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A break between Fallschirmjägers and destiny

TEC5 Thomas “Red” O’Brien, C Company, 101st Infantry Regiment, 26th (Yankee) Division, getting a quick meal in while parked on a snowbank near Mecher, Luxembourg, 75 years ago yesterday.

Photo by TEC5 Arthur Hertz, 166th Signal Photo Company, for Stars and Stripes. Via LOC

O’Brien’s unit had been engaged with elements of the tough German 5. Fallschirmjäger-Division, fighting small unit actions in the snow for the past several days prior to this image being shot. Veterans of the 101st would refer to the Battle of the Bulge as “Our Valley Forge.”

Sadly, CPL. O’Brien was killed less than two weeks after this image was captured, on 25 January, by German sniper fire at a crossroad outside Clervaux, Luxembourg, aged 23. He was a native of Rhode Island but a Massachusetts resident when he volunteered in 1942 and is interred at the American Military Cemetery, Henri-Chapelle, Belgium.

The 101st, as was most of the 26th ID, hailed from New England, where they had previously served as a Massachusetts National Guard and state militia outfit dating back to the Civil War. While the regiment cased their colors in 1993, the 26th is still around as the 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in the MARNG, headquartered at Natick.

Exorcising the Ghosts of Pearl Harbor (while setting up the next one)

USS OKLAHOMA (BB-37) and USS ARIZONA (BB-39) in better times, side by side in the Pedro Miguel locks of the Panama Canal in January 1921. Ship in distance is USS NEVADA (BB-36). C.F. Rottmann, photographer. Courtesy of the USS OKLAHOMA Association, collection of Elmer S. Sykora, 1979 NH 89443

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly proclaimed his decision to name the next two Virginia-class submarines on Dec. 23, as USS Oklahoma (SSN-802) and the USS Arizona (SSN-803).

This would be the first time the names, formerly used by the Pearl Harbor battleship losses USS Oklahoma (BB-37) and USS Arizona (BB-39), have been on the Navy List in more than 75 years.

191223-N-DM308-002 WASHINGTON (Dec. 23, 2016) A photo illustration of the future Virginia-class attack submarine USS Oklahoma (SSN-802). (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Paul L. Archer/Released)

191223-N-DM308-001 WASHINGTON (Dec. 23, 2016) A photo illustration of the future Virginia-class attack submarine USS Arizona (SSN 803). (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Paul L. Archer/Released)

Is it time?

Well, in Modly’s defense, the Navy has often quickly recycled the names of lost warships as an inspiration to crews of new ones– and to show enemies how fast the “Arsenal of Democracy” could renew itself.

For example, during the dark days of 1942 in the Pacific the carriers Lexington, Hornet, Wasp, and Yorktown were all lost in action, along with the cruisers Astoria, Houston (with almost her entire 1,100-man crew either lost or captured), Northampton, Quincy, Vincennes, Atlanta, and Juneau. By 1944 all those names had been issued to new construction of the same type– many of which would continue to serve well into the Cold War. Indeed, the Navy even enlisted 1,000 brand new bluejackets in 1943 under the banner of “Houston Volunteers” to replace those lost in the Sunda Strait.

Going back even further, Battleship No. 10 was christened as USS Maine in 1901 just three years after the first Maine blew up in Havanna harbor, sparking the Spanish-American War. John Paul Jones’s Bonhomme Richard was sunk by HMS Serapis in 1779 and three different warships have gone on to carry the same name. The tragic loss of the USS Indianapolis in 1945 was followed up 35 years later by the name being bestowed to a Los Angeles-class attack submarine.

IMHO, in the case of Oklahoma, which lost over 400 of her 1,400 man crew on December 7, 1941, and whose hull was later raised and sold to the breakers for $40,000, perhaps the time is right to reboot her name.

However, as for Arizona, which lost 1,177 of her crew and whose hull still bleeds heavy fuel oil along Battleship Row today, perhaps her name should be retired or the vessel given a special status such as the one carried by the captured spy ship USS Pueblo or the frigate USS Constitution.

But that is just me.

ASECNAV Modly is a bright guy and I am sure he has his reasons. An Annapolis grad and former Naval Aviator, he went on to pull down a sheepskin from Harvard Business School and an MA from Georgetown before serving as Under Secretary of the Navy for the past two years.

Besides, the states of Arizona and Oklahoma both have powerful Congressional delegations, many of which have already voiced approval of the move– which could be key at budget time. Remember Hyman Rickover’s old adage of changing submarine naming conventions from marine creatures to states and cities explained as, “fish don’t vote.”

On the bright side, the new Arizona and Oklahoma will be the first Block V Virginias, arguably the most capable attack subs in the world.

If other plans afoot in Washington go through, they may be sorely needed to prove that capability.

Cuts, Cuts, and More Cuts

A memo circulating from the White House, apparently with the Navy’s blessing, has the fleet cutting the first four LCS variants (Freedom, Independence, Fort Worth and Coronado) although they are still relatively brand new (although cranky “Mod 0” type ships). Along with them could be a cap on further LCS production at 35 hulls, laying up three LSDs (Whidbey Island, Germantown and Gunston Hall) which still have a decade or more life left on their machinery/hulls, and accelerating the retirement of four the oldest remaining Tico-class cruisers (Bunker Hill, Mobile Bay, Antietam, and Leyte Gulf).

Further, new construction would get the ax as well (!) with five of the 12 pending late-flight Burke-class destroyers canceled– one of the few really successful Navy shipbuilding programs.

Instead of the 355-ship Navy promised in 2018, we are looking more at a 287-ship fleet, which would include 31 remaining underarmed LCS hulls, 3 virtually worthless Zumwalt-class pink elephants, and the Fords, which are slipping further and further down the calendar of being deployable.

Sure, Congress could pour on the pork and get more DDGs added, cruisers saved and Gators retained, which is probably what the Navy hopes for. The end result next year will probably be a compromise that no one but the admirals of the PLAN like.

Pass me my scotch, please, and say a prayer for the next generation of U.S. Naval officers and enlisted.

Remembering CG1363, 55 years on

Near Strawberry Rock in Trinidad, California is the wreckage of an HH52 Seaguard with a sad story tied to it.

CG 1363, an HH-52 Seaguard helicopter that crashed in a severe storm during a rescue operation Dec. 22, 1964.

On Dec. 22, 1964, the helicopter crew was dispatched to Humboldt Bay, where roads were closed from flood damage, to assist with evacuations. At 2:48 p.m., the helicopter arrived in the Humboldt Bay area where Hansen, a local resident, volunteered to join the crew to help spot flood survivors and to help orient the crew to local landmarks. The helicopter crew, along with Hansen, began evacuating people from rooftops and flood areas, ultimately saving 10 lives.

At 6:03 p.m., weather conditions worsened and the Arcata Airport Flight Service Station (FSS) received a radio call from the helicopter, which was trying to land with three rescued people aboard in low visibility and high winds. Approximately eight minutes before the radio call the airport had lost power, disabling the radio navigation beacon that was necessary to navigate to the airport.

FSS instruments indicated that the helicopter was northwest of the airport. The controller continued to radio the pilot steering directions to help him land.

The pilot reported that he was at 1,000 feet and asked if that altitude would clear all obstructions along his path to the airport. The FSS controller replied that 1,000 feet might be inadequate due to high terrain just east of his bearing. A citizen living 12 miles north of the airport along the coast reported seeing a helicopter about one mile offshore and heading south. FSS attempted to relay the report to the pilot but could not regain communications.  Repeated calls to the helicopter were met with silence.

Three days after losing contact with the crew of CG 1363, a U.S. Navy helicopter from the USS Bennington located the crash and directed ground search parties to the site. The helicopter had crashed on a slope at 1,130 feet of elevation nine miles north of the Arcata Airport near a landmark today known as Strawberry Rock. Located with the wreckage were seven dead; the three crewmen, Hansen, two women and an infant girl.

Wreckage of CG 1363, an HH-52 Seaguard helicopter that crashed during a severe storm while conducting a rescue operation Dec. 22, 1964, as seen this week. (USCG photo)

Each year Sector Humboldt Bay honors the lost crew. USCG LCDR Donald Prince, from New Jersey; Royal Canadian Navy Sub-Lt. Allen Leonard Alltree; and USCG Petty Officer 2nd Class James A. Nininger, Jr., from Virginia, a Coast Guard Air Station San Francisco-based helicopter crew, as well as Bud Hansen, a citizen volunteer are remembered in an annual ceremony.

The Sector maintains a memorial at the installation, including some of the skin from the airframe of CG 1363.

Hermes everlasting no more

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.

Centaur-class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (R12) bouncing around the North Atlantic with her bow mostly out of the water in 1977.

However, she more than earned her stripes as the elderly flagship of the British task force sent to reclaim the Falklands in 1982 before going on to serve in the Indian Navy as INS Viraat (R22) for another impressive 31 years, only retiring in 2017 after 58 years of service. Sadly, it seems like she is bound for the breakers.

As noted by the HMS Hermes/INS Viraat Museum Ship Appeal, the group planning to bring the historic carrier back home to England:

The Indian Government has put INS Viraat/HMS Hermes up for sale for scrap in an e-auction on the 17th Dec 2019.

We have been attempting to delay the auction in order to put forward a satisfactory bid from the UK however there are clauses in the sale that would need the Indian Government to make some serious changes to the schedule which now appear very unlikely.

Viraat is not for sale outside of India and the vessel is not to be towed out of Indian waters for any reason. The successful (Indian) bidder has to undertake to remove the vessel from her current berthing in Mumbai within 30 days of a successful purchase.

I am really sorry for this news. We are currently campaigning against the schedule but are unlikely to win.

Vale, Robert K. Massie

As a fan of both Russian and naval history, to say that I grew up reading the works of Robert K. Massie is an understatement.

The noted scholar, a man who interviewed Alexander Kerensky while he was still alive in exile, passed away this month at age 90.

Revisit your copy of Dreadnought, Castles of Steel, and Nicholas & Alexandria in his honor.

Bad Day for Old Museum Ships

USCGC Bramble WLB 392, back in her pre-2019 Port Huron days

The retired U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bramble (WLB-392), a WWII-era veteran of the Bikini tests and the historic 1957 voyage through the Northwest Passage left federal service in 2003. She then spent a quiet life as a museum ship in Port Huron, Michigan for years.

Then, in 2018 she was sold to a man who wanted to repeat the famous five-month trek of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Storis, SPAR and Bramble, along with the crew of the Canadian icebreaker HMCS Labrador from May to September of 1957.

He even hired a documentary film crew to cover the whole thing with the name “Bramble Reborn” 

The bad part is, Bramble’s new owner ran out of funds, and the ship was seized for debts run up with the Epic Shipyard in Mobile, Alabama and other creditors. She was sold at public auction for $80,000 on Wednesday, her future unknown.

Tragically, the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’soffice had put the ship’s 1944-dated bell in safekeeping when she was decommissioned in 2003 and only returned it to the museum in 2014. Now, it may be gone, along with the vessel, for good.

B-427

The LA Times reports that the former Soviet SSK B-427, which has been part of three different maritime museums since she was decommissioned in 1994 and is currently docked adjacent to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, “is expected to be sold soon to an anonymous buyer, with plans to remove the rusting sub by mid-May. The 48-year-old Russian Foxtrot-class submarine, known as the Scorpion, had hosted paying visitors for 17 years before it fell into such disrepair that it became infested with raccoons and was closed to the public in 2015.”

Oregon relics

Battleship Oregon in the Willamette River in Oregon, 20 April 1941, after she was, ironically, preserved whole as a museum ship since 1925. 

In a (possibly) bright spot, the 20-foot-high smokestacks of the old USS Oregon (Battleship No. 3) have been stored on private property for nearly a decade at the Zidell Yards in South Waterfront. An effort is being made to install them in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, where the Spanish-American War/Great War vessel’s mast has stood since 1956. However, the plan seems to be faltering.

A proposed design for adding the USS Oregon’s smokestacks to its memorial (which currently features just the mast) at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. (Courtesy of Oregon Maritime Museum)

Hopefully, they will find a home there. If not, they too could go to the scrapper.

Grayback discovered

USS GRAYBACK (SS-208) data plaque, photographed in 1941. NHHC 19-N-24245

The Lost 52 Project, which aims to find all of the U.S. Navy’s WWII submarines still on Eternal Patrol, this week announced they have discovered the final resting place of USS Grayback (SS-208) near Okinawa.

USS GRAYBACK (SS-208) Photographed in 1941. NH 53771

Grayback, a Tambor-class fleet boat, commissioned on 30 June 1941 and was on her 10th War Patrol in the Pacific when she went missing in February 1944. Earning two Navy Unit Commendations and eight battlestars, she chalked up 63,835 tons in Japanese shipping to include over a dozen marus and the destroyer Numakaze.

Grayback (Cdr. John Anderson Moore) was lost with 80 men.

Via The Lost 52

So far, The Lost 52 Project has accounted for five missing boats since 2010, including USS Grunion (SS-216) off Kiska, USS S-28 (SS-133) off Hawaii, USS S-26 (SS-131) off Panama, and USS R-12 (SS-89) off Key West.

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