Category Archives: military history

Happy Birthday, Alpini

With bragging rights that self-credit them as the oldest continually-formed Alpine mountain infantry in the world, Italy’s Alpini date back to 15 October 1872, when 15 companies were formed to a concept developed by Captain Giuseppe Perrucchetti, trained and equipped to fight successfully in the most inhospitable climates along frozen peaks and rocky crags.

Italian Alpini at his post on the front with Austria, 1916. IWM Q 65104

Italian Alpini climbing Fiat–Revelli Modello 1914 machine gun in the Dolomites during the First World War

Italian Alpini on parade in the Baltic during NATO operations, 2019. 

Since then, the “Black Feathers” have been an elite force, tapped by Italy for much overseas use from the Boxer Rebellion to the more recent wars in Afghanistan. They fought the Austro-Hungarian Kaiserjäger and German Alpenkorps in the Great War as well as both with and against the German Gebirgsjäger, French Chasseurs Alpins, and U.S. 10th Mountain in WWII.

These days, the Alpini form two light brigades– Julia and Taurinense– as well as a separate Ranger-style airborne unit, 4° Reggimento Alpini Paracadutisti. Their motto is Di Qui Non Si Passa! (“Nobody passes here!”)

Sisters from another mister, ADM De Grasse edition

Here we see a starboard beam view of the Spruance-class destroyer USS Comte De Grasse (DD-974) and the French Tourville-class fregate De Grasse (D-612) underway near Cape Henry on their way to Norfolk, October 1981. The ships at the time were participating in the U.S./French bicentennial celebration to mark the joint American Colonial-French operation that concluded the 1781 siege at Yorktown.

A starboard beam view of the destroyer USS COMTE DE GRASSE (DD-974) and the French destroyer De GRASSE (D-612) underway near Cape Henry on their way to Norfolk. The ships participated in the joint U.S./French bicentennial celebration at Yorktown, Va.

Photo 330-CFD-DN-SC-82-02122 in the National Archives

Note De Grasse‘s Lynx Mk.2(FN) helicopter on her stern, her Crotale EDIR short-range SAM looking aft, a battery of MM38 Exocet anti-ship missiles amidships, and her twin GIAT 100mm/55 cal M68 guns forward. The whopping missile-like object loaded just aft of the Exocets is a Malafon ASW rocket-assisted glider-delivered torpedo. The first two ships of the class commissioned with three 100mm mounts, including one over the stern, while De Grasse completed with two to make way for the newly introduced Crotale. The 4,500-ton frigate commissioned in 1975 and served the Marine Nationale until for almost 40 years. Decommissioned in 2013, she’s awaiting her fate at the French ship graveyard at Landévennec but RUMINT is that she may go to the Philipines as part of a package deal on Scorpène-class submarines.

The larger USS Comte De Grasse in the background was commissioned at Pascagoula in 1978 and returned their several times during her career– I once toured her as a kid. She is shown above in her “pre-Tomahawk ” layout that included a stand-alone ASROC launcher forward. After 1984, she was fitted with two 4-cell Mk 143 armored box launchers for said cruise missiles. Just short of her 20th year with the fleet and still young, DD-974 was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 5 June 1998 then sunk as a target in 2006.

The two De Grasses, named of course for French ADM Franҫois-Joseph-Paul de Grasse, who commanded the French fleet at Yorktown, would meet on at least one other occasion in honor of their shared namesake.

In March 1997, a year before she was decommissioned, USS Comte de Grasse got underway for France to participate in Spontex 97, a multinational ASW exercise sponsored by the French Navy. After the exercise wrapped up, she joined her old friend, the French fregate De Grasse, at Brest during a period that coincidentally corresponded with the 216th anniversary of the date Adm. de Grasse sailed for America with the fleet that became victorious at the Battle of the Virginia Capes in 1781.

Big Water Flattop

Continuing in the same vein of pre-WWII American carriers that made it to the post-war (see yesterday’s post on Enterprise), flashing back some 75 years ago today, I give you the USS Ranger CV-4 in the Mississippi River, coming into view of New Orleans. 

Ranger, who we have talked about extensively on a past Warship Wednesday, only earned two battle stars for her wartime service, which was spent in the Atlantic as she was deemed too slight to fight it out with the Empire of Japan, only finally being sent to the Pacific in July 1945. Nonetheless, she struck blows against the Vichy French and Germans spread out from Morocco to Norway.

As detailed by DANFS, the end of her career was a postscript.

Departing San Diego 30 September 1945, Ranger embarked civilian and military passengers at Balboa and then steamed for New Orleans, arriving 18 October. Following Navy Day celebrations there, she sailed 30 October for brief operations at Pensacola [it was thought she would be a training carrier there but was found to be in poor condition and the job was instead handed over to USS Saipan (CVL-28) then later USS Monterey (CVL-26)].

After calling at Norfolk, she entered the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard 18 November for overhaul. She remained on the eastern seaboard until decommissioned at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard 18 October 1946. Struck from the Navy list 29 October 1946, she was sold for scrap to Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Chester, Pa., 28 January 1947.

The Big E, at the end of an era, 75 years ago today

Here we see a Kodachrome of the sole surviving Yorktown-class carrier to make it out of WWII, USS Enterprise (CV-6), being pushed by tugboats, New York, 17 October 1945.

The 7th U.S. Navy ship to bear the name, Enterprise was present and in the thick of it at Midway, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Leyte Gulf, winning 20 battlestars the hard way. From the period between USS Wasp‘s sinking on 15 September 1942 and USS Essex‘s entrance to the Pacific after rushed builder’s trials in May 1943, she and Saratoga, which earned 8 battlestars, were the only U.S. fleet carriers in the Pacific.

Decommissioned 17 February 1947, the Big E was scrapped in 1958 though remnants have of her have remained aboard both the 8th Enterprise (CVN-65) and the newest to carry the name, CVN-80.

One of these things is not like the other…or is it?

U.S. Navy destroyers and torpedo boats at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, prior to World War I, between mid-1908 and early 1914. The original photograph was published on a tinted postcard by the Pacific Novelty Company, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, California, at about the time it was taken.

Courtesy of R.D. Jeska, 1984. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.color Catalog #: NH 100034-KN

These ships are, despite the caption on the card (from left to right): USS Lawrence (Torpedo Boat Destroyer # 8); USS Goldsborough (Torpedo Boat # 20); and USS Farragut (Torpedo Boat # 11).

The 246-foot Lawrence, at a whopping 400-tons, was a giant compared to the 198-foot/255-ton Goldsborough and 214-foot/279-ton Farragut. However, all three vessels, regardless of their designations, had the same armament of two 18-inch torpedo tubes angeled over the bow and a couple of small 6-pounder guns, as well as the same ~30-knot speed.

The gap between DDs and TBs would, nonetheless, grow widely in the coming years.

Fish don’t vote

Bushnell American Turtle submarine, 1777 (LOC LC-USZ62-110384)

American submarines, from the very start, were named after aquatic/marine animals. For instance, David Bushnell’s Turtle of Revolutionary War fame, the curious Alligator, and Intelligent Whale of the Civil War, it could be argued, had such names.

Sure, there were outliers named after their inventors (CSS Hunley, USS Holland) as well as early vessels such as USS Adder, USS Viper, USS Tarantula, and USS Moccasin (which you could actually argue may be a water moccasin, but still). Then submarines lost their names, using numbers from the C-class in the 1900s through the “Sugar” boats of the 1920s.

However, the vast majority of 20th Century submarines remained named after some form of “fish” from 1931 onwards, starting with USS Barracuda (SS-163) and running through USS Cavalla (SSN-684) in 1973.

The Navy upset the apple cart on this naming convention first with the George Washington-class SSBNs and the follow-on “41 for Freedom” Polaris missile subs in the 1960s, then changed gears again with the Los Angeles-class attack boats and Ohio Trident missile subs of the 1970s. Of note, before that time city and state names were reserved for cruisers and battleships, which by the Carter era were all but gone. 

The reason for the radical change in naming, as reported in 1985 by the NYT, was voiced as such: 

Adm. James D. Watkins, the Chief of Naval Operations, said in an interview that the policy originated while Adm. Hyman G. Rickover was in charge. ”Rickover said, ‘Fish don’t vote,’ ” Admiral Watkins declared.

Well, it would seem that the new SECNAV, who has already announced the next frigate will carry the name of one of the country’s original six frigates, apparently is in touch with his naval history and said this week the next Virginia-class boat will be USS Barb (SSN 804), after the two previous submarines (SS-220 and SSN-596) that carried the name.

USS Barb (SS-220) rams a burning Japanese trawler. The submarine was out of ammo so the crew threw 18 rifle grenades at the trawler which caught fire but didn’t sink so, LCDR Eugene “Lucky” Fluckey, MOH, finished the craft off by ramming

“Our future success depends on leveraging the stories of those who sailed into harm’s way, to teach and inspire the service of those who now wear the uniform,” said Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite.

I, for one, am on board with a return to traditional names.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

National Archives 80-G-703401

Here we see Balao-class fleet submarine USS Atule (SS-403), left, torpedoing ex-U-977 during weapon tests off Cape Cod, 14 November 1946. The (in)famous German boat was far from Atule’s only kill, although it was likely her easiest. However, in the end, she would meet a somewhat ironic fate that had, some contend, an aspect of divine intervention.

A member of the 180+-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were “fleet” boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.

Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5,000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their deck guns. They also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

Some 311-feet long overall, they were all-welded construction to facilitate rapid building. Best yet, they could be made for the bargain price of about $7 million in 1944 dollars (just $100 million when adjusted for today’s inflation) and completed from keel laying to commissioning in about nine months.

An amazing 121 Balaos were completed through five yards at the same time, with the following pennant numbers completed by each:

  • Cramp: SS-292, 293, 295-303, 425, 426 (12 boats)
  • Electric Boat: 308-313, 315, 317-331, 332-352 (42)
  • Manitowoc on the Great Lakes: 362-368, 370, 372-378 (15)
  • Mare Island on the West Coast: 304, 305, 307, 411-416 (9)
  • Portsmouth Navy Yard: 285-288, 291, 381-410, 417-424 (43)

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the sub-killing USS Greenfish, rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish, the long-serving USS Catfish, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

The first (and only) U.S. warship named for the bluish-olive colored fish, Atule (SS-403) was laid down 25 November 1943 at Portsmouth; launched on 6 March 1944; and commissioned on 21 June 1944, LCDR (later RADM) John Howard Maurer (USNA 1935) in command. Maurer would be Atule’s only wartime skipper, coming to the new boat from a stint as Engineer Officer and later XO of USS Harder (SS-257) across three successful patrols that saw him receive the Silver Star.

Launch of USS Atule at the Portsmouth Navy Yard 3.6.44. NARA

Following a rushed wartime shakedown cruise and fortnight at the sonar school at Key West, Atule was soon off to the Pacific, leaving Pearl Harbor on her first patrol in company with sisterships USS Pintado (SS-387) and USS Jallao (SS-368) as a Yankee wolfpack on 9 October under the latter sub’s skipper’s nominal tactical control.

Aerial photo USS Atule (SS-403) 15 August 1944. Note she is just wearing her 5″/25 aft and two M2s on her sail, an armament that would soon be augmented with a 40mm and a 20mm. NARA 80-G-313787

Heading for patrol areas in the Luzon Strait and the South China Sea, partner Jallao bagged the Japanese Kuma-class light cruiser Tama (5,200 tons) on 25 October northeast of Luzon.

On Halloween night, it was Atule’s turn and she bagged a big one, stalking a large Japanese surface contact in a night surface radar attack and into All Saints Day.

From her Patrol Report:

0305 hours – In position 19°59’N, 117°25’E obtained radar contact bearing 225°, range 26000 yards. Started tracking.

0325 hours – Obtained radar contact on escort vessel.

0331 hours – Obtained radar contact on a second escort vessel.

0359 hours – Started attack, during the approach a third escort was sighted.

0432 hours – In position 20°09’N, 117°38’E commenced firing six torpedoes from 1850 yards. The target was a large passenger liner. Two torpedoes were seen to broach and then disappear.

0434 hours – A terrific explosion threw material three times the height of the target’s masts. Range to one of the escorts was only 1200 yards. Decided to dive. When clearing the bridge, a second torpedo hit the target. Atule dived to 450 feet.

0440 hours – 9 depth charges were dropped but they were not close.

0445 hours – Heard very loud and crackling breaking up noises on the bearing of the target.

0740 hours – Lost contact with the escorts.

The contact was the Japanese NYK liner Asama Maru (16,955 GRT), escorted by two armed minesweepers and a torpedo boat.

Asama Maru was a beautiful ship that in her peacetime service had such personalities as Baron Nishi Takeichi, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Hellen Keller grace her decks. In wartime, she repatriated U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Grew and hundreds of American diplomats and their families back to the West before serving as a shuttle carrying up to 5,000 of the Emperor’s troops at a time to the front lines while hauling Allied POWs back on “hell ship” missions back to the Home Islands. While a troopship, she was armed with depth charges, listening gear, 8cm deck guns, and an assortment of AAA mounts.

Asama Maru and her sisters were literally page no. 1 in ONI 208J “Japanese Merchant Vessels,” hinting at how big a prize she was for American sub skippers.

When Atule found her, Asama Maru was carrying a mix of 1,383 military personnel, civilian employees for the military, and survivors from sunken Japanese merchant ships as well as 170 tons of iron scrap, 80 tons of hemp, 80 tons of raw rubber, and other items. As noted by Combined Fleets, “98 of 201 crew, 21 of 266 gunners and armed guards and 355 of 1,383 military personnel and passengers are KIA. Survivors are rescued by the three escort vessels.”

On 20 November, Atule drew blood once again, sinking the Japanese minesweeper W-38 (648 tons).

Just five days later, Atule haunted Japanese convoy MATA-34 just after midnight on 25 November, with six overlapping torpedoes from her bow tubes reaping the freighter-turned-sub tender Manju Maru/Santos Maru (7,266 GRT)  and the escort patrol boat No.38 (935 tons) in the same salvo. Santos Maru was carrying 2,400 troops and sailors including 430 survivors of the battleship Musashi. In the end, she took almost a third of those men to the bottom with her. As for No.38, it “disintegrated.”

Finally, Atule bagged a 4,000-ton freighter on 27 November, anchored between Dequey and Ibuhos Islands, Philippines. “Fired four bow torpedoes,” said her patrol report. The rest of the report was eloquent if terrifying:

Via NARA

Postwar, Atule was not given credit for the almost certain kill, although Nanko Maru No. 6, which went missing at about the same time, seems a good fit.

Wrapping up her first patrol at Majuro on 11 December, which ran 63 days/16,570 nm with a green crew (53 of 77 men were on their first patrol) and expended 22 Mk 18 torpedoes for 11 hits, Atule claimed five ships for a total of 26,600 tons. Postwar, this would be confirmed at four ships and 25,804, which is fairly close to the estimate tonnage wise.

Atule shipped from Majuro on her second war patrol on 6 January 1945, bound for the Yellow Sea. There, she sent the brand-new freighter Daiman Maru No.1 (6888 GRT) to the bottom on 24 January, having to break ice off her deck gun in the process. Not as exciting as her inaugural cruise, she ended her 2nd war patrol at Midway on 7 March.

Her third patrol left out of Midway on 2 April, tasked with lifeguard duties off the Japanese Home Islands which were under constant attack by Navy and USAAF planes, with her crew often taking the time to sink floating mines and wreckage found in her operational area and (unsuccessfully) stalk an elusive Japanese submarine near the Ashizuri lighthouse.

In a twist of irony– she would have many in her career– the only aviator she would rescue was a Japanese naval observer on 5 May. The observer was retrieved from the water from a downed Jake, which had been smoked by a passing B-29 gunner with spotting provided by the sub.

Once again, Maurer, Atule’s skipper– who was a near classmate of Robert Heinlein— showed his prose in detailing the scene in the patrol log.

“A thick wad of currency, a vial of perfume and several condoms showed he was ready for any eventuality.” (NARA)

Putting into Pearl Harbor on 30 May, she had some downtime to train and resupply, then left on her fourth patrol on 3 July– no Independence Day leave in Honolulu for them– bound once again for Japan’s front yard. On that cruise, in a night action across 12/13 August, she spotted two Japanese frigates, Kaibokan 6 and Kaibokan 16 (both 740 tons), sinking the former and damaging the latter with a brace of six torpedoes.

And that was it, the ceasefire was called on the 15th when Emperor Hirohito announced that his country would accept unconditional surrender. With that, she was ordered to terminate her patrol on the 45th day by COMSUBPAC and return to Pearl via Midway, arriving in Hawaii on the 25th.

By the end of August, even before the official surrender, she was headed to New London.

Reaching the East Coast, Atule was assigned to Submarine Squadron 2 and was used as a training and trial boat. In this role, she traveled to the Arctic in July 1946 as part of Operation Nanook in company with the icebreaker USS Northwind (WAG-282), two auxiliaries, and the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, the latter embarking PBM flying boats.

Atule off the northwest coast of Greenland, on 20 July 1946, during Operation Nanook. Note that she has her full AAA armarment on her sail. 80-G-636420

It was on this frozen trip along the coast of Greenland that she “reached latitude 79 degrees 11 minutes north in the Kane Basin, setting a record for the United States Navy,” and rescued a PBM that had to put down with engine trouble.

Then came her dramatic sinking of U-977, the Type VIIC that famously ignored the formal German surrender order for U-boat at sea on VE-Day and made for South America instead. The rouge boat entered the port of Mar del Plata, Argentina on 17 August 1945, some 108 days and more than 7,600 nm after it had departed Norway.

U-977 lies in in Mar del Plata, Argentina; rusty and weather beaten after 108 days at sea – Photograph courtesy of Carlos J. Mey – Administrator of the Historia y Arqueologia Marítima website http://www.histarmar.com.ar/ via U-boat Archive

In the end, turned over to the U.S. Navy and towed to Boston for a photoex, Atule sent her to the bottom in the test of a prototype steam-powered torpedo off Massachusetts.

View showing torpedoing of U-977 by ATULE (SS403) on 13 November 1946. As noted by the Navy: The pressure hull of U-977 has apparently been completely severed by the detonation and that the forward and after portions of the hull have jack-knifed. U-977 was a standard German Type VII-C design: length 220′-2″; maximum beam 20′-4″; diameter of pressure hull 15′-5″; pressure hull plating thickness .73″; and submerged displacement 880 tons. The torpedo used by ATULE was a Mark 14 body fitted with a Mark 16, Mod. 4 magnetic proximity-fuzed warhead containing 660 lbs. of Torpex and is believed to have detonated almost directly underneath the keel of U-977. This photograph demonstrates the great destructive power of torpedoes when used against unprotected ships such as submarines.

Her wartime service complete, on 8 September 1947, she was placed out of commission, in reserve, with the New London Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Atule earned four battle stars for World War II service.

Her confirmed WWII tonnage tally stood at 33,379

Atule’s WWII battle flag eventually found its way to the USS Bowfin Museum in Pearl Harbor, where it remains on display today. Note the 51 mines zapped, the rescued Japanese flier chit, and four Rising Suns (Kyokujitsu-ki) and four Hinomaru flags for the eight ships she claimed sunk or damaged

As for Maurer, who earned the Navy Cross on Atule, he went on to hold two surface commands, including the cruiser USS Saint Paul, and be both COMSUBPAC and COMSUBLANT. His final assignment was as Commander of Naval Forces in Key West, retiring from the Navy in 1974.

When it comes to Atule’s sisters, of the schools of Balaos which were commissioned, 10 were lost in the war during operations while another 62 were canceled on the builders’ ways as the conflict ended. In 1946, the Navy was left with 120 units.

Jane’s entry on the Balao class, 1946

Rebirth

After three years on red lead row, Atule was towed to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard– her birthplace– for reactivation and conversion to a Guppy 1-A type submarine.

Of the 48 GUPPY’d WWII diesel boats that were given a second life in the Cold War, Atule was one of the first 10 IA series boats which recieved the most basic reboot when compared to the other Balaos and Tenches modified later.

Outfitted with a German-style snorkel not too different from the one the Navy inspected on U-977, and a streamlined superstructure sans deck guns, Atule rejoined the fleet a stronger, more versatile warship, recommissioned 8 March 1951.

GUPPY-1A USS Atule (SS-403). NHHC L45-15.02.01

For the next 19 years, she led a quiet life, participating in operations with Latin American allies in a series of UNITAS exercises, working with NATO allies on Mediterranean deployments as part of the 6th Fleet, visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras, training naval reservists, and, as part of SUBRON12, alternated duty at Key West with service at Guantanamo Bay supporting ASW training for the destroyer force while keeping an eye on Castro.

Reclassified AGSS-403 on 1 October 1969, Atule was decommissioned on 6 April 1970, and her name was struck from the Navy list on 15 August 1973.

In all, she had spent 29 years on the Naval List, with nearly 24 of those on active duty. Not a bad return to Uncle Sam for the $7,000,000 original cost to build her.

The GUPPY-1A entry from the 1973 Jane’s, listing Atule and the last four of her type in U.S. Navy service, USS Sea Poacher, USS Becuna, USS Blenny, and USS Tench, then in reserve.

Points South

Ex-Atule was sold to Peru in July 1974, and renamed BAP Pacocha (S 48), duplicating the name of an earlier boat used by the Marina de Guerra del Perú. She was sent south in tandem with BAP Pabellón de Pica/La Pedrera (SS-49), ex-USS Sea Poacher (SS/AGSS-406) after a refit. Atule/Pacocha was commissioned on 28 May 1974 into the MGP, where she continued her quiet life of training and exercises over the course of the next 14 years. Then came disaster.

On the evening of 26 August 1988, with a reduced crew of 49 men aboard, the 44-year-old submarine was operating on the surface with her hatches open when, just off the port of Callao, a 412-ton Japanese fishing trawler with a reinforced ice-breaking prow collided into her aft port quarter, opening her like a tin can with a 2 meter by 10 centimeters split in the pressure hull. Pacocha didn’t even have time to sound her collision alarm.

Via U.S. Navy Submarine Medical Research Labratory Special Report SP89-1

It was almost as if the ghosts of the Asama Maru, Santos Maru, and others, had returned as wraiths and exacted retribution for the Atule’s past actions.

Nonetheless, the Peruvians had a spirit of their own, it seems.

With the boat taking on water and three men dead, including the skipper, 23 submariners were able to scramble off the submarine before she raced for the bottom of the Pacific some 140 feet down. As the boat was drowning, Teniente Roger Cotrina Alvarado was somehow able to dog a partially flooded hatch to compartmentalize the sub’s forward torpedo room with 21 other survivors, a feat he chalked up to the help of Marija of Jesus Crucified Petković, a Croatian nun who had traveled extensively through Latin America helping the poor and sick.

A 61-page U.S. Navy report on the resulting rescue, compiled in 1989 through first-hand interviews, is fascinating but somewhat outside the scope of this. Suffice it to say, rescue divers were able to use the escape trunk in the forward torpedo room to retrieve the remainder of the crew 23 hours later in six groups, utilising Mark V dive lines.

Naturally, after spending almost a full day 140 feet down in a compromised atmosphere and making a swim to the surface with only the assistance of a rescue hood, most suffered from the bends, but in the end, only one perished.

As for Alvarado, a documentary was made of his efforts and his personal beliefs on the source of his “humanly impossible” strength that day.

Some 11 months after Atule/Pacocha hit the bottom, she surfaced again following 800 hours of work by Peruvian Navy salvage crews, raised on 23 July 1989.

Towed ashore and drydocked, she was studied for the effects of the ramming and sinking, then her hulk was cannibalized for spare parts for other Peruvian submarines.

In the U.S., Atule’s war engineering drawings, patrol diaries, post-war deck logs, and complete WWII muster rolls have been digitized and are online at the National Archives. A veteran’s group was active for several years, but their webpage has since been archived.

Eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is hopefully in the process of being saved and moved to Kentucky)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Specs:
(1944)
Displacement: 1,526 tons (surfaced), 2,391 (submerged)
Length: 311.7 ft.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 13.75 ft.
Machinery: Fairbanks Morse diesel engines, 5,400 HP, fuel capacity, 116,000 gals.; four Elliot Motor Co. electric main motors 2,740 shp, two 126-cell main storage batteries, 2 shafts
Speed: 20.25 kts. (surfaced) 8.75 kts. (submerged)
Endurance: 11,000 miles surfaced at 10 knots; submerged endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots; 75 days
Test Depth: 412 ft.
Complement: 6 officers, 60 enlisted
Radar: SJ
Armament:
1 5″/25cal deckgun, 25 rounds
1 40mm/60 Bofors AAA
1 20mm/80 Oerlikon AAA
2 M2 .50-cal machine guns
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft), 24 torpedoes
(Post GUPPY 1A)
Displacement: 1,870 tons standard (surfaced), 2,440 (submerged)
Length: 308.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 17
Machinery: 3 Diesels; 4,800 bhp. 2 Electric motors; 5,400 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 17 kts (Surfaced) 15 kts. (Submerged)
Endurance: 90 days
Complement: 8 officers, 73 men
Armament:
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft) 24 torpedoes

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Victory At Sea: 245 Years

A 13 October 1775 resolution of the Continental Congress established what is now the United States Navy with “a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months….” After the American War of Independence, the U.S. Constitution empowered the new Congress “to provide and maintain a navy.” Acting on this authority, Congress established the Department of the Navy on 30 April 1798.

In 1972, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt authorized official recognition of 13 October as the birthday of the U.S. Navy. Since then, each CNO has encouraged a Navy-wide celebration of this occasion “to enhance a greater appreciation of our Navy heritage, and to provide a positive influence toward pride and professionalism in the naval service.”

NORWEGIAN SEA (Nov. 22, 2019) The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley (DDG 101) fires its Mark 45 5-inch gun during a live-fire exercise. Gridley is underway on a scheduled deployment as the flagship of Standing NATO Maritime Group One to conduct maritime operations and provide a continuous maritime capability for NATO in the Northern Atlantic. (U.S. Navy photo by Master-At-Arms 1st Class Joseph Broyles)

Crimean Cobra floated

Meanwhile, in Crimea’s Kalamata Bay, a joint effort between the Russian Geographic Society and Russian Ministry of Defence has retrieved a gently-used Bell P-39 Airacobra from the bottom of the Black Sea.

Discovered at a depth of just 19 feet, about a half-mile offshore, the specimen joined the Black Sea Fleet in late 1943 as Lend-Lease and was lost in July 1944, piloted by one Lieutenant Vladimir Shishkin, who was able to swim ashore from his ditched aircraft, which he splashed down after the engine conked out.

Note her centerline 37mm M4 cannon in the prop hub and twin synchronized Browning M2 machine guns, probably the last Allied fighter designed to fire through a spinning propeller. P-39s also carried another pair of .50s in their wing roots, giving them a very centralized 5-gun punch.

Dubbed the Kobrushka (little cobra) by the Soviets, the aircraft was loved on the Eastern Front for its ability to operate from rugged strips and ticked up a great kill ratio against German attack and observation aircraft such as the slow-moving Stuka and Fw 189 Uhu while running ground support tasks.

Almost half of the P-39s and improved P-69s produced– 4,719– were sent to the Soviets, mostly flown and handed over warm via the Alaska-Siberia ferry route. 

Other “Red Star” Cobras have been found in better condition over the years

The Russians kept the type in service into the early 1950s, at which point the spares had run out and Washington wasn’t sending any more.

P-69 Kingcobras before being sent to the USSR via Alaska 1944 

“He’s as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us”

The Treasury-class United States Coast Guard Cutter George W. Campbell (WPG/AGC/WHEC-32) was 327-feet of rock and roll. Entering service on the eve of WWII, she spent the conflict first on the razor edge of FDR’s neutrality patrol, then, once the balloon went up, as a Navy gunboat on the more frozen regions of the North Atlantic, shepherding 19 convoys across the big, U-boat infested waters.

It was on this duty that maritime artist Anton Fischer famously accompanied the ship.

Coast Guard Cutter Campbell by Fischer.

Campbell would end the war as an amphibious warfare command ship in the Pacific then go on to have tours in the Korean War and Vietnam before she was finally dispatched in 1984 in a SINKEX.

After that final mission, the Commandant of the Coast Guard flashed, “The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen,” celebrating her 46-year career.

However, this post is about Campbell’s equally famous mascot, Sinbad.

Sinbad of the USCGC Campbell (WPG-32) keeps an eye on the convoy in the North Atlantic with his fellow crewman, circa 1943

“Sinbad,” mascot on Coast Guard cutter Campbell, circa 1944, shown at “General Quarters” on the cutter’s 5″/51. Note the “kill” mark for a U-boat

As detailed by the USCGC’s Historian’s Office:

The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Campbell adopted a mixed-breed puppy in 1938. Little did they know that their canine companion would become a world-famous Coast Guard veteran. He was, literally, a member of the crew, complete with all the necessary enlistment forms and other official paperwork, uniforms, and his own bunk. He sailed on board the combat-tested cutter through World War II and saw much action, both at sea and in port.

As Life Magazine reported: “An Old Sea Dog Has Favorite Bars and Plenty of Girls in Every Port.” Until recently he had the honor and distinction of being the only Coast Guardsman to be the subject of a biography! It was Sinbad of the Coast Guard, written by Chief Specialist George R. Foley, USCGR and published by Dodd, Mead and Company of New York during the war. The book made him an international celebrity.

Sinbad was a common figure in recruiting-centered advertising during WWII.

Sinbad, who was aboard when Campbell fought U-606 on her convoy duty, was also kinda squirrely and got in trouble a lot. For instance, he was ashore on liberty one night in Southern Greenland and created quite a ruckus by chasing the residents’ sheep around the country-side. Sinbad was then duly masted and banished from shore leave in Greenland for the remainder of his days:

“Sinbad is a salty sailor but he’s not a good sailor. He’ll never rate gold hashmarks nor Good Conduct Medals. He’s been on report several times and he’s raised hell in a number of ports. On a few occasions, he has embarrassed the United States Government by creating disturbances in foreign zones. Perhaps that’s why Coast Guardsmen love Sinbad, he’s as bad as the worst and as good as the best of us.”

The old USCGC Campbell‘s name was recycled some 30 years ago in a 270-foot Famous-Class cutter homeported in Kittery, Maine. While she has had her own run-ins with a different kind of submarine in recent years.

A bronze Sinbad holds a place of honor over the cutter’s mess. 

Returning to her namesake’s stomping grounds, the current Campbell recently operated in conjunction with the Danish Navy in Greenland’s waters.

USCGC CAMPBELL transited south along the west coast of Greenland overnight with the HDMS KNUD RASMUSSEN and rendezvoused in a position just offshore of Evighedsfjorden (Eternity Fjord). CAMPBELL received KNUD’s Executive Officer, Commander Bo Ougaard, on board to serve as an ice pilot and provide local knowledge to assist CAMPBELL in safely entering and transiting Evighedsfjorden. Once inside Eternity Fjord, CAMPBELL launched her MH-65 Dolphin aircraft and proceeded up the fjord to the head where the glacier begins. (Photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy)

While in Greenland, they also took Sinbad ashore, with the Chiefs taking him drinking at a local dive.

Sinbad at the Port of Nuuk Greenland Campbell (Photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy)

As noted by Campbell’s goat locker:

Our Chief Petty Officers (the only ones allowed to touch the bronze Sinbad statue on our messdeck) brought Sinbad ashore in Nuuk, Greenland, for his return today. It’s good to see Sinbad back in Greenland again!

Bravo Zulu!

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