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Still coming home

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission earlier this month held a ceremony at Messines Ridge British Cemetery for two unknown soldiers whose remains were recently recovered near the town of Wijtschate, south of Ieper, in the Belgian province of West Flanders.

Despite the best attempts by the Commission, the two lads were only identified as a member of the Royal Irish Rifles (Now part of the Royal Irish Regiment) and an unknown soldier of an unknown regiment, both of which will bear a headstone marked “Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.”

Italians discover long lost cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere

Commissioned 1 January 1931, the Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere (John of the Black Bands) was a sleek warship of the Regia Marina, though not quite up to the same quality as her three sisters.

The 7,000-ton, 555-foot cruiser had a lot of speed– 37 knots– and eight 6-inch guns but had *razor thin* armor (less than an inch at its thickest) as an Achilles heel. To make it worse, the class had virtually no underwater protection at all.

When WWII came, Bande Nere managed to escape serious damage in the Battle of Calabria and follow-up Battle of Cape Spada in 1940 but hit HMAS Sydney in turn, then went on to survive another close call at the Second Battle of Sirte in 1942. As such, she was much luckier than her three sisters– Alberico da Barbiano and Alberto da Giussano, sunk December 1941, by Royal Navy and Dutch destroyers during the Battle of Cape Bon; and Bartolomeo Colleoni, sent to the bottom at Spada.

Her luck ran out on 1 April 1942 when she came across HM Submarine Urge who fired a pair of torpedoes at the Italian cruiser, one of which broke the Bande Nere into two sections, and she sank quickly with the loss of more than half her crew in 1,500m of water some 11 miles from Stromboli. In a cruel bit of karma, Urge, a Britsh U-class submarine was herself lost just three weeks afterward with all hands, most likely near Malta as a result of a mine.

Bande Nere was discovered over the weekend by the now-Marina Militare, and her crown of Savoy clearly seen on a released video.

“Over a seaman’s grave, no flowers grow.”

Vale, RADM Ed Keats, (USNA 1935)

Edgar Salo Keats was born in Chicago in 1915.

Let that sink in.

When he was minted, Eugene Ely had just four years before took off in a Curtiss pusher from a temporary platform erected over the bow of the light cruiser USS Birmingham— a first in U.S. Naval Aviation history. He was six years old when USS Langley (CV-1) joined the fleet.

By the time Keats graduated from Annapolis at the ripe old age of 20, the Navy had just commissioned their first ship designed from the keel up as an aircraft carrier, USS Ranger (CV-4). The future icons of Midway, USS Yorktown, and USS Enterprise, were still under construction at Newport News and had yet to be launched.

Keats earned his wings at Pensacola in 1938 and flew Dauntless dive bombers extensively. He was named skipper of Bombing 16 (VB-16) early in WWII but was soon appointed Air Officer for Commander Amphibious Force, Pacific, a role that put him in the driver’s seat for the air attack portion of amphibious landings at Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

“I was part of the group that wrote the aviation portion of the amphibious course plans for the capture,” said Keats modestly on the occasion of his 100th birthday bash at Bancroft Hall. “You just don’t go out there with a lot of people. It takes a lot of planning, and everyone doing their part. I don’t claim that I was a hero. I flatter myself that I helped contribute some little bit to our victory.”

After the war, he went on to fly F9F Panthers and command the Air Group on USS Shangri-La before being appointed director of the Armament Division at NATC Patuxent. He continued to rise to the rank of rear admiral before he retired in 1958 after 23 years of active duty across two shooting wars.

After an active career in business once leaving the military, including over a decade spent at Westinghouse, Keats continued to weigh in on naval topics and was a frequent contributor to Naval History Book Reviews.

Keats, the oldest Annapolis alumni, died over the weekend while in hospice care. He was 104.

His oral history of the war is in the Library of Congress.

If offered a chance to see beautiful Mali, think twice and bring kevlar

Mission des Nations Unies au Mali (MINUSMA) suffered the loss of 10 Chadian peacekeepers and another 25 wounded in an attack at a United Nations base near Aguelhoc, a village in northern Mali over the weekend. This, coupled at attack that killed two Sri Lankin peacekeepers and injured six when their convoy hit an IED near Douentza in the Mopti region, brings to a total of 189 blue helmets that have lost their lives to action in Mali since the UN mission began in 2013, leaving it one of the most dangerous in the organization’s history.

The attack at Aguelhoc was, by all accounts, a classic defensive operation that involved the Chadians standing their ground for hours against determined insurgents attempting to snuff them out. According to MINUSMA Force Commander Lt. Gen. Dennis Gyllensporre, Swedish Army, the defenders fought “for hours” until the attackers broke off the engagement and retired.

Gyllensporre, in the beret, inspecting the damage (Photos: UN)

That’s an RPG hit for sure

Note the UN-marked technical gun truck with an AAA gun in the bed. Keep in mind the French-trained Chadians were involved in the Mad Max-style Toyota Wars in the 1980s against Libya

The Chadians of the Forces Armées Tchadiennes have lost at least 57 men alone in the country. This video, from 2017, highlights a patrol by a Chadian unit in Mali.

“Many of my friends have died here in Mali. We lived together, ate together. Unfortunately, they lost their lives here,” says Chief Sergeant Mahamat Tahir Moussa Abdoulaye.

The UN has posted vacancies for the mission

The Energizer Bunny of single-engine fighters, still going strong at 45

Happy 45th birthday to the F-16 Fighting Falcon, which made its first official flight on this day in 1974.

The first flight of YF-16 was an unintentional takeoff at Edwards AFB in January 1974. Phil Oestricher was the test pilot. Photo Via Gen Dyn.

Now, with over 4,500 Vipers delivered to more than 26 countries, the F-16 is still in production, with F16V and Block 70 F-16s on the drawing board. Odds are, there will be at least some of the birds flying somewhere on active duty in 2074 when the type turns 100.

Of course, the same can probably be said of F15s and F-18s, which came from the same period.


Warship Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019: The first of the Big W’s

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, Jan. 16, 2019: The first of the Big W’s

NH 97885

Here we see the one-of-a-kind U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Wichita (CA-45) amid a winter storm off Iceland in 1941-42. Note the PBY patrol plane on the deck of the seaplane tender from which the photograph was taken. The mighty and unique warship would earn a full baker’s dozen battlestars across multiple theaters in WWII, taking fire from the French, Germans and Japanese.

Sandwiched between the seven 588-foot/12,600-ton New Orleans (CA-32)-class cruisers of the 1930s and the 14 more modern 673-foot/17,000-ton Baltimore (CA-68)-class cruisers of the 1940s, Wichita was a standalone derivative of the basic design prepared for the 606-foot/12,400-ton Brooklyn (CL-40)-class of light cruisers, similar in characteristics and appearance but with three 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Mark 12 triple turrets instead of the five 6-inch turrets mounted in the Brooklyn.

Each of her guns could fire 3-4 shells per minute. At 260-pounds each, they could reach out to 31,860 yards. She carried 1,350 rounds in her magazine and later, off Okinawa, would run dry several times. Wichita (CA-45) class Turret sketch from OP-1112. Image courtesy of HNSA via Navweps

Designed to weigh 10,000-tons (this was still a Treaty thing) she would grow to carry over 13,000 tons during WWII.

The first U.S. Navy vessel named for the City of Wichita, Kansas, she was laid down at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1935 and completed on 16 February 1939, less than seven months shy of Hitler’s march into Poland.

USS WICHITA (CA-45) about 1940. Courtesy of The Marines Museum, Newport News, Va. Ted Stone Collection. Catalog #: NH 66793

Speaking of which, Wichita received her received her 66-piece silver service from officials in her namesake city (crafted for $3,000 by area jeweler Cleon A. Whitney) and, after a shakedown in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, she soon clocked in on FDR’s Neutrality Patrol in the North Atlantic in October. By the next year, with the specter of the Graf Spee running amok in the South Atlantic, Wichita soon became a facet in ports around Latin America, calling at everything from Curacao to Montevideo, Rio and Buenos Aires.

USS Wichita (CA 45) port view while at New York City Harbor, New York, pre-WWII LOC

Back in the frozen North by early 1941, the Navy’s roaming cruiser made her way to Iceland, then a Danish territory occupied by the British to keep the Kriegsmarine from doing the same thing. Sailing as part of Operation Indigo II in July, she was on hand for the transfer of the island to (then still neutral) U.S. protection. She would spend the next several months on what was termed the “White Patrol,” engaged in operations in Icelandic waters, spending much of her time swinging at anchor at wind-swept Hvalfjordur.

USS Wichita (CA-45) anchored at Seidisfjord, Iceland on 30 June 1942. Life Archives

One salty reservist assigned to the big W was best known at the time for appearing in The Prisoner of Zenda, Gunga Din and The Corsican Brothers— actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., then serving as a 33-year-old lieutenant with some 60 films already behind him.

Douglas Fairbanks (left), CPT Henry C. Johnson, and LCDR (later RADM) John D. Bulkeley on USS Endicott’s bridge later in the war.

After early service on the destroyer USS Ludlow, carrier USS Wasp, and battleship USS Washington he was assigned as assistant gunnery officer and “staff observer” on USS Wichita in July 1942 for a month before he was switched to Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Headquarters, London, where he was soon slipping across the Channel with Commandos. He later proved vital to forming the Navy’s Beach Jumpers and served in PT Boat/MTB units in the Med. However, he said in an interview in the 1990s that he liked serving on cruisers better than other warships.

Crucially, Fairbanks was aboard Wichita for PQ-17, but more on that later.

He was not the only star aboard. Much like the ill-fated Sullivan brothers who went on to all perish on the light cruiser USS Juneau in 1942, Wichita had her own set of five siblings, which garnered a bit of attention.

Five brothers who served on board the ship in 1941. The original caption released with this photograph reads: Five Brothers in service aboard USS WICHITA. Five Horton brothers, of Yemassee, South Carolina, who enlisted in the United States Navy at the recruiting station, Charleston, So. Car., and are now serving aboard the cruiser, USS WICHITA. They are (l to r standing) Edmund, Hal, and John; (l to r kneeling) William and Thomas. Their father, Thomas Daniel Horton, operates a general merchandise store at Yemassee, So. Car. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 52689

Once the U.S. entered the war post-Pearl Harbor, Wichita joined the British RN along with other U.S. Naval assets and put to sea to cover the movement of Convoys QP-11 and PQ-15, sailing to and coming from the vital lend-lease port of Murmansk with aid for Moscow, screening the merchantmen from the likes of German heavy cruisers and battleships operating from Norway as her SOC Seagull floatplanes, armed with depth charges, patrolled for shadowing U-boats.

At anchor in Scapa Flow in April 1942. USS Wasp (CV-7) is in the background. Catalog #: NH 97884

Operating with the British Home Fleet, in the vicinity of Scapa Flow, 22 April 1942. Note her camo scheme. 80-G-21010

USS Wichita (CA 45) anti-aircraft activity during a North Atlantic Patrol, 1942. She was commissioned with a very light battery of water-cooled .50-cal AAA guns, an armament that was stepped up significantly when she went to the Pacific. 80-G-405273

While the first two convoys passed without much danger, on the next two, westbound PQ-16 and eastbound QP-12, she had to chase off German Condor seaplanes with AAA.

Then came PQ-17 in July 1942.

Threatened by the battleship Tirpitz and heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper as well as swarms of He 111 bombers, the covering First Cruiser Squadron (CS1) consisting of the four Allied cruisers HMS London, HMS Norfolk, Wichita and USS Tuscaloosa, was ordered by the Admiralty to “withdraw to the westward at high speed,” while the convoy itself was to scatter and “proceed to Russian ports,” alone and unescorted. It was a disaster, and 24 of 36 of the merchantmen was sent to the bottom as the Germans chased them all the way to Murmansk. Churchill called it, “one of the most melancholy naval episodes in the whole of the war.”

Steaming through heavy weather, while operating as a unit of Task Force Four in the North Atlantic, September 1941. Photographed from USS Wasp (CV-7).

Nonetheless, Wichita was given a reprieve from convoy work as the Allies were planning something big.

By November, she was off North Africa as part of the Torch Landings, aimed to occupy Vichy French Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and drive Rommel back to Europe. She was to help seize Casablanca, which was thought to be an easy operation.

It was not.

Battle of Casablanca, 8-16 November 1942. USS Wichita (CA 45) straddled by three shells from Jean Bart during the battle. 80-G-38835


However, the French decided to resist; and they proved stubborn. Ordered to attack at 0623, Wichita stood toward the North African coast, her spotting planes, Curtiss SOC’s, airborne to spot her fall of shot. French fighters, possibly Dewoitine 520’s or American-built Curtiss Hawk 75’s, attacked the “Seagulls,” and one had to make a forced landing. Its crew was picked up by one of the heavy cruiser’s escorts.

At 0704, the guns of the French battleship Jean Bart boomed from Casablanca harbor, as did the ones emplaced at El Hank. Although moored to a pier and still incomplete, Jean Bart packed a powerful “punch” with her main battery. Massachusetts subsequently opened fire in return at 0705, and Tuscaloosa did so shortly thereafter.

Wichita’s 8-inch battery crashed out at 0706, aimed at El Hank. Checking fire at 0723 when her spotting planes informed her that the French guns appeared to be silenced, the heavy cruiser shifted her 8-inch rifles in the direction of French submarines in Casablanca harbor. Subsequently checking fire at 0740, Wichita began blasting the French guns at Table d’Aukasha shortly before 0800.

After resumption of firing on French shipping in Casablanca’s harbor, Wichita received orders at 0835 to cease fire. At 0919, however, she opened fire again, this time directing her guns at French destroyers in harbor and at the light cruiser Primauguet. Later, at 1128, Wichita came within range of the French battery at El Hank, and the Vichy gunners scored a hit on the American cruiser. A 194-millimeter shell hit her port side, passed into the second deck near the mainmast, and detonated in a living compartment. Fragments injured 14 men, none seriously, and the resulting fires were quickly extinguished by Wichita’s damage control parties.

Torpedoes from a Vichy French submarine caused Wichita to take evasive action at 1139. Two “fish” went by a length ahead of the ship, and another passed deep under the bow or slightly ahead. After ceasing fire at 1142, Wichita received orders an hour later to attack French ships making for the harbor entrance at Casablanca. Accordingly, the heavy cruiser, aided by improved visibility and air spotting, again battered Primauguet, starting fierce fires that gutted a large part of that ship. At 1505, Wichita ceased fire; and her guns remained quiet for the rest of the day. That evening, she steamed seaward to avoid nocturnal submarine attacks and, over the ensuing days, patrolled offshore between Casablanca and Fedhala. Ordered to return to the United States, her task with “Torch” completed, Wichita sailed for Hampton Roads on 12 November.

Under repair well into 1943, she switched theaters and, sailing through the Panama Canal, arrived in the Pacific just in time to take a dud torpedo in a nighttime attack by Japanese planes off Rennell Island at the end of January!

Then came the Aleutian theater where she helped retake Attu, Kiska, and Adak, often serving as a flagship.

By January 1944, she was in the Marshall Islands, screening the carrier Bunker Hill. Then came a roll call of atolls filled with now-historic raids and landings– Yap, Woleali, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Hollandia, Wakde, Truk, the Carolines, Saipan, and Guam– where she knocked out Japanese aircraft and struck out with her big guns.

USS Wichita (CA-45). Underway at sea, 2 May 1944, during operations in the central Pacific. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 90428

Port side and after 5/38 guns of USS Wichita (CA-45) firing on enemy targets on Saipan, 26 June 1944. The guns’ simultaneous discharge indicates they are firing under director control. Note the 40mm gun mount at left, with ammunition loaded but no personnel present. 80-G-238240

During the famous “Marianas Turkey Shoot,” Wichita‘s gunners claimed assists on two Kates while one of her floatplanes rescued an American fighter pilot whose plane had been downed.

Then came more action in the Philippines in preparation for the landings at Leyte where Wichita came to the assistance of the larger cruiser USS Canberra (CA-70) that had caught a Japanese torpedo on 13 October, eventually taking the crippled vessel under tow. Once the tug USS Munsee took over, Canberra remained on tap to help screen “the cripple squadron” consisting of Canberra and the similarly torpedoed USS Houston (CL-81) for three days in the aftermath of the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Speaking of cripples, on 25 October, Wichita came across the damaged Japanese aircraft carrier Chiyoda and, in the company of the cruisers USS Santa Fe, Mobile, and New Orleans, along with nine destroyers, pummeled her until she slipped below the waves with 1,900 IJN officers and men aboard. Later that night, she sank the Akizuki-class destroyer Hatsuzuki off Cape Engaño.

USS Mobile (CL-63) firing on the Japanese destroyer Hatsuzuki, during the evening of 25 October 1944, at the end of the Battle off Cape Engaño. Photographed from USS Wichita (CA-45)

After a stint on the West Coast to repair damage and cobble her back together for the next big push, Wichita joined the gun line off Okinawa, where she would spend the rest of her war.

Again, from DANFS:

As an element of TU 54.2.3, Wichita covered minesweeping units in fire support sector four on 25 March, retiring to seaward for the night. As part of Fire Support Unit 3 the following day, Wichita was off Okinawa when lookouts spotted a periscope to starboard at 0932. Making an emergency turn to starboard, the heavy cruiser evaded the torpedo that was fired.

At 1350, Wichita commenced firing with her main battery, shelling Japanese installations on Okinawa, before she ceased fire at 1630 and retired to sea for the night. Soon after dawn the following morning, 27 March, several Japanese planes attacked the formation in which Wichita was proceeding; the heavy cruiser’s gunners shot down one. That morning and afternoon, Wichita again lent the weight of her salvos to the “softening-up” process; even her SOC joined in, dropping two bombs.

After floating mines, which had been delaying the start of the morning bombardment, had been cleared, Wichita resumed her bombardment activities on the 28th. The next day, the 29th, Wichita put into Kerama Retto to replenish ammunition. That rocky outcropping near Okinawa had been invaded to provide an advance base for the operations against the island. It was still in the process of being cleared of defenders even as Wichita entered the harbor, among the first ships to utilize the newly secured body of water. “You are the first to receive the keys of Kerama Retto,” radioed the senior officer present afloat to Wichita, “with scenery and sound effects.”

When she had replenished her stock of ammunition, Wichita resumed her shelling of the Japanese defenders on Okinawa, covering the movement of underwater demolition teams (UDT’s). She performed the same covering services for UDT’s the next day, 30 March, as well as bombarding selected targets ashore. On the 31st, Wichita shelled the beach area to breach the sea wall in preparation for the landings. That evening, the heavy cruiser retired to seaward to cover the approaching transports.

On Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, the day of the initial assault across the shores of Okinawa, Wichita provided neutralization fire on Japanese positions defending the southern beaches. She kept up a rapid, nearly continuous fire with everything from 8-inch to 40-millimeter guns. Near noon, her services temporarily not needed, she replenished ammunition.

After performing a call-fire mission on the 2d, Wichita replenished fuel and ammunition at Kerama Retto on the 3d. She subsequently took up a fire support station near le Shima and supported the minesweepers operating off that point on the 4th. During the night, Wichita fired harassment missions against the Japanese defenders. On the 5th, she was to join TG 51.19 east of Okinawa to carry out a bombardment of Tsugen Shima in company with Tuscaloosa, Maryland (BB-46), and Arkansas (BB-33), but the approach of enemy planes canceled the mission. That evening, though, Wichita shelled Japanese shore batteries at Chiyama Shima which had taken Nevada (BB-36) under fire earlier that day.

On 6 April, Wichita searched for troop concentrations, tanks, vehicles, and boat revetments on the east coast of Okinawa, targets of opportunity for her batteries. Shortly before sunset, a “Zeke” (Mitsubishi A6M5) came out of the clouds on the port quarter. The encounter was apparently one of mutual surprise, as Wichita’s commander later recounted: “We seemed nearly as much of a surprise to the plane as it did to us.” As the “Zeke” dove for the heavy cruiser’s bridge, antiaircraft fire reached up and tore the plane apart, it disintegrated over the ship and splashed in the sea off the starboard bow. There was no damage to the ship.

The following day, Wichita entered Nakagusuku Wan, a body of water later renamed Buckner Bay, during the morning to bombard a pugnacious shore battery. The enemy managed to land several shots “very close aboard the port side” but was ultimately silenced. For the next two days, Wichita carried out a similar slate of harassing fire on Japanese shore batteries, pillboxes, and other targets of opportunity. Underway for Kerama Retto on the afternoon of 10 April, the heavy cruiser replenished her ammunition supply that evening and returned to the bombardment areas the following day.

Wichita subsequently served four more tours of duty off Okinawa, her 8-inch guns providing part of the heavy volume of firepower necessary to support the troops advancing ashore against the tenacious Japanese defenders. She hit pillboxes, ammunition dumps, troop concentrations spotted by her observers aloft in one of her SOC’s, camouflaged installations and caves, waterfront areas suspected of supporting suicide boat launching ramps and harboring swimmers, as well as trenches and artillery emplacements. During that period, she was damaged twice: the first time came when a small caliber shell penetrated a fuel oil tank, five feet below the waterline, on 27 April. After repairs at Kerama Retto on 29 and 30 April (she had spent the 28th firing harassment rounds against Japanese positions ashore and making unsuccessful attempts to patch the hole), Wichita provided more harassment and interdiction fire before being hit by “friendly” fire during an air raid on 12 May. A 5-inch shell hit the port catapult, with fragments striking the shield of an antiaircraft director. Twelve men were injured, one so severely that he died that night.

Wichita was off the island when, on 15 August 1945, she received word that the war with Japan was over.

Following occupation and Magic Carpet duty, she was decommissioned on 3 February 1947.

The heavy cruiser was laid up at Philadelphia, where Wichita swayed in the brown, lead-streaked water until she was struck from the Navy list on 1 March 1959.

In August, she was sold for scrap, which was accomplished in Port Panama City, Florida. I believe that her silver service is at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum in her “hometown” as they have an exhibit to the vessel.

Rather than pass on her name to another warship, the second Wichita was a replenishment oiler (AOR-1) commissioned in 1969 and decommissioned on 12 March 1993. This later Wichita earned four battle stars for her Vietnam service and is currently being turned into razor blades and sheet metal for compact cars.

The most recent Wichita, LCS-13, was commissioned last week. She has big shoes to fill.

180711-N-N0101-376 LAKE MICHIGAN (July 11, 2018) The future littoral combat ship USS Wichita (LCS 13) conducts acceptance trials, which are the last significant milestone before a ship is delivered to the Navy. LCS-13 is a fast, agile, focused-mission platform designed for operation in near-shore environments as well as the open ocean. It is designed to defeat asymmetric threats such as mines, quiet diesel submarines, and fast surface craft. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin/Released)


Operating in the Atlantic Ocean, out of Norfolk, Virginia, on 1 May 1940. Note the markings on her turret tops (bars on the forward turrets, a circle on the after turret). This scheme was used on several other heavy cruisers in 1939-40. NH 93145

Camouflage Measure 32, Design 14D scheme intended for USS Wichita (CA-45). This plan, approved by Captain Torvald A. Solberg, USN, is dated 28 June 1944. It shows the ship’s starboard side, exposed decks, stern and superstructure ends. Wichita was not painted in this camouflage design. Catalog #: 80-G-174773

Displacement 10,000 tons (designed), 13,240-fl
Length: 608 (oa) ft.
Beam: 61 ft.
Draft: 25 ft.
Machinery: 100,000 SHP; 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 4 Parsons steam turbines, 4 screws
Complement: 929 officers and enlisted
9 x 8″/55
8 x 5″/38 DP
8 x .50-caliber water-cooled.
9 x 8″/55
8 x 5″/38 DP
24 × Bofors 40mm guns (4×4, 8×2)
18 × Oerlikon 20mm cannon
Seaplanes: 4
Armor: 6″ Belt, 8″ Turrets, 2 1/4″ Deck, 6″ Conning Tower.

Speed, 33.5 Knots, Crew 900.

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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 (of 448)

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, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 of 448

Collection of George K. Beach, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 91189

Here we see the mighty 110-foot Submarine Chaser No. 330 of the U.S. Navy en route across the Atlantic, circa September-October 1918, to take the fight to the Kaiser’s unterseeboot threat. The hearty little class, more akin to yachts or trawlers than warships, were hard to kill and gave unsung service by the hundreds, with SC-330 one of the longer-lasting of the species.

In an effort to flood the Atlantic with sub-busting craft and assure the U-boat scourge was driven from the sea, the 110-foot subchasers were designed by Herreshoff Boat Yard Vice President, the esteemed naval architect Albert Loring Swasey (Commodore of the MIT Yacht Club in 1897) on request of Asst Naval Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1916 and rushed into construction the next year. It was believed the vessels could be rushed out via commercial boat yards at $500K a pop.

Submarine Chaser SC-49 parading with other Sub Chasers off an unknown East Coast port

Derided as a “splinter fleet” the SCs were built from wood (the most excellent Subchaser Archives says “Frame/floors: white oak. Planking: yellow pine. Deck planking: Oregon pine”), which, when powered by a trio of Standard 220-hp 6-cylinder gasoline (!) engines, a 24~ man crew could get the narrow-beamed vessel underway at a (designed) top speed of 18 knots, which was fast enough for U-boat work at the time.

View in the engine room, looking aft, circa 1918. Taken by Louis Harder, at The Naval Experimental Station, New London, Conn NH 44355

Armed with a 3″/23cal low-angle pop gun forward– which was still capable of punching a hole in a submarine’s sail or pressure hull out to 8,000 yards– a couple of M1895 Colt/Marlin or Lewis light machine guns for peppering periscopes, and assorted depth charges (both racks and projectors), they were dangerous enough for government work.

3-inch gun drill, Submarine Chaser operating in European waters, 1918 NH 124131

Deck scene aboard a U.S. Navy Submarine Chaser during World War I. Caption: This photo, taken from the top of the pilot house, shows the boat’s “Y” gun depth charge thrower aft of amidships and a 12-foot Wherry dinghy coming alongside (each chaser carried one as well as a liferaft stowed on the engine room trunk). The submarine chaser in the picture is not identified but may be USS SC-143. Original photograph from the collection of Mr. Peter K. Connelly, who was Boatswain on the SC-143 in 1918-1919. NH 64978

For finding their quarry, they were equipped with hydrophones produced by the Submarine Signal Company of Boston (which today is Raytheon), of the C-tube and K-tube variety.

As noted by no less authority than Admiral William S. Sims in a 1920 article reprinted in All Hands in 1954:

“The C-tube consisted of a lead pipe-practically the same as a water pipe which was dropped over the side of the ship fifteen or
twenty feet into the sea; this pipe contained the wires which, at one end, were attached to the devices under the water, and which, at the other end, reached the listener’s ears.”

When a cavitation submarine was near it “showed signs of lively agitation. It trembled violently and made a constantly increasing hullabaloo in the ears of the listener.”

C-Tube Illustration #2 Caption: This diagram shows the inner workings of a C-tube listening device. Original Location: Submarine Signal Company Descriptive Specifications of General Electric Company’s “C” Tube Set, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 338, National Archives, Washington, DC

C-Tube Illustration #1 The C-Tube over the side

“At work aboard a U.S. Navy submarine chaser (SC),” at the U.S. Naval Experimental Station, New London, Connecticut, circa 1918. Photo by Louis Harder, New London. NH 2460

Besides escorting coastal convoys (subchasers had short legs) and watching for surfaced boats, 3-packs of the hardy little vessels would drift and listen, their K-tubes and C-tubes in the water, depth charges at the ready.

From Sims:

The three little vessels, therefore, drifted abreast-at a distance of a mile or two apart-their propellers hardly moving, and the decks as silent as the grave; they formed a new kind of fishing expedition, the officers and crews constantly held taut by the expectation of a “bite.” The middle chaser of the three was the flagship and her most interesting feature was the so-called plotting room. Here one officer received constant telephone reports from all three boats, giving the nature of the sounds, and, more important still, their directions. He transferred these records to a chart as soon as they came in, rapidly made calculations, and in a few seconds, he was able to give the location of the submarine. This process was known as “obtaining a fix.”

This photograph captioned “Battle Formation of Sub-chasers”, seems to depict the vessels in a columnar formation, which would be unusual for engaging with a submarine. The battle formation was most commonly ships arranged in a line abreast. From the T. Woofenden Collection at via NHHC

The first of the class, SC-1, was built at Naval Station New Orleans and commissioned in October 1917. Others were built at Mare Island, New York (Brooklyn), Charleston, Norfolk and Puget Sound Naval Yards; by Matthews Boat in Ohio, Hodgdon Yacht in Maine, Hiltebrant in Kingston, College Point Boat Works, Mathis Yacht in New Jersey, Barrett SB in Alabama, Great Lake Boat Building Corp in Milwaukee…well, you get the idea…they were built everywhere, some 448 vessels over three years.

110-foot subchaser under construction in Cleveland. Photo by Cleveland Parks

110-foot wooden submarine chaser being built at an unidentified shipyard. NARA 165-WW-506a-111

Our subject, SC-330, was handcrafted with love by the Burger Boat Co., Manitowoc, Wisconsin— the only such craft built by the yard– and commissioned 8 February 1918. Of note, Burger is still in the yacht biz today.

She cut her teeth with the early submarine hunter-killer group centered around the Paulding-class four-piper destroyer USS Jouett (DD-41) on the East Coast.

Assigned to Division 12 of Submarine Chaser Squadron 4 for service overseas during the Great War, SC-330 headed overseas in September 1918, ending up in the Azores.

U.S Navy Submarine Chasers at sea in August 1918. NH 63449

Submarine chasers at sea in European waters during World War I NH 2687

Rushed into service, at least 121 of the 110s made it “Over There” before Versailles, including no less than 36 that operated in the Med from the island of Corfu. Not bad for ships that only hit the drawing board in late 1916.

The boat carried two officers, a CPO, five engine rates, three electricians (radiomen), a BM, a QM, 3 hydrophone listeners, a couple of guys in the galley, and 5-7 seamen. Crews were often a mix of trawlermen serving as rates, Ivy League yachtsmen as officers, and raw recruits making up the balance. In many cases, the Chief was the only regular Navy man aboard. Life was primative, with no racks, one head and hammocks strung all-round.

Most crews went from civilian life to getting underway in just a few months. The fact that these craft deploying to Europe did so on their own power– effectively in a war zone as soon as they left brown water on the East Coast– with very little in the way of a shakedown is remarkable.

Subchaser refueling, on the voyage from the Azores to Ireland

Fueling sub chasers at sea, 1918. Capable of an 880-mile range on their 2,400 gallons of gasoline, each chaser needed to refuel 4-5 times while on a crossing of the Atlantic. Pretty heady stuff in the day. NH 109622

In an Azores harbor with other ships of the U.S. and foreign navies, circa October 1918. The six sub chasers in the left center of the view, with bows to the camera, are (from left to right): SC-223, SC-330, SC-180, SC-353, SC-331 and (probably) SC-356. Ships nested with them, to the right, include a bird type minesweeper and two converted yacht patrol vessels. The four sailing ship masts to the extreme right probably belong to the French Quevilly, which was serving as station tanker in the Azores. Collection of George K. Beach, who was a crewmember of USS SC-331 at the time. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99742

Mosquito fleet U.S. Navy submarine chasers of the “Mosquito Fleet” at the Azores, circa 1919. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 67714

The ships did what they could and, when used in a littoral, performed admirably. For example, a squadron of 11 of these chasers screened the British-French-Italian naval forces during the Second Battle of Durazzo in Oct. 1918, destroying mines that threatened the bombarding ships and driving off an Austrian submarine trying to attack the Allied fleet.

However, when in open ocean, things could get really real for them.

As noted by an Irish site referencing the 30 110s under Capt. A.J. Hepburn that arrived in August 1918:

The 110 foot subchaser was a fine sea boat, but was never designed to withstand the wild Atlantic seas off Ireland. Constant leaks from decks and windows, choking petrol fumes in the officers quarters, and constant seasickness from the rolling motion, were the lot of crews of these craft.

In heavy weather they would be almost awash, with only the pilot house showing above the waves. The depth charge racks were felt to be too heavy and made the vessels prone to taking seas over the stern. Many reports of German submarines from coastwatchers and others were actually subchasers ploughing through heavy seas.

Subchaser in heavy seas, showing how, from a distance, it could be mistaken for a u-boat

Once the war ended, SC-330 was sent back to the states, served in Gitmo for a time, and was laid up in the Gulf Coast in 1919.

Submarine chasers awaiting disposition. Caption: Part of the hundreds of World War I submarine chasers tied up at the Port Newark Army Base, New Jersey, awaiting disposition, 13 May 1920. Those identified include: USS SC-78, USS SC-40, USS SC-47, USS SC-143, and USS SC-110. Description: Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69166

SC-330 caught a reprieve. In the summer of 1920, she was sent up the Mississippi River system and served on semi-active duty through the 1920s and 30s, training Naval Reservists in the Midwest. As such, the little boat and those like her cradled the USNR through the interwar period, and, without such vessels, WWII would have looked a lot different.

S-330 underway in Midwestern waters, during the 1920s or 1930s. Sign on the building in the right distance reads Central Illinois Light Co. Note that she has lost her depth charges and Y-gun, not needed for use on the Mississippi River. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41996

Three of the 110s that made it to WWII service: USS SC-330; USS SC-412; and USS SC-64, in port, circa the 1920s or 1930s. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Note the difference in lettering, with some using abbreviations (“S.C. 64”) and some not (“SC412”) Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Photo #: NH 103096

Of her 448 sisters, more than 100 were transferred to the French during the war, some to the Coast Guard in the 1920s, and most liquidated by the early 1930s as they grew long in the tooth. Wood vessels with gasoline engines weren’t highly desired by the Navy at the time, after all.

USCGC Vaughan, ex-USS SC-152, was built by the Gibbs Gas Engine Co., Jacksonville, FL but served her career in Coastie White off Key West and San Diego during Prohibiton. With Volstead on its way out, she was decommissioned 28 March 1928 and sold. Her end is similar to most SCs., discarded before they had 10 years on their rapidly deteriorating wooden hulls.

Few of the 110s survived the Depression on Uncle’s inventory and SC-330 was the only one of her 100-ship block (from SC 301-400) to serve in WWII, likely continuing her role as a training ship. As most of her life had been spent in freshwater– usually wintering ashore to keep out of the ice– the likely contributed to her longevity.

SC-330 out of the water for maintenance, from an article in the Marengo-Union Times relating a 1940s interaction with the vessel at St. Louis, MO

Only about a dozen or so 110s were carried on the Naval List during the Second World War. (The other 12 were: SC-64, SC-102, SC-103, SC-185, SC-412, SC-431, SC-432, SC-437, SC-440, SC-449, SC-450, SC-453, one of which was lost and three were retired before the end of the war. In addition, SC-229 and SC-231 were in USCG service as the cutters Boone and Blaze, respectively). Most were in YP or training duties, although some did mount ASW gear to include mousetrap bomb throwers and depth charges, just in case.

SC-330, was one of the last four of her type in service, decommissioning and struck from the Navy Register 22 June 1945, then transferred to the War Shipping Administration on 8 October 1946. (The only longer-lasting 110s were: SC-431 transferred to WSA on 12/9/46, SC-437 on 3/21/47, and SC-102 on 1/3/47).

While these craft are all largely gone for good, extensive plans remain of the vessels in the National Archives.

For more on these craft, please visit Splinter Fleet and The Subchaser Archives.


Displacement: 85 tons full load, 77 tons normal load
Length: 110 ft oa (105 ft pp)
Beam: 14 ft 9 in
Draft: 5 ft 7 in
Propulsion: Three 220 bhp Standard gasoline engines (!) as built, replaced by Hall & Scott engines in 1920.
Speed: 18 kn as designed, 16 or less in practice
Range: 880 nmi at 10 kn with 2,400 gallons fuel
Complement: Two officers, 22-25 enlisted
Sonar-like objects: One Submarine Signal Company C-Tube, M.B. Tube, or K Tube hydrophone
1 × 3 in (76 mm)/23-caliber low-angle gun mount, fwd (2 designed, only one mounted in favor of Y-gun aft)
2 × Colt/Marlin M1895 .30-06 caliber machine guns (some seen with Lewis guns)
1 × Y-gun depth charge projector, depth charge racks

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