Category Archives: World War One

Onto the Ramp

“Onto the Ramp.” Artwork by Joseph Hirsch.

Lot 3124-3: Paintings of Naval Aviation during World War II: Abbott Collection. #47.

“Caught by the tail like some dripping sea monster, a Navy PBY patrol bomber is hauled from the water up the seaplane ramp at the end of a mission. Beaching these big, flying boats is a precision performance. Beaching crews must first wade out and attach wheel fittings under the hull to permit the plane to be rolled onto the ramp. A towing line is fitted to the tail, and up she comes under the tug of a snorting tractor. ”

The task of hauling the great flying boats and smaller floatplanes from sea to shore was a familiar one for the Navy’s patrol squadrons for over 40 years, encompassing both world wars. 

A line of seaplanes on the ramp at Trumbo Point Key West 1918 Monroe County Library

March 1914, shows the south-western waterfront, aircraft launching ramps, and tent hangars, at Naval Aeronautic Station, Pensacola, FL.

P2Y-3 flying boat on-ramp 1930s Earl Potter collection a

P2Y-3 flying boat on-ramp 1930s Earl Potter collection

Hauling a seaplane up the ramp.

VPB-54/VP-54 PBY-5A Catalina coming up the launching ramp note turret Fred C. Dickey, Jr. Collection NHHC

Fear the Mighty Hippocampus!

Official caption: “Hippocampus, U.S. Motor Boat, 1913, photographed prior to World War I with a rowing boat and several model sailing boats in the foreground.”

The original print is in National Archives Record Group 19-LCM. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 101822

Named for the humble sea horse, Hippocampus was a 55-foot gasoline powerboat built by the New York Yacht Launch & Engine Co. of Morris Heights in 1912 for one James F. Porter, of Chicago.

On 21 June 1917– 105 years ago today– she was leased to the Navy and before the week was out was commissioned as USS Hippocampus (S. P. 654) at Rockland, Maine, BMC F. L. Greene in command.

Hippocampus plans by her builder, New York Yacht, Launch and Engine Company, Morris Heights, New York. This craft served from 1917 to 1919 as USS Hippocampus (SP-654). NH 101821

Capable of just 11 knots, she was armed with a single 1-pounder 37mm pop gun and assigned to the First Naval District, served as a harbor patrol craft at the harbor entrance at Rockland and in Penobscot Bay during the Great War.

Hippocampus decommissioned on 30 November 1918 and was returned to her owner on 5 April 1919, without firing a shot in anger, although Kapitänleutnant Richard Feldt’s SMS U-156 did come fairly close to Maine during his famed “Attack on Orleans.”

Halftone reproduction of a photograph published in a contemporary publication. Handwritten notes are on the original print, which is mounted on Hippocampus’ SP data card, and reflect the compensation paid to the boat’s owner for her use by the Navy during World War I and restoration to its former condition, a total of some $1,847.85. NH 99375

The (Amalgamated) Lancers Paying Homage

Located at Cambrai Barrack in Catterick is The Royal Lancers (Queen Elizabeths’ Own) of the British Army, a fairly new regiment, only being formed in 2015. Nonetheless, it was created via an amalgamation of several other Lancer regiments to include the 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s) and the Queen’s Royal Lancers, the latter of which had been formed by a 1993 amalgamation of the 16th/5th Lancers and the 17th/21st Lancers, carrying the history of those two regiments (which had also been amalgamated in 1960 and 1922, respectively). Hence, today’s Royal Lancers tend the history and lineage of no less than a half-dozen old Napoleanic and Crimean-era “pole cavalry” regiments.

The coolest of which, the 17th Lancers (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) (the original skull head “Death or Glory Boys”) has lingered on in the center of the unit’s cap badge and banners, along with the traditional black beret of the Tank Corps.

A battalion-strength unit, today’s Royal Lancers are built around four Sabre Squadrons (A, B, C, and D) with CVR(T) Scimitars (but are converting to Jackals) and Panthers to perform an armored scout/recon role in 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade.

The Royal Lancer’s daily driver, the CVR(T) Scimitar, includes light armor and a fearsome 30 mm L21 RARDEN cannon. A design that dates to the 1970s and saw combat in the Falklands and against Saddam, Scimitar is supposed to be retired by 2023 and the British are giving them away to the Ukrainians.

Of course, the Lancers are moving to the lighter and faster, but almost totally unarmed and unarmored, Jackal, but hey…

Still, with an amalgamated lineage that dates to 1759, the Lancers have a certain cavalry record to uphold.

They provide dismounted lance-wielding marching platoons for events such as the Queen’s Jubilee, the only unit authorized to do so.

And there are always Lancer wedding parties.

Note the red caps, a throwback to the lining of the old Lancer czapka of the 19th century

The officer’s dress mess uniform (augmented by the retiree-standard bowler hat and pinstriped suit with umbrella) is a throwback to Wellington. For reference, today’s RL’s mess dress tunic runs a paltry £2,285, showing that, while times may have changed since the old days, they haven’t changed all that much.

A contemporary Royal Lancer officer in mess dress flanked by the original constituent lancer regiments: from left to right: 17th, 9th, 16th, RL, 12th, 5th, and 21st Lancers. Note the czapkas on the legacy uniforms

This all brings us to this week where the Colonel of the Regiment, Commanding Officer, Padre, and other Lancer representatives traveled to Montreuil-Sur-Mer, France, for the unveiling of the renovated statue of the iron-hearted Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, KT, GCB, OM, GCVO, KCIE, commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from 1915 to the end of the First World War.

Haig, born seven years after Balaclava, had commanded the 17th Lancers and was Colonel of the Regiment of the 17th/21st Lancers. His Lancer uniform is in the IWM.

“Soldiers from the Regiment conducted a Lance Guard for the unveiling ceremony and the church service afterward, performing admirably in ceremonial dress despite the extreme 34-degree heat!” noted the regiment.

Warship Wednesday, May 25, 2022: I’m Not as Good as I Once Was

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

Warship Wednesday, May 25, 2022: I’m Not as Good as I Once Was, But…

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 43761-A

Above we see USS Worden (Torpedo Boat Destroyer # 16) of the Truxtun class of such green-painted stiletto-hulled vessels, in the Hampton Roads area in 1907. An unidentified white-hulled four-stack armored cruiser is visible in the left distance. Seen as a modern warship on the forefront of technology at the time, Worden was part of the force welcoming the Great White Fleet home from overseas and would later be shown off to eager crowds at the Hudson-Fulton Celebration two years later. Well past her prime in 1942, Worden would still be ready to serve.

The three Truxtuns were among the original 16 TBDs authorized by Congress, during the SpanAm War, on 4 May 1898, and were the most advanced of the designs. Just 259 feet long overall, they could float in a single fathom of water due to their 600-ton (full load) displacement. Powered by four Thornycroft boilers powering twin VTE engines, they had 8,300 hp on tap and could make 29.9 knots. Equipped with two 3″/50s 12-pounders and a full half-dozen 57mm 6-pounders, the Truxtuns were seen as capable of making short work of lighter torpedo boats while their two single 18-inch Whitehead torpedo tubes– on turnstiles aft to stern– allowed them to substitute for the latter while keeping up with a blue water fleet.

Truxtun class via Oct 1902 Marine Engineering Magazine

Our subject was the first warship named for RADM John Lorimer Worden, USN. Appointed a midshipman at age 18 in 1834, he gained fame as the first skipper of the USS Monitor and commanded that famed “cheesebox on a raft” in the first clash of armored warships, fighting the Confederate ram Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack) to a standstill in 1862. Worden later attained the rank of Rear Admiral while serving as the Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy in the early 1870s and was the first president of the United States Naval Institute.

Retired in 1886 after 52 years of service, RADM Worden was granted sea pay for life by a grateful Congress, passing in 1897.

All three of the Truxtun class– Truxtun (DD-14), Whipple (DD-15), and Worten (DD-16) were ordered from the Maryland Steel Company at Sparrows Point in one block. Laid down side-by-side in November 1899 and launched on the same day in 1901, they were accepted and commissioned by the Navy in a staggered program in the last quarter of 1902, with Worten joining the fleet on New Year’s Eve. Like Worten, all were named for noted naval figures, a practice gratefully still followed for most American tin cans for the past 120 years.

Worden passed her final acceptance test on 18 July 1903 and began duty with the 2nd Torpedo Flotilla, based at Norfolk.

On her builder’s trials in September 1902 off Barren Island, Worden did better than her 29-knot sisters, hitting 30.50 knots. She remained one of the speediest ships in the fleet. In June 1907, she walked away from her competitors on a 250-mile speed and service test from New York’s Scotland Light to Hampton Roads, besting five other destroyers.

USS Worden Description: (Torpedo Boat Destroyer # 16) Underway during the North Atlantic Fleet review, 1905. Photographed by the Burr McIntosh Studio. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Rodgers Collection. NH 91222

A great period image of officers and crew of USS Worden (DD-16), 1906. Judging from the single torpedo tube and the elevated 3″/50, this is over the destroyer’s stern. As she only carried a 50-60 man crew, this is likely the whole complement. Note there are just two officers up front– an ensign and a lieutenant– and a bow-tie-wearing boatswain in the background. Also note the African-American sailor by the gun ring and the mix of uniforms including both blues and whites, flat caps and Donald Ducks, topside gear, and stokers’ utilities. Navy Museum Northwest Collection. Catalog #: 2014.36

However, the fleet was low on men and high on hulls, having gone through a massive expansion in the early 20th Century under Teddy Roosevelt. With that, the still-young destroyer was placed in reserve at the Norfolk Navy Yard in November 1907, a role she would maintain for the next seven years except for a brief reactivation to take part in the Hudson-Fulton Celebration in the summer of 1909, and a stint as a pier-side trainer for the Pennsylvania Naval Militia at Philadelphia in 1912.

Hudson-Fulton Celebration September-October 1909 Crowd observes warships anchored in the Hudson River, off New York City, during the festivities. The four-funneled destroyer in the left foreground is USS Worden (Destroyer # 16), with several torpedo boats anchored astern. The British armored cruisers beyond are HMS Argyll (at left) and HMS Duke of Edinburgh (right center). Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold, USN. NH 101529

In 1914, she was detailed as a tender to the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force with a job moonlighting as a recruiting prop, continuing in such as role until the U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917. In the meantime, on 24 February 1916, the Navy Department ordered that destroyers No. 1 through 16 were “no longer serviceable for duty with the fleet” and reclassified them as “coast torpedo vessels.”

War!

Shaking off her submarine tender duties, the reactivated Worden joined Division B, Destroyer Force, and spent the rest of 1917 in New York.

Meanwhile, the British Admiralty decided it was finally time to try the convoy system to help curb the onslaught of the German U-boat scourge. If only they could get hundreds of new escorts to help with that at all levels…

In early 1918, the “obsolete” Worden, refitted for “distant service,” got underway for Europe in company with a whole crew drawn from the original 16 destroyers that had been downgraded to CTVs. This included Hopkins (Coast Torpedo Vessel No. 6), Macdonough (Coast Torpedo Vessel No. 9), Paul Jones (Coast Torpedo Vessel No. 10), and Stewart (Coast Torpedo Vessel No. 13). The little five-pack steamed, via Bermuda, to Ponta Delgada in the Azores, arriving at the end of January.

Reaching Brest on the 9 February, Worden then started clocking in with her associates in the business of escorting coastal convoys and hunting for the Hun. As summed up by DANFS, “During the remaining nine months of World War I, Worden maintained a grueling schedule escorting convoys between ports on the French coast.”

Her sisters Truxtun and Whipple, which had arrived in Brest in late 1917, had much the same war experience, coming to the rescue of the exploding munition ship Florence H. off Quiberon Bay and together saving half her crew, as well as tangling with German submarines directly.

All three sisters survived the conflict and headed back home from “Over There” in early 1919, given orders to assemble at Philadelphia along with the rest of the older tin cans left on the Navy List.

“They did their bit” Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania. Old destroyers in the Reserve Basin, 13 June 1919, while awaiting decommissioning. Note the truck and life rafts on the pier. These ships are (from left to right): USS Worden (Destroyer # 16); USS Barry (Destroyer # 2); USS Hull (Destroyer # 7); USS Hopkins (Destroyer # 6) probably; USS Bainbridge (Destroyer # 1); USS Stewart (Destroyer # 13); USS Paul Jones (Destroyer # 10); and USS Decatur (Destroyer # 5). Ships further to the right cannot be identified. Courtesy of Frank Jankowski, 1981. NH 92301

Worden was placed out of commission at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 13 July 1919– joining her two sisters who were likewise decommissioned earlier the same month– and all three stricken from the Naval Register on 15 September 1919.

Come, Mr. Tally Man…

3 January 1920, after just six months on red lead row, ex-USS Worden and her two sisters were sold cheap– pennies on the pound– to one Joseph G. Hitner, head of Philadelphia’s Henry A. Hitner’s Sons Ironworks. Now, Hitner was in the scrap business and had bought and recycled several ships from mothballs including 11 small Bainbridge-class destroyers, the old battleship Wisconsin (BB-9), the cruiser Raliegh (C-8), and the monitors Miantonomoh and Tonopah, but he hit on something different for the Truxtuns.

He decided to sell them for conversion to motor fruit carriers.

It made sense as the vessels were shallow enough to maneuver through the narrow fruit company waterways such as the Snyder Canal in Panama, and, with their engineering suite reduced and armament removed, were still fast and economical enough to get the job done. With their old magazines and one of their boiler rooms turned into banana holds, they could hold as many as 15,000 stems of fruit.

The ships were rebuilt, scrapping their old VTE suites and boilers for a pair of economical 12-cylinder Atlas Imperial Diesels– a company known for outfitting tugs and trawlers– generating 211 NHP and allowing a sustained speed of 15 knots. This removed all four of their coal funnels, replacing them with a number of tall cowl vents and a single diesel stack aft. So reconstructed, their weight was listed as 433 GRT with a 264-foot length and 14-foot depth of hold. The crew was reduced to an officer and 17 hands. Painted buff above the waterline to help reflect heat, they still had their greyhound lines.

SS Truxton – the former USS Truxton (DD-14) after conversion to a banana boat

A Truxtun-class TBD/CTV recycled as a banana boat

The 1920s were part of the “Banana Boom,” an era that saw the importation of the Gros Michel AKA “Big Mike” variety of the fruit– now all but extinct– skyrocket. In 1872, just a half-century prior, only 300,000 bunches had reached American shores. By 1920, this jumped to 39 million. In 1928 alone, some 64 million bunches of bananas were exported to the U.S. from Caribbean countries, with Honduras and Jamaica supplying half of that total.

Southern Banana Company at Pier 19, Galveston 1920 via Galveston Historical Foundation

During the boom, over 20 companies were in the business of bringing the curved yellow fruit to the U.S., and Worden and her sisters would work for several of them.

Worden along with her sisters Truxtun and Whipple was registered in 1921 by Robert Shepherd in Nicaragua and soon used on the banana runs to Galveston and New Orleans, flying the flag of the Snyder Banana Company of Bluefields.

In 1922, the boats had been impounded by R.A. Harvin, the United States Marshal in Texas, after a libel proceeding, and sold at public auction to one Harry Nevelson, who in turn quickly resold them to the Mexican-American Fruit Company, and sometime shortly after they were sailing for the Southern Banana Co.

By 1925, the trio was all part of the Vaccaro brothers’ upstart New Orleans-based Standard Fruit & S S Co (now part of Dole).

By 1933, Lloyds listed her as owned by the American Fruit & S S Corp — later adjusted to “Seaboard S S Corp (Standard Fruit, Mgrs)” in subsequent listings– out of Bluefields, Nicaragua with a tonnage of 546 GRT.

1933 Llyods

By 1939, the owners’ column had been lined out and she was listed as owned by the Bahamas Shipping Company and with tonnage adjusted to 433 GRT.

1940 Lloyd’s

Then came another war.

While Worden’s early war record is not available, her owners took great pain to try to make her as neutral as possible. This included a gleaming white livery with her Nicaraguan colors and name highlighted. She was under charter to the Winn-Lovett Grocery Company (now Winn-Dixie) to run bananas and assorted other fruits from Central America to Florida.

It was in this trade that Worden came across a fearsome sight some 80 years ago this month.

While about 10 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, the 6,548-ton British-flagged freighter La Paz, carrying a mixed cargo of fertilizer, china, and several hundred cases of scotch from Liverpool to Valparaiso via Halifax and Hampton Roads, came across U-109, an experienced Type IXB U-boat, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Heinrich “Ajax” Bleichrodt. Sailing from Lorient under 2. Flottille on her 5th War Patrol, the German submarine had already chalked up a half-dozen Allied steamers in the previous year.

Firing two torpedoes, one of which hit the British steamship, La Paz‘s crew made for the lifeboats. Bleichrodt’s crew intercepted a radio message from the nearby Worden referencing the torpedoing as the U-boat was submerging and he apparently logged the latter down as his victim.

The torpedoed freighter, probably M.S. La Paz, off the east coast of Florida (80 10’W; 28 10′), 1 May 1942. Note the oil slick. Three lifeboats astern indicate that the ship is being abandoned. The Nicaraguan banana freighter Worden is standing by in the background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-177164

The banana boat (ex-USN destroyer) Worden with her name, homeport (Bluefields, Nicaragua), and nationality (the Nicaraguan colors can be seen painted just behind her name) prominently displayed, takes the torpedoed British freighter, La Paz, in tow on 1 May 1942 off the Florida coast. U.S. Navy Photograph # 80-CF-1055.8B, Still Pictures Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md, caption via Navsource.

La Paz was beached seven miles off Cocoa, Florida, her flooded stern hard aground, and Worden went on her way. The wounded freighter was later towed to Jacksonville, repaired, and returned to service five months later under U.S. Maritime Commission control. In the meantime, Brevard County residents aided in the salvaging of the La Paz, hauling ashore some Johnny Walker for their efforts.

Via State Archives of Florida

As detailed by Bill Watts:

The decision to remove the La Paz’s cargo provided the young men of Cocoa the opportunity for one of their greatest wartime adventures—one that is still fondly recalled at almost every Mosquito Beaters’ meeting. The draft and war industries had depleted the supply of labor for the area, so the insurance representatives decided to hire boys from Cocoa High School to unload the cargo. It was hard work, but the boys went at it with a will. Soon, the china and most of the fertilizer were unloaded; then it was time to unload the scotch whiskey.

As Speedy Harrell tells the story, the boys were overawed by the large stacks of cases of whiskey, but they went to work. Sometime during the process of unloading some of the boys decided that nobody would miss a bottle or two, so they “liberated” a few bottles and buried them under the beach sand to be retrieved later. Eventually, according to Speedy, the bottles hidden under the sand became so numerous that it was impossible for anyone to walk on that area of the beach without causing a gentle clinking noise as the bottles banged into each other.

According to Röwer’s Axis Submarine Successes of World War II, U-109 sank Worden just after hitting La Paz. However, this is subject to much debate. Nautical historian Eric Wiberg says this came as a “result of confusion over radio transmissions. Worden was simply responding ‘in the clear’ via short wave radio to distress calls from La Paz.” Further, the photos circulating of Worden assisting La Paz belay the likelihood of her sinking at the same time and date. Notably, Uboat.net does not list Worden on U-109’s tally sheet.

Likewise, DANFS states plainly: “Although Bleichrodt claimed both ships as sunk, Worden with a torpedo meant for La Paz, both ships survived, La Paz salvaged and resuming service, the fruit carrier continuing in that trade into the post-war period.”

With that, though, while there seems to be no proof that Bleichrodt sent our plucky banana boat to the bottom, her final end is unknown.

In fact, she continued to show up in Lloyds throughout the 1940s and 1950s, eventually ending up under a Panamanian flag as part of the Consolidated Shipping Company in 1955. Not a bad run for a little torpedo boat destroyer.

Worden’s 1956 Lloyds Steamer listing

While listed by one source as broken up in 1956, I’d like to think her old hulk may be in some back river port in Central America somewhere, rusting quietly away on a sandbar as her deck offers shelter to shorebirds, reports of her demise greatly exaggerated.

Epilogue

Of Worden’s sisters, Truxtun was still in the banana trade in 1938 when she suffered an engine room fire off Haiti that left her a hulk there. Considered a total loss because of a lack of insurance to cover the cost of towing and repair, she was sold to Joseph Nadal and Company of Haiti and presumed scrapped.

Whipple, meanwhile, remained in the stables of the Nassau-based Bahama Shipping Co. alongside Worden into 1953, then dropped from the list shortly after, likely when BSC dissolved.

1949 Lloyd’s shipping biz listing for the Bahama SC, showing Whipple and Worden as their only vessels

Worden’s engineering drawings and plans are in the National Archives.  Meanwhile, Tulane has several documents from her banana boat era. 

Besides our torpedo boat destroyer, the Navy has named three ships in honor of RADM Worden: the Clemson-class destroyer USS Worden (Destroyer # 288, later DD-288) which served from 1920-1931 (then ironically was also converted into the Standard Fruit Co. banana boat MV Tabasco and lost on a reef in the Gulf of Mexico in 1933); the Farragut-class destroyer USS Worden (DD-352) of 1935-1944; and the Leahy-class destroyer leader USS Worden (DLG-18, later CG-18) of 1963-2000.

A starboard bow view of the guided-missile cruiser USS WORDEN (CG 18) underway, 8/1/1987. DN-SC-89-08861. Via NARA.

It is time for a fifth Worden.


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Remembering the ANZACs

While today at dawn is the 107th anniversary of the landings of the combined Australian-New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at Gallipoli in a bid to knock the Ottoman Turks out of the Great War, it is enshrined as a national day of remembrance in that two Oceanic countries, saluting fallen veterans of each “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”

In short, a combined Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

The landing at Anzac, Apr 25, 1915, Charles Dixon, New Zealand National Archives AAAC 898 NCWA Q388

With that, strike up the Waltzing Matilda and lift an outsized can of Fosters for any Kiwi or Ozzie you’ve run into in the past.

Warship Wednesday, April 20, 2022: A Member of the Easter Egg Fleet

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

Warship Wednesday, April 20, 2022: A Member of the Easter Egg Fleet

Historic New England Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection negative 13620

Here we see the fine Glasgow designed-and-built steam yacht Christabel steaming offshore on 8 August 1902. While this elegant little schooner doesn’t look very formidable, she would prove herself in the Great War soon enough.

Built for Arthur Challis Kennard, Ironmaster and Justice of the Peace of the Falkirk Iron Works, Falkirk, Christabel was a steel-hulled schooner-rigged steamer some 150 feet overall and 248 grt. Designed by the famed GL Watson firm and built by D & W Henderson & Co. of Meadowside Yard as Yard No. 370, she was completed in October 1893, with her first port of register being Glasgow. Mr. Kennard was a well-known yachtsman, and his name and vessels can be found in numerous yachting and rowing calendars of the day.

From Llyod’s Register of Yachts 1901, see entry #206, with the 248 grt Christabel listed:

Unfortunately, Mr. Kennard would pass in 1903, aged 72, and sold his beautiful Christabel sometime prior, hence appearing in New England waters in the above circa 1902 image.

Christabel 8 September 1906, now with a white scheme, something else that would indicate new owners. Stebbins negative 17648

By 1909, she was listed as being owned by Mr. Walton Ferguson, Sr. of New York City. Ferguson was well known as President of St. John Wood-Working Company as well as Stamford Electric, Vice President of Stamford Trust Company, and a director of Union Carbide, in addition to a longtime Commodore of the Stamford Yacht Club.

From Lloyd’s Register of American Yachts, 1914, listing her as #575 under Mr. Ferguson still as 248 grt with an overall length of 164 feet and waterline length of 140:

By 1916, Christabel was one of at least two large yachts in the fleet of Irving Ter Bush, one of the wealthiest men on the planet and founder of Bush Terminal in Brooklyn, Bush Tower in Manhattan, and Bush House in London.

When the U.S. entered the war with Germany, Mr. Bush sold Christabel to the Navy Department in April 1917– some 105 years ago this month– and after a very short conversion period she was commissioned on 31 May 1917 at the New York Navy Yard, becoming USS Christabel (SP-162). Her skipper was a regular officer, LT Herbert Berhard Riebe (USNA 1906), whose prior experience was in cruisers and destroyers.

Her conversion saw her pick up a speckled gray paint scheme, two 3-inch deck guns, a pair of M1895 potato digger-style machine guns, and some depth charges. More on the depth charges in a minute.

She was in good company, as no less than 40 large steam and auxiliary yachts also designed by G. L. Watson were armed for wartime work– although most were by the Royal Navy.

Christabel is listed on the bottom left, along with her near sisters and cousins

Off to war!

Assigned to Squadron Three, Patrol Force, Atlantic Fleet even before she was commissioned, Christabel was one of eight hastily armed East Coast yachts– including USS Corsair (S. P. 159), Aphrodite (S. P. 135), Harvard (S. P. 209), Sultana (S. P. 134), Kanawha II (S. P. 130), Vedette (S. P. 163), and Noma (S. P. 131)-– being fitted out to go to France for the purpose of coastal convoy and anti-submarine work. Of these eight, Christabel had the dubious distinction of being both the oldest and slowest.

Shoving off to cross the Atlantic on 9 June, Christabel and five other patrol yachts arrived in Brest (via the Azores) appropriately on July 4th, 1917. With CPT (later RADM) William B. Fletcher, U.S.N., as squadron commander, the force made a splash due to their hastily applied camouflaged paint schemes, applied while underway in some cases.

Via “On the Coast of France,” by Joseph Husband, Ensign, USNRF:

Due to the unusually fantastic scheme of camouflage which disguised the ships of the Second Squadron, these yachts were commonly known as the ”Easter Egg Fleet,” every conceivable color having been incorporated in a riotous speckled pattern on their sides.

USS Christabel (SP-162) In port, circa 1918-1919. Taken by Carl A. Stahl, Photographer, USN. NH 300

Although often nursing cranky machinery– Christabel had almost 30 years on her engine and broke down often– she was part of no less than 30 coastal convoys, being particularly useful in the role of bringing up the rear of convoys and policing stragglers and survivors of lost vessels.

First, she saves

Speaking of saving lives, on the night of 17 April 1918, the U.S.-flagged cargo ship SS Florence H. (3,820grt) suddenly erupted in a brilliant fireball while at anchor in Quiberon Bay as her cargo of 2,200 tons of smokeless powder lit off. Several vessels in the harbor rushed to her aid, including Christabel. Although 45 of her complement and Naval Armed Guard perished, 78 men were rescued, although about half of those were extensively burned and injured. For the rescue, one of Christabel’s CPOs earned a DSC.

Chief Pharmacist Mate Louis Zeller, United States Navy. Member of the crew of the USS Christabel while on patrol duty off Brest, France, during World War I, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Admiral Wilson. Zeller dove into the water filled with burning exploding powder boxes from the Florence H., to rescue severely burned seamen, managing to accomplish this within seconds of a severe explosion. NH 63045

Then she attacks

Just a month after saving men from the Florence H., Christabel had a close brush with one of Kaiser Willy’s U-boats and at the time was credited with damaging it enough to put it out of the war.

Via “Account of the Operations of the American Navy in France During the War with Germany,” by VADM Henry Braid Wilson, United States Navy Commander, United States Naval Forces in France: 

On the afternoon of 21 May 1918, the CHRISTABEL, the smallest of the converted yachts operating in French waters, was escorting a slow ship which had dropped behind the north-bound convoy from La Pallice to Quiberon Bay.

This vessel, the British steamer DANSE, was about eight miles behind the convoy, making about seven and a half knots, with the CHRISTABEL on her port bow. The sea was smooth, weather clear with no wind.

When about two miles outside of Ile de Yeu a well-defined oil slick was sighted on the port bow. The CHRISTABEL cruised around it but saw nothing definite.

At 5 :20 p. m. The Officer-of-the-Deck and the lookout suddenly sighted a wake, about six hundred yards distant on the port quarter, the CHRISTABEL at this time being about 300 yards on the port bow of the DANSE.

The CHRISTABEL headed for it, making all possible speed—about ten and a half knots—whereupon the wake disappeared, and a number of oil slicks were seen.

The Commanding Officer followed this oil as well as he could and at 5:24 p. m., believing that his ship was nearly ahead of the submarine, dropped a depth charge, but no results were obtained although the charge exploded.

At 7:00 p. m. the convoy changed course following the contour of the land and was making about nine knots. The CHRISTABEL was astern, making about eleven knots to catch up.

At 8:52 p. m. the CHRISTABEL sighted a periscope about two hundred yards off the starboard beam. She turned and headed for it, whereupon the periscope disappeared.

At 8:55 p. m. a depth charge was dropped which functioned in ten seconds, followed by a second one a few moments afterwards.

Nothing followed the explosion of the first charge, but following the explosion of the second there was a third very violent explosion which threw up between the stern of the CHRISTABEL and the water column raised by the second charge, an enormous amount of water and debris.

The CHRISTABEL then turned and cruised in the vicinity and noticed a quantity of heavy black oil and splintered pieces of wood, with very large oil bubbles rising to the surface.

Nothing further was heard of this submarine, but, on May 24, 1918, an enemy submarine, the U. C. 56, arrived at Santander, Spain, in a very seriously damaged condition, and from such information as was received, it was believed that this was the vessel attacked by the CHRISTABEL.

German Submarine UC-56 (KptLt/in Wilhelm Kiesewetter). Caption: At Christabel, Spain where she interned herself, 24 May 1918, after injuries received in an encounter with a U.S. Patrol Yacht. The explosion of one of the Yacht’s depth charges was followed by a second detonation after which splinter wood and much heavy oil came to the surface. The UC-56 is primarily a mine-laying submarine, her elaborate camouflage is distinct in the photograph. NH 111101.

Christabel’s skipper, LT Riebe, earned the Navy Cross for the attack and was made an Honorary Commander in the OBE through the offices of the Admiralty. He retired from the Navy in 1938 as a Captain with the Bureau of Navigation, died in 1946, and is buried at Arlington.

Another of Christabel’s officers, Ensign Daniel Augustus Joseph Sullivan, USNRF, came away from the action earning one of just 21 Medals of Honor presented to U.S. Navy personnel in the Great War.

Medal of Honor citation of Ensign Daniel A.J. Sullivan (as printed in the official publication “Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy”, page 125):

For extraordinary heroism as an officer of the U.S.S. Christabel in conflict with an enemy submarine on 21 May 1918. As a result of the explosion of a depth bomb dropped near the submarine, the Christabel was so badly shaken that a number of depth charges which had been set for firing were thrown about the deck and there was imminent danger that they would explode. Ensign Sullivan immediately fell on the depth charges and succeeded in securing them, thus saving the ship from disaster, which would inevitably have caused great loss of life.

Portrait photograph, taken circa 1920. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism while serving in USS Christabel (SP-162) during action with a German submarine on 21 May 1918. He was a Naval Reserve Force Ensign at that time. Note the overseas service chevrons on his uniform sleeve. Sullivan would go on to serve in destroyers, and then in the U.S. Navy headquarters in London at the end of the war and into 1919, leaving the USNRF as an LCDR. He died on 27 January 1941 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. NH 44173

In September, VADM Wilson signaled Christabel she was entitled to carry a white star on her stack, denoting an enemy submarine kill. Only two other American ships in France, USS Fanning (Destroyer No. 37) and the yacht Lydonia (S. P. 700) would join the same club.

USS Christabel (SP-162) View of the ship’s smokestack, circa 1919. The star painted on it represents the German submarine she was then credited with having sunk during World War I. Note steam whistle on the forward side of the stack. NH 55162

Epilogue

Completing her war service, the little Christabel left Brest in early December 1918 and headed home. She would celebrate Christmas in Bermuda and arrive in New London, Connecticut on New Year’s Eve.

Placed in reserve at the Marine Basin in Brooklyn on 17 May 1919, she was disposed of the next month, and sold to the Savannah Bar Pilots Association for $22,510.

According to The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2 (June 1934), pp. 145-175, she was renamed for the first time in her life to Savannah and used as a pilot boat well into the 1930s. 

Christabel/Savannah‘s final fate is unknown, but she was apparently disposed of by the pilots before World War II.

Speaking of WWII, post-war research discounted Christabel’s role in damaging SM UC-56, but the minelaying U-boat still missed the rest of the conflict. Surrendered post-Armistice Day, she was turned over to the French and scuttled.

U-boats U-108 and UC-56, in Brest docks in 1918, turned over to the French under armistice terms, UC-56 in the foreground. NARA 45511774

The subject of much controversy, UC-56’s only success of the war was the marked and unarmed HMs Hospital Ship Glenart Castle, which sunk on 26 February 1918 with the loss of 162 including eight female nurses and 99 patients. The submarine reportedly attempted to cover up the action actions by shooting survivors in the water.

The British arrested her commander, KptLt/in Wilhelm Kiesewetter, as he was returning to Germany from Spain and tossed him in the Tower of London as a war criminal before eventually releasing him without trial. Kiesewetter, at age 61, was recalled in 1939 and is cited as the “oldest Kriegsmarine officer to command an operational U–boat,” having been the skipper of UC–1 from November 1940 to May 1941. “This boat was the ex-Norwegian submarine B-5, captured in 1940 and commissioned into the Kriegsmarine on 20 November 1940.”

Specs:

Tonnage: 248 GRT, 103 NRT
Length: 164 ft overall (per DANFS)
Beam: 22 ft
Draft: 9 ft 8 in (12.5 ft depth of hold) (listed as 11 ft. 3 in the draft in 1914 Lloyds
Installed power: 1-screw. T3Cyl. (13, 20 & 33 – 24in) 160lb. 53NHP triple expansion engine
Auxiliary sail rig: two-masted schooner
Speed: 12 knots
Complement (1917) 55 officers and enlisted men
Armament:
2 x 1 3″/23 caliber deck guns
2 x M1895 Marlin/Colt .30-06 machine guns
Depth charges


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A Gentlemanly Guards Sniper

Terry Wieland over at American Rifleman has a great article on a “Gentleman’s Trench Rifle,” specifically, a Royal Grade H&H single-shot, complete with scope, that went to war against The Huns with an officer of the Irish Guards.

This .303 British Royal Grade Holland & Holland single-shot, serial No. 26069, was used by the Irish Guards as a sniping rifle during World War I. It is shown here with period trench maps, a German stick grenade, British binoculars and some German 8 mm Mauser cartridges. Photo by Jonathan Green

The story of how H&H rifle No. 26069 journeyed from the Bruton Street showroom to the Guards Museum is really one of convergence of the great names in pre-war England, in the military, in literature and in gunmaking. It involves Harold Alexander, Britain’s greatest soldier of the 20th century, and Field Marshall Lord Roberts, one of its greatest of the 19th; it involves Rudyard Kipling, Poet Laureate of the Empire and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature; and of course Holland & Holland, England’s greatest riflemaker.

The story begins with Lord Roberts in South Africa, fighting the Afrikaners in Britain’s first, and one of its bloodiest, military campaigns of the 20th century. There, Roberts renewed his acquaintance with Rudyard Kipling, an old friend from India.

More here. 

The Sleeper Awakens…

I’ve always thought the Hungarian pisztoly FEG 37M Femaru was one of the sleeper Axis WWII-era pistols when it came to deals, and have been fortunate enough to pick them up in recent years for as low as $400, still in excellent condition.

I mean look at that gun– picked up for $380 just three years ago, complete with Royal Hungarian Army marks. 

Of course, German-marked martial examples– they were popular with the Luftwaffe– run much more, and non-import marked “bring backs” earn a premium, especially if they have paperwork.

For illustration, I noticed this beautiful circa 1943 specimen at the recent Milestone auction:

Graded “near-pristine,” this recently discovered, fresh-to-the-market gun came to Milestone together with two magazines with matching serial numbers, and capture paperwork dated 2 October 1945 and made out to Lieutenant Colonel Richard C Dickinson.

In its first public appearance, the above pistol exceeded its $3,000-$5,000 estimate to reach $7,500, proving M37s may not be a sleeper any longer.

Heck, that’s Luger money…

(Abbreviated) Warship Weds: Felixstowe edition

Sorry, am on the road in North Alabama at an industry event so we have a shorter than normal WW this week. Will return to full-sized installments next week when I have returned home to my “more defensible location.”

101 Years Ago Today: A British-designed American-built Felixstowe F5L flying boat underway to making spotting practice with battleships. The mightly new U.S. Navy dreadnoughts, USS Oklahoma (Battleship No. 37), and USS Florida (Battleship No. 30) are in the background. Photographed March 16, 1921.

U.S. Navy photograph, 80-HAN-53-16, now in the collections of the National Archives.

With an impressive 103-foot, 9.75-inch, wingspan (keep in mind a WWII PBY had a span of 104 feet, just a piddly 2.5-inches longer), the F5L was a huge albatross of a seaplane for its era. Capable of spanning over 800 miles on her pair of Liberty V12 engines, her four-man crew was both the eyes of the fleet and capable of dealing damage if needed, with the provision for bombs and two machine guns.

They would be used to help in the bombing and sinking of the captured German battleship SMS Ostfriesland.

From a design by John Cyril Porte, developed at the Seaplane Experimental Station at Felixstowe (England), the F5L first flew in November 1918, just too late for the Great War. In all, just over 200 were built by Curtiss, Canadian Aeroplanes (later bought by the Columbia Graphophone Company in 1919) and by the U.S. Naval Aircraft Factory (NAF) in Philadelphia. The F5L remained in service with the U.S. Navy until the late 1920s when they were replaced by the more advanced NAF PN series flying boats, although it survived with the Brazilain and Argentine Navies and as a mail carrier into the early days of WWII.

The hull of an F5L endures in the Smithsonian while the history of the USS Florida and Oklahoma, who outlived this species of lumbering flying boat in U.S. service, is much better known.

Farewell, Blood & Bones

Formed as part of the old Royal Flying Corps in February 1917, today’s No. 100 Squadron RAF has an impressive history that includes four battle honors for the Great War and was the last squadron to land from a combat mission before the Armistice was signed in 1918.

The squadron’s original, and very distinctive, red flag, bearing a skull and crossbones, was apparently liberated from a French bordello in 1918 by one of those daring young flyboys, then embellished with the squadron name and the motto “Blood and Bones.” 

As a night bomber unit over the Western Front just 15 years after the aeroplane first flew, you had to have a certain sense of humor.

This relic was carried with the squadron as late as February 1942, at which point the squadron was deployed to Singapore and flew their hopelessly obsolete Vildebeest Mark III torpedo bombers against the Japanese, part of the 10 battle honors earned by the squadron for WWII.

Vickers Vildebeest Mark IIs, K2918, and K2921, of ‘A’ Flight, No. 100 (TB) Squadron, at RAF Seletar, southeast of Singapore, 1939. IWM HU 59786. Roy Mager photographer.

With its aircraft destroyed in the Japanese advance, and its personnel either killed or turned into POWS, the circa 1918 Bone and Brains flag disintegrated while being looked after by a Flight Lieutenant Trillwood, a victim of the hellish conditions along the Irrawaddy.

For the past 30 years, No. 100 Squadron has been flying Hawker Siddeley Hawks, first at RAF Finningley then RAF Leeming and that chapter is coming to an end. The RAF has decided that all Hawk T1s, other than those flown by the Red Arrow demonstration team, would be retired by 31 March 2022.

Last week, RAF Leeming debuted the farewell tail flash on Hawk XX221, depicting the old No. 100 “Blood and Bones” flag.

End of an era.

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