The last Norwegian Lockheed P-3 Orion mission is planned for the end of the month, ending a 54-year-long era of the converted Electra airliners turned sub-busters. The service still has six airframes, the four P-3C IIIs (delivered in 1989) and two P-3N (modified former P-3Bs delivered in 1969) of the historic No. 333 Sqn, based at Andøya Air Station.
They are being replaced by new P-8 Poseidon.
Also taking his last flight in Norwegian service is Major Leif Otterholms, who has flown P-3s since 1985, the last 20 years as TACCO. All in all, he has logged over 11,400 flight hours.
Above we see a great 1968 image of the Edsall-class destroyer escort-turned-radar picket, USS Falgout (DER-324) with a bone in her teeth during a Westpac deployment. Some 25 years old at the time, of note her christening occurred 80 years ago this week.
A vessel that saw combat against the Germans while on convoy duty during WWII, she would continue to serve in Korea and as a Cold Warrior, seeing the atomic starburst no less than nine times.
The Edsall class
A total of 85 Edsall-class destroyer escorts were cranked out in four different yards in the heyday of World War II rapid production with class leader USS Edsall (DE-129) laid down 2 July 1942 and last of class USS Holder (DE-401) commissioned 18 January 1944– in all some four score ships built in 19 months. The Arsenal of Democracy at work–building tin cans faster than the U-boats and Kamikazes could send them to Davy Jones.
The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Edsall (DE-129) underway near Ambrose Light just outside New York Harbor on 25 February 1945. The photo was taken by a blimp from squadron ZP-12. Edsall is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 3D. U.S. Navy photo 80-G-306257
These 1,590-ton expendable escorts were based on their predecessors, the very successful Cannon-class boats but used an FMR type (Fairbanks-Morse reduction-geared diesel drive) propulsion suite whereas the only slightly less prolific Cannons used a DET (Diesel Electric Tandem) drive. Apples to oranges.
Armed with enough popguns (3×3″/50s, 2x40mm, 8x20mm) to keep aircraft and small craft at bay, they could plug a torpedo into a passing enemy cruiser from one of their trio of above-deck 21-inch tubes, or maul a submarine with any number of ASW weapons including depth charges and Hedgehogs. Too slow for active fleet operations (21 knots) they were designed for coastal patrol (could float in just 125 inches of seawater), sub-chasing, and convoy escorts.
The hero of our story, USS Falgout, is the only ship named for Seaman 2c George Irvin Falgout, a resident of Raceland, Louisiana who was a posthumous recipient of the Navy Cros for his actions while serving on the heavily damaged cruiser, USS San Francisco (CA-38) at Guadalcanal in November 1942. Falgout reportedly “remained at his gun, blazing away at a Japanese aircraft until it crashed his station.”
The only ship named in his honor was constructed by Consolidated Steel Corp, Ltd., Orange, Texas (all the Edsalls were built at one of two Texas Gulf Coast yards) and sponsored at launch by his sister, Mrs. H. J. Guidry. She was commissioned on 15 November 1943 with an all-Coast Guard crew under CDR Henry A Meyer, a Coast Guard regular who earned his first thin gold stripe in 1931.
The CNO, ADM Ernest J. King, had, in June 1943, ordered the Coast Guard to staff and operate 30 new (mostly Edsall-class) destroyer escorts on Atlantic ASW duties, trained especially at the Submarine Training Centers at Miami and Norfolk. Each would be crewed by 11 officers and 166 NCOs/enlisted, translating to a need for 5,310 men, all told.
By November 1943, it had been accomplished! Quite a feat.
The USCG-manned DEs would be grouped in five Escort Divisions of a half dozen ships each, 23 of which were Edsalls:
These ships were soon facing off with the Germans in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Following shakedown along the East Coast and the Caribbean– where Falgout picked up 11 survivors from the American tanker Touchet that was torpedoed and sunk on 3 December 1943 by German U-boat U-193— our new destroyer escort was bound for the Med in February 1944 as part of the escort of Convoy UGS 32 to Casablanca, and returned to New York with GUS 31.
Then came Convoy UGS 38 out of Hampton Roads to Bizerte in Tunisia in April. This crossing proved much more contentious and suffered from German air attacks by waves of Junkers and Heinkel bombers with the Benson-class destroyer USS Landsdale (DD-426) sunk after hits from torpedo-carrying Ju 88s on the night of the 20th. Falgout expended no less than 600 rounds of 20mm and 16 rounds of 40mm on bombers that came close enough to swat.
While on the next homeward bound convoy, GUS 39, Falgout’s sistership USS Menges (DE 320), was hit by a G7es acoustic torpedo from U-371 on 3 May. The German fish destroyed a third of the tin can, and created casualties of a third of the ship’s crew but would amazingly survive the war. Just two nights later, the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Fechteler (DE-157), would be sunk near Falgout by German submarine U-967, with the bulk of the crew rescued.
Not all the Coast Guard-manned DEs would come through to VE-Day. USS Leopold (DE-319) of CortDiv 22 was torpedoed by U-255 and later sank in the North Atlantic, 400 miles south of Iceland on 10 March 1944, with a loss of 13 officers and 158 men. Two other classmates with Navy crews, USS Frederick C. Davis (DE-136) and USS Fiske (DE-143), would also be lost in the Atlantic to U-boats.
Falgout would make two further roundtrips to Bizerte and back followed by three to Oran and back, although not coming as close to death as on UGS 38/GUS 39. Notably, however, she did pluck four Ju88 crewmembers from the water following a raid on GUS 45 in July 1944.
USS HAMUL (AD-20) Caption: At Bermuda in early 1944, while serving as flagship of the DD-DE shakedown group (CTG-23.1). Alongside are: CALCATERA (DE-390), PRIDE (DE-323), FALGOUT (DE-324), ALGER (DE-101), and EICHENBERGER (DE-202). Description: Collection of Captain D.L. Madeira, 1978. Catalog #: NH 86271
She was in Oran when the news of the German surrender was received.
Her final WWII skipper was a young LCDR Henry C Keene, Jr.,(USCGA 1941), who had been aboard the Treasury-class cutter USCGC Bibb (WPG-31) earlier in the war when that vessel plucked 235 survivors (and a dog) from U-boat-infested waters in the North Atlantic. Keene would later retire in 1965 as commander of Ketchikan CG Base and go on to be a noted Superior Court judge in Alaska. Meanwhile, the good CDR Meyer, who was the greyhound’s first commander, would continue his career with the Coast Guard for at least until 1956, retiring sometime later as a full captain.
For her 14 convoys, Falgout received one battle star for her wartime service, her only casualty being EM3c James G. O’Brien who died in a 1944 accident while on libo in Casablanca, falling from a second-story window.
After limited post-war service, during which she spent most of 1946 “in commission, in reserve” in Charleston with a caretaker crew (the USCG was returned to the Treasury Department in December 1945, and most of its wartime personnel discharged and Navy-owned ships returned) Falgout was classified “out of commission, in reserve” 18 April 1947 and lowered her flag.
The Edsall class, 1946 Janes.
Break out the white paint.
With the dramatic surge in air and maritime traffic across some downright vacant stretches of the Pacific that came with the Korean War, the USCG was again tapped to man a growing series of Ocean Stations. Two had been formed after WWII and the Navy added another three in 1950, bringing the total to five.
These stations would serve both a meteorological purpose– with U.S. Weather Bureau personnel embarked– as well as serve as floating checkpoints for military and commercial maritime and air traffic and communication “relay” stations for aircraft on transoceanic flights crisscrossing the Pacific. Further, they provided an emergency ditch option for aircraft (a concept that had already been proved by the Bermuda Sky Queen rescue in 1947, which saw all 69 passengers and crew rescued by the cutter Bibb.)
As detailed by Scott Price in The Forgotten Service in the Forgotten War, these stations were no picnic, with the average cutter logging 4,000 miles and as many as 320 radar fixes while serving upwards of 700 hours on station.
Ocean station duty could be monotonous at one moment and terrifying the next, as the vessels rode out storms that made the saltiest sailors green. One crew member noted: “After twenty-one days of being slammed around by rough cold sea swells 20 to 50 feet high, and wild winds hitting gale force at times, within an ocean grid the size of a postage stamp, you can stand any kind of duty.”
A typical tour was composed of arriving at Midway Island for three weeks on SAR standby, three weeks on Ocean Station Victor midway between Japan and the Aleutian Islands, three weeks on SAR standby at Guam, two weeks “R and R” in Japan, three weeks on Ocean Station Sugar, three weeks on SAR standby Adak, Alaska, and then back to home port.
To stand post on these new ocean stations and backfill for other cutters detailed to the role, the Navy lent the USCG 12 mothballed Edsalls (Newell, Falgout, Lowe, Finch, Koiner, Foster, Ramsden, Rickey, Vance, Lansing, Durant, and Chambers), nine of which the service had originally operated during WWII.
To man these extra vessels and fill other wartime roles such as establishing new LORAN stations and pulling port security, the USCG almost doubled in size from just over 18,000 to 35,082 in 1952.
The conversion to Coast Guard service included a white paint scheme, an aft weather balloon shelter (they would have to launch three balloons a day in all sea states), and the fitting of a 31-foot self-bailing motor surfboat for rescues in heavy weather. The USCG designator “W” was added to the hull number, as was the number 100, therefore, our vessel went from USS Falgout (DE-324) to USCGC Falgout (WDE-424).
Falgout’s sister, the Edsall-class USS Durant (DE-389/WDE-489/DER-389) in her Coast Guard livery. Note the WWII AAA suite is still intact. Falgout carried the same white and buff scheme.
Falgout was on loan to the Coast Guard between 24 August 1951– the second Edsall so converted– and 21 May 1954, in commission for duty as an ocean station vessel out of Tacoma, Washington.
Schenia notes that she pulled eight patrols in this period including two on OS Queen, two on OS Sugar, one on OS Nan, and two on OS Victor in addition to serving as the policing cutter for the International Cruiser Race Regatta in British Columbia in 1952 and the Lake Washington Gold Cup Race in 1953.
Besides nine Edsalls, two similarly loaned ex-Navy seaplane tenders, two 180-foot buoy tenders, and nine existing 255-foot/327-foot Coast Guard cutters also clocked in on Pacific Ocean station detail, with a total of 22 vessels and their crews earning the Korean Service Medal during the conflict. The Pacific Ocean station cutters in all assisted over 20 merchant and Navy vessels in distress, including one transoceanic airliner during the war.
The USCG-manned Edsalls were all retrograded to the Navy in 1954, with the last, Chambers, striking 30 July. It turned out that the Navy had other plans for these humble vessels, now double war vets.
Falgout, laid back up after her 32 months of USCG service during Korea, was picked to become a radar picket ship, and given a new lease on life, reclassified into the Navy at Mare Island on 28 October 1954 as DER-324.
The DER program filled an early gap in the continental air defense system by placing a string of ships as sea-based radar platforms to provide a distant early warning line to possible attack from the Soviets. The Pacific had up to 11 picket stations while the Atlantic had as many as nine. A dozen DEs became DERs (including Falgout) through the addition of SPS-6 and SPS-8 air search radars to help man these DEW lines as the Atlantic Barrier became fully operational in 1956 and the Pacific Barrier (which Falgout took part in) by 1958.
To make room for the extra topside weight of the big radars, they gave up most of their WWII armament, keeping only their Hedgehog ASW device and two Mark 34 3-inch guns with aluminum and fiberglass weather shields.
DER conversion of Edsall (FMR) class ships reproduced from Peter Elliot’s American Destroyer Escorts of WWII
Detail of masts. Note the WWII AAA suite, one of the 3″ guns, and centerline 21-inch tubes have been landed
Her conversion complete, Falgout was recommissioned on 30 June 1955.
30 June 1955: Mare Island NSY, Vallejo, Cal. – Radm. Frederick L. Entwistle, USN (Commander, Mare Island Naval Shipyard) is commissioning speaker at the ceremony marking USS Falgout’s re-commissioning. Lcdr. Walter P. Smiley is on the far right of the photo. (U.S. Navy photo #DER-324-063055-1TH) via Darryl Baker, Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum, via Navsource.
30 June 1955: Mare Island NSY, Vallejo, Cal. – Colors are raised aboard USS Falgout at Mare Island after her conversion at the shipyard. (U.S. Navy photo #DER-324-063055-3TH) via Darryl Baker, Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum, via Navsource.
She was assigned to Seattle as a homeport, with orders coming from the Continental Air Defense Command, heading out to serve regular radar picket in the Early Warning System.
USS Falgout (DER 324) underway
In March 1959, this changed to duty out of Pearl Harbor.
On 31 January 1961, she received her 10th skipper, LCDR Samuel Lee Gravely Jr., a mustang who enlisted in 1942 and went through NROTC in 1944 to earn his commission. Gravely had previously served on USS PC-1264 in WWII, then aboard the battleship USS Iowa during Korea and the cruiser USS Toledo (CA-133), and served as executive officer and acting commander of the destroyer USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD-717) immediately before taking command of Falgout. This act, noted by the NHHC, put Gravely as the first African-American to command a combat ship.
In late 1962, Falgout, with Gravely as skipper, was detailed to Joint Task Force 8, operating out of Pearl Harbor, for Operation Dominic.
Sparked by the Soviet resumption of nuclear testing after the 1958–1961 moratorium, Dominic would see no less than 31 air dropped, high-altitude rocket, parachuted, and underwater tests of prototype and existing weapons (including the first Polaris SLBM war shot) carried out over the Eastern Pacific spanning from the coast of California to Christmas and Johnston Island.
Falgout would closely participate (sometimes within 90 miles of the detonation) in at least nine of these tests, all off Johnston Island as part of TU 8.3.6, while she would be a more distant weather ship (over 500 miles away) for much of the remainder of the other tests, in the latter tasked with chasing off Soviet spy trawlers.
The Defense Nuclear Agency’s 432-page report on Operation Dominic I compiled in 1983, has the below rundown of Falgout’s nine hottest experiences:
Notably, of the more than 80 Army, Navy, and Coast Guard vessels that took part in or supported Dominic I, only 16, Falgout included, had personnel with “suspect” radiological film badges.
And the detonation maps for Tightrope (Operation Fishbowl, less than 20 kt), Housatonic (9.96 Mt), Calamity (800 Kt), Chama (1.6 Mt), and Bumping (11.3 Kt):
Dominic Chama blast, 18 October. B-52 Airdrop; 11,970 Feet detonation. This was a free-fall LASL test of the Thumbelina device in an Mk-36 drop case.
Another shot of Chama. This was a test of a lightweight small-diameter device, possibly a replacement for the W-38 (the 2-4 Mt warhead for the Atlas and Titan I missiles). The results are variously described as “thoroughly successful” while the yield was reported to be below the predicted value.
Tightrope. Nike Hercules Missile Airburst; 69,000 Feet. Carrying the LASL-designed W-31 air defense warhead.
Brushing the dust off Dominic off her decks, Falgout would continue to be based out of Pearl for the rest of the decade.
USS Falgout (DER 324) at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, June 1963
DE-397 Wilhoite Feb 1966 Pearl Harbor with Falgout DER 324
From 1966 to 1969 Falgout rotated to service along the coast of Vietnam where she served in Operation Market Time, attempting to interdict Viet Cong maritime traffic. This would include the TEE SHOT V operation which saw our tin can serve as a mother ship in Qui Nhon Bay to two 50-foot PCFs including berthing for two spare PCF crews.
A stalwart of the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam: the PCF. Here, PCF-94 of Coastal Division 11in the Gulf of Thailand, March 1968. USN 1130655
As detailed by NHHC, TEE SHOT V “was established in the coastal area from Dong Phu village south to Chanh Oai village to detect and capture or destroy any hostile craft attempting to exfiltrate the area…During the operation a total of 2,448 junks were detected, 1,210 inspected and 484 boarded. Twenty-three persons and six junks with a total of seventeen tons of salt were apprehended and delivered to VNN authorities.”
On 10 October 1969, Falgout was decommissioned at Mare Island after just over 14 years of service to the Navy and four to the USCG under Navy orders. Her fellow DERs shared a similar fate, either laid up in mothballs or transferred to overseas allies.
USS Falgout and Canberra laid up at Stockton, California on 20 May 1972. The bow of USS Canberra (CA-70) is visible astern. Probably photographed by Ted Stone. Courtesy of Ted Stone, 1980. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 90588
1973 Janes on the Edsall class DERs.
On 1 June 1975, Falgout was struck from the NVR then in early 1977 was towed out to sea off the coast of California and sunk as a target.
As for LCDR Gravely, once he left Falgout in 1963, he went on to complete 38 years of service, command USS Taussig (DD-746), USS Jouett (DLG-29), Naval Communications Command, Cruiser-Destroyer Group Two, the Eleventh Naval District, Third Fleet, and the Defense Communications Agency.
In 1976, while serving as commander of the Third Fleet, he was promoted to Vice Admiral. He passed away in 2004 and is buried in Arlington.
The Flight II Burke, USS Gravely (DDG 107), is named for him. Here seen Oct. 26, 2013, with an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the “Swamp Foxes” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 74 overhead. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Billy Ho/Released) 131026-N-QL471-333
As for the rest of the Edsalls, the former Coast Guard-manned USS Forster (DE/DER-334/WDE-434) may possibly still be afloat in Vietnam as the pier side trainer Dai Ky, while ex-USS Hurst (DE-250) which has been in the Mexican Navy since 1973, is still in use limited use as the training ship ARM Commodore Manuel Azueta (D111).
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.
These three interesting mentions from DOD in the past week include the next two Virginia-class hunter killers (SSN 812 & 813)– which will be Block V subs if not improved Block VI boats, which will be the 38th and 39th of the class.
General Dynamics Electric Boat, Groton, Connecticut, is awarded a not-to-exceed $1,075,896,000 undefinitized contract action modification to previously awarded contract N00024-17-C-2100 for long lead time material associated with the Virginia class submarines SSN 812 and SSN 813. Work will be performed in Sunnyvale, California (34%); Florence, New Jersey (5%); Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (3%); Spring Grove, Illinois (2%); Tucson, Arizona (2%); Windsor Locks, Connecticut (2%); Annapolis, Maryland (2%); Minneapolis, Minnesota (2%); Peoria, Illinois (1%); Ladson, South Carolina (1%); Warren, Massachusetts (1%); and other locations less than 1% (45%), and is expected to be completed by September 2033. Fiscal 2022 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) $352,017,000 (33%); and fiscal 2023 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) $723,879,000 (67%) funding will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The statutory authority for this sole source award is in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulation 6.302-1(a)(2)(iii) – only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.
If curious about the Virginias, the Navy recently released a very good short tour of classmember USS Delaware (SSN-791):
The recent contracts include a ninth ship (T-AO 213) in the John Lewis-class fleet oiler program (which have some of the worst names possible– can we just go back to rivers for oilers?).
General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Co., San Diego, California, is awarded a $736,160,588 modification to previously-awarded contract N00024-16-C-2229 to exercise the option for the detail design and construction of T-AO 213. Work will be performed in San Diego, California (58%); Iron Mountain, Michigan (8%); Crozet, Virginia (5%); Beloit, Wisconsin (4%); Mexicali, Mexico (4%); Chula Vista, California (2%); Chesapeake, Virginia (2%); National City, California (1%); Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1%); Walpole, Massachusetts (1%); and various other locations less than one percent (14%), and is expected to be completed by March 2028. Fiscal 2023 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) funds in the amount of $736,160,588 (100%) will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity. (Awarded May 19, 2023)
Class leader, the future USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205) on sea trials.
In 2016, the Navy awarded NASSCO with a contract to design and build the first six ships in the next generation of fleet oilers, the John Lewis-class (T-AO 205), previously known as the TAO(X). Designed to transfer fuel to U.S. Navy carrier strike group ships operating at sea, the 742-feet vessels have a full load displacement of 49,850 tons, with the capacity to carry 157,000 barrels of oil, a significant dry cargo capacity, aviation capability and up to a speed of 20 knots. The first ship, the future USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205), was delivered to the Navy last year. The future USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO 206), the future USNS Earl Warren (T-AO 207), the future USNS Robert F. Kennedy (T-AO 208), the future USNS Lucy Stone (T-AO 209), and the future USNS Sojourner Truth (T-AO 210) are currently under construction.
And going back to submarines, this contract is interesting:
Electric Boat Corp., Groton, Connecticut, is awarded a $48,627,265 modification (P00034) to previously awarded, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract N00014-19-C-1002 for the Next Generation Submarine Science and Technology Research effort. The contract modification adds five new option periods. The proposed effort is to develop technologies for transition to the Virginia and Columbia submarine acquisition programs, and to provide technology options for the next SSN class that improve submarine performance, operations, life cycle and affordability. The effort includes development of numerical modeling and simulations tools, development of engineering analysis methods, development and demonstration of component and system concepts, technology assessment, and application of ship builder expertise in engineering and submarine arrangements to evaluate and transition technology into submarine designs. The total cumulative value of this contract is $88,289,172. Work will be performed in Groton, Connecticut, and is expected to be completed by May 31, 2028. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test, and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $4,899,265 are obligated at time of award and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Office of Naval Research, Arlington, Virginia, is the contracting activity.
How about these epic shots via General Dynamics Electric Boat of the Block IV Virginia-class hunter killer USS Vermont (SSN-792) heading out from the Groton shipyard on sea trials on 6 May following her Post Shakedown Availability (PSA).
She is the 19th boat of the class and the third vessel of the Navy to be named for the U.S. state of Vermont, following in the wake of the Great White Fleet era Connecticut class battleship and an unfinished ship of the line authorized in 1816.
The 25th Virginia-class hunter-killer, USS Massachusetts (SSN 798), was christened at Newport News over the weekend, with a tentative commissioning date of May 2024 in Boston. She will be the fifth such commissioned vessel (9th planned) named for the state filling the 61-year gap on the Navy List that was left when the SoDak class battlewagon USS Massachusetts (BB-59) was struck from the Naval Register on 1 June 1962.
Class leader USS Salmon (SS-182) running speed trials in early 1938. Note the S1 designator. NH 69872
As covered in past Warship Wednesdays, the hard-charging Salmon-class fleet submarine USS Sturgeon (SS-187), under command of LCDR William Leslie “Bull” Wright (USNA 1925), a colorful six-foot-three cigar-chomping Texan, made a name for herself in the early days of the Pacific War. After an early attack on a Japanese ship just after Pearl Harbor, she flashed “Sturgeon no longer virgin!”
It was on her fourth patrol that she came across the 7,266-ton, twin-screw diesel motor vessel passenger ship MV Montevideo Maru which had been used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a troop transport in the early days of the war, supporting the landings at Makassar in February 1942 and was part of the Japanese seizure of New Britain.
Via ONI 208J.
Sailing on 22 June unescorted for Hainan Island off China, Montevideo Maru ran into Sturgeon eight days later. Our submarine pumped four fish into the “big fella” in the predawn hours of 1 July, after a four-hour stalk, with young LT Chester William “Chet” Nimitz Jr. (yes, that Nimitz’s son) as the TDC officer.
All the prisoners on board died, locked below decks. Of note, more Australians died in the loss of the Montevideo Maru than in the country’s decade-long involvement in Vietnam.
Sturgeon, of course, was unaware that the ship was carrying Allied POWs and internees.
DANFS does not mention Montevideo Maru‘s cargo.
Four days later, Sturgeon damaged the Japanese oiler San Pedro Maru (7268 GRT) south of Luzon, then ended her 4th war patrol at Fremantle on 22 July.
Sturgeon earned ten battle stars for World War II service, with seven of her war patrols deemed successful enough for a Submarine Combat Insignia.
Bull Wright, who earned a Navy Cross for his first patrol, never commanded a submarine again– perhaps dogged over the Montevideo Maru, or perhaps because he was 40 years old when he left Sturgeon— and he retired quietly from the Navy after the war as a rear admiral. Although a number of WWII submarines and skippers with lower tonnage or fewer patrols/battle stars under their belt were profiled in the most excellent 1950s “Silent Service”documentary series, Bull Wright and Sturgeon were noticeably skipped.
Now, Montevideo Maru has been discovered in her resting place off the Philippines. An expedition team, led by Australian businessman, maritime history philanthropist, explorer, and director of not-for-profit Silentworld Foundation, John Mullen, found the hell ship’s wreck earlier this month.
Simon Lake, the famed mechanical engineer and naval architect, who held hundreds of patents relating to submarine vessels, engines, and other concepts, built his first operational submersible in 1894 at age 28.
Simon Lake and his “Argonaut” submarine in dry dock. Note that it had wheels and was intended to crawl the ocean floor. Via Popular Science 1901
Later, his more mature designs were built for service to the Tsar of Russia, the Kaisers of both Austria and Germany as well as Uncle Sam.
Simon Lake’s O-12 (SS-73) retained his trademark stern and amidships planes (shown folded down in the outboard view). Note the separate flooding ports in the watertight superstructure. Drawing by Jim Christley, text courtesy of U.S. Submarines Through 1945, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. Naval Institute Press. Via Navsource
One of his more peculiar designs was the Newport-built commercial submarine Simon Lake XV, which was later renamed Defender.
Defender at Bridgeport Connecticut. Photo courtesy Submarine Force Museum & Library
Just 92 feet overall, she displaced but 200 tons. Fitted with three torpedo tubes, Lake modified the small boat for diver operations while submerged, a concept he thought would be useful for both mine clearance and salvage work.
The experimental submarine was built in 1902 by Simon Lake, and refitted as a salvage craft, on the ways before launching at Bridgeport, Connecticut, on 1 January 1929. It was taken to New London, Connecticut, to undergo tests of safety and rescue devices with the salvaged submarine S-4. The new escape hatch, slightly open, can be seen in the bow, directly beneath the eye bolt. Description: Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69034
Although the inventor tried several times to interest the navy and others with public experiments with Defender, and a failed attempt to salvage gold from the lost British frigate HMS Hussar— which had rested at the bottom of New York City’s East River since the Revolutionary War– with the boat, he never managed to sell it or the design.
Amelia Earhart dressed for deep sea diving off the submarine Defender, off Block Island, Rhode Island, July 1929
Illustration of Defender, with a possible conversion to a Sightseeing Submarine
After Lake passed in 1945, Defender was hauled out to sea and scuttled by the Army Corps of Engineers in Long Island Sound.
Now, a group of divers led by Richard Simon of Shoreline Diving are pretty confident they have found the old boat.
The wreckage was first imaged as part of a bathymetric survey conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a sonar survey of the Long Island Sound conducted by Eastern Search and Survey. Both surveys marked the wreckage as “unidentified.” Simon, who had been researching Defender for years, noticed that the unidentified wreckage was consistent with that of submarine and of Defender’s dimensions. The team conducted further research before diving the target aboard Simon’s vessel R/V Integrity. The dive, research, and surface support team consisted of: Richard Simon, Bob Foster, Jeff Goodreau, Wayne Gordon, Austin Leese, Joe Mazraani, Kurt Mintell, Harold Moyers, Kevin Ridarelli, Jennifer Sellitti, and Eric Simon.
Members of the team attempted to dive the wreck on April 14, 2023, but poor tidal conditions prevented them from diving. The team revisited the site two days later, on April 16, 2023. Simon oversaw deck operations while divers Steve Abbate and Joe Mazraani descended to the wreckage. The pair found an intact submarine. The length, the size, and shape of protrusions on the submarine’s distinct keel, and the shape and location of diving planes characteristic of Lake-built vessels helped identify Defender.
Additionally, the proximity of the wreckage to the mud flats where Defender was beached prior to being scuttled further confirmed the identification.
“It is such a thrill to finally put our hands on this important piece of maritime history,” said Abbate. Abbate, who made the dive the day before his sixtieth birthday, added, “It’s also an incredible birthday present!”
Forward hatch on Defender/Diver Steve Abbate inspects one of Defender’s propellers | Photos courtesy Joe Mazraani
Laid down only four short years after the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571) took to the sea, USS Thresher (SSN-593) was the lead ship of her 14-unit class.
USS Thresher. Starboard-bow view, July 24, 1961. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph)
Commissioned on 3 August 1961, she was longer than the preceding Skipjack class of attack boats but still ran a good deal shorter at 279 feet than the WWII-era “fleet boat” subs that had brought Japan to its knees.
Designed to dive to as deep as 1,300 feet to seek and destroy the increasing herds of Soviet subs, Thresher was lost with all hands during deep-diving tests, on 10 April 1963– the first of SSN in any fleet lost at sea but sadly not the last.
Her 129 souls aboard represented the largest single loss of life in the 123-year history of the U.S. Submarine Service.
She was lost in 8,400 feet of water, a depth impossible for any SSN.
Illustration of the depth of 8400 ft where the Thresher sunk. From The Death of the USS Thresher by Norman Polmar, p96
And there is also this retrospective video from the USNI, and how the loss of Thresher, and later USS Scorpion (SSN-589), helped institute the SUBSAFE changes that have kept American boats from joining the “Eternal Patrol.”
In all, some 64 American submarines were lost between USS F-4 (SS-23) in 1915 and Scorpion in 1968, 52 of them during WWII.
The boats, and their 3,852 forever embarked crewmen, are still on patrol.
Some 105 years ago today, a German submarine, SM U-154, under the command of Kplt. Hermann Gercke, appeared off the Liberian capital of Monrovia and bombarded the city then sank the West African republic’s sole naval vessel.
U-154 was one of the big German Type U 151 merchant submarines built to run the British blockade in the Great War. Converted for use by the Kaiserliche Marine, she mounted two large 5.9″ L/45 deck guns, and another pair of 3.5″ L30s, and carried 18 torpedos.
The event was live-streamed by Richard Bundy, U.S. Chargé in Liberia, as told in three cables:
Monrovia , April 10, 1918 . [Received 9.07 p.m.]
German submarine now in harbor of Monrovia. Commander sent President, Liberia, following letter this morning:
Sir: I have not the wish to do unnecessary damage to the Liberian people, being sure that you were driven into the war against your true interest; therefore I send you back those prisoners I made beating your armed ship President [ Howard? ]. In the same time I want to draw your attention to the fact that the capital of Liberia is at present helpless under German guns. Like many other allies of England and France you are not being supported by them in the moment of the most critical danger. If the wireless and cable station of Monrovia do not at once cease their work I shall regret being obliged to open fire on them. If you wish to avoid this you will have to send on to me a boat under a flag of truce and declare that you consent to stop them yourself. [Your obedient] servant, Gercke, Kapitan Lieutenant and Commandant S.M.U. Kreuzer U.
Liberian Government has not yet given its final answer to these demands but in any case it looks as if the wireless and cable stations at Monrovia will be put out of commission accordingly. This is probably the last message I will be able to send the Department. It [Page 741]is urgently requested that assistance be sent at earliest possible moment.
Monrovia , April 10, 1918 . [Received 9.17 p.m.] Liberian Government agreed to stop operation of wireless and cable stations and in reply to its communications commander of submarine makes following demands:
Extreme urgence, dernier ultimatum. Have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your answer to my note from this morning. Being sure of your earnest good will to comply with my demands I will not open fire on the cable and wireless stations which I was in the act of doing when just in time your boat was sent out. I am glad to be able to do so because my gun fire might have hurt innocent people. In answer for this I must put to you the following demands:
(1) The French flag is to be removed from its place shown to your commissioners; (2) Fire is to be set on all houses belonging to the wireless and cable stations, the apparatus of each station to be destroyed; (3) One and two to be executed within one hour after your commissioners have reached the shore.
I have the honor to be, Sir, your obedient servant, Gercke, Kapitan Lieutenant and Commandant S.M.U. Kreuzer U.
Liberian Government has not yet given its final answer to these demands but in any case it looks as if the wireless and cable stations at Monrovia will be put out of commission accordingly. This is probably the last message I will be able to send the Department. It is urgently requested that assistance be sent at the earliest possible moment.
Monrovia , April 10, 1918 . [Received April 11, 4 a.m.] Liberian Government’s final reply to demands of submarine commander was considered unsatisfactory by him. At about 4 this afternoon submarine bombarded French wireless station rendering it inoperative. As result bombardment two Liberian persons killed and two wounded. Submarine is now engaging merchant steamer off Monrovia, result as yet not known. No public disorder. Believe submarine will return to complete demolition of cable and wireless station.
The naval combat between the Germans and Liberians saw U-154 easily dispatch the former I. W. West trading schooner R.L.S President Daniel E. Howard. The 73-ton converted gunboat took 26 of her crew to the bottom (although German accounts say the crew was paroled and not harmed).
The arrival that afternoon of an armed British merchantman, the 3,800-ton SS Burutu, which soon started firing at U-154, drove the German away. Two members of the Burutu’s crew were killed in the surface action.
What triggered the U-boat onslaught was Liberia’s declaration of war on Imperial Germany the previous August. Prior to that event, the republic had a good relationship with Berlin, as the country was one of the four guaranteers of a $1.7 million load handled by a New York bank in 1912. Pre-war, the port facility at Monrovia was largely run by German firms, and something like 75 percent of the country’s overseas trade went back and forth to Hamburg.
Following the raid, Gercke was wired that he was promoted to Korvettenkapitän on 28 April for his performance, which besides the Liberian affair had seen him sink four other ships.
Two weeks later, U-154 was found and sunk by HM Submarine E-35 off the coast of West Africa, taking all 77 hands, KKpt Gercke included, to the bottom.
As far as Burutu, the Captain, Henry A. Yardley, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Seaman Edward Jones was given a gold medal by the passengers. The Dempster Lines cargo vessel would be sunk in a collision with the 7,000-ton City of Calcutta in the Irish Sea during a convoy mix-up in October 1918. She went down with all 160 aboard.