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The curious Soviet mini-sub of South Alabama

While running around South Alabama, I came across the sleepy shrimping capital of Bayou La Batre along the Mississippi Sound. The basis for Winston Groom’s (who grew up in Mobile County and for years later lived along Mobile Bay) fictional Greenbow, Alabama in “Forest Gump,” the town self-bills as, “The Seafood Capital of Alabama.”

So, of course, it has a surplus Soviet mini-sub along Hwy 188 downtown.

Soviet Sever 2 Bis civil submersible on its carriage at Bayou La Batre, 2018 (Photo: Chris Eger)

Built in Leningrad between 1968 and 1972 for the Soviet Ministry of Fisheries to research fish concentrations, Project 1825 produced two “North” (Sever) type submersible, dubbed “Север-2” (Sever-2) and Sever-2 Bis.

Proof the above wasn’t a Mardi Gras parade float

Complete with manipulator arms, seven viewing ports (3x 140mm, 4x60mm) and the ability to dive to as deep as 2,000m, they were legit minisubs for their day, akin to the U.S. Navy’s similar Alvin DSV project which predated the Severs by a half-decade.

Sever 2 in happier times

Operating from the 2,700-ton Soviet research ships Odissey and Ikhtiander, the two subs spent time in the Med, Atlantic, Baltic, and Pacific throughout the 1970s and 80s, conducting fisheries and oceanographic research. Electrically powered, they could motor at 3.5-knots for up to 9 hours before their batteries were drained, or simply submerge for as many as 72, carrying 3-5 operators/observers.

SEVER 2 & ODISSEY in the Atlantic, May 12, 1977, via Shipspotting

Specs:
Displacement 39.9 tonnes
Length: 40.68 feet
Beam: 8.76 feet
Draft (surfaced): 13.28 feet
Speed: 3.5 kts
Diving depth: 2,000 m, operating

Their work was important enough that the Soviets showed them off in a series of postage stamps.

Once the Cold War ended and Moscow thawed, the aging Severs and their motherships were laid up. Odissey and Ikhtiander were soon scrapped and Sever-2 left to rust in Sevastapol.

Apparently, in the 1990s, Sever-2 Bis was sold to an entrepreneur who considered putting it back into service and moved to Steiner Shipyard in Bayou La Batre. There it has sat ever since.

Mobile-native filmmaker Mike deGruy– who dived on “Titanic” with director James Cameron and for his BBC series “The Blue Planet”– took a look at the vessel in 2010 saying at the time that “a person would have to be crazy to go underwater in that contraption.”

Now, pushing 50, the Sever-2 Bis is still hard ashore in Shrimp Town, USA.

Head-on (Photo: Chris Eger)

Starboard. (Photo: Chris Eger)

The trace buster, buster, Captain Nemo edition

Ahh, the unlikely scourge of the armored leviathans of the early 20th Century– the plucky torpedo boat as seen by German naval artist Willy Stower, titled “Torpedo boats on maneuver”

Once the spar and locomotive torpedoes claimed their first victims in 1864 (USS Housatonic) and 1878 (the Turkish steamer Intibah), the world’s fleets began to research torpedo nets to be carried by capital ships to protect them from such infernal devices. By the early 20th Century, such an idea was common.

This, of course, led to:

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 84492

Behold, a net cutter fitted to an early MKV Whitehead Torpedo, at the Newport Torpedo Station, R.I., March 1908

In service from 1910 through the mid-1920s, the MKV was cutting edge.

Manufactured under license at Newport, the 1,400-pound fish carried 200-pounds of gun-cotton with a contact exploder in its nose and– a first for Whitehead– was hot-running. It was also variable speed on its 4-cylinder reciprocating engine, capable of being set for a sedate 27-knot clip for 4,000-yards (though the gyroscope keeping it in a straight line for that long was a stretch) or a blistering 40-kt pace for 1,000.

In 1908, Whitehead was the household name in locomotive torpedoes, having made them for over 30 years.

They sold the first to the Royal Navy back in 1877 and didn’t look back.

The early Whitehead: NH 95129 Illustrations of Torpedo Warfare Line engraving Harpers Weekly, 14 July 1877 early Whitehead torpedo

Whiteheads, later versions: Copied from the Journal of Scientific American Coast Defense Supplement, 1898. A widely-used naval torpedo, propelled by compressed air. This cut-away view shows the torpedo’s major components. Description: Catalog #: NH 73951

An improved Mark III Whitehead Torpedo fired from the East Dock, Goat Island, Newport Torpedo Station, Rhode Island, in 1894, torpedo boat destroyer USS Cushing in background

In the end, the Navy went with domestically designed and produced Bliss-Leavitt torpedoes over the Whiteheads, scrapping the latter in all their variants by 1922.

But they did outlive torpedo nets, which were ditched by ships in the early days of WWI, though defended harbor entrances continued to use anti-submarine nets through the 1940s.

I have to admit, apocalypse builds are growing on me…like mold

Just in time for Halloween of course, these two rifles, an AR flattop build constructed with a split wooden stock around the buffer tube and what used to be an Ottoman Turkish Mauser, seem like they are a step away from being shiny and chrome. But before you reach for the blood pressure meds about hacking up the vintage bolt-gun, the creator cautions the Mauser was on its last legs and was no longer collectible, and of course, AR components are almost dirt cheap these days.

Is that a rake?

The AR reminds me of this SIG 542 (an early 7.62x51mm variant that eventually shrunk down into the SIG 550), in use in the Tchad army in the 80s.

The Swiss made these with all plastic furniture, so the wood is very Sahara “after market”

Anyway, more in my column at Guns.com

Warship Wednesday, August 23, 2017: ‘Great Scott and huckleberries, look at that!’

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, August 23, 2017: ‘Great Scott and huckleberries, look at that!’

U.S. Navy Catalog #: NH 63740

Here we see the experimental 94-foot USS Stiletto, the fastest torpedo boat in the world at the time, firing an early Howell type torpedo from her bow tube around 1890, likely on the Sakonnet River, Tiverton, Rhode Island, home of the Hotchkiss factory’s torpedo test range.

To understand Stiletto, first, let’s talk about Capt. Nat Herreshoff.

Born in Bristol, Rhode Island in 1848, Herreshoff was a renaissance man of the period when it came to designing steam, sailing and, later, motor yachts. An accomplished sailor as well as a mechanical engineer in the days before Tesla, he ran the famous Corliss Stationary Engine, a 1,000kW dynamo at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Returning to Rhode Island, he started the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol aimed at boat making as well as other endeavors.

As noted by MIT, from whence he came:

“Nathanael G. Herreshoff was a singular genius whose 75-year career produced six America’s Cup winners and hundreds of other highly successful vessels. He introduced modern catamarans and designed highly efficient steam engines…The many Herreshoff boats still winning races today further attest to his legendary standing.”

In May 1876, he built Lightning (HMCo #20), a 58-foot wooden hulled boat powered by a steam plant that broke 20.3-knots on her trials.

She carried two spar-type torpedoes, basically, bombs on sticks held like lances in front of the craft. Drawing just 22-inches of water, she was perfect for harbor and coast defense. Lightning was bought by the Bureau of Naval Ordnance as Steam Launch No. 6, for $5,000 to be used by the Torpedo Board of Ordnance at Newport, Commander George A. Converse, commanding.

Bow view of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co.’s SPAR torpedo boat Lightning (Steam Launch No. 6), launched May 1876, and the first torpedo boat purchased by the U.S. Navy. The Lightning is on a wooden cradle in front of an unidentified building, believed to be located at the Naval Torpedo Station, on Goat Island, in Newport, Rhode Island. Note the spar torpedoes in their stored position from where they would be extended before use. Source: John Palmieri, Curator Herreshoff Marine Museum/America’s Cup Hall of Fame.

With over 100 floating projects already worked through, in 1884 Herreshoff built Stiletto (HMCo project 118), a 94-foot wood-planked vessel with steel ribs as an experimental “Torpedo boat type, fitted as yacht.”

Unarmed and fitted with a 7-ft by 7-ft Almy boiler that could produce 359 hp on the inverted compound steam plant, the 28-ton vessel broke 26.4-knots in light condition and was originally rigged as a miniature three-masted schooner as a backup with her little masts looking like “walking sticks.”

Stiletto in 1887. Note the Yacht ensign and club pennants. By Nathaniel Stebbins – American & English Yachts, via Wiki

With her black hull and neat little white porthole row, the partially decked knife-shaped steamboat made a splash on the yacht club circuit during the 1885 summer season.

On June 10, while on the Hudson River in New York, she raced the 300-foot Hudson company paddle-wheel steamer Mary Powell which had “never been passed on the river” some 30 miles from West 22nd Street to Sing Sing prison.

The Mary Powell. Photo via the Fred B. Abele Transportation History Collection SC22662, Box 26, Folder 11a

According to a New York Times report from the day, a crew member from the speedy “Queen of the Hudson” Mary Powell called out to the tiny Stiletto, “That blamed little boat’ll bust itself tryin’ to beat us!” just before the race started.

Then, the Stiletto‘s skipper waved goodbye.

The Times:

Needless to say, Stiletto made the 30 mile trip to Sing Sing in something like 77 minutes, smoking her competition.

The next day, she beat the famous racing yacht Atalanta from Larchmont, New York to New London, Connecticut, gaining the title of the fastest ship on the water.

An illustration of the steam yacht Stiletto in her celebrated race against Atalanta, during the American Yacht Club Regatta, from Larchmont to New London, 11 June 1885. Image from The Frank Leslie Illustrated Newspaper. Navsource picture 05040120

With such a glowing record of speed, of course, Stiletto was purchased for the U.S. Navy under an Act of Congress dated 3 March 1887; and entered service in July 1887, attached to the Torpedo Station, Newport where she served alongside her smaller uncle Lightning.

She was commissioned as USS Stiletto, Wooden Torpedo Boat no. 1, WTB-1 (not to be confused with the later Warship Weds alum USS Cushing, a steel-hulled vessel, which was Torpedo Boat no. 1, TB-1) and was the Navy’s first torpedo boat capable of launching self-propelled torpedoes.

Made ready for war, her masts and sailing rigs were removed, wheelhouse reduced to a hatch, and was given a bow tube and trainable deck tube for LCDR John Howell’s Automobile Torpedo. Some 50 Howells had been ordered under contract through the Hotchkiss Ordnance Company of nearby Providence as the Mark I Torpedo. Why not have the Navy’s first real torpedo boat armed with its first real torpedo?

One of Howell’s Mk1 Locomotive torpedoes.

Capable of 25-knots, these early 14.2-inch wide fish had a 96-pound wet gun cotton warhead and could make 600 yards before running down the wind-up flywheel powered engine. Stiletto tested many of these on the company’s range in Tiverton.

They remained in service until 1896 when they had all (save for two, including the one  shown above at the Newport Museum) been expended.

USS STILETTO Firing a torpedo from her deck tube, about 1890. Catalog #: NH 63741

Stiletto (wooden torpedo boat). Starboard side. 1891. Note the drastically different scheme from her 1887 yacht racing days.Photo via National Archives/NH 69210

Stiletto spent her entire naval career at the Torpedo Station, and as noted by the curator of the Herreshoff Museum, she was taken out of the water over the winter for maintenance.

She did, however, make it to Hampton Roads and back to the Hudson periodically for naval reviews and parades.

U.S. Navy ships from left to right: USS Concord (Patrol Gunboat #3), the wooden torpedo boat USS Stiletto, and USS Columbia (Cruiser #12) in New York Harbor, New York. Note the Statue of Liberty behind the warships. Reproduction of artwork by Fred S. Cozzens, 1894. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Lot-3365-2

USS STILETTO in Hampton Roads, Virginia, during a naval review. Courtesy of Erik Heyl. Catalog #: NH 64050

Howell’s last torpedo on the deck of USS STILETTO, 1896. Courtesy of the Newport Artillery Co. Museum, Newport, R. I., 1974. Catalog #: NH 81307

Stiletto. Likely firing a Bliss model fish from her bow tube. Note the different nose shape from the Howell. 1900 via National Archives

NH 63742 USS STILETTO (1887-1911)

USS STILETTO (1887-1911) Courtesy Smithsonian Institution, Skerritt Collection of the Bethlehem Steel Co. Archives. Catalog #: NH 64051

From left to right, the USS Porter (TB-6), USS Stiletto (WTB-1), and USS Cushing (TB-1) in Narragansett Bay. Nathanael Herreshoff was on board the Porter when this photograph was taken, and recorded the date in his diary as having been on December 18, 1896. Source: John Palmieri, Curator Herreshoff Marine Museum/America’s Cup Hall of Fame; http://www.herreshoff.org, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Besides testing the Howell and later Bliss model Whitehead torpedoes after 1891, Stiletto was used for special missions such as “running 12-hour high-speed trips delivering 2 tons of smokeless powder to New York ammunition depots.”

Reboilered in 1891, she was later fitted with an oil-fired suite which proved unimpressive.

By 1897, on the cusp of the Spanish-American War, the Navy had worked out torpedo tactics, had over 300 torpedoes in their magazines and a score of relatively ocean-going steel-hulled torpedo boats, none of which would have been possible without Stiletto.

During the war, she provided coastal defense duties and lingered on for a decade longer, marked for disposal after nearly 25 years as a floating test bed.

Struck from the Navy list on 27 January 1911, she was sold six months later to James F. Nolan of East Boston, Mass., for scrapping.

A model of Herreshoff’s Stiletto, borrowed from the Naval War College, will be on display at the MIT Museum until at least 2021. http://navalwarcollegemuseum.blogspot.com/2018/11/nwcm-torpedo-boat-model-now-on-display.html

As for the Howells, in 2013, Space and Naval warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) discovered and recovered a spent Howell off the San Diego coast, near Hotel Del Coronado, during a mine-hunting training exercise with Navy dolphins.of stamped. Stamped “USN No. 24” it is only the third known to exist, with the other two held in the collection of the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Wash. and the Naval War College Museum in Newport.

Specs:

Construction plan for the 94′ Stiletto, HMCo. # 118, via MIT

Displacement: 31 tons
Length: 94-feet
Beam: 11′ 6″
Draft: 4′ 10″
Fuel: 4 tons of egg coal, max
Boiler: sectional water tube-type 7-ft by 7-ft carrying 160-lbs of steam.
Engine: inverted compound condensing-type engine with 12.6- and 21-in diameter cylinders; 359 ihp (450 ihp under forced draft); 1 shaft.
Screw: 4′ diameter. 4 blades; 400 rpm.
Trial speed: 26.4 knots clean. Navy service speed: 18.2 knots
Complement: 6 (in Navy service, as few as three in civilian)
Armament: 2 early 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!

If the revolver does not work, you can always stab them with it

Click to big up

To paraphrase Boris the Blade, these heavy duty mid-19th Century handguns brought a certain reliability to the fight.

Sold at a recent Rock Island Auction for $2,500, these two wheel guns abound with personality.

The top is a .45 caliber copy of a Smith & Wesson top break cartridge revolver with an integral and non-detachable knife. The bottom gun is a nickel finished Deane, Adams & Deane W. Tranter’s patent double trigger percussion revolver with a six-inch octagonal barrel in .44 caliber.

Either way, they look right out of a steampunk graphic novel. Perhaps the new owner will box them for display alongside a monocle and some vintage mustache wax.

2 Great tastes that shouldn’t taste great together– but somehow seem to work

German firearms wonk Herbert Werle doesn’t a talk a lot in his videos, but that is OK because the custom creations he comes up with carry the conversation just fine.

Hailing from Ludwigshafen, Germany, Werle really digs custom Garands and Lugers and one of his latest experiments is a rock-and-rolling full-auto Luger with a custom Kalashnikov-style rear stock and forearm/barrel assembly that still uses the standard Luger 32-round artillery “snail” drum and toggle action.

First test fire above, second below, followed by a bonus video (!) of a similar build he did on an AR Luger. You know you want one.

[ Gattip, cerebralzero/Gunblr]

Do you know anything about this oddball wheelgun?

Ian over at Forgotten Weapons takes a look at an odd European revolver that just screams steampunk.

“With no markings or provenance at all, the origins of this revolver are a mystery. Its features all point to the 1880s or 1890s, and someone clearly spent a lot of time working on it – but we don’t know who. What makes it interesting is the very unusual operating mechanism. It is similar to a ‘zig-zag’ system like the 1878 Mauser or Webley-Fosbery, but with angled splines on the cylinder instead of grooves.”

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