Over the dusty town of Naco in Mexico, two American mercenary aviators– Dean Ivan Lamb, in a Curtiss biplane and Phil Rader in a Christofferson pusher– flying for rival factions in that country’s revolution, decided to settle who had control of the sky through an impromptu handgun duel. Lamb reportedly circled to reload while resting his revolver inside his shirt while he retrieved spare cartridges from his belt and then stuck the wheelgun between his legs to feed the cylinder with one hand while keeping control of his aircraft with the other.
The duel ended without bloodshed, although distances between the two flying machines at the time was reportedly much less than 50 feet and it has been debated if the two, who were associates, simply put on a show for the benefit of their respective employers. Regardless, the date, often given as 30 November 1913, makes this action between the airborne soldiers of fortune the first recorded aerial combat and was only a decade after the Wright Brothers took to the clouds.
Fast forward to 2019 and you still have aerial mercenaries, such as Borys Reyes, a former Ecuadorian fighter jock, whose vintage (1978-79 model) French-made Dassault Mirage F1 strike fighter was shot down by Libyan National Army forces near al-Watiyah on 23 April.
Another F1 driver, a pilot flying for the rival Libyan Government of National Accord who was shot down by the LNA in May and was recently turned over, is 31-year-old Florida resident Jamie Sponaugle.
A U.S. Air Force vet, Sponaugle was an enlisted man and later NCO who worked on a ground crew on active duty and in the Florida Air Guard for a total of 10 years while he picked up a private pilot’s license.
Of course, Sponaugle just spent six weeks as a GNA POW in Libya but he has one hell of a story to tell.
As for the official line: “We are always pleased to see Americans held captive overseas returned home to their friends and family,” Ambassador Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s envoy for hostage affairs, told media. “We appreciate his captors’ decision to release him. We also thank the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its role in resolving this case.”
Built at the Mars Bluff Shipyard, along the Pee Dee River in South Carolina, it should be no surprise the 170-foot Macon-class shallow draft schooner-rigged steam gunboat constructed there in 1864 would be dubbed the CSS Pee Dee. The lightly armed Confederate warship was designed to carry two Brooke rifled cannons but also had her armament bolstered by a captured Union Dahlgren cannon.
Hitting the water in April 1864, by the next March, she was scuttled in shallow water some 100 miles north of Georgetown S.C. to prevent her capture by the Union Navy.
Discovered in the silt in 2010, archaeologists from the University of South Carolina five years later raised all three of her cannons.
They have since been restored and earlier this month installed at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs building in Florence. The guns include a VII-inch Brooke double-banded rifle, 6.4-inch Brooke, and IX-inch Dahlgren smoothbore
Photos and captions from The Maritime Research Division of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina:
According to MRD, “A public event to introduce the cannons is planned for later this summer. Many thanks to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, Long Bay Salvage, Florence County and Museum, CSS Pee Dee Research and Recovery Team, and Veterans Affairs for making the delivery process go smoothly and safely.”
This beautiful originial Kodachrome shows the 5″/25cal (127 mm) Mark 10 battery aboard the U.S. Navy battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40) preparing to fire during the bombardment of Saipan, 15 June 1944.
Note the time-fuze setters on the left side of each gun mount, each holding three fixed shells; the barrels of 20 mm cannon at the extreme right; and triple the 14″/50 (34.5 cm) Mark 4 main guns in the background. On the two nearest weapons, note the “Hot Case Man” standing behind the breech and equipped with asbestos catcher’s mitts. Their job was to catch the ejected casing and then toss it out of the way of the gun crew as best they could.
The lead ship of a class of three battleships, and the first ship to be named for the state of New Mexico, Battleship No. 40 was a Great War baby, commissioning 20 May 1918, and famously escorted the ship that carried President Wilson to Brest to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Missing Pearl Harbor as she was at the time on neutrality patrols in the Atlantic, she came through the Panama Canal on 17 January 1942 and earned six battlestars in the Pacific War.
She was in Tokyo Harbor for the end of the war.
Decommissioned in 1946 after 28 years of faithful service, she was paid off the next year and sold for $381,600, her value as scrap metal.
As The Greatest Generation ages and increasingly drifts from the present and into memory with each passing day, their footprints on those hallowed beaches on Normandy are washed away. With that, I find tributes tying today’s active military units, to their historical forebearers very important, a sign that those heroic deeds will continue forward.
At Pointe Du Hoc, overlooking Omaha Beach, the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion climbed the almost vertical cliff face to take out (what they were told) was a battery of strategically placed 155mm guns which could control the entire beach.
Of the 225 men with the 2nd Rangers at the dawn of D-Day, just 90 were still standing on D+1 when they were relieved.
To salute the Pointe Du Hoc Rangers, active duty Rangers of 2nd Battalion, 75th Rangers, some in period dress, reenacted the climb yesterday.
The 101st Airborne and 1st Infantry, meanwhile, had their own representatives on hand to walk in the footsteps of their predecessors that landed on the Cotentin (Cherbourg) Peninsula and on Omaha Beach.
Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa (CNE-A), dedicated a Lone Sailor statue on the seawall over Utah Beach, in honor of the bluejackets who cleared the beaches.
“The Frogmen swam ashore to the beaches of Normandy to make them safer for the follow-on wave of Allied forces,” said Foggo. “The Lone Sailor statue is a reminder to honor and remember their bravery and to act as a link from the past to the present as we continue to protect the same values they fought to protect.”
“The Lone Sailor statue stands on a plaza at the Utah Beach Museum overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from where the U.S. invasion force appeared on that historic morning. Although people come and go from this statue, the Lone Sailor will continue to serve as a universal sign of respect towards all Sea Service personnel for generations to come.”
At the same time, down the beach, CNE-A Fleet Master Chief Derrick Walters and U.S. Navy SEALS assigned to Special Warfare Unit 2 re-enacted the D-Day mission that Navy Combat Demolition Unit Sailors conducted in the cover of darkness to clear the beaches for the main invading force on Utah Beach, to include blowing up a recreated Czech Hedgehog beach obstacle with a bit of C4, as one does.
Meanwhile, the crew of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CV-69), read Ike’s famous D-Day Message
Make no mistake, a few precious Veterans of that Longest Day were able to be on hand in Normandy this week, such as 97-year-old 101st Airborne trooper Tom Price who came in just how he did back in 1944– jumping from a C-47.
As men like Mr. Price rejoin their units in the halls of Valhalla, memory is everything. It echos through eternity.
D-Day, as seen below in eight, often haunting, paintings from U.S. Army combat artist Mitchell Jamieson, who landed in Normandy on Utah Beach with an M1 Garand and a sketchbook on 6 June before making his way to Omaha, where he remained with Navy Beach Battalions for a week living in a foxhole on the beach before eventually moving inland to continue his war.
Dawn of D-Day Off The Coast of France:
“At this moment, the first assault waves and demolition parties are on their way and these men, who are to go in later can only wonder what awaits them and stare at the distant coastline, barely discernable. The boats suspended on davits above their heads with their dark shapes oddly express the taut, waiting threat of this dawn off the Normandy coast.
The far off rumble of explosions could be heard and mysterious processions of small invasion craft crossed the ship’s bow. Each ship with its barrage balloon, gleaming above it in the faint light, seeming to be symbols designed to ward off evil spirits rather than objects of modern war. Now and then flashes appear fitfully on the horizon and, in the sky above, our fighter planes sweep by to support the invasion.”
Morning of D-Day from LST:
“Coordination is an important part of the invasion. As the LCTs move in formation to execute a turn to head towards the coast with their assault troops, the transports and LSTs are seen in the distance. Overhead a P-38 Lightning used as a fighter and bomber aircraft during the invasion has just been hit, trailing a stream of white smoke and flame with a cruiser and destroyer to right, bombing objectives ashore.”
Burnt Out LCT on American Beach
“This is typical of some of the gutted wrecks along this most tragic of beaches. It had mobile anti-aircraft vehicles aboard and had been so completely ravaged by flame after being hit that its agonies had left it with a look somehow permanent and fixed in rigidity, as though suffering rigor mortis, in a way like a human corpse. A smashed LCIL is in the surf beyond the pontoon barge and an LCVP, or the remains of it, is in left foreground”
[Of note, the Gleaves-class destroyer USS Corry, nine LCILs, 21 LCTs, USS LST-715, and USS PC-1261 along with the Royal Norwegian Navy destroyer Svenner and RN destroyer HMS Wrestler were all lost off Normandy on 6 June 1944.]
The Dragon – Wrecked M4 Tank
“This burnt-out General Sherman tank was evidently hit by a German “88” [a high-velocity 88mm anti-aircraft artillery gun which was also used as an effective anti-tank weapon] and set afire. It was then partly covered with sand, probably by our bulldozers clearing an exit from the beach. A little further back from the water, a tank ditch extended for a considerable length. Part of the tank’s amphibious air-intake duct, which allowed the tank to be driven through shallow water from ship to shore, was broken off. To the right, a group of African-American troops, amphibious “duck” [DUKW – a type of wheeled land and water vehicle] drivers, gathered around a fire.”
The Sea Wall At the Eastern American Beach (Utah Beach)
“This was the scene at the easternmost of the two American beaches (Utah Beach) at about 3 p.m. on D-Day. The fighting had moved inland, but all along the seawall, which extends a considerable length of the beach, men dug themselves in – hospital corpsmen, beach battalion members, Sea Bees, and anyone whose work was on the beach itself. The beach first aid station was a short way down from here, and the wounded and dead are in the sand in front of the sea wall. The tide was out at this time, and the wounded could not be evacuated back to the ships because of the difficulty in getting landing craft in and out. An enemy artillery battery, located some distance inland from the beach but still in range, sent shells steadily over the Americans, impeding work. An ammunition truck was hit and burned at the beach’s far end. A lone LCI unloaded her troops and the men filed across the beach and started inland. In this section, beach obstacles were not as formidable as in other areas, and the demolition parties were able to clear the way for landing craft with few losses.”
First Aid Station on the Beach
“These wounded were awaiting evacuation to the ships, but the difficulty was in getting craft to the landing beaches to take them. It was low tide when many landing craft were stranded in the shallows by the swiftly subsiding water. In the meanwhile, the medics did what they could for the wounded and tried to get them out of the line of fire. A trawler was set afire just behind the sea wall and exploded spasmodically with a shower of steel fragments whining overhead. One man died, and a corpsman covered him with a blanket. Wounded were being brought back from the fighting inland, but at this stage of the invasion the wounded did not receive anything like prompt care and evacuation, although the medics and corpsmen did everything in their power.”
[Note: Of the 156,000 Allied personnel who hit the beaches on 6 June, over 10,000 became casualties, half of those killed in action. One unit, A Company of the 116th Regiment, part of the 29th Infantry Division, lost 96 percent of its 197-strong complement to death or wounds on the morning of D-Day in the surf line at Omaha Beach. “Within 20 minutes if striking the beach, A Company ceased to be an assault company and had become a forlorn little rescue party bent upon survival and the saving of lives,” noted one contemporary Army report. ]
Burial Ground Above the Beach
In the center of Omaha or Western American beach sector, the ground is fairly flat for perhaps two hundred yards, then rises sharply in a series of hills which command both the beach and the valley exits from it. Here the land levels off and fields, bordered with hedgerows, stretch back inland towards the little town of Colleville-sur-Mer and the Cherbourg road. In June 1944, if you followed the slender white tape through the mined areas up one of these hills, it was not long before you found yourself in a different world.
This was because it really belonged to the dead and because the transition from the active clatter and dust of the beach was so abrupt. This field, high over the Western American beach, became the first U.S. national cemetery on French soil of World War II. Up here the beach sounds were faint and the German prisoners digging graves seemed to be unaware of them. Over the field, there was the sound of pick and shovel and the oppressive, sickening stench of corpses, brought in for burial in truckloads, each wrapped in a mattress cover with his I.D. tag and a little bag of personal belongings to be sent to his next of kin. In the center of the field, the diggers worked in a new section while a guard with a Tommy gun looked on with expressionless features. One soldier who spoke German went around with a long stick for measuring the depth of graves and gave instructions with a great concern for details.
The work had a steady, slow and appalling rhythm. At intervals a corpse was borne on a stretcher by four Germans to a freshly dug grave and lowered without ceremony, then the earth was shoveled in again. Some of the prisoners stopped work for a moment and watched as this was going on. Others mechanically went on with digging.
In this picture a truck has come back from the front, the vehicle brutally and grimly called the “meat wagon,” and prisoners take off the corpses, laying them side by side, row on row while darkness set in over the field.
As a footnote, Maryland-born Jamieson studied at the Abbott School of Art and the Corcoran School of Art and in the 1930s was hired by the Treasury Department’s Art Project to paint murals in public buildings across the country. Volunteering for the Army as an infantryman in 1942, the 27-year old artist was soon reassigned as a combat correspondent. After the war, he continued painting and died in 1976. He has a number of works in the Smithsonian as well as in other museums.
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, June 5, 2019: Overlord’s First Loss
Here we see a British Admiralty chart entitled “Iles St Marcouf to Cap Manvieux,” covering a span of the Normandy Coast in France. This chart was used by the venerable New York-class battleship USS Texas (BB-35) during her bombardment operations in support of the Operation Neptune landings, 6 June 1944, the seaside part of Operation Overlord. If you note in the top right-hand quarter of the chart is a set of two parallel lines marked with dan buoys marking a 900-meter-wide channel that was swept of mines immediately prior to and on D-Day.
In short, if it hadn’t had been for those minecraft that cleared the aforementioned path, the whole invasion would have gone a good bit different. With that, today’s Warship Wednesday is on the loss of the Raven-class minesweeper USS Osprey (AM-56), which sunk 75 years ago on 5 June 1944. As noted by military historian and D-Day guru Stephen Ambrose, the six bluejackets killed on Osprey that day were the first Allied casualties of Overlord.
The two ships of the Raven-class were basically all-diesel predecessors of the later Auk-class minesweepers (which had diesel-electric drives) and came in a tad lighter, giving them a draft that was almost two feet shallower.
Built side-by-side in 1939-40 at the Norfolk Navy Yard as AM-55 and AM-56, the much more prolific (95 hull) Auks followed them with hull numbers that started at AM-57.
Named for the large, hawk-like bird with a dark brown back and a white breast, Osprey was the second such warship for the Navy with that moniker, with the first being the Lapwing-class minesweeper AM-29 which was commissioned in 1919 then soon transferred to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey as USC&GS Pioneer.
Commissioned 16 December 1940, by mid-1941 Osprey was detailed with coastal patrol duties off the U.S. Eastern seaboard and, once America got more active in the European war after Pearl Harbor, soon found herself in England.
By November 1942, she convoyed with the USS Texas and company and later helped direct and protect the waves of landing craft moving shoreward at Port Lyautey, Morocco for the Allies Torch Landings.
After completing anti-submarine patrols off Casablanca, Osprey returned to Norfolk for a year of coastal escort assignments aimed at helping to curb the German U-boat threat off Hampton Roads. With other minesweepers, she escorted convoys from Norfolk and New York to ports in the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast.
By April 1944, Osprey was back across the pond and assigned to the growing invasion flotilla heading for Normandy. Rommel, who had wanted to sow millions of landmines in France to seal off the beaches from invasion, was also a fan of their seagoing variants.
“The Generalfeldmarschall himself had quickly grasped the value of naval mines in his system of defense. He continually requested an increased use of this weapon,” notes a U.S. Navy history.
The German naval minefield facing the Overlord invasion stretched 120 km across the Bay of Normandy and was 16 km deep.
The Allied plan was to use 255 vessels to clear 10 channels through the mine barrage– two channels per beach– in the immediate predawn hours of D-Day, with each sweeper ship, such as Osprey, clearing paths by cutting the moored contact mines. Specially equipped trawlers would follow on the search for magnetic mines while dan-laying launches would mark the swept zone. The channels were to be from 400 to 1,200 yards in width depending on their route.
The danger of mines in inshore waters was to be disregarded during the assault, but the areas were to be searched as soon as sweepers were available.
British Admiral Bertram Ramsay noted that “There is no doubt that the mine is our greatest obstacle to success,” when discussing the Cross-Channel attack. “And if we manage to reach the enemy coast without being disorganized and suffering serious losses, we should be fortunate.”
After months of intensive practice in combined sweeping operations with MinRon 7 off Torbay, England, en route to the Normandy invasion beaches on 5 June, Osprey soon struck an enemy mine. The crew put out the resultant fires but could not save their vessel. She sank that evening.
Early on the 6th, the mine division started sweeping the coast of France in assault and check sweeps to assure safe passage channels for the landing craft and the primary naval gunfire support for the beaches.
The only loss to mines on 5 June, Osprey was soon joined by numerous other craft who could not stay in the same cleared channel as the battleships or were hit by floating contact mines, cut free in the initial sweeping. This was later compounded by the Germans air-dropping mines and sowing them at night from E-boats and coasters.
On 6 June, the landing craft USS LCI(L)-85, LCI(L)-91, LCI(L)-497, LCT-197, LCT-294, LCT-305, LCT-332, LCT-364, LCT-397, LCT-555, LCT-703 and destroyer HMS Wrestler all struck mines just off the beachhead and were lost.
The next day saw the loss of the Army transport ship USAT Francis C. Harrington, Navy transport USS Susan B. Anthony, landing craft LCI(L)-416, LCI(L)-436, LCI(L)-458, LCI(L)-489, LCI(L)-586, and the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125), all to the infernal devices. Meanwhile, the Allen Sumner-class destroyer USS Meredith (DD-726) was damaged by a mine and sunk the next day by a Luftwaffe bombing which split her in two.
On 8 June, the net layer HMS Minster was sunk by a mine off Utah Beach while the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Rich (DE-695) struck two mines and sank in the English Channel off Normandy.
Through the end of the month, mines off Normandy would continue to claim another dozen landing craft and steamers, as well as the British RN destroyers HMS Fury and HMS Swift along with the Dido-class cruiser HMS Scylla, proving just how hazardous the belt laid by the Germans, had been. It is easy to forget, with the scale of Overlord, but mines caused one hell of a butcher’s bill in June 1944 off the French coast.
As for Osprey‘s sister ship, Raven would sweep at least 21 German and Italian naval mines on D-Day alone. She would survive the war and pass into mothballs with three battle stars to her credit.
Struck in 1967, she was sunk as a target in deep water off the coast of southern California.
As noted by DANFS, the name Osprey was assigned to AM-406 on 17 May 1945, but the construction of that ship was canceled just three months later with the end of the war.
Osprey would go on to grace the hulls of two later U.S. Navy minecraft: AMS-28, a small YMS-1-class minesweeper which served in Korea where she prepared a firing base anchorage for the big guns of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) at the Inchon landings– a true namesake to her predecessor– and MHC-51, the lead ship of late Cold War Osprey-class coastal mine hunters.
As for our D-Day Osprey, her bell surfaced some time ago, but I believe is in private hands in the UK.
Still, if it had not been for Osprey and those like her, the Longest Day could have proved even longer.
Displacement: 810 tons, 1040 tons full load
Length: 220 ft 6 in overall, 215 w.l.
Beam: 32 ft 2 in
Draft: 9 ft 4 in mean
Machinery: Diesel, 2 shafts, 1,800 BHP
Speed: 18 knots
Complement:105 officers and men
2 × 3″/50 caliber guns
2 × 40 mm AA guns
8 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons (added 1942)
2 × depth charge tracks (added 1941)
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