Category Archives: USMC

Army Inks Deal with Sig for .300/.338 Norma Mag

New Hampshire-based Sig Sauer recently picked up a nine-figure award from the U.S. Army Contracting Command for .300 and .338 Norma Magnum ammunition.

Announced by the Pentagon on June 7, the $157.3 million firm-fixed-price contract covers the production of .300 Norma Magnum 215-grain M1163 ball ammunition and .338 NM 300-grain armor-piercing M1162 cartridges for the Army. Although not a standard round for most U.S. military small arms – that’s reserved for 5.56 and 7.62 NATO along with the new 6.8 NGSW Common Cartridge – the Army and Marines are both using .300 NM and .338 NM in the MK22 Advanced Sniper Rifle program.

The MK22, a variant of the Barrett MRAD, is a modular system that will be fielded with three separate calibers, .338 Norma Magnum, .300 Norma Magnum, and 7.62 NATO, with the user able to swap calibers through barrel changes based on mission operating environments. Above is the Mk22 Mod 0 ASR including a Precision Day Optic. It is fed from a 10-round detachable magazine. (Photo: Tonya Smith/Marine Corps Systems Command).

More in my column at Guns.com.

Welcome, USS John Basilone

Over the weekend, Bath Iron Works in Maine hosted the christening of the USS John Basilone (DDG-122), a late-batch Burke-class destroyer, with Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Troy Black delivering the ceremony’s principal address.

Basilone via General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

The warship was transitioned to launch over a three-day period last week.

Who was Basilone?

Born in Buffalo, New York in November 1916, John (no middle name) Basilone, Roman Catholic, son of Salvatore and Dora Basilone, had done his bit for his country prior to World War II. He had served in the Regular Army from 5 February 1936 to 7 September 1939 and was still in the Army Reserves (3rd Corps) from which he had to petition the force for a discharge to join the Marines, a move that was approved 11 July 1940.

His civilian job listed on intake to the Corps was that of a truck driver.

Via Basilone’s 327-page file at the NARA

His Navy physical, when he joined the Marines, listed in addition to several minor scars and burns, two tattoos on his biceps. On his right, the “bust of a western woman.” On the left, a sword and the words “Death Before Dishonor.”

By September 1940, newly-promoted PFC Basilone was standing tall and would make Corporal the following May before grabbing his third stripe as a Sergent on 23 January 1942, just six weeks after Pearl Harbor.

Less than nine months later, SGT Basilone would become a legend for his actions at Guadalcanal.

Medal of Honor citation:

“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area. Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942. While the enemy was hammering at the Marines’ defensive positions, Sgt. Basilone, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault.

In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its guncrews, were put out of action, leaving only 2 men able to carry on. Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived.

A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.”

His battlefield promotion to Platoon Sergent was signed by Lt. Col Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, 1st Bn, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, FMF, in November 1942.

Basilone has long been a Marine Corps icon, and his actions on 24/25 Oct 1942 were recreated in The Pacific.

Basilone could have sat out the war and signed War Bonds and taken pictures for the cameras back home, which he did for a minute, but he voluntarily returned to action at the Battle of Iwo Jima in February of 1945, where he single-handedly destroyed an enemy blockhouse and led a Marine tank under fire safely through a minefield. He was killed in action later that day and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his unwavering devotion and valiant spirit of self-sacrifice.

He was the only enlisted Marine to receive both decorations in World War II.

On June 6, 1948, the John Basilone American Legion Post in Raritan dedicated the life-size statue of Basilone holding a water-cooled M1917 Browning machine gun.

The statue was sculpted by childhood friend Phillip Orlando. (New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs photo by Mark C. Olsen)

This is the second ship to honor Basilone. The first, USS Basilone (DD-824/DE-824), was a Gearing-class destroyer sponsored by his widow, a stern-faced Sergeant Lena Mae Basilone, USMC(WR). That destroyer remained in service from 1945 to 1977.

It is about time the Navy has another USS John Basilone on the Navy List.

80 Years Ago Today: NZ Invaded…with Yanks

On 12 June 1942 five transports landed the 145th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army’s 37th Infantry “Buckeye” Division, composed largely of men of the Ohio Army National Guard, at Auckland (after having first reinforced Fiji the month before), complete with wool uniforms and brand-new M1 helmets and M1 Garands as four military bands stood on Prince’s Wharf ready to greet them. New Zealand’s own forces, at the time, some 100,000-strong, were heavily engaged at sea as well as in the Middle East– and London would not let them leave– meaning the country was wide open to Japanese domination.

As noted by the NZ Government today:

As the ships berthed, another interesting exchange occurred. The Americans threw down oranges, cigarettes and money; the waiting Kiwis picked up the gifts and threw back New Zealand coins. When some of the visitors wondered where they were, an American on the wharf, one of the advance guard, told them all they needed to know: ‘No Scotch, two per cent beer, but nice folks.’ Some evidently did know what country they had reached, for the first of the newcomers to land on New Zealand soil was Sergeant Nathan E. Cook, chosen as a namesake of the explorer Captain James Cook.

The 37th would, in April 1943, start moving out for Guadalcanal, and fight its way across the Northern Solomons and Luzon before the war was out, earning 9 unit citations and 7 MOHs. Not a lot of overcoats and fresh milk there.

The next day, 1st Marine Division elements arrived in Wellington aboard USS Wakefield, moving into hastily constructed camp facilities.

In all about 100,000 Americans served in New Zealand, averaging between 15,000 and 45,000, peaking at 48,200 in July 1943, with the numbers declining well below that amount in late 1944. Besides the 37th, the Army’s 25th as well as the Marine 2nd and 3rd Divisions would spend significant time in the islands, with Joes remaining based around Auckland and Devils at Wellington. In addition, many thousands of other American sailors, merchant seamen, made visits to the country.

Dean Cornwell, Have a “Coke” = Kia Ora, c. 1943-1945 (Archives New Zealand, AAAC 898 NCWA Q392)

A memorial to the Americans in NZ during the conflict is located at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington.

It is also noted that American “bedroom commandos” managed to take an estimated 1,500 Kiwi women back to the U.S. as war brides. Thus goes the spoils of war. 

Remember Today

It isn’t about the 1,000 sales emails you get this weekend.

“So Many Graves” Arlington National Cemetery, 1995, by Army Artist Sieger Hartgers

 
 
When tomorrow starts without me
And I’m not here to see
If the sun should rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me
 
I wish you wouldn’t cry
The Way you did today
While thinking of the many things
We did not get to say
 
I know how much you love me
As much as I love you
Each time that you think of me
I know you will miss me too
 
When tomorrow starts with out me
Please try to understand
That an angel came and called my name
And took me by the hand
 
The angel said my place was ready
In heaven far above
And That I would have to leave behind
All those I Dearly Love
 
But When I walked through Heaven’s Gates
I felt so much at home
When GOD looked down and smiled at me
From his golden throne
 
He said This Is Eternity
And All I promised you
Today for life on earth is done
But Here it starts a new
 
I promise no tomorrow
For today will always last
And Since each day’s the exact same way
There is no longing for the past
 
So When Tomorrow starts without me
Do not think we’re apart
For every time you think of me
Remember I’m right here in your heart
 
Author: David M Romano
 
 

Making like its 1942 Again

While today’s modern nuclear-powered submarines have surveillance, strike, ASW, and AShW as their primary missions, they also can still do well in that most age-old of submarine tasks– inserting small teams of commando types in the littoral, something I’ve always been a huge fan of.

For video reference, check out the below two very recent videos.

The first is of Royal Marines of Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron, 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group, conducting a small boat raid from an “unnamed Royal Navy Astute class submarine” (spoiler alert, it is HMS Ambush, S120, I mean the Brits only have five attack submarines left) during exercise Cold Response 2022, “somewhere along the Norwegian coast.”

The evolution includes the classic submergence under the rubber boat move.

Some stills released of the above: 

As for the Americans

Next up, how about U.S. Marines with Task Force 61/2 (TF-61/2), and Sailors from Task Group 68.1 conducting joint launch and recovery training with Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) aboard the Ohio-class cruise-missile submarine USS Georgia (SSGN 729), near Souda Bay, Greece, March 26, 2022. The Marines are working from Georgia’s Dry Dock Shelter and are allowed to run up and launch from the sub’s “hump” in addition to going for a periscope ride.

80 Years Ago: Chesty Puller, Pirate

Lt. Col. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated Marine in American history, fulfills his solemn duties as Davy Jones during a Neptunus Rex Shellback ceremony in April 1942 aboard the Heywood-class attack transport USS Fuller (AP-14/APA-7). Aboard Fuller on the way to Wellington, New Zealand, (and then to Guadalcanal a few months later) Chesty and his men of the 7th Marines had departed Norfolk on 10 April and, transiting “The Ditch” at the Panama Canal, “Crossed the Line” into the South Pacific shortly after.

Note his lifebelt and M1917 Navy cutlass, an item that some Marines would continue to carry ashore for use in clearing brush during jungle fighting in 1942. (Collections OFFICIAL USMC PHOTOGRAPH)

Formerly the steamer SS City of Newport News of the Baltimore Steamship Company, Fuller was laid down for the British as War Wave as a “444 class” vessel during the Great War but never made it to wear a red duster. Completed too late to carry goods to fight the Kaiser, she spent her interbellum service working for a series of American shippers.

Once things started looking bad in late 1940, the Navy acquired all five of the class then sailing under a U.S. flag and converted them into troop transports, a process that took three to five months. Ready to fight with four 3″/50s and 20 assorted 40mm/20mm AAA guns, they could carry as many as 1,200 troops and deploy them ashore via their own embarked landing craft.

USS Fuller (AP-14) Fine-screen halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1941. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 86975

Named after former Marine Corps Commandants (Heywood, George F. Elliott, Fuller, William F. Biddle, Neville) they earned almost 30 battle stars between them in fighting across the Pacific (Biddle also took part in the Torch landings while both Biddle and Neville were in the Husky landings as well). One of the class, Elliot, was lost off Guadalcanal to Japanese aircraft during the August 1942 landings. The remaining vessels were quietly scrapped in the 1950s.

Warship Wednesday, April 6, 2022: The Forlorn Hope

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 6, 2022: The Forlorn Hope

Photo by F.A. Roe, U.S. Navy First Lieutenant, via the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 286

Here we see the recently commissioned Hartford-class screw sloop-of-war USS Pensacola (23 guns) as she appeared in November 1861, off Alexandria, Virginia, dressed and yardarms manned as she is receiving President Lincoln. The image is labeled that the vessel, soon to be on the way to the Gulf of Mexico to join Flag Officer Farragut’s newly created West Gulf Blockading Squadron, is the “Forlorn Hope” of Farragut’s fleet. She would prove a valuable, if somewhat irritating, addition to his force.

Though dubbed sloops by the Navy, if commissioned in any other fleet of the era, the Hartfords would be considered steam frigates. Generally of 225 feet in length with a fully loaded displacement pushing 3,000 tons, they were only gently smaller than the preceding five Merrimac-class steam frigates which went 250-feet and about 4,000 tons.

USS Hartford Spar & Sail Plan, Department of the Navy. Bureau of Construction and Repair. 1862-1940, via National Archives. National Archives Identifier (NAID) 117877200

Built of live oak, the Hartfords were fast on either their sail rig (three masts with two yards on each) or steam plant, capable of hitting 11 knots even with only half the horsepower of the Merrimacs. With 13 gun ports on each side of the below-deck gun deck and room for a topside pivot gun fore and aft, the class was generally able to ship about 20-24 pieces, leaning heavily on IX-inch Dahlgrens. For example and Pensacola was ultimately completed with 16 such smoothbores in broadsides as well as a single XI-inch pivot, although she would sail in late 1861 with a mix of 23 guns mounted.

Under a design by John Lenthall, Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Construction, the five sloops of the class were built at five different Navy yards close to the cities they were named after– Hartford at Boston, Lancaster at Philadelphia, Richmond at Norfolk, Brooklyn at New York, and Pensacola at Pensacola– meaning they were all slightly different from each other. Specifically, they all had engineering plants that were to be built locally to their respective yards, which, in the 1850s, was almost as ill-fated as having two classes of littoral combat ships built simultaneously.

With that, several of the ships were completed successfully while Pensacola, her hull complete and masts raised, had to be towed in December 1859 to Washington Navy Yard for installation of machinery that was built there to a design by Edward Dickerson and noted inventor Frederick Ellsworth Sickels that was supposed to be top-notch and “produce the highest possible effect from the given amount of fuel and with the least possible weight.

However, as described through the scholarship of Edward A. Mueller in Warship International Vol. 5, No. 2 (Spring, 1968), pp. 96-111 (22 pages), it fell far short:

Following the start of the Civil War and, with all four of the other Hartfords off fighting down South, Pensacola languished in Washington, despite being listed as commissioned in full on 16 September 1861, while the bugs were worked out. This included hosting Lincoln for a short sail to Alexandria in mid-November 1861 while still fitting out.

In the end, she was only able to pass her trials on 3 January 1862, making 8.8 mph on the Potomac. Her final cost was $308,460, well over twice that of any of her sisters, with the much more mechanically reliable Hartford only running $114,400.

Holy stovepipe hat, Batman! USS Pensacola off Alexandria, Virginia, in 1861. Photographed by James F. Gibson. Courtesy of Library of Congress NH 63260

Her skipper, Capt. Henry White Morris, the superintendent of engines and operations at the Washington Navy Yard, seemed a logical choice. The grandson of Robert Morris, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Capt. Morris had joined the Navy at age 13 and by 1861 he had been in the navy for 41 years with 17 of those on sea duty.

Dispatched to join Farragut in the Gulf, at last, she broke down on the way in the Florida Keys for over a week– run aground– but eventually made Ship Island off the Mississippi Sound in early March 1862 and made ready to venture up the Mighty Mississip with the squadron on the push to capture New Orleans.

Flag-officer Farragut’s Gulf Squadron, and Commodore Porter’s Mortar Fleet Line engraving published in Harper’s Weekly, 1862, depicting some of the ships involved in the campaign to capture New Orleans. Identified ships are (from left to right): Richmond, Pensacola, Colorado, Hartford (Farragut’s flagship), and Octorara. NH 59137

Headed to the Crescent City

However, her cranky machinery was in such bad shape that she was instructed to use her sails only– on an upriver trip fraught with muddy bars, confusing currents, and the very real threat of enemy action– while tugs stood by if she got stuck. 

Of course, they would have to run the gauntlet that was the Confederate-held Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip 40 miles up the river from the mouth, two lines of river obstructions, a score of fire rafts, as well as a fleet of armed river craft, “cotton clads,” and the much-feared steam ram CSS Manassas, the rebel ships mounting some 33 guns between them.

What could possibly go wrong?

To help lighten the load, Pensacola landed most of her coal, provisions, and anything else she could sail without in an effort to raise her draft. The sloop, along with the similarly troubled paddle frigate USS Mississippi, made it over the bar at the mouth of the Mighty Miss on 8 April, then would be in the forefront of the push past Forts Jackson and St. Philip just two weeks later.

Farragut would put the ailing sloop up front, the second ship in line. 

The push, which could have gone horribly wrong, was famously successful, even though the Confederate artillery boss at the forts reported firing no less than 1,591 shells at Farragut’s fleet including “675 VIII-inch solid shot, 171 VIII-inch shells, 13 XIII-inch shells, and 142 X-inch mortar shells.”

“The Splendid Naval Triumph on the Mississippi, April 24th, 1862” color lithograph, published by Currier & Ives, 1862. Depicts Farragut’s fleet passing Forts Jackson and St. Phillip, below New Orleans. USS Cayuga is seen in the top left center leading the Union column past burning Rebel steamers while USS Pensacola is directly after with USS Mississippi in the third spot and the rest of Farragut’s squadron– including three of Pensacola’s better-known sisters: Harford (the old man’s flagship), Richmond, and Brooklyn, following. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection NH 76369-KN

Morris’s report to Farragut, filed off New Orleans four days after the fact, making a short reference to the CSS Manassas’s failed attempt to ram the sloop and the brutal artillery duel between the warship and the forts.

Pensacola surely got some sweeping hits in on the cotton-clad CSS Governor Moore, a steamer raked with fire by the Union squadron, practically shooting away all of Moore’s upper hamper. The rebel gunboat drifted helplessly to shore, where her captain, pilot, and a seaman set her afire.

Of her 300~ man crew, Pensacola came off light for the amount of fire that was thrown her way by the Secesh, suffering four killed, and 32 wounded.

Four of her crew would earn the Medal of Honor for the fight, Quartermaster Louis Richards, Seaman Thomas G. Lyons, Captain of the foretop James McLeod, and “Boy” Thomas S. Flood.

— Richards served as quartermaster on board the U.S.S. Pensacola in the attacks upon Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and at the taking of New Orleans, 24 and 25 April 1862. Through all the din and roar of battle, he steered the ship through the narrow opening of the barricade, and his attention to orders contributed to the successful passage of the ship without once fouling the shore or the obstacles of the barricade.

— Served as seaman on board the U.S.S. Pensacola in the attack on Forts Jackson and St. Philip, 24 April 1862. Carrying out his duties throughout the din and roar of the battle, Lyons never once erred in his brave performance. Lashed outside of that vessel, on the port-sheet chain, with the lead in hand to lead the ship past the forts, Lyons never flinched, although under heavy fire from the forts and rebel gunboats.

— Captain of the foretop, and a volunteer from the Colorado, McLeod served on board the U.S.S. Pensacola during the attack on Forts Jackson and St. Philip and the taking of New Orleans, 24 and 25 April 1862. Acting as gun captain of the rifled howitzer aft, which was much exposed, he served this piece with great ability and activity, although no officer superintended it.

— Served on board the U.S.S. Pensacola in the attack on Forts Jackson and St. Philip and the taking of New Orleans, 24 and 25 April 1862. Swept from the bridge by a shell which wounded the signal quartermaster, Flood returned to the bridge after assisting the wounded man below and taking over his duties, “Performed them with coolness, exactitude and the fidelity of a veteran seaman. His intelligence and character cannot be spoken of too warmly.”

As noted of the overall operation by Capt. Theodorus Bailey, who commanded one of the gunboat divisions during the fight to pass Forts Jackson and St. Philip:

In the face of casemated forts, fire rafts, ironclad steam rams, and a fleet of gunboats, we have swept the Mississippi of its defenses as far as Baton Rouge and perhaps Memphis. The United States flag waves over Forts Jackson, St. Philip, Livingston, and Pike, and also the city of New Orleans. We fought two great battles; that of the passage of the forts and encounter with the ironclads and gunboats has not been surpassed in naval history. We have done all this with wooden ships and gunboats.

Reaching New Orleans shortly after passing the forts, at 2 pm on 25 April, Farragut formally accepted the surrender of the Crescent City from the city’s civilian leaders.

The next morning, Pensacola landed Captain Morris with two squads of marines and a few Sailors, and the small force raised the Union flag over the rebel-occupied former U.S. Mint on Esplanade Avenue in the Vieux Carre. It was the signpost that New Orleans had, unofficially at least, rejoined the Union.

The rest of the War

In July 1862, Morris, Pensacola’s first skipper, was promoted to Commodore and, in poor health, was allowed leave to return home to New York where he died soon after.

Pensacola, handicapped by her machinery, was left to the role of a sort of station ship for the next two years following the capture of New Orleans. She remained as a guard vessel on the Lower Mississippi, watching for blockade runners and policing fishing boats.

Sent to New York Navy Yard, where she decommissioned on 29 April 1864– just missing the Battle of Mobile Bay where three of her sisters ran past Forts Gains and Morgan with Farragut and fought a much stronger rebel ram than the Manassas to a standstill– Pensacola was laid up and her machinery replaced with that which had been purchased by the Navy for canceled sloop-of-war USS Wanaloset. She was still in New York when Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

West Coast

Recommissioned 16 August 1866, the much improved Pensacola could finally stretch her sea legs.

With that, she rounded Cape Horn and became part of the Pacific Squadron, often serving as her flagship as she patrolled along the West coasts of North and South America, and as far out to sea as the Kingdom of Hawaii.

USS Pensacola off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, circa 1866-1868. Note she has at least 10 guns runs out. Courtesy of Mr. John Sardo, Mare Island Naval Shipyard. NH 76104

She continued this routine for the next 17 years, going into ordinary twice (1870-71 and 1873-74) during that period to refit, inheriting the only gently-used two funnels and boilers from the stricken Confiance-class screw sloop USS Benecia.

USS Pensacola, firing her guns port broadside. Note her new profile that included two short funnels, which she would carry between 1875 and 1888, and now has three yards on each mast rather than two. LC-DIG-GGBAIN-10057

While these were the salad days of her career, members of Pensacola’s crew would earn two more Medals of Honor in this quiet peacetime era: Seaman Patrick Regan and Henry Thompson, in 1873 and 1878, respectively, each for rescuing a man from drowning.

Chile, Town of Coquimbo, showing probably the USS Pensacola, an observer in the War of the Pacific, in 1879. LOC LC-DIG-npcc-20198

She was extensively photographed around 1880, with views of her decks captured in detail for posterity.

View of the starboard reinforced gun deck, during the 1880s, including rifles stored overhead and fire hoses to the right. Note the IX-inch Dahlgren Shell Guns. With some 1,185 such pieces cast at Alger, Bellona, Fort Pitt, Seyfert, McManus & Co., Tredegar, and West Point foundries, they remained one of the most numerous Civil War-era American guns well into the 1880s. With a 9-inch bore and a tube weight of 9,200-pounds, they could fire 90-pound shells or 150-pound solid shot up to 3,450 yards at maximum (15-degree) elevation. NH 63563

View of the spar deck, after an abandon ship drill, during the 1880s. NH 63564

View of the captain’s or flag officer’s cabin. Very swank. Note the spyglasses on the dressed table. NH 42876

European Station

Her Pacific days came to an end, at least for a while, when in June 1883 Pensacola was ordered to Norfolk, the long way. Sailing across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, she transited the Suez Canal, then steamed through the ancient waters of the Mediterranean and crossed the Atlantic to arrive in Hampton Roads on 4 May 1884. After a year of refit, she sailed to Europe with a new skipper in April 1885

Her skipper, from 1885 through 1888 while on European Station, was a young Captain George Dewey (USNA 1858), later of Battle of Manila Bay fame. Dewey of course was familiar with Pensacola as he had been a newly-minted lieutenant on the USS Mississippi when that steam frigate was behind Pensacola in line on the push past the muzzles of the guns of Fort St. Philip.

USS Pensacola ship’s officers, with an Italian commander, at Naples, Italy, circa spring 1886. RADM Samuel R. Franklin and Captain George Dewey are third and second from left in the second row. NH 42872

There are also superb photographs of her Bluejackets and Marines conducting gunnery training and formations, landing drills, practicing repelling boarders, and having cutlass practice on her deck in February 1888, with Dewey looking on.

Ship’s marines paraded for inspection, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Captain George Dewey, her Commanding Officer, is right-center, between hatch and skylight. NH 42885

Marine guard paraded with fixed bayonets, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Second Lieutenant Joseph H. Pendleton is in the left-center foreground. Note binnacle, hatches, and full hammock rails. NH 42890

Crew paraded for battalion drill, with rifles, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Note officers’ swords. NH 42884

Landing force battalion drill on the spar deck, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Note hatches “cleared for action” with railings removed. NH 42883

Two crewmen fencing with cutlasses, as others watch, probably upon her return to the U.S. in February 1888. Note revolver worn by one of the combatants. NH 42894

Crew drilling at repelling boarders, probably at the time she returned to the U.S. in February 1888. The photo is taken looking forward from the quarterdeck. NH 42878

USS Pensacola after pivot gun in action during a drill, probably upon the ship’s return to the U.S. in February 1888. The Gun is an old Parrott rifle, converted to breech-loading. Note skylight and rigging details. NH 42881

The ship’s gunner, and the quarter gunners, pose with a landing force field piece, circa 1885-1888. NH 42889

Science!

Arriving back stateside from her European vacation in February 1888, Pensacola saw a further refit during which one funnel was removed and her second-hand boilers were replaced with new ones built for the canceled screw frigate USS Ontario.

Then came a lengthy cruise to the coast of Africa, to which she carried a team of scientists of the United States Eclipse Expedition.

As described by the Smithsonian, the embarked big brains included: astronomer David Peck Todd of Amherst College and the U.S. Naval Observatory, Mr. Carbutt (Photographer); Prof. Abbe (meteorologist); Eben Jenks Loomis (naturalist) from the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac office (as well as a special assistant to the USNO); William H. Brown (osteologist and naturalist) as well as his brother A. H. Brown (assistant); and Mr. Preston (“observer of magnetics and determinations of gravity”).

The 242-day scientific cruise called at St. Paul de Loanda in Portuguese West Africa, Faial in the Azores, the Cape Verde Islands, Freetown, and Cape Town before heading back by way of St. Helena, Ascension, Barbados, and Nonsuch Island (Barbados), mixing both groundbreaking science experiments and data collection with such mundane naval tasks as gunnery practice.

One Herman S. Davis, an assistant astronomer on the trip, was a bit of a shutterbug. 

U.S. Navy Expedition to observe the 1889 solar eclipse from Africa. USS Pensacola, screw steamer, at Cape Town Docks, South Africa. Note that she is back to her single-funnel profile. Table Mountain is in the background. Photographed by Herman S. Davis, who was the assistant astronomer of the expedition

U.S. Navy Expedition to observe the 1889 solar eclipse from Africa. USS Pensacola, screw steamer, the enlisted crew on deck. Photographed by Herman S. Davis. LOC Lot 7360-3

U.S. Navy Expedition to observe the 1889 solar eclipse from Africa. USS Pensacola, target practice off St. Helena, February-March 1890. Photographed by Herman S. Davis. Lot 7360-15

Same as the above, Lot 7360-16.

As described by Albert Bergman in his journal A Man Before the Mast, the crew was very involved in the experiments and collection process:

Besides the force we had working on the boats, twenty to thirty sailors were detailed to work on shore under the direction of Professor Bigelow, to dig ditches, build foundations, fitting instruments, artificial houses, etc. Another party was detailed under Lieutenant Heilner, to transport the stores to the Eclipse Station. Ten voluntary marines were sent on shore to guard the camp from wild beasts and savages. The latter were found to be plenty.

U.S. Navy Expedition to observe the 1889 solar eclipse from Africa. USS Pensacola Marines on watch, not looking like they are 24 years past the Civil War. A poem by “a sailor” reads, “At last, we had almost finished, and expected a little rest, for those astronomers are hard enough / to work with at the best.” Photographed by Herman S. Davis. Lot 7360-6

The Smithsonian notes:

Along with the magnetic, gravity, and astronomical observations performed, specimen collecting included, but was not limited to entomology, zoology, and ichthyology. A large number of fish were collected at the island locations by William H. Brown. Myriapoda, spiders, and other insect specimens were also brought back by the expedition team.

Layup and semi-retirement in sunny California

In August 1890, Pensacola was dispatched back to her old stomping grounds on the West Coast, arriving at San Francisco on 10 August 1891.

US Navy screw steamer, USS Pensacola, junior officers on deck. Note the sails and rigging. Photographed by Edward H. Hart for Detroit Publishing Company, between 1890 and 1901. LC-DIG-DET-4a13971

U.S. Navy screw steamer USS Pensacola, hoisting the launch. Detroit Publishing Company Postcard, 1890-1912. Lot 3000-G-21

Following a short cruise to Hawaii, the aging steam sloop decommissioned at Mare Island on 18 April 1892.

After a six-year layup, she was reactivated as part of the naval surge that came with the Spanish-American War.

While Dewey was busy in the Philippines, however, Pensacola was destined to be used only as a training ship for Naval apprentices, then, transitioned to a receiving ship at Yerba Buena Training Station.

Pensacola off Mare Island, California, ready to proceed to Goat Island as a naval receiving ship, 1898. NH 63566

Pensacola as a receiving ship at Yerba Buena, California, 1902. NH 63565

Decommissioning on 6 December 1911, Pensacola was struck from the Navy Register on 23 December.

The old girl was unceremoniously stripped and burned near Hunter’s Point the following May.

Epilogue

Little exists of Farragut’s Forlorned Frigate these days.

Her helm wheel was saved and, after being on display on the decks of the old Truxtun-Decatur Naval Museum for decades, is now mounted on a wall of the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard.

One wooden helm steering wheel with eight spokes from the USS Pensacola (1859). A metal inlay along the top and bottom of the rim of the wheel reads: “(arrow) LEFT – RUDDER – RIGHT (arrow)”. A metal plaque attached to the middle of the wheel is engraved: “THIS STEERING WHEEL WAS / ORIGINALLY INSTALLED ON THE / STEAM SLOOP OF WAR PENSACOLA / LAUNCHED AT PENSACOLA NAVY YARD / 15 AUG 1859 AND STRICKEN FROM THE / NAVY LIST 23 DEC. 1911. THIS WHEEL WAS IN / USE ON THE PENSACOLA WHEN THAT / VESSEL WAS WITH FARRAGUT’S / SQUADRON IN THE PASSAGE OF FORTS / JACKSON AND ST. PHILIP, APRIL 1862, / AND IN THE BATTLES OF / NEW ORLEANS / AND / MOBILE BAY.” NHHC 1952-3-A

She is also remembered in period maritime art.

USS Pensacola and the CSS Governor Moore, oil by Worden Wood, American, 1880–1943, in the Yale University Art Gallery.

Side view of the warship USS Pensacola at anchor in the Mississippi River at New Orleans with riverbank and structures in the background. The painting shows small service vessels at the stern of the warship and the landing party going ashore. Captain W. Morris with two squads of marines, probably the landing party going ashore, replaced the Confederate flag with the United States flag at the U.S. Mint in the Vieux Carre on April 26, 1862. The Pensacola, one of the Union ships that arrived at New Orleans on April 25, 1862, was in the fleet of Admiral David G. Farragut during the occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War. In the Louisiana Digital Library.

Meanwhile, assorted logs and research from the 1889 United States Eclipse Expedition are in libraries and collections around the country.

Her sisters likewise lived very long– and lucky– lives.

  • Hartford, Farragut’s flagship, was kept as a relic by the Navy until she literally sank at her moorings in 1956.
  • Brooklyn— the scourge of the Mississippi Sound and the Biloxi fishing fleet– retired in 1889 and was sold after having well served her country for over three decades.
  • Lancaster, who served in the Pacific during the Civil War, like Pensacola was recommissioned in 1898 and saw one last war (albeit as a receiving ship) then continued to serve as a quarantine ship on the East Coast as late as 1933.
  • Richmond, who past the Forts in 1862 with Pensacola and company, served as an auxiliary to the receiving ship USS Franklin until after the end of World War I and was sold for breaking in 1919.

As for the old U.S. Mint in New Orleans, the flag Pensacola rose was hauled down almost immediately by troublemaking New Orleanian William Mumford, along with three other men. As noted by the Louisiana State Museum, “Mumford, a well-educated but reckless man with a love of drink, defiantly wore shreds of the flag in his buttonhole. He eventually was arrested and sentenced by U.S. Army General Benjamin Butler to be hanged in front of the mint on June 7, 1862.”

Butler is not well-liked in New Orleans to the current day.

The Mint building, after the facility closed in 1909, was used by the Veterans Bureau as well as both the Navy and Coast Guard for decades, along with other federal agencies, until the state took it over– peacefully this time– in the mid-1960s. Under the stewardship of the Louisiana State Museum Board is now the New Orleans Jazz Museum. 

Finally, while our USS Pensacola was the first U.S. Navy ship to carry the name, the has not been the last, followed by a Great War transport ship (AK-7/AG-13), a “Treaty” cruiser (CL/CA-24) that saw so much service in WWII that she was nicknamed the “Grey Ghost” by Tokyo Rose on her way to earning 13 battle stars, and a Cold War-era Anchorage-class dock landing ship (LSD-38) that served 28 years with the Navy and is still in service with Taiwan after at least 22 years under that country’s flag.

In my opinion, it is past time to reinstall a USS Pensacola to the Navy List.

Specs: (1861)

Displacement 3,000 t.
Length 130′ 5″
Beam 44′ 5″
Draft 18′ 7″
Speed 9.5 kts.
Complement: 259 officers and enlisted (1861)
Armament:
1 x 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore
16 x 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbores


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Patriots and LCACs for the first time

Soldiers of Bravo Battery, 1-1 ADA (Air Defense Artillery), 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade based out of Okinawa, Japan made history last week as they conducted the first-ever amphibious insert of a Patriot Minimum Engagement Package. The MEP was landed in Aparri, Philippines on 28 March as part of Balikatan 22, something that can potentially up the Marine’s Ground-Based Air Defense game in the littoral.

After boarding USS Ashland (LPD 48), the MEP was loaded on LCACs 29 and 80 from Naval Beach Unit Seven. Marines from Alpha Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion (3d Marine Logistics Group) prepared the landing site and guided the LCACs ashore so they could emplace in their fighting positions

While the Marines have some organic expeditionary ADA, it largely consists of MANPADS centered on the Low-Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) Battalions of Marine Air Wings. This whoopie cake was all that the Corps was left with after they disbanded their Hawk Light Anti-Aircraft Missile battalions in 1997 and then failed to fund the SLAMRAAM (Surface Launched AMRAAM) which mounted 4-6 AMRAAMs on the back of a Hummer, which could be slung loaded under a CH-53 or brought in by a single LCU or LCAC.

What could have been, and without needing two LCACs to land!: 

“A High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) with AMRAAM’s is waiting to be tested to prove that the AMRAMM can be fired from a HUMVEE vehicle. The combination has been nicknamed HUMRAAM by some of the testers,” 8/19/1996, Okaloosa Island, Florida, Eglin AFB test area. National Archives Identifier: 6499260

The Trip Trey, now 30 Years Gone

Formed at Cherry Point on 1 August 1943 as Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 333 (VMSB-333), the logically named “Trip Trey” began their career flying SBD Dauntless dive-bombers from Midway on anti-shipping patrols.

Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless Dive Bomber of VMSB-333 over Wake Island.

The original “Trip Trey” crest, circa 1943. From the Claude A. Larkin Collection (COLL/791) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division

Adding an “F” designation to their name after transitioning to F4U Corsairs in late 1944, VMBF-333 was deactivated just two months after VJ-Day.

Reformed during the Korean War as Marine Attack Squadron 333 (VMA-333), they transited quickly through the F6F Hellcat to the A-1 Skyraider and entered the jet age in 1957 with FJ-3 Fury jet fighters, again adding the “F” to their title to become VMF-333, after which adding the triple shamrock to their planes and going by the “Fighting Shamrocks” as well as the more commonly applied “Trip Trey.”

Next came the F-8 Crusader– with which they ran hot pad alerts at GTMO during the Cuban Missile Crisis– and then the F-4 Phantom in 1966.

The Shamrocks would deploy aboard USS America (CVA-66) in 1972, picking up the only Marine MiG kill of the Vietnam War.

Remaining part of CVW-8 through most of the 1970s and carrying “AJ” tail flashes, they would ship out with the brand-new supercarrier USS Nimitz in 1976 on a Med Cruise.

Four U.S. Marine Corps McDonnell F-4J Phantom II (BuNo 153848, 155523, 155525, 155511) from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-333 “Shamrocks” in flight. VMFA-333 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW-8) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 7 July 1976 to 7 February 1977. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1996.253.7315.009 by PH2c Klaus Homedale, U.S. Navy

An air-to-air silhouetted view of a Marine Strike Fighter Squadron 333 (VMFA-333) F-4 Phantom II aircraft, 9/1/1985. At this time the Shamrocks were one of the few active duty Phantom operators in the U.S. military. U.S. Navy photo DNSC9011796 by LCDR David Baranak, via NARA (330-CFD-DN-SC-90-11796).

The last regular Marine squadron to operate the big smoky Phantom, they transitioned to F-18A Hornets in October 1987, which they would fly during Desert Storm just three years later, delivering over 2 million pounds of ordnance (typically 2,000-pounds at a time) against Iraqi forces across a staggering 700 combat sorties.

VMFA-333, Operation Desert Storm, 1991 USMC photo

“Over the Oil Fields,” by Col H. Avery Chenoweth, USMCR. “Towards the war’s end, the Bahrain-based Shamrocks of VMFA-333 were able to survey damage caused by their bombing runs. Previously, the ground fire had caused the F/A-18’s to pull out rapidly from their dive-bombing runs, no chance for visual confirmation.” Photo via the National Museum of The Marine Corps.

Returning from the sandbox, the “Fighting Shamrocks” were deactivated on 31 March 1992 during the post-Cold War drawdown.

Jack Lucas, Christened

One of my regular stops every few weeks when I go back “home” to Pascagoula, besides Ed’s Drive-In, is the Old Coast Guard Station, AKA “The Point” where I chronicle the fleet being built at Ingalls, something I’ve done ever since I pedaled my AMF Gold Fever down there as a snot-nosed kid. Over the years I’ve seen Spruances, Kidds, Ticos, Burkes, Sa’ar Vs, Tarawas, Wasps, San Antonios, and the like slide down the ways. I even saw the rusty but still beautiful old Iowa come towed past the point and then ultimately sail on her own back out to sea, and her sister ship Wisconsin do the same thing three years later.

A recent trip to The Point showed USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002), the third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer, along the West Bank of the Pascagoula River to receive her armament fit, the 12th San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD-28) finishing her outfitting, and PCU USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG 121), a Flight IIA Burke, on the historic old East Bank finishing her days at the yard before she sails to be commissioned at Charleston in May.

As a youth, I was on the ground at Ingalls with my high school JROTC unit to provide the color guard for several christenings and commissionings (USS Cape St. George, Stout, Mitscher, Russell, et, al) then as a young adult helped build several of these vessels including USS Boxer, Stethem, Ramage, Benfold, and so on.

However, I always felt that there was never really a historic Mississippi connection to these vessels, until recently. Even the USS Farragut— who called Pascagoula a hometown for a while— was somehow built in Maine.

While the “invincible” Jacklyn Harold “Jack” Lucas hailed from North Carolina, the youngest Medal of Honor recipient in WWII– who saved the lives of three men on Iwo Jima just six days after his 17th birthday (and enlisted at 14!)– spent most of his adult life, including his twilight years, in South Mississippi.

I even met Mr. Lucas “Call me Jack” at an event in Hattiesburg a few years before his death. He was a total gentleman and a hell of a storyteller.

So it filled my heart with joy to find out that the future USS Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125), the first Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, has been quietly under construction at Ingalls since 2019.

A photo I took last month, showing the future Flight IIA Burke USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123), front, and PCU USS Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125), rear, at Ingalls’s West Bank, fitting out. Note the differences in their masts. The Flight III upgrade is centered on the AN/SPY-6(V)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar and “incorporates upgrades to the electrical power and cooling capacity plus additional associated changes to provide greatly enhanced warfighting capability to the fleet.”

Lucas was christened this weekend.

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