Here we see a vintage Prohibition-era gathering that shows the old 3,300-ton Arkansas-class monitor-turned submarine tender USS Cheyenne (IX-4) (ex-Wyoming BM-10), inboard at left with the early S-class submarine USS S-12 (SS-117), while outboard at left is the Clemson-class four-piper destroyer USS Dale (DD-290).
The display, at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, 14 June 1926, was during the National Sesquicentennial (150th) exhibit there. The small boat and Sailor, in the foreground, are on life-saving service to protect exhibit visitors.
All three of these vessels would go on to an extremely mixed bag of service.
The youngest of the trio is the submarine S-12, which joined the fleet scarcely three years before this meeting in Philly. After spending most of her active career in the Panama Canal Zone, she would return to the City of Brotherly Love to be decommissioned in 1936. After a stint on red lead row, she was returned to the fleet on the eve of World War II in 1940 to spend the conflict on patrol in the Carribean and Gulf of Mexico, thoroughly obsolete but good enough for limited service. She was decommissioned 18 May 1945 and sold to the Northern Metals Company of Philadelphia, for junk.
The next youngest of the bunch was Dale, commissioned only six years before this image was taken. She would be decommissioned 1 May 1930, just after her 10th birthday, and sold the following year to a concern that would use her as the banana boat MV Masaya operating for Standard Fruit out of New Orleans. She would go on to be used by the Army in WWII and was sunk off New Guinea in 1943.
As for Wyoming/Cheyenne, the California-built monitor, with her twin 12″/50cal guns and up to 11-inches of armor, had been decommissioned two weeks before the photo was snapped, towed there in January 1926 from Norfolk by the minesweeper USS Owl. She would remain in PNSY until 1937 when she was stricken from the Naval List and sold to the breakers in 1939, her Spanish-American War period steel no doubt being recycled into material to help forge the Arsenal of Democracy.
Here we see what Normandy looked like a week after Overlord in combat artist and Combat Gallery Sunday alum Dwight Shepler‘s 1944 watercolor, “D-Day Plus Seven, Omaha Beach Head, Landing scene with the Landing Ship Tanks on the beach discharging their cargo.”
Official caption by the artist:
On Omaha beachhead the wreckage of assault has been thrust aside and reinforcements pour from LSTs which line up to spew forth their mobile cargo. It was not an uncommon sight to see thirty LSTs “dry out” and discharge their load on one ebb tide, and float away on the flood. The tide was 20 foot. With the sight repeated on Utah beach and the British beaches, the lift carried by various amphibious craft was enormous. The great offensive that broke out at St. Lo, swept through Avranches to ship off Brittany and swing for Paris, was mounted with men and material that came in over the beach.
As a footnote, classicly-trained Shepler learned his trade at Williams College and worked at the Boston Museum School of Fine Art prior to the war, then enlisted as an officer in the Navy Reserve in 1942 at age 37 to lend his brush to Uncle Sam. He took part not only in Normandy but in the landings at Ormoc Bay and Lingayen Gulf and operations at Corregidor and Bataan. In all, he produced more than 300 works for the military before returning to civilian life where he went back into teaching art and producing landscapes, sports scenes, and portraits. He passed in 1974.
His best-known work is perhaps The Battle for Fox Green Beach”, showing Warship Weds alum, Gleaves-class destroyer USS Emmons (DD-457) bombarding in support of the Omaha Beach landings.
Nothing like a floating, boat-hulled helicopter:
A CH-3E Jolly Green Giant [modified Sea King] helicopter from the 1550th Combat Crew Training Wing floats on the surface of Elephant Butte Lake as members of a Navy sea-air-land (SEAL) team approach in an inflatable boat during the joint Air Force/Navy special operations exercise Chili Flag ’90. 3/1/1990
The CH-3 (Sikorsky S-61R), which earned its stripes in Vietnam, could carry 25 combat-equipped troops, 15 litter patients for MedEvac or 5,000 pounds of cargo. They continued to be used by the Air Force and Coast Guard (HH-3F Pelican) well into the mid-1990s, even clocking 251 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm.
Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.
Combat Gallery Sunday: Opening Up the Beach edition
U.S. Army combat artist/infantryman Mitchell Jamieson, who we covered on our 75th Anniversary of D-Day post, spent a week after landing at Normandy on Day 1 with the men of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Beach Battalion, the precursor to today’s Beachmaster Units, as they worked on Omaha.
Writer A.J. Liebling described the 6th as “sailors dressed like soldiers, except that they wore black jerseys under their field jackets; among them were a medical unit and a hydrographic unit. The engineers included an M.P. detachment, a chemical-warfare unit, and some demolition men. A beach battalion is a part of the Navy that goes ashore; amphibious engineers are part of the Army that seldom has its feet dry.”Landing on the Fox Red sector of Omaha Beach, the young men of the unit grew old quick as the tended their task of moving out the wounded and clearing the beach of obstacles so that larger landing craft could move in.
Jamieson chronicled them well.
Placing a Charge on a “Belgian Gate”
“Naval demolition men are preparing a charge that will blow up this “Belgian Gate” type of obstacles, which is a framework of steel mounted on rollers, with the flat side facing seaward, about 10′ high and 8’wide. The explosive charge used for this type of obstacle was very pliable and could be bent around steel or stuffed in crevices. Tetrytol, a stronger charge, but not easily handled was also used.
These demolition units were started as part of the beach battalions and were trained intensively for this type of work. After they cleared channels through the barriers and the beach was secured, their most important job was over, but there still remained plenty of demolition work to do on the beach.”
Naval Demolition Men Blowing Up Obstacles
“Another beach obstacle was the log ramp. This was nine to ten feet high, consisting of two upright logs driven into the sand, one short and one long, with a third log placed on top slanting backward from the sea. This was constructed to catch an incoming landing craft and slide it upward towards the mine placed on the end. Stakes pointing seaward with mines attached were a variation of this, but perhaps the most commonly used obstacle was the hedgehog or tetrahedron or “element C” as it was variously called. This was an ingenious contrivance of three steel rails, riveted together and flattened on their ends to prevent sinking too far into the sand. All these devices were used in combination, usually with “Belgian Gates” and log ramps, forming an outer barrier with hedgehogs and stakes thickly placed inside all along the beach. Some of the beaches were found to be much more formidable in barriers than others.”
Old Campaigners (Cold and Wet)
“These are men of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Beach Battalion in the Omaha sector. The terrible, confusing experience of the landing and the first two days on the beach had by now turned into a routine pattern of hard work, sleeplessness and the kind of living conditions generally described as “rugged.” The men already had the look of old campaigners, each adapting himself in his own way to his surroundings. Beach battalion losses were heavy here. They hit the shore with the first waves, but in this sector where resistance was so fierce, the work of organizing the unloading was virtually impossible until it was secured to some degree. The sign in the background pointed to one of the exits from the beach, which was just to the right of the picture. The men live in foxholes between here and the water’s edge.”
Many of Jameison’s paintings are in museums across the country, to include the Smithsonian.
As The Greatest Generation ages and increasingly drifts from the present and into memory with each passing day, their footprints on those hallowed beaches on Normandy are washed away. With that, I find tributes tying today’s active military units, to their historical forebearers very important, a sign that those heroic deeds will continue forward.
At Pointe Du Hoc, overlooking Omaha Beach, the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion climbed the almost vertical cliff face to take out (what they were told) was a battery of strategically placed 155mm guns which could control the entire beach.
Of the 225 men with the 2nd Rangers at the dawn of D-Day, just 90 were still standing on D+1 when they were relieved.
To salute the Pointe Du Hoc Rangers, active duty Rangers of 2nd Battalion, 75th Rangers, some in period dress, reenacted the climb yesterday.
The 101st Airborne and 1st Infantry, meanwhile, had their own representatives on hand to walk in the footsteps of their predecessors that landed on the Cotentin (Cherbourg) Peninsula and on Omaha Beach.
Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa (CNE-A), dedicated a Lone Sailor statue on the seawall over Utah Beach, in honor of the bluejackets who cleared the beaches.
“The Frogmen swam ashore to the beaches of Normandy to make them safer for the follow-on wave of Allied forces,” said Foggo. “The Lone Sailor statue is a reminder to honor and remember their bravery and to act as a link from the past to the present as we continue to protect the same values they fought to protect.”
“The Lone Sailor statue stands on a plaza at the Utah Beach Museum overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from where the U.S. invasion force appeared on that historic morning. Although people come and go from this statue, the Lone Sailor will continue to serve as a universal sign of respect towards all Sea Service personnel for generations to come.”
At the same time, down the beach, CNE-A Fleet Master Chief Derrick Walters and U.S. Navy SEALS assigned to Special Warfare Unit 2 re-enacted the D-Day mission that Navy Combat Demolition Unit Sailors conducted in the cover of darkness to clear the beaches for the main invading force on Utah Beach, to include blowing up a recreated Czech Hedgehog beach obstacle with a bit of C4, as one does.
Meanwhile, the crew of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CV-69), read Ike’s famous D-Day Message
Make no mistake, a few precious Veterans of that Longest Day were able to be on hand in Normandy this week, such as 97-year-old 101st Airborne trooper Tom Price who came in just how he did back in 1944– jumping from a C-47.
As men like Mr. Price rejoin their units in the halls of Valhalla, memory is everything. It echos through eternity.
D-Day, as seen below in eight, often haunting, paintings from U.S. Army combat artist Mitchell Jamieson, who landed in Normandy on Utah Beach with an M1 Garand and a sketchbook on 6 June before making his way to Omaha, where he remained with Navy Beach Battalions for a week living in a foxhole on the beach before eventually moving inland to continue his war.
Dawn of D-Day Off The Coast of France:
“At this moment, the first assault waves and demolition parties are on their way and these men, who are to go in later can only wonder what awaits them and stare at the distant coastline, barely discernable. The boats suspended on davits above their heads with their dark shapes oddly express the taut, waiting threat of this dawn off the Normandy coast.
The far off rumble of explosions could be heard and mysterious processions of small invasion craft crossed the ship’s bow. Each ship with its barrage balloon, gleaming above it in the faint light, seeming to be symbols designed to ward off evil spirits rather than objects of modern war. Now and then flashes appear fitfully on the horizon and, in the sky above, our fighter planes sweep by to support the invasion.”
Morning of D-Day from LST:
“Coordination is an important part of the invasion. As the LCTs move in formation to execute a turn to head towards the coast with their assault troops, the transports and LSTs are seen in the distance. Overhead a P-38 Lightning used as a fighter and bomber aircraft during the invasion has just been hit, trailing a stream of white smoke and flame with a cruiser and destroyer to right, bombing objectives ashore.”
Burnt Out LCT on American Beach
“This is typical of some of the gutted wrecks along this most tragic of beaches. It had mobile anti-aircraft vehicles aboard and had been so completely ravaged by flame after being hit that its agonies had left it with a look somehow permanent and fixed in rigidity, as though suffering rigor mortis, in a way like a human corpse. A smashed LCIL is in the surf beyond the pontoon barge and an LCVP, or the remains of it, is in left foreground”
[Of note, the Gleaves-class destroyer USS Corry, nine LCILs, 21 LCTs, USS LST-715, and USS PC-1261 along with the Royal Norwegian Navy destroyer Svenner and RN destroyer HMS Wrestler were all lost off Normandy on 6 June 1944.]
The Dragon – Wrecked M4 Tank
“This burnt-out General Sherman tank was evidently hit by a German “88” [a high-velocity 88mm anti-aircraft artillery gun which was also used as an effective anti-tank weapon] and set afire. It was then partly covered with sand, probably by our bulldozers clearing an exit from the beach. A little further back from the water, a tank ditch extended for a considerable length. Part of the tank’s amphibious air-intake duct, which allowed the tank to be driven through shallow water from ship to shore, was broken off. To the right, a group of African-American troops, amphibious “duck” [DUKW – a type of wheeled land and water vehicle] drivers, gathered around a fire.”
The Sea Wall At the Eastern American Beach (Utah Beach)
“This was the scene at the easternmost of the two American beaches (Utah Beach) at about 3 p.m. on D-Day. The fighting had moved inland, but all along the seawall, which extends a considerable length of the beach, men dug themselves in – hospital corpsmen, beach battalion members, Sea Bees, and anyone whose work was on the beach itself. The beach first aid station was a short way down from here, and the wounded and dead are in the sand in front of the sea wall. The tide was out at this time, and the wounded could not be evacuated back to the ships because of the difficulty in getting landing craft in and out. An enemy artillery battery, located some distance inland from the beach but still in range, sent shells steadily over the Americans, impeding work. An ammunition truck was hit and burned at the beach’s far end. A lone LCI unloaded her troops and the men filed across the beach and started inland. In this section, beach obstacles were not as formidable as in other areas, and the demolition parties were able to clear the way for landing craft with few losses.”
First Aid Station on the Beach
“These wounded were awaiting evacuation to the ships, but the difficulty was in getting craft to the landing beaches to take them. It was low tide when many landing craft were stranded in the shallows by the swiftly subsiding water. In the meanwhile, the medics did what they could for the wounded and tried to get them out of the line of fire. A trawler was set afire just behind the sea wall and exploded spasmodically with a shower of steel fragments whining overhead. One man died, and a corpsman covered him with a blanket. Wounded were being brought back from the fighting inland, but at this stage of the invasion the wounded did not receive anything like prompt care and evacuation, although the medics and corpsmen did everything in their power.”
[Note: Of the 156,000 Allied personnel who hit the beaches on 6 June, over 10,000 became casualties, half of those killed in action. One unit, A Company of the 116th Regiment, part of the 29th Infantry Division, lost 96 percent of its 197-strong complement to death or wounds on the morning of D-Day in the surf line at Omaha Beach. “Within 20 minutes if striking the beach, A Company ceased to be an assault company and had become a forlorn little rescue party bent upon survival and the saving of lives,” noted one contemporary Army report. ]
Burial Ground Above the Beach
In the center of Omaha or Western American beach sector, the ground is fairly flat for perhaps two hundred yards, then rises sharply in a series of hills which command both the beach and the valley exits from it. Here the land levels off and fields, bordered with hedgerows, stretch back inland towards the little town of Colleville-sur-Mer and the Cherbourg road. In June 1944, if you followed the slender white tape through the mined areas up one of these hills, it was not long before you found yourself in a different world.
This was because it really belonged to the dead and because the transition from the active clatter and dust of the beach was so abrupt. This field, high over the Western American beach, became the first U.S. national cemetery on French soil of World War II. Up here the beach sounds were faint and the German prisoners digging graves seemed to be unaware of them. Over the field, there was the sound of pick and shovel and the oppressive, sickening stench of corpses, brought in for burial in truckloads, each wrapped in a mattress cover with his I.D. tag and a little bag of personal belongings to be sent to his next of kin. In the center of the field, the diggers worked in a new section while a guard with a Tommy gun looked on with expressionless features. One soldier who spoke German went around with a long stick for measuring the depth of graves and gave instructions with a great concern for details.
The work had a steady, slow and appalling rhythm. At intervals a corpse was borne on a stretcher by four Germans to a freshly dug grave and lowered without ceremony, then the earth was shoveled in again. Some of the prisoners stopped work for a moment and watched as this was going on. Others mechanically went on with digging.
In this picture a truck has come back from the front, the vehicle brutally and grimly called the “meat wagon,” and prisoners take off the corpses, laying them side by side, row on row while darkness set in over the field.
As a footnote, Maryland-born Jamieson studied at the Abbott School of Art and the Corcoran School of Art and in the 1930s was hired by the Treasury Department’s Art Project to paint murals in public buildings across the country. Volunteering for the Army as an infantryman in 1942, the 27-year old artist was soon reassigned as a combat correspondent. After the war, he continued painting and died in 1976. He has a number of works in the Smithsonian as well as in other museums.
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss
Here we see a British Admiralty chart entitled “Iles St Marcouf to Cap Manvieux,” covering a span of the Normandy Coast in France. This chart was used by the venerable New York-class battleship USS Texas (BB-35) during her bombardment operations in support of the Operation Neptune landings, 6 June 1944, the seaside part of Operation Overlord. If you note in the top right-hand quarter of the chart is a set of two parallel lines marked with dan buoys marking a 900-meter-wide channel that was swept of mines immediately prior to and on D-Day.
In short, if it hadn’t had been for those minecraft that cleared the aforementioned path, the whole invasion would have gone a good bit different. With that, today’s Warship Wednesday is on the loss of the Raven-class minesweeper USS Osprey (AM-56), which sunk 75 years ago on 5 June 1944. As noted by military historian and D-Day guru Stephen Ambrose, the six bluejackets killed on Osprey that day were the first Allied casualties of Overlord.
The two ships of the Raven-class were basically all-diesel predecessors of the later Auk-class minesweepers (which had diesel-electric drives) and came in a tad lighter, giving them a draft that was almost two feet shallower.
Built side-by-side in 1939-40 at the Norfolk Navy Yard as AM-55 and AM-56, the much more prolific (95 hull) Auks followed them with hull numbers that started at AM-57.
Named for the large, hawk-like bird with a dark brown back and a white breast, Osprey was the second such warship for the Navy with that moniker, with the first being the Lapwing-class minesweeper AM-29 which was commissioned in 1919 then soon transferred to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as USC&GS Pioneer.
Commissioned 16 December 1940, by mid-1941 Osprey was detailed with coastal patrol duties off the U.S. Eastern seaboard and, once America got more active in the European war after Pearl Harbor, soon found herself in England.
By November 1942, she convoyed with the USS Texas and company and later helped direct and protect the waves of landing craft moving shoreward at Port Lyautey, Morocco for the Allies Torch Landings.
After completing anti-submarine patrols off Casablanca, Osprey returned to Norfolk for a year of coastal escort assignments aimed at helping to curb the German U-boat threat off Hampton Roads. With other minesweepers, she escorted convoys from Norfolk and New York to ports in the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast.
By April 1944, Osprey was back across the pond and assigned to the growing invasion flotilla heading for Normandy. Rommel, who had wanted to sow millions of landmines in France to seal off the beaches from invasion, was also a fan of their seagoing variants.
“The Generalfeldmarschall himself had quickly grasped the value of naval mines in his system of defense. He continually requested an increased use of this weapon,” notes a U.S. Navy history.
The German naval minefield facing the Overlord invasion stretched 120 km across the Bay of Normandy and was 16 km deep.
The Allied plan was to use 255 vessels to clear 10 channels through the mine barrage– two channels per beach– in the immediate predawn hours of D-Day, with each sweeper ship, such as Osprey, clearing paths by cutting the moored contact mines. Specially equipped trawlers would follow on the search for magnetic mines while dan-laying launches would mark the swept zone. The channels were to be from 400 to 1,200 yards in width depending on their route.
The danger of mines in inshore waters was to be disregarded during the assault, but the areas were to be searched as soon as sweepers were available.
British Admiral Bertram Ramsay noted that “There is no doubt that the mine is our greatest obstacle to success,” when discussing the Cross-Channel attack. “And if we manage to reach the enemy coast without being disorganized and suffering serious losses, we should be fortunate.”
After months of intensive practice in combined sweeping operations with MinRon 7 off Torbay, England, en route to the Normandy invasion beaches on 5 June, Osprey soon struck an enemy mine. The crew put out the resultant fires but could not save their vessel. She sank that evening.
Early on the 6th, the mine division started sweeping the coast of France in assault and check sweeps to assure safe passage channels for the landing craft and the primary naval gunfire support for the beaches.
The only loss to mines on 5 June, Osprey was soon joined by numerous other craft who could not stay in the same cleared channel as the battleships or were hit by floating contact mines, cut free in the initial sweeping. This was later compounded by the Germans air-dropping mines and sowing them at night from E-boats and coasters.
On 6 June, the landing craft USS LCI(L)-85, LCI(L)-91, LCI(L)-497, LCT-197, LCT-294, LCT-305, LCT-332, LCT-364, LCT-397, LCT-555, LCT-703 and destroyer HMS Wrestler all struck mines just off the beachhead and were lost.
The next day saw the loss of the Army transport ship USAT Francis C. Harrington, Navy transport USS Susan B. Anthony, landing craft LCI(L)-416, LCI(L)-436, LCI(L)-458, LCI(L)-489, LCI(L)-586, and the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125), all to the infernal devices. Meanwhile, the Allen Sumner-class destroyer USS Meredith (DD-726) was damaged by a mine and sunk the next day by a Luftwaffe bombing which split her in two.
On 8 June, the net layer HMS Minster was sunk by a mine off Utah Beach while the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) struck two mines and sank in the English Channel off Normandy.
Through the end of the month, mines off Normandy would continue to claim another dozen landing craft and steamers, as well as the British RN destroyers HMS Fury and HMS Swift along with the Dido-class cruiser HMS Scylla, proving just how hazardous the belt laid by the Germans, had been. It is easy to forget, with the scale of Overlord, but mines caused one hell of a butcher’s bill in June 1944 off the French coast.
As for Osprey‘s sister ship, Raven would sweep at least 21 German and Italian naval mines on D-Day alone. She would survive the war and pass into mothballs with three battle stars to her credit.
Struck in 1967, she was sunk as a target in deep water off the coast of southern California.
As noted by DANFS, the name Osprey was assigned to AM-406 on 17 May 1945, but the construction of that ship was canceled just three months later with the end of the war.
Osprey would go on to grace the hulls of two later U.S. Navy minecraft: AMS-28, a small YMS-1-class minesweeper which served in Korea where she prepared a firing base anchorage for the big guns of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) at the Inchon landings– a true namesake to her predecessor– and MHC-51, the lead ship of late Cold War Osprey-class coastal mine hunters.
As for our D-Day Osprey, her bell surfaced some time ago, but I believe is in private hands in the UK.
Still, if it had not been for Osprey and those like her, the Longest Day could have proved even longer.
Displacement: 810 tons, 1040 tons full load
Length: 220 ft 6 in overall, 215 w.l.
Beam: 32 ft 2 in
Draft: 9 ft 4 in mean
Machinery: Diesel, 2 shafts, 1,800 BHP
Speed: 18 knots
Complement:105 officers and men
2 × 3″/50 caliber guns
2 × 40 mm AA guns
8 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons (added 1942)
2 × depth charge tracks (added 1941)
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