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Limpet mine update: ‘With high confidence’

U.S. Navy CDR Sean Kido, head of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One One (EODMU 11) explains the attack on the Panama-flagged chemical/oil tanker Kokuka Courageous (19,349t) and the Norwegian-owned (International Tanker Management) Marshal Islands-flagged oil tanker Front Altair, allegedly by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, in the Gulf of Oman on June 13th, 2019:

Boom!

“GULF OF THAILAND (June 7, 2019) The Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Pioneer (MCM 9) observes a controlled mine detonation while conducting a joint mine countermeasures exercise with the Royal Thai Navy during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand 2019.” :

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Corbin Shea/Released)

With the premature scrapping/disposal of the 12 Osprey-class mine hunters (which only had a decade on their hulls when put out to pasture), the now 11-ship (out of 14 built) Avenger-class are all that is left of the dedicated U.S. counter-mine vessels. Of course, the Mine Counter-Measures Modules of the Littoral Combat Ships currently in commission are expected at any time. (Holds breath. Turns blue. Dies of circa 1908-designed mines in a littoral).

Mr. Limpet makes his daytime appearance in the Gulf of Oman

Not this guy who everybody loved:

This guy:

(Or approximate)

The attack in International waters hit the Panama-flagged chemical/oil tanker Kokuka Courageous (19,349t), owned by Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) and carrying a load of methanol; along with the Norwegian-owned (International Tanker Management) Marshal Islands-flagged oil tanker Front Altair (62,849t) with a load of crude, early on June 13. Both were carrying what Japan’s Trade Ministry says were “Japan-related” cargo.

The attacks occurred off the Emirati port of Fujairah, also on the Gulf of Oman, approaching the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.

Kokuka Courageous Front Altair

“The timing was considered sensitive as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran on a high-stakes diplomacy mission.”

5th Fleet’s release on the matter through CENTCOM:

TAMPA (NNS) — U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time from the motor tanker (M/T) Altair and a second one at 7a.m. local time from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

Both vessels were in international waters in the Gulf of Oman approximately 10 nautical miles apart at the time of the distress calls. USS Bainbridge was approximately 40 nautical miles away from the M/T Altair at the time of the attack and immediately began closing the distance.

At 8:09 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair.

At 9:12 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observes the FAC/FIAC pull a raft from the M/T Altair from the water.

At 9:26 a.m. local time the Iranians requested that the motor vessel Hyundai Dubai, which had rescued the sailors from the M/T Altair, to turn the crew over to the Iranian FIACs. The motor vessel Hyundai Dubai complied with the request and transferred the crew of the M/T Altair to the Iranian FIACs.

At 11:05 a.m. local time USS Bainbridge approaches the Dutch tug Coastal Ace, which had rescued the crew of twenty-one sailors from the M/T Kokuka Courageous who had abandoned their ship after discovering a probable unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion.

190613-N-N0101-115 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), not pictured, approaches the damaged ship. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

190613-N-N0101-116 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), not pictured, approaches the damaged ship. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

While the Hendijan patrol boat appeared to attempt to get to the tug Coastal Ace before USS Bainbridge, the mariners were rescued by USS Bainbridge at the request of the master of the M/T Kokuka Courageous. The rescued sailors are currently aboard USS Bainbridge.

190613-N-SS350-0135 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) render aid to the crew of the M/V Kokuka Courageous. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Waite/Released)

At 4:10 p.m. local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

The U.S. and our partners in the region will take all necessary measures to defend ourselves and our interests. Today’s attacks are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.

The U.S. and the international community, stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation.

The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.

The attack comes a month to the day after what is described as “Coordinated teams of divers using limpet mines incapacitated the vessels in a series of timed detonations” to damage four tankers from the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Norway off the Emirati coast.

The underwater damage to the Saudi Arabian tanker Al Marzoqah May 12

Saudi Arabian tanker Amjad was one of those attacked in the Port of Fujairah May 12

And the beat goes on…

Google Operation Praying Mantis to see how this is going to end up.

Coming at your from 1988:

Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss, now 75 years on

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

Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss

D-Day Map showing Firing Plan from USS Texas (BB-35) NHHC_1969-232-A_full

NHHC 1969-232-A

Here we see a British Admiralty chart entitled “Iles St Marcouf to Cap Manvieux,” covering a span of the Normandy Coast in France. This chart was used by the venerable New York-class battleship USS Texas (BB-35) during her bombardment operations in support of the Operation Neptune landings, 6 June 1944, the seaside part of Operation Overlord. If you note in the top right-hand quarter of the chart is a set of two parallel lines marked with dan buoys marking a 900-meter-wide channel that was swept of mines immediately prior to and on D-Day.

In short, if it hadn’t had been for those minecraft that cleared the aforementioned path, the whole invasion would have gone a good bit different. With that, today’s Warship Wednesday is on the loss of the Raven-class minesweeper USS Osprey (AM-56), which sunk 75 years ago on 5 June 1944. As noted by military historian and D-Day guru Stephen Ambrose, the six bluejackets killed on Osprey that day were the first Allied casualties of Overlord.

The two ships of the Raven-class were basically all-diesel predecessors of the later Auk-class minesweepers (which had diesel-electric drives) and came in a tad lighter, giving them a draft that was almost two feet shallower.

USS Raven (AM-55), Osprey’s sole sister, off Rockland, Maine, 19 March 1941, while running trials 19-N-24352

Built side-by-side in 1939-40 at the Norfolk Navy Yard as AM-55 and AM-56, the much more prolific (95 hull) Auks followed them with hull numbers that started at AM-57.

Named for the large, hawk-like bird with a dark brown back and a white breast, Osprey was the second such warship for the Navy with that moniker, with the first being the Lapwing-class minesweeper AM-29 which was commissioned in 1919 then soon transferred to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as USC&GS Pioneer.

USS Osprey (AM-56) soon after her completion. Note her hull numbers. USN Photo 120-15

USS Osprey (AM-56) soon after her completion. Note her hull numbers and two-part scheme. USN Photo 120-15

Commissioned 16 December 1940, by mid-1941 Osprey was detailed with coastal patrol duties off the U.S. Eastern seaboard and, once America got more active in the European war after Pearl Harbor, soon found herself in England.

USS Osprey (AM-56) Underway, circa April 1941, probably while running trials. Note that her bow numbers have been freshly painted out. Photograph was received from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1972. NH 84026

USS Osprey (AM-56) underway with a bone in her teeth, circa April 1941, probably while running trials. Note that her bow numbers have been freshly painted out and she wears an all-over dark scheme. The photograph was received from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1972. NH 84026

Osprey Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 1941 19-N-23990

Osprey Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 1941. Note she has been freshly fitted with depth charge racks on her stern. 19-N-23990

By November 1942, she convoyed with the USS Texas and company and later helped direct and protect the waves of landing craft moving shoreward at Port Lyautey, Morocco for the Allies Torch Landings.

North Africa Operation, November 1942 Invasion convoy en route to Morocco, circa early November 1942. Ships include more than twenty transports, with USS TEXAS (BB-35) and USS AUGUSTA (CA-31) in the distance. Photographed from an SBD off one of the invasion force aircraft carriers. Catalog #: 80-G-1032486

North Africa Operation, November 1942 Invasion convoy en route to Morocco, circa early November 1942. Ships include more than twenty transports, with USS TEXAS (BB-35) and USS AUGUSTA (CA-31) in the distance. Photographed from an SBD off one of the invasion force aircraft carriers. Catalog #: 80-G-1032486

After completing anti-submarine patrols off Casablanca, Osprey returned to Norfolk for a year of coastal escort assignments aimed at helping to curb the German U-boat threat off Hampton Roads. With other minesweepers, she escorted convoys from Norfolk and New York to ports in the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast.

Raven photographed in camouflage paint in 1943 with depth charge rack at stern. Osprey had a similar scheme at the time NH 43519

Raven photographed in camouflage paint in 1943 with filled depth charge rack at the stern and additional AAA weapons. Also, note her false bow-wave and smaller but visible hull numbers. Osprey had a similar scheme at the time. NH 43519

By April 1944, Osprey was back across the pond and assigned to the growing invasion flotilla heading for Normandy. Rommel, who had wanted to sow millions of landmines in France to seal off the beaches from invasion, was also a fan of their seagoing variants.

“The Generalfeldmarschall himself had quickly grasped the value of naval mines in his system of defense. He continually requested an increased use of this weapon,” notes a U.S. Navy history.

Dropping mines from a German mine layer during World War II. The Seemine looks to be an EMC-type contact mine which used a charge of 551-pounds. The Germans were fans of contact (with both Hertz and three horns) and magnetic influence mines in moored and drifting flavors and used them liberally during the war from Greece to Norway, often with anti-sweep obstructors. NH 71333

Dropping mines from a German minelayer during World War II. The Seemine looks to be an EMC-type contact type which used a charge of 551-pounds. The Germans were fans of contact (with both Hertz and switch horns) and magnetic influence mines in moored and drifting flavors and used them liberally during the war from Greece to Norway, often with anti-sweep obstructors. NH 71333

German sea mines in a railroad car, abandoned in the railway station at Cherbourg, France, 3 July 1944. 80-G-254312

German sea mines in a railroad car, abandoned in the railway station at Cherbourg, France, 3 July 1944. 80-G-254312

The German naval minefield facing the Overlord invasion stretched 120 km across the Bay of Normandy and was 16 km deep.

The Allied plan was to use 255 vessels to clear 10 channels through the mine barrage– two channels per beach– in the immediate predawn hours of D-Day, with each sweeper ship, such as Osprey, clearing paths by cutting the moored contact mines. Specially equipped trawlers would follow on the search for magnetic mines while dan-laying launches would mark the swept zone. The channels were to be from 400 to 1,200 yards in width depending on their route.

The danger of mines in inshore waters was to be disregarded during the assault, but the areas were to be searched as soon as sweepers were available.

British Admiral Bertram Ramsay noted that “There is no doubt that the mine is our greatest obstacle to success,” when discussing the Cross-Channel attack. “And if we manage to reach the enemy coast without being disorganized and suffering serious losses, we should be fortunate.”

After months of intensive practice in combined sweeping operations with MinRon 7 off Torbay, England, en route to the Normandy invasion beaches on 5 June, Osprey soon struck an enemy mine. The crew put out the resultant fires but could not save their vessel. She sank that evening.

Early on the 6th, the mine division started sweeping the coast of France in assault and check sweeps to assure safe passage channels for the landing craft and the primary naval gunfire support for the beaches.

The only loss to mines on 5 June, Osprey was soon joined by numerous other craft who could not stay in the same cleared channel as the battleships or were hit by floating contact mines, cut free in the initial sweeping. This was later compounded by the Germans air-dropping mines and sowing them at night from E-boats and coasters.

On 6 June, the landing craft USS LCI(L)-85, LCI(L)-91, LCI(L)-497, LCT-197, LCT-294, LCT-305, LCT-332, LCT-364, LCT-397, LCT-555, LCT-703 and destroyer HMS Wrestler all struck mines just off the beachhead and were lost.

The next day saw the loss of the Army transport ship USAT Francis C. Harrington, Navy transport USS Susan B. Anthony, landing craft LCI(L)-416, LCI(L)-436, LCI(L)-458, LCI(L)-489, LCI(L)-586, and the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125), all to the infernal devices. Meanwhile, the Allen Sumner-class destroyer USS Meredith (DD-726) was damaged by a mine and sunk the next day by a Luftwaffe bombing which split her in two.

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. USS PT-509 and USS Pheasant (AM-61) are standing by. Photographed from USS Threat (AM-124). 80-G-651677

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. USS PT-509 and USS Pheasant (AM-61) are standing by. Photographed from USS Threat (AM-124). 80-G-651677

On 8 June, the net layer HMS Minster was sunk by a mine off Utah Beach while the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) struck two mines and sank in the English Channel off Normandy.

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy, France, on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. NH 44312

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy, France, on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. NH 44312

Through the end of the month, mines off Normandy would continue to claim another dozen landing craft and steamers, as well as the British RN destroyers HMS Fury and HMS Swift along with the Dido-class cruiser HMS Scylla, proving just how hazardous the belt laid by the Germans, had been. It is easy to forget, with the scale of Overlord, but mines caused one hell of a butcher’s bill in June 1944 off the French coast.

As for Osprey‘s sister ship, Raven would sweep at least 21 German and Italian naval mines on D-Day alone. She would survive the war and pass into mothballs with three battle stars to her credit.

Raven seen flanked in the 1946-47 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships, shown as a single outlier among 63 Auk-class and 106 Admirable-class minesweepers in U.S. service.

Raven seen flanked in the 1946-47 edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, shown as a single outlier among 63 Auk-class and 106 Admirable-class minesweepers in U.S. service.

Struck in 1967, she was sunk as a target in deep water off the coast of southern California.

As noted by DANFS, the name Osprey was assigned to AM-406 on 17 May 1945, but the construction of that ship was canceled just three months later with the end of the war.

Osprey would go on to grace the hulls of two later U.S. Navy minecraft: AMS-28, a small YMS-1-class minesweeper which served in Korea where she prepared a firing base anchorage for the big guns of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) at the Inchon landings– a true namesake to her predecessor– and MHC-51, the lead ship of late Cold War Osprey-class coastal mine hunters.

Four U.S. Navy minesweepers (AMS) tied up at Yokosuka, Japan, following mine clearance activities off Korea. Original photo is dated 30 November 1950. These four ships, all units of Mine Division 31, are (from left to right): USS Merganser (AMS-26); USS Osprey (AMS-28); USS Chatterer (AMS-40) and USS Mockingbird (AMS-27). Ship in the extreme left background is USS Wantuck (APD-125). Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-424597, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Four U.S. Navy minesweepers (AMS) tied up at Yokosuka, Japan, following mine clearance activities off Korea. The original photo is dated 30 November 1950. These four ships, all units of Mine Division 31, are (from left to right): USS Merganser (AMS-26); USS Osprey (AMS-28); USS Chatterer (AMS-40) and USS Mockingbird (AMS-27). Ship in the extreme left background is USS Wantuck (APD-125). Official U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-424597, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Osprey (MHC-51), a coastal minehunter in commission from 1993 to 2006. Of note, one of her sister ships was USS Raven (MHC-61), a familiar name on her family tree. NHHC L45-221.03.01

As for our D-Day Osprey, her bell surfaced some time ago, but I believe is in private hands in the UK.

USS Osprey ships bell Ivan Warren Michelle Mary Fishing & Diving Charters 2007 via wrecksite.eu

USS Osprey ships bell, via Ivan Warren Michelle Mary Fishing & Diving Charters in 2007, via wrecksite.eu

Still, if it had not been for Osprey and those like her, the Longest Day could have proved even longer.

Specs:

USS Osprey (AM-56) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 194119-N-23989

USS Osprey (AM-56) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 19 April 194119-N-23989

Displacement: 810 tons, 1040 tons full load
Length: 220 ft 6 in overall, 215 w.l.
Beam: 32 ft 2 in
Draft: 9 ft 4 in mean
Machinery: Diesel, 2 shafts, 1,800 BHP
Speed: 18 knots
Complement:105 officers and men
Armament:
2 × 3″/50 caliber guns
2 × 40 mm AA guns
8 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons (added 1942)
2 × depth charge tracks (added 1941)

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Warship Wednesday, May 29, 2019: About that new Marker in Times Square

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

Warship Wednesday, May 29, 2019: About that new Marker in Times Square

USS CALIFORNIA (armored cruiser 6) NH 66738

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 66738

Here we see the beautiful Pennsylvania-class heavy cruiser USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6, later CA-6) with a bone her mouth and three pipes belching smoke, sometime between 1907 and 1909. Sadly, although she was likely still on her original coat of lead-based paint in the above image, she was already largely obsolete and would only see 11 years’ service before she met with disaster.

The Pennsylvanias, a class of six armored cruisers named, like battleships, after states, were big 15,000-ton/504-foot long bruisers built immediately after the lessons learned in the summer of sharp fleet actions and naval blockades that made up the Spanish American War. Larger than many of pre-dreadnought battleships of their day (for comparison, the three-ship Illinois-class battlewagons laid down in 1897 were only 12,500-ton/375-ft. vessels) they had lighter armor (4 to 9 inches rather than up to 16 inches on Illinois) and a lighter armament (8-inch guns rather than 13-inchers) but were much faster, with the cruisers capable of 22-knots while the battleships lumbered along at 16 knots. Several European powers of the day– notably England, Germany, and Russia– were also building such very large armored cruisers with an eye to protecting far-flung overseas possessions that did not require a battleship in times of peace and aggressively raiding their enemies’ merchant fleets once war was declared.

The Pennsylvanias‘ main battery consisted of two pairs of 8″/40 cal (203mm) Mark 5 guns in fore and aft turrets, which in turn were more powerful than the older but still very effective 8″/35 Mark 3s such as those used with terrific success against the Spanish at Manila Bay. These were later upgraded to even better 8″/45 Mark 6s after 1907. They could fire a 260-pound shell over 98.5-pounds of propellant out to 22,500 yards.

Admiral William B. Caperton, USN Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (center) With members of his staff on board USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) at San Diego, California, circa 1916-17. The ship's after 8"/45 twin gun turret is behind them. Those present are (from left to right): Lieutenant (Junior Grade) H.M. Lammers, USN; Captain R.M. Cutts, USMC; Medical Inspector E.S. Bogert, USN; Admiral Caperton; Pay Inspector J. Fyffe, USN; Lieutenant A.T. Beauregard, USN; and Paymaster C.S. Baker, USN. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Adm. W.B. Caperton. NH 83793

Admiral William B. Caperton, USN Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (center) With members of his staff on board USS California/San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) at San Diego, California, circa 1916-17. The ship’s after 8″/45 twin gun turret is behind them. Those present are (from left to right): Lieutenant (Junior Grade) H.M. Lammers, USN; Captain R.M. Cutts, USMC; Medical Inspector E.S. Bogert, USN; Admiral Caperton; Pay Inspector J. Fyffe, USN; Lieutenant A.T. Beauregard, USN; and Paymaster C.S. Baker, USN. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Adm. W.B. Caperton. NH 83793

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Breech of one of her 8"/45 guns, taken circa 1916. Her magazine carried 125 shells for each of the four tubes. These latter guns proved capable enough for the Army to use surplus specimens in the 1920s for Coastal Defense purposes. Courtesy of Chief Watch Officer James B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82995

USS California/San Diego (CA-6) Breech of one of her 8″/45 guns, taken circa 1916. Her magazine carried 125 shells for each of the four tubes. These latter guns proved capable enough for the Army to use surplus examples in the 1920s for Coastal Defense purposes. Courtesy of Chief Watch Officer James B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82995

As a very impressive secondary, these ships carried 14 6 “/50 cal Mark 6 breechloaders in casemated broadside, seven on each side. Add to this were 30 torpedo-boat busting 3″/50s and 47mm 3-pounders.

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Crew exercising one of the ship's 6"/50cal broadside guns, circa 1916. Note: gunsight in use; items posted on the bulkhead in the upper right, including safety orders, pennant bearing the ship's name, and Modern Girl/Stingy Thing poster. Notably, these guns would be stripped from the cruiser in 1917 and used to arm merchant ships. Collection of Chief Warrant Officer J.B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82997

USS California/San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Crew exercising one of the ship’s 6″/50cal broadside guns, circa 1916. Note gunsight in use; items posted on the bulkhead in the upper right, including safety orders, pennant bearing the ship’s name, and Modern Girl/Stingy Thing poster. Notably, these guns would be stripped from the cruiser in 1917 and used to arm merchant ships. Collection of Chief Warrant Officer J.B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82997

Then of course, as with every cruiser, battleship, and destroyer of the time, they also had torpedoes. This amounted to a pair of submerged 18-inch tubes firing Bliss-Leavitt type torpedoes.

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View in the torpedo tube room, with a torpedo tube at right, and torpedo afterbodies at left, circa 1916. Courtesy of Chief Watch Officer James B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82999

USS California/San Diego (CA-6) View in the torpedo tube room, with a torpedo tube at right, and torpedo afterbodies at left, circa 1916. Courtesy of Chief Watch Officer James B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82999

Constructed alongside her sister ship USS South Dakota at San Francisco’s Union Iron Works– their four classmates were built on the East Coast– USS California was only the second such ship with that name in the Navy, the first being a post-Civil War wooden steam frigates that proved to be made of improperly treated wood and, condemned, had to be scrapped after just five years of service.

Ordered in 1899, our more modern steel-hulled California commissioned 1 August 1907 at San Francisco’s Mare Island Navy Yard. Ironically, the exhibition of naval battles that made up the bulk of the Russo-Japanese War and the commissioning of HMS Dreadnought, during California‘s gestation period, largely showed that armored cruisers lacked a lot of value in modern warfare with a near-peer adversary. In short, Dreadnought-style battleships were fast enough to catch them and pummel them flat while new cruiser and destroyer designs of 1907 were also fast enough to elude them.

Still, upon commission, California promptly joined the Pacific Fleet where she spent her early life in a series of extended shakedowns and coastal cruises to seaside ports along the West coast “for exhibition purposes.”

USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Photographed circa 1908. NH 55011

USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Photographed circa 1908. NH 55011

The year 1909 saw what we would consider a West Pac cruise today, with stops in the Philippine Islands and China, and Christmas spent in Yokohama, Japan. The same year, the Navy ditched their gleaming white and buff scheme in favor of haze gray, which saw California‘s profile change drastically. Likewise, she landed most of her small 47mm guns, as the age of torpedo boat defense with such popguns had largely come and gone.

USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Underway in San Pablo Bay, California, 1909. Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN(MC). NH 55009

USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Underway in San Pablo Bay, California, 1909. Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN(MC). NH 55009

The next few years were spent in standardization cruises, target practice, maneuvers and the like, spread out from San Diego to Hawaii and Alaska, interrupted by another West Pac jaunt in 1912 and a bit of gunboat diplomacy off the Pacific coast of Nicaragua where she landed the First Provisional Regiment of Marines – 29 officers, 4 naval officers and 744 enlisted men under the command of Col. Joseph H. Pendleton, augmented by her own naval landing force.

San Diego in San Diego harbor, California, circa about 1910 to 1914. Arcade View Company stereo card. Courtesy of Captain Don Fink, 1983. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 94938

California in San Diego harbor, California, circa about 1910 to 1914. Arcade View Company stereo card. Note she has ditched her front pole mast for a lattice mast. Courtesy of Captain Don Fink, 1983. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 94938

California was re-named USS San Diego on 1 September 1914 to clear her original name for assignment to Dreadnought-style Battleship No. 44, a similar fate which befell all her five sisters.

As such, she lost her presentation silver service, which had been presented by the state when she was christened. This service went on to live on BB-44 and, removed in 1940 and stored ashore, are part of the U.S. Navy Museum’s Steel Navy exhibit today:

Back to our ship:

Notably, the rechristening of California to San Diego was the first use of the name “San Diego” for a naval vessel. She then became the flagship of the Pacific Fleet and participated in the opening of the Panama-California Exposition on 1 January 1915.

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Caption: Engraving issued for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, 1915. Courtesy of the US Army Military History Institute Catalog #: NH 91732

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Caption: Engraving issued for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, 1915. Courtesy of the US Army Military History Institute Catalog #: NH 91732

Admiral Thomas B. Howard (USNA 1873), Commander, Pacific Fleet, in his cabin aboard USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6), circa 1915. At the time he was only the fifth full admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy-- after Farragut, Porter, Dewey and Frank F. Fletcher. More than 220 have followed, somewhat diluting the brand. Courtesy of D.M. McPherson, 1976 NH 84403

Admiral Thomas B. Howard (USNA 1873), Commander, Pacific Fleet, in his cabin aboard USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6), circa 1915. At the time he was only the fifth full admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy– after Farragut, Porter, Dewey and Frank F. Fletcher. More than 220 have followed, somewhat diluting the brand. Courtesy of D.M. McPherson, 1976 NH 84403

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Off Guaymas, Mexico, 26 December 1915. Starting in 1913 and continuing through 1915, California was a common sight in Mexico's Pacific waters where was “observing conditions” brought about by the Mexican revolution and civil war. Photographed by Hopkins. Note Christmas tree mounted on her forecastle. Collection of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. NH 92174

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Off Guaymas, Mexico, 26 December 1915. Starting in 1913 and continuing through 1915, California was a common sight in Mexico’s Pacific waters where was “observing conditions” brought about by the Mexican revolution and civil war. Photographed by Hopkins. Note Christmas tree mounted on her forecastle. Collection of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. NH 92174

A deadly 1915 boiler room fire sent San Diego to Mare Island for extensive repairs and refit followed by a period in reserve in San Diego during which most of her crew was reassigned. During this time, she was able to squeeze in a rescue of 48 passengers from the sinking SS Fort Bragg.

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Photographed from an airplane in San Diego harbor, California, 28 March 1916. Collection of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. NH 92175

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Photographed from an airplane in San Diego harbor, California, 28 March 1916. Note her extensive awnings. Collection of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. NH 92175

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Display illumination circa 1916. Courtesy of Chief Warrant Officer J.B. Dofflemeyer, 1972 NH 83106

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Display illumination circa 1916. Courtesy of Chief Warrant Officer J.B. Dofflemeyer, 1972 NH 83106

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) As seen by Rear Admiral Francis Taylor, USN, from the living room window at 127 Riverside Drive, San Diego, in 1916. Description: Courtesy of Mrs. Francis Taylor. NH 70288

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) As seen by Rear Admiral Francis Taylor, USN, from the living room window at 127 Riverside Drive, San Diego, in 1916. Description: Courtesy of Mrs. Francis Taylor. NH 70288

When the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, San Diego‘s skeleton crew was fleshed out with a mix of some 400 new recruits straight from NTS San Francisco and Great Lakes as well as more experienced salts from California’s Naval Militia. After workups and training, she stood out on 18 July 1918 for the Atlantic and the Great War.

Arriving in New York in August, by 23 September she was the flagship of St. Nazaire, France-bound Troop Convoy Group Eight then in November did the same for Troop Convoy Group Eleven. February 1918 saw her as part of Britain-bound Convoy HK-26, followed by HX-32 and HX-37 by May, all of which made it across the pond successfully.

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View taken during the winter of 1917-18, while on patrol in the North Atlantic during World War I. During this period San Diego landed most of her casemated 6-inch guns as they tended to ship water in heavy seas. NH 83727

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View taken during the winter of 1917-18, while on patrol in the North Atlantic during World War I. During this period San Diego landed most of her casemated 6-inch guns as they tended to ship water in heavy seas. NH 83727

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View taken in the winter of 1917-18, looking forward from the bridge while on patrol in the North Atlantic during World War I. Note snow on the deck. NH 83728

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View taken in the winter of 1917-18, looking forward from the bridge while on patrol in the North Atlantic during World War I. Note snow on the deck. NH 83728

Then, tragedy struck the mighty cruiser. While zigzagging off Fire Island, New York, she came across a mine sowed by the large German Deutschland-class “U‑Kreuzer” submarine SM U-156, the latter skippered by Kapitänleutnant Richard Feldt.

From DANFS:

At about 11:05 a.m. on 19 July 1918, San Diego hit a mine, the explosion sounding like “a dull heavy thud,” lifting the stern slightly and shaking the ship “moderately fore and aft.” The warship assumed an immediate six to eight-degree list, and she lost headway. The mine had exploded on the port side about frame 78, well below the waterline, rupturing the skin of the ship and deforming the bulkhead at that location, opening watertight door no.142 between the port engine room and no. 8 fireroom. Flooding occurred in the port engine room, adjacent compartments, as well as no. 8 fireroom, and San Diego then took on a 17½ degree list, water entering through an open gun port for 6-inch gun no.10.

At the outset, “the behavior of the ship did not convince me she was in much danger of sinking,” Capt. Harley H. Christy later wrote, but he soon received the report from the engineer officer that the ship had lost power in both engines. Loss of motive power “precluded any maneuvering to combat a submarine.” The list increased. “When I was convinced that there was no hope of her holding and that she would capsize,” Christy gave the order to abandon ship, the gun crews remaining at their stations “until they could no longer fire,” and the depth charges being “secured so that they would be innocuous.” San Diego’s sailors launched life rafts, whaleboats, dinghies and punts by hand, as well as mess tables, benches, hammocks and lumber – “ample material to support the crew” – “an evolution…performed in an orderly manner without confusion,” while the broadside gun crews fired about 30 to 40 rounds “at possible periscopes.”

With San Diego nearly on her beam ends, Capt. Christy, along with his executive officer, Cmdr. Gerard Bradford were the last to leave the ship. Bradford went down the port side, the commanding officer went over the starboard side by a rope, swinging down to the bilge keel then the docking keel before going overboard. Christy then watched his ship turn turtle, “in a symmetrical position with the keel inclined about ten degrees to the horizontal, the forward end elevated” before gradually sinking.

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Painting by Francis Muller, 1920. It depicts the ship sinking off Fire Island, New York, 19 July 1918. The cruiser sank in 28 minutes, the only major warship lost by the United States in World War I. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. NH 55012-KN

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Painting by Francis Muller, 1920. It depicts the ship sinking off Fire Island, New York, 19 July 1918. The cruiser sank in 28 minutes, the only major warship lost by the United States in World War I. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. NH 55012-KN

While almost all her 1,183 crew successfully made it off, six, largely from below deck engineering divisions, were claimed by Neptune and never recovered:

Fireman First Class, Clyde C. Blaine of Lomita, CA
Engineman 2nd Class, Thomas E. Davis of South Mansfield, LA
Seaman 2nd Class, Paul J. Harris, Cincinnati, OH
Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, Andrew Munson, St. Paul, MN
Engineman 2nd Class, James F. Rochet of Blue Lake, CA
Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, Frazier O. Thomas of Charleston, WV

Excerpt from the map "Summary of Enemy Mining Activities on the U.S. Atlantic Coast" showing locations of mines found off the coast of Long Island, New York through 17 February 1919. U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office Map, now housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 37.

Excerpt from the map “Summary of Enemy Mining Activities on the U.S. Atlantic Coast” showing locations of mines found off the coast of Long Island, New York through 17 February 1919. U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office Map, now housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 37.

As for U-156, just two months after San Diego met her end at the hands of one of the submarine’s mines, the German raider was fittingly sunk in the Allied-laid Northern Barrage minefield on 25 September 1918, lost with all hands. She earned a bit of infamy for her attack on the small New England town of Orleans, Massachusetts, and several nearby merchant vessels.

Of San Diego‘s five sisters, all were sold for scrap in 1930–1931 in compliance with the limits of the London Naval Treaty. Speaking of scrap, in 1957 the Navy sold the rights to San Diego‘s wreck to a New York-based salvage company but six years later, after little work was done other than to loot small relics from her interior, the Navy canceled the award and reclaimed rights to the ship.

Located in shallow water, with the expanded use of SCUBA systems San Diego became a target for both skin divers and weekend unlicensed salvage operations. In 1965, her port propeller was removed without approval and subsequently lost. In 1973, her starboard prop was found to be detached.

As noted by the Navy, “Due to a combination of recreational divers going to extremes to secure artifacts (at least six people have died diving on the site) and professional rivalries between dive boat operators, the Navy was prompted to revisit the site and pursue further action to protect San Diego and other Navy wrecks being exploited.”

In 1992, the Coast Guard implemented an exclusion zone around the wreck due to reports of live ordnance being salvaged from the site, making it effectively off-limits. In 1995, the Navy performed the first of several extensive surveys of the wreck and three years later the San Diego was added to the National Register of Historic Places. A 2004 law protected her from desecration as a war grave. In 2017, the USS San Diego Project was kicked off to extensively survey and protect the wreck.

Side scan sonar image of the wreck site of USS San Diego collected by Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 in June 2017 as part of a training operation. The ship rests upside down on the seabed, and the starboard side is shown, with the bow to the right of the image.

Side scan sonar image of the wreck site of USS San Diego collected by Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 in June 2017 as part of a training operation. The ship rests upside down on the seabed, and the starboard side is shown, with the bow to the right of the image.

There are currently some 229 artifacts within the San Diego Collection under the management of NHHC ranging from ceramics, electrical light fixtures and pieces of the ship’s silver service to an M1892 brass bugle, USN-marked brass padlocks, Mameluke sword and even wooden pistol grips for a Colt 1911. Almost all were recovered illegally by recreational– and in some cases commercial divers– going as far back as the 1950s and later surrendered to the Navy. Many are on display at the USS San Diego Exhibit in the National Museum of the US Navy, which opened last year.

Caption: 181108-N-GK939-0049 WASHINGTON (NNS) (Nov. 8, 2018) Guests look at artifacts in the USS San Diego exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy. Bugles were used aboard U.S. Navy ships to issue commands intended for the entire ship’s company. The bugle recovered from the wreck may have been used to call San Diego’s crew to General Quarters and then to abandon ship in the last thirty minutes of the cruiser’s life. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lindsay A. Preston/Released)

Caption: 181108-N-GK939-0049 WASHINGTON (NNS) (Nov. 8, 2018) Guests look at artifacts in the USS San Diego exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy. Bugles were used aboard U.S. Navy ships to issue commands intended for the entire ship’s company. The bugle recovered from the wreck may have been used to call San Diego’s crew to General Quarters and then to abandon ship in the last thirty minutes of the cruiser’s life. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lindsay A. Preston/Released)

In 2018, it was confirmed that the cruiser was sunk by a mine laid by U-156, putting persistent theories that she had been lost due to a coal bunker explosion or sabotage to rest. The event coincided with the 100th anniversary of San Diego’s sinking.

Retired Rear Admiral Samuel Cox, Director, Naval History and Heritage Command, speaks to Sailors aboard the USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) during a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the USS San Diego (ACR 6).

Retired Rear Admiral Samuel Cox, Director, Naval History and Heritage Command, speaks to Sailors aboard the USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) during a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the USS San Diego (ACR 6).

Finally, over the recent Memorial Day Weekend, U.S. Navy officials in conjunction with the city of New York and the United War Veterans Council, unveiled the USS San Diego plaque in Times Square in front of Father Duffy’s statue. The plaque features the names of the 6 sailors lost on that fateful day along with a profile of the ship, the largest U.S. Naval vessel lost in the Great War.

Photo: UWVC

Photo: UWVC

Specs:

Jane's 1914 entry on Pennsylvania class armored cruisers, California included

Jane’s 1914 entry on Pennsylvania class armored cruisers, California included

Displacement:
13,680 long tons (13,900 t) (standard)
15,138 long tons (15,381 t) (full load)
Length:
503 ft 11 in oa
502 ft pp
Beam: 69 ft 6 in
Draft: 24 ft 1 in (mean) 26 ft. 6 in (max)
Installed power:
16 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
23,000 ihp (17,000 kW)
2075 tons of coal
Propulsion:
2 × vertical triple expansion reciprocating engines
2 × screws
Speed:
22 kn, range 5000(10)
Complement: 80 officers, 745, enlisted, 64 Marines as designed (1,200 in 1918)
Armor: All Krupp and Harvey steel
Belt: 6 in (152 mm) (top & waterline)
5 in (127 mm) (bottom)
Deck: 1 1⁄2 in (38 mm) – 6 in (amidships)
4 in (102 mm) (forward & aft)
Barbettes: 6 in
Turrets: 6 – 6 1⁄2 in (165 mm)
Conning Tower: 9 in (229 mm)
Armament:
(as built)
4 × 8 in (203 mm)/40 caliber Mark 5 breech-loading rifles (BL)(2×2)
14 × 6 in (152 mm)/50 cal Mark 6 BL rifles
18 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 cal rapid-fire guns
12 × 3-pounder (47 mm (1.9 in)) Driggs-Schroeder guns
2 × 1-pounder (37 mm (1.5 in)) Driggs-Schroeder saluting guns
2 × 18 inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes (submerged)
(1918)
4 × 8 in/45 cal Mark 6 BL rifles (2×2)
18 × 3 in/50 cal rapid-fire guns
2 x 1 76/52 Mk X AAA

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Vale, Herman Wouk

As a kid, I was a naval film junkie and the War and Remembrance, and The Winds of War miniseries along with Humphrey Bogart’s The Caine Mutiny were standard fare. Who can ever forget the ultimate toxic skipper that was LCDR Philip “Old Yellowstain” Queeg?

With that, the bell should be rung at the passing of author, Pulitzer Prize-winner, and WWII destroyerman Herman Wouk who shipped out for that great Libo call in the sky at age 103 last Friday.

Born in 1915, Wouk, a 27-year-old radio dramatist, signed up for the U.S Navy Reserves shortly after Pearl Harbor and was soon bobbing around on the aging WWI-era destroyer-minesweeper (“any ship can be a minesweeper, once”) USS Zane (DMS-14).

USS Zane (DMS-14) Off San Francisco, California, 21 September 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-57504

USS Caine, err, I mean USS Zane (DMS-14), Off San Francisco, California, 21 September 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-57504

Wouk had a very active war, participating in eight invasions from New Georgia to Okinawa and later becoming XO of Zane‘s Clemson-class sistership, USS Southard (DD-207/DMS-10). While aboard the latter, he survived numerous kamikaze attacks and Typhoon Ida. Importantly, his fictional USS Caine was a destroyer-minesweeper in WWII whose pivotal “mutiny” scene revolves around a Pacific typhoon.

He said of his time in the Navy during the war, “I learned about machinery, I learned how men behaved under pressure, and I learned about Americans.”

Wouk reportedly passed in his sleep.

Be sure to have a nice bowl of strawberries sometime this week in his honor.

The hard-serving Bangor-class and the last Canadian loss of WWII

An unsung class of warship during WWII was the 59-vessel Bangor/Blyth/Ardrossan-class oceangoing minesweepers.

08.04. 1 Bangor Class Minesweeper 2

Despite their designation, these 600-ton/162-foot vessels carried a decent main gun (3-inch in RN service, 4-inch in the RCN) as well as ASW kit to include depth charges and listening gear to bust subs, making them something of a multi-purpose coastal escort that could also sweep mines.

They spent much of their time in harm’s way, with nearly a quarter of the class never seeing the end of the war.

Several were lost in their primary tasking, including HMS Clacton (J151), HMS Cromer (J128), HMS Felixstowe (J126) and HMS Cromarty (J09) all struck mines during clearing efforts in the Med in 1942-43, pointing out just how dangerous the mission was. Off Normandy, class member HMS Peterhead (J59) was similarly lost just two days after D-Day while HMCS Mulgrave (J313), who struck a mine off Le Havre, was so badly damaged she was never repaired.

When it came to fighting subs, HMCS Clayoquot (J174), HMCS Clayoquot (J174) and HMS Hythe (J194) were torpedoed and lost. Meanwhile, three whose names shall not be mentioned were captured by the Japanese when Hong Kong fell.

Post-War, they continued to serve in RN and Commonwealth service, as well as in the Turkish and French fleets well into the 1970s, in all, giving excellent service for such a humble maritime figure.

Which brings us to the subject today.

HMCS Esquimalt (J272) was a Bangor-class minesweeper that was sunk by U-190, a German U-Boat on 16 April 1945, making her the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during the Second World War (or since, for that matter).

HMCS Esquimalt J272 Via Canada Archives

Note her splinter mats, forward 12 pounder (76mm gun) and HF/DF radio gear

Tragically, she was lost just three weeks before VE-Day, proof that the Battle of the Atlantic remained very hot right until the end of the conflict– and then some.

Every year on the anniversary of her sinking, the 35-member Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy, accompanied by a Guard of Honour from Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt pay tribute to the crew of the lost minesweeper and the 39 souls still at sea with a moment of silence and wreath-laying in Esquimalt Memorial Park, where a cairn to the ship and crew has long been established.

This year’s ceremony will be held at 5:45 pm and is open to the public.

As for what became of U-190, that’s another story.

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