buildings, 1 Excavator, 4 Railway Sheds, 5 Factories, 10 Vehicle Revetments, 42, Sampans.

 

Peace

After an extensive refit and working back up, Theseus was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet in February 1952 to relieve sistership HMS Ocean, which was being prepared for service in Korea.

HMS THESEUS AT TRIESTE. NOVEMBER 1952, THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS FLOODLIT DURING A VISIT TO TRIESTE. (A 32386) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163257

The aircraft carrier HMS THESEUS leaving Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta. Astern are HMS GLASGOW, HMS CUMBERLAND, and HMNZ BLACK PRINCE. July 1953 IWM A 32611

In September 1953, she responded to the Paphos earthquake in Cyprus, which had left 50,000 without food or water. Her crews and embarked Dragonfly helicopters were just the ticket in the humanitarian crisis, buzzing around lending a hand while bringing aid and medical attention.

Theseus entering Malta starboard bow circa 1953 via Clydeships 201607061331400.C3

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Theseus and her sister Ocean should be re-tasked from operating fixed-wing aircraft and refitted for helicopters and a battalion-sized element of marines, then deemed “Commando Carriers,” a concept akin to a U.S. LPH. 

This brings us to…

Suez Crisis: Operation Musketeer.

After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, our two new commando carriers were part of the Anglo-French intervention, embarking troops and stores for passage to Cyprus and then on to North Africa. There, Whirlwinds and Sycamores from their decks took part in an early combat experiment in vertical envelopment from the sea, seizing Port Said.

Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) is shown with a crowded deck of Westland Whirlwind and Bristol Sycamore helicopters of the joint RAF/Army unit which operated alongside Royal Navy helicopters from her flight deck, November-December 1956. Note the French hospital ship in the background. IWM A 33639.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade [actually a mortar bomb] before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. Note his sand goggles, Pattern 37 webbing, and Denison smock– all looking very WWII. IWM A 33636.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. Note the desert goggles and MK V STEN gun of the Marine closest to the camera as well as the 2-inch patrol mortar with bomb tubes on deck. A 33635

British Royal Marines of 45 Commando loading into Royal Navy Westland Whirlwinds aboard the Colossus-class light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) to assault Egyptian positions during the Suez

Royal Navy Westland Whirlwind helicopters taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from the commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) during “Operation Musketeer”. November 1956. IWM A 33640.

After the Suez Crisis abated, she withdrew elements of the Army’s 16th Parachute Brigade from Egypt to Malta.

Troops, probably from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Port Said Egypt embarking on HMS THESEUS for the journey to Malta after the withdrawal from the crisis zone. Note the MK III “turtle” helmets on their packs and all of the No. 4 Enfields. The Brits had officially adopted the inch-pattern FN FAL, the L1A1 SLR, two years prior but they were not widespread at the time of the Suez and the old bolt guns were still around for some time, especially in support units. IWM HU 104203

After spending another year at Portsmouth in the Training Squadron, Theseus was mothballed in October 1957, having served just 11 years with the fleet. Paid off the next year, she was laid up until sold to BISCO for breaking-up at Inverkeithing, arriving at the breakers yard on 29 May 1962.

The last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 then scrapped. The final vessel of her class sent to the breakers, the third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang.

Since 1958, there has not been a Theseus in the Royal Navy.

A memorial marker to the six men lost from Theseus in Korea is in Cobham Hall at the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

She is also remembered in maritime art.

HMS Theseus by John S Smith. Via the Illustration Art Gallery https://bookpalace.com/acatalog/info_SmithJSCarrierLL.html

HMS Theseus by Ivan Berryman. Two Fairey Firefly fighter-bombers of 810 Sqn, Fleet Air Arm, overfly the carrier HMS Theseus during the Korean War. Via Ivan Berryman.com https://www.ivanberryman.com/ivan_berryman_art.php?ProdID=3212

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Ghosts of Torpedo Tubes Past

Alternatively described by the Soviets/Russians as a “submarine chaser” or a “frigate” the vintage Udaloy I-class destroyer Marshal [Boris] Shaposhnikov (BPK 543) was commissioned the same year that young upstart Gorbachev was named General Secretary of the CPSU and had been ordered while Brezhnev was still around.

The 8,000-ton Shaposhnikov recently emerged from a three-year modernization that included the installation of 16 huge vertical-launched Kalibr cruise missiles to augment his (Russian warships are always masculine) Uran anti-ship missiles and Kinzhal SAMs. Assigned to the Pacific Fleet, Shaposhnikov just pulled off a complete live-fire test of all systems in the waters of the Sea of ​​Japan.

The below shows not only the missiles, 100mm AK-190 main gun, and AK-630 CIWS going loud but has a great view of the distinctive trainable four-pack 21-inch torpedo tubes, reminiscent of old-school WWII era tubes.

I guess if it ain’t broke…

Just three Udaloys are in fleet service with the Russians today although several others are in reserve with at least two of those sidelined ships– Admiral Levchenko and Admiral Chabanenko— expected to be reworked to the same standard as Shaposhnikov.

By comparison, the oldest American Tico, USS Bunker Hill (CG-52), is still almost two years newer than Shaposhnikov and is expected to head off to red lead row very soon.

From the Midwest to Malmedy

Just three Midwestern guys smoking and joking while backpacking through Europe, 76 years ago today.

Official caption: En route to front lines, beyond Malmedy, Belgium, American Infantrymen pause to rest. Left to right, Sgt. Lyle Greene, Rochester Minnesota, S/Sgt. Joseph DeMott, Greenwood, Ind., and Pfc. Fred Mozzoni, Chicago, Illinois. 29 December 1944.

Note the extra bandoliers and enthusiasm for grenades. Signal Corps Photo 111-SC-198409 via National Archives

Due to the geographical makeup of the above group, I would wager they are dismounts from the 106th Cavalry Regiment, an Illinois Army National Guard whose armory was in the Windy City, which would explain the tanker boots on DeMott and Mozzoni.

The 106th, formerly the 1st Illinois Volunteer Cav back when they rode horses, was federalized 25 November 1940 and spent most of the war in Texas and Lousiana. Landing in Normandy in late June 1944, they pushed from Northern France, through the Ardennes-Alsace, into the Rhineland, and finished WWII in Austria, being the first unit American troops to enter Salzburg before going on to free King Leopold of Belgium who had been a German prisoner for five years.

They fought dismounted at the Battle of the Bulge, which is when the above image hails from, and patrolled north of Sarrebourg to scout for German forces.

Suffering 700 casualties in their 10-month trek across Europe from the coast of France to the Alps, they returned to the States in October 1945 and today make up part of the 33rd Brigade Combat Team of the Illinois Army National Guard.

Redlegs Stretch theirs out to 70 Clicks

Who says Tube Arty is irrelevant? The Army contends they have made the longest distance precision-guided shot in history using one.

The Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA), designated the XM1299 howitzer, was developed in 2019 by BAE Systems. Based on the pre-existing M109A7 Paladin, it uses a much-longer XM907 155mm/58 caliber gun rather than the legacy 155/39, as well as a host of other improvements above the turret ring, and is planned to enter service in 2Q FY2023.

From an Army Presser:

The first successful test of a 70 km (43 miles) shot with a precision-guided munition took place on December 19, 2020 at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground.

The live fire demonstration used the Excalibur projectile and was the culmination of a campaign of learning on multiple systems.

“Not only did the test show the design robustness of a current fielded projectile to demonstrate lethality at extended ranges, it did so while maintaining accuracy, marking a major milestone in support of Long Range Precision Fires objectives of achieving overmatch artillery capability in 2023,” said Col. Anthony Gibbs, Project Manager for Combat Ammunition Systems.

Providing longer range than that of potential adversaries, is a significant combat multiple for maneuver commanders and the Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team (LRPF-CFT) was established to tackle that objective. Their mission includes increasing lethality, improving rates of fire, and enabling deep fires to shape the battlefield and set conditions for the brigade combat team close fight.

Multiple efforts including new propellant charges, an Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) system, multiple projectiles with varying capabilities, and target identification and tracking systems, are under development to increase range and reduce the time from target identification to effects on target.

Personally, I’d like to see one or two of these guns navalised and put in low-profile mounts on the Zumwalts, perhaps alongside if not in place of the fabled Naval Rail Gun system, replacing the failed 155mm AGS. But that would make too much sense. 

Reverting back to Treasury, 75 Years ago Today

At the time of its inception in January of 1915, the U.S. Coast Guard was composed of approximately 1,800 officers and men from the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and approximately 2,200 from the U.S. Life-Saving Service. That number is good to keep in mind when compared to what the agency would muster just 30 years later.

As occurred during the Great War, on 1 November 1941, President Franking D. Roosevelt signed an executive order reassigning the service’s duties from the Treasury Department to the Navy for another world war.

Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors and Mousetraps crowding her bow.

In all, 214,000 personnel served in the Coast Guard during WWII, of whom 92 percent were in the USCGR, with an additional 125,000 personnel serving in the Temporary Reserve, the latter manning the myriad “Corsair Fleet” of 2,998 converted motor and sail craft used for local patrol that had been acquired through purchase, charter or gift, principally to combat the submarine menace along the coasts.

The USCG was very much in the cold-weather schooner biz in the 1940s, manning almost 3,000 small craft of all kinds to patrol the U.S. coastline. 

At its strongest, on 1 September 1945, the Coast Guard totaled 170,480, including 9,624 uniformed women serving in the SPARS.

1943- U.S. Coast Guard SPAR packing an M1903 Springfield rifle at the Cleveland Armory 

To patrol 3,700 miles of American beaches for saboteurs landing from the sea, a scratch force of 24,000 officers and men, assisted by over 2,000 sentry dogs and nearly 3,000 horses, was built from the ground up almost overnight.

A patrol somewhere along the Atlantic coast shown in the new uniform of the U.S. Coast Guard Mounted Beach Patrol, circa 1943

In addition to the 1,677 Coast Guard-flagged craft in active service at the end of the FY1945, Coast Guard personnel on 1 August 1945 were manning 326 Navy craft– including 76 LSTs, 21 cargo and attack-cargo ships, 75 frigates, and 31 transports– as well as 254 Army vessels, with about 50,000 Coastguard men serving on Navy and 6,000 on Army craft.

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

The Coast Guard maintained nine air stations along the coasts of the United States, under the operational control of the various sea frontiers, with a total of 165 planes, including armed PBYs and J2Fs. These served as task units in the conduct of air-sea rescue. Assistance was rendered in 686 plane crashes and 786 lives were saved during FY1945 alone.

USCG PBY-5 Catalina over San Diego Bay. October 22, 1940

Some 28 USCG-manned vessels were lost during WWII, including three large cutters– Alexander Hamilton, Acacia, and Escanaba— adding 572 Coast Guardsmen to the massive butcher’s bill of the conflict.

On this day in 1945, the agency switched back to the Treasury Department, where it remained until 1972 when it moved to the Department of Transportation, and today it is in DHS, one of the inaugural agencies that started it in 2002.

For more on the USCG in WWII, check out the Coast Guard Historian’s portal on the subject.

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