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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.

Specs:
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

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

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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.

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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: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30035096

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: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30032392

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 Home-Guard.org.uk

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.

 

Warship Wednesday, June 20, 2018: The last of the drummers

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, June 20, 2018: The last of the drummers

Bundesarchiv_bild_101ii-mw-4260-37

Here we see the German Type IXB U-boat U-123 of the Kriegsmarine as she is returning from a patrol to the pens at Lorient, 8 June 1941. Of the 14 Type IXB’s completed by DeSchiMAG AG Weser of Bremen, all but this hull was destroyed during the war, and, amazingly, the subject of our tale this hump day also had a skipper who made it out alive and only just sounded his last depth this month, aged 105. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The IXB series, a subset of the mammoth 194 Type IX unterseeboots built for the German Navy, was an improved model with an increased range– capable of traveling some 12,000 nm at 10-knots on their MAN diesel engines when running on the surface. This is up from their half-sister’s 10K range. Not bad for a 1,170-ton boat that just went 251-feet in length. Still, they packed 22 torpedoes inside the hull and a relatively impressive 10.5 cm/45 (4.1″) SK C/32 naval gun just forward of the bow, with 180 rounds stowed for its use.

U-123’s 105mm deck gun crew practicing Jan 1942 Photo by Alwin Tolle Propagandakompanien der Wehrmacht Bundesarchiv Bild 101II-MW-4006-31

U-123 was ordered 15 December 1937 as Werke 955 from the yard, almost two years before WWII started, but was only completed 30 May 1940, while France was teetering on collapse and Europe had been in open conflict for nine months. Her first skipper was Kptlt. Karl-Heinz Moehle, a later Knights Cross winner and U-Boat Ace who would conn her for a full year. Following shake down and training which lasted until September, Moehle took U-123 on 4 patrols (126 days at sea) from her forward base in Lorient on the French Atlantic coast. One proved especially eventful– the attack on convoy OB-244 which sank five ships in five hours.

On 19 May 1941, Kplt. Reinhard Hardegen, formerly of the Type IID boat U-147, assumed command and soon took U-123 on her fifth patrol, off the coast of West Africa, which scratched five Allied ships and extensively damaged the British auxiliary cruiser HMS Aurania. A former pilot/observer who transferred to the submarine corps after a crash left him with chronic injuries, Hardegen seemed to have proved himself with the patrol. Admiral Karl Dönitz, Hitler’s sub boss, detailed the lucky (and long-legged) U-123 and her newly-successful skipper as one of the first five boats to bring the war to America’s Eastern seaboard via Unternehmen Paukenschlag (Operation Drumbeat, or more correctly, “roll on the kettledrums”) just days after Pearl Harbor brought the Great Neutral into the conflict.

Sortieing from Lorient two days before Christmas, 1941, U-123 drew first blood in the Americas when on 12 January 1942 she torpedoed and sank the unescorted British steamship Cyclops, inaugurating Paukenschlag and commencing a “blitz” against coastal shipping between New York Harbor and the Outer Banks.

Four days later the submarine shrugged off an air attack off New York and just three days after that narrowly escaped being rammed by a giant 16,000-ton Norwegian whale factory ship, but in a two-week period sank eight Allied merchant ships– Norness (at 9,577-tons, her biggest prize), the big tanker Coimbra (more on her later), Norvana, City of Atlanta, Culebra, Pan Norway and the freighter Ciltvaira— along a brightly-lit seacoast unprepared for modern war.

The accomplishment earned Hardegen the signal “An den Paukenschläger Hardegen. Bravo! Gut gepaukt. Dönitz” (For the drum-beater Hardegen. Well done! Good beating) from his boss, and a Knights Cross. The patrol ended only because the boat was out of deck gun ammo and torpedoes.

The attack on Coimbra:

The patrol was so epic to the Germans that the tale of U-123 was used in the feature-length UFA-produced propaganda film U-Boote westwärts, with some scenes filmed aboard the vessel and featuring members of the crew.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the new and startling offensive along the Gulf Stream sparked a panic wave of the Navy and Coast Guard arming everything that could float to provide a modicum of coastal escort and sub chasing, and FDR called for an old WWI tactic– that of creating fake tramp steamers who were heavily-armed auxiliary cruisers (Q-boats) intended to draw in a submarine with the disguise and then slaughter it with a sucker punch.

As Hardegen and U-123 returned to France for more diesel, schnitzel and ordnance, the U.S. Navy bought the old (1912) 6,000-ton Bull Lines steamer SS Evelyn, installed sound gear, armed her, and commissioned her as the Q-ship USS Asterion (AK-100, a cargo ship identification number to complete the subterfuge) while her sister, SS Carolyn, was given the same treatment as USS Atik (AK-101).

With a blistering speed of just 9-knots, these ships were heavily outfitted with a quartet of concealed 4-inch guns, a battery of .50-caliber machine guns, some WWI-era Lewis guns and some half-dozen depth charge projectors. By early March, the two Yankee Q-ships were ready for war after a conversion that lasted about three weeks.

Caption: Carolyn underway in an undated image. (Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. Photograph, Atik (AK-101) Ship History File, History and Archives Division, Naval History and Heritage Command)

According to the Naval History Command:

At the outset, all connected with the program apparently harbored the view that neither ship “was expected to last longer than a month after commencement of [her] assigned duty.” Atik’s holds were packed with pulpwood, a somewhat mercurial material. If dry, “an explosive condition might well develop” and, if wet, “rot, with resultant fire might well take place.” Despite these disadvantages, pulpwood was selected as the best obtainable material to assure “floatability.”

Enter U-123‘s eight war patrol (fourth under Hardegen) and on 22 March she sank the U.S.-flagged tanker SS Muskogee followed quickly by the British tanker Empire Steel off the coast of Bermuda. Then, on 27 March, the submarine met the Q-Ship Carolyn/Atik, who was just three days into her own first war patrol.

It did not go well.

According to DANFS:

The U-boat, on the surface, began stalking Atik at 2200, and at 0037 on 27 March 1942 fired one torpedo at a range of 700 yards that struck the ship on her port side, under the bridge. Fire broke out immediately, and the ship began to assume a slight list, the crippled “freighter” sending out a terse SOS: “S.S. Carolyn, torpedo attack, burning forward, not bad.” As U-123 proceeded around under her victim’s stern, Kapitänleutnant Hardegen noted one boat being lowered on the starboard side and men abandoning ship.

After U-123 turned to starboard, “Carolyn” gathered steerageway. She steered a course paralleling the enemy’s by turning to starboard as well, then dropped her concealment, opening fire from her main and secondary batteries. The first 4-inch shell splashed short of the U-boat, as she made off presenting a small target; the shots that followed were off in deflection. Heavy .50-caliber machine gun fire, though, ricocheted around the U-boat’s decks as she bent on speed to escape the trap into which Hardegen “like a callow beginner [his own words]” had fallen. One bullet mortally wounded Fähnrich zur See Rudi Holzer, on U-123’s bridge.

Gradually, the U-boat pulled out of range behind the cover of the smoke screen emitted by her straining diesels, and her captain assessed the damage. As Hardegen later recorded, “We had been incredibly lucky.” U-123 submerged and again approached her adversary. At 0229, the U-boat loosed a torpedo into Atik’s machinery spaces. Satisfied that that blow would prove to be the coup de grace, U-123 stood off to await developments as Atik settled by the bow, her single screw now out of the water.

Once again, Atik’s men could be seen embarking in her boats. U-123 surfaced at 0327, to finish off the feisty Q-ship. Suddenly, at 0350, a cataclysmic explosion blew Atik to pieces. Ten minutes later, U-123 buried her only casualty, Fähnrich zur See Holzer, who had died of his wounds. Atik’s entire crew perished, either in the blast that destroyed the ship or during the severe gale that lashed the area soon after the brave ship disintegrated.

The next morning, a USAAF bomber dispatched to Atik’s last reported position found nothing.

Atik‘s sister, Asterion, plied the coastal waters and managed to pick up several survivors from other stricken ships but, on the orders of Adm. King himself, was reclassified in 1944 as a weather service ship (WAK-123), never once being able to mix it up with a U-boat of her own to avenge Atik‘s loss over the course of six Q-ship patrols.

Survivor is brought ashore from USS Broome (DD-210) at Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, on 20 April 1942. Alcoa Guide had been sunk by gunfire of the German submarine U-123 on 16 April. Broome rescued 27 of her survivors on 19 April. The last survivor of the ship was not picked up until 18 May. Six of Alcoa Guide’s crew lost their lives as a result of this attack. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-3882

U-123 went on to sink a further five merchantmen and damage three others on her 8th patrol, including the high-profile attack on the tanker SS Gulfamerica off Jacksonville beach on a breezy April night in front of a packed, and shocked audience.

“Many people watched the flames fill the sky about four miles off shore. Others who didn’t see the explosion flocked to the beach over the weekend to catch a glimpse of the wreckage. The bow of the ship bobbed on the surface for six days before finally sinking below the waves,” noted Jacksonville.com on the 75th anniversary of Gulfamerica‘s loss– the event still reverberating across generations.

Speaking of reverberations, George Betts, the father of Muskogee‘s skipper, reached out to Hardegen long after the war in 1986 and struck up an unlikely friendship with the U-boat ace of the deep. Hardegen provided the man with a photo of his late father, who he had last seen on a lifeboat. He told Betts that he gave the survivors bottled water, rations and detailed instructions about how to get to the nearest land, but sadly they never made it. Still, Betts reportedly held no grudge, to which the aging German submariner remarked, “This personal contact with men was one of the moments that shows me that this should be the last war.”

U-123 in front of barracks ship in Lorient, Feb 1942. Photo by Dietrich, Propagandakompanien Der Wermacht. Bundesarchiv-Bild 101ii-mw-3

At the end of U-123‘s eighth patrol, Hardegen was relieved and spent the rest of the war in training assignments due to poor health. His famous submarine would go on to complete four further patrols under a new skipper–Oblt. Horst von Schroeter–which accounted for five more Allied merchant ships and the British submarine, HMS P-615 before she was scuttled at Lorient on 19 August 1944 to prevent her use to advancing U.S. forces that had landed in France after D-Day. According to U-boat.net, she accounted for over 200,000 tons of Allied shipping, including two warships.

The scuttling was not too extensive as she was quickly patched up and went on to serve the French Navy as Blaison (Q165) for another 15 years, only scrapping in 1959.

Under French (and NATO) colors

Of the 48 German submarines turned over to the Allied post-war for further use, she and U-510, a Type IXC half-sister renamed Bouan, were the only ones taken over by France.

The other 13 members of U-123‘s class were not so lucky and were largely destroyed at sea in encounters that left their crews lost to the deep. Sisters U-65, U-105, U-107, U-109, and U-124 were lost with all hands. U-104 and U-122 have both been missing since 1940. Documents and Enigma machines famously captured from sister U-110 before she sank with 15 of her crew helped Bletchley Park code-breakers solve Reservehandverfahren, a reserve German hand cipher. The rest were lost with fewer casualties, but scratched off Donitz’s naval list all the same.

Hardegen, who spent more than 18 months in a British POW camp after 1945, went on after the war to become a founder of Bremen’s Christian Democrats party (the same port city where all the Type XIIB’s including U-123 were built) and serve on the city’s diet for over 30 years. During the same period, he became an oil company executive, which is ironic due to his past work in tankers.

He died last week, aged 105, reportedly the last of the U-boat skippers.

There are still reverberations from his Drumbeat.

This week the U.S. Coast Guard announced they have contracted to conduct an underwater assessment of the tanker Coimbra, set to take place in July over concerns that the rusting tanker has a potential to have an environmental impact on the New York coastline.

“We have assembled a team including members of the Navy Supervisor of Salvage, the Coast Guard Academy Science Department, the Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and New York Department of Environmental Conservation to provide consultation for this assessment,” said Capt. Kevin Reed, commander Sector Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound. “This assessment will help determine any potential environmental threat the tanker poses. Our top priorities are safety of the public and protection of the marine environment.”

And the drums still beat…

Specs:


Displacement:
1,051 tonnes (1,034 long tons) surfaced
1,178 tonnes (1,159 long tons) submerged
Length:
76.50 m (251 ft) o/a
58.75 m (192 ft 9 in) pressure hull
Beam:
6.76 m (22 ft 2 in) o/a
4.40 m (14 ft 5 in) pressure hull
Draught: 4.70 m (15 ft 5 in)
Installed power:
4,400 PS (3,200 kW; 4,300 bhp) (diesels)
1,000 PS (740 kW; 990 shp) (electric)
Propulsion:
2 shafts
2 × diesel engines
2 × electric motors double-acting electric motors, 1,000 PS (990 shp; 740 kW)
Range:
12,000 nmi (22,000 km; 14,000 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced
64 nmi (119 km; 74 mi)at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 4 officers, 44 enlisted
Armament:
6 × torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern)
22 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedoes
1 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK C/32 deck gun (180 rounds)
1 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 AA gun
1 × twin 2 cm FlaK 30 AA guns

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. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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!

Fighting Marines, 75 years on

U.S. Marine Corps Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Offical caption: “How to disable an armed opponent is demonstrated by two girl Marines in training at Camp Lejeune, New River, North Carolina. The Marines with their backs to the camera are watching another display of feminine skill in the art of self-defense, June 18, 1943.”

By the way, the Marines have had females enlisted since 1918– 100 years.

Joubert’s Welsh trench sword

Thomas Scott-Ellis, 8th Lord Howard de Walden, was a polymath who had ridden with the 10th Hussars in the Boer War and was always ready for a fight.

From the National Trust

Tommy’s enormous range of interests included: documenting heraldry as a medieval historian, editing Burke’s Peerage, competing in the 1908 Olympics at speed boat racing (the only time this has ever been an Olympic event), horse racing, sailing, hawking, golfing, flying, model-boating, writing libretti for operas (with music by his friend Joseph Holbrooke) and writing both pageants and pantomimes for his six children and their friends – he did the lot!

When the Great War came, Lord Walden became involved with the 9th Batt., Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and as can be expected, began searching for a blade that set his Welshmen apart.

That’s where antiques dealer, arms collector and scholar Felix Joubert of Chelsea came in. The so-called Welsh sword was a trench dagger that Joubert said was based on the traditional “Welsh cleddyd” (or cledd), but this has been ruled out as just so much window dressing to appeal to Lord Walden.

Welsh Knife with scabbard (WEA 785) The ‘Welsh Knife’ was designed in 1916 by the sculptor and armourer Felix Joubert and patented by him, as a ‘new or improved trench knife’. It was allegedly based on an ancient Welsh weapon, although the existence of such a distinctly Welsh mediæval sword has since been disproved. An unknown, but limited, number of Welsh Knives were manufactured by the Wilkinson Sword Company, Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30001257

The pommel is heavy and pointed, the hand guard folds flat against the blade for sheathing and the ricasso is inscribed “Dros Urddas Cymru”, Welsh for “For the honour of Wales”

The blade was some 17.6-inches long, leading to a two-foot long, 36-ounce weapon.

Joubert’s Welsh sword trench knife, patent drawing. Note the folding mechanism

He patented the blade in 1916 (GB108741) and it was produced by both Wilkinson (who apparently made 200) and locally in France by firm(s) unknown. Originally only for use by bombers (grenadiers), trench-pirates and machine gun crew, it was later issued to most officers and ranks of 9th RWF.

They were reportedly “used with great effect in a raid at Messines Ridge, 5 June 1917.”

From the Royal Armories

As noted by the Royal Armories, “The ‘Welsh knife’ inspired the design of the Smatchet fighting knife of The Second World War by the renowned hand-to-hand combat expert and innovator, Lieutenant-Colonel William E. Fairbairn.”

Behold, the famous Fairbairn Smatchet…or is it a Welsh cleddyd?

The Welsh trench swords are widely reproduced by Windlass in India as well as others, while the Smatchet is even more common.

Warship Wednesday, June 6, 2018: The eternal Nordic shark of Sword Beach

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, June 6, 2018: The eternal Nordic shark of Sword Beach

Via the Norwegian military museum (Forsvarets Museer) MMU.941853

Here we see the British-built S-class destroyer (Jageren in Norwegian parlance) His Norwegian Majesty’s Ship KNM (Kongelige Norske Marine) Svenner (RN Pennant G03) of the Free Norwegian Sjøforsvaret in 1944, fresh from the yard and ready to fight. Svenner is deeply associated with today’s date. However, before we can talk about her service, let us discuss the Royal Norwegian Navy in WWII.

The Scandinavian neutral had managed to sit precariously on the fence in the Great War and indeed was a peaceful country who had last seen the elephant during the Napoleonic Wars, skirmishing at first with the British and then the Swedes for independence. Some 130-years of peace behind it, the Norwegian Navy in April 1940 was again an armed neutral, ready to take on all-comers to preserve the homeland. Then came the invasion.

German cruiser Blücher in Drøbak Sound, April 1940 outside of the Norwegian capital Oslo

Two months of tough resistance against German invaders while reluctantly accepting Allied intervention left the Norwegian Navy covered in glory (such as when the tiny 200-ton gunboat KNM Pol III stood alone– briefly– against the mighty heavy cruiser Blücher, the heavy cruiser Lützow, the light cruiser Emden, three torpedo boats and eight minesweepers carrying 2,000 troops to Oslo, or when the ancient and nearly condemned coastal monitors KNM Eidsvold and Norge attempted to stop the Germans at Narvik), but was largely left sunk at the bottom of the fjords they defended.

When the endgame came, a dozen or so small ships and 500 officers and men made it to British waters to carry on the war. These included such Edwardian relics as the destroyer Draug (commissioned in 1908!) and the newer Sleipner, as well as fishery patrol ships such as the Nordkapp, which all soon got to work for the Allies, guarding sea lanes, escorting convoys and protecting the UK and Allied-occupied Iceland from potential Axis invasion.

The mighty KNM Draug, with lines that look right out of the Spanish-American War. MMU.945456

With the small core of exiled prewar Norwegian sailors, an influx of Norwegians living abroad and transfers from the country’s huge merchant fleet, the exiled Free Norwegian Navy was able to rebuild abroad. Soon, the old Draug was in full-time use as a training and support vessel while small trawlers and whalers provided yeoman service as the “Shetland Bus” regularly shuttling spies, SOE operatives and Norwegian resistance agents into occupied Scandinavia and downed Allied aircrew out over the course of some 200 trips. As these operations expanded, the Brits began transferring at first surplus (five ex-Wickes-class tin cans transferred originally to the Brits from the USN under the bases for destroyer deal) and then new-built naval vessels (Flower and Castle-class corvettes, motor torpedo boats, Hunt-class destroyer escorts, and later two S-class destroyers) to the growing Norwegian fleet to perform convoy escort missions.

That’s where Svenner comes in.

The 16 S/T-class destroyers were long ships (363-feet) but thin (just 35-feet) giving them a 10:1 length-to-beam ratio, making them a knife on the water. Tipping the scales at just 2,500~ tons, they were slender stilettos made for stabbing through the waves at nearly 37-knots on a pair of Parsons geared turbines. Armed with a quartet of 4.7-inch guns for surface actions, U-boat busting depth charges and an eight-pack of anti-ship torpedo tubes, they were ready for a fight. Class leader HMS Saumarez (G12) was completed in July 1943, right in time for the Battle of the Atlantic, and the 15 ships that followed her were made ready to go into harm’s way as soon as they could leave the builders’ yards. Of those, one, HMS Success, was transferred on completion to the Free Norwegian forces on 26 August 1943 as KNM Stord (G26), and soon got to chasing the Germans, becoming engaged with the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst just four months after transfer.

Stord, note her Norwegian jack. MMU.945852

One of Success/Stord‘s sisterships, laid down as HMS Shark, transferred to the Norwegians 11 March 1944 on completion and was named KNM Svenner after a Norwegian island. Her skipper, LCDR Tore Holthe, was a prewar Norwegian surface fleet officer and veteran of Stord‘s action against Scharnhorst.

Svenner’s officers, with Holthe center. MMU.945739

Just weeks after her commissioning, Svenner was attached to Bombardment Force S of the Eastern Task Force of the Normandy invasion fleet assembling off Plymouth. Her mission would be to help smother the German beach defenses during the assault on Sword Beach, where British and Canadian forces would land.

Jageren SVENNER (G03) babord bredside MMU.941527

SVENNER (ex SHARK) (FL 22742) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205174978

On the night of the 5th, Svenner, along with the frigates HMS Rowley and Holmes, helped escort the cruisers HMS Arethusa, Danae, and Frobisher, as well as the Free Polish cruiser ORP Dragon, monitor HMS Roberts and the small craft of the 40th Minesweeping Flotilla from Plymouth across the Channel to Sword Beach, where the famous battleships HMS Ramillies, HMS Warspite and ships of Force D stood by for heavy lifting.

At 0500 on 6 June 1944, Jutland veteran Warspite was the first ship in the entire 4,000-strong Allied fleet on any beach to open fire, hitting a German artillery battery at Villerville from some 13 miles offshore.

Hamilton, John Alan; D-Day Naval Bombardment: HMS ‘Ramillies’, HMS ‘Warspite’ and Monitor HMS ‘Roberts’ Bombard the Beaches; IWM (Imperial War Museums); http://www.artuk.org/artworks/d-day-naval-bombardment-hms-ramillies-hms-warspite-and-monitor-hms-roberts-bombard-the-beaches-7683

As the Svenner, Rowley, and Holmes stood by to allow the minesweepers to clear a channel for the bombardment ships to close with the beach while making smoke to obscure the capital ships, three German torpedo boats out of La Havre– Jaguar, Møwe and T28— appeared at 28-knots to conduct a strike against the force, letting lose some 17 torpedoes in all. It was the only effective Kriegsmarine resistance on D-Day.

The torpedo spread came close to ruining Force D, with steel fish passing within feet of both Ramillies and Warspite. The only victim of the German torps: our brave new Norwegian destroyer, who tried in vain to turn from the spread but came up short.

HNoMS Svenner breaking up & sinking after being struck by two torpedoes

Svenner was hit amidships at 0530 by one or possibly two torpedoes and broke in half, sinking quickly after an explosion under her boiler room. Lost were 32 Norwegian and a British signalman out of her crew of 219. Most of the crew, which included some RN ratings, were rescued by nearby ships and returned to the war in days.

Still, the pair of battleships were saved, and they covered the invasion on Sword with heavy naval gunfire. Warspite fired over 300 shells on June 6 alone before heading back to Portsmouth for more rounds and powder and returning to plaster targets on Utah Beach and Gold Beach. Her sidekick Ramillies heaved an impressive 1,002 15-inch shells in that week, hitting not only defensive strongpoints and batteries but also massing German armor well inland and enemy railway marshaling yards near Caen. The work by those two brawlers on D Day and the hours afterward is well-remembered.

The landing at Sword involved the British Army’s I Corps made up of the 3rd Infantry Division and 79nd Armoured Division along with hardlegs of the 1st Special Service Brigade (which also contained Free French and Belgian Commandos) and No. 41 (Royal Marine) Commando against the German 716th Infantry Division and Caen-based 21st Panzer Div (which launched the only major German counterattack of D-Day.) In all, over 680 Allied troops were killed on Sword alone on 6 June.

SWORD beach – 6 Jun 1944. This image is taken from a Royal Air Force Mustang aircraft of II (Army Cooperation) Squadron. IWM

THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN 1944 (B 5191) Three Beach Group troops look out from Queen beach,Sword Beach, littered with beached landing craft and wrecked vehicles and equipment, 7 June 1944. A partially submerged D7 armoured bulldozer can be seen on the right. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205835

Besides Svenner, the Norwegians were well-represented at Normandy, with her sistership Stord present elsewhere on Sword on D-Day, hitting a German battery by Riva Bella with no less that 362 of her 4.7-inch shells.

Maleri av invasjonen i Normandie og jageren STORD MMU.943486

The Norwegian-manned Hunt-class destroyer escort KNM Glaisdale was at Juno Beach and fired more than 400 rounds that day at German positions near St. Aubain while the similarly-crewed corvettes Acanthus, Eglantine and Rose were at Utah Beach. The plucky 130-foot fisheries vessel Nordkapp was there too, as an escort and rescue vessel. Seven Norwegian merchant ships were packed with troops and supplies that day, including some 200 men of the 29th U.S. Infantry Division aboard the SS Lysland off Omaha Beach. Another 43 Norwegian merchant ships were in the follow-on wave starting June 7, including three that gave their last as mole ships.

For more on the vital contribution to the war by the 1,081 ships of the Norwegian merchant service (Nortraship) which saw an incredible 570 vessels sunk and some 3734 men taken down to their last across both the Atlantic and Pacific, please check out the excellent site dedicated to these war-sailors.

The Norwegians went on to purchase Stord from the UK government and kept her in service for another decade, only scrapping her in Belgium in 1959. Of note, she returned Vice Adm. Edvard Danielsen, commander of the Norwegian Navy, home from the UK in 1945. On that occasion, the following signal was sent from RN Adm. Sir Henry Moore:

To: H Nor MS Stord
From: C-in-C HF AFLOAT CONFIDENTIAL BASEGRAM
For Admiral Danielsen

On your return to Norway in H Nor MS Stord I should be grateful if you will convey to Lieutenant Commander Øi and to the officers and ships company my keen appreciation of the honour I feel in having had them under my command in the Home Fleet.

Their efficiency and their fine fighting spirit have been the admiration of us all and although we are glad that they now should be reaping the reward of their contribution to the liberation of Europe we shall miss them in the Home Fleet. We hope that some of us may soon have the pleasure to renew our friendship in Norwegian port. To you personally I send my warm regards and sincere thanks for your helpful cooperation with me at the Admiralty: Good luck and happiness to you all.

By the end of the war, the Royal Norwegian Naval Fleet (outside of Norway) consisted of 52 combatant ships and 7,500 officers, petty officers and men. For more on the Free Norwegian Navy in WWII, click here for an English translation compiled by the Norwegian Naval Museum.

As a footnote, the only other S/T-class destroyer lost during the war was also claimed on Sword Beach. HMS Swift (G46) struck and detonated mine off the beachhead and sank after breaking in two on 24 June with the loss of 52 men.

HMS SWIFT ( G 46) MMU.941445

Other than that, all 14 remaining S/T-class sisters survived the conflict and lead a long life with three going on to transfer in 1946 to the rebuilding Dutch Navy. The last of the class afloat, HMS Troubridge (F09), helped sink U-407 during the war and, converted to a Type 15 frigate, was only decommissioned in 1969, going to the breakers the following year.

In 2003, a French Navy minesweeper discovered the wreckage of Svenner off Sword and salvaged her anchor. It is now preserved as a memorial to the ship some 100 yards inland from the beach at Hermanville-sur-Mer.

The Norwegians remember Svenner with fondness, having recycled her name for a Kobben-class submarine commissioned in 1967 which remained in service until after the Cold War.

Svenner has become part of the country’s military lore.

Via the Norwegian military museum (Forsvarets Museer) http://forsvaretsmuseer.no/Marinemuseet/70-aar-siden-senkningen-av-Svenner

In 2014, King Harald himself helped dedicate the memorial to all Norwegians present at Normandy, accompanied by some of the last of that country’s aging WWII vets.

Today, of course, on the 74th anniversary of Overlord/Neptune and the 156,000 Allied troops that landed across that wide 50-mile front, we remember all the Allies of the Greatest Generation.

Specs:
Displacement:
1,710 long tons (1,740 t) (standard)
2,530 long tons (2,570 t) (deep load)
Length: 362 ft 9 in (110.6 m) (o/a)
Beam: 35 ft 9 in (10.9 m)
Draught: 14 ft 6 in (4.4 m) (deep)
Installed power:
40,000 shp (30,000 kW)
2 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers
Propulsion: 2 × shafts; 2 × Parsons geared steam turbines
Speed: 36 knots (67 km/h; 41 mph)
Range: 4,675 nmi (8,658 km; 5,380 mi) at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Sensors:
Radar Type 290 air warning
Radar Type 285 ranging & bearing
Armament:
4 × single 4.7-inch (120 mm) Mark XII dual-purpose guns
1 × twin Bofors 40 mm AA guns
4 × twin QF 20 mm Oerlikon AA guns
2 × quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes
4 × throwers and 2 × racks for 70 depth charges

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. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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.

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