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Warship Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle & the Forgotten Ocean

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct.5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle and the Forgotten Ocean

U.S. National Archives photo 80-G-446967

Above we see the crew of the British Colossus-class light aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) on deck for an inspection by Field Marshal Earl Alexander, the British Defense Minister, on 14 June 1952. Ocean was at the time off the Korean coast– a peninsula where she was highly active some 70 years ago– and she has Hawker Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fairey Fireflys of 825 Squadron aboard. It looks like the light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) is off her stern.

Ocean is often forgotten when it comes to British carriers, as it seems everyone just cares about the ones that were active in WWII and the Falklands and forgot about everything between 1946 and 1982, however, she was important in naval history– being the first flattop to host a jet (intentionally) as well as probably the last to have a combat-ready biplane take off from her deck. As you can tell in the above, she also saw a good bit of combat as well.

Ocean was one of 16 planned “1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers” for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot-long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25 knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies or remain on station in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry with 12 of the 16 sisters listed.

Capable of carrying up to 45 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Two were completed as a peculiar RN invention of a “maintenance carrier,” intended just to repair and ferry but not operate aircraft. Some were immediately transferred to expanding Commonwealth fleets. Suddenly, the Australians, Canadians, and Indians became carrier operators. The Dutch (later passed on to the Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader HMS Colossus was even sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Our Ocean, a long time coming

The fifth HMS Ocean in the Royal Navy since 1761 was laid down in Scotland on 8 November 1942 at Alexander Stephen & Sons Limited in Glasgow. However, she was a slow build-out and wasn’t launched until after D-Day, with the Australians showing an interest in acquiring her. (While the Australian deal fell through, they did ultimately operate no less than three of her sisters after the war.)

Ocean was captured by noted English painter, Sir Henry George “Harry” Rushbury, at the time, while Sir Henry was working as an official war artist– a job the 56-year-old had done in the Great War as well– around the port of Glasgow.

Shipbuilding, Glasgow, a view looking up at the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) under construction from the quayside. A crane transporting a component onto the deck of the ship looms above while cables and wires cross from the ship to the quay, by Sir Henry Rushbury, 1944. © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/23522

This left the Admiralty to commission Ocean on 8 August 1945, three months after the war ended in Europe and just a week before the surrender of the Empire of Japan in World War II was announced by Emperor Hirohito on 15 August.

The aircraft carrier HMS Ocean at sea, late 1945. IWM A 30618

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JULY 1945, AT SEA. (A 30619) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161723

Although it had been intended to rush her to join the British Pacific Fleet as a dedicated night fighter carrier in the last push to take down Japan, that plan evaporated soon after she was commissioned and Ocean, therefore, spent the rest of 1945 in home waters at Rosyth as a trials ship, including the final embarkation of the iconic Fairey Swordfish “Stringbag” torpedo bomber that had won laurels at Taranto and against the Bismarck early in the war.

Capable of just 140 knots when wide open, while dated when it came to any sort of warfare in WWII, the Fairey Swordfish became a formidable ASW asset against surfaced U-Boats due to their low-speed and stable flight. Ocean was the last British carrier to operate the type. IWM A 24981

She was also the trials ship for the new twin-engine De Havilland Sea Hornet F.20, with prototype PX219– the full naval version– conducting carrier deck trials on board Ocean in late 1945 with renowned test pilot Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown at the controls. The plane was notable for being the fastest production piston-engine aircraft ever put into service.

The Sea Hornet was designed with cues from the successful De Havilland DH98 Mosquito and powered by a pair of massive 2,070 hp Merlin engines. Brown would later describe it as “Like flying a Ferrari in the sky.”

Winkle Brown also made a bit more history on Ocean in 1945, just before the year was out.

On 4 December 1945, he made the world’s first carrier landing by a jet, bringing the second prototype De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, No. LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean.

De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, on 3 December 1945.

Peacetime service

Deployed to the Mediterranean Fleet in late 1945 with a wing of Seafires and Fireflys, Ocean left her aircraft behind in Malta to run troops to Singapore the next summer, then responded that October to the stricken destroyers HMS Saumarez (G12) and HMS Volage (R41), both of which had been damaged by Albanian infernal devices while conducting mine-clearing operations in the Corfu Channel.

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JUNE 1948, GRAND HARBOUR, MALTA. (A 31456) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162475

In 1948, Ocean covered the British withdrawal from their troublesome Palestine mandate-– leaving the Jews and the Arabs to fight it out in the war that followed.

A rare sight post-1945: three British carriers at sea. HMS Ark Royal (R09), HMS Albion (R07), and the little HMS Ocean (R68) bringing up the rear. IWM

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel in June 1950, Ocean’s sister, HMS Triumph, happened to be in Japanese waters with the rump occupation fleet of Task Force 95 and soon, in conjunction with the American Essex-class fleet carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), was performing air strikes on North Korean airfields within a week of the outbreak of the conflict. By October, another sister, HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea to join her, with her two dozen Sea Furys logging almost 500 sorties a month by December and a whopping 3,500 sorties in just 86 days. 

Soon, Ocean was being prepped to head to the Pacific to give her sisters some relief.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION. 1951, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN AS SHE RECEIVED HER NEW COMMISSION TO JOIN THE MEDITERRANEAN FLEET. (A 31944) Some of the aircraft of Nos 807, 810, and 898 Squadrons, were stowed on HMS OCEAN’s flight deck after the first landing on the light fleet carrier’s new commission. HMS OCEAN sailed from Portland and joined the 2nd Aircraft Carrier Squadron at Malta on August 3rd. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162892

HMS Ocean. Firefly F.R.5s of 810 squadron ranged on deck, engines running ready for takeoff. Commander (Flying) observes from FlyCo. Working up in the Mediterranean from September 1951 to April 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

On April 5th, 1952, HMS Ocean passes the liner Empress of Australia while leaving Grand Harbor, Malta for the Far East. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

HMS Ocean passing through the Suez Canal on passage to East Asia, May 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

Her first tour off Korea would run from May to November 1952, with Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fireflys of 825 Squadron embarked.

ON BOARD HMS OCEAN DURING OPERATIONS IN KOREAN WATERS. 10 JULY 1952. (A 32250) A Firefly of 825 Squadron landing on HMS OCEAN on return from attacking enemy targets. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163137

HMS OCEAN IN KOREA, 1952 – 1953 (KOR 32) A Hawker Sea Fury, with RATOG (Rocket Assisted Take Off Gear), taking off from the carrier HMS OCEAN in Sasebo Harbour, Japan. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205191739

THE ADMIRAL PAID A VISIT. 11 JULY 1952, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN. DURING PATROLS OFF KOREA REAR ADMIRAL A K SCOTT-MONCRIEFF, DSO, FLAG OFFICER SECOND IN COMMAND, FAR EAST STATION, TRANSFERRED FROM HIS FLAGSHIP HMS BELFAST TO HMS OCEAN AND SPENT 4 DAYS ABOARD WHILE HER AIRCRAFT ATTACKED TARGETS IN NORTH WEST KOREA. (A 32243) HMS OCEAN at speed, with planes ranged on deck, in the Yellow Sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016293

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32259) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016296

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF, AND ONBOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN, AS SHE TOOK PART IN OPERATION PRESSURE PUMP, TARGETING THE NORTH KOREAN CAPITAL OF PYONGYANG. (A 32261) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016298

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32262) Sea Furies and Fireflies ranged on the flight deck of HMS OCEAN. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163145

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32260) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016297

The Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) approaching the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) off Korea, before the transfer of RADM Alan Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command, Far East Station from his flagship Belfast to Ocean to observe air operations against targets in north-west Korea. IWM A 32244

HMS Ocean at flying stations, a Sea Fury is on the catapult ready to launch. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

West coast of Korea. At least 33 Sea Furys and Fireflies with WWII D-day style invasion stripes were applied to avoid misidentification as North Korean aircraft, ready to launch as part of Operation Pressure Pump, on 11 July 1952, targeting railways outside the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. IWM KOR 27

On 9 August 1952, FAA LT Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, who flew Corsairs at the end of WWII, was at the controls of his Sea Fury and logged the only official victory of a piston-engine aircraft over a jet fighter during the Korean War. His four-plane section was attacking railroad facilities near Chinnampo when they were jumped by eight MiG-15s, leaving at least one of the latter burned into the countryside and two others reportedly smoking. While today the kill is usually credited to Carmichael’s young No. 4, Sub-LT Brian “Shmoo” Ellis, the fact remains that on that day a Sea Fury from Ocean bested a MiG and all four British aircraft returned safely to their carrier, where they received a “pretty euphoric” welcome, whereas the MiGs could not say the same. 

From 802 Squadron’s War Diary for the Day: 

Lieutenant Carmichael, Lieutenant Davis and Sub-Lieutenants Haines and Ellis started the ball rolling this morning by flying the first AR of the patrol. By 0600 they had entered the area and had commenced their Hanchon and Pyongyang to Chinnampo rail search. By 0630 they had reconnoitered as far south as Chinji-ri, a small village about 15 miles north of Chinnampo. As they meandered down the line, checking the bridge state as they went, they suddenly saw eight jet bogies to the north. Almost immediately the bogies were identified as MiGs – and were closing. By this time drop tanks were fluttering earthwards and the flight had assumed proper battle formation and No.4 – Sub Lieutenant Ellis – had noticed a shower of red tracer streaming past both sides of his fuselage. He cried “Break” over the R/T and the flight commenced a “Scissors”. It was soon apparent that four MiGs were after each section of two Furies but by continuing their break turns our aircraft presented practically impossible targets to the enemy who made no attempt to bracket.

‘On one occasion a MiG came head-on to Lieutenant Carmichael and Sub Lieutenant Haines – they both fired –  it broke away and proceeded to go head-on to Lieutenant Davies and Sub Lieutenant Ellis – they both fired and registered hits. On another occasion, a MiG pulled up in front of Ellis with its air brakes out and he was amused to find the range closing. He gave a long burst and noticed hits on the enemy’s wings. The aircraft then proceeded northwards and a reduced speed with two other MiGs in company. Meanwhile, the flight, still in its battle formation, managed a dozen or so more firing passes at the MiGs head-on. The dog fight lasted 4-5 minutes and then the MiGs disappeared as quickly as they had arrived – as they departed an aircraft was seen to crash into a hillside and blow up. At first Lieutenant Carmichael thought it was one of his flight and ordered a tell-off. However when No.4 came up “loud and clear” it was realized that the Royal Navy had shot down its first communist aircraft. Lieutenant Carmichael as flight leader is being credited with its destruction officially but the rest of the flight are claiming their quarter as well’

“Sea Fury – MiG Encounter” by Robert Taylor: Flying an 805 Sqn. Sea Fury from HMS Ocean in Korean waters, 1952, Hoagy Carmichael became the first piston engine pilot to destroy a jet aircraft during the war, when he downed a North Korean MiG-15.

Royal Navy Fairey Firefly FR.IV from 825 Naval Air Squadron flying a reconnaissance mission from HMS Ocean (R68) along the eastern seaboard of Korea. 16 September 1952. IWM KOR29

In all, Ocean would log 5,945 sorties in her first Korean tour, dropping 3,884 500/1000-pound bombs and launching 16,490 rockets– not bad for a light carrier with just two squadrons of single-engine aircraft embarked.

After some downtime, she would return to Korean waters from May to November 1953 with two new squadrons aboard– 807 (Sea Furys) and 810 (Firefly).

The British and Australians would keep a light carrier or two off Korea throughout the conflict, all from the same class. Besides Theseus, Triumph, and Ocean, HMS Glory would clock in for a tour in 1951 while the Australian HMAS Sydney would also get into the act. Lending a hand, the Canadian sister, HMCS Warrior, transported replacement aircraft to Korea from Britain. Another sister, the Centaur-class maintenance carrier HMS Unicorn (I72), spent most of the war ferrying aircraft, troops, stores, and equipment in support of Commonwealth efforts in Korea and became likely the only aircraft carrier in history to conduct a shore bombardment when she engaged North Korean observers coastwatchers at Chopekki Point with her QF 4-inch Mk XVIs.

In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget flattops during the Korean conflict.

The war is over – HMS Ocean moored at Sasebo in October 1953.

HMS Ocean with her paying off pennant streaming from her mast sailing from Sasebo on October 31st, 1953, for the voyage home to the UK, via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

One last hurrah for Empire!

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Ocean and her sister Theseus should be re-tasked from operating fixed-wing aircraft and refitted for helicopters and a battalion-sized element of marines, then deemed “Commando Carriers,” a concept akin to a U.S. CVHE of the period or later LPH.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION (circa August 1954). (A 31947) Naval air-sea rescue Supermarine Supermarine Sea Otter taxis into a pickup position alongside HMS OCEAN before being hoisted on board. The Supermarine Sea Otter was the last biplane amphibian in Fleet Air Arm service. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162895

This brings us to the Suez Crisis (Operation Musketeer). After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, our two new commando carriers were part of the Anglo-French intervention, embarking troops and stores for passage to Cyprus and then on to North Africa. There, Whirlwinds and Sycamores from their decks took part in an early combat experiment in vertical envelopment from the sea, seizing Port Said.

Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) is shown with a crowded deck of Westland Whirlwind and Bristol Sycamore helicopters of the joint RAF/Army unit which operated alongside Royal Navy helicopters from her flight deck, November-December 1956. Note the French hospital ship in the background. IWM A 33639.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade [actually a mortar bomb] before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. Note his sand goggles, Pattern 37 webbing, and Denison smock– all looking very WWII. IWM A 33636.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. Note the desert goggles and MK V STEN gun of the Marine closest to the camera as well as the 2-inch patrol mortar with bomb tubes on deck. A 33635

British Royal Marines of 45 Commando loading into Royal Navy Westland Whirlwinds aboard the Colossus-class light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) to assault Egyptian positions during the Suez

Royal Navy Westland Whirlwind helicopters taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from the commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) during “Operation Musketeer”. November 1956. IWM A 33640.

A Westland Whirlwind helicopter of the joint Royal Air Force/Army unit is leaving the Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Ocean (R68) with troops for Port Said during the Suez Crisis. November 1956. IWM A 33643

With the Egyptian affair wrapped up, the British chose to pull back “West of Suez” in 1956 and, other than a Baltic cruise that gave the Soviets some heartburn when she called at Helsinki, just over the horizon from Leningrad, Ocean’s days were numbered. Just 13 years old, she was laid up in 1958 and soon nominated for disposal, being sold for scrap in 1962.

Epilogue

Few relics of Ocean remain today.

A large scale model of Ocean is on display in the city of her birth, housed at the Glasgow Transport Museum.

She is remembered in maritime art.

“Ocean Firefly” HMS Ocean in the Korean war, by Roy Gargett

She was outlived by the legends that flew from her deck. 
 
“Winkle” Brown went on to be dubbed the “world’s greatest test pilot,” a title he earned after flying a whopping 487 types (a record verified by Guinness) over his career, interrogating Goering, becoming the only Allied pilot to fly both the rocket-powered Me 163 and more advanced Me 262, and making 2,407 carrier traps while testing the arrestor wires on more than 20 British flattops. He died at Redhill, Surrey, England, on 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years. The Vampire he landed on Ocean is preserved at Yeovilton. 
 

Captain Eric M. Brown with his De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

 
Commander Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, OBE, DSC, would go on to command 806 Squadron in the 1960s and retire from service in 1984. He passed in 1997, aged 73. His young No. 4 over Chinnampo (now known as Nampo) in 1952, Sub-LT Brian “Schmoo” Ellis, was still alive as late as 2018 and being hailed for his deeds over Korea. (For the record when it comes to prop vs. jet combat, a Marine Corsair of VMA-312 would also later down a MiG in Korea and U.S. Navy Skyraiders would bag a MiG-17 over Vietnam on at least two occasions in the mid-1960s)
 
Meanwhile, Ocean’s four hard-working Korean War squadrons– 802 NAS and 807 NAS (Sea Fury); along with 810 NAS and 825 NAS (Fireflys)– would endure for the most part long past the time their carrier was scrapped: 
 
  • 802 Squadron would fly Sea Hawk FB5s from HMS Albion on top cover during Suez and was then disbanded in 1959. 
  • 807 Squadron would upgrade to Supermarine Scimitars and became well-known for running their new jets hot in airshows across the UK. They would also fire the first British Sidewinder in 1961. 
  • 810 Squadron would fly Hawker Sea Hawks from HMS Bulwark in the Suez, ending several Egyptian MiGs on the runway. Later flying Fairey Gannets before transitioning to become a rotary winged unit, they would fly Sea Kings as late as 2001. 
  • 825 Squadron became a helicopter squadron in 1960 and, after flying Sea Kings during the Falklands, is still around as the Royal Navy’s Operational Conversion Unit for the new AW159 Wildcat. 

As for Ocean’s sisters, the last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 and then scrapped. The Australians kept HMAS Melbourne (R21)/ex-HMS Majestic, on hand until 1980, including using her with A-4 Skyhawks and S-2 Trackers in the Vietnam-era (her bones, sold for scrap for a paltry A$1.4 million, would be slowly picked over by the Chinese for 15 years, jump-starting their domestic carrier program). The third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, also a Skyhawk/Tracker carrier, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang. The Indian ex-INS Vikrant/ex-HMS Hercules, which has used Sea Harriers as late as 1997, was saved briefly as a museum ship and then scrapped in 2014 ending the era of these well-traveled light carriers. While no less than five American carriers of the same vintage are preserved, there are no British-built carriers as museum ships.

The Admiralty in 1993, perhaps in recognition of Ocean’s work as a commando carrier at Suez, named the new 23,000-ton Vickers-built one-of-a-kind helicopter carrier HMS Ocean (L12). Although not capable of launching heavily loaded Sea Harriers due to the fact she didn’t have a ski-jump, the new Ocean would for a time be the only British flattop in operation, following the decommissioning of the old Harrier carrier HMS Illustrious (R06) in 2014.

Capable of hosting as many as 20 helicopters including a mix of Wildcats, Merlins, Chinook, and Apaches, HMS Ocean (L12) was in active service with the Royal Navy between 1998 and 2018, the last four as its fleet flagship and the closest thing the Brits had to a carrier.

Decommissioned in 2018, both Brazil and Turkey wanted the ship with the former winning out. She currently operates as NAM Atlântico with an airwing of EC725s, S-70B Seahawks, and AS350s.

The Royal Navy has not had an “HMS Ocean” since, something that should change, in my opinion.


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After 60 years you’re still the most beautiful ship in the world

As we covered in a past Warship Wednesday on the Italian Navy’s historic nave scuola (training ship) Amerigo Vespucci (A5312), according to legend, while sailing in the Med in the 1960s, the 80,000-ton Forrestal-class supercarrier USS Independence, on a deployment with the Sixth Fleet duty in support of President John F. Kennedy’s firm stand on the newly-established Berlin Wall, came across a strange tall ship at sea.

The carrier flashed the vessel, Vespucci, with the light signal asking, “Who are you?” The answer, “Training ship Amerigo Vespucci, Italian Navy,” came back. Independence was said to have replied, “You are the most beautiful ship in the world.”

AMERIGO VESPUCCI Italian Training Ship, Sails past USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62) in the Mediterranean, 12 July 1962. The Navy later used this image on recruiting posters and advertising in the 1960s and 70s. USN 1061621

Well, in a salute to that exchange, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) transited the Adriatic Sea alongside Vespucci on 1 September to commemorate the (just passed) 60th anniversary of the 1962 meeting between Indy and Italy’s senior national vessel.

As related by the Marina Militare, the signal from the big American flat top remained very similar: “Amerigo Vespucci, after 60 years you’re still the most beautiful ship in the world”

The Navy also marked the Bush’s 25 August passage through the Strait of Gibraltar with a nice time-lapse video. 

Of note, the GHWBCSG is comprised of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, Destroyer Squadron 26, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55).

“The GHWBCSG is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe area of operations, employed by U.S. Sixth Fleet to defend U.S., allied and partner interests.” 

Speaking of carrier news…

In case you missed it, the Indian Navy’s third aircraft carrier– after the Kiev-class INS Vikramaditya (ex-Admiral Gorshkov) and Centaur-class INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes)– and first to be indigenously built, the brand new INS Vikrant (R11), was commissioned last week on 2 September after a 23-year planning and construction period.

The new $3 billion (which is a bargain compared to a $13 billion Ford-class CVN) carrier runs 860 feet overall and hits the scales with a 45,000-ton displacement, making her roughly the size of an old Essex-class fleet carrier of WWII or a current LHA/LHD but sans landing equipment. Using a COGAG suite of four LM2500 gas turbines– the same as an Arleigh Burke— she can make 30 knots. 

She actually compares well to the new $7.4 billion 65,000-ton British Queen Elizabeth class carriers, although it should be pointed out that the QEs operate F-35s (if they ever get enough of them). 

The Indian carrier’s armament is Italian/Israeli/Russian, electronics are from all over Europe, and her air group (for now) will be 30-ish STOBAR ski-jumped MiG-29Ks and a few Kamov Ka-31 ASW helicopters. However, this is set to change as the Indians are receiving MH-60Rs from the U.S. and it is between Dassault Rafale-M and the F-18E/F (with odds going towards the cheaper French option). 
 
Boeing recently completed ski jump tests with a Super Hornet loaded with two 500lb laser-guided bombs, AIM9Xs, and AIM-120s.
 

Bay Area Ranger, Ranger, and Ranger

Here we see the old ferry house across from Vallejo at Mare Island, California, about 1892. The Alert-class gunboat USS Ranger (PG-23) is in the right background, with the crew’s hammocks and washing hung out to dry. Authorized by the 42nd Congress the bark-rigged iron-hulled steamer would have an exceptionally long life that would see her serve multiple generations of bluejackets of all stripes.

Photograph from the William H. Topley Collection. Courtesy of Mr. Charles M. Loring, Napa, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 68678

Next, we see the unique USS Ranger (CV-4), the first American aircraft carrier built from the keel-up Entering Hunter’s Point drydock, San Francisco, California, on 2 March 1937.

Note .50 caliber AA machine guns (uncovered) along the flight deck, forward. Note also” 5″ guns and saluting guns at the bow (port and starboard). At the time, she was the first carrier to be docked with planes aboard. NH 51826

Finally, we have the Forrestal-class supercarrier USS Ranger (CVA-61) passing under the San Francisco Bay Bridge on her return to the States on 17 June 1971.

This is from the 1970–71 Cruise Book. Via Navsource/ John Slaughter, Webmaster USS Ranger History & Memorial site

Have a great weekend, guys!

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021: Taking a Nap

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021: Taking a Nap

“Sleeping In.” A Sailor occupies his hammock in the broadside gun casemate of a large U.S. Navy warship, circa the mid-1910s. The original image, copyrighted by E. Muller Jr., from N. Moser, New York, is printed on postcard (AZO) stock. Donation of Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2008. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106268

With this week closing out the year, we are taking a break from the normal WW coverage and, in a salute to the sleepy final days of 2021, are looking briefly at hammocks in naval use.

Apparently picked up by sailors after Columbus came to the New World and saw Awawak Indians lounging in the easy-going beds slung between trees, the Royal Navy began using hammocks as early as the 1590s, making them standard across the fleet by 1629, an upgrade from sleeping on a plank or sea chest.

Sailors stowed their hammocks when not needed in a way that they offered a modicum of protection from shrapnel in combat and would easily break free and serve as flotation devices should the ship be lost.

Man swimming with hammock, 1879

The disposition of the crew’s sleeping spaces aboard HMS Bedford, a 74 gun ship of the line, in 1775. Sailors’ hammocks are in blue, the Marines are in red– closer to the officer’s berthing and captain’s cabin. Via the Royal Museums Greenwich.

As detailed in “Living Conditions in the 19th Century U.S. Navy,” March 17, 1869: 

Enlisted personnel which included petty officers slept in canvas hammocks slung on the berth deck. When suspended, this canvas formed a receptacle for a mattress and blanket; when not in use, the canvas was wrapped tightly around the bedding and bound with a lashing and stowed in the nettings in clear weather and below when for any reason, such as rain, they could not be taken on deck. During his first year (Regs. of 1818) a man was allowed one mattress and two blankets.

From the 1800s through WWII, this meant the average Sailor learned the “Lash Up” that included carrying their hammock along with their seabag, taking the assigned netting with them when transferred ashore, or being sent to the infirmary or sickbay. Their issued hammock even remained their property in death as it served as a funeral shroud for their burial at sea, if required.

Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Illinois. Recruits learning how to lash up a hammock, circa the World War I era. Color tinted postcard, published by S. Gold, Naval Station Photographer, North Chicago, Illinois. A facsimile of the reverse of the original postcard is filed with this image. Description: Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN(Ret), 1983. NH 101219-KN

Sailors in barracks 1917. Note the lashed up hammocks to the right

The use of hammocks even gave rise to the term “Trice Up,” in nautical lore, meaning to make your rack as the hammocks had a trice or hook to secure it to the bulkhead or wall. Hence the term “All hands heave out and trice up.” Or jump out of your rack and make it, allowing compartment cleaners to sweep and swab. The term endured even after canvas racks replaced swinging hammocks.

1899 USS Olympia crew three sailors relaxing in their quarters, one man is in a hammock Frances Benjamin Johnson photo LOC 2015647057

Airing hammocks (U.S.S. New York)

Siesta on the Focsle 1909 snoozing sailors on the OLYMPIA’s focsle during the Naval Academy summer cruises. At right, Hammocks and blankets are being aired on the lifelines.

USS New Hampshire (built as a ship of the line, then became a storeship, later renamed Granite State in 1904 to free her name up for Battleship #25), sailors below deck in hammocks. Photographed by Detroit Publishing Company, probably 1904. LC-DIG-DET-4a30637

USS Maine (ACR-1): Arrangement of Hammocks Berth Deck Plan. National Archives Identifier: 167817728

USS Maine (ACR-1): Stowage of Hammocks – Main Deck. National Archives Identifier: 100382280

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS San Francisco (C 5), stowing hammocks. Detroit Publishing Company, 1890-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

USS Maine (BB-10). Packing hammocks, August 1916. George C. Bain Collection, Lot-10391. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-B2-3944-13

U.S.S. New York, taking a nap over gun 1897 hammock

U.S.S. Brooklyn, hammocks on deck

U.S.S. Massachusetts, on the berth deck hammocks

U.S.S. Brooklyn, good-night hammocks note there was little to no segregation below decks

Hammock and bedding inspection sailors Delaware class battleship, USS Florida

“Recruits looking over their new home.” These men are being transferred to a battleship of the Pennsylvania class (BB-38/39), having completed their preliminary training. The canvas bundles at their feet contain bedding, hammock, and clothes, 1 February 1918. Photographer: Underwood and Underwood. National Archives Identifier: 45512294. Local Identifier: 165-WW-333A-11.

Hammock inspection on the forecastle of the USS Oklahoma (BB-37) sometime in 1916

Hammocks even came to the aid of a drifting submarine, with the early “pig boat” USS R-14 (SS-91) having to literally sail home in 1921 after the sub ran out of fuel during a SAR mission, leaving the salty crew to craft a sail out of canvas battery covers, hammocks, officer’s bed frames, and their radio mast to make it back to Hawaii.

The use of hammocks was very much “old-school” Navy. 

Steve McQueen as Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Jake Holman in The Sand Pebbles toting his seabag, lashed with hammock.

Starting in 1924 with the retrofitting of the crew’s berthing spaces on the recently-completed battleship USS California (BB-44), hammocks started phasing out in favor of triple-decker folding sleeping racks made from rope laced canvas on a pipe frame with each topped with a 3-inch mattress supported by chains attached to the bulkhead. Such bunks had been standard on several early submarine classes such as the K-class, which served in the Great War.

Triple decker folding racks that you could still “hot bunk” with after flipping the mattress and putting your sheet on the flipside. Seen on the 1930s-vintage USCGC Taney, a 327-foot gunboat built to the same rough design as the USS Erie (PG-50) class. Note the individual lockers. 

This luxury was slow to expand to the rest of the fleet. For instance, it wasn’t until about 1940 that the Great War-era battleship USS Texas (BB-35) ditched hammocks for racks and reportedly the USS Tennessee (BB-43) never got the upgrade, still having hammocks at Pearl Harbor and continuing to use them through VJ Day despite the fact the old battlewagon received a nearly year-long modernization in 1942.

This meant that many Bluejackets went to WWII still swaying from hammocks at sea. The art of “clewing,” packing, and stowing a hammock was essential knowledge. 

Hammock layout for inspection onboard USS Saratoga (CV 3), April 24, 1933. Note the name tapes on each item. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-221144

Naval Air Station, Seattle, Washington. Lashing a hammock for duty, in Barracks 184, 26 April 1944. Men are (left to right): Coxswain Third Class William Howard Trice; Seaman Second Class James Armstrong; Coxswain Third Class LeRoy Young, Master at Arms; Seaman First Class Clifford Summers. Note Young’s rating badge and Master at Arms shield. 80-G-233270

Even new construction continued the trend, with circa 1937-40 constructed Sims-class destroyers and 1936-39 Benham-class tin cans still including a few hammocks in their berthing although almost all enlisted had rack. The preceding  Bagley-class destroyers, completed in 1937, had 32 hammocks in mess spaces to augment 183 crew berths. 
 

USS Rhind (DD-404), a Benham-class destroyer commissioned at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on 10 November 1939, still showing nine hammocks in her pre-war final book of plans before she would add 100 Sailors to her crew to man increased AAA and ASW suites for the upcoming conflict. The ship earned four battle stars during World War II and was scuttled off Kwajalein, 22 March 1948 following the Crossroads Atomic bomb tests. National Archives Identifier:167818528

It was only with ALNAV 278-45, (Navy Department Bulletin, 30 Sept. 45-1283), effective 15 October 1945, that mattresses and hammocks were decreed to be the property of the shore establishment or ship, rather than the Sailor issued them. Hammocks themselves had stopped being issued to new recruits the year before.

ALNAV 278-45, via the Nov 1945 issue of “All Hands”

By the end of 1947, with ancient war wagons like Tennessee mothballed, hammocks were quietly removed from inventory. It should be noted, however, that the Coast Guard continued to use them well into the 1950s, with New London underclassmen sailing on the training ship USCGC Eagle, still swinging from hammocks while on their annual Mids summer cruise. 

Meanwhile, the British continued to use the devices for a stretch longer, with the training ship HMS Fife (D20), a repurposed County-class destroyer, rigging hammocks for embarked cadets in one of the mess areas as late as a 1986 cruise and “may have been the last men of the Royal Navy to sleep in that fashion.” 

New Zealand sailors learning how to sling hammocks in HMS Philomel c1938.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR. On board the submarine HMS TRIBUNE at Scapa Flow. The forward torpedo compartment. Around the stowed torpedoes some of the crew’s hammocks and kit bags can be seen. The men that work in this compartment also sleep here ready to respond to any emergency. Four of the eight forward tubes can be seen through the bulkhead. Creator: Priest, L C (Lt), Royal Navy official photographer Source: © IWM (A 10909)

Sailor at his hammock aboard HMS Rodney, 1940

Convoy, cruiser HMS Hermione (74)’s ship’s cat, sleeps in a hammock whilst members of the crew look on

Hammocks rigged on Dido class cruiser for accommodations on HMNZS Royalist, c1958

Still, that is not to say that the devices remained in limited use in the U.S. Navy for the past few generations since Truman dropped the A-bombs. The practice unofficially continued on submarines through the early 2000s on the old Sturgeon-class submarines, with some junior enlisted bubbleheads preferring to “rig nets” in out-of-the-way compartments rather than hot bunk in racks.

For more on the early life of sailors at sea and their personal gear, check out What’s in Your Seabag by James L. Leuci, MCPO, USN(Ret.)  as well as the 175-page thesis Hammocks: A Maritime Tool by Michele Panico.

Donation of the Montana Historical Society. Collection of Philip Barbour, Jr., 1958. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 86250 click to big up 1000×787

Back to our regular Warship Wednesday format next week.


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

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

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

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

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I’m a member, so should you be!

Basswood of the Pacific

Here we see the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Basswood (WAGL-388, later WLB-388) underway during World War II. Marianas Section, off Victor Wharf, Agana Heights, Guam, late 1945.

Library of Congress photo HAER GU-3-1.

Commissioned on 12 January 1944, Basswood was one of 39 180-foot Balsam-class seagoing buoy tenders built from 1942–1944, specifically being one of the 20 improved Class C (Iris) subvariants. She is fairly well armed to tend navigational aids, with her 3″/50 gun visible pointing over her stern while” Y-gun” depth charge throwers are clearly visible on her starboard side. If you look to her stack– under her mast with an SL1 radar system– you can see two 20mm Oerlikons mounted. Unseen are two Mousetrap ASW rocket systems as well as a QBE-3A sonar suite. Several former Warship Wednesday alumni from the same class got to use those weapons during the war.

Capable of a blistering 13-knots, Basswood would go on to have a long career in the Western Pacific, supporting nuclear weapons testing during Operations Greenhouse (1951), Castle (1954), and Redwing (1956). She also completed three deployments to Vietnam in 1967, 1971, and 1972, earning a trio of both Vietnam Service Medals and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medals.

The Coast Guard Cutter Basswood works a buoy as busy Vietnamese fishermen travel to open sea and their fishing grounds from Vung Tau harbor during her 1967 deployment. The cutter battled monsoon weather for a 30-day tour to establish and reservice sea aids-to-navigation dotting the 1,000-mile South Vietnamese coastline. USCG Historian’s Office photo

Decommissioned 4 September 1998 after 54 years of service, she was disposed of in 2000, eventually scrapped.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021: Hard Luck Flattop

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021: Hard Luck Flattop

Photo via the Fleet Air Arm Museum

Here we see German-built Norddeutscher Lloyd freighter Hannover, during the second part of her WWII service, as the Condor-killing Royal Navy auxiliary aircraft carrier (aka escort carrier) HMS Audacity (D10), the first of her type put into service. That short run ended 80 years ago this week, after an abbreviated six-month roll in the barrel.

Completed for the Bremen-based shipping company by Bremer Vulkan, Vegesack in early 1939, the 5,600-ton steamer was built for the “Banana Boat” route through Central America and the Caribbean, carrying a mix of cargo and third-class passengers. She was the third “Hannover” built for NDL, with the first, built in 1869, scrapped in 1894, and the second, a 7,300-ton vessel constructed in 1899, ceded to Britain as war reparation after Versailles then repurchased by NGL in 1922, returning to Bremen – New York crossings until she was laid up in 1926 then scrapped during the global depression in 1933.

Via Lloyds, 1939 edition, showing NDL’s third, and final, Hannover, just under the Danish-flagged Hans Broge.

At sea in Latin American waters when the war started, Hannover crept around neutral areas– primarily in Curacao– to remain ahead of Allied warships and eventually make it through the blockade back to Germany.

Her luck ran out after seven months while passing through the West Indies in the deep waters of the Mona Passage off the Dominican Republic. There, on 8 March 1940, the Canadian River-class destroyer HMCS Assiniboine (I 18) and the British light cruiser HMS Dunedin (D 93)— the latter fresh off of intercepting the German motor merchant Heidelberg (6530 grt) the week before which was scuttled by her crew west of the Windward passage to avoid capture– came across Hannover and, making the case that it was violating Pan-American Neutrality although it was still very near the Dominican Republic, moved in to capture the vessel.

Despite the German mariners’ efforts to set the ship ablaze and open her sea cocks, a crew from Assiniboine boarded the flaming and listing vessel and managed to save her.

SS Hannover as seen from HMCS ASSINIBOINE – 6 March 1940

Via The Naval and Military Museum, CFB Esquimalt: 

Immediately on being intercepted, Hannover’s crew, in the best tradition of blockade-runners, had set fire to the ship and completely wrecked the ship’s steering gear; some took to a boat and pulled for the shore.

Two hours after receiving the summons, Assiniboine was on the scene. She found the Hannover belching smoke and flames from her fore and after hatches, and the cruiser Dunedin close alongside with hoses pouring sea water into the stricken ship. At the gaff of the mainmast, the White Ensign flew above the Swastika and the Hannover’s Master and First Officer stood glumly on the bridge covered by an armed guard.

In a freshening on-shore wind, aside from the fire, the critical problem was the fact that the German was being rapidly carried close to the territorial waters of San Domingo, a neutral area. Although Hannover had by now a sharp list to starboard, Assiniboine secured on that side with a view to heading the burning ship seaward. However, the sea was such that the destroyer was threatened with serious damage, so a wire was passed and Assiniboine took her in tow, bow to bow, while Dunedin continued with much difficulty to keep close enough to make her hose lines effective.

Later that morning, Dunedin took over the tow while Assiniboine fire parties, still dressed in tropical whites, boarded the Hannover to bring the fire to closer quarters. While the burning ship swung and yawed, Assiniboine clung tenaciously to her side. Soon, Nature came to the assistance of the dogged firefighters in the form of a sudden tropical rain-storm.

The struggle went on for four days. As often happens with seamen, a humorous incident occurred 12 March that relieved for a moment the gravity of the salvage problem. From Dunedin to Assiniboine: “Close with all dispatch. Man overboard. Man is German attempting suicide.” Cdr. Mainguy wrote:

1425 – Sighted man swimming strongly.
1426 – Lowered whaler.
1430 – Whaler picked up man who requested the coxswain to shoot him. Coxswain regretted he had no gun.”
1500 – Evolution completed.

The Canadian towed the smoky, water-logged vessel into Kingston, Jamaica, turning her over to the port captain there on 13 March.

Welcome to the RN

Found to still be sound, the prize was requisitioned by the Admiralty and in November 1940 was converted to one of 20 or so “Ocean Boarding Vessels,” a type of lightly-armed auxiliary cruiser tasked to enforce the blockade and release HMs destroyers and cruisers from such work. In this, she was dubbed HMS Sinbad. Her main fixed armament was a Great War-era 4″/45 QF Mark V, backed up by an even older 6-pounder Hotchkiss, and a mix of 40mm (Vickers) and 20mm (Oerlikon) AAA guns to ward off long-reaching German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor maritime patrol aircraft.

However, this service was short-lived and, in January 1941 she was selected for deployment as the first merchant ship to be converted for use as an escort carrier.

After a four-month conversion at Blyth Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company (Cowpen Quay), Northumberland, which saw her superstructure removed and covered over by a flat deck sans any sort of traditional aircraft carrier “island” or bridge structure, she became HMS Empire Audacity on 17 June 1941 for service in Western Approaches for convoy defense.

Audacity, 1941. IWM 1203

With no hangar deck, she didn’t need any elevators and it was thought she could support as many as eight single-engined aircraft, be they Swordfish torpedo/strike planes or fighters. She was also fitted with one of the first early Type 79 radars.

HMS Audacity underway in coastal waters, 1941. IWM FL 1204

After acceptance and trials in the Clyde area, she marked her first deck landing with a Grumman Martlet (F4F-4 Wildcat) of 802 Squadron on 10 July. Formed in 1933 from 408 and 409 Fleet Fighter Flights, the squadron had just been reformed after being lost at sea aboard the carrier HMS Glorious on 8 June 1940 during the evacuation of Norway.

Martlet MkII British Fleet Air Arm (F4F Wildcat) of No. 888 Squadron, parked at La Senia airbase, Oran, Algeria, 14 December 1942. Some 1,123 Fleet Air Arm Martlets operated in all theatres of war including Norway, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Far East. USN photo

Her name was shortened to Audacity at the end of the month, dropping the “Empire.”

Joining five sloops and corvettes, the brand-new baby carrier became part of Convoy OG74 for passage to Gibraltar between 13 and 27 September, with six Martlets of 804 Squadron aboard. During the passage, U-124 and U-201 sank five of the 22 merchantmen, leaving Audacity to house 88 survivors. However, her fighters were able to draw blood, downing an Fw 200 Condor of KG40 during the trip.

Returning to Liverpool from Gibraltar with inward Convoy HG74, she made another run in November back to “The Rock” with OG76 in November, carrying six Martlets of 802 Squadron. 

That trip also saw a Wildcat vs Condor encounter.

From My Unofficial FAA History Page

8 November 1941 Lt Cdr J.M. Wintour (CO 802 NAS HMS Audacity) escorting Convoy OG76 to Gibraltar, shot down and killed while engaging a German Fw200 Condor. His wingman Sub Lt(A) D.A. Hutchison RN (pictured) took over the attack and the Condor crashed in flames.

Later that afternoon another Condor appeared. 802 NAS had one serviceable aircraft and another with a bent propeller. Hutchison took off again while Sub Lt(A) E.M. ‘Winkle’ Brown RNVR volunteered to fly the second aircraft, but the two got separated in cloud.

Brown intercepted two Fw200s and made four passes, including a head-on attack. The German bomber spun into the sea from a height of 10,000ft. The convoy reached Gibraltar without loss.

Sub-Lieutenant Eric M.Brown, R.N.V.R., Fleet Air Arm, with a Grumman Martlet Mk. I, circa 1941, during a time when he was assigned to Audacity

The Seerauber Gauntlet

Then came the homeward-bound HG76 Convoy, with 32 merchants headed from Gibraltar back to the Home Isles, escorted by a formidable force of 12 destroyers, sloops, and corvettes along with Audacity.

Audacity via Fleet Air Arm Museum, note the Martlets on her deck

Reported by German spies, 10 U-boats of reinforced Wolfpack Seerauber were waiting for the kill, sinking three small merchant ships of the convoy between the 19th and 21st of December. However, the British made them pay for it.

HG76 proved hairy for our little flattop, with Sub. Lt (A) Graham R.P. Fletcher RNVR, flying a Martlet of 802 NAS from the ship, becoming the first Fleet Air Arm aviator to be shot down by a submarine, when a damaged and surfaced U-131, her batteries leaking chlorine gas, was strafed by Fletcher and in turn downed by AAA fire from the U-boat’s 20mm and 37mm flak guns. Just 20 minutes later, U-131 went to the bottom and 47 of her crew were recovered. The Bittern-class sloop HMS Stork (L81) recovered fletcher’s body, and he was buried at sea the following morning– just before U-434 (Kptlt Heyda) was sunk by escorting destroyers.

On 19 December, as U-574 (Oblt Gengelbach) was rammed and sunk by the avenging Stork, Audacity’s aircrew managed to bag two further Condors.

By 21 December, Audacity’s luck ran out after the vessel’s Martlets chased off a second wave of Condors but, just after nightfall, was hit by a torpedo from U-751 (Kptlt. Gerhard Bigalk) that disabled her steering. While her crew was able to rush to control the damage, the dead in the water carrier proved too tempting a target for Bigalk not to take another bite, and he fired two more torpedoes into the vessel in a second run. These hit aviation fuel storage tanks and caused a massive explosion forward, which sent the carrier to the bottom.

Michael Turner’s illustration for Winkle Brown’s book sinking of the escort carrier HMS Audacity

She suffered at least 73 of her complement and embarked aircrew dead or missing, with the survivors picked up after over four hours fighting hypothermia in the freezing water. Of 802 Squadron, just two members were pulled from the water, including “Winkle” Brown. The squadron was disbanded for the *second time in two years.

Epilogue

U-751 would herself be sunk just seven months later, by depth charges from a British Whitley (502 Sqn RAF/H) and a Lancaster aircraft (61 Sqn RAF/F) taking all hands, including Bigalk, to the bottom.

The British would convert a few other, smaller, freighters to a similar layout as Audacity, with the four-vessel Avenger-class having a 190×47-foot below deck half hangar doubling their airwing to 15 single-engine fighters and strike aircraft (Swordfish and Avenger). Two of the four ships in the class were lost during the war with HMS Avenger (D14) sunk by U-155 off Gibraltar on 15 November 1942 and HMS Dasher (D37) lost in a mysterious explosion while in the Firth of Clyde.

HMS Avenger (D14) (converted 9,000-ton American type C3 Liberty ship SS Rio Hudson) underway in rough seas, date, and location unknown. Note the unusual camouflage scheme on her flight deck. Six Sea Hurricane IIC fighters are lined-up on the centerline. This image is often mistaken as one of Audacity. IWM FL 1268

*Of note, 802 Squadron, FAA, which had been lost almost to a man with Audacity, was re-formed at Yeovilton in February 1942 with Hawker Sea Hurricane Ibs, before embarking on Avenger for escorting Arctic Convoy PQ 18 in September– during which time five enemy aircraft were shot down and 17 damaged, in conjunction with 883 Squadron. The squadron was disbanded a third time after Avenger was lost two months later, certainly a tragic record of having been completely destroyed three times in three years. The squadron lay dormant till May 1945 when it was reformed at Arbroath with Supermarine Seafire L.IIIs and escaped further WWII service though it did see combat in Korea with “Hoagy” Carmichael famously downing a Nork MiG-15 with his Hawker Sea Fury.

Likewise, the Americans built their first escort carrier, USS Long Island (initially designated APV-1, but redesignated and commissioned as AVG-1, then later as Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier ACV-1 and finally CVE-1), between March and June 1941. A converted C3 Liberty, she looked a lot like the Avengers and Audacity

USS Long Island (AVG-1) underway on 8 July 1941, with two F2A Brewster Buffalo fighters parked at the forward end of her flight deck. Note flight deck markings: LI. The ship is painted in Measure 1 camouflage, with heavy weathering of paint evident on the hull side. 80-G-26567

No matter if you call them “jeep carriers,” or “Combustible, Vulnerable, and Expendable,” the escort carrier concept is one we have covered a few times in the past several years on WW. Besides one-off training carriers and prototype ships, four large classes of U.S.-built CVEs (Bogue, Sangamon, Casablanca, Commencement Bay) were cranked out during WWII, approaching 150~ hulls planned or completed for Uncle Sam and his Allies. And Audacity just beat Long Island to the punch, completing just a few days before the USN’s inaugural model although Long Island was the first to handle aircraft, having been underway with operational test aircraft only days before Audacity launched her first Martlet.

In Sept. 1981, a commemorative stamp was issued celebrating the 40th anniversary of the downing of Audacity’s first Condor via Martlet.

Speaking of Martlets, Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, Hon FRAeS, RN, who claimed his first kill while flying one of the chunky Grumman fighters from Audacity’s deck in November 1941, went on to be dubbed the “world’s greatest test pilot,” a title he earned after flying a whopping 487 types (a record verified by Guinness) over his career, interrogating Goering, becoming the only Allied pilot to fly both the rocket-powered Me 163 and more advanced Me 262, and making 2,407 carrier traps while testing the arrestor wires on more than 20 British flattops.

On 4 December 1945, he made the world’s first carrier landing by a jet, bringing the second prototype De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, No. LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean.

De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.

“Winkle” Brown died at Redhill, Surrey, England, on 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years.

Captain Eric M. Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

As for Hannover’s former owners, during World War II, NDL lost their entire fleet and restarted in the late 1940s with chartered ships. In 1970 the company amalgamated with Hamburg America Line to become HAPAG-Lloyd.

Specs: 

(Hannover, Sinbad)
Tonnage 5,600 GRT
Length: 434 ft 9 in
Beam: 56 ft 1 in
Draft: 27 ft 7 in
Machinery: Two 7 cyl. 2S.C.DA oil engines built by Vulkan Vegesack, 5,200 hp
Speed: 17 knots

(Changes as Empire Audacity/Audacity)

Displacement: 11,000 long tons (11,000 t)
Length: 467 ft 3 in
Beam: 56 ft 3 in
Draft: 27 ft 6 in
Speed 14.5 knots
Complement: 298 officers and men including 24 airwing personnel
Radar: Type 79B air warning radar
Armament
1 × 4″/45 QF Mark V gun
1 × 57/40 6-pounder Hotchkiss Mk I
4 × 40/39 2-pounder Vickers QF Mk II anti-aircraft guns
4 × 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannons
Aviation facilities: Up to eight aircraft stowage spots on the deck, typically just embarked six


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

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

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

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

I am a member, so should you be!

The Mighty B Comes Home for a Visit

Official caption: “The Almirante Didiez Burgos (PA-301), a Dominican Republic navy’s Cutter, sails into Museum Park Marina in Miami, Florida, Nov. 10, 2021. The Dominican Republic’s navy visited Miami to enable the next generation of Dominican commissioned officers to learn about U.S. Coast Guard.”

Not too shabby for being 78 years in service. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Estrada)

If you are a fan of WWII USCG vessels, Burgos is immediately recognizable as a 180-foot seagoing buoy tender of the Balsam/Mesquite-class.

We’ve covered them before in past Warship Wednesdays and they gave lots of service during not only the war but well into the 1990s. 

Built as USCGC Buttonwood (WAGL-306/WLB-306) in Duluth, Minnesota on the Great Lakes, she commissioned 24 September 1943– heading almost immediately for the Pacific.

USCGC Buttonwood tied up after her commissioning- 27 September 1943. Her wartime armament included a 3″/50, two Oerlikons, depth charge tracks, two Mousetraps, four Y-guns, an SL-2 radar, and WEA-2 sonar. Not bad for a 900-ton auxiliary that had a top speed of 13 knots. USCG Historian’s Office photo

She arrived at Guadalcanal in May 1944 and alternated her aids-to-navigation duty with salvage and survey work, often under fire as she moved forward with the fleet. “Mighty B” endured a reported 269 attacks by Japanese aircraft, including 11 air raids in one day, being credited with downing two enemy aircraft with her AAA guns.

On Christmas 1944, she went to the assistance of the burning Dutch troopship Sommeisdijk, which had been hit by a Japanese torpedo, and rescued 182 men.

M.V. SOMMELSDIJK. Built for the Holland America Line and used as a Troopship, the SOMMELSDIJK is shown arriving at San Francisco, California, about 1943. After the war, she returned to commercial service for the line until her scrapping in 1965. Description: Catalog #: NH 89834

Other than her WWII service, Buttonwood had a very active Cold War– providing aids to navigation for military tests sites throughout the Pacific– and the War on Drugs.

USCGC Buttonwood underway in 1960. Note she still has her 3″/50 over the stern but now has a black hull, a common feature of ATON ships in USCG service even today. USCG Historian’s Office photo

For instance, during Korea:

At the outbreak of the Korean War, Buttonwood was re-equipped with sonar gear, guns, and depth charges. Though she was never directly involved with combat, Buttonwood was prepared and trained with the Navy by participating in “war games”. These games often seemed like “cat and mouse” where Buttonwood was tracked by Navy submarines and she, in turn, tried to detect the submarines with sonar equipment. The K-guns and depth charges were subsequently removed in the mid-1950s.

Buttonwood served with the Coast Guard until 2001, and was extensively surveyed for posterity before she was turned over to the Dominicans, who seem to have taken good care of her over the past two decades.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

Here we see a member of the 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” Active-class Coast Guard cutters rushed into completion to deal with bootleggers during Prohibition, the USCGC Alert (WSC-127), as she appeared in 1950 coming back into her homeport at Morro Bay, still largely in her WWII configuration. These choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in times of war and Alert did her part during the conflict.

She is back in the news this week, and not in a good way.

The class

These cutters were intended for trailing the “Blacks,” slow, booze-hauling mother ship steamers of “Rum Row” along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. Constructed for $63,173 each, they originally had a pair of 6-cylinder 150hp Superior or Winton diesel engines that allowed them a stately speed of 10 knots, max, but allowed a 4,000nm, theoretically Atlantic-crossing range– an outstanding benefit for such a small craft.

For armament, they carried a single 3″/23 cal deck gun for warning shots– dated even for the 1920s– as well as a small arms locker that included everything from Tommy guns to .38s and M1903 Springfields. In a time of conflict, it was thought they could tote listening gear and depth charge racks left over from the Great War, but we’ll get to that later.

Taking advantage of one big contract issued on 26 May 1926, they were all built within 12 months by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey (although often listed as “American Brown Boveri” due to their owners at the time, the Swiss Brown Boveri corporation).

Named like the rest of the class in honor of former historic cutters, our craft recycled the moniker long held by the Coast Guard and its preceding Lighthouse Service, Revenue Marine, and Revenue Cutter Services.

A long line of Alerts

The first Alert was a 58-foot, 75-ton schooner built by Christian Bergh of New York in 1818 for $6,000. Constructed of live oak, red cedar, and locust, she spent her career policing waters off New England. She was armed with a 32-pound carronade said by some to have been recovered from the wrecked sixth-rate flush-decked sloop-of-war HMS Hermes

Revenue Cutter Alert (1818)

The second Alert was a larger, 74-foot, 120-ton schooner that entered service in 1829. Carrying six guns– a mix of 12-pounder, 4-pounders, and 3-pounders– she participated in both the Nullification Controversy in 1832 and the Mexican War in addition to the service’s efforts to suppress the illegal slave trade and piracy at sea.

The third Alert (2 x 12 pounders) was also a schooner, purchased from consumer trade in 1855, that was later seized in January 1861 while at the docks in Mobile, Alabama by “state authorities.” Up-armed with a 32-pounder, her career with the Confederate Navy was short, as she was captured by the powerful Merrimack-class screw frigate USS Roanoke the following October and scuttled.

The fourth Alert was a small (40-foot, 10-ton) centerboard sloop that entered service in 1877 and served off the East Coast until 1896, one of the service’s final all-sail-powered vessels.

The fifth Alert was a 62-foot, 19-ton wooden-hulled steam launch acquired by the Revenue Cutter Service in November 1900. She spent seven years on quarantine duties out of Gulfport, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama when her crew transferred to a newly constructed vessel of the same name.

The sixth Alert, a 61-foot, 35-ton steel-hulled steam launch built at Mobile in 1907 was a regular in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound, hauling around National Guard troops to and from the local coastal forts and operating directly under Navy control during the Great War, keeping an eye out for the Kaiser’s submarines. She was sold in 1920 then the subject of our tale, the seventh USCGC Alert, picked up the mantle.

Meet WSC-127

The seventh Alert was placed in commission on 27 January 1927 then proceeded to her first homeport at Boston, “holding sea trials, formation drills, anchorage drills, and gunnery practice en route.” The new cutter continued operating out of Boston as a unit of Division One, Offshore Patrol Force, a Prohibition enforcement unit, until mid-November 1928, when she was ordered to the West Coast, arriving at Oakland in early 1929.

Transiting from New London, Connecticut to California was a 6,000-mile sortie via the Panama Canal that involved not only Alert but her sisterships Bonham, Ewing, Morris, and McLane.

As Prohibition fizzled and the need for Alert to stalk “Blacks” dissolved, her homeport shifted to Ketchikan, Alaska Territory, in May 1931. She would spend the rest of the decade there involved in the Bering Sea Patrol and other enterprises that came with service in the rough and tumble Northern Pacific frontier.

While her homeport changed to Alameda in 1940, she remained on call for Bering Sea patrols as needed. However, war intervened and, after the Coast Guard was shifted to the Navy Department’s control that year, she was assigned to the Navy’s Western Sea Frontier for the conflict.

This saw her armament boosted to include a 40mm Bofors, a pair of 20mm Oerlikons, depth charges, and (eventually) radar and sonar fits. By the end of the war, Hedgehog devices were installed. 

“A Coast Guard Gun Crew On The Alert, 1/6/1943.” The gun is a single 20mm/80 Oerlikon with a 60-round drum mag. USCG photo in the National Archives 26-G-01-06-43(3)

The 125-foot Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors crowding her bow. Alert and her sisters had a similar appearance.

Once the panic of 1941 and 1942 subsided, Alert’s wartime duty along the California coast consisted primarily of keeping an eye peeled for wayward mines and missing aircrews.

125 ft. Active-class “Buck and a Quarters,” via 1946 Janes

Postwar, in 1949 Alert was stationed at Morro Bay, where she would spend a decade and participate in the notable SAR cases of DeVere Baker’s series of Lehi rafts that aimed to make it from the West Coast to Hawaii.

Alert also made the rescue of one Owen H. “Curley” Lloyd, a Bodega Bay commercial fisherman, and his deckhand Manual Texiera, whose 50-foot longliner, Norwhal, was lost following a collision with a whale.

In 1959, then moved to San Diego, where she would finish her career. This concluding chapter in her service– by then Alert had been with the Coast Guard for over four decades– was hectic.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

An estimated 90 percent of her underway time is spent assisting distressed small craft skippers. The remainder is generally allotted to disabled members of San Diego’s commercial fishing fleet. Most of the cutter’s 65 to 70 rescue cases each year emanate within a 25-mile radius of Point Loma. During 1966, three emergencies involving American boatmen necessitated runs along nearly the entire length of Baja California’s 750-mile peninsula. Carrying a crew of three officers and 25 enlisted men, the 290-ton Alert boats a beam of 24-feet. While cruising at 10 knots, she has a range of 2,300 miles. Her twin 400-horsepower diesel engines can develop a top speed of 19 knots.

A former crewman noted that the aforementioned press release was overly optimistic about her top speed. The crewman noted: “Now I spent two tours for a total of 4 years as her radioman back in the late 50s and mid 60s and having been qualified as an underway OOD I can tell you for sure she would not get a kick over 13 kts.”

Alert was decommissioned 10 January 1969 and sold before the year was out to Highland Laboratories of San Francisco for $30,476.19, which was a rather good amount of coin for a well-worn vessel that amounted to about half of her original construction cost.

The eighth Alert was soon to keep the name warm and was commissioned on Coast Guard Day—4 August 1969– while the seventh Alert was still awaiting disposal. That vessel, a 210-foot Reliance-class medium endurance cutter (WMEC-630) is still in service 52 years later!

“U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alert (WMEC 630) sails near Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, while participating in a three-day North American Maritime Security Initiative exercise, March 1, 2020. NAMSI is a tri-national effort by forces of the United States, Canada, and Mexico to improve mutual capacity for operational coordination. U.S. Coast Guard photo.”

Museum failure

The seventh Alert was kept in California for years and was a regular sight along the coast.

As noted by a now-folded Old Cutter Alert website for a group that aimed to make her a museum ship, most of her systems and equipment were still original to 1926 late into her civilian life:

The Alert was purchased from the Coast Guard in 1969 by Highland Film Labs and Mr. Barry Brose signed the receipt for her. The Alert was then maintained in her original Coast Guard condition, which was essentially unchanged from 1945, and was very active in San Francisco Bay maritime activities. The Alert was utilized by the sea scouts for training purposes, and occasionally she made appearances in the news, television shows, and movies.

Since 1990, the Alert sat unused and many of her systems became inoperable. In early 2005, the Cutter Alert Preservation Team, Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed and took over ownership of the Alert, and after eighteen months of overdue maintenance by devoted C.A.P.T. chief engineer Mike Stone, the Alert was once again operable and seaworthy.

A home was finally found for the Alert in the Pacific Northwest, and After a shakedown cruise to the Faralon Islands off the California coast in early 2005, the Alert headed north. This was her first open ocean voyage in over 35 years and other than some rough seas and a balky port engine the voyage was uneventful. After a short stay in Coos Bay and Rainier Oregon, the Alert finally arrived at her final destination… Portland, Oregon.

Alert at Vancouver 2007. Note that she is in her USCG scheme complete with a buff mast and stack with a black cap and insignia. Also, note the (surely deactivated) 40mm Bofors forward.

ex-CGC Alert (WMEC-127), 2012. Note the “Save the Old Alert” banner, covered Bofors (?) and extensive awnings. 

The group had her for well over a decade, then seemed to fold away around 2019, never achieving plans to ensure that:

“The future for the Alert will consist of museum-type tours of the ship and her systems, overnight stays for youth and veterans groups (she has berthing for over thirty-five persons plus three officer’s staterooms); and of course remaining operational to conduct on the water activities as a goodwill ambassador of her home port of Portland, Oregon.”

Since then, parties unknown have slowly stripped her as she left to the homeless with the resulting vandalism that comes with that. She was the location of an encampment dubbed “The Pirates of the Columbia,” by the media and locals that was only rousted out last year– a rare pushback in Portlandia.

Images posted by Cody Parsons online this summer of Alert’s poor condition

Over the past few months, the Coast Guard and DEQ have been removing petroleum, oil, and lubricants on board in preparation to dispose of the now-derelict vessel.

Then, reports surfaced this week that she is now on the bottom.

Via the Nautical History Preservation Society: “It’s with great sadness that we announce the sinking of the Alert. The cause is under investigation, vandalism is under suspicion. The vessel seemed very sound on the crews’ previous visit a few months ago. The NHPS will be holding an emergency board meeting to determine the next steps. We will be posting updates.”

“This exemplifies the broken dreams of many people,” said Scott Smith, emergency response planner for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “[Alert] got into a worse and worse condition.”

It is a shame.

The rest of the story with the Buck and a Quarters

As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they all served during the war, and two, Jackson (WSC-142) and Bedloe (WSC-128), were heroically lost in the 14 September 1944 hurricane off Cape Hatteras while aiding a torpedoed tanker.

These pint-sized warships were regular players on the frozen Greenland Patrol fighting the Germans in the “Weather War,” served as guard ships in places as diverse as Curacao and the Aleutians, were credited with at least one submarine kill, and performed air-sea rescue duties. Ten were refitted as buoy/net tenders during the war and reverted to patrol work afterward while two served as training ships.

Boston: “125 ft CGC cutter LEGARE (WSC-144) which fought 20-40 foot waves to take a 79-foot fishing vessel MARMAX in tow, is now proceeding to her home port, New Bedford”

The last example in commission, USCGC Cuyahoga (WPC/WSC/WIX-157), was tragically lost in 1978 in a collision while working as the OCS training ship at Yorktown.

Photo of Cuyahoga in the 1970s in its role as an Officer Candidate School training vessel, in white livery with the now-traditional racing stripe. U.S. Coast Guard photo

With her service to the country over with, Tiger–a Pearl Harbor veteran– later made the Pacific Northwest in her civilian life and by the 1960s was a coastal tug with Northland Marine Lines of Seattle, under the name Cherokee and later Polar Merchant. Her sister USCGC Bonham (WPC/WSC-129) worked alongside her as Polar Star.

Previously USCGC Bonham (WSC-129) as tug Polar Star. This cutter went through the Panama Canal in 1929 with Alert on their 6,000nm trip from East to West Coast.

Remaining active until at least 2012, Tiger/Polar Merchant was sold in poor condition to the Tyee Marina in Tacoma Washington where she was stripped, stuffed with styrofoam, and installed as a breakwater.

Still located at Tyree with everything above the deck removed, Tiger remains afloat and is one of the few surviving warships that was present at Pearl Harbor on that Infamous Day. Her hulk is moored next to the museum ship USS Wampanoag/USCGC Comanche (ATA/WMEC-202).

Another sister ship that sailed with Alert through the Panama Canal in 1929, ex-USCGC Morris (WSC/WMEC-147), like Alert, has been bopping around the West Coast in a series of uses since the 1970s including as a training ship with the Sea Scouts and as a working museum ship in Sacramento.

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

We wrote how she was for sale on Craigslist for $90K in 2019, in decent shape.

Now, she has been saved, again.

The Vietnam War Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, announced in May that they have officially taken the title of the historic ship intending to continue her operations, and have been slowly moving her to the Gulf.

Small victories for small ships…

Specs:


(1927)
Displacement: 232 tons
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 7.5 ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder, 150 hp Winton diesels (300hp total), twin screws
Speed: 10 knots, max
Range: 4,000 nm at 7 knots, cruise, with 6,800 gals of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 2 officers, 20 men
Armament:
1 × 3″/23 caliber gun forward, small arms

(1945)
Displacement: 320 tons (full load)
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 9 ft
Propulsion: twin 400HP General Motors 268a 2-cycle diesel engines, (800hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gals of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 5 officers, 41 men
Sensors: QCN-2 sonar, SO-9 radar
Armament:
1 × 40 mm/60 (single), forward
2 × 20 mm/70 (single), wings (removed 1950s)
2 × depth charge tracks, stern (removed 1950s)
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward (removed 1950s)


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Warship Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021: The Navy’s Here

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021: The Navy’s Here

Imperial War Museum Photo FL 1657

Here we see the Royal Navy Tribal (Afridi)-class destroyer HMS Cossack (L03, F03 & G03) underway just after her completion in the summer of 1938. Today is the 80th anniversary of the vessel’s loss, but she had the heart of a lion and got in some good licks against the Axis in her short WWII career.

Background on the Tribals

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

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

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

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

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

An unidentified Tribal class destroyer in profile

Meet Cossack

The subject of our tale, HMS Cossack, was laid down at Vickers- Armstrong 9 March 1936– the week Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland– and commissioned 7 June 1938, some three months after his Anschluss annexation of Austria. She was the sixth RN warship to carry the name, which had been introduced in 1806 when the 6th-Rate sloop Pandour was renamed. As such, she carried two previous Battle Honours forward (“Baltic 1835” and “Dover Patrol 1914-19.” Still, as the Royal Navy had fought the Bolsheviks on several fronts during the Russian Civil War only a generation prior, it was an odd choice of name.

Assigned the pennant L03, she became part of the 1st Tribal Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean where she pitched in on the international patrols during the Spanish Civil War in between Fleet exercises.

In April 1939, the Tribal Flotilla was reflagged as the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, resulting in a change of her pennant to F03.

When WWII broke out, she was with the battleship HMS Warspite at Istanbul and was soon part of convoys escorting French colonial troops from North Africa to Marseilles. By October 1939, she and her flotilla were ordered to the British Isles for Home Fleet duties in the North Sea, primarily enforcing the blockade of Germany to prevent that nation’s huge fleet of merchant ships left at sea around the world from returning home with their precious cargo.

This leads us to…

Troßschiff Altmark

One of the five Dithmarschen-class of 20,000-ton specialized tanker/supply ships built at Kiel for naval service between 1937 and 1939, Altmark could carry 7,933 tons of fuel, 972 tons of munitions, 790 tons of supplies, and 100 tons of spare parts for German surface raiders. The class was also well-armed and considered capable of being auxiliary cruisers, carrying three 150mm L48s as well as a variety of 37mm and 20mm flak guns.

Altmark’s sister ship, USS Conecuh (AOR-110), photographed in 1953-1956. She was originally the German navy replenishment oiler KMS Dithmarschen, built in 1938, and turned over as a war prize in 1946. She was stricken from the Naval Register on 1 June 1960. NARA 80-G-678091

On the outbreak of war, Altmark was at sea in the Atlantic and met with the commerce-raiding “pocket battleship” KMS Graf Spee on 1 September to transfer vital fuel stores. Over the next four months, under the control of her skipper, 66-year-old Capt. Heinrich Dau, she would meet Spee nine times at sea and trade supplies for prisoners that the raider had captured under gentlemanly “cruiser rules,” meeting Spee on 6 December for the final time.

After Spee was scuttled in Uruguay on 17 December after being run to ground by a trio of fearless cruisers, Altmark was left alone at sea with 299 captured Commonwealth merchant seamen aboard. Rather than blow her cover and parole them in a neutral port, the huge tanker somehow eluded the Royal Navy and made it back to Northern Europe, threading the needle to appear in the territorial waters of neutral Norway by mid-February 1940.

As Altmark had ditched her larger guns and changed her topside appearance several times, the mystery ship, passing herself at first as the French tanker Chirqueue, was granted grudging Norwegian permission to pass from Trondheim, where she first arrived. Soon the call went out and, after being directed by RAF Hudsons of 220 Squadron that had spotted the German, the British made a move.

Altmark, hiding out in Norway

On 16 February, Cossack– with a task force consisting of the cruiser HMS Arethusa and the destroyers Intrepid, Sikh, Nubian, and Ivanhoe— intercepted Altmark in an attempt to force her out of Norwegian territorial waters, firing a shot across her bow. However, the tanker instead slipped into a narrow inlet in Jossingfiord, effectively trapped.

Meanwhile, the neutral Norwegians only raised protests but did not actively defend Altmark, although the armed torpedo boats HNoMS Skarv and Kjell were on hand.

Following several hours of negotiations with the Norwegians to (kind of) allow a single ship to inspect Altmark and Cossack, under Capt. Philip Louis Vian, was sent in. Creeping close and according to some reports, getting lost in the fjord at night, Cossack drew close to the German tanker and LCDR B.T. Turner led the 32-man (4 officers and 28 ratings) boarding force aboard, armed with rifles and bayonets and at least one cutlass, purportedly the last combat use of that weapon in Royal Navy history.

Wilkinson, Norman; HMS ‘Cossack’ and the Prison Ship ‘Altmark’, 16 February 1940; National Maritime Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/hms-cossack-and-the-prison-ship-altmark-16-february-1940-176104

Altmark tried to fight back, with Capt. Dau ordering spotlights to blind the Cossack’s bridge and engines astern to ram the oncoming destroyer. In a confused action that saw the boarding party leap across the gap between the two ships, and several Germans killed and wounded (reports vary, with the better ones citing from 8 killed and 5 wounded in exchange for no British losses), the tanker was seized and grounded.

A hatch was opened and a call– attributed to Warrant Officer John James Frederick Smith, who won the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 16 February-– was made; “Are there any Englishmen down there?”

Following a loud response, the prisoners were told; “Then come up. The Navy’s here.”

In all, from empty shell rooms, fuel tanks, and storerooms, some 297 British mariners were found while two merchant captains (Brown and Starr) were located in a double cabin aft. The men had been on a bread and water diet and came from at least seven ships. Elsewhere on the ship, “timebombs” were found set to explode as were two concealed “pom-poms,” three 6-inch guns, and four machine guns, none of which were brought into action.

While Cossack suffered slight damage to her bows in closing with the prison ship and her port propeller cracked, Altmark was hard aground and could not be seized as a prize for return to Britain. Instead, her prisoners were liberated, and the German was left in place.

The next day, the released prisoners were landed at Leith with substantial press coverage, a delightful distraction from the “Phony War” then going on in France.

HMS Cossack returns to Leith on 17 February 1940 after rescuing the British prisoners held in Graf Spees’s supply ship Altmark. IWM

Vain earned a DSO, issued 12th April 1940: 
 
Captain Philip Louis Vian, Royal Navy, H.M.S. Cossack;
 
for outstanding ability, determination and resource in the preliminary dispositions which led to the rescue of 300 English prisoners from the German Armed Auxiliary Altmark, and for daring, leadership and masterly handling of his ship in narrow waters so as to bring her alongside and board the enemy, who tried to blind him with the glare of a searchlight, worked his engine full ahead and full astern, tried to ram him and drive him ashore and so threatened the grounding and loss of Cossack

While the Norwegians lodged toothless official protests with London, the Germans later used the Altmark incident as part of their excuse to invade that Scandinavian neutral, saying the Allies had no intent to recognize said neutrality and the country needed some extra Teutonic protection.

Goebbels also launched an over-the-top propaganda broadside over the “Crime against the Altmark,” painting the British tars of the Cossack as bloodthirsty pirates murdering honest and defenseless German mariners with dum-dum bullets while flouting Norwegian sovereignty, all while leaving out the tanker’s own role as a prison ship for a notorious commerce raider.

The German propaganda booklet surpassed a half-million copies in print.

The rest of Cossack’s War

Sent back to Norway in April to blunt the German invasion of that country, Cossack was damaged at the Second Battle of Narvik, running around and suffering serious damage that required two weeks of local repair under enemy pressure. In that destroyer-on-destroyer clash, she suffered 11 killed and 23 of the ship’s company wounded but got licks in on the KMS Eric Giese (Z12) and KMS Diether von Roeder (Z17).

She received eight direct hits and one near miss from German 5-inch guns, keeping afloat due to skilled damage control.

HMS Cossack damage control lessons learned poster after Narvik

On 5 May, while under repair, her pennant shifted to G03.

Rejoining the 4th Flotilla in June 1940 after more permanent repairs that included installing a Type 286 gunnery radar, she stood by for the expected invasion of Britain following the Fall of France.

Once that threat dissipated, Cossack was sent towards Norway again in October with classmates HMS Ashanti, HMS Sikh, and HMS Maori to harass German maritime traffic and received a shell hole in her while attacking a convoy off Egersund.

On Board the Destroyer HMS Cossack during Torpedo and Anti-submarine Exercises. 1940. Captain Vian (in the center) of Altmark fame, on the bridge during exercises. Note the Lewis gun. Photo by Beadell, S J (Lt). IWM A 1595

Pluto the dog, the mascot of HMS Cossack stood on the lap of one of the ship’s company as a group of them pose during torpedo and anti-submarine exercises Photo by Beadell, S J (Lt). IWM A 1598

A view from the other side of the above

Further operations were more mundane until, in late May, she and the rest of the 4th Flotilla were dispatched to join the urgent “Hunt for the Bismarck,” which had its endgame on the 27th when she, along with HMS Maori and Zulu, carried out close torpedo attacks on the feared German battlewagon.

Painting made in 1942 by artist Walter Zeeden depicting Captain Vian’s destroyer, Cossack, engaged by the Bismarck during the night of 26-27 May 1941. Via KBismarck

Supposedly, in a great sea story, her crew managed to recover a black and white cat found afloat in the Bismarck’s wreckage. Unaware of what the stray name of said Katze had been on Bismarck, the crew of Cossack termed their new mascot “Oscar” after the term for the dummy used in man overboard drills.

Then came coastal convoy protection from German E-boats operating from occupied France and, in October 1941, an assignment with her flotilla sisters to join Operation Substance, the reinforcement of Malta’s embattled garrison.

While just out of Gibraltar as part of convoy HG 075 on 23 October, Cossack was hit by a torpedo from the Type VIIC U-boat U-563 (Oblt. Klaus Bargsten), which was operating with Wolfpack Breslau. With massive flooding and the loss of 158 men, the destroyer was abandoned. However, the battered tin can remained afloat and, reoccupied by a 27-strong salvage crew, she was taken under tow by HM Tug Thames under escort from the corvette Jonquil.

Sadly, the damage proved too much and four days later, still short of Gibraltar, she foundered in rough weather. While her salvage crew was taken off safely, Cossack went to the bottom at 1043 on 27 October in position 35.12N 08.17W.

Her death was avenged in May 1943 when U-563 was sent to the bottom with all hands by RAF and RAAF Halifax and Sutherland aircraft off Spain. 

Epilogue

Cossack is remembered primarily for her role in the Altmark incident, an engagement that has been retold in maritime art several times.

HMS Cossack, by Anthony Cowland.

HMS Cossack comic by Jim Watson. Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant cover, dated 13 August 1977.

Cossack at Narvik April 1940 by Rudenko

She has also been reproduced in model format off and on over the past several decades.

Her skipper during the Altmark incident also survived the war, later rising to become the commander in charge of air operations of the British Pacific Fleet in the final push against Japan, and went on to become Fifth Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Philip Louis Vian GCB, KBE, DSO & Two Bars. Among the foreign decorations held by the “Fighting Admiral” was St. Olav’s Medal With Oak Branch, given to him by the Norwegians after the war to show there were no hard feelings. He died in 1968 on dry land at his home in Berkshire, aged 73.

Sir Philip Louis Vian by Walter Stoneman, bromide print, December 1942. NPG x76877

Speaking of Altmark, she was renamed Uckermark and returned to Kriegsmarine service including supporting Operation Berlin, the early 1941 anti-shipping sortie of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and being assigned twice (unsuccessfully) to back up Graf Spee’s sistership, the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. Sent to the Far East with “Raider H,” the auxiliary cruiser HSK Michel— the last operative German raider of World War II– Altmark/Uckermark ended in a column of smoke in an unexplained explosion in Yokohama in November 1942.

During her Indo-Pacific deployment in November 2021, an honor guard from the German frigate Bayern went ashore at Yokohama to lay a wreath and flag at the memorial for the Uckermark’s lost crew, killed in the 1942 explosion.

Another famed German survivor, the seasick cat Oscar was supposedly rescued when Cossack was initially abandoned off Gibraltar and picked up on a Carley Float with a handful of her crew by the L-class destroyer HMS Legion and all were later transferred to the carrier HMS Ark Royal. Amazingly, Ark Royal was sunk just two weeks later off Malta but Oscar, renamed “Unsinkable Sam,” somehow escaped meeting Davy Jones for the third time and was retired to shoreside service in Gibraltar and, postwar, to the old sailor’s home in Belfast where he reportedly passed in 1955, a German cat with lots of tales to tell, no doubt.

Oscar/Sam’s legend, which is likely more sea yarn than anything else, nonetheless resulted in a portrait that is now hung at Greenwich for the believe it or not crowd.

Oscar, the Bismarck’s Cat by Georgina Shaw-Baker National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

Greenwich also sells prints of Cossack’s plans. 

The Royal Navy used Cossack’s name for a sixth time, issuing it to a C-class destroyer (D57) that became leader of the 8th Destroyer Squadron in 1945, fought in close actions in Korea, and was broken up in 1961 after a career in the Far East.

For more details on Cossack, visit the HMS Cossack Association, which has a range of information about the famous ships that have carried the name.

As for our Cossack’s Tribal-class sisters, no less than 12 of the 16 Tribals in British service were lost during WWII and the remaining quartet were all paid off by 1949. All the Tribals in Canadian service were sold to the breakers by 1969. The three Australian ships that were completed (five were canceled) likewise were turned to razor blades.

The only Tribal that remains afloat is HMCS Haida which was preserved and opened as a museum ship in 1965. Please visit her if you get a chance.

Haida (Parks Canada)

Specs


Displacement:
1,891 long tons (1,921 t) (standard)
2,519 long tons (2,559 t) (deep load)
Length: 377 ft (114.9 m) (o/a)
Beam: 36 ft 6 in (11.13 m)
Draught: 11 ft 3 in (3.43 m)
Installed power:
3 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers
44,000 shp (33,000 kW)
Propulsion 2 × shafts; 2 × geared steam turbines
Speed 36 knots
Range 5,700 nmi at 15 knots
Complement: 190
Sensors: (1941) ASDIC, Type 268M radar
Armament:
4 × twin 4.7 in (120 mm) guns
1 × quadruple 2-pdr AA guns
2 × quadruple .50 cal Vickers anti-aircraft machineguns
1 × quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes
20-50 depth charges, 1 × rack, 2 × throwers


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

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

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

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

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Warship Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman, and his .45

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman and his .45

With this month marking the Navy’s 246th Birthday, the 79th anniversary of the loss of USS Hornet (CV-8) at the Battle of Santa Cruz (a ship commissioned 80 years ago today), and the 77th anniversary of the loss of USS Princeton (CVL-22) in the Philippine Sea, I’m breaking from our typical Warship Wednesday format to bring you the story of a Colt Government model in the Navy’s archives and the resilient young officer who carried it.

The below pistol itself at first glance would seem to be an otherwise ordinary M1911A1 Colt Military, martial marked “US Army” and “United States Property” along with the correct inspector’s marks. The serial number, No.732591, falls within Colt’s circa 1941 production range.

Accession #: NHHC 1968-141 (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

We often say, “if only a gun could talk,” but in this case, the voyage through history that the above .45ACP took is well-documented.

Also joining the fleet in 1941 was Ensign Victor Antoine Moitoret, a Californian who was admitted to the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1937 and graduated with the Class of ’41.

Moitoret’s first ship was the brand-new aircraft carrier USS Hornet, which he joined three months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ushered America into World War II.

Moitoret served as an assistant navigator on Hornet during the flattop’s secret mission to carry the Doolittle Raiders to bomb Tokyo in 1942— possibly best remembered among today’s youth as the third act of Jerry Bruckheimer’s 2001 film “Pearl Harbor”– and was also aboard the carrier for the massive naval victory at Midway (where Hornet was something of a mystery).

Flanked by torpedo boat escorts, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942, just five weeks before the Battle of Midway. (Photo: U.S. National Archives 80-G-16865)

When Hornet was irreparably damaged by enemy torpedo and dive bombers during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942, Moitoret was armed with the above pistol while serving as the carrier’s Officer of the Deck on the bridge. The young officer still had it buckled around his waist when he was pulled out of the ocean more than two hours after Hornet went to the bottom in 17,500 feet of water off the Solomon Islands, carrying 140 sailors with her.

Moitoret’s pistol belt, consisting of an M1936 Belt, M1918 Magazine Pocket, and russet leather M1916 Holster. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Two years later, Moitoret, with his relic of the lost Hornet still with him, was a lieutenant aboard the new light carrier USS Princeton, fighting to liberate the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

USS Princeton (CVL-23) steaming at 20 knots off Seattle, Washington, 3 January 1944. Moitoret was a plankowner of the new flattop, which had originally been laid down as the Cleveland-class light cruiser Tallahassee (CL-61) (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Historical Center. Catalog #: NH 95651)

In October 1944– almost two years to the day that Hornet was lost– Moitoret was on the bridge of Princeton when the ship was hit by a Japanese bomb and was wounded by shrapnel from the resulting explosion.

According to his Silver Star citation for that day, Moitoret “remained on board for a period of seven hours, fighting fires, maintaining communication with other ships in the area, preserving confidential publications and obtaining all available lengths of fire hose for use where most needed.”

Leaving his second sinking aircraft carrier, Moitoret reportedly kissed the hull of Princeton before boarding a whaleboat, one of the last men off the stricken ship.

After the war, he remained in the Navy through the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring in 1972 at the rank of Captain. On 30 May 1999, while aged 80, he delivered the Memorial Day Address to the assembled cadets at Annapolis, continuing to serve as a proud link in the long blue line up to the very end.

Moitoret died in 2005 and is buried at Fort Bayard National Cemetery in New Mexico, next to his wife, Rowena, and son, Alan.

His well-traveled sidearm and pistol belt are in the collection of the NHHC, held in the Headquarters Artifact Collection

As noted by the Navy,

“The central theme of this year’s 246th Navy Birthday and Heritage week is ‘Resilient and Ready,’ which speaks to the Navy’s history of being able to shake off disaster, such as the loss of a ship or a global pandemic, and still maintain force lethality and preparedness. It allows the messaging to showcase readiness, capabilities, capacity, and of course the Sailor—all while celebrating our glorious victories at sea and honoring our shipmates who stand and have stood the watch.”

Happy Birthday, Navy, and a slow hand salute to Capt. Moitoret.

Back to our regular Warship Wednesday format next week.

***
 
If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International
 
They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm 
 
The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.
 
With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.
 
PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.
 
I’m a member, so should you be!

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