Category Archives: World War Two

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Nov. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

Here we see a member of the 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” Active-class Coast Guard cutters rushed into completion to deal with bootleggers during Prohibition, the USCGC Alert (WSC-127), as she appeared in 1950 coming back into her homeport at Morro Bay, still largely in her WWII configuration. These choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in times of war and Alert did her part during the conflict.

She is back in the news this week, and not in a good way.

The class

These cutters were intended for trailing the “Blacks,” slow, booze-hauling mother ship steamers of “Rum Row” along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. Constructed for $63,173 each, they originally had a pair of 6-cylinder 150hp Superior or Winton diesel engines that allowed them a stately speed of 10 knots, max, but allowed a 4,000nm, theoretically Atlantic-crossing range– an outstanding benefit for such a small craft.

For armament, they carried a single 3″/23 cal deck gun for warning shots– dated even for the 1920s– as well as a small arms locker that included everything from Tommy guns to .38s and M1903 Springfields. In a time of conflict, it was thought they could tote listening gear and depth charge racks left over from the Great War, but we’ll get to that later.

Taking advantage of one big contract issued on 26 May 1926, they were all built within 12 months by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey (although often listed as “American Brown Boveri” due to their owners at the time, the Swiss Brown Boveri corporation).

Named like the rest of the class in honor of former historic cutters, our craft recycled the moniker long held by the Coast Guard and its preceding Lighthouse Service, Revenue Marine, and Revenue Cutter Services.

A long line of Alerts

The first Alert was a 58-foot, 75-ton schooner built by Christian Bergh of New York in 1818 for $6,000. Constructed of live oak, red cedar, and locust, she spent her career policing waters off New England. She was armed with a 32-pound carronade said by some to have been recovered from the wrecked sixth-rate flush-decked sloop-of-war HMS Hermes

Revenue Cutter Alert (1818)

The second Alert was a larger, 74-foot, 120-ton schooner that entered service in 1829. Carrying six guns– a mix of 12-pounder, 4-pounders, and 3-pounders– she participated in both the Nullification Controversy in 1832 and the Mexican War in addition to the service’s efforts to suppress the illegal slave trade and piracy at sea.

The third Alert (2 x 12 pounders) was also a schooner, purchased from consumer trade in 1855, that was later seized in January 1861 while at the docks in Mobile, Alabama by “state authorities.” Up-armed with a 32-pounder, her career with the Confederate Navy was short, as she was captured by the powerful Merrimack-class screw frigate USS Roanoke the following October and scuttled.

The fourth Alert was a small (40-foot, 10-ton) centerboard sloop that entered service in 1877 and served off the East Coast until 1896, one of the service’s final all-sail-powered vessels.

The fifth Alert was a 62-foot, 19-ton wooden-hulled steam launch acquired by the Revenue Cutter Service in November 1900. She spent seven years on quarantine duties out of Gulfport, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama when her crew transferred to a newly constructed vessel of the same name.

The sixth Alert, a 61-foot, 35-ton steel-hulled steam launch built at Mobile in 1907 was a regular in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound, hauling around National Guard troops to and from the local coastal forts and operating directly under Navy control during the Great War, keeping an eye out for the Kaiser’s submarines. She was sold in 1920 then the subject of our tale, the seventh USCGC Alert, picked up the mantle.

Meet WSC-127

The seventh Alert was placed in commission on 27 January 1927 then proceeded to her first homeport at Boston, “holding sea trials, formation drills, anchorage drills, and gunnery practice en route.” The new cutter continued operating out of Boston as a unit of Division One, Offshore Patrol Force, a Prohibition enforcement unit, until mid-November 1928, when she was ordered to the West Coast, arriving at Oakland in early 1929.

Transiting from New London, Connecticut to California was a 6,000-mile sortie via the Panama Canal that involved not only Alert but her sisterships Bonham, Ewing, Morris, and McLane.

As Prohibition fizzled and the need for Alert to stalk “Blacks” dissolved, her homeport shifted to Ketchikan, Alaska Territory, in May 1931. She would spend the rest of the decade there involved in the Bering Sea Patrol and other enterprises that came with service in the rough and tumble Northern Pacific frontier.

While her homeport changed to Alameda in 1940, she remained on call for Bering Sea patrols as needed. However, war intervened and, after the Coast Guard was shifted to the Navy Department’s control that year, she was assigned to the Navy’s Western Sea Frontier for the conflict.

This saw her armament boosted to include a 40mm Bofors, a pair of 20mm Oerlikons, depth charges, and (eventually) radar and sonar fits. By the end of the war, Hedgehog devices were installed. 

“A Coast Guard Gun Crew On The Alert, 1/6/1943.” The gun is a single 20mm/80 Oerlikon with a 60-round drum mag. USCG photo in the National Archives 26-G-01-06-43(3)

The 125-foot Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors crowding her bow. Alert and her sisters had a similar appearance.

Once the panic of 1941 and 1942 subsided, Alert’s wartime duty along the California coast consisted primarily of keeping an eye peeled for wayward mines and missing aircrews.

125 ft. Active-class “Buck and a Quarters,” via 1946 Janes

Postwar, in 1949 Alert was stationed at Morro Bay, where she would spend a decade and participate in the notable SAR cases of DeVere Baker’s series of Lehi rafts that aimed to make it from the West Coast to Hawaii.

Alert also made the rescue of one Owen H. “Curley” Lloyd, a Bodega Bay commercial fisherman, and his deckhand Manual Texiera, whose 50-foot longliner, Norwhal, was lost following a collision with a whale.

In 1959, then moved to San Diego, where she would finish her career. This concluding chapter in her service– by then Alert had been with the Coast Guard for over four decades– was hectic.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

An estimated 90 percent of her underway time is spent assisting distressed small craft skippers. The remainder is generally allotted to disabled members of San Diego’s commercial fishing fleet. Most of the cutter’s 65 to 70 rescue cases each year emanate within a 25-mile radius of Point Loma. During 1966, three emergencies involving American boatmen necessitated runs along nearly the entire length of Baja California’s 750-mile peninsula. Carrying a crew of three officers and 25 enlisted men, the 290-ton Alert boats a beam of 24-feet. While cruising at 10 knots, she has a range of 2,300 miles. Her twin 400-horsepower diesel engines can develop a top speed of 19 knots.

A former crewman noted that the aforementioned press release was overly optimistic about her top speed. The crewman noted: “Now I spent two tours for a total of 4 years as her radioman back in the late 50s and mid 60s and having been qualified as an underway OOD I can tell you for sure she would not get a kick over 13 kts.”

Alert was decommissioned 10 January 1969 and sold before the year was out to Highland Laboratories of San Francisco for $30,476.19, which was a rather good amount of coin for a well-worn vessel that amounted to about half of her original construction cost.

The eighth Alert was soon to keep the name warm and was commissioned on Coast Guard Day—4 August 1969– while the seventh Alert was still awaiting disposal. That vessel, a 210-foot Reliance-class medium endurance cutter (WMEC-630) is still in service 52 years later!

“U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alert (WMEC 630) sails near Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, while participating in a three-day North American Maritime Security Initiative exercise, March 1, 2020. NAMSI is a tri-national effort by forces of the United States, Canada, and Mexico to improve mutual capacity for operational coordination. U.S. Coast Guard photo.”

Museum failure

The seventh Alert was kept in California for years and was a regular sight along the coast.

As noted by a now-folded Old Cutter Alert website for a group that aimed to make her a museum ship, most of her systems and equipment were still original to 1926 late into her civilian life:

The Alert was purchased from the Coast Guard in 1969 by Highland Film Labs and Mr. Barry Brose signed the receipt for her. The Alert was then maintained in her original Coast Guard condition, which was essentially unchanged from 1945, and was very active in San Francisco Bay maritime activities. The Alert was utilized by the sea scouts for training purposes, and occasionally she made appearances in the news, television shows, and movies.

Since 1990, the Alert sat unused and many of her systems became inoperable. In early 2005, the Cutter Alert Preservation Team, Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed and took over ownership of the Alert, and after eighteen months of overdue maintenance by devoted C.A.P.T. chief engineer Mike Stone, the Alert was once again operable and seaworthy.

A home was finally found for the Alert in the Pacific Northwest, and After a shakedown cruise to the Faralon Islands off the California coast in early 2005, the Alert headed north. This was her first open ocean voyage in over 35 years and other than some rough seas and a balky port engine the voyage was uneventful. After a short stay in Coos Bay and Rainier Oregon, the Alert finally arrived at her final destination… Portland, Oregon.

Alert at Vancouver 2007. Note that she is in her USCG scheme complete with a buff mast and stack with a black cap and insignia. Also, note the (surely deactivated) 40mm Bofors forward.

ex-CGC Alert (WMEC-127), 2012. Note the “Save the Old Alert” banner, covered Bofors (?) and extensive awnings. 

The group had her for well over a decade, then seemed to fold away around 2019, never achieving plans to ensure that:

“The future for the Alert will consist of museum-type tours of the ship and her systems, overnight stays for youth and veterans groups (she has berthing for over thirty-five persons plus three officer’s staterooms); and of course remaining operational to conduct on the water activities as a goodwill ambassador of her home port of Portland, Oregon.”

Since then, parties unknown have slowly stripped her as she left to the homeless with the resulting vandalism that comes with that. She was the location of an encampment dubbed “The Pirates of the Columbia,” by the media and locals that was only rousted out last year– a rare pushback in Portlandia.

Images posted by Cody Parsons online this summer of Alert’s poor condition

Over the past few months, the Coast Guard and DEQ have been removing petroleum, oil, and lubricants on board in preparation to dispose of the now-derelict vessel.

Then, reports surfaced this week that she is now on the bottom.

Via the Nautical History Preservation Society: “It’s with great sadness that we announce the sinking of the Alert. The cause is under investigation, vandalism is under suspicion. The vessel seemed very sound on the crews’ previous visit a few months ago. The NHPS will be holding an emergency board meeting to determine the next steps. We will be posting updates.”

“This exemplifies the broken dreams of many people,” said Scott Smith, emergency response planner for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “[Alert] got into a worse and worse condition.”

It is a shame.

The rest of the story with the Buck and a Quarters

As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they all served during the war, and two, Jackson (WSC-142) and Bedloe (WSC-128), were heroically lost in the 14 September 1944 hurricane off Cape Hatteras while aiding a torpedoed tanker.

These pint-sized warships were regular players on the frozen Greenland Patrol fighting the Germans in the “Weather War,” served as guard ships in places as diverse as Curacao and the Aleutians, were credited with at least one submarine kill, and performed air-sea rescue duties. Ten were refitted as buoy/net tenders during the war and reverted to patrol work afterward while two served as training ships.

Boston: “125 ft CGC cutter LEGARE (WSC-144) which fought 20-40 foot waves to take a 79-foot fishing vessel MARMAX in tow, is now proceeding to her home port, New Bedford”

The last example in commission, USCGC Cuyahoga (WPC/WSC/WIX-157), was tragically lost in 1978 in a collision while working as the OCS training ship at Yorktown.

Photo of Cuyahoga in the 1970s in its role as an Officer Candidate School training vessel, in white livery with the now-traditional racing stripe. U.S. Coast Guard photo

With her service to the country over with, Tiger–a Pearl Harbor veteran– later made the Pacific Northwest in her civilian life and by the 1960s was a coastal tug with Northland Marine Lines of Seattle, under the name Cherokee and later Polar Merchant. Her sister USCGC Bonham (WPC/WSC-129) worked alongside her as Polar Star.

Previously USCGC Bonham (WSC-129) as tug Polar Star. This cutter went through the Panama Canal in 1929 with Alert on their 6,000nm trip from East to West Coast.

Remaining active until at least 2012, Tiger/Polar Merchant was sold in poor condition to the Tyee Marina in Tacoma Washington where she was stripped, stuffed with styrofoam, and installed as a breakwater.

Still located at Tyree with everything above the deck removed, Tiger remains afloat and is one of the few surviving warships that was present at Pearl Harbor on that Infamous Day. Her hulk is moored next to the museum ship USS Wampanoag/USCGC Comanche (ATA/WMEC-202).

Another sister ship that sailed with Alert through the Panama Canal in 1929, ex-USCGC Morris (WSC/WMEC-147), like Alert, has been bopping around the West Coast in a series of uses since the 1970s including as a training ship with the Sea Scouts and as a working museum ship in Sacramento.

USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) late in her career. Note her 40mm Bofors forward, which was fitted in 1942. (USCG photo)

We wrote how she was for sale on Craigslist for $90K in 2019, in decent shape.

Now, she has been saved, again.

The Vietnam War Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, announced in May that they have officially taken the title of the historic ship intending to continue her operations, and have been slowly moving her to the Gulf.

Small victories for small ships…


Displacement: 232 tons
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 7.5 ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder, 150 hp Winton diesels (300hp total), twin screws
Speed: 10 knots, max
Range: 4,000 nm at 7 knots, cruise, with 6,800 gals of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 2 officers, 20 men
1 × 3″/23 caliber gun forward, small arms

Displacement: 320 tons (full load)
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 9 ft
Propulsion: twin 400HP General Motors 268a 2-cycle diesel engines, (800hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gals of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 5 officers, 41 men
Sensors: QCN-2 sonar, SO-9 radar
1 × 40 mm/60 (single), forward
2 × 20 mm/70 (single), wings (removed 1950s)
2 × depth charge tracks, stern (removed 1950s)
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward (removed 1950s)

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Just Linda doing her part

The lovely lady taking a tour of what seems to be a P-38 Lightning, possibly at Lockheed’s Burbank plant circa 1943, has all the looks of a film noir femme fatal.

Well, that’s because she is Linda Darnell, an oft-forgotten tragic starlet of the 1940s and 50s.

In the 1949 movie A Letter to Three Wives, when told ​“If I was you, I’d show more of what I got. Maybe wear something with beads,” Linda replied, ​“What I got don’t need beads.”

During WWII, Ms. Darnell, described by Hollywood flacks as the “girl with the perfect face,” did her part for the war effort with a series of tours, Bond drives, lunch with returning GIs, and the like while at the height of her popularity in Zorro films, swashbuckling pirate movies, Westerns, and action adventures of the kind that the Joes and Bluejackets overseas delighted in watching to take their mind off the war.

She also was a featured pin-up in Yank magazine in 1944.

Linda Darnell – Yank Pin Up May 12, 1944

This, naturally, translated to ending up as nose art on Navy and Air Force planes.

A P-38, ironically, with the Yank profile of Ms. Darnell.

U.S. Navy PB4Y-2 “Privateer” Patrol Bomber Squadron VPB-118 “The Old Crows.” Crew 8 in front of BuNo 59380, “Summer Storm.” The “Summer Storm” nose art, based on Linda Darnell pinup art, was painted just before a B-29 lost power and crashed into her, destroying her (amazingly there were no fatalities). When Crew 3 went MIA they were flying Crew 8’s replacement plane, 59449. U.S. Navy Photo (Photo print courtesy of Guy Jones, son of Harold Jones; notes courtesy of Jack Leonard) Via 

Sadly, Ms. Darnell died the day after she suffered burns over 90 percent of her body in an Illinois house fire in 1965, aged just 41.

Tombstones and mud

Venafro, Italy. November 1943: An “American engineer gun crew” is shown entrenching an M1921 Browning-designed water-cooled heavy machine gun near the Volturno River.

L. to Right: Pfc. Joe Hicks, N.Y.C., Pvt. Harlan Stout, of Elizabeth, Tenn., Pvt. Frank Kennedy, of Smithville, Ill. and in the background, Pvt. Joe Lynch, Indianapolis, Ind., with shovel.

Made by Colt in Connecticut, the M1921 is being fed with big “Tombstone” boxes capable of holding 200 belted .50 caliber BMG rounds, typically seen used on other large-format .50s such as the M-45 Maxon quad mount, M-33 twin Mount, and M-63AA mount.

For a frame of reference, the M1921 weighed 79 pounds (without water or ammo) and 121 on its pedestal mount with three horizontal legs.

Intended originally as an AAA weapon, such guns, when dug in like the top image, also proved big medicine against ground attacks by troops in the open.

Cat Stands the Dog Watch

For reference, National Cat Day 2021 is today (29 October) so I went meta to get a historical image of a cat and kittens in a Cat(alina).

Original caption: 19 June 1945. A cat may look at a king, as well as a ride herd with a PBY air-sea rescue unit. “Salty,” mascot of the San Diego Coast Guard Air Station, introduced her kittens to the dramatic side of the sea-serve life early. When they were a month old, “Salty” stowed away with them on a PBY before it took off to rescue a flyer down at sea off San Diego. Chief O. W. Dybedel, shown here, found the additions to the crew when the plane returned to port with the rescued flyer. “Salty”, believed to be the first cat to participate in a Coast Guard offshore plane rescue, is the black, gray, and white pet of Katherine Martin, SK3C, at the Coast Guard San Diego Base.

Note the Chief’s distressed G1 flight jacket, and properly “crushed” cap complete with USCG shield and anchor cap badge. Also, observe that this is a posed picture taken on the ramp as the hangar is visible out of the blister window. USCG Photo. NARA image 26-G-4867

According to the Coast Guard Aviation Association, the first (of 114) PBY-5A/6A “Catalina” obtained by the Coast Guard, V189, was purchased from the Navy in the spring of 1941. They soon served from Greenland– where an all-Coast Guard patrol squadron of nine PBYs, VP-6 CG, operated– and along the Atlantic Coast on ASW and patrol duty as well as in the Pacific to supply isolated LORAN stations.

“Eyes of the Arctic,” 9.26.1944 Coast Guard PBY Greenland  NARA 026-g-024-006-001

Coast Guard Catalina: mailbag being transferred from a PBY to a Loran station in the Pacific circa 1949

In December 1942, the Navy established its’ first Air Sea Rescue Squadron at Air Station San Diego, with an all USCG-manned Catalina unit, of which Chief Dybedel is likely assigned.

Coast Guard Air-Rescue-marked PBY in a Full Stall Landing, June 1945. NARA 026-g-023-042-001

The last USCG PBY was retired in 1956, replaced by the smaller but more efficient UF-2G (HU-16E) Albatross.

Mountain Gun Surfaces in the Jungle

What looks to be a Japanese Type 41 75mm Mountain Gun was recently unearthed by locals on Tarakan East Borneo/Kalimantan.

While the recoil mechanism is rusted through, the tube itself looks to be in comparatively good shape judging by the rifling.

Light at just 1,200-pounds with its carriage, and easy to move around by human power if needed, the Type 41 was a license-built copy of the Krupp M1908 mountain gun produced at the Osaka Arsenal. Although a dated design, it still proved very useful to the Emperor’s foot soldiers in remote jungle and atoll fighting. 

Japanese Type 41 75mm Mountain Gun captured by Marines

Firing a 12~ pound shell, they had an effective maximum range out to about 8,000 yards. For easy transport in rough areas, it could be disassembled into six loads and fastened to pack saddle.

From the looks of it, the gun was likely abandoned in place and/or buried just before or after VJ Day.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021: The Navy’s Here

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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. 27, 2021: The Navy’s Here

Imperial War Museum Photo FL 1657

Here we see the Royal Navy Tribal (Afridi)-class destroyer HMS Cossack (L03, F03 & G03) underway just after her completion in the summer of 1938. Today is the 80th anniversary of the vessel’s loss, but she had the heart of a lion and got in some good licks against the Axis in her short WWII career.

Background on the Tribals

The Afridi‘s were a new type of destroyer designed for the Royal Navy in the late 1920s off experience both in the Great War and to match the large, modern escorts on the drawing boards of contemporary naval rivals of the time.

The Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Huron (G24), in dazzle camouflage, sailing out to sea during the Second World War during one of her countless trans-Atlantic escorting runs. The Tribal-class destroyer, commissioned on July 28,1943, also served in the Pacific theatre during the Korean War under the new pennant number 216.

These 378-foot vessels could make 36+ knots on a pair of geared steam turbines and a trio of Admiralty three-drum boilers while an impressive battery of up to eight 4.7″/45 (12 cm) QF Mark XII guns in four twin CPXIX mountings gave them the same firepower as early WWI light cruisers (though typically just three turrets were mounted).

Gun crew on Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Algonquin cleaning up their 4.7″/45 (12 cm) Mark XII guns after firing at the Normandy Beaches on 7 June 1944. Note that the crewman kneeling in the rear is holding a 4.7″ (12 cm) projectile. Library and Archives Canada Photograph MIKAN no. 3223884

Some 32 Afridi‘s were planned in eight-ship flights: 16 for the RN (named after tribal warriors: HMS Eskimo, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu, et. al), eight for the Royal Australian Navy, and eight for the Canadians. Of the Canadian ships, four were to be built by Vickers in the UK and the other four by Halifax shipyards in Nova Scotia. All the Canadian ships were to be named after First Nations tribes (Iroquois, Athabaskan, Huron, Haida, Micmac, Nootka, Cayuga, etc.)

An unidentified Tribal class destroyer in profile

Meet Cossack

The subject of our tale, HMS Cossack, was laid down at Vickers- Armstrong 9 March 1936– the week Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland– and commissioned 7 June 1938, some three months after his Anschluss annexation of Austria. She was the sixth RN warship to carry the name, which had been introduced in 1806 when the 6th-Rate sloop Pandour was renamed. As such, she carried two previous Battle Honours forward (“Baltic 1835” and “Dover Patrol 1914-19.” Still, as the Royal Navy had fought the Bolsheviks on several fronts during the Russian Civil War only a generation prior, it was an odd choice of name.

Assigned the pennant L03, she became part of the 1st Tribal Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean where she pitched in on the international patrols during the Spanish Civil War in between Fleet exercises.

In April 1939, the Tribal Flotilla was reflagged as the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, resulting in a change of her pennant to F03.

When WWII broke out, she was with the battleship HMS Warspite at Istanbul and was soon part of convoys escorting French colonial troops from North Africa to Marseilles. By October 1939, she and her flotilla were ordered to the British Isles for Home Fleet duties in the North Sea, primarily enforcing the blockade of Germany to prevent that nation’s huge fleet of merchant ships left at sea around the world from returning home with their precious cargo.

This leads us to…

Troßschiff Altmark

One of the five Dithmarschen-class of 20,000-ton specialized tanker/supply ships built at Kiel for naval service between 1937 and 1939, Altmark could carry 7,933 tons of fuel, 972 tons of munitions, 790 tons of supplies, and 100 tons of spare parts for German surface raiders. The class was also well-armed and considered capable of being auxiliary cruisers, carrying three 150mm L48s as well as a variety of 37mm and 20mm flak guns.

Altmark’s sister ship, USS Conecuh (AOR-110), photographed in 1953-1956. She was originally the German navy replenishment oiler KMS Dithmarschen, built in 1938, and turned over as a war prize in 1946. She was stricken from the Naval Register on 1 June 1960. NARA 80-G-678091

On the outbreak of war, Altmark was at sea in the Atlantic and met with the commerce-raiding “pocket battleship” KMS Graf Spee on 1 September to transfer vital fuel stores. Over the next four months, under the control of her skipper, 66-year-old Capt. Heinrich Dau, she would meet Spee nine times at sea and trade supplies for prisoners that the raider had captured under gentlemanly “cruiser rules,” meeting Spee on 6 December for the final time.

After Spee was scuttled in Uruguay on 17 December after being run to ground by a trio of fearless cruisers, Altmark was left alone at sea with 299 captured Commonwealth merchant seamen aboard. Rather than blow her cover and parole them in a neutral port, the huge tanker somehow eluded the Royal Navy and made it back to Northern Europe, threading the needle to appear in the territorial waters of neutral Norway by mid-February 1940.

As Altmark had ditched her larger guns and changed her topside appearance several times, the mystery ship, passing herself at first as the French tanker Chirqueue, was granted grudging Norwegian permission to pass from Trondheim, where she first arrived. Soon the call went out and, after being directed by RAF Hudsons of 220 Squadron that had spotted the German, the British made a move.

Altmark, hiding out in Norway

On 16 February, Cossack– with a task force consisting of the cruiser HMS Arethusa and the destroyers Intrepid, Sikh, Nubian, and Ivanhoe— intercepted Altmark in an attempt to force her out of Norwegian territorial waters, firing a shot across her bow. However, the tanker instead slipped into a narrow inlet in Jossingfiord, effectively trapped.

Meanwhile, the neutral Norwegians only raised protests but did not actively defend Altmark, although the armed torpedo boats HNoMS Skarv and Kjell were on hand.

Following several hours of negotiations with the Norwegians to (kind of) allow a single ship to inspect Altmark and Cossack, under Capt. Philip Louis Vian, was sent in. Creeping close and according to some reports, getting lost in the fjord at night, Cossack drew close to the German tanker and LCDR B.T. Turner led the 32-man (4 officers and 28 ratings) boarding force aboard, armed with rifles and bayonets and at least one cutlass, purportedly the last combat use of that weapon in Royal Navy history.

Wilkinson, Norman; HMS ‘Cossack’ and the Prison Ship ‘Altmark’, 16 February 1940; National Maritime Museum;

Altmark tried to fight back, with Capt. Dau ordering spotlights to blind the Cossack’s bridge and engines astern to ram the oncoming destroyer. In a confused action that saw the boarding party leap across the gap between the two ships, and several Germans killed and wounded (reports vary, with the better ones citing from 8 killed and 5 wounded in exchange for no British losses), the tanker was seized and grounded.

A hatch was opened and a call– attributed to Warrant Officer John James Frederick Smith, who won the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 16 February-– was made; “Are there any Englishmen down there?”

Following a loud response, the prisoners were told; “Then come up. The Navy’s here.”

In all, from empty shell rooms, fuel tanks, and storerooms, some 297 British mariners were found while two merchant captains (Brown and Starr) were located in a double cabin aft. The men had been on a bread and water diet and came from at least seven ships. Elsewhere on the ship, “timebombs” were found set to explode as were two concealed “pom-poms,” three 6-inch guns, and four machine guns, none of which were brought into action.

While Cossack suffered slight damage to her bows in closing with the prison ship and her port propeller cracked, Altmark was hard aground and could not be seized as a prize for return to Britain. Instead, her prisoners were liberated, and the German was left in place.

The next day, the released prisoners were landed at Leith with substantial press coverage, a delightful distraction from the “Phony War” then going on in France.

HMS Cossack returns to Leith on 17 February 1940 after rescuing the British prisoners held in Graf Spees’s supply ship Altmark. IWM

Vain earned a DSO, issued 12th April 1940: 
Captain Philip Louis Vian, Royal Navy, H.M.S. Cossack;
for outstanding ability, determination and resource in the preliminary dispositions which led to the rescue of 300 English prisoners from the German Armed Auxiliary Altmark, and for daring, leadership and masterly handling of his ship in narrow waters so as to bring her alongside and board the enemy, who tried to blind him with the glare of a searchlight, worked his engine full ahead and full astern, tried to ram him and drive him ashore and so threatened the grounding and loss of Cossack

While the Norwegians lodged toothless official protests with London, the Germans later used the Altmark incident as part of their excuse to invade that Scandinavian neutral, saying the Allies had no intent to recognize said neutrality and the country needed some extra Teutonic protection.

Goebbels also launched an over-the-top propaganda broadside over the “Crime against the Altmark,” painting the British tars of the Cossack as bloodthirsty pirates murdering honest and defenseless German mariners with dum-dum bullets while flouting Norwegian sovereignty, all while leaving out the tanker’s own role as a prison ship for a notorious commerce raider.

The German propaganda booklet surpassed a half-million copies in print.

The rest of Cossack’s War

Sent back to Norway in April to blunt the German invasion of that country, Cossack was damaged at the Second Battle of Narvik, running around and suffering serious damage that required two weeks of local repair under enemy pressure. In that destroyer-on-destroyer clash, she suffered 11 killed and 23 of the ship’s company wounded but got licks in on the KMS Eric Giese (Z12) and KMS Diether von Roeder (Z17).

She received eight direct hits and one near miss from German 5-inch guns, keeping afloat due to skilled damage control.

HMS Cossack damage control lessons learned poster after Narvik

On 5 May, while under repair, her pennant shifted to G03.

Rejoining the 4th Flotilla in June 1940 after more permanent repairs that included installing a Type 286 gunnery radar, she stood by for the expected invasion of Britain following the Fall of France.

Once that threat dissipated, Cossack was sent towards Norway again in October with classmates HMS Ashanti, HMS Sikh, and HMS Maori to harass German maritime traffic and received a shell hole in her while attacking a convoy off Egersund.

On Board the Destroyer HMS Cossack during Torpedo and Anti-submarine Exercises. 1940. Captain Vian (in the center) of Altmark fame, on the bridge during exercises. Note the Lewis gun. Photo by Beadell, S J (Lt). IWM A 1595

Pluto the dog, the mascot of HMS Cossack stood on the lap of one of the ship’s company as a group of them pose during torpedo and anti-submarine exercises Photo by Beadell, S J (Lt). IWM A 1598

A view from the other side of the above

Further operations were more mundane until, in late May, she and the rest of the 4th Flotilla were dispatched to join the urgent “Hunt for the Bismarck,” which had its endgame on the 27th when she, along with HMS Maori and Zulu, carried out close torpedo attacks on the feared German battlewagon.

Painting made in 1942 by artist Walter Zeeden depicting Captain Vian’s destroyer, Cossack, engaged by the Bismarck during the night of 26-27 May 1941. Via KBismarck

Supposedly, in a great sea story, her crew managed to recover a black and white cat found afloat in the Bismarck’s wreckage. Unaware of what the stray name of said Katze had been on Bismarck, the crew of Cossack termed their new mascot “Oscar” after the term for the dummy used in man overboard drills.

Then came coastal convoy protection from German E-boats operating from occupied France and, in October 1941, an assignment with her flotilla sisters to join Operation Substance, the reinforcement of Malta’s embattled garrison.

While just out of Gibraltar as part of convoy HG 075 on 23 October, Cossack was hit by a torpedo from the Type VIIC U-boat U-563 (Oblt. Klaus Bargsten), which was operating with Wolfpack Breslau. With massive flooding and the loss of 158 men, the destroyer was abandoned. However, the battered tin can remained afloat and, reoccupied by a 27-strong salvage crew, she was taken under tow by HM Tug Thames under escort from the corvette Jonquil.

Sadly, the damage proved too much and four days later, still short of Gibraltar, she foundered in rough weather. While her salvage crew was taken off safely, Cossack went to the bottom at 1043 on 27 October in position 35.12N 08.17W.

Her death was avenged in May 1943 when U-563 was sent to the bottom with all hands by RAF and RAAF Halifax and Sutherland aircraft off Spain. 


Cossack is remembered primarily for her role in the Altmark incident, an engagement that has been retold in maritime art several times.

HMS Cossack, by Anthony Cowland.

HMS Cossack comic by Jim Watson. Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant cover, dated 13 August 1977.

Cossack at Narvik April 1940 by Rudenko

She has also been reproduced in model format off and on over the past several decades.

Her skipper during the Altmark incident also survived the war, later rising to become the commander in charge of air operations of the British Pacific Fleet in the final push against Japan, and went on to become Fifth Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Philip Louis Vian GCB, KBE, DSO & Two Bars. Among the foreign decorations held by the “Fighting Admiral” was St. Olav’s Medal With Oak Branch, given to him by the Norwegians after the war to show there were no hard feelings. He died in 1968 on dry land at his home in Berkshire, aged 73.

Sir Philip Louis Vian by Walter Stoneman, bromide print, December 1942. NPG x76877

Speaking of Altmark, she was renamed Uckermark and returned to Kriegsmarine service including supporting Operation Berlin, the early 1941 anti-shipping sortie of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and being assigned twice (unsuccessfully) to back up Graf Spee’s sistership, the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. Sent to the Far East with “Raider H,” the auxiliary cruiser HSK Michel— the last operative German raider of World War II– Altmark/Uckermark ended in a column of smoke in an unexplained explosion in Yokohama in November 1942.

During her Indo-Pacific deployment in November 2021, an honor guard from the German frigate Bayern went ashore at Yokohama to lay a wreath and flag at the memorial for the Uckermark’s lost crew, killed in the 1942 explosion.

Another famed German survivor, the seasick cat Oscar was supposedly rescued when Cossack was initially abandoned off Gibraltar and picked up on a Carley Float with a handful of her crew by the L-class destroyer HMS Legion and all were later transferred to the carrier HMS Ark Royal. Amazingly, Ark Royal was sunk just two weeks later off Malta but Oscar, renamed “Unsinkable Sam,” somehow escaped meeting Davy Jones for the third time and was retired to shoreside service in Gibraltar and, postwar, to the old sailor’s home in Belfast where he reportedly passed in 1955, a German cat with lots of tales to tell, no doubt.

Oscar/Sam’s legend, which is likely more sea yarn than anything else, nonetheless resulted in a portrait that is now hung at Greenwich for the believe it or not crowd.

Oscar, the Bismarck’s Cat by Georgina Shaw-Baker National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

Greenwich also sells prints of Cossack’s plans. 

The Royal Navy used Cossack’s name for a sixth time, issuing it to a C-class destroyer (D57) that became leader of the 8th Destroyer Squadron in 1945, fought in close actions in Korea, and was broken up in 1961 after a career in the Far East.

For more details on Cossack, visit the HMS Cossack Association, which has a range of information about the famous ships that have carried the name.

As for our Cossack’s Tribal-class sisters, no less than 12 of the 16 Tribals in British service were lost during WWII and the remaining quartet were all paid off by 1949. All the Tribals in Canadian service were sold to the breakers by 1969. The three Australian ships that were completed (five were canceled) likewise were turned to razor blades.

The only Tribal that remains afloat is HMCS Haida which was preserved and opened as a museum ship in 1965. Please visit her if you get a chance.

Haida (Parks Canada)


1,891 long tons (1,921 t) (standard)
2,519 long tons (2,559 t) (deep load)
Length: 377 ft (114.9 m) (o/a)
Beam: 36 ft 6 in (11.13 m)
Draught: 11 ft 3 in (3.43 m)
Installed power:
3 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers
44,000 shp (33,000 kW)
Propulsion 2 × shafts; 2 × geared steam turbines
Speed 36 knots
Range 5,700 nmi at 15 knots
Complement: 190
Sensors: (1941) ASDIC, Type 268M radar
4 × twin 4.7 in (120 mm) guns
1 × quadruple 2-pdr AA guns
2 × quadruple .50 cal Vickers anti-aircraft machineguns
1 × quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes
20-50 depth charges, 1 × rack, 2 × throwers

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

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

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

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The Devil’s Own, Fighting All-Comers

1 September 1943: The Tommy gun-toting “Devil’s Own” a group of salty Australians of 2/5th Infantry Bn (6 Australian Division), who helped drive the Japanese from Mount Tambu, clearing the way for the advance on Salamaua, Papua New Guinea.

Left to Right (Back) Corporal Don Mather of South Yarra, Vic, Pte. Frank Mcgreevy of Redbank, Qld, Pte Frank Townsend, of Box Hill, Vic, Pte Eddie Watkins of Grafton, NSW, Pte Jim Mcgovern of Richmond, SA, Front Pte Ron Miller of Merino. Victoria, Pte. Walter Dudley, of Woy Woy, NSW and, Pte. Arthur Wallin of Seymour, Victoria. (AWM Photo 015639

Formed in Melbourne on 18 October 1939, the Diggers of 2/5th Battalion left for the Middle East early the next year– arriving in time to fight at Bardia and Tobruk before a “vacation” in Greece and fighting the Vichy French in Syria. Shipped back home to defend Australia after the Japanese entered the war, they landed at Milne Bay, in Papua, in early October 1942 and remained engaged against the Empire until VJ Day, most of it in the triple canopied mountains along the Torricelli and Prince Alexander ranges.

Disbanded at Puckapunyal in early February 1946, 2/5 had fought the French, Germans, Italians, and Japanese– across three continents– during the course of its short existence.

Cross of Lorraine

76 years ago today, while the Navy was fighting off the last major sortie of the Japanese fleet in the Philipines, the ground war in Europe was slogging away.

Battered but happy Soldiers of the 79th “Cross of Lorraine” Infantry Division, enjoying some Luckies on their way to a rest camp after being relieved from combat near Laneuveville, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France.

Left to right; Pfc. Arthur Henry Muth, Sergeant Carmine Robert Sileo, and Sergeant Kelly C. Lasalle. October 25, 1944. Note the e-tool, bayonets, skrim covers on their M1 helmets, carbine pouch on Muth, and M1 pouches on Sileo, map case and binos on Lasalle. Photo via NARA

Ordered into active military service 15 June 1942 at Camp Pickett, Virginia, Maj. Gen. Ira T. Wyche (USMA 1907) in command, the 79th landed at on Utah Beach on Normandy on D+6 and spent the next 248 days in combat through Northern France with the Third Army then the Ardennes and into Central Europe with the Seventh Army, including several spates of brutal house-to-house fighting.

You are now entering Germany, courtesy of the 79th Inf. Div

The 79th suffered 15,203 battle casualties as well as 8,582 non-battle casualties, 166.5% of their TOE strength, ending the war at Recklinghausen, Westphalia.

Stirling BK716, remembered

This impressive– and haunting– monument was unveiled last week in Almere, Holland, for the seven aircrew who lost their lives in the crash of Short Stirling Bomber BK716 HA-J of No. 218 (Gold Coast) Squadron (RAF) after a mission to Berlin during World War ll.

The monument is partly made with the engine of the bomber that was salvaged from the Markermeer.

Picture by: Embassy of Canada to the Netherlands

More on BK716 and the recovery of her crewmen last year, below.

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman, and his .45

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, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman and his .45

With this month marking the Navy’s 246th Birthday, the 79th anniversary of the loss of USS Hornet (CV-8) at the Battle of Santa Cruz (a ship commissioned 80 years ago today), and the 77th anniversary of the loss of USS Princeton (CVL-22) in the Philippine Sea, I’m breaking from our typical Warship Wednesday format to bring you the story of a Colt Government model in the Navy’s archives and the resilient young officer who carried it.

The below pistol itself at first glance would seem to be an otherwise ordinary M1911A1 Colt Military, martial marked “US Army” and “United States Property” along with the correct inspector’s marks. The serial number, No.732591, falls within Colt’s circa 1941 production range.

Accession #: NHHC 1968-141 (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

We often say, “if only a gun could talk,” but in this case, the voyage through history that the above .45ACP took is well-documented.

Also joining the fleet in 1941 was Ensign Victor Antoine Moitoret, a Californian who was admitted to the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1937 and graduated with the Class of ’41.

Moitoret’s first ship was the brand-new aircraft carrier USS Hornet, which he joined three months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ushered America into World War II.

Moitoret served as an assistant navigator on Hornet during the flattop’s secret mission to carry the Doolittle Raiders to bomb Tokyo in 1942— possibly best remembered among today’s youth as the third act of Jerry Bruckheimer’s 2001 film “Pearl Harbor”– and was also aboard the carrier for the massive naval victory at Midway (where Hornet was something of a mystery).

Flanked by torpedo boat escorts, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942, just five weeks before the Battle of Midway. (Photo: U.S. National Archives 80-G-16865)

When Hornet was irreparably damaged by enemy torpedo and dive bombers during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942, Moitoret was armed with the above pistol while serving as the carrier’s Officer of the Deck on the bridge. The young officer still had it buckled around his waist when he was pulled out of the ocean more than two hours after Hornet went to the bottom in 17,500 feet of water off the Solomon Islands, carrying 140 sailors with her.

Moitoret’s pistol belt, consisting of an M1936 Belt, M1918 Magazine Pocket, and russet leather M1916 Holster. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Two years later, Moitoret, with his relic of the lost Hornet still with him, was a lieutenant aboard the new light carrier USS Princeton, fighting to liberate the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

USS Princeton (CVL-23) steaming at 20 knots off Seattle, Washington, 3 January 1944. Moitoret was a plankowner of the new flattop, which had originally been laid down as the Cleveland-class light cruiser Tallahassee (CL-61) (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Historical Center. Catalog #: NH 95651)

In October 1944– almost two years to the day that Hornet was lost– Moitoret was on the bridge of Princeton when the ship was hit by a Japanese bomb and was wounded by shrapnel from the resulting explosion.

According to his Silver Star citation for that day, Moitoret “remained on board for a period of seven hours, fighting fires, maintaining communication with other ships in the area, preserving confidential publications and obtaining all available lengths of fire hose for use where most needed.”

Leaving his second sinking aircraft carrier, Moitoret reportedly kissed the hull of Princeton before boarding a whaleboat, one of the last men off the stricken ship.

After the war, he remained in the Navy through the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring in 1972 at the rank of Captain. On 30 May 1999, while aged 80, he delivered the Memorial Day Address to the assembled cadets at Annapolis, continuing to serve as a proud link in the long blue line up to the very end.

Moitoret died in 2005 and is buried at Fort Bayard National Cemetery in New Mexico, next to his wife, Rowena, and son, Alan.

His well-traveled sidearm and pistol belt are in the collection of the NHHC, held in the Headquarters Artifact Collection

As noted by the Navy,

“The central theme of this year’s 246th Navy Birthday and Heritage week is ‘Resilient and Ready,’ which speaks to the Navy’s history of being able to shake off disaster, such as the loss of a ship or a global pandemic, and still maintain force lethality and preparedness. It allows the messaging to showcase readiness, capabilities, capacity, and of course the Sailor—all while celebrating our glorious victories at sea and honoring our shipmates who stand and have stood the watch.”

Happy Birthday, Navy, and a slow hand salute to Capt. Moitoret.

Back to our regular Warship Wednesday format next week.

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International
They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. 
The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.
With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.
PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.
I’m a member, so should you be!

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