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Battlewagon on a lake, 103 years ago today

Here we see the Illinois-class pre-dreadnought type battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-9) drawing 23 feet of water in Gatun Lake, Panama, 16 July 1915.

Obsolete within five years of her commissoning, she served with her two sisteres, Illinois and former Warship Wednesday alumn Alabama on the epic Great White Fleet and then, after a modernization in 1909 that left her looking more haze gray as seen above, she was used for training until 1919 when she was laid up for good and scrapped without ceremony in 1922.

In 1944 another battleship entered the fleet with the same name, which had a rather longer life.


Warship Wednesday, July 11, 2018: A big gun in a little boat

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, July 11, 2018: a Big gun in a little boat

From the collections of the Danish National Museum #92-1993

Here we see the Danish kanonbaadene (gunboat) Møen of the Royal Danish Navy, a prime example of the late 19th Century “flat-iron,” or Rendel-type gunboat popular in Europe for coast defense for a generation. Just 112-feet overall, she mounted a very stout Armstrong 10-inch, 18-ton muzzle-loading rifle as her main armament.


Click to big up 2000×1321. Note the two covered 83mm guns on the bridge wings, the accordion player, and bugler. Oh, and the big ass 10-incher in the center. And yes, that is the whole crew.

Named after the lonely but beautiful island of Møn, the hardy vessel was ordered from Orlogsværftet, Copenhagen in 1875 and commissioned 24 August 1876. Based on the British Ant-class (254-tons, 85-ft overall, 1x RML 10-inch 18-ton gun) the 410-ton Møen was the *largest* of a five-ship lot consisting of three 240-ton Oresund-class vessels and her near-sister, the 383-ton Falster, all completed by 1876 and mounting the same giant 10-incher.

British Ant-class. In all, between the 1870s and 80s, some 100 or so Rendel-type gunboats like these were built and used by a dozen navies to include those of Argentina, the Chinese and Japanese. By the 1900s these were largely replaced as an idea that had quickly expired.

Meanwhile, just to the south of Denmark, the German Kaiserliche Marine had ordered 11 similar Wespe-class gunboats mounting an impressive 12-incher forward. It should be remembered that at the time Denmark and Germany were only a decade removed from a sharp war that went kind of bad for Copenhagen.

German Wespe class Rendel gunboats– the opposite of Moen and Falster

Powered by a 500hp steam engine, the proud Møen could make a stately 9-knots on her iron-hull when wide open but could float in just nine feet of water, enabling her to hide in the shallows around Denmark’s coastline and burp out a 400-pound shell to 6,000 yards. In tests, the Danes found that the 10-inch main battery of these five gunboats could penetrate 270mm of wrought iron at 628 meters, which was pretty good for the day.

Joining the fleet by late 1876, the plucky gunboat joined in regular Eskadren (squadron) maneuvers each summer from June to the end of September in the Baltic, assisting with cadet cruises as needed and practicing her gunnery while the Øresund-class ships were gradually removed from service, found to be just too small of the task.

Sister Falster, pre-1903. Note the big 10-inch forward

On 30 September 1901, while anchored in front of Fort Middelgrund between Copenhagen and Malmö, Møen suffered a catastrophic hull breach while testing new (and apparently finicky) incendiary shells for her Armstrong. While her 35-man crew was safe aboard the nearby coastal defense ship Skjold, Moen‘s rifle was fired electrically via a cable from 400m away and on the third shot a fire started aboard that triggered her magazine just seconds later.

The ship “disappeared” and settled on the bottom of Øresund, gratefully without any casualties. Only her masthead was visible over the surface.

The news was widely reported in naval journals of the time.

The sinking of the Moen from the Journal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, Volume 13

The sinking of the Moen from the Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 27 1901

Sister Falster, the last Danish Rendel-type gunboat, soon after the accident landed her big gun and she was rearmed with a much safer 57 mm popgun in 1903.

Kanonbaaden Falster sometime between 1903 and 1914, note the much more sedate 57mm L44 M1896 mount forward. Interestingly enough, this model gun remained in maritime service well into the 1990s, only retired by the Icelandic Coast Guard in favor of slightly more up-to-date Bofors 40mm singles.

Retained for another decade, she was listed as having an armament consisting of seven machine guns (likely domestically-produced Madsens) in Janes‘ 1914 edition:

6th down, at the time the oldest armed gunboat in the Danish Navy

During WWI, Falster served as a guard ship between Amager and Saltholm. The highlight of this service was when the British submarine HMS E.13 ran aground near her in 1915, and some of the RN officers were brought aboard until they could be sent ashore to be interned for the duration.

Kanonbåden Falster, stern, as guardship

At the end of hostilities, she was withdrawn, disarmed and was sold in February 1919. As such, Falster was pretty much the swan song of Rendel-type iron gunboats except for the Greek Amvrakia, which mounted an 11-inch gun on a ridiculous 400-ton hull and remained in (nominal) service until 1931.

Converted to a coastal freighter under the name Holger, Falster was lost in 1930 with seven merchantmen aboard in a winter snowstorm north of Djursland with a load of cement.

As for her sister, the Danish Navy salvaged the guns and most of the more valuable equipment in 1902, but the wreck of kanonbåden Møen, in just 19m of sheltered water, is a popular and easy dive.

The two ships were later commemorated by the Danes in the much larger Falster-class minelæggeren (minelayers) which were active from the 1960s through 2004.

As for Denmark, of course, the Royal Danish Navy was an armed neutral in the sharp crossroads between the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet and Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet in the Great War, a semi-active combatant against the Germans in WWII, and, since 1949, has been an important contributor to NATO.

Displacement 409 t.
Length: 112.5-feet
Width: 28.8 ft.
Draft: 9 ft.
Engine: 500 hp steam engine, one screw
Speed: 9.0 knots, 20-tons of coal
Crew: 30 to 35
Single RML 10-inch 18-ton gun (254mm/18cal) M.1875 Armstrong
Two 83mm/13cal M.1872 Krupp rifled breechloaders (later replaced with 6 37 mm rapid-fire guns).

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

The GPF of Gulf Shores

Here we see a U.S. Model 1918M1 155mm gun, the famous French GPF (Canon de 155mm Grande Puissance Filloux, a direct copy of the C modèle 1917 Schneider) of the Great War, which equipped U.S. forces overseas and– when upgraded with air brakes, new metal wheels, and pneumatic tires to allow for high-speed towing– remained the mainstay of the interwar Army throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Note the unmodified 1918-series profile, with hard rubber wheels and no air brake, in other words, in its original WWI-era mode, suitable for being pulled by slow tractors or horses. (Photo: Chris Eger)

By the outbreak of WWII, the Army had 979 GPFs still on hand although they were being replaced by the new and much more modern M114 155 mm howitzer (many of the latter are still in use in the Third World today).

With the relegation of the old GPF to the reserve, when the balloon went up and German and Japanese subs started crawling just off the U.S. coastline, these vintage guns were pressed into service on what were termed “Panama Mounts,” a semi-fixed installation atop a circular concrete mount that allowed the gun to revolve and rotate in place. Capable of sending a 95-pound shell out to 17,700-yards every 15-seconds with a well-trained crew, they could shatter the hull of a U-boat with ease or give a surface raider far from home at least a moment of pause.

One such gun (pictured above) remains at Fort Morgan, Alabama, controlling the entrance to Mobile Bay.

In 1942 the fort received four GPFs, two of which (Nos. 176 and 802) were used on Panama Mounts on top of the old Civil War-era bastions while two others were left mobile.

Soldier sitting on top of an M1918 155mm GPF, 1942. The gun position would be located on top of Bastion 3 of the fort. Note the camouflage, sandbag revetments and Panama Mount (Fort Morgan Collection)

Taken in 1943, this picture shows one of two 155 GPF guns that were mounted on top of the fort. Maximum elevation was 35-degrees, which is close to what this tube is (Fort Morgan Collection)

These were manned by men of Battery F, 50th Coast Artillery throughout the duration of the War. It should be noted that, while Fort Morgan was an active U.S./Confederate base from 1819 through WWI, by 1931 it had been disarmed and abandoned, with the visiting 155’s of Battery F her last hurrah.

Established at Camp Pendleton, Virginia 1 February 1942, the 50th Coast Artillery was a tractor-drawn heavy artillery regiment. After just two months of training, Battery F entrained for Fort Barrancas (Pensacola) Florida. Arriving there on 7 April 1942, the unit left in a (slow) motor convoy to Fort Morgan to establish Temporary Harbor Defenses (THD) of Mobile and remained there until 1944.

Battery E went down the coast another several miles to my hometown of Pascagoula to defend Ingalls Shipyard from a point on Beach Boulevard, but that is another story…

Morgan’s remaining GPF, head on. Yes, double solid rubber wheels on each side. (Photo: Chris Eger)

The gun still at Morgan is on M1918 carriage No. 429, one of the 626 U.S.-made produced under a license from Schneider/Puteaux. Another 577 were purchased from the French directly. All U.S.-made carriages were manufactured by Minneapolis Steel from built-up steel alloy. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Her tube is No. 1073, Watervliet Arsenal production. All gun tubes for U.S.-made M1917/18s were made by either Watervliet or Bullard Engineering Works and marked as such on the muzzle. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Technically a 155mm/38 caliber piece, the tube is almost 10-feet long (232.87 inches) with the weight of the gun and carriage topping 19,860-pounds, or right at 10-tons. Muzzle velocity on the 95-pound shell was 2,411fps– which is a whole lot of energy. 

Their use in Coastal Artillery was nearly the last hurrah of the GPF in U.S. service.

By May 1941, the M1917/18 was a Lend-Lease item and much of those stocks not used to guard the various beaches soon were on their way to the British, where they made an appearance in North Africa against Rommel and Co. The GPF also served in the Pacific, with at least 60 of the model captured by the Japanese in the Philippines. Late in 1942, some 100 GPFs that remained in storage were mounted on the turretless chassis of the obsolete M3 Lee tank to form the M12 Gun Motor Carriage as a form of early self-propelled artillery. When teamed up with the companion Cargo Carrier M30 (also a turretless M3), which allowed them to go into the line with 40 rounds of 155mm ready, they proved popular in a niche role. These tracked GPFs earned the nicknames “Doorknocker” and “King Kong” in service due to their ability to pierce up to seven feet of reinforced concrete and turn pillboxes into a smokey hole in the ground– a useful thing in Northeastern Europe in 1944.

If visiting Fort Morgan, be sure to check out the small museum just a few hundred yards from where the surviving GPF sits.

Inside the museum they have the guidon of Battery A, 104th Coastal Artillery, an Alabama National Guard unit mobilized for federal service 10 months prior to Pearl Harbor and then shipped to the Pacific in 1942, only returning home in January 1946.

As well as the typical WWII Coastal Artillery uniform of sun hat, olive coveralls tucked into canvas leggings, gas mask, and cartridge belt:

Of note, interwar Coastal Artillery coveralls were blue denim but were often worn by National Guard units operating 155mm GPFs in WWII, such as one of these big guns going boom, shown in the late 1930s Kodachrome below.

Vintage greetings from the USS Rhode Island, Battleship No. 17

Via the Thomas Crane Public Library’s Fore River Shipyard Postcard Collection:

Commissioned into the Atlantic Fleet in February 1906, Rhode Island was one of five Virginia-class pre-dreadnoughts built between the SpanAm War and WWI. She carried four 12″/40 (30.5 cm) Mark 4s in two twin turrets and eight 8″/45 (20.3 cm) Mark 6s in four twin turrets.

Made obsolete before she was commissioned by the arrival of the HMS Dreadnought, Rhode Island served in the Great White Fleet and in various sticky spots during the Wilson administration and was sold for scrap in 1923 under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, though her bell is on display at the Rhode Island State House.

The Maxim 1910 Silencer, in 30.06

The Cody Firearms Museum has an extensive collection of historic arms and they recently got a special look at one of their original “Silencers.”

The pre-NFA vintage firearm suppressor brand named by its inventor, Hiram Percy Maxim, was x-rayed by the Cody Police Department while the agency was on hand at the Wyoming-based museum this month to verify that some ordnance at the center was inert.

The M1910 Maxim Silencer is attached to the threaded barrel of a Springfield 1903 in the Cody’s collection. Thus:

More about the M1910, which was used in small numbers by the Great War-era U.S. Army, in my column at

Warship Wednesday, July 4, 2018: Remembering the Independence most often forgotten

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, July 4, 2018: Remembering the Independence most often forgotten

NH 70472

Here we see the “444-type” freighter USS Independence (SP-3676) in striking dazzle camouflage, probably in San Francisco Bay, California, soon after her completion in late 1918. While the U.S. and Massachusetts State Navy operated no less than seven “Independences” going all the way back to 1776, and today is July 4th, I figured it would be fitting to cover #4 of these, which had a great service history and was sandwiched between a 90-gun ship of line that gave 98-years of service and two much better-known aircraft carriers of the same name.

Appropriately enough, the story of this Independence started off with the British.

In late 1916 the shipping-strapped British Admiralty contracted with Union Iron Works (UIW) shipyard, located at Potrero Point, San Francisco, for a series of 7,700-dwt, 444-foot oal, single-screw, steel-hulled freighters to a design approved by the U.S. Shipping Board’s construction program, an emergency agency authorized by the Shipping Act of 1916 that eventually morphed into the MARAD of today. The first of these, War Knight (UIW’s hull #132A), was laid down in early 1917, followed by War Monarch, War Sword, War Harbour, War Haven, War Ocean, War Rock, War Sea, War Cape, War Surf and War Wave (seeing a trend here?). Of these, just the first three, completed by Sept. 1917, were delivered to the British. By that point, the U.S. needed ships of her own and stepped in. Soon, each of the vessels under construction was renamed and taken over by the Navy of their birthplace.

War Harbour, hull 162A, became SS Independence while under construction while others lost their intended names and became, respectively, Victorious, Defiance, Invincible, Courageous, Eclipse, Triumph, and Archer. A 12th ship, Steadfast, was contracted by the USSB directly without London being involved.

War Harbour, then SS Independence, photographed on 24 October 1918 at the yard of her builder, Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., Union Plant, Potrero Works, San Francisco. Behind her is a later sister, SS War Surf/Eclipse, that during World War II became USS William P. Biddle (AP-15). Source: U.S. National Archives, RG-32-S via Ship Scribe.

Taken into federal service as 18 November 1918 as USS Independence, her first skipper was LCDR O. P. Rankin and she was assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service, completing one voyage to France with a load of foodstuffs. With the Great War at an end, she was decommissioned, 20 March 1919, after just four months of service, and handed over to the USSB who promptly converted her and several of her sisters to a turbo-electric powerplant capable of a speed of a very fast (for a merchant ship) speed of 16 knots, then placed the essentially new vessels in storage.

Then came 1930 and the Roosevelt Steamship Company’s award of a mail contract for a weekly run from Baltimore and Norfolk to Hamburg, Germany and Le Havre, France– a contract that resulted in the group forming the Baltimore Mail Steamship Company. Headquartered in the now-iconic but then brand-new Baltimore Trust Building (now the Bank of America Building), the Baltimore Mail Line picked up five of the old 444’s from USSB storage– Steadfast, War Surf/Eclipse, War Haven/Victorious, War Wave/Archer, and War Harbour/Independence. Reconstructed under a Gibbs & Cox design to accommodate 80 passengers, modified to hit 18-knots, and lengthened to 507 feet, the now-8,424t ships started a regular trade within a year renamed (again) as the City of Baltimore, City of Hamburg, City of Havre, City of Newport News and, our hero, as City of Norfolk, after the five hubs serviced by the line.

The launching of the SS City of Norfolk on August 14th, 1931 at the Norfolk Army Base piers (former War Harbour, ex-USS Independence) of the Baltimore Mail Line.

As reported by the GG Archives, “The single class liners offered staterooms with outside exposure, hot running water, and Simmons beds. In 1935, the Baltimore Mail Line offered fares to London or Hamburg for $90 one way or $171 round trip.” The ships had a saloon, barber shop, a surgeon’s office, an oak-paneled smoking room, a sports deck with tennis courts, and other amenities. A brochure from the period cautions that “professional gamblers are reported as frequently traveling on passenger steamers and are warned to take precautions accordingly.”

In 1937 the bottom fell out of the U.S. shipping industry after Congress withdrew all maritime mail subsidies and the Baltimore Mail Line folded. War Harbour/Independence/City of Norfolk was transferred briefly to the struggling Panama Pacific Line, carrying freight and passengers from New York to California and back again via the Canal, but that soon ended as that shipper too folded due to mounting costs.

By November 1940, the five converted former Baltimore Mail Line ships, now 20-years old and surplus once more were re-acquired by the U.S. Navy for the second time. Dubbed transports, they were taken to Willamette Steel in Portland, camouflaged, fitted to accommodate 1100~ troops, armed with a smattering of deck guns (a single 5″/51 and two 3″/50 guns as well as some .50 cals to ward off low-flying curious planes), given two light davits on each side to accommodate eight landing craft, and (wait for it) renamed yet again.

War Harbour/Independence/City of Norfolk became USS Neville (AP-16) and by June reported for duty with the Atlantic Fleet, spending six months transporting troops and naval personnel from the East Coast to new bases in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. Shortly after the U.S. entered the war, she joined a transatlantic convoy to Ireland with British personnel and Lend-Lease equipment aboard.

View of a convoy out of Brooklyn, New York (USA), February 1942: USS Neville (AP-16) is in the foreground. Other ships present include at least six other transports, a light cruiser, and a battleship. This is probably the convoy that left the east coast on 19 February 1942, bound across the Atlantic to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Note the extensive use of Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage on these ships. U.S. Navy photo 80-G-2408

Then came the Pacific war and, armed with more AAA guns (20mm’s in place of her original .50 cals) was soon carrying Army troops and Navy Seabees to New Zealand, then Marines to a place called Guadalcanal, where she helped conduct landings on Blue Beach 7 August 1942, sending Marine Combat Team 2 ashore on Tulagi.

U.S. Marines come ashore on Tulagi Island, probably during the landings there on 7-8 August 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-16485

Landing at Guadalcanal. The latest shipment of reinforcements for Guadalcanal prepare to leave a landing boat, from USS Neville (APA-9) on the shores of the island. NARA photograph. Photographed through Mylar sleeve.

It was a dangerous place to be for a lightly armed transport. Class sister War Haven/Victorious/City of Havre/George F. Elliott was lost just a few miles away after she was clobbered by Japanese planes.

The U.S. Navy troop transport USS George F. Elliott (AP-13) burning between Guadalcanal and Tulagi, after she was hit by a crashing Japanese aircraft during an air attack on 8 August 1942. Date 8 August 1942 Source Official U.S. Navy photo NH 69118

Redesignated an amphibious assault transport (APA-9), Neville was then rushed to the Med for the invasion of Sicily, this time to put men of the Army’s 45th Infantry (Thunderbird) Division on Red Beach.

Shipping off the Scoglitti beaches on the first day of the invasion, 10 July 1943. Among the ships present are: USS Calvert (APA-32), second from left; USS Neville (APA-9), left center; USS Frederick Funston (APA-89), far right. An LST is in the right center, with a light cruiser in the distance beyond. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-215086

USS Neville (APA-9) off the Norfolk Navy Yard on 17 April 1943 after receiving changes to her armament and other modifications. Her 5″/51 gun aft has been removed and two twin 40mm anti-aircraft guns have been added, one forward in the tall structure over the two 3″/50 guns and one aft. She also received a radar mast over the bridge. Photo No. 19-N-45752 Source: U.S. National Archives, RG-19-LCM via Ship Scribe

Chopping back to the Pac after gaining more AAA (40mms this time), Neville landed troops at Tarawa in the Gilberts in November 1943, Kwajalein and Majuro three months later, Eniwetok in March 1944, and helped capture Saipan that June after landing her Marines on beach Green Two. In all, she was awarded five battle stars for her WWII service.

After taking Japanese POWs– a rare treasure– back to Pearl Harbor, Neville spent the rest of the war in San Diego training APA crews. The end of the conflict saw her performing Magic Carpet duty, bringing home salty combat vets from overseas and replacing them with fresh green troops for occupation duty. Arriving at Boston 5 February 1946, she was struck from the Navy List 15 August 1946, then towed to the James River National Defense Reserve Fleet. Ten years later the old girl was sold to a New Jersey company for scrap.

Her three remaining APA sisters who survived the war– War Wave/Archer/City of Newport News/Fuller, War Surf/Eclipse/City of Hamburg/William Biddle, and Steadfast/City of Baltimore/Heywood, all were likewise scrapped in 1956.

The unmodified freighter sisters were less lucky. War Cape/Triumph was sunk as SS Pan-Massachusetts by a German torpedo in 1942. War Sea/Courageous was sunk as breakwater off Normandy in 1944. In all, they were a hard luck and unsung class of ships, but they got it done, which is all you can really ask.

Displacement 7,475 t.(lt) 14,450 t.
Length 507′ (post-conversion, 1931) 444 as built
Beam 56′
Draft 24′ (mean)
Propulsion: four Babcock and Wilcox header-type boilers
one De Laval steam turbine, geared turbine drive
single propeller, 9,500shp
Speed 16 kts as built
Complement (1945)
Officers 50
Enlisted 524
Troop Accommodations: 60-75 officers, 818-1,203 enlisted
Cargo: 145,000-150,000 cu ft, 1,800-2,900 tons
Armament (1940)
one single 5″/51 mount
two single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts
eight 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine guns
Armament (1945)
four single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
sixteen single 20mm AA gun mounts

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Just what the “A1” means

Here is a great image from the Cody Museum showing a Great War-era Colt M1911 (bottom) compared to a post-war M1911A1.

Via the Cody Museum

The A1 designation came about in 1924 and changes to the standard include a thicker front sight, an arched and checkered mainspring housing (to improve aim/ergonomics), a longer hammer spur (to help curb reports of slide bite on firing), a shorter trigger with checkering and relief cuts in the guard to help those with smaller hands, and a longer grip safety spur.

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