Tag Archive | coal navy

Warship Wednesday, July 17, 2019: Willy’s Vulture

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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 17, 2019: Willy’s Vulture

Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 134-C0105

Here we see the three-masted bark-rigged “kleiner geschutzter kreuzer” (small protected cruiser) SMS Geier of the Imperial German Kaiserliche Marine photographed at the beginning of her career around 1895. A well-traveled Teutonic warship named after the German word for “vulture,” she would repeatedly find herself only narrowly avoiding some of the largest naval clashes of her era.

The final installment of the six-ship Bussard-class of colonial cruisers, all of which were named after birds, Geier and her sisters (Falke, Seeadler, Condor, and Comoran) would today be classified either as corvettes or well-armed offshore patrol vessels. With an 1800~ ton displacement (which varied from ship to ship as they had at least three varying generations of subclasses), these pint-sized “cruisers” were about 275-feet long overall and could float in less than three fathoms. While most cruisers are built for speed, the Bussards could only make 15-ish knots when everything was lit. When it came to an armament, they packed eight 10.5 cm (4.1″) SK L/35 low-angle guns and a pair of cute 350mm torpedo tubes, which wasn’t that bad for policing the colonies but was hopeless in a surface action against a real cruiser.

Geier’s sister, SMS Seeadler, in a postcard-worthy setting. The six ships of the class ranged from the West Indies to Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific. Much more exotic duty than the typical Baltic/North Sea gigs for the High Seas Fleet

Constructed between 1888 and 1895 at four different Northern German yards, the half-dozen Bussards were a very late 19th Century design, complete with a three-masted auxiliary barquentine rig, ram bows, and a wooden-backed copper-sheathed hull. They carried a pair of early electric generators and their composite hull was separated into 10 watertight compartments. Despite the “geschutzter” designation given by the Germans, they carried no armor other than splinter shields.

The only member of the class built at Kaiserliche Werft, Wilhelmshaven, Geier was laid down in 1893 and commissioned 24 October 1895, with Kaiser Wilhelm himself visiting the ship on that day.

SMS “Geier” der kaiserlichen deutschen Marine

SMS “Geier”, Kaiser Wilhelm II. spricht zur Besatzung

SMS “Geier”, Kleiner Kreuzer; Besichtigung des Schiffes durch Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Notably, Geier was the largest and most developed of her sisters, using a slightly different gun arrangement, better engines and 18-inch torpedo tubes rather than the 14s carried by the preceding five ships of the class.

All six Bussards were subsequently deployed overseas in Willy’s far-flung colonies in Africa and the Pacific, a tasking Geier soon adopted. Setting off for the West Indies, she joined the German squadron of old ironclads and school ships that were deployed there in 1897 to protect Berlin’s interests in Venezuela and Haiti.

The next year, under the command of Korvettenkapitän (later Vizeadmiral) Hermann Jacobsen, Geier was permitted by the U.S. fleet during the Spanish-American War to pass in and out of the blockaded Spanish ports in Cuba and Puerto Rico on several occasions, ostensibly on humanitarian grounds to evacuate neutral European civilians.

The unprotected cruiser SMS Geier entering Havana Harbor, Cuba, in 1898, during the SpanAm War

However, Jacobson dutifully kept a log of ships that ran the American blockade and their cargo as well as conducted a detailed analysis of the damage done to the Spanish ships at the Battle of Santiago. These observations were later released then ultimately translated into English and published in the USNI’s Proceedings in 1899.

By 1900, Geier was operating in the Pacific and, operating with the German East Asia Squadron, was in Chinese waters in time to join the international task force bringing the Manchu Dynasty to its knees during the Boxer Rebellion. She remained in the region and observed the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, notably poking around at Chemulpo (Inchon) where the Russian protected cruiser Varyag and gunboat Korietz were scuttled after a sharp engagement with a superior IJN force under Baron Sotokichi.

GEIER Photographed early in her career, before her 1908-1909 refit that reduced her Barkentine Rig to Brigantine Standard. NH 88631

Returning to Germany in 1909 for repair and refit, her rigging was changed from that of a three-mast barquentine to a two-mast topsail schooner while her bridge was enlarged, and her boilers replaced.

Geier with her late-career schooner rig

Recommissioned in 1911, she was assigned to the Mediterranean where she spent the next couple years exercising gunboat diplomacy in the wake of the Moroccan Crisis while eating popcorn on the sidelines of the Italian-Turkish War and Balkan Wars, all of which involved a smattering of curious naval actions to report back to Berlin. By 1914, although she had never fired a shot in anger, our Vulture had already haunted five significant wars from Tripoli to Korea and Cuba, very much living up to her name.

To catch us up on the rest of the class, by the eve of the Great War, the Bussards was showing their age. Sisterships Seeadler and Condor in 1914 were converted to mine storage hulks in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, respectively. Bussard and Falke had already been stricken from the Naval List in 1912 and sold to the breakers. Meanwhile, in the German Chinese treaty port of Tsingtao (Qingdao), Cormoran was laid up with bad engines.

Speaking of which, when the lamps went out across Europe in August 1914, Geier was already en route from Dar es Salaam in German East Africa (where she had been relieved by the doomed cruiser Konigsberg) to Tsingtao to join Vizeadmiral Count Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron in the Pacific.

Once the balloon went up, she was in a precarious situation as just about any British, French, Russian or Japanese warship she encountered could have sent her quickly to the bottom. Eluding the massive Allied dragnet, which was deployed not only to capture our old cruiser but also Von Spee’s much more serious task force and the downright dangerous SMS Emden (which Geier briefly met with at sea), Geier attempted to become a commerce raider and, taking on coal from two German merchant ships, managed to capture a British freighter, SS Southport, at Kusaie in the Eastern Carolines on 4 September. After disabling Southport’s engines and leaving the British merchantman to eventually recover and report Geier’s last position, our decrepit light cruiser missed her rendezvous with Von Spee’s squadron at Pagan Island in the Northern Marianas and the good Count left her behind.

Alone, short on coal and only a day or so ahead of the Japanese battleship Hizen (former Russian Retvizan) and the armored cruiser Asama, Geier steamed into Honolulu on 17 October, having somehow survived 11 weeks on the run.

After failing to leave port within the limits set by neutral U.S. authorities, she was interned on 8 November and nominally disarmed.

Bussard Class Unprotected Cruiser SMS Geier pictured interned in Hawaii, she arrived in Honolulu on October 17th, 1914 for coaling, repairs and freshwater– and never left

Meanwhile, the Graf Spee’s East Asia Squadron had defeated the British 4th Cruiser Squadron under RADM Christopher Cradock in the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, sinking the old cruisers HMS Good Hope and Monmouth and sending Cradock and 1,600 of his men to the bottom of the South Atlantic. A month later, Spee himself along with his two sons and all but one ship of his squadron was smashed by VADM Doveton Sturdee’s battlecruiser squadron at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

Our Vulture had evaded another meeting with Poseidon.

As for Geier, her war was far from over, reportedly being used as a base for disinformation (alleging a Japanese invasion of Mexico!) and espionage (tracking Allied ship movements) for the next two years.

German cruiser Geier shown interned in Honolulu. Photo by Herbert B Turner. NARA 165-WW-272C-006

German cruiser Geier shown interned in Honolulu. Photo by Herbert B Turner. NARA 165-WW-272C-006

Finally, in February 1917, the events came to a head.

According to the U.S. NHHC:

German reservists and agents surreptitiously utilized the ship for their operations, and the Americans grew increasingly suspicious of their activities. Emotions ran hot during the war and the Germans violated “neutrality,” Lt. (j.g.) Albert J. Porter of the ship’s company, who penned the commemorative War Log of the USS. St. Louis (Cruiser No. 20), observed, “with characteristic Hun disregard for international law and accepted honor codes.” Geier, Korvettenkapitän Curt Graßhoff in command, lay at Pier 3, moored to interned German steamer Pomeran when a column of smoke began to rise from her stack early on the morning of 4 February 1917. The ship’s internment prohibited her from getting steam up, and the Americans suspected the Germans’ intentions.

Lt. Cmdr. Victor S. Houston, St. Louis’ commanding officer, held an urgent conference on board the cruiser at which Cmdr. Thomas C. Hart, Commander SubDiv 3, represented the Commandant. Houston ordered St. Louis to clear for action and sent a boarding party, led by Lt. Roy Le C. Stover, Lt. (j.g.) Robert A. Hall, and Chief Gunner Frank C. Wisker. The sailors disembarked at the head of the Alakea wharf and took up a position in the second story of the pier warehouse. Soldiers from nearby Schofield Barracks meanwhile arrived and deployed a battery of 3-inch field pieces, screened by a coal pile across the street from the pier, from where they could command the decks of the German ship. Smoke poured in great plumes from Geier and her crewmen’s actions persuaded the Americans that the Germans likely intended to escape from the harbor, while some of the boarding party feared that failing to sortie, the Germans might scuttle the ship with charges, and the ensuing blaze could destroy part of the waterfront.

The boarding party, therefore, split into three sections and boarded and seized Pomeran, and Hart and Stover then boarded Geier and informed Graßhoff that they intended to take possession of the cruiser and extinguish her blaze, to protect the harbor. Graßhoff vigorously protested but his “wily” efforts to delay the boarders failed and the rest of the St. Louis sailors swarmed on board. The bluejackets swiftly took stations forward, amidships, and aft, and posted sentries at all the hatches and watertight doors, blocking any of the Germans from passing. Graßhoff surrendered and the Americans rounded-up his unresisting men. 1st Lt. Randolph T. Zane, USMC, arrived with a detachment of marines, and they led the prisoners under guard to Schofield Barracks for internment.

Her crew headed off to Schofield Barracks for the rest of the war, some of the first German POWs in the U.S. (Hawaii State Archives)

Wisker took some men below to the magazines, where they found shrapnel fuzes scattered about, ammunition hoists dismantled, and floodcocks battered into uselessness. The Germans also cunningly hid their wrenches and spans in the hope of forestalling the Americans’ repairs. Stover in the meantime hastened with a third section and they discovered a fire of wood and oil-soaked waste under a dry boiler. The blaze had spread to the deck above and the woodwork of the fire room also caught by the heat thrown off by the “incandescent” boiler, and the woodwork of the magazine bulkheads had begun to catch. The boarders could not douse the flames with water because of the likelihood of exploding the dry boiler, but they led out lines from the bow and stern of the burning ship and skillfully warped her across the slip to the east side of Pier 4. The Honolulu Fire Department rushed chemical engines to the scene, and the firemen and sailors worked furiously cutting holes thru the decks to facilitate dousing the flames with their chemicals. The Americans extinguished the blaze by 5:00 p.m., and then a detachment from SubDiv 3, led by Lt. (j.g.) Norman L. Kirk, who commanded K-3 (Submarine No. 34), relieved the exhausted men.

German cruiser Geier with boilers on fire being sabotauged by her crew Honolulu Feb 4 1917 Photo by Herbert NARA 165-WW-272C-007

German cruiser Geier with boilers on fire being sabotauged by her crew Honolulu Feb 4 1917 Photo by Herbert NARA 165-WW-272C-007

The Germans all but wrecked Geier and their “wanton work” further damaged the engines, steam lines, oil lines, auxiliaries, navigation instruments, and even the wardroom, which Porter described as a “shambles.”

As such, she was the only German Imperial Navy warship captured by the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Coupled with the more than 590,000 tons of German merchant ships seized in U.S. ports April 1917, Geier was reconditioned for American service and eventually commissioned as USS Schurz, a name used in honor of German radical Carl Schurz who fled Prussia in 1849 after the failed revolution there. Schurz had, in turn, joined the Union Army during the Civil War and commanded a division of largely German-speaking immigrants in the XI Corps at Second Manassas, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga, rising to the rank of major general. Postwar, he was a senator from Missouri, where a large German population had settled, and later served as Interior Secretary in the Hayes Administration.

Don’t let his bookish looks fool you, although Schurz was a journalist who served as editor of the New York Evening Post, he also fought in the German revolution and saw the elephant several times in the Civil War.

Under the command of LCDR Arthur Crenshaw, the new USS Schurz joined the fleet in September 1917 and served as an escort on the East Coast. Her German armament landed; she was equipped with four 5-inch mounts in U.S. service.

USS Schurz off the foot of Market Street, San Diego, California, in November-December 1917. Note the U.S. colors. Courtesy of the San Diego Maritime Museum, 1983 Catalog #: NH 94909

While on a convoy from New York for Key West, Fla., on 0444 on 21 June 1918, she collided with the merchant ship SS Florida southwest of Cape Lookout lightship, North Carolina, about 130 miles east of Wilmington.

As noted by the NHHC, “The collision crumpled the starboard bridge wing, slicing into the well and berth deck nearly 12 feet, and cutting through bunker no. 3 to the forward fire room.” One of Schurz’s crewmen was killed instantly, and 12 others injured. The 216 survivors abandoned ship and Schurz sank about three hours later in 110-feet of water.

A later naval board laid the blame for the collision on Florida, as the steamer was running at full steam in the predawn darkness in the thick fog without any lights or horns and had failed to keep a proper distance.

USS Schurz was stricken from the Navy list on 26 August 1918, and her name has not been reissued. The Kaiserliche Marine confusingly recycled the name “Geier” for an auxiliary cruiser (the former British merchant vessel Saint Theodore, captured by the commerce raider SMS Möwe) as well as an armed trawler during the war even while the original ship was interned in Hawaii with a German crew pulling shenanigans.

Of SMS Geier‘s remaining sisters in German service, Seeadler was destroyed by an accidental explosion on the Jade in April 1917 and never raised, Cormoran had been scuttled in Tsingtao and captured by the Japanese who scrapped her, and Condor was broken up in 1921.

Today, while she has been extensively looted of artifacts over the years the wreck of the Schurz is currently protected as part of the NOAA Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and she is a popular dive site.

NOAA divers swim over the stern of the USS Schurz shipwreck. Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

East Carolina University conducted an extensive survey of her wreckage in 2000 and found her remarkably intact, with her boilers in place as well as brass fasteners and copper hull sheathing with nails still attached.

Specs:

Displacement, full: 1918 tons
Length: 275 ft oal, 261 wl
Beam: 34 ft. 10.6
Draft: 15 feet 4.74 mean 5.22 deep load
Machinery: 2 HTE, 4 cylindrical boilers, 2880 hp, 2 shafts
Coal: 320 tons
Speed: 15.5-knots max
Range: 3610nm at 9kts
Complement: 9 officers, 152 men (German) 197 to 217 (US)
Armor: None
Armament
(1895)
8 x 1 – 4.1″/32cal SK L/35 single mounts
5 x 1-pdr (37mm) revolving cannon (removed in 1909)
2 x 1 – 450mm TT with 5 18-inch torpedoes in magazine
(1917)
4 x 5″/51cal U.S. mounts

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Warship Wednesday, July 10, 2019: The Slayer of Victoria

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, July 10, 2019: The Slayer of Victoria

Starboard bow HMS Camperdown The Engineer 1893
Here we see the Royal Navy’s Admiral-class early barbette-type pre-dreadnought ironclad battleship HMS Camperdown via The Engineer in 1893. A very modern ship when she was designed, she did, in fact, quickly and easily send another period battlewagon to Neptune’s cold embrace– just not as you would think.

Britain’s first barbette ships, a class that would provide the basic format for all the Victorian and Edwardian battleships right up until HMS Dreadnought broke the mold in 1906, the so-called Admiral-class vessels were, in actuality, six fairly different vessels.

While all six had roughly the same hull, running about 330 feet in length with a 68-foot beam (although even this varied a few feet between sisters), the class weighed in between 9,500 and 10,600 tons. Armor at its thickest was an impressive 18-inches of iron plate backed by another 20-inches of timber. Each had two centerline funnels and a deep (27+ foot) draft with a relatively low freeboard, a facet common on front-line capital ships of the age. Speed was 16 to 17 knots depending on the ship, which made their ram bows, popular ever since the 1866 Battle of Lissa, deadly at close quarters (more on this later!)

Each had their main armament split fore and aft with secondary and tertiary batteries arranged along the waterline in broadside while five early torpedo tubes were also carried.

French ironclad Océan & British ironclad HMS Devastation Middle Italian battleship Italia and HMS Collingwood LowerGerman battleship Sachsen and French battleship Amiral Duperré.

A German scheme showing typical international battleships of the 1880s, with Collingwood, the nominal Admiral-class leader, shown second from the bottom right.

When it came to armament, things got wild.

Collingwood mounted two pair of 12″/25cal BL Mk V rifles

Benbow, the final ship of the class, meanwhile, mounted two single Armstrong 16.25″/30cal BL Mk I guns

Benbow, note her huge forward 16.25-incher. That’s 413mm of bore.

As for the middle four ships– Anson, Rodney, Camperdown, and Howe— they mounted four 13.5″/30 caliber (34.3 cm) Mark I “67-ton” guns, often regarded England’s first successful large breechloading naval rifle.

13.5″/30 caliber guns in barbettes of HMS ANSON, colorized by Diego Mar of Postales Navales

Capable of firing a 1,200-pound Palliser shell to 12,260 yards when at a maximum elevation of 13 degrees (!) these guns could switch to AP shells and penetrate up to 11-inches of Krupp steel at 3,000 yards or a whopping 28-inches of vertical iron plate at point blank distances.

Admiral Class Pre-Dreadnought Battleship HMS Rodney pictured in 1890 with her BL 13.5-inch naval guns. Note the 47mm/40cal 3pdr Hotchkiss Mk I anti-torpedo boat gun in the foreground.

As a negative, the ship’s magazines were shallow, carrying just 81 (20 AP, 12 Palliser, 39 common and 10 shrapnel) shells per gun while a trained crew could only keep up a rate of fire of about one round every other minute. Additionally, the open barbette construction gave said crew about 30 seconds of life expectancy when exposed to a naval engagement against an opponent firing more than just spitballs and coconuts.

H.M.S. Camperdown firing big guns, William Lionel Wyllie National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection

While all six of Admirals carried a half-dozen BL 6″/26cal BL Mk IV guns as secondaries, their small batteries often varied, with Camperdown and Anson at least toting 12 57mm (6pdr) Hotchkiss Mk Is and a further 10 47mm (3pdr) Hotchkiss anti-boat guns.

Gun drill aboard Camperdown with the QF 6-pounder Nordenfelt guns

Colorized image of HMS Camperdown gunners taking cover on deck with a 6″/26 to the left and 57mm Hotchkiss to the right.

Laid down at HMs Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth on 18 December 1882, Camperdown was the only member of the class constructed there with the other five being built at Pembroke, Chatham, and Blackwall. She was, of course, the third such British warship named after the epic sea clash at Camperdown in 1797 off the coast of the Netherlands in which Admiral Adam Duncan bested the Dutch fleet under Vice Adm. Jan de Winter.

"Action off Camperdown" Stipple engraving by J. Greig after R. Dodd. Published in The Naval Chronicle, September 1800, by Bunney & Gold, London. View representing the situation shortly before the action ended the Dutch Flagship is seen at center engaged with HMS VENERABLE, while the Dutch 64 gun ship HERCULES drifts afire across these ships' bows. on the left is HMS MONARCH with her prize, The JUPITER NH 66179

“Action off Camperdown” Stipple engraving by J. Greig after R. Dodd. Published in The Naval Chronicle, September 1800, by Bunney & Gold, London. A view representing the situation shortly before the action ended the Dutch Flagship is seen at center engaged with HMS VENERABLE, while the Dutch 64 gun ship HERCULES drifts afire across these ships’ bows. on the left is HMS MONARCH with her prize, The JUPITER NH 66179

While not very well known outside of the UK or Holland, the engagement was one of the largest of the Napoleonic era prior to Trafalgar and is a key point in British naval history.

Camperdown compared to Trafalgar and Jutland

Camperdown compared to Trafalgar and Jutland

Completed in May 1889, HMS Camperdown served first as the flag of the RN’s Mediterranean Fleet and then the Channel Fleet while passing in and out of reserve status for the first several years of her life.

By all accounts, she was a happy and proud ship during this time.

Gathering around the rum tub

Then came a fateful day in the summer of 1893.

THE TWIN-SCREW FIRST-CLASS BATTLESHIPS H.M.S CAMPERDOWN AND H.M.S. VICTORIA, from the Graphic

While in the Med on summer exercises under the eye of the Ottoman Turks, Camperdown was in close maneuvers with the rest of the line and struck the brand-new battleship HMS Victoria in broad daylight. In short, Victoria sank following a bizarre order from Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon– a career officer with some 45 years at sea under his belt– to perform a difficult turning order at close range to Camperdown which brought his flagship in collision to Camperdown, the latter of which flew the flag of Tyron’s second-in-command, Rear Admiral Sir Albert Markham.

HMS Camperdown ramming HMS Victoria, Thursday, June 22nd, 1893 off Tripoli. The image shows HMS Victoria (1888) in a collision with the Admiral Class battleship, HMS Camperdown (1885) during close maneuvers on the 22nd June 1893 off the coast at Tripoli in Lebanon by Reginald Graham Gregory. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The sinking of HMS Victoria by HMS Camperdown after Victoria was rammed during a fleet exercise.

The collision of the HMS Victoria and HMS Camperdown 8 July 1893 Le Petit Journal

The collision of the HMS Victoria and HMS Camperdown 8 July 1893 Le Petit Journal

Tyron was last seen on the bridge of Victoria, as she sank with the loss of over 350 men in something like 13 minutes, largely due to the fact that most of the ship’s hatches were open on the hot summer day in the Med. Tyron’s last words were said to be, “It is entirely my fault.” An RN inquiry into the affair was happy to let Tyron carry the blame.

In true Victorian gothic fashion, the good Admiral’s ghost is said to have appeared that night, to friends attending a party thrown by his wife back in London.

As for Camperdown, her bow ram was almost pulled completely off when she backed out of the sinking Victoria just before that stricken ship capsized, only narrowly missing joining her on the seafloor.

Damaged HMS Camperdown’s bow after collision with HMS Victoria, via Wiki

Camperdown diver suits up for hull checks, from the Army and Navy Illustrated, May 1896. Several images of this diver in harbor operations were immortalized in a series of collectible Tuck Cards

After extensive repairs, Camperdown returned to the Med where she was part of the six-power International Squadron in 1897 that was involved in what was termed the “Cretan Intervention” which ultimately led to the semi-independent Cretan State (before that island was annexed by Greece), separated from Ottoman rule.

International Squadron bombarding Chania, 21 February 1897. B. F. Gribble, from a sketch by a British officer published in The Graphic via Wiki.

International Squadron bombarding Chania, 21 February 1897. B. F. Gribble, from a sketch by a British officer published in The Graphic via Wikimedia Commons

The squadron included not only British ships but those sent by the Kaisers of Austro-Hungary and Germany as well as the French Republic, Royal Italian Navy and units sent by the Tsar. Camperdown, as well as other vessels of the task force, engaged insurgents ashore and landed armed tars and Royal Marines to mop up.

The gunboat diplomacy was to be Camperdown‘s swan song.

Camperdown June 1898 still in her white scheme, just before she would enter the reserve

After but 10 years with the fleet, by September 1899 she was in reserve and would spend the next decade alternating between mothballs and service as a coast guard vessel and submarine tender at Harwick. During this period, she carried a haze gray scheme, her days as a flagship long gone. Notably, she also carried a second mast.

Camperdown is shown with a flotilla of early C-class boats between 1908 and 1911 with, C5 (inboard aft), C2 and C6 in the after trot with C7, C8, and C9 in the forward trot. HM submarine C2, the middle boat in the after trot, bears the number C32 Via Pbenyon http://www.pbenyon.plus.com/RN/Photos/Camperdown_and_C-class_boats.html

She would be sold in 1911 for her value in scrap, a fate shared by all five of her sisters before her. Camperdown was just 22 years old but was hopelessly obsolete.

Her name would be reissued to HMS Camperdown (D32), a Battle-class destroyer commissioned on 18 June 1945.

HMS CAMPERDOWN, BRITISH BATTLE CLASS DESTROYER. MAY AND JUNE 1945. IWM (A 29620)

HMS CAMPERDOWN, BRITISH BATTLE CLASS DESTROYER. MAY AND JUNE 1945. (A 29620) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016213

In a twist of fate, in 1953, at Plymouth, this subsequent Camperdown was accidentally rammed by the former Flower-class corvette HMS Coreopsis (K32), the latter of which was owned by Ealing Studios at the time and was being used as a floating set for the British WWII film “The Cruel Sea.” Unlike the 1889 crack-up, both Camperdown and Coreopsis survived the encounter.

Since D32 was sold for scrap in 1970, the RN has not issued the “Camperdown” name to any other vessel.

As for the original Camperdown‘s tragic victim, HMS Victoria stands famously upright off the Lebanon coast today, with her bow stuck in the seafloor. She is a very popular wreck for skin divers.

Specs:


Displacement: 10,600 long tons
Length: 330 ft
Beam: 68 ft 6 in
Draught: 27 ft 10 in
Propulsion:
2 3-cyl Maudslay coal-fired steam engines, 12 cylindrical boilers, twin screws
11,500 indicated horsepower at a forced draught
Speed:
17.4-knots, maximum
Range: 7,000nm at 10 knots with 1,200 tons coal
Complement: 530
Armament:
4 x 13.5″/30 caliber (34.3 cm) Mark I “67-ton” guns
6 x BL 6″/26cal BL Mk IV guns
12 x 6-pounder (57 mm) Hotchkiss guns
10 x 3-pounder (47 mm) Hotchkiss guns
5 × 356mm tubes for Whitehead 14-inch torpedos
1 x very deadly bow ram
Armour:
Compound Belt: 18–8 in (457–203 mm) with 178mm timber backing
Bulkheads: 16–7 in (406–178 mm)
Barbettes: 11.5–10 in (292–254 mm)
Conning Tower: 12–2 in (305–51 mm)
Deck: 3–2 in (76–51 mm)

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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So long, Crestview

Here we see the beautiful Miguel Malvar-class offshore patrol “corvette” BRP Sultan Kudarat (PS-22) of the Philippine Navy on 5 July 2019, as she gave her last day of military service in a career that began in 1944– giving her a rock solid 75 years of hard duty across three fleets. Not bad for a ship considered at the time of her construction to be disposable.

If she looks familiar, she was originally built as USS PCE-895 a former PCE-842-class Patrol Craft Escort, by the Willamette Iron and Steel Corp., of Portland, Oregon during WWII. She patrolled Alaskan coastal waters in the tail end of the war and was later dubbed USS Crestview.

A picture of USS Crestview PCE-895 as she appears in a Christmas card from the 1955 edition of Our Navy magazine via Navsource. She hasn’t changed much!

Transferred to the Republic of South Vietnam 29 November 1961, she later became Dong Da II (HQ 07)

Derived from the 180-foot Admirable-class minesweeper as a substitute for the much more numerous 173-foot PC-461-class of submarine chasers that were used for coastal ASW, the PCE-842-class was just eight feet longer but a lot heavier (650-tons vs 450-tons), which gave them much longer endurance, although roughly the same armament. They carried a single 3″/50 dual purpose mount, three 40mm Bofors mounts, five Oerlikon 20 mm mounts, two depth charge tracks, four depth charge projectors, and two depth charge projectors (hedgehogs)– making them pretty deadly to subs while giving them enough punch to take on small gunboats/trawlers and low numbers of incoming aircraft.

While the U.S. got rid of their 842s wholesale by the 1970s– scrapping some and sinking others as targets– several continued to serve in overseas Allied navies for decades.

When Saigon fell in April 1975, Crestview/Dong Da II beat feet as part of the South Vietnamese exile flotilla to Luzon, where she, like most of that force, was later absorbed into Manila’s own forces.

The Philippines has used no less than 11 of these retired PCEs between craft transferred outright from the U.S. and ships taken up from former Vietnamese service, eventually replacing their Glen Miller-era GM 12-567A diesel with more modern GM 12-278As, as well as a host of improvements to their sensors (they now carry the SPS-64 surface search and commercial nav radars, for instance.) Gone are the ASW weapons and sonar, but they do still pack the old 3-incher, long since retired by just about everyone else, as well as a smattering of Bofors and Oerlikon.

Sultan Kudarat has reportedly been retired in preparation for the arrival of a more capable Pohang-class vessel that has been donated by South Korea.

The country still has four of the class on their Naval List, expected to retire by 2022.

  • BRP Miguel Malvar (PS-19), former USS Brattleboro (PCE(R)-852), ex RVN Ngọc Hồi, since 1975.
  • BRP Magat Salamat (PS-20), former USS Gayety (AM-239), ex RVN MSF-239, since 1975.
  • BRP Cebu (PS-28), former USS PCE-881, transferred from the U.S. in 1948.
  • BRP Pangasinan (PS-31), former USS PCE-891, transferred from the U.S. in 1948.

Warship Wednesday, July 3, 2019: The Frogmen of Balikpapan

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 (or unit) 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 3, 2019: The Frogmen of Balikpapan

U.S. National Archives 80-G-274676 via NHHC

Here, on a special WW where we take a break from an actual warship, we see a group of young U.S. Navy Underwater demolition personnel of UDT-18 aboard the fast transport (converted destroyer) USS Kline (APD-120) watching as Army B-25 bombers of the 13th Bomber Command plaster the invasion beaches off Balikpapan, Borneo circa 3 July 1945– 74 years ago today. They are waiting orders to leave their boat to clear underwater obstacles to go clear the beach to allow allied Australian troops to land. While the Pacific War would be over in less than two months, these frogmen, many of which are on their first mission, could not know that was looming and they had a Japanese-held beach to clear of obstacles.

According to Lt. JG C.F. Waterman, who took these amazing pictures, “Things looked rather bad at the moment and everyone was thoroughly scared.”

Originally formed in May 1943 as Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU), teams were created to clear beach obstacles in enemy-held areas. During the Torch Landings in North Africa, a group of Navy salvage personnel with a one-week crash course in demo hit the beaches but it was obvious a more dedicated force would be needed. That led to LCDR Draper L. Kauffman’s efforts to train teams ready to go ashore to clear a path. By Normandy, 34 NCDU teams would land on D-Day, suffering 53 percent casualties. They would repeat their efforts in the Dragoon Landings in Southern France in August 1944.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific, nine dedicated Underwater Demolition Teams were formed, largely from Seabees with a smattering of Marines, to work across Japanese-held atolls. First hitting Kwajalein on 31 January 1944, the Pacific teams initially were dressed for land combat like many of the NCDU members in Europe, with uniforms, boots, M1 helmets, and small arms in addition to their demo charges.

Underwater demolition team members boarding a landing craft off Saipan. Note belt equipment, life belt equipment, life belt and M-1 carbine of man in right center. His shirt indicates that he is a member of UDT-6. Photographed by Commander Bonnie Powell. 80-G-274665

Underwater demolition team members boarding a landing craft off Saipan. Note belt equipment, life belt equipment, life belt and M-1 carbine of man in right center. His shirt indicates that he is a member of UDT-6. Photographed by Commander Bonnie Powell. 80-G-274665

This soon changed as men skipped down to their swim trunks and swam on night missions to map the beaches before the landings. This later morphed into standard gear.

A model of the typical late-war UDT swimmer shown at the SEAL/UDT Musesum in Ft. Pierce. Note the dive mask, boots for use on coral, swim trunks, emergency life belt, demo bag, fins and knife. Around his chest is a board for drawing his section of beach. (Photo: Chris Eger)

A model of the typical late-war 1944-45 UDT swimmer shown at the SEAL/UDT Museum in Ft. Pierce. Note the dive mask, boots for use on coral, swim trunks, emergency life belt, demo bag, fins, and knife. Around his chest is a pencil to use on a board for drawing his section of beach. Around his right wrist is a plumb for measuring depth and distance. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Across Peleliu, the Philippines, Guam, and Iwo Jima, UDTs left their mark and went in first to guide the landing craft in and make a hole for them to hit the beach if needed.

A UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) explosive charge blows up an underwater obstacle off Agat Beach, Guam, during the invasion of that island, July 1944 80-G-700639

A UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) explosive charge blows up an underwater obstacle off Agat Beach, Guam, during the invasion of that island, July 1944 80-G-700639

By Okinawa, no less than eight full teams with 1,000 frogmen were utilized. There the nearly naked combat recon swimmers used aluminum paint (yikes!) to camouflage their skin against Japanese snipers– and to help insulate against the chilly Northern Pacific waters which could quickly lead to hypothermia.

Okinawa UDT members daubed aluminum paint on their bodies as camouflage to throw off Japanese marksmen. Photographed on the fantail of a fast transport (APD), circa Spring 1945 80-G-274695

Okinawa UDT members daubed aluminum paint on their bodies as camouflage to throw off Japanese marksmen. Photographed on the fantail of a fast transport (APD), circa Spring 1945 80-G-274695

Balikpapan would be the swan song of WWII frogmen ops with the final UDT demolition operation of the war on 3-4 July 1945, as the swimmers UDT-11 and UDT-18 removed their helmets and slid over the side of their landing craft before paddling to destiny in broad daylight.

Under the watchful eyes of Gen. MacArthur, whose flagship was just offshore, the frogmen, armed just with knives and demo charges, first mapped the beaches and then helped clear them, coming within range of Japanese mortars and small arms.

Back to the swan song:

Balikpapan was to be no walkover, as the Japanese defended the beaches well and, while they did not have Rommel’s Atlantikwall complete with Belgian Gates and Czech Hedgehogs, they did have thousands of punji stakes to impale infantry, mines, fougasse oil traps to burn men alive, wire obstacles, log barriers to hole landing craft, and the like.

Beach invasion spikes Posts were sunk in sunk in sand, 2 feet and interlocked with barbed wire. Balikpapan, Borneo, 4 July 1945

Off-shore log barricade on the beach at Balikpapan, Borneo.

Underwater demolition swimmers, awaiting the signal to enter the water, watch American planes strafe the invasion beach, 3 July 1945. 80-G-274677

Underwater demolition swimmers, awaiting the signal to enter the water, watch American planes strafe the invasion beach, 3 July 1945. 80-G-274677

An underwater demolition swimmer checks his swim fins and face mask, during UDT operations at Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. Name on his trunks is "Hopper". Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. Note tattoos. 80-G-274693

An underwater demolition swimmer checks his swim fins and face mask, during UDT operations at Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. Name on his trunks is “Hopper”. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. Note tattoos. 80-G-274693

An underwater demolition team's LCPR leaves its fast transport (APD), towing a rubber boat, 3 July 1945. This shows the way the rubber boat is positioned for UDT swimmer discharge and pickups. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274700

An underwater demolition team’s LCPR leaves its fast transport (APD), towing a rubber boat, 3 July 1945. This shows the way the rubber boat is positioned for UDT swimmer discharge and pickups in a method still used 75 years later. The machine guns of the LCPR are the only direct support the swimmers had– and they were typically out of range by the time the swimmers closed with the beach. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274700

UDT swimmers prepare to recover their gear and swim towards their objective area, after being dropped off by a landing craft. Photograph released circa 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion that July. 80-G-274690

UDT swimmers prepare to recover their gear and swim towards their objective area, after being dropped off by a landing craft. The photograph released circa 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion that July. 80-G-274690

Underwater demolition swimmer prepares for pickup, after he had completed his work off the Balikpapan beaches, 3 July 1945. Pickup boat is a rubber raft towed alongside a powerboat. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274701

Underwater demolition swimmer prepares for pickup after he had completed his work off the Balikpapan beaches, 3 July 1945. Pickup boat is a rubber raft towed alongside a powerboat. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274701

Recovery of a UDT swimmer, using a rubber raft towed alongside a power boat. Note swimmer's life belt, sheath knife and other equipment. Photo released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan operation early in July. 80-G-274683

Recovery of a UDT swimmer, using a rubber raft towed alongside a power boat. Note swimmer’s life belt, sheath knife, beach markers, and other equipment. Photo released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan operation early in July. 80-G-274683

Underwater demolition team swimmers wait in the rain to be taken aboard their fast transport, off Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. The swab mounted on the stern of their LCP(R) means "Clean sweep, day's work done". They are watching casualties going aboard from another LCP(R). Boat is from USS KLINE (APD-120). Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waterman. 80-G-274686

Underwater demolition team swimmers wait in the rain to be taken aboard their fast transport, off Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. The swab mounted on the stern of their LCP(R) means “Clean sweep, day’s work done”. They are watching casualties going aboard from another LCP(R). The boat is from USS KLINE (APD-120). Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waterman. 80-G-274686

Amazingly, the UDT teams at Balikpapan only suffered one, non-fatal, injury.

Underwater demolition swimmer, SF1c John Regan gets a drink and smoke after setting charges off Balikpapan, circa early July 1945. Note his sheath knife 80-G-274698

Underwater demolition swimmer, SF1c John Regan gets a drink and smoke after setting charges off Balikpapan, circa early July 1945. Note his sheath knife 80-G-274698

Ensign S.E. Lanier holds the nose of a Japanese 37mm shell which hit, but did not pierce, his helmet. Photographed released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion, early that July. 80-G-274691

Ensign S.E. Lanier holds the nose of a Japanese 37mm shell which hit but did not pierce, his helmet. Photographed released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion, early that July. 80-G-274691

Underwater demolition swimmers, MoM2c G.J. Bender, rests on board his UDT fast transport after working near the invasion beach, 3 July 1945. He is covered with oil, which was thick on the water near the beach. Note the boots. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waterman. 80-G-274678

It was expected that if they would have hit the beaches at Honshu in late 1945, a mission they were detailed to until the A-bombs intervened, the men of UDT-18 would have suffered 100 percent casualties. As it was, their unit was disestablished 3 November 1945, at Coronado.At the SEAL/UDT Museum in Fort Pierce, where NCDU’s and UDTs were formed and trained in WWII, they have a massive 7-foot long model of the old USS Kline on display and a statue of an era frogman dedicated to the “naked warriors” of Balikpapan and all the other beaches in which their brothers landed.

USS Kline (APD-120) at Seal Museum Fort Pierce (Chris Eger)

(Chris Eger)

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Warship Wednesday, June 26, 2019: The sub-smoking Greenfish of the Amazon

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, June 26, 2019: The sub-smoking Greenfish of the Amazon

Here we see into the sail of the Bahia-class submarine Amazonas (S16) of the Marinha do Brasil, in January 1985 as she was headed across the South Atlantic to the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. Her crew is participating in a swim call and the bluejacket is armed with an FN49 battle rifle, dubbed an FS in Brazilian service, on shark watch. While our hearty sub never saw active ship-to-ship combat, she had a long life and would go on to sink not one, but two submarines on her own accord.

A member of the 121-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were ‘fleet’ boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.

Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5,000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their deck guns. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

Some 311-feet long overall, they were all-welded construction to facilitate rapid building. Best yet, they could be made for the bargain price of about $7 million in 1944 dollars (just $100 million when adjusted for today’s inflation) and completed from keel laying to commissioning in about nine months.

An amazing 121 Balaos were rushed through five yards at the same time, with the following pennant numbers completed by each:

  • Cramp: SS-292, 293, 295-303, 425, 426 (12 boats)
  • Electric Boat: 308-313, 315, 317-331, 332-352 (42)
  • Manitowoc on the Great Lakes: 362-368, 370, 372-378 (15)
  • Mare Island on the West Coast: 304, 305, 307, 411-416 (9)
  • Portsmouth Navy Yard: 285-288, 291, 381-410, 417-424 (43)

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish the long-serving USS Catfish and the frogman Cadillac USS Perchbut don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

Originally to be named Doncella (after a shovel-nosed catfish), the Balao that became the first warship named Greenfish (after a Florida ladyfish) was laid down at Electric Boat Co., Groton, Connecticut, in June 1944– 75 years ago this week in fact– but came in too late for WWII service. She would be the 101st submarine to be launched at Groton.

Commissioned 7 June 1946, her shakedown cruises included one of the first transfers of personnel from an aircraft carrier, USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42), to a submarine by helicopter.

Greenfish in her as-built WWII-configuration, shown off Groton, Connecticut, in October 1947. Note her forward and aft 5-inch guns as well as her 40mm and 20mm cannon on the sail. Courtesy of D.M. McPherson, 1974. Catalog #: NH 79772

Greenfish in her as-built late WWII-configuration, shown off Groton, Connecticut, in October 1947. Note her forward and aft 5-inch guns as well as her 40mm and 20mm cannon on the sail. Courtesy of D.M. McPherson, 1974. Catalog #: NH 79772

Another task during her shakedowns was to Deep Six the captured German unterseeboot, U-234, off Cape Cod, Mass, 20 November 1947.

A Type XB “cargo U-boat” U-234 left Germany in the last days of the war in Europe with a dozen high-level officers and advisors, technical drawings, examples of the newest electric torpedoes, one crated Me 262 jet aircraft, a Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb and 1,210 lbs. of uranium oxide. She never made it Japan as her skipper decided to make for Canada instead after the fall of Germany. Two Japanese officers on board committed suicide and were buried at sea while the sub– packed with her very important glow in the dark stuff– surrendered to the destroyer escort USS Sutton south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland on 14 May, a week after VE Day.

Though other U-boats popped up after her (U-530 and U-977 arrived in Argentina in July and August 1945, respectively) U-234 has been called “The Last U-Boat” in at least two different documentaries about her voyage.

Anyway, back to our sub.

After logging at least three short “Simulated War Patrols” in the late 1940s, less than two years after she left EB, Greenfish was sent back for GUPPY IIA (Greater Underwater Propulsion Power) SCB-47 conversion.

This conversion included adding German-style snorkeling equipment, enlargement of her sail, removal of much of her deck armament, and doubling her batteries to increase her submerged speed and range. She landed her WWII listening gear for an updated type WFA active and JT passive sonar set.

Also, her four electric motors were replaced by two of more modern design. Some 22 U.S. boats got such a conversion.

As noted by Capt. Alfred Scott McLaren, USN (Ret.), in his memoir Silent and Unseen on Patrol in Three Cold War Attack Submarines, from his time on Greenfish:

The most significant modification within the submarine, or below decks, was to provide the capability to shift electrical connections among the four main lead-zinc batteries from a normal parallel to connection in series. This shift, used during maximum or flank speed operations only, provided sufficient electrical current, or amperage, to the two direct-drive electrical motors such that they could drive both propeller shafts at a sufficiently high RPM to attain underwater speeds in excess of twenty knots, providing the hull was free of the marine growth that normally accretes from long periods in port. Such high speeds provided a boat, when under attack, with at least one good opportunity to break free of enemy active sonar contact and escape from an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) surface vessel.

As for her accommodations, McLaren notes:

Crews of seventy-five to eighty men normally manned diesel electric submarines of this era. All submarines—as high-speed, deep-diving warships—are compact, and Greenfish was no exception. By necessity they use every inch of interior space, but without compromising their war-fighting capabilities. Approximately a tenth of crewmembers had to hot bunk: that is, they had to share their bunk with a fellow shipmate, with one man climbing into a bunk as soon as its previous occupant had vacated it. Most hot bunking took place in the forward torpedo room where the most junior members of the crew slept in side-by-side pan bunks, positioned on top of the torpedo reloads.

Although all boats of this era had heating and air-conditioning systems, the systems were notoriously ill-distributed through any given submarine’s interior, despite the improvements that had been made since the war. Adding to crew discomfort when on the surface was the fact that GUPPY submarines now had a rounded bow, versus the previous uplifted, pointed or fleet bow, causing the submarine to ride less comfortably than previously on the surface, particularly when heading directly into rough seas. Finally, none of these older submarines was particularly clean below decks. The need to cram more and more improved equipment within each submarine created innumerable and inaccessible dirt- and moisture-collection areas throughout the boat, especially in the bilges, which became breeding grounds for cockroaches.

Her reconstruction lasting some eight months, Greenfish emerged ready to fight as one of the most modern diesel boats in the world and, assigned to the Pacific Fleet, arrived at Pearl Harbor 25 November 1948 to go about her Cold War career.

Greenfish stepside sail

Note her streamlined GUPPY IIA profile, with her guns deleted and a step-side sail

When the balloon went up along the 38th Parallel, Greenfish sailed for Korean waters and completed a war patrol there, 31 January to 1 March 1952. Following this, she was one of the first boats to operate among the ice with the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Lab— perilous duty for a snorkeler.

She conducted her second Korean War Patrol 21 Aug – 12 Oct 1953

Then followed a pattern of local operations out of Pearl Harbor, “special operations,” exercises along the American West coast, periodic overhauls, West Pac cruises, exercises, and the like, for several years.

She also proved a platform for a new breed of Recon Marines from time to time.

Reconnaissance scouts of the 1st Provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force load into a rubber boat from Greenfish, a submarine of the Pacific fleet as they leave on a night mission against “enemy” installations on the island of Maui. The training afforded the Marines of the Task Force, which is based at the Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, is the most versatile offered to Marines anywhere October 7, 1954. Note the classic WWII “duck hunter” camo which had by 1954 been out of use for almost a decade except for special operations units. (Sgt D.E. Reyher DEFENSE DEPT PHOTO (MARINE CORPS) A290040.)

Night training launch from USS Greenfish 5.1.1953 via Force Recon Assoc

Night training launch from USS Greenfish 5.1.1953 via Force Recon Assoc

She would conduct at least six Special Patrols during this stage of her career:

Aug – Oct 1954
Oct – Nov 1955
21 Jul – 13 Sept 1956
3 Jun – 13 Jul 1958
17 -31 Jul 1958
Aug – Sept 1958

Stern view of four boats tied up in Pearl Harbor about 1959. Inboard to outboard are the Sabalo (SS-302), Carp (SS-338), Sterlet (SS-392) & Greenfish (SS-351).

Stern view of four GUPPY II boats tied up in Pearl Harbor about 1959. Inboard to outboard is USS Sabalo (SS-302), Carp (SS-338), Sterlet (SS-392) & Greenfish (SS-351).

Greenfish entered Pearl Harbor Shipyard 15 December 1960 for a FRAM (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) overhaul and extensive conversion to a GUPPY-III (SCB 223) class ship. This included cutting Greenfish in half and adding a 15-foot plug to her of hull to permit a new sonar room as well as space for more batteries and other equipment. She had one of her diesels removed to accommodate more A/C capacity and a larger freshwater distiller. She also picked up a BQG-4 PUFFS passive ranging (attack) sonar, with its distinctive three topside “shark fins.” Gone was her late 1940s WFA & JT sonars, replaced with PUFFS and augmented with a BQR-2B passive search sonar and BQS-4 active search sonar.

Only nine U.S. subs got the full GUPPY III treatment.

USS Greenfish (SS-351) with the shark fin arrays with the standard BQG-4 PUFFS system. This photo was taken in the 1960's timeframe. Text courtesy of QM2(SS) David Johnston, USNR. USN photo courtesy of http://ussubvetsofwwii.org

USS Greenfish (SS-351) with the shark fin arrays of the standard BQG-4 PUFFS system. Note her streamlined sail which had been raised an additional 5 feet to accommodate ever-increasing amounts of ESM equipment. This photo was taken in the 1960’s timeframe. Text courtesy of QM2(SS) David Johnston, USNR. USN photo courtesy of http://ussubvetsofwwii.org

Our still comparatively young boat, less than 13 years old, had by then been upgraded and converted extensively twice at this point. Her continued service included assignment to the 7th Fleet in Japan during the Cuban Missile Crisis, more periods of “special operations” which would result in a Navy Unit Commendation, ASW exercises, and, last but not least, a Vietnam patrol.

It is during this time that Greenfish counted her second “kill” when she torpedoed former Warship Wednesday alumni USS Barbero (SS/SSA/SSG-317) off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 October 1964, after that ship was stricken. Barbero was a Balao-class sistership.

Like the other WWII-era updated GUPPY boats, she was in the twilight of her U.S. service but had reached her prime.

Greenfish (SS 351) on Oct. 29, 1964, just three weeks after zapping sister ship Barbero. Photograph by Walter E. Frost City of Vancouver Archives

Greenfish at dock Dec. 2, 1967, Note her “E” swash on the sail and visiting Canadian Forces on deck. Photograph by Walter E. Frost, City of Vancouver Archives

Greenfish This submarine is shown underway in Subic Bay, Philippines, 28 October 1969. K-78775

Greenfish: This submarine is shown underway in Subic Bay, Philippines, 28 October 1969. K-78775

In 1970, Greenfish received a shipyard overhaul and was reassigned to Submarine Force Atlantic, making deployments to the Caribbean, the Med, and the North Atlantic for a northern European cruise as part of an ASW hunter-killer group together with the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid (CVS-11). It was during this time she apparently carried a couple Mk. 45 ASTOR nuclear torpedos.

Finally, Greenfish was decommissioned and struck from the US Naval Register on the same day, 29 October 1973, having completed 27 years of service for Uncle.

She had 16 skippers in U.S. service and made 2,600 dives while carrying the Union Jack:

CDR Ralph M. METCALF, USN 7 JUN 1946-27 JUN1947
CDR Robert C. GIFFIN, USN 27 JUN 1947-20 JUL1949
LCDR Murray B. BRAZEE, Jr., USN 20 JUL 1949-29 AUG1951
LCDR William P. W WILLIS, Jr., USN 29 AUG 1951-18 APR1953
LCDR Davis E. BUNTING , USN 18 APR 1953-10 JUL1954
LCDR James H. STEVENS, Jr. , USN 10 JUL 1954-23 JUN1956
LCDR John T. KNUDSEN, USN 23 JUN1 956-16 JUL1958
LCDR John A. Davis, Jr. , USN 16 JUL 1958-18 JUN1960
LCDR Homer R. BIVIN, USN 18 JUN 1960-7 JUL1962
LCDR John W. HEMANN, USN 7 JUL1962-10 JUL1964
LCDR Samuel L. CHESSER, USN 10 JUL1964-23 JUN1966
LCDR Robert C. BLANCHARD, USN 23 JUN 1966-13 MAR1968
LCDR Mark W. BYRD, USN 13 MAR 1968-7 APR 1970
CDR Karl L. PETERSON, USN 7 APR 1970-4 JAN 1972
CDR Kent B. LAWRENCE, USN 4 JAN 1972-26 OCT 1973
CDR Robert K. SLAVEN, Jr. , USN 26 OCT1973-19 DEC 1973

However, she was only halfway through with her career.

On 19 December 1973, she was transferred under terms of the Security Assistance Program to Brazil, where she was rechristened as the submarino Amazonas (S-16), the 8th such Brazilian warship to carry the name of that nation’s iconic river system.

Lt. Robert Wolfe, who was on board Greenfish for two years in the end her U.S. Navy career up to the transfer, was interviewed by the United States Navy Memorial in 2018 about the handover, being one of about a quarter of the crew who assisted with the physical transition.

The Brazilian Navy has long lived the words of Tenente Naval Engineer Emílio Julio Hess who said, “É o valor militar que justifica o submarino e define sua importância como arma de guerra” (It is the military value that justifies the submarine and defines its importance as a weapon of war.)

The Latin American nation has been in the submarine biz for 105 years, first contracting with the Italian firm of Fiat-Laurenti to craft three submersibles– F1, F3, and F5— commissioned 17 July 1914.

First Brazilian submarines: F1, F3, and F5, circa 1914.

After these three, Rio ordered a further four larger subs from the Italians in the 1930s including a Balilla-class and three Perla-class boats, which they used through WWII.

In 1957, the Brazilians went American by borrowing the Gato-class fleet boats USS Muskellunge and USS Paddle for five years under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program before turning them back in in 1963 for a pair of Balao-class boats: USS Plaice (SS-390), and USS Sand Lance (SS-381).

During  the 1972-73 time frame, Brazil pumped up their sub fleet with five surplus GUPPY II boats: USS Sea Leopard (SS-483), USS Amberjack (SS-522), USS Dogfish (SS-350), USS Odax (SS-484), and USS Grampus (SS-523) while Greenfish joined another GUPPY III, USS Trumpetfish (SS-425), as a pair of new British-made O-class subs were being built.

Greenfish/Amazonas went on to put in two decades with the Brazilians– including a 1985 African cruise, shown in the shark bait swim pic at the top of this post.

Amazonas na Baia da Guanabara, note red sail numbers and PUFFS system. Via naval.com.br

She took part in regular UNITAS operations, observed the British build up for the Falklands War, and, as noted by a former skipper, continued to carry old Mk 14 semi-straight running torpedoes and conduct (sometimes risky) dives to 400 feet well into her final years.

Greenfish/Amazonas struck from the fleet on 15 October 1992 but continued to serve as a museum boat at the Centro Historico da Marinha in Rio de Janeiro until 2004 when she was sold for scrap, as her condition had deteriorated.

Scrapping ex-Greenfish, Aft via HNSA

As such Greenfish/Amazonas outlasted five of Brazil’s six U.S. smoke boats, as Grampus and Odax were retired in 1981, Dogfish was scrapped in 1983, Amberjack in 1987, and Trumpetfish left the fleet in 1990. Sea Leopard endured as a pier side training vessel until 1993.

Greenfish is well remembered in maritime art.

USS 351 USS Greenfish loading a torpedo by John Houlden NHHC

USS Greenfish (SS-351) in Drydock – Bow by Jonathan Scott NHHC Accession Number 88-160-EG

Crew of Greenfish Shape-Up on Deck, December 16, 1970. Painting, Acrylic on Paper; by Dante H. Bertoni 88-161-aq

The crew of Greenfish Shape-Up on Deck, December 16, 1970. Painting, Acrylic on Paper; by Dante H. Bertoni NHHC 88-161-aq

Although Greenfish is no longer afloat– and her name was never reused– eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also on borrowed time)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

As for Greenfish‘s final home country, currently, the Brazilians field five German Tupi-class (Type 209) SSKs commissioned between 1989 and 2005, which are slated to be replaced by five Riachuelo-class (French Scorpene type) submarines in the near future.

Brazilian submarine Tupi class S30 SSK German Type 209 frogmen commando swimmers

Brazilian Tupi (S30) a German Type 209 SSK, with frogmen commando swimmers. The more things change…

Meanwhile, the name Amazonas has been reissued a ninth time by the Marinha do Brasil, to a British-built corvette (P120) commissioned in 2012.

Specs:
Displacement:
1,848 tons (1,878 t) surfaced (as built); 1,870 GUPPY IIA; 1,975 GUPPY III
2,440 tons (2,479 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft as built; 307 ft. GUPPY IIA; 322 ft. GUPPY III
Beam: 27 ft 4 in
Draft: 17 ft
Propulsion:
(1945)
4 × General Motors Model 16-278A V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
4 × high-speed General Electric motors with reduction gears
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
(1949): Snorkel added, one diesel engine and generator removed, batteries upgraded to 504 cells, 2 electric motors
Speed:
(Designed)
20.25 knots surfaced
8.75 knots submerged
(Post-GUPPY)
Surfaced:
18.0 knots maximum
13.5 knots cruising
Submerged:
14.1 knots for a ½ hour
8.0 knots snorkeling
3.0 knots cruising
Range: 11,000 nautical miles surfaced at 10 knots
Endurance:
48 hours at 2 knots submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement:10 officers, 70–72 enlisted
Armament:
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
6 forward, 4 aft
24 torpedoes
2 × 5-inch (127 mm) /25 caliber deck guns (removed for GUPPY)
1x Bofors 40 mm and 1x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon (removed for GUPPY)
two .50 cal. machine guns

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

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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, June 19, 2019: Coming Full Circle, OTD 104 & 75 Years Ago

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, June 19, 2019: Coming Full Circle, OTD 104 & 75 Years Ago

Launch of USS Arizona (BB-39) UA 476.12

NARA Photo UA 476.12

As a special Warship Wednesday, above we see Battleship No. 39, PCU USS Arizona at her launch on her builder’s ways at the New York Navy Yard, 19 June 1915– some 104 years ago today.

The second ship of the Pennsylvania-class, Arizona‘s keel had been laid on 16 March 1914 with then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt in attendance. The ceremony included FDR closely observing the nailing up of the ship’s good luck horseshoe.

Laying Keel of U.S.S. Battleship Number 39, Nailing of the Horseshoe. NARA 10-a2-131-0004-00011 AC

Detail of the above, with a very mobile and bowler-wearing FDR circled, peering down on the ceremony. He would not be stricken with polio until 1921

Her launching, just 15 months after she was laid down, was attended by a reported crowd of 75,000 including Roosevelt, NYC Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, most of the big name naval brass of the era– the modern battleships Florida, Utah, Wyoming, Arkansas, New York, and Texas were in the Hudson for the event– and various luminaries of the day. It was quite the affair.

USS ARIZONA (BB-39) Launching Ticket. Courtesy of Mr. R. Lincoln Hedlander, USS LEVIATHAN Veterans Association. NH 75450

Secretary of the Navy invitation to the ship’s launching, at the New York Navy Yard, 19 June 1915. Note Secretary of the Navy flag and Arizona State seal. Courtesy of Mrs. Worth Sprunt, 1974. Collection of Rear Admiral B. F. Hutchison. NH 81429

There was a huge delegation from her namesake state led by Arizona Gov. George W. P. Hunt and including Sen. Henry F. Ashurst and pioneer Miss Esther Rose– the latter a sponsor who brought a carboy of the water from the state’s Salt River first spilled over the Theodore Roosevelt Dam in 1911, for use in the double christening of water and wine across the ship’s bow.

The good people of Arizona would, over the next year while the ship was fitting out at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, go on to fund an extensive Reed & Barton silver service for “their” new battleship by popular subscription. It was ready to present to the dreadnought upon her commissioning in 1916.

Removed during a “strip ship” by the US Navy at Bremerton, Washington in late 1940-early 1941 in preparation for the war, the service was later carried aboard the light cruiser USS Tucson (CL-98) and returned to the state in 1953. Today, the treasured relics are on display at the Arizona Capitol Museum

The 1915 event was, by contemporary accounts, the top news of the day.

Heading down the ways. NARA Photo 19-N-3339

USS Arizona afloat after launch NARA 19-LC-19A-24

USS Arizona pushed by tugs after launch. The third warship named after the territory/state; the Navy has never again issued the name. NARA 19-LC-19A-10

Fast forward from that joyous day in 1915 and Arizona would be a happy and lucky ship– remaining stateside during World War I– across more than two decades of faithful service until that fateful Day of Infamy, as later-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would describe her loss to the world.

On 7 December 1941, she was hit multiple times in the first few minutes of the Japanese attack with one air-dropped bomb penetrating the armored deck near her forward ammunition magazine, sparking a massive explosion that killed 1,177 of the sailors and Marines on board. Mortally damaged, Arizona still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row.

Curiously, on the 29th anniversary of Arizona‘s christening (19 June 1944– 75 years ago today) the opening acts of the pivotal Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the last gasps of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was well underway.

Remembered as the “Marianas turkey shoot”, the Japanese lost three precious aircraft carriers and 600 warplanes of their fleet air arm along with their irreplaceable pilots– which amounted to something like 90 percent of their effective naval aviation strength across the IJN.

A VF-1 Top Hatter F6F-3 fighter is launched from USS YORKTOWN, to intercept enemy forces during Mariana's turkey shoot 19 June 1944. Note target information board under the propeller. 80-G-248440

A VF-1 Top Hatter F6F-3 Hellcat fighter is launched from USS YORKTOWN, to intercept enemy forces during Mariana’s turkey shoot 19 June 1944. Note target information board under the propeller. 80-G-248440

Among those Japanese flattops scratched that day included Shokaku, one of six Japanese carriers of the Kido Butai to participate in the Pearl Harbor attack that sunk Arizona. Shokaku was struck at 11:22 on 19 June by three to four torpedoes from the submarine USS Cavalla (SS-224) and slipped below the waves just after midnight on the 20th, taking some 1,272 men with her.

The scale, you could say, was balanced.

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, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

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, June 12, 2019: The End of l’Ancien Régime, Beginning of Another

NH 110742 French Warships in port, circa 1939 Mediterranean palm trees and old fort 2400-tonne type destroyer battleship Courbet, while a Duguay Trouin class light cruiser is to the right

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 93575

Here we see the first French dreadnought, Courbet, class leader of a four-ship group of mighty warships built for the French Third Republic. She is the largest ship to the far left, seen at Villefranche during late 1938 or early 1939. She gave her last full measure some 75 years ago this week but left an interesting legacy.

When built, Courbet and her sisters were the Republic’s answer to the growing trend of all-big-gun battleships started with the launch of the Royal Navy’s HMS Dreadnought in 1906.

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

French Battleship COURBET as Build 1911

Part of the 1909 Naval Plan, these big French battlewagons went nearly 26,000-tons (FL) and carried an impressive main battery of a dozen new design 12-inch (305mm) 45 Modèle 1906 guns. These big boys, in six twin turrets, were comparable to the U.S. Navy’s 12″/45 caliber Mark 5 gun on five classes of American battleships (Connecticut, Mississippi, South Carolina, Delaware, and Florida) as well as the British BL 12-inch Mk X naval guns which were mounted on not only  Dreadnought herself but also a dozen other RN battleships and battlecruisers of the day.

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet, forward turrets photographed by Robert W. Neeser, probably at Toulon, France, circa 1919. Note the triplex rangefinder on the conning tower. She carried 100 rounds per gun in her magazines, which interestingly were refrigerated to 77-degrees, a bonus on a steel ship designed to operate in the Med. NH 42849

Courbet 12-inch and 5.5-inch (138mm) guns photographed by Robert W. Neeser. These ships carried an impressive 22 of the latter, each with 225 shells. NH 42848

Laid down at Arsenal de Brest, our 21-knot beastie, named after famed French Admiral Amédée Courbet of Indochina fame, was soon followed by sister ship Jean Bart, constructed at the same time by the same yard. Two other sisters, France and Paris, were built by A C de la Loire, St-Nazaire and F C de la Méditerranée, La Seyne, respectively.

French battleship Paris, trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L'Illustration

French battleship Paris, the trial at full steam from the 1 August 1914 issue of L’Illustration

Courbet commissioned in November 1913 and the entire class were all at sea by the time the lamps went out across Europe in August 1914. Their design was essentially recycled to create the follow-on Bretagne (Brittany)-class dreadnoughts who were up-armed with 13.5-inch guns.

Courbet entered the Great War monitoring of the Otranto canal, a vital sea route connecting the Adriatic with the Ionian while keeping an eye peeled for the German battlecruiser SMS Goeben. She served at the time as flagship for Vice Admiral Boue de Lapeyrère, who led a force that comprise most of France’s battlefleet along with two British cruisers.

Courbet

Courbet

On 16 August 1914, the fresh new battleship and her task force came across the small (2,500-ton) Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser SMS Zenta and a companion destroyer, SMS Ulan, off the coast of Bar, Montenegro. The ensuing action, remembered today as the Battle of Antivari, was brief, with Ulan escaping destruction and Zenta, her guns far outranged by the French, destroyed, taking 173 of the Austrian Kaiser’s men to the bottom of the Adriatic with her. The war was just two weeks old.

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

Painting showing SMS Zenta and SMS Ulan in action on 16 August 1914, with Courbet and company in the distance, by Harry Heusser via Illustrirte Zeitung 1915, wiki

When the Italians entered the conflict on the Allied side in May 1915, the Austrian fleet was bottled up for the rest of the war and Courbet, along with most of the French capital ships, were likewise sidelined, waiting the next four years just in case for a fleet action that would never come. After 1916, most of her crew was pulled and detailed to submarines and small craft, a common occurrence with the French navy at the time.

Remaining rusting in Corfu until April 1919, Courbet returned to Toulon where she became the nominal flagship of the West Mediterranean Fleet while she conducted extensive repairs through 1923.

Put back into service, she suffered a major electrical fire at the French North African port of Mers El Kebir which required further extensive repairs at FCM in La Seyne Sur Mer through 1924. Courbet was a member of an unlucky class perhaps, as sister ship France foundered at sea and was lost at about the same time.

In 1927, with Courbet‘s original design increasingly dated, she was hauled out of the water and given a three-year rebuild and modernization. This included retrunking into two funnels, down from three, updating her propulsion plant by taking her old coal boilers and direct drive turbines with oil-burning small-tube boilers and new geared turbines which provided 43,000 shp (up from 29,250). She lost her torpedo tubes (like battleships really used them) and reinforced her anti-air defenses in the form of 76mm high-angle pieces and a smattering of 13.2mm machine guns. Jean Bart and Paris were given similar overhauls.

She emerged looking very different:

Courbet original and post modernization

Courbet original, top, and postmodernization, bottom

In 1934, she was made a full-time gunnery school ship, her place in the French battle line going to the new 26,000-ton Dunkerque-class of fast (29.5-knot) battleships ordered for the French Navy the same year. Likewise, her sister Jean Bart, renamed Ocean, was made a training hulk at about the same time while Paris was used as a school ship for signals rates.

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

Courbet and Jean Bart in Algeria

With World War II on the horizon, Courbet and Paris were taken from their taskings on the training roster in June 1939 and placed in the French Navy’s 3eme Division de Ligne, fleshing out their ranks, taking on power and shell, and installing more AAA guns.

Reportedly, the ships had troublesome engineering suites, only capable of making about 15 knots and even that speed could not be sustained.

Tasked with coastal defense, Courbet was moved to Cherbourg on the English Channel in May 1940. From there, she engaged  German aircraft poking their nose over the harbor and helped support the withdrawal from the beaches of Dunkirk. Later, as the German Army broke through and swept towards Paris, Courbet fired on advancing Boche columns of Rommel’s 7. Panzerdivision outside of Cherbourg before she raised steam and headed across the Channel to Portsmouth on June 19/20. Her sister Paris, damaged by German bombs, likewise left Brest for Plymouth, England at about the same time.

With France officially dropping out of WWII and the Third Republic voting to give full powers to Philippe Petain, the elderly battleships Paris and Courbet were seized and disarmed at their British moorings by Royal Marines on order of Churchill on 3 July as part of Operation Catapult.

On 18 July 1940, De Gaulle addressed France, and Frenchmen everywhere, with his famous “Report to me” speech in which he specifically mentioned French sailors. (“J’invite les chefs, les soldats, les marins, les aviateurs des forces françaises de terre, de mer, de l’air, où qu’ils se trouvent actuellement, à se mettre en rapport avec moi.”)

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow IWM

Courbet-class battleship Paris in British hands, 1940, note the Union Jack on her bow and false bow wave. IWM

Paris, in bad condition, had her crew totally removed– who largely decided to return to France. She would be turned over to the Free Polish Navy who would use her for a dockside trainer and clubhouse until 1945 when she was returned to French custody and scrapped.

As for Courbet, she was turned over to 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 ,on 10 July, becoming the largest and arguably most effective French warship not under Vichy control. Meanwhile, hulked sister Jean Bart remained in Vichy hands in Toulon on the Med, along with the bulk of the French Navy that wasn’t hiding out in Africa or the Caribbean.

Cuirassé Courbet à Portsmouth 1940, note the false bow wave painted on her bow.

Rearmed in August 1940, Courbet‘s AAA gunners managed to splash five German bombers over Portsmouth during the Battle of Britain. She continued her role as a floating symbol for De Gaulle and receiving ship for the rapidly forming Free French Navy for the next four years but sadly never left port under her own steam again.

Enter Monsieur Philippe Kieffer, stage left.

Philippe Kieffer

This guy.

The day after World War II started with the German invasion of Poland, Kieffer, a 40-year-old Haitian-born Alsatian bank executive in New York City, presented himself at the French consulate in Manhattan and signed up for the Navy. Having been schooled as a reserve naval officer in university but graduating too late in 1918 to fight in the Great War, the skilled financial analyst was given a sub-lieutenant’s commission and assigned to help flesh out Courbet‘s ranks, where he was assigned as an interpreter and cipher officer. Still aboard her when she left for England, he volunteered for the Free French Forces on 1 July 1940 and remained on her during the Battle of Britain.

In Portsmouth in May 1941, he formed a group of 40 volunteers, largely drawn from Courbet and Paris’s remaining crew who chose to not be repatriated to Vichy France, dubbed the 1re Compagnie de Fusiliers Marins (1st Company of Naval Rifles). Soon, his handful of bluejackets were wearing British uniforms and learning from the likes of former Shanghai Police Inspectors William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes at the commando training center in Achnacarry, Scotland. There, they picked up the general tricks of the dirty deeds done dirt cheap trade.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French naval insignia-- likely Keiffer -- and carries a Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

French marines of No. 1 Troop, No. 10 Commando. Note the British kit, to include No. 1 MK III Enfields. The officer at the left wears French sub-lieutenant naval insignia– likely Keiffer — and carries a Great War-era Mle 1892 8mm revolver.

His force became No. 1 Troop, No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando. Taking part in the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, his forces were expanded to include a second troop, No. 8, and his men were often used in small scale raids and intelligence ops along the coasts of occupied Holland and Belgium for the next two years.

In early 1944, Kieffer’s two troops, along with a smattering of new recruits (including a few Belgians and at least four Luxembourgers) were carved off from No. 10 Commando and formed the new 1re Compagnie du Bataillon de Fusiliers-Marins Commandos (1st Company of the Battalion of Marine Fusilier Commandos, or just BFMC). Geared up for Operation Overlord, they were part of British No 4 Commando of Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade and landed on Sword Beach on D-Day, some 177-men strong, for their official return to France, Tommy guns in hand.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was killed on D-Day by a sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Philippe Kieffer, in commando garb meeting Monty, along with early BFMC legends Augustin Hubert (glasses) and Charles Trépel (making friends with the pointy thing.) The dashing Trepel would be killed in a commando raid off the Dutch coast in 1944 while Hubert was fatally shot on D-Day by a German sniper near the Ouistreham casino.

Kieffer’s Bérets Verts (Green Berets) would soon push from the beach to link up with the 6th Parachute Division at Pegasus Bridge and go on to suffer 21 killed and 93 wounded in the days that was to follow, with the latter including Kieffer.

French villagers welcome French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. thompson tommy gun Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944.

French villagers welcome BFMC French Naval Commandos who D-Day landings. Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944. Note the green beret’s M1928 Thompson and Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife.

Before the war was out, his men were the first unformed members of the Free French to enter Paris, see the elephant again at Walcheren, liberate Flessinge, help capture the port of Antwerp, and carry out raids along the Dutch Coast. Not bad for a banker.

As for Courbet, she was at Sword Beach as well, just a few days behind Kieffer’s famed 177.

By 1944 she was old news. The Free French Navy, after the collapse of Vichy France in November 1942, had picked up the scratch and dent but much newer fast battleships Jean Bart and Richelieu, which were given extensive refits in America, as well as the still (somewhat) combat effective Bretagne-class dreadnought Lorraine, the latter of which was soon to see combat in the Operation Dragoon landings in the Med.

With her marginalization as De Gaulle’s unneeded 4th battleship, Courbet‘s bunker oil was pumped out and replaced with concrete as her crew removed their possessions. She was towed out of Portsmouth by HMRT Growler and HMRT Samsonia with her remaining French skeleton crew along for the ride on 9 June, bound for the invasion beaches of Normandy with TF 128.

Stopping some 3,360 meters in front of Hermanville near Ouistreham, her crew was evacuated at 13:15 and 10 minutes later her skipper, Capt. Wertzel, triggered the detonation of a series of installed scuttling charges that soon sent France’s first dreadnought 33 feet to the bottom, still flying her tricolor flag adorned with De Gaulle’s Cross of Lorraine, to give the impression that she was still in some form of service.

French Battleship Courbet was sunk as part of Gooseberry 5 on D+3. Note her decks almost awash, the benefit of having a 29-foot draft in 33 feet of water.

Courbet was part of a line of blockships laid off the beaches to form a reef before the rest of the Mulberry dock system was assembled to bring supplies to the beach.

There were to be five “Gooseberry” breakwaters, one for each beach:
No. 1 Utah Beach at Varreville
No. 2 Omaha Beach at St. Laurent (Part of MULBERRY A)
No. 3 Gold Beach at Arromanches (Part of MULBERRY B)
No. 4 Juno Beach at Courseulles
No. 5 Sword Beach at Oistreham

In all, the breakwaters were to be formed by about 60 blockships (approximately 12 in each Gooseberry) which were all merchant vessels except the disarmed King George V-class battleship HMS Centurion, Free Dutch Java-class light cruiser HNLMS Sumatra, Danae-class light cruiser HMS Durban and our Courbet.

A typical Gooseberry breakwater

The sinking of blockships was to commence p.m. D+1 and the Gooseberries were to be completed by D+3, with Courbet being one of the final pieces of the puzzle at Sword Beach (Gooseberry 5), which was to include the merchant ships Becheville, Dover Hill, Empire Defiance, Empire Tamar, Empire Tana, and Forbin along with the old cruisers Durban and Sumatra.

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Gooseberry 5 off the beaches at Ouistreham, showing Sumatra and Durban

Courbet, still with her war flag flying, was one of the few blockships to be “manned” with generators supplying power to her eight searchlights and a radio. A crew of 35 men from the Royal Artillery was left in charge of her AAA guns for the next several weeks with the intention of drawing away Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine attacks on the vulnerable beachhead while at the same time possibly splashing a couple of raiders.

The concept worked, as reportedly the very grounded Courbet was hit by German Neger human torpedoes (Einmann-Torpedo) of K-Flottille 361 during the nights of both August 15/16 to 16/17, without effect.

As the breakout occurred and the fighting moved inland, her British gunners were withdrawn in September and Courbet‘s flag hauled down, presented to De Gaulle’s government with honors.

On 14 February 1951, the wrecks in Gooseberry 5 were auctioned by the French government to be salvaged and slowly scrapped, a process that took until 1970 to be completed. By coincidence, Jean Bart, the last French (or European for that matter) battleship afloat, was scrapped the same year at Brégaillon near Toulon, making Courbet and big Jean something of bookends on the tale of French dreadnoughts.

As for Kieffer, Courbet‘s star, he would die at age 63 in 1962, a Commandeur du Légion d’Honneur.

Of the current seven French Commando battalions today, three bear the name of officers of the WWII 1st BFMC: Augustin Hubert, Charles Trépel and Kieffer. Meanwhile, French marine commandos still wear the badge Kieffer designed and issue the Fairbairn-Sykes.

French Fusiliers marins et commandos marine fighting knife green beret via French marines

In the seven decades since the 1st BFMC, more than 8,300 French commandos have followed in their footsteps. To say they have been extremely busy in the past 70 years is an understatement.

French heartthrob Christian Marquand would portray Kieffer in 1962’s The Longest Day, correctly wearing BFMC-badged green berets during the seizure of the Ouistreham casino (which had actually been destroyed prior to the landing). If Marquand looks familiar, he also played the holdout French plantation owner in Apocalypse Now Redux. Notably, Kieffer served on the film as a technical adviser just before he died.

Last week, on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, a monument to Kieffer and his 177 commandos was unveiled on Sword Beach, with Commando Kieffer frogmen and past veterans in attendance. A piece of salvaged steel plate from Courbet is incorporated into the display.

Specs:

Courbet class, 1914 Jane’s

Displacement:
23,475 t (23,104 long tons) (normal)
25,579 t (25,175 long tons) (full load)
Length: 544 ft 7 in (o/a)
Beam: 88 ft 7 in
Draught: 29 ft 8 in
Machinery (1913)
24 Niclausse coal-fired boilers with Bellville oil spray systems
4 shafts; 4 × Parsons direct drive steam turbine sets
28,000 PS (20,594 kW; 27,617 shp)
2,700 tons coal/1,000 tons oil.
Range of 8,400nm at 10 knots
Machinery (1934)
16 oil-fired boilers
4 shafts; 4 × Geared steam turbine sets
43,000 PS
Speed: 21 knots (designed) only 20.74 on trials in 1913. 16 knots by 1940
Complement: 1,115 (1,187 as flagship)
Armor:
Waterline belt: 140–250 mm (5.5–9.8 in)
Deck: 40–70 mm (1.6–2.8 in)
Turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
Conning tower: 266 mm (10.5 in)
Armament: (1913)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
22 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
4 × single 47 mm (1.9 in) M1902 3-pdr AAA guns
4 × 450 mm (17.7 in) Model 1909 submerged torpedo tubes with 12 torpedoes
30 Blockade mines
Armament: (1940)
6 × twin 305 mm (12 in) 45 cal guns
14 × single 138 mm (5.4 in) 45 guns
8 x 75mm/50cal M1922 AAA guns
14 x 13.2mm machine guns

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

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