Category Archives: mine warfare

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

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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 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.

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, 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

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!

38 Special Standing By: Mine No More

Below we see the watercolor entitled “Mine No More” by Chip Beck, showing, “An Iraqi mine is blown in place by U.S. Navy EOD divers from USS Missouri as USS Curtis [sic] hovers in the background in the northern Arabian Gulf.”

NHHC Accession #: 91-159-D

The painting is based on a real photograph and depicts the long-hull Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Curts (FFG-38) hard at work in the Persian Gulf some 30 years ago today.

14 January 1991: The Persian Gulf – An Iraqi mine is detonated by an explosives ordnance disposal team near Curts during Operation Desert Storm. (U.S. Navy photo DVID #DN-SN-91-09317 by PH3 Brad Dillon)

During Desert Storm, Curts was very busy, supporting a mix of Navy and Army helicopters to capture the 51-man Iraqi garrison on occupied Qaruh Island, Kuwait. While the speck of land, just 275 meters long by 175 meters wide, is tiny, Qaruh was symbolically important as it was the first section of Kuwaiti liberated in Desert Storm on 21 January.

Curts also reportedly destroyed two mines, sank an Iraqi minelayer, and provided further support to combat helicopter operations during the Battle of Bubiyan Island.

Part of the Missouri Battleship Group, Curts, used her sonar to gingerly lead USS Missouri (BB-63) northward to get within striking range of Iraqi strongpoints ashore. Missouri gun crews then sent 2,700-pound shells crashing into an Iraqi command and control bunker near the Saudi border. It marked the first time the battlewagon’s 16-inch guns had been fired in combat since March 1953 off Korea. Missouri‘s gun crews returned to action 5 February, silencing an Iraqi artillery battery with another 10 rounds. Over a three-day period, Missouri bombarded Iraqi strongholds with 112 16-inch shells.

For her part, Curts received the Navy Unit Commendation for her exceptional operational performance, as well as the Admiral Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy.

Decommissioned in 2013 after three decades of hard service, “38 Special” was slated for possible transfer to Mexico but has since been placed on the list of target ships. Laid up at Pearl Harbor, she will likely be expended in an upcoming RIMPAC Sinkex.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020: Fascist Bananas & Partisan Peace gulls

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, Dec. 16, 2020: Fascist Bananas & Partisan Peace Gulls

Here we see former Marshal of the WWII Yugoslav Red Partisan forces, Josip “Tito” Broz, reviewing his naval honor guard aboard the converted minelayer/training vessel Galeb (M11), likely during the mid-1950s. Note the Mausers with fixed bayonets and AAA mount at the top of the image. You have to wonder if Tito could faintly smell bananas.

About that…

The Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane, or Royal Banana Monopoly Company, was formed in 1935. Headquartered in Mogadiscio (Mogadishu), Italian Somaliland, its sole (peacetime) purpose was to ship its namesake elongated yellow berries from Africa to Europe, having secured the sole concession for the practice from the Ministero delle Colonie.

RAMB was busy shipping bananas from Somali ports as far south as Chisimaio (Kismayo) to a half-dozen Italian markets via the Suez Canal, and running back passengers and freight to the Continent on the return trip.

At its peak, the company was running seven vessels. These included three small Swedish-built freighters– Capitano Bottego, Capitano Antonio Cecchi, and Duca degli Abruzzi— as well as four larger Italian-crafted purpose-built refrigerated fruit carriers, the latter all imaginatively named after the company in sequential order.

Built by Ansaldo and CRDA Monfalcone, the four Rambs could carry 2,418 tons of cargo in refrigerated holds and had accommodations for up to 30 or so passengers in 12 air-conditioned cabins.

La motonave bananiera RAMB III alle prove in mare Oct 1938

The fun thing about RAMB was that, in line with Italian naval practice to keep their Royal concession, all of their ships were to be transformed into auxiliary cruisers in case of war, with weight and space reserved from guns and shells. The smaller freighters were each to pick up four 102/45mm pieces and a smattering of 13.2mm Breda AAA guns. The bigger Ramb-class banana haulers would get an equal number of larger 120/40mm guns along with their Bredas. The guns, in peacetime, would be crated in RAMB’s dockside warehouses in Massawa and Naples in equal numbers to allow for a rapid issue.

In 1939, the last year of commercial operations, RAMB shipped nearly 50,000 tons of Somali bananas to Europe, the company’s best season, ever. 

Then came war

When Mussolini took the plunge to enter the war against the British and French in June 1940, as the latter was on the ropes and dizzy, Ramb III was the only one of her class that was in the Med, the rest being in the Red Sea. Quickly requisitioned in Genoa by the Regia Marina and renamed the uninspiring D6, she soon found herself protecting convoys to support Italian forces in Libya before the end of the month– in tandem with the smaller company ship Cecchi.

Eventually, she tangled with the British.

On the night of 11/12 November, a few hours after the British raid on Taranto, Ramb III/D6 was escorting four freighters with the old Giuseppe La Masa-class torpedo boat Fabrizi when they stumbled across an RN squadron consisting of the cruisers Orion, Ajax, and Sydney, along with the destroyers Nubian and Mohawk. It was no contest, with the Brits cued to the darkened Italians by Ajax’s Type 279 radar.

HMS Dido, Ajax, and Orion in action off Crete, 21 May 1941, by Rowland John Robb Langmaid, via the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. The November 11/12 night action surely looked much like this.

While Fabrizi turned toward the three cruisers, and although hit repeatedly, she fired torpedoes, one of which just missed Sydney astern, Ramb III/D6 attempted to draw the darkened warships off into a nearby minefield.

Within 30 minutes all four of the merchantmen were ablaze and Ramb, after firing some 80~ shells against the vastly stronger Brits, withdrew through the mines, and arrived alone at Bari the next morning.

More convoy actions followed and Ramb III/D6‘s luck ran out on the night of 30 May 1941 when a pair of torps from the T-class submarine HMS Triumph (N18) blew her bow off as she swayed at anchor at Benghazi. Quick damage control kept her from sinking and in August she was towed in reverse some 500 miles across the Med and up the Adriatic to Trieste for repairs.

The auxiliary cruiser D6 (banana boat RAMB III) towed aft by a tug back to Italy after a British torpedo from HMS Triumph removed her bow.

Reconstructed, she returned to service and was almost sunk again by a British sub when HMS Turbulent (N98)Triumph’s sistership– fired a torpedo at her off Palermo on 1 February 1943 while D6 was saving survivors from the sunken freighter Pozzuoli. That fish missed.

Bananiera ‘Ramb III’ – incrociatore ausiliario in Mar Rosso

Her service to the Italian fleet ended on 8 September 1943, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

As for the rest of the RAMB fleet, most were blocked in Italian East Africa and were lost following the fall of the colony in 1941.

Of Ramb III’s sisterships, Ramb I operated as an armed merchant in the Red Sea and was ordered to sail to Japan after the fall of Massawa to the Allies but was sunk in the Indian Ocean in a one-sided surface action with the cruiser HMNZS Leander before she could get that far.

Italian ship Ramb I sinking in 1941, after being dispatched by Leander.

Ramb II did make it to Japan and was scuttled by her crew in Kobe after Italy threw in the towel on the war. Later refloated by the Japanese and returned to service as the transport Ikutagawa Maru, she was sent to the bottom off Indochina by carrier strikes from Task Force 38 in January 1945.

Ramb IV had been captured by the British in Massawa, where she was serving as a hospital ship, but was sent to the bottom of the Med 13 months later to the day by German bombers.

As for RAMB the monopoly, the war ended its operations and the concern was formally dissolved in 1945, although Italy continued to grant then-independent Somali exporters licenses to ship their produce to Europe into the 1960s. Somali bananas vanished from the market with the harvest collapsing during the 1980s famine and cycles of ensuing civil war but are starting to make a comeback.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

German service

At anchor in Trieste when the Italians backed out of the war, Ramb III/D6 was swiftly taken into service by the Germans, who were in occupation of the port, after a sharp skirmish that left her crew prisoner. Renamed Kiebitz in November, she was up-armed with some extra 37mm Bredas, and turned into a minelayer, sowing some 5,000 of the infernal devices along the Dalmatian coasts and the northern Adriatic over the next year.

Kiebitz

On 13 July, while doing such minenwerk, she lost power and drifted into two of her own eggs, damaging her. After limping back to port– running astern with her bow blown off– she was patched up and was back at it a couple months later.

Her third career wrapped up on 5 November when RAF Baltimores plastered Fiume, sending the minelayer Kuckuck, subchaser G104, and our banana boat to the bottom of the harbor, where she would rest in 66 feet of muddy water.

“Rijeka under aerial bombardment by Royal Air Force planes, 1944. Fiume (Rijeka), Yugoslavia. c. 1944. One of the RAF Baltimore aircraft over the harbor during the air attack. Bombs can be seen exploding on the port rail facilities and in the water nearby. South African Air Force and RAAF Baltimore aircraft of the Desert Air Force attacked shipping in the Adriatic harbor, scoring hits on a 3,000-ton ship, another vessel and demolishing warehouses.” AWM C355608

However, many of her mines are still active and very much in service.

German UMB Naval mine (Rijeka Croatia). Photo courtesy of Aleksandar Stancin via Gue.com

Yugoslav rebirth

With Fiume firmly changed to the Croatian Rijeka, Yugoslavia inherited our smashed boat and, finding her salvable, raised the vessel in 1947.

She was reconstructed in Pula over a four year period as a schoolship and minelayer with Burmeister & Wain diesels and a mix of recycled German surplus and American armament (4 x 1 – 88/45 SK C/32, 4 x 1 – 40/60 Mk 3, 6 x 4 – 20/65 as per Navypedia). Her new name: Galeb (Seagull).

 

Via Muzej Grada Rijeke

Via Muzej Grada Rijeke

As Galeb, she became a favorite of Tito’s, being pressed into service as a de facto presidential yacht. She carried the fearless leader to London, Egypt, India, and elsewhere, appearing often in newsreels of the day.

Meeting of President Tito with the Yugoslav Ambassador to Greece Radoš Jovanović, during his visit to Greece, June 2, 1954, aboard Galeb. Note the 40mm Bofors in the background. Museum of Yugoslavia Inventory number: 1954_029_030

While carrying Tito over the course of three decades, Galeb would have the head of the Yugoslav state on board for 318 days, covering 86,062 nautical miles. 

Eventually, she would be disarmed and assume a full-time emissary duty, a ship of state as Yugoslavia navigated the murky waters between East and West, entertaining everyone from Gaddafi to Elizabeth Taylor. In all, she hosted more than 102 kings, presidents, and prime ministers. 

Her 1976 Jane’s entry, literally on the last page of the book.

This beautiful period shot shows the immaculate Galeb late in her career passing Castello Aragonese in Taranto– a port she used to be awfully familiar with.

In 1976, a documentary, Peace Ship Galeb (Brod Mira Galeb), was filmed aboard her.

After Tito died in 1980, Galeb was used less and less, with Montenegro getting the old girl in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

She then fell into serious disrepair. 

Via Muzej Grada Rijeke

Passing hands several times since then, the Croatian city of Rijeka purchased the derelict vessel in 2009 and has been trying to refit it as a museum ship for the past decade.

Now, after a $9.6 million effort, she is ready to be a showboat once again.

“I expect the ship to be completed for its new purpose in the first half of 2021,” Rijeka Mayor Vojko Obersnel told Reuters. “Its command deck, the premises used by Tito, and the engine room will become a museum. The other parts of the ship will serve as a hotel with bars and a restaurant,” he said.

Specs:

(1940)
Displacement: 3,667 GRT, 2,179 NRT
Length: 383 ft 2 in
Beam: 49 ft 7 in
Depth: 24 ft 8 in
Propulsion:
2 × 9-cylinder FIAT marine diesel engines, 7200 hp, twin screws, 1250 tons fuel oil
Speed:
19.5 knots (maximum) 17.0 knots (cruising)
Capacity: 2418 GRT (refrigerated, four holds), 12 air-conditioned cabins (two luxury, 10 twin steerage, 32~ passengers)
Complement: 120
Wartime Armament:
4 x 120 mm (4.7 in) guns
2 x 13.2 mm anti-aircraft guns
3 x Breda 37mm guns (added 1944)

(1952)
Displacement: 5,182 standard, 5,700 full
Length: 384.8 ft
Beam: 51.2 ft
Depth: 148.f ft
Propulsion:
2 × Burmeister & Wain diesel engines, 7200 hp, twin screws,
Speed: 17 kts
Armament:
4 x 1 – 88/45 SK C/32
4 x 1 – 40/60 Mk 3 Bofors
6 x 4 – 20/65 Oerlikon
Mines

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Warship Wednesday (on a Monday), Dec. 7, 2020: Battle Tug Edition

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 (on a Monday), Dec. 7, 2020: Battle Tug Edition

Photographed by Vernon M. Haden, San Pedro California. Donation of Ted Stone, 1977. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 85837

Here we see, resplendent with her peacetime fancy hull number and with her #1 3″/50 mount trained rakishly to port and #2 mount to starboard, the “Old Bird” Lapwing-class minesweeper USS Vireo (Minesweeper No. 52) with assembled officers, crew, and mascot, circa winter 1934. Don’t let this seeming refugee from a TinTin comic fool you, Vireo always seemed to be there when it counted, even when she couldn’t always tip the scales when needed.

Inspired by large seagoing New England fishing trawlers, the Lapwings were 187-foot ships that were large enough, at 965-tons full, to make it across the Atlantic on their own (though with a blisteringly slow speed of just 14 knots).

They could also use a sail rig to poke along at low speed with no engines, a useful trait for working in a minefield.

Lapwing-class sister USS Falcon AM-28 in Pensacola Bay 1924 with the Atlantic submarine fleet. Note her rig

Not intended to do much more than clear mines, they were given a couple 3″/23 pop guns to discourage small enemy surface combatants intent to keep minesweepers from clearing said mines. The class leader, Lapwing, designated Auxiliary Minesweeper #1 (AM-1), was laid down at Todd in New York in October 1917 and another 53 soon followed. While five were canceled in November 1918, the other 48 were eventually finished– even if they came to the war a little late.

Speaking of which, our subject, the first on the Navy List named for the small green migratory bird, was laid down on 20 November 1918 by the Philadelphia Navy Yard and commissioned on 16 October 1919, with Navy Cross-recipient, LT Ernest Robert Piercey, USN, in command– the first of her 21 skippers across an unbroken span.

USS Vireo (AM-52) Anchored in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 1920. NH 43603

Vireo would spend a decade on the East Coast performing the typical routine duties of a peacetime minesweeper– pulling targets; transporting men, mail, and materiel; repairing buoys and beacons; and operating with the fleet on annual maneuvers.

This was broken up by towing several former German warships to sea off the Virginia capes in the summer of 1921, where they were sunk by Army aircraft in attempts by Billy Mitchell to prove that capital ships were vulnerable to attack from the air– an ironic footnote to her story that you will get later.

Phosphorus Bomb Test 1921 Sinking of the Cruiser Frankfurt and SMS Ostfriesland

Phosphorus Bomb Test, 1921 Sinking of the Cruiser Frankfurt and SMS Ostfriesland

It was about that time that the Navy figured out these economical little boats with their shallow draft (they could float in ten feet of seawater) could be used for any number of side jobs and started re-purposing them.

Six of the “Old Birds” were reclassified as salvage ships (ARSs) while another half-dozen became submarine rescue ships (ASRs). The Coast Guard picked up USS Redwing for use as a cutter during Prohibition while the U.S. Coast & Geographic Survey acquired USS Osprey and USS Flamingo and the Shipping Board accepted USS Peacock as a tug.

USS Vireo (AM-52) In the harbor, March 1922. USS Rail (AM-26) is in the left background. NH 50207

A few were retained as minesweepers in the reserve fleet, some used as depot ships/net layers, one converted to a gunboat, another to an ocean-going tug, three were sunk during peacetime service (USS Cardinal struck a reef off Dutch Harbor in 1923 while USS Curlew did the same off Panama in 1926 and USS Sanderling went down in 1937 by accident in Hawaii) while nine– including past Warship Wednesday alumni Avocet and Heron included– became seaplane tenders.

As for Vireo, she was one of the few who was never sidelined. Tasked to support the Puerto Rican – Nicaraguan Aerial Survey, serving as an ersatz seaplane tender to three Loening amphibian airplanes, in early 1931 then detailed transferred to the Pacific Fleet, she remained busy her entire career.

Group photograph of the officers and the sailors of the Puerto Rican-Nicaraguan Aerial Survey group in front of Vireo, 24 January 1931 in their whites. Note the officers with their swords, and chiefs in double-breasted jackets. She has the traditional U.S. aviation roundel on her bow, typical of seaplane tenders in this era, but does not have her twin 3-inch guns mounted which are in the photo at the top of this post. National Archives photo 80-G-466337

USS Vireo Docked in San Juan, 6 February 1931, a better view of her seaplane tender markings

USS Vireo (AM-52) in a West Coast port, 1932. Note she has dropped the tender premise and is back to being a sweeper now, with her big hull number back. NH 50320

In 1940, with the fleet’s general shift from California to Hawaii as part of the decay of relations with the Empire of Japan, Vireo moved to Pearl Harbor and was involved in the pre-war buildup on Palmyra and Johnston Island.

The Day that would live in Infamy

On 7 December 1941, Vireo along with three sisterships, Rail (AM-26), Bobolink (AM-20), and Turkey (AM-13) were tied up at the coal docks at Pearl Harbor in upkeep status. Three other sisters converted as seaplane tenders and submarine rescue ships, Avocet (AVP-4), Swan (AVP-7) and Widgeon (ASR-1) were at the submarine rail. Meanwhile, a seventh sister, Grebe (AM-43), was in overhaul.

From the ship’s action report, signed by skipper LCDR Frederick Joseph Ilsemann, about that Infamous Day 79 years ago, in which Vireo claimed at least one of the 29 Japanese aircraft swatted down during the attack:

About 0800 an explosion was heard. This was investigated. Immediately planes bearing the Japanese insignia was seen. General Quarters was immediately sounded and at about 0815 a second group of enemy planes flew over toward Hickam Field. This vessel immediately opened fire and expended 22 rounds of 3″ A.A. ammunition.

About 0830 this vessel brought down one enemy plane flying forward of the bow, toward seaward, over Hickam Field, from left to right. The bursts of #2 A.A. gun of this vessel were definitely spotted in the path of this plane and the plane was seen to land in the vicinity of Hickam Field. 400 rounds of .30 caliber Machine Gun ammunition was expended. Battery consists of 2-30 caliber machine guns, and 2-3″/50 A.A. guns.

There was no damage to this vessel nor loss of life. At 0830 there was one personnel casualty to the radioman, PRICE, Aubrey Evan, RM2c, USN, on watch at the telephone on dock astern of this vessel. He received a shrapnel wound in jawbone and neck. This casualty was immediately transferred to the hospital at Pearl Harbor and returned to duty this date.

This vessel was immediately put into Condition ONE at General Quarters, engines put together and ship made ready for getting underway.

During the action, the conduct of all officers and the crew was commendable. Everyone did his job 100%. There was no hysteria but commendable coolness and control.

At 1348 this vessel received orders to get underway and to report to Commander Base Force at Ten-ten dock. This vessel was ordered to West Loch to bring u 5″, 3″, and .50 cal. ammunition for the U.S.S. California which was badly in need of ammunition. At 1455 while waiting for ammunition to arrive at the Ammunition Depot, West Loch, hauled an ammunition lighter loaded with 14″ powder away from Ammunition Depot dock, where it was a menace, and moored it alongside the old Navajo. Returned to Depot, picked up ammunition and delivered it to U.S.S. Argonne at 1730.

At 2100 moored alongside U.S.S. California and commenced salvage work.

View of USS California (BB-44), taken a day or two after the Japanese raid. USS Bobolink (AM-20), at left, USS Vireo (AM-52), and YW-10 are off the battleship’s stern, assisting with efforts to keep her afloat. The “birds” would stay at California’s side for three days. Morison noted in his book, “Although minesweepers Vireo and Bobolink closed the battleship and applied their pumps, and numerous ‘handy billies’ (portable gasoline-driven pumps) were obtained from other vessels, California slowly settled.” Collection of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, USN(Retired), 1975. NH 95569

Tragically, late that night Vireo was one of the ships that filled the skies over Pearl Harbor with ack-ack on the report of approaching unidentified aircraft.

At about 2110 anti-aircraft fire commenced and a plane was seen shot down and an aviator fell astern of this vessel. This vessel immediately rescued the aviator and identified him as an Enterprise aviator who had been shot down. A dispatch was immediately sent to assure control that planes in the air were Enterprise planes. The aviator was transferred to the U.S.S. California and then to the hospital.

Ensign Eric Allen, Jr., USN (1916-1941) USNA class of 1938. On 12 August 1940, the day after he reported to NAS Pensacola to commence his flight training. He had just come from a tour of duty in USS TRENTON (CL-11). Ultimately assigned to VF-6 in ENTERPRISE (CV-6). He was shot down by U.S. anti-aircraft fire on the night of 7 December 1941 at Pearl Harbor; picked up by USS VIREO (AM-52), he died at the Ford Island Dispensary soon thereafter. NH 96617

Over the next several months, Vireo supported the Pearl Harbor salvage effort whenever she was not off conducting minesweeping and patrol operations in the Greater Hawaii area, including runs to Johnston Island and the Port of Hilo.

Midway

With a huge naval clash on the horizon, on 28 May 1942, under secret orders, Vireo left Pearl at nine knots to escort the tanker Kaloli (AOG-13) to Midway Island. During the voyage, Vireo was reclassified as an ocean-going tug (AT-144) and would arrive at the atoll on 3 June, ordered to hold up off Hermes Reef and await orders.

The next day saw the pivotal stage of the battle there, with the Japanese losing four carriers in exchange for Yorktown (CV-5) which was left dead in the water. With the carrier ordered largely abandoned, Viero was called into action to take the stricken American flattop in tow, arriving at 1135 on 5 June and getting underway by 1308– at three knots, a 1,350-ton minesweeper hauling a crippled 30,000-ton leviathan. The next day, the destroyer Hammann (DD-412) came alongside Yorktown to help with the salvage task while five other tin cans provide a screening force.

That is when Japanese Type KD6 submarine I-168 came on the scene.

As noted by Combined Fleets:

I-168 arrives and sights the carrier and her screen. For seven hours, LCDR Tanabe Yahachi skillfully makes his approach, steering by chart and sound with only a few periscope sightings. Undetected, he penetrates the destroyer and cruiser screen. At 1331, from 1,900 yards, he fires two torpedoes at the overlapping formation, followed by two more three seconds later. The first torpedo hits HAMMANN, breaks her back and sinks her in about four minutes. As she goes down, her depth charges explode and kill 81 of her 241-strong crew. At 1332, the next two torpedoes strike YORKTOWN starboard below the bridge. The fourth torpedo misses and passes astern.

Battle of Midway, June 1942 Diorama by Norman Bel Geddes, depicting the explosion of depth charges from USS Hammann (DD-412) as she sank alongside USS Yorktown (CV-5) during the afternoon of 6 June 1942. Both ships were torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-168 while Hammann was assisting with the salvage of Yorktown. USS Vireo (AT-144) is shown at left, coming back to pick up survivors, as destroyers head off to search for the submarine. 80-G-701902

DANFS:

Vireo freed herself from the carrier by cutting the towing cable with an acetylene torch and then doubled back to commence rescue operations.

Up her sides clambered carriermen and destroyermen alike, while she maneuvered near the carrier’s canting stern to take on board members of the salvage party who had chosen to abandon the carrier from there. She then proceeded to secure alongside the wounded flattop in the exact spot where Hammann had met her doom. Yorktown rolled heavily, her heavy steel hide pounding the lighter former minecraft’s hull with a vengeance as the ships touched time and time again during the rescue operations. This mission completed, battered Vireo stood away from the sinking carrier, which sank shortly after dawn on the 7th.

Her rudder damaged by Hammann’s depth charge seaquake, Vireo ran aground on her way back to Midway harbor and after she made it back to Pearl under her own power, she was given a complete overhaul and drydocking.

USS Vireo (AT-144) At Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, following repairs from Battle of Midway and overhaul, 20 August 1942. Catalog #: 19-N-34748

James Claude Legg, Lieutenant USN ID photo taken circa 2 May 1942. Lieutenant Legg commanded USS VIREO (AT-144) during the Battle of Midway, earning a Navy Cross for his performance of duty in towing the damaged USS YORKTOWN (CV-5). From service record book in NMPRC, St. Louis, MO., 1984. Catalog #: NH 100171

As for I-168, the Japanese boat would never see the end of the war, presumed lost with all 97 hands in the area north of Rabaul after she is hit by four torpedoes from USS Scamp (SS-277) in 1943.

The Rest of the War

Overhauled and assigned to ComAmphibForSoPac, the now green-camouflaged painted Vireo set out for the Guadalcanal area on 12 October, to take part in resupply operations for the Marines of the Cactus Air Force at Henderson Field. The little convoy, consisting of the freighters Alchiba (AKA-23) and Bellatrix (AKA-20), was screened by the gunboat Jamestown (PG-55) along with the destroyers Meredith (DD-434) and Nicholas (DD-449), with the freighters and Jamestown each pulling “a barge carrying barrels of gasoline and quarter-ton bombs” without any air cover whatsoever at 10-knots.

I repeat, pulling “a barge carrying barrels of gasoline and quarter-ton bombs” without any air cover whatsoever at 10-knots.

On the 15th, the world’s most flammable convoy was warned that a Japanese carrier task force was headed its way and was ordered to turn around with Meredith and Vireo breaking off in one element with a fuel barge in an (expendable) effort to keep the Marines flying. They got close, within 75 miles of Guadalcanal, before they spotted Japanese scout planes.

The skipper of the destroyer, LCDR Harry Hubbard, feeling the slow minesweeper-turned-tug was a sitting duck, ordered the ship abandoned and, with the vessel’s fuel barge tied to it, was going to send her to the bottom so that she wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Japanese then beat feet. That’s when 38 aircraft (21 low-level bombers and torpedo planes, 8 dive bombers, and 9 fighters) from the carrier Zuikaku arrived on the scene and, concentrating on Meredith, sent her to the bottom with no less than 14 bombs and 7 torpedoes– enough ordnance to sink the Bismarck!

Remarkably, the abandoned Vireo, saved from one of Meredith’s torpedoes by none other than the Japanese, was still afloat.

From RADM Samuel J. Cox’s H-Gram 011:

However, Vireo was drifting away, and only one raft-load of Meredith and Vireo survivors reached the tug, where they were later rescued. The other rafts, filled with burned and mangled Sailors, became a preview of what would happen to Sailors on the USS Juneau (CL-52) and USS Indianapolis (CA-35) later in the war. As the rafts and wreckage drifted for three days and three nights, numerous Sailors died from wounds, exposure, salt-water ingestion (and resulting mental incapacity and hallucinations), and from particularly aggressive shark attacks. One shark even jumped into a raft and ripped a chuck from an already mortally wounded Sailor. There was not enough room on the rafts, so the less-injured Sailors treaded water, hanging on to the rafts, and had to fight off the sharks as best they could. Most of the injured, including burned and blinded Hubbard, perished in the rafts.

Finally, the destroyers USS Grayson (DD-435) and USS Gwin (DD-433) found 88 survivors of Meredith and Vireo adrift. (About another dozen had earlier been found on the Vireo.) However, 187 from Meredith and 50 from Vireo died in a desperate attempt to get fuel to the Marines on Guadalcanal.

Grayson recovered Vireo and the other barge and returned them to Espiritu Santo. During her return, the Vireo was manned by a salvage crew from the Grayson and survivors from Meredith and Vireo. The intact fuel barge, recovered by the tug Seminole, was delivered to Henderson Field under escort by Grayson and Gwinn, meaning the mission was ultimately somewhat successful if pyrrhic.

With a largely new crew, Vireo remained at the sharp end, coming to the assistance of the cruisers Pensacola (CA-24) and Minneapolis (CA-36) following damage they received at the Battle of Tassafaronga.

Near the USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) when that Gleaves-class destroyer was hit by three Japanese bombers in April 1943, Vireo came tried unsuccessfully to rescue the crushed tin can but had to break the tow when she dived to the bottom just short of Tulagi.

Nonetheless, Vireo continued in her role and came to the assistance of the Battle of Kula Gulf’s “cripples division,” the broken cruisers Honolulu (CL-48), St. Louis (CL-49), and HMNZS Leander, towing the bowless Honolulu in to Tulagi.

USS Honolulu (CL-48) in Tulagi Harbor, Solomon Islands, for temporary repair of damage received when she was torpedoed in the bow during the Battle of Kolombangara. USS Vireo (AT-144) is assisting the damaged cruiser. 80-G-259446 (More detail on the curious sign, penned by Captain Oliver O. “Scrappy” Kessing, USN, commander of the Tulagi Naval base, here)

Then came the support of the liberation of the Philippines, and other hairy stops on the island-hopping campaign to Tokyo (see= Okinawa, see= kamikazes).

VJ Day came with Vireo in the PI, as her war history notes:

The news of the cessation of hostilities between the Allies and the Japanese left everyone aboard just a little bit bewildered, anxious to get started home, and with rosy visions of the plastic post-war world. This missive leaves the Mighty V at Manila, the burned and ruined Pearl of the Orient, the Japs defeated, the Vireo still very very much afloat and still towing strong.

Jane’s 1946 entry on the three Old Birds still around which were classified at the time as tugs, Owl, Vireo, and Woodcock. They would soon be retired.

When the war came to an end, the old tug, surplus to the needs of the Navy, arrived at San Francisco on 5 February 1946 and reported to the Commandant, 12th Naval District, for disposition. That disposition was that she be declared surplus and disposed of, stricken 8 May and transferred to the Maritime Commission the next year. Her ultimate fate is unknown, but there is a report that she was headed to Latin America in early 1947, intended to be converted for service as a Panamanian-flagged lumber boat carrying hardwoods between Long Beach and Panama.

Epilogue

As for the rest of her class, other “Old Birds” served heroically in the war.

Pearl Harbor vet Avocet would spend most of the war in Alaskan waters, caring and feeding PBYs while fending off Japanese air attacks during the Aleutians Campaign. Heron received the Navy Unit Commendation for saving the damaged destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) in the Molucca Strait and repeatedly fighting off a horde of attacking Mavis seaplanes in the process. Six of the class– Tanager, Finch, Quail, Penguin, Bittern, and Pigeon, were lost in the Philippines invasion as part of the doomed Asiatic Fleet. Scuttled at Corregidor, a 36-foot whaleboat from Quail filled with 18 officers and men, but sailing with virtually no charts or navigational aids, transversed 2,060 miles of often Japanese-held ocean reaching Australia after 29 days. The Germans sank USS Partridge at Normandy and sent both Gannet and Redwing via torpedoes to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Most of the old birds remaining in U.S. service were scrapped in 1946-48 with the last on Uncle Sam’s list, Flamingo, sold for scrap in July 1953.

Some lived on as trawlers and one, USS Auk (AM-38) was sold to Venezuela in 1948, where she lasted until 1962 as the gunboat Felipe Larrazabal. After her decommissioning, she was not immediately scrapped and is still reported afloat but abandoned in a backwater channel. She is likely the last of the Lapwings.

Vireo’s name was recycled for a Bluebird-class minesweeper (MSC-205) which, commissioned at the naval station at Tacoma, Wash., on 7 June 1955. The little boat would see some hot action in Vietnamese waters during Operation Market Time, engaging in surface actions with North Vietnamese smuggling trawlers. She was decommissioned in 1975 and went on to serve the nation of Fiji as the Kuva for another decade.

USN 1131998 USS VIREO (MSC-205)

There has not been a Vireo on the Navy List since 1975, a shame. However, much of the ship’s WWII war diaries are available in digitized format in the National Archives

Corsair Armada released a scale model of this hard to kill old bird.

Specs:

Seagoing Minesweeper plan 1918 S-584-129

Displacement: 950 tons FL (1918) 1,350 tons (1936)
Length: 187 feet 10 inches
Beam: 35 feet 6 inches
Draft: 9 feet 9 in
Propulsion: Two Babcock and Wilcox header boilers, one 1,400shp Harlan and Hollingsworth, vertical triple-expansion steam engine, one shaft. (1942: Two Babcock and Wilcox header boilers, one 1,400shp Chester Shipbuilding 200psi saturated steam vertical triple expansion reciprocating engine.)
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph); 12~ by 1936. 14 again after 1942.
Range: 1,400 nm at 14 knots on 275 tons fuel oil
Complement: 78 Officers and Enlisted as completed; Up to 85 by 1936
Armament:
(1919)
2 × 3-inch/23 single mounts
(1928)
2 x 3″/50 DP single
2 x .30-06 Lewis guns
(1944)
2 x 3″/50 DP single
Several 20mm Oerlikons and M2 12.7mm mounts

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

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

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

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I’m a member, so should you be!

Well Convoyed

Dec. 1918, Offical caption on this Underwood & Underwood news photo shows what is likely a Northern Mine Barrage veteran:

“Well Convoyed” This bluejacket just back after six months service in the North Sea, has been captured, so to speak, by this quartette. This is but one of the thousand similar scenes that can be witnessed through New York City.”

Note the cracker jacks, peacoat, and “Pancake cap” flat cap with U.S. Navy rim. National Archives 165-WW-332D-18

The Pancake, or Donald Duck, was retired in 1963 although rarely seen after WWII, and one anecdote as to their shoreside usefulness came from one article which noted, “My father wore the hat in and around Boston in 1918. The hats in that era flared out quite far at the top. He said the hat was ‘girl-bait.’ The wider the flare the saltier you were.”

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