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Buckeye in the Bay, 115 years ago today

Here we see the USS Ohio, Battleship # 12, drydocked at Hunter’s Point, San Francisco, California, on 19 July 1904. Note her bow scroll.

Photographed by Turrill & Miller, San Francisco. Donation of the Society of California Pioneers. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 60224

Photographed by Turrill & Miller, San Francisco. Donation of the Society of California Pioneers. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 60224

A Maine-class pre-dreadnought laid down at San Francisco’s Union Iron Works on 22 April 1899, the above picture was taken just 10 weeks before her official commissioning on 4 October 1904 and is likely a final hull inspection before she is accepted by the Navy.

The third U.S. warship to be named for the Buckeye State, she was preceded in service by a schooner on Lake Erie during the War of 1812 and an Eckford-designed 64-gun ship of the line that served under no less a naval hero as Commodore Isaac Hull.

BB-12, once she joined the fleet, served on the Asiatic Squadron during the tense period that was the Russo-Japanese War– which it should be pointed out was brokered to a peace treaty by President Theodore Roosevelt– before joining Teddy’s Great White Fleet to sail around the world. By the time the GWF made Hampton Roads in 1909, it and all the ships of the Squadron had been made obsolete by the introduction of HMS Dreadnought and the ensuing all-big-gun battleship rush that ended in the Great War.

USS Ohio (BB-12) (Battleship # 12) Passing the Cucaracha Slide, while transiting the Panama Canal on 16 July 1915, almost 11 years to the day after the above image. Note how much her scheme has changed since joining the fleet, with her haze grey scheme, and lattice masts. Gone is her beautiful white and buff scheme as well as her ornate bow scroll. Collection of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, USN, 1973. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 82269

With that being said, Ohio served stateside as a training vessel during World War I and, to comply with Washington Naval Treaty requirements, was sold for scrap in 1923, with but 19 years on her hull.

Her name was to have been carried by a Montana-class super battleship (BB-68) but was canceled before she was even laid down. Nonetheless, “Ohio” went on to grace the lead ship of the Navy’s current strategic ace in the hole boomers, SSBN-726, who has been in service since 1981 and is still going strong as a Tomahawk & SEAL van.

American Mosins in Russia

This view inside the boxcar quarters of troops of the American  Expeditionary Forces, North Russia, who are fighting the Reds along the line of the Vologda railway in early 1919, shows something interesting in the center– a Mosin-Nagant M91 complete with dog collar-style sling.

LOC: 111-SC-50646

Why is a Russian rifle in Russia interesting? Because the troops are of the 85th Infantry Division, likely of the 339th Infantry Regiment involved in the “Polar Bear Expedition,” and the Mosin shown was probably brought with them from the U.S.

Guard at the doorway of this warehouse of food supplies for the Allied troops campaigning south of Archangel in 1919 is an American of the 339th, note his distinctive M91, with its lengthy spike bayonet affixed. 111-SC-50607

Like the American Intervention forces that landed in Vladivostok in late 1918, the men of the 85th carried new U.S.-made Remington and Westinghouse Mosins with them from the States.

American sailors equipped with rifles and helmets in Vladivostok, Russia, 1918, largely citied to be from the old cruiser, USS Olympia. Note the third sailor from the right has the Mosin’s bayonet inverted for storage as no bayonet scabbards were issued, a typical Russian practice. 111-SC-50100

Tsar Nicky’s government, short on Mosins (and everything else needed for both war and peace) had ordered over 2 million M91s from the U.S. in 1915, although most were not delivered before the country dropped out of the war after the Bolsheviks came to power. The companies passed them on to Uncle Sam in 1918 on the cheap to recoup their losses and, other than the Russian vacation, the War Department continued to utilize them for training (Google= Cummings Dot Rifle) and ROTC use through the 1940s.

I recently had a chance to fool with a bunch of Mosins in the Guns.com Vault, ranging from a nice 1922 Izzy to 91/30s, M38s, M44s, PU snipers, and 91/59s as well as the occasional Chinese Type 53.

More on that after the jump. 

Warship Wednesday, July 17, 2019: Willy’s Vulture

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

Warship Wednesday, July 17, 2019: Willy’s Vulture

Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 134-C0105

Here we see the three-masted bark-rigged “kleiner geschutzter kreuzer” (small protected cruiser) SMS Geier of the Imperial German Kaiserliche Marine photographed at the beginning of her career around 1895. A well-traveled Teutonic warship named after the German word for “vulture,” she would repeatedly find herself only narrowly avoiding some of the largest naval clashes of her era.

The final installment of the six-ship Bussard-class of colonial cruisers, all of which were named after birds, Geier and her sisters (Falke, Seeadler, Condor, and Comoran) would today be classified either as corvettes or well-armed offshore patrol vessels. With an 1800~ ton displacement (which varied from ship to ship as they had at least three varying generations of subclasses), these pint-sized “cruisers” were about 275-feet long overall and could float in less than three fathoms. While most cruisers are built for speed, the Bussards could only make 15-ish knots when everything was lit. When it came to an armament, they packed eight 10.5 cm (4.1″) SK L/35 low-angle guns and a pair of cute 350mm torpedo tubes, which wasn’t that bad for policing the colonies but was hopeless in a surface action against a real cruiser.

Geier’s sister, SMS Seeadler, in a postcard-worthy setting. The six ships of the class ranged from the West Indies to Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific. Much more exotic duty than the typical Baltic/North Sea gigs for the High Seas Fleet

Constructed between 1888 and 1895 at four different Northern German yards, the half-dozen Bussards were a very late 19th Century design, complete with a three-masted auxiliary barquentine rig, ram bows, and a wooden-backed copper-sheathed hull. They carried a pair of early electric generators and their composite hull was separated into 10 watertight compartments. Despite the “geschutzter” designation given by the Germans, they carried no armor other than splinter shields.

The only member of the class built at Kaiserliche Werft, Wilhelmshaven, Geier was laid down in 1893 and commissioned 24 October 1895, with Kaiser Wilhelm himself visiting the ship on that day.

SMS “Geier” der kaiserlichen deutschen Marine

SMS “Geier”, Kaiser Wilhelm II. spricht zur Besatzung

SMS “Geier”, Kleiner Kreuzer; Besichtigung des Schiffes durch Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Notably, Geier was the largest and most developed of her sisters, using a slightly different gun arrangement, better engines and 18-inch torpedo tubes rather than the 14s carried by the preceding five ships of the class.

All six Bussards were subsequently deployed overseas in Willy’s far-flung colonies in Africa and the Pacific, a tasking Geier soon adopted. Setting off for the West Indies, she joined the German squadron of old ironclads and school ships that were deployed there in 1897 to protect Berlin’s interests in Venezuela and Haiti.

The next year, under the command of Korvettenkapitän (later Vizeadmiral) Hermann Jacobsen, Geier was permitted by the U.S. fleet during the Spanish-American War to pass in and out of the blockaded Spanish ports in Cuba and Puerto Rico on several occasions, ostensibly on humanitarian grounds to evacuate neutral European civilians.

The unprotected cruiser SMS Geier entering Havana Harbor, Cuba, in 1898, during the SpanAm War

However, Jacobson dutifully kept a log of ships that ran the American blockade and their cargo as well as conducted a detailed analysis of the damage done to the Spanish ships at the Battle of Santiago. These observations were later released then ultimately translated into English and published in the USNI’s Proceedings in 1899.

By 1900, Geier was operating in the Pacific and, operating with the German East Asia Squadron, was in Chinese waters in time to join the international task force bringing the Manchu Dynasty to its knees during the Boxer Rebellion. She remained in the region and observed the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, notably poking around at Chemulpo (Inchon) where the Russian protected cruiser Varyag and gunboat Korietz were scuttled after a sharp engagement with a superior IJN force under Baron Sotokichi.

GEIER Photographed early in her career, before her 1908-1909 refit that reduced her Barkentine Rig to Brigantine Standard. NH 88631

Returning to Germany in 1909 for repair and refit, her rigging was changed from that of a three-mast barquentine to a two-mast topsail schooner while her bridge was enlarged, and her boilers replaced.

Geier with her late-career schooner rig

Recommissioned in 1911, she was assigned to the Mediterranean where she spent the next couple years exercising gunboat diplomacy in the wake of the Moroccan Crisis while eating popcorn on the sidelines of the Italian-Turkish War and Balkan Wars, all of which involved a smattering of curious naval actions to report back to Berlin. By 1914, although she had never fired a shot in anger, our Vulture had already haunted five significant wars from Tripoli to Korea and Cuba, very much living up to her name.

To catch us up on the rest of the class, by the eve of the Great War, the Bussards was showing their age. Sisterships Seeadler and Condor in 1914 were converted to mine storage hulks in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, respectively. Bussard and Falke had already been stricken from the Naval List in 1912 and sold to the breakers. Meanwhile, in the German Chinese treaty port of Tsingtao (Qingdao), Cormoran was laid up with bad engines.

Speaking of which, when the lamps went out across Europe in August 1914, Geier was already en route from Dar es Salaam in German East Africa (where she had been relieved by the doomed cruiser Konigsberg) to Tsingtao to join Vizeadmiral Count Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron in the Pacific.

Once the balloon went up, she was in a precarious situation as just about any British, French, Russian or Japanese warship she encountered could have sent her quickly to the bottom. Eluding the massive Allied dragnet, which was deployed not only to capture our old cruiser but also Von Spee’s much more serious task force and the downright dangerous SMS Emden (which Geier briefly met with at sea), Geier attempted to become a commerce raider and, taking on coal from two German merchant ships, managed to capture a British freighter, SS Southport, at Kusaie in the Eastern Carolines on 4 September. After disabling Southport’s engines and leaving the British merchantman to eventually recover and report Geier’s last position, our decrepit light cruiser missed her rendezvous with Von Spee’s squadron at Pagan Island in the Northern Marianas and the good Count left her behind.

Alone, short on coal and only a day or so ahead of the Japanese battleship Hizen (former Russian Retvizan) and the armored cruiser Asama, Geier steamed into Honolulu on 17 October, having somehow survived 11 weeks on the run.

After failing to leave port within the limits set by neutral U.S. authorities, she was interned on 8 November and nominally disarmed.

Bussard Class Unprotected Cruiser SMS Geier pictured interned in Hawaii, she arrived in Honolulu on October 17th, 1914 for coaling, repairs and freshwater– and never left

Meanwhile, the Graf Spee’s East Asia Squadron had defeated the British 4th Cruiser Squadron under RADM Christopher Cradock in the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, sinking the old cruisers HMS Good Hope and Monmouth and sending Cradock and 1,600 of his men to the bottom of the South Atlantic. A month later, Spee himself along with his two sons and all but one ship of his squadron was smashed by VADM Doveton Sturdee’s battlecruiser squadron at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

Our Vulture had evaded another meeting with Poseidon.

As for Geier, her war was far from over, reportedly being used as a base for disinformation (alleging a Japanese invasion of Mexico!) and espionage (tracking Allied ship movements) for the next two years.

German cruiser Geier shown interned in Honolulu. Photo by Herbert B Turner. NARA 165-WW-272C-006

German cruiser Geier shown interned in Honolulu. Photo by Herbert B Turner. NARA 165-WW-272C-006

Finally, in February 1917, the events came to a head.

According to the U.S. NHHC:

German reservists and agents surreptitiously utilized the ship for their operations, and the Americans grew increasingly suspicious of their activities. Emotions ran hot during the war and the Germans violated “neutrality,” Lt. (j.g.) Albert J. Porter of the ship’s company, who penned the commemorative War Log of the USS. St. Louis (Cruiser No. 20), observed, “with characteristic Hun disregard for international law and accepted honor codes.” Geier, Korvettenkapitän Curt Graßhoff in command, lay at Pier 3, moored to interned German steamer Pomeran when a column of smoke began to rise from her stack early on the morning of 4 February 1917. The ship’s internment prohibited her from getting steam up, and the Americans suspected the Germans’ intentions.

Lt. Cmdr. Victor S. Houston, St. Louis’ commanding officer, held an urgent conference on board the cruiser at which Cmdr. Thomas C. Hart, Commander SubDiv 3, represented the Commandant. Houston ordered St. Louis to clear for action and sent a boarding party, led by Lt. Roy Le C. Stover, Lt. (j.g.) Robert A. Hall, and Chief Gunner Frank C. Wisker. The sailors disembarked at the head of the Alakea wharf and took up a position in the second story of the pier warehouse. Soldiers from nearby Schofield Barracks meanwhile arrived and deployed a battery of 3-inch field pieces, screened by a coal pile across the street from the pier, from where they could command the decks of the German ship. Smoke poured in great plumes from Geier and her crewmen’s actions persuaded the Americans that the Germans likely intended to escape from the harbor, while some of the boarding party feared that failing to sortie, the Germans might scuttle the ship with charges, and the ensuing blaze could destroy part of the waterfront.

The boarding party, therefore, split into three sections and boarded and seized Pomeran, and Hart and Stover then boarded Geier and informed Graßhoff that they intended to take possession of the cruiser and extinguish her blaze, to protect the harbor. Graßhoff vigorously protested but his “wily” efforts to delay the boarders failed and the rest of the St. Louis sailors swarmed on board. The bluejackets swiftly took stations forward, amidships, and aft, and posted sentries at all the hatches and watertight doors, blocking any of the Germans from passing. Graßhoff surrendered and the Americans rounded-up his unresisting men. 1st Lt. Randolph T. Zane, USMC, arrived with a detachment of marines, and they led the prisoners under guard to Schofield Barracks for internment.

Her crew headed off to Schofield Barracks for the rest of the war, some of the first German POWs in the U.S. (Hawaii State Archives)

Wisker took some men below to the magazines, where they found shrapnel fuzes scattered about, ammunition hoists dismantled, and floodcocks battered into uselessness. The Germans also cunningly hid their wrenches and spans in the hope of forestalling the Americans’ repairs. Stover in the meantime hastened with a third section and they discovered a fire of wood and oil-soaked waste under a dry boiler. The blaze had spread to the deck above and the woodwork of the fire room also caught by the heat thrown off by the “incandescent” boiler, and the woodwork of the magazine bulkheads had begun to catch. The boarders could not douse the flames with water because of the likelihood of exploding the dry boiler, but they led out lines from the bow and stern of the burning ship and skillfully warped her across the slip to the east side of Pier 4. The Honolulu Fire Department rushed chemical engines to the scene, and the firemen and sailors worked furiously cutting holes thru the decks to facilitate dousing the flames with their chemicals. The Americans extinguished the blaze by 5:00 p.m., and then a detachment from SubDiv 3, led by Lt. (j.g.) Norman L. Kirk, who commanded K-3 (Submarine No. 34), relieved the exhausted men.

German cruiser Geier with boilers on fire being sabotauged by her crew Honolulu Feb 4 1917 Photo by Herbert NARA 165-WW-272C-007

German cruiser Geier with boilers on fire being sabotauged by her crew Honolulu Feb 4 1917 Photo by Herbert NARA 165-WW-272C-007

The Germans all but wrecked Geier and their “wanton work” further damaged the engines, steam lines, oil lines, auxiliaries, navigation instruments, and even the wardroom, which Porter described as a “shambles.”

As such, she was the only German Imperial Navy warship captured by the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Coupled with the more than 590,000 tons of German merchant ships seized in U.S. ports April 1917, Geier was reconditioned for American service and eventually commissioned as USS Schurz, a name used in honor of German radical Carl Schurz who fled Prussia in 1849 after the failed revolution there. Schurz had, in turn, joined the Union Army during the Civil War and commanded a division of largely German-speaking immigrants in the XI Corps at Second Manassas, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga, rising to the rank of major general.

[Of XI Corps’s 27 infantry regiments, at least 13 were “Dutch” (German) regiments with many German-born/speaking commanders prevalent. Besides Schurz, brigades and divisions of the XI Corps were led by men such as Col. Ludwig Blenker and Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr, formerly officers of the Royal Armies Bavaria and the Duchy of Brunswick, respectively.]

Postwar, Schurz was a senator from Missouri, where a large German population had settled, and later served as Interior Secretary in the Hayes Administration.

Don’t let his bookish looks fool you, although Schurz was a journalist who served as editor of the New York Evening Post, he also fought in the German revolution and saw the elephant several times in the Civil War.

Under the command of LCDR Arthur Crenshaw, the new USS Schurz joined the fleet in September 1917 and served as an escort on the East Coast. Her German armament landed; she was equipped with four 5-inch mounts in U.S. service.

USS Schurz off the foot of Market Street, San Diego, California, in November-December 1917. Note the U.S. colors. Courtesy of the San Diego Maritime Museum, 1983 Catalog #: NH 94909

While on a convoy from New York for Key West, Fla., on 0444 on 21 June 1918, she collided with the merchant ship SS Florida southwest of Cape Lookout lightship, North Carolina, about 130 miles east of Wilmington.

As noted by the NHHC, “The collision crumpled the starboard bridge wing, slicing into the well and berth deck nearly 12 feet, and cutting through bunker no. 3 to the forward fire room.” One of Schurz’s crewmen was killed instantly, and 12 others injured. The 216 survivors abandoned ship and Schurz sank about three hours later in 110-feet of water.

A later naval board laid the blame for the collision on Florida, as the steamer was running at full steam in the predawn darkness in the thick fog without any lights or horns and had failed to keep a proper distance.

USS Schurz was stricken from the Navy list on 26 August 1918, and her name has not been reissued. The Kaiserliche Marine confusingly recycled the name “Geier” for an auxiliary cruiser (the former British merchant vessel Saint Theodore, captured by the commerce raider SMS Möwe) as well as an armed trawler during the war even while the original ship was interned in Hawaii with a German crew pulling shenanigans.

Of SMS Geier‘s remaining sisters in German service, Seeadler was destroyed by an accidental explosion on the Jade in April 1917 and never raised, Cormoran had been scuttled in Tsingtao and captured by the Japanese who scrapped her, and Condor was broken up in 1921.

Today, while she has been extensively looted of artifacts over the years the wreck of the Schurz is currently protected as part of the NOAA Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and she is a popular dive site.

NOAA divers swim over the stern of the USS Schurz shipwreck. Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

East Carolina University conducted an extensive survey of her wreckage in 2000 and found her remarkably intact, with her boilers in place as well as brass fasteners and copper hull sheathing with nails still attached.

Specs:

Displacement, full: 1918 tons
Length: 275 ft oal, 261 wl
Beam: 34 ft. 10.6
Draft: 15 feet 4.74 mean 5.22 deep load
Machinery: 2 HTE, 4 cylindrical boilers, 2880 hp, 2 shafts
Coal: 320 tons
Speed: 15.5-knots max
Range: 3610nm at 9kts
Complement: 9 officers, 152 men (German) 197 to 217 (US)
Armor: None
Armament
(1895)
8 x 1 – 4.1″/32cal SK L/35 single mounts
5 x 1-pdr (37mm) revolving cannon (removed in 1909)
2 x 1 – 450mm TT with 5 18-inch torpedoes in magazine
(1917)
4 x 5″/51cal U.S. 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. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Same as it ever was

From the National WWI Museum and Memorial, this 1919 Independence Day flyer, with a sentiment that is 100 years old today, and is still on target.

Don’t think so? Check out this Pentagon Hall of Heroes speech by Staff Sgt. David G. Bellavia, MOH:

Versailles at 100

One hundred years ago today, the tragically flawed treaty was inked at the Paris Peace Conference between Germany and the Allies in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, ending the Great War as far as Berlin was concerned. The better part of the High Seas Fleet lay awash in Scapa Flow, scuttled just a week prior, and much of Germany’s western border regions were under Allied occupation. Meanwhile, Poland was flexing in the East and the Bolsheviks were within a year of winning the Russian Civil War.

The Versailles Treaty went into effect on January 10, 1920, and the ripples would be heard in 1939.

Stacking racks of heavily greased surrendered German Mauser 98 trophy rifles by the U.S. Army of Occupation. 12/22/1919. LOC 98 111-SC-67463

Warship Wednesday, June 19, 2019: Coming Full Circle, OTD 104 & 75 Years Ago

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

Warship Wednesday, June 19, 2019: Coming Full Circle, OTD 104 & 75 Years Ago

Launch of USS Arizona (BB-39) UA 476.12

NARA Photo UA 476.12

As a special Warship Wednesday, above we see Battleship No. 39, PCU USS Arizona at her launch on her builder’s ways at the New York Navy Yard, 19 June 1915– some 104 years ago today.

The second ship of the Pennsylvania-class, Arizona‘s keel had been laid on 16 March 1914 with then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt in attendance. The ceremony included FDR closely observing the nailing up of the ship’s good luck horseshoe.

Laying Keel of U.S.S. Battleship Number 39, Nailing of the Horseshoe. NARA 10-a2-131-0004-00011 AC

Detail of the above, with a very mobile and bowler-wearing FDR circled, peering down on the ceremony. He would not be stricken with polio until 1921

Her launching, just 15 months after she was laid down, was attended by a reported crowd of 75,000 including Roosevelt, NYC Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, most of the big name naval brass of the era– the modern battleships Florida, Utah, Wyoming, Arkansas, New York, and Texas were in the Hudson for the event– and various luminaries of the day. It was quite the affair.

USS ARIZONA (BB-39) Launching Ticket. Courtesy of Mr. R. Lincoln Hedlander, USS LEVIATHAN Veterans Association. NH 75450

Secretary of the Navy invitation to the ship’s launching, at the New York Navy Yard, 19 June 1915. Note Secretary of the Navy flag and Arizona State seal. Courtesy of Mrs. Worth Sprunt, 1974. Collection of Rear Admiral B. F. Hutchison. NH 81429

There was a huge delegation from her namesake state led by Arizona Gov. George W. P. Hunt and including Sen. Henry F. Ashurst and pioneer Miss Esther Rose– the latter a sponsor who brought a carboy of the water from the state’s Salt River first spilled over the Theodore Roosevelt Dam in 1911, for use in the double christening of water and wine across the ship’s bow.

The good people of Arizona would, over the next year while the ship was fitting out at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, go on to fund an extensive Reed & Barton silver service for “their” new battleship by popular subscription. It was ready to present to the dreadnought upon her commissioning in 1916.

Removed during a “strip ship” by the US Navy at Bremerton, Washington in late 1940-early 1941 in preparation for the war, the service was later carried aboard the light cruiser USS Tucson (CL-98) and returned to the state in 1953. Today, the treasured relics are on display at the Arizona Capitol Museum

The 1915 event was, by contemporary accounts, the top news of the day.

Heading down the ways. NARA Photo 19-N-3339

USS Arizona afloat after launch NARA 19-LC-19A-24

USS Arizona pushed by tugs after launch. The third warship named after the territory/state; the Navy has never again issued the name. NARA 19-LC-19A-10

Fast forward from that joyous day in 1915 and Arizona would be a happy and lucky ship– remaining stateside during World War I– across more than two decades of faithful service until that fateful Day of Infamy, as later-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would describe her loss to the world.

On 7 December 1941, she was hit multiple times in the first few minutes of the Japanese attack with one air-dropped bomb penetrating the armored deck near her forward ammunition magazine, sparking a massive explosion that killed 1,177 of the sailors and Marines on board. Mortally damaged, Arizona still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row.

Curiously, on the 29th anniversary of Arizona‘s christening (19 June 1944– 75 years ago today) the opening acts of the pivotal Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the last gasps of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was well underway.

Remembered as the “Marianas turkey shoot”, the Japanese lost three precious aircraft carriers and 600 warplanes of their fleet air arm along with their irreplaceable pilots– which amounted to something like 90 percent of their effective naval aviation strength across the IJN.

A VF-1 Top Hatter F6F-3 fighter is launched from USS YORKTOWN, to intercept enemy forces during Mariana's turkey shoot 19 June 1944. Note target information board under the propeller. 80-G-248440

A VF-1 Top Hatter F6F-3 Hellcat fighter is launched from USS YORKTOWN, to intercept enemy forces during Mariana’s turkey shoot 19 June 1944. Note target information board under the propeller. 80-G-248440

Among those Japanese flattops scratched that day included Shokaku, one of six Japanese carriers of the Kido Butai to participate in the Pearl Harbor attack that sunk Arizona. Shokaku was struck at 11:22 on 19 June by three to four torpedoes from the submarine USS Cavalla (SS-224) and slipped below the waves just after midnight on the 20th, taking some 1,272 men with her.

The scale, you could say, was balanced.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

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

Warship Wednesday, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

NH 110742 French Warships in port, circa 1939 Mediterranean palm trees and old fort 2400-tonne type destroyer battleship Courbet, while a Duguay Trouin class light cruiser is to the right

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 93575

Here we see the first French dreadnought, Courbet, class leader of a four-ship group of mighty warships built for the French Third Republic. She is the largest ship to the far left, seen at Villefranche during late 1938 or early 1939. She gave her last full measure some 75 years ago this week but left an interesting legacy.

When built, Courbet and her sisters were the Republic’s answer to the growing trend of all-big-gun battleships started with the launch of the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought in 1906.

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

Part of the 1909 Naval Plan, these big French battlewagons went nearly 26,000-tons (FL) and carried an impressive main battery of a dozen new design 12-inch (305mm) 45 Modèle 1906 guns. These big boys, in six twin turrets, were comparable to the U.S. Navy’s 12″/45 caliber Mark 5 gun on five classes of American battleships (Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, Delaware, and Florida) as well as the British BL 12-inch Mk X naval guns which were mounted on not only  Dreadnought herself but also a dozen other RN battleships and battlecruisers of the day.

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet 12-inch and 5.5-inch (138mm) guns photographed by Robert W. Neeser. These ships carried an impressive 22 of the latter, each with 225 shells. NH 42848

Laid down at Arsenal de Brest, our 21-knot beastie, named after famed French Admiral Amédée Courbet of Indochina fame, was soon followed by sister ship Jean Bart, constructed at the same time by the same yard. Two other sisters, France and Paris, were built by A C de la Loire, St-Nazaire and F C de la Méditerranée, La Seyne, respectively.

French battleship Paris, trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L'Illustration

French battleship Paris, the trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L’Illustration

Courbet commissioned in November 1913 and the entire class were all at sea by the time the lamps went out across Europe in August 1914. Their design was essentially recycled to create the follow-on Bretagne (Brittany)-class dreadnoughts who were up-armed with 13.5-inch guns.

Courbet entered the Great War monitoring of the Otranto canal, a vital sea route connecting the Adriatic with the Ionian while keeping an eye peeled for the German battlecruiser SMS Goeben. She served at the time as flagship for Vice Admiral Boue de Lapeyrère, who led a force that comprise most of France’s battlefleet along with two British cruisers.

Courbet

Courbet

On 16 August 1914, the fresh new battleship and her task force came across the small (2,500-ton) Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser SMS Zenta and a companion destroyer, SMS Ulan, off the coast of Bar, Montenegro. The ensuing action, remembered today as the Battle of Antivari, was brief, with Ulan escaping destruction and Zenta, her guns far outranged by the French, destroyed, taking 173 of the Austrian Kaiser’s men to the bottom of the Adriatic with her. The war was just two weeks old.

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, with Courbet and company in the distance, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

When the Italians entered the conflict on the Allied side in May 1915, the Austrian fleet was bottled up for the rest of the war and Courbet, along with most of the French capital ships, were likewise sidelined, waiting the next four years just in case for a fleet action that would never come. After 1916, most of her crew was pulled and detailed to submarines and small craft, a common occurrence with the French navy at the time.

Remaining rusting in Corfu until April 1919, Courbet returned to Toulon where she became the nominal flagship of the West Mediterranean Fleet while she conducted extensive repairs through 1923.

Put back into service, she suffered a major electrical fire at the French North African port of Mers El Kebir which required further extensive repairs at FCM in La Seyne Sur Mer through 1924. Courbet was a member of an unlucky class perhaps, as sister ship France foundered at sea and was lost at about the same time.

In 1927, with Courbet‘s original design increasingly dated, she was hauled out of the water and given a three-year rebuild and modernization. This included retrunking into two funnels, down from three, updating her propulsion plant by taking her old coal boilers and direct drive turbines with oil-burning small-tube boilers and new geared turbines which provided 43,000 shp (up from 29,250). She lost her torpedo tubes (like battleships really used them) and reinforced her anti-air defenses in the form of 76mm high-angle pieces and a smattering of 13.2mm machine guns. Jean Bart and Paris were given similar overhauls.

She emerged looking very different:

Courbet original and post modernization

Courbet original, top, and postmodernization, bottom

In 1934, she was made a full-time gunnery school ship, her place in the French battle line going to the new 26,000-ton Dunkerque-class of fast (29.5-knot) battleships ordered for the French Navy the same year. Likewise, her sister Jean Bart, renamed Ocean, was made a training hulk at about the same time while Paris was used as a school ship for signals rates.

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

With World War II on the horizon, Courbet and Paris were taken from their taskings on the training roster in June 1939 and placed in the French Navy’s 3eme Division de Ligne, fleshing out their ranks, taking on power and shell, and installing more AAA guns.

Reportedly, the ships had troublesome engineering suites, only capable of making about 15 knots and even that speed could not be sustained.

Tasked with coastal defense, Courbet was moved to Cherbourg on the English Channel in May 1940. From there, she engaged  German aircraft poking their nose over the harbor and helped support the withdrawal from the beaches of Dunkirk. Later, as the German Army broke through and swept towards Paris, Courbet fired on advancing Boche columns of Rommel’s 7. Panzerdivision outside of Cherbourg before she raised steam and headed across the Channel to Portsmouth on June 19/20. Her sister Paris, damaged by German bombs, likewise left Brest for Plymouth, England at about the same time.

With France officially dropping out of WWII and the Third Republic voting to give full powers to Philippe Petain, the elderly battleships Paris and Courbet were seized and disarmed at their British moorings by Royal Marines on order of Churchill on 3 July as part of Operation Catapult.

On 18 July 1940, De Gaulle addressed France, and Frenchmen everywhere, with his famous “Report to me” speech in which he specifically mentioned French sailors. (“J’invite les chefs, les soldats, les marins, les aviateurs des forces françaises de terre, de mer, de l’air, où qu’ils se trouvent actuellement, à se mettre en rapport avec moi.”)

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow IWM

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow and false bow wave. IWM

Paris, in bad condition, had her crew totally removed– who largely decided to return to France. She would be turned over to the Free Polish Navy who would use her for a dockside trainer and clubhouse until 1945 when she was returned to French custody and scrapped.

As for Courbet, she was turned over to the brand-new Forces Navales Françaises Libres (Free French Naval Forces) forces under Admiral Emile Muselier, allied with then-renegade Maj Gen. Charles de Gaulle ,on 10 July, becoming the largest and arguably most effective French warship not under Vichy control. Meanwhile, hulked sister Jean Bart remained in Vichy hands in Toulon on the Med, along with the bulk of the French Navy that wasn’t hiding out in Africa or the Caribbean.

Cuirassé Courbet à Portsmouth 1940, note the false bow wave painted on her bow.

Rearmed in August 1940, Courbet‘s AAA gunners managed to splash five German bombers over Portsmouth during the Battle of Britain. She continued her role as a floating symbol for De Gaulle and receiving ship for the rapidly forming Free French Navy for the next four years but sadly never left port under her own steam again.

Enter Monsieur Philippe Kieffer, stage left.

Philippe Kieffer

This guy.

The day after World War II started with the German invasion of Poland, Kieffer, a 40-year-old Haitian-born Alsatian bank executive in New York City, presented himself at the French consulate in Manhattan and signed up for the Navy. Having been schooled as a reserve naval officer in university but graduating too late in 1918 to fight in the Great War, the skilled financial analyst was given a sub-lieutenant’s commission and assigned to help flesh out Courbet‘s ranks, where he was assigned as an interpreter and cipher officer. Still aboard her when she left for England, he volunteered for the Free French Forces on 1 July 1940 and remained on her during the Battle of Britain.

In Portsmouth in May 1941, he formed a group of 40 volunteers, largely drawn from Courbet and Paris’s remaining crew who chose to not be repatriated to Vichy France, dubbed the 1re Compagnie de Fusiliers Marins (1st Company of Naval Rifles). Soon, his handful of bluejackets were wearing British uniforms and learning from the likes of former Shanghai Police Inspectors William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes at the commando training center in Achnacarry, Scotland. There, they picked up the general tricks of the dirty deeds done dirt cheap trade.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French naval insignia-- likely Keiffer -- and carries a Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French sub-lieutenant naval insignia– likely Keiffer — and carries a Great War-era Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

His force became No. 1 Troop, No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando. Taking part in the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, his forces were expanded to include a second troop, No. 8, and his men were often used in small scale raids and intelligence ops along the coasts of occupied Holland and Belgium for the next two years.

In early 1944, Kieffer’s two troops, along with a smattering of new recruits (including a few Belgians and at least four Luxembourgers) were carved off from No. 10 Commando and formed the new 1re Compagnie du Bataillon de Fusiliers-Marins Commandos (1st Company of the Battalion of Marine Fusilier Commandos, or just BFMC). Geared up for Operation Overlord, they were part of British No 4 Commando of Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade and landed on Sword Beach on D-Day, some 177-men strong, for their official return to France, Tommy guns in hand.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was killed on D-Day by a sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (making friends with the pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was fatally shot on D-Day by a German sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Kieffer’s Bérets Verts (Green Berets) would soon push from the beach to link up with the 6th Parachute Division at Pegasus Bridge and go on to suffer 21 killed and 93 wounded in the days that was to follow, with the latter including Kieffer.

French villagers welcome French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. thompson tommy gun Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944.

French villagers welcome BFMC French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944. Note the green beret’s M1928 Thompson and Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife.

Before the war was out, his men were the first unformed members of the Free French to enter Paris, see the elephant again at Walcheren, liberate Flessinge, help capture the port of Antwerp, and carry out raids along the Dutch Coast. Not bad for a banker.

As for Courbet, she was at Sword Beach as well, just a few days behind Kieffer’s famed 177.

By 1944 she was old news. The Free French Navy, after the collapse of Vichy France in November 1942, had picked up the scratch and dent but much newer fast battleships Jean Bart and Richelieu, which were given extensive refits in America, as well as the still (somewhat) combat effective Bretagne-class dreadnought Lorraine, the latter of which was soon to see combat in the Operation Dragoon landings in the Med.

With her marginalization as De Gaulle’s unneeded 4th battleship, Courbet‘s bunker oil was pumped out and replaced with concrete as her crew removed their possessions. She was towed out of Portsmouth by HMRT Growler and HMRT Samsonia with her remaining French skeleton crew along for the ride on 9 June, bound for the invasion beaches of Normandy with TF 128.

Stopping some 3,360 meters in front of Hermanville near Ouistreham, her crew was evacuated at 13:15 and 10 minutes later her skipper, Capt. Wertzel, triggered the detonation of a series of installed scuttling charges that soon sent France’s first dreadnought 33 feet to the bottom, still flying her tricolor flag adorned with De Gaulle’s Cross of Lorraine, to give the impression that she was still in some form of service.

French Battleship Courbet was sunk as part of Gooseberry 5 on D+3. Note her decks almost awash, the benefit of having a 29-foot draft in 33 feet of water.

Courbet was part of a line of blockships laid off the beaches to form a reef before the rest of the Mulberry dock system was assembled to bring supplies to the beach.

There were to be five “Gooseberry” breakwaters, one for each beach:
No. 1 Utah Beach at Varreville
No. 2 Omaha Beach at St. Laurent (Part of MULBERRY A)
No. 3 Gold Beach at Arromanches (Part of MULBERRY B)
No. 4 Juno Beach at Courseulles
No. 5 Sword Beach at Oistreham

In all, the breakwaters were to be formed by about 60 blockships (approximately 12 in each Gooseberry) which were all merchant vessels except the disarmed King George V-class battleship HMS Centurion, Free Dutch Java-class light cruiser HNLMS Sumatra, Danae-class light cruiser HMS Durban and our Courbet.

A typical Gooseberry breakwater

The sinking of blockships was to commence p.m. D+1 and the Gooseberries were to be completed by D+3, with Courbet being one of the final pieces of the puzzle at Sword Beach (Gooseberry 5), which was to include the merchant ships Becheville, Dover Hill, Empire Defiance, Empire Tamar, Empire Tana, and Forbin along with the old cruisers Durban and Sumatra.

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Courbet, still with her war flag flying, was one of the few blockships to be “manned” with generators supplying power to her eight searchlights and a radio. A crew of 35 men from the Royal Artillery was left in charge of her AAA guns for the next several weeks with the intention of drawing away Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine attacks on the vulnerable beachhead while at the same time possibly splashing a couple of raiders.

The concept worked, as reportedly the very grounded Courbet was hit by German Neger human torpedoes (Einmann-Torpedo) of K-Flottille 361 during the nights of both August 15/16 to 16/17, without effect.

As the breakout occurred and the fighting moved inland, her British gunners were withdrawn in September and Courbet‘s flag hauled down, presented to De Gaulle’s government with honors.

On 14 February 1951, the wrecks in Gooseberry 5 were auctioned by the French government to be salvaged and slowly scrapped, a process that took until 1970 to be completed. By coincidence, Jean Bart, the last French (or European for that matter) battleship afloat, was scrapped the same year at Brégaillon near Toulon, making Courbet and big Jean something of bookends on the tale of French dreadnoughts.

As for Kieffer, Courbet‘s star, he would die at age 63 in 1962, a Commandeur du Légion d’Honneur.

Of the current seven French Commando battalions today, three bear the name of officers of the WWII 1st BFMC: Augustin Hubert, Charles Trépel and Kieffer. Meanwhile, French marine commandos still wear the badge Kieffer designed and issue the Fairbairn-Sykes.

French Fusiliers marins et commandos marine fighting knife green beret via French marines

In the seven decades since the 1st BFMC, more than 8,300 French commandos have followed in their footsteps. To say they have been extremely busy in the past 70 years is an understatement.

French heartthrob Christian Marquand would portray Kieffer in 1962’s The Longest Day, correctly wearing BFMC-badged green berets during the seizure of the Ouistreham casino (which had actually been destroyed prior to the landing). If Marquand looks familiar, he also played the holdout French plantation owner in Apocalypse Now Redux. Notably, Kieffer served on the film as a technical adviser just before he died.

Last week, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, a monument to Kieffer and his 177 commandos was unveiled on Sword Beach, with Commando Kieffer frogmen and past veterans in attendance. A piece of salvaged steel plate from Courbet is incorporated into the display.

Specs:

Courbet class, 1914 Jane’s

Displacement:
23,475 t (23,104 long tons) (normal)
25,579 t (25,175 long tons) (full load)
Length: 544 ft 7 in (o/a)
Beam: 88 ft 7 in
Draught: 29 ft 8 in
Machinery (1913)
24 Niclausse coal-fired boilers with Bellville oil spray systems
4 shafts; 4 × Parsons direct drive steam turbine sets
28,000 PS (20,594 kW; 27,617 shp)
2,700 tons coal/1,000 tons oil.
Range of 8,400nm at 10 knots
Machinery (1934)
16 oil-fired boilers
4 shafts; 4 × Geared steam turbine sets
43,000 PS
Speed: 21 knots (designed) only 20.74 on trials in 1913. 16 knots by 1940
Complement: 1,115 (1,187 as flagship)
Armor:
Waterline belt: 140–250 mm (5.5–9.8 in)
Deck: 40–70 mm (1.6–2.8 in)
Turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
Conning tower: 266 mm (10.5 in)
Armament: (1913)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
22 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
4 × single 47 mm (1.9 in) M1902 3-pdr AAA guns
4 × 450 mm (17.7 in) Model 1909 submerged torpedo tubes with 12 torpedoes
30 Blockade mines
Armament: (1940)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
14 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
8 x 75mm/50cal M1922 AAA guns
14 x 13.2mm machine guns

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