Category Archives: World War Two

Warship Wednesday, March 8, 2023: USS FBI

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 8, 2023: USS FBI

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 106576

Above we see the Bogue-class escort carrier USS Block Island (CVE-21), photographed from a blimp of squadron ZP-14 underway on her first ASW hunter-killer cruise, seen off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on 15 October 1943. Arranged on her flight deck are a dozen TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo planes and nine F4F/FM Wildcat fighters of Fleet Composite Squadron 1 (VC-1) — big medicine for such a small flattop. Commissioned just six months prior on 8 March 1943– 80 years ago today– Block Island would have a bright if an unsung career in the Battle of the Atlantic, although she would not live to see it conclude.

About the Bogues

With both Great Britain and the U.S. running desperately short of flattops in the first half of World War II, and large, fast fleet carriers taking a while to crank out, a subspecies of light and “escort” carriers, the first created from the hulls of cruisers, the second from the hulls of merchant freighters, were produced in large numbers to put a few aircraft over every convoy and beach in the Atlantic and Pacific.

Of the more than 122 escort carriers produced in the U.S. for use by her and her Allies, some 45 were of the Bogue class. Based on the Maritime Commission’s Type C3-S-A1 cargo ship hull, these were built in short order at Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation, Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, and by the Western Pipe and Steel Company of San Francisco.

Some 496 feet overall with a 439-foot flight deck, these 16,200-ton ships could only steam at a pokey 16 ish knots sustained speed, which negated their use in fleet operations but allowed them to more than keep up with convoys of troop ships and war supplies. Capable of limited self-defense with four twin Bofors and up to 35 20mm Oerlikons for AAA as well as a pair of 5-inch guns for defense against small boats, they could carry as many as 28 operational aircraft in composite air wings. They were equipped with two elevators, Mk 4 arresting gear, and a hydraulic catapult.

Most of the Bogue class (34 of 45) went right over to the Royal Navy via Lend-Lease, where they were known as the Ameer, Attacker, Ruler, or Smiter class in turn, depending on their arrangement. However, the U.S. Navy did keep 11 of the class for themselves (USS Bogue, Card, Copahee, Core, Nassau, Altamaha, Barnes, Breton, Croatan, Prince William, and our very own Block Island), all entering service between September 1942 and June 1943.

Meet Block Island

Oddly enough, our little carrier was not the first named after the sound that lies east of Long Island, N.Y. and south of Rhode Island. The Navy ordered an early Bouge class aircraft escort vessel, AVG-8, under a Maritime Commission contract (M.C. Hull 161) on 12 May 1941 at Ingalls in Pascagoula, and issued her the name USS Block Island on 3 February 1942. However, the name was canceled the following month as the hull was allocated to the Royal Navy who in turn would launch her as HMS Trailer, then HMS Hunter (D 80), and bring her into service under Admiralty orders in January 1943.

HMS Trailer, ex-USS Block Island (ACV-8), later HMS Hunter (D80), location unknown, 14 January 1943, likely in the Gulf of Mexico. Via ONI Division of Naval Intelligence, Identification and Characteristics Section, June 1943.

Our subject, the second Block Island, the first to see commissioned U.S. Navy service, was AVG-21, M.C. Hull 237, laid down on the other side of the country at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation Yard on 19 January 1942. She was named USS Block Island on 19 March 1942– the same day the Pascagoula Block Island had her name canceled, then was reclassified as an auxiliary aircraft carrier (ACV-21) and subsequently commissioned on 8 March 1943. As such, she was the eighth of 11 Bogues brought into U.S. service.

Her first skipper, Capt. Logan Carlisle Ramsey (USNA 1919), had made his spot in history already when, on the staff of PATWINGTWO at Ford Island on 7 December 1941, had ordered the famous “Air Raid Pearl Harbor! This is No Drill!” flash message.

Block Island in the final stages of fitting out, at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation Yard, Seattle, Washington, circa March 1943. 19-N-42715

A series of incredible images exist of her just before commissioning.

On trials, circa March 1943. View directly astern. 19-N-42712

On trials, circa March 1943. Bow-on view. 19-N-42702

Close-up view of her island area, taken circa March 1943. 19-N-42693 A

On trials, circa March 1943. Broadside view, starboard. 19-N-42693

On trials, circa March 1943. Starboard side, off the bow. 19-N-42699

On trials, circa March 1943. Port side, off the bow. 19-N-42698

On trials, circa March 1943. Starboard side, off the stern. 19-N-42703

Shuttle work

Soon after delivery and an abbreviated shakedown, the new carrier was rushed to the Atlantic where she was urgently needed to tackle the persistent U-boat threat. Picking up the Wildcats and Avengers of Composite Squadron (VC) 25 in San Diego in April, she would arrive in Norfolk via the Panama Canal in early June, where VC-25 would go ashore.

Sailing for Staten Island in July, she took aboard deck and hangar cargo in the form of brand new USAAF P-47D-5 Thunderbolts and rushed them, partially disassembled, to Belfast.

P-47s lashed on the flight deck of USS Block Island (CVE 21). The aircraft is on the forward end of the flight deck, July 13, 1943. 80-G-77750

P-47s lashed on the flight deck of USS Block Island (CVE 21). Viewed from the bridge, looking aft, July 15, 1943. 80-G-77752

USS Block Island (CVE-21). Army P-47-D5 fighters on the ship’s hangar deck, for shipment to Europe, on 15 July 1943. Taken in New York City. 80-G-77754

Unloading P-47s from USS Block Island (CVE 21) at Belfast, North Ireland, July 27, 1943. 80-G-77756

Unloading P-47s from USS Block Island (CVE 21) at Belfast, North Ireland, July 27, 1943. 80-G-77760

Unloading P-47s from USS Block Island (CVE 21) at Belfast, North Ireland, July 27, 1943. 80-G-77757

Arriving back at Staten Island on 11 August, she would load another batch of “Jugs” and set out again for Belfast just 10 days later.

Arrives in Belfast, Ulster, with a load of army P-47 fighters on 7 September 1943. Barge BRAE is in the foreground. 80-G-55524

Port crane unloading army P-47 fighters from USS Block Island (CVE-21) at Belfast, Ulster, on 7 September 1943. The planes were unloaded in a record 14 hours. 80-G-55528

Getting in the Hunt

Upon reaching Norfolk after her second Jug run, Block Island got called up to the majors and, with squadron VC-1 embarked, spent a month in practice runs before shoving out into the Atlantic on 15 October as the centerpiece of Task Group (TG) 21.16, augmented by four destroyers. As an ace in the hole, the group was bird dogged by Ultra Intelligence from decoded German Enigma ciphers.

Although her group caught and damaged the big “milch cow,” U-488, then harassed U-256, and bagged U-222 (Oblt. Bruno Barber) on 28 October 1943, sent to Poseidon by Mk. 47 depth bombs from two of VC-1’s Avengers. U-220, a minelayer boat returning from laying her evil eggs off Newfoundland, went down with all hands.

Exchanging VC-1 for VC-58– the latter’s Avengers now equipped with the new 5-inch HVAR “Holy Moses” rockets– Block Island‘s planes soon chased U-758 in January 1944 on her second hunter-killer cruise but again did not sink her. In the attack 11 January attack, the HVAR was used against a submarine for the first time.

TBF aircraft, (VC-58), from USS Block Island (CVE 21) make the first aircraft rocket attack on a German submarine, U-758, on January 11, 1944. The submarine survived the attack and returned to St. Nazaire, France, on 20 January. In March 1945, it was stricken by the German Navy after being damaged by British bombers at Kiel, Germany. Shown: Lieutenant Junior Grade Willis D. Seeley makes an effective rocket attack followed quickly by a depth-bomb attack by Lieutenant Junior Grade Leonard L. McFord. Lieutenant Junior Grade Seeley then made an effective depth bomb attack. Official 80-G-222842

Same as above. 80-G-222843

Same as above. 80-G-222847

Her habit of being quick to attack reported U-boats earned her the nickname, “USS FBI” for “Fighting Block Island.”

This would be taken to even greater proportions by her second skipper, Capt. Francis Massie (“Frank”) Hughes (USNA 1923), a tough Alabaman who, like Block Island’s first skipper, had been at Pearl Harbor. During the December 7th attack, Hughes was the first Navy aviator who managed to get his aircraft in the air and did so while still in his pajamas, then later flew during the Battle of Midway.

USS Block Island (CVE-21) at sea on 3 February 1944. Photographed by ZP-14. 80-G-215495

On 1 March 1944, the Canon-class destroyer escort USS Bronstein (DE 189), part of Block Island’s T.G., reported a depth charge attack that has sometimes been credited as being a kill against U-603 (Kptlt. Hans-Joachim Bertelsmann) which had gone missing about that time.

On 1 March, Block Island‘s trio of destroyer escorts– USS Thomas, USS Bostwick, and Bronstein— depth-charged an unidentified submarine north of the Azores. This is typically thought to be U-709 (Oblt. (R) Rudolf Ites) which was reported missing in the same general area around that time and has never been found.

On 17 March, her aircraft, teaming up with the destroyer USS Corry and Bronstein, sank U-801 (Kptlt. Hans-Joachim Brans) west of Cabo Verde Islands. In that action, a new Fido homing torpedo dropped by an Avenger carried the day. Corry’s bluejackets rescued 47 German survivors.

Air Attacks on German U-boats, WWII. U-801 was sunk on March 17, 1944, by a Fido homing torpedo by two Avenger and one Wildcat aircraft from USS Block Island, along with depth charges and gunfire from USS Corry (DD-463) and USS Bronstein (DE-189). Note, Lieutenant Junior Grade Paul Sorenson strafed, and Lieutenant Junior Grade Charles Woodell depth charged U-801. 80-G-222854

On 19 March, depth charges from an Avenger/Wildcat duo from Block Island sent U-1059 (Oblt. Günter Leupold) to the bottom. Escorts standing by rescued eight survivors.

U-1059 was one of Donitz’s rare torpedo transport boats, a Type VIIF, that went down after one very curious fight that ended up with a waterlogged naval aviator taking enemy POWs into custody at gunpoint.

As related by

The sinking of U-1059. At 07.26 hours, the boat was attacked by an Avenger/Wildcat team from USS Block Island operating on ULTRA reports southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. The aircraft completely surprised U-1059, as she was not underway and men were seen swimming in the water. While the Wildcat (Lt (JG) W.H. Cole) made a strafing run, the Avenger dropped three depth charges that straddled the boat perfectly. U-1059 began to sink, but the AA gunners scored hits on the Avenger during its second attack run and it crashed into the sea, killing the pilot and one the crew. The mortally wounded pilot had nevertheless dropped two depth charges that sent the boat to the bottom. Ensign M.E. Fitzgerald survived the aircraft crash and found himself on a dinghy amidst German survivors. He helped a wounded survivor but kept the others at a distance with his pistol until USS Corry arrived and rescued him and eight German survivors, including the badly-wounded commander, Oblt Günther Leupold. (Sources: Franks/Zimmerman)

Shipping out on her third sweep, now VC-55 aboard in April 1944, Block Island’s T.G. damaged the veteran U-boat U-66 and, after a five-day chase, the destroyer escort USS Buckley found and rammed the pesky German submarine. Some 36 survivors captured by Buckley were later transferred to Block Island.

On the night of 29 May 1944, the Type IXC/40 submarine U-549 (Kptlt. Detlev Krankenhagen) managed to penetrate TG 21.11’s anti-submarine screen and get close enough to fire a trio of G7e(TIII) torpedoes at Block Island, hitting her with two.

As detailed by the NHHC:

Without warning, U-549’s first torpedo slammed into USS Block Island (CVE-21)’s bow at about frame 12; and, approximately four seconds later, a second struck her aft between frames 171 and 182, exploding in the oil tank, through the shaft alley and up through the 5-inch magazines without causing any further fires or explosions.

Meanwhile, the destroyer escort USS Robert I. Paine (DE-578) closed to join in picking up USS Block Island (CVE-21) survivors as the escort carrier settled lower and lower into the Atlantic. As she sank, the Avengers on USS Block Island (CVE-21)’s flight deck slid off into the sea like toys, their depth charges exploding deep under the surface. USS Block Island (CVE-21) took her final plunge at 2155.

USS Block Island (CVE-21) dead in the water and listing after 1st and 2nd torpedo hits. The ship was initially struck by two torpedoes from the German submarine U-549 on 2013, 29 May 1944. A third torpedo hit some ten minutes later and sealed her fate. FBI sank at 2155. NH 86679.

U-549 was soon after sunk by two of Block Island’s escorts, USS Ahrens (DE-575) and Eugene E. Elmore (DE-686), with all 57 of her crew, Krankenhagen included, diving with her to the bottom forever.

Amazingly, only six USS Block Island crew members died during or soon after the attack. Added to this were four Wildcat pilots aloft at the time of the attack who could not make it to the Canary Islands and were lost at sea.

Block Island’s name was stricken from the Navy List on 28 June 1944.

She was the only American carrier lost in the Atlantic in any war.

She earned two battle stars while her group was credited with sinking seven U-boats. Both of her skippers, Logan Ramsey and Frank Hughes, would survive the war and later retire as rear admirals.


A third Block Island, the second to carry the Navy on active duty, a late-model Commencement Bay-class escort carrier (CVE-106), was commissioned just six months after our ship’s loss, on 30 December 1944.

Of interest, Most of the original CVE 21 crew was reassigned to CVE 106, which was fairly unique in U.S. Navy history. This was done largely due to the will of Frank Hughes, CVE-21’s final skipper, and he would command the new Block Island in 1945.

BuAer photo of USS Block Island (CVE-106), taken on 13 January 1945 off the north end of Vashon Island, Washington. Photo #Stl 1728-1-45.

This new carrier was also able to earn two battle stars for her WWII service in the final days of the Pacific War, then went on to serve again in the Atlantic during the Korean War and was decommissioned in 1954.

A veterans association remembers both CVE-21 and CVE-106.

Our little flattop is also remembered in maritime art.

“The BLOCK ISLAND in ’44” – CVE-21 USS BLOCK ISLAND with VC-55 aboard, May 1944 (Jim Griffiths)

The war diaries for both Block Islands are digitized in the National Archives.

The most tangible memory of CVE-21 is the Simmons Aviation Foundation’s Heritage Flight TBM-3E Avenger (N85650) that since 2011 carried the “Block Island” livery and tail flash of VC-55.

Of the rest of the Bogue class, Block Island was not the only member to feel the U-boat’s sting. British-operated sister HMS Nabob (D 77) was torpedoed by U-354 in October 1944 and so seriously damaged that she was judged not worth repair. Likewise, the same could be said for sistership HMS Thane (D 48) would be so crippled by U-1172 in 1945 that she was not returned to service.

As for the class’s post-war service, they were too small and slow to be utilized as much more than aircraft transports, and most of the British-operated vessels were returned to the U.S. Navy, retrograded back to merchantmen, and sold off as freighters.

Of the ten U.S.-operated Bogues, most were sold for scrap or for further mercantile use sans flattop and guns, with Card, converted to an aviation transport (AKV-40, later T-AKV-40) in the 1950s, remaining in service into Vietnam where she was embarrassingly holed by Viet Cong sappers in Saigon. The last of the class in American service, she was scrapped in 1971.

The final Bogue hull, the former Smiter-class escort carrier HMS Khedive (D62), continued operating as the tramp freighter SS Daphne as late as 1976 before she met her end in the hands of Spanish breakers.


Displacement: 16,620 tons (full)
Length: 495 ft. 7 in
flight deck: 439 ft.
Beam: 69 ft. 6 in
flight deck: 70 ft.
Draught: 26 ft.
2 x Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company Inc., Milwaukee geared steam turbines, 8,500 shp
2 x boilers (285 psi)
1 x shaft
Speed: 18 knots (designed) 16 actual, max
Complement: 890 including airwing
2 x single 5″/51 (later 5″/38) gun mounts
8 x twin 40-mm/56-cal gun mounts
27 x single 20-mm/70-cal Oerlikons
Aircraft carried 18-24 operational, up to 90 for ferry service
Aviation facilities: 2 5.9-ton capacity elevators; 1 hydraulic catapult (H 2); 9-wire/3-barrier Mk 4 mod 5A arresting gear; 262×62 ft. hangar deck; 440×82 ft. flight deck

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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Warship Wednesday, March 1, 2023: Six in One Trip!

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 1, 2023: Six in One Trip!

Imperial War Museum photograph A 21989 by Royal Navy official photographer, LT CH Parnall.

Above we see the modified Black Swan-class sloop HMS Kite (U87), of “Johnnie” Walker’s famed 2nd Support Group, dwarfed by a column of water that rises six times her height during an early 1944 depth charge attack on a suspected German U-boat in the North Atlantic, possibly while sending Oblt. Horst Hepp’s U-238 to the bottom southwest of Ireland on 9 February.

About the Swans

Originally classed as well-armed multi-purpose minesweepers but redesignated almost immediately after WWII started as convoy escorts, the Swans were an improvement of the preceding Bittern-class sloop. Hardy 1,250-ton ships of 299 feet overall and, armed with half-dozen high angle 4-inch guns and some light quad Vickers .50 cal AAA pieces, they carried more than enough depth charges (as many as 110 in late-war refits) to scratch the paint on German U-boats and Japanese I-boats. They weren’t very fast (19 knots) but had long legs (7,000nm@12kts) and proved well-suited to the work.

The Black Swan-class sloop of war HMS Starling (U66) underway in 1943, a good representation of the class in profile, showing the arrangement and her trio of twin QF 4″/45 mounts. This vessel would be a near-constant companion to our sloop, her sister, during the war. IWM FL 19299

The Brits only produced 37 of these useful warships, a number that was far outpaced by the 294-strong Flower (Gladiolus)-class corvette, an even smaller (925-ton, 205-foot) and slower (16ish knots) ASW vessel on a hull derived from a commercial whaler that was equipped with a single 4-incher but could nearly the same quantity of depth charges.

But don’t let the fact that for every 5 Flowers built, there was just a single Swan fool you, as the Swans more than proved their worth, as we shall see.

Meet HMS Kite

Named after the small and agile bird of prey rather than the tethered flying vehicle, our vessel was the seventh– and so far last– HMS Kite in the Royal Navy, with the previous six vessels typically being small cutters, sloops, and gunboats stretching back as far as 1764.

A rather famous piece of art by Montague Dawson c. 1950: “Dawn Suspect” depicting the 12-gun Revenue Cutter HMS Kite giving chase to the ship of notorious smuggler David “Smoker” Browning, 16 July 1788, “finally ensnaring the Kingpin of the North Sea after years of his evading the King’s justice.” Purchased in 1778, this was the second HMS Kite, and she would give coastwise service in the Home Isles through 1793. Via the Vallejo Gallery. For more on the 18th-century cat-and-mouse game between the King’s Revenue Cutters and the North Sea smugglers, click here.

The preceding sixth HMS Kite was a mighty 250-ton/85-foot flat-iron Ant-class gunboat commissioned in 1871 and sold in 1920. Yes, that is a Royal Arsenal RML 10-inch 18-ton gun on her bow, capable of firing 400-pound Palliser shells, thanks for asking.

Laid down at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead as Job No 3467 (Yard No 1102), on 25 September 1941, a fortnight after Allied convoy SC 42 had 16 ships sent to the bottom by a German Wolfpack, our Kite was commissioned 17 months, 5 days later on 1 March 1943– some 80 years ago today.

Ironically, HMS Kite’s career would last just 17 months, and 21 days, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

HMS Kite (U87), as completed, underway in March 1943. Note the barrage balloon over her mast, as if a play on her name. IWM FL 22973

After the completion of her abbreviated workups, the brand-new sloop joined the newly formed 2nd Support Group at Liverpool, the home of the Western Approaches Command, in early April and was supporting Atlantic convoys by mid-month. As a bit of background on 2SG– under the command of Captain Frederic John Walker, DSO with Bar, a hard-charging career officer who served on destroyers in the Great War and had already led the 36th Group in dispatching no less than five U-boats in 1942– the ASW force initially consisted of Kite and five sisterships: HMS Starling, HMS Wren, HMS Woodpecker, HMS Cygnet, and HMS Wild Goose.

HMS STARLING on the inside berth, HMS KITE (center) and HMS WREN.

With the addition of the group to the Western Approaches and the addition of more tin cans and escort carriers from the U.S. Navy to ride close escort on convoys themselves, 2SG was given the role of a fire brigade, standing just over the horizon for convoys then rushing in with a “Tally Ho” spirit to bust up a spotted wolfpack.

“Out With U-boat Killer Number 1; the Second Escort Group’s Success. 26 January To 25 February 1944, on Board HMS Starling. With the 2nd Escort Group, Commanded by Captain F J Walker, CB, DSO and Two Bars, on His Most Recent and Most Successful Patrol. Three of the Group’s Six U-boat “kills” Were Made Within 16 Hours. The sloop WOODPECKER goes into the attack and Captain Walker shouts encouragement to her through the loud hailer.” IWM A 21988

Walker and 2SG perfected several tactics to counter interloping U-boats including the “Creeping Attack,” a sort of rolling barrage method, similar to that used by artillery supporting an infantry attack only substituting a line of sloops and depth charges, and being able to orchestrate an alternating chase handed off between several escorts that would tire out a German boat or force it to the surface while keeping the ‘hounds comparatively rested. For example, in one eight-hour Creeping Attack, at least 266 depth charges were used by Starling, Wild Goose, and Kite to chase down U-238. Such huge expenditures of ASW weapons required depth charge stocks to be replenished from specially-outfitted merchant ships while underway.

Walker was always “maximum effort” when it came to pursuing the attack, and Starling, with him on the bridge, even famously rammed one German, U-119, upon resurfacing after one such pursuit.

A reconstruction of the sloop HMS Starling ramming the re-surfaced German submarine U-119 in June 1943. Another Royal Navy warship is visible on the horizon. HMS Starling is painted in a camouflage scheme. By John Hamilton. IWM ART LD 7411

True to form, Walker played “A Hunting We Will Go” over Starling’s Tannoy (1MC) when returning to Liverpool, a move that would become a tradition for 2SG, and indeed to other hunter-killer teams.

Biscay Barricade

In late June 1943, 2SG was ordered, as part of Operation Musketry and Operation Seaslug, to, with top cover provided by the RAF and some comparatively big guns from the AAA cruiser HMS Scylla, shut down the Bay of Biscay to U-boat traffic– or at least make it hazardous for Doenitz’s boys to travel there. Over the next three months, the ASW group would prove exceptionally good at their job indeed.

HMS Kite, note her extensive depth charge racks and projector fit along with her stern 4″/45 twin mount

Kite would be credited, with her sisters, for participating in the sinking of U-449 and U-504 near Spain’s Cape Ortegal, as well as U-462-– a vitally important Type XIV milch cow, in the Bay of Biscay proper. Notably, the latter two subs were sunk in gun actions after being forced to break for the surface. Kite would also pluck some waterlogged survivors of U-545, sent to Poseidon by a RAAF Sunderland, from the drink.

Between 2SG, other ASW groups, and shore-based patrol aircraft, Musketry/Seaslug operation would account for no less than 20 U-boats in a nine-week campaign.

HMS KITE, BLACK SWAN CLASS SLOOP. OCTOBER 1943. (A 19993) Broadside view. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


By September, Kite and 2SG were back on convoy duty and she would chalk up two more assisted kills, on U-226 east of Newfoundland in November, and U-238 south-west of Ireland the following February, bringing her count to five boats– an ace. U-238 would be sunk during a sweep that saw 2SG bag no less than a half-dozen U-boats on a single patrol between 26 January and 25 February.

HMS KITE, SLOOP. 26 JANUARY TO 25 FEBRUARY 1944, ON BOARD HMS STARLING, AT SEA. (A 22009) HMS KITE, Sloop of the 2nd Escort Group, at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

HMS KITE, SLOOP. 26 JANUARY TO 25 FEBRUARY 1944, ON BOARD HMS STARLING, AT SEA. (A 22007) HMS KITE of the 2nd Escort Group, at sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

This “Six in one trip” exploit by the group earned a star-studded reception when the flock of Swans returned to Liverpool, with thousands of locals including A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty, waiting to greet Walker and his sloops on their return. Old Johnnie would receive a second Bar for his DSO for that one.


In May 1944, during the build-up for the Overlord Landings on Normandy, 2SG was detailed to a search and destroy operation during D-Day in the South Western Approaches while Kite was carved away to join the 115th Escort Group for the landings themselves. Teamed up with the destroyers HMS Forester, and HMS Quorn, along with frigates HMS Tyler and HMS Seymour, Kite staged at Portsmouth with the invasion armada and worked off the British beachheads from June 6th through the 27th, and would remain in the Channel in further taskings through July.

Victual & Goodwood

In early August, Kite was assigned to take a small part in the sprawling Operation Victual– the passage of convoys JW 59 and RA 59A between Britain and Murmansk– and the simultaneous Operation Goodwood, with the latter being a series of five carrier air raids on the German battleship Tirpitz in Kaafjord.

Sailing as part of the 34-ship JW 59 from Loch Ewe on 15 August, five days later Kite came across Oblt. Ulrich Pietsch’s U-344, on the sub’s third patrol.

As detailed by

At 20.45 hours on 20 Aug 1944, HMS Keppel (D 84) got a contact on her starboard quarter, while escorting convoy JW-59. Together with HMS Kite (U 87) and a Swordfish aircraft from HMS Vindex (D 15) the U-boat was attacked with hedgehogs and depth charges. They hunted the U-boat throughout the night with their foxers (Anti Gnat devices) streamed, but the hunt was fruitless.

At 06.04 hours on 21 August, HMS Kite (U 87) (LtCdr A.N.G. Campbell, RN) had slowed down to 6 knots to clear her foxers, which had become twisted around one another. At this vulnerable moment, U-344 fired a spread of three FAT torpedoes [German G7e with a Federapparat zig zag device] at the sloop, misidentified as Dido-class light cruiser by Pietsch. The ship was struck by two torpedoes on the starboard side and heeled over to that side immediately. The stern broke off, floated for a few seconds, then sank. The bow remained afloat for a minute and then sank at a steep angle.

At 07.30 hours, HMS Keppel (D 84) stopped to pick up survivors, while HMS Peacock (U 96) and HMS Mermaid (U 30) screened the rescue operation. Only 14 of the about 60 survivors in the water could be rescued from the ice-cold water, five of them died on board and were later buried at sea.


Kite was U-344‘s only claim during the war and she was sent to the bottom the next day off Bear Island, splashed by depth charges from an 825 Sqn FAA/X Swordfish from the escort carrier HMS Vindex, lost with all hands. Immediate retribution at the hands of the Royal Navy.

In all, Kite had participated in no less than 17 convoys in her brief career, one for every month, and she earned four battle honors: “Biscay 1943,” “Atlantic 1943-44,” “Normandy 1944,” and “Arctic 1944.”

A memorial to her 258 perished crew was eventually established in the Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens— the community that adopted the ship in March 1942.

Sadly, Johnnie Walker had preceded her, having passed of a sudden cerebral hemorrhage on 9 July 1944 at age 48, a death attributed to exhaustion. He was just worn out. Somewhat poetically, the men of 2SG could not pay their respects at his well-attended public funeral, as they were out on patrol, which is something he probably would have preferred anyway.

With 17 German boats to the credit of his ships, Walker is often considered the most successful ASW commander of the war, if not in all of naval history. It would have been interesting to see what his tally would have been had he lived to VE-Day.

Likewise, 2SG was credited with the confirmed destruction of 22 U-boats during the war, earning it a distinction as the most successful ASW unit of the entire conflict.


Besides Kite’s loss, her sisters HMS Ibis, HMS Woodpecker, and HMS Lapwing were likewise lost during the war, the first to Italian bombers off Algiers during the Torch Landings, and the latter to U-boats. Two further sisters, HMS Chanticleer and HMS Lark, were so badly damaged by German torpedoes that they were beyond economical repair. This balance sheet was traded for a minimum of 31 German U-boats accounted for by the class in exchange.

The 25 remaining Swans and modified Swans, post-war, as detailed by the 1946 edition of Janes

Post-war, most of these economical warships would continue to serve the Admiralty into the 1950s and a few even into the early 1960s, while others would be given away as military aid.

Black Swan-class sloop HMS Crane (F123, formerly U23) seen leaving Singapore in December 1961. Note the T-class submarine HMS Teredo (S38). Assigned to the British Pacific Fleet in early 1945 after European service that included the D-Day landings, Crane continued to serve in the Far East until 1962, the last of her class in service with the Royal Navy. She was scrapped in 1965.

The last of these sloops in Commonwealth service, the Indian Navy’s Sutlej (U95), would remain on New Delhi’s naval list as a survey ship until 1983, and was likely the last ship in any fleet that had sunk Japanese I-boats. Only one of the 37 Black Swans, HMS Mermaid (U30)/FGS Scharnhorst, lasted longer than Sutlej, finally going to the scrappers in 1990 after a decade as a damage control training hulk with the West German Bundesmarine. A bit of irony there.

As for Kite, Walker, and the sloops of 2SG, their triumphant return in February 1944 from their “One in Six” patrol was depicted in 1958 by maritime artist Stephen Bone in “Arrival of Second Escort Group of Sloops at Liverpool,” now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum.

Bone, Stephen; Arrival of Second Escort Group of Sloops at Liverpool; National Maritime Museum;

In 1998, an oversized statue of Captain Frederic John Walker, CB, DSO & Three Bars, crafted by sculptor Tom Murphy, was installed at Liverpool’s Pier Head, looking out to sea with his binos and seemingly waiting for his sloops to come home.


Plan of HMS ‘Black Swan’ (1939), via RMM Greenwich

Displacement: 1,250 tons
Length: 299 ft 6 in
Beam: 37 ft 6 in
Draught: 11 ft
Geared turbines, 2 shafts:
3,600 hp
Speed: 19 knots
Range: 7,500 nmi at 12 kn
Complement: 180
6 × QF 4″/45 (10.2 cm) QF Mark XVI AA guns (3 × 2)
4 × 2-pounder AA pom-pom
4 × 50 cal Vickers AAA machine guns
40 depth charges

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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!

The last Amerikansky Golland

A century ago today, the last American submarine operated by the Russians was put into service.

The 78 assorted Type H (Holland 602) submarines made by Electric Boat in Connecticut, Fore River in Massachusetts, and Canadian Vickers in Montreal, and three British yards (Vickers, Cammell Laird, Armstrong Whitworth, and William Beardmore) then entered service with the U.S. Navy (USS H-1, H-2, and H-3), the Italians, the Royal Navy (and via the Brits on to Chile), and served as Canada’s first submarines.

HMCS CH-14 CH-15 submarines, Canada’s H boats

Added to this were 17 boats ordered by the Tsar’s admiralty for the Imperial Russian Navy in 1916.

The Amerikansky Golland

Dubbed the AG class in Russian service for “Amerikansky Golland,” they were constructed at a temporary yard outside of Vancouver, then disassembled, taken by ship to Vladivostok, then by rail via the Trans-Siberian to either Saint Petersburg on the Baltic or Nikolayev on the Black Sea where they were reassembled and launched by Russian yards.

The Russian Type H boats AG-11, AG-12, AG-15, and AG-16 alongside the submarine tender Oland in Hanko, Finland, circa 1917.

Just 11 were delivered to the Russkies before they dropped out of the war in late 1917, leaving the U.S. Navy to take over the six undelivered boats which were commissioned as USS H-4 through USS H-9.

Chile Guacolda class H-class submarines Holland 602, via Jane’s 1946

While most operators of the H-class were not terribly enamored with their boats (the U.S. Navy decommissioned all nine of theirs by 1922, the Brits either gave away most of theirs to allies or relegated them to a training role after 1920 as did the Italians, the Canadians scrapped theirs by 1927, and the Chileans, somewhat of an outlier, kept theirs through WWII) the Russians were forced into keeping theirs operational. Although the five Baltic-assigned AGs were lost during the Great War and the follow-on Russian Civil War, of the six in the Black Sea, AG-22 left with White Russian exiles and never returned while the other four were kept in service.

The last AG on hand, AG-26, was finally finished by the workers at the former Russud factory in Nikolaev (now Mykolaiv) and launched on 23 February 1923, seven years after she was originally constructed in Vancouver.

Renamed Tovarsh Kamenev, then Politrabotnik, and finally A-4, she spent her entire career in the Black Sea and carried out 12 war patrols and three blockade-running missions into besieged Sevastopol during WWII.

AG-26/Tovarsh Kamenev/Politrabotnik/A-4 would only be retired in 1947.

Operating alongside her four sisters, two were lost in combat, but all gave good wartime service– including logging dozens of attacks on Axis shipping assets during the conflict– despite their odd heritage and funky construction process, one that spanned almost 10,000 sea and rail miles from the Pacific Northwest to the Black Sea.

The surviving submarines of the AG type in Odessa in the Coastal Harbor. Late 1920s. By this time, they had been renamed A-1 through A-4.

As noted by Platonov in “Encyclopedia of Soviet submarines 1941-1945

[T]hese obsolete submarines in every respect took the most active part in the war and even achieved relatively high results, in any case, better than the “little ones”, based on the number of sunken targets per submarine.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023: A Dozen Stars and a Wigwam

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. 22, 2023: A Dozen Stars and a Wigwam

U.S. Navy Photo by JOC(AC) Warren Grass. National Archives Catalog #: 80-G-K K-98130

Above we see the unpresuming Navajo/Cherokee/Apache-class fleet tug USS Tawasa (AT-92) departing Subic Bay bound for Haiphong in February 1973 to take part in Operation End Sweep. Don’t let her workaday appearance fool you, launched eight decades ago today– 22 February 1943– she saw more hairy situations than many battleships across her 32-year career and helped boil the sea.

A new type of tug, for a new type of war

With the immense U.S. Naval build-up planned just before WWII broke out, the Navy knew they needed some legitimate ocean-going rescue tugs to be able to accompany the fleet into rough waters and overseas warzones. This led to the radically different Navajo/Cherokee class of 205-foot diesel-electric (a first for the Navy) fleet tugs.

These hardy 1,250-ton ships could pull a broken-down fleet carrier if needed (Tawasa would prove that in 1965) and had long enough sea legs (10,000 miles) due to their economical engines to be able to roam the world. Armed with a 3″/50 caliber popgun as a hood ornament, a matching pair of twin 40mm Bofors, and some 20mm Oerlikons, they could down an enemy aircraft or poke holes in a gunboat if needed.

In all, the Navy commissioned 28 of these tough cookies from 1938 onward, making a splash in Popular Mechanics at the time due to their impressive diesel-electric power plant consisting of a quartet of GM 12-278A diesels driving four GE generators and a trio of GM 3-268A auxiliary services engines, generating 3,600shp.

Their war was hard and dangerous with 3 of the ships (Nauset, Navajo, and Seminole) meeting their end in combat, and the 25 that made it through the crucible going on to serve in other conflicts, and under other flags.

The Cherokee/Navajo class would prove successful enough that 22 follow-on tugs– with the same hull form and engineering plant but with a re-trunked exhaust that shrunk the funnel diameter– of the Abnaki class would be constructed during the war, and two (Wateree, lost in a 1945 typhoon; and Sarsi, sunk by a mine off Korea in 1952) lost in Navy service. 

Meet Tawasa

The hero of our story, USS Tawasa (AT-92) was laid down on 22 June 1942 at Portland, Oregon, by the Commercial Iron Works, a small firm that would crank out no less than 188 hulls for Uncle Sam during the conflict ranging from landing craft to escort carriers. Tawasa’s launch date, some 80 years in the rearview, saw her sponsored by Mrs. Thomas F. Sullivan, the tragic gold star mom of the five lost Sullivan brothers.

The first U.S. Navy vessel named for a Florida branch of mound-building Muskhogean Indians subsequently named the Apalachicola tribe, she commissioned on 17 July 1943, just under 13 months after her first steel was cut.


Following her shakedown cruise off California, Tawasa was assigned to Service Force, Pacific Fleet, and left Pearl Harbor in early November, bound to spend Thanksgiving 1943 in the Gilbert Islands, which were being taken by Marines.

USS Tawasa (ATF-92) underway, circa 1943-1945, location unknown. David Buell for his father CWO4 Benton E. Buell USN, Ret. USS Tawasa Chief Engineer, 1962-63. Via Navsource

Christmas saw her in Tarawa and the New Year of 1944 with TF 52 pushing through the Marshall Islands, where she lent a hand in the landings at Kwajalein, Majuro, and Eniwetok, at times pinch-hitting as a destroyer acting as a screening vessel with her overheating and cranky WEA-2 sound equipment in the water. Her ASW armament if she had a contact? Just eight “ashcan” style depth charges on two short gravity racks over her stern.

As noted by DANFS:

Off Kwajalein Atoll on the 31st [of January], Tawasa took soundings enabling Mississippi (BB-41) to approach the shore for close bombardment. The tug then performed salvage, towing, and screening duty until 18 February when she moved to Eniwetok to assist in the assault that was to strike that atoll the next morning. She supported operations until the atoll was secured and remained in the area for almost two months, providing services to American ships using this new base.

Tawasa’s War Diary for 30/31 January 1944:

Continuing with TF52, she would soon be assisting combat-loaded LSTs landing Marines and gear on Saipan in June.

With the Marianas wrapping up, by late July Tawasa would be reassigned from TF52 back to ServRon, South Pacific, and placed on a series of unsung missions. She became particularly adept at pulling LCIs off the beach. Her embarked divers came in handy when it came to recovering lost anchors and chains, along with conducting submerged inspections of recently captured ports and leaky hulls, while her DC teams would often fan out to weld 1/4-inch steel sheeting over holes in the side of battle damaged landing craft. Her 20-ton derrick boom allowed her to salvage all manner of objects from the seafloor. Meanwhile, her sonarmen and radar operators would keep their eyes and ears peeled for interloping enemy aircraft and vessels of all types.

The Japanese surrender found our tug in Guadalcanal, where she had just transported military passengers from the Russell Islands. Post VJ-Day, she remained forward deployed except for a trip stateside to California and would operate in Chinese and Japanese waters well into 1947.

In the end, Tawasa would earn three battle stars for her WWII service.


While a wide variety of brand new ships wound up in mothballs in the days after WWII– some being towed to red lead row right from the builders’ yards– these fleet tugs remained on active service. No rest for the working man.

The Cherokee class fleet tugs listed in the 1946 Jane’s, Tawasa included. Note that the list includes the Abnaki-class half-sisters as well.

Alternating between Alaska and Guam in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Tawasa was deployed to the 7th Fleet to serve in the Korea conflict, assigned alternatively to the ports of Cho Do, Sokcho, and Chinghai while under the control of TF 92 from July 1952 through January 1953. In this, she added two further battle stars to her salad bar.

Returning stateside, she spent six months in overhaul at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard. When she emerged in November 1953, a terrific series of images were captured of her for the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships files, detailing her radar (SO-4), radio, and overall fit. If you are a modeler looking for shots of a 1950s Cherokee class tug, the National Archives has you covered with this series:

Note that she still carries her WWII twin Bofors mounts. 19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145199

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145203

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145715

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145197

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145716

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145717

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145201

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145714

Note the two bridge wing 20mm single Oerlikons. These would be replaced by M2 .50 cals by Vietnam while the Bofors would be deleted about the same time. 19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145202

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145200

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145198

19-NN-ATF 92 Tawasa-145713


Fielded in 1952 without full-scale war shot tests, the 500-pound Mark 90 “Betty” nuclear depth charge was seen as an ace-in-the-hole against rapidly growing fleets of schnorkel-equipped Soviet Whiskey-class submarines, of which Moscow ordered a staggering 215 in four different versions (Projects 613, 640, 644, and 665) between 1949 and 1958.

Carrying a W7 Thor tactical fission bomb with a theoretical yield of up to 30 kilotons– twice the force of the Hiroshima bomb– it was thought that a single Betty dropped via a patrol plane would be enough to clear out a whole nest of Whiskeys.

But the Navy wanted to be sure the theory held.

Enter Operation Wigwam, a full-scale test of a live device.

Conducted in May 1955 some 500 miles southwest of San Diego in water 16,000 feet deep, Tawasa tugged a Betty as part of a six-mile long towline that included a trio of identical white-painted 4/5-scale submarine hulls (704 tons, 140 foot long with a 20-foot beam complete with correct bulkhead spacings to spec and 1-inch HST steel hull plating) dubbed “Squaws” which were filled with instruments. 

The three Squaw submarine mock-ups generally mimicked the same hull construction techniques as seen on the Navy’s SS-563 (post-war Tang) class diesel GUPPY boats, which were at least as strong if not stronger than Soviet Whiskey boats. The targets were fitted with extensive seismography instruments at 52 locations spread throughout their compartments.

With the Squaws submerged at a depth of 250-290 feet at three different distances from the device, the Betty was rigged some 2,000 feet under the keel of its support barge and the Wigwam task force beat feet to observe from five miles away.

The resulting “hot” bubble from the submerged blast grew to over 4,600 feet across when it broke the surface and rose some 1,900 feet above the water at its height.

Squaw 12, the closest to the device, simply disappeared.

Here is the view from five miles out. Hydrophones at Point Sur, Hawaii heard the “thump” of Wigwam from 2,500 miles away. NARA 374-ANT-30-30-DPY-11-20

The gist of the 56-page after-action report on the squaws:

The external pressures applied to the three SQUAW targets in Operation Wigwam were measured with pressure gages, and the deformations of the hull were measured with strain and displacement gages. The results indicate that SQUAW-12 was at a horizontal range of 5150 ft and a depth of 290 ft the peak shock pressure at the hull was about 850 psi and the target was destroyed, probably within 10 msec. SQUAW-13 was at a horizontal range of 7200 ft and a depth of 260 ft the peak dynamic pressure at the hull was about 615 psi, and the hull was probably near collapse but did not rupture. The estimation is that the lethal horizontal range of the SQUAW target under the Wigwam test conditions is about 7000 ft for a depth of 250 ft and about 4500 ft for a depth of 70 ft.

Even though at least 362 personnel of the task force’s 6,732 men embarked– clad just in working gear with no flash or NBC protection– would have mildly dirty dosimeters after the event, and contaminated water was found at several depths during the weeks following the test, it was judged that Betty was safe-ish enough to be used under certain conditions, and was more than capable of sinking an enemy sub (or three) within a two-mile radius of its impact if used correctly.

This 11-minute film covers the test in great detail, including Tawasa and her six-mile squaw-laden towline.

Betty would remain in service until 1960 when it was replaced by the multipurpose B57 nuclear bomb during the mid-1960s. In its depth charge variant, the hydrostatic fuzed B57 had a selectable yield up to 10 kt– only about one-third of the Wigwam device– and could be dropped by P-3s, S-3s, and SH-3s as well as the short-lived Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH). It was thought that in most scenarios, the B57 depth charge would only be dialed in at 5 kt. It would finally be withdrawn in 1993.

Anyway, back to our ship.


Dusting off and cleaning up post-Wigwam, Tawasa would continue to serve with the 7th Fleet on WestPac deployments, including four to Vietnam (May-Oct 1968, April-Sept 1969, May-Sept 1970, and Feb-June 1972). For this, she would earn seven Vietnam-era campaign stars.

Her most notable moments during this era included the largest operational tow made by a solo tug of the Pacific Fleet: 33,946 tons, when she pulled the decommissioned USS Bunker Hill (AVT-9) from San Francisco to San Diego, and coming to the rescue of the shattered destroyer USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754) which had been sheered in two by the Australian aircraft carrier Melbourne during Southeast Asian Treaty Organization exercises in the South China Sea.

Tawasa took the remaining stern section in tow and returned it to Subic Bay.

2 June 1969 SH-3 helicopters from USS Kearsarge (CVS-33) join search and rescue operations over the stern section of USS Frank E. Evans, as USS Everett F. Larson (DD-830) stands ready to offer assistance (at right). NH 98649

She closed out her Vietnam service with Operation End Sweep off Haiphong in 1973. During the six months of End Sweep, 10 ocean minesweepers, 9 amphibious ships, 6 fleet tugs, 3 salvage ships, and 19 destroyer types operated in RADM Brian McCauley’s Task Force 78, sweeping hundreds of the aircraft-laid mines.

By 1973, she was one of 25 of her class still in Navy service but her days were numbered.

Jane’s 1973-74 listing, in which the class is dubbed the Apache class. Note that the list includes the Abnaki-class half-sisters as well.


With a final scoresheet that would include three battle stars for World War II service, two for Korea, and seven for Vietnam, Tawasa was decommissioned and struck from the Navy list on April Fool’s Day 1975. She was sold for scrapping the following August.

There has not been a second Tawasa on the Navy List.

Much of her logs and photos are in the National Archives.

As for the rest of her sisters, many continued in U.S. Navy service until as late as the 1970s when they were either sunk as targets or scrapped. A number went as military aid to overseas allies in Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, and elsewhere. One sister, USS Apache (ATF-67) who served as the support tender for the bathysphere Trieste, was transferred in 1974 to Taiwan and continues to serve as ROCS Ta Wan (ATF-551). Added to this is USS Pinto (AT-90), which has been in Peru as BAP Guardian Rios (ARB-123), and USS Sioux (AT-75), which lingers as the Turkish Navy’s Gazal (A-587).

The final Abnaki-class half-sister in the Navy’s inventory, ex-USS Paiute (ATF-159), was stricken in 1995 after 44 years of service spanning WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the First Gulf War, then scrapped in October 2003 at Portsmouth.

The legacy of U.S. Navy fleet tugs is kept alive by NAFTS, the National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors. The only Navy tug museum ship is the former ATA-170-class auxiliary tug USS Wampanoag/USCG Comanche, which will be opened to the public in the coming months.

When it comes to Betty, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy has an inert casing on display, noting, “After tests at sea and in the Nevada desert, the Navy soon determined that the Mk 90 was not a practical weapon and retired the system in 1959.”

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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!

The Old Salt

An “Old Salt” and a young sailor stroll past a recruiting poster in 1920. It highlights what their boss, Secretary of the Navy Josephus “Cup O Joe” Daniels, wanted to highlight to attract the best and brightest enlisted talent: an honorable profession, exotic travel, the chance to learn a trade, good food, and generous wages (but no shipboard beer or rum ration)

NHHC NH 95614

The ‘Salt wears an 1890s period Spanish-American War-era uniform, complete with old style flat cap and what could very well be a Shore Patrol or Master-at-Arms badge (there are so many variations out there almost any chest badge in that shape could be SP or MAA). Tucked in his waist could be a bosun’s whistle, knife, or watch chain. 

Meanwhile, the more modern Blue Jacket wears a more 20th-century cracker jack and “Dixie cup hat,” even though the old flat cap would remain an authorized item until as late as 1963.

By which time, the younger sailor was a seasoned Old Salt himself.

Old Salt of the Sixth Fleet Letterpress reproduction of an oil painting by Frank E. Zuccarelli, depicting a Salty Sailor on board USS Strong (DD-758), while on duty with Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, July 1972. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 97953-KN

Submarine updates: USS Albacore found, SSN-23 Turns 18, U-17 Finds a Home

Lots of submarine news broke over the weekend, and all of it deserving of a pause to cover.

USS Albacore found

One of the most successful American subs of WWII, the Gato-class fleet boat USS Albacore (SS-218) was a “war baby,” having been commissioned at Electric Boat on 1 June 1942– the same week as the Battle of Midway– and quickly earning a Presidential Unit Citation and nine battle stars in her own Pacific service. This included officially sinking the highest warship tonnage of any U.S. submarine in history, chalking up the Japanese light cruiser Tenryu (3948 tons), destroyers Oshio (2408 tons) and Sazanam (2080 tons); auxiliary gunboats Heijo Maru (2677 GRT) and Choko Maru No.2 (2629 GRT); aircraft carrier Taiho (29300 tons), minesweeper Eguchi Maru No.3 (198 GRT), and submarine chaser Cha-165 (130 tons).

USS Albacore (SS-218) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 28 April 1944. 19-N-65349

Tragically, Albacore disappeared on her 11th War Patrol in late 1944. As noted by DANFS:

Albacore left Pearl Harbor on 24 October, topped off her fuel tanks at Midway on 28 October, and was never heard from again. According to Japanese records captured after the war, a submarine assumed to be Albacore struck a mine very close to the shore off northeastern Hokkaido on 7 November. A Japanese patrol boat witnessed the explosion of a submerged submarine and saw a great deal of heavy oil, cork, bedding, and food supplies rise to the surface. On 21 December, Albacore was assumed to have been lost. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 30 March 1945.

Well, she has been officially marked located by the Naval History and Heritage Command, who confirmed the identity of a wreck discovered by a Japanese team last year off Hokkaidō in waters about 4 miles east of Hakodate as Albacore, based on documented modifications made to her prior to her last patrol.

A screenshot of the wreck site USS Albacore (SS 218). which was lost at sea Nov. 7, 1944. Indications of documented modifications made to Albacore prior to her final patrol such as the presence of an SJ Radar dish and mast, a row of vent holes along the top of the superstructure, and the absence of steel plates along the upper edge of the fairwater allowed Naval History and Heritage Command to confirm the wreck site finding as Albacore. Screenshot captured from video courtesy of Dr. Tamaki Ura, from the University of Tokyo.


NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch (UAB) used information and imagery provided by Dr. Tamaki Ura, from the University of Tokyo, to confirm the identity of Albacore, which was lost at sea Nov. 7, 1944.

“As the final resting place for Sailors who gave their life in defense of our nation, we sincerely thank and congratulate Dr. Ura and his team for their efforts in locating the wreck of Albacore,” said NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, U.S. Navy rear admiral (retired). “It is through their hard work and continued collaboration that we could confirm Albacore’s identity after being lost at sea for over 70 years.”

Japanese records originating from the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR) covering the loss of an American submarine on Nov. 7, 1944, guided Dr. Ura’s missions. The location mentioned in the records matched a separate ongoing effort by UAB volunteers to establish the location of the shipwreck.

Dr. Ura’s team collected data using a Remotely Operated Vehicle to confirm the historical data. Strong currents, marine growth, and poor visibility on site made it challenging to fully document the wreck or obtain comprehensive images. However, several key features of a late 1944 Gato-class submarine were identified in the video.

Indications of documented modifications made to Albacore prior to her final patrol such as the presence of an SJ Radar dish and mast, a row of vent holes along the top of the superstructure, and the absence of steel plates along the upper edge of the fairwater allowed UAB to confirm the wreck site finding as Albacore.

The wreck of Albacore is a U.S. sunken military craft protected by U.S. law and under the jurisdiction of NHHC. While non-intrusive activities, such as remote sensing documentation, on U.S. Navy sunken military craft is allowed, any intrusive or potentially intrusive activities must be coordinated with NHHC and if appropriate, authorized through a relevant permitting program. Most importantly, the wreck represents the final resting place of Sailors that gave their life in defense of the nation and should be respected by all parties as a war grave.

SSN-23 Turns 18

Named for the only former nuclear submarine officer (and last battleship officer) to occupy the White House, the third and final Seawolf-class attack boat, USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) celebrated the 18th anniversary of her commissioning. The much-modified boat has spent most of her career never going into places and doing things she that will never see a press release. This is evidenced from her 2017 appearance back home at Kitsap with a Jolly Roger aloft with no explanation.

PUGET SOUND, Wash. (Sept. 11, 2017) Sailors aboard the Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23), look on as the submarine transits the Hood Canal on its way home to Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Sept. 11. Jimmy Carter is the last and most advanced of the Seawolf-class attack submarines, which are all homeported at Naval Base Kitsap. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith)

Of course, the news that SSN-23s adult birthday comes as her Annapolis-educated namesake, now 98, is entering hospice care. While his record as a president may be up for debate, his naval service was not.

Mr. Carter spent almost two years of service on old school dreadnoughts (USS Wyoming and Mississippi while they were gunnery test ships), and another five on subs including earning his dolphins on USS Pomfret (SS-391), then as a plankowner for USS K-1(SSK-1), and PCU USS Seawolf (SSN-575). He also is often credited with helping to avert the first nuclear reactor meltdown during the Chalk River incident while in the service.

U-17 Finds a Home

Finally, from Germany comes the news that the Technik Museums Sinsheim Speyer is all set to receive the retired Bundsmarine Klasse 206A Uboot FGS U-17 (S-196) as a museum ship.

The tiny HDW-built 500-ton Baltic sub was commissioned in 1973 and retired in 2010 after a healthy 37-year run that included the distinction of being the first German post-war submarine to cross the Atlantic when she visited New York City for Fleet Week in 1992 along with her sister U-26.

The German Type 206s were basically the Volkswagon Bettles of the submarine world. Of the 18 Klasse 206As built, two (U22 & U23) are still in service with the Colombian Navy. Just 159 feet long with a 22-man crew, they could carry eight advanced Seeaal or Seehecht torpedos, enough to send any Russian battle cruiser to the bottom

U-17 has been laid up in Wilhelmshaven until 2021 when she was towed to Thyssenkrupp’s Kiel yard to be demilitarized, as seen here

Three Crowns Underway

This striking circa summer 1944 image shows the Swedish coastal battleship (pansarskeppet) HSwMS Sverige with a bone in her teeth despite her rather old-fashioned Edwardian-era bow form. Note her twin forward 11.1″/45 Bofors guns above white “neutral stripes” over an overall camouflage scheme, the latter very useful when hugging the coastline and hiding out along the country’s craggy coastline. The Tre kronor (Swedish “Three crowns”) is a national emblem of Sweden dating back to the 13th century.

Photo by Ernfrid Bogstedt via the Sjöhistoriska museet. Fo196138

The lead-ship of her class, Sverige was laid down in 1912, completed during the Great War where she helped enforce the country’s brand of heavily-armed neutrality, was modernized in the 1930s and continued to serve both through WWII as seen above and the early days of the Cold War. 

May 1934, the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans at Stockholm (center) with the twin pansarskeppet Gustav V and Sverige in the foreground. Fo39197

The Sverige trio, some 7,700 tons at their heaviest, were just under 400 feet long but were protected akin to a heavy cruiser with up to 8-inches of armor and carried a quartet of Bofors M/1912 11.1-inch/45 caliber guns, the latter capable of landing a 672-pound armor-piercing “arrow nose shell” an impressive 31,000 yards away (the latter a closely-held secret until as late as the 1960s, with most foreign intelligence pointing to a more sedate 20,000-yard range).

Janes’s 1946 entry on the class

She was only decommissioned in 1953, after over 40 years of service, and was scrapped in 1958.

As for her contemporaries, she outlived almost all of them. For the record, the last of the pansarskepp-era mini-battleships, Sverige‘s sister HSvMS Gustav V, was used as a training hulk and pier side until 1970 when she was finally scrapped.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023: The Only ‘T’ in the P-class

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. 8, 2023: The Only ‘T’ in the P-class

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 41932

Above we see a great 1937 image of the Porpoise-class fleet boat USS Tarpon (SS-175), her bow breaking the surface at a relatively steep up angle. The only one of two of her class that was commissioned without a “P” series fish name (note her “P4” bow number), some 80 years ago today, Tarpon accounted for an entire Japanese regiment when her torpedoes sent the troopship Tatsuta Maru to the bottom in the middle of an overnight gale while some 42 nautical miles east of Mikura Jima, and none of the 1,400 men aboard her were ever seen again.

Background on the Porpoise class

As noted by, the Porpoise was the first of the so-called “fleet boats,” large cruising submarines of a full double hull design thought suitable for cross-ocean combat and dives as deep as 250 feet. “These boats were the culmination of the four decades of submarine design and research that preceded them and were the height of US technology leading into World War II.”

Some 301 feet overall, they went almost 2,000 tons when fully loaded and submerged. Capable of 19 knots on the surface, they could overhaul most merchant ships but could never outrun an enemy destroyer or sub-buster. Submerged speed maxed out at just eight knots. Armament consisted of four forward 21-inch torpedo tubes and two stern tubes of the same size. Besides the capability to carry 16 torpedoes, the class also had a 3-inch/50 single deck gun wet mount over their flat sterns.

Sistership USS Shark, SS-174, the only other non-P-named Porpoise class boat. Seen here under construction at Electric Boat in Connecticut, 20 May 1935, her four-pack of forward torpedo tubes is plainly seen.

USS Shark (SS-174). Official model, photographed circa 1938 by her builder, the Electric Boat Company NARA

Detailed by Norman Friedman in U.S. Submarines Through 1945, An Illustrated Design History:

Porpoise (SS-172) was the first of a new generation of submarines that developed into successful WW II fleet boats. Her design shows much of the standard above-water configuration for U.S. submarines completed through 1942. Many features of her internal arrangement were adopted in Dolphin (SS-169): Officer’s quarters above the forward battery, control room below the conning tower & above the pump room, crew’s quarters above the after battery, the engine room & a maneuvering room above the motor room. Dolphin differed in having a large galley above an auxiliary (battery-charging) machinery room abaft the crew’s mess / after battery forward of the main engine room. In Porpoise, a small galley & washroom with a storeroom below was worked in at the after end of the control room.

Porpoise plan, Drawing by Jim Christley via Navsource.

In all, ten Porpoise class boats were constructed in three sub-classes with USS Porpoise (SS 172) and Pike (SS 173) in the initial run built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, sisters Shark (SS 174) and Tarpon (SS 175) constructed at Electric Boat to a slightly upgraded arrangement, and the final six boats with much better endurance split between both yards: Perch (SS 176), Pickerel (SS 177), Permit (SS 178), Plunger (SS 179), Pollack (SS 180), and Pompano (SS 181). All were completed in 44 months between 27 October 1933 when Porpoise was laid down and 12 June 1937 when Pompano was commissioned. Not bad when you remember this is peacetime construction.

The first USS Tarpon on the Navy List, like our vessel, was a submarine, only the 14th ever commissioned. A humble little 105-foot craft with fire-prone gasoline engines, she was only in commission for 10 years before her career ended.

USS Tarpon (Submarine # 14) Photographed by Enrique Muller, 1909. The gunboat in the right distance is either USS Castine or USS Machias. NH 43600

Meet Tarpon

Constructed at EB, our second Tarpon was commissioned on 12 March 1936, then almost immediately sailed for the West Coast to join Submarine Division (SubDiv) 13 with whom she operated out of San Diego and Pearl Harbor.

A great series of diving images of Tarpon, from which the first photo of this post was taken, was captured at the time, the benefit of being so close to Hollywood, I guess.

USS Tarpon (SS-175) recovering a practice torpedo, during exercises off San Diego, California, 22 August 1937. NH 63184

USS Tarpon (SS-175) underway on the surface, circa 1937. NH 41923

Same as the above, NH 41924

A great stern shot from the series, showing her single 3″/50 deck gun. Catalog #: NH 41919

USS Tarpon (SS-175) submerging, with her foredeck awash, circa 1937. NH 41918

USS Tarpon (SS-175) submerging NH 41934

USS Tarpon (SS-175) submerging NH 41933

NH 41925

USS Tarpon underway while nearly submerged, circa 1937. NH 41929

USS Tarpon running submerged, with her periscope extended. NH 41927

USS Tarpon surfacing, with her bow at a shallow up angle, circa 1937. NH 41920

USS Tarpon underway on the surface, circa 1937. Crew members appear to be preparing to bring her 3/50 deck gun into action. NH 41928

She was soon transferred to the Philippines with SubDiv 14 where she was forward deployed along with many of her sisters, augmenting a half-dozen old “Sugar Boats” that had been in the PI since the 1920s.

Six Porpoise-class boats nested together, circa 1939-1941. Probably seen from the tender USS Canopus (AS-9) in Manila Bay, Philippines. The inboard submarine is not identified. The others are (from left to right): USS Pike (SS-173); USS Tarpon (SS-175); USS Porpoise (SS-172); USS Perch (SS-176); and USS Permit (SS-178). Collection of Jack L. Wheat, who served in Canopus. NH 99672.

A different view of the above


Assigned to the newly-formed SubDiv 203 just days before the war in the Pacific started, Tarpon began her first war patrol just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was assigned to patrol off southeastern Luzon. With little to show for her efforts, she put into Darwin, Australia on 11 January 1942.

Her second patrol went even worse, with the boat surviving a tense grounding situation west of Flores Island in the Dutch East Indies. After jettisoning anchors, torpedoes, oil, and ammunition she is able to free herself and make it back to Freemantle.

Her third and fourth patrols ended with no enemy ships on her tally and her original skipper that she started the war with subsequently reassigned to shore duty, while Tarpon was ordered to the Mare Island Navy Yard for an overhaul in June 1942 that would change her sensor suite, add two extra external torpedo tubes, and a 20mm AAA mount.

She would spend four months refurbing in California and leave with a new skipper, LCDR Thomas Lincoln Wogan, (USNA 1930). A career submariner, Wogan had commanded the old Sugar Boat USS S-34 (139) out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska already under nightmarish conditions and was surely glad to get the upgrade and orders for warmer waters.

Leaving Mare Island, Tarpon had another great photo shoot.

USS Tarpon (SS-175) At the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, after an overhaul, 24 September 1942. Circles mark recent alterations to the ship. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. 19-N-35372

Same as above. Note the new 20mm gun. Catalog #: 19-N-35373

Same as above. Note the two recently installed external bow torpedo tubes, giving her a six-tube main punch. NH 99008

Off Mare Island. NH 99009

USS Tarpon off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, after an overhaul, 30 September 1942. Note barrage balloons in the distance. 19-N-35370



A smashing Sixth Patrol

Getting back in the war, Tarpon would spend her 5th war patrol roaming north of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands area in October-November.

It would be her sixth patrol, and second with Wogan, 33, as the “old man” that Tarpon would finally draw blood. In nine days across the first two weeks of February 1943, while on patrol in Japanese home waters, south of Honshu, she claimed two massive transports.

First was the Japanese troopship Fushimi Maru (10935 GRT) about 20 nautical miles south of Omai Zaki on 1 February after a pair of night attack runs (one submerged, one surfaced) and six torpedoes. A former Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) lines merchant passenger-cargo ship delivered in 1914, she was carrying a battalion-sized element when sunk. The auxiliary net layer Kokai Maru rescued 214 survivors and dropped depth charges on Tarpon without success.

From her war patrol report: 

The second was the aforementioned Japanese troop transport Tatsuta Maru (16975 GRT), another NYK liner although one with a much more interesting history. Carrying 1,223 soldiers and passengers and 198 crew members to Truk under escort from the destroyer Yamagumo, she never made it, taking what was believed to be all four torpedoes launched from Tarpon’s forward tubes.

Sinking in less than a half-hour with seas in too high a state to take to the lifeboats, Yamagumo stood by but was not able to recover any survivors. As with Fushimi Maru, the attack on Tatsuta Maru was a submerged night attack run aided by radar conducted from at periscope depth (35 feet) from almost point-blank range.

The rest of the war

Tarpon’s continued service saw a slow 7th patrol followed by an 8th patrol that damaged the Japanese merchant Shinsei Maru (4746 GRT) off Mikura Shima and sank the 97-ton guard boat Yulin Maru in a surface gun action.

On her 9th patrol, she would end the career of the 4,700-ton German armed auxiliary commerce raider Michel (Hilfskreuzer-9/Schiff-28/Raider H) off Chichi Jima.

HK Michel

The former Gdynia-America-Line steamer Bielsko, the German was armed with a half-dozen 6-inch guns and another half-dozen torpedo tubes, making her deadly for any Allied merchantman her Arado seaplanes could find, and she had claimed no less than 18 of them. Tarpon would end Michel’s second raiding voyage just 50 miles short of the safety of Yokohama on 17 October 1943. Hit by four torpedoes from Tarpon across four attack runs, the last of Hitler’s operational HSKs went to the bottom carrying her skipper, KzS Günther Gumprich, and three-fourths of her crew.

Although Tarpon went on to complete three further patrols under a new skipper, her record of kills stopped with the German raider’s end. An aging vessel whose design was surpassed by the newer Gato and Balao-class fleet boats, she was ordered to the East Coast to serve as a training boat for new crews.

The submarine departed Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1944, and arrived at New London, Conn., on 17 January 1945.

USS Tarpon in New London, note her long homeward bound pennant and the snow-covered landscape– a big difference from her last eight years of Pacific service for sure!

With the war soon over, Tarpon decommissioned in Boston on 15 November 1945.

Tarpon decommissioned at Boston

She received seven battle stars for her World War II service.

Tarpon went on to serve as a Naval Reserve training hulk for a time at New Orleans before being stricken from the Navy List in 1956.

She ended her career off Cape Hatteras in 1957 where she sank while under tow to the salvage yard.


Part of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, Tarpon today rests 135 feet down and, as noted by the agency, “The site is heavily encrusted with coralline algae and supports an array of cnidarians, such as sea anemones and corals. Tarpon also typically has several sand tiger sharks on site, which can provide dramatic photographic subjects while enjoying this historic shipwreck dive.”

Today, the ex-USS Tarpon wreck site is home to an abundance of marine life. Here, a sand tiger shark swims in the foreground with the Tarpon’s dive planes in the background. Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

Meanwhile, most of her patrol reports and plans are in the National Archives. 

Her most famous skipper, Capt. Wogan, who had earned a Navy Cross and two Silver Stars while aboard Tarpon, sadly took his life in 1951 while commander of the tender Sperry, aged just 42.

There has not been a third Tarpon in U.S. Navy service.

As for her nine sisters, four (Shark, Pompano, Perch, and Pickerel) were lost while on service in the Pacific. They are considered on Eternal Patrol, numbered among the 52 American submarines that never returned to port during the conflict.

Their names are inscribed on a memorial at the USS Albacore Museum in New Hampshire. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Like Tarpon, many of her surviving sisters spent a short spell as training boats in the last days of the war and immediately after.

Also like Tarpon, they were all disposed of by the mid-1950s. Since they were all scrapped, Tarpon endures as the best-preserved relic of the class.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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Pre-Priest Photoshoot

Official caption: (early 1942)

The M-7 is the Army’s newest tank destroyer and is really a “killer.” Being tested for desert warfare at Iron Mountains, California. It carries both a 105mm Howitzer and a 50 caliber gun. Lieutenant M. Hutchison of Enterprise, Alabama is on the extreme right. Corporal L. Roberts from Graham, Texas is at post behind the Howitzer. Corporal Downing, whose home is Dekalb, Missouri, is in the turret.

U.S. Army Signal Corps Image now LOC LC-DIG-fsa-8b04892

Of course, those who are tank and SPG versed will recognize that the T32 Motor Carriage M7— dubbed the “Priest” in British service due to the pulpit-style .50 cal ring (and the fact that the Brits already had a similar SPG named the “Bishop”)– was a self-propelled gun rather than a tank destroyer, although a lucky hit by its 4.1-inch (105mm) M2A howitzer would smash just about any armored vehicle ever made before 1970.

The original chassis was based on the M3 Lee/Grant medium tank chassis.

Over 4,400 M7s would be produced, and the type remained in service with the U.S. Army through Korea and then with allied forces well into the 1960s and 70s including combat with the Israelis in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Some may still endure in the reserves of the armies of Pakistan and Taiwan, just in case they are ever required to prey (pray?) again.

Light a candle for the Dorchester Chaplains today

USAT Dorchester during 1942. Note her 4-inch deck gun forward. NHHC Catalog #: SC-290583

Some 80 years ago today, 3 February 1943, the 5,200-ton Gulf & West Indies Steamship Lines passenger steamer-turned-troopship SS Dorchester, while sailing from New York to Narsarssuak, Greenland as part of West-bound convoy SG 19, when she came across German type VIIC submarine U-223 (Kptlt. Karl-Jürg Wächter) as part of Wolfpack Nordsturm.

Besides 1,069 tons of general cargo, lumber, and 60 bags of mail, Dorchester carried a complement of seven officers, 123 crewmen, some 23 Navy Armed Guards (the ship was armed with one 4 in, one 3 in, and four 20mm guns) and 751 assorted U.S. Army troops and civilian passengers.

It was all over very rapidly after U-223 loosed five torpedos around 0452. With lifeboats scarce, although the escorting U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Comanche, Tampa, and Escanaba stood by immediately to rescue those seeking to leave the ship, within 30 minutes the Dorchester was on the bottom, taking 675 souls with her including her master, three officers, 98 crewmen, 15 Armed Guards, and 558 troops and passengers.

Painting of the crew from Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba rescuing survivors from the torpedoed USAT Dorchester. U.S. Coast Guard image

Four Army chaplains representing the four different faiths: Rev Lt George Lansing Fox (Methodist); Rabbi Lt Alexander David Goode; Rev Lt. Clark Poling (First Reformed Church) and Father John Washington (Catholic) gave up their lifebelts to soldiers who have none, and all perished with the ship.

The four “Immortal Chaplains” were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the DSC.

The Army’s Chaplin Corps marks their passage every February 3rd.


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