When I was a kid, as a military brat, I inherited a very well-traveled OD M65 Field Jacket and wore it throughout junior high and high school. It finally came up missing at a party in college and I suspect that somewhere it remains, probably in the closet of a hipster, with mustache wax on the collar.
Later, in the state guard, I got one of my own woodland camo model– that my son now wears occasionally– before they were phased out altogether in 2009.
This Vietnam-era OG-107 classic, which has long since past its (official) wear-out date, is still in use at the Washington Naval Yard with the 8th & I Marines.
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.
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, May 29, 2019: About that new Marker in Times Square
Here we see the beautiful Pennsylvania-class heavy cruiser USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6, later CA-6) with a bone her mouth and three pipes belching smoke, sometime between 1907 and 1909. Sadly, although she was likely still on her original coat of lead-based paint in the above image, she was already largely obsolete and would only see 11 years’ service before she met with disaster.
The Pennsylvanias, a class of six armored cruisers named, like battleships, after states, were big 15,000-ton/504-foot long bruisers built immediately after the lessons learned in the summer of sharp fleet actions and naval blockades that made up the Spanish American War. Larger than many of pre-dreadnought battleships of their day (for comparison, the three-ship Illinois-class battlewagons laid down in 1897 were only 12,500-ton/375-ft. vessels) they had lighter armor (4 to 9 inches rather than up to 16 inches on Illinois) and a lighter armament (8-inch guns rather than 13-inchers) but were much faster, with the cruisers capable of 22-knots while the battleships lumbered along at 16 knots. Several European powers of the day– notably England, Germany, and Russia– were also building such very large armored cruisers with an eye to protecting far-flung overseas possessions that did not require a battleship in times of peace and aggressively raiding their enemies’ merchant fleets once war was declared.
The Pennsylvanias‘ main battery consisted of two pairs of 8″/40 cal (203mm) Mark 5 guns in fore and aft turrets, which in turn were more powerful than the older but still very effective 8″/35 Mark 3s such as those used with terrific success against the Spanish at Manila Bay. These were later upgraded to even better 8″/45 Mark 6s after 1907. They could fire a 260-pound shell over 98.5-pounds of propellant out to 22,500 yards.
As a very impressive secondary, these ships carried 14 6 “/50 cal Mark 6 breechloaders in casemated broadside, seven on each side. Add to this were 30 torpedo-boat busting 3″/50s and 47mm 3-pounders.
Then of course, as with every cruiser, battleship, and destroyer of the time, they also had torpedoes. This amounted to a pair of submerged 18-inch tubes firing Bliss-Leavitt type torpedoes.
Constructed alongside her sister ship USS South Dakota at San Francisco’s Union Iron Works– their four classmates were built on the East Coast– USS California was only the second such ship with that name in the Navy, the first being a post-Civil War wooden steam frigates that proved to be made of improperly treated wood and, condemned, had to be scrapped after just five years of service.
Ordered in 1899, our more modern steel-hulled California commissioned 1 August 1907 at San Francisco’s Mare Island Navy Yard. Ironically, the exhibition of naval battles that made up the bulk of the Russo-Japanese War and the commissioning of HMS Dreadnought, during California‘s gestation period, largely showed that armored cruisers lacked a lot of value in modern warfare with a near-peer adversary. In short, Dreadnought-style battleships were fast enough to catch them and pummel them flat while new cruiser and destroyer designs of 1907 were also fast enough to elude them.
Still, upon commission, California promptly joined the Pacific Fleet where she spent her early life in a series of extended shakedowns and coastal cruises to seaside ports along the West coast “for exhibition purposes.”
The year 1909 saw what we would consider a West Pac cruise today, with stops in the Philippine Islands and China, and Christmas spent in Yokohama, Japan. The same year, the Navy ditched their gleaming white and buff scheme in favor of haze gray, which saw California‘s profile change drastically. Likewise, she landed most of her small 47mm guns, as the age of torpedo boat defense with such popguns had largely come and gone.
The next few years were spent in standardization cruises, target practice, maneuvers and the like, spread out from San Diego to Hawaii and Alaska, interrupted by another West Pac jaunt in 1912 and a bit of gunboat diplomacy off the Pacific coast of Nicaragua where she landed the First Provisional Regiment of Marines – 29 officers, 4 naval officers and 744 enlisted men under the command of Col. Joseph H. Pendleton, augmented by her own naval landing force.
California was re-named USS San Diego on 1 September 1914 to clear her original name for assignment to Dreadnought-style Battleship No. 44, a similar fate which befell all her five sisters.
As such, she lost her presentation silver service, which had been presented by the state when she was christened. This service went on to live on BB-44 and, removed in 1940 and stored ashore, are part of the U.S. Navy Museum’s Steel Navy exhibit today:
Back to our ship:
Notably, the rechristening of California to San Diego was the first use of the name “San Diego” for a naval vessel. She then became the flagship of the Pacific Fleet and participated in the opening of the Panama-California Exposition on 1 January 1915.
A deadly 1915 boiler room fire sent San Diego to Mare Island for extensive repairs and refit followed by a period in reserve in San Diego during which most of her crew was reassigned. During this time, she was able to squeeze in a rescue of 48 passengers from the sinking SS Fort Bragg.
When the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, San Diego‘s skeleton crew was fleshed out with a mix of some 400 new recruits straight from NTS San Francisco and Great Lakes as well as more experienced salts from California’s Naval Militia. After workups and training, she stood out on 18 July 1918 for the Atlantic and the Great War.
Arriving in New York in August, by 23 September she was the flagship of St. Nazaire, France-bound Troop Convoy Group Eight then in November did the same for Troop Convoy Group Eleven. February 1918 saw her as part of Britain-bound Convoy HK-26, followed by HX-32 and HX-37 by May, all of which made it across the pond successfully.
Then, tragedy struck the mighty cruiser. While zigzagging off Fire Island, New York, she came across a mine sowed by the large German Deutschland-class “U‑Kreuzer” submarine SM U-156, the latter skippered by Kapitänleutnant Richard Feldt.
At about 11:05 a.m. on 19 July 1918, San Diego hit a mine, the explosion sounding like “a dull heavy thud,” lifting the stern slightly and shaking the ship “moderately fore and aft.” The warship assumed an immediate six to eight-degree list, and she lost headway. The mine had exploded on the port side about frame 78, well below the waterline, rupturing the skin of the ship and deforming the bulkhead at that location, opening watertight door no.142 between the port engine room and no. 8 fireroom. Flooding occurred in the port engine room, adjacent compartments, as well as no. 8 fireroom, and San Diego then took on a 17½ degree list, water entering through an open gun port for 6-inch gun no.10.
At the outset, “the behavior of the ship did not convince me she was in much danger of sinking,” Capt. Harley H. Christy later wrote, but he soon received the report from the engineer officer that the ship had lost power in both engines. Loss of motive power “precluded any maneuvering to combat a submarine.” The list increased. “When I was convinced that there was no hope of her holding and that she would capsize,” Christy gave the order to abandon ship, the gun crews remaining at their stations “until they could no longer fire,” and the depth charges being “secured so that they would be innocuous.” San Diego’s sailors launched life rafts, whaleboats, dinghies and punts by hand, as well as mess tables, benches, hammocks and lumber – “ample material to support the crew” – “an evolution…performed in an orderly manner without confusion,” while the broadside gun crews fired about 30 to 40 rounds “at possible periscopes.”
With San Diego nearly on her beam ends, Capt. Christy, along with his executive officer, Cmdr. Gerard Bradford were the last to leave the ship. Bradford went down the port side, the commanding officer went over the starboard side by a rope, swinging down to the bilge keel then the docking keel before going overboard. Christy then watched his ship turn turtle, “in a symmetrical position with the keel inclined about ten degrees to the horizontal, the forward end elevated” before gradually sinking.
While almost all her 1,183 crew successfully made it off, six, largely from below deck engineering divisions, were claimed by Neptune and never recovered:
Fireman First Class, Clyde C. Blaine of Lomita, CA
Engineman 2nd Class, Thomas E. Davis of South Mansfield, LA
Seaman 2nd Class, Paul J. Harris, Cincinnati, OH
Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, Andrew Munson, St. Paul, MN
Engineman 2nd Class, James F. Rochet of Blue Lake, CA
Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, Frazier O. Thomas of Charleston, WV
As for U-156, just two months after San Diego met her end at the hands of one of the submarine’s mines, the German raider was fittingly sunk in the Allied-laid Northern Barrage minefield on 25 September 1918, lost with all hands. She earned a bit of infamy for her attack on the small New England town of Orleans, Massachusetts, and several nearby merchant vessels.
Of San Diego‘s five sisters, all were sold for scrap in 1930–1931 in compliance with the limits of the London Naval Treaty. Speaking of scrap, in 1957 the Navy sold the rights to San Diego‘s wreck to a New York-based salvage company but six years later, after little work was done other than to loot small relics from her interior, the Navy canceled the award and reclaimed rights to the ship.
Located in shallow water, with the expanded use of SCUBA systems San Diego became a target for both skin divers and weekend unlicensed salvage operations. In 1965, her port propeller was removed without approval and subsequently lost. In 1973, her starboard prop was found to be detached.
As noted by the Navy, “Due to a combination of recreational divers going to extremes to secure artifacts (at least six people have died diving on the site) and professional rivalries between dive boat operators, the Navy was prompted to revisit the site and pursue further action to protect San Diego and other Navy wrecks being exploited.”
In 1992, the Coast Guard implemented an exclusion zone around the wreck due to reports of live ordnance being salvaged from the site, making it effectively off-limits. In 1995, the Navy performed the first of several extensive surveys of the wreck and three years later the San Diego was added to the National Register of Historic Places. A 2004 law protected her from desecration as a war grave. In 2017, the USS San Diego Project was kicked off to extensively survey and protect the wreck.
There are currently some 229 artifacts within the San Diego Collection under the management of NHHC ranging from ceramics, electrical light fixtures and pieces of the ship’s silver service to an M1892 brass bugle, USN-marked brass padlocks, Mameluke sword and even wooden pistol grips for a Colt 1911. Almost all were recovered illegally by recreational– and in some cases commercial divers– going as far back as the 1950s and later surrendered to the Navy. Many are on display at the USS San Diego Exhibit in the National Museum of the US Navy, which opened last year.
In 2018, it was confirmed that the cruiser was sunk by a mine laid by U-156, putting persistent theories that she had been lost due to a coal bunker explosion or sabotage to rest. The event coincided with the 100th anniversary of San Diego’s sinking.
Finally, over the recent Memorial Day Weekend, U.S. Navy officials in conjunction with the city of New York and the United War Veterans Council, unveiled the USS San Diego plaque in Times Square in front of Father Duffy’s statue. The plaque features the names of the 6 sailors lost on that fateful day along with a profile of the ship, the largest U.S. Naval vessel lost in the Great War.
13,680 long tons (13,900 t) (standard)
15,138 long tons (15,381 t) (full load)
503 ft 11 in oa
502 ft pp
Beam: 69 ft 6 in
Draft: 24 ft 1 in (mean) 26 ft. 6 in (max)
16 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
23,000 ihp (17,000 kW)
2075 tons of coal
2 × vertical triple expansion reciprocating engines
2 × screws
22 kn, range 5000(10)
Complement: 80 officers, 745, enlisted, 64 Marines as designed (1,200 in 1918)
Armor: All Krupp and Harvey steel
Belt: 6 in (152 mm) (top & waterline)
5 in (127 mm) (bottom)
Deck: 1 1⁄2 in (38 mm) – 6 in (amidships)
4 in (102 mm) (forward & aft)
Barbettes: 6 in
Turrets: 6 – 6 1⁄2 in (165 mm)
Conning Tower: 9 in (229 mm)
4 × 8 in (203 mm)/40 caliber Mark 5 breech-loading rifles (BL)(2×2)
14 × 6 in (152 mm)/50 cal Mark 6 BL rifles
18 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 cal rapid-fire guns
12 × 3-pounder (47 mm (1.9 in)) Driggs-Schroeder guns
2 × 1-pounder (37 mm (1.5 in)) Driggs-Schroeder saluting guns
2 × 18 inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes (submerged)
4 × 8 in/45 cal Mark 6 BL rifles (2×2)
18 × 3 in/50 cal rapid-fire guns
2 x 1 76/52 Mk X AAA
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World War II in the Pacific began (unless you ask the Chinese or French) on 2 December 1941 with the famous “Niitakayama Nobore” (Climb Mount Niitaka) signal sent to Nagumo’s flagship to clear the way for Yamamoto Kido Butai force of a half-dozen aircraft carriers to turn towards Hawaii and attack Pearl Harbor on the morning of the 7th.
Interestingly, the U.S. military has, since the final days of WWII, instituted the common practice of posing warplanes over Mount Fujisan, just outside of Tokyo, which I always took as a bit of historic payback.
Before they merged with Northrop in 1994, the old-school Grumman Corporation fielded some of the most iconic military– and specifically carrier– aircraft ever made in the 20th Century.
We are talking the F4F Wildcat (which the Brits used as the Martlet, their most common naval fighter of WWII), the Zero-busting F6F Hellcat, the briefly-loved F7F Tigercat, the F8F Bearcat (which the French continued to fly in Indochina and Algeria well into the jet age), the F9F Panther, F11 Tiger, and, of course, the F-14 Tomcat– last of the “cats.”
They just didn’t make fighters. They also produced the Cold War ASW king S-2 Tracker and the Yankee Station bomb truck that was the A-6 Intruder.
Sadly, all of the above have long since faded from the fleet. Other than a few ragtag IRIAF F-14s and some Taiwanese and Latin American S-2s, they aren’t even in the service of Third World countries.
And last week, the last armed Grumman combat aircraft used by the U.S. was put to bed.
First flown in 1968, the EA-6 Prowler was an A-6 that had been converted to be an “Electric Intruder” developed for the Marine Corps to replace its 1950s-era EF-10B Skyknights in electronic warfare missions. By 1971, they were flying over Vietnam with VAQ-129 flying from USS America (CV-66). Over the next 48 years, the plane matured and no carrier air boss would leave home without it. Not just an EW jam spreader, it could also target enemy radar sites and surface-to-air missile launchers in SEAD missions with high-speed anti-radiation missiles– more than 200 AGM-78 Standard ARM/AGM-88 HARMs were fired by Prowlers in combat over the years, with the first “Magnum” HARM warshot being against a Libyan SA-5 battery in Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986.
Later, in Iraq and Afghanistan, they even jammed the cell phone and garage door signals used to trigger IEDs.
No Prowler was ever lost in combat, although they have been in the thick of it over Vietnam, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Serbia, Afghanistan, Grenada and other points of conflict for a five-decade run.
In all, more than 20 Navy and Marine VAQ squadrons took to the sky in the flying jambox although just 170 of the aircraft were produced.
Now, replaced by the EA-18G Growler, the last Prowlers of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VMAQ) 2, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, have been put to pasture.
But Grummans are not totally out of the fleet. The E-2C Hawkeye lingers on.
Further, EA-6B BuNo. 162230/CY-02, part of the Sundown Flight, will be put on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
When Saddam crossed into Kuwait in August 1990 and sparked the Operation Desert Shield build-up to defend Saudi Arabia, the first “armor” on the ground were 51 Sheridans of the 82nd Airborne. The first real tanks were composed of M60A1 RISE tanks, then an outdated design that could still hold its own, of the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade which had flown in from California and married up with Maritime Pre-Positioning Force equipment by 25 August. Over the next several months, most of the armor battalions in the Marines would arrive to man the gun line in the desert.
Some 27 years ago today, on 24 February 1991, after 39 days of a “Shock and Awe (™)” air campaign, the U.S.-led coalition began to liberate Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and methodically destroy most of Hussein’s army, then the 4th largest army in the world. Some 100 hours later and it was all over.
The Marines, notably, had more armor in the desert than the British, who shipped 170 Challenger tanks from Europe.
From the U.S. Army Armor & Cavalry Collection:
As current Marine Tankers train here at the U.S. Army Armor School, their history is part of our focus too. Though not an actual part of our collection (it’s Marine property), we assist in taking care of this special M60A1 RISE Passive. This exact tank was the personal mount of Lieutenant Colonel “Buster” Diggs, commander of the 3rd Tank Battalion, U.S.M.C., during Operation Desert Storm. While the older M60A1 lacked thermal sights and had a 105mm M68 main gun compared to the newer M1A1’s 120mm M256 main gun, the Marine M60’s performed just as well against Iraqi-manned Soviet-built T-72s. Of the 210 Marine M60A1s involved in the 100-hours offensive, none were lost to enemy fire. Today, “Buster” guards the headquarters of the U. S. Marine Corps Detachment, Fort Benning
The Blue Blasters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 hosted a sundown service for the Charlie series F/A-18 last week. The Blasters were the last tactical squadron in the Navy flying the bird, most recently wrapping up a final deployment on USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in the South China Sea in 2018.
“Today our VFA-34 family and the operational farewells an old friend,” said Cmdr. William Mathis, commanding officer of VFA-34. “Born more than 40 years ago, the Hornet entered operational service for the U.S. Navy in 1984 and for the next 35 years, she proudly served the nation from the flight deck of aircraft carriers in all the seas across the globe.”
Now the only guys left operating the F-18C model are aggressor units such as the Fighter Squadron Composite (VFC) 12 and the River Rattlers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 204.
Oh yeah, and the Blues, who are set to transition to the Super Hornet in coming months.
And totally neglected air units such as the USMC guys, who will keep the F-18C around until 2030 (ish).
Flying Yesterday’s Hornet, Tomorrow!