Category Archives: US Navy

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020: Horse Trading and Gun Running

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020: Horse Trading and Gun Running

Cropped LIFE Archives photo by Carl Mydans

Here we see the Barnegat-class seaplane tender USS Orca (AVP-49) showing off the welcome sign  “Where the occident meets the Orient by accident,” signed by her skipper, CDR Morton K. Fleming, Jr, while in Philippine waters, likely Ormoc Bay, in December 1944.

The 41 Barnegats were 2,500-ton, 311-foot armed auxiliaries with destroyer lines capable of floating in 12 feet of water. They had room for not only seaplane stores but also 150 aviators and aircrew. Their diesel suite wasn’t fast, but they could travel 8,000 miles at 15.6 knots. Originally designed for two 5-inch/38-caliber guns, this could be doubled if needed (and often was) which complemented a decent AAA armament helped by radar and even depth charges and sonar for busting subs. All pretty sweet for an auxiliary.

We’ve covered them in the past to include the former “Queen of the Little White Fleet” USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) and the 60-year career of USS Chincoteague (AVP-24) but don’t worry, they have lots of great stories.

Our armed tender was (kind of) the fourth Orca in the U.S. Navy, as submarine USS K-3 (SS-34) carried the name as a PCU in 1911 but never served as such. The second Orca was an 85-foot steam yacht out of Boston taken into service as SP726 for patrol operations in the 1st Naval District during World War I. The third Orca was to be a Balao-class fleet submarine (SS-381) but, like SS-34, was changed before commissioning, in this case to USS Sand Lance, a boat that subsequently served until 1972, completing five WWII war patrols.

The hero of our study, which was officially named after Orca Bay, Alaska, in line with the naming convention for seaplane tenders to be named after bays and lakes, was laid down 13 July 1942, built by the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Washington, and commissioned 23 January 1944.

USS Orca (AVP-49) ready for launch on 4 October 1942. The ship Her builder’s number, Hull 538, is displayed on her bridge. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-44301

USS Orca (AVP-49) being launched at the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Washington, on 4 October 1942. 19-N-47209

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Houghton, Washington, on 6 February 1944, about two weeks after commissioning. She was completed with three 5/38 guns, including an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-61647

USS Orca (AVP-49) from the port side in Puget Sound on February 6, 1944, wearing camouflage 32/2Ax. The vertical colors are dull black, ocean gray, and light gray. Photo source: NARA BS 61646. H/T USN Dazzle

USS Orca (AVP-49) again in Puget Sound this time from the starboard wearing camouflage 32/2Ax on February 6, 1944. Orca was commissioned on January 23, 1944. Photo source: NARA BS 61645. H/T USN Dazzle

After shakedown, she shipped out for the 7th Fleet off Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, arriving there 26 May 1944. There, she would be the floating home to Patrol Bombing Squadron 11 (VPB-11) whose black-painted PBY-5 Catalinas were busy wrecking Japanese shipping and bases in night attacks while clocking in for air-sea rescue during the day.

PBY-5 Catalina of US Navy Patrol Squadron VPB-11 on the Sepik River in Australian New Guinea bringing supplies to a coast-watcher working in the area, Jan 1943. VPB-11 was Orca’s first squadron

Over the course of the war, Orca would go on to support VPB-33 and finally VPB-34, with all three squadrons being so active as to earn Presidential Unit Citations.

In early November, Orca moved into the Leyte Gulf area in the PI, where the next month her Cats proved lifesavers in Ormoc Bay right under the noses of the Japanese as they taxied around the bay for nearly an hour picking up survivors of the Sumner-class destroyer USS Cooper (DD-695), sunk the previous night by Long Lances from the Japanese destroyer Take.

From her 18-page War History, in the National Archives:

A cartoon from VPB-34 of the Cooper rescue

For his role in the Cooper rescue, VPB-34’s Lieutenant Frederick J. Ball, the lead pilot, would receive the Navy Cross.

Orca would then go on to have repeated run-ins with air attacks and later “the kamikaze boys” as her diary states, with her crew sending up reportedly impressive amounts of fire to meet incoming Japanese planes. The report comes from Tokyo Rose, who announced that, following a raid in an area where Orca was the primary ship, “The volume of Ack-Ack which met the previous night’s raid, indicated that a U.S. battleship of the Wisconsin class had been sighted by Japanese planes…” which is certainly something to brag about for a seaplane tender.

While in the Lingayen Gulf, raids were so heavy that she experienced attacks for six nights in a row, bagging a couple aircraft but coming out unscathed. As her diary states, “Fortunately for us, our first attackers appeared to have not been confirmed Lodge members- Kamikaze Local No. 269, for none of them made suicide dives unless actually hit and out of control.”

Then came the, often frustrating, efforts to recover downed Japanese aircrew.

Other rescues by Orca’s Cats and later Mariners while operating in the PI included the 12 crew and passengers of an Army C-47– which included female nurses– a P-51 pilot, five survivors of a downed B-25 from a raid over Formosa, nine Filipino women whose fishing vessel had capsized 20 miles offshore leaving them to cling to wreckage for three days, and the curious case of CDR McPherson B. Williams of Augusta Georgia. Williams, who was Yorktown’s ComAirGrp 3, had been downed and rescued by Filipino guerillas who kept him out of Japanese hands for seven weeks and, in a twist of fate, was picked up by a Mariner piloted by his Annapolis roommate.

More Carly Mydan photos of Orca, with her crew performing maintenance on PBMs

Speaking of Filipino guerillas, Orca would spend much of her time in local waters supporting Gen. Walter Kreuger’s Sixth Army’s effort to arm, support, and equip bands of insurgents behind Japanese lines, running guns, uniforms, radio equipment, and medicine to these plucky freedom fighters.

VJ Day found Orca at sea, having just completed an overhaul at Manus Island in preparation for “the big push” on Tokyo. On 26 September, Orca arrived at Okinawa to assist in the occupation of the Japanese Islands.

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. 19-N-92247

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. Her 40mm quadruple mount had been moved forward replacing one 5/38 mount, but she retained two 5guns, including one in an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-92245

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. Her 40mm quadruple mount had been moved forward replacing one 5/38 mount, but she retained two 5guns, including one in an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-92246

After supporting the Bikini Atoll A-bomb tests, Orca then decommissioned on 31 October 1947 and joined the reserve fleet in San Francisco. According to her War History, 82 percent of her plank owners, the majority of which were green on commissioning, completed the war with the tender.

She had earned three battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation for service in the conflict.

The 1950s…

Orca re-commissioned 15 December 1951, as the push was on in Korea, and went on to serve the rest of the decade in a variety of West Pac cruises and training evolutions, including tense China service, with much of her WWII armament landed.

USS Orca (AVP-49) moored at Naval Station San Diego, circa 1950s. Dave Schroeder and John Chiquoine. Via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/43/4349.htm

USS Orca (AVP-49) Underway on 4 April 1955. Note the aviation insignia on the bow aft of the hull number. The open 5/38 mount formerly on her fantail was removed between late 1951 and 1955. 80-G-668276

To the Horn of Africa!

Decommissioned in March 1960, at Tongue Point Naval Station, Astoria, Oregon, she was subsequently laid up in the Pacific Reserve Fleet, Columbia River Group. Her second stint in mothballs, however, did not last long and the following year she was towed to SFNSY and reactivated for transfer to the brand-new Imperial Ethiopian Navy in January 1962, named, well, Ethiopia (A01). Along with a group of 95-foot PGMs and some surplus LCMs, they would prove the backbone of the force.

Formed in 1955 with a group of retired British naval personnel served as advisers and training supervisors, Ethiopia’s Navy was not a huge armada, with our repurposed seaplane tender being the fleet’s largest vessel, training ship, and flagship/imperial yacht for three decades. It was from her deck that Emperor Haile Selassie regularly inspected visiting foreign ships for the country’s annual Navy Day each January, an event that often saw a decent turnout.

“Haile Selassie is Host to British, French, theU.S. and Soviet Ships. January 1969, At Massawa, during Ethiopia’s Navy Days. The British frigate HMS Leander took part along with USS Luce, Russian destroyer Gnevy, French frigate Commandant Bory and the Ethiopian flagship, Ethiopia. On the sea day, all ships sailed in company, with Emperor Haile Selassie onboard Ethiopia. Later, the Emperor dined onboard HMS Leander. The international line-up during the Ethiopian Sea Day. Left: HMS Leander (lower) and Gnevy (Above). Right: USS Luce (above), Ethiopia (center) and Commandant Bory (lower).”” IWM A 35201

HMS CHICHESTER AT ETHIOPIA NAVY DAYS. FEBRUARY 1970, MASSAWA. THE FRIGATE HMS CHICHESTER REPRESENTED GREAT BRITAIN AT THE ANNUAL ETHIOPIAN NAVY DAYS. OTHER SHIPS TAKING PART INCLUDED US FLEET ESCORT SHIP FOREST ROYAL, THE FRENCH FRIGATE COMMANDANT BORY, THE SOVIET DESTROYER BLESTIYASCHYJ AND PATROL BOATS OF THE SUDANESE NAVY. INCLUDED IN THE PROGRAMME WAS A GRADUATION PARADE FROM THE ETHIOPIAN NAVAL COLLEGE AT MASSAWA AND A SERIES OF INTERNATIONAL SPORTING EVENTS BETWEEN TEAMS FROM THE VISITING SHIPS. (A 35268) Royal salute from Emperor Haile Sellasie on board his yacht ETHIOPIA as HMS CHICHESTER steams past. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205165107

The 1,300-man Imperial Ethiopian Navy took up –almost– a full page in the 1973 Jane’s, with ex-Orca as the largest vessel.

After Selassie was deposed in 1974, and the socialist regime pivoted towards Moscow and away from the West by 1978, Soviet advisors replaced the Brits, Americans, Dutch, and Norwegians. By the 1980s, the force tripled in size as Petya, Osa and Turya-class fast attack craft arrived as military aid to help with the country’s low-key wars with its Western-backed neighbors.

Still, Orca/Ethiopia endured as the largest ship.

By 1990, Ethiopia had lost its ports as the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front had captured Massawa, prompting the
Ethiopian admiralty to pull stumps and migrate their homeless fleet to nearby Yemen. This situation came to a head when Eritrea gained de jure independence. In 1993, the Yemenis pulled the plug on the Ethiopian nautical squatters and asked them to leave in a bar closing sort of way (you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here…).

However, at that point, Orca/Ethiopia could no longer fire up her engines and, with her ~200 crewmembers interned as refugees, was sold for scrap to pay off delinquent dock fees in 1995.

As for the Ethiopian Navy, over the past couple of years, there has been an effort to reboot it, a curiosity for a land-locked country. The general plan would seem to be for the force to work out of Djibouti. Nonetheless, last year Adm. Foggo, commander of Naval Forces Africa, met with Brig. Gen. Kindu Gezu, Ethiopian Head of Navy in “the first staff to staff talks.”

Here in the U.S., Orca’s ship engineering drawings as well as 30 assorted war diaries and reports are digitized in the National Archives. She is also remembered on the Commemorative Plaque Wall at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington.

As for her sisters, they have all gone on to the breakers or been reefed with the final class member afloat, ex-Chincoteague/Ly Thuong Kiet/Andres Bonifacio scrapped in the Philippines in 2003.

Specs:

Displacement 1,766 t.(lt) 2,800 t.(fl)
Length 310′ 9″
Beam 41′ 2″
Draft 13′ 6″ (limiting)
Speed 18.6kts.
Complement: 73 officers, 294 enlisted (including 152 members of embarked seaplane squadron)
Fuel Capacities: Diesel 1,955 Bbls; Gasoline 71,400 Gals
Propulsion: two Fairbanks Morse Diesel 38D8 1/4 engines, single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gear, two propellers, 6,080shp
Ship’s Service Generators: two Diesel-drive 100Kw 450V A.C., one Diesel-drive 200Kw 450V A.C.
Armament:
3 single 5″/38 cal dual-purpose gun mounts
1 quad Bofors 40mm AA gun mount, 2 twins
4 twin Oerlikon 20mm AA gun mounts
Stern depth charge racks
Changes as a training ship, 1960:
Radars: RCA SPS-12 air search radar, I-band navigation radar, RCA/General Electric Mark 26 I/J-band fire control
Armament:
1 single 5″/38 cal dual-purpose gun mount
1 single Bofors 40mm AA gun mount, 2 twins

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The Emperor’s Magic Carpet Ride, 75 Years Ago Today

Rare postwar photo of SB2C Helldiver #43, carrying an AN/APS-4 radar pod under the wing, over kite-shaped Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands on 23 October 1945. The dive bomber is flown by Lt. Frederick C. Lambert USMCR.

(U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Museum/Naval Aviation Museum, Photo No. 1996.253.538)

In the background are the disarmed Japanese Katori-class light cruiser Kashima and her “escort,” the Cannon-class destroyer escort USS Thornhill (DE-195).

Kashima, the former Japanese Fourth Fleet flagship, spent the last part of WWII in Korean backwaters and escaped the Armageddon fate that was inflicted on the rest of the Imperial Combined Fleet. After the surrender, she had her munitions landed, her gun barrels torched off, breechblocks welded shut, and was tasked with repatriation duty, returning Japanese POWs and civilians home from overseas.

The old training cruiser was at Jaluit 22-23 October 1945 to retrieve 911 EPOWs and one-time Japanese immigrants for repatriation.

Officially stricken from the Japanese Naval List on 5 October, between 10 October 1945 and 12 November 1946, Kashima made a dozen voyages to New Guinea, the Solomons, the Marshall Islands, Singapore, French Indochina, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Hong Kong, transporting over 5,800 former Imperial Japanese military personnel and internees back Home.

She was then sold for scrap and broken up by mid-1947 at Nagasaki by Kawanami Heavy Industries, her steel being used to help rebuild that city.

As for Thornhill, she was decommissioned at about the same time that Kashima disappeared for good and was later transferred to NATO ally Italy, where she served as the frigate Aldebaran (F-590) through the 1970s.

Jaluit Atoll, which between 1914 and 1945 was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a seaplane base after spending 30 years as a coaling station for the Kaiser, currently has a population of around 1,200 locals today, and the former IJN power station, barracks, antiaircraft guns, and a Shinto shrine remain to the delight of tourists.

215 and a coat of paint

The fifth Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer completed (more than 68 are with the fleet today, can you believe that?), USS Stout (DDG-55) rolled out of Pascagoula for the first time in 1994.

Now in her 26th year, the “Bold Knight” has been on a COVID-extended quest of sorts overseas, completing a nearly seven-month deployment in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations as part of the Nimitz and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike) Carrier Strike Groups with detours to serve in TF50 and TF51/5.

Without hitting a port call, relying on VERTREPS and RAS to keep up her never-ending voyage. Stout conducted two port visits in Rota, Spain, bookending a record-breaking 215 days at sea.

Stout even chalked up the first-ever “Mid-Deployment Voyage Repair period at sea,” which is something that could prove a lesson if the fleet is pressed on unending West Pac cruises in a future crisis.

She just returned to Naval Station Norfolk on 11 October, marking the end of a nine-month deployment across U.S. 2nd, 5th, and 6th Fleet areas of operation. She had left home in mid-January and has covered 60,000 miles since then. For reference, the distance around the Earth at the Equator, its greatest circumference, is 24,901 miles.

And, for sure, she looked rough when she pulled into her homeport.

This photo has been shared worldwide, showing honest rust and bust, but she could doubtless still fight if she had to

Which of course drew quick attention from Big Navy.

As noted by RADM Brad Cooper on this image posted yesterday:

Last week, USS STOUT (DDG 55) returned home after the longest consecutive period at sea in the history of the modern Navy. During this pandemic, we ask a lot of our Sailors and our families.

It’s not business as usual for any of us, but the amazing young Americans on STOUT stepped up and exceeded our every expectation. STOUT Sailors are Tough, Resilient, Self-Sufficient and Ready.

Picture taken this evening. Ship looks amazing. I couldn’t be prouder of every Sailor on this ship.

Sure, the rust is covered up, but the bluejackets who were away from home for nine months without a real reason other than “the Coof” surely deserved better.

Have you seen what they are doing with Reapers lately?

No, not the guys in black shrouds that go around picking up souls, I’m talking about the very real drone series from General Atomics. Introduced in 2007 as a sort of super-sized version of the Predator, variations of the series have clocked six million flight hours and completed 430,495 total missions as of late 2019 while flying 11 percent of total Air Force flying hours, at only 2.6 percent of the USAF’s total flying hour cost– and maintaining a 90 percent availability rate.

The Air Force has quietly pulled off a couple of key mission enhancements in the past couple of months when it comes to Reaper.

In September, a Creech AFB-operated MQ-9 successfully went air-to-air, using an AIM-9X Block 2 Sidewinder missile against a target BQM-167 drone that was simulating an incoming cruise missile.

An MQ-9 Reaper, assigned to the 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron, armed with an AIM-9X missile sits on the flight line, Sept. 3, 2020, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)

This month, they doubled the number of Hellfires that could be mission-carried by a Reaper, growing from four to eight.

A 556th Test and Evaluation Squadron MQ-9A Reaper carrying eight Hellfire missiles sits on the ramp at Creech Air Force Base, Nev., Sept. 10, 2020. This was the first flight test of the MQ-9 carrying this munition load. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens)

This new capability is part of the MQ-9 Operational Flight Program 2409, a software upgrade set to field by the end of calendar year 2020. Previous to this software, the MQ-9 was limited to four AGM-114s across two stations. The new software allows flexibility to load the Hellfire on stations that previously were reserved for 500-pound class bombs or fuel tanks.

“The hardware/launcher is the same that we use on the outboard stations,” said Master Sgt. Melvin French, test system configuration manager. “Aside from the extra hardware required to be on hand, no other changes are required to support this new capability and added lethality. The Reaper retains its flexibility to fly 500-pound bombs on any of these stations, instead of the AGM‑114s, when mission requirements dictate.”

Reaper, with about 200 airframes in USAF service, also has a maritime variant that readers of this page should find very interesting– the MQ-9B SeaGuardian which can be utilized for mine countermeasures, ASW, SAR, and general sea patrol with a 25 hour all-weather loiter time that is cheaper and less crew-intensive than a manned aircraft and could really free up a limited number of P-8s, P-3s, and HC-130Js for more dynamic taskings.

SeaGuardian

The SeaGuardian variants can carry a 360-degree patrol radar and two 10-tube sonobuoy pods, while still being able to clock in with Hellfires and 500-pound bombs if needed. If you told me they could find a way to mount an anti-ship missile and some Mk. 50 torps, perhaps on a paired aircraft operating in teams, I wouldn’t doubt it.

SeaGuardian is not science fiction. Last month the platform concluded a set of maritime test flights over the sea-lanes off the coast of Southern California and last week kicked off a series of validation flights on Oct. 15 for the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Japan. 

Love Boat shows teeth

Sigh…

There is really no way to sugar coat it, the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) has been a pear-shaped embarrassment in terms of naval acquisition, making the LCS and Ford programs look squared away by comparison.

Awarded in 2008, DDG-1000 took eight years to complete, which is kinda shocking for a “destroyer” but of course isn’t when you keep in mind it is actually 14,800-tons, pushing into the size envelope of a WWII-era Baltimore-class heavy cruiser, making them the largest non-carrier surface asset constructed for the Navy since the 15,500-ton nuclear-powered USS Long Beach (CGN-9) commissioned in 1961.

The Zumwalts were to showcase two new weapons platforms, namely the 155 mm Advanced Gun System– which likely will never be operational in practice– and the MK 57 VLS, which uses four-cell missile packs spread along the peripheral edges of the vessel instead of the more traditional 8-cell VLS modules bunched fore and aft.

Mk-57 Peripheral Vertical Launching System (VLS), for now, unique to the Zumwalt-class destroyers

At least it looks like the MK 57 is (almost) up and running, with a test launch of an SM-2 at Point Mugu, on 13 October– notably just 72 hours short of the $4.4B Zumwalt’s 4th commissioning anniversary.

“Today’s successful firing event is a critical milestone in the maturation of this incredible ship class and represents the culmination of a tremendous amount of hard work and partnership of Zumwalt’s talented crew and the engineers, designers, and programmers helping us to bring her capabilities to the Fleet,” said Capt. Gary Cave, Zumwalt’s commanding officer. “It is a day we’ve been looking forward to and demonstrates the strides we are taking to add combat capability to our surface force.”

Sisters from another mister, ADM De Grasse edition

Here we see a starboard beam view of the Spruance-class destroyer USS Comte De Grasse (DD-974) and the French Tourville-class fregate De Grasse (D-612) underway near Cape Henry on their way to Norfolk, October 1981. The ships at the time were participating in the U.S./French bicentennial celebration to mark the joint American Colonial-French operation that concluded the 1781 siege at Yorktown.

A starboard beam view of the destroyer USS COMTE DE GRASSE (DD-974) and the French destroyer De GRASSE (D-612) underway near Cape Henry on their way to Norfolk. The ships participated in the joint U.S./French bicentennial celebration at Yorktown, Va.

Photo 330-CFD-DN-SC-82-02122 in the National Archives

Note De Grasse‘s Lynx Mk.2(FN) helicopter on her stern, her Crotale EDIR short-range SAM looking aft, a battery of MM38 Exocet anti-ship missiles amidships, and her twin GIAT 100mm/55 cal M68 guns forward. The whopping missile-like object loaded just aft of the Exocets is a Malafon ASW rocket-assisted glider-delivered torpedo. The first two ships of the class commissioned with three 100mm mounts, including one over the stern, while De Grasse completed with two to make way for the newly introduced Crotale. The 4,500-ton frigate commissioned in 1975 and served the Marine Nationale until for almost 40 years. Decommissioned in 2013, she’s awaiting her fate at the French ship graveyard at Landévennec but RUMINT is that she may go to the Philipines as part of a package deal on Scorpène-class submarines.

The larger USS Comte De Grasse in the background was commissioned at Pascagoula in 1978 and returned their several times during her career– I once toured her as a kid. She is shown above in her “pre-Tomahawk ” layout that included a stand-alone ASROC launcher forward. After 1984, she was fitted with two 4-cell Mk 143 armored box launchers for said cruise missiles. Just short of her 20th year with the fleet and still young, DD-974 was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 5 June 1998 then sunk as a target in 2006.

The two De Grasses, named of course for French ADM Franҫois-Joseph-Paul de Grasse, who commanded the French fleet at Yorktown, would meet on at least one other occasion in honor of their shared namesake.

In March 1997, a year before she was decommissioned, USS Comte de Grasse got underway for France to participate in Spontex 97, a multinational ASW exercise sponsored by the French Navy. After the exercise wrapped up, she joined her old friend, the French fregate De Grasse, at Brest during a period that coincidentally corresponded with the 216th anniversary of the date Adm. de Grasse sailed for America with the fleet that became victorious at the Battle of the Virginia Capes in 1781.

Big Water Flattop

Continuing in the same vein of pre-WWII American carriers that made it to the post-war (see yesterday’s post on Enterprise), flashing back some 75 years ago today, I give you the USS Ranger CV-4 in the Mississippi River, coming into view of New Orleans. 

Ranger, who we have talked about extensively on a past Warship Wednesday, only earned two battle stars for her wartime service, which was spent in the Atlantic as she was deemed too slight to fight it out with the Empire of Japan, only finally being sent to the Pacific in July 1945. Nonetheless, she struck blows against the Vichy French and Germans spread out from Morocco to Norway.

As detailed by DANFS, the end of her career was a postscript.

Departing San Diego 30 September 1945, Ranger embarked civilian and military passengers at Balboa and then steamed for New Orleans, arriving 18 October. Following Navy Day celebrations there, she sailed 30 October for brief operations at Pensacola [it was thought she would be a training carrier there but was found to be in poor condition and the job was instead handed over to USS Saipan (CVL-28) then later USS Monterey (CVL-26)].

After calling at Norfolk, she entered the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard 18 November for overhaul. She remained on the eastern seaboard until decommissioned at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard 18 October 1946. Struck from the Navy list 29 October 1946, she was sold for scrap to Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Chester, Pa., 28 January 1947.

The Big E, at the end of an era, 75 years ago today

Here we see a Kodachrome of the sole surviving Yorktown-class carrier to make it out of WWII, USS Enterprise (CV-6), being pushed by tugboats, New York, 17 October 1945.

The 7th U.S. Navy ship to bear the name, Enterprise was present and in the thick of it at Midway, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Leyte Gulf, winning 20 battlestars the hard way. From the period between USS Wasp‘s sinking on 15 September 1942 and USS Essex‘s entrance to the Pacific after rushed builder’s trials in May 1943, she and Saratoga, which earned 8 battlestars, were the only U.S. fleet carriers in the Pacific.

Decommissioned 17 February 1947, the Big E was scrapped in 1958 though remnants have of her have remained aboard both the 8th Enterprise (CVN-65) and the newest to carry the name, CVN-80.

One of these things is not like the other…or is it?

U.S. Navy destroyers and torpedo boats at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, prior to World War I, between mid-1908 and early 1914. The original photograph was published on a tinted postcard by the Pacific Novelty Company, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, California, at about the time it was taken.

Courtesy of R.D. Jeska, 1984. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.color Catalog #: NH 100034-KN

These ships are, despite the caption on the card (from left to right): USS Lawrence (Torpedo Boat Destroyer # 8); USS Goldsborough (Torpedo Boat # 20); and USS Farragut (Torpedo Boat # 11).

The 246-foot Lawrence, at a whopping 400-tons, was a giant compared to the 198-foot/255-ton Goldsborough and 214-foot/279-ton Farragut. However, all three vessels, regardless of their designations, had the same armament of two 18-inch torpedo tubes angeled over the bow and a couple of small 6-pounder guns, as well as the same ~30-knot speed.

The gap between DDs and TBs would, nonetheless, grow widely in the coming years.

Fed Ex’ing a PBRON

During the late 19th Century and early 20th, attaching a flotilla of small torpedo boats to repurposed old warship such as a monitor– ideal for their low freeboard– was the standard operating procedure. The small boats didn’t have luxurious accommodation and messing facilities while at the same time they had short legs and could only carry so much ordnance. Being a cub to a mama bear was able to fix those shortcomings to a degree.

Fast forward to WWII, and you saw the same thing with PT-Boat squadrons.

3 US Navy PT-boats Aleutians in June 1943 eaplane tender GILLIS AVD12 PBY Catalina Higgins boats Mk 19 torpedo tubes.

Official USN Photographs (National Archives) 80-G-K-9454 (Color).

In Vietnam, the Brown Water Navy often supped in the gallies of LSTs detailed to the task.

USS Garrett County (LST 786) in the Co Chien River, June 1968, with PBRs alongside and HAL-3 Seawolf Hueys aboard. Note the –manned –40mm Bofors on deck. U.S. Navy Photo K-51442

Today, we have the Expeditionary Transfer Docks (ESD), such as USS Montford Point, ready to serve as forward-deployed floating seabases for small craft, special warfare assets, and light aviation.

There are also other ideas on the table, thus:

PHILIPPINE SEA (Oct. 4, 2020) A Mark VI patrol boat assigned to Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron (MSRON) 3 prepares to board the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). (U.S. Marine Corps photos by Sgt. Manuel A. Serrano)

USS Comstock (LSD-45) is a 16,000-ton Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship capable of holding 5 LCACs or 21 LCMs in her dock while carrying around ~400 Marines of a MEU as part of an amphibious ready group. Currently, she is underway after loading Mark VI patrol boats and expeditionary mine countermeasure (ExMCM) elements in Guam for a security patrol in the Philippine Sea as part of the 7th Fleet.

“This level of integration of Mark VI patrol boats with surface Navy assets has never been accomplished before,” said Lt. Andy Bergstrom, Alpha Company Commander. “The Mark VI patrol boat provides a presence capability in the littorals beyond sheltered bays and harbors with additional mission capabilities including high-value asset escort, visit, board, search and seizure support, and theater security cooperation.”

The Mark VI, or Wright-class patrol boats are 85-foot vessels with a 10 man crew and a pretty decent armament for their size to include a pair of stabilized MK 38 25mm chain guns and six weapon stations.

SANTA RITA, Guam (May 8, 2019) Three Mark VI patrol boats attached to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 2, maneuver in formation during a training evolution near Apra Harbor. CRS-2, assigned to Coastal Riverine Group 1, Det. Guam is capable of conducting maritime security operations across the full spectrum of naval, joint, and combined operations.  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey Adams)

Sure, they would be toast against an anti-ship missile, but they are meant more for counter-insurgency, anti-piracy, and coastal/riverine control, making them ideal for special operations platforms and recovering/supporting small UAVs/USVs (they have operated RQ-11 Ravens in the past).

Further, the Mark VI design is, as shown above, well-deck friendly, with as many as 8 able to be carried in an LSD-41-class vessel.

The above graphic shows how 4 MKVI patrol boats can be transported inside the well deck of either an LHD-1, LPD-17, or LSD-49 class amphibious warfare vessels. Even the older LPD-4 types can carry a pair of the super swifts. The huge LCAC-designed well-deck of the LSD-41 type landing docks can carry an entire expeditionary squadron of 8 MkVI boats inside her hull. Couple this with berthing for brown water sailors, flight deck spots for SH/MH60 helicopters, and UAVs and you see how a group of MKVIs can be UPS’d to a contested strip of coastline.

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