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Warship Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019: Last Hurrah of the Pope’s Navy

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

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019: Last Hurrah of the Pope’s Navy

National Library of Rome.

Here we see the pontifical steam corvette Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception) at the Papal port of Civitavecchia in 1860. She was the final ship of the Papal Navy (Marina Pontificia).

On 17 November 1860 King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia (who would be crowned King of unified Italy as a whole four months later) decreed that the Sardinian, Partenopea, Sicilian, Tuscany and Pontifical fleets would be merged into a new Royal Italian Navy, the Regia Marina. However, the body would not be made official until Victor sat on the unified throne in March 1861 following the proclamation of the formation of the Kingdom of Italy.

While the Papal Navy dates to the 9th Century and fought an epic series of engagements (see= the Battle of Lepanto) against the Ottomans and various pirate forces over its existence, most of that is far out of our scope. Operating steamers since the 1830s and proving themselves off Egypt, as far as I can tell the largest, most modern and best-equipped vessel the Pope ever fielded was the Immacolata Concezione.

Constructed by Thames Iron Works & Shipbuilding Co., Orchard Yard, Blackwall in 1859, she was intended as an armed yacht capable of carrying Pope Pius IX on visits from Rome abroad, for instance to the Holy Land. Some 178-feet long, she was powered by a single steam engine with an auxiliary brigantine schooner rig and armed with eight 18-pounders.

From the August 20, 1859 edition of The Illustrated London News.

Cardinal Wiseman and a “distinguished gathering of Catholics saw her off from the Thames ironworks at Blackwell,” notes a 1939 archival article.

The new corvette (pirocorvetta) was the flagship of the 300-man Papal Navy, and, as taken below from the 1869 Statesman’s Yearbook, remained its most important vessel.

In her term of service, Immacolata Concezione was used to suppress smuggling on the Lazio coast and clocked in against the Piedmontese in 1860.

The 1860s era uniforms of the Pontifical fleet, very similar to those of England of the same period.

However, all good things must come to an end and the Papal States, landlocked and confined to a portion of Rome by 1870, had no need of a Navy any longer.

With that, Pius largely disbanded the force but ordered Immacolata Concezione to sail in secret from Civitavecchia for friendly Toulon under the command of CAPT. Alessandro Cialdi, where she would remain a fleet-in-exile. The French allowed the move until Pius died in 1878. At the same time, the Regina Marina carried the vessel on their naval list to save face.

The newly installed Pope Leo XIII, with the Holy See lacking a “sea” port for eight years, ordered Immacolata Concezione disarmed and sold in November 1878 to the Dominican St. Elme school in Arcachon, France– an ecclesiastical naval college– for 50,000 francs, so that the school could utilize it for their cadets. Her naval flag (Bandiera Pontificia) was carried back to the Lateran Palace, where it remains today.

Said Dominican maritime college, though no doubt noble, could not afford the upkeep on such a fine vessel and sold the Immacolata Concezione to commercial interests in 1882, reportedly for double what they paid for it. The school went defunct shortly after.

The ship’s ultimate fate is not known, although she is reported by some sources to have been around until as late as 1905 in one form or another. One of her boats is in the collection of the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci” in Milan.

Nonetheless, Immacolata Concezione is well-remembered for a few different reasons.

While still in Papal service, she conducted some of the first serious research into aquatic pollution. This was done by Angelo Secchi in 1865 during a summer cruise around the med, with the literal blessing of the Pope. The Secchi disk, invented by the scientist that year, remains in use today.

Further, the Papal Navy is seen by the modern Italian Navy of today, the Marina Militare, as a forerunner and is counted as part of its historical lineage.

The more you know…

Specs
Displacement: 652 tons
Length: 178.8 ft.
Beam: 26.57 ft.
Propulsion: 150hp steam engine, one screw, 12 knots. Auxillary sail rig.
Crew: 46 to 52
Armament: 8 brass 18-pounder cannons

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

SBRs To Get X’d Out of NFA?

What’s not to like about an SBR? (Photo: Battle Arms Development )

Legislation announced Tuesday would remove short-barreled rifles from regulation under the National Firearm Act and treat them like regular firearms.

Under current law, as regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, SBRs are classified as a rifle with an overall length of fewer than 26-inches and/or a barrel of fewer than 16-inches in length. Marshall’s bill would remove such limits from NFA enforcement, regulating SBRs in the future under the same rules as other rifles.

According to statistics from the ATF, some 413,167 SBRs were listed on the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR) as of May 2019. Such figures have steadily risen through the years as these firearms become more popular and gun owners elect, for example, to legally convert AR and AK-style pistols to SBRs after processing a Form 1 and paying a $200 tax stamp. In 2014– just a half-decade ago– there were only 137,201 SBRs on the books.

More in my column at Guns.com.

A Handgun That Saw Hell

On 7 December 1941, the Mahan-class destroyer USS Shaw (DD-373) was in the old New Orleans YFD2 drydock at the Pearl Harbor Naval Yard. Soon after the Japanese attack began, she suffered three direct hits by 500-pound bombs and two more that landed inside the dock itself. Within 20 minutes, the resulting inferno, fueled by wooden shoring and blocks under her hull, reached her forward magazine.

The resulting spectacular explosion, caught on cameras across at Ford Island, blew Shaw’s bow off and filled the holed dock with  water and blazing fuel oil.

USS SHAW exploding Pearl Harbor. NARA 80-G-16871

In the days after the attack, a civilian employee at PHNY found a battered and burned Colt M1911 transitional model on the deck of YFD2 that remained above water. Besides Shaw’s 1936-dated bell which is at the U.S. Navy Museum in Washington, the pistol is part of the destroyer’s legacy and remains at Pearl today.

(NPS)

More in my column at Guns.com.

P-38 101

I’ve always had a soft spot for P-38s (the guns, not the can openers, as I find the longer P-51 type a much better form of the latter and don’t even get me into the P-38 Lightning) since I was a kid.

With that, I had the great opportunity recently while in the GDC Vault to find examples made by all three WWII makers– Walther, Spreewerk, and Mauser– as well as some Cold War-era West German Ulm-marked guns.

There you go…

For insights into how to tell them apart and what to look for, check out my column at Guns.com. https://www.guns.com/news/2019/12/04/the-world-of-german-p-38s-walther-mauser-spreewerk-and-otherwise

That’s a lot of British flattop

HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), the first semi-active big deck aircraft carrier to sail under the White Ensign since the F-4 toting HMS Ark Royal (R09) was retired in 1979, has returned home to Portsmouth after more than a month at sea working up with British-flown F-35s.

Upon coming home, she was met by her brand spanking new sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales (R09– the same pennant as Ark Royal’s!) for the first time.

Boom, 130,000 tons of Royal Navy carriers. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) is expected to deploy in 2021ish while HMS Prince of Wales (R09) is to follow in 2023

The last time more than 130,000 tons of British carriers were in one place at one time was Bruce Fraser’s 1944-45 Pacific Fleet. His force included six Implacable/Illustrious-class fleet carriers, four Colossus-class light carriers, two maintenance carriers, and nine escort carriers, for a total of 320,000-tons of flattop real estate parking for 750 embarked aircraft.

The British fleet carriers HMS Indomitable (R92), HMS Indefatigable (R10), HMS Unicorn (I72), HMS Illustrious (R87), HMS Victorious (R38) and HMS Formidable (R67) at anchor, with other shipping, 1945. IWM MH 5309

The Commanding Officer of HMS Queen Elizabeth, Captain Steve Moorhouse said:

“Homecomings are always a special occasion, but to be returning to Portsmouth with HMS Prince of Wales welcoming us home makes this a particularly special occasion.

“This has been an extremely successful deployment for HMS Queen Elizabeth. Embarking UK F-35 Lightning jets for the first time and integrating them within the carrier strike group is a significant milestone and we are well set for an equally demanding 2020 and our first operational deployment in 2021.”

Recently, it was detailed that the HMSQE-class has deck parking for 45 F-35s, which is a serious (and seriously unlikely without USMC cross-decking) airwing.

Photo via Chris Canvas

Also of note, the Indian government is talking of moving ahead with a plan (and formal offer from BAE) to acquire a CATOBAR version of the class for their own use as well, in response to China moving towards a four-carrier fleet.

Which makes the planned first deployment of HMSQE in 2021 to the Indian Ocean a no-brainer.

Maybe there will be another British (Commonwealth) Pacific Fleet in the future?

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor

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

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor

U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Here we see the 125-foot Active-class patrol craft USCGC Tiger (WPC-152) in 1928 during Prohibition. One of a class of 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” cutters rushed into completion to deal with rumrunners, these choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in time of war and Tiger would be there the moment the balloon went up over Pearl Harbor.

These cutters were intended for trailing the slow, booze-hauling mother ship steamers of “Rum Row” along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. Constructed for $63,173 each, they originally had a pair of 6-cylinder 150hp Superior or Winton diesel engines that allowed them a stately speed of 10 knots, max, but allowed a 4,000nm, theoretically Atlantic-crossing range– an outstanding benefit for such a small craft.

For armament, they carried a single 3″/23 cal deck gun for warning shots– dated even for the 1920s– as well as a small arms locker that included everything from Tommy guns to .38s. In a time of conflict, they could tote listening gear and depth charge racks left over from the Great War, but we’ll get to that later.

Taking advantage of one big contract issued on 26 May 1926, they were all built within 12 months by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey (although often listed as “American Brown Boveri” due to their owners at the time, the Swiss Brown Boveri corporation).

Named like the rest of the class in honor of former historic cutters, our craft recycled the moniker only used previously by the Civil War-era 100-foot steam tug Tiger which had been bought in 1861 for $9,000 from the Patapsco Steam Co. by the Revenue Marine Service– forerunner of the Coast Guard– and used to patrol Chesapeake Bay and the approaches to New York City alternatively during the conflict, boarding “with revolvers” as many as 20 craft a day in search of contraband and rebel blockade runners.

The brand-new USCGC Tiger was NYSB Hull No. 346 and was completed on 29 April 1927. Placed in commission on 3 May, she operated out of Coast Guard Base Two at Stapleton, New York, hitting Rum Row with a vengeance in the closing days of the war on illegal liquor. As the Volstead Act was repealed, she transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, for more traditional coastal SAR and fisheries patrol work, arriving there on 6 June 1933.

Durable for their size, Tiger and her sisters were well-liked by their crews and would go on to soldier on for several more decades. Constructed with 3×3 Douglas fir frames on a steel hull, they gained a reputation for being solid ships but were considered too slow (go figure) and were subsequently re-engined in the late 1930s with their original 6-cylinder diesels replaced by more powerful 8-cylinder units on the same beds that gave the vessels three additional knots or so. This left them with a changed profile, as they picked up a large (for their size) stack just behind the wheelhouse.

The 125 foot cutter Dexter, post-conversion. Note the stack.

By 1940, Tiger was assigned to the Hawaii Territory along with her sister Reliance (WPC-150), where they soon picked up depth charges, Lewis guns, and grey paint from the Navy. Such equipped, the class was redesignated as Coast Guard submarine chasers (WSC). The Coast Guard was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Navy Department on 1 November 1941, making the lead-up to WWII official.

Speaking of lead up, both Tiger and Reliance, along with the 327-foot cutter Taney (WPG-37) were assigned to the Navy’s Inshore Patrol Command under CDR John Wooley along with four old destroyers and four minesweepers. This group was tasked by Pacific Fleet boss ADM Husband E. Kimmel to patrol the shoreline around Pearl Harbor and keep an eye peeled for both spies and saboteurs as well as strange periscopes.

That brings us to the morning of 7 December 1941.

On patrol off Oahu that morning, Tiger, under the command of CWO William J. Mazzoni, received a flash from the destroyer USS Ward, a fellow member of the Inshore Patrol Command, around 0645 claiming destruction of an unidentified submarine trying to come through the nets into Pearl– one it had been searching for since 0357 after it had been reportedly spotted by the minesweeper Condor. Said periscope turned out to be one of the series of Japanese midget subs sent to attack Battleship Row at the beginning of the air assault.

USS Ward, The First Shot, by Tom Freeman

The Japanese Striking Force had five Type A midget submarines for the attack, which were transported on larger Type I submarines. These submarines were launched the night before the attack. USS Ward (DD-139) spotted one of the submarines trying to enter the harbor before dawn and was sunk.

This put Tiger on alert and she soon made ready for a real-live shooting war.

At 0720, just after passing the Barber’s Point buoy, Tiger’s WWI-era listening gear picked up a contact now believed by some to be Japanese midget submarine HA-19, a two-man Type A boat that was bumping around off reefs with a broken compass.

At 0753, as the first wave of 183 armed Japanese carrier planes swung around Barber’s Point, allowing a view into Pearl Harbor and the seven slumbering dreadnoughts below, CDR Mitsuo Fuchida ordered the radioman in his Kate torpedo bomber to tap out the later-infamous “Tora, Tora, Tora” (tiger, tiger, tiger) signal, the code words back to the Japanese fleet that the inbound airstrike had caught the Americans unaware.

While still looking unsuccessfully for subs, right around 0800, Tiger started receiving fire that fell within 100 yards of her, with Mazzoni radioing Pearl that he saw Japanese warplanes inbound overhead.

Author James C. Bunch, in his 1994 work Coast Guard Combat Veterans: Semper Paratus, says that “USCGC Tiger (WSC-152) was, by a few seconds, the first U.S. vessel to be fired upon in Pearl Harbor.”

Suffering no casualties from their early interactions with the Emperor’s submariners or aircrew, Tiger also inflicted no damage on the Japanese that day, being out of range of the carnage going on the harbor. Nonetheless, she did come under ineffective fire later that day from U.S. Army shore batteries that were amped up and loaded for bear.

The next day, HA-19 was recovered, aground on Waimanalo Beach in eastern Oahu. Manned by ENS Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, the midget submarine had depleted its batteries on the evening of 7 December and was abandoned. Its scuttling charge failed, Sakamaki became the only Japanese serviceman captured in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Inagaki’s body was recovered later.

(Japanese Type A midget submarine) Beached in eastern Oahu, after it unsuccessfully attempted to enter Pearl Harbor during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after 8 December 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. : 80-G-32680

Surviving her baptism of fire, Tiger would still be very busy throughout December on the search for Japanese submarines off Hawaii, which at the time were running wild in the area. Sadly, this meant picking up the pieces left in their wake.

On 21 December, Tiger arrived at Kahului, Maui, with the 30 survivors of the sunken Matson Navigation Co. steamer SS Lahaina (5645grt). The waterlogged mariners had nine days earlier fallen prey to the Japanese submarine I-9 under CDR Akiyoshi Fujii, who had sunk her in a prolonged surface action 700 miles NE of Oahu. During their wait for rescue two of the crew had committed suicide by jumping from their overcrowded lifeboat while another two died of exposure.

It would not be the only time Tiger performed such a vital mission.

On 28 December, Tiger rescued one of the two lifeboats of the Matson steamer SS Manini (3545grt) which had been torpedoed and sunk 11 days prior by I-75/I-175 (CDR Inoue) while en route from Hawaii to San Francisco. The previous day, the cutter had picked up 13 men and the first officer of the Lykes steamer SS Prusa (5113grt) which had been torpedoed and sent to the bottom by I-172 (CDR Togami) on 16 December.

Tiger remained based out of Honolulu for the duration of the war on local patrol and antisubmarine duties in the Hawaiian Sea Frontier.

Tiger received one battle star for her wartime service.

By the end of the war, Tiger, like her sisters, had been fitted with both radar and sonar as well as upgrading their 3″/23 hood ornament for a more functional 40mm/60 Bofors single, their Lewis guns for 20mm/80s, and augmenting their depth charges with Mouse Trap ASW rocket devices.

The somewhat incorrect Jane’s listing for the class in 1946, showing a prewar image and listing their 1939 armament.

Decommissioned 12 November 1947, Tiger was sold 14 June 1948.

As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they served during the war, and two, Jackson (WSC-142) and Bedloe (WSC-128), were heroically lost in the 14 September 1944 hurricane off Cape Hatteras while aiding a torpedoed tanker.

These pint-sized warships were regular players on the frozen Greenland Patrol fighting the Germans in the “Weather War,” served as guard ships in places as diverse as Curacao and the Aleutians, were credited with at least one submarine kill, and performed air-sea rescue duties. Ten were refitted as buoy/net tenders during the war and reverted to patrol work afterward while two served as training ships.

Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors crowding her bow.

While some, like Tiger, were disposed of in the late 1940s, others remained in USCG service into the 1960s and 1970s.

Boston: “125 ft CGC cutter LEGARE (WSC-144) which fought 20-40 foot waves to take a 79-foot fishing vessel MARMAX in tow, is now proceeding to her home port, New Bedford”

The last example in commission, USCGC Cuyahoga (WPC/WSC/WIX-157), was tragically lost in 1978 in a collision while working as the OCS training ship at Yorktown.

Photo of Cuyahoga in the 1970s in its role as an Officer Candidate School training vessel, in white livery with the now-traditional racing stripe. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Epilogue

With her service to the country over with, Tiger later made the Pacific Northwest in her civilian life and by the 1960s was a coastal tug with Northland Marine Lines of Seattle, under the name Cherokee and later Polar Merchant. Her sister USCGC Bonham (WPC/WSC-129) worked alongside her as Polar Star.

Previously USCGC Bonham (WSC-129) as tug Polar Star

Remaining active until at least 2012, Tiger/Polar Merchant was sold in poor condition to the Tyee Marina in Tacoma Washington where she was stripped, stuffed with styrofoam and installed as a breakwater.

Still located at Tyree with everything above the deck removed, Tiger remains afloat and is one of the few surviving warships that was present at Pearl Harbor on that Infamous Day. Her hulk is moored next to the museum ship USS Wampanoag/USCGC Comanche (ATA/WMEC-202).

There has not been another USCGC Tiger.

Specs

(1927)
Displacement: 232 tons
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 7.5 ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder, 150 hp Winton diesels (300hp total), twin screws
Speed: 10 knots, max
Range: 4,000 nm at 7 knots, cruise, with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 2 officers, 20 men
Armament:
1 × 3″/23 caliber gun forward, small arms

(1945)
Displacement: 320 tons (full load)
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 9 ft
Propulsion: Two 8-cylinder, 300 hp Cooper-Bessemer EN-9 diesels (600hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 5 officers, 41 men
Sensors: QCN-2 sonar, SO-9 radar
Armament:
1 × 40 mm/60 (single), forward
2 × 20 mm/70 (single), wings
2 × depth charge tracks, stern
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

For those who want an HK MP5 but don’t have MP5 dollars

In the 1960s, Heckler und Koch hit the market with their MP5 sub gun and really set the gold standard for SMGs ever since. Just flat-out durable and reliable, they have circled the globe and remain to be seen (and unseen) in the most curious places.

Margaret Thatcher and three SAS personnel after the six-day Iranian Embassy siege in London, May 1980. Dig the claw-mounted lights on their MP5s

However, if you want an actual HK-made MP5 of your very own, you have to cough up serious cash for the gun and collect some stamps or two– and even then settle for a $20,000 HK 94 that has been converted.

Speaking of HK 94 carbines, they run $4K by themselves if you are lucky enough to find them, leaving those who want an MP5-ish gun to look for HK SP89s or HK SP5Ks for $2,000 and up and just make do with the wonky push-button mag release and other detracting features the MP5 never had.

No…this is not what the People wanted…

Hence the burgeoning market in clones that cost about the same amount of dough.

With that in mind, HK yesterday went public with the all-new SP5 pistol series that includes an 8.86-inch Navy tri-lug barrel, paddle mag release, and barrel sight. Further, it is a true HK, being made on the MP5 line at Oberdorf.

Oof.

More in my column at Guns.com.

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