Category Archives: warship wednesday

Warship Wednesday, Jan.20, 2021: Bruised Georgie

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, Jan.20, 2021: Bruised Georgie

Australian War Memorial Photo 100014

Here we see the ancient and battered Regio incrociatore corazzato (armored cruiser) San Giorgio, some 80 years ago this week, scuttled and burning after air attacks at Tobruk, Libya, 22 January 1941. The anti-torpedo nets around the wreck reportedly held 39 British fish of various types in their mesh.

Named after Saint George, the patron saint of Genoa, San Giorgio was ordered for the Regia Marina in 1904, during the height of the Russo-Japanese War, and at the time was the largest and strongest armored cruiser in the Italian fleet.

Designed by naval engineer Edoardo Masdea, San Giorgio and her near-sister San Marco were beefy 10,000-ton beasts swathed in as much as 10 inches of armor. They carried four 10″/45 Elswick-pattern Modello 1908 in a pair of turrets as the main battery, eight 7.5″/45 Modello 1908s in four twin turrets as a secondary battery that itself was powerful enough for a heavy cruiser, and a tertiary armament of 20 rapid-fire 76mm and 47mm guns meant to defend against torpedo boats– then seen as the most dangerous non-battleship threat. Speaking of torps, they had three small tubes of her own, below the waterline in period fashion, and at least two steam cutters that could carry torpedos as well.

Powered by 14 Blechynden boilers trunked through two sets of paired funnels, San Giorgio could make 23 knots and steam for over 6,000 nm on a full coal load at about half that.

Janes of the era listed the class under the battleships section. Click to big up

Laid down in 1907 at Regio Cantieri di Castellammare di Stabia in Naples, she was completed 1 July 1910.

Cover of the magazine La Tribuna Illustrata 9 August 1908, showing the launch of San Giorgio

She was a good looking ship and appeared numerous times in postcards of the era. 

Embarrassingly, the brand-new ship on 12 August 1911, following exercises in the Gulf of Naples, ran aground on the shoal of Gaiola, a rocky outcrop some 18 feet deep. As she did so while making 16 knots, she had five forward compartments flooded and took on 4,300 tons of water. Recovering the vessel required much effort and it took a full month to refloat.

Lightened and patched up, she was pulled free on 15 September by the battleship Sicily.

The resulting investigation hit the skipper– the well-placed Marquis Gaspare Alberga– and XO with a slap on the wrist while the navigator got three months in the brig.

Quickly patched up, she took part in the latter stages of the Italian-Turkish War, operating along the Libyan coast.

San Giorgio firing her guns during the Italo-Turkish War 1912

In March 1913, she was part of the international squadron that escorted the remains of former Danish prince William, who served as Greek King George I from 1863 onwards, back home to Athens. George had been assassinated while walking in Thessaloniki, shot in the back of the head by a socialist who later fell to his death from a police station window.

Transfer of the body of King George I on the Greek Royal yacht Amphitrite escorted by three Greek destroyers, Russian gunship Uralets, German battlecruiser SMS Goeben, British cruiser HMS Yarmouth, French cruiser Bruix and Italian cruiser San Giorgio. Painting by Vassilios Chatzis.

Remarkably, San Giorgio soon grounded once again off Sant’Agata di Militello in the strait of Messina in November 1913 but, while another black eye, was more easily freed than the 1911 crack up.

Der italienische Panzerkreuzer San Giorgio im November 1913 in der Straße von Messina gestrandet.

The card translates to “O ship, twice locked in the tenacious branch of the treacherous cliff and returned twice to the loving mother who embraces you,” which makes you think it was issued sometime after her second grounding.

Another war

When Italy joined the Great War in 1915 on the side of Britain, France, and Russia, San Giorgio was soon very active against the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the southern Adriatic. This involved defending the Otranto line and Venice but got hot with a surface raid on the Italian port of Durazzo in October 1918 along with her sistership San Marco and the cruiser Pisa.

At the end of the conflict, she sailed triumphantly into Pola to take the surrendered Austrian fleet under her guns.

San Giorgio class (Italian Armored cruiser), center. RADETZKY Class (Austrian Battleship), built in 1908 (right). The photograph was taken about 1919, Pola Yugoslavia Description: Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson 169 Birch Avenue, Corte Madera, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 68218

Peace

An aging ship, San Giorgio by the 1920s was increasingly used for training purposes and extended overseas cruises for midshipmen from Livorno.

On such a run in 1924-25, she carried crown prince Umberto of Savoy abroad on a round-the-world voyage to take a company of the San Marco Battalion to Shanghai to protect the international delegation there.

Crown Prince Umberto boarding the San Giorgio for the voyage to South America, 1924. Illustration by A. Beltrame

After 1931, her sister, San Marco, was disarmed per the various London and Washington Naval Treaties– back when Italy was still in the ill-fated League of Nations. Like the U.S. Navy battleship Utah (BB-31/AG-16), she was repurposed as a floating target ship, an easy conversion for a vessel that had armor coating almost every surface, even the deck.

Italian Target Ship ex-Armored Cruiser SAN MARCO, capable of being radio-controlled. She would go on to be captured by the Germans in 1943 when Italy pulled out of the war, then later scuttled at Spezia. Interestingly, she used a different engineering suite from San Giorgio, being powered by Parsons steam turbines, and Babcock & Wilcox boilers. NH 111446

By 1936, she was assigned to the Italian task force off Spain during the Spanish Civil War and, with the Supermarina seeing the writing on the wall, withdrawn from the line the next year for modernization.

Spending nearly two full years at Ansaldo in Genoa, the cruiser was extensively rebuilt and modernized. Her boilers, replaced by more modern oil-fired examples, were reduced from 14 to eight, which allowed two funnels to be removed. She also picked up new electronic gear, landed most of her 1910-era small guns in favor of new 100/47mm OTO Mod 1928 DP twin mounts, and sealed up her torpedo tubes.

Italian Ship: SAN GIORGIO. Italy – OCA. (San Giorgio Class). 1939. Note her vastly changed appearance from the original Great War era vessel. NH 111445

And it was just in time.

George’s final war

Deployed from Italy to the Eastern Libyan fortress port of Tobruk, arriving on 13 May 1940 while the country was still at peace. Remember, Italy didn’t join WWII until 10 June 1940 when Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg has already fallen and France was on the verge of collapse, leaving Britain alone against Hitler and Mussolini.

Two days after the Italians clocked in, the British light cruisers Gloucester (62) and Liverpool (C11) swung by Tobruk and engaged the port and San Giorgio in an ineffective long-range artillery duel, with neither side connecting. Before the end of the month, HMS Parthian (N75), arriving in the Med from China station in May 1940, made it close enough to fire two torpedoes at the big Italian that did not connect, leaving the British sub to settle with sinking the Italian submarine Diamante near Tobruk on 20 June.

San Giorgio‘s skipper at the time, Capitano di Fregata Rosario Viola, reinforced her exposed decks with sandbags and ordered a triple layer of torpedo nets around the hull, then mounted as many extra guns and lookouts as he could.

This had mixed results as, on late in the afternoon of 28 June, her gunners were involved in a friendly-fire incident in which a pair of SIAI-Marchetti SM79 Sparvieros had the bad luck of coming in low and out of the sun over the port in the wake of a British bomber strike. One Sparviero was blown from the sky– flown by no other than fascist darling and big aviation advocate Italo Balbo, then serving as Libya’s governor-general.

Oof.

Balbo/Sparvieros.

Still, the attacks came. 

5 July, Swordfish torpedo bombers of 813 Squadron from HMS Eagle attacked Tobruk in a combined attack with the RAF at dusk, sinking the destroyer Zeffiro and the freighter SS Manzoni but missing San Giorgio.

Swordfish from Eagle’s 824 Squadron conducted a night raid on 27 October, seeding the harbor with mines.

San Giorgio was still Tobruk in early 1941, which was probably the worst time and place to be an Italian cruiser. After a terribly run invasion of Egypt, the Italian 10th Army had just been thoroughly defeated by the British Western Desert Force at Bardia and the stragglers, largely formed around the 61st (Sirte) Infantry Division by 7 January were encircled in Tobruk and subject to heavy bombardment.

San Giorgio, after the Balbo shootdown, was placed under the command of Capitano di Fregata Stefano Pugliese, a 40-year-old who had spent 25 of those in the Navy, including as skipper of the “pirate” submarine Balilla during the Spanish-American war and as XO of the light cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi during the Battle of Calabria. The port commander, RADM Massimiliano Vietina, ordered Pugliese to remain in the besieged port as a floating artillery battery and lend his cruiser’s heavy guns to the wobbly perimeter.

Over the next two weeks, as the Italian lines crumbled and air attacks by Blenheims escorted by Gladiators and Hurricanes owned the skies, San Giorgio did her best. Sealed into the harbor by the destroyer-screened Great War Erebus-class monitor HMS Terror, who occasionally lobbed 15-inch shells into Tobruk, the Italian cruiser was heavily damaged but continued to both contribute to the flak clouds and ground defense.

When it came to AAA, her biggest contribution was from five twin 100/47 high-angle guns, augmented by three 20mm Bredas and four 13.2mm mounts. Over the course of 291 air raid warnings during her time at Tobruk and 115 engagements, she fired a whopping 13,000 100 mm rounds and 120,000 from the smaller pieces. Her crew claimed 47 aircraft hit or shot down (not sure if Balbo’s plane is included in that tally).

Note the sandbagged AAA positions and covering on deck as well as the torpedo net boom

Twin OTO 100mm DP mount

Her big guns fired over 100 shells from the big 10-inch guns and 360 from her 7.45s.

Finally, when the end was near on the night of 21/22 January, Pugliese signaled the ship abandoned, after ordering the crew to wreck everything they could find for two hours, then led a small party, primarily of volunteer junior officers and NCOs, back to blow the vessel’s magazines. Two men, Torpedoman 1st Class Alessandro Montagna and 2nd Lt. Giuseppe Buciuni, were lost in the explosion due to a delayed fuse.

Epilogue

The ship, through a combination of magazine explosions and bunker fires, burned for days.

Members of C Company (mostly from 14 Platoon), Australian 2/11th Infantry Battalion, part of the 6th Division having penetrated the outer defenses of Tobruk, assemble again on the escarpment on the south side of the harbor after attacking anti-aircraft gun positions, 22 January 1941. San Giorgio is one of the plumes in the background. Burning fuel oil tanks at the port are the second. AWM

These photos were taken on 25 January, four days after the ship was scuttled. AWM

One of the better shots soon circled the globe, tagged in four languages. Big news for the struggling Brits in 1941. 

Once the wreck cooled, there were extensive surveys and relic hunting done by Allied troops.

The wreck of the Italian Armored Cruiser San Giorgio in Tobruk Harbor, sunk by RAF and RN aircraft. Photographed by Robert Milne taken from HMAS Vendetta. AWM

AWM photos.

To honor the crew and the vessel, San Giorgio was awarded the Medaglia d’oro al Valor Militare, Italy’s highest recognition for military valor, by the Royal Decree of King Umberto on 10 June 1943. Only seven other units– the five daring torpedo boats of the Dardanelles Squadron: Spica, Centaur, Perseo, Astore, Climene; MAS Flotilla Alto Adriatico, and the submarine Scirè— received the MOVM in gold during the war.

The two men lost in San Giorgio’s scuttling were similarly decorated, posthumously.

Her surviving ~700 crew, meanwhile, spent the rest of the war in a British POW camp in India. Many would receive decorations for their actions for Tobruk. The crew was decorated with five Silver MVMs as well as 16 Bronze and 237 War Crosses.

“Four Italian ratings captured from San Giorgio, 31 January 1941.” AWM

Pugliese, who returned home to a hero’s welcome in 1945 and a MOVM of his own, later went on to rise to the rank of vice admiral in the postwar Italian fleet and in the 1960s would become commander of the NATO naval forces in the central Mediterranean– which ironically included British vessels.

In 1951, the then-independent Libyan government of King Idris came to an agreement with Rome to salvage the cruiser’s hulk. During the recovery, it was reported that 39 torpedoes and a huge amount of other UXO were found in the nets and on the seabed around the ship.

Refloated by a scrapper who intended to haul it back to Italy, while under tow by the tug Ursus the wreck started taking on water and broke her lines, taking a deep plunge some 140 miles north of Tobruk in some of the deepest water in the Med.

Relics of the cruiser are few.

San Giorgio‘s ceremonial ensign, presented to the ship in 1911 by Duchess of Genoa, Isabella Maria Elisabetta di Baviera, was spirited past the blockade out of Tobruk by a volunteer crew of six officers, three sailors and the ship’s dog, “Stoppaccio,” and made it back to Italy aboard a requisitioned trawler, Risveglio II. If anyone can find an image of the banner, please let me know.

When the Axis retook Tobruk in 1942 once Rommel was on the scene, the Italians inspected the wreck of the cruiser and, finding three 100/47mm guns still sound, recovered them and put them back in circulation.  

A 12-minute wartime film, Vita e fine della San Giorgio, The Life and end of the San Giorgio, can be seen online at the Italian national archives and includes much footage of the vessel.

The Australian War Memorial has a brass pistol grip and trigger from one of San Giorgio‘s direction finders that were salvaged by the crew of the destroyer HMAS Vendetta (I96), as well as an Italian naval officer’s dress sword engraved to the ship.

AWM

The U.S. National Archives has numerous naval attaché reports on San Giorgio in their collection.

As for the Italian Navy, the Regia Marina faded away in 1945 and was replaced by the Marina Militare Italiana, which still honors the famous armored cruiser’s memory. Since then, the Italians have very much kept the name alive on their naval list, commissioning a 5,000-ton light cruiser/destroyer leader/training ship (D 563) in 1955.

SAN GIORGIO (D 562), Italian DL, in New York Harbor for the International Naval Review, 4 July 1976. Originally laid down as a Roman Captain-class light cruiser in WWII, by 1965 she was a training ship that took summer midshipmen cruises around the globe– replicating her namesake’s 1920s and 1930s mission. She was retired in 1979 and sold to the breakers in 1987. K-114252

In 1987, the Italian Navy christened the class leader of a new series of 8,000-ton amphibious transport docks (L9892) which are all still in service and going strong.

Specs:

(1910)
Displacement: 10,167 tons (standard), 11,300 (full)
Length: 462 ft 3 in (o/a)
Beam: 69 ft 0 in
Draught: 24 ft 1 in
Machinery: 14 Blechynden boilers, 2 shafts, 2 vertical triple-expansion steam engines, 19,500 ihp
Speed: 23 knots
Range: 6,270 nmi at 10 knots on 1500 tons of coal, (Carried 50 tons naphtha for boats)
Complement: 32 officers, 673 enlisted men
Armor:
Belt: 7.9 in
Gun turrets: 6.3–7.9 in
Deck: 2.0 in
Conning tower: 10.0 in
Armament:
4 Elswick 10.0 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (2×2)
8 Armstrong 7.5 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (4×2)
18 single Armstrong 76 mm guns
2 single Vickers 47 mm guns
2 Colt 6.5mm machine guns
3 x 17.7 in torpedo tubes
Embarked torpedo boats

(1940)

Displacement: 9,232 tons
Length: 459 ft.
Beam: 69 ft 0 in
Draught: 22.5 ft.
Machinery: 8 boilers, 2 shafts, 2 VTE, 18,000 ihp
Speed: 18 knots
Complement: 700
Armor: (Augmented by sandbags and extensive anti-torpedo nets)
Belt: 7.9 in
Gun turrets: 6.3–7.9 in
Deck: 2.0 in
Conning tower: 10.0 in
Armament:
4 Elswick 10.0 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (2×2)
8 Armstrong 7.5 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (4×2)
10 100mm/47 OTO Mod. 1928 DP (5×2)
12 Breda 20mm/65 Mod. 1935 AAA guns (6×2)
10 Breda Mod. 31 13.2mm machine guns (5×2)

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Welcome back: Chesapeake, Silversides, Pittsburgh

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it, I think that traditional ship names for warships need to be recycled. That goes for any fleet, not just the U.S. Navy. While current SECNAV Kenneth J. Braithwaite no doubt is updating his Linkedin and Jobs.com accounts in preparation for the new administration, he at least chalked up some great ship names last week.

The future ships will bear the names and hull numbers:

USS Chesapeake (FFG 64), Constellation-class frigate.
USS Silversides (SSN 807), Virginia-class attack submarine.
USS Pittsburgh (LPD 31), San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock.
USNS Lenni Lenape (T-ATS 9), Navajo-class towing, salvage, and rescue ship.
USS Robert E. Simanek (ESB 7), Puller-class Expeditionary Sea Base.

While Simanek, named for a Korean War Marine hero, and Lenape, named after the first tribe to sign a treaty with the United States in 1778, are new names to the Naval List, the other three vessels have been there numerous times. Chesapeake, going back to 1799, has appeared four times, Silversides twice (both to other subs) and Pittsburgh four times, going back to a Civil War ironclad.

As detailed by the Navy

The future Constellation-class frigate USS Chesapeake (FFG 64) will be named for one of the first six Navy frigates authorized by the Naval Act of 1794. The first USS Chesapeake served with honor against the Barbary Pirates in the early 1800s.

To honor the Silent Service, the future Virginia-class attack submarine USS Silversides (SSN 807) will carry the name of a WWII Gato-class submarine. The first Silversides (SS 236) completed 14 tours beneath the Pacific Ocean spanning the entire length of WWII. She inflicted heavy damage on enemy shipping, saved downed aviators, and even drew enemy fire to protect a fellow submarine. A second Silversides (SSN 679) was a Sturgeon-class submarine that served during the Cold War. This will be the third naval vessel to carry the name Silversides. The name comes from a small fish marked with a silvery stripe along each side of its body.

The future San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Pittsburgh (LPD 31) will be the fifth Navy vessel to bear the name. The first was an ironclad gunboat that served during the American Civil War. The second USS Pittsburgh (CA 4) was an armored cruiser that served during WWI, and a third USS Pittsburgh (CA 72) was a Baltimore-class cruiser that served during WWII – supporting the landing at Iwo Jima. The fourth USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720) was a Los Angeles-class submarine that served the Navy from December 1984 to August 2019.

I only wish that Pittsburgh could have been used on a combatant, but at least it falls in line with the naming convention of the current crop (and previous Austin– and Raleigh classes) of LPDs, which are all named after well-known large cities.

Hopefully, the new SECNAV will keep the theme going and not revert to the sins of Mr. Mabus, who was infamous for naming ships after non-serving politicans and labor/LGBT leaders.

Main Battery, Away

Check out this series of great images from LIFE photographer Bill Ray in 1964, chronicling Douglas A-1J Skyraiders from Attack Squadron 196 (VA-196) “Main Battery” aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) gearing up for a strike in Vietnam.

VA-196 was part of Carrier Air Wing 19 (CVW-19), tail code NM, aboard the “Bonnie Dick” for the carrier’s West Pac deployment to Vietnam from 28 January to 21 November 1964.

Commissioned in late 1944, Bonnie Dick was the first ship in the modern Navy to commemorate the name of John Paul Jones’ famous Revolutionary War frigate– and she got in enough licks in during WWII to earn one battlestar.

Her WWII cruise

She was much more active in Korea, carrying the F9F Panthers and AD-4 Skyraiders of first Carrier Air Group 102 (CVG-102) then CVG-7.

Stretched and given the SCB-125 overhaul in the mid-1950s, BHR was in the thick of the air war off Vietnam from 1964 onward.

USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) with her crew spelling out Hello San Diego, while en route to San Diego on 9 February 1963. She returned to San Diego, her home port, on 11 February, following a Western Pacific cruise that had begun seven months earlier, on 12 July 1962. Aircraft on her flight deck include three E-1, 11 F-8, six F-3, 13 A-4, and nine A-1 types. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97343

Completing her sixth and last deployment to Yankee Station on 12 November 1970 (again with CVW-5), she was decommissioned the next year and, after spending 21 years on red lead row as a source for potential spare parts for the similarly laid-up but slightly younger USS Oriskany (which the Navy saw as a mobilization asset through the Reagan years), she was scrapped in 1992.

As for CVW19, it was disestablished in 1977, having conducted nine Vietnam tours from the decks of Essex-class flattops (BHR, Oriskany, Ticonderoga).

The end of VA-196 came on 21 March 1997, after more than 48 years of service, with the squadron switching to A-6 Intruders in 1966, an aircraft they put to good use not only over Indochina but also in the Persian Gulf, but that is another story. 

Warship Wednesday, Jan.13, 2021: Of Hurricat and Hoverfly

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, Jan.13, 2021: Of Hurricat and Hoverfly

National Archives Photo 80-G-159942

Here we see a very early Sikorsky R-4 rotorcraft (BuNo 46445), a type designated the HNS-1 helicopter by the U.S. Navy and the Hoverfly I by the Royal Navy, comes in astern of the red duster-flying British Motor Vessel Daghestan during tests on Long Island Sound in early January 1944. The pilot is LCDR Frank A. Erickson, Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot No. 1, while his passenger in the two-man craft is Army Brig. Gen. Frank Lowe, the latter of whom was on special duty with the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program.

Sure, Daghestan is a merchie, but she truly deserves her place in a Warship Wednesday as you shall see.

Wartime construction built for the Hindustan Steam Shipping Co. Ltd, of Newcastle to replace a lost ship of the same name, MV Daghestan was a 7,200-ton Santa Rosa SR-3 type grainer with four holds. Laid down at William Doxford & Sons Ltd., Pallion, as Yard No. 674, she was completed in August 1941. As a British cargo ship plying the North Atlantic during the “Happy Times” of Donitz’s U-boat wolf packs, her life expectancy outlook was mixed at best, and she was soon on regular convoy runs.

Freighter SS Daghestan going south 13 January 1942 out of Halifax. She has a pair of 3-inch guns on her stern and carried smaller portable Lewis guns for AAA work. It is hard to tell, but she also should have a catapult over her bow. H.B. Jefferson Nova Scotia Archives 1992-304 / 43.1.4 11

Soon after she was completed, Daghestan was one of eight privately-owned British merchies that, along with 27 Ministry of War Transport-owned ships, were selected for use in the Catapult Armed Merchantman program. The CAM ships were a desperate effort by the Brits to counter long-ranging German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor patrol bombers of Fliegerführer Atlantik who were prowling the sea lanes between Canada and Ireland, bird-dogging convoys who had no air cover.

Carrying a low-UHF band sea search radar and a 2,000-pound bomb load, the Condor could remain aloft for 14 hours, ranging some 2,200 miles from bases in occupied France, haunting not only the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel but pushing out to the Irish Sea and North Atlantic proper as well.

Egbert Friedl Scalemates box art

The ungainly Condors proved extremely effective in both cueing U-boats and plinking freighters on their own, reportedly taking credit for some 365,000 tons of Allied shipping between June 1940 and February 1941 via low-altitude bomb drops on slow-moving targets.

Winston Churchill described the Condor as the “Scourge of the Atlantic” and penned a March 1941 memo to the MOD saying:

  1. We must take the offensive against the U-boat and the Fokke Wulf wherever we can and whenever we can. The U-boat at sea must be hunted, the U-boat in the building yard or in dock must be bombed. The Fokke Wulf, and other bombers employed against our shipping, must be attacked in the air and in their nests.
  2. Extreme priority will be given to fitting out ships to catapult, or otherwise launch, fighter aircraft against bombers attacking our shipping. Proposals should be made within a week.

As with the other CAM ships, Daghestan had a short 85-foot catapult fitted over her bow, just past her forward cargo hatch– these mini aircraft carriers were still expected to carry their full cargo load on escort missions. Her aircraft, mounted on the cat for a single-use launch, was a decrepit “Sea Hurricane Mk. IA,” an aircraft essentially on its last legs and otherwise unfit for further front-line service but still flyable enough to take on a slow and relatively lightly armed Condor in a one-on-one dogfight.

Sea Hurricane I Merchant Ship Fighting Unit aboard a Catapult Armed Merchant Gibraltar IWM CH6918

Sea Hurricane I aboard a CAM ship

Modified by General Aircraft Limited to be carried by CAM ships, these Sea Hurricanes, typically referred to as Hurricats or Catafighters, were given more than 80 modifications including an easily removable canopy (as the pilot likely had to ditch at sea), a 44-gallon overflow fuel tank to extend the plane’s range (which might make it able to reach shore) and an on-board rapidly deployable dinghy for logical reasons. About 50 such Hurricanes were converted, assigned to the RAF’s purpose-formed Merchant Ship Fighter Unit, and manned by volunteers.

To give the aircraft a little extra boost, they have a rocket-assisted take-off.

The catapult was angled to starboard over the bow, both to prevent the blast from its rockets smoking the superstructure, and to reduce the risk of the pilot being overtaken by the ship, should the Hurricat wind up ditching on launch.

One of the pilots assigned to Daghestan during her CAM service, Alec Lumsden, reportedly told his son that “his back was never the same” after being catapult certified.

Sea Hurricane Ia MSFU LUB A Lumsden V6802 MV Daghestan Atlantic Sep-Oct 1941

Between August 1941 and August 1942, Daghestan shipped out on at least seven Atlantic convoys as a CAM ship, often with similarly equipped vessels to help share the load.

While she did not have to launch her Hurricat, at least nine combat launches from other CAM ships took place during the conflict, resulting in nine downed German aircraft, thus proving the concept. When it came to the Hurricats themselves, eight of the nine launched ditched at sea, with seven pilots recovered alive. The ninth aircraft, on a Murmansk convoy, was close enough to Russia to make shore– after splashing two He 111s out of Norway.

Sea Hurricane I Merchant Ship Fighting Unit MS Empire Faith summer 1941-01

Regardless, with the increased use of escort carriers, the CAM project was phased out by 1943, leaving Daghestan and her fellow Hurricat-carrying partners to land their catapults and bid the RAF goodbye. She went on to pull at least another seven convoys with just her guns for protection by October 1943, but that doesn’t mean she was done with aviation.

Enter the whirlybird

Igor I. Sikorsky’s attempts to create a practical helicopter got a big boost from the Army in December 1940 when they gave him $50,000 for his XR-4 concept aircraft, itself a development of his earlier VS-300. The helicopter first flew on 14 January 1942, with Sikorsky chief test pilot Les Morris at the controls. The first production aircraft, 41-18874, was adopted by the Army in May 1942.

By 1943, more advanced versions of the R-4 were fielded, and the aircraft was theorized to be able to carry small bombs or casualty litters.

Soon, floats were fitted to make the eggbeater amphibious, leading to tests from the decks of the hastily converted freighter SS Bunker Hill and the troopship USS James Parker. From there, the Coast Guard and Navy ordered a trio of YR-4Bs while the Royal Navy signed on for seven. In the end, the Navy would up this to a full 20 aircraft, designating it the HNS-1 (Helicopter, Navy, Sikorsky, model 1) while the British Fleet Air Arm, in conjunction with the RAF, would eventually buy 45.

The first British ship to operate them was our humble Daghestan.

Coast Guard LCDR Frank A. Erickson, an unsung aviation pioneer, trained at Sikorsky Aircraft Company’s plant at Bridgeport then by November 1943 was aboard Daghestan, which was anchored in Long Island as a floating testbed for the YR-4 series. With her bow catapult long removed, she now carried a stern helicopter pad.

MV DAGHESTAN (British freighter) Lies anchored in Long Island (top), while a Sikorsky HSN-1 (BuNo 46445) landing in the water (below). Note, she now has four elevated gun tubs as her two original stern tubs were replaced by the landing pad. Photograph received in January 1944 but was likely taken in late 1943. 80-G-159947

In all, Erickson would conduct shipboard trials with the R-4 while eventually training 102 helicopter pilots and 225 mechanics, including personnel from the Army Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and the British Army, Royal Air Force, and Navy.

HNS-1 in Flight. Note the litter. (Coast Guard Historian’s Office)

He also made history on 3 January 1944 when he rushed much-needed plasma by helicopter from Battery Park to a hospital in Sandy Hook through a severe winter storm. The plasma, used to treat injured sailors from the damaged destroyer USS Turner (DD-648), was a literal lifesaver.

U.S. Navy Sikorsky HSN-1 (BuNo 46445) Landing on board the British MV DAGHESTAN in Long Island Sound, likely in late 1943. Pilot: Lieutenant Commander Frank A. Erickson, USCG. Note details of the landing platform; markings and color scheme on HNS-1. 80-G-159946

BuNo 46445 takes off from a platform constructed on board the British MV, DAGHESTAN, then anchored in Long Island Sound. Pilot: Lieutenant Commander Frank A. Erickson, USCG; Note details of cameraman and platform. Photograph received January 1944 but was likely taken in late 1943. 80-G-159940

As for our ship, she solidified her place in naval lore when she left New York in convoy HX 274 on 6 January 1944, headed to Liverpool, with two Royal Navy-manned R-4s aboard, ready to fight. Daghestan’s choppers were fitted with floats and believed to have flown convoy-protection trials from the ship during the voyage.

Note the two R-4s on her stern. This is during the Jan 6-22 convoy to the UK, the first with helicopter support. Her platform looks to have been greatly extended to support the embarked airwing

FAA marked FT835 YR-4B ex 42-107246, on Daghestan

FAA-marked R4 NNAM 1993.501.073.092

The trials must have been successful as the Brits soon deployed other R-4s, dubbed Hoverfly Is, with the escort carrier HMS Thane (D48) at the end of December 1944.

In the meantime, our freighter was back to her more traditional convoy runs, sans choppers. Typically carrying Canadian wheat/grain/flour and mail, she crossed the Atlantic at least 18 times* headed West to Britain, and then returned back east again with largely empty holds.

*Convoys, via War Sailors.com:

ON 11 Liverpool to New York (Halifax) Aug. 30- Sept 11, 1941, CAM
HX 151 Halifax to Liverpool Sept 22-Oct. 7, 1941 CAM with fellow CAM Empire Spray
HX 160 Halifax to Liverpool Nov. 15-30, 1941 CAM with five other CAM ships!
HX 170 Halifax to Liverpool Jan. 13-28, 1942 CAM along with Empire Spray
HX 187 Halifax to Liverpool April 26- May 8, 1942 CAM along with Empire Foam and Primrose Hill
HX 194 Halifax to Liverpool June 14-26, 1942 CAM along with Empire Day
HX 203 Halifax to Liverpool Aug 16- 28 1942 CAM (with Clyde Commodore aboard)
HX 210 Halifax to Liverpool Oct. 1-16, 1942
HX 216 Halifax to Liverpool Nov. 19-Dec. 6, 1942
ON 159 Liverpool to New York (Halifax) Jan 4-20, 1943
HX 225/226 Halifax to Liverpool Feb. 8-24, 1943
ON 170 Liverpool to New York (Halifax) March 3-20, 1943
HX 252 Halifax to Liverpool Aug 14-28, 1943
ON 203 Liverpool to New York (Halifax) Sept. 22-Oct 8, 1943
HX 274 New York to Liverpool Jan 6-21, 1944 helicopter mission
HX 282 New York to Liverpool March 6-22, 1944
HX 292 New York to Liverpool May 19-June 2, 1944 (96 ship convoy!)
HX 299 New York to Liverpool July 11-24, 1944
ON 223 Belfast to New York Aug. 2-16, 1944
HX 305/306 New York to Liverpool Aug. 31-Sept. 17, 1944
HX 319 New York to Liverpool (Hull) Nov. 9-25, 1944
HX 342 New York to Liverpool April 1945

Coming through the war in one piece, Daghestan was disarmed and soon back on the commercial trade with Hindustan Steam.

SS Daghestan at the dock, Vancouver, Dec. 20, 1951. City of Vancouver Archives, Walter Frost photo. CVA 447-4171

Sold in 1957 to Asimarfield Shipping Corporation of Monrovia, she left her Red Duster behind for a Liberian flag as MV Annefield for another decade of service.

As MV Annefeld, via the Coll. of Hans Hoffman, courtesy of Sunderland Ships

On 21 February 1969, MV Annefield was delivered to Isaac Manuel Davalillo in Castellon, Spain, where demolition began in May.

Various wartime reports on Daghestan are in NARA and the IWM but are not available online.

Specs:

Displacement: 7248 grt, 4389 nrt, 10325 dwt
Length: 442.9 ft.
Beam: 56.5 ft.
Draft: 27.4 ft. (35.5 depth of hold)
Propulsion: Oil 2SA 3cyl (600 x 2320mm), 1 screw
Speed:
Armament
(1941-43)
2 x 3-inch guns
Lewis guns
(1943-45)
4 x AAA guns, possibly 40mm or 3-inch DP
Aircraft:
1 x Sea Hurricane (single use) CATODITCH, Aug 1942-Aug 1943
1-2 R-4 series helicopters (stern deck, no hangar) Nov 1943- Jan 1944

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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I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, Jan.6, 2021: Of Camels, Williwaws, and 6-inch Salvos

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

–As I am traveling for work and have an abbreviated period of downtime this week, we likewise have an abbreviated WW this week as well, sorry–

Warship Wednesday, Jan.6, 2021: Of Camels, Williwaws, and 6-inch Salvos

U.S. Army Signal Corps – Photograph USA C-627 from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. A much better resolution example of this shot is SC 229057, but it is not in color. 

Here we see the Omaha-class light cruiser USS Concord (CL-10), some 78 years ago today as she stood off Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, on 6 January 1943, “for a South Pacific destination.” A fine ship with beautiful lines, she did not see much of World War II until the final acts of the Pacific War.

The fourth Concord was a “peace cruiser” built at William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, and commissioned on 3 November 1923. Used to range the globe on flag-waving missions while abiding by the various naval limitations treaty of the interwar period, she was named in honor of the famous scrap between the Americans and British troops during the “Shot Heard Round the World.”

What an epically great image! Talk about “Join the Navy, See the World”. USS Concord (CL-10) At the edge of the desert off the North African coast, with local camel troops in the foreground, circa late 1923 or early 1924. During her maiden cruise at that time, Concord steamed through the Mediterranean Sea and returned to the United States by way of the Suez Canal and the Cape of Good Hope. Donation of Franklin Moran, 1967. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 64647

When the balloon went up in the Pacific on 7 December 1941, Concord was at sea headed to Mare Island from Pearl Harbor for an overhaul, or else she may have been a target on day one.

Her armament and armor sparse but her legs long, she was assigned to Task Force 81 in early 1942 after she completed her yard availability. If you haven’t heard of TF81, there is a reason as it was the patrol force off the Pacific coast of South America, a definite backwater.

As the flag of the group, which was later renamed Task Force 93 in 1943, she would carry RADM Byrd, the famed polar explorer, around the Southeast Pacific on a tour of possible seaplane bases in the remote region.

USS Concord (CL-10) Hoists a Grumman J2F (wearing the nickname: “The Galloping Ghost”) during flight operations at Hanga Roa, Easter Islands, in support of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s South Pacific Base Examination Cruise, 10 November 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-K-2343

By March 1944, Concord shipped to the frozen North, where she joined Task Force 94 (later 92) in Alaskan waters.

USS Concord (CL-10) Underway in Puget Sound, Washington, 1 November 1944. Her camouflage is Measure 33, Design 2f. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-75591

From there, her war heated up some and she was used extensively over the next year to raid the Japanese northern islands, conducting a series of anti-shipping sweeps through the Sea of Okhotsk and shore bombardments in the Kuriles and elsewhere.

In some of these rounds of shore bombardment, she would expend in excess of 500 6-inch shells per sortie.

During her 1944-45 tour in the Northern Pacific, Concord would often face thick fog banks and “100-knot Williawas” at sea in her unsung area of the war.

From her War History:

Except when weather conditions entirely prohibited, the Concord took to the rugged sub-arctic seas in the best tradition of New England sailormen. With a handful of destroyers and from one to five other cruisers– old like herself– the Concord was regularly on the prowl approximately 10 days each month, operating well over 1,000 miles west of Attu, the nearest U.S. base, and without any air cover of any sort.

Interestingly enough, she was credited by some with firing the last salvo of the war at 8:06 p.m., 12 August 1945 (Japan Time).

After supporting the occupation landings at Ominato, Japan, between 8 and 14 September, Concord sailed through the Canal Zone one final time before ending her career at Philadelphia, where she was decommissioned on 12 December 1945.

She was sold to Patapsco Scrap Co., Bethlehem, PA for the amount of $67,228 on 21 January 1947, receiving just one battle star for World War II.

Since Concord’s passing, her name was recycled one final time, issued to a combat stores ship (AFS-5), commissioned in 1968, which served for four decades.

Her diaries and histories are online at NARA.

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!

Happy New Year, guys!

New Year’s Day off Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, 1 January 1912:

A boat from USS South Dakota (Armored Cruiser No. 9) alongside the embarkation ladder of USS Maryland (Armored Cruiser No. 8), paying a traditional New Year’s Day call. The boat appears to be rigged as a brigantine, probably purely for decoration.

Photographed by McDaniel. Courtesy of Lloyd Harmon. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 50361

It was customary to exchange visits among ships in the same harbor on New Year’s Day. Note the caption: “14 Saluting Gun Crews Man Your Batteries!”

This is just shy of the 15-gun salute required of an Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, pointing to the fact that a somewhat lesser figure– perhaps Father Time or Baby New Year– has just arrived.

Regardless of who was on the launch, let’s hope this year will be better than the last…

Cold Iron Watch Still Needs Lots of Cash

The Battleship New Jersey Museum in Camden, New Jersey has been the caretaker of the retired Iowa-class battlewagon USS New Jersey (BB-62) for the past 20 years, picking up the legendary ship after its 4th stint in mothballs. The museum normally has 92 staff, mostly part-time guides and giftshop clerks whose hours peak in summer (May-Sept), while 10 full-time maintenance and security personnel operate year-round.

The thing is, 2020 wasn’t a normal year and the vessel is closed to the public at least until March.

Further, they have a dire revenue shortfall due to COVID lockdowns. No tours = no cash. 

And it’s not Uncle Sam’s problem. In other words, lots of pork in the COVID relief bills but not a dollar for historic battleships. 

We had to cancel several of our major revenue-generating programs, including group tours, special events, and overnights. Due to the closures and elimination of programs, the ship has lost over $1.5 million this past year.

Unfortunately, our expenses do not stop. As much as we have cut back in personnel and energy usage, we still have required expenses to maintain and preserve the World’s Greatest Battleship. Below is a list of some of the expenses the ship incurs on a weekly basis:

• Gas & Electric (in energy savings mode) $7,238 or $1,034 per day
• Liability & Property Insurance $3,500 or $500 per day
• Maintenance $5,754 or $822 per day
• Security $3,500 or $500 per day
• Curatorial & Education $4,585 or $655 per day

The Battleship needs to raise $56,176 or $3,511 per day to cover the above costs through the end of the year.
We need your help now! Please consider making a donation to the Battleship, or becoming a Member, or even purchasing a gift from the online Ship’s Store this Holiday Season.

The Battleship New Jersey has answered the call to defend our nation since World War II. Now we ask you to answer the call and support our nation’s most decorated battleship.

Donations to help the Battleship New Jersey can be made through:

Online:
http://www.battleshipnewjersey.org/give

Mail:
Battleship New Jersey
62 Battleship Place
Camden, NJ 08103

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

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, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

Photograph A 31788 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Here we see the crew of the Royal Navy light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) tooling up snowballs while frosty Fleet Air Arm Sea Furies and Fireflies sit by in cold storage, some 70 years ago this month. Don’t let the snap fool you, the British carrier at the time was off Korea, which was ridiculously hot when it came to combat, and both her crew and airwing were doing their part.

Theseus was one of 16 planned 1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot-long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25-knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers were lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies or remain on station in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

Capable of carrying up to 52 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry. Click to very much big up so you can read the details. 

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Two were completed as a peculiar RN invention of a “maintenance carrier,” intended just to repair and ferry but not operate aircraft. Some were immediately transferred to expanding Commonwealth fleets. Suddenly, the Australians, Canadians, and Indians became carrier operators. The Dutch (then Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader Colossus was sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Laid down 6 January 1943 at the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland, the same yard that built the famous Cunard liners RMS Campania and RMS Lucania, the mighty 32,000-ton carrier HMS Implacable (R86), and two-thirds of the infamous “Live Bait Squadron” cruisers, HMS Cressy and HMS Aboukir, Theseus came too late for the war, entering the fleet 9 February 1946. She was the third RN warship to carry the name of the mythical Athenian king, following in the footsteps of a ship-of-the-line that fought at the Nile and a Great War-era protected cruiser of the Edgar class.

Originally assigned to serve in the British Pacific Fleet, she sailed for Singapore to serve as the flagship for the 1st Carrier Squadron in the Far East. The brand-new carrier made a splash in Australia and the Western Pacific on her arrival.

HMS Theseus, Gibraltar 25th February 1947 on the way to the Pacific. Deck hockey on the Flight Deck, on the port side of the carrier island. Note the Sea Otter amphibious aircraft

HMS Theseus (R64) 11 July 1947 arriving in Australia. State Library of Victoria – Allan C. Green collection of glass negatives. H91.250/183

The same day, H91.250/181. Note her starboard elevated 40mm Bofors mounts.

And another, H91.250/179. Again, note her Bofors and extensive raft collection. Keep in mind that, while this was 1947, there were still plenty of unaccounted-for sea mines left around the world from the war, and tensions between the East and West were ramping up, with the Berlin Airlift approaching.

However, as soon as she arrived, the Admiralty was forced, due to dire post-war cost-cutting measures, to pull most of its capital ships back to Home Waters. Subsequently, the Fleet Air Arm Naval Air Bases in Ceylon and Singapore were closed, and Theseus returned prematurely from abroad.

Nonetheless, she would be back soon enough.

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel, Theseus’s sister, HMS Triumph, happened to be in Japanese waters with the rump occupation fleet of Task Force 95 and soon, in conjunction with the American Essex-class fleet carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), was performing air strikes on North Korean airfields within a week of the outbreak of the conflict.

As for Theseus, she had served in UK waters as Flagship of the 3rd Aircraft Carrier Squadron, Home Fleet, and trained with Vampire jet aircraft. On 14 August, she cast off from Plymouth to relive the understrength and rapidly wearing-out Triumph.

HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea carrying 23 Furies from 807 Squadron and 12 Fireflies from 813 Squadron, 17th Carrier Air Group, beginning strikes on North Korean targets on 9 October 1950. The day before, RADM William Gerrard “Bill” Andrewes, a Jutland veteran on his third war, arrived aboard and raised his flag.

THE KOREAN WAR 1950-1953 (KOR 638) A raid in progress on warehouses on the waterfront at Chinnampo in North Korea by Fairey Firefly aircraft from HMS THESEUS. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205020623

By 10 October, one of her planes, Sea Fury VW628, had been lost in a strike against the Chang-you railway bridge but its pilot, LT Stanley Leonard, was recovered by an American helicopter, a novelty, and returned (eventually) to the ship.

Speaking of helicopters, a U.S. Navy HO3S-1 (Sikorsky S-51) was assigned to Theseus to act as a ResCap plane guard in place of Sea Otter floatplanes, a mission they had also conducted with Triumph.

As noted in an excellent article on the subject by the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia:

HU-1’s first RN plane guard detachment consisted of one helicopter a few mechs, who doubled as aircrew, and one pilot, a Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Engine Mechanic Dan Fridley. Fridley was called a naval aviation pilot, to distinguish him from a naval aviator. Naval Aviators were officers, and Naval Aviation Pilots were enlisted men. ADC(AP) Fridley went the whole hog for Theseus, painting the Union Jack, “ROYAL NAVY” and “HMS THESEUS” on the side. The British tars, having no previous close-up experience with this new-fangled thing called a helicopter dubbed her “The Thing,” an appellation Fridley and his crew quickly embraced, going so far as to add that name to the rest of the whirlybird’s livery.

A USN HU-1 aboard HMS Theseus in the Korean campaign. Christened “The Thing” by RN sailors who had never seen such a contraption, the helicopter was on loan for SAR duties. Note the nickname painted on the side, and, further aft, the Union Jack and the words “HMS Theseus”. The helicopter transferred to HMAS Sydney when first Theseus and then Glory were relieved on Station. Via Fleet Air Arm of Australia.

As noted by a reunion site for the carrier:

The American helicopter rescue service cannot be too highly praised. Lts. Leonard, Humphreys, Keighley-Peach and Bowman were picked up behind enemy lines by these grand helicopter crews and Lts. Hamilton, Pinsent and Mr. Bailey and Acmn. II Loveys were picked up out of the sea by them. Lt.-Cdr. Gordon-Smith and Lt. Kelly were picked up by destroyers.

It was the stuff of newsreel footage.

The Thing was not the only American whirlybirds carried by Theseus. She also embarked helicopters from USS Worcester (CL-144) who specialized in counter-mine operations, another innovation.

By November 1950, with the North Koreans on the ropes, things kicked into high gear as hundreds of thousands of Chinese “Volunteers” poured across the Yalu River, starting an entirely new war for those tired of the old one.

And all of it in bitterly cold winter weather with snow and ice present.

HMS THESEUS IN WINTER WEATHER OFF KOREAN COAST. 8 DECEMBER 1950, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS OFF THE WEST COAST OF KOREA. (A 31790) On the flight deck of HMS THESEUS, Firefly, and Sea Fury aircraft covered with snow on the deck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162768

From Air Space Historian on the intensity of air ops from what was essentially a CVL:

Between 9 October and 5 November 1950, Theseus’ Furies (avg 19.3) made 492 sorties. From 5 December to 26 December, 423 Fury sorties were flown by an average of 19.6 aircraft. From 7 January 1951 to 23 March, 20.8 Furies flew 718 sorties, for a total of 1634 sorties over 98 days of operation (of which only 65 days were suitable for flying). All told, Theseus launched 3,500 sorties on 86 days during its seven-month deployment. During the first six months, Theseus’ air wing dropped 829,000 lbs. of explosives and fired 7,317 rockets and “half a million rounds of 20mm ammunition.” In recognition of these efforts, Theseus and the 17th Carrier Air Group was awarded the Rear-Admiral Sir Denis Boyd trophy for 1950 for “outstanding feat of naval aviation”

HMS Theseus Operating in Korea. 18 March 1951, on Board the Carrier at Sasebo, Japan. Vice Admiral W G Andrewes, KBE, CB, DSO, Commander of the British Commonwealth and Allied Fleet in Korean Waters, also responsible for the naval blockade of Korea, inspects the Marine Guard onboard HMS THESEUS. He is accompanied by Captain R S L Muldowney, RM, who commands the Marine detachment in THESEUS, and the Commanding Officer Captain A S Bolt, DSC, RN. The Marines are, left to right: Bugler J Noyes, Windsor, Berks; Sgt J Money, Deal, Kent; Marine G A Reckless, Rochdale, Lancs; Cpl A R Mead, Budliegh, Salterton, Devon; Marine J Neal, Portsmouth, Hants; Marine A D Whicker, Finsbury Park, London; Marine G P Quinn, Liverpool; Marine G Stevenson, Hatfield, Herts.

The British light fleet aircraft carrier HMS Theseus (R64) approaches Sasebo, Japan at the end of her deployment in Korea. Admiral A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command Far East, inspects the ship’s company who are formed up to spell out the ship’s name for the camera. April 1951. IWM A31901.

A stern-shot of the same image. Note the recognition stripes on her air wing, an easy solution borrowed from 1944 to try and avoid blue-on-blue air combat with so many different types of planes aloft over Korea

On 23 April 1951, sistership HMS Glory arrived from the UK to relieve her, with Bill Andrewes remaining behind to carry on the British efforts with the UN forces. Throughout the war, Commonwealth-manned Colossus and Majestic-class light carriers endured off the coast– the Admiralty tasking them rather than larger flattops to save money– with Glory being replaced by HMS Ocean and HMAS Sydney, while HMCS Warrior transported replacement aircraft from Britain. In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget carriers during the Korean conflict.

Her epic Korean tour over, Theseus sailed back for Portsmouth, arriving 29 May 1951, having been away from home for 285 days. In 215 days at sea, rotating back to Japan five times to re-arm and re-provision, she steamed 36,401 miles. She is mentioned extensively in the U.S. Navy’s history of the conflict.

Her Korean Campaign saw:


Number of Deck Landings: 4,594
Number of Catapult Launchings:  3,593
Number of Hours Flown: 10,189
Number of Flying Days: 114
Average number of Hours per Pilot: 268
Her scorecard:

Destroyed— 93 Junks, 153 Railway Trucks, 25 Railway Bridges, 485 Buildings, 73 Road Trucks, 66 Store Dumps, 6 Railway Tunnels, 17 Warehouses, 33 Gun Positions, 16 Road Bridges, 13 Railway Engines, 8 Tanks, 3 Railway Stations, 19 Factories, 5 Power Stations, 10 Command Posts, 4 Railway Sheds, 2 Jetties, 3 Cars, 1 Hangar, 5 Roadblocks, 12 Carts, 51 Barrack Buildings, 2 Steam Rollers, 2 Omnibuses, 1 Tug, 1 Excavator, 1 Floating Bridge, 1 “Bulldozer,” 1 Pump House.

Damaged— 18 Road Bridges, 77 Junks, 69 Railway Wagons, 1 Gun Position. 35 Buildings. 2 Store Dumps, 22 Warehouses, 34 Road Trucks, 1 Tractor, 15 Railway Bridges, 5 Railway Tunnels, 1 Airfield Runway, 4 Tanks, 18 Barrack Buildings, 1 Excavator, 4 Railway Sheds, 5 Factories, 10 Vehicle Revetments, 42, Sampans.

 

Peace

After an extensive refit and working back up, Theseus was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet in February 1952 to relieve sistership HMS Ocean, which was being prepared for service in Korea.

HMS THESEUS AT TRIESTE. NOVEMBER 1952, THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS FLOODLIT DURING A VISIT TO TRIESTE. (A 32386) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163257

The aircraft carrier HMS THESEUS leaving Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta. Astern are HMS GLASGOW, HMS CUMBERLAND, and HMNZ BLACK PRINCE. July 1953 IWM A 32611

In September 1953, she responded to the Paphos earthquake in Cyprus, which had left 50,000 without food or water. Her crews and embarked Dragonfly helicopters were just the ticket in the humanitarian crisis, buzzing around lending a hand while bringing aid and medical attention.

Theseus entering Malta starboard bow circa 1953 via Clydeships 201607061331400.C3

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Theseus and her sister Ocean should be re-tasked from operating fixed-wing aircraft and refitted for helicopters and a battalion-sized element of marines, then deemed “Commando Carriers,” a concept akin to a U.S. LPH. 

This brings us to…

Suez Crisis: Operation Musketeer.

After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, our two new commando carriers were part of the Anglo-French intervention, embarking troops and stores for passage to Cyprus and then on to North Africa. There, Whirlwinds and Sycamores from their decks took part in an early combat experiment in vertical envelopment from the sea, seizing Port Said.

Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) is shown with a crowded deck of Westland Whirlwind and Bristol Sycamore helicopters of the joint RAF/Army unit which operated alongside Royal Navy helicopters from her flight deck, November-December 1956. Note the French hospital ship in the background. IWM A 33639.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade [actually a mortar bomb] before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. Note his sand goggles, Pattern 37 webbing, and Denison smock– all looking very WWII. IWM A 33636.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. Note the desert goggles and MK V STEN gun of the Marine closest to the camera as well as the 2-inch patrol mortar with bomb tubes on deck. A 33635

British Royal Marines of 45 Commando loading into Royal Navy Westland Whirlwinds aboard the Colossus-class light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) to assault Egyptian positions during the Suez

Royal Navy Westland Whirlwind helicopters taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from the commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) during “Operation Musketeer”. November 1956. IWM A 33640.

After the Suez Crisis abated, she withdrew elements of the Army’s 16th Parachute Brigade from Egypt to Malta.

Troops, probably from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Port Said Egypt embarking on HMS THESEUS for the journey to Malta after the withdrawal from the crisis zone. Note the MK III “turtle” helmets on their packs and all of the No. 4 Enfields. The Brits had officially adopted the inch-pattern FN FAL, the L1A1 SLR, two years prior but they were not widespread at the time of the Suez and the old bolt guns were still around for some time, especially in support units. IWM HU 104203

After spending another year at Portsmouth in the Training Squadron, Theseus was mothballed in October 1957, having served just 11 years with the fleet. Paid off the next year, she was laid up until sold to BISCO for breaking-up at Inverkeithing, arriving at the breakers yard on 29 May 1962.

The last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 then scrapped. The final vessel of her class sent to the breakers, the third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang.

Since 1958, there has not been a Theseus in the Royal Navy.

A memorial marker to the six men lost from Theseus in Korea is in Cobham Hall at the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

She is also remembered in maritime art.

HMS Theseus by John S Smith. Via the Illustration Art Gallery https://bookpalace.com/acatalog/info_SmithJSCarrierLL.html

HMS Theseus by Ivan Berryman. Two Fairey Firefly fighter-bombers of 810 Sqn, Fleet Air Arm, overfly the carrier HMS Theseus during the Korean War. Via Ivan Berryman.com https://www.ivanberryman.com/ivan_berryman_art.php?ProdID=3212

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Distant Escort

Distant Escort: The cruisers HMS Sheffield (C24) and HMS Jamaica (44) along with the King George V-class dreadnought battleship HMS Duke of York (17) on patrol along the Convoy Route to Russia.

Painting by maritime artist John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993), via the Imperial War Museum London (LD7427-001) Courtesy of the Art UK Trust. ‘ 

Just over the horizon from the convoys, such sluggers would be on tap in case German surface raiders sortied out from occupied Norway to ambush passing by on the way to Murmansk, with the idea to bushwack said Kriegsmarine vessels.

Of note, the wrecking crew of Duke of York & Co would deliver Winston Churchill an excellent Boxing Day present in 1943 by utterly smashing KMS Scharnhorst in just such an engagement at what became known as the Battle of North Cape, some 77 years ago today. 

Another of Hamilton’s paintings:

The Battle of the North Cape: HMS ‘Duke of York’ in Action against the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943, by John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993) via the Imperial War Museum London. Painted 1972, transferred from the Belfast Trust, 1978.

Santa’s Reindeer, TBM edition

December 25, 1943: “On Christmas Day, Santa Claus arrives aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) in a dive bomber with six torpedo planes bearing names of his steeds, to distribute gifts. Lt. Louis L. Bangs (Air Group 10) plays the part. ‘Vexen’ in background.”

National Archives 80-G-207814 via NARA https://catalog.archives.gov/id/148728468

Several other TBMs of “Santa’s” team were photographed that day as well. 

According to DANFS, Enterprise began December 1943 in heavy action, raiding Japanese shipping around Kwajalein and Wotje Atolls at the close of Operation Galvanic— the Tarawa campaign– with her airwing damaging the light cruisers Isuzu and Nagara and sinking the cargo ship Tateyama Maru, among others.

Returning to Pearl Harbor on 9 December, she “stood down the channel and trained two days before Christmas 1943, and early in the New Year (4–7 January 1944) qualified planes flying from NAS Punnene. The ship’s next action occurred during Operation Flintlock — the occupation of the Marshalls.”

As for “Santa,” Bangs, a Kansan, would go on to earn the Navy Cross with VB-10 from Enterprise’s decks in the Philippines Sea just six months after the above image was snapped. Turns out, Kris Kringle could fight.

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