Category Archives: sadness

Remembering Thresher

Via the U.S. Naval Institute

On this day in 1963, 129 men were lost when the USS Thresher (SSN-593) sank during deep-dive tests in the Atlantic Ocean. After hearing about the disaster, the young son of skipper CDR John Harvey made this crayon drawing of the sub lying on the ocean floor.

The drawing is now in the collection of the U.S. Navy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Surplus Tin Cans of Asia

It always seemed that America’s former SEATO and ROK allies were always particularly adept at keeping weary second-hand escort vessels in service long past their prime. For instance, the Philipines are just now retiring PCEs meant for wartime (WWII) service only.

Besides front-line vessels, these seagoing nations have likewise kept said escorts around as well-maintained museums. This brings us to a pair of stories from the Pacific of old museum ships being turned back over to their respective governments as, due to COVID restrictions, are unable to remain fiscally viable with lower numbers of visitors.

In Thailand, the “70 years old” Knox-class destroyer escorts/fast frigates HTMS Phutthayotfa Chulalok (FFG-461), ex-USS Truett (FF-1095); and HTMS Phutthaloetla Naphalai (FFG-462), exUSS Ouellet (FF-1077), were only recently decommissioned in 2017 after two decades of service with first the U.S. Navy and then the Thai fleet. After a few years of touring the coast as roaming (self-propelled?) museums– an interesting idea–, they are now looking at being scrapped or reefed.

They still look pretty good, too.

Decommissioned frigates HTMS ‘Phutthayotfa Chulalok’ (FFG-461) and HTMS ‘Phutthaloetla Naphalai’ (FFG-462) are being used as floating museums and for excursions off the Sattahip coast in Chon Buri. Apichit Jinakul/Bangkok Post.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, two ships, the Gearing-class destroyer ROKS Jeonbuk (DD-916), ex-USS Everett F. Larson (DD/DDR 830); and landing ship ROKS Suyeong, ex-USS Kane County (LST-853), have been returned to that country’s navy after the regional authorities that they had been loaned to as museums could no longer justify keeping them around.

DD-916 JeonBuk of the South Korean Navy which was transferred from the US Navy in 1972. DD-916 was originally DD-830 USS Everett F. Larson, via Wiki commons.

Importantly, Suyeong/Kane County saw WWII service in the Marianas, Philippines, and Okinawa, earning a battle star; while Jeonbuk/Larson spent 30 years with the U.S. Navy in a variety of tasks including helping to deep-six 26 captured IJN submarines in 1946.

So long, Bonnie Dick

Finally, in some semi-related stateside disposal news, the gutted hulk that is the planned lightning carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD-6) is set to formally hold a decommissioning ceremony on April 14, 2021, in San Diego, California.

200712-N-MJ716-0498 SAN DIEGO (July 12, 2020) “A fire continues to be fought into the evening on board the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 12. On the morning of July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. Base and shipboard firefighters responded to the fire. Bonhomme Richard is going through a maintenance availability, which began in 2018.” (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist/Released)

“Following the removal of equipment and dismantlement of systems and components for other ships, USS Bonhomme Richard will be towed to Galveston, Texas for dismantlement,” says ESG-3.

Saving The Sullivans: A Call to Action

The Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537) was launched at Bethleham Steel on 4 April 1943, sponsored by the grieving Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan, mother of the five late Sullivan brothers, and was commissioned five months later. The brothers Sullivan had requested (“We will make a team together that can’t be beat,” one had written) to be ship out together and joined the light cruiser Juneau (CL-52) at the New York Navy Yard on 3 February 1942, just before that ship’s commissioning, and were all lost just before Thanksgiving in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

The destroyer received nine battle stars for World War II and two for Korean service. Laid up in 1965 at Philadelphia, in 1977, she and cruiser Little Rock (CG-4) were processed for donation to the city of Buffalo, N.Y., where they now serve as a memorial.

However, 78 years of water have not proved kind to her hull and today The Sullivans is in serious risk of sinking. The Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park is urgently seeking $100,000 to fund emergency repairs of her hull.

11 Months Underway

Ships assigned to the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group sail in formation with Indian navy ships during a cooperative deployment in the Indian Ocean, July 20, 2020. Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Donald R. White, Jr. VIRIN: 200720-N-MY642-0207M

From DOD:

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is returning after operations in U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Central Command areas of responsibility. It was the first carrier strike group to deploy under COVID-19 protocols. By the time the carrier strike group reaches home, the sailors and Marines aboard will have been gone for 321 days.

The Nimitz, the cruiser USS Princeton, and the destroyers USS Sterett and USS Ralph Johnson made up the group. 

Overall, the carrier strike group steamed more than 87,300 nautical miles during its deployment. The carrier launched 10,185 sorties totaling 23,410 flight hours logged.

I’m not sure the value of wearing out ships and crew on year-long deployments when there are no major conflicts underway, but you damned sure don’t see other fleets able/willing to pull off this type of crap, which is a statement of deterrence all its own, I suppose. 

Of note, Nimitz is our oldest active warship in fleet service– and the oldest commissioned aircraft carrier in the world–  slated to celebrate the 46th anniversary of her commissioning in May. Princeton is no spring chicken either, as the early Tico left Pascagoula for the fleet in 1989.

Sir Max Covers the Canceling of Military History

On my bookshelves right now, I have a number of excellent volumes on military history by British historian/correspondent/author Sir Max Hugh Macdonald Hastings, best just known as Max Hastings.

His The Battle for the Falklands is the best I’ve read on the subject and is drawn from first-hand reporting as he was there on the ground dodging Argentine A-4s and was the first civilian in liberated Port Stanley.

Then of course there is Overlord, Bomber Command, The Korean War, et. al.

Sir Max in an opinion piece entitled “American Universities Declare War on Military History: Academics seem to have forgotten that the best way to avoid conflict is to study it.” hits the nail on the head.

The revulsion from war history may derive not so much from students’ unwillingness to explore the violent past, but from academics’ reluctance to teach, or even allow their universities to host, such courses. Some dub the subject “warnography,” and the aversion can extend to the study of international relations. Less than half of all history departments now employ a diplomatic historian, against 85% in 1975. As for war, as elderly scholars retire from posts in which they have studied it, many are not replaced: the roles are redefined.

More here.

Navy Drops the Ax on Bonnie Dick, 2 LCS, and 3 PCs

As the fiscal year plays out the Navy has released tentative inactivation dates for eight vessels. One is the battered and economically unsavable USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD-6), which blazed away last year to the point of no return. Perhaps a mothballed LHA can be retrieved from Pearl Harbor’s loch and returned to service for a few years to make up for the shortcoming.

Another hit, laying up the old MSC-controlled fleet tug USNS Sioux (T-ATF 171) is a natural course of action as the Navy is building a new and more capable class of tugs to replace the older vessels.

In a gut punch, the two initial class leaders for the Little Crappy Ships, USS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Independence (LCS-2), will be taken out of commission this summer, their apparent beta tests concluded after just 12 years. USS Fort Worth and USS Coronado, ships with even fewer miles, are certain to follow.

USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43) will be laid up in April. The 33-year-old Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship will not be needed anymore in a gator fleet that is gaining big hulled 25,000-ton LPDs at the same time that the Marines are shedding all of their tanks and most of their artillery. Notably, she is the first of her class on the block.

Finally, three of the much-maligned 170-foot Cyclone-class patrol craft, USS Zephry (PC-8), USS Shamal (PC-13), and USS Tornado (PC-14) will be deactivated by 2 March 2021, with the first two set to be scrapped and the Tornado placed up for Foreign Military Sales. As class leader Cyclone was given to the Philippines in 2004, you can guess where Tornado will likely wind up.

NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. (Feb. 16, 2021) Sailors conduct a decommissioning ceremony aboard the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Shamal (PC 13) at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. Shamal is one of three Cyclone-class patrol ships being decommissioned at Naval Station Mayport. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Austin G. Collins)

In short, Big Navy never liked the PCs and have repeatedly tried to kill them off over the years, shopping them overseas and to the Coast Guard. However, they have proved very useful in the Persian Gulf– where most are forward deployed– and as the sole assets for the 4th Fleet in the Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean. With the Coast Guard’s new and more effective 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters reaching 50~ hulls, six of which are set to be deployed to Bahrain, it seems like the Navy is electing to go more Coasty in the Iranian small-boat Cold War.

I happen to know the resting place of Tornado’s sideboard from ger USCG days based at NAVSTA Pascagoula!

As well as Shamals

In related news, it looks like the Navy is also set to scrap their dozen 82-foot Mark IV patrol boats. An ambitious program originally intended to field 48 units in 2012, the wargamers say they will be live bait in a conflict with China. Duh.

And so closes another chapter in the book of how the Navy hates brown water and wants you to hate it to.

Remember The Maine! Revolver edition

From the Artifact Collection, Naval History, and Heritage Command:

NHHC 1960-45-C

One double-action Colt “New Navy” [ Model 1892 Army and Navy Colt] Revolver. The revolver shows extensive damage and loss of material due to exposure to water. The trigger guard, cylinder center pin and the muzzle, including the front sight, are all missing. The trigger and hammer spur are thin and weak as are major portions of the frame. The revolver is completely non-functional due to corrosion and loss of material. The hard rubber grips are present and in relatively good condition aside from some discoloration. The grips both carry the Colt assembly number of 310 hand engraved on the reverse side. The Colt serial numbers for the Navy Model 1895 revolvers fall in the 16XXX to 18XXX range. Based on information available from Colt, the serial numbers 16310, 17310 and 18310 were all assigned to Model 1895 revolvers manufactured in 1895. This would indicate that the grips are at least appropriate to this revolver, if not original.

The heavily corroded condition of this revolver is attributed to the approximately thirteen years it spent underwater aboard the wreck of the USS Maine (ACR-1). In 1898, an explosion caused the Maine to sink in Havana Harbor, Cuba. The ship was raised and salvaged from 1910 to 1912, at which time material was removed as souvenirs and for memorials. It is assumed that the revolver was recovered at this time as the ship was subsequently towed out to sea, scuttled and sunk.

When the USS Maine (ACR-1) was fitted out in 1895 it was provided with the latest design in small arms, including the Colt “New Navy” revolvers. Small arms were carried aboard ship primarily for the use of the US Marine detachment and the ship’s company when engaged in landing party operations. Officers, Petty Officers and personnel such as signalmen, buglers and color bearers would be armed with revolvers while part of a landing force. The Officer of the Deck and the Master at Arms would also carry a sidearm while performing their duties aboard ship.

Notably, the A-SECNAV when Maine went down, Teddy Roosevelt, resigned his post and, with the help of a few of his hard-charging (although horseless) cowboy friends, climbed San Juan Hill (actually Kettle Hill) during the resulting Span-Am War, with one of Maine’s recovered Colts in his holster, brought away to Key West by a survivor.

TR’s historic gun went missing from Saginaw Bay for 16 years and showed up at a gun “buy back” before it was recovered by the FBI. 

The Mask Breaker

As a kid, I remember fishing with my grandpa in the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico and, as one does as a curious bespectacled boy with a thumb-eared copy of an Edward Beach paperback book in his pocket, spend half that time pouring over the NOAA charts in the cabin. My eyes would go wide at the markings in deep water for “mustard gas” and “munitions.” Of course, they were deep-sixed by the Army in the 1940s after WWII– keep in mind that Horn Island just visible off Pascagoula held a Chem Warfare facility during the war.

In a similar vein, I just caught the below interesting DW doc on the lingering chemical warfare agents in Germany. While the country never had the weapons used on its soil, it was a huge producer of them in both World Wars, and ghosts of hastily disposed of stocks Tabun, sarin, phosgene, and mustard gas are still around in surprisingly large numbers there.

Also– and I’ve sat through the CBW guy’s slideshow several times and read a bunch of tomes on the Great War– there was one I’ve never heard of: CLARK or the Maskenbrecher (mask breaker) a form of diphenylarsine chloride, derived from arsenic, believed to penetrate the gas masks of the time. Of note, the monthly production of CLARK I was 600 tons in the Reich in 1918.

The more you know…

The Titanic and Lusitania of the Baltic

From the Royal Navy:

While on operations in the Baltic, HMS Echo mapped two shipwrecks from the Second World War. Using her specialized multibeam echo sounder, the ship was able to show the destruction caused to German ships Wilhelm Gustloff and Goya.

HMS Echo (H87), a 3,700-ton multi-role hydrographic survey ship commissioned in 2003.

Goya was a 5,000-ton Norwegian freighter, sent to the bottom by Soviet submarine L-3, taking “over 6,000” souls to the bottom with her

The 25,000-ton German liner Wilhelm Gustloff, sunk by Soviet submarine S-13, took over 9,400 people to a watery grave, the worst maritime disaster in history

The ships were used in Operation Hannibal – a mass seaborne evacuation of German civilians and soldiers from East Prussia in 1945 during an effort to escape the onrushing Soviet Red Army. Around 16,000 lives were lost when Wilhelm Gustloff and Goya sunk after being hit by Russian torpedoes.

Well, that’s a wrap for Hermes

Laid down at Vickers late during WWII, the Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) languished on the builder’s ways and was only completed post-Suez, joining the Royal Navy in 1959. Converted to a “commando carrier” then made a default Harrier carrier, she spearheaded the British operation to liberate the Falklands in 1982– an operation that probably could not be pulled off without the aging flattop.

Moving to India, she continued to serve as the INS Viraat (R22) for another 31 years, only retiring in 2017 after 58 years of service, making her arguably the longest-serving carrier in naval history. For reference, USS Enterprise (CVN-65) “only” served 56 years and the smaller USS Lexington (CV-16), the famed Blue Ghost, served 48. Similarly, HMS/HMAS Vengeance/NAeL Minas Gerais tied Enterprise at 56– although it was under three different flags– before she was towed off to the shipbreaking yards at Alang.

Speaking of Alang, the final effort to save Hermes/Viraat is disbanding, as it has been confirmed the dismantling of the old girl there is too far advanced to try to make a go of it.

She deserved better.

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