Category Archives: warship wednesday

80 Years Ago: Essex, Arriving

In perhaps the most welcomed addition to any fleet, ever, some 80 years ago today on New Year’s Eve 1942, the U.S. Navy changed the status of USS Essex (CV-9) to “in commission.”

The brand-new USS Essex (CV-9) underway at 1615 hrs. during May 1943, in position 37 05’N, 74 15’E, as photographed from a blimp from squadron ZP-14. Among the aircraft parked on her flight deck are 24 SBD scout bombers (parked aft), about 11 F6F fighters (parked in after part of the midships area) and about 18 TBF/TBM torpedo planes (parked amidships). 80-G-68097

The new 27,000-ton 872-foot fleet carrier, the first of a planned 32-ship class– the numerically largest envisioned in the history of full-sized flattops– had been rushed to be sure. Laid down on 28 April 1941 at Newport News while the country was in a cautious neutrality period in the Second World War, by the time she was commissioned 20 months later the Navy had seen its pre-war carrier force whittled down from seven to just three after the loss of USS Lexington (CV-2), USS Yorktown (CV-5), USS Hornet (CV-8) and USS Wasp (CV-7), sunk in just a five-month period between May and September 1942 in action against the Japanese.

While the Navy had rushed a new class of light carriers from converted cruiser hulls and escort carriers using first fleet oilers then merchant hulls into service and even borrowed the occasional armored-deck flattop from the British, Essex and her sisters were needed for fast fleet operations of the sort the CVLs and CVEs just weren’t suited.

And Essex would be very busy over the next 31 years, fighting in two hot and one cold wars, and undergoing a radical conversion to allow her to operate aircraft of types unimagined in 1942. 

USS Essex (CV 9) during Okinawa operations, 20 May 1945. 80-G-373816

USS Essex (CV 9) underway during her first Korean War deployment, circa August 1951-March 1952. Two F2H-2 Banshees of Fighter Squadron 172 (VF-172) are flying by in the foreground, preparing to land. The nearest plane is Bureau # 124954. The other is probably Bu # 124969. NH 97270

USS Essex takes spray over the bow while steaming in heavy seas, 12 January 1960. Note S2F type airplane at the rear of the flight deck, with its engines turning. Other planes visible, amidships, including AD and F4D types. NH 98517

Before she was stricken from the Navy List in 1973, Essex received the Presidential Unit Citation and 13 battle stars for World War II service then add 4 battle stars and the Navy Unit Commendation for Korean war service, in addition to helping hold the line throughout two decades of the Cold War against the Soviets.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022: Spyron

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

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022: Spyron

Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum Photo.

Above we see the Tambor-class fleet submarine USS Gudgeon (SS-211), her glad rags flying, in the Mare Island Channel after her launching at Mare Island on 25 January 1941. Commissioned just three months later, her peacetime service would soon be over and she would be in the thick of the upcoming war with the Japanese, sinking the first of the Empire’s warships to be claimed by the U.S. Navy. However, the 307-foot boat would also kick off the American equivalent of the Tokyo Express, leaving Freemantle some 80 years ago this week, bound for the Japanese-occupied Philipines with a very important cargo.

As detailed in Edward Dissette’s Guerrilla Submarines:

Two days earlier the sub had taken aboard a ton of special gear for a landing party to be transported under secret orders to Mindanao and Panay, two major islands in the Philipines. All gear, except gasoline in 5-gallon cans, had been stowed under the floor plates in the forward torpedo room. The gasoline was stored in the escape trunk, where it was safely sealed off from the rest of the ship.

The cargo was pecuilar. Besides the obvious radio equipment, small arms, ammo, and medical equipment, there were also supplies of paper matchbooks and bags of wheat flour– the latter to be used to make communion wafers. To this was added three inflatable boats, stowed deflated below deck, and an 18-foot wooden dingy, strapped– to the skipper’s great frustration– to the top of the hull by her aft 3″/50 deck gun.

After an inspection by RADM Charles A. Lockwood (COMSUBSOWESPAC), a group of seven men arrived:

“Filipino mess boys, neatly attired in clean, faded dungarees, white mess jackets, and white hats, filed aboard and saluted smartly. Ashore a kookaburra bird brayed its raucous jackass laugh as if it found seven mess boys boarding a submarine a funny sight, which it would have been under normal circumstances.”

Rather than common Philipino stewards, a familiar sight on the old Asiatic Fleet’s destroyers and cruisers, the seven men were hastily trained commandos returning to their homeland under the command of Maj. Jesús Antonio Villamor, late of the Philippine Army Air Corps and, following his epic escape from the islands after the fall of Manila, now an intelligence officer tasked with contacting the scattered resistance groups in the Philippines and making them a cohesive force that could help retake the islands.

Villamor, 28, was already a bonafide hero, having flown his obsolete P-26 Peashooter against Japanese Zeroes in December 1941, reportedly downing two of the fighters, and making his way to Australia after the Allied collapse. He was decorated by Dugout Dug with the Distinguished Service Cross– right before he donned a mess boy’s uniform and set sail to return back home.

Using Spanish charts last updated in 1829, Gudgeon crept in close enough for Villamor and his commandos to make for shore at Catmon Point on the late night of 14 January 1943, ultimately just taking two rafts and electing to leave behind the dingy and the cranky third raft along with the gear they could not carry.

A second such mission was carried out by sistership USS Tambor (SS 198) on 5 March at Mindanao.

Gudgeon would return in April, landing 6,000 pounds of equipment and a four-man team commanded by 2LT Torribio Crespo, a U.S. Army officer of Philipino descent. The gear and commandos arrived in Panay to support Lt. Col. Peralta’s growing battalion-sized guerilla band.

And so began the long-running submarine resupply effort in the Philipines.

Instead of the airdrops frequently seen in Europe from SOE and OSS, the Navy organized an effort by Tagalog-speaking LCDR Charles “Chick” Parsons, an officer well aware of the PI coastal waters, to supply the insurgents with vital material. Parsons’s “Spy Squadron” of 19 submarines delivered 1,325 tons of supplies in at least 41 missions to the guerrillas between Gudgeon’s initial sortie in December 1942 and when USS Stingray (SS-186) landed 35 tons of supplies off Tongehatan Point on New Years Day 1945, with an emphasis on medicine, weapons, ammunition, and radio gear.

Salmon class subs USS Stingray (SS-186), foreground Operating in formation with other submarines, during Battle Force exercises, circa 1939. The other three submarines are (from left to right): Seal (SS-183); Salmon (SS-182) and Sturgeon (SS-187). Collection of Vice-Admiral George C. Dyer, USN (Retired). NH 77086

The cargo got weirder and weirder, including propaganda items such as cigarettes, chocolates, and gum whose packages were stamped with big “Made in USA” and “I Shall Return” logos, with the concept that they would unnerve the Japanese to find such trash blowing down the streets in front of their barracks.

5-gallon cans of MacArthur swag, ranging from hotel soaps to pencils, matchbooks, and playing cards, all with “I Shall Return” were landed along with the commando training teams

Added to this were clothing and shoes to outfit ragged guerillas. Flashlights, batteries, binoculars, magazines, books, playing cards, typewriter ribbon, sewing needles– just about everything you could think of to win hearts and minds in remote areas under occupations and cut off from consumer goods.

Guerilla Situation Southeast Luzon, as of March 15, 1945, as reported by U.S. Sixth Army. Notes include Philippine-led units and their U.S.-supplied weapons. They detail at least four battalion-sized elements and eight company-sized groups. (“Maj. Barros 400 rifles 30 MGS, Faustino 400 rifles, Sandico 10 rifles 2 mortars 2 bazookas, Monella 80 rifles, Gov Escudero 300 rifles 19 bazookas 10 pistols, et. al”). Note that these are just the ones the HQ was aware of and in contact with, as there were certainly dozens of smaller partisan groups floating around outside of the communication chain.

“Padre kits,” consisting of five-gallon kerosene tins filled with wheat flour and several small bottles of Mass wine with eyedroppers attached– to be delivered to parishes across the islands to help maintain morale– were also smuggled in.

Each bundle had to be sealed in waterproof boxes and cans, no larger than 23 inches at any point so they could fit through the sub’s hatches. Radio kits took up four boxes and included not only the transmitter/receiver but also a 40-foot antenna in sections, batteries, and enough spare parts to keep everything glowing for at least a year.

The Philippine General Radio Net was Developed during the Japanese Occupation, as of 9 October 1944. Most of these radio kits had been brought into the islands via submarines from Australia

They also delivered 331 agents and officers of all sorts– including Parsons who spend most of 1943 in and out of the islands, piecing together the resistance network.

The subs also exfiltrated 472 individuals, including downed aircrews, American civilians trapped in the islands during the 1942 withdrawal, and key personnel. This included at least one German and three Japanese POWs. USS Angler (SS-240), in March 1944, evacuated a record 58 U.S. citizens, including women and children from Panay back to Darwin– talk about cramped for a 311-foot submarine!

While the fleet boats could only carry a few tons of cargo and a 6-7 person team, the two huge V-class cruising subs, USS Nautilus (SS-168) and USS Narwhal (SS-167), stripped to the bone and only armed with the 10 torpedoes in their tubes for self-defense, could carry a whopping 92 tons of cargo and 25 or more men, earning them the nicknames of “Percherons of the deep.” 

To get a feel for how big these subs were, here we see the Nautilus (SS-168) photographed from her sister ship, the Narwhal (SS-167). Photo credit; Navsource.

In all, by the time MacArthur finally “returned” in October 1944, the Philippine insurgency had grown to an estimated 255,000 guerillas in the field, organized in 10 military districts, who controlled 800 of 1,000 municipalities in the country as well as the lion’s share of the countryside. It was an effort every bit as large and complex as that shown by the Partisans in Yugoslavia or the French Resistance.

Shortly after MacArthur started operations in Leyte, the Navy was able to land supplies directly via amphibious assault ships and flying boats while the Army was able to begin airdrops from cargo planes and bombers. 

Nonetheless, it was the submarine delivery service of Chick Parsons and company that got to that point. 

The breakdown of the 41 supply runs by boat:

USS Bowfin (SS-287) (Balao class): 9 runs
USS Narwhal: 9 runs
USS Nautilus: 6 runs
USS Stingray (SS-186) (Salmon class): 5 runs
*USS Trout (SS-202) (Tambor class): 2 runs
USS Redfin (SS-272) (Gato class): 2 runs
USS Gar (SS-206) (Tambor class): 2 runs
USS Gudgeon: 2 runs
*USS Seawolf (SS 197) (Sargo class): 2 runs
One each: USS Angler, USS Crevalle, USS Harder, USS Cero, USS Blackfin, USS Gunnell, USS Hake, USS Ray, USS Grayling, USS Tambor.

These *subs had seen the Philippines in a previous effort, the submerged blockade run into besieged Corregidor between January and May 1942. Carrying 144 tons of antimalarial drugs, small arms and anti-aircraft ammunition, and diesel for the island fortresses generators, they unloaded these under cover of night and then evacuated the Philippines national treasury, 185 key personnel, codes, and vital records that could not fall into Japanese hands– along with 58 torpedos and four tons of submarine spare parts to continue operations from Java and Australia. On both the entry and exit they had to evade destroyer and aerial patrols, weave through minefields and navigate using primitive tools and often inaccurate charts, typically just surfacing at night.

It was hazardous work.

Seawolf did not make her planned 6 October 1944 landing on her second trip under Spyron taskings and was listed overdue as of that date– the only submarine lost during the operations. Likewise, Gudgeon would be lost at sea on or around 18 April 1944 while Trout and Harder would also be lost that year while on patrol. Grayling (SS-209) was lost on patrol off Manila in 1943.

Their names here are inscribed on a memorial at the USS Albacore Museum in New Hampshire. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Epilogue

Today, Bowfin, which conducted no less than nine runs to support the partisan archipelago of the Pacific– tying for first place– is preserved as a museum in Hawaii, and recently just completed a dry dock period to keep her around for future generations.


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


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Swanky Franky Coming Home

In December of 1956, the crew of the Midway-class “Attack Aircraft Carrier”USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) assembled on the ship’s flight deck to send holiday greetings to the world. As noted by the Virginia Pilot archives of this U.S. Navy image, the ship was on the way back from the eastern Atlantic to Norfolk Naval Shipyard following a tense scratch deployment in response to the Suez Crisis.

Originally laid down as the future USS Coral Sea in December 1943, she was renamed in honor of the late FDR in May 1945– first time (but not the last) that the Navy made an exception to the traditional naming of fleet aircraft carriers for battles or famous ships.

Commissioned too late for WWII as CVB-42, the big (968-foot/45,000-ton) carrier lost her very 1945 strait-deck, open bowed appearance via a two-year SCB-110 modernization at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard between 1954 and 56, and emerged at some 51,000-tons standard displacement with the more modern angled deck and hurricane bow that is still distinctive among American flattops today. 

The above image was taken as FDR was rushed from her post-modernization sea trials to complete a surge operation with Carrier Air Group 17 (CVG-17) embarked for Sixth Fleet.

Carrier Air Group 17’s composition during FDR’s Suez Crisis run, via Go Navy

At the time, Roosevelt was arguably the largest and most capable carrier anywhere in the world– sisters USS Midway (CVA-41) would not complete her SCB-110 in Sept. 1957 and USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) wouldn’t complete her SCB-110A mod until 1960; while the two new “supercarriers,” class leader USS Forrestal (CVA-59) and USS Saratoga (CVA-60) were so busy with shakedowns and post-delivery refits they weren’t ready to deploy overseas with air wings for real until 1957. 

Nonetheless, the still-infant Forrestal and the newly rebuilt FDR were called up to bat.

As noted by DANFS:

The U.S. received information on 6 November 1956, that the Soviets intended to deploy six ships from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. Just four minutes before midnight the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered Forrestal (CVA-59), Franklin D. Roosevelt, a cruiser, and three divisions of destroyers to the vicinity of the Azores Islands to reinforce the Sixth Fleet. Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, CNO, in the meanwhile dispatched Coral Sea and Randolph to steam off the Egyptian coast, from where they could support the evacuation of Americans or strike against the Soviets. Submarines deployed to reconnaissance stations, and antisubmarine warfare aircraft and ships patrolled multiple areas across the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The operations by the Sixth Fleet during subsequent weeks included the logistic support of the initial UN peacekeeping forces that arrived in the area on 15 November. Franklin D. Roosevelt returned home from the tense voyage on 9 December 1956, and on the 13th the Sixth Fleet stood down from a 24-hour alert status.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022: A Multinational Effort

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

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022: A Multinational Effort

Photo via the Virginian-Pilot Archives

Above we see the Wickes-class tin can, USS Yarnall (Destroyer No. 143) gently aground in the shallows off Lynnhaven Roads, Virginia on 25 November 1939, while part of FDR’s Neutrality Patrol. Although she was a “war baby,” wholly constructed in 1918, she had joined the fleet too late for the First World War. However, don’t worry, she got in plenty of service under three different Allied flags in the Second.

The Wickes

Yarnall was one of the iconic first flight of “Four Piper” destroyers that were designed in 1915-16 with input from no less an authority as Captain (later Admiral) W.S. Sims. Beamy ships with a flush deck and a quartet of boilers (with a smokestack for each) were coupled to a pair of Parsons geared turbines to provide 35.3 knots designed speed– which is still considered fast today, more than a century later. The teeth of these 314-foot, 1250-ton greyhounds were four 4-inch/50 cal MK 9 guns and a full dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes.

They reportedly had short legs and were very wet, which made long-range operations a problem, but they gave a good account of themselves. Originally a class of 50 was authorized in 1916, but once the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, this was soon increased and increased again to some 111 ships built by 1920.

USS Yarnall (DD-143): Booklet of General Plans – Inboard Profile / Outboard Profile, June 10, 1918, NARA NAID: 158704871

USS Yarnall (DD-143): Booklet of General Plans – Main Deck / 1st Platform Deck / S’ch L’t P’f’m, S’ch L’t Control P’f’m, Fire Control P’f’m Bridge, Galley Top, After Dk. House and 2nd Platform Deck. / June 10, 1918, Hold NARA NAID: 158704873

A close-up of her stern top-down view of plans shows the Wickes class’s primary armament– a dozen torpedo tubes in four turnstiles and stern depth charges.

Meet Yarnall

Our vessel was the first named in honor of naval hero John Joliffe Yarnall. Born in Virginia three years after the end of the Revolutionary War, he was appointed midshipman in the Navy on 11 January 1809. His chief claim to fame was as the first lieutenant on board Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship, USS Lawrence during the decisive Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, where he was grievously wounded. Sailing for the Mediterranean with Stephen Decatur in the frigate USS Guerriere in 1815, Mr. Yarnell was again seriously injured in the fight to capture the Barbary corsair flagship Meshuda. Sent back to the States with dispatches, a copy of the new treaty with the Dey of Algiers, and some captured flags aboard the sloop-of-war USS Epervier— itself captured from the British– Yarnall, Epervier, and the 134 sailors and marines aboard her were never heard from again, vanishing somewhere in the Atlantic in August 1815.

Besides our destroyer, Yarnall, a hero of the Battle of Lake Erie who later disappeared mysteriously at sea, was commemorated at Pennsylvania State University’s Yarnall Hall in 1987.

The first Yarnall (Destroyer No. 143) was laid down on 12 February 1918 at William Cramp & Sons at Philadelphia, launched later that spring, and commissioned on 29 November 1918, CDR William F. Halsey, Jr., in command.

Yup, that Halsey.

As noted in Halsey’s Navy biography:

Dispatched to France in 1919, USS Yarnall would soon be transferred to DesRon 4 in the Pacific Fleet and the Asiatic station where she would serve briefly until laid up on 29 May 1922, as part of the great post-WWI drawdown.

USS Yarnall (Destroyer # 143, later DD-143) steaming in column with other destroyers, circa 1919-1922. NH 41902

During the Pacific Fleet’s passage through the Panama Canal, on 24 July 1919. Those present are: USS Wickes (Destroyer # 75) and USS Yarnall (Destroyer # 143), both at left; USS Philip (Destroyer # 76), USS Buchanan (Destroyer # 131), and USS Elliot (Destroyer # 146), left to right in the center group; USS Boggs (Destroyer # 136), USS Dent (Destroyer # 116) and USS Waters (Destroyer # 115), left to right in the right center group. NH 57141

USS Yarnall (DD-143) passing through Gaillard Cut, Panama Canal, 24 July 1919.

Destroyers refitting at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, circa 1921-22. Many of these ships are being modified to place the after 4″/50 gun atop an enlarged after deckhouse. Ships present include (listed from the foreground): USS Lamberton (DD-119); unidentified destroyer; USS Breese (DD-122); USS Radford (DD-120); unidentified destroyer; USS Elliot (DD-146); USS Tarbell (DD-142); USS Yarnall (DD-143); USS Delphy (DD-261); USS McFarland (DD-237); USS Litchfield (DD-336); USS Kennison (DD-138); USS Lea (DD-118); and two unidentified destroyers. Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN (MC). NHHC Photo.

In the 1931 edition of Jane’s, Yarnall was one of 186 “First Line Destroyers” listed in the same entry under the American Navy, spanning the massive Wickes and Clemson-class “flush-deckers”, “four-stackers” or “four-pipers”

Recommissioned at San Diego on 19 April 1930 after eight years of mothballs, Yarnall would bounce back and forth between the Atlantic and Pacific several times, homeported alternatively at Charleston and San Diego.

USS Yarnell close passing, 1930s

USS Tarbell (DD-142), an outboard ship, and USS Yarnall (DD-143), just inboard of Tarbell with two other destroyers, alongside a tender during the 1930s. Donation of BMGC Ralph E. Turpin, USNRF, 1963. NH 41912

USS Yarnall (DD-143) and USS Tarbell (DD-142) Tied up together alongside a pier, during the 1930s. NH 47195

Officers and crew of USS Yarnall (DD-143), circa 1935-1936. During this period, the ship was commanded by LCDR Frederick Sears Conner then LCDR George William Johnson, with at least one of these likely in the photo. CPO Allen L. Eads Collection, with Eads likely in the photo. NHHC S-551

On 30 December 1936, Yarnall was again placed out of commission for a second time and joined the reserve fleet at Philadelphia.

Then came war

Recommissioned at Philadelphia on 4 October 1939– a month after Hitler crossed into Poland– the aging greyhound joined the Atlantic Fleet’s DesRon 11 and would operate out of Norfolk on the Neutrality Patrol for a year. By that time, Britain was holding its own against the Germans and Italians alone and in desperate need of every sort of war material– especially naval escorts to safeguard vital convoys against the U-boat menace.

Trading Ensigns

With Europe again at war, on 2 September 1940, FDR signed the so-called Destroyers for Bases Agreement that saw a mix of 50 (mostly mothballed) Caldwell (3), Wickes (27), and Clemson (20)-class destroyers transferred to the Royal Navy in exchange for limited basing rights on nine British overseas possessions.

Transfer of U.S. destroyers to the Royal Navy in Halifax, Sept 1940. Wickes-class destroyers USS Buchanan (DD-131), USS Crowninshield (DD-134), and USS Abel P. Upshur (DD-193) in the background. The sailors are examining a 4-inch /50 deck gun. Twenty-three Wickes-class destroyers were transferred to the RN, along with four to the RCN, in 1940 under the Destroyers for Bases Agreement. (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3199286)

For Yarnell, this meant she would be decommissioned at St. John’s, Newfoundland on 23 October 1940, then taken into service with the Royal Navy as HMS Lincoln (G42) on the same day in a warm transfer.

HMS Lincoln G42 in Arctic convoy duty

Dubbed the “Town class” by the Admiralty even though the 50 vessels spanned three distinct classes, ex-Yarnall had been renamed in honor of the county town of Lincolnshire, England, the second such vessel to carry that name for the Royal Navy, previously only used on a 50-gun fourth rate launched in 1695.

Shipped to Plymouth in November for modifications at HM Devonport to operate with the Brits and to pick up a mostly Australian crew, Lincoln/Yarnall was nominated for service with the 1st Escort Group for convoy defense in Western Approaches, with her first mission involving the hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer after the attack on convoy HX 84. Over the next nine months, she would participate in no less than 20 convoys.

It was in April 1941 that Lincoln came to the rescue of a converted 15,000-ton passenger steamer, turned auxiliary cruiser, filled with more than 400 souls. The former P. & O. liner Comorin (Capt. John Ignatius Hallett, DSO, RN (retired)) caught fire in heavy weather in the North Atlantic and had to be abandoned. Closing in with two other tin cans, Lincoln helped pull off her passengers and crew, then stood by to sink the blazing steamer with her 4-inch guns.

6 April 1941. HMS Comorin (F49) on fire viewed from the British Destroyer HMS Lincoln. Originally a passenger ship of the P&O Steam Navigation Co Ltd, the Comorin was requisitioned by the Admiralty in September 1939 and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. The vessel was part of the Freetown Escort Force when she caught fire in the North Atlantic. The fire could not be controlled, and survivors were taken off by HMS Glenartney, HMS Lincoln, and HMS Broke. The wreck was shelled and sunk the next day by the Lincoln. Photo by Ordinary Seaman (OS) Raymond Frank Spratt. AWM P06165.019

6 April 1941. Survivors from HM Comorin pull alongside the British Destroyer HMS Lincoln. Photo by Ordinary Seaman (OS) Raymond Frank Spratt. AWM P06165.020

6 April 1941. Lincoln getting close enough to throw a line to the blazing auxiliary cruiser HM Comorin to take aboard survivors. Note one of Comorin’s seven BL 6-inch Mark VII guns, forward. Photo by Ordinary Seaman (OS) Raymond Frank Spratt. AWM P06165.018

Skol!

Under refit in January-February 1942, it was decided to transfer Lincoln on loan to the “Free Norwegian” Navy forces in exile.

The Scandinavian neutral had managed to sit precariously on the fence in the Great War and indeed was a peaceful country that had last seen the elephant during the Napoleonic Wars, skirmishing at first with the British and then the Swedes for independence. With some 130 years of peace behind it, the Norwegian Navy in April 1940 was again an armed neutral, ready to take on all comers to preserve the homeland. Then came the invasion.

German cruiser Blücher in Drøbak Sound, April 1940 outside of the Norwegian capital Oslo

Two months of tough resistance against German invaders while reluctantly accepting Allied intervention left the Norwegian Navy covered in glory (such as when the tiny 200-ton gunboat KNM Pol III stood alone– briefly– against the mighty heavy cruiser Blücher, the heavy cruiser Lützow, the light cruiser Emden, three torpedo boats and eight minesweepers carrying 2,000 troops to Oslo, or when the ancient and nearly condemned coastal monitors KNM Eidsvold and Norge attempted to stop the Germans at Narvik), but was largely left sunk at the bottom of the fjords they defended.

When the endgame came, a dozen or so small ships and 500 officers and men made it to British waters to carry on the war. These included such Edwardian relics as the destroyer Draug (commissioned in 1908!) and the newer Sleipner, as well as fishery patrol ships such as the Nordkapp, which all soon got to work for the Allies, guarding sea lanes, escorting convoys and protecting the UK and Allied-occupied Iceland from potential Axis invasion.

The mighty KNM Draug, with lines that look right out of the Spanish-American War. MMU.945456

With the small core of exiled prewar Norwegian sailors, an influx of Norwegians living abroad, and transfers from the country’s huge merchant fleet, the exiled Free Norwegian Navy was able to rebuild abroad.

“Norway Fights On” USA, 1942

Soon, the old Draug was in full-time use as a training and support vessel while small trawlers and whalers provided yeoman service as the “Shetland Bus” regularly shuttling spies, SOE operatives, and Norwegian resistance agents into occupied Scandinavia and downed Allied aircrew out throughout some 200 trips.

As these operations expanded, the Brits began transferring surplus (five ex-Wickes-class tin cans) and then new-built naval vessels (Flower and Castle-class corvettes, motor torpedo boats, Hunt-class destroyer escorts, and later two S-class destroyers) to the growing Norwegian fleet to perform convoy escort missions.

That’s where Yarnall/Lincoln comes in.

Jaegern Lincoln, Town Klassen, via Forsvarets museer. Note Norwegian pennant

Jaegern Lincoln, Town Klassen, stern 4 inch gun via Forsvarets museer MMU.942842

Jaegeren Lincoln, Town Klassen via Forsvarets museer. Note embarked British admiral flag

With her new Norwegian crew aboard, but under the same British-assigned name and pennant number albeit with a Norwegian royal prefix, the destroyer HNorMS Lincoln (jageren in Norwegian parlance) was nominated for convoy defense in the eastern Atlantic under Royal Canadian Navy control and would set out for Halifax to join the Western Local Escort Force.

Over the next two years, the American-built destroyer, with her Norwegian exile crew, as part of the British fleet under Canadian control, would take part in no less than 58 convoys.

“Free Norwegian” destroyer HNorMS Lincoln (G42), underway off Charleston, South Carolina flying the Norwegian ensign, circa March 1942-Dec 1943. IWM FL 3271

A further refit in Charleston in July 1943– one of her old homeports during her USN years– Lincoln would pick up a new-fangled Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar and an improved radar outfit.

Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum have the collection of the old Charleston Naval Shipyard in their archives and they have several “finished” photos, dated 20 March 1943, of HMS/HNorMS Lincoln (USS Yarnall).

Going East

Arriving back at Portsmouth in December 1943, it was decided that the old girl was too worn out even for the Norwegian exiles– who were receiving new British-built S-class destroyers just in time for D-Day— and Lincoln was placed in reserve in the Tyne River and later nominated for transfer to the Soviets, who would take anything they could get. Thus, she became Druzhnyy (“Friendly”) in the Red Banner Fleet, turned over on 26 August 1944 after her new Soviet crew had arrived aboard the laid-up vessel the month prior.

Эскадренный миноносец Дружный (019) in Soviet service

She was joined in this 1944 transfer by four other bases-for-destroyers Wickes-class sisterships: USS Fairfax (HMS Richmond, later Soviet Zhivuchiy: “Tenacious”), USS Twiggs (HMS Leamington, later Soviet Zhguchiy: “Firebrand”), USS Maddox (HMS/HMCS Georgetown, later Soviet Zhyostky: “Rigid”), and USS Crowninshield (HMS Chelsea, later Soviet Derzkiy: “Ardent”) in addition to at least four Clemson class vessels.

Druzhnyy was scheduled for passage to Kola Inlet as part of outbound Russia Convoy JW60 in September 1944 and arrived at her new home on the 23rd. She would end her wartime service by patrolling the Arctic, Barents, and the White Sea.

This meant that Yarnall was one of the final Wickes-class destroyers still in active service, only repatriated to Rosyth and returned to Royal Navy control on 24 August 1952. She was then placed on the Disposal List, and within a month had been towed to Inverkeithing for scrapping.

In all, Yarnall would see some 12 commanders running from Halsey to LCDR John Greeley Winn including future RADM Thomas Ross Cooley– a surface warrior who would head Battleship Division 6 during Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Her HMS Lincoln days would add two Brits, CDR Alan MacGregor Sheffield, and LT Ronald John Hanson, while HNorMS Lincoln would see three Norwegians: Kapt. Aimar Sørensen, Ltn. Helge Øi, and Kapt.ltn. Chr. Monsen, giving her a total of 17 skippers– not counting the Russians!

Of note, Sørensen would go on to do big things with the Cold War NATO Norwegian Navy, retiring as a Viseadmiral in a CNO role in 1967.

Epilogue

Today no Wickes-class tin cans survive. The last one afloat, USS Maddox (DD–168), was scrapped in late 1952 after serving in the US, then RN, then Canadian, then Soviet navies.

However, one of the class, USS Walker (DD-163), has been given new life in the excellent alternate history series Destroyermen written by Taylor Anderson.

Yarnall’s original 1918 plans booklet, printed on linen, is preserved in the National Archives. Odds are, Halsey spent time pouring over them during the vessel’s outfitting.

Yarnall’s name was carried by a second U.S. Navy warship, a Fletcher-class destroyer, DD-541. Laid down some 80 years ago this month at Bethlehem Steel’s San Francisco yard, she was commissioned on 30 December 1943 and was soon off to fight the Empire of Japan. Between then and 1958 when she was laid up, Yarnall (DD-541) earned seven battle stars for her World War II service and two battle stars for her service during the Korean War.

USS Yarnall (DD-541) hauls away to starboard after “topping off” from the oiler USS Manatee (AO-58), during replenishment operations off Korea, circa August 1951. USS Leonard F. Mason (DD-852) is approaching from the astern to fill her bunkers next. The Essex-class carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31), her deck filled with dark blue F4U Corsairs, is refueling on the oiler’s opposite side. NH 97348.

Loaned to the Republic of China in 1968 and eventually transferred, the latter Yarnall continued to serve the Taiwanese Navy until at least 1999, one of the last Fletchers still in service anywhere in the world.

The more things change, right?

Specs

Displacement:
1,710 long tons (1,740 t) (standard)
2,530 long tons (2,570 t) (deep load)
Length: 362 ft 9 in (o/a)
Beam: 35 ft 9 in
Draught: 14 ft 6 in (deep)
Installed power:
40,000 shp (30,000 kW)
2 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers
Propulsion: 2 × shafts; 2 × Parsons geared steam turbines
Speed: 36 knots
Range: 4,675 nmi at 20 knots
Sensors: (Royal Navy WWII fit)
Radar Type 290 air warning
Radar Type 285 ranging & bearing
Armament:
(1918)

(1940)
4 × single 4.7-inch (120 mm) Mark XII dual-purpose guns
1 × twin Bofors 40 mm AA guns
4 × twin QF 20 mm Oerlikon AA guns
2 × quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes
4 × throwers and 2 × racks for 70 depth charges


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


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Maritime Mystery: Death of a Wooden Shoe

Some 80 years ago today, a warship and her entire crew vanished from the waves and not a single confirmed piece of her has ever been seen since.

Constructed in 1941 at Snow Shipyards in Rockland, Maine, the 225-ton, 116-foot wooden-hulled longline trawler F/V Belmont was acquired for $2,122 on 19 June 1942 by the U.S. Coast Guard for use on the newly-formed Greenland Patrol, watching over the Danish possession and fighting the “Weather War,” keeping German radio and meteorological stations out of the frozen land.

Commissioned as USCGC Natsek (WYP-170), named in honor of a geographical feature on Greenland, her armament was slight– an old 6-pounder 57mm gun taken from prewar cutter stocks that was deemed still deadly enough to haul over German weather trawlers in spotted, two 20mm Oerlikons should she encounter a German Condor patrol plane, and two short depth charge racks should she see a U-boat.

Assigned to CINCLANT control out of Boston with the rest of the Greenland Patrol, Natsek could make a stately 11 knots and cruise at 9.5. Her and her Snow-built half-sisters USCGC Nanok (ex-F/V St. George) and USCGC Nogak (ex-F/V North Star), earned the nickname of “wooden shoes” as they looked, well, like large wooden shoes and had about the same characteristics.

Other vessels of the Greenland Patrol converted at the time included seven larger and sturdier steel-hulled trawlers (F/V Helka, Lark, Weymouth, Atlantic, Arlington, Winchester, and Triton) that likewise received similar armament and Greenland geographical monikers but starting with an “A” to set them apart as a class (USCGC Alatok, Amarok, Aklak, Arluk, Aivik, Atak, and Arvek, respectively).

Besides keeping the Germans out of Greenland, the Patrol’s primary task was to establish and supply a series of 14 “Bluie” met and HF/DF stations around the coastline. Airfields would soon be added to these isolated stations to allow them to serve as way stations for the North Atlantic ferry route, running planes from bases in Labrador to Scotland with stops in Greenland and Iceland. 

The fact that these converted trawlers could carry 90 tons of cargo below decks and draw but 11 feet of seawater when doing so helped greatly. While it would seem folly to us today to task 10 small vessels (the largest of these, Winchester/Aivik, was only 590 tons and 128 feet overall) with such a mission, keep in mind that the locations chosen for the Bluie stations were often only reachable by snaking through dense fields of icebergs and narrow fjords, so chosen to remain hidden from German surface raiders.

Natsek’s first patrol, began just ten days after she was commissioned, with newly-minted Lt. (jg) Thomas La Farge, USCGR, skipper. La Farge, who had no prior military experience, received his temporary commission as he was “a yachtsman and lover of ships” and noteworthy as a grandson of the late, great, muralist, John La Farge.

She set sail for Greenland waters in company with the minesweeper USS Bluebird (AM-72), and fellow USCG-manned armed trawlers Atak and Aivik, as part of CTG 24.8 on 29 June. Arriving at Bluie West #1 (Narsarssuak) on 20 July, Natsek plied Greenland waters, supplying Bluie stations through the month of August. Beginning on 28 September, she set sail from Narsarssuak to transport supplies, equipment, and personnel to Skoldungen to establish and build a weather station. She arrived there on 12 October. She continued on to help establish another weather station, this time at Torgilsbu and later that month another one at Skjoldungen.

On 9 November she was ordered to assist in looking for a downed plane along the southeast coast of Greenland.

On 15 November she then received orders to escort the Army cargo ship Belle Isle to Torgilsbu from Skjoldungen. She accomplished the escort without incident and arrived at Torgilsbu on 16 November. She departed Torgilsbu on 23 November and arrived at Narsarssuak on 30 November.

On 14 December 1942 Natsek departed Narsarssuak in a convoy with Bluebird and fellow “wooden shoe” USCGC Nanok, to return to Boston via Belle Isle Strait.

Natsek never arrived.

In January, the Navy made it official after she was several weeks overdue.

From the 1/24/43 issue of the NYT:

The detailed story of her disappearance, via the 1947 report, “The Coast Guard at War: Lost Cutters”

Click to make bigger

This, from “Death of a Wooden Shoe :A Sailor’s Diary of Life and Death on the Greenland Patrol, 1942” by Thaddeus D. Nowakowski, a journal kept by a Coast Guardsman during his six crucial months as a seaman on board Natsek’s sister, USCGC Nanok, and digitized by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office in 1994:

Besides LaFarge, Natsek vanished with a crew of 23 including 10 Coast Guard regulars (counting both her chiefs) a Navy radioman, and 12 wartime-era recruits. Considered lost at sea, their names are inscribed on the World War II East Coast Memorial in Manhattan’s Battery Park as well as a marker at Arlington that notes of the Natsek:

The entire crew of 23 men and one commissioned officer are considered to have met death in the line of duty on or after 17 December 1942, as a result of drowning.”

Natsek at the time was the fourth Coast Guard ship to be lost in WWII and 107th American vessel overall. Ultimately, the USCG would lose no less than 40 vessels in the conflict.

As for the Weather War, the Allies won and today, Bluie West Six is Thule Air Base, still an important enough asset that the Pentagon on Friday awarded a $4 billion civil engineering and maintenance contract to a local firm in Greenland, Inuksuk A/S, running through 2034.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022: Getting it Coming & Going

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

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022: Getting it Coming & Going

Imperial War Museum Photo A 13759

Above we see the Royal Navy’s Dido-class light cruiser HMS Argonaut (61), pictured 80 years ago this week at Algiers after losing both her bow and stern to two very well-placed Italian torpedoes with roughly a 400-foot spread between them. A new wartime-production ship only four months in the fleet, she would soon be patched up and back in the thick of it, lending her guns to fight the Axis on both sides of the globe.

The Didos

The Didos were very light cruisers indeed, designed in 1936 to weigh just 5,600 tons standard displacement, although this would later swell during wartime service to nearly 8,000. Some 512 feet long, they were smaller than a modern destroyer but, on a powerplant of four Admiralty 3-drum boilers and four Parsons steam turbines, each with their own dedicated shaft, they could break 32.5 knots on 62,000 shp.

They were intended to be armed with 10 5.25″/50 (13.4 cm) QF Mark II DP guns in five twin mounts, three forward and two over the stern, although most of the class failed to carry this layout due to a variety of reasons.

Gunnery booklet laying out the general plan of a Dido-class cruiser

The Dido class had provision for up to 360 rounds for “A”, “B” and “Q” turrets, 320 rounds for the “X” turret and 300 rounds for the “Y” turret and a properly trained crew could rattle them off at 7-8 shots per minute per gun out to a range of 23,400 yards or a ceiling of 46,500 feet when used in the AAA role.

Argonaut showing off her forward 5.25-inch mounts at maximum elevation

The fact that one of these cruisers could burp 70-80 shells within a 60-second mad minute gave them a lot of potential if used properly. However, this didn’t play out in reality, at least when it came to swatting incoming aircraft.

As noted by Richard Worth in his Fleets of World War II, “Often referred to as AA cruisers, the 16 Dido-type ships shot down a grand total of 15 enemy planes. The entirety of British cruiser-dom accounted for only 97 planes, while enemy planes accounted for 11 British cruisers.”

Meet Argonaut

While all the Didos followed the very British practice of using names borrowed from classical history and legend (Charybdis, Scylla, Naiad, et.al) our cruiser was the third HMS Argonaut, following in the footsteps of a Napoleonic War-era 64-gun third-rate and an Edwardian-era Diadem-class armored cruiser.

Diadem-class armored cruiser HMS Argonaut. Obsolete by the time of the Great War, she spent most of it in auxiliary roles

One of three Didos constructed at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, the new Argonaut was ordered under the 1939 War Emergency Program for £1,480,000 and laid down on 21 November 1939, during the “Phony War” in which Britain and France stood on a cautious Western front against Germany. Launched in September 1941– by which time Italy had joined the war, the Lowlands, Balkans, and most of Scandinavia had fallen to the Axis, and the Soviets were hanging by a thread– Argonaut commissioned 8 August 1942, by which time the Americans and Japan had joined a greatly expanded global conflict.

Argonaut was later “paid for” via a subscription drive from the City of Coventry to replace the old C-class light cruiser HMS Coventry (D43) which had been so heavily damaged in the Med by German Junkers Ju 88s during Operation Agreement that she was scuttled.

“HMS Argonaut Fights Back for the City of Coventry. To Replace HMS Coventry, sunk in 1942, the City of Coventry Has Paid for the Dido Class 5450 Ton Cruiser HMS Argonaut, She Has a Speed of 33 Knots, Carries Ten 5.25 Inch Guns and Six Torpedo Tubes.” IWM A 14299.

Her first skipper, who arrived aboard on 21 April 1942, was Capt. Eric Longley-Cook, 41, who saw action in the Great War on the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, was a gunnery officer on HMS Hood in the 1930s and began the war as commanding officer of the cruiser HMS Caradoc.

The brand new HMS Argonaut, steaming at high speed during her shakedowns, 1 Aug 1942, her guns at or near maximum elevation

The brand new HMS Argonaut, steaming at high speed during her shakedowns, 1 Aug 1942, her guns at or near maximum elevation

Off to war with you, lad

Just off her shakedown, Argonaut sailed with the destroyers HMS Intrepid and Obdurate for points north on 13 October, dropping off Free Norwegian troops and several 3.7-inch in the frozen wastes of Spitzbergen then delivering an RAF medical unit in Murmansk.

On her return trip, she carried the men from the Operation Orator force of Hampden TB.1 torpedo bombers from No. 144 Squadron RAF and No. 455 Squadron RAAF back to the UK following the end of their mission to Russia.

Argonaut then joined Force H for Operation Torch, the Allied landings in Vichy French-controlled North Africa.

Operation Torch: British light cruiser HMS Argonaut approaching Gibraltar; “The Rock”, during the transport of men to the North African coast, November 1942. IWM A 12795.

Battleships HMS Duke of York, HMS Nelson, HMS Renown, aircraft carrier HMS Formidable, and cruiser HMS Argonaut in line ahead, ships of Force H during the occupation of French North Africa. Priest, L C (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer. IWM A 12958

Following the Torch landings, Argonaut was carved off to join four of her sisters at Bone– HMS Aurora, Charybdis, Scylla, and Sirius— and several destroyers as Force Q, which was tasked with ambushing Axis convoys in the Gulf of Tunis.

Argonaut at Bone, late November-early December 1942. Now Annaba Algeria

The first of Force Q’s efforts led to what is known in the West as the Battle of Skerki Bank when, during the pre-dawn hours of 2 December, the much stronger British cruiser-destroyer force duked it out with an Italian convoy of four troopships screened by three destroyers and two torpedo boats.

When the smoke cleared, all four of the troopships (totaling 7,800 tons and loaded with vital supplies and 1,700 troops for Rommel) were on the bottom of the Med. Also deep-sixed was the Italian destroyer Folgore, holed by nine shells from Argonaut.

The Italian cacciatorpediniere RCT Folgore (Eng= Thunderbolt). She was lost in a lop-sided battle off Skerki Bank, with 126 casualties.

The next time Force Q ventured out would end much differently.

Make up your mind

On 14 December 1942, the Italian Marcello-class ocean-going submarine Mocenigo (T.V. Alberto Longhi) encountered one of Force Q’s sweeps and got in a very successful attack.

As detailed by Uboat.net:

At 0556 hours, Mocenigo was on the surface when she sighted four enemy warships in two columns, proceeding on an SSW course at 18 knots at a distance of 2,000 meters. At 0558 hours, four torpedoes (G7e) were fired from the bow tubes at 2-second intervals from a distance of 800 meters, at what appeared to be a TRIBAL class destroyer. The submarine dived upon firing and heard two hits after 59 and 62 seconds. 

According to Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Francis Henely, the following exchange took place.

The forward lookout reported: “Ship torpedoed forward. Sir.”

At the same time, the aft lookout reported: “Ship torpedoed aft. Sir.”

To these reports Capt. Longley-Cook replied: “When you two chaps have made up your minds which end has been torpedoed, let me know.”

The torpedoes hit the cruiser’s bow and stern sections nearly simultaneously, killing an officer and two ratings, leaving the ship dead in the water and her after two turrets unusable. HMS Quality remained beside her throughout and HMS Eskimo— who had chased away Mocenigo— rejoined them just before daylight.

After shoring up the open compartments, Argonaut was amazingly able to get underway at 8 knots, heading slowly for Algiers which the force reached at 1700 hours on the 15th.

IWM captions for the below series: “British cruiser which lived to fight again. 14 to 19 December 1942, at sea and at Algiers, the British cruiser HMS Argonaut after she had been torpedoed in the Mediterranean. Despite heavy damage, she got home.”

IWM A 13756

A 13758

IWM A 13754

As for Mocenigo, seen here in the Azores in June 1941, she was lost to a USAAF air raid while tied up at Cagliari, Sardinia, on 13 May 1943.

Patch it up, and go again

After two weeks at Algiers conducting emergency repairs, Argonaut shipped out for HM Dockyard at Gibraltar for more extensive work than what could be offered by the French.

Ultimately, with nearly one-third of the ship needing replacement, it was decided to have the work done in the U.S. where more capacity existed and on 5 April 1943, the cruiser left for Philadelphia by way of Bermuda, escorted by the destroyer HMS Hero— which had to halt at the Azores with engine problems, leaving the shattered Argonaut to limp across the Atlantic for four days unescorted during the height of the U-boat offensive. Met off Bermuda by the destroyer USS Butler and the minesweepers USS Tumult and USS Pioneer, she ultimately reached the City of Brotherly Love on 27 April.

There, she would spend five months in the Naval Yard– the Australian War Memorial has several additional images of this-– and a further two months in post-refit trials.

HMS Argonaut, Philadelphia Navy Yard

HMS Argonaut, Philadelphia Navy Yard

One of the turrets with 5.25-inch guns of Dido-class light cruiser HMS ARGONAUT damaged by an Italian submarine 1942 Philadelphia Navy Yard – USA

Post rebuild HMS Argonaut, 5.25-inch guns pointing towards the camera, 11 February 1943

HMS Argonaut in her War Colors, circa 1943 just after repairs at Philadelphia.

HMS Argonaut at Philadelphia, 4 November 1943 BuShips photo 195343

Arriving back in the Tyne in December 1942, she would undergo a further three-month conversion and modification to fulfill an Escort Flagship role. This refit eliminated her “Q” 5.25-inch mount (her tallest) to cut down topside weight, added aircraft control equipment/IFF, and Types 293 (surface warning) and 277 (height finding) radar sets in addition to fire control radars for her increased AAA suite.

Fresh from her post-refit trails and essentially a new cruiser (again), Argonaut joined the 10th Cruiser Squadron of the Home Fleet in preparation for “the big show.”

Back in the Fight

Part of RADM Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton’s Bombarding Force K for Operation Neptune, Argonaut would fall in with the fellow British cruisers HMS Orion, Ajax, and Emerald, who, along with the eight Allied destroyers and gunboats (to include the Dutch Hr.Ms. Flores and Polish ORP Krakowiak), was tasked with opening the beaches for the Normandy Assault Force “G” (Gold Beach) on D-Day, the latter consisting of three dozen assorted landing craft of all sorts carrying troops of the British XXX Corps.

Capt. Longley-Cook, rejoining his command after a stint as Captain of the Fleet for the Mediterranean Fleet, instructed his crew that he fully intended to drive Argonaut ashore if she was seriously hit, beach the then nearly 7,000-ton cruiser, and keep fighting her until she ran out of shells.

Light cruiser HMS Argonaut in late 1944. Note her “Q” turret is gone and she is sporting multiple new radars

In all, Argonaut fired 394 5.25-inch shells on D-Day itself, tasked with reducing the German gun batteries at Vaux-sur-Aure, and by the end of July, would run through 4,395 shells in total, earning praise from Gen. Miles Dempsey for her accurate naval gunfire in support of operations around Caen.

It was during this period that she received a hit from a German 150mm battery, which landed on her quarterdeck off Caen on 26 June but failed to explode.

She fired so many shells in June and July that she had to pause midway through and run to Devonport to get her gun barrels– which had just been refurbed in Philadelphia– relined again.

Then came the Dragoon Landings in the South of France, sending Argonaut back to the Med, this time to the French Rivera.

Dido class cruiser HMS Argonaut in Malta, 1944. She has had her ‘Q’ turret removed to reduce top weight

Across 22 fire missions conducted in the three days (8/15-17/44) Argonaut was under U.S. Navy control for Dragoon, she let fly 831 rounds of 80-pound HE and SAP shells at ranges between 3,200 and 21,500 yards. Targets included three emplaced German 155s, armored casemates on the Île Saint-Honorat off Canne, along with infantry and vehicles in the field, with spotting done by aircraft.

She also scattered a flotilla of enemy motor torpedo boats hiding near the coast. All this while dodging repeated potshots from German coastal batteries, which, Longley-Cook dryly noted, “At 1100 I proceeded to the entrance of the Golfe de la Napoule to discover if the enemy guns were still active. They were.”

Argonaut’s skipper, Longley-Cook, observed in his 15-page report to the U.S. Navy, signed off by noting, “The operation was brilliantly successful, but it was a great disappointment that HMS Argonaut was released so soon. My short period of service with the United States Navy was a pleasant, satisfactory, and inspiring experience.”

CruDiv7 commander, RADM Morton Lyndholm Deyo, USN, stated in an addendum to the report that “HMS Argonaut was smartly handled and her fire was effective. She is an excellent ship.”

September saw Argonaut transferred to the British Aegean Force to support Allied forces liberating Greece. There, on 16 October, she caught, engaged, and sank two German-manned caiques who were trying to evacuate Axis troops.

HMS Argonaut leaving Poros in October 1944, participating in the landing of British troops for the liberation of Greece.

Headed to the East

Swapping out the unsinkable Longley-Cook for Capt. William Patrick McCarthy, RN, Argonaut sailed from Alexandria for Trincomalee in late November 1944 to join the massive new British Pacific Fleet.

Assigned to Force 67, a fast-moving carrier strike group built around HMS Indomitable and HMS Illustrious, by mid-December she was providing screening and cover for air attacks against Sumatra in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies (Operation Roberson) followed by a sequel attack on oil refineries at Pangkalan after the New Year (Operation Lentil) and, with TF 63, hitting other oil facilities in the Palembang area of Southeast Sumatra at the end of January 1945 in Operation Meridian.

Argonaut in Sydney, 1945

Making way to Ulithi in March, Argonaut was part of the top-notch British Task Force 57, likely the strongest Royal Navy assemblage of the war, and, integrated with the U.S. 5th Fleet, would take part in the invasion of Okinawa (Operation Iceberg). There, she would serve as a picket ship and screen, enduring the Divine Wind of the kamikaze.

When news of the emperor’s capitulation came in August, Argonaut was in Japanese home waters, still covering her carriers. She then transitioned to British Task Unit 111.3, a force designated to collect Allied POWs from camps on Formosa and the Chinese mainland.

HMS Argonaut in Kiirun (now Keelung) harbor in northern Taiwan, preparing to take on former American prisoners of war, 6 Sep 1945

War artist James Morris— who began the conflict as a Royal Navy signaler and then by 1945 was a full-time member of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee attached to the British Pacific Fleet– sailed aboard Argonaut during this end-of-war mop-up period, entering Formosa and Shanghai on the vessel, the latter on the occasion of the first British warship to sail into the Chinese harbor since 1941.

“HMS Argonaut: Ratings cleaning torpedo tubes.” Ink and paper drawing by James Morris. IWM Art collection LD 5533 http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/19678

“Formosa, 6th September 1945, HMS Argonaut preceded by HMS Belfast entering the mined approach to Kiirung.” A view from the bridge of HMS Argonaut showing sailors on the deck below and HMS Belfast sailing up ahead near the coastline. A Japanese pilot launch is rocking in the swell at the side of the ship. In the distance, there are several American aircraft carriers at anchor. Watercolor by James Morris. IWM Art collection LD 5535 http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/19680

“HMS Argonaut, the first British ship to enter Shanghai after the Japanese surrender, September 1945.” A scene from the deck of HMS Argonaut as she sails into Shanghai harbor. A ship’s company stands to attention along the rail and behind them, the ship’s band plays. The towering buildings along the dockside of Shanghai stand to the right of the composition. Below the ship, Chinese civilians wave flags from a convoy of sampans. Ink and paper drawing by James Morris. IWM Art collection LD 5531 http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/19676

Based in Hong Kong for the rest of 1945, Argonaut returned to Portsmouth in 1946 and was promptly reduced to Reserve status.

HMS Argonaut homeward bound with her paying off pennant in 1946

She was laid up in reserve for nearly ten years, before being sent to the breakers in 1955.

She earned six battle honors: Arctic 1942, North Africa 1942, Mediterranean 1942, Normandy 1944, Aegean 1944, and Okinawa 1945.

Jane’s 1946 entry for the Dido class. Note, the publication separated the ships of the Bellona sub-class into a separate listing as they carried eight 4.5-inch guns rather than the 8-to-10 5.5s of the class standard.

Epilogue

Few relics of Argonaut remain, most notable of which is her 1943-44 builder’s model, preserved at Greenwich. 

As for Argonaut’s inaugural skipper and the man who brought her through sinking the Folgore, almost being sunk by an Italian submarine in return, D-Day, Dragoon, and the Aegean, VADM Eric William Longley-Cook, CB, CBE, DSO, would retire as Director of Naval Intelligence in 1951, capping a 37-year career.

Longley-Cook passed in 1983, just short of his 84th birthday.

Of note, Tenente di Vascello Alberto Longhi, skipper of the Italian boat that torpedoed Argonaut, survived the war– spending the last two years of it in a German stalag after refusing to join the Navy of the RSI, the fascist Italian puppet state set up after Italy dropped out of the Axis. He would outlive Longley-Cook and pass in 1988, aged 74.

Of Argonaut’s sisters, six of the 16 Didos never made it to see peacetime service: HMS Bonaventure (31) was sunk by the Italian submarine Ambra off Crete in 1941. HMS Naiad (93) was likewise sent to the bottom by the German submarine U-565 off the Egyptian coast while another U-boat, U-205, sank HMS Hermione (74) in the summer of 1942. HMS Charybdis (88), meanwhile, was sunk by German torpedo boats Т23 and Т27 during a confused night action in the English Channel in October 1943. HMS Spartan (95) was sunk by a German Hs 293 gliding bomb launched from a Do 217 bomber off Anzio in January 1944. HMS Scylla (98) was badly damaged by a mine in June 1944 and was never repaired.

Others, like Argonaut, were laid up almost immediately after VJ-Day and never sailed again. Just four Didos continued with the Royal Navy past 1948, going on to pick up “C” pennant numbers: HMS Phoebe (C43)HMS Cleopatra (C33), HMS Sirius (C82), and Euryalus (C42). By 1954, all had been stricken from the Admiralty’s list. 

Many went overseas. Smallish cruisers that could still give a lot of prestige to growing Commonwealth navies, several saw a second career well into the Cold War. Improved-Didos HMS Bellona (63) and HMS Black Prince (81) were put at the disposal of the Royal New Zealand Navy for a decade with simplified armament until they were returned and scrapped. HMS Royalist (89) likewise served with the Kiwis until 1966 then promptly sank on her way to the scrappers. HMS Diadem (84) went to Pakistan in 1956 as PNS Babur, after an extensive modernization, and remained in service there into the 1980s, somehow dodging Soviet Styx missiles from Indian Osa-class attack boats in the 1971 war between those two countries.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, to perpetuate her name, the fourth Argonaut was a hard-serving Leander-class ASW frigate, commissioned in 1967.

Frigate HMS Argonaut, of the Leander class, and her Lynx helicopter, in 1979.

That ship, almost 40 years after her WWII namesake was crippled, had her own brush with naval combat that left scars.

THE FALKLANDS CONFLICT, APRIL – JUNE 1982 (FKD 193) The Leander class frigate HMS ARGONAUT on fire in San Carlos Water after being attacked and badly damaged in Argentine air attacks on 21 May 1982. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205189253

The H.M.S. Argonaut Association keeps the memory of all the past vessels with that name alive.

Speaking of which, in Feb. 2019, four surviving Royal Navy veterans of the Normandy landings– all in the 90s– assembled aboard HMS Belfast in the Thames to receive the Legion d’Honneur from French Ambassador Jean-Pierre Jouyet in recognition of their efforts in liberating the country 75 years prior.

One saw the beaches from Argonaut.

Mr. John Nicholls (right), who received the Légion d’honneur medal

93-year-old John Nicholls from Greenwich served aboard HMS Argonaut which bombarded German positions; he also drove landing craft.

The tumult of battle severely damaged his hearing – he’s been 65 percent deaf ever since, but he remains haunted by the sight of men who lost so much more.

“I looked at some of those troops as they were going in and thought: I wonder how many of them are going to come back,’” he recalled. “I came out of it with just half of my hearing gone, but those poor devils – they lost their lives. I think of them all the time. Not just on Remembrance Day. They’re going through my mind all times of the year.”


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Lost flags

Flags captured from the Japanese Type A kō-hyōteki midget submarine HA-19 at Pearl Harbor in the days immediately after the attack on 7 December 1941, one of five luckless vessels whose part in the attack (likely) yielded nothing.

Note what seems to be a signed personal yosegaki hinomaru “good luck flag” at the top that likely belonged to one of the crew, probably Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki (IJNA 1940), a Japanese rising sun (Kyokujitsu-ki), and a same-sized U.S. ensign, which is curious. National Archives Photo 80-G-13033

The third Japanese Type A boat spotted by American forces in and around Pearl Harbor– after one famously sunk by the old four-piper destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) and another less known sub dispatched by the newer USS Monaghan (DD-354) on the morning of that infamous day– the abandoned HA-19 was dubbed “Midget C” when Army Air Corps pilots spotted her grounded on an offshore reef near Waimanalo on 8 December after the craft’s scuttling charge failed to go off.

Washed ashore near where Sakamaki, the only survivor of the hapless vessel, swam ashore, HA-19 was captured in remarkable condition and towed from the surf zone by an Army tractor.

HA-19. (Japanese “Type A” midget submarine). Beached in eastern Oahu, after it unsuccessfully attempted to enter Pearl Harbor during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after 8 December 1941. 80-G-32683

Same, 80-G-32682

Other items besides the flags were recovered, including a map of the harbor with HA-19‘s planned route.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Chart of Pearl Harbor recovered from a Japanese midget submarine captured after the attack. The chart shows various courses around Ford Island and gives ship locations that do not necessarily correspond to actual 7 December ship positions. Since it presumably came from the midget submarine HA-19, which was unsuccessful in its attempts to enter the harbor, these details probably represent expected ship locations and intended maneuvers by the submarine. 80-G-413507

Disassembled in three large pieces and inspected, HA-19 served as a traveling war bonds trophy before being put on outdoor display for 40 years before the boat was semi-restored and moved inside the Nimitz Museum (National Museum of the Pacific War) in Texas a while back, and it is still there.

In the George Bush Gallery at the National Museum of the Pacific War, HA-19 endures 

As for Sakamaki, he was not only the sole survivor of his boat but was also the lone survivor of the crews of the five Japanese midgets that participated in the attack.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Wartime painting in oils on silk, by an unidentified Japanese artist, depicting the four officers and five crewmen who were lost with the five Japanese midget submarines that participated in the attack. The single survivor of that effort is omitted from the painting, which features a view of the attack on Ford Island in its center. NH 86388-KN (Color)

Sakamaki, the first Japanese prisoner of war in U.S. captivity during World War II, had his file and name stricken from the Japanese records once his story was flashed around the world. Repatriated after VJ Day, he ultimately retired from Toyota, visited HA-19 on at least two occasions, and passed in 1999, one of the last Japanese Pearl Harbor vets.

Four of the five Pearl Harbor midget submarines have been found– all lost before they could penetrate the harbor– and, as noted by NHHC, could be the most controversial and a missing piece of naval history: 

One of the five Pearl Harbor midgets is still unaccounted for. Recent studies of Pearl Harbor attack photograpy have led some observers to argue that one of the midgets was in place off “Battleship Row” as the Japanese torpedo planes came in, and may have fired its torpedoes at USS Oklahoma (BB-37) or USS West Virginia (BB-48). This contention is still controversial, but, if it is true, the “missing” Type A midget submarine may lie undiscovered inside Pearl Harbor.

USS Arizona on the way

In probably the best commemoration of the 81st anniversary of the one-sided attack at Pearl Harbor, Electric Boat held a ceremony to lay the keel for the future Virginia-class attack boat USS Arizona (SSN 803), the first ship to carry the name since BB-39 was lost.

As noted by EB:

WWII veterans Bill Stewart, Cliff Sharp, Billy Hall, Wallace Johnson, and Tony Faella were able to be with us in person for this occasion. Ken Potts and Lou Conter, the last two living survivors of the battleship USS Arizona, offered their virtual presence and remarks. On behalf of the men and women of Electric Boat, thank you all for your dedication, bravery, and service to our country.

General Dynamics Electric Boat is proud to build SSN 803 Arizona, a submarine that symbolizes and honors the legacy and courage of all those who died 81 years ago today serving their country.

The ship’s sponsor is Nikki Stratton, following the passing of her grandfather, Donald Stratton, at the age of 97.

The elder Stratton was on the battleship during the Japanese attack and, despite being badly burned and discharged as a result of his injuries in 1942, Donald reenlisted in 1944, then worked throughout his life to help honor the memory of Pearl Harbor and those who gave their lives in service to their country.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives, 80-G-216014.

Above we see the lead ship of her class, the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans (CA-32) camouflaged at Tulagi in the then hotly contested Solomon Islands, shortly after she was torpedoed during the Battle of Tassafaronga on 30 November 1942– some 80 years ago today. Note that her stern is riding high and that her forward end is low in the water as the Japanese Type 93 Long Lance she caught had severed her bow between # 1 and # 2 eight-inch gun turrets, killing 182 men and lopping off almost a fifth of her length.

About the class

Classified as the “Second Generation of Treaty Cruisers” by Friedman who has an entire chapter on the subject in his USNI Press U.S. Cruisers book– a bible on the subject– the seven New Orleans class vessels came after America flirted with the more cramped and often extremely lightly armored Pensacola class (Pensacola and Salt Lake City) Portland class (Portland and Indianapolis), and Northampton-class (Northampton, Chester, Louisville, Chicago, Augusta, and Houston) cruisers. For reference, the P-colas, which carried 518 tons of armor, had just 4-inches of armor at their thickest, with just a maximum of 2.5 inches on their turret face and 1.25 inches on the conning tower, making them vulnerable to 5-inch shells and derided as being “tin clads” or “eggshell” cruisers.

Some 588 feet overall with a 61-foot beam, the New Orleans class carried 1,507 tons of protection (three times as much as Pensacola) and ran a belt and central conning tower that carried up to five inches of plate while the thickest parts of the turret faces went eight, making them capable of withstanding hits from the 8-inch shells of the day– if they were fired from far enough away.

In a further improvement, while carrying nine 8″/55 Mark 9 main guns of the same type as the previous U.S. Treaty heavy cruisers, the New Orleanses carried them in better-designed turrets with more room and would be upgraded during the war to Mark 12, 14, or 15 guns.

8-inch guns of the New Orleans-class cruiser USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), Norfolk, VA. December 1940

As noted by Friedman concisely, “The New Orleans class represented a shift in U.S. cruiser priorities toward protection, gained in part because of a determined use of the entire available treaty tonnage.”

Speaking to which, while rated as 10,000 tons on paper– in line with the Washington Naval treaty limits– during WWII they pushed almost 13,000 when fully loaded and carrying scores of AAA guns for which they weren’t designed. By comparison, the standard weight of the 585-foot P-Colas and 600-foot Northamptons were just 9,138 and 8,997 tons, respectively, leaving a lot of treaty weight on the table.

USS New Orleans artist impression by I.R. Lloyd, circa early 1930s NH 664

USS New Orleans (CA-32) builder’s model, photographed circa 1936. NH 45123 and NH 45122.

Earlier heavy cruisers USS Salt Lake City (CA-25) and USS Pensacola (CA-24), left, alongside USS New Orleans (CA-32) to the right, seen nested together at Pearl Harbor, 31 October 1943. Ford Island is at the left, with USS Oklahoma (BB-37) under salvage at the extreme left, just beyond Salt Lake City’s forward superstructure. Note the radar antennas, gun directors, and eight-inch guns on these three heavy cruisers as well as how much different their bridges, turrets, and masts are. The rounded roofs of early Mark 9 twin and triple turrets of USS Salt Lake City and USS Pensacola contrast greatly with the later turrets of USS New Orleans on the right.80-G-264236

They also had extensive floatplane facilities including two catapults and a large hangar, with corresponding avgas bunkerage and aviation magazines. They typically operated up to four Seagulls, though the number of catapults and extremely dangerous gasoline stores were whittled down late in the war and only a pair of floatplanes carried.

New Orleans class mate USS Quincy (CA-39) looking forward over the boat deck from the secondary conn over her hangar, while the ship was at the New York Navy Yard after her last overhaul, 29 May 1942. Crude # 1 in white circle (center) marks the location of the 5″/25cal loading practice machine. Other notable items includeboats and boat cradle in foreground; four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes atop the catapults; crated food piled by the after smokestack; and USS Marblehead (CL-12) at left. NHHC 19-N-30725

 

Curtiss SOC Seagull scout-observation aircraft leaves the port catapult of a New Orleans-class heavy cruiser, circa 1942

Our subject

The Mississippi River city of New Orleans, the site of two different battles in 1815 and 1862, had previously lent her name to a ship-of-the-line that was begun the same year as the former and sold while still in the stocks over 20 years past the latter.

Then came a protected cruiser — laid down by Armstrong in England as Amazonas for the Brazilian Navy— that was rushed into service in 1898 and would remain in the line through the Great War. 

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans (later PG 34 and CL 22), port bow. Reproduction of a painting by Koerner & Hayes, circa 1897-98.

As such, our cruiser is the only the second USS New Orleans to reach the fleet. Laid down on 14 March 1931 at the New York Navy Yard, she was commissioned on 15 February 1934.

A great pre-war shot of the USS New Orleans shows her profile. NH 660

Her brief peacetime period took her as far as Scandinavia, a showboat for the Navy and the country before finding herself increasingly after 1936 in Pacific waters.

May 1934– heavy cruiser USS New Orleans at Stockholm along with the pansarskeppet Gustav V Sverige. Marinemuseet Fo39197

A superb image of USS New Orleans (CA-32) in English waters, in about June 1934. Note her gunnery clock and no less than four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes on her catapults. Photographed by Wright & Logan, Southsea, England. Donation of Captain Joseph Finnegan, USN (Retired), 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 71787

USS New Orleans (CA-32) in port, circa 1937. Note the broad band painted on her after smokestack, probably a recognition feature. NH 50757

Cruiser USS NEW ORLEANS (CA-32) under St John Bridge, Portland

War!

In it from the very first bullet, on 7 December 1941, New Orleans was moored at Berth 16, Navy Yard Pearl Harbor undergoing engine repairs on shore power.

As noted by her report of the attack:

At 0757 sighted enemy planes “dive bombing” Ford Island and went to General Quarters immediately. At 0805 sighted enemy torpedo planes on port quarter flying low across our stern. Rifle fire and Pistol fire was opened from our fantail as the first planes flew by to launch their torpedoes at the battleships. This ship saw several planes launch their torpedoes headed in the direction of the battleships. Our 1.1/75 battery and Machine Guns aft were manned in time to actually fire at three or four enemy planes passing our stern. About 0810 all batteries, except the 8″ battery, were in action engaging such enemy planes a presented themselves as targets.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 9 February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor. NH 97846

Lightly damaged– her crew found no less than 29 small holes in her above water-line hull and superstructure due to flying fragments but she suffered no casualties– with the Pacific Fleet’s battleships out of service, she was soon expected to fill the gap along with her sisters.

She was soon escorting convoys throughout the South Pacific and screened the carrier USS Yorktown at Coral Sea (taking 580 of Lexington’s survivors off) in May, USS Enterprise at Midway in June, and was standing by USS Saratoga at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942.

USS New Orleans underway during exercises in Hawaiian waters, 8 July 1942. This was just weeks after Midway, where she screened Enterprise. Note the extensive float nets and rafts on her superstructure and turrets. 80-G-10115

When Sara was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, New Orleans spent almost 12 weeks escorting the precious flattop back to Pearl, waiting for her to be repaired (and picking up more AAA guns of her own), then escorting her back to the Solomons.

As the Japanese had fought a string of cruiser/destroyer vs cruiser/destroyer night actions at Savo Island in August (with three of New Orleans’s sisters– Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes— lost in minutes), Cape Esperance in October (Salt Lake City lost) and Guadalcanal in November (Portland and sister San Francisco seriously damaged) in which the U.S. attrition rate when it came to heavy cruisers became untenable, it was inevitable that New Orleans would soon find herself in a scrap. One that would be the last large surface ship clash of the Solomons campaign.

This brings us to…

Tassafaronga!

RADM Carleton H. Wright’s Task Force 67– including the heavy cruisers USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Northampton (CA-24), and USS Pensacola (CA-26), the light cruiser USS Honolulu (CL-48) and the destroyers USS Drayton (DD-366), USS Fletcher (DD-445), USS Maury (DD-401), USS Perkins (DD-377), USS Lamson (DD-367), and USS Lardner (DD-487)— had a rendezvous with destiny when it acted against a partially surprised and all-around inferior (on paper) Japanese “Tokyo Express” force of RADM Raizō Tanaka’s eight cargo-burdened destroyers of the IJN’s DesRon2 on the night of November 30, 1942, on the surface of Iron Bottom Sound near Lunga Point.

It went…badly.

As described by the National Museum of the Navy:

U.S. force of five cruisers and six destroyers intercepted eight Japanese destroyers bringing reinforcements to Guadalcanal and were crippled by a brilliantly executed Japanese torpedo counterattack. Heavy cruiser Northampton was sunk, while Pensacola, New Orleans, and Minneapolis were badly damaged. The Japanese only lost the destroyer Takanami. In this action, the last of the Guadalcanal campaign’s five major surface battles, the Japanese once again demonstrated their tactical superiority at night. The Navy was learning though, as would be demonstrated in 1943.

It turned out that, while the New Orleans class had better armor than the first generation of American Treaty Cruisers, they suffered from a lack of below-waterline protection and dramatic bow loss ran in the family, at least at Tassafaronga.

Sister Minneapolis, who scored many of the hits on Takanami, took two torpedo hits from Japanese destroyers, one on the port bow, the other in her number two fireroom, and her bow collapsed.

USS Minneapolis (CA-36). En route to Pearl Harbor for repairs, circa January 1943. She had lost her bow when hit by Japanese torpedoes during the Battle of Tassafaronga, off Guadalcanal on 30 November 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, 80-G-44544.

New Orleans also took her lumps.

Detailed from DANFS:

When flagship Minneapolis was struck by two torpedoes, New Orleans, next astern, was forced to sheer away to avoid collision, and ran into the track of a torpedo which ripped off her bow. Bumping down the ship’s port side, the severed bow punched several holes in New Orleans’ hull. A fifth of her length gone, slowed to 2 knots, and blazing forward, the ship fought for survival. Individual acts of heroism and self-sacrifice along with skillful seamanship kept her afloat, and under her own power she entered Tulagi Harbor near daybreak on 1 December.

For New Orleans, her Battle Damage Report is stark:

  1. During the night of 30 November 1942, NEW ORLEANS was a unit of a task force which engaged a Japanese force in the action subsequently named the Battle of Lunga Point. NEW ORLEANS, firing with her main battery and steaming at 20 knots, had just started to swing to the right to avoid MINNEAPOLIS when a torpedo struck the port bow in way of turret I and detonated.
  2. The torpedo detonation was followed immediately by a second and much heavier detonation. As a result, the bow, including turret I, was severed almost completely between turrets I and II. It swung out to port and tore loose, probably due to the starboard swing of the ship. It then floated aft and banged against the port side. Holes were torn in the shell at frames 53, 130 and 136 and the port inboard propeller was wrecked.

That secondary explosion was later determined to be from one of New Orleans’s aviation bomb and mine magazine, A-502-1/8-M, which “contained the 160-pound demolition charge and forty-nine 100-pound bombs” and that of an adjacent small arms magazine, A-502-M, which contained five 325-pound depth bombs.

From her battle damage report

She limped into Tulagi some eight hours after the battle and remained there shoring up her bow with coconut logs under a camo net for 11 days.

Port bow view as she entered Tulagi harbor about 8 hours after being struck by a torpedo, 1 December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA-32) under camouflage at Tulagi, December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA 32) Cruiser shown soon after the battle. 80-G-44447

Minneapolis did much the same, with the help of Seabees. 

New Orleans then slowly sailed for Sydney, Australia, arriving on Christmas Eve 1942, her crew finally getting some much-needed rest. She would remain there until March, when, after a temporary stub bow was fitted in dry dock, she left for Puget Sound and arrived on the West Coast on 3 April 1943 after stops at Pago Pago and Pearl Harbor

USS New Orleans (CA 32) comes into the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, for a new bow after battling with Japanese warships in Southwest Pacific. In this view, she is almost ready for joining to a new bow. The photograph was released 11 January 1944. 80-G-44448

USS New Orleans (CA-32) steams through a tight turn in Elliot Bay, Washington, on 30 July 1943, following battle damage repairs and overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. She is likely “creating a slick” for recovering a sea plane– making a smooth patch of becalmed water for the aircraft to land upon. NH 97847

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, following battle damage repairs and overhaul, 5 August 1943. NH 97848

Back in the fight

After post-rebuild workups, New Orleans sailed 5-6 October 1943 with RADM Alfred E. Montgomery’s Task Force 14 to shell Japanese-occupied Wake Island.

Wake Island Raid, October 1943. A heavy cruiser’s 8-inch guns bombard Wake, as seen from USS Minneapolis (CA-36), 5 October 1943. The two following ships are (in no particular order): USS San Francisco (CA-38) and USS New Orleans (CA-32). National Archives photograph, 80-G-81973

New Orleans would also help support Allied landings at Hollandia and the invasion of the Marianas.

Saipan Invasion, June 1944. Units of Cruiser Division SIX bombard Saipan on 14-15 June 1944. The nearest ship is USS New Orleans (CA-32). Beyond her is the light cruiser USS St. Louis (CL-49). 80-G-K-1774

She would lend her increased AAA batteries to help swat down Japanese aircraft during the Battle of the Philippine Sea while revisiting her old days of screening carriers. Then came the big shows in the Philippines and at Iwo Jima.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 8 March 1945. The city of Vallejo is in the background. Note the ship’s welded bow structure (forward of her second 8/55 triple gun turret). This replaced her original riveted construction bow, which was lost during the Battle of Tassafaronga at the end of November 1942. Circles mark recent alterations to the ship. 19-N-80232

A rare shot at the same time and place as the above that shows her hangar open. Note that her portside catapult has been landed by this time in her career.

After a final wartime refit at Mare Island, she was back at it, hammering Japanese positions at Okinawa and was at Subic Bay when hostilities ceased.

After supporting the post-war occupation of Korea and Manchuria, she made two trips back stateside on Magic Carpet missions returning Pacific War vets to the U.S. Arriving at Philadelphia Navy Yard in March 1946, she spent an 11-month period preparing for mothballs and was decommissioned 10 February 1947.

She had earned 17 battle stars for her war– tying for third most in the theater– and gained a new bow.

From her nine-page War History in the National Archives.

Of her seven-ship class, only four were still in commission on VJ Day and three of those were so grievously damaged in action against the Japanese off Guadalcanal that they had to be extensively rebuilt. Only sister USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), which had “luckily” fought most of her war in the ETO, was never damaged in battle.

The remainder of the New Orleans class in the 1946 edition of Janes.

Cruisers and other warships laid up in the Philadelphia Yard Reserve Fleet Basin, circa 1947. The outboard ship in the left group is USS St. Louis (CL-49). Ships in the background include (in no order): USS San Francisco (CA-38), USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Louisville (CA-28), and USS Portland (CA-33). Courtesy of “All Hands” magazine. Catalog NH 92254

After spending 12 years along Philly’s red lead row, the vaunted USS New Orleans had her name struck from the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and was sold for scrapping on 22 September 1959 to the Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md. Similar fates were met by her three remaining sisters at the same time.

Epilogue

Our cruiser was remembered by the (apparently now defunct) USS New Orleans Reunion Association and most of her war diaries along with some architectural and engineering drawings are digitized in the National Archives.

Her ship’s bell– presented to the cruiser by the Louisiana State Museum in 1933– is on display in New Orleans City Hall, just outside the Mayor’s Office.

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has other artifacts including a piece of the coconut log shoring from Tulagi.

With the old New Orleans sent to the breakers, the Navy soon recycled her name for a new Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship commissioned in 1968 and would go on to serve three decades.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans (LPH-11) underway in San Diego Bay, California (USA), on 16 June 1988. AH-1 Cobra, CH-53E Sea Stallion, and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters line the flight deck. In the background is the submarine tender USS McKee (AS-41) and the submarine rescue ship USS Florikan (ASR-9). Date 16 June 1988. NH 107677-KN

Then came the Ingalls-built USS New Orleans (LPD-18), a massive 25,000-ton San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, commissioned in the Crescent City in 2007 and still in service.

The U.S. Navy (Pre-Commissioned Unit) San Antonio Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) sails beneath the Huey P. Long Bridge as it moves on the Mississippi River towards New Orleans, La., on March 5, 2007, in preparation for its commissioning ceremony on March 10, 2007. MCS Kurt Eischen, USN.


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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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Mighty Mansfield

56 Years Ago Today: Sumner-class destroyer USS Mansfield (DD 728) letting rip her 5″/38 DP Naval Guns at water-borne craft off the coast of North Vietnam, north of the demilitarized zone.

Photographed by PH1 V.O. McColley, November 25, 1966. USN photo 428-GX-K-35025.

Named for Marine Sergeant Duncan Mansfield of circa 1804 “Shores of Tripoli” fame, Mansfield (DD‑728) was laid down 28 August 1943 by the Bath Iron Works and commissioned just short of eight months later on 14 April 1944.

Earning five battle stars in the Pacific– including downing 17 Kamikazes in one day off Okinawa and later taking part in a daring high‑speed torpedo run with DesRon61 into Nojima Saki, sinking or damaging four enemy ships — she witnessed the formal Japanese surrender ceremony in September 1945 in Tokyo Bay.

Picking up a further three battle stars for Korean service while almost breaking her back on a mine off Inchon, Mansfield would be FRAM II’d in 1960, trading in her WWII kit for Cold War ASW work, and ship off for the 7th Fleet.

USS Mansfield (DD-728) Underway at sea, circa 1960-1963, after her FRAM II modernization. Taken by USS Ranger (CVA-61), this photograph was received in July 1963. NH 107137

Rotating through four deployments off Vietnam between 1965 and 1969, she also had enough time to serve as an alternate recovery ship for Gemini XI (and slated for the Apollo 1 mission).

Her Vietnam “Top Gun” Results, 1965-69:

  • 5″ Rounds Fired: 40,001
  • Days on Gun Line: 220
  • Times Under Hostile Fire: 8
  • Enemy KIA: 187
  • Active Artillery Sites Silenced: 30
  • Secondary Explosions: 59
  • Structures/Bunkers Destroyed: 495
  • Ships/Junks/Boats Sunk: 224

Decommissioned on 4 February 1971, Mansfield was disposed of and sold to Argentina on 4 June 1974 where she was mothballed at Puerto Belgrano and scavenged for spare parts to support that country’s other American surplus tin cans, then was eventually cut up for scrap in the late 1980s.

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