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Warship Wednesday, April 19, 2017: The busy year of the Raiders’ taxi service

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

Warship Wednesday, April 19, 2017: The busy year of the Raiders’ taxi service

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-16865

Here we see the Yorktown-class carrier, USS Hornet (CV-8), as she arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942. Note PT-28 and PT-29 speeding by in the foreground. If this image doesn’t scream “war in the Pacific” nothing else does. It should be noted that this photo was taken 75 years ago this month.

Starting with the “covered wagon” that was the converted collier USS Langley, and moving through a pair of huge converted battlecruisers USS Lexington and Saratoga, and the Navy’s first flattop designed from the keel up, USS Ranger, gave the Navy four lessons learned over a 15-year period in carrier design and development which led to the Yorktown class.

Designed in the early 1930s, these 19,800-ton vessels (26,000 fl) were nice floating landing strips some 824-feet long. Equipped with two catapults on the flight deck and a (useless) hangar deck level cat, these straight deck carriers featured three elevators and could accommodate a 90-plane air wing. Fast, at 32.5-knots, they could outstrip submarines and most battleships of the era, and a smattering of 5″/38, 1.1″/75 quads, and water-cooled Browning .50 cals provided defense against 1930s-era small surface combatants and planes. With long legs (12,500nm at 16 knots) they could travel the Pacific or Atlantic with ease and minimal tanker support.

Class leader, Yorktown (CV-5), was laid down in 1934 and made it to the fleet three years later, followed by the famous Enterprise (CV-6). The subject of our tale was the 7th USS Hornet on the Navy List and, like her two sisters was laid down at Newport News.

USS HORNET (CV-8) View taken while in drydock at Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Virginia, from directly ahead, while in process of completion. View taken on 17 September 1941. Paint scheme appears to be peacetime “haze gray.” Catalog #: 19-N-26389

Hornet was commissioned 20 October 1941, two years after the rest of the world entered WWII and two months before the United States did the same. Her first commander was a scrappy fellow by the name of Captain Marc A. Mitscher.

USS Hornet (CV-8) Photographed circa late 1941, soon after completion, probably at a U.S. east coast port. A ferry boat and Eagle Boat (PE) are in the background. Catalog #: NH 81313

When the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor, Hornet was in Norfolk but was made ready for war in the Pacific, losing her .50cals in exchange for Oerlikon 20mm guns and picking up a camo scheme.

USS HORNET (CV-8) At Pier 7, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1942. Planes visible in foreground at the forward end of the flight deck are Grumman F4F-4s (VF-8) and a Curtiss SBC-4 from either VS-8 or VB-8. Note rat guards on lines in the foreground. Catalog #: 19-N-28429

USS HORNET (CV-8) View taken while alongside Pier 7, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1942, prior to her departure for the war zones. Her air group consists of Grumman F4F-4s (VF-8), Curtiss SBC-4s (VS-&VB-8) and Douglas TBD-1s (VT-8). Camouflage on ship is measure 12 (MOD.) Catalog #: 19-N-28431

USS HORNET (CV-8) Broadside view of amidships, at Naval Operating Base Norfolk, Virginia, in February 1942. Plane types visible on deck: Douglas TBD-1 (VT-8), Grumman J2F-5 (utility unit), Curtiss SBC-4 (VS-or VB-8) and Grumman F4F-4 (VF-8). Note Meas .12 (Mod.) camouflage; and cars on the pier. Catalog #: 19-N-28432

It was at Norfolk that she tested flight deck operations with a trio of Army B-25 medium bombers, and found they could be launched successfully with a degree of pucker– and even landed with a greater one.

“Take-off and landing tests conducted with three B-25B’s at and off Norfolk, Virginia, indicated that take off from the carrier would be relatively easy but landing back on again extremely difficult.” said Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle in his report to the commanding general of Army Air Forces. “It was then decided that a carrier take-off would be made some place East of Tokyo, and the flight would proceed in a generally westerly direction from there. Fields near the East Coast of China and at Vladivostok were considered as termini.”

Then came a transfer to the West Coast, and a special mission for the carrier still technically on shakedown.

Arriving in San Francisco, Hornet had part of her Naval airwing offloaded and 16 Army B-25s, 64 modified 500-pound bombs, and 201 USAAF aviators and ground crew transferred aboard.

Putting to sea on April 2, the task force commanded by Vice Adm. Halsey consisted of Hornet with her escort Nashville, the carrier Enterprise with her three companion heavy cruisers Salt Lake City, Northampton, and Vincennes, as well as a group of destroyers and tankers headed West for points unknown and under great secrecy.

After refueling from the tankers on April 17, the four cruisers and two carriers raced towards Japan. The plan was to launch the first raid on the Home Islands to score a propaganda victory following a string of defeats across the Pacific in the first four months of the war.

Army Air Forces B-25B bombers parked on the flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), while en route to the mission’s launching point. The plane in the upper right is tail # 40-2242, mission plane # 8, piloted by Captain Edward J. York. Note the use of the flight deck tie-down strips to secure the aircraft. The location is near the forward edge of the midships aircraft elevator. Catalog #: NH 53296

USAAF B-25B bombers and Navy F4F-3 fighters on the flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8), while she was en route to the mission’s launching point. Note wooden dummy machine guns in the tail cone of the B-25 at left. Catalog #: NH 53422

Doolittle Raid on Japan, 18 April 1942 View looking aft and to port from the island of USS Hornet (CV-8), while en route to the mission’s launching point. USS Vincennes (CA-44) is in the distance. Several of the mission’s sixteen B-25B bombers are visible. That in the foreground is tail # 40-2261, which was mission plane # 7, piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Ted W. Lawson. The next plane is tail # 40-2242, mission plane # 8, piloted by Captain Edward J. York. Both aircraft attacked targets in the Tokyo area. Lt. Lawson later wrote the book Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. Note searchlight at left. Catalog #: NH 53293

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle (left front), leader of the attacking force, and Captain Marc A. Mitscher, Commanding Officer of USS Hornet (CV-8), pose with a 500-pound bomb and USAAF aircrew members during ceremonies on Hornet’s flight deck, while the raid task force was en route to the launching point. Catalog #: NH 64472

However, the group was sighted while still far out to sea. The quick-shooting Nashville rapidly engaged the Japanese ship, Gunboat No. 23 Nittō Maru, and sank her with 6-inch shells, but the little 70-ton boat got off a warning via radio on her way down.

The 16 bombers quickly launched into history and the six ships of the task force turned back for safer waters.

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV-8) at the start of the raid, 18 April 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-41196

As noted by DANFS:

As Hornet swung about and prepared to launch the bombers which had been readied for take-off the previous day, a gale of more than 40 knots churned the sea with 30-foot crests; heavy swells, which caused the ship to pitch violently, shipped sea and spray over the bow, wet the flight deck and drenched the deck crews. The lead plane, commanded by Colonel Doolittle, had but 467 feet of flight deck while the last B-25 hung far out over the fantail. The first of the heavily-laden bombers lumbered down the flight deck, circled Hornet after take-off, and set course for Japan. By 0920 all 16 of the bombers were airborne, heading for the first American air strike against the heart of Japan.

Hornet brought her own planes on deck and steamed at full speed for Pearl Harbor. Intercepted broadcasts, both in Japanese and English, confirmed at 1445 the success of the raids. Exactly one week to the hour after launching the B-25s, Hornet sailed into Pearl Harbor. Hornet’s mission was kept an official secret for a year; until then President Roosevelt referred to the origin of the Tokyo raid only as “Shangri-La.”

Three Raiders died trying to reach safety in China. Japanese soldiers executed three. One died in captivity.

However, Hornet was not allowed to rest on her laurels and soon set off to meet the Japanese in the Coral Sea, but arrived just after the pitched battle that saw the loss of the giant USS Lexington.

USS HORNET (CV-8) Steaming in the coral sea area, 13 May 1942. Photographed from USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6). Catalog #: 80-G-16430

USS Hornet (CV-8) Enters Pearl Harbor, 26 May 1942. She left two days later to take part in the Battle of Midway. Photographed from Ford Island Naval Air Station, with two aircraft towing tractors parked in the center foreground. Catalog #: 80-G-66132

Then came Midway, where the now seven-month-old Hornet joined her sisters Yorktown and Enterprise to blunt Yamamomo’s greatest effort.

On 4 June, the combined torpedo plane fleet of the three carriers made a charge of the light brigade style attack on the Japanese task force. Of the 41 TBD Devastators that took off that day, 15 were from Hornet‘s Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8). However, they were jumped by Japanese fighters eight miles from their targets and all 15 were shot down. Only one pilot, Ens. George H. Gay, USNR, reached the surface as his plane sank and hid under a rubber seat cushion while he watched the dive bombers come in and get revenge in the sinking of four Japanese carriers, turning the tide of the war

Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) Pilots Photographed on board USS Hornet (CV-8), circa mid-May 1942, shortly before the Battle of Midway. They are Ensign Harold J. Ellison; Ensign Henry R. Kenyon; Ensign John P. Gray; Ensign George H. Gay, Jr. (circled); Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Jeff D. Woodson; Ensign William W. Creamer; Aviation Pilot First Class Robert B. Miles. Lieutenant James C. Owens, Jr.; Ensign E.L. Fayle; Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, Squadron Commanding Officer; Lieutenant Raymond A. Moore; Ensign Ulvert M. Moore; Ensign William R. Evans; Ensign Grant W. Teats; Lieutenant (Junior Grade) George M. Campbell. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 93595

Two days later, to add the ending period to the battle, Hornet‘s planes attacked the fleeing Japanese fleet to assist in sinking cruiser Mikuma, damaged a destroyer, and left cruiser Mogami aflame and heavily damaged.

Battle of Midway, June 1942. SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the early afternoon of 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged. The photo was enlarged from a 16mm color motion picture film. Note bombs hung beneath these planes. Catalog #: 80-G-17054

War artist Tom Lea shipped out on Hornet for her next run across the Pacific after Midway. There, in fierce service off Guadalcanal in late summer 1942, he spent more than two months on a front-line carrier in the thick of the war and sketched as he found, including the loss of the carrier Wasp.

USS Hornet by Tom Lea

USS Hornet by Tom Lea

navy plane captian

He observed the sinking of the Wasp on Sept. 15, 1942

He observed the sinking of the Wasp on Sept. 15, 1942.

Carrier ace Silver Somers, by Tom Lea

Carrier ace Silver Somers, by Tom Lea

in blue gleam of a battle light tom lea an american dies in battle tom lea a bomb explodes below deck tom lea

From a six-week period from mid-September until 24 October, Hornet was the only operable U.S. carrier in the Pacific, all the others being either in repair or at the bottom.

On 26 October, joined by the newly patched up Enterprise, Hornet was involved in the Battle of Santa Cruz Island. During that sharp engagement often forgotten to military history, Hornet‘s airwing severely damaged the Japanese carrier Shokaku, delivering at least three (and possibly as many as six) 1,000-lb. bomb hits from the 15 Douglas SBD-3 dive bombers launched from our carrier, putting her out of service for months. Hornet‘s planes also made hay of the cruiser Chikuma.

However, just 371 days after she was commissioned, Hornet took extreme damage in return from Japanese torpedo and bomber aircraft.

A Japanese Type 99 shipboard bomber (Allied codename Val) trails smoke as it dives toward USS Hornet (CV-8), during the morning of 26 October 1942. This plane struck the ship’s stack and then her flight deck. A Type 97 shipboard attack plane (Kate) is flying over Hornet after dropping its torpedo, and another Val is off her bow. Note anti-aircraft shell burst between Hornet and the camera, with its fragments striking the water nearby. Catalog #: 80-G-33947

Crew members of USS Hornet (CV-8) prepare to abandon ship on 26 October 1942, after she was disabled by Japanese air attacks. Photographed from USS Russell (DD-414). Note radar antennas on the carrier’s masts and gun directors, and other details of the ship’s island and port side. Radar antennas include those for FD types mounted atop the two Mark 37 gun directors at the island ends, a CXAM atop the foremast and a smaller radar (presumably an SC) partially visible atop the after mast. Catalog #: 80-G-34110

Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, October 1942 Description: USS Northampton (CA-26), at right, attempting to tow USS Hornet (CV-8) after she had been disabled by Japanese air attacks on 26 October 1942. Catalog #: 80-G-33897

USS HORNET (CV-8) dead in the water with a destroyer alongside, 26 October 1942. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-304514

As noted by DANFS

The abandoned Hornet, ablaze from stern to stern, refused to accept her intended fate from friends. She still floated after receiving nine torpedoes and more than 400 rounds of 5-inch shellfire from destroyers Mustin and Anderson. Japanese destroyers hastened the inevitable by firing four 24-inch torpedoes at her blazing hull. At 0135, 27 October 1942, she finally sank off the Santa Cruz Islands. Her proud name was struck from the Navy List 13 January 1943.

Boston Herald sinking of USS Hornet (CV-8), fourth US carrier sunk in WWII, the first three were Lexington (CV-2), Yorktown (CV-5), and Wasp (CV-7).

Tom Lea remembered the ship fondly.

On 21 October, just six days before she was to sink, he left the Hornet, pulling away on a fleet oiler that would land him back at Pearl Harbor. The cleared sketches he produced above would appear in LIFE in March and April 1943, sadly, after the carrier had long been sunk.

As told by Lex

Back at Pearl Harbor, Lea showed Admiral Nimitz some of his drawings. One of them was the one above. Underneath the drawing, he inscribed a quotation from Deuteronomy: “Moreover the Lord thy God shall send the hornet among them, until they that are left, and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed.”

Admiral Nimitz looked at the drawing for a long time, then turned his head to Lea, and said: “Something has happened to the Hornet.”

That was how Lea found out that the aircraft carrier he had been on, together with his friends, perished.

This he immortalized in a painting ran by LIFE of how he pictured the ship going out– fighting.

“An aircraft carrier is by her very nature a very peculiar warship, for she belongs not wholly to the sea nor sufficiently to the sky.” “Without heavy deck guns or stout armor, she is physically the most vulnerable of warships, carrying within her the seeds of her own destruction. Whenever she goes to sea she is loaded with bombs, shells and high-octane gasoline, all concealed behind her thin steel plates. ” “Such a ship was the Hornet. She feared bombs, but also know that probably only torpedoes would sink her.” “There is no way to describe how terrible a torpedo seems as it heads for a carrier. It leaves a strange wake, a rather thin, white, bubbly line like fluid ice, cold as the death is presages. Against the ship’s side, it explodes with an appalling concussion and a wild flash of pink flame. Within the ship, there is a terrible wrenching. Decks and bulkheads are twisted like tissue paper, and all things not secured by iron bolts are smashed.” “The Hornet died under a moonlit sky on a shining tropical sea. She had been hit by two waves of Jap planes, the first in the morning, the second in the afternoon… Then came the last order: ‘Abandon ship.’ The men went over the side on knotted lines, down to life rafts, to floating debris, or simply to the water.” “Behind them their ship died a smoking death.” “The great carrier was not alone. She had destroyers and cruisers with her, and they aided in the work of hauling the Hornet’s crew from the sea. In a few hours, it was all over. Those whose fate it was to live were alive, and those who had to die were dead.” “A tropical sunset colored the hulk of the carrier and the stars came out faintly. After dark she went down.” -LIFE Magazine, “HORNET’S LAST DAY: Tom Lea paints death of a great carrier”

“An aircraft carrier is by her very nature a very peculiar warship, for she belongs not wholly to the sea nor sufficiently to the sky.” “Without heavy deck guns or stout armor, she is physically the most vulnerable of warships, carrying within her the seeds of her own destruction. Whenever she goes to sea she is loaded with bombs, shells and high-octane gasoline, all concealed behind her thin steel plates. ”
“Such a ship was the Hornet. She feared bombs, but also know that probably only torpedoes would sink her.”
“There is no way to describe how terrible a torpedo seems as it heads for a carrier. It leaves a strange wake, a rather thin, white, bubbly line like fluid ice, cold as the death is presages. Against the ship’s side, it explodes with an appalling concussion and a wild flash of pink flame. Within the ship, there is a terrible wrenching. Decks and bulkheads are twisted like tissue paper, and all things not secured by iron bolts are smashed.”
“The Hornet died under a moonlit sky on a shining tropical sea. She had been hit by two waves of Jap planes, the first in the morning, the second in the afternoon… Then came the last order: ‘Abandon ship.’ The men went over the side on knotted lines, down to life rafts, to floating debris, or simply to the water.”
“Behind them, their ship died a smoking death.”
“The great carrier was not alone. She had destroyers and cruisers with her, and they aided in the work of hauling the Hornet’s crew from the sea. In a few hours, it was all over. Those whose fate it was to live were alive, and those who had to die were dead.”
“A tropical sunset colored the hulk of the carrier and the stars came out faintly. After dark, she went down.”
-LIFE Magazine, “HORNET’S LAST DAY: Tom Lea paints death of a great carrier”

Hornet remains a favorite subject of maritime art, not just from Lea, but other painters. Take for instance this great piece by Gordon Grant.

USS HORNET (CV-8). Description: Courtesy of John H. Chafee, 1974 Catalog #: NH 82718-KN

Remember VT-8’s Ensign Gay? The lone survivor of his squadron survived the war, ending his service as a Lt. CDR and Navy Cross holder. In 1994 he died of a heart attack at a hospital in Marietta, Georgia, age 77, was cremated and his ashes spread at the place that his squadron had launched its ill-fated attack

As for the Raiders, the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo was commemorated by the ceremonial arrival of 11 B-25 bombers at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, on 17 April 2017, who flew in formation on the anniversary on Tuesday.

As noted by the AP, the last Raider living is 101-year-old retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole. He attended Tuesday’s service at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. Lead plane co-pilot Cole came from his Comfort, Texas, home.

The Navy still considers the Doolittle Raid to have relevent principals today.

“The Doolittle Raid, some 75 years ago, pushed Air Force Bombers outside of their normal operating envelope,” said Capt. Kevin Lenox, commanding officer of USS Nimitz (CVN 68), a World War II-namesake ship. “They were designed to fly from an airfield, but USS Hornet provided the perfect mobile launch point to send them into combat from the sea. The Navy didn’t have planes that could reach Tokyo, and the Air Force didn’t have any runways close enough. Together, their integrated capabilities were able to win the day, and that lesson has carried forward to today’s highly capable joint force.”

Specs:


Displacement:
20,000 long tons (20,000 t) (standard)
25,500 long tons (25,900 t) (full load)
29,114 long tons (29,581 t) (maximum)
Length:
770 ft. (230 m) (waterline at design draft)
824 ft. 9 in (251.38 m) (overall)
Beam:
83 ft. 3 in (25.37 m) (waterline)
114 ft. (35 m) (overall)
Draft:
24 ft. 4 in (7.42 m) design
28 ft. (8.5 m) full load
Installed power: 120,000 shp (89,000 kW)
Propulsion:
4 × Parsons geared steam turbines
9 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
Speed:
32.5 kn (37.4 mph; 60.2 km/h) (design)
33.84 kn (38.94 mph; 62.67 km/h) (builder’s trials)
Range: 12,500 nmi (14,400 mi; 23,200 km) at 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement: 2,919 officers and enlisted (wartime)
Armament:     (as built)
8 × 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns
16(4×4) × 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns
24 × M2 Browning .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
Armament (by July 1942)
8 × 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal dual purpose guns
20 (5×4) × 1.1 in (28 mm)/75 cal anti-aircraft guns
32 × 20-mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannon
Armor:
Belt: 2.5–4 in (63.5–102 mm)
Deck: 4 in (102 mm) 60 lb. STS steel
Bulkheads: 4 in (102 mm)
Conning Tower: 4 in (100 mm) sides, 2 in (51 mm) top
Steering Gear: 4 in (102 mm)
Aircraft carried: 72-90 × aircraft
Aviation facilities:
3 × elevators
3 × hydraulic catapults (2 flight deck, 1 hangar deck– latter removed 1942)

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Remembering Turret 2

iowa-turret-2-remembrance-ceremony

If you are near San Pedro tomorrow, stop by the museum ship USS Iowa where they will be having their annual Turret 2 Remembrance ceremony.

One of the worst peacetime accidents in modern Naval history, the turret explosion occurred in the Number Two 16-inch gun turret on 19 April 1989, claiming 47 lives. 

Vale:

Michael Shannon Justice, Seaman (SN), Matewan, WV
Edward J. Kimble, Seaman (SN), Ft. Stockton, TX
Richard E. Lawrence, Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3), Springfield, OH
Richard John Lewis, Fire Controlman, Seaman Apprentice (FCSA), Northville, MI
Jose Luis Martinez Jr., Seaman Apprentice (SA), Hidalgo, TX
Todd Christopher McMullen, Boatswains Mate 3rd class (BM3), Manheim, PA
Todd Edward Miller, Seaman Recruit (SR), Ligonier, PA
Robert Kenneth Morrison, Legalman 1st class (LN1), Jacksonville, FL
Otis Levance Moses, Seaman (SN), Bridgeport, CN
Darin Andrew Ogden, Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3), Shelbyville, IN
Ricky Ronald Peterson, Seaman (SN), Houston, MN
Mathew Ray Price, Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3), Burnside, PA
Harold Earl Romine Jr., Seaman Recruit (SR), Brandenton, FL
Geoffrey Scott Schelin, Gunners Mate 3rd class (GMG3), Costa Mesa, CA
Heath Eugene Stillwagon, Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3), Connellsville, PA
Todd Thomas Tatham, Seaman Recruit (SR), Wolcott, NY
Jack Ernest Thompson, Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3), Greeneville, TN
Stephen J. Welden, Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2), Yukon, OK
James Darrell White, Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3), Norwalk, CA
Rodney Maurice White, Seaman Recruit (SR), Louisville, KY
Michael Robert Williams, Boatswains Mate 2nd class (BM2), South Shore, KY
John Rodney Young, Seaman (SN), Rockhill, SC
Reginald Owen Ziegler, Senior Chief Gunners Mate (GMCS), Port Gibson, NY

Warship Wednesday April 12, 2017: The Tsar’s German tin-can four-pack

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

Warship Wednesday, April 12, 2017: The Tsar’s German tin-can four-pack

Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. Catalog #: NH 94425

Here we see a group of five German and Russian destroyers in the bay at Kaiochau (Jiaozhou), China, then part of the German colonial concession in late 1904. If the ships look similar– the German vessels are in gleaming white tropical scheme while the Russians are in a gray war coat– that is because all the above were recently produced by the firm of Schichau, Elbing, Germany, for the respective emperor-cousins. Why are the Russian ships in a German harbor? Well, that’s because they just made it there by the skin of their teeth after Battle of the Yellow, 10 Aug. 1904, running from the Japanese.

Why are the Russian ships in a German harbor? Well, that’s because they just made it there by the skin of their teeth after Battle of the Yellow, 10 Aug. 1904, running from the Japanese.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The Tsarist Imperial Navy of the 1900s was an amalgam force that included not only capital, second-line and support ships made in Russia, but also craft purchased from France, the U.S., Germany, Great Britain and Italy. Girding for war with everyone from the Ottoman Empire to Sweden to Japan, the Russian Admiralty liked to hedge their bets.

The nation’s first class of modern “tin cans” were a large group of 27 300-ton Sokol-class vessels built at Yarrow and at Russian yards with British assistance between 1895-1903. Capable of making better than 30-knots, they were armed with two 15-inch (381mm) torpedoes and one 75mm gun, as well as several smaller 3 pounders.

Then came an exploratory order for five Forel-class ships from France, the single Som-class ship from Laird in England, and four Kit-class destroyers from Germany in 1899, all of nominally the same size– 350-tons. Armed with a trio of 15-inch tubes with six (three plus three reloads) Whitehead torpedoes capable of a 900-yard range, they carried a single 75mm gun with 160 rounds and five rapid-fire Hotchkiss 3 pdrs with 1350 rounds.

Fueled by four coal-fired steam boilers, they could make 27-knots or better. The destroyers were given one 24-foot whaleboat, as well as one 17-foot, one 19-foot, and one 12.5-foot canvas boats. In all, the boats were probably not enough to cram the 67-man crew into all of them if need be, but at least a good size portion could land ashore at once. The hulls were 35mm wood plank frames covered with 3mm of steel.

Our four German-built ships: Kit (Whale), Skat (Skate), Kastatka (Killer Whale), and Delfin (Dolphin), were laid down in 1899 at Schichau and completed by the summer of 1900. The cost of construction of each destroyer averaged 472,000 rubles or 1,020,000 German marks.

Russian officers in Elbing. 1900

Once complete, the four German-built units formed the First Detachment of the destroyers of the First Pacific Squadron under the overall command of Cdr. Kita Kevnarsky and sailed from Kronstadt in the Baltic on 12 October 1900 to Port Arthur– Russia’s new Pacific concession wrested away from China in 1895– arriving at the latter on 23 April 1901.

Delfin/Besstrashnyy as completed, click to big up 1200×918

In 1902, they were renamed and their “fish” names later used for early Russian submarines. The Kit was called Bditelnyy (Vigilant), Delfin became Besstrashnyy (Fearless), KastakaBesshumnyy (Silent) and SkatBesposhchadnyy (Merciless).

Kit/Bditelnyi with her white scheme at Port Arthur, prewar

Kit/Bditelnyi with a more warlike gray coat. Note the 75mm canet gun forward

Then, after just a couple years of quiet peacetime service, came the Russian Pearl Harbor, when Japanese torpedo boats skirted into Port Arthur at night and made hay with the resting Tsarist battle line before an official declaration of war.

A Japanese woodblock print of the torpedo boat attack on Port Arthur

Our class leader, Kit/Bditelnyy, made patrols to sea and, due to ruptured boiler pipes after hitting a mine in October later was relegated to the role of a floating artillery battery, hitting out at Japanese land positions as they grew closer.

She was destroyed by her crew 20 December 1904 as the Japanese closed in and was later salvaged.

The other three ships of our class, as you probably figured out from the first image of this post, made it out of Port Arthur.

When the Japanese attacked the Port in February 1904, Delfin/Besstrashnyy reportedly landed a hit on the Japanese Yarrow-built destroyer Akatsuki but did not do her any great damage. Akatsuki later hit a Russian mine and was written off. After helping evacuate Russian troops along the coastline before the Japanese blockade was airtight, she slipped out with her two sisters and the rest of the capable fleet for the Battle of the Yellow Sea which saw Russian Admiral Wilhelm Vitgeft’s plan to break out for Vladivostok before that port was iced in foiled by Japanese Adm. Togo’s fleet.

Though inconclusive, both sides suffered a mauling (the Japanese battleship Mikasa was hit 20 times by large caliber shells while the Russian pre-dreadnought Peresvet had 39 hits) while the three German-made destroyers of Vitgeft’s were low on coal and forced to withdraw towards China rather than make for either Port Arthur or Vladivostok.

Making it to Kaiochau, they were disarmed and interned by the Chinese government on 15 August for the remainder of the conflict.

After the war, the three surviving destroyers were modernized in 1909 with larger 17.7-inch torpedo tubes and a second 75mm gun. To balance the increase in topside weight, the Hotchkiss 47mm battery was replaced by six lighter 7.62x54R Colt M1895 machine guns.

Serving together in the Siberian Flotilla based in Vladivostok, the interwar period between fighting the Japanese and scrapping with the Germans was quiet.

Life in the Siberian Flotilla. Note the straw boater hat and Mosin M.91 rifle. Sailors of the flotilla were often dispatched for land service ashore to protect Russian interests in the area.

When the Great War erupted, the tin cans put to sea to fruitlessly scout for German ships until Vladivostok iced over and they continued their operations from the Chinese coast into the summer of 1915.

Once the threat of enemy raiders in the Pacific abated, two of the three destroyers– Delfin/Besstrashnyy and Kastaka/Besshumnyy— were ordered to sail for the Arctic Sea Flotilla at Murmansk in the Barents Sea in early 1917, arriving there that September.

Beshumnyi, note her post-1909 arrangement with two radio masts

There, they were in turn captured by the British when they seized the port after the Russian Revolution and remained part of the White forces in that region until early 1920 when the Reds recaptured the pair in poor condition. With parts for their Schichau-built plant hard to come by in 1920s Europe, the old girls were broken up in 1924-25.

Skat/Besposhchadnyy, in her 1904 arrangement, showing her with a single mast

Skat/Besposhchadnyy, unable to make the trip back to Europe, was captured by the Japanese Navy when they landed in Vladivostok in June 1918. Turned over to the Whites there, she was scuttled in 1922 so the Reds couldn’t use her further.

Between the four ships, they saw a lot of weird action in their 20~ year lifespan and some changed flags 3-4 times serving Tsar, White and Red governments with some allied intervention in between. But hey, that’s Russia for you.

Specs:
The destroyer of the “Kit” type:

(Longitudinal section, bilge plan, and top view)

1 – aft flagpole; 2 – 47-mm gun; 3 – stern bridge; 4 – “17-foot” mined vehicle, 5 – chimney, 6 – Francis system boat, 7 – galley, 8 – chopping (combat) felling, 9 – mast, 10 -75-mm gun, 11 – 12-steam boiler, 13-main machine, 14-officer rooms, 15-non-commissioned officer’s cabin, 16-aft cockpit of the crew, 17-propeller, 18-pen handle, 19-pit pit, 20-condenser, 21 – Officer’s cabins, 22 – Cabin-room, 23 – Cabin of the ship’s commander, 24 – Buffet, 25 – Wash basin, 26 – Anchor, 27-like hatch, 28 – Throat pit, 29 – Engine hatch, 30 – Skylight.

Displacement: 354 tons (full)
Length: 200-feet (61 m) (between perpendiculars)
Beam:  23-feet (7 m) (the largest for frames)
Draft: 5.9 ft. (1.8 m)
Engines     2 triple-expansion steam engines, 6,000 shp, 4 Shichau water-tube boilers
Speed:       27.4 knots full

Coal: 90t, 1500-mile range 10 kts.
Crew     62-67
Armament:
(1900)
1x75mm Canet gun
5x47mm (3 Pdr) Hotchkiss
3x trainable 381mm TT with six torpedoes
(1909)
2x75mm Canet guns
6x MG
3x trainable 450mm TT with no reloads

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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

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

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Warship Wednesday April 5, 2017: Of black cats, bad luck and tempests

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

Warship Wednesday, April 5, 2017: Of black cats, bad luck, and tempests

LC-DIG-det-4a15636 Click to big up.

Here we see Peter Arrell Brown Widener’s custom-built schooner-rigged steam yacht Josephine visiting New York’s Larchmont Yacht Club in the summer of 1896 by the Detroit Publishing Co, John S. Johnston, photographer. This beautiful ship would go on to spend most of her life in military service and die a sad death at the hands of the ocean.

First off, who was Widener?

As noted by the Philly History Blog: 

There were few people in Philadelphia who could rival the wealth of Peter A.B. Widener. Born on November 13, 1834, to a bricklayer, Widener worked as a butcher and saved enough money to start one of the first meat store chains in the country. He also began buying stocks in street railways. Together with his friend William L. Elkins, Widener eventually controlled the streetcar system in Philadelphia. His wealth grew even more as he became involved in public transportation systems in Chicago and other cities. He later expanded his power by purchasing large blocks of stock in the United States Steel Corporation, Standard Oil, and Pennsylvania Railroad.

In late 1895, Mr. PAB, a director at the time of the White Star Line (future builders of the RMS Titanic) ordered from Lewis Nixon Shipbuilders, Elizabethport, NJ, a grand steam yacht for personal use. As described by the Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers of that year, for $400,000 the yard crafted a 257-foot (oal) vessel in just 10 months. Powered by a 1250 IHP quadruple expansion engine fed by two boilers, she could make 17 knots. She was exceptionally appointed:

The bridge extends across the boat, with wheel, compasses and chart table. Under the bridge will be the chart room and aft the captain’s room extending the width of the house, 12 feet. Next aft on the upper deck will be the library, 26 by 12 feet. Over this apartment will be an elliptical skylight for ventilation and a dome. The engine room skylight will be aft the library, and the remainder of the upper deck will be given up to a promenade, 145 feet in length.

At the forward end of the space under the bridge will be the owner’s rooms, each 19 by 15 feet. Aft, will be the bathroom, Between the bathrooms a stairway will extend to four lower guest rooms. From the stairs, a passageway will lead to the dining room, whose dimensions will be 30 feet 6 inches by 16 feet. Aft, the starboard side will be the reception room, 29 by 9 feet, extending half the yacht’s width and over the engine room. It will be finished in antique oak, paneled.

At the after end of the ladies’ room will be a mahogany staircase…

You get the idea. Besides the above, of course, was extensive pantry space, trunk storage, bunkerage for 240 tons of coal, a full kitchen, maids’ quarters with four berths, and separate messing/bunking and pantry space for the crew, quartermaster and ship’s captain.

Named after Mr. Widener’s beloved wife, Hannah Josephine Dunton Widener, the yacht Josephine was palatal.

On her first voyage, a planned summer cruise from Philadelphia along the Maine coast saw Josephine, with the Widener family aboard, call on Bar Harbor– then a popular getaway summer resort for the rich and famous– Friday, 31 July 1896. The next morning, Mrs. Widener was found expired in her bed, age 60. An attending physician ruled her death due to heart disease and the brand-new yacht, her gay bunting stowed, sailed sadly to New York where the late Mrs. Widener was taken back to Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery to be placed in the family vault.

The proud vessel was tied to pier side and sat swaying at her ropes.

When war with Spain came, Mr. Widener sold his unwanted steamship to the U.S. Navy for reportedly 1/10th of her value on 9 April 1898. Her life as a grand yacht had lasted less than two years.

As for Mr. Widener, his son and grandson perished on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic in 1912 and he died in 1915, aged 80. His daughter-in-law built Harvard University’s Widener Memorial Library to honor those lost on Titanic.

At the time the Navy needed to rapidly expand and among the ships acquired for Spanish-American War service were no less than 28 yachts. A baker’s dozen of these former pleasure craft were large ships, exceeding 400 tons. With relatively good gun-carrying capacity and sea-keeping capabilities, most saw service off Cuba where they were used as scouting vessels and dispatch ships.

Speaking of guns, the Navy needed some in a hurry to arm all these yachts with. After contacting Vickers, the company in March 1898 sold the Americans 16 Maxim-Nordenfeldt “1pdr Automatic Guns” from a Russian contract that had been reworked. These 37mm “pom-pom” heavy machine cannon had a cyclic rate of 250-300 rounds per minute and could perforate a 1-inch iron plate at 100 yards.

The Navy issued these guns to several armed yachts and up-armed Revenue Marine Cutters.

Our converted yacht was given two of these 1-pdrs

Click to big up. Note the great bushy lip lizards and the BM to the right smoking a square. Also, there is a three-piper warship in the distance. LC-DIG-det-4a13890

Plus, she was given two manually loaded 1-pdrs

Note the flat cap and the canvas bags marked ‘Tourniquet” LC-DIG-det-4a14809

And four 6-pdrs (57mmm) Hotchkiss breechloaders.

LC-DIG-det-4a13998

The Navy renamed most of these yachts and Josephine was no exception. She was the 6th Navy ship since 1803 to be christened USS Vixen (Patrol Yacht No. 4).

Vixen was commissioned on 11 April 1898– just two days after her sale– with Lt. (J.G) Alexander Sharp (USNA 1873) in command. Sharp had before the war had served as an aide to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt.  Among the 5 officers and a 74-man crew were Midshipman Thomas C. Hart (later of WWII Asiatic Fleet fame) and Midshipman Arthur MacArthur III, (Douglas “I shall return” MacArthur’s brother). On 6 May 1898, MacArthur was promoted to ensign.

U.S.S. Vixen, Capt. and officers, 1898. Can you spot the very MacArthur-looking figure in the back row? LC-DIG-det-4a14811

There was also a mascot, a black cat appropriately enough given the ship’s history. U.S.S. Vixen, Miss Vixen, the mascot. LC-DIG-det-4a13999

Given a gray coat of paint, she was now a warship. LC-DIG-det-4a14831

Vixen 1898. Note the three-master schooner in the distance and a distinctive 1-pdr both forward and aft. This is the only photo I can find of her with canvas aloft. USNHC photo.

As noted by DANFS:

Assigned to the North Atlantic Station, Vixen sailed for Cuban waters on 7 May and arrived off the coast of Cuba nine days later. For the duration of the “splendid little war,” the graceful armed yacht performed a variety of duties, blockading and patrolling, carrying mail and flags of truce, ferrying prisoners, establishing communications with Cuban insurgents ashore, and landing reconnaissance parties. Among her passengers embarked during that time was Colonel (later President) Theodore Roosevelt, of the famous “Rough Riders.”

Vixen was present with at least two other armed yachts, USS Gloucester, and Hist during the Battle of Santiago on 3 July 1898.

Per DANFS:

Vixen was patrolling off Santiago between 0935 and 0945 and was at a point some four miles to the westward of the distinctive landmark, the Morro Castle. At about 0940, a messenger reported to the captain, Lt. Sharp, that there had been an explosion at the entrance to the harbor. Rushing on deck, Sharp almost immediately sighted the first Spanish vessel to sortie– the cruiser Vizcaya.

Sharp ordered full speed ahead and hard-a-port, a move was taken in the nick of time because of shells from his own ships, alerted to the sortie of Admiral Cervera’s fleet, splashed in the water astern in the yacht’s frothing wake. Vizcaya acknowledged the presence of the yacht in the vicinity when she sent a salvo toward her with her starboard bow guns. Fortunately for Vixen, the shells passed overhead, “all being aimed too high.”

As Vixen gathered speed, she steered south by east, clearing the armored cruiser Brooklyn’s field of fire, about two points on Vixen’s port bow. The yacht then steered west by south, as Sharp wanted to steer a course parallel to that of the Spanish fleet that was then under fire from the other American ships. Unfortunately, the helmsman erred and steered southwest by south-a mistake not discovered until Vixen had steered farther from the action.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn had engaged the leading ships of the Spanish fleet and was trading shell for shell in a spirited exchange of fire. Shells from Cristobal Colon passed over Brooklyn. One splashed “close ahead” and another splashed astern on the yacht’s starboard beam. Several others passed directly overhead, a piece of bursting shell going through Vixen’s battle flag at her mainmast!

Vixen witnessed the battle as it unfolded, but, as her commanding officer observed, “. . . seeing that the Spanish vessels were out of range of our guns while we were well within range of theirs, we reserved our fire.” In fact, Vixen did not fire upon the enemy ships until 1105, when she opened fire on the badly battered Vizcaya, which had gone aground, listing heavily to port. Vixen’s fire was short-lived for Vizcaya’s flag came down at 1107, and Lt. Sharp ordered cease fire. The yacht remained underway to participate in the chase of the last remaining heavy unit of the Spanish fleet, Cristobal Colon until that Spanish warship struck early in the afternoon.

Battle of Santiago, 1898 Caption: USS VIXEN cheering on USS OREGON (BB-3) after the fight. USS VIXEN answering NEW YORK’s (CA-2) signal number, 3 July 1898. Description: From the Collection of Rear Admiral C.H. Taylor Catalog #: USN 903386

Santiago Morro, USS Vixen passing the wreck of the REINA MERCEDES. Note the rakish bow. Source: From a book of letters, etc. kept by Assistant Surgeon William S. Thomas, MRC, USN, Spanish-American War, 1898. #: NH 111953

One gunner, a man by the name of Smith, on the forward 1-pdr, was said to have gotten off 400 rounds on his piece during the battle.

Sure, you are salty, but are you “I shot up the Spanish Navy with 400 shells from a 37mm machine gun while on the bow of a yacht,” salty? U.S.S. Vixen, Maxim machine gun and gunner Smith, LC-DIG-det-4a14810

After the war, the Navy found the 13 large yachts they picked up were a worthwhile investment for a fleet with a new colonial empire. With small crews, they could conduct coastal surveys, carry mail, stores, and passengers for the fleet, perform yeoman service in various sundry duties, wave the flag at small far-off ports too shallow for larger cruisers and battleships, and serve as station ships at the disposal of U.S. counsels.

From 1899 through 1906, Vixen served off Puerto Rico and Cuba, shuttling between there and Key West as needed, painted a gleaming white.

Almost like her yacht days…USS VIXEN (1898-1923, later PY-4) Caption: At Santiago, Cuba, on 20 May 1903. USS OLYMPIA (C-6) is in the right background. Description: Collection of Commander R. Roller Richardson, USN (MC). Donated by B. Bradford Richardson, 1988. Catalog #: NH 96571

Decommissioned 30 March 1906, she was loaned to the New Jersey Naval Militia to serve alongside the monitor USS Tonopah (who in turn was swapped out in 1914 for the old screw gunboat USS Adams) as a training ship. The militia, some 400~ strong, was organized in two battalions with the first battalion on Tonopah/Adams based in Hoboken and the second battalion, based in Camden, headquartered on Vixen.

Photographed circa the early 1900s. USS TERROR (Monitor No. 4) is on the opposite side of the pier. Terror was laid up at Philadelphia from 1906, a port shared by Vixen, so this is likely around that time. Description: Courtesy of Rear Admiral Joseph M. Worthington, USN (retired) Catalog #: NH 90937

In 1910, her 1-pdrs were considered obsolete and were removed, her armament streamlined to a set of 8 6-pdr singles.

As noted by Annual Report of the Operations of the Naval Militia filed with the Navy Dept., Vixen was housed across the Delaware River in Philadelphia as dock space in Camden was inadequate and, besides occasional pier side drills, the ship regularly got underway only for about a week in July every summer. It should come as no shock that reports note, “The men were very poor in handling boats and lubberly” though gun battery drill was exercised as “a box was thrown overboard having a red flag on it and the men took turns firing at the mark with the Colt’s automatic guns,” likely Model 1895 Colt “potato diggers” in 30.06 caliber.

When the U.S. entered the Great War, Vixen was taken back into regular U.S. Navy service in April 1917, her armament again updated with the 6pdrs coming off and four QF 47mm 3-pdrs going on in replacement.

She patrolled off the eastern seaboard and, following the establishment of the Navy activity in the recently acquired Virgin Islands (purchased from Denmark), served as station ship at St. Thomas., USVI for the rest of the conflict, keeping an eye out for the Germans.

About half of her 60-man crew ashore as an armed naval party complete with leggings, cartridge belts, and M1903s. She would remain as station ship in the Virgin Islands for almost six years.

The harbor from the east, showing the USS RAINBOW and USS VIXEN -station ship, also Marine barracks and radio towers. Navy Yard Virgin Islands. Description: Catalog #: NH 122615

Vixen remained in the USVI for several years after the conflict, being called back to New York where she was decommissioned on 15 November 1922.

She was sold 22 June 1923 to the Fair Oaks Steamship Corp. of New York. Besides some federal lawsuits from the same era, little is known about Fair Oaks with the Bureau of Shipping only listing them for a few years in the 1920s, with an office at 17 Battery Place in NYC, and only owning the 413-ton steam tug H.C. Cadmus and (briefly) Vixen. Cadmus later turned up in U.S. Army service as LT332 during WWII and Vixen would quickly be resold to one Barron Gift Collier of South Florida in late 1923.

Named first Tamiami Queen, then Collier County, then Princess Montagu, she was operated on a regular coaster service by Collier’s Florida Inter-Island Steamship Company, Ltd.

She made the 80-mile run from Miami to the Bahamas several times a week carrying mail, freight and 75 (!) overnight berths for first class passengers. Typically, she left Nassau every Monday and Thursday at 8 am and sailed from the P&O dock in Miami on Tuesday and Friday at the same time. She also did weekend excursions from Miami to Cat Island in the Bahamas. As Florida was dry because of Prohibition, and the Bahamas was not, this was a very lucrative junket.

Passenger steamship, Princess Montagu, owned by Barron Collier. She was operated by his Florida Inter-Island Steamship Company, Ltd, and made regular trips between Miami and Nassau. The photograph was probably taken in Miami, c1925. Via Collier County Museums

Then came the Great Bahamas Hurricane of 1929 which left Princess Montagu (nee Josephine) high on Tony Rock outside of Nassau. Thankfully free of passengers, her crew was rescued via lifeline.

She was salvaged in place the next summer.

Besides her plans which are in the Library of Congress, few remnants of Josephine/Vixen remain, though a set of ivory poker chips from her heyday are in circulation.

Note the early white star line logo. Widener was a board member. The first photo in this post also shows this flag flying from both her masts in 1896.

Also, remember those 16 37mm 1-pdrs sold by Vickers to the Navy to arm their new ships in 1898? One of that very lot is still around. Placed on the U.S. Revenue Cutter Manning and used during the Span-Am War, it was recently sold at auction.

These style guns, though considered obsolete before the Great War, were used in that conflict as early AAA, specifically in the role of balloon busters.

German M-Flak (3.7 cm Maschinenkanone Flak). From late 1915 M-Flak batteries defended balloons and important positions and installations. German flak units were part of the Air Service, whilst the majority of the Allied anti-aircraft units were part of the artillery. Sources: https://www.flickr.com/photos/drakegoodma

The world, on the other hand, has not heard the last of Peter A.B. Widener. His immense and architecturally significant Philadelphia mansion was destroyed by fire in 1980. However, it had served as a library for almost four decades and its sale (prior to the inferno that destroyed it) allowed the Widener Branch of the Free Library to remain in service–  its current location is at 2808 West Lehigh Avenue.

Further, in 1972 Pennsylvania Military College rebranded itself after the prominent Widener family, first as Widener College then as Widener University and currently has 6,400 students in attendance. The family over the years has also been scions of thoroughbred horseracing, and Philadelphia professional sports franchises, including the Eagles, the Phillies, the Flyers, the Wings and the 76ers.

Notably, none have a black cat as a mascot.

Specs:


Displacement: 806 long tons (819 t)
Length: 257 ft. (oa) 182 ft. 3 in (wl)
Beam:   28 ft. 0 in
Draft:    12 ft. 8 in (mean), 16 full load
Propulsion:  1 VTE steam engine, 1250 IHP, twin boilers, auxiliary schooner rig
Speed:  17 kts as built. 15 kts by 1918.
Complement: 5 officers and 74 enlisted (1898), 5 officers, 62 men (1917)
Armament:
(1898)
four 6-pounder breechloaders guns
four 1-pounders (2 pom poms, 2 manually loaded)
(1910)
eight 6-pounders
(1917)
four 3-pounders

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday Mar. 29, 2017: The first into Kure and the smasher of I-boats

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

Warship Wednesday Mar. 29, 2017: The first into Kure

Here we see the Black Swan-class sloop, His Majesty’s Indian Ship Sutlej (U95), off the coast of Burma while on a coastal patrol in March 1942 just weeks after the Japanese entered WWII. She is as seen from the boarding whaler as the sloop goes alongside a native Sampan for a closer look.

With its roots hailing back to the East India Company in 1612, the modern Indian Navy was formed in 1830 under the aegis of the Royal Navy and, over a century of name changes and rebranding became the Royal Indian Navy in 1934. Based in Bombay, this impressive-sounding force only had a handful of ships by the time the Commonwealth found itself in World War II.

The war sparked a huge expansion of the RIN, with a pair of Black Swans ordered in 1939 followed by four more of the same types in subsequent years. The Swans were an improvement of the Bittern-class sloop and were hardy 1,250-ton ships of 299-feet overall and, armed with half-dozen high angle 4-inch guns and some AAA pieces, also carried more than enough depth charges 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).

The hero of our tale, Sutej, is named after one of the major rivers that flows through India and carries the name of a previous 50-gun Ship of the Royal Navy as well as a Cressy-class armored cruiser who served in the Great War.

Named after one of the five great rivers of the Punjab, HMS Sutlej was a Cressy-class armored cruiser in the Royal Navy

She and sistership Jumna were laid down at William Denny and Brothers Limited, Dunbarton, Scotland in early 1940. Sutlej was commissioned 23 April 1941 and rushed into combat with her Indian crew under the command of Capt. J. E. N. Coope, R.I.N.

By July 1941 she was deployed in the Irish Sea for convoy defense and between May of that year when she joined HX 127 and August 1944, she escorted no less than 50 convoys in virtually all theaters of the conflict.

But convoy work was almost a sideshow for Sutej, who transited to the Pacific on the entry of Japan into the war, escorting some of the last troops and supplies into Singapore in January 1942. She then worked the coastal patrol off Burma, inspecting local traffic.

Royal Indian Navy Sloop Sutlej on Burma coastal patrol 26 March to 9 April, off Ceylon. The ship’s whaler returning after the inspection of a Sampan. HMIS SUTLEJ is in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205142566

Royal Indian Navy Sloop Sutlej on Burma coastal patrol 26 March to 9 April, off Ceylon. HMIS SUTLEJ investigating Sampans while on patrol. In the foreground, the ship’s officer is carefully scrutinizing the craft through his binoculars. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205142564

ROYAL INDIAN NAVY SLOOP HMIS SUTLEJ ON BURMA COAST PATROL. 26 MARCH TO 9 APRIL 1942, OFF CEYLON. The gun is a quad Vickers .50 (more on that here). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205142570

Loading the twin 4″ High Angle, guns during exercise stations on board HMIS SUTLEJ while escorting merchantmen from Colombo to Calcutta. March 1942. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205142569

She then shepherded merchantmen from Bombay to the Persian Gulf, and in the Eastern Mediterranean. This brought her to Operation “Husky” the invasion of Sicily. There, alongside her Indian sister Swan Jumna, she covered the Acid North beaches.

From that campaign:

“The Sutlej was senior officer of A/S patrol and as such had a roving commission as general ‘Whipper in’ to the patrol ships and managed to make quick dashes inshore to have a ‘decco’ at the landings at close quarters. The sight was amazing. Landing Craft of all descriptions pouring their loads ashore with very little congestion on the beaches as the troops and vehicles very rapidly pushed inland to capture their objectives.

“By 1100, five hours after initial assault, Admiral Troubridge was able to signal to the Supreme Naval Commander—Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham ‘Landings at Acid Beaches successfully carried out, bridgehead secured.’ Landings on the southern and western coasts of Sicily were also successfully accomplished.

In late 1943 Sutlej was tasked with rushing a detachment of the Queen’s own Royal West Kents from Haifa– trucked across Iraq by lorry– to beaches in the Aegean where they tried to shore up the campaign there. The year 1944 saw her again in the Indian Ocean, providing convoy defense in the Bay of Bengal between Chittagong and Calcutta. There, she took part in the search for German submarine U-181, a Type IXD2 U-boat hunting in the Indian Ocean.

These days were quiet in this almost forgotten corner of the war. War photographer Cecil Beaton visited the ship during this period.

Wrestling, boxing, and Physical Training during the dog watches. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205142572

Indian ratings hoisting a depth charge onto the thrower. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205142571

Cecil Beaton portrait of an Indian naval rating operating a signal lamp on the sloop SUTLEJ at the Royal Indian Naval Station at Calcutta, 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205125435

India 1944: Three stokers of the Royal Indian Navy on the mess deck of the sloop HMIS SUTLEJ. Cecil Beaton portrait. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205193623

In April 1945, Sutlej was relieved of her vital but monotonous convoy work and attached to Operation Dracula– the amphibious assault on Rangoon. Joining the sloop HMIS Cauver, she sailed from Akyab for Rangoon, merging with the massive Allied Dracula force on the way. During the operation, the two sloops stood in the mouth of the Rangoon river ready to bombard shore positions if required.

After the capture of Rangoon, the army in the south of Burma was reinforced from India and Sutlej, along with the fellow H.M.I. Ships Cauvery, Narbada, Godavari, Kistna, and Hindustan were assigned “anti-escape” patrols along the remote islands in the Mergui Archipelago, Forrest Strait, and the Moscos and Bentinck Group, to prevent Japanese forces bottled up there from being evacuated.

With a long war behind her and a lengthy campaign to take the Japanese Home Islands believed to be ahead, Sutlej was in refit at Bombay on VJ Day.

Then came the endgame.

Sutlej was given the honor of being the first Allied ship to reach the former Japanese naval bastion at Kure after negotiating the shallows, wrecks, minefields and obstacles.

Indian warship HMIS Sutlej leaves Hong Kong for Japan as part of the Allied forces of occupation.” She was the first Allied warship to reach the former Japanese naval base at Kure. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208273

HMIS SUTLEJ, the first Allied warship to reach the former Japanese naval base at Kure, lies in the harbor at Kuchi on Shikoku Island, after negotiating the difficult shallow waters. Date February 1946. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum with photo credit to ‘Number 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit’). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205208272

Among the tasks given Sutlej was that of “smasher” duty– coupled with the Royal Australian Navy destroyer HMAS Quiberon she sank several captured Japanese warship and submarines in the Inland Sea in May 1946 via naval gunfire as part of Operation Bottom. One batch of 17 submarines was sunk in 800 feet of water on the same day and included I-153, 154, 155, Ro-59, 62, 63 and Ha-205.

Scenes aboard the Indian sloop HMIS Sutlej showing the views of preparations prior to the sinking of the Japanese submarine I-155, built in Kure, 1929, and which apparently was not used during the war. The following scenes show the effect of 4″ shells on the sub and 20mm Oerlikon shells. After 238 rounds of 4″ shells and 4 depth charges, and after 4 hours of firing and closing the range from 4,000 yards to 200 yards, the sub was sunk:

Her sailors were courteous in victory. According to one report:

Many sailors/officers from other ships were seen removing Emperor Hirohito’s portraits, fancy-looking barometers, decorated chinaware and even zinc bars from a battleship and a submarine. Although the act entailed no criminal offense, none of the Indian sailors or officers brought any Japanese trophies aboard the Indian ship, Sutlej, out of regard for the Indian people’s sensitivity on this subject.

By the end of the war, the RIN had swollen from eight ships and 3,500 personnel all ranks to over 100 vessels and 30,000 men (as well as the newly established RIN WRENs corps of female sailors) commanded by Vice Adm. Sir Geoffrey Miles, K.C.B. This was soon to change as ships were scrapped and sailors demobilized.

With funds tight and the Empire close to insolvency, the RIN spent much of its postwar period swaying at anchor. By 1947, with India’s and Pakistan’s independence, the Navy was split by each side with Sutlej going to the new Indian Navy along with her Black Swan-class sisters Jumna, Cauvery, and Kistna while three others; Narbada, Godavari, and Hindustan went to Pakistan.

Redesignated Indian Naval Ship (INS) Sutlej was reclassified as a frigate and was one of just a handful of oceangoing warships operated by the fleet of the new republic, forming the 12th Frigate Squadron with her sisters.

SUTLEJ at anchor in Bombay harbor, 1947.

LCDR BA. Samson, R.I.N., Commanding Officer of the SUTLEJ photographed with a group of Bombay Journalists who visited the Sloop in May 1948. Indian Navy archives #3632

Officers of the R.I.N. Sloop SUTLEJ on the deck (May 1948). Indian Navy archives #3633

In 1955, Sutlej was disarmed and converted to a survey ship.

By the late 1970s, the Indian Swans were showing their age. INS Kaveri was the first decommissioned, in 1977, followed by our hero in 1978, INS Jumna in 1980 and INS Krisna in 1981.

Sutlej, however, was apparently scrapped last, going to the breakers in 1983.

A few pieces of her were saved and are in circulation.

Such as this tread plate that appeared for sale in 2015

Only one of the 37 Black Swans, HMS Mermaid (U30)/FGS Scharnhorst, lasted longer than Sutlej did, going to the scrappers in 1990 after a decade as a damage control training hulk.

Our Indian navy’s ship name was handed down to the new survey ship INS Sutlej (J17), commissioned in 1993.

Specs:


Displacement: 1,250 tons
Length: 299 ft 6 in (91.29 m)
Beam: 37 ft 6 in (11.43 m)
Draught: 11 ft (3.4 m)
Propulsion:
Geared turbines, 2 shafts:
3,600 hp (2,700 kW)
Speed: 19 knots (35 km/h)
Range: 7,500 nmi (13,900 km) at 12 kn (22 km/h)
Complement:
180
Armament:
6 × QF 4 in (102 mm) Mk XVI AA guns (3 × 2)
4 × 2-pounder AA pom-pom
4 × 0.5-inch (12.7 mm) AA machine guns, later augmented in 1945 by 20mm guns
40 depth charges

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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

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

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Warship Wednesday Mar. 22, 2017: The Cowboy Monitor

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

Warship Wednesday Mar. 22, 2017: The Cowboy Monitor

NH 99353-KN

Here we see the Arkansas-class monitor USS Wyoming (Monitor # 10) on a postal card published by Edward H. Mitchell, San Francisco, California, featuring a tinted photograph of the vessel taken in her prime, circa 1902-1908. It should be noted that Wyoming was the last seagoing monitor ordered for the U.S. Navy, ending a string of vessels that began in 1861.

John Ericsson’s steam-powered low freeboard ironclad, USS Monitor, with her “cheesebox on a raft” rotating turret design in the early days of the Civil War, led to an entire fleet of river, harbor, coastal and seagoing takes on the same concept that saw some 60~ monitors take to the builders’ yards (though not all were completed) by 1866.

By 1874, ostensibly as part of the “great repairs” the Navy ordered the first “modern” monitor, USS Puritan (M-1), a 6,000-ton beast with a quartet of 12‑inch guns and 14-inches of armor that acquitted herself in service during the Spanish-American War– though she was obsolete at the time.

Puritan shelling Matanzas on the 27 April 1898. She would remain in the fleet until 1922 in one form or another.

However, the Navy still piled on the monitor bandwagon, completing four vessels of the Amphitrite-class, the one-off USS Monterey, and (wait for it) the four-ship swan song of the type: USS Arkansas (M-7), Connecticut/Nevada (M-8), Florida (M-9), and our hero, Wyoming (M-10).

These craft were 255-feet overall and weighed 3,350-tons full load but drew a gentle 12.5-feet of seawater. Armed with a single Mark 4 turret with a dual mounting of 12″/40 caliber Mark 3 guns along with four 4″ singles and some 6-pounders, they were slathered in as much as 11-inches of Harvey steel armor. Four boilers, when new, could push the ships’ steam plant to make these hogs touch 13-kts on trials, which was good for 1898. Not great, but good.

Each of the class was laid down at approximately the same time (the Span-Am War was on at the time and ships were needed, dammit), but in different yards. Arkansas at Newport News, Nevada at Bath in Maine, Florida at Crescent Shipyard, Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Wyoming— the only one on the West Coast– at Union Iron Works, San Francisco. Though technically Nevada was commissioned (as Connecticut at first) on 5 March 1903, Wyoming was the last of the class ordered and was accepted months before, entering service on 8 December 1902.

Her total cost, $1,624,270.59– some $500,000 more than Arkansas yet $200,000 under the price paid for Connecticut/Nevada.

Panoramic view of shipways and outfitting area, 1900. USS Wisconsin (Battleship # 9) is fitting out at left. Ships on the ways are (from left to right): USS Paul Jones (Destroyer # 10); USS Perry (Destroyer # 11); USS Wyoming (Monitor # 10); USS Ohio (Battleship # 12); and the S.S. Californian. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1971. The original print is in the Union Iron Works scrapbook, Volume II, page 157. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 75110 Click to big up

This is not a ship you want to speed in! (Monitor # 10) Making 12.4 knots during trials, off San Francisco, California, in October 1902. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1971. The original print is in the Union Iron Works scrapbook, Volume II, page 166. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 75118

(Monitor # 10) Making 12.4 knots during trials, near San Francisco, California, in October 1902. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1971. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 75117

(Monitor # 10) View on board, looking forward, showing water coming over her bow while she was running trials off San Francisco, California, in October 1902. Note the ship’s twelve-inch gun turret at right. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1971. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 75119

She was a handsome if dated, ship.

(Monitor # 10) Moored off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 12 February 1903. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 43870

(Monitor # 10) Moored off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, in February 1903. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 44264

In October 1903 after her shakedown, Wyoming was dispatched to Panamanian waters along with the cruiser Boston, where she landed a few Marines to look after Washington’s interests.

Panama at the time was part of Colombia though separatists, eager to restart the failed French canal effort with U.S. help, wanted to change that. With Wyoming on hand to provide literal gunboat diplomacy of the Teddy Roosevelt era, on November 13 the U.S formally recognized the Republic of Panama and told Colombia about it later. As the biggest Colombian Navy ship in Panama’s Pacific waters was the 600-ton gunboat Bogota (one 14-pounder gun, eight 6-pounders), which the Wyoming vastly outmuscled, the Colombians agreed.

Meanwhile, the gunboat USS Nashville (PG-7), operating on the Carribean coast of Panama, prevented the Colombians in Colon from using the railway to reinforce their forces there, leaving them in an untenable situation. The new Republic of Panama gave the U.S. control of the Canal Zone on 23 February 1904, for $10 million in accordance with the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty.

From DANFS on her Panamanian Vacation:

The monitor accordingly arrived in Panamanian waters on 13 November (1903) and sailed up the Tuira River in company with the protected cruiser Boston, with a company of Marines under Lt. S. A. M. Patterson, USMC, and Lt. C. B. Taylor, USMC, embarked, to land at “Yariza” and observe the movements of Colombian troops.

The presence of American armed might there and elsewhere ultimately resulted in independence for the Panamanians. During that time, Wyoming anchored at the Bay of San Miguel on 15 December. The following day, a boat with 11 Marines embarked left for the port of La Palma, under sail. While Boston departed the scene on the 17th, Wyoming shifted to La Palma on the following day. There, Lt. Patterson, USMC, with a detachment of 25 Marines, commandeered the steamer Tuira and took her upriver. While the Marines were gone, a party of evacuated American nationals came out to the monitor in her gig.

Meanwhile, Patterson’s Marines had joined the ship’s landing force at the village of Real to keep an eye on American interests there. Back at La Palma, Wyoming continued to take on board American nationals fleeing from the troubled land and kept up a steady stream of supplies to her landing party of Bluejackets and Marines at Real. Ultimately, when the need for them had passed, the landing party returned to the ship on Christmas Eve.

Wyoming remained in Panamanian waters into the spring of 1904 keeping a figurative eye on local conditions before she departed Panama Bay on 19 April, bound for Acapulco.

After this, Wyoming returned to quiet service off the West Coast and in 1908 was converted from being coal-fired to using oil fuel– the first ship to do so in the fleet.

In 1909, her name was stripped from her to be given to a new battleship and she was dubbed USS Cheyenne. Likewise, at about the same time Arkansas switched her name to USS Ozark, Nevada— renamed for the second time in a decade– to USS Tonopah, and Florida to USS Tallahassee.

By 1910, Wyoming/Cheyenne was on the reserve list and being used by the Washington Naval Militia off Bremerton until late 1913.

USS Cheyenne (Monitor # 10) Moored off Bremerton, Washington, while serving as a training ship for the Washington State Naval Militia, circa 1910-1913. The original is a screened sepia-toned image, printed on a postal card. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 55116-KN

Brought back into regular fleet service, Cheyenne was used as a submarine tender for the 2d SUB Div in Puget Sound, Mare Island, San Francisco, and San Pedro between August 1913-April 1917, only interrupting them for two trips down to rowdy Mexico, then involved in a civil war, to evacuate U.S and foreign nationals trapped in the volatile region.

When the U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917, our rough and ready West Coast monitor continued her service until late in the war she was ordered to the Atlantic for the first time in her service. There, Cheyenne served as a tender for submarines operating in the Gulf of Mexico area, and for nine months in 1919 was again active off Mexico, resting with her quiet guns in Tampico harbor.

(Monitor # 10) With a submarine alongside, circa 1918-1919. The submarine is probably one of the Division 3 boats tended by Cheyenne: K-3, K-4, K-7 or K-8. Location may be Key West, Florida. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 45436

In 1920, Cheyenne was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, then used as a pierside training hulk in Baltimore for Fifth Naval District Naval Reserve Force members until 1926, carrying the hull number IX-4 on the Naval List before she was mothballed at Philadelphia. She was sold for scrapping in April 1939.

Cheyenne (IX-4), inboard at left; S-12 (SS-117), outboard at left; and Dale (DD-290) at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, 14 June 1926, during the National Sesquicentennial exhibit there. The small boat and Sailor, in the foreground, are on life-saving service to protect exhibit visitors. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 55117. Collection of Vice Admiral Dixwell Ketcham, USN.

As such, she was the last monitor on the U.S. Navy’s battle line, surviving all her sisters and cousins by more than 15 years.

Specs:


Displacement:
3,225 long tons (3,277 t) (standard)
3,356 long tons (3,410 t) (full load)
Length:
255 feet 1 inch (77.75 m) (overall)
252 ft. (77 m) (waterline)
Beam: 50 ft. (15 m)
Draft: 12 ft. 6 in (3.81 m) (mean)
Installed power:
4 × Thornycroft boilers
2,400 indicated horsepower (1,800 kW)
1,739 ihp (1,297 kW) (on trials)
Propulsion:
2 × Vertical triple expansion engines
2 × screw propellers
Speed:
12.5 knots (23.2 km/h; 14.4 mph) (design)
12.03 kn (22.28 km/h; 13.84 mph) (on trial)
Complement: 13 officers 209 men
Armament:
2 × 12 in (305 mm)/40 caliber breech-loading rifles (1×2)
4 × 4 in (102 mm)/40 cal guns (4×1)
3 × 6-pounder 57 mm (2.2 in) guns
Armor:
Harvey armor
Side belt: 11–5 in (280–130 mm)
Barbette: 11–9 in (280–230 mm)
Gun turret: 10–9 in (250–230 mm)
Deck: 1.5 in (38 mm)
Conning tower: 8 in (200 mm)

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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

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

PRINT still has it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday Mar. 15, 2017: Taxi from Devil’s Island

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

Warship Wednesday Mar. 15, 2017: Taxi from Devil’s Island

Here we see a colorized postcard of the first protected cruiser in the French Navy, the one-off “croiseur cuirassé” Sfax as she appeared in the early 1890s. She never had a chance to fire her guns in anger, but for one brief period was the most famous ship in the world.

Ordered from the Arsenal de Brest in 1881, the ship was an answer to the powerful new steam cruisers being fielded by the British at the time. The French in the late 1870s were still building sail-rigged wooden hull warships that would have been at home in the Crimean War. For instance, the iron-beamed/oak planked Lapérouse-class cruisers, just 2240-tons, could make 15 knots and carried a battery of 5.5 in M1870M muzzleloading guns– but not a single sheet of armor.


Intended as a commerce raider, our 4,561-ton ship had an iron hull with steel frames in a cellular construction, but her half-dozen 6.4-inch M1881 model (black powder breechloaders) and ten smaller 5.5-inch guns gave Sfax a significant punch– especially when her prey was intended to be a merchantman. A dozen coal-fired boilers powered two horizontal steam expansion engines exhausted through twin stacks that drove twin screws while a bark rig provided extra endurance when the wind picked up. Most importantly, she had an armored belt some 60mm thick in four layers of steel.

To be clear, Sfax was an evolutionary step.

As noted by Eric Osborne in his excellent work on Cruisers and Battle Cruisers, “This vessel embodied features that had largely been discontinued in other navies such as a hull composed of iron rather than steel and a full sailing rig. Nevertheless, its protective deck provided adequate protection and its maximum speed of 16.7 knots allowed it to function effectively as a cruiser where the poor motive power of past French designs had ruled out this possibility.”

Completed June 1887, Sfax had a happy but short life, sailing on a European tour followed by a trip to French colonies overseas– her likely stomping grounds if she ever was to assume her wartime role as a modern privateer against an enemy of the Republic. She was the fastest cruiser in the fleet for about three years.

The follow-on one-off cruiser Tage (7,450-tons), completed in December 1890, was some 50 percent larger than Sfax and carried about the same armor and armament but was able to eek out 19 knots due to her 12,500 shp steam suite. The 5,900-ton experimental protected cruiser Amiral Cécille, completed the same year, made 21 knots but thinned her armor to do so. By 1894, the four-ship Amiral Charner-class cruisers weighed about the same as Sfax but could only make 17 knots– her speed– due to the fact they carried a more modern gun battery and 90mm of armor.

To modernize the rapidly marginalized Sfax, in 1895, her masts and sailing rig, never efficient, were removed and replaced by two smaller ones. Her 6.4-inch guns were upgraded to newer models and she was given more reliable torpedo tubes. Painted white as was the custom of the time for warships, she emerged rather different.


Now, let us speak briefly of one Captain Alfred Dreyfus, of the French Army.

This young career military man had graduated the École Polytechnique in 1880 and by 1889 a trained artillery officer, was assigned to a government arsenal. After graduation from the War College, he was being groomed for the General Staff.

Then, scapegoated largely due to being Jewish, Dreyfus was falsely convicted of passing military secrets to the Germans in December 1894– though evidence showing that one Maj. Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy was the spy later surfaced. Branded a traitor, Dreyfus was stripped of his rank, publicly humiliated, and cast off to the infamous Devil’s Island prison in French Guyana.


However, his story did not end there, and the subsequent decade-long call for his vindication, now known to history as the Dreyfus Affair, was the People vs. OJ Simpson case of its day and drew international attention. People hung on every update and were polarized into pro-Dreyfus and anti-Dreyfus camps– there was no middle ground. And this was not just isolated to France. As noted by Robert K. Massie in his book Nicholas and Alexandria, a nurse by the name of Mrs. Eger was so engrossed in an argument over Dreyfus that she left one of the Tsar’s children in the bath so long the poor Grand Duchess took to flight through the Alexander Palace sans clothes. In London, the Illustrated News carried regular front updates.

In short, people really cared about Dreyfus.

Called for retrial after five years in a green hell, a fast ship from the French Navy– our very own Sfax— was dispatched to bring him home.

Sfax called on Cayenne, the colonial port in Guyana on 8 June 1899, and landed him on the Quiberon Peninsula in Brittany on the night of 1 July in stormy weather, spending a total of 20 days underway from South America to metropolitan France, stopping for coal and provisions along the way.

Dressed in a blue suit and wearing a cork helmet, the cashiered former captain boarded the ship that would take him back to Europe.


During that time, though returning for another trial, Dreyfus was considered a prisoner and confined to his cabin save for three daily walks on Sfax‘s deck. At all times, he had an armed sentry within reach, keeping a careful eye. Officers and men were forbidden to speak to him, though he was messed from the officer’s wardroom.


As described by William Hardin’s Dreyfus: The Prisoner of Devil’s Island:

The prisoner spent his time reading and writing, though sometimes he looked long out of the port-hole, apparently plunged deep in though. His baggage consisted of two portmanteaus, containing linen books, several packages of chocolate, small biscuits and several bottles of toilet vinegar. He generally went to bed at seven, arose around midnight to smoke a cigarette, and got up regularly at five o’clock in the morning.


Dreyfus left Sfax and lost his retrial, though he was later acquitted in 1906. Rejoining active service, he was awarded the Legion of Honour for the royal green weenie and retired to the reserve list the next year as a major with full benefits. The Great War called him back to active duty, where the artillerist rose to the rank of Lieut. Colonel, notably serving in the artillery supply train at Verdun.

He died in 1935 and was given a full military funeral including a parade past the Bastille. At least two statues, holding his broken sword in salute, endure in his honor.


For more information on Dreyfus, the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme has some 3,000 documents on his case available online in French.

As for our cruiser, Sfax receded into history. Thoroughly obsolete, she was stricken in 1906 and scrapped soon after.

Specs:


Displacement: 4 561 GRT
Length 300 ft. (91.57 meters)
Beam 49 feet (15.04 meters)
Draught 25 feet (7.67 meters)
Propulsion     2 steam engines (12 cylindrical boilers), 6,500 hp, twin shafts
Range: 5,000nm on 980 tons of coal
Sailing rig: three-masted barque (1.988 m² or 2380 sq.yds. sail area), removed 1895
Speed 16.7 knots max
Complement: 486 officers, men and Marins with room for one “traitor”
Armor: Belt and bridge, 60 mm
Armament:
6 × 1 160 mm gun (cal.28-mod.1881) on upper deck level with two in embrasures forward and the others in sponsons amidships and aft. Updated to M1887 models in 1895.
10 × 1 139 mm gun (cal.30-mod.1881) on the main deck amidships between the sponsons
2 × 1 47 mm gun (DCA M1885)
10 × 1 37mm Hotchkiss guns
5 × 1 350mm torpedo tubes, one bow mounted, four on beam

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

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