Category Archives: mine warfare

Mines: Still a Thing Even as USN’s MCM Force Fades

Deployed to the Baltic, Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) just found a cluster of old Russian M/12 moored pendulum contact mines laid in 1917 along Parnu Bay on the Estonian coast. Latvian Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams rendered them safe. It is estimated that there are 80,000 sea mines left over from the two World Wars in the Baltic.

Currently, SNMG1 comprises flagship Royal Netherlands Navy HNLMS Tromp (F803), Royal Norwegian Navy HNoMS Maud (A530), and Royal Danish Navy HDMS Esbern Snare (F342).

Mine warfare has been a task that the U.S. Navy has been fine with increasingly outsourcing to NATO and overseas allies over the past generation, as its own capabilities in this specialty have declined.

Cold War Force fading

Probably the peak of post-Vietnam mine warfare in the Navy was reached in about 1996 when the old amphibious assault ship USS Inchon (LPH-12) was converted and reclassified as a mine countermeasures ship (MCS-12) following a 15-month conversion at Ingalls. Based at the U.S. Navy’s Mine Warfare Center of Excellence at Naval Station Ingleside, it could host a squadron of the Navy’s huge (then brand new) Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon mine-sweeping helicopters.

Going small, the Navy had just commissioned 14 new 224-foot/1,300-ton Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships by 1994 and another full dozen 188-foot/880-ton Osprey-class coastal minehunter (modified Italian Lerici-class design) with fiberglass hulls by 1999.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (1 March 1999). USS Inchon (MCS-12) underway for a scheduled five-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. US Navy photo # 990301-N-0000J-001 by PH1 Sean P. Jordon.

Ingleside, Texas (Sept. 23, 2005) A cluster of Avenger and Osprey class mine warfare ships at NS Ingleside. The base’s first homeported warship was the new Avenger-class sweeper USS Scout (MCM-8) in 1992. U.S. Navy photo 050923-N-4913K-006 by Fifi Kieschnick

This force, of an MCS mine-sweeping flattop/flagship, 26 new MCM/MHCs, and 30 giant MH-53E Sea Dragons– the only aircraft in the world rated to tow the Mk105 magnetic minesweeping sled, the AQS-24A side-scan sonar and the Mk103 mechanical minesweeping system on four-hour missions– in three Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons (HM)s, was only to last for a couple of years.

As part of the slash in minesweeper money during the Global War on Terror, the increasingly NRF mission dwindled in assets with Inchon decommissioned in June 2002 following an engineering plant fire.

In 2006, USS Osprey (MHC-51), just 13 years old, was the first of her class decommissioned with all of her still very capable sisters gone by 2007.

Naval Station Ingleside, hit by BRAC in 2005, transferred all its hulls to other stations and closed its doors in 2010, its property was turned over to the Port of Corpus Christi.

The first Avenger-class sweeper, USS Guardian (MCM-5), was decommissioned in 2013 and so far she has been joined in mothballs by USS Avenger, Defender, and Ardent, with the eight remaining members of her class scheduled for deactivation by 2027, meaning that within five years, the Navy will have no dedicated mine warfare vessels for the first time since the Great War.

Speaking of shrinking assets, the Navy’s three Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons (HM 12, HM 14, and HM 15) are soon to become just two, with the disestablishment ceremony of HM 14 to be held on March 30th, 2023. HM-15 will absorb “102 full-time and 48 reserve enlisted personnel and four full-time and eight reserve officers” from her sister squadron and keep on rolling for now at least with a mission to “maintain a worldwide 72-hour Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) rapid deployment posture and a four aircraft forward-deployed AMCM and VOD capability in the Arabian Gulf,” in Manama, Bahrain in support of the U.S. 5th Fleet.

HM-12, on the other hand, serves as a fleet replacement squadron for the declining Sea Dragons in service, making HM-15 the sole deployable MH-53E squadron. After 2025, when the big Sikorsky is planned to be retired, the Sea Dragons will be gone altogether without a replacement fully fleshed out yet.

HM-14 currently has a four-aircraft forward-deployed detachment in Pohang, South Korea, in support of the U.S. 7th Fleet, and they recently had a great Multinational Mine Warfare Exercise (MN-MIWEX) with ROKN and Royal Navy assets last month, giving a nice photo opportunity.

The future

The Navy’s Mine Warfare Training Center (MWTC), located at Naval Base Point Loma, looks to have graduated about 18 Mineman “A” School classes so far this year, each with a single-digit number of students. These 150 or so Minemen will join their brethren and be eventually relegated to a few Littoral Combat Ships that plan to have a secondary mine mission with embarked UUVs and supported by MH-60S Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) helicopters that are closer to being a reality.

Let’s hope so.

The planned future is deployable Expeditionary Mine Countermeasures (ExMCM) teams, using UUVs off LCS platforms: 
 

PHILIPPINE SEA (Dec. 28, 2021) – Sailors assigned to Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5, transport a simulated Mk 18 Mod 2 Kingfish unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) during a mine countermeasures exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden) 211228-N-PH222-1507

SEA OF JAPAN (May 15, 2022) – A Mark 18 MOD 2 Kingfish is lowered out Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) during Exercise Noble Vanguard. Kingfish is an unmanned underwater vehicle with the sonar capabilities to scan the ocean floor for potential mines. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign James French) 220515-O-NR876-104

A standard ExMCM company is comprised of a 27-person unit with four elements: the command-and-control element (C2), an unmanned systems (UMS) platoon, an EOD MCM platoon, and a post-mission analysis (PMA) cell, all working in tandem, just as they would in a mine warfare environment.
 
The mission begins with and hinges on the UMS platoon providing mine detection, classification, and identification. The platoon, composed of Sailors from mixed pay grades and ratings, is led by a senior enlisted Sailor and employs the Mk 18 UUV family of systems.
 
The UMS platoon deploys the MK 18 Mod 2 UUVs to locate potential mine shapes. Upon completion of their detection mission, the data from the vehicles is analyzed by the five-person PMA cell using sonar data and produces a mine-like contact listing to the C2 element for review.
 

Romanian Minesweeper Survives Detonation

According to a release from the Romanian Navy, the minesweeper Lt. Dimitrie Nicolescu (DM-29) sortied from Constanţa, last Thursday, 8 September, to respond to a flash from the diving support platform GSP Falcon of a floating mine some 25 miles NE from the port.

Minesweeper Lt. Dimitrie Nicolescu (DM-29) of the Romanian Navy. She is 200-feet oal with a displacement of 790 tons and has been in service since 1987, dating back to the Cold War. She is a variant of the old Soviet Project 266M Akvamarin “Natya” type design. Note the ubiquitous AK-230 30mm mounts. (Romanian Navy photo)

However, high winds and sea state (Beaufort 7, near gale) interfered with the recovery as it kept the MCM from launching her EOD team boat. One thing apparently led to another and the mine impacted against the hull overnight and produced a small hole. The Romanians report that Nicolescu is stable and suffered no casualties and the support tug Grozavul went to the minesweeper’s assistance to shepherd her back to port.

Since most of the 28 mines recovered/destroyed in the Western Black Sea since the start of the Russo-Ukraine war have been small riverbed/coastal types, this slight damage tracks.

Most of the devices encountered so far have been Soviet M1943 MyaM-type shallow water (inshore/river) contact mines of the type licensed to both Iran (SADAF-01 type) and Iraq (Al Mara type) back in the 1980s, typically seen with very fresh Ukrainian naval markings and contact horns covered. (Romanian Navy photo)

RIMPAC Review (and Coasties, too)

The 28th biennial RIMPAC, the world’s largest maritime warfare exercise, wrapped up last Friday. In all, some 26 nations sent 38 ships, four submarines, more than 170 aircraft, more than 30 unmanned systems, and 25,000 personnel to take part in the six-week exercise that stretched across the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

We’ve detailed some of the interesting ships already, but be sure to check out this great PHOTOEX of the combined fleet steaming in perfect formation in bright daylight.

Batteries released

There were two SINKEXs, the first of which was the recently-retired OHP-class frigate ex-USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) sent to the bottom in waters more than 15,000 feet deep and over 50 nautical miles North of Kauai. From the sea, U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Chaffee (DDG 90) shot her Mark 45 5-inch gun. Units from Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and the U.S. participated in the sinking exercise “to gain proficiency in tactics, targeting, and live firing against a surface target at sea.”

The second of which was the old gator ex-USS Denver (LPD 9), sent down almost on top of Davis. From the land, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. Army shot Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles and practice rockets. From the air, U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets assigned to Fighter Attack Squadron 41 shot a long-range anti-ship missile. U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopters shot air-to-ground Hellfire missiles, rockets, and 30mm guns. U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C/D Hornets assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, fired an air-launched cruise missile, air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles, an air-to-ground anti-radiation missile, and joint direct attack munitions.

Coasties for the layup

Of note, the Coast Guard, stretching its legs via the service’s new and long-ranging frigate-sized (4,600t, 418-feet oal) Ingalls-built Legend-class national security cutters, contributing to the largest Coast Guard participation in the history of RIMPAC. This included the NSC cutter Midgett (WMSL-757) and the new 154-foot Fast Response Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134), the Pacific Dive Locker (who took part in port clearance operations with members of the ROK Navy), and Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu (who did survey work in the port in support of clearing).

Importantly, although her largest currently embarked weapon is a 57mm Bofors, Midgett has long-range sensors (a 3D TRS-16 AN/SPS-75 air search radar with an instrumented range of up to 250 km plus a AN/SPS-79 surface search set) and logged “at least nine constructive kills” during RIMPAC’s war at sea phase of RIMPAC, feeding targeting information to other assets via Link 16, an underrated force multiplier.

Midgett also embarked Navy MH-60Rs off and on during the exercise, something you can be sure of seeing during a real live shooting war. This is reportedly the first time the platform has operated from a cutter during RIMPAC

The Marines at Schofield Barracks have used FRCs in the past to set up commo nodes afloat, a task that it is super easy to imagine these shallow draft littoral vessels performing in time of crisis around scattered West Pac atolls. This worked with a mesh between the USCG’s Rescue 21 C4ISR system and an embarked Marine SATCOM team.
 
Marines and the @U.S. Coast Guard establish communications aboard USCGC William Hart (WPC 1134) during Large Scale Exercise 2021, at U.S. Coast Guard Base Honolulu. LSE 2021 is a live, virtual, and constructive exercise employing integrated command and control, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and sensors across the joint force to expand battlefield awareness, share targeting data, and conduct long-range precision strikes in support of naval operations in a contested and distributed maritime environment. 

Museum ship adding to real-world training

In the Western Pacific, both Australia and Japan could see an increase in American flattops crowding their ports in a time of heightened tensions. The thing is, likely opponents in the region who carriers and LHD/LHAs would be arrayed against field well-trained and likely very dedicated frogman forces who can use some decidedly old-school methods to keep such vessels sidelined.

So how do you train for that?

Well, Clearance Divers from the Royal Australian Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force recently conducted a combined training activity, involving the clearance and removal of limpet mines, on the USS Midway Museum Ship in San Diego, California during the current Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 exercises. Ex-USS Midway (CVB/CVA/CV-41) provides a great static training installation as the 1,000-foot long, 65,000-ton warship is the only supercarrier in the world that is preserved as a museum. 

Now that makes a lot of sense.

Mineman Salute

The Royal Navy and some of its Commonwealth spin-offs have long had a habit of commissioning “stone frigates” as shore establishments located on existing bases. One of these, founded in 1923, was HMS Vernon, so-called due to the fact that the torpedo and mining training schools in Portsmouth were on a series of hulks that included the old (circa 1832) 50-gun fourth-rate of the same name.

HMS Vernon remained a shore establishment into 1996, specializing in mine warfare in various forms, then was sold for the development of its commercial real estate potential.

HMS Vernon with a series of Ton-class Mine warfare vessels– HMS Crofton Lewiston and Hubberston– berthed in 1974.

Two years ago, the so-called Vernon Monument at today’s Gunwharf Quays, a shopping and housing development formed from the old HMS Vernon establishment, was quietly installed.

Designed by sculptor Mark Richards, the £250,000 statue depicts a one-and-a-quarter scale British Mk XVII moored contact sea mine, armed with 11 “Hertz horn” contacts – chemical fuses – which two divers wearing equally-iconic Clearance Diving Breathing Apparatus are attempting to deal with.

However, as 2021 was the year of COVID, the monument was only just dedicated this week, at an event that saw guests from around the world as well as personnel from the Royal Navy’s Mine Warfare community in attendance.

The statue is the only national memorial in Britain to mine warfare.

93 Meters Down

The wreck of a British warship has been found off the west coast of Scotland, almost 105 years to the day she sank

Commissioned in 1893, the 800-ton Alarm-class torpedo gunboat HMS Jason was the 11th warship to carry that name for the Royal Navy going back to 1673. Capable of just 18 knots when new and outclassed by later destroyer classes, the Alarms were paid off or converted to other purposes in the 1900s. As such, this saw Jason turn into a minesweeper in 1909. It was in such a role that, on 3 April 1917, Jason struck a mine laid by the German submarine U-78 off the Island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides, sending the little vessel and 30 of her crew to the bottom.

Now, reports the Admiralty, Jason has been located, 93 meters down:

They found the warship in surprisingly good condition – but minus her bow, blown off when she struck the mine… ironically during a minesweeping operation in company with HMS Circe.

The depth, weather and water conditions, the undulating seabed, and the fact that dives are only possible at certain times of year have meant the wreck had not been found – despite Jason’s loss being accurately documented, even photographed, at the time.

The discovery is the work of historians Wendy Sadler and Kevin Heath from Lost in Waters Deep, who research contemporary records and the personal history of crew, and a team from Orkney-based SULA Diving led by Steve Mortimer and their support boat MV Clasina, skippered by Bob Anderson.

A sonar scan earlier this year suggested HMS Jason had been found – no other wrecks were known in the area – but it needed visual confirmation.

At 93 meters down, divers had just 20 minutes to inspect the wreck before returning to the surface.

They found tell-tale features of a warship: a pointed stern, a distinctive propeller, two 4.7in guns, and Admiralty crockery.

Mines of Curious Origin Popping Up Around the Black Sea

Besides reports of assorted recent mine warfare in the Ukraine littoral— a pastime that goes back to 1877 in the region– random floating sea mines are being found by NATO navies in their home waters. Russian state media says 420 Ukrainian sea mines had somehow gone adrift in a recent storm and were loose in the Black Sea, meanwhile, the Ukrainians have denied this, thus leaving the origin a bit hazier.

On Saturday, the Turkish Navy discovered an “old type” Russian-made mine that had been found by fishermen in the upper Bosphorus strait and their EOD types from the Aydin-class mine-hunting vessel TCG Akcay blew it in place off the coastal village of Rumelifeneri.

On Monday the Turks intercepted a second mine detected off Igneada near the Bulgarian border. 

Romanian sweeps

Between Istanbul and Odessa, the Romanians have also picked up a mine of their own. On Monday, the Cosar-class minelayer Viceamiral Constantin Bălescu (F274) put divers in the water to tackle a mine 39 miles off Capu Midia.

The device, according to the interwebs, is a small Soviet M1943 MyaM-type shallow water (inshore/river) contact mine of the type licensed to both Iran and Iraq back in the 1980s with very fresh Ukrainian naval markings.

Mine marked to the 4th brigade of underwater mine enclosures of the Ukrainian Navy, based in Koblevo.

As the horns are still covered, it would seem the mine was unarmed, pointing to the fact it could have A) been in storage and accidentally hit the water somehow, or B) is a little false flag bluster to make the Ukrainians look bad while shutting down commercial traffic in the Black Sea.

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 23, 2022: Mines, Yes, but also U-Boats!

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Mar. 23, 2022: Mines, Yes, but also U-Boats!

Photograph FL 18955 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Here we see the Royal Navy Halcyon-class “sloop minesweeper” HMS Sharpshooter (N68/J68) in September 1938, at around the time Hitler sent troops into the Sudetenland and a year before he was to send them into Poland, sparking WWII. Not a very imposing ship, some 80 years ago this week she would single-handedly send a Jerry U-boat to the bottom of the Barents Sea.

Based on the Grimsby-class sloops-of-war– a baker’s dozen 1,500-ton, 266-foot slow-moving (16 knots) sub chasers built in the early 1930s and capable of hauling almost 100 depth charges along with some light guns– the 21-unit Halcyon-class were slightly smaller, running 245-feet overall, and logically lighter at 1,400-tons. Outfitted with two QF MK V 4″/45 singles and a smattering of machine guns (both .50 cal Vickers and .303 Lewis guns), they shipped with manual sweep gear rather than ASW equipment.

The first five Halcyons (ordered 1933-35) were fitted with forced lubricating compound engines, and the next two with reciprocating steam (VTE) engines, while the latter 14 (ordered 1936-37 as Europe was ramping up for war) used Parsons steam turbines, with all versions being able to hit at least 16.5 knot-ish while the latter upgrades able to touch 17. All were named for Great War-era destroyers or minesweepers. 

Our little sweeper, Sharpshooter, was of the latter “turbine” type and was laid down at HM Dockyard Devonport on 8 June 1936, the fifth (and as of 2022, the last) RN warship to carry the name dating back to a 12-gun Archer-class gunbrig of the Napoleonic era. Commissioned 17 December 1937 with pennant N68, this later shifted to J68.

Assigned to the 1st Minesweeping Flotilla based at Portland (soon shifting to Scapa) her pre-war service included searching for the lost T-class submarine HMS Thetis (N25), which sank during sea trials in Liverpool Bay in the summer of 1939.

War!

Once the war began (see U-boat.net and Halcyon-class.co.uk for an extensive chronicle of her WWII service) Sharpshooter worked mine sweeping assignments in the North Sea and off Scotland, then in November transferred to Stornoway for Atlantic convoy escort duties with her Flotilla, then transferred to the 6th MS Flotilla in April 1940.

The seven sweepers of the 6th MSF, Sharpshooter included, moved to the Dover area in May, where, in response to the Blitzkrieg of the Lowlands, conducted sweeps of the coastal shipping routes off Holland. Often under German air attack on this detail, two units of the Flotilla (sisterships Hussar and Harrier) were damaged by Luftwaffe bombs before the month was up.

Called close to the beaches of Dunkirk on 28 May to help pull off members of the BEF desperate to escape the Fall of France, Sharpshooter arrived off the beaches at 0115 on 29 May and began putting boats in the water to fight the inshore surf and remove men directly from the sand—after all, she and her sisters could float in just 9-feet of water.

Dunkirk 26-29 May 1940 British troops line up on the beach at Dunkirk to await evacuation IWM

By noon on the 29th, she landed 100 soggy but safe soldiers at Dover.

On the 30th, she disembarked 273 troops at Dover, then, headed back to the beaches late that night, had a collision with the French steamer St. Helier which was pulling off French troops. This forced her to be towed back to Dover sans any more Tommys, facing a repair that would put her out of the war until mid-September.

Sharpshooter finished 1940 based at Scapa conducting fleet minesweeping/route clearance duties.

In January 1941, she was part of the sweeping screen to the north of Rockall for the battleship HMS King George V, which was taking Lord Halifax across the Atlantic to his post as the new British Ambassador at Washington.

LORD HALIFAX LEAVES FOR THE USA IN HMS KING GEORGE V TO TAKE UP HIS POST AS AMBASSADOR. JANUARY 1941. (A 2702) Two Minesweepers at a northern base. HMS SHARPSHOOTER is on the left. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205137059

Following that, Sharpshooter became a facet on North Atlantic convoy work, clocking on with HX 125, OB 334, PQ 8, PQ 9/10, PQ 12, PQ 13, QP 8, QP 9, PQ 18, QP 14, and QP 15 across 1941 and 1942, alternating with minesweeping operations in North Russian waters and off Allied-occupied Iceland. This duty usually consisted of riding shotgun on slow-moving Russia-bound convoys from Reykjavik to Murmansk/Archangel and back, being targets in the massive Barents Sea shooting gallery off German-occupied Norway which meant deadly threats from shore-based bombers, U-boats, and the bulk of the Kriegsmarine’s surface assets.

This brings us to Sharpshooter’s encounter with the Type VIIC submarine U-655 (KrvKpt. Adolf Dumrese) of Wolfpack Ziethen. Our minesweeper, part of Convoy QP 9 on a return run from Murmansk to Reykjavik, spotted Dumrese’s surfaced U-boat at very close range on the morning of 24 March 1942 south-east of Bear Island– and promptly rammed it.

U-655 turned over and sank without survivors while the minesweeper suffered no losses.

This required Sharpshooter to return to the dockyard for 10 weeks of repairs to her bow and post refit trials. Meanwhile, her skipper, LCDR David Lampen received the DSO on 25 August “awarded for skill and coolness in successful actions against enemy submarines while serving in HMS Sharpshooter.”

By April 1943, Sharpshooter was dispatched to the Mediterranean for minesweeping off the North African coast then, as summer went on, for the Operation Husky Sicily landings. She remained in the Med through most of 1944, where she reportedly suffered a partial (?) torpedo hit in April.

Arriving back in the UK in September 1944, she conducted sweeping off the coast of France and Belgium before switching to North Sea operations into early 1945.

A second career

With no shortage of minesweepers and proper sloops, and the war in Europe over, the Admiralty in April 1945 made the call to disarm Sharpshooter (along with her sister ships HMS Seagull, Franklin, and Scott) then convert them to survey ships. 

The 1946 Jane’s listing for the Halcyon class survey ship conversions, including HMS Sharpshooter

Sharpshooter emerged with a white scheme in May 1946 and was soon dispatched for hydrographic duties in the shipwreck-plagued South Pacific, based in Singapore, later picking up the auxiliary pennant A310.

Returning to the UK in December 1948, she spent the next several years on surveys of the Home Islands’ West coast and, just in time for the 1953 Coronation Review, was renamed HMS Shackleton after the famed British explorer. She and her two sisters located and logged many war-time wrecks while re-surveying coastal Great Britain.

A familiar sight from Portsmouth to the Irish Sea, Sharpshooter/Shackleton was reduced to reserve status in 1961 and laid up at Devonport.

On the disposal list in 1965, she was sold to BISCO on 3 November for breaking up at Troon by the West of Scotland Shipbreaking Co. Ltd.

Epilogue

The Halcyons suffered terribly during WWII. Sphinx, Skipjack, Gossamer, Niger, Leda, Bramble, Hebe, Hussar, and Britomart were all sunk in enemy (or blue-on-blue) action off Iceland, Dunkirk, Normandy, the Barents Sea, and in Russia’s Kola Bay– all the same waters where Sharpshooter narrowly avoided destruction herself.

As peace settled into a frigid Cold War, these slow and well-worn sweeper sloops were not needed, and most were immediately laid up.

Just four Halcyons were listed as active in the 1946 edition of Jane’s, the rest lost during the war or converted to survey ships.

The Royal Navy sold almost all of Sharpshooter/Shackleton’s remaining sisters by the mid-1950s. The only outlier to this was HMS Scott, which had likewise been tasked with survey work, and was sold for scrap in 1965 along with Sharpshooter.

Sharpshooter, her name not since reused by the Admiralty, is at least remembered by a Displate.

While Shackleton, his name recently very much in the news, gets much more attention and maritime art exists of Sharpshooter in this post-war survey guise.

Specs

Displacement: 815 long tons std; 1,394 tons, full load
Length 245 ft 3 in
Beam 33 ft 6 in
Draught 9 ft
Propulsion: Two Admiralty 3-drum water-tube boilers, two Parsons steam turbines, 1770 shp, two shafts
Speed 17 knots
Range 7,200 nmi at 10 knots on 264 tons oil
Sensors (1944): Type 123 ASDIC, Type 271 RDF
Complement: 80
Armament:


(1938)
2 x QF 4 in Mk. V guns, single mounts HA Mk.III
One quad QF 0.5 in Mk.III Vickers machine gun, HA Mk. I
Assorted .303 Lewis guns


(1944)
1 x QF 4 in Mk.V guns, single mounts HA Mk.III
2 x 2 and 2 x 1 20mm/80 Oerlikon AAA cannons
Depth charges– two double depth charge chutes with two depth charges each, two single chutes with one depth charge each, and two throwers with 40 depth charges.


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Warship Wednesday, March 2, 2022: Burnt Java

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, March 2, 2022: Burnt Java

NIMH photo

Here we see the Koninklijke Marine naval docks at Soerabaja (Surabaya), on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. The photo was taken 80 years ago today, 2 March 1942, from the coal jetty towards the West. With the Japanese fast approaching, the Dutch started the destruction of the yard at 11:30 am and you can make out the 1,500-ton dry dock sunk along with the patrol boats P19 and P20. The new 2,500-ton drydock is listing to the right with a cloud of smoke from the Perak oil tanks in the background.

While the scuttling of the Vichy French fleet at Toulon in 1942, and the self-destruction of the Royal Danish Navy at its docks in Copenhagen in 1943 to keep them out of German hands are well-remembered and often spoken about in maritime lore, the Dutch wrecking crew on Java at Soerabaja and Tjilatjap gets little more than a footnote.

Dominated by the Dutch for some 125 years before the Japanese effort to uproot them, Java was one of the centerpieces of the Indonesian archipelago in 1942 and a principal base for the colonial forces. While Borneo, Sumatra, and other islands may have had more resources– including natural rubber and pumping 20 million barrels a year of oil– Java was the strategic lynchpin. Defended by the (nominally) 85,000-man Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) along with their own air force, the ML-KNIL, it was the Dutch Navy and its shore-based long-range patrol craft of the MLD naval air service that was the colony’s first line of defense.

Japanese invasion map of the Netherlands East Indies cropped to show the landings and attack on Java. Note the location of the Dutch naval bases and how far the island is from Darwin. (OSS Collection Stanford University)

However, with the ML-KNIL/MLD’s aircraft swatted from the sky, and the Dutch navy’s largest units– the cruisers Hr.Ms. De Ruyter and Java— sunk at the Battle of the Java Sea on the night of 28 February along with following on Battle of Sunda Strait on 1 March that saw two Allied cruisers sent to the bottom, Java was wide open and future war criminal Gen. Hitoshi Imamura’s 16th Army started landing on the island at three points directly after.

While Dutch Lt. Gen. Hein Ter Poorten’s force of three KNIL divisions and a mixed brigade worth of British/Australian/American reinforcements would seem on paper to be an even match for Imamura’s troops, the Japanese had the momentum from the start and by 8 March, the Dutch radio station at Ciumbuluit signed off with “Wij sluiten nu. Vaarwel tot betere tijden. Leve de Koningin!” (We are closing now. Farewell till better times. Long live the Queen!)

This effectively ended the short-lived ABDACOM command, severed the Malay-Timor barrier protecting Australia, and was the near-height of the Japanese success in the South Pacific. In March 1942, the Japanese would mount no less than 17 air raids on Western and Northern Australia.

Unescapable

The noose around Java was tight and several vessels that tried to break out failed.

The Japanese cruisers Takao and Atago found the old destroyer USS Pillsbury (DD-227) near nightfall on 2 March and sent her to the bottom with all hands.

At roughly the same time, the Japanese heavy cruiser Maya, accompanied by destroyers Arashi and Nowaki, found the British destroyer HMS Stronghold (H50) trying to escape from Tjilatjap to Australia and sank her, recovering 50 survivors.

The Australian Grimsby-class sloop HMAS Yarra (U77) was escorting a convoy of three British ships (the depot ship HMS Anking, the British tanker Francol, and the motor minesweeper HMS MMS 51) and survivors from the Dutch ship Parigi, from the fighting in Java to Fremantle when they were attacked on 4 March by three Japanese heavy cruisers– Atago, Takao and Maya, each armed with ten 8-inch guns– and two destroyers. The 1,080-ton sloop gave her last full measure but was unable to stop the massacre of the convoy and the Japanese were especially brutal, with reports of close-range shelling by the two Japanese destroyers, was witnessed by 34 survivors on two rafts. The blockade-running Dutch freighter Tawali, rescued 57 officers and men from Anking that night, while the escaping Dutch steamer Tjimanjoek found 14 further survivors of the convoy on 7 March, and two days later 13 of the sloop’s ratings were picked up by the Dutch submarine K XI (a vessel that would go on to serve with the British in the Indian Ocean through 1945).

Persian Gulf, August 1941. Aerial port side view of the sloop HMAS Yarra II. She would be sunk along with her three-ship convoy while trying to escape Java on 4 March 1942. (AWM C236282)

Survivors

To be sure, the last large Dutch surface ship in the Pacific, the cruiser Hr.Ms. Tromp had escaped destruction and would serve alongside the Allies for the rest of the war, while her sister Jacob van Heemskerck, arriving too late to be sunk in the Java Sea, would duplicate her efforts.

Likewise, several Dutch submarines had managed to evade the Japanese dragnet and make for Australia, where they would continue their war.

Others, under an order of the Dutch navy commander on Java, RADM (acting) Pieter Koenraad, were ordered to attempt to escape after receiving the code KPX. (Koenraad and his staff embarked on the submarine Hr.Ms. K-XII, which made it to Australia safely, and from there he left for England, returning to Java in 1945 with the Free Dutch forces)

The 500-ton net-tender/minesweeper Hr.Ms. Abraham Crijnssen, capable of just 15 knots and laughably armed, famously decided to try for Australia camouflaged as a small island, leaving Java on 6 March with a volunteer crew and made it to safety on 20 March.

Personnel covered the ship in foliage and painted the hull to resemble rocks. The ship remained close to shore during the day and only sailed after sunset, sometimes traveling less than 50 miles a night. “Mijnenveger Hr.Ms. Abraham Crijnssen (1937-1961) gecamoufleerd in een baai (Soembawa) in Indische wateren in 1942.” (NIMH 2158_000014 and 2158_028298)

The scuttling itself

This left all the vessels too broken, under-armed, or small to break through the Japanese blockade and make it 1,200 miles across dangerous waters to Australia. Not wanting them to fall into the hands of the Japanese, the Dutch and their Allies took the wrecking ball to over 120 vessels on Java at Soerabaja, Tanjon Priok, at Tjilatjap on 2 March.

The largest of these under Dutch naval control, Hr.Ms. Koning der Nederlanden, was a 70-year-old 5,300-ton ramtorenschip ironclad that had been disarmed and turned into a barracks ship in 1920. She hadn’t left the harbor in generations under her own steam, so this was a no-brainer.

The Hr.Ms. Koning der Nederlanden originally mounted a pair of Armstrong 11-inch rifled muzzle-loading guns in each of her two turrets and was protected by 8-inches of iron plate. Used as an accommodation ship for the flotilla of Dutch submarines in the islands, she was set on fire and sunk at Soerabaja on March 2. (Photo NIMH)

Other large ships sent to the bottom were a group of Allied merchantmen trapped in the harbors to include three 7,000-9,000-ton Dutch Java-China-Japan Lijn line cargo ships– Tjikandi, Tjikarang, and Toendjoek— scuttled as blockships. In all, 39 merchantmen were torched, mostly small Dutch coasters and empty tankers, but including three British Malay vessels (SS Giang Seng, Sisunthon Nawa, and Taiyuan) that had escaped Singapore, the 1,600-ton Canadian freighter Shinyu, and the small Norwegian tramps, Proteus and Tunni.

The two most potent Dutch combat vessels left in Java, the Admiralen-class destroyers (torpedobootjagers) Hr.Ms. Banckert and Witte de With, did not survive the day. These 1,650-ton Yarrow-designed boats were built in the late 1920s and, capable of 36 knots, carried four 4.7-inch guns and a half-dozen torpedo tubes. Both had been severely mauled in surface actions with the Japanese and were unable to evacuate to Australia. The Dutch built eight of these destroyers and lost all eight in combat with the Germans and Japanese within 22 months of Holland entering the war.

Hr.Ms. Banckert seen in better days (Photo NIMH)

Hr.Ms. Witte de With (Photo NIMH)

Marine docks in Soerabaja. The photo was taken from the warehouse towards the East. Start of the destruction 11:30 am. The 3,000-ton dry dock with the destroyer Hr.Ms. Banckert is seen sinking. The dock had been torpedoed by Hr.Ms. K XVII before the submarine was able to submerge and make for Freemantle with the port’s commanding admiral aboard. On the right is the 227-ton tug/coastal minelayer Hr.Ms. Soemenep.

Speaking of destroyers, the old four-piper Clemson-class destroyer USS Stewart (DD-224) had been severely damaged at Badung Strait, only making it to Soerabaja with her engine room still operating while submerged. Written off, her crew was evacuated to Australia on 22 February and the ship, stricken from the Navy List, was left to the Dutch to scuttle.

USS Stewart (DD-224) steaming at high speed, circa the 1920s or 1930s. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 61898

The Dutch, who had a huge submarine fleet in the region, had three small “K” (for Koloniën or Colonial) subs scuttled at Soerabaja, the 583-ton circa 1923 KVII-class Hr.Ms. K X, the 828-ton circa 1926 K XI-class Hr.Ms. K XIII, and the 1,045-ton circa 1934 K XIV-class Hr.Ms. K VIII.

Colonial Submarine Hr.Ms. K X seen here upon arrival at Surabaya. In the background both the Java class light cruisers (Java and Sumatra) and on the far right a Wolf-class destroyer. 25 December 1924. Fast forward over 17 years later and the little sub was in repair at the same port and unable to get underway for Australia

Onderzeeboot Hr.Ms. K X

Onderzeeboot Hr.Ms. K VIII in drydock

De onderzeeboot Hr.Ms. K XIII op zee

The Hr.Ms. Rigel, a 1,600-ton unarmed local government-owned (gouvernementsvaartuig) yacht used by the Dutch governor-general that had been converted to a minelayer, was too fine to let the Japanese have but too slow to make run the blockade. She ended her career on 2 March as a blockship at Tanjong Priok.

Hr.Ms. Rigel in her prewar livery (Photo NIMH)

When referencing mine craft, the ten Djember (DEFG)-class auxiliary mijnenvegers (minesweepers), small 100-foot vessels of just 175-tons constructed specifically for work in the islands, were all either scuttled or left wrecked on the builders’ ways in Java. Similarly, the five even smaller 74-ton Ardjoeno-class auxiliary minesweepers, the twin 150-ton Alor and Aroe, and the twin 145-ton Ceram and Cheribon, were in the same lot, with the Dutch sinking these as well.

Minesweepers of the 3rd Division, auxiliary minesweepers of the Alor-class in action in the Dutch East Indies in 1941. These were all sunk by their crews on 2 March 1942. Small vessels like these had no hope of storing enough fuel to make it 1,200 miles to Allied lines. (Photo NIMH)

The Alors were built as regional police vessels (politiekruisers) for use in coast guard roles and were outfitted as sweepers in 1939 under naval command. (Photo NIMH)

One great unrealized hope that could have spoiled the Japanese landings was the 17 TM-4 class of motor torpedo boats. Begun at Navy Yard Soerabaja in 1940, they were small and quick vessels, just 63-feet long with a 5-foot draft, they could make 36 knots.

TM-4 klasse motortorpedoboot Hr.Ms. TM 8 portside. Note her two stern torpedo tubes and two forward light machine guns.

Motortorpedoboot Hr.Ms. TM 5 Hr.Ms. TM 8 en Hr.Ms. TM 6. Note the exhaust pipes for their three gasoline aviation engines, salvaged from old seaplanes

Motortorpedoboot Hr.Ms. TM 5 op hoge vaart met op achtergrond Hr.Ms. TM 8

TM8 getting on the plane

As the islands were cut off from Europe due to German occupation of their homeland, much use of surplus parts was made. This included Lorraine Dietrich gasoline engines from condemned 1920s Dornier Wal and Fokker T-4 aircraft as well as Great War-vintage 17.7-inch torpedo tubes from scrapped Roofdier-class destroyers and Z-class torpedo boats.

Their only other armament was twin Lewis guns. “Motortorpedoboot Hr.Ms. TM 5 (1940-1942), Hr.Ms. TM 8 (1940-1942) en Hr.Ms. TM 6 (1940-1942) afgemeerd.”

Just 12 TM-4s were completed by March 1942, and they were all scuttled, while the other half-dozen were left unfinished onshore.

In the same vein as the TM-4s, the Dutch had planned to build at least 16 130-ton B-1-class subchasers at three different yards around the colony. These 150-foot motor launches, armed with a 3-inch popgun, some AAA pieces, and 20 depth charges, would have gone a long way towards providing the Dutch some decent coastal ASW. However, none were complete in March 1942 and the work done by the time of the fall of Java was disrupted as much as possible.

As a stopgap before the B-1s were complete, the Dutch had ordered eight small wooden-hulled mosquito boats from Higgins in New Orleans.

The Dutch Higgins boats substituted 16 depth charges for the more familiar torpedo tubes used on these vessels’ follow-on brothers as the Navy’s PT boats. They also had a 20mm gun and four .50 cals, in twin mounts with plexiglass hoods. Classed as OJR (Onderzeebootjager= Submarine hunter), the first six arrived as deck cargo in December 1941 and February 1942 but saw little service.

Onderzeebootjager Hr.Ms. OJR 4 (1941-1942) wordt te New Orleans a/b van het ms Poelau Tello gehesen voor verscheping naar Ned. Indië

Two had been lost in gasoline explosions and the Dutch scuttled the remaining four in Java (OJR-1, OJR-4, OJR-5, and OJR-6) on 2 March.

Incidentally, the two undelivered Higgins boats (H-7 and H-8) were delivered after the fall of the Dutch East Indies to the Dutch West Indies where they patrolled around Curacao.

Onderzeebootjager Hr.Ms. H 8 (1942-1946) op weg van New Orleans naar Curaçao

The local Dutch government had several small patrouillevaartuigen gunboats at their disposal outside of naval control, dubbed literally the Gouvernementsmarine or Government’s Navy. Dubbed opiumjager (opium hunters), they engaged in counter-smuggling and interdiction efforts around the archipelago as well as tending aids to navigation, coastal survey, and search and rescue work. Once the war began, they were up-armed and taken under navy control and switched from being gouvernementsvaartuig vessels. Small patrol boats scuttled in Java on 2 March 1942 included the Hr.Ms. Albatros (807 tons), Aldebaran (892 tons), Biaro (700 tons), Eridanus (996 tons), Farmalhout (1,000 tons), Fomalhaut (1,000 tons), Gemma (845 tons), Pollux (1,012 tons), and Valk (850 tons).

Flotilla vessel (opium hunter of the Gouvernements-navy) Valk

The arrival of the submarine Hr.Ms. K XIII in the Emmahaven. In the background is the survey ship Eridanus of the Gouvernementsmarine (GM). Taken over by the Navy in September 1939, Eridanus was converted to a gunboat and later scuttled at Soerabaja on 2 March 1942, along with the submarine shown.

Epilouge 

In all, of the more than 120 ships destroyed by the Dutch on Java, almost 90 were small vessels under 1,000-tons such as the Djembers, the TM torpedo boats, and the assorted coastal patrol, subchasers, and minelayers. Many of their crews were marched into Japanese POW camps to spend the next four years in hell, while a small trickle was able to escape on their own either into the interior– keep in mind that about half of the rank and file in the Dutch Far East fleet were local Indonesians– or manage somehow to make for Allied-controlled areas.

The Japanese were able, as the war dragged, to raise and salvage many of the scuttled vessels and return them to service in the IJN. Likewise, several of the TMs and B-1s that were left unfinished were eventually launched under the Rising Sun flag.

Of the larger ships, the destroyer Hr.Ms. Banckert was raised by the escort-poor Japanese in 1944, partially repaired, and put in service as the patrol craft PB-106. On 23 October 1945, VADM Shibata Yaichiro, CINC, Second Southern Expeditionary Fleet, surrendered Java to Free Dutch Forces, and Banckert/PB-106 was returned to the Dutch, who promptly sank her in gunnery exercises.

The stricken Asiatic Fleet destroyer, ex-USS Stewart, whose hull had been broken and her crew had left her scuttling to the Dutch, was also salvaged by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and entered service as Patrol Boat No. 102 in 1943, rearmed with a variety of Dutch and Japanese weapons and her funnels retrunked into a more Japanese fashion. Found at Kure after the war, she was taken over by a U.S. Navy prize crew in October 1945 and steamed under her own power (making 20 knots no less!) across the Pacific to Oakland.

Her old hull number repainted and a Japanese meatball placed on her superstructure, she was sunk by the Navy in deep water in May 1946.

Ex-USS Stewart (DD-224) under attack while being sunk as a target on 24 May 1946. Airplanes seen include an F4U Corsair in the lead, followed by two F6F Hellcats. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-702830.

When the Dutch returned to Java in 1945, besides resuming control of the few vessels still around that had been refloated by the Japanese– craft which were soon discarded– they embarked on a campaign to salvage many of the rest, with hulks shipped off to Australia where they were broken into the 1950s. 

Remains of former Dutch submarine K VIII, Jervoise Bay, Cockbum Sound, Western Australian in 1956 after being blowup for scrapping.


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Clocking in One Last Time

Recently retired after 76 years of hard service under three flags in two wars, the Flag Officer in Command, Philippine Navy, VADM Adeluis S Bordado on 28 December approved the recommendation of the Philippine Fleet to reactivate ex-BRP Magat Salamat PS20 to augment current Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response efforts in areas severely affected by super typhoon Odette.

The ship had just been laid up two weeks ago, along with BRP Miguel Malvar (PS19).

Salamat was originally built by the Winslow Marine Railway and Shipbuilding in Washington State as USS Gayety (AM-239, later MSF-239), an Admirable-class minesweeper with a similar hull to the PCE-842-class. Commissioned in time to see service off Okinawa, she suffered a near-miss from a 500-pound bomb and was damaged with several casualties who were buried at Zamami shima. Her postwar career limited largely to a training role, she was mothballed in 1954 then transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy in 1962 as RVNS Chi Lăng II, one of the first such American ships that force acquired.

CHI LANG II (HQ-08) (South Vietnamese patrol ship, ex-USS GAYETY, MSF-239) Photographed during the 1960s. NH 93779

She escaped to Subic Bay after Uncle Ho’s kids took over the south, and was later folded into the PN as a corvette. The vessel maintained her WWII-era armament including 3″/50s, 40mm Bofors, and Oerlikons although her engineering suites and sensors have been upgraded over the years.

She will serve as a temporary Command Post for the duration of the Navy’s HADR operations in the Dinagat Islands at which point she will likely be put back in mothballs, just in case.

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