Category Archives: mine warfare

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020: From the Kattegat to Rabaul

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020: From the Kattegat to Rabaul

RAN Photo

Here we see Admiralty V-class destroyer HMAS Vendetta (I96) of the Royal Australian Navy as she hosts pre-surrender discussions off Rabaul, 75 years ago this month. Representatives include Col. Takahashi, aide to Gen. Hitoshi Imamura, commander Eighth Area Army; and Capt. Sanagi, Japanese Navy; with Brig. Gen. E.L Sheehan, Staff First Army; and CDR Morris, RAN, commanding officer of the minesweeper HMAS Ballarat. Vendetta at the time was the last of her type from the “Scrap Iron Flotilla” in the Australian Navy and the only examples of her class still in service were on the other side of the globe.

The “V&Ws” numbered over 100 destroyers ordered during the Great War for the Royal Navy, of which just 67 were completed. The Admiralty V-class subtype, of which Vendetta was a member, accounted for 23 of those hulls. Tipping the scales at around 1,500-tons when fully loaded, they were slim vessels of just 312-feet in overall length. Capable of 34-knots on a turbine powerplant, they carried a quartet of QF 4-inch Mk V guns and 2 triple 21-inch torpedo tube mounts for enemy ships traveling on the surface, and 50 depth charges to account for U-boats below it.

Then-HMS Vendetta (F29) was laid down at Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland in November 1916, just after the British first used tanks along the Somme front in France. She commissioned on 17 October 1917, a couple weeks before the Reds seized the Winter Palace in Russia from Kerensky’s government.

Vendetta in a heavy swell. The 312-foot vessel only had a 29-foot beam, giving it a nearly 11:1 length-to-beam ratio

HMS Vendetta, then pennant No. F29, June 1919 (IWM Q73903).

HMS Vendetta, June 1919 (IWM Q73907).

Assigned to the Grand Fleet’s mighty Thirteenth Destroyer Flotilla, she soon scrapped with German minesweepers operating in the Kattegat. Such brushes along the great minefields in the North Sea were dangerous to each side, e.g. one of Vendetta’s sisters, HMS Vehement, was lost to one of those infernal devices.

Detached to support the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron along with HMS Medway, Vendetta took part in the elusive fleet action at the Helgoland Bight on 17 November 1917.

Just days after the Kaiser threw in the towel, Vendetta was dispatched on 24 November 1918 to the Baltic as part of British RADM Sir Edwin Alexander Sinclair’s force of cruisers and destroyers, detailed to intervene in the breakaway former Russian Baltic states.

Allied Craft at Copenhagen – HMS Vendetta and boats from the Montcalm by Cecil George Charles King, 1919, IWM ART1657

There, she fought the Reds on several occasions including playing a big part in the capture of the Russki destroyers Spartak and Avtroil.

AVTROIL, left, photographed in the Baltic Sea while surrendering to British Naval Forces in Dec. 1918. The smaller destroyer on her right is a British V&W, possibly Vendetta but likely Westminster. Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. NH 94210

The Russians managed to somewhat even up the score by sinking the V-class sistership HMS Vittoria, sent to the bottom by Bolshevik submarine Pantera off Seiskari Island. Vendetta and sistership HMS Westminster (L40) also rescued 430 of the 441 crew from the sinking C-class light cruiser, HMS Cassandra, after that vessel struck an uncharted German mine in the Gulf of Finland. Mines also claimed another of Vendetta’s sisters, HMS Verulam.

Interbellum 

Following her Baltic service, Vendetta spent the next 14 years in a variety of missions ranging from towing surrendered German warships to escorting royal personages and waving the White Ensign around Europe. In 1923, she again proved an excellent lifeguard, saving the crew of the wrecked merchant ship Imperial Prince off Scotland.

Note her pennant number had changed to D69

In 1933, Vendetta and three of her aging sisters–Voyager, Waterhen, and Vampire— were decommissioned from Royal Navy service and transferred to the Australians where, along with the 2,000-ton Scott-class destroyer leader HMS Stuart, they formed the Australian Destroyer Flotilla. The ships were replacements for the even smaller S-Class destroyers (Stalwart, Success, Swordsman, Tasmania, and Tattoo) and the flotilla leader Anzac, which were in turn scrapped.

Royal Australian Navy destroyers in the Brisbane River September 1936, including Vendetta. Queensland State Archives 202

HMAS Vendetta (D69), the 1930s, by Allan Green, via State Library of Victoria under the Accession Number: H91.108/2832

In 1939, she was tasked to escort the body of former Prime Minister Joseph Lyons from Sydney to Tasmania where he was buried on 13 April.

The flower-draped coffin of former Prime Minister Joseph Lyons on the quarterdeck of HMAS Vendetta, 11 April 1939. Note the paravanes on each side of her stern, and depth charges. (RAN Photo)

HMAS Vendetta at the Funeral of Hon. J.A. Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia, via the State Library of New South Wales, Item 23899

To the Med

Obsolete by the time World War II came around, the Australian tin cans were dispatched to fight the Germans and Italians, seeing heavy action along the North African coast with the British Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean where they served as part of the “Wobbly 10th” Destroyer Division, their original armament augmented by a smattering of .303-caliber Lewis and Vickers pattern machine guns, which were basically spitballs against air attack.

Torpedomen on Vendetta at Napier, New Zealand. Note the twin Lewis gun AAA mount to the left and depth charge “ashcans” to the right. AWM P00363.002

HMAS Vendetta wearing her first pattern disruptive camouflage and wearing her D69 pennant number. Her pennant number later changed to I69 in May 1940. This starboard side view shows that she retains her full 4-inch gun armament, but the 2 pounder AA gun initially mounted abaft the funnel has been replaced by a quadruple .50 cal Vickers MKIII. Her aft torpedo tube mount has been replaced by a 12 pounder AA gun. Twin .303 Lewis guns have been added in the bridge wings. She has been camouflaged in what appears to be dark grey (507a) and light grey (507c) with a thin band of medium grey separating them. (RAN Photo)

They served in the battles of Matapan and Calabria, helped evacuate Greece and Crete, bombarded the Libyan coast, escorted no less than a dozen convoys between Alexandria and Malta, and put in work as the “Tobruk Ferry Service” running the Axis blockade of besieged Tobruk under heavy fire.

HMAS Vendetta laying a smokescreen, often her best tactic to avoid Italian and German tactical aircraft AWM P00219.010

The Tobruk Ferry, HMA Ships Parramatta, Waterhen and Vendetta, June 1941. Painting by Phil Belbin courtesy of the (Australian) Naval Heritage Collection.

Troops bunked down in the open on the top deck of the destroyer HMAS Vendetta on one of her voyages to the besieged port city of Tobruk. The Vendetta was one of several Australian ships that operated a shuttle service between Tobruk and various ports in Egypt. The service, which became known as the Tobruk ferry or Tobruk taxi, brought much-needed reinforcements and supplies to the city and took away wounded soldiers. The Vendetta made the voyage 39 times in the period 1941-05 to 1941-08, more than any other vessel. AWM P01810.002

It was during this period that the rag-tag Australian greyhounds were referred to as the “Scrap Iron Flotilla” by none other than German propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels.

The war in the Med, for sure, took a toll on the squadron.

Men on HMAS Vendetta watching the destroyer HMS Defender (H07) going down off Tobruk, 11 July 1941.

On 29 June 1941, Waterhen was heavily damaged by Axis aircraft and she sank the next day, the first RAN ship lost to combat in World War II.

Looking to increase her AAA suite by any means available, Vendetta’s crew installed a locally acquired second-hand Italian 20mm/65 Breda and installed it amidships.

A captured Italian Breda 20mm/65 anti-aircraft cannon mounted amidship, aft of the 12-pounder high angle anti-aircraft gun that replaced the aft torpedo tubes on the Australian V class destroyer HMAS Vendetta. (photographed by Robert Milne, HMAS Vendetta) AWM

Finally, with their machinery shot and suffering from breakdowns, the three remaining RAN V&Ws were sent back home for refit in late 1941.

There, while at Ghost Island, Vendetta had a stick of Japanese bombs fall just 200 yards away from her at 04:20 on 8 December 1941. A whole new war had begun.

The Pacific!

The brunt of the Japanese war machine was not kind to the Allies in 1941 and 1942. Vendetta’s sister, Voyager was damaged beyond repair by Japanese bombers off Timor. Another sister, Vampire was sunk on 9 April 1942 by Japanese aircraft while escorting the doomed carrier HMS Hermes from Trincomalee.

Her refit, which included more AAA guns, wrapped up by September 1942, Vendetta was tasked with a variety of convoy escort duty– shepherding 19 different convoys in ten months– and coastal patrol work around the Australian continent for most of 1943, routine work that was nonetheless vital.

By 1944, she shifted to New Guinea waters where her expendability, low draft, and high speed suited her for the role of a destroyer transport, a concept the U.S. Navy at the time repeated in their APD “Green Dragons” with old flush-deckers. In this role, she landed both uniformed set-piece ANZAC units to the shifting front as well as delivered shadowy AIB Special Unit officers and guerillas behind the lines in New Britain and the Solomon Islands.

HMAS Vendetta landing troops and stores at Madang, 2 May 1944. Of note, she carried 1,927 troops and 95 tons of supplies from Langemak to Madang during this period (RAN Photo)

Madang, New Guinea. 2 May 1944. Troops of the 5th Australian Division disembarking from HMAS Vendetta at the wharf. The movement to Madang was all done by sea; destroyers, barges, Liberty ships, corvettes, and motor launches being used. AWM 030212/06

Deemed by this time an “escort destroyer” Vendetta landed her torpedo tubes for even more AAA mounts and acquired a Type 272 surface search radar.

Vendetta continued her New Guinea taskings into 1945, providing naval gunfire support, escorting slow convoys, and engaging in coastal anti-submarine patrols, increasingly boring duty as the war wound down in the area. By September, she embarked Brigadier Sheehan and his staff to negotiate the Japanese surrender at Rabaul, a task that was completed by 6 September.

Pre-surrender Discussions Aboard HMAS Vendetta. Original Caption: at Sea Off Rabaul, New Britain. 1945-09-04. Lieutenant E. Germaine, Royal Australian Navy, Holding the Swords and Dirks of the Japanese Envoys During Pre- Surrender Discussions Aboard HMSA Vendetta. AWM 095722

The surrender ceremony itself took place on the new fleet carrier HMS Glory, after which Imamura was detained and tried for war crimes in his time at Rabaul including the execution of Allied prisoners of war. He served seven of a ten-year sentence imposed by an Australian military court.

Off Rabaul, New Britain, Corsair aircraft coming up in the lift to the flight deck of carrier HMS Glory. The Corsairs provided air cover during the signing of the surrender of all Japanese forces in New Guinea, New Britain, and Solomons 6. September 1945 (Australian War Memorial) Surrender of Japanese forces in the Bismarck Archipelago and New Guinea was formally accepted on board by the Australian General Sturdee at Rabaul. AWM 095740

Following the surrender, Vendetta stood by to retrieve Allied POWs.

Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. 1945-09-07. After the Japanese surrender, Allied prisoners, most of them in an emaciated condition, were picked up at Rabaul by HMAS Vendetta and brought to Jacquinot Bay. They were then taken by RNZAF air-sea rescue boat to 2/8 Australian General Hospital. NGX310 AIB Special Unit Coastwatcher CAPT. John Joseph “Mangrove” Murphy, above, the only Australian prisoner of war in Rabaul, was there from 1942 when he was captured after landing by submarine in the Gazelle peninsula. AWM 095817

Postscript

Her final war concluded, the veteran Vendetta was paid off 27 November 1945, having steamed 120,639 miles during her Pacific campaigns alone. She earned seven battle honors under RAN service in WWII, trading licks with all three of the primary Axis powers. This added to her previous service against the Kaiser and the Bolsheviks.

Scrapped above the waterline, her hulk was scuttled in 1948.

As for her Royal Navy Admiralty V-class sisters, four— HMS Venetia, Vimiera, Vortigern, and Venetia— were sunk in by the Germans in British waters during WWII. The remainder were still afloat at VE-Day but were soon discarded.

Vendetta’s name was recycled for a new 3,600-ton Daring-class destroyer (D08) which was commissioned in 1958. The ship battle honors for service in Malaysia (1964-66) and Vietnam (1969-70) and was paid off in 1979.

Vendetta (D08) making a replenishment approach on the fleet oiler, HMAS Supply, in a heavy swell. Can you see the resemblance to the original HMS/HMAS Vendetta?

Further, the Royal Australian Navy band today has the dedicated Scrap Iron Flotilla Theme as part of their repertoire.

Specs:


Displacement: 1,090 tons standard, 1,470 full
Length: 312 ft
Beam: 29 ft 6 in
Draught: 9 ft. 8 in standard, 11 ft 9 in deep
Machinery: 3 Yarrow boilers, twin Brown-Curtis turbines, twin screws = 27,000 shp
Speed: 34 knots
Range: 3,500 nmi at 15 knots
Complement: 6 officers 133 ratings as designed, larger in WWII as AAA guns were added
Armament:
(1917)
4 x single QF 4-inch Mk V guns
1 x single QF 2 pdr (40 mm) Mk II pom-pom anti-aircraft gun
2 x triple 21-inch torpedo tubes
2 depth charge rails, 4 depth charge throwers= 50 depth charges
(1944)
2 x single QF 4-inch Mk V guns
2 x single QF 2 pdr (40 mm) Mk II pom-pom anti-aircraft guns
4 x 20mm/65 Oerlikons
7 x .303 Vickers and Lewis guns
Depth charges

(Note, at least one 40mm/60 Bofors single is shown on Vendetta in 1945)

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The power of Bangalore compels you!

“A sapper assigned to 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, operating in support of 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, clears a mine with a bangalore torpedo during combined arms live-fire exercise in Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, July 29, 2020.”

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob Sawyer

First envisioned by British Army CPT R. L. McClintock, Royal Engineers, while attached to the Madras Sappers and Miners at Bangalore, India, in 1912, the “banger” has been smiting booby traps and barricades ever since.

West Coast layups

The country’s maritime services last week said goodbye to four long-serving warriors, with over 130 years; worth of pennants between them.

USCGC Mellon (WHEC 717) sits in full dress at the pier before a decommissioning ceremony in Seattle on Aug. 20, 2020. USCGC Mellon was a High Endurance Cutter homeported in Seattle and served as an asset in completing Coast Guard missions around the world for 52 years. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Clark)

Besides the 52-year-old Coast Guard Cutter Mellonwho fired 5-inch shells on NGFS in Vietnam and is the only USCGC to have fired a live Harpoon missile— the Navy laid up a trio of Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships last week: USS Ardent (MCM 12), USS Scout (MCM 8), and USS Champion (MCM 4) at Naval Base San Diego.

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Lt. Cdr. Sam Moffett, commanding officer of the Mine Countermeasure ship USS Ardent (MCM 12), delivers remarks during the decommissioning ceremony of the Ardent at Naval Base San Diego. Ardent was decommissioned after nearly 30 years of distinguished service. Commissioned Feb. 8, 1994, Ardent assisted in the recovery of a downed F/A-18C in the North Arabian Gulf and provided support following the bombing of USS Cole (DDG 67) in Port of Aden, Yemen. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin C. Leitner/Released)

The good news is that at least the Coast Guard’s 12 1960s-era 378-foot Hamilton-class cutters have been replaced by 11 (with a possible 12th on the horizon) much more capable 418-foot Legend-class National Security Cutters, the Avengers were supposed to be phased out in favor of LCS-based MCM platforms. Just going to leave that there.

Bofors/Breda 40s still at work

NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2) recently poked around in the Black Sea, operating with the Bulgarian and Ukrainian navies, which no doubt gave the Russians a bit of heartburn.

SNMG2, under Spanish RADM Aguirre (no Klaus Kinski jokes, please) included three frigates, one each from Spain, Romania, and Turkey– the latter two being Black Sea countries.

Meanwhile, SNMCMG2, under CDR Katsouras of the Greek Navy, consisted of three minesweepers, one each from Italy, Spain, and Turkey, with Katsouras commanding the group from his flagship HS Aliakmon (A470).

Built during the 1960s at Bremer-Vulcan in then-West Germany as the 3,700-ton Type 701 Lüneburg-class trossschiff (TS= supply ship) Saarburg (A1415), Aliakmon served with the Bundesmarine in the Baltic and the North Sea, acting as a mothership to minesweepers and patrol boats, until 1994 when she was sold to the Greeks to began her second career.

The image of the Greek support vessel from NATO this month showed something interesting:

How about that beautiful Breda Type 106 Twin 40 mm/L70s

These guns were 1950s Italian updates to the venerable old twin Bofors designs and use a 32-round ready mag, topped off by 4-shell clips, much like the WWII models. This specific style of gun was just used by the Germans, primarily on their Hamburg-class destroyers and Lüneburg-class tenders.

Their continued use by the Greeks now means they are almost the last twin Bofors-style 40mms still afloat as the Canadians retired theirs, used on the Kingston-class OPVs, in 2014.

A few coast guards, such as in Iceland, still run 40mm Bofors for warning shots or to destroy derelicts at sea, and a couple mounts are in the Philipines on old PCEs– which are rapidly being retired– but that’s about it.

Aliakmon carries two twin Bredas as well as two twin Rheinmental 20mm guns, all of them optically-guided and manually-operated.

After 30 years, Scout to hang it up

Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Scout (MCM 8) sails off the coast of Southern California as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Mark C. Schultz/Released)

The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Scout (MCM 8) is the fourth Navy vessel to carry the name, following in the path of two Great War-era patrol gunboats– that ironically served concurrently– and a WWII minesweeper.

Laid down on 8 June 1987 at Peterson Builders in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, like her sisters she has a wooden inner hull with a fiberglass outer shell.

Commissioned in December 1990, she has spent the past three decades being ready to work in a world filled with floaty explody things.

As noted by the minesweeper’s command:

USS Scout – MCM 8 would like to take the opportunity to invite all past and current crew members and family members to celebrate the decommissioning is USS Scout via Facebook. The ceremony will take place on 19 Aug. This may be the decommissioning of USS Scout, but Pathfinders will always lead the way! 

It’s official, first four LCSs headed to “Red Lead Row.” Why not Blow Row?

As we have talked about previously, the first flight littoral combat ships (Freedom, Independence, Fort Worth, and Coronado) have been deemed too beta to be upgraded enough for regular fleet use. In a  burst from the CNO last month, the word is now official: all four will be shifted to OCIR status (Out of Commission, In Reserve) on 31 March 2021, with the youngest, Coronado, being just six years old.

Oof.

In a case of bad timing, the Navy’s PAO just released this very well done “A Day in the Life of an LCS” video, filmed on the new Freedom-class USS Indianapolis (LCS 17).

Notably, the three Cyclone-class 170-foot patrol craft not up to their neck in the Persian Gulf (USS Zephyr PC-8, USS Shamal PC-13, and USS Tornado PC-14) are also to be disposed of on the same date.

MAYPORT, Fla. (Aug. 02, 2016) – The Cyclone-class Patrol Coastal USS Shamal (PC 13) returns to homeport U.S. Naval Station Mayport after a 62-day deployment to the 4th Fleet area of responsibility where they conducted counter illicit trafficking operations in support of Operation Martillo. Operation Martillo is a joint international law enforcement and military operation involving U.S., European and Western Hemisphere partner nations, targeting illicit trafficking routes in the waters off Central America. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Hendricks/Released)

The other 10 craft has been at Bahrain for most of the past decade while Zephyr, Shamal, and Tornado– two of which were formerly Coast Guard-manned out of Pascagoula’s old NAVSTA– have been based in Mayport under 4th Fleet’s control– just about the only Navy vessels that are regularly outside of ships transiting through or on training evolutions.

This of course begs the question of, why not give the “old” LCSs to U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSO/FOURTHFLT)? Call em PCs? Get some tax dollars out of them.

Is this where I point out that the lastest 4th Fleet deployments have surged DDGs? Wait, wasn’t the LCS program designed to prevent billion-dollar Aegis ships from being used in constabulary work?

Whomp Whomp.

Warship Wednesday, May 6, 2020: A Ship that Can’t be Licked

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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 6, 2020: A Ship That Can’t Be Licked

Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1975. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 83213

Here we see the proud new Robert H. Smith-class light minelayer USS Aaron Ward (DM-34), resplendent in fresh Camouflage Measure 32, Design 11a, on 17 November 1944. Less than six months later, she would look vastly different after an engagement that took place some 75 years ago this week.

The dozen RH Smith-class DMs were all laid down in 1943-44 as Allen M. Sumner-class destroyers at three different yards but were converted during their construction into fast, very well armed, minelayers. They retained their strong gun armament to include a half-dozen 5″/38 cal guns in a trio of twin Mk 38 mounts, a full dozen 40mm Bofors, and another dozen 20mm Oerlikon AAA guns. Likewise, they kept their ASW gear to include sonar and listening gear, two stern depth charge racks, and four K-gun projectors.

Where they differed from the rest of the 50+ Sumner-class tin cans was in the respect that they never had their twin 5-tube 21-inch torpedo tubes installed and in their place picked up a series of rails for up to 80 naval mines that ran lengthways down her deck and a modicum of mechanical sweeping gear.

USS Robert H. Smith (DM 23) Overhead c. 1944. Note her three Mk38 5-inch mounts and amidship mine rails along her weatherdeck loaded with mines ready to drop over the fantail. Also note the four K-guns have been relocated to the aft superstructure, another difference from the standard Allen Sumner class destroyers. Bureau of Ships photo via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/11/0823.htm

The subject of our tale was the third U.S. Navy warship to carry the name of RADM Aaron Ward (USNA 1871). Ward made his mark on naval history during the Spanish–American War, where he was placed in command of the ersatz gunboat USS Wasp, formerly the 202-foot steam yacht Columbia. The hardy little vessel fought at Santiago, enforced the blockade of Cuba, helped send the better-armed Spanish sloop Jorge Juan to the bottom of the ocean, and engaged targets ashore. Ward would retire from the Navy in 1913 as second in command of the Atlantic Fleet and pass away in Brooklyn in 1918.

Ward, shown left in 1898 as a lieutenant on the armed yacht USS Wasp during the Spanish-American War and right as a rear admiral in Special Full-Dress uniform in 1913. NHHC photos NH 98489 and NH 42076.

His name was celebrated on the Wickes-class destroyer USS Aaron Ward (DD-132), which would serve in the U.S. Navy from 1919 to 1940 and then under the White Ensign as HMS Castleton during World War II, transferred as part of the “50 destroyers” deal.

USS Aaron Ward (Destroyer # 132) Off the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, 10 April 1919. NH 57701

The second vessel to carry the name of our hero was the Gleaves-class destroyer USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) which was commissioned 4 March 1942 and lost just 13 months later when she was sunk by Japanese aircraft off Guadalcanal, four battle stars for her WWII service.

USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) approaching USS Wasp (CV-7) on 17 August 1942, during operations in the Solomon Islands area. 80-G-12263

Which brings us to USS Aaron Ward (DM-34).

Laid down as DD-773 on 12 December 1943 at Bethlehem Shipbuilding’s West Coast works at San Pedro, California she was commissioned less than a year later on 28 October 1944 as DM-34.

On 9 February 1945, after workups, she departed San Pedro, bound for Pearl Harbor, then by 16 March joined the Mine Flotilla of the 5th Fleet’s Task Force (TF) 52 at Ulithi. Soon enough, she was bound for the Ryukyu Islands and the big push on Okinawa.

She finished March by downing a confirmed three Japanese aircraft and started April with four days of close-in naval gunfire support for Marines hitting the beach on Okinawa. As the month wore on, she had more brushes with enemy aircraft, downing a Japanese plane on the 27th and another on the 28th. By the end of her (very short) service off Okinawa, her gunners would stencil 18 kyokujitsuki flags on her “scoreboard.”

While replenishing at Kerama Retto, she came to the assistance of the sinking transport USS Pinkney (APH-2) after a kamikaze scored a hit on that auxiliary.

On 30 April, the Aaron Ward turned seaward once again and was installed on one of the series of radar pickets, No. 10, which were to provide critical early warning of inbound Japanese kamikaze waves.

Caption: Fifteen radar picket stations are shown. Stations will be occupied as directed by OTC. Radar pickets steam within a radius of 5000 yds. of the center of the station. The station center of each radar picket is indicated in latitude and longitude, range, and bearing from point BOLO. COMPHIBSPAC OP PLAN Ai-45

While working radar picket station number 10, she helped repulse several air attacks but got a respite from the worst of it due to bad weather. However, on the afternoon of 3 May, the weather cleared.

51 Minutes of Hell

With her radar spotting bogies at 27 miles out, her gunners manned their posts, and soon enough a pair of Japanese planes vectored right for her. At 18:13 hours, a group of 18 to 24 aircraft attacked from under cloud cover. Soon, the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Little (DD-803) was wracked with no less than five kamikazes that struck that tin can. By 19:55 Little broke up and went down.

After all, what destroyer could survive five kamikazes?

As it turned out, Ward was smothered by six that came close enough to do damage over 51 minutes of hell.

Via Destroyer Report- Gunfire, Bomb and Kamikaze Damage Including Losses in Action 17 October 1941 to 15 August 1945

Line drawing of the ship showing areas of damage via NHHC

1- Near miss crash. Engine and propeller hit Mt. 3.
2- ZEKE hit Mt. 44. 2B Bomb blew out side after engine room.
3- Near miss crash damaged rigging and No. 1 stack.
4- VAL hit the main deck, frame 81.
4B- Near miss bomb blew in side forward fireroom.
5- VAL crashed deckhouse, frame 90.
6- Plane hit after stack.
6B- Bomb detonated in after uptakes.

Aaron Ward was hit as shown in the above diagram by six Kamikazes and three large bombs, estimated to have been 250 Kg GP. All spaces between bulkheads 72 and 170 flooded to the waterline except for the forward engine room and certain starboard water tanks. Free surface extended through five major compartments, 1650 tons of water were shipped, and GM was reduced to approximately 1 foot positive. Severe gasoline and ammunition fires were brought under control after about two hours with the assistance of LCS83 alongside. Firemain pressure and power forward remained available throughout due to the use of the forward emergency Diesel generator.

Forty-two sailors died and nearly 100 were injured, a figure that marked nearly half of her crew as casualties.

Why so many hits?

One Navy after-action report on suicide aircraft notes, “When damaged by AA. or harassed by our planes, suiciders selected targets of opportunity. Once hit, a ship was likely to be attacked by other planes seeking to finish it off.”

As noted in USN Bulletin No. 24 Radar Pickets and Methods of Combating Suicide Attacks Off Okinawa, CDR William Henry Sanders, Jr., (USNA 1930), CO USS Aaron Ward, comments:

1. The entire enemy attack appeared to be exceptionally well coordinated by a pilot, or pilots, who understood the limitations of a destroyer’s firepower and took every advantage of smoke and the crippled condition of the ship. In fact, it appeared that the attacks were directed from a control plane which never took part in the assault.

RECENT INFORMATION CONFIRMS THE FACT THAT THE LEADER USUALLY IS EQUIPPED WITH RADAR AND BRINGS HIS GROUP WITHIN VISUAL RANGE. IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE THAT THE MORE EXPERIENCED LEADER COULD ALSO DIRECT AND COORDINATE THE ATTACK. CAP OR SHIP GET THAT LEADER!

The operation was too well-coordinated and executed to have been the individual inspiration of each pilot. Not only did planes come in from different directions at the same time, but on several occasions, the first plane was followed immediately by another approximately 1,000 yards astern of the first. This type of attack was seen to deal the death blow to the U.S.S. Little.

2. It is not understood why the Kamikaze does not strafe the target on the way in, as it appears to be a simple matter to close and lock the firing key to the machine guns. Casualties would have been greater had this been done in the attacks on the Aaron Ward.

3. All planes are believed to have used the bridge and main battery director as a point of aim, but due to the radical maneuvering of the ship and the heavy volume of fire forward, this target was never reached; all planes crashed into the superstructure amidships.

4. Before making his run, each pilot circled the ship at a distance of 5 to 6 miles, apparently seeking the most advantageous position from which to start his dive.

THE CAP HAS DONE A MAGNIFICENT JOB IN THESE OPERATIONS BUT OFTEN TOO FEW PLANES HAVE BEEN AVAILABLE. THE CAP MUST BE LARGE ENOUGH AND CAREFULLY STACKED TO TAKE CARE OF A SITUATION OF THIS TYPE, WHICH OBVIOUSLY WAS NOT THE CASE AT THIS CRITICAL MOMENT.

In each suicide run, planes appeared to take their lead angles at a range of from three to four thousand yards, increasing speed considerably and steadying on the attack course. No attempts at evasion were made on any of the runs after the pilot had finally committed himself.

5. From the results of the bombing, it can be readily determined that the pilots had very little experience in bombing and that the release of bombs may have been accidental, caused by the shock of hits from gunfire of this ship.

Amazingly, Aaron Ward survived the night “against raging fires, exploding ammunition and the flooding of all engineering spaces” and the next day arrived at Kerama Retto under tow from sister ship USS Shannon (DM-25) with no freeboard aft, 18 feet draft forward and a 5-degree starboard list.

USS Aaron Ward (DM-34) In the Kerama Retto anchorage, 5 May 1945, showing damage received when she was hit by several Kamikazes off Okinawa on 3 May. Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, NH 62572

USS Aaron Ward (DM-34) Damage amidships received during Kamikaze attacks off Okinawa on 3 May 1945. The view looks down and aft from Aaron Ward’s foremast, with her greatly distorted forward smokestack in the lower center. Photographed while the ship was in the Kerama Retto on 5 May 1945. A mine is visible at left, on the ship’s starboard mine rails. Catalog #: 80-G-330107

USS Aaron Ward (DM-34) In the Kerama Retto anchorage, 5 May 1945, showing damage received when she was hit by several Japanese suicide planes off Okinawa on 3 May. Note three-bladed aircraft propeller lodged in her superstructure, just forward of the after 5/38 twin gun mount. NH 62571

A closer look at NH 62571, showing the propeller. Note the unexploded depth charges on the deck above, just inches away

One of the kamikazes’ engines was discovered littering the deck (Photo via USS Aaron Ward.com) http://www.ussaaronward.com/History/photo%20tour%20sm%20.htm

Her dead that could be recovered were buried at the U. S. military cemetery at Zamami Shima on Kerma Retto and later moved to Okinawa in 1948. Some 20 souls that were blown overboard during the attack rest in the deep.

From Aaron Ward’s cruise book, via NARA

Aaron Ward remained at Kerama Retto undergoing emergency repairs until 11 June then, against all odds, proceeded under her own power to Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, using just the starboard shaft.

From there, she continued to New York, arriving in mid-August just as the war was ending.

Her story was celebrated nationwide at the time.

From Aaron Ward’s cruise book, via NARA

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz sent accolades to the battered but not broken destroyer, saying “Congratulations on your magnificent performance. We all admire a ship that can’t be licked. The combat record of the USS Aaron Ward and her return from battle in a seriously damaged condition reflect an unusual measure of courage and skill in her officers and men.”

Nonetheless, beyond any economical repair with peacetime coming, she was decommissioned 28 September and sold in the summer of 1946 for scrap.

USS Aaron Ward (DM-34) earned a single battle star as well as the Presidential Unit Citation for her brief wartime service. From the time she entered Ulithi atoll to the time she put in at Kerama Retto for a patch job, she spent just 49 days with the fleet. There has not been a fourth “Aaron Ward” on the Navy List.

Her anchor is on display in Elgin, Illinois, where it was installed as a memorial in 1971 by the parents of SN2 Laverne H. Schroeder, USNR, killed on her decks in the 3 May 1945 attack.

Likewise, her story has been covered in several books on the Pacific War including. perhaps most poignantly, in Brave Ship, Brave Men by Arnold S. Lott, an excerpt of which is on the USS Aaron Ward website.

Her only skipper, CDR Sanders, would receive the Navy Cross for the actions of 3 May 1945 and retire as a rear admiral in 1959 after commanding the destroyer tender USS Dixie in the Korean War. He passed in 1992 at the age of 85 and was warmly remembered as a community leader.

For more information on Aaron Ward‘s kamikaze experience, her skipper’s full 60-page after-action report is online at NARA as is her 49-page War History.

The luckiest unlucky class

Of Aaron Ward‘s 11 sister minelayers, at least five would also prove exceptionally hard to kill in the face of the Divine Wind.

  • USS Gwin (DM-33) was swarmed by six Japanese suicide planes the day after Aaron Ward was attacked. She downed five but the final plane embedded itself into Gwin’s aft gun platform, causing 15 casualties.
  • The same day that Gwin was hit, USS Shea (DM-30) was slammed by an MXY-7 Ohka (cherry blossom) human-piloted rocket bomb while on radar picket duty. She suffered 35 dead but was able to make it to the U.S. under her own power for repairs.
  • In June, USS Harry F. Bauer (DM-26) would suffer a kamikaze attack that hit her boat deck and somehow did not trigger the depth charges stored there. In a further stroke of luck, a 550-pound bomb that the doomed Japanese plane had pickled just before it hit the ship remained intact and armed for 17 days before it was removed.
  • USS J. William Ditter (DM 31) was attacked by a large group of kamikazes off Okinawa on 6 June 1945 and extensively damaged when two made it through. Patched up enough to steam home, she, like Ward, was left unrepaired and sold for scrap in 1946.

View of the Kamikaze-damage suffered by the U.S. Navy destroyer-minelayer USS J. William Ditter (DM-31). She was hit by two Kamikazes off Buckner Bay, 6 June 1945. The first did little damage, but the second hit on the port side just below the main deck blowing open the forward engine room and after fireroom. The explosion of the kamikaze’s bomb devastated both spaces, as can be seen in this photograph taken ten days later. NARA photo

  • Another sister, USS Lindsey (DM-32), was hit by two Aichi D3A Vals on 12 April 1945, killing 57 sailors and wounding 57 more. The explosion from the second Val sheered the front 60 feet off her bow and a quick “all back full” by her skipper avoided catastrophic flooding. Given a temporary bow, like Ward and Ditter she sailed back to the states under her own steam. Decommissioned in 1946 after repairs, she was stricken in 1970 and sunk as a target two years later.

USS Lindsey (DM-32) View of extensive damage to the ship’s forward hull and superstructure, received when she was struck by two Kamikaze planes off Okinawa on 12 April 1945. The photograph was taken at Kerama Retto anchorage on 14 April. NARA photo 80-G-330108

And of course, the famous destroyer USS Laffey (DD-724), which earned the nickname “The Ship That Would Not Die” after surviving six kamikaze attacks and four bomb hits on 16 April 1945 while off Okinawa, was an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer, which the Smith-class DMs were conversions of.

In short, radar picket duty off Okinawa in 1945 was hazardous to your health, to say the least.

Postscript

Once the war was over, the remaining ships of the class would endure for a while, with five seeing service during the Korean War period, after which they were reclassified as fast minelayers (MMD).

1946-47 Jane’s entry on the surviving members of the class.

By the 1970s, most were sold for scrap except for the kamikaze-surviving Gwin which was transferred to Turkey.

Serving Istanbul as TCG Muavenet (DM-357) for another two decades, she would sadly take a pair of NATO Sea Sparrow missiles to the bridge during a live-fire exercise that went wrong in 1991, causing 24 casualties.

TCG Muavenet (DM-357), ex-USS Gwin (DM-33), in Turkish service.

She was left ablaze after the incident.

Although heavily damaged, Muavenet, true to her class’s reputation, survived and returned to port under her own steam, and was later disposed of.

The last of the dozen Robert H. Smith-class converted destroyers afloat, USS Tolman (DD-740/DM-28/MMD-28) was expended in an exercise on 25 January 1997. A high-powered explosive test charge was installed in her hull and she was sunk in 12,000 feet of deepwater about 61 miles off Mare Island. Appropriately, she had been stripped of much vintage gear for use in the museum destroyer USS Kidd.

Specs:

A nice profile shot of Aaron Ward sistership USS HARRY F. BAUER (DM-26) Underway in Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 11 August 1952. Note, she was fitted with a tripod mast in the early 1950s in place of her original, as were most of her sisters that were still active at the time. NH 91909

Displacement: 2,200 tons
Length: 376’6″
Beam: 40’10”
Draft: 18’10”
Propulsion: Four Babcock and Wilcox boilers, two 60,000shp General Electric geared turbines, two shafts.
Speed: 34.2 knots
Complement: 363
Armament:
6 x 5″/38 3×2 Mk38 mounts
12 x 40mm/60 Bofors in six twin mounts
12 x 20mm/70 singles
2 x .50 cal machine guns
2 Depth Charge rails over the fantail
4 K-guns astern
Up to 80 mines (some sources say 100)

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Fjord-nance

During a recent mine warfare exercise by Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1), the flotilla identified 170 curious underwater objects along the seabed of Norway’s Oslofjord.

After they were examined more closely by underwater remote-controlled vehicles (ROVs) or mine clearance divers, it turned out that 35 were underwater mines and three more were aircraft bombs, in other words, 38 pieces of live ordnance, most dating back to WWII when the fjord was the subject of the sharp fight in April 1940 during the German invasion and a longer RAF campaign in the resulting Axis occupation.

Of note, the flag of SNMCMG1 is the German Navy’s Type 404/Elbe-class supply tender Donau (A516) coupled with the minesweepers HNoMS OTRA (Norway), HNLMS Willemstad (Netherlands), BNS Bellis (Belgium), and HMS Grimsby (Great Britain).

From the left: HNLMS Willemstad, BNS Bellis, FGS Donau, HMS Grimsby, HNoMS Otra linked together for a photo during Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group One (SNMCMG1) historic ordnance disposal operations in Oslofjord, Norway on March 1, 2020. Photo by: PO Marius Vagenes Villanger

The group is sure to remain busy in the coming years. It is estimated around 1,800 mines remain in the Oslofjord from the war.

“The NATO group regularly conducts Historical Ordnance Disposal operations or ‘HOD Ops’ in coordination with Allied Navies as a way to sharpen the skills of the group on real mines and other ordnance as well as provide a service to nations by identifying and neutralizing (as needed) naval mines from previous conflicts.”

LCS may actually get their drone minesweeper, afterall

The idea behind the littoral combat ship program is that it would take the place of the aging de-fanged Oliver Hazard Perry-class FFs– which had their original missile batteries neutered– as well as the Navy’s mine countermeasure vessels.

While the first could be done through with the light armament (57mm Mk110, Sea-RAM, small arms) and embarked helicopters/UAVs coupled (hopefully) with some sort of modular towed array, the latter required a legit standoff minesweeping vehicle as an LCS, with their steel hulls, is less than ideal for that.

That’s where Textron comes in, producing a 40-foot semi-autonomous, diesel-powered, all-aluminum surface craft, rigged to tow the same sweep gear used by the MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopters and/or ROVs.

The company on Thursday announced the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) program, which is based on its Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV), has achieved a Milestone C decision. The decision allows the program to enter low-rate initial production (LRIP), with the Navy planning to award three UISS systems to Textron Systems under their existing contract.

The Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS), based on Textron’s CUSV. It tows the modified Mk-104 system acoustic generator and a magnetic minesweeping cable.

More from NAVSEA:

The Program Executive Officer for Unmanned and Small Combatants (PEO USC) has granted Milestone C approval to the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) program. The decision clears the way for low-rate initial production (LRIP) of the system, PEO USC announced Feb. 26, 2020.

The Navy plans to exercise options for the procurement of three LRIP systems on the current Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) contract with UISS prime contractor Textron Systems.

Designed for the littoral combat ship (LCS) as part of the mine countermeasures mission package, the UISS consists of a mine countermeasures unmanned surface vehicle (USV) and a towed minesweeping payload for influence sweeping of magnetic, acoustic and magnetic/acoustic combination mine types. UISS can also be launched from vessels of opportunity or from shore.

Formal Developmental Testing and Operational Assessment of UISS took place off the coast of South Florida and successfully concluded in late November 2019. Testing included a series of end-to-end minesweeping missions against simulated mine targets using the Navy Instrumented Threat Targets training system.

LCS Detachment Sailors performed operations during Developmental Testing and Operational Assessment that included shore-based launch and retrieval of the system, command, and control, mission planning and post-mission analysis. The UISS USV also has completed initial integration tests with the LCS and vessels of opportunity.

Textron Systems was awarded an EMD contract in October 2014 for the UISS, based on its Common USV. The Navy exercised options for two additional vehicles in 2017, which were delivered in 2018 in support of the comprehensive Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vehicle program that will leverage the UISS USV for missions that include minehunting and mine neutralization.

Textron is expected to begin the delivery of LRIP systems in fiscal 2021.

The Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) heads offshore at sunrise for an Operational Assessment mission off the coast of South Florida in November 2019.

The Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS), November 2019. 200226-N-IJ355-001

The nuts and bolts of the contract announcement:

AAI Corp. (doing business as Textron Systems), Hunt Valley, Maryland, is awarded a $21,795,236 fixed-price incentive modification to previously awarded contract N00024-14-C-6322 for low rate initial production for the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) Unmanned Surface Vehicle Program. Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, Maryland (70%), and Slidell, Louisiana (30%), and is expected to be completed by August 2021. The UISS will allow the littoral combat ship to perform its mine countermeasure sweep mission and will target acoustic, magnetic, and magnetic/acoustic combination mine types. The UISS program will satisfy the Navy’s need for a rapid, wide-area coverage mine clearance capability, required to neutralize magnetic/acoustic influence mines. UISS seeks to provide a high area coverage rate in a small, lightweight package with minimal impact on the host platform. Fiscal 2018 other procurement (Navy) and fiscal 2019 other procurement (Navy) funding in the amount of $21,795,236 will be obligated at the time of the award. Funds in the amount of $7,950,616 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity.

In directly related news, Northrop Grumman’s AQS-24 mine hunting sonar completing initial in-water testing of a next-generation Deploy and Retrieval (D&R) payload. “Operated from the Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vessel (MCM USV), the AQS-24 D&R demonstrates the unmanned operations needed to perform a mine-hunting mission off the MCM Mission Package aboard the littoral combat ship (LCS).”

It looks pretty swag.

By the light of the full moon, 29 years ago today

Here we see John Charles Roach’s 1991 painting, “Adroit Marks the Way for Princeton.”

“With the use of hand flares, USS Adroit (MSO-509) marks possible mines in an effort to extract the already damaged USS Princeton (GG-59) from a minefield. USS Beaufort (ATS-2) stands by to assist.”

US Navy Accession #: 92-007-X

At about 0715 on 18 February 1991, Princeton was patrolling the Northern Persian Gulf off Failaka Island during Operation Desert Storm and set off not one but two Italian-made MN103 Manta bottom-mounted influence mines, buckling her hull in three places as well as locking her starboard propeller shaft and port rudder. Just three hours later, USS Tripoli (LPH 10), also struck a mine and was able to continue operations until relieved several days later.

Still, the 9,600-ton Princeton fared remarkably well for a ship that hit two mines and remained afloat, with her Aegis system coming back on-line 15 minutes later, allowing the cruiser to be nominally ready to defend herself if attacked and even project air cover for the range of her Standard missiles.

The Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan (DDG 282) stood by to provide assistance while the Acme-class minesweeper Adroit moved in to lead the way out of the minefield after dark. The Iraqi minefield was later confirmed to hold more than 1,000 mines, many of advanced European designs.

Both Adroit and Athabaskan have been paid off and sold to the breakers while USS Beaufort (ATS-2) went on to a second career in South Korea, but Princeton remains very much in service.

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