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Zveroboy #196

Whenever October-November starts creeping in, I find myself thinking in of the men and women of The Corvin (Kisfaludy) Passage. Those freedom fighters in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 held out against the Soviets and the country’s puppet regime in bitter street fighting that pitted a handful of insurgents with largely small arms against a modern Eastern European military force that had cut its teeth in nasty house-to-house combined arms operations a generation before.

Among the hottest parts of Budapest during the conflict was the Corvin Cinema, which was used as the headquarters of revolution leader László Iván Kovács. The narrow streets around the cinema allowed Kovacs’ 1,000~ irregulars to hold off a full Soviet mechanized infantry division, and, using Molotov cocktails and improvised anti-tank weapons, the Covin group knocked out 12 tanks including a few massive ISU-152s– itself a heavy assault gun fielded by the Soviets in the last days of WWII. Termed the zveroboy (Russian: “beast killer”) it was designed to smash through concrete bunkers and Panther/Tiger tanks with ease.

The Covin group held their position for 15 days. But one of the most iconic fixtures from Corvin captured by Western journalists covering the fighting was ISU-152 #196 and its partner, abandoned by its crew along József Boulevard.

Street fighters with PPS sub guns and swagger

It can be seen in a number of images from those days.

An M44 Mosin-armed Hungarian soldier, wearing an armband marking his defection to the anti-Communist insurgents.

A young Hungarian girl emerges from a building housing resistance fighters carrying a Mauser. 196 is a street cart

Note the knocked out T-34/85 in the right

I can’t find out what happened to #196. The Soviets likely scrapped it as to not be a lesson to those that the iron giant could be stopped by determination. That the beast-killer itself was a monster when viewed through the lens of those in Budapest.

As for the fighters, it is estimated that the three-week Revolution resulted in the combat deaths of 722 Soviet troops and some 2,500-3,000 Hungarians. To this figure can be added some 253 Hungarians executed or died in prison for their part in the Revolution.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018: The lost Governor and the 142

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, Oct. 17, 2018: The lost Governor and the 142

Note: Normally on WSW we cover more legit steel “warships” and, while today’s entry is a wooden commercial vessel that only ever picked up an engine late in life, she did play an important part in WWII, and her current story is timely, so bear with me.

(Photo: Chris Eger)

Here we see 66-foot (over the bowsprit) wooden-hulled Gulf Coast-style schooner Governor Stone as I saw her in Ft. Walton in 2011. In another life, she helped train young men to brave German U-Boats and Japanese kamikazes and last week faced off one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the United States in generations.

The two-masted centerboard schooner was built in 1877 in my hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a sleepy coastal city that later produced Ingalls shipyard which still, of course, cranks out vessels of all kinds today. Some 39-feet at the waterline with just a 3.9-foot draft, she was built to fly along the shallows of the Mississippi Sound– which has an average depth of just six feet– as a cargo hauler.

Your typical “Biloxi schooner.”

Her keel was of yellow pine with cypress frames and planks while her decks and bulwarks are of white pine and juniper.

(Chris Eger)

(Chris Eger)

With a gaff-rigged topmast sail plan, her longleaf yellow pine main towered 52 feet from waterline to topmast truck. Her steering gear, windlass, and other working pieces were and remain cast iron.

Her original 1877 steering gear was still intact into the 2010s, although in a new box (Chris Eger)

Ordered by Pascagoula merchant Charles Anthorn Greiner to haul materials to and from his sawmill on the Pascagoula River to deep water vessels offshore, the vessel was named for his personal friend, Gov. John Marshall Stone. A Civil War colonel, Stone served longer as Governor of the Magnolia State than anyone else– from 1876 to 1882 and again from 1890 to 1896.

However, Greiner soon sold the schooner for $425 to Mulford “Mul” Dorlorn of nearby Dauphin Island, Alabama at the mouth of nearby Mobile Bay who used her to carry freight and as a “buy boat” purchasing oysters from “tongers” in the beds along the Rigolet Islands, the latter a job she held under a series of owners for the next 30 years.

During her “oyster days” (Chris Eger)

In September 1906 she was caught in Bayou Heron, now part of the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, during a fierce hurricane that capsized the schooner and rolled her 300 yards into the marshy estuary.

Recovered and repaired, she went back to work. Picking up a small 16-hp gasoline engine and a small screw in 1923, she was powered for the first time in her then-46 year career, then pressed into service by her owner Thomas Burns as a bootlegger during Prohibition, reportedly making two trips a month for $500 a run bringing in good Cuban rum to a hungry market in Mobile, Biloxi and New Orleans.

By the 1930s, during the Depression, at a time when cheaper catboats and luggers had cornered the local market and the deep port at Gulfport had eliminated the need for offshore lightering, she became a derelict vessel. In 1939 she sank in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

In 1940 she was raised and, refitted with a new 50-hp Gray engine, was extensively overhauled by local innkeeper Isaac T. Rhea who named her Queen of the Fleet and used her as a day tripper for guests at his famous Inn By The Sea beachside resort in Pass Christian. As such, she was given a large deck structure.

(Chris Eger)

Then the war came.

On 15 September 1942, she was purchased for $1 by the US War Shipping Administration and was converted for use as a training vessel by the Merchant Marine Academy which had the same week founded two cadet basic schools to educate merchant marine officers in the on-going conflict. One of the schools was at San Mateo, the second was at Henderson Point (Rhea’s Inn By The Sea, which had been purchased lock, stock, and barrel by the government) in Pass Christian.

She became the training vessel Joshua Humphreys during the war, named after the famous naval architect and constructor of the original “six frigates” of the United States Navy.

(Via the USMM Alumni Association)

According to local historian Dan Ellis:

Cadet training consisted of basic seamanship, ship nomenclature, elementary ship construction and identification of friendly and enemy vessels and aircraft. They were also taught first-aid and safety, abandoning ship procedures, ship handling and navigation maneuvers, and the use of, and marksmanship of, 20mm and .50 caliber guns.

After spending nine months at their academies, the cadets went to sea on merchant ships to finish their education afloat in very real on-the-job-training.

As noted by :

Cadets went to sea with their books and were required to write reports upon return, describing enemy craft seen, damage, lifeboat voyages, acts of heroism, etc. In 450 reports filed, cadets described attacks on 250 different ships, of which 220 were sunk.

By the end of the war, the Academy’s three campuses had graduated an impressive 6,634 officers.

In all, some 142 documented U.S. Merchant Marine Cadets were killed during World War II, a fact that makes the current U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point, the only Federal Academy authorized to carry a Battle Standard.

The Battle Standard bears the number “142” on its field of red, white and blue. In its center is the eagle of the Academy’s seal in blue and gray, the school colors, and the anchor of the merchant marine in gold. From its top hang the ribbons which represent the various combat zones in which the Academy’s cadet/midshipmen served.

With the end of the war, the cadets at San Mateo were soon transferred to Kings Point in September 1947, and the school closed. Pass Christian, although devastated by a hurricane in September 1947, remained open until 1950 when the government closed it down and the school was closed, sold to the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board as a retreat. The site is now a condo that borrows Rhea’s restort’s originial name.

The USMMA-AA, with support from Seabee Base, Gulfport, established a memorial to the Pass Christian USMM Cadet Corps Basic School in 1979 on what was then still the campus of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board. Destroyed in 2005, the memorial and an old ketch sailing anchor salvaged in the area by the Seabees were reconstituted 0.6 miles north of the location in 2013.

(Chris Eger)

(Chris Eger)

The bronze plaque, which I touch up from time to time, reads:

These Grounds, From September 16, 1942 to March 21, 1950, Were the Site of the Pass Christian United States Merchant Marine Cadet Corps Basic School. From Here and the Sister School at San Mateo, California, Over 6000 Undergraduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York, Went to Sea in War and Peace. To Those Cadets, Who in the Course of Their Training or Subsequent Service, Gave Their Lives for Our Country, This Monument Is Respectfully Dedicated.

Back to the Stone

By the time the USMM Academy left Mississippi, Governor Stone/Queen of the Fleet had been returned to Mr. Rhea in 1947 with a brand-new 110 HP Chrysler Marine engine installed, a bonus!

When he died in 1953, the schooner was subsequently sold to a series of six different owners over the next 15 years and named, in turn, The Pirate Queen, Sea Bob, C’est la Vie, and Sovereign, before ending up with one Mr. John Curry who restored her through the 1970s and 80s and planned to base her in Pascagoula as a floating museum ship with her original name. In the end, she was deeded to the Apalachicola Maritime Institute in 1989 “where she served as a sail trainer for at-risk youth and a charter vessel in conjunction with the museum for 11 years.”

Her National Park Service application to place her on the National Register of Historic Places (#85508) was penned in 1990 by noted maritime historian James P. Delgado of all people, which makes her noteworthy in and of itself. As noted in a 2004 article in The Nautical Archeology Society by Kathryn Sikes:

Only five 2-masted coasting schooners remain within the United States. Of these, only two, Lewis R. French and Stephen Taber (both built in 1871), predate Governor Stone. In addition, Governor Stone is the only surviving 2-masted schooner indigenous to the Gulf of Mexico, and represents Southern contributions to coastwise trade.

In 2010, Governor Stone was acquired by the non-profit Friends of the Governor Stone group who at first displayed her at Ft. Walton, Florida and then, following an extensive restoration in 2013-14 (in Pascagoula!) moved her to Panama City.

At Pascagoula’s Beach Blvd “Point” in 2014 after she was overhauled note Ingalls shipbuilding in the distance (Photo via Mississippi Maritime Museum)

That’s where our current story picks up.

In St. Andrews Marina for Hurricane Michael, she capsized and turned turtle, but is still above water to a degree and the group hopes to salvage her.

Via Friends of Governor Stone

Weight:: 14GRT, 12NRT
Length: 63′; 39′ at waterline
Beam: 13’2″
Draft: 3’; loaded 5’; with the centerboard down 9’

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.

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Dear Madam

The late storyteller and and poet, Daisy Turner, reciting Dear Madam, from the epic PBS Ken Burns documentary series, The Civil War. It is chilling and memorable. Turner died in 1988, age 104, only months after this was recorded.

Dear Madam, author unknown

I am a soldier and my speech is rough and plain
I’m not much used to writing and I hate to give you pain
But I promised I would do it and he thought it might be so
If it came from one who loved him perhaps it would ease the blow
By this time you must have guessed the truth I fain will hide
And you’ll pardon me for rough soldier words while I tell you how he died

It was in the mortal battle, it rained the shot and shell
I was standing close beside him and I saw him when he fell
So I took him in my arms and laid him on the grass
It was going against orders but they thought to let it pass
‘Twas a minie ball that struck him, it entered at his side
But we didn’t think it fatal till this morning when he died

“Last night I wanted so to live, I seemed so young to go.
This week I passed my birthday. I was just nineteen, you know.
When I thought of all I planned to do it seemed so hard to die
But now I pray to God for grace and all my cares gone by.”
And here his voice grew weaker as he partly raised his head
And whispered “Goodbye, mother,” and your soldier boy was dead

I carved another headboard as skillful as I could
And if you wish to find it I can tell you where it stood
I send you back his hymn book and the cap he used to wear
The lock I cut the night before of his bright, curly hair
I send you back his Bible. The night before he died
I turned its leaves together and read it by his side
I’ll keep the belt he was wearing, he told me so to do
It had a hole upon the side just where the ball went through

So now I’ve done his bidding, there’s nothing more to tell
But I shall always mourn with you the boy we loved so well

Warship Wednesday, Sept, 19, 2018: The well-traveled Sea Otter

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. 19, 2018: The well-traveled Sea Otter

Here we see the deteriorating Qing Empire’s most modern warship, the 1st class protected cruiser Hai-Chi (also seen as Hai Chi, Haicang, and Hai Qi), of the Northern Fleet of the Imperial Chinese Navy as she sat at anchor in the Hudson off Gotham on Sept. 11, 1911. Note her Yellow Dragon Flag, flown by the Qing Dynasty from 1889 through 1911. This proud ship was an important turning point in Chinese military history.

The sleeping dragon that was old Imperial China had a rude awakening in 1894-95 when the Japanese picked a fight in Manchuria over Korea that ended in humiliation for the larger country. Scarcely 10 months long, the First Sino-Japanese War saw the Japanese slaughter the vaunted Chinese Beiyang Fleet, hailed at the time as the largest and most battle-ready in Asia, complete with a pair of German-built armored turret ironclads — the 8,000-ton Dingyuan and Zhenyuan— both outfitted with thick armor and modern Krupp guns. The latter was even commanded by American naval mercenary and Annapolis legend Philo Norton McGiffin.

However, the Beiyang Fleet was filled with ill-trained landsmen, at the mercy of corrupt officials (who sold off the explosives and powder charges, replacing them with flour and sand) and had just an overall poor tactical appreciation of modern naval warfare. This showed in the disastrous Battle of the Yalu River (also termed the Battle of the Yellow Sea), the world’s first large fleet action since 1866. At the end of the engagement, the Chinese fleet was, for all intents, combat ineffective, bested by a smaller but more professional Japanese force that had done their homework.

From the First Sino-Japanese War Battle of the Yellow Sea by Kobayashi Kiyochika ca. 1894

Following the Japanese capture of Weihaiwei four months later, the battered Zhenyuan was taken as a war prize while Dingyuan was scuttled. The Beiyang Fleet commander, Qing Adm. Ding Ruchang, along with his deputy, Adm. Liu Buchan, committed suicide and were posthumously drummed out of the service. Philo McGiffin, shattered and suffering from wounds incurred at the Yalu, blew his own brains out in a Manhattan hospital two years after the battle, aged a very hard 36.

Philo Norton McGiffin as a naval agent of China in England, left, a USNA cadet, right, and after the Yalu, center

Suffice it to say, China needed a new fleet.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, Germany seized Tsingtao, the British took over Weihaiwei, Russia moved into Port Arthur and the French took over Kwangchow Wan, all on “leases” set to run out in the 1990s.

Between the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895, which ended the war, and the Chinese Revolution that saw the end of the four-century-long Great Qing dynasty in 1911 and birthed the Republic of China, the Manchu court ordered over 40 new warships from around the globe. A trio of small cruisers, the 3,000-ton Hai-Yung, Hai-Chu, and Hai-Chen, were ordered from Vulkan in Germany. From Vickers came the 2,750-ton cruisers Ying Swei and Chao-Ho. French-made torpedo boats, Krupp-built river monitors, Kawasaki-produced gunboats (ironically), destroyers from Schichau. It was a rapid expansion and recrafting.

The largest of the orders, placed at Armstrong for production at its Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne shipyard, was for a pair of 4,500-ton (full load) protected cruisers, Hai-Chi (Yard No. 667) and her sister Hai-Tien (#668).

(One note about the naming convention of our subject here, some translate Hai Chi as “Boundary of the Sea” while others go with “Sea Otter,” anyway, back to the story)

The design by British naval architect Sir Philip Watts, KCB, FRS, was what we would term “off the shelf” today, simply a very slightly modified version of the Chilean cruiser Blanco Encalada and the Argentine ARA Buenos Aires, also produced by Armstrong.

Armstrong Yard No. 612. ARA Buenos Aires, Hai-Chi’s sistership, sort-of. Note the big 8-incher up front. Completed in 1896, Buenos Aires continued in use with Argentina until 1932 and sold for scrapping in 1935. (Photo via Postales Navales)

Armstrong Yard No. 605. The Chilean cruiser Blanco Encalada in 1904 note her bow crest and national ensign. The longest lived of the four sisters to include her two Chinese classmates and Buenos Aires, she was hulked in 1944 and broken up in 1946.

These cruisers were fast, at some 22 knots (which was surpassed on builder’s speed trials for the Chinese ships, whose hybrid Yarrow/Bellville boiler arrangement allowed them to break 24kts), and had long legs, capable of cruising some 8,000 miles– an important factor for ships in the Pacific.

Further, they were big, with twin 8″/45 cal Armstrong Pattern S guns in single fore and aft mounts (the Japanese also fitted these to their Kasagi and Takasago-class cruisers), and a secondary of 10 QF 4.7 inch Mk V naval guns. Add to this a host of smaller anti-torpedo boat guns, the latest Maxim machine guns, and five above-water torpedo tubes and you had a brawler. Armor protection ranged from 4 to 6 inches and a 37mm deck sheath. The ships were modern, with the best Barr & Stroud optics, electric lights and shell hoists, as well as powered turrets and forced ventilation.

Note the Qing functionaries and Edwardian locals at her christening in 1897. Not surreal at all.

The bow of the mighty Hai-Chi, complete with Imperial dragons

The very modern (and western-attired) crew shown between the forward pair of QF 4.7-inch guns, at the time of her commissioning of what could be a German-made Hai-Chen-class cruiser. Thanks for the update, Georgios Nikolaides-Krassas.

Hai-Chi was commissioned 10 May 1899. When arriving in China later that summer, Hai-Chi was the nominal flagship of Admiral Sa Zhenbing (Sah Chen-ping), commander of the Imperial Chinese Navy– the seniormost survivor of the Battle of the Yalu. Luckily the Navy did not become involved in the mess that was the Boxer Rebellion, although some Army units did, and were the worse for it.

HAI CHI in a Chinese port 1907-09. Photographed from USS CLEVELAND (C-19). Copied from the album of Assistant Paymaster Francis J. Daly, Courtesy of Commander Thomas M. Daly, USN, 1984. Description: Catalog #: NH 100017

Her sister, Hai Tien, foundered 25 April 1904 after hitting a rock in at night in Hangzhou Bay, ending her career after just five years of service.

She was wrecked some 60 miles from Shanghai on what was then known as Eagle Point on Elliot Island near Guzlaf light. Her crew was saved by Chinese customs officals and the Armstrong-built cruiser USS New Orleans (CL-22) in May landed a team nearby to inspect her unoccupied wreckage.

Salvage largely failed due to the hazardous conditions in the shoal, although her guns were reportedly saved by the Chinese.

In 1911, Hai-Chi was tapped to participate by the dynasty in King George V’s coronation review in Spithead alongside an all-star cast of international warships. For the circumnavigational voyage, she was fitted with a Marconi wireless system, one of the first in the Chinese Navy.

Photograph (Q 22235) Chinese Cruiser HAI CHI, 1911. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

On the way back to the Pacific, she crossed the Atlantic and paid lengthy port calls in New York and Boston.

The New York Times noted the event as the arrival of the “cruiser Hai-Chi of the Imperial Navy of China, the first vessel of any kind flying the yellow dragon flag of China that has ever been in American waters.”

Both hosting local dignitaries aboard and sending an honor guard to Grant’s Tomb (the former U.S. President was a key ally to China while in and out of office and was well-respected), the Chinese made a splash akin to visiting Martians in pre-Great War New York.

Note the big 8″/45 over her stern. She carried two of these monsters.

Photo shows Rear Adm. Chin Pih Kwang of the Imperial Chinese Navy and New York City Mayor William Jay Gaynor at Grant’s Tomb in New York City on Sept. 18th, 1911. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2009, and New York Times archive Sept. 19, 1911, via Bain News Service.)

A landing party headed to Grant’s Tomb to lay a wreath given in friendship, all in this series from the LOC

Note the Mauser I.G.Mod.71 rifles, China purchased over 1 million of these big black powder bolt guns which fired from a tubular magazine from Germany in the 1890s and they were evidently still good enough for Naval service in 1911. The Chinese Army at the time this picture was snapped fielded the Hanyang 88, itself a domestically-made copy of the German Gewehr 88.

Recalled to China at the fall of the Dynasty, Ha-Chi became part of the new Republic’s navy and remained the most significant Chinese naval asset until the two-ship Ning Hai-class cruiser class was completed after 1932. During WWI, she served in home waters after China entered the conflict in 1917 on the side of the Allies, with no one around to fight.

HAI-CHI At Chefoo, China, circa 1914-1916 Description: Collection of C.A. Shively, 1978. Note she has the ROC flag. Catalog #: NH 88554

She was later scuttled as a blockship in the Yangtze River at Jiangyin along with 39 other ships on 11 August 1937 to obstruct the Japanese advance during the Second Sino-Japanese war.


Via 1914 edition of Janes

4,300 tons (standard)
4,515 t (full load)
Length: 423 ft 11 in o/a
Beam: 46 ft 7 in
Draught: 17 ft 11 in
Propulsion:2 shafts, 4 Humphrys & Tennant, Deptford VTE engines, four double-ended Bellville and four single-ended Yarrow 12-cylindrical boilers, 17,000 bhp at a forced draught.
Speed: 24.15 knots
Range: 8,000 nmi at 10kts on 1,000 tons of coal
Complement: 350-450 (sources vary)
2 × 203.2mm (8.00 in)/45 Armstrong Pattern S (2 × 1)
10 × 120mm (5 in)/45 Armstrong (10 × 1)
16 × 47mm (2 in)/40 Hotchkiss (16 × 1)
6 x Maxim machine guns
5 × 450mm (18 in) torpedo tubes (1 × 1 bow, 4 × 1 stern broadside) for Whitehead torpedoes.
Armor: Armstrong Harvey nickel-steel
Deck: 37–127 mm (1–5 in)
Turrets: 114.3 mm (5 in)
Barbettes: 51 mm (2 in)
Conning tower: 152 mm (6 in)

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!

Warship Wednesday, July 4, 2018: Remembering the Independence most often forgotten

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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 4, 2018: Remembering the Independence most often forgotten

NH 70472

Here we see the “444-type” freighter USS Independence (SP-3676) in striking dazzle camouflage, probably in San Francisco Bay, California, soon after her completion in late 1918. While the U.S. and Massachusetts State Navy operated no less than seven “Independences” going all the way back to 1776, and today is July 4th, I figured it would be fitting to cover #4 of these, which had a great service history and was sandwiched between a 90-gun ship of line that gave 98-years of service and two much better-known aircraft carriers of the same name.

Appropriately enough, the story of this Independence started off with the British.

In late 1916 the shipping-strapped British Admiralty contracted with Union Iron Works (UIW) shipyard, located at Potrero Point, San Francisco, for a series of 7,700-dwt, 444-foot oal, single-screw, steel-hulled freighters to a design approved by the U.S. Shipping Board’s construction program, an emergency agency authorized by the Shipping Act of 1916 that eventually morphed into the MARAD of today. The first of these, War Knight (UIW’s hull #132A), was laid down in early 1917, followed by War Monarch, War Sword, War Harbour, War Haven, War Ocean, War Rock, War Sea, War Cape, War Surf and War Wave (seeing a trend here?). Of these, just the first three, completed by Sept. 1917, were delivered to the British. By that point, the U.S. needed ships of her own and stepped in. Soon, each of the vessels under construction was renamed and taken over by the Navy of their birthplace.

War Harbour, hull 162A, became SS Independence while under construction while others lost their intended names and became, respectively, Victorious, Defiance, Invincible, Courageous, Eclipse, Triumph, and Archer. A 12th ship, Steadfast, was contracted by the USSB directly without London being involved.

War Harbour, then SS Independence, photographed on 24 October 1918 at the yard of her builder, Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., Union Plant, Potrero Works, San Francisco. Behind her is a later sister, SS War Surf/Eclipse, that during World War II became USS William P. Biddle (AP-15). Source: U.S. National Archives, RG-32-S via Ship Scribe.

Taken into federal service as 18 November 1918 as USS Independence, her first skipper was LCDR O. P. Rankin and she was assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service, completing one voyage to France with a load of foodstuffs. With the Great War at an end, she was decommissioned, 20 March 1919, after just four months of service, and handed over to the USSB who promptly converted her and several of her sisters to a turbo-electric powerplant capable of a speed of a very fast (for a merchant ship) speed of 16 knots, then placed the essentially new vessels in storage.

Then came 1930 and the Roosevelt Steamship Company’s award of a mail contract for a weekly run from Baltimore and Norfolk to Hamburg, Germany and Le Havre, France– a contract that resulted in the group forming the Baltimore Mail Steamship Company. Headquartered in the now-iconic but then brand-new Baltimore Trust Building (now the Bank of America Building), the Baltimore Mail Line picked up five of the old 444’s from USSB storage– Steadfast, War Surf/Eclipse, War Haven/Victorious, War Wave/Archer, and War Harbour/Independence. Reconstructed under a Gibbs & Cox design to accommodate 80 passengers, modified to hit 18-knots, and lengthened to 507 feet, the now-8,424t ships started a regular trade within a year renamed (again) as the City of Baltimore, City of Hamburg, City of Havre, City of Newport News and, our hero, as City of Norfolk, after the five hubs serviced by the line.

The launching of the SS City of Norfolk on August 14th, 1931 at the Norfolk Army Base piers (former War Harbour, ex-USS Independence) of the Baltimore Mail Line.

As reported by the GG Archives, “The single class liners offered staterooms with outside exposure, hot running water, and Simmons beds. In 1935, the Baltimore Mail Line offered fares to London or Hamburg for $90 one way or $171 round trip.” The ships had a saloon, barber shop, a surgeon’s office, an oak-paneled smoking room, a sports deck with tennis courts, and other amenities. A brochure from the period cautions that “professional gamblers are reported as frequently traveling on passenger steamers and are warned to take precautions accordingly.”

In 1937 the bottom fell out of the U.S. shipping industry after Congress withdrew all maritime mail subsidies and the Baltimore Mail Line folded. War Harbour/Independence/City of Norfolk was transferred briefly to the struggling Panama Pacific Line, carrying freight and passengers from New York to California and back again via the Canal, but that soon ended as that shipper too folded due to mounting costs.

By November 1940, the five converted former Baltimore Mail Line ships, now 20-years old and surplus once more were re-acquired by the U.S. Navy for the second time. Dubbed transports, they were taken to Willamette Steel in Portland, camouflaged, fitted to accommodate 1100~ troops, armed with a smattering of deck guns (a single 5″/51 and two 3″/50 guns as well as some .50 cals to ward off low-flying curious planes), given two light davits on each side to accommodate eight landing craft, and (wait for it) renamed yet again.

War Harbour/Independence/City of Norfolk became USS Neville (AP-16) and by June reported for duty with the Atlantic Fleet, spending six months transporting troops and naval personnel from the East Coast to new bases in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. Shortly after the U.S. entered the war, she joined a transatlantic convoy to Ireland with British personnel and Lend-Lease equipment aboard.

View of a convoy out of Brooklyn, New York (USA), February 1942: USS Neville (AP-16) is in the foreground. Other ships present include at least six other transports, a light cruiser, and a battleship. This is probably the convoy that left the east coast on 19 February 1942, bound across the Atlantic to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Note the extensive use of Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage on these ships. U.S. Navy photo 80-G-2408

Then came the Pacific war and, armed with more AAA guns (20mm’s in place of her original .50 cals) was soon carrying Army troops and Navy Seabees to New Zealand, then Marines to a place called Guadalcanal, where she helped conduct landings on Blue Beach 7 August 1942, sending Marine Combat Team 2 ashore on Tulagi.

U.S. Marines come ashore on Tulagi Island, probably during the landings there on 7-8 August 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-16485

Landing at Guadalcanal. The latest shipment of reinforcements for Guadalcanal prepare to leave a landing boat, from USS Neville (APA-9) on the shores of the island. NARA photograph. Photographed through Mylar sleeve.

It was a dangerous place to be for a lightly armed transport. Class sister War Haven/Victorious/City of Havre/George F. Elliott was lost just a few miles away after she was clobbered by Japanese planes.

The U.S. Navy troop transport USS George F. Elliott (AP-13) burning between Guadalcanal and Tulagi, after she was hit by a crashing Japanese aircraft during an air attack on 8 August 1942. Date 8 August 1942 Source Official U.S. Navy photo NH 69118

Redesignated an amphibious assault transport (APA-9), Neville was then rushed to the Med for the invasion of Sicily, this time to put men of the Army’s 45th Infantry (Thunderbird) Division on Red Beach.

Shipping off the Scoglitti beaches on the first day of the invasion, 10 July 1943. Among the ships present are: USS Calvert (APA-32), second from left; USS Neville (APA-9), left center; USS Frederick Funston (APA-89), far right. An LST is in the right center, with a light cruiser in the distance beyond. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-215086

USS Neville (APA-9) off the Norfolk Navy Yard on 17 April 1943 after receiving changes to her armament and other modifications. Her 5″/51 gun aft has been removed and two twin 40mm anti-aircraft guns have been added, one forward in the tall structure over the two 3″/50 guns and one aft. She also received a radar mast over the bridge. Photo No. 19-N-45752 Source: U.S. National Archives, RG-19-LCM via Ship Scribe

Chopping back to the Pac after gaining more AAA (40mms this time), Neville landed troops at Tarawa in the Gilberts in November 1943, Kwajalein and Majuro three months later, Eniwetok in March 1944, and helped capture Saipan that June after landing her Marines on beach Green Two. In all, she was awarded five battle stars for her WWII service.

After taking Japanese POWs– a rare treasure– back to Pearl Harbor, Neville spent the rest of the war in San Diego training APA crews. The end of the conflict saw her performing Magic Carpet duty, bringing home salty combat vets from overseas and replacing them with fresh green troops for occupation duty. Arriving at Boston 5 February 1946, she was struck from the Navy List 15 August 1946, then towed to the James River National Defense Reserve Fleet. Ten years later the old girl was sold to a New Jersey company for scrap.

Her three remaining APA sisters who survived the war– War Wave/Archer/City of Newport News/Fuller, War Surf/Eclipse/City of Hamburg/William Biddle, and Steadfast/City of Baltimore/Heywood, all were likewise scrapped in 1956.

The unmodified freighter sisters were less lucky. War Cape/Triumph was sunk as SS Pan-Massachusetts by a German torpedo in 1942. War Sea/Courageous was sunk as breakwater off Normandy in 1944. In all, they were a hard luck and unsung class of ships, but they got it done, which is all you can really ask.

Displacement 7,475 t.(lt) 14,450 t.
Length 507′ (post-conversion, 1931) 444 as built
Beam 56′
Draft 24′ (mean)
Propulsion: four Babcock and Wilcox header-type boilers
one De Laval steam turbine, geared turbine drive
single propeller, 9,500shp
Speed 16 kts as built
Complement (1945)
Officers 50
Enlisted 524
Troop Accommodations: 60-75 officers, 818-1,203 enlisted
Cargo: 145,000-150,000 cu ft, 1,800-2,900 tons
Armament (1940)
one single 5″/51 mount
two single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts
eight 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
Armament (1945)
four single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
sixteen single 20mm AA gun mounts

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Of Dad’s Army and donated bangsticks

With the release of the latest Small Arms Survey data that puts most firearms (8.4 out of 10) in the hands of civilians worldwide, I thought the below artifacts from the Imperial War Museum would be interesting.

Winchester M1894 sporting takedown rifle .30/30 Winchester (FIR 5292) This rifle was one of a number of weapons provided for Home Guard use in 1940 by an American organization called the American Committee for the Defence of British Homes. They mounted a public appeal for firearms and binoculars which could be sent to aid the defence of Britain.  Source:

Springfield Model 1878 rifle (FIR 7917) This rifle was one of a number of weapons provided for Home Guard use in 1940 by an American organization called the American Committee for the Defence of British Homes. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

While of course, on the outset the pair of smoke-poles above would seem hard-pressed to arm a British store clerk or country gentleman against a Fallschirmjäger with an MP38 and some potato masher grenades, they were better than nothing. In the early days of the Local Defence Volunteers and Home Guard firearms of any sort were a rarity. Remember the fictional Sergeant Wilson’s weapon report to Captain Mainwaring in the hilarious “Dad’s Army” sitcom that they stood ready to meet Hitler’s parachutists with “15 carving knives, one shotgun, a No. 3 Iron, and Lance Corporal Jones’ assegai.”

The first muster from the fictional Dad’s Army

Yes, the program was a slapstick comedy, but it should be noted that it was based partly on co-writer and creator Jimmy Perry’s own experiences in the LDV during the War and in many respects is dead-on.

The 1940 British Local Defence Volunteers, not far off from the above image

At one point, pikes were famously planned to arm the local militia force.

Yes, Pikes. Via

It wasn’t until 1942 that quantities of Lend-Leased Great War-era M1917 Enfield, Lewis guns and M1918 BARs in 30.06s, mixed with newer weapons such as Thompson submachine guns started arriving in force.

A long service sergeant in the Dorking Home Guard cleans his Tommy gun at the dining room table, before going on parade, 1 December 1940. He likely went “over the top” along the Somme some years earlier.

British Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service members unloading a fresh shipment of lend-lease crates ca. 41-42. The boxes contain Model 1894 Winchester lever action cowboy guns

By 1943, the possibility of outright German invasion had atrophied although the need to have armed locals in place to police up spies, saboteurs and shot down Luftwaffe aircrews would remain very real.

Three soldiers of the Home Guard pose with a wrecked Messerschmitt shot down over south-east England during the Battle of Britain. Note the Lend-Lease M1917 Enfields

The “Baby Blitz” of Unternehmen Steinbock saw He 177A’s, Do 217s and Ju 88A-4s flying over London as late as May 1944. In that point, 800,000 unarmed volunteers of the ARP and another 1.6 very feisty Home Guard stood ready to defend the Home Isles out of a population of about 49 million, which is impressive especially when you keep in mind that the country at the time fielded a 3-million man Army, a 1.2-million strong RAF capable of pulling off 1,000-bomber raids, and a million-man Royal Navy that included 78,000 Marines and 50 (albeit mostly escort) carriers.

Ford’s cutest tank

View of a Ford 3-Ton M1918 tankette, used during World War I and powered by a pair of Model T gaslone engines:

Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library

Handwritten on back: “Ford 2-man tank, World War I. Credit: Col. Robert J. Icks Collection. Ford 3 ton light tank, c. 1918. 3.4 tons, max. speed 8 mph, two Ford Model T engines, one cal. 30 machine gun. Historical motor vehicles.”

Armed with just a single M1917 Marlin light machine gun (itself an updated M1895 Colt potato-digger), the Army wanted 15,000 of these to smother the Germans in 1919 on the Western Front but only 15 were built before the end of the war.

According to wiki: There are two known survivors; one is at the National Armor & Cavalry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia; the second is with the Ordnance Collection at Fort Lee, Virginia.

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