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Warship Wednesday Jan 15, 2020: TF38 Running Amok in the South China Sea

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, Jan 15, 2020: TF38 Running Amok in the South China Sea

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 89378

Here we see, 75 years ago today, the last seconds of the No.1-class landing ship T-14 of the Imperial Japanese Navy after it was sunk by U.S. Navy carrier strike planes in Takao Harbor, Formosa. Note the dramatic concussion ring on the water around the ship.

Under the command of VADM John S. “Slew” McCain Sr, Task Force 38 was organized into four fast carrier task groups (one of those specializing in night fighting). All in all, the force consisted of a whopping 14 fleet and light carriers, embarking around 900 aircraft, and were supported by 8 battleships, 16 cruisers of all sorts, and 68 destroyers. It rightfully could have taken on any circa-1939 navy in the world and won.

And for just under two weeks in January 1945, it absolutely owned the South China Sea in what was termed Operation Gratitude.

Sailing from Ulithi, they plastered Formosa, carried the war to Japanese-occupied French Indochina, raided occupied Hong Kong and Southern China, then departed towards the Philipines.

On 15 January alone, in addition to T-14 above, aircraft from TF 38 sent the tanker Harima Maru, the Kamikaze-class destroyer Hatakaze, the cargo ship Horei Maru, the armed fleet tanker Mirii Maru, and the Momi-class destroyer Tsuga to the bottom. Not bad for a day’s work– and it was a busy week!

A large Japanese cargo ship settles by the bow after she was torpedoed by U.S. Navy carrier planes off Cape St. Jacques, French Indo-China, 12 January 1945. Waves from a torpedo hit in her port bow have not yet subsided. Taken from a USS ESSEX plane. NH 95787

Dockyard hit bombs are shown hitting Taikoo Dock Yard, Hong Kong, China. 16 January 1945. They are from planes of Vice Admiral John S. McCain’s Fast Carrier Task Force. Note the fires in the foreground. Stiff Anti-Aircraft fire was encountered. NH 121586

This photo shows Hong Kong harbor, Hong Kong, China under attack by planes from an Essex Class Carrier of Vice Admiral John S. McCain’s Fast Carrier Task Force. Bombs can be seen hitting ships on the left of the photo. Smoke pours up from several places along the waterfront. The Dock Yard was one of the targets for that day. 16 January 1945 NH 121588

Saigon River Front, French Indochina, Caption: Ships and installations afire after aerial attack by carrier-based planes of US Pacific fleet, 12 January 1945. Taken by plane from USS TICONDEROGA (CV-14) #: 80-G-301944

Saigon River Front, French Indochina, Caption: Ships and installations afire after aerial attack by carrier-based planes of US Pacific fleet, 12 January 1945. Taken by plane from USS TICONDEROGA (CV-14) #: 80-G-301944

In all, TF38 sank no less than 49 enemy ships between 9 January and 16 January. This works out to something on the order of 300,000 tons of Japanese shipping, including the core of the Empire’s remaining tankers– ships vital to carry on the war– and shot down some 600 land-based aircraft that rose to meet them.

The most curious of the Japanese warships sunk was IJN No. 101 the former RN minesweeper HMS Taitam (J210) which had been captured in Hong Kong in 1941 while still under construction.

In return, TF 38 lost 200 carrier aircraft, half of those to accidents flying in horrible conditions, but suffered no vessels sunk.

And yet, the question of Japanese surrender would linger unanswered for another seven months.

If you like this post and other Warship Wednesdays, please check out the INRO.

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

So long, Sea Ranger

For decades, anyone who ever looked up to the whop-whop of a low-flying helicopter over the skies of West Florida or along Mobile Bay or the Mississippi Gulf Coast has often spied the distinctive TH-57 Sea Ranger as it put-putted along.

These:

MILTON, Fla. (June 5, 2019) TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopters from Training Air Wing (TW) 5 sit on the flight line at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Michelle Tucker/Released) 190604-N-OU681-1003

A derivative of the commercial Bell Jet Ranger 206, NAVAIR first acquired the TH-57 in 1968 and has been using them, typically out of Whiting Field, to train budding sea service and allied chopper pilots.

As noted by the National Naval Aviation Museum, “Prospective Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard helicopter pilots spend approximately 106 hours flying the Sea Ranger at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting Field, Florida, before receiving their wings. Over the course of this period, they learn aerodynamic and engineering qualities of rotary-wing aircraft and in particular, how to hover. They also learn basic instrument techniques, radio navigation, rough terrain landing, night and formation flying, emergency procedures like auto-rotation, shipboard operations, and helicopter tactics.”

Now, after a 52-year run that was stayed by updated airframes in 1981 and 1989, the days of the Sea Ranger are coming to an end.

From DOD:

AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corp., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is awarded a $176,472,608 firm-fixed-price contract for the production and delivery of 32 TH-73A aircraft, initial spares, peculiar support equipment, flyaway kits, hoists, sling loads, data in excess of commercial form fit function/operations maintenance instructional training data as well as ancillary instructor pilot and maintenance personnel training. Work will be performed at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (87%); Mineral Wells, Texas (5%); and various locations outside the continental U.S. (8%), and is expected to be completed in October 2021. Fiscal 2020 aircraft procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $176,472,608 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via an electronic request for proposal; five offers were received. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity (N61340-20-C-0007).

The TH-73A is a variant of Leonardo’s AW119, which had been marketed as the TH-119.

This:

“Today marks a great team effort to procure and deliver a helicopter trainer for the next generation of helicopter and tilt-rotor pilots for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” said James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition. “I’m proud of the aggressive work the team did to leverage the commercial industrial base to get this capability to the warfighters, and our nation, at the best value to the taxpayer. This effort is key to ensure the readiness of our Naval Aviators for decades to come.”

Bluebird in Brazil, 98 years ago

A rickety canvas and wood Vought flying machine takes gingerly to the air from a catapult, allowing its 180-horse Wright-Hispano E-3 to claw at the sky. Below is the green-blue water of Rio De Janerio. The date is 11 January 1922.

80-G-410390 VE-9 Vought aircraft, (BuNo# A6463) leaving the catapult of USS Nevada (BB 36) 1922

NARA 80-G-410390

The floatplane, a VE-9H Bluebird (BuNo# A6463), is shown leaving the stern cat of the battleship USS Nevada (BB 36) during the Brazilian Centennial Exposition.

When armed with a single .30-06 machine gun firing through the prop, the two-man VE-7/9 series had a maximum speed of just over 100 mph and was considered to be a fighter at the time.

Only 120 or so were made, split between the Army Air Corps and the Navy. Notably in USN service, the type equipped the Navy’s first two fighter squadrons– VF-1 and VF-2 —, making history in October– ten months after the above photo was taken, when a Bluebird piloted by Lt. Virgil C. Griffin alighted from the deck of the newly commissioned carrier Langley, the Navy’s first carrier takeoff.

Warship Wednesday Jan 8, 2020: Maru Floatplane Carriers

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, Jan 8, 2020: Maru Floatplane Carriers

Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Here we see the Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship, Kimikawa Maru, converted to a Tokusetsu Suijokibokan (special seaplane carrier) of the Imperial Japanese Navy, at Oominato in northern Honshu, in late 1942. As you can tell, this interesting ship and her sisters could carry a serious load of armed, and often very effective, floatplanes.

Constructed in the late 1930s through a joint endeavor of the Japanese shipping firm Ōsaka Mercantile and Kawasaki Kisen in the latter’s Kobe-based shipyard, the five 6,800-ton ships of the class were intended for the Japan-New York route, a trip of some 15,000 nautical miles. This was no sweat as, using a single efficient MAN-designed Kawasaki-made diesel, they had an incredible 35,000nm range at 17 knots.

However, these ships were also ready to chip in should the Empire require it.

As noted in ONI 208-J, the U.S. Navy’s 400+ page WWII intelligence book on the 1,300 assorted Japanese merchant ships over 1,000-tons:

Modern Japanese merchant ship design provides for deck-gun positions up to 5-inch or 6-inch caliber, the largest pieces being hand-loaded under service conditions. Heavier framing and plating and large diameter stanchions (extending down through two decks) are built in integral parts of the hull to support these positions. Ventilator trunks are conveniently arraigned close by for rapid conversion to ammunition hoists. These trunks always lead to specially prepared watertight compartments suitable for use as magazines. Dual-purpose 3-inch guns and anti-aircraft machine guns are often mounted in rows on lateral platforms.

As such, the U.S. Navy was very interested in these ships on the lead-up to the war, with several high-res images of these vessels taken in the 1930s as they transited the Panama Canal, still located in the ONI’s files.

KAMIKAWA MARU Japanese Merchant Ship Port bow view taken off Panama on 23 July 1937 NH 45577

KAMIKAWA MARU Japanese Merchant Ship overhead taken off Panama on 23 July 1937 NH 45576

KUNIKAWA MARU in Gatun Lake, Panama Canal. Altitude 1000 feet, Lens 10 inches. December 22, 1937, NH 111574

Japanese Ship KUNIKAWA MARU. Panama Canal. Altitude 1000 feet, Lens 10 inches. March 11, 1938. NH 111576

Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship as AP AV, via ONI 208-J 1942

Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship, via ONI 208-J 1942

With Japan increasingly embroiled in the conflict in China, the Kimikawa Maru-class vessels were soon called up for service, many years before Pearl Harbor.

Notably, four out of the five– Kamikawa Maru, Kiyokawa Maru, Kimikawa Maru, and Kunikawa Maru (nothing confusing about that) were converted to armed seaplane carriers, capable of carrying more than a dozen such single-engine floatplanes aft, for which they had two catapults installed to launch them and large boom cranes for recovery. They would also be equipped with as many as six 4.7- or 5.9-inch guns as well as several smaller AAA mounts and machine guns.

Kawanishi E17K “Alf ” (Japanese floatplane) Being hoisted aboard a Japanese seaplane tender, circa 1939. Note details of the aircraft handling crane NH 82463

Alternatively, twice that many aircraft could be carried stowed below, to be assembled and deployed at some far-off port or atoll if need be. Four similar Mitsubishi-built freighters– Noshiro Maru, Sagara Maru, Sanuki Maru, and Sanyo Maru— were also converted but could only carry about eight seaplanes each. Subsequently, these less successful vessels would be re-rated to transports by 1942.

Notably, many of the IJN’s carrier commanders and admirals learned their trade on these special seaplane carriers to include RADMs Ando Shigeaki, Hattori Katsugi, Shinoda Tarohachi, Matsuda Takatomo, Hara Seitaro, and Yokokawa Ichihei; VADMs Arima Masafumi, Yamada Michiyuki, and Omori Sentaro.

In the late 1930s, their airwing would include Kawanishi E17K (Alf) and Nakajima E8N Type 95 (Dave) scout aircraft, primitive single-float biplanes that couldn’t break 175 knots and carried just a few small bombs and a couple machine guns for self-defense. These would later be augmented by planes like the Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete.

KAMIKAWA MARU (Japanese seaplane tender, 1936) Anchored off Amoy, China, 16 July 1939, with a deck load of KAWANISHI E17K-2 and NAKAJIMA E8N floatplanes both forward and aft. I can count at least 14 aircraft. This vessel, the first of the class converted to a seaplane carrier, saw extensive service in Chinese waters in 1938 to 1940, with her planes often bombing and strafing key Chinese positions. NH 82154

F1M Japanese Pete Kamikawa Maru’s ZII tail code 1940-41

Another view of the same

By 1942, this airwing would grow to as many as 14 much more capable Aichi E13A Type Zero (Jake) armed reconnaissance planes and four Daves– the airwing Kamikawa Maru took to Alaska during the Midway operation. Later types like the Nakajima A6M2-N (Rufe) Type 2 Sui-Sen (‘Rufe’) floatplane version of the Zero fighter soon joined them.

At least four Japanese navy pilots chalked up at least three kills while at the controls of floatplanes, most in the A6M-2N: CPO Shigeji Kawai, WO Kiyomi Katsuki, CPO Keizo Yamaza, and CPO Maruyama, although it should be noted that Katuski downed his first aircraft, a Dutch KNIL PBY, while flying an F1M2 Pete. Katsuki, who had 16 kills, spent at least some of his time flying from Kamikawa Maru.

IJN Seaplane Tender Kamikawa Maru in 1942, likely taken from Kimikawa Maru as her X tail code is on the Jake

E13A-34 Aichi with Kimikawa Maru’s X tail code

Their tail codes:

  • Kamikawa Maru– ZII (15 November 1940) ZI (September 1941) Z (May 1942) YI (14 July 1942)
    L-1 (1943)
  • Kunikawa Maru– YII tail code (November 1942) L-2 (January 1943)
  • Kiyokawa Maru– R (1941) RI (14 July 1942–November 1942)
  • Kimikawa Maru– X (December 1941) C21 (1943)

Once the big balloon went up in December 1941, these four freighters-turned-carriers were used extensively across the Pacific.

Kamikawa Maru would participate in the Malaya campaign and the Battle of the Coral Sea then sail with the fleet for Midway, going on to play a big part in the Aleutians campaign. She would then switch to the Guadalcanal Campaign, and be sent to the bottom by torpedoes from USS Scamp (SS-277) northwest of Kavieng, New Ireland in May 1943.

Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete reconnaissance floatplane on the catapult of the seaplane carrier Kamikawa Maru, 1942

A6M2-N Type 2 floatplane fighter, Sep-Oct 1942, on seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru

Japanese Navy Aichi E13A seaplane, most likely from the seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru. The location of the photo is unknown but may be at Deboyne Islands in May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Kamikawa Maru, with a deck chock full of planes

A6M2-N ‘Rufe’ seaplane pilots deployed from the Kamikawa Maru under the command of ace Kiyomi Katsuki, in middle, digging a trench in the Aleutians, 1943.

Kiyokawa Maru helped capture Guam and Wake Island in December 1941, then was later rerated as a transport. She was ultimately sunk in an air raid at Kaminoseki in 1945 but was later raised and returned to a brief merchant career.

A6M2 Rufe hydro fighters with the R tail code of Kiyokawa Maru

Lae-Salamaua Strike, 10 March 1942 Enlargement of the picture of KIYOKAWA MARU (Japanese seaplane tender, 1937-1945), showing what appears to be a bomb hole aft. Note planes on deck-three Mitsubishi F1M2 (“Pete”) and one E8N2 (“Dave”). Taken by a VT-5 TBD-1, from the USS YORKTOWN (CV-5) air group. NH 95446

Kimikawa Maru, like her sister Kamikawa Maru, would take part in the Midway and Aleutian campaign in 1942-43. A line would be drawn through her name on Poseidon’s ledger in October 1944 after an encounter with the submarine USS Sawfish (SS-276) off Luzon’s Cape Bojeador.

KIMIKAWA MARU (Japanese Seaplane Tender) Photographed in April 1943, at Ominato Bay, Japan, with a load of “PETE” seaplanes aft. NH 73056

Kunikawa Maru would go on to live through a myriad of actions in the Solomons, including the Battle of Santa Cruz Island, and assorted convoy duties until she hit a mine off Balikpapan in March 1944 and was never the same again. She would be finished for good by an airstrike in May 1945 in that Borneo port.

Petes & Rufes on the beach somewhere in the South Pacific, possibly Tulagi Harbor in the Solomons, although I have seen this captioned elsewhere as being in the Marshall Islands. The foreground F1M2 has tail code “L2” of Kunikawa Maru

Another view of the same

By the end of the war, all of the K-Marus had been sunk and their planes either shot down, abandoned or otherwise captured.

Japanese Navy Type 0 Reconnaissance E13A ‘Jake’ at Imajuku, Kyushu Island 1945 

In all, the K-Maru carriers were an interesting concept, a quick and easy way to send a small expeditionary airwing to sea short of converting the ships to more proper escort carriers such as done by the Allies.

A very interesting postwar interrogation of CDR Kintaro Miura, Kamikawa Maru‘s senior air officer from the outbreak of war until December 1942, is in the NHHC archives.

Several scale models of these vessels and their aircraft are in circulation, as is their accompanying artwork, and they have sparked the imagination of warship fans the world over.

Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete floatplane by Robert Taylor. L2 Tail code indicates the plane belongs to the Kunikawa Maru a cargo ship converted to a seaplane tender

Specs:


Displacement: 6,863 tons standard
Length: 479 feet
Beam: 62 feet
Draft: 30 feet
Installed power: 7,600 shp
Propulsion: 1 Kawasaki-M. A. N. diesel, 1 shaft
Speed: 19.5 knots, 17 in military service
Armament: 2 x 5.9-inch, 2 x Type 96 25 mm (0.98 in) AA, 2 x 13.2 mm (0.52 in) MG
Aircraft carried: 12-18 seaplanes (24 stored)
Aviation facilities: Two catapults, cranes

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Ersatz Submarine Tending, Coming to an Atoll Near You

With thousands of uninhabited and sparsely inhabited islands, atolls, shoals, and reefs scattered across the Western Pacific, the U.S. Navy is testing out ways to forward supply submarines in what could be termed “an expeditionary setting.” As SSNs, SSGNs and even SSBNs for that matter are largely only limited in their endurance by consumables like food and morale items (other than torpedos and Tomahawks), the idea is to allow ships other than large and usually immobile submarine tenders to resupply them if the pressure is on.

Earlier this month the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Key West (SSN 722) conducted such a “mobile logistics demonstration” with the MSC-manned Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4) in Apra Harbor, Guam.

USS Key West (SSN 722) sits moored alongside USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE ), Dec. 10. (U.S. Navy/MC2 Kelsey J. Hockenberger)

As noted by CPF: 

The demonstration, which involved Key West mooring alongside Byrd, was the first overnight mooring between a U.S. submarine and a dry cargo class ship. Dry cargo class ships are responsible for providing logistic lifts to deliver cargo (ammunition, food, limited quantities of fuel, repair parts and ship store items) to U.S. and allied ships at sea.

“This demonstration confirms the capability of a T-AKE to receive a forward-deployed submarine independent of external entities,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Jack, the operations officer on the staff of Commander, Submarine Squadron (CSS) 15. “This ultimately increases the submarine force’s sustained lethality in the Indo-PACOM area.”

In addition to being the first overnight mooring, the demonstration showcased the first time water facilities were moved from a submarine to a T-AKE.

Exorcising the Ghosts of Pearl Harbor (while setting up the next one)

USS OKLAHOMA (BB-37) and USS ARIZONA (BB-39) in better times, side by side in the Pedro Miguel locks of the Panama Canal in January 1921. Ship in distance is USS NEVADA (BB-36). C.F. Rottmann, photographer. Courtesy of the USS OKLAHOMA Association, collection of Elmer S. Sykora, 1979 NH 89443

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly proclaimed his decision to name the next two Virginia-class submarines on Dec. 23, as USS Oklahoma (SSN-802) and the USS Arizona (SSN-803).

This would be the first time the names, formerly used by the Pearl Harbor battleship losses USS Oklahoma (BB-37) and USS Arizona (BB-39), have been on the Navy List in more than 75 years.

191223-N-DM308-002 WASHINGTON (Dec. 23, 2016) A photo illustration of the future Virginia-class attack submarine USS Oklahoma (SSN-802). (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Paul L. Archer/Released)

191223-N-DM308-001 WASHINGTON (Dec. 23, 2016) A photo illustration of the future Virginia-class attack submarine USS Arizona (SSN 803). (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Paul L. Archer/Released)

Is it time?

Well, in Modly’s defense, the Navy has often quickly recycled the names of lost warships as an inspiration to crews of new ones– and to show enemies how fast the “Arsenal of Democracy” could renew itself.

For example, during the dark days of 1942 in the Pacific the carriers Lexington, Hornet, Wasp, and Yorktown were all lost in action, along with the cruisers Astoria, Houston (with almost her entire 1,100-man crew either lost or captured), Northampton, Quincy, Vincennes, Atlanta, and Juneau. By 1944 all those names had been issued to new construction of the same type– many of which would continue to serve well into the Cold War. Indeed, the Navy even enlisted 1,000 brand new bluejackets in 1943 under the banner of “Houston Volunteers” to replace those lost in the Sunda Strait.

Going back even further, Battleship No. 10 was christened as USS Maine in 1901 just three years after the first Maine blew up in Havanna harbor, sparking the Spanish-American War. John Paul Jones’s Bonhomme Richard was sunk by HMS Serapis in 1779 and three different warships have gone on to carry the same name. The tragic loss of the USS Indianapolis in 1945 was followed up 35 years later by the name being bestowed to a Los Angeles-class attack submarine.

IMHO, in the case of Oklahoma, which lost over 400 of her 1,400 man crew on December 7, 1941, and whose hull was later raised and sold to the breakers for $40,000, perhaps the time is right to reboot her name.

However, as for Arizona, which lost 1,177 of her crew and whose hull still bleeds heavy fuel oil along Battleship Row today, perhaps her name should be retired or the vessel given a special status such as the one carried by the captured spy ship USS Pueblo or the frigate USS Constitution.

But that is just me.

ASECNAV Modly is a bright guy and I am sure he has his reasons. An Annapolis grad and former Naval Aviator, he went on to pull down a sheepskin from Harvard Business School and an MA from Georgetown before serving as Under Secretary of the Navy for the past two years.

Besides, the states of Arizona and Oklahoma both have powerful Congressional delegations, many of which have already voiced approval of the move– which could be key at budget time. Remember Hyman Rickover’s old adage of changing submarine naming conventions from marine creatures to states and cities explained as, “fish don’t vote.”

On the bright side, the new Arizona and Oklahoma will be the first Block V Virginias, arguably the most capable attack subs in the world.

If other plans afoot in Washington go through, they may be sorely needed to prove that capability.

Cuts, Cuts, and More Cuts

A memo circulating from the White House, apparently with the Navy’s blessing, has the fleet cutting the first four LCS variants (Freedom, Independence, Fort Worth and Coronado) although they are still relatively brand new (although cranky “Mod 0” type ships). Along with them could be a cap on further LCS production at 35 hulls, laying up three LSDs (Whidbey Island, Germantown and Gunston Hall) which still have a decade or more life left on their machinery/hulls, and accelerating the retirement of four the oldest remaining Tico-class cruisers (Bunker Hill, Mobile Bay, Antietam, and Leyte Gulf).

Further, new construction would get the ax as well (!) with five of the 12 pending late-flight Burke-class destroyers canceled– one of the few really successful Navy shipbuilding programs.

Instead of the 355-ship Navy promised in 2018, we are looking more at a 287-ship fleet, which would include 31 remaining underarmed LCS hulls, 3 virtually worthless Zumwalt-class pink elephants, and the Fords, which are slipping further and further down the calendar of being deployable.

Sure, Congress could pour on the pork and get more DDGs added, cruisers saved and Gators retained, which is probably what the Navy hopes for. The end result next year will probably be a compromise that no one but the admirals of the PLAN like.

Pass me my scotch, please, and say a prayer for the next generation of U.S. Naval officers and enlisted.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019: A Tough Christmas in the Lingayen Gulf

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, Dec. 25, 2019: A Tough Christmas in the Lingayen Gulf

Courtesy of the Submarine Force Library and Museum, Groton, Connecticut, 1972. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 78922

Here we see a prewar photograph showing the S-class diesel submarine USS S-38 (SS-143) underway, sometime in the 1930s.

The S-class, or “Sugar” boats, were actually three different variants designed by Simon Lake Co, Electric Boat, and the Bureau of Construction and Repair (BuC&R) in the last days of the Great War in which U.S.-made submarines had a poor record. Looking for a better showing in these new boats, of which 65 were planned, and 51 completed in several subgroups, these small 1,000~ ton diesel-electric “pig boats” took to the sea in the 1920s and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online.

The hero of our tale, USS S-38, was a first flight EB/Holland design that ran some 219-feet oal, could dive to 200 feet and travel at a blistering 14.5-knots on the surface on her two 600hp NELSECO diesel engines and two GE electric motors for 11-knots submerged. Armament was a quartet of 21-inch bow tubes with a dozen deep-running but reliable Mark 10 torpedos (which carried a then-huge 500-pound warhead) and a 4″/50 cal popgun on deck for those special moments. Crew? Just 38 officers and men.

Laid down 15 January 1919 Bethlehem Steel Company’s Union Plant, Potrero Works, San Francisco, she commissioned 11 May 1923.

Fitting out at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, San Francisco, California, 29 March 1923. NH 97960

Fitted out at Mare Island, S-38 joined Submarine Division 17 (SubDiv 17) at San Pedro on 24 May and immediately began preparations for a cruise to the Aleutians, a deployment that would validate the class working out of Dutch Harbor– which many would see during the coming conflict with Japan.

By August 1924, S-38 was detailed to join many of her sisters in the Asiatic Fleet, which she would call home for the next two decades.

On regular operations there, she cruised off the Philippines, along the Indo-China coast, and into the Dutch East Indies. In the 1930s, except for trading in their Great War-era torpedos for the new-fangled Mark 14, the boats were otherwise unmodified from their original 1918 design.

Description: Crewmen posing with a 4″/50cal deck gun onboard an S-Type submarine, March 1929, with another 4″/50cal in the foreground. Photographed from USS Beaver (AS-5). In the background is USS Pittsburgh (ACR/CA-4), in the Dewey drydock. Catalog #: NH 51830

USS S-38 (SS-143) nested between sister submarines S-40 (SS-145), at left, and S-41 (SS-146), at right, alongside USS Canopus (AS-9) off Tsingtao, China, in 1930. Note these submarines’ 4/50 deck guns. NH 51833

On 8 December 1941 (7 December east of the International Date Line), the U.S. was hauled in from the sidelines of WWII and “the indomitable old” S-38 departed Manila Bay on her first war patrol on the first day of the U.S. involvement in the war.

Poking around the PI archipelago, S-38, under command of Lt. Wreford G. ″Moon″ Chapple, the aging sub fired a torpedo on an enemy vessel off the coast of Mindoro on 9 December without a hit. Looking for better hunting, she headed into the Lingayen Gulf in the predawn hours of 22 December and promptly saw an enemy convoy at first light. Firing a spread of four unreliable Mark 14s, she garnered nothing but a counter-attack from Japanese destroyers.

Two hours later, she fired two more fish at an anchored cargo ship, Hayo Maru (5446 GRT) which blew up less than a minute later. It was only the *second Japanese vessel sunk in the war by a U.S. submarine up to that point.

*[ The first Japanese vessel claimed by an Allied submarine was the troopship Awajisan Maru which had been bombed by RAAF Hudsons and set on fire, then sank by a torpedo from the Dutch submarine HNLMS K XII on 12 December. The same day, HNLMS K XII also sank the tanker Toro Maru. On 13 December, the Dutch sub O 16 splashed the transports Asosan Maru and Kinka Maru in the Gulf of Siam while K XII increased her own tally with the tanker Taizan Maru off Indochina the same day. Meanwhile, the first U.S. submarine to get on the board was USS Swordfish (SS-193) with the freighter Atsutasan Maru sent to the bottom in the East China Sea on 16 December. ]

However, the next three days– across both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day– was an epic fight for survival.

According to DANFS:

The enemy destroyers again closed the submarine. Depth charges went off close aboard. From 0804 to 0930, the S-boat ran silent, using evasive tactics. At 0930, she grounded at 80 feet; then coasted up the bank to 57 feet. The destroyers, joined by small boats, continued the search through the day. At 2130, the hunted submarine began efforts to clear by backing. During the maneuvering, her port propeller was damaged; but, by 2201, she was free and underway for the Hundred Islands area on the western side of the gulf.

S-38 remained there through the 23d and, on the 24th, moved to the southern section of the gulf where she closed a formation of six large auxiliaries just prior to 1130. Her presence, however, was discovered. At 1152, a depth charge exploded on her port side. She went deeper. Between 1206 and 1208, eight more exploded around her. At 1209, she stopped all motors and sank to the bottom in 180 feet of water. The depth charging continued, but the explosions were more distant. At 1230, the submarine began to move again. At 1245, the enemy hunters again located her and resumed depth charging. S-38 again settled to the bottom. The depth charging continued until after 1300. The search continued until after 1800.

At 1842, the submarine got underway, heading back to the Hundred Islands area. At 2235, she surfaced to recharge her batteries. Five minutes later, her after battery exploded. At 2304, she went ahead on her starboard engine, making her way out of Lingayen Gulf.

Soon after 0200 on the 25th, she sighted two enemy destroyers, but remained undetected. At 0346, however, she sighted a third, which sighted her. S-38 submerged. The destroyer closed the submarine’s last surface position and, at 0350, commenced depth charging. From then until after 0900, the submarine evaded the destroyer, using her one quiet propeller. She then grounded on a steep bank at 85 feet. For the next two hours, the destroyer circled. S-38 slid down to 200 feet, used her motor to bring herself up; then repeated the maneuver. The destroyer moved off; and, at 1235, the S-boat got underway for Manila. An hour later, she grounded, but only briefly; and, at 2145 on the 26th, she entered the outer minefield at the entrance to Manila Bay.

Ordered to Soerabaja in the Dutch East Indies, S-38 arrived there on 14 January and spent her 2nd War Patrol in the Makassar Strait off Balikpapan. Moon Chapple left the boat then, headed to the larger and newer USS Permit (SS- 178) and later the USS Bream (SS-243). S-38 would continue on her 3rd Patrol under the command of Lt. Henry Glass Munson.

The old boat’s 3rd Patrol was unproductive but on her 4th Patrol Munson would surface and shell the Japanese facilities at Sangkapura on 26 February and two days later go on to rescue 54 haunted survivors of the heroic British E-class destroyer HMS Electra (H27) which had been pummeled by the Japanese at the Battle of the Java Sea.

On 2 March, S-38 spotted the Japanese Nagara-class light cruiser Kinu and a destroyer off Cape Awarawar and, although she fired six torpedoes, did not achieve a hit, and was in turn depth charged for 24-hours straight for her effort. Kinu would later be sunk in the Philipines in October 1944 by carrier aircraft.

Transferred to Brisbane in Australia to join the other Sugar boats of SubRon5, S-38 completed a 4th, 5th, and 6th Patrol without much to show for it.

On her 7th Patrol splashed the Japanese freighter Meiyo Maru (5628 GRT) in the St. George Channel on 8 August 1942.

A Chief Torpedoman paints another hashmark on the Torpedo Shop scoreboard of Japanese ships claimed sunk by SubRon 5’s S-Boats, operating out of Brisbane, Australia, during April-November 1942. Photographed on board USS Griffin (AS-13), tender to the squadron. Submarines listed on the scoreboard include S-37 (SS-142), S-38 (SS-143), S-39 (SS-144), S-40 (SS-145), S-41 (SS-146), S-42 (SS-153), S-43 (SS-154), S-44 (SS-155), S-45 (SS-156), S-46 (SS-157), and S-47 (SS-158). NARA 80-G-77065

At the end of her 8th Patrol, S-38 headed to California for a much-needed overhaul– attempting to sink a fat Japanese tanker off Tarawa on the way without success– then completed one final patrol, from Pearl Harbor, on 27 July 1943.

USS Harris (APA-2) moored in the background of this photo of USS S-38 (SS-143) following overhaul at San Diego, April 1943. US Navy photo # 1198-43 from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard collection now held at Seattle NARA

From there, S-38 spent a year in ASW training duties in the relatively safe New Hebrides, an OPFOR for air and surface units passing to the real war in the West.

Ordered to San Diego, she was decommissioned on 14 December 1944, struck from the Navy list a month later, and sunk as a target by aerial bombing on 20 February 1945, her last full measure.

In all, S-38 earned three battle stars during the war.

Following the conflict, the tale of her harrowed Christmastime raid in the Lingayen Gulf during the darkest days of the war was retold in the first season of The Silent Service in 1957. A guest on the show was Moon Chapple, who at the time was a double Navy Cross recipient and a full Captain. After he left S-38 in 1942 he would go on to bag another half-dozen Marus and heavily damage two Japanese cruisers before going on to skipper the reactivated heavy cruiser USS Pittsburgh (CA-72) in the Korean War

When asked if anything else could have happened to one submarine on one patrol, Moon answered, “I don’t see how. By the time you’ve been through depth charge attacks, groundings, broken instruments, mechanical damage and a battery explosion you sorta run out of ideas of how to get into trouble.”

Moon would go on to retire as a rear admiral in 1959. He died in 1991, aged 83.

As for S-38’s sisters, though obsolete, several S-boats remained on the Navy List and served the Navy well in both the Atlantic and Pacific (including several lost to accidents) during WWII. A half-dozen were even transferred to the Royal Navy as Lend-Lease including class leader and the former submersible aircraft carrier, USS S-1.

None of these hardy, if somewhat unlucky, craft endure though Pigboats.com keeps their memory alive.

Specs:


Displacement: 854 tons surfaced; 1,062 tons submerged
Length: 219 feet 3 inches
Beam: 20 feet 9 inches
Draft: 16 feet
Propulsion: 2 × New London Ship and Engine Company (NELSECO) diesels, 600 hp each;
2 × General Electric electric motors, 560 kW each; 120 cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 14.5 knots surfaced; 11 knots submerged
Range: 5,000 miles at 10 knots surfaced on 168 tons (41,192 gals) oil fuel
Test depth: 200 ft
Crew: 4 Officers, 34 Enlisted as designed. Up to 42 during WWII.
Armament (as built):
4 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 12 torpedoes first Mk 10 then later Mk 14)
1 × 4-inch (102 mm)/50 cal Mark 9 “wet mount” deck gun

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