Category Archives: mine warfare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Day that would live in Infamy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midway

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

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

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

As noted by Combined Fleets:

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

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

DANFS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the War

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

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

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

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

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

From RADM Samuel J. Cox’s H-Gram 011:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue

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

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

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

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

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

USN 1131998 USS VIREO (MSC-205)

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

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

Specs:

Seagoing Minesweeper plan 1918 S-584-129

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

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Well Convoyed

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

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

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

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

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

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 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)

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

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! 

« Older Entries Recent Entries »