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Warship Wednesday, March 22, 2023: Herr Ericsson’s Original Tin Can

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, March 22, 2023: Herr Ericsson’s Original Tin Can

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 52307

Above we see the circa 1892 image of John Ericsson’s experimental war vessel, “Destroyer” testing her “submarine artillery” by the firing of an inert shell into the flooded drydock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to be recovered later.

The Swedish-born inventor and mechanical engineer had just passed on to the great drawing board in the sky the previous March, aged 85, and is best known for the U.S. Navy’s first screw-propelled steam-frigate USS Princeton in 1843 and the Civil War-era USS Monitor— the world’s first armored ship with a rotating turret, with his penultimate warship, Destroyer, most often falling through the cracks of history.

John Ericsson (1803-1889). Photographed by the Matthew Brady studios, 1862 & 1863. Naval History and Heritage Command: NH 305 & NH 482

Ericsson spent the last 12 years of his life working on Destroyer, which he envisioned would be the ideal harbor defense vessel, particularly for his beloved New York.

A compact iron-hulled beast of some 130 feet in length with a narrow 17-foot beam and the ability to float in just 11 feet of water, she carried a 70-foot “wrought iron breastwork of great strength near the bow” as a defense to allow for bow-on close-in attacks with a sort of innovative albeit not effective centerline underwater cannon. She could be built for about the cost of a small gunboat and crewed by as few as a dozen men.

Ericsson’s Destroyer. View of this experimental ship showing submarine gun projectiles on deck. Taken at the New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. USS Maine of Spanish-American War fame is fitting out in the left background. Detriot Bain News Service image LOC LC-D4-20348

The Destroyer’s “submarine gun” was a whopper.

With a 16-inch diameter bore and a 30-foot barrel that was eight feet below the waterline, it fired a 26-foot long projectile crafted of spruce and pine timbers and sheathed with thin metal. In all, it weighed 1,500 pounds of which 300 was gun cotton payload. Alternatively, a smaller, 10-foot-long projectile was designed as well.

Ericsson’s Destroyer plan of submarine gun for this experimental ship, dated 7 October 1890. NH 54252

John Ericsson’s “Destroyer” Longitudinal section of the ship’s bow, showing the underwater gun and its projectile torpedo, circa 1881. Note the “inflated air bags” in the bow and original pneumatic feeder tubes for the gun. NH 84476

It was thought by Ericsson that the gun could be fired at a target from some 500 feet away. To keep the projectiles on a level course, they were fitted with “hydrostatic bellows” in the center along with two horizontal rudders.

The method of the launch was originally to be via a piston that would be actuated by a steam line but this was eventually changed to a 40-pound explosive (black powder) charge. The energy produced by such a projectile at damaging speeds was estimated to be something on the order of 2,000,000 foot-pounds.

The idea was Destroyer’s hull would be ballasted down when operational to have as low a freeboard as possible, only exposing the armored plate iron deck house. Voids were to be filled with blocks of cork and inflated rubber airbags to allow for buoyancy even with a penetrated hull.

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view showing the submarine gun and pneumatic loading mechanism, taken circa 1890. NH 54251

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view shows the breech mechanism of the submarine gun. Taken about 1890. NH 54248

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view shows the breech mechanism of the submarine gun. Taken about 1890. NH 54249

Uncrated projectile and body. NH 52494

In an initial low-pressure light load test in April 1886, Ericsson himself declared that “the submarine gun has proved a perfect success” after its inert projectile ran 300 feet into a suspended net in less than three seconds, a speed of about 59 knots. “The effect produced by exploding a loaded projectile remains to be ascertained, but this trial an individual is not permitted to make, hence I now desire to hand the Destroyer over to the Government.”

Built on spec with $150,000 ($5 million in today’s dollars) coughed up by foundry owner and Ericsson friend Cornelius Henry DeLamater (who also died in 1889)– and was the guy who built the steam boilers and machinery for both USS Princeton and USS Monitor— Ericsson proposed in 1886 to sell the vessel and its patents to the Navy for “modest sum” of $220,000. Not much of a profit although there would presumably be royalties involved as well should the patents be utilized on a wide scale. 

In the end, it turned out that Destroyer and her related submarine artillery still needed another $30,000 in funds from the Navy to be made ready for a firing trial after the death of both Ericsson and DeLamater. At the time, that was about the cost of a harbor tug (four were ordered that year at a cost of $35K each).

By this stage, the prototype warship and her gun were the assets of the independent Ericsson Coast Defense Company.

The thing is, other, more proven, locomotive torpedoes had already far surpassed Destroyer’s gun and the world was awash in small, steam-driven, torpedo boats that used Mr. Whitehead’s deadly and economical devices.

They had even been proven in warfare already, with the Ottoman ship Intibah sunk in 1878 by Russian torpedo boats carrying Whiteheads. Even the U.S. Navy had ordered one, USS Cushing (Torpedo Boat No. 1), from Herreshoff in Rhode Island in 1886, and the 140-foot craft was undergoing experiments by 1890 at the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport.

USS Cushing torpedo boat experiments, ca. 1890, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

The E.W. Bliss Company of Brooklyn had stood up the same year, and, using Whitehead’s patents under license, had won a 100-unit contract for American-made 18-inch (diameter) torpedoes.

The number of torpedo boats in service or building around the globe topped 1,000 in 1889-90, from a Navy Department report published in the NYT. Of course, many of these were very small coastal steam launches with no overnight/rough weather/blue water capability, but they could still carry a “fish.”

Argentinian sailors with a Whitehead torpedo, Fiume, Austria, 1888. At the time this picture was taken, torpedo boats were in all of the world’s major– and many minor– fleets.

Meanwhile, Ericsson’s body was repatriated to his native Sweden, carried on the deck of a modern new U.S. Navy cruiser that was very much the descendant of his USS Princeton and USS Monitor.

“The White Squadron’s Farewell Salute to the Body of John Ericsson, New York Bay, August 23, 1890”. Oil on canvas, 36″ by 54″, by Edward Moran (1829-1901), signed and dated by the artist, 1898. It depicts USS Baltimore (Cruiser # 3) departing New York Harbor to return the remains of John Ericsson to his native Sweden. Note the Swedish ensign flying from the ship’s foremast. Painting in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection. Gift of Paul E. Sutro, 1940. Official U.S. Navy Photograph. National Archives photograph, KN-10851 (Color).

Subaquatic Shooting

The Government Torpedo Board then embarked on a series of experiments in the Spring and Summer of 1892 with the late Mr. Ericsson’s Destroyer. The board, who watched the trials from the vessels’ deck, consisted of Commander George Albert Converse (USNA 1861, later RADM) and lieutenants T.C. McLean and C.A. Bradbury. Each shot was triggered at the drop of CDR Converse’s handkerchief.

Initial tests were done in March in Brooklyn’s Erie Basin, with a few inert rounds fired into a net with a modest 20-pound charge of black powder.

The May-June 1892 tests at the Brooklyn Navy Yard saw Destroyer moored off the mouth of the Simpson wooden dry dock, which was flooded, and its gates locked opened. Inside the dock was a series of six 40×20-foot nets, at 100-foot intervals. The nets were made of 1/4-inch manila cordage. At each net stood a team of bluejackets who, holding an attached rope to gauge the vibration of the projectile hitting the net, stood ready with a chronograph in hand to be used to help calculate velocity through the docks.

The below images described as “circa 1890” were actually in May-June 1892.

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard circa 1890. The projectile is shown. NH 52495

Projectile body. NH 52496

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard circa 1890. Assembly of warhead and projectile body. NH 52497

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view shows the breech mechanism of the submarine gun open and the shell ready to load. Note the net slicers on the tip. Taken about 1892. NH 54246

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view showing shop facilities and a projectile for the submarine gun, taken circa 1890. Note the projectile along the bulkhead. It was thought the vessel could carry up to 15 shells. NH 54250

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. The firing of a shell. NH 52305

NH 52306

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. Firing of a shell into the drydock to be recovered later. NH 52311

Ericsson’s Destroyer. View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. The projectile is in a drained drydock. NH 52313

Firing 20 inert cigar-shaped projectiles, with charges not exceeding 25-30 pounds of black powder, tests were conducted from as close as 100 feet off the dock to as far as 600 feet away, with the latter showing a lateral spread of 22 feet on average. The warheads, carrying equivalent ballast rather than guncotton, were topped with four razor-sharp net cutters. It was thought able to penetrate at least one steel mesh net, as in most tests the wooden bolts zipped through at least five of the six of the manila nets.

Muzzle velocity was estimated by the board to be around 300 feet per second, which translates to about 204 mph. At the 1,200-pound test weight, that’s kinetic energy of something like 2,097,963 ft./lbs.– remarkably close to Mr. Ericsson’s estimates.

There were some glaring failures, including projectiles that sank after they filled with water, some that nosedived just after launch, and others that decelerated rapidly and were caught in the first couple of nets, or came too fast and broached over the nets.

As noted by the New York Times, “Of the 20 shots fired, 15, at the maximum range of 600 feet, were sufficiently accurate in flight to have sunk the underwater hull of an average-sized vessel.”

The craft was taken into Naval custody, although not formally purchased, then tugged for more experiments at the Newport Naval Torpedo Station, where CDR Converse’s team would continue to keep Destroyer into late 1893. This involved testing anti-torpedo nets constructed by the Washington Gun Foundry and a series of nine live submarine gun shells fabricated by the Continental Iron Works of Brooklyn.

This came after a public outcry when “the majority of foreign warships present in the World Columbian Naval Review fleet carried torpedo nets” while no American ship was fitted with one.

Sale and overseas service

In October 1893, Flint Co. of New York City bought Destroyer from the Ericsson Coast Defense Company for resale to Brazil, where a civil war/revolution that included a naval aspect was afoot. Converse dutifully handed the vessel back to ECDC president Ericsson F. Bushnell (the son of Cornelius Scranton Bushnell of USS Monitor and Intelligent Whale fame) later that month and she was towed back to NYC by the tug Scandinavia.

Seafaring adventurer Joshua Slocum, soon after to be the first person to sail single-handedly around the world, accepted the job to take Destroyer to Brazil with a scratch crew that included a Royal Marine officer on furlough who was never without his Colt revolver and sword, a Brazilian “count” whose only redeeming quality “was a good judge of a hotel,” and a handful of other hardy souls.

Supported by the freighter Santuit, Slocum was “navigator in command” and set out on 7 December, arriving at Pernambuco on 20 January 1894, with a weeklong layover in Martinique to make repairs following a hairy incident during a storm in which the vessel was nearly lost at sea.

Destroyer never made it into much active service with the Brazilians, and Slocum, recalling in a self-published pamphlet on the trip, would say:

Concerning the last days of my worthy old ship, there is little more to say. The upland navigators at the Arsenal at Bahia, having observed the New York crew put the Destroyer in the basin and out again with dispatch, undertook, like some tropical quadrupeds, to do the “trick” themselves. Whether from pure cussedness or not this time, I can’t say, but they stove a great hole in her bottom, having grounded her on a rock, “accidentally,” they said.

Alas! for all our hardships and perils! The latest account that I heard said that the Destroyer lay undone in the basin. The tide ebbing and flowing through her broken hull–a rendezvous for eels and crawfish–and now those high and dry sailors say they had a “narrow escape.”

In handwritten notes to a copy found in 1997, Slocum would also detail:

When I returned to Brazil, later, in the Spray [the 36-foot sailboat he rounded the globe in] and inquired about a balance of wages due me from the Destroyer some $600 or more: The officer I addressed said “Captain so far as we are concerned we would give you the ship and if you care to accept it we will send an officer to show you where she is – I know very well where she was, as I have already said at the bottom of the sea.”


While Ericsson’s Destroyer was borrowed by the Navy for about 20 months in 1892-93, she was never commissioned as USS Destroyer, nor given a crew. The Navy did, however, name its second torpedo boat (TB-2), USS Ericsson, after the late inventor in 1897. Later, a Great War-era O’Brien-class torpedo boat destroyer (DD-56) and a WWII-era Gleaves-class destroyer (DD-440) would carry the same name.

USS Ericsson, (TB-2) alongside USS Cushing (TB-1), November 1900. Catalog #: 19-N-14-24-10

USS Ericsson (DD-56) circa 1916. NH 77909

The third USS Ericsson (DD-440), a Gleaves-class destroyer, was pretty enough to star on a 1941 Naval Reserve poster by Matt Murphey. UNT World War Poster Collection

Sadly, today the name of this titan of naval technology rides on an MSC-manned Kaiser-class oiler, USNS John Ericsson (T-AO-194), which has been in service since 1991. If ever a destroyer should be named for a man, it is Mr. Ericsson. 

170718-N-OY799-016. CORAL SEA (July 18, 2017) The Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194) is underway alongside the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), as part of a replenishment-at-sea during Talisman Saber 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released)

Since Ericsson’s Destroyer, the Navy has commissioned no less than 1,087 destroyer (DD/DDR/DL/DLG/DDG) series vessels and another 588 destroyer escort (DE) types spanning from USS Bainbridge, laid down on 15 August 1899, by Neafie and Levy Ship and Engine Building Company at their shipyard in Philadelphia, to the next set to come to life, the future guided-missile destroyer USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) accepted from Ingalls shipbuilding last November.

She is scheduled to be commissioned, Saturday, May 13 in Key West Florida.

USS Bainbridge (DD-1) was the first ship commissioned as a destroyer in the United States Navy, authorized on May 4, 1898, three days after the commencement of the Spanish-American War. She served most of her active life in the Asiatic Station. In World War I she was based at Gibraltar, where she served as an escort ship for Allied shipping out of the Mediterranean Sea. Bainbridge was decommissioned at the end of the war in 1919 and sold. Lithograph by C. F. Kenney; C. 1950. NHHC 07-572-A

PCU USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) during sea trials. HII photo

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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Warship Wednesday, March 15, 2023: Of Skis, Retired Admirals, and Tons of Gold

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, March 15, 2023: Of Skis, Retired Admirals, and tons of Gold

Jean Manzon/ECPAD/Défense, Réf MARINE 257-3588

About we see a scene from the deck of the French croiseur auxiliaire (auxiliary cruiser) Ville d’Oran (X5) in which famed alpine skier Maurice Lafforgue– who competed in the 1936 Winter Olympics and won two silver medals at Chamonix in 1937– showing his skis to a bachi-clad French sailor. The date is mid-April 1940, and Lafforgue is suited up in the traditional “Blue Devils” uniform of France’s elite mountain troops. At the time, Ville d’Oran was carrying the 13e Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins (13e BCA), a proud unit that dated to 1853, to Norway as part of the Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Scandinavie with the doomed goal of kicking the Germans out.

But first, happier beginnings

Sunny Mediterranean travel plans

A paquebot in French parlance, Ville d’Oran and her sister ship, the logically named Ville d’Alger, were short-trip ocean liners ordered in 1935 from Société Provençale de Constructions Navales at La Ciotat for the Cie Gle T (Compagnie Generale Transatlantique) line– the same folks that owned the Normandie.

At some 10,172 tons (GRT) and 461 feet in length, they were not ocean crossers but were instead built for express service between Marseille to Algiers– a run of just under 500 miles that the turbine-powered passenger liners could make in just over 19 hours, or Marseille to Oran in 25.

Capable of carrying as many as 1,100 passengers arranged in four classes (Deluxe, Priority, Tourist, and Deck) as well as a modicum of dry and refrigerated goods, the sisters enjoyed a fair bit of enjoyable peacetime service, complete with a full white, black and red livery and false second funnel to give the illusion of extra grandeur. Indeed, for the upper-class passengers, there were very well-appointed dining rooms and elegant smoking lounges as well as both open and closed promenade decks.

A Cie Gle Transatlantique poster with the 25-hour Marseille-to-Oran promise, a 615 statute mile run which required an average speed of at least 21.37 knots to achieve.

Alas, we are not here to talk of sedate peacetime seaside travel.


Following the outbreak of WWII, Ville d’Alger was requisitioned by the French Navy for use as a troopship while her sister, our Ville d’Oran, was given a quick makeover to become an auxiliary cruiser, one of 12 such conversions ordered by the Navy in September-October 1939.

Under the command of one Capitaine (de Frégate) Roqueblave, Ville d’Oran had her false second funnel removed, received a coat of grey paint, five Canon de 138 mm Modèle 1910 naval guns in shielded single mounts, and 16 13.2mm Hotchkiss M1929 AAA guns. Her pennant number was X5 while the rest of the French auxiliary cruisers used similar numbers ranging from X01 to X20.

ECPAD images of Ville d’Oran headed for Norway with French mountain troops aboard in April 1940, showing her M1910 5.46″/55 guns.

Sailors serving a Hotchkiss M1929 light anti-aircraft piece on the bridge of the Ville d’Oran. These air-cooled guns ran a 13.2x96mm shell from 30-round box magazines at a correspondingly slow rate of fire– just 200 rounds per minute. ECPAD NAVY 211-2921

After such a quick refit, Ville d’Oran was assigned to RADM Jean-Emmanuel Cadart‘s (Ecole Navale 1903) 1re Division de Croiseurs Auxiliaires (DCX) along with three other converted liners– his flagship El Djézaïr (X17, 2400t, 7x138mm), El Kontara (X16, 5079t, 2x75mm AA), and El Mansour (X06, 5079t,2x75mm AA)– all of a similar speed.

RADM Jean-Emmanuel Cadart, whose prewar penultimate assignment had been as captain of the battleship Bretagne, had capped a 36-year career in March 1939 by moving to the reserve list as a rear admiral. His retirement lasted six months.

The mission of Cadart’s force, from October 1939 until March 1940, was simply to backfill the French Mediterranean fleet to cover units transferred to the Atlantic and, in doing so, keep one eye out for German blockade runners while using the other eye on the movements of (then neutral) Italian warships.

Headed to Norway

Then, 1er DCX was called up to the big leagues in late-February 1940 as part of the French effort to bring assistance to Finland during that country’s Winter War with the Soviets. However, as the Finns and Russians signed an uneasy peace on 12 March, the expedition soon morphed into an effort to occupy Norwegian ports and strategic mines to preempt a German invasion aimed at doing the same. This effort, too, would have to be morphed as the Germans struck first, launching Operation Weserübung to occupy Denmark and Norway on 9 April– beating the French, Free Polish, and British to the punch by days.

The relief force sent to dislodge the Germans from Norway, as far as the French go, consisted of the light cruisers Emile Bertin and Montcalm, six destroyers (along with three Free Polish tin cans), three large torpedo boats, Cadart’s four auxiliary cruisers (which would carry troops as well as provide muscle), the submarines Rubis and ORP Orzeł, and a further 20 transports and cargo ships. Of the 38,000 Allied expeditionary troops sent to Norway in April 1940, over two-thirds were French and Polish.

Ville d’Oran and her sister, the unarmed Ville d’Alger, would carry the 5e Demi-Brigade de Chasseurs Alpins (DBCA) of Brig. Gen. Antoine Béthouart, consisting of the 13th, 53rd, and 67th BCA, as well as other brigade and division assets. Laffourge, the Olympian in the top photo, was a member of the brigade d’éclaireurs-skieurs (ski recon) company.

There are several captivating photos of the trip to Norway aboard Ville d’Oran, including lots of shots of their dogs.

With the Germans already in possession of every decent harbor and airstrip in the country, the British and Franco-Polish troops eschewed the heavily-defended (and populated) south Norway and instead landed in the center and north of the country around rural Narvik, Aandalsnes, and Namsos. It was the last small port (pop. 3,000) where Gen. Bethourart’s 5e DBCA would be landed by Ville d’Oran and Ville d’Alger, with the 2,500 French alpine troopers assigned to support Mauriceforce, British Maj Gen. Carton de Wiart’s 146th Infantry Brigade, which began landing at Namsos, 70 miles north of Trondheim, on 14 April.

Sadly, as the harbor facilities at Namsos were not capable of handling 10,000-ton ocean liners, most of the heavy cargo– including 5e DBCA’s mules, artillery, and skis– could not be unloaded. Further, with the Luftwaffe committing over 300 land-based tactical fighters and bombers to the fight and the Kriegsmarine supplying the battlecruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst along with almost 40 U-boats to the region, the Allies could neither count on control of the air or sea off Norway. The French task force only carried a handful of 5- and 6-inch guns as a talisman against the potential damage from the 11-inchers carried by Gneisenau and Scharnhorst and was woefully lacking in AAA guns.

After two weeks of withering on the vine, 5e DBCA/Mauriceforce at Namsos would leave everything larger than a rucksack behind and be evacuated by Allied destroyers coming in danger close under a rain of bombs by German Ju 87 Stukas of I./StG 1, with the French losing the Guépard-class destroyer Bison and the British losing the Tribal-class destroyer HMS Afridi (F07) on 3 May in the process. The destroyers transferred 1,850 French and 2,354 British troops to Cadart’s four-pack of auxiliary cruisers and the whole force headed back home from Scandinavia– just as the war in the Lowlands was fixing to heat up.

The Fall of France

Sailing for Brest, Cadart’s little squadron of converted liners, Ville d’Oran included, could do little but patrol as the German blitzkrieg crashed through Luxembourg, Belgium, and Holland and into Northern France, trapping the British Expeditionary Force along with the French First and Seventh Armies along the coast around Dunkerque by the end of May. Ordered to help pull off the “Miracle” there, 1er DCX pitched in with the Allied flotilla that ultimately was able to evacuate 338,000 Allied troops.

Then, with Paris under direct threat, the French government needed something other than soldiers moved to safety.

The Banque de France’s reserves at the time included 1,777 tons of gold that belonged to the Republic. Added to this were another 230 tons of Belgian and Polish gold, as well as 200 cases stored for the National Bank of Switzerland.

In late May, the carrier Béarn and training cruiser Jeanne-d’Arc sailed for Halifax with 299 tons of gold on board.

Ville d’Oran was detailed, escorted by the torpedo boat Le Hardi, to sail for Casablanca at top speed with 212 tons of gold bars and coins, arriving there on 9 June and transferring the precious cargo to the vaults of the Banque de l’Afrique Occidentale. She then rushed back to Brest.

This still left a huge chunk that could possibly fall into German hands. With that, some 1,260 tons of gold were rushed to the Fort de Portzic, near Brest, via a military convoy.

The light cruiser Emile-Bertine, also just returned from the Norway fiasco, left in early June with another 254 tons of gold, which would ultimately arrive at Fort-de-France in the overseas Caribbean colony of Martinique.

The cruiser Primauguet likewise left for Casablanca with a smaller, 11-ton, shipment.

Meanwhile, the ocean liner Pasteur left Brest with 213 tons of gold which it unloaded at Halifax for storage with the Royal Bank of Canada.

Working around the clock over three days, between 16-19 June, paroled sailors from the French Navy brig at Brest helped load 16,201 boxes and bags of gold– carried from Fort de Portzic by garbage trucks– on the recently returned Ville d’Oran as well as three of Cardet’s other auxiliary cruisers just returned from the Dunkirk evacuation: El Djezair, El Kantara, and El Mansour.

Loading the gold at Brest

The ships left for Casablanca with nearly 750 tons of gold and were met while underway by the auxiliary cruiser Victor-Schœlcher (X07, 4500t, 2x75mm AAA) with another 6,000 cases of gold from the banks of Belgium (200 tons) and Poland (71 tons) aboard.

This five-vessel convoy, under Cadart’s flag, arrived at Casablanca on 23 June– the day after the Frenc Armistice that knocked the country nominally out of the war– carrying a whopping 1,021 tons of gold between them. In one of the last gasps of the French Third Republic, an order was flashed to Cadart to pull up anchor for Dakar in the colony of Senegal, which was thought to be more secure as the country was still at war with the Italians (until 27 June) and the Vichy government had yet to be formed.

Pulling into Dakar safely on 28 June with their cargo intact, Cadart’s sailors helped transport the massive gold reserve 45 miles inland to the Army stronghold at Thiès. From there, it could be placed on boxcars of the Dakar–Niger Railway and be spirited even further inland another 600 miles to Koulikoro in French Sudan (now Mali) if needed. Koulikoro was also conveniently located on the Niger River, thus allowing even further access to anywhere in West-Central Africa at little notice. In short, neither the Germans nor the Allies were going to lay hands on it any time soon.

With this last service to the old Republic, Cadart’s 1er DCX was soon ordered to return to its place of birth, the Med, where it was disbanded in October. The old admiral was allowed to return to the retired list while his auxiliary cruisers were disarmed.

Continued wartime service

Ville d’Oran resumed a liaison shuttle service under Vichy’s orders between Marseilles and Algeria, under a more prewar livery complete with large French flags on her waterline, from October 1940 through September 1941. This pipeline saw thousands of demobilized officers and NCOs in mufti shuttle from Metropolitan France to North Africa, where the local authorities made sure to find places in police units, *new colonial formations, and secret ledgers should they be needed soon. Also on these regular runs were all manner of spies from both sides. You know, basically the subplot of the movie Casablanca.

*Notably, Brig. Gen. Antoine Béthouart, the old commander of 5e DBCA in Norway, was shipped to North Africa around this time to take command of the Division de Casablanca (newly formed from colonial units– 1e RTM, 6e RTM, RICM, 6e RTS, 1e RCA, 3e RSM, and the RACM), with the good general later assisting the Allies in rallying the French troops in Morocco to the Allied cause in November 1942. 

With the French government’s access to fuel oil greatly curbed by the Germans, even this rinky-dink cruise line was shuttered by October 1941, and Ville d’Oran was laid up in Algiers, where the war would soon catch up to her.

THE OPERATION TORCH, NOVEMBER 1942 (NA 89) British paratroops marching away after disembarking from a troop ship on the quayside in Allied-occupied Algiers, 12-13 November 1942. Note the French liner Ville d’Oran in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Soon after the Allied Torch landings in French North Africa, and the fall of the Vichy government, Ville d’Oran, and Ville d’Alger would return to wartime work, this time with the Free French flag and under the management of Cunard, as troopships.

They would carry men to the beaches of Sicily in Operation Husky in July 1943, participate in the Avalanche landings at Salerno in August 1943, and the Dragoon landings in Southern France in August 1944.

Post VE-Day, Ville d’Oran would carry Allied POWs–specifically South African, Palestinian, and Cypriot troops– back from German Camps in Europe to Alexandria for demobilization.

She would also carry German POWs from Italy back to Egypt for processing at the same time, an expedient thought easier than sending them to occupied Germany.

WITH THE VILLE D’ORAN. 31 MAY 1945, ALEXANDRIA HARBOUR. PRISONERS OF WAR WERE BROUGHT BACK IN THE FRENCH SHIP FROM GERMAN PRISON CAMPS IN THE NORTH OF ITALY. (A 29333) Repatriated Palestinian and Cypriot Troops returning on the VILLE D’ORAN from German Prison Camps for demobilization. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

WITH THE VILLE D’ORAN. 31 MAY 1945, ALEXANDRIA HARBOUR. PRISONERS OF WAR WERE BROUGHT BACK IN THE FRENCH SHIP FROM GERMAN PRISON CAMPS IN THE NORTH OF ITALY. (A 29332) South African Troops returning home on the VILLE D’ORAN for demobilization after seeing service on the North Italian front. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

WITH THE VILLE D’ORAN. 31 MAY 1945, ALEXANDRIA HARBOUR. PRISONERS OF WAR WERE BROUGHT BACK IN THE FRENCH SHIP FROM GERMAN PRISON CAMPS IN THE NORTH OF ITALY. (A 29331) A cheering crowd of South African Troops on board the VILLE D’ORAN on their way home after liberation from German Prison Camps. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

WITH THE VILLE D’ORAN. 31 MAY 1945, ALEXANDRIA HARBOUR. PRISONERS OF WAR WERE BROUGHT BACK IN THE FRENCH SHIP FROM GERMAN PRISON CAMPS IN THE NORTH OF ITALY. (A 29334) German Officers were among the 1.835 prisoners of war brought back in the VILLE D’ORAN from North Italy, on their way to internment camps in Egypt. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Ville d’Oran would receive the Croix de Guerre from the Fourth Republic for her wartime service.


Returning to commercial service with Cie Gle T, Ville d’Oran and her sister Ville d’Alger would continue their pre-war Marseille to North Africa runs, and never did get that fake funnel back.

Following the outbreak of the Algerian War in 1954, the sisters would also serve as one of the main modes of transport for French troops coming from Europe to serve a stint on the lines against the ELN. Typically, conscripts would briefly train in metropolitan France, then be shipped to Algeria after which they would be released from their (nominal) 18 months of service upon arriving back home at Marseille.

In all, over 1.5 million young French conscripts were sent to Algeria to battle the fellaghas, Algerian guerrilla fighters, between 1954 and 1962. Seen here is Ville d’Oran on one such run. (ECPAD)

This duty earned Ville d’Oran an FLN bomb attack in January 1957 that cause negligible damage.

As Cie Gle Transatlantique had moved on to more prestigious ships in the early 1960s– the massive 70,000-ton SS France had just entered service– and, after the country’s withdrawal from North Africa after 130 years of colonization, ending the appeal of regular cross Med liner runs, Ville d’Oran and sister Ville d’Alger were sold in 1965 to the Greek Typaldos Lines.

However, the Greeks soon ran into financial trouble and both sisters were sold for scrap in 1969.


Today, few relics remain of Ville d’Oran, other than a Hein Muck 1:250 scale model both in her pre-WWII and wartime auxiliary cruiser layout.

Cie Gle T itself would be defunct by 1976, and its assets rolled into the container shipping company now known as CMA CGM.

Of the men associated with them, the jolly old admiral, Cadart, a man who had the distinction of receiving the Legion of Honor from the old Republic for his actions off Norway, and the Vichy Order of the Francisque from Petian himself for his gold run, would pass in 1962 at age 78. The Dakar gold stash, incidentally, would return back home in 1945.

Alpine troop commander Gen. Béthouart would command the Free French I Corps in Alsace and Austria in 1944-45, bagging no less than 100,000 German POWs. He would then serve as the High Commissioner for France in Austria and pass in 1982, aged 92.

Olympian Maurice Lafforgue survived WWII and passed quietly in 1999, aged 84. Note the 13e BCA insignia on his sweater.

Meanwhile, the 13e BCA is still in active service, having returned from Norway in May 1940 in time to fight the Germans along the Somme at Liomer-Brocourt, its men convert to maquis status during the Occupation, then reformed in 1945 just in time to seize the Petit-Saint-Bernard pass (altitude 7,600 ft) from German Gebirgsjäger during the Alpine Campaign. Post-war, they occupied Austria for seven years, fought in Algeria, Chad, Djibouti, and Côte d’Ivoire, scrapped with Saddam’s boys during the First Gulf War and served on a host of UN and NATO missions in Lebanon, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Since 1999, they have been part of the 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade (27th BIM), based in the Roc Noir district in the small Alpine town of Barbie, near Chambéry.

Their motto is “Without fear and without reproach” (Sans peur et sans reproche).

And they still use skis when needed.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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80 Years Ago: Calvertville Mosquito Station

The U.S. Navy PT Boat Base at Tulagi (Tulaghi) in the British Florida (Solomon) Islands came about after the island was liberated by Allied forces– primarily the 1st Marine Raiders– in August 1942 following a four-month occupation by the Japanese.

U.S. Marines come ashore on Tulagi Island, probably during the landings there on 7-8 August 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-16485

The impressive prewar concrete wharf there, dubbed Government Wharf as it had been constructed and controlled by the local British administration, while too small for proper warships, was thought ideal for a squadron of PT boats.

As detailed in Close Quarters, by Bulkeley, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Two, in Panama, was reflagged as MTBRon 3 and its brand-new 77-foot Elco-type PTs shipped from the Canal, across the Pacific, in a rather interesting way:

The first division of Squadron 3, PTs 38, 46, 48, and 60, departed Balboa on August 29 aboard the Navy oilers Lackawanna and Tappahannock, two PTs to a ship. They arrived September 19 at Noumea, New Caledonia, were unloaded, and were towed to Espiritu Santo by USS Bellatrix, a cargo ship, and the tender Jamestown, which had sailed from New York early in August to join the PTs in the Solomons. The boats were towed from Espiritu Santo by the fast minesweepers Hovey and Southard, converted four-stack destroyers, to a point 300 miles from Tulagi. There the boats were turned loose to proceed under their own power, arriving at Government Wharf, Tulagi, at daybreak on October 12.

The second division, PTs 37, 39, 45, and 61, was shipped to Noumea on a merchant ship and arrived at Tulagi on October 25.

Soon, Seabees had constructed a 20-bed infirmary, a 1,000-barrel tank farm for 100 Octane mogas with a pipeline to the repaired dock, rudimentary mess and bunk houses, an engine workshop, and a protected torpedo overhaul and storage magazine.

By December, Motor Torpedo Boat Flotilla ONE, under command of CDR Allen P. Calvert (USNA 1924)— formerly commander of the destroyer USS Craven— was activated with headquarters at Sesapi, on the northeastern tip of Tulagi.

With that, the base took on the name Calvertville, and continued ongoing operations against the Japanese “Tokyo Express,” being involved not only in the Guadalcanal campaign but also in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Over a main street covered with the pierced steel Marston matting, a crude sign read: Calvertville, Through these portals pass the best MTB Flotilla in the World. NH 44492

MTBRon 3 was soon joined by MTBRon 2, MTBRon 6, MTBRon 8, and MTBRon 1 by July 1943. Among these Elco boats was PT-109, whose skipper was a young Lieutenant (jg) John Fitzgerald Kennedy, USNR.

Later, MTBRon 31, 32, and 37 would arrive and spend their war conducting nightly patrols of the Bougainville and Choiseul coasts long after the “big show” had moved to the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

Ultimately, by the end of the war, over 100 PTs at one time or another had been based there.

The below images, captured in March 1943 by LIFE photographer Frank Scherschel, show Calvertville at its prime.

“The Old Man.” Note the Flotilla pennant. Calvert would remain in command at Tulagi into November 1943, earning the Distinguished Service Medal (Army) from the War Department, then be sent back stateside to eventually take command of the new cruiser USS Oakland.

Note the U.S. Navy Shallow Water Miller-Dunn Divinhood

Warship Wednesday, March 8, 2023: USS FBI

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, March 8, 2023: USS FBI

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 106576

Above we see the Bogue-class escort carrier USS Block Island (CVE-21), photographed from a blimp of squadron ZP-14 underway on her first ASW hunter-killer cruise, seen off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 15 October 1943. Arranged on her flight deck are a dozen TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo planes and nine F4F/FM Wildcat fighters of Fleet Composite Squadron 1 (VC-1) — big medicine for such a small flattop. Commissioned just six months prior on 8 March 1943– 80 years ago today– Block Island would have a bright if an unsung career in the Battle of the Atlantic, although she would not live to see it conclude.

About the Bogues

With both Great Britain and the U.S. running desperately short of flattops in the first half of World War II, and large, fast fleet carriers taking a while to crank out, a subspecies of light and “escort” carriers, the first created from the hulls of cruisers, the second from the hulls of merchant freighters, were produced in large numbers to put a few aircraft over every convoy and beach in the Atlantic and Pacific.

Of the more than 122 escort carriers produced in the U.S. for use by her and her Allies, some 45 were of the Bogue class. Based on the Maritime Commission’s Type C3-S-A1 cargo ship hull, these were built in short order at Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation, Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, and by the Western Pipe and Steel Company of San Francisco.

Some 496 feet overall with a 439-foot flight deck, these 16,200-ton ships could only steam at a pokey 16 ish knots sustained speed, which negated their use in fleet operations but allowed them to more than keep up with convoys of troop ships and war supplies. Capable of limited self-defense with four twin Bofors and up to 35 20mm Oerlikons for AAA as well as a pair of 5-inch guns for defense against small boats, they could carry as many as 28 operational aircraft in composite air wings. They were equipped with two elevators, Mk 4 arresting gear, and a hydraulic catapult.

Most of the Bogue class (34 of 45) went right over to the Royal Navy via Lend-Lease, where they were known as the Ameer, Attacker, Ruler, or Smiter class in turn, depending on their arrangement. However, the U.S. Navy did keep 11 of the class for themselves (USS Bogue, Card, Copahee, Core, Nassau, Altamaha, Barnes, Breton, Croatan, Prince William, and our very own Block Island), all entering service between September 1942 and June 1943.

Meet Block Island

Oddly enough, our little carrier was not the first named after the sound that lies east of Long Island, N.Y. and south of Rhode Island. The Navy ordered an early Bouge class aircraft escort vessel, AVG-8, under a Maritime Commission contract (M.C. Hull 161) on 12 May 1941 at Ingalls in Pascagoula, and issued her the name USS Block Island on 3 February 1942. However, the name was canceled the following month as the hull was allocated to the Royal Navy who in turn would launch her as HMS Trailer, then HMS Hunter (D 80), and bring her into service under Admiralty orders in January 1943.

HMS Trailer, ex-USS Block Island (ACV-8), later HMS Hunter (D80), location unknown, 14 January 1943, likely in the Gulf of Mexico. Via ONI Division of Naval Intelligence, Identification and Characteristics Section, June 1943.

Our subject, the second Block Island, the first to see commissioned U.S. Navy service, was AVG-21, M.C. Hull 237, laid down on the other side of the country at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation Yard on 19 January 1942. She was named USS Block Island on 19 March 1942– the same day the Pascagoula Block Island had her name canceled, then was reclassified as an auxiliary aircraft carrier (ACV-21) and subsequently commissioned on 8 March 1943. As such, she was the eighth of 11 Bogues brought into U.S. service.

Her first skipper, Capt. Logan Carlisle Ramsey (USNA 1919), had made his spot in history already when, on the staff of PATWINGTWO at Ford Island on 7 December 1941, had ordered the famous “Air Raid Pearl Harbor! This is No Drill!” flash message.

Block Island in the final stages of fitting out, at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation Yard, Seattle, Washington, circa March 1943. 19-N-42715

A series of incredible images exist of her just before commissioning.

On trials, circa March 1943. View directly astern. 19-N-42712

On trials, circa March 1943. Bow-on view. 19-N-42702

Close-up view of her island area, taken circa March 1943. 19-N-42693 A

On trials, circa March 1943. Broadside view, starboard. 19-N-42693

On trials, circa March 1943. Starboard side, off the bow. 19-N-42699

On trials, circa March 1943. Port side, off the bow. 19-N-42698

On trials, circa March 1943. Starboard side, off the stern. 19-N-42703

Shuttle work

Soon after delivery and an abbreviated shakedown, the new carrier was rushed to the Atlantic where she was urgently needed to tackle the persistent U-boat threat. Picking up the Wildcats and Avengers of Composite Squadron (VC) 25 in San Diego in April, she would arrive in Norfolk via the Panama Canal in early June, where VC-25 would go ashore.

Sailing for Staten Island in July, she took aboard deck and hangar cargo in the form of brand new USAAF P-47D-5 Thunderbolts and rushed them, partially disassembled, to Belfast.

P-47s lashed on the flight deck of USS Block Island (CVE 21). The aircraft is on the forward end of the flight deck, July 13, 1943. 80-G-77750

P-47s lashed on the flight deck of USS Block Island (CVE 21). Viewed from the bridge, looking aft, July 15, 1943. 80-G-77752

USS Block Island (CVE-21). Army P-47-D5 fighters on the ship’s hangar deck, for shipment to Europe, on 15 July 1943. Taken in New York City. 80-G-77754

Unloading P-47s from USS Block Island (CVE 21) at Belfast, North Ireland, July 27, 1943. 80-G-77756

Unloading P-47s from USS Block Island (CVE 21) at Belfast, North Ireland, July 27, 1943. 80-G-77760

Unloading P-47s from USS Block Island (CVE 21) at Belfast, North Ireland, July 27, 1943. 80-G-77757

Arriving back at Staten Island on 11 August, she would load another batch of “Jugs” and set out again for Belfast just 10 days later.

Arrives in Belfast, Ulster, with a load of army P-47 fighters on 7 September 1943. Barge BRAE is in the foreground. 80-G-55524

Port crane unloading army P-47 fighters from USS Block Island (CVE-21) at Belfast, Ulster, on 7 September 1943. The planes were unloaded in a record 14 hours. 80-G-55528

Getting in the Hunt

Upon reaching Norfolk after her second Jug run, Block Island got called up to the majors and, with squadron VC-1 embarked, spent a month in practice runs before shoving out into the Atlantic on 15 October as the centerpiece of Task Group (TG) 21.16, augmented by four destroyers. As an ace in the hole, the group was bird dogged by Ultra Intelligence from decoded German Enigma ciphers.

Although her group caught and damaged the big “milch cow,” U-488, then harassed U-256, and bagged U-222 (Oblt. Bruno Barber) on 28 October 1943, sent to Poseidon by Mk. 47 depth bombs from two of VC-1’s Avengers. U-220, a minelayer boat returning from laying her evil eggs off Newfoundland, went down with all hands.

Exchanging VC-1 for VC-58– the latter’s Avengers now equipped with the new 5-inch HVAR “Holy Moses” rockets– Block Island‘s planes soon chased U-758 in January 1944 on her second hunter-killer cruise but again did not sink her. In the attack 11 January attack, the HVAR was used against a submarine for the first time.

TBF aircraft, (VC-58), from USS Block Island (CVE 21) make the first aircraft rocket attack on a German submarine, U-758, on January 11, 1944. The submarine survived the attack and returned to St. Nazaire, France, on 20 January. In March 1945, it was stricken by the German Navy after being damaged by British bombers at Kiel, Germany. Shown: Lieutenant Junior Grade Willis D. Seeley makes an effective rocket attack followed quickly by a depth-bomb attack by Lieutenant Junior Grade Leonard L. McFord. Lieutenant Junior Grade Seeley then made an effective depth bomb attack. Official 80-G-222842

Same as above. 80-G-222843

Same as above. 80-G-222847

Her habit of being quick to attack reported U-boats earned her the nickname, “USS FBI” for “Fighting Block Island.”

This would be taken to even greater proportions by her second skipper, Capt. Francis Massie (“Frank”) Hughes (USNA 1923), a tough Alabaman who, like Block Island’s first skipper, had been at Pearl Harbor. During the December 7th attack, Hughes was the first Navy aviator who managed to get his aircraft in the air and did so while still in his pajamas, then later flew during the Battle of Midway.

USS Block Island (CVE-21) at sea on 3 February 1944. Photographed by ZP-14. 80-G-215495

On 1 March 1944, the Canon-class destroyer escort USS Bronstein (DE 189), part of Block Island’s T.G., reported a depth charge attack that has sometimes been credited as being a kill against U-603 (Kptlt. Hans-Joachim Bertelsmann) which had gone missing about that time.

On 1 March, Block Island‘s trio of destroyer escorts– USS Thomas, USS Bostwick, and Bronstein— depth-charged an unidentified submarine north of the Azores. This is typically thought to be U-709 (Oblt. (R) Rudolf Ites) which was reported missing in the same general area around that time and has never been found.

On 17 March, her aircraft, teaming up with the destroyer USS Corry and Bronstein, sank U-801 (Kptlt. Hans-Joachim Brans) west of Cabo Verde Islands. In that action, a new Fido homing torpedo dropped by an Avenger carried the day. Corry’s bluejackets rescued 47 German survivors.

Air Attacks on German U-boats, WWII. U-801 was sunk on March 17, 1944, by a Fido homing torpedo by two Avenger and one Wildcat aircraft from USS Block Island, along with depth charges and gunfire from USS Corry (DD-463) and USS Bronstein (DE-189). Note, Lieutenant Junior Grade Paul Sorenson strafed, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Charles Woodell depth charged U-801. 80-G-222854

On 19 March, depth charges from an Avenger/Wildcat duo from Block Island sent U-1059 (Oblt. Günter Leupold) to the bottom. Escorts standing by rescued eight survivors.

U-1059 was one of Donitz’s rare torpedo transport boats, a Type VIIF, that went down after one very curious fight that ended up with a waterlogged naval aviator taking enemy POWs into custody at gunpoint.

As related by

The sinking of U-1059. At 07.26 hours, the boat was attacked by an Avenger/Wildcat team from USS Block Island operating on ULTRA reports southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. The aircraft completely surprised U-1059, as she was not underway and men were seen swimming in the water. While the Wildcat (Lt (JG) W.H. Cole) made a strafing run, the Avenger dropped three depth charges that straddled the boat perfectly. U-1059 began to sink, but the AA gunners scored hits on the Avenger during its second attack run and it crashed into the sea, killing the pilot and one the crew. The mortally wounded pilot had nevertheless dropped two depth charges that sent the boat to the bottom. Ensign M.E. Fitzgerald survived the aircraft crash and found himself on a dinghy amidst German survivors. He helped a wounded survivor but kept the others at a distance with his pistol until USS Corry arrived and rescued him and eight German survivors, including the badly-wounded commander, Oblt Günther Leupold. (Sources: Franks/Zimmerman)

Shipping out on her third sweep, now VC-55 aboard in April 1944, Block Island’s T.G. damaged the veteran U-boat U-66 and, after a five-day chase, the destroyer escort USS Buckley found and rammed the pesky German submarine. Some 36 survivors captured by Buckley were later transferred to Block Island.

On the night of 29 May 1944, the Type IXC/40 submarine U-549 (Kptlt. Detlev Krankenhagen) managed to penetrate TG 21.11’s anti-submarine screen and get close enough to fire a trio of G7e(TIII) torpedoes at Block Island, hitting her with two.

As detailed by the NHHC:

Without warning, U-549’s first torpedo slammed into USS Block Island (CVE-21)’s bow at about frame 12; and, approximately four seconds later, a second struck her aft between frames 171 and 182, exploding in the oil tank, through the shaft alley and up through the 5-inch magazines without causing any further fires or explosions.

Meanwhile, the destroyer escort USS Robert I. Paine (DE-578) closed to join in picking up USS Block Island (CVE-21) survivors as the escort carrier settled lower and lower into the Atlantic. As she sank, the Avengers on USS Block Island (CVE-21)’s flight deck slid off into the sea like toys, their depth charges exploding deep under the surface. USS Block Island (CVE-21) took her final plunge at 2155.

USS Block Island (CVE-21) dead in the water and listing after 1st and 2nd torpedo hits. The ship was initially struck by two torpedoes from the German submarine U-549 on 2013, 29 May 1944. A third torpedo hit some ten minutes later and sealed her fate. FBI sank at 2155. NH 86679.

U-549 was soon after sunk by two of Block Island’s escorts, USS Ahrens (DE-575) and Eugene E. Elmore (DE-686), with all 57 of her crew, Krankenhagen included, diving with her to the bottom forever.

Amazingly, only six USS Block Island crew members died during or soon after the attack. Added to this were four Wildcat pilots aloft at the time of the attack who could not make it to the Canary Islands and were lost at sea.

Block Island’s name was stricken from the Navy List on 28 June 1944.

She was the only American carrier lost in the Atlantic in any war.

She earned two battle stars while her group was credited with sinking seven U-boats. Both of her skippers, Logan Ramsey and Frank Hughes, would survive the war and later retire as rear admirals.


A third Block Island, the second to carry the Navy on active duty, a late-model Commencement Bay-class escort carrier (CVE-106), was commissioned just six months after our ship’s loss, on 30 December 1944.

Of interest, Most of the original CVE 21 crew was reassigned to CVE 106, which was fairly unique in U.S. Navy history. This was done largely due to the will of Frank Hughes, CVE-21’s final skipper, and he would command the new Block Island in 1945.

BuAer photo of USS Block Island (CVE-106), taken on 13 January 1945 off the north end of Vashon Island, Washington. Photo #Stl 1728-1-45.

This new carrier was also able to earn two battle stars for her WWII service in the final days of the Pacific War, then went on to serve again in the Atlantic during the Korean War and was decommissioned in 1954.

A veterans association remembers both CVE-21 and CVE-106.

Our little flattop is also remembered in maritime art.

“The BLOCK ISLAND in ’44” – CVE-21 USS BLOCK ISLAND with VC-55 aboard, May 1944 (Jim Griffiths)

The war diaries for both Block Islands are digitized in the National Archives.

The most tangible memory of CVE-21 is the Simmons Aviation Foundation’s Heritage Flight TBM-3E Avenger (N85650) that since 2011 carried the “Block Island” livery and tail flash of VC-55.

Of the rest of the Bogue class, Block Island was not the only member to feel the U-boat’s sting. British-operated sister HMS Nabob (D 77) was torpedoed by U-354 in October 1944 and so seriously damaged that she was judged not worth repair. Likewise, the same could be said for sistership HMS Thane (D 48) would be so crippled by U-1172 in 1945 that she was not returned to service.

As for the class’s post-war service, they were too small and slow to be utilized as much more than aircraft transports, and most of the British-operated vessels were returned to the U.S. Navy, retrograded back to merchantmen, and sold off as freighters.

Of the ten U.S.-operated Bogues, most were sold for scrap or for further mercantile use sans flattop and guns, with Card, converted to an aviation transport (AKV-40, later T-AKV-40) in the 1950s, remaining in service into Vietnam where she was embarrassingly holed by Viet Cong sappers in Saigon. The last of the class in American service, she was scrapped in 1971.

The final Bogue hull, the former Smiter-class escort carrier HMS Khedive (D62), continued operating as the tramp freighter SS Daphne as late as 1976 before she met her end in the hands of Spanish breakers.


Displacement: 16,620 tons (full)
Length: 495 ft. 7 in
flight deck: 439 ft.
Beam: 69 ft. 6 in
flight deck: 70 ft.
Draught: 26 ft.
2 x Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company Inc., Milwaukee geared steam turbines, 8,500 shp
2 x boilers (285 psi)
1 x shaft
Speed: 18 knots (designed) 16 actual, max
Complement: 890 including airwing
2 x single 5″/51 (later 5″/38) gun mounts
8 x twin 40-mm/56-cal gun mounts
27 x single 20-mm/70-cal Oerlikons
Aircraft carried 18-24 operational, up to 90 for ferry service
Aviation facilities: 2 5.9-ton capacity elevators; 1 hydraulic catapult (H 2); 9-wire/3-barrier Mk 4 mod 5A arresting gear; 262×62 ft. hangar deck; 440×82 ft. flight deck

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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

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The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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Warship Wednesday, March 1, 2023: Six in One Trip!

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, March 1, 2023: Six in One Trip!

Imperial War Museum photograph A 21989 by Royal Navy official photographer, LT CH Parnall.

Above we see the modified Black Swan-class sloop HMS Kite (U87), of “Johnnie” Walker’s famed 2nd Support Group, dwarfed by a column of water that rises six times her height during an early 1944 depth charge attack on a suspected German U-boat in the North Atlantic, possibly while sending Oblt. Horst Hepp’s U-238 to the bottom southwest of Ireland on 9 February.

About the Swans

Originally classed as well-armed multi-purpose minesweepers but redesignated almost immediately after WWII started as convoy escorts, the Swans were an improvement of the preceding Bittern-class sloop. Hardy 1,250-ton ships of 299 feet overall and, armed with half-dozen high angle 4-inch guns and some light quad Vickers .50 cal AAA pieces, they carried more than enough depth charges (as many as 110 in late-war refits) to scratch the paint on German U-boats and Japanese I-boats. They weren’t very fast (19 knots) but had long legs (7,000nm@12kts) and proved well-suited to the work.

The Black Swan-class sloop of war HMS Starling (U66) underway in 1943, a good representation of the class in profile, showing the arrangement and her trio of twin QF 4″/45 mounts. This vessel would be a near-constant companion to our sloop, her sister, during the war. IWM FL 19299

The Brits only produced 37 of these useful warships, a number that was far outpaced by the 294-strong Flower (Gladiolus)-class corvette, an even smaller (925-ton, 205-foot) and slower (16ish knots) ASW vessel on a hull derived from a commercial whaler that was equipped with a single 4-incher but could nearly the same quantity of depth charges.

But don’t let the fact that for every 5 Flowers built, there was just a single Swan fool you, as the Swans more than proved their worth, as we shall see.

Meet HMS Kite

Named after the small and agile bird of prey rather than the tethered flying vehicle, our vessel was the seventh– and so far last– HMS Kite in the Royal Navy, with the previous six vessels typically being small cutters, sloops, and gunboats stretching back as far as 1764.

A rather famous piece of art by Montague Dawson c. 1950: “Dawn Suspect” depicting the 12-gun Revenue Cutter HMS Kite giving chase to the ship of notorious smuggler David “Smoker” Browning, 16 July 1788, “finally ensnaring the Kingpin of the North Sea after years of his evading the King’s justice.” Purchased in 1778, this was the second HMS Kite, and she would give coastwise service in the Home Isles through 1793. Via the Vallejo Gallery. For more on the 18th-century cat-and-mouse game between the King’s Revenue Cutters and the North Sea smugglers, click here.

The preceding sixth HMS Kite was a mighty 250-ton/85-foot flat-iron Ant-class gunboat commissioned in 1871 and sold in 1920. Yes, that is a Royal Arsenal RML 10-inch 18-ton gun on her bow, capable of firing 400-pound Palliser shells, thanks for asking.

Laid down at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead as Job No 3467 (Yard No 1102), on 25 September 1941, a fortnight after Allied convoy SC 42 had 16 ships sent to the bottom by a German Wolfpack, our Kite was commissioned 17 months, 5 days later on 1 March 1943– some 80 years ago today.

Ironically, HMS Kite’s career would last just 17 months, and 21 days, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

HMS Kite (U87), as completed, underway in March 1943. Note the barrage balloon over her mast, as if a play on her name. IWM FL 22973

After the completion of her abbreviated workups, the brand-new sloop joined the newly formed 2nd Support Group at Liverpool, the home of the Western Approaches Command, in early April and was supporting Atlantic convoys by mid-month. As a bit of background on 2SG– under the command of Captain Frederic John Walker, DSO with Bar, a hard-charging career officer who served on destroyers in the Great War and had already led the 36th Group in dispatching no less than five U-boats in 1942– the ASW force initially consisted of Kite and five sisterships: HMS Starling, HMS Wren, HMS Woodpecker, HMS Cygnet, and HMS Wild Goose.

HMS STARLING on the inside berth, HMS KITE (center) and HMS WREN.

With the addition of the group to the Western Approaches and the addition of more tin cans and escort carriers from the U.S. Navy to ride close escort on convoys themselves, 2SG was given the role of a fire brigade, standing just over the horizon for convoys then rushing in with a “Tally Ho” spirit to bust up a spotted wolfpack.

“Out With U-boat Killer Number 1; the Second Escort Group’s Success. 26 January To 25 February 1944, on Board HMS Starling. With the 2nd Escort Group, Commanded by Captain F J Walker, CB, DSO and Two Bars, on His Most Recent and Most Successful Patrol. Three of the Group’s Six U-boat “kills” Were Made Within 16 Hours. The sloop WOODPECKER goes into the attack and Captain Walker shouts encouragement to her through the loud hailer.” IWM A 21988

Walker and 2SG perfected several tactics to counter interloping U-boats including the “Creeping Attack,” a sort of rolling barrage method, similar to that used by artillery supporting an infantry attack only substituting a line of sloops and depth charges, and being able to orchestrate an alternating chase handed off between several escorts that would tire out a German boat or force it to the surface while keeping the ‘hounds comparatively rested. For example, in one eight-hour Creeping Attack, at least 266 depth charges were used by Starling, Wild Goose, and Kite to chase down U-238. Such huge expenditures of ASW weapons required depth charge stocks to be replenished from specially-outfitted merchant ships while underway.

Walker was always “maximum effort” when it came to pursuing the attack, and Starling, with him on the bridge, even famously rammed one German, U-119, upon resurfacing after one such pursuit.

A reconstruction of the sloop HMS Starling ramming the re-surfaced German submarine U-119 in June 1943. Another Royal Navy warship is visible on the horizon. HMS Starling is painted in a camouflage scheme. By John Hamilton. IWM ART LD 7411

True to form, Walker played “A Hunting We Will Go” over Starling’s Tannoy (1MC) when returning to Liverpool, a move that would become a tradition for 2SG, and indeed to other hunter-killer teams.

Biscay Barricade

In late June 1943, 2SG was ordered, as part of Operation Musketry and Operation Seaslug, to, with top cover provided by the RAF and some comparatively big guns from the AAA cruiser HMS Scylla, shut down the Bay of Biscay to U-boat traffic– or at least make it hazardous for Doenitz’s boys to travel there. Over the next three months, the ASW group would prove exceptionally good at their job indeed.

HMS Kite, note her extensive depth charge racks and projector fit along with her stern 4″/45 twin mount

Kite would be credited, with her sisters, for participating in the sinking of U-449 and U-504 near Spain’s Cape Ortegal, as well as U-462-– a vitally important Type XIV milch cow, in the Bay of Biscay proper. Notably, the latter two subs were sunk in gun actions after being forced to break for the surface. Kite would also pluck some waterlogged survivors of U-545, sent to Poseidon by a RAAF Sunderland, from the drink.

Between 2SG, other ASW groups, and shore-based patrol aircraft, Musketry/Seaslug operation would account for no less than 20 U-boats in a nine-week campaign.

HMS KITE, BLACK SWAN CLASS SLOOP. OCTOBER 1943. (A 19993) Broadside view. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


By September, Kite and 2SG were back on convoy duty and she would chalk up two more assisted kills, on U-226 east of Newfoundland in November, and U-238 south-west of Ireland the following February, bringing her count to five boats– an ace. U-238 would be sunk during a sweep that saw 2SG bag no less than a half-dozen U-boats on a single patrol between 26 January and 25 February.

HMS KITE, SLOOP. 26 JANUARY TO 25 FEBRUARY 1944, ON BOARD HMS STARLING, AT SEA. (A 22009) HMS KITE, Sloop of the 2nd Escort Group, at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

HMS KITE, SLOOP. 26 JANUARY TO 25 FEBRUARY 1944, ON BOARD HMS STARLING, AT SEA. (A 22007) HMS KITE of the 2nd Escort Group, at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

This “Six in one trip” exploit by the group earned a star-studded reception when the flock of Swans returned to Liverpool, with thousands of locals including A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty, waiting to greet Walker and his sloops on their return. Old Johnnie would receive a second Bar for his DSO for that one.


In May 1944, during the build-up for the Overlord Landings on Normandy, 2SG was detailed to a search and destroy operation during D-Day in the South Western Approaches while Kite was carved away to join the 115th Escort Group for the landings themselves. Teamed up with the destroyers HMS Forester, and HMS Quorn, along with frigates HMS Tyler and HMS Seymour, Kite staged at Portsmouth with the invasion armada and worked off the British beachheads from June 6th through the 27th, and would remain in the Channel in further taskings through July.

Victual & Goodwood

In early August, Kite was assigned to take a small part in the sprawling Operation Victual– the passage of convoys JW 59 and RA 59A between Britain and Murmansk– and the simultaneous Operation Goodwood, with the latter being a series of five carrier air raids on the German battleship Tirpitz in Kaafjord.

Sailing as part of the 34-ship JW 59 from Loch Ewe on 15 August, five days later Kite came across Oblt. Ulrich Pietsch’s U-344, on the sub’s third patrol.

As detailed by

At 20.45 hours on 20 Aug 1944, HMS Keppel (D 84) got a contact on her starboard quarter, while escorting convoy JW-59. Together with HMS Kite (U 87) and a Swordfish aircraft from HMS Vindex (D 15) the U-boat was attacked with hedgehogs and depth charges. They hunted the U-boat throughout the night with their foxers (Anti Gnat devices) streamed, but the hunt was fruitless.

At 06.04 hours on 21 August, HMS Kite (U 87) (LtCdr A.N.G. Campbell, RN) had slowed down to 6 knots to clear her foxers, which had become twisted around one another. At this vulnerable moment, U-344 fired a spread of three FAT torpedoes [German G7e with a Federapparat zig zag device] at the sloop, misidentified as Dido-class light cruiser by Pietsch. The ship was struck by two torpedoes on the starboard side and heeled over to that side immediately. The stern broke off, floated for a few seconds, then sank. The bow remained afloat for a minute and then sank at a steep angle.

At 07.30 hours, HMS Keppel (D 84) stopped to pick up survivors, while HMS Peacock (U 96) and HMS Mermaid (U 30) screened the rescue operation. Only 14 of the about 60 survivors in the water could be rescued from the ice-cold water, five of them died on board and were later buried at sea.


Kite was U-344‘s only claim during the war and she was sent to the bottom the next day off Bear Island, splashed by depth charges from an 825 Sqn FAA/X Swordfish from the escort carrier HMS Vindex, lost with all hands. Immediate retribution at the hands of the Royal Navy.

In all, Kite had participated in no less than 17 convoys in her brief career, one for every month, and she earned four battle honors: “Biscay 1943,” “Atlantic 1943-44,” “Normandy 1944,” and “Arctic 1944.”

A memorial to her 258 perished crew was eventually established in the Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens— the community that adopted the ship in March 1942.

Sadly, Johnnie Walker had preceded her, having passed of a sudden cerebral hemorrhage on 9 July 1944 at age 48, a death attributed to exhaustion. He was just worn out. Somewhat poetically, the men of 2SG could not pay their respects at his well-attended public funeral, as they were out on patrol, which is something he probably would have preferred anyway.

With 17 German boats to the credit of his ships, Walker is often considered the most successful ASW commander of the war, if not in all of naval history. It would have been interesting to see what his tally would have been had he lived to VE-Day.

Likewise, 2SG was credited with the confirmed destruction of 22 U-boats during the war, earning it a distinction as the most successful ASW unit of the entire conflict.


Besides Kite’s loss, her sisters HMS Ibis, HMS Woodpecker, and HMS Lapwing were likewise lost during the war, the first to Italian bombers off Algiers during the Torch Landings, and the latter to U-boats. Two further sisters, HMS Chanticleer and HMS Lark, were so badly damaged by German torpedoes that they were beyond economical repair. This balance sheet was traded for a minimum of 31 German U-boats accounted for by the class in exchange.

The 25 remaining Swans and modified Swans, post-war, as detailed by the 1946 edition of Janes

Post-war, most of these economical warships would continue to serve the Admiralty into the 1950s and a few even into the early 1960s, while others would be given away as military aid.

Black Swan-class sloop HMS Crane (F123, formerly U23) seen leaving Singapore in December 1961. Note the T-class submarine HMS Teredo (S38). Assigned to the British Pacific Fleet in early 1945 after European service that included the D-Day landings, Crane continued to serve in the Far East until 1962, the last of her class in service with the Royal Navy. She was scrapped in 1965.

The last of these sloops in Commonwealth service, the Indian Navy’s Sutlej (U95), would remain on New Delhi’s naval list as a survey ship until 1983, and was likely the last ship in any fleet that had sunk Japanese I-boats. Only one of the 37 Black Swans, HMS Mermaid (U30)/FGS Scharnhorst, lasted longer than Sutlej, finally going to the scrappers in 1990 after a decade as a damage control training hulk with the West German Bundesmarine. A bit of irony there.

As for Kite, Walker, and the sloops of 2SG, their triumphant return in February 1944 from their “One in Six” patrol was depicted in 1958 by maritime artist Stephen Bone in “Arrival of Second Escort Group of Sloops at Liverpool,” now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum.

Bone, Stephen; Arrival of Second Escort Group of Sloops at Liverpool; National Maritime Museum;

In 1998, an oversized statue of Captain Frederic John Walker, CB, DSO & Three Bars, crafted by sculptor Tom Murphy, was installed at Liverpool’s Pier Head, looking out to sea with his binos and seemingly waiting for his sloops to come home.


Plan of HMS ‘Black Swan’ (1939), via RMM Greenwich

Displacement: 1,250 tons
Length: 299 ft 6 in
Beam: 37 ft 6 in
Draught: 11 ft
Geared turbines, 2 shafts:
3,600 hp
Speed: 19 knots
Range: 7,500 nmi at 12 kn
Complement: 180
6 × QF 4″/45 (10.2 cm) QF Mark XVI AA guns (3 × 2)
4 × 2-pounder AA pom-pom
4 × 50 cal Vickers AAA machine guns
40 depth charges

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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The last Amerikansky Golland

A century ago today, the last American submarine operated by the Russians was put into service.

The 78 assorted Type H (Holland 602) submarines made by Electric Boat in Connecticut, Fore River in Massachusetts, and Canadian Vickers in Montreal, and three British yards (Vickers, Cammell Laird, Armstrong Whitworth, and William Beardmore) then entered service with the U.S. Navy (USS H-1, H-2, and H-3), the Italians, the Royal Navy (and via the Brits on to Chile), and served as Canada’s first submarines.

HMCS CH-14 CH-15 submarines, Canada’s H boats

Added to this were 17 boats ordered by the Tsar’s admiralty for the Imperial Russian Navy in 1916.

The Amerikansky Golland

Dubbed the AG class in Russian service for “Amerikansky Golland,” they were constructed at a temporary yard outside of Vancouver, then disassembled, taken by ship to Vladivostok, then by rail via the Trans-Siberian to either Saint Petersburg on the Baltic or Nikolayev on the Black Sea where they were reassembled and launched by Russian yards.

The Russian Type H boats AG-11, AG-12, AG-15, and AG-16 alongside the submarine tender Oland in Hanko, Finland, circa 1917.

Just 11 were delivered to the Russkies before they dropped out of the war in late 1917, leaving the U.S. Navy to take over the six undelivered boats which were commissioned as USS H-4 through USS H-9.

Chile Guacolda class H-class submarines Holland 602, via Jane’s 1946

While most operators of the H-class were not terribly enamored with their boats (the U.S. Navy decommissioned all nine of theirs by 1922, the Brits either gave away most of theirs to allies or relegated them to a training role after 1920 as did the Italians, the Canadians scrapped theirs by 1927, and the Chileans, somewhat of an outlier, kept theirs through WWII) the Russians were forced into keeping theirs operational. Although the five Baltic-assigned AGs were lost during the Great War and the follow-on Russian Civil War, of the six in the Black Sea, AG-22 left with White Russian exiles and never returned while the other four were kept in service.

The last AG on hand, AG-26, was finally finished by the workers at the former Russud factory in Nikolaev (now Mykolaiv) and launched on 23 February 1923, seven years after she was originally constructed in Vancouver.

Renamed Tovarsh Kamenev, then Politrabotnik, and finally A-4, she spent her entire career in the Black Sea and carried out 12 war patrols and three blockade-running missions into besieged Sevastopol during WWII.

AG-26/Tovarsh Kamenev/Politrabotnik/A-4 would only be retired in 1947.

Operating alongside her four sisters, two were lost in combat, but all gave good wartime service– including logging dozens of attacks on Axis shipping assets during the conflict– despite their odd heritage and funky construction process, one that spanned almost 10,000 sea and rail miles from the Pacific Northwest to the Black Sea.

The surviving submarines of the AG type in Odessa in the Coastal Harbor. Late 1920s. By this time, they had been renamed A-1 through A-4.

As noted by Platonov in “Encyclopedia of Soviet submarines 1941-1945

[T]hese obsolete submarines in every respect took the most active part in the war and even achieved relatively high results, in any case, better than the “little ones”, based on the number of sunken targets per submarine.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023: A Dozen Stars and a Wigwam

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023: A Dozen Stars and a Wigwam

U.S. Navy Photo by JOC(AC) Warren Grass. National Archives Catalog #: 80-G-K K-98130

Above we see the unpresuming Navajo/Cherokee/Apache-class fleet tug USS Tawasa (AT-92) departing Subic Bay bound for Haiphong in February 1973 to take part in Operation End Sweep. Don’t let her workaday appearance fool you, launched eight decades ago today– 22 February 1943– she saw more hairy situations than many battleships across her 32-year career and helped boil the sea.

A new type of tug, for a new type of war

With the immense U.S. Naval build-up planned just before WWII broke out, the Navy knew they needed some legitimate ocean-going rescue tugs to be able to accompany the fleet into rough waters and overseas warzones. This led to the radically different Navajo/Cherokee class of 205-foot diesel-electric (a first for the Navy) fleet tugs.

These hardy 1,250-ton ships could pull a broken-down fleet carrier if needed (Tawasa would prove that in 1965) and had long enough sea legs (10,000 miles) due to their economical engines to be able to roam the world. Armed with a 3″/50 caliber popgun as a hood ornament, a matching pair of twin 40mm Bofors, and some 20mm Oerlikons, they could down an enemy aircraft or poke holes in a gunboat if needed.

In all, the Navy commissioned 28 of these tough cookies from 1938 onward, making a splash in Popular Mechanics at the time due to their impressive diesel-electric power plant consisting of a quartet of GM 12-278A diesels driving four GE generators and a trio of GM 3-268A auxiliary services engines, generating 3,600shp.

Their war was hard and dangerous with 3 of the ships (Nauset, Navajo, and Seminole) meeting their end in combat, and the 25 that made it through the crucible going on to serve in other conflicts, and under other flags.

The Cherokee/Navajo class would prove successful enough that 22 follow-on tugs– with the same hull form and engineering plant but with a re-trunked exhaust that shrunk the funnel diameter– of the Abnaki class would be constructed during the war, and two (Wateree, lost in a 1945 typhoon; and Sarsi, sunk by a mine off Korea in 1952) lost in Navy service. 

Meet Tawasa

The hero of our story, USS Tawasa (AT-92) was laid down on 22 June 1942 at Portland, Oregon, by the Commercial Iron Works, a small firm that would crank out no less than 188 hulls for Uncle Sam during the conflict ranging from landing craft to escort carriers. Tawasa’s launch date, some 80 years in the rearview, saw her sponsored by Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan, the tragic gold star mom of the five lost Sullivan brothers.

The first U.S. Navy vessel named for a Florida branch of mound-building Muskhogean Indians subsequently named the Apalachicola tribe, she commissioned on 17 July 1943, just under 13 months after her first steel was cut.


Following her shakedown cruise off California, Tawasa was assigned to Service Force, Pacific Fleet, and left Pearl Harbor in early November, bound to spend Thanksgiving 1943 in the Gilbert Islands, which were being taken by Marines.

USS Tawasa (ATF-92) underway, circa 1943-1945, location unknown. David Buell for his father CWO4 Benton E. Buell USN, Ret. USS Tawasa Chief Engineer, 1962-63. Via Navsource

Christmas saw her in Tarawa and the New Year of 1944 with TF 52 pushing through the Marshall Islands, where she lent a hand in the landings at Kwajalein, Majuro, and Eniwetok, at times pinch-hitting as a destroyer acting as a screening vessel with her overheating and cranky WEA-2 sound equipment in the water. Her ASW armament if she had a contact? Just eight “ashcan” style depth charges on two short gravity racks over her stern.

As noted by DANFS:

Off Kwajalein Atoll on the 31st [of January], Tawasa took soundings enabling Mississippi (BB-41) to approach the shore for close bombardment. The tug then performed salvage, towing, and screening duty until 18 February when she moved to Eniwetok to assist in the assault that was to strike that atoll the next morning. She supported operations until the atoll was secured and remained in the area for almost two months, providing services to American ships using this new base.

Tawasa’s War Diary for 30/31 January 1944:

Continuing with TF52, she would soon be assisting combat-loaded LSTs landing Marines and gear on Saipan in June.

With the Marianas wrapping up, by late July Tawasa would be reassigned from TF52 back to ServRon, South Pacific, and placed on a series of unsung missions. She became particularly adept at pulling LCIs off the beach. Her embarked divers came in handy when it came to recovering lost anchors and chains, along with conducting submerged inspections of recently captured ports and leaky hulls, while her DC teams would often fan out to weld 1/4-inch steel sheeting over holes in the side of battle damaged landing craft. Her 20-ton derrick boom allowed her to salvage all manner of objects from the seafloor. Meanwhile, her sonarmen and radar operators would keep their eyes and ears peeled for interloping enemy aircraft and vessels of all types.

The Japanese surrender found our tug in Guadalcanal, where she had just transported military passengers from the Russell Islands. Post VJ-Day, she remained forward deployed except for a trip stateside to California and would operate in Chinese and Japanese waters well into 1947.

In the end, Tawasa would earn three battle stars for her WWII service.


While a wide variety of brand new ships wound up in mothballs in the days after WWII– some being towed to red lead row right from the builders’ yards– these fleet tugs remained on active service. No rest for the working man.

The Cherokee class fleet tugs listed in the 1946 Jane’s, Tawasa included. Note that the list includes the Abnaki-class half-sisters as well.

Alternating between Alaska and Guam in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Tawasa was deployed to the 7th Fleet to serve in the Korea conflict, assigned alternatively to the ports of Cho Do, Sokcho, and Chinghai while under the control of TF 92 from July 1952 through January 1953. In this, she added two further battle stars to her salad bar.

Returning stateside, she spent six months in overhaul at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard. When she emerged in November 1953, a terrific series of images were captured of her for the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships files, detailing her radar (SO-4), radio, and overall fit. If you are a modeler looking for shots of a 1950s Cherokee class tug, the National Archives has you covered with this series:

Note that she still carries her WWII twin Bofors mounts. 19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145199

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145203

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145715

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145197

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145716

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145717

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145201

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145714

Note the two bridge wing 20mm single Oerlikons. These would be replaced by M2 .50 cals by Vietnam while the Bofors would be deleted about the same time. 19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145202

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145200

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145198

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145713


Fielded in 1952 without full-scale war shot tests, the 500-pound Mark 90 “Betty” nuclear depth charge was seen as an ace-in-the-hole against rapidly growing fleets of schnorkel-equipped Soviet Whiskey-class submarines, of which Moscow ordered a staggering 215 in four different versions (Projects 613, 640, 644, and 665) between 1949 and 1958.

Carrying a W7 Thor tactical fission bomb with a theoretical yield of up to 30 kilotons– twice the force of the Hiroshima bomb– it was thought that a single Betty dropped via a patrol plane would be enough to clear out a whole nest of Whiskeys.

But the Navy wanted to be sure the theory held.

Enter Operation Wigwam, a full-scale test of a live device.

Conducted in May 1955 some 500 miles southwest of San Diego in water 16,000 feet deep, Tawasa tugged a Betty as part of a six-mile long towline that included a trio of identical white-painted 4/5-scale submarine hulls (704 tons, 140 foot long with a 20-foot beam complete with correct bulkhead spacings to spec and 1-inch HST steel hull plating) dubbed “Squaws” which were filled with instruments. 

The three Squaw submarine mock-ups generally mimicked the same hull construction techniques as seen on the Navy’s SS-563 (post-war Tang) class diesel GUPPY boats, which were at least as strong if not stronger than Soviet Whiskey boats. The targets were fitted with extensive seismography instruments at 52 locations spread throughout their compartments.

With the Squaws submerged at a depth of 250-290 feet at three different distances from the device, the Betty was rigged some 2,000 feet under the keel of its support barge and the Wigwam task force beat feet to observe from five miles away.

The resulting “hot” bubble from the submerged blast grew to over 4,600 feet across when it broke the surface and rose some 1,900 feet above the water at its height.

Squaw 12, the closest to the device, simply disappeared.

Here is the view from five miles out. Hydrophones at Point Sur, Hawaii heard the “thump” of Wigwam from 2,500 miles away. NARA 374-ANT-30-30-DPY-11-20

The gist of the 56-page after-action report on the squaws:

The external pressures applied to the three SQUAW targets in Operation Wigwam were measured with pressure gages, and the deformations of the hull were measured with strain and displacement gages. The results indicate that SQUAW-12 was at a horizontal range of 5150 ft and a depth of 290 ft the peak shock pressure at the hull was about 850 psi and the target was destroyed, probably within 10 msec. SQUAW-13 was at a horizontal range of 7200 ft and a depth of 260 ft the peak dynamic pressure at the hull was about 615 psi, and the hull was probably near collapse but did not rupture. The estimation is that the lethal horizontal range of the SQUAW target under the Wigwam test conditions is about 7000 ft for a depth of 250 ft and about 4500 ft for a depth of 70 ft.

Even though at least 362 personnel of the task force’s 6,732 men embarked– clad just in working gear with no flash or NBC protection– would have mildly dirty dosimeters after the event, and contaminated water was found at several depths during the weeks following the test, it was judged that Betty was safe-ish enough to be used under certain conditions, and was more than capable of sinking an enemy sub (or three) within a two-mile radius of its impact if used correctly.

This 11-minute film covers the test in great detail, including Tawasa and her six-mile squaw-laden towline.

Betty would remain in service until 1960 when it was replaced by the multipurpose B57 nuclear bomb during the mid-1960s. In its depth charge variant, the hydrostatic fuzed B57 had a selectable yield up to 10 kt– only about one-third of the Wigwam device– and could be dropped by P-3s, S-3s, and SH-3s as well as the short-lived Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH). It was thought that in most scenarios, the B57 depth charge would only be dialed in at 5 kt. It would finally be withdrawn in 1993.

Anyway, back to our ship.


Dusting off and cleaning up post-Wigwam, Tawasa would continue to serve with the 7th Fleet on WestPac deployments, including four to Vietnam (May-Oct 1968, April-Sept 1969, May-Sept 1970, and Feb-June 1972). For this, she would earn seven Vietnam-era campaign stars.

Her most notable moments during this era included the largest operational tow made by a solo tug of the Pacific Fleet: 33,946 tons, when she pulled the decommissioned USS Bunker Hill (AVT-9) from San Francisco to San Diego, and coming to the rescue of the shattered destroyer USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754) which had been sheered in two by the Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne during Southeast Asian Treaty Organization exercises in the South China Sea.

Tawasa took the remaining stern section in tow and returned it to Subic Bay.

2 June 1969 SH-3 helicopters from USS Kearsarge (CVS-33) join search and rescue operations over the stern section of USS Frank E. Evans, as USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) stands ready to offer assistance (at right). NH 98649

She closed out her Vietnam service with Operation End Sweep off Haiphong in 1973. During the six months of End Sweep, 10 ocean minesweepers, 9 amphibious ships, 6 fleet tugs, 3 salvage ships, and 19 destroyer types operated in RADM Brian McCauley’s Task Force 78, sweeping hundreds of the aircraft-laid mines.

By 1973, she was one of 25 of her class still in Navy service but her days were numbered.

Jane’s 1973-74 listing, in which the class is dubbed the Apache class. Note that the list includes the Abnaki-class half-sisters as well.


With a final scoresheet that would include three battle stars for World War II service, two for Korea, and seven for Vietnam, Tawasa was decommissioned and struck from the Navy list on April Fool’s Day 1975. She was sold for scrapping the following August.

There has not been a second Tawasa on the Navy List.

Much of her logs and photos are in the National Archives.

As for the rest of her sisters, many continued in U.S. Navy service until as late as the 1970s when they were either sunk as targets or scrapped. A number went as military aid to overseas allies in Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, and elsewhere. One sister, USS Apache (ATF-67) who served as the support tender for the bathysphere Trieste, was transferred in 1974 to Taiwan and continues to serve as ROCS Ta Wan (ATF-551). Added to this is USS Pinto (AT-90), which has been in Peru as BAP Guardian Rios (ARB-123), and USS Sioux (AT-75), which lingers as the Turkish Navy’s Gazal (A-587).

The final Abnaki-class half-sister in the Navy’s inventory, ex-USS Paiute (ATF-159), was stricken in 1995 after 44 years of service spanning WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the First Gulf War, then scrapped in October 2003 at Portsmouth.

The legacy of U.S. Navy fleet tugs is kept alive by NAFTS, the National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors. The only Navy tug museum ship is the former ATA-170-class auxiliary tug USS Wampanoag/USCG Comanche, which will be opened to the public in the coming months.

When it comes to Betty, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy has an inert casing on display, noting, “After tests at sea and in the Nevada desert, the Navy soon determined that the Mk 90 was not a practical weapon and retired the system in 1959.”

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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

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The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

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Submarine updates: USS Albacore found, SSN-23 Turns 18, U-17 Finds a Home

Lots of submarine news broke over the weekend, and all of it deserving of a pause to cover.

USS Albacore found

One of the most successful American subs of WWII, the Gato-class fleet boat USS Albacore (SS-218) was a “war baby,” having been commissioned at Electric Boat on 1 June 1942– the same week as the Battle of Midway– and quickly earning a Presidential Unit Citation and nine battle stars in her own Pacific service. This included officially sinking the highest warship tonnage of any U.S. submarine in history, chalking up the Japanese light cruiser Tenryu (3948 tons), destroyers Oshio (2408 tons) and Sazanam (2080 tons); auxiliary gunboats Heijo Maru (2677 GRT) and Choko Maru No.2 (2629 GRT); aircraft carrier Taiho (29300 tons), minesweeper Eguchi Maru No.3 (198 GRT), and submarine chaser Cha-165 (130 tons).

USS Albacore (SS-218) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 28 April 1944. 19-N-65349

Tragically, Albacore disappeared on her 11th War Patrol in late 1944. As noted by DANFS:

Albacore left Pearl Harbor on 24 October, topped off her fuel tanks at Midway on 28 October, and was never heard from again. According to Japanese records captured after the war, a submarine assumed to be Albacore struck a mine very close to the shore off northeastern Hokkaido on 7 November. A Japanese patrol boat witnessed the explosion of a submerged submarine and saw a great deal of heavy oil, cork, bedding, and food supplies rise to the surface. On 21 December, Albacore was assumed to have been lost. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 30 March 1945.

Well, she has been officially marked located by the Naval History and Heritage Command, who confirmed the identity of a wreck discovered by a Japanese team last year off Hokkaidō in waters about 4 miles east of Hakodate as Albacore, based on documented modifications made to her prior to her last patrol.

A screenshot of the wreck site USS Albacore (SS 218). which was lost at sea Nov. 7, 1944. Indications of documented modifications made to Albacore prior to her final patrol such as the presence of an SJ Radar dish and mast, a row of vent holes along the top of the superstructure, and the absence of steel plates along the upper edge of the fairwater allowed Naval History and Heritage Command to confirm the wreck site finding as Albacore. Screenshot captured from video courtesy of Dr. Tamaki Ura, from the University of Tokyo.


NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) used information and imagery provided by Dr. Tamaki Ura, from the University of Tokyo, to confirm the identity of Albacore, which was lost at sea Nov. 7, 1944.

“As the final resting place for Sailors who gave their life in defense of our nation, we sincerely thank and congratulate Dr. Ura and his team for their efforts in locating the wreck of Albacore,” said NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, U.S. Navy rear admiral (retired). “It is through their hard work and continued collaboration that we could confirm Albacore’s identity after being lost at sea for over 70 years.”

Japanese records originating from the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR) covering the loss of an American submarine on Nov. 7, 1944, guided Dr. Ura’s missions. The location mentioned in the records matched a separate ongoing effort by UAB volunteers to establish the location of the shipwreck.

Dr. Ura’s team collected data using a Remotely Operated Vehicle to confirm the historical data. Strong currents, marine growth, and poor visibility on site made it challenging to fully document the wreck or obtain comprehensive images. However, several key features of a late 1944 Gato-class submarine were identified in the video.

Indications of documented modifications made to Albacore prior to her final patrol such as the presence of an SJ Radar dish and mast, a row of vent holes along the top of the superstructure, and the absence of steel plates along the upper edge of the fairwater allowed UAB to confirm the wreck site finding as Albacore.

The wreck of Albacore is a U.S. sunken military craft protected by U.S. law and under the jurisdiction of NHHC. While non-intrusive activities, such as remote sensing documentation, on U.S. Navy sunken military craft is allowed, any intrusive or potentially intrusive activities must be coordinated with NHHC and if appropriate, authorized through a relevant permitting program. Most importantly, the wreck represents the final resting place of Sailors that gave their life in defense of the nation and should be respected by all parties as a war grave.

SSN-23 Turns 18

Named for the only former nuclear submarine officer (and last battleship officer) to occupy the White House, the third and final Seawolf-class attack boat, USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) celebrated the 18th anniversary of her commissioning. The much-modified boat has spent most of her career never going into places and doing things she that will never see a press release. This is evidenced from her 2017 appearance back home at Kitsap with a Jolly Roger aloft with no explanation.

PUGET SOUND, Wash. (Sept. 11, 2017) Sailors aboard the Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23), look on as the submarine transits the Hood Canal on its way home to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Sept. 11. Jimmy Carter is the last and most advanced of the Seawolf-class attack submarines, which are all homeported at Naval Base Kitsap. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith)

Of course, the news that SSN-23s adult birthday comes as her Annapolis-educated namesake, now 98, is entering hospice care. While his record as a president may be up for debate, his naval service was not.

Mr. Carter spent almost two years of service on old school dreadnoughts (USS Wyoming and Mississippi while they were gunnery test ships), and another five on subs including earning his dolphins on USS Pomfret (SS-391), then as a plankowner for USS K-1(SSK-1), and PCU USS Seawolf (SSN-575). He also is often credited with helping to avert the first nuclear reactor meltdown during the Chalk River incident while in the service.

U-17 Finds a Home

Finally, from Germany comes the news that the Technik Museums Sinsheim Speyer is all set to receive the retired Bundsmarine Klasse 206A Uboot FGS U-17 (S-196) as a museum ship.

The tiny HDW-built 500-ton Baltic sub was commissioned in 1973 and retired in 2010 after a healthy 37-year run that included the distinction of being the first German post-war submarine to cross the Atlantic when she visited New York City for Fleet Week in 1992 along with her sister U-26.

The German Type 206s were basically the Volkswagon Bettles of the submarine world. Of the 18 Klasse 206As built, two (U22 & U23) are still in service with the Colombian Navy. Just 159 feet long with a 22-man crew, they could carry eight advanced Seeaal or Seehecht torpedos, enough to send any Russian battle cruiser to the bottom

U-17 has been laid up in Wilhelmshaven until 2021 when she was towed to Thyssenkrupp’s Kiel yard to be demilitarized, as seen here

Three Crowns Underway

This striking circa summer 1944 image shows the Swedish coastal battleship (pansarskeppet) HSwMS Sverige with a bone in her teeth despite her rather old-fashioned Edwardian-era bow form. Note her twin forward 11.1″/45 Bofors guns above white “neutral stripes” over an overall camouflage scheme, the latter very useful when hugging the coastline and hiding out along the country’s craggy coastline. The Tre kronor (Swedish “Three crowns”) is a national emblem of Sweden dating back to the 13th century.

Photo by Ernfrid Bogstedt via the Sjöhistoriska museet. Fo196138

The lead-ship of her class, Sverige was laid down in 1912, completed during the Great War where she helped enforce the country’s brand of heavily-armed neutrality, was modernized in the 1930s and continued to serve both through WWII as seen above and the early days of the Cold War. 

May 1934, the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans at Stockholm (center) with the twin pansarskeppet Gustav V and Sverige in the foreground. Fo39197

The Sverige trio, some 7,700 tons at their heaviest, were just under 400 feet long but were protected akin to a heavy cruiser with up to 8-inches of armor and carried a quartet of Bofors M/1912 11.1-inch/45 caliber guns, the latter capable of landing a 672-pound armor-piercing “arrow nose shell” an impressive 31,000 yards away (the latter a closely-held secret until as late as the 1960s, with most foreign intelligence pointing to a more sedate 20,000-yard range).

Janes’s 1946 entry on the class

She was only decommissioned in 1953, after over 40 years of service, and was scrapped in 1958.

As for her contemporaries, she outlived almost all of them. For the record, the last of the pansarskepp-era mini-battleships, Sverige‘s sister HSvMS Gustav V, was used as a training hulk and pier side until 1970 when she was finally scrapped.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023: The Electric Angel

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023: The Electric Angel

Photo via the San Francisco City Archives.

Above we see the cruzador de 3ª classe São Gabriel of the Royal Portuguese Navy as she rested in San Francisco harbor in April 1910 during her epic 16-month “circumnavegacao” of the globe. A lightly armored protected cruiser roughly more akin to a sloop or large gunboat of the era, she nonetheless marked several important milestones in the country’s naval history.

Portugal’s Modern Navy

While Portugal had one of the world’s best navies in the days of Afonso de Albuquerque, Ferdinand Magellan, and Vasco De Gama, by the late 1890s, the empire was in steep decline. With only about 300 merchant ships carrying the country’s flag– mostly sailing vessels– Portugal did not have a big civilian fleet to protect. What Lisbon did have were lots of overseas possessions such as the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic, African colonies in Guinea, Angola, and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), Goa in the Indian Ocean, Timor in the East Indies, and the Chinese enclave of Macau.

To protect this far-flung collection of pearls, Portugal had only several wooden-hulled vessels and the 3,300-ton British-built ironclad Vasco Da Gama (go figure), which was laid down in the 1870s.

Thus, in the early 1890s, the service embarked on a naval expansion and rejuvenation project under the helm of Naval Minister Jacinto Cândido da Silva, with orders placed roughly simultaneously both in domestic yards and in England, France, and Italy. With an emphasis on smallish cruisers with long legs that could police overseas colonies, the building program would include the 2nd class protected cruiser Dom Carlos I (4250 tons, 4x 6-inch guns, ordered from Armstrong Elswick in Britain), the 3rd class Rainha Dona Amélia (1683 tons, 4 x 6-inch guns, built domestically), the small unprotected cruiser Adamastor (1757 tons, 2 x 6- inch guns, built in Italy), and two 3rd class cruisers ordered from France (our Sao Gabriel and her sister Sao Rafael). Further, the old Vasco Da Gama was taken to Italy and completely rebuilt in a move that saw her cut in half and lengthened by 32 feet, fitted with new engines, guns, and machinery.

All would be delivered between 1897 (Adamastor) and 1903 (the modernized Vasco Da Gama). The effect was that, in a decade, Portugal had gone from one elderly ironclad to six relatively effective, if light, cruisers.

Navios da Marinha de Guerra Portugueza no alto, Mar 1903, by Alfredo Roque Gamerio, showing cruzadors Vasco da Gama, Don Carlos I, Sao Rafael, Amelia and Adamastor to the far right. Note the black hulls and buff stacks

Os Anjos

The French-built pair was slim and beautiful, albeit with a ram bow. Ordered from the Augustin Normand Shipyards in Le Havre, they were just 246 feet in length and displaced 1,800 tons.

Portuguese protected cruiser São Gabriel Cruzador Watercolor by Artur Guimarães

Able to float in 16 feet of seawater, the two cruisers carried a pair of 6-inch/45 singles fore and aft, four casemated 4.7-inch/45s, eight 47mm Hotchkiss anti-boat guns, a 37mm landing gun, and a bow-mounted 14-inch torpedo tube. With just under an inch of armor plate covering their decks and a 2.5-inch steel plate on the side of their conning towers, they had a modicum of protection against small-caliber enemy shells and splinters. Able to make 17 knots on trials, they weren’t especially fast when you think of cruisers, but for the 1890s the speed was adequate.

Jane’s 1914 entry for Sao Gabriel.

To extend their range, they were fitted initially with a three-masted auxiliary sailing rig, here seen partially rigged on São Rafael. Note this was later reduced to two masts as seen in the top image of Sao Gabriel in San Francisco in 1910.

The sisters were so fetching that they were dubbed “The Angels” (Os Anjos) when they were delivered.

They favored the very similar French colonial sloop Kersaint, a 225-foot 1,300-ton steel-hulled gunboat with a ram bow constructed about the same time as Sao Gabriel.

Capable of 16 knots, Kersaint was designed for overseas service and carried a barquentine sail rig in addition to her single VTE engine and four boilers. She mounted a single 5.4-inch gun forward and a smaller 4-incher over her stern as well as seven 37mm Hotchkiss mounts on upper deck sponsons. She was lost on a reef in Tahiti in 1919.

Sao Gabriel and Sao Rafael carried the names of Vasco Da Gama’s twin command ships on his 1497-99 initial voyage to India by way of the Cape of Good Hope. Here, the original carrack is in a circa 1900 print.

Portuguese cruisers São Gabriel and São Rafael in dry dock, 1908 during their refit from overseas service. Note the extensive scrollwork and commander’s balcony on her bow, their black hulls, and royal ensign

Portuguese protected cruiser São Gabriel, during her early overseas service before her 1908 refit

Where these two cruisers shined was in their extensive electrical fit, the first warships in the Portuguese fleet with such a luxury. This included two 30 horsepower Laval generators that produced about 20 Kw of electricity which enabled them to have two powerful topside searchlights, extensive internal incandescent lighting in more than 50 compartments (most of the ship), external running lights and signal lamps, electric engine room telegraphs on the enclosed bridge, ammunition lifts in the magazine, below deck forced ventilators and even electric stoves.

The electrical plan for the class.

It made sense for Sao Gabriel to fit the first Marconi wireless radio system in the Portuguese Navy, which she tested on 11 December 1909 when, at 1530 on the afternoon when steaming off Lisbon, she established communications via telegraphy with the radiotelegraph post in Vale de Zebro.


With the 390th anniversary of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s first circumnavigation approaching, it was decided in 1909 to send Sao Gabriel around the globe on a solo cruise to mark the occasion and flex the country’s new muscle. Leaving Lisbon on 11 December– the day she tested out her wireless for the first time– she would return home 16 months and nine days later on 19 April 1911, after calling at 72 ports. In all, the slim Portuguese cruiser would steam just shy of 42,000 nautical miles.

In accomplishing her mission, she became the first Portuguese warship to enter ports in Chile, Peru, Panama, Mexico, California, and the islands of Hawaii, as well as touching each of the country’s overseas ports on a single cruise.

The route of her 1909-11 cruise.

The miles between her port calls:

Portuguese cruiser Sao Gabriel visiting Capetown

Her trip was exceedingly lucky and a tribute to Portuguese navigation and seamanship. Despite the best attempts of Poseidon, who threw typhoons, hurricanes, and pirates at the little warship, she suffered no casualties either human or mechanical, and made every mile underway under her own steam, arriving back in Lisbon with all 242 souls she took to sea. That’s remarkable even by today’s standards.

The rest of her career, and loss of a sister

Sao Gabriel continued to be a lucky ship, and largely escaped involvement in the uproarious series of domestic coups that wracked her homeland and saw much participation of other Portuguese naval assets, and swapped ensigns from the royal to the republican example when she arrived back home.

To wit, her sister Sao Rafael, which in 1910 took an active part in the military coup that established the Republican regime in Portugal by shelling the Terreiro do Paço and the Palácio das Necessidades where King D. Manuel II, later tore her bottom out on the rocks at the mouth of the Ave River while patrolling against monarchists forces.

Sao Rafael wrecked just offshore and was a spectacle both for the locals and foreign press.

One striker, António Maria Dias, died in the incident but the other 237 men aboard were saved.

Continuing her service, even while other Portuguese cruisers and gunboats would deploy overseas for extended periods, following her circumnavigation Sao Gabriel would typically spend most of her time at home, with the occasional Atlantic training cruises with midshipmen.

This would include a 1920 trip to Boston and Bermuda.

Portuguese cruiser São Gabriel visiting Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the US in 1920

Portuguese protected cruiser São Gabriel, Boston, 1920. Note the extensive scrollwork on her bow and her single torpedo tube, just over her submerged ram bow. None of these things were seen as modern in 1920. 

Sao Gabriel Boston 1920

Likewise, her Great War service was anticlimactic, spent in coastal waters. It very much seemed like the Navy was disinclined to risk their most famous warship, especially at a point when she was so patently obsolete.

By 1924, with her boilers and engines wore to the extent that she could barely steam any longer, and cash too tight for the Gomes-Gaspar government (who had repressed at least four military coups in two years) to justify an expensive rebuild that would make the Navy even more powerful, Sao Gabriel was sold for scrap.


The Angels today have much of their logs, papers, plans, and extensive correspondence from Sao Gabriel‘s circumnavigation in Portuguese archives. Likewise, her builder’s model endures at the Museu de Marinha.

Cruzador São Gabriel. Modelo do Museu de Marinha

Her globe-rounding skipper, Capt. António Aloísio Jervis de Atouguia Ferreira Pinto Basto, penned a 449-page journal covering Sao Gabriel’s 1909-11 voyage, which is digitized online in at least two locations.

It makes for great period reading, covering everything from dining in Osaka with geishas, documenting the tragic conditions in Shanghai, riding around Hawaii, and everything in between.

In addition to her likeness gracing numerous postal stamps over the years, in 1985, a commemorative medal celebrating the first Portuguese wireless stations was issued by the government.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem like the Portuguese have reused the names of the Angels. A shame.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find.

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships, you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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