Tag Archives: battle of midway

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2022: Way Down Upon…

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, Sept. 24, 2022: Way Down Upon…

U.S. Navy photo in the National Archives. 80-G-344419

Above we see Naval Aviators of the “Flying Boars” of Fighter Squadron (VF) 40, upon their return to the Sangamon-class escort carrier USS Suwannee (CVE 27), talking about splashing three Japanese Vals off Okinawa, on 16 May 1945. In flight suits are (L-R): Ensign Raymon L. Lebel, LT John E. Lockridge, and LT (jg) Joseph Coleman. For that month alone, the F6F-3 Hellcat squadron would claim six enemy aircraft and nine fishing boats destroyed.

Not a bad job for flying from a converted oiler.

Tanker flattops

During WWII, the U.S. launched 50 of the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company’s Casablanca-class and 45 smaller Bogue-class escort carriers between September 1941 and June 1944. These 95 rapidly built flattops, based on simple Liberty ship/C3-class freighter hulls, were the bulk of the “jeep carrier” production. At just 10,000-ish tons and about 500 feet long with the ability to carry about 20 or so aircraft (typically Wildcats and Avengers), these formed the backbone of the Allied “hunter-killer” ASW teams in the Battle of the Atlantic and later lent their shoulders to support amphibious warfare landings across the Western Pacific.

However, before the Navy settled for these little guys, it rushed a four-ship class of oiler conversions into service which set the bar high for the type.

The largest escort carriers converted for the U.S. Navy; the Sangamon-class all started life as big Maritime Commission Type T3-S2-A1 oil tankers. Large and turbine powered, the 553-foot, 11,300-ton (gross) vessels could tote 146,000 bbl. of oil at 18-19 knots and do it reliably. A full dozen of these had been laid down before WWII started, originally intended for a variety of U.S.-flagged oil companies. Of that dozen, all were rapidly taken up by the Navy in the summer of 1941 for conversion to desperately needed Cimarron-class oilers, a type the fleet would need possibly more than any other in 1942.

The thing is, in 1942, the Navy found it needed aircraft carriers even more.

Four CimarronsSS Esso Trenton, Esso Seakay, and Esso New Orleans, all originally planned for Standard Oil; and Esso Markay, which would drop the “Esso” and become just the SS Markay for the Keystone Tankship Corp– had only just gotten as far as changing their names to the Cimarron-class standard convention after rivers when the Navy stepped in once again and ordered their fast conversion to “Aircraft Escort Vessels,” often with different hull numbers to keep things properly confusing.

  • SS Esso Trenton became USS Sangamon (AO-28), then AVG-26.
  • SS Esso Seakay became USS Santee (AO-29), then AVG-29.
  • SS Esso New Orleans became USS Chenango (AO-31), then AVG-28
  • SS Markay became USS Suwannee (AO-33), then AVG-27.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

While our vessel is the only “Suwannee” on the NVR– named for the river which rises in Ware County in southeastern Georgia and flows southwest across Florida to empty into the Gulf of Mexico at Suwannee Sound– the Navy had two previous “Suwanee,”: a Civil War gunboat that spent her career fruitlessly chasing the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah, and a captured German steamer (ex-SS Mark) that was turned into a collier in the Great War.

Four ladies swimming and eating watermelon in the Suwannee River, Fanning Springs Florida

Our subject vessel was laid down at New Jersey’s Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. as hull number 5 on 3 June 1939 for Standard Oil, then, as mentioned, was delivered to Keystone in early 1941 sans her planned “Esso” prefix. She was purchased by the Navy on 26 June 1941.

Tanker SS Markay (incorrectly listed as Esso Markay) was photographed on 26 June 1941, just before conversion into USS Suwannee (AO-33), later AVG/CVE-27). Probably photographed in Baltimore, Maryland. 19-N-24297

Her Navy conversion was brief, and Suwannee was placed in commission on 16 July 1941 after just three weeks of work which consisted primarily of adding underway replenishment gear, painting her haze gray, and bolting on a topside armament of a single 5-inch gun and four water-cooled .50 caliber machine guns.

Her first task was to take Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron (MTBRon) 1, including its men as passengers and six 77-foot Elco torpedo boats (PT-20, PT-21, PT-22, PT-23, PT-24, and PT-25) as deck cargo, to Hawaii, shipping out from Brooklyn with the mosquito boats aboard and arriving at Pearl Harbor on 18 September, delivering the craft to Hawaii. Originally to go to the Philippines, MTBRon 1 would instead see action at Pearl Harbor, then later at the Battle of Midway, and participated in the Aleutian campaign.

PT Boats and Zeros Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942; Unframed Dimensions 10H X 20W Accession #: 88-188-AF On the brightly colored waters of the lagoon, the PTs are skimming about, darting here and dodging there, maneuvering between the rows of machine gun splashes, incessantly firing their twin pairs 50 caliber guns.

Shipping back to the East Coast, Suwannee carried passengers and cargo from Texas to Newfoundland in the uneasy neutrality that was the U.S. in 1941. At Norfolk Navy Yard in maintenance on December 7th, she continued her service as an oiler, dodging U-boats along the East Coast.

With the success of the small early escort carriers USS Long Island (originally AVG-1, later ACV-1 then CVE-1), her sister HMS Archer (D78), and the Royal Navy auxiliary aircraft carrier (aka escort carrier) HMS Audacity (D10), it was decided just two months after Pearl Harbor to convert the quartet of above-mentioned oilers to carriers.

With that, Suwannee decommissioned on 20 February 1942 at Newport News, Virginia, to begin the conversion process.

Meet your new carrier

Recommissioned 24 September 1942– 80 years ago this week– our new carrier’s first skipper was Capt. (later Admiral) Joseph James “Jocko” Clark. The first Native American to graduate from Annapolis when the Cherokee passed out in 1917, Jocko learned his trade in the surface warfare field and then became a Naval Aviator in 1925. He was XO of USS Yorktown (CV-5) at the Coral Sea and Midway, having just seen his beloved carrier sent to the bottom just three months before taking command of his tanker-turned oiler-turned-AVG. Kind of a demotion and promotion all at the same time.

Armed with two 5″/38s, one port another starboard, these ships would eventually carry 22 40mm and 21 20mm AAA guns before the war was out, giving them a respectable self-defense armament.

The Sangamon class carrier’s air department included the flight deck and hangar deck crew, an Aerology Lab, radar, and radio maintenance shops, a photographic lab, a parachute loft, an ordnance gang, and Air Office. With a flight deck 503 feet long and 85 feet wide, they had a single catapult installed but would later pick up a second. They were the only CVEs during the war that were deemed suitable to fly dive bombers from as the SBDs were awkward on small hulls since their tough wings, filled with massive air braking flaps, did not fold.

Keep in mind that in their full-load 1944 displacement, the Sangamons went almost 25,000 tons, twice the weight of other CVEs. 

USS Sangamon, as converted

Suwanee’s first air group, 18 F4F Wildcats and 15 new TBF Avengers of Escort Scouting Group (VGS) 27 were the Navy’s top aircraft of the time and were attached on the day she was recommissioned. It should be noted this was significantly larger than the freighter-based CVEs (some of which only shipped out with eight aircraft) and, with a more robust hull type, the oiler-based baby flattops could conduct ops in higher seas. Truth be told, they should have been labeled “light carriers” as they were much close to the cruiser-hull converted Independence-class CVLs in size (15,000 tons, 620 feet oal for Indy) and supported roughly the same sized air wing.

As noted in Hunter-Killer: U.S. Escort Carriers in the Battle of the Atlantic by William T. Y’Blood:

The Sangamon-class ships were much more stable than the Bouge-class vessels because they had lower flight decks– 42 feet versus 54 feet– on a longer hull. These vessels also had two elevators but the hangar deck distance between them was shorter than in the other carriers. This shorter length was mitigated by increased width and no shear in the hangar deck area. A number of openings in the flat sides of the hull gave excellent ventilation for the hangar deck.

One big advantage that vessels of the Sangamon class had over the Bogue class was in the amount of fuel oil the former could carry. The Bouge could carry only 3,290 tons whereas the Sangamons could carry over 5,880 tons. Over and above this, too, was the fact that these ex-oilers could carry 100,000 gallons of aviation fuel and 7,000 gallons of aviation lubricants.

The Sangamon-class were very efficient, with more speed, greater range, increased stability, and the capability of operating more aircraft than the earlier escort carrier classes. However, because of the critical need for more oilers, these four ships would be the only such vessels converted. Had sufficient tanker hulls been available, the Kaiser CVEs might never have been built.

Aerial view of the escort carrier USS Suwanee (CVE-27) underway. USN 470158

Torch!

Just barely out of the shipyard– their guns had only been test fired for structural validation and yard workers were still aboard– the four Sangamons were joined with the Navy’s only “real” carrier in the Atlantic at the time, the smallish USS Ranger (CV-4), to form TF34 under RADM Ernest McWhorter and head to North Africa where they would support the Operation Torch landings.

As the Vichy French had 170 modern aircraft ashore in Morrocco as well as a significant surface and submarine force, and, if they wanted to, could be a formidable opponent, the five-carrier task force had its hands full.

The carriers had to mix and match their air wings so that Chenango could carry 76 Army P-40F Warhawks on a one-way trip. To support the landings, Ranger carried 54 Wildcats and 18 SBDs while Sangamon would ship with 9 Avengers, 9 SBDs, and 12 Wildcats; Santee with a strike-heavy package of 14 F4Fs, 8 TBFs, and 9 SBDs; and Suwanee with at least 29 Wildcats drawn from VGF-27 and VGF-28 and 9 TBFs. The Wildcats, fresh from Grumman, had to test fire their guns for the first time on the trip from the East Coast to the war zone.

USS Brooklyn (CL-40) and USS Suwannee (ACV-27) underway, with the amphibious convoy, en route to North Africa, in early November 1942. 80-G-30228.

USS Santee (ACV 29) en route to Torch landings

Color image showing SBD Dauntless and F4F Wildcat aircraft on the flight deck of USS Santee (ACV 29) during Operation Torch. Note the directions written on the deck

USS Chenango (CVE-28) ferrying army P-40F fighters to Morocco, with the North African Invasion force, November 1942. 80-G-30221

As the landings had three major objectives– Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers– Ranger and Suwanee would remain in the Center Attack Group (TG 34.9) headed for Casablanca, Sangamon and Chenango headed for Port Lyautey with the Northern Attack Group (TG 34.8), and Santee would cover the Southern Attack Group (TG 34.10)’s push off Safi.

Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighter (nicknamed “Rosenblatt’s Reply”) on board USS Suwanee (ACV-27), circa late 1942 or early 1943. The plane bears traces of the yellow Operation Torch marking around its national insignia. Photographed by Ensign Barrett Gallagher, USNR. 80-G-K-15634

SBD Dauntless dive bombers pictured in flight over an escort carrier during Operation Torch. NNAM photo

As noted by DANFS:

Early in the morning of 8 November, Suwanee arrived off the coast of Morocco, and, for the next few days, her Wildcat fighters maintained combat and antisubmarine air patrols, while her Avengers joined Ranger’s in bombing missions. Between 8 and 11 November, Suwannee sent up 255 air sorties and lost only five planes, three in combat and two to operational problems. On 11 November, off Fedala Roads, her antisubmarine patrol claimed the destruction of a submarine, a “kill” not verified in post-war accounting.

While DANFS says Suwanee’s claim wasn’t borne out post-war, most other sources disagree.

To expand on that, Suwanee’s operations included sending her Avengers with Ranger’s airwing to attack the French battleship Jean Bart and three submarines at Casablanca, scoring a bomb hit on the incomplete dreadnought and one on the docked submarines. Her Avengers also got in licks against the cruiser Primaguet and the destroyer Albatros as they tried to sortie from Casablanca’s outer harbor.

With her Wildcats burning gas providing a CAP over the Task Force, it once again fell to her Avengers to do the heavy lifting, with four TBF “Turkeys” smothering the French Redoutable-class submarine Sidi Ferruch (Q181) in a dozen Mk.17 depth bombs off Fedhala Roads.

French submarine Sidi-Ferruch (Q181) facing the cathedral of Saint Mary Major in the Old Port of Marseille, pre WWII

As noted by Y’Blood:

The Sidi-Ferruch was diving when the last four bombs exploded directly over her. The conning tower bobbed back up, and pieces of the vessel were flung in the air. The conning tower then submerged vertically. Violent explosions and a “boiling” of the water disturbed the surface for about ten minutes. Seeing the obvious death throes of the submarine, the fourth pilot held his bombs. A light boiling of the water, accompanied by some oil, continued for 45 minutes. There was no doubt that the VGS-27 fliers had destroyed the sub.

Even Uboat.net, the gold standard these days for Axis submarine losses in Europe, holds that Sidi Ferruch met her end at the hand of Suwanee’s air group.

It was the first time an American escort carrier would bag an enemy submarine but it would be far from the last. In the Battle of the Atlantic, jeep carriers would harvest more than 50 U-boats and at least two Japanese submarines while in the Pacific and Indian Oceans at least another nine would be added to the list. Suwannee’s sister Santee’s embarked VC-9 air group across a single cruise in July 1943 would tally three German boats: U-160, U-509, and U-43

Overall, the four “oiler carriers,” rushed through a hasty conversion to aviation vessels, acquitted themselves well in Torch. Despite almost near total inexperience by all involved, with new planes flown by green crews from ships that had been cobbled together, the three operational Sangamons flew 582 combat sorties in four days, dropped 399 bombs, and fired 111,000 rounds of ammunition. In exchange, they lost 29 aircraft– 21 from Santee alone– and landed 74 of 76 Army P-40s from Chenango.

Shifting gears to Guadalcanal

The Vichy regime over, and all but occupied metropolitan France now in with the Allies, Suwannee sailed home and, after a short yard period, was transferred to the Pacific where the fight around Guadalcanal was at its height and the Navy could only count on one or two forward deployed carriers at a time, all the others having been sunk or sent home with a beating.

Reaching New Caledonia on 4 January 1943, Suwannee spent the next seven months providing air escorts for Guadalcanal-bound convoys and in the occupation of New Georgia, Rendova, and Vanunu. She was interchangeably part of TF 18 and TF 69 during this period. The beans, bullets, and avgas that made it to the Marines and Soldiers on “The Canal” during this period largely did so under a protective umbrella of Wildcats and Avengers from Suwannee.

View from another ship showing a Sangamon-class aircraft carrier underway in the South Pacific in 1943. NNAM photo

It was during this time that one of her airedales, AMM B. L. Thomas, penned several safety drawings that were turned into posters.

USS Suwannee (AVG-27), April 7, 1943. Flight deck poster made by an AMM, B. L. Thomas, of the crew. Artwork details the dangers of propellers. Photograph: April 7, 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-39315

USS Suwannee (AVG-27), poster by Thomas. Artwork details crossing the flight deck during launchings. 80-G-39316

USS Suwannee (AVG-27), poster by Thomas. Artwork details crossing the flight deck during landings. 80-G-39317

USS Suwannee (AVG-27), poster by Thomas. Artwork details sitting on the flight deck during flight operations. 80-G-39318

Suwannee returned to the U.S. for a brief refit, leaving Espiritu Santo on 26 August and arriving at Alameda on 10 September. There, she left her original air wing of VGS-27 behind and picked up the 12 F6F-3 Hellcats, 9 TBM-1C Avengers, and 9 SBDs of the newly formed Air Group (CVEG) 60 composed of VC-60 and VF-60. She would carry this force through November 1944 and would be the only carrier to embark CVEG-60.

Leaving San Diego on 16 October, Suwannee was back at Espiritu Santo and returned to service in time to spend Thanksgiving 1943 as part of the Gilbert Islands operation, bombing Tarawa with TF 53.

Another short stint on the West Coast and she headed for the Marshalls in January 1944 with her planes raiding the Roi and Namur islands of the Kwajalein Atoll and performing antisubmarine patrols.

Parry Island, Eniwetok Atoll, under bombardment 21 Feb 1944 recon from USS Suwanee (CVE 27) 80-G-218634

Escort carrier Suwannee (CVE 27) pictured at anchor at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands in an image taken from the heavy cruiser Baltimore (CA 68) Feb 7, 1944

March, joining her three sisters– Sangamon, Chenango, and Santee— as Carrier Division 22 (CarDiv 22), brought raids on the Palau Islands while April saw Suwannee supporting the Hollandia landings. By June, they were part of the invasion of the Marianas including the campaigns against Saipan and occupied Guam.

Much as Suwannee has been the first escort carrier to sink an Axis sub in the Atlantic when she pulled the plug on Sidi-Ferruch, her sister Chenango was the first to sink one in the Pacific, with VC-35 aircraft flying from Chenango splashing I-21 (Inada) in November 1943. However, Suwannee soon caught up and would be the only carrier of her class to sink enemy subs in both oceans. 

As part of the Battle of the Philippine Sea in which CVEG-60 came face-to-face with a Japanese Type KD7 boat.

As told by Combined Fleets on IJN Submarine I-184:

19 June 1944: The Battle of the Philippine Sea: 20 miles SE of Saipan. The USS SUWANEE (CVE-27) is supporting the invasion of the Marianas. Ensign G. E. Sabin’s Grumman TBM-1C “Avenger” torpedo-bomber of VT-60 is flying an ASW patrol. Sabin drops below the cloud cover and spots a surfaced Japanese submarine. LtCdr Rikihisa spots the Avenger and crash-dives, but Sabin drops his depth bombs just ahead of the submarine’s track and sinks I-184 with all 96 hands at 13-01N, 149-53E.

By September, Suwannee was supporting the landings on Morata in the Dutch East Indies and then was placed in the vanguard of the force headed to liberate the Philippines after two years of Japanese occupation.

The Divine Wind

Sailing from Manus with RADM Thomas L. Sprague’s Escort Carrier Group Task Unit 77.4.1 (Taffy 1) of TF77 on 12 October with her sisters Santee and Sangamon along with the new Casablanca-class “Kaiser coffin” USS Petroff Bay (CVE-80), Suwannee’s planes were soon raiding the Visayas.

By the 24th Taffy 1 was embroiled in the wild combat that swirled around the Battle of Leyte Gulf, just escaping the sacrifice of TG 77.4.3 (“Taffy 3”) off Samar. While her airwing landed several blows against Japanese capital ships– battered survivors of the Battle of Surigao Strait– Suwannee and her sisters were subject to repeated kamikaze attacks from land-based planes across the 24th-26th.

Despite bagging at least one Zeke with her AAA guns, Suwannee took a hit about 40 feet forward of her aft elevator which peeled back a 10-foot hole in her deck and penetrated to the hangar where a 25-foot gash was ripped in the deck.

“Two Japanese Zero aircraft making suicide attacks on USS Sangamon (CVE 26) off Leyte Gulf, Philippines, as seen from USS Suwannee (CVE 27). One Japanese near miss near the bow. Trailing Japanese turned away and was shot down by our fighters, 25 October 1944.” 80-G-270665

Fires and explosion on USS Suwannee (CVE 27) resulting from a suicide hit of a Japanese “Zero” near Leyte Gulf, Philippines, taken from USS Sangamon (CVE 25), 25 October 1944. 80-G-270626

Japanese “Zero” crashes deck of USS Suwannee (CVE 27) and bursts into flames, Leyte Gulf, Philippines, 25 October 1944. TBM may be seen in flight behind the smoke. This plane which was loaded with a torpedo was unharmed by the crash. 80-G-270662

Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 1944. Damage done to USS Suwannee (CVE 27) after attack by a Japanese kamikaze off Leyte Gulf, photographed 25 October 1944. Note the hole in the flight deck. 80-G-270693

Battle of Leyte Gulf, wardroom of USS Suwannee (CVE 27) in use as an emergency sick bay following the kamikaze hit of 25 October 1944. 80-G-289527

Back conducting air ops just three hours later, the 26th saw a second kamikaze hit, this time creating a fire that destroyed nine of CVEG-60’s aircraft along with much of the ship’s bridge.

Fires and explosions on the flight deck of USS Suwannee (CVE 27), resulted from a suicide hit of a Japanese “Zero” near Leyte, Philippines. The airborne plane is friendly. Taken from USS Sangamon (CVE 26) at Leyte, Philippines, 26 October 1944. 80-G-270619

Japanese suicide “Zero” coming in for dive on USS Suwannee (CVL 27) off Leyte Gulf surrounded by ack ack This attack was the second one of the day, 26 October 1944. 80-G-270673

U.S. Navy escort carriers pictured at sea during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The photograph was probably taken from USS Petroff Bay (CVE-80), which was part of Task Unit 77.4.1 (Taffy I), together with the USS Sangamon (CVE-26), USS Suwannee (CVE-27), and USS Santee (CVE-29). The carrier burning in the background is most probably Suwannee, which was hit by two kamikazes, Santee by one amidships. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 2000.236.023

Damage done to USS Suwannee (CVE 27) after attack by Japanese suicide plane off Leyte Gulf. Note the shrapnel pattern. Photographed on 26 October 1944. 80-G-270689

Damage to elevator well on USS Suwanee following October 26, 1944 kamikaze hit

Nonetheless, her crew again patched up, made an emergency open-air navigational bridge, and made for the Palaus for repair.

An emergency bridge manned on after flight deck of USS Suwannee (CVL 27) was attacked by a Japanese kamikaze plane off Leyte Gulf, the Philippines, on 26 October 1944. 80-G-270674

In all, her two kamikaze hits in two days would result in almost 100 dead, another 58 missing, and 102 wounded. Keep in mind her crew and embarked air group at its largest only numbered about a thousand, meaning a full quarter of the men who sailed aboard her were on her casualty lists:

The same battle left sister Santee extensively damaged, hit both by a torpedo from Japanese submarine I-56 and a kamikaze, while Sangamon was struck by two kamikazes of her own. Retiring on 29 October, Sprague’s “oiler carriers” proved they could take abuse of the kind that was hard to shrug off.

Operation Iceberg

After some quick patchwork to get her that far, Suwannee made for Pearl Harbor in mid-December and then spent Christmas in San Diego. Repaired, she set out for Hawaii again in mid-January 1945 where she would shake down with a largely new crew and a new air wing, Air Group (CVEG) 40 composed of VC-40 and VF-40. This final package, of 20 F6F-5s and 12 TBM-1Cs, would be her last and, like CVEG-60, CVEG-40 would only know Suwannee as home.

By April Fool’s Day, she was off Okinawa as part of TF for Operation Iceberg, an 82-day battle that is known in Japan as the Kotetsu no ame (“rain of steel”) due to the intensity of the Japanese kamikaze attacks sent at the American forces. Keep in mind Japan lost an estimated 1,600 planes against the U.S. Fifth Fleet at Okinawa, a figure that never fails to stun no matter how many times you read it.

Again, Suwannee would sail with her three sisters of CarDiv 22 and was the flagship of RADM William Dodge Sample.

F6F-5 Hellcats of Fighting Squadron (VF) 60 pictured preparing to launch from the escort carrier Suwanee (CVE 27) on April 21, 1945

From DANFs on Suwannee during the period:

Her first assignment was close air support for the invasion troops; but, within a few days, she settled down to a routine of neutralizing the kamikaze bases at Sakishima Gunto. For the major portion of the next 77 days, her planes continued to deny the enemy the use of those facilities. Periodically, she put into the anchorage at Kerama Retto to rearm and replenish, but she spent the bulk of her time in air operations at sea.

In May, Suwannee suffered another serious fire because of a cracked-up Avenger.

Fire-fighting crews on board USS Suwannee (CVE 27) brought the blaze under control when a 100-pound bomb of TBM-3 (Bu# 68368) exploded after the plane landed on board. Pilot, Lieutenant Junior Grade Obed F. Flingerland, USNR, was killed and 13 crewmembers were injured. One of the crewmen died later. Photographed by Seaman First Class Hyman Atias, 24 May 1945. 80-G-325116

Likewise, both Chenango and Santee would suffer similar incidents during the operation. High-tempo carrier ops in a combat environment on a 500-foot deck across extended periods with lots of new pilots will do that.

As noted in her War Diary:

Part of CVEG-40’s scoresheet for Iceberg:

Balikpapan

With Iceberg thawed, Suwannee was pulled from the line, stopped in the PI for a week or so, then shipped south for the Dutch East Indies to support the cakewalk Free Dutch-Australian landings at Balikpapan on the Borneo coast. That accomplished, she headed North to the Japanese Home Islands once again and was at Buckner Bay, Okinawa when the news came that the Emperor would throw in the towel.

F6F-5 Hellcat of Fighting Squadron (VF) 40 launches from USS Suwanee (CVE 27) on August 30, 1945

VF-40 pilots smiling around the “kill” scoreboard, August 1945. Left to right: LCDR James C. Longino, Jr., LT (jg) Levi Monteau– pointing to trophy flags– LT(jg) Joseph Coleman, Ensign Raymond L.J. Lebel, and LT Earl E. Hartman. 80-G-349434

While RADM Sample and Suwannee’s skipper, Capt. Charles C. McDonald would go missing after their Martin PBM Mariner flying boat disappeared near Wakayama, Japan soon after VJ Day (they would be recovered in 1948), the rest of her crew made it home in late September 1945 under the command of XO, CDR Schermerhorn Van Mater.

Epilogue

Assigned to the Atlantic Inactive Fleet in October 1945 at Boston, Suwannee spent the rest of her career in mothballs there where she was re-designated to an escort aircraft carrier (helicopter) CVHE-27 in 1955. Stricken from the Navy List on 1 March 1959, she was sold later that year for conversion to merchant service but, with that falling through, was instead towed to Spain where she was scrapped in 1962.

She earned a Presidential Unit Citation and 13 battle stars for her World War II service, the most decorated of her class.

Her 13 stars and Unit Citation

Suwannee’s war diaries and plans are in the National Archives but few other relics endure.

Her three sisters of CarDiv22 likewise were mothballed just after the war, silently redesignated CVHEs– a job they were no doubt suited for– and scrapped by the early 1960s. Between them, Santee, Sangamon, and Chenango received a total of 28 battle stars, a Navy Unit Commendation, and the Presidential Unit Citation during WWII. An impressive record. It should be noted that the Navy’s final 19 escort carriers ever finished, the Commencement Bay-class, were all based on Maritime Commission type T3 tanker hulls like the Sangamons. Apparently, a lesson had been learned.

Of Suwannee’s 31 Cimarron-class oiler half-sisters, two, USS Neosho (AO-23) and USS Mississinewa (AO-59) were lost during the war while the rest continued to serve throughout the Cold War. The final Cimarron in the fleet, USS Caloosahatchee (AO-98), only decommissioned in 1990 after an amazing 45 years of service and was not scrapped until 2010.

The U.S. Navy fleet oiler USS Caloosahatchee (AO-98) underway in 1988.

Specs:

(1942, as Converted)
Displacement (design): 11,400 tons standard; 24,275 tons full load
Length: 553
Beam: 114 over deck
Power plant: 4 boilers (450 psi); 2 steam turbines; 2 shafts; 13,500 shp (design)
Speed: 18+ knots
Endurance: 23,920 nm @ 15 knots (with 4,780 tons of oil fuel)
Aviation facilities: 2 elevators; 1 hydraulic catapult
Crew: 830 (ship’s company + air wing)
Armament: 2 single 5″/51 gun mounts; 4 twin 40-mm/56-cal gun mounts; 12 single 20-mm/70-cal gun mounts
Aircraft: 25-40


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The *Other* Sole Survivors of Torpedo EIGHT

80 Years Ago Today: Here we see the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola (CA-24) as she disembarks Marine reinforcements at the Sand Island pier, Midway, on 25 June 1942. Note M1903 Springfield rifles and other gear along the pier edge. The Sand Island seaplane hangar, badly damaged by the Japanese air attack on 4 June 1942, is in the left distance, with a water tower beside it. Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) TBF-1 Avenger (Bureau # 00380) can be seen on the beach, in line with the water tower.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-12146

Another view of P-cola, same day and place, and the aircraft in the foreground, with a damaged tail, is TBF-1 Avenger (Bureau # 00380) The ship in the right distance is probably USS Ballard (AVD-10):

Catalog #: 80-G-12147

A closer look at Avenger 380, photographed at Midway, 24-25 June 1942, prior to shipment back to the United States for post-battle evaluation:

Catalog #: 80-G-11637

Rear cockpit and .50 caliber machinegun turret of Avenger 380. Damage to the turret can be seen in this view. The ship in the left background is probably USS Ballard (AVD-10):

Catalog #: 80-G-11635

Another look, 80-G-17063

While most know the well-publicized tale of Ensign George “Tex” Gay, the “Sole Survivor” of the 4 June 1942 VT-8 TBD torpedo plane attack on the Japanese carrier force during the Battle of Midway, there is a little more to the story.

Ensign George H. Gay at Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital, with a nurse and a copy of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newspaper featuring accounts of the battle. Gay’s book “Sole Survivor” indicates that the date of this photograph is probably 7 June 1942, following an operation to repair his injured left hand and a meeting with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. 80-G-17678

You see, on 4 June, VT-8 was in two different elements.

Gay was part of 15 criminally obsolete Douglas TBD Devastators torpedo bombers of the squadron that had launched from USS Hornet (CV-8), led by the squadron skipper, LCDR John C. Waldron. Riding their Devastators right to Valhalla in a vain attempt to sink the Japanese carrier Soryu, all 15 were shot down and Gay, his gunner already dead, was left floating in the Pacific to be recovered after the battle.

Six other aircraft of VT-8, new TBF Avengers (keep in mind the type had only had its first flight on 7 August 1941!) were based at Midway and likewise flew against the Japanese on 4 June. These planes were the first Navy aircraft to attack the Japanese fleet that day. They attacked without fighter cover led by LT Langdon Kellogg Fieberling and of those six aircraft, five were shot down.

Avenger 308, mauled by Japanese fighters during the attack, was able to limp back home. Seaman 1st Class Jay D. Manning, who was operating the .50 caliber machinegun turret, was killed in action with Japanese fighters during the attack.

The plane’s pilot was Ensign Albert K. “Bert” Earnest (VMI 1938) and the other crewman was Radioman 3rd Class Harry H. Ferrier. Both survived the action.

Albert K. “Bert” Earnest ’938 is one of VMI’s most decorated graduates. He was awarded three Navy Crosses during World War II. Photos courtesy VMI Archives.

Earnest would earn two Navy Crosses that day, “for dropping his bomb on the Japanese fleet and a second Navy Cross for bringing his aircraft and crew back to Midway. Inspections later found 73 large-caliber bullet holes in his aircraft.”

Courtesy of Captain A.K. Earnest, USN (Ret) and Robert L. Lawson, 1990. NH 102559

As noted by the VMI Alumni Assoc: 

Of the squadron’s planes, Earnest’s was the only one to return to Midway. One pilot, Ensign George Gay, was plucked from the ocean. He is depicted in the 2019 movie “Midway.” Gay enjoyed the attention and wrote a book, “Sole Survivor,” about his Midway experiences. Earnest often joked that he and Ferrier were the “other sole survivors.”

While serving off Guadalcanal during the battle of the Eastern Solomons, Earnest earned a third Navy Cross and was rotated back to the U.S. for the duration of the war.

He continued in the Navy, retiring with 31 years of service in 1972. He had an eventful career, testing enemy aircraft, becoming a “Hurricane Hunter” and qualifying to fly jets.

Earnest died in 2009 and is buried with his wife, Millie, at Arlington National Cemetery.

Warship Wednesday, June 8, 2022: The Ship Behind the Ships Behind the Torpedoes

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, June 8, 2022: The Ship Behind the Ships Behind the Torpedoes

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-10120

Above we see the lead ship of her class, the submarine tender USS Fulton (AS-11), arrive at Pearl Harbor with her decks crowded with USS Yorktown (CV-5) survivors on board, 8 June 1942– 80 years ago today– following the Battle of Midway. While she didn’t get any licks in at Midway, Fulton’s important contribution to the war in the Pacific was huge and overlooked by the history books. For some 1,900 men of Yorktown, she was incredibly important on this day, and these rescued carriermen would soon be put back to work.

Fulton was of course named for famed American engineer and inventor Robert Fulton who developed the world’s first commercially successful steamboat. However, he also designed an interesting sail-powered submersible (“Nautilus”) and thought up “anchored torpedoes” similar to a floating mine.

Fulton’s Nautilus

In 1801, Mr. Fulton sank a small, unmanned ship using such a mine with an explosive charge of 20 pounds of gunpowder at Brest, France, then ten years later conducted a high-profile exhibition attack against the brig USS Argus in the East River via a rowboat and a spar torpedo.

Our vessel is at least the fourth– and somehow last– such ship on the Navy List following in the wake of a sidewheeler that saw much use in the 1840s and 50s, the Navy’s first submarine tender, and a patrol tug, the last of which was decommissioned and scrapped in 1934.

USS Fulton montage of two pen and ink drawings, with associated text, by Samuel War Stanton. The artworks depict the ship as first completed, circa 1837, with three masts and four smokestacks. Collections of the Navy Department, 1967. NH 65483

The Navy’s first officially-designated submarine tender, the USS Fulton (AS-1). Built at Fore River, she was ordered in 1911 and spent two decades in her intended role then, too small to service the Navy’s more modern subs, was reclassified as a survey ship/gunboat in 1930, serving for another few years until she was gutted by a fire in 1934 off Hong Kong.

USS Fulton AS-1 NH 1222

When it comes to submarine tenders, besides a motley list of ~30 old minesweepers, monitors, and cruisers who spent their final days in such auxiliary service in the 1900s-1920s, the Navy’s early AS pennants included a few increasingly larger purpose-built ships– the 3,500-ton Bushnell (AS-2) in 1915, the 8,000-ton Holland (AS-3) in 1926, the repurposed old gunboat Alert AS-4, and converted merchant cargo steamers and passenger liners such as Beaver (AS-5), Camden (AS-6)– ex SS Kiel, Rainbow (AS-7)– ex SS Norse King, Savannah (AS-8)ex SS Saxonia, Canopus (AS-9)– ex SS Santa Leonora, and Argonne (AS-10).

With the Navy building increasingly larger squadrons of increasingly larger “fleet boats” for long-range service in the Western Pacific, the need for a new and modern class of submarine tenders was realized, one that could be used to both succor those divisions of American subs and replace older, more limited tenders such as Alert (sold 1922), Bushnell (reclassified as a survey ship in 1940), Camden (converted to a barracks ship after 1931), Rainbow (sold 1928), Savannah (sold 1934), and Argonne (converted to an auxiliary repair ship 1940). In fact, of the pre-WWII tenders, only the “aging but able” Beaver, Canopus, and Holland were still in the submarine game when the U.S. entered the war.

The U.S. Navy submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) doing what tenders do, with seven nursing submarines of Submarine Squadron 6 and Submarine Division 12 alongside, in San Diego harbor, California (USA), on 24 December 1934. The submarines are (from left to right): USS Cachalot (SS-170), USS Dolphin (SS-169), USS Barracuda (SS-163), and USS Bass (SS-164), USS Bonita (SS-165), USS Nautilus (SS-168) and USS Narwhal (SS-167). Despite her small size and limited abilities, Holland proved her worth over and over in WWII, escaping from the Philippines in 1942 and setting up shop in Australia, surviving the conflict, and completing 55 submarine refits during the war. 80-G-63334

Some 9,250 tons (18,000 full load), the Fulton and her class of six sisters (Sperry, Bushnell, Howard W. Gilmore, Nereus, Orion, and Proteus, numbered AS 12, 15-19) were all built in the Bay Area, with the first five by Mare Island Naval Shipyard and the last pair by Oakland’s Moore Dry Dock Company with four hulls laid down before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fulton was ordered in FY38 while the others were ordered in 1940. With a length of 530 feet and a reliable diesel-electric engineering suite (four General Motor 16-248 diesel generators supplying power to an electric motor via a Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gear), they could sustain 15.4 knots (Fulton hit 18.7 knots on trials!). Using 130 frames, she was made tough, with special protection over her magazines to withstand hits without going sky high.

With an endurance of up to 40,000 miles if she used all her stores and could defend themselves against surface and air threats via a battery of four 5″/38 cal DP guns controlled by a Mark 37 (later Mark 51) director. Ammunition trunks were located on the hold level under the position of the 5″/38s and hoists lifted the powder and shells upward to the gunners. This was later augmented by two twin 40mm AA gun mounts and a dozen 20mm Oerlikon AA gun mounts– essentially the gun armament carried by a destroyer.

She was seen at the forefront of the late 1930s U.S. Navy submarine force, as seen below in this period illustration by I.R. Lloyd of Fulton steaming alongside the Tambor-class submarines USS Gudgeon (SS-211) and USS Tuna (SS-203) under a protective cloud of flying boats.

However, it was her stores– including 26,600 bbls of usable diesel– and shops allowing her to mother up to a dozen submarines at a time, which made Fulton and her sisters so special. This included a total design accommodation for 64 officers, 22 warrant officers, 70 CPOs, and 1,144 enlisted, allowing for not only the tender’s crew but for the flag complement of a submarine squadron and two full relief crew divisions for her submarines.

Via the 1990s HAER report on sistership USS Sperry (AS-12) of the class:

Most of the ship was devoted to the manufacture, refurbishment, and storage of submarine equipment. The hold contained several spaces devoted to the storage of torpedoes and other equipment. Void spaces filled with ballast water and fuel oil in the hull protected the equipment from mines or torpedoes. The third deck included a number of repair shops and storage areas for electrical equipment, metals, and torpedoes. The second deck had a large machine shop for fabricating machine parts, a metals department, and a welding area. The machine shop office and main tool issue room were in the forward section of the ship on the same level. A large portion of the main deck was allocated for pipe fabrication (metal and rubber), as well as a foundry for the blacksmiths and a small welding room. A number of compartments dedicated to the repair of electrical equipment, mechanical instruments, and optics were located on the main deck amidships. The upper deck had spaces for carpentry and accompanying equipment. Just aft of the carpenter and pattern shop was a small gyrocompass repair shop. A calibration lab, communication and sonar repair area, and radar shop were at the stern. Finally, at the aft end of the superstructure, there was a technical repair library and printing shop, as well as a machine shop and fluid repair facility for governors, valves, and hydraulics. Above the superstructure
was a small cryptographic repair shop.

There were two messes, a bakery, a butcher shop, and a vegetable prep pantry. There were six diesel generators in the machine rooms supplying power to both the ship and any submarines moored alongside.

To supply the physical needs of the crew, there was sufficient space for showers, heads, and washrooms around the ship and near the living quarters. A dentist and medical doctor were permanently stationed onboard with offices and amidships on the upper deck. A barbershop was on the port side, forward of the crew’s berthing on the second deck. Laundry facilities were on the same deck at the stern. There was a ship’s service store where the crew could purchase personal items. A post office, chaplain’s office, library, and a career counselor to advise the crew on future positions were also onboard.

From Fulton’s War History:

As described by Tendertale of the class:

Submarine tenders enabled the Navy to move into a conquered island and in a matter of a day or so have a submarine base in full commission, able to service and repair any of our submarines regardless of their type or special equipment. At our island bases in World War II, submarine tenders worked indefatigably to keep the submarine at sea and on the firing line.

Sponsored by Mrs. A. T. Sutcliffe, great-granddaughter of Robert Fulton, she was christened on 27 December 1940 and commissioned USS Fulton (AS-11), on 12 September 1941, just three months shy of Japanese carrier planes rounding Diamondhead. Her first of 34 skippers were CDR Alexander Dean “Doug” Douglas (USNA 1917), the swaggering career submariner from Oklahoma who had brought the disabled USS R-14 110 miles back to Pearl Harbor on improvised sails made from hammocks and blankets in 1921.

War!

Underway on her shakedown cruise out of San Diego when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Fulton (AS-11) was ordered at once to Panama and then spent the next month working as an ersatz seaplane tender, establishing advanced bases for PBYs in Nicaragua’s Gulf of Fonseca and the Galapagos Islands.

She arrived at Pearl Harbor, ready to get into the sub-tending biz, on 15 March 1942, at a time when the harbor’s waters were still black with leaking bunker oil from the hulks on Battleship Row. Mooring at Pier S-1, she clocked in for SubRon Eight. Her first sub, the brand new Gato-class fleet boat USS Drum (SS-228), moored alongside later that afternoon.

Midway

At 0545 on 5 June 1942, Fulton received verbal instructions from ComSubPac to prepare to get underway as soon as possible under direct orders handed down from Nimitz himself. Amazingly, less than two hours later, picking up the elderly four-piper destroyers USS Breese (DD-122) and USS Allen (DD-66) as escorts, she stood out of Pearl Harbor at 0734 then proceeded northwestward at 17 knots, zig-zagging to avoid Japanese submarines. Her destination was to meet ASAP with “undesignated vessels of Task Force 16 and 17 to “transfer excess personnel.”

Said “excess personnel” hailed from the damaged carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5), which had been mauled in an air attack on the afternoon of 4 June by a strike from the Japanese carrier Hiryu that left the flattop with two torpedoes and three bomb hits, dead in the water and with a severe list.

Men abandoning Yorktown CV-5 while ships swarm to assist NARA 80-G-021694

As Fulton and her escorts made the best speed for the Yorktown and her escorts, the Japanese submarine I-168 came across the scene on the afternoon of 6 June and fired four torpedoes, hitting both the destroyer Hammann and Yorktown, sinking the destroyer in minutes, and forcing the withdrawal of Yorktown’s salvage party, though she would continue to float through the night.

It was during the next day, at 1300 on 7 June, just hours after Yorktown dived for the ocean floor, that Fulton came alongside the cruiser USS Portland (CA-33) and destroyer USS Russell (DD-414), which between them were carrying the bulk of the carrier’s crew. Slowing to eight knots and rigging five trolleys and whips, they began to send over survivors via coal bags, but the transfer was stopped after a few hours after a suspected submarine contact was made by one of the destroyers.

USS Portland (CA-33), at right, prepares transfers USS Yorktown survivors to USS Fulton (AS-11) on 7 June 1942, following the battle of Midway. Fulton transported the men to Pearl Harbor. 80-G-312028.

Battle of Midway, June 1942: USS Yorktown survivors are checked in on board USS Fulton (AS-11), after being transferred from USS Portland (CA-33) for transportation to Pearl Harbor, on 7 June 1942. Note life jackets, which are oil-stained. 80-G-312030

Dropping lines, the transfer was finished under cover of darkness via whaleboat.

By 2245, Fulton was headed back to Pearl with 101 officers, and 1790 enlisted from Yorktown, including 59 stretcher cases.

From her War Diary for July 1942:

She would arrive back at Pearl early the next afternoon and was greeted by Nimitz, who, ironically, was the division commander for a younger LT. Alexander Dean Douglas when he had sailed R-14 into the same harbor some 21 years prior.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (2nd from left) on the dock at Pearl Harbor, 8 June 1942, watching USS Fulton (AS-11) arrive. She was carrying survivors of the USS Yorktown (CV-5), sunk in the Battle of Midway. Rear Admiral William L. Calhoun is in the right-center, wearing sunglasses. Rear Admiral Lloyd J. Wiltse, of Nimitz’s staff, is in the center background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Fulton (AS-11) docks at Pearl Harbor on 8 June 1942 with USS Yorktown (CV-5) survivors on board, after the Battle of Midway. Among the tugs assisting Fulton are Hoga (YT-146) and Nokomis (YT-142). 80-G-312058

With her decks cleared by dark, Fulton welcomed the submarine USS Growler (SS-215) alongside for refit and manned her AAA batteries, shells at the ready, as part of the base defense plan. Back to business as usual.

The rest of Fulton’s War

With the frontlines moving ever toward Tokyo, Fulton was ordered first to Midway, then to Brisbane in Australia where she established a submarine base and rest camp. As noted by DANFs, “and in addition to refitting submarines between their war patrols, acted as tender to other types of ships. Milne Bay, New Guinea, was her station from 29 October 1943 until 17 March 1944, when she sailed for a west coast overhaul.”

USS Growler (SS-215) halftone reproduction of a photograph, copied from the official publication United States Submarine Operations in World War II, page 207. The photo was taken while Growler was alongside USS Fulton (AS-11) at Brisbane, Australia in February 1943, after ramming a Japanese Patrol Vessel in the Bismarck Islands area on 7 February 1943. Note her badly bent bow. Growler’s Commanding Officer, Commander Howard W. Gilmore, USN, lost his life in this action. NH 74515

Warshot torpedoes being readied for the boats on submarine tender, USS Fulton AS-11, in 1943

1940s comedian Joe E Brown entertaining Sailors at New Farm Wharf in Brisbane during WWII, USS Fulton in the background

USS Fulton (AS-11) underway off Mare Island Navy Yard, California on 3 June 1944. The ship is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 4Ax. NH 107760

Returning to the war in June 1944, Fulton tended boats at Pearl (again), then Midway (again) before being assigned to Saipan, and eventually to recently-liberated Guam in June 1945, where she was when the Japanese threw in the towel. She celebrated VJ-Day at sea, headed back to Pearl, and arrived in Seattle on 22 September.

Between May 1942 and August 1945, from no point further East than Pearl and typically much closer to the lines than that, Fulton completed an eye-popping 110 submarine overhauls (twice as many as Holland) and 222 submarine voyage repairs “some of the latter, while not actually classified as refits were in the nature of refits due to the magnitude of work done.” In short, at least 300 war patrols were made possible by the floating torpedo warehouse, workshop, and hotel known as “Building 11,” a vessel that returned a submarine to service on average roughly every third day of the war.

With such a feat, if you find the nature of the American submarine force’s war in the Pacific amazing, you must give a slow hand salute to the men of Fulton.

Fulton received just one battle star for World War II service.

Post-War miles to go

Fulton was assigned to TG 1.8 for the Operation Crossroads atomic weapons tests in the Marshalls in 1946, acting as a repair vessel for the task force and supporting the half-dozen subs taking part.

With that behind her, she was laid up at Mare Island on 3 April 1947.

Fulton class tenders Janes’s 1946

With the Cold War getting colder during Korea, Fulton was taken out of mothballs in 1951 and, just three weeks later, would be tending boats at New London, her home for the rest of her career, a period that would see her sortie out and welcome the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-571), from her historic submerged passage under the North Pole in August 1957.

After upgrades were completed as part of the second Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization Program (FRAM II) in 1959-60, Fulton’s primary duties shifted from repairing and replenishing diesel-powered submarines to performing similar tasks on nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) and attack submarines (SSN). Importantly, she would host the world’s first all-SSN squadron, SubRon 10, serving as flagship.

She, along with her sisters, would continue to serve in such roles throughout the Cold War.

The entry for the Fulton class in the 1973 edition of Janes.

A starboard bow view of the submarine tender USS FULTON (AS 11) moored to the State Pier. A Sturgeon class nuclear-powered attack submarine is tied up alongside the Fulton, 5/30/1987. NARA DN-ST-87-07702

A starboard quarter view of the submarine tender USS FULTON (AS-11) underway, 3/12/1988. Note, that she has lost her armament but still has a WWII gun tub on her bow. NARA DN-SN-90-01473.

A starboard bow view of the submarine tender USS FULTON (AS 11) moored to the State Pier. A Sturgeon class nuclear-powered attack submarine is tied up alongside the Fulton, 5/30/1987. NARA DN-ST-87-07702

On 30 September 1991, SubRon 10 was disbanded at New London and Fulton was decommissioned at her berth. The Queen of the Submarine Force, the only vessel older than her on the NVR that day (other than the USS Constitution) was the repair ship USS Vulcan, which had actually been laid down after her.

Fulton was the last ship afloat associated with the Battle of Midway, outliving the New Orleans-class submarine USS Minneapolis (CA-36) which was scrapped in 1960, and the Gato-class fleet boat USS Grouper (SS/SSK/AGSS-214) which was sent to the breakers in 1970.

Besides her sole WWII battle star, Fulton earned two Meritorious Unit Commendations and two Navy “E”s across her 50-years of service.

Epilogue

The decommissioned U.S. Navy submarine tender USS Fulton (AS-11) in storage in the mothball fleet near Portsmouth, Virginia (USA). The Fulton was decommissioned on 30 September 1991. USN Photo taken 8 October 1994 DN-SC-95-01398 by Don S. Montgomery USN (Ret.)

The Fultons were all long-serving ships, with two, Orion and Proteus continuing to serve until 1992 and 1993, respectively. The latter would remain as a barracks barge (IX-518) sans her stacks, cranes, and other topside fittings into 1999 and was only scrapped in 2007.

Fulton herself lingered in storage on the James River for a few years, finally being sold for scrapping in Brownsville, Texas, on 17 November 1995. Her scrapping was completed on 21 December 1996.

Of note, the first boat she tied lines to, USS Drum— the first Gato-class submarine to enter combat in World War II– has been preserved as a museum ship at Mobile since 1969, ironically at a time when Fulton still had another quarter-century of service ahead of her.

As for Fulton’s first skipper, the man who was on the bridge during Midway, “Doug” Douglas left his tender in October 1942 to serve as a commodore of a Torch Landing convoy and retired as a full captain in 1947, marking 30 years of service. Passing in 1989 at age 94, he donated his remains to medical research and has a headstone at Arlington.

There remains a USS Fulton Association that treasures their former home.


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80 Years Ago Today: Hornet and Mosquitos

The floating “Shangri-La,” the Yorktown-class carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) arrives at Pearl Harbor directly after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942. Her harbor escorts, a pair of early 77-foot Elcos of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron One (MTBRON 1), PT-28 and PT-29, are speeding by in the foreground.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), # 80-G-16865.

MTBRON 1 had been commissioned 24 July 1940, with 58-foot Fisher boats which were later transferred to the Royal Navy under lend-lease. The unit also tested out prototype 81-foot Sparkman/Higgins, 81-foot PNSY, and 70-foot Scott-Paine boats before finally fielding the Elco 77s, which had originally been trialed with MTBRon 2 in the Caribbean in the winter of 1940-41.

Sent to the Philipines prior to the outbreak of the war, MTBRON 1 had only made it as far as Pearl Harbor before the beginning of hostilities.

As noted by the National PT Boat Memorial and Museum:

During the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, PT-28 and PT-29 were already loaded on the replenishment oiler USS Ramapo (AO-12) for MTBRon 1’s assignment to the Philippines and as they could not get her motors started, the hydraulics on their gun turrets were not operative.

Crew members cut the hydraulic lines and operated the turrets manually. All 12 boats of the squadron fired on the attacking Japanese aircraft with one, PT-23, credited with shooting down two Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers.

Shortly after the above images were taken, the Elcos moved out for Midway via French Frigate Shoals, where they clocked in as both AAA platforms and lifeguards for aircrews during that battle.

PT Boats and Zeros Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Griffith Baily Coale; 1942; Unframed Dimensions 10H X 20W
Accession #: 88-188-AF “On the brightly colored waters of the lagoon, the PT’s are skimming about, darting here dodging there, maneuvering between the rows of machine gun splashes, incessantly firing their twin pairs 50 caliber guns.”

Afterward, they continued the war in the Aleutians.

For the record, PT-28 was wrecked in a storm on 12 January 1943 at Dora Harbor, Unimak. Sistership, PT-29 completed the war and was struck from the Navy list 22 December 1944 while in Alaska waters as obsolete and unneeded.

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022: 15-Star Floating Haberdashery

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, Jan. 5, 2022: 15-Star Floating Haberdashery

Courtesy of Naval Institute collection, Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 94444.

Here we see the Sims-class destroyer USS Morris (DD-417), some 80 years ago today, as the tin can sits at the Charleston Navy Yard in South Carolina, on 5 January 1942. According to DANFS, at the time “she was equipped with the first fire control radar to be installed on a destroyer.” She is being refitted before sailing for the Pacific, barely a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, as witnessed by her Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage pattern. While Morris had already been highly active in the tense stand-off that was the Atlantic Neutrality Patrol, her pivot to the Pacific would be much more of a shooting war.

The Sims were handsome 1930s ships, a dozen 2,300-ton (fl), 348-foot greyhounds sandwiched between the smaller Benham-class and the slightly heavier Benson-class which used largely the same hull but a different engineering suite. Speaking of engineering, the Sims-class used a trio of Babcock & Wilcox boilers to push Westinghouse geared turbines at 50,000 shp, capable of making 37-knots, and were the last single-stack destroyers made for the Navy.

Designed around a dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes, they could also carry five 5″/38 DP MK 12 guns in a mix of enclosed and open MK 30 mounts– though in actuality they were completed with a smaller array of eight tubes and four main guns, augmented by increasingly heavy AAA and ASW suites. When you threw early radar sets into the mix– an advantage that opposing Axis destroyers could not boast– and you had a serious little surface combatant.

Built during the immediate lead-up to the U.S. entry into WWII, the 12 ships were ordered from seven yards to speed up completion, and half were commissioned in 1939, the other half in 1940.

Named in honor of Robert Morris, a member of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety and Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Navy had already bestowed Mr. Morris’s name to a pair of Revolutionary War vessels, then the follow-on U.S. Navy, doubling down as a salute to Commodore Charles Morris (who fought at Tripoli in 1805 and stormed the HMS Guerriere from the decks of the USS Constitution in 1812) gave it to two circa 1840s schooners, a Herreshoff-built early Coast Torpedo Boat (TB-14), and a Clemson-class destroyer (DD-271). This made “our” Morris the seventh such ship to carry the name.

The seventh Morris (DD‑417) was laid down at the navy yard, Norfolk, Va., 7 June 1938; launched 1 June 1939; sponsored by Mrs. Charles R. Nutter, great‑granddaughter of the late Commodore Charles Morris; and commissioned 5 March 1940.

Haze grey and big hull numbers: USS Morris (DD-417) circa 1940. Note she has not been fitted with radar yet and has shields on her Nos. 1, 2, and 5 Mark 30 5-inch mounts while her Nos. 3 and 4 5-inch mounts are unshielded Mark 30 Mod 1 variants. Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. NH 94441

Morris, flagship of DESRON 2, followed her shakedown with routine training schedules until the summer of 1941 when she joined the North Atlantic Patrol, keeping the sea lanes open and helping run convoys to U.S.-occupied Iceland, walking the razor-sharp line of neutrality. Keep in mind this was a sort of pseudo war, as the old four-piper destroyer USS Reuben James (DD-245) was sunk by a torpedo from German submarine U-552 near Iceland on Halloween 1941, six weeks before the United States had officially joined the war.

What a difference a year makes! USS Morris (DD-417) At Navy Yard, Boston, Mass, 3 September 1941. Note that she has landed her No. 3 mount and only has four 5-inchers at this point. Also, note the extensive depth charge collection. She had been serving with the North Atlantic Patrol during this period. Description: Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. NH 94443.

USS Morris (DD-417) Convoy to Iceland, view of two of the screens of TF-15, C. 7 September 1941. These are two of the following sisterships: ANDERSON (DD-411), WALKE (DD-416), MORRIS (DD-417), MUSTIN (DD-413), or O’ BRIEN (DD-415). NH 47006.

USS Morris (DD-417) Convoy to Iceland, September 1941. Officers on Bridge of USS TUSCALOOSA (CA-37) look on as two Destroyers, possibly WALKE (DD-416) and MORRIS (DD-417) hunt down a submarine contact, circa 8 September 1941, while en route to Iceland with T.F. 15. NH 47009.

USS Morris (DD-417) In drydock at the Charleston Navy Yard, South Carolina, in January 1942. She is being refitted before sailing for the Pacific. Note signal flags airing, details of her 5/38 gun houses, and her Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage pattern. Identifiable destroyers in the background are USS Tillman (DD-641), commissioned 9 June 1942; probably USS Beatty (DD-640), commissioned 7 May 1942; probably USS Hobson (DD-464), commissioned 22 January 1942; along with Sims-class sisters USS Anderson (DD-411), USS Hammann (DD-412), and USS Mustin (DD-413). Photograph # 19-N-26590 from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

She and several of her sisters with DESRON 2, after they arrived in Hawaii, became part of battleship-and-cruiserman RADM Frank Jack Fletcher’s soon-to-be famed Task Force 17, centered around the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). As such, Morris guarded Yorktown as her planes struck at enemy shipping in Tulagi Harbor and in the Lousiade Archipelago.

Coral Sea

By early May, Morris was part of the first major sea battle of the Pacific, the Battle of the Coral Sea, downing one attacking Japanese plane and sending another off trailing smoke in the first fleet-to-fleet combat in which the surface vessels involved never saw each other. Proving how deadly the enemy aircraft were, her class-leader and sister, USS Sims, was lost.

It was not the only loss at the Coral Sea, as the huge battlecruiser-turned-flattop USS Lexington (CV-2) was scuttled after a serious fire. Going to the carrier’s assistance, Morris went alongside the blazing and exploding Lexington to rescue some 500 survivors under extremely hazardous conditions, with the smaller ship suffering damage to her superstructure.

Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. Smoke rises soon after an explosion amidships on USS Lexington (CV-2), 8 May 1942. This is probably the explosion at 1727 hrs. that took place as the carrier’s abandonment was nearing its end. Ships standing by include the cruiser Minneapolis (CA-36) and Sims-class destroyers Morris (DD-417), Anderson (DD-411), and Hammann (DD-412). 80-G-16669.

USS Lexington (CV-2), Battle of the Coral Sea. View from USS Minneapolis (CA-36) as USS Morris (DD-417) and a second unknown destroyer assist with crew rescue from the stricken carrier. Critically damaged, USS Phelps (DD-360) was ordered to sink “Lady Lex” by torpedoes. Note the Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplane on Minneapolis.

Midway

Less than a month later, with her superstructure patched up at Pearl Harbor, Morris was front and center for the Battle of Midway. There, Morris shot down her second confirmed Japanese plane but lost another sister, Hammann, with the latter sunk by a Japanese torpedo.

Again, Morris was sent in to save souls from a sinking carrier, with Yorktown sent to the bottom.

Again, she rescued over 500 Sailors.

This produced an almost identical image, a doppelganger scene fit for Dante.

Battle of Midway, June 1942. Two Type 97 shipboard attack aircraft from the Japanese carrier Hiryu fly past USS Yorktown (CV-5), amid heavy anti-aircraft fire, after dropping their torpedoes during the mid-afternoon attack, 4 June 1942. Yorktown appears to be heeling slightly to port and may have already been hit by one torpedo. Photographed from USS Pensacola (CA-24). The destroyer at left, just beyond Yorktown’s bow, is probably USS Morris (DD-417). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. 80-G-32242

Her plankowner skipper, CDR Harry B. “Uncle Beanie” Jarrett (USNA ’22), was given the Navy Cross following the twin carrier rescues. 

USS Morris (DD 417), damage to ship after alongside emergency collisions with carriers at the Coral Sea and Midway, August 9, 1942. 9-LCM-651-8

Santa Cruz

Following a refit at Pearl, Morris was active again in early October, participating in the Buin-Faisi-Tonolai raid and an independent sweep through the Gilbert Islands where she took a large armed merchantman under fire then had to break the engagement after Japanese aircraft came on the scene. Two days later, she rejoined TF17 in time for another sea battle.

The Battle of Santa Cruz, on 25 October 1942, was an especially tough row to hoe for Morris. She was confirmed to have downed six Japanese aircraft during the engagement– at the time setting a record of 8 “kills” among U.S. Navy destroyers in the theater.

Sadly, she would come to the assistance of a third sinking American aircraft carrier, pulling alongside the blazing USS Hornet (CV 8), and “although ammunition aboard the damaged carrier was exploding fiercely and she was being subjected to vicious dive-bombing attacks by enemy planes,” Morris took aboard 550 of her complement before pulling away.

Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942. USS Hornet (CV 8) listing after the Japanese attack assisted by destroyers to bring her fires under control. Photographed from USS Pensacola (CA 24). 80-G-33895.

This was the third time the little escort would stand by to rescue hundreds of fellow Bluejackets from the turbulent, oil and debris-littered, waters. This led to her crew willingly passing on every stitch of clothing they weren’t wearing to the survivors. Such an expenditure of uniforms across two years of combat led her skipper to remark, “It seems safe to say that the turnover in wearing apparel was greater aboard Morris than any other ship then operating or thereafter to operate in the Pacific Ocean.”

From Morris’s War History, addressing the repeated call to duty to tend hundreds of carrier sailors and aircrew plucked from the water.

Her skipper, LCDR Randolph B. Boyer (USNA ’27), would receive the Navy Cross for the action.

LCDR Randolph B. Boyer, Commanding Officer of USS Morris (DD 417), following being awarded the Navy Cross on January 3, 1943, by RADM Frederick C. Sherman for meritorious and heroic action rendered survivors of USS Hornet (CV 8) during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, October 26, 1942. The ceremony, conducted onboard Morris, honored two officers and four enlisted men for their work in rescuing survivors adrift in the sea and for helping to extinguish “raging fires” on the carrier. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-33892

She closed out the year off Guadalcanal and for eight weeks was engaged in escorting supply units to the Russell Islands. By May 1943, she was detached for the liberation of Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands, then was sent back to Mare Island for an extensive two-month overhaul that left her looking different.

USS Morris (DD-417) Broadside view of the ship, 21 October 1943 after alterations at Mare Island Navy Yard California. Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. Note her No. 3 5-inch mount has lost its armored shield, but the destroyer still has her 2×4 twin torpedo turnstiles amidships. NH 94445.

USS Morris (DD-417) In San Francisco Bay, 21 October 1943. Look at that big, beautiful SG radar array. At this point, her mainmast stood at 90 feet above her keel. That’s some height on a ship that only runs 348-feet overall. Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. NH 94446.

A Fourth Carrier Tragedy

In November 1943, Morris joined an air support group consisting of a trio of Casablanca-class “jeep carriers,” USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56), USS Coral Sea (CVE-57), and USS Corregidor (CVE-59) in the Gilbert Islands offensive, during which, for a fourth time, our destroyer went to aid a sunk flattop.

On the early morning of 24 November 1943, Liscome Bay’s munitions were detonated by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-175 and sank in an extremely short amount of time— 20 minutes according to some reports– carrying 644 men including RADM Henry M. Mullinnix and Pearl Harbor Navy Cross earner Doris Miller to the bottom. Only 272 of Liscome Bay’s crew were pulled from the oily water, while the responding destroyers dodged further torpedo wakes from I-175.

Back to work

USS Morris (DD-417) Underway at sea on 6 December 1943. Note her rough paint, especially on the bow, her skyward No.2 5-inch mount, and tarps over her No. 3 5-inch mount. NH 107277

Kicking off 1944, on 30 January 1944 Morris led a column of warships in a shore bombardment mission against Wotje– and was bracketed by Japanese shore batteries for her efforts.

She then provided NGF support off Namur, reportedly wiping out a Japanese counterattack force from an adjacent island. Further 5-inch work was delivered in supporting the western New Guinea landings, the Biak Island operation, pounding enemy guns on Noemfoor Island and then at Cape Sansapor and operations against Halmahera and Morotai on the lead up to the liberation of the Philippines where, as part of 7th Fleet, she fought off kamikazes.

USS Morris (DD-417), with her second stint in camo, this time in the new Measure 32C/2C, seen at Humboldt Bay in October 1944. The destroyer in the background is a Fletcher-class also in Design 2C. NARA photos via USNDazzle.

As part of the 5th Fleet for the push on Okinawa, she arrived off Kerama Retto with TG 51.11. on April Fool’s Day, 1945. Six days later she felt the divine wind.

As detailed in RADM Samuel J. Cox’s H-044-2: “Floating Chrysanthemums”—The Naval Battle of Okinawa:

Destroyer escort Witter was operating with destroyer Gregory (DD-802) on anti-submarine patrol duty off southern Okinawa when they were attacked by two Japanese aircraft at 1612. Gregory shot one down and Witter gunners hit the other, but the burning plane kept coming and hit Witter at the waterline, with the plane’s bomb exploding in the forward fire room, and killing six crewmen and wounding six. Damage control parties got the flooding under control and Witter was steaming on her own power toward Kerama Retto at ten knots, accompanied by Gregory, destroyer Morris (DD-417), Richard P. Leary (DD-664), and the tug Arikara (ATF-98).

Morris detached from the group, but then came under attack by a single Kate torpedo bomber. Although Morris gunners hit the Kate repeatedly, it kept coming and crashed on the port side between 5-inch gun mounts Number 1 and 2, igniting stubborn fires that took two and a half hours to put out. Richard P. Leary arrived to assist and escorted Morris to Kerama Retto. Morris suffered 13 killed and 45 wounded. 

USS Morris (DD-417) was hit by a ‘Kate’ that came in low off the port bow and blew a hole completely through her forecastle between mounts 51 and 52. Morris with a tug alongside is seen at Kerama Retto, on 7 April 1945. Despite the gaping hole that reached almost down to the waterline, it was decided to make her seaworthy again, and work commenced immediately to render her able to steam across the Pacific. Photo via NARA.

USS Morris (DD-417) Damage received from a kamikaze hit off Okinawa, 6 April 1945. 80-G-330101

USS Morris (DD-417) Showing damage inflicted by a Japanese suicide plane while operating off Kerama Retto after much of the debris had been cleared away in early 1945. Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. NH 94447.

From her War History on the strike: 

On 22 May, some three weeks after VJ Day she started out across the Pacific and on 18 June entered the Hunters Point Drydock, San Francisco. “Declared neither seaworthy nor habitable, she was decommissioned 9 November; struck from the Naval Register 28 November; stripped and sold to Franklin Shipwrecking 2 August 1947 and then resold to the National Metal & Steel Corp., Terminal Island, Calif., 17 July 1949.”

Epilogue

Morris received 15 battle stars for her action in World War II while pulling almost 2,000 Sailors from sinking ships or the ocean waves. While this battle star figure is outstanding, and one of the highest in the fleet, she was surpassed by her sister Russell (16 stars), a testament to the wringer this class was put through.

The war was especially hard on her class, with Sims sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Hammann sunk at Midway while trying to screen USS Yorktown, O’Brien ultimately sunk by a torpedo she picked up trying to screen the carrier USS Wasp off Guadalcanal, Walke lost in the same campaign, and Buck sunk by a German U-boat. 
 
With the Navy flush with Fletcher and Gearing class destroyers– which were brand new in many cases and much more capable– the rest of the Sims were on the chopping block. Russell and Roe, undergoing lengthy refits like Mustin‘s when the war ended, never saw service again and were instead sold for scrap.
 
The four still-mobile Sims left in active service by early 1946: Mustin, Hughes, Anderson, and Wainwright joined 13 other tin cans from two other classes at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands to take part in the Operation Crossroads atomic tests.

Joint Task Force One press release chart depicting scrap costs of Operation Crossroads. (U.S. Naval Institute)

The ships were stripped of useful equipment as well as ceremonial items such as bells, nameplates, and commemorative plaques. At Bikini, without crews or ordnance but with a sampling of goats and chickens aboard, the fleet touched the sun.

CDR Harry Bean Jarrett, Morris’s first c/o and the man who was in charge of the destroyer for both the Coral Sea and Midway (along with the corresponding rescues from the doomed aircraft carriers Yorktown and Lexington), ended the war in charge of nine Fletchers in the famed DESRON 53, who aggressively covered the landings across the Marshall and Marianans Islands. He retired in 1954 as a Vice Admiral and commander of Commander Carrier Division Four, and passed in 1974, aged 75. He is buried at the USNA’s Cemetery, and the Perry-class frigate USS Jarrett (FFG-33) was named in his honor.

Sadly, her skipper for the Hornet rescue, Capt. Randolph Boyer, was lost post-war on August 16, 1947, when the converted B-17 he was aboard along with Ambassador George C. Atcheson, crashed while en route from Hawaii to Japan.

The Commissioning Pennant that Morris had fluttering in the breeze above Tack Force 17 at the Battle of the Coral Sea and at Midway, where Morris attended to the broken carriers Lexington and Yorktown in tandem, is preserved in the NHHC collection.

The esteemed destroyer’s 12-page War History and most of her monthly war diaries are digitized in the National Archives.

She has a Memorial Wall plaque at the National Museum of the Pacific War, in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Location: East Wall, Courtyard. Row: 2. Section: Past 19C.

A small group of Vets and families associated with the destroyer noted in May 2021 that, “Les Wawner has passed away at 100. To our knowledge, he was the last of our USS Morris DD-417 sailors.”

She is also remembered in maritime art.

January 30, 1944, 0630 hours, “Destroyer Morris under fire from Japanese shore batteries on Wotje Island in the Marshall Islands.” Painting by Frank McCarthy.

Unfortunately, the Navy has not (*seriously) reissued the name, so the 7th Morris is, as of 2022 at least, the last on the Naval List to carry it. Certainly, it would be befitting for an as-yet-to-be-named Burke.

*A 173-foot PC-461-class submarine chaser, USS PC-1179, was renamed as the eighth USS Morris in 1956 while she was in mothballs at Astoria, and never served in commission with the name, scrapped just five years later.

Specs:

USS Morris (DD-417) Booklet of General Plans – Outboard Profile, as updated at Mare Island 10.24.43, with SG radar installed.


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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. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm 
 
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!

Warship Wednesday Jan 8, 2020: Maru Floatplane Carriers

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Jan 8, 2020: Maru Floatplane Carriers

Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Here we see the Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship, Kimikawa Maru, converted to a Tokusetsu Suijokibokan (special seaplane carrier) of the Imperial Japanese Navy, at Oominato in northern Honshu, in late 1942. As you can tell, this interesting ship and her sisters could carry a serious load of armed, and often very effective, floatplanes.

Constructed in the late 1930s through a joint endeavor of the Japanese shipping firm Ōsaka Mercantile and Kawasaki Kisen in the latter’s Kobe-based shipyard, the five 6,800-ton ships of the class were intended for the Japan-New York route, a trip of some 15,000 nautical miles. This was no sweat as, using a single efficient MAN-designed Kawasaki-made diesel, they had an incredible 35,000nm range at 17 knots.

However, these ships were also ready to chip in should the Empire require it.

As noted in ONI 208-J, the U.S. Navy’s 400+ page WWII intelligence book on the 1,300 assorted Japanese merchant ships over 1,000-tons:

Modern Japanese merchant ship design provides for deck-gun positions up to 5-inch or 6-inch caliber, the largest pieces being hand-loaded under service conditions. Heavier framing and plating and large diameter stanchions (extending down through two decks) are built in integral parts of the hull to support these positions. Ventilator trunks are conveniently arraigned close by for rapid conversion to ammunition hoists. These trunks always lead to specially prepared watertight compartments suitable for use as magazines. Dual-purpose 3-inch guns and anti-aircraft machine guns are often mounted in rows on lateral platforms.

As such, the U.S. Navy was very interested in these ships on the lead-up to the war, with several high-res images of these vessels taken in the 1930s as they transited the Panama Canal, still located in the ONI’s files.

KAMIKAWA MARU Japanese Merchant Ship Port bow view taken off Panama on 23 July 1937 NH 45577

KAMIKAWA MARU Japanese Merchant Ship overhead taken off Panama on 23 July 1937 NH 45576

KUNIKAWA MARU in Gatun Lake, Panama Canal. Altitude 1000 feet, Lens 10 inches. December 22, 1937, NH 111574

Japanese Ship KUNIKAWA MARU. Panama Canal. Altitude 1000 feet, Lens 10 inches. March 11, 1938. NH 111576

Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship as AP AV, via ONI 208-J 1942

Kamikawa Maru-class cargo ship, via ONI 208-J 1942

With Japan increasingly embroiled in the conflict in China, the Kimikawa Maru-class vessels were soon called up for service, many years before Pearl Harbor.

Notably, four out of the five– Kamikawa Maru, Kiyokawa Maru, Kimikawa Maru, and Kunikawa Maru (nothing confusing about that) were converted to armed seaplane carriers, capable of carrying more than a dozen such single-engine floatplanes aft, for which they had two catapults installed to launch them and large boom cranes for recovery. They would also be equipped with as many as six 4.7- or 5.9-inch guns as well as several smaller AAA mounts and machine guns.

Kawanishi E17K “Alf ” (Japanese floatplane) Being hoisted aboard a Japanese seaplane tender, circa 1939. Note details of the aircraft handling crane NH 82463

Alternatively, twice that many aircraft could be carried stowed below, to be assembled and deployed at some far-off port or atoll if need be. Four similar Mitsubishi-built freighters– Noshiro Maru, Sagara Maru, Sanuki Maru, and Sanyo Maru— were also converted but could only carry about eight seaplanes each. Subsequently, these less successful vessels would be re-rated to transports by 1942.

Notably, many of the IJN’s carrier commanders and admirals learned their trade on these special seaplane carriers to include RADMs Ando Shigeaki, Hattori Katsugi, Shinoda Tarohachi, Matsuda Takatomo, Hara Seitaro, and Yokokawa Ichihei; VADMs Arima Masafumi, Yamada Michiyuki, and Omori Sentaro.

In the late 1930s, their airwing would include Kawanishi E17K (Alf) and Nakajima E8N Type 95 (Dave) scout aircraft, primitive single-float biplanes that couldn’t break 175 knots and carried just a few small bombs and a couple machine guns for self-defense. These would later be augmented by planes like the Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete.

KAMIKAWA MARU (Japanese seaplane tender, 1936) Anchored off Amoy, China, 16 July 1939, with a deck load of KAWANISHI E17K-2 and NAKAJIMA E8N floatplanes both forward and aft. I can count at least 14 aircraft. This vessel, the first of the class converted to a seaplane carrier, saw extensive service in Chinese waters in 1938 to 1940, with her planes often bombing and strafing key Chinese positions. NH 82154

F1M Japanese Pete Kamikawa Maru’s ZII tail code 1940-41

Another view of the same

By 1942, this airwing would grow to as many as 14 much more capable Aichi E13A Type Zero (Jake) armed reconnaissance planes and four Daves– the airwing Kamikawa Maru took to Alaska during the Midway operation. Later types like the Nakajima A6M2-N (Rufe) Type 2 Sui-Sen (‘Rufe’) floatplane version of the Zero fighter soon joined them.

At least four Japanese navy pilots chalked up at least three kills while at the controls of floatplanes, most in the A6M-2N: CPO Shigeji Kawai, WO Kiyomi Katsuki, CPO Keizo Yamaza, and CPO Maruyama, although it should be noted that Katuski downed his first aircraft, a Dutch KNIL PBY, while flying an F1M2 Pete. Katsuki, who had 16 kills, spent at least some of his time flying from Kamikawa Maru.

IJN Seaplane Tender Kamikawa Maru in 1942, likely taken from Kimikawa Maru as her X tail code is on the Jake

E13A-34 Aichi with Kimikawa Maru’s X tail code

Their tail codes:

  • Kamikawa Maru– ZII (15 November 1940) ZI (September 1941) Z (May 1942) YI (14 July 1942)
    L-1 (1943)
  • Kunikawa Maru– YII tail code (November 1942) L-2 (January 1943)
  • Kiyokawa Maru– R (1941) RI (14 July 1942–November 1942)
  • Kimikawa Maru– X (December 1941) C21 (1943)

Once the big balloon went up in December 1941, these four freighters-turned-carriers were used extensively across the Pacific.

Kamikawa Maru would participate in the Malaya campaign and the Battle of the Coral Sea then sail with the fleet for Midway, going on to play a big part in the Aleutians campaign. She would then switch to the Guadalcanal Campaign, and be sent to the bottom by torpedoes from USS Scamp (SS-277) northwest of Kavieng, New Ireland in May 1943.

Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete reconnaissance floatplane on the catapult of the seaplane carrier Kamikawa Maru, 1942

A6M2-N Type 2 floatplane fighter, Sep-Oct 1942, on seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru

Japanese Navy Aichi E13A seaplane, most likely from the seaplane tender Kamikawa Maru. The location of the photo is unknown but may be at Deboyne Islands in May 1942 during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Kamikawa Maru, with a deck chock full of planes

A6M2-N ‘Rufe’ seaplane pilots deployed from the Kamikawa Maru under the command of ace Kiyomi Katsuki, in middle, digging a trench in the Aleutians, 1943.

Kiyokawa Maru helped capture Guam and Wake Island in December 1941, then was later rerated as a transport. She was ultimately sunk in an air raid at Kaminoseki in 1945 but was later raised and returned to a brief merchant career.

A6M2 Rufe hydro fighters with the R tail code of Kiyokawa Maru

Lae-Salamaua Strike, 10 March 1942 Enlargement of the picture of KIYOKAWA MARU (Japanese seaplane tender, 1937-1945), showing what appears to be a bomb hole aft. Note planes on deck-three Mitsubishi F1M2 (“Pete”) and one E8N2 (“Dave”). Taken by a VT-5 TBD-1, from the USS YORKTOWN (CV-5) air group. NH 95446

Kimikawa Maru, like her sister Kamikawa Maru, would take part in the Midway and Aleutian campaign in 1942-43. A line would be drawn through her name on Poseidon’s ledger in October 1944 after an encounter with the submarine USS Sawfish (SS-276) off Luzon’s Cape Bojeador.

KIMIKAWA MARU (Japanese Seaplane Tender) Photographed in April 1943, at Ominato Bay, Japan, with a load of “PETE” seaplanes aft. NH 73056

Kunikawa Maru would go on to live through a myriad of actions in the Solomons, including the Battle of Santa Cruz Island, and assorted convoy duties until she hit a mine off Balikpapan in March 1944 and was never the same again. She would be finished for good by an airstrike in May 1945 in that Borneo port.

Petes & Rufes on the beach somewhere in the South Pacific, possibly Tulagi Harbor in the Solomons, although I have seen this captioned elsewhere as being in the Marshall Islands. The foreground F1M2 has tail code “L2” of Kunikawa Maru

Another view of the same

By the end of the war, all of the K-Marus had been sunk and their planes either shot down, abandoned or otherwise captured.

Japanese Navy Type 0 Reconnaissance E13A ‘Jake’ at Imajuku, Kyushu Island 1945 

In all, the K-Maru carriers were an interesting concept, a quick and easy way to send a small expeditionary airwing to sea short of converting the ships to more proper escort carriers such as done by the Allies.

A very interesting postwar interrogation of CDR Kintaro Miura, Kamikawa Maru‘s senior air officer from the outbreak of war until December 1942, is in the NHHC archives.

Several scale models of these vessels and their aircraft are in circulation, as is their accompanying artwork, and they have sparked the imagination of warship fans the world over.

Mitsubishi F1M2 Pete floatplane by Robert Taylor. L2 Tail code indicates the plane belongs to the Kunikawa Maru a cargo ship converted to a seaplane tender

Specs:


Displacement: 6,863 tons standard
Length: 479 feet
Beam: 62 feet
Draft: 30 feet
Installed power: 7,600 shp
Propulsion: 1 Kawasaki-M. A. N. diesel, 1 shaft
Speed: 19.5 knots, 17 in military service
Armament: 2 x 5.9-inch, 2 x Type 96 25 mm (0.98 in) AA, 2 x 13.2 mm (0.52 in) MG
Aircraft carried: 12-18 seaplanes (24 stored)
Aviation facilities: Two catapults, cranes

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. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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!

Holding class on Midway & War Plan Orange

An overview of the Battle of Midway by Professor Craig Symonds to included Station HYPO’s role and some tidbits often missed or glossed over.

Craig Symonds is the Distinguished Visiting Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History for the academic years 2017-2019 at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He is also Professor Emeritus at the U. S. Naval Academy where he served as chairman of the history department.

As a followup, Pete Pellegrino, U.S. Naval War College’s (NWC) senior military analyst for wargaming, lectures superbly on War Plan Orange. It is well worth your time.

 

Looking forward to Midway

The wreck sleuths with RV Petrel are like a WWII War in the Pacific Time Machine. Hats off to them and their work.

Last week they announced they found the Japanese fleet carrier Kaga at 5,400 meters (more than 17,000 feet) below the surface in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, off Midway. Then on Sunday, they announced another hit some 18nm away from Kaga, likely either the carrier Akagi or Soryu.

With that being said, the film “Midway” opens in theaters everywhere on Nov. 8, and the U.S. Navy has had a serious hand in its production. 

Filmmaker Roland Emmerich has been hanging out at Pearl Harbor off and on since 2016 while the Naval History and Heritage Command has been helping with script review and feedback to both rough footage and finished products. Actors shadowed and spoke with current naval officers. Woody Harrelson, who plays ADM Chester Nimitz in the film, even got underway on USS John C. Stennis in August 2018 for research into the role, which is about the best you can do these days as few Yorktown-class carriers are around in fleet ops. Many of the background actors were active-duty military.

“I’m glad they did a movie about real heroes and not comic book heroes. Despite some of the ‘Hollywood’ aspects, this is still the most realistic movie about naval combat ever made and does real credit to the courage and sacrifice of those who fought in the battle, on both sides,” said the director of NHHC, retired RADM Sam Cox, who personally supported each phase of the historical review.

I guess we will see how close it gets in a couple weeks.

Warship Wednesday, March 14, 2018: Always on the edge of history

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, March 14, 2018: Always on the edge of history

Leslie Jones Collection, Boston Public Library,

Here we see the Porter-class destroyer USS Phelps (DD-360) dockside at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston shortly before she was commissioned in early 1936, note her armament has not been fitted. Though with the fleet just a decade, Phelps always seemed to be just off the portside of some of the most important Naval vessels of WWII and always did everything that was asked of her, picking up twelve battle stars along the way.

The 8-ship Porter class had fine lines and looked more like a light cruiser with their high bridge and four twin turrets than a destroyer. Their displacement was fixed at 1850 tons, the treaty limit at the time, but with their 381-foot oal they were very rakish. Truly beautiful vessels from that enlighten era where warships could be both easy on the eyes and functional. With a 37-knot high speed, they could bring the pain with an eight-pack of 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12s in four twin Mk22 turrets, which Navweaps refers to as “unquestionably the finest Dual Purpose gun of World War II” in addition to surface target torpedo tubes, a smattering of AAA guns, and an array of depth charges for sub busting. Designed in the early 1930s, all eight ships in the class were completed by February 1937, half built at Bethlehem Steel’s Fore River yard and the other half by New York Shipbuilding.

Our hero, Phelps, was first of the Fore River vessels, laid down 2 January 1934. She is the only Navy ship thus far to tote the name of Rear Admiral Thomas Stowell Phelps, USN, a hero of the Civil War navy.

Rear Admiral Thomas Stowell Phelps, USN (1822-1901) Portrait is taken circa 1865-1870 when Phelps was a commander. Photo from: “Officers of the Army and Navy (regular) who served in the Civil War,” published by L.R. Hamersly and Co., Philadelphia, 1892, p. 315. NH 78327

Phelps joined the Navy in 1840 at age 18 and gave the service 44 years of his life, most notably serving as the skipper of the 11-gun Ossipee-class steam sloop USS Juniata during the Civil War, taking her in danger-close to the Confederate batteries at Fort Fisher and helping to capture that rebel bastion. Phelps was named a rear-admiral on the retired list and the old but still beautiful Juniata went on to circumnavigate the globe and was only decommissioned in 1889.

The 11-gun Ossipee-class sloop-of-war USS Juniata in 1889, Detroit Photo. Via LOC. Her class included the ill-fated USS Housatonic.

USS Phelps commissioned 26 February 1936 and, as soon as her shakedown was complete, escorted the beautiful new heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35) with President Roosevelt aboard on his Good Neighbor Cruise to South America that included stops in the Caribbean and points south.

USS PHELPS (DD-360). Note her Mark 35 directors above the pilot house, she had another on the after deckhouse– yes, two GFCS on one destroyer, pretty big league for a pre-1939 tin can. Courtesy of The Mariners Museum, Newport News, Va. Ted Stone collection Catalog #: NH 66339

Assigned to the Pacific Fleet by 1941, Phelps was at Pearl Harbor on that fateful day, moored in a nest of destroyers alongside the old tender USS Dobbin (AD-3) in berth X-2 along with fellow destroyers Worden, Hull, Dewey, and Macdonough. Though in an overhaul status and on a cold iron watch, according to her report of that fateful morning her crew observed bombs being dropped from planes diving on Ford Island and on ships moored in vicinity of the target ship USS Utah at 0758 and, by 0802, her guns were loaded and had commenced firing “it having been necessary to reassemble portions of the breech mechanisms which had been removed for overhaul.”

Now that is readiness!

Phelps downed one confirmed Japanese aircraft and took shots at another couple that were probable. By 0926 she was “underway, with boiler power for 26 knots, and stood out to sea via the North Channel,” to take up patrol offshore. The lucky destroyer suffered no casualties.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941 View taken around 0926 hrs. in the morning of 7 December, from an automobile on the road in the Aiea area, looking about WSW with destroyer moorings closest to the camera. In the center of the photograph are USS Dobbin (AD-3), with destroyers Hull (DD-350), Dewey (DD-349), Worden (DD-352) and Macdonough (DD-351) alongside. The ship just to the left of that group is USS Phelps (DD-360), with got underway on two boilers around 0926 hrs. The group further to the right consists of USS Whitney (AD-4), with destroyers Conyngham (DD-371), Reid (DD-369), Tucker (DD-374), Case (DD-370) and Selfridge (DD-357) alongside. USS Solace (AH-5) is barely visible at the far left. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-33045

Within days, she was with the fleet looking for some payback, escorting the big fleet carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) on roving raids across the increasingly Japanese-held Western Pacific. By May 1942, she was just 400 miles off the Northern coast of Australia and heavily engaged in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Tragically, Lexington was mortally wounded in the exchange with Vice Admiral Takeo Takagi.

USS Lexington (CV-2) under air attack on 8 May 1942, as photographed from a Japanese plane. Heavy black smoke from her stack and white smoke from her bow indicate that the view was taken just after those areas were hit by bombs. Destroyer in the lower left appears to be USS Phelps (DD-360). The original print was from the illustration files for Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 95579

Though the majority of Lady Lex’s crew survived and were taken off, with the carrier’s Commanding Officer, Captain Frederick C. Sherman, the last to leave, the mighty flattop needed a coup de grace, a task that fell to Phelps.

Our destroyer fired five torpedoes between 19:15 and 19:52, with at least two duds or missed fish being observed. Immediately after the last torpedo hit, Lexington, down by the bow but nearly on an even keel, finally sank.

Last week, Paul Allen’s RV Petrel discovered one of Phelps’ unexploded fish in the debris field for Lexington

A U.S. Mk 15 21″ surfaced launch torpedo near Lexington, one of Phelps’. RV Petrel

Following the Coral Sea, Phelps retired to Pearl in the company of the wounded carrier USS Yorktown and prepared for the next engagement.

(DD-360) At Pearl Harbor, circa late May 1942, following the Battle of Coral Sea and shortly before the Battle of Midway. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-66124

Then came Midway, where Phelps was part of TF16, serving as escort and plane guard for USS Hornet (CV 8).

80-G-88908: Battle of Midway, June 1942. A close-up of USS Atlanta (CL 51) with USS Hornet (CV 8) and USS Phelps (DD 360), all of Task Force 16, in the background. The picture was made during the third day of the battle as Atlanta came up to aid the destroyer, which had broken down temporarily because of fuel shortage. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2016/09/27).

After Midway, Phelps left for the West Coast where she received an updated AAA suite that saw her marginally effective 1.1-inch and .50-caliber guns swapped out for many more 40mm and 20mm pieces along with the Mk 51 Fire Control System for the former. For her main guns, she swapped out the older Mk33 for a new Mk35 GFCS and added both an SC air search radar set and one SG surface search radar set.

USS Phelps (DD-360) Description: Plan view, forward, taken while she was at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 24 November 1942. Circles mark recent alterations to the ship. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-38915

Plan view, aft, taken while she was at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 24 November 1942. Note submarine building ways and cranes in the background. Circles mark recent alterations to the ship. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-38914

The rest of the war was extremely busy for Phelps, fighting the nightly raids by the Japanese and supporting the invasion of Guadalcanal, bombarding frozen Attu and Kiska in Alaskan waters, marshaling the troopships and closing just off the beach at Makin, Kwajalein, and Eniwetok; the hell of Saipan.

USS Phelps (DD-360) underway at sea, 27 May 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Note, her # 3 5″ mount has been deleted, the superfiring aft installation. Catalog #: 80-G-276951

In August 1944, Phelps was reassigned to the Atlantic, her place taken in the warm waters of the Pacific by newer destroyer types with more massive AAA suites. It was figured that the fast Porter could be more useful in the ETO.

USS Phelps (DD-360) Off the Charleston Navy Yard, South Carolina, about November 1944. She is painted in camouflage Measure 32, Design 3d. Note that her eight 5-inch twins have been swapped out for five 5″/38 Mark 12 guns in a combination of Mark 38 twin mounts and a single Mark 30 mount superfiring aft. Her GFCS also has been upgraded to a Mk37. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-73963

She spent the rest of the war on convoy duty and serving in the Mediterranean, arriving back on the West Coast post VE-Day on 10 June and was soon laid up.

USS Phelps (DD-360) moored at Casco Bay, Maine, 9 August 1945. USS McCall (DD-400) and a frigate (PF) are moored with her. Note she now has Measure 21. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-332952

Decommissioned 6 November 1945, Phelps was struck from the list 28 January 1947, sold 10 August 1947 to George Nutman Inc., Brooklyn, and subsequently scrapped– just 11 years after her completion.

Of her sisters, only class leader, Porter, was lost, torpedoed in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in 1942. The other six Porters managed to complete the war in one piece and, save for USS Winslow, were paid off by 1946. As for Winslow, she endured for a while longer as an experimental unit and only went to the breakers in 1959.

Besides Phelps’ torpedoes on the bottom of the Coral Sea, she is remembered in maritime art.

Tom Freeman (American, born 1952) U.S.S. Arizona passes Diamond Head on November 28, 1941. U.S.S. Phelps (DD-360) is the escort

Specs:

USS Phelps (DD-360) in her final form. Off the New York Navy Yard, 8 August 1945 in Measure 21. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-87408

Displacement: 1,850 tons, 2,663 fl
Length: 381 ft (116 m)
Beam: 36 ft 2 in (11.02 m)
Draft: 10 ft 5 in (3.18 m)
Propulsion: 4 Babcock & Wilcox boilers. Geared Bethlehem Turbines,2 screws, 50,000 shp (37,285 kW);
Speed: 37 knots (65 km/h)
Range: 6,500 nmi. at 12 knots (12,000 km at 22 km/h) on 635 tons fuel oil
Complement: 194 (designed) later swelled to 276 with new systems, AAA suite
Sensors: SC search radar, QC sonar
Armor: Splinter protection (STS) for bridge, guns, and machinery
Armament:
As Built:
1 x Mk33 Gun Fire Control System
8 × 5″(127mm)/38cal SP (4×2), though only three turrets (6 guns) fitted
8 × 1.1″(28mm) AA (2×4),
2 × .50 Cal water-cooled AA (2×1),
8 x 21″(533mm) torpedo tubes two Mark 14 quadruple mounts (2×4) with 16 torpedoes carried
2 Depth Charge stern racks, 600lb charges
c1944:
1 × Mk37 Gun Fire Control System,
5 × 5″(127mm)/38cal DP (2×2,1×1),
1 × Mk51 Gun Director,
4 × Bofors 40mm AA (1×4),
8 × Oerlikon 20mm AA (8×1),
8 x 21″(533mm) torpedo tubes two Mark 14 quadruple mounts (2×4) with 8 torpedos carried, later removed by 1945
2 Depth Charge stern racks, 600lb charges
4 300lb K-Gun Depth Charge throwers, 2 stdb, 2 port

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. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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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