Category Archives: sadness

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022: Royal Dutch Shelling

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022: Royal Dutch Shelling

Here we see a sentry of the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (KNIL), the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, overlooking the lengthy coastline of what is today Indonesia, in January 1941. While this is a warship blog, and we’ll cover an ill-fated class of minesweepers of the Imperial Japanese Navy in it, the KNIL holds a special place in this week’s post, now 80 years after the fact.

But we’ll get to the Dutch colonial forces in a minute.

First, let’s talk about the Japanese No.13 class minesweepers.

Built at three domestic yards– Fujinagata, Mitsui Bussan, and Hitachi– the four original Project number I3A/No. 13s were small vessels, hitting the 533-ton mark on a 242-foot long hull. Capable of 20 knots on a pair of coal-fired Kampon boilers and triple expansion reciprocating engines, they could either sweep mines via traditional mechanical minesweeping gear (i.e., paravanes) or lay mines, capable of carrying 40 of the latter.

Outfitted as light escorts and sub chasers, they mounted a pair of 4.7″/45 3-Shiki light guns, a pair of heavy machine guns, and three dozen depth charges between racks and throwers.

 

The four units of the class all carried sequential numbers rather than names: W-13 (13-go), W-14 (14-go), W-15 (15-go), and W-16 (16-go).

W-13 scanned from Maru Special, V. 50, via Combined Fleets.

Completed in 1933 and 1934, all four gave quiet peacetime service in Japanese home waters. By June 1941, the quartet was collectively assigned to MineSweepDiv 11 in RADM (later VADM) Hirose Sueto’s 2nd Base Force in VADM Takahashi Ibo’s Third Fleet.

Sent to the Pescadores Islands in early December 1941, they were part of Operation “M,” the Japanese attack on the Philippines where they swept mines, escorted troopships and supported the landings around Luzon and the Lingayen Gulf.

After the New Year, with another invasion convoy loading up for operations further South, the four No. 13s made ready for a rendezvous with history.

Tarakan!

The island port city of Tarakan, on the Northeast corner of Borneo, today is home to more than a quarter-million inhabitants in Indonesia. Dating back over a thousand years to the old Tidong kingdom, the Dutch moved in in the 1860s and, noticing oil, by 1905 had formed Koninklijke Nederlandsche Petroleum Maatschappij— later dubbed Royal Dutch Shell– making Tarakan one of its primary fields.

By the 1920s, Tarakan was producing something like five million barrels of light sour crude oil a year. Something like 13 percent of Japan’s pre-WWII oil imports came from the port alone.

Boortorens op Tarakan, vermoedelijk van de N.V. Tarakan Petroleum Maatschappij, 1930s.

Olietanks van de Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij te Tarakan, 1930s.

Protecting all this was the KNIL.

The late 1930s recruiting posters for the KNIL, showing the pre-1938 uniform and the early WWII uniform, with the latter including a version of the M1936 helmet, complete with leather neck guard.

Formed in 1814, by 1929, the KNIL– a separate organization from the European-based Dutch military– numbered some 38,568 men, with Europeans accounting for about a fifth of that while native troops, heavily recruited from Christian Manadonese and Ambonese minorities, made up the balance.

The banner of the KNIL’s 7th Infantry Battalion (7e bataljon infanterie) that defended the island of Tarakan near Borneo against the Japanese in 1942. Note the M37 uniform with leather equipment, Hembrug Geweer M. 95 6.5mm “Dutch Mannlicher” carbines and distinctive klewang cutlasses that doubled as jungle machetes. The banner of the 7th was decorated in 1849 with the Military William Order. NIMH 2155_022352

As noted by Marc Lohnstein in his Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936-1942, besides oil, “The Dutch colony was a global exporter of strategic materials, providing 29 percent of the world’s rubber, 20 percent of its tin, and 97 percent of the anti-malarial drug quinine.”

With Japanese eyes on the colony, it was decided to ramp up the KNIL both in terms of men and equipment. By early 1942, after the fall of European Holland to the Germans, the force stood at some 122,600 men, evenly split between Europeans and Indonesians, with about a third of those being regulars and the remainder more recently joining the colors.

With klewangs and Mannlichers at the ready, KNIL in a hedgehog position in the field, so they can not be surprised from behind, Dutch East Indies (August 1, 1939) The force wore brown bamboo hats, turned up on the side, from 1912-33 when they switched to a more jungle friendly green color that they entered the war with in 1942.

Getting equipment was another challenge.

As the regular Dutch Army was howitzer-poor, the Navy saved the day and provided new (to them) coastal guns for the KNIL. With the disarmament/disposal of a half-dozen assorted “pantserdekschepen” protected cruisers built around the turn of the century, the Dutch Navy gifted the KNIL a stockpile of Krupp-made 5.9″/37cal, 4.7″/37cal, and 3″/40cal guns for use in shore-based coastal artillery (kustartillerie) emplacements. Low angled and slow to reload, they were simple to use, and shells were readily available. Further, as we shall see, they could still be effective.

Practice with a 7.5 cm gun. Probably aboard the minelayer Hr.Ms. Medusa (1911-1964) or Hr.Ms. Hydra (1900-1921). Image dated 1916. NIMH 2204-005-005

7.5 cm naval gun emplaced on Tarakan, early 1942. Note the overhanging tree cover, which made highly effective camouflage. 2158_037834

Rear of 12 Lang 37 kustgeschutdeck (12 cm L37, or 4.7″/37cal) gun, No. 1, aboard the protected cruiser (pantser-dekschip) Hr.Ms. Holland (1898-1920). NIMH 2158_040898

Dutch Army (Koninklijke Landmacht) coast artillery back in the Netherlands with a recycled 4.7″/37cal (12 cm Krupp) naval mount, around 1930. These were also used by the KNIL in the Dutch East Indies. NIMH 2155_007214

An old Krupp 15 Lang 40 kustgeschut (5.9″/37cal) naval mount in KNIL use, circa 1930s. These guns were often extensively camouflaged and emplaced in concrete batteries.

Native soldier of the Coastal and Anti-Aircraft Artillery Corps of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army in field uniform. (Inlandse soldaat van het Korps Kust- en Luchtdoelartillerie van het Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger in veldtenue.) 1938. NIMH 2155_082314b

Now, with the stage set, let us talk about the…

Battle of Tarakan island

Japan declared war on the Netherlands East Indies on 10 January 1942; and the Japanese invasion force was on the horizon, planning to hit the beaches at numerous places, assisted by parachute landings at strategic points.

The Dutch East Indies campaign, early 1942, with Tarakan, circled.

At Tarakan, KNIL Lt. Col. Simon de Waal had the 7th Battalion augmented by four coastal artillery batteries– two of ex-naval 3″/40s and two of 4.7″/37s. His only air power was a quartet of recently arrived Brewster Buffalos. The Dutch Navy was also on hand with a minelayer, the 1,300-ton Hr.Ms. Prins van Oranje and a few lumbering Dornier Do 24 flying boats. All told, the Dutch had about 1,200 men at Tarakan, not counting the sailors.

Heading their way was Maj. Gen. Shizuo Sakaguchi’s reinforced brigade that had previously taken Mindanao in the Philippines, standing about 6,000-strong– including a battalion of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Special Naval Landing Forces. Escorting the Sakaguchi force (loaded in 14 transports) was RADM Shoji Nishimura’s covering force including the Sendai-class light cruiser Naka, 10 destroyers, a dozen patrol craft/minesweepers (including all four No. 13s), and two large seaplane tenders. The operation was under the overall command of RADM Sueto Hirose, fresh off the success of the invasion of Batan and the Camiguin Islands in the Philippines.

Just after the Japanese declaration of war, a Dutch flying boat spotted the incoming task force over the horizon and De Waal ordered his engineers to set the oil fields alight. This, naturally, put Hirose, Nishimura, and Sakaguchi in a foul mood even before they started sending troops ashore in the predawn hours on 11 January under the illumination of thousands of tons of oil flickering in the red-black sky.

The ground combat was never in real doubt, with the inexperienced Dutch outnumbered 5:1 by better-equipped, combat-tested foot soldiers of the Empire. By noon on 12 January, De Waal had ordered his troops to lay down their arms after 36 hours of maneuvering and artillery duels across beaches, oil fields, and jungles. Sakaguchi only lost seven soldiers. Meanwhile, Prins van Oranje, attempting to withdraw during the night of the 11th, was caught by a patrolling Japanese destroyer and gunboat and sent to the bottom, with heavy casualties.

However…

CDR Yamazumi Wakito’s MineSweepDiv 11’s W-13, W-14, W-15, W-16, along with CDR Kanaoka Kunizo’s MineSweepDiv 30’s W-17 and W-18 (near sisters of the No. 13s) were sent to clear the Mengacu Channel between the island of Tarakan and the coast of Borneo.

What Wakito and Kunizo did not know was that there were still batteries of 3- and 4.7-inch guns on the tip of the island that hadn’t gotten the word that the fight was over, due to cut telegraph lines.

Three of De Waal’s four coastal artillery batteries were located at Peningki and Karoengan on the South West coast of Tarakan Island with Peningki mounting two three-gun 3-inch batteries under CAPT J.W. Storm van Leeuwen while Karoengan had four 4.7-inch guns. It was the latter, under reserve LT Josephus Petrus Aloysius– a South African Boer from Adrichem who volunteered for military service at the Dutch counsel in Pretoria in 1940– who caused the most havoc.

As detailed on Combined Fleets:

Rear Admiral Hirose’s forces are warned that the Dutch coastal artillery battery at the south end of the island may not be aware of the Dutch offer to surrender. Hirose’s force is cautioned that “it would be dangerous to proceed to the Tarakan pier”, but the warning is ignored. Six minesweepers enter the bay and are fired on by the Dutch battery. LT Miyake Tadayoshi’s W-13 and LT Yoshimoto Yoshikuni’s W-14 are hit by 4.7 inch shells and sink with most of their crews.

Besides the two minesweepers sunk, at least one landing craft was also hit by a Dutch shell, killing a total of 156 Japanese sailors in the action– by far the bulk of the losses in the battle for Tarakan.

Sea Battle of Tarakan Island, Japanese propaganda painting by Minoru Tanabe, 1942.

In reprisal for the engagement between the Japanese mine craft and the ancient Dutch batteries, after the final surrender the next day, the deadly accurate crews were executed on 19 January. The body count and story of the condemned men varies widely. 

As detailed by one source:

The Japanese naval commander promised amnesty for the gun crews and based on this promise the Dutch Island Commander managed to persuade the gun crews to surrender. The Japanese Army Commander on the other hand was too brutal to have the prisoners turned over to him. So, he ordered to tie the men into small groups of three. Sometime later they were thrown into the water where all 219 Dutch soldiers drowned.

Another report is more graphic but has a lower body count, closely akin to the number of Japanese killed on the minesweepers:

Not long hereafter a Japanese interpreter and lieutenant Colonel Simon de Waal announced to the troops assembled at the Kampong Baru barracks, that the Japanese Army needed approximately 150 men of the POW’s to be transported to the Island of Java where they would be deployed in navigation operations and assisting in the transport of military arms and equipment. Every single POW assembled at the barrack had clearly heard this announcement. Alas, the truth turned out differently which came to light two days later.

After the Dutch officer and the interpreter had finished their announcement, about 150 men of the POW’s (which officially was determined as 168 men later) were horded into Japanese Army trucks, without any registration or identification, and taken to the harbor area. Here they were ordered onto a Japanese naval vessel. This vessel was then directed to the first light buoy, where on the same morning the two Japanese Destroyers [minesweepers] were sunk by the Dutch artillery.

The Japanese then stopped the engine and ordered the POWs to line up at the railing of the vessel. They were then all blindfolded and had both hands tied behind their backs. Subsequently every POW was killed by bayonet and thrust into the sea….

Donald Kehn, in his work, In the Highest Degree Tragic: The Sacrifice of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in the East Indies during World War II, covers Tarakan in detail and holds that the men of the KNIL selected for reprisal were cast from the deck of the cruiser Naka, Nishimura’s flagship

Naka went on to be sunk west of Truk by three waves of SB2C Helldivers and TBF Avengers from the carrier USS Bunker Hill and TBFs of VT-25 of the carrier Cowpens, 18 February 1944.

While the local Indonesian troops were eventually paroled in an olive branch towards Tokyo’s imperialist Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere which would replace European colonies with those controlled by Japan, the Europeans captured in the Dutch East Indies would spend the rest of the war in a series of internments and mass executions.

Of the 42,000 European POWs taken by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies in 1942, almost one in five (8,200) would die before liberation. The locals weren’t much better off under their new Emperor with an estimated 2.5 million Indonesians perishing during the war from famine while 200,000 romusha forced laborers were exported out of the colony, with many of those simply disappearing in the process.

Meanwhile, the sinking of W-13 and W-14 was a big boost to the Allies back home, with the New York Times on 14 January running on the center of the front page: 

Tarakan, off Northeastern Borneo, has fallen to a Japanese assault of overwhelming power, but the one prize for which the invader has paid so heavily in ships, planes, and men — the island’s oil -is still many a month out of his grasp, it was announced tonight.

Epilogue

Besides the 4 million barrels of fuel oil and aviation gasoline found in abandoned Allied storage tanks scattered throughout the region, Dutch East Indies crude oil became crucial to the Japanese war effort. According to Robert Goralski and Russell W. Freeburg in their excellent work, Oil & War: How the Deadly Struggle for Fuel in WWII meant Victory or Defeat, “In all, the captured fields could produce 116,000 barrels a day, enough to make Japan self-sufficient in oil.”

In addition to shipping oil to Singapore for use locally by the IJN throughout the Coral Sea and Guadalcanal campaigns, much was sent back to Japan directly, keeping the country in the war. Even as late as the summer of 1943, with the fields under constant air attack from B-24s, mines being sown off the terminals by RAAF PBY Catalina flying boats out of Darwin, and the tankers being sent to the bottom by Allied submarines at an unsustainable rate, Goralski notes that “Despite the shipping difficulties, about 90 percent of the oil consumed in Japan itself, by then 74,000 barrels a day, was coming from Borneo’s fields and refineries.”

Finally, once the vice had constricted this flow to a trickle, Goralski observed that “The crucial campaigns of 1944 were lost by the Japanese primarily because of no fuel.”

Even though the oil was no longer getting out, the Dutch East Indies were still under Japanese occupation. The Borneo Campaign in 1945 led to the eventual liberation of Tarakan. Operation Oboe One saw the Australian 9th Division’s 26th Brigade group– along with the “Free Dutch” the Ambonese 3e Compagnie, Technisch Bataljon, KNIL– totaling a combined 12,000 men, hit the beaches at Tarakan on 1 May 1945. The opposing Japanese force, just 2,200-strong, was outnumbered over 5:1, a familiar ratio to 1942, only reversed. Within three weeks, the principal fighting was over and only 250 Japanese were captured, the rest killed, missing, or gone underground.

The NIMH holdings have some 300+ images relating to “Tarakan” in their files, with most coming from the liberation and its immediate aftermath.

This one is my favorite:

“KNIL troops have been dropped off on the landing beach of Lingkas with some vessels of the invasion fleet and are going inland,” Tarakan, East Borneo, Dutch East Indies, May 1945. NIMH 2155_019811

Meanwhile, the old batteries were captured relatively intact by Australian commandos, still with pre-1940 shells in the ready mag.

“Tarakan Island, 1945-05-27. One of Two 7.5cm Krupp Essen Dutch coastal defense guns made 1913 taken by a patrol comprising members of 8th Section and C Troop Hq, 2/4th Commando Squadron (attached to the Australian 9th Division), which penetrated to the Cape Djoeata Area.” 2/4th CS saw extensive service during the liberation of Tarakan, suffering heavy casualties with 56 men being killed or wounded in the operation– more than half its ranks. AWM photos.

The Japanese also found a use for some of the old 5.9-inch shells.

“Tarakan Island, 1945-05-22. A Japanese booby trap made from a captured 5-inch Dutch naval shell set at the edge of the path on the Elbow Feature. If exploded, it would cause a landslide of a large section of the road.” AWM 108083.

Of the two remaining No. 13s, W-16 was blown apart by a mine at Celebes in 1943 while the last of the class, W-15, caught a torpedo at Kyushu in 1945 from the Balao-class submarine USS Tilefish (SS-307) and never sailed again.

Of the three Japanese officers in primary command at Tarakan, RADM Sueto Hirose ended the war as a vice admiral in charge of the base force at Sabang, surrendered his sword to the British at Malaya, and died in 1968, having escaped war crimes scrutiny. Likewise, the Army commander, Sakaguchi, survived the war as well, and “It is unclear whether Sakaguchi was ever brought to account for this atrocity. The third senior commander at Tarakan in 1942, RADM Nishimura, head of the covering force, was killed in the Surigao Strait in October 1944 when his flagship, the battleship Yamashiro, was sunk after being hit multiple times from the U.S. battleships.

Meanwhile, De Waal emerged from a Japanese POW camp to become known as “The Hero of Tarakan” and became a key figure in the war between the Netherlands and Indonesia that lasted between 1945 and 1949, rising to the rank of major general. When the KNIL was disbanded in 1950, he retired. De Waal was knighted and received the Militaire Willemsorde, the highest Dutch award for valor, for Tarakan. He died in 1970 at the age of 74. 

The Loenen Memorial Cemetery in the Netherlands, formed in 1949, has a monument to 215 men of the KNIL thrown from the Japanese cruiser Naka. The names of the known are listed while 125 unknowns, mostly Indonesians, are lost to history.

The monument was dedicated by the Tarakan Remembrance Association in 2012

In 2019, the Dutch Defense Ministry presented posthumous Mobilization War Crosses to the families of seven who had been identified in recent years.

Finally, while it is very likely the Japanese wrecks were long ago stolen by scrap iron pirates notorious in the region, the Dutch guns of the Tarakan battery, marked “1902 Fried. Krupp” on the breech, are still standing guard, 80 years later.


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Hull Pals Toughing it Out

And you thought you were cold!

9 January 1918, “a soldier of the 12th Battalion [aka Hull Sportsmen, or 3rd Hull Pals], East Yorkshire Regiment, on sentry duty on the firestep of a snow-covered trench in the Arleux sector near Roclincourt, France.”

Photo by 2nd LT Thomas Keith Aitken, IWM (Q 10620).

Part of Kitchener’s Pals Battalions of the “New Armies,” the Hull Sportsmen picked up its nickname easy enough as it was originally a service battalion formed at Hull on 2 September 1914– during the Battle of the Marne– by Lord Nunburnholme and the East Riding TF Association. Also known as the Hull Tradesmen’s Battalion, it joined the 10th Battalion, East Yorkshire under orders of 92nd Brigade, 31st Division, and shipped out for Egypt in late 1915, just missing the joy that was Gallipoli.

More needed on the Western Front than in the push against the Ottomans in Palestine, it moved to France in March 1916 and took part in the butchery that was the Somme followed by the Arras Offensive in 1917.

The Medical Officer (of the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the 12th (Service) Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment (92nd Brigade, 31st Division)) bandaging the face wound of a man of his battalion in the line in the Arleux sector near Roclincourt[Arras], 9 January 1918. Imperial War Museum image Q11545

Suffering extremely heavy casualties, the Hull Sportsmen were disbanded on 8 February 1918, roughly a month after the above image was snapped. Its survivors who could still serve were folded into other units as replacements while those that couldn’t were sent back home.

Three Volleys for T/5 Lawrence Brooks

Lawrence Brooks, believed to be the country’s oldest World War II veteran, died yesterday at the age of 112.

Born in Louisiana and raised in Mississippi, he trained at Camp Shelby with the 91st Engineer Battalion, a unit that at the time was made up of 1,193 black enlisted and 25 white officers, then shipped out on the RMS Queen Mary in 1942 for Australia, where he spent the war in the Pacific alternating between that island continent and the Papua/New Guinea front, having to dive in foxholes at one point to avoid incoming Japanese strafing attacks.

After the war, he settled in New Orleans and worked a forklift for four decades, living in a shotgun house in Central City.

“I would like to be remembered as a strong man,” Brooks said in a 2021 interview. “A good Soldier.”

He will be buried in a reproduction WWII summer uniform he received in November to replace the remaining original kit he lost in Hurricane Katrina.

He is survived by five children, 13 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren.

Prince of Wales, Repulse Remembered

The preserved bells of the backbone of Force Z, the battlewagons HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse – sunk on 10 December 1941 – have been put side-by-side on display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth to mark the 80th anniversary of the tragedy.

The bells had spent six decades at the bottom of the Pacific.

(MoD Crown Copyright)

At least 842 men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines died when the two capital ships were lost to the Japanese air attack off Malaysia – just three days after the shock of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some 330 men went down with Prince of Wales, 512 with the Repulse.

The bells were recovered 20 years ago by Royal Navy divers – with the full support of survivors – as the wrecks were being plundered by unscrupulous salvagers and souvenir hunters.

“We hope our visitors take a moment to reflect on the enormity of the loss,” said Victoria Ingles, senior curator at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. “Ship’s bells are held in great affection by the crew and it was so important that both were retrieved, with permission, from the wreck sites in 2002. Their display is a fitting tribute to the many lives lost.”

Mirage Before the Storm, 80 Years Ago Today

The new C-in-C of the Eastern Fleet, Adm. Sir Thomas Spencer Vaughan “Tom” Phillips GBE, KCB, DSO, (short guy, hands on hips) watches his flagship, the brand new (and still not fully complete) King George V-class HMS Prince of Wales, fresh from catching the Bismarck, berth at Singapore on 4 December 1941. The second officer on the Admiral’s right (holding briefcase by his side) is Chief of Staff Rear Admiral A F E Palliser.

Prince of Wales, being the flagship of Force Z, was given the best berth alongside the West Wall of the Naval Base, opposite the main office buildings. Meanwhile, her companion, the Renown-class battlecruiser HMS Repulse was left moored out in the stream like some sort of ugly cousin.

It was a happy time, as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific” seemed even more impenetrable with the arrival of the two battlewagons. Surely the Japanese would take notice and steer clear, looking for easier targets. 

Just six days later, both of the proud capital ships would be on the bottom with a loss of 840 of HMs officers and men – including Tom Phillips and flagship captain John Leach. The spell was broken. 

Palliser, meanwhile, would survive, go on to command the British part of the ill-fated ABDACOM, then ride a desk at Trincomalee and New Delhi before ending the war as Fourth Sea Lord– Chief of Supplies and Transport.

How to Borrow a Relic of the USS Arizona

Since the USS Arizona Superstructure Relic Program (ASRP) began, 150 pieces of the ill-fated battleship have been loaned out to museums, Veterans groups, and non-profits. To be sure, this is not a program to give individuals a souvenir of the lost warship– the relics belong to every American– but to provide tangible pieces of the vessel to provide a symbol of what was lost on that Day Which Will Live in Infamy.

Similarly, several 3-inch sections have recently been selected, preserved, and presented to 138 active-duty units of the Pacific Fleet, to carry on Arizona’s legacy. 

The ASRP has taken care to ensure the relics are available to inspire future generations. Each relic was preserved and mounted in a display case built and sealed with shipboard safe materials. Additionally, guidelines were created to ensure the relics will be passed-down when a ship or submarine is decommissioned.

Via the NHHC:

USS Arizona (BB 39) is the final resting place for many of the ship’s 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. Approximately 1,100 Sailors and Marines remain entombed within the ship’s hull. The ship was decommissioned in 1942. After the ship was sunk at her moorings during the attack, significant portions of the ship were salvaged for re-use among the fleet during the war. Ammunition, armament, electric motors and large amounts of scrap metal were recovered.

The final removal of material took place in 1961, in order to construct the memorial over the ship. This last portion removed came from the aft deckhouse superstructure of the ship and was brought to its final resting place on a quiet, remote parcel of land on Waipio Point located in Pearl Harbor. The Arizona Superstructure Relic Program (ASRP) was developed by the Navy to address requests for pieces of USS Arizona stored on Waipio Point while it is still possible to retrieve them.

The Department of the Navy, recognizing the historical value in the superstructure, placed the removed pieces under the jurisdiction of the Naval Historical Center in Washington D.C. (now Naval History and Heritage Command – NHHC). The Navy later notified Congress in 1994 that it intended to donate pieces of this deckhouse to qualifying organizations in accordance with federal law. To date over 150 relics pieces have been distributed through the United States as well as the Imperial War Museum in London.

Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CPF), initiated a program to provide USS Arizona (BB 39) superstructure relic pieces to U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) ships and submarines on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 2021 in coordination with the NHHC ASRP, designed to reinforce the importance of the Navy’s history and heritage to naval personnel aboard ships, submarines, and other commands, signified in the Arizona relic piece.

Coast Guard says goodbye to their beloved 52s

Built at a cost of $235,927, the Coast Guard’s four Victory-class 52-foot steel-hulled motor lifeboats have earned their keep, stationed off the rugged and dangerous coasts of the Pacific Northwest since the 1950s and 60s. Built at the Coast Guard Yard after a century of experience with surfboats and life-saving vessels, they had a design that just wouldn’t quit.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian:

All four of the steel 52’ MLBs have served their entire careers at lifeboat stations out on the Pacific Northwest coast where their ruggedness and long endurance are needed for the typically high surf conditions that exist there, along with the operational need to tow disabled fishing craft over longer distances and over inlet bars. These lifeboats have all survived multiple capsizing episodes, as well as pitch-poling incidents. The only criticism that has ever been mentioned of these craft is their relatively slow speed, but in the heavy seas and surf in which they typically operate, this has not been viewed as a significant detriment.

Now, after being sidelined earlier this year on “restrictive duty,” these indestructible craft are in their final stages of being decommissioned and have been towed away from their familiar stations.

The Victory, Intrepid, Invincible, and Invincible were towed to Ilwaco, Washington to be pulled out of the water for the last time, shrink-wrapped, and removed from service. 

Retired Master Chief Thomas McAdams reflects on his experiences aboard these magnificent boats as expressed in a poem he wrote inspired by their decommissioning, to the heartbreak of Surfmen everywhere. 

Lost Battalion Actual

Other than Sgt. York, Eddie Rickenbacker, and Pershing himself, perhaps the best-known American Soldier of the Great War was a bookish lawyer from New York City, Charles Whittlesey.

The bespectacled 33-year-old unassuming Harvard-grad– a reformed Socialist of all things– took leave from his succesful Manhattan law firm partnership (Pruyn & Whittlesey) and joined the forming National Army for the great push against the Kaiser in May 1917.

Within a few months, with no prior military service, Whittlesey was a captain and then a major, placed in command of 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry Regiment, a unit with no prior lineage and few veterans. The battalion shipped out for Europe as part of the 77th “Liberty” Division, so-called due to the Statue of Liberty patch it carried, a reference to the fact that its men hailed largely from NYC and its boroughs and trained on Long Island in the summer and winter of 1917. Because of this, it was often referred to as “The Metropolitan Division and “The Times Square Division.”

Receiving additional training from British cadres in France, the 308th entered the trenches in the dreaded Baccarat Sector in July 1918.

After moves to the Vesle front and a subsequent shift to the Argonne Forest to participate in the Oise-Aisne campaign, the regiment was embroiled in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive where, overextended with no flank support, nine companies– mostly of 1-308 with other elements of the 77th– under Whittlesey and Captain George McMurtry found themselves encircled in a ravine by at least two enemy regiments (IR122 and IR254) behind German lines following a counterattack.

Holding out for five days under hellish conditions in the pocket before they were finally relieved, the group became known to history as “The Lost Battalion,” later the subject of at least two films of the same name.

“Our Famous ‘Lost Battalion’ in the Argonne Forest. Seven hundred of our boys were surrounded by thousands of Huns. For thirty-six hours they had had no food. Death seemed inevitable. In answer to the enemy’s messenger with an offer to spare them if they would surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Whittlesey roared his historic “Go to Hell!” –which was at once “refusal, malediction, and prophecy.” By Frank Schoonover.

For much more detail on The Lost Battalion, see the extensive piece over at the WWI Centennial’s site.

Hailed for their five days against all odds and refusal to surrender, Whittlesey and McMurtry received the Medal of Honor, feted as “Heroes of the Charlevaux Ravine.”

Whittlesey’s citation:

Although cut off for five days from the remainder of his division, Major Whittlesey maintained his position, which he had reached under orders received for an advance, and held his command, consisting originally of 46 officers and men of the 308th Infantry and of Company K of the 307th Infantry, together in the face of superior numbers of the enemy during the five days. Major Whittlesey and his command were thus cut off, and no rations or other supplies reached him, in spite of determined efforts which were made by his division. On the 4th day Major Whittlesey received from the enemy a written proposition to surrender, which he treated with contempt, although he was at the time out of rations and had suffered a loss of about 50 percent in killed and wounded of his command and was surrounded by the enemy.

When it came to adjusting back to the breakout of peace following the Armistice, Whittlesey became something of a hounded rock star of the day on his return to the City. Constantly hunted down to appear at events and engagements, he worked with the Red Cross and was installed as a colonel of the 108th Infantry Regiment in the NYANG. He was likewise a lightning rod for the demobilized veterans of the 77th who found themselves cast off by the Army with no support in a slack post-war economy.

He told a confidant in 1919 that, “Not a day goes by but I hear from some of my old outfit, usually about some sorrow or misfortune. I cannot bear it much more.” To another, following a Red Cross dinner in which he made the now-expected speech about his experience with the Lost Battalion, “Raking over the ashes like this revives all the horrible memories. I can’t remember when I had a good night’s sleep.”

The final straw, it seems, was serving as a pallbearer for the Unknown Soldier at Arlington on Armistice Day 1921.

He was haunted by the thought that the nameless Soldier in the casket could have been one of the 63 members of his command that disappeared in the Charlevaux Ravine, telling McMurtry, who was also at the ceremony, “George, I should not have come here. I cannot help but wonder if that may not be one of my men from the Pocket. I shall have nightmares tonight and hear the wounded screaming once again.”

With that, just 13 days after the interment, the most eligible bachelor in Manhattan got his affairs in order and, on 24 November 1921– 100 years ago today– boarded the banana boat SS Toloa, bound for Cuba. He had told no one of his sudden trip to the Caribbean, only mentioning to his housekeeper that he would be gone for a few days over the Thanksgiving weekend. 

Two days later, he disappeared after dinner, joining the missing of the Great War in a very real sense. 

As noted by Arlington National Cemetery: 

In Whittlesey’s stateroom, crew members found a letter to the captain requesting that his belongings be thrown into the sea. They also found nine letters addressed to relatives and friends. The letters had not been written on the ship’s stationary, suggesting that the colonel had composed them prior to his trip. After an investigation, the U.S. consul in Havana determined that Charles Whittlesey had “drown[ed] at sea by own intent,” with “no remains found.”

The Lost Battalion marker by the American Battlefield Monuments Commission. 

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 100

On 11 November 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery was installed as a solemn final resting place for one of America’s unidentified service members.

The mortal remains of that initial Soldier, whose identity was only “Known but to God,” was selected from unknown Americans who gave up their lives in France during the Great War. Over 38,000 Americans were buried in French soil at military cemeteries in the Meuse-Argonne, St. Mihiel, Somme, and Aisne-Marne regions. One set of unidentified remains were selected from each cemetery for review.

From those four sets of identical flag-draped caskets, a decorated GI who had served in the conflict and had been twice wounded, Sgt. Edward F. Younger, selected one to become the Unknown Soldier by resting a bouquet of white roses on its cover. The Unknown was then taken to the port of Le Harve under a ceremonial escort provided by French and American troops and attended by thousands of locals along the way.

André Maginot, the French Minister of Pensions, presented the French Legion of Honor– the country’s highest order of merit– to the Unknown Soldier.

French Minister of Pensions M. Maginot pinning the Cross of Legion of Honor upon the casket.in Le Havre, France, October 25, 1921. Maginot was a Great War veteran himself, who as a sergeant had both of his legs shattered in the conflict. (Bibliotheque nationale de France)

The casket was carried aboard Dewey’s old flagship, the armored cruiser USS Olympia (C-6; CA-15; CL-15; IX-40) on 25 October by Sailors and Marines while the warship’s band played both the American and French national anthems as well as Chopin’s “Funeral March.”

Unknown Soldier’s body going aboard USS Olympia, Le Havre, France, October 25, 1921. The original image is from the collections of the Marine Corps, #521763.

Installed on one of the cruiser’s topside hatches, the Unknown was guarded by Marines and Sailors for the voyage across the Atlantic to the Washington Navy Yard, where Olympia arrived on 9 November.

Casket of the Unknown Soldier in its transporting case on the after end of the superstructure of USS Olympia. (Original image is from the collections of the Marine Corps, #521778.)

USS Olympia (CL-15, originally Cruiser # 6) Arriving at the Washington Navy Yard, D.C., with the remains of the Unknown Soldier, 9 November 1921. She had transported the remains from France. Among the destroyers in the background, immediately beyond Olympia’s bow, are: USS Barney (DD-149) and USS Blakeley (DD-150). Courtesy of Edward Page, 1979. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 89731

A detail of Marines and sailors lift the body of the unknown soldier as the funeral party disembarks USS Olympia (CL-15) at Washington, DC after its trip from Le Harve, France. (Original image is from the collections of the Marine Corps, #521811)

There, the remains were transferred to the escort of the Army.

After laying in state at the Capitol Rotunda for two days and being visited by 90,000 people, the casket was transported to Arlington on Armistice Day, celebrating the end of the Great War that had occurred three years prior on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

The procession from the Capitol to Arlington included several military units to include those from nine allied nations as well as nurses who served in France, while Gen. John Persing, who commanded the American forces in Europe during the war, walked behind the horse-drawn funeral caisson.

Honors rendered that day included the presentation of the Medal of Honor by President Harding. Four military chaplains (to include a rabbi) participated in the funeral service. A national two-minute silence augmented the thousands in attendance. Flowers and wreaths were massed while salutes were fired. Pershing deposited some soil from France into the tomb. The chief of the Crow Nation rested his coup stick across the tomb as a tribute to the fallen and presented his war bonnet.

Today, Armistice Day is known as Veterans Day and the Tomb has had other Unknowns interred to include the World War II and Korean War Unknowns in 1958 and 1984, respectively. Guarded originally by details from nearby Fort Myer and, since 1948, by an elite group of Sentinels provided by the 3rd Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard,” the Tomb has been reverently secured 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, no matter the weather.

In honoring the 100th anniversary of the interment of the WWI Unknown Soldier, for the first time in a century, the public has been allowed entrance to the normally off-limits Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Plaza this week to place flowers near the memorial.

On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the public is invited to observe a joint full honors procession, meant to replicate elements of the World War I Unknown Soldier’s 1921 funeral procession. Following this, there will be a combined services flyover of the cemetery and the National Mall in conjunction with the Armed Forces Full Honors Wreath Ceremony to honor the Unknowns and the centennial of the Tomb, set for 11 a.m.

For more information on the Tomb, here is a tour of the display room in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery.

As for Olympia, she lingered on in Naval service, decommissioned in 1922 and preserved as a relic/floating office space at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard until 1957 when she was stricken and transferred to a local non-profit for use as a civilian-run museum ship, a task she continues to perform today.

A lead plaque was installed on the cruiser’s hatch in the 1920s where the Unknown had rested for the trip from France but, sadly, is not on the ship today, being removed when she was decommissioned. However, it is preserved at the NMUSN. 

A commemorative plaque, part of the exhibit of the cruiser USS Olympia at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy (NMUSN), hangs on display during a symposium held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Unknown Soldier to U.S. soil after WWI. The plaque identifies where the casket containing the remains of the Unknown Soldier was placed aboard the cruiser USS Olympia during the voyage from Le Havre, France to Washington, D.C. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jalen D. Walton)

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

Here we see a member of the 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” Active-class Coast Guard cutters rushed into completion to deal with bootleggers during Prohibition, the USCGC Alert (WSC-127), as she appeared in 1950 coming back into her homeport at Morro Bay, still largely in her WWII configuration. These choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in times of war and Alert did her part during the conflict.

She is back in the news this week, and not in a good way.

The class

These cutters were intended for trailing the “Blacks,” slow, booze-hauling mother ship steamers of “Rum Row” along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. Constructed for $63,173 each, they originally had a pair of 6-cylinder 150hp Superior or Winton diesel engines that allowed them a stately speed of 10 knots, max, but allowed a 4,000nm, theoretically Atlantic-crossing range– an outstanding benefit for such a small craft.

For armament, they carried a single 3″/23 cal deck gun for warning shots– dated even for the 1920s– as well as a small arms locker that included everything from Tommy guns to .38s and M1903 Springfields. In a time of conflict, it was thought they could tote listening gear and depth charge racks left over from the Great War, but we’ll get to that later.

Taking advantage of one big contract issued on 26 May 1926, they were all built within 12 months by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey (although often listed as “American Brown Boveri” due to their owners at the time, the Swiss Brown Boveri corporation).

Named like the rest of the class in honor of former historic cutters, our craft recycled the moniker long held by the Coast Guard and its preceding Lighthouse Service, Revenue Marine, and Revenue Cutter Services.

A long line of Alerts

The first Alert was a 58-foot, 75-ton schooner built by Christian Bergh of New York in 1818 for $6,000. Constructed of live oak, red cedar, and locust, she spent her career policing waters off New England. She was armed with a 32-pound carronade said by some to have been recovered from the wrecked sixth-rate flush-decked sloop-of-war HMS Hermes

Revenue Cutter Alert (1818)

The second Alert was a larger, 74-foot, 120-ton schooner that entered service in 1829. Carrying six guns– a mix of 12-pounder, 4-pounders, and 3-pounders– she participated in both the Nullification Controversy in 1832 and the Mexican War in addition to the service’s efforts to suppress the illegal slave trade and piracy at sea.

The third Alert (2 x 12 pounders) was also a schooner, purchased from consumer trade in 1855, that was later seized in January 1861 while at the docks in Mobile, Alabama by “state authorities.” Up-armed with a 32-pounder, her career with the Confederate Navy was short, as she was captured by the powerful Merrimack-class screw frigate USS Roanoke the following October and scuttled.

The fourth Alert was a small (40-foot, 10-ton) centerboard sloop that entered service in 1877 and served off the East Coast until 1896, one of the service’s final all-sail-powered vessels.

The fifth Alert was a 62-foot, 19-ton wooden-hulled steam launch acquired by the Revenue Cutter Service in November 1900. She spent seven years on quarantine duties out of Gulfport, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama when her crew transferred to a newly constructed vessel of the same name.

The sixth Alert, a 61-foot, 35-ton steel-hulled steam launch built at Mobile in 1907 was a regular in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound, hauling around National Guard troops to and from the local coastal forts and operating directly under Navy control during the Great War, keeping an eye out for the Kaiser’s submarines. She was sold in 1920 then the subject of our tale, the seventh USCGC Alert, picked up the mantle.

Meet WSC-127

The seventh Alert was placed in commission on 27 January 1927 then proceeded to her first homeport at Boston, “holding sea trials, formation drills, anchorage drills, and gunnery practice en route.” The new cutter continued operating out of Boston as a unit of Division One, Offshore Patrol Force, a Prohibition enforcement unit, until mid-November 1928, when she was ordered to the West Coast, arriving at Oakland in early 1929.

Transiting from New London, Connecticut to California was a 6,000-mile sortie via the Panama Canal that involved not only Alert but her sisterships Bonham, Ewing, Morris, and McLane.

As Prohibition fizzled and the need for Alert to stalk “Blacks” dissolved, her homeport shifted to Ketchikan, Alaska Territory, in May 1931. She would spend the rest of the decade there involved in the Bering Sea Patrol and other enterprises that came with service in the rough and tumble Northern Pacific frontier.

While her homeport changed to Alameda in 1940, she remained on call for Bering Sea patrols as needed. However, war intervened and, after the Coast Guard was shifted to the Navy Department’s control that year, she was assigned to the Navy’s Western Sea Frontier for the conflict.

This saw her armament boosted to include a 40mm Bofors, a pair of 20mm Oerlikons, depth charges, and (eventually) radar and sonar fits. By the end of the war, Hedgehog devices were installed. 

“A Coast Guard Gun Crew On The Alert, 1/6/1943.” The gun is a single 20mm/80 Oerlikon with a 60-round drum mag. USCG photo in the National Archives 26-G-01-06-43(3)

The 125-foot Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors crowding her bow. Alert and her sisters had a similar appearance.

Once the panic of 1941 and 1942 subsided, Alert’s wartime duty along the California coast consisted primarily of keeping an eye peeled for wayward mines and missing aircrews.

125 ft. Active-class “Buck and a Quarters,” via 1946 Janes

Postwar, in 1949 Alert was stationed at Morro Bay, where she would spend a decade and participate in the notable SAR cases of DeVere Baker’s series of Lehi rafts that aimed to make it from the West Coast to Hawaii.

Alert also made the rescue of one Owen H. “Curley” Lloyd, a Bodega Bay commercial fisherman, and his deckhand Manual Texiera, whose 50-foot longliner, Norwhal, was lost following a collision with a whale.

In 1959, then moved to San Diego, where she would finish her career. This concluding chapter in her service– by then Alert had been with the Coast Guard for over four decades– was hectic.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

An estimated 90 percent of her underway time is spent assisting distressed small craft skippers. The remainder is generally allotted to disabled members of San Diego’s commercial fishing fleet. Most of the cutter’s 65 to 70 rescue cases each year emanate within a 25-mile radius of Point Loma. During 1966, three emergencies involving American boatmen necessitated runs along nearly the entire length of Baja California’s 750-mile peninsula. Carrying a crew of three officers and 25 enlisted men, the 290-ton Alert boats a beam of 24-feet. While cruising at 10 knots, she has a range of 2,300 miles. Her twin 400-horsepower diesel engines can develop a top speed of 19 knots.

A former crewman noted that the aforementioned press release was overly optimistic about her top speed. The crewman noted: “Now I spent two tours for a total of 4 years as her radioman back in the late 50s and mid 60s and having been qualified as an underway OOD I can tell you for sure she would not get a kick over 13 kts.”

Alert was decommissioned 10 January 1969 and sold before the year was out to Highland Laboratories of San Francisco for $30,476.19, which was a rather good amount of coin for a well-worn vessel that amounted to about half of her original construction cost.

The eighth Alert was soon to keep the name warm and was commissioned on Coast Guard Day—4 August 1969– while the seventh Alert was still awaiting disposal. That vessel, a 210-foot Reliance-class medium endurance cutter (WMEC-630) is still in service 52 years later!

“U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alert (WMEC 630) sails near Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, while participating in a three-day North American Maritime Security Initiative exercise, March 1, 2020. NAMSI is a tri-national effort by forces of the United States, Canada, and Mexico to improve mutual capacity for operational coordination. U.S. Coast Guard photo.”

Museum failure

The seventh Alert was kept in California for years and was a regular sight along the coast.

As noted by a now-folded Old Cutter Alert website for a group that aimed to make her a museum ship, most of her systems and equipment were still original to 1926 late into her civilian life:

The Alert was purchased from the Coast Guard in 1969 by Highland Film Labs and Mr. Barry Brose signed the receipt for her. The Alert was then maintained in her original Coast Guard condition, which was essentially unchanged from 1945, and was very active in San Francisco Bay maritime activities. The Alert was utilized by the sea scouts for training purposes, and occasionally she made appearances in the news, television shows, and movies.

Since 1990, the Alert sat unused and many of her systems became inoperable. In early 2005, the Cutter Alert Preservation Team, Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed and took over ownership of the Alert, and after eighteen months of overdue maintenance by devoted C.A.P.T. chief engineer Mike Stone, the Alert was once again operable and seaworthy.

A home was finally found for the Alert in the Pacific Northwest, and After a shakedown cruise to the Faralon Islands off the California coast in early 2005, the Alert headed north. This was her first open ocean voyage in over 35 years and other than some rough seas and a balky port engine the voyage was uneventful. After a short stay in Coos Bay and Rainier Oregon, the Alert finally arrived at her final destination… Portland, Oregon.

Alert at Vancouver 2007. Note that she is in her USCG scheme complete with a buff mast and stack with a black cap and insignia. Also, note the (surely deactivated) 40mm Bofors forward.

ex-CGC Alert (WMEC-127), 2012. Note the “Save the Old Alert” banner, covered Bofors (?) and extensive awnings. 

The group had her for well over a decade, then seemed to fold away around 2019, never achieving plans to ensure that:

“The future for the Alert will consist of museum-type tours of the ship and her systems, overnight stays for youth and veterans groups (she has berthing for over thirty-five persons plus three officer’s staterooms); and of course remaining operational to conduct on the water activities as a goodwill ambassador of her home port of Portland, Oregon.”

Since then, parties unknown have slowly stripped her as she left to the homeless with the resulting vandalism that comes with that. She was the location of an encampment dubbed “The Pirates of the Columbia,” by the media and locals that was only rousted out last year– a rare pushback in Portlandia.

Images posted by Cody Parsons online this summer of Alert’s poor condition

Over the past few months, the Coast Guard and DEQ have been removing petroleum, oil, and lubricants on board in preparation to dispose of the now-derelict vessel.

Then, reports surfaced this week that she is now on the bottom.

Via the Nautical History Preservation Society: “It’s with great sadness that we announce the sinking of the Alert. The cause is under investigation, vandalism is under suspicion. The vessel seemed very sound on the crews’ previous visit a few months ago. The NHPS will be holding an emergency board meeting to determine the next steps. We will be posting updates.”

“This exemplifies the broken dreams of many people,” said Scott Smith, emergency response planner for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “[Alert] got into a worse and worse condition.”

It is a shame.

The rest of the story with the Buck and a Quarters

As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they all served during the war, and two, Jackson (WSC-142) and Bedloe (WSC-128), were heroically lost in the 14 September 1944 hurricane off Cape Hatteras while aiding a torpedoed tanker.

These pint-sized warships were regular players on the frozen Greenland Patrol fighting the Germans in the “Weather War,” served as guard ships in places as diverse as Curacao and the Aleutians, were credited with at least one submarine kill, and performed air-sea rescue duties. Ten were refitted as buoy/net tenders during the war and reverted to patrol work afterward while two served as training ships.

Boston: “125 ft CGC cutter LEGARE (WSC-144) which fought 20-40 foot waves to take a 79-foot fishing vessel MARMAX in tow, is now proceeding to her home port, New Bedford”

The last example in commission, USCGC Cuyahoga (WPC/WSC/WIX-157), was tragically lost in 1978 in a collision while working as the OCS training ship at Yorktown.

Photo of Cuyahoga in the 1970s in its role as an Officer Candidate School training vessel, in white livery with the now-traditional racing stripe. U.S. Coast Guard photo

With her service to the country over with, Tiger–a Pearl Harbor veteran– later made the Pacific Northwest in her civilian life and by the 1960s was a coastal tug with Northland Marine Lines of Seattle, under the name Cherokee and later Polar Merchant. Her sister USCGC Bonham (WPC/WSC-129) worked alongside her as Polar Star.

Previously USCGC Bonham (WSC-129) as tug Polar Star. This cutter went through the Panama Canal in 1929 with Alert on their 6,000nm trip from East to West Coast.

Remaining active until at least 2012, Tiger/Polar Merchant was sold in poor condition to the Tyee Marina in Tacoma Washington where she was stripped, stuffed with styrofoam, and installed as a breakwater.

Still located at Tyree with everything above the deck removed, Tiger remains afloat and is one of the few surviving warships that was present at Pearl Harbor on that Infamous Day. Her hulk is moored next to the museum ship USS Wampanoag/USCGC Comanche (ATA/WMEC-202).

Another sister ship that sailed with Alert through the Panama Canal in 1929, ex-USCGC Morris (WSC/WMEC-147), like Alert, has been bopping around the West Coast in a series of uses since the 1970s including as a training ship with the Sea Scouts and as a working museum ship in Sacramento.

USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) late in her career. Note her 40mm Bofors forward, which was fitted in 1942. (USCG photo)

We wrote how she was for sale on Craigslist for $90K in 2019, in decent shape.

Now, she has been saved, again.

The Vietnam War Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, announced in May that they have officially taken the title of the historic ship intending to continue her operations, and have been slowly moving her to the Gulf.

Small victories for small ships…

Specs:


(1927)
Displacement: 232 tons
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 7.5 ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder, 150 hp Winton diesels (300hp total), twin screws
Speed: 10 knots, max
Range: 4,000 nm at 7 knots, cruise, with 6,800 gals of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 2 officers, 20 men
Armament:
1 × 3″/23 caliber gun forward, small arms

(1945)
Displacement: 320 tons (full load)
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 9 ft
Propulsion: twin 400HP General Motors 268a 2-cycle diesel engines, (800hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gals of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 5 officers, 41 men
Sensors: QCN-2 sonar, SO-9 radar
Armament:
1 × 40 mm/60 (single), forward
2 × 20 mm/70 (single), wings (removed 1950s)
2 × depth charge tracks, stern (removed 1950s)
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward (removed 1950s)


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