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Remembering Hartlepool

On 16 December 1914, German RADM Franz von Hipper led his squadron consisting of the battlecruisers SMS Seydlitz, Von der Tann, Moltke and Derfflinger, the armored cruiser SMS Blücher, light cruisers SMS Strassburg, Graudenz, Kolberg and Stralsund; and 18 destroyers to the English coast. There, he bombarded the ports of Scarborough, Hartlepool, and Whitby, causing nearly 600 casualties. Some 1,150 shells were fired into Hartlepool alone, producing the first British military death on British soil in some 200 years.

An alarm clock with a piece of German shell embedded in the dial, destroyed by the German naval raid on Hartlepool, UK, on the morning of 16 December 1914.

In 1999, locals in Hartlepool established the Heugh Battery Museum as the only WWI battlefield in the UK. Today, it needs $5,000 to stay afloat and only has half that amount.

More here.

Warship Wednesday, May 8, 2019: Vladivostok’s Red Pennant

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, May 8, 2019: Vladivostok’s Red Pennant

ADMIRAL ZAVOYKO 1921

Here we see the Russian steam gunboat Adm. Zavoyko bobbing around in Shanghai harbor sometime in 1921, as you may observe from the local merchants plying their wares. When this photo was taken, she was perhaps the only seagoing member of a Russian fleet on the Pacific side of the globe. Funny story there.

Built at the Okhta shipyard in St. Petersburg for the Tsar’s government in 1910-11, she was named after the 19th century Imperial Russian Navy VADM Vasily Stepanovich Zavoyko, known for being the first Kamchatka governor and Port of Petropavlovsk commander, the latter of which he famously defended from a larger Anglo-French force during the Crimean War.

This guy:

Vasily Stepanovich Zavoyko 2

The riveted steel-hulled modified yacht with an ice-strengthened nose was some 142.7-feet long at the waterline and weighed in at just 700-tons, able to float in just 10 feet of calm water. Powered by a single fire tube boiler, her triple expansion steam engine could propel her at up to 11.5-knots while her schooner-style twin masts could carry an auxiliary sail rig. She was capable of a respectable 3,500 nm range if her bunkers were full of coal and she kept it under 8 knots.

Ostensibly operated by Kamchatka governor and intended for the needs of the local administration along Russia’s remote Siberian coast, carrying mail, passengers and supplies, the government-owned vessel was not meant to be a military ship– but did have weight and space reserved fore and aft for light mounts to turn her into something of an auxiliary cruiser in time of war (more on this later).

ADMIRAL ZAVOYKO plans

Sailing for the Far East in the summer of 1911, when war was declared in August 1914, the white-hulled steamer was transferred to the Siberian Flotilla (the largest Russian naval force in the Pacific after the crushing losses to the Japanese in 1905) and used as a dispatch ship for that fleet.

Now the Siberian Flotilla in 1914, under VADM Maximilian Fedorovich von Schulz– the commander of the cruiser Novik during the war with Japan– was tiny, with just the two cruisers Askold and Zhemchug (the latter of which was soon sunk by the German cruiser Emden) the auxiliary cruisers Orel and Manchu; two dozen assorted destroyers/gunboats/minelayers of limited military value, seven cranky submarines and the icebreakers Taimyr and Vaigach. As many of these were soon transferred to the West and Arctic in 1915 once the Germans had been swept from the Pacific, our little steamer, armed with machine guns and a 40mm popgun, proved an increasingly important asset used to police territorial waters.

ADMIRAL ZAVOYKO 1917

ADMIRAL ZAVOYKO 1917

By 1917, with the Siberian Flotilla down to about half the size that it began the war with– and no ships larger than a destroyer– the 6,000 sailors and officers of the force were ripe for revolutionary agitation. As such, Adm. Zavoyko raised a red flag on her masts on 29 November while in Golden Horn Bay, the first such vessel in the Pacific to do so.

She kept her red pennant flying, even as Allies landed intervention forces at Vladivostok.

Japanese marines in a parade of Allied forces in Vladivostok before French and American sailors 1918

Japanese marines in a parade of Allied forces in Vladivostok before British, French and American sailors, 1918

As for the rest of the Siberian Flotilla, it largely went on blocks with its crews self-demobilizing and many jacks heading home in Europe. The fleet commander, Von Schulz, was cashiered and left for his home in the Baltics where he was killed on the sidelines of the Civil War in 1919.

By then, it could be argued that the 60 (elected) officers and men of the Adm. Zavoyko formed the only active Russian naval force of any sort in the Pacific.

In early April 1920, with the counter-revolutionary White Russian movement in their last gasps during the Civil War, the lukewarm-to- Moscow/Pro-Japanese Far Eastern Republic was formed with its capital in the Siberian port. It should be noted that the FER kind of wanted to just break away from the whole Russia thing and go its own way, much like the Baltics, Caucuses, Ukraine, Finland, and Poland had done already. Their much-divided 400~ representative Constituent Assembly consisted of about a quarter Bolsheviks with sprinklings of every other political group in Russia including Social Revolutionaries, Cadets (which had long ago grown scarce in Russia proper), Mensheviks, Socialists, and Anarchists. This produced a weak buffer state between Soviet Russia and Imperial Japan.

This thing:

The Far Eastern Republic ran from the Eastern shores of Lake Baikal to Vladivostok and only existed from 1920-23.

Now flying the (still-red) flag of the FER, Adm. Zavoyko was soon dispatched to bring a cache of arms to Red partisans operating against the last armed Whites on the coast of the Okhotsk and Bering Seas.

However, after Adm. Zavoyko left Vladivostok, the local demographics in its homeport changed dramatically. By early 1921, the population of the city had swelled to over 400,000 (up from the 97,000 who had lived there in 1916) as the White Army retreated east. With the blessing of the local Japanese forces– all the other Allies had left the city– the Whites took over the city in a coup on May 26 from the Reds of the Far Eastern Republic. As the Japanese were cool with that as well, it was a situation that was allowed to continue with the Whites in control of Vladivostok and the Reds in control of the rest of the FER, all with the same strings pulled by Tokyo. To consolidate their assets, the Whites ordered Adm. Zavoyko back to Vladivostok to have her crew and flags swapped out.

This put Adm. Zavoyko in the peculiar position of being the sole “navy” of an ostensibly revolutionary Red republic cut off from her country’s primary port. With that, she sailed for Shanghai, China and remained a fleet in being there for the rest of 1921 and into 1922, flying the St. Andrew Flag of the old Russian Navy. There, according to legend, she successfully fended off several plots from foreign actors, Whites, monarchists, and the like to take over the vessel.

By October 25, 1922, the Whites lost their Vladivostok privileges as the Japanese decided to quit their nearly five-year occupation of Eastern Siberia and the Amur region. White Russian RADM Georgii Karlovich Starck, who had held the rank of captain in the old Tsarist Navy and was the nephew of the VADM Starck who was caught napping by the Japanese at Port Arthur in 1904, then somehow managed to scrape together a motley force of 30 ships ranging from fishing smacks and coasters to harbor tugs and even a few of the old gunboats and destroyers of the Siberian Flotilla and sail for Korea with 10,000 White refugees aboard. His pitiful force eventually ended up in Shanghai on 5 December, where it landed its refuges, and then proceeded to sell its vessels (somewhat illegally) in the Philippines the next year, splitting the proceeds with said diaspora. Starck would later die in exile in Paris in 1950. His second in command, White RADM Vasily Viktorovich Bezoire (who in 1917 was only a lieutenant), remained in Shanghai and was later killed by the Japanese in 1941.

As for Adm. Zavoyko, once the FER voted to self-dissolve and become part of Soviet Russia, she lowered her St. Andrew’s flag, raised the Moscow flag, and sailed back home to the now-all-Soviet Vladivostok in March 1923 where became a unit of the Red Banner Fleet– the only one in the Pacific until 1932.

To commemorate her service during the Revolution and Civil War, her old imperialist name was changed to Krasny Vympel (Red Pennant). She was also up-armed, picking up four 75mm guns in shielded mounts, along with a gray scheme to replace her old white one.

For the next several years she was used to fight pockets of anarchists and White guards that persisted along the coast, engage stateless warlords, pirates, and gangs along the Amur, and shuffle government troops across the region as the sole Soviet naval asset in the area. She also helped recover former Russian naval vessels towed by the Japanese to Northern Sakhalin Island (where the Japanese remained in occupation until 1925).

In 1929, she stood to and supported the Northern Pacific leg of the Strana Sovetov (Land of the Soviets) seaplanes which flew from Moscow to New York. After that, with her neighborhood quieting down, she was used for training and coastal survey work but kept her guns installed– just in case.

Tupolev TB-1 Strana Sovyetov

Tupolev TB-1 Strana Sovyetov floatplane, 1929. The two planes would cover some 21,000 km to include a hop from Petrovavlask to Attu, which our vessel assisted with.

During WWII, with the revitalized Soviet Pacific Fleet much larger, Adm. Zavoyko/Krasny Vympel kept on in her role as an armed surveillance vessel and submarine tender, occasionally running across and destroying random mines sewn by Allied and Japanese alike.

In 1958, after six years of service to the Tsar, five years to various non-Soviet Reds, and 35 to the actual Soviets, she was retired but retained as a floating museum ship in her traditional home of Vladivostok in Golden Horn Bay.

Krasny Vympel 1973

Krasny Vympel 1973, via Fleetphoto.ru

Today, she remains a popular tourist attraction. She was extensively rebuilt in 2014 and, along with the Stalinets-class Red Banner Guards Submarine S-56 and several ashore exhibits, forms the Museum of Military Glory of the Pacific Fleet.

Krasny Vympel 75mm guns maxim via Fleetphoto.ru

Krasny Vympel 75mm guns and Maxim, via Fleetphoto.ru

She has been the subject of much maritime art:

As well as the cover of calendars, postcards, pins, medals, and buttons.

You can find more photos of the vessel at Fleetphoto.ru (in Russian) and at the Vladivostok City site

Specs:

Archive of the Modelist-Designer magazine, 1977, № 9 Via Hobby Port.ru http://www.hobbyport.ru/ships/krasny_vympel.htm

Displacement — 700 t
Length: 173.2 ft. overall (142.7 ft. waterline)
Beam: 27.88 ft.
Draft: 10 ft.
Engineering: 550 HP on one Triple expansion steam engine, one coal-fired boiler
Speed: 11.5 knots; 3500 nm at 8
Crew: 60
Armament:
(1914)
1 x 40mm Vickers
2 x Maxim machine guns

(1923)
4 x 75-mm low-angle
1 x 40mm Vickers
2 x Maxim machine guns

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Flowerdew’s Charge

On 30 March 1918, during the Battle of Moreuil Wood which helped blunt Ludendorff’s massive Operation Michael spring offensive, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade– which had long been held in strategic reserve in case the Allies were able to break through– galloped into the field.

One of these units, C Sqn of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), commanded by Lt. Gordon Flowerdew, wheeled into line, and “with a wild shout, a hundred yards in front of his men, charged down on the long thin column of Germans.”

Alfred Munnings: Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Memorial

Alfred Munnings: Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Memorial

The horsemen charged through the German lines twice and set them to retreat– but lost 70 percent of their effectives in the process. Nonetheless, they held their captured ground until Canadian infantry arrived to reinforce them. Flowerdew later died of his wounds and his family was presented with the VC in his honor.

The Royal Canadians’ Strathcona Mounted Troop recently recreated the charge in France, sans Germans.

Vindictive Lamp, 101 years ago today

We have covered the HMS Vindictive, a British Arrogant-class cruiser, in a past Warship Wednesday (Big Vincent and the Seagoing Pyro Party). Some 101-years ago, the obsolete vessel gave her all as the centerpiece of the Zeebrugge Raid on 23rd April 1918 in an attempt to block the Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge. She was in the eye of a lead-filled hurricane as the Germans strongly objected to the move.

Via the Royal Marines Museum:

We have a brass lamp, which was taken from the bridge of HMS Vindictive following the Raid on Zeebrugge, up for adoption as part of our campaign to raise money for the museum.

The Zeebrugge Raid is one of the most significant Royal Marines commemorations every year.

This lamp was presented to Corporal G Moyse, in 1958 in respect of his work on Hon Sec of the Zeebrugge Association by Vice Admiral Carpenter, who was Captain of Vindictive during the raid.
Get involved and read more here > http://bit.ly/BrassLamp

Warship Wednesday, April 10, 2018: All Forms of Manly Sports

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, April 10, 2018: All Forms of Manly Sports

NH 76743-KN

Here we see the Seagoing Athletes that were the all-fleet champion basketball team of the Chester-class scout cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-2) circa 1910. Birmingham and her crew were indeed involved in all sorts of manly sports in her brief career. From her help to show off the modern steel Navy, to her very real contribution to “Remember the Maine,” to her service as the cradle of U.S. Naval Aviation and in a curious war against the Austrians that garnered a pair of Kaiser Karl’s battlewagons for the Stars and Stripes, B’ham was there.

In the early 1900s, when it came to cruisers, the Navy had lots of big boys such as the 10 Washington and California-class armored cruisers (15,000 tons, 10- and 8-inch gun main batteries); as well as five “1st class cruisers” of the Charleston, Brooklyn and Saratoga-classes (8500-10,000 tons, 6 and 8 inch guns); four aging “2nd class cruisers” e.g. USS Olympia, Baltimore, Columbia, Minneapolis (5,000-7,000 tons, 6- and 8-inch guns); the six slow “3rd class” Chattanooga cruisers who could only make 16 knots; and in the bottom rung were the old Span-Am War era protected cruisers Raleigh, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Albany (the last two British built), of questionable utility due to their slow speeds. This dearth of small, modern– and above all fast– light cruisers led to the Navy to order the trio of Chester class scout cruisers in 1904.

USS BIRMINGHAM (CS-2) and USS SALEM (CS-3) completing, at the Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Quincy, Massachusetts, circa early 1908. Original is a color-tinted postcard, mailed at Quincy on 9 September 1909. Courtesy of Captain Don Fink, 1983 NH 94937

The 4,687-ton ships– Chester, Salem, and Birmingham— were race boats for their time, capable of 24 knots (Chester hit 26.52 on speed trials), which made them able to reach out past the battle fleet and look for enemy formations. They also could sip coal and make some truly impressive ocean-crossing voyages at slow/low speeds, which would make them good ships if needed to be dispatched to far off flashpoints in the growing Pax Americana.

Chester class cruisers

Chester class cruisers, 1914 entry in Janes

Lightly armored, with just 2-inches of plate over their steering and engineering spaces with no gun shields or conning tower protection, they were supposed to run, not fight. If pushed into a corner by a similarly fast ship, such as a destroyer, they had (just) enough muscle to prevail with a single 5″/50 cal mount forward and rear along with six 3″/50 singles in broadside. A pair of submerged 21-inch torpedo tubes made them trouble for capital ships, especially in a night attack.

Gun Practice - Gun practice on board U.S. Cruiser Salem, Birmingham's sister, Chester class Charlestown, Navy Yard, Charlestown, Mass - NARA - 45510731

Gun Practice – Gun practice on board U.S. Cruiser Salem, Birmingham’s sister, Chester class Charlestown, Navy Yard, Charlestown, Mass – NARA – 45510731

USS Birmingham, starboard view, May 4, 1908 NARA 19-N-33-9-13

USS Birmingham, starboard view, May 4, 1908, NARA 19-N-33-9-13

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Running sea trials in March 1908. She is flying the flag of her builder, the Fore River Shipbuilding Company of Quincy, Massachusetts, from her mainmast. NH 56390

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Running sea trials in March 1908. She is flying the flag of her builder, the Fore River Shipbuilding Company of Quincy, Massachusetts, from her mainmast. NH 56390

Built at Fore River Shipbuilding Co., Birmingham, the first U.S. Navy vessel with that name, commissioned at Quincy, Massachusetts 11 April 1908 and was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. As part of her shakedown cruises, she popped in at Mobile, Alabama in February 1909 “where the increasingly seasoned cruiser received a silver service in honor of that state and her namesake.”

Keep in mind the Civil War had just ended 44 years before.

She then picked up President-elect Howard H. Taft in New Orleans and carried him up the Eastern Seaboard to Hampton Roads, VA to join Teddy Roosevelt in reviewing the Great White Fleet which was returning from its round the world cruise.

Soon, all three of the Chesters would see active service when, as a group, they sortied to Liberia on the West African Coast, dispatched by Roosevelt and Secretary of State Elihu Root to get involved in the local unrest there, which in large part stemmed from British and French colonial actions on the country’s borders.

From DANFS:

The U.S. appointed a commission to investigate the crisis, which set out on board Birmingham from Tompkinsville on 23 April 1909. The ship rendezvoused with Chester and Salem, and the three cruisers crossed the Atlantic, coaled and provisioned at Porto Grande Bay at São Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands (1–9 May), and reached Monrovia, Liberia, on the 13th. The commissioners lodged on board the trio of cruisers while they worked with Liberian representatives at Monrovia (13–29 May and 5 June), Grand Bassa (29–31 May), Cape Palmas (1–4 June), and Robertsport — also on 5 June — and wrapped-up their investigation with a visit to Freetown, Sierra Leone (7–8 June). The ships coaled and completed upkeep at Las Palmas in the Cape Verde Islands (13–16 June) and at Funchal, Madeira (17–23 June), and returned to Newport. The commissioners subsequently presented a message to Congress, and Root recommended that the U.S. consider lending military officers to assist the Liberians.

The following year the U.S. arranged a Loan Agreement, whereby 17 African-American Army officers eventually (1911–1930) served in Liberia, where they worked as military attachés to the American Consulate in Monrovia, or organized, trained, and led the Frontier Force, that country’s constabulary. These dedicated men carried out their difficult mission with minimum support but set the conditions to stabilize the Liberian regime.

The three Chesters arrived back in the country just in time to show off for the international armada that had assembled in New York in the summer of 1909. The event was Hudson-Fulton Celebration, the commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River, and the 100th anniversary of the first successful commercial application of a paddle steamer, by Robert Fulton Jr.

USS Salem (Scout Cruiser # 3) and USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser #2) In the Hudson River, off New York City, during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, 25 September 9 October 1909. Photo #: NH 91473

USS Salem (Scout Cruiser # 3) and USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser #2) In the Hudson River, off New York City, during the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, 25 September 9 October 1909. Photo #: NH 91473

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Dressed in flags while at anchor, circa 1909. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. NH 101517

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Dressed in flags while at anchor, circa 1909. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. NH 101517

After coming to the assistance of the British tug Bulldog and later the sinking steamer Kentucky off the North Carolina coast, Birmingham visited Liberia again in early 1910 before returning to duties with the Atlantic Fleet. In November, she was part of a great experiment.

Less than seven years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made their brief manned air flight on Kill Devil Hill in the Outer Banks, sailing just 120 feet at a speed of a whopping 34 mph, the “aero plane” had made leaps and bounds. From the very beginnings, the military had its eye on the contraption– Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian had been underwritten by the War Department even before the Wright brothers made it off the ground.

Aviation pioneer Eugene Ely, who held pilot’s license No. 17 from the Aero Club of America, had a rendezvous with Birmingham, and destiny.

DANFS:

Shipwrights from Norfolk Navy Yard built an 83-foot slanted wooden platform onto Birmingham’s bow and, on the overcast morning of 14 November, she embarked civilian exhibition stunt pilot Eugene B. Ely, his 50 hp. Curtiss Model D Pusher biplane, some maintainers, and a group of naval officer observers headed by Capt. Washington I. Chambers, an advocate of early naval aviation.

Birmingham got underway at 11:30 a.m. and proceeded in company with Roe (Destroyer No. 24) and Terry (Destroyer No. 25), Barley (Torpedo Boat No. 21) and Stringham (Torpedo Boat No. 19), down the Elizabeth River to the Chesapeake Bay, where she anchored off Old Comfort Point at 12:35, and then shifted her anchorage and dropped the anchor again at 2:55 p.m.

Rainy and drizzly weather prevented Ely from taking off several times, but the pilot gamely decided to continue and launched his plane off the cruiser’s bow at 3:17 p.m. As he left the platform the pusher settled slowly and hit the water but rose again and landed about two and a half miles away on Willoughby Spit.

The plane sustained slight splinter damage to the propeller tips, but Ely’s daring feat marked the first time that an aircraft took off from a warship. Birmingham sent her motorboat to pick up Ely where he touched down at Willoughby Spit, and he, Chambers, and the rest of the party then transferred to Roe for the voyage back to Norfolk. Birmingham’s crew spent the next day tearing down the platform, raising her topmasts, and setting up the rigging, and left the lumber for Navy screw tug Alice to collect.

Just in her third year of service, our hardy cruiser had intervened in an African conflict, rubbed shoulders with both TR and Taft, and become the nation’s very first aircraft carrying warship. She was to continue her footnotes to history.

After visiting Mobile again for Mardi Gras and patrolling off Haiti in a show of gunboat diplomacy (she put in several times at Port-au-Prince and even observed the commissioning of the old Italian Regioni-class cruiser Umbria into the country’s navy as the ill-fated Consul Gostrück), Birmingham appeared in Cuba to serve as a pallbearer for the lost protected cruiser USS Maine (ACR-1), sunk by a controversial explosion in Havana in 1898.

Raised by the Army Corps of Engineers in an epic two-year effort, the remains of 66 lost Sailors and Marines were found and were ordered returned home with honor. Birmingham pulled that duty to escort those remains to the Washington Naval Yard after standing by, along with the armored cruiser North Carolina, while Maine was sunk in 600 fathoms of water offshore.

Maine, ship's after section is scuttled, in ceremonies off Havana, 16 March 1912. In background is USS NORTH CAROLINA (CA-12). USS BIRMINGHAM (CS-2) is at right. NH 46794

Maine, ship’s after section is scuttled, in ceremonies off Havana, 16 March 1912. In the background is USS NORTH CAROLINA (CA-12). USS BIRMINGHAM (CS-2) is at right. NH 46794

The flag-draped caskets of the victims of the USS Maine explosion are brought ashore at the Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia, from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2), 23 March 1912. Of the 66 sets of remains only one was identified and returned to his home town the rest were reburied at Arlington Cemetery. NH 1690

The flag-draped caskets of the victims of the USS Maine explosion are brought ashore at the Washington Navy Yard, District of Columbia, from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2), 23 March 1912. Of the 66 sets of remains, only one was identified and returned to his home town the rest were reburied at Arlington Cemetery. NH 1690

NH 1813 USS Maine disaster. Funeral scene of the USS MAINE victims at the Navy Yard, Washington, District of Columbia, 23 March 1912. USS BIRMINGHAM (CL-2) in background

NH 1813 USS Maine disaster. Funeral scene of the USS Maine victims at the Navy Yard, Washington, District of Columbia, 23 March 1912. USS BIRMINGHAM (CL-2) in background

After inaugural service with the Ice Patrol– Titanic had just sunk in April 1912– Birmingham resumed her duties with the Atlantic Fleet, which had been anything but routine.

USS Birmingham (CL-2), circa 1914. From the collection of ADM Horne. UA 571.96

USS Birmingham (CL-2), circa 1914. From the collection of ADM Horne. UA 571.96

With Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt in the Navy’s driver’s seat, trips to Mexico to get muscular in that country’s civil war became common and soon, the Vera Cruz incident erupted. Birmingham, in Pensacola, was urgently ordered on 20 April 1914 to take aboard three aircraft there: “hydroaeroplane AH-2” and Curtiss Model F flying boats AB-4 and AB-5, along with three pilots who went on to be huge names in aviation history– Lt. (later ADM) John H. Towers (Naval Aviator #3), 1st Lt. Bernard L. Smith (USMC Aviator #2), and Ens. Godfrey de C. Chevalier (Naval Aviator #7, who would later be the first to trap on board a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier), 10 “mechaniciens,” a cook, and a mess attendant.

Delivering the assortment to Tampico, the planes accomplished the first combat mission by a U.S. military heavier-than-air aircraft just five days later and were soon among those who first to receive ground fire (with the bullet holes to prove it!)

Pioneer naval aviators Godfrey deChevalier, Henry C. Mustin, and John H. Towers on a beach during service in Mexico in the aftermath of the Veracruz Insurrection. On April 20-21, 1914, naval aviation personnel and their aircraft deployed from the Naval Aeronautical Station at Pensacola, Florida, to Mexican waters aboard Birmingham, where they flew the first combat flights in the history of the United States armed forces.

After Mexico, it was the stony duty of wartime neutral.

Birmingham, Photographed by O.W. Waterman, Hampton, Virginia, circa 1916. Courtesy of Admiral M.M. Taylor, USN(d), 1962. NH 77906

Birmingham, Photographed by O.W. Waterman, Hampton, Virginia, circa 1916. Courtesy of Admiral M.M. Taylor, USN(d), 1962. NH 77906

USS Birmingham Firing salutes with her crew manning the rails, accompanied by three 750-ton type destroyers. Photographed by Waterman. Birmingham's black paint scheme and structural details, and the white uniforms worn by her crew, indicate that the date of this photograph is mid-1916, when Birmingham was flagship of the Atlantic Fleet's Destroyer Force. Location may well be near Hampton, Virginia, base of Waterman family's photographic business. Note what appears to be pattern camouflage (perhaps an experimental scheme) worn by the destroyer on the left. Donation of Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2007. NH 105382

USS Birmingham Firing salutes with her crew manning the rails, accompanied by three 750-ton type destroyers. Photographed by Waterman. Birmingham’s black paint scheme and structural details, and the white uniforms worn by her crew, indicate that the date of this photograph is mid-1916 when Birmingham was the flagship of the Atlantic Fleet’s Destroyer Force. Location may well be near Hampton, Virginia, a base of Waterman family’s photographic business. Note what appears to be pattern camouflage (perhaps an experimental scheme) worn by the destroyer on the left. Donation of Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2007. NH 105382

When the U.S. entered the Great War, Birmingham continued her East Coast operations with CDR Nathan C. Twining, Commander, Nantucket Detachment, Patrol Force, breaking his flag on the cruiser. By June 1917, she was escorting the first wave of Doughboys, the regulars of the Army’s newly-formed 1st Infantry Division, augmented by the 5th Marines, to France.

In August, she crossed with a second troop convoy and by 1918 was in the Med, operating out of Gibraltar.

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Moored in a harbor, circa 1918, probably in the Mediterranean area. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969 NH 68227

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Moored in a harbor, circa 1918, probably in the Mediterranean area. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969 NH 68227

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In Brest harbor, France, on 15 October 1918. During 1917-1918 she was flagship of U.S. Forces at Gibraltar and escorted convoys in the eastern Atlantic. Note her dazzle camouflage. Courtesy of John G. Krieger, 1966-1967. NH 56393

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In Brest harbor, France, on 15 October 1918. During 1917-1918 she was the flagship of U.S. Forces at Gibraltar and escorted convoys in the eastern Atlantic. Note her dazzle camouflage. Courtesy of John G. Krieger, 1966-1967. NH 56393

Once the Armistice hit on 11 November 1918, Birmingham was dispatched to the Adriatic where the Allied forces had for the entirety of the war kept the mighty Austro-Hungarian fleet largely bottled up, a paper tiger. Taking on RADM William H. G. Bullard at Malta, within days she was at Spalato (Split) in Dalmatia, where she took custody of not one but two Austrian battleships on 22 November.

Surrender of Austrian Fleet - Austrian battleships surrendered to U.S. Naval forces 2.8.19 SMS Radetzky Zrinyi Spalate Birmingham cruiser LOC 165-WW-329D-002

Surrender of Austrian Fleet – Austrian battleships surrendered to U.S. Naval forces 2.8.19 SMS Radetzky, Zrinyi, Spalate. Birmingham to the right. LOC 165-WW-329D-002

Sisterships of the same class of pre-dreadnought battleships, SMS Radetzky and SMS Zrinyi had both joined Kaiser Franz Josef’s Imperial Austro-Hungarian Navy in 1911 and saw very little service in their seven years on Vienna’s naval list. After ole Franz died in 1916, his great-nephew Karl took the throne and beat feet during the last days of the war, signing over the fleet to the newly formed Yugoslav government to keep it out of the Allies hands.

To comply with this, the two battlewagons sailed out of Pola on 10 November under nominal Slav command and, flying American flags, surrendered to a group of punchy 110-foot U.S. Navy submarine chasers until Bullard and Birmingham arrived a week later. Under U.S. custody, the pair was even referred to as USS Zrinyi and USS Radetzky, unofficially. However, it was not to be and in compliance with the final Austrian peace in 1920, the ships were given to Italy and scrapped.

As for our hardy scout cruiser, she returned home in early 1919 and was soon reassigned to the Pacific Fleet.

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In the Middle West Chamber, Gatun Locks, during the passage of the Pacific Fleet through the Panama Canal, 24 July 1919. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Admiral William V. Pratt. NH 75717

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) In the Middle West Chamber, Gatun Locks, during the passage of the Pacific Fleet through the Panama Canal, 24 July 1919. Note she has extensive warm weather awnings and a grey hull again. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, D.C. Collection of Admiral William V. Pratt. NH 75717

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) At Seattle, Washington, in September 1919. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56394

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) At Seattle, Washington, in September 1919. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 56394

Reclassified as a light cruiser (CL-2), she later became the flag of RADM William C. Cole who used her to head up a squadron dispatched to Panama in 1922 to help quiet down the locals in the Canal Zone– making Birmingham a Mahanian gunboat to the last. Ironically, during this period she called on New Orleans and, while open to the public during the 1923 State Fair, was toured by then CPT. Osami Nagano of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Nagano, of course, would later rise to Chief of the Navy General Staff during WWII, outranking Yamamoto.

In addition to Nagano and the host of early aviators that went on to greatness, at least three of Birmingham‘s former skippers went on to become full admirals including two CINCUS’s and one CNO. She truly was a ship that stars fell upon.

With the resulting peace craze that followed WWI and the series of naval treaties agreed to by the world’s great powers, the Chester class were declared surplus and laid up so that their tonnage could be used for more modern cruiser developments. As such, Birmingham headed to Philadelphia, where she was decommissioned on 1 December 1923. Salem had already been laid up at Mare Island in 1921, the same year Chester was put out of service at Boston. By early 1930, all three had been sold for scrap, at which point they were only about 22 years old each and had been in reserve for a decade. A waste.

Birmingham’s name would be twice reused, by the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-62)— which gave epic service in WWII and decommissioned in 1946– and by the Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine USS Birmingham (SSN-695) which was active from 1978 to 1997.

Birmingham SSBN-695 CL-62

Of course, our Scout Cruiser’s silver service is at the Birmingham Museum of Art, on public display. She has also been remembered in maritime art for her role as America’s first aircraft carrier, of sorts.

Further, on the Centennial of Naval Aviation in 2010, a replica of Ely’s Curtiss Hudson Flier was hoisted aboard the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), for old time’s sake.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Coolbaugh sits in the pilot seat of a replica Curtiss Hudson Flier biplane, the first aircraft to launch from the deck of a navy ship, Nov. 15, 2010, on the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) while in port in Norfolk, Va. The replica was built as part of celebrations for the Centennial of Naval Aviation. (DoD photo 101115-N-3885H-265 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Hall, U.S. Navy/Released)

101115-N-3885H-265 Retired Navy Cmdr. Bob Coolbaugh sits in the pilot seat of a replica Curtiss Hudson Flier biplane, the first aircraft to launch from the deck of a navy ship, Nov. 15, 2010, on the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) while in port in Norfolk, Va. The replica was built as part of celebrations for the Centennial of Naval Aviation. (DoD photo 101115-N-3885H-265 by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Hall, U.S. Navy/Released)

As for Ely, after his takeoff from Birmingham, he made a landing on a larger deck on the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania, another important aviation first. Sadly, before 1911 was out, he died in a plane crash in Macon, Georgia. He was later enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Specs:

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Underway in 1908, possibly during trials. NH 56392

USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) Underway in 1908, possibly during trials. NH 56392

Displacement:
3,750 long tons (3,810 t) (standard)
4,687 long tons (4,762 t) (full load)
Length:
423 ft 1 in (128.96 m) oa
420 ft (130 m) pp
Beam: 47 ft 1 in
Draft: 16 ft 9 in(mean)
Installed power:
12 × Fore River boilers
16,000 ihp
15,670 ihp (produced on Trial)
Propulsion:
2 × 4cly vertical triple expansion engines
2 × screws
Speed:
24 knots designed, 24.33 knots (Speed on Trial)
Coal: 1400 tons max. Burned 148 tons in 24 hrs at 20 knots or 31 tons per 24 hrs at 10 knots, which is sweet
Complement: 42 officers 330 enlisted
Armament:
4 × 5 in (130 mm)/50 caliber Mark 6 breech-loading rifles
6 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 caliber rapid-fire guns (6×1)
2 × 3-pounder (47 mm (1.9 in) Driggs-Schroeder saluting guns
2 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, submerged, with 8 torpedoes in the magazine
Armor:
Belt: 2 in over engineering spaces only, essentially double skinned from 3.5-feet below the waterline to 9.5-feet above
Deck: 1 mm (aft) to protect steering gear

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Happy Birthday San Marco!

Although today’s Italian marines trace their unofficial lineage back to the 16th century Fanti da Mar of the old Republic of Venice, the modern unit that houses them has a history somewhat newer. Formed from the old Great War-era Naval Brigade which saw much service along the Piave River, the Battaglione San Marco was established at the Piazza San Marco in Venice– to keep the tradition alive– on 17 March 1919.

Interestingly, the motto of the regiment, “Per mare, per terram” (By sea, by land), is the same as the British Royal Marines.

The San Marcos before the San Marcos. The Battle of the Piave River, June 1918 Group of Italian Marines at the entrance to their dugout, Piave Front. IWM Q19087

Now a 1,500-man brigade, the San Marcos conducted amphibious landings in Yugoslavia in 1941, trained to storm Malta (Operazione C.3) then went on to fight at Tobruk and Tunisia as one of the best Italian combat units of WWII. Post-war, they were reformed and went on to serve on UN duty in Lebanon and elsewhere.

Last week saw a celebration of their 100th anniversary, held, like the first, in the Piazza San Marco.

The original grey uniforms and Carcano 91s.

Of course, has been replaced today with camo and Beretta ARX 160s

 

Keeping the lamp lit

While the U.S. Navy’s naming convention has shifted wildly over the years– for instance in the 1840s frigates were named for states but by the 1890s those names were used for armored cruisers, switching to battleships in the 1900s then ballistic missile submarines/nuclear guided missile cruisers during the Cold War and finally attack submarines today. For example, see the five different USS Mississippi which ranged from an 1839 paddle frigate to BB-23, BB-41, CGN-40 and the current SSN-782.

One convention, however, has endured for over a century.

In 1909, the class leader of a series of new 147-foot fleet tugs modified from the preceding USS Patapsco was named USS Patuxent (Tug No. 11) after an Algonquian people indigenous to what is now the Mid-Atlantic region. Likewise, her sisterships carried similar names.

Don’t let their mission fool you, fleet tugs from the beginnings saw a lot of hairy activity and dozens of battle stars have been issued to these unsung vessels.

Case in point:

USS PATUXENT (AT-11) A mine foul of the tug’s kite during sweeping operations in the North Sea, 1919. This mine exploded less than a minute after the photograph was taken. Description: Catalog #: NH 2616

After the Patuxent-class came the USS Arapaho (AT-14) class, which served through into the WWII-era. Then followed the 28-vessel Navajo/Cherokee-class and the storied 27-strong Abnaki-class.

These vessels held the line for more than three decades in hard service.

Torpedoed light cruiser USS Reno under salvage, fleet tugboat USS Zuni alongside, 5 November 1944. She later went on to become the Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa

4 June 1944 Tug USS Abnaki (ATF-96) tows U-505 photo from USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) Note the large U.S. Ensign flying from U-505’s periscope. 80-G-324351

USCGC Tug Comanche (ex. USS Wampanoag) tows crippled Japanese Kokaku Maru 1963

Finally, the Powhatan-class fleet ocean tugs which survive in the MSC today providing “towing, diving and standby submarine rescue services to the Navy’s numbered fleet commanders,” still carry proud names.

The fleet tug USNS MOHAWK (T-ATF 170) tows the battleship USS WISCONSIN (BB 64) to Pascagoula, Mississippi, for reactivation.

To perpetuate this tradition and replace the three remaining 1970s-era Powhatans, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer announced earlier this month the new class of Towing, Salvage, and Rescue ship will be named Navajo “in honor of the major contributions the Navajo people have made to the armed forces.”

Further, all seven of the class will be named in honor of Native peoples.

190215-N-DM308-003 WASHINGTON (Jan. 29, 2019) An artist rendering of the future USNS Navajo (T-TATS 6). (U.S. Navy photo illustration/Released)

“The Navajo people have fought and served our armed forces with honor and valor in nearly every major conflict since the birth of our nation, so it is fitting and right to name a new class of ship in their honor,” said Spencer. “The Navajo class of Towing, Salvage, and Rescue ships will serve our nation and continue the legacy of the Navajo people, and all Native Americans.”

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