Tag Archives: battleship

About Time, Fusiliers Marins edition

Earlier this month, the Chief of Staff of the French Navy, Admiral Christophe Prazuck announced the that the names of the nine French Marine units, the Fusiliers Marins et Commandos Marins, will moving forward be tied to historic officers of the names of key heroes from the Free French 1er BFM/BFMC (aka Commando Kieffer) and 1er RFM (Régiment de Fusiliers Marins).

Raised from volunteers abroad and members of the French Navy who ended their 1940 war in British ports– many from the old battleships Paris and Courbet— the brand-new Forces Navales Françaises Libres (Free French Naval Forces) forces under Admiral Emile Muselier, allied with then-renegade Maj Gen. Charles de Gaulle formed these commandos along British lines.

Taking part in the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, they landed in force at D-Day and continued on to the Alps, earning more than 200 Croix de Guerre and 32 Légion d’Honneur.

While elite frogmen units such as Commando Hubert have the names of famous (posthumously) officers who have led them, up until this month, the modern French marines had unit names such as the uninspired but descriptive details such as the Groupe des Marines de l’Atlantique (Atlantic Marines Group). Now, the Groupe des Marines de l’Atlantique, for example, is the Amyot d’Inville Marines Battalion, named after French navy CDR Amyot D’Inville who commanded the Free French Marines at Bir Hakeim and was killed on the Continent in 1944.

More here. 

All over for the longest-serving aircraft carrier

As we have talked about previously, the WWII vintage Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) spent 28 years in the Royal Navy– including as flagship of the Falklands task force– then went on to give the Indian Navy another 31 years of hard service as INS Viraat (R22) before she was retired in 2017. For reference, she was laid down 21 June 1944, just two weeks after D-Day.

As far as I can tell, Hermes/Viraat was the longest-serving aircraft carrier under any flag, surpassing USS Lexington (CV-16/AVT-16) which clocked in for 48 years in a row– although the last couple of decades of that were as a training ship out of Pensacola– and USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which was a hard charger for 51 years. USS Nimitz (CVN-68) has been with the fleet since 1975 by comparison, “just” 45 years.

While the Indians had tossed around the idea of making Viraat a museum in Mumbai, no cash could be spared and she went to the auction block in 2019 with no bidders. Likewise, a prospect for the old warrior to return back home to the UK where veterans groups aimed to preserve her there also fell through.

She is set to arrive at Alang Ship Breaking yard for demolition in the first week of September.

Black Ghost of the Gulf Coast takes her final ride

The 180-foot Balsam-class buoy tender USCGC Salvia (WAGL/WLB-400) gave 47 years to the Coast Guard, 28 to the Navy, and will continue to serve in a different purpose moving forward.

Laid down at Duluth, Minnesota’s Zenith Dredge on 24 June 1943 as a member of the Iris subclass, she commissioned 19 February 1944 at a cost of $923,995. She would spend the rest of WWII assigned to the 5th Coast Guard District, stationed at Portsmouth, Virginia, and used for general ATON duty under Navy orders.

USCGC Salvia, 1948.

From 1 November 1945 until her decommissioning in 1991, USCGC Salvia was homeported in Mobile, where the ship did a lot of buoy relocation for constantly-working Corps of Engineer dredges working from Pensacola to Gulfport. The vessel was known as “The Black Ghost of the Gulf Coast” or, unofficially and for logical reasons, “The Spit.”

Salvia seen sometime after the “racing stripe” became standard in 1967 and her decommissioning in 1991

Besides over four decades of thankless ATON work, the buoy tender conducted law enforcement duties as needed and was called to assist in SAR on several notable occasions in waters that are heavily traveled by fishing and commercial vessels.

As detailed by the Coast Guard Historian’s office:

From 20-23 April 1951, Salvia assisted following the collision between the tankers Esso Suez and Esso Greensboro.

From 5­9 April 1953, Salvia searched for the wreck of National Flight 47 off Mobile Point.

From 30 October-2 November 1958, Salvia assisted USS Instill (AM-252).

From 17-18 November 1959, the cutter searched for National Flight 967, famously lost between Tampa and New Orleans.

In late August 1965, Salvia provided men and equipment to fight a fire on the Liberian MV Arctic Reefer off Choctaw Point, Mobile.

From 7-8 December 1968, Salvia searched for survivors from the lost USCGC White Alder, saving three men.

Retired in 1991, Salvia was given to the Navy to be used as an unnamed salvage hulk in Little Creek.

Finally, the gutted and worn vessel was put up for auction by the GSA last year with a final realized price of $18,100. Ownership eventually passed to N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Artificial Reef Program

Now, renamed “Brian Davis” she was sunk last week off the coast of North Carolina as a part of an artificial reef (Memorial project AR-368) in about 70 feet of water approximately 20 miles due east of Wilmington. The three-year project was funded by donations from the diving community as well as Coastal Recreational Fishing License funds.

Warship Wednesday, July 15, 2020: 3 Names, 5 Flags, 6 Wars

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

Warship Wednesday, July 15, 2020: 3 Names, 5 Flags, 6 Wars

Here we see Avtroil, a humble member of the Izyaslav-subclass of the Imperial Russian Navy’s Novik-class of fast destroyers, afloat in the Baltic around 1917. He (Russian ships are addressed as male, not female) would go on to have a complicated life.

Built for the Tsar

Ordered as part of the 1913 enhanced shipbuilding program– the Tsar had a whole fleet to rebuild after the twin disasters of Port Arthur and Tshuma after all– the Izyaslavs were part of an envisioned 35-ship destroyer build that never got that big. Nonetheless, at 1,440-tons with five 4-inch guns and nine 450mm Whitehead torpedo tubes in three batteries, these 325-foot greyhounds were plenty tough for their time. Speaking of which, capable of 35-knots on their turbine suite, built with the help of the French Augustin Normand company, they were about the fastest thing on the ocean. Hell, fast forward a century and they would still be considered fast today.

Class leader Izyaslav. He would later wear the name “Karl Marx” after the Revolution, because why not?.

In the end, only three Izyaslavs would be finished to include Avtroil and Pryamislav, before the Russians moved on to more improved Noviks to include the Gogland, Fidonisni and Ushakovskaya subclasses. They were curious ships outfitted by a multinational conglomerate, as the Russian Imperial Navy’s purchasing agents seemed to have loved variety. They had Vickers-made Swiss-designed Brown-Boveri steam turbines, Norman boilers, and British/Italian armament produced under license at Obukhov.

Laid down in 1913 at Becker & Co JSC, Revel, while Russia was under the Romanov flag, he was completed in August 1917 as the property of the Russian Provisional Government, which was still nominally in the Great War, in effect changing flags between his christening and commissioning.

His new crew sortied with the battleship Slava to fight in the Battle of Moon Sound (Moonsund) in October, one of the Kaiser’s fleet’s last surface action. While Slava didn’t make it out alive, Avtroil did, although he exchanged enough licks with the Germans to carry away three 88mm shell holes in him.

Fighting for the Reds

When the Russian Baltic Fleet raised the red flag in November to side with Lenin’s mob, Avtroil followed suit as he sat in fortified Helsingfors (Helsinki), hiding from the Germans.

Under Russian service

To keep one step ahead of said Teutons, he joined the great “Ice Cruise” in February 1918 to Kronstadt, the last bastion of the Russian fleet in the Baltic.

Painting of the famed icebreaker Yermak opening a way to other ships on the Ice Cruise, seen as the chrysalis moment for the Red Navy. The fleet withdrew six battleships, five cruisers, 59 destroyers and torpedo boats, and a dozen submarines from former Russian bases in Estonia and Finland, eventually back to Kronstadt.

When the Great War ended and the Russian Civil War began, the British moved in to intervene on the side of the newly formed Baltic republics and the anti-Bolshevik White Russians. On 24 November 1918, RADM Sir Edwin Alexander Sinclair was dispatched to the Baltic with the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron (five C-class light cruisers) of which HMS Cardiff was his flagship, the 13th Destroyer Flotilla (nine V and W-class destroyers) and, because the Baltic in WWI was a mine war at a level no one had seen before, the 3rd Minesweeping Flotilla (seven minesweepers) as well as two minelayers and three tankers. Sinclair also brought newly surplus military aid– to include 100 Lewis guns, 50 Madsen LMGs, 5,000 American-made P14 Enfield rifles, and 6.7 million rounds of .303-caliber ammunition– as a gift to bolster the locals against the Reds.

This put the Red Fleet, the most reliable unit in the Soviet military, on the front line of a new war in the Baltic.

Avtroil was assigned to a special task force consisting of the 7,000-ton Bogatyr-class protected cruiser Oleg and his Novik/Ilyin-class destroyer half-brother Spartak (Sparticus, ex-Kapitan Kingsbergen, ex-Kapitan Miklukho-Maklay).

While scouting close to Estonian waters to assess the British disposition near Aegna and Naissaar on the night of 26 December, Spartak bumped into five Royal Navy destroyers. Attempting to escape, the Russian destroyer ran aground at Kuradimuna, and, surrendering, was towed to Tallinn (recently renamed Revel).

The next morning, Avtroil was sent to look for the overdue Spartak. Acting on tips from shore stations who sent sightings of the Russian destroyer to Tallinn, the British destroyers HMS Vendetta and HMS Vortigern are dispatched to intercept. Seeing these on the horizon, Avtroil attempted to beat feet to the East and the safety of Korndstadt but, after a 35-minute chase, ran into a returning patrol of the cruisers HMS Calypso and HMS Caradoc, accompanied by the destroyer HMS Wakeful. The crew of Avtroil struck their red flag near Mohni Island.

They didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter, as the hapless crews of the Russian ships couldn’t coax more than 15 knots out of their speedy destroyers. You have to keep in mind that the most radicalized Red sailors came from the harshly-treated stokers and engineering space guys, many of whom volunteered for Naval Red Guard units who fought on land during the Civil War. This left the Russian Baltic Fleet poorly manned in technical ratings, poorly led (the crews shot their officers and senior NCOs wholesale in 1917, replacing them with 850 assorted Sailors’ Committees), and poorly maintained. No wonder a small British squadron ran rampant over the Gulf of Finland in 1918-19!

Oleg managed to slip through the net only to be sunk six months later by British torpedo boats at anchor.

AVTROIL, right, surrendering to a British destroyer in the Baltic, possibly HMS Wakeful (H88). Naval History and Heritage Command NH 47620

AVTROIL, left, photographed in the Baltic Sea, captured by a British destroyer, right, most likely Wakeful. Wakeful would later be sunk off Dunkirk, torpedoed by the German submarine U-30 on 29 May 1940, taking 638 soldiers and 85 members of the Ship’s Company with her. Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. NH 94210

Welcome to Estonia!

The British towed their second prize in as many days to Revel, the former Russian naval base turned Tallinn, the new Estonian capital. There, the Soviet crews were interned. Those captured Russians who wanted to return home were later exchanged with the Reds for 17 British servicemembers, nine who participated in the raid June 1919 raid on Kronstadt, and eight downed aircrewmen lost in the August/September floatplane raids on the Bolshevik fortress.

Adm. Sinclair arrived in Tallinn on 28 December 1918 for the inspection of the captured destroyers.

THE BRITISH NAVAL CAMPAIGN IN THE BALTIC, 1918-1919 (Q 19334) A sentry aboard the Royal Navy cruiser HMS CARADOC at Reval (Tallinn), showing ice-covered decks. December 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205253750

The captured vessels were soon turned over to the nascent Estonian Navy. On 2 January 1919, RN Capt. Bertram Sackville Thesiger, the skipper of Calypso, met with the brand-new Commander of the Estonian Navy, Capt. Johan Pitka, onboard the uncrewed Avtroil to discuss the transfer. Avtroil would be renamed EML Lennuk while Spartak would become EML Wambola on 4 January 1919.

Destroyer Avtroil in Estonian waters

Estonian destroyer Wambola (ex-Spartak) on the dock at Tallinn. While of a similar design, layout, and armament to Avtroil, he had German-made Vulkan boilers and AEG turbines

Repaired and under a new flag– Avtroil’s third for those keeping track at home– they would sail against the Reds later that summer until Moscow recognized Estonia’s independence the next year.

Lennuk and Wambola in Estonian service note gunnery clocks added by the British and recognition stripes on masts. If you compare this image to the one under Russian service from roughly the same angle, you will note the lack of clocks and stripes. 

Eventually, cash-strapped Estonia– which had suffered through the Great War, German occupation, their own short but brutal campaign for independence and following reconstruction– looked at their surplus Russian destroyers and decided to pass them on for more than what they had in them.

From the frozen Baltic to the steaming Amazon

Laid up since 1920, they were sold to Peru in April 1933 for $820,000, leaving the Estonian Navy with only a single surface warfare ship, the Sulev— which was the once-scuttled former German torpedo boat A32. The tiny republic used the money, along with some public subscription, to order two small, but modern, coastal minelaying submarines from Britain.  

Spartak/Wambola became BAP Almirante Villar while Avtroil/Lennuk would become BAP Almirante Guise, ironically named after a British-born Peruvian naval hero that had fought at Trafalgar.

The reason for the Peruvian destroyer purchase was that Lima was gearing up for a border conflict with Colombia that never really got much past the skirmish stage. Nonetheless, they did serve in a wary blockade of the Colombian coast and exchanged fire with a group of mercenaries squatting on what was deemed to be part of Peru, by the Peruvians, anyway.

ALMIRANTE GUISE Peruvian DD, 1915 Caption: In Colon Harbor, Panama, 26 June 1934, transiting to the Pacific.. She was formerly the Estonian DD LENNUK and Russian DD AVTROIL NARA 80-G-455951

Same as above, different view. 80-G-455952

Same, stern. Note mine-laying stern, her British-installed range clocks, men on deck in undershirts. 80-G-455949

Once in the Pacific, the destroyers were modernized, mounting some Italian-made Breda 20mm AAA guns. Apparently, the Peruvians were also able to get 4-inch shells and torpedoes from the Italians as well. Peru at the time only had a small (~3,000-ton) pair of old protected cruisers, making the repurposed Russian tin cans their most valuable naval assets.

Callao, Peru during the division of Cruiser Division 7 under Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, USN, May 26 to 31, 1939. Ships from left to right are Peruvian Cruisers CORONEL BOLOGNESI (1906-1958) and ALMIRANTE GRAU (1906-1958), behind BOLOGNESI), destroyers ALMIRANTE, VILLAR (1915-c1954), ex Estonian VAMBOLA ex Russian SPARTAK) and ALMIRANTE GUISE (1915-c1947), ex Estonian LENNUK, ex Russian AVTROIL, and USS TUSCALOOSA (CA-37), SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38), and QUINCY (CA-39). NH 42782

Cruiser BAP Almirante Grau (3,100t, circa 1907, 2x6inch guns), destroyers of BAP Villar and BAP Guise, and an R-class submarine of the Peruvian Navy during naval maneuvers in 1940. The floatplanes are two of six Fairey Fox Mk IVs bought by the Peruvian Air Force in 1933 along with four Curtis F-8 Falcons during tensions with Colombia. The Peruvian Navy operated three Douglas DTB torpedo bomber floatplanes and at least one Vought O2U Corsair. Colorized by Diego Mar/Postales Navales

The low-mileage pre-owned tin cans were put to more effective use in the “Guerra del 41,” the Ecuadorian–Peruvian War. Almirante Guise carried out patrols in front of the Jambelí channel, bombarded Punta Jambelí and Puerto Bolívar, and supported the Peruvian advance on El Oro. Meanwhile, his near-brother Almirante Villar was on convoy duty and fought a one-sided surface action against the elderly Ecuadorian gunboat BAE Abdón Calderón (300t, c1884, 2x76mm guns).

Once the conflict with Ecuador died down, another one was just kicking off. Under U.S. pressure, Peru broke off relations with the Axis powers in January 1942 and, while friendly to the Allies and increasingly hostile to the Axis, only declared war against Germany and Japan in February 1945. The Peruvian Navy was the only force “active” in the conflict, engaging in armed neutrality patrols throughout 1942-43. For those keeping score, WWII would be the Russian destroyers sixth-ish conflict following the Great War, the Russian Civil War, Estonian Independence, the Colombian skirmishes, and the Guerra del 41.

In the 1946 Jane’s, the two Russo-Estonian brothers were listed as Peru’s only destroyers.

Meanwhile, Avtroil’s two brothers back in the Motherland would not have such a sedate Second World War. Izyaslav, naturally renamed Karl Marx, was sunk by a German air raid in August 1941. Pryamislav, renamed Kalinin after Stalin’s favorite yes man, was lost in a German minefield the same month near the island of Mokhni in the Gulf of Finland. Ironically, it was Mokhni where the British had captured Avtroil two decades prior.

The last of his kind, Avtroil, and his half-brother Almirante Villar would endure for another decade.

Almirante Guise via the Dirección de Intereses Marítimos-Archivo Histórico de Marina

Decommissioned in 1949, they were slowly scrapped above the waterline through 1954. Their hulks reportedly remain off Peru’s Isla de San Lorenzo naval base/penal colony. Their names were later recycled for a pair of Fletcher-class destroyers, USS Benham (DD-796) and USS Isherwood (DD-520), acquired in the 1960s and used into the 1980s.

Avtroil/Guise is remembered both in Russian maritime art and Peruvian postal stamps.

The British also have a souvenir or three. His Soviet flag is in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich while other objects are in the IWM.

Specs:


Displacement: 1,350 long tons, 1,440 full. (Listed as 2,200 late in career)
Length: 325 ft 2 in (listed as 344.5 in 1945)
Beam: 30 ft 10 in (listed as 31.5 in 1945)
Draft: 9 ft 10 in (listed as 11.8 in 1945)
Propulsion: 2 Brown-Boveri steam turbines driving 2 shafts, 5 Norman boilers, 32,700 shp
Speed: 35 knots max (on trials). Listed as 30 knots even late in career.
Oil: 450 tons, 2,400 nm at 15 knots
Complement: 142
Armor: 38mm shields on some of the 4-inch guns
Armament:
(as of 1918)
5 x 1 102mm L/60 Pattern 1911 Vickers-Obukhov guns
1 x 1 76mm AA mount M1914/15
3 x 3 450mm Whitehead torpedo tubes
2 x Maxim machine guns
80 Model 1912 naval mines.
(1945)
5 x 1 102mm L/60 Pattern 1911 Vickers-Obukhov guns
2 x 20 mm/70cal Breda AA guns
3 x machine guns

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Warship Wednesday, July 8, 2020: Service Guarantees Citizenship

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

Warship Wednesday, July 8, 2020: Service Guarantees Citizenship

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 108363

Here we see the Wickes-class tin can USS Roper (Destroyer No. 147) in an undated overhead bow-on shot early in her career. As yesterday was the 113th birthday of her most famous crewmember, it only seemed important to shine some light on this often-overlooked but well-traveled warship.

Roper was one of the iconic first flight of “Four Piper” destroyers that were designed in 1915-16 with input from no less an authority as Captain (later Admiral) W.S. Sims. Beamy ships with a flush-deck, a quartet of boilers (with a smokestack for each) were coupled to a pair of Parsons geared turbines to provide 35.3-knots designed speed– which is still considered fast today, more than a century later. The teeth of these 314-foot, 1250-ton greyhounds were four 4-inch/50 cal MK 9 guns and a full dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes.

They reportedly had short legs and were very wet, which made long-range operations a problem, but they gave a good account of themselves. Originally a class of 50 was authorized in 1916, but once the U.S entered WWI in April 1917, this was soon increased and increased again to some 111 ships built by 1920.

Roper was laid down on 19 March 1918, at the height of the German’s Michel Offensive in France, at the William Cramp & Sons yard in Philadelphia. She was the first ship to carry the name of LCDR Jesse M. Roper (USNA 1872) who, as skipper of the gunboat USS Petrel in 1901, lost his life in a fire attempting to rescue a trapped seaman.

However, USS Roper came too late to join the Great War, commissioned on 15 February 1919. Nonetheless, after shakedown, she crossed the Atlantic and served in the Med and the Black Sea during the tumultuous period that included the breakup of the old Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire coupled with the heartbreak of the Russian Civil War.

Roper, pre-1922. NH 108361

Transferring to the Pacific Fleet, Roper would be placed decommissioned in 1922 and rest in mothballs until 1930 when she was refit and reactivated. In contrast to her quiet time during the 20s, the 1930s would be a time of active participation in a series of fleet problems and maneuvers that ranged from the Eastern seaboard to the Caribbean and Alaska.

An undated overhead image of Roper underway, likely early in her career and after her 1930 reactivation. Note her stern depth charge racks. NH 108364

From the same set, with a good overview of her guns and profile. NH 108362

Enter Mr. Heinlein

With a tradition that his family fought in every American war going back to the days of Bunker Hill, Robert Anson Heinlein, born in Missouri in 1907, entered the U.S. Naval Academy as a Mid in 1925. He had a bit of family support on campus, as his brother Rex had been admitted the previous year, a factor that led Robert to have to pester U.S. Sen. Jimmy Reed to burn another service academy appointment on a Heinlein, reportedly hitting the senator with over 50 letters.

The younger Heinlein, “Bob” to his classmates, was an expert rifleman and a member of the fencing team, winner of the 1927 Epee medal. Academically 5th in his class of 243, he graduated 20th due to demerits with the 1929 class– one that included the future RADM Edward J. O’Donnell, RADM Warner S. Rodimon and VADM James H. Flatley– and has a very entertaining page in that year’s Lucky Bag. Headed to the fleet, the newly minted ensign shipped out for one of the choicest assignments, the brand-new carrier USS Lexington (CV-2).

LEXINGTON at the fleet concentration, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaiian Islands, 16 February 1932. Heinlein would have been aboard her at the time. NH 67634

Lex’s skipper, while Ensign Heinlein was aboard, was the taciturn Ernest J. King, future WWII CNO. This cheerful guy:

Captain Ernest J. King, USN, Commanding officer of USS LEXINGTON (CV-2), is shown the Olympic Cup by Chief Gunner Campbell, on 5 September 1931. The cup had recently been won by LEXINGTON’s runabout crew. 80-G-462576

In 1933, Heinlein left the mighty turbo-electric carrier for the much smaller and almost in comparison “retro” tin can, Roper, where he would serve as gunnery officer until he left the Navy on a medical discharge due to a case of TB.

Over the course of 46 novels and dozens of short stories, Robert Heinlein was always flanked by what he learned and remembered from his days as an Annapolis Mid and as a young line officer in the fleet.

Of course, Bob would settle for a career as a renowned science fiction author; winner of several Hugo Award prizes for groundbreaking science fiction. He was able to loop back around during WWII as an aeronautical engineer at the Navy Aircraft Materials Center at PNSY, bringing fellow sci-fi legends Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp with him to do their part.

Meanwhile, Roper had a war of her own to fight

Off Cape Cod on 7 December 1941, the Great War-era destroyer was soon on convoy duty during the height of what the German U-boat skippers deemed “The Happy Time” of Operation Drumbeat (Paukenschlag) due to the widespread availability of targets in American waters. As such, this included several instances of picking her way through floating wreckage and rescuing lifeboats crammed with U-boat survivors.

USS Roper (DD-147) Escorting a convoy, out of Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1942. Ships of the convoy are visible on the horizon. Roper is wearing Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage. NARA 80-G-K-580

USS ROPER (DD-147) View taken while underway in Hampton Roads, on convoy escort duty, circa 1942. Note camouflage. 80-G-K-467

On the night of 13-14 April 1942, Roper made a weak sonar contact in shallow water off North Carolina’s Bodie Island lighthouse, inside an area dubbed “Torpedo Junction” due to the high rate of submarine actions in the region and began prosecuting it. The contact turned out to be the Type VIIB German U-boat U-85 of 3. Flottille. Realizing he was caught in the shallows with no room to move, the sub’s skipper, Oblt. Eberhard Greger, made for the surface to fight it out, making turns for 17 knots while snapping a torpedo from its aft tube at his pursuer– from just 700 yards away- which only narrowly missed, running down the port side of the oncoming tin can’s hull.

The engagement went down to deck guns at a range of 2,100 yards, with Roper’s forward 3-incher busting the sub’s pressure hull just aft of the conning tower on her third round as one of her .50-caliber Brownings, manned by a Chief Boatswains Mate, kept the Germans from their own guns. The U-boat disappeared below the waves, stern first, before Roper’s torpedo tubes could be brought to bear.

A painting of the destroyer USS Roper (DD-147) engaging the German Type VII submarine U-85, during the night of 13/14 April 1942, near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Artist unknown. Image from the 1967/68 Edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/147.htm

Greger and crew apparently attempted to abandon ship as it was going down but, in a sad fog of war incident, all perished as Roper’s crew, in the dark and fearing another U-boat was in the area due to another, albeit unrelated sonar contact, continued depth charging the area after the sub submerged for the final time. When dawn broke, Roper’s crew recovered 29 bodies, which were later interred at Hampton National Cemetery.

Roper’s attack report is in the National Archives and makes for interesting reading. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/133887377

The wreck and war grave that is U-85 is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and protected as part of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. In just 100 feet of water, she is a popular dive site.

With her “kill” Roper became an inaugural member of the U.S. Navy’s sub-busting club in the Atlantic War, although the milestone of the lonely battle was kept secret until after the war. She was in good company, as her sister ship, USS Ward (DD-139), fired the first U.S. shots of the Pacific War, sinking a Japanese midget submarine outside of Pearl Harbor just before the attack there.

The rest of Roper’s 1942 was spent in less eventful coastal patrol and escort service, shifting to riding shotgun on Caribbean-to-Mediterranean convoys building up Allied forces in North Africa and the 1943 push to Sicily and Italy.

In October, entered Charleston Navy Yard for conversion to her next role, that of a WWII littoral combat ship.

Green Dragon Days

With the changing pace of the new naval war, the Roper, as with most of her class, was converted to other uses, being too small for fleet work. She lost her 4-inch guns, which went on to equip armed merchant ships, as well as her torpedo tubes. Also leaving were half of her boilers, which dropped her speed down to 25-knots. She was given a trio of newer high-angle 3-inch/50 guns, one 40 mm AA gun, and five 20 mm AA guns, and the capability to carry up to 300 Marines or soldiers for a brief period. In this new role, she was re-designated as a high-speed amphibious transport (APD-20). Where her torpedo tubes once were, she now carried four 36-foot LCP landing craft on davits.

Such converted, these ships, usually painted in an all-over alligator green scheme, became known as “Green Dragons.”

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Quarter. File 11-21-43-4.” Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Bow, Down View. File 11-21-43-6. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Bow. File 11-21-43-2. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Bow. File 11-21-43-7. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Stern View. File 11-21-43-5. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

These conversions had a hard war. They transported troops to beachheads, served as escorts for transports and supply vessels, conducted anti-submarine patrols and survey duties, operated with Underwater Demolition Teams and commando units, performed messenger and transport duties, conveyed passengers and mail to and from forward units, and were involved in minesweeping operations.

On 13 April 1944, Roper steamed across the Atlantic to join the massing 8th Fleet at Oran and subsequently landed units of the reformed French Army on the Italian coast at Pianosa on 17 June. By August, she was part of the Dragoon Landings in southern France, landing troops on Levant Island with TF 86/Sitka Force. Her charges were 14 officers and 269 men of the elite “Black Devil” commandos of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force who landed, and subsequently fought the small Battle of Port Cros in which they captured the five forts on the islands from the German Army.

Roper’s report of landing operations on the Ile du Levant with Sitka Force is digitized and in the National Archives. 

Reaping the Devine Wind

With the days of amphibious landings in Europe at an end in 1945, Roper sailed for the Pacific for the first time in WWII. Just three days after arriving at Nakagusuku Bay on the southern coast of Okinawa, she was hit by a Japanese kamikaze, a Zeke that was being pursued by three F4U Corsairs, the latter being a factor that prevented AAA fire from being directed at the incoming suicide plane. The Zeke hit Roper’s forecastle at 0922 on 25 May, starting fires in the CPO and Wardroom country which were extinguished in about an hour but left her forward magazines flooded. Her First Lieutenant, Lt. (JG) Thomas Walsh, was killed on deck via flying debris. Ten of her crew were lightly wounded with seven being evacuated to the hospital ship USS Relief. 

USS ROPER (APD-20) as damaged by a suicide plane attack, 26 May 1945. The plane’s port wing had sheared off and entered the ship’s starboard side, making a 6-foot hole about f-feet above the waterline. The fuselage of the Zeke glanced off the ship’s forecastle and exploded 30 feet off her beam. The plane’s propeller chewed several 3-foot-long gashes in the forecastle’s deck. The pilot’s helmet, jacket, and “pieces of his anatomy” were found hanging from Gun. No. 1. Courtesy of Admiral H.W. Hill. NH 66192

Roper’s kamikaze report is digitized and available in the National Archives. 

Of her class, 13 of her sisters were sunk in WWII, most early in the war while trying to stem the Japanese tide off Guadalcanal or, in the case of two, due to German U-boats in the Atlantic. The famous Ward, similarly, converted to an APD, was sunk off Ormoc in the Philippines on 7 December 1944 by a kamikaze. A similar fate befell sister USS Palmer (DD-161/DMS-5) in the Lingayen Gulf. Likewise, sister USS Dickerson (DD-157/APD-21) was so badly hit by a kamikaze in April 1945 off Iwo Jima that she was scuttled.

As for Roper, ordered back to the States to complete her own kamikaze repairs, she departed the Ryukyus on 6 June and reached San Pedro a month later. With the end of the war, her those repairs were not undertaken, and she was instead decommissioned on 15 September 1945 and scrapped the following year.

Roper earned four battle stars during World War II and the largest part of her currently in existence is an anchor that is on display at an entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There has not been a second USS Roper on the Navy List.

Most of Roper’s WWII war diaries, as well as a set of her plans, are in the National Archives. 

Today no Wickes-class tin can survive. The last one afloat, USS Maddox (DD–168), was scrapped in 1952 after serving in the US, then RN, then Canadian, then Soviet navies.

However, one of the class, USS Walker (DD-163), has been given new life in the excellent alternate history series Destroyermen written by Taylor Anderson. It is, um, science-fiction. Go figure.

As for Heinlein, whose wartime work for the Navy ironically included kamikaze detection and defense, died in 1988, aged 80. His body was eventually cremated, and his ashes scattered over the Pacific from the deck of a warship. Before that, he addressed the Mids in 1973 during which he noted:

What you do have here is a tradition of service. Your most important classroom is Memorial Hall. Your most important lesson is the way you feel inside when you walk up those steps and see that shot-torn flag framed in the arch of the door: ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship.’ If you feel nothing, you don’t belong here. But if it gives you goose flesh just to see that old battle flag, then you are going to find that feeling increasing every time you return here over the years… until it reaches a crescendo the day you return and read the list of your own honored dead – classmates, shipmates, friends – read them with grief and pride while you try to keep your tears silent.

In 2001, Virginia Heinlein, who had a long naval history herself and was the prototype of the strong female characters in many of her husband’s novels, endowed the Robert Anson Heinlein Chair in Aerospace Engineering at Annapolis.

Specs:

USS Roper (DD-147): Booklet of General Plans – Inboard Profile / Outboard Profile. National Archives Identifier: 109188795 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/109188795

(As completed)
Displacement: 1,247 long tons (1,267 t)
Length: 314 ft 4 in
Beam: 30 ft 11 in
Draft: 9 ft 10 in
Propulsion: 2 × geared steam turbines, 2 × shafts
Speed: 35 kn
Complement: 231 officers and enlisted
Armament:
4 × 4 in /50 cal guns
2 × 3 in /50 cal anti-aircraft guns
12 × 21 in torpedo tubes (4×3)

(1943, APD conversion)
Speed: 25kn
Complement: 180 officers and enlisted, up to 300 troops for short periods
Armament:
3 x 3inch/50
1 x 40mm Bofors
5 x 20mm Oerlikons

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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

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

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Admiral Semmes statue to be shuffled to local museum

Facing a $25K-a-day fine from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, the City of Mobile has decided to move the recently toppled statue of the former U.S. Navy CDR/C.S. Navy ADM/C.S. Army B. Gen., Raphael Semmes, to the city’s museum, where it belongs.

Notably, the museum also holds numerous relics of the commerce raider CSS Alabama, which Semmes helmed to 66 naval victories and one crushing defeat, as well as artifacts from the officer’s own life, including an ornate  French-made Houllier-Blanchard revolver I chronicled in the past.

You don’t see these every day. 

Update: It is still gonna cost the city some big bucks to be woke.

Warship Wednesday, April 22, 2020: Freeboard is Overrated, anyway

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

Warship Wednesday, April 22, 2020: Freeboard is Overrated, anyway

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 45707, courtesy of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN MC

Here we see the armored coast defense vessel USS Monterey (Monitor No. 6) as she opens the brand-new Puget Sound dry dock at Port Orchard, Washington– then the largest dry dock in the U.S. and the third-largest in the world– on this day in April 1896. While you mistake her for a pre-dreadnought battleship above deck, below the waterline she is a more of a “cheesebox on a raft.”

While the U.S. Navy fielded upwards of 60 river, coastal and seagoing monitors in the Civil War era, by the 1870s most these craft, for one reason or another, had been discarded or allowed to decay to a near-condemned state– and rightfully so as late 19th Century naval technology was subject to a version of Moore’s Law.

In 1882, as part of the “Great Repairs” the first New Navy monitor, USS Puritan (BM-1) was launched and at 6,000-tons carried four modern (for the time) 12-inch breechloaders and could make 12.4-knots. Puritan was followed by the four Amphitrite-class monitors, 12-knot vessels of 4,000-tons with four 10″/30 cal guns and up to 11.5-inches of iron armor.

Then came our one-of-a-kind vessel, Monitor No. 6, USS Monterey. At 4,084-tons, the 261-foot-long coastal defense vessel had more modern Harvey nickel steel armor, up to 13-inches of it in her barbettes to be exact, than her predecessors. Slightly slower at 11-knots, she wasn’t built for speed.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Builder’s model, photographed in 1893. Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, 1972. Copied from the Union Iron Works scrapbook, vol. 2, page 9 NH 75309

With limited deck space, Monterey’s teeth consisted of a pair of 12″/35 caliber Mark 1 breechloading guns protected by 8-inches of steel armor shield– the same mounts that were on the early battleship Texas— which were capable of firing out to 12,000 yards at about one round per minute.

In the end, Monterey was a decently armored ship that could fight in 15 feet of shallow water and deal out 870-pound AP shells at opponents approaching out to sea. You could argue that it was a solid coast defense concept for the era, especially for the money. Hell, cash-strapped non-aligned European powers such as Finland, Sweden, and Norway relied on a similar naval concept into the 1940s.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6), circa 1914. View of the ship’s forward turret, with two 12″ guns, circa 1914. Collection of C.A. Shively, 1978. NH 88539

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Firing her forward 12-inch guns during target practice off Port Angeles, Washington, during the 1890s. Note shell splash in distance, beyond the target. NH 45701

Bringing up the rear, Monterey mounted a pair of slightly smaller 10″/30 Mark 2 guns as used on the Amphitrites, protected by 7.5-inches of armor, in a turret facing aft. These could fire 510-pound shells out to 20,000 yards, a significant range boost over her forward guns.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6), stern, stereopticon photo published by Strohmeyer & Wyman, 1898 NH 45714

To ward off enemy small boats that worked in close enough to threaten the beast, Monterey carried a half dozen 6-pounders, four 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannons, and a pair of 1-pounders in open mounts.

In some ways, Monterey was superior to the follow-on quartet of Arkansas-class monitors which were smaller and less heavily armed, while having the same speed.

The biggest handicap of any monitor is the sea itself, after all, the namesake of the type, USS Monitor, was lost at sea while moving from station to station. While underway, Monterey and the ships of her more modern type suffered from notoriously low freeboard in any seas, making for a series of dramatic photos that have endured over a century.

U.S. Navy monitor, USS Monterey (BM 6), starboard view. Published by Detroit Publishing Company, between 1894-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress LC-D4-20042

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) in a seaway. NH 45711

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) In a seaway off Santa Barbara, California, on 1 March 1896 while in a passage from Seattle to San Francisco. NH 45708

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) At sea, en route from Seattle to San Francisco in 1896. Note coal stowed on deck. NH 45712

The $1,628,950 contract was signed for Monterey on 14 June 1889 after she was authorized under the Naval Act of 1887 and her first frame was bent at San Francisco’s Union Iron Works on 7 October 1889.

Named for the California city and the 1846 Navy-Marine action that captured it from Mexico during the Mexican War, our monitor was the second U.S. Navy vessel to carry the moniker, the first being a Civil War-period steam tug that provided yeoman service to the Mare Island Navy Yard into 1892

Commissioned 13 February 1893, the new Monterey’s inaugural skipper was Civil War vet Capt. Lewis Kempff (USNA 1861), a man who would go on to become a rear admiral.

A great colorized image of Monterey by Diego Mar, showing her white and buff 1892-98 peacetime scheme.

She had a period of workups and calm, idyllic peacetime duty off the West Coast for the first several years of her career, assigned to the Pacific Squadron. This consisted primarily of slow jaunts from Seattle to San Diego and a short four-month coastline-hugging cruise to Peru and back in 1895 to show the flag

USS Monterey (BM-6) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, during the 1890s. Copied from the Journal of Naval Cadet C.R. Miller, USN, page 51. NH 45702

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Dressed in flags on the 4th of July 1896, at Tacoma, Washington. NH 45704

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Off Mare Island Navy Yard, California, during the 1890s. Receiving ship USS INDEPENDENCE is in the right background. Also, note how small her stern lettering has to be to fit. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution NH 45703

When war with Spain erupted, Monterey was the strongest U.S. ship on the West Coast save for the battleship USS Oregon (BB-3), which had been dispatched around Cape Horn on a 14,000-mile mission to join the Fleet in the Caribbean. This prompted a change from her peacetime livery to a dark grey.


“War Paint for the Monitors: Stripped of her brilliant coat of white and disguised under a dull lead color, almost a black, the Monterey is as wicked a looking craft as has ever been in the harbor…” Image and text provided by University of California, Riverside. Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, 23 April 1898, Image 5, via chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. Archived at Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/01/monterey.htm

As the conflict wore on, Monterey was ordered to sortie 8,000 miles across the Pacific for the Philippines to provide the Asiatic Squadron with big gun support against possible attack by the powerful Spanish battleship Paleyo (9700-tons, 2×12-inch guns, 2×11-inch guns) as Dewey’s forces consisted solely of cruisers and gunboats.

The fear did have some merit, as Spanish RADM Manuel de la Cámara was dispatched from Cadiz with Paleyo on June 16 along with the brand-new armored cruiser Emperador Carlos V, a force of destroyers and auxiliary cruisers, and 4,000 Spanish Army troops headed for the Philippines to make a fight for the colony.

Alicante Spain 1898 fresh Spanish troops prepare for departure

As Camara was sailing through the Med, bound for the Far East, Monterey had already left San Diego on June 11 in company with collier Brutus for Manila.

Monterey, in her “wicked” scheme, departing Mare Island for the War with Spain, June 1898. Note the coal bags strapped around her turret. Photo via Mare Island Museum

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge wrote to his friend Col. Theodore Roosevelt, the recent Asst. SECNAV, that, “We are not going to lug that monitor across the Pacific for the fun of lugging her back again.”

At the time her skipper was LCDR James W. Carlin (USNA 1868), who as a lieutenant in 1889 was XO of the steam sloop USS Vandalia when the vessel was wrecked in the great Samoan hurricane of that year. During the storm, Carlin had to take command after Vandalia’s skipper was swept away. Mr. Carlin surely had an uneasy sense of dejavu as he shepherded his slow-moving monitor through another Pacific storm on the way to Manila Bay.

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Postcard print of the ship in a typhoon published circa 1907, probably during her crossing of the Pacific in August of 1898 to join Dewey’s fleet. NH 85843

Amazingly, the Monterey and Brutus made Cavite on 13 August and participated in the bloodless effort that same day in which American forces captured the city of Manila in a mock battle with the Spanish. In all, she logged an average of just 125 miles or so a day on her trip across the Pacific!

The other West Coast monitor, the Amphitrite-class USS Monadnock (BM-3), reached Manila Bay three days later on 16 August.

While Monterey and Monadnock were wallowing across the mighty Pacific that summer, Camara had met a brick wall at the Suez Canal where he was refused coaling by the British and returned to Spain, arriving at Cartagena on 23 July without firing a shot in the Spanish-American War.

Spanish battleship Paleyo at Port Said, Egypt, 26 June – 11 July 1898, while serving as flagship of Rear Admiral Manuel de la Camara’s squadron, which had been sent to relieve the Philippines. Copied from Office of Naval Intelligence Album of Foreign Warships. NH 88722

Although Monterey did not actually have a chance to go loud against the Spanish, she did see some action in the PI as events unfolded.

On 18 September 1899, she commenced a week of combat operations in Subic Bay against local insurgents and joined with gunboats Charleston and Concord and supply ship Zafiro, helping to destroy a large gun at the head of the bay on the 25th.

She would remain, along with the Monadnock, in the Far East alternating with service on China station where they seemed particularly suited to gunboat diplomacy along the Yangtze river, her landing forces put to frequent use, and waving the flag from Tokyo to Nanking.

USS MONTEREY at anchor in Nagasaki harbor, Japan, ca. 1899, photo via University of Washington, H. Ambrose Kiehl Photograph Collection

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) “Stack arms” during landing party drill on the ship’s foredeck, about 1898. Single frame photo from a stereo card. Photo published by Strohmeyer and Wyman, New York, 1898. Note Lee rifles; special Lee belts; and long leggings. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, 1967. NH 73619

USS MONTEREY (BM -6) “Morning Drill” on the quarterdeck. This appears to show the crew during landing force exercises. Stereo Photo, copyright 1898 by Strohmeyer & Wyman, New York. Note Navy Battalion Flag, deck lights, portable hatch cover, and captain. The monitor could land a 60-70 man force, backed up by two Colt M1895 “potato digger” machine guns and a 3-inch landing howitzer. NH 94259 -A

In 1900, the forward-deployed monitors would be used to help justify increasing port facilities in Cavite, as they had to make frequent trips to Hong Kong to avail themselves of British yards there.

From a Bureau of Navigation report:

It is important that this Government should construct or acquire on this station a dock of its own for the largest vessels. Under other circumstances foreign docks might not have been available for the Oregon, or being available, might not have been offered for use. The lack of a dock in the Philippines makes it necessary to keep full crews on board such vessels as the Monadnock and Monterey. These vessels are of little use in the present state of the insurrection but are needed in the Philippines as a reserve for strengthening the fleet in case of threat or attack from another power. Each six months, though, they need docking and must then have a crew and convoy besides to get them from Cavite to Hongkong, whereas with a dock in the Philippines they could be put in reserve and docked, as necessary.

While in the Philippines, she apparently carried huge deck awnings covering her guns.

Sailors manning the rails of USS Monterey (BM-6) NHF-154

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) crewmen reading on the fore-deck, under awnings, in Philippine waters, circa 1914. Note 12″ guns. NH 88575

Decommissioned at Olongapo in 1903 for four years’ worth of repairs, she was placed back into service in September 1907, spending more time in places ranging from Foochow to Zamboanga for the next decade.

In November 1917, as the world suffered from the Great War, Monterey was finally relieved from her Asiatic posting after 19 years and recalled to Pearl Harbor. This time she was towed by collier USS Ajax (AC-14) in a 36-day cruise, arriving just before Christmas.

Spending the next several years as a submarine tender– a job many old monitors found themselves pressed into in the 1900s– Monterey finished the Great War as a manned vessel, as her Christmas 1918 menu testifies.

U.S.S. Monterey …Menu… Christmas Day, December 25, 1918 – Soup: Cream of tomato; Relishes Celery, Ripe olives, Green onions; Salads: Fruit, Mayonnaise dressing, Combination; Meats: Roast turkey, Tartar sauce, Baked red snapper, Giblet gravy, Roast loin of pork, Apple sauce; Vegetables: Creamed mashed potatoes, French peas, Buttered asparagus tips; Dessert: Fruit cake, Mincemeat Pie, Rainbow ice cream; Fruits: Oranges, Apples, Bananas, Grapes; Beverages: Grape juice punch, Iced tea, Lemonade; Cigars, Cigarettes – J.H. Kohli, Acting Commissary Steward.

Decommissioned 27 August 1921, she was sold the next February to A. Bercovich Co., Oakland, Calif., and towed across the Pacific for scrapping. It was her first, and last, trip back to CONUS since she left in 1898 to join Dewey.

After she was scrapped, Monterey’s bell went on to live a life of its own, installed on Ford Island at Pearl Harbor, from where it witnessed the attack in 1941.

Rear Admiral John D. McDonald, COM 14, and Comdt NOB Pearl Harbor pose with the bell from USS MONTEREY (BM-6) at Pearl Harbor, circa 1924. NH 91356

For years after WWII it was used to ring 8-bells at the golf course and as far as I know, is still there.

The third Monterey (CVL-26) was an Independence-class light carrier built on a cruiser hull during World War II.

USS Monterey (CVL-26) Catapults an F6F Hellcat fighter during operations in the Marianas area, June 1944. Note flight deck numbers, crewmen with catapult bridles, plexiglass bridge windscreen, and pelorus. 80-G-416686

The carrier was perhaps best known as having a navigation officer by the name of Gerald Ford in her complement during the push towards Tokyo.

Photograph of Navigation Officer Gerald Ford Taking a Sextant Reading aboard the USS Monterey, 1944 National Archives Identifier: 6923713

The fourth Monterey (CG-61) is a VLS-equipped Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser that has been with the fleet since 1990 and is still going strong some 30 years later.

U.S. FIFTH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (April 14, 2018) The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) fires a Tomahawk land attack missile in a strike against Syria. (U.S. Navy photo 180414-N-DO281-1123 by Lt. j.g Matthew Daniels/Released)

Specs:

USS MONTEREY (BM-6) Unofficial plans, published in the Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1893. NH 70118

Displacement: 4,084 tons
Length: 260 ft 11 in
Beam: 59 ft
Draft: 14 ft
Machinery: VTE engines, 2 single-ended cylindrical and 4 Ward Tubulous boilers, 2 shafts, 5,250 hp
Speed: 11 knots
Complement: 19 Officers and 176 Enlisted as designed, 218 (1898)
Armor, Harvey:
3 inches on deck
5-13 inch belt
11.5-13 inch barbettes
7.5-8 inch turrets
10-inch CT
Armament:
2 x 12/35″ in one dual turret
2 x 10/30″ in one dual turret
6 x 6-pdrs
4 x 37mm Hotchkiss revolving cannons
2 x 1-pounders
2 x Colt M1895 machine guns (added 1898)
1 x landing gun

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!

Warship Wednesday, March 11, 2020: Flory’s Battle-scarred Bugle

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

Warship Wednesday, March 11, 2020: Flory’s Battle-scarred Bugle

National Records of Scotland, UCS1/118/Gen 372/2

Here we see a vessel identified as the brand-new light cruiser HMS Castor, at the time the flagship of Royal Navy’s 11th Destroyer Flotilla, passing Clydebank, February 1916. A handsome ship, she would very soon sail into harm’s way.

Laid down at Cammell Laird and Co. Birkenhead three months after the war started, Castor was a member of the Cambrian subclass of the 28-strong “C”-class of oil-fired light cruisers. Sturdy 446-foot ships of 4,000~ tons, their eight-pack of Yarrow boilers trunked through two funnels and pushing a pair of Parsons turbines coughed up 40,000 shp– enough to sprint them at 29-knots.

Comparable in size to a smallish frigate today, they packed four single BL 6-inch Mk XII guns along with a more distributed battery of six or eight QF 4-inch Mk IV guns in addition to a pair of bow-mounted 21-inch torpedo tubes. With up to 6-inches of steel armor (conning tower), they could hold their own against similar cruisers, slaughter destroyers, and gunboats, and run away from larger warships.

After just 11 months on the builder’s ways, Castor was commissioned in November 1915, the fourth of HMs vessels to carry the name one of the Gemini twins since 1781.

A port quarter view of the Cambrian class light cruiser HMS Castor (1915) underway off Scapa Flow. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (N16682)

Castor at commissioning became the flagship of the Grand Fleet’s 11th Destroyer Flotilla, which consisted of 14 Admiralty M (Moon)-class destroyers (HMS Kempenfelt, Magic, Mandate, Manners, Marne, Martial, Michael, Milbrook, Minion, Mons Moon, Morning Star, Mounsey, Mystic, and Ossory) under the overall flag of Castor’s skipper since November 1915, Commodore (F) James Rose Price Hawksley. Hawksley had previously spent much of his 19-year RN career up to then as a destroyerman, so it made sense.

With her paint still fresh and her plankowners just off her shakedown, Castor, along with the rest of the mighty Grand Fleet, crashed into the German High Seas Fleet off Denmark’s North Sea Jutland coast, the largest battleship-cruiser-destroyer surface action in history.

While covering the whole Battle of Jutland goes far beyond the scope of this post, we shall focus on Castor’s role and that of her flotilla on the night of the 31st of May. With the day’s fleet action broken up and the two fleets searching for each other in the darkness, the leading German light cruisers brushed into the British rear-guard starboard wing, that being HMS Castor and her destroyers. The official history states:

“At 20:11 hrs., the 11th Flotilla led by Commodore Hawksley, onboard Castor spotted German Destroyers to his NWN and turned to attack, supported by the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron. They had found not destroyers but the main German battle line.”

Castor’s force was soon spotted by the German ships, who approached in the darkness and mimicked the response to a British challenge signal that they had been confronted with, in turn getting one correct out of three challenges. This meant that they were able to approach much closer than usual.

Then, at a range of just 2,000 yards, the German ships threw on their searchlights and opened fire. Castor returned fire, and she and at least two of her destroyers (Marne and Magic), each snap-shotted one torpedo each at the German ships, with the cruiser aiming at the first German in line and the two lead destroyers on the following. “This was followed by an explosion. It may be taken for certain that it was Magic’s torpedo that struck the second ship in the enemy’s line.”

This confused surface action lasted for about five minutes before both sides heeled away into the safety of the black night. Some of the other destroyers reported that they were unable to see the enemy because of glare from Castor’s guns, while others believed there had been some mistake and the contact was friendly fire. No news of the engagement reached Jellicoe in time for him to react with the main battle line.

While her 14 destroyers came away unscathed, Castor received 10 large caliber shell hits, which set her ablaze, and lost 12 of her Sailors and Marines killed or missing.

A photograph was taken from inside the hull of the light cruiser HMS Castor after the Battle of Jutland showing a large shell hole. IWM photograph Q 61137

The dozen killed included bugler Albert Flory, RMLI, who gave his last full measure at the ripe old age of 16.

Marine Albert Flory, RMLI, Castor’s bugler via Royal Marines Museum

Two others among Castor’s dead carried the rank of “Boy,” one generally reserved for apprentice sailors under the age of 18. At the time, about one in 10 of her complement were such modern powder monkeys.

Her death toll overall:

BAKER, William, Boy 1c, J 39706
BARTRAM, Leslie, Able Seaman, J 14191 (Po)
BROOMHEAD, Alfred, Stoker 1c (RFR B 4446), SS 103448 (Po)
CANDY, William A V, Ordinary Signalman, J 28149 (Po)
CHILD, Frederick T, Stoker Petty Officer, 308828 (Po)
EVANS, Alfred O, Ordinary Signalman, J 27451 (Dev)
FLORY, Albert E, Bugler, RMLI, 18169 (Po)
FOX, John E, Stoker 1c, SS 114531 (Po)
GASSON, Harry, Able Seaman (RFR B 6769), 212007 (Po)
HALLAM, Fred, Boy 1c, J 39695
KILHAMS, Alfred J, Ordinary Telegraphist, J 30359 (Po)
MACGREGOR, Donald N, Chief Yeoman of Signals, 173674 (Po)

Added to the butcher’s bill was 26 seriously and 13 lightly wounded.

“H.M.S. Castor, an operation”

HMS Castor. Wounded Received After the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916 painting by Jan (Godfrey Jervis) Gordon. IWM ART 2781 Note from IWM: This scene of British wounded sailors being tended to during the Battle of Jutland is by the artist Jan Gordon. It was one of four paintings completed by Gordon on behalf of the Imperial War Museum’s Royal Navy Medical Section between 1918 and 1919. Gordon’s painting shows the wounded crew members being brought below deck, each bearing a variety of injuries and corresponding treatments.

Castor would spend most of the rest of 1916 and the first part of 1917 undergoing repairs and, as the High Seas Fleet didn’t sortie again until the surrender at Scapa Flow, the remainder of Castor’s war was relatively uneventfully spent on duty in the Home Islands. The most interesting action of this period was when she responded to the sinking armed trawler USS Rehoboth (SP-384) in October 1917, during which the cruiser took on the stricken vessel’s crew and sent the derelict hull to the bottom with shellfire.

On 23 November 1918, she was tasked with counting and watching surrendering German destroyers.

Royal Navy C-class light cruiser HMS Castor, 1918 IWM SP 2750

Hawkesley, Castor’s first skipper, and 11th Flotilla commodore at Jutland would move on to finish the war in command of the battlecruiser HMS Inflexible. He would go on to retire as a Rear Admiral in 1922 in conjunction with the Washington Naval Treaty drawdown, a rank advanced to Vice-Admiral while on the Retired List four years later. He would be replaced on Castor’s bridge by Commodore (F) Hugh Justin Tweedie, a man who would go on to retire as a full admiral in 1935. Sir Hugh would return to service in the early days of WWII, working with the Convoy Pools in his 60s.

Castor, whose 4-inch secondary battery was replaced by a smaller number of AAA guns, is listed as serving in the Black Sea with the British force deployed there for intervention into the broiling Russian Civil War from 1919-20. Such duty could prove deadly. For example, while none of the 28 C-class light cruisers were lost during the Great War– despite several showing up in U-boat periscopes and being present at Jutland and the Heligoland Bight– Castor’s sister Cassandra was sunk by a mine in the Baltic on 5 December 1918 while acting against the Reds.

Castor followed up her Russian stint service on the Irish Patrol in 1922. Then came a spell as the floating Gunnery School at Portsmouth until 1924 when she passed into a period of refit and reserve.

She was recommissioned at Devonport for China Station June 1928, to relieve her sistership Curlew and saw the globe a bit.

HMS Castor at Devonport, where she was commissioned to relieve the Curlew on China Station. NH 61309

HMS Castor, Malta, note her extensive awnings and reduced armament

HMS Castor off New York

HMS Castor, Stockholm

With the times passing and newer cruisers coming on line eating up valuable treaty-limited tonnage, Castor was paid off in May 1935 and sold two months later to Metal Ind, Rosyth, for her value in scrap metal. There has not been a “Castor” on the British naval list since. Most of her early sisters were likewise disposed of in the same manner during this period.

Just half of the class, 14 vessels, made it out of the Depression still in the fleet and most went on to serve in one form or another in the Second World War, despite their advanced age and outdated nature. Of those, six were lost: Curlew, Calcutta, and Coventry to enemy aircraft; Calypso and Cairo to submarines, as well as Curacoa to a collision with the Queen Mary.

Just one C-class cruiser survived past 1948, Jutland veteran Caroline, a past Warship Wednesday alum. Having served as an RNVR drillship in Alexandra Dock, Belfast until 2011, since 2016 she has been a museum ship. She is the last remaining warship that was at Jutland.

Castor’s sister Caroline in Belfast recently, disarmed, decommed, but still proud

When it comes to Castor, a number of relics remain.

Her White Ensign (Length 183 cm, Width 92 cm) is in the IWM collection, although not on display while her (525x 425x30mm) ship’s badge is at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

One of Castor’s unidentified lost souls was finally discovered in 2016, a full century after Jutland.

Able Seaman Harry Gasson‘s body was blown to sea in the engagement and was recovered about two nautical miles off Grey Deep on 25 September 1916– an amazing four months after the battle. With no identification, he was and buried simply as a “British Seaman of the Great War Known unto God” five days later in the Danish town of Esbjerg.

As noted by the MoD:

The local people of Esbjerg maintained the grave for almost 100 years, but it wasn’t until local historians looked into the church records to find it was recorded that the sailor had the name H. Gossom written in his trousers. After work by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and checking naval records, the MOD was able to agree that the identity of this sailor was H. Gasson, and there had been an error in the transcription.

His anonymous headstone was replaced with his correct name in a ceremony attended by two of his descendants along with the ship’s company of the HMS Tyne.

Relatives and representatives from the Royal Navy attend the service on 31 May 2016, for AB Gasson in Denmark (MoD photo)

As for Marine Albert Flory’s shrapnel-riddled bugle, to mark this year’s Bands of HM Royal Marines Mountbatten Festival of Music 2020, the Royal Marine Museum is giving the public the chance to “adopt” it to support the new Royal Marines Museum Campaign.

Flory’s instrument, no doubt close to him when he was struck at Jutland. Via the Royal Marine Museum

Specs:


Displacement: 3,750 tons (designed); 4,320 fl; 4,799 deep load
Length: 446 ft (o/a)
Beam: 41 ft 6 in
Draught: 14 ft 10 in (with Bunkers full, and complete with Provisions, Stores and Water: 16 feet 3 inches mean)
Propulsion: 8 Yarrow Small tube boilers, 2 Parsons steam turbines, 2 shafts, 30,000 shp natural/40,000 Forced Draught
Speed: 28.5 knots max (some hit 29 on trials)
Number of Tons of Oil Fuel Carried: 841
Quantity of Water carried: For Boilers, 70 tons, For Drinking 49.25 tons
Ship’s Company (typical)
Officers: 31
Seamen: 149
Boys: 31
Marines: 36
Engine-room establishment: 88
Other non-executive ratings: 44
Total: 379
Boats:
One motorboat 30 feet
One sailing cutter 30 feet
Two whalers 27 feet, Montague
One gig 30 feet
Two skiff dinghies 16 feet
One motorboat 30 feet for Commodore’s use
Armor:
Waterline belt: 1.5–3 in
Deck: 1 in
Conning tower: 6 in
Armament:
(1915)
4 x single BL 6″/45 Mk XII guns on Forecastle, Forward superstructure, Aft Forward superstructure and Quarterdeck
6 x single QF 4″/40 Mk IV guns
1 x single QF 4 in 13 pounder Mk V anti-aircraft gun
2 x 21-inch (533 mm) submerged torpedo tubes, typically with eight Mark IV Torpedoes
(1919)
4 x single BL 6″/45 Mk XII guns
2 x QF 3-inch 20 cwt IV on Mark IV AAA mounting on foc’sle
2 x QF 2 pole Pom-pom AAA on the aft superstructure
2 x 21-inch (533 mm) submerged torpedo tubes, typically with eight Mark IV Torpedoes

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Battlewagon in the anti-ship missile age, 29 years ago today

While primitive guided bombs and missiles were fielded in WWII (see = the U.S. Navy’s SWOD-9 Bat and the sinking of the Italian battleship Roma in 1943 by an air-launched Fritz X) it wasn’t until the P-15 Termit (NATO: SS-N-2 Styx) was developed by the Soviets in 1958 that a reliable surfaced-launched anti-ship missile was fielded. Soon answered in the West by the Swedish Saab Rb 08 and Israeli Gabriel in the 1960s, then by more advanced platforms such as Exocet and Harpoon, such weapons replaced coastal artillery batteries as well as surfaced-launched torpedos as the principal means for asymmetric forces to effect a “kill” on a capital ship.

Likewise, the age of the dreadnought and large all-gun-armed cruiser was fading at the same time.

The four Iowa-class fast battleships were mothballed in 1958 (but, of course, New Jersey would be brought back for a tour in Vietnam while all four would be returned to service in the 1980s for the Cold War– more on that later) while the British retired HMS Vanguard in 1960 while the Soviets had gotten out of the battlewagon biz in the late 1950s after their Italian trophy ship Novorossiysk (ex-Giulio Cesare) blew up and their circa 1911 Gangut-class “school battleships” finally gave up the ghost. The French held on to Jean Bart until 1970, although she had been in reserve since after the Suez affair in 1956.

With that, it was no surprise that when the quartet of Iowas was reactivated in the 1980s to play a role in Reagan’s 600-ship Navy, they were “modernized” with 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from eight funky four-shot armored box launchers as well as 16 Harpoon anti-ship missiles in place of some of their WWII-era retired AAA gun mounts. In a nod to the facts, the missiles all out-ranged the battleships’ gun armament.

Fast forward to the 1st Gulf War and Mighty Mo, USS Missouri (BB-63), chunked 28 Tomahawks and 783 rounds of 16-inch shells at Saddam’s forces while dodging a Persian Gulf filled with naval mines of all flavors– as well as the occasional anti-ship missile counterfire.

16-inch (410 mm) guns fired aboard the battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) as night shelling of Iraqi targets takes place along the northern Kuwaiti coast during Operation Desert Storm. Date 6 February 1991. Photo by PH3 Dillon. DN-ST-91-09306

As for Missouri, the Iowas were not able to carry Sea Sparrow point defense launchers as they could not be shock-hardened to deal with the vibration from the battleship’s main guns, so they had an air defense provided by soft kill countermeasures such as chaff, decoys, and ducks; along with a quartet of CIWS 20mm Phalanx guns and five Stinger MANPAD stations– meaning a modern anti-ship missile would have to be killed either by an escort or at very close range. Good thing the Iowas had as much as 19.5-inches of armor plate!

While closing in with the enemy-held coastline to let her 16s reach out and touch someone on 23 February 1991, Missouri came in-range of a battery of shore-based Chinese-made CSS-C-2 Silkworm anti-ship missiles. One missed while the second was intercepted by Sea Darts from a nearby screening destroyer, the Type 42-class HMS Gloucester (D96). The intercepted Silkworm splashed down about 700 yards from Missouri.

USS Missouri under Attack by Iraqi Silkworm Painting, Oil on Canvas Board; by John Charles Roach; 1991; Framed Dimensions 28H X 34W Accession #: 92-007-U
Official caption: “While providing gunfire support to harass the Iraqi troops in Kuwait in preparation for a possible amphibious landing, USS Missouri (BB-63) was fired upon by an Iraqi Silkworm anti-ship missile. By the use of infrared flares and chaff, the missile’s guidance was confused. It crossed close astern of Missouri and was engaged and shot down by HMS Gloucester (D-96).”

The AP reported at the time:

Royal Navy Commander John Tighe told reporters two Sea Dart missiles were fired by the Gloucester less than 50 seconds after the ship’s radar detected the incoming Iraqi missiles at about 5 a.m.

Tighe said one Sea Dart scored a direct hit, destroying the Iraqi missile. He said a second missile launched by the Iraqis veered into the sea.

The commander said allied airplanes subsequently attacked the Silkworm missile launch site. He said that while he had not received a battle damage assessment, he was ″fairly confident that site will not be used to launch missiles against the ships again.”

Missouri did take some damage that day, from CIWS rounds fired by the escorting frigate USS Jarrett (FFG-33), which had locked on to one of the battleship’s chaff clouds and opened fire. One sailor was wounded by 20mm DU shrapnel.

Today, battleships left the Naval List for the final time in 1995 and all that made it that far are preserved as museums. The missiles, however, endure.

Boris to save HMS Hermes?

As we have covered in the past few weeks, the former WWII vintage Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12), late of the Indian Navy, recently went up for auction and received zero bids. The former Falklands War conflict flagship, which had her hull laid in 1944, is the last of her kind and gave 59 hard years to the Admiralties of London and New Delhi, and it would be a shame to send her to the breakers.

Now, according to the UK’s Sunday Express, PM Boris Johnson may have reached out to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an attempt to bring the ship home.

Downing Street has declined to comment on whether Mr Johnson raised the issue in the conversation which is mostly kept private.

But Mr Campbell Bannerman, who has helped lead the campaign along with Falklands veteran Andy Trish, said: “We believe Boris intervened but haven’t been able to have it confirmed.

“It is good news though that for whatever reason HMS Hermes can still be saved.

“We can raise more money from private backers than the Indian government would receive for turning it into scrap. It is very important that we keep some of our naval heritage and history for future generations to see.”

We will keep you posted.

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