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Warship Wednesday Feb.15, 2017: Keyser’s sweeper

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Feb.15, 2017: Keyser’s sweeper

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 47192

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 47192

Here we see the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tanager (AM-385) as photographed when new, circa 1945. This humble ship remained afloat in U.S. maritime service across three decades, and, though she vanished about 10 years ago, will live forever.

One of the expansive class of some 95 steel-hulled minesweepers built in the closing months of World War II, these hardy 1,100-ton, 225-foot long vessels could touch 18-knots and, mounting a single 3″/50 DP unprotected gun forward, a few 40mm and 20mm guns, and some depth charges, could make a good patrol/escort in a pinch. A third of the class was built right off the bat for the Royal Navy but the U.S. thought they were good enough to keep the bulk of them around well into the Cold War.

The hero of our tale, Tanager, was named after both a World War I minesweeper of the same name and the red-breasted passerine bird.

tanager
Laid down at Lorain, Ohio, on 29 March 1944 by the American Shipbuilding Co., she was commissioned on 28 July 1945, Lt. Comdr. Oscar B. Lundgren, USNR, in command.

Though several Auks saw rough service in WWII (11 were lost to enemy action) Tanager came into the conflict with just weeks left and spent the rest of 1945 in shakedown.

(AM-385) Underway, circa 1946-1947. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Collection. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 107427

(AM-385) Underway, circa 1946-1947. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Collection. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 107427

Over the next half-decade, she alternated service to the Naval Mine Countermeasures Station, at Panama City, Fla and the Mine Warfare School at Yorktown, Va. By 1951, she was off to the Med where she served in the 6th Fleet for a six-month deployment which she repeated in 1953.

After a dry-docking period, she was towed to Orange, Tex and on 10 December 1954, was decommissioned and berthed there with the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, redesignated MSF-385 the next year. In her nine years of active service with the Navy, she had a revolving Captain’s Cabin of no less than 13 skippers (ranging from O-2 through O-4).

With the Coast Guard in need of training hulls and the Navy rapidly transferring the remaining Auks to overseas Allies, Tanager was transferred to the Treasury Department 4 October 1963 and stricken from the Navy list three weeks later.

(WTR-385). Formerly USS Tanager (AM/MSF-385) Photographed in early or mid-1964, just prior to her commissioning as a Coast Guard cutter. Courtesy of Stephen S. Roberts, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 88071

Carrying CG hull number WTR-385, formerly USS Tanager (AM/MSF-385) Photographed in early or mid-1964, just prior to her commissioning as a Coast Guard cutter. Note her white and buff scheme. Courtesy of Stephen S. Roberts, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 88071

Towed to the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland, she was stripped of the rest of her mine clearing gear as well as most of her armament and converted to a white-hulled training cutter. Built for a complement of 117 officers and men, her berthing areas were set up for a Coasty crew of five officers and 34 enlisted men and made capable of carrying up to 90 reservists for training exercises.

Designated USCGC Tanager (WTR-885) on 11 July 1964, she was commissioned into the Coast Guard under the command of LCDR Robert G. Elm. Over the next five years, she operated out of the USCG Reserve Training Center at Yorktown, undertaking regular training cruises up and down the Eastern Seaboard while pulling the occasional sortie for urgent SAR missions– coming to the rescue of the distressed ketch Arcturus in 1969.

USCG Historians office

USCG Historians office

In 1969, she was transferred to the West Coast, arriving at the Training and Supply Center at Government Island, Alameda, Calif in November after passing through the Panama Canal. Performing the same role she did at Yorktown, by 1972 she was considered surplus. As such, she decommissioned 1 February 1972.

Meanwhile, the Navy had divested themselves of the Auk-class. Though they had nearly 20 still on the Naval List when Tanager was taken out of Coast Guard service, they were all on red lead row and had been since the mid-1950s. Almost all were soon struck and sold or donated. I say almost because one, USS Tercel (AM-386), was somehow missed and disposed of in a SINKEX in 1988 after 33 years in mothballs.

Back to the Tanager

With no one really wanting her, she was disposed of by sale to one Mr. William A. Hardesty of Seattle, Wash in November 1972. She was reportedly converted to the private yacht Eagle (at least they kept a bird name) and changed hands several times over the next 20 years.

By 1994, still with her white hull, she was back in California and tapped to be a set for a film that started with the survivors of a massacre and fire on a freighter docked at the Port of Los Angeles– The Usual Suspects.

usual-suspects-tangier
You can even see the ship’s original name on the bow at the 2:04 mark in the below video, drawn from the opening scene.

Though she was used for a few more film and TV roles, it’s likely only the neo-noir crime caper will stand the test of time.

By 2007, she was reportedly in the south end of Baja’s Ensenada Bay, abandoned. It made a certain sense for her to be in Mexican waters, as the navy of that republic received no less than 11 Auks from the U.S. in the 1970s, and kept a few of them in service as late as 2004.

Via San Diego Reader, note the black hull but her Tanager name still intact.

Via San Diego Reader, note the black hull but her Tanager name still intact.

“We have here a former U.S. Navy ship called the Tanager,” Ríos Hernández, the capitán del puerto, or harbormaster, of the port of Ensenada, told the San Diego Reader. “It was a minesweeper during World War II. It showed up in Ensenada harbor two or three years ago. From what we’ve been able to find out, it was purchased at a U.S. government auction for $10. The owner brought it down here and disappeared. Now it’s our problem.”

Per Bob’s Minesweeper Page, the old girl was still afloat for awhile in poor condition and was being surveyed for scrap, which more than likely happened.

Pictures taken by Lic. Armando Arceo Hernandez in 2007 Baja, Ca., next to Calexico, Ca. via Bobs Minesweeper Page.

Pictures taken by Lic. Armando Arceo Hernandez in 2007 Baja, Ca., next to Calexico, Ca. via Bobs Minesweeper Page.

And like that…(s)he’s gone…

poof_usual_suspects

Specs:

Photo via ShipBucket

Photo via ShipBucket

Length: 220′ 7″
Beam: 32′ 3″
Draft: 10′ 2″
Displacement: 1,112 tons
Propulsion: 4 generators driven by 4 electric motors driven by 4 Cleveland diesels; 3,600 HP; twin propellers
Performance:
Max: 16.0 knots
Economic: 12.0 knots; 7,200-mile range
Electronics: SPS-23 radar; SQS-1 sonar
Complement: 117 as commissioned, USCG: 5 officers/ 34 enlisted plus accommodations for 90 reservists
Armament: (as built) 3″/50 dual purpose gun mount, two 40mm gun mounts, six 20mm gun mounts, one depth charge thrower (hedgehogs), four depth charge projectors (K-guns) and two depth charge tracks.
(1955): 3″/50 dual purpose gun mount, two 40mm gun mounts
(1963) 3″/50, small arms

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!

Warship Wednesday Feb.8, 2017: Victoria’s very busy Vulture

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Feb.8, 2017: Victoria’s very busy Vulture

Via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Here we see Her Majesty’s second-class paddlewheel steam frigate HMS Vulture, of Queen Victoria’s Royal Navy, landing dispatches at Danzig during the Crimean War.

A one-of-a-kind vessel, she was ordered 18 March 1841 from the Royal Navy dockyard in Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire, Wales for a cost of £46,718, of which half of that was the price of her engineering suite. While based on the Pembroke-built HMS Cyclops, that ship was a near-sister at best.

Her near-sister, HMS Cyclops, originally a Gorgon-class frigate equipped with a Seaward and Capel steam plant. She had roughly the same dimensions and layout as Vulture, though with a different plant.

Her near-sister, HMS Cyclops, originally a Gorgon-class frigate equipped with a Seaward and Capel steam plant. She had roughly the same dimensions and layout as Vulture, though with a different plant.

As befitting her time, Vulture‘s steam plant, meticulously described in The Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine of the day, was novel. Two paddle wheels, each 26.5-feet in diameter and arranged port and starboard about centerline, were driven by direct-action steam engines of some 476 horses designed by William Fairbairn and Co., London. Her steam plant consisted of four locomotive style boilers, “placed back to back, 26 feet 10 inches in total breadth, and 13 feet high.” She could carry 420tns coal, and make 9.5 knots with everything glowing.

A wooden-hulled ship with an auxiliary two-masted sailing rig, Vulture, the ninth such ship to carry the name for the Crown, weighed in at 1,960-tons full load. Armed with for 4×68-pdr shell guns, 5x56pdrs, and 2x24pdr carronades, she was placed in service 15 February 1845 under the command of Captain John Macdougall with a complement of 175 men and boys. At the time, she was considered a first-class frigate.

She soon would see action in the Far East as the largest ship in Major-General George D’Aguilar’s punitive expedition to Canton in 1847. The city was guarded by 13 ancient batteries and forts along the Canton river. For this, Vulture embarked 24 officers and 403 men of the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot, and along with the smaller HMS Espiegle, East Indian steamer Pluto, the armed privateer Corsair and a pair of “lorchas”– small trawler style craft of shallow draft, took them on.

Operations in the Canton River 3. Forts and Batteries of the Bocca Tigris or First Pass of the Canton River; H.M. Steam Ship, Vulture Captain MacDougall passing the Batteries, with the 18th Royal Irish on board via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Operations in the Canton River 3. Forts and Batteries of the Bocca Tigris or First Pass of the Canton River; H.M. Steam Ship, Vulture (tiny smoky dot in center) Captain MacDougall passing the Batteries, with the 18th Royal Irish on board via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

With her big 68-pdrs supplying naval gunfire support and her small boats leading the way for the other craft in the fleet– who could affect amphibious operations due to their shallower draft– the forts fell one by one in a four-day period with nearly 900 Chinese cannon captured without a loss among the British forces.

The keep of the French Folly Fort blown up by the Royal Sappers and Miners on 5 April 1847.Via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

The keep of the French Folly Fort blown up by the Royal Sappers and Miners on 5 April 1847.Via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Operations in Canton River. 11. The Return to Hong Kong. The Vulture passing the Battery upon Tygris Island, Lorcha in tow via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Operations in Canton River. 11. The Return to Hong Kong. The Vulture passing the Battery upon Tygris Island, Lorcha in tow via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

Grounded at Hong Kong 9 Oct 1847 as a result of a typhoon (the severest reported in 10 years) she returned to the Home Isles and was placed in ordinary.

Recommissioned after refit as a second-class frigate, Vulture sailed for Devonport for Pendennis Castle, Falmouth with replacement troops in April 1851. Her armament was changed out for six guns, all 8-inchers with 98-pounder smoothbore shell guns on bow and stern pivots and four lighter 68-pounders on broadside trucks.

She would soon need them.

On 25 November 1852, she was placed under the helm of Capt. Frederick Henry Hastings Glasse, and operated out of Devonport until the Crimean War sent her abroad looking for trouble. She was one of seven other paddle steamers assigned to Rear-Admiral Plumridge, dispatched to harass the Russians in the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Bothnia in May 1854.

After destroying vessels and storehouses, etc., at Brahestad and Uleaborg, and capturing several gunboats, Vulture and the 16-gun frigate HMS Odin was sent to capture the Russian dockyard at Gamlakarleby (Kokkola) 7 June 1854 and, after landing a 180-man force, was rebuffed with the loss of 17 Sailors and Royal Marines and one of her paddle-box whaleboats captured. Apparently, the locals did not agree to terms.

Seamen From HMS Vulture Under Attack at Halkokari June 7 1854 - Vladimir Swertschkoff Lithograph

Seamen From HMS Vulture Under Attack at Halkokari June 7 1854 – Vladimir Swertschkoff Lithograph

By August, Vulture had rejoined the main British fleet first to capture the Russian Bomarsund fortress on Åhland Islands, where she landed French troops, then for the impressive but ultimately pyrrhic attempt to capture the Russian positions at Sveaborg outside Helsinki.

English sailors & French soldiers. A Dance on board HMS Vulture Augt 7 (caricature), via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

English sailors & French soldiers. A Dance on board HMS Vulture August 7 (caricature), via Royal Museums Greenwich collection

'Landing of the French troops near Bomarsund in the Aland Islands, August 8th 1854. Sketched from on board HMS Vulture'. Tinted lithograph, 1854, by L Huard after Edwin Thomas Dolby (fl 1849-1870), reproduced as plate nine in 'Dolby's Sketches on the Baltic' published by Paul and Dominic Colnaghi, 1854. Via National Army Museum http://www.nam.ac.uk/online-collection/detail.php?acc=1976-07-55-1

‘Landing of the French troops near Bomarsund in the Aland Islands, August 8th, 1854. Sketched from on board HMS Vulture’. Tinted lithograph, 1854, by L Huard after Edwin Thomas Dolby (fl 1849-1870), reproduced as plate nine in ‘Dolby’s Sketches on the Baltic’ published by Paul and Dominic Colnaghi, 1854. Via National Army Museum

The Bombardment of Sveaborg, 9 August 1855, by John Wilson Carmichael (1799–1868), National Maritime Museum, via ArtUK. The steamship in the center of the painting is Vulture. National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-bombardment-of-sveaborg-9-august-1855-173178

The Bombardment of Sveaborg, 9 August 1855, by John Wilson Carmichael (1799–1868), The steamship in the center of the painting is Vulture. National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-bombardment-of-sveaborg-9-august-1855-173178

Known today in Finland as the Battle of Suomenlinna, 77 British ships hammered the Russians for three days without the obsolete Russian artillery able to respond. However, with the Tsar having over 15,000 regulars ashore and the Brits not having a superior land force to match, the battle stalemated after Victoria’s fleet flattened the old coastal batteries.

lebreton_the-bombardment-of-sveaborg
The war ended without much more action by the RN in the Baltic, which was always a sideshow to the efforts in the Crimea regardless. During the war, Vulture was credited with capturing the Russian brig Patrioten, and merchant vessel Victor, for which her crew was awarded prize money per the London Gazette of 21 Jul 1857.

Present at the Fleet Review at Spithead in April 1856 under Captain Glasse, by 3 June 1856, Vulture picked up her fourth skipper, Capt. Frederick Archibald Campbell, and was reassigned to the Med– then shortly decommissioned.

In 1858, Vulture, under Captain C. Packer, was again on the move, helping to ship the 71st (Lord Macleod’s) Highlanders to Bombay.

In the end, she was laid up for a final time in 1860 then sold in 1866 to Castle & Son, Charlton, to be broken up.

Her near-sister, HMS Cyclops, served in the Syrian Campaign of 1840, fought in the Kaffir War, then served in the Black Sea during the Crimean War before helping to survey the Atlantic telegraph cable from Ireland to Newfoundland and London to India. She paid off in 1860.

Little is left of Vulture, though a screw gunboat carried her name in the late 19th century as did a Clydebank three funnel 30-knot destroyer in the Great War. The Navy List has not held the name “Vulture” on an active ship since 1919 though a gunnery range at Treligga, west of Delabole, Cornwall, carried the designation HMS Vulture II through WWII.

Oh, remember that whaleboat lost in Finland in 1854? Well, they still have it, under glass, along with the carefully maintained graves of nine Royal Marines and a stark memorial to what the Finns call the “Skirmish of Halkokari.”

Only one other paddle-box boat, from HM 2nd class paddle frigate Firebrand, is in existence. The RN still has it at the Royal Dockyards, Portsmouth.

Halkokari skirmish memorial

englantilainen_barkassi
Specs:
Displacement: 1,960 tons FL
Length: 190 ft. (gun deck) 163.6 ft. (keel)
Beam: 37.5 feet.
Draft: 23 feet
Propulsion: Two Fairburn 2-cyl vertical direct-acting 476-hp engines, four tubular boilers, two paddlewheels, 420-tons coal, max speed 9.5knts
Complement: 175
Armament: 4×68-pdr shell guns, 5x56pdrs, and 2x24pdr carronades (as built) 6×8-inch Paixhans style ML shell guns, two 98-pdr, four 68-pdr(1851)

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!

Warship Wednesday Feb.1, 2017: The proud (and almost forgotten) Mason

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.  Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Feb.1, 2017: The proud Mason

National Archives Identifier: 6210481

National Archives Identifier: 6210481

Here we see the only World War II U.S. Navy destroyer escort with a predominantly black enlisted crew, USS Mason DE-529, with two of her smiling bluejackets at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944.

In recognition of Black History Month, which begins today, I give you the Mason‘s story.

While African-Americans served with honor in the Navy going back to the time of Washington, and even earned the Medal of Honor,  per a 99-page 1947-era history of “negroes” in the Navy complied by the service:

Following World War I, enlistment of Negroes seems to have been discontinued by BuNav. Recruiting of Negroes as messmen may have been kept open formally, but at least in practice only Filipinos were recruited for this branch from about 1919-1922 until December, 1932. About December 1932, active recruiting of Negroes for the messman branch began and this was the only branch in which Negroes could enlist until recruiting for general service was opened to them as of June 1, 1942,

Messmen!

It should be noted that on 30 June 1942, there were just 5,026 African-Americans in the regular Navy– almost all of them mess attendants.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Mess Attendant Doris Miller earned his Navy Cross the hard way– carrying stricken fellow Sailors to safety on the battleship USS West Virginia, helping aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship, and finally manning a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship.

Miller

Miller

Commended by SECNAV Knox himself, Miller went back to sea, first on the carrier Enterprise, then the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (!) and was later killed when the jeep carrier USS Liscome Bay‘s magazine went up in 1943 following a Japanese torpedo strike.

With all this in mind, on 16 January 1942, Knox– prodded by FDR, FLOTUS, and the director of the NAACP– asked the General Board to submit a plan for taking 5000 African-Americans for billets other than in the messman branch, requesting further that the Board state their ideas as to the type of duty, assignments, etc., “which will permit the Navy to best utilize the services of these men.”

The study came to the conclusion that, barring mess rates, blacks should not serve in the general fleet but could be utilized in “service units throughout the naval establishment (including shore activities of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard); yard craft and other small craft employed in Naval District local defense forces; shore based units for other parts of District local defense forces; selected Coast Guard cutters and small details for Coast Guard Captains of the Port; construction battalions; composite Marine battalions”

All segregated.

For instance, the 20th, 34th and 80th Naval Construction Battalions (Seabee) were almost all-black, with white officers and SCNOs.

"District craft duty in the United states. [Photograph is bound in book and top part of caption is not available. The first sailor's name is not available. Readable are: Edward L. Williams, Motor Machinist's Mate 2nd Class; Clifton W. Allen, Ship's Cook 2nd Class; Carl E. Harris, Seaman 1st Class; and Charles H. Brown, Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class.] Official US Navy Photograph."

“District craft duty in the United states. [Photograph is bound in book and top part of caption is not available. The first sailor’s name is not available. Readable are: Edward L. Williams, Motor Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class; Clifton W. Allen, Ship’s Cook 2nd Class; Carl E. Harris, Seaman 1st Class; and Charles H. Brown, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class.] Official US Navy Photograph.”

By December 31, 1943, there were 101,573 blacks on active duty in various rates, 37,981 of whom were Stewards Mates (about one in three), and the service moved to expand their “experiment.”

In late 1943, the Navy decided to trial a pair of segregated warships, the 173-foot PC-461-class submarine chaser USS PC 1264, with 65 officers and men; and the subject of our tale, the 289-foot Evarts-class destroyer escort, USS Mason (DE-529), with the much more significant complement of 198– 160 of which were to be African-American, including one officer,  Lt.(.j.g) James Hair.

Envisioned to be a class of a staggering 105 vessels, the Evarts-class DE’s were plucky 1,360-ton ships referred to at the time as the “battleships of the anti-submarine war.” Equipped with a quartet of GM Model 16-278A diesel engines, they weren’t especially fast (just 19-knots when wide open, though they were designed originally for 24), or especially well-armed (just a few 3″/50 Mk22 guns, some smaller pieces for AAA defense, and an array of depth charge devices), but they didn’t have to be to escort convoys and chase off German and Japanese subs.

Mason was named after Ensign Newton Henry Mason, D.D.S., U.S. Naval Air Corps, who gave his last full measure at the ripe old age of 23 when he flew his F4F Wildcat from the deck of USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea and was never seen again.

Extreme left, back row: ENS Newton H. Mason was killed in action against Japanese forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. He had joined the squadron just five months before, fresh from flight school.

Extreme left, back row: ENS Newton H. Mason was killed in action against Japanese forces in the Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. He had joined the squadron just five months before, fresh from flight school.

He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (posthumously) and was remembered by a memorial service at Columbia University, his alma mater. Mason’s mother, Mrs. David Mason, was at the launching ceremony for our destroyer escort, 17 November 1943 at Boston Navy Yard.

Commissioned 20 March 1944, Mason‘s crew was mainly African-American, who had been trained in the months leading up to manning the rails.

“I just wanted to get in the Navy with all those ships,” said Gordon D. Buchanan, a veteran of Mason (DE 529). “All I wanted was to go to sea. I didn’t know what blacks were doing at sea, I just wanted to join and fight for my country. I am a patriot.”

Quartermasters receive compass instruction, during training for Mason's crew at the Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia, 3 January 1944. The instructor is QMC L.J. Russell, USNR (left). Trainees are (left to right): QM2c Charles W. Divers, QM2c Royal H. Gooden, QM2c Calvin Bell, QM3c Lewis F. Blanton. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-214542

Quartermasters receive compass instruction, during training for Mason’s crew at the Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia, 3 January 1944. The instructor is QMC L.J. Russell, USNR (left). Trainees are (left to right): QM2c Charles W. Divers, QM2c Royal H. Gooden, QM2c Calvin Bell, QM3c Lewis F. Blanton. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-214542

three gunner’s mates assemble and study a 20 mm gun, the type which they man aboard the USS MASON (DE 529)

NORFOLK, VA (January 3, 1944) Under the direction of CGM Rex Ashley, USN, three gunner’s mates assemble and study a 20 mm gun, the type which they man aboard the USS MASON (DE 529). Trainees at Norfolk are l. to r.: Albert A. Davis, GM2c; Frank Wood, GM2c; and Warren Vincent, GM2c. (National Archives Photo # 80-G-44826)

Signalman 1st Class Ernest V. Alderman, USNR, (right) explains various parts of a signal lamp to SM2c Julius Holmes, during training for Mason's crew at Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia, 3 January 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-44827

Signalman 1st Class Ernest V. Alderman, USNR, (right) explains various parts of a signal lamp to SM2c Julius Holmes, during training for Mason’s crew at Norfolk Naval Training Station, Virginia, 3 January 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-44827

Commissioning ceremonies on the ship's fantail, held in a driving snowstorm at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944. Her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander William M. Blackford, USNR, is in the center with some of the crew standing in ranks behind him. Ship in the background is an LST, with bow doors partially opened. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the Collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-218856

Commissioning ceremonies on the ship’s fantail, held in a driving snowstorm at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944. Her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander William M. Blackford, USNR, is in the center with some of the crew standing in ranks behind him. Ship in the background is an LST, with bow doors partially opened. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the Collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-218856

African-American crewmembers look proudly at their ship while moored at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-218861

African-American crewmembers look proudly at their ship while moored at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts, 20 March 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-218861

By 30 June 1944, a total of 142,306 African-Americans were in the Navy, of whom 48,524 were Steward’s Mates (about 33%).

Following her shakedown cruise, Mason escorted an Eastbound convoy to the Azores in July.

Crossing back to the West, she arrived in New York and helped escort Convoy NY119 in September into October, where she encountered a terrible storm at sea and the Mason carried her 20 merchantmen to Falmouth, England, though she was barely afloat herself.

According to the Navy:

During the worst North Atlantic storm of the century, the 290-foot long Mason was serving as escort to a convoy of merchant ships bound for England. The strength of the storm forced the convoy to break up, and Mason was chosen to escort a section of ships to their destination.

With land in sight, Mason’s deck split, threatening the structural integrity of the ship. Emergency repairs were made quickly and efficiently, and Mason returned immediately to assist the remainder of the convoy.

Mason’s crew had accomplished what the Atlanta Daily Press described on the day of the ship’s commissioning as an “opportunity to show the world that they are capable.”

“We were there to prove ourselves,” said Lorenzo A. Dufau, another Mason veteran. “It’s wonderful to know I played a small role in giving others opportunity.”

For saving their ship and continuing their mission, the Mason crew was recommended for commendations by their captain and the convoy commander. The commendations were never awarded.

Repaired, she was soon back to work.

Radarman Kieffer (left) and Radioman Graham (right) relaxing on smoke generators on Mason's fantail somewhere in the North Atlantic while on convoy duty, 1944. Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106731

Radarman Kieffer (left) and Radioman Graham (right) relaxing on smoke generators on Mason’s fantail somewhere in the North Atlantic while on convoy duty, 1944. Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106731

Signalmen DuFau and Buchanan sending and receiving messages to Mason's sister ship. Convoy duty, North Atlantic, 1944 (Her sister ship is not listed). Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106730

Signalmen DuFau and Buchanan sending and receiving messages to Mason’s sister ship. Convoy duty, North Atlantic, 1944 (Her sister ship is not listed). Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106730

Half-tone image taken from an unknown newspaper. Lieutenant Junior Grade Phillips, Communication Officer, looks on as Top Rank Signalman Lorenzo DuFau hands Captain Blackford a message. They are pictured on the flying bridge during North Atlantic convoy duty, 1944. Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106732

Half-tone image taken from an unknown newspaper. Lieutenant Junior Grade Phillips, Communication Officer, looks on as Top Rank Signalman Lorenzo DuFau hands Captain Blackford a message. They are pictured on the flying bridge during North Atlantic convoy duty, 1944. Donation of James W. Graham, 1991. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106732

By December, she was part of Task Force 64, headed to the Med and called at Oran in January 1945. Just four days out of that port, Mason had a contact, to which “She rang up full speed with all battle stations manned to attack the presumptive submarine, rammed, and dropped depth charges.”

Though the contact proved to be an abandoned derelict, the surface action showed the benefit of training– scores of other ships during the war plastered the marine life of the day chasing ghost contacts.

Escorting two more convoys to Europe before VE Day, Mason was later used briefly for sonar testing in Bermuda before being decommissioned at Charleston, 12 October 1945 and placed in mothballs there.

Stricken the next month, she was sold for scrapping at Charleston, S.C. to Mr. Thomas Harris of Barber, N.J.

As the war reached its climax, by 30 June 1945, the Navy counted on active duty 165,500 African-American enlisted personnel. 75,500 of these were Steward’s Mates (about 45%).

Mason‘s cousin, PC-1264, was honored by being selected as one of 47 warships for a review of the fleet by President Truman on Navy Day, 27 October 1945 and remained in service until 7 February 1946, when she was decommissioned.

On 26 July 1947, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, officially desegregating the Armed Forces.

The tale of these two ships was almost lost to time, with 67 surviving crewmembers of USS Mason only being issued a citation for their harrowing storm at sea in 1994 at the hands of President Clinton.

In 1995, author Mary Pat Kelly chronicled the Mason and some of her crew in the book, Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS Mason.

Kelly went on in 2004 to write and direct a film version of the book, Proud.

In 2009, Signalman First Class Lorenzo DuFau, the last surviving crew member, introduced the screening of the film at the Buffalo International Film Festival. Actor Ossie Davis, in his last screen role, played an older DuFau.

As for Hair, one of the “Golden Thirteen” black officers in WWII, he left the Navy in 1946 and became a social worker of some note in New York, dying there in 1992.  The U.S. Naval Institute has some 220 pages of transcripts from interviews done late in his life with archivists.

Though the Mason herself was not preserved, in 1998, SECNAV John H. Dalton named an Arleigh Burke Class destroyer the USS MASON (DDG-87) “in order to mark the contributions of USS MASON DE 529, Sailors’ equality and desegregation in Today’s Navy.”

ARABIAN SEA (Sept. 10, 2016) The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) conducts formation exercises with the Cyclone-class patrol crafts USS Tempest (PC 2) and USS Squall (PC 7). Mason, deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Janweb B. Lagazo)

ARABIAN SEA (Sept. 10, 2016) The guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) conducts formation exercises with the Cyclone-class patrol crafts USS Tempest (PC 2) and USS Squall (PC 7). Mason, deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, is supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Janweb B. Lagazo)

Specs:

evarts-classDisplacement: 1,140 short tons (1,030 tonnes)
Length:     289 ft. 5 in (88.21 m)
Beam:     35 ft. 1 in (10.69 m)
Draft:     8 ft. 3 in (2.51 m)
Speed:     19 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Complement: 156 officers and men (as designed)
Armament:
3 × 3″/50 caliber guns
4 × 1.1″/75 caliber guns
9 × Oerlikon 20mm cannon
2 × depth charge tracks
8 × depth charge projector
1 × Hedgehog-type depth charge projector, up to 160 depth charges of all types could be carried.

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Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday) January 26, 2017: The Reich’s diesel-powered floating airport

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday) January 26, 2017: The Reich’s diesel-powered floating airport

ms-schwabenlandHere we see the one-off Deutsche Luft Hansa catapult ship MS Schwabenland. This sea monster would carve a unique place for herself in maritime history.

Built for the DDG Hansa line to help replace cargo liners sunk during the Great War, she carried the name Schwarzenfels and was a 7,894-ton freighter designed for economical service between Bremen and India.

Capable of carrying 10 second-class passengers in addition to her cargo, her 2 six-cylinder four-stroke diesel engines could chug along at 12-knots for over 10,000 nm. The first of her class, she was accepted into commercial service 16 July 1925 after completion at Deutsche Werke AG, Kiel.

Her design was considered successful, with sister ships Neuenfels, Weissenfels, Braunfels, Rotenfels and Altenfels commissioned by 1927.

However, the burgeoning German airline Deutsche Luft Hansa (now just known as Lufthansa) purchased Schwarzenfels (renamed Swabia) from DDG Hansa on 28 February 1934 and, along with the 1905-circa cargo ship Westphalia (5,098-tons), were converted at AG Weser in Bremen for use as catapult ships for seaplanes for the Lufthansa-Postdienst service in South America.

Under the plan, the freighter would be converted to accept a steam-powered Heinkel K-7 catapult (which raised her tonnage to 8,188) capable of launching a 10-ton Dornier J Katapultwal (Catapult Whale) seaplane aloft.

One of these...seen in Bathurst, Gambia

One of these…seen in Bathurst, Gambia

The two catapult ships would serve mid-ocean and refuel the giant seaplanes along their route from Bathurst, Gambia (West Africa) to Stuttgart, Germany via Natal, Brazil. This service, launched in late 1934 allowed mail to get from South America to Germany in as little as three days– the world’s first regular intercontinental airline service.

The immense Whales would taxi up to the waiting catapult ship, be hoisted aboard, refueled, their crew changed, and then launched back on their way.

However, the scheme was short-lived, with just six Katapultwals in service and other, all-plane routes, later put into service by 1938 which proved faster.

schwabenland_23

But, Swabia had been relieved on station long before that by the newly built seaplane tender Ostmark.

Leaving for the Azores ready to service the new Ha 139 seaplanes aboard, Swabia, now renamed Schwabenland, initiated a North Atlantic Postal Service in September 1936.

Blohm & Voss Ha 139 on board of the Schwabenland

Blohm & Voss Ha 139 on board of the Schwabenland

With Schwabenland “catching” Ha 139s from Portugal, and launching them to Nova Scotia or New York, where another Lufthansa catapult ship, Friesland, would receive and turn back around, the German airline service completed some 50 cross-Atlantic flights over an 18-month period with the 139s, as well as sending a truly leviathan four-engine Dornier Do 26 on a flight from Europe to Africa.

A giant Blohm & Voss Ha 139, a huge all-metal inverted gull wing floatplane with four 447kW Junkers Jumo 205G diesel engines. Deutsche LuftHansa archive via Diesel Punks http://www.dieselpunks.org/profiles/blogs/s-a-m-11-diesel-mail

A giant Blohm & Voss Ha 139, a huge all-metal inverted gull wing floatplane with four 447kW Junkers Jumo 205G diesel engines. Just three of these were made. Photo via Diesel Punks, which has a great write up on these. 

Blohm und Voss Ha 139 D-AMIE Nordmeer is launched by the Schwabenland’s catapult in 1937

Blohm und Voss Ha 139 D-AMIE Nordmeer is launched by the Schwabenland’s catapult in 1937. For reference, the span of these giant seaplanes is 96 feet, just eight shorter than a PBY Catalina. They could carry 500 kg of mail some 5,000 km

MS Schwabenland about to launch a Ha 139 from it's catapult, 1937. Life archives

MS Schwabenland about to launch a Ha 139 from it’s catapult, 1937. Life archives

In the fall of 1938, Schwabenland was pulled off her regular duties and sent very far south, the North Atlantic postal service ended.

schwabenland-in-hamburg

She became part of the Third German Antarctic Expedition (Deutsche Antarkitische Expedition, 1938-39) with two Dornier Do18s, D-AGAT Boreas and D-ALOX Passat, along with 82 scientists and aircrew carried aboard to include the visiting American polar explorer Richard E. Byrd.

German Lufthansa Dornier Do 18E flying boat (D-ABYM "Aeolus") on the catapult of MS Schwabenland

German Lufthansa Dornier Do 18E flying boat (D-ABYM “Aeolus”) on the catapult of MS Schwabenland. The standard German seaplane of early WWII, they could fly 1700nm and carry a pair of light machine guns and bombs. Some 170 were built but only about half that many served in WWII

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D-AGAT leaving the cat

Under the command of Kapitän Alfred Ritscher, Schwabenland left Hamburg 17 December 1938 and was off the coast of Antarctica by February 1939. Conducting interactions with the German whaling fleet, the two Wals scouted the pack ice and far inland on 15 lengthy flights, taking thousands of kilometers of film as they overflew the frozen continent.

The Germans laid claim to a portion of the great barren waste (between 20°E and 10°W in Queen Maud Land), naming it Neuschwabenland— after the ship. The more than 16,000 photos obtained took decades to process.

g1_1

With a war looming, Schwabenland quickly returned home and by October 1939 had been taken up into Luftwaffe service as a plane tender for use with a host of three-engined Blohm & Voss BV 138 Seedrache (Sea Dragon) seaplanes, and given an AAA battery of 8x 20mm singles. Soon, she was operating off France.

By September 1942, she was in Norwegian waters with her BV138s along with her old Lufthansa catapult ship buddy, Westfalen.

She spent most of the war operating Blohm & Voss BV 138 Seedrache (Sea Dragon) seaplanes, such as this one

She spent most of the war operating Blohm & Voss BV 138 Seedrache (Sea Dragon) seaplanes, such as this one. In production after 1940, these planes could carry several small bombs or depth charges to a range of 2600nm, and were among the smallest Schwabenland ever carried.

She sailed towards Eastern Greenland on a rescue mission where she supported one of the two remaining Dornier Do 26 flying boats on two flights (7 and 17 June 1943) to evacuate the 14 meteorologists and radiomen of weather station Holzauge before the USCG could track them down.

Only six Do26 - Transocean Flying Boats were made, and Schwabenland was very connected with them. None of these giant planes survived the war, indeed four had been destroyed before the 1943 weather station rescue

Only six Do 26 – Transocean Flying Boats were made, and Schwabenland was very connected with them. None of these giant planes survived the war, indeed four had been destroyed before the 1943 weather station rescue

The met group had been found by a Danish sled dog patrol and the gig was up. Had it not been for the epic and unsung mission, the Holzaugers would have cooled their heels in a POW camp in Arizona for the rest of the war.

On 24 March 1944, Schwabenland was torpedoed by the British T-class submarine HMS Terrapin (P-323) off Egersund, Norway but was able to limp to pier side. Towed to Bergen, she was further wrecked by an RAF raid there in October. After that, she was suitable only as a floating storage dump.

At the end of the war, the British captured Schwabenland in Oslo fjord and, filling her with over 1,400-tons of poison gas, sank her in the deepwater of the Skagerrak (58 ° 10 ’22 “N, 10 ° 45 ’24” E) on New Year’s Eve 1946.

But of course, the mystery of the Germans in Antarctica far outlived the ship, with all sorts of conspiracy theories advanced for generations about secret Nazi bases among the ice– including that Byrd’s postwar Operation High Jump was an effort to go back and root out said Nazis.

For the debunk on this, here is a 21-page paper with lots more info on our humble catapult ship.

Specs:

Via Shipbucket

Via Shipbucket with a pair of Seadragons on deck. Note her 20mm AAA guns

Displacement: 7,894, 16,200 tons fl,
Length: 482.3 feet
Beam: 60.37 feet
Draft: 33 feet at fl
Engines: 2 x 6-cyl. 4SCSA DWK diesel engines, dual shaft, 1011  n.h.p., 2 screws
Endurance: 10,000nm with 1600 tons diesel oil
Speed: 11 knots fl, 12 designed
Complement: 45-65
Passengers: 10-82
Aircraft: up to 2 seaplanes on deck after 1934, 10-ton later 14-ton catapult
Armament: 8 x 1 – 20/65 C/38 after 1939

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 it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday January 18, 2017: Vasili and the Cuban Cony

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday January 18, 2017: Vasili and the Cuban Cony

Photo: Ed Zajkowski via Navsource.

Photo: Ed Zajkowski via Navsource.

Here we see the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Cony (DD/DDE-508) off  Norfolk in October 1963 as seen from the USS Keppler (DD-765). Though she earned 11 battle stars for World War II service, two for Korean War service and spent five months off Vietnam, it was a little-acknowledged day in 1962 that Cony witnessed what could have been the start of World War III.

One of the last pre-WWII destroyer designs of the U.S. Navy, the amazing 175 Fletchers proved the backbone of the fleet during the conflict. These expendable ‘tin cans’ saved Allied flyers, sank submarines, duked it out with shore batteries, torpedoed larger ships, screened the fleet, and shot down wave after wave of enemy aircraft, keeping the carriers and transports safe behind their hail of fire.

With the ability to float in just 17.5-feet of seawater, these ships crept in close to shore and supported amphibious landings, dropped off commandos as needed, and helped in evacuations when required. Small ships with long legs (5500-nm unrefueled at 15-knots) they could be dispatched to wave the flag in foreign ports, provide gunboat diplomacy in times of tension, and race just over the horizon at 36.5-knots to check out a contact.

The hero of our tale, laid down at Bath Iron Works on Christmas Eve 1941, was named after one Lt. Joseph Saville Cony, USN, notable for several successful small-boat expeditions along the Carolina coast during the Civil War before going down in a storm with the merchant vessel City of Bath in 1867 at age 33.

Commissioned 30 October 1942, LCDR H. D. Johnson in command, our warbaby was off to the Pacific.

(DD-508) Photograph taken circa late 1942. Note her dark scheme. This view has been heavily retouched by wartime censors to hide radars atop her Mark 37 gun director and foremast, and the hull number on her bow. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 104873

(DD-508) Photograph taken circa late 1942. Note her dark scheme. This view has been heavily retouched by wartime censors to hide radars atop her Mark 37 gun director and foremast, and the hull number on her bow. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 104873

Cony soon arrived off Guadalcanal, where she served as Vice Adm. Theodore S. Wilkinson’s flagship for the landings on Vella Lavella. In October, over a two-night period, she and six other tin cans intercepted Japanese barges evacuating Kolombangara, sinking an enemy torpedo boat and 40 barges while chasing away a quartet of smaller destroyers of the Imperial Navy.

Cony took two bombs from Japanese dive bombers on 27 October 1943 which sent her back to California’s Mare Island Naval Shipyard for refit and repair after her crew fought fires for more than 20 hours– though she reportedly splashed 5 Japanese planes in the exchange.

The following are excerpts from the shipboard diary of the rear gunner, Stanley Baranowski:

“27 Oct – … at 3:oo PM got contact with a lot of planes – enemy… at 3:15 they came at us.  So many of them.  We started to fire everything we had… 3:25 we got 2 direct hits on port and starboard… Lots of men were hit.  Worked on fires.  Was up all night taking care of wounded.

“28 Oct – Still working on fires… we started to throw ammo over the side.  Ship was listing to port… 11:15 AM port engine gave out.  Tug came along and started to tow us.  12 PM fire was out.  1 PM moored to taker “Oragon” and took off wounded men.

“29 Oct – Got up at 6:30 AM.  Worked like hell and at 1:35 PM took off 2 dead fellows burned to death – what a horrible sight.  Admiral came on board to look things over, said it’s a State-side job and at 5:30 PM a show started named – ‘Accidents Will Happen.’”

When Cony emerged from Mare Island four months later it was with a new camo scheme: Measure 32, Design 21D.

(DD-508) Off San Francisco, California, 25 February 1944. NH 104497

(DD-508) Off San Francisco, California, 25 February 1944. NH 104497

(DD-508) Seen from almost directly ahead, while in San Francisco Bay, California, 25 February 1944. NH 104877

(DD-508) Seen from almost directly ahead, while in San Francisco Bay, California, 25 February 1944. NH 104877

(DD-508) Seen from almost directly astern, while in San Francisco Bay, California, 25 February 1944.NH 104878

(DD-508) Seen from almost directly astern, while in San Francisco Bay, California, 25 February 1944.NH 104878

Once repaired, she sailed again for the West Pac, arriving in time for pre-invasion bombardment on Tinian in July 1944 before moving on to supporting the landings on Peleliu.

By October 1944, she was involved in the toe-to-toe fleet engagement with the Japanese Imperial Navy that was the Battle of Surigao Strait, during which she traded salvos and broadsides with the IJN’s destroyer Asagumo (Morning Cloud) of some 2,408-tons.

USS Cony (DD-508) lays a smoke screen near USS West Virginia (BB-48), to protect shipping off Leyte from Japanese air attack, during the landings there on 20 October 1944. Note manned anti-aircraft batteries on board the battleship, including a Mark 51 director in the foreground, 20mm gun at left, 40mm quad gun mount in center and 5/38 twin gun mounts beyond. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-289679

USS Cony (DD-508) lays a smoke screen near USS West Virginia (BB-48), to protect shipping off Leyte from Japanese air attack, during the landings there on 20 October 1944. Note manned anti-aircraft batteries on board the battleship, including a Mark 51 director in the foreground, 20mm gun at left, 40mm quad gun mount in center and 5/38 twin gun mounts beyond. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-289679

She went on to support the Lingayen Gulf landings and ended the war in the approaches of the Yangtze River of China, calling on Shanghai. Cony performed occupation and repatriation service for a few months, then was promptly decommissioned and laid up at Charleston, S.C in 1946.

Her period in mothballs lasted just over three years and she was recommissioned (as DDE-508) on 17 November 1949, with much of her outdated armament removed and equipped for an emphasis in antisubmarine warfare.

Though she served in the Korean War zone for five months in 1951 providing naval gunfire support, she would spend most of the next decade in the Atlantic fleet supporting NATO operations in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Med.

(DDE-508) In Hampton Roads, Virginia, 12 March 1957. Old Point Comfort, with the Chamberlain Hotel and Fort Monroe, is in the center and right background. Note bridge-tunnel construction work in the left background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 104882

(DDE-508) In Hampton Roads, Virginia, 12 March 1957. Old Point Comfort, with the Chamberlain Hotel and Fort Monroe, is in the center and right background. Note bridge-tunnel construction work in the left background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 104882

When Brigade 2506 (Brigada Asalto 2506) stormed ashore at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba on 17 April 1961, Cony was just offshore as part of the U.S. fleet that was ostensibly to support the landings by the 1,300 Cuban exiles looking to whack The Beard, but was under orders from Washington not to intervene.

Cuban exiles captured during the failed American-backed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion

Cuban exiles captured during the failed American-backed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion

Cony played a serious part in the op, carrying a large part of the force to the landing zone with her whaleboat serving as part of the invasion flotilla. They immediately received fire from the beach and later, a Cuban helicopter fired on the whaleboat returning to the beach to rescue survivors.

However, her involvement in Cuba was far from over.

When the Cuban Missile Crisis kicked off in October 1962, Cony– reverted back to her DD-508 designation in June– was part of an anti-submarine task force centered around the Essex-class ASW carrier USS Randolph (CVS-15) that included the destroyers Bache (DD-470), Beale (DD-471), Eaton (DD-510) and Murray (DD-576).

Task Force ALFA, an experimental group specializing in developing ASW tactics, during anti-submarine exercises in the Atlantic, 1959. The other ships present are (from left): USS Murray (DDE-576), USS Beale (DDE-471), USS Bache (DDE-470), USS Eaton (DDE-510), USS Conway (DDE-507), USS Cony (DDE-508), USS Waller (DDE-466) and USS Valley Forge (CVS-45). This force, changing out Randolph for Valley Forge, sailed together during the Cuban Missile crisis. Photograph was released for publication on 3 August 1959. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 96944

Task Force ALFA, an experimental group specializing in developing ASW tactics, during anti-submarine exercises in the Atlantic, 1959. The other ships present are (from left): USS Murray (DDE-576), USS Beale (DDE-471), USS Bache (DDE-470), USS Eaton (DDE-510), USS Conway (DDE-507), USS Cony (DDE-508), USS Waller (DDE-466) and USS Valley Forge (CVS-45). This force, changing out Randolph for Valley Forge, largely sailed together during the Cuban Missile crisis. Photograph was released for publication on 3 August 1959. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 96944

While enforcing the naval quarantine authorized by President Kennedy, the task force on 27 October came across the Soviet Foxtrot-class diesel-electric submarine B-59, which was heading from her White Sea base along with sister ships B-36, B-4 and B-130 to Havana with the mission “to strengthen the defense of the island of Cuba” and equipped with a total of 88 53-58 (T-5) nuclear-tipped torpedoes– 22 per submarine–just in case.

*Each T-5 carried an RDS-9 warhead with a 3-10 kiloton yield, enough to evaporate a carrier group if it got close enough*

Here is some footage of the first nuclear test fired at Novaya Zemlya of a RDS-9 equipped T-5 torpedo.

Notably, the deployment of the quartet of Foxtrots was the first documented deployment of their class to carry nuclear torpedoes as part of their magazine– and with the boat’s onboard leadership able to sign off directly on their use without asking Moscow for permission.

At 1659 on 27 October, Beale picked up B-59 on sonar and dropped practice depth charges on the Soviet smoke boat while pinging her with active sonar.

Then, at 1729, Cony upped the ante by dropping five hand grenades on top of the contact– one of the few documented instances of live ordnance being deployed in the crisis.

This, combined with the action of Beale, forced the sweltering Russki boat to the surface at 2050 where Cony‘s signalman established commo via blinker light with the submarine.

There, bathed in spotlights from the destroyers with their 5-inch guns trained on the Soviet submarine, one Second Captain Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, executive officer of the 69th Torpedo Submarine Brigade, overruled B-59‘s Captain Valentin Savitskii and his deputy political officer Ivan Semenovich Maslenniko, who both wanted to fire off a salvo of atomic torpedoes at the American fleet upon surfacing. It should be noted that the effort to surface the B-59 was made just hours after Major Rudolf Anderson’s U-2 spy plane was shot down over Eastern Cuba, at the tensest moment of the crisis.

“We’re gonna blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all – we will not become the shame of the fleet,” Savitskii reportedly said, according to a journal kept by Captain Third Rank Anatoly Andreev.

Soviet submarine B-59, forced to the surface by U.S. Naval forces in the Caribbean near Cuba. U.S. National Archives, Still Pictures Branch, Record Group 428, Item 428-N-711200

Soviet submarine B-59, forced to the surface by U.S. Naval forces in the Caribbean near Cuba. U.S. National Archives, Still Pictures Branch, Record Group 428, Item 428-N-711200

By refusing to sign off on the engagement, Arkhipov became one of the unsung heroes of the Cold War who exercised enough restraint to keep the conflict from turning into a real live shooting war with mutually assured destruction as the third act.

Anyway, the Rudolph ASW task force allowed B-59 to charge her depleted batteries overnight on the surface, submerge the next morning and continue on its way Cuba.

Cony resumed her peacetime training and patrol operations, which included participating in the NASA recovery fleets for MR-IA, MR-4, GT-3, MA-4 and AS-204, and conducting Midshipmen cruises to Europe.

Good overhead recruiting poster shot of DDE-508 in her Cold War haze scheme, Photograph dated 12 March 1967, which would put her just before her Vietnam deployment. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 104499

Good overhead recruiting poster shot of DDE-508 in her Cold War haze scheme, Photograph dated 12 March 1967, which would put her just before her Vietnam deployment. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 104499

Then came Vietnam, where she sailed for in the summer of 1967.

From 28 August to 24 September, she provided gunfire support first for the 1st Cav Div’s operations in the II Corps area then for SEAL units operating in the Mekong Delta. She later was assigned to Task Group 77.8 on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin, Cony provided plane guard duty for the carrier Oriskany (CVA‑34). From 14 August 1967 to Christmas 1967, she patrolled the Taiwan Straits and was on gunfire support and plane guard duty in Cam Ranh Bay, Cape Saint Jacques, Vung Ganh Rai, the Saigon River, and Mui Ba Kiem, RVN.

Not bad looking for a 25 year old tin can that had fought in three wars. (DD-508) Underway in the Atlantic, 12 March 1968, the year before she was pulled from the line. Photographed by Lieutenant D.V. Orgill, USN. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. #: NH 104498

Not bad looking for a 25 year old tin can that had fought in three wars. (DD-508) Underway in the Atlantic, 12 March 1968, the year before she was pulled from the line. Photographed by Lieutenant D.V. Orgill, USN. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. #: NH 104498

Upon return to the states, she was decommissioned and stricken 2 July  1969.

Cony was sunk as a target off Puerto Rico 20 March 1970 via naval gunfire.

Most of her sisters met a similar fate with the last in U.S. Naval service, USS Stoddard (DD-566), being stricken 1 June 1975, and sunk in an exercise by Navy Seals of Seal Team One, 22 July 1997 off the coast of Hawaii in 2,550 fathoms of cool Pacific water.

A number of oral history interviews with members of Cony‘s crew are in the Library of Congress and her plans are in the National Archives.

To do your part to remember the old girl, you can visit one of the four Fletcher sisterships have been preserved as museum ships, although only USS Kidd was never modernized and retains her WWII configuration:

USS Cassin Young, in Boston, Massachusetts
USS The Sullivans, in Buffalo, New York
USS Kidd, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
AT Velos, former USS Charrette in Palaio Faliro, Greece

As for Arkhipov, the Soviet staff officer who prohibited the firing of the nuclear-tipped torpedoes, in 2002 then-director of the US National Security Archive, Thomas Blanton, said that “Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”

vasili_arkhipov

The Soviet submariner– who incidentally was XO of the “widow maker” K-19 and retired as a Vice Admiral in the 1980s–  died 19 August 1998 at age 72.

Specs:

(DD-508) In San Francisco Bay, California, 25 February 1944. The ship is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 21D. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 104876

(DD-508) In San Francisco Bay, California, 25 February 1944. The ship is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 21D. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 104876

(As commissioned, 1942)
Displacement: 2924 tons (full load)
Length: 376.5 ft. (114.8 m)
Beam: 39.5 ft. (12.0 m)
Draft: 17.5 ft. (5.3 m)
Propulsion: 60,000 shp (45 MW); 4 oil-fired boilers; 2 Allis Chalmers geared steam turbines; 2 screws
Speed: 36.5 knots (67.6 km/h; 42.0 mph)
Range: 5,500 miles at 15 knots
(8,850 km at 28 km/h)
Complement: 329 officers and men
Armament: 5 × single 5 inch (127 mm)/38 caliber guns
4 × 40 mm Bofors AA guns, 10 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons
10 × 21 inch (533 mm) antiship torpedo tubes (2 × 5; Mark 15 torpedoes)
6 × K-gun depth charge projectors (later Hedgehog)
2 × depth charge racks

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.

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Warship Wednesday January 11, 2017: Yugoslavia’s second brief battleship

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday January 11, 2017: Yugoslavia’s second brief battleship

Photographed by B. Circovich of Trieste, in a print obtained by the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, District of Columbia on 24 June 1899. Note the large anchor at the ship's bow. NH 88935

Photographed by B. Circovich of Trieste, in a print obtained by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, District of Columbia on 24 June 1899. Note the large anchor at the ship’s bow. NH 88935

Here we see the one-of-a-kind barbette ironclad Austrian battleship SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf of the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, likely in the mid-1890s. A beautiful vessel when commissioned, she was rapidly outclassed but held an important role both in the twilight of the Austrian Empire and in the birth of the Yugoslav Navy.

Designed by naval engineers Viktor Lollok and Josef Kuchinka of the Marinetechnischen Komitees der k.u.k. (MTK), the team who would build the first Austrian armored cruiser and other really well done projects, Austrian Adm. Maximilian Daublebsky von Sterneck first ordered a pair of coastal defense battleships that would, in the end, suck out more than two whole years’ worth of the Navy’s budget (not just the shipbuilding budget, but the whole thing).

First laid down was Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf, named after the apple of Emperor Franz Joseph I’s eye, his only son.

This guy

This guy

The 6,829-ton battleship was stubby, at 320-feet long and tubby at 63-feet across the beam, giving it a length to beam ratio about 1:5, but at least she could float in 24-feet of seawater. When designed in 1881, the top speed for the new ship, 15.5-knots, seemed adequate, especially when it was kept in mind that she had a double-hull, up to 12-inches of steel armor, and extensive watertight compartmentalization.

She was fitted with three Krupp 12-inch (30.5 cm/35 cal) guns in open forward (port and starboard) and rear centerline mounts much like the French ships of the time. This particular size gun was in use with the British (Majestic-class), American (USS Texas and Iowa) and Russian (Chesma-class, Georgy Pobedonosets-class, Navarin) fleets, leaving the Austrians in good company.

Her aft 12-incher

Her aft 12-incher

Over a dozen smaller caliber QF guns kept torpedo boats at bay.

kronprinz_erzherzog_rudolf

Launch of the ship at Marinearsenal Pola on 6 July 1887.Description: Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection. NH 87057

Launch of the ship at Marinearsenal Pola on 6 July 1887.Description: Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection. NH 87057

Photographed at Pola on 6 July 1887 shortly after launch. Note that the ship's midships armor belt has not yet been fitted. Catalog #: NH 88920

Photographed at Pola on 6 July 1887 shortly after launch. Note that the ship’s midships armor belt has not yet been fitted. Catalog #: NH 88920

She was completed September 1889 and was commissioned some nine months after her namesake sensationally died in a suicide pact with his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, at the Mayerling hunting lodge, breaking old Franz Josef’s heart and leaving the Archduke Franz Ferdinand as heir to the throne–  a man whose own death would spark World War I.

schiff_sms_kronprinz_erzh_rudolf
The smaller SMS Kronprinzessin Erzherzogin Stephanie (4995-tons, 280-feet, 2x305mm guns, 2 masts) would be built in Trieste to a much modified (cheaper) design and commissioned in 1889 as the last Austrian barbette ironclad.

Together, the cost of these two ships would force the Austrian Navy to put battleship orders on hold until the 5,785-ton Monarch-class coastal defense battleship SMS Budapest was ordered in May 1892 and funded so frugally that the yard took over six years to complete.

This left Rudolf as the most heavily armed and armored ship in the Austrian fleet for a decade, and she was used extensively to show the flag.

RUDOLF is the single masted ship in the center. The large ship at left is CUSTOZA. The stack and mast to starboard of RUDOLF belong to MONARCH, and the ship to starboard of her is smaller near-sister KRONPRINZESSIN ERZHERZOGIN STEPHANIE. Photographed at Pola. Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection. NH 87062

RUDOLF is the single-masted ship in the center. The large ship at left is CUSTOZA. The stack and mast to starboard of RUDOLF belong to MONARCH, and the ship to starboard of her is smaller near-sister KRONPRINZESSIN ERZHERZOGIN STEPHANIE. Photographed at Pola, 1900. Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection. NH 87062

Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection NH 87058

Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection NH 87058

Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection. NH 87059

Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection. NH 87059

Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection. NH 87061

Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization, Karl Gogg collection. NH 87061

Rudolf, along with Stephanie and two other smaller vessels, spent part of 1890 in the Baltic and North Sea operating with the German Navy as a squadron. They later visited Italy and Spain to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World in 1892, and made calls in ports across Europe.

When Budapest and the rest of her respective class were commissioned in the late 1890s, Rudolf and little sister Stephanie were largely withdrawn to second-rate service.

By 1908, the Austrians were looking to sell the then 20-year-old vessels which were badly in need of a refit to South American interests, with no takers.

Relegated to coastal defense with a reduced crew, World War I found Rudolf as a station ship in Cattaro Bay, where she remained throughout the war tending submarines.

Photographed circa 1915 as a sad, gray station-ship in the Gulf of Cattaro. The sub in the foreground is SMS U-3 or U-Courtesy of the INT'L Naval Research Org., Karl Gogg Collection #14-20.NH 87063

Photographed circa 1915 as a sad, gray station-ship in the Gulf of Cattaro. The sub in the foreground is SMS U-3 or U-4. Courtesy of the INT’L Naval Research Org., Karl Gogg Collection #14-20.NH 87063

As station ship in the Gulf of Cattaro in World War I. Note the crew manning the anti-submarine defense gun in the foreground. NH 42823.

As station ship in the Gulf of Cattaro in World War I. Note the crew manning the shore gun in the foreground. NH 42823.

In February 1918, after months of inaction and inspired by what was going on at the time in Bolshevik Russia, the fleet at Cattaro– Rudolf included– mutinied. Idle hands in a frozen port with little food will do that to you.

The mutiny lasted three days until it fell apart after modern battleships showed up from Pola and German U-boats threatened to send any ship flying a red flag to the bottom. During the incident, Rudolf was on the receiving end of a few rounds from a shore battery (perhaps the one shown above) still loyal to the Emperor. At the end of the affair, four ringleaders were executed and 392 mutineers court-martialled from across the naval division in port.

Interrupting the legal matters, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire imploded a few months later, the Emperor handed over the entire Navy to the newly formed Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (KSCS, later Kingdom of Yugoslavia) on 29 October 1918. Nobody told the Italians what happened and on 1 November, Italian frogmen sank the mighty (now-Slovenian) battleship

The problem was that nobody told the Italians what happened and on 1 November, Italian frogmen sank the mighty (now-Slovenian) battleship Viribus Unitis at anchor in 1918, in effect, the largest loss ever suffered by the Yugoslav Navy.

When the Allies arrived to occupy the ports a few days later, they promptly took over the former Austrian ships and held them through 1920, in the end sinking or taking away as prizes the best of the lot– including Stephanie who was transferred to Italy as a war prize and was eventually broken up for scrap in 1926.

As allowed by the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Allies tossed Yugoslavia the scraps nobody wanted to include a dozen small torpedo boats, some slowpoke river monitors, a couple of auxiliaries and the ex-SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf, which still had a couple of holes in her from the mutiny and hadn’t moved in years.

The Yugoslavs took over the old lady in March 1921 and, after renaming her Kumbor, she became the default flagship of the new force, for the record being the largest ship they ever operated post-Armistice Day.

The honeymoon was short-lived.

She was sold for scrap sometime in 1922, with the Yugos not having another seagoing warship until they bought the old 2,953-ton German protected cruiser Niobe in 1925.

Today little remains of Rudolph/Kumbor other than maritime art, of her on a much better day when she carried the withering ensign of her dying empire to a far off land.

Squadron drill of SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf at front, SMS Kronprinzessin Erzherzogin Stephanie, SMS Kaiser Franz Joseph I and SMS Tiger at Kiel, 1890, oil on canvas by Alexander Kircher, via wiki

Squadron drill of SMS Kronprinz Erzherzog Rudolf at front, SMS Kronprinzessin Erzherzogin Stephanie, SMS Kaiser Franz Joseph I and SMS Tiger at Kiel, 1890, oil on canvas by Alexander Kircher, via wiki

Specs:

kronprinz-erzherzog-rudolf-1889-plansDisplacement: 6,829 metric tons (6,721 long tons)
Length:     320 ft. 3 in o/a
Beam:     63 ft. 3 in
Draft:     24 ft. 3 in
Installed power:
10 × fire-tube boilers
6,000 ihp (4,500 kW)
Propulsion:     2 × triple-expansion steam engines, 580-tons coal
Endurance: 2600nm at 10 knots
Speed:     15.5 kn (28.7 km/h; 17.8 mph)
Crew:     447–450
Armor: (Harvey steel)
Belt: 305 mm
Deck: 95 mm (3.7 in)
Barbettes: 254 mm (10.0 in)
Armament:
3 × 30.5-centimeter (12.0 in) guns
6 × 12 cm (4.7 in) guns
7 × 47 mm (1.9 in) QF guns
2 × 37 mm (1.5 in) QF guns
4 × 40 cm (16 in) torpedo tubes

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 it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday January 4, 2017: There is no longer an Escape

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday January 4, 2017: There is no longer an Escape

NH 88515

NH 88515

Here we see a rack of 68-pound MK. V Diving Helmets stored on board the Diver-class salvage and rescue ship USS Escape (ARS-6), during the 1960s. From the NHC caption: “The helmets constantly have a light burning inside to keep out moisture and corrosion when stored in this manner. Sailors on board the ship say it makes a spooky sight, much like a rack of Halloween Jack-O-Lantern.”

Escape had a long and interesting life that saw her role repeatedly redefined.

The Navy was already experienced in marine salvage prior to World War II. Several major operations involved the recovery of three submarines between the wars: USS S-51 in 1925; USS S-4 in 1927; and USS Squalus in 1939.

However, the Navy did not have ships specifically designed and built for salvage work when it entered WWII, and it was not until the start of the war that salvage ships become a distinct vessel type.

The earliest designated United States Navy salvage ships (ARS) were converted WWI-era Lapwing-class minesweepers (USS Viking ARS-1, USS Crusader ARS-2, USS Discoverer ARS-3, and USS Redwing ARS-4) but they were far from adequate when it came to heavy deep sea lifting.

Then came the purpose-built Diver-class.

Built at Basalt Rock Co., Napa, Calif. — a gravel company who was in the barge building biz– 17 of the new 213-foot vessels were constructed during WWII.

Fitted with a 20-ton capacity boom forward and 10-ton capacity booms aft, they had automatic towing machines, two fixed fire pumps rated at 1,000 gallons per minute, four portable fire pumps, and eight sets of “beach gear,” pre-rigged anchors, chains and cables for use in refloating grounded vessels. And of course, they were excellently equipped to support divers in the water with one double re-compression chamber and two complete diving stations aft for air diving and two 35-foot workboats. The Mark V helmet shown above? It was put into production in 1942 with these ships in mind.

Class leader USS Diver (ARS-5) commissioned 23 October 1943 and the hero of our tale, Escape, followed shortly after.

Escape (ARS-6) in the Napa River, CA. 11 November 1943, about a week before commissioning. This ship, the second of this type ordered for the US Navy, was completed with a modified rig aft consisting of a single kingpost with two longer booms. One of the booms was soon deleted, and this became the standard rig for the remainder of the class. US National Archives, RG-19-LCM, photo #'s 19-N-57115, US Navy Bureau of Ships photos now in the collections of the US National Archives, courtesy Shipscribe.com via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/37/3706.htm

Escape (ARS-6) in the Napa River, CA. 11 November 1943, about a week before commissioning. This ship, the second of this type ordered for the US Navy, was completed with a modified rig aft consisting of a single kingpost with two longer booms. One of the booms was soon deleted, and this became the standard rig for the remainder of the class. US National Archives, RG-19-LCM, photo #’s 19-N-57115, US Navy Bureau of Ships photos now in the collections of the US National Archives, courtesy Shipscribe.com via Navsource.

Assigned to Norfolk and then Bermuda in late 1943, Escape was based for general salvage and towing duties and during the conflict rescued at least four ships at sea including the steamer SS George Ade which was hit by a Gnat from U-518 about 125 miles off the coast of North Carolina. Despite a hurricane that brought 100-knot winds and 50-foot seas, Escape brought Ade into port and the merchantman was eventually returned to service.

Escape 1945

Escape 1945, looking a good bit more broken in than in her 1943 photo.

As the war ended, Escape was tasked with getting the Italian submarine Goffredo Mameli back to the spaghetti boat’s home. When she was commissioned in 1929, Mameli was the deepest diving sub in the world and she also became one of the luckiest as the Italians lost something like 8 out of 10 submarines they had in the war. Mameli had spent the last few months of the conflict in the U.S. as a training ship.

Italian Submarine Goffredo Mameli August 27, 1944 off the east coast of the U.S. (Maine). Following the Armistice, Mameli and two of her sisters were sent to the US to serve as training targets for allied forces and were based in Florida, near the SONAR school in Key West. Photographed by a blimp from ZP-11

Italian Submarine Goffredo Mameli August 27, 1944 off the east coast of the U.S. (Maine). Following the Armistice, Mameli and two of her sisters were sent to the US to serve as training targets for allied forces and were based in Florida, near the SONAR school in Key West. Photographed by a blimp from ZP-11

On 8 November 1945, Escape sailed from Key West escorting, and later towing, Mameli to Taranto, Italy and returned to Norfolk  22 January 1946 on;yto be laid up six months later.

Reactivated in 1951, she was soon busy salvaging the wreck of the gunboat USS Erie (PG-50), a past Warship Weds alumni, from the inner harbor of Willemstad, Curacao.

Here is a USN training film on the classic dive dress used during most of Escape‘s Navy service.

In 1958, Escape recovered a full-scale Jupiter IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) nose cone of a returning Jupiter-C rocket from the waters near Antigua and in 1960 was a support ship for Operation Sky Hook, a high-altitude balloon reconnaissance research program, which prepped her for helping in the NASA recovery operations with Project Mercury January 30, 1960, and November and December 1960; Apollo-Saturn 12 (AS-12), November 14-24, 1969; Skylab-2 (SL-2), May 25-June 22, 1973; and Skylab-3 (SL-3), July 28-September 25, 1973.

post-2322-0-21040800-1420173151

Oh yeah, and she participated in the 1961 Cuban Missile Crisis blockade.

In short, she was a really busy salvage ship.

In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, Escape spent the last six months of 1974 clearing wrecks blocking the Suez Canal as part of Operation Nimrod Spar (316-page SUPSALV report on that here another 115-page one here)

nimrod-spar

USS Escape on Lake Timash, Egypt, 1974

USS Escape on Lake Timash, Egypt, 1974

USS ESCAPE (ARS-6) Entering a Mediterranean Sea Port, during the 1970s. Catalog #: NH 88518 click to big up

USS ESCAPE (ARS-6) Entering a Mediterranean Sea Port, during the 1970s. Catalog #: NH 88518 click to big up

USS Escape (ARS-6) moored pierside at Cartagena, Spain, circa 1976-77. Mario Gomes via Navsource

USS Escape (ARS-6) moored pierside at Cartagena, Spain, circa 1976-77. Mario Gomes via Navsource

With the Navy having several newer classes of salvage ships (the Anchor, Weight, Bolster and Safeguard-class vessels) Escape and her sisters were effectively replaced in by the 1970s.

Escape was decommissioned, 1 September 1978 and laid up with the James River Reserve Fleet near Norfolk.  In her 35 years of service with the Navy, 22 skippers had helmed her.

Then came the Cuban boatlift crisis and the Coast Guard was woefully short of ships. In January 1981, Escape was transferred from reserve fleet to the U.S. Coast Guard.

escape-1981-uscg-orders
In the rush to convert the grey-hulled salvage ship to a white-hulled lawman, her sponsons were taken off, she was converted from DC to AC, her diving support system and decompression chamber were removed, and much of her salving storage converted. Her armament was landed and she would roll with small arms only.

escape

uscgc-escape
She was commissioned at 10 a.m. on 14 March 1981 at Portsmouth, Va. and at the time was the largest cutter in the USCG’s Seventh District (outclassing the “puny” 210-foot Reliance class WMECs by three feet oal).

Although the helmets were long gone, she kept her name, hull number and WWII era ship’s insignia.

escape-insignia

1945, 1958 and 1981 respectively

Humanitarian service remained a hallmark of her career, rescuing some 586 Haitians from the sea in a single month in 1989, besting this in a three-week period in 1994 with 1193 Haitians from 39 waterlogged “vessels” (at one time having 397 souls clustered on her deck).

USCGC Escape (WMEC-6) on patrol in the Caribbean Sea picking up refugees, circa 1994. Photo courtesy of the National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors, contributed by Scott Vollmer via Navsource

USCGC Escape (WMEC-6) on patrol in the Caribbean Sea picking up refugees, circa 1994. Photo courtesy of the National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors, contributed by Scott Vollmer via Navsource

Her service to the Coast Guard, besides the Cuban boatlift, was the stuff of legend and she popped a number of large narco boats including the M/V Portside with 10-tons of grass just six months after she was commissioned, M/V Juan XIII with 13-tons in 1982, the Colombian M/V Mr. Ted with 18 tons of marijuana just 100 miles off the coast of South Carolina in 1988, 515 keys of coke on the U.S. flagged yacht Ojala in 1992 (along with the hydrofoil USS Gemini) and enforcing Operation Support Democracy, the UN embargo on Haiti.

Things sometimes got dicey. In December 1982, the M/V My Lord tried to ram the old girl but the cutter managed to get a boarding team on board to arrest eight and seize five tons of narcotics.

Other conversions from her original salvage role came and her forward cargo boom and salvage wench were removed, a new gyro and weight room added, new reefers added, the ship’s office converted to CPO mess, ship’s store converted to berthing, towing wench landed and two Zodiac Hurricane boats loaded.

She earned the nickname “Workhorse of the Atlantic” picking up a Coast Guard Unit Commendation, three Meritorious Unit Commendations, four Humanitarian Service Medals, two Operational Readiness Awards and five Special Operations Award– the latter all for Operation Able Manner.

When she decommissioned 29 June 1995 at Charleston, Escape was the oldest medium endurance cutter in the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area and seven USCG captains had skippered her.

With all of the modifications, and her extended age, Escape was not in a condition suitable for recall and re-use by the Navy as a salvage vessel and was laid up at the National Defense Reserve Fleet, James River Group, Lee Hall, VA.

There she remained until the Maritime Administration paid $115,200 to Bay Bridge Enterprises LLC of Chesapeake, VA to scrap the old girl in 2009.

As for her 16 sisters, they all left U.S. Navy service fairly rapidly in the 1970s and disposed of with only the USS Preserver (ARS-8) lasting somehow until 1994. Two went to South Korea; one, ex- USS Grapple (ARS-7) is still active as ROCS Da Hu (ARS-552) in Taiwan and one, ex-USS Safeguard (ARS-25), went to Turkey. The latter is supposedly still active as TCG Isin (A-589) though her replacement is nearing.

Two of Escape‘s sisters, USS Seize (ARS-26) and USS Shackle (ARS-9) also went to the Coast Guard as USCGC Yocona (WMEC-168) and USCGC Acushnet (WMEC-167) respectively. Seize/Yocona was sunk as a target in 2006 and Shackle/Acushnet, decommissioned in 2011 as the last Diver-class vessel in U.S. service, is currently for sale in Anacortes, Wash and efforts are afoot to save her.

Escape‘s plans are in the National Archives.

One of the last remnants of her in circulation are postal cancellations honoring her as part of the NASA recovery fleet.

skylab2-escape-03

And, of course, MK V helmets.

Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport dock. US Navy Diver Breslin looks pretty happy in his MK V rig 1950

Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport dock. US Navy Diver Breslin looks pretty happy in his MK V rig 1950

Specs:
Displacement: 1,441 tons (1943)
1,756 tons (1964)
Length: 213′ 6″
Beam: 39′
Draft: 13′ 11″ (1964)
Propulsion: Four Combustion Engineering GSB-8 Diesel engines
double Fairbanks-Morse Main Reduction Gears
twin propellers, 3,000shp
Ship’s Service Generators
two Diesel-drive 200Kw 120V D.C.
one Diesel-drive 60Kw 120V D.C.
Fuel Capacity: 95,960 gallons
Maximum Speed: 14.8 knots on trials.
Range: 9,000 miles @ 15 knots
Cruising Speed: 10.3 knots (13,700 mile range)
Complement:  7+113 (USN–1943)
76 (USN–1964)
USGC: Final crew was 8 officers, 3 CPOs, 35 enlisted. (Authorised in 1981 with 7 officers, 65 enlisted)
Radar: OS-8E (1964)
Armament:
Designed: one single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mount
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
four .50 cal machine guns
(1964) 2 x 20mm/80
(1981) Small arms

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.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, 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 it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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