Category Archives: World War One

Guns of the Air Force at 75

While Ben Franklin theorized using airships to deliver troops to battle behind enemy lines as early as 1783 and the Union Army fielded a balloon service in the Civil War, today’s Air Force traces its origin to the heavier-than-air machines of the U.S. Army’s Aeronautical Division, founded in 1907– just four years after the Wright brothers first flew. After service in Army green during both World Wars, the Air Force became an independent branch of the military in 1947 with the first Secretary of the Air Force named on Sept. 18 and its first Chief of Staff named on Sept. 26. 

To salute the 75th birthday of the USAF this week, I took a deep dive into the small arms of the organization over the years, including some rares.

Cold War-era Colt survival gun prototype
A Cold War-era Colt survival gun prototype on display at the USAF Armament Museum (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Remington XP-100 survival gun
The Remington XP-100 survival gun concept. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)
Bushmaster Arm Pistol in 5.56mm
The Bushmaster Arm Pistol in 5.56mm was another planned Air Force survival gun that made it about as high as a lead balloon. Bushmaster did, however, put it in limited commercial production. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

More in my column at Guns.com.

 

The Torch and the Torpedo Boat

For Liberty’s sake, enlist in the Navy!

Recruiting poster showing the Statue of Liberty beaming brightly over the distinctive bow of a circa 1900s torpedo boat. Issued by the City of Boston Committee on Public Safety. Boston: Smith & Porter Press, [1917]. LOC LC-USZC4-6264

Although some would bemoan the above image of an old torpedo boat running patrols in New York harbor in 1917 to be more artistic license than likely, it happened.

While the U.S. Navy commissioned 35 Torpedo Boats (TB) in 18 evolutionary classes between the 105-ton/140-foot USS Cushing (TB-1) in 1890 and the 165-ton/175-foot USS Wilkes (TB-35) in 1902, the overall poor showing of such types in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, the 1898 Spanish-American War the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, and the Italian-Turkish War of 1911– coupled with the entry of larger and much more capable destroyer types– led to these slim green sea dragons to be retired by the Great War.

By 1917 when the U.S. entered the Great War, many of these obsolete boats had been scrapped or disposed of as targets already but a few newer models still swaying quietly in mothballs.

Note the difference between these five boats of the Reserve Torpedo Flotilla in Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, circa 1907. They are (l-r) BAGLEY (TB-24), BIDDLE (TB-26), BARNEY (TB-25), DUPONT (TB-7), PORTER (TB-6). Color-tinted postcard photo, published as a souvenir of the Jamestown Exposition by The American Colortype Company, New York. Courtesy of R.D. Jeska, 1984. NH 100041-KN

These unloved and forgotten vessels were dusted off and used for coastal patrol/harbor defense along the East Coast.

This included USS Bailey (TB-21) and USS Bagley (TB-24), who would head to the Big Apple.

Armed with a quartet of 6-pounder (57mm) rapid-fire guns and just two forward-firing 18-inch torpedo tubes, the 205-foot-long Bailey is a giant compared to the later WWII-era PT boats. Capable of only 30 knots with all four Seabury boilers lit and twin screws spinning at maximum revolutions, Bailey required a 59-man crew, versus the 14-man complement of a WWII mosquito boat. NHHC NH 397

Bagley, while smaller than Bailey, only mounted three 1-pounders (37mm guns) but carried a third torpedo tube to make up for it. She made 29.15 knots on her speed trials in 1901, a benchmark likely far away in 1918. NHHC NH 64056

These two boats, assigned to the Harbor Entrance Patrol of the 3d Naval District, operated from Brooklyn on a series of regular patrols and scouting ahead of the convoys leaving the harbor until they were demobilized in 1919 and subsequently discarded.

However, during this wartime service, they suffered the indignity of being stripped of their names in August 1918. Bailey was renamed simply Coast Torpedo Boat No. 8 while Bagley would become CTB10. Their historic names were needed for shiny new four-piper destroyers (DD-269 and DD-185) that would go on to make their own pages in history in the next World War.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022: Continuing the Legacy

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, Sept. 14, 2022: Continuing the Legacy

Above we see a superb example of the Ceres sub-class of the Royal Navy’s C-type light cruisers, namely HMS Coventry (D43), pictured after her anti-aircraft conversion refit modernization in May 1937. While the 10 new QF 4″/40 Mk Vs she is fitted with sound formidable, she met a swarm of German bombers she wouldn’t be able to swat away exactly 80 years ago today.

Laid down as Yard No. 1035 at Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd, Wallsend on Tyne in April 1916 just before the launch of the Somme Offensive in the third year of the Great War, Coventry was a member of the 28-strong “C”-class of new-fangled oil-fired light cruisers. Sturdy 446-foot ships of 4,000~ tons, their eight-pack of Yarrow boilers trunked through two funnels and pushing a pair of Brown-Curtis turbines coughed up 40,000 shp– enough to sprint them at 29 knots.

The first entry for the class in the 1914 edition of Jane’s, shows the eight initial vessels and the original layout of the first ships.

HMS Cardiff, a C-class cruiser in a dry dock. Note how thin of beam these sea-going stilettoes were. With a 446-foot overall length and a 41-foot beam, the ratio was roughly 1:10, akin to a destroyer

Split into seven incrementally modified subclasses with minor changes among them, usually in terms of armament layout, superstructure arrangement, and turbine fit (some with Parsons-made equipment, others with Brown-Curtis) they were built across the UK at eight different yards during the War years with the first, Comus, laid down in November 1913 and the 28th, Colombo, completed in July 1919.

Comparable in size to a smallish frigate today, they packed three to five single BL 6-inch Mk XII guns arranged fore and aft along with a more distributed battery of six or eight QF 4-inch Mk IV guns in addition to two bow-mounted or four beam-mounted 21-inch torpedo tubes.

HMS Cardiff, a C-class cruiser, firing one of her beam deck-mounted torpedo tubes

With up to 6-inches of steel armor (conning tower, just 2.5 inches on the belt), they could hold their own against similar cruisers, slaughter destroyers, and gunboats, and run away from larger warships.

The five Ceres-variant sisters (HMS Cardiff, Ceres, Coventry, Curacoa, and Curlew), which joined the fleet in the first half of 1917, had a much-reduced secondary armament, dropping the 4-inch guns in favor of a few new 3-inch and 2-pounder high-angle AAA mounts, with the latter seen as more useful against increasingly encountered and very pesky Jerry seaplanes and Zepps.

After just 18 months on the builder’s ways, Coventry, originally laid down as HMS Corsair, was commissioned on 8 February 1917, the fourth of HMs vessels to carry the name one of the Midlands city since 1658. Tragically, all three of the previous Coventrys had been captured by the French in battles across the 17th and 18th centuries and the cruiser was the first to carry the name since 1783.

HMS Coventry cruiser in her early layout. Imperial War Museum image

Note her shielded 6-inch mounts

Assigned to the 5th Light Cruiser squadron along with many of her sisters, Coventry stood in case the Kaiser’s High Seas Fleet sortied out once again and spent her WWI service on guard but without the opportunity to fire a war shot.

During this period, Royal Navy war artist Phillip Connard captured images from her decks that endure today.

Lowering the Whaler HMS Coventry by Phillip Connard, 1918, IWM ART1297

Between Decks, HMS Coventry by Phillip Connard,1918. Note the twin torpedo tubes on her port beam. IWM ART1300

While none of the 28 C-type light cruisers were lost during the Great War– despite several showing up in U-boat periscopes and being present at Jutland and the Heligoland Bight– Coventry’s sister HMS Cassandra was sunk by a mine in the Baltic on 5 December 1918 while acting against the Reds.

Interwar

Joining the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron back in the Atlantic in 1919, Coventry would often be employed as a flagship for destroyer flotillas and, in the early 1920s, would be transferred to the Mediterranean where she would continue in the same vein.

HMS COVENTRY (British Cruiser, 1917), pictured in the 1920s. NH 61317

HMS Coventry in Malta, interwar period, sporting extensive peacetime awnings. Note the carrier HMS Glorious in the background

A 1928 refit saw her little-used flying platform removed and in 1935 she was paid off, reduced to reserve status at the ripe old age of 18.

With the times passing and newer cruisers coming online eating up valuable treaty-limited tonnage, many of the class were paid off and sold for their value in scrap metal. These included almost all the early ships of the class– HMS Carysfort, Cleopatra, Comus, Conquest, Cordelia, Calliope, Champion, Cambrian, Canterbury, Castor, Constance, Centaur, and Concord. Others were converted for new purposes– for instance, HMS Caroline, stripped of her guns and boilers in 1924, became a headquarters and training ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve’s Ulster Division at Belfast.

Just under half of the class, 13 vessels, made it out of the Depression still in the fleet, and most went on to serve in one form or another in the Second World War, despite their advanced age and outdated nature.

Some were converted to meet the needs of the age.

Coventry and Curlew were taken from reserves and morphed into early “AA cruisers,” landing their large 6-inch guns and smaller secondaries for an all-up battery of 10 improved 4″/45 MK Vs along with an updated fire control layout and redesigned magazines, able to carry a total of 2,000 such shells. Three other remaining vessels of her sub-class– Ceres, Cardiff, and Curacoa— were slated to get the same conversion but tight budgets precluded this and only the latter of that trio would ultimately pick up 8 4-inchers, and even that was not until WWII. Receiving a similar fit would be the last of the C-types– HMS Carlise, Cairo, Calcutta, Colombo, and Cape Town— picking up six 4″/45s after hostilities commenced.

The 4″/45 MK Vs were the standard high-angle DP guns of the Royal Navy in the 1930s. With a rate of fire that went to 10-15 rounds per minute depending on the training of the gun crew, they could fire a 53.5-pound HE shell to an anti-aircraft ceiling of 31,000 feet or a 56-pound SAP shell against a surface target to 16,430 yards. Historic Naval Ships Association image.

Two 4″/45 MK Vs on HMAS Sydney ca. 1940, for reference. Note the No. 1 gunners on each outfitted with asbestos flash hoods and mittens. State Library of Victoria Image H98.105/3249.

Coventry, refit at HM Dockyard, Portsmouth, over the first ten months of 1936, would spend the following two and a half years in a series of trials work helping to develop mountings for the multiple barreled 2-pounder “Pom Poms” that would become a notable fixture on Royal Navy surface ships in WWII, as well as new degaussing gear and 20mm Oerlikon guns. She would soon also start work with early sea-going radar sets.

HMS Coventry is shown after her conversion into an anti-aircraft cruiser with 10 x 4-inch high-angle guns in open mounts

HMS COVENTRY (FL 5186) Underway coastal waters postthe  AA conversion, late 1930s. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124848

Then, came war, again.

Outpost duty and the Barents Sea

In August 1939, with the war on the horizon, Coventry joined the newer light cruisers Danae and Dauntless for passage to the Med, arriving at Alexandria on 3 September.

Recalled to Home Waters, she was the urgent task of convoy escort then as a floating AAA battery at the Sullom Voe seaplane base in the Shetland Islands, she fought off German aircraft on 21 October and again on 13 November, shooting down a Heinkel He 111 in the latter effort. Further German attacks on Christmas Day 1939 and New Year’s Day 1940 ensued, with Coventry’s gunners rushing out from the holiday meals to fire at Goering’s party crashers. It was in the latter that a near-miss (the first of many she had during the war) left her with a leaking hull.

Once the Army arrived at Sullom Voe to install shore-based ack-ack batteries, Coventry was relieved and entered refit at Chatham where she got her leaks fixed and landed her after 4″/40s (No. 6 and No. 7 mount) then picked up a Type 279 dual-purpose air- and surface-warning set with an instrumented range of an optimistic 65 miles (airwave) and about 6 miles surface wave. Her installation complete, Coventry became the flagship of the 1st AA Squadron (flying the flag of Rear-Admiral J.G.P. Vivian, RN) with Humber Force alongside her sisters Curlew and Cairo, in April 1940, just in time for the Allied intervention in Norway.

Coventry would support the landings at Bodo in mid-May– her Pom Poms credited with an AAA kill on 18 May off that port– followed by the assault on Narvik, and ultimately cover the withdrawal from the latter in June, even embarking evacuating troops. She both bombarded German positions ashore and served up hot anti-air to Luftwaffe aircraft overhead.

It was during the Norway operation that sister Cairo was hit by hit by two bombs and severely damaged, suffering 12 killed while Coventry herself would take splinters from a near-miss that left one rating killed. Curlew, meanwhile, was sent to the bottom by German bombers of Kampfgeschwader 30 on 26 May, near Narvik.

Of Junkers and Spaghetti

Patching up damage from Norwegian rocks and German shells, Coventry helped cover Convoys WS 2, AP 1, and AP 2, then was ordered back to the Med in August where the Italians were now in the war.

Picking up troops in Gibraltar, she made Malta with Force F in what was termed Operation Hats on 1 September, screening the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. Making Alexandria on 6 September, she would cover Convoys BN 5A, MAQ 2, MF 3, and MF 4. In October 1940, she was part of Operation BN, the landing of British troops on Crete. In the latter, she would prove a successful minesweeper, discovering and partially sweeping without loss an enemy minefield using her paravanes– a rare occurrence.

In early November, with available escorts few and far between, two Allied convoys, A. N. 6, and M. W. 3 set out from Port Said/Alexandria in Egypt for the Aegean Sea and Malta. The ships were covered by Coventry and her sister Calcutta, along with the destroyers Dainty, Vampire, Waterhen, and Voyager. Then came Operation Barbarity, the transport of British troops from Alexandria to Piraeus in Greece.

Sailing with Force D in November 1940, Coventry, and company, joined by Gibraltar-based Force H, briefly engaged a superior Italian force south of Sardinia’s Cape Spartivento in an inconclusive battle that led to ADM James Somerville almost being cashiered by Churchill when he did not pursue the retreating Italians.

The next month, while supporting operations against the Italian army in Cyrenaica and screening the battleships HMS Barham and Valiant, 2042 on 13 December, Coventry, while some 80 miles off Mersa Matruh, Egypt, was hit by a torpedo in the bow from the Italian Adua-class submarine Neghelli. The damaged cruiser, losing part of her stern but suffering no casualties made it back to Alexandria under escort the next afternoon. For what it’s worth, Neghelli disappeared on her fifth war patrol a month later.

Repaired, Coventry soon again joined on the regular Med convoy route, lending her guns to Convoy AN 13 in January 1941, AS 14 in February, AN 17, AN 18, MW 6, AN 22, AN 23, and ANF 20 in March– claiming her share of six Junkers Ju88s shot down on the 26th off Piraeus; ASF 23, ANF 29, GA 14, and AS 25 in April– stopping to help evacuate a British battalion at Mudros in an act very similar to the withdrawal from Narvik the year before.

At this point, the barrels on her guns had to be replaced, as they were considered too worn for use– one had exploded on 26 April during air attacks, killing one gunner and injuring the rest of the gun crew. The approximate barrel life on these mounts was between 600 and 850 shells depending on type and charge, giving you an idea of just how many Coventry had been firing.

May saw Operation Tiger, riding shotgun over aborted reinforcement “Tiger convoy” through the Eastern Mediterranean to Malta. It was on this sortie that Coventry came to the assistance on 17 May of the hospital ship Aba (7938 GRT, built 1918) which had been attacked by German aircraft to the south of the Kaso Strait.

Rescue of the Hospital Ship HMHS Aba by HMS Coventry, painting by Charles Pears at the Royal Cornwall Museum

The cruiser suffered nine casualties when she was strafed by enemy aircraft during her efforts. It was during this rescue that 30-year-old Petty Officer Alfred Edward Sephton, one of Coventry’s director layers, would earn the VC the hard way, posthumously. It would be the first such award of the Mediterranean campaign for the Royal Navy.

“No. 35365”. The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 November 1941. p. 6889

The end of May saw Coventry and her sister Calcutta covering the desperate nighttime evacuations of British and Commonwealth troops of Creforce from the village of Sphakia, situated on the southern coast of Crete.

The two ships were attacked on 1 June by German Ju 88 bombers of Lehrgeschwader 1 while 100 miles north of Alexandria and, while Coventry was narrowly missed, two bombs hit Calcutta and she sank the cruiser in minutes with Coventry standing by to pluck 254 survivors from the water. Sadly, Calcutta took 107 with her to the bottom.

Shrugging it off, Coventry was on point for Operation Exporter, the Syria–Lebanon campaign, during which the cruiser was subjected to regular day and night air raids while off Haifa and Beirut, with Vichy French coastal artillery also taking pot shots at her.

The rest of the year saw the cruiser allowed to rest in the quieter waters of the Red Sea then begin a six-month refit in November at Bombay that saw additional AAA mounts fitted.

In June 1942, fresh from the yard, she took on gold in Alexandria and transported it to Jeddah to pay the Saudis for oil then escorted the battered old HMS Queen Elizabeth for part of the dreadnought’s sail from the Med via the Red Sea to America for modernization.

Coventry was back in the shooting war by August, part of Operation Pedestal, the last ditch effort to resupply Malta before the besieged island was forced to surrender. Her role would be with MG 3, a dummy convoy of three merchant ships, escorted by three light cruisers (Coventry, HMS Arethusa, and Euryalus) and ten destroyers that would function as a diversionary force in the Eastern Med, shuffling around Port Said to Beirut/Haifa and then dispersing.

Then, on September 1942, with the British gearing up for a Commando raid against Axis-held Tobruk, (Operation Agreement), Coventry was operating with a force of six destroyers, was swarmed by a force of at least 16 German Ju 88s of I./Lehrgeschwader 1— the same force that sunk Calcutta— followed up by a dozen Stukas of III. /Sturzkampfgeschwader 3. Despite RAF Beaufighters running interference and seven German aircraft downed between the AAA and the British fighters, Coventry was hit by at least four bombs. With fires out of control and at least 64 of her crew killed, Coventry was abandoned and sunk by torpedoes from the Tribal-class destroyer HMS Zulu (F18).

Shortly after, Zulu was sunk as well.

The sinking of Coventry on 14 September 1942. HMS COVENTRY, with the destroyers HMS DULVERTON and HMS BEAUFORT alongside picking up survivors from the attack by German dive bombers. Soon after she was sunk by British gunfire and torpedoes. Sixty-three men on board COVENTRY were killed in the attack. IWM HU 89668

THE SINKING OF HMS COVENTRY ON 14 SEPTEMBER 1942. (HU 89668) HMS COVENTRY, with the destroyers HMS DULVERTON and HMS BEAUFORT alongside picking up survivors from the attack by German dive-bombers. Soon after she was sunk by British gunfire and torpedoes. Sixty-three men on board COVENTRY were killed in the attack. See also HU 89667. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205084854

Epilogue

Of the 13 active C-types that entered WWII, almost half of those, six, were lost. In addition to Coventry, Calcutta, and Curlew– all victims of German land-based bombers as discussed above– sisters Calypso and Cairo were claimed by submarines while Curacoa was taken out in a collision with the Queen Mary. Of special distinction, one member of the class, Carlise, was credited with more AAA kills (11) than any other British cruiser, not a bad distinction for the old girl especially considering the Royal Navy had several more modern and better-armed cruisers in the thick of it.

By the end of 1945, the seven survivors were paid off, waiting for disposal, and were soon scrapped.

The C-class survivors from WWII, are listed in the 1946 Jane’s.

Just one C-class cruiser survived past 1948, Caroline, a past  Warship Wednesday alum. Having served as an RNVR drillship in Alexandra Dock, Belfast until 2011, since 2016 she has been a museum ship. She is the last remaining warship that was at Jutland.

Epilogue

As she was lost during WWII, little remains in terms of relics from our subject cruiser. Even the VC issued to the hero Alfred Sephton– who was buried at sea– was stolen in 1990 from its display case at the Coventry Cathedral and has never been recovered. The Sephton Cross is one of only 17 VCs, and the only one awarded to a member of the Royal Navy, to be reported stolen.

The Royal Navy recycled “Coventry” with a new Type 42 destroyer in 1974. Faithful to the legacy of the four warships with the same name that preceded it– three of which were captured and the fourth scuttled after being abandoned– this new destroyer would also perish in combat.

HMS Coventry (D118), shown in Hong Kong in 1980.

Sunk 25 May 1982 by Argentinean airstrikes, 19 sailors went down with said destroyer and another died 10 months later. As the survivors awaited rescue from the nearby ships, they sang Always Look on the Bright Side of Life in true Monty Python fashion.

A sixth Coventry, a Type 22 frigate (F88) commissioned in 1988, broke the chain of sacrifice and served 14 years before she was sold in a wave of post-Cold War drawdowns to Romania, where she still sails as Regele Ferdinand (F221), that country’s flagship. Fingers crossed she doesn’t hit a loose mine in the Black Sea.

Thus far, there has not been a seventh HMS Coventry.

Specs:

HMS Coventry cruiser layout WWII and Med camo scheme, via AJM Models. Note her Type 279 radar.

Displacement: 3,750 tons (designed); 4,320 fl; 4,799 deep load
Length: 446 ft (o/a)
Beam: 41 ft 6 in
Draught: 14 ft 10 in (with bunkers full, and complete with provisions, stores, and water: 16 feet 3 inches mean)
Propulsion: 8 Yarrow small tube boilers, 2 Brown-Curtis steam turbines, 2 shafts, 30,000 shp natural/40,000 forced draught
Speed: 28.5 knots max (some hit 29 on trials)
Number of Tons of Oil Fuel Carried: 841
Quantity of Water carried: For boilers, 70 tons, for drinking 49.25 tons
Ship’s Company (typical)
Officers: 31
Seamen: 149
Boys: 31
Marines: 36
Engine-room establishment: 88
Other non-executive ratings: 44
Total: 379
Boats:
One motorboat 30 feet
One sailing cutter 30 feet
Two whalers 27 feet, Montague
One gig 30 feet
Two skiff dinghies 16 feet
One motorboat 30 feet for Commodore’s use
Armor:
Waterline belt: 1.5–3 in
Deck: 1 in
Conning tower: 6 in
Armament:
(1918)
5 x single BL 6″/45 Mk XII guns on Forecastle, Forward superstructure, Aft Forward superstructure, and Quarterdeck
2 x QF 3-inch 20 cwt IV on Mark IV AAA mounting on foc’sle
2 x QF 2 pounder Pom-pom AAA on the aft superstructure
2 x twin 21-inch deck beam mounted torpedo tubes, typically with eight Mark IV Torpedoes
(1937)
10 x QF 4″/40 Mk Vs in open mounts


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Battleship No.35 Sails Again!

Ordered under the administration of William Howard Taft, USS Texas (BB-35) was laid down at Newport News in April 1911, making her hull some 111 years old. After service in both World Wars, the “Old T” was ancient compared to the other seven preserved American battlewagons, all of which date to the 1940s.

USS Texas (BB-35), HMS Glasgow (C21), USS Arkansas (BB-33), FFS George Leygues, and FFS Montcalm as “Force C” on D-Day off the coast of Normandy. USS Texas earned five battlestars in WWII including supporting the Torch, D-Day, and Dragoon landings then switching oceans to plaster Japanese shore positions at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. (IWM – McNeill, M H A (Lt) Photographer)

She has been preserved at San Jacinto State Park near Houston since 1948, standing watch as a museum ship along the Gulf of Mexico for the past 74 years.

It has been more than three decades since her hull was in dry dock and she is sorely in need of repair.

With that in mind, she is headed out at the end of the month.

The presser from The Battleship Texas Foundation:

LA PORTE– The Battleship Texas Foundation (BTF), with their partners, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Historical Commission, announce that the Battleship Texas will be departing San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site for repairs on August 31st. Repairs will be done at Gulf Copper & Manufacturing Corporations’ Galveston Shipyard. Due to weather or day of delays, the departure is subject to potential postponement. A livestream video of the departure will be available for the public to view for free on the BTF YouTube channel and Facebook group page.

San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, parts of Independence Parkway, and the Lynchburg Ferry will be closed from the early morning hours on August 31st until the ship has moved past the Lynchburg Ferry. The ship can be viewed throughout her route over most of the day. Good viewing locations for the public include, subject to the local authority, Bayland Island, Texas City Dike, Seawolf Park, and Pier 21. The ship should pass the Texas City Dike and Seawolf Park around early to midafternoon and be in Galveston by mid to late afternoon.

On the departure day, live updates will be posted at battleshiptexas.org/departure and on social media. Check in for live tracking, livestreams, and more!

The USCG’s Notice of a Safety Zone for the tow, from 8th CG District PAO:

HOUSTON — The Coast Guard will enforce a safety zone in the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Ship Channel for the tow of the battleship USS Texas, Wednesday, Aug. 31.

During the tow of the USS Texas from the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in La Porte, Texas, to a dry dock in Galveston, Texas, the Coast Guard Captain of the Port will establish a safety zone to ensure the safety of the public and security for all vessels in the channel. The tow is expected to take place from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Vessels are not permitted to enter into, transit through, moor, or anchor within 1,000 feet of the USS Texas. No vessels will be permitted in the safety zone 30 minutes prior to, during, and 30 minutes after the event unless authorized by the Coast Guard.

All vessel operators desiring to enter any safety zone must obtain permission from the Captain of the Port by contacting on-scene Coast Guard patrol craft on VHF-FM channels 13 or 16, or the Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston command center via channel 16. Violating these zones is a felony offense. Boaters who enter these zones will be escorted from the area immediately and may be subject to fines of up to $250,000 and/or up to six years in federal prison.

Over the last several months, marine safety experts from Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston have been working in close partnership with the Battleship Texas Foundation, Houston Pilots, Galveston-Texas City Pilots, multiple state and local entities, and the Coast Guard’s Salvage Engineering Response Team in preparation for the USS Texas transit. The team reviewed and analyzed all aspects of the tow plan for the USS Texas, ensuring adherence to the highest safety standards.

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022: The Final Figurehead

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, Aug. 17, 2022: The Final Figurehead

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N3908

Above we see the Cadmus-class steel-hulled 10-gun sloop HMS Espiegle, shortly after she was commissioned around 1902. Note her fine lines and almost yacht-like appearance. You would be mistaken to think she had been built with lessons learned from the Sino-Japanese War or Spanish-American War. Still, she would prove herself under fire in a most unusual place.

The Cadmus class was one of the last gasps of British colonial gunboats with the “first” two (Clio and Cadmus) laid down on 11 March 1902 at Sheerness Dockyard after the “latter” four (Espiegle, Fantome, Merlin, and Odin) already afloat. Designed by Sir William Henry White, the Royal Navy Director of Naval Construction, they were based on the preceding class of six White-designed Condor-class sloops (980t, 204 ft. oal, circa 1898) but with several minor improvements.

Some 210 feet long with a broad (33 foot, 1:6 ratio) beam and a mean draught of just over 11 feet, they could put in at just about any port worthy enough to be termed such a place. Carrying a 1,400 hp engineering suite of four Niclausse or Babcock boilers and two VTE engines along with three masts equipped with an auxiliary barque rig (although some reportedly never received sails), they could make just over 13 knots on steam alone and maintain a stately 10 knots for 4,000nm. To protect those spaces, they carried an inch to an inch and a half of armor plate extending over the machinery and boilers.

Not built for speed, they carried six manually-trained 4″/40 QF Mark III 25-pounder guns (two aft, two amidships, and two forward, protected by armored shields of 6mm steel) along with a quartet of 3-pounder 47mm/40cal Hotchkiss Mark I guns and three .303 Maxim water-cooled machine guns, they carried all the armament of a large destroyer or small unarmored cruiser sans torpedo tubes.

In short, they were flag wavers, meant for economic foreign service, and looked more 18/19th Century than 20th as their arrangement was very, um, vintage, including figureheads (the last class built with such ornaments), a scrolled trail board, sloping sterns, and clipper bows with a long bowsprit spar– they were only 185 feet at the waterline. Their steel hulls were sheathed in timber, which helped them in terms of corrosion between dry dock periods but did nothing for speed and marine growth.

HMS Espiegle c1902. Note her scrollwork and sloping stern. Her shielded 4″/40 is trained to port as is one of her “stinger” 3-pounders. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N11384

It was explained by Mr. Ernest George Pretyman, the Secretary of the Admiralty to Parliament in 1905:

“The Clio and Cadmus were both laid down on March 11th, 1902. The Clio was completed in January and the Cadmus in April of 1904. The first cost of these vessels is as follows: Clio, £80,796; Cadmus, £76,657. They were never designed for fighting purposes but for subsidiary work in peace or war, for which they are still available, and in which they are at the present moment engaged.”

They were the final “masted” sloops in the Royal Navy, a type of vessel the Admiralty would pause until 1915 when they recycled the classification for slow corvette/frigate-sized escorts.

The sloop Cadmus, exemplifying the class, was pictured at Devonport in 1904 just after she was completed. Note the scrollwork and figurehead, her sailing rig complete with stowed canvas on the foremast, and the gun shields on her forward 4″/40s. Also note the searchlight between her forward guns, one of the few nods to the 20th Century. If you look at her waterline, you can see where the timber sheathing ends on her hull about three feet up from the waves.

Cadmus Class Sloop HMS Fantome pictured at Port Melbourne. Note the extensive small boats. The class was designed to carry a 23-foot steam cutter, two 27-foot whalers, a 25-foot cutter, and two 16-foot skiffs.

The name Espiegle, Webster tells us, “Is a corruption of Ulespiegle, the French name for Till Eulenspiegel a peasant prankster of German folklore,” which would seem odd for a British man-o-war, but the Royal Navy was incredibly open to borrowing from folklore not of their own for ship names.

The wandering 14th-century rouge, Eulenspiegel– whose name is a rough Low German corruption of “wipe-arse” — plays a prank (Illustration from the Johannes Grüninger edition of 1515 via the Gießen University Library, colored by TofuJoe)

With that, our sloop was at least the seventh HMS Espiegle to serve the Admiralty since 1793 with the first two, logically enough, being French ships captured during the Napoleonic Wars and recommissioned under their previous names.

HMS Espiegle c1900s, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N10133

With all six class members were constructed side-by-side at Sheerness Dockyard between late 1900 and early 1904, all completed within months of each other, with Espiegle being the first to reach the fleet, commissioned on 21 January 1902.

Once commissioned Espiegle was sent to the China Station.

HMS Espiegle. You can make out all of her starboard gun emplacements. IWM Q 43300

Dispatched to stand guard at Yingkou (Newchwang), she wintered on the Liao River 1903-04 protected in a mud fort/dry dock alongside the Russian gunboat Sivoutch (Sealion) and the American gunboat USS Helena (PG-9). The three vessels were landlocked there in the snow and ice when the Russo-Japanese War broke out in February 1904, making it kind of awkward as the British were allied to the Meiji Empire.

USS Helena (PG-9) in mud dock in Liao-Ho River, Yingkou, China with Russian gunboat Sivoutch and British sloop Espiegle 1903-1904. Courtesy of Captain E.B. Larimer, USN, 1931. NH 134

Officers of the USS Helena (PG-9) and HMS Espiegle alongside the Helena, 1903-1904. Courtesy of Captain E.B. Larimer, USN, 1931.NH 133

HMS Espiegle hid in her Chinese mud dock, winter 1903-04, with ensigns from every mast and on her stern. Note the forest of stovepipes sticking up through the canvas. In the distance looks to be the Russian Sivoutch, which was roughly the same size but mounted a single 9-inch gun. Photo via lossow. vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

HMS Espiegle’s officers and men alongside mud dock, winter 1903-04, note her White Ensign flying over the stern. She carried a 120-130 man complement, enabling them to land a platoon-sized force for service ashore, armed with rifles, bayonets, revolvers, and a couple of the ship’s Maxim guns if needed. Photo via Lossow. Vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

HMS Espiegle’s officers keeping warm in a gently comical photo clad in locally acquired sheepskins while in mud dock, winter 1903-04. The average nightly low temperature in Newchwang in January hovers around 0°C with snow and ice. Note the extensive canvassing of the sloop’s deck and smoking stovepipes. Photo via Lossow. Vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

Once the ice melted, Espiegle made passage to the British treaty port of Wei-hai-wei, passing the disputed enclave of Port Arthur at daylight on 13 April 1904, witnessing the battle between Japanese and Russian ships there.

HMS Espiegle c. 1905

War!

By 1914, with the class seen as useless or worse in the event of a modern conflict, two of the class, Merlin, and Fantome had been disarmed and seconded to the Royal Navy Survey Service Squadron, tasked with making Admiralty charts. They were joined by a Condor, a class that had similarly been sideline with one (Condor) lost and two others converted to submarine depot ships.

HMS Merlin and Fantome in the 1914 Jane’s, lumped in with HMS Mutine, a Condor Class sloop near-sister. Fantome was in Australian waters while Merlin was in Hong Kong.

This left four Cadmus class sloops still on active service, making up some 40 percent of the 10 sloops in the Royal Navy in 1914.

It should be noted at the time that Clio was laid up in Hong Kong in ordinary in August 1914. They had extensively been used in the years before the war for training, with Odin, for instance, tasked as drillship for South African Cape Naval Volunteer Corps in 1905-1910.

Espiegle— which had served as a cadet school ship back in England 1907-1910 at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth– at the time was assigned to the East Indies Station, shuffling from Colombo to Trincomalee and Mumbai (Bombay), where she was when Germany and England went to war. Her skipper from 1912 to 1916 was Capt. Wilfrid Nunn (passed out of Britannia in 1889) on his first command.

In early September, the Brits only had the wooden paddlewheel gunboat HMS Lawrence and Espiegle’s sister Odin based in the Persian Gulf with the latter was dispatched to keep an eye on the British Abadan Island oil refineries at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, ostensibly an Ottoman Lake of sorts due to the latter’s control of most of the Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia. And the Turks were making noises like they were going to shut down the strategic Shatt-al-Arab waterway to international traffic. 

As detailed in the 1921 Naval Staff Monographs Vol.15:

At the time, tensions were heating up between the Turks and London as the Brits had seized the nearly-complete battleships Sultan Osman and Reşadiye from the builder’s docks at Vickers and Armstrong, sparking a scandal that was capped when German RADM Wilhelm Souchon’s Mediterranean Squadron– the battlecruiser SMS Goeben and light cruiser Breslau— were allowed to be interned by (then “sold” to) the Turks in August 1914.

With rumors that the boogeyman cruiser SMS Emden was headed to the Persian Gulf to repeat what Goeben did by docking at Basra and joining the Ottoman fleet, Espiegle rushed to join sistership Odin off the Shatt-al-Arab by mid-September, in what would have been an interesting but hopeless battle had the German arrived to press the issue.

As detailed in the Monograph: 
 
In case the Emden should arrive, a line of extempore mines was prepared by the Espiegle to stop her from coming up the Shatt-al-’Arab ; the Espiegle was to join the Odin in the Shattal-’Arab, and the two ships were to wait for the Emden in such a position as to neutralize the extra range of the German cruiser’s guns and force her to engage at close range.

There, protecting Constantinople’s interest, was the shiny new French-built 170-foot unarmored coast guard boat  Marmaris, which, along with a modern 4-gun shore battery at Fort Fao (Al Faw) and a quartet of 60-foot Thornycroft-built motor patrol craft (armed with two 1-pr. Vickers-Maxim pom-poms—one forward and one aft), barred the Shatt-el-Arab entrance.

One of the assorted warships ordered abroad in the lead-up to the Great War– the Ottomans bought ships from France, Britain, and America– Marmaris was built by Schneider-Canet in 1907 and carried a quartet of 9-pounder (65mm) popguns along with a trainable 17.7-inch tube for Whitehead torpedoes.

The unique brigantine-rigged Marmaris in the 1914 Jane’s 570t (full load), length 52m, speed 11knots, 4x9pdr (3”), 2x1pdr(37mm), 1x450mm TT.

Royal Navy LCDR Geoffrey Spicer-Simson standing on the foredeck of the Thornycroft-built 40-foot mahogany-hulled launch HMS Mimi as she was undergoing initial sea trials in the Thames River in 1915. Mimi and her sister Toutou would be used against the Germans on Lake Tanganyika in 1916. The Turkish Thornycroft boats as encountered on the Tigris were longer but had the same general concept, mounting two 1-pounders rather than the 3-pounder and Maxim gun seen here. It was discovered that the frames of these 40-footers could not endure the 3-pounder’s recoil unless it was fired straight ahead.

On 7 October, the Ottomans delivered a formal letter to Capt. Nunn on Espiegle advising the British sloops were violating Turkish sovereignty and must leave the Shatt-el-Arab. Pointing out that the east bank of the river belonged to Persia, where the British had a commercial grant for the oil fields worked by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP), the two sides maintained an uneasy peace for the rest of the month until Halloween, when a cable arrived detailing Souchon’s 28 October raid by the “Ottoman” Navy on Russian ports in the Black Sea, an event that would pull Turkey into the Great War whether they wanted to or not. The Turks sank two hulks in the river and started laying mines.

Espiegle and Odin were soon reinforced in early November by a motley scratch force made up of the old Canopus-class battleship HMS Ocean, the armed yacht Lewis Pelly, the armed launch-tugs Garmsir, Sirdar-I-Naphti, Mashona, Shaitan, and Miner; and HMS Dalhousie (a paddle-wheel powered troopship of 1,960 tons in service of the Royal Indian Marine), which were, in turn, carrying most of the embarked Anglo-Indian 6th (Poona) Infantry Division, the latter grandly classified as “Indian Expeditionary Force D” under the old colonial campaigner Maj. Gen. Arthur Barrett. To this force, Cadmus-class sister Clio and the armed tug Comet would join before the end of the year.

With that, the war came to Mesopotamia.

Starting on 6 November, the British forced the issue with Odin bombarding Fort Fao, killing the Turkish “Bimbash” in a 40-minute naval gunfire display, and a group of Royal Marines subsequently drove the battalion-strong Turkish force upriver. Meanwhile, Espiegle opened her guns on the Turkish trenches opposite their positions across from the British-controlled Barain oil refineries on Abadan Island, similarly scattering the Turks. She also sank a Thornycraft motor launch which was later raised and put to use by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and then taken into service as the HMS Flycatcher.

Marmaris likewise withdrew upriver. British casualties for the Fao Landing were light.

November 1915 Fao landings via History of the Great War Naval Operations vol 1 by Corbett

By 23 November, the British, with Espiegle up front, captured Basra after a ten-day envelopment that left some 1,300 Turkish casualties versus about a third that for the Anglo-Indian force.

Basra, from the Shat-el-Arab, with HMS Espiegle in the foreground

The upriver campaign, with the British pressing everything from dhows and barges to old paddlewheels into use to carry troops and supplies, continued into early December when the expedition arrived at Kurnah/Al Qurnah, some 45 miles North of Basra at the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The five-day battle ended when Capt. Arthur Hayes-Sadler, commander of the battleship Ocean, accepted the surrender of the city by Colonel Subhi Bey, who then marched 1,000 of his men into captivity.

Moving into 1915, the Turks tried repeatedly to recapture Qurnah and Basra, as Odin, Espiegle and company formed the Euphrates Blockade Flotilla to block Ottoman traffic, destroying eight and capturing four local Turkish vessels. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Charles Townshend of Omdurman fame had arrived to take control of the land action, setting up his HQ on Espiegle. His opposite, Young Turk Maj. Gen. Süleyman Askerî Bey, was killed in a British ambush in April 1915.

Indian troops in the firing line, January 1915. The bulk of the British forces engaged against the Ottoman Turks in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) was from the Indian Army. Here a group from the 120th Rajputana Infantry train with a machine gun and rifles while their British officer, Captain W. Andrews, looks on. Andrews was later killed in action at the Battle of Shaiba on 12 April 1915. From an album of 121 photographs compiled by Captain C O R Mosse, 120th Rajputana Infantry. NAM Accession Number NAM. 1966-02-97-31

Known today as the Battle of Amara (or Second Qurna), the largest set-piece battle thus far of the Mesopotamian campaign took place from 31 May to 3 June with the British amphibious attack moving up-river against a Turkish force at Amara that, in the end, suffered 120 killed against Anglo-Indian casualties of just 24. The British riverine amphibious force included the sistership sloops Clio, Odin, and Espiegle (flagship), the armed tug Comet, armed launches Lawrence, Lewis Pelly, Miner, Shaitan, Sumana, and the stern wheelers Muzaffari/Mozaffir, and Shushan, with Espiegle’s Capt. Nunn in general command of the fleet.

In this, Marmaris stopped running and stood her ground, err, river, next to the armed transport Mosul.

As detailed by George Fletcher MacMunn and Cyril Bentham Falls in the official history “Military operations, Egypt and Palestine.”:

[P]receded by the mine-sweeping armed launches Shaitan and Sumana, the Espiegle and Clio now moved up and anchored off Norfolk Hill to join in the bombardment of One Tower hill, and the Odin, Lawrence, and Miner also moved up in support. These warships continued to be the main target for the Turkish guns and both the Espiegle and Odin were hit by shells, without, however, sustaining much damage or loss.

In a short action along the river, Espiegle, Odin, Clio, and Shaitan stopped the Mosul and damaged the Marmaris so badly she was left abandoned, officially scuttled by her withdrawing crew.

From the Monograph: 

Turkish gunboat Marmariss sunk in Tigris at Amara by HMS Espiegle

MacMunn and Falls go on to point out that, Lt. Gen. Sir John Eccles Nixon, the overall commander, “could not speak too highly of the part played by the officers and men of the Royal Navy under the command of Captain Nunn.”

Some 1,700 surrendered Turks, the transport Mosul, and the hulk of the battered Marmaris were in British hands at the end of the scrap.

Turkish gunboat and transport Mosul captured on the Tigris The Sphere,’ 9th October 1915

The offensive continued upriver and Nasiriyah fell on 25 July with the remaining Turkish troops retreating to Kut, where the Battle of Es Sinn on 28 September between Townsend’s troops and Nureddin Ibrahim Pasha’s 4th Turkish Infantry Division would leave Kut– and control over the lower Tigris and Euphrates rivers– to Townsend.

The Red Sea

With Townsend secure in Kut (which would later be the subject of the victorious Ottoman siege in 1916), and the river too shallow to continue their use, the sloops were withdrawn.

Espiegle and Odin would be tasked with a variety of operations in the Red Sea, in conjunction with Lawrence of Arabia’s local indigenous forces, throughout 1916 and 1917. 

1916: Bodyguard Of The Sheikh Of Mahommerah Onboard HMS Espiegle Desert fighters

Speaking to which, on 21 January 1917 the two sloops joined the old cruiser HMS Fox and lent their guns to the capture of Wehj, then the next month, following reports from Ismailia that mines had been laid in the anchorage, landed Marines and Tars to drive the Turks out from that enclave.

On 11 June 1917, Espiegle and Odin engaged in the operation to remove the Turkish post at Salif, overlooking Kameran in what is now Yemen.

As the Turks fell back and ceded control of Arabia to the Arabians, the British (with lots of help from Indian troops and in conjunction with Archibald “Old Archie” Murray’s Siani-Palestine campaign) were again on top of things in the Mesopotamian campaign, the war in that part of the world wound down.

Epilogue

According to The London Gazette (25th May 1923), the modest prize money from the salvage of the hulk of Marmaris and the intact Mosul along with 14 barges and river vessels was ruled shared between the crews of Espiegle, Odin, Clio, and Shaitan. Our sloop was also deemed eligible for shares in two unnamed Thornycraft gunboats credited on 9 and 19 November, both of which were raised.

Espiegle, who returned to Far East Station after the war, was at the time of the prize announcement already paid off at Bombay, with her officers and ship’s company transferred to the P&O Steamer SS Syria for return to England on 12 May 1923. Her stripped hulk was sold on 17 September 1923 for breaking.

Of her fellow Cadmus-class sloops, Odin (who had caught the German auxiliary raider Iltis near Aden in March 1917) was sold at Bombay on 12 November 1920 on the same day as Clio.

Cadmus— who had been on the China Station during the entirety of the war– was listed as “unallocated” in Hong Kong and sold there on 1 September 1921.

Merlin, on survey duty, was similarly disposed of in Hong Kong in 1923.

Fantome, the last member afloat, was rearmed with a mixture of guns taken from the old cruiser HMAS Psyche and used by the Australians as a gunboat during the war, then returned to the Royal Navy for use as a survey ship until 1925 when she was disposed of. Her hulk remained afloat as a coaling and limestone barge in Tasmania, still with her fine lines, as late as 1956.

1955: The once elegant RN and RAN Espiegle Class survey sloop HMS/HMAS Fantome ends her days as a limestone barge in Bell Bay on Tasmania’s Tamar River. Fantome was finally sold to Mr. John Challenger of Launceston in August 1956 and broken up in the Tamar River in the following year. Photo NHSA.

Espiegle’s famed 1912-1916 skipper, Capt. Wilfrid Nunn would go on to become commander of the Flotilla on the Tigris from December 1916 to March 1917 and end the war in command of the new light cruiser HMS Curlew. Invested with a C.M.G. and D.S.O. for his services during the war, in the 1920s he would command the battleship Ramillies and would be promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on the Retired List on 8 May 1930. While on the Retired List, he would assist with a variety of civilian efforts on the home front in WWII. VADM Nunn would pass in 1956, at age 82. He chronicled the campaign he knew first hand in “Tigris Gunboats: A Narrative Of The Royal Navy’s Co-operation With The Military Forces In Mesopotamia From The Beginning Of The War To The Capture Of Baghdad (1914-1917),” published in 1932.

During WWII, the British would recycle the names of many of these sloops for the large (110-ship) Algerine-class minesweepers. These included HMS Cadmus (J230), Fantome (J224), Odin (J460), and yes, Espiegle (J216).

HMS ESPIEGLE (FL 11768) Underway. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120961

Speaking of recycling, the masked figurehead for Espiegle, a wooden maiden whose eyes watched the siege of Port Arthur, sailed up the Tigris and Euphrates to battle the Turks and plied the ancient seas of the world, was saved and is preserved at the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard museum.

Specs:

HMS Espiegle 1899 plan National Maritime Museum, Greenwich NPB1618

Displacement tonnage 1,070.
Length: 210 feet (oal) 185 wl
Beam: 33 feet
Load draught, 11’ forward, 11’ 6 aft.
Machinery: Four Niclausse water tube boilers, two White of Cowes triple expansion vertical engines, 1,220 IHP natural draught, 1,400 IHP forced draught. Twin screws by JS White & Co.
Coal bunkers, 222 tons. Water, 20 tons.
Speed: 13.2 sustained.
Endurance: 4,000nm @ 10knots.
Instruments: Adie mercurial barometer and aneroid, Negretti & Zambra/Hicks wet and dry screened thermometers on the chart house roof, sea thermometer.
Complement: 120-130, Typical peacetime establishment (115): 8 Officers, 24 Seamen, 4 Boys, 12 Marines, 30 Engine Room, 17 non-executive ratings.
Armor: 25mm-38mm over machinery, 6mm on gun shields
Armament:
6 x 4″/40 25-pounder QF Mk III P1.
4 x 3 pdr 47mm/40 3-pounder QF Hotchkiss Mk I.
3 x .303 Maxims.


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1st USS Jacob Jones found

Laid down in Camden, New Jersey in August 1914, the day after the Kaiser’s troops crossed into Belgium, the Tucker-class tin can USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61) was the first U.S. Navy vessel named in honor of Commodore Jacob Nicholas Jones who, as skipper of the USS Wasp in 1812, was most notable for capturing the Royal Navy sloop of war HMS Frolic after an intense battle.

USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer # 61) underway in 1916, soon after she was completed. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 52123.

Sent to Europe after the U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917, the 1,225-ton four piper was steaming independently from Brest to Queenstown, Ireland on 6 December 1917 when she caught a torpedo in her starboard side three feet below the water line, rupturing her fuel oil tank located below the auxiliary and engine rooms. Shipping water, her stern depth charges went off and just eight minutes after the German fish struck, she went down some 25 miles southeast of Bishop Rock, Scilly Islands.

Kptlt. Hans Rose, commander of the U-51 class submarine SM U-53, had made a record (for the time) hit from over 3,000 yards. A gentleman of the old order, Kplt. Rose surfaced, took two seriously wounded blue jackets aboard, and radioed the approximate location and drift of the survivors to the American base in Queenstown, requesting rescuing ships give him an hour to leave the vicinity.

USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer # 61) Sinking off the Scilly Islands, England, on 6 December 1917, after she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-53. Photographed by Seaman William G. Ellis. Smithsonian Institution Photograph. Catalog #: Smithsonian 72-4509-A

Speaking of the survivors, DD-61‘s XO at the time was one LT Norman (Nicholas) Scott, a fighting salt who as a rear admiral would go on to lead his cruiser-destroyer force to victory at the Battle of Cape Esperance off Guadalcanal in October 1942 then perish under the lackluster command of the inexperienced RADM Daniel J. Callaghan the next month. Rose, at the time, was back in uniform complete with his Kaisarian-awarded Blue Max training officers for Donitz as a recalled Fregattenkapitän in 1. Unterseeboots-Ausbildungsabteilung.

Fast forward to yesterday and a group of divers in England have identified the bones of DD-61 in 400 feet of water 60 miles south of Newlyn, Cornwall.

USS Jacob Jones bell by Rick Ayrton

Ironically, the second USS Jacob Jones (DD-130) was also sunk by a German submarine albeit in WWII off New Jersey. It is possible that the good FKpt. Rose may have had a hand in training the young men who sent that tin can to the bottom.

A Night Raid

“In this charcoal sketch by H.J. Mowat, six Canadians leave the trenches to go on a raid. Given the apparent absence of sandbags, they are possibly exiting from an advanced listening post. Under the moonlight, they will thread through their own wire and into No Man’s Land before slipping through the enemy’s wire and launching their attack. Raids could involve only a few soldiers sneaking quietly forward, like the one depicted here, or several hundred attacking with coordinated support from the artillery, mortars, and machine guns.”

Sketch by H.J. Mowat. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-0431

The sound of 16 Vickers 303s

One of the scariest sounds for any of the Kaiser’s foot soldiers in the Great War had to be that of the Vickers gun, ready to rattle away in .303 all day. 

The below amazing eight-minute video is the sight and sound of 16 Vickers machine guns rocking and rolling at a recent event saluting the centenary of the disbandment of the British Army’s Machine Gun Corps. Held at the Century range at Bisley, Surrey, it was pulled off by the Vickers Machinegun Collection and Research Association. Set up as a machine gun company, the guns represented gunners from 1912 through 1968, including one team of female factory testers. 

More on the Vickers 303, and its interesting American connection, after the jump in my column at Guns.com.

“The Kaiser’s necklace, compliments of Camp Lee, Va.” showing Doughboys training with a Vickers gun and holding up one of its 250-round cloth belts. Both the 80th “Blue Ridge” Division, drawn from volunteers from Virginia and western Pennsylvania, as well as the 37th “Buckeye” Division of the Ohio National Guard trained at Camp Lee. (Photo: The Library of Virginia)

Warship Wednesday, July 6, 2022: Dispatches from the New Navy

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, July 6, 2022: Dispatches from the New Navy

Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 69187

Above we see the one-of-a-kind steel-hulled dispatch boat USS Dolphin (later PG-24) off New York City, about 1890. Note the Statue of Liberty in the right background. A controversial warship when she first appeared, she later proved to have a long and star-studded career.

Dolphin was part of the famed “ABCD” ships, the first modern steel-hulled warships of the “New Navy” ordered in the early 1880s along with the protected cruisers USS Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago. While the ABC part of this quartet was built to fight, running 3,200 tons in the case of Atlanta and Boston and 4,500 tons for Chicago, with as much as 4-inches of armor plate and a total of eight 8-inch, 20 6-inch, and two 5-inch guns between them, Dolphin was, well, a lot less of a bruiser.

Laid down on 11 October 1883 as an unarmored cruiser by John Roach and Sons, Chester, PA, Dolphin hit the scales at just 1,485 tons with a length of 256 feet (240 between perpendiculars). Her armament was also slight, with a single 6″/30 Mark 1 (serial no. 1), three 6-pounders, four 3-pounders, and two Colt Gatling guns.

6″/30 (15.2 cm) Mark I gun on the protected cruiser USS Atlanta circa 1895. Note three-motion breech mechanism and Mark 2, Muzzle Pivot Mount inclined mounting. Dolphin was to carry one of these, but it wasn’t to be. Detroit Publishing Company Collection Photograph Library of Congress Photograph ID LC-USZ62-60234

However, although all the ABC cruisers would successfully carry 6″/30s along with their other wild mix of armament, it was soon seen that Dolphin was too light for the piece and she transitioned to two 4″/40 (10.2 cm) Mark 1 pieces as her main armament.

Equipped with four (two double-ended and two single-ended) boilers trunked through a centerline stack pushing a single 2,253ihp vertical compound direct-acting engine on a centerline shaft, she also had a three-mast auxiliary sail rig, a hermaphrodite pattern carried by all the ABCD ships. With everything lit and a clean hull, it was thought she could make 17 knots on a flat sea, something that was thought to equal 15 knots in rough conditions.

Brooklyn, NY. Dock No 2 with USS Dolphin (dispatch boat) showing her hull shape, masts, stack, and screw. USN 902198

Unofficial plans, USS Dolphin, published in the Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1893. By Deutsch Lith and Ptg Co., Photo-Lith, Balto. NH 70119

However, in the spring and summer of 1885, the ship was the subject of much controversy. The first of the ABCD ships nearing completion, she could not make her target speed under any condition, barely hitting 14 knots, and incapable of sustaining that for over six hours. Meanwhile, the Herreshoff-built steam yacht Stiletto was hitting 24.8 knots and the Cunard steamship Etruria was logging over 19 sustained across a 72-hour period.

That, coupled with the issue of armament, led to a special board directed by President Chester A. Arthur’s SECNAV Bill Chandler to inspect and evaluate Dolphin, which was accordingly reclassified as a dispatch boat rather than a cruiser.

A subsequent board formed by President Cleveland’s incoming SECNAV William C. Whitney, consisting of Capt. George E. Belknap, Commanders Robley D. Evans, William T. Sampson, and Caspar F. Goodrich (all of which became famed admirals); Naval Constructor Francis Bowles, and one Mr. Herman Winters, was formed to criticize the first board later that fall, and by early 1886 it was deemed Dolphin had caulking and planking issues, a few defective steel trusses, and her plant was never able to make the designed 2,300 hp on her original boilers. Further, it was thought her powerplant and battery were too exposed to any sort of fire to be effective in combat.

The papers were filled with drama, with the New York Times archives holding dozens of stories filed on the subject that year.

“Cruelty” Dolphin: “What! go to sea, Secretary Whitney! Why, that might make me seasick!'”– says the caption of this Thomas Nast cartoon published in Harper’s weekly, satirizing the mediocre performance during sea trials of the USS Dolphin, one of four vessels ordered by Congress in 1883 to rebuild a United States Navy that was in disrepair. Secretary of the Navy William Whitney refused to accept the new ship, setting off a well-publicized political controversy and eventually driving the shipbuilder into bankruptcy. Via the NYPL collection.

“John Roach’s little miscalculation” Illustration shows Secretary of the Navy, William C. Whitney, handing a boat labeled “Dolphin” to James G. Blaine who shies away, refusing to accept it; in the background, John Roach, a contractor, who built the ship “Dolphin”, is crying because the Cleveland administration has voided his contract. Published in Puck, May 20, 1885, cover. Art by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler. Via LOC

Completed on 23 July 1884, Dolphin was only commissioned on 8 December 1885, while the Navy would work out her issues and pass on her lessons learned to the other new steel warships being built.

Notably, her skipper during this period was Capt., George Dewey (USNA 1858), later to become the hero of Manila Bay.

The first of the vessels of the “New Navy” to be completed, Dolphin was assigned to the North Atlantic Station, cruising along the eastern seaboard until February 1886 when it was deemed, she was ready to undertake longer runs, embarking in a stately three-year, 58,000-mile deployment and circumnavigation of the globe under CDR George Francis Faxon Wilde (USNA 1865). America had to show off her new warship via foreign service.

Accordingly, as noted by DANFS, “she then sailed around South America on her way to the Pacific Station for duty. She visited ports in Japan, Korea, China, Ceylon, India, Arabia, Egypt, Italy, Spain, and England, and the islands of Madeira and Bermuda, before arriving at New York on 27 September 1889 to complete her round-the-world cruise.”

USS Dolphin, some of the ship’s officers, with a monkey mascot, circa 1889, likely picked up on the way round the globe. Odds are the officer holding him is CDR George Francis Faxon Wilde. Decorated as a midshipman at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Wilde would go on to command the monitor USS Katahdin, the cruiser USS Boston during the Span Am War, and the battleship USS Oregon then retire in 1905 as head of the Boston Navy Yard. NH 54538

This trip, with the ship proving her worth, led to her appearing in the periodicals of the day in a much more impressive take. 

Dispatch-vessel Dolphin from The Illustrated London News 1891

Harpers Weekly cover USS Dolphin

Harper’s Weekly January 1886 USS Dolphin in sails

By the time she arrived back home, the Navy’s other steel ships were reaching the fleet and they all became part of the new “Squadron of Evolution.”

USS Dolphin (1885-1922); USS Atlanta (1886-1912); and USS Chicago (1889-1935) off New York City, about 1890. NH 69190

As with most Naval vessels of the era, Dolphin would spend her career in and out of commission, being laid up in ordinary and reserve on no less than three times between 1891 and 1911, typically for about a year or so. Today the Navy still conducts the same lengthy yard periods but keeps the vessels in commission.

In April 1891, Dolphin was detached from the Squadron of Evolution and the Navy made $40,000 available for her cabins to be refitted to assume the task of Presidential yacht from the older USS Despatch, a much smaller (560 ton) vessel that was in poor condition.

She would continue this tasking off and on mixed with yearly fleet exercises and experiments for the rest of her career.

Speaking to the latter, in April 1893, she embarked pigeons from the Naval Academy lofts, the Washington Navy Yard’s loft in Richmond, and of Philadelphia Navy Yard then released them while steaming off Hampton Roads. The birds all made it back to their nests, covering 98 miles, 212, and 214 miles, respectively, delivering short messages penned by the daughter of SECNAV Hilary A. Herbert.

The same year, she took part in the bash that was the Columbian Naval Review in New York, where Edward H. Hart of the Detriot Post Card Co. captured several striking views of her with her glad rags flying.

Dolphin LC-D4-8923

Dolphin LC-D4-20362

LC-D4-20364

In 1895, she carried out a survey mission to Guatemala

She carried President William McKinley and his party to New York for the ceremonies at Grant’s Tomb on 23 April 1897.

Grant Tomb dedication, 1897: View of Grant’s tomb, Claremont Heights, New York City, in the background, and the USS Dolphin and tugboats in the foreground. J.S. Johnston, view & marine photo, N.Y. LOC LC-USZ62-110717

Then came war.

1898!

In ordinary when the USS Maine blew up in Havanna, Dolphin recommissioned on 24 March 1898 just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. She then rushed south to serve on blockade duty off Havana, Cuba, a mission she slogged away on during April and May.

It was during this period she captured the Spanish vessel Lola (31 tons) with a cargo of fish and salt.

She covered her white and buff scheme with a more warlike dark grey. 

U.S. Navy gunboat/dispatch vessel USS Dolphin (PG-24), port bow. Photographed by J.S. Johnston, 1898. LOC Lot-3370-8

USS Dolphin overhauling Schooner Kate [Kate S. Flint] with an unknown young woman in white. Dolphin in distance. Santiago de Cuba. 1898 Stevens-Coolidge Place Collection via Digital Commonwealth/Massachusetts libraries system.

A second view of the same centered on Dolphin.

On 6 June she came under fire from the Morro Battery at Santiago and replied in kind. Less than two weeks later, on 14 June, Dolphin bombarded the Spanish positions in the Battle of Cuzco Well, near Guantanamo Bay, carrying casualties back to the American positions there.

Sent back to Norfolk with casualties, she arrived there on 2 July and the war ended before she could make it back to Cuba.

U.S. Navy dispatch vessel, USS Dolphin, port view with flags. Lot 3000-L-5

Good work if you can get it

Her wartime service completed; Dolphin would spend the next two decades heavily involved in shuttling around dignitaries. This would include:

  • Washington Navy Yard for the Peace Jubilee of 14 May to 30 June 1899.
  • New York for the Dewey celebration of 26 to 29 September 1899.
  • Alexandria, Va., for the city’s sesquicentennial on 10 October 1899.
  • Took the U.S. Minister to Venezuela to La Guaira, arriving in January 1903.
  • From 1903 through 1905 she carried such dignitaries as the Naval Committee, Secretary of the Navy, Admiral and Mrs. Dewey, the Philippine Commissioners, the Attorney General, Prince Louis of Battenberg and his party, and President T. Roosevelt on various cruises.
  • Participating in the interment of John Paul Jones at the Naval Academy, and the departure ceremonies for the Great White Fleet, in 1908.

Early in August 1905, she carried the Japanese peace plenipotentiaries from Oyster Bay, N.Y., to Portsmouth, N.H., to negotiate the settlement of the Russo-Japanese War.

Footage exists of her role in the event.

She also was used in survey work during this time, completing expeditions to Venezuela and the southeast coast of Santo Domingo, in addition to carrying inspection boards to survey coaling stations in the West Indies.

She also had a series of updates. For instance, in 1910, she had her original single/double-ended boilers replaced with cylindrical boilers. In 1911, she had her 6-pounder mounts deleted due to obsolescence, and in 1914 her 4″/40s were removed as well. She also had her masts reconfigured from three to two in the early 1900s.

USS Dolphin steaming alongside USS Maine (BB-10), with the Secretary of the Navy on board, circa 1903-1905. Note she still has her figurehead bow crest. Description: Collection of Mr. & Ms. Joe Cahn, 1990. NH 102421

USS Dolphin docked at the western end of the Washington Navy Yard waterfront, District of Columbia, circa 1901. The view looks north. The old experimental battery building is on the right. NH 93333

USS Dolphin (PG-24) photographed following the reduction of her rig to two masts, during the early 1900s. Note her bowcrest figurehead is now gone. NH 54536

Back to haze grey! USS Dolphin (PG 24), which was used as a dispatch ship of the Naval Review for President William Taft in New York City, New York, on October 14, 1912. Note the battleship lattice masts in the distance and the torpedo boat to the right. Published by Bain News Service. LC-DIG-GGBAIN-10794

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt in the crow’s nest of the dispatch boat USS Dolphin off Old Point Comfort, VA during the Naval review. 10/25/1913. National Archives Identifier: 196066910

ASECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt on the USS Dolphin in 1913, observing gunnery trials of the fleet

USS Dolphin view looking forward from the bridge, taken while the ship was at sea in February 1916. Note ice accumulated on deck and lifelines. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. NH 103039

War (again!)

Sailing from the Washington Navy Yard on 2 April 1917 to take possession of the recently purchased Danish Virgin Islands, four days later, Dolphin received word of the declaration of war between the United States and Germany. Arriving at St. Croix in the now-USVI on 9 April, she would carry the new American Governor-General James Oliver to and St. John on 15 April for a low-key flag-raising ceremony. The islands had initially been handed over in a ceremony on 31 March between the Danish warship Valkyrien and the American gunboat USS Hancock, but Oliver’s arrival on Dolphin sealed the deal.

Remaining in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean region to protect merchant shipping from German raiders and U-boats, Dolphin would pick up a camouflage scheme as she served as flagship for the very motley American Patrol Detachment at Key West, gaining a new 4″/50 gun and depth charges to augment her surviving 6-pounders.

USS Dolphin at Galveston, Texas, 1 March 1919. Photographed by Paul Verkin, Galveston. Note that the ship is still wearing pattern camouflage nearly four months after the World War I Armistice. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2007. NH 104949

She would remain in her quiet backwater into June 1920, when she was finally recalled to the East Coast and a short overhaul at Boston.

USS Dolphin (PG-24) at dock at Boston Navy Yard, MA, September 1920, back to a grey scheme. She had been designated a Patrol Gunboat, PG-24, 17 July 1920. S-553-J

Now 35 years old and with the Navy in possession of many much finer and better-outfitted vessels, Dolphin would have one last cruise. As the flagship of the Special Service Squadron, she joined the gunboat USS Des Moines (PG-29) in October 1920 to represent the U.S. at the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Straits of Magellan. The next year, she would attend the anniversary of Guatemalan independence.

Dolphin arrived at Boston Navy Yard on 14 October 1921. She was decommissioned on 8 December 1921 and was sold on 25 February 1922 to the Ammunition Products Corp. of Washington, DC. for scrapping. Rumors of her further service in the Mexican navy are incorrect, confusing a former steamer originally named Dolphin for our dispatch ship.

Epilogue

Few relics remain of Dolphin. Like most of the American steel warships, in 1909 she had her ornate bow crest removed and installed ashore. It was photographed in Boston in 1911 and, odds are, is probably still around on display somewhere on the East Coast.

Figurehead, USS Dolphin photographed in the Boston Navy Yard, 15 December 1911. NH 115213.

Her bell popped up on eBay in 2019 with a kinda sketchy story about how it got into civilian hands.

The National Archives has extensive plans on file for her. 

As for her name, the Navy recycled it at least twice, both for submarines: SS-169 and AGSS-555, the former a V-boat that earned two battlestars in WWII and the latter a well-known research boat that served for 38 years– the longest in history for a US Navy submarine.

Speaking of WWII, importantly, between 1915 and 1917, our USS Dolphin’s 18th skipper was one LCDR William Daniel Leahy (USNA 1897) who, interacting with then ASECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt, would become close companions. Although retired after service as CNO in 1939, Leahy would be recalled to service as the personal Chief of Staff to FDR in 1942 and served in that pivotal position throughout World War II. It is rightfully the little dispatch ship’s greatest legacy.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in conference with General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and Admiral William D. Leahy, while on tour in the Hawaiian Islands., 1944. 80-G-239549

Specs:
Displacement 1,485 t.
Length 256′ 6″
Length between perpendiculars 240′
Beam 32′
Draft 14′ 3″
Speed 15.5 kts.
Complement 117
1910 – 152
1914 – 139
Armament: Two 4″ rapid fires, three 6-pounder rapid-fire guns, four 3-pounder rapid-fire guns, and two Colt machine guns
1911 – Two 4″/40 rapid-fire mounts and five 3-pounder rapid-fire guns
1914 – Six 6-pounder rapid-fire mounts
1921 – One 4″/50 mount and two 6-pounders
Propulsion two double-ended and two single-ended boilers (replaced by cylindrical boilers in 1910), one 2,253ihp vertical compound direct-acting engine, one shaft.


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That straight-pull, tho

116 Years Ago: Gun drill at Newport, Rhode Island, July 5, 1906.

Photographed by Enrique Mueller. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. PR-3-Box-33-5

Note the white summer jumpers, which were at the time service dress, and broad dixie cups (rather than flat caps) as well as landing force leggings and belts, the latter complete with bayonet scabbards. Besides the trio of 3-inch landing guns in use, and the cutlasses of the blue-coated officers, the rifles appear to be M1895 Lee Navy models.

A straight-pull .236-caliber rifle designed by James Paris Lee and built by Winchester, only about 15,000 were made, with most of those going to the Navy.

U.S. Navy sailor from the 1900s with Lee rifle in landing party gear, posing by a landing gun.

Marine Barracks Norfolk, Virginia. No date on the photo but are armed with 1895 Lee Navy Rifles

Unpopular, it nonetheless saw service with the Navy and Marines in the Spanish–American War (some were in the USS Maine’s small arms locker) and securing of the Philippines as well as in the Boxer Rebellion. Supplemented by the Krag and finally replaced by the M1903 Springfield after 1907, the Navy had a few Lees still on hand well into the 1920s when they were finally disposed of.

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