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Warship Wednesday, April 17, 2018: Canadian Snorkel Power

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 17, 2018: Canadian Snorkel Power

U-190 surrendered

George Metcalf Archival Collection, Canadian War Museum (CWM) 20030014-094

Here we see IXC/40-class submarine U-190 of the German Kriegsmarine sailing to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland in May 1945, under escort by Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) vessels including the Fairmile-type motor launch seen in the distance. If you note, she is flying the RCN’s White Ensign and had just become the country’s first post-WWII submarine.

U190 surrendered Canadian jack

Boom! The RCN Jack over her conning tower, as the first German submarine, to surrender to the Canadians (and their first sub in service since 1927). Note the sub’s distinctive 8-pointed star crest and her post-commissioning snorkel apparatus. Photo via The Rooms

One of the nearly 200 Type IXC/40s completed during the war, U-190 was laid down in 1941 at DeSchiMAG AG Weser of Bremen and commissioned on 24 September 1942 with Kaptlt. Max Wintermeyer as her first skipper. At some 1,257-tons, she was not a big boat, running just 251-feet overall. However, the class was well designed and capable of 13,000-nm cruises on their economical diesel engines. Able to carry 22 torpedoes and a 4.1-inch deck gun with 180~ shells as well as a Flak armament, they were deadly and efficient killers when it came to stalking Allied merchantmen.

This photograph shows the September 1942 commissioning of the German submarine U-190. As part of the commissioning ceremony, the German navy’s ensign flies from the conning tower (left) and is being given the Nazi salute by the submarine’s commanding officer (center right) and by spectators (lower right). George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19870078-002

By 1 March 1943, she was assigned to 2 Flottille in Lorient, France.

As noted by Uboat.net, although she conducted six war patrols and took part in at least three North Atlantic wolfpacks (Neuland, Ostmark, and Stürmer), she was not very successful. Her only confirmed merchant victim was the British-flagged freighter Empire Lakeland (7,015-tons) sunk south of Iceland while part of New York-to-Glasgow convoy SC-121 during the submarine’s 111-day 2nd Patrol.

In August 1944, Oblt. Hans-Erwin Reith, 24, took command of the vessel and bugged out for Flensburg as the Allied liberation of France removed Lorient as an operating base. On 19 February 1945, Reith left Horten for U-190‘s final (German) patrol. It would last 85-days, with the crew later saying she spent upwards of 40 days on this patrol snorkeling continuously.

Her mission, as detailed by Cameron Pulsifer:

Equipped with a schnorchel and armed with 6 [T-3 Lut] contact torpedoes and eight T-5 Gnat acoustic torpedoes, its mission was to interdict Allied shipping off Sable Island and the approaches to Halifax harbor. It was, in fact, part of the new strategy on the part of the commander-in-chief of the German Navy, Admiral Karl Dönitz, initiated in the dying days of the Nazi regime, to increase pressure on shipping in North American waters in an attempt to ease allied naval pressure in waters closer to home.

There, on 16 April, U-190 encountered a Bangor-class minesweeper, HMCS Esquimalt (J272) and sank her with a single Gnat fired from a stern tube. Esquimalt was the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during the Second World War (or since, for that matter) and took 39 souls with her to the bottom. U-190 remained submerged for a solid week following this attack, during which time she was hunted by surface vessels, who rained numerous depth charges down upon her decks.

Dönitz had ordered all his U-boats to surrender as from 08:00 5 May, but not all did so immediately.

According to an interrogation report of U-190s crew, it was only on the 11th that U-190 picked up an incomplete version of the surrender orders, to which they responded “An B.d.U.: Seit 12 April ohne F/T. Nach erfolgreicher Unternehmung auf Ruckmarsch. F/T über Kapitulation verstuemmelt aufgenommen. Bitte um nähere Anweisungen”. (“To Admiral Commanding U-boats: Have been without wireless communication since 12 April. Now homeward bound after a successful patrol. Wireless orders about surrender received in a mutilated form. Request fuller details”)

However, Germany never returned their call and on 12 May U-190 surfaced, raised a black flag, tossed her secret papers and gun ammo overboard, and sailed on a heading of 305-degrees while sending surrender signals to New York, Boston, and Cape Race. Soon met by the River-class frigate HMCS Victoriaville (K684) and Flower-class corvette Thorlock (K394) at 43° 54’N., 45° 15′ W, Reith signed a surrender document and deeded his boat over to Canada.

In this sketch by HMCS Victoriaville's gunnery officer, U-190's captain surrenders his submarine to the captain of the Canadian frigate, Lieutenant Commander Lester Hickey (center left, with cap). Hans-Erwin Reith (center, with beard), U-190's commander since July 1944, subsequently signed a deed of unconditional surrender handing over the U-Boat to the Royal Canadian Navy. Lieutenant Bud Burbridge (left) was among the Canadians who would form part of the crew taking U-190 to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 20030255-010

In this sketch by HMCS Victoriaville’s gunnery officer, U-190’s captain surrenders his submarine to the captain of the Canadian frigate, Lieutenant Commander Lester Hickey (center left, with cap). Hans-Erwin Reith (center, with beard), U-190’s commander since July 1944, subsequently signed a deed of unconditional surrender handing over the U-Boat to the Royal Canadian Navy. Lieutenant Bud Burbridge (left) was among the Canadians who would form part of the crew taking U-190 to Bay Bulls, Newfoundland. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 20030255-010

In the early hours of 12 May 1945, Hans-Erwin Reith, U-190's commander, signed this document formally surrendering the submarine to the Royal Canadian Navy. Although units of the Royal Canadian Navy had been involved in the boarding or surrender of U-Boats during the war, this document marked the first formal surrender of a German submarine to Canadian forces. Kenneth George Tryon donated this document and related artifacts to the Canadian War Museum in 1968. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19680168-009

In the early hours of 12 May 1945, Hans-Erwin Reith, U-190’s commander, signed this document formally surrendering the submarine to the Royal Canadian Navy. Although units of the Royal Canadian Navy had been involved in the boarding or surrender of U-Boats during the war, this document marked the first formal surrender of a German submarine to Canadian forces. Kenneth George Tryon donated this document and related artifacts to the Canadian War Museum in 1968. George Metcalf Archival Collection CWM 19680168-009

For the next two days, with a skeleton German crew aboard watched by an armed force of Canadians, U-190 made for Bay Bulls while flying an RCN White Ensign.

Once they arrived, the Germans were transferred ashore to a POW camp.

Canadian war artist Tom Wood's watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John's. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat's crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190's crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine's surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

Canadian war artist Tom Wood’s watercolor depicts German sailors being transferred from U-190 on 14 May 1945. Wood, assigned to paint subjects in eastern Canada and Newfoundland, was present when Canadian ships escorted U-190 to Bay Bulls, south of St. John’s. There, Canadians removed the last of the U-Boat’s crew, who had been operating the vessel under guard. The majority of U-190’s crew had been taken onto Canadian ships at the time of the submarine’s surrender. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art. CWM 19710261-4870

U-190 reached its destination on 14 May.

U190 alongside at Bulls Bay

U-190 star of Rio

According to the Crow’s Nest, the 8-pointed star was the Stern von Rio (Star of Rio).” Some say this name came from the boat’s inaugural trip which was supposedly to Rio but others recall it simply as the name to a popular song in Germany at the time. Hirschmann the U-190’s chief engineer, says it was only a compass rose.”

Canada’s early submarine program

The Canadians got into subs in a weird way when in August 1914, Sir Richard McBride, KCMG, the premier of British Columbia, bought a pair of small (144-foot, 300-ton) coastal submarines from Seattle Construction and Drydock Company, an act that your local government normally doesn’t do. The boats had been ordered by Chile who later refused them as not up to snuff.

Sailing for Vancouver in the dark of night as they were technically acquired in violation of a ton of international agreements (and bought for twice the annual budget for the entire Royal Canadian Navy!) they were commissioned as HMCS CC-1 and CC-2. The Dominion Government of Canada later ratified the sale while a subsequent investigation was conducted into how they were acquired.

CC-class

Nonetheless, the two tiny CC boats were the first submarines of the Maple Leaf and continued in service until after the Great War when they were laid up and replaced by a pair of American-made 435-ton H-class submarines from the Royal Navy, HMS H14 and H15, which remained in the Canadian fleet as HMCS CH-14 and CH-15 until broken up in 1927.

H-class

After this, Canada went out of the submarine business– until 1945.

Now back to our U-boat.

U190 pennant

Marked “HMC Sub U-190,” for “His Majesty’s Canadian Submarine,” the pennant graphically marked the new ownership of the surrendered submarine, with a bulldog seizing a Nazi eagle by the neck. CWM 19760322-001

The Canadians in May 1945 had two German Type IXC/40 U-boats, sisters U-190 and U-889, both in working condition and constructed in the same builder’s yard. After transferring them on paper to the Royal Navy, they were transferred back (apparently the same day) and both became vessels of the RCN, dubbed HCMS U-190 and U-889.

The navy promptly took U-190 on a tour of eastern Canadian ports before putting it to use for training.

German submarine entering U-190 in St. John's Harbour Newfoundland courtesy of The Rooms

German submarine entering U-190 in St. John’s Harbour Newfoundland, courtesy of The Rooms

German submarine U-190 in St. John's Harbour Newfoundland courtesy of The Rooms U190

German submarine U-190 in St. John’s Harbour Newfoundland, courtesy of The Rooms

German submarine U-190 in St. John's Harbour Newfoundland courtesy of The Rooms U190

German submarine U-190 in St. John’s Harbour Newfoundland, courtesy of The Rooms. Today, her periscope is still there, located since 1963 in The Crow’s Nest Officer’s Club overlooking this very spot.

U-889 in the meantime had been deemed as one of the 10 U-boats allocated to the U.S. by the Tripartite Naval Commission and was decommissioned in December 1945 and transferred to the Yanks who later scuttled her in 1947 after a series of experiments.

U-889 in U.S. service before she was scuttled. The Navy was very interested in her snorkel, as numerous images of it are in the archives. NH 111270

As for U-190, she was soldiered on as Canada’s sole submarine throughout 1946 and into 1947.

Of her time in Canadian custody and use, dozens of detailed photos exist of her interior, a rare sight today. (See For Posterity’s Sake, The Rooms, The Crow’s Nest and Haze Gray for more.)

In October 1947, the Canadian Navy sank U-190 as a target during Operation Scuttled, a live-fire naval exercise off Halifax– near the site of Esquimalt‘s loss. It was to be epic, with the Tribal-class destroyers HMCS Nootka and HMCS Haida using their 4.7-inch guns and Hedgehog ASW mortars on her after an aerial task force of Seafires, Fireflies, Ansons and Swordfish worked her over with ordnance.

U-190 was the featured star of “Operation Scuttled” staged near the spot where Esquimalt was sunk.

Sadly, the actual show fell far short.

From Michael Hadley’s, U-Boats Against Canada:

Almost before the ships had a chance to enter the act, U-190 pointed its bows into the air after the first rocket attack and slipped silently beneath the sea. And thus, the RCN press release announced with inflated pathos, “the once deadly sea raider came to a swift and ignominious end” – just 19 minutes after “Operation Scuttled” had begun.

Nonetheless, for a destroyed U-boat, U-190 is remarkably well preserved as relics of her are all over North America.

U-190‘s war diary is in the collection of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command

The working Enigma machine recovered on U-190 is now part of the Canadian CSE’s (Communications Security Establishment– the country’s crypto agency) collection of historical artifacts.

The Canadian War Museum has her pennant, star globe, equipment plates, a C.G. Haenel-made MP28/2 Sub-machine Gun seized from her armory (which had been on display at Naval Service Headquarters in Ottawa until 1959) and other gear.

MP28 2 Sub-machine Gun seized from U-190

How about a submarine’s submachine gun? The CWM has it, from U-190

And of course, U-190‘s sky periscope, one of just five such instruments preserved worldwide, has long been in the care of the historic Crow’s Nest Officers Club in St. John’s, Newfoundland where its top sticks out over the roof to allow members and visitors to peak out over the harbor.

U190 scope Crows nest

The periscope has reportedly been there since 1963 (Photo: The Crow’s Nest)

Only a single member of the Type IXC class survives, U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Of the 87 Type IXC/40 subvariants, such as U-190 and U-889, the salvaged hull and conning tower of U-534 remains preserved at Birkenhead in England.

As for Reith, he was repatriated to Germany in 1946 and died there in 1987, aged 67. His personal DWM Model 1906 (1st issue) Navy Luger recently came up at auction. Likely presented to him by family or friends on the occasion of his new command, it is marked “U-190.” It appears that it too was surrendered in 1945 and went on to live its own life.

Reith Luger P06 Navy RIAC U-1902

RIAC

Esquimalt was his only victory and she is remembered every year at a public ceremony in the British Columbia that served as her namesake.

Meanwhile, the Canadians took a decade break from subsea ops after U-190 was scuttled but eventually got back into the sub biz, using two U.S. boats, —USS Burrfish (SS-312) and USS Argonaut (SS-475), as HMCS Grilse (SS 71) and Rainbow (SS 75), respectively– from 1961 to 1974. Then they bought their first new subs since CC-1 & CC-2, a trio of British Oberon-class diesel boats– HMCS Ojibwa (S72), Onondaga (S73) and Okanagan (S74), which served from 1965 to 2000. Since then, they have been using the quartet of second-hand RN Upholder-class subs, HMCS Victoria (SSK-876), Windsor (SSK-877), Corner Brook (SSK-878) and Chicoutimi (SSK-879) which are expected to remain in service in some form until the 2030s.

Specs:

U-190 model by Maschinenbau, Gabler CWM 19720073-001

U-190 model by Maschinenbau, Gabler CWM 19720073-001

Displacement:
1,144 t (1,126 long tons) surfaced
1,257 t (1,237 long tons) submerged
Length:
251 ft 10 in o/a
192 ft 9 in pressure hull
Beam:
22 ft 6 in o/a
14 ft 7 in pressure hull
Height: 31 ft 6 in
Draught: 15 ft 4 in
Installed power:
4,400 PS (3,200 kW; 4,300 bhp) (diesels)
1,000 PS (740 kW; 990 shp) (electric)
Propulsion:
2 shafts
2 × diesel engines
2 × electric motors
Range:
13,850 nmi at 10 knots surfaced
63 nmi at 4 knots submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 4 officers, 44 enlisted
Armament:
6 × torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern)
22 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedoes
1 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK C/32 deck gun (180 rounds)
1 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 AA gun
1 × twin 2 cm FlaK 30 AA guns

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The hard-serving Bangor-class and the last Canadian loss of WWII

An unsung class of warship during WWII was the 59-vessel Bangor/Blyth/Ardrossan-class oceangoing minesweepers.

08.04. 1 Bangor Class Minesweeper 2

Despite their designation, these 600-ton/162-foot vessels carried a decent main gun (3-inch in RN service, 4-inch in the RCN) as well as ASW kit to include depth charges and listening gear to bust subs, making them something of a multi-purpose coastal escort that could also sweep mines.

They spent much of their time in harm’s way, with nearly a quarter of the class never seeing the end of the war.

Several were lost in their primary tasking, including HMS Clacton (J151), HMS Cromer (J128), HMS Felixstowe (J126) and HMS Cromarty (J09) all struck mines during clearing efforts in the Med in 1942-43, pointing out just how dangerous the mission was. Off Normandy, class member HMS Peterhead (J59) was similarly lost just two days after D-Day while HMCS Mulgrave (J313), who struck a mine off Le Havre, was so badly damaged she was never repaired.

When it came to fighting subs, HMCS Clayoquot (J174), HMCS Clayoquot (J174) and HMS Hythe (J194) were torpedoed and lost. Meanwhile, three whose names shall not be mentioned were captured by the Japanese when Hong Kong fell.

Post-War, they continued to serve in RN and Commonwealth service, as well as in the Turkish and French fleets well into the 1970s, in all, giving excellent service for such a humble maritime figure.

Which brings us to the subject today.

HMCS Esquimalt (J272) was a Bangor-class minesweeper that was sunk by U-190, a German U-Boat on 16 April 1945, making her the last Canadian warship lost to enemy action during the Second World War (or since, for that matter).

HMCS Esquimalt J272 Via Canada Archives

Note her splinter mats, forward 12 pounder (76mm gun) and HF/DF radio gear

Tragically, she was lost just three weeks before VE-Day, proof that the Battle of the Atlantic remained very hot right until the end of the conflict– and then some.

Every year on the anniversary of her sinking, the 35-member Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy, accompanied by a Guard of Honour from Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt pay tribute to the crew of the lost minesweeper and the 39 souls still at sea with a moment of silence and wreath-laying in Esquimalt Memorial Park, where a cairn to the ship and crew has long been established.

This year’s ceremony will be held at 5:45 pm and is open to the public.

As for what became of U-190, that’s another story.

Lost air wing of the Wasp

The late Paul Allen’s R/V Petrel of course recently discovered the final resting place of the lost WWII aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) on the bottom of the Pacific. The below haunting video shows some of her planes resting in the debris field, which likely slipped off her deck during her ride to the floor.

For more on the planes discovered from the lost carriers found by Allen’s group, including those from Lexington, Hornet, and HMS Ark Royal, check this out.

Ghosts of The Hump

During WWII, the thankless task of running the airlift over the Himalayas from India to China to supply KMT units fighting the Japanese was known as flying “The Hump.” Beginning in 1942 with a scratch force, by 1945 more than 600 aircraft were schlepping 71,000 tons a month, dedicated to the mission of keeping the Chinese in the war– which in turn tied down over 1.5 million of the Emperor’s troops.

A C-46A en route to China over the Himalayas. The job started with the 10th Air Force and morphed until the China National Aviation Corporation was carrying most of the cargo (U.S. Air Force photo)

It was not without cost, with over 500 aircraft lost or missing in the treacherous effort and 800 Allied personnel killed or never heard from again.

From the Hump Pilots Association:

Severe weather existed on the Hump almost year around. The monsoon season, with heavy cloudiness, fierce rain and embedded severe thunderstorms with turbulence severe enough to damage aircraft, existed from around May into October of each year. The late fall and winter flying weather was better with many VFR days. However, heavy ground fogs, with ground visibilities down to zero/zero, occurred almost nightly during the early winter, and severe thunderstorms still occurred over the route on an irregular basis. Winter winds aloft were extreme, often exceeding 100MPH. Most night flying had to be done by instruments from takeoff due to lack of any ground or horizon references, until well into western China.

Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer, Commander, U.S. Forces – China, said that “Flying the ‘Hump’ was the foremost and by far the most dangerous, difficult and historic achievement of the entire war.”

And it looks like the Indian Army has located one of the lost flights:

“Based on the information received from local trekkers of Lower Dibang district, troops from #IndianArmy discovered the wreckage of a World War II vintage US Air Force aircraft in Roing district of Arunachal Pradesh. The 12 member patrol successfully carried out the arduous task on 30 Mar 2019. The patrol located the aircraft debris covered by thick undergrowth and deeply buried under five feet of snow. The patrol moved cross country for 30 kilometers in thick jungles and snow covered areas for eight days to trace out the wreckage. The region had seldom been ventured by anyone in the past and is even obscured from the air due to thick foliage.”

Hopefully, it is a plane that the crew was able to bail out of near a populated area and it went down miles later. If not, the fine men and women of the DPAA will bring them home with honor, and provide closure to their families.

Warship Wednesday, April 3, 2019: She’s was a lucky and lovely Flower

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 3, 2019: She’s was a lucky and lovely Flower

Irish Maritime Archives# IE-MA-ACPS-GPN-308-2 (4814×3672)

Here we see the former Royal Navy HMS Bellwort (K 114), a Flower-class corvette, in her later life in 1947 at Dun Laoghaire Pier as the Irish Naval Service’s Long Éireannach (LÉ) Cliona (03)— named after the Irish goddess of love. Both before and after, she lived a very lucky life, which is remarkable as many of her class did not.

Ordered 12 December 1939 from George Brown & Co. in Greenock, Scotland, Kincaid, Bellwort was one of the nearly 300 Flowers completed during the conflict. Compact vessels at just 1,000-tons with a length of only 205-feet, they used a simple engineering suite and a single screw to make 16 knots, a speed high enough to combat WWII-era diesel-electric subs. Mounting a single low-angle 4-inch gun forward and a series of ASW weapons, they were designed to take the fight to Donitz’s unterseeboots and did it admirably.

Royal Canadian Navy Flower-class corvette HMCS Amherst, a great representative of the type. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

In all, the humble but effective corvettes served the RN, their Canadian, Indian and South African Commonwealth fleets, and a myriad of “Free” allied nations in exile such as the Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians, and Greeks.

Bellwort, named for the lily of the same moniker, commissioned 20 November 1941 during the height of the Battle of the Atlantic while the British stood alone in Western Europe against the Italians and Germans.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 23642) The corvette HMS BELLWORT entering Victoria Wharf, Birkenhead. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205119841

By 12 December, she was on her first convoy escort, tagging along with ON 049 for a week on the UK to North America run. Over the course of the war in Europe, Bellwort would be a part of well over 40 convoys in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean as well as off the West African coast including the Freetown-to-Takoradi run, bringing over 800 ships safely to port.

THE BELLWORT HOME AFTER WEST AFRICA SERVICE. DECEMBER 1943, FREETOWN. THE CORVETTE HMS BELLWORT AS SHE PREPARED TO RETURN TO BRITAIN FROM A YEARS SERVICE ON THE WEST AFRICAN COAST. (A 21837) The Commanding Officer of HMS BELLWORT, Lieut Commander Norman Gill, RNR (center) having an upper deck conference with some of his officers. He has marked off a position on the chart and the Navigating Officer (right) is making a note of it in his pocket-book. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154097

THE BELLWORT HOME AFTER WEST AFRICA SERVICE. DECEMBER 1943, FREETOWN. THE CORVETTE HMS BELLWORT AS SHE PREPARED TO RETURN TO BRITAIN FROM A YEARS SERVICE ON THE WEST AFRICAN COAST. (A 21836) Members of the BELLWORT’s crew just before she left her last African port. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205154096

She was not always successful.

On one of these South Atlantic convoys, TS 37, in which Bellwort and three armed trawlers were charged with 19 merchants, German submarine ace Werner Henke and U-519 stalked the slow running group, ultimately sinking seven ships in a series of quick actions. The sub was later smoked by the USS Guadalcanal hunter-killer group and Henke died while trying to escape from an interrogation center in Virginia in 1944.

During the war, Bellwort also had to fight Poseidon. She was almost lost off South Africa in June 1942 while being towed by HMS Barrymore around the Cape of Good Hope. Poor sea boats, these hoggish craft had a reputation of being able to “roll on wet grass.” Arnold Whitehead, a rating on Barrymore, recalled the event for the BBC.

We, the crew, soon began to realize that the Cape of Good Hope in the southern hemisphere in wintertime could be rather an unpleasant place. A really tremendous storm was brewing up. The seas were becoming mountainous walls of water, and during the night the Bellwort slid down one side of one of the wave mountains and we slid down the opposite side, away from the Bellwort, which was helpless, of course, without rudder and no engines running. The six-inch steel hawser snapped like a violin string, the end attached to us striking our stern a frightening blow. We were left with the almost impossible task of trying to get the hawser reconnected to the corvette while looking to our own survival in what was now a raging hurricane. The wind in the ship’s rigging was making a fearful wailing noise, which was quite spirit-numbing.

During the night the skipper told us that the Barrymore was designed to withstand a roll of up to 45 degrees each way, and we had been rolling 50 degrees. The skipper’s detailed information was hardly likely to inspire confidence!

The situation aboard the Bellwort was grave in the extreme, with her crew all wearing inflated lifebelts on deck and ready to jump. The Barrymore turned on her searchlight to illuminate the scene while the end of the hawser attached to us was winched aboard.

It was at this point in the rescue attempt that I witnessed the most astonishing event I have ever seen. The seas were estimated to be 60 feet high. Torrential rain was also a major hazard, and we wondered if we would survive. The ship’s logbook recorded the conditions of the sea as ‘precipitous’, which was the worst of all on our graduated scale. In the midst of all this, a seaman was washed overboard. Within moments, by some miracle, the next giant wave brought him back on board, apparently none the worse for his ordeal!

Bellwort left her last charge, as part of the screen for Convoy MKS 103G from the Med to Portsmouth, on 27 May 1945.

Her war ended with reportedly heading to Lisbon to pick up the crew of a lost German U-boat, likely U-1277, which had scuttled on 3 June 1945 off the coast of Portugal.

With VJ Day, the peacetime Royal Navy didn’t need Bellwort and her sisters anymore. An amazing 33 Flowers were lost during the conflict, with most of those torpedoed and sunk by U-boats during convoy operations. As something like half of the convoy vessels in the North Atlantic were Flowers, it is no surprise. Most of the remaining ships were rapidly laid up and soon either sold for scrap or transferred aboard.

Out of service by October 1945, Bellwort along with sisters HMS Borage (K 120) and HMS Oxlip (K123) was sold to the Irish “for a bargain price” in September 1946 as the LÉ Cliona (03), LÉ Macha (01), and LÉ Maev (02), respectively. As with Cliona‘s goddess name, Macha is from an Irish goddess of war while Maev is named after Medb, queen of Connacht in Irish mythology.

If the pennant numbers sound low, that’s because the Irish Naval Service was only founded that year. Previously, the only armed vessels owned by Dublin was the old RN yacht HMY Helga, a 300-ton craft that picked up a pair of 12-pounders in 1936 to patrol as Muirchú for the Fisheries Service. During WWII, the armed neutral had to rely on Helga/Muirchú as well as a six-pack of small 60-foot Vosper MTBs (without berthing) for coast watching. The post-war Irish Naval Service was the Republic’s first foray into a blue water force.

For the next 25 years, these three surplus British corvettes were the sum total of the Irish navy until Dublin coughed up a naval program in 1969 for the purchase of three aging Ton-class coastal minesweepers (HMS Oulston, HMS Alverton, and HMS Blaxton) while the 184-foot LÉ Deirdre, the first vessel ever built specifically for the Naval Service, was constructed in Verlome Cork Dockyard as a replacement for the minesweepers.

Cliona via Irish Naval Archives

Le Cliona and M4, a Vosper 60-foot MTB, at Dun Laoghaire Pier 1947 IE-MA-ACPS-GPN-308-1

LE Cliona 03 (ex HMS Bellwort) in Irish service Via Flower Corvette Forum https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/theflowerclasscorvetteforums/le-cliona-03-ex-hms-bellwort-t546.html

All was not roses for the Irish corvettes. Used for grueling fisheries patrol work as well as in customs duties stopping potential gun running to the IRA, they saw their share of interesting encounters. In 1962, Cliona‘s luck almost ran out.

On 29 May, while participating in an annual live-fire exercise south of Roches Point, Cliona suffered damage after the explosion of a Hedgehog charge which had been dropped during the exercise. Leaking oil ignited which resulted in a serious boiler room fire onboard the vessel. The fire was eventually extinguished without any fatalities but the deeds of her crew who saved the ship largely forgotten for decades.

Taken out of service July 1969, Cliona was decommissioned on 2 November 1970 and the same day sold to Haulbowline Industries. She was later scrapped at Passage West in Cork. Her two Irish sisters, Borage/Macha, and Oxlip/Maev, were likewise sold to HI at about the same time and met similar fates. By then, except for a sister in Canada and a few others in the Dominican Republic and Angola, they were the last of the nearly 300 ship class.

Today, only the HMCS Sackville (K181), which the Canadians preserved in 1982 at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the only Flower left in the world. Notably, Bellwort/Clinoa escorted more convoys that she did.

Sackville via Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, please, if you are ever in Halifax, pay her a visit.

However, Cliona‘s crewmembers who saved her on that fateful day in 1962 were eventually remembered.

On 1 September 2016, the Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Mr. Paul Kehoe, T.D., presented Scrolls of Commendation to Lieutenant Pat O’Mahony, Able Stoker Bill Mynes, Chief E.R.A. Maurice Egan and Chief Stoker Gerry O’Callaghan, (the last posthumously) at a ceremony held on board L.É. Niamh in Dublin.

“Minister with Responsibility for Defence, Mr. Paul Kehoe, T.D., today (Thursday, 1 September 2016) presented Scrolls of Commendation to former crew members of the LÉ Cliona” Via Irish national archives

Before presenting the scrolls, Minister Kehoe praised the former Naval Service members “…each one of these four men fearlessly faced difficulty, danger, and pain while successfully extinguishing the fire that had taken hold on board the LÉ Cliona. The swift and selfless endeavors of each one of these four men ensured that tragedy was avoided and not a single life was lost.”

Minister Kehoe also paid tribute to “…the tremendous team effort that was made by the ship’s company. They ensured the safe return of the ship to port, once the fire had been brought under control. Even with the passage of time, their endeavors are not forgotten. I am delighted that I will have the opportunity of unveiling a plaque in recognition of their sterling work, in Haulbowline Naval Base, at the end of this month”.

As for her stint as Bellwort, David Willcock, the grandson of a former RN tar who sailed aboard her during WWII, has a tribute page.

Today, the Irish Naval Service, which began in 1946 with those three high-mileage Flower-class corvettes, is 72-years-old and still rocks a pair of vintage ex-RN corvettes of the 1980s Peacock-class, formerly used to patrol Hong Kong. But in addition, they also have six-purpose built OPVs that were built from the keel up for Ireland. The newest of these include four of the very capable Samuel Beckett-class vessels, which go 300-feet and tip the scales at 2,250-tons, each larger than the Cliona and her sisters. Appropriately, they are named for poets.

Besides protecting Ireland’s EEZ and territorial waters, the force has been involved in Mediterranean search and rescue operations with the EU for the past two years. In short, it’s a proper force now.

Specs:

Plan of HMS Bellwort reference NPA6884, housed in box ADRB0154 Via RMS Greenwich

Displacement: 1020 tonnes
Length: 205 ft.
Beam: 33 ft.
Draft: 14 ft.
Powerplant: Single reciprocating vertical 4-cylinder triple expansion by John Kincaid Greenock, 2 fire tube Scotch boilers
Maximum Speed (designed) 16 Knots
Sensors: SW1C radar, Type 123A sonar
Complement:
85 designed, up to 100 in wartime RN service
5 officers, 74 ratings (Irish Service)
Armament: (1941)
1 X 4″/45cal (102mm) BL Mk.IX gun
1 X Mk.VIII 2-pounder pom-pom AAA gun
2 X 20mm Oerlikon AA guns
1 X Mk 3 Hedgehog mortar,
4 X depth-charge throwers,
2 X depth charge rails with 40 depth charges

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Bullpup it is

Via an old post on Bootleg Guns comes this peculiar 7.35x51mm Italian M91/38 Carcano rifle at the Athens War Museum

Of course, it does not look like your typical Carcano, as it was captured by the Greek resistance in WWII from Axis forces with a busted stock. Not content with refurbishing damaged rifle they took the much more difficult and interesting step to turn it into a bolt-action bullpup, as one does.

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

 

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