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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives, 80-G-216014.

Above we see the lead ship of her class, the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans (CA-32) camouflaged at Tulagi in the then hotly contested Solomon Islands, shortly after she was torpedoed during the Battle of Tassafaronga on 30 November 1942– some 80 years ago today. Note that her stern is riding high and that her forward end is low in the water as the Japanese Type 93 Long Lance she caught had severed her bow between # 1 and # 2 eight-inch gun turrets, killing 182 men and lopping off almost a fifth of her length.

About the class

Classified as the “Second Generation of Treaty Cruisers” by Friedman who has an entire chapter on the subject in his USNI Press U.S. Cruisers book– a bible on the subject– the seven New Orleans class vessels came after America flirted with the more cramped and often extremely lightly armored Pensacola class (Pensacola and Salt Lake City) Portland class (Portland and Indianapolis), and Northampton-class (Northampton, Chester, Louisville, Chicago, Augusta, and Houston) cruisers. For reference, the P-colas, which carried 518 tons of armor, had just 4-inches of armor at their thickest, with just a maximum of 2.5 inches on their turret face and 1.25 inches on the conning tower, making them vulnerable to 5-inch shells and derided as being “tin clads” or “eggshell” cruisers.

Some 588 feet overall with a 61-foot beam, the New Orleans class carried 1,507 tons of protection (three times as much as Pensacola) and ran a belt and central conning tower that carried up to five inches of plate while the thickest parts of the turret faces went eight, making them capable of withstanding hits from the 8-inch shells of the day– if they were fired from far enough away.

In a further improvement, while carrying nine 8″/55 Mark 9 main guns of the same type as the previous U.S. Treaty heavy cruisers, the New Orleanses carried them in better-designed turrets with more room and would be upgraded during the war to Mark 12, 14, or 15 guns.

8-inch guns of the New Orleans-class cruiser USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), Norfolk, VA. December 1940

As noted by Friedman concisely, “The New Orleans class represented a shift in U.S. cruiser priorities toward protection, gained in part because of a determined use of the entire available treaty tonnage.”

Speaking to which, while rated as 10,000 tons on paper– in line with the Washington Naval treaty limits– during WWII they pushed almost 13,000 when fully loaded and carrying scores of AAA guns for which they weren’t designed. By comparison, the standard weight of the 585-foot P-Colas and 600-foot Northamptons were just 9,138 and 8,997 tons, respectively, leaving a lot of treaty weight on the table.

USS New Orleans artist impression by I.R. Lloyd, circa early 1930s NH 664

USS New Orleans (CA-32) builder’s model, photographed circa 1936. NH 45123 and NH 45122.

Earlier heavy cruisers USS Salt Lake City (CA-25) and USS Pensacola (CA-24), left, alongside USS New Orleans (CA-32) to the right, seen nested together at Pearl Harbor, 31 October 1943. Ford Island is at the left, with USS Oklahoma (BB-37) under salvage at the extreme left, just beyond Salt Lake City’s forward superstructure. Note the radar antennas, gun directors, and eight-inch guns on these three heavy cruisers as well as how much different their bridges, turrets, and masts are. The rounded roofs of early Mark 9 twin and triple turrets of USS Salt Lake City and USS Pensacola contrast greatly with the later turrets of USS New Orleans on the right.80-G-264236

They also had extensive floatplane facilities including two catapults and a large hangar, with corresponding avgas bunkerage and aviation magazines. They typically operated up to four Seagulls, though the number of catapults and extremely dangerous gasoline stores were whittled down late in the war and only a pair of floatplanes carried.

New Orleans class mate USS Quincy (CA-39) looking forward over the boat deck from the secondary conn over her hangar, while the ship was at the New York Navy Yard after her last overhaul, 29 May 1942. Crude # 1 in white circle (center) marks the location of the 5″/25cal loading practice machine. Other notable items includeboats and boat cradle in foreground; four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes atop the catapults; crated food piled by the after smokestack; and USS Marblehead (CL-12) at left. NHHC 19-N-30725

 

Curtiss SOC Seagull scout-observation aircraft leaves the port catapult of a New Orleans-class heavy cruiser, circa 1942

Our subject

The Mississippi River city of New Orleans, the site of two different battles in 1815 and 1862, had previously lent her name to a ship-of-the-line that was begun the same year as the former and sold while still in the stocks over 20 years past the latter.

Then came a protected cruiser — laid down by Armstrong in England as Amazonas for the Brazilian Navy— that was rushed into service in 1898 and would remain in the line through the Great War. 

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans (later PG 34 and CL 22), port bow. Reproduction of a painting by Koerner & Hayes, circa 1897-98.

As such, our cruiser is the only the second USS New Orleans to reach the fleet. Laid down on 14 March 1931 at the New York Navy Yard, she was commissioned on 15 February 1934.

A great pre-war shot of the USS New Orleans shows her profile. NH 660

Her brief peacetime period took her as far as Scandinavia, a showboat for the Navy and the country before finding herself increasingly after 1936 in Pacific waters.

May 1934– heavy cruiser USS New Orleans at Stockholm along with the pansarskeppet Gustav V Sverige. Marinemuseet Fo39197

A superb image of USS New Orleans (CA-32) in English waters, in about June 1934. Note her gunnery clock and no less than four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes on her catapults. Photographed by Wright & Logan, Southsea, England. Donation of Captain Joseph Finnegan, USN (Retired), 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 71787

USS New Orleans (CA-32) in port, circa 1937. Note the broad band painted on her after smokestack, probably a recognition feature. NH 50757

Cruiser USS NEW ORLEANS (CA-32) under St John Bridge, Portland

War!

In it from the very first bullet, on 7 December 1941, New Orleans was moored at Berth 16, Navy Yard Pearl Harbor undergoing engine repairs on shore power.

As noted by her report of the attack:

At 0757 sighted enemy planes “dive bombing” Ford Island and went to General Quarters immediately. At 0805 sighted enemy torpedo planes on port quarter flying low across our stern. Rifle fire and Pistol fire was opened from our fantail as the first planes flew by to launch their torpedoes at the battleships. This ship saw several planes launch their torpedoes headed in the direction of the battleships. Our 1.1/75 battery and Machine Guns aft were manned in time to actually fire at three or four enemy planes passing our stern. About 0810 all batteries, except the 8″ battery, were in action engaging such enemy planes a presented themselves as targets.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 9 February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor. NH 97846

Lightly damaged– her crew found no less than 29 small holes in her above water-line hull and superstructure due to flying fragments but she suffered no casualties– with the Pacific Fleet’s battleships out of service, she was soon expected to fill the gap along with her sisters.

She was soon escorting convoys throughout the South Pacific and screened the carrier USS Yorktown at Coral Sea (taking 580 of Lexington’s survivors off) in May, USS Enterprise at Midway in June, and was standing by USS Saratoga at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942.

USS New Orleans underway during exercises in Hawaiian waters, 8 July 1942. This was just weeks after Midway, where she screened Enterprise. Note the extensive float nets and rafts on her superstructure and turrets. 80-G-10115

When Sara was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, New Orleans spent almost 12 weeks escorting the precious flattop back to Pearl, waiting for her to be repaired (and picking up more AAA guns of her own), then escorting her back to the Solomons.

As the Japanese had fought a string of cruiser/destroyer vs cruiser/destroyer night actions at Savo Island in August (with three of New Orleans’s sisters– Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes— lost in minutes), Cape Esperance in October (Salt Lake City lost) and Guadalcanal in November (Portland and sister San Francisco seriously damaged) in which the U.S. attrition rate when it came to heavy cruisers became untenable, it was inevitable that New Orleans would soon find herself in a scrap. One that would be the last large surface ship clash of the Solomons campaign.

This brings us to…

Tassafaronga!

RADM Carleton H. Wright’s Task Force 67– including the heavy cruisers USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Northampton (CA-24), and USS Pensacola (CA-26), the light cruiser USS Honolulu (CL-48) and the destroyers USS Drayton (DD-366), USS Fletcher (DD-445), USS Maury (DD-401), USS Perkins (DD-377), USS Lamson (DD-367), and USS Lardner (DD-487)— had a rendezvous with destiny when it acted against a partially surprised and all-around inferior (on paper) Japanese “Tokyo Express” force of RADM Raizō Tanaka’s eight cargo-burdened destroyers of the IJN’s DesRon2 on the night of November 30, 1942, on the surface of Iron Bottom Sound near Lunga Point.

It went…badly.

As described by the National Museum of the Navy:

U.S. force of five cruisers and six destroyers intercepted eight Japanese destroyers bringing reinforcements to Guadalcanal and were crippled by a brilliantly executed Japanese torpedo counterattack. Heavy cruiser Northampton was sunk, while Pensacola, New Orleans, and Minneapolis were badly damaged. The Japanese only lost the destroyer Takanami. In this action, the last of the Guadalcanal campaign’s five major surface battles, the Japanese once again demonstrated their tactical superiority at night. The Navy was learning though, as would be demonstrated in 1943.

It turned out that, while the New Orleans class had better armor than the first generation of American Treaty Cruisers, they suffered from a lack of below-waterline protection and dramatic bow loss ran in the family, at least at Tassafaronga.

Sister Minneapolis, who scored many of the hits on Takanami, took two torpedo hits from Japanese destroyers, one on the port bow, the other in her number two fireroom, and her bow collapsed.

USS Minneapolis (CA-36). En route to Pearl Harbor for repairs, circa January 1943. She had lost her bow when hit by Japanese torpedoes during the Battle of Tassafaronga, off Guadalcanal on 30 November 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, 80-G-44544.

New Orleans also took her lumps.

Detailed from DANFS:

When flagship Minneapolis was struck by two torpedoes, New Orleans, next astern, was forced to sheer away to avoid collision, and ran into the track of a torpedo which ripped off her bow. Bumping down the ship’s port side, the severed bow punched several holes in New Orleans’ hull. A fifth of her length gone, slowed to 2 knots, and blazing forward, the ship fought for survival. Individual acts of heroism and self-sacrifice along with skillful seamanship kept her afloat, and under her own power she entered Tulagi Harbor near daybreak on 1 December.

For New Orleans, her Battle Damage Report is stark:

  1. During the night of 30 November 1942, NEW ORLEANS was a unit of a task force which engaged a Japanese force in the action subsequently named the Battle of Lunga Point. NEW ORLEANS, firing with her main battery and steaming at 20 knots, had just started to swing to the right to avoid MINNEAPOLIS when a torpedo struck the port bow in way of turret I and detonated.
  2. The torpedo detonation was followed immediately by a second and much heavier detonation. As a result, the bow, including turret I, was severed almost completely between turrets I and II. It swung out to port and tore loose, probably due to the starboard swing of the ship. It then floated aft and banged against the port side. Holes were torn in the shell at frames 53, 130 and 136 and the port inboard propeller was wrecked.

That secondary explosion was later determined to be from one of New Orleans’s aviation bomb and mine magazine, A-502-1/8-M, which “contained the 160-pound demolition charge and forty-nine 100-pound bombs” and that of an adjacent small arms magazine, A-502-M, which contained five 325-pound depth bombs.

From her battle damage report

She limped into Tulagi some eight hours after the battle and remained there shoring up her bow with coconut logs under a camo net for 11 days.

Port bow view as she entered Tulagi harbor about 8 hours after being struck by a torpedo, 1 December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA-32) under camouflage at Tulagi, December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA 32) Cruiser shown soon after the battle. 80-G-44447

Minneapolis did much the same, with the help of Seabees. 

New Orleans then slowly sailed for Sydney, Australia, arriving on Christmas Eve 1942, her crew finally getting some much-needed rest. She would remain there until March, when, after a temporary stub bow was fitted in dry dock, she left for Puget Sound and arrived on the West Coast on 3 April 1943 after stops at Pago Pago and Pearl Harbor

USS New Orleans (CA 32) comes into the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, for a new bow after battling with Japanese warships in Southwest Pacific. In this view, she is almost ready for joining to a new bow. The photograph was released 11 January 1944. 80-G-44448

USS New Orleans (CA-32) steams through a tight turn in Elliot Bay, Washington, on 30 July 1943, following battle damage repairs and overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. She is likely “creating a slick” for recovering a sea plane– making a smooth patch of becalmed water for the aircraft to land upon. NH 97847

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, following battle damage repairs and overhaul, 5 August 1943. NH 97848

Back in the fight

After post-rebuild workups, New Orleans sailed 5-6 October 1943 with RADM Alfred E. Montgomery’s Task Force 14 to shell Japanese-occupied Wake Island.

Wake Island Raid, October 1943. A heavy cruiser’s 8-inch guns bombard Wake, as seen from USS Minneapolis (CA-36), 5 October 1943. The two following ships are (in no particular order): USS San Francisco (CA-38) and USS New Orleans (CA-32). National Archives photograph, 80-G-81973

New Orleans would also help support Allied landings at Hollandia and the invasion of the Marianas.

Saipan Invasion, June 1944. Units of Cruiser Division SIX bombard Saipan on 14-15 June 1944. The nearest ship is USS New Orleans (CA-32). Beyond her is the light cruiser USS St. Louis (CL-49). 80-G-K-1774

She would lend her increased AAA batteries to help swat down Japanese aircraft during the Battle of the Philippine Sea while revisiting her old days of screening carriers. Then came the big shows in the Philippines and at Iwo Jima.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 8 March 1945. The city of Vallejo is in the background. Note the ship’s welded bow structure (forward of her second 8/55 triple gun turret). This replaced her original riveted construction bow, which was lost during the Battle of Tassafaronga at the end of November 1942. Circles mark recent alterations to the ship. 19-N-80232

A rare shot at the same time and place as the above that shows her hangar open. Note that her portside catapult has been landed by this time in her career.

After a final wartime refit at Mare Island, she was back at it, hammering Japanese positions at Okinawa and was at Subic Bay when hostilities ceased.

After supporting the post-war occupation of Korea and Manchuria, she made two trips back stateside on Magic Carpet missions returning Pacific War vets to the U.S. Arriving at Philadelphia Navy Yard in March 1946, she spent an 11-month period preparing for mothballs and was decommissioned 10 February 1947.

She had earned 17 battle stars for her war– tying for third most in the theater– and gained a new bow.

From her nine-page War History in the National Archives.

Of her seven-ship class, only four were still in commission on VJ Day and three of those were so grievously damaged in action against the Japanese off Guadalcanal that they had to be extensively rebuilt. Only sister USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), which had “luckily” fought most of her war in the ETO, was never damaged in battle.

The remainder of the New Orleans class in the 1946 edition of Janes.

Cruisers and other warships laid up in the Philadelphia Yard Reserve Fleet Basin, circa 1947. The outboard ship in the left group is USS St. Louis (CL-49). Ships in the background include (in no order): USS San Francisco (CA-38), USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Louisville (CA-28), and USS Portland (CA-33). Courtesy of “All Hands” magazine. Catalog NH 92254

After spending 12 years along Philly’s red lead row, the vaunted USS New Orleans had her name struck from the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and was sold for scrapping on 22 September 1959 to the Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md. Similar fates were met by her three remaining sisters at the same time.

Epilogue

Our cruiser was remembered by the (apparently now defunct) USS New Orleans Reunion Association and most of her war diaries along with some architectural and engineering drawings are digitized in the National Archives.

Her ship’s bell– presented to the cruiser by the Louisiana State Museum in 1933– is on display in New Orleans City Hall, just outside the Mayor’s Office.

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has other artifacts including a piece of the coconut log shoring from Tulagi.

With the old New Orleans sent to the breakers, the Navy soon recycled her name for a new Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship commissioned in 1968 and would go on to serve three decades.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans (LPH-11) underway in San Diego Bay, California (USA), on 16 June 1988. AH-1 Cobra, CH-53E Sea Stallion, and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters line the flight deck. In the background is the submarine tender USS McKee (AS-41) and the submarine rescue ship USS Florikan (ASR-9). Date 16 June 1988. NH 107677-KN

Then came the Ingalls-built USS New Orleans (LPD-18), a massive 25,000-ton San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, commissioned in the Crescent City in 2007 and still in service.

The U.S. Navy (Pre-Commissioned Unit) San Antonio Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) sails beneath the Huey P. Long Bridge as it moves on the Mississippi River towards New Orleans, La., on March 5, 2007, in preparation for its commissioning ceremony on March 10, 2007. MCS Kurt Eischen, USN.


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Mighty Mansfield

56 Years Ago Today: Sumner-class destroyer USS Mansfield (DD 728) letting rip her 5″/38 DP Naval Guns at water-borne craft off the coast of North Vietnam, north of the demilitarized zone.

Photographed by PH1 V.O. McColley, November 25, 1966. USN photo 428-GX-K-35025.

Named for Marine Sergeant Duncan Mansfield of circa 1804 “Shores of Tripoli” fame, Mansfield (DD‑728) was laid down 28 August 1943 by the Bath Iron Works and commissioned just short of eight months later on 14 April 1944.

Earning five battle stars in the Pacific– including downing 17 Kamikazes in one day off Okinawa and later taking part in a daring high‑speed torpedo run with DesRon61 into Nojima Saki, sinking or damaging four enemy ships — she witnessed the formal Japanese surrender ceremony in September 1945 in Tokyo Bay.

Picking up a further three battle stars for Korean service while almost breaking her back on a mine off Inchon, Mansfield would be FRAM II’d in 1960, trading in her WWII kit for Cold War ASW work, and ship off for the 7th Fleet.

USS Mansfield (DD-728) Underway at sea, circa 1960-1963, after her FRAM II modernization. Taken by USS Ranger (CVA-61), this photograph was received in July 1963. NH 107137

Rotating through four deployments off Vietnam between 1965 and 1969, she also had enough time to serve as an alternate recovery ship for Gemini XI (and slated for the Apollo 1 mission).

Her Vietnam “Top Gun” Results, 1965-69:

  • 5″ Rounds Fired: 40,001
  • Days on Gun Line: 220
  • Times Under Hostile Fire: 8
  • Enemy KIA: 187
  • Active Artillery Sites Silenced: 30
  • Secondary Explosions: 59
  • Structures/Bunkers Destroyed: 495
  • Ships/Junks/Boats Sunk: 224

Decommissioned on 4 February 1971, Mansfield was disposed of and sold to Argentina on 4 June 1974 where she was mothballed at Puerto Belgrano and scavenged for spare parts to support that country’s other American surplus tin cans, then was eventually cut up for scrap in the late 1980s.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022: Black Sea David and Goliath

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Nov. 23, 2022: Black Sea David and Goliath

Above we see about half of the crew of the 97-ton Bulgarian torpedo boat Drazki (a name also seen in the West as Druzki, Drzki, and Drsky), some 110 years ago this week after they seriously damaged the fine 4,000-ton British-built Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye at the Battle of Kaliakra during the Balkan Wars, one of the best examples of a humble torpedo-armed fast attack craft landing a confirmed and debilitating hit on a much larger enemy warship. Note the shrapnel hole in Drazki’s aft stack.

The Early Bulgarian Navy

Founded on 13 January 1899 as the first modern maritime arm of what was then the Principality of Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Navy was cut from whole cloth with a dash of assistance from German, French, and Russian naval experts. Just a dozen years old at the start of the eight-month First Balkan War with Turkey, in which Bulgaria was allied in the Balkan League with Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro against the “Sick Old Man of Europe,” the Bulgar fleet was tiny by all comparisons.

In fact, it fits on a single page of Jane’s Fighting Ships with lots of white space left over.

Besides a couple of armed coasters, spar-torpedo launches, and river gunboats, the Bulgarian Navy could count just the French Chantier-built “cruiser” Nadezhda (715t, 2×4″ guns, 17 kts) — a craft that held the first Bulgarian wireless telegraph station and doubled as a royal yacht– and six Schneider & Creusot-built Drazki-class torpedo boats (Drazki, Smeli/Smyeli, Hrabri/Khrabri, Shumni, Letyashti, Strogi) and which had been shipped to Varna in sections and assembled there by the Bulgars in 1907-08.

Bulgarian Drazki class boats under assembly via Varna Maritime Museum

The six 124-foot Drazki boats used a pair of Temple/Norman water-tube boilers trunked into two stacks to generate 2,000 shp on their sole VTE engine, capable of making turns for 26 knots on a single screw. Armament was three torpedo tubes– one in the bow, two on a stern turnstile directed to opposing sides, with no reloads– and two 3-pounder (47mm) Schneider M1902 low-angle guns arranged port and starboard behind the closet-sized wheelhouse. capable of floating in just under nine feet of water, they were ideal for littoral combat.

With a normal coal supply of 11 tons, they could steam for 500 miles at 16 knots. However, they could overload with as much as 27 tons of coal, stretching their legs past 1,000.

As it turned out, the Battle of Kaliakra, fought some 30 miles from Varna, would be the first fleet action for the Bulgarian Navy when, on 21/22 November 1912 (Nov. 7/8 Gregorian), the Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye (commanded by Hussein Rauf Bey) and two destroyers were escorting a convoy of two cargo ships from Constantinople to Constanta and, presenting the Bulgarian fleet an ultimatum to surrender the next morning, the Bulgarians came out to play.

The Ottoman cruiser (classified as a battleship by the Turks) Hamidiye and its commander, Captain Hüseyin Rauf Bey, early 1900s

In a running night action with Captain Dimitar Dobrev’s (an officer who has survived the sinking of the Russian cruiser Dmitry Donsky at Tsushima in 1905) torpedo boat squadron consisting of Drazki and three of her sisters– Letyashti, Smeli, and Strogi— the Bulgarians pressed their attacks increasingly closer but failed to make a hit against the big Turk.

Letyashti, leading the charge with Dobrev aboard, fired and missed at 1,500 feet then pulled away.

Smeli closed to within 1,000 feet and missed, earning a shrapnel hit that wounded her executive officer.

Strogi held her fish until she got to within 300 feet, then missed.

Finally, Drazki, the last in line and last to attack and commanded by Midshipman 1st Class (Acting LT) Georgi Petrov Kupov, closed to within 150-200 feet, effectively point-blank range, and landed a torpedo against Hamidiye. The Turkish armored cruiser was hit in her bow, the explosion opening a 10-foot hole and allowing the Black Sea to flood the vessel. Covered by the Turkish destroyers, Hamidiye, bow almost underwater, was able to retire back home carrying eight dead and 30 wounded with her.

According to most accounts, it was only the fact that the Black Sea was exceptionally calm that night that the Turkish cruiser didn’t head for the bottom.

Catching a hit in her stack from the Turkish torpedo boat destroyer screen, Drazki and company would sail back to Varna by dawn and a heroes’ welcome, the Ottoman blockade of the Bulgarian coast effectively broken.

The photograph of the crews of the torpedo boats that attacked the Turkish cruiser “Hamidiye” on November 8, 1912.

It would be the only significant Bulgarian naval action of the Balkan Wars and Hamidiye, after repairs, would transition to the Aegean and fight the Greeks.

Two World Wars, and Beyond

Drazki and her sisters would, somewhat confusingly, not attempt to block the Romanian Danube River landings during the Second Balkan War in 1913, a task left to a force of four smaller gunboats that, when confronted with a larger Romanian force centered around the gunboat Grivița and backed up by several monitors, elected to scuttle instead.

When Bulgaria threw its lot in with the Germans and Austrians in 1915– largely to get at Serbia– the Bulgarian Navy was tasked with a mine/counter-mine war with the Russian Black Sea Fleet during the Great War that was heavy with nighttime mine-dropping in Russian-held areas and daytime sweeping in their own. In this, Shumni and Letyashti would be lost.

In Sept. 1916, Drazki and three of her sisters would conduct a series of battalion-sized amphibious landings against the Romanians, who had just entered the war on the other side– a bit of payback for 1913.

Meanwhile, the small Bulgarian cruiser Nadezhda, sent to occupy Sevastopol along with the Turko-German fleet in April 1918 following Russia’s withdrawal from the war, would be left there in 1920 and seized by the Reds who eventually scuttled her.

With the Bulgarian Navy disbanded as part of the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly, the four remaining Drazki class torpedo boats lost their torpedo tubes and became river gunboats as part of the country’s Danube Flotilla– officially under police control for interior counter-smuggling duties, their crews listed as civilians. In this lightened configuration and with a half-bunker of coal, they were able to float in as little as 4.25 feet of freshwater.

Jane’s 1931 Bulgarian Listing, showing the four remaining Drazki patrol boats.

By World War II, the Drazkis, thoroughly obsolete, still served as patrol boats.

Cadets from the Navy of H.V. school on the decks of the patrol boats Hrabri, Smeli and Drazki, port of Varna, 1941

On 15 October 1942, due to improper storage of powder on board Drazki, she suffered an explosion and sank at the quay in Varna. Nonetheless, she was soon raised and repaired.

Smeli would founder at sea in May 1943 while the other three boats were captured by advancing Soviet Red Army forces at Varna on 9 September 1944. Two, Drazki and Hrabri, were placed into Soviet service (‘temporarily requisitioned’) for the remainder of the war (with Drazki picking up the name Ingul and Hrabri as Vychegda), then would be repatriated in July 1945. To comply with the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, they were again disarmed.

The Bulgarians would keep the three sisters around in one form or another until 1954– an impressive 47-year run for vessels of a type that typically only lasted a decade.

Epilogue

Drazki’s daring young skipper during the attack on Hamidiye, LT Georgi Kupov, after leading the above-mentioned amphibious assaults during the 1916 Romanian campaign, became the Bulgarian Navy’s chief of staff in September 1917, a job he held until the navy was dissolved in 1919. During the interwar period, he served as commander of the Danube Flotilla and then taught Astronomy and Spherical Trigonometry at the country’s Maritime School until 1944 when the Soviets arrested him although he was soon released.

Георги Петров Купов. He passed in 1959, aged 74, and is well-remembered in Bulgaria

Ironically, Hamidiye, which had been seized by the British for seven years as part of the Treaty of Sèvres after the end of the Great War, was returned to Turkish service in 1925 and would solder on as a training cruiser through 1947. 

The Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye. She would only be scrapped in 1966 after a spell as a museum ship.

Speaking of which, in 1957, it was decided by the People’s Republic of Bulgaria to preserve Drazki as a museum ship for her role in 1912 but, as the three ships had largely been dismantled, the current ship that carries the legacy is mostly the hull of Strogi with the topside of Drazki and parts of Hrabri.

Kupov, 72 at the time, was present at her grand opening.

She looks good for all the Frankenstein nature of her current form, maintained by the Varna Maritime Museum.

And, importantly, her Battle of Kaliakra-perforated stack endures.

Druzki and the Battle of Kaliakra have been a favorite subject for Bulgarian illustrators over the years.

The Bulgarian Navy recycled her name at least twice, once in 1950 for a guardship (strazhevik) and then in 2004 for the Wielingen-class frigate Wandelaar, which was acquired that year after the Belgian Navy retired her.

BLACK SEA (May 14, 2017) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79), background, and the Bulgarian navy frigate Drazki (F41) conduct maneuvers during a passing exercise. Oscar Austin is on a routine deployment supporting U.S. national security interests in Europe and increasing theater security cooperation and forward naval presence in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean Spratt/Released) 170514-N-AX546-1037


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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022: Of Baklava & Inflatable Intruders

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Nov. 16, 2022: Of Baklava & Inflatable Intruders

Archive of the Naval Museum of Greece

Above we see the French-built Protefs-class submarine Υ/Β Τρίτων (Triton) (Υ5) of the Royal Hellenic Navy, part of the “Free Greek” forces in exile in the Second World War, while docked in Port Said in August 1941 following the German occupation of her homeland. Both the Greek Navy and merchant fleet would provide solid service fighting with the Allies during the war and, in this effort, many to the bitter end including the subject of our tale, lost 80 years ago today.

Greek subs, 1886-1940

The Greek Navy began its long love affair with submarines when it bought the Swedish-built Nordenfelt steam-powered submersible in 1886 for £9,000.

Swedish Nordenfelt I normal buoyancy at the Ekenberg shipyard. Tekniska museet submarine

The small 64-foot boat was less than ideal, requiring 12 hours to build up enough steam to sail and without the ability to fully submerge but it was nonetheless equipped with a single 14-inch tube for a Whitehead automobile torpedo (which could only make 10 knots and carried a 40-pound guncotton warhead), sparking the nearby Ottoman Turks to buy their own, larger, 100-foot Nordenfelt. Remaining in service until the 1900s, the Greeks later ordered a pair of more modern subs from France.

In 1910, with their Nordenfelt experiment in the rearview, the Greeks ordered two new subs from the Schneider Shipyards in Toulon– Delfin and Xifias. Some 162 feet overall and 450 tons displacement, they could make 12 knots on the surface and carried five 17.7-inch torpedo tubes.

Loading of torpedo on Greek submarine Xiphias 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Greek submarine Xiphias at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Ordered just before the Balkan Wars, Delfin was rushed into action with a green crew and in December 1912 made an unsuccessful torpedo attack on the Cramp-built Ottoman light cruiser Mecidiye, an incident commonly regarded as the first recorded launch of a self-propelled torpedo by a submarine in battle. The torpedo reportedly broached and sailed past the cruiser without doing any damage.

Fast forward to the Great War and both Delfin and Xifias were seized by the French in 1916. Returned after the war, they were in such poor shape that the Greeks simply scrapped them in 1919.

They would soon be replaced one-for-one with a new class, also ordered in France in 1925. Built to a Schneider-Laubeuf design based on the French Circé 600t class, they were named Y/B Katsonis (Y1) and Papanikolis (Y2). Some 204 feet overall– which is about perfect for a Mediterranean-sized boat (for reference, modern German Type 209s run 211 feet while Type 214s are 213 footers) — they used Schneider-Carels diesels to make 14 knots on the surface and 9.5 submerged (which proved less in practice). Mounting a 4″/40 Schneider deck gun protected in a shielded barbette built into the leading edge of the conning tower, their torpedo armament consisted of four 21-inch bow tubes (2 internal, 2 externals) and two bow tubes (both external) with stowage for 7 torpedoes and 100 shells for their 4-inch gun. They had a dive depth of 240 feet and were capable of two-week patrols.

Via Jane’s, 1931 ed

The Greeks then doubled down with the more advanced four-boat Protefs class, ordered from Ateliers & Chantiers de la Loire and CNF in 1927 (wait for it) France for £119,000 per hull. Built to a Loire-Simonot design, they were rough copies of the French Sirene-class 600 Series boats with minor changes. They would all carry nautical-tied names drawn from Greek mythology: Y/B Protefs (Y3), Nirefs (Y4), Triton (Y5), and Glafkos (Y6). Just shy of 1,000 tons, they were slightly larger than the Katsonis class and ran 225 feet long overall.

Powered by twin Sulzer diesels and electric motors, they could make a stately 14 knots on the surface and 9.5 submerged. With a dive depth of 275 feet, they were armed with eight 21-inch tubes (6 bows, 2 sterns, with space for 8-10 torpedoes) all inside the pressure hull, along with a topside 4″/40 Schneider shielded tower gun and a 40/39 2-pounder mount oriented over the stern.

Via Jane’s, 1931 ed

Triton and Glafkos were delivered and commissioned in France in 1930, the last two Greek submarines that would be completed as new construction until 1972– something we will get to in a minute.

War!

The Greek Navy entered the war with two old (circa 1908) Mississippi-class pre-dreadnought battleships (14,000t, 4×12″ guns, 17 knots), Kilkis (ex-Mississippi) and Lemnos (ex-Idaho) that had been largely disarmed and turned to training/barracks hulks, four minelayers, two old cruisers, 10 assorted destroyers, a few torpedo boats, and 6 submarines.

In a precursor to the Italian invasion, the elderly protected cruiser Helli/Elli was sunk at anchor off the island of Tinos by the Italian submarine Delfino in August 1940. The hulked Kilkis and Lemnos were sunk at their moorings in Salamis by German Stukas in April 1941, sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. Other ships were crippled in Greek waters by Luftwaffe aircraft.

Photo #: NH 77440 Greek battleships Kilkis and Lemnos Sunk in the basin of the Greek naval base at Salamis after they were hit by German air attacks on 23 April 1941. Seen from the harbor pier following the arrival of the German army. Kilkis, the former USS Mississippi (Battleship # 23), is in the foreground. Lemnos, ex-USS Idaho (Battleship # 24), is in the distance, with her guns removed. Franz Selinger, via the U.S. Naval Institute, provided photograph and some caption information. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

One bright spot was the Greek submarine forces’ efforts to attack Axis merchant shipping, especially Italian during the six-month Greco-Italian War before the Germans got involved.

Protefs bagged the Italian troop transport Sardegna (11,452t) in December 1940 off Brindisi, which was carrying part of the 7th “Lupi di Toscana” (“Wolves of Tuscany”) Infantry division to Albania. Sadly, Proteus was sunk immediately after this attack, rammed, and sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Antares. All 48 crew members were lost.

This did not deter Greek dolphins and Papanikolis deep-sixed the freighter Firenze (3945t) and Italian sailing vessel Antonietta before the month was out while Katsonis sank the coaster Quinto (531t) in the Adriatic on New Year’s Eve.

Triton hit the seas hard on six Adriatic/Ionian war patrols from Greek ports, credited by Greek sources as sinking the Italian Adua-class submarine Neghelli on 19 January 1941 (post-war Allied panels credit the British destroyer HMS Greyhound with her fate, however, as noted by Uboat.net, “the results of the attack were inconclusive and there is no absolute certainty of her fate.”)

Triton underway

Triton would also log two unsuccessful torpedo attacks on Italian freighters off the Albanian coast on 20 March 1941 before sinking the transports Carnia (51541t) and Anna Capano (1216t) on 23 March in the Adriatic Sea about 30 nautical miles east of Cape Galo.

The photo shows the commander of the submarine “Triton” LCDR D. Zepos, HN, together with the Commander of Submarines Captain Ath. Xiros at the Salamina Naval Station. Submarine NCOs stand behind. Naval History Service. Zepos would command the boat through March 1941, a period in which she is sometimes credited with sinking an Italian submarine and two tankers.

Nonetheless, Mussolini’s legions were successfully able to send 400,000 men, another 50,000 beasts, and 500,000 tons of supplies to the Greek front– a full 22 divisions– by April 1941, primarily by sea. They only lost 23,000 tons of shipping to the Greek navy’s submarines, amounting to seven merchant vessels and a submarine. It was a losing game that was finished once the Germans entered the contest.

As the country was being overrun, the Greeks under ADM Epaminondas Kavadias were able to sortie their surviving cruiser and default flagship Georgios Averof, six destroyers, and the five remaining submarines to Alexandria and Malta from where they would continue the struggle.

The fight goes on

While the obsolete Averof spent most of the rest of the war safely in harbor, the Greek subs and tin cans were assigned RN pennant numbers by the British and went on to operate in the Mediterranean under Admiralty control. Triton’s first mission was to carry urgently needed medical supplies to trapped British, Australian, and Greek troops on Crete, then, after a refit in Alexandria, Triton went out again in September 1941. The refit was key as the Greek submarines had reportedly all missed their 10-year mid-life overhauls due to peacetime budgetary constraints in the late 1930s and were mechanically suspect because of this.

September 1941. Triton Submarine in Alexandria

In her first six war patrols from Greece (Oct 1940-April 1941) Triton racked up 1,147 hours underway with about half that submerged, and (by Greek sources) had sunk an Italian submarine (Neghelli) and two merchies (Carnia and Capano). In her 7th-15th war patrols, all under British orders between June 1941 and November 1942, she logged another 2,626 hours (with about two-thirds of that submerged) and was credited with just four small coastal vessels off Thera and failed attacks on two large Italian merchies. This was largely because she was tasked with landing agents and commandos behind Axis lines on most of those patrols or running supplies through the German gauntlet around Malta with offensive anti-shipping activities secondary to those missions.

Heraklion

Triton carried a multinational early SAS raiding party as part of Operation Albumen to German-occupied Crete in June 1941, with the goal of the commandos hitting the Luftwaffe field at Heraklion.

The six-man group was led by French-speaking British Army reserve Major George Jellicoe (yes, ADM Jellicoe’s son), a parliamentarian on loan from the Coldstream Guards to L Detachment, Special Air Service at the invitation of David Stirling himself; four Free French commandos –Maj. Georges Bergé, Jacques Mouhot, Pierre Léostic, and CPL Jack Sibard— and Free Greek Army 2LT Kostis Petrakis, the latter a Cretan officer who would serve as a guide.

The Heraklion attack was timed to coincide with similar efforts at three other Crete airfields at Kasteli, Tympaki, and Maleme, to reduce German bombers available on the eve of an important convoy operation through that part of the Med. Of note, the Maleme team was delivered to Crete by the Greek sub, Papanikolis.

They were heavily loaded with satchels of dozens of Lewes bombs, a specialty incendiary device named for British SAS legend Jock Lewes, but lightly armed with just a Colt .45 each and a single sub gun for the whole patrol. The plan was that they would evade capture for a week or more among the locals and then be recovered by small boat.

Jellicoe, who in 1990 recorded an oral history of his WWII service for the Imperial War Museum described the Triton part of the operation as follows:

We sailed on a Greek submarine– the Triton— bought from the French in the ’20s. She was then getting a bit long in the tooth and was quite small. She was about 15 years old. I don’t think I’d recommend anybody wanting comfortable Aegean travel taking passage in a small Greek French-built submarine…Any case, we took passage in the Triton, which was very well commanded by an absolutely first-rate Greek naval officer [LT Epameinóndas Kontogiánnis], to Crete.

I remember my first sight of Greece was through the periscope of the Greek submarine on the northeast coast of Crete. We came in a bit closer to Heraklion– there was a westerly wind blowing…The submarine surfaced, we had our two or three rubber boats which we paddle in in. We thought we were going to be about a mile offshore, but it was actually about two miles, so we had a very long paddle in, indeed. We then landed– there was nobody on the beach, the beach was clear. Mouhot and I, we undressed and swam out with the rubber boats, loaded with shingle and rock, then we sank them.

After rough going inland and the “dis-imbalance” of an overload of equipment, they evaded a German patrol but nonetheless were able to reach the airfield and, in penetrating the wire outside of the field, were busted by another German patrol. Mouhot hit on the idea of rolling over and loudly snoring to give the impression they were drunken Cretan peasants, which the Jerries bought and moved on, allowing them to proceed with their havoc. Using an RAF air raid by a brace of Blenheim bombers as cover, Jellicoe and company placed their charges on a motor pool filled with 20 trucks as well as a staging area with 23 German Ju-88 bombers and then, as he says, “had the pleasure of marching out in what we thought was good German formation out of the main gate” back to their lay-up hide to wait for the devices to explode.

While not of the Crete operation, this artwork gives a good flavor of a similar operation in Egypt, depicting Robert Blair “Colonel Paddy” Mayne, SAS, shown placing a Lewes bomb on an aircraft in one of the desert airfields raids. The Lewes bomb was a blast-incendiary field expedient explosive device, manufactured by mixing diesel oil and Nobel 808 plastic explosive. Created by LT Jock Lewes, one of the original members of L Detachment SAS in 1941. Via Stirling’s Desert Triumph – The SAS Egyptian Airfield Raids 1942 by Osprey Publishing.

As for Jellico’s team, the Germans executed 62 local Cretans as a reprisal– despite the fact the British had taken pains to leave behind tell-tale objects such as helmets and food wrappers to take credit for the attacks. Betrayed by a local villager, the Germans ambushed the commando patrol, resulting in the death of 17-year-old Free French commando Pierre Léostic being killed, and the other three Frenchmen being arrested after trying to shoot their way out of a German sweep. Interrogated by Luftwaffe officers for a week at Heraklion, they would be sent to German POW camps as they were in uniform, with Bergé ending up at Colditz with David Stirling of all people. Meanwhile, Jellicoe and the Greek officer, Petrakis, escaped back to Egypt with the three other (intact) SAS commando patrols after being exfiltrated 10 days after the raid via a caique run by John Campbell and “Paddy” Leigh Fermor’s operation.

Endgame

Returning to the tale of Triton, sailing on her 15th war patrol, her 9th under British control, the boat was tasked with landing five Greek agents and 750 pounds of war material on the southeastern coast of Evia then, once free of her passengers and cargo, proceed to look for targets of opportunity. Spotted while stalking a German convoy at Kafireas on the evening of 16 November 1942 and attempting an attack on the 5,700-ton Romanian freighter Alba Julia, our submarine became locked in a six-hour/49 depth charge nighttime running battle with the German destroyer ZG3/Hermes (former Greek British G-class destroyer, Y/B Vassilefs Georgios) and the auxiliary subchaser (U-Jäger) UJ-2102 (converted ex-yacht Brigitta, owned by Evgenios Evgenidis) that ended with Triton dead in the water and slugging it out on the surface, Kontogiannis reportedly ordering his crew to abandon ship while he fired at the Germans from the fairwater with a revolver.

At least 20 of her crew and two Allied officers (LT. Andrew Carter, from the South African Naval Forces, and an RN LT Cole, likely as commo/liaison officers) were killed in the action, their bodies carried to the bottom after UJ-2102 rammed her.

Among the fallen:

Vice-Captain A. DANIOLOS
Vice-Captain K. ANNINOS
Ensign Eng. I. STARAKIS Kelefstis
Tor. P. BINDERIS Kelefstis
Mech. N. PAVLAKIS
Petty Officer Second Arm. A. KOUSOULAS
Petty Officer Second Fire. T. BAGIOS Under-
Secretary Second Elector S. SCHOINAS
Under-Secretary Second Elector P. PAPATHANASIOU
Under-Secretary Second Elector D. KAKANDRIS
Diopos Arm. H. BAKIRTZIS
Diopos Tor. N. MERETZIS
Diopos Tor. C. CHARITOS
Diopos Note. I. KYVELOS
Diopos Tel. B. PALOURIS
Diopos Mech. E. PATRIARCHEAS
Diopos Mech. A. TSITSAKOS
Sailor Electrician M. GEDEON
Sailor Electrician I. GEDEON
Sailor TH. MASTROGIANNIS

Two men, Nikolaos Maroulas (Chief electrician) and Dimitros Papadimitriou (electrician mate), escaped by swimming three miles to nearby Evia where they found refuge in the village of Thymiani, then to Allied lines in the Middle East.

The Germans captured at least 17 Greek submariners (some sources say 27, some 28), including Kontogiannis and LT Christos Soliotis, and sent them to the Marlag-Milag Nord, a site near Bremen that housed mainly British Merchant Navy and Royal Navy personnel.

Kontogiannis

They were liberated in late April 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division.

She is remembered by a seaside monument at Karystos.

Epilogue

Of Triton’s two Protefs -class sisters that escaped Greece, Nereus would finish the war with the Italian freighter Fiume (662 GRT) to her credit and was decommissioned on 3 May 1947.

Glavkos, credited with sinking two small vessels in 1941 and damaging the German merchant Norburg (2392 GRT) off Crete, was bombed, and sunk by German Ju-88s of II./KG77 in Malta on 4 April 1942.

Glavkos

As for the older Katsonis and Papanikolis, they would account for at least 15 small vessels including the shifty Spanish/German merchant San Isidro/Labrador (322 GRT) while under British control. Like Triton, they would also land assorted agents and commandos as needed. It was on one such mission that Katsonis was sighted by German submarine chaser UJ 2101 on 14 September 1943 and sent to the bottom, taking down 32 men with her while UJ 2101 rescued 14 survivors, including the British W/T operator. Papanikolis outlived her sister and was decommissioned post-VE Day.

Greek submarine Y1 Katsonis

All told, of the six Greek subs that started WWII in 1940, four would be lost in combat and of her small corps of ~300 prewar professional submariners, fully half would perish.

For those curious, George Patrick John Rushworth Jellicoe, 2nd Earl Jellicoe, Baron Jellicoe of Southampton, KBE, DSO, MC, PC, FRS, FRGS, FRSGS, ended the war as commander of the Special Boat Regiment and eventually hung up his uniform as a brigadier. He passed in 2007, aged 88, having served 68 years in Parliament and having an assault boat (“Jellicoe Inflatable Intruder Mark One”) named in his honor.

An informative book on the junior Jellicoe is Windmill’s “A British Achilles” with a foreword by Paddy Fermor no less, the officer who took him off the beach in Crete after the Heraklion operation.

In the Historical Museum of Crete, in the WWII section, there is a special tribute to the Heraklion airfield raid and the “62 martyrs” that followed the op. The portraits of those executed are displayed.

The Greek submarine force 1942-present

The British made up Greek losses after 1942 and by the end of the conflict, the Greek exile Navy consisted of no less than 26 warships and auxiliaries.

This would include seven submarines starting with the captured Italian submarine Perla, which was turned over to the Greeks in 1943 and renamed Y/B Matrozos (Υ-7). The new V-class boat HMS Veldt was transferred to the Greek Navy upon completion on 1 November 1943 and renamed Pipinos (P-71). Sistership HMS Vengeful would become Y/B Delfin in April 1945, while HMS Untiring would become Y/B Xifias and HMS Upstart would switch colors as Y/B Amfitriti in July 1945. Two further V-class boats, HMS Virulent and HMS Volatile, would become Y/B Argonaftis and Y/B Triaina in 1946.

Greek submarine RHS Pipinos at a quay WWII IWM FL17464

The six British boats would make up the post-war Greek submarine program, as shown by this 1946 Jane’s entry.

The current Greek submarine service badge emulates one of these late-war British boats.

Hellenic (Greek) Navy’s current submarine badge

Post-war, the Americans stepped in as the British boats were retroceded and transferred several Gato, Tench and Balao-class GUPPY’d diesel subs, including USS Hardhead (transferred to Greece as Papanikolis 26 July 1972; sold for scrap 1993), USS Jack (transferred to Greece as Amfitriti 21 April 1958; sunk as target 5 September 1967), USS Lapon (transferred to Greece as Poseidon 10 August 1957; retired April 1976), USS Scabbardfish (transferred to Greece as Triaina 26 February 1965; stricken 1980). and USS Remora (transferred to Greece as Katsonis on 29 October 1973; stricken 1993).

Protefs (S-78) (Greek Navy), ex USS Lapon (SS-260) in 1961

Hellenic Navy submarine Y/B Katsonis (S-115) in the Corinth Canal. She is the former Tench-class Guppy III updated USS Remora (SS-487)

In the late 1960s, Greece decided it had enough of the GUPPY life and ordered a series of new Type 209/1100 diesel boats from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) in West Germany. One of these advanced SSKs was named Y/B Triton (S112) and commissioned in 1972.

The current Triton is part of a four-boat class that includes Y/B Glaukos (S110), Nireus (S111), and Protefs (S113), all very familiar names indeed. In addition, the Greeks have purchased the three-boat Poseidon class (Type 209/1200), the one-off Y/B Okeanos (Type 209/1500AIP), and the four Papanikolis class (Type 214) from Germany as well, showing just how important Athens considers a strong submarine force.

And they know how to use them. 

Transport ex-Evros (A-415), sunk by SST-4 torpedo from the Hellenic Navy submarine Y/B Pipinos (S-121) off Karpathos island.

Triton’s WWII colors endure. They had been saved by Oberleutnant zu See (der Reserve) Gero Kleiner, the skipper of the subchaser that sank her. He had been presented with the wrecked banner by a German sailor snatched who them down before the submarine went to the bottom in 1942. Holding on to his trophy for 30 years, he handed it over to Greek naval representatives in a short service in 1972 at the Naval School of Murwik in Kiel when her Type 209 replacement was launched.

They are preserved in a Greek museum at Salamis.

Kleiner, aged 67 at the time, had to make do with just the DKiG he was decorated with for sinking Triton, handing over her flag in 1972 to Greek ADM Ioannis Maniatis with a simple “this belongs to you.” Notably, the Greeks were the first to order the Type 209, picking up four of the original 209/1100s followed by another four 209/1200s.


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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022: The Charging Frenchman of Casablanca

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Nov. 9, 2022: The Charging Frenchman of Casablanca

Above we see the French Duguay Trouin-class light cruiser Primauguet charging to her destruction against a much stronger American force outside of Casablanca during the Torch Landings, some 80 years ago this week. While the French Navy in WWII, and in particular the French Vichy forces, get kind of a backhanded bad wrap in English sources of the conflict as being milquetoast when it came to heroics, Primauguet is certainly the exception to that tired trope.

Lacking modern cruisers following the Great War and still saddled with far-flung colonies in the Pacific, Africa, the Americas, and the Indian Ocean, France began building several very similar classes of light cruisers for both commerce protection and “showing the flag.” Dusting off the circa 1912 La Motte-Picquet-class cruiser design that was never built, and blending it with lessons from the post-war American Omaha-class and British Emerald-class stiletto-hulled cruisers that did leave the drawing board, the French ordered the three Duguay-Trouin-class ships in 1922. The ships included Duguay-Trouin, Lamotte-Picquet and Primauguet.

Exceptionally light indeed, these 7,249-ton (standard) vessels on 604-foot-long hulls were lithe.

With a 1:10 beam-to-length ratio and a quartet of Parsons geared turbines driven by eight super-pressurized Guyot boilers, speed was their main defense. Designed with a top speed of 34.5 knots, which they could hit for an hour or so in testing. Primauguet herself logged 33.06 knots on a 6-hour speed trial in 1925, harvesting 116,849 shp while carrying a full load of fuel and stores. They also proved capable of steaming for a 24-hour period at 30 knots at half power. Meanwhile, they had comparatively short legs, only capable of 4,500nm of steaming at 15 knots.

Look at those hull lines. Here, Lamotte-Picquet seen in drydock.

When it came to armor, they had extraordinarily little but at least had 21 watertight compartments and were considered good seaboats. The smaller (557 foot, 6500t) training cruiser Jeanne d’Arc, laid down in 1928, used roughly the same hull form, a down-sized version of the Duguay-Trouin’s engineering suite which enabled 25 knots, and the same topside gun armament.

French Duguay-Trouin-class light cruiser Primauguet on 28 of Juli 1939. Note her twin forward 6-inch gun turrets, the gunnery clock on her tower, and the tropical dress of her crew

Their main armament was a full dozen 21.7-inch torpedo tubes in four triple mountings on deck amidships with 24 fish carried (12 loaded and 12 in the magazine). They also had two picket boats armed with 17.7-inch torpedoes as well. For anti-submarine defense, they carried depth charges.

Two single-engine floatplanes could be carried for the stern Penhoët-type air-powered catapult and it seemed the French used or evaluated at least a dozen distinct types of these across the mid-1920s through 1942 with mixed results. The country fielded no less than 50 assorted “Hydravion de reconnaissance” types in the first half of the 20th Century and I’ve seen or read of the Duguay-Trouin class with CAMS 37, Donnet-Denhaut, Loire 130 and 210, Gourdou-Leseurre GL-810/812/820 HY and GL-832, FBA 17 HL 2, Latecoere 298, and Potez 452 types aboard.

Visitors aboard the French light cruiser Lamotte-Picquet in East Asia. Note the tropical helmets on her crew and the single-engine flying boat (she carried a couple Potez 452 in 1936-39) on her catapult. The marching band is dressed in outlandish tropical grass skirts and seems to be leading a parade, which may be the start of a crossing-the-line ceremony.

Primary gun armament was eight new 155 mm/50 (6.1″) Model 1920 rapid-fire guns arranged in four very narrow twin mounts (2 bow, 2 aft) and space for 1,220 shells in their magazines. Capable of firing a 124.6-pound HE or AP shell to 28,000 yards, the designed rate of fire was six rounds per minute per gun although the practical rate of fire was about half that. Secondary batteries were just four 3-inch AAA guns and four machine guns.

Bow Turrets on Lamotte-Picquet. Note the director and large searchlight above it. ECPA(D) Photograph. Besides the Duguay Trouin class, the French only used the 6.1″/50 Model 1920 on the training cruiser Jeanne D ‘Arc and the carrier Bearn.

Jane’s 1931 listing on the class.

The Duguay Trouins proved the basis for French cruiser design throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.

As mentioned above, the type was shrunk down to create the training cruiser Jeanne D ‘Arc, and it was also upsized to make the first French heavy cruisers (croiseur de 1ere classe), the Duquesne and Tourville (10,000t std, 627 oal, 62 ft beam, 8×8″/50, 118,358.4 shp to make 34 knots). These Duquesne and Tourville used almost the same engineering suite (8 guyot boilers, 4 turbines, trunked through two funnels), the same thin bikini-style light armor plan that only covered gun magazines, deck, and the CT; arrangements for two scout planes on a single rear catapult, and the same 4×2 main gun arrangement for the main battery with torpedo tube clusters amidship. Then came the later heavy cruisers Suffern, Colbert, Foch, and Dupleix which were basically just the Duquesne class with slightly better armor arrangement in exchange for a lower speed.

A French Navy recruiting poster, featuring the country’s modern style of light and heavy cruisers. Beautiful, fast, modern, but very lightly armored.

Primauguet

Laid down at the Brest Arsenal on 16 August 1923, our cruiser was named after Hervé de Portzmoguer, a 15th-century pirate and privateer who was best known to history under the nom de guerre “Primauguet.”

A traditional French naval name, it had already been used by a brig and corvette in the early 19th century, a circa 1882 Laperouse-class protected cruiser, and a Great War fast troop transport.

Commissioned on April Fool’s Day 1927, she was immediately dispatched on a seven-month circumnavigation of the globe to show the flag, returning home at the end of the year.

Sent to the Indochina station in 1932, a common one for her class, she remained in East Asia until 1937 when she returned to metropolitan France.

Primauguet on a port visit to Douala, Cameroon, in February 1932 to mark the inauguration of the port

Crew picture onboard the French light cruiser Primauguet, Shanghaï, 1930s

Light cruiser Primauguet. Note what looks to be a CAMS 37 biplane floatplane

Primauguet 1930s Saigon

Primauguet 1930s Saigon

She was designed to span the seven seas and she did that.

War!

Once WWII broke out, based with the French Atlantic fleet out of Brest she sailed for a series of convoy protection missions and found herself protecting colonies and possessions in the West Indies in May 1940 when the Germans swept through the Low Countries. Once European Holland collapsed, Primauguet landed sailors and Marins in the Dutch Antilles to guard the Aruba oil fields for the Allies. Relieved by a British gunboat, she rushed to France just in time to participate in the evacuation of French forces from the mouth of the Gironde, one step ahead of the German advance, and took part of the Banque de France‘s gold reserves to Dakar in the French West African stronghold of Senegal, where she was when the French government capitulated.

Part of the Vichy-controlled fleet by default, she eventually made a sortie up the coast to Libreville where she was intended to operate with the cruisers Georges Leygues, Montcalm and Gloire against Free French forces only to have that operation fall apart once the British got involved and, by November 1941, was in Casablanca with Leygues, in desperate need of an overhaul.

She was still in reduced status when the Allies arrived in force off North Africa some 80 years ago this month for the Torch Landings.

Torch

The French got one heck of a shellacking from the combined Allied fleet, spearheaded by the U.S. Navy who brought the fleet carrier USS Ranger and four rapidly converted large oilers turned auxiliary carriers (Sangamon, Suwannee, Chenango, and Santee) along with three battleships (the old USS Texas and USS New York as well as the brand-new So Dak-class fast battlewagon USS Massachusetts). In the ~52-hour period between dawn on 8 November and noon on 10 November, the French Vichy fleet in North Africa, spread out between Casablanca, Oran, and Bizerte would lose:

The incomplete Richelieu-class battleship Jean Bart
The destroyers Albatros, Typhon, Epervier, Tramontane, Tornade, Milan, Frondeur, Fougueux, Boulonnais, and Brestois
The submarines Diane, Danae, Ariane, Oréade, Argonaute, Amphitrite, and Actéon
The minesweepers Surprise and Lilias
The submarine chasers V 88, P13, and Dubourdieu
The armed trawlers La Bonoise, L’Ajaccienne, La Setoise, La Toulonnaise, Sentinelle, and Chene
The tug Pigeon and Tourterelle
The cargo ships Spahi, Divona, Dahomey, Cambraisien, Ville du Havre, Saint Pierre, and Lipari
The ocean liners Savoie Marseille/Ile De Edienruder and Porthos
The tankers Saint Blaize and Ile D’Quessant

Oh yes, and Primauguet.

It wasn’t much of a fight, with the four operational carriers (Chenango carried Army P-40s on a ferry run), along with the serious spotter-plane corrected offshore gunline provided by 16-inch guns of USS Massachusetts and the eight-inch guns of the heavy cruisers USS Augusta, USS Wichita, and USS Tuscaloosa plastering the French vessels at their moorings or just as they tried to make to the sea. One of the latter was the subject of our warship Wednesday.

The U.S. Navy’s wartime ONI sheet on the Duguay Trouin class would describe their protection as “practically nil except for thin gun shields, splinter-proof conning tower, and double armored deck.” This, of course, was lifted word-for-word from previous Jane’s listings. They just weren’t made to take punishment, either in the form of 500-pound bombs, 8-inch shells, or 16-inch shells.

Even in her largely inoperable state, Primauguet was the largest French warship to get underway during the Allied invasion, and went out firing, although her short sortie ended in a literal blaze of glory.

Primauguet’s final charge

As detailed by RADM Samuel Cox’s H-013-3 Operation Torch— The Naval Battle of Casablanca H-Gram:

At 1000, as the French destroyers bobbed and weaved in the smoke screen, the French light cruiser Primauguet sortied, and the Massachusetts and Tuscaloosa closed in on the destroyer action and one of them finally hit a French destroyer, the Fougueux, which blew up and sank. About the same time, the El Hank shore battery hit Augusta with an 8-inch round that fortunately did little damage. Shortly afterward, Massachusetts was almost hit by multiple torpedoes from an unidentified French submarine, while Tuscaloosa narrowly avoided four torpedoes from the French submarine Medusa, and Brooklyn dodged five torpedoes from the French submarine Amazone at the same time she and three U.S. destroyers were engaging the Primauguet and the remaining five French destroyers. At 1008, Brooklyn was hit by a dud shell, but got payback at 1112, when she hit the French destroyer Boulannais with a full salvo, causing her to roll over and sink.

By 1100, Massachusetts had expended 60 percent of her 16-inch shells and began to conserve ammunition as a hedge in the event the French naval forces at Dakar, West Africa (including the battleship Richelieu) showed up unexpectedly. By this time, the French ships’ luck had begun to run out under the hail of U.S. fire. The light cruiser Primauguet had been hit multiple times by Augusta and Brooklyn, including three hits below the waterline and one 8-inch hit on her number 3 turret, and she made a run for the harbor. The destroyer leader Milan had been hit five times and also made for port. The destroyer Brestois was also hit by Augusta and U.S. destroyers; she made it into the harbor, only to be strafed by Ranger aircraft and sank at the pier at 2100.

At 1115, the three remaining French ships, destroyer leader Albatross, and destroyers Frondeur and L’Alcyon formed up to conduct a coordinated torpedo attack on the U.S. cruisers, but the attack was broken up by Tuscaloosa and Wichita, although Wichita was hit by a shell from El Hank and had to dodge three torpedoes from a French submarine. Frondeur was hit aft, limped into port, and was finished off by strafing. Albatros was hit twice by shells, then by two bombs from Ranger aircraft and was left dead-in-the-water. Of the seven French surface combatants that sortied, only L’Alcyon returned to port undamaged.

At 1245, the French navy vessel La Grandier (Morison called it an “aviso-colonial” whatever that is, but it was said to resemble a light cruiser from a distance) and two coastal minesweepers sortied from Casablanca. Their mission was actually to rescue French survivors from the morning engagement, but their movement was interpreted as a threat. Two French destroyers that had not been engaged in the morning, the Tempête and Simoun, milled about smartly around the breakwater trying to lure U.S. ships back into range for El Hank, for which the U.S. ships had gained a healthy respect by this time. AugustaBrooklyn, destroyers, and aircraft attacked the rescue ships, which managed to avoid being hit. In the meantime, a French tug came out and began to tow Albatros into port, but Ranger aircraft strafed, bombed, and forced Albatros to be beached. Ranger aircraft also repeatedly strafed the now grounded Milan and Primauguet. A direct bomb hit on Primauguet’s bridge killed the commanding officer, executive officer, and eight officers, and wounded Rear Admiral Gervais de Lafond.

Although the French had put up a spirited fight, and U.S. reports indicate admiration for their professionalism, the battle ended up very one-sided. The French scored one hit each on the MassachusettsAugustaBrooklynLudlow, and Murphy, none of which caused major damage and only the three deaths on Murphy. The French also destroyed about 40 landing boats, most as a result of strafing by French aircraft in the early morning. The French lost four destroyers sunk, and the battleship Jean Bart disabled, the light cruiser Primauguet heavily damaged, burned out, and aground, and two destroyer leaders damaged and aground. 

With a loss of about 90 of her reduced crew and twice as many wounded, Primauguet would burn all night. Her, wreck, along with the other Vichy French Navy and commercial ships in Casablanca harbor, would become well-documented by U.S. Naval forces in the coming days.

French light cruiser Primauguet beached off Casablanca, Morocco in November 1942. She had been badly damaged during the Battle of Casablanca on 8 November and is largely burned out forward. What appears to be shell damage is visible at her main deck line amidships, just aft of her second smokestack. In the left distance are the French destroyers Milan (partially visible at far left) and Albatros, both irreparably damaged and beached closer to shore. The latter is flying a large French flag from her foremast. 80-G-31607

French destroyer Milan (partially visible, right), destroyer Albatros (center), and light cruiser Primauguet (upper center) beached off Casablanca, Morocco on 11 November 1942. All had been badly damaged during the Battle of Casablanca on 8 November. Photographed from a USS Ranger (CV-4) plane. 80-G-32400

French Navy and commercial ships in Casablanca harbor, Morocco after the battle of 8 November 1942. The two damaged 1500-tonne destroyers at left wear identification codes T62 and T22 (capsized … she may be Frondeur). Another ship of that class is alongside the quay in the right center. Among the merchant ships present are Endome (left), Delaballe (center, inboard), and Wyoming (center, outboard). All wear neutrality markings. Outside the harbor are the beached light cruiser Primauguet (left center), destroyer Albatros and destroyer Milan (closest to the beach). 80-G-32407

Casablanca harbor, Morocco, and vicinity on 16 November 1942, eight days after the 8 November invasion and the naval battle there. Among the ships outside the harbor entrance are three U.S. Navy destroyers, a minesweeper, and (in the center) the torpedoed USS Electra (AK-21) with USS Cherokee (AT-66) off her bow. Closer to shore are three beached French warships (from right to left): light cruiser Primauguet, destroyer Albatros, and destroyer Milan. Inside the harbor, with sterns toward the outer breakwater, are eight U.S. Navy ships. They are (from left to right): two minesweepers, USS Terror (CM-4), USS Brooklyn (CL-40), USS Chenango (ACV-28) with a destroyer tied to her starboard side, USS Augusta CA-31), and a transport. 80-G-1003967

French destroyer Albatros beached off Casablanca, Morocco on 4 December 1942. Beyond her stern is the French light cruiser Primauguet. Both ships were badly damaged during the Battle of Casablanca, on 8 November 1942. Albatros’ third smokestack has been destroyed and Primaguet is largely burned out forward. Note the railroad line and signal in the foreground and shipping in the right distance, including at least two French commercial freighters and, partially visible at far right, what appears to be USS Electra (AK-21) lying very low in the water. She had been torpedoed by the German submarine U-173 on 15 November. 80-G-30649

French Cruiser Primauguet outside of Casablanca Harbor March 1943 Duguay-Trouin-Class LIFE J R Eyerman

French Cruiser Primauguet outside of Casablanca Harbor March 1943 Duguay-Trouin-Class LIFE J R Eyerman

French Map of Casablanca Harbor after the Battle, note Primauguet on the left outside of Casablanca Harbor from a post-war French Service Historique de la Marine about the Allied landings in North Africa.

Epilogue

Eventually, Primauguet’s above-water structures were salvaged in 1951 and scrapped post-war while her hull was allowed to silt over. A UXO operation in 2001-02, conducted by a joint Moroccan-French team, penetrated her magazines and removed over 1,600 intact 6-inch and 75mm shells along with 251 cases of assorted power charges.

Her sister Lamotte-Picquet, in Indochinese waters since 1935, fought the Japanese-allied Thai Navy to a standstill at the oft-forgotten 1941 clash at Ko Chang. Laid up in 1942 in Saigon, she was sunk by the Allies in early 1945.

Dugay-Trouin class light cruiser Lamotte-Picquet in the Saigon River, 31 January 1939 note GL-810 series floatplane

Class leader Duguay-Trouin, interned with the British in June 1940 in Alexandria, sat out the war until early 1943 when she was turned over to the Free French following the fall of the Vichy regime. Refitted by the Allies in time for the Dragoon Landings along the French Riveria in August 1944, she was ordered to Indochina after the war and participated in NGFS operations there against the Viet Minh insurgents until 1952.

French cruiser Duguay-Trouin 1946 Janes

Today, the museum ship USS Massachusetts carries the scars from two French shell hits received in the Battle of Casablanca. The first was a 7.9-inch shell from the El Hank shore battery that was fired at an estimated range of ~28,000 yards. The second was one of Primauguet’s 6-inchers.

As detailed by the Museum:

At 1057, BIG MAMIE received a hit on the starboard quarter at Frame 85. The shell ricocheted from the deck and burst over 20 mm Group 13. A small fire caused by the burst was brought immediately under control by the Damage Control Repair party. No personnel casualties were sustained as personnel at group 13 had previously been shifted to the unengaged side. This hit was fired from the French cruiser Primauguet.

The French Navy remembered the name of the old pirate and the vessels that carried it into battle via the Georges Leygues (F70 type)-class frigate Primauguet, which was in service from 1986 through 2019.

French guided missile destroyer, Primauguet (D 644), a member of the Georges Leygues class (Type F 70).

Perhaps they will bring the name back one day.


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Fleet Gas Problem

This great shot shows a Pennsylvania-class dreadnought– either USS Pennsylvania (Battleship No. 38) or Arizona (BB-39), to the left and a Tennessee-class battlewagon be it USS California (BB-44) or Tennessee (BB-43) moored in Elliot Bay during the Navy’s summer maneuvers, circa 1935. It is most likely that the ships are in Pennsylvania and California.

Notes: “These battleships are lying in Seattle’s harbor, in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, Washington State’s highest mountain peak. The United States battle fleet visits the North Pacific annually in the Summer, and ships can be seen in July and August in Washington ports, before and after maneuvers.” — typewritten on a note attached to verso. Washington State Digital Archives. Via Seattle Vintage

The Spring and Summer of 1935 saw Fleet Problem XVI, which lasted from 29 April through 10 June and saw the Navy use four carriers at sea for the first time. Operating across the “Pacific Triangle” between Hawaii, Puget Sound, and the Aleutian Islands, it saw 160 vessels and 450 aircraft taking part, the largest at-sea collection of warships since the British Grand Fleet in 1918.

As noted by DANFS:

The five phases of Fleet Problem XVI covered a vast area from the Aleutian Islands to Midway, the Territory of Hawaii, and the Eastern Pacific. Severe weather hampered the operations in Alaskan waters, but the problem demonstrated the value of Pearl Harbor as a base when the entire fleet with the exception of the large carriers was berthed therein. Patrol and marine planes took a major aerial role during landing exercises when combined forces launched a strategic offensive against the enemy.

During her first fleet problem Ranger joined Langley, Lexington, and Saratoga in the Main Body of the White Fleet. The slowness of sending patrols on 30 April enabled ‘Black’ submarine Bonita to close within 500 yards and fire six torpedoes at Ranger as she recovered planes, and for Barracuda to fire four torpedoes from 1,900 yards. Planes pursued the submarines and a dive bomber caught Bonita on the surface and made a pass before she submerged, but the ease with which the boats penetrated the screen boded poorly for the ships. A mass flight of patrol squadrons marred by casualties subsequently occurred from Pearl Harbor via French Frigate Shoals. The evaluators noted that the problem demonstrated the necessity of developing antisubmarine “material and methods”; the importance of training in joint landing operations; the lack of minesweepers capable of accompanying the fleet at higher speeds; and the slow speed of the auxiliaries.

Based in San Pedro, Pennsylvania participated in the exercise as part of the “White” force, as did California.

The problem also delivered a critical lesson when it came to any future high-tempo carrier war at sea: their constant need to be escorted by tankers for underway replenishment:

This shortcoming had first surfaced during Fleet Problem XV of 1935. While participating in this exercise, the USS Lexington (CV 2) became critically low on fuel after just five days of operations. During Fleet Problem XVI as well, conducted the following year, the Saratoga (CV 3) consumed copious amounts of fuel-as much as ten percent of her total capacity in a single day-when operating aircraft. The latter exercise, which involved extensive movements of the fleet from its bases on the West Coast to Midway Island and back, revealed in general that flight operations by carriers accompanying the fleet resulted in extremely high fuel consumption for the ships involved. In order to launch and recover aircraft, a carrier had to steam at relatively high speed and, necessarily, into the wind-thus usually on a course different from that of the main units of the fleet.

After recovering aircraft, she would need to maintain high speed again in order to catch up. Of course, steaming at high speeds used enormous amounts of fuel. At twenty-five knots, a carrier’s normal speed for operating aircraft in light winds or for trying to overtake the fleet, the fuel consumed by the Saratoga exceeded thirty tons per hour! At this rate, her steaming radius was only 4,421 nautical miles, much less than the 10,000 miles (at ten knots) specified by her designers. As a result of these problems, the General Board recommended that the fuel capacity of both the Lexington and the Saratoga be increased. It is likely that in the interim, someone in War Plans decided that the carriers would have to be refueled at sea.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022: The Loss of Trap Ship K

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Nov. 2, 2022: The Loss of Trap Ship K

Above we see a circa 1917 Willy Stöwer painting depicting a dashing German U-boat of the Kaiserliche Marine encountering the British Q-Ship Headley at sea, with the crew pretending to abandon ship to sucker the submarine in close enough to be pounded under the waves by hidden Vickers guns and 12-pounders. While the British extensively used Q-ships/Mystery Ships– heavily armed gunboats disguised as merchantmen– despite Stöwer’s propaganda piece, the Germans also had a few Qs of their own during the Great War, one of which is the subject of our piece this week.

Rather than “Q-ship,” a code name that referred to the British vessels’ nominal homeport in Queenstown, Ireland, the Germans used the term “U-Boot-Falle Schiff,” literally “Submarine Trap Ship” with each further described simply on naval lists and orders as a support/supply ship (Hilfsschiff). In stark contrast to the no less than 366 British Qs (of which 61 were lost in action while they only took down 14 U-boats for their sacrifice), the Germans only had eight trap ships and five of those were very small coasters and trawlers of under 1,000 tons.

As all were merchant vessels converted to decoys, the Admiralstab decided to keep the ships’ prewar names and simply designate their wartime service with a letter designation as Hilfsschiff A, B, C, well, you get the drift, with the letter typically drawn from the first of the vessel’s name. They often also had alter-identities that would include fake name boards, flags, and shifting profiles.

The Hateful Teutonic Eight:

  • SS Alexandra (Hilfsschiff A) (1909, 1615 t, 4-10,5 cm L/35 guns)
  • SS Belmonte (B, fake name Antje) (1914, 193 t, 2-105/35) three-masted schooner
  • SS Friedeburg (F, fake name Anna) (1912, 211 t, 2-10,5 cm L/35) three-masted schooner
  • SS Hermann (H) (1901, 5000 t, 4-10,5 cm L/35)
  • SS Kronprinz Wilhelm (K, fake named Gratia, then Marie) (1914, 2560 t, 4-10,5 cm L/35)
  • SS Oder (O) (1897, 648 t, 2-10,5 cm L/35)
  • SS Primula (P) (1904, 834 t, 2-10,5 cm L/35)
  • SS Triumph (T) (1907, 239 t, 2-88/27)

Belmonte, Hilfsschiff B, of the German Navy as a submarine trap around 1916 with her 4.1-inch gun

The Germans also had about 20 armed Vorpostenboot (outpost boats), small trawlers that often illegally flew a Dutch flag and served as something of an early warning picket and were sometimes used in sabotage actions such as cutting submarine cables and landing/extracting agents, but, while interesting, they are beyond the scope of what we are covering.

Here, a Vorpostenflottille heading out in 1917.

Of the eight trap ships, Kronprinz Wilhelm/Hilfsschiff K, was the most interesting and most successful, and, as she was sunk by British destroyers in the Kattegat some 105 years ago today (2 November 1917), she is our primary focus.

Meet Hilfsschiff K

Ordered for the Stettin Rigaer Dampfschiff Gesellschaft, a small Baltic passenger, and merchant shipping company that ran a regular route from Stettin to Riga from 1874 until 1937 when it merged with Gribel, Kronprinz Wilhelm was a small cargo steamer with a few passenger berths.

Constructed in 1914 by Stettiner Oderwerke (Yard No. 654), she was 252 feet long and powered by two boilers and a single engine that developed 1,500 hp, making her able to chug along at 14 knots.

SS Kronprinz Wilhelm of the Stettin-Riga line

SS Kronprinz Wilhelm of the Stettin-Riga line

Once the war shut down her cargo route (although the Germans would occupy Riga in 1917 and remain there in one form or another until almost a year after Versailles), Kronprinz Wilhelm was soon requisitioned by the German navy for further use.

One of the largest trap ships, she entered service on 12 November 1915 as Hilfsschiff K and was assigned to the I. Handels-Schutz-Flottille (1st Trade Protection Flotilla) in the Baltic. Her armament was a quartet of 4.1-inch SK L/35 guns recycled from the casemates of turn-of-the-century Kurfüst Friedrich Wilhelm-class pre-dreadnoughts. These were hidden behind fake bulkheads and under on-deck dummy crates.

Her profile was also changed with a second funnel.

The British also did the same thing, so it is likely that the tactic was borrowed after reports from U-boats of the Q ships, after all, Stower knew about it.

Q ship disguises, in this case, on the HMS Farnborough

Hilfsschiff K was tasked with quietly escorting small convoys to Sweden with her “SS Gratia” disguise intact and embarrassingly ran aground in Swedish waters in January 1916. When responding Swede destroyers found out she had four popguns aboard and reported as such to the press, her cover was blown. This led Hilfsschiff K to get a new skipper– Leutnant (der Reserve) Julius Lauterbach, late of a series of Far East escapades.

Herr Lauterbach

Prisenoffizier Lauterbach, des Kleinen Kreuzers SMS Emden

Lauterbach was a Hamburg-America Line officer who joined Admiral Graf Spee’s Squadron when the war broke out and went on to be assigned to the cruiser, SMS Emden. Serving as a prize officer with the famed raider, in November 1914 he assumed command of the seized Admiralty chartered British coaler SS Exford with 5,500 tons of fine Welsh coal aboard and when the planned meet-up to refuel Emden two weeks later fell through after the latter was sunk by the Australian Navy, surrendered his 16-man prize crew to the armed British merchant cruiser Empress of Japan. Imprisoned in Singapore, he escaped during a mutiny of Indian troops there (which some reports say he had a hand in) in February 1915 and made his way across Asia back home.

As he had largely only ever had experience with merchant ships, it made sense to put the hero Lauterbach in charge of Hilfsschiff K once she was repaired.

Back in the Baltic Again!

Sailing alternatively as the “SS Marie,” Hilfsschiff K went on to a string of successes. On 27 May, she rammed and severely damaged the Russian Bars-class submarine Gepard after he fell for the German trap ship, and three months later had a tangle with the managed to damage the British E-class submarine HMS E43 which was operating from the Russian Baltic ports.

The Imperial Russian submarine Gepard and cruiser Oleg in Reval, 1915. The former was damaged by a 4-inch shell and ramming from Hilfsschiff K in early 1916.

Hilfsschiff K was also credited (erroneously) with sinking HMS E18 the same summer after the British boat disappeared while on a patrol off the Estonian coast, but after E18‘s wreck was discovered off Hiiumaa, her hull busted by a mine, this was dispelled.

Regardless, Hilfsschiff K was by far the most successful German trap ship. However, if you live by the gun, you can also die by the gun.

Tasked with protecting German fishing vessels from British gunboats in the Kattegat cod grounds between Denmark and Sweden. There, on the late night of 2 November 1917, Hilfsschiff K met with the 15th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet and made battle with the shiny new destroyer leader HMS Parker (1916, 1700 t, 4-4.1 inch) under Captain Rafe G. Rowley-Conwy, together with the companion S and R-class destroyers Sorceress, Ready, Rigorous, Rocket, Rob Roy, and Trenchant, in a running engagement, complicated by rough weather, that stretched from around 9 p.m. to just before midnight.

At the end of the day, Hilfsschiff K and eight German trawlers (Frankfurt, Frisia, Emmy, Makrele, Julius Wieting, Seadler, Sonne, and Walter) were at the bottom while the British suffered only a few splinters and zero casualties. Of the trap ship’s 81-man crew, 28 were killed or missing while the British plucked 64 prisoners (some of them crewmembers from the lost trawlers) from the icy waters, taking them back to the UK for the duration of the war. Danish steamers, arriving at the site of the battle the next morning, pulled bodies, wreckage, and 17 additional German survivors– Lauterbach included– aboard.

Epilogue

Julius Lauterbach (später Lauterbach-Emden) would evade internment, return to Germany from Denmark, and go on to be promoted to Kapitänleutnant. Subsequently, he was given command of the raider SMS Mowe, although the war ended before he could ever try to break out with her.

He spent the last days of the Great War writing a sensationalized autobiography, “1000 Pds. Kopfpreis – tot oder lebendig” (£1000 Head Prize – Dead or Alive) which dealt principally with his time as the former prize officer of the famous SMS Emden, a ship that had much more name recognition than Hilfsschiff K. As part of that, he often toured around Weimar-era Germany on lecture tours about his experiences, often appearing in conjunction with Count Felix Graf von Luckner, “Der Seeteufel” of the commerce raider SMS Seeadler

Lauterbach passed in 1937 in Sonderborg, aged 59. From what I can tell, he never served in the interwar Reichsmarine or follow-on Kriegsmarine

In July 1920, the British Admiralty would grant HMS Parker and the rest of her flotilla a bounty for sinking the “Auxiliary Cruiser Kronprinz Wilhelm.”

The wreck of Kronprinz Wilhelm was discovered in 1999. Resting in just over 100 feet of water off Torekov, Sweden it has become a popular dive site, inhabited by large eels and cod. At least two of her 4.1-inch guns and “piles” of shells are reported intact.


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70 Years Ago: The Big Stick arrives on Battleship Row

USS Iowa (BB-61) underway in Pearl Harbor with an escort of harbor tugs, while en route to the U.S. at the end of her Korean War combat tour. The photograph is dated 28 October 1952. Middle tug is Anacot (YTB-253). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 44539

In the above, note that Iowa has lost her WWII seaplane catapults– her class used helicopters during their Korean tours-– as well as her 20mm Orelikons but still maintains her 40mm Bofors batteries.

The NHHC also has this great bow shot in their files from the same day.

USS Iowa (BB-61) Steaming into Pearl Harbor with rails manned, 28 October 1952, while en route to the U.S. following her first Korean War deployment. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 44538

As well as a direct overhead shot.

USS Iowa (BB-61) off Pearl Harbor, en route to the U.S. at the end of her Korean War combat tour. The photograph is dated 28 October 1952. Note the ship’s hull number (61) and U.S. Flag painted atop her forward turrets. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 44536

Iowa commissioned 22 February 1943 and earned nine battle stars for her World War II service. Post-war, she served as Fifth Fleet flagship and conducted a variety of sea training, drills, and maneuvers with the Fleet before she entered mothballs in 1949.

However, her slumber was short.

As detailed by DANFS: 

After Communist aggression in Korea necessitated an expansion of the active fleet, Iowa recommissioned 25 August 1951, Captain William R. Smedberg III in command. She operated off the West Coast until March 1952, when she sailed for the Far East. On 1 April 1952, Iowa became the flagship of Vice Admiral Robert T. Briscoe, Commander, 7th Fleet, and departed Yokosuka, Japan to support United Nations Forces in Korea. From 8 April to 16 October 1952, Iowa was involved in combat operations off the East Coast of Korea. Her primary mission was to aid ground troops, by bombarding enemy targets at Songjin, Hungnam, and Kojo, North Korea.

During this time, Admiral Briscoe was relieved as Commander, 7th Fleet. Vice Admiral J. J. Clark, the new commander, continued to use Iowa as his flagship until 17 October 1952. Iowa departed Yokosuka, Japan 19 October 1952 for overhaul at Norfolk and training operations in the Caribbean Sea.

A beautiful period Kodachrome of USS Iowa (BB-61) hurling a 16-inch shell toward a North Korean target, in mid-1952. Some 16,689 rounds were fired from her main and secondary batteries on enemy installations during her stint off Korea. Note her 40mm quad gun tubs. Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-K-13195 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command.

She added two Korean War battlestars to her tally, then spent the next five years in a series of Cold War operations in the Med– where she was Sixth Fleet flag– and throughout the North Atlantic region.

Iowa decommissioned 24 February 1958 for a second time, then entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Philadelphia, where she remained until a trip to Pascagoula for her second recommissioning in 1984– and I was a goofy ten-year-old in the stands at Ingalls West Bank that day, my heart bursting.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022: Limping into Exile

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Oct. 26, 2022: Limping into Exile

Original print with McCully report MSS.-AR branch. Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog #: NH 91178

Above we see Tsar Nicholas II’s once-mighty Russian Pacific fleet at anchor at Vladivostok, in September 1903. From left to right: the battleship Sevastopol, armored cruisers Gromoboi and Rossia, battleship Peresviet, protected cruiser Bogatyr, cruiser Boyarin, center; auxiliary cruiser Angara (three funnels, black hull); and battleships Poltava and Petropavlovsk. Of course, the following year would bring war with the Japanese Empire, and just about all the above would be swept away. 

Tracing its origins to the old Okhotsk flotilla of 1731, the Tsarist Pacific fleet would reach its zenith in 1904 and, just a decade later, was a shadow of its former self.

Here is the tale of how the Tsar’s final Pacific flotilla ended its days, 100 years ago this week.

1914-17

When Russia entered the Great War in August 1914, the renamed Siberian Military Flotilla included the smallish protected cruisers Askold (Krupp-built, 5,900 tons, 12×6-inch guns) and Zhemchug (3,100 tons, 8×4.7 inch), a mix of 22 old/small torpedo boat-sized destroyers, seven or eight early submarines, a couple of auxiliary cruisers (really just converted steamers), three minelayers, some random gunboats exemplified by the old Danish-built Mandzhur, and two new Taymyr-class icebreakers.

The flotilla was manned by some 6,000 officers and men, including shore establishments, magazines, and drydocks.

Russian protected cruiser Askold under repair in Toulon, Sept 1916

Russian Cruiser Zhemchug as part of the Siberian Flotilla

Russian Siberian Military Flotilla Ulysses Bay 1908 with the submarines Delfin, Kasatka, Skat, Nalim, Sheremetev, Osyotr, Kefal, Paltus, Bychok or Plotva, and destroyer Grozovoy

All-in-all, a respectable coastal defense force to protect its two key ports at Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk, both of which had a serious network of modern coastal artillery emplacements ashore. Further, this did not consider the 30 or so small shallow-draft gunboat flotillas on the Amur, Ussuri, and Sungari River systems coursing through the somewhat outlaw China and Korean border regions.

Its commander, since November 1913, was RADM Maximilian Fedorovich Schultz, one of the few Russian officers who came out of the 1904 War with a decent combat record as the skipper of the hard-fighting cruiser Gromoboi.

However, this force was soon whittled down as the war went on, with Zhemchug scandalously blasted away at her moorings at Penang by the German raider Emden in October and Askold sent into the Indian Ocean to search for Emden and then spending practically the rest of the war in the Mediterranean Sea.

Once the Ottoman Turks entered the war and closed off Russia’s Black Sea ports to British and French war material in late 1914, coupled with the destruction of the German East Asia Squadron under Admiral Maximilian von Spee leaving the Pacific largely safe, Russia’s far Northern ports at Archangel and Romanov-on-Murman (today’s Murmansk) would become strategically important to the War effort. This saw a lot of the Siberian Flotilla siphoned off to become part of the new Arctic Flotilla/Northern Fleet in the freezing White Sea under Rear Admiral Ogrimov.

Askold would eventually end up in Archangel, as would the six best torpedo boats from Vladivostok and the submarine Delfin— the latter sent across the Trans-Siberian railroad and then barged up the Dvina River, a trek of over 8,000 miles. The minelayer Ussuri, along with the shiny new icebreakers Taymyr and Vaygach, would likewise be sent to the White Sea in 1915, largely by the Northern Route.

The twin icebreakers Taymyr and Vaigach coaling from a freighter at Emma Harbor, 1913. Part of the Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition under CDR (later ADM) Aleksandr Kolchak that helped chart the Northern Sea Route over Siberia and discovered what is now Severnaya Zemlya, they were assigned to the Pacific pre-war but would end up in the White Sea by 1915.

The Japanese, now Russian allies on paper at least, also retroceded (for a token fee) some wrecked old Tsarist warships captured during the 1904-05 War that they had rebuilt on a budget: the Petropavlovsk-class battleship Chesma (ex-Poltava), the battleship Peresvet (reclassified as an armored cruiser as she had been equipped with smaller caliber British Armstrong guns by the Japanese), the cruiser Varyag, and the auxiliary cruiser Angara.

Transferred by the Japanese at Vladivostok in March/April 1916, the first three were soon dispatched to the Med (where Peresvet was promptly sunk by a German mine off Port Said) within weeks and two would end up in Archangel by 1917. 

Chesma photographed at Vladivostok in 1916, after being repatriated by Japan to Russia. This ship served as The Japanese Tango after being salvaged at Port Arthur after The Russo-Japanese War; previously she was The Russian Poltava. NH 94326

Chesma, foreground, and Varyag, background, photographed at Vladivostok after being retroceded by Japan in March 1916. NH 94355

Peresvet photographed at Vladivostok in 1916 after being retroceded by Japan to Russia. This ship was sunk at Port Arthur in 1904 and served the Japanese Navy as the Sagami from 1905 to March 1916. Peresvet was mined and sunk on 4 January 1917 near Port Said, Egypt. NH 94791

Staffing these three large ships significantly drained the flotilla of manpower, leaving several ships laid up afterward.

Angara, in poor material condition, never left Vladivostok and served as a barracks and depot ship there.

Pechenga, a Russian depot ship probably photographed at Vladivostok during World War I. This ship was built in 1898 in Scotland as Moskva for the Russian Volunteer Fleet Association; was renamed Angara in late 1903 for naval service and sunk at Port Arthur. She was raised by Japan and renamed Anegawa Maru then served as a transport until and ceded back to Russia in 1916. Scuttled in 1922, she was later raised and scrapped by the Soviets. NH 92087

Further transfers of the rest of its submarines to the Black and Baltic Sea via rail, and the paying off of three worn-out torpedo boats/destroyers (Besposhtchadny, Boiki, and Grozny) in 1916 would leave the Siberian Military Flotilla in 1917 without any battleships, submarines, or cruisers and precious few escorts. Its two most powerful ships being its auxiliary cruisers. 

Orel (“Eagle”), a German F. Schichau-built fast passenger steamer with accommodations for 390 passengers built originally for the Russian Volunteer Fleet, was the Siberian Military Flotilla’s most fearsome warship after October 1914 and would remain so until she sailed away in January 1920. Mounting eight deck guns ranging from 47mm to 120mm along with a few machine guns and capable of maintaining 16 knots, she was classed as an auxiliary cruiser by the Russians. During the Great War, she looked for the German raider Emden, landed her naval infantry at Singapore to suppress a rebellion of Sepoys, and patroled from Hawaii to Bombay. She was sold after the Russian Civil War to an English shipping firm and, as the SS Silvia and later SS Haitian, would survive in merchant service until 1950. Image from Yu.N.Trifonov, A.E.Volkov’s “Marine collection” 2007/06.

Orel and her sisterships, the passenger steamers Poltava, Simbirsk, Pensa, and Rjasan, from the 1910 Engineering magazine

Revolution

By the time of the March Revolution that overthrew the Tsar in far-away Petrograd, the Siberian flotilla would number only about a dozen semi-active torpedo boats/destroyers, the auxiliary cruisers Lieutenant Dydymov and Orel, the 700-ton gunboat Adm. Zavoyko, the gunboat Mandzhur, and the 2,500-ton minelayer Mongugay.

On 29 November 1917, Adm. Zavoyko raised a red flag on her masts while in Golden Horn Bay, the first such vessel in the Pacific to do so, and the rest of the fleet went over to the Bolsheviks, becoming the Red Siberian Flotilla on 12 December 1917– with most ships’ officers and senior NCOs released from duty.

RADM Schultz, after a term in the brig guarded by red-arm banded sailors, was retired. He returned to his sister’s home near Luga, outside of Petrograd, and was later arrested in late September or early October 1919 and shot by the Bolsheviks, his body was never found.

Intervention and Civil War

Meanwhile, with stockpiles of allied war aid crowding the docks of Vladivostok, American (cruiser USS Brooklyn), British (cruiser HMS Suffolk) and Japanese (battleships Iwami and Asahi) warships were in the harbor by January 1918 and had sent marines ashore to protect their consulate.

Bundled up U.S. Marines landed from USS Brooklyn (CA-3) at Vladivostok, Siberia, in 1918-19. 111-SC-76186

This soon expanded to a mandate to support the withdrawal of the newly formed Czech Legion, recruited from Austrian POWs held in Russian camps, and whole divisions of ground troops came ashore over the summer with the Japanese eventually landing 72,000 troops under the command of Gen. Kikuzo Otani. By comparison, the smaller American Expeditionary Force, Siberia, of Maj. Gen. William S. Graves only amounted to about 8,000 soldiers. The latter was supported by a U. S. Navy task force under RADM William L. Rodgers. Similar forces were landed by the Canadians (4,400) and British (6,700, mostly Indian, troops).

American sailors equipped with Remington-made Mosin rifles and helmets in Vladivostok, Russia, 1918. 111-SC-50100

U.S. Soldiers in Vladivostok, Aug. 1918, a mission that would span four years

Russian Intervention, 1918-20. Hospital Car operated by the American Expeditionary Forces at Khabarovsk, north of Vladivostok. American Red Cross Collection. The war in Siberia was one of railways and ports. Photograph received November 11, 1919. National Archives.

With the change in Eastern Siberia’s political polarity in June 1918, the anti-Bolshevik White Russians under then-Admiral Kolchak, with the interventionists as muscle, took control of the Siberian Military Flotilla. The Japanese duly impounded the destroyers Tochnyy, Tvordyy, Smelyy, and Skoryy along with most of the gunboats of the Amur River flotillas, and never gave them back.

Russian destroyer Skoryy, seen at Port Arthur in 1903. The 258-ton Sokol-class destroyer was assembled at Port Arthur from a Nevsky-supplied kit and, escaping the fall of the fortress in 1905, was eventually taken over by the Japanese in June 1918 who kept her in operation for four years, scuttling the vessel in October 1922 along with the other destroyers the Japanese had taken up.

Bereft of lower ratings, who had either signed up with the Reds or deserted, the Flotilla was sidelined through most of the Russian Civil War. During this period, its leadership shifted between Rear Admirals Sergei Nikolaevich Timirev and Mikhail Andreevich Berens. Efforts to train new officers and crews from local recruits were begun but, as it would turn out, were short-lived.

Once Kolchak was betrayed and executed at the end of 1919 and it looked like the Reds were going to win, a great flight from Vladivostok led to the departure of a convoy led by Orel (with RADM Berens aboard), the transport Yakut, and a group auxiliary ships manned by midshipmen of the local Naval School and refugees from Vladivostok to Japanese-held Tsingtao in January 1920, with Orel proceeding ultimately to Sevastopol where they would join the White Russian forces there.

Two Siberian Flotilla units probably photographed off Vladivostok. Transport Yakut was a former British Steamship, purchased in 1892. A Nevski-built, Yarrow-Type Destroyer appears at left. NH 94289

In their wake, Berens (or the Japanese) had scuttled the destroyers Trevozhnyy, Inzhener-mekhanik Anastasov, and Leytenant Maleyev.

Destroyer Inzhener-mekhanik Anastasov in Vladivostok. She had been scuttled in 1920.

Their supply lines running short and the Japanese still in control of the region as far inland as the eastern shores of Lake Baikal, the Reds stopped just short of overrunning the maritime region and Vladivostok languished as the principal port of a rump state– the Far Eastern Republic– under the protectorship of the Allied interventionists and with the tacit agreement of Moscow.

This thing. The population, just 1.7 million-ish, half of it Chinese/Mongol, was sparse but the mineral riches were heavy

It should be noted that the FER kind of wanted to just break away from the whole Russia thing and go its own way, much like the Baltics, Caucuses, Ukraine, Finland, and Poland had done already. Their much-divided 400-member representative Constituent Assembly consisted of about a quarter Bolsheviks with sprinklings of every other political group in Russia including Left and Right Social Revolutionaries, Kadets (which had long ago grown scarce in Russia proper), Mensheviks, Socialists, outright Monarchists, and Anarchists. This produced a weak and divided buffer state between Soviet Russia and Imperial Japan and Moscow, fighting Poland in the West and against Wrangel’s White Russian forces in Ukraine at the time, had bigger fish to fry.

The thing is, Washington and London tired of their Russia expenditures once it became clear regime change wasn’t going to be a thing and, with the withdrawal of the British, the Czech Legion, and AEF-Siberia by April Fool’s Day 1920, it became an outright Japanese puppet, safe and snug behind a cordon sanitaire of the Emperor’s bayonets.

Enter RADM Georgy Karlovich Stark

The descendant of a Scottish family of the Clan Donnachaidh that moved to Russia back during the days of Peter the Great, Stark was a career naval officer born in 1878. Graduating from the naval cadet school in 1898, he was well-placed as his great uncle was Admiral Oskar Viktorovich Stark, the commander of the Russian Pacific Fleet at the beginning of the 1904 war. The younger Stark spent his career in destroyers, ultimately going on to command the 5th and 12th destroyer divisions against the Germans in the Baltic in 1916 and, after the March Revolution, was promoted to become the rear admiral in charge of the Baltic Fleet’s mine forces– the most effective unit of that fleet.

Cashiered once the Bolsheviks came into power, Stark made his way east and fell in with Kolchak by June 1918, ultimately leading an infantry division of all things in combat along the Trans-Siberian. Narrowly escaping the White collapse along the shores of Lake Baikal and crippled by typhus, he was in a Vladivostok convalescence bed when Berens pulled stumps with the flower of the Siberian Flotilla’s officer corps.

Under the squishy politics of the FER, the flotilla was rechristened the republic’s “People’s Revolutionary Fleet” but, following a pro-White coup under Gen. Mikhail Diterikhs and others in Vladivostok in May 1921, became the Siberian Military Flotilla once again– using the old St. Andrew’s naval flag– under the new Provisional Priamur Government, with a recovered Stark in command. Reforms and rebuilding efforts by Stark (who also pitched in with running the government) put some of the fleet’s destroyers and gunboats back in service and they were used to support a variety of amphibious landings along the coastline to fight Red partisans throughout the summer periods of 1921 and 1922.

The gunboat Adm. Zavoyko, away on a mission when the coup went down, rather than sail for Vladivostok and join the Whites, instead made for Shanghai. There, according to legend, she successfully fended off several plots from foreign actors, Whites, monarchists, and the like to take over the vessel.

Then, starting in June 1922, the Japanese began to slowly withdraw from the Priamur enclave with the final troops sailing away in early October. Diterikhs tried to go on the offensive near Khabarovsk to scare the Reds off, but they were driven back. On 9 October, the Reds occupied Spassk and began moving into South Primorye, then, by 19 October, were on the outskirts of Vladivostok.

This left Stark tasked with a maritime evacuation of the last die-hard White Russians, bereft of international support, using what remained of the flotilla. A genuine spit-and-bubble gum effort. Scuttling the already disarmed destroyers-turned-minesweepers Serdityy and Statnyy, as well as the Pechenga (old Angara) after stripping them of everything useful, he was able to scrape together a handful of vessels that could make the open ocean.

Serdityy, Russian destroyer, photographed at Vladivostok in 1916. Note that the ship’s guns have been removed, probably for service as a minesweeper. This ship originally was ordered as Bekas but was renamed on 26 December 1899 (old style calendar). Note the floating dock in the left background. NH 92392

Stark’s force included the auxiliary cruiser Lieutenant Dydymov, the gunboats Mandzhur, Farvater, Strela, Strazh, and Porazhayushchiy; the minelayer Mongugai, the tug Baykal, dispatch boat Ayaks, and the freighters Diomed, Zapal, Patrokl, Svir, Uliss, Il’ya Muromets, Batareya, and Parizh. Joined by a dozen miscellaneous civilian vessels– including fishing trawlers and construction barges– under a tri-color Russian flag at Posyet Bay, Stark’s little fleet numbered 28 ships all told by 28 October, filled with over 10,000 refugees.

Korea and China

Sailing 370 miles for Genzan (Wonson) in what is now North Korea, they arrived on Halloween 1922 and remained there for three weeks as other White Russian vessels swelled Stark’s exile fleet to over 40 ships. Ordered to leave by the Japanese who were not anxious to support a Russian exile community in the Hermit Kingdom, Stark consolidated his ships, shedding the crippled vessels along the way (Dydymov was tragically lost in a storm while the dispatch boat Ayaks was later lost off Formosa) and stopped briefly at Fuzan (Busan) before arriving at Shanghai with just 15 ships. He was joined there by the White Russian gunboat Magnit, which had left Petropavlovsk with 200 Siberian Cossacks aboard.

Soon, the gunboats Farvater, Strela, Strazh, and Porazhayushchiy were disarmed and sold to a French concern in Shanghai in exchange for enough credit to buy 1,500 tons of coal for the ships that were left.

Meanwhile, (acting) RADM (formerly Capt. 2nd rank) Vasily Viktorovich Bezuar remained at Genzan with 11 broken ships that he would liquidate, arriving in Shanghai before the year was out.

In a state of the surreal, the exiled anti-White gunboat Adm. Zavoyko was still in Shanghai at the time, and only sailed back home to the now-all-Soviet Vladivostok in March 1923 (after Stark’s fleet left) where she became a unit of the Red Banner Fleet– the only one in the Pacific until 1932.

ADMIRAL ZAVOYKO 1921

ADMIRAL ZAVOYKO 1921

It was in Shanghai that Red Navy Capt. Vladimir Alexandrovich Belli– like Stark from a Scottish family that had been in Russia since the 1700s– was sent by Moscow to talk with Stark. He brought the White admiral a photo and letter from his family in Petrograd and offered a general amnesty on behalf of the Central Committee in exchange for the return of the flotilla. Stark refused and, according to some reports, Belli didn’t blame him. Nonetheless, some of the refugees had second thoughts about their new lives abroad and returned to Russia with the Red officer.

With most of the sad little fleet’s refugees leaving the ships to cast their lot ashore with the thousands of White Russian exiles in Manchuria and China, by January 1923 it had been decided that the remaining ships which could still steam would head as a force to Manila, where– with the diplomatic support of fellow White RADM Boris Petrovich Dudorov who was serving as naval attaché in Tokyo from 1918 to 1922 and Washington after 1923 for the exile government as the Japanese did not recognize the Moscow government– they would be given a literal safe harbor.

Much like the welcome the Tsar’s battered fleet received in 1905 and the exiled South Vietnamese Navy would receive in 1975 following the fall of Saigon, the Philippines became home to Stark’s Whites.

The Last Leg

On 20 January, ten of Stark’s vessels carrying 720 odd White Russian naval officers and sailors, along with 175 of their wives and children, appeared in the Lingayen Gulf. They would be escorted into Cavite by the U.S. Navy, where their ships would be swept for weapons, the breechblocks of their guns removed, and a (guarded) camp established at Olongapo ashore.

Governor General Leonard Wood went on to secure $5K from the American Relief Administration for Russia and a matching $5K from the American Red Cross while pushing the local government to allow some of the smaller Russian ships to engage in inter-island trade. On 23 March 1923, in agreement with the U.S. Navy, Stark ordered the St. Andrews Cross lowered on his ships, replaced by the Stars & Stripes alone.

In April, President Harding authorized the emigration of 500 Russian refugees from Stark’s ships to the U.S.– provided they could pay their own way on an Army-provided transport and be granted visas– while many of the balance would go on to take jobs in Mindanao.

On 24 May 1923, some 529 Russians, mostly former naval personnel and their families, were taken on the 3,000-ton U.S. Army Transport Merritt and, subject to military justice with Stark’s blessing, would sail for San Francisco in a transit paid for by Stark’s remaining funds. The fees for the necessary visas, likewise, had been paid for out of the fleet’s strongbox.

The USAT Merritt. Built in China in 1912 for the U.S. Army Quartermaster Department, she would ply the Philippines and run a shuttle service to Hawaii and California for 20 years. Sold on the commercial market as SS Bisayas, she was lost in 1942 to the Japanese who raised her and put her back in service as the Hishigata Maru until the USAAF sent her to the bottom for a final time in 1945.

As for the last of Stark’s ships, they were left to sway at their moorings in Cavite with 75 volunteers to keep them afloat until they could be sold or disposed of.

While many of the principal European countries soon reestablished relations with Soviet Russia– Great Britain concluded a trade agreement with the Soviet regime in 1921 and accorded recognition in 1924 while Germany re-established diplomatic relations in 1922 and concluded a comprehensive commercial treaty in 1925– U.S. relations with Moscow gently warmed until the Soviet Union was recognized in 1933. However, a Soviet delegation was allowed to visit Cavite in 1925 to inspect Stark’s remaining unsold ships, and, with one curious exception, they elected to sell them for scrap “as-is, where-is.” Of these, one, the gunboat Mandzhur was purchased by Amagasaki Kisen, refurbished, and placed into service as Kimigayo Maru No.2.

Russian auxiliary cruiser/gunboat Mandzhur (Manchu, Manjur,) built in Denmark in 1886

Kimigayo Maru No.2, formerly the White Russian gunboat Mandzhur, was placed in regular two-day rice and barley runs between Osaka and Jeju Island from 1926 through 1941. Taken up from service by the Japanese Navy, she was lost in the June 1, 1945, B-29 bomber raid on Osaka.

The only ship of Stark’s that went back to Vladivostok was the 2,500-ton minelayer Mongugay.

Built in 1896 in Germany as a commercial steamer Pronto, Mongugay had been bought by the Russian Navy in 1904 for service during the war with Japan. Able to carry 310 mines and armed with a mixed battery of 75mm and 47mm guns, she served the Tsar, then the Reds, then the Whites and Stark until abandoned in Cavite. Reclaimed by the Reds in March 1925, she was made ready to sail and arrived back at Vladivostok on 12 April.

Used by Sovtorgflot as a tramp steamer of sorts into 1933, Mongugay was subsequently handed back over to the newly formed Soviet Red Banner Pacific Fleet and used as a receiving ship until 1951 when she was finally scrapped.

As for Stark, the unsinkable admiral would wander around Asia and Europe for a bit before settling with the large Russian exile community in Paris, where he would work as a taxi driver while serving as the chair of the “All-Foreign Association of Russian Naval Officers.” During the occupation of Paris by the Germans, he refused to cooperate with the German authorities and instead was involved with the Resistance.

Passing in 1949, aged 71, Stark was buried in the Russian cemetery at Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois.

Stark’s second in command, the young Bezuar, would go on to serve as a merchant ship captain in Philippine and Chinese waters during the interwar period and was killed in December 1941 when the Japanese sank his ship. Speaking of which, many of the White Russian exiles that settled in Mindanao would go on to join and support anti-Japanese resistance forces in the islands during WWII occupation.

Belli, the Red officer of Scottish ancestry who offered Stark and company amnesty in Shanghai in 1923, went on to spend 10 years as a guest in Stalin’s gulag during the Purges, then, during WWII, returned to service and eventually retired in 1951 as a rear admiral teaching international naval law at the Voroshilov Naval Academy. He outlived just about everyone else involved in this story and died in Leningrad in 1981, still officially a member of the Frunze Academy’s board at age 93.


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Cordon on Steel at 60

No less than 102 assorted American “greyhounds”– destroyers, destroyer escorts, destroyer radar picket ships, guided missile destroyers, destroyer leaders, and destroyer group leaders– received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for participating as part of the extended Naval Quarantine task force in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, with the period extending from 24 October to 31 December.

In other words, a period starting some 60 years ago this week.

Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962 The Lebanese freighter MARUCLA is boarded by a party from the USS JOSEPH P. KENNEDY JR. (DD-850), on 26 October 1962. The MARUCLA is an old “liberty” USN 711187

Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 USS MULLINIX (DD-944) and the Venezuelan destroyer ZULIA (D-21) leave the US Naval Station Trinidad, on the first mission of the joint US-Latin American quarantine task force on 12 November 1962. MULLINIX is the force flagship. USN 1063363

Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962 Soviet freighter VOLGOLES carrying missiles away from Cuba on 9 November 1962. USS VESOLE (DDR-878) is alongside. The wingtip of the photo plane, an SP-2 Neptune is also visible. USN 711204

The oldest of the lot was the soon-to-be-disposed-of Fletcher-class destroyer USS Saufley (DD/DDE/EDDE-465), which was laid down in January 1942– and earned 16 battle stars during World War II, making her one of the most decorated ships of World War II– while the newest included the Charles F. Adams-class guided-missile destroyer USS Sellers (DDG-11) which had only just finished her post-shakedown yard period a couple of months prior to the Crisis and would still have 28 years of service ahead of her.

Abbot (DD 629), 11 – 22 Nov 62.

Allan M. Sumner (DD 692), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Bache (DD 470), 25 Oct – 5 Nov 62.

Barry (DD 933), 24 Oct – 1 Nov 62.

Barton (DD 722), 24 Oct – 30 Nov 62.

Basilone (DD 824), 24 Oct – 18 Nov 62.

Beale (DD 471), 25 Oct – 5 Nov 62.

Bearss (DD 654), 4 – 16 Nov 62.

Beatty (DD 756), 16 – 24 Nov 62.

Biddle (DDG 5), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Bigelow (DD 942), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Blandy (DD 943), 24 Oct – 1 Nov 62.

Bordelon (DD 881), 24 Oct – 22 Nov 62; 3 – 21 Dec 62.

Borie (DD 704), 24 Oct – 1 Dec 62.

Bristol (DD 857), 4 Nov – 3 Dec 62.

Brough (DE 148), 25 Oct – 1 Dec 62.

Brownson (DD 868), 28 Oct – 18 Nov 62.

Calcaterra (DER 390), 31 Oct – 14 Nov 62.

Charles F. Adams (DDG 2), 24 Oct – 30 Nov 62.

Charles H. Roan (DD 853), 27 Oct – 24 Nov 62.

Charles P. Cecil (DDR 835), 29 Oct – 6 Dec 62.

Charles R. Ware (DD 865), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Charles S. Sperry (DD 697), 24 Oct – 1 Nov 62.

Claud Jones (DE 1033), 24 Oct – 22 Nov 62.

Conway (DD 507), 25 Oct – 5 Nov 62.

Cony (DD 508), 25 Oct – 5 Nov 62.

Corry (DDR 817), 24 Oct – 12 Nov 62; 18 – 21 Nov 62.

Dahlgren (DLG 12), 27 Oct – 11 Nov 62.

Damato (DD 871), 24 Oct – 4 Nov 62.

Davis (DD 937), 13 – 24 Nov 62.

Decatur (DD 936), 4 Nov – 7 Dec 62.

Dewey (DLG 14), 24 Oct – 12 Nov 62.

Dupont (DD 941), 26 Oct – 22 Nov 62.

Dyess (DDR 880), 3 – 23 Dec 62.

Eaton (DD 510), 25 Oct – 5 Nov 62.

English (DD 696), 24 Oct – 24 Nov 62.

Eugene A. Greene (DD 711), 24 Oct – 20 Nov 62.

Fiske (DDR 842), 24 Oct – 1 Dec 62.

Forrest B. Royal (DD 872), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Furse (DD 882), 24 Oct – 22 Nov 62.

Gainard (DD 706), 18-20 Nov 62.

Gearing (DD 710), 24 – 30 Oct 62.

Hank (DD 702), 24 Oct – 26 Nov 62.

Harlan R. Dickson (DD 708), 4 Nov – 5 Dec 62.

Harwood (DD 861), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Hawkins (DDR 873), 24 Oct – 1 Dec 62.

Haynsworth (DD 700), 24 Oct – 14 Nov 62

Henley (DD 762), 27 Oct – 22 Nov 62.

Hissem (DER 400), 24 Oct – 5 Nov 62.

Holder (DD 819), 1 – 18 Nov 62.

Hugh Purvis (DD 709), 28 Oct – 18 Nov 62.

Ingraham (DD 694), 6-10 Nov 62.

John King (DDG 3), 7 Nov – 6 Dec 62.

John Paul Jones (DD 932), 4 Nov – 5 Dec 62.

John R. Perry (DE 1034), 24 Oct – 22 Nov 62.

John R. Pierce (DD 753), 24 Oct – 2 Dec 62.

Johnston (DD 821), 10-31 Dec 62.

John W. Weeks (DD 701), 24 Oct – 14 Nov 62.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr (DD 850), 24 Oct – 5 Dec 62.

Keppler (DD 765), 24 Oct – 1 Nov 62.

Kretchmer (DER 329), 27 Nov – 20 Dec 62.

Lawrence (DDG 4), 24 Oct – 6 Dec 62.

Leary (DDR 879), 24 Oct – 22 Nov 62.

Lowry (DD 770), 24 Oct – 8 Nov 62; 17-30 Nov 62.

Mac Donough (DLG 😎, 24 Oct – 20 Nov 62.

Maloy (DE 791), 6-29 Nov 62.

Manley (DD 940), 24 Oct – 24 Nov 62.

Mc Caffery (DD 860), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Mills (DER 383), 24 – 31 Oct 62.

Mullinnix (DD 944), 24 Oct – 6 Dec 62.

Murray (DD 576), 25 Oct – 5 Nov 62.

New (DD 818), 2-19 Nov 62.

Newman K. Perry (DDR 883), 24 Oct – 22 Nov 62; 3-21 Dec 62.

Norfolk (DL 1), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Norris (DD 859), 4 Nov – 5 Dec 62.

O’Hare (DDR 889), 24 Oct – 3 Dec 62.

Peterson (DE 152), 25 Oct – 1 Dec 62.

Purdy (DD 734), 17 – 24 Nov 62.

Rhodes (DER 384), 24 Oct – 26 Nov 62; 21 – 31 Dec 62.

Rich (DD 820), 2 – 18 Nov 62.

Richard E. Kraus (DD 849), 29 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Robert A. Owens (DD 827), 27 Oct – 20 Nov 62.

Robert L. Wilson (DD 847), 24 Oct – 3 Nov 62.

Roy O. Hale (DER 336), 14-16 Nov 62.

Rush (DDR 714), 24 Oct – 1 Dec 62.

Samuel B. Roberts (DD 823), 24 Oct – 3 Nov 62.

Saufley (DD 465), 24 Oct – 22 Nov 62.

Sellers (DDG 11), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

Soley (DD 707), 24 Oct – 2 Dec 62.

Steinaker (DDR 863), 24 Oct – 14 Nov 62; 20-22 Nov 62.

Stickell (DDR 888), 24 Oct – 6 Dec 62.

The Sullivans (DD 537), 17 Nov – 17 Dec 62.

Thomas J. Gary (DER 326), 15-27 Nov 62.

Vesole (DDR 878), 24 Oct – 22 Nov 62; 3 – 21 Dec 62.

Wallace L. Lind (DD 703), 24 Oct – 22 Nov 62.

Waller (DD 466), 25 Oct – 5 Nov 62.

Willard Keith (DD 775), 24 Oct – 15 Nov 62.

William C. Lawe (DD 763), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

William M. Wood (DDR 715), 28 Oct – 24 Nov 62; 10 – 24 Dec 62.

Willis A. Lee (DL 4), 7 – 21 Nov 62.

Witek (DD 848), 24 Oct – 1 Nov 62; 16 – 20 Nov 62.

Zellars (DD 777), 24 Oct – 21 Nov 62.

For a deeper dive into the Crisis from a Navy point of view, check out the digitized 57-page “Cordon of Steel: The U.S. Navy and the Cuban Missile Crisis” by Curtis A. Utz. No. 1, in The U.S. Navy and the Modern World series, 1993.

Fittingly, the cover of the piece included a destroyer in the foreground, the old Fletcher-class USS Eaton (DD-510), which earned 11 battle stars in WWII and then served on Caribbean duty through the early 1960s, including standing off Cuba during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Eaton also earned the AFEM for the Quarantine, serving on the line from 25 Oct – 5 Nov 62.

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