The current 349th Squadron and 350th Squadron of the Belgian Air Force started out in 1942 as Nos. 349 and 350 RAF with exiled Free Belgian members in British livery. After cutting their teeth on Lend-Lease Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks, they transitioned to Supermarine Spitfire Mark IXCs and later Mark Vs and flew close-in beachhead patrols over Normandy on D-Day, moving inland very soon after. The Belgians were pretty good too, fielding no less than 14 aces during the war including Col. Remy Van Lierde who chalked up six enemy aircraft and an impressive 44 V-1 flying bombs, ending the war as Squadron Leader of No. 350.
Today they fly F-16s but one Viper of each squadron has been given 1944 throwback Invasion Stripes for the upcoming 75th Anniversary of D-Day events next month.
I must say, they look great.
Note the tail flashes with the Spitfires and Squadron markings.
The 75th Anniversary of D-Day is under a month away. Here we see a beautiful Kodachrome original color image depicting posed North European Invasion Rehearsals sometime either in late 1943, or early 1944:
Here a Beachmaster uses an SCR-536 handie-talkie/walkie-talkie to maintain contact with other sections of his battalion during exercises on the English Coast. Other communications men, in the background, stand ready to use the signal lamp and semaphore flags.
Note man digging foxhole as another stands by with an M1 Thompson Submachine Gun.
Official caption: Before D-Day and H-Hour, these tough, hardened, and highly trained men went in on the beaches at Saipan to pave the way for invasion. It was they who made possible the approaches to the beach and the subsequent landings of our Army and Marines. Pictured here, a group of men has approached the beach at low water at a previously charted area. They are attaching “satchel” charges to the “Crib” in the rear. In the foreground is a Japanese horned “Scully” and the man directly behind it is attaching a demolition cap to a “J-13 Mine.” In a few minutes, their hazardous job will have been completed and another highway to Tokyo opened, thanks to the “Demolition Demons.”
The landings began at 07:00 on 15 June 1944– 74 years ago today. More than 300 LVTs landed 8,000 Marines on the west coast of Saipan by about 09:00.
By 16:15 on 9 July, Admiral Turner announced that Saipan was officially secured at a cost of 3,426 U.S. and an estimated 60,000 Japanese casualties, many of whom were civilians who committed suicide.
From the Michigan Air Guard:
The Red Devils of the 107th Fighter Squadron flew over northern France Sunday, as part of the official ceremony to mark the 74th anniversary of D-Day, the massive Allied invasion of the European mainland in World War II. The successful invasion ultimately led to Allied victory over the Axis Powers. In 1944, the 107th, then designated as a Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, flew several hundred reconnaissance missions over the beaches of Normandy, France, allowing the Allied High Command to plan an invasion path. In 2018 – flying their first mission in France since World War II – two 107th pilots escorted in group of nine C-130 Hercules and similar aircraft from multiple nations as they dropped about 500 paratroops near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, the same town where paratroopers landed as part of D-Day.
The 107th provided more than 9,000 intelligence photos to the Allied High Command in the weeks before D-Day. The photos showed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of defensive positions along the beach, placed by the army of Nazi Germany in advance of the expected invasion. More than 1,600 U.S. soldiers died during the D-Day invasions. Though highly costly in terms of human sacrifice, the invasion allowed Allied forces to gain a foothold on the European mainland and begin the march to victory in the war. Thirteen 107th pilots were shot down and killed in action during World War II. Three others who were shot down spent part of the war as a Prisoner of War.
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, June 6, 2018: The eternal Nordic shark of Sword Beach
Here we see the British-built S-class destroyer (Jageren in Norwegian parlance) His Norwegian Majesty’s Ship KNM (Kongelige Norske Marine) Svenner (RN Pennant G03) of the Free Norwegian Sjøforsvaret in 1944, fresh from the yard and ready to fight. Svenner is deeply associated with today’s date. However, before we can talk about her service, let us discuss the Royal Norwegian Navy in WWII.
The Scandinavian neutral had managed to sit precariously on the fence in the Great War and indeed was a peaceful country who had last seen the elephant during the Napoleonic Wars, skirmishing at first with the British and then the Swedes for independence. Some 130-years of peace behind it, the Norwegian Navy in April 1940 was again an armed neutral, ready to take on all-comers to preserve the homeland. Then came the invasion.
Two months of tough resistance against German invaders while reluctantly accepting Allied intervention left the Norwegian Navy covered in glory (such as when the tiny 200-ton gunboat KNM Pol III stood alone– briefly– against the mighty heavy cruiser Blücher, the heavy cruiser Lützow, the light cruiser Emden, three torpedo boats and eight minesweepers carrying 2,000 troops to Oslo, or when the ancient and nearly condemned coastal monitors KNM Eidsvold and Norge attempted to stop the Germans at Narvik), but was largely left sunk at the bottom of the fjords they defended.
When the endgame came, a dozen or so small ships and 500 officers and men made it to British waters to carry on the war. These included such Edwardian relics as the destroyer Draug (commissioned in 1908!) and the newer Sleipner, as well as fishery patrol ships such as the Nordkapp, which all soon got to work for the Allies, guarding sea lanes, escorting convoys and protecting the UK and Allied-occupied Iceland from potential Axis invasion.
With the small core of exiled prewar Norwegian sailors, an influx of Norwegians living abroad and transfers from the country’s huge merchant fleet, the exiled Free Norwegian Navy was able to rebuild abroad.
Soon, the old Draug was in full-time use as a training and support vessel while small trawlers and whalers provided yeoman service as the “Shetland Bus” regularly shuttling spies, SOE operatives and Norwegian resistance agents into occupied Scandinavia and downed Allied aircrew out over the course of some 200 trips.
As these operations expanded, the Brits began transferring at first surplus (five ex-Wickes-class tin cans transferred originally to the Brits from the USN under the bases for destroyer deal) and then new-built naval vessels (Flower and Castle-class corvettes, motor torpedo boats, Hunt-class destroyer escorts, and later two S-class destroyers) to the growing Norwegian fleet to perform convoy escort missions.
That’s where Svenner comes in.
The 16 S/T-class destroyers were long ships (363-feet) but thin (just 35-feet) giving them a 10:1 length-to-beam ratio, making them a knife on the water. Tipping the scales at just 2,500~ tons, they were slender stilettos made for stabbing through the waves at nearly 37-knots on a pair of Parsons geared turbines. Armed with a quartet of 4.7-inch guns for surface actions, U-boat busting depth charges and an eight-pack of anti-ship torpedo tubes, they were ready for a fight. Class leader HMS Saumarez (G12) was completed in July 1943, right in time for the Battle of the Atlantic, and the 15 ships that followed her were made ready to go into harm’s way as soon as they could leave the builders’ yards. Of those, one, HMS Success, was transferred on completion to the Free Norwegian forces on 26 August 1943 as KNM Stord (G26), and soon got to chasing the Germans, becoming engaged with the sinking of the German battleship Scharnhorst just four months after transfer.
One of Success/Stord‘s sisterships, laid down as HMS Shark, transferred to the Norwegians 11 March 1944 on completion and was named KNM Svenner after a Norwegian island. Her skipper, LCDR Tore Holthe, was a prewar Norwegian surface fleet officer and veteran of Stord‘s action against Scharnhorst.
Just weeks after her commissioning, Svenner was attached to Bombardment Force S of the Eastern Task Force of the Normandy invasion fleet assembling off Plymouth. Her mission would be to help smother the German beach defenses during the assault on Sword Beach, where British and Canadian forces would land.
On the night of the 5th, Svenner, along with the frigates HMS Rowley and Holmes, helped escort the cruisers HMS Arethusa, Danae, and Frobisher, as well as the Free Polish cruiser ORP Dragon, monitor HMS Roberts and the small craft of the 40th Minesweeping Flotilla from Plymouth across the Channel to Sword Beach, where the famous battleships HMS Ramillies, HMS Warspite and ships of Force D stood by for heavy lifting.
At 0500 on 6 June 1944, Jutland veteran Warspite was the first ship in the entire 4,000-strong Allied fleet on any beach to open fire, hitting a German artillery battery at Villerville from some 13 miles offshore.
As the Svenner, Rowley, and Holmes stood by to allow the minesweepers to clear a channel for the bombardment ships to close with the beach while making smoke to obscure the capital ships, three German torpedo boats out of La Havre– Jaguar, Møwe and T28— appeared at 28-knots to conduct a strike against the force, letting lose some 17 torpedoes in all. It was the only effective Kriegsmarine resistance on D-Day.
The torpedo spread came close to ruining Force D, with steel fish passing within feet of both Ramillies and Warspite. The only victim of the German torps: our brave new Norwegian destroyer, who tried in vain to turn from the spread but came up short.
Svenner was hit amidships at 0530 by one or possibly two torpedoes and broke in half, sinking quickly after an explosion under her boiler room. Lost were 32 Norwegian and a British signalman out of her crew of 219. Most of the crew, which included some RN ratings, were rescued by nearby ships and returned to the war in days.
Still, the pair of battleships were saved, and they covered the invasion on Sword with heavy naval gunfire. Warspite fired over 300 shells on June 6 alone before heading back to Portsmouth for more rounds and powder and returning to plaster targets on Utah Beach and Gold Beach. Her sidekick Ramillies heaved an impressive 1,002 15-inch shells in that week, hitting not only defensive strongpoints and batteries but also massing German armor well inland and enemy railway marshaling yards near Caen. The work by those two brawlers on D Day and the hours afterward is well-remembered.
The landing at Sword involved the British Army’s I Corps made up of the 3rd Infantry Division and 79nd Armoured Division along with hardlegs of the 1st Special Service Brigade (which also contained Free French and Belgian Commandos) and No. 41 (Royal Marine) Commando against the German 716th Infantry Division and Caen-based 21st Panzer Div (which launched the only major German counterattack of D-Day.) In all, over 680 Allied troops were killed on Sword alone on 6 June.
Besides Svenner, the Norwegians were well-represented at Normandy, with her sistership Stord present elsewhere on Sword on D-Day, hitting a German battery by Riva Bella with no less that 362 of her 4.7-inch shells.
The Norwegian-manned Hunt-class destroyer escort KNM Glaisdale was at Juno Beach and fired more than 400 rounds that day at German positions near St. Aubain while the similarly-crewed corvettes Acanthus, Eglantine and Rose were at Utah Beach. The plucky 130-foot fisheries vessel Nordkapp was there too, as an escort and rescue vessel. Seven Norwegian merchant ships were packed with troops and supplies that day, including some 200 men of the 29th U.S. Infantry Division aboard the SS Lysland off Omaha Beach. Another 43 Norwegian merchant ships were in the follow-on wave starting June 7, including three that gave their last as mole ships.
For more on the vital contribution to the war by the 1,081 ships of the Norwegian merchant service (Nortraship) which saw an incredible 570 vessels sunk and some 3734 men taken down to their last across both the Atlantic and Pacific, please check out the excellent site dedicated to these war-sailors.
The Norwegians went on to purchase Stord from the UK government and kept her in service for another decade, only scrapping her in Belgium in 1959. Of note, she returned Vice Adm. Edvard Danielsen, commander of the Norwegian Navy, home from the UK in 1945. On that occasion, the following signal was sent from RN Adm. Sir Henry Moore:
To: H Nor MS Stord
From: C-in-C HF AFLOAT CONFIDENTIAL BASEGRAM
For Admiral Danielsen
On your return to Norway in H Nor MS Stord I should be grateful if you will convey to Lieutenant Commander Øi and to the officers and ships company my keen appreciation of the honour I feel in having had them under my command in the Home Fleet.
Their efficiency and their fine fighting spirit have been the admiration of us all and although we are glad that they now should be reaping the reward of their contribution to the liberation of Europe we shall miss them in the Home Fleet. We hope that some of us may soon have the pleasure to renew our friendship in Norwegian port. To you personally I send my warm regards and sincere thanks for your helpful cooperation with me at the Admiralty: Good luck and happiness to you all.
By the end of the war, the Royal Norwegian Naval Fleet (outside of Norway) consisted of 52 combatant ships and 7,500 officers, petty officers and men. For more on the Free Norwegian Navy in WWII, click here for an English translation compiled by the Norwegian Naval Museum.
As a footnote, the only other S/T-class destroyer lost during the war was also claimed on Sword Beach. HMS Swift (G46) struck and detonated mine off the beachhead and sank after breaking in two on 24 June with the loss of 52 men.
Other than that, all 14 remaining S/T-class sisters survived the conflict and lead a long life with three going on to transfer in 1946 to the rebuilding Dutch Navy. The last of the class afloat, HMS Troubridge (F09), helped sink U-407 during the war and, converted to a Type 15 frigate, was only decommissioned in 1969, going to the breakers the following year.
In 2003, a French Navy minesweeper discovered the wreckage of Svenner off Sword and salvaged her anchor. It is now preserved as a memorial to the ship some 100 yards inland from the beach at Hermanville-sur-Mer.
The Norwegians remember Svenner with fondness, having recycled her name for a Kobben-class submarine commissioned in 1967 which remained in service until after the Cold War.
Svenner has become part of the country’s military lore.
In 2014, King Harald himself helped dedicate the memorial to all Norwegians present at Normandy, accompanied by some of the last of that country’s aging WWII vets.
Today, of course, on the 74th anniversary of Overlord/Neptune and the 156,000 Allied troops that landed across that wide 50-mile front, we remember all the Allies of the Greatest Generation.
1,710 long tons (1,740 t) (standard)
2,530 long tons (2,570 t) (deep load)
Length: 362 ft 9 in (110.6 m) (o/a)
Beam: 35 ft 9 in (10.9 m)
Draught: 14 ft 6 in (4.4 m) (deep)
40,000 shp (30,000 kW)
2 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers
Propulsion: 2 × shafts; 2 × Parsons geared steam turbines
Speed: 36 knots (67 km/h; 41 mph)
Range: 4,675 nmi (8,658 km; 5,380 mi) at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Radar Type 290 air warning
Radar Type 285 ranging & bearing
4 × single 4.7-inch (120 mm) Mark XII dual-purpose guns
1 × twin Bofors 40 mm AA guns
4 × twin QF 20 mm Oerlikon AA guns
2 × quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes
4 × throwers and 2 × racks for 70 depth charges
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“A view on board an LST, looking forward from the bridge, with the main deck below fully loaded with trucks, anti-aircraft half-tracks, jeeps, and trailers. Ahead and on both sides were other LSTs in the group, each towing its “rhino” ferry which was manned by skeleton crews of Sea Bees, the rest of the crews were on board the ships themselves. With the LSTs prevented by German artillery fire from coming to the landing beaches to unload, it was the job of the “rhinos” to unload the tank deck of each LST and go to the beach. Then, since the “rhinos” could only make a couple of knots an hour, the LSTs had to be unloaded offshore by LCTs. Later, when the beach was secured and the ships could come in closer, these “rhinos” operated a continuous shuttle service, unloading all types of ships. This LST, with its mobile anti-aircraft vehicles on deck in addition to the ship’s own anti-aircraft batteries, could put up a formidable screen of anti-aircraft fire. The anti-aircraft half-tracks were of two types: one carrying four quad-mounted 50-caliber machine guns, and the other with one 37mm anti-aircraft gun and two 50-caliber machine guns. The rear part of the half-track was where the gun turret was mounted. A soldier who sat with the gunners operated the turret electronically. Trucks carrying supplies and ammunition, with plenty of camouflage netting, are depicted on the main deck below in the foreground. There was about the same number of vehicles on the tank deck below, unseen. This was the evening of D-day minus two (June 4, 1944).”
Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.
Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Dwight Shepler
Dwight C. Shepler was born in Everett, Massachusetts, in 1905 and studied art at Williams College then became a member of the American Artists’ Group and the American Artists Professional League. When the war came, the 36-year-old bespectacled Shepler volunteered for the Navy and, in recognition of his skills and education, was assigned to the sea service’s Combat Art Section as an officer-artist.
As noted by the Navy, “he first traveled with a destroyer on Pacific convoy duty. From the mud of Guadalcanal, through the years of the Allied build-up in England, to the memorable D-Day on the French coast, he painted and recorded the Navy’s warfare.”
But then, there is war…
He observed the landings at Normandy in the ETO and Ormoc Bay and Lingayen Gulf and operations at Corregidor and Bataan in the PTO.
He also did a number of historic scenes for the branch.
This image was used in a number of adverts during the War.
For his service as a Combat Artist, the Navy awarded Shepler the Bronze Star. He left the branch in 1946 as a full Commander, USNR, having produced more than 300 paintings and drawings.
After the war, he continued his career as a pioneer watercolorist of the high ski country and later served as president of the Guild of Boston Artists.
He died at age 69 in Weston, Mass. His works are on wide display from the Smithsonian to the Truman Library and various points in between. His oral history is in the National Archives.
Thank you for your work, sir.