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Warship Wednesday, April 17, 2018: Canadian Snorkel Power

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time 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, April 17, 2018: Canadian Snorkel Power

U-190 surrendered

George Metcalf Archival Collection, Canadian War Museum (CWM) 20030014-094

Here we see IXC/40-class submarine U-190 of the German Kriegsmarine sailing to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland in May 1945, under escort by Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) vessels including the Fairmile-type motor launch seen in the distance. If you note, she is flying the RCN’s White Ensign and had just become the country’s first post-WWII submarine.

U190 surrendered Canadian jack

Boom! The RCN Jack over her conning tower, as the first German submarine, to surrender to the Canadians (and their first sub in service since 1927). Note the sub’s distinctive 8-pointed star crest and her post-commissioning snorkel apparatus. Photo via The Rooms

One of the nearly 200 Type IXC/40s completed during the war, U-190 was laid down in 1941 at DeSchiMAG AG Weser of Bremen and commissioned on 24 September 1942 with Kaptlt. Max Wintermeyer as her first skipper. At some 1,257-tons, she was not a big boat, running just 251-feet overall. However, the class was well designed and capable of 13,000-nm cruises on their economical diesel engines. Able to carry 22 torpedoes and a 4.1-inch deck gun with 180~ shells as well as a Flak armament, they were deadly and efficient killers when it came to stalking Allied merchantmen.

This photograph shows the September 1942 commissioning of the German submarine U-190. As part of the commissioning ceremony, the German navy’s ensign flies from the conning tower (left) and is being given the Nazi salute by the submarine’s commanding officer (center right) and by spectators (lower right). George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19870078-002

By 1 March 1943, she was assigned to 2 Flottille in Lorient, France.

As noted by Uboat.net, although she conducted six war patrols and took part in at least three North Atlantic wolfpacks (Neuland, Ostmark, and Stürmer), she was not very successful. Her only confirmed merchant victim was the British-flagged freighter Empire Lakeland (7,015-tons) sunk south of Iceland while part of New York-to-Glasgow convoy SC-121 during the submarine’s 111-day 2nd Patrol.

In August 1944, Oblt. Hans-Erwin Reith, 24, took command of the vessel and bugged out for Flensburg as the Allied liberation of France removed Lorient as an operating base. On 19 February 1945, Reith left Horten for U-190‘s final (German) patrol. It would last 85-days, with the crew later saying she spent upwards of 40 days on this patrol snorkeling continuously.

Her mission, as detailed by Cameron Pulsifer:

Equipped with a schnorchel and armed with 6 [T-3 Lut] contact torpedoes and eight T-5 Gnat acoustic torpedoes, its mission was to interdict Allied shipping off Sable Island and the approaches to Halifax harbor. It was, in fact, part of the new strategy on the part of the commander-in-chief of the German Navy, Admiral Karl Dönitz, initiated in the dying days of the Nazi regime, to increase pressure on shipping in North American waters in an attempt to ease allied naval pressure in waters closer to home.

There, on 16 April, U-190 encountered a Bangor-class minesweeper, HMCS Esquimalt (J272) and sank her with a single Gnat fired from a stern tube. Esquimalt was the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during the Second World War (or since, for that matter) and took 39 souls with her to the bottom. U-190 remained submerged for a solid week following this attack, during which time she was hunted by surface vessels, who rained numerous depth charges down upon her decks.

Dönitz had ordered all his U-boats to surrender as from 08:00 5 May, but not all did so immediately.

According to an interrogation report of U-190s crew, it was only on the 11th that U-190 picked up an incomplete version of the surrender orders, to which they responded “An B.d.U.: Seit 12 April ohne F/T. Nach erfolgreicher Unternehmung auf Ruckmarsch. F/T über Kapitulation verstuemmelt aufgenommen. Bitte um nähere Anweisungen”. (“To Admiral Commanding U-boats: Have been without wireless communication since 12 April. Now homeward bound after a successful patrol. Wireless orders about surrender received in a mutilated form. Request fuller details”)

However, Germany never returned their call and on 12 May U-190 surfaced, raised a black flag, tossed her secret papers and gun ammo overboard, and sailed on a heading of 305-degrees while sending surrender signals to New York, Boston, and Cape Race. Soon met by the River-class frigate HMCS Victoriaville (K684) and Flower-class corvette Thorlock (K394) at 43° 54’N., 45° 15′ W, Reith signed a surrender document and deeded his boat over to Canada.

In this sketch by HMCS Victoriaville's gunnery officer, U-190's captain surrenders his submarine to the captain of the Canadian frigate, Lieutenant Commander Lester Hickey (center left, with cap). Hans-Erwin Reith (center, with beard), U-190's commander since July 1944, subsequently signed a deed of unconditional surrender handing over the U-Boat to the Royal Canadian Navy. Lieutenant Bud Burbridge (left) was among the Canadians who would form part of the crew taking U-190 to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 20030255-010

In this sketch by HMCS Victoriaville’s gunnery officer, U-190’s captain surrenders his submarine to the captain of the Canadian frigate, Lieutenant Commander Lester Hickey (center left, with cap). Hans-Erwin Reith (center, with beard), U-190’s commander since July 1944, subsequently signed a deed of unconditional surrender handing over the U-Boat to the Royal Canadian Navy. Lieutenant Bud Burbridge (left) was among the Canadians who would form part of the crew taking U-190 to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 20030255-010

In the early hours of 12 May 1945, Hans-Erwin Reith, U-190's commander, signed this document formally surrendering the submarine to the Royal Canadian Navy. Although units of the Royal Canadian Navy had been involved in the boarding or surrender of U-Boats during the war, this document marked the first formal surrender of a German submarine to Canadian forces. Kenneth George Tryon donated this document and related artifacts to the Canadian War Museum in 1968. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19680168-009

In the early hours of 12 May 1945, Hans-Erwin Reith, U-190’s commander, signed this document formally surrendering the submarine to the Royal Canadian Navy. Although units of the Royal Canadian Navy had been involved in the boarding or surrender of U-Boats during the war, this document marked the first formal surrender of a German submarine to Canadian forces. Kenneth George Tryon donated this document and related artifacts to the Canadian War Museum in 1968. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19680168-009

For the next two days, with a skeleton German crew aboard watched by an armed force of Canadians, U-190 made for Bay Bulls while flying an RCN White Ensign.

Once they arrived, the Germans were transferred ashore to a POW camp.

Canadian war artist Tom Wood's watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John's. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat's crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190's crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine's surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

Canadian war artist Tom Wood’s watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John’s. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat’s crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190’s crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine’s surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

U-190 reached its destination on 14 May.

U190 alongside at Bulls Bay

U-190 star of Rio

According to the Crow’s Nest, the 8-pointed star was the Stern von Rio (Star of Rio).” Some say this name came from the boat’s inaugural trip which was supposedly to Rio but others recall it simply as the name to a popular song in Germany at the time. Hirschmann the U-190’s chief engineer, says it was only a compass rose.”

Canada’s early submarine program

The Canadians got into subs in a weird way when in August 1914, Sir Richard McBride, KCMG, the premier of British Columbia, bought a pair of small (144-foot, 300-ton) coastal submarines from Seattle Construction and Drydock Company, an act that your local government normally doesn’t do. The boats had been ordered by Chile who later refused them as not up to snuff.

Sailing for Vancouver in the dark of night as they were technically acquired in violation of a ton of international agreements (and bought for twice the annual budget for the entire Royal Canadian Navy!) they were commissioned as HMCS CC-1 and CC-2. The Dominion Government of Canada later ratified the sale while a subsequent investigation was conducted into how they were acquired.

CC-class

Nonetheless, the two tiny CC boats were the first submarines of the Maple Leaf and continued in service until after the Great War when they were laid up and replaced by a pair of American-made 435-ton H-class submarines from the Royal Navy, HMS H14 and H15, which remained in the Canadian fleet as HMCS CH-14 and CH-15 until broken up in 1927.

H-class

After this, Canada went out of the submarine business– until 1945.

Now back to our U-boat.

U190 pennant

Marked “HMC Sub U-190,” for “His Majesty’s Canadian Submarine,” the pennant graphically marked the new ownership of the surrendered submarine, with a bulldog seizing a Nazi eagle by the neck. CWM 19760322-001

The Canadians in May 1945 had two German Type IXC/40 U-boats, sisters U-190 and U-889, both in working condition and constructed in the same builder’s yard. After transferring them on paper to the Royal Navy, they were transferred back (apparently the same day) and both became vessels of the RCN, dubbed HCMS U-190 and U-889.

The navy promptly took U-190 on a tour of eastern Canadian ports before putting it to use for training.

German submarine entering U-190 in St. John's Harbour Newfoundland courtesy of The Rooms

German submarine entering U-190 in St. John’s Harbour Newfoundland, courtesy of The Rooms

German submarine U-190 in St. John's Harbour Newfoundland courtesy of The Rooms U190

German submarine U-190 in St. John’s Harbour Newfoundland, courtesy of The Rooms

German submarine U-190 in St. John's Harbour Newfoundland courtesy of The Rooms U190

German submarine U-190 in St. John’s Harbour Newfoundland, courtesy of The Rooms. Today, her periscope is still there, located since 1963 in The Crow’s Nest Officer’s Club overlooking this very spot.

U-889 in the meantime had been deemed as one of the 10 U-boats allocated to the U.S. by the Tripartite Naval Commission and was decommissioned in December 1945 and transferred to the Yanks who later scuttled her in 1947 after a series of experiments.

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. NH 111270

As for U-190, she was soldiered on as Canada’s sole submarine throughout 1946 and into 1947.

Of her time in Canadian custody and use, dozens of detailed photos exist of her interior, a rare sight today. (See For Posterity’s Sake, The Rooms, The Crow’s Nest and Haze Gray for more.)

In October 1947, the Canadian Navy sank U-190 as a target during Operation Scuttled, a live-fire naval exercise off Halifax– near the site of Esquimalt‘s loss. It was to be epic, with the Tribal-class destroyers HMCS Nootka and HMCS Haida using their 4.7-inch guns and Hedgehog ASW mortars on her after an aerial task force of Seafires, Fireflies, Ansons and Swordfish worked her over with ordnance.

U-190 was the featured star of “Operation Scuttled” staged near the spot where Esquimalt was sunk.

Sadly, the actual show fell far short.

From Michael Hadley’s, U-Boats Against Canada:

Almost before the ships had a chance to enter the act, U-190 pointed its bows into the air after the first rocket attack and slipped silently beneath the sea. And thus, the RCN press release announced with inflated pathos, “the once deadly sea raider came to a swift and ignominious end” – just 19 minutes after “Operation Scuttled” had begun.

Nonetheless, for a destroyed U-boat, U-190 is remarkably well preserved as relics of her are all over North America.

U-190‘s war diary is in the collection of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

The working Enigma machine recovered on U-190 is now part of the Canadian CSE’s (Communications Security Establishment– the country’s crypto agency) collection of historical artifacts.

The Canadian War Museum has her pennant, star globe, equipment plates, a C.G. Haenel-made MP28/2 Sub-machine Gun seized from her armory (which had been on display at Naval Service Headquarters in Ottawa until 1959) and other gear.

MP28 2 Sub-machine Gun seized from U-190

How about a submarine’s submachine gun? The CWM has it, from U-190

And of course, U-190‘s sky periscope, one of just five such instruments preserved worldwide, has long been in the care of the historic Crow’s Nest Officers Club in St. John’s, Newfoundland where its top sticks out over the roof to allow members and visitors to peak out over the harbor.

U190 scope Crows nest

The periscope has reportedly been there since 1963 (Photo: The Crow’s Nest)

Only a single member of the Type IXC class survives, U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Of the 87 Type IXC/40 subvariants, such as U-190 and U-889, the salvaged hull and conning tower of U-534 remains preserved at Birkenhead in England.

As for Reith, he was repatriated to Germany in 1946 and died there in 1987, aged 67. His personal DWM Model 1906 (1st issue) Navy Luger recently came up at auction. Likely presented to him by family or friends on the occasion of his new command, it is marked “U-190.” It appears that it too was surrendered in 1945 and went on to live its own life.

Reith Luger P06 Navy RIAC U-1902

RIAC

Esquimalt was his only victory and she is remembered every year at a public ceremony in the British Columbia that served as her namesake.

Meanwhile, the Canadians took a decade break from subsea ops after U-190 was scuttled but eventually got back into the sub biz, using two U.S. boats, —USS Burrfish (SS-312) and USS Argonaut (SS-475), as HMCS Grilse (SS 71) and Rainbow (SS 75), respectively– from 1961 to 1974. Then they bought their first new subs since CC-1 & CC-2, a trio of British Oberon-class diesel boats– HMCS Ojibwa (S72), Onondaga (S73) and Okanagan (S74), which served from 1965 to 2000. Since then, they have been using the quartet of second-hand RN Upholder-class subs, HMCS Victoria (SSK-876), Windsor (SSK-877), Corner Brook (SSK-878) and Chicoutimi (SSK-879) which are expected to remain in service in some form until the 2030s.

Specs:

U-190 model by Maschinenbau, Gabler CWM 19720073-001

U-190 model by Maschinenbau, Gabler CWM 19720073-001

Displacement:
1,144 t (1,126 long tons) surfaced
1,257 t (1,237 long tons) submerged
Length:
251 ft 10 in o/a
192 ft 9 in pressure hull
Beam:
22 ft 6 in o/a
14 ft 7 in pressure hull
Height: 31 ft 6 in
Draught: 15 ft 4 in
Installed power:
4,400 PS (3,200 kW; 4,300 bhp) (diesels)
1,000 PS (740 kW; 990 shp) (electric)
Propulsion:
2 shafts
2 × diesel engines
2 × electric motors
Range:
13,850 nmi at 10 knots surfaced
63 nmi at 4 knots submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 4 officers, 44 enlisted
Armament:
6 × torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern)
22 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedoes
1 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK C/32 deck gun (180 rounds)
1 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 AA gun
1 × twin 2 cm FlaK 30 AA guns

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Lost air wing of the Wasp

The late Paul Allen’s R/V Petrel of course recently discovered the final resting place of the lost WWII aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) on the bottom of the Pacific. The below haunting video shows some of her planes resting in the debris field, which likely slipped off her deck during her ride to the floor.

For more on the planes discovered from the lost carriers found by Allen’s group, including those from Lexington, Hornet, and HMS Ark Royal, check this out.

Street Gang, 53 years on

A throwback to 13 April 1966: An early MkI type U.S. Navy Patrol Boat, River (PBR) near Cat Lo, Vietnam.

(K31134, CU).

First fielded in 1966 (the above craft was brand new) some 250 PBRs served in Operation Market Time (TF 116) and with the RVN in  Vietnam during the conflict. In all, 718 were completed in two types (the MkIs were 31 feet while the MkII’s were 32) and they continued to serve in Reserve SBUs as late as the 1990s.

Boom!

Cape Wrath, Scotland (April 10, 2019) The Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107) fires her beautiful red-white-and-blue embellished 5″/62cal Mk45 Mod 4 gun during a live-fire exercise as part of Joint Warrior 19-1. Dig that 70-pound shell just forward of the bow.

Gravely

Gravely is deployed as the flagship of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 to conduct maritime operations and provide a continuous maritime capability for NATO in the northern Atlantic. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark Andrew Hays/Released)

The first Navy ship named for VADM Samuel L. Gravely Jr., it is an appropriate photo for that esteemed warfighter and surface warfare officer who had three wars under his belt.

Commissioned in 1942, he just missed being one of the “Golden 13” of initial African-American officers in the Navy. He went on to be the only black officer on the submarine chaser USS PC-1264, conducting anti-sub patrols up and down the Eastern Seaboard in WWII. During Korea, he was a communications officer on the battleship USS Iowa, a vessel who got in lots of NGFS missions during that conflict.

Iowa fired at targets off North Korea 1952 80-G-626016

USS Iowa (BB-61) Fires her 16″/50 cal guns at targets in North Korea, circa April-October 1952. The photo is dated 17 December 1952, some two months after Iowa left the Far East at the end of her only Korean War combat tour. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-626016

Going on to skipper the tin cans USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD-717), USS Falgout (DE-324), and USS Taussig (DD-746) during the 1960s, Gravely oversaw NGFS missions off Vietnam in the latter before commanding the guided missile “frigate” (later cruiser) USS Jouett (DLG-29).

Gravely went on to break out his flag over the Third Fleet and retired from the Navy as head of the DCA. He died in 2004 and, as reflected in his 38 years of active and reserve service, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Low clearance, tight squeeze

The largest Royal Navy warship ever to take to the sea, the fleet carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), has been in the water for six years. This means a drydocking period to check her hull and strip away the trees that are growing upon it.

While based at HMNB Portsmouth, she was assembled over an eight-year period in the Firth of Forth at Rosyth Dockyard from components built in six UK shipyards (way to subcontract the pork!) and has headed back to her place of birth for the work. This means sailing under the three Forth bridges, for which she was specifically designed to pass through the (temporary) lowering of her mast.

Similarly, the Queen Elizabeth-class were designed with just 39-inches of clearance to pass through the lock into Rosyth Dockyard– weather and tides providing.

It’s not the only case of ships being formatted to meet navigational limitations. For generations, the U.S. Navy’s carriers and battleships were limited to fit the 110-foot-wide and 890-foot-long Miraflores lock chambers of the Panama Canal (the waterline beam of the Iowa-class was 108 feet while they were 888-feet long, providing just a foot on each side to squeeze through).

A bow view of the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61) passing through the Pedro Miguel Locks of the canal. DN-SN-87-09408

It was controversial to construct the Midway-class of carriers in the 1940s as too big to transit the Canal– a first for the Navy.

Further, to be able to reach the Brooklyn Navy Yard, vessels up to the Forrestal and Kitty Hawk-class conventional supercarriers had an allowance to swing their mast so that could get under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier USS Constellation (CV-64), which was constructed at Brooklyn Naval Yard, passing under the Brooklyn Bridge in 1962

Previous carriers, the Midways, and Essex-classes included could just make it without de-masting.

Essex-class carrier USS Tarawa (CV-40) passes under the Brooklyn Bridge

As could the tallest lattice masts of dreadnought battleships.

BB-39 Arizona in New York City,1918, colorized by Monochrome Specter

Warship Wednesday, April 10, 2018: All Forms of Manly Sports

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time 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, April 10, 2018: All Forms of Manly Sports

NH 76743-KN

Here we see the Seagoing Athletes that were the all-fleet champion basketball team of the Chester-class scout cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-2) circa 1910. Birmingham and her crew were indeed involved in all sorts of manly sports in her brief career. From her help to show off the modern steel Navy, to her very real contribution to “Remember the Maine,” to her service as the cradle of U.S. Naval Aviation and in a curious war against the Austrians that garnered a pair of Kaiser Karl’s battlewagons for the Stars and Stripes, B’ham was there.

In the early 1900s, when it came to cruisers, the Navy had lots of big boys such as the 10 Washington and California-class armored cruisers (15,000 tons, 10- and 8-inch gun main batteries); as well as five “1st class cruisers” of the Charleston, Brooklyn and Saratoga-classes (8500-10,000 tons, 6 and 8 inch guns); four aging “2nd class cruisers” e.g. USS Olympia, Baltimore, Columbia, Minneapolis (5,000-7,000 tons, 6- and 8-inch guns); the six slow “3rd class” Chattanooga cruisers who could only make 16 knots; and in the bottom rung were the old Span-Am War era protected cruisers Raleigh, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Albany (the last two British built), of questionable utility due to their slow speeds. This dearth of small, modern– and above all fast– light cruisers led to the Navy to order the trio of Chester class scout cruisers in 1904.

USS BIRMINGHAM (CS-2) and USS SALEM (CS-3) completing, at the Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Quincy, Massachusetts, circa early 1908. Original is a color-tinted postcard, mailed at Quincy on 9 September 1909. Courtesy of Captain Don Fink, 1983 NH 94937

The 4,687-ton ships– Chester, Salem, and Birmingham— were race boats for their time, capable of 24 knots (Chester hit 26.52 on speed trials), which made them able to reach out past the battle fleet and look for enemy formations. They also could sip coal and make some truly impressive ocean-crossing voyages at slow/low speeds, which would make them good ships if needed to be dispatched to far off flashpoints in the growing Pax Americana.

Chester class cruisers

Chester class cruisers, 1914 entry in Janes

Lightly armored, with just 2-inches of plate over their steering and engineering spaces with no gun shields or conning tower protection, they were supposed to run, not fight. If pushed into a corner by a similarly fast ship, such as a destroyer, they had (just) enough muscle to prevail with a single 5″/50 cal mount forward and rear along with six 3″/50 singles in broadside. A pair of submerged 21-inch torpedo tubes made them trouble for capital ships, especially in a night attack.

Gun Practice - Gun practice on board U.S. Cruiser Salem, Birmingham's sister, Chester class Charlestown, Navy Yard, Charlestown, Mass - NARA - 45510731

Gun Practice – Gun practice on board U.S. Cruiser Salem, Birmingham’s sister, Chester class Charlestown, Navy Yard, Charlestown, Mass – NARA – 45510731

USS Birmingham, starboard view, May 4, 1908 NARA 19-N-33-9-13

USS Birmingham, starboard view, May 4, 1908, NARA 19-N-33-9-13

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Running sea trials in March 1908. She is flying the flag of her builder, the Fore River Shipbuilding Company of Quincy, Massachusetts, from her mainmast. NH 56390

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Running sea trials in March 1908. She is flying the flag of her builder, the Fore River Shipbuilding Company of Quincy, Massachusetts, from her mainmast. NH 56390

Built at Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Birmingham, the first U.S. Navy vessel with that name, commissioned at Quincy, Massachusetts 11 April 1908 and was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. As part of her shakedown cruises, she popped in at Mobile, Alabama in February 1909 “where the increasingly seasoned cruiser received a silver service in honor of that state and her namesake.”

Keep in mind the Civil War had just ended 44 years before.

She then picked up President-elect Howard H. Taft in New Orleans and carried him up the Eastern Seaboard to Hampton Roads, VA to join Teddy Roosevelt in reviewing the Great White Fleet which was returning from its round the world cruise.

Soon, all three of the Chesters would see active service when, as a group, they sortied to Liberia on the West African Coast, dispatched by Roosevelt and Secretary of State Elihu Root to get involved in the local unrest there, which in large part stemmed from British and French colonial actions on the country’s borders.

From DANFS:

The U.S. appointed a commission to investigate the crisis, which set out on board Birmingham from Tompkinsville on 23 April 1909. The ship rendezvoused with Chester and Salem, and the three cruisers crossed the Atlantic, coaled and provisioned at Porto Grande Bay at São Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands (1–9 May), and reached Monrovia, Liberia, on the 13th. The commissioners lodged on board the trio of cruisers while they worked with Liberian representatives at Monrovia (13–29 May and 5 June), Grand Bassa (29–31 May), Cape Palmas (1–4 June), and Robertsport — also on 5 June — and wrapped-up their investigation with a visit to Freetown, Sierra Leone (7–8 June). The ships coaled and completed upkeep at Las Palmas in the Cape Verde Islands (13–16 June) and at Funchal, Madeira (17–23 June), and returned to Newport. The commissioners subsequently presented a message to Congress, and Root recommended that the U.S. consider lending military officers to assist the Liberians.

The following year the U.S. arranged a Loan Agreement, whereby 17 African-American Army officers eventually (1911–1930) served in Liberia, where they worked as military attachés to the American Consulate in Monrovia, or organized, trained, and led the Frontier Force, that country’s constabulary. These dedicated men carried out their difficult mission with minimum support but set the conditions to stabilize the Liberian regime.

The three Chesters arrived back in the country just in time to show off for the international armada that had assembled in New York in the summer of 1909. The event was Hudson-Fulton Celebration, the commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River, and the 100th anniversary of the first successful commercial application of a paddle steamer, by Robert Fulton Jr.

USS Salem (Scout Cruiser # 3) and USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser #2) In the Hudson River, off New York City, during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, 25 September 9 October 1909. Photo #: NH 91473

USS Salem (Scout Cruiser # 3) and USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser #2) In the Hudson River, off New York City, during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, 25 September 9 October 1909. Photo #: NH 91473

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Dressed in flags while at anchor, circa 1909. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. NH 101517

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Dressed in flags while at anchor, circa 1909. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. NH 101517

After coming to the assistance of the British tug Bulldog and later the sinking steamer Kentucky off the North Carolina coast, Birmingham visited Liberia again in early 1910 before returning to duties with the Atlantic Fleet. In November, she was part of a great experiment.

Less than seven years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made their brief manned air flight on Kill Devil Hill in the Outer Banks, sailing just 120 feet at a speed of a whopping 34 mph, the “aero plane” had made leaps and bounds. From the very beginnings, the military had its eye on the contraption– Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian had been underwritten by the War Department even before the Wright brothers made it off the ground.

Aviation pioneer Eugene Ely, who held pilot’s license No. 17 from the Aero Club of America, had a rendezvous with Birmingham, and destiny.

DANFS:

Shipwrights from Norfolk Navy Yard built an 83-foot slanted wooden platform onto Birmingham’s bow and, on the overcast morning of 14 November, she embarked civilian exhibition stunt pilot Eugene B. Ely, his 50 hp. Curtiss Model D Pusher biplane, some maintainers, and a group of naval officer observers headed by Capt. Washington I. Chambers, an advocate of early naval aviation.

Birmingham got underway at 11:30 a.m. and proceeded in company with Roe (Destroyer No. 24) and Terry (Destroyer No. 25), Barley (Torpedo Boat No. 21) and Stringham (Torpedo Boat No. 19), down the Elizabeth River to the Chesapeake Bay, where she anchored off Old Comfort Point at 12:35, and then shifted her anchorage and dropped the anchor again at 2:55 p.m.

Rainy and drizzly weather prevented Ely from taking off several times, but the pilot gamely decided to continue and launched his plane off the cruiser’s bow at 3:17 p.m. As he left the platform the pusher settled slowly and hit the water but rose again and landed about two and a half miles away on Willoughby Spit.

The plane sustained slight splinter damage to the propeller tips, but Ely’s daring feat marked the first time that an aircraft took off from a warship. Birmingham sent her motorboat to pick up Ely where he touched down at Willoughby Spit, and he, Chambers, and the rest of the party then transferred to Roe for the voyage back to Norfolk. Birmingham’s crew spent the next day tearing down the platform, raising her topmasts, and setting up the rigging, and left the lumber for Navy screw tug Alice to collect.

Just in her third year of service, our hardy cruiser had intervened in an African conflict, rubbed shoulders with both TR and Taft, and become the nation’s very first aircraft carrying warship. She was to continue her footnotes to history.

After visiting Mobile again for Mardi Gras and patrolling off Haiti in a show of gunboat diplomacy (she put in several times at Port-au-Prince and even observed the commissioning of the old Italian Regioni-class cruiser Umbria into the country’s navy as the ill-fated Consul Gostrück), Birmingham appeared in Cuba to serve as a pallbearer for the lost protected cruiser USS Maine (ACR-1), sunk by a controversial explosion in Havana in 1898.

Raised by the Army Corps of Engineers in an epic two-year effort, the remains of 66 lost Sailors and Marines were found and were ordered returned home with honor. Birmingham pulled that duty to escort those remains to the Washington Naval Yard after standing by, along with the armored cruiser North Carolina, while Maine was sunk in 600 fathoms of water offshore.

Maine, ship's after section is scuttled, in ceremonies off Havana, 16 March 1912. In background is USS NORTH CAROLINA (CA-12). USS BIRMINGHAM (CS-2) is at right. NH 46794

Maine, ship’s after section is scuttled, in ceremonies off Havana, 16 March 1912. In the background is USS NORTH CAROLINA (CA-12). USS BIRMINGHAM (CS-2) is at right. NH 46794

The flag-draped caskets of the victims of the USS Maine explosion are brought ashore at the Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia, from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2), 23 March 1912. Of the 66 sets of remains only one was identified and returned to his home town the rest were reburied at Arlington Cemetery. NH 1690

The flag-draped caskets of the victims of the USS Maine explosion are brought ashore at the Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia, from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2), 23 March 1912. Of the 66 sets of remains, only one was identified and returned to his home town the rest were reburied at Arlington Cemetery. NH 1690

NH 1813 USS Maine disaster. Funeral scene of the USS MAINE victims at the Navy Yard, Washington, District of Columbia, 23 March 1912. USS BIRMINGHAM (CL-2) in background

NH 1813 USS Maine disaster. Funeral scene of the USS Maine victims at the Navy Yard, Washington, District of Columbia, 23 March 1912. USS BIRMINGHAM (CL-2) in background

After inaugural service with the Ice Patrol– Titanic had just sunk in April 1912– Birmingham resumed her duties with the Atlantic Fleet, which had been anything but routine.

USS Birmingham (CL-2), circa 1914. From the collection of ADM Horne. UA 571.96

USS Birmingham (CL-2), circa 1914. From the collection of ADM Horne. UA 571.96

With Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt in the Navy’s driver’s seat, trips to Mexico to get muscular in that country’s civil war became common and soon, the Vera Cruz incident erupted. Birmingham, in Pensacola, was urgently ordered on 20 April 1914 to take aboard three aircraft there: “hydroaeroplane AH-2” and Curtiss Model F flying boats AB-4 and AB-5, along with three pilots who went on to be huge names in aviation history– Lt. (later ADM) John H. Towers (Naval Aviator #3), 1st Lt. Bernard L. Smith (USMC Aviator #2), and Ens. Godfrey de C. Chevalier (Naval Aviator #7, who would later be the first to trap on board a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier), 10 “mechaniciens,” a cook, and a mess attendant.

Delivering the assortment to Tampico, the planes accomplished the first combat mission by a U.S. military heavier-than-air aircraft just five days later and were soon among those who first to receive ground fire (with the bullet holes to prove it!)

Pioneer naval aviators Godfrey deChevalier, Henry C. Mustin, and John H. Towers on a beach during service in Mexico in the aftermath of the Veracruz Insurrection. On April 20-21, 1914, naval aviation personnel and their aircraft deployed from the Naval Aeronautical Station at Pensacola, Florida, to Mexican waters aboard Birmingham, where they flew the first combat flights in the history of the United States armed forces.

After Mexico, it was the stony duty of wartime neutral.

Birmingham, Photographed by O.W. Waterman, Hampton, Virginia, circa 1916. Courtesy of Admiral M.M. Taylor, USN(d), 1962. NH 77906

Birmingham, Photographed by O.W. Waterman, Hampton, Virginia, circa 1916. Courtesy of Admiral M.M. Taylor, USN(d), 1962. NH 77906

USS Birmingham Firing salutes with her crew manning the rails, accompanied by three 750-ton type destroyers. Photographed by Waterman. Birmingham's black paint scheme and structural details, and the white uniforms worn by her crew, indicate that the date of this photograph is mid-1916, when Birmingham was flagship of the Atlantic Fleet's Destroyer Force. Location may well be near Hampton, Virginia, base of Waterman family's photographic business. Note what appears to be pattern camouflage (perhaps an experimental scheme) worn by the destroyer on the left. Donation of Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2007. NH 105382

USS Birmingham Firing salutes with her crew manning the rails, accompanied by three 750-ton type destroyers. Photographed by Waterman. Birmingham’s black paint scheme and structural details, and the white uniforms worn by her crew, indicate that the date of this photograph is mid-1916 when Birmingham was the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet’s Destroyer Force. Location may well be near Hampton, Virginia, a base of Waterman family’s photographic business. Note what appears to be pattern camouflage (perhaps an experimental scheme) worn by the destroyer on the left. Donation of Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2007. NH 105382

When the U.S. entered the Great War, Birmingham continued her East Coast operations with CDR Nathan C. Twining, Commander, Nantucket Detachment, Patrol Force, breaking his flag on the cruiser. By June 1917, she was escorting the first wave of Doughboys, the regulars of the Army’s newly-formed 1st Infantry Division, augmented by the 5th Marines, to France.

In August, she crossed with a second troop convoy and by 1918 was in the Med, operating out of Gibraltar.

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Moored in a harbor, circa 1918, probably in the Mediterranean area. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969 NH 68227

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Moored in a harbor, circa 1918, probably in the Mediterranean area. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969 NH 68227

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In Brest harbor, France, on 15 October 1918. During 1917-1918 she was flagship of U.S. Forces at Gibraltar and escorted convoys in the eastern Atlantic. Note her dazzle camouflage. Courtesy of John G. Krieger, 1966-1967. NH 56393

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In Brest harbor, France, on 15 October 1918. During 1917-1918 she was the flagship of U.S. Forces at Gibraltar and escorted convoys in the eastern Atlantic. Note her dazzle camouflage. Courtesy of John G. Krieger, 1966-1967. NH 56393

Once the Armistice hit on 11 November 1918, Birmingham was dispatched to the Adriatic where the Allied forces had for the entirety of the war kept the mighty Austro-Hungarian fleet largely bottled up, a paper tiger. Taking on RADM William H. G. Bullard at Malta, within days she was at Spalato (Split) in Dalmatia, where she took custody of not one but two Austrian battleships on 22 November.

Surrender of Austrian Fleet - Austrian battleships surrendered to U.S. Naval forces 2.8.19 SMS Radetzky Zrinyi Spalate Birmingham cruiser LOC 165-WW-329D-002

Surrender of Austrian Fleet – Austrian battleships surrendered to U.S. Naval forces 2.8.19 SMS Radetzky, Zrinyi, Spalate. Birmingham to the right. LOC 165-WW-329D-002

Sisterships of the same class of pre-dreadnought battleships, SMS Radetzky and SMS Zrinyi had both joined Kaiser Franz Josef’s Imperial Austro-Hungarian Navy in 1911 and saw very little service in their seven years on Vienna’s naval list. After ole Franz died in 1916, his great-nephew Karl took the throne and beat feet during the last days of the war, signing over the fleet to the newly formed Yugoslav government to keep it out of the Allies hands.

To comply with this, the two battlewagons sailed out of Pola on 10 November under nominal Slav command and, flying American flags, surrendered to a group of punchy 110-foot U.S. Navy submarine chasers until Bullard and Birmingham arrived a week later. Under U.S. custody, the pair was even referred to as USS Zrinyi and USS Radetzky, unofficially. However, it was not to be and in compliance with the final Austrian peace in 1920, the ships were given to Italy and scrapped.

As for our hardy scout cruiser, she returned home in early 1919 and was soon reassigned to the Pacific Fleet.

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In the Middle West Chamber, Gatun Locks, during the passage of the Pacific Fleet through the Panama Canal, 24 July 1919. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Admiral William V. Pratt. NH 75717

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In the Middle West Chamber, Gatun Locks, during the passage of the Pacific Fleet through the Panama Canal, 24 July 1919. Note she has extensive warm weather awnings and a grey hull again. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Admiral William V. Pratt. NH 75717

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) At Seattle, Washington, in September 1919. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56394

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) At Seattle, Washington, in September 1919. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56394

Reclassified as a light cruiser (CL-2), she later became the flag of RADM William C. Cole who used her to head up a squadron dispatched to Panama in 1922 to help quiet down the locals in the Canal Zone– making Birmingham a Mahanian gunboat to the last. Ironically, during this period she called on New Orleans and, while open to the public during the 1923 State Fair, was toured by then CPT. Osami Nagano of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Nagano, of course, would later rise to Chief of the Navy General Staff during WWII, outranking Yamamoto.

In addition to Nagano and the host of early aviators that went on to greatness, at least three of Birmingham‘s former skippers went on to become full admirals including two CINCUS’s and one CNO. She truly was a ship that stars fell upon.

With the resulting peace craze that followed WWI and the series of naval treaties agreed to by the world’s great powers, the Chester class were declared surplus and laid up so that their tonnage could be used for more modern cruiser developments. As such, Birmingham headed to Philadelphia, where she was decommissioned on 1 December 1923. Salem had already been laid up at Mare Island in 1921, the same year Chester was put out of service at Boston. By early 1930, all three had been sold for scrap, at which point they were only about 22 years old each and had been in reserve for a decade. A waste.

Birmingham’s name would be twice reused, by the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-62)— which gave epic service in WWII and decommissioned in 1946– and by the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine USS Birmingham (SSN-695) which was active from 1978 to 1997.

Birmingham SSBN-695 CL-62

Of course, our Scout Cruiser’s silver service is at the Birmingham Museum of Art, on public display. She has also been remembered in maritime art for her role as America’s first aircraft carrier, of sorts.

Further, on the Centennial of Naval Aviation in 2010, a replica of Ely’s Curtiss Hudson Flier was hoisted aboard the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), for old time’s sake.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Coolbaugh sits in the pilot seat of a replica Curtiss Hudson Flier biplane, the first aircraft to launch from the deck of a navy ship, Nov. 15, 2010, on the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) while in port in Norfolk, Va. The replica was built as part of celebrations for the Centennial of Naval Aviation. (DoD photo 101115-N-3885H-265 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Hall, U.S. Navy/Released)

101115-N-3885H-265 Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Coolbaugh sits in the pilot seat of a replica Curtiss Hudson Flier biplane, the first aircraft to launch from the deck of a navy ship, Nov. 15, 2010, on the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) while in port in Norfolk, Va. The replica was built as part of celebrations for the Centennial of Naval Aviation. (DoD photo 101115-N-3885H-265 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Hall, U.S. Navy/Released)

As for Ely, after his takeoff from Birmingham, he made a landing on a larger deck on the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania, another important aviation first. Sadly, before 1911 was out, he died in a plane crash in Macon, Georgia. He was later enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Specs:

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Underway in 1908, possibly during trials. NH 56392

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Underway in 1908, possibly during trials. NH 56392

Displacement:
3,750 long tons (3,810 t) (standard)
4,687 long tons (4,762 t) (full load)
Length:
423 ft 1 in (128.96 m) oa
420 ft (130 m) pp
Beam: 47 ft 1 in
Draft: 16 ft 9 in(mean)
Installed power:
12 × Fore River boilers
16,000 ihp
15,670 ihp (produced on Trial)
Propulsion:
2 × 4cly vertical triple expansion engines
2 × screws
Speed:
24 knots designed, 24.33 knots (Speed on Trial)
Coal: 1400 tons max. Burned 148 tons in 24 hrs at 20 knots or 31 tons per 24 hrs at 10 knots, which is sweet
Complement: 42 officers 330 enlisted
Armament:
4 × 5 in (130 mm)/50 caliber Mark 6 breech-loading rifles
6 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 caliber rapid-fire guns (6×1)
2 × 3-pounder (47 mm (1.9 in) Driggs-Schroeder saluting guns
2 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, submerged, with 8 torpedoes in the magazine
Armor:
Belt: 2 in over engineering spaces only, essentially double skinned from 3.5-feet below the waterline to 9.5-feet above
Deck: 1 mm (aft) to protect steering gear

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Aardvark, arriving

While, if you squint, this beautiful variable geometry warplane seems to be an early Grumman F-14 Tomcat landing aboard a carrier, tail hook down.

That’s where you are as wrong as can be.

The truth is, it is a navalized version of the General Dynamics F-111. The plane above, F-111B Bu. No.151974, made 9 arrested landings on, and 10 catapult-launches from, the carrier USS Coral Sea (CV-43) on 23 June 1968.

The plan was something majestic, like this:

However, that day in June was the only one in which the Aardvark was considered a carrier plane.

Go down the rabbit hole here.

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