3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, “the Golden Brigade,” arriving for their time in Vietnam in early 1968. Note everybody taking advantage of “smoke em if you got em,” as well as the camo M1 covers, M16A1s, several 173rd ABN Brigade combat patches, and heavy distribution of M79 bloop guns.
Reminds me of this passage from a book that I was pleased to see on my son’s reading list, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried,
In addition to the three standard weapons–the M-60, M-16, and M-79–they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive. They carried catch-as-catch-can. At various times, in various situations, they carried M-14s and CAR-15s and Swedish Ks and grease guns and captured AK-47s and Chi-Coms and RPGs and Simonov carbines and black market Uzis and .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handguns and 66 mm LAWs and shotguns and silencers and blackjacks and bayonets and C4 plastic explosives.
Lee Strunk carried a slingshot; a weapon of last resort, he called it. Mitchell Sanders carried brass knuckles. Kiowa carried his grandfather’s feathered hatchet. Every third or fourth man carried a Claymore antipersonnel mine–3.5 pounds with its firing device. They all carried fragmentation grenades–14 ounces each. They all carried at least one M-18 colored smoke grenade–24 ounces. Some carried CS or tear gas grenades. Some carried white phosphorus grenades. They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”
U.S. Army Prototype Anti-Armor Hand Grenade from 1973 – A Shaped Charge Packed in a Hollowed-Out NERF Football:
“Since a regulation size football weighs 14 ounces, it was considered feasible to make a shaped charge grenade within this weight limitation,” according to the official test report. “In addition, most U.S. troops are familiar with throwing footballs.”
Footballs, however, are not solid inside, making the prototype grenade unstable in flight. The project was cancelled and Parker Brothers (makers of the NERF footballs since 1969) was never officially involved.
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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, June 7, 2017: The first stripe and the savior of the Queen
Here we see an oncoming Coast Guard Cutter through an attack periscope of a “U-boat.” She is the Owasco-class gunboat/high endurance cutter Androscoggin (WPG/WHEC-68) and was the first to carry the now-customary racing stripe of the service. More on this submarine action below.
The word Androscoggin is an Indian term meaning “fishing place for alewives” or “spear fishing” and is used for a river formed on the Maine-New Hampshire border as well as a county and lake in the same area. The name was first used in U.S. maritime service by the U.S. Revenue Cutter Androscoggin, a 210-foot vessel built for the service in Delaware in 1908.
One of the first warships (she was armed with a quartet of four pounders as well as demolition charges and mines to sink deflects found at sea) designed to break ice, she was used in many high-profile rescues at sea under amazingly harsh conditions as well as participating in the early International Ice Patrol after the loss of RMS Titanic. In 1914, she interned the North German Lloyd Line steamship SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie— with $10m worth of German gold aboard– as the Great War came to Europe and saved her from likely capture by British ships on the Atlantic– a fun point when we consider the follow-on Cutter Androscoggin.
Speaking of which, let’s get to the 255-foot Owasco or “Indian tribe” -class.
Designed during World War II to replace a few elderly cutters dating back to the 1900s as well as 10 Lake-class vessels transferred to Britain in 1940 under the Destroyers for Bases deal, the 13 Owascos were short (225 feet) and beamy (43 feet) making them as wide as a FFG7 class frigate of today but about 200 feet shorter. With a displacement of over 2,000-tons at full load, they were wider and as heavy as a Fletcher-class destroyer of the day but classified as gunboats (PGs) by the Navy.
They were the most heavily armed Coast Guard ships of WWII, with twin 5″/38 mounts fore and aft, a pair of quad 40mm Bofors, 4x20mm/80 singles, twin depth charge racks over the stern, 6 Y-gun depth charge projectors, and a Mark 10 Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar device. Besides the larger Wind-class icebreakers operated by both the Navy and the Coast Guard, and the 327-foot Treasury-class cutters, the Owascos were the only WWII-era ships built for the service that had a fire control radar (a Mk26). The initial design even included an amidships floatplane and catapult, but this was deleted.
With their overly complex turbo-electric plant and low-speed (17 knots wide open), these boats were not really meant for high seas/heavy weather but for close-in littoral (16-foot draft) work and plodding convoy operations.
The first 11 of the class were built by the Western Pipe & Steel Company at San Pedro, California, while the last two—Mendota and Pontchartrain—were completed at the hands of the by the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland. None made a significant impact on WWII, with class leader Owasco commissioning on 18 May 1945.
CGC Androscoggin, the last of the class built at San Pedro and the last of the design to be completed, commissioned on 26 September 1946, a full year after the war ended. Her first station was in Boston where she spent until 1950 on weather stations in the Atlantic, sans most of her wartime armament.
Transferred to Miami in 1959, Androscoggin would spend the next 23 years off and on there conducting law enforcement and search and rescue operations, as well as occasional stints on ocean weather station tours– the latter spent performing 28 days obtaining meteorological and oceanography data and information. As such, she had her sole twin 5″ mount replaced with a more practical single tube.
Androscoggin also helped support the Navy’s Fleet Sonar School in Key West, serving as the USCG’s school ship there on occasion. During this time, she spent a lot of hours in war games with the various WWII Balao-class subs stationed in the Keys, and as such her sonar and electronics were updated from 1940s-era sets to the current fleet standard.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, she chopped to help the Navy, picking up the Navy Expeditionary Medal.
In 1965, Androscoggin was the first in the service to pick up the USCG’s new “racing stripe” design.
In 1966, she was detached to the Bahamas where she helped support the filming of the Paramount film “Assault on a Queen” in which Frank Sinatra and company salvage a lost German U-boat and use her to stop and rob the RMS Queen Mary.
As noted by the Coast Guard’s Historian’s Office: “In the final segments of the film, Androscoggin, through the miracle of special effects, saves the day by ramming and sinking a renegade submarine, thereby thwarting Sinatra’s dastardly plan to rob RMS Queen Mary on the high seas.”
Many of the ocean scenes in the filming of “Assault on a Queen” took place in the huge man-made pool that was the “Sersen Tank” at Fox’s Ranch in Malibu Canyon. Built in the 1960s, dozens of films from “Cleopatra” to “Tora! Tora! Tora!” had their water scenes shot there. The Sinatra crew’s static U-boat set was built there and the footage of Androscoggin‘s ice-strengthened bow rushing from the horizon as the German skipper fires his P-38 in the last act of defiance was superimposed.
Her movie days behind her, she was sent to war.
In 1967, Androscoggin was dispatched to the Navy’s control again, heading to Vietnam for a nine-month stint in Operation Market Time, the interdiction effort off the coast of that country to stop reinforcements from the North from making their way south via water. Androscoggin was assigned to Coast Guard Squadron Three, Vietnam, from 4 December 1967 to 4 August 1968, ditching most of her remaining ASW gear for a pair of 81mm mortars (used for firing illumination rounds) and a half-dozen M2 .50 cals for keeping small boats at bay.In addition to sinking or destroying 106 enemy sampans, on the night of 28 Feb/1 March 1968, Androscoggin shot it out with a large armed North Vietnamese steel-hull trawler moving munitions down south at the mouth of the Song Cau River.
During her 304-day mission from Miami to Miami, she steamed 64,676 miles and fired 4,147 5-inch shells from her main gun over the course of 44 naval gunfire support missions– some with as little as three feet of brackish water under her keel. Her crew also investigated over 2,000 surface contacts, conducted 17 medical missions ashore and delivered four babies.
In her 27-years afloat, she played host to several crew members who went on to great things. Roland Hemond was an NCO on “Andy” in the 1950s and played on her softball team before going to become one of baseball’s most successful executives, spending 23 years as a general manager with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles before becoming the chief executive officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The well-liked and respected 23rd Commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Thad Allen (USCGA 1971) was a newly minted 22-year-old ensign on Androscoggin when it came to his duty to file the customary New Year’s Eve Log going into 1972 as the ship sat tied up at Miami Beach, and I think it is one of the better than I have read:
Such as I, on numbered ships,
on many nights, for countless years,
Have toyed their minds in search of words
To describe a mooring to some pier;
Or the loneliness out underway,
Remembering gentle words and tears,
And find some clever way to state
The movements of a thousand years.
So I, like them, with pen in hand
Here on these pages now commit
The status of our weather ship
And the varied functions there, to wit.
Our mooring lines run two by two
Secured are we this year so new
Berth, Foxtrot, to which our hawsers reach
Is to our port in Miami Beach.
Commander, Coast Guard District Seven
Sits above us in the heavens.
He gives us orders and transfers souls
And exerts his operational control.
Since airplanes in the foremast look pretty unsightly
All of our lights are burning brightly.
To wet our throats and light our way
Throughout these Charlie-status days
Upon the dock we must rely
For telephone and shore ties
So we may protect those here inside
We have sit Yoke modified
And to insure this ship stays sound
The messenger is making hourly rounds.
Pollution abatement is the Coast Guard’s pride
But we are pumping our sewage over the side
And last, there are those more lucky than we
In duty section one, two and three
For to keep the wolf away from the door
The duty belongs to section four.
While at home with family and fireside bright
The commanding officer is ashore tonight.
…with duties done and entries made,
I can only sit and ponder
The pathways through the coming year
And courses we must wander.
Ours is such and duty calls,
But the day must come for us to see
The people of the Earth walk hand in hand
And all nations are one and free.
Until that time we all will pray
That we may find each other
Then stop the wars that mean our doom
And walk the Earth as brothers…
Few creatures are stirring to see the year slip,
Brow quite wrinkled and dark eyes set deep
Love, peace, and joy are there to be found
With the Coast Guard’s post-Vietnam draw-down and a dozen new Hamilton-class 378-foot cutters joining the fleet, the 13 Owascos were retired en bloc between 1973-75, with Androscoggin decommissioned on 27 February 1973, and sold for scrap on 7 October 1974. Few reminders of the class remain.
Androscoggin‘s memory is maintained by a dedicated group of former crewmen and her log books, going all the way back to 1947, are in the National Archives.
There is this piece of maritime art, “Weather decks secure” by CDR Don Van Liew, of Androscoggin at sea.
You can always watch Assault on a Queen, from which stock footage of Androscoggin has been recycled into a number of 1960s and 70s TV shows.
And of course, the racing stripe lives on…and is now the standard identification for coast guard vessels around the world under dozens of flags.
Displacement: 1,978 fl (1966); 1,342 light (1966)
Length: 254’oa; 245’bp
Navigation Draft: 17’3” max (1966) Beam: 43’1” max
Main Engines: 1 Westinghouse electric motor driven by a turbine. SHP: 4,000 total (1945)
Performance, Maximum Sustained: 17.0 kts, 6,157-mi radius (1966)
Performance, Economic: 10.0 kts., 10,376-mi radius (1966)
Fuel Capacity: 141,755 gal (Oil, 95%)
Complement: 10 officers, 3 warrants, 130 men (1966)
Radar: SR, SU
Detection Radar: SPS-23, SPS-29, Mk 26, Mk 27
2 x twin 5 inch/38 cal. dual purpose gun mounts, one fore and one aft, 2 x quad 40mm AA gun mounts, 2 x depth charge tracks; 6 x “K” gun depth charge projectors, 1 x hedgehog A/S projector.
1 x 5”/38 Mk 12m Mod 6 w/ Mk 52 Mod 3 director and 26-4 fire control radar;
1 x Mk 10 Mod 1 A/S projector;
2 x Mk 32 ASW TT
1 x 5”/38 Mk 12m Mod 6 w/ Mk 52 Mod 3 director and 26-4 fire control radar;
2 x 81mm mortars for illum
6 x M2 .50 caliber guns
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USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722), a 378-foot high endurance cutter, was commissioned in 1969 and, after nearly a half-century of service, including action in the Vietnam War, numerous major drug interdictions, law enforcement cases, and a variety of noteworthy rescues was taken out of U.S. service at Honolulu in April. Now, renamed CSB 8020, she was commissioned into the Coast Guard of Vietnam where she will continue her traditional mission under a red flag.
“This cutter provides a concrete and significant symbol of the U.S-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership,” said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Michael J. Haycock, assistant commandant for acquisition and chief acquisition officer, in a statement. “The Coast Guard is honored to see this vessel continue to preserve global peace and prosperity as a part of the Vietnam coast guard.”
As part of Operation Market Time, Morgenthau was very active in the Vietnam War, conducting support for coastal patrol craft, naval gunfire support, and patrol duties off the coast of Vietnam in 1970-71. During her period in Market Time, she delivered 19 naval gunfire support missions on targets ashore, inspected 627 junks and sampans, and cruised 39,029 miles on patrol. In total, she fired 1,645 rounds from her main 5-inch gun, destroying 32 structures and 12 bunkers ashore.
Her crew also sank an armed North Vietnamese SL-8 trawler in a night surface action while it was trying to infiltrate the South Vietnam coastline.
Morgenthau later made Coast Guard history by being one of the first ships to have gender-integrated crews and captured a number of drug runners on the high seas. In short, she had an extensive and celebrated career.
The cutter was transferred in conjunction with an additional six smaller 45-foot patrol boats this week as tensions in the South China Sea between China and her neighbors escalate and Vietnam is now counted as a key U.S. ally in the region.
This is not the first time the U.S. has helped rebuild the navies of former enemies. Among the first ships of the new Japanese and German fleets in the 1950s in the aftermath of World War II were loaned former U.S. Navy vessels.
Moving past equipping the Vietnamese coast guard, the Southeast Asian country is looking to pick up 100~ modern fighter-bombers “to replace its antiquated fleet of 144 Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbeds and thirty-eight Sukhoi Su-22 Fitter strike aircraft.”
While some say competitors range from the Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen NG, Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and South Korea’s F/A-50 lightweight fighter, how much do you want to bet they may get 100 gently refirb’d surplus F-16C/Ds fresh from the boneyard.
Heck, we are using the F-16A/Bs as target drones at this point.
Michael B. Taft, an ironworker and dairy farmer, was an infantryman in A Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines from 1966 to 1967. He spent some time in a place called Khe Sanh. He tells his story in a gripping account at the NY Times entitled “A Patrol Called King Kong”
Astride the old French colonial Route 9 and just six miles east of Laos, the Khe Sanh Special Forces base sat on a plateau in a valley, deep within the Annamite Mountains. Immediately north of the plateau and hundreds of feet below, the spectacular, fast-moving Quang Tri River had cut a deep gorge on its way to the South China Sea at Dong Ha. To the west sat a mass of 3,000-foot hills, both an extraordinary spectacular beauty and a forbidding terrain of dense, triple-canopy forest growing in laterite soil. It would also soon be the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.
Here we see what the Navy’s attack team looked like for a hot minute around the mid-1970s before the Hornet made it to the fleet, stacked up for a group photo at NAS Oceana. The new and exotic swing-wing Grumman F-14 Tomcat is up front while the Vietnam holy trinity of the A-6 Intruder, F-4 Phantom, and A-4 Skyhawk bringing up the rear.
The F-14 entered fleet service starting in September 1974 with squadrons VF-1 “Wolfpack” and VF-2 “Bounty Hunters” aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and participated in the American withdrawal from Saigon. At the same time, A-4Fs from VA-164 “Ghostriders” were still deploying on the WWII-era Essex-class carrier USS Hancock (CV-19) but would soon be transitioned to training and adversary duties which they would perform admirably for another decade and change. Hancock, as luck would have it, had landed her air wing for Saigon as the new F-14s from Enterprise had her back and embarked 25 Marine helicopters to help with the evacuation.
-F-4s continued to deploy as late as 1983 with the “Jolly Rogers” of VF-103 while the last Marine Phantom, an F-4S, was retired by VMFA-112’s “Cowboys” in 1992.
-The hearty A-6 was last flown by ATKRON 75, the “Sunday Punchers,” in February 1997– ironically they were also the first operational fleet squadron to be assigned the Intruder, in 1963.
-TARPS-equipped F-14Ds remained in combat with VF-31 and VF-213 dropping ordnance over Iraq as late as 2006 before they were sent to the crushers, by that time the old men of the fleet.
End of the line:
Above is BuNo 161159: One of the few (19) surviving F-14Ds “Bombcats” this one at National Naval Aviation Museum, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. She completed the last combat flight and the last combat carrier arrested landing (trap) by a U.S. Navy F-14 when she trapped on the deck of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) on 8 February 2006 as part of the “Black Lions” of Fighter Squadron (VF) 213. Originally accepted by the Navy as an F-14A in December 1980– likely just five years after the above picture was taken– she was converted to the F-14D configuration in September 1991 and flew 224 combat sorties.
The ultimate replacement for all of the above? The F/A-18, absent from the class photo as she was in the class of 1978.
The Loadout Room has a great piece on two unsung weapons in the U.S. arsenal used extensively by SF types during the conflict. The M-14 Anti-Personnel mine, more commonly known as the “Toe Popper,” and the V40 Mini-Fragmentation Grenade.
The first weapon, the M14 mine, looked like a small, thick disc that was olive drab in color, 2.2 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches in height. It contained 1 ounce of Tetryl explosive to make up its 3.5-ounce weight. This lightness came from its mostly plastic construction, and, to set it off, required a pressure of between 20 to 35 pounds.
The V40, at 2.6 inches high, 1.6 inches in diameter and weighing just 4.8 ounces, the grenade gave the appearance of a modified golf ball. A safety spoon like that found on standard grenades extended along its side and when released, caused the fuse mechanism to detonate the grenade four seconds later. The fragmentation pattern came from 326 squares pressed inside the metal casing and had a 16-foot lethal radius.
How were they used?