Commissioned 12 December 1940, the British U-class submarine HMS Urge (N 17) served in World War II throughout 1941, seeing extensive action in the Med. Over the course of 20 patrols, she proved a one-submarine wrecking crew to the Italian Navy, sinking the Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere as well as extensively damaging the cruiser Bolzano and battleship Vittorio Veneto.
On 27 April 1942, the 16-month-old Urge left Malta en route to Alexandria but failed to arrive on schedule and was reported overdue on 7 May. Her crew, commanded by LCDR Edward Philip Tomkinson, DSO and Bar, RN, was never heard from again.
Her shield, which had been landed prior to shipping out, is currently on display at The Register Office in Bridgend, Wales. The town, which contributed around £300,000 to the war, had adopted HMS Urge as part of national “Warship Week” in 1941.
HM Submarine Urge was discovered in a search conducted by staff from the University of Malta just off Malta’s Grand Harbour, where she apparently was destroyed on the surface by a mine. In addition to her 32 crewmembers, she had been carrying 11 other naval personnel and a journalist.
The fifth U.S. Navy warship built for the first city constructed after the War of Independence was commissioned into the Fleet this weekend.
USS Cincinnati (LCS-20), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, follows on the heels of a Los Angeles-class SSN, two cruisers (more on that later) and a City-class ironclad gunboat that was sunk and raised twice during the Civil War. This, of course, all befits the mold of storied Roman statesman and military leader Quintius Cincinnatus.
I attended the ceremony– which had Adm. Jamie Foggo (COMNAVEUR-NAVAF) in attendance, who spoke eloquently about Cincinnatus and, in the end, broke his flag aboard the Navy’s LCS– met her crew and toured the vessel.
For a 420-foot/3,100-ton frigate-sized (although not frigate-armed) warship, the wardroom is small.
Her skipper and XO are both CDRs, while OPS is an LCDR. Ten O2/O3s flesh out the rest of the departments (NAV, CSO, 1stLT, EMO, Weaps, Ordnance, Chief Engr, Main Prop Aux, Aux, Electrical). There are 25 Chiefs including an HMC who serves as the ship’s independent duty corpsman. The rest of the crew is made up of just 33 ratings and strikers. This totals 71 souls, although it should be noted that some of those were from other LCS crews. Notably, Crew 214 recently commissioned a previous Independence-class LCS only months ago.
Of interest, her first watch was just four-strong (including two minemen) with just two watchstanders on the bridge.
A few other things that struck me was the size of the payload bay on the trimaran– the ship has a 104-foot beam, more than twice that of the FFG7s!– which was downright cavernous for a ship that could float in 15 feet of brownish water. This translates into a helicopter deck “roof” that is the largest of any U.S. surface warship barring the Gator Navy and, of course, carriers.
She also has a lot of speed on tap, packing 83,410 hp through a pair of (Cincinnati-made) GE LM2500 turbines and two MTU Friedrichshafen 8000 diesels pushing four Wartsila waterjets. She is rated capable of “over 40 knots” although Foggo noted with a wink she could likely best that.
Sadly, she doesn’t have a lot of firepower, limited to topside .50 cals, her Mk-110 57mm Bofors and C-RAM launcher.
She is expected to be optimized for mine countermeasures with the MH-60-based ALMDS and AMNS systems along with an Unmanned Influence Sweeping System (UISS) and AN/AQS-20A mine detection system. She has a missile deck for the new Mk87 NSM system, although the weapon itself is not currently installed.
Still, should she be headed into harm’s way, I’d prefer to see more air defense/anti-missile capabilities installed, but what do I know.
USS Cincinnati will join her nine sister ships already homeported in San Diego: USS Independence (LCS 2), USS Coronado (LCS 4), USS Jackson (LCS 6), USS Montgomery (LCS 8), USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), USS Omaha (LCS 12), USS Manchester (LCS 14), USS Tulsa (LCS 16) and USS Charleston (LCS 18).
Built just at Austal’s Alabama shipyard, an hour away from where she was commissioned, five sisters are currently under construction in Mobile. Kansas City (LCS 22) is preparing for sea trials. Assembly is underway on Oakland (LCS 24) and Mobile (LCS 26) while modules are under production for Savannah (LCS 28) and Canberra (LCS 30), with four more under contract through to LCS 38.
Pro Publica had this take on the Navy’s current state of minesweeper deficit with the protracted LCS mine countermeasures systems still a long ways off and the Avenger-class ships getting the short end of the readiness dollar.
It’s actually pretty interesting.
The U.S. Navy officer was eager to talk.
He’d seen his ship, one of the Navy’s fleet of 11 minesweepers, sidelined by repairs and maintenance for more than 20 months. Once the ship, based in Japan, returned to action, its crew was only able to conduct its most essential training — how to identify and defuse underwater mines — for fewer than 10 days the entire next year. During those training missions, the officer said, the crew found it hard to trust the ship’s faulty navigation system: It ran on Windows 2000.
The officer, hoping that by speaking out he could provoke needed change, wound up delaying the scheduled interview. He apologized. His ship had broken down again.
“We are essentially the ships that the Navy forgot,” he said of the minesweepers.
“GULF OF THAILAND (June 7, 2019) The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Pioneer (MCM 9) observes a controlled mine detonation while conducting a joint mine countermeasures exercise with the Royal Thai Navy during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand 2019.” :
With the premature scrapping/disposal of the 12 Osprey-class mine hunters (which only had a decade on their hulls when put out to pasture), the now 11-ship (out of 14 built) Avenger-class are all that is left of the dedicated U.S. counter-mine vessels. Of course, the Mine Counter-Measures Modules of the Littoral Combat Ships currently in commission are expected at any time. (Holds breath. Turns blue. Dies of circa 1908-designed mines in a littoral).
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss
Here we see a British Admiralty chart entitled “Iles St Marcouf to Cap Manvieux,” covering a span of the Normandy Coast in France. This chart was used by the venerable New York-class battleship USS Texas (BB-35) during her bombardment operations in support of the Operation Neptune landings, 6 June 1944, the seaside part of Operation Overlord. If you note in the top right-hand quarter of the chart is a set of two parallel lines marked with dan buoys marking a 900-meter-wide channel that was swept of mines immediately prior to and on D-Day.
In short, if it hadn’t had been for those minecraft that cleared the aforementioned path, the whole invasion would have gone a good bit different. With that, today’s Warship Wednesday is on the loss of the Raven-class minesweeper USS Osprey (AM-56), which sunk 75 years ago on 5 June 1944. As noted by military historian and D-Day guru Stephen Ambrose, the six bluejackets killed on Osprey that day were the first Allied casualties of Overlord.
The two ships of the Raven-class were basically all-diesel predecessors of the later Auk-class minesweepers (which had diesel-electric drives) and came in a tad lighter, giving them a draft that was almost two feet shallower.
Built side-by-side in 1939-40 at the Norfolk Navy Yard as AM-55 and AM-56, the much more prolific (95 hull) Auks followed them with hull numbers that started at AM-57.
Named for the large, hawk-like bird with a dark brown back and a white breast, Osprey was the second such warship for the Navy with that moniker, with the first being the Lapwing-class minesweeper AM-29 which was commissioned in 1919 then soon transferred to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as USC&GS Pioneer.
Commissioned 16 December 1940, by mid-1941 Osprey was detailed with coastal patrol duties off the U.S. Eastern seaboard and, once America got more active in the European war after Pearl Harbor, soon found herself in England.
By November 1942, she convoyed with the USS Texas and company and later helped direct and protect the waves of landing craft moving shoreward at Port Lyautey, Morocco for the Allies Torch Landings.
After completing anti-submarine patrols off Casablanca, Osprey returned to Norfolk for a year of coastal escort assignments aimed at helping to curb the German U-boat threat off Hampton Roads. With other minesweepers, she escorted convoys from Norfolk and New York to ports in the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast.
By April 1944, Osprey was back across the pond and assigned to the growing invasion flotilla heading for Normandy. Rommel, who had wanted to sow millions of landmines in France to seal off the beaches from invasion, was also a fan of their seagoing variants.
“The Generalfeldmarschall himself had quickly grasped the value of naval mines in his system of defense. He continually requested an increased use of this weapon,” notes a U.S. Navy history.
The German naval minefield facing the Overlord invasion stretched 120 km across the Bay of Normandy and was 16 km deep.
The Allied plan was to use 255 vessels to clear 10 channels through the mine barrage– two channels per beach– in the immediate predawn hours of D-Day, with each sweeper ship, such as Osprey, clearing paths by cutting the moored contact mines. Specially equipped trawlers would follow on the search for magnetic mines while dan-laying launches would mark the swept zone. The channels were to be from 400 to 1,200 yards in width depending on their route.
The danger of mines in inshore waters was to be disregarded during the assault, but the areas were to be searched as soon as sweepers were available.
British Admiral Bertram Ramsay noted that “There is no doubt that the mine is our greatest obstacle to success,” when discussing the Cross-Channel attack. “And if we manage to reach the enemy coast without being disorganized and suffering serious losses, we should be fortunate.”
After months of intensive practice in combined sweeping operations with MinRon 7 off Torbay, England, en route to the Normandy invasion beaches on 5 June, Osprey soon struck an enemy mine. The crew put out the resultant fires but could not save their vessel. She sank that evening.
Early on the 6th, the mine division started sweeping the coast of France in assault and check sweeps to assure safe passage channels for the landing craft and the primary naval gunfire support for the beaches.
The only loss to mines on 5 June, Osprey was soon joined by numerous other craft who could not stay in the same cleared channel as the battleships or were hit by floating contact mines, cut free in the initial sweeping. This was later compounded by the Germans air-dropping mines and sowing them at night from E-boats and coasters.
On 6 June, the landing craft USS LCI(L)-85, LCI(L)-91, LCI(L)-497, LCT-197, LCT-294, LCT-305, LCT-332, LCT-364, LCT-397, LCT-555, LCT-703 and destroyer HMS Wrestler all struck mines just off the beachhead and were lost.
The next day saw the loss of the Army transport ship USAT Francis C. Harrington, Navy transport USS Susan B. Anthony, landing craft LCI(L)-416, LCI(L)-436, LCI(L)-458, LCI(L)-489, LCI(L)-586, and the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125), all to the infernal devices. Meanwhile, the Allen Sumner-class destroyer USS Meredith (DD-726) was damaged by a mine and sunk the next day by a Luftwaffe bombing which split her in two.
On 8 June, the net layer HMS Minster was sunk by a mine off Utah Beach while the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) struck two mines and sank in the English Channel off Normandy.
Through the end of the month, mines off Normandy would continue to claim another dozen landing craft and steamers, as well as the British RN destroyers HMS Fury and HMS Swift along with the Dido-class cruiser HMS Scylla, proving just how hazardous the belt laid by the Germans, had been. It is easy to forget, with the scale of Overlord, but mines caused one hell of a butcher’s bill in June 1944 off the French coast.
As for Osprey‘s sister ship, Raven would sweep at least 21 German and Italian naval mines on D-Day alone. She would survive the war and pass into mothballs with three battle stars to her credit.
Struck in 1967, she was sunk as a target in deep water off the coast of southern California.
As noted by DANFS, the name Osprey was assigned to AM-406 on 17 May 1945, but the construction of that ship was canceled just three months later with the end of the war.
Osprey would go on to grace the hulls of two later U.S. Navy minecraft: AMS-28, a small YMS-1-class minesweeper which served in Korea where she prepared a firing base anchorage for the big guns of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) at the Inchon landings– a true namesake to her predecessor– and MHC-51, the lead ship of late Cold War Osprey-class coastal mine hunters.
As for our D-Day Osprey, her bell surfaced some time ago, but I believe is in private hands in the UK.
Still, if it had not been for Osprey and those like her, the Longest Day could have proved even longer.
Displacement: 810 tons, 1040 tons full load
Length: 220 ft 6 in overall, 215 w.l.
Beam: 32 ft 2 in
Draft: 9 ft 4 in mean
Machinery: Diesel, 2 shafts, 1,800 BHP
Speed: 18 knots
Complement:105 officers and men
2 × 3″/50 caliber guns
2 × 40 mm AA guns
8 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons (added 1942)
2 × depth charge tracks (added 1941)
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