Category Archives: World War Two

Odds are, That’s an Ironic Nickname

Sergent Len “Happy” Knox, 2nd New Zealand Division, 2NZEF, cleans an old-school .455-caliber break action Webley revolver Maadi Camp, near Cairo, Egypt, around 1940-41.

Alan Blow Album PH-ALB-497, Collection of Auckland War Memorial Museum / Tāmaki Paenga Hira

2NZEF would spend all of WWII under the British Eighth Army, seeing the elephant in Greece and at Crete, the fighting at Minqar Qaim and El Alamein; and the end of the North African campaign. They then crossed the Med and fought up up the Sangro and Monte Cassino across central Italy, finishing the war on the Northern Adriatic.

By which time, Happy was probably ecstatic.

Not the *Good* China…

While the traditional naval practice of separate wardrooms/messing for enlisted, chiefs, and officers is standard knowledge, something I did not know about until this week was the practice of “Admiral’s China,” especially reserved for visits to capital ships by flag officers.

From the Battleship USS Alabama Museum:

The Officers dined on the Officers china, printed with the iconic anchor on it. Their meal was served in the Wardroom, the Officers’ dining room. When the Captain was dining, the Captain’s china was used, the flying pennant with navy blue band and the meal served in the Captian’s dining room. Each ship carried a set of china used when an Admiral was aboard the ship. The Admiral’s china features a gold band and insignia.

Officers’ china

The skipper’s

And the Old Man’s…

Piking Around

While speaking of Colonial-era militias, much emphasis is placed on the use of firelocks with their related “12 Apostles” and later flintlocks with their cartridge pouches, but to be sure, many 17th Century town militia forces had to fall back on the old staple of the Hundred Years’ War and Burgundian Wars– the pike.

And the drill for these weapons was serious, as demonstrated by this superb reenactment video courtesy of the Massachusetts National Guard, who notes:

“In early 17th century Massachusetts, every able-bodied male between 16 and 60 was required to attend militia drill once a month except during the harvest months of July and August. One of the main weapons for European armies at the time was the pike, a wooden pole up to 17 feet long with a sharp metal point on the end. Handling a pike in a row with your fellow soldiers could be very difficult and exhausting. This video shows reenactors from the Salem Trayned Band demonstrating a training drill from a 1607 manual with 16 ½ foot long pikes.”

 

Perhaps the last military use of the pike for purposes other than ceremonial was in 1940, when Winston Churchill, facing the dearth of arms for the newly formed Home Guard post-Dunkirk wrote the War Office in July 1941, begging, “Every man must have a weapon of some kind, be it only a mace or pike.”

The War Office took this order literally and by July 1941, had reportedly ordered 250,000 “Home Guard Pikes” along with a smaller number of ersatz cudgels and maces. These long five-foot pikes had 45-inch metal tubes topped with surplus 17-inch American-made Pattern 1913 sword bayonets welded in place. However, most were not produced and those that were weren’t even issued as better weapons for the Home Guard were soon procured.

Via the Royal Armouries collection.

Still, it would have been interesting to see footage of a highly drilled Home Guard platoon using the old 1607 pattern manual for their pikes– provided they never had to use them against Panzergrenadiers armed with MP40s and MG34s.

Not English Make: The Saga of the Lend-Lease M1911s

The British, along with their Australian and Canadian cousins, had at least a passing affinity with the M1911 platform going back to the days of the Great War. Canadian troops carried the hardy John Browning-designed pistols on the Western Front as early as 1914 and the “daring young men and their flying machines” of the RAF often had .455-caliber M1911s along for their fight against the Red Baron and his Flying Circus, ordered on a special contract.

Fast forward to WWII and the M1911 was commonly issued to elite Commando and Parachute units– the product both of early commercial contracts with Colt and wartime Lend-Lease production passed through U.S. Army channels to London.

However, the Brits made sure to double-check these guns through the Birmingham and London proof houses (it’s not like there was a war on or anything), and in the process, these guns often received upwards of a half-dozen post-production proofs and stamps, one of the most glaring was “Not English Make,” just so there wouldn’t be any confusion that it wasn’t a fine Webley or Enfield product.

From left to right, the U.S. Property stamp, Birmingham proof house stamps,” NOT ENGLISH MAKE” under the manufacturer’s (Ithaca) serial, “Released British Govt. 1952” and US ARMY model number– and the gun has numerous other marks on the barrel and left side

I recently had a chance to look at a couple of beautiful circa 1943 Lend-Lease .45s that were passed on to Mr. Churchill and the gang and profiled them over at my column for Guns.com.

Warship Wednesday, March 3, 2021: Crossing the Delaware to See the World

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, March 3, 2021: Crossing the Delaware to See the World

Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Here we see the Old Glory flying from the stern of the four-piper Omaha-class light (scout) cruiser, USS Trenton (CL-11) as she sits in dry dock at South Boston’s Charleston Navy Yard, 6 December 1931. Note the narrow destroyer-like beam, her four screws, and the curious arrangement of stacked 6-inch guns over her stern. She would specialize in waving that flag around the globe

The Omaha class

With the country no doubt headed into the Great War at some point, Asst. Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt helped push a plan by the brass to add 10 fast “scout cruisers” to help screen the battle line from the enemy while acting as the over-the-horizon greyhound of the squadron, looking for said enemy to vector the fleet to destroy.

As such, speed was a premium for these dagger-like ships (they had a length-to-beam ratio of 10:1), and as such these cruisers were given a full dozen Yarrow boilers pushing geared turbines to 90,000 shp across four screws. Tipping the scales at 7,050 tons, they had more power on tap than an 8,000-ton 1970s Spruance-class destroyer (with four GE LM2500s giving 80,000 shp). This allowed the new cruiser class to jet about at 35 knots, which is fast today, and was on fire in 1915 when they were designed. As such, they were a full 11-knots faster than the smaller Chester-class scout cruisers they were to augment.

Artist's conception of the final class design, made circa the early 1920s by Frank Muller. Ships of this class were: OMAHA (CL-4), MILWAUKEE (CL-5), CINCINNATI (CL-6), RALEIGH (CL-7), DETROIT (CL-8), RICHMOND (CL-9), CONCORD (CL-10), TRENTON (CL-11), MARBLEHEAD (CL-12), and MEMPHIS (CL-13).Catalog #: NH 43051

The Artist’s conception of the final class design, made circa the early 1920s by Frank Muller. Ships of this class were: OMAHA (CL-4), MILWAUKEE (CL-5), CINCINNATI (CL-6), RALEIGH (CL-7), DETROIT (CL-8), RICHMOND (CL-9), CONCORD (CL-10), TRENTON (CL-11), MARBLEHEAD (CL-12), and MEMPHIS (CL-13).Catalog #: NH 43051

For armament, they had a dozen 6″/53 Mk12 guns arranged in a twin turret forward, another twin turret aft, and eight guns in Great White Fleet throwback above-deck stacked twin casemates four forward/four aft. These guns were to equip the never-built South Dakota (BB-49) class battleships and Lexington (CC-1) class battlecruisers, but in the end were just used in the Omahas as well as the Navy’s two large submarine cruisers USS Argonaut (SS-166)Narwhal (SS-167), and Nautilus (SS-168).

Besides the curious 6-inchers, they also carried two 3″/50s DP guns in open mounts, six 21-inch torpedo tubes on deck, another four hull-mounted torpedo tubes near the waterline (though they proved very wet and were deleted before 1933), and the capability to carry several hundred sea mines.

Mines on an Omaha class (CL 4-13) light cruiser Description: Taken while the ship was underway at sea, looking aft, showing the very wet conditions that were typical on these cruisers' after decks when they were operating in a seaway. Photographed circa 1923-1925, prior to the addition of a deckhouse just forward of the ships' after twin six-inch gun mount. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist's Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99637

Mines on an Omaha class (CL 4-13) light cruiser Description: Taken while the ship was underway at sea, looking aft, showing the very wet conditions that were typical on these cruisers’ after decks when they were operating in a seaway. Photographed circa 1923-1925, before the addition of a deckhouse just forward of the ships’ after twin six-inch gun mount. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist’s Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99637

Triple 21-inch torpedo tubes on the upper deck of an Omaha (CL 4-13) class light cruiser, circa the mid-1920s. The after end of the ship's starboard catapult is visible at left. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist's Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99639

Triple 21-inch torpedo tubes on the upper deck of an Omaha (CL 4-13) class light cruiser, circa the mid-1920s. The after end of the ship’s starboard catapult is visible at the left. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist’s Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99639

The subject of our tale was the second U.S. Navy warship named for the New Jersey city famous for the small but pivotal Christmas 1776 battle after Washington crossed the Delaware. The first to blaze that trail on the Naval List was a steam frigate commissioned in 1877 and wrecked by a hurricane in Samoa in 1889.

USS Trenton (1877-1889) Making Sail, probably while in New York Harbor in the mid-1880s. The original print is a letterpress reproduction of a photograph by E.H. Hart, 1162 Broadway, New York City, published circa the 1880s by the Photo-Gravure Company, New York. NH 2909

Authorized in 1916, the new USS Trenton wasn’t laid down at William Cramp & Sons in Philadelphia until August 1920, finally commissioned on 19 April 1924.

Her four-month shakedown cruise ran some 25,000 miles, taking the shiny new cruiser as far as Persia before popping in at the choicest ports in the Mediterranean, circumnavigating the continent of Africa in the process, and ending at the Washington Naval Yard.

USS Trenton (CL-11) photographed circa the mid-1920s. NH 43751

Before her freshman year was up, two of her plankowners would earn rare peacetime Medals of Honor– posthumously.

From DANFS:

While Trenton carried out gunnery drills about 40 miles off the Virginia capes on 24 October 1924, powder bags in her forward turret exploded, killing or injuring every man of the gun crew. The explosion erupted with such force that it thrust open the rear steel door and blew five men overboard, one of whom, SN William A. Walker, drowned. During the ensuing fire, Ens. Henry C. Drexler and BM1c George R. Cholister attempted to dump powder charges into the immersion tank before they detonated but the charges burst, killing Drexler, and fire and fumes overcame Cholister before he could reach his objective, and he died the following day.

After repairs and mourning, Trenton spent the next 15 years enjoying much better luck, busy sailing around the globe, participating in the standard peacetime work of Fleet Problems, exercises, foreign port calls, and the like. During much of this period, she served as a cruiser division flagship. About as hairy as it got during these happy days was putting a landing force ashore in China during unrest, a trip to take Marines from Charleston to Nicaragua in 1928, and responding to a 1930 revolt in Honduras during the Banana Wars.

USS TRENTON (CL-11) Carrying the U.S. secretary of the navy and the president of Haiti pass in review of the U.S. fleet, off Gonaives, Haiti, about 1925. USS ARIZONA (BB-39) is the nearest battleship. NH 73962

USS Trenton (CL-11) Flagship of Commander Light Cruiser Divisions, Scouting Fleet, underway at sea in April 1927. She has the Assistant Secretary of the Navy on board. NH 94168

USS Trenton in dry dock, South Boston, Dec 6, 1931, Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection.

Another of Leslie Jones’ superb shots, note her weapon layout.

A great view of her rudder and screws from the same collection.

And a bow-on shot, sure to be a hit with fans of dry docks. The slim profile of the Omahas is in good display here.

USS TRENTON (CL-11) In Pearl Harbor during the later 1930s. Color tinted photo, reproduced by the ship’s service store, Submarine Base Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa 1938. Collection of Rear Admiral Frank A. Braisted, USN ret., who was TRENTON’s commanding officer in 1937-38 NH 91636-KN

USS TRENTON (CL-11) in San Diego Harbor on 17 March 1934. NH 64630

USS TRENTON (CL-11) view taken at Sydney, N. S. W., in February 1938, during her visit to that port. Note that the ship is “dressed overall” with the Australian flag at the main. Also note French BOUGAINVILLE-class sloop astern. Courtesy of the Oregon Army National Guard, Oregon Military Academy, 1975. NH 82486

View of the commemorative map of the nearly 20,000-mile cruise made from San Diego, U. S. A., to Australia, and back to San Diego, from late 1937 to early 1938. Cruise made by sisterships USS TRENTON (CL-11), USS MILWAUKEE (CL-5), and USS MEMPHIS (CL-13). Courtesy of the Oregon Army National Guard, Oregon Military Academy, 1975. Catalog #: NH 82488

USS TRENTON (CL-11) Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, served in her as ComCruDiv Two from 9 July to 17 September 1938. He has signed this photo. NH 58114

Fita-Fita Guards handling USS Trenton’s lines at Naval Station, Tutuila, Samoa, March 31, 1938. Ironically, a warship of the same name was destroyed in Samoa in 1889 by Neptune. NARA # 80-CF-7991-2

USS Trenton (CL-11) in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, circa early 1939. Photographed by Tai Sing Loo. Trenton is carrying SOC floatplanes on her catapults. Donation of the Oregon Military Academy, Oregon National Guard, 1975. NH 82489

By June 1939, with the drums of war beating in Europe, our cruiser joined Squadron 40-T, the dedicated task force organized to protect American interests during the Spanish Civil War.

USS TRENTON (CL-11) View taken at Madeira, in the Azores, circa 1939. Note motor launch in the foreground. Courtesy of the Oregon Army National Guard, Oregon Military Academy, 1975. NH 82487

She was swinging at anchor in the idyllic French Riviera port of Villefranche-sur-Mer when Hitler marched into Poland in September.

Squadron 40-T, view taken at Villefranche-Sur-Mer, France, circa 1939, showing USS TRENTON (CL-11) and an unidentified U.S. “Four-pipe” destroyer in Harbor. NH 82493

Over the next 10 months, she would spend much of her time in neutral Portuguese waters awaiting orders, typically as squadron flagship with an admiral aboard. When finally recalled home in July 1940, following the collapse of the Low Countries to the German Blitzkrieg, Trenton carried exiled Luxembourger royals to America at the behest of the State Department.

Switching Europe for Asia, Trenton was ordered to the Pacific in November, and she was soon busy escorting transports carrying men and equipment to the Philippines with stops at scattered outposts such as Midway, Wake Island, and Guam, all of which would soon become battlegrounds.

WWII 

By the time the balloon went up on 7 December 1941, our cruiser was moored at Balboa in the Panama Canal Zone, where she had been assigned on orders of ADM Stark to be ready to prowl the Eastern Pacific for enemy shipping and commerce raiders in the event of a real-live war.

Her first mission of WWII was to escort the joint Army-Navy Bobcat Force (Task Force 5614) to the French colony of Bora Bora in late January 1942, an operation that saw the first use of the Navy’s new Seabee units.

U.S. Navy ships in Teavanui Harbor in February 1942. The town of Vaitape is in the left-center. The cruiser and destroyer on the right are USS Trenton (CL-11) with four smokestacks, and USS Sampson (DD-394). An oiler is in the center distance. #: 80-G-K-1117.

While fast and with long legs, the Omaha class cruisers were under-armed and under-armored for 1940s fleet actions, a role that relegated them to the periphery of the conflict. As noted by Richard Worth in his Fleets of World War II:

The fleet sought a way to turn the Omahas into something valuable. Proposals included a conversion to carrier-cruiser hybrids or a complete reconstruction into aircraft carriers. A more realistic plan would have specialized the ships as AA escorts, retaining their twin mounts with a new DP battery of seven 5-inch guns, but the navy didn’t bother.

With that, Trenton kicked her heels for most of the war ranging from the Canal Zone to the Straits of Magellan, visiting the west coast ports of South America, the Juan Fernandez Islands, the San Felice chain, the Cocos, and the Galapagos, keeping an eye peeled for Axis vessels which never materialized.

USS TRENTON (CL-11) Underway off Bona Island in the Gulf of Panama, 11 May 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Bow view. #: 19-N-44442

Same series, #: 19-N-44439

Same series, # 19-N-44440. Note, her seaplanes appear to be Kingfishers

In the same series, note the depth charge racks on her stern, something you don’t see a lot of on a cruiser. #: 19-N-44438

Following a two-month refit at Balboa, she shipped North for San Francisco in July 1944, cleared to finally get into the action.

When she left Panama, she had her war paint on.

USS Trenton (CL-11) underway in the Gulf of Panama, 14 July 1944. She is wearing camouflage Measure 33, Design 2f. #: 19-N-68655

USS Trenton (CL-11) in San Francisco Bay, California, 11 August 1944. Note her large SK annetnna atop the mast. The SK was a surface search radar capable of picking up a large airborne target, such as a bomber, at 100nm and a smallish surface contact, for example, a destroyer, at 13nm. She is wearing camouflage Measure 33, Design 2f. # 19-N-91697

Arriving at Adak in the Aleutian Islands on 2 September 1944, she joined the North Pacific Force as a unit of Cruiser Division One. She would soon be running amok in the Japanese Kuriles chain, alongside other members of her class such as sisterships USS Richmond and USS Concord (CL-10), who had, like Trenton, up to that time had spent most of the war in the Southeastern Pacific.

From her Trenton’s official War History, which is online at the National Archives:

Trenton fired her first shots against the enemy on 5 January 1945 in a bombardment of shore installation at Surubachi Wan, Paramushiru. There followed more shore bombardments against Kurabu Zaki, Paramushiru, on 18 February; Matsuwa on 15 March and 10 and 11 June. On this last raid, Trenton, along with other units of Task Force 92, made an anti-shipping sweep inside the Kurile chain during daylight hours of 11 June before firing the second night’s bombardment. Targets on these islands included fish canneries, air strips, and hangars, radar and gun installations, and bivouac areas. Aerial reconnaissance showed substantial damage inflicted in these shellings by Task Force 92.

Trenton’s guns got a heck of a workout during this period. For instance, in the 15 March raid on Matsuwa alone, they fired 457 Mk. 34 high capacity, 18 Mk. 27 common, and 14 Mk. 22 illum shells in a single night. This was accomplished in 99 salvos fired at an average rate of 4.95 salvos per minute, or 22.45 shells per minute. A star shell was set to burst every sixth salvo, providing “excellent illumination,” while the ship used her SG radar to furnish ranges and bearings and Mk 3 radar to check range to the land from fire bearings with correction adjusted accordingly. The firing was done from 13,000 yards and ran for just 21 minutes. Not bad shooting!

The cruiser also helped put some licks in on Japanese surface contacts.

Again, her War History:

Trenton’s last war-time action occurred 23 to 25 June, when the task force again made an anti-shipping sweep along the central Kuriles. With the force split over a wider area, the other unit made contact with the enemy inside the chain. By sinking five ships out of a small convoy [the auxiliary submarine chasers Cha 73, Cha 206, and Cha 209, and guard boat No. 2 Kusunoki Maru, sunk; and the Cha 198 damaged], Task Force 92 disclosed the presence of U.S. Naval Forces in the Sea of Okhotsk and set off a wave of alarm in the Japanese press and radio. Fear of this “formidable task force prowling the northern home waters of Japan,” coupled with the increased attacks by Task Forces 38 and 58 to the south, convinced the Japanese that they were at last surrounded and added to their discouragement which led to the surrender in August.

Epilogue

Steaming for San Francisco to get an overhaul in for the final push on the Home Islands, Trenton was there when the war ended. Ordered to proceed to Philadelphia via the Canal that she spent most of the war protecting, she arrived there just before Christmas 1945 and was decommissioned. Like the rest of her class, there was little use for her in a post-war Navy filled with shiny new and much more capable cruisers, so they were liquidated entirely and without ceremony.

Of her sisters, they proved remarkably lucky, and, though all nine saw combat during the war– including Detroit and Raleigh who were at Pearl Harbor– none were sunk. The last of the class afloat, USS Milwaukee (CL-5) was sold for scrap at the end of 1949, mainly because after 1944 she had been loaned to the Soviets as the Murmansk.

As for Trenton, she was stricken from the Navy List on 21 January 1946 and later sold for $67,228 to the Patapsco Scrap Co. along with sistership Concord, who reportedly fired the last naval bombardment of the war.

Trenton had a string of 15 skippers in her short 21-year career, four of whom would go on to put on admiral’s stars including ADM “Old Dutch” Kalbfus who commanded the battlefleet on the eve of WWII, the long campaigning VADM Joseph Taussig, and ADM Arthur Dewey Struble who led the 7th Fleet during the miracle landings at Inchon.

One of the most tangible remnants of the vessel is the State silver service that she carried for most of her career. Originally made for the first battleship USS New Jersey (BB-16) in 1905 by Tiffany & Co., Trenton became caretaker of the 105-piece set when she was commissioned as the obsolete Virginia class of pre-dreadnought was disposed of as part of the Washington Naval Treaty in 1920. Trenton turned the set back over to the Navy during WWII for safekeeping and it was eventually presented to the Iowa-class battlewagon (BB-62) post-war. Today half the set, which is still owned by the Navy, is at the New Jersey Governor’s Mansion while the other half is on display in a secure case in the captain’s quarters of the Battleship New Jersey museum.

Silver service of USS NEW JERSEY then on USS TRENTON, 1933. NH 740

Her war diaries and reports are largely available online in the National Archives in a digitized format.

The Navy has recycled the name “Trenton” twice since 1946. The first for an Austin-class amphibious dock (LPD-14) which served from 1971 through 2007 and is still in service with the Indian Navy as INS Jalashwa (L41), a name which translates roughly into “seahorse.”

An undated file photo of a starboard bow view of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Trenton (LPD 14) underway. Trenton was one of several ships that participated in Operation Praying Mantis, which was launched after the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) struck an Iranian mine on April 14, 1988. (U.S. Navy photo 30416-N-ZZ999-202 by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Bates/Released)

The fourth and current Trenton is an MSC-operated Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport (T-EPF-5), in-service since 2015.

Specs:

1946 Jane’s plan, by which time only Milwaukee was still in service– with the Soviets!


Displacement: 7,050 long tons (7,163 t) (standard); 9,508 full load
Length: 555 ft. 6 in oa, 550 ft. pp
Beam: 55 ft.
Draft: 14 ft. 3 in (mean), 20 feet max
Machinery: 12 × Yarrow boilers, 4 × Westinghouse reduction geared steam turbines, 90,000 ihp
Range: 8460 nm at 10 knots on 2,000 tons fuel oil
Speed: 35 knots estimated design, 33.7 knots on trials
Sensors: SK, 2 x SG, 2 x Mk 3 radars fitted after 1942
Crew: 29 officers 429 enlisted (peacetime)
Armor:
Belt: 3 in
Deck: 1 1⁄2 in
Conning Tower: 1 1⁄2 in
Bulkheads: 1 1⁄2–3 in
Aircraft carried: 2 × floatplanes (typically Vought O2U-1 then Curtiss SOC Seagulls), 2 amidships catapults
Armament:
(1924)
2 × twin 6 in /53 caliber
8 × single 6 in /53 caliber
2 × 3 in /50 caliber guns anti-aircraft
6 × triple 21 in torpedo tubes
4 × twin 21 in torpedo tubes
224 × mines (capability removed soon after completion)
(1945)
2 × twin 6 in/53 caliber
6 × single 6 in/53 caliber
8 × 3 in/50 caliber anti-aircraft guns
6 × triple 21 in torpedo tubes
3 × twin 40 mm Bofors guns
14 × single 20 mm Oerlikon cannons

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Vespucci at 90

The Italian Navy’s historic nave scuola (training ship) Amerigo Vespucci (A5312) was constructed back when Italy had a king on the throne and is still going strong. Built at the Royal Shipyard of Castellammare di Stabia, Vespucci was commissioned as part of the Divisione Navi Scolastiche (School Ships Division) on 6 June 1931, joining her sister, the ill-fated Cristoforo Colombo, with the task of training Italian naval cadets.

The “most beautiful ship in the world” is set to turn 90 this year and never looked better.

Saving The Sullivans: A Call to Action

The Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD-537) was launched at Bethleham Steel on 4 April 1943, sponsored by the grieving Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan, mother of the five late Sullivan brothers, and was commissioned five months later. The brothers Sullivan had requested (“We will make a team together that can’t be beat,” one had written) to be ship out together and joined the light cruiser Juneau (CL-52) at the New York Navy Yard on 3 February 1942, just before that ship’s commissioning, and were all lost just before Thanksgiving in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

The destroyer received nine battle stars for World War II and two for Korean service. Laid up in 1965 at Philadelphia, in 1977, she and cruiser Little Rock (CG-4) were processed for donation to the city of Buffalo, N.Y., where they now serve as a memorial.

However, 78 years of water have not proved kind to her hull and today The Sullivans is in serious risk of sinking. The Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park is urgently seeking $100,000 to fund emergency repairs of her hull.

FAA’s Fly By Cover!

Fly By, the periodical of the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia just republished (with my permission) a recent Warship Wednesday of mine on the MV Daghestan and her role in naval aviation history.

And it was the cover!

Here is the newsletter, which is 21 pages and covers much more than my drivel.

The Triple Nickels

On 25 February 1943, the 555th Parachute Infantry Company was constituted. The unit, selected from volunteers from the Fort Huachuca-based 92d Infantry Division, was all-black, both enlisted men and officers.

While they never did make it to fight the Germans or Japanese directly, the “Triple Nickels” did see very dangerous stateside service in the Pacific West on Operation Firefly, jumping into remote forest areas to put out fires caused by Japanese Fugo incendiary bombs.

This mission led to today’s Smoke Jumpers.

Deactivated in 1947, the 555th’s members were rolled into the 82nd Airborne, making it the first integrated combat unit in the Army, and many saw service in Korea.

Lt. Clifford Allen, 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021: Full Fathom Five

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Feb. 24, 2021: Full Fathom Five

Here we see a painting by noted British maritime artist Charles David Cobb of HM Submarine Shakespeare (P221) acting as a beacon marker for the Allied invasion fleet at Salerno, 9 September 1943. If she looks at ease in the task, it was the vessel’s third set of landings in just 10 months– and she had a lot of war left to go.

As her name would suggest, our boat is a member of the Royal Navy’s expansive S-class or Swordfish-class of smallish diesel submarines completed across a 16-year run from 1929 to 1945. In all, some 62 of these 200-foot/900-ton (ish) subs were completed in three generations. Small enough for operations in constrained seas, they were ideal for work in the Mediterranean, a place where, sadly, many of the class are still on eternal patrol.

Our vessel is the second of the Royal Navy’s vessels to be named for the bard, English playwright William Shakespeare, with the first a Thornycroft-type destroyer leader of the Great War era that had been scrapped in 1936. While Old Bill stuck primarily to events on land, one of his more memorable lines has always stuck with me when concerning a battered ship on rough seas.

*Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark! Now I hear them � Ding-dong, bell.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act I, Sc. II

*Incidentally, the title Full Fathom Five was also used for an installment of the WWII serial docuseries Victory at Sea on the U.S. Navy’s submarine campaign in the Pacific. 

Initial Service

Ordered in a 27-hull block of the 1940 shipbuilding Programme, Shakespeare was built at Vickers Armstrong, Barrow-in-Furness, originally as P71. Her subclass could carry extra fuel in their main ballast tanks, giving them a longer range than previous classmates. Further, they had air conditioning, a vital bonus for vessels working in hot and tropical climes.

Leaving her builders on 8 July 1942, she worked up at Holy Loch and by 15 August 1942– a span of just five weeks– she left on her first war patrol from Lerwick, a short and uneventful stalk in the Norwegian Sea.

HMSM P 221, Stationary, undated. IWM FL 23028

British S class submarine HMSM SHAKESPEARE underway passing a quayside. 6 August 1942. IWM FL 6117

Her second patrol, from 7-23 September, was likewise quiet, helping to screen Northbound convoys PQ 18 and QP 14 headed to Russia.

Upon return, she was off to the Med, where her services were much in demand.

North Africa

Arriving at Gibraltar in late October, Shakespeare began her 3rd war patrol from there on All Saints Day 1942, on the eve of the Torch landings in North Africa. As part of that operation, she conducted periscope reconnaissance of the landing beaches off Algiers over a four-night period, launching a collapsible folbot kayak/canoe with two lieutenants to get a closer look– only to have them promptly captured by the Vichy French! On the night of 7/8 November, she surfaced and marked her two designated landing zones, Apple White Beach and Apple Green Beach, flashing her beacon seaward and transmitting a low-powered radio pulse to guide in the approaching landing craft.

After the landings started, she was immediately dispatched to run interference against responding Axis ships, staking out a patrol zone to the West of Sicily. In this, she came across a small convoy and fired four torpedoes at a big German freighter, no doubt taking supplies to Rommel. However, instead of chalking up a kill, all Shakespeare logged that night was a depth charge run from an escorting Italian subchaser.

Her new engines increasingly cranky, our sub made for Portsmouth by way of Gibraltar, arriving there 18 December.

“Refitting of H.M. Submarine Shakespeare.” 1941 watercolor by Sir Muirhead Bone N.E.A.C., H.R.W.S., H.R.S.A, via National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. PAJ2875

Back at it

By March 1943, with two new motors, Shakespeare was on the prowl in her 4th war patrol along the edges of the Bay of Biscay on the lookout for German blockade runners. After a brief stay at Gibraltar and from there Algiers, she was back in the Med.

Starting her 5th war patrol on 9 April, she made for Sardinia and survived a near-miss from Axis patrol planes.

British Submarine Shakespeare on the Warpath. 14 and 16 April 1943, Algiers. HM SUBMARINE SHAKESPEARE setting out on patrol. IWM A 16328

Her 6th patrol, leaving Algiers on 8 May for Corsica, was her first successful surface action, bagging a pair of old Italian schooners near the Strait of Bonifacio five days later, peppering the vessels with 52 shells from her deck gun. Releasing her battery again on the afternoon of 20 May, she loosed 20 rounds at the Italian-held airfield at Calvi.

Her 7th patrol left Algiers on 5 June and soon tangled with a German U-boat (unsuccessfully) that was spoiled by a blue-on-blue air attack.

Husky

Meanwhile, her 8th patrol, in early July, saw Shakespeare once again act as a submersible beacon during the Allied operations at off Sicily, as part of the Husky Landings. There were seven beacon submarines used in Husky: Safari, Shakespeare, and Seraph from Algiers lighting the way for the three American amphibious forces of the Western Naval Task Force, and Unrivalled, Unison, Unseen and Unruffled from Malta shepherding the four British amphibious forces of the Eastern Naval Task Force. Specifically, Shakespeare walked in Dime Force (TF81), landing the 1st “Big Red One” Infantry Division at Gela.

On our submarine’s 9th war patrol, leaving from Malta on 25 July, she carried four canoeing covert beach surveyors of No 5 COPP (Combined Operations Pilotage Party) who reccied off the Gulf of Gioia over a four-night period.

Robin Harbud (to the rear) and Sgt Ernest COOKE, Cookie to his friends, as they manhandle their canoe, used for Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPP), through the forward hatch of a submarine. IWM MH 22715 http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205087979

It was during the patrol that Shakespeare brushed up against the two Italian light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia and Raimondo Montecuccoli, firing three torpedoes at long range (6,000 yards) with no success. There would be other occasions.

Avalanche

Her 10th war patrol, leaving Algiers on 24 August, included a mixed group of five No. 5 COPP and SBS cockleshell commandos, as well as a special Mine Detection Unit (MDU) for her Type 138 ASDIC set, bound for Salerno as part of the Avalanche Landings. Over the next two weeks, she undertook numerous periscope and folbot-borne beach reconnaissance missions while keeping a weather eye (and ear) peeled for mines. And boy did she find them.

As detailed by the NHHC:

Minefields in the Gulf of Salerno were first detected by HMS Shakespeare (P221), a British beacon submarine active in the area since August 29, 1943. Using magnetic detection devices, the submarine located a plethora of German “V” and Italian “I”, “J”, and “K” mines in the gulf, thus setting the stage for an extensive mine countermeasures operation.

The recon moved the planned release positions for the transports further offshore into safe water while arrangements for sweeps could be made. In all, special teams of sweepers would clear 275 sea mines from the waters around Salerno by the conclusion of the operation there and Shakespeare’s warning likely saved hundreds of lives.

But back to our sub and the Salerno landings.

Just before the balloon went up, Shakespeare was resting off Licosa Point on 7 September and sighted two large southbound Italian cruising submarines operating on the surface at sunset. The boats, the Argo-class Velella and Brin-class leader Benedetto Brin, had been dispatched as part of Piano Zeta (Zeta Plan) to interrupt the landings. However, it was our sub that did the interruption in the form of six torpedoes fired rapidly at a range of 800 yards, hitting Velella with at least four of those, sending the boat to the bottom with all hands.

Italian submarine Velella, Atlantic ocean, 9 March 1941 when she was operating from occupied France as one of the Regina Marina’s BETASOM boats. She was torpedoed by HMS Shakespeare on 7 September 1943

Velella was to be the last Italian submarine lost in combat, and her wreck was found in 2003, 8.9 miles from Licosa Point, in 450 feet of water.

The next day, she surfaced at 2135, lit her beacon seaward, and was soon met by the incoming Wickes-class destroyer USS Cole (DD-155), then two hours later transferred her COPP and SBS beach pilots to USS PC-624 for the run in to shore in individual LCMs acting as lead vessels headed to Green Beach with men of the 142nd Infantry Regiment from the Coast Guard-manned transport Dickman— the first landing by U. S. forces in Europe.

Her epic 10th war patrol ended four days later with arrival back at Algiers.

Shakespeare’s 11th patrol was uneventful and, switching to Beirut, she left on her 12th patrol, a sweep of the Aegean, on 21 October. She would sink the Greek two-masted caique Aghios Konstantinos with gunfire, a feat repeated with the caique Eleftheria on her 13th patrol in December.

Her work in the Med done, she sailed for Britain, arriving at Devonshire on 4 January 1944 for a six-month refit.

HMS/M SHAKESPEARE returning to Devonport after 19 months of operational activity in the Mediterranean. On the bridge of the SHAKESPEARE are, left to right: Lieutenant N D Campbell, RN, of Sevenoaks (Gunnery Officer); Lieutenant W E I Little-John, DSC, RANVR, of Melbourne, Australia (First Lieutenant); Lieutenant M F R Ainlie, DSO, DSC, RN, of Ash Vale, Surrey (Commanding Officer); Sub Lieutenant R G Pearson, RNVR, of Hitchin, Herts (Torpedo Officer); Lieutenant L H Richardson, RN, of Jersey, Channel Islands (Navigating Officer). Naval Radar: The conning tower of the submarine is showing a 291W Air Warning Set and 20mm DP Oerlikon over the stern. IWM A 21261

Officers of the SHAKESPEARE. Left to right: Sub Lieut R G Pearson, RNVR, of Hitchin, Herts (Torpedo Officer); Lieut W E Little-John, DSC, RANVR, of Melbourne, Australia (First Lieutenant); Lieut N D Campbell, RN,, of Sevenoaks (Gunnery Officer); Lieut L H Richardson, RN, of Jersey, Channel Islands (Navigating Officer); and Lieut M F R Ainslie, DSO, DSC, RN, of Ash Vale, Surrey (Commanding Officer). Note the QF 3-inch 20 cwt and the wavy stripes of the RNVR officers. IWM A 21262 http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205153611

HMS SUBMARINE SHAKESPEARE, OF SICILY LANDING FAME, BACK HOME. 5 JANUARY 1944, DEVONPORT. THE SUBMARINE RETURNS AFTER 19 MONTHS OPERATIONAL ACTIVITY IN THE MEDITERRANEAN. (A 21263) The ship’s company of the SHAKESPEARE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205153612

Her 14th patrol, a sortie off Scotland in the fall of 1944, was uneventful and served as more of a post-refit shakedown. By October, with the naval war in Europe rapidly sunsetting, Shakespeare was reassigned to the Far East.

On to the Orient

Crossing the Line, the age-old naval tradition. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare 

Sailing via Gibraltar, Malta and Port Said to reach Aden in November, Shakespeare arrived at Trincomalee from where she sortied on her 15th war patrol on 20 December.

Shakespeare in the Far East. Note the camouflage and her jacks’ tropical uniform. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare 

Assigned to sweep through the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, she drew her first Japanese kill on New Year’s Eve, sending the freighter Unryu Maru to the bottom after she fired a six-torpedo spread into a passing convoy in the Nankauri Strait, surviving the resulting depth charging.

Then, on 3 January 1945, our lucky British sub became the subject of a 50-hour running battle when she attempted to tangle on the surface with a Japanese supply ship in the Nicobar Islands. The action soon went wrong, and reinforcements in the form of the IJN minesweeper W-1 and land-based aircraft were called in. Before it was over, Shakespeare would fight off 25 air attacks, dodge 50 assorted bombs, shoot down a Japanese seaplane, and gunfight an armed freighter until it was dead in the water. For this, our submarine would see two of her crew killed and 14 wounded.

From VADM Sir Arthur Hezlet’s work on HM Submarines in WWII:

On 3rd January, she attacked a small, unescorted merchant ship, firing four torpedoes from a range of 3500 yards and missed. She then surfaced and opened fire with her gun, but almost at once sighted a patrol vessel approaching and prepared to dive. At this moment, the return fire from the merchant ship scored a hit on Shakespeare penetrating the pressure hull just abaft the bridge and causing very serious damage. Her wireless office was destroyed and an auxiliary machinery space flooded and a great deal of water was taken in to the engine and control rooms. She was unable to dive and furthermore her steering gear was damaged, one main engine was out of action as well as both electric motors.

Nevertheless, she struggled away on the surface and fought off both the merchant ship and the patrol vessel. She was unable to call for assistance but made for Trincomalee several days away across the Bay of Bengal. During the rest of the day, she repulsed no less than twenty-five air attacks with her guns, shooting one of them down but suffering fifteen casualties. She withdrew at her best speed all night and next day

For a detailed description of this fight, which could probably fill its own book, check out the WWII Submarines page which includes an amazing wartime photo album of Stoker James Patterson, one of her crew.

Some of the damage after she made it back to Trincomalee. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare

You aren’t going to dive with that! Note the sandals and whites of the officers. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare

Her salty crew, a much different image than in Devonshire the year before. Note the shell hole in her conning tower. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare

A detail of the Roger, slightly different from the above, with three torches showing her role as an invasion beach beacon ship. Via WWII Submarines’ page on Shakespeare

A detail of some of the common symbols used on HMSMs during WWII

With all the damage to her pressure hull, it was decided that she could only be corrected back in the UK and as such she sailed, slowly and on the surface, back to Portsmouth, arriving 30 June. There, she was ultimately deemed unfit for repair post-war and was written off, the last Shakespeare in the Royal Navy.

She was scrapped at Briton Ferry in July 1946.

Specs, S-class, Group 3:

Displacement: 842 tons surfaced, 990 submerged
Length overall: 217 feet
Beam: 23.5 feet
Depth 11 feet
Diving depth: 350 feet
Machinery: 2 x 950hp diesels, 2 x 485 kW electric motors, 2 shafts
Speed Surface 15 knots, Submerged 10 knots (design)
Surface 14.75 knots, Submerged 9 knots (service)
Range: Surface: 6700 miles at 8 knots (design) on 92 tons fuel oil
Complement: 49
Radar: Type 291W Air Warning Set
Sonar: Type 129/138 ASDIC, augmented in 1943 with Mine Detection Unit (Type 148 40kHz?)
Armament :
6 x 21-inch bow tubes
1 x 21-inch stern tube
(13 Mark VIII torpedoes carried, max)
1 x QF 3-inch deck gun, forward
1 x 20mm Oerlikon AAA cannon, abaft the tower
3 x .303 Vickers guns on the tower

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