Category Archives: US Navy

Happy Tax Day: First LCS makes last deployment

210412-N-NN369-1046 SAN DIEGO (April 12, 2021) Littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) returns to Naval Base San Diego from her final deployment, April 12. Freedom returned after supporting Joint Interagency Task Force South’s counter illicit drug trafficking mission in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jessica Paulauskas)

Via 3rd Fleet:

SAN DIEGO (April 12, 2021) – The inaugural littoral combat ship returned from a U.S. Fourth Fleet deployment, April 12.

Littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) was deployed to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific.

“The success of this deployment is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Freedom’s Sailors and our embarked detachments,” said Cmdr. Larry Repass, Freedom’s commanding officer. “Every Sailor and U.S. Coast Guardsman on this mission has lived up to Freedom’s motto of ‘Fast, Focused, Fearless,’ and they have made great contributions to maritime security in the region.”

During their deployment, the crew of Freedom and a detachment from Helicopter Sea Combat squadron 23 completed joint operations with a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment in support of counter-illicit trafficking, improving Navy-Coast Guard naval warfighting readiness and interoperability. Additionally, Freedom sailed with naval assets from both El Salvador and Guatemala, strengthening naval partnerships and improving regional readiness.

Written off by Big Navy as a beta test vessel for an increasingly troublesome class of under-armed warships not even worthy of being deemed a frigate and too expensive to upgrade, Freedom is set for decommissioning in September just shy of her 13th birthday.

In related news, it turns out these ships, designed to be inexpensive and, let’s face it, expendable, cost almost as much ($70 million per year per hull) as a full-sized guided-missile destroyer ($81 million) to operate. 

Warship Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Just a Little DASH

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, April 14, 2021: Just a Little DASH

NARA KN-1814

Here we see a great original color photo of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Hazelwood (DD-531) with an early torpedo-armed Gyrodyne-equipped Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter hovering over her newly installed flight deck, 22 March 1961. Hazelwood was an important bridge in tin can history moving from WWII kamikaze-busters into the modern destroyers we know today.

Speaking of modern destroyers, the Fletchers were the WWII equivalent of the Burke-class, constructed in a massive 175-strong class from 11 builders that proved the backbone of the fleet for generations. Coming after the interwar “treaty” destroyers such as the Benson- and Gleaves-classes, they were good-sized (376-feet oal, 2,500 tons full load, 5×5″ guns, 10 torpedo tubes) and could have passed as unprotected cruisers in 1914. Powered by a quartet of oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers and two Westinghouse or GE steam turbines, they had 60,000 shp on tap– half of what today’s Burkes have on a hull 25 percent as heavy– enabling them to reach 38 knots, a speed that is still fast for destroyers today.

USS John Rodgers (DD 574) at Charleston, 28 April 1943. A great example of the Fletcher class in their wartime configuration. Note the five 5″/38 mounts and twin sets of 5-pack torpedo tubes.

LCDR Fred Edwards, Destroyer Type Desk, Bureau of Ships, famously said of the class, “I always felt it was the Fletcher class that won the war . . .they were the heart and soul of the small-ship Navy.”

Named in honor of Continental/Pennsylvania Navy Commodore John Hazelwood, famous for defending Philadelphia and the Delaware River against British man-o-wars in 1777 with a rag-tag assortment of gunboats and galleys, the first USS Hazelwood (Destroyer No. 107) was a Wickes-class greyhound commissioned too late for the Great War and scrapped just 11 years later to comply with naval treaty obligations.

Portrait of Commodore John Hazelwood by Charles Willson Peale 1779 NH 77362-KN

The subject of our tale was laid down by Bethlehem Steel, San Francisco on 11 April 1942– some 79 years ago this week and just four months after Pearl Harbor. She was one of 18 built there, all with square bridges, as opposed to other yards that typically built a combination of both square and round bridge designs. Commissioned 18 June 1943, she was rushed to the pitched battles in the Western Pacific.

Aft plan view of the USS Hazelwood (DD 531) in San Francisco on 3 Sep 1943. Note her three aft 5″/38 mounts, depth charge racks, and torpedo tubes.

Forward pan view of the USS Hazelwood (DD 531) in San Francisco on 3 Sep 1943. A good view of her forward two 5″ mounts.

By October 1943, she was in a fast carrier task force raiding Wake Island.

Switching between TF 52 and TF 53, she took part in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, Kwajalein, and Majuro Atolls in the Marshall Islands, then came the Palaus. Next came the Philippines, where she accounted for at least two kamikazes during Leyte Gulf.

Hazelwood in Measure 32, Design 6d during WWII

In early 1945, she joined TF 38, “Slew” McCain’s fast carrier strike force for his epic Godzilla bash through the South China Sea, followed up by strikes against the Japanese home islands.

Then came Okinawa.

While clocking in on the dangerous radar picket line through intense Japanese air attacks, she became the center of a blast of divine wind.

From H-Gram 045 by RADM Samuel J. Cox, Director, NHHC:

As destroyer Hazelwood was steaming to assist Haggard (DD-555) on 29 April, three Zekes dropped out of the overcast. Hazelwood shot down one, which crashed close aboard, and the other Zeke missed. The third Zeke came in from astern. Although hit multiple times, it clipped the port side of the aft stack and then crashed into the bridge from behind, toppling the mainmast, knocking out the forward guns, and spraying flaming gasoline all over the forward superstructure. Its bomb exploded, killing the commanding officer, Commander Volkert P. Douw, and many others, including Douw’s prospective relief, Lieutenant Commander Walter Hering, and the executive officer and ship’s doctor.

The engineering officer, Lieutenant (j.g.) Chester M. Locke, took command of Hazelwood and directed the crew in firefighting and care of the wounded. Twenty-five wounded men had been gathered on the forecastle when ammunition began cooking off. Because of the danger of imminent explosion, the destroyer McGowan (DD-678) could not come alongside close aboard. The wounded were put in life jackets, lowered to the water, and able-bodied men dove in and swam them to McGowan. Only one of the wounded men died in the process. Hazelwood’s crew got the fires out in about two hours and McGowan took her in tow until the next morning, when Hazelwood was able to proceed to Kerama Retto under her own power and, from there, to the West Coast for repairs. Although Morison gives a casualty count as 42 killed and 26 wounded, multiple other sources state 10 officers and 67 enlisted men were killed and 36 were wounded. Locke was awarded a Navy Cross.

“USS Hazelwood survives two suicide plane attacks. US Navy Photo 126-15.” Okinawa, Japan. April 1945

USS Hazelwood (DD-531) after being hit by a kamikaze off Okinawa, 29 April 1945. Accession #: 80-G Catalog #: 80-G-187592

USS Hazelwood (DD-531), June 16, 1945. Damaged by kamikaze on April 29, 1945. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-323986

Notably, two of her sisterships– USS Pringle (DD-477) and USS Bush (DD-529)— had been sunk by kamikaze aircraft off Okinawa less than two weeks before the attack on Hazelwood and three more– USS Luce (DD-522), USS Little (DD-803), and USS Morrison (DD-560)— would suffer a similar fate within the week afterward. Life was not easy for Fletchers working the picket line in the Spring of 1945.

Sent to Mare Island for repairs, Hazelwood was decommissioned on 18 January 1946 and entered the Pacific Reserve Fleet at San Diego, her war over. She received 10 very hard-earned battle stars for her World War II service.

She was luckier than 19 of her sisters who were sunk during the conflict, along with five others who, like her, suffered extreme damage and somehow remained afloat but were beyond economic repair once the nation came looking for a peace dividend. This works out to a loss rate of about 14 percent for the class.

DASH

By the time the Korean War kicked off, and the Soviets were quickly achieving parity on the high seas due to a rapidly-expanding snorkel-equipped submarine arm, 39 improved square-bridge Fletchers were taken out of mothballs and, through the project SCB 74A upgrade, a sort forerunner of the 1960s FRAM program, given new ASW weapons such as Hedgehog and Weapon Alpha in place of anti-ship torpedo tubes, deleted a 5-inch mount (earning the nickname of “4-Gun Fletchers) and swapped WWII-era optically-trained 40mm and 20mm AAA guns for three twin radar-guided 3-in mounts.

The Navy had something else in mind for Hazelwood.

Recommissioned at San Diego on 12 September 1951, she was sent to the Atlantic for the first time to work up with anti-submarine hunter-killer groups while still in roughly her WWII configuration.

USS Hazelwood (DD-531) in the 1950s, still with 40mm Bofors, at least one set of torpedo tubes, and all 5 big guns. USN 1045624

By 1954, she was back in the Pacific, cruising the tense waters off Korea, which had just settled into an uneasy truce that has so far held out. Then came a series of cruises in the Med with the 6th Fleet.

Ordered to Narragansett Bay in 1958, she was placed at the disposal of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory to help develop the Navy’s planned anti-submarine drone. Produced by Gyrodyne Co. of America, Inc., of Long Island, New York, it was at first designated DSN-1.

It made the world’s first free flight of a completely unmanned drone helicopter, long before the term “UAV” was minted, at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River in August 1960, and Hazelwood provided onboard testing facilities, with her stern modified for flight operations with the removal of her torpedo tubes and two 5-inch mounts and the addition of a flight deck and hangar– the first time a Fletcher carried an aircraft since the brief run of a trio of catapult-equipped variants.

QH-50 prototype over Hazelwood, 1960, NARA 80-KN 1814

“U.S. Navy’s First Helicopter Destroyer Conducts Exercises. USS Hazelwood is the Navy’s first anti-submarine helicopter destroyer, steams off the Atlantic coast near Newport, Rhode Island. Attached to Destroyer Development Group Two, Hazelwood is undergoing extensive training exercises to acquaint her crew with air operations. Her flight deck is designed to accommodate the DSN-1 Drone Helicopter (QH-50) scheduled for delivery from Gyrodyne Company of America, Inc. Soon, an HTK Drone Helicopter with a safety pilot, developed by the Kaman Aircraft Company, is being used for training exercises until the DSN-1 Drone becomes available. Through the use of drone helicopter and homing torpedo, Hazelwood will possess an anti-submarine warfare kill potential at much greater range than conventional destroyers.” The photograph was released on 1 September 1959. 428-GX-USN 710543

According to the Gyrodyne Helicopter Historical Foundation, “the DASH Weapon System consisted of the installation of a flight deck, hangar facility, deck control station, CIC control station, SRW-4 transmitter facility, and fore and aft antenna installation” and could carry a nuclear depth charge or Mk44 torpedo.

Via Gyrodyne Helicopter Historical Foundation

USS HAZELWOOD (DD-531) Photographed during the early 1960s while serving as “DASH” test ship. NH 79114

 

Anti-Submarine Demonstration during the inter-American Naval conference, 1-3 June 1960. An HS-1 Seabat helicopter uses its sonar while S2F and P2V patrol planes fly over USS DARTER (SS-576), USS CALCATERRA (DER-390), and USS HAZELWOOD (DD-531). The demonstration was witnessed by Naval leaders of 10 American nations. USN 710724

USS HAZELWOOD (DD-531) during the early 1960s. Note her bright, modern-style hull numbers. NH 79115

Hazelwood received two lengthy respites from her DASH work, brought about by pressing naval events of the era. The first of these was the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962, serving as Gun Fire Support Ship for Task Force 84 during the naval quarantine of the worker’s paradise.

The second was in April 1963 when the newly built attack boat USS Thresher (SSN-593) failed to surface. Hazelwood was one of the first ships rushed to begin a systematic search for the missing submarine, escorting the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s RV Atlantis II to the site and hosting several of the lab’s scientists and equipment aboard.

After her search for Thresher, Hazelwood returned to her job with the flying robots, completing over 1,000 sorties with DASH drones in 1963 alone and helping develop the Shipboard Landing Assist Device (SLAD). That year, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara approved budgeting for enough aircraft to provide two plus one backup aircraft for each of the Navy’s 240 FRAM-1 & 2 destroyers in addition to development models.

By 1965, DASH drones were being used for hour-long “Snoopy” missions directing naval gunfire with real-time video in Vietnam at the maximum range of the ship’s 5-inchers.

With the drone, designated QH-50, ready for fleet use, Hazelwood’s work was done. Instead of a gold watch, she got what so many of her class ended up with– disposal.

Epilogue

Hazelwood decommissioned on 19 March 1965, just as the QH-50 program was fully matured and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Stricken 1 December 1974, she was subsequently sold 14 April 1976 to Union Minerals & Alloy, New York, and broken up for scrap.

Her plans, war diaries, 1950s logbooks, and reports are digitized in the National Archives. She is remembered in maritime art.

Kamikaze attacks on USS Hazelwood (DD 531), shown battered but still afloat, April 29, 1945. Artwork by John Hamilton from his publication, “War at Sea,” pg. 256. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Gallery, accession 88-66-K.

A reunion blog for her crew remained updated until 2019.

The rest of her surviving sisters were likewise widely discarded in this era by the Navy, who had long prior replaced them with Knox-class escorts. Those that had not been sent overseas as military aid was promptly sent to the breakers or disposed of in weapon tests. The class that had faced off with the last blossom of Japan’s wartime aviators helped prove the use of just about every anti-ship/tactical strike weapon used by NATO in the Cold War including Harpoon, Exocet, Sea Skua, Bullpup, Walleye, submarine-launched Tomahawk, and even at least one Sidewinder used in surface attack mode. In 1997, SEALS sank the ex-USS Stoddard (DD-566) via assorted combat-diver delivered ordnance. The final Fletcher in use around the globe, Mexico’s Cuitlahuac, ex-USS John Rodgers (DD 574), was laid up in 2001 and dismantled in 2011.

Today, four Fletchers are on public display, three of which in the U.S– USS The Sullivans (DD-537) at Buffalo, USS Kidd (DD-661) at Baton Rouge, and USS Cassin Young (DD-793) at the Boston Navy Yard. Please try to visit them if possible. Kidd, the best preserved of the trio, was used extensively for the filming of the Tom Hanks film, Greyhound.

As for the DASH, achieving IOC in late 1962, it went on to be unofficially credited as the first UAV to rescue a man in combat, carrying a Marine in Vietnam who reportedly rode its short skids away from danger and back to a destroyer waiting offshore. However, due to a lack of redundant systems, they were often lost. By June 1970, the Navy had lost or written off a staggering 411 of the original 746 QH-50C/D drone helicopters built for DASH. Retired in 1971 due to a mix of unrealized expectations, technological limitations for the era (remember, everything was slide rules and vacuum tubes then), and high-costs, OH-50s remained in military use with the Navy until 1997, soldiering on as targets and target-tows. The last operational DASH, ironically used by the Army’s PEO STRI-TMO, made its final flight on 5 May 2006, at the SHORAD site outside the White Sands Missile Range, outliving the Fletchers in usefulness.

A few are preserved in various conditions around the country, including at the Intrepid Air & Space Museum.

Ever since USS Bronstein (DE/FF-1037) was commissioned in 1963, the U.S. Navy has more often than not specifically designed their escorts to operate helicopters, be they unmanned or manned.

Specs:
Displacement 2,924 Tons (Full),
Length: 376′ 5″(oa)
Beam: 39′ 7″
Draft: 13′ 9″ (Max)
Machinery, 60,000 SHP; Westinghouse Turbines, 2 screws
Speed, 38 Knots
Range 6500 NM@ 15 Knots
Crew 273.
Armament:
5 x 5″/38 AA,
6 x 40mm Bofors
10/11 x 20mm AA
10 x 21″ tt.(2×5)

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Remembering Thresher

Via the U.S. Naval Institute

On this day in 1963, 129 men were lost when the USS Thresher (SSN-593) sank during deep-dive tests in the Atlantic Ocean. After hearing about the disaster, the young son of skipper CDR John Harvey made this crayon drawing of the sub lying on the ocean floor.

The drawing is now in the collection of the U.S. Navy Museum in Washington, D.C.

If you happen to be Bored…

…And looking for some naval scholarship, check out the latest issue of Warship International (Vol. 58) published by the International Naval Research Organization. In its pages, you will find a 23-page article covering the ships and boats that took part in the 1909 Hudson-Fulton exhibition’s naval celebration in New York.

Written by yours truly!

I should tell you though that it is part two of a two but relax, the first part (29-page) was already published in Vol. 49, which is available on JSTOR. Incidentally, all INRO members can read old issues of Warship International going back to the 1960s via JSTOR as part of their membership. Food for thought.

Surplus Tin Cans of Asia

It always seemed that America’s former SEATO and ROK allies were always particularly adept at keeping weary second-hand escort vessels in service long past their prime. For instance, the Philipines are just now retiring PCEs meant for wartime (WWII) service only.

Besides front-line vessels, these seagoing nations have likewise kept said escorts around as well-maintained museums. This brings us to a pair of stories from the Pacific of old museum ships being turned back over to their respective governments as, due to COVID restrictions, are unable to remain fiscally viable with lower numbers of visitors.

In Thailand, the “70 years old” Knox-class destroyer escorts/fast frigates HTMS Phutthayotfa Chulalok (FFG-461), ex-USS Truett (FF-1095); and HTMS Phutthaloetla Naphalai (FFG-462), exUSS Ouellet (FF-1077), were only recently decommissioned in 2017 after two decades of service with first the U.S. Navy and then the Thai fleet. After a few years of touring the coast as roaming (self-propelled?) museums– an interesting idea–, they are now looking at being scrapped or reefed.

They still look pretty good, too.

Decommissioned frigates HTMS ‘Phutthayotfa Chulalok’ (FFG-461) and HTMS ‘Phutthaloetla Naphalai’ (FFG-462) are being used as floating museums and for excursions off the Sattahip coast in Chon Buri. Apichit Jinakul/Bangkok Post.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, two ships, the Gearing-class destroyer ROKS Jeonbuk (DD-916), ex-USS Everett F. Larson (DD/DDR 830); and landing ship ROKS Suyeong, ex-USS Kane County (LST-853), have been returned to that country’s navy after the regional authorities that they had been loaned to as museums could no longer justify keeping them around.

DD-916 JeonBuk of the South Korean Navy which was transferred from the US Navy in 1972. DD-916 was originally DD-830 USS Everett F. Larson, via Wiki commons.

Importantly, Suyeong/Kane County saw WWII service in the Marianas, Philippines, and Okinawa, earning a battle star; while Jeonbuk/Larson spent 30 years with the U.S. Navy in a variety of tasks including helping to deep-six 26 captured IJN submarines in 1946.

So long, Bonnie Dick

Finally, in some semi-related stateside disposal news, the gutted hulk that is the planned lightning carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD-6) is set to formally hold a decommissioning ceremony on April 14, 2021, in San Diego, California.

200712-N-MJ716-0498 SAN DIEGO (July 12, 2020) “A fire continues to be fought into the evening on board the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 12. On the morning of July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. Base and shipboard firefighters responded to the fire. Bonhomme Richard is going through a maintenance availability, which began in 2018.” (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist/Released)

“Following the removal of equipment and dismantlement of systems and components for other ships, USS Bonhomme Richard will be towed to Galveston, Texas for dismantlement,” says ESG-3.

57-Year Old SSBN Finally Retires

Long the last remaining boat of her class still afloat, the Moored Training Ship Sam Rayburn (MTS 635) was originally commissioned 2 December 1964 as SSBN-635, part of the James Madison-class of Cold War-era fleet ballistic missile (FBM) submarines.

USS Sam Rayburn (SSBN-635) c. 1964, with her missile hatches showing their “billiard ball” livery

A member of the famed “41 for Freedom” boats rushed into service to be the big stick of mutually assured destruction against the Soviets, Rayburn was named for the quiet but determined WWII/Korea War speaker of the House, Samuel Taliaferro Rayburn.

After carrying Polaris SLBMs on a rotating series of deterrent patrols from the East Coast and Rota, Spain, Rayburn had her missile compartment removed in 1985 as part of the SALT II treaty and decommissioned, transitioning to her role as an MTS.In the meantime, all of her sisters were disposed of through recycling by 2000, leaving Rayburn to linger on in her training role. Similarly, MTS Daniel Webster (MTS-626), originally a Lafayette-class FBM decommissioned in 1990, has been in the same tasking.

However, all things eventually end. As the MTS role is now transitioning to a pair of recently sidelined 1970s-construction Los Angeles-class attack boats– La Jolla (SSN/MTS 701) and San Francisco (SSN/MTS 711)Webster and Rayburn are ready for razorblades.

Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) recently welcomed the Rayburn in advance of her inactivation, from where she will be towed to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for recycling

Navy Photo 210405-N-XX785-003 by Danny De Angelis

USS Sam Rayburn has proudly served the U.S. Submarine Force and Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program since 1964, and we now welcome it to America’s Shipyard,” said Shipyard Commander Captain Dianna Wolfson. “Performing the first inactivation of a Moored Training Ship will develop another important facet in our service to the Fleet, and we look forward to excelling in our mission as one team.”

SOCOM Getting More Precision rifles

When it comes to new guns for SOCOM, the command’s FY21 budget justification book details that over the past two years 1,562 MK27s (Glock 19 Gen 4s) were acquired along with 1,930 Upper Receiver Groups-Improved (URG-Is), 250 new Personal Defense Weapons, and 450 new ASRs.

ASR?

Oh, that would be the Multi-Role Adaptive Rifle/MK22 Advanced Sniper Rifle award issued by the U.S. Special Operations Command in 2019 to Barrett as part of an effort to continue “development of enhanced capabilities to improve performance” of “individual sniper weapons to engage out to 1500 meters.”

The MK22 is a version of Barrett’s popular MRAD bolt gun, which can be swapped between three different calibers on the fly, hence the “Multi-Role Adaptive Rifle” abbreviation.

Barrett just pulled down a $50~ milly contract for ASRs from the Army, btw.

Higgins 78, in Detail

Here we see a great series of shots of the PT-71-class (first generation production) 78-foot motor torpedo boat USS PT-200, while her builders– at Higgins Industries, New Orleans, Louisiana– taken January 26, 1942. All are “Official Bureau of Ships Photographs” via the National Archives.

With a displacement of 56-tons and a draft of just over five feet, the all-wood craft could make 41 knots when all three of her 1,500shp Packard W-14 were running perfectly on high-octane gas and her hull was clean. If you note, she has a single 20mm Oerlikon over the stern, two twin .50 cal M2s in tubs oriented around the pilothouse, and four fixed 21-inch torpedo tubes. Unlike those used on Elco-made boats, the tubes on Higgins craft used compressed air to launch their MK8 torpedos rather than the tactically inconvenient black-powder charge which made a flash at night.

Laid down 29 June 1942, PT-200 was completed 23 January 1943, and placed in service and assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron FOUR (MTB4) under the command of LCDR William C. Specht. At the time, MTB4 was the training squadron at Melville, and, in reflection of this, PT-200 never made it overseas to fight the Axis, ending her career after 13 months, sinking 22 February 1944 in a collision off Newport, Rhode Island.

In all, Higgins produced no less than 199 78-footers of the PT-71/PT-235, PT-265, and PT-625 classes.

evolution of the 78′ Higgins PT boats

Behind the scenes of being a ‘Bee stuck in the mud of Camp Shelby

Spending most of my life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, interacting with friends and co-workers who had spent time as one of the Navy’s most unsung sailors– Seabees– has been common as about half of the Bees in the country are based in Gulfport. Lots of great guys who always seem to have a sense of humor, and for good reason.

You often see those sad, tan and green convoys heading from Gulfport up Highway 49 to Camp Shelby, a Guard base that always felt stuck in 1943 to me, so they could get their annual field combat training in.

Which, knowing Gulf Mississippi, is always wet and miserable. 

180820-N-ZI635-258 CAMP SHELBY, Miss. (Aug. 20, 2018) Seabees stand inside their fighting position during Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133’s field training exercise (FTX) at Camp Shelby. FTX provides a robust training environment where Seabee forces plan and execute multiple mission essential tasks including convoy security, force protection, and camp buildup prior to deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class George M. Bell/Released)

You know what they say, “If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.”

Speaking of which, the Navy just posted a great 13-minute doc following the Bees of historic Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 (NMCB 133) on a recent three-week FTX at Shelby, which sounds better than it is.

Warship Wednesday, March 31, 2021: NOLA by way of Brazil

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 31, 2021: NOLA by way of Brazil

Published by Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Here we see the Elswick-built Chacabucu-class protected cruiser USS New Orleans (later CL-22) at Brooklyn Navy Yard in the 1900s. Prominently displayed is the cruiser’s elaborate stern decoration, which looks a lot like the Brazilian national emblem, and for good reason.

As part of a general Latin American naval build-up, Brazil ordered four cruisers in 1894 from Armstrong, Whitworth & Co from a design by British naval architect Philip Watts at ₤265,000 a pop. These ships, with a 3,800-ton displacement on a 354-foot hull, were smaller than a frigate by today’s standards but in the late 19th century, with a battery of a half-dozen 6″/50 (15.2 cm) BL Marks IX guns and Harvey armor that ranged between 0.75 inches on their hull to 4.5-inches on their towers, were deemed protected cruisers.

For batting away smaller vessels, they had four 4.7-inch (120mm) Armstrongs, 14 assorted 57 mm and 37mm quick-firing pieces, and three early Nordenfelt 7mm machine guns. To prove their worth in a battle line, they had three torpedo tubes and a brace of Whitehead 18-inch fish with guncotton warheads. They would be the first ships in the Brazilian fleet to have radiotelegraphs and were thoroughly modern for their time.

However, their four Vosper Thornycroft boilers and turbines, augmented by an auxiliary sailing rig, could only just make 20 knots with everything lit on a clean hull.

The lead ship of the class, laid down as Chacabucu (Elswick Yard Number 629) for the Brazilian government in March 1895, was sold to the Chileans just six months later with her name duly switched to Ministro Zenteno after a hero of the latter country. The second vessel, Almirante Barroso (Yard No. 630), was ordered in November 1894 and commissioned on 29 April 1897. Yard Nos. 631 and 676 were to be Amazonas and Almirante Abreu.

Amazonas in British waters on builder’s trials with no flags. Photo via Vickers Archives.

When things got squirrelly between the U.S. and Spain in early 1898 over Cuban independence and the lost battleship USS Maine, American purchasing agents were active in Europe both to A) expand Uncle Sam’s fleet, and B) prevent the Spaniards from doing the same.

This led to an agreement to buy from Brazil the old dynamite cruiser Nictheroy, though without her guns, and the two nearly complete cruisers outfitting on the Tyne. Lt. John C. Colwell, the naval attaché in London, personally took delivery of both British-built cruisers at Gravesend, England on 18 March, just a month after the loss of Maine and still a month before the American declaration of war.

With that, Nictheroy became USS Buffalo, Amazonas very quickly became USS New Orleans –the first time the name was carried by an active warship on the Navy List– and Almirante Abreu would eventually join the fleet as USS Albany. New Orleans, ready to go, would be sailed across the Atlantic by scratch crews from the cruiser USS San Francisco while English engineers handled the machinery, recording her Brazilian name in her logbook for the crossing.

USS New Orleans arrives off the New York Navy Yard, April 1898, after crossing the Atlantic. Note oversize commissioning pennant flying from her mainmast, and Brazilian Navy paint scheme. She had been purchased from Brazil on 16 March 1898, while still under construction in England. Sailing on her inaugural Atlantic crossing was a 15-man Marine det commanded by 1LT George Barnett, a future 12th Commandant of the Corps. NH 45114

She proved a popular subject with photographers, after all, she was a brand-new cruiser that descended seemingly from Mars himself, on the eve of the nation’s first conflict with a European power since 1815.

USS New Orleans (1898-1929) Docked at the New York Navy Yard, April 1898, immediately after her maiden voyage from England. The receiving ship USS Vermont is at the left. Note New Orleans’ extra-long commissioning pennant. NH 75495

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans. The photo is listed as an “8-inch gun crew” although it is a 6″/50 (15.2 cm) Mark 5 Armstrong gun. Perhaps the caption was propaganda. Note the Marine in marching order and the bosun to the left with his pipe in his pocket. Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912.

US Navy protected cruiser USS New Orleans, six-inch gun. Note the small guns in the mast. Also, the man photobombing to the right of the frame, likely the photographer (Edward H. Hart) due to his bespoke hat. Published by Detroit Publishing Company, possibly 1898.

USS New Orleans (1898-1929) Photographed during the Spanish-American War, 1898. Note the change in her scheme from the Brazilian pattern. NH 45115

US Navy protected cruiser USS New Orleans (1898-1930, later PG-34, CL-22) leaving Brooklyn Navy Yard during the Spanish-American War. Photographed by Edward H. Hart, published by Detroit Publishing Company, 1898. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-DIG-DET-4A13959

Her Span Am War service was significant, shipping out of Norfolk three weeks after the declaration and meeting the Flying Squadron off Santiago de Cuba on 30 May. The next day, our new cruiser, along with USS Massachusetts (Coast Battleship No.2) and USS Iowa (Coast Battleship No.4) reconnoitered the harbor, exchanging heavy fire with both Spanish ships and shore batteries.

Attack on Santiago, 31 May 1898 by USS MASSACHUSETTS (BB-2), USS IOWA (BB-4), and USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) by W.B. Shearer. USN 903384

New Orleans went on to spend the rest of her war on blockade duty, shuffling between Guantanamo Bay and San Juan. On 17 July 1898, she captured the French blockade runner Olinde Rodrigues trying to sneak into the latter and sent her, under a prize crew, to Charleston, South Carolina. The steamship was owned and claimed by La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique out of Harve, which later became the subject of a lengthy court case that, in the end, left the New Orleans’s crew without prize money.

USS New Orleans (1898-1929) Halftone photograph, taken during the Spanish-American War and published in the book War in Cuba, 1898. Courtesy of Alfred Cellier, 1977. NH 85648

Immediately after the conclusion of hostilities, she took part in the Peace Jubilee in New York, visited her namesake “hometown” in the Crescent City, then sailed for the Philippines via the Suez, arriving just before Christmas 1899, where she would remain on station for four years.

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans on Asiatic Station, 1902. Shown is CPT (later RADM) Charles Stillman Sperry (USNA 1866), skipper, and his XO, LCDR James T. Smith. Note the ornate triple ship’s wheels in the background. Donation of Walter J. Krussel, 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Laid up from 1905 to 1909, she recommissioned in 1910 with a new suite of American-pattern guns and headed to the Far East once again, with a gleaming new scheme worthy of TR’s Great White Fleet.

LOC LC-D4-5521

USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) Photographed before World War I in her white scheme. Note signalman atop the bridge. Description: Courtesy of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973.NH 92171

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans, quarter-deck over the stern. Note her searchlights and torpedo-busting guns in the tower. Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912

Officers, crew, and mascot of USS New Orleans at Yokohama (CL-22), Japan, 1910. Note the flat caps and cracker jacks of the sailors; fringed epauletted body coats and cocked hats of the officers; outfits that were much more 19th Century than 20th. Via the Yangtze River Patrol Association.

USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) Flying a “Homeward Bound” pennant, circa 1912. Halftoned photo original view was courtesy of “Our Navy” magazine. NH 45118

By 1914, she was back in North American waters, spending time– along with most of the other surface assets of the fleet– in Mexican waters, patrolling that country’s Pacific coast in a haze gray scheme. This was a mission she would continue for three years, alternating with trips back up to Puget Sound where she would serve as a training vessel for the Washington State Naval Militia.

USS New Orleans CL-22. March 1916 crew photo taken during an overhaul at PSNS. Note the difference in uniforms from the China photo taken just six years prior. Via Puget Sound Navy Museum.

When the U.S. entered the Great War, she was transferred to the Atlantic, arriving at Hampton Roads on 27 August 1917. From there, she escorted a convoy carrying Doughboys and materiel to Europe. However, with plenty of ships on tap in the British Isles, the funky third-class cruiser received orders once more for the Pacific, reaching Yokohama from Honolulu on 13 March 1918.

USS NEW ORLEANS (CL-22) En route to the Asiatic Station, early in 1918, note her dark gray scheme. NH 45120

It was about this time that the Western Allies decided to intervene in the affairs of civil war-torn Russia, landing troops in Vladivostok in the Pacific as well as Archangel and Murmansk in the White/Barents Seas.

U.S. Soldiers parade in Vladivostok, Aug. 1918, a mission that would span four years and involve New Orleans for most of that. 

New Orleans would remain off and on as a station ship in Vladivostok until 17 August 1922, as the city’s population had quadrupled from 90,000 to more than 400,000 as refugees from the anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces and the Czechoslovak Legion, the latter formed from Austro-Hungarian Army POWs in Siberia, swelled the port, seeking to escape the oncoming Reds. Sheltered under the guns of American, British, French, and Japanese ships, the city remained the last large holdout from Moscow’s control, only being secured by the Red Army in October 1922 with the withdrawal of the hated “Interventionists.”

Czech Maj. Gen Radola Gajda and Captain E. B. Larimer on the deck of USS NEW ORLEANS, Vladivostok, 1919. A former Austrian and Montenegrin army field officer, Gajda helped the Russians raise the Czech legions in 1916 and would later become a high-level commander in the White Army in Siberia– even leading a coup to get rid of its overall leader, Russian Adm. Alexander Kolchak. Gajda would escape Vladivostok for Europe and briefly become the Chief of the General Staff for the Czech Army in the mid-1920s. Note his Russian cossack-style shashka saber with a knot as well as a mix of Russian, Austrian and Montenegrin medals. NH 1097.

Her last mission completed, and her tonnage held against the fleet in future naval treaties, New Orleans returned to Mare Island on 23 September, after calls en route at Yokohama and Honolulu, and was decommissioned on 16 November 1922. Stricken from the Navy List on 13 November 1929, she was sold for scrapping on 4 February 1930 to D. C. Seagraves of San Francisco, California.

As for her sisters, Chacabucu/Ministro Zenteno remained in Chilean service until 1930 and was scrapped while about the same time the Brazilian Barroso was disarmed and turned into a floating barracks, ultimately being written off sometime later, date unknown.

Zenteno and Barroso, Jane’s 1914 listing.

Albany missed the Span Am War, being commissioned in the River Tyne, England, on 29 May 1900. Sailing for the Far East from there where she would serve, alternating cruises back to Europe, until 1913 she only went to the U.S. for the first time for her mid-life refit. Recommissioned in 1914, Albany served off Mexico, gave convoy duty in WWI, and ended up with sister New Orleans briefly in Russia. With the post-war drawdown, she was placed out of commission on 10 October 1922 at Mare Island and sold for scrap in 1930.

Epilogue

Our cruiser is remembered in period maritime art.

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.

Her plans are in the National Archives.

A single 4.7-inch Elswick Armstrong gun from each of these English-made Brazilian cruisers in U.S. service is installed at the Kane County, Illinois Soldier and Sailor Monument at the former courthouse in Geneva, Illinois.

SECNAV has done a good job of keeping a “NO Boat” or “NOLA boat” on the Naval List for roughly 103 of the past 122 years.

The second completed USS New Orleans would also be a cruiser, CA-32, leader of her seven-hull class of 10,000-ton “Treaty Cruisers” built in the early-to-mid 1930s. The class would give very hard service in WWII, with three sunk at the horrific Battle of Savo Island. However, USS New Orleans (CA-32) was luckier, earning a remarkable 17 battlestars, going on to be laid up in 1947 and stricken/scrapped in 1959.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) In English waters, about June 1934. Photographed by Wright & Logan, Southsea, England. Donation of Captain Joseph Finnegan, USN (Retired), 1970. NH 71787

The third USS New Orleans was an Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship, LPH-11, commissioned in 1968. After a 30-year career, she was decommissioned and later disposed of in a SINKEX in 2020.

A vertical view of the amphibious assault ship USS NEW ORLEANS (LPH-11) underway. CH-53 Sea Stallion and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters line the flight deck, 6/16/1988. PH2 Weideman/DNST8807549.

The fourth New Orleans is a Pascagoula-built San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, LPD-18, that has been in the fleet since 2007.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Aug. 21, 2020) A rigid-hull inflatable boat, right, transits the Philippine Sea from the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18). New Orleans, part of America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit team is operating in the 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serves as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino)

Specs:

Jane’s 1914 listing for Albany and New Orleans.

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