Category Archives: 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.


If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021: A Minesweeper Dressed as a Frigate for Halloween

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, Sept. 29, 2021: A Minesweeper Dressed as a Frigate for Halloween

Photo via Secretaría de Marina (SEMAR)

Here we see the Valle-class patrulla oceánica ARM Valentín Gómez Farías (PO-110) of the Armada de México stirring the bottom as she gets underway for a regular offshore patrol circa 2020. In the background, far more modern Durango-class OPVs remain at the dock, content for the old lady to take the watch. Now in her 79th year afloat, the former Auk-class minesweeper is still on the job.

The Auks were a prolific series (95 hulls) of oceangoing escort minesweepers that were essentially slight upgrades of the preceding USS Raven (AM-55) and USS Osprey (AM-56), the latter of which was the first ship sunk off Normandy on D-Day. Some 1,250 tons, these 221-footers could make 18 knots on their diesel-electric plant and carried a 3-inch gun forward as well as a couple of 40mm Bofors AAA mounts amidships, their sterns clear for sweeping gear. Added to this were 20mm Oerlikons and depth charges, giving these ships an armament roughly equivalent to the larger 2,500-ton Tacoma-class patrol frigates or 1,800-ton Buckley-class destroyer escorts of the day, which is impressive.

While class leader USS Auk (AM-57) was built at the Norfolk Navy Yard, the other 94 were farmed out to at least nine small commercial yards around the country. Easy to construct, they were turned out rapidly.

USS Auk (AM-57) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard circa May 1942. NH 84027

Long before she was Farías, the subject of our tale was launched as USS Starling (AM-64) by the General Engineering and Drydock Co., Alameda, on 11 April 1942; and commissioned on 21 December 1942 after a 17 month construction period. As with all American minesweepers of the era, she carried the name of a bird and was the second such vessel on the Naval List to do so, with the previous USS Starling being a 141-foot fishing boat converted during the Great War for use as a coastal minecraft.

The only known WWII-era photo of Starling:

NH 89203 USS Starling AM-64

As a well-armed minesweeper built on the West Coast in 1942, it was obvious Starling would soon be deployed to the meatgrinder along the front lines of the War in the South Pacific.

Joining a convoy to Pearl Harbor in January 1943, she was soon in heavy use throughout the Solomons, and Guadalcanal was involved in patrol work, coastal escort duty, and, of course, clearing mines when found. Working with sisterships USS Dash (AM-88) and Constant (AM-86), she swept Ferguson Passage off Kolombangara in late October, destroying at least 135 Japanese mines. The group then cleared the minefield in Kula Gulf and swept Vella Gulf into November.

Then came more convoy duty well into mid-1944 when Starling transitioned to the Southern Attack Force for Operation Forager, the amphibious assault against Japanese-occupied Guam, and the follow-on Mariana and Palau Islands campaign through mid-October.

Off Guam in June as part of the anti-submarine screen for Task Group 53.3, she spent much of her time on alert against Japanese airstrikes.

This brought comment by her skipper in the report for the landings of:

After a refit on at Mare Island– that included a radar installation– Starling sailed for the Marshall Islands in February 1945 to join Minesweeper Group I, TG 52.4, for the invasion of the Ryukyus and was off Okinawa by early April. Next came a full month of aggressive zigzagging, patrolling station, constant underwater sound search (she dodged a torpedo track on 8 April), night radar search, and fighting at every opportunity, with the crew never far from their stations. There, besides supporting the landings with Mine Squadron Five, she was engaged in no less than three documented anti-aircraft actions.

The first, at sunrise on 6 April, saw her 40mm, 20mm, and .50 caliber batteries open on a Japanese A6M5 (Zeke) that dived on the ship from 5,000 feet and caught fire as it plunged to her deck, ultimately crashing 3,000 feet behind the steaming minesweeper. The sweeper recovered the body of a Japanese Navy petty officer and transferred the papers collected from the body to an intelligence group on the nearby command ship USS Eldorado (AGC-11) then buried the man at sea with full military honors.

The second attack, by three Japanese Yokosuka P1Y Ginga (Frances) bombers who approached on the night of 22 April at an altitude of 1,000 feet, saw Starling open up with everything she had, expending three 3-inch, 18 40mm, 250 20mm, and 40 .50 cal rounds inside of eight seconds. The results, one Frances splashed down 25 yards dead ahead of our minesweeper, which suffered no damage herself.

The third attack, a morning rush by a sole Japanese Nakajima B5N (Kate) bomber approaching just 300 feet off the deck on 4 May saw the plane “disintegrated and splashed” in a hail of 3-inch and 40mm fire. The Kate had initially approached a nearby troopship off Kerama Retto, but Starling’s fire seemingly caused it to divert and go after the minesweeper.

Whereas several destroyers survived hits from kamikazes, some even after multiple strikes, such damage would be fatal for a 221-foot minesweeper. Case in point, one of Starling’s sister ship, USS Swallow (AM-65), was sunk by a kamikaze near Okinawa, 22 April 1945– the same day Starling fought off the three Frances– sent to the bottom just three minutes after the Japanese plane impacted. Another sister, USS Sentinel (AM-113), was lost due to German Messerschmitt Me-210 bombers off Anzio.

USS Sentinel (AM-113) sinking off Sicily, on the morning of 10 July 1943. NH 89208

Starling also came to the rescue while off Okinawa. When the transport USS Pinkney (APH-2) was rocked by an explosion on her stern from a low-flying kamikaze on 28 April, our minesweeper moved in to assist in firefighting, recover casualties, provide AAA screen for future attacks, and cover the whole scene in a smokescreen cover.

After her time in the barrel, Starling then sailed for the Philippines. From Leyte, the ship moved to Iwo Jima and back to Okinawa which she reached on 18 August, three days after hostilities ended. She then switched to post-war clean-up, sweeping Japanese sea mines off the China coast, from 7 September to 30 October before switching operations to Japan’s home waters for similar duties throughout the rest of the year.

Mothballs and a new life

No less than 11 Auks were lost during the war to a variety of causes including mines and submarines. The butcher’s bill carried USS Skill (AM-115), torpedoed by U-593 off the North African coast in 1943, and three sweepers in British service lost to German midget subs off Normandy.

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. Note the Elco 80-foot PT boat coming to her aid. 80-G-651677

With 21 other sisters transferred to overseas allies for good, the Navy was left with 63 remaining Auks in 1946. One of these, ex-USS Toucan (AM-387), sailing with the Republic of China Navy as ROCS Chien Men (PCE-45), was lost in an engagement with Chicom naval assets in 1965.

The entry from Jane’s 1946.

Starling received three battle stars for World War II service and was placed “in reserve, out of commission,” on 15 May 1946 in San Diego. Towed to Long Beach in 1948, she lingered in mothballs where she was, along with the rest of her class, administratively reclassified a Fleet Minesweeper (Steel Hull) and received hull number MSF-64 in 1955.

Struck from the Naval Register 1 July 1972, ex-USS Starling (MSF-64) was sold to the Republic of Mexico on 16 February 1973 along with nine of her sisters. The Mexicans apparently really liked the class as they had already bought 10 laid-up Auks on 19 September 1972. Together, the 19 WWII-era escort minesweepers, their armament reduced to just the forward 3-inch gun and two 40mm Bofors, would be more patrol craft than mine warfare ships.

Jane’s entry on the class in Mexican service, 1973.

While under a Mexican flag, the Auks were first designated as corbetas (corvettes) with “C” pennant numbers, then as a Guardacostas Cañonero, a coastal gunboat, with IG pennant numbers. Starling, therefore, became ARM Valentín Gómez Farías (IG-11) and has served in the Mexican Pacific fleet ever since, spending her entire life in that body of water.

The class:

  • USS Starling (AM-64) transferred as ARM Valentín Gómez Farías (C79/IG11/P110)
  • USS Herald (AM-101) as ARM Mariano Matamoros (C??/IG17/P1??)
  • USS Pilot (AM-104) as ARM Juan Aldama (C85/IG18/P116)
  • USS Pioneer (AM-105/MSF-105) as ARM Leandro Valle (C70/IG01/P101)
  • USS Sage (AM-111) as ARM Hermenegildo Galeana (C86/IG19/P117)
  • USS Sway (AM-120) as ARM Ignacio Altamirano (C80/IG12/P111)
  • USS Symbol (AM-123) as ARM Guillermo Prieto (C71/IG02/P102)
  • USS Threat (AM-124) as ARM Francisco Zarco (C81/IG13/P112)
  • USS Velocity (AM-128/MSF-128) as ARM Ignacio L. Vallarta (C82/IG14/P113)
  • USS Champion (AM-314/MSF-314) as ARM Mariano Escobedo (C72/G03/P103)
  • USS Chief (AM-315/MSF-315) as ARM Jesús González Ortega (C83)
  • USS Competent (AM-316) as ARM Ponciano Arriaga (C??/IG04/P1??)
  • USS Defense (AM-317) as ARM Manuel Doblado (C73/IG05/P104)
  • USS Devastator (AM-318) as ARM Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada (C74/IG06/P105)
  • USS Gladiator (AM-319/MSF-319) as ARM Santos Degollado (C75/IG07/P106)
  • USS Spear (AM-322) as ARM Ignacio de la Llave (C76/IG08/P107)
  • USS Roselle (AM-379/MSF-379) as ARM Melchor Ocampo (C78)/Melchor Ocampo (IG10)/Manuel Gutiérrez Zamora (P109)
  • USS Scoter (AM-381) as ARM Gutiérrez Zamora (C84)/ARM Melchor Ocampo IG16/ Felipe Xicoténcatl (P115)

 

ARM Manuel Gutiérrez Zamora (IG-10)/USS Scoter (AM-381) in Mexican service, 1980s wearing her glad rags. The other 18 of the class would have a similar profile into the 1990s

In 1994, Starling/Farías was updated to pennant GC-79 after the ship received a modernization that included two new Caterpillar 3516B diesel engines, commercial navigation radars, marine GPS and electronics; and an elevated stern deck to support a light helicopter. The platforms were for the dozen 12 Bo105-CBS helicopters the Mexican Navy acquired from MBB in West Germany in the late 1980s.

They can carry rockets and machine gun pods and have a surface search radar in the nose

(April 29, 2009) A Mexican BO-105 Bolkow helicopter fires 2.75-inch high-explosive rockets in a sinking exercise that took place during UNITAS Gold. This year marks the 50th iteration of UNITAS, a multi-national exercise that provides opportunities for participating nations to increase their collective ability to counter illicit maritime activities that threaten regional stability. Participating countries are Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, Mexico, Peru, U.S., and Uruguay. USCG Photo 090429-G-6464J-330

Farías later changed in 2001 with the redesignation of a Patrulla Oceánica, pennant PO-110.

Farías, in new format

Farías

Today, at least eight of the 19 Auks in Mexican service have long since been retired, their components used to keep their re-engined sisters in operation.

However, 11 of these hardy mine boats are still in service, known as the Valle class although Valle herself was hulked in 2008. Those still around have had a similar upgrade to the same helicopter deck/Catapiller diesel format as Farías.

Former Auk class minesweeper USS Champion (AM-314 / MSF-314) transferred as ARM Mariano Escobedo (C72 / G03 / P103)

Former Auk class minesweeper USS Defense (AM-317) transferred as ARM Manuel Doblado (C73/IG05/P104)

ARM Valentín Gómez Farías and two other Auks/Valles. Note the cased 40mm Bofors. Mexico at this point is one of perhaps just two or three navies that still operate the WWII 3″/50 and 40mm platforms

Mexico is the last country to operate the Auks in any form, with the Philippines retiring the last of their two examples in 2020. They remain hard at work in trying to root out smugglers crossing Mexican waters and engage in multinational exercises such as RIMPAC and UNITAS frequently.

ARM Valentín Gómez Farías (PO-110) keeping up with the Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Winnipeg FFH-338, and an unidentified Reliance-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, 2015

The Krogen 42 trawler liveaboard MY Dauntless, during its circumnavigation of the globe in 2018, was the recipient of a literal “shot across the bow” from the old minesweeper turned OPV that “splashed a hundred feet off our bow. Thick black smoke poured from the funnel of the WWII vintage ship as she pushed thru the seas at her full speed of 18 knots.”

Kinda nice to know the old girl is still out there.

As far as her echoes in the U.S., I can find no veterans group, as there are likely few if any of her WWII crew still around on this side of Poseidon. The only ghost of her in the country is her engineering drawings and war diaries in the National Archives. 

Specs:

Displacement 890 t.
Length 221′ 2″
Beam 32′ 2″
Draft 10′ 9″
Propulsion: Two 1,559shp ALCO 539 diesel-electric engines, Westinghouse single reduction gear, two shafts.
Speed 18.1 kts
Complement 105
Armament:
(1943)
One 3″/50 Mark 20 dual-purpose gun mount
2 x 40mm gun mounts, single
8 x 20mm guns, single
2 x depth charge tracks
5 x depth charge projectors

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Kingstons Growing Up to Fill the Role(s) After 25 Years

This week in 1996, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Kingston (700) was commissioned to Canada’s Atlantic Fleet.

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Kingston, while deployed on Operation CARIBBE on November 8, 2016. Photo By: 12 Wing Imaging Services XC03-2016-1002-566

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Kingston, while deployed on Operation CARIBBE on November 8, 2016. Photo By: 12 Wing Imaging Services XC03-2016-1002-571

With the motto: “Pro Rege et Grege” (For Sovereign and People), HMCS Kingston was the first of 12 Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDV).

For the maximum price of $750 million (in 1995 Canadian dollars), Ottawa bought 12 ships including design, construction, outfitting, equipment (85 percent of Canadian origin), and 22 sets of remote training equipment for inland reserve centers.

These 181-foot ships were designed to commercial standards and intended “to conduct coastal patrols, minesweeping, law enforcement, pollution surveillance and response as well as search and rescue duties,” able to pinch-hit between these wildly diverse assignments via modular mission payloads in the same way that the littoral combat ships would later try.

That is one chunky monkey. These boats, despite the fact they have deployed from Hawaii to the Baltic and West Africa, are reportedly slow and ride terribly. I mean, look at that hull form

Like the LCS, the modules weren’t very good and are rarely fielded because they never really lived up to the intended design. In all, the RCN has enough minesweeping modules to fully equip just two Kingstons as minehunters and partially equip four or five others. 

When it came to MCM, they were to run mechanical minesweeping (single Oropesa, double Oropesa, or team sweep) at 8 to 10 knots, Full degaussing (DG) capability was only fitted in three ships, although the cables were fitted in all vessels. The route survey system– of which only four modules were ever procured– was to be capable of performing at speeds of up to 10 knots with a resolution as high as 12 centimeters per pixel in any ocean of the world.

It is joked that the bulk of the force could act as a minesweeper– but only do it once.

Armed with surplus manually-trained Canadian Army Bofors 40mm/L60 Boffins (formerly Naval guns leftover from HMCS Bonaventure), which had been used for base air defense in West Germany for CFB Lahr/CFB Baden during the Cold War, they never had a lot of punch. Later removed, these WWII relics were installed ashore as monuments, and the Kingstons were left with just a couple of .50 cal M2s as topside armament.

Manned with hybrid reserve/active crews in a model similar to the U.S. Navy’s NRF frigate program, their availability suffered, much like the Navy’s now-canceled NRF frigate program. This usually consisted of two active rates– one engineering, one electrical– and 30 or so drilling reservists per hull. Designed to operate with a crew of 24 for coastal surveillance missions with accommodation for up to 37 for mine warfare or training, the complement was housed in staterooms with no more than three souls per compartment. 

With 12 ships, six are maintained on each coast in squadrons, with one or two “alert” ships fully manned and/or deployed at a time and one or two in extended maintenance/overhaul.

Canadian Kingston-class coastal defense vessel HMCS Saskatoon (709), note 40mm gun forward, bridge wing .50 cals, and CEU container– the hallmark of “modular” designs. They could accept three 20 foot ISO containers.

Intended to have a 15-year service life, these 970-ton ships have almost doubled that with no signs of stopping anytime soon. They have recently been given a series of two-year (and shorter) refits that included upgrades to their hull, galley, HVAC, and fire fighting systems while the RCN is spitballing better armament to include remote-operated stabilized .50 cal mounts. Notably, they are getting new degaussing systems. 

Canadian Kingston class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel with remote 50 cal that may replace the old 40mm mounts that were removed.

With all that out there in the sunlight, these shoestring surface combatants have been pushed into spaces and places no one could have foreseen and they have pulled off a lot– often overseas despite their official “type” and original intention.

Besides coastal training and ho-hum sovereignty and fisheries patrols, the ships of the class are tapped to deploy regularly as part of narcotics interdiction missions in Operation Caribbe in the Caribbean and the Central American Pacific coast, with they work hand-in-hand with SOUTHCOM and the U.S. Fourth Fleet.

About half of Caribbe deployments have been by the Kingstons. Note that this chart is from 2016, and at least a dozen more deployments have been chalked up since then

They also regularly deploy to the Arctic as part of the annual Operation Nanook exercises.

HMCS Summerside Kingston-class coastal defense vessel. While not robust ice-going vessels, the ships are nevertheless built to operate safely in 40 centimeters of first-year ice, which puts them capable of summer cruises in the Arctic. 

With a small footprint (just 25~ man typical complement, mostly of naval reservists on temporary active duty) they often deploy in pairs.

Recently, they have been experimenting with UAV operations from their decks, as well as working closely with USN and USCG helicopter detachments for HOISTEXs and HIFR while, especially in Caribbe deployments, with embarked USCG Law Enforcement Detachments.

One could argue that these “coastal defense” vessels have spent more time off the coasts of other countries than their own.

Some highlights:

Kingston, in company with HMCS Anticosti and her sister-ship HMCS Glace Bay (701), in 1999 was deployed to the Baltic Sea to participate in Exercise BLUE GAME, a major minesweeping exercise with other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) units. They were the smallest Canadian warships to cross the Atlantic since the Second World War. In 2003, Kingston spent 144 days at sea, sailing over 19,000 nautical miles in SAR missions, training Maritime Surface Operations Naval cadets, operating with the RCMP, and, with sister-ship HMCS Moncton, plucked two Marine Corps F-18 pilots from the Atlantic after the two Hornets collided in an exercise. In 2014, Kingston was part of the expedition that searched for and found one of the ships that disappeared during Franklin’s lost expedition. In 2018, she and sistership HMCS Summerside sailed for West Africa to take part in Obangame Express 2018 with the U.S. Navy and several African navies, a trip that was repeated in 2019 for Operation Projection.

Glace Bay (701) has also helped after the crash of Swissair Flight 111 off Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia in 1998 and, with MCM gear, was part of a team searching in Lake Ontario in 2004 for some of the last remnants of the legendary CF-105 Avro Arrow. In 2014, she seized $84 million worth of drugs with working as part of Operation Caribbe. In 2018, she pulled down a Baltic minesweeping deployment. In 2020, Glace Bay and sistership HMCS Shawinigan departed Halifax as part of Operation Projection off West Africa.

Northern Lights shimmer above HMCS GLACE BAY during Operation NANOOK 2020 on August 18, 2020. CPL DAVID VELDMAN, CAF PHOTO

HMCS Nanaimo (702) has been part of two RIMPACs and, while deployed on Caribbe in 2017, made two large busts at sea with a USCG LEDET aboard, seizing almost three tons of blow. She doubled down as a narco buster in her 2018 Caribbe deployment.

HMCS Edmonton (703), and participated in RIMPAC 2002. This voyage to Hawaii was the longest non-stop distance traveled by vessels of the Kingston class at that time, and they acted in route clearance roles for the larger task force. She has also had three very successful Caribbe deployments. From August to September 2017, Edmonton and sistership Yellowknife sailed to the Arctic Ocean to perform surveillance of Canada’s northern waters as part of Operation Limpid.

HMCS Shawinigan (704) has operated alongside Canadian submarine assets, been part of NATO international mine warfare exercises, and was the HQ platform for the Route Halifax Saint-Pierre 2006. In 2014, Shawinigan’s Operation Nanook deployment set the record for traveling the furthest north of any ship in the history of the Royal Canadian Navy, reaching a maximum latitude of 80 degrees and 28 minutes north. She went to West Africa in 2020 and down to SOUTHCOM’s neck of the woods twice.

HMCS Whitehorse (705) has survived a hurricane at sea and, in 2006, while conducting route survey operations, rescued a group of local teenagers from the waters in the approaches to Nanoose Harbour B.C. then rescued another group stranded on Maude Island. She has participated in at least two RIMPACs and three Caribbe deployments. One of the latter, with sistership HMCS Brandon in 2015, made seven different seizures from smugglers, totaling 10 tons of cocaine.

HMCS WHITEHORSE conducts weapon maintenance during Operation CARIBBE on February 10, 2020

HMCS Yellowknife (706) earned a Canadian Forces Unit Commendation for saving the F/V Salmon King in 2001. In 2002, she and three of her sister ships deployed to Mexico and for the first time in 25 years, conducting two weeks of operations with the Mexican Navy. The next year, she joined a task force of French and Canadian ships in the Pacific and joined a U.S. task force in 2014. She has taken part in at least three RIMPACs and, during her 2019 Caribbe deployment with sistership Whitehorse, seized three tons of coke.

HMCS Goose Bay (707) in 2001 accompanied by sister ship HMCS Moncton, took part in the NATO naval exercise Blue Game off the coasts of Norway and Denmark. The next summer, along with sister HMCS Summerside, marked the first Arctic visit by RCN naval vessels in 13 years as part of Operation Narwhal Ranger, an area that later became her regular stomping ground in successive Nanook deployments. She has been to warmer waters with Caribbe and deployed with the USCG for their Operations Tradewinds through the Caribbean for training with local forces there.

HMCS Moncton (708) besides multiple Nanook and Caribbe deployments, has been very active in the Baltic as part of Trident Juncture. She has also worked off West Africa in Neptune Trident. In 2017, with sistership HMCS Summerside, conducted missions against pirates and illegal fishing off the African coast, along with making port visits to Sierra Leone, Senegal, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. She has recently been sporting a North Atlantic WWII scheme. 

Kingston-class coastal defense vessel HMCS Moncton (708) with her Atlantic WWII camo, 2019

HMCS Saskatoon (709) in addition to Nanook and Caribbe, she has been in at least one RIMPAC and Pacific Guardian exercise, the latter with the USCG “involving various scenarios focused on drug or immigrant smuggling, pollution detection, marine mammal sightings, shellfish poaching, illegal logging, and criminal activities,” along the Pac Northwest coastline.

HMCS Brandon (710) has been in several Caribbe deployments.

HMCS Summerside (711) the newest Kingston, is still 21 years old. Her credits include a Narwhal Ranger deployment, followed by later Nanook trips, at least four Caribbe deployments, NATO exercise Cutlass Fury (North Atlantic) and Trident Juncture (Baltic), as well as a Neptune Trident cruise to West Africa which notably involved joint training exercises with naval vessels from Morocco and Senegal.

One could spitball that, when you calculate the bang for the buck that penny-pinching Canada has gotten from these humble vessels over the past quarter-century, perhaps the U.S. Navy should have gone with a similar concept for the LCS and put the billions saved into, I don’t know, actual frigates.

Since you came this far, the RCN offers a free paper model for download, should you be interested. 

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021: Behold, the Destroyerzooka

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, Sept. 22, 2021: Behold, the Destroyerzooka

Here we see the Soviet Orfey (Orpheus)-class destroyer Engels (formerly Desna) with his (Russian warships are always masculine by tradition) unique stern 12-inch (305mm) Kurchevsky pattern “Dynamo-Reactive” recoilless rifle, circa the summer of 1934. A tough little ship going past his goofy one-off experimental gun, he had an interesting life.

Background

With a shredded naval list after the Russo-Japanese War, having lost two out of three fleets, the Tsarist Imperial Navy needed new ships of every stripe in the 1910s as they were facing an increasingly modern Ottoman fleet in the Black Sea as well as the Swedes (always a possible opponent) and the German juggernaut in the Baltic. Part of the naval buildout was a series of 52 destroyers derived from the Novik.

Novik was a great destroyer for 1910. At some 1,600-tons full load, he could make 37.3 knots, which is still fast for a destroyer today, and carried four twin 18-inch torpedo tubes (eight tubes total) as well as four 4-inch guns.

The follow-on Orfey-class upgrade from Novik, planned to number 23 vessels, ended up being trimmed back to just 16 due to the Great War and Russia’s series of revolutions and civil war, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Some 1,440-tons when fully loaded, the 321-foot tin cans used a plant that had two Curtis-AEG-Vulkan turbines and four Normand-Vulkan boilers on two shafts to make 32 knots, making them still very fast for the age but slightly slower than the 6-boiler/3-turbine/3-shaft plant seen in Novik. However, they carried more torpedo tubes, a total of nine, in addition to their four 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns.

Ofrey class destroyer plan. These ships, benefiting from the Russo-Japanese war experience, had double the main transverse bulkheads of pre-1904 Russian destroyers with 12 watertight sections (each with their own pumping systems) as well as individually compartmentalized boilers, hence all the funnels. The keel was made of doubled 6mm steel sheets set at angles to each other, creating a double hull of sorts. Lacking true armor, the conning tower/bridge was made of half-inch ordnance steel sheets to provide splinter and small arms protection. Interestingly, the topside radio room (one 2 kW transmitter and two receivers) and two 45-cm searchlights were fed by a separate 10kW Penta kerosene dynamo protected centrally, rather than the rest of the ship’s power which was provided by two 20 kW turbo generators.

Desna, shown here in fitting out at the Kolpino Metalworks in Petrograd (Great War-era St. Petersburg) had nine 18-inch torpedo tubes.

Closer detail on those tubes

And even closer

His initial armament, as with the rest of the class, included four long-barreled 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns, one over the bow, and three crowding her stern. These could fire a 66-pound HE or 52-pound “Diving” shell at 12 rounds per minute, providing the crew was drilled properly, to a range of 17,600 yards. Two 150-shell magazines, fore, and aft, were installed below deck. The guns were directed by a 9-foot Barr & Stroud 30x stereoscopic rangefinder of RN F.Q. 2 pattern.

Laid down in November 1914, three months into the Great War, Desna was named after the famed tributary of the Dnieper that runs through Smolensk to Kyiv.

Commissioned 16 August 1916, he was rushed into operations and famously came to the defense of the heroic but obsolete Borodino-class battleship Slava during the long-running Battle of Moon Sound, in which the Russian battlewagon gave, by all accounts, a full measure against a much larger and more powerful German force.

Slava, after the Battle of Moon Sound

Helping to evacuate Slava’s crew, Desna fired torpedoes into the stricken battlewagon to prevent it from falling into German hands. Desna’s brother, Grom, was sunk during the operation.

Caption: A newly -completed Destroyer of the improved “Novik” Type, either DESNA (1915-1941) or AZARD (1916-1919). Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. Catalog #: NH 94295

Same, NH 94294

Same, NH 94296

Civil War

Becoming part of the Red Baltic Fleet by default during the Russian Revolution and Civil War, Desna took part in the “Ice Campaign” during which the force broke through the frozen Baltic to escape Helsinki ahead of the Germans in April 1918.

Based at the fortress island of Kronstadt, Desna took part in operations against the British in 1918-19. (During this period, brother Gavriil helped sink HM Submarine L-55 and three British torpedo boats, while brothers Konstantin and Vladimir/Svoboda were sunk in turn by British mines. Another classmate, Kapitan Miklucha Maklai/Spartak, was captured by the British and turned over to the Estonians.)

Then, in the continued evolution of counterrevolution, Desna and company fought against the Bolsheviks in the 1921 revolt of the Red Fleet.

Rudolf Franz’s 1936 painting depicts the storming of Kronstadt by the Red Army to put down the revolt. Over a thousand were killed on both sides and an estimated 2,100 rebellious sailors were executed or disappeared into labor camps.

In part to wipe out the stain of his role in the brutally suppressed Kronstadt revolt, Desna was renamed in 1922 to Engels, celebrating the German socialist philosopher of the same name who helped develop Marxism.

An ice-bound Engels

Then came several years of lingering operations and refits, as the Soviets were cash strapped for operational funds throughout the rest of the decade. During this period, classmates Orfey and Letun, in bad technical condition after Great War damage, were broken up after the Civil war.

Dynamo-Reactive!

In 1932, Engels was refitted and rebuilt, emerging two years later with a new engineering plant as well as a new gun over his stern in place of two of his 4-inchers.

A design came from the mind of weapon engineer Leonid Kurchevsky, who was fascinated with recoilless rifles. He had spent time in Stalin’s gulag system then emerged in 1929 to catch the eye of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the “Red Napolean” military theoretician who wanted to see Kurchevsky’s simple designs fitted on everything.

Kurchevsky and some of his recoilless rifles in the early 1930s.

The Kurchevsky gun fitted on Engels was awkward, only able to fire to port and starboard with a low train and elevation.

It fired a 660-pound shell to 14,000 yards but proved inaccurate, unreliable, and prone to malfunction. A larger 15-inch model was to be installed on a cruiser but never made it off the drawing board.

I mean, come on…

While some 2,000~ Kurchevsky guns were delivered, fitted to tanks and vehicles as well as ships, it turns out they sucked.

Via Global Security: 

Soon the “bubble” burst. It turned out that the armor-piercing shells of anti-tank DRP, even when fired at point-blank, were not able to penetrate armor thicker than 30 mm. The accuracy and range of field artillery guns do not meet the requirements at all. At the same time, the guns themselves are unreliable and unsafe during operation, there had been numerous cases of rupture of barrels during firing.

Aircraft and naval automatic cannons of the Kurchevsky caliber from 37 to 152 mm gave constant failures and delays during firing due to incomplete combustion of the nitro-fabric sleeves and the unreliable operation of the pneumatic recharge mechanism, which made this weapon absolutely not combat-ready. Soon all PDDs were removed from the troops and destroyed. By June 22, 1941, there was not a single Kurchevsky gun in service with the Red Army.

While Tukhachevsky was sacked in 1937 for other reasons and scapegoated as a Trotskyist in the Great Purge before WWII, Kurchevsky got the wrap at around the same time directly for his funky weaponry. Thrown back in the gulag the inventor was executed sometime in the late 1930s.

War, again, and again

With the Russians flexing against the Finns in the 1939-40 Winter War, Desna/Engels, his Kurchevsky gun landed, and his old 4-inchers reinstalled, bombarded Finnish positions and installations, a task for which his 9-foot draft no doubt assisted.

When the Germans invaded in 1941, Engels was used in coastal minelaying and convoy duty.

Just two weeks after Barbarossa kicked off, on 6 July, he and two other destroyers (Serditogo and Sil’nyy) clashed with two German minesweepers (M-23 and M-31) in what is known today as the Battle of the Irbensky Strait. Famed in Russian naval lore as it was the largest surface battle they fought in the Baltic in WWII; it is much less known outside of the Motherland. This is probably because all vessels involved sailed away after the engagement, a tactical draw.

Damaged extensively on 7 August 1941 by a 550-pound bomb dropped via Stuka, Engels was soon patched up and two weeks later sailed from Tallinn in occupied Estonia to Kronstadt as part of one of the desperate convoys headed north from the doomed port. That month, some 190 Soviet ships and 40,000 souls attempted to escape. The seaborne evacuation of encircled Tallin to Krondstadt and Leningrad went down in history as the “Soviet Dunkirk.” 

With the route obvious to the Germans and Finns, the Axis planted 2,000 mines in what became known as the Juminda Barrage. 

A German map from 1941 showing the location of the Juminda mine barrage

It was on this voyage that he stumbled across a German minefield off Cape Juminda, hitting one with his bow and shrugged it off, damage control successful. However, while the damaged destroyer was being rigged for towing by the icebreaker Oktyabr, Engels hit a second mine that exploded under her stern and triggered the aft 4-inch magazine. That was it and she rolled over and sank. 

Four days later, classmates Pobiditel/Volodarski and Azard/Artyom were lost in a similar minefield in the same Tallinn-to-Kronstadt run. Some 80 ships eventually hit mines in the Jumidia Barrage, with at least 21 Soviet warships, including five destroyers sent to the bottom in August alone. 

Epilogue

As with Desna/Engels, few Orfey-class destroyers made it out of WWII. Three units that survived by nature of serving with the Northern Fleet out of Murmansk and two more with the Pacific Fleet out of Vladivostok remained in service into the early 1950s but were soon discarded. The last remaining example of the class, Spartak, spent her final days in Peru’s Pacific coast as the Estonians had sold her to that Latin American country in the 1930s.

The class is remembered in some Soviet-era maritime art.

Meanwhile, a fishing net-wrapped wreck off Estonia’s Cape Yuminda, documented in 2016, could be the bones of Engels.

As for Leonid Kurchevsky, he was “rehabilitated posthumously in 1956” after the end of the Stalin regime. The next year, Marshal Tukhachevsky and his codefendants in the Purge trial were declared innocent of all charges and rehabilitated, posthumously.

Specs:


Displacement: 1,260 tons (standard) 1,440 tons (full load)
Length 321 ft 6 in
Beam 30 ft 6 in
Draught 9 ft 10 in
Machinery: 4 boilers (30,500 shp) 2 steam turbines, 2 shafts
Speed 32 knots
Range: 1,680 miles @21 knots
Complement: 150 (8 officers, 6 michman, 136 ratings)
Armament:
(1917)
4 x 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns in single unprotected mounts
1 x 40/39 Vickers AAA pom-pom anti-balloon gun
2 x Maxim machine guns (7.62×54)
9 x 18-inch torpedo tubes (3×3)
80 M1908 style sea anchor mines
10 depth charges

(1934)
1 x 12-inch recoilless rifle (experimental)
2 x 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns in single unprotected mounts
1 x 3″/28 Lender AAA
4 x 1 12.7mm/79 DK Heavy machine gun (drum fed)
9 x 18-inch torpedo tubes (3×3) with more modern 45-36Н torpedoes
2 x depth charge racks
58 mines

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021: Horsefly of the Fjords

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, Sept. 8, 2021: Horsefly of the Fjords

Here we see the artillerieschulschiff (artillery school ship)  Bremse of the German Reichsmarine shortly after commissioning in 1931. Roughly equivalent to a small, unarmored, and torpedo-less cruiser or large destroyer leader in size and characteristics, she was a very interesting ship whose war would last two short, often painful, years.

With her German name meaning roughly “horsefly,” she was the third Bremse in the German fleet, following in the footsteps of an 1880s gunboat and a Brummer-class cruiser that was surrendered at Scapa Flow and never left.

With the post-Great War Reichsmarine allowed by the Treaty of Versailles to maintain a gunnery training ship, the old (circa 1907) artillerieschulschiff SMS Drache (800 tons, 4×4″ guns, 11 knots) was soon replaced by a model that offered more bang for the type.

Moving past the simple gunboat style of her predecessor, the vessel that would become Bremse would be light, at just 1,870-tons, run 345-feet in overall length, and have a narrow 31-foot beam, drawing less than 10 feet of water under normal loads. While her secret plans allowed for a set of torpedo tubes in the event of war (which were never fitted) her peacetime main battery was a quartet of low-angle 10.5 cm/55 (4.1″) SK C/28 guns (the first post-WWI naval gun developed by Germany and used by the Type 23/Wolf class torpedo boats) and four 20mm/65 C30 AAA mounts with weight and space reserved for four 37mm SK C/30 mounts as well. She could also carry up to 156 EMA-type mines or smaller numbers of the larger EMC (102) or UMA (132) types. It was thought that she would be able to carry a small floatplane and crane, but this was never fit.

While the Reichsmarine dearly wanted the new “Ersatz Drache” to have a steam turbine plant and make upwards of 30 knots, it was agreed that this would draw too much attention from London and Paris when used on what was supposed to be an auxiliary ship and, instead, it was decided to give Bremse a unique all-diesel plant made up of eight MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Numberg) M8Z 30/44 two-stroke double-acting marine diesel engines with Vulkan gearboxes. Generating 26,800 hp directed down twin shafts, this allowed the new gunnery ship to make 27+ knots (she hit 29.12 on trials) and steam for 8,000 miles at a still very fast for the day clip of 19 knots.

The Reichsmarine, similarly, would use MAN diesels exclusively to power the Deutschland-class panzerschiff large cruisers, with eight very similar M9Z 42/58 engines providing 56,800 hp to push those 14,000-ton pocket battleships to a speed of 26 knots and allow a 10,000 nm range at 20 knots. Essentially, Bremse had this same engineering suite, only scaled down. 

One of the 24 nine-cylinder MAN M9Z 42/58 engines built for installation in Deutschland-class cruisers, eight apiece. Bremse used eight slightly smaller eight-cylinder MAN M8Z 30/44s. Such similarity allowed the vessel to double for engineering training for the pocket battleships.

With a peacetime crew of eight officers and 190 sailors, she could carry another 90 trainees to sea with her. In wartime, with extra armament added, this would swell to 300. Her hull was divided into 15 watertight compartments with a central and two auxiliary damage control centers.

Laid down at Reichsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven in April 1930, she was launched the following January, sponsored by VADM Wilhelm Prentzel– the last commander of the old cruiser SMS Bremse during WWI– and commissioned 14 July 1932.

Soon, after her first training summer, it was decided to modify the design as she was top-heavy. This led to several changes to her superstructure, stern, and masts while her 4-inch guns were replaced with excellent 12.7 cm/45 (5″) SK C/34 guns, the same that would be mounted on the German navy’s Z1, Z17, and Z35 (Types 1934, 1936 and 1936B) destroyer classes and some T61 class torpedo boats.

Artillery training ship Bremse after her modifications. Note her different guns and changed mast, superstructure

Her peacetime service, assigned to the Schiffsartillerieschule in Kiel, was a proving ground for the rebuilding surface fleet of the Kriegsmarine. Her first five interbellum skippers– Paul Fanger, Bernhard Liebetanz, Erhard Tobye, Wilhelm Matthies, and Eberhard von Goetze– all became senior German admirals during WWII.

Artillerieschulboot Bremse (Artillery training sloop) via M. Dieterle & Sohn, Kiel 1935

In addition, she served as a soft target for the top-secret 48cm Dezimeter-Telegraphie DeTe-Geraet “grey switchboard” marine radar tests before ADM Raeder in the summer of 1935. This led to the development of the first experimental FuMO 22 sets that the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee would carry to sea in late 1937.

Movie Star

Bremse was loaned in the summer of 1939 to support the Max Kimmich (brother-in-law of Joseph Goebbels) propagandistic film, Der letze Appell (The Last Rollcall) which focused on a fictionalized account of the HAPAG resort steamer Königin Luise (2,160 tons) which had been converted just before the outbreak of the Great War to become an auxiliary minelayer (hilfsminenleger), camouflaged in the livery of a British Great Eastern Railway steamer, her topside armament consisting of a pair of obsolete Hotchkiss 37mm revolver cannons.

Leaving Emden on August 4, 1914– the day England entered the war in Belgium’s defense– to lay 200 mines in the Thames estuary, she was predictably intercepted the next day while “throwing things overboard” by the Active-class scout cruiser HMS Amphion (4,000 tons, 10×4″ guns) and the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla (HMS Lance, Linnet, Landrail, and Lark).

HMS Amphion, note her four stacks. IWM Q 43259

After a brief engagement that amounted to the first Royal Navy shots fired in the war, Königin Luise was sent to the bottom due to a mix of open sea valves and British shells. On 6 August, however, Amphion herself struck one of the German mines and became the Royal Navy’s first casualty.

Bremse, which was a lighter vessel by half due to her lack of armor and reduced armament but was roughly the same overall length, was fitted with two fake stacks to emulate the circa 1911 British warship for the production.

Artillery training ship Bremse as British cruiser Amphion on the set of the never-finished feature film Die Letzte Appell, just weeks before WWII

Alas, although the film sucked up a huge amount of reichsmarks for the time, it was never finished and there are no video references to this Goebbels-era naval epic. The world is likely the better for it. 

WAR!

By the time things went sour in September 1939, Bremse had already landed her Amphion faux stacks and soon got underway on a series of mine-laying missions in the Baltic and escorting coastal convoys while keeping an eye peeled for smugglers.

In March 1940, she was transferred west to Kiel where she was being assembled under Gruppe III (RADM Hubert Schmundt) for Operation Weserubung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway.

For her role, she would escort some 1,900 troops of the Wehrmacht’s 69. Infanterie-Division and their bicycles to the key Norwegian port of Bergen. Of those, a company of the division’s 159th Infantry regiment was embarked directly aboard Bremse. Gruppe III would also include the sistership light cruisers Köln and Königsberg, the Type 24 torpedo boats Wolf and Leopard, the MTB tender Karl Peters, and two armed trawlers (Schiffs 9 and 18).

Set for the early morning of 9 April, Weserubung had a lot of moving parts and required just about every ship the Germans had to pull off. Gruppe III’s prong to Bergen is circled.

The Germans didn’t think the Norwegians would put up much resistance or that Britain and France would be able to do much in the theater. This would prove wrong.

At 0358, the ~300 Norwegian reservists at Kvarven Fort (augmented by some 80 at Fort Hellen) opened fire with their elderly 8.3-inch Krupp (!) guns and hit Bremse at least one if not two times (accounts vary) along with two very near misses, Karl Peters was also hit once, and Königsberg hit three times. Had Kvarven been able to get their shore-mounted Whitehead torpedo tubes working, it could have proved disastrous for the Gruppe III (see the battle between the Norwegian Oscarsborg Fort and the German heavy cruiser Blücher the same morning).

While the Germans were able to knock out the Norwegian forts through a mix of infantry action and counterbattery fire by 0700, 16 British Blackburn Skua dive bombers of 800 and 803 NAS, launched from RNAS Hatston in the Orkney islands, arrived the next day and sent the already heavily damaged Königsberg to the bottom with hits from at least five 500-pound bombs.

From the ONI’s September 1940’s Information Bulletin Vol. XV111 No. 3, on the German Occupation of Norway:

On 17 April, Skuas of 803 NAS returned to Bergen and bracketed Bremse with a series of bombs that caused minor distress but no serious damage. She would also be hit two days later by a small bomb dropped by one of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s handful of operational Heinkel He 115N seaplanes, but it would fail to detonate. The Norwegians would try again with the same results. 

Special Hobby No. SH48110 1:48 Heinkel He-115B Box Art by Stanislav Hajek. Both the Norwegians and Germans flew these in the same air in 1940, with mixed results.

Sent down the coast to the Herøysund strait on 20 April where the Norwegians were holding out at the seaside canning village of Uskedal, Bremse and the armed trawler Schiff 221, with members of the 69th Infantry aboard, engaged the fearless Norwegian Trygg-class torpedo boat HNoMS Stegg (256 tons, 2x76mm guns, 4x450mm tubes) in a lopsided surface action that left Stegg ablaze with her keel on the bottom of the fjord. In mopping up, the old minelayer HNoMS Tyr (290 tons, 1x 4.72″ gun) was captured by boarding parties before her crew could scuttle her and towed back to Bergen with a German crew.

The scorecard for the Germans at the end of Weserubung, as reported by ONI in Sept. 1940, which incorrectly record Bremse as being sunk. The Kriegsmarine alone would suffer some 5,300 casualties, lose one heavy and two light cruisers along with 10 destroyers and numerous minor vessels, in addition to crippling others. It was a pyrrhic naval campaign that the German surface fleet would struggle to bounce back from.

Bremse spent a period in drydock after her first stint in Norwegian waters

Heading back to Kiel for repairs, Bremse was to take part in Zeelow (Sealion) the planned invasion of Britain post-Dunkirk, but when that fell through, she was again sent to Norwegian waters, arriving in Stavanger in November. However, just a week later she ran aground and required six months’ worth of repair in Bergen to make right again. When she emerged from the yard, she carried the now-classic German “Baltic” camouflage of dark gray with zigzag black and white stripes.

Artillery training ship Bremse in Baltic type camouflage. Kirkenes, August 1941

In support of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, she was escorting coastwise convoys to Kirkenes, the closest occupied Norwegian port to the vital Soviet base at Murmansk, and crossed paths with the British carrier HMS Victorious on 30 July in the Barents Sea, fending off Albacore torpedo bombers of 817 and 827 NAS without damage.

She would continue her hazardous Northern Norway convoy and support duties in the face of an attack from the Soviet Northern Fleet submarine K-2 and another from the British T-class submarine HMS Trident.

Her luck would run out on the early morning of 7 September.

Battle of Cape Nordkinn

The British Fiji-class light cruiser HMS Nigeria (60), along with the Arethusa-class light cruiser HMS Aurora (12), with 30 6- and 4-inch guns and 12 torpedo tubes between them, were involved in operations to Spitzbergen and Bear Island (Operation Gauntlet) to land Canadian troops to demolish mines and evacuate Russian and Norwegian nationals, when they came across one of Bremse’s convoys near Cape Nordkinn just after midnight. Guided by radar in the pre-dawn darkness, the engagement opened at just after 0200 at a range of under 2,000m, and, in the ensuing blackness and smoke, Nigeria apparently rammed Bremse, shearing the front of the cruiser’s bow off.

Nigeria, in drydock at Tyne after the battle. She would spend three months under repair.

By 0430, the battle had ended, with Bremse surviving numerous salvos at point-blank range before slipping under the waves.

It was a tactical win for the Germans, however, as the unprotected convoy of troopships was allowed to slink away over the horizon while Nigeria and Aurora retired to Scapa Flow at a speed of 15 knots, handicapped by Nigeria’s damage. Soon after dawn, German armed trawlers arrived in the debris field left behind and recovered 37 survivors of Bremse’s crew, all enlisted.

Epilogue

The only ship of her kind, Bremse was not survived by any sisters.

The Kriegsmarine named a Minensuchboot 1935-class minesweeper (M 253) after the lost training ship in late 1941. She would survive the war, work for the post-war German Minesweeping Administration under Allied observation, and was then ceded to France in 1947 who kept her around as Vimy for a decade. Sold to the West German Bundesmarine in 1956, she was renamed Bremse (F 208) for use as a coastal escort and finally sold for breaking in 1976, one of the last of that fleet’s WWII-era Kriegsmarine vessels.

Bremse (F 208) in West German service in the early 1960s

Finally, the East German Volksmarine’s sea border guard would name a class of 10 coastal patrol boats after the humble horsefly during the Cold War.

The training ship’s bell and most relics went to the bottom of the Barents Sea with her, but one of her prizes from 1940, the Norwegian minelayer Tyr, survived the war and endures as the coastal ferry Bjørn-West today. Likewise, the Bergen forts, maintained for much of the Cold War, are preserved as museums

Specs: 


Displacement 1,870 tons
Length 345 ft
Beam 31 ft
Draft 9 ft
Propulsion: 8 MAN diesel engines, two shafts, 28,400 shp
Speed 29.1 knots on trials, reportedly 23 by 1941
Range 8,000 nautical miles @19kts on 357 tons of diesel oil
Complement: 192 + 90 trainees (peace), 300 (wartime)
Armament:

(1932)
4 x 10.5 cm/55 (4.1″) SK C/28
4 x 20mm/65 FlaK 30
Weight saved for 4 x 3.7 cm SK C/30 AA guns
102-156 mines depending on the type

(1941)
4 x 12.7 cm SK C/34 naval guns
4 x 3.7 cm SK C/30 AA guns
8 x 20mm/65 FlaK 30
Mines

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

A Look at Baltic Minebusting

A land of fishermen and sailors going back thousands of years, the Latvian Navy was formed in 1919 and survived until the Soviets occupied the country in 1940 but was soon reformed in 1991. Today, the force consists of a dozen assorted coast guard and patrol craft for sovereignty but their most active, and possibly important assets, are the vessels of the very professional Mine Ship Squadron.

NATO just released a very well done 9-minute mini-doc following the LVNS Talivaldis (M-06), an Alkmaar-class (Dutch Tripartite) minehunter of the Latvian Navy, as she performs her very dangerous work in the ancient sea. Formerly the Royal Netherlands Navy minehunter Dordrecht (M852) the 500-ton vessel was sold to Latvia in 2000 after 17 years of service. She has been since modernized with a new AUV A18-M sonar for detection and Seascan MK2 and K-STER C USVs/ROVs for identification and clearance.

In the presser for the video:

The Baltic Sea is said to contain 30,000 leftover unexploded ordnance from two world wars. The crew of Latvian minehunter M-06 Tālivaldis explains how these historic mines pose a threat to both military and civilian ships today, and why it is so important to dispose of them. The ship has been part of Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One several times; this group is responsible for countering the threat of sea mines and unexploded ordnance in the northern seas.

This is a rare opportunity to explore life on board a Latvian Navy mine-hunting ship as it conducts its work in the Baltic Sea. This footage includes shots of the Tālivaldis in the Baltic Sea, searching for and destroying unexploded historic ordnance as well as interviews with crew members.

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