“Ack Ack in the sky: When Japanese bombers attempted to sneak in on Cape Gloucester under cover of darkness, Marine units there sent up this concentration of ack-ack tracer fire. It makes very pretty pattern picture but the Japanese didn’t appreciate it and they abandoned the attack.”
The 378-foot Hamilton-class Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) just completed her final patrol.
As noted by the USCG, Mellon and her “150-person crew left Seattle April 17 to conduct missions throughout the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea. During the patrol, the crew conducted 38 law enforcement boardings, four search-and-rescue cases, and enforced federal regulations governing Alaska’s $13.9 billion commercial fishing industry.”
She returned to her longtime homeport at Seattle earlier this month and is scheduled for decommissioning August 20, 2020, bringing an epic 52-year career to a close.
Laid down in 1966 at Avondale in New Orleans, she commissioned on January 9, 1968.
A modern ship with her helm controlled via a joystick, she carried a 5″/38 DP mount forward, a half-dozen ASW torpedo tubes, sonar, an 80-foot helicopter deck, and used a then-innovative CODAG engineering suite. Contemporary accounts held that she was able to reach a speed of “20 knots in less than 20 seconds and go from full ahead to full astern in less than one minute.”
Mellon served regular weather station duty on Ocean Station November in the Northern Pacific– and even had a balloon shelter for such work, in addition to SAR, maritime fisheries patrol, and counter-smuggling duties.
Once, she even got involved in responding to a mutiny on the high seas.
She also went to a real-live shooting war.
As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:
Mellon saw extensive service during the conflict in Vietnam. She was twice awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation as part of Task Force 115 (U.S. Navy Coastal Surveillance Force) which maintained close surveillance over 1,200 miles of Vietnamese coastline and 64,000 licensed watercraft.
The task force seized large quantities of war material, preventing it from reaching enemy hands. During her service in the waters adjacent to Vietnam, Mellon also conducted numerous naval gunfire support missions, rescue operations, medical civic action programs, and training programs for Vietnamese military personnel.
She saved lives.
Mellon rescued passengers from the burning Holland-America luxury liner MS Prinsendam off the Alaskan coast in 1980 in conjunction with another cutter, pulling 510 passengers and crew members from lifeboats after they abandoned ship. Remarkably, and in vast contrast to the Titanic, this occurred with no deaths or serious injuries, and all passengers and crew from the Prindsendam accounted for.
Added to this tally over the years were mariners from the doomed Italian supertanker Giovanna Lollighetti, the MV Carnelian, and the downed crew of a C-130 surviving among the frozen scrub of Attu Island.
She held the line
A regular on the Bearing Sea Patrol, Mellon’s sonarmen counted more sonar contacts with Soviet subs in the 1980s than many active-duty tin cans.
Updated for the Cold War, she was given frigate-level armament, trading her 5″ gun for a more modern 76mm OTO Melera Mk.75, picking up more modern air search radars, a “Slick-32” EW suite, and improved AN/SQS-26 bow-mounted sonar. She also got a modicum of anti-air protection from a CIWS and an anti-ship armament of 8 Harpoon cans. The idea was that if the balloon went up, the Hamiltons could easily chop over to add a few more hulls to the “600 Ship Navy” and help out with ASW and convoy duty.
Speaking of which, she was the only cutter in USCG history to fire a live Harpoon, during tests off Oxnard in January 1990.
The Coast Guard certainly got their $14.5 million FY65 original costs out of her, and, as with most of her class, will surely go on to serve an overseas ally for another generation or two.
Her motto is Primus Inter Pares (First Among Equals).
Formed 22 July 1715 in southern England during the Jacobite rebellion by newly-appointed Brig. Gen. (later Lt.Gen) James Dormer as (surprise, surprise) Dormer’s Dragoons, the unit was baptized in fire at the Battle of Preston the same year, part of Dormer’s brigade, and went on to provide service in Ireland for 27 years before returning to Scotland in the ’45 Rebellion.
Redesignated the 14th Dragoons in 1751 (a decade after Dormer’s death), then the 14th Light Dragoons in 1776, by 1794 the regiment was saddle-deep in the various French Revolutionary/Napoleanic Wars that raged around the world for the next 21 years. At one point, the regiment was reduced to just 25 men. This saw the 14th fight in Haiti, Flanders, Germany, and Spain.
It was in the latter that the regiment, during the Battle of Vitoria in June 1813, the Dragoons captured a French baggage train that included such booty (wait for it) as a very nice silver chamberpot belonging to Joseph Bonaparte, brother Napoleon.
Nonetheless, the unit continued to serve around the globe, getting licked by the Americans in the swamps of Chalmette outside of New Orleans in 1815, enduring extended service in India and Persia (after which they became the 14th Hussars), scrap in the Boer Wars where they helped relieve Ladysmith, then chase the Ottomans across Mesopotamia in the Great War, marching through Baghdad.
Following the shake-up in the British Army that came about after Ireland– where the 14th had served off and on over the years– became a Free State in 1922, the regiment was amalgamated with the younger (formed in 1858) 20th Hussars and became the 14th/20th Hussars, shifting back to Indian garrison.
Losing their horses in the 1930s, the regiment served during WWII in Iraq and Persia– where they had already fought at least twice before– and ended the war in Italy before being used to garrison the British occupation sector of Germany, where they had also been once upon a time.
Eventually becoming part of the British Army of the Rhine off and on during the Cold War– while dispatching units to Cyprus, Malaysia, Aden, and Northern Ireland. The 14th/20th paraded their tanks in Berlin in 1989 before redeploying back to the UK.
After service in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, the unit was amalgamated with The Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own) to become the King’s Royal Hussars, going on to serve in Bosnia in 1996 and 1997, Kosovo in 1999, go back to Iraq for like the 6th and 7th time in 2005 (Telic 6) and 2007 (Telic 10), and sent detachments to Afghanistan (Operation Herrick) in 2009 and 2012.
Today, despite a half dozen name changes and seeing the elephant in America, Africa, Asia and Europe dozens of times over the course of the past three centuries, the King’s Royal Hussars still have that damned Bonaparte chamberpot, dubbed “The Emperor” and even use it in regimental ceremonies.
“Today, the Commanding Officer traditionally asks officers to drink from the Emperor on Mess nights. It remains the most treasured piece of silver possessed by the Regiment,” notes the KRH Trust.
Speaking of their drinking habits, the Hussars made an epic troll video this month on how to have a nice brew-up while in a Challenger, in salute to U.S. Independence Day (leaving that old Battle of New Orleans thing unsaid).
The KRH, set to switch from Challengers to Ajax AFVs this year, is based at Tidworth Garrison.
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, July 22, 2020: A Hard 73 Days
Here we see the Clemson-class “four-piper” destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) sometime during the early 1920s. This humble flush-decker was completed too late for one World War but made up for it in her brief 10-week career in a second.
One of the massive fleets of Clemson-class flush decker destroyers, like most of her sisters, Peary came too late to help lick the Kaiser. An expansion of the almost identical Wickes-class destroyers with a third more fuel capacity to enable them to escort a convoy across the Atlantic without refueling, the Clemsons were sorely needed to combat the pressing German submarine threat of the Great War. At 1,200-tons and with a top speed of 35 knots, they were brisk vessels ready for the task.
The subject of our story today was the first warship named after RADM Robert Edwin Peary, famed for his Arctic explorations in which he went down in the history books as being in the first successful dash to the North Pole.
Peary died in February 1920, and his crossing of the bar gave natural inspiration to the naming of a new destroyer in his honor. USS Peary (DD-226) was constructed at William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, and launched 6 April 1920– two months after the famed explorer’s passing– sponsored by his daughter, Mrs. Edward Stafford. The new tin can was commissioned on 22 October 1920.
After shakedown, Peary passed through the ditch and kept going, assigned to the Asiatic Fleet for the rest of her service. With her shallow draft, she spent most of that period providing the muscle to the exotic “Sand Pebbles” Yangtze Patrol Force.
This sometimes-tense peacetime service, which saw lots of bumping up against increasingly cold Japanese forces in the region during the latter’s undeclared war with China, turned very hot after 7 December 1941.
Less than 48 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Peary was caught in Cavite Naval Yard in the Philippines during a Japanese high-altitude bomber strike on the yard.
As noted by her damage report of the incident her foremast caught a 250-pound bomb dropped from about 25,000 feet. The bomb detonated on impact with the mast and rained the vessel’s decks with a deadly storm of shrapnel which in turn started a fire that was quickly extinguished.
The effect was to destroy her gun director, torpedo director, degaussing girdle, sound gear, radio receivers, bridge overheads, charts, sextants, and navigational equipment– so possibly the most devastating 250-pound bomb in naval history!
The ship’s skipper and Engineer Officer were severely injured and sent ashore for hospitalization. Her XO was dead. Just two days later, her torpedo officer, the most senior afloat, was steaming her around the harbor without defenses to avoid another Japanese attack.
On 14 December, LCDR John Michael Bermingham (USNA 1929), the former XO of the Peary’s sister ship, USS Stewart (DD-224), who had completed his tour on 1 December and was in Manila waiting for transportation home., became Peary’s new skipper. The plan– displace and live to fight another day.
Escape and Regroup
As the Japanese poured into the Philippines, the Asiatic Fleet increasingly was pressured out of the islands. Ordered to proceed to Australia for repair, Peary’s masts were removed and the ship camouflaged with green paint and palm fronds in an effort to avoid Japanese bombardiers on the way. LT. William J. Catlett, Jr. a Mississippian and the ship’s First Lieutenant, held on to her original commissioning pennant.
In such a manner, the damaged Peary managed to survive very close air attacks on both the 26th and 27th of December. In both incidents, she reportedly only avoided enemy bombs and torpedoes which passed as close as 10 yards.
By New Year’s 1942, she was safe in Darwin. Well, reasonably safe anyway.
Patched up, she soon joined in an ill-fated effort by way of Tjilatjap and Koepang in the Dutch East Indies to resupply Australian forces on Timor in early February. The force consisted of the Northampton-class “medium” cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) and the two Australian sloops, HMAS Warrego and HMAS Swan.
Houston and Peary sailed back towards Tjilatjap on 18 February, but Peary soon broke off her escort to chase a suspected submarine, and burned up so much oil in doing so that she was diverted back to Darwin instead of continuing with Houston back to Java.
The hard-working tin can arrived in Australia late that evening, with her crew no doubt eager to have a quiet morning the next day after being at sea since the 10th.
The Attack on Darwin
Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who had also led the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, was in the air over Darwin 73 days after.
As noted by the Australian War Memorial:
Early on the morning of 19 February, 188 aircraft were sighted by observers on Bathurst and Melville islands to Darwin’s north. The attack on Darwin began when Zero fighters began strafing an auxiliary minesweeper, HMAS Gunbar, as it passed through the boom protecting the entrance to Darwin harbor. Soon, ships in the harbor and buildings and installations ashore came under attack. For 40 minutes the aircraft bombed and machine-gunned the harbor and town. They shot down nine of the 10 United States Army Air Force P-40E Warhawks over the town and sank eight of the 47 ships in the harbor, including the motor vessel Neptuna. Its cargo included 200 depth charges which exploded as the ship lay beside the Darwin wharf. Another victim was the US Navy destroyer USS Peary which sunk with great loss of life.
LCDR Bermingham, aboard Peary at the time, managed to slip anchor and get his ship underway. The four-piper tried to build up steam and maneuver in the restricted water of the harbor while her crew filled the air with as much lead as they could, but Peary was hit with at least five bombs. Incredibly, her stern may have been blown off very early in the action, as recently it was discovered that her props and shafts are several kilometers from where she rests today on the seafloor.
Nonetheless, by all accounts, the doomed ship kept fighting.
The description from DANFS tells the tale as:
At about 10:45 a.m. on 19 February Peary was attacked by single-motored Japanese dive bombers and suffered 80 men killed and 13 wounded. The first bomb exploded on the fantail, the second, an incendiary, on the galley deckhouse; the third did not explode; the fourth hit forward and set off the forward ammunition magazines; the fifth, another incendiary, exploded in the after engine room. A .30 caliber machine gun on the after-deck house and a .50 caliber machine gun on the galley deck house fired until the last enemy plane flew away. Peary sank stern first at about 1:00 p.m.
A .30-06 Lewis gun, recovered from the wreckage and now in the collection of the NHHC, may very well have been the above-mentioned machine gun.
In a two-page war diary held in the collection of the National Archives, Peary’s crew’s actions were described by doctors on the nearby Australian hospital ship Manuda as being heroic, speaking of “gun crews who remained at the stations firing their anti-aircraft guns until the water came up around them, and then swam away as the ship went down. No men abandoned ship until the ship sank completely under them.”
Of the more than 60 Japanese air raids on Darwin in 1942-43, the 19 February strike went down in history as the most deadly, credited as the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia.
A third of the dead were American.
Kaname Harada, a Zero pilot who saw the attack on Peary, later said, “It was a dive-bomb attack from 5000m and the plume of smoke went up 200m in the air. When the smoke was gone, there was nothing left.” Harada would be shot down over Guadalcanal and died in 2016, aged 99. The four Japanese carriers that participated in the attack on Darwin whose planes sent Peary to the bottom– Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, and Sōryū— were later “scratched” at Midway.
Bermingham and at least 80 of Peary’s crew went down with the ship, reportedly leaving just 54, mostly injured survivors, struggling in her oil slick. The late skipper’s family was posthumously presented his Navy Cross and an Evarts-class destroyer escort was named in his honor the next year.
Speaking of legacies, Peary’s name was soon installed on a new Edsall-class destroyer escort (DE-132) with LT. Catlett providing the old destroyer’s pennant and the departed explorer’s widow breaking the bottle. After an active career, DE-132 was scrapped in 1966.
In 1972, a Knox-class destroyer escort/fast frigate, DE-1073/FF-1073, became the third USS Richard E. Peary and served two decades with the Pacific fleets then another quarter-century with the navy of Taiwan, only being expended in a submarine exercise last week.
In 2008, an MSC-crewed 40,000-ton Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship, USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE-5), received the name fit for a destroyer.
As for her sisters, seven Clemsons were lost at the disaster at Honda Point in 1923, and 18 (including six used by the British) were lost in WWII including one, USS Stewart (DD-224), which was famously raised by the Japanese and used in their Navy only to be recaptured by the USN and given a watery grave after the war.
Those Clemsons not sold off in the 1930s or otherwise sent to Davy Jones were scrapped wholesale in the months immediately after WWII. Sister USS Hatfield (DD-231) decommissioned 13 December 1946 and was sold for scrap 9 May 1947 to NASSCO, the last of her kind in the Navy.
The final Clemson afloat, USS Aulick (DD-258), joined the Royal Navy as HMS Burnham (H82) in 1940 as part of the “Destroyers for Bases” deal. Laid up in 1944, she was allocated for scrapping on 3 December 1948.
None are preserved and only the scattered wrecks in the Western Pacific, Honda Point, the Med and Atlantic endure.
For more information on the Clemsons and their like, read CDR John Alden’s book, “Flush Decks and Four Pipes” and/or check out the Destroyer History Foundation’s section on Flushdeckers.
Resting in just 87 feet of water on a silty seabed, Peary was extensively salvaged– ironically by a Japanese firm– in 1959 and 1960. Today, however, the remains are protected by Australia’s Heritage Conservation Act which brings heavy fines ($50,000) and threats of jail time to souvenir-seeking skin divers.
In Darwin, an extensive memorial in the city’s Bicentennial Park– centered around one of the Peary’s 4-inch guns pointing towards the site where she remains as a war grave– was erected in 1992. The event was attended by an honor guard provided from FF-1073.
Further, in 2012 on the 70th anniversary of her loss, a plaque was lowered to the seabed over her hull.
The Peary memorial is frequented by both U.S. and Australian forces.
1,215 tons (normal)
1,308 tons (full load)
Length: 314 ft. 4.5 in
Beam: 30 ft. 11.5 in
Draft: 9 ft. 4 in
4 × boilers, 300 psi (2,100 kPa) saturated steam
2 geared steam turbines
27,600 hp (20,600 kW)
Speed: 35.5 knots
Range: 4,900 nmi (9,100 km) @ 15 knots
Crew: (USN as commissioned)
8 chief petty officers
4- 4″/51 cal guns
1 x 3″/23 cal AAA
12 × 21-inch torpedo tubes (4 × 3) (533 mm)
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The Republic of China, aka KMT China, aka Taiwan, only has four somewhat operable diesel-electric submarines– two 1980s era Dutch Zwaardvis-class and two GUPPY-vintage Tench-class training boats– along with a shrinking supply of about 60 aging German-made 533mm AEG SUT 264 torpedoes. I say shrinking because last week, the country’s Navy burned at least one SUT on a retired frigate, the ex-ROCN Chi Yang (FF-932). Notably, it was the first time the country has fired a “warshot” torpedo in at least 13 years.
The SINKEX seems to have gone well.
Chi Yang was the former Knox-class destroyer escort/fast frigate USS Robert E. Peary (DE/FF-1073). Commissioned in 1972, she spent a solid 20 years stationed in the Pacific, including numerous Westpac cruises during the Vietnam era, before she was decommissioned in 1992 as part of the peace dividend.
Peary, the third such ship named for the famed Arctic explorer, in better times:
The frigate went on to serve Taiwan for 25 years.
The ROCN still has six former Knoxes, now all in their mid-40s, in service as the much-modified Chi Yang-class, up-armed with Standard SM-1MR missiles in 10-cell box launchers as well as possibly new Hsiung Feng III missiles in addition to their old 5-inch gun, ASW torpedo tubes, and clunky Mk. 16 launcher filled with both Harpoons and ASROC. Of note, the country has over 20 frigates and destroyers, hulls that would be much in demand for sub-busting in the event that the PRC decides to get handsy.
As for replacement torpedos for the ROCN, in May, it was announced that the U.S. would sell Taiwan up to eighteen MK-48 Mod 6AT heavyweight torpedoes for $180 million, marking the first time the country has used such fish.
This great shot taken from an 814 Naval Air Squadron Merlin shows the Type 23 (Duke)-class frigate HMS Westminster (F237), the Icelandic Coast Guard ship Thor, and Westminster’s sister, HMS Kent (F78), operating together during the opening phase of NATO Exercise Dynamic Mongoose off Iceland earlier this month. Unseen are three NATO submarines who are the OPFOR.
Of course, the Royal Navy and Icelandic Coast Guard may have been NATO allies since 1949, but that doesn’t mean they were friends by any accord.
Perhaps, you recall the Cod Wars?
Since 1960, India’s state-owned Ordnance Factories Board has produced a domestic variant of the British L1A1 inch-pattern semi-auto-only FN FAL, dubbed the Ishapore 1A1. Keep in mind most of the other Commonwealth countries at the time to include Australia, Canada, and New Zealand ran the L1A1 as well.
With as many as 1 million of these 7.62 NATO battle rifles produced, the OFB slowed production in the 1980s and finally closed down the line in 2012 in favor of imported AKM variants from around the globe and locally-made FAL-like INSAS 5.56 NATO rifles, the latter of which had a poor reputation.
However, with India increasingly facing Pakistan and China on its borders in mountainous regions that favor longer-ranged rifles, the country has been looking for a modern 7.62 NATO battle rifle and seems to have found it in the SIG 716. Like the FAL, it is a short-stroke gas piston gun. Unlike the old “Right Arm of the Free World,” however, it is slathered in M-LOK accessory slots, has an adjustable Magpul PLS stock, is a flat-top design that readily supports optics and, most importantly, is in standard production.
India ordered 72,000 last year and just announced plans to pick up another 72,000 this year.
More in my column at Guns.com
Official caption: “Members of a Marine rocket platoon tote their equipment over rough Bougainville terrain to the front lines. During this campaign, the first in which land-based rockets were used by the Leathernecks, both rockets and portable launchers were transported in much the same manner that machine guns were moved into position. Hdqrs No. 71,129, Dist List 2-4, 2-1445, USMC Photo”
Of note, after using hand-carried 7.2-inch demolition rockets in the Guadalcanal campaign, the Marines elected to utilize truck-mounted M8 4.5-inch rocket batteries in Iwo Jima, dubbed “The Buck Rogers Men.”
In a sense of “everything old is new again,” the current thinking in the Marines is to use little groups of rocket and missile-equipped landing teams for area denial and sea control across isolated atolls and jungles of the Western Pacific in the event of a conflict with the PRC. The more things change…
After the first primitive tanks arrived on the battlefields of Western Europe in the Great War, the U.S. Army and Marines kept an eye out for something more portable and compact than a field gun to poke holes in those “land dreadnoughts.” While Dr. Robert H. Goddard, grandfather of American rocketry, was working on a man-portable anti-tank device in 1918, peace broke out and his research stopped.
This meant that the closest answer the interwar military came up with to zap panzers was the M3 37mm anti-tank gun. While over 23,000 of these were made, they were still bulky, at 912-pounds, and could only penetrate 2.1-inches of plate at 1,000 yards, which was fine for 1930s tanks but didn’t cut the mustard with more significant armored vehicles.
Developments in small arms by early 1942 led to the M9 rifle grenade, a 1.2-pound bottle rocket that could be fired from the M1 Garand or M1903 Springfield and its 4-ounce hollow charge could make a splash against pillboxes but, like the 37mm gun, proved less impressive against better tanks.
The next step up was the 12-pound 2.36-inch (60mm) Rocket Launcher, M1, which went down in the books as the first “bazooka” in late 1942.
Unpopular due to their notoriously bum rockets, the device was upgraded to the M1A1 and finally to the M9 bazooka, with the latter weighing 17.8-pounds when ready to fire its slightly better M6A3 rocket. About the best American man-portable anti-tank weapon of WWII, capable of penetrating about 4-inches of armor, it was still ineffective against medium or heavy tanks of the day such as the Panther and Tiger.
Meanwhile, the 88mm German RPzB 54 Panzerschreck, designed to knock out Soviet beasts en mass, was a much better device. Dubbed the ofenrohr (stovepipe) by the Landsers that used it, the RPzB 54 could slice through as much as 9-inches of armor.
Nonetheless, when Task Force Smith got wheels up from Japan to Korea in July 1950 to stop the onslaught of North Korean aggression over their less well-equipped neighbor to the south of the 38th Parallel, the Joes still carried the M9A1 into battle. When pitted against Soviet-supplied T-34-85 tanks at Daejeon, vehicles which had nearly 4-inches of armor in spots, those 60mm spitball shooters were wishful thinking.
Luckily at the time, at Rock Island Arsenal, a supply of the brand new and very Panzerschreck-like 90mm 3.5-inch M20A1B1 rocket launcher, dubbed the “Superbazooka,” were on hand. Loaded on aircraft in Illinois on 12 July 1950, they were sped directly to the warzone.
As noted by the RIA Museum, this “marked the first time equipment was shipped from the Arsenal, directly to troops in the field utilizing air transport.”
Just six days after the emergency batch of Superbazookas left RIA, they were used in combat by elements of the 24th Infantry Division who knocked out eight T-34s on 18 July– 70 years ago today. Capable of penetrating up to 11-inches of armor, the Joes went from being hunted by tanks to being tank hunters, a tactic the winding and hilly Korean countryside favored.
The Superbazooka, coupled with more powerful follow-on U.S. MBTs like the M26 Pershing and M46 Patton tanks and effective close-in air-support, effectively ended the reign of the T-34-85 in Korea.
By the time the North Koreans were forced to withdraw from the south in September, some 239 T-34s and 74 SU-76 assault guns had been lost or abandoned. After October 1950, tanks became scarce in the DPRK Army and remained that way for the rest of the war.
The Army and Marines kept the M20 around through the 1960s until it was replaced by the even more compact M72 66mm rocket. It hung out in National Guard armories even longer.
The M20 was used overseas extensively, with some being collected in the 1990s by NATO forces in the former Yugoslavia. A Spanish-made clone, the 88.9mm Instalaza M65, updated with an improved ignition method and new ammunition types, saw action in the Falklands and remaining in service with the Spaniards until just recently. They are a hit on the surplus market, and I just happen to have one of my own, in well-used condition.