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Warship Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019: That time the Japanese (briefly) won a condemned (but free) secondhand battleship

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, Feb. 13, 2019: That time the Japanese (briefly) won a condemned but free battleship

Farenholt Collection. Catalog #: NH 65755

Here we see the Brandenburg-class linienschiff /panzerschiff SMS Weißenburg of the Kaiserliche Marine with a bone in her mouth, likely while on trials in 1893. She would go on to live an interesting life that would leave her one of the last 19th Century battleships still afloat more than a half-century later.

These early German barbette battleships were the Imperial Navy’s first blue water capital ships when they were envisioned in the late 1880s. Stumpy by design, the quartet of Brandenburgers were 379-feet long and weighed 10,000-tons, roughly the same size as a smallish cruiser by the time WWI came around.

The class had an unusual layout for the main armament, mounting two twin 11″/40 cal gun turrets fore and aft with a third twin 11.1″/35 cal turret amidships, which is kinda funky.

The 11-inch guns were good enough to fire a 529-pound shell to 15,000-yards, but the small magazine only carried 60 rounds per gun and the nature of the turret design meant that shells could only be loaded when the gunhouse was trained to 0 degrees. The rate of fire was about 1 shell every 2 minutes. Photo via Navweaps.

However, they could make 17 knots and carried as much as 16-inches of armor, which was decent for their day.

Class leader SMS Brandenburg and our subject Weissenburg were laid down simultaneously at AG Vulcan Stettin in May 1890, followed by SMS Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm at Kaiserliche Werft Wilhelmshaven, and SMS Wörth at Germaniawerft, Kiel, which left them all to commission in 1893/94, staggered just months apart.

Differing from their sisters, Weissenburg and Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm carried lighter nickel (Harvey) steel plate rather than tougher Krupp-made plate, as the latter was in short supply (this will be important later).

Imperial German Brandenburg class battleships gunnery practice at sea 1900

The German battleship SMS Weißenburg in 1894. Note her peculiar three turret arrangement

WEISSENBURG (German Battleship, 1891-1938) Photographed in British waters, probably during the late 1890s. NH 88653

WEISSENBURG German Battleship, 1891 note her big Reichskriegsflagge on the stern NH 48568

When they joined the fleet, Kaiser Willy II and company loved the new toys, although they were outclassed by the comparable British and French designs of the day– e.g. the Royal Navy’s nine Majestic-class pre-dreadnoughts went over 17,000-tons and carried 12-inch guns, although they had thinner armor than the Brandenburgers while the French Charlemagne-class was marginally faster and also mounted 12-inch guns.

Still, until the Germans ordered their Nassau-class dreadnoughts in 1906, the Brandenburgers carried the largest guns in the fleet, as subsequent linienschiff only toted 9.4-inch or the same 11-inch guns as they did, and in smaller quantities. This left them popular for a decade. During that time, the class of sisters waved the flag as a quartet, forming the 1st Division under Konteradmiral Richard von Geißler, and sailed as a group for China in 1900 to exercise gunboat diplomacy using the Boxer Rebellion as a pretext.

Think of them as Kaiser Willy’s low-budget version of the Great White Fleet.

“Das Linienschiff Weißenburg” passing through the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal in Hochbrücke Levensau, 1900

German battleships SMS Brandenburg (foreground) and SMS Weißenburg (right) in Port Said on the way to China, 1900

The Germans published and widely circulated many very nice period postcards and lithographs on the class which serve as classic maritime art today.

S.M. Linienschiff Weissenburg postcard. Isn’t that beautiful?

The whole class

Although they were substantially modernized after their return from China (a second conning tower added, some torpedo tubes removed, boilers replaced, fire control upgraded etc.) the writing was on the wall for these dated bruisers, especially after the epic slaughter of pre-dreadnoughts observed during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. Shifted to the II Squadron and then the III Squadron, by 1910 they were listed as part of the Reserve Division.

Brandenburg and Worth were then relegated to training duties, passing in and out of ordinary, and later would form part of V Battle Squadron for coastal defense during WWI.

Meanwhile, with Berlin courting the Ottoman Empire, Germany made a deal to sell the two sisters with Harvey armor– Weissenburg and Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm— to the Turks in September-October 1910. Payment for the two battleships and four companion German-built destroyers amounted to 25 million marks. As the Germans paid about 10 million marks for each of the Brandenburgers‘ construction when new, they got the better end of the deal.

Fez-equipped crew members of the Ottoman battleship Barbaros Hayreddin or Turgut Reis, sometime between 1910-1914

When compared to the rest of the Sultan’s fleet, whose most impressive vessel was the old (c.1874) 9,000-ton coastal defense battleship Messudiyeh and two Anglo-American protected cruisers– Medjidie (Mecidiye) and Hamidie (Hamidiye) — picked up around the turn of the century, the gently-used German battleships were the best things in the Turkish fleet until German Admiral Wilhelm Souchon showed up in 1914 (more on him later).

Weissenburg /Torgud Reis and Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm/Barbaros Hayreddin in the 1914 version of Janes, listed right after the planned British-built modern dreadnoughts which would be seized by Churchill that year and pressed into the Royal Navy, and right before the ancient Messudiyeh, built in 1874.

As the two German battleships required more than 1,800 sailors to crew them– a figure the Turks simply did not have– they were undermanned and filled with often raw recruits from the Empire’s maritime provinces. Within just a few years the lack of trained NCOs and officers meant the two ships had boilers and pipes that were broken, phones that no longer worked, and rangefinders and ammo hoists that could not be operated effectively.

Renamed Torgud Reis and Barbaros Hayreddin, respectively, after famous Ottoman admirals, they sailed for Constantinople just in time to see service against the Italians (then nominal German allies) and against the combined Greek-Bulgarian-Rumanian-Serbo-Montenegrin forces in the series of Balkan Wars, providing artillery support to Ottoman ground forces in Thrace and throwing shells at Greek ships during the ineffective naval skirmishes at Battle of Elli and Lemnos.

Ottoman battleships Barbaros Hayreddin and Turgut Reis, in Thessaloniki, 1911, just after delivery

Unfortunately for the Turks, both of their new-to-them German battleships got the short end of the stick against the Greek’s Italian-built armored cruiser Georgios Averof and her companions and were peppered with shells in each of their meetings with the Hellenic Navy, leaving them in poor shape just two years after delivery. Due to a low number of 280mm shells available, most of the rounds fired by the ships in their career were from 150mm and 120mm secondary guns. At the Battle of Elli on 16 December 1912, Torgut Rus suffered 8 killed and 20 wounded. At the Battle of Lemnos on 18 January 1913, the Greeks inflicted another 9 killed and 49 wounded on our subject’s crew.

Comparison between the Ottoman (left) and Greek (right) fleets during the First Balkan War, 1912-13 L’Illustration, No. 3652, 22 Février 1913 via Wiki. Torgut Ruis is the second from the bottom left.

With little time to lick their wounds, the Ottomans were sucked into World War I on the German side, largely due to the machinations of the aforementioned Adm. Souchon, who showed up with the SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau at Constantinople just after the balloon went up with the British hot on his heels. Donning fez and raising an Ottoman crescent banner, Souchon on his own went on to raid the Russian coast in the Black Sea under the pretext of being in the Sultan’s navy, an act that brought the “Sick Man of Europe” into the hospice care of a conflict it could never hope to survive.

The Ottoman battleship Torgud Reis (ex-SMS Weißenburg) in 1915 during the Gallipoli Campaign. Note her stubby 11″/35s amidships compared to her 11″/40s in the front and rear.

Nonetheless, both Torgud Reis and Barbaros Hayreddin managed to give a good account of themselves in the Dardanelles Campaign, shelling ANZAC troops along Gallipoli and dodging Allied submarines and battleships. Speaking of which, Barbaros Hayreddin was dispatched by a single torpedo from Royal Navy HMS E11, which had penetrated the Sea of Marmara, in August 1915, taking half her crew with her.

Her biggest contribution to the war would seem to come when she tied to Goeben/Yavuz on a rough day for the Turks in January 1918 during the Battle of Imbros and pull the stranded battlecruiser off Nagara Point before the Allies could kill her, as such preserving a fleet in being for the rest of the conflict.

For more on the Ottoman Navy of that period, click here for an excellent essay.

When the war ended, Torgud Reis was in exceptionally poor condition, lacking parts and shells, still suffering from damages inflicted in her wars with the Balkan states as well as a turret explosion in 1915. Following the Armistice of Mudros in October 1918 and the resulting Allied occupation of Constantinople– the first time the city had changed hands since 1453– the Ottoman fleet was disarmed and interned under British guns.

In the controversial Treaty of Sevres, signed on 10 August 1920, the victorious Allies divided the Ottoman fleet among the victors, with Britain to receive the ripest fruit including Yavuz Sultân Selîm (ex-Goeben), Hamidiye, Mecidiye, Muavenet-i, Millet, Numene, Tasoz, Basra, and Samsun. The French, Greeks and others were to split the destroyers Berk-i Efsan, Pelagni Deria, Zuhaf Peyk-i Sevket, and Nusret.

The Japanese, who never fired a shot at the Turks in anger as far as I can tell, was to get Torgud Reis. In fairness to the Emperor, it should be noted that the Japanese sent two squadrons of cruisers and destroyers to the Med in 1917-18 for escort duties for troop transports and anti-submarine operations, which included the destroyer Sakaki getting damaged by a torpedo from the Austro-Hungarian submarine U 27 off Crete.

Needless to say, the Japanese, who picked up the much nicer Jutland-veteran dreadnoughts SMS Nassau and SMS Oldenburg as well as the cruiser Augsburg and five destroyers from the Germans as reparations in the Treaty of Versailles– only to sell them for scrap– never took over the leaky and busted Torgud Reis.

Regardless, the Sevres pact never took effect, as the Greeks and Turks both balked at it although for different reasons, which in turn led to the milder Treaty of Lausanne, signed on 24 July 1923, that allowed the Turks to keep their ancient fleet. The treaty came into force on 6 August 1924 and soon after, Torguid Reis was refitted at the Gölcük Naval Shipyard through 1925 then returned to service as an armed training ship, still with at least two of her 11.1-inch guns working while two of her other turrets were removed and mounted ashore in concrete on the Asian coast of the Dardanelles as a coastal artillery battery.

Meanwhile, her two sisters still in Germany, Brandenburg, and Worth, were scrapped in Danzig just after the war.

The 40-year old battleship Torgud Reis in 1930 in poor shape with only her forward turret remaining. Note the destroyer to the left

Torgud Reis remained on active duty until at least 1933 and endured as an accommodations hulk for another two decades past that date, only being broken in the late 1950s. With that, I believe she was one of the final 19th Century pre-dreadnoughts left, as the USS Kearsarge (BB-5) which was converted to a heavy-crane ship in 1920, had been scrapped in 1955; and the hulk of the ex-USS Oregon (BB-3), which had been used as an ammunition barge at Guam until 1948, was scrapped in 1956. An honorable mention goes to the USS Illinois (BB-7), who was commissioned in 1901, disarmed in 1923, and ultimately sold for scrap in 1956. Only Togo’s Mikasa, which has been preserved as a museum ship at Yokosuka since 1923, remains of the era. Dewey’s 1898-era protected cruiser Olympia, remains as an honorable mention.

Nonetheless, the two turrets removed from Torgud Reis in 1925 and repurposed into coastal artillery, still endure, which counts for something.

Further, the Internationales Maritimes Museum in Hamburg has a set of very well done 1:100/1:250 scale models of the Brandenburgers by master model maker Thomas Klünemann on public display, keeping the memory of the class alive in their former homeland.

Displacement:10,670 t (10,500 long tons)
Length: 379 ft 7 in
Beam: 64 ft 0 in
Draft: 24 ft 11 in
Installed power: 10,000 ihp (7,500 kW)
Propulsion: 2-shaft triple expansion engines
Speed: 16.9 knots
Range: 4,300 nautical miles at 10 knots on 1050 tons coal
38 officers
530 enlisted men
4 × 28 cm (11 in) MRK L/40 caliber guns (two removed 1925)
2 × 28 cm (11 in) MRK L/35 caliber guns (removed 1925)
8 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK L/35 guns
8 × 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK L/30 guns
5 × 45 cm (18 in) torpedo tubes (1 bow, 4 beam) (removed 1910)
Belt: 400 mm (15.7 in)
Barbettes: 300 millimeters (11.8 in)
Deck: 60 millimeters (2.4 in)

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

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

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

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

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Warship Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019: The final Four-Piper

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, Feb. 6, 2019: The final Four-Piper

NH 64543

Here we see the Clemson-class “four-piper” flush-decker torpedo boat destroyer USS Hatfield (DD-231) in dry dock at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on May 23, 1932, with a newly-fitted bow. One of a tremendous class of vessels some 156-strong, she had a long and varied career, ending it as the very last of her type in U.S. service.

An expansion of the almost identical Wickes-class destroyers with a third more fuel capacity to enable them to escort a convoy across the Atlantic without refueling, the Clemson’s were sorely needed to combat the pressing German submarine threat of the Great War. At 1,200-tons and with a top speed of 35 knots, they were brisk vessels ready for the task.

“They kept the sea lanes open” – Invest in the Victory Liberty Loan WWI, poster from 1918 by LA Shafer, Niagara Litho Co. Buffalo, NY, showing a four-piper destroyer armed with 5-inch guns dressed in dazzleflauge jumping between a merchantman and a dastardly German U-boat, the latter sent by the Kaiser to send passenger liners to the bottom.

However, they were was built too late for the war.

The hero of our story was named after naval hero John Hatfield, a young man who volunteered for service and, appointed Midshipman 18 June 1812, served on the small armed schooner USS Lady of the Lake as part of the force commanded by Lt. Isaac Chauncey on Lake Ontario. During the assault on York (now Toronto) in April 1813, Hatfield was killed while leading his ships small boats in a combined arms attack that netted the giant British Royal Standard taken from the Parliament House (and currently in the USNA collection).

Laid down 10 June 1918 at New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, N.J, Hatfield just missed her Great War and commissioned 16 April 1920. Her early career included a fleet review by President Harding at Hampton Roads and training cruises in the Caribbean. Interestingly, although almost every four-piper carried a battery of five 4″/50 cal singles, she was one of a handful (DD-231 through DD-235) that were commissioned instead with four 5″/51 cal guns. Due to the extra weight, no depth charge racks were installed on these more heavily gunned sisters

Hatfield Launching at The New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey. NH 53688

With the Allied High Commission in the former Ottoman Empire needing muscle, on 2 October 1922, Destroyer Division 40, composed of the destroyers Bainbridge (DD-246), Fox (DD-234), Gilmer (DD-233), Hatfield (DD-231), Hopkins (DD-249), and Kane (DD-235), and Destroyer Division 41, composed of the destroyers Barry (DD-248), Goff (DD-247), King (DD-242), McFarland (DD-237), Overton (DD-239), and Sturtevant (DD-240), sailed from Hampton Roads, Virginia, for Constantinople.

The destroyers arrived there on 22 October, under the command of RADM Mark Lambert Bristol, who had his flag on the humble station ship USS Scorpion, a Warship Wednesday alum, who spent years in the Bosporus moored to the quay and connected by telephone with the Embassy. Hatfield remained in the region until 31 July 1923, when she was given orders to proceed back to the West Coast.

NH 803

Assigned to the U.S. Scouting Fleet, her stomping ground ranged from New York to Panama including a tour of gunboat diplomacy off the coast of Nicaragua throughout February and March 1927, during the civil war in that country in which the U.S. backed the conservative Solórzano government. For this, Hatfield picked up the Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal.

The next year, Hatfield was part of the squadron that carried President Coolidge to Cuba and Haiti for the Pan-American Conference.

U.S. Navy destroyers moored side-by-side after a day’s maneuvers in Haitian Waters, circa the later 1920s or the 1930s. These ships are (from front to rear): USS Kane (DD-235); USS Hatfield (DD-231); USS Brooks (DD-232); and USS Lawrence (DD-250). The first three destroyers carry 5″/51 cal guns mounted on their sterns, while Lawrence has the more typical four-piper popgun, a 4″/50 cal, mounted atop her after deckhouse, with a 3″/23 anti-aircraft gun on her stern. Note bedding airing on the ships’ lifelines. NH 52227

USS Hatfield (DD-231) In San Diego Harbor, California, during the early 1930s. She was one of only five flush-deck destroyers to carry 5/51 guns. Donation of Franklin Moran, 1967. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 64542

USS Hatfield (DD-231) and sister USS Humphreys (DD-236) circa 1928

Hatfield had a crack up with the USS Sands (DD-243), a sistership, during maneuvers 40 miles off Newport, Rhode Island, 13 September 1930. Damage control was quick and she was towed to Brooklyn Navy Yard by tugs Sagamore (AT-20) and Penobscot (YT-42) for repairs.

Photo via Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. 08_06_006245

Transferred to San Diego in 1932 after a brief stint in ordinary, by April 1936 she was deployed to friction points once again, serving off Spain in the neutrality patrol during the Spanish Civil War as part of Squadron Forty-T commanded by RADM Arthur P. Fairfield. This special task force, initially comprising the old cruiser Raleigh, fellow four-piper USS Kane, Hatfield, and the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Cayuga, saved hundreds of U.S. and foreign nationals during the conflict. In all, she would spend 19 months there, returning to the U.S. at the tail end of 1937, returning to mothballs for a few months.

USS HATFIELD (DD-231). (1920-1947). Collection of Gustave Maurer. NH 2216

When WWII erupted in Europe, Hatfield was dusted off once more and recommissioned 25 September 1939 for assignment to FDR’s East Coast Neutrality Patrol looking for U-Boats, a mission she would continue through August 1940 when she was sent to the West Coast, arriving at Bremerton for operations in the Northern Pacific as part of the rusty old tin cans of DESDIV 82.

In the days immediately after Pearl Harbor, the obsolete flush decker was sent to sparsely defended Alaska, where she spent her “shooting days” of WWII. Even equipped with sonar, radar, and a smattering of machine guns for AAA use, destroyer technology had passed her by.

Destroyer evolution, 1920-1944: USS HATFIELD (DD-231), USS MAHAN (DD-364), USS FLETCHER (DD-445). NH 109593

Hatfield 26 May 1942, at Puget Sound, Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington. Note rafts, torpedo tubes, boat, radar at mainmast. Also, note barrage balloons 19-N-30086

Hatfield on 26 May 1942, at Puget Sound, Washington 19-N-30085

As noted by DANFS: “In the uncertain early months of the Pacific war, Hatfield convoyed merchant ships to Alaskan ports, helping to carry the supplies necessary to establish bases in the North. She continued this vital duty in the bleak and dangerous northern waters until 13 March 1944, when she returned to Seattle.”

Relegated to work as an auxiliary (AG-84) in October 1944, she finished her military service towing targets and assisting with underway training. Hatfield decommissioned 13 December 1946 and was sold for scrap 9 May 1947 to National Metal & Steel Corp., Terminal Island, Calif, the last of her kind in the Navy. Only spending about 36 months of her 26 years out of commission — a rarity for her class– Hatfield had some 22 skippers in her long career.

Some of her original builder’s plaques are on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

And of course, there are a number of postal cancelations from this far-traveled greyhound.

Destroyer USS HATFIELD DD-231 Villefranche France Naval Cover MhCachets 1 MADE

As for her sisters, seven Clemson’s were lost at the disaster at Honda Point in 1923, and 18 (including six used by the British) were lost in WWII including one, USS Stewart (DD-224), which was famously raised by the Japanese and used in their Navy only to be recaptured by the USN and given a watery grave after the war. Those four-pipers not sold off in the 1930s or otherwise sent to Davy Jones were scrapped wholesale in the months immediately after WWII. Besides Hatfield, the penultimate Clemson in US service was USS Williamson (DD-244) which was decommissioned 8 November 1945 and sold to the breakers on 4 November 1948.

The final Clemson afloat, USS Aulick (DD-258), joined the Royal Navy as HMS Burnham (H82) in 1940 as part of the “Destroyers for Bases” deal. Laid up in 1944, she was allocated for scrapping on 3 December 1948.

None are preserved and only the scattered wrecks in the Western Pacific, Honda Point, the Med and Atlantic endure.


1,215 tons (normal)
1,308 tons (full load)
Length: 314 ft. 4.5 in
Beam: 30 ft. 11.5 in
Draft: 9 ft. 4 in
4 × boilers, 300 psi (2,100 kPa) saturated steam
2 geared steam turbines
27,600 hp (20,600 kW)
2 shafts
Speed: 35.5 knots (65.7 km/h)
Range: 4,900 nmi (9,100 km) @ 15 kn (28 km/h)
Crew: (USN as commissioned)
8 officers
8 chief petty officers
106 enlisted
4- 5″/51cal guns
12 × 21 inch torpedo tubes (4 × 3) (533 mm)

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find.

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

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

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong. I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019: The ‘$2 million Fighting Monster’

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, Jan. 30, 2019: The ‘$2 million Fighting Monster’

NH 108456 (2000×1043)

Here we see the S-class submarine USS S-49 (SS-160), one of the last class of “pig boats” commissioned with letters rather than names, in heavy seas during her brief time in the Navy. Somehow, after a short and unlucky naval career, S-49 was sold to a huckster who turned her into a (sometimes) floating tourist trap that wound up taking his case to the Supreme Court.

True story.

The S-class, or “Sugar” boats, were actually three different variants designed by Simon Lake Co, Electric Boat, and the Bureau of Construction and Repair (BuC&R) in the last days of the Great War in which U.S.-made submarines had a poor record. Looking for a better showing in these new boats, of which 65 were planned, and 51 completed in several subgroups. These small 1,000~ ton diesel-electrics took to the sea in the 1920s and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online.

The hero of our tale, USS S-49, was 231-feet oal, could dive to 200 feet and travel at a blistering 14.5-knots on the surface on her two 900hp diesel engines and two Westinghouse electric motors for 11-knots submerged. Armament was a quartet of 21-inch bow tubes with a dozen fish and a 4″/50 cal popgun on deck for those special moments. Crew? Just 42 officers and men.

Laid down on 22 October 1920 by the Lake Torpedo Boat Co., Bridgeport, Conn., she commissioned on 5 June 1922 and soon joined New London’s experimental unit, Submarine Division Zero, operating in that role in a series of tests and evaluations into 1926.

U.S. Submarine S-49, during launching NH 108460

This made her one of the most well-photographed of these early submarines.

USS S-49 (SS-160), 1922-1931. NH 108464

USS S-49 (SS-160) NH 108465, on the surface, note her 4″ gun

NH 108462 USS S-49 (SS-160), at periscope depth

NH 108463 USS S-49 (SS-160), with decks awash

NH 108455 USS S-49 (SS-160), looking like she could beat her 14.5-kn max speed

NH 1374 USS S-49 (SS-160). What is the bluejacket on her bow doing?

Then, in early 1926, all hell broke loose.


At about 0750 on Tuesday, 20 April, S-49’s engines were started. Seven minutes later, just as a pilot cell cover was removed to test the specific gravity of the electrolyte, the forward battery exploded. The hydrogen gas explosion destroyed the cells in the forward half of the battery and forced up the battery deck. Ten men were injured. Two others were gassed during rescue operations. Four of the twelve died of their injuries.

The battery compartment was sealed and kept shut until mid-afternoon when the outboard battery vent was opened. During the night, the submarine took on a slight list to port and air pressure was used to keep ballast. At about 0515 on the 21st, a second explosion occurred in the battery room when wash from vessels departing for torpedo practice rocked S-49. The compartment was resealed for another few hours, after which the work of clearing the wreckage was begun.

Repaired and operational again by early 1927, S-49 made a cruise to the Florida Keys that Spring for exercises and then, on return to New London, was sent with her twin sister S-50 to red lead row in Philly in March to be placed in mothballs. Decommissioned 2 August 1927, she was stricken in 1931 to help bring down the Navy’s tonnage after the London Naval Conference.

S-49 was subsequently sold to the Boston Iron and Metal Co., Baltimore, Md., on 25 May 1931– but she was not to be scrapped.

You see, a Florida man by the name of “Capt. F.J. Christensen” purchased the gently-used boat as a hulk for a cost of $25,000 (about $400K in today’s dollars) in 1936 and soon put her to work as a privately-owned tourist attraction in the Great Lakes and East Coast, shuffling her between Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, Boston, and New York, among others.

For this purpose, she was disarmed, her engines disabled, most of her bunks pulled out (the class was notoriously cramped), registered as a “yacht” to comply with Canadian regulations on warships on the Lakes, and billed as “The $2,000,000 Fighting Monster.”

(Archives of the Supreme Court)

Admission to, “See how men live in a Hell Diver!” was 25-cents for adults, 15 for kiddies, with a souvenir book and other trinkets for sale on board for an added fee.

Privately owned sub S-49, open to the public at Point-o-Pines in Revere, near Boston, Aug 1931. Via Leslie Jones: The Cameraman

Ashore at Revere by Leslie Jones. Note that her torpedo door is open

U.S. Submarine S-49, at Great Lakes Exposition- Cleveland. NH 108461

From her souvenir keepsake book:

USS S-49 was only the second U.S. Navy submarine to be privately owned after naval service– with the first being former Warship Wednesday alum, the O-class diesel-electric submarine USS O-12 (SS-73), which was stricken on 29 July 1930 and leased for $1 per year (with a maximum of five years in options) to Simon Lake’s company for use as a private research submarine. Dubbed the Nautilus, O-12 was to explore the Arctic but instead only made it as far as Norway before the venture tanked and she was sunk in deep water on the Navy’s insistence.

As for Christensen, he flew under the radar and continued in his operation for almost four years until he crossed paths with NYPD Police Commissioner Lewis “Nightstick” Valentine who, appointed in 1934 by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, ran the agency for over a decade before heading to Post-War Tokyo to take over the Metropolitan Police Department there with MacArthur’s blessing. The fuzz brought the submarine owner’s “sandwich men” on charges in 1940 of distributing illegal handbills (the above advert) in a case that went all the way to the nation’s high court in 1942– with the Supremes backing Valentine.

With a war on and Christensen facing mounting legal bills, after all, you can’t fight city hall, he sold the immobile submarine back to the Navy who dubbed it floating equipment and intended to use it for experimental work at the Naval Mine Warfare Proving Ground, Solomons, Md.

However, she sank on the way in 132-feet of water while under tow off Port Patience in the Patuxent River.

She is an active, though advanced, dive site today.

As for her sisters, though obsolete, several S-boats remained on the Navy List and served the Navy well in both the Atlantic and Pacific (including several lost to accidents) during WWII. A half-dozen were even transferred to the Royal Navy as Lend-Lease including class leader and the former submersible aircraft carrier, USS S-1.

None of these hardy, if somewhat unlucky, craft endure though keeps their memory alive.


Displacement: 876 tons surfaced; 1,092 tons submerged
Length: 231 feet
Beam: 21 feet 9 inches
Draft: 13 feet 4 inches
Propulsion: 2 × MAN diesels, 900 hp each; 2 × Westinghouse electric motors, 447 kW each; 120-cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 14.5 knots surfaced; 11 knots submerged
Bunkerage: 148 tons oil fuel
Range: 5,000 nautical miles at 10 knots surfaced
Test depth: 200 ft. (61 m)
Armament (as built): 4 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 12 torpedoes)
1 × 4 inch (102 mm)/50 caliber Mark 9 “wet mount” deck gun
Crew: 42 officers and men

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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019: The avenger of Toulon

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, Jan. 23, 2019: The avenger of Toulon

U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-202752

Here we see the Marine Nationale’s Bretagne (Brittany)-class dreadnought (cuirasse d’ escadre) Lorraine in Casablanca Harbor on 13 November 1943, when she was the only afloat French battleship in the world capable of fighting—a sobering thought when you remember that the country counted over 20 battleships in their fleet in WWI. Laid down in 1912 to mix it up with the potential battleships of the Italian, Austrian and Imperial German fleets in the looming Great War, she ironically wound up facing her biggest challenges from fellow French guns three decades later.

The trio of Bretagne-class warships, at about 26,000-tons, were built on the same hulls of the previous French battleship class, the Courbets, but mounted a heavier broadside in the form of 12 34 cm/45 (13.4″) Model 1912 guns in six twin turrets as opposed to the Courbets’ dozen 305mm/45 Modèle 1910s. However, due to space limitations, this was later adjusted to five turrets mounting 10 guns.

Note the five turrets of the Bretagne, vs the six of the Courbets in the same hull as compared in these plans from the 1914 ed. of Janes. The new ships were estimated at the time to cost of about £3 million per hull.

The guns could fire a 1,200-pound shell to 15,000 yards, limited due to the 12-degree elevation of their turret. This was later modified to 18 degrees in a 1920s refit, which produced a range of 20,000 yards.

In the 1930s, the Bretagne-class received the slightly more modern Model 1912M version of the guns originally intended for the scrapped Normandie-class battleships, and their elevation was increased again, to 23 degrees, allowing for 25,000-yard shots. Each tube could fire every 35 seconds and the magazine held 100 shells per gun

She also carried 22 5.5-inch guns, some 3-pdrs on her fighting tops and, like most battleships of the time, a quartet of torpedo tubes.

Laid down in April 1912 at At.&Ch de la Loire in St. Nazaire, Lorraine joined the French Navy 27 Jul 1916, which, as it turned out, was some two years into WWI.

Her sisters, Bretagne and Provence, were likewise tardy to the conflict. By the time they had become operational, Italy had switched her pre-war allegiance from Germany and Austria to the Allies, which effectively bottled up the Austro-Hungarians in the Adriatic. Likewise, the Germans were shut in the Baltic and were licking their wounds from Jutland and would never effectively sortie for a fleet action again.

THE FRENCH NAVY IN THE MEDITERRANEAN, 1914-1918 (Q 69694) The French battleship LORRAINE in dry dock at Toulon, 27 December 1916. The black on the turrets and guns is not paint but a substance known as bouchon gras (“fat cap”), a thick grease-and-ash mix that was supposed to prevent rust and corrosion while at sea which was common in French service from about 1908 to the 1930s. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

With no one ready to fight the trio of powerful (for 1916) new French battleships, Provence was sidelined as a fleet flagship while Bretagne and Lorraine sailed for Corfu as part of the 1st Battle Squadron to lend their muscle to any Allied effort to smash the Austrians should they try to break out into the Med.

It was a low-morale job and the French fleet, who had lost almost a third of their personnel to shore up the Army’s losses on the Western front, were rife with discontent.

After the Austrian Kaiser left Vienna and turned over his vessels to the newly formed Yugoslav Navy in November 1918, Lorraine sailed for Cattaro to guard the former Austro-Hungarian fleet until it could be doled out as prize ships– of which the Yugoslavs received few. Lorraine was to sail for the Black Sea in March 1919 to take part in the Allied intervention in Russian during the Civil War there, but a series of paralyzing pro-Bolshevik (red flags and everything) mutinies in the French fleet (to include her sister Provence) forced a recall back home, where many of the rank-and-file were furloughed by the nearly bankrupt government.

Once peace broke out, the barely-used battleship spent the next 20 years in a series of reduced commissionings (she went through at least four extensive refit/modernization periods between 1921 and 1935 alone, chalking up over 68 months in the yard), reserve status, and training cruises. During this time, some of her casemate guns were removed to free up weight, as was her torpedoes and amidships 13.4-inch turret (replaced by aviation facilities for spotting planes). Further, her coal-burning boilers were replaced by oil-fired ones, which raised both her speed and range.

Seen in 1917 in her original scheme, note all five turrets are there. Also note the thick bouchon gras coating.

Modernized scheme, note large fire control tower on main mast, gunfire clock, new 75mm DP guns, and lack of amidships turret. Also, no fat cap!

All these improvements came as France was whittling their battleship force down considerably between the wars to meet the 175,000-ton mark (parable with Italy) set by the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922. The Republic started WWI with 16 pre-dreadnoughts and shed all of them in the 1920s. Of the four Courbet-class dreadnoughts, France was wrecked in 1922 and the other three relegated to hulks or training ships. The nine planned Normandie & Lyon class battleships were aborted with just one of the hulls, Bearn, converted to an aircraft carrier.

The result was that the Bretagne-class were the default heavy-hitters of the French Navy for the two solid decades from 1916 until 1936 when the new 35,000-ton Dunkerque and Strasbourg were completed.

French Warships at Brest, France, 1939. In the foreground are the large destroyers Le Terrible (12-), L’Audacieux (11-) and Le Fantasque (10-). Next are three La Galissonnière-class light cruisers. In the upper center are three battleships (Bretagne, Provence, and Lorraine). In the distance are the hulks of at least three old cruisers (upper left), and three Chacal class destroyers (upper right). U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 90001

When France once again found itself at war with the Germans in 1939, Bretagne and Provence were in Toulon with the 2nd Squadron, while Lorraine was assigned to the Atlantic Squadron. Sailing from Casablanca in November 1939, she took on a load of 1,500 boxes of gold (some 100 tons!) at Brest from the national treasury and took it across the Atlantic to Halifax, from where it was sent by rail to New York and later lent legitimacy to the Free French government in exile once the country got knocked out of the war.

Dubbed Operation Macaroni, Lorraine‘s “Force Z” was joined by a number of escorts in case she ran into German surface raiders or U-boats while in the North Atlantic. These included the light cruisers Marseillaise and Jean de Vienne, alongside the destroyers Aigle, Fortuné, Railleuse, Lion and Simoun. On the way back across after making their deposit abroad, the task force escorted Allied merchantmen carrying war supplies to Europe.

Operating with the British from Alexandria in the Med after April 1940, she was in that port when the Blitzkrieg end-game was playing out at Dunkirk and the Third Republic was forced to negotiate their surrender to the Germans. Nonetheless, Lorraine was involved in one of the last French efforts of the period in support of the Allies when she sailed on 21 June along with the British light cruisers HMS Orion (VADM J.C. Tovey’s flagship), HMS Neptune, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney, and the destroyers HMAS Stuart, HMS Decoy, HMS Dainty, and HMS Hasty to conduct a bombardment of Italian positions around Bardia, Libya.

Lorraine fired 53 rounds of 13.4-inch and another 37 of 5.5-inch, credited with silencing an anti-aircraft battery in the area. It was her first shots in anger but would not be her last.

Less than two weeks later, the British ordered her disarmed and defueled, interning the vessel along with others in Alexandria in early July, as France had signed the armistice with Hitler at Compiegne. She was joined by the rest of French Adm. René-Émile Godfroy’s Force X: three 10,000-ton heavy cruisers (Duquesne, Tourville, Suffern), the 7,500-ton light cruiser Duguay-Trouin, the three torpedo boats Basque, Forbin, and Fortuné; and the submarine Protée. This effectively took a large portion of the French fleet out of the possibility of falling into German hands.

Sadly, on July 3, the British attacked their former allies, striking the French anchorage at Mers-el-Kébir where they sank Lorraine‘s sisters Bretagne and Provence as well as the new battleship Dunkerque. Bretagne was hit by several British 15-inch shells and exploded, killing most of her crew. Provence, also hit several times, burned and settled on the harbor but did not explode. She would later be raised and patched up enough to sail for Toulon.

On the same day, the old French training battleships Paris and Courbet, then docked in Plymouth with evacuees aboard, were seized by the British as well and later used as barracks ships and targets. In effect, the only battleships left to the Republic on July 4, 1940, were the marginally functional Richelieu (which the British tried repeatedly to sink at Dakar) and the incomplete Jean Bart in Casablanca, as well as Strasbourg and the wrecked Provence at Toulon.

Meanwhile, back in Egypt, half of Godfroy’s 4,000 men chose to be repatriated to France after the indignation of Mers-el-Kébir and were in turn sent to nearby Beirut, then under Vichy control. The remainder of the Alexandria-interned vessels, Lorraine included, remained there under a British flag as impounded “Vichy” ships, while the Crown picked up their remaining crews’ pay– for three years!

VICHY NAVAL FORCE H UNDER ADMIRAL GODEFROY’S COMMAND, IN ALEXANDRIA HARBOUR. 22 AND 24 APRIL 1942, ALEXANDRIA. (A 9852) The Battleship LORRAINE in Alexandria Harbour. Note French markings on the turret Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

VICHY NAVAL FORCE H UNDER ADMIRAL GODEFROY’S COMMAND, IN ALEXANDRIA HARBOUR. 22 AND 24 APRIL 1942, ALEXANDRIA. (A 9853) The Battleship LORRAINE in Alexandria Harbour. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Fast forward to to Torch Landings in French North Africa in November 1942, which triggered the Germans move into Vichy, France and “The Boche” occupied the French Mediterranean naval base at Toulon, but not before the French scuttled what was left of their fleet there, sending Strasbourg and the repaired Provence to the bottom:

Le Strasbourg sabordé, derrière lui le croiseur Colbert est en feu

On 30 May 1943, the three French dreadnoughts in Allied control– Lorraine in Alexandria, the battered Jean Bart in Casablanca, and Richelieu in Dakar– finally came over to De Gaulle’s Free French side and were rearmed. While JB and Richelieu were in no condition to fight and sailed for the U.S. to be repaired/completed, Lorraine was able to join the effort against the Axis more quickly and was, at the time, the only combat-capable French battleship anywhere in the world (although just four of her 13.4-inch guns could be made functional again.) Luckily, the long-ago hulked Paris and Courbet, in possession of the Brits since 1940, provided some spare parts as the three vessels shared much machinery.

FRENCH FLEET LEAVES ALEXANDRIA. 23 JUNE 1943, ALEXANDRIA. (A 18293) The French battleship LORRAINE, with her Tricolour flying before leaving Alexandria harbour. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

The French battleship LORRAINE passing through the Suez Canal towards Suez Bay. June 23, 1943. As she was short on crew and lacked anti-air capabilities while the Germans were still very much capable of running air strikes in the Med, she would sail the long way around Africa to Dakar, where she would be used as a training ship for a few months, before heading to Casablanca. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Up-armed with 14 40mm Bofors and 25 20mm Oerlikons for AAA protection, her crew–most of which had left during her stint in Alexandria, to either return home or fight for De Gaulle– were reformed and retrained. She also ditched her aviation facility as, cut off from French suppliers, her seaplanes could no longer be supported.

80-G-202753: French battleship, SS Lorraine, in Casablanca Harbor. Note she still has her seaplanes in this photo. Photograph released November 13, 1943.

By August 1944, she was part of the Allied fleet aiming to liberate Southern France, Operation Dragoon. Largely due to the tough nut that was the Normandy invasion on D-Day, Dragoon gets lost in the history books, but have no mistake that it was no lay-up.

Importantly to the Free French, Lorraine was in the thick of the liberation of both Toulon and Marseilles. Of note, the Cross of Lorraine was the symbol of De Gaulle’s forces.

The powerful symbology of having a battleship named “Lorraine” in the Free French Navy, a movement that used the Cross of Lorraine as a symbol, was a no-brainer.

Operating in conjunction with Kingfisher floatplanes from the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Quincy (CA-71) correcting her shot, Lorraine was part of TG 86.4, consisting of the fellow battlewagons USS Nevada and Texas, the cruisers Augusta, Cincinnati (CL-6), Marblehead (CL-12), Omaha (flagship), Philadelphia, Georges Leygues and Montcalm, and large French destroyers Le Fantasque, Le Malin, and Le Terrible. Starting on 18 August, Nevada, Lorraine, and Augusta shelled the harbor and batteries at Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer and Cap Sicié. where they also engaged the floating wreck of the German-held battleship Strasbourg, hitting the ex-French battleship aft and causing her to list to starboard in the Bay of Lazaret.

Lorraine and Quincy in tandem fired at hard-to-kill Target J-15 (Y-856/973), a German railway battery, silencing it.

Then came a running fight with emplaced two 13.4-inch guns from the French battleship Provence, Lorraine‘s old sister, on the fortified crest of the headland on Cap Cépet, not far from the village and naval arsenal at Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer, overlooking the approaches to Toulon.

Nevada, Ramillies, Lorraine, Augusta, Philadelphia, Aurora, Émile Bertin, Georges Leygues, Quincy and Montcalm all fought the well-defended 13.4-inch battery at times over the next week, 19–26 August 1944, with Lorraine taking a break on 21 August to fire the first shots in the actual attack on Toulon itself. The big 13.4-inch battery, which had one of its guns knocked out by the Allied ships, eventually surrendered at the orders of German Konteradmiral Heinrich Ruhfus, who commanded the garrison in the Toulon area, on 28 August.

The destroyed French 13.4-inch turret A at Cap Cépet, from Lorraine’s former sistership, Provence.

As noted by DANFS:

“Bombs and shells plowed the ground around the turret, and French ordnance specialists investigated the position after the Germans capitulated and noted that the larger craters carved out by the heavy naval gunfire stood out compared to the bombing impact holes. When Contre-Amiral André-Georges Lemonnier, the French Navy’s chief of staff, questioned one of the battery’s officers, the German told him that the shelling stunned many of his gunners and they refused to man the guns during the final stages of the battle.”

Lorraine was the first Allied ship into Toulon.

Lorraine and Gloire in Toulon Harbor, France, 15 September 1944. Taken by USS Philadelphia (CL 41). 80-G-248718

First major units of French, British, American warships entering Toulon, France. Shown FS Lorraine, FS Emile Bertin, FS Duguay, FS Montcalm, FS Gloire, HMS Sirius, 13 September 1944. Taken by USS Philadelphia (CL 41) 80-G-248719

An American soldier on the deck of the destroyed French battleship Strasbourg in Toulon, August 1944. Near the battleship on its side is the light cruiser La Gallissoniere.

Following the fall of Toulon, our aging French battlewagon went on to plaster the Germans at Sospel, Castillon, Carqueiranne, and Saint-Tropez for the first two weeks of September until the fighting moved into the interior. She then got to take a few months off and refit.

French Battleship LORRAINE in the English Channel in 1944, photo taken from HMCS MAYFLOWER via Royal Canadian Navy

In one of the last battles in Europe during WWII, Lorraine was made the biggest hitter in the 10-ship task force assigned to Operation Vénérable, a mission to rout the remaining German holdouts from the approaches of Brittany in April 1945, where they had been bypassed in 1944 and lingered on even after the Soviets were fighting in Berlin.

It was largely a French naval operation, with our battleship joining the heavy cruiser Duquesne, destroyers Alcyon, Basque and Fortuné, destroyer escort Hova, frigates Aventure, Decouverteand Surprise, and sloop Amiral Mouchez, in support of the “Black Panthers” of the U.S. 66th INF Div. and the French 2ème Division Blindé.

Opération “Vénérable” à bord du croiseur Le Duquesne: Passage à proximité du cuirassé La Lorraine

Festung Girondemündung Nord, on the north bank of the Gironde estuary on the Bay of Biscay, which had four 240mm/50 Modèle 1902 guns taken off the old Danton class semi-dreadnought Condorcet following the scuttling of the French fleet at Toulon in late November 1942. Commanded by Konteradmiral Hans Michahelles, the position was held largely by Kriegsmarine sailors acting as infantry, namely the unit formed by the destroyermen of the 8. Zerstörer-Flottille sunk in the 1940 Norway campaign, Marine-Bataillon Narvik. Starting her bombardment on 14 April, in conjunction with massive airstrikes, Lorraine and company reduced the fortress by 20 April, when Michahelles threw in the towel.

The war in Europe only had 18 more days.

During Venerable, Lorraine fired 236 13.4-inch shells, 192 5.5-inch shells, and 538 75-mm shells


One of only three French battleships to make it through the war, Lorraine served as gunnery training vessel from June 1945, then as an accommodation hulk, and was only finally stricken in February 1953 after giving 37 hard years to both the Third and Fourth Republics, while politely refusing to take part in that whole Vichy thing.

An English patriotic postcard from 1917 depicting the then-new Lorraine. She is in her original scheme, note amidships turret

She was sold before the end of the year and towed to Brégaillon outside Toulon in January 1954 where she was broken up for scrap.

Today, Toulon is still the main home of the French Navy, including the flagship carrier, Charles de Gaulle (R91).


Normal: 23,230 metric tons (22,860 long tons), 25,000 fl
Length: 544 ft 7 in
Beam: 88 ft 3 in
Draft: 32 ft 2 in
(As built)
4 shafts, Parsons steam turbines, 29,000 shp (22,000 kW)
24 Bellville coal-fired water-tube boilers with oil spray
(After 1931)
4, shafts, steam turbines, 43,000 shp
16 Indret high-pressure oil-fired boilers
Speed: 20 knots as built, 21.4kts after 1931
Range: 4,700 nmi at 10 knots on 2,700 tons coal +300t oil (as designed)
Crew: 1124–1133
(As built)
5 × 2 – 340mm, 13.4″/45cal Modèle 1912 guns, 100 rds. per gun
22 × 1 – 138.6 mm, 5.5″/ 55cal Mle 1910 guns, 275 rounds per gun
7 × 1 – 47-millimetre (1.9 in) guns
4 × 450 mm (18 in) torpedo tubes
4 × 2 – 340mm/45 Modèle 1912M guns (only four working after 1940)
12 × 1 – 138.6 mm, 5.5″/ 55cal Mle 1910 guns, 275 rounds per gun
4 x 2 – 100/45
4 x 1 – 75/63 M1908 AA
14 x 1 40mm/56cal Bofors singles
25 x 20mm/70cal Oerlikon singles
Belt: 270 mm (11 in)
Decks: 40 mm (1.6 in)
Conning tower: 314 mm (12.4 in)
Turrets: 250–340 mm (9.8–13.4 in)
Casemates: 170 mm (6.7 in)

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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019: The first of the Big W’s

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, Jan. 16, 2019: The first of the Big W’s

NH 97885

Here we see the one-of-a-kind U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Wichita (CA-45) amid a winter storm off Iceland in 1941-42. Note the PBY patrol plane on the deck of the seaplane tender from which the photograph was taken. The mighty and unique warship would earn a full baker’s dozen battlestars across multiple theaters in WWII, taking fire from the French, Germans and Japanese.

Sandwiched between the seven 588-foot/12,600-ton New Orleans (CA-32)-class cruisers of the 1930s and the 14 more modern 673-foot/17,000-ton Baltimore (CA-68)-class cruisers of the 1940s, Wichita was a standalone derivative of the basic design prepared for the 606-foot/12,400-ton Brooklyn (CL-40)-class of light cruisers, similar in characteristics and appearance but with three 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Mark 12 triple turrets instead of the five 6-inch turrets mounted in the Brooklyn.

Each of her guns could fire 3-4 shells per minute. At 260-pounds each, they could reach out to 31,860 yards. She carried 1,350 rounds in her magazine and later, off Okinawa, would run dry several times. Wichita (CA-45) class Turret sketch from OP-1112. Image courtesy of HNSA via Navweps

Designed to weigh 10,000-tons (this was still a Treaty thing) she would grow to carry over 13,000 tons during WWII.

The first U.S. Navy vessel named for the City of Wichita, Kansas, she was laid down at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1935 and completed on 16 February 1939, less than seven months shy of Hitler’s march into Poland.

USS WICHITA (CA-45) about 1940. Courtesy of The Marines Museum, Newport News, Va. Ted Stone Collection. Catalog #: NH 66793

Speaking of which, Wichita received her received her 66-piece silver service from officials in her namesake city (crafted for $3,000 by area jeweler Cleon A. Whitney) and, after a shakedown in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, she soon clocked in on FDR’s Neutrality Patrol in the North Atlantic in October. By the next year, with the specter of the Graf Spee running amok in the South Atlantic, Wichita soon became a facet in ports around Latin America, calling at everything from Curacao to Montevideo, Rio and Buenos Aires.

USS Wichita (CA 45) port view while at New York City Harbor, New York, pre-WWII LOC

Back in the frozen North by early 1941, the Navy’s roaming cruiser made her way to Iceland, then a Danish territory occupied by the British to keep the Kriegsmarine from doing the same thing. Sailing as part of Operation Indigo II in July, she was on hand for the transfer of the island to (then still neutral) U.S. protection. She would spend the next several months on what was termed the “White Patrol,” engaged in operations in Icelandic waters, spending much of her time swinging at anchor at wind-swept Hvalfjordur.

USS Wichita (CA-45) anchored at Seidisfjord, Iceland on 30 June 1942. Life Archives

One salty reservist assigned to the big W was best known at the time for appearing in The Prisoner of Zenda, Gunga Din and The Corsican Brothers— actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., then serving as a 33-year-old lieutenant with some 60 films already behind him.

Douglas Fairbanks (left), CPT Henry C. Johnson, and LCDR (later RADM) John D. Bulkeley on USS Endicott’s bridge later in the war.

After early service on the destroyer USS Ludlow, carrier USS Wasp, and battleship USS Washington he was assigned as assistant gunnery officer and “staff observer” on USS Wichita in July 1942 for a month before he was switched to Mountbatten’s Combined Operations Headquarters, London, where he was soon slipping across the Channel with Commandos. He later proved vital to forming the Navy’s Beach Jumpers and served in PT Boat/MTB units in the Med. However, he said in an interview in the 1990s that he liked serving on cruisers better than other warships.

Crucially, Fairbanks was aboard Wichita for PQ-17, but more on that later.

He was not the only star aboard. Much like the ill-fated Sullivan brothers who went on to all perish on the light cruiser USS Juneau in 1942, Wichita had her own set of five siblings, which garnered a bit of attention.

Five brothers who served on board the ship in 1941. The original caption released with this photograph reads: Five Brothers in service aboard USS WICHITA. Five Horton brothers, of Yemassee, South Carolina, who enlisted in the United States Navy at the recruiting station, Charleston, So. Car., and are now serving aboard the cruiser, USS WICHITA. They are (l to r standing) Edmund, Hal, and John; (l to r kneeling) William and Thomas. Their father, Thomas Daniel Horton, operates a general merchandise store at Yemassee, So. Car. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 52689

Once the U.S. entered the war post-Pearl Harbor, Wichita joined the British RN along with other U.S. Naval assets and put to sea to cover the movement of Convoys QP-11 and PQ-15, sailing to and coming from the vital lend-lease port of Murmansk with aid for Moscow, screening the merchantmen from the likes of German heavy cruisers and battleships operating from Norway as her SOC Seagull floatplanes, armed with depth charges, patrolled for shadowing U-boats.

At anchor in Scapa Flow in April 1942. USS Wasp (CV-7) is in the background. Catalog #: NH 97884

Operating with the British Home Fleet, in the vicinity of Scapa Flow, 22 April 1942. Note her camo scheme. 80-G-21010

USS Wichita (CA 45) anti-aircraft activity during a North Atlantic Patrol, 1942. She was commissioned with a very light battery of water-cooled .50-cal AAA guns, an armament that was stepped up significantly when she went to the Pacific. 80-G-405273

While the first two convoys passed without much danger, on the next two, westbound PQ-16 and eastbound QP-12, she had to chase off German Condor seaplanes with AAA.

Then came PQ-17 in July 1942.

Threatened by the battleship Tirpitz and heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper as well as swarms of He 111 bombers, the covering First Cruiser Squadron (CS1) consisting of the four Allied cruisers HMS London, HMS Norfolk, Wichita and USS Tuscaloosa, was ordered by the Admiralty to “withdraw to the westward at high speed,” while the convoy itself was to scatter and “proceed to Russian ports,” alone and unescorted. It was a disaster, and 24 of 36 of the merchantmen was sent to the bottom as the Germans chased them all the way to Murmansk. Churchill called it, “one of the most melancholy naval episodes in the whole of the war.”

Steaming through heavy weather, while operating as a unit of Task Force Four in the North Atlantic, September 1941. Photographed from USS Wasp (CV-7).

Nonetheless, Wichita was given a reprieve from convoy work as the Allies were planning something big.

By November, she was off North Africa as part of the Torch Landings, aimed to occupy Vichy French Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and drive Rommel back to Europe. She was to help seize Casablanca, which was thought to be an easy operation.

It was not.

Battle of Casablanca, 8-16 November 1942. USS Wichita (CA 45) straddled by three shells from Jean Bart during the battle. 80-G-38835


However, the French decided to resist; and they proved stubborn. Ordered to attack at 0623, Wichita stood toward the North African coast, her spotting planes, Curtiss SOC’s, airborne to spot her fall of shot. French fighters, possibly Dewoitine 520’s or American-built Curtiss Hawk 75’s, attacked the “Seagulls,” and one had to make a forced landing. Its crew was picked up by one of the heavy cruiser’s escorts.

At 0704, the guns of the French battleship Jean Bart boomed from Casablanca harbor, as did the ones emplaced at El Hank. Although moored to a pier and still incomplete, Jean Bart packed a powerful “punch” with her main battery. Massachusetts subsequently opened fire in return at 0705, and Tuscaloosa did so shortly thereafter.

Wichita’s 8-inch battery crashed out at 0706, aimed at El Hank. Checking fire at 0723 when her spotting planes informed her that the French guns appeared to be silenced, the heavy cruiser shifted her 8-inch rifles in the direction of French submarines in Casablanca harbor. Subsequently checking fire at 0740, Wichita began blasting the French guns at Table d’Aukasha shortly before 0800.

After resumption of firing on French shipping in Casablanca’s harbor, Wichita received orders at 0835 to cease fire. At 0919, however, she opened fire again, this time directing her guns at French destroyers in harbor and at the light cruiser Primauguet. Later, at 1128, Wichita came within range of the French battery at El Hank, and the Vichy gunners scored a hit on the American cruiser. A 194-millimeter shell hit her port side, passed into the second deck near the mainmast, and detonated in a living compartment. Fragments injured 14 men, none seriously, and the resulting fires were quickly extinguished by Wichita’s damage control parties.

Torpedoes from a Vichy French submarine caused Wichita to take evasive action at 1139. Two “fish” went by a length ahead of the ship, and another passed deep under the bow or slightly ahead. After ceasing fire at 1142, Wichita received orders an hour later to attack French ships making for the harbor entrance at Casablanca. Accordingly, the heavy cruiser, aided by improved visibility and air spotting, again battered Primauguet, starting fierce fires that gutted a large part of that ship. At 1505, Wichita ceased fire; and her guns remained quiet for the rest of the day. That evening, she steamed seaward to avoid nocturnal submarine attacks and, over the ensuing days, patrolled offshore between Casablanca and Fedhala. Ordered to return to the United States, her task with “Torch” completed, Wichita sailed for Hampton Roads on 12 November.

Under repair well into 1943, she switched theaters and, sailing through the Panama Canal, arrived in the Pacific just in time to take a dud torpedo in a nighttime attack by Japanese planes off Rennell Island at the end of January!

Then came the Aleutian theater where she helped retake Attu, Kiska, and Adak, often serving as a flagship.

By January 1944, she was in the Marshall Islands, screening the carrier Bunker Hill. Then came a roll call of atolls filled with now-historic raids and landings– Yap, Woleali, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Hollandia, Wakde, Truk, the Carolines, Saipan, and Guam– where she knocked out Japanese aircraft and struck out with her big guns.

USS Wichita (CA-45). Underway at sea, 2 May 1944, during operations in the central Pacific. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 90428

Port side and after 5/38 guns of USS Wichita (CA-45) firing on enemy targets on Saipan, 26 June 1944. The guns’ simultaneous discharge indicates they are firing under director control. Note the 40mm gun mount at left, with ammunition loaded but no personnel present. 80-G-238240

During the famous “Marianas Turkey Shoot,” Wichita‘s gunners claimed assists on two Kates while one of her floatplanes rescued an American fighter pilot whose plane had been downed.

Then came more action in the Philippines in preparation for the landings at Leyte where Wichita came to the assistance of the larger cruiser USS Canberra (CA-70) that had caught a Japanese torpedo on 13 October, eventually taking the crippled vessel under tow. Once the tug USS Munsee took over, Canberra remained on tap to help screen “the cripple squadron” consisting of Canberra and the similarly torpedoed USS Houston (CL-81) for three days in the aftermath of the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Speaking of cripples, on 25 October, Wichita came across the damaged Japanese aircraft carrier Chiyoda and, in the company of the cruisers USS Santa Fe, Mobile, and New Orleans, along with nine destroyers, pummeled her until she slipped below the waves with 1,900 IJN officers and men aboard. Later that night, she sank the Akizuki-class destroyer Hatsuzuki off Cape Engaño.

USS Mobile (CL-63) firing on the Japanese destroyer Hatsuzuki, during the evening of 25 October 1944, at the end of the Battle off Cape Engaño. Photographed from USS Wichita (CA-45)

After a stint on the West Coast to repair damage and cobble her back together for the next big push, Wichita joined the gun line off Okinawa, where she would spend the rest of her war.

Again, from DANFS:

As an element of TU 54.2.3, Wichita covered minesweeping units in fire support sector four on 25 March, retiring to seaward for the night. As part of Fire Support Unit 3 the following day, Wichita was off Okinawa when lookouts spotted a periscope to starboard at 0932. Making an emergency turn to starboard, the heavy cruiser evaded the torpedo that was fired.

At 1350, Wichita commenced firing with her main battery, shelling Japanese installations on Okinawa, before she ceased fire at 1630 and retired to sea for the night. Soon after dawn the following morning, 27 March, several Japanese planes attacked the formation in which Wichita was proceeding; the heavy cruiser’s gunners shot down one. That morning and afternoon, Wichita again lent the weight of her salvos to the “softening-up” process; even her SOC joined in, dropping two bombs.

After floating mines, which had been delaying the start of the morning bombardment, had been cleared, Wichita resumed her bombardment activities on the 28th. The next day, the 29th, Wichita put into Kerama Retto to replenish ammunition. That rocky outcropping near Okinawa had been invaded to provide an advance base for the operations against the island. It was still in the process of being cleared of defenders even as Wichita entered the harbor, among the first ships to utilize the newly secured body of water. “You are the first to receive the keys of Kerama Retto,” radioed the senior officer present afloat to Wichita, “with scenery and sound effects.”

When she had replenished her stock of ammunition, Wichita resumed her shelling of the Japanese defenders on Okinawa, covering the movement of underwater demolition teams (UDT’s). She performed the same covering services for UDT’s the next day, 30 March, as well as bombarding selected targets ashore. On the 31st, Wichita shelled the beach area to breach the sea wall in preparation for the landings. That evening, the heavy cruiser retired to seaward to cover the approaching transports.

On Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, the day of the initial assault across the shores of Okinawa, Wichita provided neutralization fire on Japanese positions defending the southern beaches. She kept up a rapid, nearly continuous fire with everything from 8-inch to 40-millimeter guns. Near noon, her services temporarily not needed, she replenished ammunition.

After performing a call-fire mission on the 2d, Wichita replenished fuel and ammunition at Kerama Retto on the 3d. She subsequently took up a fire support station near le Shima and supported the minesweepers operating off that point on the 4th. During the night, Wichita fired harassment missions against the Japanese defenders. On the 5th, she was to join TG 51.19 east of Okinawa to carry out a bombardment of Tsugen Shima in company with Tuscaloosa, Maryland (BB-46), and Arkansas (BB-33), but the approach of enemy planes canceled the mission. That evening, though, Wichita shelled Japanese shore batteries at Chiyama Shima which had taken Nevada (BB-36) under fire earlier that day.

On 6 April, Wichita searched for troop concentrations, tanks, vehicles, and boat revetments on the east coast of Okinawa, targets of opportunity for her batteries. Shortly before sunset, a “Zeke” (Mitsubishi A6M5) came out of the clouds on the port quarter. The encounter was apparently one of mutual surprise, as Wichita’s commander later recounted: “We seemed nearly as much of a surprise to the plane as it did to us.” As the “Zeke” dove for the heavy cruiser’s bridge, antiaircraft fire reached up and tore the plane apart, it disintegrated over the ship and splashed in the sea off the starboard bow. There was no damage to the ship.

The following day, Wichita entered Nakagusuku Wan, a body of water later renamed Buckner Bay, during the morning to bombard a pugnacious shore battery. The enemy managed to land several shots “very close aboard the port side” but was ultimately silenced. For the next two days, Wichita carried out a similar slate of harassing fire on Japanese shore batteries, pillboxes, and other targets of opportunity. Underway for Kerama Retto on the afternoon of 10 April, the heavy cruiser replenished her ammunition supply that evening and returned to the bombardment areas the following day.

Wichita subsequently served four more tours of duty off Okinawa, her 8-inch guns providing part of the heavy volume of firepower necessary to support the troops advancing ashore against the tenacious Japanese defenders. She hit pillboxes, ammunition dumps, troop concentrations spotted by her observers aloft in one of her SOC’s, camouflaged installations and caves, waterfront areas suspected of supporting suicide boat launching ramps and harboring swimmers, as well as trenches and artillery emplacements. During that period, she was damaged twice: the first time came when a small caliber shell penetrated a fuel oil tank, five feet below the waterline, on 27 April. After repairs at Kerama Retto on 29 and 30 April (she had spent the 28th firing harassment rounds against Japanese positions ashore and making unsuccessful attempts to patch the hole), Wichita provided more harassment and interdiction fire before being hit by “friendly” fire during an air raid on 12 May. A 5-inch shell hit the port catapult, with fragments striking the shield of an antiaircraft director. Twelve men were injured, one so severely that he died that night.

Wichita was off the island when, on 15 August 1945, she received word that the war with Japan was over.

Following occupation and Magic Carpet duty, she was decommissioned on 3 February 1947.

The heavy cruiser was laid up at Philadelphia, where Wichita swayed in the brown, lead-streaked water until she was struck from the Navy list on 1 March 1959.

In August, she was sold for scrap, which was accomplished in Port Panama City, Florida. I believe that her silver service is at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum in her “hometown” as they have an exhibit to the vessel.

Rather than pass on her name to another warship, the second Wichita was a replenishment oiler (AOR-1) commissioned in 1969 and decommissioned on 12 March 1993. This later Wichita earned four battle stars for her Vietnam service and is currently being turned into razor blades and sheet metal for compact cars.

The most recent Wichita, LCS-13, was commissioned last week. She has big shoes to fill.

180711-N-N0101-376 LAKE MICHIGAN (July 11, 2018) The future littoral combat ship USS Wichita (LCS 13) conducts acceptance trials, which are the last significant milestone before a ship is delivered to the Navy. LCS-13 is a fast, agile, focused-mission platform designed for operation in near-shore environments as well as the open ocean. It is designed to defeat asymmetric threats such as mines, quiet diesel submarines, and fast surface craft. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin/Released)


Operating in the Atlantic Ocean, out of Norfolk, Virginia, on 1 May 1940. Note the markings on her turret tops (bars on the forward turrets, a circle on the after turret). This scheme was used on several other heavy cruisers in 1939-40. NH 93145

Camouflage Measure 32, Design 14D scheme intended for USS Wichita (CA-45). This plan, approved by Captain Torvald A. Solberg, USN, is dated 28 June 1944. It shows the ship’s starboard side, exposed decks, stern and superstructure ends. Wichita was not painted in this camouflage design. Catalog #: 80-G-174773

Displacement 10,000 tons (designed), 13,240-fl
Length: 608 (oa) ft.
Beam: 61 ft.
Draft: 25 ft.
Machinery: 100,000 SHP; 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 4 Parsons steam turbines, 4 screws
Complement: 929 officers and enlisted
9 x 8″/55
8 x 5″/38 DP
8 x .50-caliber water-cooled.
9 x 8″/55
8 x 5″/38 DP
24 × Bofors 40mm guns (4×4, 8×2)
18 × Oerlikon 20mm cannon
Seaplanes: 4
Armor: 6″ Belt, 8″ Turrets, 2 1/4″ Deck, 6″ Conning Tower.

Speed, 33.5 Knots, Crew 900.

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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019: That time an icebreaker took on a (pocket) battleship

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, Jan. 9, 2019: That time an icebreaker took on a (pocket) battleship

Here we see the hardy Soviet steel screw steamer/icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov with a homemade sail rig somewhere in the frozen Northern Sea Route in 1932. Built as a Canadian sealer, she sailed into maritime history when it came to polar exploration and met her end at the hands of a bruiser who was many times her match.

Ordered from the Scottish shipbuilding firm of D & W Henderson & Co., Glasgow as the SS Bellaventure by the Bellaventure S.S. Co. Ltd. of St. John’s Newfoundland in 1908, she was not very large (1132 grt / 471 nrt, 241-feet overall) but was designed to withstand the rigors of the polar seal trade. Completed the next year, she made seven trips searching for the lucrative marine mammals. Steam heated and electric-lighted, she could steam at 10 knots, burning through 13 tons of coal per day until her 292-ton bunker was bare. With accommodations for a 15-man crew, she could also accommodate 10 passengers in five staterooms that had access to a separate saloon that was “handsomely fitted up.”

“SS Bonaventure. First arrival from the seal fishery, March 28, 1911, with 26,289 old and young seals” via Newfoundland Quarterly”

Image from page 24 of “Newfoundland Quarterly 1909-11” (1909)

The S.S. Bellaventure, 467 tons, was engaged in the Canadian seal fishery for seven springs, 1909-1915. Her record year was 1910, 35,816 seals; her total was 112,135. Source:

When the Great War erupted, the Tsar was soon looking for ice-protected ships as the Ottoman Turks’ entry into the conflict shut off the Black Sea and, with the Baltic barred by the Germans, Russia was a proverbial boarded-up house that could only be entered by the chimney– the frozen Barents Sea harbor of Murmansk (then just a hamlet with primitive facilities) and the White Sea port of Arkhangelsk.

Purchased by Russia in 1916, she was renamed Alexander Sibiryakov in honor of a gold mine magnate who financed a number of improvements in Siberia as well as various scientific expeditions and historical research projects. As a shooting war was on, she was given a high-angle 76mm gun, largely for appearance sake as German U-boats and surface raiders were scarce in the Barents during WWI.

Note her gun tub forward. She would pick up a 45mm gun on the stern in 1942 as well as a couple of machine guns

Briefly used by the White Russians of Lt. Gen. Eugen Ludwig Müller (also often seen as “EK Miller” in the West) during his control of the Kola Peninsula where he had declared himself Governor-General of Northern Russia in the resulting power vacuum that followed in the wake of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Sibiryakov was operated for a time commercially by the British Ellerman’s Wilson Line concern (the British were propping up the Whites) and helped evacuate Muller and his bunch to Norway when the Bolsheviks captured his former fiefdom in 1920.

Sibiryakov was returned to the Reds who, from 1921 onward, sent her into the White Sea to support the Russian the hunting industry, and provide the various Soviet polar stations wintering of the Arctic Ocean with food, equipment, and fuel.

Academian and Hero of the Soviet Union Otto Schmidt, somewhere in the icepack, more about him below

The icebreaker managed to become the first ship in history to complete the 2,500-mile Northern Sea Route in one season when it was traveled by Otto Yulievich Schmidt’s expedition in 1932. The expedition left Arkhangelsk on July 28 commanded by CPT. Vladimir Voronin who, along with Schmidt and his deputy, Prof. Vladimir Wiese, rounded the North Land archipelago from the north and reached the Chukchi Sea in August. From there they had to power through solid ice, repair the hull in several places, free the prop (breaking her shaft) and finally sail the final leg out into the Bearing Strait at about the speed of flotsam on homemade sails made from tarps, old blankets and sheets after total engineering casualties, reaching Yokohama from there with the assistance of a tow from a Soviet fishing trawler in the Northern Pacific on 1 October.

When WWII came to Russia in 1941, courtesy of Barbarossa, Sibiryakov was taken up from academic and commercial service and placed in the Red Navy for the duration of the Great Patriotic War or her destruction, whichever came first.

Speaking of which, her still armed only with some machine guns and her 1915-vintage Tarnovsky-Lender 76mm popgun, she bumped into the Deutschland-class heavy cruiser (Panzerschiffe= armored ship, but commonly just termed “pocket battleship”) Admiral Scheer one day while out among the ice.

German Pocket Battleship DEUTSCHLAND Drawing of 1941 rig. Inset ADMIRAL SCHEER. German – CA (DEUTSCHLAND Class) 1941 NH 110853

The big German, at 15,000-tons, carried a half-dozen 28 cm/52 (11″) SK C/28 naval guns and knew how to use them.

Stern 28 cm/52 Turret on Admiral Scheer in mid-1939. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph # NH 80897.

Sailing as part of Operation Wunderland with three destroyers and a number of U-boats, Scheer aimed to penetrate the Kara Sea where they knew Soviets shipping tended to congregate as it was somewhat of a Russian lake, akin to the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S.– only a lot colder.

Encountering Scheer off Belukha Island near Middendorff Bay, the 13-knot icebreaker could not run and, rather than strike their flag, engaged the cruiser on 24 August. It was a short fight as Scheer‘s belt was 3.1-inches of armor while Sibiryakov‘s was – zero – in addition to the gross imbalance in armaments. It was all over within an hour.

Russian Icebreaker ALEXANDER SIBIRIEKOV Afire and sinking in the Barents Sea North of Murmansk after being attacked by the German cruiser ADMIRAL SCHEER in August 1942 survivors on the raft at right. NH 71384

Of the icebreaker’s 100~ man crew, only her skipper, 32-year-old Senior Lt. Anatoly Alekseevich Kacharava, and 18 crew members were pulled from the water by the Scheer while one man, a stoker by the name of Vavilov, was able to make it to shore on a leaky liferaft where he survived for a month among the polar bears on Belukha Island before he was finally rescued by a passing seaplane.

NH 71385 Sinking Of The Russian Icebreaker ALEXANDER SIBIRIEKOV as seen from Scheer, note rescued Soviet sailors on deck. The men would spend the next decade in German and Soviet camps.

Many of the Soviet mariners captured never made it home from German POW camps.

Worse, those who survived long enough to be repatriated after the war were sent to the gulag (thanks, Uncle Joe!) for several years as were many returning Soviet POWs. In 1961, Kacharava, along with the other survivor, was declared “rehabilitated” and awarded the Order of the Red Banner nearly two decades after their pitched battle. He returned to the merchant service, skippering ships along the Northern Sea Route, and headed the Georgian Shipping Company in the 1970s, retiring to Batumi.

Kacharava (1910-1982)

He died in 1982.

However, the act of trying to fight it out with a beast of a cruiser landed the humble Sibiryakov a solid spot in Russian naval lore and relics of the ship are venerated today in the country while she has been repeatedly portrayed in Soviet maritime art.

The battle of the icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov with the cruiser Admiral Scheer by PP Pavlinov, 1945.

The last fight of the icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov 25 August 1942. By Michael Uspensky

As for Scheer, she was sunk by British bombers in 1945 and partially salvaged, with her remains currently buried beneath a quay in Kiel.


Displacement: 1132 grt / 471 nrt (as designed)
Length: 241-feet
Beam: 35.8-feet
Draft: 16.9-feet
Engines: T3cyl (22.5, 37, 61 x 42in), 347nhp, 1-screw
Speed: 13 knots
Crew (1942) 100
Armament: 1 x 76mm Tarnovsky-Lender M1914/15 8-K gun, 1x45mm gun (added 1942), machine guns

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

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

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

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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 (of 448)

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, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 of 448

Collection of George K. Beach, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 91189

Here we see the mighty 110-foot Submarine Chaser No. 330 of the U.S. Navy en route across the Atlantic, circa September-October 1918, to take the fight to the Kaiser’s unterseeboot threat. The hearty little class, more akin to yachts or trawlers than warships, were hard to kill and gave unsung service by the hundreds, with SC-330 one of the longer-lasting of the species.

In an effort to flood the Atlantic with sub-busting craft and assure the U-boat scourge was driven from the sea, the 110-foot subchasers were designed by Herreshoff Boat Yard Vice President, the esteemed naval architect Albert Loring Swasey (Commodore of the MIT Yacht Club in 1897) on request of Asst Naval Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1916 and rushed into construction the next year. It was believed the vessels could be rushed out via commercial boat yards at $500K a pop.

Submarine Chaser SC-49 parading with other Sub Chasers off an unknown East Coast port

Derided as a “splinter fleet” the SCs were built from wood (the most excellent Subchaser Archives says “Frame/floors: white oak. Planking: yellow pine. Deck planking: Oregon pine”), which, when powered by a trio of Standard 220-hp 6-cylinder gasoline (!) engines, a 24~ man crew could get the narrow-beamed vessel underway at a (designed) top speed of 18 knots, which was fast enough for U-boat work at the time.

View in the engine room, looking aft, circa 1918. Taken by Louis Harder, at The Naval Experimental Station, New London, Conn NH 44355

Armed with a 3″/23cal low-angle pop gun forward– which was still capable of punching a hole in a submarine’s sail or pressure hull out to 8,000 yards– a couple of M1895 Colt/Marlin or Lewis light machine guns for peppering periscopes, and assorted depth charges (both racks and projectors), they were dangerous enough for government work.

3-inch gun drill, Submarine Chaser operating in European waters, 1918 NH 124131

Deck scene aboard a U.S. Navy Submarine Chaser during World War I. Caption: This photo, taken from the top of the pilot house, shows the boat’s “Y” gun depth charge thrower aft of amidships and a 12-foot Wherry dinghy coming alongside (each chaser carried one as well as a liferaft stowed on the engine room trunk). The submarine chaser in the picture is not identified but may be USS SC-143. Original photograph from the collection of Mr. Peter K. Connelly, who was Boatswain on the SC-143 in 1918-1919. NH 64978

For finding their quarry, they were equipped with hydrophones produced by the Submarine Signal Company of Boston (which today is Raytheon), of the C-tube and K-tube variety.

As noted by no less authority than Admiral William S. Sims in a 1920 article reprinted in All Hands in 1954:

“The C-tube consisted of a lead pipe-practically the same as a water pipe which was dropped over the side of the ship fifteen or
twenty feet into the sea; this pipe contained the wires which, at one end, were attached to the devices under the water, and which, at the other end, reached the listener’s ears.”

When a cavitation submarine was near it “showed signs of lively agitation. It trembled violently and made a constantly increasing hullabaloo in the ears of the listener.”

C-Tube Illustration #2 Caption: This diagram shows the inner workings of a C-tube listening device. Original Location: Submarine Signal Company Descriptive Specifications of General Electric Company’s “C” Tube Set, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 338, National Archives, Washington, DC

C-Tube Illustration #1 The C-Tube over the side

“At work aboard a U.S. Navy submarine chaser (SC),” at the U.S. Naval Experimental Station, New London, Connecticut, circa 1918. Photo by Louis Harder, New London. NH 2460

Besides escorting coastal convoys (subchasers had short legs) and watching for surfaced boats, 3-packs of the hardy little vessels would drift and listen, their K-tubes and C-tubes in the water, depth charges at the ready.

From Sims:

The three little vessels, therefore, drifted abreast-at a distance of a mile or two apart-their propellers hardly moving, and the decks as silent as the grave; they formed a new kind of fishing expedition, the officers and crews constantly held taut by the expectation of a “bite.” The middle chaser of the three was the flagship and her most interesting feature was the so-called plotting room. Here one officer received constant telephone reports from all three boats, giving the nature of the sounds, and, more important still, their directions. He transferred these records to a chart as soon as they came in, rapidly made calculations, and in a few seconds, he was able to give the location of the submarine. This process was known as “obtaining a fix.”

This photograph captioned “Battle Formation of Sub-chasers”, seems to depict the vessels in a columnar formation, which would be unusual for engaging with a submarine. The battle formation was most commonly ships arranged in a line abreast. From the T. Woofenden Collection at via NHHC

The first of the class, SC-1, was built at Naval Station New Orleans and commissioned in October 1917. Others were built at Mare Island, New York (Brooklyn), Charleston, Norfolk and Puget Sound Naval Yards; by Matthews Boat in Ohio, Hodgdon Yacht in Maine, Hiltebrant in Kingston, College Point Boat Works, Mathis Yacht in New Jersey, Barrett SB in Alabama, Great Lake Boat Building Corp in Milwaukee…well, you get the idea…they were built everywhere, some 448 vessels over three years.

110-foot subchaser under construction in Cleveland. Photo by Cleveland Parks

110-foot wooden submarine chaser being built at an unidentified shipyard. NARA 165-WW-506a-111

Our subject, SC-330, was handcrafted with love by the Burger Boat Co., Manitowoc, Wisconsin— the only such craft built by the yard– and commissioned 8 February 1918. Of note, Burger is still in the yacht biz today.

She cut her teeth with the early submarine hunter-killer group centered around the Paulding-class four-piper destroyer USS Jouett (DD-41) on the East Coast.

Assigned to Division 12 of Submarine Chaser Squadron 4 for service overseas during the Great War, SC-330 headed overseas in September 1918, ending up in the Azores.

U.S Navy Submarine Chasers at sea in August 1918. NH 63449

Submarine chasers at sea in European waters during World War I NH 2687

Rushed into service, at least 121 of the 110s made it “Over There” before Versailles, including no less than 36 that operated in the Med from the island of Corfu. Not bad for ships that only hit the drawing board in late 1916.

The boat carried two officers, a CPO, five engine rates, three electricians (radiomen), a BM, a QM, 3 hydrophone listeners, a couple of guys in the galley, and 5-7 seamen. Crews were often a mix of trawlermen serving as rates, Ivy League yachtsmen as officers, and raw recruits making up the balance. In many cases, the Chief was the only regular Navy man aboard. Life was primative, with no racks, one head and hammocks strung all-round.

Most crews went from civilian life to getting underway in just a few months. The fact that these craft deploying to Europe did so on their own power– effectively in a war zone as soon as they left brown water on the East Coast– with very little in the way of a shakedown is remarkable.

Subchaser refueling, on the voyage from the Azores to Ireland

Fueling sub chasers at sea, 1918. Capable of an 880-mile range on their 2,400 gallons of gasoline, each chaser needed to refuel 4-5 times while on a crossing of the Atlantic. Pretty heady stuff in the day. NH 109622

In an Azores harbor with other ships of the U.S. and foreign navies, circa October 1918. The six sub chasers in the left center of the view, with bows to the camera, are (from left to right): SC-223, SC-330, SC-180, SC-353, SC-331 and (probably) SC-356. Ships nested with them, to the right, include a bird type minesweeper and two converted yacht patrol vessels. The four sailing ship masts to the extreme right probably belong to the French Quevilly, which was serving as station tanker in the Azores. Collection of George K. Beach, who was a crewmember of USS SC-331 at the time. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99742

Mosquito fleet U.S. Navy submarine chasers of the “Mosquito Fleet” at the Azores, circa 1919. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 67714

The ships did what they could and, when used in a littoral, performed admirably. For example, a squadron of 11 of these chasers screened the British-French-Italian naval forces during the Second Battle of Durazzo in Oct. 1918, destroying mines that threatened the bombarding ships and driving off an Austrian submarine trying to attack the Allied fleet.

However, when in open ocean, things could get really real for them.

As noted by an Irish site referencing the 30 110s under Capt. A.J. Hepburn that arrived in August 1918:

The 110 foot subchaser was a fine sea boat, but was never designed to withstand the wild Atlantic seas off Ireland. Constant leaks from decks and windows, choking petrol fumes in the officers quarters, and constant seasickness from the rolling motion, were the lot of crews of these craft.

In heavy weather they would be almost awash, with only the pilot house showing above the waves. The depth charge racks were felt to be too heavy and made the vessels prone to taking seas over the stern. Many reports of German submarines from coastwatchers and others were actually subchasers ploughing through heavy seas.

Subchaser in heavy seas, showing how, from a distance, it could be mistaken for a u-boat

Once the war ended, SC-330 was sent back to the states, served in Gitmo for a time, and was laid up in the Gulf Coast in 1919.

Submarine chasers awaiting disposition. Caption: Part of the hundreds of World War I submarine chasers tied up at the Port Newark Army Base, New Jersey, awaiting disposition, 13 May 1920. Those identified include: USS SC-78, USS SC-40, USS SC-47, USS SC-143, and USS SC-110. Description: Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69166

SC-330 caught a reprieve. In the summer of 1920, she was sent up the Mississippi River system and served on semi-active duty through the 1920s and 30s, training Naval Reservists in the Midwest. As such, the little boat and those like her cradled the USNR through the interwar period, and, without such vessels, WWII would have looked a lot different.

S-330 underway in Midwestern waters, during the 1920s or 1930s. Sign on the building in the right distance reads Central Illinois Light Co. Note that she has lost her depth charges and Y-gun, not needed for use on the Mississippi River. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41996

Three of the 110s that made it to WWII service: USS SC-330; USS SC-412; and USS SC-64, in port, circa the 1920s or 1930s. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Note the difference in lettering, with some using abbreviations (“S.C. 64”) and some not (“SC412”) Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Photo #: NH 103096

Of her 448 sisters, more than 100 were transferred to the French during the war, some to the Coast Guard in the 1920s, and most liquidated by the early 1930s as they grew long in the tooth. Wood vessels with gasoline engines weren’t highly desired by the Navy at the time, after all.

USCGC Vaughan, ex-USS SC-152, was built by the Gibbs Gas Engine Co., Jacksonville, FL but served her career in Coastie White off Key West and San Diego during Prohibiton. With Volstead on its way out, she was decommissioned 28 March 1928 and sold. Her end is similar to most SCs., discarded before they had 10 years on their rapidly deteriorating wooden hulls.

Few of the 110s survived the Depression on Uncle’s inventory and SC-330 was the only one of her 100-ship block (from SC 301-400) to serve in WWII, likely continuing her role as a training ship. As most of her life had been spent in freshwater– usually wintering ashore to keep out of the ice– the likely contributed to her longevity.

SC-330 out of the water for maintenance, from an article in the Marengo-Union Times relating a 1940s interaction with the vessel at St. Louis, MO

Only about a dozen or so 110s were carried on the Naval List during the Second World War. (The other 12 were: SC-64, SC-102, SC-103, SC-185, SC-412, SC-431, SC-432, SC-437, SC-440, SC-449, SC-450, SC-453, one of which was lost and three were retired before the end of the war. In addition, SC-229 and SC-231 were in USCG service as the cutters Boone and Blaze, respectively). Most were in YP or training duties, although some did mount ASW gear to include mousetrap bomb throwers and depth charges, just in case.

SC-330, was one of the last four of her type in service, decommissioning and struck from the Navy Register 22 June 1945, then transferred to the War Shipping Administration on 8 October 1946. (The only longer-lasting 110s were: SC-431 transferred to WSA on 12/9/46, SC-437 on 3/21/47, and SC-102 on 1/3/47).

While these craft are all largely gone for good, extensive plans remain of the vessels in the National Archives.

For more on these craft, please visit Splinter Fleet and The Subchaser Archives.


Displacement: 85 tons full load, 77 tons normal load
Length: 110 ft oa (105 ft pp)
Beam: 14 ft 9 in
Draft: 5 ft 7 in
Propulsion: Three 220 bhp Standard gasoline engines (!) as built, replaced by Hall & Scott engines in 1920.
Speed: 18 kn as designed, 16 or less in practice
Range: 880 nmi at 10 kn with 2,400 gallons fuel
Complement: Two officers, 22-25 enlisted
Sonar-like objects: One Submarine Signal Company C-Tube, M.B. Tube, or K Tube hydrophone
1 × 3 in (76 mm)/23-caliber low-angle gun mount, fwd (2 designed, only one mounted in favor of Y-gun aft)
2 × Colt/Marlin M1895 .30-06 caliber machine guns (some seen with Lewis guns)
1 × Y-gun depth charge projector, depth charge racks

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