Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Nov. 6, 2019: Italian Mosquitos of the Baltic
Here we see HSwMS T 28, a T 21-class motortorpedbåt (motor torpedo boat) of the Svenska Marinen (Royal Swedish Navy) in 1943 as she planes on her stern, her bow completely above the waves. If she looks fast, that’s because she was– like 50 knots fast.
The Swedes in the 1930s had the misfortune of being sandwiched between a resurgent Germany and a newly ambitious Soviet Union, both having come up on the losing side of the Great War and suffered much during the generation immediately following. This fear went into overdrive as World War II began.
With a lot of valuable coast to protect, the Flottan’s plan to do so was the new Tre Kronor (Three Crowns)-class of three fast cruisers (kryssaren) who were to each serve as a flotilla flagship of a squadron of four destroyers and six motor torpedo boats while three pansarskepps (literally “armored ships”) bathtub battleships would form a strategic reserve.
For the above-mentioned MTBs, Stockholm turned south, shopping with the Baglietto Varazze shipyard in Italy– which is still around as a luxury yacht maker). Baglietto’s “velocissimo” type torpedo boat, MAS 431, had premiered in 1932 and was lighting quick but still packed a punch.
Just 52.5-feet long overall, MAS 431 was powered by a pair of Fiat gasoline engines, packing 1,500hp in a hull that weighed but 12-tons. The 41-knot vessel carried a pair of forward-oriented 18-inch torpedoes, a couple of light machine guns, six 110-pound depth charges for submarines (she had a hydrophone aboard) and was manned by a crew of seven.
MAS 431 craft proved the basis for the very successful MAS 500 series boats, with more than two dozen completed. These boats used larger Isotta-Fraschini engines which coughed up 2,000hp while they could putter along on a pair of smaller 70hp Alpha Romero cruising motors. The Swedes directly purchased four of these (MAS 506, 508, 511, and 524) which became T 11 – 14 in 1939. These 55-foot MTBs could make 47 knots.
However, the Swedes weren’t in love with the wooden hulls of the Italian boats and went to design their own follow-up class of MTBs in 1941. The resulting T 15 class, built locally by Kockums with some support from Italy, went 22-tons in weight due to their welded steel hulls. However, by installing larger Isotta-Fraschini IF 183 series engines, they could still make 40+ knots.
Nonetheless, there was still room for improvement. Upgrading to larger 21-inch torpedo tubes and stretching the hull to 65-feet, the T 21 class carried 3,450hp of supercharged 18-cylinder IF 184 engines which allowed a speed listed as high as 50 knots in Swedish journals. They certainly were a seagoing mash-up of Volvo and Ferrari.
Besides the torpedoes, the craft was given a 20mm AAA gun in a semi-enclosed mount behind the pilothouse while weight and space for two pintle-mounted 6.5mm machine guns on either side of the house and one forward was reserved. As many as six depth charges were also carried.
The T 21s proved more numerous than the past Swedish MTB attempts, with a total of 11 boats produced by 1943. They proved invaluable in what was termed the Neutralitetsvakten (neutrality patrol) during the rest of WWII.
Hkn Prince Bertil, Duke of Halland, who in the 1970s served as heir to his nephew King Carl XVI Gustaf, clocked in on Swedish torpedo boats during the first part of WWII before he was reassigned in 1943 as a naval attaché to London.
Due to their steel hulls, the craft proved much more durable than comparable plywood American PT-boats or the Italian MAS boats and, while the latter’s days were numbered immediately after WWII, the Swedish T 21s endured until 1959, still keeping the peace on the front yard of the Cold War.
In late 1940s service and throughout the 1950s they carried a more sedate grey scheme.
The T 21s were later augmented by the similar although up-gunned (40mm Bofors) T 38 class and finally replaced by the much-improved Spica-class, which remained in use through the 1980s with the same sort of tasking as the craft that preceded them.
However, that welded steel hull and the mild salinity of the Baltic has meant that at least one of the old T 21s, T 26 to be clear, has been preserved as a working museum ship in her Cold War colors and is still poking around, although she probably could not make her original designed speed at this point.
Displacement: 28 tons
Engines: 2 Isotta-Fraschini IF184 supercharged gas engines, 3450hp
Speed: 50 knots max
Crew: 7 to 11
2 21-inch torpedo tubes forward
1 20 mm LuftVärnskanon M.40 AAA gun, rear
up to 6 6.5mm machine guns (if using dual mounts on three pintles)
6 depth charges
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One of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s mighty quartet of Myoko-class heavy cruisers, Nachi was a 13,000-ton brawler built at the Kure Naval Arsenal and commissioned in 1928. Carrying five dual twin turrets each with 8″/50cal 3rd Year Type naval guns, her class was the most heavily-armed cruisers in the world when they were constructed.
Nachi fought in the Java Sea (sharing in the sinking the Dutch cruiser HNLMS Java along with Graf Spee veteran HMS Exeter) and at the Komandorski Islands (where she, in turn, took a beating from the USS Salt Lake City) before she ended up as part of VADM Kiyohide Shima’s terribly utilized cruiser-destroyer force during the Battle of Surigao Strait in October 1944.
Shima, who was later described by one author as “the buffoon of the tragedy” ordered his cruisers to attack two islands he thought were American ships then raised the signal to turn and beat feet after they found the wreckage of the battleship Fuso, a move that left Nachi, the 5th Fleet flagship, damaged in a crackup with the heavy cruiser Mogami, the latter of which had to be left behind for the U.S. Navy to finish off.
Nachi pulled in to Manila Bay, which was still something of a Japanese stronghold on the front line of the Pacific War, for emergency repairs.
Discovered there two weeks after the battle by the Americans, while Shima was ashore at a meeting, Nachi was plastered by carrier SBDs and TBMs flying from USS Lexington and Essex.
In all, she absorbed at least 20 bombs and five torpedos, breaking apart into three large pieces and sinking in about 100-feet of water under the view of Corregidor. The day was 5 November 1944, 75 years ago today.
Although close to shore and with several Japanese destroyers and gunboats at hand, Nachi went down with 80 percent of her crew including her skipper, Capt. Kanooka Enpei.
Also headed to the bottom with the ship were 74 officers of the IJN’s Fifth Fleet’s staff and a treasure trove of intel documents and records, the latter of which was promptly salvaged by the U.S. Navy when they moved into Manila Bay and put to good use. The library brought to the surface by hardhat divers was called “the most completely authentic exposition of current Japanese naval doctrine then in Allied hands, detailed information being included relative to the composition, and command structure of the entire Japanese fleet.”
Even though it was late in the war, Nachi was the first of her class to be lost in action. Within six months, two of her remaining sisters, Ashigara and Haguro, were sunk while Myoko was holed up in crippled condition at Singapore, where the British under Mountbatten would capture her in September.
Commissioned 12 December 1940, the British U-class submarine HMS Urge (N 17) served in World War II throughout 1941, seeing extensive action in the Med. Over the course of 20 patrols, she proved a one-submarine wrecking crew to the Italian Navy, sinking the Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere as well as extensively damaging the cruiser Bolzano and battleship Vittorio Veneto.
On 27 April 1942, the 16-month-old Urge left Malta en route to Alexandria but failed to arrive on schedule and was reported overdue on 7 May. Her crew, commanded by LCDR Edward Philip Tomkinson, DSO and Bar, RN, was never heard from again.
Her shield, which had been landed prior to shipping out, is currently on display at The Register Office in Bridgend, Wales. The town, which contributed around £300,000 to the war, had adopted HMS Urge as part of national “Warship Week” in 1941.
HM Submarine Urge was discovered in a search conducted by staff from the University of Malta just off Malta’s Grand Harbour, where she apparently was destroyed on the surface by a mine. In addition to her 32 crewmembers, she had been carrying 11 other naval personnel and a journalist.
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Matthew Williams was presented with the Medal of Honor at the White House on Wednesday. Williams earned the award for his actions in Shok Valley, Afghanistan, on April 6, 2008, while a weapons guy on an SF A-team, Operational Detachment Alpha 3336.
“It was kind of quiet, then all of a sudden everything exploded all at once – machine gun fire, some RPGs started going off. [The insurgents] had some pretty good shooters and a lot of people up there waiting for us.”
Originally recognized with the Silver Star, which was ugraded in September, he is still on active duty.
R 290809 OCT 19
FM COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC//CCG//
SUBJ: THE RETURN HOME OF LT THOMAS JAMES EUGENE CROTTY, USCG
1. It is my honor to report that we will bring LT Thomas James Eugene “Jimmy” Crotty, a Coast Guard and American hero, home.
2. LT Crotty was born on 18 March 1912, in Buffalo, New York. He graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1934 after serving as Company Commander, class president and captain of the Academy’s football team. He served his first seven years after graduation onboard cutters in New York City, Seattle, Sault Ste. Marie and San Diego.
3. In the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, he served with the U.S. Navy as Executive Officer onboard USS QUAIL, part of the 16th Naval District-in-Shore Patrol Headquarters, Cavite Navy Yard, Philippines. He aided in the defense of Corregidor during the Japanese invasion in the early days of WWII, supervising the destruction of ammunition and facilities at the Navy Yard and scuttling the fleet submarine USS SEA LION to prevent its use by the Japanese. As the Japanese advanced on Corregidor, LT Crotty eagerly took charge of cannibalized deck guns from the ship and led a team of brave enlisted Marines and Army personnel fighting for an additional 30 days until the Japanese bombardment finally silenced the defense of the island fortress.
4. Following the fall of Corregidor, LT Crotty was taken prisoner by the Japanese and interned at the Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp. After his death on 19 July 1942 from diphtheria, he was buried in a common grave along with all those who died that day.
5. After World War II, the U.S. government moved remains from the common graves to the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Republic of the Philippines. On 10 September2019, as part of an exhaustive effort by DoD to bring every service member home, LT Crotty was positively identified from the remains exhumed from the cemetery in early 2018.
6. LT Crotty is the only known Coast Guardsman to serve in defense of the Philippines; his service authorizes the Coast Guard to display the Philippine Defense Battle Streamer on our Coast Guard Ensign. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and many other decorations. A full accounting of his service can be found in the blog at:
7. On Friday, 01 November 2019, arrival honors will be held at Joint Reserve Base, Niagara NY at 1000. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, 02 November 2019 at 1200 at St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, Buffalo, NY followed by interment with full military honors at Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna, NY.
8. LT Crotty embodied our core values of Honor, Respect, and most especially Devotion to Duty. As we celebrate his life and legacy, we also celebrate the lives of the more than 600 Coast Guard members we were not able to bring home from WWII. He represents the proud legacy of the Long Blue Line of Coast Guard men and women who place themselves in harm’s way every day in the service to their country and fellow man. He is one of many who made the ultimate sacrifice; we should never forget his efforts and the sacrifices of the thousands of Coast Guard men and women who served so bravely in our service over the last 229 years.
9. To honor LT Crotty, I ask every Coast Guard unit and member to observe a moment of silence as he begins his journey home on Thursday, 31 October 2019 at 1900Z (1500 EDT/1200 PDT/0900 HST).
10. The Half-masting of the national ensign for all Coast Guard units will take place when LT Crotty is honored at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in the spring of 2020. Information will be sent SEPCOR.
11. Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant, sends.
12. Internet release is authorized.
Every year the good folks at Fort Morgan run a historic nighttime tour around Halloween focusing on the more morbid side of things there. As the fort is 200 years old (construction began in 1819) and was the centerpiece in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864 as well as being garrisoned off and on from the 1830s through 1945, there is a lot to hear and see. As a bonus, these tours often open up sometimes closed areas of the fort, which is always a treat.
Besides, as I made the Fort central to the plot of my 2013 zombie novel (shameless plug), it just made sense.
I caught these images during the tour, which was very worthwhile, so if you can take advantage of the event or others like it, please find the time to do so.
Now to try to get to Fort Pickens, who has a similar program, next October…