Category Archives: warship wednesday

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020: Horse Trading and Gun Running

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Oct. 28, 2020: Horse Trading and Gun Running

Cropped LIFE Archives photo by Carl Mydans

Here we see the Barnegat-class seaplane tender USS Orca (AVP-49) showing off the welcome sign  “Where the occident meets the Orient by accident,” signed by her skipper, CDR Morton K. Fleming, Jr, while in Philippine waters, likely Ormoc Bay, in December 1944.

The 41 Barnegats were 2,500-ton, 311-foot armed auxiliaries with destroyer lines capable of floating in 12 feet of water. They had room for not only seaplane stores but also 150 aviators and aircrew. Their diesel suite wasn’t fast, but they could travel 8,000 miles at 15.6 knots. Originally designed for two 5-inch/38-caliber guns, this could be doubled if needed (and often was) which complemented a decent AAA armament helped by radar and even depth charges and sonar for busting subs. All pretty sweet for an auxiliary.

We’ve covered them in the past to include the former “Queen of the Little White Fleet” USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) and the 60-year career of USS Chincoteague (AVP-24) but don’t worry, they have lots of great stories.

Our armed tender was (kind of) the fourth Orca in the U.S. Navy, as submarine USS K-3 (SS-34) carried the name as a PCU in 1911 but never served as such. The second Orca was an 85-foot steam yacht out of Boston taken into service as SP726 for patrol operations in the 1st Naval District during World War I. The third Orca was to be a Balao-class fleet submarine (SS-381) but, like SS-34, was changed before commissioning, in this case to USS Sand Lance, a boat that subsequently served until 1972, completing five WWII war patrols.

The hero of our study, which was officially named after Orca Bay, Alaska, in line with the naming convention for seaplane tenders to be named after bays and lakes, was laid down 13 July 1942, built by the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Washington, and commissioned 23 January 1944.

USS Orca (AVP-49) ready for launch on 4 October 1942. The ship Her builder’s number, Hull 538, is displayed on her bridge. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-44301

USS Orca (AVP-49) being launched at the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Washington, on 4 October 1942. 19-N-47209

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Houghton, Washington, on 6 February 1944, about two weeks after commissioning. She was completed with three 5/38 guns, including an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-61647

USS Orca (AVP-49) from the port side in Puget Sound on February 6, 1944, wearing camouflage 32/2Ax. The vertical colors are dull black, ocean gray, and light gray. Photo source: NARA BS 61646. H/T USN Dazzle

USS Orca (AVP-49) again in Puget Sound this time from the starboard wearing camouflage 32/2Ax on February 6, 1944. Orca was commissioned on January 23, 1944. Photo source: NARA BS 61645. H/T USN Dazzle

After shakedown, she shipped out for the 7th Fleet off Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, arriving there 26 May 1944. There, she would be the floating home to Patrol Bombing Squadron 11 (VPB-11) whose black-painted PBY-5 Catalinas were busy wrecking Japanese shipping and bases in night attacks while clocking in for air-sea rescue during the day.

PBY-5 Catalina of US Navy Patrol Squadron VPB-11 on the Sepik River in Australian New Guinea bringing supplies to a coast-watcher working in the area, Jan 1943. VPB-11 was Orca’s first squadron

Over the course of the war, Orca would go on to support VPB-33 and finally VPB-34, with all three squadrons being so active as to earn Presidential Unit Citations.

In early November, Orca moved into the Leyte Gulf area in the PI, where the next month her Cats proved lifesavers in Ormoc Bay right under the noses of the Japanese as they taxied around the bay for nearly an hour picking up survivors of the Sumner-class destroyer USS Cooper (DD-695), sunk the previous night by Long Lances from the Japanese destroyer Take.

From her 18-page War History, in the National Archives:

A cartoon from VPB-34 of the Cooper rescue

For his role in the Cooper rescue, VPB-34’s Lieutenant Frederick J. Ball, the lead pilot, would receive the Navy Cross.

Orca would then go on to have repeated run-ins with air attacks and later “the kamikaze boys” as her diary states, with her crew sending up reportedly impressive amounts of fire to meet incoming Japanese planes. The report comes from Tokyo Rose, who announced that, following a raid in an area where Orca was the primary ship, “The volume of Ack-Ack which met the previous night’s raid, indicated that a U.S. battleship of the Wisconsin class had been sighted by Japanese planes…” which is certainly something to brag about for a seaplane tender.

While in the Lingayen Gulf, raids were so heavy that she experienced attacks for six nights in a row, bagging a couple aircraft but coming out unscathed. As her diary states, “Fortunately for us, our first attackers appeared to have not been confirmed Lodge members- Kamikaze Local No. 269, for none of them made suicide dives unless actually hit and out of control.”

Then came the, often frustrating, efforts to recover downed Japanese aircrew.

Other rescues by Orca’s Cats and later Mariners while operating in the PI included the 12 crew and passengers of an Army C-47– which included female nurses– a P-51 pilot, five survivors of a downed B-25 from a raid over Formosa, nine Filipino women whose fishing vessel had capsized 20 miles offshore leaving them to cling to wreckage for three days, and the curious case of CDR McPherson B. Williams of Augusta Georgia. Williams, who was Yorktown’s ComAirGrp 3, had been downed and rescued by Filipino guerillas who kept him out of Japanese hands for seven weeks and, in a twist of fate, was picked up by a Mariner piloted by his Annapolis roommate.

More Carly Mydan photos of Orca, with her crew performing maintenance on PBMs

Speaking of Filipino guerillas, Orca would spend much of her time in local waters supporting Gen. Walter Kreuger’s Sixth Army’s effort to arm, support, and equip bands of insurgents behind Japanese lines, running guns, uniforms, radio equipment, and medicine to these plucky freedom fighters.

VJ Day found Orca at sea, having just completed an overhaul at Manus Island in preparation for “the big push” on Tokyo. On 26 September, Orca arrived at Okinawa to assist in the occupation of the Japanese Islands.

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. 19-N-92247

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. Her 40mm quadruple mount had been moved forward replacing one 5/38 mount, but she retained two 5guns, including one in an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-92245

USS Orca (AVP-49) Off Mare Island, California, on 8 January 1946 after completion of an overhaul. Her 40mm quadruple mount had been moved forward replacing one 5/38 mount, but she retained two 5guns, including one in an open mount on her fantail. 19-N-92246

After supporting the Bikini Atoll A-bomb tests, Orca then decommissioned on 31 October 1947 and joined the reserve fleet in San Francisco. According to her War History, 82 percent of her plank owners, the majority of which were green on commissioning, completed the war with the tender.

She had earned three battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation for service in the conflict.

The 1950s…

Orca re-commissioned 15 December 1951, as the push was on in Korea, and went on to serve the rest of the decade in a variety of West Pac cruises and training evolutions, including tense China service, with much of her WWII armament landed.

USS Orca (AVP-49) moored at Naval Station San Diego, circa 1950s. Dave Schroeder and John Chiquoine. Via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/43/4349.htm

USS Orca (AVP-49) Underway on 4 April 1955. Note the aviation insignia on the bow aft of the hull number. The open 5/38 mount formerly on her fantail was removed between late 1951 and 1955. 80-G-668276

To the Horn of Africa!

Decommissioned in March 1960, at Tongue Point Naval Station, Astoria, Oregon, she was subsequently laid up in the Pacific Reserve Fleet, Columbia River Group. Her second stint in mothballs, however, did not last long and the following year she was towed to SFNSY and reactivated for transfer to the brand-new Imperial Ethiopian Navy in January 1962, named, well, Ethiopia (A01). Along with a group of 95-foot PGMs and some surplus LCMs, they would prove the backbone of the force.

Formed in 1955 with a group of retired British naval personnel served as advisers and training supervisors, Ethiopia’s Navy was not a huge armada, with our repurposed seaplane tender being the fleet’s largest vessel, training ship, and flagship/imperial yacht for three decades. It was from her deck that Emperor Haile Selassie regularly inspected visiting foreign ships for the country’s annual Navy Day each January, an event that often saw a decent turnout.

“Haile Selassie is Host to British, French, theU.S. and Soviet Ships. January 1969, At Massawa, during Ethiopia’s Navy Days. The British frigate HMS Leander took part along with USS Luce, Russian destroyer Gnevy, French frigate Commandant Bory and the Ethiopian flagship, Ethiopia. On the sea day, all ships sailed in company, with Emperor Haile Selassie onboard Ethiopia. Later, the Emperor dined onboard HMS Leander. The international line-up during the Ethiopian Sea Day. Left: HMS Leander (lower) and Gnevy (Above). Right: USS Luce (above), Ethiopia (center) and Commandant Bory (lower).”” IWM A 35201

HMS CHICHESTER AT ETHIOPIA NAVY DAYS. FEBRUARY 1970, MASSAWA. THE FRIGATE HMS CHICHESTER REPRESENTED GREAT BRITAIN AT THE ANNUAL ETHIOPIAN NAVY DAYS. OTHER SHIPS TAKING PART INCLUDED US FLEET ESCORT SHIP FOREST ROYAL, THE FRENCH FRIGATE COMMANDANT BORY, THE SOVIET DESTROYER BLESTIYASCHYJ AND PATROL BOATS OF THE SUDANESE NAVY. INCLUDED IN THE PROGRAMME WAS A GRADUATION PARADE FROM THE ETHIOPIAN NAVAL COLLEGE AT MASSAWA AND A SERIES OF INTERNATIONAL SPORTING EVENTS BETWEEN TEAMS FROM THE VISITING SHIPS. (A 35268) Royal salute from Emperor Haile Sellasie on board his yacht ETHIOPIA as HMS CHICHESTER steams past. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205165107

The 1,300-man Imperial Ethiopian Navy took up –almost– a full page in the 1973 Jane’s, with ex-Orca as the largest vessel.

After Selassie was deposed in 1974, and the socialist regime pivoted towards Moscow and away from the West by 1978, Soviet advisors replaced the Brits, Americans, Dutch, and Norwegians. By the 1980s, the force tripled in size as Petya, Osa and Turya-class fast attack craft arrived as military aid to help with the country’s low-key wars with its Western-backed neighbors.

Still, Orca/Ethiopia endured as the largest ship.

By 1990, Ethiopia had lost its ports as the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front had captured Massawa, prompting the
Ethiopian admiralty to pull stumps and migrate their homeless fleet to nearby Yemen. This situation came to a head when Eritrea gained de jure independence. In 1993, the Yemenis pulled the plug on the Ethiopian nautical squatters and asked them to leave in a bar closing sort of way (you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here…).

However, at that point, Orca/Ethiopia could no longer fire up her engines and, with her ~200 crewmembers interned as refugees, was sold for scrap to pay off delinquent dock fees in 1995.

As for the Ethiopian Navy, over the past couple of years, there has been an effort to reboot it, a curiosity for a land-locked country. The general plan would seem to be for the force to work out of Djibouti. Nonetheless, last year Adm. Foggo, commander of Naval Forces Africa, met with Brig. Gen. Kindu Gezu, Ethiopian Head of Navy in “the first staff to staff talks.”

Here in the U.S., Orca’s ship engineering drawings as well as 30 assorted war diaries and reports are digitized in the National Archives. She is also remembered on the Commemorative Plaque Wall at the United States Navy Memorial in Washington.

As for her sisters, they have all gone on to the breakers or been reefed with the final class member afloat, ex-Chincoteague/Ly Thuong Kiet/Andres Bonifacio scrapped in the Philippines in 2003.

Specs:

Displacement 1,766 t.(lt) 2,800 t.(fl)
Length 310′ 9″
Beam 41′ 2″
Draft 13′ 6″ (limiting)
Speed 18.6kts.
Complement: 73 officers, 294 enlisted (including 152 members of embarked seaplane squadron)
Fuel Capacities: Diesel 1,955 Bbls; Gasoline 71,400 Gals
Propulsion: two Fairbanks Morse Diesel 38D8 1/4 engines, single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gear, two propellers, 6,080shp
Ship’s Service Generators: two Diesel-drive 100Kw 450V A.C., one Diesel-drive 200Kw 450V A.C.
Armament:
3 single 5″/38 cal dual-purpose gun mounts
1 quad Bofors 40mm AA gun mount, 2 twins
4 twin Oerlikon 20mm AA gun mounts
Stern depth charge racks
Changes as a training ship, 1960:
Radars: RCA SPS-12 air search radar, I-band navigation radar, RCA/General Electric Mark 26 I/J-band fire control
Armament:
1 single 5″/38 cal dual-purpose gun mount
1 single Bofors 40mm AA gun mount, 2 twins

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

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

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

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No longer Fearless

Here we see the Project 956 (Sovremenny-class) destroyer Bezboyaznennyy (Fearless) arriving at the breakers to be turned into shveynyye igly, or sewing needles in the Russian naval parlance.

Laid down 8 January 1987 at built by Severnaya Verf 190 St. Petersburg, Bezboyaznennyy served with the Soviet/Russian Pacific Fleet from 1990 until 2002 when she was decommissioned. It had been thought that she would be refurbished and returned to service, after all, she had only served on active duty for about a decade, but it looks like she is in very poor shape indeed, and that will not be the case.

A big, almost cruiser-sized tin can, the 8,500-ton Sovremennys were Moscow’s answer to the Spruance-class with the bonus of toting big carrier-killing SS-N-22 Sunburn AShMs.

Some 21 were completed.

The Russians still have at least six Sovremennys on active service, one (Bespokoynyy) as a floating museum in St. Petersberg, and two others– Nastoychivyy and Burnyy— formerly in mothballs, being refitted to rejoin the fleet.

The Chinese also have four variants on their own.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020: The Kaiser’s Gorgon

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Oct. 21, 2020: The Kaiser’s Gorgon

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 46824

Here we see the Gazelle-class kleiner kreuzer SMS Medusa of the Kaiserliche Marine passing under the Levensauer Hochbrücke in the Kiel Canal, likely between 1901 and 1908. The sleek little vessel with beautiful lines and a prominent bow would go on to live a long life, a rarity for 20th Century Teutonic warships.

Medusa and her nine assorted sisters were built to scout for a growing battle fleet, and most importantly show the German flag around the world in ports both tropical and frozen. Just over 344-feet long, smaller today than a typical frigate, they were powered by two triple-expansion engines that gave the class a (planned) speed of 21.5-knots, which sounds slow by 21st Century standards but was fairly fast for ~1900.

Armed with ten 10.5 cm/40 (4.1″) SK L/40 naval guns and some torpedo tubes, they followed the traditional cruiser trope of being intended to sink anything faster than them and outrun anything bigger. She was built at AG Weser, Bremen for 4,739,000 Goldmarks and commissioned July 1901.

German light cruiser, either THETIS, ARIADNE, AMAZONE, or MEDUSA. Photo by Arthur Renard, Kiel, 1901. NH 47870

The 1914 Jane’s entry for the class. Of note, there were many small differences in dimensions, displacement, powerplant, and torpedo tube armament amongst the 10 vessels in the class. In a very real way, there could be considered at least three different flights among the Gazelles. Even Jane’s recognized this at the time, detailing Medusa not with a 10-ship Gazelle listing but with a five-ship subclass along with near-identical sisters Nymphe, Thetis, Ariadne, and Amazone.

Medusa spent her first decade on a series of flag-waving and training cruises around Europe, making just about every cherry port call you could want from Stockholm to Constantinople. During this time, her gunners were considered the best in the fleet, winning the Kaiserpreis für Kleine Kreuzer, a feat that resulted in her becoming the fleet gunnery school ship for a period.

Tyske kryssaren Medusa at Gustafsberg Juli 05, Swedish Bohusläns museum UMFA53278 2009

In May 1908, the still relatively young Medusa— as with most of her class– was overhauled and placed in reserve, tasked with second-line duties as larger, faster cruisers such as the Königsberg, Dresden, and Kolberg classes were joining the fleet.

Guns of August…

Nonetheless, when the Great War came, the Gazelles were reactivated and pressed into fleet service as scouts. In such work, they often tangled with much more powerful British vessels.

Medusa’s sistership, SMS Ariadne was sent to the bottom at Heligoland Bight on the fourth week of the war after she was caught between two of Beatty’s battlecruisers, while sister SMS Undine exploded after being hit by two torpedoes in 1915 and SMS Frauenlob was lost at Jutland opposing British cruisers as part of IV Scouting Group.

Medusa’s war service was more pedestrian, serving in a coast defense role along the Baltic to include being the flagship of Vizeadmiral Robert Mischke in the Küstenschutzdivision der Ostsee. She did see some action supporting German troops moving through Latvia in 1916 and ended the war as a tender to the old school frigate König Wilhelm in Flensburg.

Weimar Days

Post Versailles, the heart of the Kaiserliche Marine lay wrecked at Scapa Flow and the Allies took the better part of what remained afloat, leaving the newly-formed Weimar Republic’s Reichsmarine to rise like a phoenix with clipped wings from the ashes using obsolete vessels that London, Paris, and Washington neither wanted for their own fleets nor felt would be a threat.

When it came to the eight pre-dreadnoughts and six plodding cruisers allotted for the Germans to retain, ironically Medusa was the best of the lot and she served as the Reichsmarine’s first flagship from July 1920 through February 1921, when the duty was passed off to the battleship SMS Hannover, which by then was dusted off enough for active service.

To give her some better teeth, Medusa’s 450mm torpedo tubes were upgraded with larger 500mm tubes and she was fitted with rails to carry as many as 200 sea mines. The new Republic’s first active warship, Medusa cruised the Baltic in the summer of 1920, making Weimar Germany’s inaugural port calls in Finnish and Swedish harbors, a task she would repeat in 1924.

By March 1929, with the Reichsmarine able to add a few new K-class cruisers to the list as one-for-one replacements for their oldest boats, Medusa was disarmed and transferred to Wilhelmshaven to serve as a barracks ship. Her experienced crew changed hulls almost to a man to become plankowners on the brand-new German light cruiser Karlsruhe, the latter of which was known around Kiel as Ersatz Medusa during her building and outfitter.

Of her six sisters that survived the Great War, Gazelle was scrapped in poor shape in 1920, followed by SMS Nymphe and SMS Thetis which were scrapped in the early 1930s. Likewise, SMS Niobe was sold to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1925. Besides Medusa, the Germans only kept her sisters Arcona and Amazone, which, like our subject, were disarmed by the 1930s and hulked.

New war and a new look

As the Reichsmarine transitioned to the Kreigsmarine in 1935, and the world marched into war once again, Medusa swayed at her moorings until early 1940 when she was towed to Rickmers, Wesemünde, where she was reworked into a floating anti-aircraft battery, dubbed a flak kreuzer. She was not alone in this task as the Germans converted not only her sister Arcona in such a way but also a mix of seven captured Danish, Dutch, and Norwegian warships of similar vintage.

Medusa, her engine rooms gutted and funnels/masts removed, emerged with a new camouflage scheme and looked far and away different than when she was in the Kaiser’s service.

Her armament consisted of five 105/60 SK C/33 guns— good high-angle AAA weapons rated to 41,000 feet in altitude– as well as two 37mm flak guns, eight 20mm flak guns, HF/DF equipment, searchlights, a low-UHF band Würzburg gun-laying radar, and a Kleinkog fire control device, all state of the art for the time.

She would be crewed by the men of Marine Flak Abteilung 222 who not only manned Medusa but five other heavy batteries ashore as well.

Stationed typically at various roadsteads off Wilhelmshaven, Flak Batterie Medusa was frequently towed from anchorage to anchorage to minimize the risk of her being targeted specifically and, between 13 May 1940 and 3 May 1945, would sound her air raid alarm 789 times, sending up flak on at least 136 of those occasions. It should be noted that the Allies, primarily the British, carried out at least 102 air raids on the vital port, with 16 of those being large-scale attacks.

Note Medusa’s scoreboard, with numerous RAF and U.S. bomber outlines, none of which I can confirm. It should be recognized that the famous Flying Fortress, Memphis Belle (Boeing B-17F-10-BO #41-24485) was the recipient of flak while raiding Wilhelmshaven in 1943

Medusa remained afloat and fully operational until she was targeted by an airstrike on 19 April 1945 which killed 22 and seriously wounded 41 others. As the Allies were closing in on Wilhelmshaven, she was towed to the Wiesbaden Bridge and scuttled by her gunners there during the predawn hours of 3 May in an effort to block the channel. The city’s 33,000-man garrison, to include the former residents of Medusa, officially surrendered to Maj. Gen. Stanislaw Maczek’s 1st Polish Armored Division later the same day.

A local firm was granted salvage rights in 1947 and scrapped her wreck over the remainder of the decade.

When it comes to her two remaining sisters, they also proved fairly lucky in Kriegsmarine service. The unarmed ex-SMS Amazone was used post-war as an accommodation hulk for refugees and broken up in Hamburg in 1954 while Arcona, who like Medusa served as a floating AAA platform, was seized by the Royal Navy at Brunsbüttel in May 1945 and subsequently scrapped in 1949.

Today, Medusa is well-remembered in the model collection of the International Maritime Museum Hamburg, where both a circa 1900 white-hulled and a circa 1945 camouflage 1:100 scale example reside.

Speaking of models, Combrig offers an excellent 1:700 scale version of the Kaiser’s gorgon.

Those flak gunners lost on her decks in April 1945 are commemorated in a marker at Wilhelmshaven.

Specs:

Via Combrig

(1900, Kleiner kreuzer)
Displacement: 2,659 tons normal; 3,082 full
Length: 344.8 ft overall; 328 waterline
Beam: 40 ft
Draft: 15.9 ft; 17.5 maximum
Propulsion: 9 x Schulz-Thornycroft water-tube boilers; 7,972 hp; two 3-cylinder triple-expansion steam engines, two 3.5m props
Speed: 21.5 knots (designed), 20.9 knots in practice, 22 trials (all Gazelles were different in this)
Range: 3,560 nmi at 10 knots on 300 tons coal (560 tons max)
Complement: 14 officers, 243 enlisted men
Armor: (Sheathead & Muntz)
Deck: 25mm at ends, 50mm amidships
Conning tower 75-80 mm
Gun shields: 50 mm
Armament:
10 x 10.5 cm/40 (4.1″) SK L/40 (1,000 shells in magazine)
14 x 37mm 1-pounder Maxim Guns (autocannons)
2 x 45 cm (17.7 in) submerged beam tubes (5 torpedoes)

(1945, Flak kreuzer)
Displacement: 3,100 tons
Length: 344.8 ft overall
Beam: 40 ft
Draft: 15.9 ft
Propulsion: None, was towed and generators supplied on-board power while afloat
Armor: Deck: 20-50 mm, Conning tower 80 mm
Complement: 6 officers, 37 NCOs, 237 enlisted in embarked flak batteries and support personnel
Armament:
5 x 105/60 SK C/33 AAA guns
2 x 37mm Flak 36/37
8 x 20mm Flak 30

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, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Oct. 14, 2020: The Empire Strikes Back

National Archives 80-G-703401

Here we see Balao-class fleet submarine USS Atule (SS-403), left, torpedoing ex-U-977 during weapon tests off Cape Cod, 14 November 1946. The (in)famous German boat was far from Atule’s only kill, although it was likely her easiest. However, in the end, she would meet a somewhat ironic fate that had, some contend, an aspect of divine intervention.

A member of the 180+-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were “fleet” boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.

Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5,000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their deck guns. They also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

Some 311-feet long overall, they were all-welded construction to facilitate rapid building. Best yet, they could be made for the bargain price of about $7 million in 1944 dollars (just $100 million when adjusted for today’s inflation) and completed from keel laying to commissioning in about nine months.

An amazing 121 Balaos were completed through five yards at the same time, with the following pennant numbers completed by each:

  • Cramp: SS-292, 293, 295-303, 425, 426 (12 boats)
  • Electric Boat: 308-313, 315, 317-331, 332-352 (42)
  • Manitowoc on the Great Lakes: 362-368, 370, 372-378 (15)
  • Mare Island on the West Coast: 304, 305, 307, 411-416 (9)
  • Portsmouth Navy Yard: 285-288, 291, 381-410, 417-424 (43)

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the sub-killing USS Greenfish, rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish, the long-serving USS Catfish, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

The first (and only) U.S. warship named for the bluish-olive colored fish, Atule (SS-403) was laid down 25 November 1943 at Portsmouth; launched on 6 March 1944; and commissioned on 21 June 1944, LCDR (later RADM) John Howard Maurer (USNA 1935) in command. Maurer would be Atule’s only wartime skipper, coming to the new boat from a stint as Engineer Officer and later XO of USS Harder (SS-257) across three successful patrols that saw him receive the Silver Star.

Launch of USS Atule at the Portsmouth Navy Yard 3.6.44. NARA

Following a rushed wartime shakedown cruise and fortnight at the sonar school at Key West, Atule was soon off to the Pacific, leaving Pearl Harbor on her first patrol in company with sisterships USS Pintado (SS-387) and USS Jallao (SS-368) as a Yankee wolfpack on 9 October under the latter sub’s skipper’s nominal tactical control.

Aerial photo USS Atule (SS-403) 15 August 1944. Note she is just wearing her 5″/25 aft and two M2s on her sail, an armament that would soon be augmented with a 40mm and a 20mm. NARA 80-G-313787

Heading for patrol areas in the Luzon Strait and the South China Sea, partner Jallao bagged the Japanese Kuma-class light cruiser Tama (5,200 tons) on 25 October northeast of Luzon.

On Halloween night, it was Atule’s turn and she bagged a big one, stalking a large Japanese surface contact in a night surface radar attack and into All Saints Day.

From her Patrol Report:

0305 hours – In position 19°59’N, 117°25’E obtained radar contact bearing 225°, range 26000 yards. Started tracking.

0325 hours – Obtained radar contact on escort vessel.

0331 hours – Obtained radar contact on a second escort vessel.

0359 hours – Started attack, during the approach a third escort was sighted.

0432 hours – In position 20°09’N, 117°38’E commenced firing six torpedoes from 1850 yards. The target was a large passenger liner. Two torpedoes were seen to broach and then disappear.

0434 hours – A terrific explosion threw material three times the height of the target’s masts. Range to one of the escorts was only 1200 yards. Decided to dive. When clearing the bridge, a second torpedo hit the target. Atule dived to 450 feet.

0440 hours – 9 depth charges were dropped but they were not close.

0445 hours – Heard very loud and crackling breaking up noises on the bearing of the target.

0740 hours – Lost contact with the escorts.

The contact was the Japanese NYK liner Asama Maru (16,955 GRT), escorted by two armed minesweepers and a torpedo boat.

Asama Maru was a beautiful ship that in her peacetime service had such personalities as Baron Nishi Takeichi, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Hellen Keller grace her decks. In wartime, she repatriated U.S. Ambassador Joseph P. Grew and hundreds of American diplomats and their families back to the West before serving as a shuttle carrying up to 5,000 of the Emperor’s troops at a time to the front lines while hauling Allied POWs back on “hell ship” missions back to the Home Islands. While a troopship, she was armed with depth charges, listening gear, 8cm deck guns, and an assortment of AAA mounts.

Asama Maru and her sisters were literally page no. 1 in ONI 208J “Japanese Merchant Vessels,” hinting at how big a prize she was for American sub skippers.

When Atule found her, Asama Maru was carrying a mix of 1,383 military personnel, civilian employees for the military, and survivors from sunken Japanese merchant ships as well as 170 tons of iron scrap, 80 tons of hemp, 80 tons of raw rubber, and other items. As noted by Combined Fleets, “98 of 201 crew, 21 of 266 gunners and armed guards and 355 of 1,383 military personnel and passengers are KIA. Survivors are rescued by the three escort vessels.”

On 20 November, Atule drew blood once again, sinking the Japanese minesweeper W-38 (648 tons).

Just five days later, Atule haunted Japanese convoy MATA-34 just after midnight on 25 November, with six overlapping torpedoes from her bow tubes reaping the freighter-turned-sub tender Manju Maru/Santos Maru (7,266 GRT)  and the escort patrol boat No.38 (935 tons) in the same salvo. Santos Maru was carrying 2,400 troops and sailors including 430 survivors of the battleship Musashi. In the end, she took almost a third of those men to the bottom with her. As for No.38, it “disintegrated.”

Finally, Atule bagged a 4,000-ton freighter on 27 November, anchored between Dequey and Ibuhos Islands, Philippines. “Fired four bow torpedoes,” said her patrol report. The rest of the report was eloquent if terrifying:

Via NARA

Postwar, Atule was not given credit for the almost certain kill, although Nanko Maru No. 6, which went missing at about the same time, seems a good fit.

Wrapping up her first patrol at Majuro on 11 December, which ran 63 days/16,570 nm with a green crew (53 of 77 men were on their first patrol) and expended 22 Mk 18 torpedoes for 11 hits, Atule claimed five ships for a total of 26,600 tons. Postwar, this would be confirmed at four ships and 25,804, which is fairly close to the estimate tonnage wise.

Atule shipped from Majuro on her second war patrol on 6 January 1945, bound for the Yellow Sea. There, she sent the brand-new freighter Daiman Maru No.1 (6888 GRT) to the bottom on 24 January, having to break ice off her deck gun in the process. Not as exciting as her inaugural cruise, she ended her 2nd war patrol at Midway on 7 March.

Her third patrol left out of Midway on 2 April, tasked with lifeguard duties off the Japanese Home Islands which were under constant attack by Navy and USAAF planes, with her crew often taking the time to sink floating mines and wreckage found in her operational area and (unsuccessfully) stalk an elusive Japanese submarine near the Ashizuri lighthouse.

In a twist of irony– she would have many in her career– the only aviator she would rescue was a Japanese naval observer on 5 May. The observer was retrieved from the water from a downed Jake, which had been smoked by a passing B-29 gunner with spotting provided by the sub.

Once again, Maurer, Atule’s skipper– who was a near classmate of Robert Heinlein— showed his prose in detailing the scene in the patrol log.

“A thick wad of currency, a vial of perfume and several condoms showed he was ready for any eventuality.” (NARA)

Putting into Pearl Harbor on 30 May, she had some downtime to train and resupply, then left on her fourth patrol on 3 July– no Independence Day leave in Honolulu for them– bound once again for Japan’s front yard. On that cruise, in a night action across 12/13 August, she spotted two Japanese frigates, Kaibokan 6 and Kaibokan 16 (both 740 tons), sinking the former and damaging the latter with a brace of six torpedoes.

And that was it, the ceasefire was called on the 15th when Emperor Hirohito announced that his country would accept unconditional surrender. With that, she was ordered to terminate her patrol on the 45th day by COMSUBPAC and return to Pearl via Midway, arriving in Hawaii on the 25th.

By the end of August, even before the official surrender, she was headed to New London.

Reaching the East Coast, Atule was assigned to Submarine Squadron 2 and was used as a training and trial boat. In this role, she traveled to the Arctic in July 1946 as part of Operation Nanook in company with the icebreaker USS Northwind (WAG-282), two auxiliaries, and the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, the latter embarking PBM flying boats.

Atule off the northwest coast of Greenland, on 20 July 1946, during Operation Nanook. Note that she has her full AAA armarment on her sail. 80-G-636420

It was on this frozen trip along the coast of Greenland that she “reached latitude 79 degrees 11 minutes north in the Kane Basin, setting a record for the United States Navy,” and rescued a PBM that had to put down with engine trouble.

Then came her dramatic sinking of U-977, the Type VIIC that famously ignored the formal German surrender order for U-boat at sea on VE-Day and made for South America instead. The rouge boat entered the port of Mar del Plata, Argentina on 17 August 1945, some 108 days and more than 7,600 nm after it had departed Norway.

U-977 lies in in Mar del Plata, Argentina; rusty and weather beaten after 108 days at sea – Photograph courtesy of Carlos J. Mey – Administrator of the Historia y Arqueologia Marítima website http://www.histarmar.com.ar/ via U-boat Archive

In the end, turned over to the U.S. Navy and towed to Boston for a photoex, Atule sent her to the bottom in the test of a prototype steam-powered torpedo off Massachusetts.

View showing torpedoing of U-977 by ATULE (SS403) on 13 November 1946. As noted by the Navy: The pressure hull of U-977 has apparently been completely severed by the detonation and that the forward and after portions of the hull have jack-knifed. U-977 was a standard German Type VII-C design: length 220′-2″; maximum beam 20′-4″; diameter of pressure hull 15′-5″; pressure hull plating thickness .73″; and submerged displacement 880 tons. The torpedo used by ATULE was a Mark 14 body fitted with a Mark 16, Mod. 4 magnetic proximity-fuzed warhead containing 660 lbs. of Torpex and is believed to have detonated almost directly underneath the keel of U-977. This photograph demonstrates the great destructive power of torpedoes when used against unprotected ships such as submarines.

Her wartime service complete, on 8 September 1947, she was placed out of commission, in reserve, with the New London Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Atule earned four battle stars for World War II service.

Her confirmed WWII tonnage tally stood at 33,379

Atule’s WWII battle flag eventually found its way to the USS Bowfin Museum in Pearl Harbor, where it remains on display today. Note the 51 mines zapped, the rescued Japanese flier chit, and four Rising Suns (Kyokujitsu-ki) and four Hinomaru flags for the eight ships she claimed sunk or damaged

As for Maurer, who earned the Navy Cross on Atule, he went on to hold two surface commands, including the cruiser USS Saint Paul, and be both COMSUBPAC and COMSUBLANT. His final assignment was as Commander of Naval Forces in Key West, retiring from the Navy in 1974.

When it comes to Atule’s sisters, of the schools of Balaos which were commissioned, 10 were lost in the war during operations while another 62 were canceled on the builders’ ways as the conflict ended. In 1946, the Navy was left with 120 units.

Jane’s entry on the Balao class, 1946

Rebirth

After three years on red lead row, Atule was towed to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard– her birthplace– for reactivation and conversion to a Guppy 1-A type submarine.

Of the 48 GUPPY’d WWII diesel boats that were given a second life in the Cold War, Atule was one of the first 10 IA series boats which recieved the most basic reboot when compared to the other Balaos and Tenches modified later.

Outfitted with a German-style snorkel not too different from the one the Navy inspected on U-977, and a streamlined superstructure sans deck guns, Atule rejoined the fleet a stronger, more versatile warship, recommissioned 8 March 1951.

GUPPY-1A USS Atule (SS-403). NHHC L45-15.02.01

For the next 19 years, she led a quiet life, participating in operations with Latin American allies in a series of UNITAS exercises, working with NATO allies on Mediterranean deployments as part of the 6th Fleet, visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras, training naval reservists, and, as part of SUBRON12, alternated duty at Key West with service at Guantanamo Bay supporting ASW training for the destroyer force while keeping an eye on Castro.

Reclassified AGSS-403 on 1 October 1969, Atule was decommissioned on 6 April 1970, and her name was struck from the Navy list on 15 August 1973.

In all, she had spent 29 years on the Naval List, with nearly 24 of those on active duty. Not a bad return to Uncle Sam for the $7,000,000 original cost to build her.

The GUPPY-1A entry from the 1973 Jane’s, listing Atule and the last four of her type in U.S. Navy service, USS Sea Poacher, USS Becuna, USS Blenny, and USS Tench, then in reserve.

Points South

Ex-Atule was sold to Peru in July 1974, and renamed BAP Pacocha (S 48), duplicating the name of an earlier boat used by the Marina de Guerra del Perú. She was sent south in tandem with BAP Pabellón de Pica/La Pedrera (SS-49), ex-USS Sea Poacher (SS/AGSS-406) after a refit. Atule/Pacocha was commissioned on 28 May 1974 into the MGP, where she continued her quiet life of training and exercises over the course of the next 14 years. Then came disaster.

On the evening of 26 August 1988, with a reduced crew of 49 men aboard, the 44-year-old submarine was operating on the surface with her hatches open when, just off the port of Callao, a 412-ton Japanese fishing trawler with a reinforced ice-breaking prow collided into her aft port quarter, opening her like a tin can with a 2 meter by 10 centimeters split in the pressure hull. Pacocha didn’t even have time to sound her collision alarm.

Via U.S. Navy Submarine Medical Research Labratory Special Report SP89-1

It was almost as if the ghosts of the Asama Maru, Santos Maru, and others, had returned as wraiths and exacted retribution for the Atule’s past actions.

Nonetheless, the Peruvians had a spirit of their own, it seems.

With the boat taking on water and three men dead, including the skipper, 23 submariners were able to scramble off the submarine before she raced for the bottom of the Pacific some 140 feet down. As the boat was drowning, Teniente Roger Cotrina Alvarado was somehow able to dog a partially flooded hatch to compartmentalize the sub’s forward torpedo room with 21 other survivors, a feat he chalked up to the help of Marija of Jesus Crucified Petković, a Croatian nun who had traveled extensively through Latin America helping the poor and sick.

A 61-page U.S. Navy report on the resulting rescue, compiled in 1989 through first-hand interviews, is fascinating but somewhat outside the scope of this. Suffice it to say, rescue divers were able to use the escape trunk in the forward torpedo room to retrieve the remainder of the crew 23 hours later in six groups, utilising Mark V dive lines.

Naturally, after spending almost a full day 140 feet down in a compromised atmosphere and making a swim to the surface with only the assistance of a rescue hood, most suffered from the bends, but in the end, only one perished.

As for Alvarado, a documentary was made of his efforts and his personal beliefs on the source of his “humanly impossible” strength that day.

Some 11 months after Atule/Pacocha hit the bottom, she surfaced again following 800 hours of work by Peruvian Navy salvage crews, raised on 23 July 1989.

Towed ashore and drydocked, she was studied for the effects of the ramming and sinking, then her hulk was cannibalized for spare parts for other Peruvian submarines.

In the U.S., Atule’s war engineering drawings, patrol diaries, post-war deck logs, and complete WWII muster rolls have been digitized and are online at the National Archives. A veteran’s group was active for several years, but their webpage has since been archived.

Eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is hopefully in the process of being saved and moved to Kentucky)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Specs:
(1944)
Displacement: 1,526 tons (surfaced), 2,391 (submerged)
Length: 311.7 ft.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 13.75 ft.
Machinery: Fairbanks Morse diesel engines, 5,400 HP, fuel capacity, 116,000 gals.; four Elliot Motor Co. electric main motors 2,740 shp, two 126-cell main storage batteries, 2 shafts
Speed: 20.25 kts. (surfaced) 8.75 kts. (submerged)
Endurance: 11,000 miles surfaced at 10 knots; submerged endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots; 75 days
Test Depth: 412 ft.
Complement: 6 officers, 60 enlisted
Radar: SJ
Armament:
1 5″/25cal deckgun, 25 rounds
1 40mm/60 Bofors AAA
1 20mm/80 Oerlikon AAA
2 M2 .50-cal machine guns
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft), 24 torpedoes
(Post GUPPY 1A)
Displacement: 1,870 tons standard (surfaced), 2,440 (submerged)
Length: 308.
Beam: 27 ft.
Draft: 17
Machinery: 3 Diesels; 4,800 bhp. 2 Electric motors; 5,400 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 17 kts (Surfaced) 15 kts. (Submerged)
Endurance: 90 days
Complement: 8 officers, 73 men
Armament:
10 21-inch torpedo tubes (6 forward, 4 aft) 24 torpedoes

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Welcome back, USS Constellation

I am a sucker for naval tradition and, while 20th Century frigates/destroyer escorts were named either for small towns (see Asheville– and Tacoma-classes) or heroes that are often otherwise forgotten (see Evarts-, Buckley-, Cannon-, Edsall-class, et.al), it was announced yesterday that the fleet’s next frigate class will start off with a familiar name– that of one of the First Six frigates of the newly-formed U.S. Navy, USS Constellation.

Action between U.S. Frigate Constellation and French Frigate Insurgente, 9 February 1799. Painting by Rear Admiral John W. Schmidt, USN (Retired), depicting Constellation (at left) taking position ahead of Insurgente. After an hour-and-a-quarter engagement, the badly outmaneuvered and damaged French frigate surrendered. Constellation was commanded by Captain Thomas Truxtun. Courtesy of the artist. Official U.S. Navy photograph, KN-2882.

Serving from 1797 and named in honor of the collection of 15 stars on the young country’s flag, the original 164-foot, 38-gun Constellation, called “The Yankee Racehorse” due to her speed, endured until 1853 when she was “greatly repaired” at Gosport Navy Yard to become the 179-foot 20-gun sloop-of-war that carried the same name and is currently preserved in Baltimore.

The third completed Connie, of more modern vintage, was the massive Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier which was in service from 1961 to 2003 and is remembered for her hard service in Vietnam, the Cold War, the Tanker War, and Iraq as “America’s Flagship.” Sadly, she was scrapped in 2015.

An aerial port beam view of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64) as crew members form the Battle E awards for excellence on the flight deck of the ship. 1 August 1986 National Archives and Records Administration photo, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 6429186 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6429186

Now, as announced by SECNAV Kenneth J. Braithwaite this week, USS Constellation (FFG 62) will be the lead ship in the new Guided Missile Frigate (FFG(X)) class.

Appropriately, he made the announcement while aboard the museum ship Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

BALTIMORE (Oct. 7, 2020) Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite announces USS Constellation (FFG 62) as the name for the first ship in the new Guided Missile Frigate class of ships while aboard the museum ship Constellation in Baltimore Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Md., Oct. 7, 2020. As the first in her class, the future Guided Missile Frigates will be known as the Constellation Class frigates. Braithwaite visited the museum ship Constellation for the announcement to honor the first U.S. Navy ships authorized by Congress in 1794. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Levingston Lewis)

The Navy emphasized that the FFG-X will be fighting ships, rather than the LCSs we currently have:

As the next generation of small surface combatants will contribute to meeting the goal of 355 battle force ships. With the ability to operate independently or as part of a strike group, it will deliver an Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR), Mk 41 Vertical Launching System, and Baseline 10 (BL 10) Aegis Combat System capabilities. The ships lethality, survivability, and improved capability will provide Fleet Commanders multiple options while supporting the National Defense Strategy across the full range of military operations.

It would be great if the next ships of the class repeat other First Six names (Chesapeake, Congress, and President) not currently in use, and carry forward with other famous ship names moving forward (e.g. why do we not have a Ranger, Hornet, Intrepid, etc?).

Either way, it is better than naming them for politicians and labor leaders. 

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020: U-Boat Hat Trick

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Oct. 7, 2020: U-Boat Hat Trick

Photo # A 22465 from the collections of the Imperial War Museum.

Here we see the Attacker-class escort carrier HMS Chaser (D32) as observed from the Telegraphist Air Gunner’s position in a just-launched Fairey Swordfish Mk II biplane strike aircraft of 835 Squadron NAS, while escorting Russia-bound Convoy JW57 in February 1944. Constructed in Mississippi of all places, she had the hull of a freighter but the heart of a lion– and proved particularly deadly to one of Herr Donitz’s wolfpacks.

Most people think the business of making these short flattops, derided as “Jeep Carriers” was one that kicked off post-Pearl Harbor. This is fundamentally incorrect as the U.S. Maritime Commission, under orders from the Navy Department and the guidance of FDR’s White House, got into the “AVG” (Aircraft Escort Vessel) game in late 1939, at a time when the so-called “Phony War” was underway in Europe and both England and France were both very much in the war.

The first two such ships, USS Long Island (AVG-1, later CVE-1) and HMS Archer (D78) respectively, were converted Type C3-class merchant hulls that were brought into naval service in 1940. Capable (in theory) of carrying up to 30 light aircraft and defended by a couple of pop guns, these 13,500-ton vessels were declared an initial success and a follow-on class, the 4-unit Avenger-type with a half hangar, was soon ordered under Lend-Lease. Then followed the much more substantial (45-ship) Bouge-class, which utilized a fuller hangar.

With the Royal Navy in desperate straits in 1941 when it came to aircraft carriers, 9 of the 14 Bogues laid down that year eventually went to the Brits, forming the Attacker-class in RN service. One of these, an 11,900-ton C3-S-A2 type freighter, Hull Number 162, was ordered originally for the Moore-McCormack Lines as the SS Mormacgulf. She was soon requisitioned by the Navy and converted on the builder’s ways at the newly formed Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula to become our HMS Chaser, using the name of an RN sloop that ironically served in the War of Independence era.

Mrs. Jennie Mae Turner, a welder at the Ingalls shipyard, Pascagoula, Miss. Circa 1943. U.S. Maritime Commission photo in Library of Congress. It is still super common to find female welders at Ingalls today.

Nominally commissioned into the U.S. Navy as on 9 April 1943 as USS Breton (AVG-10), she was transferred that day as Chaser in the RN, then marked on U.S Naval List as BAVG-10, with the “B” denoting the British loan.

Some 14,170-tons full load, the 486-foot vessel had a wooden “roof” made up of a 442-foot flight deck. Below deck, she had an 18-foot high hangar that ran 262-feet long and 62 wide. This was serviced by a pair of elevators. When it came to handling equipment, she had a single H2 hydraulic catapult and a 9-wire/3-barrier arrestor system.

Up-armed from the original Long Island-class, Chaser carried two 4″/50s– which had typically been recycled from old Flush Decker tin cans— for warning off surface contacts, and 34 Bofors/Oerlikon AAA guns. She had British radar outfits and commo suites.

Bogue (Attacker)-class sistership HMS Trumpeter (D09) drydocked at Rosyth, Scotland, 4 June 1944. Note the single rudder/screw arrangement, freighter hull, wooden flight deck “roof” and gun sponsons. The angular ones are for 4″/50s while the more rounded are for AAA (IWM A 24056)

In June 1943, equipped with 12 Grumman Avengers of 845 Squadron, the brand-new HMS Chaser sailed across the Atlantic as part of Convoy HX245.

HMS Chaser (D32/R306) underway on 20 June 1943, showing single 20-mm guns on her forecastle and twin 40-mm guns in the forward deck-edge sponsons. Three Avenger strike aircraft are ranged aft. U.S. National Archives photo. Photo and text from Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, by Roger Chesneau. Via Navsource. 

HMS Chaser (D32), commanded by Captain H.V.P. McClintock, at anchor at Greenock, Scotland, date unknown. The photo was taken by Lt. S.J. Beadell, Royal Navy official photographer. Photo # A 17859 from the collections of the Imperial War Museum.

Same day/place/photographer. Photo # A 17861

After a minute spent operating with Fairey Swordfish Mk. II biplanes and Hawker Sea Hurricanes of 835 Squadron, Chaser would later embark 11 Swords and 11 Martlet Mk IVs (British-variants of the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat) of 816 Squadron (commanded by a South African, T/A/Lt.Cdr. (A) Fred Charles “Freddie” Nottingham, DSC, RNVR) for the job of running shotgun for the 42-ship Convoy JW57 from the UK to Murmansk in February 1944.

On the way, several German U-boats had assembled in Norway to jump the convoy but scrubbed their attack due to the heavy air cover, for which Chaser and 816 Squadron could take credit.

A Fairey Swordfish about to be waved off on anti-submarine patrol by the deck control officer aboard HMS Chaser Note the Fairey Swordfish flying above ship to port which has its bows covered in ice. © IWM A 22468

Martlets (Wildcats) and Fairey Swordfish on the flight deck of the CHASER. Note the ice-covered ship astern and the folded wings of the Martlets. © IWM A 22466

Capable of just 140 knots when wide open, while dated when it came to any sort of warfare in WWII, Mark II Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers by 1943 proved valuable once again as, equipped with eight underwing 3-inch rockets, it became a formidable ASW asset against surfaced U-Boats due to their low-speed and stable flight. On 23 May 1943, a rocket-equipped Swordfish destroyed German submarine U-752 off the coast of Ireland, the first such kill, but not the last. IWM A 24981

With JW57 under her belt, then came the Scotland-bound return convoy, RA57, which sailed from Kola Inlet on 2 March. Rolling the dice, the Boreas Wolfpack, which included up to 12 Type VII German subs, moved in to give it a shot as the weather conditions seemed too harsh for aircraft to fly.

They would be wrong.

On 4 March, southeast of frozen Bear Island in the Barents Sea, U-472 (v. Forstner) was sunk by a combination of rockets fired by Chaser’s Swordfish and gunfire from the destroyer HMS Onslaught

“THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS CHASER’S U-BOAT SUCCESS. MARCH 1944, ONBOARD A FAIREY SWORDFISH OF THE CHASER. PICTURES FROM THE AIR OF THE END OF ONE OF THE TWO U-BOATS DESTROYED BY AIRCRAFT OF THE CARRIER HMS CHASER ON A RECENT ATLANTIC CONVOY. (A 22727) The wash of the submarine has been caused by her last vain maneuvers.” Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154897

“THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS CHASER’S U-BOAT SUCCESS. MARCH 1944, ONBOARD A FAIREY SWORDFISH OF THE CHASER. PICTURES FROM THE AIR OF THE END OF ONE OF THE TWO U-BOATS DESTROYED BY AIRCRAFT OF THE CARRIER HMS CHASER ON A RECENT ATLANTIC CONVOY. (A 22729) The wash of the submarine has been caused by her last vain maneuvers.” Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154899

The next day, on 5 March, U-366 (Langenberg) was sent to the bottom by Chaser’s Swordfish alone in the Norwegian Sea north-west of Hammerfest, with no survivors. 

Finally, on 6 March, U-973 (Paepenmöller) was destroyed by rocket-firing Swordfish in the Norwegian Sea north-west of Narvik.

Three German U-boats in three days*. A record any carrier could be proud of. 

[*A similar event nonetheless occurred two months later when Swordfish from 842 Squadron, flying from one of Chaser’s sisterships, HMS Fencer (D64), sank three U-boats (U277, U674, and U959) of Wolfpack Donner & Keil during Russian Convoy RA59. However, it should be noted that, instead of scratching three boats on three subsequent days, Fencer managed to bag her trio on just two days, 1st and 2nd May 1944.]

To Points West

In the end, RA57 arrived at Loch Ewe having lost just one ship, the 7,000-ton British freighter Empire Tourist, sank by U-703 with no losses. The submarine would later go missing in the Norwegian Sea.

With a collision sidelining Chaser for the rest of 1944, it was decided to send her to the Pacific once she was repaired. Leaving Clyde in February 1945, she carried 20 brand-new Seafires for the British Pacific Fleet’s 899 Squadron.

Chaser arrived in Sydney in May, destined to join the eight other RN baby flattops of the 30th Aircraft Carrier Squadron, which included several of her sisters. Around this time her pennant number shifted to R306.

HMS Chaser arriving at Cochin on the Malabar Coast of India, July 1945, with her flight deck packed with Corsairs, Seafires, and Avengers. The aircraft were to be delivered to the Reception Unit, Royal Naval Air Station Cochin. Some arrived practically fully assembled lashed to the flight deck. Others arrived in packing cases. The photo was taken by an unknown Royal Navy photographer. Photo No A 29289 from the Imperial War Museum Collections.

Used to shuttle replacement aircraft to the BPF’s larger carriers and recover unserviceable aircraft for repair, Chaser was in operations in the Fleet’s train at Leyte in the Philippines and kept up her yeoman service off Iwo Jima and Okinawa, ending the War in Japanese Home Waters where she remained past VJ Day. The then-aircraft-less carrier was used as a troop transport until she returned to the UK in 1946.

HMS Chaser, Hong Kong, 1946 (Art.IWM ART LD 1187) image: a view of the aircraft carrier HMS Chaser moored in Hong Kong harbor. A Chinese junk sail towards the carrier and a small landing craft approaches from the foreground right. Note her R306 pennant. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/19665

Epilogue

After removing her British equipment, Chaser sailed for America with a skeleton crew and was handed over to the U.S. Navy 15 May 1946, resuming her spot on the Naval List as USS Breton (CVE-10) until stricken 3 Jul 1946.

With the U.S. Navy in no need of a partially stripped British escort carrier, she was handed over to MARAD, stricken, and sold 20 Dec 1946. The U.S. launched an astounding 50 Casablanca-class and 45 Bogue-class escort carriers between September 1941 and June 1944. Of these 95 carriers, 87 survived the war but were disposed of.

As for Chaser, flight deck scrapped, she returned to active merchant service as SS Aagtekerk, operating for 21 years with the Dutch N.V. Vereenigde Nederlandsche Scheepvaartmaatschappij (VNS) line. A respectable civilian life. 

Ex-Breton, ex-HMS Chaser, as Aagtekerk, berthed in Bremen, Germany, in the late 1950s with her hull high in the water. Published in a Bremen Port promotion brochure in 1960. Photo by Gerhard Mueller-Debus via Navsource.

Sold again in 1967 to Chinese Maritime Trust, Taipei, she became SS E. Yung. In late 1972, she reportedly foundered and was salvaged then broken-up in Taiwan at Kaohsiung.

Of her sisters, none were quite as successful as Chaser, but all survived the war. Like her, they were returned to U.S. custody, then resold into merchant service, with several lasting for decades. The last Attacker-class afloat, HMS Attacker herself, was only scrapped in 1980, having spent the last years of her life as a floating hotel and casino.

HMS Chaser‘s drawings are located in the National Archives

As for 816 Squadron, whose “Flying Stringbags” bagged the trio of U-boats back in March 1944, they had originally formed aboard HMS Furious in October 1939 and were disbanded by the Fleet Air Arm in 1948. Today their WWII lineage, which included the Malta Convoys and total loss on the destroyed HMS Ark Royal in 1941, as well as their later sub-busting exploits and coverage of the Normandy landings, is carried forward by 816 Squadron RAN, flying MH-60R Seahawks off Australian frigates.

Specs:

CVE-53, D79 – HMS Puncher – Booklet of General Plans, 1944, Bogue/Attacker Class

Displacement: 14,170 tons, full
Length: 486 ft (overall); 465 waterline
Flight deck: 442ft x 80ft wood covered mild steel plate
Beam: 69ft 6in; 107 ft. max over flight deck gun tubs
Draft: 24 ft. full load
Propulsion: 2 Foster Wheeler boilers (285 psi); 1 x Allis-Chalmers geared turbine (8,500 shp), driving 1 shaft
Speed: 18.5 knots
Endurance: 27,300 nautical miles @ 11 knots
Complement: 44 Officers, 766 crew + 94 aviation det. 922 Berths
Armament:
2 single 4″/50 U.S. Mk 9 guns
8 40mm/60 Bofors in 4 twin mounts
26 20mm Oerlikon in 8 twins, 10 single mounts
Aircraft: “Up to 30” single-engine planes, but typically carried 20-22

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Warship Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020: Avalanche, Darby, Husky & Fritz

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Sept. 30, 2020: Avalanche, Darby, Husky & Fritz

NH 108686

Here we see a great bow-on view of the Brooklyn-class light cruiser USS Savannah (CL-42) in 1938, likely on her visit to her namesake East Coast Georgia city.

The nine Brooklyns, all ordered in 1933, was an improvement on the preceding New Orleans class with a London Naval Treaty-compliant 10,000-ton (listed) displacement. In true cruise fashion, while the armor was thin (just 2-inches on most of the belt), they were fast at 32+ knots and had one of the strongest gun armament of their type in the world. This was centered around fifteen (15) 6″/47 (15.2 cm) Mark 16 guns in five three-gun turrets capable of a 60-degree elevation.

Empty shell cases litter the deck near the forward 6-inch/47-caliber gun turrets of USS Brooklyn (CL-40) after she had bombarded Licata, Sicily, during the early hours of the invasion, 10 July 1943. (80-G-42522).

Each of these could lift a 130-pound super heavy AP shell or a 105 HC shell to a maximum of 26,000 yards. Further, they could be loaded extremely fast, an average of 8-to-10 shells a minute per gun. During gunnery trials in March 1939, USS Savannah (CL-42) fired 138 6-inch rounds in one furious minute.

As with the rest of her class, she had extensive aviation facilities, actually greater than that of a small seaplane tender. This included a large hangar, two stern catapults, and the ability to carry as many as six single-engine floatplanes with two more stored on deck. Larger flying boats, while they could not be accommodated onboard, could be fueled alongside.

SOC-3 Seagull aircraft stripped for maintenance in the hangar of light cruiser Savannah, 1938; note the close up of the Pratt and Whitney R-1340 9-cylinder radial engine and caster tracks to roll the planes out of the hangar on its truck and on deck for launch NH 85630

A stern shot of Savannah in 1938, showing her cats and two Seagulls on deck. NH 108693

Laid down 31 May 1934 at New York Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey, Savannah was the fourth on the Naval List since 1799, the most important of which was the Brandywine-class frigate that helped captured California from Mexico and go on to bag several Rebel blockade runners in the Civil War. She was commissioned 10 March 1938.

Her peacetime service was spent in a series of memory-making cruises including visiting her hometown, ranging to England, visiting the Caribbean, and clocking in with the Pacific Fleet, taking part in Fleet Problems XX and XXI.

Savannah in Savannah, 1938, passing City Hall. NH 108687

At Savannah Georgia passing to turning slip April 14, 1939. NH 108694

USS Savannah (CL-42) entering Havana Harbor, Cuba, during her shakedown cruise, 20 May 1938. Note her signal flags, displaying the call letters NAQL. Courtesy of Louis A. Davidson, 1977. NH 85625

As part of the Atlantic Fleet, once the balloon went up in Europe, Savannah was detailed to FDR’s Neutrality Patrol as CruDiv 8’s flagship.

Then came war

On December 7, 1941, she was at anchor in New York Harbor and quickly made ready for a real-life shooting war.

Spending most of 1942 screening the carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) in the Atlantic, she ranged as far south as Brazil and as far north as iceberg alley, cruising through U-boat infested waters. That October, she joined Adm. Hewitt’s Western Naval Task Force, part of the Operation Torch landings in Vichy French Morocco.

U.S. troops aboard a landing craft head for the beaches during Operation Torch of the North African Campaign Oran, Algeria. 8 November 1942. Imperial War Museum photo. Hudson, F A (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer

On 8 November 1942, she covered the landing beaches for elements of Lucian K. Truscott’s 9th Infantry across Red, Red 1, Green, Blue, and Yellow Beaches while the planes of her old companion, Ranger, flew top cover. Her guns fired for the first time in anger, silencing several Vichy batteries near the old masonry fortress at Kasba, the latter of which was held by French Foreign Legionnaires.

In all, Savannah fired 1,196 6-inch and 406 5-inch shells by nightfall. The next day, she added another 892 6- and 236 5-inchers to that tally, helping to stop a column of Renault R35 light tanks and work over additional French batteries in support of Truscott’s move inland.

Her humble Seagulls also got in some kills– with the unusual tactic of dropping depth charges on land targets.

Per DANFS:

During that same day, Savannah’s scout planes set a new style in warfare by successfully bombing tank columns with depth charges, whose fuses had been altered to detonate on impact. The scout planes, maintaining eight hours of flying time daily, struck at other shore targets, and also kept up antisubmarine patrol. One of Savannah’s planes located an enemy 75-millimeter battery which had been firing on Dallas and eliminated it with two well-placed depth charges. The cruiser added to the carnage when one of her 5-inch salvoes touched off a nearby ammunition dump.

Following the French capitulation, she returned to Norfolk, in the same train as the battleship Texas and other cruisers, at the end of November. She was soon assigned to Task Group 23.1 (Cruiser Division Two), with a duty to prowl South American waters for German blockade runners and commerce raiders.

On 10 March 1943, while on patrol with the destroyer USS Eberle (DD-430), she came across the armed Dutch freighter Kota Tjandi, which had been captured by the German Hilfskreuzer (auxiliary cruiser) Komet manned by a prize crew who had hopes of sailing her past the blockade to the Fatherland with her valuable cargo of 4,000 tons of tin and rubber. After firing shots across her bow and one of her Seagulls stitched up the sea in front of the blockade runner with a machine gun blast, a boarding crew moved to take control of the vessel but the Germans were too quick and sank her with scuttling charges.

German blockade runner MV Karin (Dutch freighter Kota Tjandi) aflame from fires, set by her crew before they abandoned ship, after being stopped in the South Atlantic by two units of the United States Fourth Fleet—the light cruiser USS Savannah (CL-42) and the destroyer Eberle (DD-430). A short time later, delayed-detonation scuttling charges exploded, killing all but three members of a boarding party from the Eberle attempting to salvage the vessel. The painting is by Richard DE Rosset via http://www.davidbruhn.com/

Savannah took on board the 75 German survivors, a mix of navy and merchant mariners, and their captors searched and placed the POWs under guard below decks, landing them in the U.S. on 28 March. She also reportedly picked up floating stores to include “Japanese rice beer, French champagne, canned salmon and sardines, oranges, bread still warm from the oven, and women’s shoes with Hong Kong labels.” Brazilian fishermen also recovered tons of rubber bales from the sea.

In May, she departed New York for Oran, escorting a troop convoy of Patton’s 7th Army to the Med. There was more work to be done.

USS Savannah (CL-42) off New York City, with a barge and tug alongside, 1 May 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-44025

Then came a trip to Sicily.

Operation Husky

The invasion of Sicily, code-named Operation Husky kicked off on the night of 9 July and Savannah played a pivotal role in the landings.

Lt. Col. William Orlando Darby, head and founder of the 1st Ranger Battalion, led his men ashore at Gela, fighting across the beach, through Italian coast defenses and withstood two days of counterattacks against German armor in the streets of the sea town, then captured the incredibly tough strategic nut that was the fortress town of Butera in a night attack at the top of a 4,000-foot hill. The very definition of light infantry, the largest ordnance Darby stormed ashore with was a single 37mm anti-tank gun, this meant that his fire support depended on the Navy, which had detailed Savannah to back him up.

In the official Army history of the Rangers in Italy, the CMH notes dryly that, “For all the courage of individual Rangers, naval gunfire support proved decisive in holding the town.”

As detailed in an interesting 185-page paper at the Joint Forces Staff College on the subject of Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) capabilities, past, present and future– penned by an Army colonel– Darby’s experiences ashore under Savannah’s 15 6-inch guns is detailed in the Ranger daddy’s own words:

We were in a very desperate situation…we just couldn’t move. They had a tremendous amount of small arms fire and they had a very well dug-in and well-built position –concrete emplacements, pillboxes, and all. I had this little lieutenant of Artillery with me, who had all the naval gunfire of the Savannah at his control, and I decided to put him to use. I had one of my men who was in position on top of the hill up here and who could see the gun batteries that were firing on us, some five 149 and 150 howitzer batteries that were blazing away. I never realized naval gunfire could be so accurate. We started firing with Savannah and before we finished… forced five batteries to stop shooting. We examined those gun positions and in every battery position, we found at least one gun with a direct hit and at least one stack of ammunition blown in each place…

Before I took Butera she was giving fire support to me – and accurate fire support – at a range of 22,000 yards, which I think is something for people to remember. Naval gunfire support with ground observation and good communications is just like anybody else’s artillery: It is good. As a matter of fact, it is awfully fine artillery because when you say, “fire for effect”, you have 45 rounds of 6-inch shells in one minute. They have 15 guns and fire about three rounds a minute.

According to Savannah’s logs, she fired about 1,890 rounds of 6″/47 HC Mk.34 projectiles in 97 hours supporting the Rangers and other troops ashore, about two-thirds of her magazines.

In an attempt to coordinate the fire ashore, her AV det suffered greatly at the hands of German fighters, her lumbering Seagull observation biplanes– with a top speed of 143 knots and a self-defense armament of just two .30-caliber guns– were no match for pairs of Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Three of four were splashed on their first sortie.

Via NARA

Heading back to Algiers to replenish her magazines, it was there that she found herself amid a maritime disaster.

DANFS-

While Norwegian cargo ship Bjørkhaug loaded Italian landmines in the harbor of Algiers on 16 July 1943, one of the mines exploded. The blast effectively destroyed the ship, and inflicted hundreds of casualties on people in the area. The flames threatened British cargo ship Fort Confidence, which carried a load of oil, and Dutch tug Hudson bravely took her in tow out to sea, where the crew beached her to prevent further loss. Savannah stood by to render assistance during the fiery ordeal.

Savannah stands by to render assistance as vessels burn after Norwegian cargo ship Bjørkhaug explodes in Algiers harbor, 16 July 1943. 80-G-K-3965

After rearming, it was off to Italy itself.

Operation Avalanche

Operation Avalanche, the Allied landings near the key port of Salerno on Italy’s boot, kicked off on 9 September 1943. Savannah was the first ship to open fire against the German shore defenses in Salerno Bay, providing fire support for the U.S. 5th Army until the 11th, when her world was rocked.

That morning at about 10:00 local, a Dornier Do 217K-2 bomber of III./KG 100 landed a 3,000-pound Ruhrstahl X-1 precision-guided, armor-piercing bomb on Savannah. The early smart bomb, known to the Allies as the Fritz X, hit the top of the ship’s number three 6/47 gun turret and penetrated deep into her hull before its 710-pound amatol warhead exploded.

USS Savannah (CL-42) is hit by a German radio-controlled bomb, while supporting Allied forces ashore during the Salerno operation, 11 September 1943. The photograph shows the explosion venting through the top of the turret and also through Savannah’s hull below the waterline. A motor torpedo boat (PT) is passing by in the foreground. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Admiral H. Kent Hewett, USN. NH 95562

USS Savannah (CL-42) afire immediately after she was hit by a German guided bomb during the Salerno operation, 11 September 1943. Smoke is pouring from the bomb’s impact hole atop the ship’s number three 6/47 gun turret. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. SC 243636

The damage was crippling, blowing out the bottom of the ship’s hull, immediately flooding her magazines– which may have ironically saved the ship as it prevented them from detonating– and killed 197 of her crew. In respect to the flooding, Richard Worth, in his Fleets of World War II, observed that the lightweight “treaty cruiser” armor plan of the Brooklyns may have helped saying, “it sometimes seemed their flimsiness was a blessing.”

The detail from the ship’s war diary:

USS Savannah (CL-42) corpsmen attend casualties on the ship’s forecastle, after a German radio-controlled bomb hit her # 3 six-inch gun turret during the Salerno operation, 11 September 1943. National Archives. 80-G-54355

USS Savannah (CL 42), Struck by a German bomb, men take care of the casualties and make hasty repairs to continues to bombard shore installations of Salerno, Italy. While wounded men were given treatment, a crewman aims a stream of water down the smoking hole made by the bomb. 80-G-54357

USS Savannah (CL-42) bomb penetration hole atop her number three 6/47-gun turret, while the ship was undergoing initial repairs off Salerno, Italy. Note life rafts atop the turret, one of which has been cut in two by the bomb. Also, note the turret’s armored faceplate. The view looks forward, with number two 6/47 gun turret in the immediate background. The original photo caption, released on 2 November 1943, reads (in part): A round, clean hole marks the point of entry of a Nazi bomb on the cruiser Savannah. Inside, all was chaos, smoke, blood, and death. NH 97959

After eight hours dead in the water, Savannah was able to reignite her boilers and get up enough steam to make it to Malta under her own power, an impressive feat for a ship of any size that just took a major hit and had water inside one-sixth of her hull. Of note, German Fritz bombs on the same day sank the Italian battleship Roma, the flagship of the surrendering Italian fleet and on the16th hit the storied British battleship HMS Warspite, which had to be towed to Malta and was never fully repaired.

Over the next eight months, Savannah was extensively repaired to the point of being almost rebuilt, with new side bulges fitted and an updated 5-inch gun battery with modern fire control directors.

The USS Savannah during a day firing, May 1944. Note her newly-installed 5″/38DP mount. Truman Library 63-1398-148

5 September 1944 photo as rebuilt after FX-1400 guided bomb damage off Salerno. Hull is blistered up to the main deck and her former single 5″/25 guns have been replaced with twin 5″/38s. She is also fitted with a new bridge and new lightweight antiaircraft guns and the arrangement of those guns. The entire Brooklyn class was planned to be so modified but this was canceled at the end of the war. Via Navsource https://www.navsource.org/archives/04/042/04042.htm

Post-reconstructed USS Savannah (CL-42) photographed from a blimp of squadron ZP-11, while underway off the New England coast on 30 October 1944. NH 97956

The rest of her war was much less active, although the reconstructed cruiser to part in the escort of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Mediterranean in January and February 1945 on his way to the Yalta conference. She finished WWII as a school ship in the Chesapeake, carrying out weekly training cruises. After VE-Day, she was used on two Magic Carpet cruises returning GIs from France.

She also made one last stop in her “hometown.”

Starboard-bow view while steaming in the Savannah River, Savannah Georgia while attending Navy Day celebrations on or about 27 October 1945.

Entering an inactivation overhaul at the end of 1945, Savannah was placed in reserve the next year and decommissioned on 3 February 1947. She earned three battle stars for her wartime service and would never sail under her own power again. Her service lasted just shy of nine years.

Epilogue 

Some of her sisters never made it to the end of the war, with Helena (CL-50) hit by three Japanese Long Lance torpedoes in 1943 during the confused night action at the Kula Gulf. Of the eight Brooklyns that passed into mothballs after the war, six were transferred to the navies of Argentina, Chile, and Brazil in 1951 to include the class leader who, as ARA General Belgrano, was sunk by a British submarine in the Falklands in 1982.

In the end, Savannah was the last of her class the U.S. fleet, with fellow sister Honolulu (CL-48) disposed of in 1959. In the end, she was sold for $172,090 to Bethlehem Steel Co., of Bethlehem, Pa., for scrapping on 6 January 1960, and on the 25th of that month, she was removed from Navy custody.

Her 21-page war diary as well as dozens of monthly diaries and logs are digitized in the National Archives.

Savannah is well-remembered in her namesake city and many artifacts and relics are dotted around town, as are markers.

There is also an array of contemporary maritime art in circulation including paintings and postcards.

The fifth Savannah, a name surely fit for a warship, was instead issued to a fleet replenishment oiler (AOR-4) in 1970 that served for 25 years.

The sixth Savannah, an Independence-class littoral combat ship, (LCS-28) is under construction in Mobile and was recently launched. Yes, she is an LCS, but at least she is a fighting ship.

Specs:

NH 67861

NH 108696

Displacement 9,475 (designed) 12,207-tons full load 1945
Length 608
Beam 69′
Draft 19’2″
Machinery:
8 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 4 × Parsons geared turbines, 4 shafts 100,000shp
Speed: 32 knots
Complement 868
Armor:
Main Belt
At Machinery: 5 in
At Magazines: 2 in
Deck: 2 in
Barbettes: 6 in
Gun turret
Turret roofs: 2 in
Turret sides: 1.25 in
Turret face: 6.5 in
Conning tower: 5 in
Armament:
(1938)
15 6″/47 DP
8 5-inch/25 cal singles
8 .50-caliber water-cooled machine guns
(1945)
15 6″/47 DP
8 5″/38 caliber anti-aircraft guns in four dual mounts
28 40mm/60 Bofors in 4 quads and 6 twin mounts
12 20 mm Oerlikon singles
Aircraft: Up to 8 seaplanes, typically 4 carried. Usually Curtiss SOC Seagulls but by 1945 SC-1 Seahawks.

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

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Warship Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020: Of Stars and Moonstone

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Sept. 23, 2020: Of Stars and Moonstone

Here we see the Archimede-class diesel-electric submarine, Galileo Galilei (SS90) of the Regia Marina, at Aden in 1940, after the Italian boat mixed it up with a plucky British trawler. A heroically fought warship (note the shell hole in her busted sail), she went on to work to have a curious third (yes, third) life.

The Italian Navy sometimes gets a lot of rocks thrown at it for the fleet’s overall performance in the two world wars but make no mistake, the force was competent when it came to undersea warfare. Italy had a robust domestic sub-building capability and throughout the first few decades of the 20th Century supplied boats to customers not only in Europe but in the Americas as well. Then, of course, they also fielded working midget subs and frogman-driven human torpedoes, which were used with great skill.

The four boats of the class– Archimede, Galileo Ferraris, Galileo Galilei, and Evangelista Torricelli— were all built by Franco Tosi at Taranto in the early 1930s and named for famous men of science who, more often than not, were accomplished in the field of astronomy.

Launch of RIN Galileo Galilei in Taranto 19 March 1934 via http://www.naviearmatori.net/

Updated versions of the previous Settembrini-class, the Archimedes went some 1,200-tons when submerged. They were classic Mediterranean boats, just 231-feet in length. Speedy, they could make 17-knots on the surface and they had long legs, capable of a 10,000 nm range. Armament was a pair of 3.9-inch deck guns and eight torpedo tubes, four each in the bow and stern of the boat.

A row of Italian submarines at Naples, Italy, just before the 5 May 1938 naval review. The first several vessels are large submarines, possibly of the Archimede class, in which case they would include FERRARIS (1934-1941) and GALILEI (1934-1946). NH 86240

The focus of our tale, Galileo Galilei, commissioned 16 October 1934. However, her time in peacetime service was limited as she was soon to fly a black flag of sorts.

Franco’s jackals

After being used in 1936 in a form of “underwater piracy” fighting a semi-secret war against socialist Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War as Sottomarini Legionari (Submariners Legion) allies to the fascist Nationalists, the Italian Navy officially sold two of their submarines directly to Franco’s government in 1937 and loaned four others. This was mainly because the Republican Almirante Cervera-class light cruiser Miguel de Cervantes caught two torpedoes from sistership Torricelli that November while anchored off the port of Cartagena but survived, and, when she was repaired, was found to have fragments in her hull from said fish with Italian markings.

Italian submarines. Archimede Class. NH 111495

Under the nominal “command” of a Spanish flag officer, the quartet of loaned boats still had their Italian crews, though they flew the colors and wore the uniforms of their adopted new country. The boats sold included class leader Archimede, who sailed as the submarino General Mola; and Torricelli, who sailed as General Sanjurjo. Those loaned included Galileo Galilei, who sailed as the uninspired General Mola II; sister Galileo Ferraris, who sailed as the equally uninspired General Sanjurjo II; along with the Perla-class subs Onice and Iride who sailed as (Aguilar Tablada and Gonzalez Lopez, respectively, with pennant numbers L1 through L6.

Fighting for Franco was lackluster, and the Italian-manned boats bagged several small steamers but failed to repeat the success seen against Miguel de Cervantes–although Iride did fire a torpedo at the British H-class destroyer HMS Havock, who she mistook for a Republican tin can and received a 9-hour depth charge attack for her misidentification.

With that, the four returned to Italy in February 1938, their Spanish Navy service over. Archimede/General Mola and Torricelli/General Sanjurjo would remain behind, the property of Franco’s government, which very much wanted to keep them as those two units had accounted for a variety of fairly important merchantmen during the Civil War.

Back in the spaghetti

With half their class still under a Spanish flag, the two Galileos (Galileo Ferraris and Galileo Galilei) resumed their Italian service including their old names and pennants on Rome’s naval list. When the Axis country entered the war against France and Great Britain on 10 June 1940, some 10 months after the conflict kicked off, Galileo Galilei was part of Italy’s doomed Red Sea Flotilla. Based along the coast of Italian Somaliland and Eritrea, it consisted of a handful of destroyers, subs, and torpedo boats, and were no match for a British squadron, but they could close off the Suez Canal to merchant traffic.

Just hours after receiving word that a state of war existed between Italy and the Allies, Galileo Galilei, part of the LXXXI Squadriglia Sommergibili out of Massawa, undertook her inaugural WWII patrol under the command of Capitano di Corvetta Corrado Nardi and promptly came across the Norwegian-flagged James Stove (8,215 tons) under British charter to the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company, off Djibouti, sending the enemy tanker to the bottom with three torpedoes on the 16th. Nardi had stopped the vessel on the surface and allowed her crew to board lifeboats before letting his fish fly, the very application of the cruiser rules. A British report on the incident had the Norwegian skipper relay that Nardi “spoke courteously and behaved in the Chief Officer’s words as a ‘Perfect Gentleman’.”

While Galileo Galilei made her escape, some 34 mariners from the James Stove were picked up about an hour later by the 600-ton armed trawler HMT Moonstone (T 90) and landed in the British colonial Aden that same day.

HMT Moonstone underway. Formerly the 151-foot Hull-based cod trawler Lady Madeleine, she could only make 11-knots, but she carried a 4-inch gun, ASDIC listening gear, and depth charges, making her deadly enough. Further, her crew of regulars had been in steady service since August 1939, with Boatswain W.J.H. Moorman, RN, in command. AWM FL 16385.

Two days later, the Italian sub stopped the (then neutral) Yugoslav freighter Drava and, finding no reason to send her to the bottom, let her go about her way. However, Drava reported her interaction with the green-painted Italian sea serpent, and later that night the destroyer HMS Kandahar (F28), along with No. 203 Squadron RAF Blenheims out of Aden, were soon bird-dogging Galilei.

Moonstone soon joined in on the morning of the 19th.

As detailed by Paul Lund in his 1971 work, Harry Tate’s Navy: Trawlers Go to War:

[J]ust before noon, Moonstone’s ASDIC operator reported a strong submarine echo and the trawler immediately steamed to the attack, dropping depth‑charges; but again, the enemy escaped. Then, barely an hour later, the trawler regained contact and dropped more depth‑charges. The explosions had scarcely subsided before the submarine, a big ocean‑going boat, suddenly heaved itself to the surface a mile astern, streaming the Italian flag from a pole above its conning tower.

Moonstone wheeled hard round and steamed full‑ahead with all guns fixing, some of the crew even joining in with rifles as the distance between the two vessels narrowed. Though the submarine, which was fully three times the size of Moonstone, quickly returned fire, the hail of lead and shell from the trawler prevented the Italians from getting to their big gun, and finally, Moonstone’s four‑inch crashed a shell into the conning tower, killing all inside it. Some of the Italians began to wave white clothes in surrender, while others scrambled into the wrecked tower to haul down the flag.

There were far too many Italians for the trawler’s small crew to handle, so after warning the enemy commander not to scuttle or she would reopen fire, Moonstone stood off while Kandahar raced in to take the prisoners aboard and fix a tow to the big submarine, the Galileo Gafflei [sic]…

Kandahar then towed Moonstone’s prize to Aden, where it was warmly received as it was the RN’s first enemy submarine captured in the War.

The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Kandahar (F28) preparing to take the Italian submarine, Galileo Galilei, in tow after it was captured in the Gulf of Aden by the trawler HMT MOONSTONE. The submarine’s periscope was spotted, and an attack was made with depth charges which forced it to the surface. The submarine was then captured. IWM A109

Boatswain (later LCDR) Moorman and his XO, Midshipman M.J. Hunter, would receive the DSC for his battle with the Italian sub while PO Frederick Quested, in charge of the 4-inch gun crew that cracked her sail, received the DSM. As for Moonstone, she would survive the war– including operations in the evacuation from Crete– and eventually return to the fishing fleet, ending her days in the 1960s as the trawler Red Lancer.

Nardi and 15 of his crew lay dead after the battle. Their war had lasted nine days. They would not be alone.

During WWII, some 116 Italian submarines sailed against the Allies or supported those that did, chalking up 130 ships sunk for a total of some 700,000 tons of shipping. In exchange, they lost 96 of their submersibles, many with all hands, their hulls cracked on the seafloor. Some 3,000 submariners of the Regina Marina are still on eternal patrol.

Via the 1943 ONI Guide, confusing Torricelli with the Brin-class submarine that recycled the name 

Under the White Duster

Galileo Galilei‘s sole Red Sea patrol had logged just 160 miles on the surface and 35 submerged. However, even with her damaged sail and in reportedly poor material condition (the Italians don’t seem to have overhauled the boat after her Spanish service, as the Norwegian master of the James Stove had reported very foul exhaust and “a cloud of black smoke hung about her all the time she was visible”), the British nonetheless put their prize to as good a use as possible.

As detailed by Stephen Roskill in his The Secret Capture: U-110 and the Enigma Story:

The prize was a very valuable one and from her we obtained intelligence regarding the disposition of other Italian submarines in the Red Sea and Indian ocean. As a result, we caught and sank the [Brin-class submarine] Torricelli on 23rd June and [her sister] the Galvani, which was patrolling the Persian Gulf to catch our tanker traffic, on the following day…

…In December 1940, Galilei was brought up the Red Sea by a British crew and passed through the Suez Canal to Alexandria, where her hull and equipment were thoroughly inspected.

Used for two years as a floating battery charger for HMs submarines at Port Said, the Italian boat was eventually repaired enough to put to sea by June 1942. Christened HMS X.2, then HMS P. 711, she was equipped with British Type 286W radar and Type 129 sonar, then used for training out of Alexandria for the rest of the war.

She was broken up in 1946 without ceremony. Her ship’s motto was “Pur cieco vedo” (While blind I see)

Epilogue

As for Galileo Galilei‘s sisters, Galileo Ferraris was sunk 25 October 1941 off Gibraltar an RAF Catalina with the destroyer HMS Lamerton for the lay-up. Meanwhile, the two units sold to Spain in 1937, Archimede/General Mola and Torricelli/General Sanjurjo, would endure until 1959, far outliving the Regia Marina.

They were still carried in the NATO submarine spotting guide long after WWII.

Specs:

From “The Italian submarines between the two world wars” by Alessandro Turrini – MariStat / UDAP – 1990, for gc Sergio Mariotti

Displacement: 986 t (surfaced) 1,259 t (submerged)
Length: 231 ft 4 in
Beam: 22 ft 6 in
Draft: 13 ft 6 in
Installed power:
3,000 bhp (2,200 kW) (diesels)
1,100 hp (820 kW) (electric motors)
Propulsion:
2 Tosi diesel engines with a total of 3,000 HP
2 Ansaldo electric motors with a total of 1400 HP. 124-cell battery
Speed: 17 knots (surfaced) 7.7 knots (submerged)
Range:
10,300 nmi at 8 knots (surfaced) on 100 tons diesel oil
105 nmi at 3 knots (submerged)
Test depth: 300 ft
Crew: 6 officers, 49 non-commissioned officers and sailors
Armament:
2 × single 100mm/43cal Mod. 1927 deck guns
2 × single Breda Mod. 31 13.2 mm MGs
8 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes (4 bow, 4 stern) 16 torpedoes

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!

Grenadier found

USS Grenadier (SS-210) Off Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 27 December 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 99403

Commissioned 1 May 1941, the Gar/Tambor-class fleet boat USS Grenadier (SS-210) was only just past her East Coast shakedown cruise when the attack on Pearl Harbor put her on course for the immediate war patrols in the Pacific, the first of which she began on 4 February 1942– bound for Japanese home waters.

Over the course of six patrols, she drew a fair amount of blood from the Emperor’s supply lines, most important of which was the 15,000-ton Japanese Army transportTaiyō Maru (ex-Hamburg-America liner Cap Finisterre), sent to the bottom 120 nautical miles southwest of Kyushu with over 600 Japanese bureaucrats and technicians intended to run occupied the Dutch East Indies, as well as 2,500 tons of munitions.

In April 1943, while in the Straits of Malacca, Grenadier ran into trouble and became one of the 52 American submarines of WWII On Eternal Patrol. 

As noted by DANFS:

Running on the surface at dawn 21 April, Grenadier spotted, and was simultaneously spotted by, a Japanese plane. As the sub crash-dived, her skipper, Comdr. John A. Fitzgerald commented “we ought to be safe now, as we are between 120 and 130 feet.” Just then, bombs rocked Grenadier and heeled her over 15 to 20 degrees. Power and lights failed completely and the fatally wounded ship settled to the bottom at 267 feet. She tried to make repairs while a fierce fire blazed in the maneuvering room.

After 13 hours of sweating it out on the ‘bottom Grenadier managed to surface after dark to clear the boat of smoke and inspect damage. The damage to her propulsion system was irreparable. Attempting to bring his ship close to shore so that the crew could scuttle her and escape into the jungle, Comdr. Fitzgerald even tried to jury-rig a sail. But the long night’s work proved futile. As dawn broke, 22 April, Grenadier’s weary crew sighted two Japanese ships heading for them. As the skipper “didn’t think it advisable to make a stationary dive in 280 feet of water without power,” the crew began burning confidential documents prior to abandoning ship. A Japanese plane attacked the stricken submarine; but Grenadier, though dead in the water and to all appearances helpless, blazed away with machine guns. She hit the plane on its second pass. As the damaged plane veered off, its torpedo landed about 200 yards from the boat and exploded.

Reluctantly opening all vents, Grenadier’s crew abandoned ship and watched her sink to her final resting place. A Japanese merchantman picked up 8 officers and 68 enlisted men and took them to Penang, Malay States, where they were questioned, beaten, and starved before being sent to other prison camps. They were then separated and transferred from camp to camp along the Malay Peninsula and finally to Japan. Throughout the war they suffered brutal, inhuman treatment, and their refusal to reveal military information both frustrated and angered their captors. First word that any had survived Grenadier reached Australia 27 November 1943. Despite the brutal and sadistic treatment, all but four of Grenadier’s crew survived their 2 years in Japanese hands to tell rescuing American forces of their boat’s last patrol and the courage and heroism of her skipper and crew.

The AP is reporting that Grenadier has been located at about 270 feet, some 92 miles south of Phuket, Thailand. It was discovered last year by Singapore-based Jean Luc Rivoire and Benoit Laborie of France, and Australian Lance Horowitz and Belgian Ben Reymenants, who live in Phuket, and recently identified with a high level of certainty.

An image on a sonar screen shows a silhouette shape of a submarine lying on the ocean floor somewhere in the Strait of Malacca on 21 October 2019. The Grenadier (SS-210) lies in approximately 83 meters of water & identified with a probability of 95%. Photo courtesy of Jean Luc Rivoire, submitted by Steve Burton from the article written by Grant Peck of the Associated Press. via Navsource

Grenadier received four battle stars for World War II service and her name was later re-issued to a new boat, the Tench-class GUPPY SS-525.

Her 12-page war diary is in the National Archives in digital format. 

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020: Haida Maru

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Sept. 16, 2020: Haida Maru

Cordova Historical Society.

Here we see the Tampa-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter/Gun Boat Haida (WPG-45) at the dock in Cordova, Alaska Territory likely in the 1930s. Only 240-feet long, Haida had a long and interesting career that, while it only ran along the West Coast north and south from Oakland to Nome, spanned 26 very busy years.

The four Tampas were designed as the USCG’s first true “multi-mission” cutters, vessels that would be able to perform constabulary work in far-flung U.S. territorial waters, run the newly established post-Titanic International Ice Patrol, serve as gunboats for the Navy in time of war, and perform the service’s traditional SAR, derelict destruction, and at-sea towing roles. For their use in time of conflict, each carried a pair of 5″/51-caliber guns with a provision for a third as well as a 3’/50– big medicine for vessels that before the Great War typically ran 6-pounders. Running a novel turbo-electric drive, they could make (up to) 16.2 knots. Some 240-feet long with a plumb bow and counter stern, they weighed 1,506-tons on builder’s trails.

Guns on USCGC Tampa, note the big 3-incher. The class also carried two 5-inch guns 

Rush-ordered to take on the fleet of Rum Runners coming down from Canada and up from Mexico during Prohibition, all four of the class– Tampa, Mojave, Modoc, and Haida— were built side-by-side on the West Coast by Oakland’s Union Construction Company. The first keel was laid on 27 September 1920 and the last of the four was commissioned 14 January 1922– the entire class delivered in just under 16 months for $775,000 per hull with the armament provided by the USN from stores at Mare Island Navy Yard.

These “proof of concept” ships in turn led to a larger class of 10 multi-mission 250-foot Lake-class cutters ordered in 1927 at $900,000 a pop, and finally, seven fast 327-foot $2.4-million Secretary-class cutters ordered starting in 1935.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian,

Haida was first stationed at Seattle, Washington, and began a peacetime career on the annual Bering Sea Patrols. She first sailed to Unalaska, the headquarters for the Patrol, and then sailed on her assigned tasks, which included acting as a floating court for the inhabitants of the isolated areas she sailed, caring for the sick, conducting search and rescue activities, checking on aids to navigation, regulating fisheries, and other duties.”

U.S. Judge Simon Hellenthal on U.S. Cutter Haida, outbound from Dutch Harbor in 1940 – conducting floating court. Via Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center AMRC-B1990-014-5-Pol-20-51

Aerial view of Seward, Alaska, taken from Bear Mountain. The Coast Guard Cutter Haida is tied up at the dock. 1923-1930. Original size of photograph: 5 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ Seward Community Library SCLA-1-1504

Haida in Unalaska. For her prewar career, she carried USCG-standard scheme including a gleaming white hull and superstructure, buff stack, mast and vents; and black caps with wooden decks. Via NOAA Collection from Van Woert album

A hand-embossed photo of Haida, likely in the 1930s. USCG Historians Collection.

For much of the year, especially before 1939, the random Seattle-based cutters were the only “military” force in Alaska, and on occasion, her skipper was dual-hatted as the United States Commissioner for the Territory. 

Which meant parades. Here, an armed a contingent from HAIDA march in the 4th of July parade in downtown Juneau c.1936.

The Haida’s warrant officers photographed on her quarterdeck. The photo is dated 04 August 1926. Note their distinctive Treasury Service swords. Provided courtesy of Ray Sanford in the Coast Guard Historians Collection

Grandaddy of NorPac SAR

It was on this hardy tasking in the frozen north that Haida shined when it came to pulling souls from the peril of the sea. In 1928, she along with the old (1911) 190-foot cutter Ungala and lighthouse tender Cedar, went to the assistance of the grounded Alaska Packers’ windjammer Star of Falkland on remote Akun Island. 

“Star of Falkland Rescue by Tom Hall” The Coast Guard cutter Haida and the lighthouse tender Cedar prepare to rescue the passengers and crew from the sailing vessel Star of Falkland near Unimak Pass, Alaska on May 23, 1928. The Star of Falkland, a commercial fishing ship, was returning for the fishing season from its winter port in San Francisco when it ran into high winds and fog and struck stern first on rocks at Akun Head near Unimak Pass. The 280 Chinese cannery workers and 40 crewmen spent a night of terror while the ship pounded on the rocks – eight passengers committed suicide. The next morning, the U. S. Lighthouse Service buoy tender Cedar and the Coast Guard cutter Haida arrived on the scene and managed to take all the passengers off Star of Falkland without loss of life. This rescue is one of the most successful in Coast Guard history, and one of the few instances where the United States Coast Guard and one of its future integrated agencies worked together to perform a major rescue. (USCG Art Collection)

Haida also rescued the crew of the steamship Victoria grounded off Pointer Island, British Columbia on 30 December 1934, the survivors of the Patterson, which went aground and was smashed “to pieces” near Lituya Bay in 1938

Patterson aground at Cape Fairweather, Alaska, 1938. Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society

And others…

Her crew even trialed some of the first “Gumby” style exposure suits.

A state-of-the-art military issue survival suit issued onboard cutters on Arctic duty. Shown is a member of Coast Guard Cutter Haida wearing one of the survival suits. U.S. Coast Guard Collection.

Taking a break from saving lives, investigating volcanos, warning the Graf Zeppelin of weather from 1,800 miles away, conducting rowboat crew races in Ketchikan, and otherwise policing Alaska, Haida supported a polar leg of the U.S. Army’s daring Around The World Flight and exercised with the fleet, showing just how “joint” the USCG could be.

Two of the Army’s World Cruisers on the water at Atka, Alaska, on 5 May 1924 with Coast Guard Cutter Haida in the background. The Aleuts of Atka, being unfamiliar with flying apparatus, applied the term “thunder-bird” from their mythology to the Cruisers. National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution Photo Number: NASM USAF-11533AC

One period newspaper article covered her annual cruises thus:

Haida Back After Long Stay At Sea: Weathers Four Storms And Has Busy Night In Dutch Harbor Gale”

After nearly two months’ absence from Juneau during which she cruised into the shadow of the Arctic Circle and back again for 6,200 miles on the log, the Coast Guard cutter Haida is back at her moorings at the Government Wharl. She sailed from Juneau to Attu, the outermost island in the Aleutian chain. Other points on Haida’s voyage were Seward, Kodiak, Chignik, Unalaska. Chemofski. Atka, Nome, Sabonga, and King island.”

The Haida, during Bering Sea Patrol. took medical aid to many, gave help to two storm-tossed vessels, saved two men from drowning. worked on a third who did not revive, and weathered four severe storms heightened by winds at 80 mph or better. One of the gales blew so hard that the plates of the ship were battered and damaged.”

On Armistice Day in Dutch Harbor, the old Alaska Line vessel Northwestern, now a temporary floating barracks and powerhouse at the navy base, nearly broke away from her moorings as an 80-mph wind lashed the harbor. The Haida crew made the Northwestern safely fast to the dock with a 12-inch hawser. and also secured the Wildlife Service vessel Penguin. On the same night, the cook from the Penguin fell overboard from the Northwestern’s plunging gangplank. A Haida resuscitation crew worked for three hours but were unable to revive him.

At Nome, two of the Alaska Line freighter Sutherland’s crew were pulled from the icy waters of the Bering Sea when they fell overboard, Haida crew making the rescue. At Chignik, ship’s doctor Dr. L.W. Brown saved three of four cases of septic throat, stemming an epidemic, and assisted a woman in childbirth.

Then came war

Before Pearl Harbor the entry of the U.S. into WWII, the Coast Guard had been assigned to the Neutrality Patrols in the Atlantic (5 Sept 1939), ordered to stand up the Greenland/Iceland adjacent Atlantic Weather Observation Service (Jan 1940), lost 10 of its fairly new Lake-class cutters to the Royal Navy as part of Lend-Lease Program (April 1941), stood up the Greenland Patrol against German weather stations in the Arctic (July 1941) and was officially transferred to the Navy by executive order (1 November 1941).

This saw the 240-foot cutters converted for war with depth charges, additional guns, sonar, and radar. Modoc, Mojave, and Tampa— who had been stationed on the East Coast before the war– were assigned to the Greenland Patrol to chase Germans.

U.S. Coast Guard Combat Cutter, The Tampa, which patrols the North Atlantic, in the resumption of the International Ice Patrol World.” Accession #: L41-03 Catalog #: L41-03.02.02

Meanwhile, humble Haida, dubbed Haida Maru by her crew, was tasked to patrol the Pacific Northwest and Alaskan waters, assigned to NOWESTSEAFRON.

CGC Haida in the Bering Sea sometime in 1945. Note her wartime appearance and armament including camo scheme. Photo courtesy of Jack Alberts in the USCG Historian’s Collection.

Haida’s wartime armament was considerable for a tub her size, at the end including four 40mm Bofors mounts for AAA, two depth charge racks, four Y-guns, and two Mousetrap ASW mortars in addition to her 5-inch guns. However, with her weight now pushing almost 2,000-tons, her 20+-year-old GE electric motor did not push her at blistering speeds.

As described in Fern Chandonnet’s Alaska at War, 1941-1945: The Forgotten War Remembered:

On one eastbound escort– remembered by crew member Robert Erwin Johnson– the Haida steamed straight ahead at about 14 knots while the steamship being escorted zigzagged back and forth to avoid overtaking her escort.

Haida prosecuted various possible Japanese submarine contacts, dropping ASW weapons on at least four of them in 1943, at a time when assorted Japanese boats were in fact in that part of the North Pacific, while escorting troopships and freighters to Alaska.

By 1944, she began a regular albeit boring job of manning Weather Station “A” at fortnightly intervals through March 1946, an important facet of trans-oceanic shipping and air traffic.

With the end of the war at hand and the USCG chopped from the deep-pocket FDR-era Navy to the strapped-for-cash post-conflict Treasury Department, all four Tampas were deemed surplus, replaced by a baker’s dozen of newer 255-foot Owasco-class cutters. As such, they were all decommissioned in 1947 and thereafter sold for breaking.

Haida was sold in 1948 and later scrapped in 1951 by the Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company, within sight of her traditional Seattle home port. One of her crew, Robert Erwin Johnson, penned a book of his war experience, Bering Sea Escort: Life Aboard a Coast Guard Cutter in World War II.

Her plans and logbooks are in the National Archives, with most of the latter fully digitized. 

Specs:

The Coast Guard Cutter HAIDA’s sister, MODOC, seen in pre-1941 arrangement. USCG

Displacement: 1,506 tons (trial); 1,955 tons (1945)
Length: 240 feet oa (220 ft at waterline)
Beam: 39 feet
Draft: 13′ 2″ (designed) 17′ 9″ max (1945)
Machinery: 1 x General Electric 2,040 kVa electric motor driven by a turbo-generator; 2 x Babcock & Wilcox, cross-drum type, 200 psi, 750° F superheat
Performance:
Maximum speed/endurance: 16.2 knots on trial (1921)
Maximum sustained: 15.5 knots, 3,500 mile radius (1945)
Economic speed/endurance: 9.0 knots @ 5,500 mile radius (1945) on 87,400 gal fuel oil
Complement:
14 officers, 2 warrants, 80 men (1945).
Electronics: (1944)
Detection Radar: SA
Sonar: QCJ-3
Armament:
1921: 2 x 5″/51 single mounts; 2 x 6 pounders; 1 x 1 pounder
1942: 2 x 5″/51 single mounts; 1 x 3/50 (single); 2 x .50 caliber machine guns; 4 x “Y” guns; 2 depth charge tracks.
1943: 2 x 3″/50 single mounts; 4 x 20 mm/80 (single); 2 x depth charge tracks; 4 x “Y” guns; 2 x mousetraps.

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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