Category Archives: vietnam

Fly By Night Outfit: Spooky does it

Official caption: “Air War In Vietnam, 1966: Crew of US AC-47 plane firing 7.62 mm GE miniguns during a night mission in Vietnam.”

The trio of General Electric GAU-2/M134 miniguns carried by the gunship was able to lay down a total of 6,000 rounds of 7.62 NATO per minute, or 100 per second.

The night attack of a U.S. Air Force Douglas AC-47D Spooky gunship over Saigon in 1968. This time-lapse photo shows the tracer round trajectories. National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo 120517-F-DW547-001

Going well beyond the “whole nine yards”

AC-47 Spooky by Stu Shepherd

With less than 40 AC-47s of all types used by the USAF’s 3rd and 4th Air Commando Squadrons between 1964-69, few remained in U.S. inventory as most flyable examples were passed on to Southeast Asian allies (i.e. Cambodia, Laos, RVN, Thailand) after the much more capable AC-130 gunship entered service.

However, there is one that I happen to visit every time I head to Destin, located at the USAF Armament Museum, although it is actually just a modded C-47K Goony Bird (S/N 44-76486).

The AC-47D depicted emulates SN 43-49010 which was one of the first 20 C-47Ds converted to its AC-47D configuration by Air International at Miami, FL. The original was assigned to the 4th Special Operations Squadron, 14th Special Operations Wing, flying out of Udorn RTAFB, Thailand during the Vietnam War from 1969-1970.

Farewell, Carpet Beater

The West Germans saw how the ubiquitous UH-1 Huey was used in Vietnam in the 1960s and decided it needed some of that. Through a licensing deal with Bell and the blessing of the Nixon administration, Dornier began making copies of the UH-1D (Bell 205) stretched-fuselage single-engine 15-seat troop carrier variant in 1968, completing 352 birds for the Bundeswehr by 1981 in addition to four American-made models delivered as a control group. KHD in Oberursel was licensed to make the aircrafts’ Lycoming T53-L-13B 1400 shp turboshaft engines.

Unofficially termed the Teppichklopfer (carpet beater) in German service, they were well-liked and proved reliable. In all, the Heer (Army) operated 212 of the aircraft while the Luftwaffe picked up 132 for SAR and liaison, and the Bundesgrenzschutz (BSG) border guards got 12 of their own for use by their elite counter-terror group.

1991: Soldiers of Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion 2 from Hessisch-Lichtenau practice airborne surveillance of large areas in cooperation with Hueys der Heeresflieger in the Höxter area. (Photo: Jan-P. Weisswange/Soldat und Technik)

The Kraut Huey proved to be extremely reliable even in difficult operating conditions. They served not only in Germany and on NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia (IFOR, SFOR, KFOR, and EUFOR) but also in Somalia and in Iraq. (Photo: Bundeswehr)

By the early 2000s, the aircraft were showing their age and were replaced by new NH90 and H145 (Eurocopter EC145) production until just one squadron was flying them for SAR use in dets out of Niederstetten, Nörvenich, and Holzdorf.

Putting a cap on over 2.3 million hours of service across almost 50 years, the last German UH-1D, 73+08, callsign Joker 99 (“Full Metal Jacket” fans?), received a “Goodbye Huey” sunset livery and flew into Bückeburg airfield (Airfield Achum) in June to finish its 10,000-hour lifespan before heading to the German Helicopter Museum (Hubschraubermuseum) there, arriving on June 22.

The last German UH-1D, 73+08, callsign Joker 99, in “Goodbye Huey” livery

The last German UH-1D, 73+08, callsign Joker 99, in “Goodbye Huey” livery

However, the swan song on the Teppichklopfer came this last week, halfway around the world from Germany. You see, in 2014, the Philippine Air Force took possession of 21 donated ex-Bundeswehr UH-1Ds. Long-serving and all over 20 years old at transfer, they were to be upgraded to a “Huey II” standard in a $27M program that never really came to play, and the latter deal was criticized over allegations of kickbacks to high-ranking officials. 

Nonetheless, as the PAF had other UH-1 models on hand to include former Vietnam vintage “Hotel” models from the U.S, and commercial Bell 412s, as well as as the boost of donated spare parts from Japan (where the UH-1J was built under license by Fuji Heavy Industries) it has been able to keep their German birds in the air for the past decade, supporting operations throughout the archipelago to fight the local terrorists and conduct relief operations when earthquakes and typhoons struck the archipelago.

Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. service members exit a helicopter during air assault training at Fort Magsaysay, the Philippines in 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael G. Herrero/Released)

Now, as the PAF is moving to newer rotary aircraft– including Turkish-made Augusta T129 ATAKs, Italian AW109s, and American Sikorsky S-70s, S-76s, and MD 500 Defenders– the age of the Huey is almost over, at least in the PI.

October 13 saw the retirement of the last 10 remaining Dornier UH-1Ds acquired in 2014, as the PAF welcomed aboard five S-70i Black Hawks and four ScanEagle UAS at Clark Air Base in Pampanga.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021: Tokyo Express

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, Oct. 13, 2021: Tokyo Express

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 82282

Here we see the modified Essex-class attack carrier USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) off Gibraltar, 13 October 1963– 58 years ago today and the traditional birthday of the U.S. Navy, as a matter of fact. Just as the fabled rock holds a key place in British history, “Shang” holds a singular role in American naval history and lore. 

The 12th aircraft carrier of the Essex class and the 20th fleet carrier to be commissioned into the U.S. Navy, Shangri-La as far as I can tell is the only American flattop ever named after an entirely fictional place. As something of wink-wink disinformation for the daring raid on military targets at Tokyo, Yokohoma, Osaka, and Kobe, by 16 stripped-down USAAF B-25B Mitchell bombers of Maj. Gen. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, flying from USS Hornet (CV-7) in April 1942, FDR chalked up that the bombers flew from “Shangri-La,” referring to the fictional Tibetan utopian of the 1933 James Hilton novel Lost Horizon.

The first true mass-market paperback, at 25-cents a pop, Lost Horizon was the best-selling novel of 1939 and Roosevelt was evidently a fan. For instance, the low-key (and top-secret) Presidential country retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin mountains established by FDR and filled with furnishings drawn from the White House’s attic was named Shangri-La.

The installation remained a closely guarded secret until late 1944.

Laid down at Norfolk Naval Shipyard exactly eight months after the Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor, our ship was technically a “Long Hull” Essex type, sometimes referred to as a Ticonderoga-class. In a salute to the Doolittle Raiders, her christening sponsor was “Mama Joe,” Mrs. James H. Doolittle (nee Josephine Elsie Daniels).

Her 15 September 1944 commissioning at Norfolk took place before a crowd of 100,000 people. She would spend the rest of the year in shakedowns off the Atlantic coast and in the warm waters of the Caribbean.

Aerial view of USS Shangri-La (CV-38) underway, painted in Measure 33, Design 10A camouflage. This photo was probably taken in the Gulf of Paria, Trinidad, B.W.I, during the ship’s shakedown cruise, September–December 1944. Note destroyer steaming astern of Shangri-La (top left corner of the photo). BuAer photo # 301910.

On 4 November, the 150 pilots of Carrier Air Group 85 reported for duty with an air group that included 51 fighters from the “Sky Pirates” VF/VBF-85 (flying rare F4U-1C Corsairs–with four 20mm cannons– along with more standard machine gun-armed F4U-1Ds and FG-1Ds, as well as a handful of black-painted F6F-5N/P Hellcat night fighters) 23 SB2C-4 Helldiver dive bombers of VB-85, and 18 TBM-3 Avenger torpedo bombers of VT-85, a total of 92 aircraft for starters.

While her aircraft complement would swell to as many as 104 assigned airframes and contract down into the low 80s, this Corsair-heavy load would remain the template over the next year. CVG-85, with its “Z” identifier, would go to war on Shang, bound, like the Doolittle Raiders, for Tokyo.

Aerial bow view of USS Shangri La (CV 38), taken by Navy Utility Squadron VJ-4 flying out of NAS Norfolk, 12 November 1944. 80-G-272499

“Shang” quickly made naval aviation history by hosting three “firsts.” This included launching and trapping the Project Seahorse P-51D-5-NA Mustang, #44-14017, redesignated EFT-51D; along with the initial carrier trials for the Grumman F7F Tigercat and a North American PBJ-1H Mitchell patrol bomber– the latter a B-25H medium bomber modified for flattop operations in the truest Doolittle fashion.

In January 1945, as part of a three-ship group including the battlecruiser large cruiser USS Guam (CB-2) and the destroyer USS Harry E. Hubbard (DD-748), she sailed from Hampton Roads to San Diego via the Ditch and, after picking up passengers and extra planes, arrived at Pearl Harbor in mid-February to begin qualifying her aviators.

On 10 April 1945, she weighed anchor for Ulithi Atoll, and soon joined Task Group (TG) 58.4, launching her first airstrikes against Japanese assets on Okino Daito Jima, southeast of Okinawa, on 25 April. While the war in Europe was only two weeks away from ending, the war in the Pacific was very much still ongoing.

HMAS Nizam (D15), an N-class destroyer of the Royal Australian Navy in the British Pacific Fleet, coming alongside Shangri-La during the Battle for Okinawa, late April 1945. The carrier has Vought F4U Corsairs lined up on the flight deck, with a comparably huge Avenger, top left, and a Hellcat, top right. Note the Sky Pirates’ lightning flash insignia on the planes. Photo from the Hobbs Collection, a British album presentation to the RAN Archives.

VADM John S. “Slim” McCain hoisted his flag in Shangri-La on 18 May, and she became the flagship of his famed TF 38, heading for strikes against the Japanese home islands in June. alternating between close air support duty over Okinawa.

After a period off the lines, Shangri-La embarked, along with the other fast carriers of TF 38, on a month-long series of strikes starting in July along the Japanese coast in which what was left of the Imperial Japanese Navy was destroyed.


Shangri-La’s planes ranged the length of the island chain during these raids. On the 10th. they attacked Tokyo, the first raid there since the strikes of the previous February. On 14 and 15 July 1945, they pounded Honshu and Hokkaido and, on the 18th, returned to Tokyo, also bombing battleship Nagato, moored close to shore at Yokosuka. From 20 to 22 July, Shangri-La joined the logistics group for fuel, replacement aircraft, and mail. By the 24th, her pilots were attacking shipping in the vicinity of Kure. They returned the next day for a repeat performance, before departing for a two-day replenishment period on the 26th and 27th. On the following day, Shangri-La’s aircraft damaged cruiser Oyodo, and battleship Haruna, the latter so badly that she beached and flooded. She later had to be abandoned. They pummeled Tokyo again on 30 July, then cleared the area to replenish on 31 July and 1 August.

Air Raids on Japan, 1945. Japanese cruiser Tone under air attack near Kure, 24 July 1945. Photograph by USS Shangri-La (CV 38) aircraft. Note the camouflage nets hanging over its sides. The heavy cruiser settled to the bottom of the bay that day. 80-G-490148

The same day, same target. Note anti-aircraft positions ashore. 80-G-490147

Colorized photo of the above by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter

Four days later…

Japanese battleship Hyuga sunk at Kure. Photographed by a USS Shangri-La (CV 38) aircraft on 28 July 1945. National Archives photograph: 80-G-490227.

Japanese light cruiser Ōyodo under air attack near Kure, 28 July 1945. Photo by USS Shangri La (CV 38), likely from one of her F6Fs. The cruiser capsized later that day, taking 300 men to the bottom with her. 80-G-490225

Shangri-La sent her CVB-85 planes to strike the airfields around Tokyo on the morning of 15 August 1945, but Japan’s capitulation was announced, and the fleet was ordered to cease hostilities.

The Final Touch: men add the last strikes to Shangri-La’s island scoreboard, August 1945. From the cover of The Horizon, the ship’s paper, Vol. 1. No. 14. The name of the paper, naturally, is drawn from the Lost Horizon novel. Via the NNAM.

CVG-85s record: 

Airborne aircraft destroyed 10; damaged 8.
Planes on ground destroyed 120; damaged 129
Ships destroyed 24, tonnage 43,900 tons; ships damaged 87, tonnage 194,900 tons.
Destroyed ships include BB Haruna. The squadron also participated in attacking BB Nagato, directing attacks against protecting AA batteries, thus contributing to the bombing attack of the ship by other squadrons (this Battleship not counted in totals listed).
Locomotives destroyed 21; damaged 4.
Miscellaneous destroyed buildings: Warehouses 2, Factories 1, Hangers 1; Miscellaneous damaged buildings: Warehouses 15, Power plants 2, Radio stations 2, Factories 4, Hangers 20, and R.R. tunnel 1.

All told, CVG-85 fired 620,176 rounds of machine gun ammo, dropped 731 bombs, loosed 2,333 5-inch HVAR aerial rockets, and heaved 21 napalm bombs against the Empire.

Shangri-La steamed around just offshore from 15 to 23 August, patrolling the Honshu area on the latter date.

Operation Snapshot: Task Force 38, of the U.S. Third Fleet, maneuvering off the coast of Japan, 17 August 1945, two days after Japan agreed to surrender. Taken by a USS Shangri-La (CV-38) photographer. The aircraft carrier in the lower right is USS Wasp (CV-18). Also present in the formation are five other Essex class carriers, four light carriers, at least three battleships, plus several cruisers and destroyers. 80-G-278815

The planes that likely took the above: F6F-5P Hellcats of Fighting Squadron (VF) 85 off the carrier Shangri-La (CV 38) pictured in flight near Japan 17 August 1945. Note the “Z” tail code. NNAM

Between 23 August and 16 September, her planes sortied on missions of mercy, air-dropping supplies to Allied prisoners of war in Japan while keeping up with patrols over the defeated Empire.

The badly damaged Japanese battleship Nagato off Yokosuka Naval Air Station, Japan, as seen from the plane of USS Shangri La (CV 38). Photographed by Photographer’s Mate Second Class J. Guttoach, 26 August 1945. 80-G-343774

Aerial view of Tokyo, Japan, 26 August 1945. An SB2C-4 Helldiver of Navy Dive Bombing Squadron 85 (VB-85), Air Group 85, flies in the foreground. Photographed by Lieutenant G. D. Rogers from an aircraft based on USS Shangri-La (CV 38). 80-G-339354

On 27 September, while Shangri-La was in Tokyo Bay, CVG-85 was disestablished.

In all, the fighters of VBF-85 alone flew 10,233 flight hours accomplishing 2,274 sorties, from Shangri-La in their 10 months together, broken down as follows:

Okinawa Campaign; 4,977 hours and 1,106 sorties
Operations against the Japanese Empire: 3,656 hours and 914 sorties.
Occupation of the Japanese Empire after the war before leaving 1,016 hours and 254 sorties.

CVG-8 would see nine fatalities during its relationship with Shangri-La, which, considering the tempo and heavy action, should be considered mercifully light.

Milo G. Parker, Ensign
Walter J. Barschat, Ensign
Charles W.S. Hullund, Lt. JG
William H. Marr, Lt. JG
John H. Schroff, Lt.
Sigurd Lovdal, Lt.
John S. Weeks, Lt. JG
Joseph G. Hjelstrom, Lt. JG
Richard T. Schaeffer, LCDR

Departing Japan on 2 October, Shangri-la sailed into San Pedro Bay on 27 October for three weeks of stateside R&R in the Long Beach area.

Navy Day, October 27, 1945. “Aloha” is spelled out by men onboard USS Shangri-La (CV 38) upon its arrival in Los Angeles, California, on October 21, 1945. Navy Museum Lot 10625-10.

After a maintenance period at Bremerton, she began peacetime operations out of San Diego, mainly carrier landing quals, then shipped out for Bikini Atoll and related Central Pacific venues to serve as a support ship for the Crossroads series of atomic tests.

USS Shangri-La (CV-38) underway in the Pacific during Crossroads, with her crew, paraded on the flight deck, 17 August 1946. Note the use of the letter Z on the flight deck instead of her hull number (38). 80-G-278827

USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) overhead note the Z for CVG-85 on her bow and 50 aircraft on her deck

Shangri-La was decommissioned and placed in the Reserve Fleet at San Francisco on 7 November 1947.

Her initial career lasted 1,148 days during which she earned two battlestars for her World War II service. For more details about the latter, her 238-page well-written War History is digitized and available online in the National Archives. 

The 1946-47 Jane’s entry for the 24 ships of the Essex class.

A second career

When the fireworks show kicked off in Korea, the Navy suddenly needed more carriers again. Shangri-La recommissioned on 10 May 1951 and was sent to the East Coast to serve primarily as a training carrier, conducting operations out of Boston. It was during this time that her designation changed to attack carrier (CVA) although she did very little attacking of anything during the Korean conflict.

Period press photo shows a near-empty Shangri-La conducting a washdown drill off Boston, 7 July 1952, an Atomic-era reality.

With the future of naval aviation based on jets rather than Corsairs, Helldivers, and Avengers, Shang decommissioned again on 14 November 1952, for a two-year $7 million SCB-125/SCB-27C modernization at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

Her second period in commission only lasted 554 days.

Third time’s the charm

A rebuilt Shangri-La was recommissioned in January 1955.

“USS Shangri-La (CVA 38) was the first U.S. Navy attack carrier to embody all the latest improvements that are being made in the class carrier. These improvements include steam catapults, high capacity arresting gear, angled deck, enclosed bow, increased full capacity, and a tractor ramp around the outside of the “island” that will speed up aircraft spotting, April 27, 1955.” USN 663088.

USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) underway, May 9, 1955. 80-G-664937

This enabled her to carry and operate a new generation of combat aircraft that the designers of the Essex class could hardly envision in 1940.

An undated image of some of Shangri-La’s airwing by J R Eyerman in the LIFE archives. Note the early Vought F7U Cutlass, S-2 Tracker, F9F and HUP-2

I believe from the planes shown, the above is the cruise of Air Task Group 3 (ATG-3) aboard USS Shangri-La for a Western Pacific deployment from 5 January to 23 June 1956. Besides test frames from VX-4 (Cutlass, et,al) that cruise saw: 
Fighter Squadron 122 (VF-122) ‘Black Angels’ – Grumman F9F-8 Cougar
Fighter Squadron 92 (VF-92) ‘Silver Kings’ – Douglas AD-6 Skyraider
Fighter Squadron 53 (VF-53) ‘Blue Knights’ – Grumman F9F-8 Cougar
Fleet Composite Squadron 3 (VC-3) ‘Blue Nemesis’, detachment – McDonnell F2H-3 Banshee
Fleet Composite Squadron 6 (VC-6) ‘Fleurs’, detachment – North American AJ-2 Savage
Fleet Composite Squadron 61 (VC-61) ‘Eyes of the Fleet’, detachment – McDonnell F2H-2P Banshee
Fleet Composite Squadron 35 (VC-35) ‘Night Hecklers’, detachment – Douglas AD-5N Skyraider
Fleet Composite Squadron 11 (VC-11) ‘detachment – Douglas AD-5W Skyraider
Helicopter Utility Squadron 1 (HU-1) ‘Pacific Fleet Angels’, detachment – Piasecki HUP-2 Retriever

USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) at sea, launching F9F Cougar fighters of ATG-3, 10 January 1956. Note steam rising from her port catapult. Photographed by B.W. Kortge. NH 75661

A North American AJ-2 Savage of Heavy Attack Squadron (VAH) 6 launches off the newly installed angled deck of the carrier Shangri-La (CVA 38) on February 24, 1956. A 25-ton medium bomber powered by two-piston engines and a J33-A-10 turbojet in the rear, the Savage could make 400 knots and carry six tons of bombs– as much as six of Doolittle’s B-25s– or a 1 Mark 4 nuclear bomb. Note that it was far heavier than the 18-ton B-25s used by Doolittle’s Raiders and had a wingspan some eight feet longer. Via NNAM.

USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) conducts the first successful at-sea cat shot of the enormous A3D Skywarrior of Heavy Attack Squadron (VAH) 1 “Smoking Tigers” flown by Dick Davidson on 1 September 1956, off Baja. As with the Savage, the Skywarrior (or Whale in common parlance) was larger than the WWII-era B-25 with a 35-ton maximum cat weight, 74-foot length (vs. 52 on the B-25H), and 72-foot wingspan (67 on the B-25H). U.S. Navy Photo via Navsource

Overhead view of a pair of F4D-1 Skyrays of Fighter Squadron (VF) 13 off the carrier Shangri-La (CVA 38) in flight in 1961. The AK code would make them from Carrier Air Group Ten (CAG-10) .The Navy only operated the Skyray from 1956-1964. It was the first Navy fighter that could exceed Mach 1 in level flight. NNAM.

Overhead photograph showing A4D Skyhawks of Attack Squadron (VA) 106 in flight over the carrier Shangri-La (CVA 38) on May 25, 1961. Future Apollo 17 commander astronaut Capt. Eugene Cernan spent time flying A4D Skyhawks in Attack Squadron (VA) 113, the “Stingers,” from Shangri-La in 1958. He was the final human to stand on the lunar surface and set the unofficial lunar land speed record in the rover. Photo via NNAM.

F4D-1 Skyrays of Fighter Squadron (VF) 13 off the carrier Shangri-La (CVA 38) 1962

Her 1962 Med cruise, with CVG-10 embarked– VF-13 Night Cappers (F4D-1 Skyray), VMF-251 Thunderbolts (F8U-1E Crusader), VA-46 Clansmen and VA-106 Gladiators (A4D-2 Skyhawk), VA-176 Thunderbolts (AD-5 and AD-6 Skyraider), a det from VFP-62 Fighting Photos (F8U-1P Crusader), a det from VAW-12 Bats (WF-2 Tracer), and a det from HU-2 Fleet Angels (HUP-2 Retriever and Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse)– was the focus of a beautiful technicolor film entitled Flying Clipper, narrated by Burl Ives.

Based in San Diego from 1956 to 1960, she conducted regular WestPac cruises until her homeport shifted to Mayport, Florida, where she transitioned to NATO operations and deployments in the North Atlantic and Med under the Second and Sixth Fleet, respectively for the next decade.

USS Shangri-La (CVA-38), foreground, and USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) at Souda Bay, Crete, on 28 February 1964. In the right distance is an Albany class cruiser

Four F8U crusaders of VF-62 passing over USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) during Mediterranean cruise 1967-68. Note the AJ tail code of Carrier Air Wing 8. NH 71869


An F-8 Crusader of Fighter Squadron (VF) 13 with squadron XO Commander William Brandell, Jr., in the cockpit pictured before a catapult launch from the carrier Shangri-La (CVA 38) on May 1, 1967, forty-six years ago today. Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Gale “Abe” Abresch holds a sign he used to inform Brandell that he was about to make the 46,000th launch from the starboard catapult on board the ship. Petty Officers Third Class Glenn Sturtevant and Alkivivaeis Diakowmakis hook the airplane onto the cat. Via NNAM

Vought F-8C Crusader jet fighter (Bureau # 146956, possibly after conversion to an F-8K) In-flight over USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) in December 1968. Note the AJ of CVW-8. NH 71870

An RF-8G Crusader of Light Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron (VFP) 63 (BuNo. 146895) pictured in flight over the carrier Shangri-La (CVA 38) 28 July 1968. Note the AJ tail code of Carrier Air Wing 8 rather than VFP-63’s more common “PP” unit code.

USS Independence (CVA-62), a Forrestal-class supercarrier, along with the much smaller USS Shangri-La in 1968 celebrating 20 years of combat jets in naval aviation.

London Calling?

In 1965, the Royal Navy mulled over a possible transfer of Shangri-La and her sister USS Yorktown to replace the smaller (28,000-ton) Centaur-class carrier HMS Hermes (R12) rather than refit the British flattop to operate modified RN F-4K versions of the Phantom. They would have likely also replaced the aging 35,000-ton Illustrious-class aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (R38)/USS Robin— which had fought Bismarck— and steamed alongside the similar-sized (53,000-ton) Audiacious-class carriers HMS Ark Royal (R09) and HMS Eagle (R05), which likewise would have been converted to fly Phantoms along with their Buccaneers which had just entered service. This would have been the RN’s carrier force into the early 1980s.
The Royal Navy thought it better to build three new 63,000-ton large carriers of the planned CVA-01 class, which were never funded, leading to the early retirement of Victorious in 1968, followed by Eagle in 1972, conversion of Hermes to a rotary-wing-only “Commado Carrier” and disposal of Ark Royal in 1979, leaving the British without any flattops save for the LPH’d Hermes and the new “through deck destroyers” of the HMS Invincible class, which would go on to serve as Harrier carriers from the Falklands onwards. 

The endgame

With Shang still in U.S. service, on 30 June 1969, she was redesignated an antisubmarine warfare support aircraft carrier (CVS-38) a common and simple conversion that most of her remaining class underwent which shifted their air wings from high-performance fighters and strike aircraft like the F-8 and A-4 to more sedate ASW sub-busters like the turboprop S-2 Tracker and SH-3 Sea King helicopter.

Ironically, Shang never actually served as a proper CVS and was instead tasked as something of a “limited attack carrier” for a cruise off Vietnam the next year, her first combat since 1945.

With CVG-85 a memory some 25 years in the past, she went off to war carrying a mix of A-4C/E Skyhawks of VA-12, VA152, and VA-172; F-8H Crusaders of VF-111 and VF-162; a det of RF-8G Photo Crusaders from VFP-63, a det of UH-2C Sea Sprites from HC-2, and another det of E-1B Trackers (Stoof with a Roof) from VAW-121 as part of Carrier Air Wing Eight. CVW-8, with 169 officers and 873 enlisted, was assigned to Shang from 5 March to 17 December 1970 and would be her last embarked air wing.

USS Shangri-La (CVS-38) cruises toward Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, on 11 February 1970 on the eve of her Vietnam deployment. Official U.S. Navy Photograph (# K-81800).

Leaving Mayport in March, she set out via the South Atlantic and Indian oceans for Southeast Asian waters. As her combat report for the cruise mentions, “On 11 March, hundreds of timorous polliwogs were vigorously initiated into the Royal Domain of King Neptune by the Shangri-La’s cadre of sadistic shellbacks.”

Arriving in April, she would alternate stints on Yankee Station with rotations off the line to give her crew downtime in Hong Kong and Subic Bay. Shangri-La was also the only large American carrier to enter port in South Vietnam– arriving at DaNang on the night of 21 June to pick up parts for a broken elevator and returning to Yankee Station the same day. She would also suffer a sheared shaft coupling on No. 1 screw, a ruptured fire main that damaged most of her refrigeration areas, a minor deck fire, and a small engineering fire while underway. Combat deployments for a 26-year-old ship can be tough.

She earned three battle stars for her service in the Vietnam War and would make 12,691 launches and 11,994 recoveries from her deck during the deployment with CVW-8 embarking on 900 strike missions.

Shangri-La suffered eight fatalities through a mixture of enemy action and accidents on her 1970 cruise.

Arriving back at Mayport on 16 December to “maximum liberty” via the East Pacific, she had crossed the International Date Line and rounded Cape Horn to circumnavigate the globe.

After pre-inactivation overhaul at the Boston Naval Shipyard South Annex, Shangri-La decommissioned on 30 July 1971. She was placed in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet and berthed at Philadelphia. Her third and final period in commission lasted just over 16 years.

Wasting away

Jane’s 1974-75 entry on the seven remaining Essex carriers (listed as Hancock-class at the time) considered either in reserve while in mothballs or on active duty (Lexington, AVT-17).

Shang was one of the last Essex-class carriers in mothballs and it was spitballed to recommission her (or one of her class) for a fourth time to assist in fleshing out the Reagan-Lehman “600 Ship Navy” to take on the Soviet Red Banner Fleet. However, all the laid-up WWII-period flattops were found to be in exceptionally poor shape although some had only been on red lead row for less than a decade. With grass growing on their decks, they were soon pulled out of floating storage and disposed of instead. As a result, she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 July 1982.

ex-USS Shangri-la in Philadelphia, 1987. Note the bush growing on her sponson.

While various groups planned to obtain Shangri-La for use as a museum ship, they all fell through, and on 17 June 1988, ex-Shangri-La was sold to the Lung Ching Steel Enterprise, Ltd., of Taiwan where she was towed for breaking that was completed the following year. The recycled steel of the old girl has likely been coming back home in small bits and pieces via household goods imported from Asia for decades.

Across her almost 44 years afloat, she spent just over 21 of them on active duty with the fleet.


As always, a ton of information on Shang is at your fingertips online at the National Archives. 

There is a very active USS Shangri-La Reunion Association for Veterans of the carrier. 

She is also remembered in maritime art.

Lt Bob Elders carrier trap of P-51D Seahorse USS Intrepid by Craig Kodera

Coming Home to Roost by R.G. Smith, showing A-4Cs headed back to USS Shangri La while on Yankee Station

As well as in scale model format.

While the carrier was turned to razor blades long ago, there are elements and monuments to the vessel scattered about the country. For instance, there is a USS Shangri-La (CVA-38) Room aboard the USS Hornet Museum, her sistership, docked at the former NAS Alameda. One of her 25-ton props is in the parking lot of Meding & Son Seafood, a restaurant off Hwy 1 in Delaware.

Her bell, recovered from a Florida scrapyard and restored in 2017, was initially presented to the NROTC unit at Jacksonville University and is now enshrined at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola next to a large scale model.

Also, NNAM has an RF-8G Photo Crusader (BuNo 14882) in their collection that flew with VFP-62 from the carrier and still carries her name.

NNAM’s Shangri-La Photo Crusader is on loan to the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas. 

During the Centennial of Naval Aviation celebration in 2010, at least one aircraft carried a throwback scheme that saluted Shangri-La, an EA-18G Growler (Bu No. 166899) of VAQ-129 “Vikings,” based at NAS Whidbey Island, wearing the same three-color blue as carried by CVG-85 during WWII. Like the “Sky Pirates” of VBF-85, the aircraft wore lightning bolts.

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The 175mm God of War, or at least Southeast Asia

Official Caption: Ready for Firing – The 30-foot tube of the 175mm gun points the direction. Its 150-pound projectile will travel up to 20 miles. Date: 1969.

That year, the Marine Corps retired the aging M53 gun and converted all the 155mm Fires batteries to 175mm Gun Batteries after the 12th Marines had enjoyed the support of Army 175s in Vietnam in 1967-68.

Note the flak vests and M1 helmets without blouses, and the on-gun rack for the M16A1s. Source: 1stMarDiv [1st Marine Division] Photog: LCpl A. C. Prentiss Defense Dept. Photo (Marine Corps)

The M107 175 mm self-propelled gun was a 28-ton beast that could move over roads at up to 50mph (in theory) and was able to hurtle 147-pound shells to 25 miles, far outclassing 155mm and 105mm pieces and rivaling the impractically large 203mm guns and naval gunfire support from 6- and 8-inch guns on cruisers and 5-inch guns from destroyers/frigates.

SGT Max Cones (gunner) fires an M107, 175mm self-propelled gun, Btry C, 1st Bn, 83rd Arty, 54th Arty Group, Vietnam, January 1968. (U.S. Army photo)

The guns could lay lots of warheads on foreheads so to speak. In 1968’s six-day Operation Thor, Marine artillery averaged 4,000 rounds per day into the target area from 155, 175, and 203mm guns, in addition to 3,300 daily naval gunfire support shells and 2,400 tons of ordnance dropped by aircraft every 24 hours.

Post-Vietnam, the Army updated their remaining M107s to 8-inch guns for use in Europe for another decade along the Fulda Gap, dubbing the new vehicle M110A2s, while the Marines went back to lighter, towed 155mm guns.

Other than use by the IDF against various neighbors and by the Iranians against the Iraqis in the 1980s, the only combat saw by the M107 was by the Army and Marines in Vietnam– where several captured in 1975 are still in arsenal storage.

Lurking Around the Bones of CV-67


Sailors from pre-commissioning unit John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) tour decommissioned ship USS John F. Kennedy (CVA-67) currently moored at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Sailors from CVN 79 are documenting spaces and deployment artwork aboard to preserve the history and heritage of the JFK.

Art mural forward bulkhead in the CPO mess

Be sure to check out this 5-minute video from NHHC, which includes some more scenes of JFK today: 

Named after the 35th President, CVA-67 was built at Newport News and commissioned 7 September 1968– some 53 years ago this week. After four decades of service during the Cold War, Lebanon, Desert Storm, and the like, on 23 March 2007, John F. Kennedy was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 16 October 2009. She was one of the last conventionally-powered U.S. Navy supercarriers in service. 

While laid up at Philadelphia for the past decade, a number of planned museum endeavors have come and gone, so it is looking like she will soon be sent to Brownsville for scrapping. JFK was removed from possible donation status in late 2018 and is pending disposal.

With that, the largest preserved American flattop will be the 65,000-ton USS Midway (CV-41) in California as nuclear-powered carriers are unlikely to be so preserved due to their reactor construction. 

Meanwhile, PCU CVN 79 was christened in 2019– on Pearl Harbor Day– by President Kennedy’s daughter, and is currently fitting out, with expected commissioning in 2024. 

USS John F. Kennedy christened by the ship’s sponsor Caroline B. Kennedy Dec 7, 2019 (U.S. Navy Photo)

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 1st, 2021: Fortunate Son, the Army Flat Top Edition

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, Sept. 1st, 2021: Fortunate Son, the Army Flat Top Edition

Photo by SP4 Ingimar DeRidder, 69th Sig Bn, via U.S. Army CMH files.

Here we see USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVN-1), a 14,000-ton floating aircraft maintenance depot, anchored in Cam Ranh Bay, 12 November 66. Note at least three Army UH-1 Hueys on her deck. The Veteran WWII-era Curtiss-class seaplane tender, disarmed and manned by civilian mariners, was the closest thing the Army had to an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.

The two Curtiss-class tenders, which include class leader USS Curtiss (AV-4) and her sistership USS Albemarle (AV-5) — the latter would become the above-shown Army flattop– were the first purpose-built seaplane tenders constructed for the Navy, with the previous vessels being repurposed minesweepers and destroyers. Ordered in 1938, they were laid down side-by-side at New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey, and were commissioned in November and December 1940.

USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) (Foreground) and sistership USS CURTISS (AV-4), fitting out at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. CURTISS departed Philadelphia on 2 January 1941 for shakedown, ALBEMARLE on 28 January. Both ships had been commissioned there in November/December 1940. USS TRIPPE (DD-403) and a sistership are at right; OLYMPIA (IX-40) is visible in the reserve basin at the top, along with an EAGLE boat. Note NEW JERSEY (BB-62) under construction in slipway at far left; two motor torpedo boats are visible just to the left of ALBEMARLE’s bow. NH 96539

USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) passing south yard, Sun shipyard, Chester, PA., c 1941. NH 57783

The newly-commissioned USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) on her shakedown cruise, anchored at Havana Harbor, Cuba, on 22 February 1941, “dressed” for Washington’s birthday. Note Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes on the flight deck, aft. NH 96538

Some 527-feet long (keep in mind destroyers of the age were in the 300~ foot range), they had a very wide 69-foot beam and drew over three fathoms under their hull when fully loaded. Packed with four high-pressure boilers that pushed a pair of geared turbines, they could make a respectable 19.7 knots, which was faster than most auxiliaries of the era, and steam for 12,000 miles at 12 knots– enough to halfway around the globe. Equipped with CXAM-1 radars from the time they joined the fleet, at a time when many of the world’s best cruisers and battleships didn’t have such luxury gear, they were well-armed with four 5″/38 singles and an array of Bofors and Oerlikons.

One of Albemarle’s four 5″/38 DP mounts, note the 40mm Bofors tub in the distance. By the end of WWII, they would carry 20 40mm and 12 20mm guns for self-defense against enemy aircraft, more than most destroyers. Not bad for a “tender”

But of course, their main purpose was to support a couple squadrons of patrol bombers such as PBY Catalina or PBM Mariner flying boats, with a large seaplane deck over the stern and extensive maintenance shops in the superstructure forward.

A U.S. Navy Martin PBM-1 Mariner of Patrol Squadron 55 (VP-55) is hoisted on board the seaplane tender USS Albemarle (AV-5), in 1941. Note the Neutrality Patrol paint scheme on the aircraft and the sailors manning the handling lines. U.S. Navy National Naval Aviation Museum photo NNAM.1986.014.022

The third (and last) such U.S. Navy ship named Albemarle— after the sound in North Carolina, a traditional naming structure for seaplane tenders– she commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 20 December 1940, CDR Henry Maston Mullinnix in command.

Graduating first in the USNA Class of 1916, Mullinnix was a destroyerman until he switched to Naval Aviation in the 1920s. Leaving Albemarle in early 1941 to be the skipper of Patrol Wing Seven, he would go on to command the carrier Saratoga in the Pacific before making RADM. He was killed aboard USS Liscombe Bay (CVE-56) as Task Force Commander off Makin Island on 24 November 1943 when the escort carrier was sent to the bottom by Japanese submarine I-175.

With the Americans and British becoming increasingly cooperative despite U.S. neutrality, Albemarle was dispatched soon after her shakedown to patrol Greenland and the western Atlantic, arriving 18 May 1941 with the PBYs of patrol squadron VP-52 at Argentia, Newfoundland. It should be noted that, just two days later, the Royal Navy was bird-dogging the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen across the North Atlantic. Soon, VP-71, VP-72, and VP-73 would join the tender.

Little Placentia Harbor, Argentia, Newfoundland. USS Albemarle (AV-5), with an AVD alongside, in the harbor, circa 1941. Note PBY Catalinas in the foreground. NARA 80-G-7448

Greenland Expedition by USS Albemarle (AV 5) May-September 1941. East Coast of Greenland with PBY Catalina making observations, May 25, 1941. The PBYs performed long reconnaissance missions to provide data for convoy protection. Caption: Greenland – A Mysterious Land of Mountain and Ice. Majestic fjords indent the coast serrated by rocky buttes some of which are precipitous cliffs attaining elevations of two to three thousand feet. 80-CF-73186-6 Box 126.

Her crew earned the American Defense Service Medal for the ship’s peacetime actions in the Atlantic, 23 Jun 41 – 22 Jul 41, 15 Aug 41 – 1 Nov 41.

She was one of the unsung Brotherhood of the F.B.I. “The Forgotten Bastards of Iceland,” and survived a strong (hurricane-force) storm there in January 1942.


After a refit on the East Coast, she would spend most of the rest of 1942 and the first half of 1943 running around much warmer climes, delivering aeronautical material and men to naval air bases in the Caribbean and the Pacific coast of South America, as well as in the northern South Atlantic.

OS2U Kingfishers aboard USS Albemarle AV-5, 14 May 1942

Her relatively fast speed enabled her to keep ahead of U-boats and she, ironically, would carry back captured German submariners from sunken boats– killed by patrol bombers– to POW camps in the U.S.

Crossing the Line Neptunus Rex Party onboard USS Albemarle (AV 5). September 28, 1942. NARA 80-G-22195, 80-G-221182, 80-G-22193

USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) underway in the Atlantic, with a PBY Catalina on her seaplane deck, 30 December 1943. 80-G-450247

Her role as a high-speed aviation transport continued with convoys to North Africa in 1943, delivering 29 dive bombers on one such trip.

U.S. Navy seaplane tender USS Albemarle (AV-5) underway in the Atlantic Ocean on 10 August 1944. She is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 5Ax. The photo was taken by a blimp of squadron ZP-11. 10 August 1944. Note her heavy armament for an aviation support ship. 80-G-244856

Same as above. Note the array of emergency brake-away rafts. She carried a 1,000+ man complement and often carried 200 or more transients. 80-G-453347

Post War Mushroom Collecting

In May 1945, just after VE-Day, she was detailed to begin carrying flying boat squadrons from the Atlantic Theatre to the U.S. for transfer to the Pacific Theatre, which was still active. Likewise, our broadly-traveled seaplane tender was planned to receive extra AAA mounts and gear in preparation for her own transfer Westward to take part in the final push to Tokyo. Her sistership, Curtiss, had a much more active war in the Pacific, being in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and going on to earn seven battlestars supporting island-hopping operations.

However, VJ-Day halted things and, when Albemarle finally arrived at Pearl Harbor in November 1945, it was to join the “Magic Carpet” fleet returning American veterans home from the Pacific. This would include carrying the entire 658th Tank Destroyer/Amphibian Tractor Battalion back from the Philippines, landing them at San Francisco on 13 January 1946.

She went on to support Operation Crossroads Atomic tests, moored in Kwajalein lagoon during the Able and Baker drops at Bikini Atoll, and otherwise taking part in staging for and follow up from those mushrooms from May to August.

After a brief East Coast stint, she was back in the Pacific with Joint Task Force Switchman, arriving at Eniwetok in March 1948 to serve as a floating lab ship for the triple nuclear tests during Operation Sandstone– “X-Ray” with an experimental 37 kt A-bomb made from a 2:1 mix of oralloy and plutonium. (15 April 1948), the 49 kt oralloy “Yoke” (1 May 1948) and 18 kt oralloy “Zebra” (15 May 1948) bombs.

Swapped back to the East Coast after the conclusion of the tests, she was attached to the New York Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet, decommissioned on 14 August 1950 and berthed at Brooklyn where she rested for six years. Meanwhile, sistership Curtiss, who had operated helicopters in Korea, was decommissioned on 24 September 1957 and would only leave mothballs again in 1972 when she was scrapped.


Albemarle was recommissioned at Philadelphia on 21 October 1957 after a 20-month conversion to be able to operate the planned Martin P6M Seamaster jet-equipped flying boats. Intended to be a nuclear deterrent, the Seamaster program was one of the Navy’s top priorities.

Martin P6M Seamaster. Just 12 of these strategic bombers in the guise of high-speed mine-laying flying boats were made. They could carry a 70-kt B28 nuke to a combat radius of 700 miles.

However, as Seamaster never reached the fleet, Albemarle ended up spending the next three years quietly tending more traditional Martin P5M Marlin flying boats off and on while participating in operations with the Atlantic Fleet. As Seamaster was canceled– it turned out the Polaris FBM submarines were a better idea– she was placed out of commission, in reserve, on 21 October 1960 before being laid up with the James River Fleet. Transferred to MARAD, Albemarle was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 September 1962 and likely would have been scrapped.

However, her special services were soon needed by someone else.

Vietnam War – Project Flat Top – USNS Corpus Christi Bay

On 7 August 1964, MARAD transferred ex-Albemarle back to the Navy and six months later she was transferred to the Navy’s Military Sea Transportation Service (which became today’s MSC in 1970), entered on the NVR as USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH-1). She was sent to the Charleston Naval Shipyard for an $11 million conversion to become a maintenance depot at sea for Army helicopters in Vietnam.

The idea was that, instead of shipping damaged helicopters back to the U.S. for refit, Corpus Christi Bay could, with her 32 on-board repair and fabrication shops, blueprints for every model helicopter in service, and cargo of 20,000 spare parts, could rework them. Meanwhile, her sister Curtiss, which had been laid up since 1957 and had been stricken in 1963, was robbed of everything useful to keep Albemarle/Corpus Christi Bay in shape.

USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH-1) In port, probably at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, South Carolina, in 1966. Photographed by Captain Vitaly V. Uzoff, U.S. Army. This ship was originally USS Albemarle (AV-5). Official U.S. Army Photograph, from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Military Sealift Command collection. Catalog #: NH 99782

Delivered for sea trials in December 1965, on 11 January 1966 she was placed into service.

Dubbed an Aircraft Repair Ship, Helicopter as part of “Project Flat-Top,” Corpus Christi Bay lost her seaplane ramp, had her superstructure reconstructed to include a 50×150 ft. landing pad to accommodate just about any of the Army’s choppers. Damaged helos could be dropped via sling loads from CH-47s or CH-5s or barged out to the ship and lifted aboard by a pair of 20-ton cranes. All her remaining WWII weapons were removed. She picked up extensive air conditioning, a cobbler shop, barbershop, modern dining facilities, a dental clinic and medical center staffed by Army flight surgeons, and other amenities that the Navy’s flying boat aviators of 1940 could have only dreamed of.

The MSTS crew would be just 130~ civilian mariners and 308 green-uniformed helicopter techs of the Army’s specially-formed 1st Transportation Corps Battalion (Seaborne), which she picked up at Corpus Christi, Texas on 22 January.


As a lesson learned from the sinking of the former Bogue-class escort carrier-turned transport USNS Card (T-AKV-40) in 1964 by Viet Cong sappers, the MSTS made assorted security changes to vessels operating for extended periods in Vietnamese ports. This included helmets and flak vests for topside personnel, sandbags around the bridge, grenade screens secured on portholes, extra medkits and firefighting equipment kept at the ready, bilge and ballast pumps warmed up, and towing wires ready for a tow without assist from the ship’s crew. In addition to this, her Army techs maintained an extensive small arms locker to include several machine guns to replace damaged ones on gunships.

She had two Hueys assigned to her full-time for liaison work, Flattop 086 (68-16086), and Flattop 045 (69-15045).

Corpus Christi Bay operated out of Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam as a Floating Aircraft Maintenance Facility, or FAMF, arriving 2 April 1966, and would remain overseas until 19 December 1972, spending almost seven years overseas, rotating crews and Army maintainers out regularly.

USNS Corpus Christi Bay at dock during the Vietnam War era, TAMUCC collection

As a seaborne asset of the United States Army Material Command, she was designated a floating Helicopter Repair Depot. Ostensibly manned by civilian merchant mariners of the MSTS, she was still owned by the Navy but, for all intents and purposes, was an Army ship.

Army Veteran Peter Berlin remembers her fondly and in detail:

The Floating Aircraft Maintenance Facility was designed for use in contingency operations, initially for backup direct support and general support and provided a limited depot capability for the repair of aircraft components. It was equipped to manufacture small machine parts and also to repair items requiring extensive test equipment operating in a sterile environment such as avionics, instruments, carburetors, fuel controls, and hydraulic pumps. The mobility offered by the ship also contributed to the effectiveness of aircraft support since it could move from one deep water port to another as the density of aircraft units shifted with changing tactical situations. The guys aboard this FAMF could fix anything..

Ultimately determined by MSC to be “in excess of current and future requirements”. Corpus Christi Bay was taken out of service in 1973 and berthed in ready reserve status at Corpus Christi, Texas.

Corpus Christi Bay served six tours of duty in the Republic of Vietnam and earned four Meritorious Unit Commendations. Determined by MSC to be “in excess of current and future requirements,” she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 31 December 1974, just two weeks after she returned to Corpus Christi from overseas. On 17 July 1975, she was sold to Brownsville Steel and Salvage, Inc. for the princely sum of $387,777 and subsequently scrapped.


The Army is a good caretaker of the vessel’s relics, with a scale model, the ship’s bell, and other artifacts on honored display at the Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas, an important cradle of Army aviation maintenance. Former members of the ship’s crew meet at CCAD from time to time. 

The USS Albemarle bell, which stands at the entrance of the CCAD Headquarters along with other relics from her day as USNS Corpus Christi Bay.

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum this month unveiled a large scale model of Corpus Christi Bay, saluting her service.

A private Facebook group, the USNS Corpus Christi Bay Alliance, is out there for Vets to reconnect. 

Her Navy war history and logbooks are digitized in the National Archives while the Army has numerous films of her Vietnam “Project Flat-Top” days in the same repository. 

And, of course, you didn’t come all this way and not expect this:


Jane’s 1946

Jane’s 1973

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find.

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

53 Years ago Today: Get the Pig, boys…

Does it get any more Vietnam that this image of Marines trying to suppress an enemy sniper, 30 August 1968?

“Firepower: Lance Corporal Harry J. Howell (left) 20, (McKenzie, Alabama) and Private First Class Pete G. Heckwine (right), 20 (Carpentersville, Illinois) fire on an enemy sniper during a sweep and clear operation 13 miles south of Da Nang. The L Company, 3d Battalion, 7th Marines [L/3/7] helped account for 55 NVA soldiers killed and numerous weapons captured during the four-day operation. The Marines also destroyed a fortified NVA complex of reinforced bunkers and trenches (official USMC photo by Staff Sergeant Bob Bowen).”

From the Jonathan F. Abel Collection (COLL/3611) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division

Happy 80th Navy EOD

The first mine disposal class of 24 officers and enlisted Sailors graduated on 22 August 1941, marking the start of the Navy EOD community, the wearers of the “crab.” Today, more than 2,000 Navy EOD technicians serve in the U.S. Navy, carrying forward the legacy of 80 years of distinguished service.

Check out this primer about RADM Draper Laurence Kauffman, the WWII father of Navy EOD and America’s first frogman, as well as hearing from EOD vets from Vietnam and the Gulf War.

In semi-related news, the U.S. Navy announced this week that it has finished the ship-based Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) for the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) program onboard the littoral combat ship USS Manchester (LCS 14) off of the California coast. 

Warship Wednesday, July 28, 2021: What a Loony Idea

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, July 28, 2021: What a Loony Idea

National Archives Photo 80-G-416714

Here we see, some 73 years ago this month, an LTV-N-2 guided missile going dramatically to pieces over the Balao-class guided-missile submarine USS Cusk (SSG-348), while off Point Mugu, California.

Let’s get another view of that, from the same day.

NH 72684

Of the July 7 Loon explosion, from her Veterans’ group:

Horrified onlookers saw the boat disappear beneath a towering fireball and smoke cloud. “Everyone thought the Cusk had sunk,” remembers Captain Pat Murphy, USN (ret.) another Loon-era veteran. “But the Cusk’s captain [Fred Berry] saw what happened through the periscope and saw that there was no hull rupture. Well, he submerged. They had all the water they needed to put out the fire.” The Cusk survived with minor damage.

We’ll get on to the rest of the story of Cusk, but first, we should probably talk about the German rocket-carrying submarines of WWII.

Gruppe Seewolf and Operation Teardrop

The concept of strapping a primitive vengeance weapon rockets to a U-boat, then allowing it to creep across the Atlantic to get within range of American ports at, say New York or Boston, was attractive to the cropped mustachioed Austrian corporal and was even trialed. In 1942, U-511*, an advanced IXC type, test-fired a variety of rockets in the Baltic.

As detailed by

A rack for six 30 cm rockets was installed and extensive tests carried out. These concluded with the successful launch of rockets from a depth of 12m (40ft). These amazing tests failed to convince Donitz’s staff of the merit of this innovatory weapon system, and it was not put into service. The rocket in question, the 30cm Wurfkörper 42 Spreng, was not advanced enough to target ships, but it might have been used to bombard shore installations such as oil refineries in the Caribbean. This idea was developed in late 1944 with a proposal for Type XXI electro boats to tow V-2 launchers which would attack shore bases. Neither the launchers nor the type XXI boats became available before the war ended.

*Interesting, but beyond the scope of today’s post, U-511 was handed over to Japan on 16 September 1943 at Kure as a goodwill donation from Germany to the Emperor and became Japanese submarine RO-500, ultimately handed over to the USN and scuttled in 1946.

Fast forward to September 1944 and, although there was no functional German rocket submarine afloat, Abwehr agent Leutnant Oskar Mantel, who was to be landed on the East Coast near NYC to act as a paymaster for German spy rings, instead fell into the hands of the FBI after his U-boat was sunk off the coast of Maine. Spilling his guts, Mantel told tall tales of Vergeltungswaffen-equipped U-boats headed to Amerika. This was later backed up by Abwehr agents William Curtis Colepaugh and Eric Gimpel, the last agents Germany attempted to land in the United States, who were captured in late 1944.

The rumors, mixed with intel that seven advanced U-boats, assigned to Gruppe Seewolf, the last Atlantic Wolfpack, were headed across the Atlantic, sparked Operation Teardrop, an extensive barrier program of ASW assets that ranged the East Coast in early 1945. In the end, Gruppe Seewolf was a dismal failure and the German rocket submarine program never got off the drawing board.

Mark Felton on the German program if you want a deeper dive:

Enter Cusk

The U.S. Navy had, simultaneously with the Germans, attempted to use rockets from submarines in WWII, having mounted and semi-successfully fired a ripple of Mk 10 5-inch unguided rockets from the surfaced Gato-class submarine USS Barb (SS-220) on 22 June 1944, against the Japanese coastal town of Shari from a range of 5,250 yards.

As detailed by DANFS:

She fired 12 rockets that exploded in the town center causing damage but no fires. The Japanese believed that an air raid was in progress and activated air search radar and turned searchlights to the sky while Barb retired safely seaward.

Cusk, meanwhile, was too late for the war. Launched 76 years ago today– 28 July 1945– by Electric Boat Co., Groton, Connecticut, she only commissioned 5 February 1946. Following a Caribbean shakedown, she reported for duty at her planned homeport at San Diego on 6 June to join Submarine Division Fifty-One.

First Publicity Photo USS Cusk 1946. Note her late war “gunboat submarine” layout of two 5″/25cal deck guns and two 40mm singles on her sail. She could also mount two .50 cal BMGs which were kept below deck. 

Crew of USS CUSK (SS-348) Group portrait, photographed by O.W. Waterman at San Diego, about 1946.
Courtesy of Ted Stone, New York. NH 64048

As VE-Day faded to the Iron Curtain and the Cold War, the U.S. was eager to update its technology in the new Atomic era, borrowing where it could from captured German trade secrets to help stay a few steps away from the Russkis. This included snorkel and sonar tricks borrowed from Donitz’s boys, and modified V-1 rockets, cloned by Republic-Ford as the JB-2 (Jet Bomb no 2), popularly just called the Loon. While the Army Air Force soon launched hundreds of these American buzz bombs from ramps near Destin and Santa Rosa Island in West Florida, the Navy was eager to try out a few of their own.

Outfitted with an AN/ANP-33 radar transponder (instead of the V-1’s simple gyrocompass autopilot control) the Navy’s version of the JB-2, of which 399 were ultimately produced, could receive course corrections while in flight via a ship-or trailer-borne microwave radar. The Navy’s model of the Loon was the LTV-N-2 (Launch Test Vehicle, Navy 2) and the idea was that it could be fired from ramps located either on surface ships or ashore. However, instead of either of those, the first test platform was to be our humble little fleet boat.

With Cusk retrofitted at Mare Island with an airtight missile hangar and launch ramp behind her sail, it was thought she could carry and launch a Loon while at sea. As the ramjet engine had no possible underwater launch capability, the idea was that the submarine would battle surface, unpack the missile from the hangar, make it ready to fire by attaching wings and four JATO rockets, and fire it from the surface with support from the sub’s SV-1 type radar for the first 50 miles or so– no speedy task. Early tests found that it took an hour to accomplish. As Loon could carry a 2,200-pound warhead of conventional explosives (the V-1 only carried 1,870-pounds) to a target approximately 160 miles away, though, it was deemed worth the risk.

USS CUSK (SSG-348) With an LTV “Loon” on launcher and deck hangar during operations off Point Mugu, California, 20 January 1948. 80-G-410665

The arrangement of Cusk’s hangar and launch rail, from a Point Magu report on the Loon.

On 12 February 1947, Cusk made the Navy’s first missile launch from a submarine, ushering in the era of today’s Harpoon, Tomahawk, and Trident-equipped attack boats and boomers. It was not a success. 

USS CUSK (SS-348) First launching of a Loon missile, off Point Mugu, California. Wed, Feb 12, 1947. The missile reportedly traveled 6,000 yards and then crashed. NH 72680

Of course, there were dramatic incidents such as the one shown at the top of this post– Loon had a failure rate of about 45 percent as a whole and it would not be until Cusk’s fifth launch that the missile was considered fully successful– other launches would be more productive. To note her new mission, Cusk was designated Submarine, Guided Missile (SSG) 348, on 20 January 1948.

Launch of a Loon missile from USS CUSK (SSG-348), off Point Mugu, California. Sun, Sep 12, 1948. NH 72688

Same as above, NH 72689

Same as above, NH 72690

Loon Derby launch #586 (SL-160) from USS Cusk (SSG-348), Naval Air Facility, Point Mugu, California, June 29, 1949. 80-G-405931

One other fleet boat, the Balao-class USS Carbonero (SS-337), would join Cusk as a Loon launcher in a series of tests conducted between 1947 and 1952, demonstrating that the Germans, if they had pushed just a little harder or had an extra year or two worth of time, could have produced an Unterseeboot-carried vengeance weapon. The sisters would participate in a fleet operation that would herald today’s missile boats.

As detailed in a scholarly work on the Loon by Gary Francis Quigg:

A November 1949 Navy exercise, off Hawaii, provided convincing evidence. Loon missiles fired from the submarines USS Cusk and USS Carbonero managed to escape unharmed through a gauntlet of anti-aircraft fire from thirty-five surface vessels and elude the machine guns of fighter aircraft from carriers USS Valley Forge and USS Boxer.

And Cusk would set a few records that today sound like footnotes but for the time were incredible. Quigg:

In the most successful transfer of radio guidance control of a missile from ship to shore on March 22, 1950, the USS Cusk launched a Loon just off Point Mugu. The Cusk guided the missile for twenty-five miles before surrendering radio control to a station on San Nicolas Island. Navy technicians on the island guided the missile another twenty-five miles to a splashdown in the Pacific just over a thousand feet from the center of the target. On May 3, the Cusk set a new distance record for the Loon. Diving to periscope depth immediately after the launch, the submarine controlled the missile and tracked its position for 105 nautical miles.

In all, the Navy would launch 46 Loon missiles from shore launchers at Point Mugu, 38 from our two submarines, and three from the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound. Coupled with launches made elsewhere in the Pacific, Cusk would fire at least 77 Loons in her short career, with the last taking to the air on 6 November 1952.

However, the twin Loon boats would be left behind by technology, the program canceled in 1953– although 25 missiles had been married up to warheads and made available just in case they were needed for use in Korean War. Carbonero was redesignated an Auxiliary Submarine (AGSS-337) in 1949 and both subs would soon chop to help develop the follow-on SSM-N-8A Regulus missile program, which would successfully launch a 400-mile range missile in 1953. Meanwhile, Cusk would continue to be a testbed platform for missile guidance equipment but would lose her “SSG” designation in 1954 as she carried no missiles of her own.

Just nine years to the day after Pearl Harbor: USS Cusk (SSG-348) off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, 7 December 1950. She has her missile hangar but no Loon present. Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1980. NH 90848

USS CUSK (SS-348), same location and date as above, NH 90846

In 1954, Cusk would receive a basic “Fleet Snorkel” GUPPY conversion at Mare Island and leave her “hangar” and ramp behind, and pick up a new, more streamlined fairweather while still maintaining her advanced missile avionics gear. Her AN/BPQ-1 (XN-1) Regulus missile guidance equipment was only finally removed in 1960.

USS CUSK (SS-348) Off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, California, circa 1954, following SCB 47B conversion to a “Fleet-Snorkel” submarine. NH 90849

This unusual view shows 11 vessels of Submarine Squadron Five (nine submarines in a variety of GUPPY configurations, a submarine rescue vessel, and a submarine tender) moored side by side for a recent change of command ceremony at San Diego, California. CPT Eugene B. “Lucky” Fluckey, USN, MOH, relieved CPT Francis B. Scanland, USN, as Commander, SUBRON5 on August 1, 1955. Nested alongside the submarine tender USS Nereus (AS 17) are the Regulus missile boat USS Tunny (SSG 282), USS Cusk (SS 348), USS Carbonero (SS 337), USS Tilefish (SS 307), USS Spinax (SS 489), USS Rock (SS 274), USS Remora (SS 487), USS Catfish (SS 339), and USS Volador (SS 490), and the submarine rescue vessel, USS Florikan (ASR 9). USN photo 681920

Cusk (SSG-348) and Remora (SS-487) in 1963. What might be an SSK, Bashaw (SSK-241), Bluegill (SSK-242), or Bream (SSK-243)) is bringing up the rear. Photo i.d. courtesy of John Hummel, USN (Retired).
USN photo courtesy of via Stephen Gower, through Navsource. 

Her homeport shifted to Pearl Harbor, Cusk completed five lengthy Westpac cruises (1958, during which she would participate in Special operations near Soviet ICBM range in Vladivostok; 1960; 1962, where she would serve as the Subplot 7 Mining platform, 1963, where she would spend two months in North Korean water before her and sister ship USS Carbonero were rewarded with a show-the-flag visit to French Polynesia; and 1964-65) as a standard diesel-electric fleet boat in a “smooth” condition. During her 1962 cruise, Cusk made a month-long patrol in the tense South China Sea and spent another month in Yokosuka and Sasebo, serving as a sonar training target for Japanese destroyers and aircraft. Her 64-65 Westpac would include significant time on Yankee Station as an ASW asset, and three close-in patrols of the North Vietnamese coast via the Gulf of Tonkin.

Again, moving homeports, this time to San Diego, in 1966, Cusk would go on to complete two further Westpac cruises in 1967 and 1969, with both spending time in the Vietnam area of operations. On her last tour, she would be submerged on patrol for 43 days in the South China Sea, conducting special operations in Communist Chinese waters, of which her Veteran’s group recalls, “It was an adventurous time that included on one occasion, accidentally straying into an abandoned minefield. Later during the reconnaissance patrol, the Cusk was detected and attacked by unfriendly forces.”

Her time with the Navy coming to an end, Cusk sailed to Hunter’s Point Shipyard, was Auxiliary Research Submarine (AGSS-348) on 30 June 1969, and “she was gutted of virtually all of her equipment by her final crew. Everything that would fit through a hatch was lifted out, stacked on pallets on the pier, and hauled away for scrap.”

Following that, she was decommissioned on September 24, 1969, and the hulk was sold 26 June 1972, to Zidell Exploration, Inc. of Portland, Oregon, for $112,013.

Besides her 77 Loons and title as the world’s first guided-missile submarine, Cusk stood by to deliver said missiles during Korea, was awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Award (1964) and four Vietnam Service Awards (1965, 1967, 1968, and 1969) in addition to holding down numerous Battle Efficiency “E” awards.


A former Navy-owned Loon was donated to the Smithsonian in 1965, 12 years after the program shuttered, and is on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

One-half right side view of Loon Missile as displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia

Loon launches from the Cusk were featured in an episode of Time for Defense (a radio program broadcast nationally on the ABC network), and in the May 1950 issue of Popular Science along with the January 1953 issue of Parade, where she graced the cover.

On Christmas weekend 1950, Columbia Pictures released the Glenn Ford submarine vehicle The Flying Missile, which features the actor as the skipper of the fictionalized SSG USS Bluefin, including footage of our very own USS Cusk, although the Loon program was on its last legs before the film hit cinemas.


There is a Cusk Veteran’s group, that was very active from 1990 through 2019.



Cusk’s rapidly shifting profile from 1946 to 1947, to 1954, as told by Submarine Sighting Guide Spec VA52.A92 ONI 31SS Rev.1.

Displacement: 1,570 tons (std); 1,980 (normal); 2,415 tons submerged
Length: 311 ft. 8 inches
Beam: 27 ft. 3 inches
Operating depth: 400 feet
Propulsion: diesel-electric reduction gear with four Fairbanks Morse main generator engines, 5,400HP, two Elliot Motor Co. main motors with 2,740HP, two 126-cell main storage batteries, two propellers.
Speed: 20 surfaced, 10 submerged
Fuel Capacity: 113,510 gal.
Range: 11,000nm @ 10 knots surfaced, 48 hours at 2 knots submerged, 75-day patrol endurance
Complement 7 officers 69 enlisted (planned), actual manning 10 officers, 76 men
Radar: SV. APR and SPR-2 receivers, TN tuning units, AS-125 antenna, SPA Pulse Analyzer, F-19 and F-20 Wave Traps, VD-2 PPI Repeater (1946 fit)
Sonar: WFA projector, JP-1 hydrophone (1946 fit)
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 28 torpedoes max (typically MK V), or up to 40 mines
2 x 5″/25 deck guns (wet mounts)
2 x 40mm guns (wet mounts)
2 x .50 cal. machine guns (detachable)
(1947, as SSG)
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 28 torpedoes max or up to 40 mines
1 Loon surface-to-surface missile
2 x .50 cal. machine guns (detachable)
(1954, as Fleet Snorkel SS)
6 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, forward, 18 torpedoes (typically MK 14), or up to 30 mines.
2 x .50 cal. machine guns (detachable)

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Full-Color Phantom

You’ll never convince me that the full-color schemes that the Navy/Marines used in the 1930s, then again in the 1960s and 70s, weren’t beautiful.

USS Constellation (CVA-64), with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, NAS Cubi Point, Subic Bay, Philippine Islands, 28–30 October 1971. F-4B Phantom IIs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 115 “Silver Eagles” are on the pier.

VMFA-115, known during WWII as Joe’s Jokers after their skipper, the famed ace Joe Foss, was formed in 1943 and flew their Corsairs in intense combat throughout the Philippines Campaign. The Silver Eagles went on to fly F9F-2 Panther jets in Korea and, as shown above, Phantoms in Vietnam, the latter from both DaNang and Nam Phong. Cold War service and multiple deployments to the sandbox in the past 35 years with F-18A and later F-18C Hornet models brings us to the current, with the squadron based at MCAS Beaufort and converting to F-35Cs, which, sadly, aren’t very colorful at all.

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