Category Archives: mine warfare

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

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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.

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

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.

Malyutka 96, Found on Eternal Patrol

The Russian Geographical Society has recently confirmed the location of the Soviet Series XII M (Malyutka/малютка = “baby”) class submarine M-96.

Built at plant No. 112 Krasnoe Sormovo, Gorky, in six sections, the small (250-tons submerged, 123-foot oal, 2×21 inch tubes) “Baltic” style submarine commissioned 12 December 1939 in that odd period in which the Russians were only fighting Finland in the Winter War while co-occupying Poland with allied Nazi Germany.

Her actual WWII service with the Red Banner Baltic Fleet was lackluster, firing torpedos at and missing a series of at least three different Axis ships in 1942. Notably, one of her early skippers was Alexander Marinesko, the somewhat infamous captain of submarine S-13 which sank the German military transport ship Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, sending 9,400 to a watery grave. 

However, even while Marinesko had moved on to a bigger, better command, M-96 was already on the bottom, lost with all hands in September 1944 on a mission to reconnoiter German minefields in Narva Bay.

M-96 lies in the northern part of Narva Bay at a depth of 42 meters. Inspection showed that the ship was destroyed on the surface, probably during the night charging of the batteries. The engine telegraph on the bridge shows the command “Full ahead”, the rudder is turned to the right, the upper conning tower hatch is open. A mine explosion occurred under the bow of the boat, breaking the hull.

Here’s the footage of divers at the sub, seen for the first time since 1944.

Warship Wednesday, May 12, 2021: Linguine with Clam Sauce

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, May 12, 2021: Linguine with Clam Sauce

Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-472496

Here we see the lead ship of her class of motor torpedo boat tenders, USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6/AVP-28), anchored in the Leyte Gulf of the Philippines in December 1944 with a brood of her PT boats alongside. Don’t let the designation think she couldn’t fight. With destroyer lines and comparable armament, she would both defend her boats and deliver shore bombardment during WWII.

Originally laid down as Barnegat-class small aircraft tender AVP-28 on 17 April 1942 at Lake Washington Shipyard, Houghton, Washington just four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on 1 May 1943 she was reclassified AGP-6, her role switched to taking care of PT boats instead.

The 41 Barnegats were 2,500-ton, 311-foot armed auxiliaries with destroyer lines capable of floating in 12 feet of water. They had room for not only seaplane stores but also 150 aviators and aircrew. Their diesel suite wasn’t fast, but they could travel 8,000 miles at 15.6 knots. Originally designed for two 5-inch/38-caliber guns, this could be doubled if needed (and often was) which complemented a decent AAA armament helped by radar and even depth charges and sonar for busting subs. All pretty sweet for an auxiliary.

While we’ve covered them in the past to include the former “Queen of the Little White Fleet,” USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38); the horse-trading and gun-running USS Orca (AVP-49), and the 60-year career of USS Chincoteague (AVP-24) but, as noted already, Oyster Bay was to be a somewhat different animal.

CPT Robert J. Bulkley, Jr., USNR’s superb work on wartime PT-boats, “At Close Quarters” speaks to the conversion of Oyster Bay and her three direct sisters, USS Mobjack (AGP-7), USS Wachapreague (APG-8), and USS Willoughby (APG-9):

Beginning with the Oyster Bay, commissioned in November 1943, four ships originally laid down as seaplane tenders were completed as PT tenders by their builder, the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Wash. These were 310 feet long, about 2,800 tons. They were fine, sleek ships, built along destroyer lines, and each carried, in addition to antiaircraft batteries, two 5-inch guns. Though they were faster than the ungainly LST type, they had limited shop space and had no means of raising a PT from the water unless they towed a drydock. In certain types of operations, however, where speed and firepower were required, they proved superior to the LST type.

Besides the provision for 48 replacement torpedoes, the PT boat tenders had other improvements that enabled them to support over a dozen “mosquito boats” at any given time. Modified from the standard Barnegat layout, the Oyster Bays lacked a windscreen/splinter shield around the front of the bridge and, instead of the normal #2 5″/38DP Mark 30 mount forward of the bridge, mounted a pair of twin 40mm Bofors. Their sterns were also different, to accommodate a larger torpedo and engine repair shop.

For comparison, look at this image of Barnegat.

USS Barnegat (AVP-10) underway off the coast of Brazil on 4 April 1944. The ship is painted in the two-tone Measure 22 camouflage scheme. Note the star and bar aircraft insignia on the bow aft of the hull number. Photographed from an aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 16. 80-G-361055

And contrast it to our subject:

USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6) photographed off the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 28 November 1943, shortly after commissioning. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-54733

Besides the pair of twin 40mm Bofors forward of the bridge, another pair were about amidships, while four single 20mm Oerlikons were aft. Photo from the same series as above, 19-N-54734

A 5″/38 Mark 21 pedestal mounting without the characteristic armored shield of the Mark 30s, was pointed over her stern. The Mark 21, in almost all uses, was disliked as it didn’t have a dedicated shell hoist, was manually trained, and elevated, and had a lower rate of fire. In most images of the Oyster Bays, they are shown cased. Also, note the stern depth charge racks. 19-N-54735.

Commissioned 17 November 1943, Oyster Bay would spend the rest of the year in shakedowns on the West Coast, notably taking the following load of duty munitions aboard for her battery, in addition to tons of .50 cal BMG and 48 Mk. 13 Mod 2A torpedoes for her PT boats and shells set aside for structural test firing:

600 rounds 5″/38 ser
100 rounds 5″/38 illum
19,200 rounds 40mm AA service
31,680 rounds 20mm HEI, service
15, 840 rounds 20mm HET, service

She was headed to war.

Leaving San Diego in early 1944 for Milne Bay, Oyster Bay would pick up two full torpedo boat squadrons, MTBRon 18 and MTBRon 21, then escort them to Admiralty Islands where the little armada would arrive 10 March.

There, Bulkley notes:

Although the 1st Cavalry Division, under Maj. Gen. Innis P. Swift, had landed on Los Negros 10 days before, the island was not yet under control. The perimeter defenses of the harbor were still in dispute. Snipers still fired occasionally at the tender and PTs at anchor. Fortunately, there were no casualties.

USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6) tending PT boats, likely of Squadrons 18 and 21, in Seeadler Harbor, Admiralty Islands, on 25 March 1944. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: SC 271592

With her boats immediately heavily involved in the landings on Japanese-held Pityilu Island, the tender was called upon to plaster the holdouts there with 60 rounds of 5-inch on 14 March. She later evacuated 42 wounded Army personnel to the field hospital on Finschafen before heading back to the line.

By April, Oyster Bay, supporting MTBRon 7 and MTBRon 18, was moved up to Hollandia where her boats would pitch in on the fight against Japanese barge traffic, landed several Army scouting parties, and made nightly patrols, later joined there by MTBRon 12 in May.

June brought a shift to operate from Wakde.

For the first eight nights located there, high altitude Japanese bombers came in to keep the troops awake, and, aided by the Army’s searchlights ashore, Oyster Bay‘s 5-inch crews tried to reach for the phantoms. On the night of 13 June, 29 5-inch shells at a choice bomber were rewarded with a 500-pound bomb that exploded just 100 yards off the ship’s bow, killing one and injuring two. However, the smoking bomber reportedly crashed into the hills south of the ship. Her 5-inchers would do more work for the Army, providing NGFS on the nights of 23 and 25 June. Turned out that it pays to have a vessel with a 13-foot draft and 5-inch guns.

The following month, while anchored off Brisbane, a RAAF Vultee Vengeance dive bomber flying at mast level would clip Oyster Bay, an act that proved fatal to the Australians aboard and would put the tender at Hamilton Warf for repairs.

By September saw Oyster Bay, joined by sistership Mobjack, with CDR Selman S. Bowling (USNA 1927), Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons, Seventh Fleet, flying his flag from the tender a shift to Morotai in the Halmaheras where they would support 41 PT’s of MTBRons 9, 10, 18, and 33.

Off Morotai later that month, her gun crews were busy. Against a low-flying Japanese Betty bomber, they logged 140 40mm and 487 20mm rounds expended with the plane observed to “lurch violently” and to be last seen losing altitude over land. In return, four small bombs were observed to strike within 700 yards of the ship.

On 13 October, Oyster Bay, and her sisters Wachapreague and Willoughby, again with Bowling aboard, gathered a group of 45 mostly new PT boats from MTBRons 7, 12, 21, 33, and 36, then set off from Mios Woendi in the Schouten Islands southeast of Biak (codenamed Stinker) in a combat-ready convoy for the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, with the boats repeatedly being refueled en route.

PT-194, “Little Mike,” of MTBRon 12, refuels from an Oyster Bay-class tender, USS Wachapreague (AGP-8), en route to Leyte Gulf. 80-G-345815

They arrived there at dawn on October 21, a day after the major assault landings on the island of Leyte. Bulkley would describe this 1,200-mile voyage as “the largest and longest mass movement of PTs under their own power during the war, and every one of the 45 boats covered the full distance under its own power.”

USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6) tending PT boats in Leyte Gulf in October or November 1944. The boat approaching at the right is PT-357, “Dianamite” of MTBRon 27. NH 44315

Check out this close up of the boats from the above image, each 80-foot Elco types equipped with four Mk 13 type modified aircraft torpedos, which were much lighter than the old tubes

USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6) anchored in Leyte Gulf, late 1944 with PT boats alongside

The PT boats were soon not only involved in supporting the landings in the Gulf, carrying out liaison missions with local guerilla scouts and parties, as well as performing extensive escort and reconnaissance duties but would also play a role in the Battle of the Surigao Strait.

The 45 odd PT boats sent to the Leyte Gulf in October were important when it came to liaising with local anti-Japanese guerilla groups, who had been fighting the Emperor’s troops since 1942.

In that engagement, 39 PTs, in 13 three-boat sections, waited to sucker punch VADM Shōji Nishimura’s battleship/cruiser force on 24 October in what would be a late-night/early morning melee that would be joined by a larger American force and seal Nishimura’s fate. During this “tripwire” action, PT-137 (” The Duchess” under LTJG Mike Kovar of MTBRon 7, sailing from Oyster Bay) landed a Mk 13 in the boiler room of the Japanese Nagara-class light cruiser Abukuma in the pre-dawn darkness which forced the 5,600-ton vessel to try to make for Dapitan for repairs, escorted by the destroyer Ushio. Found limping along by USAAF B-24s the next morning, Abukuma would be on the bottom by noon.

With VADM Jesse B. Oldendorf’s larger force crossing the Japanese “T” the next morning, Nishimura was killed during the battle when his flagship, the Yamashiro, was sunk after being hit multiple times from the U.S. battleships.

Battle of the Surigao Strait, October 1944. PT boats are active not only in spotting and attacking Japanese naval forces attempting to force Surigao Strait but also in picking up survivors. Japanese from naval craft, clinging to debris, approach a boat for rescue. PT Boat shown is “Death’s Hand” PT-321, of MTBRon 21, underway from Oyster Bay. Note her heavily armed and creatively dressed crew. 80-G-47001

Very soon after arriving at the Leyte Gulf, the American force became target number one for successive waves of Japanese air attacks, often numerous times a day. In Oyster Bay‘s 21 November war diary, the ship reported 221 air raid alerts in the preceding 40 days putting a “severe physical and mental strain on all hands.”

As at Morotai, her gun crews were successful, spotting enemy planes close enough to take a shot at on no less than 23 occasions in October and November. On 25 October, she credited downing a Val. On 21 November, a Jake. On 26 November, she bagged three Zekes. During the same period, PTs 195, 522, and 324 were each credited with a plane while being “tended.”

Japanese plane hits the water in the bay near Tacloban, Leyte, P.I., PTs brought down this Japanese plane exploding as it hits the water. Left, PT-boat tenders USS OYSTER BAY (AGP-6) and USS HILO (AGP-2). 80-G-325823

December saw the air raids abate, slacking down to an average of “just” three per day.

She would continue her operations in the Philippines, participating in the invasion of Zamboanga in March 1945, supporting her PT boats in Sarangani Bay, Mindoro, where they carried the war to the Japanese in the Davao Gulf for the first time since 1942. Then came Samar and a quiet period of mop-up work. From 18 May to 6 August, she reported “tender operations without incident.”

By mid-August, with the Japanese throwing in the towel, her crews and those of her related MTBRons were involved in the work of “decommissioning PT-boats,” which meant stripping and burning.

The fate of most of the PT boats in WWII. More than 100 were burned in the Philippines alone

On 10 November 1945, Oyster Bay hoisted her anchor, broke out her homebound pennant, and departed the PI for the West Coast, with 120 passengers aboard.

She had earned five battle stars for her war in the Pacific.

Steaming into San Francisco Bay just after Thanksgiving, she would be decommissioned on 26 March 1946. With the task of tending PT-boats no longer seen as a thing, she was re-designated while in mothballs to a seaplane tender in 1949, picking up her intended AVP-28 hull number for the first time.

Laid up in Stockton, it was decided by the State Department and the Pentagon a few years later that Oyster Bay was going on to live a second career, abroad.

Bound for Italia!

Transferred to the government of NATO-allied Italy 23 October 1957 to help rebuild that country’s navy from the ashes of the old Regia Marina. As such, Oyster Bay was stripped of her armament, sent packing with just a 3″/50 forward, and, after a brief overhaul and sensor upgrade at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard, became the support ship Pietro Cavezzale (A-5301).

She later picked up two 40mm guns and a tripod mast was installed in place of the original mast and went on to grace the pages of Jane’s Fighting Ships for the next 36 years. While the ships around her changed, she remained the same. 

Jane’s 1973 entry.

Cavezzale was frequently photographed around the Med during those years and was used as a floating base for Italian frogmen of COM.SUB.IN., the successors to the famed Decima Flottiglia MAS of WWII.

She got operational with her divers in 1982, supporting a deployment to Lebanon under the auspices of the UN.

In 1984, she again shipped out, responding to the demining operations in the Red Sea, where a suspected Libyan merchant ship littered the waters with infernal devices. Using Soviet/East German “export” bottom mines of a type not previously known in the West, the mystery vessel’s deadly seeds damaged at least 17 ships. There, she would support three Italian minehunters operating predominantly in the Gulf of Suez for two months as part of the international effort (Operation Harling/Operation Intense Look) to clear the waters.

Kept on the rolls long past her prime– almost all her sisters had long been sent to the scrappers– Oyster Bay/Cavezzale was decommissioned in October 1993 and sold for dismantling in February 1996, bringing a very active 43 years to a close.

Epilogue

Oyster Bay’s activities are mentioned extensively in Bulkley’s “At Close Quarters” (pgs. 71, 73, 222, 227, 230, 239, 246, 250, 259, 368-369, 373, 377, 392, 394, 426, 429, 434.)

Going back to the original source material, most of her war diaries, her war history, and engineering drawings are digitized and available online in the National Archives.

An amazing scale model diorama, created by Carl Musselman, was produced in 2004 depicting Oyster Bay and her brood in her Leyte Gulf days.

Via Carl Musselman

A total of 18 Barnegats transferred to Coast Guard in the 50s and 60s to become the “Casco” or “311” class (for their length) of heavy weather endurance cutters, WHEC, with pennant numbers 370 to 387. Many were renamed traditional USCG names, e.g after past Treasury Department Secretaries. Many of these were subsequently transferred a second time to overseas allies such as the Republic of Vietnam and the Philippines. 

As for Oyster Bay‘s immediate PT-boat tender sisters, Mobjack transferred to the U.S. Department of Commerce after the war as the ocean survey ship Pioneer (OSS31) and operated with the Coast and Geodetic Survey for 20 years off the West Coast before meeting the scrapper in 1966.

The Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship PIONEER III, ex-USS Mobjack, via the NOAA Photo Library. While Oyster Bay was transferred to Italy in the 1950s, her three sister PT-boat tenders would serve various American maritime branches well into the late 1960s and early 1970s.

USS Willoughby (AGP-9) went on to serve as the USCGC Gresham (WAVP/WHEC/WAGW-387), through 1973 before being scrapped in Holland, seeing service in Vietnam where it was found that her 5-inch forward mount could still provide NGFS in shallow water when needed. Funny thing.

The former PT boat tender Willoughby made into the cutter USCGC Gresham. USCG Photo

Finally, USS Wachapreague (AGP-8), also served with the Coast Guard as USCGC McCulloch (WAVP/WHEC/WAGW-386) before transfer to the South Vietnamese Navy in 1972 as Ngo Kuyen (HQ-17). When Saigon fell, she was one of the diasporas of former RVN vessels to make the sad trip to the Philippines where she was eventually taken into Filipino service as Gregorio de Filar (PS-8) for a few years. In poor condition, she was slowly stripped of anything useful and faded away sometime in the 1980s.

When it comes to the Barnegat class, they have all gone on to the breakers or been reefed with the final class member afloat, ex-Chincoteague (AVP-24/WHEC-375)/Ly Thuong Kiet (HQ-16)/Andres Bonifacio (PF-7) scrapped in the Philippines in 2003. None remain above water.

Specs:

Camouflage Measure 31, Design 10P drawing prepared by the Bureau of Ships for a camouflage scheme intended for motor torpedo boat tenders of the AGP-6 (Oyster Bay) class. This plan, approved by Captain Torvald A. Solberg, USN, is dated 22 May 1944. 80-G-172868 and 80-G-172876.

(1944)
Displacement 1,766 t.(lt) 2,800 t.(fl)
Length 310′ 9″
Beam 41′ 2″
Draft: 12′ 3″ (full load) 13′ 6″ (limiting)
Speed 18.6 knots. Fuel Capacities: Diesel 1,955 Bbls; Gasoline 71,400 Gals
Propulsion: two Fairbanks Morse Diesel 38D8 1/4 engines, single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gear, two propellers, 6,080shp
Ship’s Service Generators: two Diesel-drive 100Kw 450V A.C., one Diesel-drive 200Kw 450V A.C.
Radars: SL, SC-2, ABK
Sonar: YG homing equipment, QC sonar,
Complement: 215 but with accommodations for 152 men of accompanying PT Boats
Armament:
1 x 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12 in Mark 30 shielded mount, forward
1 x 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12 in Mark 21 open mount, aft
8 x 40mm/60 Bofors in 4 x twin mounts
4 x 20mm/70 Oerlikon singles
2 x stern depth charge racks, some plans show 2 DT throwers but likely not fitted.

Changes before transfer to Italy
Radars: RCA SPS-12 air search radar, I-band navigation radar
Armament:
1 x 3″/50 DP mount, later two 40mm mounts added

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 am a member, so should you be!

Mines, Mines, Mines

While today seagoing mine warfare is frequently neglected, at least in the West, it was a staple of naval technology from the sinking of the USS Cairo on the Yazoo River to the more current antics in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. Sure, sure, there are still half-hearted regular drills to airdrop mines in addition to MCM activities of all stripes, especially by the “small navies” of NATO, but dedicated minelaying vessels have long ago fallen out of fancy in the U.S. and Royal Navy.

Which makes this circa 1976 training doc (Admiralty catalog no. A2788) on RN minelaying, filmed on the “exercise minelayer” HMS Abdiel (N21)*, extremely interesting.

Enjoy!

*As a side, when Abdiel was paid off in 1988, Ian Stewart, Secretary of State for Defence, commented in the House of Commons:

We have not felt it necessary to have a specialist replacement ship for mine laying, because mines can be laid by a wide variety of vessels. They can be laid by submarines, offshore patrol vessels, Royal Maritime auxiliary vessels, Royal Fleet auxiliaries, and aircraft. The task can be done by any suitably modified vessel at short notice. We do not regard it as cost-effective to have a specialist ship for that replacement.

Warship Wednesday, May 5, 2021: De Gaulle’s Pearl

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, May 5, 2021: De Gaulle’s Pearl

BuShips photo 19-LCM-67592 via the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.

Here we see a great surface view of the Free French Saphir-class minelaying submarine (sous-marin mouilleur de mines) Perle (Q-184) while off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 5 June 1944– the day before the Normandy invasion to begin the liberation of her homeland. Perle, in the above photo, was preparing to sortie from PNSY to continue her already active war, having just completed an overhaul. Sadly, she would never see France again.

The six minelaying boats of the Project “Q6” Saphir-class were ordered across a series of naval programs in the late 1920s. With a double-hull construction, the 216-foot subs were small enough for work in the confined waters of the Mediterranean, displacing less than 1,000 tons when fully loaded and submerged. Using a pair of Normand-Vickers diesels and a matching set of electric motors they were not built for speed, capable of just 12 knots on the surface and less than that while under the waves. However, they could remain at sea for a lengthy 30-day patrol, able to cover 7,000nm without refueling.

Saphir

Besides the capability to carry and efficiently deploy 32 Sautter-Harlé HS 4 2,500-pound contact mines double-loaded vertically into a series of 16 Normand-Fenaux chutes built into the hull on either side of the sail, the class had three 550mm torpedo tubes and two smaller 400mm tubes (but only stowage for six spare torpedos) as well as some modest deck guns.

Drawing of a Saphir-class submarine. The black circles are the vertical mine launchers, which worked on compressed air to eject their mines. You can also note her 75mm deck gun forward and twin 13.2mm MG mount, aft. She also carried a pair of 8mm Hotchkiss MGs that could be mounted on her tower. Via К.Е.Сергеев/Wikimedia

Our Perle was something like the 18th warship used by the French to carry the name of the jewel of the ocean-going back to a circa 1663 34-gun ship of the line. Of note, the 17th Perle was also a submarine, a tiny (70-ton/77-foot) Naïade-class boat of the Great War era, complete with Russian-style Drzewiecki drop collar torpedoes.

Laid down in 1931 at the Arsenal de Toulon as the final member of her class, our Perle was commissioned 1 March 1937 and was assigned to the 21ème Division des Sous-Marins (DSM) at Toulon.

The Phony War

When the war kicked off against Germany in 1939, the French Mediterranean fleet was left where-is/how-is just in case the Italians decided to enter the game. When Mussolini obliged on 10 June 1940, Perle was dispatched to sow a defensive minefield off the Corsican port of Bastìa and patrol alongside sistership Diamant.

Vichy Boat

The general French ceasefire on the 22nd ended Perle’s initial involvement in the war. However, after the British plastered the Vichy battleline at Oran two weeks later, she and three other submarines were ordered to head to Gibraltar for a bit of revenge that was called off at the last minute.

Then came deployment to the strategic West African port of Dakar, which was under pressure from the British and De Gaulle’s nascent Free French movement. There, Perle joined the 16ème DSM, which consisted of several smaller submarines, to prepare for a second Allied assault on Senegal that never came. Instead, once the Torch Landings in North Africa triggered the German dismantling of the Vichy French republic and the order to scuttle those ships still in European French waters, Dakar came over to De Gaulle and Perle switched sides by default.

Working for the Liberation

By early 1943, Perle had been integrated into Allied efforts in the Med and was in Oran and was soon running patrols off Cannes and Marseille in between landing operatives and agents where needed, helping no doubt to spread the deception at play across the region as to where the Allies would strike next.

From December 1942 (Operation Pearl Harbour) through November 1943, the “Algerian Group” Free French submarines to include Perle, Casabianca, Marsouin, and Arethuse were heavily involved in running “Le Tube” along the Riveria. Run by intelligence officer Colonel Paul Paillole, the subs made regular runs to Southern France and Corsica, dropping off OSS, SIS, and French resistance agents and supplies ranging from STEN guns to suitcase transmitters. In many of these cases, the submarines would have selected shore party members sent through abbreviated commando training, just in case. 

On one of these missions, in late October 1943, Perle landed Guy Jousselin Chagrain de Saint-Hilaire, who used the nomme de guerre “Marco” in the hills outside of Cavalaire sur Mer in Southern France along with two radio operators and their equipment. Saint-Hilaire would set up the Marco Polo network which played a key role in the liberation in 1944.

Those landed ran the gamut from small groups of operatives, such as Marco and his common guys, to teams of exiled field-grade French Army officers complete with regimental banners that had been spirited out of France in 1940, eager to reform units to spring into action for the liberation. The trips, coordinated with local Resistance cells, would also pick up Allied agents and downed pilots looking to exfiltrate from Nazi-occupied France and carry back important dispatches, reports, objects of intelligence, and film.

In short order, Perle, along with the other Algerian Group subs, conveyed shadowy individuals to Barcelona (where she planted Deuxième Bureau Capt. D’Hoffelize on the beach), Cap Camarat in Corsica, and elsewhere.

Speaking of Corsica, Perle was used to deliver 30 operators of the Bataillon de Choc near Ajaccio on 13 September to help pave the way for the Firebrand landings. The larger Casabianca would land 109 commandos of the same unit– so many that she carried them across the Med while surfaced!

Free French soldiers from the Bataillon de Choc, a commando unit created in Algeria in early 1943. The Bataillon was decisive in the liberation of Corsica and Elba. This picture, with a recently repurposed camouflaged German 7.5cm Pak 40, was taken after they landed in Provence during Operation Dragoon, during the fight to free Toulon, August 1944. Note the mix of gear including British watch caps, American M1903 rifles, boots, uniforms, and gaiters; and Italian Beretta MAB 38sub guns. Also, note the open 75mm shell crate with two rounds ready, no doubt fixing to get back into service against its former owners.

The French commandos, meeting no opposition, soon linked up with Corsican partisans, some 20,000-strong, who had been in open revolt against the German occupation force. Perle’s skipper at the time was able to twist the arm enough of the Toulon-Ajaccio ferry captain to sail to Algiers and come over to the Free French side of things. The submarine also landed three tons of flour on 16 September– more important than guns when it came to winning hearts and minds. The submarine Arethuse arrived two days later to bring five tons of munitions from North Africa to help put those minds to use. 

The campaign evolved rapidly and De Gaulle, on his arrival in Ajaccio on the 8 October 1943, declared Corsica to be the first part of Metropolitan France to be liberated – eight months before Overlord.

The final “Tube” mission was one of Perle’s. On 29 November, she appeared at the designated point and time off the French coast and sent her shore party to the beach only to run across a German patrol, resulting in two prisoners and one killed on both sides.

The results of the covert efforts in Southern France were evident in the Dragoon landings the next year, where it seemed that well-organized FFI units were everywhere. 

Free French Resistance meeting Allied troops on the beach at Saint Tropez, Aug.1944 During Dragoon (Signal Corps Photo 111-SC-212383 via NARA)

Refit

At this point, Perle was in dire need of an overhaul and made for Philadelphia, one of numerous Free French vessels to do so at the time. There, arriving just before Christmas 1943 by way of Bermuda, she would land her 13.2mm machine guns for a set of American-made 20mm Oerlikons, as well as undergo general modification for continued work with the Allied fleets.

A great series of photos exist of her from this time in the states. 

Cleared to return to the war, she sailed in late June 1944 for Holy Loch via Newfoundland in the company of the destroyer escort USS Cockrill (DE-398). Leaving St. Johns with the Flower-class corvette HMCS Chicoutimi (K156) on 3 July.

Five days later, while some 1,000 miles out into the Atlantic, Perle came close to the outbound 94-ship convoy ONM243, sailing from Halifax to Clyde, while it was roughly between Greenland and Iceland. The convoy was protected by a pair of merchant aircraft carrier (MAC) ships, MV Empire MacColl and MV Empire MacCallum who, tragically, were not notified of the possible presence of the Free French submarine until it was too late.

In the early afternoon of 8 July, a Fairey Swordfish Mark II torpedo bomber flown from Empire MacCallum by a Free Dutch Navy pilot of 836 Squadron FAA, was flying ahead of the convoy performing routine a sweep and spotted the mysterious submarine, and subsequently executed a textbook attack that proved successful.

From an article by Dr. Alec Douglas, a former Canadian Forces Director General of History, in the Autumn 2001 Canadian Military Journal:

The pilot, Lieutenant Francoix Otterveanger of the Royal Netherlands Navy, assumed that the submarine, surfaced and on a northeasterly course, was a U-boat, as did the senior officer of the Canadian Escort Group C5 in HMCS Dunver [a River-class frigate]. That officer, Acting Commander George Stephen, the colorful and widely respected Senior Officer Escorts (SOE), is reputed to have exclaimed “Sink the bastard!”, as he ordered the two MAC ships in company to get all available aircraft up.

The ‘string bag’, a slow old biplane, had to give a wide berth to U-boat flak. Lieutenant Otterveanger put his Swordfish into a position upwind between the sun and the target. He waited for the other aircraft from Empire MacCallum and Empire MacColl to join him, and then held off for another ten minutes or so while the six Swordfish (four from Empire MacCallum and two from Empire MacColl) formed up, flying clockwise around the submarine, to carry out a series of attacking runs.

It was just about then, at 1358Z, an hour and five minutes after receiving the sighting report at 1253Z, that Commander Stephen suddenly passed a voice message to the MAC ships: “Have aircraft been informed that submarine ‘La Perle’ might be in our vicinity?”

The bewildered air staff officer in Empire MacCallum knew nothing about La Perle, nor exactly what to do about the message, but tried to alert the aircraft with a belated warning: “Look out for recognition signals in case the sub is friendly. If not, attack.” Only one aircraft heard him over the RT (radiotelephone) traffic that filled the air, and asked in vain for a repetition, just as Lieutenant Otterveanger was beginning his attacking run between 1404 and 1408Z, about an hour and fifteen minutes after the first sighting.

When Otterveanger saw a series of “L’s”, the correct identification for the day, flashing from the conning tower of La Perle, and not having heard the last-minute caution, he concluded it was simply a ruse de guerre and fired four pairs of rockets at the target. All the other aircraft followed up with rocket attacks and (now running into light machine gun fire from the submarine), in the last instance, with two depth charges on the order of Lieutenant Otterveanger, “who had conducted operations in a most proper manner from the start”.

So effective was the operation that the air staff officer in Empire MacCallum was moved to comment, in a more triumphal tone than probably was intended: “The attack was extremely well coordinated and was over in the space of a minute. At least eight hits were scored on the submarine which sank within four minutes of the attack.”

By the time escorts from Convoy ONM-243 reached the scene, only one man out of a crew of sixty men, a Chief Petty Officer machinist [Émile Cloarec, rescued by HMCS Hesperler], was still alive.

A board of inquiry into the loss pointed a lot of fingers, largely at Acting CDR Stephen, and exonerated Ottervaenger.

She was not the only Free French submarine to be lost during the war. The mighty cruiser submarine Surcouf would vanish on her way to Panama in 1942, taking 130 men down with her.

Epilogue

Documents on “the French submarine Le Perle” including her PSNY repair log and the report of her sinking by a Swordfish aircraft are on file in the U.S. National Archives.

Of her five sisters, Nautilus, Saphir, and Turquoise were captured by the Axis in North Africa in 1942 who tried to put them to use but instead scuttled them. Diamant was likewise sunk at Toulon by her own countrymen.

Rubis, like Perle, would join the Allied effort, escaping the Fall of France in 1940 by nature of already working out of Scotland with the Royal Navy at the time. She would carry out an impressive 28 war patrols including almost two dozen mining operations off Norway, sowing deadly 683 seeds that could claim at least 15 Axis vessels.

French submarine Rubis as seen from the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Curacoa in the North Atlantic. Photo via the Dundee Submarine Memorial

Rubis would have a stacked Jolly Roger by the end of 1944.

What is left of the 6-submarine Saphir class in the 1946 edition of Jane’s.

One of a handful of submarines in the immediate post-war French Navy, Rubis would retire in 1949. She was scuttled as a sonar target in 1958 off Cape Camarat. Her wreck is in 135 feet of water between Cavalaire and Saint-Tropez and is a popular dive spot.

The French Navy has carried on the legacy of both of the hardworking WWII Saphirs with the Rubis-class attack boat SNA Pearl (S606) commissioned in 1993. She is currently under extensive repair and refurbishment at Cherbourg-en-Cotentin following a fire last summer.

Rubis-class SSN Perle (S606) surfacing. Just as the previous Perle was the sixth and final boat of the Saphir-class in the 1930s, the current boat is the sixth and last of the Rubis series.

Specs:

A scale model of the Saphir class with a net cutter forward and no 13.2 twin mount. If you look close, you can see the doors to the mine chutes. Via Wikimedia Commons

Displacement: 761 tonnes (surfaced), 925 tonnes (submerged)
Length: 216.5 ft.
Beam: 23.3 ft.
Draft: 14 ft.
Machinery: 2 Normand Vickers diesels of 650 hp ea., 2 Schneider electric motors of 410 kW ea., 144 batteries
Speed: 12 knots (surface), 9 knots (submerged)
Range: On 75 tons diesel oil- 4000nm @12 knots, 7000nm @7.5 knots surfaced; 80nm @4 knots submerged. 30 days endurance
Hull: 13mm shell, 80-meter operating depth
Crew: 3 officers, 10 petty officers, 30 enlisted
Armament:
2 550mm bow tubes with four torpedoes.
1 trainable 550mm tube
2 400mm tubes with four torpedoes
1 x 75mm/35cal M1928
1 x Twin 13.2mm Hotchkiss M1929 machine gun mount
2 x 8mm Hotchkiss M1914 machine guns
32 Sauter-Harlé HS4 mines (2,400lbs each with 704 pounds of explosives)

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.

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Warship Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021: Full Fathom Five

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Feb. 24, 2021: Full Fathom Five

Here we see a painting by noted British maritime artist Charles David Cobb of HM Submarine Shakespeare (P221) acting as a beacon marker for the Allied invasion fleet at Salerno, 9 September 1943. If she looks at ease in the task, it was the vessel’s third set of landings in just 10 months– and she had a lot of war left to go.

As her name would suggest, our boat is a member of the Royal Navy’s expansive S-class or Swordfish-class of smallish diesel submarines completed across a 16-year run from 1929 to 1945. In all, some 62 of these 200-foot/900-ton (ish) subs were completed in three generations. Small enough for operations in constrained seas, they were ideal for work in the Mediterranean, a place where, sadly, many of the class are still on eternal patrol.

Our vessel is the second of the Royal Navy’s vessels to be named for the bard, English playwright William Shakespeare, with the first a Thornycroft-type destroyer leader of the Great War era that had been scrapped in 1936. While Old Bill stuck primarily to events on land, one of his more memorable lines has always stuck with me when concerning a battered ship on rough seas.

*Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark! Now I hear them � Ding-dong, bell.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act I, Sc. II

*Incidentally, the title Full Fathom Five was also used for an installment of the WWII serial docuseries Victory at Sea on the U.S. Navy’s submarine campaign in the Pacific. 

Initial Service

Ordered in a 27-hull block of the 1940 shipbuilding Programme, Shakespeare was built at Vickers Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness, originally as P71. Her subclass could carry extra fuel in their main ballast tanks, giving them a longer range than previous classmates. Further, they had air conditioning, a vital bonus for vessels working in hot and tropical climes.

Leaving her builders on 8 July 1942, she worked up at Holy Loch and by 15 August 1942– a span of just five weeks– she left on her first war patrol from Lerwick, a short and uneventful stalk in the Norwegian Sea.

HMSM P 221, Stationary, undated. IWM FL 23028

British S class submarine HMSM SHAKESPEARE underway passing a quayside. 6 August 1942. IWM FL 6117

Her second patrol, from 7-23 September, was likewise quiet, helping to screen Northbound convoys PQ 18 and QP 14 headed to Russia.

Upon return, she was off to the Med, where her services were much in demand.

North Africa

Arriving at Gibraltar in late October, Shakespeare began her 3rd war patrol from there on All Saints Day 1942, on the eve of the Torch landings in North Africa. As part of that operation, she conducted periscope reconnaissance of the landing beaches off Algiers over a four-night period, launching a collapsible folbot kayak/canoe with two lieutenants to get a closer look– only to have them promptly captured by the Vichy French! On the night of 7/8 November, she surfaced and marked her two designated landing zones, Apple White Beach and Apple Green Beach, flashing her beacon seaward and transmitting a low-powered radio pulse to guide in the approaching landing craft.

After the landings started, she was immediately dispatched to run interference against responding Axis ships, staking out a patrol zone to the West of Sicily. In this, she came across a small convoy and fired four torpedoes at a big German freighter, no doubt taking supplies to Rommel. However, instead of chalking up a kill, all Shakespeare logged that night was a depth charge run from an escorting Italian subchaser.

Her new engines increasingly cranky, our sub made for Portsmouth by way of Gibraltar, arriving there 18 December.

“Refitting of H.M. Submarine Shakespeare.” 1941 watercolor by Sir Muirhead Bone N.E.A.C., H.R.W.S., H.R.S.A, via National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. PAJ2875

Back at it

By March 1943, with two new motors, Shakespeare was on the prowl in her 4th war patrol along the edges of the Bay of Biscay on the lookout for German blockade runners. After a brief stay at Gibraltar and from there Algiers, she was back in the Med.

Starting her 5th war patrol on 9 April, she made for Sardinia and survived a near-miss from Axis patrol planes.

British Submarine Shakespeare on the Warpath. 14 and 16 April 1943, Algiers. HM SUBMARINE SHAKESPEARE setting out on patrol. IWM A 16328

Her 6th patrol, leaving Algiers on 8 May for Corsica, was her first successful surface action, bagging a pair of old Italian schooners near the Strait of Bonifacio five days later, peppering the vessels with 52 shells from her deck gun. Releasing her battery again on the afternoon of 20 May, she loosed 20 rounds at the Italian-held airfield at Calvi.

Her 7th patrol left Algiers on 5 June and soon tangled with a German U-boat (unsuccessfully) that was spoiled by a blue-on-blue air attack.

Husky

Meanwhile, her 8th patrol, in early July, saw Shakespeare once again act as a submersible beacon during the Allied operations at off Sicily, as part of the Husky Landings. There were seven beacon submarines used in Husky: Safari, Shakespeare, and Seraph from Algiers lighting the way for the three American amphibious forces of the Western Naval Task Force, and Unrivalled, Unison, Unseen and Unruffled from Malta shepherding the four British amphibious forces of the Eastern Naval Task Force. Specifically, Shakespeare walked in Dime Force (TF81), landing the 1st “Big Red One” Infantry Division at Gela.

On our submarine’s 9th war patrol, leaving from Malta on 25 July, she carried four canoeing covert beach surveyors of No 5 COPP (Combined Operations Pilotage Party) who reccied off the Gulf of Gioia over a four-night period.

Robin Harbud (to the rear) and Sgt Ernest COOKE, Cookie to his friends, as they manhandle their canoe, used for Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPP), through the forward hatch of a submarine. IWM MH 22715 http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205087979

It was during the patrol that Shakespeare brushed up against the two Italian light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia and Raimondo Montecuccoli, firing three torpedoes at long range (6,000 yards) with no success. There would be other occasions.

Avalanche

Her 10th war patrol, leaving Algiers on 24 August, included a mixed group of five No. 5 COPP and SBS cockleshell commandos, as well as a special Mine Detection Unit (MDU) for her Type 138 ASDIC set, bound for Salerno as part of the Avalanche Landings. Over the next two weeks, she undertook numerous periscope and folbot-borne beach reconnaissance missions while keeping a weather eye (and ear) peeled for mines. And boy did she find them.

As detailed by the NHHC:

Minefields in the Gulf of Salerno were first detected by HMS Shakespeare (P221), a British beacon submarine active in the area since August 29, 1943. Using magnetic detection devices, the submarine located a plethora of German “V” and Italian “I”, “J”, and “K” mines in the gulf, thus setting the stage for an extensive mine countermeasures operation.

The recon moved the planned release positions for the transports further offshore into safe water while arrangements for sweeps could be made. In all, special teams of sweepers would clear 275 sea mines from the waters around Salerno by the conclusion of the operation there and Shakespeare’s warning likely saved hundreds of lives.

But back to our sub and the Salerno landings.

Just before the balloon went up, Shakespeare was resting off Licosa Point on 7 September and sighted two large southbound Italian cruising submarines operating on the surface at sunset. The boats, the Argo-class Velella and Brin-class leader Benedetto Brin, had been dispatched as part of Piano Zeta (Zeta Plan) to interrupt the landings. However, it was our sub that did the interruption in the form of six torpedoes fired rapidly at a range of 800 yards, hitting Velella with at least four of those, sending the boat to the bottom with all hands.

Italian submarine Velella, Atlantic ocean, 9 March 1941 when she was operating from occupied France as one of the Regina Marina’s BETASOM boats. She was torpedoed by HMS Shakespeare on 7 September 1943

Velella was to be the last Italian submarine lost in combat, and her wreck was found in 2003, 8.9 miles from Licosa Point, in 450 feet of water.

The next day, she surfaced at 2135, lit her beacon seaward, and was soon met by the incoming Wickes-class destroyer USS Cole (DD-155), then two hours later transferred her COPP and SBS beach pilots to USS PC-624 for the run in to shore in individual LCMs acting as lead vessels headed to Green Beach with men of the 142nd Infantry Regiment from the Coast Guard-manned transport Dickman— the first landing by U. S. forces in Europe.

Her epic 10th war patrol ended four days later with arrival back at Algiers.

Shakespeare’s 11th patrol was uneventful and, switching to Beirut, she left on her 12th patrol, a sweep of the Aegean, on 21 October. She would sink the Greek two-masted caique Aghios Konstantinos with gunfire, a feat repeated with the caique Eleftheria on her 13th patrol in December.

Her work in the Med done, she sailed for Britain, arriving at Devonshire on 4 January 1944 for a six-month refit.

HMS/M SHAKESPEARE returning to Devonport after 19 months of operational activity in the Mediterranean. On the bridge of the SHAKESPEARE are, left to right: Lieutenant N D Campbell, RN, of Sevenoaks (Gunnery Officer); Lieutenant W E I Little-John, DSC, RANVR, of Melbourne, Australia (First Lieutenant); Lieutenant M F R Ainlie, DSO, DSC, RN, of Ash Vale, Surrey (Commanding Officer); Sub Lieutenant R G Pearson, RNVR, of Hitchin, Herts (Torpedo Officer); Lieutenant L H Richardson, RN, of Jersey, Channel Islands (Navigating Officer). Naval Radar: The conning tower of the submarine is showing a 291W Air Warning Set and 20mm DP Oerlikon over the stern. IWM A 21261

Officers of the SHAKESPEARE. Left to right: Sub Lieut R G Pearson, RNVR, of Hitchin, Herts (Torpedo Officer); Lieut W E Little-John, DSC, RANVR, of Melbourne, Australia (First Lieutenant); Lieut N D Campbell, RN,, of Sevenoaks (Gunnery Officer); Lieut L H Richardson, RN, of Jersey, Channel Islands (Navigating Officer); and Lieut M F R Ainslie, DSO, DSC, RN, of Ash Vale, Surrey (Commanding Officer). Note the QF 3-inch 20 cwt and the wavy stripes of the RNVR officers. IWM A 21262 http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205153611

HMS SUBMARINE SHAKESPEARE, OF SICILY LANDING FAME, BACK HOME. 5 JANUARY 1944, DEVONPORT. THE SUBMARINE RETURNS AFTER 19 MONTHS OPERATIONAL ACTIVITY IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 21263) The ship’s company of the SHAKESPEARE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205153612

Her 14th patrol, a sortie off Scotland in the fall of 1944, was uneventful and served as more of a post-refit shakedown. By October, with the naval war in Europe rapidly sunsetting, Shakespeare was reassigned to the Far East.

On to the Orient

Crossing the Line, the age-old naval tradition. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare 

Sailing via Gibraltar, Malta and Port Said to reach Aden in November, Shakespeare arrived at Trincomalee from where she sortied on her 15th war patrol on 20 December.

Shakespeare in the Far East. Note the camouflage and her jacks’ tropical uniform. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare 

Assigned to sweep through the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, she drew her first Japanese kill on New Year’s Eve, sending the freighter Unryu Maru to the bottom after she fired a six-torpedo spread into a passing convoy in the Nankauri Strait, surviving the resulting depth charging.

Then, on 3 January 1945, our lucky British sub became the subject of a 50-hour running battle when she attempted to tangle on the surface with a Japanese supply ship in the Nicobar Islands. The action soon went wrong, and reinforcements in the form of the IJN minesweeper W-1 and land-based aircraft were called in. Before it was over, Shakespeare would fight off 25 air attacks, dodge 50 assorted bombs, shoot down a Japanese seaplane, and gunfight an armed freighter until it was dead in the water. For this, our submarine would see two of her crew killed and 14 wounded.

From VADM Sir Arthur Hezlet’s work on HM Submarines in WWII:

On 3rd January, she attacked a small, unescorted merchant ship, firing four torpedoes from a range of 3500 yards and missed. She then surfaced and opened fire with her gun, but almost at once sighted a patrol vessel approaching and prepared to dive. At this moment, the return fire from the merchant ship scored a hit on Shakespeare penetrating the pressure hull just abaft the bridge and causing very serious damage. Her wireless office was destroyed and an auxiliary machinery space flooded and a great deal of water was taken in to the engine and control rooms. She was unable to dive and furthermore her steering gear was damaged, one main engine was out of action as well as both electric motors.

Nevertheless, she struggled away on the surface and fought off both the merchant ship and the patrol vessel. She was unable to call for assistance but made for Trincomalee several days away across the Bay of Bengal. During the rest of the day, she repulsed no less than twenty-five air attacks with her guns, shooting one of them down but suffering fifteen casualties. She withdrew at her best speed all night and next day

For a detailed description of this fight, which could probably fill its own book, check out the WWII Submarines page which includes an amazing wartime photo album of Stoker James Patterson, one of her crew.

Some of the damage after she made it back to Trincomalee. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare

You aren’t going to dive with that! Note the sandals and whites of the officers. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare

Her salty crew, a much different image than in Devonshire the year before. Note the shell hole in her conning tower. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare

A detail of the Roger, slightly different from the above, with three torches showing her role as an invasion beach beacon ship. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare

A detail of some of the common symbols used on HMSMs during WWII

With all the damage to her pressure hull, it was decided that she could only be corrected back in the UK and as such she sailed, slowly and on the surface, back to Portsmouth, arriving 30 June. There, she was ultimately deemed unfit for repair post-war and was written off, the last Shakespeare in the Royal Navy.

She was scrapped at Briton Ferry in July 1946.

Specs, S-class, Group 3:

Displacement: 842 tons surfaced, 990 submerged
Length overall: 217 feet
Beam: 23.5 feet
Depth 11 feet
Diving depth: 350 feet
Machinery: 2 x 950hp diesels, 2 x 485 kW electric motors, 2 shafts
Speed Surface 15 knots, Submerged 10 knots (design)
Surface 14.75 knots, Submerged 9 knots (service)
Range: Surface: 6700 miles at 8 knots (design) on 92 tons fuel oil
Complement: 49
Radar: Type 291W Air Warning Set
Sonar: Type 129/138 ASDIC, augmented in 1943 with Mine Detection Unit (Type 148 40kHz?)
Armament :
6 x 21-inch bow tubes
1 x 21-inch stern tube
(13 Mark VIII torpedoes carried, max)
1 x QF 3-inch deck gun, forward
1 x 20mm Oerlikon AAA cannon, abaft the tower
3 x .303 Vickers guns on the tower

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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!

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