Tag Archives: D-Day

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022: Lucky Herndon

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, Feb. 2, 2022: Lucky Herndon

Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Film Collection, Serial #11-19, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins, via Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

Here we see the brand spanking Gleaves-class destroyer USS Herndon (DD-638) entering the Elizabeth River at Norfolk Naval Shipyard some 80 years ago this week on the occasion of her launching.

Herndon’s launching program, via “Lucky Herndon.com.” Why was she so lucky? We’ll get to that.

The Gleaves class is an unsung group of some 62 destroyers who began construction pre-WWII and completed into the first stage of the war. With the huge building of the follow-on Fletcher– and Sumner-class destroyers, the Gleaves are often forgotten. What should never be forgotten is the sacrifice these ships made, with no less than 11 of the class lost during WWII.

Slight ships of just 2,395 tons, and 348-feet of steel hull, they were packed with a turbine-powered 50K shp plant that gave them a theoretical speed of over 37 knots and a 6,500-mile range at an economical 12 knot cruising speed for convoy or patrol work. Armed with as many as five 5″/38 DP mounts, up to 10 torpedo tubes, ASW gear, and AAW batteries, they were ready for almost anything and could float in as little as 13 feet of seawater, able to get inshore when needed.

Herndon was named for 19th-century sea-going hero and explorer, CDR William Lewis Herndon. Born in 1813 and admitted to Annapolis as a 15-year-old Mid, he was both cousin and brother-in-law to Matthew Fontaine Maury, the “Father of Modern Oceanography and Naval Meteorology,” and as such participated in a lot of the Navy’s charting work as a young officer. Hailed for his performance of the brig Iris during the war with Mexico, Herndon later led a two-year expedition to the Valley of the Amazon, traveling over 4,000 miles in the process and penning a 414-page report of the area, one of the first works detailing its biodiversity. Given leave while still on the navy’s rolls in 1855, he was the skipper of the ill-fated SS Central America, which went down in a heavy gale off Cape Hatteras 7 September 1857. A prominent chapter in maritime lore, Central America was one of the noted instances of “women and children” loaded into lifeboats as the men stood stoically by and went to the bottom. Herndon was last seen standing by his doomed ship’s wheelhouse as it went down.

He was honored posthumously with a monument at Annapolis, was the father-in-law of future President Chester A. Arthur, the towns of Herndon, Virginia, and Herndon, Pennsylvania, were named for him, and the Navy issued his name to two destroyers, No. 198 (which went on to become HMS Churchill after the bases-for-destroyers deal and was sunk by a U-boat in the White Sea in 1945) and the subject of our Warship Wednesday, the latter was sponsored at her 1942 launching by Miss Lucy Herndon Crockett, great-grandniece of the late CDR Herndon.

In this image, she is sitting on the destroyer ways at the yard, preparing for her launch on 5 Feb 1942. Next to her is the battleship Alabama (BB 60) on the main ways, she would be launched two weeks later.

Commissioned 20 December 1942, CDR (later RADM) Granville A. Moore (USNA 1927) in command, Herndon was ready to get in the war.

USS Herndon (DD-638) in March 1943. 80-G-45379

Husky

Post-shakedown, Herndon escorted a convoy from New York to Casablanca, returning to New York on 14 May 1943 escorting a tanker.

Sailing from Norfolk on 8 June, she reached Algiers on 24 June and prepared for a key role in the Sicilian campaign, Operation Husky. There, she covered the landings of Maj, Gen. Troy Middleton’s 45th (Thunderbird) Infantry Division, traded blows with shore batteries and was heavily involved in defending the cruiser USS Philadelphia (CL-41) from a series of air wild raids from German aircraft while off Palermo.

Sketches of air attacks USS Herndon 7.31.43 8.1.43, From her reports, now in the NARA. Note that these were all inside about 36 hours

Remarkably, neither our destroyer nor Philadelphia was seriously damaged in Husky. Luck example #1.

Overlord

Following her stint in the barrel off Sicily, Herndon was pulled back to the British Isles and spent nine months crisscrossing the Atlantic from New York to various British ports, shepherding troopships headed to Europe. The greyhound was no doubt a welcome sight for the GIs aboard those vessels.

Dispatched to “Bald-headed Row” off Omaha Beach, she was part of Fire Support Unit Four (Task Unit 125.8.4), consisting of the destroyers Hobson, Corry, Shubrick, and Fitch. Assigned to NGFS Station No. 4 for the landings, Herndon faced the guns just east of the Carentan Estuary and was with the first assault wave to enter the fray off Omaha on D-Day. Her targets included No. 42 (an infantry position with three pillboxes, one casemate, one anti-tank gun, two shelters, and two 150mm guns in open emplacements), a tough nut for the Dog landing area.

Opening fire at 0550 on June 6, 1944, some 40 minutes before H-hour, Herndon dumped 212 rounds of 5-inch in just 40 minutes. She followed this up with two further fire missions before 0735, firing 42 and 53 rounds respectively, silencing the German batteries.

During the support, she was just 6,000 yards off the beach at Grandcamp le Bains, steaming at 5 knots, with splashes from shore batteries falling as close as 600 yards, although leaving the ship unharmed. Others were not so lucky and sister ship USS Corry (DD-463) was sunk within sight of Herndon, the tin can ripped apart by 8-inch shells in her engineering spaces amidships that left jagged foot-wide holes in the deck.

Her report from that day is stunning:

Tom Wolf, an NEA war correspondent who bunked with Cronkite during their time in Europe, was aboard Herndon for D-Day writing, “They call her ‘Lucky Herndon.’ This is the destroyer which led the Allied naval armada in the assault on Fortress Europe. Such were the risks that her sisterships were betting 10 to 1 against Herndon’s coming out whole.”

Wolf’s Lucky Herndon article, via Lucky Herndon.com.

Headed back to refill her magazines on D+1, Herndon returned to Omaha on 8 June, dodging German glider bombs while bomber-dropped mines were sown around her. The destroyer USS Meredith (DD-726), near her, struck one of these infernal devices and sunk the next day, her seams busted. Nonetheless, Herndon delivered a further 592 rounds of 5-inch at German targets ashore on 8 June alone, heading back to Plymouth the next day for more shells.

Assigned next to screen the battlewagons USS Texas and USS Nevada along the “Dixie Line,” German E-boat and U-boat attacks were a fear and, while part of that screen, sistership USS Nelson (DD-623), had her stern and No. 4 mount blown off by a torpedo on 13 June. Remaining part of the line through the 19th, Herndon had a brief pause until her next landings.

Dragoon & FDR

Herndon was part of the joint task group (TG 88.2) screening carriers on 15 August when the invasion of southern France, Operation Dragoon, was begun. Acting as plane guard for the British baby flattops HMS Hunter and HMS Stalker on D-Day, she did not have as eventful a time off the Riveria as she did off Palermo and Normandy. She remained in the Med as a convoy escort into October. Again, her luck held.

As detailed by DANFS:

Returning to the States 12 November, she conducted battle exercises in Casco Bay and escorted convoys along the Atlantic coast through February 1945. In that month. Herndon escorted President Roosevelt on the first leg of his historic voyage to Yalta.

Then came the End Game

On to the Pacific!

The veteran destroyer and her crew passed through the Panama Canal on 28 April 1945, just over a week away from VE-Day, and arrived at San Diego on 15 May where she once again clocked in as a carrier plane guard, this time in U.S. waters. Herndon sailed to Eniwetok on 12 July and, no doubt gratefully for her crew, spent the next month escorting convoys between relatively quiet Eniwetok, Guam, and Saipan.

VJ-Day found her as part of DESRON 16 assigned to Task Group 10.3 anchored at Buckner Bay, Okinawa where she was soon sent, acting as an escort to the cruiser USS Louisville (CA-28) to ride out a typhoon at sea.

By 7 September, with the seas calmed, Louisville and Herndon were dispatched to the port of Dairen (Dalian) in Manchuria’s Liaodong peninsula, to help supervise the evacuation of Allied POWs in the area. Arriving there on the morning of 11 September, then a week later headed across to the old treaty port of Tsingtao to accept the surrender of Japanese naval assets in the area, consisting of about a dozen escorts and merchantmen in various conditions.

At 1445 on 16 September IJN VADM Kaneko and the Japanese surrender party came aboard Herndon, followed a half-hour later by RADM Thomas Greenhow Williams “Tex” Settle (USNA 1918), an aviation pioneer of some renown, who had his flag aboard Louisville. By 1540, the unconditional surrender document was signed, ending the Japanese occupation of Tsingtao that had been a reality since the emperor’s troops captured it from the Germans in 1914.

Rear Admiral T.G.W. Settle, USN, left, looks on while Vice Admiral Kaneko, IJN, signs document of surrender turning over 12 Japanese ships to U.S. control: 6 DD and AM and 6 merchantmen. The ceremony took place on the forecastle of USS HERNDON (DD-638) at Tsingtao, China, on 16 September 1945. Description: Courtesy of Vice-Admiral T.G.W. Settle, USN ret., 1975 Catalog #: NH 82027

Transferring prize crews, Louisville and Herndon got underway on 22 September with the most intact of the surrendered ships, the Momi-class second-rate destroyers Kuri and Hasu, Subchasers No. 23 and 38, Minesweeper No. 21, and the freighter Shonan Maru, then escorted the little Japanese flotilla to Incheon (Jinsen), Korea, where they would be demilitarized.

Herndon would spend the remainder of 1945 patrolling the Korean and China coasts and assisting the repatriation of Japanese soldiers and the movement of Chinese Nationalist troops.

On 5 December 1945 she was tasked to become a “Magic Carpet” vessel, picking up returning Veterans from Shanghai, Eniwetok, Okinawa, and Pearl Harbor, and arriving at San Diego two days after Christmas. Arriving at New York on 15 January 1946, she was decommissioned on 8 May and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, first at Philadelphia, then at Orange, Texas.

She never was hit even though she fought in the Med, Atlantic, and Pacific, including supporting all three large amphibious landings in Europe.

Epilogue

Herndon received three battle stars for World War II service. Stricken from the Navy List in June 1971, she was expended in a naval weapons test off Florida on 24 May 1973. The remainder of her class suffered similar fates, and none are preserved as museums.

Her five-page War History and diaries are digitized in the National Archives. Likewise, there are at least two different veterans and family community groups.

Before her sinking, parts of the ship including her wheel, the rudder indicator, and the ship’s bell, were removed and loaned in the 1980s to the Herndon (Virginia) Historical Society by the U.S. Navy.

They are currently on display in the town’s Depot Museum and additional donated artifacts include flags, photographs, shell casings, muster rolls, and an anchor log. Also, note the display of CDR Herndon. 

The Herndon High School Band attended the 75th anniversary of the D-Day events in Normandy, France, in 2019, and each member carried a photograph of one of the veterans who served aboard the Herndon as they march in France. The band carried the ensign that flew aboard the ship off Omaha Beach.

Historical Documentary of the first ship to approach the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and the trip of the Herndon High School Marching Band to honor it on the 75th anniversary, in 2019:

Speaking of D-Day, her skipper during Husky and Overlord, CDR Granville Alexander Moore, earned a silver star for that latter operation, retired from the Navy as a rear admiral in 1957 while Chief of Staff at the Navy War College. Teaching at the Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Pete for 13 years, he died there in 1983.

Meanwhile, the 21-foot tall Herndon Oblisk at Annapolis, dedicated to our destroyer’s namesake, remains the focus of the annual “plebes-no-more” ceremony, where first-year cadets race to climb the top and place a dixie cup on its pinnacle.

“Plebes,” or freshmen, from the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2010 celebrate after conquering the annual Herndon Climb. This event symbolizes the successful completion of the midshipmen’s freshman year. The plebes must use teamwork, strategy, and communication to climb to the top of the 21-foot obelisk and replace the traditional “plebe” cover with a midshipman’s cover. Midshipman 4th Class Jamie Schrock, from Detroit, reached the top in 1:32:42. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Christopher Lussier

Specs:

(As-built)
Displacement: 1,630 tons
Length: 348 ft 3 in
Beam: 36 ft 1 in
Draft: 13 ft 2 in
Propulsion: four boilers; two Allis Chalmers Turbines, 50,000 shp, two propellers
Speed: 37.4 knots
Range: 6,500 nautical miles at 12 kt
Complement: 208 designed. Wartime: 16 officers, 260 enlisted
Armament:
4 × 5 in/38 cal guns (1 deleted in 1945)
4 x 40mm Bofors in two twin mounts.
7 x 20mm Oerlikon in single mounts.
Torpedo Tubes: 5 x 21-inch in one quintuple mount (deleted in 1945)
ASW: 2 racks for 600-lb. charges; 6 “K”-gun projectors for 300-lb. charges, three Mousetrap devices.


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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022: Ozzie Bird Boat

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, Jan. 26, 2022: Ozzie Bird Boat

RAN Photo

Here we see something of an ugly duckling, the Royal Australian Navy’s seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross in Hobart around 1930 with five of her six early Supermarine Seagull amphibians aloft. She is considered by many to be the first aircraft carrier of the RAN, sparking a tradition that endures almost a century later.

Purpose-built for her role at the Cockatoo Docks, she was the size of a small cruiser, weighing some 7,000-tons (full load) on a 444-foot long steel hull. She was the largest ship built in dominion at the time. Powered by a quartet of Yarrow boilers driving a pair of Parsons steam turbines, she could make 22.5 knots which was reasonably fast for the age. She carried four QF 4.7-inch Mk VIII naval guns with two forward and two over her stern as well as a variety of Vickers 40mm pom-poms and .303-caliber machine guns, equivalent to a decently armed destroyer.

However, her primary purpose and armament was her airwing of up to nine (six active, three stowed in reserve) floatplanes or amphibians. These would augment and support the RAN’s two planned new Kent (County) class heavy cruisers, HMAS Australia (I84/D84/C01) and HMAS Canberra (I33/D33), who would also carry the same type of catapult-launched/crane recovered seaplanes as Albatross. In fact, it was felt that Albatross could operate in conjunction with those two cruisers in the Pacific, with the seaplane carrier forward deploying to anticipated areas in advance of the more capable surface ships to screen their operations with her aircraft. Besides, her cruise speed was the same rate as the warships. 

Her aviation facilities included safe stowage of 9,967 gallons of avgas– enough for at least 80 sorties for the planned floatplanes she would carry– a large forward hangar space, a centerline black powder catapult that launched over the bow, and two (later three) large cranes capable of lifting aircraft aboard.

The 1931 Jane’s entry for Albatross.

She was a much-updated revised design of the first seaplane/aircraft carrier, the Great War-era HMS Ark Royal.

Albatross, the only Australian warship ever named for the large and iconic seabird, was laid down in 1926 and commissioned on 23 January 1929.

The launch of the Royal Australian Navy’s first seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross on 23 February 1928 at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney. Australian National Maritime Museum’s Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Object no. 00035168

It was originally thought Albatross would carry and operate RAN’s fleet of six Fairey 111D seaplanes, which they had received starting in 1921. One was awarded the Britannia Trophy in 1924 by the Royal Aero Club for circumnavigating Australia in 44 days.

The Fairey III could carry up to 500 pounds of bombs as well as two .303 guns. When used in a pure recon role, sans bombs, they had a 1,500-mile range on 123 gals of gas, which was long legged for the 1920s. Here are IIIFs floatplanes of No. 47 Squadron on the Blue Nile at Khartoum before departing for a series of exploratory flights over Southern Sudan on 8 July 1930. The aircraft pictured are J9796, J9809, and J9802. RAF MOD Image 45163722

However, the Supermarine Seagull III, an amphibian design by Reginald Joseph Mitchell— father of the Spitfire– superseded the Fairy floatplane before Albatross entered the fleet, with nine of the flying boats delivered by 1927. Able to remain aloft for five-hour patrols, the Seagull III was the direct antecedent of the Walrus (Seagull V), one of the best amphibians of WWII. 

As explained by the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia in reference to the Seagull III:

A total of nine of these aircraft were delivered to the RAAF 101 Fleet Cooperation Flight, who worked closely with the RAN. Of the nine, two were wrecked in (separate) storms whilst at mooring, one crashed after entering a spin during a gunnery spotting exercise (fatal) and six survived for eventual retirement.

Six Seagulls were attached to HMAS Albatross in 1929, but their low freeboard and relatively low powered engine gave poor performance at sea, including the ability to only operate in relatively low sea states.

Wings folded, a Seagull Mk III is lowered onto the foredeck of “Australia’s first aircraft carrier,” the seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross, RAN 1929-1938. Notes on photo: HMAS CERBERUS Museum. It has been kindly made available to the Unofficial RAN Centenary 1911-2011 photo stream courtesy of the Curator, Warrant Officer Martin Grogan RANR. The photo also appears in Topmill Pty Ltd book ‘Aircraft Carriers and Squadrons of the Royal Australian Navy [Topmill, Sydney] edited by Johnathan Nally, p8; also, in Ross Guillett’s book ‘Wings Across the Sea [Aerospace Publications, Canberra 1988] p33.

A great image showing much detail of Albatross’s amidships as she lifts a Seagull Mk III aboard. Note the Naval Number 0 five-cross flag flying, and her two deck guns sandwiched among her cranes. Image via State Library of NSW

A Seagull III amphibian moored in calm water via FAAA

Note the 4.7-inch guns, which surely proved a hassle to plane operations. Nonetheless, she would use them for NGFS at Normandy. 

Although she never operated with more than nine aircraft, measurements of her hangar deck allowed for as many as 14 folded Seagulls.

Albatross’s RAN career was not lengthy, with LCDR Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd)’s Naval History Homepage detailing that she completed trials and workups in 1929 to include embarking the Governor-General and wife for a visit to the Australian Mandated Territories in the Pacific then completed a series of local deployments. The next couple of years were spent in a cycle of winter cruises to the New Guinea area, spring cruises in coastal Australian waters, and various fleet exercises.

HMAS Albatross seen at the fleet exercise area in Hervey Bay, Queensland, “we think this image may have been taken around 1931.” Photo: Collection of the late CPO Bill Westwood, courtesy John Westwood, RANR 1965-1967. 

HMAS Albatross craning an amphibian aboard.

HMAS Albatross maneuvering away from Garden Island dockyard (RAN image)

HMAS Albatross. State Library of Victoria – Allan C. Green collection

She was a very beamy ship

Two Supermarine Seagull III amphibians taxi near HMAS Albatross at Hervey Bay, QLD. (RAN image)

In April 1933, her Seagulls were disembarked, and the vessel was reduced to reserve status, used occasionally to tend visiting seaplanes. While in reserve in 1936 she was briefly reactivated for the installation and testing of a new catapult then returned to storage.

In 1937, the Australian government brokered a deal to swap the still very young and low-mileage Albatross to the British Admiralty in partial payment for the recently completed Leander-class light cruiser HMS Apollo, soon to be the HMAS Hobart (D63). The cruiser arrived in Australia at the end of 1938– and went on to earn eight battle honors for her WWII service: “Mediterranean 1941”, “Indian Ocean 1941”, “Coral Sea 1942”, “Savo Island 1942”, “Guadalcanal 1942”, “Pacific 1942–45”, “East Indies 1940”, and “Borneo 1945,” while Albatross, recommissioned 19 April 1938, waved goodbye to Sydney for the last time that July.

HMAS Albatross about 1938, likely on her way to England. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Meet HMS Albatross

Arriving at Portsmouth in September 1938, Albatross was paid off by the Australians and officially transferred to the Royal Navy, a force that promptly put her in reserve with a wartime mission being to provide air surveillance with a force of Walrus amphibians. Her reserve time would be short, as she was fully manned and commissioned as HMS Albatross in June 1939 on the lead-up to Hitler marching into Poland.

Outfitted with six (later nine) Walruses of 710 Naval Air Squadron, she was dispatched in September 1939 to West Africa with a homeport at Freetown– along with visits to Bathurst in the Gambia and French naval base at Dakar– tasked with searching for German blockade runners, U-boats, and commerce raiders plying the South Atlantic.

Artwork, Supermarine Walrus MKI RN FAA 710NAS 9F HMS Albatross W2771. Note the Walrus was a pusher type rather than the Seagull III’s tractor type, and had an enclosed cabin.

HMS ALBATROSS (FL 3052) Underway, coastal waters. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120269

When France fell in June 1940, Albatross carried Jutland veteran RADM George Hamilton D’Oyly Lyon (CiC Africa Station) to Dakar to try and negotiate the neutralization of the French Fleet there, and her aircraft shadowed the incomplete but still dangerous battleship, Richelieu.

Except for a brief refit in Mobile, Alabama, Albatross would maintain her quiet Freetown outpost station for 31 months until, fresh from her Dixie overhaul, she was assigned to the East Indies Station in May 1942 for trade defense against the Japanese and long-ranging German and Italian raiders/submarines.

Notably, she detached one of her planes at Trinidad (Supermarine Walrus W2738 9A ‘Audrey III’), designated 710 NAS ‘Y’ Flight, which proceeded to the Falklands to provide that island chain its sole air defense/patrol asset for the first part of 1942 against the (remote) possibility of a Japanese naval assault on the windswept South Atlantic colony. 

After sailing around the Cape of Good Hope with convoy WS18– and dodging Axis minefields– she was soon part of South African-born RADM Edward Syfret’s Force H for Operation(s) Ironclad/Stream Line Jane, the seizure of the Vichy French colony of Mayotte, the port of Diego-Suarez, and the island of Madagascar, where the Japanese hoped to base long-ranging Kaidai-type submarines.

The extended Madagascar operation was a sideshow, historically significant as it was the first British amphibious assault since the disastrous landings in the Dardanelles in 1915. During the seven-month campaign, Albatross provided care and feeding for her pack of 710 NAS Walruses used in ASW patrols against Japanese RADM Noboru Ishizaki’s 8th Submarine Squadron and five locally-based Vichy subs as Syfret had the large the aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious and HMS Indomitable— equipped with a mix of Martlets, Albacores, and Swordfish– for heavy lifting and to cover the landings themselves.

Embarrassingly, the old battleship HMS Ramillies was heavily damaged while in the “protected” Diego-Suarez harbor at the end of May after Japanese midget submarines, launched from IJN I-16 and I-20, penetrated the layered defenses.

USN ONI image of Albatross 1942 with a CVS (carrier, anti-submarine) designation

Post-Madagascar, Albatross would continue her Indian Ocean service as a headquarters and combined operations training ship at Bombay until July 1943 when, as the Japanese threat to the region had receded, she was sent back to European waters. The Walruses of 710 Squadron were put ashore at Kilindini and ferried to Nairobi before the ship sailed without aircraft, the squadron disbanding at RNAS Lee-on-Solent soon after arrival.

Arriving at Devonport in September, Albatross was paid off for conversion from a seaplane tender to a floating repair ship, a change that included the removal of her catapult and forward main armament while her hangar space was converted to workshops. As she would be sent in harm’s way still, a Type 286 air search radar was fitted as was a half dozen Oerlikons.

Assigned to Force S for the upcoming Operation Neptune, the RN’s support of the D-Day landings at Normandy, she was part of the huge invasion fleet on 6 June 1944 on “The Longest Day.” Her role would be to help install and tend the Gooseberry 5 (Sword Beach) breakwater while plying her repair services there for small craft.

She had a busy month, as noted by Mason, logging an air attack from a German Me109, taking shore fire that killed one rating, providing naval gunfire support and AAA defense of the anchorage, surviving the infamously fierce gale of 19 June, and saving 79 craft from total loss while enabling 132 others to resume service off the beachhead.

By July, Albatross was given a short break to resupply and was then back at it, working repairs off Juno Beach. There, in the pre-dawn darkness of 11 August, she was hit by a new type of German long-range/low-speed circling torpedo– a G7e/TIIID Dackel (dachshund) fired by S-boats (S79, S97, and S177 engaged in the attack, with 10 torpedos fired) of out of Le Harve that killed 66 men and left her with a 15-degree list.

Towed to Portsmouth by a “Free Dutch” salvage tug, Albatross spent most of the remainder of the war under repair with the eye to keep her around as a minesweeper tender. However, as the conflict soon wound down, on 3 August 1945 she was paid off to the reserve and laid up at the Isle of Wright.

Post War career

Placed on the Disposal List in 1946, she was sold to the South Western Steam Navigation Company for continued merchant use. Initially named SS Pride of Torquay in line with a plan to convert her to a floating casino by the Chatham Dockyards, in October 1948 she was bought at auction by the Greek-owned China Hellenic Lines, and she soon became SS Hellenic Prince, ostensibly to recognize the birth of Prince Charles in November, himself the son of Greek nobility, WWII-naval veteran Prince Phillip. Her bread and butter would be to carry World War II refugees to new lives abroad.

SS Hellenic Prince

Reuben Goossens, who details the lives of classic 20th Century liners, has an interesting page covering Hellenic Prince’s short career with the CHL and Pacific Salvage Co. Ltd, which included turning “migrant voyages into a living hell” from Europe to Australia that included allegations of mutiny and a stint as a troopship taking Commonwealth ground forces to Kenya to fight the Mau Mau.

He notes this about the vessel:

The completed 6.558 GRT (Gross Registered Tons) SS Hellenic Prince was certainly no luxury liner, was able to accommodate up 1,200 persons in 200 cabins and dormitories with up to 20 persons, as well some eight and some 4 bunk cabins all having the most basic of facilities, yet all accommodations were fully air-conditioned. The spacious Dining Room seated 560 persons and this venue at certain times also was used as a lounge area, for there were no formal lounges, but there were two Cinemas for entertainment. In the three bays of her hangar deck there were three separate Hospitals – one for men, one for women, and an isolation Ward for sick children who would most likely have come out of one of the concentration camps of post-war Europe.

SS Hellenic Prince (former HMAS Albatross), in rough condition, between 1949 and 1951. State Library of Victoria.

Sold to a British Ship-breaker in 1954, ex-HMAS/HMS Albatross was broken up in Hong Kong where she arrived in tow on 12th August 1954. As far as I can tell, there is little that remains of her in terms of relics.

A Portuguese sister?

Portuguese Navy Capt. Artur de Sacadura Freire Cabral was famed for the first flight across the South Atlantic Ocean in 1922– a 5,200nm trip from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro that took 79 days to log 62 hours of flight time! His aircraft was dubbed Lusitania, a Fairey III-D seaplane specifically outfitted for the journey and, if you remember, the same type of aircraft the Australians intended to operate from HMAS Albatross.

Portugal this month celebrated the centennial of that feat. 

Sadly, Cabral would disappear two years later while flying over the foggy English Channel and never be recovered.

In a salute to him, the Portuguese Navy in 1931 planned the acquisition of a seaplane tender based on Albatross to be constructed at an Italian yard. To be built at Cantieri Riunii dell Adriatico at Trieste as part of an extensive naval shipbuilding program, funding was never realized and all we have is the 1931 Jane’s entry for the vessel.

Sacadura Cabral, based on HMAS Albatross, per Janes.

Epilogue

Albatross is remembered in Australia via a variety of maritime art.

HMAS Albatross operating her Sea Gull III amphibian aircraft. Painting by Phil Belbin. (RAN Naval Heritage Collection)

HMAS Albatross watercolor by John Alcott. AWM ART28074

The Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, including four squadrons of helicopters (723, 725, 808, and 816) along with one of UAVs (822X Squadron), and the Fleet Air Arm Museum, are located at a shore establishment near Nowra, New South Wales. The base, originally formed in 1942 by the Royal Australian Air Force as RAAF Nowra, was transferred to the RAN in 1944 and commissioned in 1948 as HMAS Albatross, recognizing the name of the old seaplane carrier.

RAN MH-60R crew with 725 Squadron at HMAS Albatross

Further, the RAN would revisit aircraft carrier operations with the Colossus-class light aircraft carrier HMS Vengeance (as HMAS Vengeance, from 1952 to 1955) along with the Majestic-class light aircraft carriers HMS Majestic (as HMAS Melbourne, from 1955 to 1982) and HMS Terrible (as HMAS Sydney from 1948 to 1973), spanning a solid 34 years of running fixed-wing flattops.

Today, the RAN’s pair of Canberra-class LHDs, big ships of some 27,500-tons and 757-feet overall length, can carry as many as 18 helicopters and it is thought they could eventually operate F-35B models, continuing the legacy the humble Albatross began a century ago.

September 2021, HMAS Sirius (AO-266) conducts a dual replenishment at sea with HMAS Canberra (LHD-2) and USCGC Munro (WMSL-755), during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021. (RAN Photo by LSIS Leo Baumgartner)

Specs:

As seaplane tender/carrier
Displacement: 4,800 tons (standard), 7,000 full
Length 443 ft 7 in
Beam: 58 ft molded, 77.75 ft at sponsons
Draft:
1930: 16 ft 11.5 in
1936: 17.25 ft
Propulsion: 4 × Yarrow boilers, 2 x Parsons Turbines, 12,000 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 22 knots
Range:
4,280 nm at 22 knots; 7,900 nm at 10 knots on 942 tons of oil
Complement: 29 RAN officers, 375 RAN sailors, 8 RAAF officers, 38 RAAF enlisted
Armament:
4 x 120/40 QF Mk VIII guns
2 x single 2-pounder (40-mm) pom-poms (later replaced by quadruple pom-poms in 1943)
4 x 47/40 3pdr Hotchkiss Mk I saluting guns
Aircraft carried: 9 aircraft (six actives, three reserves)

As Hellenic Prince (1949-54, Lloyd’s specs)
Tonnage: 6.558 GRT.
Length: 443.7 ft
Width: 61ft
Draught: 17.25 ft
Propulsion: 4 × Yarrow boilers, Parsons Turbines, 12,000 SHP
Speed: 17 knots service speed, 22 maximum.
Passengers: around 1,000, but up to 1,200 maximum in Steerage.
Crew: 250


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Cruising the Beach

Allied warships of Bombarding Force ‘C’, which supported the landings in the Omaha Beach area on June 6, 1944, as part of Operation Neptune/Overlord.

The picture was taken from the frigate HMS Holmes (K581). IWM photo A 23923. McNeill, M H A (Lt) Photographer

The column is led by the battlewagon USS Texas (BB-35) (far left, with Flag, RADM Carleton F. Bryant, aboard), with the Town-class light cruiser HMS Glasgow (C21), the battleship USS Arkansas (BB-33), Free French La Galissonnière-class cruisers George Leygues and Montcalm (Flag French RADM Jacques Jaujard aboard) following. The destroyers/escorts Frankford, McCook, Carmick, Doyle, Endicott, Baldwin, Harding, Satterlee, Thomson, Tanaside, Talybont, and Melbreak, also part of Force C, are nearby and some would move dangerously close to the beach that day.

In all, Group C alone would hammer the Germans at Omaha Beach with over 13,000 shells of 3-inch bore or higher inside of 11-hours, even being criticized after the fact:

Fire Support by individual units was generally satisfactory. MONTCALM, GEORGES LEYGUES, and GLASGOW in particular rendered quick and accurate support. TEXAS contributed valuable 14-inch fire, though in some instances cruiser fire might have been used instead. In one case an inexperienced spotter called for but did not receive, battleship main battery fire on a machine gun nest. It is possible that the fire support ships, in general, delivered call fire in too great a volume and too quickly with regard to available ammunition. It is believed that equivalent results would usually have been attained by more deliberate fire. The problem is often a difficult one, as calls for fire are usually urgent and the natural procedure is to deliver the quickest support. The solution appears to lie in the indoctrination of Shore Fire Control Parties in the proper use of the “deliberate fire” and “fire slower” groups (AEF Assault Signal Code), and, possibly, the introduction of code groups, similar to the “duration of fire” code groups, indicating the rate of fire.

Marauders Over the Beach

76 Years Ago this morning.

Original caption: One of the many B-26 Martin Marauders of the 9th AF is shown over the coast of France during the early morning giving a cover to the landing craft shown on the beaches below. These hard-hitting medium bombers gave cover for the greatest airborne troop-carrying armada ever assembled, then furnished an air umbrella for the landing craft as the final phase of the Battle for the Liberation of Europe got underway.

Photo 342-FH-51988AC via NARA https://catalog.archives.gov/id/12003988

Photo 342-FH-51988AC via NARA https://catalog.archives.gov/id/12003988

Just Clarence & Chuck putting on their faces for a night out

“Pvt. Clarence C. Ware, 438 W. 15th St., San Pedro, Calif., gives a last-second touch to Pvt. Charles R. Plaudo, 210 N. James, Minneapolis, Minn., make-up patterned after the American Indians. Somewhere in England.”

Note the censor has marked out the unit insignia on Plaudo’s shoulder. Also note the good private’s M1 Thompson SMG, which has medical tape around the stock, likely to help guard a growing split in the wood. Photo 111-SC-193551 via NARA 

Both of the paratroopers are members of the now-famous “Filthy Thirteen” of the 1st Demolition Section– the direct inspiration for the fictionalized Dirty Dozen— of the Regimental Headquarters Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st “Screaming Eagles” Airborne Division. The mohawks and “war paint” came like a bolt of youthful inspiration from Sgt. Jake McNiece, a fellow member of the Thirteen who was part Choctaw.

As for the men shown above, Clarence was wounded in action in Normandy and after the war he returned to California, passing away in 2001 at the age of 78. Meanwhile, “Chuck” Plaudo re-enlisted after the war into the Air Force and later served in Japan. He passed away at age 26 in April 1950 from injuries due to an auto accident.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021: The Jeep of The Deep

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, Feb. 17, 2021: The Jeep of The Deep

U.S. Navy Museum 26-G-4078

Here we see USCG-6, one of the hardy members of the skull-and-crossbones emblazoned Coast Guard “Match Box Fleet” that rode shotgun in the shallows off Normandy during the Neptune/Overlord landings in June 1944. Unlikely– and quite frankly very dangerous– vessels, these 83-foot patrol boats provided unsung service not only during WWII but for generations after.

The Coast Guard’s first modern 20th Century mid-sized offshore vessels, the massive 203-vessel 75-foot “six-bitter” patrol boats, were a child of the Prohibition-era crackdown on rumrunners and bootleggers. However, these cabin cruiser-style all-wooden boats were some of the slowest boats in the sea. Equipped with two 6-cylinder gasoline engines, they could make 15.7 knots– on a calm sea and with a light load.

A 75-foot Coast Guard boat, CG-242, at Boston in 1928, looking like it is wide open. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

By the 1930s and with the rapid expansion in the number of powerboats in consumers’ hands, the Coast Guard ordered 19 so-called “400 series” patrol boats with speed as a requirement. These craft, built by five different yards in four different types, were an important evolutionary step, not only for the USCG but also for the Navy, who about the same time was looking to get into the PT boat game. Shallow-draft wooden-hulled boats with streamlined cabins, they were packed with multiple high-octane engines below deck with the goal of breaking 20+ knots with ease.

CG 441, is one of the two experimental “400 series” 72-footers built by the service in the 1930s. “New Coast Guard boat capable of 35 miles an hour. Washington, D.C., May 17, 1937. One of the fastest things afloat, the new U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat #441 was put thru its paces on the Potomac River today for the benefit of treasury officials. The cruiser, which is one of eight to be placed in law enforcement and life-saving service of the Coast Guard, is powered with four 1,600 horsepower motors and is capable of doing 35 miles an hour.” This craft, built by Chance Marine Construction in Annapolis, would serve on the sea frontier in WWII and be sold in 1947 for scrap. Photo. LOC LC-DIG-hec-22721

By 1941, the Coast Guard had settled on a new design following lessons learned by the “400 series.”

The original 83 footer plan

Designed to use a pair of large, supped-up gasoline engines, the agency ordered 40 of these new 83-foot crafts on 19 March 1941 from Wheeler Shipyard in Brooklyn. Powered by two 600hp Hall Scott Defenders, it was expected they could make 20.6 knots at delivery. Armament was slight, just a manually loaded 1-pounder (37mm) gun forward, and a pair of .30-06 Lewis guns on the wheelhouse wings.

With a plywood interior separated by three bulkheads sandwiched between a Cedar/Oak hull and a wood deck, the crew spaces on an 83 were described by one former crewman as “a dog kennel almost big enough for 14 men.”

The first boats of the series, as it turned out, were very different from what the class would soon evolve to become. Designed to use a smooth prefabricated Everdur bronze wheelhouse, as wartime material crunches came to play just 135 hulls would have these, the rest making do with a flat and angular plywood affair. In a below-deck change, after the first five hulls, the powerplant changed to a pair of the Sterling Engine Company’s TCG-8 “Viking II” engine, a beast referred to by Engine Labs today as the “World’s Largest Inline Gasoline Engine.”

Via Engine Labs:

The TCG-8 was an inline-eight-cylinder, four-stroke engine, which consumed gasoline… and lots of it. An undersquare design, the engine featured an 8.00-inch bore and 9.00-inch stroke, for a total displacement of 3,619.1 cubic inches, or 59.3 liters, making it one of, if not the largest inline gasoline engine in the world.

The engine itself was relatively compact, at 12 feet, 2-9/16 inches long and only 44-9/16 inches wide, which allowed the two engines to fit comfortably side-by-side in the 83-footer’s hull. Housed in a gray-iron block, the crankshaft was a forged chromoly steel piece, with separately attached counterweights, which were affixed to the crankshaft via a dovetail and bolts. There were nine traditional babbit-style bearings, 4.00 inches in diameter, which measured 2.75 inches in width on eight journals, with the thrust bearing measuring a beefy 3.437 inches wide

The Sterling TCG-8 Viking.

Sterling was known among cabin cruiser builders in the 1930s and the Viking II was sold to power 60- and 70-footers of the day. The USCG’s 83-footers used two such engines, the same setup used in the 95-foot MV Passing Jack in the above ad.

Working on a Viking below the deck of an 83 in 1942. William Vandivert/LIFE

In all, 230 of these boats would be constructed for the Coast Guard and another 12 for overseas allies (19 units originally delivered to the USCG were also transferred). The initial 1941 contract was for $42,450 per hull, a cost that would rise to $62,534 by 1944 due to the increasing sensor and armament load.

By the end of the war, these boats were carrying depth charges aft, Mousetrap ASW projectors forward, and a 20mm Oerlikon as well as a SO-2 radar and QBE sonar when fully equipped. That’s a lot for an officer and a 13-man crew to take care of.

The  general wartime plan, extracted from U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Crafts of World War II by Robert Scheina

All were numbered 83300 through 83529, with corresponding (and confusing) hull numbers CG 450 through CG 634, although boats after 83384 apparently did not get said overly complicated hull numbers.

A great shot of CG 83301 with a lifeboat astern. Note the four twin can depth charge racks. The second 83 was completed in 1941, she spent four years as a harbor defense boat in NYC before shipping out for the 7th Fleet in June 1945. She was lost at Buckner Bay, Okinawa 9 October 1945 to a typhoon

Aboard an 83 in 1942 during a coastal convoy, photo by William Vandivert from the archives of Life Magazine. Note the riveted bronze wheelhouse and searchlights

This example has an M1917 water-cooled Browning forward. William Vandivert/LIFE

And two Lewis guns on the bridge wings. Note the smooth lines of the bronze superstructure. William Vandivert/LIFE

Note the older ratings and the loaded Lewis magazine. William Vandivert/LIFE

William Vandivert/LIFE

Note the two can gravity depth charge racks port and starboard. Two more racks were over the stern. William Vandivert/LIFE

Stern racks. William Vandivert/LIFE

William Vandivert/LIFE

Arming Mark VI depth charges. William Vandivert/LIFE

Note the Chief and the Navy blimp. William Vandivert/LIFE

William Vandivert/LIFE

Coast Guard 83 with her water-cooled 50 cal on full-wow. Note the lit cigar and assorted seagoing tattoos NARA 26-G-508USCG Photo 26-G-508. National Archives Identifier: 205572937

CGC 624 in pristine early war condition. Note the 20mm/80 on her quarterdeck and the depth charge racks off her stern. This craft would later become one of the Matchbox Fleet as USCG 14 and would go on to serve post-war as WPB-83373. Photo released on 29 October 1942, No. 105197F, by Morris Rosenfeld, New York (USCG photo)

Riding A “Jeep of The Deep”. These two SPAR cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut, take a lively interest in their trip aboard a “jeep of the deep”, an 83-foot Coast Guard patrol craft. The two future SPAR officers are Leila Leverett, left, and Helen D. Darland. U.S. Coast Guard Photograph. Of note, over 10,000 women volunteered for the SPARs during WWII, the Coast Guard’s version of the WAVES

USCGC 83352 (83′ patrol boat) running plane guard duty for USS Essex (CV-9) in the Gulf of Paria, Trinidad, 20 March 1943 while the carrier was on her shakedown cruise. Note white stripe marking around the boat, and call letters atop her pilothouse. Assigned to Trinidad for her entire career, she was disposed of there in November 1945. Good duty if you can get it! NARA photo 80-G-K-429.

“Due to their low silhouette and slight wake, these craft are often mistaken for submarines,” notes the Sept 1943 ONI 56 on the Coast Guard 83 foot cutters as sub busters. 

Coast Guard Cutter 83354, 1944 based in Port ‘o Spain, Trinidad, British West Indies. Note she is set up for sub-busting with numerous depth charges on deck and a recognition stripe across her wheelhouse. Assigned to the CARIBSEAFRON for her entire career, this cutter was decommissioned in Nov. 1945 and disposed of locally

The most significant combat “kills” attributed to the 83s came from a Cuban-manned boat, Caza Submarino 13 (CS-13). One of 10 delivered to the Cubans at Miami, CS-13 splashed U-176, a Type IXC on 15 May 1943 in the Florida Straits north-east of Havana. 

CS13, the smallest U-boat killer.

Lifesavers

Deployed far and wide, the 83s in USCG service were often the first on the scene to pick up wrecked mariners after a U-boat slipped back under the sea, especially during 1942’s Operation Drumbeat offensive.

83305– Rescued 11 from the freighter City of New York.
83309– Pulled nine survivors of the schooner Cheerio from the water.
83310– Rescued 25 from the tanker C.O Stillman and another 50 from the tanker William Rockefeller.
83322– Rescued 14 from the freighter Santore.

In the lead-up to Overlord/Neptune, a group of 60 83s along with 840 Coasties were assembled on the eastern coast of England, under the suggestion of FDR himself. Dubbed Rescue Flotilla One under the command of LCDR Alexander V. Stewart, Jr., they would accompany the waves of LCIs and other landing craft into the beaches and, using their 5-foot draft, close in with sinking vessels to recover survivors and floaters.

To keep things easy, the craft were renumbered USCG 1 through USCG 60 and given a large white star on their wheelhouse for aerial recognition.

They landed most of their armament and trained in triage and lifesaving– ready to lower rescue swimmers over the side with a rope if need be.

A superb reference for the “Matchbox Fleet” at Normandy is the 1946 Coast Guard at War: The Landings in France which covers the operation of the flotilla across some 30 pages. Drawn from that is this page on the prep on these “Sea Going Saint Bernards”: 

US Coast Guard Cutter 16 at Poole, England in 1944. Notice USCG 10 to the left. CG 16, under LT (j.g.) R.V. McPhail, achieved the Flotilla’s rescue record, picking up 126 survivors and one cadaver on D-Day from three landing craft stricken within a half-mile of the beach, all handled in less than six hours. UA 555.03

Two U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot patrol boats operating off the Normandy beaches as rescue craft, in June 1944. They are USCG-20 (83401) and USCG-21 (83402). 26-G-3743

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

They earned the nickname “Matchbox Fleet” due to their wooden hulls and two Sterling-Viking gasoline engines — one incendiary shell hitting a cutter could easily turn it into a “fireball.”

They were assigned to each of the invasion areas, with 30 serving off the British and Canadian sectors and 30 serving off the American sectors. During Operation Neptune/Overlord these cutters and their crews carried out the Coast Guard’s time-honored task of saving lives, albeit under enemy fire on a shoreline thousands of miles from home. The cutters of Rescue Flotilla One saved more than 400 men on D-Day alone and by the time the unit was decommissioned in December 1944, they had saved 1,438 souls.

“Normandy Landings, June 1944. Coast Guard Invasion Rescue Flotilla Men on Alert. They wear the Death’s-Head emblem of skull and crossbones on their helmets, these Coast Guard invasion veterans, but theirs is an errand of mercy. Here, members of an 83-foot Coast Guard rescue cutter, part of the famous flotilla which rescued hundreds of men from the cold channel waters off France, keep alert while on patrol.” 26-G-2388

The 83-foot Coast Guard cutter USCG 1 (83300) off Omaha Beach on the morning of 6 June 1944, tied up to an LCT and the Samuel Chase. Escorting the first waves into Omaha her crew pulled 28 survivors from a sunken landing craft before 0700 on D-Day. 

Do not get it confused, the Coasties weren’t just there as sort of a seagoing ambulance service, untargeted by enemy bullets. They took fire of all sorts all day. McPhail’s CG 16 for instance “nosed in among the struggling groups of men floundering in diesel oil and debris. Although shells were splashing around it and mines were detonating, the cutter’s crew calmly went about the rescue work. With 90 casualties as its first load, the cutter sped to the Coast Guard transport Dickman.”

“Normandy Invasion, June 1944. Coast Guard Rescue Craft Shelled by Nazis. Twin spouts boil close off the stern of a U.S. Coast Guard invasion rescue craft in the English Channel as Nazi shore batteries pour shellfire into the mighty Allied liberation fleet.” 26-G-2374

The boats of the Matchbox Fleet remained offshore for days, dodging gunfire from marauding E-boat raids, magnesium flares dropped by German planes at night, and bumping up against parachute mines.

“Normandy Invasion, June 1944. Towed back from Death. Torn by German shells, the landing barge was sinking. American soldiers aboard appeared lost as the little craft settled in the English Channel waters. Along came a Coast Guard Rescue Cutter poking boldly into the shoal waters. A line was cast and made fast.” 26-G-06-24-44(2)

“Sub Busters in Invasion Role. The U.S. Coast Guard’s famous 83 footers, sub-busters in the Battle of the Atlantic, and to their laurels as a rescue craft in the D-Day sweep across the English Channel to the French Coast. These swift, little, intrepid crafts are the Coast Guard boats that have been mentioned over and over again in radio and news dispatches for their gallant rescue role during the initial smash on France.”

Coast Guard 83-foot rescue boat CGC-16 unloading wounded troops off Normandy France June 6, 1944, to USS Joseph T. Dickman APA-13 0930 hrs morning of D-Day LIFE Archives Ralph Morse Photographer

Casualties are transferred from a U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot rescue boat to a larger ship, for evacuation from the combat zone, June 1944. Note the name Miss Fury on the boat’s superstructure as well as the large white star for aircraft recognition and the radar on the mast. 26-G-2346

USCG 20 was driven ashore in Normandy during the storm that destroyed the artificial Mulberry harbors in June 1944. She was later repaired and transferred to the Royal Navy.

There were many other USCG-manned and operated craft off Normandy for Overlord/Neptune. 

Many also performed yeoman service that day.

“The Coast Guard-manned landing craft LCI(L)-85 approached the beach at 12 knots. Her crew winced as they heard repeated thuds against the vessel’s hull made by the wooden stakes covering the beach like a crazy, tilted, man-made forest… The Coast Guard LCI(L)-85, battered by enemy fire after approaching Omaha Beach, prepares to evacuate the troops she was transporting to an awaiting transport. The “85” sank shortly after this photograph was taken. The LCI(L)-85 was one of four Coast Guard LCI’s that were destroyed on D-Day.”

Post-Overlord

In the days immediately after the landings, six 83-footers of the Matchbox Flotilla were detailed to operate a rush cross-channel courier service, making four crossings a day carrying mail and urgent Army dispatches to France every six hours. While the Army had originally planned to use planes for the task, it was found that the boats could get there more reliably, even if they had to maneuver around floating mines and unmarked wrecks in the process.

U.S. Navy motor torpedo boats (PT) and U.S. Coast Guard 83-foot patrol boats use the waterfront as a temporary base while operating out of Cherbourg, on 30 August 1944. CG 5, with her depth charge racks refitted, is closest to the camera. The PT boat at left is PT-199, a 78-foot Higgins that famously carried ADM Harold R. Stark to the Allied invasion beachhead at Normandy. Note the depth charges on the sterns of the USCG patrol boats in the foreground. 80-G-256074

The Pacific

Meanwhile, the 83s were involved in the push towards Tokyo as well. In January 1945, 30 boats were formed into USCG PTC Flotilla One and sent to Manicani Island in the Leyte Gulf, where the U.S. was busy rooting out Japanese holdouts in the quest to liberate the Philippines. Some eight miles west of Guiuan, Manicani would become a major destroyer repair base and a ship repair unit. Another 24 boats were dispatched late in the war to operate with the 7th Fleet at Okinawa, Saipan, Guam, Eniwetok, and elsewhere to serve as harbor defense vessels, on guard against Japanese suicide attacks and frogmen.

Speaking of which, one such vessel, USCGC 83525, was dispatched with Navy RADM M.R. Greer (COMMFLTAIRWING 18) from Tinian to remote Aguijan Island in the Northern Marianas on 4 September 1945 to accept the surrender of the tiny garrison from 2nd LT Kinichi Yamada of the Imperial Army. The Coastie was sent as a larger vessel could not negotiate the shallows of the island.

As detailed by one of the attendees of the event:

When Yamada climbed aboard from a landing craft, his greenish pallor matched the color of his faded uniform. He looked even smaller than he had at our first meeting, encumbered as he was with an outsized dispatch case. The confined deck space on the slender vessel posed a problem: where to place the surrender documents for the signing. Finally, the skipper of the Coast Guard boat suggested using the cover of a ventilator just behind the wheelhouse, and that was where the parties arrayed themselves, the Americans on one side and the three Japanese on the other. Nobody invited me to be part of the U.S. contingent, so I positioned myself directly behind Yamada.

Further, the 83s were influential to the war effort in a quiet way, as they were a big feature on period recruiting posters for the Coast Guard. Of course, less than 3,000 of the service’s 170,000 men at its wartime peak were assigned to these hardy boats at any given time, but you got to get the kids off the farm somehow.

USCG Combat Artist BMC Hunter Wood, a skilled maritime artist, spent some time among the 83s in the New York and New England area during the war and left a series of beautiful sketches of them at work. 

Protector of the Convoy! 83 Footer, CGC# 485, 6/7/1943, screens a freighter on a coastal convoy. By Coast Guard Artist Hunter Wood NARA

Ahoy, Old-Timer! Here’s My Spray, 5/14/1943. This image depicts artwork of A United States Coast Guard 83-footer zipping across the bow of the training ship Joseph Conrad as the craft meet offshore. Conrad spent the war training merchant marine cadets. Artwork by BMC Hunter Wood. NARA 205575840

Ash Cans Away! 83 Footer Attacking Sub. By Coast Guard Artist Hunter Wood. NARA 205575791

Raking the Raider! 83 Footer Attacking Sub, 6/17/1943. Hunter Wood. NARA 205575796

Post-war

Their wartime service was largely forgotten, the 83s earned no battlestars and unit citations. Those sent overseas were largely left there, either to rot or to be transferred to overseas allies. Several were lost during the war: 83301 and 83306 to a 1945 typhoon in Okinawa; 83415/CG 27 and 83471/CG 47 sank in a storm off Normandy two weeks after D-Day, their hulls were torn open on submerged wreckage, and 83421 was lost due to a midnight collision with a subchaser while on a blackout convoy. Others were soon disposed of in the inevitable postwar constriction of funds.

These wooden boats, after several years of hard work, were overloaded, stressed, and could typically by 1945 just plod along at about 12 knots, sustained. By 1946, around 100 remained in Coast Guard custody, with many of those laid up. The Navy picked up a handful for such miscellaneous use as range control boats, yard boats, and torpedo retrievers.

Some were upgraded with Cummings diesel engines and all-white peacetime schemes and continued in Coast Guard service through the 1950s. Notably, their armament in peacetime seems to have solidified with a single 20mm Oerlikon over the stern, four abbreviated two-can depth charge racks clustered around the gun, and two mousetraps forward although the latter feature was not always mounted.

CG 83464 in 1949. Delivered in July 1943 from Wheeler, she served out of Charleston before joining the D-Day fleet as CG 43. She was decommissioned in 1961 and sold.

CG 83499 at Biloxi’s annual blessing of the fleet. Note the canvassed 20mm on her stern under an awning. This boat spent WWII as a training ship at Coast Guard HQ and was disposed of in 1959.

CGC 83499 in Pascagoula, MS circa late 1950s

With the service gaining new and improved patrol boats of the Cape and Point classes, the days of the old 83s were fading. In the early 1960s, the remaining 44 hulls still holding on were liquidated, with many being disposed of by fire or scuttling post decommissioning. The last on the USCG’s rolls was CG 83506, disposed of by sinking on 22 March 1966. 

Vessels in overseas service remained around for a few more years. The type was used by Cuba (12), the Dominican Republic (3), Haiti (1) Venezuela (4), Colombia (2), Peru (6), and Mexico (3).

Notably, four transferred to Turkey in 1953 were noted in Janes as late as 1995, still with their mousetraps.

Survivors

Some remaining vessels were converted into yachts, fishing boats, dive charter vessels, or workboats and ultimately faded into history.

Others had more pedestrian fates.

CGC 83499, the old ghost of the Mississippi Sound shown in the two above photos, was ashore as Pandoras steak house in Destin until 2005. 

Stripped 83s for sale in the Tacoma area in the 1960s, as-is, how-is, where-is

CG-83527, which served on anti-submarine duties in the Gulf of Mexico in WWII, ended her career in Tacoma, Washington in 1962. She was saved in 2003 and restored slowly and extensively over a decade to roughly her 1950 appearance. Its operators have an extensive website with many resources on the class including a full set of plans.

Another of the class, 83366/D-Day CG 11, was purchased by a Seattle couple in terrible condition for $100 and they are in the process of returning her its 1944 arrangement.

Notably, CG 83366 still has her bronze pilothouse.

LT Linwood A. “Tick” Thumm, one of the last of the wartime 83 skippers, passed at age 105 last year.

Speaking of vets, the 83-Footer Sailor portal, long maintained by Al Readdy, seems to be offline but can still be found via archives. Meanwhile, those interested in Coast Guard patrol boat history, in general, should check out HMC James T. Flynn, Jr., USNR(ret)’s the excellent 61-page essay.

Today, the USCG Museum has a panel dedicated to the work of the Matchbox Fleet in their D-Day exhibit.

Specs: (extracted from U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Crafts of World War II by Robert Scheina)

A wartime 83 by Jack Read

Displacement: 76 tons fully loaded
Length: 83 ft
Beam: 16 ft
Draft: 5 ft. 4″
Main Engines: 83343 through 83348: 2 Hall Scott Defenders, 1.200 rpm; all others: 2 Sterling Viking II SHP All units: 1,200
2 Propellers: 34″Dia X 27° Pitch (Pitch varied with the mission)
2 Kohler Generators 120/240 VAC 60 cycle
Max Speed 15.2 kts, 215 mi radius (1945); 23.5 statute mi (trials,1946)
Max Sustained 12.0 kts. 375 mi radius (1945)
Cruising 10.0 kts, 475 mi radius (1945)
Economic 8.2 kts, 575 mi radius (1945)
Gasoline (95%) 1,900 gal
Complement 1 officer, 13 men (1945)
Electronics (1945)
Detection Radar SO-2 (most units)
Sonar QBE series (none on 83339. 83367-83369, 83427, 83476-83480)
Armament
1941 1 1-pounder. 2 .30cal mg
1945 1 20mm/80,4 dc racks with 8 Mark VI depth charges. 2 Mousetraps; none on 8330
83312, 83335, 83342, 83367, 83387, 83388, 83392, 83427, 83470, 83475. 83491. 83492. 83494,
83501, 83507, 83512, 83515, 83516, 83518-83521, 83529

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About Time, Fusiliers Marins edition

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

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

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

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

More here. 

Of Skrim’d helmets and toggle ropes on Tonga

Almost forgotten in the shuffle with COVID and rioters, the 76th anniversary of the Overlord landings on Normandy just passed.

While over here we remember the double jump behind the lines by the 82nd (All American) and 101st (Screaming Eagles) Airborne Divisions are extremely well documented in their actions to the rear of Omaha and Utah beaches, the British/Canadian 6th Airborne Division also jumped that night behind Juno and Sword Beach in Operation Tonga, famously making a play for what is now remembered as Pegasus Bridge.

Two common pieces of kit observed on the Brit/Canuck Paras were skrim/scrim helmets and toggle ropes.

Future Elizabeth and the Queen Mother speak to British paratrooper 1944, prior to D-Day. Note his skrim camo helmet

1st Canada Parachute Battalion getting ready to leave Carter Barracks for their D-Day,. Note their STENs and chest pouches as well as skrimmed helmets.

Juno Beach, a weary 1st Canadian Paratrooper takes a rest in a slit trench. Varaville, Normandy. June 6, 1944. Toggle? Check. Skrim? Check

No. 4 Commando 1st Special Service Bde meet up with 6th Airborne Div Paras at Bénouville, 6 June 1944, behind Sword on D-Day. Note the Enfields, STENS with chest pouch, M1911 in the Commando’s hand, and various toggle ropes and scrim

British paratrooper during Operation Tonga with his skrim helmet and Mills bomb while a No. 4 Enfield bayonet is seen to the left, D-Day

Brothers, Lieutenants Joseph Philippe Rousseau & Joseph Maurice Rousseau, 1st Canadian Parachute Bn, looking like extras on “The Longest Day” of not “A Bridge Too Far” with their toggle & skrim

British 6th Para Div, DDay, Normandy. Do you see what I see? 

The Toggle rope was (supposedly) very useful

Uniform and equipment worn by the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion paratrooper via Legion Magazine, note his helmet and toggle rope

Double helmet scrim. Helmet from Op Herrick 2010 on left and OP Varsity, March 1945, Via the Museum of the Parachute Rgt

Loading up, 76 years ago today

Note Gorenc’s strapped down M1 Thompson SMG and fighting knife on his boot. Notably, he chose not to use a Griswold jump bag for his Tommy Gun, preferring to have it available immediately when landing (U.S. Army Signal Corps Photo)

“Sgt. Joseph F. Gorenc from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the assistant S3 of HQ/3, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division climbing aboard the lead transport aircraft C-47 Dakota 8Y-S “Stoy Hora” of the 440th Troop Carrier Group at RAF Exeter Airfield, Devon, the UK on the night of 5/6th June 1944 for a drop behind Utah Beach on the Cotentin Peninsula of France near Cherbourg.

Sgt. Gorenc was taken prisoner on June 8th at St. Côme-du-Mont and reported as MIA. He apparently escaped from a Prison train in July and he was in action again at ‘Operation Market Garden’.

He returned home after the war, married, and had two daughters and at the age of 34 was an officer in a new startup manufacturing firm. While he, the owner, and another man were working late in the shop one night, an oil tank exploded. The young man; Joe and the owner were all injured but Joe’s injuries were life-threatening and he died two weeks later. (Taken from an account given by his sister Pat)”

Joseph F. Gorenc, born April 24, 1923 – died October 30, 1957, aged 34.

A bell lost, a bell found, a bell talked about, a bell returned

On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we highlighted the lost Operation Neptune minesweeper USS Osprey, which went down in the early morning of 6 June 1944, clearing a way for the invasion fleet.

In that Warship Wednesday, we covered that her bell had apparently been recovered sometime around 2007 and gave a lead to the dive op that may know more about it.

Well, one thing led to another and, after the post was shared, the NHHC got involved and, as noted by the BBC:

The US authorities contacted the UK coastguard when pictures of the ship’s bell appeared on the internet.

An investigation was launched by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency when it was established the bell had not been reported to the receiver of wreck.

Acting receiver Heloise Warner said the agency “put the word about” that it was searching for the bell and it was subsequently left anonymously at an undisclosed location last month.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that such a poignant part of our history is back in our possession,” she added.

Osprey’s bell via MCA

It is expected the NHHC will soon take possession of the recovered bell.

Bravo Zulu, guys, and, as always, thanks for sharing! Let’s continue to save history together.

A hearty toast to those lost on Osprey, who will never be forgotten so long as their names are still written:

  • Lieutenant Van Hamilton
  • Seaman 2nd Class John Medvic
  • Fireman 1st class Walter O’Bryan
  • Quartermaster 2nd Class Emery Parichy
  • Motor Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Joseph Vanasky, Jr
  • Motor Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Cleo Whitschell
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