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George is a big boy…

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), after a decade with the fleet, arrived at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), Feb. 21, for a 28-month dry-docking planned incremental availability (DPIA). Bush will be on blocks for the majority of her yard period.

As noted by the Navy, “Dry-docking and maintaining a 103,000 ton, 1,092-foot aircraft carrier is complex work. This DPIA marks the first time George H.W. Bush has not been waterborne since 2006. Requiring an estimated 1.3 million man-days, it will be the most extensive maintenance period for the ship yet and one of the most complex CVN chief of naval operations availabilities in recent NNSY history.”

Hauled out in drydock, she is impressive:

Those anchors, tho.

The shipyard workforce will be providing approximately 775,000 man-days, with ship’s force, alteration installation teams and contractor work comprising the rest.

Now if they can just keep the Navy from decommissioning the 23-year-old USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) from being put to pasture prematurely, all will be good.

According to the FY2020 Navy budget, Truman would not be funded for a midlife refueling, which is surely news to the lawmakers and policy wonks that talked up the planned 50-year lifespan of the vessel to get her funded in 1988 when she was ordered.

While Big Navy and the Acting SECDEF supports the move as freeing up cash for other items (read= F35s), it seems like a repeat of the time they decommissioned the USS America (CV-66) to avoid putting that flattop through a SLEP that would have extended her life for another 10-15 years.

And we all remember what happened to USS America…

 

Raven 42: Citizen soldiers at their ‘part time’ job 14 years ago today

“Raven 42” by James Dietz Via U.S. Army Center of Military History

March 20, 2005: Two U.S. convoys were about to converge at a crossroads 30 miles south of Baghdad. They were attacked by one of the largest groups insurgents ever to hit a convoy. This stretch of road happened to be guarded by the 617th Military Police Company-Kentucky National Guard, from Richmond, Kentucky. The 4th Platoon’s 2nd Squad, 10 men and women in three armored Hummers, operated as “Raven 42.”

As both convoys came under heavy attack and the insurgents were closing in Raven 42 fought through heavy fire aimed at them to go on the offensive in protecting the convoys. By the end of the firefight, 30+ insurgents were dead, wounded or captured and only a few American Soldiers were wounded.

The citizen soldiers reacting to contact that day included a shoe store manager, hotel worker, printing press operator, and several students.

Specialists William Haynes, Casey Cooper, and Ashley Pullen received Bronze Stars for valor. Medic Jason Mike received the Silver Star, as did SGT Hester and SSG Nein. Nein’s award was later upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross. Pullen and Hester were the first women in U.S. history to receive medals for valor in actual combat.

Note: Back to Warship Weds next week!

My new favorite quarter

An upcoming quarter struck by the U.S. Mint depicts a World War II scene on a far-flung American shore complete with iconic M1 Garand rifles. The coin, the 48th in the Mint’s America the Beautiful Quarters Program, depicts U.S. forces coming ashore at Asan Bay, Guam during the liberation of that territory from Japanese occupation in 1944.

Sculpted by Michael Gaudioso, the design is for the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam and “honors the bravery, courage, and sacrifice of those participating in the campaigns of the Pacific Theater during World War II.”

In the scene on the coin’s reverse side, in the arms of the troops coming ashore from landing vehicles are a number of distinctive M1s.

While it is the first quarter with an M1 on it, it is not the first item produced by the Mint with one, and other quarters also have guns, of sorts.

More in my column at Guns.com

Headed to work, 16 years ago today

Here we see the Hamilton-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas (WHEC-716) as she escorts the motor vessel BBC Spain. Aboard Spain‘s deck are a quartet of USCG 110-foot Island-class patrol boats headed via the Mediterranean and Suez for deployment to the Persian Gulf, March 19, 2003.

While Dallas was stricken and transferred to the Philippines in 2012– where she continues to serve in a haze gray scheme as BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16)— and BBC Spain is now the Russian-flagged cargo vessel S. Kuznetsov — those four patrol boats are still under the same flag in the Persian Gulf, clocking in.

USCG Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), established in 2002 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside of the U.S. The original four WPBs shown above on SpainAdak, Aquidneck, Baranof, and Wrangell– were joined by Monomoy and Maui in May 2004 bringing the number of 110s in the Arabian Gulf to six.

Why?

The Navy likes to use the Coast Guard’s small patrol boats (110s/87s) in confined littoral areas as the coasties have them while the Navy simply doesn’t. After all, why risk a $1 billion destroyer with a 300-man crew when the USCG has an $8 million patrol boat with a 22-man crew that can get in closer and already has hundreds of (often high-risk) boardings under their belt before they rotate into the Gulf.

Plus (and this is just my humble opinion) it would look worse if the Iranians shoot up a white hulled coastie than a haze gray warship. I mean these are lifesavers here.

180201-N-TB177-0211 U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Feb. 1, 2018) Island-class patrol boats USCGC Wrangell left, USCGC Aquidneck (WPB 1309), middle, and coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) patrol the open seas. Wrangell, Aquidneck, and Firebolt are forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin J. Steinberg/Released)

They did the same thing in Vietnam when some 26 82-foot Point-class cutters served as an assembled Patrol Squadron off the South Vietnamese coast from 1965 to 1970.

Since 2002, the Coast Guard has forward deployed six of their WPBs to Manama, Bahrain to serve in the Persian Gulf littoral. After all these boats can stay at sea for a week at a time, have a cutter boat, a decent surface search radar, can make 29-knots, and float in just 7 feet of seawater– which the Big Blue has a hard time pulling off. The force is very active, typically having 3-4 patrol boats underway in the Gulf at any given time looking for pirates, smugglers, terrorists out to pull off another USS Cole-style attack, and, well, the Iranians.

USCGC Monomoy in the PG, looking a bit more hard-ridden and heavily armed.

Whereas normally Island-class cutters deploy stateside with a 16 man (2 officer/14 enlisted) crew, those that are part of PATFORSWA typically run with a 22 person complement (3 officers/19 enlisted) as they conduct more high-risk boardings and have an increased ship’s battery. The stateside armament suite of a 110 is a 25mm Mk38 chain-gun (which is usually covered) and two single M2 .50-cal BMGs (which often are locked up below in the armory) plus a thin smattering of small arms.

Those cutters in the Gulf still use the 25mm (usually very much uncovered and loaded, ready to go) and up to five mounts for Mk19 Grenade launchers and *twin* M2’s for quite a bit more punch against boghammars and armed dhows if needed. Likewise, there are more M4s, Remmy 870s, hard plate body armor and Sig P229Rs on these forward-deployed ships than one that is poking around the Outer Banks.

Nevertheless, they still keep the same traditional white hull and red racing stripe, but with the welcome addition of a deck canopy to keep that Persian Gulf sun at bay and the non-skid from heating up to waffle-iron temperatures.

NORTH ARABIAN GULF–U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maui (WPB 1304) is on standby as the Close Support Vessel during a security boarding in the North Arabian Gulf, Aug. 11. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ltjg. Peter Lang.

 

La Fin Du Sea King

The Belgian Air Force’s Westland Mk.48, the country’s British-made search-and-rescue variant of the Sikorsky S-61 Sea King, has been hard at it for 43 years. Just five of the aircraft were acquired in the 1970s but combined they have tallied up 60.000 hours and responded to 3.309 emergency calls resulting in saving 1,757 people’s lives.

The last three flightworthy airframes, based at Koksijde, will conduct a final flyby of the Flanders coastline on 21 March before they ware retired in favor of NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopters.

Sikorsky-made Sea Kings are still in operation in seven countries– including by the U.S. Marines of VMX-1 as “Marine One”– while Westland Mk. 48s are still used by six other countries to include some 20 being flown by the Deutsche Marine. Either way, for an aircraft that first flew in 1959, it’s likely the old ‘King will still be in the air in one form or another for a decade or two more.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: The Irish Blue Hussars

The Army of the Irish Free State was set up with roots from the “old” IRA in 1922 and included a bare modicum of horse artillery but no proper cavalry, which is a shame because the country is known for producing its own hunter/jumper class, the Irish Sport Horse.

By 1926, the force started the Army Show Jumping team and formed the Army Equitation School with the benefit of a horsemanship instructor in the form of White Russian exile Col. Pavel Pavlovich Rodzianko, late of the Tsar’s Imperial Guard. Rodzianko, son of a Guards general and Princess Marie Pavlovna Golitsyn, moved well in noble circles, brought the Tsar’s pet spaniel to Windsor after the Civil War even went on to (attempt to) teach a young Edward VIII how to ride. The jumping team got good in just a few years. In fact, in the 1930s they scored 20 Nations Cups wins.

Military International Jumping Competition 1928. Glass plate negative of the Military International Jumping Competition which was held at Ballsbridge Show-Grounds during the Horse Show Week from the 7th August to 10th August 1928. Captain J G O’Dwyer of the Irish Army can be seen making a good clearance over the stile on a horse called “Cuchulain” in Final Round. Via Irish Military Archives

Then, in 1931, the Blue Hussars were established to provide a mounted ceremonial force. Officially “The Mounted Escort,” the Blue Hussars moniker was a popular nickname. Drawn in part from the horse school and from the Artillery Corps the unit, some 80 horses and 70 riders strong, got its first workout during 31st Eucharistic Congress when they were used to escort the Papal Legate the next summer.

The occasion was the 31st International Eucharistic Congress, held in Dublin from 22-26 June 1932, to celebrate the 1,500 year anniversary of St Patrick’s arrival to Ireland. It was kind of a big deal, with a crowd of some 500,000 assembled for the event.

The lance and saber-equipped Blue Hussars of the Irish Free State. Photo via the Irish Army

The uniforms, similar to the pattern worn by the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars, were light blue rather than the Britsh unit’s dark blue and were designed by a committee that included Irish artist Seán Keating.

Interestingly, the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars (the antecedent regiment of the present day motorized cavalry regiment, the Queen’s Royal Hussars), had their last horse-mounted parade in 1935, which means the Blue Hussars outlived them, in a sense.

According to Andrew Cusack, the uniform of Ireland’s Blue Hussars included a “blue tunic & breeches, yellow frogging & lace, and black sealskin busby with yellow-orange plume,” which must have looked magnificent.

Glass plate negative showing a trumpeter in Blue Hussars uniform on horseback. (Photo: Ireland Military Archives)

A group of Volunteer soldiers on horseback in McKee Barracks, Dublin, likely Hussars in training. Note the Officers mess in the background of this glass plate negative. Taken sometime between 1934-1939. Via Irish Military Archives

The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin City Centre 1939– some 80 years ago today. Note the Blue Hussars featured in the background, horses chomping at the bit.

 

Blue Hussars outside Garrison NCO’s Mess McKee Barracks (formerly Marlborough Barracks when the British were there), Dublin. The Irish Army Equitation School today is still garrisoned there.

The Hussars remained a force through 1945 when they rode at the inauguration of President Sean T. O’Kelly in June 1945.

Seen here having some libations, as any horseman worth his salt should be able to do.

Due to a lack of horses, they disbanded in 1949, replaced by a motorscooter force of all things.

Some uniforms are preserved on public display.

While others, such as this black seal-skin busby which came up at auction in 2016, are in private hands.

1932-1948, The Blue Hussars uniform busby. Via Whyte’s Auctions

Nonetheless, the Irish Army Equitation School still exists, officially part of the Army’s Transport Corps, and they are good at their job, both competing in equestrian events and serving as a public duties group of sorts.

Still, it would be nice to see the old hussar uniforms make a comeback.

Prowlin’ no more

Before they merged with Northrop in 1994, the old-school Grumman Corporation fielded some of the most iconic military– and specifically carrier– aircraft ever made in the 20th Century.

We are talking the F4F Wildcat (which the Brits used as the Martlet, their most common naval fighter of WWII), the Zero-busting F6F Hellcat, the briefly-loved F7F Tigercat, the F8F Bearcat (which the French continued to fly in Indochina and Algeria well into the jet age), the F9F Panther, F11 Tiger, and, of course, the F-14 Tomcat– last of the “cats.”

They just didn’t make fighters. They also produced the Cold War ASW king S-2 Tracker and the Yankee Station bomb truck that was the A-6 Intruder.

Sadly, all of the above have long since faded from the fleet. Other than a few ragtag IRIAF F-14s and some Taiwanese and Latin American S-2s, they aren’t even in the service of Third World countries.

And last week, the last armed Grumman combat aircraft used by the U.S. was put to bed.

First flown in 1968, the EA-6 Prowler was an A-6 that had been converted to be an “Electric Intruder” developed for the Marine Corps to replace its 1950s-era EF-10B Skyknights in electronic warfare missions. By 1971, they were flying over Vietnam with VAQ-129 flying from USS America (CV-66). Over the next 48 years, the plane matured and no carrier air boss would leave home without it. Not just an EW jam spreader, it could also target enemy radar sites and surface-to-air missile launchers in SEAD missions with high-speed anti-radiation missiles– more than 200 AGM-78 Standard ARM/AGM-88 HARMs were fired by Prowlers in combat over the years, with the first “Magnum” HARM warshot being against a Libyan SA-5 battery in Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986.

Later, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they even jammed the cell phone and garage door signals used to trigger IEDs.

No Prowler was ever lost in combat, although they have been in the thick of it over Vietnam, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Afghanistan, Grenada and other points of conflict for a five-decade run.

In all, more than 20 Navy and Marine VAQ squadrons took to the sky in the flying jambox although just 170 of the aircraft were produced.

Now, replaced by the EA-18G Growler, the last Prowlers of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, have been put to pasture.

U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowlers assigned to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, fly off the coast of North Carolina, Feb 28, 2019. VMAQ-2 is conducting its last flights prior to their deactivation on March 8, 2019. VMAQ-2 is a subordinate unit to Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Liam D. Higgins)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Liam D. Higgins)

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Liam D. Higgins)

But Grummans are not totally out of the fleet. The E-2C Hawkeye lingers on.

Further, EA-6B BuNo. 162230/CY-02, part of the Sundown Flight, will be put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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