(Abbreviated Warship Wednesday due to the holidays).
USS Independence (CVA-62) (foreground) and USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) rendezvous in the Indian Ocean on 21 November 1965– OTD 53 years ago.
Independence was en route to Norfolk, Virginia, after six months on the line off Vietnam. Enterprise was headed for combat duty in Vietnamese waters.
Just two weeks later, on 2 December 1965, Enterprise became the first nuclear-powered warship to see combat when she launched air strikes at the Viet Cong near Biên Hòa, South Vietnam.
Official caption: “MACV/SOG Naval Advisory Detachment: Two Nasty-class PTF’s returning at dawn from a sea commando mission into the DMZ area in 1971. This was a particularly successful mission, with no friendly casualties.”
With the hundreds of wooden PT boats all liquidated shortly after WWII ended, the Navy in the 1960s found themselves in need of a handful of small, fast, and heavily armed craft for “unorthodox operations” in Southeast Asia.
These wooden-hulled Norwegian-designed 80-foot boats, powered by a pair of Napier Deltic turbocharged diesel engines, could make 38-knots but, with a 40mm Bofors single, an M2 .50 cal/81mm combo, and 20mm cannons, they could deal some hurt.
Some 20 were acquired in the early 60s (numbered PTF-2 to PTF-23), six lost in combat, and, laid up at Subic after 1973, retired by 1981.
AP Wire Photo: 4 August 1964
Skull and Crossbones on the Cambodian border. Two leaders of a special South Vietnamese government platoon, identified by the Skull and Crossbones kerchief they wear, lead [a] group along a canal that marks the Cambodian border in the Plain of Reeds west of Saigon. The special outfit undertakes terrorist actions against the Viet Cong villages.
Both the Vietnamese Rangers (Biệt Động Quân) and Special Forces (Lực Lượng Đặc Biệt) used tigerstripe as did the “Sea Tigers” of Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps (TQLC) and Green Beret-organized CIDG units.
Of the latter, Mike (Mobile Strike) Force units, recruited from Hmong, Nung, and Montagnard peoples, often used Jolly Rogers in their locally-made insignia and “M.F.” patches.
If this isn’t Diên Biên Phu aesthetic, I just don’t know what is.
Capt. Bernard Cabiro, commander of the 4th company of 1st BEP (French Foreign Legion) is smoking a Gauloise cigarette and carrying a German Luger P08 he picked up in 1944. Also, note the WWII U.S. Army Signal Corps-approved SCR 536 “handie talkie” which had a range of about a heavy whisper and the U.S. M1 helmet and liner, which also makes a good wash basin.
Original Fr. caption: Au nord de Diên Biên Phu, sur la piste “Pavie”, le capitaine Cabiro, commandant la 4e compagnie du 1er BEP (Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes) avec un émetteur-récepteur SCR 536 à l’épaule et son pistolet allemand Luger P 08 au ceinturon.
Just barely 17 when WWII started, Cabrio snuck out of occupied France and joined the 8e régiment de tirailleurs Marocains in North Africa in 1943 and fought with the Free French up the boot of Italy through 1944 and 45, finishing the conflict as an NCO with three Croix de guerres and an appointment to the French version of OCS at Cherchell. By 1946, he was in the Legion in Indochina as a sub-lieutenant in the 2e REI and by 1949 was in the Legion’s first paratrooper units.
The above image dates from around November 1953 when his battalion was dropped on Dien Bien Phu as reinforcements. Acting as a sort of fire brigade, his guys were in the thick of it for the next several months. Severely wounded in March 1954 he was evacuated out.
He spent the next two years in recovery in France and, a dozen surgeries later, returned to service in Algeria with 2e REP only to be drummed out in 1961 due to the smear of the Legion’s involvement in the putsch against De Gaulle over the withdrawal from North Africa.
His rank was later reinstated in 1974– on the reserve list– and, named a chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, he died in 1993 in Bordeaux.
Founded 16 February 1942, the Camp Schwab, Okinawa-based Combat Assault Battalion is being phased out. Attached to the 3rd MARDIV, the “Iron Fist” operates the division’s amtracs, LAV-25 recon vehicles, and specialist engineering vehicles and is the only battalion-sized combat assault unit in the Marine Corps.
After 76 years of conducting amphibious assaults, light armored reconnaissance, and combat engineer operations, CAB is set to deactivate 12 October 2018.
Formed originally as the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion, they became the 1st Tracked Vehicle Battalion in 1976, the 1st Armored Assault Battalion in 1988, and finally the CAB in 1994. It is one of the most storied outfits in Marine history with unit awards for Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Finschhafen, New Britain, Okinawa, The Pusan Perimeter, Inchon-Seoul, Chosin Reservoir, Da Nang, Cua Viet, the Gulf War and the War on Terrorism.
Her elements are to be scattered to the rest of the 3d Marine Division.
The unit’s motto, Sui Generis, is akin to one-of-a-kind.
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018: Sideroxylon lanuginosum, everlasting
Here we see the Mesquite-class buoy tender USCGC Ironwood (WAGL/WLB-297) in the summer of 1996 in Alaskan waters offloading equipment for maintenance on Eldred Rock Lighthouse. A product of WWII, she would over a half-century in U.S. maritime service and is, remarkably, still ticking in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1916 the Revenue Cutter Service and Lifesaving Service were merged to form the Coast Guard, to which the Bureau of Lighthouses was added on 1 July 1939 and as such all U.S. lighthouses, tenders, and lightships became USCG installations and ships. The thing is, the lighthouse and buoy tender fleet was a hodgepodge of antiquated single-use vessels to which the Bureau had been looking to replace with a new series of 177-foot lighthouse tenders modeled after the USLHT Juniper, the last vessel designed by the Bureau.
Taking these plans, the Coast Guard made some changes and produced a 180-foot/950-ton single-screw steel-hulled ship that incorporated some new features that the USLHS never needed (an ice-strengthened bow, search and rescue equipment and mission, allowance for armament, et.al). The first of these, USCGC Cactus (WAGL-270) was appropriated for $782,381 on 20 Jan 1941 and laid down at Marine Iron & Shipbuilding Corporation, Duluth, MN on 31 March.
Almost all of these hardy ships were built either at Marine or at Zenith Dredge Company very rapidly in three subclasses: the “A” or “Cactus” class, “B” or “Mesquite” class, and “C” or “Iris” class (with all named for trees and bushes). All ships of the three subclasses have the same general characteristics, but with slight differences, (e.g. the “A/Cactus” class tenders may be differentiated from the other two classes of 180-foot tenders by their unique “A” frame main boom support forward and their large 30,000 gal fuel tanks that allowed an economical 17,000nm cruising range on their gentle diesel suite.) The last to come off the ways was USCGC Woodbrush (WAGL-407) which commissioned 22 Sept. 1944. The building process entailed an average of 192,018 hours of labor per vessel.
Unlike the other 38 of the class that was built by contractors, the hero of our story, USCGC Ironwood, was laid down at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland and commissioned 275 days later on 4 August 1943 for a cost of $1,388,227 (note the difference from Cactus, above). She was the only vessel in active U.S. service named for the Sideroxylon lanuginosum, aka gum bully or ironwood, a small tree native to the Sun Belt and Midwest. According to the USCG’s office, in service, her crew nicknamed her “Ironbush” and “Ironweed” for her small size.
Ironwood sailed for the War in the Pacific, arriving in Noumea, New Caledonia via Bora Bora and Pago Pago, in March 1944.
She spent the next nine months in a busy but routine operation of keeping the 3rd Fleet’s vast anchorages up to snuff. This meant tending anti-torpedo nets and mooring buoys, establishing the new-fangled LORAN network, carrying cargo, mail, and servicemembers from island to island, and towing barges as needed– all while looking out for the possibility of Japanese mines, periscopes, and floatplanes on the horizon. She even came to the assistance of the stranded Liberty Ship SS John Lind.
Coast Guard Historian’s Office:
On 26 March1944 Ironwood left Noumea to assist SS John Lind grounded on a reef at 22 28 S, 166 36 E. Ironwood’s attempts to pull the vessel off being unsuccessful, she removed 65 Navy and Marine Corps personnel from the vessel on the 28th and transported them to Noumea on the next day. She remained until 2 April 1944 when she proceeded with Navy tugs USS Sioux and YT-463 to remove the reefed ship. In tandem with the tugs they successfully re-floated John Lind on 6 April.
In January 1945, she sailed for Guadalcanal’s Cape Esperance in the Solomons. There, she moved assisted in the recovery of a Japanese midget submarine. The 78-foot, 47-ton, two-man Type A Ko-hyoteki boat, was found in 30 feet of water and the cutter spent two weeks in the recovery operation as detailed by Combined Fleets:
4 January 1945:
US Coast Guard cutter IRONWOOD (W-297) begins operations to raise an unidentified Japanese two-man midget submarine from about 30 feet of water off Cape Esperance. Divers, working from a small boat, use a water pressure hose and crowbars to clear a space under the bow and stern of the submarine. By 9 Jan, a 1.5” chain sling is rigged around the bow of the midget submarine.
19 January 1945:
After retiring to Gavutu for ten days, IRONWOOD again anchors off Cape Esperance. By now, divers have completed rigging the submarine for lifting, connecting the chain around its bow and stern with a chain bridal.
20 January 1945 :
IRONWOOD is positioned alongside the sunken midget submarine. She lowers the main hoist over the starboard side and hooks it to the chain bridal. The cutter then raises the midget submarine to the surface and secures it alongside. IRONWOOD then tows it to Hutchinson’s Creek, Florida Island, Solomons. The next day, IRONWOOD moves to a new anchorage where the midget submarine is transferred to an unidentified USN crane barge.
The identity of this 1945 salvaged midget submarine is unknown but is possibly HA-22 or HA-37. I can’t find out what happened to the craft but it was likely scrapped at some point. It is not one of the five Type A midgets preserved and on display currently (HA-8: Groton, Connecticut; HA-18: JMSDF Etajima Naval Base, Etajima, Japan; HA-19: Nimitz Museum, Fredericksburg, Texas; and HA-14/HA-21 at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra).
Ironwood went on to spend a solid year, from August 1945 to July 1946, in the Philippines reestablishing buoys and lighthouses and looking for pockets of Japanese holdouts.
Following her extended wartime service, she was stationed briefly in Monterey, California then returned to the South Pacific soon enough.
Between 19 November 1951 and 2 May 1954, Ironwood made four deployments to support Korean War operations, supplying and supporting radio stations in the region. As such, she was one of just 24 Coast Guard vessels that qualified for the Korean Service Medal.
In 1963, by that time stationed in Honolulu, she took some of the first scientists to return to the Marshall Islands after U.S. nuclear testing. As related by Capt. LeRoy Reinburg, Jr., U.S. Coast Guard-Retired, her skipper at the time, Ironwood spent almost two weeks inspecting radioactive and poorly charted Rongelap Atoll.
“In the course of our travels, we discovered nine uncharted islands and one large reef that bared at low tide. Dr. Held and I decided to assign names to these geographic features. The reef, appropriately, was named ‘Ironwood Reef,’” he noted.
During the mid-1960s, these boats were designated WLBs (buoy tenders) and saw all fixed armament landed in 1966, leaving them only their small arms lockers. If deployed for law enforcement missions or to war zones, 180s would be equipped with up to four Browning M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns or a similar number of M60 7.62mm GPMGs. Lacking its naval piece, the 3-inch Gun Tub served as a lookout perch and occasional storage area for small items including crew bicycles when traveling between ports. Lockers for life jackets and exposure survival suits were later located on this deck, which is encircled by a tubular steel railing.
During the Vietnam conflict, four USCG 180s were dispatched to Southeast Asia to perform aids-to-navigation support and assist with harbor defense and maintenance– Basswood (WLB-388), Blackhaw (WLB-390) Planetree (WLB-307, and, of course, Ironwood, the latter of which deployed there in July 1967.
Vietnamese lighthouse service personnel were assigned to temporary duty on board as they worked to reactivate and automate Vietnamese lighthouses and establish new U.S.-sponsored lights. While deploying work crews, machine gun teams would have to stand by in case they came under fire from passing sampans or the shore as VC constantly shot out navigational lights and sank buoys. Her crew also provided services to the local populace such as MEDCAPS.
Sometime around this period she even clocked in on NASA support duties, helping with recovering boilerplate space capsules in the rush to the moon.
She conducted a number of rescues over the years:
*8 January 1959 Ironwood assisted thegrounded sampan Bellatrix at Molokai Beach, HI.
*6 January 1962 Ironwood rescued the crew of FV Hiroshima Maru aground at 21 17 N, 157 51 W.
*23-25 May 1963 the cutter escorted the disabled MV Dianna to Honolulu, HI.
*18 February 1969 Ironwood towed the disabled FV Widgeon from Augustine Island to Homer, AK.
*April 1969 escorted the distressed tanker Yukon, which was holed by a submerged object in Cook Inlet.
*29 April 1969 the crew fought a fire on the Shell Oil drilling platform in Cook Inlet.
*26 December 1969 she hoisted the disabled FV Arctic Fox on board at MacArthur Cove and carried her to Seward, AK
Ironwood was later given a one-year major renovation (MAJREN) in 1974, envisioned at the time to keep her in service for another 15 years. This involved removing her Cooper-Bessemer inline 8-cylinder engines and rebuilding them, new electrical wiring, piping, and sewage handling systems. She picked up a bow thruster, all-new crew spaces, new cranes, ship heaters, reefers, the works.
After her refit, she was put to work on the Alaska beat, stationed at Kodiak, in all spending the last 26 years of her Coast Guard career in Alaskan waters. During this time she escorted Soviet fishing trawlers out of U.S. waters, participated in Naval exercises, towed disabled fishing vessels to port, medevac’d injured mariners, searched for missing planes– you know, typical Coast Guard stuff.
Between 1979 and 1995, she earned six Coast Guard “E” ribbons. In 1981, she received the Coast Guard Unit Commendation. In both 1989 and 1999, she picked up Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations for her duty in the frozen and dangerous Bering Sea, in particular assisting with the cleanup operations in Prince William Sound after the grounding of the Exxon Valdez.
At the time of her decommissioning, Ironwood was the second-oldest cutter in USCG service (only surpassed at the time by the medium endurance cutter Storis) and was the only remaining US vessel in service awarded the Korean Service Medal. Then, of course, there was her WWII service, nuke sniffing, assistance to the Space program and her Vietnam tour. She served 14 Commandants of the Coast Guard, 34 commanding officers and more than 1,200 crew members in the course of her half-million miles traveled.
But her story doesn’t end there. The old girl, after 57 years of active duty, she was to be transferred to Nigeria but instead, in 2002, was presented to the Tongue Point Seamanship Academy in Oregon which uses her as a floating classroom to train new mariners in an 18-month program to find seagoing careers.
In 2014, the center threw a 70th anniversary for Ironwood.
As for her sisterships, many have proven to be very long in the tooth:
*Balsam (WLB-62) was decommissioned 1975 and has been used as an Alaskan crab boat ever since. She is currently the F/V Baranof.
*Cactus (WLB-270) was seized in Kings County Washington as a derelict vessel in 2013 for dismantling.
*Cowslip (WLB-277), Firebush (WLB-393) and Sassafras (WLB-401) were transferred to Nigerian Navy 2002-2003 as NNS Nwamba, NNS Olepu and Obula respectively. All remain in service. Sedge (WLB-402) was also transferred for parts.
*Woodbine (WLB-289) was donated to be a training ship in Cleveland in 1972 and went on to be a fish processing boat in Alaska before being sold for scrap in 2012.
*Gentian (WLB-290) was transferred to Colombia as ARC San Andrés (PO-45) and is still active.
*Laurel (WLB-291) was sold at a GSA auction in 1999, ultimate fate unknown.
*Clover (WLB-292) and Evergreen (WLB-295) were decommissioned 1990 and sunk by the Navy as a targets.
*Sorrel (WLB-296) was decommissioned in 1996 and is used as SS Reliance operated by Sea Scout Ship #13 of Stockton, California, showing up in an episode of Dexter.
*Conifer (WLB-301) and Papaw (WLB-308) were decommissioned 2000 and 1999 respectively and was used for a number of years as F/V Hope and F/V Mersea, part of the disaster relief fleet of Friend Ships, but have since been removed from that organization.
*Madrona (WLB-302) transferred to El Salvador who used her as General Manuel José Arce and subsequently sunk her as a reef.
*Tupelo (WAGL/WLB-303) was decommissioned in 1975 and has spent the past 30 years as a Bering Sea fishing boat, FV Courageous.
*Mesquite (WLB-305) ran aground December 4, 1989 on a reef off the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior while in Coast Guard service and was scuttled for underwater diving preserve.
*Buttonwood (WLB-306) was decommissioned 2001 and transferred to the Dominican Republic’s Navy as Almirante Didiez Burgos, still active. USCGC Citrus (WMEC-300), also endures there as Almirante Juan Alejandro Acosta (C-456/P301)
*Sweetgum (WLB-309) was transferred in 2002 to Panama as SMN Independencia (P401).
*Basswood (WLB-388), Blackhaw (WLB-390) and Mallow (WLB-396) were scrapped in 2000.
*Bittersweet (WLB-389) was decommissioned and transferred to Estonian Border Guard, 5 September 1997 who used her until 2014– she is retained as a museum ship.
*Blackthorn (WLB-391) sank in 1980 in a collision near the Tampa Bay Sunshine Skyway Bridge, resulting in 23 crewmember fatalities. Raised, she was resunk as a reef.
*Bramble (WLB-392) was decommissioned 2003, and has been retained with a mixed degree of success as a museum ship in the Great Lakes.
*Hornbeam (WLB-394) was decommissioned 1999, and lost near Panama as M/V Rum Cay Grace in 2013.
*Iris (WLB-395) and Planetree (WLB-307) were decommissioned after helping with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1995 and 1999, repectviely, and sit in rusting quiet in the SBRF, Suisun Bay, CA mothballs fleet.
*Mariposa (WLB-397) was decommissioned in 2000 but has been retained by the Navy as a hulk until 2009 and has been spotted in the Seattle area since then.
*Redbud (WLB-398) was transferred to the Philippines as Kalinga (AG-89) in 1972.
*Sagebrush (WLB-399) was scuttled off St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia on 28 April 1988.
*Salvia (WLB-400) was decommissioned 1991 and used as a salvage operations training vessel for U.S. Navy at Little Creek.
*Spar (WLB-403) was decommed 1997 and sunk as a reef in 2004.
*Sundew (WLB-404) was decommissioned 2004, used as a museum for a while, then sold to private interests in 2010.
*Acacia (WLB-406), the last 180 in Coast Guard service, was decommissioned 2006 after 63 years of service and is now a museum in Manistee, Michigan.
*Woodrush (WLB-407) and Sweetbrier (WLB-405) were transferred to Ghana in 2001 where she still serves as GNS Anzone (P30) and GNS Bonsu (P31) respectively, which means “shark” and “whale” in the native lingo.
For interior pics, the LOC has a great series of images from the Planetree, a Mesquite subclass sister.
Displacement: 935 fl (1944); 1,026 fl (1966); 700 light (1966)
Length: 180-feet oa
Beam: 37 feet mb
Draft: 12 ft. max (1944); 14′ 7″ (1966)
Propulsion: 1 electric motor connected to 2 Westinghouse generators driven by 2 Cooper-Bessemer-type GND-8, 4-cycle diesels; single screw
Top speed: 13.0 kts sustained (1945); 11.9 kts sustained (1966). 28,000 gals diesel
Economic speed: 8.3 kts (1945); 8.5 kts (1966)
6 Officers, 74 men (1944);
5 Officers, 2 warrants, 41 men (1966)
Radar: Bk (1943); SLa-1 (1945), SPS-64(V) 1979
Sonar: WEA-2 (1945-66)
1-3″/50 (single), 4-20mm/80 (single), 2 depth charge tracks, 2 Mousetraps, 4 Y-guns
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From the collection of the U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center, Ft. Lee:
This is a Vietnamese, homemade, floating water mine that was made circa 1970. It is constructed of a cardboard box wrapped in black plastic. There are nine aqua and white colored plastic flotation devices with wrapped charge simulated in between. It is held together with four wooden sticks that are tied together with rubber strips and cordage. Also, there is approximately 100 ft. of cord for directing purposes. During the Vietnam conflict, there were many of these types of devices employed in the rivers and canals of South Vietnam.
If it seems silly, keep in mind that a team of VC waterborne sappers were able to mine the WWII-era MSTS-manned jeep carrier USNS Card and put her on the bottom of Saigon harbor, although she was soon refloated and repaired.