Category Archives: US Navy

Cyclones almost gone

Built in the late 1990s, the Navy’s Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships (PC) are almost all gone. Built by Bollinger Shipyards in Louisiana, the same yard that has constructed over 170 similar albeit smaller cutters for the Coast Guard over the years, the 170-foot Cyclones were originally to replace the old 65-foot MKIIIs used by Naval Special Warfare and were equipped with two 25mm chain guns and a stern boat ramp for frogman use.

While 16 were planned, only 14 were slowly completed and the Navy by and large didn’t even really want them, loaning five to the Coast Guard in the early 2000s and giving the class leader to the Philippines when she was just 11 years old.

Then, following a series of naval stand-offs between Iranian Revolutionary Guards speedboats and U.S. Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz in December 2007 and January 2008, the Pentagon called up the Coast Guard and pulled their boats back and soon stood up Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 in the Persian Gulf with 10 of the PCs.

The other three boats were stationed at Mayport, left behind as just about the 4th Fleet’s only regular assets.

150317-N-SF508-627 U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY (March 17, 2014) The Cyclone-class coastal patrol ship USS Hurricane (PC 3) leads other coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1) in formation during a divisional tactics exercise. PCRON-1 is deployed supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Charles Oki/Released)

150317-N-SF508-274 U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY (March 17, 2014) The Cyclone-class coastal patrol ship USS Hurricane (PC 3) and other coastal patrol ships assigned to Patrol Coastal Squadron 1 (PCRON 1) transit in formation during a divisional tactics exercise.PCRON 1 is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Charles Oki/Released)

They are among the smallest ships in the fleet and get ridden hard.

They were augmented with the MK-60 Patrol Coastal Griffin Missile System to help defend against Iranian swarm attacks if needed. The system uses the AGM-176 Griffin, a 35-pound four-foot-long Frankenstein cobbled together from the Javelin and Sidewinder– but it carries a 13-pound blast fragmentation warhead and has a range of 5 miles, which will scratch the paint job of a Boghammar speedboat pretty good while outraging the RPGs, Dhsk guns and unguided rockets typically carried by those asymmetric crafts by a bit.

ARABIAN GULF (Nov. 05, 2021) The Cyclone-class coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) fires a Griffin missile during a test and proficiency fire in the Arabian Gulf, Nov. 5, 2021. Firebolt, assigned to Commander, Task Force (CTF) 55, is supporting maritime security operations and theatre security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Aleksander Fomin) 211105-A-PX137-0082

Now, that has almost all come to an end. Only USS Monsoon (PC-4) and USS Chinook (PC-9) remain in Bahrain under Task Force 55, and that will soon change.

PCRON-1 was reflagged Naval Surface Squadron (CNSS) 5 in 2017.

USS Zephyr (PC-8), USS Shamal (PC-13), and USS Tornado (PC-14) were decommissioned in Mayport in 2021 and the first two are set to be scrapped with Tornado slated for transfer to an overseas ally.

NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. (Feb. 16, 2021) Sailors conduct a decommissioning ceremony aboard the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Shamal (PC 13) at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. Shamal is one of three Cyclone-class patrol ships being decommissioned at Naval Station Mayport. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Austin G. Collins)

I happen to know the resting place of Tornado’s sideboard from ger USCG days based at NAVSTA Pascagoula!

As well as Shamals

USS Tempest (PC-2), USS Squall (PC-7), USS Firebolt (PC-10), USS Whirlwind (PC-11), and USS Typhoon (PC-5), were decommissioned and transferred to the Royal Bahrain Naval Forces in March 2022.

This week, USS Hurricane (PC-3), USS Sirocco (PC-6), and USS Thunderbolt (PC-12) were transferred to the Egyptian Navy. This came after sailing from Bahrain to Egypt during a month-long journey around the Arabian Peninsula, January through February.

SUEZ CANAL – SUEZ CANAL (Feb. 10, 2023) Patrol coastal ship USS Sirocco (PC 6) transits the Suez Canal, Feb. 10, 2023, en route to Alexandria, Egypt. 230210-N-NO146-1001

As noted by the Navy, “During the 4,000-mile transit to Alexandria, U.S., and Egyptian crewmembers worked side-by-side safely navigating the three ships on a voyage that included port visits to Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates; Duqm, Oman; Djibouti; and Berenice, Egypt.”

It seems that the Navy is content to let the Coast Guard’s new 158-foot Sentinel (Webber) class Fast Response Cutters be the white-hulled muscle for the 4th and 5th Fleet when it comes to coastal vessels.

Warship Wednesday, March 22, 2023: Herr Ericsson’s Original Tin Can

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, March 22, 2023: Herr Ericsson’s Original Tin Can

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 52307

Above we see the circa 1892 image of John Ericsson’s experimental war vessel, “Destroyer” testing her “submarine artillery” by the firing of an inert shell into the flooded drydock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to be recovered later.

The Swedish-born inventor and mechanical engineer had just passed on to the great drawing board in the sky the previous March, aged 85, and is best known for the U.S. Navy’s first screw-propelled steam-frigate USS Princeton in 1843 and the Civil War-era USS Monitor— the world’s first armored ship with a rotating turret, with his penultimate warship, Destroyer, most often falling through the cracks of history.

John Ericsson (1803-1889). Photographed by the Matthew Brady studios, 1862 & 1863. Naval History and Heritage Command: NH 305 & NH 482

Ericsson spent the last 12 years of his life working on Destroyer, which he envisioned would be the ideal harbor defense vessel, particularly for his beloved New York.

A compact iron-hulled beast of some 130 feet in length with a narrow 17-foot beam and the ability to float in just 11 feet of water, she carried a 70-foot “wrought iron breastwork of great strength near the bow” as a defense to allow for bow-on close-in attacks with a sort of innovative albeit not effective centerline underwater cannon. She could be built for about the cost of a small gunboat and crewed by as few as a dozen men.

Ericsson’s Destroyer. View of this experimental ship showing submarine gun projectiles on deck. Taken at the New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. USS Maine of Spanish-American War fame is fitting out in the left background. Detriot Bain News Service image LOC LC-D4-20348

The Destroyer’s “submarine gun” was a whopper.

With a 16-inch diameter bore and a 30-foot barrel that was eight feet below the waterline, it fired a 26-foot long projectile crafted of spruce and pine timbers and sheathed with thin metal. In all, it weighed 1,500 pounds of which 300 was gun cotton payload. Alternatively, a smaller, 10-foot-long projectile was designed as well.

Ericsson’s Destroyer plan of submarine gun for this experimental ship, dated 7 October 1890. NH 54252

John Ericsson’s “Destroyer” Longitudinal section of the ship’s bow, showing the underwater gun and its projectile torpedo, circa 1881. Note the “inflated air bags” in the bow and original pneumatic feeder tubes for the gun. NH 84476

It was thought by Ericsson that the gun could be fired at a target from some 500 feet away. To keep the projectiles on a level course, they were fitted with “hydrostatic bellows” in the center along with two horizontal rudders.

The method of the launch was originally to be via a piston that would be actuated by a steam line but this was eventually changed to a 40-pound explosive (black powder) charge. The energy produced by such a projectile at damaging speeds was estimated to be something on the order of 2,000,000 foot-pounds.

The idea was Destroyer’s hull would be ballasted down when operational to have as low a freeboard as possible, only exposing the armored plate iron deck house. Voids were to be filled with blocks of cork and inflated rubber airbags to allow for buoyancy even with a penetrated hull.

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view showing the submarine gun and pneumatic loading mechanism, taken circa 1890. NH 54251

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view shows the breech mechanism of the submarine gun. Taken about 1890. NH 54248

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view shows the breech mechanism of the submarine gun. Taken about 1890. NH 54249

Uncrated projectile and body. NH 52494

In an initial low-pressure light load test in April 1886, Ericsson himself declared that “the submarine gun has proved a perfect success” after its inert projectile ran 300 feet into a suspended net in less than three seconds, a speed of about 59 knots. “The effect produced by exploding a loaded projectile remains to be ascertained, but this trial an individual is not permitted to make, hence I now desire to hand the Destroyer over to the Government.”

Built on spec with $150,000 ($5 million in today’s dollars) coughed up by foundry owner and Ericsson friend Cornelius Henry DeLamater (who also died in 1889)– and was the guy who built the steam boilers and machinery for both USS Princeton and USS Monitor— Ericsson proposed in 1886 to sell the vessel and its patents to the Navy for “modest sum” of $220,000. Not much of a profit although there would presumably be royalties involved as well should the patents be utilized on a wide scale. 

In the end, it turned out that Destroyer and her related submarine artillery still needed another $30,000 in funds from the Navy to be made ready for a firing trial after the death of both Ericsson and DeLamater. At the time, that was about the cost of a harbor tug (four were ordered that year at a cost of $35K each).

By this stage, the prototype warship and her gun were the assets of the independent Ericsson Coast Defense Company.

The thing is, other, more proven, locomotive torpedoes had already far surpassed Destroyer’s gun and the world was awash in small, steam-driven, torpedo boats that used Mr. Whitehead’s deadly and economical devices.

They had even been proven in warfare already, with the Ottoman ship Intibah sunk in 1878 by Russian torpedo boats carrying Whiteheads. Even the U.S. Navy had ordered one, USS Cushing (Torpedo Boat No. 1), from Herreshoff in Rhode Island in 1886, and the 140-foot craft was undergoing experiments by 1890 at the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport.

USS Cushing torpedo boat experiments, ca. 1890, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

The E.W. Bliss Company of Brooklyn had stood up the same year, and, using Whitehead’s patents under license, had won a 100-unit contract for American-made 18-inch (diameter) torpedoes.

The number of torpedo boats in service or building around the globe topped 1,000 in 1889-90, from a Navy Department report published in the NYT. Of course, many of these were very small coastal steam launches with no overnight/rough weather/blue water capability, but they could still carry a “fish.”

Argentinian sailors with a Whitehead torpedo, Fiume, Austria, 1888. At the time this picture was taken, torpedo boats were in all of the world’s major– and many minor– fleets.

Meanwhile, Ericsson’s body was repatriated to his native Sweden, carried on the deck of a modern new U.S. Navy cruiser that was very much the descendant of his USS Princeton and USS Monitor.

“The White Squadron’s Farewell Salute to the Body of John Ericsson, New York Bay, August 23, 1890”. Oil on canvas, 36″ by 54″, by Edward Moran (1829-1901), signed and dated by the artist, 1898. It depicts USS Baltimore (Cruiser # 3) departing New York Harbor to return the remains of John Ericsson to his native Sweden. Note the Swedish ensign flying from the ship’s foremast. Painting in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection. Gift of Paul E. Sutro, 1940. Official U.S. Navy Photograph. National Archives photograph, KN-10851 (Color).

Subaquatic Shooting

The Government Torpedo Board then embarked on a series of experiments in the Spring and Summer of 1892 with the late Mr. Ericsson’s Destroyer. The board, who watched the trials from the vessels’ deck, consisted of Commander George Albert Converse (USNA 1861, later RADM) and lieutenants T.C. McLean and C.A. Bradbury. Each shot was triggered at the drop of CDR Converse’s handkerchief.

Initial tests were done in March in Brooklyn’s Erie Basin, with a few inert rounds fired into a net with a modest 20-pound charge of black powder.

The May-June 1892 tests at the Brooklyn Navy Yard saw Destroyer moored off the mouth of the Simpson wooden dry dock, which was flooded, and its gates locked opened. Inside the dock was a series of six 40×20-foot nets, at 100-foot intervals. The nets were made of 1/4-inch manila cordage. At each net stood a team of bluejackets who, holding an attached rope to gauge the vibration of the projectile hitting the net, stood ready with a chronograph in hand to be used to help calculate velocity through the docks.

The below images described as “circa 1890” were actually in May-June 1892.

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard circa 1890. The projectile is shown. NH 52495

Projectile body. NH 52496

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard circa 1890. Assembly of warhead and projectile body. NH 52497

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view shows the breech mechanism of the submarine gun open and the shell ready to load. Note the net slicers on the tip. Taken about 1892. NH 54246

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view showing shop facilities and a projectile for the submarine gun, taken circa 1890. Note the projectile along the bulkhead. It was thought the vessel could carry up to 15 shells. NH 54250

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. The firing of a shell. NH 52305

NH 52306

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. Firing of a shell into the drydock to be recovered later. NH 52311

Ericsson’s Destroyer. View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. The projectile is in a drained drydock. NH 52313

Firing 20 inert cigar-shaped projectiles, with charges not exceeding 25-30 pounds of black powder, tests were conducted from as close as 100 feet off the dock to as far as 600 feet away, with the latter showing a lateral spread of 22 feet on average. The warheads, carrying equivalent ballast rather than guncotton, were topped with four razor-sharp net cutters. It was thought able to penetrate at least one steel mesh net, as in most tests the wooden bolts zipped through at least five of the six of the manila nets.

Muzzle velocity was estimated by the board to be around 300 feet per second, which translates to about 204 mph. At the 1,200-pound test weight, that’s kinetic energy of something like 2,097,963 ft./lbs.– remarkably close to Mr. Ericsson’s estimates.

There were some glaring failures, including projectiles that sank after they filled with water, some that nosedived just after launch, and others that decelerated rapidly and were caught in the first couple of nets, or came too fast and broached over the nets.

As noted by the New York Times, “Of the 20 shots fired, 15, at the maximum range of 600 feet, were sufficiently accurate in flight to have sunk the underwater hull of an average-sized vessel.”

The craft was taken into Naval custody, although not formally purchased, then tugged for more experiments at the Newport Naval Torpedo Station, where CDR Converse’s team would continue to keep Destroyer into late 1893. This involved testing anti-torpedo nets constructed by the Washington Gun Foundry and a series of nine live submarine gun shells fabricated by the Continental Iron Works of Brooklyn.

This came after a public outcry when “the majority of foreign warships present in the World Columbian Naval Review fleet carried torpedo nets” while no American ship was fitted with one.

Sale and overseas service

In October 1893, Flint Co. of New York City bought Destroyer from the Ericsson Coast Defense Company for resale to Brazil, where a civil war/revolution that included a naval aspect was afoot. Converse dutifully handed the vessel back to ECDC president Ericsson F. Bushnell (the son of Cornelius Scranton Bushnell of USS Monitor and Intelligent Whale fame) later that month and she was towed back to NYC by the tug Scandinavia.

Seafaring adventurer Joshua Slocum, soon after to be the first person to sail single-handedly around the world, accepted the job to take Destroyer to Brazil with a scratch crew that included a Royal Marine officer on furlough who was never without his Colt revolver and sword, a Brazilian “count” whose only redeeming quality “was a good judge of a hotel,” and a handful of other hardy souls.

Supported by the freighter Santuit, Slocum was “navigator in command” and set out on 7 December, arriving at Pernambuco on 20 January 1894, with a weeklong layover in Martinique to make repairs following a hairy incident during a storm in which the vessel was nearly lost at sea.

Destroyer never made it into much active service with the Brazilians, and Slocum, recalling in a self-published pamphlet on the trip, would say:

Concerning the last days of my worthy old ship, there is little more to say. The upland navigators at the Arsenal at Bahia, having observed the New York crew put the Destroyer in the basin and out again with dispatch, undertook, like some tropical quadrupeds, to do the “trick” themselves. Whether from pure cussedness or not this time, I can’t say, but they stove a great hole in her bottom, having grounded her on a rock, “accidentally,” they said.

Alas! for all our hardships and perils! The latest account that I heard said that the Destroyer lay undone in the basin. The tide ebbing and flowing through her broken hull–a rendezvous for eels and crawfish–and now those high and dry sailors say they had a “narrow escape.”

In handwritten notes to a copy found in 1997, Slocum would also detail:

When I returned to Brazil, later, in the Spray [the 36-foot sailboat he rounded the globe in] and inquired about a balance of wages due me from the Destroyer some $600 or more: The officer I addressed said “Captain so far as we are concerned we would give you the ship and if you care to accept it we will send an officer to show you where she is – I know very well where she was, as I have already said at the bottom of the sea.”


While Ericsson’s Destroyer was borrowed by the Navy for about 20 months in 1892-93, she was never commissioned as USS Destroyer, nor given a crew. The Navy did, however, name its second torpedo boat (TB-2), USS Ericsson, after the late inventor in 1897. Later, a Great War-era O’Brien-class torpedo boat destroyer (DD-56) and a WWII-era Gleaves-class destroyer (DD-440) would carry the same name.

USS Ericsson, (TB-2) alongside USS Cushing (TB-1), November 1900. Catalog #: 19-N-14-24-10

USS Ericsson (DD-56) circa 1916. NH 77909

The third USS Ericsson (DD-440), a Gleaves-class destroyer, was pretty enough to star on a 1941 Naval Reserve poster by Matt Murphey. UNT World War Poster Collection

Sadly, today the name of this titan of naval technology rides on an MSC-manned Kaiser-class oiler, USNS John Ericsson (T-AO-194), which has been in service since 1991. If ever a destroyer should be named for a man, it is Mr. Ericsson. 

170718-N-OY799-016. CORAL SEA (July 18, 2017) The Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194) is underway alongside the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), as part of a replenishment-at-sea during Talisman Saber 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released)

Since Ericsson’s Destroyer, the Navy has commissioned no less than 1,087 destroyer (DD/DDR/DL/DLG/DDG) series vessels and another 588 destroyer escort (DE) types spanning from USS Bainbridge, laid down on 15 August 1899, by Neafie and Levy Ship and Engine Building Company at their shipyard in Philadelphia, to the next set to come to life, the future guided-missile destroyer USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) accepted from Ingalls shipbuilding last November.

She is scheduled to be commissioned, Saturday, May 13 in Key West Florida.

USS Bainbridge (DD-1) was the first ship commissioned as a destroyer in the United States Navy, authorized on May 4, 1898, three days after the commencement of the Spanish-American War. She served most of her active life in the Asiatic Station. In World War I she was based at Gibraltar, where she served as an escort ship for Allied shipping out of the Mediterranean Sea. Bainbridge was decommissioned at the end of the war in 1919 and sold. Lithograph by C. F. Kenney; C. 1950. NHHC 07-572-A

PCU USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) during sea trials. HII photo

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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21st-Century Visual Aircraft Recognition

Spotted on a Ukrainian coastal craft recently:

Besides the normal MiGs and Sukhois, note the assorted drone silhouettes.

Of note, the U.S. has donated 62 “coastal and riverine patrol boats” to Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict with Russia. Presumably, these are all small enough to be carried in via Eastern Europe from Poland and Romania via rail (under 89 feet) and truck (under 53 feet).

Last year, it was disclosed that at least 20 of those were 36-38 foot aluminum hulled boats from Metal Shark in Alabama. 

Speaking of which, the Department of Defense this week quietly posted the latest, 34th, drawdown from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August 2021 which is valued at up to $350 million. Big ticket items include HIMARS rockets, 155mm artillery rounds, 25mm cannon ammunition, 81mm and 60mm mortar rounds, grenade launchers, demo equipment, more riverine patrol boats, thermal sights, and other gear. Also included were additional small arms– classified as .50 caliber BMG and under– along with associated ammunition.

Overall, this brings the total of American military assistance to Ukraine to more than $33.2 billion since the beginning of the Biden Administration took office– roughly the cost of three new Ford-class supercarriers. By comparison, Ukraine spent just $5.9 billion on its entire military in 2021.

When it comes to the running tally of equipment transferred from U.S. stocks to Ukraine this year, more than 150 million rounds of small arms ammunition have been allocated along with 232 pieces of artillery and over 2 million shells. Add to this over 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, 8,500 Javelin tank killer missiles, and 58,000 “other anti-armor systems.”

The full list, as of March 20, is below:

80 Years Ago: Calvertville Mosquito Station

The U.S. Navy PT Boat Base at Tulagi (Tulaghi) in the British Florida (Solomon) Islands came about after the island was liberated by Allied forces– primarily the 1st Marine Raiders– in August 1942 following a four-month occupation by the Japanese.

U.S. Marines come ashore on Tulagi Island, probably during the landings there on 7-8 August 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-16485

The impressive prewar concrete wharf there, dubbed Government Wharf as it had been constructed and controlled by the local British administration, while too small for proper warships, was thought ideal for a squadron of PT boats.

As detailed in Close Quarters, by Bulkeley, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two, in Panama, was reflagged as MTBRon 3 and its brand-new 77-foot Elco-type PTs shipped from the Canal, across the Pacific, in a rather interesting way:

The first division of Squadron 3, PTs 38, 46, 48, and 60, departed Balboa on August 29 aboard the Navy oilers Lackawanna and Tappahannock, two PTs to a ship. They arrived September 19 at Noumea, New Caledonia, were unloaded, and were towed to Espiritu Santo by USS Bellatrix, a cargo ship, and the tender Jamestown, which had sailed from New York early in August to join the PTs in the Solomons. The boats were towed from Espiritu Santo by the fast minesweepers Hovey and Southard, converted four-stack destroyers, to a point 300 miles from Tulagi. There the boats were turned loose to proceed under their own power, arriving at Government Wharf, Tulagi, at daybreak on October 12.

The second division, PTs 37, 39, 45, and 61, was shipped to Noumea on a merchant ship and arrived at Tulagi on October 25.

Soon, Seabees had constructed a 20-bed infirmary, a 1,000-barrel tank farm for 100 Octane mogas with a pipeline to the repaired dock, rudimentary mess and bunk houses, an engine workshop, and a protected torpedo overhaul and storage magazine.

By December, Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla ONE, under command of CDR Allen P. Calvert (USNA 1924)— formerly commander of the destroyer USS Craven— was activated with headquarters at Sesapi, on the northeastern tip of Tulagi.

With that, the base took on the name Calvertville, and continued ongoing operations against the Japanese “Tokyo Express,” being involved not only in the Guadalcanal campaign but also in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Over a main street covered with the pierced steel Marston matting, a crude sign read: Calvertville, Through these portals pass the best MTB Flotilla in the World. NH 44492

MTBRon 3 was soon joined by MTBRon 2, MTBRon 6, MTBRon 8, and MTBRon 1 by July 1943. Among these Elco boats was PT-109, whose skipper was a young Lieutenant (jg) John Fitzgerald Kennedy, USNR.

Later, MTBRon 31, 32, and 37 would arrive and spend their war conducting nightly patrols of the Bougainville and Choiseul coasts long after the “big show” had moved to the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

Ultimately, by the end of the war, over 100 PTs at one time or another had been based there.

The below images, captured in March 1943 by LIFE photographer Frank Scherschel, show Calvertville at its prime.

“The Old Man.” Note the Flotilla pennant. Calvert would remain in command at Tulagi into November 1943, earning the Distinguished Service Medal (Army) from the War Department, then be sent back stateside to eventually take command of the new cruiser USS Oakland.

Note the U.S. Navy Shallow Water Miller-Dunn Divinhood

Second CG finishes Modernization Program

Built at Ingalls in Pascagoula, USS Chosin was ordered in 1986 and delivered in 1991. She has been in modernization since December 2019– but that is soon set to end. Official caption: PEARL HARBOR (March 26, 2012) The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65) conducts exercises off the coast of Hawaii following a departure from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released) 120326-N-RI884-150

We reported last week about the old USS Gettysburg getting ready to return to sea after eight years with the completion of her drawn-out CG Phased Modernization Plan.

Well, she is fixing to get some company. Almost like an old home week for the Lehman-era 600-ship Navy.

This, from Seattle-based Vigor on G’burg’s sistership, USS Chosin (CG 65), finished her 1.7 million hour CGMP in just three years (well, technically Chosin was taken offline in 2019, so really like four years but who’s counting), while sister USS Cape St. George (CG 71) is set to follow:

Three-year, highly complex maintenance project was largest in Vigor’s history 

Seattle, WA (February 28, 2023) – Vigor, a Titan company, successfully completed a three-year modernization project on USS Chosin (CG 65) at its Harbor Island shipyard today, sending the U.S. Navy ship back to its homeport of Naval Station Everett. The project, which encompassed more than 1.7 million hours of work for Vigor employees, in addition to work by dozens of subcontractors and the U.S. Navy, was one of the largest, longest and most complex in Vigor’s history.  

“Vigor’s completion of USS Chosin in Seattle represents an incredible success for our skilled workers and the hundreds of people who worked on this project over the last three years,” said Adam Beck, Executive Vice President of Ship Repair for Vigor. “Vigor employees and our many partners successfully managed this very complex project through the COVID-19 pandemic, ultimately returning the ship to the U.S. Navy to continue its service to our nation. We are honored to support the U.S. Navy, and are grateful to all who made this success possible.” 

Vigor employees devoted approximately 1.7 million hours to USS Chosin over the last three years, modernizing weapons, communications, and information systems, as well as upgrading many other areas of the ship. They worked in close partnership with the team from the Northwest Regional Maintenance Center (NWRMC) at Naval Station Everett, where USS Chosin is homeported.    

Work on USS Chosin commenced alongside USS Cape St. George (CG 71), which is also scheduled to be completed this year. Both maintenance projects were awarded to Vigor together in 2019.  

“This project was not only important to the Navy and our national defense, it also supported more than 600 family-wage jobs at the Harbor Island shipyard,” Beck said. “This steady work has allowed Vigor to grow the capacity of our skilled workforce in support of Navy readiness and supported industrial jobs and the local economy.” 

As USS Chosin leaves Harbor Island, two other U.S. Navy ships remain at the facility, including USS Cape St. George and USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53). Vigor’s support for the Navy also extends beyond Seattle, with USS Tulsa (LCS 16) currently undergoing maintenance at Swan Island in Portland, OR, and USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) nearing the end of its availability in Hawaii.  

Gunboat Subs

Official description: Six U.S. Navy submarines maneuvering in line abreast formation during exercises off Block Island, Rhode Island, in April 1947. The nearest submarine is USS Sarda (SS-488) while USS Torsk (SS-423) is next.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-704269

Note both Sarda and Torsk are in the late WWII “gunboat” configuration, i.e. fitted with 5-inch/25cal deck guns both fore and aft, augmented by two 40mm Bofors singles– quite a battery for a submarine. Such a layout was put to good use as, by 1944, most large Marus had been sent to the bottom already and targets worthy of a torpedo were increasingly rare– hence the prospect of easy dispatch via a 75-pound 5-inch shell. No fuss, no muss, no sending over a demo crew that could get hacked up with hatchets.

The Mark 40 5″/25 wet mount. With a weight of 7 tons, a trained crew could make one of these stubby boys sing at about 15 rounds per minute– provided the shells could be hustled up the hatch from below at a fast enough rate.

Of course, using such gunboat submarines in extended surface actions never proved ideal as they couldn’t carry enough rounds– which had to be passed up by hand chain-gang style from belowdecks– to make up for the fact that fire control from such a low-lying platform was a gamble at any range past point-blank, especially in any sort of sea state. See “Lattas Lancers” for a good lesson on that.

Plus, such an array of deck guns created drag and noise underwater, which was not ideal moving into the Cold War. 

It was little wonder that, as part of the GUPPY program, the Navy soon stripped all the fixed guns from its subs. 

Warship Wednesday, March 8, 2023: USS FBI

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, March 8, 2023: USS FBI

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 106576

Above we see the Bogue-class escort carrier USS Block Island (CVE-21), photographed from a blimp of squadron ZP-14 underway on her first ASW hunter-killer cruise, seen off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 15 October 1943. Arranged on her flight deck are a dozen TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo planes and nine F4F/FM Wildcat fighters of Fleet Composite Squadron 1 (VC-1) — big medicine for such a small flattop. Commissioned just six months prior on 8 March 1943– 80 years ago today– Block Island would have a bright if an unsung career in the Battle of the Atlantic, although she would not live to see it conclude.

About the Bogues

With both Great Britain and the U.S. running desperately short of flattops in the first half of World War II, and large, fast fleet carriers taking a while to crank out, a subspecies of light and “escort” carriers, the first created from the hulls of cruisers, the second from the hulls of merchant freighters, were produced in large numbers to put a few aircraft over every convoy and beach in the Atlantic and Pacific.

Of the more than 122 escort carriers produced in the U.S. for use by her and her Allies, some 45 were of the Bogue class. Based on the Maritime Commission’s Type C3-S-A1 cargo ship hull, these were built in short order at Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation, Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, and by the Western Pipe and Steel Company of San Francisco.

Some 496 feet overall with a 439-foot flight deck, these 16,200-ton ships could only steam at a pokey 16 ish knots sustained speed, which negated their use in fleet operations but allowed them to more than keep up with convoys of troop ships and war supplies. Capable of limited self-defense with four twin Bofors and up to 35 20mm Oerlikons for AAA as well as a pair of 5-inch guns for defense against small boats, they could carry as many as 28 operational aircraft in composite air wings. They were equipped with two elevators, Mk 4 arresting gear, and a hydraulic catapult.

Most of the Bogue class (34 of 45) went right over to the Royal Navy via Lend-Lease, where they were known as the Ameer, Attacker, Ruler, or Smiter class in turn, depending on their arrangement. However, the U.S. Navy did keep 11 of the class for themselves (USS Bogue, Card, Copahee, Core, Nassau, Altamaha, Barnes, Breton, Croatan, Prince William, and our very own Block Island), all entering service between September 1942 and June 1943.

Meet Block Island

Oddly enough, our little carrier was not the first named after the sound that lies east of Long Island, N.Y. and south of Rhode Island. The Navy ordered an early Bouge class aircraft escort vessel, AVG-8, under a Maritime Commission contract (M.C. Hull 161) on 12 May 1941 at Ingalls in Pascagoula, and issued her the name USS Block Island on 3 February 1942. However, the name was canceled the following month as the hull was allocated to the Royal Navy who in turn would launch her as HMS Trailer, then HMS Hunter (D 80), and bring her into service under Admiralty orders in January 1943.

HMS Trailer, ex-USS Block Island (ACV-8), later HMS Hunter (D80), location unknown, 14 January 1943, likely in the Gulf of Mexico. Via ONI Division of Naval Intelligence, Identification and Characteristics Section, June 1943.

Our subject, the second Block Island, the first to see commissioned U.S. Navy service, was AVG-21, M.C. Hull 237, laid down on the other side of the country at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation Yard on 19 January 1942. She was named USS Block Island on 19 March 1942– the same day the Pascagoula Block Island had her name canceled, then was reclassified as an auxiliary aircraft carrier (ACV-21) and subsequently commissioned on 8 March 1943. As such, she was the eighth of 11 Bogues brought into U.S. service.

Her first skipper, Capt. Logan Carlisle Ramsey (USNA 1919), had made his spot in history already when, on the staff of PATWINGTWO at Ford Island on 7 December 1941, had ordered the famous “Air Raid Pearl Harbor! This is No Drill!” flash message.

Block Island in the final stages of fitting out, at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation Yard, Seattle, Washington, circa March 1943. 19-N-42715

A series of incredible images exist of her just before commissioning.

On trials, circa March 1943. View directly astern. 19-N-42712

On trials, circa March 1943. Bow-on view. 19-N-42702

Close-up view of her island area, taken circa March 1943. 19-N-42693 A

On trials, circa March 1943. Broadside view, starboard. 19-N-42693

On trials, circa March 1943. Starboard side, off the bow. 19-N-42699

On trials, circa March 1943. Port side, off the bow. 19-N-42698

On trials, circa March 1943. Starboard side, off the stern. 19-N-42703

Shuttle work

Soon after delivery and an abbreviated shakedown, the new carrier was rushed to the Atlantic where she was urgently needed to tackle the persistent U-boat threat. Picking up the Wildcats and Avengers of Composite Squadron (VC) 25 in San Diego in April, she would arrive in Norfolk via the Panama Canal in early June, where VC-25 would go ashore.

Sailing for Staten Island in July, she took aboard deck and hangar cargo in the form of brand new USAAF P-47D-5 Thunderbolts and rushed them, partially disassembled, to Belfast.

P-47s lashed on the flight deck of USS Block Island (CVE 21). The aircraft is on the forward end of the flight deck, July 13, 1943. 80-G-77750

P-47s lashed on the flight deck of USS Block Island (CVE 21). Viewed from the bridge, looking aft, July 15, 1943. 80-G-77752

USS Block Island (CVE-21). Army P-47-D5 fighters on the ship’s hangar deck, for shipment to Europe, on 15 July 1943. Taken in New York City. 80-G-77754

Unloading P-47s from USS Block Island (CVE 21) at Belfast, North Ireland, July 27, 1943. 80-G-77756

Unloading P-47s from USS Block Island (CVE 21) at Belfast, North Ireland, July 27, 1943. 80-G-77760

Unloading P-47s from USS Block Island (CVE 21) at Belfast, North Ireland, July 27, 1943. 80-G-77757

Arriving back at Staten Island on 11 August, she would load another batch of “Jugs” and set out again for Belfast just 10 days later.

Arrives in Belfast, Ulster, with a load of army P-47 fighters on 7 September 1943. Barge BRAE is in the foreground. 80-G-55524

Port crane unloading army P-47 fighters from USS Block Island (CVE-21) at Belfast, Ulster, on 7 September 1943. The planes were unloaded in a record 14 hours. 80-G-55528

Getting in the Hunt

Upon reaching Norfolk after her second Jug run, Block Island got called up to the majors and, with squadron VC-1 embarked, spent a month in practice runs before shoving out into the Atlantic on 15 October as the centerpiece of Task Group (TG) 21.16, augmented by four destroyers. As an ace in the hole, the group was bird dogged by Ultra Intelligence from decoded German Enigma ciphers.

Although her group caught and damaged the big “milch cow,” U-488, then harassed U-256, and bagged U-222 (Oblt. Bruno Barber) on 28 October 1943, sent to Poseidon by Mk. 47 depth bombs from two of VC-1’s Avengers. U-220, a minelayer boat returning from laying her evil eggs off Newfoundland, went down with all hands.

Exchanging VC-1 for VC-58– the latter’s Avengers now equipped with the new 5-inch HVAR “Holy Moses” rockets– Block Island‘s planes soon chased U-758 in January 1944 on her second hunter-killer cruise but again did not sink her. In the attack 11 January attack, the HVAR was used against a submarine for the first time.

TBF aircraft, (VC-58), from USS Block Island (CVE 21) make the first aircraft rocket attack on a German submarine, U-758, on January 11, 1944. The submarine survived the attack and returned to St. Nazaire, France, on 20 January. In March 1945, it was stricken by the German Navy after being damaged by British bombers at Kiel, Germany. Shown: Lieutenant Junior Grade Willis D. Seeley makes an effective rocket attack followed quickly by a depth-bomb attack by Lieutenant Junior Grade Leonard L. McFord. Lieutenant Junior Grade Seeley then made an effective depth bomb attack. Official 80-G-222842

Same as above. 80-G-222843

Same as above. 80-G-222847

Her habit of being quick to attack reported U-boats earned her the nickname, “USS FBI” for “Fighting Block Island.”

This would be taken to even greater proportions by her second skipper, Capt. Francis Massie (“Frank”) Hughes (USNA 1923), a tough Alabaman who, like Block Island’s first skipper, had been at Pearl Harbor. During the December 7th attack, Hughes was the first Navy aviator who managed to get his aircraft in the air and did so while still in his pajamas, then later flew during the Battle of Midway.

USS Block Island (CVE-21) at sea on 3 February 1944. Photographed by ZP-14. 80-G-215495

On 1 March 1944, the Canon-class destroyer escort USS Bronstein (DE 189), part of Block Island’s T.G., reported a depth charge attack that has sometimes been credited as being a kill against U-603 (Kptlt. Hans-Joachim Bertelsmann) which had gone missing about that time.

On 1 March, Block Island‘s trio of destroyer escorts– USS Thomas, USS Bostwick, and Bronstein— depth-charged an unidentified submarine north of the Azores. This is typically thought to be U-709 (Oblt. (R) Rudolf Ites) which was reported missing in the same general area around that time and has never been found.

On 17 March, her aircraft, teaming up with the destroyer USS Corry and Bronstein, sank U-801 (Kptlt. Hans-Joachim Brans) west of Cabo Verde Islands. In that action, a new Fido homing torpedo dropped by an Avenger carried the day. Corry’s bluejackets rescued 47 German survivors.

Air Attacks on German U-boats, WWII. U-801 was sunk on March 17, 1944, by a Fido homing torpedo by two Avenger and one Wildcat aircraft from USS Block Island, along with depth charges and gunfire from USS Corry (DD-463) and USS Bronstein (DE-189). Note, Lieutenant Junior Grade Paul Sorenson strafed, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Charles Woodell depth charged U-801. 80-G-222854

On 19 March, depth charges from an Avenger/Wildcat duo from Block Island sent U-1059 (Oblt. Günter Leupold) to the bottom. Escorts standing by rescued eight survivors.

U-1059 was one of Donitz’s rare torpedo transport boats, a Type VIIF, that went down after one very curious fight that ended up with a waterlogged naval aviator taking enemy POWs into custody at gunpoint.

As related by

The sinking of U-1059. At 07.26 hours, the boat was attacked by an Avenger/Wildcat team from USS Block Island operating on ULTRA reports southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. The aircraft completely surprised U-1059, as she was not underway and men were seen swimming in the water. While the Wildcat (Lt (JG) W.H. Cole) made a strafing run, the Avenger dropped three depth charges that straddled the boat perfectly. U-1059 began to sink, but the AA gunners scored hits on the Avenger during its second attack run and it crashed into the sea, killing the pilot and one the crew. The mortally wounded pilot had nevertheless dropped two depth charges that sent the boat to the bottom. Ensign M.E. Fitzgerald survived the aircraft crash and found himself on a dinghy amidst German survivors. He helped a wounded survivor but kept the others at a distance with his pistol until USS Corry arrived and rescued him and eight German survivors, including the badly-wounded commander, Oblt Günther Leupold. (Sources: Franks/Zimmerman)

Shipping out on her third sweep, now VC-55 aboard in April 1944, Block Island’s T.G. damaged the veteran U-boat U-66 and, after a five-day chase, the destroyer escort USS Buckley found and rammed the pesky German submarine. Some 36 survivors captured by Buckley were later transferred to Block Island.

On the night of 29 May 1944, the Type IXC/40 submarine U-549 (Kptlt. Detlev Krankenhagen) managed to penetrate TG 21.11’s anti-submarine screen and get close enough to fire a trio of G7e(TIII) torpedoes at Block Island, hitting her with two.

As detailed by the NHHC:

Without warning, U-549’s first torpedo slammed into USS Block Island (CVE-21)’s bow at about frame 12; and, approximately four seconds later, a second struck her aft between frames 171 and 182, exploding in the oil tank, through the shaft alley and up through the 5-inch magazines without causing any further fires or explosions.

Meanwhile, the destroyer escort USS Robert I. Paine (DE-578) closed to join in picking up USS Block Island (CVE-21) survivors as the escort carrier settled lower and lower into the Atlantic. As she sank, the Avengers on USS Block Island (CVE-21)’s flight deck slid off into the sea like toys, their depth charges exploding deep under the surface. USS Block Island (CVE-21) took her final plunge at 2155.

USS Block Island (CVE-21) dead in the water and listing after 1st and 2nd torpedo hits. The ship was initially struck by two torpedoes from the German submarine U-549 on 2013, 29 May 1944. A third torpedo hit some ten minutes later and sealed her fate. FBI sank at 2155. NH 86679.

U-549 was soon after sunk by two of Block Island’s escorts, USS Ahrens (DE-575) and Eugene E. Elmore (DE-686), with all 57 of her crew, Krankenhagen included, diving with her to the bottom forever.

Amazingly, only six USS Block Island crew members died during or soon after the attack. Added to this were four Wildcat pilots aloft at the time of the attack who could not make it to the Canary Islands and were lost at sea.

Block Island’s name was stricken from the Navy List on 28 June 1944.

She was the only American carrier lost in the Atlantic in any war.

She earned two battle stars while her group was credited with sinking seven U-boats. Both of her skippers, Logan Ramsey and Frank Hughes, would survive the war and later retire as rear admirals.


A third Block Island, the second to carry the Navy on active duty, a late-model Commencement Bay-class escort carrier (CVE-106), was commissioned just six months after our ship’s loss, on 30 December 1944.

Of interest, Most of the original CVE 21 crew was reassigned to CVE 106, which was fairly unique in U.S. Navy history. This was done largely due to the will of Frank Hughes, CVE-21’s final skipper, and he would command the new Block Island in 1945.

BuAer photo of USS Block Island (CVE-106), taken on 13 January 1945 off the north end of Vashon Island, Washington. Photo #Stl 1728-1-45.

This new carrier was also able to earn two battle stars for her WWII service in the final days of the Pacific War, then went on to serve again in the Atlantic during the Korean War and was decommissioned in 1954.

A veterans association remembers both CVE-21 and CVE-106.

Our little flattop is also remembered in maritime art.

“The BLOCK ISLAND in ’44” – CVE-21 USS BLOCK ISLAND with VC-55 aboard, May 1944 (Jim Griffiths)

The war diaries for both Block Islands are digitized in the National Archives.

The most tangible memory of CVE-21 is the Simmons Aviation Foundation’s Heritage Flight TBM-3E Avenger (N85650) that since 2011 carried the “Block Island” livery and tail flash of VC-55.

Of the rest of the Bogue class, Block Island was not the only member to feel the U-boat’s sting. British-operated sister HMS Nabob (D 77) was torpedoed by U-354 in October 1944 and so seriously damaged that she was judged not worth repair. Likewise, the same could be said for sistership HMS Thane (D 48) would be so crippled by U-1172 in 1945 that she was not returned to service.

As for the class’s post-war service, they were too small and slow to be utilized as much more than aircraft transports, and most of the British-operated vessels were returned to the U.S. Navy, retrograded back to merchantmen, and sold off as freighters.

Of the ten U.S.-operated Bogues, most were sold for scrap or for further mercantile use sans flattop and guns, with Card, converted to an aviation transport (AKV-40, later T-AKV-40) in the 1950s, remaining in service into Vietnam where she was embarrassingly holed by Viet Cong sappers in Saigon. The last of the class in American service, she was scrapped in 1971.

The final Bogue hull, the former Smiter-class escort carrier HMS Khedive (D62), continued operating as the tramp freighter SS Daphne as late as 1976 before she met her end in the hands of Spanish breakers.


Displacement: 16,620 tons (full)
Length: 495 ft. 7 in
flight deck: 439 ft.
Beam: 69 ft. 6 in
flight deck: 70 ft.
Draught: 26 ft.
2 x Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company Inc., Milwaukee geared steam turbines, 8,500 shp
2 x boilers (285 psi)
1 x shaft
Speed: 18 knots (designed) 16 actual, max
Complement: 890 including airwing
2 x single 5″/51 (later 5″/38) gun mounts
8 x twin 40-mm/56-cal gun mounts
27 x single 20-mm/70-cal Oerlikons
Aircraft carried 18-24 operational, up to 90 for ferry service
Aviation facilities: 2 5.9-ton capacity elevators; 1 hydraulic catapult (H 2); 9-wire/3-barrier Mk 4 mod 5A arresting gear; 262×62 ft. hangar deck; 440×82 ft. flight deck

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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Key West ‘foils

In my post Monday about the USS Key West‘s pending decommissioning, and the fact that the city island she is named in honor of is set to celebrate the commissioning next month of a new destroyer (whose namesake doesn’t have any ties to Key West as far as I can tell) I stated there hasn’t been an active duty Navy ship homeported there since the sub base closed in 1974.

Long-time reader Big Marcus quickly pointed out that statement was an error.

Somehow, for reasons I cannot explain, I forgot about Patrol Combatant Missile Hydrofoil Squadron (PHMRON) TWO, which called Key West home from 1980 to 1993.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington. The insignia for Patrol Combatant Missile Hydrofoil Squadron Two on the hydrofoil USS TAURUS (PHM 3), 1982. Via NARA DN-ST-86-01869

A pet project of ADM Elmo Zumwalt, the U.S. Navy was the point man for a NATO hydrofoil program– spurred by boats such as the Soviet Sarancha type-– in the early 1970s that, between West Germany, Italy, and the U.S., aimed to produce swarms of these potent little fast attack craft that would be particularly useful in the confined waters of the Persian Gulf, Baltic, and Meddeterrian.

Pegasus class PHMs via Jane’s 1973 ed

In 1973, the Soviets were running Project 1240 Uragan (Hurricane), NATO reporting name Sarancha, a 300-ton, 175-foot “rocket cutter” that could make 58 knots on its hydrofoils and carry four SS-N-9 Siren AshMs, an SA-N-4 Gecko Osa-M “Dustbin” SAM system and a 30mm AK-630 mount– a pretty impressive fit for the day! Of course, the Russkis only built one boat in the project, MRK-5, but it did lead to a 12-ship run of follow-on Matka-class (Project 206MR Vikhr) PHMs for use in the Black Sea.

The Pegasus-class PHMs, via the International Hydrofoil Society. Thirty of these could have proved interesting in a conflict where air superiority was assured.

They were crafted with 15 years of lessons learned by the Navy with the one-off hydrofoils USS High Point (PCH-1), USS Plainview (AGEH-1), and USS Tucumcari (PGH-2).

Well, after Zumwalt left the Navy in 1974, the PHM program dropped from a planned 30 vessels to just six, then the Germans dropped out of the program (electing to go with the more traditional S-143 class schnellboot) and the Italians elected instead to go with the smaller (60 ton, 75 foot) Sparviero class boats of which the Japanese also built three copies (the 1-go class).

The new Pegasus class PHMs were built by Boeing, with a big gap between the lead unit’s 1977 commissioning and the follow-on five vessels entering service in 1981-82.

Pegasus on trials

USS Hercules (PHM-2) bow-on. She was a Pegasus-class missile hydrofoil, seen on the cover of a Boeing brochure

Seattle, pegasus class hydrofoil USS Taurus (PHM-3) during her acceptance trials

DN-ST-84-07572 Gas Turbine System Technician Second Class Steve Miller monitors the controls at the engineer’s station board the patrol combatant missile hydrofoil USS Gemini (PHM-6), 1 January 1983

DN-ST-90-09381 The patrol combatant missile hydrofoils USS HERCULES (PHM 2) and USS TAURUS (PHM 3) maneuver off of Key West, Florida.

USS Hercules (PHM-2) and Taurus (PHM-3) 1983

Hydrofoil USS Hercules PHM-2 passes USS Iowa during Northern Wedding 86 DN-ST-87-00313

Hydrofoil USS Hercules, PHM-2 Squadron 2,i n Key West DN-SC-90-09332

Hydrofoil USS Hercules PHM-2 Squadron 2 in Key West DN-SC-87-08290

Hydrofoils USS AQUILA (PHM 4), front, and USS GEMINI (PHM 6), center, lie tied up in port with a third PHM. The Coast Guard surface effect ship (SES) cutter USCGC SHEARWATER (WSES 3) is in the background

Hydrofoil patrol combatant missile ship USS TAURUS (PHM 3) races by. “Navy hydrofoils are regularly used on Joint Task Force 4 drug interdiction missions.”

In 1980, PHM-1 was homeported in Key West where PHMRON 2 would slowly be stood up, to lend their muscle to USNAVSO’s (now Fourth Fleet’s) counterdrug efforts in conjunction with the USCG. Of course, they also did a lot of “orange force” battle group workups for ships in training out of GTMO and Rosey Roads, helped develop the Navy’s fast ship tactics at a time when the Iranians were really sowing their oats, and contributed to Operation Urgent Fury — the 1983 liberation of Grenada– with the latter being the type’s first and last combat use.

They were a core asset of Joint Task Force FOUR (CJTF-4), now JIATF South, when that group was stood up in 1989 at Key West. 

Plus, if things ever got squirrely with the Cubans, the 48 Harpoons and six 75mm guns of PHMRON 2 could likely take out the cream of Castro’s navy in a surface action without having to detail anything more than some F-16s out of Homestead to keep the MiGs away. 

In all, the squadron required just 154 shoreside maintenance and support personnel in addition to the vessels’ crews. All told, about 300 men. 

Although they garnered something like a third of the Navy’s drug busts in the decade they were active, and only cost about a third the cost of an FFG to operate, the entire squadron was sidelined in June 1993 and then shipped to Little Creek for mass decommissioning, with the newer PHMs only having been in service 11 years.

For more on the class, the National Archives has a ton of images, see the presentation by the International Hydrofoil Society, and visit the USS Aries (PHM-5) museum ship in Missouri.

Key West Decommissioning, and (Commissioning)

Capping an impressive 36-year career, the third U.S. Navy ship (the first being a Civil War gunboat while the second was a WWII-era frigate) to be named after Key West, Florida is headed for imminent decommissioning and recycling.

USS Key West (SSN-722), a Flight II (VLS equipped) Los Angeles class hunter-killer, was ordered from Newport News on 13 August 1981 and commissioned just over six years later on 12 September 1987– appearing in the pages of Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising more than a year before she actually entered service.

Key West spent the beginning of her career on the East Coast but since 1996 has been a Pacific-based boat.

In 2001, she launched Tomahawks into Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom following the September 11 attack, then later did the same during Iraqi Freedom in January 2003.

Now, her career has come to a close.

A couple of weeks ago, she arrived at Kitsap 25 days after she shoved off from Naval Base Guam for the last time, switching from the control of forward-deployed SUBRON15 in preparation for decommissioning.

APRA HARBOR, Guam (Jan. 17, 2023) – The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Key West (SSN 722) departs Apra Harbor, Guam, Jan. 17. Key West is one of five submarines assigned to Commander, Submarine Squadron 15. Commander, Submarine Squadron 15 is responsible for providing training, material and personnel readiness support to multiple Los Angeles-class fast attack submarines and is located at Polaris Point, Naval Base Guam. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Eric Uhden)

NAVAL BASE GUAM (Jan. 17, 2023) – The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Key West (SSN 722) departs Naval Base Guam, Jan. 17. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Eric Uhden)

Once decommissioned, Key West will leave 24 of the 62-strong 688 class still in service, with all of the remainder being Flight II and III boats.

The current USS Key West visited her namesake city– formerly a big submarine base– in 1987, for a week-long celebration after commissioning, then again in 1992 and 1994 while on the East Coast, but hasn’t been there since. While both the Army and Navy maintain facilities on the island, there hasn’t been a ship stationed there since U.S. Naval Submarine Base Key West closed in 1974.

Submarines USS Cutlass (SS-478), Trutta (SS-421), Odax (SS-484), Tirante (SS-420), Marlin (SST-2) & Mackerel (SST-1), alongside for inspection at Key West. Note the differences in sails, showing off a bunch of different GUPPY styles alongside the two pipsqueak training boats. Wright Langley Collection. Florida Keys Public Libraries. Photo # MM00046694x

With that being said, the Conch Republic is set to greet PCU USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123), currently building at Ingalls in Pascagoula, for the new destroyer’s commissioning on 13 May before a crowd of as many as 5,000 visitors.

A photo I took last in March 2022, showing the future Flight IIA Burke USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123), front, and PCU USS Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125), rear, at Ingalls’s West Bank, fitting out. Note the differences in their masts. The Flight III upgrade as seen on Lucas is centered on the AN/SPY-6(V)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar and “incorporates upgrades to the electrical power and cooling capacity plus additional associated changes to provide greatly enhanced warfighting capability to the fleet.”

Higbee won’t be the first Burke “brought to life” at the windswept southernmost point, as USS Spruance (DDG 111) was commissioned there in October 2011.

Vale, Ricou Browning, Daddy Frogman

One of Florida’s greats, and the last of the classic 1950s Universal horror film actors, Ricou Browning, has passed this last week, aged 93, at his home in Southwest Ranches, Florida.

Raised on Jensen Beach as a member of a family of fishermen, Ricou could swim before he could walk, or at least that’s what has always been said. In his teens, he worked in the underwater shows at Wakulla Springs, then, after a stint in the Air Force, went to FSU and was a standout on the swim team.

In 1953, after returning to his old job at Wakulla Springs, he did some test dives for Universal, and the rest was history.

As noted by the Marin County News in 2012:

There was a deep cave at Wakulla, where Ricou took them and with a movie camera which had been brought along, they filmed Browning swimming in the spring waters. A few weeks later Ricou was contacted by Arnold, who had been greatly impressed by the youth’s swimming style and offered him a sizable sum of money to play the role of the “gill-man” in Universal-International’s movie “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Young 23-year-old Ricou replied, “Fine. Let’s have at it.”

Ricou went to California where a special $18,000 outfit was constructed; the “creature” would have gills and a fish-like face. Browning would do all the underwater scenes for the movie, many times holding his breath up to four minutes at a time, not releasing any air bubbles from his mouth or nose! The underwater action was filmed at Wakulla Springs while some of the “above water” segments were done at Rice Creek near Palatka in Florida.

Another heavier gill-man costume was made for all the scenes filmed out of the water and were shot in California. Ben Chapman, a cousin of actor Jon Hall, played the role for these scenes. Other actors included Julie Adams, Richard Denning, and Richard Carlson and the filming was completed in late 1953.

Ricou Browning finishes getting into costume as the Gill-man in “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (with a little help). Filming of underwater scenes took place in Wakulla Springs, Florida, ca. 1953. General Photographic Collection, 1845-2016. State Archives of Florida, Collection M82-5, Image PR10705.

Besides portraying the Creature in the underwater scenes for the film’s two sequels, “Revenge of the Creature” and “The Creature Walks Among Us,” he also was the director for the extremely complicated underwater scenes in “Thunderball” (1965) and “Never Say Never Again” (1983), as well as Flipper.

Who as a kid hasn’t thought they would be involved in more underwater spear gun fights as an adult?

Of course, anyone who has ever attempted BUD/S training with the Navy for the past 60 years has seen the enduring Creature statue, a gift to the Naval Special Warfare Center at Coronado, from BUD/S Class 63. Around his neck is a sign, often replaced, asking, “So, you want to be a frogman?”

The statue is often referred to as Gillman, Swampman, or just “Gilly.” A repro of this statue is on display at the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Navy SEAL Museum on Long Island.

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