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Warship Wednesday, April 10, 2018: All Forms of Manly Sports

Here at LSOZI, we are going to 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, April 10, 2018: All Forms of Manly Sports

NH 76743-KN

Here we see the Seagoing Athletes that were the all-fleet champion basketball team of the Chester-class scout cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-2) circa 1910. Birmingham and her crew were indeed involved in all sorts of manly sports in her brief career. From her help to show off the modern steel Navy, to her very real contribution to “Remember the Maine,” to her service as the cradle of U.S. Naval Aviation and in a curious war against the Austrians that garnered a pair of Kaiser Karl’s battlewagons for the Stars and Stripes, B’ham was there.

In the early 1900s, when it came to cruisers, the Navy had lots of big boys such as the 10 Washington and California-class armored cruisers (15,000 tons, 10- and 8-inch gun main batteries); as well as five “1st class cruisers” of the Charleston, Brooklyn and Saratoga-classes (8500-10,000 tons, 6 and 8 inch guns); four aging “2nd class cruisers” e.g. USS Olympia, Baltimore, Columbia, Minneapolis (5,000-7,000 tons, 6- and 8-inch guns); the six slow “3rd class” Chattanooga cruisers who could only make 16 knots; and in the bottom rung were the old Span-Am War era protected cruisers Raleigh, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Albany (the last two British built), of questionable utility due to their slow speeds. This dearth of small, modern– and above all fast– light cruisers led to the Navy to order the trio of Chester class scout cruisers in 1904.

USS BIRMINGHAM (CS-2) and USS SALEM (CS-3) completing, at the Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Quincy, Massachusetts, circa early 1908. Original is a color-tinted postcard, mailed at Quincy on 9 September 1909. Courtesy of Captain Don Fink, 1983 NH 94937

The 4,687-ton ships– Chester, Salem, and Birmingham— were race boats for their time, capable of 24 knots (Chester hit 26.52 on speed trials), which made them able to reach out past the battle fleet and look for enemy formations. They also could sip coal and make some truly impressive ocean-crossing voyages at slow/low speeds, which would make them good ships if needed to be dispatched to far off flashpoints in the growing Pax Americana.

Chester class cruisers

Chester class cruisers, 1914 entry in Janes

Lightly armored, with just 2-inches of plate over their steering and engineering spaces with no gun shields or conning tower protection, they were supposed to run, not fight. If pushed into a corner by a similarly fast ship, such as a destroyer, they had (just) enough muscle to prevail with a single 5″/50 cal mount forward and rear along with six 3″/50 singles in broadside. A pair of submerged 21-inch torpedo tubes made them trouble for capital ships, especially in a night attack.

Gun Practice - Gun practice on board U.S. Cruiser Salem, Birmingham's sister, Chester class Charlestown, Navy Yard, Charlestown, Mass - NARA - 45510731

Gun Practice – Gun practice on board U.S. Cruiser Salem, Birmingham’s sister, Chester class Charlestown, Navy Yard, Charlestown, Mass – NARA – 45510731

USS Birmingham, starboard view, May 4, 1908 NARA 19-N-33-9-13

USS Birmingham, starboard view, May 4, 1908, NARA 19-N-33-9-13

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Running sea trials in March 1908. She is flying the flag of her builder, the Fore River Shipbuilding Company of Quincy, Massachusetts, from her mainmast. NH 56390

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Running sea trials in March 1908. She is flying the flag of her builder, the Fore River Shipbuilding Company of Quincy, Massachusetts, from her mainmast. NH 56390

Built at Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Birmingham, the first U.S. Navy vessel with that name, commissioned at Quincy, Massachusetts 11 April 1908 and was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. As part of her shakedown cruises, she popped in at Mobile, Alabama in February 1909 “where the increasingly seasoned cruiser received a silver service in honor of that state and her namesake.”

Keep in mind the Civil War had just ended 44 years before.

She then picked up President-elect Howard H. Taft in New Orleans and carried him up the Eastern Seaboard to Hampton Roads, VA to join Teddy Roosevelt in reviewing the Great White Fleet which was returning from its round the world cruise.

Soon, all three of the Chesters would see active service when, as a group, they sortied to Liberia on the West African Coast, dispatched by Roosevelt and Secretary of State Elihu Root to get involved in the local unrest there, which in large part stemmed from British and French colonial actions on the country’s borders.

From DANFS:

The U.S. appointed a commission to investigate the crisis, which set out on board Birmingham from Tompkinsville on 23 April 1909. The ship rendezvoused with Chester and Salem, and the three cruisers crossed the Atlantic, coaled and provisioned at Porto Grande Bay at São Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands (1–9 May), and reached Monrovia, Liberia, on the 13th. The commissioners lodged on board the trio of cruisers while they worked with Liberian representatives at Monrovia (13–29 May and 5 June), Grand Bassa (29–31 May), Cape Palmas (1–4 June), and Robertsport — also on 5 June — and wrapped-up their investigation with a visit to Freetown, Sierra Leone (7–8 June). The ships coaled and completed upkeep at Las Palmas in the Cape Verde Islands (13–16 June) and at Funchal, Madeira (17–23 June), and returned to Newport. The commissioners subsequently presented a message to Congress, and Root recommended that the U.S. consider lending military officers to assist the Liberians.

The following year the U.S. arranged a Loan Agreement, whereby 17 African-American Army officers eventually (1911–1930) served in Liberia, where they worked as military attachés to the American Consulate in Monrovia, or organized, trained, and led the Frontier Force, that country’s constabulary. These dedicated men carried out their difficult mission with minimum support but set the conditions to stabilize the Liberian regime.

The three Chesters arrived back in the country just in time to show off for the international armada that had assembled in New York in the summer of 1909. The event was Hudson-Fulton Celebration, the commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River, and the 100th anniversary of the first successful commercial application of a paddle steamer, by Robert Fulton Jr.

USS Salem (Scout Cruiser # 3) and USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser #2) In the Hudson River, off New York City, during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, 25 September 9 October 1909. Photo #: NH 91473

USS Salem (Scout Cruiser # 3) and USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser #2) In the Hudson River, off New York City, during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, 25 September 9 October 1909. Photo #: NH 91473

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Dressed in flags while at anchor, circa 1909. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. NH 101517

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Dressed in flags while at anchor, circa 1909. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. NH 101517

After coming to the assistance of the British tug Bulldog and later the sinking steamer Kentucky off the North Carolina coast, Birmingham visited Liberia again in early 1910 before returning to duties with the Atlantic Fleet. In November, she was part of a great experiment.

Less than seven years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made their brief manned air flight on Kill Devil Hill in the Outer Banks, sailing just 120 feet at a speed of a whopping 34 mph, the “aero plane” had made leaps and bounds. From the very beginnings, the military had its eye on the contraption– Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian had been underwritten by the War Department even before the Wright brothers made it off the ground.

Aviation pioneer Eugene Ely, who held pilot’s license No. 17 from the Aero Club of America, had a rendezvous with Birmingham, and destiny.

DANFS:

Shipwrights from Norfolk Navy Yard built an 83-foot slanted wooden platform onto Birmingham’s bow and, on the overcast morning of 14 November, she embarked civilian exhibition stunt pilot Eugene B. Ely, his 50 hp. Curtiss Model D Pusher biplane, some maintainers, and a group of naval officer observers headed by Capt. Washington I. Chambers, an advocate of early naval aviation.

Birmingham got underway at 11:30 a.m. and proceeded in company with Roe (Destroyer No. 24) and Terry (Destroyer No. 25), Barley (Torpedo Boat No. 21) and Stringham (Torpedo Boat No. 19), down the Elizabeth River to the Chesapeake Bay, where she anchored off Old Comfort Point at 12:35, and then shifted her anchorage and dropped the anchor again at 2:55 p.m.

Rainy and drizzly weather prevented Ely from taking off several times, but the pilot gamely decided to continue and launched his plane off the cruiser’s bow at 3:17 p.m. As he left the platform the pusher settled slowly and hit the water but rose again and landed about two and a half miles away on Willoughby Spit.

The plane sustained slight splinter damage to the propeller tips, but Ely’s daring feat marked the first time that an aircraft took off from a warship. Birmingham sent her motorboat to pick up Ely where he touched down at Willoughby Spit, and he, Chambers, and the rest of the party then transferred to Roe for the voyage back to Norfolk. Birmingham’s crew spent the next day tearing down the platform, raising her topmasts, and setting up the rigging, and left the lumber for Navy screw tug Alice to collect.

Just in her third year of service, our hardy cruiser had intervened in an African conflict, rubbed shoulders with both TR and Taft, and become the nation’s very first aircraft carrying warship. She was to continue her footnotes to history.

After visiting Mobile again for Mardi Gras and patrolling off Haiti in a show of gunboat diplomacy (she put in several times at Port-au-Prince and even observed the commissioning of the old Italian Regioni-class cruiser Umbria into the country’s navy as the ill-fated Consul Gostrück), Birmingham appeared in Cuba to serve as a pallbearer for the lost protected cruiser USS Maine (ACR-1), sunk by a controversial explosion in Havana in 1898.

Raised by the Army Corps of Engineers in an epic two-year effort, the remains of 66 lost Sailors and Marines were found and were ordered returned home with honor. Birmingham pulled that duty to escort those remains to the Washington Naval Yard after standing by, along with the armored cruiser North Carolina, while Maine was sunk in 600 fathoms of water offshore.

Maine, ship's after section is scuttled, in ceremonies off Havana, 16 March 1912. In background is USS NORTH CAROLINA (CA-12). USS BIRMINGHAM (CS-2) is at right. NH 46794

Maine, ship’s after section is scuttled, in ceremonies off Havana, 16 March 1912. In the background is USS NORTH CAROLINA (CA-12). USS BIRMINGHAM (CS-2) is at right. NH 46794

The flag-draped caskets of the victims of the USS Maine explosion are brought ashore at the Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia, from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2), 23 March 1912. Of the 66 sets of remains only one was identified and returned to his home town the rest were reburied at Arlington Cemetery. NH 1690

The flag-draped caskets of the victims of the USS Maine explosion are brought ashore at the Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia, from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2), 23 March 1912. Of the 66 sets of remains, only one was identified and returned to his home town the rest were reburied at Arlington Cemetery. NH 1690

NH 1813 USS Maine disaster. Funeral scene of the USS MAINE victims at the Navy Yard, Washington, District of Columbia, 23 March 1912. USS BIRMINGHAM (CL-2) in background

NH 1813 USS Maine disaster. Funeral scene of the USS Maine victims at the Navy Yard, Washington, District of Columbia, 23 March 1912. USS BIRMINGHAM (CL-2) in background

After inaugural service with the Ice Patrol– Titanic had just sunk in April 1912– Birmingham resumed her duties with the Atlantic Fleet, which had been anything but routine.

USS Birmingham (CL-2), circa 1914. From the collection of ADM Horne. UA 571.96

USS Birmingham (CL-2), circa 1914. From the collection of ADM Horne. UA 571.96

With Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt in the Navy’s driver’s seat, trips to Mexico to get muscular in that country’s civil war became common and soon, the Vera Cruz incident erupted. Birmingham, in Pensacola, was urgently ordered on 20 April 1914 to take aboard three aircraft there: “hydroaeroplane AH-2” and Curtiss Model F flying boats AB-4 and AB-5, along with three pilots who went on to be huge names in aviation history– Lt. (later ADM) John H. Towers (Naval Aviator #3), 1st Lt. Bernard L. Smith (USMC Aviator #2), and Ens. Godfrey de C. Chevalier (Naval Aviator #7, who would later be the first to trap on board a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier), 10 “mechaniciens,” a cook, and a mess attendant.

Delivering the assortment to Tampico, the planes accomplished the first combat mission by a U.S. military heavier-than-air aircraft just five days later and were soon among those who first to receive ground fire (with the bullet holes to prove it!)

Pioneer naval aviators Godfrey deChevalier, Henry C. Mustin, and John H. Towers on a beach during service in Mexico in the aftermath of the Veracruz Insurrection. On April 20-21, 1914, naval aviation personnel and their aircraft deployed from the Naval Aeronautical Station at Pensacola, Florida, to Mexican waters aboard Birmingham, where they flew the first combat flights in the history of the United States armed forces.

After Mexico, it was the stony duty of wartime neutral.

Birmingham, Photographed by O.W. Waterman, Hampton, Virginia, circa 1916. Courtesy of Admiral M.M. Taylor, USN(d), 1962. NH 77906

Birmingham, Photographed by O.W. Waterman, Hampton, Virginia, circa 1916. Courtesy of Admiral M.M. Taylor, USN(d), 1962. NH 77906

USS Birmingham Firing salutes with her crew manning the rails, accompanied by three 750-ton type destroyers. Photographed by Waterman. Birmingham's black paint scheme and structural details, and the white uniforms worn by her crew, indicate that the date of this photograph is mid-1916, when Birmingham was flagship of the Atlantic Fleet's Destroyer Force. Location may well be near Hampton, Virginia, base of Waterman family's photographic business. Note what appears to be pattern camouflage (perhaps an experimental scheme) worn by the destroyer on the left. Donation of Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2007. NH 105382

USS Birmingham Firing salutes with her crew manning the rails, accompanied by three 750-ton type destroyers. Photographed by Waterman. Birmingham’s black paint scheme and structural details, and the white uniforms worn by her crew, indicate that the date of this photograph is mid-1916 when Birmingham was the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet’s Destroyer Force. Location may well be near Hampton, Virginia, a base of Waterman family’s photographic business. Note what appears to be pattern camouflage (perhaps an experimental scheme) worn by the destroyer on the left. Donation of Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2007. NH 105382

When the U.S. entered the Great War, Birmingham continued her East Coast operations with CDR Nathan C. Twining, Commander, Nantucket Detachment, Patrol Force, breaking his flag on the cruiser. By June 1917, she was escorting the first wave of Doughboys, the regulars of the Army’s newly-formed 1st Infantry Division, augmented by the 5th Marines, to France.

In August, she crossed with a second troop convoy and by 1918 was in the Med, operating out of Gibraltar.

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Moored in a harbor, circa 1918, probably in the Mediterranean area. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969 NH 68227

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Moored in a harbor, circa 1918, probably in the Mediterranean area. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969 NH 68227

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In Brest harbor, France, on 15 October 1918. During 1917-1918 she was flagship of U.S. Forces at Gibraltar and escorted convoys in the eastern Atlantic. Note her dazzle camouflage. Courtesy of John G. Krieger, 1966-1967. NH 56393

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In Brest harbor, France, on 15 October 1918. During 1917-1918 she was the flagship of U.S. Forces at Gibraltar and escorted convoys in the eastern Atlantic. Note her dazzle camouflage. Courtesy of John G. Krieger, 1966-1967. NH 56393

Once the Armistice hit on 11 November 1918, Birmingham was dispatched to the Adriatic where the Allied forces had for the entirety of the war kept the mighty Austro-Hungarian fleet largely bottled up, a paper tiger. Taking on RADM William H. G. Bullard at Malta, within days she was at Spalato (Split) in Dalmatia, where she took custody of not one but two Austrian battleships on 22 November.

Surrender of Austrian Fleet - Austrian battleships surrendered to U.S. Naval forces 2.8.19 SMS Radetzky Zrinyi Spalate Birmingham cruiser LOC 165-WW-329D-002

Surrender of Austrian Fleet – Austrian battleships surrendered to U.S. Naval forces 2.8.19 SMS Radetzky, Zrinyi, Spalate. Birmingham to the right. LOC 165-WW-329D-002

Sisterships of the same class of pre-dreadnought battleships, SMS Radetzky and SMS Zrinyi had both joined Kaiser Franz Josef’s Imperial Austro-Hungarian Navy in 1911 and saw very little service in their seven years on Vienna’s naval list. After ole Franz died in 1916, his great-nephew Karl took the throne and beat feet during the last days of the war, signing over the fleet to the newly formed Yugoslav government to keep it out of the Allies hands.

To comply with this, the two battlewagons sailed out of Pola on 10 November under nominal Slav command and, flying American flags, surrendered to a group of punchy 110-foot U.S. Navy submarine chasers until Bullard and Birmingham arrived a week later. Under U.S. custody, the pair was even referred to as USS Zrinyi and USS Radetzky, unofficially. However, it was not to be and in compliance with the final Austrian peace in 1920, the ships were given to Italy and scrapped.

As for our hardy scout cruiser, she returned home in early 1919 and was soon reassigned to the Pacific Fleet.

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In the Middle West Chamber, Gatun Locks, during the passage of the Pacific Fleet through the Panama Canal, 24 July 1919. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Admiral William V. Pratt. NH 75717

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In the Middle West Chamber, Gatun Locks, during the passage of the Pacific Fleet through the Panama Canal, 24 July 1919. Note she has extensive warm weather awnings and a grey hull again. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Admiral William V. Pratt. NH 75717

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) At Seattle, Washington, in September 1919. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56394

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) At Seattle, Washington, in September 1919. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56394

Reclassified as a light cruiser (CL-2), she later became the flag of RADM William C. Cole who used her to head up a squadron dispatched to Panama in 1922 to help quiet down the locals in the Canal Zone– making Birmingham a Mahanian gunboat to the last. Ironically, during this period she called on New Orleans and, while open to the public during the 1923 State Fair, was toured by then CPT. Osami Nagano of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Nagano, of course, would later rise to Chief of the Navy General Staff during WWII, outranking Yamamoto.

In addition to Nagano and the host of early aviators that went on to greatness, at least three of Birmingham‘s former skippers went on to become full admirals including two CINCUS’s and one CNO. She truly was a ship that stars fell upon.

With the resulting peace craze that followed WWI and the series of naval treaties agreed to by the world’s great powers, the Chester class were declared surplus and laid up so that their tonnage could be used for more modern cruiser developments. As such, Birmingham headed to Philadelphia, where she was decommissioned on 1 December 1923. Salem had already been laid up at Mare Island in 1921, the same year Chester was put out of service at Boston. By early 1930, all three had been sold for scrap, at which point they were only about 22 years old each and had been in reserve for a decade. A waste.

Birmingham’s name would be twice reused, by the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-62)— which gave epic service in WWII and decommissioned in 1946– and by the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine USS Birmingham (SSN-695) which was active from 1978 to 1997.

Birmingham SSBN-695 CL-62

Of course, our Scout Cruiser’s silver service is at the Birmingham Museum of Art, on public display. She has also been remembered in maritime art for her role as America’s first aircraft carrier, of sorts.

Further, on the Centennial of Naval Aviation in 2010, a replica of Ely’s Curtiss Hudson Flier was hoisted aboard the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), for old time’s sake.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Coolbaugh sits in the pilot seat of a replica Curtiss Hudson Flier biplane, the first aircraft to launch from the deck of a navy ship, Nov. 15, 2010, on the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) while in port in Norfolk, Va. The replica was built as part of celebrations for the Centennial of Naval Aviation. (DoD photo 101115-N-3885H-265 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Hall, U.S. Navy/Released)

101115-N-3885H-265 Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Coolbaugh sits in the pilot seat of a replica Curtiss Hudson Flier biplane, the first aircraft to launch from the deck of a navy ship, Nov. 15, 2010, on the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) while in port in Norfolk, Va. The replica was built as part of celebrations for the Centennial of Naval Aviation. (DoD photo 101115-N-3885H-265 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Hall, U.S. Navy/Released)

As for Ely, after his takeoff from Birmingham, he made a landing on a larger deck on the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania, another important aviation first. Sadly, before 1911 was out, he died in a plane crash in Macon, Georgia. He was later enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Specs:

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Underway in 1908, possibly during trials. NH 56392

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Underway in 1908, possibly during trials. NH 56392

Displacement:
3,750 long tons (3,810 t) (standard)
4,687 long tons (4,762 t) (full load)
Length:
423 ft 1 in (128.96 m) oa
420 ft (130 m) pp
Beam: 47 ft 1 in
Draft: 16 ft 9 in(mean)
Installed power:
12 × Fore River boilers
16,000 ihp
15,670 ihp (produced on Trial)
Propulsion:
2 × 4cly vertical triple expansion engines
2 × screws
Speed:
24 knots designed, 24.33 knots (Speed on Trial)
Coal: 1400 tons max. Burned 148 tons in 24 hrs at 20 knots or 31 tons per 24 hrs at 10 knots, which is sweet
Complement: 42 officers 330 enlisted
Armament:
4 × 5 in (130 mm)/50 caliber Mark 6 breech-loading rifles
6 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 caliber rapid-fire guns (6×1)
2 × 3-pounder (47 mm (1.9 in) Driggs-Schroeder saluting guns
2 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, submerged, with 8 torpedoes in the magazine
Armor:
Belt: 2 in over engineering spaces only, essentially double skinned from 3.5-feet below the waterline to 9.5-feet above
Deck: 1 mm (aft) to protect steering gear

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The Terror of Castillo San Felipe

Osprey’s June offerings, to include US Navy Battleships 1886–98: The pre-dreadnoughts and monitors that fought the Spanish-American War by Paul Wright, looks on point when it comes to maritime art.

From the book, highlighting the monitor USS Terror:

Sampson’s North Atlantic Squadron arrived off San Juan, Puerto Rico, the morning of May 12, 1898, and opened fire at 0516hrs. Captain Nicoll Ludlow’s monitor USS Terror (BM-4) is seen close to shore, shelling the San Juan fortification of Castillo San Felipe del Morro and coming under return fire from Spanish coastal artillery. Wind and seas were high, causing ships to roll and hurting US gunnery. Dense white smoke so obscured targeting that Sampson eventually ordered: “use large guns only.” Terror, fifth in the US column, unleashed 31 10in/30-caliber rounds in three passes, including one that scored a “most vicious” direct hit on a Spanish artillery battery. Terror retired at 0815hrs, having suffered no casualties. Sampson’s squadron had lost a total of two killed and three wounded. Spanish casualties came to seven killed and 52 wounded, including civilians.

A “Great Repair” (wink wink) of the 1863-vintage Miantonomoh-class monitor USS Agamenticus, the 263-foot-long Terror was constructed slowly over a 22-year period by William Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia/ New York Navy Yard. Carrying a pair of 10″/30cal Mark 1 Mod 1s, Terror had only been placed in full commission in 1896. She was not very successful, as her engineering suite broke down extensively, was good for 12 knots when wide open and working correctly, and a low freeboard shipped water over the deck in any sea state.

Terror‘s SpanAm War duty was to be the highlight of her active career and, hopelessly obsolete the monitor was decommissioned and placed in ordinary on 25 February 1899. A spell as a training ship at Annapolis later gave her a modicum of post-war work. She ended her career as a test hulk at Indian Head and was (believed) scrapped sometime in the 1930s.

Warship Wednesday, April 3, 2019: She’s was a lucky and lovely Flower

Here at LSOZI, we are going to 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, April 3, 2019: She’s was a lucky and lovely Flower

Irish Maritime Archives# IE-MA-ACPS-GPN-308-2 (4814×3672)

Here we see the former Royal Navy HMS Bellwort (K 114), a Flower-class corvette, in her later life in 1947 at Dun Laoghaire Pier as the Irish Naval Service’s Long Éireannach (LÉ) Cliona (03)— named after the Irish goddess of love. Both before and after, she lived a very lucky life, which is remarkable as many of her class did not.

Ordered 12 December 1939 from George Brown & Co. in Greenock, Scotland, Kincaid, Bellwort was one of the nearly 300 Flowers completed during the conflict. Compact vessels at just 1,000-tons with a length of only 205-feet, they used a simple engineering suite and a single screw to make 16 knots, a speed high enough to combat WWII-era diesel-electric subs. Mounting a single low-angle 4-inch gun forward and a series of ASW weapons, they were designed to take the fight to Donitz’s unterseeboots and did it admirably.

Royal Canadian Navy Flower-class corvette HMCS Amherst, a great representative of the type. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

In all, the humble but effective corvettes served the RN, their Canadian, Indian and South African Commonwealth fleets, and a myriad of “Free” allied nations in exile such as the Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians, and Greeks.

Bellwort, named for the lily of the same moniker, commissioned 20 November 1941 during the height of the Battle of the Atlantic while the British stood alone in Western Europe against the Italians and Germans.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 23642) The corvette HMS BELLWORT entering Victoria Wharf, Birkenhead. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119841

By 12 December, she was on her first convoy escort, tagging along with ON 049 for a week on the UK to North America run. Over the course of the war in Europe, Bellwort would be a part of well over 40 convoys in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean as well as off the West African coast including the Freetown-to-Takoradi run, bringing over 800 ships safely to port.

THE BELLWORT HOME AFTER WEST AFRICA SERVICE. DECEMBER 1943, FREETOWN. THE CORVETTE HMS BELLWORT AS SHE PREPARED TO RETURN TO BRITAIN FROM A YEARS SERVICE ON THE WEST AFRICAN COAST. (A 21837) The Commanding Officer of HMS BELLWORT, Lieut Commander Norman Gill, RNR (center) having an upper deck conference with some of his officers. He has marked off a position on the chart and the Navigating Officer (right) is making a note of it in his pocket-book. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154097

THE BELLWORT HOME AFTER WEST AFRICA SERVICE. DECEMBER 1943, FREETOWN. THE CORVETTE HMS BELLWORT AS SHE PREPARED TO RETURN TO BRITAIN FROM A YEARS SERVICE ON THE WEST AFRICAN COAST. (A 21836) Members of the BELLWORT’s crew just before she left her last African port. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154096

She was not always successful.

On one of these South Atlantic convoys, TS 37, in which Bellwort and three armed trawlers were charged with 19 merchants, German submarine ace Werner Henke and U-519 stalked the slow running group, ultimately sinking seven ships in a series of quick actions. The sub was later smoked by the USS Guadalcanal hunter-killer group and Henke died while trying to escape from an interrogation center in Virginia in 1944.

During the war, Bellwort also had to fight Poseidon. She was almost lost off South Africa in June 1942 while being towed by HMS Barrymore around the Cape of Good Hope. Poor sea boats, these hoggish craft had a reputation of being able to “roll on wet grass.” Arnold Whitehead, a rating on Barrymore, recalled the event for the BBC.

We, the crew, soon began to realize that the Cape of Good Hope in the southern hemisphere in wintertime could be rather an unpleasant place. A really tremendous storm was brewing up. The seas were becoming mountainous walls of water, and during the night the Bellwort slid down one side of one of the wave mountains and we slid down the opposite side, away from the Bellwort, which was helpless, of course, without rudder and no engines running. The six-inch steel hawser snapped like a violin string, the end attached to us striking our stern a frightening blow. We were left with the almost impossible task of trying to get the hawser reconnected to the corvette while looking to our own survival in what was now a raging hurricane. The wind in the ship’s rigging was making a fearful wailing noise, which was quite spirit-numbing.

During the night the skipper told us that the Barrymore was designed to withstand a roll of up to 45 degrees each way, and we had been rolling 50 degrees. The skipper’s detailed information was hardly likely to inspire confidence!

The situation aboard the Bellwort was grave in the extreme, with her crew all wearing inflated lifebelts on deck and ready to jump. The Barrymore turned on her searchlight to illuminate the scene while the end of the hawser attached to us was winched aboard.

It was at this point in the rescue attempt that I witnessed the most astonishing event I have ever seen. The seas were estimated to be 60 feet high. Torrential rain was also a major hazard, and we wondered if we would survive. The ship’s logbook recorded the conditions of the sea as ‘precipitous’, which was the worst of all on our graduated scale. In the midst of all this, a seaman was washed overboard. Within moments, by some miracle, the next giant wave brought him back on board, apparently none the worse for his ordeal!

Bellwort left her last charge, as part of the screen for Convoy MKS 103G from the Med to Portsmouth, on 27 May 1945.

Her war ended with reportedly heading to Lisbon to pick up the crew of a lost German U-boat, likely U-1277, which had scuttled on 3 June 1945 off the coast of Portugal.

With VJ Day, the peacetime Royal Navy didn’t need Bellwort and her sisters anymore. An amazing 33 Flowers were lost during the conflict, with most of those torpedoed and sunk by U-boats during convoy operations. As something like half of the convoy vessels in the North Atlantic were Flowers, it is no surprise. Most of the remaining ships were rapidly laid up and soon either sold for scrap or transferred aboard.

Out of service by October 1945, Bellwort along with sisters HMS Borage (K 120) and HMS Oxlip (K123) was sold to the Irish “for a bargain price” in September 1946 as the LÉ Cliona (03), LÉ Macha (01), and LÉ Maev (02), respectively. As with Cliona‘s goddess name, Macha is from an Irish goddess of war while Maev is named after Medb, queen of Connacht in Irish mythology.

If the pennant numbers sound low, that’s because the Irish Naval Service was only founded that year. Previously, the only armed vessels owned by Dublin was the old RN yacht HMY Helga, a 300-ton craft that picked up a pair of 12-pounders in 1936 to patrol as Muirchú for the Fisheries Service. During WWII, the armed neutral had to rely on Helga/Muirchú as well as a six-pack of small 60-foot Vosper MTBs (without berthing) for coast watching. The post-war Irish Naval Service was the Republic’s first foray into a blue water force.

For the next 25 years, these three surplus British corvettes were the sum total of the Irish navy until Dublin coughed up a naval program in 1969 for the purchase of three aging Ton-class coastal minesweepers (HMS Oulston, HMS Alverton, and HMS Blaxton) while the 184-foot LÉ Deirdre, the first vessel ever built specifically for the Naval Service, was constructed in Verlome Cork Dockyard as a replacement for the minesweepers.

Cliona via Irish Naval Archives

Le Cliona and M4, a Vosper 60-foot MTB, at Dun Laoghaire Pier 1947 IE-MA-ACPS-GPN-308-1

LE Cliona 03 (ex HMS Bellwort) in Irish service Via Flower Corvette Forum https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/theflowerclasscorvetteforums/le-cliona-03-ex-hms-bellwort-t546.html

All was not roses for the Irish corvettes. Used for grueling fisheries patrol work as well as in customs duties stopping potential gun running to the IRA, they saw their share of interesting encounters. In 1962, Cliona‘s luck almost ran out.

On 29 May, while participating in an annual live-fire exercise south of Roches Point, Cliona suffered damage after the explosion of a Hedgehog charge which had been dropped during the exercise. Leaking oil ignited which resulted in a serious boiler room fire onboard the vessel. The fire was eventually extinguished without any fatalities but the deeds of her crew who saved the ship largely forgotten for decades.

Taken out of service July 1969, Cliona was decommissioned on 2 November 1970 and the same day sold to Haulbowline Industries. She was later scrapped at Passage West in Cork. Her two Irish sisters, Borage/Macha, and Oxlip/Maev, were likewise sold to HI at about the same time and met similar fates. By then, except for a sister in Canada and a few others in the Dominican Republic and Angola, they were the last of the nearly 300 ship class.

Today, only the HMCS Sackville (K181), which the Canadians preserved in 1982 at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the only Flower left in the world. Notably, Bellwort/Clinoa escorted more convoys that she did.

Sackville via Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, please, if you are ever in Halifax, pay her a visit.

However, Cliona‘s crewmembers who saved her on that fateful day in 1962 were eventually remembered.

On 1 September 2016, the Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Mr. Paul Kehoe, T.D., presented Scrolls of Commendation to Lieutenant Pat O’Mahony, Able Stoker Bill Mynes, Chief E.R.A. Maurice Egan and Chief Stoker Gerry O’Callaghan, (the last posthumously) at a ceremony held on board L.É. Niamh in Dublin.

“Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Mr. Paul Kehoe, T.D., today (Thursday, 1 September 2016) presented Scrolls of Commendation to former crew members of the LÉ Cliona” Via Irish national archives

Before presenting the scrolls, Minister Kehoe praised the former Naval Service members “…each one of these four men fearlessly faced difficulty, danger, and pain while successfully extinguishing the fire that had taken hold on board the LÉ Cliona. The swift and selfless endeavors of each one of these four men ensured that tragedy was avoided and not a single life was lost.”

Minister Kehoe also paid tribute to “…the tremendous team effort that was made by the ship’s company. They ensured the safe return of the ship to port, once the fire had been brought under control. Even with the passage of time, their endeavors are not forgotten. I am delighted that I will have the opportunity of unveiling a plaque in recognition of their sterling work, in Haulbowline Naval Base, at the end of this month”.

As for her stint as Bellwort, David Willcock, the grandson of a former RN tar who sailed aboard her during WWII, has a tribute page.

Today, the Irish Naval Service, which began in 1946 with those three high-mileage Flower-class corvettes, is 72-years-old and still rocks a pair of vintage ex-RN corvettes of the 1980s Peacock-class, formerly used to patrol Hong Kong. But in addition, they also have six-purpose built OPVs that were built from the keel up for Ireland. The newest of these include four of the very capable Samuel Beckett-class vessels, which go 300-feet and tip the scales at 2,250-tons, each larger than the Cliona and her sisters. Appropriately, they are named for poets.

Besides protecting Ireland’s EEZ and territorial waters, the force has been involved in Mediterranean search and rescue operations with the EU for the past two years. In short, it’s a proper force now.

Specs:

Plan of HMS Bellwort reference NPA6884, housed in box ADRB0154 Via RMS Greenwich

Displacement: 1020 tonnes
Length: 205 ft.
Beam: 33 ft.
Draft: 14 ft.
Powerplant: Single reciprocating vertical 4-cylinder triple expansion by John Kincaid Greenock, 2 fire tube Scotch boilers
Maximum Speed (designed) 16 Knots
Sensors: SW1C radar, Type 123A sonar
Complement:
85 designed, up to 100 in wartime RN service
5 officers, 74 ratings (Irish Service)
Armament: (1941)
1 X 4″/45cal (102mm) BL Mk.IX gun
1 X Mk.VIII 2-pounder pom-pom AAA gun
2 X 20mm Oerlikon AA guns
1 X Mk 3 Hedgehog mortar,
4 X depth-charge throwers,
2 X depth charge rails with 40 depth charges

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

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Warship Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2019: Tehran’s Tangs

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 (ish) time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2019: Tehran’s Tangs

NHHC KN-2708

Here we see a P-2H Neptune of Patrol Squadron (VP) 16 as it flies over the Tang-class submarine USS Trout (SS-566), near Charleston, S.C., May 7, 1961. While Trout‘s lines look fine for her era, don’t let them fool you, as she is not one of Rickover’s sleek nukes but is rather a 1940s-designed smoke boat– and one with an interesting story.

By late 1945, the U.S. Navy got the bad news that the Germans had been way ahead of them in terms of diesel-electric submarines. The innovations out of Hamburg and Kiel such as in hull/tower design, battery trunks, torpedo propulsion and the use of a snorkel by Hitler’s late-war “Elektroboot” Type XXI-class U-boats directly led to the American Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program (GUPPY) that made similar modifications on the USN’s vast flotillas of WWII-produced Gato, Balao, and Tench-class diesel boats. This was in large part due to both captured plans and reverse-engineering a pair of trophy Type XXIs, U-2513, and U-3008, through 1949.

Ex-German submarine U-3008 underway at sea on 15 April 1948 in USN service, note the similarity to the Trout. National Archives 80-G-442933

As a result, the old fleet boats came to an end when the Tench-class submarine USS Grenadier (SS-525) was commissioned in Feb. 1951. A slew of sisters (SS-526 through SS-549) were canceled. Then came several experimental subs to include the smallish three-ship Barracuda-class “hunter-killer” SSKs optimized for ASW, and the one-off research submarines USS Dolphin (AGSS-555), Albacore (AGSS-569) and Mackerel (AGSS-570).

During this period, came the six-ship Tang-class laid down in 1949/50 at Electric Boat and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard that were “GUPPY” from the keel up rather than modified. A nominal seventh vessel of the class, USS Darter (SS-576), was built to an improved design and is largely considered a single-ship class.

The six-pack was all named for famous and very successful WWII submarines– Tang, Trigger, Wahoo, Trout, Gudgeon and Harder— and were all completed by November 1952 as the first practical Cold War-era U.S. Navy sub design. Some 292-feet long and 2,700-tons submerged, they were a tad shorter than the big fleet boats that brought Japanese shipping to its end (Tenches went 311-feet) but were much faster (17.4-knots vs 8.75 knots, submerged) and could dive deeper (700 feet test depth rather than 400 feet). In short, they were the equivalent of diesel Fast Attack boats.

Interestingly, the design included both front and rear torpedo tubes, an old-school WWII call-back, although the arrangement was more 1950s. Besides the half-dozen primary 21-inch tubes forward, the class had a pair of 19-inch torpedo tubes aft for the then-planned Mk 37 ASW torpedo as well as the capability to carry eight MK-49/57 mines.

Note the stubby tubes. Designed in 1946, the downright cute 1,400 Mk37 acoustic torpedo entered service in 1955 and became the primary ASW torp of the Navy for a large part of the Cold War. It’s 330-pound warhead and contact exploder was deemed enough to crack a pressure hull.

How about that six berth/two torp storage

Our direct subject, USS Trout was laid down on 1 Dec. 1949 at EB and at her launch she was sponsored by the widow of LCDR Albert H. Clark, the last commanding officer of the first USS Trout (SS-202), who was lost on the boat’s 11th war patrol in 1944 along with 80 other souls.

Commissioned 27 June 1952, the new Trout was assigned to SubRon 10 out of New London for the rest of the decade and was hard at work in ASW exercises and NATO support.

Notably, in March 1959, DANFS says “During submerged exercises in polar waters in company with [sister ship] Harder (SS-568), Trout sailed 268 miles beneath Newfoundland ice floes, setting a distance record for conventionally powered submarines.”

Her skipper in 1960 was LCDR William James Crowe Jr. (USNA 1947). Notably, Crowe went on to become a full admiral, was CINCPAC, CinCAFSOUTH, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under both Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He was aboard during the Cuban Missile Crisis, where Trout was front-and-center.

As noted by a reunion group for her crews, the 1960s saw her deploy to the Med three times and was utilized in a variety of OPFOR events as a simulated enemy sub– the Soviets also used the Type XXI design as a basis for their huge 200-unit Project 613 (NATO Whiskey-class) vessels. Trout’s group’s history says for example:

-She assisted the surface Anti-Submarine Forces by simulating an unfriendly unit penetrating U.S. waters.

-She also assumed the role of enemy while hindering major fleet amphibious exercises.

-During the latter part of 1965 TROUT participated in a mine laying exercise with several other submarines that Were Opposed by “enemy” aircraft and surface ships. This was followed by an exercise that required TROUT to make an undetected submerged transit through waters controlled by “enemy” ships, planes and submarines.

USS Trout (SS-566) at Genoa Italy, 31 December 1967. She completed three Med deployments including during the Six Day War.

In July 1970, she was assigned to the Pacific Fleet during the Vietnam-era, which yielded two Westpac deployments, in 1972 and 1975, “primarily providing submarine services during ASW exercises conducted by warships of the United States, South Korean, or Nationalist Chinese navies.”

West Coast – SubRon 3 (San Diego) from 1970 to 1976. Via Art’s Trout page

A successful boat that earned a number of Battle “E”‘s, by 1978 she was pushing 25-years of age and, like the rest of her class, was eclipsed by the Navy’s obsession with sexy SSNs such as the new Los Angeles-class vessels then on the ways. Sisters USS Trigger (SS-564) and USS Harder (SS-568) had already been removed from the fleet in 1973-74, sent to become the Italian Navy’s Livio Piomarta and Romeo Romei, respectively.

Transferred to Philadelphia, Trout decommissioned and struck from the Navy list on 19 December 1978. Like Trigger and Harder, she was intended for foreign transfer. But first, let’s talk about the Shah.

The Iran connection

With the British Royal Navy withdrawing from the Persian Gulf in the early 1970s, Shah Pahlavi, flush with OPEC cash, decided to step up and build the Great Imperial Iranian Navy.

Within the decade, the IIN acquired two U.S. Sumner-class and one British Battle-class destroyers, four British Vosper-class missile corvettes, 12 French La Combattante-class patrol boats, a dozen cutting-edge British hovercrafts, and a fleet of helicopters, ballooning in strength from 6,000 to 28,000 personnel with the help of American and European companies and experts. Then came the big steps: ordering four Spruance-class destroyers (completed as the Kidd-class DDGs) from Litton-Ingalls, and three surplus Tang-class diesel submarines while negotiating with France and Germany for additional frigates and Type 209 subs, respectively.

As part of this, Tang was to be acquired and renamed IIS Dolfin (SS-100), Trout would be Kousseh “Shark” (SS-101) and Wahoo would become Nahang “Whale” (SS-102). As they could submerge over their masts in anything deeper than 60 feet of seawater, they made sense in the shallow Gulf.

In the summer of 1978, the trio began an extended $75 million Tehran-funded overhaul at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard which replaced their engines, batteries, communication gear and firing control systems to essentially roll back the odometer to create “new to you” boats.

Trout/Kousseh was the first sold and turned over to the IIN on 19 December 1978, and the yard was in the process of switching over the data plates and plaques to Farsi when her new Iranian crew, with U.S. ship riders, took her out on the Delaware River for a turnaround. To commemorate the new bubbleheads, the yard even produced a version of the U.S. Navy’s submarine Dolphin badge, modified with a Persian crown, for the Iranians.

Then came the Iranian Revolution and the Shah fled to Egypt on 16 January 1979– less than a month after Trout was turned over. The submarine, at New London with a skeleton crew-in-training who wasn’t feeling it, as a result, became a de facto unit of the Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She was subsequently abandoned by her legacy Iranian crew in March 1979 and towed back to PSNY.

Embargoed from final transfer to Tehran by the Carter administration, Trout/Kousseh was put back in the custody of the yard and sealed for the next 13 years as the Iranians fought it out with Washington to get the ship they paid for along with other Shah-era arms such as Hawk missiles, Cobra gunships, and F-14 Tomcats. She was regularly inspected, her interior spaces dehumidified, and her hull electrified to retard rust and crust. Even then, she had something of a museum-like quality to her.

SS-556 at PSNY. Via Art’s USS Trout Page http://www.wadehamptoncamp.org/trout-566-pic.html

Meanwhile, Tang was transferred to Turkey as TCG Pirireis (S 343) and Wahoo was cannibalized for parts and sold for scrap in 1984. The last of the class in U.S. service other than Trout, USS Gudgeon (SS-567), was sold to the Turks as TCG Hızırreis (S 342) in 1987.

Finally, in 1992, the near-pristine although 40-year-old Trout was returned to U.S. Navy custody in 1992 for her value in scrap (reportedly $20,000) and two years later was transferred for use an experimental hull and acoustic target sub at NAWCAD Key West. In short, to give Big Blue’s P-3s and SH-60s something more SSK-like to test against.

Trout in Key West via Subsailorscom

By that time, Trout was at the end of the line when it came to smoke boats for the Pentagon as the country’s last diesel boats to be built, the three subs of the teardrop-hulled Barbel-class, had all been decommissioned by 1990. Even the “improved Tang” ex-USS Darter was sunk as a target in 1992 off Hawaii. Only the unarmed deep-diving USS Dolphin (AGSS-555) research boat was still in the fleet, and in 1993 was in a life extension program to keep her poking around off San Diego for another decade.

Without a crew, Trout was to spend a solid seven years in the Keys, helping test and vet the next generation of sonar and weapons under the final control of NAVAIR, Marine, and Targets Detachment. However, by 2001, it was decided to put the ghost boat out to pasture and she was sent back to Philadelphia mothballs. A last-ditch effort to save her for a museum was undertaken.

In mothballs– still looking pretty good for a 50-year-old smoker. Via Art’s USS Trout Page http://www.wadehamptoncamp.org/trout-566-pic.html

Subvet Michael Wheeler made an appeal in 2003 to take advantage of the opportunity to save Trout, which was apparently still in excellent material shape at the end of her career, no doubt due to the fact she had been reconditioned for the Iranians but never sailed a mile under her own power since then:

I ask that all submariners that can help save this boat from becoming razor blades or the next SINKEX, please step up to the plate. This boat is a virtual time capsule, with the majority of her systems not only intact but operational. Even her batteries are brand-new (without electrolyte)! Imagine what a magnificent display she’d make for some lucky foundation! I’ve been fortunate to have worked aboard several different memorial submarines and visited several others, but I have not as yet seen or worked aboard a memorial boat that approaches the current condition of the Trout. Hell, if they’d let me, I’d take her out and bottom her in 300 feet of water and I assure you that she’d pop right back to the surface when the MBT’s were blown.

Sadly, it was not to be. The Navy eventually tired of Trout altogether and in May 2008 she was towed to ESCO Marine, Brownsville, Texas, where she was cut up for scrap over the course of the next 10 months.

Recycling of Trout (SS-566) at ESCO Marine, Brownsville, Texas. Scrapping was completed 27 February 2009. Via Navsource

As a legacy, she is remembered in several pages and groups and will live on in a certain sense with fans of King of the Hill for eternity. Korean War-era Navy vet Gary Kasner, Hank Hill’s father-in-law, is shown in Season 2, Episode 11 (The Unbearable Blindness of Laying) with a USS Trout II tattoo.

Of her sisters, the two boats sent to the Turks, TCG Pirireis (ex-Tang) and TCG Hizirreis (ex-Gudgeon), are preserved as museum ships in that country. Harder and Trigger, sent to Italy, were scrapped in 1988. Notably, several racked up battlestars for Vietnam service.

Meanwhile, in the Persian Gulf, a frustrated Iran went on to buy three Kilo-class submarines from cash-strapped Russia in the early 1990s: IRIS Tareq (S103), IRIS Nooh (S104), and IRIS Yunes (S105). If you notice, they still recognized the hull/pennant numbers of the three Tangs (S100 – 102) which never made it to the Gulf.

In addition to the Kilos, Iran has purchased an unknown quantity of NorK-made MS-29 Yono-class midget submarines then proceeded to put a Persian Gulf midget into serial production locally as the IS-120 Ghadir-class (with at least 23 in service) and the country is rolling their own indigenous Fateh-class submarines, which aim to be a full-sized boat, though still smaller than their aging Russian Kilos.

Specs:


Displacement, surfaced: 2,100 t., Submerged: 2,700 t.
Length 292′-8 1/4″
Beam 27′ 3″
Draft 18′, snort depth 50ft.
Height: Top of snorkel/antennas (lowered) from the bottom of the keel, 44 feet
Propulsion: diesel-electric, Fairbanks-Morse Type 3 diesel engines, HP 4500, two electric motors, HP 5600, 2 shafts/propellers
Speed surfaced 20 kts, Submerged 18 kts
Complement 8 Officers 75 Enlisted (Accommodations as designed 10 officers, 8 CPO, 70 crew = 88men)
Sonar (as designed): AN/BQG-4 PUFFS system (3 “sharkfin” domes topside, 18 arrays), BHQ-2E, BQA-8A
Armament:
Six 21-inch torpedo tubes forward
Two 19-inch torpedo tubes aft for Mk 37 torpedoes
Eight MK-49/57 mines

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

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

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

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

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Petrel does it again

Wasp dresses with flags for Navy Day while she anchors in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, 27 October 1940. Note the old flush-deck destroyer in the distance. (U.S. Navy Photograph NH 43463)

Built with 15,000 leftover tons allocated for U.S. aircraft carriers under the Washington Naval Treaty, the ninth USS Wasp (CV-7), was a lightweight version of a fleet carrier. Some 5,000-tons lighter than the preceding Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown, she was only about 80-feet shorter and could still carry roughly the same-sized airwing. In addition, she had a 4th catapult whereas the preceding and much larger half-sisters only had three. Granted it was a hangar deck cat, but still.

Commissioned on 25 April 1940 at the Army Quartermaster Base, South Boston, Mass, the war in Europe was on and the U.S. was out of it for another 20 months, but Wasp soon wandered into the periphery of the conflict. In August 1941, after shakedowns, she carried 30 Army Curtiss P-40C’s and three Stearman PT-17 trainers from the AAF 33rd Pursuit Squadron to Iceland– where they flew off her deck to land on the U.S.-protected island, one of the first times Army planes took off from an operational U.S. carrier.

After the U.S. entered the war, she was quickly assigned to watch over convoys routed to North Russia, looking for German surface raiders, and twice carried RAF Spitfires to embattled Malta.

To make good the losses of the Lexington (CV-2) at Coral Sea and Yorktown (CV-5) at Midway, Wasp was recalled from her North Atlantic and Med adventures and rushed to the Pacific, where her service was brief. Wasp arrived off Guadalcanal in early August and her aircrew was soon delivering “stings” to Japanese positions in the area.

Narrowly missing the Battle of Eastern Solomons on 24 August, on 15 September Wasp, Hornet, the battleship North Carolina, with ten other warships, were escorting the transports carrying the Seventh Marine Regiment to Guadalcanal as reinforcements. That day, Japanese submarine I-19 fired a spread of 6 torpedoes at the ripest of targets. Four hit Wasp, one hit the destroyer USS O’Brien and the final hit North Carolina— surely the most effective torpedo attack in naval history.

Abandoned later that afternoon, Wasp was scuttled by torpedoes from the destroyer USS Lansdowne. Of the 2,162 on board, 176 were killed as a result of the attack.

Now, after 77 years on the bottom, the research vessel RV Petrel has located her sitting upright in 4,345 meters (14,255 feet) of water.

Wasp represented the U.S. Navy at the lowest point after the start of WWII. Her pilots and her aircrew, with their courage and sacrifice, were the ones that held the line against the Japanese when the Japanese had superior fighter aircraft, superior torpedo planes, and better torpedoes,” said Rear Adm. (Ret.) Samuel Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command. “The first year of the war, it was touch and go. Those who served at that time deserve the gratitude of our nation for holding the Japanese back.”

The follow-on 10th USS Wasp, (CV-18), was an Essex-class aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943 and sold for scrap in 1973 after a very busy and successful career. The 11th Wasp, (LHD-1), is the lead ship of her class of very aircraft carrier-like (nearly three times larger in tonnage than CV-7) amphibious assault ships and was launched in 1989.

Ironically, at about the same time Petral discovered Wasp‘s namesake, LHD-1 was working alongside the JMSDF amphibious transport dock ship, JS Kunisaki (LST 4003) in a training exercise off Japan.

USS Wasp (LHD 1), JS Kunisaki (LST 4003) and USS Green Bay (LPD 20) transit in formation in the East China Sea, Jan. 12 (U.S. Navy/MC1 Daniel Barker)

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2019: Putting the Yeoman back into the Einmann-Torpedo

Here at LSOZI, we are going to 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.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, Mar. 13, 2019: Putting the Yeoman back into the Einmann-Torpedo

Photos: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Poland, unless otherwise noted

Here we see one Walther Gerhold, a smiling young sailor just past his 23rd birthday in August 1944. Note his Marine-Schreiber (yeoman) rate, Matrosenobergefreiter rank (roughly equivalent to E4 or Petty Officer Third Class) Zerstörerkriegsabzeichen (Destroyer War Badge issued 24.12.42 along with his original Iron Cross II. Class) and, around his neck, a newly-awarded Knight’s Cross. Our good Schreibobergefreiter had just been decorated for single-handedly depriving the Allies of one, albeit well-used, light cruiser off the Normandy coast, a feat that led to his Ritterkreuz.

This is his ride:

Gerhold joined the Kriegsmarine on 16 October 1940 and served as a yeoman in administrative tasks in various torpedo boat units, seeing a share of hot action on T 111 and T 20 which resulted in an EAK as well as a bonus fractured collarbone that sidelined him to shore duty in late 1943 at the Baltic seacoast base at Heiligenhafen. Ready to get back into something other than pushing paper, in early 1944 he volunteered for a new force then being assembled from across the German Navy, the Kleinkampfverbänden der Kriegsmarine (Small Combat Units of the Navy). The group was to contain some 794 officers and 16,608 NCOs and men, although throughout 1944-45 fewer than 10,000 passed through the ranks of the organization.

With Germany largely out of the large surface combatant business, these men would take a page from the operations of the Italians and Japanese and become combat divers and operate such desperate weapons as midget submarines (Seehund, Hecht, Biber, Molch); motorboats filled with explosives (Linse), and manned torpedoes.

To inspire the troops, a series of Kampfabzeichen der Kleinkampfmittel badges were created in seven different grades and clasps for service in the unit, all featuring a sawfish.

The first such German-produced manned torpedo was inventor Richard Mohr’s’ idea to take a pair of electrically driven G7e torpedoes and make a stand-alone weapon system from them. The 533mm G7e could run at a speed of 30 knots for 7.5kms on its Siemens AEG-AV 76 9 kW DC electric motor and 52-cell battery. By using one “war shot” torp filled with 616-pounds of Schießwolle 36 high explosive, the top-mounted fish of the pair ditched the warhead for a tiny cockpit for a human operator who could squeeze into the body of the 21-inch-wide torpedo.

Our trusty yeoman being unbolted from inside his manned torpedo. Note the Draeger rebreather and the *tight* fit

With the motor of the top “mother” torpedo adjusted to run at a more economical rate, the battery would last long enough to give the contraption a theoretical 40-ish mile range at 3.2- to 4.5-knots.

The device, branded the Neger (partially a racist take on Mohr’s last name and partially because the craft were painted in a matte black finish), the volunteer pilot would be shoehorned into the driver’s seat of his one-man semi-submersible (the vessel would run awash and could not fully submerge on purpose) and a plexiglass dome bolted closed over his head from the outside.

Note the trolly. These could be launched from a dock, a small vessel, or even a beachfront

21-inches wide, 24-feet long, and 5-feet high, you are looking at 2.7-tons of batteries, sheet metal, man and explosives

Effectively trapped inside their bubble with no way to get out, it was estimated that as much as 80 percent of Negerpiloten were lost in missions, mostly due to suffocation. Navigation instruments were nil other than a compass, and the weapon was aimed by lining up a mark on the tip of the craft with the general direction of the target. Due to their low vantage point in the water, operators could typically see less than two miles.

Note the “aiming” post on the front of the short craft

The concept of their use, owing to their low-speed, poor operator visibility and total lack of protection, was that the weapons were to be used in large flotillas– with several dozen common in one mission– and at night, which further reduced the range of the pilot’s Mark I eyeballs. Once lined up on target, a mechanical lever would (hopefully) release the underslung war shot G7e for its moment and book it for home before the sun came up.

In March 1944, the first trial copy of Mohr’s double-torpedo was ready for trials carried out by veteran U-boat ace Oberleutnant Johann Otto Krieg who was not impressed. Nonetheless, the device was put into rapid production and the first combat unit– to be commanded by the unfortunate Krieg– was stood up as K-Flottille 361. Consisting largely of desk types (see Gerhold) and some rear echelon Army troops, 40 volunteer pilots and some 160 support crew were hastily trained.

On the night of 19/20 April, a group of 37 Neger operating from Nettuno on the Italian coast was released to attack Allied ships at the Anzio beachhead.

It was crap.

None of the Negerpiloten in the sortie released his torpedo. Three of the devices were lost. Worse, a fully-intact model washed up to fall into American hands.

Shifting operations to Favrol Woods (west of Honfleur) in Normandy by train just after the D-Day invasion, on the night of 5/6 July a force of 24 Negers sortied out against the Mulberry Harbors defense line. The result was much better than at Anzio.

The 1,400-ton Captain-class frigate HMS Trollope (K575) has hit near Arromanches at about 0130 on 6 July and later written off. Some sources put this on Gerhold while others attribute the attack to a German E-boat. What is known for sure is that about an hour later the manned torpedoes sank the two Catherine/Auk-class minesweepers HMS Magic (J 400) and HMS Cato (J 16), with Cato stricken while responding to Magic‘s distress.

Not to be outdone, on the clear moonlit night of July 7/8, K-Flottille 361 managed to muster 21 Neger boats for a repeat attack. During the action, the Auk-class minesweeper HMS Pylades (J 401) was sunk and 4,300-ton Free Polish cruiser ORP Dragon (D 46)-– formerly the RN’s Danae-class cruiser HMS Dragon, launched in 1917– so extensively damaged that she was written off and used as a breakwater for Mulberry.

HMS DRAGON (British Cruiser, 1917) NH 60926

While Gerhold was given credit for the destruction of Dragon at the time by the Germans, 19-year-old Midshipman Karl-Heinz Potthast, captured in the aftermath of the attack and placed in a British POW camp, has subsequently been credited by most with the damage inflicted to the aging warship.

On the way back to their base, the Negers, running high in the water without their torpedoes, bumped into a group of well-armed and much more maneuverable British Motor Torpedo Boats. In the light of the cloudless full moon, their plastic bubble cockpits glowed like a beacon on the surface of the sea and it was easy pickings. Although the HMC MTB-463 was lost to what was thought to be a mine during the brawl, just nine manned torpedoes made it back to be recovered by Germans.

Gerhold, tossed around by the explosions and in a leaky craft filled with stale air, sea water, oil slick, toxic battery fumes and human waste (there was no head on board, after all), was picked up from the water near Honfleur by ‘Heer soldiers, his device’s power supply exhausted.

Note the rubber outer suit, wool inner suit, headgear and Draeger rebreather. The later Marder type human torpedo allowed the pilot to open his own canopy from inside. How innovative!

There were a few other, less spectacular victories, chalked up to Herr Krieg’s manned torpedo suicide squad:

-Some sources attribute the sinking of the 1,800-ton I-class destroyer HMS Isis (D87) on 20 July off Normandy to K-Flottille 361 torpedoes, although it was more likely to have come from a mine.

-The 1,300-ton Hunt-class destroyer HMS Quorn (L66), sunk 3 August, succumbed to a human torpedo during a combined attack on the lone British tin can by a determined force of E-boats, Linse explosive motorboats, Einmann-torpedoes, and aircraft.

-On the same night, the 7,000-ton British EC2-S-C1 class Liberty ship SS Samlong was hit by a torpedo purposed to have been fired by KF-361 pilot Oberfernschreibmeister (telegraph operator) Herbert Berrer. German records say “Berrer sank on 3.8.44 in the Seine Bay with a one-man torpedo despite strong enemy security a fully loaded 10,000-ton freighter. Already on 20.4.44 Berrer sunk in front of the landing head in Nettuno another enemy ship [which was false].” Samlong was written off as the victim of a mine.

-Further up the coast, off Ostend, the Isles-class armed trawler HMS Colsay (T 384) met with a Neger on 2 November and was sent to the bottom.

For the survivors, in a Germany faced with the prospect of the Allies just months away from Berlin and no news to report, it was decoration time.

Most of the pilots were given the EAK II, while two– “cruiser killer” Gerhold “freighter buster” Berrer– were given Knights’ Crosses in a ceremony attended by none other than K-Verbande commander VADM Hellmuth Heye and Kriegsmarine boss Adm. Karl Dönitz himself in August. Oberleutnant Johann Krieg, 361’s skipper, was also given a Knights Cross.

The presentation of the Knight’s Cross was made by Konteradmiral Hellmuth Heye.

Adm Karl Donitz 7th in the second row and a glum Adm Hellmuth Heye 1st from the left second row, surrounded by German K-fighters. Note Walther Gerhold to Donitz’s left.

The awards were important in the terms of recognition for the downright insane task the manned torpedo pilots accepted.

Less than 600 Ritterkreuz were issued by the Germans in WWII, many posthumously. Only 318 of these went to the Kriegsmarine, almost all successful U-boat/destroyer/S-boat commanders and senior officers killed in battle. In fact, just three enlisted sailors picked up the decoration besides Berrer and Gerhold– Bootsmannsmaat Karl Jörß who commanded a flak team on a bunch of crazy F-lighter ops in the Med in 1943 and had already received two iron crosses, lead machinist Heinrich Praßdorf who saved submarine U-1203, and Oberbootsmannsmaat Rudolf Mühlbauer who did the same on U-123.

As such, the decorations and deeds of K.361 spread wide across what was left of the Reich.

The covers of The Hanburger Illustrierte – 22.Juli 1944 and The Berliner Illustrierte 8.3 1944

In all, just 200~ Negers were made, and most that got operational did so on one-way trips. An advanced version, the upgraded Marder (Marten), capable of diving to 90 feet, was produced to replace the more beta version of a human torpedo that was the Neger, was fielded. Two Marder-equipped K-Verband units in the Med, K-Flottille 363 and 364, tried to give the Allies grief from August- December 1944 but wound up losing almost all their craft with nothing to show for it.

The Marder’s controls were luxurious compared to the Neger. Still, not even enough room for a sandwich and a dual purpose bottle of schnapps. Good thing a few tabs of Pervitin or “Panzerschokolade” doesn’t take up a lot of space!

A Marten. Note how much longer the vessel was than the Neger. An easy way to tell them apart is to remember that the Negers look like two torpedoes sistered together– because they were. Martens had an actual mini-sub carrier, complete with trim and ballast tanks, attached to a torpedo. NH 85993

K-Verbande attacks got even more desperate in the final months of the war, with victories even slimmer. While midget subs like the Molch and Seehund were built in larger numbers, they never had much luck operationally. Overall, it could be argued that the Einmann boots of K.361 were the most effective fielded by the force. Of the five K-fighters who received Knights Crosses, three were part of Kleinkampf-flottille 361.

In the end, these naval commandos and their all-guts David vs Goliath style operations earned the Kriegsmarine, long the redheaded stepchild to the Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht, and Waffen-SS as seen by the Chancellery, a bit of redemption. In one of the final acts of the war, Hitler ordered Donitz to form a bodyguard for him drawn from K-units due to his distrust of the SS Leibstandarte. The company-sized force never made it to the bunker in Berlin as there was no safe place for them to land. They later surrendered with Donitz, who had inherited the role of President of Germany, at the Naval Academy at Mürwik in May.

Post-war, dozens of the German human torpedoes were captured, but few retained.

Marders and Molch onshore at Lynes, Denmark. Via The Illustrated London News of 11 August 1945

One on display at the Verkehrsmuseum in Speyer, Germany.

Further, the craft have been the subject of numerous scale models.

Of the men behind the devices, K.361 commander Johann Krieg was wounded in the last days of the war and captured by the British. He later joined the West German federal navy (Bundesmarine) in 1956 and retired from the Ministry of Defense in 1975 with the rank of Fregattenkapitän. He died in 1999.

Midshipman Karl-Heinz Potthast, the battered young man who is today usually credited with the hit on ORP/HMS Dragon, made numerous connections in England while a POW and returned to his studies in Germany post-war. Later, he became a noted historian and educational theorist, earning the Bundesverdienstkreuz from the Bonn government in 1985 for special achievements in the spiritual field. He died in 2011.

Gerhold, after he picked up his Knights Cross, managed a transfer to Norway and resumed his life as a yeoman with a promotion to Schreibermaat, having had enough of the torpedo biz. He was repatriated home in June 1945 and later, living in Westphalia, became a police officer. He often autographed a number of period “Einmann-Torpedo!” postcards and magazine articles for collectors and was active in veteran’s groups. As for the debate between whether he crippled Dragon or it was the work of Potthast, camps are divided and Gerhold largely took credit for sinking HMS Trollope. He died in 2013.

As far as a legacy, today Germany’s Minensuchgeschwader/Minentaucher, coastal mine warfare units, still carry the swordfish logo of the K-Verbande units. With the thousands of mines still bobbing around in the Baltic and the North Sea, they are very active. Likewise, Draeger-equipped Kampfschwimmer frogmen of the German Navy’s Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM) carry the lineage of the old K-fighters as well—and still get lots of work with mini-subs and the like.

Specs:


Displacement: 2.7-tons FL
Length: 24-feet
Beam: 533mm
Draft: 533mm x 2 plus a bubble
Complement: Einmann
Machinery: AEG-AV 76 Electric motor 9kW, 52-cell battery.
Range: 40~ nm at 4 knots.
Armament: One G7e electric torpedo, aimed via eyeball

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Italians discover long lost cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere

Commissioned 1 January 1931, the Giussano-class light cruiser Giovanni delle Bande Nere (John of the Black Bands) was a sleek warship of the Regia Marina, though not quite up to the same quality as her three sisters.

The 7,000-ton, 555-foot cruiser had a lot of speed– 37 knots– and eight 6-inch guns but had *razor thin* armor (less than an inch at its thickest) as an Achilles heel. To make it worse, the class had virtually no underwater protection at all.

When WWII came, Bande Nere managed to escape serious damage in the Battle of Calabria and follow-up Battle of Cape Spada in 1940 but hit HMAS Sydney in turn, then went on to survive another close call at the Second Battle of Sirte in 1942. As such, she was much luckier than her three sisters– Alberico da Barbiano and Alberto da Giussano, sunk December 1941, by Royal Navy and Dutch destroyers during the Battle of Cape Bon; and Bartolomeo Colleoni, sent to the bottom at Spada.

Her luck ran out on 1 April 1942 when she came across HM Submarine Urge who fired a pair of torpedoes at the Italian cruiser, one of which broke the Bande Nere into two sections, and she sank quickly with the loss of more than half her crew in 1,500m of water some 11 miles from Stromboli. In a cruel bit of karma, Urge, a Britsh U-class submarine was herself lost just three weeks afterward with all hands, most likely near Malta as a result of a mine.

Bande Nere was discovered over the weekend by the now-Marina Militare, and her crown of Savoy clearly seen on a released video.

“Over a seaman’s grave, no flowers grow.”

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