Category Archives: US Navy

Many Hands Make Light Work

An important milestone occurred this weekend across 45 minutes on a humid and foggy Saturday morning for the Biloxi National Cemetery. The unit, which honors well over 17,000 of the nation’s veterans (going back to the war with Mexico) and their spouses, celebrated its 10th annual Christmas wreath drive.

Sadly, the number of wreaths grows each season. Total number of wreaths this year pushed the 25,000 mark

In an effort that costs the government or the VA nothing, a core of volunteers– heavy with youth groups such as Scouts and JROTC– covered the grounds with donated wreaths, making sure every gravesite had one.

Of course, the background work included local businesses donating funds for wreaths and new bows (replaced yearly) and further smaller teams of volunteers who worked all day Thursday unloading and Friday staging the wreaths/affixing new bows, but the work went cheerfully.

I am glad to have participated in this mission for the past several years with my family. 

I try to say a little piece and acknowledge the individual Veteran on each of the wreaths I install, in addition to taking it upon myself to cover the graves of those I knew personally.

A pole/broomstick/piece of PVC pipe (and a buddy to carry the other end) helps greatly.

Of course, the crowds of volunteers will be smaller on Jan. 7th when we go to pick them back up but, that’s part of the job!

If you have a national cemetery in your area that doesn’t do something similar, please think about starting such an effort.

If they already do, please join in the effort. Every pair of hands helps!

Texan Warming Up

80 Years Ago: A North American SNJ-4 Texan trainer aircraft warms up. The photograph was released on December 5, 1942.

Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.80-G-22075

Dubbed the AT-6 by the Army and the Havard by Commonwealth forces, the Navy used the “J-Bird” as an all-purpose trainer for instrument flight, aerobatics, bombing, and gunnery, acquiring the first 40 in 1936 and then keeping them in the field as late as the mid-1950s.

Many of these wore a distinctive high-viz “chrome” paint livery, giving them the nickname of “yellow perils.” 

View of SNJ-6B Texans on the flight line at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Barin Field in 1954 Foley

NATC Pensacola, NAAS Barin Field, Foley Alabama. 1943. Rare image of this period. Notice the mixture of national insignias on the SNJs.

If it was not for the thousands of these humble trainers on hand to school future naval aviators at Pensacola and elsewhere, the pilot pipeline for all those beautiful Corsairs, Hellcats, Dauntless, Avengers, and Hellcats that went on to win the Pacific War would have been very narrow indeed.

US Navy SNJ Texan training aircraft making a low-level pass near a three-masted sailing ship Joseph Conrad, built in 1880, photo taken in 1942.

North American production totaled 15,495 of all variants and they have remained durable and popular warbirds in retirement, with over 400 still airworthy in the U.S. alone.

And they went on to fill the void as both Japanese and American carrier aircraft in a number of films. 

A motion picture camera rests on the flight deck during the filming of the ABC-TV movie “War and Remembrance. An SNJ Texan aircraft is in the background. Image from the USNI

Seabee Technical

30 years ago this month: Members of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion FORTY (NMCB 40)’s Air Detail drive through the streets of Mogadishu shortly after their arrival in Somalia, December 1992.

Dig the M16A1s and the Milverado

As noted by the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum, “The Seabees established base camps at each of the humanitarian relief sites and provided construction support to U.S. and Coalition Forces during Operation Restore Hope. They also built and repaired schools and orphanages for local Somalian children.”

Nicknamed “Fighting Forty,” NMCB 40 was formed 6 November 1942 and carved facilities out of raw Pacific foliage throughout WWII– earning an Army Distinguished Unit Citation while attached to the 1st Cavalry Division– then continued its mission in Vietnam and the Cold War. Then came a series of deployments throughout the GWOT.

Based out of Port Hueneme, California, it was decommissioned on 12 September 2012.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives, 80-G-216014.

Above we see the lead ship of her class, the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans (CA-32) camouflaged at Tulagi in the then hotly contested Solomon Islands, shortly after she was torpedoed during the Battle of Tassafaronga on 30 November 1942– some 80 years ago today. Note that her stern is riding high and that her forward end is low in the water as the Japanese Type 93 Long Lance she caught had severed her bow between # 1 and # 2 eight-inch gun turrets, killing 182 men and lopping off almost a fifth of her length.

About the class

Classified as the “Second Generation of Treaty Cruisers” by Friedman who has an entire chapter on the subject in his USNI Press U.S. Cruisers book– a bible on the subject– the seven New Orleans class vessels came after America flirted with the more cramped and often extremely lightly armored Pensacola class (Pensacola and Salt Lake City) Portland class (Portland and Indianapolis), and Northampton-class (Northampton, Chester, Louisville, Chicago, Augusta, and Houston) cruisers. For reference, the P-colas, which carried 518 tons of armor, had just 4-inches of armor at their thickest, with just a maximum of 2.5 inches on their turret face and 1.25 inches on the conning tower, making them vulnerable to 5-inch shells and derided as being “tin clads” or “eggshell” cruisers.

Some 588 feet overall with a 61-foot beam, the New Orleans class carried 1,507 tons of protection (three times as much as Pensacola) and ran a belt and central conning tower that carried up to five inches of plate while the thickest parts of the turret faces went eight, making them capable of withstanding hits from the 8-inch shells of the day– if they were fired from far enough away.

In a further improvement, while carrying nine 8″/55 Mark 9 main guns of the same type as the previous U.S. Treaty heavy cruisers, the New Orleanses carried them in better-designed turrets with more room and would be upgraded during the war to Mark 12, 14, or 15 guns.

8-inch guns of the New Orleans-class cruiser USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), Norfolk, VA. December 1940

As noted by Friedman concisely, “The New Orleans class represented a shift in U.S. cruiser priorities toward protection, gained in part because of a determined use of the entire available treaty tonnage.”

Speaking to which, while rated as 10,000 tons on paper– in line with the Washington Naval treaty limits– during WWII they pushed almost 13,000 when fully loaded and carrying scores of AAA guns for which they weren’t designed. By comparison, the standard weight of the 585-foot P-Colas and 600-foot Northamptons were just 9,138 and 8,997 tons, respectively, leaving a lot of treaty weight on the table.

USS New Orleans artist impression by I.R. Lloyd, circa early 1930s NH 664

USS New Orleans (CA-32) builder’s model, photographed circa 1936. NH 45123 and NH 45122.

Earlier heavy cruisers USS Salt Lake City (CA-25) and USS Pensacola (CA-24), left, alongside USS New Orleans (CA-32) to the right, seen nested together at Pearl Harbor, 31 October 1943. Ford Island is at the left, with USS Oklahoma (BB-37) under salvage at the extreme left, just beyond Salt Lake City’s forward superstructure. Note the radar antennas, gun directors, and eight-inch guns on these three heavy cruisers as well as how much different their bridges, turrets, and masts are. The rounded roofs of early Mark 9 twin and triple turrets of USS Salt Lake City and USS Pensacola contrast greatly with the later turrets of USS New Orleans on the right.80-G-264236

They also had extensive floatplane facilities including two catapults and a large hangar, with corresponding avgas bunkerage and aviation magazines. They typically operated up to four Seagulls, though the number of catapults and extremely dangerous gasoline stores were whittled down late in the war and only a pair of floatplanes carried.

New Orleans class mate USS Quincy (CA-39) looking forward over the boat deck from the secondary conn over her hangar, while the ship was at the New York Navy Yard after her last overhaul, 29 May 1942. Crude # 1 in white circle (center) marks the location of the 5″/25cal loading practice machine. Other notable items includeboats and boat cradle in foreground; four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes atop the catapults; crated food piled by the after smokestack; and USS Marblehead (CL-12) at left. NHHC 19-N-30725

 

Curtiss SOC Seagull scout-observation aircraft leaves the port catapult of a New Orleans-class heavy cruiser, circa 1942

Our subject

The Mississippi River city of New Orleans, the site of two different battles in 1815 and 1862, had previously lent her name to a ship-of-the-line that was begun the same year as the former and sold while still in the stocks over 20 years past the latter.

Then came a protected cruiser — laid down by Armstrong in England as Amazonas for the Brazilian Navy— that was rushed into service in 1898 and would remain in the line through the Great War. 

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans (later PG 34 and CL 22), port bow. Reproduction of a painting by Koerner & Hayes, circa 1897-98.

As such, our cruiser is the only the second USS New Orleans to reach the fleet. Laid down on 14 March 1931 at the New York Navy Yard, she was commissioned on 15 February 1934.

A great pre-war shot of the USS New Orleans shows her profile. NH 660

Her brief peacetime period took her as far as Scandinavia, a showboat for the Navy and the country before finding herself increasingly after 1936 in Pacific waters.

May 1934– heavy cruiser USS New Orleans at Stockholm along with the pansarskeppet Gustav V Sverige. Marinemuseet Fo39197

A superb image of USS New Orleans (CA-32) in English waters, in about June 1934. Note her gunnery clock and no less than four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes on her catapults. Photographed by Wright & Logan, Southsea, England. Donation of Captain Joseph Finnegan, USN (Retired), 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 71787

USS New Orleans (CA-32) in port, circa 1937. Note the broad band painted on her after smokestack, probably a recognition feature. NH 50757

Cruiser USS NEW ORLEANS (CA-32) under St John Bridge, Portland

War!

In it from the very first bullet, on 7 December 1941, New Orleans was moored at Berth 16, Navy Yard Pearl Harbor undergoing engine repairs on shore power.

As noted by her report of the attack:

At 0757 sighted enemy planes “dive bombing” Ford Island and went to General Quarters immediately. At 0805 sighted enemy torpedo planes on port quarter flying low across our stern. Rifle fire and Pistol fire was opened from our fantail as the first planes flew by to launch their torpedoes at the battleships. This ship saw several planes launch their torpedoes headed in the direction of the battleships. Our 1.1/75 battery and Machine Guns aft were manned in time to actually fire at three or four enemy planes passing our stern. About 0810 all batteries, except the 8″ battery, were in action engaging such enemy planes a presented themselves as targets.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 9 February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor. NH 97846

Lightly damaged– her crew found no less than 29 small holes in her above water-line hull and superstructure due to flying fragments but she suffered no casualties– with the Pacific Fleet’s battleships out of service, she was soon expected to fill the gap along with her sisters.

She was soon escorting convoys throughout the South Pacific and screened the carrier USS Yorktown at Coral Sea (taking 580 of Lexington’s survivors off) in May, USS Enterprise at Midway in June, and was standing by USS Saratoga at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942.

USS New Orleans underway during exercises in Hawaiian waters, 8 July 1942. This was just weeks after Midway, where she screened Enterprise. Note the extensive float nets and rafts on her superstructure and turrets. 80-G-10115

When Sara was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, New Orleans spent almost 12 weeks escorting the precious flattop back to Pearl, waiting for her to be repaired (and picking up more AAA guns of her own), then escorting her back to the Solomons.

As the Japanese had fought a string of cruiser/destroyer vs cruiser/destroyer night actions at Savo Island in August (with three of New Orleans’s sisters– Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes— lost in minutes), Cape Esperance in October (Salt Lake City lost) and Guadalcanal in November (Portland and sister San Francisco seriously damaged) in which the U.S. attrition rate when it came to heavy cruisers became untenable, it was inevitable that New Orleans would soon find herself in a scrap. One that would be the last large surface ship clash of the Solomons campaign.

This brings us to…

Tassafaronga!

RADM Carleton H. Wright’s Task Force 67– including the heavy cruisers USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Northampton (CA-24), and USS Pensacola (CA-26), the light cruiser USS Honolulu (CL-48) and the destroyers USS Drayton (DD-366), USS Fletcher (DD-445), USS Maury (DD-401), USS Perkins (DD-377), USS Lamson (DD-367), and USS Lardner (DD-487)— had a rendezvous with destiny when it acted against a partially surprised and all-around inferior (on paper) Japanese “Tokyo Express” force of RADM Raizō Tanaka’s eight cargo-burdened destroyers of the IJN’s DesRon2 on the night of November 30, 1942, on the surface of Iron Bottom Sound near Lunga Point.

It went…badly.

As described by the National Museum of the Navy:

U.S. force of five cruisers and six destroyers intercepted eight Japanese destroyers bringing reinforcements to Guadalcanal and were crippled by a brilliantly executed Japanese torpedo counterattack. Heavy cruiser Northampton was sunk, while Pensacola, New Orleans, and Minneapolis were badly damaged. The Japanese only lost the destroyer Takanami. In this action, the last of the Guadalcanal campaign’s five major surface battles, the Japanese once again demonstrated their tactical superiority at night. The Navy was learning though, as would be demonstrated in 1943.

It turned out that, while the New Orleans class had better armor than the first generation of American Treaty Cruisers, they suffered from a lack of below-waterline protection and dramatic bow loss ran in the family, at least at Tassafaronga.

Sister Minneapolis, who scored many of the hits on Takanami, took two torpedo hits from Japanese destroyers, one on the port bow, the other in her number two fireroom, and her bow collapsed.

USS Minneapolis (CA-36). En route to Pearl Harbor for repairs, circa January 1943. She had lost her bow when hit by Japanese torpedoes during the Battle of Tassafaronga, off Guadalcanal on 30 November 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, 80-G-44544.

New Orleans also took her lumps.

Detailed from DANFS:

When flagship Minneapolis was struck by two torpedoes, New Orleans, next astern, was forced to sheer away to avoid collision, and ran into the track of a torpedo which ripped off her bow. Bumping down the ship’s port side, the severed bow punched several holes in New Orleans’ hull. A fifth of her length gone, slowed to 2 knots, and blazing forward, the ship fought for survival. Individual acts of heroism and self-sacrifice along with skillful seamanship kept her afloat, and under her own power she entered Tulagi Harbor near daybreak on 1 December.

For New Orleans, her Battle Damage Report is stark:

  1. During the night of 30 November 1942, NEW ORLEANS was a unit of a task force which engaged a Japanese force in the action subsequently named the Battle of Lunga Point. NEW ORLEANS, firing with her main battery and steaming at 20 knots, had just started to swing to the right to avoid MINNEAPOLIS when a torpedo struck the port bow in way of turret I and detonated.
  2. The torpedo detonation was followed immediately by a second and much heavier detonation. As a result, the bow, including turret I, was severed almost completely between turrets I and II. It swung out to port and tore loose, probably due to the starboard swing of the ship. It then floated aft and banged against the port side. Holes were torn in the shell at frames 53, 130 and 136 and the port inboard propeller was wrecked.

That secondary explosion was later determined to be from one of New Orleans’s aviation bomb and mine magazine, A-502-1/8-M, which “contained the 160-pound demolition charge and forty-nine 100-pound bombs” and that of an adjacent small arms magazine, A-502-M, which contained five 325-pound depth bombs.

From her battle damage report

She limped into Tulagi some eight hours after the battle and remained there shoring up her bow with coconut logs under a camo net for 11 days.

Port bow view as she entered Tulagi harbor about 8 hours after being struck by a torpedo, 1 December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA-32) under camouflage at Tulagi, December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA 32) Cruiser shown soon after the battle. 80-G-44447

Minneapolis did much the same, with the help of Seabees. 

New Orleans then slowly sailed for Sydney, Australia, arriving on Christmas Eve 1942, her crew finally getting some much-needed rest. She would remain there until March, when, after a temporary stub bow was fitted in dry dock, she left for Puget Sound and arrived on the West Coast on 3 April 1943 after stops at Pago Pago and Pearl Harbor

USS New Orleans (CA 32) comes into the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, for a new bow after battling with Japanese warships in Southwest Pacific. In this view, she is almost ready for joining to a new bow. The photograph was released 11 January 1944. 80-G-44448

USS New Orleans (CA-32) steams through a tight turn in Elliot Bay, Washington, on 30 July 1943, following battle damage repairs and overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. She is likely “creating a slick” for recovering a sea plane– making a smooth patch of becalmed water for the aircraft to land upon. NH 97847

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, following battle damage repairs and overhaul, 5 August 1943. NH 97848

Back in the fight

After post-rebuild workups, New Orleans sailed 5-6 October 1943 with RADM Alfred E. Montgomery’s Task Force 14 to shell Japanese-occupied Wake Island.

Wake Island Raid, October 1943. A heavy cruiser’s 8-inch guns bombard Wake, as seen from USS Minneapolis (CA-36), 5 October 1943. The two following ships are (in no particular order): USS San Francisco (CA-38) and USS New Orleans (CA-32). National Archives photograph, 80-G-81973

New Orleans would also help support Allied landings at Hollandia and the invasion of the Marianas.

Saipan Invasion, June 1944. Units of Cruiser Division SIX bombard Saipan on 14-15 June 1944. The nearest ship is USS New Orleans (CA-32). Beyond her is the light cruiser USS St. Louis (CL-49). 80-G-K-1774

She would lend her increased AAA batteries to help swat down Japanese aircraft during the Battle of the Philippine Sea while revisiting her old days of screening carriers. Then came the big shows in the Philippines and at Iwo Jima.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 8 March 1945. The city of Vallejo is in the background. Note the ship’s welded bow structure (forward of her second 8/55 triple gun turret). This replaced her original riveted construction bow, which was lost during the Battle of Tassafaronga at the end of November 1942. Circles mark recent alterations to the ship. 19-N-80232

A rare shot at the same time and place as the above that shows her hangar open. Note that her portside catapult has been landed by this time in her career.

After a final wartime refit at Mare Island, she was back at it, hammering Japanese positions at Okinawa and was at Subic Bay when hostilities ceased.

After supporting the post-war occupation of Korea and Manchuria, she made two trips back stateside on Magic Carpet missions returning Pacific War vets to the U.S. Arriving at Philadelphia Navy Yard in March 1946, she spent an 11-month period preparing for mothballs and was decommissioned 10 February 1947.

She had earned 17 battle stars for her war– tying for third most in the theater– and gained a new bow.

From her nine-page War History in the National Archives.

Of her seven-ship class, only four were still in commission on VJ Day and three of those were so grievously damaged in action against the Japanese off Guadalcanal that they had to be extensively rebuilt. Only sister USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), which had “luckily” fought most of her war in the ETO, was never damaged in battle.

The remainder of the New Orleans class in the 1946 edition of Janes.

Cruisers and other warships laid up in the Philadelphia Yard Reserve Fleet Basin, circa 1947. The outboard ship in the left group is USS St. Louis (CL-49). Ships in the background include (in no order): USS San Francisco (CA-38), USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Louisville (CA-28), and USS Portland (CA-33). Courtesy of “All Hands” magazine. Catalog NH 92254

After spending 12 years along Philly’s red lead row, the vaunted USS New Orleans had her name struck from the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and was sold for scrapping on 22 September 1959 to the Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md. Similar fates were met by her three remaining sisters at the same time.

Epilogue

Our cruiser was remembered by the (apparently now defunct) USS New Orleans Reunion Association and most of her war diaries along with some architectural and engineering drawings are digitized in the National Archives.

Her ship’s bell– presented to the cruiser by the Louisiana State Museum in 1933– is on display in New Orleans City Hall, just outside the Mayor’s Office.

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has other artifacts including a piece of the coconut log shoring from Tulagi.

With the old New Orleans sent to the breakers, the Navy soon recycled her name for a new Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship commissioned in 1968 and would go on to serve three decades.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans (LPH-11) underway in San Diego Bay, California (USA), on 16 June 1988. AH-1 Cobra, CH-53E Sea Stallion, and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters line the flight deck. In the background is the submarine tender USS McKee (AS-41) and the submarine rescue ship USS Florikan (ASR-9). Date 16 June 1988. NH 107677-KN

Then came the Ingalls-built USS New Orleans (LPD-18), a massive 25,000-ton San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, commissioned in the Crescent City in 2007 and still in service.

The U.S. Navy (Pre-Commissioned Unit) San Antonio Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) sails beneath the Huey P. Long Bridge as it moves on the Mississippi River towards New Orleans, La., on March 5, 2007, in preparation for its commissioning ceremony on March 10, 2007. MCS Kurt Eischen, USN.


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NATO Flattop Interoperability

In the Med last week, three very different NATO Carrier Strike Groups got some important joint exercises while underway in the Ionian Sea. The ANTARES/Mare Aperto 22-2 exercise saw the George H.W. Bush CSG, the French de Gaulle CSG, and the Italian Cavour CSG operate side-by-side and even do some cross-decking, something made easy as the de Gaulle uses the same CATOBAR system and methods as the U.S. while Cavour’s rotary aircraft and F-35s (at least in theory) can land on either. The “Plug and fight” capacity is more important than one would think.

From images and videos released, F-18s, Rafales, and C-2s conducted landings, launchings, and touch-and-goes across at least the French and U.S. carriers.

(Nov. 23, 2022) Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class Roberto Cerdas assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), directs a French Rafale fighter jet onto the catapult during multi-carrier operations between the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Charles de Gaulle CSG, and the Italian Cavour CSG Nov. 23, 2022. The George H.W. Bush CSG is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe area of operations, employed by the U.S. Sixth Fleet to defend U.S., allied, and partner interests. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Samuel Wagner)

A French Rafale fighter jet is launched off the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) during multi-carrier operations between the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Charles de Gaulle CSG, and the Italian Cavour CSG, Nov. 23, 2022. (U.S. Navy Courtesy photo)

A U.S. C-2 Greyhound COD on de Gaulle’s cat.

A U.S. F-18E trapping on de Gaulle.

There was also some swapping of escorts, with a U.S. DDG operating with the French and Italian forces separately, while the latter contributed tin cans to steam along with USS George H.W. Bush over the horizon.

“Opportunities for interoperability between forces and CSGs as a testament to the strength of our Alliance. Currently, we have Italian Frigates embedded with both the George H.W. Bush and French Strike groups participating alongside our Allies in their daily operations, and last month the Italian Navy fully integrated the Standing NATO Forces Group Two units into our major bi-annual fleet exercise Mare Aperto 22-2,” said Rear Adm. Vincenzo Montanaro, commander of Italian Maritime Forces and the Italian Carrier Strike Group, while aboard George H.W. Bush. “Our dedication to cross-training during both exercises and real-world operations demonstrates the Alliance’s collective resolve as well as our collective capacity as a NATO force.”

The French also operated with Greek land-based F-4Es, and have a great video of the Phantoms with de Gaulle in the background. If you don’t love Phantoms and flattops, why are you even alive?

For reference:

George H.W. Bush is the flagship of CSG-10 and the GHWBCSG. CSG-10 is comprised of George H.W. Bush, Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26, the Information Warfare Commander, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55).

The ships of DESRON-26 within CSG-10 are the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Nitze (DDG 94), USS Farragut (DDG 99), USS Truxtun (DDG 103), and USS Delbert D. Black (DDG 119).

The squadrons of CVW-7 embarked aboard George H.W. Bush are the “Jolly Rogers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 103, the “Pukin Dogs” of VFA-143, the “Bluetails” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121, the “Nightdippers” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 5, the “Sidewinders” of VFA-86, the “Nighthawks” of VFA-136, the “Patriots” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140, and the “Grandmasters” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 46.

First Antarctic Pistol Tournament

The Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB 10), earlier this month departed to support the annual joint military service mission called Operation Deep Freeze (OpDFrz or ODF), a mission that involves traveling to Antarctica to break miles of ice up to 21 feet thick in the regular push to resupply McMurdo Station.

Deep Freeze I was held back in 1955-56 and involved a full task force (TF43)  under RADM Richard E. Byrd himself, consisting of three (well-armed) icebreakers, three freighters, and three tankers.

With that in mind, check out this great shot of the “First Antarctic Pistol Tournament,” held during Deep Freeze II, some 65 years ago.

Original caption: “The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) sponsors the first pistol tournament ever held in the Antarctic (January 20, 1957).”

Note Northwind’s twin 5″/38 DP mount. Commissioned 28 July 1945, “The Grand Old Lady of the North” had a 44-year career, a span of time recently bested by Polar Star, which celebrated her 46th anniversary earlier this year. Photo: National Archives NAID: 205581182

From the back of the image:

Chilled thumbs pull the triggers at targets lined up in ice 7 feet thick at Helleric Sound. Probably the most unusual setting in the history of match shooting, this was one of those rare Antarctic days with the atmosphere crystal clear, the temperature hovering around 26 degrees, a light breeze of six knots bloating down from the ranges of Victoria Land. The intensity of the sun’s reflection on the snow makes it necessary for the shooters to wear dark gloves. Competitors were divided into groups, of Old-Timers and TYROs. Old-Timers included all NRA (National Rifle Association) card holders handicapped according to their classifications. TYRO entries were limited to non-NRA members who had qualified with the .45 caliber pistol over Services qualification courses. At this time the Northwind lay moored at McMurdo Sound where she had been helping the Navy cargo ship Towle (visible at the stern of the icebreaker) unload cargo for the Williams Air Operation Facility located five miles away.

A close-up detail shows the firing line equipped with what look to be new Smith & Wesson Model 41s or, more likely, High Standard Victors, both popular with Bullseye target shooters of the era for 25 and 50m work.

So I went to see Devotion…

I weighed in last week on the behind-the-scenes attention to detail of the new J. D. Dillard/Erik Messerschmidt Sony Pictures war biopic Devotion, focusing on the too-short life of Ens. Jesse Leroy Brown and his “Fighting Swordsmen” wingman, Lt. (j.g) Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who flew side-by-side at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.

1950 photo of Fighting 32 (VF 32) ahead of USS Leyte’s Med deployment that soon became a Korean combat tour

If you missed that, the production went all-out, leasing real MiG-15s, F4U Corsairs, A-1 Skyraiders, and F8F Bearcats, then constructing an Essex-class straight deck carrier in a field to put them all on for static shots.

I mean, Dillard is the son of a Blue Angel and his first memory is touching the nose of his dad’s just-landed F-18– so what do you expect?

Said the director on his use of these vintage war birds:

It was by far the most meticulous part of the filmmaking process, but it was important to me aesthetically that we put as much realism in front of the camera as we could. There aren’t even enough of these period planes still flying to fill the skies in the way that we wanted to. But what we always prioritized is that the action happening closest to the camera was practical. That 17th plane, half a mile off, can totally be CGI. But the plane flying very close to the camera is a real Corsair painted with the real squadron’s letters and numbers, and there are real stunt pilots in those planes, executing real maneuvers. That was very important to me and ultimately worth the prep and the planning.

And, besides tapping in actor Glen Powell– who played the cocky “Hangman,” the modern Iceman substitute in the new Maverick movie– Dillard also used the same aerial photography team that worked on that project but with the benefit of fewer restrictions.

“I joke that they spent 200-plus million dollars on R&D, then came to work with us,” Dillard says. And since his film didn’t use modern U.S. Navy planes, he had more freedom. “There is significantly less red tape when you want to take that plane 15 feet over the water at more than 100 miles an hour and photograph it, which at one point we did,” he says. “There are also technical differences in photographing those aircraft… As a small example, you can’t put a camera directly behind an F-18, because there’s jet blast. But we could sit our camera plane right on the tail of the Corsair because it has a propeller — you’re not worried about the camera melting from the afterburner.”

With this lead-up, how could I NOT go see the movie on opening night last week?

I can report that it was a good film, that should be seen on the biggest screen possible to drink it in, full of amazing and unique warbird shots. As far as the plot, it is based on a true story and they stick to most of the real details with only minor deviations. The dialog was a little hokey at times but certainly not any worse than that seen in other modern war films.

As Brown was the first African-American U.S. Navy officer killed in action, he has long deserved a decent film telling his story and this is it. Going past that, it is entertaining and, while circling back to the racial elephant in the room several times, doesn’t make it the prime driving point of the film. I’m no movie rater but if you had to ask me, I’d give it at least an 8 out of 10 overall.

If you have some time to kill, you could find worse ways to spend two hours.

Perhaps it will lead to Brown getting a destroyer named after him. 

Speaking of which.

Welcome home, Hudner

Of interest, the SURFLANT-tasked Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116), commissioned in 2018, just returned this weekend from the inaugural deployment of the Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group.

As detailed by the ship’s social media page:

-We sailed 15,148 miles,
-Conducted 7 replenishments at sea,
-Set 8 Sea and Anchor details
-Completed 2 Straits Transits
-Saw winds as high as 52 knots,
-Completed 78 flight quarters,
-Inducted 4 new Chief Petty Officers,
-Qualified 3 new Officers of the Deck, 2 new Tactical Action Officers, and 8 new Engineering Officers of the Watch
– Expended 52,266 rounds of ammo,
– Passed 1 Engineering Certification,
– Visited 2 new countries,
And made countless memories along the way.

    Mighty Mansfield

    56 Years Ago Today: Sumner-class destroyer USS Mansfield (DD 728) letting rip her 5″/38 DP Naval Guns at water-borne craft off the coast of North Vietnam, north of the demilitarized zone.

    Photographed by PH1 V.O. McColley, November 25, 1966. USN photo 428-GX-K-35025.

    Named for Marine Sergeant Duncan Mansfield of circa 1804 “Shores of Tripoli” fame, Mansfield (DD‑728) was laid down 28 August 1943 by the Bath Iron Works and commissioned just short of eight months later on 14 April 1944.

    Earning five battle stars in the Pacific– including downing 17 Kamikazes in one day off Okinawa and later taking part in a daring high‑speed torpedo run with DesRon61 into Nojima Saki, sinking or damaging four enemy ships — she witnessed the formal Japanese surrender ceremony in September 1945 in Tokyo Bay.

    Picking up a further three battle stars for Korean service while almost breaking her back on a mine off Inchon, Mansfield would be FRAM II’d in 1960, trading in her WWII kit for Cold War ASW work, and ship off for the 7th Fleet.

    USS Mansfield (DD-728) Underway at sea, circa 1960-1963, after her FRAM II modernization. Taken by USS Ranger (CVA-61), this photograph was received in July 1963. NH 107137

    Rotating through four deployments off Vietnam between 1965 and 1969, she also had enough time to serve as an alternate recovery ship for Gemini XI (and slated for the Apollo 1 mission).

    Her Vietnam “Top Gun” Results, 1965-69:

    • 5″ Rounds Fired: 40,001
    • Days on Gun Line: 220
    • Times Under Hostile Fire: 8
    • Enemy KIA: 187
    • Active Artillery Sites Silenced: 30
    • Secondary Explosions: 59
    • Structures/Bunkers Destroyed: 495
    • Ships/Junks/Boats Sunk: 224

    Decommissioned on 4 February 1971, Mansfield was disposed of and sold to Argentina on 4 June 1974 where she was mothballed at Puerto Belgrano and scavenged for spare parts to support that country’s other American surplus tin cans, then was eventually cut up for scrap in the late 1980s.

    Mines: Still a Thing Even as USN’s MCM Force Fades

    Deployed to the Baltic, Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1) just found a cluster of old Russian M/12 moored pendulum contact mines laid in 1917 along Parnu Bay on the Estonian coast. Latvian Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams rendered them safe. It is estimated that there are 80,000 sea mines left over from the two World Wars in the Baltic.

    Currently, SNMG1 comprises flagship Royal Netherlands Navy HNLMS Tromp (F803), Royal Norwegian Navy HNoMS Maud (A530), and Royal Danish Navy HDMS Esbern Snare (F342).

    Mine warfare has been a task that the U.S. Navy has been fine with increasingly outsourcing to NATO and overseas allies over the past generation, as its own capabilities in this specialty have declined.

    Cold War Force fading

    Probably the peak of post-Vietnam mine warfare in the Navy was reached in about 1996 when the old amphibious assault ship USS Inchon (LPH-12) was converted and reclassified as a mine countermeasures ship (MCS-12) following a 15-month conversion at Ingalls. Based at the U.S. Navy’s Mine Warfare Center of Excellence at Naval Station Ingleside, it could host a squadron of the Navy’s huge (then brand new) Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon mine-sweeping helicopters.

    Going small, the Navy had just commissioned 14 new 224-foot/1,300-ton Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships by 1994 and another full dozen 188-foot/880-ton Osprey-class coastal minehunter (modified Italian Lerici-class design) with fiberglass hulls by 1999.

    MEDITERRANEAN SEA (1 March 1999). USS Inchon (MCS-12) underway for a scheduled five-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. US Navy photo # 990301-N-0000J-001 by PH1 Sean P. Jordon.

    Ingleside, Texas (Sept. 23, 2005) A cluster of Avenger and Osprey class mine warfare ships at NS Ingleside. The base’s first homeported warship was the new Avenger-class sweeper USS Scout (MCM-8) in 1992. U.S. Navy photo 050923-N-4913K-006 by Fifi Kieschnick

    This force, of an MCS mine-sweeping flattop/flagship, 26 new MCM/MHCs, and 30 giant MH-53E Sea Dragons– the only aircraft in the world rated to tow the Mk105 magnetic minesweeping sled, the AQS-24A side-scan sonar and the Mk103 mechanical minesweeping system on four-hour missions– in three Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons (HM)s, was only to last for a couple of years.

    As part of the slash in minesweeper money during the Global War on Terror, the increasingly NRF mission dwindled in assets with Inchon decommissioned in June 2002 following an engineering plant fire.

    In 2006, USS Osprey (MHC-51), just 13 years old, was the first of her class decommissioned with all of her still very capable sisters gone by 2007.

    Naval Station Ingleside, hit by BRAC in 2005, transferred all its hulls to other stations and closed its doors in 2010, its property was turned over to the Port of Corpus Christi.

    The first Avenger-class sweeper, USS Guardian (MCM-5), was decommissioned in 2013 and so far she has been joined in mothballs by USS Avenger, Defender, and Ardent, with the eight remaining members of her class scheduled for deactivation by 2027, meaning that within five years, the Navy will have no dedicated mine warfare vessels for the first time since the Great War.

    Speaking of shrinking assets, the Navy’s three Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadrons (HM 12, HM 14, and HM 15) are soon to become just two, with the disestablishment ceremony of HM 14 to be held on March 30th, 2023. HM-15 will absorb “102 full-time and 48 reserve enlisted personnel and four full-time and eight reserve officers” from her sister squadron and keep on rolling for now at least with a mission to “maintain a worldwide 72-hour Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) rapid deployment posture and a four aircraft forward-deployed AMCM and VOD capability in the Arabian Gulf,” in Manama, Bahrain in support of the U.S. 5th Fleet.

    HM-12, on the other hand, serves as a fleet replacement squadron for the declining Sea Dragons in service, making HM-15 the sole deployable MH-53E squadron. After 2025, when the big Sikorsky is planned to be retired, the Sea Dragons will be gone altogether without a replacement fully fleshed out yet.

    HM-14 currently has a four-aircraft forward-deployed detachment in Pohang, South Korea, in support of the U.S. 7th Fleet, and they recently had a great Multinational Mine Warfare Exercise (MN-MIWEX) with ROKN and Royal Navy assets last month, giving a nice photo opportunity.

    The future

    The Navy’s Mine Warfare Training Center (MWTC), located at Naval Base Point Loma, looks to have graduated about 18 Mineman “A” School classes so far this year, each with a single-digit number of students. These 150 or so Minemen will join their brethren and be eventually relegated to a few Littoral Combat Ships that plan to have a secondary mine mission with embarked UUVs and supported by MH-60S Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) helicopters that are closer to being a reality.

    Let’s hope so.

    The planned future is deployable Expeditionary Mine Countermeasures (ExMCM) teams, using UUVs off LCS platforms: 
     

    PHILIPPINE SEA (Dec. 28, 2021) – Sailors assigned to Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5, transport a simulated Mk 18 Mod 2 Kingfish unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) during a mine countermeasures exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden) 211228-N-PH222-1507

    SEA OF JAPAN (May 15, 2022) – A Mark 18 MOD 2 Kingfish is lowered out Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) during Exercise Noble Vanguard. Kingfish is an unmanned underwater vehicle with the sonar capabilities to scan the ocean floor for potential mines. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign James French) 220515-O-NR876-104

    A standard ExMCM company is comprised of a 27-person unit with four elements: the command-and-control element (C2), an unmanned systems (UMS) platoon, an EOD MCM platoon, and a post-mission analysis (PMA) cell, all working in tandem, just as they would in a mine warfare environment.
     
    The mission begins with and hinges on the UMS platoon providing mine detection, classification, and identification. The platoon, composed of Sailors from mixed pay grades and ratings, is led by a senior enlisted Sailor and employs the Mk 18 UUV family of systems.
     
    The UMS platoon deploys the MK 18 Mod 2 UUVs to locate potential mine shapes. Upon completion of their detection mission, the data from the vehicles is analyzed by the five-person PMA cell using sonar data and produces a mine-like contact listing to the C2 element for review.
     

    Whistling up an Essex class carrier and matching Corsairs

    Ensign Jesse L. Brown, USN. In the cockpit of an F4U-4 Corsair fighter, circa 1950. He was the first African-American to be trained by the Navy as a Naval Aviator, and as such, he became the first African-American Naval Aviator to see combat. Brown flew with Fighter Squadron 32 (VF-32) from USS Leyte (CV-32). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. USN 1146845.

    This week is the opening of the J. D. Dillard/Erik Messerschmidt Sony Pictures war biopic Devotion, focusing on the too-short life of Ens. Jesse Leroy Brown and his “Fighting Swordsmen” wingman, Lt. (j.g) Thomas J. Hudner Jr., who flew side-by-side at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.

    The obligatory trailer:

    And, from the Navy, Dillard and Glen Powell (who portrays Hudner) talk about the importance of maintaining historical accuracy while filming, which pulled in vintage Corsairs and F8F Bearcats from around the globe and the construction of a 1:1 scale CV-32 deck/island in a field in Statesboro, Georgia.

    Nice they aren’t totally CGI!

    As Brown was a Hattiesburg native Mississippian, his deeds have long been remembered at the Mississippi Military History Museum at Camp Shelby and the African American Military History Museum in Hattiesburg. The latter has a life-sized Brown standing on the deck of the USS Leyte.

    It is great that this story is finally getting some bigger exposure.

    In a deeper dive into the story overall, USNI host Eric Mills sits down with Thomas Hudner III, son of the real-life MOH recipient depicted in Devotion.

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