Tag Archive | classic warship

Warship Wednesday Jan 22, 2020: Oh, Mr. Volstead, what have you done?

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

Warship Wednesday, Jan 22, 2020: Oh, Mr. Volstead, what have you done?

U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Here we see, a U.S. Coast Guard Loening OL-5L seaplane flying majestically over a pair of new-built 75-foot “six-bitter” patrol boats, likely around 1927 off Glouchester, Mass. While the Coasties only operated three OL-5s, they went much bigger on the contract for the 75-footers.

The so-called “noble experiment” that was perhaps always doomed to fail, Congressman Andrew Volstead’s championed 18th Amendment, which survived President Woodrow Wilson’s veto to bring about an official prohibition on liquor from sea to shining sea, became the law of the land on 17 January 1920– 100 years ago this month.

However, all it did was spark a new war, the so-called Rum War, which pitted federal law enforcement against often international smugglers and criminal syndicates of all sizes. Increasingly, this forerunner of the War on Drugs became an actual military campaign.

That’s where the Coast Guard came in.

Charged with policing “Rum Row,” the line of booze-laden ships parked just off the international limit with all the best Canadian whiskey, Cuban rum and bottles of European hootch rushed to the thirsty market, the USCG was rapidly expanded to sever the link between this liquor line and coastal bootleggers in fast boats, fishing luggers and skiffs. Some 10 million quarts of liquor left Nassau alone in 1922, headed to points West.

To do this, the service was loaned a whole fleet of mothballed Navy destroyers (20), subchasers (21) and Eagle boats (5) leftover from the Great War as well as being granted a sweeping raft of new construction. Between 1924 and 1926, the USCG doubled in size from 5,900 to 10,000 uniformed personnel, a manning crisis that caused the Coast Guard Academy to switch to a two-year program to speed up the pipeline for new officers.

The largest group of new vessels, at least in terms of hulls and manpower to sail them, were the 203 “cabin cruiser-style” patrol boats that are the subject of our tale.

At 75-feet overall length, these humble craft became known in service as “six-biters.”

“Old 75-foot patrol boat.” Photo No. 34363; photo dated 15 February 1928; photo by Joseph N. Pearce. USCG Historian’s office

Equipped with two 6-cylinder gasoline engines, they could make 15.7 knots with their powerplant wide open and sortie out for about a week or so until their eight-man crew ran out of groceries or the 1,000-gallon fuel tank started sounding hollow.

Initially, they were to be armed with a single 3″/23 caliber gun, considered good enough to fire a warning shot across the bow of a bootlegger. However, to save weight, these patrol craft instead were equipped with a single-shot one-pounder 37mm gun of about 1898 vintage. Nevertheless, the go-to weapons for their crews were small arms.

CG-222

To speed things up, these patrol boats were mass-produced in 1924 and 1925 by nearly 20 yards, both public and private, simultaneously with hull prices running between $18,000 and $26,000 per vessel. Their construction, of white oak frames and keel with fir and yellow pine planking and bulwarks, ensured their short lifespan but quick construction.

CG-283, note her crew hailing a ship forward

They were built to a design finalized by noted yacht maker John Trumpy. With simply too many cutters to name, they were numbered CG-100 through CG-302 and delivered on an average of four to five cutters per week.

Via U.S. Coast Guard Cutters and Craft of WWII by Dr. Robert Schenia.

The boats soon swarmed the coastline from Maine to the Florida Keys, along the Gulf Coast, and from Seattle down to San Diego while others served on the Great Lakes.

Six-Bitters and Destroyers at New London, 1926

SIx-Bitters tied up at Base 7 in Gloucester, 1928, NARA

The renewed offensive on booze escalated as the development forced the slower bootleggers, in other words, the part-timers using trawlers and sailboats, dropped out of the business and left the heavy lifting to professional, and increasingly armed and squirrely smugglers.

Six-Bitters out of Base 7 at Gloucester, 1928, NARA

Six-Bitters leaving Base 7 at Gloucester, 1928 NARA

In one incident, with the Liberty-engined fast craft Black Duck and the 75-foot cutter CG-290, the bootlegger zigged when they should have zagged while blasting away from the slow patrol boat and got a blast of Lewis gun in the boathouse, killing two rumrunners and wounding another two.

Another incident, between the six-bitter CG-249 and the motorboat V-13997 while en route to Bimini, left the cutter’s skipper, BM Sidney Sanderlin, killed in a one-way shootout and two other Coasties wounded. In a sign of the times, the master of V-139977 who pulled the trigger was captured and later hung at the Fort Lauderdale Coast Guard station.

“Fort Lauderdale, Sec. Base Six, Dec. 6, 1926, The Commandant looking over the latest capture.” Photo No. B-6/4, #21; 1926; photographer unknown.

“U.S. Coast Guard 75-ft. Patrol Boat CG-262 towing into San Francisco Harbor her prizes, the tug ELCISCO and barge REDWOOD CITY, seized for violation of U.S. Customs laws.” Photo No. CPI-02-24-27 GEN.; 1927; photographer unknown.

These cutters of course also contributed to traditional USCG missions such as search and rescue and fisheries enforcement. In fact, once Prohibition was repealed in 1933, it became their primary tasking. This led to 52 of the vessels being quickly passed to the Army, Navy, and USC&GS for use as dispatch boats for coastal defense batteries, district patrol craft (YPs) and survey ships.

Coast Guard boat CG-139 at Boston June 1929, Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Coast Guard boat CG-242 at Boston 1928, note her 1-pounder. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Others suffered losses while in service. CG-114 was lost at sea in 1925 only weeks after she was completed. The “Great Miami” hurricane in September 1926 wrecked CG-247 and CG-248. A similar cyclone in 1928 claimed CG-188. CG-111, CG-113, CG-256, and CG-243 were lost in fires, groundings or collisions. C-245 went down in unexpected heavy seas within view of El Morro Fortress in 1935. CG-102, which at the time was serving as YP-5 with the Navy, accidentally caught a practice torpedo in 1938 and sank.

Yet others were sold off for their value as scrap.

By 1941 when the Coast Guard was chopped to the Navy’s service, Only 36 were still on the USCG’s list, although six that had previously been sold to the public were re-acquired and put back to use.

CG-172 at Key West in 1942, note her .50 caliber water-cooled gun in addition to her 1-pdr and dark scheme

As an update with the times and to acknowledge they were intended to fight U-boats and Japanese submarines, the lingering six-bitters picked up a 20mm/80 Oerlikon AAA gun or .50 caliber machine gun forward, and two depth charge racks aft. Likewise, most received QBE sonar listening sets and BK detection radars late in the war. They were used for inshore convoy escort, coastal anti-submarine patrol and port security duties.

During the war, CG-74327, one of the renumbered six-bitters who started life as CG-211, was sunk in a collision with the Tench-class submarine USS Thornback (SS-418) of Portsmouth in November 1944, claiming the life of BM2 Ireneus K. Augustynowicz. CG-152, as YP-1947, similarly sank in a collision while in Navy service in 1943. CG-267, stationed in Guam in 1941 as YP-16, was scuttled to prevent capture by the Japanese. Sistership CG-275, serving at Guam as YP-17, was scuttled but later salvaged and used by the Japanese. 

By 1946, the smattering of six-bitters still in the Navy and USCG service was transferred to MARAD and sold off. Many of the 75-foot craft went on to endure for another couple decades as yachts, fishing vessels, houseboats, and research ships. I cannot find an example of one that was still afloat today.

Still, the legacy of the rowdy wooden six-bitters is today upheld by the Coast Guard’s 87-foot Marine Protector-class patrol boats.

Specs:

(Coast Guard Historian’s Office)

Displacement: 37 tons designed, 42 tons (1945)
Length: 74.9 feet
Beam: 13.75 feet
Draft: 3.6 feet as designed, 5 feet (1945)
Machinery: Sterling 6cyl gas engines, 400 SHP, twin screws
Speed: 15.7 designed, although some made 17 when new.
Crew: 8 as designed, 13 in 1945
Armament:
1 x 37mm 1-pounder as designed, small arms
1x 20mm/80cal and/or 12.7mm machine gun, 2 depth charge racks in WWII.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday Jan 15, 2020: TF38 Running Amok in the South China Sea

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

Warship Wednesday, Jan 15, 2020: TF38 Running Amok in the South China Sea

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 89378

Here we see, 75 years ago today, the last seconds of the No.1-class landing ship T-14 of the Imperial Japanese Navy after it was sunk by U.S. Navy carrier strike planes in Takao Harbor, Formosa. Note the dramatic concussion ring on the water around the ship.

Under the command of VADM John S. “Slew” McCain Sr, Task Force 38 was organized into four fast carrier task groups (one of those specializing in night fighting). All in all, the force consisted of a whopping 14 fleet and light carriers, embarking around 900 aircraft, and were supported by 8 battleships, 16 cruisers of all sorts, and 68 destroyers. It rightfully could have taken on any circa-1939 navy in the world and won.

And for just under two weeks in January 1945, it absolutely owned the South China Sea in what was termed Operation Gratitude.

Sailing from Ulithi, they plastered Formosa, carried the war to Japanese-occupied French Indochina, raided occupied Hong Kong and Southern China, then departed towards the Philipines.

On 15 January alone, in addition to T-14 above, aircraft from TF 38 sent the tanker Harima Maru, the Kamikaze-class destroyer Hatakaze, the cargo ship Horei Maru, the armed fleet tanker Mirii Maru, and the Momi-class destroyer Tsuga to the bottom. Not bad for a day’s work– and it was a busy week!

A large Japanese cargo ship settles by the bow after she was torpedoed by U.S. Navy carrier planes off Cape St. Jacques, French Indo-China, 12 January 1945. Waves from a torpedo hit in her port bow have not yet subsided. Taken from a USS ESSEX plane. NH 95787

Dockyard hit bombs are shown hitting Taikoo Dock Yard, Hong Kong, China. 16 January 1945. They are from planes of Vice Admiral John S. McCain’s Fast Carrier Task Force. Note the fires in the foreground. Stiff Anti-Aircraft fire was encountered. NH 121586

This photo shows Hong Kong harbor, Hong Kong, China under attack by planes from an Essex Class Carrier of Vice Admiral John S. McCain’s Fast Carrier Task Force. Bombs can be seen hitting ships on the left of the photo. Smoke pours up from several places along the waterfront. The Dock Yard was one of the targets for that day. 16 January 1945 NH 121588

Saigon River Front, French Indochina, Caption: Ships and installations afire after aerial attack by carrier-based planes of US Pacific fleet, 12 January 1945. Taken by plane from USS TICONDEROGA (CV-14) #: 80-G-301944

Saigon River Front, French Indochina, Caption: Ships and installations afire after aerial attack by carrier-based planes of US Pacific fleet, 12 January 1945. Taken by plane from USS TICONDEROGA (CV-14) #: 80-G-301944

In all, TF38 sank no less than 49 enemy ships between 9 January and 16 January. This works out to something on the order of 300,000 tons of Japanese shipping, including the core of the Empire’s remaining tankers– ships vital to carry on the war– and shot down some 600 land-based aircraft that rose to meet them.

The most curious of the Japanese warships sunk was IJN No. 101 the former RN minesweeper HMS Taitam (J210) which had been captured in Hong Kong in 1941 while still under construction.

In return, TF 38 lost 200 carrier aircraft, half of those to accidents flying in horrible conditions, but suffered no vessels sunk.

And yet, the question of Japanese surrender would linger unanswered for another seven months.

If you like this post and other Warship Wednesdays, please check out the INRO.

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday Jan 8, 2020: Maru Floatplane Carriers

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

Warship Wednesday, Jan 8, 2020: Maru Floatplane Carriers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another view of the same

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

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

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

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

Their tail codes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kamikawa Maru, with a deck chock full of planes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another view of the same

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specs:


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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday) Jan 2, 2020: One Tough Russian

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 (on a Thursday) Jan 2, 2020: One Tough Russian

Here we see, under what looks like an albatross circling, the gently listing Petropavlovsk-class battleship Sevastopol of the Imperial Russian Navy in early December 1904. The olive drab warship is terrain masking as best she could in besieged Port Arthur to avoid the Japanese Army’s 11-inch howitzer shells which had sent all the rest of the Tsar’s Pacific battlewagons to the bottom. She would enter 1905 as the sole combat-ready Russian battleship still afloat on that side of the globe– only to fight her last on 2 January, some 115 years ago today.

At 11,500-tons (standard), the trio of Petropavlovsk were essentially improved versions of the previous one-off Sissoi Veliky and Tri Sviatitelia-class battleships.

Russian Petropavlovsk-class battleship Poltava fitting out in Kronstadt, 1900 

Packing four 12″/40 (30.5 cm) Pattern 1895 Obukhov guns in a pair of twin hydraulic turrets forward and aft, which had a two-minute firing cycle between rounds, they also carried a secondary armament of eight 6″/45cal guns in four twin mounts (rather than casemates as commonly seen around the world).

Imperial Russian battleships Poltava and Sevastopol in Kronshtadt, 1899 under construction–note the turrets being constructed

Imperial Russian battleship Sevastopol in Kronshtadt, September 1900

Topping the cake was something on the order of 40 37mm and 47mm anti-torpedo boat guns and a half-dozen torpedo tubes. Armor was an impressive mix that ran up to 16-inches thick. Speed, just 15.3 knots on 16 coal-fired boilers and a pair of VTE engines, was typical of the era.

Russian battleships Poltava and Sevastopol in Kronshtadt, September 1900. Note the myriad of 37mm and 47mm light guns slathered throughout the ship from fighting tops to decks

Petropavlovsk and her sister, Sevastopol, were laid down at the Galerny Island Shipyard in St. Petersburg while the third ship of the class, Poltava, was laid down at the city’s Admiralty Yard at the tail-end of the 19th Century. All were named after famous Russian battles, with our featured ship honoring the epic 11-month Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War.

Commissioned 15 July 1900 after a second set of builder’s trials– during which she made 16.41 knots– Sevastopol was dispatched to join the rest of her class in the Pacific where the Russians were hedging in on Korea and Manchuria, much to the heartburn of the Japanese Empire.

From 1900 to the beginning of 1904 the Petropavlovsk-class vessels carried a Far East scheme that included white sides, turrets, deckhouses, masts, and fans with black-capped yellow stacks and gilded bow and stern decorations. This would later switch during the Russo-Japanese War to an all-over dark olive-green and black.

Sevastopol photographed at Algiers in 1901 while en route to the Russian base at Port Arthur where she was scuttled in 1905. Courtesy of J. Meister, Zurich Switzerland, 1975 NH 81876

Battleships Sevastopol and Petropavlovsk (in the background) in Vladivostok, August 1901

Russian battleships Sevastopol, Poltava, and Petropavlovsk in Port Arthur, 1903

The Balloon Goes Up

When Port Arthur was attacked by the Japanese in the opening act of the war on the night of 8/9 February 1904, the Russians had their fleet in three lines anchored in the outer harbor.

The innermost line included Sevastopol and her sisters Petropavlovsk (fleet flagship) and Poltava along with the two similar 15,000-ton Peresvet-class battleships Peresvet and Pobieda. The middle line included the new battleships Tsarevich and Retvizan as well as several cruisers. In all, seven Russian battlewagons swaying at anchor in a “peacetime” Pacific port. (Similarly, at Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. had seven along Battleship Row as well as the dreadnought Pennsylvania in dry dock.)

Within 20 minutes, three flotillas of Japanese destroyers swept in, delivered their fish, and slipped out to sea, suffering no casualties. The middle line took the worst of it with both Retvizan and Tsarevich taking torpedoes and having to run aground to prevent a total loss.

Japanese Ukiyo-E woodblock art depiction, “Illustration of Our Torpedo Hitting Russian Ship at Great Naval Battle of Port Arthur” by Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1904

Japanese Ukiyo-E woodblock art depiction by Toshihide Migita of the torpedo ship attack, Port Arthur

Nonetheless, the undamaged Russian ships stood to the next morning and engaged Japanese Adm. Togo’s squadron in a 40-minute battle that was a tactical draw in the respect that it left the status quo with the Russians in Port Arthur and the Japanese in control of the water outside the range of the base’s coastal guns.

Print shows Japanese battleships bombarding Russian battleships in the surprise initial naval assault on the Russian fleet at Lüshun (Port Arthur) 1904

During the said engagement, Sevastopol fired 10 12-inch and 65 6-inch shells at the Japanese with no reported hits, taking three small hits in return which caused little damage.

Sevastopol. This photograph might possibly have been taken at Port Arthur on the Yellow Sea during the early stages of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, after the opening engagement but before she got her olive drab paint. Courtesy of J. Meister, Zurich Switzerland, 1975 NH 81875

Togo next decided to try and bottle up the Russian fleet in Port Arthur by sinking old merchant ships, manned by volunteer IJN crews, in the approach channel. Said one-way volunteers would be plucked from their doomed ships by accompanying torpedo boats.

The first attempt, with four blockships– Bushu Maru, Buyo Maru, Hokoku Maru, and Jinsen Maru-– took place on the night of 24/25 February and but was unsuccessful after the grounded battleship Retvizan caught the lead ship in her searchlights and plastered it.

Second attempt to block Port Arthur, 27 March 1904 William Lionel Wylie RMG PV0976

The second attempt was in the early morning of 27 March and, like the first, involved four blockships: the Chiyo Maru, Fukui Maru, Yahiko Maru, and Yoneyama Maru. The whole thing fell apart when Fukui Maru was spotted and promptly sunk by the patrolling Russian destroyer Silnyii well short of the outer harbor and the other three condemned steamers scuttled too far out to fill their intended role.

Blockade of Port Arthur by Hannosuke Kuroki 1904

A third attempt was made a few weeks later using a doubled force of eight blockships– but this was also unsuccessful and cost the lives of more than 70 of the volunteers who rode them to the bottom.

It was roughly at this point that Sevastopol’s skipper, Capt. Nikolai Chernyshev, was relieved by the newly-installed squadron commander, Russian Vice Adm. Stephan Makarov, after the battleship had a collision with Peresvet that was ruled Chernyshev’s fault during a rushed inquiry. The career officer was sent back to St. Petersburg on one of the last trains out of the fortress and would be found dead in his apartment the same week the Treaty of Portsmouth formally ended the Russo-Japanese War, aged 48.

Relieving Chernyshev was the commander of the fast cruiser Novik, Capt. Nicholas von Essen, from an esteemed Baltic German family with a long history of service to the Tsar. Although the crack up between the two battleships left one of Sevastopol’s rudders and screws damaged, an ersatz repair was able to semi-fix the warship enough to consider her still fit for service.

Makarov, who was seen by the Russians as essentially their equivalent of Chester Nimitz, led the patched up Russian squadron on a patrol out of Port Arthur on 13 April, with his flag on Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol just to her stern.

However, Petropavlovsk stumbled across as many as three unmarked Russian mines (!) and sank in about a minute with the loss of 646 lives, to include the good admiral and Russian combat artist Vasily Vereshchagin.

A Japanese Ukiyo-E depiction by artist Yasuda Hampō of the sinking of Petropavlovsk. The original caption reads: “Picture of the Eighth Attack on Port Arthur. The Flagship of Russia Was Destroyed by the Torpedo of Our Navy and Admiral Makaroff [sic] Drowned.” Photo via Museum of Fine Art, Boston

“The Russian battleship Petropvavlask sinks as Adm. Makarov stands bravely on deck”

“Faith, Tsar, and Fatherland 1905 Forgotten War” by Pavel Viktorovich Ryzhenko showing Russian military artist Vasili Verestchagin aboard battleship Petropavlovsk with Admiral Makarov just before it sank. I love the sailors in the background.

Among the 89 survivors from Petropavlask plucked from the water was Lt. Grand Duke Kirill (Cyril) Vladimirovich, the Tsar’s first cousin and the man who would go on to be the pretender to the Romanov throne in exile from 1924 until his death in 1938, a position his granddaughter continues to style today. Kirill would suffer from burns, back injuries, and PTSD for the rest of his life.

Sevastopol, along with the rest of the squadron, was able to return to port after the loss of her sister.

Under newly promoted and deeply fatalistic Rear Adm. Wilgelm Vitgeft (aka Withief), the fleet at Port Arthur was ordered to sortie from the doomed base to the relative safety of Vladivostok to the North, fighting their way through Togo if they had to.

Sailing out on 10 June with six battleships, seven cruisers, and six destroyers, they made it some 20 miles outside of the port before the clashed– briefly– with Togo’s slightly smaller force (four battleships and 12 cruisers) and turned tail.

On re-entering the port, Sevastopol was hit by another unmarked mine and suffered 11 wounded.

Russian naval mines of the 1904 era were not that much more advanced than the black powder Jacobi mines of the Crimean War, a design that predated Farragut’s damnation in the Civil War. Nonetheless, they worked. The Russo-Japanese war experience led the Russkis to develop the M08 mine shortly after, one that is still used extensively today.

Russian naval mines on the beach on the east coast of Heishakow, Port Arthur 1905. In addition to Japanese mines, the loss or the Russian minelayer Yenisei, struck one of her own devices two days after the war began while laying an unmarked minefield, would haunt the Russian fleet. NH 94783

Japanese sailors inspect captured Russian sea mines during the Russo-Japanese War. The IJN lost the battleships Hatsuse and Yashima, the cruisers Miyako, Saien and Takasago; auxiliary cruiser Otagawa Maru, the destroyers Akatsuki and Hayatori, blockship Aikoku Maru, the torpedo boat No. 48, gunboat Heien, transport Maiko Maru, and corvette Kaimon to mines during the conflict. Photo via USNI photo archive

Left with a 12×14-foot hole in her hull and a 5-degree list, Sevastopol went to the port’s naval yard once again for repairs. It was during this period that a few of her 6-inch and most of her light guns (37mm Maxims and 47mm Hotchkiss) were removed to be installed ashore, manned by her gunners. One of her 12-inch guns was cannibalized to repair a similar one that had been damaged on Poltava.

Six-inch naval gun in a Russian hillside battery commander seated at left Port Arthur, LC-DIG-ppmsca-07978

The Beginning of the End

The hourglass was upended on Port Arthur on 1 August when the fortress city was cut off from the rest of Asia on land by the Japanese Army. With no more trains or supply columns, fresh troops or stock coming, and the port blockaded by the Japanese fleet applied against a single point, Port Arthur was withering on the vine for the next 154 days as the world watched.

Sevastopol was ready for action again by the end of July and fell in with the squadron once more for Vitgeft’s second attempt to break out on 10 August. The flag officer, in a meeting with his commanders before the sortie, reportedly told the assembled as they departed, “Gentlemen, we will meet again in the next world.”

Proving himself correct, the mission saw the unlucky admiral killed on the bridge of his battleship Tsarevich and most of the force– except for the battered Tsarevich herself which made for neutral Chinese shelter along with a trio of German-made destroyers— returned to Port Arthur a final time. In that lengthy (10 hours) running fight, known today as the Battle in the Yellow Sea, Sevastopol fired 78 12-inch and 323 6-inch shells and was hit twice by Japanese shells in return, causing 61 casualties.

With the likelihood of breakout evaporating, the fleet then turned to provide extra hands for the shrinking siege lines in the hills to fight off Gen. Baron Nogi Maresuke’s entire Third Japanese Army. Mobilizing nearly half of her crew to serve ashore in an ersatz infantry company, Sevastopol’s bluejackets were given rifles and cartridge belts and sent packing.

Imperial Russian battleship Sevastopol in Port-Arthur, 1904, with her crew sending off a scratch naval battalion armed with Mosin M91 rifles. Note, she now has an olive drab scheme. 

Still, Sevastopol, by then a battered and half-manned floating war engine, shuttled around the harbor and provided direct gunfire support in late August, during which she exchanged fire with the Japanese armored cruisers Nissin and Kasuga. Once again, she struck a mine, which put her in repair until October.

It was while she was the Navy Yard that the Japanese had begun to bombard the base and its defenses with over a dozen Armstrong-designed 11-inch (280mm) L/10 howitzers which had been pulled from the coastal defenses of Tokyo Bay and manhandled to the fortress. Each of the behemoths fired 478-pound AP shells to a range of nearly 5-miles.

Enormous 11-inch shell from Japanese siege gun, beginning its deadly flight into Port Arthur LC-USZ62-67825

Drydock in Port Arthur Navy Yard showing cruiser Bayan and Sevastopol under fire from Japanese 11-inch howitzers, likely in October. Courtesy of Mrs. John B. McDonald, September 15, 1966. NH 111897

Hit by five such shells while in repair, Sevastopol’s deck was reinforced with a layer of sandbags and slag under a cover of an inch of plate steel. Such up-armored, the battered Russian was able to clock back in and provide counter-battery fire throughout November.

However, once the Japanese on 3 December seized control of the strategic key to Port Arthur, 203 Meter Hill, which commanded the harbor itself, and with a gunfire support team atop the crest directing fire, it was game over for the Russian fleet.

Destroying Russian ships and town terrific rain of great Japanese shells in Port Arthur, LC-DIG-ppmsca-07969

On 5 December, Sevastopol’s remaining sistership Poltava was hit by plunging howitzer shells and suffered a magazine explosion, sinking her to the mud of Port Arthur.

The Russian pre-dreadnought battleship Poltava sunk at Port Arthur as a result of bombardment by Japanese land-based artillery during the siege of Port Arthur (December 1904). She would later be salvaged and put into service with the Japanese then repatriated to Russia in 1915 and be finally scrapped in the Baltic in the 1920s. 

The next day, Retvizan was pounded to the bottom.

Port Arthur, 1905 Russian battleship Retvizan sunk by Japanese 11-inch howitzers shallow water

On 7 December, Peresvet and Pobeda went.

Russian Peresvet Class Pre-Dreadnought Battleship IRN Pobeda under intense Japanese artillery fire at Port Arthur on December 6th, 1904.

On 8 December, the cruiser Pallada was destroyed.

Destroying a fleet — battleship Pallada struck by a 500 lb. Japanese shell — Port Arthur harbor via LOC LC-USZ62-68822

On the 9th, the cruiser Bayan joined the butcher’s list. The minelayer Amur and gunboat Bobr followed.

Port Arthur from the top of Gold Hill in 1905. From the left wrecks of battleships Peresvet, Poltava, Retvizan, Pobeda and the cruiser Pallada

The Final Act

After the first week or so of December, Sevastopol and a retinue of small ships were all that was left of the once-mighty Russian Pacific force in Port Arthur. Though missing some of her armament and still suffering damage from two mines, a collision, five 11-inch hits and a dozen from smaller 8- and 6-inch naval guns, she was still the only combat-effective Russian capital ship available.

Therefore, Essen, with his ground-fighting sailors repatriated back from the frozen trenches to their floating steel home, fought the last naval battle for Port Arthur from 10 December onward, with the big howitzers firing another 300 rounds indirectly at the theorized location of the Russian ship in a real-life game of Battleship without success, forcing the Japanese navy to tap back into the fight.

A fleet in being, although trapped, the Sevastopol and her escorts pinned down the bulk of the Japanese fleet for the rest of the year.

As described in Richard Connaughton’s Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: Russia’s War with Japan:

Von Essen, formerly captain of the Novik, placed Sevastopol in the roadstead at the southern end of Tiger’s Tail behind a hill that shielded her from 203 Meter Hill. She was protected by an anti-torpedo boom and a small, hurrying, anxious destroyer flotilla. Wave after wave of Japanese destroyers sped in to release no fewer than 124 torpedoes in six successive attacks against the luckless target. For three weeks, Essen survived…

Sevastopol repulsing a night attack. Painting by A.V. Ganzena

In the series of attacks, the Russian force sank at least two Japanese torpedo boats, No. 53 and No. 42, and damaged as many as 13 other vessels. Meanwhile, the protected cruiser Takasago was sent to the bottom on 13 December when she struck a mine while shepherding the small attack craft, with a loss of 273 of her crew.

It was downright embarrassing to Togo that, even after the Army had dismantled the Russian squadron piecemeal, his force still could not shut the lid on its coffin.

Finally, it was all for naught as Gen. Baron Anatoly Stessel (Stoessel), the Russian commander at Port Arthur, moved to surrender his force on New Year’s Day 1905, without consulting his shocked staff. Apparently, while in a tactically bad position, the besieged base could have held out much longer in theory.

From W. Bruce Lincoln’s, In War’s Dark Shadow:

When they entered Port Arthur, the Japanese expected to find a handful of desperate defenders short of weapons, ammunition, and food. Not counting doctors, nurses and noncombatants, they found 13,485 able-bodied men, another 5,809 suffering from scurvy or minor wounds, and 13,856 who were in the hospital or on light duty because of wounds or serious illness. There were over 600 pieces of artillery still in good order, over 200,000 shells still unfired, and about 2.5 million rounds of machine gun and rifle ammunition. There were tons of food and fodder: flour for 27 days, groats for another 23 days, beans and lentils for 34 days, and dried vegetables for 88 days. There were nearly 200 days’ worth of salt and tea. Most amazing of all, perhaps, there was 2,944 horses in the fortress, enough to supply the garrison with fresh meat for many days to come in view of the large quantities of fodder remaining. With their sense of honor that drove them to fight to the death for their Emperor, the Japanese were dumbfounded.

Of note, Stessel was later court marshaled and sentenced to death by a Russian military tribunal, although his sentence was eventually commuted.

Just before the Nogi’s forces moved into Port Arthur on 2 January, the last of the Russian fleet in the harbor pulled a Toulon 1942 and scuttled. These included the Puilki-class destroyers Storozhevoi, Silni, and Razyashchi; the Delfin-class destroyers Bditelni and Boevoi; the gunboats Djigit, Guidamak, Guidamak and Razboinik; and the battered but not broken Sevastopol.

Von Essen, with a crew of 50, moved the ship to the deepest water available to him, 30 fathoms, and opened her seacocks after passing the word to dog closed only the portside watertight doors. This caused the ship to keel over starboard and sink by the stern in about 15 minutes. Notably, while the Japanese were able to raise and ultimately repair all the Russian battleships sunk at Port Arthur (apart from the shattered Petropavlovsk) Sevastopol was declared a loss and not salvaged.

In all, some 507 of Sevastopol’s crew and 31 of her officers, to include Von Essen, were captured by the Japanese, bringing their ship’s battle flag with them.

Russian sailors from the wrecked battleships – surrendered prisoners of war in Port Arthur. LC-USZ62-11832

Stossel and Makarov over Nogi and Togo on the cover of The Sphere, 115 years ago this month. Makarov was, of course, already long dead when this was published while Stossel would live under a commuted death sentence until 1915. As for Nogi, grieving for the loss of more than 14,000 of his men on the costly Port Arthur campaign– including his eldest son– he would commit ritual suicide in 1912 upon the death of the Emperor. Notably, Nogi after the war spent most of his personal wealth on the construction of memorials to both the Russian and Japanese soldiers of the 1904 campaign. Togo, Japan’s most decorated naval officer of all time, died of throat cancer in 1934, aged 86, and is still seen as “The Nelson of the Pacific.”

Essen would go on to be appointed commander of the Baltic Sea fleet during the first part of WWI before he died of pneumonia and today a frigate in the modern Russian Navy carries his name.

The Sevastopol’s Port Arthur St. Andrew’s flag remains in the Russian Navy’s collection to this day, housed in the building of the Naval Cadet Corps.

Via Ocean-Magazine.ru

The name Sevastopol went on to be used both on a Gangut-class battleship that served in both WWI and WWII before going on to be scrapped in 1956 as well as for a Kresta-class cruiser during the Cold War.

Our circa-1904 battlewagon is remembered in maritime art as well.

Battleship Sevastopol by Nikolay Konstantinovich Artseulov

Finally, Combrig released an excellent 1:700 scale model of Sevastopol, #70102.

Specs:

Line drawing via Combrig

Displacement: 11,842 long tons
Length: 376 ft
Beam: 70 ft
Draught: 28 ft 3 in
Machinery: 16 cylindrical boilers, 9368 ihp, 2 shafts, 2 triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 16 knots
Range: 3,750 nm
Complement: 27 officers and 625 sailors as designed
Armor, nickel-steel Harvey type:
Waterline belt: 10–16 in
Gun turrets: 10 in
Secondary turrets: 5 in
Conning tower: 9 in
Deck: 2–3 in
Armament:
2 × twin 12″/40 (305 mm) guns
12 (4 × twins, 4 × single) 6″/45cal (152 mm) guns
12 × single 47mm Hotchkiss guns
28 × single 37mm Maxim guns
4 × 15-inch torpedo tubes, broadside
2 × 18-inch torpedo tubes, below the waterline
50 mines

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Who Wants a Deal on a Historic Coast Guard Cutter?

Robert Morris was an Englishman, born in Liverpool in 1734. Coming to the Pennsylvania colony in his teens, by 1775 he was a wealthy merchant and turned his business acumen into buying arms for the colonial militia. This role grew until Alexander Hamilton described him as the “Financier of the Revolution.” One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and for a time considered the “de facto commander” of the Continental Navy (he even sold the first armed man-of-war to Congress), Morris later turned down the role of the country’s first treasury secretary, suggesting Hamilton for the position instead.

Rather than be remembered on the $10 bill, Morris was honored by four early U.S. Navy vessels that were named after him between 1776 and 1846, and well as a few Coast Guard cutters (which until 1967 was under the Treasury Department).

The first cutter named after Morris was a Baltimore Clipper-style schooner built in 1831 at the New York Navy Yard. Some 73-feet in length and armed with a half-dozen 9-pounders, she was not a commanding vessel but was good enough to bust smugglers and fight pirates. Nonetheless, USRC Morris participated in the Mexican War as part of Capt. John Webster’s nine-cutter squadron and, on her way back to the East Coast, was driven ashore at Key West by a hurricane in 1846.

U.S. Revenue Cutter Morris (1831) by H. A. Roath, painting circa 1855, via Philadelphia Museum 1967-268-3-ov

The second USRC Morris, commissioned in 1848, was a 102-foot topsail schooner constructed of yellow pine, white and live oak, locust, cedar, and mahogany. Armed in 1861 with “1 x 32-pounder pivot-mounted cannon; 1 x brass 12-pound howitzer; 12 Maynard rifles; 12 smoothbore muskets; 12 pistols; 19 cutlasses; 11 boarding pikes and 18 battle axes,” Morris was notably detached to scour the North Atlantic that year in search of the Confederate privateer brig Jefferson Davis.

Revenue Cutter Morris prepares to board the British passenger vessel Benjamin Adams on 16 July 1861 about 200 miles east of New York, by Gil Cohen (Photo: USCG)

She was sold in 1868.

The third– and final U.S. vessel named for Morris– was a 125-foot Active-class Coast Guard cutter built in 1927 at American Brown Boveri Electric Corp., Camden, NJ.

We have profiled the 125s, best known as the “buck-and-a-quarter” class, in several Warship Wednesdays (See: Warship Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor).

USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) operated first out of New London until 22 November 1928. She then assumed her permanent station at Oakland, California, on 13 January 1929, conducting patrol operations and operating intermittently against rumrunners through 1934. She was then transferred to Seward, Alaska until 1937, before ultimately returning to the West Coast.

Transferring to Navy control 1 November 1941, Morris was designated a subchaser and assigned to patrol and rescue operations out of San Diego during WWII until 1 January 1946. She assumed postwar USCG patrol duties out of San Pedro, which was her permanent station through 1969.

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

Decommissioned on 7 August 1970 after 43 years of hard service, she was then transferred to Boy Scouts where she was active with the Sea Scout program in Stockton as SSS Morris until recent years. In the early 2000s, she received $2 million in repairs and restoration paid for by Bob French and was donated in 2015 to the Liberty-Maritime Museum, who has had her for sale since 2016, priced at around $250K.

That asking price was reduced to $195K last year and is now at a comparative fire sale on Craigslist for $90,000. 

The ad for posterity:

1927 125′ Coast Guard Cutter Morris asking $90,000 obo – an amazing vessel for this price! Major overhaul ($2 million approx.) completed in 2010. Cummins KTAs, Northern Lights gen sets, ARPA radars, bow thruster. All wiring and piping replaced. Hull plating, railings, tanks and decks replaced as needed. Operational but due for a haul-out and one prop repair. Anchored near Rio Vista, recently cruised but surplus to our needs. Suitable as an ocean cruising vessel or live-aboard. State of California registration, current insurance.

What more could you ask for?

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019: A Tough Christmas in the Lingayen Gulf

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, Dec. 25, 2019: A Tough Christmas in the Lingayen Gulf

Courtesy of the Submarine Force Library and Museum, Groton, Connecticut, 1972. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 78922

Here we see a prewar photograph showing the S-class diesel submarine USS S-38 (SS-143) underway, sometime in the 1930s.

The S-class, or “Sugar” boats, were actually three different variants designed by Simon Lake Co, Electric Boat, and the Bureau of Construction and Repair (BuC&R) in the last days of the Great War in which U.S.-made submarines had a poor record. Looking for a better showing in these new boats, of which 65 were planned, and 51 completed in several subgroups, these small 1,000~ ton diesel-electric “pig boats” took to the sea in the 1920s and they made up the backbone of the U.S. submarine fleet before the larger “fleet” type boats of the 1930s came online.

The hero of our tale, USS S-38, was a first flight EB/Holland design that ran some 219-feet oal, could dive to 200 feet and travel at a blistering 14.5-knots on the surface on her two 600hp NELSECO diesel engines and two GE electric motors for 11-knots submerged. Armament was a quartet of 21-inch bow tubes with a dozen deep-running but reliable Mark 10 torpedos (which carried a then-huge 500-pound warhead) and a 4″/50 cal popgun on deck for those special moments. Crew? Just 38 officers and men.

Laid down 15 January 1919 Bethlehem Steel Company’s Union Plant, Potrero Works, San Francisco, she commissioned 11 May 1923.

Fitting out at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, San Francisco, California, 29 March 1923. NH 97960

Fitted out at Mare Island, S-38 joined Submarine Division 17 (SubDiv 17) at San Pedro on 24 May and immediately began preparations for a cruise to the Aleutians, a deployment that would validate the class working out of Dutch Harbor– which many would see during the coming conflict with Japan.

By August 1924, S-38 was detailed to join many of her sisters in the Asiatic Fleet, which she would call home for the next two decades.

On regular operations there, she cruised off the Philippines, along the Indo-China coast, and into the Dutch East Indies. In the 1930s, except for trading in their Great War-era torpedos for the new-fangled Mark 14, the boats were otherwise unmodified from their original 1918 design.

Description: Crewmen posing with a 4″/50cal deck gun onboard an S-Type submarine, March 1929, with another 4″/50cal in the foreground. Photographed from USS Beaver (AS-5). In the background is USS Pittsburgh (ACR/CA-4), in the Dewey drydock. Catalog #: NH 51830

USS S-38 (SS-143) nested between sister submarines S-40 (SS-145), at left, and S-41 (SS-146), at right, alongside USS Canopus (AS-9) off Tsingtao, China, in 1930. Note these submarines’ 4/50 deck guns. NH 51833

On 8 December 1941 (7 December east of the International Date Line), the U.S. was hauled in from the sidelines of WWII and “the indomitable old” S-38 departed Manila Bay on her first war patrol on the first day of the U.S. involvement in the war.

Poking around the PI archipelago, S-38, under command of Lt. Wreford G. ″Moon″ Chapple, the aging sub fired a torpedo on an enemy vessel off the coast of Mindoro on 9 December without a hit. Looking for better hunting, she headed into the Lingayen Gulf in the predawn hours of 22 December and promptly saw an enemy convoy at first light. Firing a spread of four unreliable Mark 14s, she garnered nothing but a counter-attack from Japanese destroyers.

Two hours later, she fired two more fish at an anchored cargo ship, Hayo Maru (5446 GRT) which blew up less than a minute later. It was only the *second Japanese vessel sunk in the war by a U.S. submarine up to that point.

*[ The first Japanese vessel claimed by an Allied submarine was the troopship Awajisan Maru which had been bombed by RAAF Hudsons and set on fire, then sank by a torpedo from the Dutch submarine HNLMS K XII on 12 December. The same day, HNLMS K XII also sank the tanker Toro Maru. On 13 December, the Dutch sub O 16 splashed the transports Asosan Maru and Kinka Maru in the Gulf of Siam while K XII increased her own tally with the tanker Taizan Maru off Indochina the same day. Meanwhile, the first U.S. submarine to get on the board was USS Swordfish (SS-193) with the freighter Atsutasan Maru sent to the bottom in the East China Sea on 16 December. ]

However, the next three days– across both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day– was an epic fight for survival.

According to DANFS:

The enemy destroyers again closed the submarine. Depth charges went off close aboard. From 0804 to 0930, the S-boat ran silent, using evasive tactics. At 0930, she grounded at 80 feet; then coasted up the bank to 57 feet. The destroyers, joined by small boats, continued the search through the day. At 2130, the hunted submarine began efforts to clear by backing. During the maneuvering, her port propeller was damaged; but, by 2201, she was free and underway for the Hundred Islands area on the western side of the gulf.

S-38 remained there through the 23d and, on the 24th, moved to the southern section of the gulf where she closed a formation of six large auxiliaries just prior to 1130. Her presence, however, was discovered. At 1152, a depth charge exploded on her port side. She went deeper. Between 1206 and 1208, eight more exploded around her. At 1209, she stopped all motors and sank to the bottom in 180 feet of water. The depth charging continued, but the explosions were more distant. At 1230, the submarine began to move again. At 1245, the enemy hunters again located her and resumed depth charging. S-38 again settled to the bottom. The depth charging continued until after 1300. The search continued until after 1800.

At 1842, the submarine got underway, heading back to the Hundred Islands area. At 2235, she surfaced to recharge her batteries. Five minutes later, her after battery exploded. At 2304, she went ahead on her starboard engine, making her way out of Lingayen Gulf.

Soon after 0200 on the 25th, she sighted two enemy destroyers, but remained undetected. At 0346, however, she sighted a third, which sighted her. S-38 submerged. The destroyer closed the submarine’s last surface position and, at 0350, commenced depth charging. From then until after 0900, the submarine evaded the destroyer, using her one quiet propeller. She then grounded on a steep bank at 85 feet. For the next two hours, the destroyer circled. S-38 slid down to 200 feet, used her motor to bring herself up; then repeated the maneuver. The destroyer moved off; and, at 1235, the S-boat got underway for Manila. An hour later, she grounded, but only briefly; and, at 2145 on the 26th, she entered the outer minefield at the entrance to Manila Bay.

Ordered to Soerabaja in the Dutch East Indies, S-38 arrived there on 14 January and spent her 2nd War Patrol in the Makassar Strait off Balikpapan. Moon Chapple left the boat then, headed to the larger and newer USS Permit (SS- 178) and later the USS Bream (SS-243). S-38 would continue on her 3rd Patrol under the command of Lt. Henry Glass Munson.

The old boat’s 3rd Patrol was unproductive but on her 4th Patrol Munson would surface and shell the Japanese facilities at Sangkapura on 26 February and two days later go on to rescue 54 haunted survivors of the heroic British E-class destroyer HMS Electra (H27) which had been pummeled by the Japanese at the Battle of the Java Sea.

On 2 March, S-38 spotted the Japanese Nagara-class light cruiser Kinu and a destroyer off Cape Awarawar and, although she fired six torpedoes, did not achieve a hit, and was in turn depth charged for 24-hours straight for her effort. Kinu would later be sunk in the Philipines in October 1944 by carrier aircraft.

Transferred to Brisbane in Australia to join the other Sugar boats of SubRon5, S-38 completed a 4th, 5th, and 6th Patrol without much to show for it.

On her 7th Patrol splashed the Japanese freighter Meiyo Maru (5628 GRT) in the St. George Channel on 8 August 1942.

A Chief Torpedoman paints another hashmark on the Torpedo Shop scoreboard of Japanese ships claimed sunk by SubRon 5’s S-Boats, operating out of Brisbane, Australia, during April-November 1942. Photographed on board USS Griffin (AS-13), tender to the squadron. Submarines listed on the scoreboard include S-37 (SS-142), S-38 (SS-143), S-39 (SS-144), S-40 (SS-145), S-41 (SS-146), S-42 (SS-153), S-43 (SS-154), S-44 (SS-155), S-45 (SS-156), S-46 (SS-157), and S-47 (SS-158). NARA 80-G-77065

At the end of her 8th Patrol, S-38 headed to California for a much-needed overhaul– attempting to sink a fat Japanese tanker off Tarawa on the way without success– then completed one final patrol, from Pearl Harbor, on 27 July 1943.

USS Harris (APA-2) moored in the background of this photo of USS S-38 (SS-143) following overhaul at San Diego, April 1943. US Navy photo # 1198-43 from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard collection now held at Seattle NARA

From there, S-38 spent a year in ASW training duties in the relatively safe New Hebrides, an OPFOR for air and surface units passing to the real war in the West.

Ordered to San Diego, she was decommissioned on 14 December 1944, struck from the Navy list a month later, and sunk as a target by aerial bombing on 20 February 1945, her last full measure.

In all, S-38 earned three battle stars during the war.

Following the conflict, the tale of her harrowed Christmastime raid in the Lingayen Gulf during the darkest days of the war was retold in the first season of The Silent Service in 1957. A guest on the show was Moon Chapple, who at the time was a double Navy Cross recipient and a full Captain. After he left S-38 in 1942 he would go on to bag another half-dozen Marus and heavily damage two Japanese cruisers before going on to skipper the reactivated heavy cruiser USS Pittsburgh (CA-72) in the Korean War

When asked if anything else could have happened to one submarine on one patrol, Moon answered, “I don’t see how. By the time you’ve been through depth charge attacks, groundings, broken instruments, mechanical damage and a battery explosion you sorta run out of ideas of how to get into trouble.”

Moon would go on to retire as a rear admiral in 1959. He died in 1991, aged 83.

As for S-38’s sisters, though obsolete, several S-boats remained on the Navy List and served the Navy well in both the Atlantic and Pacific (including several lost to accidents) during WWII. A half-dozen were even transferred to the Royal Navy as Lend-Lease including class leader and the former submersible aircraft carrier, USS S-1.

None of these hardy, if somewhat unlucky, craft endure though Pigboats.com keeps their memory alive.

Specs:


Displacement: 854 tons surfaced; 1,062 tons submerged
Length: 219 feet 3 inches
Beam: 20 feet 9 inches
Draft: 16 feet
Propulsion: 2 × New London Ship and Engine Company (NELSECO) diesels, 600 hp each;
2 × General Electric electric motors, 560 kW each; 120 cell Exide battery; two shafts.
Speed: 14.5 knots surfaced; 11 knots submerged
Range: 5,000 miles at 10 knots surfaced on 168 tons (41,192 gals) oil fuel
Test depth: 200 ft
Crew: 4 Officers, 34 Enlisted as designed. Up to 42 during WWII.
Armament (as built):
4 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes (bow, 12 torpedoes first Mk 10 then later Mk 14)
1 × 4-inch (102 mm)/50 cal Mark 9 “wet mount” deck 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.

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Warship Wednesday (on a Tuesday), Dec. 17, 2019: The Count’s Bones

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 (on a Tuesday), Dec. 17, 2019: The Count’s Bones

Photo by Ensign Richard D. Sampson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 51977

Here we see the aftermath of this very day in history some 80 years ago– the scuttled German “pocket battleship” SMS Graf Spee, resting on the bottom in 25 feet of water off the harbor of Montevideo, Uruguay, following the 1939 Battle of the River Plate.

While internet warships commentators and naval museum fans will fight to the death that Graf Spee and her fellow 1930s-era Deutschland-class “Panzerschiff” (armored ships) were an abomination when compared to regular battleships– vessels the Germans were unable to build due to Versallies limits– they did pack a half-dozen bruising 11-inch SK C/28 guns and another eight 5.9-inch SK C/28 guns in a 16,000-ton hull with a minimum of 3.9-inches of belt armor.

While incapable of holding off even a serious pre-dreadnought battlewagon, by nature of their 28-knot speed and amazing 16,000nm range (at 18 knots!) they were ideal for commerce raiding and able to chew up anything that could catch them that was smaller than a battlecruiser.

Admiral Graf Spee Preliminary artist’s impression of the ship by Dr. Oscar Parkes, Editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, circa 1932. When completed in 1936, Admiral Graf Spee’s superstructure differed from that shown here. NH 91874

Named after Vizeadmiral Maximilian Johannes Maria Hubert Reichsgraf (Count) von Spee, who was lost at the December 1914 Battle of the Falkland Islands along with his two sons, our pocket battleship was laid down 1 October 1932 at Reichsmarinewerft, Wilhelmshaven when Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was still Germany’s president, she was commissioned 6 January 1936 after the Machtergreifung brought Hitler to power. In a nod to the latter, she picked up a giant bronze Nazi eagle on her stern to complement her Von Spee coat of arms on her bow, a blend of Kaiser and Fuhrer, if you will.

Admiral Graf Spee moored in the harbor, circa 1936-1937. Note the coat of arms mounted on her bow. NH 81110

Her brief peacetime career was filled with intrigues as the ship participated in the Spanish Civil War and the lead up to the Big One in 1939.

Kriegsmarine Panzerschiff Admiral Graf Spee in Spithead U.K. 1937. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

With that, she was soon at her job of reaping British merchantmen in the Atlantic and had sunk nine such vessels (taking care to preserve the lives of their mariners) before a force of three much smaller British cruisers– HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax, and HMNZS Achilles-– fought a running battle with the big German at sea off the coast of Uruguay near the mouth of the River Plate on 13 December.

While all four ships involved were damaged, they were all still afloat at the end of the engagement with 36 of the Graf Spee‘s complement killed and the Royal Navy consigning 72 of their own to the sea at the end of the day.

Watercolor by Edward Tufnell, RN (Retired), depicting the cruisers HMS Exeter (foreground) and HMNZS Achilles (right center background) in action with the German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee (right background). Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. Donation of Melvin Conant, 1969. NH 86397-KN

HMS ACHILLES against the ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE off River Plate. by John S. Smith, via Royal New Zealand Navy

Admiral Graf Spee vs Ajax, Achilles, and Exeter, painting by Adam Werka

For a more detailed account of the battle, which would be wasted here, see the Royal Navy’s “The Battle of the River Plate: An Account of Events Before, During and After the Action Up to the Self Destruction of the Admiral Graf Spee, 1940” at the National Archives. It is 16-pages including three great maps.

Suffering from over 30 hits from the British guns, the German vessel needed time to lick her wounds and bury her dead ashore.

Admiral Graf Spee anchored off Montevideo, Uruguay in mid-December 1939, following the Battle of the River Plate. NH 59657

Denied a lengthy stay in neutral Montevideo, German CPT Hans Langsdorff believed a British bluff that a much stronger force was waiting for him offshore and scuttled his vessel on 17 December to comply with the local demand that he leave the port in 72 hours. This included misinformation that the battlecruiser Renown was offshore when, in fact, she was not.

With most of his crew looking on from shore, Graf Spee began to sink, ablaze. She would burn for three full days.

As Graf Spee only had enough fuel for about one more day of steaming anyway, and the Uruguayans would not transfer any more, it was an academically sound choice to scuttle the German ship. Even if it managed to break out, she would have been dead in the water the next day in a very unfriendly South Atlantic more than 6,000 miles from home. Instead of a watery grave, the surviving crew of the pocket battleship lived to see another day.

Of course, the Battle of the River Plate was the first chance since the loss of the auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi the month before for the Royal Navy to exact some measure of revenge for that ship’s heroic stand against the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst.

And on the 18th of December in a broadcast to the Nation, Churchill would compare the tragic but heroic end of Rawalpindi to the inglorious scuttling of the German pocket-battleship Admiral Graf Spee in Montevideo Roads (the day before) with the comment, “Once in harbour she had the choice of submitting in the ordinary manner to internment, which would have been unfortunate for her, or, of coming out to fight and going down in battle, like the Rawalpindi, which would have been honourable to her”.

On 19 December, two days after Graf Spee settled in the muck of the river, Langsdorff led 1,038 men across the border with Argentina into exile, where they would be held together under local custody. Despite telling the local press that he was “satisfied,” Langsdorff, a Great War veteran who earned his Iron Cross at Jutland, fatally shot himself in his Buenos Aires hotel room with his Mauser pocket pistol. He was lying on Graf Spee‘s battle ensign.

Some 300,000 Argentines attended the 45‐year‐old captain’s funeral.

Funeral procession of Captain Hans Langsdorff NH 85636

On 2 February 1940, just six weeks after the German ship was scuttled, the brand new light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50), with the U.S. Navy still officially neutral in the conflict, called on Montevideo while on her shakedown cruise. Soon, a boarding party that included ENS Richard D. Sampson motored over to the wreck and boarded her to collect what intel they could. After all, the Germans still had two other sisterships to Graf Spee in active service at the time.

Ship’s Number Two 10.5cm/65 twin anti-aircraft gun mount (port side, amidships), photographed on board her wreck on 2 February 1940 by Ensign Richard D. Sampson, USN, of USS Helena (CL-50). The shield of her Number Four 15cm/55 gun is partially visible in the lower right. Her port side crane is in the upper left. NH 50959

Photograph of the mounting for a 20mm machine gun, on the upper platform of the ship’s forward superstructure, with a sketch showing the location of that platform’s two machine gun mounts. NH 51979

Photograph of the ship’s forward broadside (15cm gun) director, with a USS Helena crew member sitting on it. The view looks aft, with the forward superstructure in the background. The director has partially collapsed to starboard. The sketch below shows the director’s arrangement, extending down to the main deck. NH 51982

Photograph of a shell hole in the ship’s forward superstructure tower, made by an eight-inch shell fired by the British heavy cruiser Exeter. The hole was described as large enough to crawl through. NH 51986-A

Photograph of the interior of the ship’s forward superstructure tower, showing damage caused by an eight-inch shell fired by the British heavy cruiser Exeter during the Battle of the River Plate. Cut wires and the absence of a fire control tube were noted on the original report in which this image appeared. NH 51987-A

Photograph of the ship’s partially collapsed smokestack, with its searchlight platform, seen from the after port end of the forward superstructure. The aircraft recovery crane’s boom is in the lower right. NH 51991-A

Graf Spee would be partially broken up above the waterline in situ, with its good German steel ironically– according to legend– going on to be used to make Ballester Molina M1911-ish pistols in Argentina for a British SOE contract.

Ian McCollum over at Forgotten Weapons opines on that in the below:

As Graf Spee‘s 1942-43 salvage was done by a British contractor, much of her salvageable secrets were uncovered.

Today, numerous parts of the ship are on public display around Latin America including a large salvaged optical rangefinder, telegraphs and several small deck guns. One of her anchors stands at a memorial in Montevideo. Further, hundreds of small relics of the vessel are in personal collections around the world.

Her 880-pound stern eagle was recovered by divers in 2006 as part of a government effort to further scrap the ship but has been the subject of much bickering over its final ownership, and it has been in storage onshore ever since.

It is set to be auctioned off in the coming weeks to comply with a court order with possible winners paying upwards of $30 million for the item, which includes a large swastika in the dirty bird’s talons.

Of Graf Spee’s foes at the River Plate, HMNZS Achilles‘ Y-turret was preserved when (as the Indian cruiser INS Delhi) she was scrapped at the end of the 1970s, and since the mid-1990s has been sitting outside HMNZS Philomel (a Royal New Zealand Navy shore station) at Devonport, Auckland. HMS Exeter (68) was sunk during the Second Battle of the Java Sea, 1 March 1942 and her wreck has been destroyed by illegal salvagers. However, Exeter’s bell, removed in a 1940 refit, is on display at the White Ensign Club in Portsmouth. HMS Ajax (22), scrapped in 1949, has her bell on a monument in Montevideo, donated by ADM Sir Henry Harwood and Sir Eugen Millington-Drake, the latter responsible for circulating the rumors that a large British force was off the port in 1939, waiting for Graf Spee.

Of the more than 1,000 Graf Spee sailors shipwrecked in South America in 1939, nearly 200 managed to escape their loose Argentine custody and, either make for Chile and other points North, or return to Germany by other means. One of these, KKpt Jürgen Wattenberg, reached Germany in May 1940 and would join the U-boat arm only to be captured again in 1942 when his submarine was sunk by the British, spending the rest of the war in the clink in Arizona. Another, Oblt.z.S Friedrich Wilhelm Rasenack, managed to make it back home by June 1941 and would later write a book about his former ship.

In all, between the sailors who never left and those who returned to Latin America after seeing how bad life was in post-war Allied-occupied Germany, some 500 survivors settled in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. They established large colonies in Bariloche, Villa Belgrano, and Cumbrecita, among others. The Waldschanke club in Buenos Aires still held raucous Graf Spee crew reunions well into the 1970s.

The last survivor of pocket battleship’s 1939 crew died at age 89 in Montevideo in 2007.

As for Langsdorff, to this day, his crew’s descendants regularly visit his grave in Argentina’s La Chacarita National Cemetery in Buenos Aires to commemorate him, with many holding that his decision saved their father’s or grandfather’s respective lives.

“The affection, gratitude and unwavering trust of many former Spee soldiers in many encounters over the years have made me proud and defined my joy at the rescue of the many men by my father,” the Captian’s 82-year-old daughter, Nedden, recently told German media. “So I hope one will find a way for him to be honored publicly as well.”

His actions are still celebrated in the German navy today.

“In this respect, it is a historical example of timeless soldierly virtues,” the spokesman for the German Defense Ministry said. “These are recognized in the Bundeswehr and his example is used at the naval school in Mürwik, in teaching and training, to support the young officer candidates in their personal confrontation with the political, legal and ethical dimensions of the military and naval service.”

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Internationales Maritimes Museum in Hamburg has an extremely detailed 1:100 scale model of Graf Spee, built by master Helmut Schmidt, on display on deck 5 of the museum. It is the closest thing to a memorial to the ship in her home country.

Photo: Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg

Specs


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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

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