Tag Archives: Desert Storm

The Charge of the Heavy Brigade, 1991 Version

Some 30 years ago last week, the British Army’s 7th Armoured Brigade thundered out of Saudi Arabia and into Iraqi-occupied Kuwait as part of Operation Granby’s Desert Sabre, the UK’s end of the Desert Storm ground campaign.

The unit, part of the 1st Armoured Division, was made up of elements of many grand old regiments to include the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys), Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, and The Staffordshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s) while its sister brigade, the 4th, would include battalions of the 14th/20th King’s Hussars, The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Divisional troops saw a smattering of battalions from the Guards (Coldstream and Scots), some elements of Highlanders and Gurkhas, and the 16th/5th The Queen’s Royal Lancers as well as artillery and support units.

While many of the regiments carried honors from the Crimean War, the armor of the British division was orders of magnitude higher than the Earl of Lucan’s “1,500 sabres and 6 field guns” of the combined 10-regiment Heavy and Light Brigades in 1854.

The outcome was likewise much different.

The division’s 221 FV4030/4 Challenger 1 tanks moved 180 miles in enemy territory under combat conditions within 66 hours, destroying the Iraqi 46th Mechanised Brigade, 52nd Armoured Brigade, and elements of at least three infantry divisions belonging to the Iraqi VII Corps, for the cost of 10 men killed. The Brits took 7,000 Iraqi EPOWs.

The Queen’s Royal Hussars Museum has a great detailed timeline of the 7th Bde’s move in Grandby including first-hand diary accounts such as this one:

‘We’ve got to really go for it,’ came the orders from Battlegroup and Squadron HQ. Even better. ‘Pedal to the metal, Brew.’ The turbos lit up and the tank leapt forward. The desert was hard. Almost as good as the highway. I looked left and right down the line. Squadrons to the left of me. Squadrons to the right of me. Yea, into the Valley of Death went the 600. It was the charge of the Light Brigade all over again, 137 years later. This time we had swopped our one ton beast of burden, lances and sabres for a 62 ton mechanical monster with a 120mm main armament and two 7.62mm machine guns. Far from being a Light Brigade we were definitely a Heavy Brigade.

In the process, the Brits destroyed approximately 120 Iraqi tanks and twice that number of armored and support vehicles, including one Challenger of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards achieving the longest-range (reported) tank-to-tank-kill in the war from 4,700m away.

38 Special Standing By: Mine No More

Below we see the watercolor entitled “Mine No More” by Chip Beck, showing, “An Iraqi mine is blown in place by U.S. Navy EOD divers from USS Missouri as USS Curtis [sic] hovers in the background in the northern Arabian Gulf.”

NHHC Accession #: 91-159-D

The painting is based on a real photograph and depicts the long-hull Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Curts (FFG-38) hard at work in the Persian Gulf some 30 years ago today.

14 January 1991: The Persian Gulf – An Iraqi mine is detonated by an explosives ordnance disposal team near Curts during Operation Desert Storm. (U.S. Navy photo DVID #DN-SN-91-09317 by PH3 Brad Dillon)

During Desert Storm, Curts was very busy, supporting a mix of Navy and Army helicopters to capture the 51-man Iraqi garrison on occupied Qaruh Island, Kuwait. While the speck of land, just 275 meters long by 175 meters wide, is tiny, Qaruh was symbolically important as it was the first section of Kuwaiti liberated in Desert Storm on 21 January.

Curts also reportedly destroyed two mines, sank an Iraqi minelayer, and provided further support to combat helicopter operations during the Battle of Bubiyan Island.

Part of the Missouri Battleship Group, Curts, used her sonar to gingerly lead USS Missouri (BB-63) northward to get within striking range of Iraqi strongpoints ashore. Missouri gun crews then sent 2,700-pound shells crashing into an Iraqi command and control bunker near the Saudi border. It marked the first time the battlewagon’s 16-inch guns had been fired in combat since March 1953 off Korea. Missouri‘s gun crews returned to action 5 February, silencing an Iraqi artillery battery with another 10 rounds. Over a three-day period, Missouri bombarded Iraqi strongholds with 112 16-inch shells.

For her part, Curts received the Navy Unit Commendation for her exceptional operational performance, as well as the Admiral Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy.

Decommissioned in 2013 after three decades of hard service, “38 Special” was slated for possible transfer to Mexico but has since been placed on the list of target ships. Laid up at Pearl Harbor, she will likely be expended in an upcoming RIMPAC Sinkex.

Battlewagon in the anti-ship missile age, 29 years ago today

While primitive guided bombs and missiles were fielded in WWII (see = the U.S. Navy’s SWOD-9 Bat and the sinking of the Italian battleship Roma in 1943 by an air-launched Fritz X) it wasn’t until the P-15 Termit (NATO: SS-N-2 Styx) was developed by the Soviets in 1958 that a reliable surfaced-launched anti-ship missile was fielded. Soon answered in the West by the Swedish Saab Rb 08 and Israeli Gabriel in the 1960s, then by more advanced platforms such as Exocet and Harpoon, such weapons replaced coastal artillery batteries as well as surfaced-launched torpedos as the principal means for asymmetric forces to effect a “kill” on a capital ship.

Likewise, the age of the dreadnought and large all-gun-armed cruiser was fading at the same time.

The four Iowa-class fast battleships were mothballed in 1958 (but, of course, New Jersey would be brought back for a tour in Vietnam while all four would be returned to service in the 1980s for the Cold War– more on that later) while the British retired HMS Vanguard in 1960 while the Soviets had gotten out of the battlewagon biz in the late 1950s after their Italian trophy ship Novorossiysk (ex-Giulio Cesare) blew up and their circa 1911 Gangut-class “school battleships” finally gave up the ghost. The French held on to Jean Bart until 1970, although she had been in reserve since after the Suez affair in 1956.

With that, it was no surprise that when the quartet of Iowas was reactivated in the 1980s to play a role in Reagan’s 600-ship Navy, they were “modernized” with 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from eight funky four-shot armored box launchers as well as 16 Harpoon anti-ship missiles in place of some of their WWII-era retired AAA gun mounts. In a nod to the facts, the missiles all out-ranged the battleships’ gun armament.

Fast forward to the 1st Gulf War and Mighty Mo, USS Missouri (BB-63), chunked 28 Tomahawks and 783 rounds of 16-inch shells at Saddam’s forces while dodging a Persian Gulf filled with naval mines of all flavors– as well as the occasional anti-ship missile counterfire.

16-inch (410 mm) guns fired aboard the battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) as night shelling of Iraqi targets takes place along the northern Kuwaiti coast during Operation Desert Storm. Date 6 February 1991. Photo by PH3 Dillon. DN-ST-91-09306

As for Missouri, the Iowas were not able to carry Sea Sparrow point defense launchers as they could not be shock-hardened to deal with the vibration from the battleship’s main guns, so they had an air defense provided by soft kill countermeasures such as chaff, decoys, and ducks; along with a quartet of CIWS 20mm Phalanx guns and five Stinger MANPAD stations– meaning a modern anti-ship missile would have to be killed either by an escort or at very close range. Good thing the Iowas had as much as 19.5-inches of armor plate!

While closing in with the enemy-held coastline to let her 16s reach out and touch someone on 23 February 1991, Missouri came in-range of a battery of shore-based Chinese-made CSS-C-2 Silkworm anti-ship missiles. One missed while the second was intercepted by Sea Darts from a nearby screening destroyer, the Type 42-class HMS Gloucester (D96). The intercepted Silkworm splashed down about 700 yards from Missouri.

USS Missouri under Attack by Iraqi Silkworm Painting, Oil on Canvas Board; by John Charles Roach; 1991; Framed Dimensions 28H X 34W Accession #: 92-007-U
Official caption: “While providing gunfire support to harass the Iraqi troops in Kuwait in preparation for a possible amphibious landing, USS Missouri (BB-63) was fired upon by an Iraqi Silkworm anti-ship missile. By the use of infrared flares and chaff, the missile’s guidance was confused. It crossed close astern of Missouri and was engaged and shot down by HMS Gloucester (D-96).”

The AP reported at the time:

Royal Navy Commander John Tighe told reporters two Sea Dart missiles were fired by the Gloucester less than 50 seconds after the ship’s radar detected the incoming Iraqi missiles at about 5 a.m.

Tighe said one Sea Dart scored a direct hit, destroying the Iraqi missile. He said a second missile launched by the Iraqis veered into the sea.

The commander said allied airplanes subsequently attacked the Silkworm missile launch site. He said that while he had not received a battle damage assessment, he was ″fairly confident that site will not be used to launch missiles against the ships again.”

Missouri did take some damage that day, from CIWS rounds fired by the escorting frigate USS Jarrett (FFG-33), which had locked on to one of the battleship’s chaff clouds and opened fire. One sailor was wounded by 20mm DU shrapnel.

Today, battleships left the Naval List for the final time in 1995 and all that made it that far are preserved as museums. The missiles, however, endure.

By the light of the full moon, 29 years ago today

Here we see John Charles Roach’s 1991 painting, “Adroit Marks the Way for Princeton.”

“With the use of hand flares, USS Adroit (MSO-509) marks possible mines in an effort to extract the already damaged USS Princeton (GG-59) from a minefield. USS Beaufort (ATS-2) stands by to assist.”

US Navy Accession #: 92-007-X

At about 0715 on 18 February 1991, Princeton was patrolling the Northern Persian Gulf off Failaka Island during Operation Desert Storm and set off not one but two Italian-made MN103 Manta bottom-mounted influence mines, buckling her hull in three places as well as locking her starboard propeller shaft and port rudder. Just three hours later, USS Tripoli (LPH 10), also struck a mine and was able to continue operations until relieved several days later.

Still, the 9,600-ton Princeton fared remarkably well for a ship that hit two mines and remained afloat, with her Aegis system coming back on-line 15 minutes later, allowing the cruiser to be nominally ready to defend herself if attacked and even project air cover for the range of her Standard missiles.

The Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan (DDG 282) stood by to provide assistance while the Acme-class minesweeper Adroit moved in to lead the way out of the minefield after dark. The Iraqi minefield was later confirmed to hold more than 1,000 mines, many of advanced European designs.

Both Adroit and Athabaskan have been paid off and sold to the breakers while USS Beaufort (ATS-2) went on to a second career in South Korea, but Princeton remains very much in service.

29 Years Ago Today: Chopper Popper

On 6 February 1991, during the “Shock and Awe” of Desert Storm, Capt. Robert R. Swain, Jr., of the Louisiana-based 706th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the Air Force Reserve’s 926th Tactical Fighter Group, was zooming around performing “battlefield interdictions” in his OA–10A Thunderbolt II over central Iraqi-occupied Kuwait.

“As I was leaving the target area after dropping six 500-pound bombs and firing my two Maverick missiles at tanks, I noticed two black dots running across the desert,” Swain said in a 1991 interview published in Air Force magazines. “They weren’t putting up any dust, and yet they were moving fast over the ground.”

It turned out those little black dots were Iraqi Bo-105s, little German-made light observation helicopters which could carry a centerline 20mm cannon or a series of rocket pods.

These guys…

“On the first pass, I tried to shoot an AIM-9 heat-seeking missile, but I couldn’t get it to lock-on [the target],” said Shaw. “So, on the second pass, I fired a long burst of 30 millimeter from the cannon [GAU-8], and the helicopter looked like it had been hit by a bomb. We tried to identify the type of [helicopter] after we were finished, but it was just a bunch of pieces.”

Shaw’s OA-10, 77-0205, would be dubbed the Chopper Popper, complete with a very Lousiana-like nose-art in honor of the 926th’s “Fighting Cajuns.”

It was the first air-to-air kill in the A-10s history. It would not be the last as another A-10A, flown by Capt. Todd Sheehy of the 10th TFW would splash a Soviet-made Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter with its GAU-8 30mm cannon on 15 February.

Shaw, a USAF Academy alumni (Class of 1979) who had switched to flying A-10s in the reserves after his active duty stint was over, went back to pushing tin as a commercial airline pilot but remained a “weekend warrior” flying not only Warthogs but also C-5s, retiring in 2011 as a full colonel in command of the 439th Airlift Wing, logging over 3,500 hours with the Air Force.

His old unit, the 926th, was deactivated in 2006. 

As for Chopper Popper, SN 77-0205, it was retired and placed on display at the Academy on 1 November 1993, with Shaw’s AFRES markings. It remains standing guard at Thunderbird Airmanship Overlook, South Gate.

The quiet after the Storm, 28 years ago today

PH2 Susan Marie Carl. (OPA-NARA-2015/11/15)

“The American flag flies from a vessel in the foreground as the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS South Carolina (CGN-37) returns to port from deployment in the Persian Gulf area during Operation Desert Storm, 28 March 1991.”

Sadly, the mighty cruiser returning from war overseas had her days numbered.

Though she had received the New Threat Update (NTU) to make her one of the most potent missile slingers in the world and her reactor was re-cored to make her good for another 18 years of service, South Carolina was decommissioned 30 July 1999, at age 24, as part of the Great Cruiser Slaughter.

 

Wisconsin let’s em rip, 27 years ago today

6 February 1991:

PH2 Robert Clare, USN. (OPA-NARA II-2016/01/10)

PH2 Robert Clare, USN. (OPA-NARA II-2016/01/10)

The Iowa-class battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) fires a round from one of the Mark 7 16-inch/50-caliber guns in its No. 3 turret during Operation Desert Storm. The ship’s target is an Iraqi 155mm artillery battery in southern Kuwaiti, which her guns greatly outranged. This was the first time Wisconsin‘s guns had fired in anger since 1952 where she pounded Chinese positions in Korea and would mark the start of her participation in the ground war during Operation Desert Storm.

Warshot! 27 years ago today

As seen through the submarine’s periscope, a BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) targeted on an Iraqi position leaves the water after being fired from a vertical launch tube aboard the Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Pittsburgh (SSN-720) during Operation Desert Storm, January 19,1991. She was the first U.S. submarine to launch wartime Tomahawk Cruise missiles as part of the First Gulf War.

(OPA-NARA II-8/8/2015).

Pittsburgh, whose motto is Heart of Steel, was commissioned on 23 November 1985, and let her TLAMs fly into Iraq once again in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Groton-based sub, still very much in active service at age 32, recently passed her 1000th dive milestone.

‘Damn Yankees’ was born at Rock Island, but will live at Quantico moving forward

On 21 January 1991, the M198 155mm howitzer “Damn Yankees” was part of Battery F, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines during the Battle of Khafji on the border between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and fired the first U.S. shell of the conflict, going on to support coalition efforts until the cease-fire at the end of February.

And it has been found, restored to its Desert Storm/Shield configuration, and has arrived at the National Marine Corps Museum for display.

More in my column at Guns.com

They towed the Cold War mine line: The Agile/Aggressive/Dash-class MSOs

The U.S. Navy has a long history of mine sweeping, having lost the first modem ships to those infernal torpedoes in the Civil War. As a byproduct of Mr. Roosevelt’s Great North Sea Mine Barrage of the Great War, the Navy commissioned their first class of minesweepers, the Lapwing or “Old Bird” type vessels which lingered into WWII, followed by 1930s-era 147-foot three-ship Hawk-class and the much larger 220-foot Raven and Auk-classes early in the first days of that second great international hate.

Then came the 123-ship Admirable (AM-136)-class of 180-foot/950-ton vessels built during WWII– many of which remained in hard service through Korea before being passed on to allied nations.

With the lessons learned from that conflict, in which the Koreans used literally thousands of Soviet, Chinese and leftover Japanese mines up and down the coastline, a class of MSO (Mine Sweeper Ocean), sweepers was placed on order during that police action, with class leader USS Agressive (MSO-422) laid down at Luders Marine in Stamford, Connecticut 25 May 1951 and commissioned just weeks after the cease fire in 1953

At some 867-tons (fl) and 172-foot overall, they were roughly the same size as the steel-hulled minesweepers Admirable-class ships they were replacing, but they had a bunch of new tricks up their sleeve including using laminated wood construction with bronze and stainless steel fittings and to minimize their magnetic signature.

The main propulsion plant consisted of four Packard 1D1700 non magnetic diesel engines driving twin controllable pitch propellers (CRP). This was one of the earliest CRP installations in the navy.

They were also fitted with a UQS-1 mine-locating sonar, an important next step in minehunting.

UQS-1 mine-locating sonar panel currently at the Museum of Man in the Sea in Panama City. Photo by Chris Eger

UQS-1 mine-locating sonar panel currently at the Museum of Man in the Sea in Panama City. Photo by Chris Eger

Thus equipped, they could sweep moored mines with Oropesa (“O” Type) gear, magnetic mines with a Magnetic “Tail” supplied by three 2500 ampere mine sweeping generators, and acoustic mines by using Mk4(V) and A Mk6 (B) acoustic hammers.

Their armament, when compared to the Admirable-class steel hulls they replaced, was much lighter, consisting of a single Bofors 40mm/60 gun forward and two .50 cals. It should be pointed out the WWII sweepers carried a 3″/50, 4x Bofors, 6x20mm Oerlikons, Hedgehog ASW mortars plus depth charge racks and projectors on a hull roughly the same size.

USS Lucid as commissioned, she is the only MSO afloat in the Western hemisphere

USS Lucid as commissioned, she is the only MSO still afloat in the Western hemisphere. Note her 40mm gun.

Some 53 hulls were completed by 1958 by a host of small domestic yards for the U.S. Navy (Luders, Bellingham, Higgins, etc) that specialized in wooden vessels, and often had created PT-boats and sub-chasers during WWII. In addition to this, 15 were built for France, four for Portugal, six for Belgium, two for Norway, one of Uruguay, four for Italy, and six for Holland. The design was truly an international best-seller and in some cases the last hurrah for several of these small yards.

In U.S. service, they were quickly put to work everywhere from the Med to the South China Sea, performing general yeoman tasks for the fleet itself, participating in mine exercises and running sweeping ops in areas that still had the occasional WWII-era contact mine bobbing around. In addition, they helped with missile and torpedo tests, harbor defense exercises, acoustic ranging experiments, noise reduction experiments, located downed aircraft, performed special operations in 1962 during the nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean, were instrumental in the Palomares hydrogen bombs incident, performed midshipman training cruises to the Caribbean, made repairs to cables and helped in the recovering of boilerplate and capsules for the Mercury and Gemini NASA programs.

Their shallow draft (10-feet in seawater) made them ideal for getting around littorals as well as going to some out of the way locales that rarely see Naval vessels. USS Leader (MSO-490) and USS Excel (MSO 439) became the first U.S. warships ever to visit the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh when they completed the 180-mile transit up the Mekong River on 27 August 1961, a feat not repeated until 2007. USS Vital (MSO-474) ascended the Mississippi River in May 1967 to participate in the Cotton Carnival at Memphis, Tennessee.

USS Gallant (MSO-489) was used in 1966 for the filming of the Elvis Presley film, Easy Come, Easy Go.

Vietnam is where the class really shined, arriving early to the conflict, taking part in the party, and then sticking around for the clean up afterward.

As early as 1962, USS Fortify (MSO-446) was deployed off the coast of South Vietnam with her minesweeping gear removed and an electronic countermeasures “box” was installed on the fantail. The ship was involved in monitoring and intercepting Viet Cong radio transmissions, vectoring RVN gunboats to interdict large junks coming down the coast from the North that were suspected of furnishing arms and ammunition to cadres in the south. This led to some near-misses with NVA torpedo boats even before the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Many of the class participated in Operation Market Time (11 March 1965 to December 1972) in an effort to stop the flow of supplies from North Vietnam into the south by sea. According to Navy reports, “The Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club” was very successful, but received little credit. Eventually all the supply routes at sea became non-existent, which forced the North Vietnamese to use the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

USS LEADER (MSO-490) Caption: Is seen from a Saigon based SP-2H Neptune aircraft while on a Market Time patrol during the later 1960s. The plane and ship are exchanging information on coastal traffic in the area. Description: Catalog #: NH 92011

USS LEADER (MSO-490) Caption: Is seen from a Saigon based SP-2H Neptune aircraft while on a Market Time patrol during the later 1960s. The plane and ship are exchanging information on coastal traffic in the area. Description: Catalog #: NH 92011

As part of this effort, the shallow water craft boarded and searched South Vietnamese fishing junks for smuggled weapons and other contraband (during USS Loyalty‘s first patrol alone, her crew boarded 348 junks, detained two and arrested 14 enemy smugglers), served as mother ships for replenishing the needs of “Swift” boats, provided gunfire support to U.S. forces ashore, (on 22 and 23 March 1966 the USS Implict alone fired nearly 700 rounds of 40mm ammunition supporting small South Vietnamese naval craft under fire from enemy shore batteries), gave special operations support to the American Advisory units and performed hydrographic surveys on shoreline depths.

After the war, it was the Aggressive-class MSOs who were tasked with Operation End Sweep–removing mines and airdropped Mark 36 Destructors laid by the U.S. in Haiphong Harbor in North Vietnam and other waterways.

End Sweep's line in action

End Sweep’s line in action

In all some 10 MSO’s were part of Seventh Fleet’s Mine Countermeasures Force (Task Force 78), led by Rear Adm. Brian McCauley, during this six-month operation in the first half of 1973.

At the height of their involvement in Vietnam, the Navy started a mid-life extension and modernization process for roughly half of their MSOs. Running at $1.5 million per ship, the old Packard engines were removed and replaced with new aluminum block Waukesha diesels. The first generation mine sonar was swapped out for the new SQQ-14. As additional space on the foc’sle was needed for installation of the SQQ-14 cabling, the WWII-era 40mm Bofors bow gun was replaced with a mount for a twin 20 mm Mk 68. New sweep gear to include a pair of PAP-104 cable-guided undersea tools were added as was accommodation for clearance divers and two zodiacs powered by 40hp outboards.

Just 19 were updated to the new standard, and the MSO fleet began to severely contract.

Several took some hard knocks, especially when it came to fires.

USS Avenge (MSO-423) was gutted by a fire while drydocked at Bethlehem’s Fort McHenry Shipyard in Baltimore in 1969 and stricken the next year after a survey found her too far gone. An earlier flash fire on USS Exultant (MSO-441) while underway in 1960 claimed five lives though the ship herself was saved. USS Force (MSO-445) was not so lucky when on 24 April 1973 she lost off Guam after when a fuel leak was ignited by the No.1 Engine turbocharger and spread rapidly throughout the ship. USS Stalwart (MSO-493) capsized and sank as a result of fire at San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 25, 1966. USS Enhance (MSO-437), USS Direct (MSO-430) and USS Director (MSO-429) likewise suffered serious fires but were saved.

USS Prestige (MSO-465) ran aground and was stranded in the Naruto Straits, Inland Sea, Japan on 23 Aug 1958 and was abandoned as a total loss. Similarly, USS Sagacity (MSO-469) in March 1970, grounded at the entrance to Charleston harbor, causing extensive damage to her rudders, shafts, screws, keel, and hull, leading her to be stricken that October.

The Royal Navy diesel submarine HMS Rorqual bumped into the USS Endurance (MSO-435) while docking at River Point pier in Subic Bay, Philippines in 1969 while USS Forrestal (CVA-59) collided with the USS Pinnacle (MSO-462) at Norfolk in 1959. In all cases, the damage was slight.

USS Valor (MSO-472), just 15 years old, was found to be “beyond economical repair” in a survey in 1970 and scrapped.

By the end of Vietnam, the MSOs retained were converted to U.S. Naval Reserve Training (NRT) tasking classified as Naval Reserve Force (NRF) ships, used for training their complements of reserve crews one weekend a month two-weeks during the summer. This changed the crews from 7 officers, 70 enlisted (77 total) when on active duty, to 5 officers, 52 enlisted plus 25 reserve while a NRF vessel.

USS Energy (MSO-436) and Firm (MSO-444) were transferred to the Philippines, while USS Pivot (MSO-463), Dynamic, Persistent and Vigor went to Spain. Others, unmodernized, were sold for scrap.

By the 1980s, the European war scenario relied on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to participate substantially in mine warfare operations, and U.S. mine hunters continued to decline until just the 19 modernized 1950s MSOs, built for Korea and validated in Vietnam, remained in the NRF.

A bow view of the ocean minesweeper USS FORTIFY (MSO 446) underway, 6/8/1982

A bow view of the ocean minesweeper USS FORTIFY (MSO 446) underway, 6/8/1982. National Archives Photo.

A starboard view of the ocean minesweeper USS ILLUSIVE (MSO 448) underway, 8/13/1984

A starboard view of the ocean minesweeper USS ILLUSIVE (MSO 448) underway, 8/13/1984. National Archives Photo.

During this period they often spent much time at the Mine Countermeasures Station at Panama City, Florida where they tested the first versions of the AN/WLD-1 (V) unmanned Minehunting systems, developed to scour the water for bottom and moored mines.

wld-1-2 wld-1-mms

A few NRF MSOs were activated to assist in the Persian Gulf in 1987-88 during the tanker escort period (Operation Earnest Will) that involved Iranian sea mines, typically old Russian M08 contact types, swept.

Three sweepers: USS Fearless (MSO-442), USS Illusive (MSO-448), and USS Inflict (MSO-456), were towed 9,000 miles by the salvage ship USS Grapple (ARS-53) from Little Creek, Virginia, to the Persian Gulf.

While conducting minesweeping operations in the northern Persian Gulf, Inflict discovered and destroyed the first of 10 underwater contact mines deployed in a field across the main shipping channel.

Crewmen handle a minesweeping float on the stern of the ocean minesweeper USS INFLICIT (MSO 456), 4/27/1988

Crewmen handle a minesweeping float on the stern of the ocean minesweeper USS INFLICIT (MSO 456), 4/27/1988. National Archives Photo

Then came the affair with Saddam in 1990.

Four minesweepers, USS Leader (MSO-490), USS Impervious (MSO-449), USS Adroit (MSO-509) and the brand new USS Avenger (MCM-1), were loaded aboard the Dutch heavy lift ship Super Servant 3 on 19 August 1990 at Norfolk and offloaded 5 October 1990 in the middle east.

Impervious, foreground, and Adroit (MSO 509) sit aboard the Dutch heavy lift ship Super Servant 4 as its deck is submerged to permit minesweepers to be unloaded. Photo by PHAN Christopher L. Ryan

Impervious, foreground, and Adroit (MSO 509) sit aboard the Dutch heavy lift ship Super Servant 4 as its deck is submerged to permit minesweepers to be unloaded. Photo by PHAN Christopher L. Ryan

You may not remember now, but Desert Storm at sea was a mine war, with USS Tripoli and USS Princeton (CG 59) rocked by exploding mines. Saddam sewed more than a 1,000 of his deadly easter eggs across the northern Gulf and it was the job of the sweepers, along with allied boats and helicopters and some 20 different EOD clearance teams, to clear the way for a possible D-Day style amphibious invasion by the Marines as well as hacking a path through the danger zone for battleships to approach for NGFS.

And with the victory in the desert, the MSOs were paid off, replaced nominally by a new class of (since disposed of) Osprey-class MHCs and the rest of the Avengers.

Between 1989-1994 the last of the MSOs were decommissioned and stricken with the healthiest four units transferred to the Republic of China Navy (Taiwan) in 1994-95: USS Conquest (MSO-488), USS Gallant (MSO-489), USS Pledge (MSO-492), and USS Implicit (MSO-455) as ROCS Yung Tzu (MSO-1307), ROCS Yung Ku (MSO-1308), ROCS Yung Teh (MSO-1309), ROCS Yung Yang (MSO-1306), respectively, are still in service.

exconquestandgallant

Six were held on red lead row until as late as 2002, when they were scrapped despite the pleas from veterans’ groups to preserve one, with the MARAD claiming it was policy not to donate wooden ships due to the cost and magnitude of the maintenance required for upkeep.

In all, some 50,000 sailors served at one time or another on these wooden ships and are very well organized in The Navy MSO Association.

Finally, the MSO sailors were came across the old USS Lucid (MSO-458) which had been sold as scrap for $40,250 back in 1976 and had been used as a houseboat ever since.

Donated, the ship has become part of the Stockton Historical Maritime Museum since 2011 and is open to the public.

lucid

She is the only MSO preserved in the West.

In Holland, HNLMS Mercuur (A856), after her decommissioning in 1987, was preserved as a museum ship, first in Amsterdam, later in Scheveningen. She will be towed to the city of Vlissingen at some point this winter, and re-open as a museum ship in Vlissingen’s Perry dock around March 2017.

In all, the class served 40 years in a myriad of tasks and a few are still around and kicking.

Not bad for some forgotten old wooden boats.

The ocean minesweeper USS INFLICIT (MSO 456) heads towards the Persian Gulf to support US Navy escort operations, 9/1/1987

The ocean minesweeper USS INFLICIT (MSO 456) heads towards the Persian Gulf to support US Navy escort operations, 9/1/1987

« Older Entries