Category Archives: mine warfare

Sneaky, Sneaky

Here at LSOZI, we have talked about several of the Italian and German midget subs of WWII, including a whole Warship Wednesday dedicated to the spooky little craft that sank the HMS/ORP Dragon off Normandy and another on the Italian explosive motorboats that crippled HMS York.

With that being said, I recently ran into two things you guys would find interesting. Below is a great 26-minute Oct. 1945 newsreel on German and Italian sneak attack that was recently archived by the AP:

The second is a write up by H I Sutton over at Covert Shores on the Untersee-Gleitflächen-Schnellboot Manta, a craft I had never even heard of until now.

The designers hoped to combine the transit speed of a speedboat with the stealth and survivability of a submarine. To do this it would need to combine several advanced technologies which Germany had been developing. Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) and hydrofoils.

More on the Manta over at Covert Shores.

Have you seen what they are doing with Reapers lately?

No, not the guys in black shrouds that go around picking up souls, I’m talking about the very real drone series from General Atomics. Introduced in 2007 as a sort of super-sized version of the Predator, variations of the series have clocked six million flight hours and completed 430,495 total missions as of late 2019 while flying 11 percent of total Air Force flying hours, at only 2.6 percent of the USAF’s total flying hour cost– and maintaining a 90 percent availability rate.

The Air Force has quietly pulled off a couple of key mission enhancements in the past couple of months when it comes to Reaper.

In September, a Creech AFB-operated MQ-9 successfully went air-to-air, using an AIM-9X Block 2 Sidewinder missile against a target BQM-167 drone that was simulating an incoming cruise missile.

An MQ-9 Reaper, assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, armed with an AIM-9X missile sits on the flight line, Sept. 3, 2020, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)

This month, they doubled the number of Hellfires that could be mission-carried by a Reaper, growing from four to eight.

A 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron MQ-9A Reaper carrying eight Hellfire missiles sits on the ramp at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 10, 2020. This was the first flight test of the MQ-9 carrying this munition load. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)

This new capability is part of the MQ-9 Operational Flight Program 2409, a software upgrade set to field by the end of calendar year 2020. Previous to this software, the MQ-9 was limited to four AGM-114s across two stations. The new software allows flexibility to load the Hellfire on stations that previously were reserved for 500-pound class bombs or fuel tanks.

“The hardware/launcher is the same that we use on the outboard stations,” said Master Sgt. Melvin French, test system configuration manager. “Aside from the extra hardware required to be on hand, no other changes are required to support this new capability and added lethality. The Reaper retains its flexibility to fly 500-pound bombs on any of these stations, instead of the AGM‑114s, when mission requirements dictate.”

Reaper, with about 200 airframes in USAF service, also has a maritime variant that readers of this page should find very interesting– the MQ-9B SeaGuardian which can be utilized for mine countermeasures, ASW, SAR, and general sea patrol with a 25 hour all-weather loiter time that is cheaper and less crew-intensive than a manned aircraft and could really free up a limited number of P-8s, P-3s, and HC-130Js for more dynamic taskings.

SeaGuardian

The SeaGuardian variants can carry a 360-degree patrol radar and two 10-tube sonobuoy pods, while still being able to clock in with Hellfires and 500-pound bombs if needed. If you told me they could find a way to mount an anti-ship missile and some Mk. 50 torps, perhaps on a paired aircraft operating in teams, I wouldn’t doubt it.

SeaGuardian is not science fiction. Last month the platform concluded a set of maritime test flights over the sea-lanes off the coast of Southern California and last week kicked off a series of validation flights on Oct. 15 for the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. 

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

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, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

National Archives 80-G-703401

Here we see Balao-class fleet submarine USS Atule (SS-403), left, torpedoing ex-U-977 during weapon tests off Cape Cod, 14 November 1946. The (in)famous German boat was far from Atule’s only kill, although it was likely her easiest. However, in the end, she would meet a somewhat ironic fate that had, some contend, an aspect of divine intervention.

A member of the 180+-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were “fleet” boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.

Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5,000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their deck guns. They also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

Some 311-feet long overall, they were all-welded construction to facilitate rapid building. Best yet, they could be made for the bargain price of about $7 million in 1944 dollars (just $100 million when adjusted for today’s inflation) and completed from keel laying to commissioning in about nine months.

An amazing 121 Balaos were completed through five yards at the same time, with the following pennant numbers completed by each:

  • Cramp: SS-292, 293, 295-303, 425, 426 (12 boats)
  • Electric Boat: 308-313, 315, 317-331, 332-352 (42)
  • Manitowoc on the Great Lakes: 362-368, 370, 372-378 (15)
  • Mare Island on the West Coast: 304, 305, 307, 411-416 (9)
  • Portsmouth Navy Yard: 285-288, 291, 381-410, 417-424 (43)

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the sub-killing USS Greenfish, rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish, the long-serving USS Catfish, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

The first (and only) U.S. warship named for the bluish-olive colored fish, Atule (SS-403) was laid down 25 November 1943 at Portsmouth; launched on 6 March 1944; and commissioned on 21 June 1944, LCDR (later RADM) John Howard Maurer (USNA 1935) in command. Maurer would be Atule’s only wartime skipper, coming to the new boat from a stint as Engineer Officer and later XO of USS Harder (SS-257) across three successful patrols that saw him receive the Silver Star.

Launch of USS Atule at the Portsmouth Navy Yard 3.6.44. NARA

Following a rushed wartime shakedown cruise and fortnight at the sonar school at Key West, Atule was soon off to the Pacific, leaving Pearl Harbor on her first patrol in company with sisterships USS Pintado (SS-387) and USS Jallao (SS-368) as a Yankee wolfpack on 9 October under the latter sub’s skipper’s nominal tactical control.

Aerial photo USS Atule (SS-403) 15 August 1944. Note she is just wearing her 5″/25 aft and two M2s on her sail, an armament that would soon be augmented with a 40mm and a 20mm. NARA 80-G-313787

Heading for patrol areas in the Luzon Strait and the South China Sea, partner Jallao bagged the Japanese Kuma-class light cruiser Tama (5,200 tons) on 25 October northeast of Luzon.

On Halloween night, it was Atule’s turn and she bagged a big one, stalking a large Japanese surface contact in a night surface radar attack and into All Saints Day.

From her Patrol Report:

0305 hours – In position 19°59’N, 117°25’E obtained radar contact bearing 225°, range 26000 yards. Started tracking.

0325 hours – Obtained radar contact on escort vessel.

0331 hours – Obtained radar contact on a second escort vessel.

0359 hours – Started attack, during the approach a third escort was sighted.

0432 hours – In position 20°09’N, 117°38’E commenced firing six torpedoes from 1850 yards. The target was a large passenger liner. Two torpedoes were seen to broach and then disappear.

0434 hours – A terrific explosion threw material three times the height of the target’s masts. Range to one of the escorts was only 1200 yards. Decided to dive. When clearing the bridge, a second torpedo hit the target. Atule dived to 450 feet.

0440 hours – 9 depth charges were dropped but they were not close.

0445 hours – Heard very loud and crackling breaking up noises on the bearing of the target.

0740 hours – Lost contact with the escorts.

The contact was the Japanese NYK liner Asama Maru (16,955 GRT), escorted by two armed minesweepers and a torpedo boat.

Asama Maru was a beautiful ship that in her peacetime service had such personalities as Baron Nishi Takeichi, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Hellen Keller grace her decks. In wartime, she repatriated U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Grew and hundreds of American diplomats and their families back to the West before serving as a shuttle carrying up to 5,000 of the Emperor’s troops at a time to the front lines while hauling Allied POWs back on “hell ship” missions back to the Home Islands. While a troopship, she was armed with depth charges, listening gear, 8cm deck guns, and an assortment of AAA mounts.

Asama Maru and her sisters were literally page no. 1 in ONI 208J “Japanese Merchant Vessels,” hinting at how big a prize she was for American sub skippers.

When Atule found her, Asama Maru was carrying a mix of 1,383 military personnel, civilian employees for the military, and survivors from sunken Japanese merchant ships as well as 170 tons of iron scrap, 80 tons of hemp, 80 tons of raw rubber, and other items. As noted by Combined Fleets, “98 of 201 crew, 21 of 266 gunners and armed guards and 355 of 1,383 military personnel and passengers are KIA. Survivors are rescued by the three escort vessels.”

On 20 November, Atule drew blood once again, sinking the Japanese minesweeper W-38 (648 tons).

Just five days later, Atule haunted Japanese convoy MATA-34 just after midnight on 25 November, with six overlapping torpedoes from her bow tubes reaping the freighter-turned-sub tender Manju Maru/Santos Maru (7,266 GRT)  and the escort patrol boat No.38 (935 tons) in the same salvo. Santos Maru was carrying 2,400 troops and sailors including 430 survivors of the battleship Musashi. In the end, she took almost a third of those men to the bottom with her. As for No.38, it “disintegrated.”

Finally, Atule bagged a 4,000-ton freighter on 27 November, anchored between Dequey and Ibuhos Islands, Philippines. “Fired four bow torpedoes,” said her patrol report. The rest of the report was eloquent if terrifying:

Via NARA

Postwar, Atule was not given credit for the almost certain kill, although Nanko Maru No. 6, which went missing at about the same time, seems a good fit.

Wrapping up her first patrol at Majuro on 11 December, which ran 63 days/16,570 nm with a green crew (53 of 77 men were on their first patrol) and expended 22 Mk 18 torpedoes for 11 hits, Atule claimed five ships for a total of 26,600 tons. Postwar, this would be confirmed at four ships and 25,804, which is fairly close to the estimate tonnage wise.

Atule shipped from Majuro on her second war patrol on 6 January 1945, bound for the Yellow Sea. There, she sent the brand-new freighter Daiman Maru No.1 (6888 GRT) to the bottom on 24 January, having to break ice off her deck gun in the process. Not as exciting as her inaugural cruise, she ended her 2nd war patrol at Midway on 7 March.

Her third patrol left out of Midway on 2 April, tasked with lifeguard duties off the Japanese Home Islands which were under constant attack by Navy and USAAF planes, with her crew often taking the time to sink floating mines and wreckage found in her operational area and (unsuccessfully) stalk an elusive Japanese submarine near the Ashizuri lighthouse.

In a twist of irony– she would have many in her career– the only aviator she would rescue was a Japanese naval observer on 5 May. The observer was retrieved from the water from a downed Jake, which had been smoked by a passing B-29 gunner with spotting provided by the sub.

Once again, Maurer, Atule’s skipper– who was a near classmate of Robert Heinlein— showed his prose in detailing the scene in the patrol log.

“A thick wad of currency, a vial of perfume and several condoms showed he was ready for any eventuality.” (NARA)

Putting into Pearl Harbor on 30 May, she had some downtime to train and resupply, then left on her fourth patrol on 3 July– no Independence Day leave in Honolulu for them– bound once again for Japan’s front yard. On that cruise, in a night action across 12/13 August, she spotted two Japanese frigates, Kaibokan 6 and Kaibokan 16 (both 740 tons), sinking the former and damaging the latter with a brace of six torpedoes.

And that was it, the ceasefire was called on the 15th when Emperor Hirohito announced that his country would accept unconditional surrender. With that, she was ordered to terminate her patrol on the 45th day by COMSUBPAC and return to Pearl via Midway, arriving in Hawaii on the 25th.

By the end of August, even before the official surrender, she was headed to New London.

Reaching the East Coast, Atule was assigned to Submarine Squadron 2 and was used as a training and trial boat. In this role, she traveled to the Arctic in July 1946 as part of Operation Nanook in company with the icebreaker USS Northwind (WAG-282), two auxiliaries, and the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, the latter embarking PBM flying boats.

Atule off the northwest coast of Greenland, on 20 July 1946, during Operation Nanook. Note that she has her full AAA armarment on her sail. 80-G-636420

It was on this frozen trip along the coast of Greenland that she “reached latitude 79 degrees 11 minutes north in the Kane Basin, setting a record for the United States Navy,” and rescued a PBM that had to put down with engine trouble.

Then came her dramatic sinking of U-977, the Type VIIC that famously ignored the formal German surrender order for U-boat at sea on VE-Day and made for South America instead. The rouge boat entered the port of Mar del Plata, Argentina on 17 August 1945, some 108 days and more than 7,600 nm after it had departed Norway.

U-977 lies in in Mar del Plata, Argentina; rusty and weather beaten after 108 days at sea – Photograph courtesy of Carlos J. Mey – Administrator of the Historia y Arqueologia Marítima website http://www.histarmar.com.ar/ via U-boat Archive

In the end, turned over to the U.S. Navy and towed to Boston for a photoex, Atule sent her to the bottom in the test of a prototype steam-powered torpedo off Massachusetts.

View showing torpedoing of U-977 by ATULE (SS403) on 13 November 1946. As noted by the Navy: The pressure hull of U-977 has apparently been completely severed by the detonation and that the forward and after portions of the hull have jack-knifed. U-977 was a standard German Type VII-C design: length 220′-2″; maximum beam 20′-4″; diameter of pressure hull 15′-5″; pressure hull plating thickness .73″; and submerged displacement 880 tons. The torpedo used by ATULE was a Mark 14 body fitted with a Mark 16, Mod. 4 magnetic proximity-fuzed warhead containing 660 lbs. of Torpex and is believed to have detonated almost directly underneath the keel of U-977. This photograph demonstrates the great destructive power of torpedoes when used against unprotected ships such as submarines.

Her wartime service complete, on 8 September 1947, she was placed out of commission, in reserve, with the New London Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Atule earned four battle stars for World War II service.

Her confirmed WWII tonnage tally stood at 33,379

Atule’s WWII battle flag eventually found its way to the USS Bowfin Museum in Pearl Harbor, where it remains on display today. Note the 51 mines zapped, the rescued Japanese flier chit, and four Rising Suns (Kyokujitsu-ki) and four Hinomaru flags for the eight ships she claimed sunk or damaged

As for Maurer, who earned the Navy Cross on Atule, he went on to hold two surface commands, including the cruiser USS Saint Paul, and be both COMSUBPAC and COMSUBLANT. His final assignment was as Commander of Naval Forces in Key West, retiring from the Navy in 1974.

When it comes to Atule’s sisters, of the schools of Balaos which were commissioned, 10 were lost in the war during operations while another 62 were canceled on the builders’ ways as the conflict ended. In 1946, the Navy was left with 120 units.

Jane’s entry on the Balao class, 1946

Rebirth

After three years on red lead row, Atule was towed to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard– her birthplace– for reactivation and conversion to a Guppy 1-A type submarine.

Of the 48 GUPPY’d WWII diesel boats that were given a second life in the Cold War, Atule was one of the first 10 IA series boats which recieved the most basic reboot when compared to the other Balaos and Tenches modified later.

Outfitted with a German-style snorkel not too different from the one the Navy inspected on U-977, and a streamlined superstructure sans deck guns, Atule rejoined the fleet a stronger, more versatile warship, recommissioned 8 March 1951.

GUPPY-1A USS Atule (SS-403). NHHC L45-15.02.01

For the next 19 years, she led a quiet life, participating in operations with Latin American allies in a series of UNITAS exercises, working with NATO allies on Mediterranean deployments as part of the 6th Fleet, visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras, training naval reservists, and, as part of SUBRON12, alternated duty at Key West with service at Guantanamo Bay supporting ASW training for the destroyer force while keeping an eye on Castro.

Reclassified AGSS-403 on 1 October 1969, Atule was decommissioned on 6 April 1970, and her name was struck from the Navy list on 15 August 1973.

In all, she had spent 29 years on the Naval List, with nearly 24 of those on active duty. Not a bad return to Uncle Sam for the $7,000,000 original cost to build her.

The GUPPY-1A entry from the 1973 Jane’s, listing Atule and the last four of her type in U.S. Navy service, USS Sea Poacher, USS Becuna, USS Blenny, and USS Tench, then in reserve.

Points South

Ex-Atule was sold to Peru in July 1974, and renamed BAP Pacocha (S 48), duplicating the name of an earlier boat used by the Marina de Guerra del Perú. She was sent south in tandem with BAP Pabellón de Pica/La Pedrera (SS-49), ex-USS Sea Poacher (SS/AGSS-406) after a refit. Atule/Pacocha was commissioned on 28 May 1974 into the MGP, where she continued her quiet life of training and exercises over the course of the next 14 years. Then came disaster.

On the evening of 26 August 1988, with a reduced crew of 49 men aboard, the 44-year-old submarine was operating on the surface with her hatches open when, just off the port of Callao, a 412-ton Japanese fishing trawler with a reinforced ice-breaking prow collided into her aft port quarter, opening her like a tin can with a 2 meter by 10 centimeters split in the pressure hull. Pacocha didn’t even have time to sound her collision alarm.

Via U.S. Navy Submarine Medical Research Labratory Special Report SP89-1

It was almost as if the ghosts of the Asama Maru, Santos Maru, and others, had returned as wraiths and exacted retribution for the Atule’s past actions.

Nonetheless, the Peruvians had a spirit of their own, it seems.

With the boat taking on water and three men dead, including the skipper, 23 submariners were able to scramble off the submarine before she raced for the bottom of the Pacific some 140 feet down. As the boat was drowning, Teniente Roger Cotrina Alvarado was somehow able to dog a partially flooded hatch to compartmentalize the sub’s forward torpedo room with 21 other survivors, a feat he chalked up to the help of Marija of Jesus Crucified Petković, a Croatian nun who had traveled extensively through Latin America helping the poor and sick.

A 61-page U.S. Navy report on the resulting rescue, compiled in 1989 through first-hand interviews, is fascinating but somewhat outside the scope of this. Suffice it to say, rescue divers were able to use the escape trunk in the forward torpedo room to retrieve the remainder of the crew 23 hours later in six groups, utilising Mark V dive lines.

Naturally, after spending almost a full day 140 feet down in a compromised atmosphere and making a swim to the surface with only the assistance of a rescue hood, most suffered from the bends, but in the end, only one perished.

As for Alvarado, a documentary was made of his efforts and his personal beliefs on the source of his “humanly impossible” strength that day.

Some 11 months after Atule/Pacocha hit the bottom, she surfaced again following 800 hours of work by Peruvian Navy salvage crews, raised on 23 July 1989.

Towed ashore and drydocked, she was studied for the effects of the ramming and sinking, then her hulk was cannibalized for spare parts for other Peruvian submarines.

In the U.S., Atule’s war engineering drawings, patrol diaries, post-war deck logs, and complete WWII muster rolls have been digitized and are online at the National Archives. A veteran’s group was active for several years, but their webpage has since been archived.

Eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is hopefully in the process of being saved and moved to Kentucky)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Specs:
(1944)
Displacement: 1,526 tons (surfaced), 2,391 (submerged)
Length: 311.7 ft.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 13.75 ft.
Machinery: Fairbanks Morse diesel engines, 5,400 HP, fuel capacity, 116,000 gals.; four Elliot Motor Co. electric main motors 2,740 shp, two 126-cell main storage batteries, 2 shafts
Speed: 20.25 kts. (surfaced) 8.75 kts. (submerged)
Endurance: 11,000 miles surfaced at 10 knots; submerged endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots; 75 days
Test Depth: 412 ft.
Complement: 6 officers, 60 enlisted
Radar: SJ
Armament:
1 5″/25cal deckgun, 25 rounds
1 40mm/60 Bofors AAA
1 20mm/80 Oerlikon AAA
2 M2 .50-cal machine guns
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft), 24 torpedoes
(Post GUPPY 1A)
Displacement: 1,870 tons standard (surfaced), 2,440 (submerged)
Length: 308.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 17
Machinery: 3 Diesels; 4,800 bhp. 2 Electric motors; 5,400 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 17 kts (Surfaced) 15 kts. (Submerged)
Endurance: 90 days
Complement: 8 officers, 73 men
Armament:
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft) 24 torpedoes

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

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

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

RAN Photo

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

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

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

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

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

HMS Vendetta, June 1919 (IWM Q73907).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interbellum 

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

Note her pennant number had changed to D69

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the Med

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pacific!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specs:


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

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

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The power of Bangalore compels you!

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

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

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

West Coast layups

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

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

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

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

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

Bofors/Breda 40s still at work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After 30 years, Scout to hang it up

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

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

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

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

As noted by the minesweeper’s command:

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

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

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

Oof.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whomp Whomp.

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

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

Warship Wednesday, May 6, 2020: A Ship That Can’t Be Licked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

51 Minutes of Hell

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

After all, what destroyer could survive five kamikazes?

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

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

Line drawing of the ship showing areas of damage via NHHC

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

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

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

Why so many hits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Aaron Ward’s cruise book, via NARA

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

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

Her story was celebrated nationwide at the time.

From Aaron Ward’s cruise book, via NARA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The luckiest unlucky class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

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

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

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

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

She was left ablaze after the incident.

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

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

Specs:

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

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

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