Category Archives: submarines

Used Corvettes on the Pacific Rim Second Hand Market

The Republic of Korea Navy closed out 2021 by decommissioning nine warships vessels from active service.

ROKN Fleet Command closed the books on three Pohang-class Patrol Combat Corvettes (PCC) and five Chamsuri-class patrol boats (PKM) while the Incheon Naval Sector Defense Command decommissioned one Chamsuri-class patrol boat.

The three decommissioned PCCs are the ROKS Wonju (PCC-769), ROKS Seongnam (PCC-775), and ROKS Jecheon (PCC-776), all of which are Flight-IV PCCs.

This leaves just seven Pohangs in service with the ROKN as they are being quickly replaced by new, much more capable, Incheon-class guided-missile frigates.

Cranked out in the mid-1980s to early 1990s, two dozen of these hardy little 1,200-ton, 289-foot corvettes were constructed. Powered by a CODOG suite that included a single LM2500 turbine to hit 32+ knots and two fuel-sipping MTU diesels for an economical 15 knot cruising speed for patrol work, they mount a couple of 76mm OTOs along with some smaller mounts as well as ASW torpedo tubes and a four-pack of Harpoon ASMs.

ROKS Bucheon PCC 773 and ROKS Sokcho PCC 778, Batch IV and V Pohangs. Note the twin 76mm OTO Meleras and twin Breda DARDO 40 mm/70 CIWS mounts. They can also carry Blue Shark ASW torpedos and Harpoons.

These three most recently retired 25-year-old corvettes will likely be donated to Southeast Asian and/or Latin American countries as military aid. Last year, two corvettes were donated to Colombia and Peru while the Philippines already has one, and Vietnam has two.

The Peruvian Navy just received its second donated Pohang, ROKS Suncheon (PCC-767), from South Korea recently. The vessel had been decommissioned in 2019 and will become BAP Guise (CM-28). Like its sister ship BAP Ferre (CM-27), the Guise will be outfitted with Peru’s indigenously-developed VARAYOC combat management system and the Mage QHAWAX electronic support-measure system. 

My bet is that the PI will get one or two of these Pohangs as South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries is already making (and supporting) a pair of 2,600-ton Jose Rizal-class light frigates for the country to a modified version of the shipbuilder’s HDF-2600 design. Two new Rizals and three scratch-and-dent Pohangs, along with three Del Pilar class offshore patrol vessels (ex USCG 378-foot Hamilton-class cutters), make the PI more a player in the South China Sea against increasingly muscular ChiCom moves in the area. Such a fleet is a quantum leap from the PI’s circa 2015 fleet, which was made up of WWII-built minesweepers, LSTs, and PCEs, often of third-hand lineage. 

The recycled Pohangs are a logical counter to China’s recent moves to upgrade relations with Indo-Pacific countries via the export of Ming (Type 035, redesigned Romeo) and Yuan-class (Type 039A) diesel submarines. 

The Final Clock is Ticking on the Ohios

The massive 18,500-ton Ohio-class Trident ballistic missile submarines– the largest subs constructed outside of Russia’s Typhoon and Borei-class boats– are bigger than Great White Fleet-era battleships and can carry enough firepower to practically erase a country from the map in a salvo.

However, they are also aging, with the first of class ordered in 1974 and the final vessel commissioned in 1997. While 24 Ohios were planned, only 18 were completed and the first four of the class later converted to SSGN Tomahawk throwers. The Ohio-class submarines were designed to have a service life of 42 years (two 20-year cycles with a 2-year midlife nuclear refueling period), which has been stretched a bit.

The 14 “boomers” left in service range in age from 24 to 37 years on active duty. The youngest of these, USS Louisiana (SSBN-743) just completed an outrageous 818-day overhaul and refueling at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard that required 6.5 million man-hours of labor to pull off.

Bremerton, WA – USS Louisiana (SSBN 743) undocked Dec. 7, 2021, at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, as part of an Engineered Refueling Overhaul, the final ERO for Ohio-class submarines.

Now set to run another 20 years on that core, at which point she will be 44 years old, “Big Lou” and her sisters will need to be replaced within the coming decade by a fully-fleshed new SSBN, the Columbia class.

While the class leader of those new Tridents, USS Columbia (SSBN-826), was ordered in 2016 from Electric Boat, she was only laid down last October and is not scheduled to leave on its first deterrent patrol until 2031 at a cost of $10 billion with a “B.” Meanwhile, the oldest remaining Ohio bomber, USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730), is set to begin recycling in FY27, although the Navy may try to slow roll that.

However, there is only so much juice you can squeeze from a submarine hull built during the Reagan administration. 

Forgotten WWII Sub Vets: The Dutch

Here we see the Royal Netherlands Nay submarine Hr. Ms. O-12 holding diving demonstrations in the river in front of Willemskade during the Vlootschouw Fleet Review on the afternoon of 29 April 1939. 

In the background is the light cruiser Hr.Ms. Tromp.

Starting WWII with the unprovoked invasion of the country by the Germans in May 1940, the Dutch Navy had 27 active submarines (Onderzeeboot) and three under construction. While the Germans captured three of the active boats (O-8, O-11, and O-12) as well as took over the building units– ultimately commissioning five of these hulls into the Kriegsmarine as UD boats for Underseeboote Dutch– the rest of the Dutch boats escaped and clocked in for hard and heavy work with the Allies. This included 15 submarines, mostly small Great War-era “K” (for “Koloniën” or Colonial) boats based in the Pacific at Surabaya, in the Dutch East Indies, and two in the Caribbean.

Onderzeeboot Hr. Ms. K XVII (c. 1940-1941). She would be lost against the Japanese 13 days into the war in the Pacific.

They gave a good account of themselves, with 10 successful subs credited with sinking 168,813 tons of shipping across 69 Axis vessels including:

*Hr. Ms. O-21 sank U-95 on 28 November 1941 in the Mediterranean.
*Hr. Ms. O-16 hit four out of four Japanese troopships on 12 December 1941, sending three to the bottom.
*Hr. Ms. K XII sank the Japanese tanker Taizan Maru on 13 December 1941.
*Hr. Ms. K XVI torpedoed the destroyer Sagiri on 24 December 1941 off Kuching– the first Allied submarine to sink a Japanese warship.
*Hr. Ms. Dolfijn sank the Italian submarine Malachite in the Med on 9 February 1943.
*Hr. Ms. Zwaardvis (“Swordfish” ex-British HMS Talent) ambushed U-168 on 8 October 1944 in the Java Sea.
*Hr. Ms. Zwaardvis also sent the large Japanese minelayer IJN Itsukushima to the bottom the next week.

Still, they paid the price as shown here from the 1946 Jane’s list of War Losses.

For more on Dutch Submarines in WWII, check out these two excellent sites. 

Italian Submarine Jantina Found on Eternal Patrol

Greek divers have discovered the wreckage of an Italian submarine 80 years after it was sunk by the Allied Forces in the Aegean Sea during World War Two, Ekathimerini reports. She was discovered last month by Greek wreck hunter diver, Kostas Thoctarides and his team, south of the island of Mykonos at a depth of 337 feet. The stricken sub was located by the ROV Super Achilles.

The view of the deck gun of the Italian submarine Jantina that was sunk during World War II by the British submarine HMS Torbay, south of the island of Mykonos, in the Aegean Sea, Greece, November 3, 2021. Kostas Thoctarides/Handout via REUTERS

The Argonauta-class submarine Jantina, which had sailed from the Greek island of Leros under the command of C.C. Vincenzo Politi with 47 crew on board, was sent to the bottom on the night of 5 July 1941, after being hit by a spread of six torpedoes fired by British T-class submarine HMS Torbay (N79). Six Italians survived by swimming to the coast while Politi and 38 ratings perished.

Italian submarine JANTINA, in her wartime camo

The seven Argonauta-class submarines all saw combat in WWII, with five being sunk and a sixth was scuttled at the Italian armistice in 1943. The last surviving boat of the class, Jalea, survived the carnage and was stricken in 1948.

During WWII, some 116 Italian submarines sailed against the Allies or supported those that did, chalking up 130 ships sunk for a total of some 700,000 tons of shipping. In exchange, they lost 96 of their submersibles, many with all hands, their hulls cracked on the seafloor. Some 3,000 submariners of the Regina Marina are still on eternal patrol.

Duck Boat

This picture just screams old-school cool.

Sadly, I ran across this on a Hungarian military forum of all places, a venue I typically haunt to find great pictures of Central European firearms. It had no source or explanation and reverse image sources come up with nothing so I have it here for our enjoyment.

It seems to show U.S. Marines in M1942 Frog Skin pattern (AKA “Beo Gam” or “Duck Hunter”) camo tearing ocean for a simulated beach landing from an assault boat (“Landing Craft, Rubber”) with everyone getting as low to the deck as possible. You can count nine M1 Garands. Also, dig the Johnson commercial outboard. I’d place the image likely in the mid-1950s, when the USMC was very much into putting the Marine back into the Navy’s diesel submarine fleet.

For comparison, check out this image of USS Greenfish (SS-351):

Reconnaissance scouts of the 1st Provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force load into a rubber boat from Greenfish, a submarine of the Pacific fleet as they leave on a night mission against “enemy” installations on the island of Maui. The training afforded the Marines of the Task Force, which is based at the Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, is the most versatile offered to Marines anywhere October 7, 1954. Note the classic WWII “duck hunter” camo which had by 1954 been out of use for almost a decade except for special operations units. (Sgt D.E. Reyher DEFENSE DEPT PHOTO (MARINE CORPS) A290040.)

Great stuff, and, as ususal, if anyone has any other feedback or details, please let me know.

Rising Suns and whales

While there has been lots of heartburn, particularly in East Asia, about Japan’s use of their traditional 16-ray Kyokujitsu-ki rising sun flag, especially in martial settings– with some comparing it to the swastika– the Japanese Navy really don’t care about the haters. 

The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force launched the second of the very advanced Taigei-class diesel-electric submarines this week, JS Hakugei (SS-514). As Taigei means roughly “Big Whale” it is appropriate that Hakugei means “White Whale.”

And you better believe the current naval ensign, which was the old IJN’s ensign going back to the 1870s, was front and center (although it should be pointed out that an alternative version of the flag, with fewer rays and gold added to it, is used by the Japan Self-Defense Forces and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force).

Other than possibly the Germans, the Japanese are making the world’s most deadly SSKs. Post-WWII, they have earned lots of experience in that realm with domestic production including the Sōryū class (12 boats), Oyashio-class (11), Harushio-class (7), Yūshio-class (10), Uzushio-class (7), Asashio-class (4), JDS Ōshio, Natsushio-class (2), and Hayashio-class (2) since 1960, a run of 56 boats thus far, not counting the new Taigeis.

But, with neighbors like Communist China and North Korea, can you blame them?

Canadian U-Boat Ensign Preserved

U-889 in U.S. service before she was scuttled. The Navy was very interested in her snorkel, as numerous images of it are in the archives. However, before she flew a U.S. flag, and after she flew a German one, she wore an RCN ensign. NH 111270

We covered the saga of Canadian-flagged U-Boats in 1945 in a past Warship Wednesday, so this is an interesting development.

Via The Lookout:

HMCS U 889’s ensign being handed over. Photo by Peter Mallett, Lookout Newspaper

A white ensign, once flown atop a captured German U-boat, has been returned to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

Second World War veteran Able Seaman Bob Haden of Victoria had kept the ensign as a war trophy for more than 75 years. The ensign was hoisted a top former German U-boat 889 following its surrender in May 1945, becoming HMCS U-889.

On Sept. 13, at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 91 in Langford, the 97-year-old presented the ensign as a gift to the Commander Canadian Submarine Force, Captain (Naval) Jean Stéphane Ouellet, and his Chief, CPO1 Paddy McGuire.

“This is truly amazing,” said Capt(N) Ouellet while graciously accepting the flag. “Thank you very much. I promise you we will take great care of it.”

More here.

RAN getting into the SSN Game, apparently

The Royal Australian Navy Submarine Service has been around since 1964 but the Ozzies have been running subs going back to the Great War-era British E class submarines AE1 and AE2, which we have covered here on a Warship Wednesday.

Besides the Es, the Australians operated a half-dozen J-class boats in WWI, two O-class boats in the 1920s, and eight British Oberon-class submarines through the Cold War.

Barbecue on top of HMAS Onslow, a diesel submarine operated by Australia’s Navy from 1968 to 1999.

Today, they have the half dozen controversial (but Australian-built!) Collins-class submarines in service that are aging out.

Collins-class submarines conducting exercises northwest of Rottnest Island 2019

Driven by political pressure against nuclear-powered subs– both Australia and New Zealand have had issues with American “N” prefixes visiting in past years– Canberra signed a contract for a dozen planned Attack-class SSKs from France in a competition that saw both German and Japanese designs come up in a close tie for second place.

However, with the French boats not being able to get operational into some time in the mid-2030s, the Australians are scrapping the stalled French contract and going with a program with the U.S. and Royal Navy to field SSNs.

The AUKUS program is ambitious to say the least. 

RAN’s official statement, with a lot more detail than you get elsewhere: 

The submarines will be built at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, where French company Naval Group was to construct the soon-to-be canceled submarines, which is a heavy lift for sure, but not insurmountable. 

As SUBSCOL in New London is very good at what they do at training Nuclear Program submariners, and the production line for the Virginia-class boats is white-hot, it is likely something that could be done inside the decade with some sort of technology sharing program similar to how Australian acquired their FFG-7 frigates in the 1980s, provided the RAN can cough up enough submariners (they have a problem staffing their boats now as it is) as well as the cash and political will.

If a Virginia-class variant is chosen, perhaps one could be hot-loaned from COMSUBPAC, with a cadre of specialists aboard, to the Australians for a couple years as a training boat while theirs are being constructed. 

Can Canberra buy and man 12 boats? Doubtful, but a 4+1 hull program with one boat in a maintenance period and the four active subs, perhaps with rotating blue/red crews, could provide a lot of snorkel.

Plus, it could see American SSNs based in Western Australia on a running basis, which is something that has never happened. Of course, the precedent is there, as 122 American, 31 British, and 11 Dutch subs conducted patrols from Fremantle and Brisbane between 1942 and 1945 while the Royal Navy’s 4th Submarine Flotilla was based in Sydney from 1949 until 1969.

Of course, the French, who have been chasing this hole in the ocean for five years, are going to raise hell over this. 

The “breakup statement” of French Naval Group with Australia Attack class submarine deal…no mention of them being overpriced, overdue and under delivery.

Meanwhile, off Korea

In related Pacific submarine news, the South Koreans successfully fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Wednesday, just hours after North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea.

The ROKN boat, likely the new ROKS Dosan Ahn Changho (SS-083), which just commissioned in August, fired the indigenous Hyunmoo conventional warhead SLBM, of which not much is known. The 3,700-ton Changho-class, of which nine are planned, have six VLS silos for such missiles in addition to their torpedo tubes.

Cantankerous Canuck Submarines Nearing Sea Again

The 30-year-old Canadian Upholder-class submarine HMCS Victoria (SSK 876) passing the Fisgard Lighthouse, Esquimalt, BC, Sept 2020, on her way to sea trials after extensive refits. (RCN photo)

The Type 2400/Upholder/Victoria-class diesel submarines have been something of an albatross of naval history. The last snorkel boats built in the UK, they were to replace the hard-serving Oberon-class boats for surveillance and coastal special operations but the end of the Cold War found the Admiralty rapidly losing interest in the series. Of the eight planned ships, only four (Upholder, Unseen, Ursula, and Unicorn) reached the Royal Navy between 1990-93. Then these boats, just barely past their shakedowns, were all paid off in 1994.

After a deal fell through to sell them to Pakistan (!) London and Ottawa got to talking and Canada picked up the quartet for a song to replace their own Oberon-class boats in 1998. Then came an extensive refit/rework on these low-mileage boats that only saw them begin to enter Canadian service in 2003.

Canadian submarine HMCS Victoria, ex HMS Upholder

Since then, the four boats, (now the HMCS Chicoutimi, Victoria, Corner Brook, and Windsor) have had a mixed bag of incidents to include a fairly serious fire at sea (Chicoutimi), “catastrophic damage” to the electrical system of another boat (Victoria) and a sea-floor collision (Corner Brook, followed by a dry dock fire), as well as mechanical issues and hundreds of bad welds that have left them tied up for years at a time.

Nonetheless, they have had periods of good luck, including a 105-day training cruise in 2015 for Windsor followed by a 133-day Atlantic/Med patrol in 2018 (the first time a Canadian submarine was operational in the Mediterranean in more than four decades) and a 197-day West Pac deployment by Chicoutimi in 2018 (the first time a Canadian submarine has visited Japan since HMCS Grisle in May 1968). Now, pushing into their third decade of service, they are getting closer to being right with Victoria recently finishing sea trials and crew training following an extensive refit. Corner Brook, which had been laid up since 2014, is supposed to be repaired enough to return to service sometime late this year. Windsor is reportedly doing the same, recently completing a lengthy Transitional Docking Work Period (TDWP).

Tusker 333 (CC-130H) Hercules provides top cover for Tusker 912 (CH-149) while conducting hoist training with HMCS Windsor off the coast of Nova Scotia. Photo by SAR Technician Matthew Sebo, 413 Squadron

Three of the boats so far have ditched their old Type 2040 sonar for a new AN/BQQ-10 A-RCI sonar suite, similar to American submarines. They are also now armed with the Mark 48 MOD 7AT torpedo, an upgrade from the previous Mark 48 MOD 4M that required significant upgrades to the 1990s-vintage weapon handling, weapon discharge, and fire control systems.

Canadian submarine HMCS Victoria (876) on sea trails 2020 post refit escorted by the coast defense vessel/auxiliary minesweeper HMCS Saskatoon (MM 707) and the camouflaged Halifax-class frigate HMCS Regina (FFH 334)

The RCN recently released this sizzle reel, planning to keep the quartet around for another decade. 

Warship Wednesday, August 25, 2021: At Least the Middle Bit is Still There

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, August 25, 2021: At Least the Middle Bit is Still There

From the collection of James A. Senior, RCN, via For Posterity Sake. 

Here we see the Improved A-class/River-class destroyer, HMCS Saguenay (H01/D79/I79) entering Willemstad Harbor, Netherlands Antilles, during her 1934 cruise. The Royal Canadian Navy’s first “new” warship, she would lose large portions of herself on two different occasions during WWII but prove to be one very tough tin can.

In 1927, the Admiralty ordered nine new A-class (Active, Acasta, Arrow, Ardent, et. al) destroyers from a series of five firms around the UK– spread out those contracts– all laid down within a few months of each other. Powered by two Parsons geared steam turbines, each with their own shaft, using steam provided by three Admiralty water-tube boilers equipped with superheaters, these 1,350-ton (standard) 323-foot greyhounds were extremely fast, able to hit 35 knots. Armed with four QF 4.7″/45cal Mk IX singles and a pair of quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes, they could hold their own. Able to (kind of) sweep mines, they initially carried little ASW gear as, after all, when they were designed, the Versailles Treaty had barred Germany from making or owning U-boats.

By 1928, Ottawa moved to order a pair of modified A-class destroyers of their own. Dropping the superheaters, they had a slightly longer range while keeping the same speed on an improved hull that was both three feet shorter and better suited to withstand ice– a very Canadian problem. They also had a redesigned superstructure to keep the ships drier, among other minor changes from both the builder (slab-sided funnels) and the Canadians. These two new vessels, Saguenay, and Skeena were named after Canadian river systems and were never “HMS” but rather “HMCS” vessels. As the other A-class ships had “H” pennant numbers originally, Saguenay and Skeena became H01 and H02 on the RCN’s list.

Tadoussac Landing and mouth of the Saguenay River 1901 via LOC ppmsca-18100-18111

Built at Thornycroft in Hampshire, Saguenay launched on 11 July 1930 and was commissioned on 21 May 1931, with sister Skeena, crafted at the same yard, taken into service three weeks later.

They were the first warships built entirely to Canadian specifications and made a big splash when they arrived “home” for the first time on 3 July.

A Happy Peace

Canada’s Navy Arriving! Destroyer Saguenay leading Skeena and Champlain. 3 July 1931. By J. Hayward. H.F. Pullen Nova Scotia Archives 1984-573 Box 1 F/3

Great profile photo of HMCS Saguenay near Montreal, P.Q., 1932. LAC 3399174

HMCS Saguenay, Montreal, P.Q., 1932. LAC 3399173

HMCS Saguenay at Montreal, P.Q., 1934. Note her early H01 pennant number. LAC 3399179

HMCS SAGUENAY (K156) visiting Chicoutimi, present-day Saguenay, in Quebec

In the winter of 1934, HMCS Skeena, HMCS Saguenay, HMCS Champlain, and HMCS Vancouver took part in Winter exercises off South America.

Two years later, the RCN escorted the pilgrimage to and provided the Royal Guard for King Edward VII at the Vimy memorial unveiling, the first such honor for the service. As it would turn out, that detail was provided entirely by Saguenay’s tars. It should be noted that this detail was the first armed Canadian military contingent in France for the first time since the end of the Great War.

The Naval Historical Section would later emphasize the significance of the decision:

” …here was something more than a ship; here was a symbol – a symbol of Canada’s faith that her future was inexorably bound to her sea-borne trade – of a maturing nation’s acceptance of responsibilities commensurate with her development as a world power – of a people’s belief that peace and prosperity were rooted firmly in pre-paredness and the ability to defend, if necessary, her ocean seaways.

The dedication of the Vimy Memorial. HMCS Saguenay provided the Royal Guard, seen to the far right – 1936. Courtesy of Bob Senior. Via For Posterity Sake.

“The Royal Guard represented roughly one-third of the Saguenay’s entire complement and consisted of three officers, three petty officers, and 60 ratings (sailors). The Officer of the Guard was Lieutenant (later Rear-Admiral, OBE) Hugh Francis Pullen, RCN, while Lieutenant Morson Alexander Medland, RCN, served as the Colour Officer (the guard carried a white naval ensign ashore with it) and Gunner (T) Patrick David Budge, RCN, served as the Second Officer of the Guard. The three petty officers were Robert Brownings (who formed the right guide), Charles J. Kelly, and Frederick W. Saunders (who, by 1953, was a chief petty officer honoured with the George Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal). The remainder of the guard incorporated five leading seamen, two leading stokers, 30 able seamen, 11 stokers, 10 ordinary seamen, one signaler, and one telegraphist, all of whom were RCN regulars.”

Ship’s company, HMCS Saguenay in the King’s Guard of Honour, at Vimy Memorial unveiling, July 1936. LT Hugh Francis Pullen, future RADM, in command (source: Canadian Geographic Journal)

WAR!

When Canada entered WWII, Saguenay and Skeena were part of the soon-to-be famed “Barber Pole squadron,” Escort Group (EG) C-3, operating out of St. John’s, Newfoundland, so named due to the red and white band carried on the aft funnel. Both ships had their ASW armament increased considerably.

She began the war as D79, later changed in 1940 to I79

She was part of the very first Halifax convoy, HX001, sailing 17 September 1939, just over a fortnight after the war started.

Taking a break from her convoy work, Saguenay, working with the cruisers HMS Orion and Caradoc, intercepted the  German tanker Emmy Friederich in the Yucatan Straight on 23 October. Formerly the Clyde-built tanker Borderer, Friederich was sailing from Tampico loaded with cargo to keep the pocket battleship Graf Spee in the surface raiding biz but scuttled herself at the sight of the Allied warships. As remembered by every naval history nerd, it was Graf Spee’s lack of fuel that forced her endgame in the South Atlantic seven weeks later.

HMCS Saguenay I79 with a disruption paint scheme. From the collection of CPO Lloyd Wallace. Courtesy of Peter Hanlon. Via For Posterity Sake.

HMCS Saguenay (I79), between 1940 and 1942 note her “barber-pole” ring on her stack and the new I79 pennant on her side

Returning to Halifax to resume local escort duty, over the next 25 months, Saguenay would ride shotgun on a whopping 84 Atlantic convoys, mostly to and from Halifax and Liverpool but also Sydney, Nova Scotia (SC) convoys, as well as Halifax-to-St. John coastwise runs (HJ).

You can’t walk on glass that long and not get cut.

Sailing from Axis-occupied Bordeaux, the Italian submarine Argo was part of the Italian BETASOM group, the submarine was a member of spaghetti wolfpack “Giuliani,” along with the Giuliani, Tarantini, and Torelli, assigned interdiction duty off the coast of Ireland.

On 1 December 1940, while some 300 miles from the Irish coast during escort of HX47, Argo sighted our little destroyer and hit her with a torpedo, removing 20-25 feet of her bow structure and killing 21 of her crew. Remarkably, good damage control allowed the ship to withdraw from her escort duties and proceed to Barrow in Furness under her own power with HMS Highlander in escort. She would spend the next five months in extensive repair and reconstruction.

HMCS Saguenay, likely at Barrow-in-Furness, after catching an Italian torpedo and losing all her bow forward of her guns. Via the Alberta Maritime Museum

Via Regia Marina.net, from the entry on R. Smg. Argo: 

At 04.49 on December 1st, Captain Crepas sighted a silhouette very low on the horizon. Concerned that it could be another Italian submarine, Captain Crepas sent a message with the on-board light. Once the ARGO was close enough, the unit was recognized as a two-stack destroyer and the attack commenced immediately. A single torpedo (the Italians tended to use only one weapon and this was often not sufficient in sinking the enemy vessel) was launched and it hit the target squarely. A second torpedo was also launched later on, giving the impression that the target was destroyed. Once back to the surface, the crew of the ARGO picked up numerous debris indicating the vessel in question as H.M.C.S. Sagueney (D79). Only 10 days later, the German submarine command (B.d.U.) received information that H.M.C.S. Saguenay, despite having been seriously damaged, had been towed back to England. After the war, the Royal Navy added that the destroyer was part of the escort for convoy HG.47 and that it had reached Barrow in Furness on December 5th (five days after the attack), confirming this information.

Four days after hitting Saguenay, Argo sank the British freighter Silverpine (5,066 tons) while on the same patrol, her only “kill” of the war. She was scuttled in September 1943 after Italy left the war and the Germans arrived at Monfalcone.

Remembering the loss of Saguenay’s brush with Argo. Via the CFB Equimalt Museum VR1991.83.4

Back to work

Returning to Atlantic convoy work, in August 1941 Saguenay was part of the escort for the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, carrying Churchill to Newfoundland to meet with FDR.

Able Seamen Brignull and E. Groombridge relaxing aboard the destroyer HMCS Saguenay at sea, 30 October 1941. Note the gun mount. LAC 3576679

Personnel preparing to fire depth charges as the destroyer HMCS Saguenay attacks a submarine contact at sea, 30 October 1941. Built without any such weapons, by 1940 she carried 70 depth charges for use in her stern racks (more on this later) and projectors. LAC 3576681

In January 1942, while on Convoy OS52, she suffered more damage at the hands of Neptune, taking heavy wave hits to her superstructure which required another four-month stint in crowded, overworked repair yards. (The fact that the Atlantic itself was a combatant against all sides in the Battle of the Atlantic was not to be overlooked. Sadly, Saguenay’s  closest sister Skeena was storm wrecked in Iceland in 1944.)

Saguenay returned to service with Convoy HX191 in May.

Her last convoy duty was with HJ018, during which on 15 November 1942 she was accidentally rammed by the American freighter SS Azra (the requisitioned 1,700-ton Danish cargoship Marna) 50 miles Southeast of Cape Spare, Newfoundland. In that collision, Saguenay lost her stern when her depth charges exploded but, in a weird twist of fate, took her assaulter with her, as two of the fused charges exploded under the hull of Azra, sending the freighter to the bottom. The reeling Canuck in turn took Azra’s waterlogged crew members onboard.

The damaged stern of the destroyer HMCS Saguenay. Saguenay was rammed by SS Azra south of Cape Race and lost her stern when her depth charges exploded. November 18, 1942. LAC 3264016

HMCS SAGUENAY I79 after collision Azar

Saguenay, disabled but amazingly suffering no casualties, was taken in tow to St John for repair. After a survey, the battered destroyer was declared beyond economic repair and her structure was sealed to allow the vessel to be towed to Halifax.

HMCS Saguenay stern in dry dock, Via CFB Esquimalt Museum VR993.59.10

Still, most of her equipment was intact and, although not able to steam, was useful as a training hulk, a mission she spent the rest of the war accomplishing at to HMCS Cornwallis at Digby, Nova Scotia. There, she was used in the shoreside schooling of new ratings in seamanship and gunnery from October 1943 until July 1945 when she was paid off, meaning thousands of Canadian tars cycled through her compartments on the way to the fleet.

Further, her first two skippers, Percy W. Nelles and Leonard W. Murray, both served as admirals during the Battle of the Atlantic, with the former rising to Chief of the RCN Naval Staff during the conflict.

The Canadian role in the Battle of the Atlantic is often overlooked but was key to the overall Allied victory in WWII. As noted by the Veterans Affairs Canada:

More than 25,000 merchant ships safely made it to their destination under Canadian escort, delivering approximately 165 million tons of supplies to Europe. The Royal Canadian Navy helped sink more than 30 enemy submarines but at a steep price. They lost approximately 2,000 sailors during the war. The Royal Canadian Air Force was also hit hard, losing more than 750 personnel over the Atlantic. More than 1,600 merchant mariners from Canada and Newfoundland were killed during the battle. Civilians were not spared either. On October 14, 1942, 136 people died when the ferry SS Caribou was torpedoed as it crossed from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.

Epilogue

After the war, Saguenay was sold for breaking up by International Iron and Metal at Hamilton, Ontario, and was towed there in early 1946.

Of the 11 A- and Improved A-class destroyers, besides Skeena, six were lost during WWII to include two, Acasta and Ardent, sunk in a surface action with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau off Narvik; Achates lost in the Barents in a one-sided fight with the German cruiser Admiral Hipper; Acheron lost to a mine, Arrow wrecked in an explosion in Algiers, and Codrington sunk by German bombers off Dover during the Battle of Britain. Of the remaining three “As” — Active, Antelope, and Anthony— obsolete for postwar work, they were soon paid off and scrapped by 1948.

Saguenay has an extensive entry maintained at For Posterity’s Sake, a Royal Canadian Navy Historical Project. 

Relics of Saguenay exist today, such as her bell, which is on public display in Halifax.

The bell for HMCS Saguenay H01/D79/I79 is located at the Naval Museum of Halifax, CFB Halifax. Photo courtesy of Brian Lapierre, via For Posterity Sake

In celebration of her history and status as Canada’s first warship that wasn’t a hand-me-down, Royal Mint Canada earlier this year announced a special $C50 silver coin in her honor, designed by artist Glen Green.

The old “Barber Pole” badge of Saguenay’s St. John’s-based squadron was retained with pride by the postwar Canadian Navy and is still in use by Atlantic units.

In 1956, the Royal Canadian Navy commissioned a new Halifax-built St-Laurent-class destroyer HMCS Saguenay (DD/DDH 206). Like her WWII namesake, she specialized in ASW and, in a funny coincidence, while on a 1986 NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea, she collided with the West German Type 206A coastal submarine U-17 (S196). Gratefully, there were no fatalities on either side and both warships went on to serve several more years.

HMCS Saguenay was paid off on 31 August 1990 after 34 years of Cold War service and was scuttled four years later for use as a recreational divers’ wreck off Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. (Photo: RCN)

Specs:

Destroyer HMCS Saguenay Canadian Navy Heritage website. Image Negative Number E-80027

Displacement: 1,337 long tons (1,358 t)
Length: 321 ft 3 in o/a, 309 ft. p/p
Beam: 32 ft 9 in
Draft: 10 ft
Speed: 35 knots (as built), 31 knots by 1943
Complement: 181
Radar: None originally, Type 286 search and Type 271 range finding by 1943
Armament:
(1930)
4 x QF 4.7″/45cal Mk IX guns (A, B, X, Y mounts)
2 x 4 tubes for 21-inch torpedoes
2 x QF 2-pounder 40 mm pom-pom guns
(1942)
2 x QF 4.7″/45cal Mk IX guns (B, X mounts)
1 x QF 3-inch 20 cwt 12-pounder AAA gun (in place of aft torpedo tube turn stall)
1 x 4 tubes for 21-inch torpedoes
6 x 1 20 mm Oerlikon AAA guns
Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar (in former A mount)
Depth charges (70) and Y-guns

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