Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, October 1995, right as the site closed. As you can tell, it was a popular Inactive Ships location for some real WWII/Cold War heavyweights chilling in the City of Brotherly Love’s mothballs area
Note the battleships USS Iowa (BB-61), and USS Wisconsin (BB-64) at the DD wharf to the far left; naval auxiliaries USS Sylvania (AFS-2), USS Milwaukee (AOR-2) and USS Savannah (AOR-4) at Pier 5; the supercarriers USS Forrestal (CV-59) and USS Saratoga (CV-60); at Pier 4; the mini-flattops to the right are the amphibious assault ships USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2) and USS Guadalcanal (LPH-7) at Pier 2. In the back pool is the heavy cruiser USS Des Moines (CA-134) and numerous destroyers and frigates including what looks like at least five Knox-class fast frigates.
Of the above, notably, Wisconsin was the last keel laid for a U.S. completed battleship. She was begun at the same yard on 25 January 1941, meaning her Naval service involving Philadelphia was Alpha and Omega cyclical.
A British Army sniper demonstrates the superior ‘Hawkins’ prone firing position (right) next to another in the standard position, at the 21st Army Group sniping school near Eindhoven, 15 October 1944. Note the scoped Enfields.
The Hawkins was described by one Tommy as “taking buttons off your shirt to get that much closer to the ground.”
One common thing that happens all the time in the military is being issued too much ammo, such as on a live fire exercise, and intead of returning it which is a whole pain in the ass, it gets disposed of via E-tool.
Well apparently in 1945 when a B-24 unit was leaving England to return home, they left a few belts of .50 cal behind in the dirt of their borrowed RAF airstrip. Fast forward 70~ years and some aviation buffs dug up about 1,500 rounds of still very live tracer and ball ammo just three feet below the surface.
Heck, I am surprised they didn’t find a whole B-24!
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017: I’d like to be back on my horse
Here we see the Balao-class diesel-electric fleet submarine USS Tilefish (SS-307) returning to San Diego on 5 December 1958 for inactivation. You may not recognize her in the photo, but she was always ready for her closeup.
A member of the 128-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were ‘fleet’ boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home.
Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their 4-inch/50 caliber and 40mm/20mm AAA’s. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.
We have covered a number of this class before, such as Rocket Mail slinging USS Barbero, the carrier-sinking USS Archerfish, the long-serving USS Catfish and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.
Laid down at Mare Island Navy Yard in Vallejo, California, on 10 Mar 1943, USS Tilefish was the first and only naval vessel named for homely reef fish found in the world’s oceans.
Commissioned just nine months later on 28 Dec 1943, Tilefish completed her trials and shakedown off the California coast and made for the Western Pacific in early 1944.
Her first war patrol, off Honshu in Japanese home waters, was short and uneventful.
Her second, in the Luzon Strait, netted a torpedo hit on the 745-ton Japanese corvette Kaibokan 17 south of Formosa on 18 July.
Her third patrol, in the Sea of Okhotsk and off the Kuril Islands, resulted in sinking a sampan in a surface action, as well as two small cargo ships, a larger cargo ship and the 108-ton Japanese guard boat Kyowa Maru No.2. Tilefish also picked up a Russian owl in these frigid waters, which was duly named Boris Hootski with the ship’s log noting, “He is now official ship’s mascot and stands battle stations on top of the tube blow and vent manifold.”
She closed the year with her fourth patrol in the Kurils and Japanese home waters with sinking the Japanese torpedo boat Chidori some 90 miles WSW of Yokosuka.
Early 1945 saw her fifth patrol which sank a small Japanese coaster and effectively knocked the IJN minesweeper W 15 out of the war. She also plucked LT (JG) William J. Hooks from the USS Hancock (CV-19) of VF-80 out of the water after he had to ditch his F6F at sea off Amami Oshima in the Ryukyus.
After refit on the West Coast, Tilefish completed her sixth patrol on lifeguard station off the Ryukyus where she ended the war, being ordered back to California on 7 September.
In all, Tilefish received five battle stars for World War II service. Her tally included 7 vessels for a total of 10,700 claimed tons– though many were disallowed post-war by JANAC. Her six patrols averaged 48 days at sea.
While most of the U.S. submarine fleet was mothballed in the months immediately after WWII, Tilefish remained in service. She even managed a sinkex in August 1947 against the crippled Liberty tanker SS Schuyler Colfax, at 7,200-tons, Tilefish‘s largest prize.
When the Korean War kicked off in 1950, Tilefish made for the region.
As noted by DANFS:
“From 28 September 1950 through 24 March 1951, the submarine operated out of Japanese ports conducting patrols in Korean waters in support of the United Nations campaign in Korea. She made reconnaissance patrols of La Perouse Strait to keep the Commander, Naval Forces Far East, informed of Soviet seaborne activity in that area.”
Tilefish received one battle star for Korean service.
The next nine years saw her conducting regular peacetime operations and exercises including a goodwill visit to Acapulco; a survey mission with four civilian geophysicists on board from the Hydrographic Office of Eniwetok, Wake, and Midway; and other ops.
These “other ops” included filming some scenes for the 1958 Glen Ford WWII submarine flick Torpedo Run, which were extensively augmented by scale models, and more extensive shoots for Up Periscope, a film in which James Garner, a Korean war Army vet and Hollywood cowboy, plays a frogman ordered to photograph a codebook at an isolated Japanese radio station.
The film was an adaption of LCDR Robb White’s book of the same name.
Garner was not impressed by the Tilefish.
As related by a Warren Oaks biographer, Garner, bobbing along on the old submarine offshore at 9-kts in groundswells, said, “You know something? I’d like to be back on my horse.”
After her brief movie career and service in two wars, Tilefish was given a rebuild at the San Francisco Navy Yard and was decommissioned in May 1960.
Tilefish was then sold to Venezuela, which renamed her ARV Carite (S-11). As such, she was the first modern submarine in that force. She arrived in that country on 23 July 1960, setting the small navy up to be the fifth in Latin America with subs.
As noted by El Snorkel (great name), a Latin American submarine resource, Tilefish/Carite was very active indeed, making 7,287 dives with the Venezuelan Navy over the next 17 years. She participated in the Argentine/Dominican Republic/Venezuelan -U.S. Quarantine Task Force 137 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and intercepted the Soviet tug Gromoboi in 1968.
In 1966, she was part of the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program (GUPPY) conversion program and (along with 20 other boats), was given the very basic Fleet Snorkel package which provided most ofthe bells and whistles found on the German late-WWII Type XXI U-boats– which would later prove ironic. This gave her expanded battery capacity, steamlined her sail conning tower fairwater into a so-called “Northern or North Atlantic sail”– a steel framework surrounded by thick fiberglass– added a snorkel, higher capacity air-conditioning system, and a more powerful electrical system and increased her submerged speed to 15 knots while removing her auxillary diesel. A small topside sonar dome appeared.
However, during this time, her most enduring exposure was in helping film Murphy’s War, in which a German U-boat (U-482) hides out in the Orinoco River in Venezuela after sinking British merchant steamer Mount Kyle, leaving Peter O’Toole as the lone survivor on a hunt to bag the German shark. The thing is, she looked too modern for the film after her recent conversion.
For her role, Carite was given a far-out grey-white-black dazzle camo scheme and, to make her more U-boat-ish, was fitted with a faux cigarette deck after her tower complete with a Boffin 40mm (!) and a twin Oerlikon mount (!!). Her bow was fitted with similarly faked submarine net cutting teeth.
Her “crew” was a mix of U.S. Peace Corps kids working in the area (to get the proper blonde Germanic look) with Venezuelan tars at the controls.
The movie, filmed in decadent Panavision color, shows lots of footage of the old Tilefish including a dramatic ramming sequence with a bone in her teeth and what could be the last and best images of a Balao-class submarine with her decks awash.
By the mid-1970s, Tilefish/Carite was showing her age. In 1972, the Venezuelans picked up more two more advanced GUPPY II conversions, her Balao-class sister USS Cubera (SS-347), renaming her ARV Tiburon (S-12) and the Tench-class USS Grenadier (SS-525) which followed as ARV Picua (S-13) in 1973.
Once the two “new” boats were integrated into the Venezuelan Navy, Tilefish/Carite was decommissioned on 28 January 1977 and slowly cannibalized for spare parts, enabling Cubera and Grenadier to remain in service until 1989 when they were replaced by new-built German Type 209-class SSKs, which still serve to one degree or another.
According to a Polish submarine page, some artifacts from Tilefish including a torpedo tube remain in Venezuela.
Although she is no longer afloat, eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.
Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:
-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
–USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
–USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
–USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
–USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also on borrowed time)
–USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
–USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
However, Tilefish will endure wherever submarine films are enjoyed.
Displacement, surfaced: 1,526 t., Submerged: 2,424 t.
Length 311′ 10″
Beam 27′ 3″
Draft 15′ 3″
Speed surfaced 20.25 kts, Submerged 8.75 kts
Cruising Range, 11,000 miles surfaced at 10kts; Submerged Endurance, 48 hours at 2kts
Operating Depth Limit, 400 ft.
Patrol Endurance 75 days
Propulsion: diesels-electric reduction gear with four Fairbanks-Morse main generator engines., 5,400 hp, four Elliot Motor Co., main motors with 2,740 hp, two 126-cell main storage batteries, two propellers.
Fuel Capacity: 94,400 gal.
Complement 6 Officers 60 Enlisted
10 21″ torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 24 torpedoes,
one 4″/50 caliber deck gun,
one 40mm gun,
two .50 cal. machine guns
10 21″ torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 24 torpedoes,
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75 years ago today:
The standard service heavy machinegun in the western world is the vintage 1933 Browning M2. Those who have used them lovingly call this .50-caliber warlord, the “Ma Deuce”. What you may not know is that, on the other side of the fence, the Soviets invented their own equivalent heavy machine gun. Like the ‘Deuce, this Russia design, while officially labeled as the DShK 1938, it is better known to the russ simply as, Dushka.
During World War 1, the German Army introduced the Mauser 13.2mm TuF round, a huge cartridge of more than four inches in length. This elephant round was introduced to kill British tanks that were just then starting to lumber about in No Man’s Land. In 1921 the US Army, with a little help from John Browning, developed the 12.7x99mm BMG round in response, known and loved today as the ’50-cal.’ The Army, however, did not have a gun that fired the round, the 121-pound water-cooled M1921 Heavy Machine Gun, until 1929. At the same time, the German army was secretly developing a new 13mm round that would be used in a new series of heavy aircraft machine guns.
With Soviet military intelligence well aware of both these developments, they pressed for a monster machine gun of their own.
Vasily Degtyaryov, the Russian machine gun maker equivalent of John Browning, was scratching his head in 1930. Over the course of a forty-year career, this Hero of Socialist Labor personally invented no less than seven machine guns of all sizes, from the PPD-40 submachine gun to the PTRD anti-tank rifle. He had studied directly under Vladimir Fyodorov, the man who invented one of the first assault rifles in the world: the Fedorov Avtomat.
Dushka in technical development.
However, as gifted Vasily was, he had an issue with designing a large caliber heavy machine gun. His efforts led to the creation of the DK (Degtyaryov Krupnokalibernyi) in 1930, a huge air-cooled, gas-operated full auto weapon that used the new 12.7x108mm BT-3 round capable of piercing a half-inch or armor plate at 500-meters.
It weighed in at about 75-pounds and fired from a number four, right turn threaded 42.29-inch long barrel with numerous distinctive fins on its surface to dissipate heat. This innovative barrel system saved the gun from having a heavy water jacket to cool it, which made it about 50-pounds lighter than Browning’s M1921 design while firing a slightly larger bullet. A large donut-shaped muzzle break further identifies the weapon. When firing, a pair of spade grips at the rear of the gun provided a control surface. Fed from a 30-round drum atop the receiver, the gun had a nasty of bending cases, jamming, and other issues. In short, the Red Army loved the gun and the ammunition but hated the feed system.
Enter Georgy Shpagin. Twenty years younger than Degtyaryov, Shpagin had also studied under Fyodorov and worked in the same programs as his elders. Shpagin picked up the task of modifying the DK gun while Degtyaryov moved on to other projects. By 1938, he had effectively designed a metal link system of 50-round belts that are pulled left-to-right into the DK gun, spitting out brass and links downward through the receiver. This new gun was labeled the DShK “Krupnokaliberny Pulemet Degtyareva-Shpagina, DShK” (Degtyarev-Shpagin, large caliber) and by 1939 was being produced as part of a new Five Year Plan. This soon became changed in the field to “Dushka,” which is a Russian slang word that roughly means baby or sweetie.
Here we see a great image of one of the six twin Mark 32 Mod 4 5″/38 caliber mounts aboard USS Alaska (CB-1), one of the only two operational battlecruisers (though termed just “large cruisers”) ever to serve in the U.S. Navy. The gun’s lookout is Corporal Osborne Cheek, and in the local control position as mount captain is Platoon Sergeant George W. Ewell. Note the local control ring sight and the binoculars and sound powered telephones worn by Ewell. If the ranks sound odd, that’s because they are not Navy GMs or strikers, but Marines.
Since the days of Tun Tavern, Marines often manned naval guns aboard the ships they were assigned. WWII battleships, carriers, and cruisers were no different. Typically each battleship had one 5-inch mount manned by Marines, as well as other mounts.
As noted by the USS North Carolina museum, the ship’s 84-86 man detachment formed the 7th Division in the Gunnery Department and were very busy.
“The Marine Detachment was in the Gunnery Department. The Marines stood lookout watch and in battle manned 20mm and (provided officers in two) 40mm mounts. (They also manned a 5-inch mount early in the ship’s career.) The Marines also furnished twenty-four hour orderly services to the captain and the executive officer. In port the Marines were responsible for the security of the ship. The Marines helped with provisioning the ship and taking on ammunition. All Marines were trained in ship to shore operations, so in addition to helping with the security of the ship in port, we were prepared to be a landing force when necessary. This was necessary near the end of the war when all Marines in our battle group transferred at sea to attack transports and went into Yokosuka, Japan. This preceded the signing of the peace treaty by several days. The Marine officers stood top gunnery watches, officer of the deck and junior officer of the deck watches, and regularly assisted in summary and general courts martials acting either as the prosecuting or defending officer.” -Captain William Romm, USMC, Marine Detachment North Carolina
When the Navy recommissioned the Iowa-class battleships in the early 1980s, the det was smaller, typically platoon-sized, but they still dedicated a 14-man gun crew to control a designated Mk28 5-inch mount, typically marked with an EGA.
As noted in the below video aboard USS Wisconsin, now a museum ship, the MARDET would rotate between manning their 5-incher, manning the ship’s 8 .50-cal M2 single mounts, and serving with the ship’s reaction force.
Private J.E. McPhee of (Canadian) Seaforth Highlanders, Foiano, Italy, 6 October 1943– 74 years ago today.
A sniper, McPhee is equipped with the excellent Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1 (T). Chosen for accuracy, reworked, rebedded and custom stocked by Holland & Holland, these rifles and their 3.5x fixed scope were considered by many to be the best sniper rifles of the WWII era. The design, reworked in 7.62x51mm NATO in the 1960s, persisted as the L42A1 and remained in service with the British well through the 1990s.
As for the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, they endure today as a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Army based in Vancouver, BC; as a part of 39 Canadian Brigade Group, 3rd Canadian Division. They recently served in Afghanistan, where no doubt their snipers came in very handy.