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Warship Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022: Bats, Retiring from the Line

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. 28, 2022: Bats, Retiring from the Line

Commonwealth of Australia/Royal Australian Navy image.

Above we see the Tribal (Arunta)-class destroyer HMAS Bataan (I91) of the Royal Australian Navy conducting a replenishment at sea in 1951 while dressed in her distinctive “Chicago Blue” scheme. A witness to the Japanese surrender in 1945, “Bats’” Korean War service was extensive, and she set out for home from her second stint off the coast of that peninsula some 70 years ago this week– only to be rewarded with early retirement.

Background on the Tribals

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

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

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

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

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

An unidentified Tribal class destroyer in profile

We have discussed the very successful class in prior Warship Wednesdays (e.g., HMS Cossack and HMCS Haida) but relax, they are great ships with amazing histories.

Of the eight Tribals planned for Australia, only three– HMAS Arunta, HMAS Warramunga, and Bataan— were ever completed. All constructed at the Cockatoo (Island) Docks and Engineering Company near Sydney, Arunta and Warramunga joined the war in 1942 while Bataan would follow three years later, and the five others ultimately canceled.

HMAS Bataan was laid down on 18 February 1942 as the last Australian Tribal-class destroyer and was originally going to be named either HMAS Chingilli or HMAS Kurnai, but was renamed in response to the U.S. Navy’s christening in 1943 of the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Canberra (CA-70) in honor of the sunken County-class heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra, the latter lost to the Japanese alongside two American cruisers in the disaster at Savo Island the year prior. As such, she was the only Tribal not to be named after a people or nation of the British Empire (RAN Tribals were named for Aboriginal tribes.)

Mrs. Jean Marie MacArthur, the wife of General Douglas MacArthur, was invited to launch her.

Since she was completed three years after Arunta and Warramunga, Bataan was an updated version of her older sisters including a lattice foremast with an American SC pattern radar, and six single 40mm Bofors as close-range armament.

WWII

Following shakedown, Bataan put on a British destroyer pennant and sailed for the Philippines in July 1945 to join Task Force 74 in Subic Bay, then in company with sister Warramunga, made for Okinawa and the Japanese Home Islands with an eye to the sky, wary of kamikaze.

The Royal Australian Navy destroyer HMAS Bataan (I91) anchored off Manila, Philippines, circn August 1945. She wears the British Pacific Fleet pennant number “D09”. Note her American SC radar fit on the foremast, different from most RN Tribals of the time which usually carried a British Type 268 Cheese antenna” set. Photo by Pte. M.V. Gulliver, AWM 134521.

On the morning of 31 August 1945, Bataan and Warramunga were part of the British Pacific Fleet ships that entered Tokyo Bay, screening the cruisers HMS Newfoundland, HMNZS Gambia, HMAS Shropshire, and HMAS Hobart. At 0930 on 2 September, they stood by for the formal surrender ceremony that took place on the battleship USS Missouri, which MacArthur, among others, attended.

Bataan soon got into the business of coming to the rescue of Allied POWs liberated post VJ-Day in addition to occupation and disarmament duties which kept her in Japanese waters until November. Then came a much less tense cruise home.

Crossing the line ceremony, 1945, via the AWM.

Korea

Returning to Japan on occupation duties in September 1946, Bataan would spend 17 months there in four different tours through 1949 and then would return in June 1950 for her fifth post-war cruise to the rebuilding country. As the North Korean Army crossed the 38th Parallel into South Korea on 25 June, Australia, under UN mandate, was soon in another war.

On 29 June 1950, Bataan, along with the River-class frigate HMAS Shoalhaven (K535) and the cruiser HMS Belfast as Task Group 96.8, was placed at the disposal of the British Far East Fleet commanded by RADM William Andrewes. The ships, joined by the RAAF’s No.77 Squadron– a P-51 Mustang squadron based in Japan– were Australia’s first contribution to the conflict.

Following duty escorting troop convoys from Japan to Korea, Bataan was carved off from the British fleet and joined TG 96.5 for the Pohang amphibious operation, screening the cruiser USS Juneau (CL-119), and clocking in with three American tin cans (Coller, Higbee, and Kyes) for NGFS.

On 1 August, Admiral Andrewes took Belfast and Bataan into the Haeju Man approaches to bombard the shore batteries guarding this potential source of enemy seaborne supply.

HMAS Bataan’s 4.7s in action

She would continue to lend her guns to the fight, supporting mine sweeping and counter-battery fire in the Kunsan approaches in September and covering the amphibious landings at Wonsan in October.

By the end of the year, she was operating in the freezing seas just 12 miles from the entrance of the Yalu under arctic conditions.

British Commonwealth destroyers moored off Yokosuka, Japan, after returning from combat patrols in Korean WatersThe phototo is dated 26 January 1951. The ships are (from left to right): HMAS Warramunga HMAS Charity, and HMAS Bataan. NH 90625

Supporting the fighting withdrawal from the Yalu after the New Year, operating in direct support of the U.S. 8th Army, her first Korean war tour ended on 18 May. During her 11-month deployment, Bataan was underway for more than 4,000 hours on active operations and steamed some 63,292 miles.

Following a seven-month refit and shakedown, Bataan deployed from Sydney in January 1952 for a second Korean tour, relieving HMAS Murchison at Kure the next month.

As noted by the RAN:

It was the familiar pattern on the west coast of Korea, blockade enforcement, shore bombardment and escort duty. The weather, true to the forebodings of old hands in the ship, was bleak and squally with temperatures down to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. On the night of her arrival Bataan was allocated a patrol between Sokto and Chodo, three miles from the enemy held mainland, for harassing fire support.

The patrolling was constant and enemy forces active. On 13 February the destroyer carried out her first air spot bombardment using spotters from HMS Glory to shell enemy troops encamped outside the village of Pungchon. Later the same day as dusk was falling a brief duel began between the ship and 75mm shore batteries, ending with silence from the enemy and a single hit on the captain’s day cabin after 78 rounds of 4.7-inch ammunition had started two fires on the battery positions. The patrol ended on 24 February with a heavy bombardment of enemy positions on the mainland opposite Hodo Island. 543 rounds of 4.7-inch and 75 rounds of 4-inch ammunition had been expended when the ship finally withdrew en route for Sasebo.

Curiously, the U.S. Navy was operating USS Bataan (CVL-29) off Korea while our HMAS Bataan was in the region.

USS Bataan (CVL-29), shown here underway in January 1952 with “Black Sheep” F4U-4B Corsair fighter-bombers of VMF-314 on board, was planned as the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Buffalo (CL-99), she was one of the Clevelands chosen for conversion into Independence-class light carriers and was therefore renamed from her traditional cruiser “city” moniker in honor of the Battle of Bataan. Commissioned on 17 November 1943, the flattop earned six battle stars for WWII and another seven for Korea. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-633888

And, in true naval history fashion, the two even worked together at least twice, in January 1951 and again in March-April 1952.

HMAS Bataan (I91) escorting USS Bataan (CVL-29) off the coast of Korea, April 17th, 1951. NHHC image.

In May 1952, Bataan served as a mothership for inshore daylight guerrilla raids by Wolfpack and Donkey partisan groups while firing 400 4.7-inch shells in close support, bombarding the enemy on eight occasions, leaving her skipper to note that the month was “never a dull moment.” Then came an extended period operating on the screen of the British carrier HMS Ocean.

Korea. Elevated port side view showing detail of the forward part of the destroyer HMAS Bataan (ex-HMAS Kurnai) (D191) as she receives personnel by highline from the aircraft carrier HMS ocean. Note forward twin 4.7-inch Mk XII guns in cp xix mountings, with the breeches of B mounting prominent and the 40 mm Bofors aa gun in the port bridge wing. Behind the bridge are the director control tower and rangefinder tower MK II with a Type 285 fire control radar mounted upon the latter. Note rope stowage in the blast screen forward of B mounting and Carley floats by the forward superstructure with paddles neatly arrayed. The screening destroyer in the background is HMS Consort. (Naval Historical Collection) AWM.

August saw her flirting with Typhoon Karen as she prepared to end her 2nd Korean deployment. On the books were 40,277 steaming miles fothese nine monthsod and arrived back at Sydney on 3 October. In all, she fired 3,462 rounds of 4.7-inch, 549 rounds of 4-inch, 8,891 rounds of 40mm, and 3,240 rounds of 2-pounder pom-pom ammunition in anger in 1950-52. This was only bettered in the war by her sister ship Warramunga.

Operating off the Korean coast, members of HMAS Bataan, load a 4.7 gun for firingin , August 1952. Note the soup bowl helmets but lack of flash gear. Pictured, left to right; Able Seaman A. P. ‘Jock’ Harley, Leading Seaman R. J. ‘Bob’ McArthur, Leading Seaman Hugh M. Currie (rear), and Able Seaman N. B. Cregan. AWM HOBJ3429.

Combat artist Frank Norton was aboard her in Korea and several of his works in which Bataan is at the center are in the AWM collection. On 7 August 1952, Norton was transferred at sea to HMAS Bataan (via helicopter from Ocean to HMS Newcastle than at sea to the destroyer by jackstay) to ride out the rest of the tin can’s last Korean patrol, including Typhoon Karen.

View from the deck of destroyer HMAS Bataan towards unidentified ships at anchor, small craft transferring men to USS Strong (DD-758), an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer of Task Force (TF) 77. Strong deployed to Korea from June to October 1952 and served with the United Nations Blockade and Escort Group on the west coast and was at Pusan, Songjin, and Wonsan.

Norton depicts part of RAN destroyer HMAS Bataan, with motor and sail junks manned by members of the Wolfpack irregular forces alongside. The RAN destroyer HMAS Bataan is not to be confused with the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Bataan.

A view of typhoon ‘Karen’ from the deck of the Royal Australian Navy destroyer HMAS Bataan on the high seas, with unidentified ships on the horizon. In a letter to the Director of the Memorial in September 1952, Norton recalled ‘The day after joining “Bataan”, all ships on the coast were forced out to sea by Typhoon “Karen” – and rode out – the backlash of the storm. Norton strove to convey a sense of the Korean coastal landscape and weather during patrols. In his letter, he comments on the unpleasant conditions at sea caused by cramped living quarters and tropical weather.

Final hurrah!

Arriving back home from two lengthy Korean deployments, Bataan was selected for conversion to an anti-submarine escort destroyer in late 1952. This saw the deletion of her WWII anti-air suite, the fit of a Squid anti-submarine mortar, and the replacement of the foremast with a lattice structure. She would sail on exercises with RNZN ships and those of other SEATO members in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea, roaming as far as Singapore.

In October 1953, sailing in conjunction with the carrier HMS Vengeance, Bataan would suffer an “intense cyclonic depression” that damaged the destroyer.

Patched up but with a wonky bow, six months later she would be part of the Royal escort for Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit to Australia.

HMS Ceylon escorts the Royal yacht SS Gothic along with HMAS Bataan (I91), HMAS Anzac (D59), and HMS Vengeance (R71), in April 1954.

Vengeance made the occasion unique.

As noted by the RAN, “On seeing the image taken of Vengeance, HM is reported to have commented that it was a most original forgery.'” Photo via the Robert Elliston Glasgow Collection – State Library of Western Australia.

Following that handover of Gothic to the cruisers HM Ships Colombo and Newfoundland in the Indian Ocean, on 5 April, during a replenishment at sea between Vengeance and Bataan off Cocos Island, the destroyer became entangled and cracked up in rough seas against the hull of the much larger carrier.

HMAS BATAAN in a terrifying jam – L.M. Hair, HMAS CERBERUS Museum.

HMAS CERBERUS MUSEUM COLLECTION 156 HMAS BATAAN and VENGEANCE photo L.M. Hair.

As detailed by the Naval Historical Society of Australia:

Former Chief Radio Electrician Bill Robertson, who was on board Bataan at the time, believes the collision was caused by a rogue wave which lifted Bataan’s bow and turned the ship towards Vengeance, when there were less than 10 tons of fuel left to transfer.

“The change in heading couldn’t be controlled by the quartermaster in time to avoid a collision,” he said. “The Venturi effect, so dreaded when two moving vessels are so close together, held Bataan’s port side in contact with Vengeance’s starboard side. “There was an imminent danger Bataan would roll over and be sucked under Vengeance.” Mr. Robertson said, as Bataan slowly slid aft, each time Vengeance rolled to starboard, her AA platforms came down on Bataan’s port superstructure. “Then the port side of the PO’s Mess, the ‘B’ gun deck, and the Bofors platform on the port side of the bridge were all crushed,” he said. “I remember thinking the noise sounded like the damage was going to be expensive.”

According to Mr. Robertson, only the quick thinking of CO Bataan CMDR Glenn Fowle saved the ship. “He ordered, ‘hard a’ port, full ahead together’,” he said. “This forced our bow into Vengeance while kicking the stern out. “When Bataan had pushed itself out to about 45 degrees, the CO ordered full astern together, which separated the ships but didn’t do the bow any favors. “At the time of the action I was on the starboard side of the bridge with a lifejacket in one hand and a roll of toilet paper in the other, somewhat unsure which had priority.”

Her bow banged up even further, Bataan paid off at Sydney on 18 October 1954, having steamed 279,395 miles since commissioning. Placed on the Disposal List, she was soon sold to a Japanese shipbreaker for demolition.

Epilogue

Several relics from the destroyer are in the Australian War Memorial collection including a Hinomaru signed by 55 of her crew in indelible purple ink on the occasion of the surrender of Japan in Tokyo Harbor on 2 September 1945.

The AWM also has her RAN Reports of Proceedings on file as well and the Memorial has digitized them. For reference, the Jan. 1950-Jan. 1952 file for Bataan is 231 pages alone.

Meanwhile, there are several markers to Bataan dedicated around Australia.

In 2021, a 1/72 scale model of Bataan, crafted from brass, copper, and aluminum over two years by one of her WWII vets, was put on display at the entrance to the Sea Power Centre – Australia’s Naval History Section in Canberra. 

Said her 95-year-old maker and former destroyerman, “I’m upset, looking at warships today. They are just steel boxes with a sharp end on them. There’s no shape to them, no flares, they’re not romantic, unlike Bataan,” and I cannot agree more.

As for Bataan’s sisters, both Arunta and Warramunga earned honors for WWII and Korea, then were paid off in the 1960s, experiencing a longer life than that seen by Bats. It is no surprise that these two ships topped 357,273 miles as steamed by Arunta and a half million miles steamed by Warramunga.

When it comes to her expanded Tribal-class family, no less than 12 of the 16 members in British service were lost during WWII and the remaining quartet paid off by 1949. All the Tribals in Canadian service were sold to the breakers by 1969 save for Haida who is the only member preserved as a museum ship, all others turned to razor blades.

Known as “Canada’s most-fightingest ship” Haida (DDE 215) is open to the public in Hamilton, Ontario. Like Bataan, she saw combat in both WWII and Korea, decommissioned in October 1963 after 20 years of hard service. (Parks Canada)

Specs:
Displacement:1,959 long tons (1,990 t) tons standard, 2,519 long tons (2,559 t) deep load
Length: 377 ft (114.9 m)
Beam: 37 ft 6 in (11.4 m)
Draught: 13 ft (4.0 m)
Propulsion:
2 shafts; 3-Admiralty 3 drum type boilers
2 × Parsons Marine geared steam turbines, 44,000 shp
Speed: 36.5 knots (maximum), 32 knots (service)
Complement: 259 (14 officers, 245 ratings)

Armament:

3 x 2 4.7-inch (119 mm)/45 QF Mark XII guns in twin Mark XIX mounts
1 x 2 4-inch (102 mm)/45 Mark XVI QF in twin mount
6 x 40mm Bofors
1 quad launcher with Mk.IX torpedoes (4 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes)
1 rail + 2 Mk.IV throwers (Mk.VII depth charges)


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Warship Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022: Come Hell or Low Water

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. 07, 2022: Come Hell or Low Water

U.S. Army Photo 111-CCV-113-CC43650. National Archives Identifier: 100310246

Above we see the Benewah-class self-propelled barracks ship USS Colleton (APB-36), some 55 years ago this month on 24 September 1967, moored in South Vietnam’s My Tho River. A collection of floating piers and docks sister the big, armored converted LST, to her small craft brood of the Mobile Riverine Force. Alongside her are at least 10 LCM-6 landing craft converted to Armored Troop Carriers (aka “Tango” boats), four CCB (aka “Charlie” boats) communication/control monitors, and a helicopter-pad equipped Aid Boat. Note the quad 40mm Bofors fore and aft on Colleton along with two 3″/50s flanking her helicopter pad as well as her location near shore.

Colleton had to be one of the most formidable vessels to even be labeled a “barracks ship” and these days would pull down the designation of an Expeditionary Sea Base, although she was much better armed.

About those APBs…

The Old Navy’s primary receiving ship/barracks ships, based at naval stations and shipyards to house blue jackets between homes, were usually just hulked warships, their topsides covered over by dormitories. 

U.S. Navy frigate, USS Constitution, photographed while serving as a receiving/barracks ship in Boston, circa 1905. Detroit Photographic Company, circa 1891-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

USS Chicago (IX-5) at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, October 20, 1926. Chicago was originally commissioned in 1889 as a protected cruiser was classified as CA-14 in 1920 and became a barracks ship at Pearl Harbor after decommissioning in 1923. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-1010827

With the U.S. military swelling to a multi-million man force in WWII– much of it to be sent far overseas into often remote areas such as isolated Pacific islands with no infrastructure– the Navy quickly realized that barracks ships would be needed. Soon, starting in FY 1942, a class of 40 non-self-propelled Barracks Ships (APL hull numbers) were begun. Dubbed the APL-2 and APL-17 types, they were simple 2,000-ton, 260-foot, covered barges with a two-story barracks built on top.

APL-17, under tow to her next location, 8 October 1944. Able to accommodate 500 or so troops or sailors, these barracks barges had three generators for lights, cooling, and amenities but no engines and a 71-man crew made up primarily of Ship’s Servicemen– Barber (SSMB), Laundryman (SSML), Cobbler (SSMC), and Tailor (SSMT)– rates along with a few engineering rates and GMs. For defense, as they were to be forward deployed, was a battery of 20mm Oerlikons on the roof and some M1919 mounts to cover the water. 

Midway into the numbering sequence for the APLs, starting with APL-35 and running through APL-40, it was decided to create a run of larger, self-propelled barracks ships. These would become the Benewah-class authorized as APL-35 (soon morphed to APB-35) and 15 sisters soon following.

To avoid reinventing the wheel, the Benewahs were all 4,000-ton, 328-foot, LST-542-class landing ship tanks, or AKS-16 class general stores issue ships (which used the same hull and machinery). They were able to steam at 12 knots and had a decent self-defense capability including two twins and four single 40mm/60 Bofors as well as a mix of smaller cannon and machine gun mounts. Gone was the landing and beaching gear and added was a double-deck troop accommodation for 28 officers and 275 enlisted as well as galley and recreation facilities for those embarked as well as the 137-man crew.

For a time still termed APLs then “LST (Modified)” they eventually became APBs by the time they joined the Navy List.

Ten of the class were quickly converted to APBs post-commissioning while still at their builders including USS Wythe (APB-41) (ex-LST-575), Yavapai (APB-42)(ex LST-676), Yolo (APB-43)(ex LST-677), Presque Isle (APB-44)(ex LST-678), Accomac (APB-49)(ex LST-710), Cameron (APB-50)(ex LST-928), Blackford (APB-45)(ex AKS-16), Dorchester (APB-46)(ex AKS-17), Kingman (APB-47)(ex AKS-18), and Vanderburgh (APB-48)(ex AKS-19). These ships made it to the fleet first and some were sent into the thick of the action by 1944.

USS Yavapai (APB-42) at anchor off the coast of Okinawa in the summer of 1945. Note the magnificent view of a DUKW six-wheel amphibian in the foreground. Photo from the NARA US Army Air Force photo collection.

This left Benewah, Colleton, Marlboro (APB-38), Mercer (APB-39), and Nueces (APB-40) to be built as barracks ships from the keel up rather than converted.

USS Mercer (APB-39) and USS Marlboro (APB-38) under construction at Boston Navy Yard, 3 January 1945. Note the two-level superstructure running nearly the entire length of the ship with the pilot house onthe  top forward. The destroyer at the top is USS Babbitt (AG-102) and across the channel, there is probably a British battleship. NARA Identifier NA 38329801

However, this meant that the five-pack of fresh-built Benewahs, Colleton included, were only completed post-VJ-Day.

Speaking of which, Colleton, authorized, on 17 December 1943 as Barracks Ship (non-self-propelled) APL-36 and later reclassified to APB-36 on 8 August 1944, was laid down, on 9 June 1945 at Boston Naval Shipyard and “completed” in September 1945. As she wasn’t needed, she was never commissioned and was placed immediately in reserve at Boston, her bunks never slept in, an ensign never flown from her. She would slumber for 22 years, just in case.

She earned her name from the county and river in South Carolina, near the vital entrance to Port Royal.

Preliminary chart of Port Royal entrance. Beaufort, Chechessee, and Colleton Rivers, South Carolina From a trigonometrical survey under the direction of A. D. Bache, Superintendent of the survey of the coast of the United States. Triangulation by C. O. Boutelle, Assist. Hydrography by the parties under the command of Lieuts. Commdg. J. N. Maffit and C. M. Fauntleroy, U.S.N, Assists. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division: G3912.P62 1862. U5 CW 389.2

Good Morning, Rat Sung Special Zone!

On 1 April 1966, Naval Forces, Vietnam, was established to control the Navy’s units in the Army’s II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. This eventually included the Coastal Surveillance Force (Task Force 115), River Patrol Force (Task Force 116), and Riverine Assault Force (Task Force 117). The latter unit formed the naval component of the joint Army-Navy Mobile Riverine Force.

Patterned after the French naval assault divisions, or Dinassauts, which performed well in the Indochina War from 1946 to 1954, the MRF consisted of an Army element– 2d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division (augmented by the 3rd Brigade after mid-1968), and a Navy element– River Assault Squadrons 9 and 11 along with River Support Squadron 7– under COMUSMACV’s overall direction.

The “Old Reliables” of the 9th Infantry Division were reactivated on 1 February 1966 and arrived in Vietnam on 16 December 1966 from Fort Riley, Kansas, and would spend most of their time “in-country” with wet boots, motored around the Vietnamese river complex via the Navy.

Original Caption: 26 September 1967, My Tho River, Republic of Vietnam: “Soldiers from the 9th Infantry Division’s ‘Riverines’ assault a heavily wooded area. The Soldiers were brought to the beach head by an Armored Troop Carrier landing craft.” Note the CAR-15 (XM-177) in the hands of the platoon leader, the Marlboros and bug juice in the bands of their M1 helmets, and the general lack of shirts/blouses. U.S. Army photo 111-CCV-113-CC43676, NARA 100310250

As detailed in By Sea, Air, and Land » Chapter 3: The Years of Combat, 1965-1968 from The Navy Department Library:

Each 400-man assault squadron, divided further into two river assault divisions, marshaled a powerful fleet of five monitors. Each monitor was protected with armor and equipped with .50 caliber, 40-millimeter, and 20-millimeter gun mounts, two 40- millimeter grenade launchers, and an 81-millimeter mortar. Another two or three similarly armed and armored craft served as command and control boats. A total of 26 Armored Troop Carriers that mounted .50-caliber machine guns, rapid-fire grenade launchers, and 20-millimeter cannons transported the Army troops. Also installed on the former amphibious landing craft were helicopter landing platforms. A number of craft mounted flame throwers [dubbed “Zippo” boats] or water cannons [dubbed “Douche” boats] to destroy enemy bunkers. A modified armored troop carrier functioned as a refueler for the river force. Beginning in September 1967, to augment the firepower of these converted landing crafts, each squadron was provided with 8 to 16 newly designed Assault Support Patrol Boats for minesweeping and escort duties.

By the end of 1967, each river assault squadron contained 26 ATCs, 16 ASPBs, five Monitors, two CCBs, one Aid Boat, and one refueller (a modified LCM).

An Assault Support Patrol Boat (ASPB) of Task Force 117 moves slowly up the outboard side of an Armored Troop Carrier (ATC). The ATC is sweeping for Vietcong command detonated mines during a Mobile Riverine Force search and destroy mission. The boats are assigned to River Assault Flotilla One, 16 December 1967. USN 1132289

Army infantrymen of the Second Brigade, Ninth Infantry Division return to a U.S. Navy Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) of River Assault Flotilla One, Task Force 117, after conducting a reconnaissance in force mission in the Rung Sat Special Zone in October 1967. USN 1132292

A group of riverine craft consisting of ASPB and Armored ATCS makes a firing run on a suspected enemy position. The craft is part of Commander Task Force 117. K-74760

However, the MRF needed mother ships, and the first, USS Whitfield County (LST 1169), clocked in to support River Assault Squadron 9 at Vung Tau in January 1967. The utility of this put the Navy on a course that would bring its APBs out of mothballs and sent them  to Southeast Asia

Converted to provide a mobile operating base for river patrol squadrons and serve as a command ship in support of Amy infantry battalions, Colleton was finally commissioned on 28 January 1967, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Colleton’s ultimate conversion included upgraded habitation amenities, a large amidship helicopter pad for supporting aircraft (primarily Army and Navy UH-1s), expanded 18-bed sick bay facilities, and some quickly installed electronics and commo gear. Her WWII-era guns, well-greased but never fired, were put back in service as threats from Viet Cong sappers and NVA PT boats were a real thing.

From the Mobile Riverine Force Association:

After a complete paint job (green Army olive drab), several hundred square feet of bar armor was fabricated to cover the bridge and operations area. This had to be constructed entirely by ship’s company from angle iron and ½-inch steel bars. The month of May [1967] also saw the installation of 8-50 caliber and 12 7.62mm machine guns to the armament of the ship. She also acquired three ammo pontoons to be used as a mooring place for the small boats of the River Assault Squadrons and as assembling points for troops about to be embarked in the Armored Troop Carriers (Tango’s).

She was soon joined by Benewah who had been laid up at Green Cove Springs, Florida since 1956, and the ship was recommissioned, on 26 February 1967 and sent to Vietnam.

USS Benewah (APB-35). In the Soi Rap River, the BENEWAH lies at anchor with her assault ships nesting alongside, 24 October 1967. K-41574

USS Colleton (APB-36) with a full dozen Armored Troop Carrier LCM-6 conversions– including one outfitted as an Aid Boat– alongside while in the Mekong Delta. L45-55.02.01

Mekong Delta, Republic of Vietnam. Soldiers of the joint U.S. Army-Navy mobile riverine force get a “hosing down” to remove Mekong Delta mud as they return to their floating home base, a self-propelled barracks ship, after completing a mission during Operation Coronado Nine. Photographed by PH1 L.R. Robinson, December 1967. 428-GX-K42765

“Mother Ship: the USS Colleton’s bow, quad 40mm gun mount, loaded and fully manned during the ship’s movements up and down the Delta. It was also partially manned from 6 PM to 6AM every night at anchor. Three different crews taking shifts. We slept in the gun mount when we were able. Most nights we were usually awake and firing, off and on, in support of Army infantry. Sleep was not an option then.”– Dennis Noward

As detailed in Riverine Warfare, The U.S. Navy’s Operations on Inland Waters:

By late May 1967, the five ships that formed the initial Mobile Riverine Base had arrived in the Delta. These include two self-propelled barracks ships, the USS Benewah (APB 35) and USS Colleton (APB 30); a landing craft repair ship, USS Askari (ARL 30); the barracks craft APL 26; and a logistics support LST assigned on a 2-month rotational basis by Commander Seventh Fleet.

These five ships provided repair and logistic support, including messing, berthing, and working spaces for the 1,900 embarked troops of the 2d Brigade, and the 1,600 Navy men then assigned to TF-117. Benewah served as the Mobile Riverine Force flagship. By mid-June, 68 boats had joined the force and others arrived every few days (the full complement of 180 river assault craft was reached in 1968).

Thus, beginning June 1967, it was possible to conduct six to eight search and destroy missions per month, each lasting 2 or 3 days. (A number were joint United States-South Vietnamese.) On each of eight separate operations during the year, more than 100 Viet Cong were killed.

Sisters Mercer (also laid up in Green Cove Springs) and Nueces (laid up in Orange, Texas since 1955) would soon follow by 1968.

USS NUECES (APB-40) commissioning ceremony at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 3 May 1968. Note the 40mm Bofors mount. USN 1132322

PBR alongside USS Colleton APB-36, near Dong Tam, 1969

USS Colleton -APB-36 and her cluster of river boats. Mekong Delta-1969. Note, that the photo has been reversed.

PBRs alongside USS Colleton APB-36 Near Dong Tam 1969

The four barracks ships, augmented by a rotating force of LSTs (Caroline County, Kemper County, Vernon County, Washtenaw County, Windham County, Sedgwick County, and the aforementioned Whitfield County), and supported by the landing craft repair ships USS Askari (ARL-30) and Satyr (ARL 23) and a couple of yard tugs, would form the hard nucleus that the MRF would operate from throughout 1967 through 1969.

Notably, Colleton was the only one of her sisters outfitted as a pseudo-hospital ship. Arriving in the theater just days before the Tet Offensive, she managed 890 combat casualties from 29 January 1968 to May 1968 alone. Of these patients, 134 were admitted to the ship’s ward, and 411 evac’ed after stabilization.

Seaman Arthur Melling, the coxswain of Monitor 92-1, is loaded onto a “dust off” medevac Huey from an Aid Boat LCM after he was wounded. Helicopters could evacuate wounded MRF Sailors and Soldiers to medical care in a matter of minutes. Melling was evacuated to USS Colleton (APB 36) which had an operating room and medical facilities. Putting flight decks onto Armored Troop Carriers to turn them into Aid Boats was another example of adapting equipment to the demands of the battlefield. Official U.S. Navy photo (XFV-2530-B-6-68)

Then came the policy of Vietnamization, which aimed to reduce American involvement in the country by transferring all military assets and responsibilities to South Vietnam. With that, the MRF soon changed hands, and, with “the locals” taking over its tasks, the MRF faded away and its support ships went home.

The riverine craft of commander Task Force 117 is moored alongside the self-propelled barracks ship USS Colleton (APB-36) pending the ceremony in which the craft will be turned over to the Republic of Vietnam at Dong Tam. The photo was taken on June 14, 1969. K-74723

Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) with the current U.S. crewmen and the Vietnamese future crewmen aboard await the word to lower the U.S. Flag and raise The Republic of Vietnam Flag during ceremonies in which the Riverine task force 117 craft are to be turned over to the RVN at Dong Tam.The photoo was taken on June 14, 1969. K-74731

OG-107 clad Navy personnel of Commander, Task Force 117, stand in formation during ceremonies in which their riverine craft was turned over to the Republic of Vietnam Forces, in July 1969. Taken at Dong Tam, Republic of Vietnam. Note the insignia patch of River Assault Division 111, on the shoulder of the nearest man with the motto “Come Hell or Low Water” and the rocker “Mekong Marauders.” K-74726

The four barracks ships earned no less than a combined total of 27 campaign stars for Vietnam War service in addition to seven Combat Action Ribbons, a Presidential Unit Citation, seven Navy Unit Commendations, and one Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation. To this were added a host of RVN awards and decorations including multiple Gallantry Crosses and Civil Action Medals. Not bad for floating hotels.

Colleton transited back home, arriving at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for decommissioning in December 1969. Back in mothballs at Bremerton for a few years, she was struck from the NVR in 1973 when it became apparent that she would not have to return to Vietnam, and was sold for $172.226.62, to American Ship Dismantler’s Inc. of Portland, Oregon, for scrapping.

As for the 9th ID, they incurred 2,624 causalities in Vietnam and were brought home and inactivated in 1970 with the Vietnamization of the MRF, then reactivated in 1972 then served as a state-side equipment testing unit at Ft. Lewis, Washington until 1991. There are 10 Soldiers of the 9th ID or its component units in Vietnam still listed as missing in action, some vanished during MRF operations.
 
For more on the arrival and first year of the 9th ID in Vietnam, see George L. MacGarrigle’s Combat Operations: Taking the Offensive, October 1966–October 1967, The United States Army in Vietnam (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1998), 14–15, 117. 

Epilogue

The U.S. Navy has only had a single USS Colleton on its list and as far as I can tell there is little in way of relics around from her life.

As noted by the MRF Assoc, “She was a good ship and will always be remembered by all who served and lived on her in Vietnam, Navy and Army alike.”

Of her sisters, they would prove to be extremely hard to kill indeed. The pair of APBs that arrived in Vietnam to support the MRF in 1968, Nueces and Mercer, once they left Southeast Asia, they only made it as far as Japan and are still there. Nueces is still in Yokosuka while Mercer is in Sasebo, providing berthing and messing assistance to U.S. Forces Japan. Of course, they long ago landed their guns and were officially decommissioned in 1970, redesignated APLs as they are no longer self-propelled.

APL-39, ex-Mercer, moored at SRF Det., Sasebo Japan, 13 December 2012. (By Bob Gregory, Dep Requirements & Special Programs Officer, COMPACFLT N43, via Navsource) and APL-40, ex-Nueces, moored pier side, at Ship Repair Facility Yokosuka, Japan, date unknown. US Navy photo.

Specs:

Displacement 2,189 t., 4,080 t.(fl)
Length 328 feet
Beam 50 feet
Draft 11′ 2″
Fuel Capacity: Diesel 2,975 Bbls
Propulsion: 
two General Motors 12-567A Diesel engines
double Falk Main Reduction Gears
five Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C. Ship’s Service Generators
two propellers, 1,800shp
twin rudders
Speed: 12 kts.
Complement: 
Officers 12
Enlisted 129
Berthing Capacity:
Officers 26
Enlisted 275
Armament (1945)
four single 40mm AA gun mounts
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
twenty .50 and .30 cal machine guns


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Well that’s something you don’t see everyday

Looks like the “Mighty T” made it to Galveston, where she is undergoing repairs in dry dock for the first time in 32 years.

Early Wednesday morning, USS Texas (Battleship No. 35) was pulled out of her traditional berth into the Houston Ship Channel and was guided by the tugs Cecile M, Wesley A, Dolphin, and Audrey while the 87-foot patrol boat USCGC Hawk (WPB-87355) stood guard. She completed her stately 10-hour transit at 15:57– America’s oldest (and only) sea-going battleship!

Law enforcement boat crews protect the battleship USS Texas as pilot boat crews tow the historic ship down the Houston Ship Channel near Baytown, Texas, Aug. 31, 2022. The USS Texas moved from the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in La Porte, Texas, to a dry dock in Galveston, Texas, where it will undergo extensive hull repairs. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Corinne Zilnicki)

Pilot boat crews tow the battleship USS Texas down the Houston Ship Channel near Baytown, Texas, on Aug. 31, 2022. The USS Texas moved from the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in La Porte, Texas, to a dry dock in Galveston, Texas, where it will undergo extensive hull repairs. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Corinne Zilnicki)

“Today’s successful transit of the battleship Texas was a historic, monumental event only possible with planning and partnerships throughout the port community,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jason Smith, captain of the port and commander of Sector Houston-Galveston. “Long before today’s event, the Battleship Texas Foundation and Valkor worked closely with naval architects from Resolve Marine and the Coast Guard’s Salvage Engineering Response Team to ensure a sound transit plan. Coast Guard crews partnered with local pilot associations and various other maritime law enforcement agencies to protect both the battleship and our waterways throughout the transit. As we say in the maritime community for a job well done, Bravo Zulu to all involved!”

Video of the move via the Battleship Texas Foundation:

Out of the water! USS Texas at Gulf Copper 31 Aug 2022. Note the paravane skeg at the foot of the bow, her 1920s torpedo bulge love handles, and the stabilizer skeg on the latter. Photo by Sam Rossiello Battleship Texas Foundation

Her last yard period was at Todd’s Shipyard, Galveston, from 13 December 1988 to 23 February 1990, where she was extensively reworked in a $14 million effort topside and hull-wise including 235,000 pounds of outer hull plate replaced and 460,000 gallons of additional oil/oily water pumped out. She also had a concrete deck at the time, installed in 1968, that was removed and replaced with 26,660 square feet of 4inch x 4inch x 16foot yellow pine.

USS Texas at the beginning of the 1988-89 yard period

And in a great piece of digital maritime art, Andy Poulastides reworked the Texas image from PO1 Zilnicki into a tribute to Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, circa, 1838.

Welcome back, HMS Anson

Yesterday’s Warship Wednesday profiled the final KGV-class battleship to join the Royal Navy, the sixth HMS Howe (32), and her WWII career which included a stint as the flagship of ADM Bruce Fraser’s British Pacific Fleet in 1944-45. We also touched on her sister, the seventh HMS Anson (79) which joined the fleet the same summer of 1942 as Howe.

HMS Anson dressed in Sydney Harbor for the Australia Day sailing regatta, 1946. The KGV-class fast battleship was commissioned in April 1942 but didn’t become operational until September, joining Convoy QP 14 on the Murmansk run. In all, she would watch over nine such convoys, support the Husky landings against Sicily, tag along on the Tungsten operation to sink Tirpitz and host RADM Cecil Harcourt’s liberation of Hong Kong in August 1945.

Like her four sisters that survived WWII, the battlewagon Anson would remain in mothballs until 1957 and was unceremoniously disposed of shortly after.

Well, the name Anson returned to the Admiralty’s list as the fifth of seven Astute-class hunter-killer submarines, commissioned yesterday into the Royal Navy at a ceremony at BAE Systems’ Barrow-In-Furness site. She had been christened in 2020 via a bottle of cider smashed against the hull– the drink favored by her namesake, 18th-Century Admiral George Anson, as a cure for scurvy.

Of interest, while both battleships Anson and Howe visited Australia in 1945 during the war, Royal Australian Navy submariners, as part of the AUKUS initiative to send SSNs down under, will join British crews to train on newly commissioned HMS Anson as announced yesterday by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. In reflecting this, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and a delegation of RAN officers attended Anson’s commissioning this week.

HMS Anson will join four other Astute class submarines in service with the Royal Navy –HMS Astute, HMS Ambush, HMS Artful, and HMS Audacious– all proud names carried by former vessels. Two further boats that echo historic battleship names – Agamemnon and Agincourt – are in various stages of construction at Barrow.

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022: The Well-Traveled Admiral

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, Aug. 31, 2022: The Well-Traveled Admiral

Photo by Coote, R G G (Lt), Admiralty Official Collection Photograph A 11745 from the Imperial War Museums.

Above we see the King George V-class battleship HMS Howe (32) conducting full power trials at Scapa Flow with a bone in her teeth on 29 August 1942. The last “KGV” and the final British dreadnought built that would see combat, Howe joined the Home Fleet some 80 years ago this week.

Some 42,000 tons when at their fighting weight, these 745-foot long ships were brawlers. Capable of breaking 28 knots on a set of Parsons geared steam turbines, they were faster than all but a handful of battleships on the drawing board while still sporting nearly 15 inches of armor plate at their thickest. Armed with 10 BL 14-inch Mk VII naval guns and 16 5.25″/50 DP QF Mark I guns, they could slug it out with the biggest of the dreadnoughts of their day, possibly only outclassed by the American fast battleships (Washington, SoDak, Iowa-classes) with their 16-inch radar-guided guns and the Japanese Yamatos, which of course carried 18-inchers.

King George V class battleships, Janes 1946 plan

RN British battleship profiles ONI 201, circa 1944

The KGVs featured ten big 14″/45s in just three turrets, two 4-gun 1,582-ton Mark III mounts, and a single superimposed 2-gun 915-ton Mark II mount. They were capable of firing 1,590-pound Mark VIIB AP projectiles to 38,560 yards at maximum elevation and charge. The shells were able to penetrate 15.6 inches of side armor at anything closer than 10,000 yards.

Six of the 10 14-in guns of HMS Howe pointing to port as seen from a small boat alongside the battleship. IWM A 11755.

British Royal Marines fitting tampions to the guns of turret A or X aboard HMS Howe,

Workmen doing the same, HMS Howe (32)

Looking from the foc’sle towards the 6 forward 14 inch guns of HMS Howe, with the guns at maximum elevation and a group of sailors lined up in front of them

Royal Marines working on a 5.25 secondary turret on HMS Howe, August 1942. She had eight such mounts, the equivalent of a Dido-class light cruiser, and was capable of hitting up to 36,000 ft altitude in AAA mode

Note her AAA suite including 8-barreled pom poms

Part of a class of five mighty battleships whistled up as Hitler was girding a resurgent Germany, HMS Howe was ordered on 28 April 1937, just a year after the Austrian corporal-turned-Fuhrer violated the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Pact by reoccupying the demilitarized Rhineland. Built at Glasgow’s famous Fairfield Shipbuilding & Engineering Company’s yards in Govan (all five KGVs were constructed at different yards to speed up their delivery), she joined the fleet as Montgomery was preparing to rebuff Rommel for good at El Alamein in Northern Africa. What a difference a few years can make!

One classmate, HMS Prince of Wales, had already been lost in combat before Howe was commissioned, sent to the bottom infamously by Japanese land-based bombers after surviving two encounters with Bismarck while still technically on her builder’s trials.

Originally to be named after the great Admiral of the Fleet David Richard Beaty, she was instead the 6th RN warship since 1805 graced with the name of Admiral of the Fleet Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe, KG, a career sea dog who at age 68 led his 25 ships of the line against a larger French fleet during the “Glorious First of June” melee in 1794. Howe succeeded in capturing or sinking seven French ships without losing any of his own.

C., H. ; Lord Howe on Board the ‘Queen Charlotte’ Bringing His Prize into Spithead, 1794; HMS Excellent; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/lord-howe-on-board-the-queen-charlotte-bringing-his-prize-into-spithead-1794-26045

Convoy Duty

Commissioned at her builder’s yard at Govan in June 1942 although she was not yet completed, Howe would spend the next three months in a series of trials while finishing outfitting.

RN British battleship KGV class HMS HOWE IWM A 10381

King George V class battleship HMS Howe during trials in August 1942

HMS Howe underway at sea, date unknown

HMS HOWE, BRITAIN’S LASTEST BATTLESHIP IN COMMISSION. 2 JULY 1942. (A 10514) HMS HOWE enters the dock for her finishing touches before taking her place with the Fleet. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205144216

An imposing shot of Howe from the waterline, showing off her secondaries

HMS Howe Joins the Fleet, Glasgow, Scotland, July 1942. Thousands of people gather on the banks of the Clyde to see the recently constructed British battleship HMS HOWE, towed out by tugs to join the Fleet. IWM A 10383

With HMS Howe. August 1942, on Board the Battleship HMS Howe. The fitting mascot for the great battleship is “Judy”, a thoroughbred bulldog. A 11770

HMS Howe. August 1942. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh, speaking to the ship’s company. IWM A A 11739

HM’s newest battleship would spend the rest of the year in a series of exercises and shake down evolutions, getting her green crew ready for war. Building on lessons learned from chasing down Bismarck and in fights with the Japanese off Java and Guadalcanal, lots of nighttime training.

 

HMS Howe firing her 14-inch guns near Scapa Flow, likely around 25 September to 5 October 1942. IWM A 12334.

“The brilliant flash from the guns which precedes the cordite smoke lasts only for a fraction of a second”

Howe moved from being passively in the fight to heading out for combat on New Year’s Eve 1942 when she sortied out from Scapa as part of the distant screening force for Convoy RA 51, heading to the UK from Murmansk, tantalizingly close enough for the German surface raiders in Norway to get a bite (if they wanted.) In this, she sailed with her sister, the battleship HMS King George V, and in future convoys would often steam alongside other sisters, HMS Anson and HMS Duke of York, the latter of which would end the career of the battleship Scharnhorst during the Battle of the North Cape on Boxing Day 1943– soaking the German warship in 446 14-inch shells across 80 broadsides.

Before leaving Scapa again to help cover Convoy JW 53 in late February as a distant cover force, our new battlewagon would host the king.

King George VI inspecting the ship’s company on board HMS Howe. The King pays a 4-day visit to the Home Fleet. 18 to 21 February 1943, Scapa Flow, wearing the uniform of an Admiral of the Fleet, the King paid a four-day visit to the Home Fleet. IWM A 15210.

King George VI aboard HMS Howe with Captain C. H. L. Woodhouse and Admiral John Tovey, Scapa Flow, Scotland, Feb 1943. They are nearing the aft “X” turret. IWM A 15204

King George VI aboard HMS Howe, same day, a beautiful view of her bow turrets (“A” and “B”) with their unusual 4+2 arrangement. IWM A 15121

(A 15430) HMS HOWE firing her starboard 5.9 guns, as seen from the inward deck of HMS KING GEORGE V in Northern waters. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205148494

In March, she would join the cover force for Convoy RA 53 then in April, in work up for the Operation Fracture/Husky Landings in Sicily, would take part in exercise XCJ off Iceland.

The Med

Sailing for Gibraltar in the company of three destroyers, she arrived in the shadow of “The Rock” on 25 May and would join “H” Force, made up of Howe and her sister HMS King George V (flying the flag of Rear-Admiral A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), along with the carrier HMS Formidable and nine British and Polish destroyers/escorts. Shipping out for Algiers from Gibraltar, the group would rename Force Z and ultimately head into combat off Sicily on 11 July– sans Formidable and four tin cans but adding the cruisers HMS Dido and HMS Sirius — under Howe’s skipper, Capt. Charles Henry Lawrence Woodhouse (who captained HMS Ajax in the Battle of the River Plate), the senior officer with 37 years in service.

HMS Howe July 1943, off Algiers

The role of Force Z would be to shell Trapani and Marsala along with the islands of Favignana and Levanzo in the dark pre-dawn hours on 12 July, serving as a decoy to the main landings on the west coast of Sicily. During the feign, Howe fired 17 salvoes from her 14-inch guns at the hills along Trapani harbor along with several star shells for illumination.

Following the diversion, Force Z would remain a fire brigade on short notice, scrambled in case Italian battleships wanted to come out and fight. It was in this role that CinC Malta, Vice Admiral Arthur John Power, would break out his flag on Howe on 8 September to sortie towards the incoming Italian fleet sailing from Taranto to surrender. The force would encounter the Italian battleships Andrea Doria and Caio Duilo (flying the flag of VADM Alberto Da Zara), along with the cruisers Luigi Cadorna and Pompeo Magno and a destroyer at sea, escorting them back to Malta.

Taking a break from accepting the surrender of Umberto II’s capital ships, Howe supported the Operation Slapstick landings of the British 1st Airborne Division outside of Taranto (with the Paras arriving by sea rather than by air). Then, on 14 September, Force Z would escort the surrendered Italian battleships Vittorio Veneto, Italia (Littorio), cruisers Eurgenio di Savoia, Emanuelle Filiberto Duca d’Aosta, Raimondo Montecuccoli and Luigi Cadorna; and the destroyers Artigliere, Velite, Grecale, and Nicoloso da Recco from Malta to Alexandria.

Langmaid, Rowland; The Surrendered Italian Fleet with HMS ‘King George V’ and ‘Howe’, 1943; National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-surrendered-italian-fleet-with-hms-king-george-v-and-howe-1943-174942

Sent back to Scapa to resume Home Fleet duties in October, it was thought Howe could best serve with a new force being mustered to fight the Japanese now that the Med had calmed down and the Axis had lost its capital ships in that ancient sea.

To the Pacific!

Laid up at Devonport for a six-month refit that saw her packing on new radars (Type 274, 282, and 283 radar added; Type 273, 281, and 284 removed) and a serious AAA suite, Howe was destined for the new British Pacific Fleet, where she would be the force’s flagship. While her original 1942 “ack ack” fit was substantial– 6 octuple 40/39 2pdr QF Mk VIII “pom-poms” and 18 20mm/70 Oerlikon Mk II/IV singles– Howe could sail for the Far East in early 1944 with 8 pom poms (64 guns), 34 Oerlikon singles and 8 Oerlikon twin mounts (for a total of 50 20mm guns); and two quad 40mm Bofors mounts (8 guns).

Howe, Flagship of the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, passing through the Suez Canal on 14 July 1944 on her way to join the British Pacific Fleet. Naval History and Heritage Command original color photograph, NH 94456-KN, courtesy of The Imperial War Museum London

Swimmers from a local swimming club gather on a jetty to watch the passage of HMS Howe through the Suez Canal. Many of the battleship’s crew are on deck

While the fighting core of the BPF was to be RADM Admiral Sir Philip Vian’s 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron (Task Force 57), ultimately including a half-dozen Illustrious-class armored carriers (supported by a mix of five replenishment and repair carriers) and 36 FAA squadrons flying from their decks, HMS Howe would be the first British battleship to return to the Pacific since Prince of Wales and her companion, the aging but beautiful battlecruiser Repulse, were sunk in December 1942. (*While several of the Great War vintage Revenge-class and Queen Elizabeth-class battleships along with the battlecruiser Renown would serve in the Eastern Fleet in 1943-44, their service was isolated to convoy escort and operations along the Burma coast and various island groups in the Indian Ocean.)

Passing through the Suez, stopping at Aden in late July, and arriving at Colombo on 3 August (where she exercises with the Free French battleship Richelieu), Howe joined the Eastern Fleet’s carrier forces (soon to be BPF carriers), consisting of the HMS Victorious and HMS Indomitable for Operation Banquet– a raid against Padang, Sumatra, in the Dutch East Indies (Aug 19-27) followed by Operation Light, a similar carrier raid (Sept 14-20) against the railway repair and maintenance center at Sigli, Sumatra.

Howe and her escorting destroyers, with Fraser aboard, arrived at Fremantle on 11 December 1944 from Colombo and Australia went crazy.

Relocating to Sydney on 17 December for a two-week pier side stand down, the enthusiasm was palpable, and Howe’s skipper at the time, Capt. H.W.U. McCall, DSO, RN, explicitly mentioned the battleship was there, two years after the fact, to avenge Prince of Wales and Repulse and “take our full share in bringing about the defeat of Japan.”

Once in the Pacific, Howe would soon be reinforced by her familiar sister, the hard-wearing HMS King George V, in February 1945 followed by siblings Duke of York and HMS Anson later in the summer (post-VJ-Day). They would comprise the 1st Battle Squadron of the British Pacific Fleet. Sadly, the four would never steam together as a fighting unit. The older but 16-inch gunned HMS Nelson (28) would arrive in the Pacific just in time for the surrender in Singapore on 12 September.

THE BATTLESHIP HMS HOWE IN NEW ZEALAND WATERS. JANUARY 1945, ON BOARD HMS HOWE, FLAGSHIP OF ADMIRAL BRUCE FRASER, C IN C BRITISH PACIFIC FLEET, WHEN SHE WAS IN NEW ZEALAND WATERS AND DURING HER VISIT TO AUCKLAND. (A 28861) Destroyer escort seen from the bridge of the HOWE. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160182

THE BATTLESHIP HMS HOWE IN NEW ZEALAND WATERS. JANUARY 1945, ON BOARD HMS HOWE, FLAGSHIP OF ADMIRAL BRUCE FRASER, C IN C BRITISH PACIFIC FLEET, WHEN SHE WAS IN NEW ZEALAND WATERS AND DURING HER VISIT TO AUCKLAND. (A 28865) Captain H W U McCall, DSO, RN, with the HOWE’s dog mascot Guinness. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160186

HMS Howe with a bone in her teeth

Working towards the Japanese surrender, KGV and Howe (as Task Group 57.1), joining the growing British carrier power that was TF57, were off to Okinawa for Operation Iceberg in March. They stood by the carriers amid the waves of incoming kamikazes (with one suicider crashing in flames 100 yards from HMS Howe after passing over the quarterdeck). Our battleship also got her guns on target, bombarding Hirara airfield and the runways at Nobara and Sukuma (4 May: 195 rounds of 14″ HE, and 378 rounds of 5.25″ HE).

After spending most of the preceding year at sea, and with a move from the UK to Japan’s doorstep and a series of fast carrier raids behind her, Howe was pulled off the line to refit for the final push (Operation Olympic) — the invasion of the Japanese home island of Kyushu, set for November 1945. With that, Howe steamed from Manus for Sydney in early June, then arrived at Durban, South Africa– because no suitable facilities were available in Australia at the time– arriving on 27 June. There, her AAA suite was upgraded for a final time, landing most of her 20mm guns in favor of better-performing 40mm Bofors.

However, by the time her refit finished on 10 September, the war was already over.

Her sisters, Duke of York and KGV, were in Tokyo Bay when the instruments of surrender were signed.

HMS Duke of York in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, the day the Japanese Surrender was signed on USS Missouri BB-63. The Ensigns of all Allied nations were flown for a ceremonial “Sunset.” Note the two Quad QF 2-pounder/40mm “Pom-Pom” gun mounts and five smart Royal Marine buglers (center) ready to sound Sunset. Nimitz called upon ADM Sir Bruce Fraser aboard HMS Duke of York on the eve of the Japanese surrender ceremony. Nimitz noted that the visit was “partly on official business, partly because I like him, and mostly to get a scotch and soda before dinner because our ships are dry.” IWM – Cross, G W (Sub Lt) Photographer

Epilogue

Howe, the last of her class, remained in commission for the rest of the decade and became Flagship of the Training Squadron at Portland.

King George V class battleships listing, Jane’s 1946

Reduced to Reserve status in 1950 as the flag of the Devonport Division of the Reserve Fleet, she was placed on the Disposal List in 1957 along with her three surviving sisters.

Mothballs Devonport mid-1950s Fairmile D MTBs HMS Howe HMS Belfast and Dido class light cruiser, possibly HMS Euryalus

Battleships HMS Vanguard and HMS Howe lying in reserve at Devonport, 1956 HMS Unicorn Euryalus behind

Howe was sold to BISCO for demolition, arriving at Inverkeithing on 2 June 1958 for breaking up.

It would fall to the one-off HMS Vanguard (23), the last and never fully operational British battleship, completed in 1946, to hold the line for two further years until she too was decommissioned and scrapped in late 1960 to end the Admiralty’s 54 years run with dreadnoughts.

Howe is remembered in maritime art by some of the most gifted painters in the class.

Battleship in Suez Canal, HMS ‘Howe’ by Charles Pears. Photo credit: The National Archives

HMS Howe under attack from Japanese aircraft, torpedo-armed Vals by artist Terence Tenison Cuneo (UK Art Trust) 

Suez Transit by Wayne Scarpaci. Depicts the King George V class Battleship, HMS Howe, passaging through the Suez canal in 1944

Her bell was saved and installed in Edinburgh’s St. Giles Cathedral, lovingly tended by the HMS Howe Association while her giant circa 1937 1:96 scale builder’s model from Govan is on display in the Riverside Museum in Glasgow. Other relics of her are on display at assorted museums across the UK.

Her wartime movement logs are digitized at Uboat.net.

For their own reasons, the Royal Navy has not had a seventh HMS Howe. A shame. 

 


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Warship Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022: Last Dance of the Prancing Dragon

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, Aug. 24, 2022: Last Dance of the Prancing Dragon

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

Above we see the Japanese light carrier Ryujo (also sometimes seen in the West incorrectly as Ryukyu) on sea trials at Satamisaki-oki, 6 September 1934 after her reconstruction, note her open bow and tall flight deck, showing off her bridge under the lip of the flattop. Built to a problematic design, she had lots of teething problems and, while she breathed fire in the Empire’s dramatic expansion after Pearl Harbor, the sea closed over her some 80 years ago today and extinguished her flames.

If you compare the development of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carrier program in the 1920s and 30s to that of the U.S. Navy, there is a clear parallel. Each fleet had an initial, awkward, flattop commissioned in 1922 that proved to be a “schoolship” design to cradle a budding naval aviation program (Japan’s circa 1922 10,000-ton Hosho vs the 14,000-ton USS Langley). This was followed by a pair of much larger carriers that were built on the hulls of battlewagons whose construction had been canceled due to the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty but still carried large enough 7.9-inch/8-inch gun batteries to rate them as heavy cruisers in armament if not in armor (the 38,000/40,000-ton Kaga and Akagi vs. the 36,000-ton USS Lexington and USS Saratoga) that would pioneer the art of using such vessels via war gaming exercises. Then came smallish (to make the most of treaty limits), specially-designed, one-off carriers that were built after several years of experience with the type– the “under 10,000-ton” Ryujo vs the 15,000-ton USS Ranger (CV-4), which would be test beds for the bigger and better designs that each country would turn to for heavy lifting in 1942 (32,000-ton Shokaku class vs the 25,000-ton Yorktown class).

Laid down on 26 November 1929 at Mitsubishi in Yokoyama, Ryujo, whose name translates into something akin to “prancing dragon” or “dragon phoenix,” was slipped in by the Japanese as a nominal 8,000-ton aviation ship before the 1930 London Naval Treaty came in and limited even these small carriers as well as placed an armament cap of 6-inch guns on flattops.

Ryujo under construction Drydock No. 5, Yokosuka, Japan, 20 Oct 1931. Note how small she appears in the battleship-sized dock

Built on a slim 590-foot cruiser-style hull that, with a dozen boilers and a pair of steam turbines could make 29 knots, the Japanese elected for an extremely top-heavy build above the waterline placing her double-deck hangars and stubby 513-foot long flight deck towering some 50-feet into above the 01 deck to what proved to be an unsteady metacentric height (GM). Like Langley and Hosho, she was a true flattop, lacking a topside island, which would have made the whole thing even more unstable, instead opting to have a broad “greenhouse” bridge on the forward lip of the flight deck.

A period postcard of the Japanese aircraft carriers Ryūjō (top) and the legacy Hōshō. Note the height difference

Close-up view of the stern of carrier Ryujo, Yokosuka, Japan, 19 June 1933. Note how high her flight deck is from the main deck.

Ryujo Photograph taken in 1933, when the ship was first completed. The original print was provided by Dr. Oscar Parkes, Editor, Jane’s Fighting Ships. It was filed on 27 October 1933. NH 42271

She spent 1933 and 1935 in a series of rebuilds that moved to address her stability issues– which she suffered in a typhoon that left her hangar flooded. These changes included torpedo bulges and active stabilizers on her hull, more ballast, and, by a third rebuild completed in 1940, carried a redesigned bow form with re-ducted funnels.

Close-up of Japanese carrier Ryujo’s side mounted exhaust funnels and 12.7cm anti-aircraft guns, Yokosuka, 20 March 1933

This pushed her to over 12,700 tons in displacement and change her profile.

Aircraft carrier Ryujo undergoing full-scale trials after restoration performance improvement work (September 6, 1934, between the pillars at Satamisaki). Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

She saw her inaugural taste of combat in the war with China in the last quarter of 1937, operating a mix of a dozen Navy Type 95 Carrier Fighter and Type 94/96 Carrier Bombers (Susies), both highly maneuverable biplanes. Her Type 95s met Chinese KMT-flown Curtiss F11C Goshawks in aerial combat with the Japanese claiming six kills.

Ryujo at sea 1936. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Ryujo. Underway at sea, September 1938. Donation of Kazutoshi Hando, 1970. NH 73072

Ryujo at sea between 1934 and 1937 with only 4×2 127mm AA-guns after 1934 refit

It should be observed that the two 670-foot submarine tenders, Zuiho and Shoho, that were converted to light carriers in 1940-41, as well as the tender Taigei (converted and renamed Ryuho) and the three Nitta Maru-class cargo liners converted to Taiyō-class escort carriers in 1942-43, greatly favored our Ryujo in profile and they were surely constructed with the lessons gleaned from what had gone wrong with that latter carrier in the previous decade. Notably, while still having a flush deck design without an island, these six conversions only had a single hangar deck instead of Ryujo’s double hangar deck, giving them a smaller maximum air wing (25-30 aircraft vs 40-50) but a shorter height and thus better seakeeping ability.

Japanese carrier Zuiho, note the similarity to Ryujo

Running Amok for five months

Ryujo would be left behind when Yamamoto sent Nagumo’s Kido Butai eight-carrier strike force (Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, Shokaku, Soryu, and Zuikaku on the attack itself, screened from a distance by Hosho and Zuiho) to hit Pearl Harbor, instead tasking the wallowing light carrier with being the sole flattop supporting Takahashi’s Third Fleet’s invasion of the Philippines.

USN Recognition slide of the Ryujo LOC Lot-2406-5

With the Japanese keeping their battleships in a fighting reserve in the Home Islands for the anticipated Tsushima-style fleet action, and every other carrier either in the yard or on the Pearl Harbor operation, Ryujo was the Third Fleet’s only capital ship, a key asset operating amid a force of cruisers, seaplane tenders, and destroyers– appreciated at last!

Ryujo was still 100 percent more carrier than RADM Thomas Hart’s Asiatic Fleet had in their order of battle, and the dragon was very active in the PI with her airwing of Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers and Mitsubishi A5M “Claude” fighters. It was her planes that delivered the first strikes of the Japanese invasion on 8 December when they hit U.S. Navy assets in Davao Bay in Northern Luzon then spent the rest of the month covering the landings there.

A Japanese Nakajima B5N1 Type 97 from the aircraft carrier Ryujo flies over the U.S. Navy seaplane tender USS William B. Preston (AVD-7) in Malalag Bay, Mindanao, Philippines, during the early morning of 8 December 1941. Two Consolidated PBY-4 Catalinas (101-P-4 and 101-P-7) from Patrol Squadron 01 (VP-101), Patrol Wing 10, are burning offshore. Via Maru magazine No. 461, December 1984 via j-aircraft.org

In January 1942, she was shifted south to support the Malaysia invasion from Japanese-occupied Camranh Bay in French Indochina, with her Claudes thought to have shot down at least two RAF Lockheed Hudsons off Redang Island while her Kates are credited with anti-shipping strikes off Singapore on 13-17 February that sent the Dutch tankers Merula (8,226 tons) and Manvantara (8,237 tons) along with the British steamer Subadar (5,424 tons), to the bottom. Fending off counterattacks, her Claudes shot down two RAF Bristol Blenheim from 84 Squadron and a Dornier Do 24 flying boat of the Dutch Navy.

Here we see Hr.Ms. Java was under attack by Japanese Nakajima B5N “Kate” high-altitude bombers from the light carrier Ryujo in the Gaspar Straits of what is today Indonesia, 15 February 1942. Remarkably, the Dutch light cruiser would come through this hail without a scratch, however, her days were numbered, and she would be on the bottom of the Pacific within a fortnight of the above image. Australian War Memorial photo 305183

While her Kates twice attacked Hr.Ms. Java and HMS Exeter (68) of Graf Spee fame on 15 February without causing either cruiser much damage, Ryujo’s air group found more success in attacking the Dutch destroyer Hr.Ms. Van Nes two days later. A strike of 10 B5N1s chased the Admiralen-class greyhound down in the Java Sea and landed two hits, sending her to the bottom with 68 of her crewmen.

Two Japanese Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers (B5N2 in the foreground and B5N1 in the background) over the Java Sea on 17 February 1942. The smoke in the background is coming from the Dutch destroyer Hr.Ms. Van Nes. She was sunk by Japanese aircraft from the aircraft carrier Ryujo circa 30 km from Toboali, Bangka Island while escorting the troop transport Sloet van Beele.

On the morning of 1 March in the immediate aftermath of the overnight Battle of the Java Sea, her Kates all but disabled the old Clemson-class four-piper USS Pope (DD-225) off Bawean Island, leaving her to be finished off by Japanese cruisers.

April saw Ryujo join Ozawa’s mobile force for the epic “Operation C” raids into the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, where she split her time sending out Kates on search-shipping strikes (sinking the 5,082-ton British steamer Harpasa on 5 April) and raids on the Indian ports of Vizagapatam and Cocanada, accounting for eight assorted Allied ships on 6 April in conjunction with the guns of Ozawa’s cruisers. It is even reported by Combined Fleet that Ryujo was able to use her own 5-inch guns against surface targets as well, an almost unheard of level of sea control.

Arriving back home in Kure in May after five solid months of running amok, Ryujo would land her obsolete Claude fighters in favor of shiny new Mitsubishi Type 0 A6M2 “Zekes” of the latest design– some of which just left the factory– as the Admiralty aimed to send her into an operation where she may expect interference from American F4F Wildcats and P-39 Aircobra/P-40 Warhawks: Operation AL, the diversionary seizure of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians during the Battle of Midway.

Dutch Harbor & Koga’s Zero

Sent to attack Alaska as part of VADM Hosogaya Boshiro’s Aleutian invasion force in company with the new 27,500-ton carrier Junyo, Ryujo would be active in a series of three air raids on Dutch Harbor and Unalaska on 3-4 June which didn’t cause much damage on either side, then covered the bloodless landings at Attu and Kiska on the 7th.

Dutch Harbor, Unalaska Island, Alaska, 3 June 1942: A Navy machine gun crew watches intently as Japanese aircraft depart the scene after the attack. Smoke in the background is from the steamer SS Northwestern, set ablaze by a dive bomber (80-G-11749).

However, one of the aircraft that failed to return to Ryujo was one of those beautiful new Zekes, SN 4593/Tail DI-108, flown by 19-year-old Flight Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga. His oil line hit by a “magic BB” from small arms fire over Dutch Harbor, Koga tried to land his smoking fighter on remote green Akutan Island, some 25 miles from nowhere, where it could possibly be recovered and flown back home or destroyed in place if needed. However, it turned out that the flat field Koga aimed for on Akutan was a bog and his aircraft flipped, killing him, on contact.

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero-sen 10 July 1942, on Akutan Island, in the Aleutians aircraft had been flown by petty officer Tadayoshi Koga, IJN, from the carrier RYUJO. Aircraft damaged on 4 June 1942; the pilot was killed when the plane flipped over on its back. This “Zero” was the first captured intact for flight tests. NH 82481

U.S. Navy personnel inspect Koga’s Zero. The petty officer’s body was recovered still inside the cockpit, relatively preserved by the icy bog despite being there for over a month. Regretfully, a number of images of his cadaver are digitized and in wide circulation. Museum of the Aleutians Collections. MOTA 2018.16.10

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero-Sen on the docks at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, 17 July 1942. This plane, from carrier RYUJO, had crash landed after the Dutch Harbor Raid on 4 June 1942. It was salvaged by VP-41 and was the first “Zero” captured intact for flight tests. NH 91339

The Zero on a barge in Alaska on August 8

More on Koga’s plane later.

The Dragon’s final dance

Having returned to Kure in July after the disaster that befell the Japanese carrier force in a single day at Midway (“scratch four flattops”), Ryujo was now suddenly more important than she had ever been before.

By early August, she was attached to Nagumo’s Main Unit Mobile Force– who the Japanese somehow still trusted– alongside the large fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku of the First Carrier Division which had survived Midway by not being at Midway. Coupled with the battleships Hiei and Kirishima (which would never come back home), the force was dispatched towards Truk to challenge the growing American presence on Guadalcanal. With Shokaku and Zuikaku large enough to tote both strike and fighter packages, the smaller Ryujo, paired with the old battleship Mutsu in a diversionary force away from the two bigger carriers, would instead have a fighter-heavy air wing of 9 Kates and 24 Zekes as American flattops were known to be lurking in the area.

On 24 August, Nagumo’s carriers were close enough to attack Henderson Field on Guadalcanal but in turn fell under the crosshairs of the numerical inferior Task Force 61, commanded by VADM Frank J. Fletcher (who had spanked Nagumo 11 weeks earlier at Midway), in what went down in the history books as Battle of Eastern Solomons. While Ryujo’s strike would hit the U.S. positions on Lunga Point– in a raid observed by Fletcher’s radar-equipped force– SBDs from Bombing Three and TBFs from Torpedo Eight off USS Saratoga (CV 3) would find the relatively undefended Ryujo and leave her dead in the water where land-based B-17s would find her in two follow-on raids.

A U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless flies over the aircraft carriers USS Enterprise (CV-6), foreground, and USS Saratoga (CV-3) near Guadalcanal. The aircraft is likely on anti-submarine patrol. Saratoga is trailed by her plane guard destroyer. Another flight of three aircraft is visible near Saratoga. The radar array on the Enterprise has been obscured by a wartime censor. U.S. Navy National Naval Aviation Museum photo NNAM.1996.253.671

Battle of the Eastern Solomons, 24 August 1942: The damaged and immobile Japanese aircraft carrier Ryujo was photographed from a USAAF B-17 bomber, during a high-level bombing attack on 24 August 1942. The destroyers Amatsukaze and Tokitsukaze had been removing her crew and are now underway, one from a bow-to-bow position and the other from alongside. Two “sticks” of bombs are bursting on the water, more than a ship length beyond the carrier. The bow of the cruiser Tone is visible at the extreme right. 80-G-88021

Diorama of Ryjuo attack from the Don Garber Collection South Pacific WWII Museum

As detailed by Combined Fleet:

  • 1357 RYUJO is attacked by enemy aircraft (30 SBD and 8 TBF launched at 1315 from USS SARATOGA, (CV-3). The CAP manages to shoot down one TBF, but the carrier receives four bomb hits, many near-misses, and one torpedo hit aft of amidships. The torpedo floods the starboard engine room, and the ship begins to list and lose speed. A second torpedo hit, or large bomb appears to have damaged the port bow.
  • 1408, RYUJO turned north and attempted to retire as ordered by Admiral Yamamoto. But though the fire is extinguished, the list increased to 21 degrees, and flooding disabled the boilers and machinery.
  • 1420 RYUJO stops. At 1515 ‘Abandon Ship’ is ordered. AMATSUKAZE draws close along the low starboard side to attempt to transfer the crew bodily to her by planks linking the ships.
  • 1610-1625 During abandonment, the carrier and screen are bombed by B-17s that are engaged by her fighters, and she receives no further damage.
  • 1730 B-17s bomb again but again no additional damage. AMATSUKAZE completes rescue, and shortly after, about:
  • 1755 RYUJO capsized to starboard and after floating long enough to reveal holes in her bottom, sinks stern first at 06-10S, 160-50E, bearing 10 degrees 106 miles from Tulagi.
  • Four aircraft go down with the ship. Seven officers – including XO Cdr (Captain posthumously) Kishi and Maintenance Officer LtCdr (Eng.) (Cdr (Eng.) posthumously) Nakagawa – and 113 petty officers and men are lost; Captain Kato and the survivors are rescued by destroyers AMATSUKAZE and TOKITSUKAZE and heavy cruiser TONE. The destroyers soon transfer these survivors to the TOEI MARU and TOHO MARU.

Epilogue

While Ryujo has been at the bottom of the Southern Pacific for 80 years now, her legacy should not be forgotten. When it comes to Koga’s advanced model Zero, left behind in Alaska in what was described as “98 percent condition,” the aircraft was so key to Allied intelligence efforts that it has been described as “The Fighter That Changed World War II.”

Koga’s Zero in U.S. markings while assigned to NACA 1943

The folks over at Grumman were able to get their test pilots and engineers in it, then use lessons drawn from it to tweak the F6F Hellcat and later, the F7F and F8F.

Koga’s Zero in flight

As noted by Wings of the Rising Sun excerpts at The Aviation Geek Club:

Once the fighter had been sent to NAS Anacostia in late 1942, a series of test flights were performed by the Naval Air Station’s Flight Test Director, Cdr Frederick M. Trapnell. He flew identical flight profiles in both the Zero and U.S. fighters to compare their performance, executing similar aerial maneuvers in mock dogfights. U.S. Navy test pilot LT Melvin C. “Boogey” Hoffman was also checked out in the A6M2, after which he helped train Naval Aviators flying new F6F Hellcats, F4U Corsairs, and FM Wildcats by dogfighting with them in the Zero.

In 1943 the aircraft was evaluated in NACA’s LMAL in Hampton, Virginia, where the facility’s Full-Scale Wind Tunnel was used to evaluate the Zero’s aerodynamic qualities. It was also shown off to the public at Washington National Airport that same year during a war booty exhibition. By September 1944, the well-used A6M2 was stationed at NAS North Island once again, where it served as a training aid for “green” Naval Aviators preparing for duty in the Pacific.

RADM William N. Leonard said of Koga’s plane, “The captured Zero was a treasure. To my knowledge, no other captured machine has ever unlocked so many secrets at a time when the need was so great.” On the other side of the pond, Japanese Lt-Gen. Masatake Okumiya said the plane’s loss “was no less serious” than the Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway, and “did much to hasten Japan’s final defeat.”

PO Koga, the teenage son of a carpenter, was at first buried in the hummocks some 100 yards from his crash site after he was extracted from the Zero. Exhumed in 1947, his remains were interred in the cemetery on Adak, in grave 1082 marked as “Japanese Flyer Killed in Action.” He was exhumed a final time in 1953 for repatriation along with 253 others from the Aleutians, and since then has been in the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Japan. The location of his lonely crash on Atukan, half a mile inland from Broad Bight, is occasionally visited by groups from Japan.

While Koga’s Zero was mauled in a mishap on the ground in February 1945 and then later scrapped, instruments from it are on display at the Museum of the U.S. Navy and two of its manufacturer’s plates are in the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage, some of the only relics of Ryujo left.

Ryujo is remembered in a variety of maritime art, most of which is used for scale model box art. 

Specs:

(1941)
Displacement: 12,732 tons
Length: 590’7″
Beam: 68’2″
Draft: 23’3″
Machinery: 12 x Kampon water-tube boilers, 2 geared steam turbines, 2 shafts, 65,000 shp
Speed: 29 knots
Crew: 924
Airwing: up to 48 single-engine aircraft
Armament:
8 x 5″/40 Type 89 naval gun
4 x 25mm/60 Hotchkiss-licensed Type 96 light AA guns
24 x 13mm/76 AAAs


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Warship Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022: The Final Figurehead

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, Aug. 17, 2022: The Final Figurehead

National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N3908

Above we see the Cadmus-class steel-hulled 10-gun sloop HMS Espiegle, shortly after she was commissioned around 1902. Note her fine lines and almost yacht-like appearance. You would be mistaken to think she had been built with lessons learned from the Sino-Japanese War or Spanish-American War. Still, she would prove herself under fire in a most unusual place.

The Cadmus class was one of the last gasps of British colonial gunboats with the “first” two (Clio and Cadmus) laid down on 11 March 1902 at Sheerness Dockyard after the “latter” four (Espiegle, Fantome, Merlin, and Odin) already afloat. Designed by Sir William Henry White, the Royal Navy Director of Naval Construction, they were based on the preceding class of six White-designed Condor-class sloops (980t, 204 ft. oal, circa 1898) but with several minor improvements.

Some 210 feet long with a broad (33 foot, 1:6 ratio) beam and a mean draught of just over 11 feet, they could put in at just about any port worthy enough to be termed such a place. Carrying a 1,400 hp engineering suite of four Niclausse or Babcock boilers and two VTE engines along with three masts equipped with an auxiliary barque rig (although some reportedly never received sails), they could make just over 13 knots on steam alone and maintain a stately 10 knots for 4,000nm. To protect those spaces, they carried an inch to an inch and a half of armor plate extending over the machinery and boilers.

Not built for speed, they carried six manually-trained 4″/40 QF Mark III 25-pounder guns (two aft, two amidships, and two forward, protected by armored shields of 6mm steel) along with a quartet of 3-pounder 47mm/40cal Hotchkiss Mark I guns and three .303 Maxim water-cooled machine guns, they carried all the armament of a large destroyer or small unarmored cruiser sans torpedo tubes.

In short, they were flag wavers, meant for economic foreign service, and looked more 18/19th Century than 20th as their arrangement was very, um, vintage, including figureheads (the last class built with such ornaments), a scrolled trail board, sloping sterns, and clipper bows with a long bowsprit spar– they were only 185 feet at the waterline. Their steel hulls were sheathed in timber, which helped them in terms of corrosion between dry dock periods but did nothing for speed and marine growth.

HMS Espiegle c1902. Note her scrollwork and sloping stern. Her shielded 4″/40 is trained to port as is one of her “stinger” 3-pounders. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N11384

It was explained by Mr. Ernest George Pretyman, the Secretary of the Admiralty to Parliament in 1905:

“The Clio and Cadmus were both laid down on March 11th, 1902. The Clio was completed in January and the Cadmus in April of 1904. The first cost of these vessels is as follows: Clio, £80,796; Cadmus, £76,657. They were never designed for fighting purposes but for subsidiary work in peace or war, for which they are still available, and in which they are at the present moment engaged.”

They were the final “masted” sloops in the Royal Navy, a type of vessel the Admiralty would pause until 1915 when they recycled the classification for slow corvette/frigate-sized escorts.

The sloop Cadmus, exemplifying the class, was pictured at Devonport in 1904 just after she was completed. Note the scrollwork and figurehead, her sailing rig complete with stowed canvas on the foremast, and the gun shields on her forward 4″/40s. Also note the searchlight between her forward guns, one of the few nods to the 20th Century. If you look at her waterline, you can see where the timber sheathing ends on her hull about three feet up from the waves.

Cadmus Class Sloop HMS Fantome pictured at Port Melbourne. Note the extensive small boats. The class was designed to carry a 23-foot steam cutter, two 27-foot whalers, a 25-foot cutter, and two 16-foot skiffs.

The name Espiegle, Webster tells us, “Is a corruption of Ulespiegle, the French name for Till Eulenspiegel a peasant prankster of German folklore,” which would seem odd for a British man-o-war, but the Royal Navy was incredibly open to borrowing from folklore not of their own for ship names.

The wandering 14th-century rouge, Eulenspiegel– whose name is a rough Low German corruption of “wipe-arse” — plays a prank (Illustration from the Johannes Grüninger edition of 1515 via the Gießen University Library, colored by TofuJoe)

With that, our sloop was at least the seventh HMS Espiegle to serve the Admiralty since 1793 with the first two, logically enough, being French ships captured during the Napoleonic Wars and recommissioned under their previous names.

HMS Espiegle c1900s, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich N10133

With all six class members were constructed side-by-side at Sheerness Dockyard between late 1900 and early 1904, all completed within months of each other, with Espiegle being the first to reach the fleet, commissioned on 21 January 1902.

Once commissioned Espiegle was sent to the China Station.

HMS Espiegle. You can make out all of her starboard gun emplacements. IWM Q 43300

Dispatched to stand guard at Yingkou (Newchwang), she wintered on the Liao River 1903-04 protected in a mud fort/dry dock alongside the Russian gunboat Sivoutch (Sealion) and the American gunboat USS Helena (PG-9). The three vessels were landlocked there in the snow and ice when the Russo-Japanese War broke out in February 1904, making it kind of awkward as the British were allied to the Meiji Empire.

USS Helena (PG-9) in mud dock in Liao-Ho River, Yingkou, China with Russian gunboat Sivoutch and British sloop Espiegle 1903-1904. Courtesy of Captain E.B. Larimer, USN, 1931. NH 134

Officers of the USS Helena (PG-9) and HMS Espiegle alongside the Helena, 1903-1904. Courtesy of Captain E.B. Larimer, USN, 1931.NH 133

HMS Espiegle hid in her Chinese mud dock, winter 1903-04, with ensigns from every mast and on her stern. Note the forest of stovepipes sticking up through the canvas. In the distance looks to be the Russian Sivoutch, which was roughly the same size but mounted a single 9-inch gun. Photo via lossow. vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

HMS Espiegle’s officers and men alongside mud dock, winter 1903-04, note her White Ensign flying over the stern. She carried a 120-130 man complement, enabling them to land a platoon-sized force for service ashore, armed with rifles, bayonets, revolvers, and a couple of the ship’s Maxim guns if needed. Photo via Lossow. Vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

HMS Espiegle’s officers keeping warm in a gently comical photo clad in locally acquired sheepskins while in mud dock, winter 1903-04. The average nightly low temperature in Newchwang in January hovers around 0°C with snow and ice. Note the extensive canvassing of the sloop’s deck and smoking stovepipes. Photo via Lossow. Vamp on Flickr (cleaned up).

Once the ice melted, Espiegle made passage to the British treaty port of Wei-hai-wei, passing the disputed enclave of Port Arthur at daylight on 13 April 1904, witnessing the battle between Japanese and Russian ships there.

HMS Espiegle c. 1905

War!

By 1914, with the class seen as useless or worse in the event of a modern conflict, two of the class, Merlin, and Fantome had been disarmed and seconded to the Royal Navy Survey Service Squadron, tasked with making Admiralty charts. They were joined by a Condor, a class that had similarly been sideline with one (Condor) lost and two others converted to submarine depot ships.

HMS Merlin and Fantome in the 1914 Jane’s, lumped in with HMS Mutine, a Condor Class sloop near-sister. Fantome was in Australian waters while Merlin was in Hong Kong.

This left four Cadmus class sloops still on active service, making up some 40 percent of the 10 sloops in the Royal Navy in 1914.

It should be noted at the time that Clio was laid up in Hong Kong in ordinary in August 1914. They had extensively been used in the years before the war for training, with Odin, for instance, tasked as drillship for South African Cape Naval Volunteer Corps in 1905-1910.

Espiegle— which had served as a cadet school ship back in England 1907-1910 at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth– at the time was assigned to the East Indies Station, shuffling from Colombo to Trincomalee and Mumbai (Bombay), where she was when Germany and England went to war. Her skipper from 1912 to 1916 was Capt. Wilfrid Nunn (passed out of Britannia in 1889) on his first command.

In early September, the Brits only had the wooden paddlewheel gunboat HMS Lawrence and Espiegle’s sister Odin based in the Persian Gulf with the latter was dispatched to keep an eye on the British Abadan Island oil refineries at the northern end of the Persian Gulf, ostensibly an Ottoman Lake of sorts due to the latter’s control of most of the Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia. And the Turks were making noises like they were going to shut down the strategic Shatt-al-Arab waterway to international traffic. 

As detailed in the 1921 Naval Staff Monographs Vol.15:

At the time, tensions were heating up between the Turks and London as the Brits had seized the nearly-complete battleships Sultan Osman and Reşadiye from the builder’s docks at Vickers and Armstrong, sparking a scandal that was capped when German RADM Wilhelm Souchon’s Mediterranean Squadron– the battlecruiser SMS Goeben and light cruiser Breslau— were allowed to be interned by (then “sold” to) the Turks in August 1914.

With rumors that the boogeyman cruiser SMS Emden was headed to the Persian Gulf to repeat what Goeben did by docking at Basra and joining the Ottoman fleet, Espiegle rushed to join sistership Odin off the Shatt-al-Arab by mid-September, in what would have been an interesting but hopeless battle had the German arrived to press the issue.

As detailed in the Monograph: 
 
In case the Emden should arrive, a line of extempore mines was prepared by the Espiegle to stop her from coming up the Shatt-al-’Arab ; the Espiegle was to join the Odin in the Shattal-’Arab, and the two ships were to wait for the Emden in such a position as to neutralize the extra range of the German cruiser’s guns and force her to engage at close range.

There, protecting Constantinople’s interest, was the shiny new French-built 170-foot unarmored coast guard boat  Marmaris, which, along with a modern 4-gun shore battery at Fort Fao (Al Faw) and a quartet of 60-foot Thornycroft-built motor patrol craft (armed with two 1-pr. Vickers-Maxim pom-poms—one forward and one aft), barred the Shatt-el-Arab entrance.

One of the assorted warships ordered abroad in the lead-up to the Great War– the Ottomans bought ships from France, Britain, and America– Marmaris was built by Schneider-Canet in 1907 and carried a quartet of 9-pounder (65mm) popguns along with a trainable 17.7-inch tube for Whitehead torpedoes.

The unique brigantine-rigged Marmaris in the 1914 Jane’s 570t (full load), length 52m, speed 11knots, 4x9pdr (3”), 2x1pdr(37mm), 1x450mm TT.

Royal Navy LCDR Geoffrey Spicer-Simson standing on the foredeck of the Thornycroft-built 40-foot mahogany-hulled launch HMS Mimi as she was undergoing initial sea trials in the Thames River in 1915. Mimi and her sister Toutou would be used against the Germans on Lake Tanganyika in 1916. The Turkish Thornycroft boats as encountered on the Tigris were longer but had the same general concept, mounting two 1-pounders rather than the 3-pounder and Maxim gun seen here. It was discovered that the frames of these 40-footers could not endure the 3-pounder’s recoil unless it was fired straight ahead.

On 7 October, the Ottomans delivered a formal letter to Capt. Nunn on Espiegle advising the British sloops were violating Turkish sovereignty and must leave the Shatt-el-Arab. Pointing out that the east bank of the river belonged to Persia, where the British had a commercial grant for the oil fields worked by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP), the two sides maintained an uneasy peace for the rest of the month until Halloween, when a cable arrived detailing Souchon’s 28 October raid by the “Ottoman” Navy on Russian ports in the Black Sea, an event that would pull Turkey into the Great War whether they wanted to or not. The Turks sank two hulks in the river and started laying mines.

Espiegle and Odin were soon reinforced in early November by a motley scratch force made up of the old Canopus-class battleship HMS Ocean, the armed yacht Lewis Pelly, the armed launch-tugs Garmsir, Sirdar-I-Naphti, Mashona, Shaitan, and Miner; and HMS Dalhousie (a paddle-wheel powered troopship of 1,960 tons in service of the Royal Indian Marine), which were, in turn, carrying most of the embarked Anglo-Indian 6th (Poona) Infantry Division, the latter grandly classified as “Indian Expeditionary Force D” under the old colonial campaigner Maj. Gen. Arthur Barrett. To this force, Cadmus-class sister Clio and the armed tug Comet would join before the end of the year.

With that, the war came to Mesopotamia.

Starting on 6 November, the British forced the issue with Odin bombarding Fort Fao, killing the Turkish “Bimbash” in a 40-minute naval gunfire display, and a group of Royal Marines subsequently drove the battalion-strong Turkish force upriver. Meanwhile, Espiegle opened her guns on the Turkish trenches opposite their positions across from the British-controlled Barain oil refineries on Abadan Island, similarly scattering the Turks. She also sank a Thornycraft motor launch which was later raised and put to use by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and then taken into service as the HMS Flycatcher.

Marmaris likewise withdrew upriver. British casualties for the Fao Landing were light.

November 1915 Fao landings via History of the Great War Naval Operations vol 1 by Corbett

By 23 November, the British, with Espiegle up front, captured Basra after a ten-day envelopment that left some 1,300 Turkish casualties versus about a third that for the Anglo-Indian force.

Basra, from the Shat-el-Arab, with HMS Espiegle in the foreground

The upriver campaign, with the British pressing everything from dhows and barges to old paddlewheels into use to carry troops and supplies, continued into early December when the expedition arrived at Kurnah/Al Qurnah, some 45 miles North of Basra at the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The five-day battle ended when Capt. Arthur Hayes-Sadler, commander of the battleship Ocean, accepted the surrender of the city by Colonel Subhi Bey, who then marched 1,000 of his men into captivity.

Moving into 1915, the Turks tried repeatedly to recapture Qurnah and Basra, as Odin, Espiegle and company formed the Euphrates Blockade Flotilla to block Ottoman traffic, destroying eight and capturing four local Turkish vessels. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Charles Townshend of Omdurman fame had arrived to take control of the land action, setting up his HQ on Espiegle. His opposite, Young Turk Maj. Gen. Süleyman Askerî Bey, was killed in a British ambush in April 1915.

Indian troops in the firing line, January 1915. The bulk of the British forces engaged against the Ottoman Turks in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) was from the Indian Army. Here a group from the 120th Rajputana Infantry train with a machine gun and rifles while their British officer, Captain W. Andrews, looks on. Andrews was later killed in action at the Battle of Shaiba on 12 April 1915. From an album of 121 photographs compiled by Captain C O R Mosse, 120th Rajputana Infantry. NAM Accession Number NAM. 1966-02-97-31

Known today as the Battle of Amara (or Second Qurna), the largest set-piece battle thus far of the Mesopotamian campaign took place from 31 May to 3 June with the British amphibious attack moving up-river against a Turkish force at Amara that, in the end, suffered 120 killed against Anglo-Indian casualties of just 24. The British riverine amphibious force included the sistership sloops Clio, Odin, and Espiegle (flagship), the armed tug Comet, armed launches Lawrence, Lewis Pelly, Miner, Shaitan, Sumana, and the stern wheelers Muzaffari/Mozaffir, and Shushan, with Espiegle’s Capt. Nunn in general command of the fleet.

In this, Marmaris stopped running and stood her ground, err, river, next to the armed transport Mosul.

As detailed by George Fletcher MacMunn and Cyril Bentham Falls in the official history “Military operations, Egypt and Palestine.”:

[P]receded by the mine-sweeping armed launches Shaitan and Sumana, the Espiegle and Clio now moved up and anchored off Norfolk Hill to join in the bombardment of One Tower hill, and the Odin, Lawrence, and Miner also moved up in support. These warships continued to be the main target for the Turkish guns and both the Espiegle and Odin were hit by shells, without, however, sustaining much damage or loss.

In a short action along the river, Espiegle, Odin, Clio, and Shaitan stopped the Mosul and damaged the Marmaris so badly she was left abandoned, officially scuttled by her withdrawing crew.

From the Monograph: 

Turkish gunboat Marmariss sunk in Tigris at Amara by HMS Espiegle

MacMunn and Falls go on to point out that, Lt. Gen. Sir John Eccles Nixon, the overall commander, “could not speak too highly of the part played by the officers and men of the Royal Navy under the command of Captain Nunn.”

Some 1,700 surrendered Turks, the transport Mosul, and the hulk of the battered Marmaris were in British hands at the end of the scrap.

Turkish gunboat and transport Mosul captured on the Tigris The Sphere,’ 9th October 1915

The offensive continued upriver and Nasiriyah fell on 25 July with the remaining Turkish troops retreating to Kut, where the Battle of Es Sinn on 28 September between Townsend’s troops and Nureddin Ibrahim Pasha’s 4th Turkish Infantry Division would leave Kut– and control over the lower Tigris and Euphrates rivers– to Townsend.

The Red Sea

With Townsend secure in Kut (which would later be the subject of the victorious Ottoman siege in 1916), and the river too shallow to continue their use, the sloops were withdrawn.

Espiegle and Odin would be tasked with a variety of operations in the Red Sea, in conjunction with Lawrence of Arabia’s local indigenous forces, throughout 1916 and 1917. 

1916: Bodyguard Of The Sheikh Of Mahommerah Onboard HMS Espiegle Desert fighters

Speaking to which, on 21 January 1917 the two sloops joined the old cruiser HMS Fox and lent their guns to the capture of Wehj, then the next month, following reports from Ismailia that mines had been laid in the anchorage, landed Marines and Tars to drive the Turks out from that enclave.

On 11 June 1917, Espiegle and Odin engaged in the operation to remove the Turkish post at Salif, overlooking Kameran in what is now Yemen.

As the Turks fell back and ceded control of Arabia to the Arabians, the British (with lots of help from Indian troops and in conjunction with Archibald “Old Archie” Murray’s Siani-Palestine campaign) were again on top of things in the Mesopotamian campaign, the war in that part of the world wound down.

Epilogue

According to The London Gazette (25th May 1923), the modest prize money from the salvage of the hulk of Marmaris and the intact Mosul along with 14 barges and river vessels was ruled shared between the crews of Espiegle, Odin, Clio, and Shaitan. Our sloop was also deemed eligible for shares in two unnamed Thornycraft gunboats credited on 9 and 19 November, both of which were raised.

Espiegle, who returned to Far East Station after the war, was at the time of the prize announcement already paid off at Bombay, with her officers and ship’s company transferred to the P&O Steamer SS Syria for return to England on 12 May 1923. Her stripped hulk was sold on 17 September 1923 for breaking.

Of her fellow Cadmus-class sloops, Odin (who had caught the German auxiliary raider Iltis near Aden in March 1917) was sold at Bombay on 12 November 1920 on the same day as Clio.

Cadmus— who had been on the China Station during the entirety of the war– was listed as “unallocated” in Hong Kong and sold there on 1 September 1921.

Merlin, on survey duty, was similarly disposed of in Hong Kong in 1923.

Fantome, the last member afloat, was rearmed with a mixture of guns taken from the old cruiser HMAS Psyche and used by the Australians as a gunboat during the war, then returned to the Royal Navy for use as a survey ship until 1925 when she was disposed of. Her hulk remained afloat as a coaling and limestone barge in Tasmania, still with her fine lines, as late as 1956.

1955: The once elegant RN and RAN Espiegle Class survey sloop HMS/HMAS Fantome ends her days as a limestone barge in Bell Bay on Tasmania’s Tamar River. Fantome was finally sold to Mr. John Challenger of Launceston in August 1956 and broken up in the Tamar River in the following year. Photo NHSA.

Espiegle’s famed 1912-1916 skipper, Capt. Wilfrid Nunn would go on to become commander of the Flotilla on the Tigris from December 1916 to March 1917 and end the war in command of the new light cruiser HMS Curlew. Invested with a C.M.G. and D.S.O. for his services during the war, in the 1920s he would command the battleship Ramillies and would be promoted to the rank of Vice-Admiral on the Retired List on 8 May 1930. While on the Retired List, he would assist with a variety of civilian efforts on the home front in WWII. VADM Nunn would pass in 1956, at age 82. He chronicled the campaign he knew first hand in “Tigris Gunboats: A Narrative Of The Royal Navy’s Co-operation With The Military Forces In Mesopotamia From The Beginning Of The War To The Capture Of Baghdad (1914-1917),” published in 1932.

During WWII, the British would recycle the names of many of these sloops for the large (110-ship) Algerine-class minesweepers. These included HMS Cadmus (J230), Fantome (J224), Odin (J460), and yes, Espiegle (J216).

HMS ESPIEGLE (FL 11768) Underway. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120961

Speaking of recycling, the masked figurehead for Espiegle, a wooden maiden whose eyes watched the siege of Port Arthur, sailed up the Tigris and Euphrates to battle the Turks and plied the ancient seas of the world, was saved and is preserved at the Portsmouth Naval Dockyard museum.

Specs:

HMS Espiegle 1899 plan National Maritime Museum, Greenwich NPB1618

Displacement tonnage 1,070.
Length: 210 feet (oal) 185 wl
Beam: 33 feet
Load draught, 11’ forward, 11’ 6 aft.
Machinery: Four Niclausse water tube boilers, two White of Cowes triple expansion vertical engines, 1,220 IHP natural draught, 1,400 IHP forced draught. Twin screws by JS White & Co.
Coal bunkers, 222 tons. Water, 20 tons.
Speed: 13.2 sustained.
Endurance: 4,000nm @ 10knots.
Instruments: Adie mercurial barometer and aneroid, Negretti & Zambra/Hicks wet and dry screened thermometers on the chart house roof, sea thermometer.
Complement: 120-130, Typical peacetime establishment (115): 8 Officers, 24 Seamen, 4 Boys, 12 Marines, 30 Engine Room, 17 non-executive ratings.
Armor: 25mm-38mm over machinery, 6mm on gun shields
Armament:
6 x 4″/40 25-pounder QF Mk III P1.
4 x 3 pdr 47mm/40 3-pounder QF Hotchkiss Mk I.
3 x .303 Maxims.


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Warship Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022: Savo Pig Boat Avenger

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, Aug. 11, 2022: Savo Pig Boat Avenger

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-33750

Above we see the bearded and very salty-looking crew of the S-42-class “Sugar Boat” USS S-44 (SS-155) manning the submarine’s 4″/50 cal Mark 9 wet-mount deck gun, circa January 1943. Note the assorted victory flags painted on the boat’s fairwater, she earned them.

The S-class submarines, derided as “pig boats” or “sugar boats.” were designed during the Great War, but none were finished in time for the conflict (S-1 was launched by the builders on 26 October 1918, just two weeks before the Armistice). Some 51 examples of these 1,000-ton diesel-electrics were built in several sub-variants by 1925 and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online. While four were lost in training accidents, six were scrapped and another six transferred to the British in World War II, a lot of these elderly crafts saw service in the war, and seven were lost during the conflict.

The six boats of the S-42 subclass (SS-153 through SS-158) were slightly longer to enable them to carry a 4-inch (rather than 3-inch) deck gun with its own dedicated gun access hatch in the deck. Some 225 feet long overall, their submerged displacement touched 1,126 tons, making them some of the largest of the breed. Armed with four forward tubes (and no bow tubes), they had enough storage space to carry 10 21-inch torpedoes but were restricted in size to 16-foot long WWI-era fish as their tubes were shorter and couldn’t handle the newer 21-foot long Mark 14 torpedo which was introduced in 1931.

The Mark 10 of the 1920s, compared to the Mark 14, was slower and had shorter legs, but still carried a 500-pound warhead. The older torps were simple and dependable– provided you could get close enough to make them count.

It was thought the Sugar Boats, after testing, had enough fresh water for their crews and batteries to enable a patrol of about 25-30 days, and provision and diesel/lubricants for slightly longer.

S-42 subclass. Drawing & Text courtesy of U.S. Submarines Through 1945, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. Naval Institute Press. Via Navsource

Referred to as the “2nd Electric Boat/Holland” type of the S-boat series, all six were built at Bethlehem’s Fore River yard.

Commissioned on 16 February 1925 (all six of the class were similarly commissioned inside 10 months across 1925-26) S-44 completed her shakedown in New England waters and then headed south for Submarine Division (SubDiv) 19, located in the Canal Zone, where she joined her sisters. For the next five years, homeported at Coco Solo, they ranged across assorted Caribbean, Pacific, and Latin American ports. This idyllic peacetime life continued through the 1930s as the Division’s homeport shifted to Pearl Harbor, then to San Diego, and back to Panama.

USS S-44 (SS-155) In San Diego harbor, California, during the later 1920s or the 1930s. Note how big her deck gun looks and her high-viz pennant numbers. NH 42263

USS S-44 (SS-155) Underway during the later 1920s or the 1930s. NH 42262

USS S-44 (SS-155) Leaving Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 1929. Photographed by Chief Quartermaster Peck. NH 42264

With the “winds of war” on the horizon and the realization that these small and aging boats may have to clock in for real, sisters S-42, S-44, and S-46 were sent to Philadelphia Naval Yard in early 1941 to be modernized. By August 1941, S-44 was on a series of shakedown/neutrality patrols along Cape Cod and Rhode Island, conducting mock torpedo runs on the destroyer USS Mustin (DD-413), a tin can that would go on to earn 13 battle stars in WWII. Still on the East Coast when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor hit, she soon got underway for Panama.

S-44’s principal wartime skipper, from October 1940 through September 1942, covering her first three War Patrols, was Tennessee-born LT. John Raymond “Dinty” Moore (USNA 1929).

While most Sugar Boats still in the fleet in 1942 were relegated to ASW training and new submariner school tasks as well as defense of the Panama Canal Zone and Alaska, some were made ready to go to the West Pac and get active in the war. Though small and armed with obsolete torpedoes, a handful of Sugars– our S-44 included– were rushed to block the Japanese progress in the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands, until larger and more capable Fleet Boats (Balao, Gato, Tench classes, etc.) could be sent to the area.

First Patrol

Assigned to SUBRON Five, S-44 got underway from Brisbane for her patrol area on 24 April 1942, she haunted the Cape St. George area of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago for three weeks and reported a successful hit on a Japanese merchant of some 400 feet/4,000 tons on 12 May after a four-torpedo spread.

From Moore’s report: 

Post-war, this was confirmed to be the Japanese repair ship Shoei Maru (5644 GRT) returning to Rabaul after coming to the assistance of the minelayer Okinoshima, sunk by S-44′s sistership S-42 earlier in the day. Talk about teamwork.

USS S-44 returned to Brisbane on 23 May, just shy of being out for a month.

Second Patrol

After a two-week refit and resupply, S-44 left Brisbane again on 7 June 1942– just after the Battle of Midway– ordered to patrol off Guadalcanal where local Coastwatchers reported a Japanese seaplane base to be under construction. There, she compared the coastline to old Admiralty charts of the area and watched for activity, noting fires and shipping traffic. Midway into the patrol, the Sugar boat fired three torpedoes at a 200-foot/2,000-ton freighter with “69” on the side of her bridge and one visible deck gun.

From Moore’s report: 

This was post-war confirmed to be the Japanese auxiliary gunboat Keijo Maru (2626 GRT, built 1940) sent to the bottom about 12 nautical miles west of Gavutu, Solomon Islands.

As noted by DANFS:

The force of the explosion, the rain of debris, and the appearance and attack of a Japanese ASW plane forced S-44 down. At 1415, S-44 fired her torpedoes at the gunboat. At 1418, the enemy plane dropped a bomb which exploded close enough to bend the holding latch to the conning tower, allowing in 30 gallons of sea water; damaging the depth gauges, gyrocompass, and ice machine; and starting leaks. Her No. 1 periscope was thought to be damaged; but, when the submarine surfaced for repairs, a Japanese seaman’s coat was found wrapped around its head.

Two patrols, two kills under her belt, S-44 arrived back at Brisbane on 5 July.

Third Patrol

After three weeks of rest and airing out, S-44 headed North from Brisbane on 24 July, ordered to keep her eyes peeled off the New Britain/New Ireland area. After stalking a small convoy off Cape St. George in early August but unable to get a shot due to heavy seas, she began haunting the Japanese base at Kavieng Harbor on New Ireland. This, likewise, proved fruitless and she ranged the area until when, on the early morning of 10 August 1942 (80 years ago today), some 9,000 yards away, she sighted four enemy heavy cruisers steaming right for her.

What a sight it must have been!

Just 18 minutes later, having worked into a firing position for the oncoming column– over 30,000 tons of the Emperor’s bruisers in bright sunlight on a calm sea — S-44 fired all four tubes at the heavy bringing up the rear then dived deep to 130 feet. Four old reliable Mark 10s launched from just 700 yards did the trick.

Moore would later detail, “We were close enough to see the Japanese on the bridge using their glasses” and that the looming cruiser looked bigger than the Pentagon building. While submerged and listening, Moore would later say, “Evidently all her boilers blew up…You could hear hideous noises that sounded like steam hissing through the water. These noises were more terrifying to the crew than the actual depth charges that followed. It sounded as if giant chains were being dragged across our hull as if our own water and air lines were bursting.”

The details of action from Moore’s official report:

Post-war, it was confirmed this target was the Furutaka-class heavy cruiser HIJMS Kako, one of the four heavy cruisers of Cruiser Division 6 (along with Aoba, Furutaka, and Kinugasa) which just five hours before had jumped the Allied cruisers USS Astoria, Quincy, Vincennes, and HMAS Canberra off Savo Island, leaving all wrecks along Iron Bottom Sound. During that searchlight-lit surface action, Kako fired at least 192 8-inch, 124 4.7-inch, and 149 25-mm shells as well as ten Long Lance torpedoes, dealing much of the damage to the Allied vessels.

Furutaka Class Heavy Cruiser Kako pictured at Kure Naval Arsenal on March 30th, 1926

While Kako had received no damage at Savo, her meeting with S-44 was lopsided in the other sense.

As told by Combined Fleet: 

The Kawanishi E7K2 “Alf” floatplane from AOBA, patrolling overhead, fails to send a timely warning and at 0708 three torpedoes hit KAKO in rapid succession. The first strikes to starboard abreast No. 1 turret. Water enters through open scuttles of the hull as the bow dips and twists further within three minutes of being hit. The other torpedoes hit amidships, in the vicinity of the forward magazines, and further aft, abreast boiler rooms Nos. 1 and 2. KAKO rolls over on her starboard side with white smoke and steam belching from her forward funnel. An enormous roar ensues as seawater reaches her boilers.

At 0712, the Japanese start depth charging the S-44, but without success. S-44 slips away.

At 0715, KAKO disappears bow first in the sea to the surprise and dismay of her squadron mates. She sinks off Simbari Island at 02-28S, 152-11E. Sixty-eight crewmen are killed, but Captain Takahashi and 649 of KAKO’s crew are rescued by AOBA, FURUTAKA and KINUGASA.

“The S-44 (SS-155), vs HIJMS Kako. Patrolling off New Ireland, the veteran S-boat ambushes the enemy cruiser division at the entrance to Kavieng Harbor. Four torpedoes (range 700 yards) send Kako to the bottom, an 8,800-ton warship sunk by an 850-ton sub. This sinking of the first Japanese heavy cruiser avenged the defeat at Savo Island.” Drawing by LCDR Fred Freemen, courtesy of Theodore Roscoe, from his book “U.S. Submarine Operations of WW II”, published by USNI. Original painting in the LOC. 

S-44 returned to Brisbane, Australia, on 23 August 1942, where the sinking of Kako was a big deal for a Navy that had just suffered its worst night in history.

Truth be told, it was a big deal for the American Submarine Force as well.

In the first 245 days of the Pacific War, suffering from a mix of bad torpedoes (mostly the vaunted new Mark 14s) and timid leadership, U.S. subs had only accounted for nine rather minor Japanese warships, even though the Navy had no less than 56 boats in the Pacific at the beginning of the war and soon doubled that number:

  • Submarine I-73, sunk by USS Gudgeon, 27 January 1942.
  • Destroyer Natsushio, sunk by USS S-37, 9 February 1942.
  • Seaplane carrier Mizuho, sunk by USS Drum, 2 May 1942.
  • Minelayer Okinoshima, sunk by USS S-42, 11 May 1942.
  • Submarine I-28, sunk by USS Tautog, 17 May 1942.
  • Submarine I-64, sunk by USS Triton, 17 May 1942.
  • Destroyer Yamakaze, sunk by USS Nautilus, 25 June 1942.
  • Destroyer Nenohi, sunk by USS Triton, 4 July 1942.
  • Destroyer Arare, sunk by USS Growler, 5 July 1942.

Indeed, by that time in the war, the Japanese had only lost one heavy cruiser, Mikuma, which was finished off by carrier aircraft at Midway after she was crippled in a collision with another ship.

So of course, Dinty Moore earned hearty congrats and would eventually pin on a Navy Cross for S-44s action against Kako.

Captain Ralph W. Christie, USN, Commander Task Force 42 and SUBRON5 (left) Congratulates LCDR John R. Moore, USN, skipper of USS S-44 (SS-155), as he returned to this South Pacific base after a very successful week of patrol activity. (Quoted from original World War II photo caption) The original caption date is 1 September 1942, which is presumably a release date. 80-G-12171

Fourth Patrol

Dinty Moore would leave his first command to take control of the more advanced Sargo-class boat USS Sailfish (SS-192) and S-44 would head back out from Brisbane on 17 September with LT Reuben Thornton Whitaker as her skipper.

Dogged by Japanese ASW patrols as well as a persistent oil leak and a battery compartment fire, S-44 returned to Australia on 14 October after a 4,262-mile patrol with nothing to add to her tally board despite a claimed attack on an Ashashio-class destroyer that was not borne out by post-war analysis.

The boat needed some work, that’s for sure. She had spent 150 of the past 220 days at sea, with 120 of that on war patrol. She leaked and had numerous deficiencies, all exacerbated by repeated Japanese depth charging. Her crew, which was largely original men that had shipped out with her from Philadelphia in 1941, had lost up to 25 pounds apiece, and nerves were frayed.

Refit

On 4 November 1942, with LT Whitaker sent on to the Gato-class fleet boat USS Flasher (SS-249), S-44 was sailed for the East Coast via the Panama Canal under the command of LT Francis Elwood Brown (USNA ’33) (former CO of USS S-39) and slowly poked along until she arrived at Philadelphia Navy Yard in April 1943.

USS S-44 (SS-155) Underway off the Panama Canal Zone, circa February 1943, while en route to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for overhaul. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. 19-N-41382.

At PNSY, S-44 was reworked over the summer and picked up a 20mm Oerlikon as well as a JK passive sonar and SJ/ /SD radars.

USS S-44 (SS-155) Underway off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, after her last overhaul, on 11 June 1943. 19-N-46194

Same as above, 19-N-46193.

“S-44 (SS-155), was one of six E.B. boats extensively modernized during WW II. The refit included the installation of air conditioning, with the unit installed in the crew space abaft the control room, alongside the refrigerator. S-44 was fitted with radar (SJ forward, SD abaft the bridge), a loop antenna built into the periscope shears for underwater reception, & a free flooding structure carrying a 20-mm anti-aircraft gun, with a box for 4-in ready-service ammunition below it. A JK passive sonar, probably installed at Philadelphia during a refit between November & December 1941, was located on the forward deck. On the keel below it was a pair of oscillators.” Drawing by Jim Christley. Text courtesy of U.S. Submarines Through 1945, An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. Naval Institute Press, via Navsource.

Fifth, and Final, Patrol

Departing PNSY on 14 June 1943, S-44 transited the Ditch once again and arrived at Dutch Harbor, Alaska on 16 September, with Brown still in command. After 10 days of making ready, S-44 sortied out past the Russian church on her 5th War Patrol on 26 September, bound for the Kuriles, where she never came back from, although two survivors eventually surfaced in 1945.

The story of what happened to her was only learned after VJ Day.

It is believed that S-44 was sunk east of the Kamchatka Peninsula by the Japanese Shimushu-class escort vessel Ishigaki.

As detailed by DANFS:

On the night of 7 October, she made radar contact with a “small merchantman” and closed in for a surface attack. Several hundred yards from the target, her deck gun fired and was answered by a salvo. The “small merchantman” was a destroyer. The order to dive was given, but S-44 failed to submerge. She took several hits, in the control room, in the forward battery room, and elsewhere.

S-44 was ordered abandoned. A pillowcase was put up from the forward battery room hatch as a flag of surrender, but the shelling continued.

Possibly eight men escaped from the submarine as she went down. Two, Chief Torpedoman’s Mate Ernest A. Duva and Radioman Third Class William F. Whitemore, were picked up by the destroyer. Taken initially to Paramushiro, then to the Naval Interrogation Camp at Ofuna, the two submariners spent the last year of World War II working in the Ashio copper mines. They were repatriated by the Allies at the end of the war.

Epilogue

S-44 remains one of the Lost 52 U.S. submarines from WWII still regarded on eternal patrol.

S-44 was one of six Sugar Boats lost during WWII. Their names here are inscribed on a memorial at the USS Albacore Museum in New Hampshire. Similar memorials are located in all 50 states. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery USS S-44 memorial in Illinois, installed in 2003 by Members of U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War Two

Thus far, her wreck, believed off Paramushir (AKA Paramushiro or Paramushiru) Island, has not been located and as that windswept volcanic rock has been occupied by the Russians since August 1945, she likely will never be discovered.

S-44’s war records from August 1941 – October 1942, including her first four War Patrols, have been digitized and are in the National Archives. She earned two battle stars during World War II.

She was remembered in postal cachets on the 40th anniversary of her loss when the USPS issued an S-class submarine stamp in 2000, among others. 

For what it is worth, her killer, the escort Ishigaki, was herself sent to the bottom by the American submarine USS Herring (SS-233) in May 1944.

S-44’s most famous skipper, Dinty Moore, would command Sailfish on that boat’s 6th, 7th, and 8th War Patrols, sinking the Japanese merchant Shinju Maru (3617 GRT) and the Japanese collier Iburi Maru (3291 GRT) in 1943. He would join Admiral Lockwood’s Roll of Honor in 1944 and ultimately retire as a rear admiral in 1958. The Navy Cross holder would pass at age 79 and is buried in Georgia. 

RADM Dinty Moore 11 Oct 1905-10 June 1985.

Of S-44’s five Fore River-built EB-designed sisters, all survived the war and gave a full 20+ years of service in each case. They conducted over 25 patrols, mostly in the West Pac, and claimed a half dozen ships with class leader S-42 being the most successful (besides S-44) with the aforementioned minelayer Okinoshima confirmed as well as an attack on a destroyer logged. All these sisters were paid off just after the war and sold for scrapping or sunk as a target by the end of 1946.

None of the 51 Sugar Boats are preserved. Those ancient bathtubs held the line in ’42-43 during the darkest days of the Pacific War and proved their worth.

The Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee post-war attributed 201 Japanese sunken warships, totaling some 540,192 tons, to American submarines.

Specs:

Displacement: 906 tons surfaced; 1,126 tons submerged
Length: 216 feet wl, 225 feet 3 inches overall
Beam: 20 feet 9 inches
Draft: 16 feet (4.9 m)
Propulsion: 2 × NELSECO diesels, 600 hp each; 2 × Electro-Dynamic electric motors, 750 horsepower each; 120 cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 15 knots surfaced; 11 knots submerged
Bunkerage: 46,363 gal
Range: 5,000 nautical miles at 10 knots surfaced
Test depth: 200 ft.
Crew: 38 (later 42) officers and men
Armament (as built):
4 x 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 10-12 torpedoes)
One 4″/50 deck gun


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Warship Wednesday, July 26, 2022: 146 Miles SSW of Biloxi

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, July 26, 2022: 146 Miles SSW of Biloxi

(Photo: Deutsches U-Boot-Museum / Stiftung Traditionsarchiv Unterseeboote, Cuxhaven-Altenbruch)

Above we see 28-year-old Oberleutnant zur See (=Lieutenant) Hans-Günther Kuhlmann on the running bridge of DKM U-166, a brand new German Type IXC U-boat, circa 1942. The good Oblt. Kuhlmann was U-166‘s sole skipper during WWII and he, his submarine, and all 51 of her hands, have been sleeping along the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for 80 years as of this week, although how they got there was the subject of contention.

One of the 54 Type IXCs completed during the war, U-166 was laid down at Seebeckwerft A.G. (Yard # 705) in Bremerhaven at the mouth of the Weser River on 6 December 1940 just after the Battle of Britain served up the first German defeat. At some 1,232 tons, she was not a big boat, running just 251 feet overall. However, the class was well designed and capable of 13,450-nm cruises on their economical diesel engines. Able to carry 22 torpedoes and a 4.1-inch deck gun with 180~ shells as well as a Flak armament, they were deadly and efficient killers when it came to stalking Allied merchantmen. While most of these boats could carry as many as 66 mines, all could also carry TMC-type torpedo mines in the place of a fish.

Commissioned on 23 March 1942, she spent the next two months in the 4. Flottille training squadron out of Stettin on the Baltic, then chopped on 1 June to Korvkpt. Günther Kuhnke’s 10. Frontflottille at Lorient in occupied France.

An AGFA video exists of her sea trials.

Arriving on 10 June after a combat sortie from Kristiansand in occupied Norway, her first war patrol was uneventful.

U-166 with her commander, Han-Günther Kuhlmann (bareheaded, top), before her patrol. Image courtesy of the PAST Foundation.

Spending a week in France stocking up and enjoying the local sights, U-166 sailed for her second (and final) war patrol on 17 June 1942.

Making for the Gulf of Mexico via the Florida Straits, U-166 drew her first blood when on 11 July 1942 she shelled and sank the unescorted and unarmed Dominican two-masted schooner Carmen (84 tons), which had been carrying a mixed cargo of maize, mahogany, and cedar, about 8 miles northeast of Gaspar Hernández, DR. The Dominicans had declared war on Germany four days after Pearl Harbor, for reference, and Carmen was one of four Dominican-manned ships sent to the bottom by U-boats during the conflict. While the country never sent troops overseas to help the Allies, at least 100 Dominicans signed up with the U.S. military during the war.

Two days later, U-166 fired her first warshot torpedo, ending the career of the unescorted and unarmed Ford Motor Company’s SS Oneida (2,309 tons), sailing empty from Puerto Rico to Cuba, while steaming about two miles north of Cape Maysi, Cuba. The steamer sank in minutes, but 23 survivors were able to make it safely to shore.

On 16 July, U-166 would claim her third vessel in a week, stopping the Miami Fish & Ice Co’s unarmed trawler Gertrude (16 tons) about 30 miles northeast of Havana, a port to which she was carrying a load of fresh onions. Putting her three-man crew into their motor launch and pointing them towards the shore, Gertrude was sent to the bottom with a scuttling charge or gunfire (reports vary).

Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, U-166 quietly laid nine TMC mines off Port Eads/South Pass, at the southern tip of the Mississippi River on the Louisiana coast. This was considered the boat’s primary mission, as each of these massive 2,400-pound mines could break the back of a merchantman and potentially block the Mississippi– not to mention cause a massive panic as, in typical U.S. Navy fashion, there was nowhere near enough mine countermeasures assets available to safeguard the domestic sea frontier. However, although Kuhlmann’s special mission was successful on its face, in a stroke of luck for mariners in the area, none of the mines ended up making contact and the field was cleared post-War after Allied panels were given access to Kriegsmarine records logging some 43,636 mines sown worldwide in at least 1,360 minefields.

Anyway, after delivering his eggs to the mouth of the Mighty Miss, Kuhlmann & Co. decided to stick around and pursue targets of opportunity for his remaining torpedoes. This brings us to the…

Robert E. Lee

Constructed for “Ice King” banking and shipping magnate Charles Wyman Morse for his Eastern Steamship Lines, the sistership 5,100-ton passenger liners SS George Washington and SS Robert E. Lee were put into service with Eastern’s Old Dominion Line. In 1937-38, they were making four regular sailings weekly between NYC’s Pier 25 to Norfolk’s Pier S at a cost of $12 one way or $16.50 round trip.

SS Robert E. Lee and her sister George Washington were simple one-stack, three-decker 373-footers that, besides work-a-day transport of almost 400 passengers on each coastwise trip, could run fresh produce as cargo from Virginia to New York City by the next day and return with garments, furniture, and dry goods from the North.

A June 1924 detail from the Marine Review on SS Robert E. Lee and her sister George Washington, noting they could carry almost 250,000 bales of cargo (1,700 tons) loaded through 10 cargo elevators as well as 322 “white and colored” passengers along with 58 in steerage. Capable of 16 knots, they were fast for their type and time.

Just weeks after Pearl Harbor, Lee and Washington were taken up by the War Shipping Administration under contract by the Alcoa Steamship Co. and converted to carry up to 778 troops, typically on shuttle runs from U.S. East Coast ports to assorted Allied Caribbean bases and Bermuda. This conversion included a dark paint scheme, degaussing equipment to help avid mines and magnetic exploders on torpedoes, lots of Carley floats rigged to break loose topside if needed, and a single 3″/50 DP mount with its accompanying Naval Guard crew.

Sailing from Trinidad on 21 July for Tampa with eight officers, 122 crewmen, six armed guards, and 268 passengers– including 115 waterlogged mariners of the sunk tankers Andrea Brovig (Sunk by U-128 on 23 June), Høegh Giant ( U-126 on 3 June), and Stanvac Palembang (U-203 on 11 July)– along with 47 tons of general cargo and personal effects, Lee was part of Intracoastal Convoy TAW-7. However, just short of Florida, TAW-7 was dispersed, and she was carved out and diverted, escorted by the brand-new (commissioned 15 June) PC-461-class submarine chaser USS PC-566 riding shotgun, for New Orleans.

USS PC-566, via The Ted Stone Collection, Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA. She would spend her entire career in the Florida-Caribbean area on patrol and escort duty and as a training ship out of Miami then go on to be sold to Venezuela in June 1961 and serve for another decade.

It was on the late hours of 30 July, about 45 miles southeast of the entrance to the Mississippi River and 146 miles south-by-southwest of the Biloxi lighthouse, that U-166 would see its biggest prize.

Firing a single torpedo, Lee was as unlucky as the men of the three tankers that she carried, and the ship soon sank, taking 25 souls with her.

As detailed by Uboat.net:

Lookouts had spotted the torpedo wake about 200 yards away before it struck just aft of the engine room. The explosion destroyed the #3 hold, vented through the B and C decks, and wrecked the engines, the radio compartment, and the steering gear.

The badly damaged Robert E. Lee first listed to port then to starboard and finally sank by the stern about 15 minutes after the torpedo hit. One officer, nine crewmen, and 15 passengers were lost. The survivors…abandoned the ship in six lifeboats, eight rafts, and five floats and were soon picked up by USS PC-566, USS SC-519, and the tug Underwriter and landed in Venice, Louisiana.

The end of U-166

Immediately after Lee was hit, her escorting 173-foot subchaser PC-566, with her green crew under the command of LT Herbert Gordon Claudius, USNR, dropped five depth charges across a sonar contact, circled back and dropped another five, then proceeded to pick up survivors after the contact disappeared in deep water and a large– reportedly 200 feet wide– oil slick was observed.

PC-566‘s depth charge runs were considered (at the time) ineffective, but U-166 never made it back to Lorient.

As Claudius and his crew had been rushed into service and had not received any formal ASW training yet, his reported “kill” was dismissed as unlikely. The new skipper was stripped of his command, sent to Sonar school to ride a desk, and admonished “for breaking radio silence twice prior to his arrival” and for “not being in the proper patrol station, nor that any proven system of attack was followed.” Further, the Navy said, “it is not considered probable that any except minor damage could have been sustained by the submarine.”

Post-war U.S. Navy analysis of German records chalked up the killer of Oblt. Kuhlmann’s boat as a Coast Guard Grumman J4F-1 Widgeon seaplane (the same type of plane from “Tales of the Golden Monkey”), #V212, from Coast Guard Air Station Biloxi.

The Coast Guard flew some 25 Widgeons, numbers V197 through V221 from 1941 to 1950, purchased from Grumman for $75,000 each. V203 is pictured here. Equipped with twin inverted Ranger L-440 engines, the J4F-1 was a high wing all-metal monoplane with a range of 750 miles at a pokey 135 miles per hour. It was modified to carry a crew of two and a single 325-pound depth charge under the inboard right wing. Alternatively, a bomb, raft, or droppable SAR gear could be carried in that position.

Piloted by Chief Aviation Pilot Henry C. White with RM1 George H. Boggs as a crewmember, V212 was forward deployed from an outlying grass field at Houma, Louisiana owned by Texaco, and reported depth charging a surfaced German U-boat on 1 August, two days after Robert E. Lee was lost and about 100 miles away from that killing field.

As detailed by CG Aviation History:

They were at 1,500 feet at the base of a broken cloud deck 100 miles south of the Houma base. Through the open windows of their twin-engine Grumman J4F-1 Widgeon amphibian, they could see about 10 miles across the hazy gulf sea. White had just turned to the northeast to set up a ladder search for the assigned area and moments later they saw a surfaced German submarine. White started to maneuver the Widgeon behind the sub for a stern attack, but it immediately became obvious that as soon as White and Boggs had seen the sub, the sub had seen them, and the U-boat began to slide underwater in a crash dive. White banked sharply to starboard and from a half mile away began his dive towards the sub fully aware that he had only a sole depth charge under his wing and that he would have but one try.

At an altitude of 250 feet, the single depth charge was released. Boggs stuck his head out of the window and watched the depth charge fall into the Gulf waters, its fuse set to explode 25 feet below the surface. He estimated it entered the water 20 feet from the submarine on the starboard side. Boggs saw a large geyser of water rise from the explosion. White later wrote that the submarine was visible during the entire approach being just under the water and still clearly visible when the depth charge was released. When they circled back around, they saw only a medium oil slick. German records obtained after the war verified that the U-166 had been sunk in that area at the beginning of August. White and Boggs were given credit for the sinking.

Coast Guard Air Station Biloxi was an 18-acre seaplane base founded at Point Cadet on Back Bay in 1934 and remained in service until 1966 when the land and its 12,000 square-foot hangar and barracks were turned over to the city.

The above image is from 1941. In the far back of the hangar pictured above is a twin-engine PH-2 Hall Aluminum Flying Boat, either V-166 or V-170. Next to it is the single-engine JF-2 Grumman Amphibian V-143. A brand new twin-engine JFR-2 Grumman Amphibian, V-184, pokes its nose into the sunshine.

Biloxi Coast Guard Air Station would become the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum. The structure was destroyed in Katrina

A stylized 1940s postcard made from composite photographs showing two J2F Ducks, three airborne J4F-1 Widgeons, and an RD-4 Dolphin at USCG Air Sta Biloxi at Point Cadet. After 1966, the old hangar was used by the city for concerts and festivals until it was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina

The destruction of U-166 by V212 went down in Coast Guard (and Grumman) history and was celebrated for the rest of the 20th Century. This led V212– which had been sold on the commercial market in 1948 when the USCG got out of the Widgeon game and later flown as a commercial airliner (N212ST) in Alaska– to be acquired by the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola in 1988 and preserved, reverted to her WWII USCG livery.

In all, from 1942 into 1943, no less than 24 German U-boats patrolled the Gulf of Mexico– the American Sea– sinking 56 Allied vessels of which 39 are in the coastal waters of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. U-166 has the distinction of being the only German submarine lost in the Gulf.

Epilogue

In 1986, Shell Offshore found two likely shipwrecks on a deep tow survey in one of their leased oil fields due south of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 5,000 feet of water. It was thought that one was possibly the remains of the bauxite freighter SS Alcoa Puritan, another World War II casualty lost in the same rough area as Robert E. Lee, sunk by U-507 about 15 miles off the entrance to the Mississippi River in May 1942.

In 2001, deep water HUGIN 3000 AUVs of C&C Technologies working pipeline survey along the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi Canyon for BP and Shell (the Mississippi Canyon is home to well MC 252, the infamous Deepwater Horizon well), found a single-stack ocean liner and, less than a mile away, a broken submarine.

This was the first time U-166 was reported found.

In 2003, a more extensive search in conjunction with NOAA extensively documented the sites.

In 2010, U-166 was briefly revisited during the Lophelia II study, where archaeologists collected additional ROV videos, still photos, core samples, and biological samples and re-examined the test platforms that had been deployed on site since 2003.

Finally, in 2014, as part of a National Geographic Explorer-funded effort that was turned into a one-hour special, Robert G. Ballard surveyed the U-boat and suggested that one of PC-566’s depth charges had wrecked the bow and likely detonated several torpedo warheads.

Further analysis by the Naval History and Heritage Command agreed. It turned out PC-566 was the only one of the 343 PC-461 class submarine chasers to be credited with sinking a U-boat.

The Navy (posthumously) awarded Capt. Claudius, USNR (ret), the Legion of Merit Medal with a combat “V” for sinking U-166.

This also brought some closure to Kuhlmann’s widow. Following the film crew documenting the discovery of the U-boat, she donated an ample collection of images from Kuhlmann’s service to The National WWII Museum in New Orleans through the PAST Foundation, where it is preserved as part of the story.

Some personal images of Kuhlmann in the collection of The National WWII Museum.

Down the coast in Biloxi, U-166 has always had a special place in the city’s lore, as for years it was celebrated as the base where V212, the long-thought dispatcher of the boat, was assigned. The City’s Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum— located on the grounds of the old Coast Guard Air Station at Point Cadet– has exhibits on the base, its aircraft, and history, as well as the barrack’s tower, saved after Hurricane Katrina.

(Photo: Chris Eger)

Since 2005, the Seafood Industry Museum has been in the possession of a 45-foot U-boat model, constructed for the film U-571, that has been dedicated to U-166 (although it depicts a German Type VII U-boat) after a rework in 2008 from volunteers of the Tullibee Base Submarine Veterans and those of Seabee Base Gulfport.

The U-571 model next to the old tower from the USCG Air Sta Biloxi barracks. (Photo: Chris Eger)

As for V212, the NHHC revised the record book and cited that the Coast Guard seaplane likely had attacked but failed to sink U-171, a Type IXC sistership of U-166 that was operating in the same area at the time and reported being bombed by a “Flugboot” (flying boat) on 1 August with slight damage. U-171 went on to sink the tanker R. M. Parker Jr. (6,779 tons) two weeks later off the Louisiana coast, then was herself lost just short of Lorient when she struck a mine just miles short of the end of her maiden war patrol.

Speaking of losses, of U-166’s sister boats, 50 of 54 were lost, almost all to Allied ASW efforts. Only four survived the war and a single example, U-505, is the only one of two of her class (U-534 was sunk in 1945 and then salvaged by the British in 1993) preserved. Of all places, U-505 is in Chicago.

4 June 1944 Tug USS Abnaki (ATF-96) tows U-505 photo from USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) Note the large U.S. Ensign flying from U-505’s periscope. 80-G-324351

And finally, Robert E. Lee’s sister, George Washington, survived the war and lived a second life in the Pacific until the mid-1950s.

George Washington’s entry in “U.S. Troopships of WWII.” After the war, she was acquired by the Alaska Transport Company (ATCo.) to run between Seattle and Alaska until ATCo went bankrupt in 1948. A French company named CGT bought her in 1949, renamed her SS Gascogne (Gascoigne), ran her in the Caribbean for a while, then in 1952 sold her to Messageries-Maritimes, who operated her in Indochina until she was scrapped in Hong Kong in 1955.

Specs:

Displacement:
1,144 t (1,126 long tons) surfaced
1,257 t (1,237 long tons) submerged
Length:
251 ft 10 in o/a
192 ft 9 in. pressure hull
Beam:
22 ft 6 in o/a
14 ft 7 in pressure hull
Height: 31 ft 6 in
Draught: 15 ft 4 in
Installed power:
4,400 PS (3,200 kW; 4,300 bhp) (diesels)
1,000 PS (740 kW; 990 shp) (electric)
Propulsion:
2 shafts
2 × diesel engines
2 × electric motors
Range:
13,850 nmi at 10 knots surfaced
63 nmi at 4 knots submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 4 officers, 44 enlisted
Armament:
6 × torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern)
22 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedoes
1 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK C/32 deck gun (180 rounds)
1 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 AA gun
1 × twin 2 cm FlaK 30 AA guns


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 am a member, so should you be!

Vale, Almirante

BAP Almirante Grau of the Peruvian Navy was decommissioned on 26 September 2017. She had been laid down in Holland on 5 September 1939, the same week Hitler marched into Poland, giving her an amazing 78-year career. 

The beautiful De Zeven Provinciën-class light cruiser Hr.Ms. De Ruyter (C 801), who went on to serve the Peruvian Navy as BAP Almirante Grau (CLM-81) until she was retired in 2017, was to be saved as a floating museum, perhaps at the Naval Museum in Callao, but lack of funding and interest derailed that.

The Peruvians put the last all-gun cruiser on active service up for sale for around $1 million back in March, but concerns about asbestos, chemicals dating back to the 1930s, and lead paint made that a non-starter as it would likely cost more to safely dispose of all the bad stuff than her value in recycled materials.

A last-ditch effort by a group of Navy vets in Holland likewise fell through.

This led to a quiet ceremony, attended by a naval band, of the old girl being towed from Lima to undisclosed shipbreakers, likely in India,  for scrapping in Guayaquil, Ecuador, for a final price undisclosed.

The ship last departed from Callao Naval Port in Lima on 8 July. (Photo: Juan Carlos Iglesias Caminati)

She deserved better.

Update: Oryx reported Saturday that Almirante Grau/De Ruyter docked over the weekend in India, completing her final voyage. 

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