Tag Archives: great war

The sound of 16 Vickers 303s

One of the scariest sounds for any of the Kaiser’s foot soldiers in the Great War had to be that of the Vickers gun, ready to rattle away in .303 all day. 

The below amazing eight-minute video is the sight and sound of 16 Vickers machine guns rocking and rolling at a recent event saluting the centenary of the disbandment of the British Army’s Machine Gun Corps. Held at the Century range at Bisley, Surrey, it was pulled off by the Vickers Machinegun Collection and Research Association. Set up as a machine gun company, the guns represented gunners from 1912 through 1968, including one team of female factory testers. 

More on the Vickers 303, and its interesting American connection, after the jump in my column at Guns.com.

“The Kaiser’s necklace, compliments of Camp Lee, Va.” showing Doughboys training with a Vickers gun and holding up one of its 250-round cloth belts. Both the 80th “Blue Ridge” Division, drawn from volunteers from Virginia and western Pennsylvania, as well as the 37th “Buckeye” Division of the Ohio National Guard trained at Camp Lee. (Photo: The Library of Virginia)

Warship Wednesday, April 20, 2022: A Member of the Easter Egg Fleet

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, April 20, 2022: A Member of the Easter Egg Fleet

Historic New England Nathaniel L. Stebbins photographic collection negative 13620

Here we see the fine Glasgow designed-and-built steam yacht Christabel steaming offshore on 8 August 1902. While this elegant little schooner doesn’t look very formidable, she would prove herself in the Great War soon enough.

Built for Arthur Challis Kennard, Ironmaster and Justice of the Peace of the Falkirk Iron Works, Falkirk, Christabel was a steel-hulled schooner-rigged steamer some 150 feet overall and 248 grt. Designed by the famed GL Watson firm and built by D & W Henderson & Co. of Meadowside Yard as Yard No. 370, she was completed in October 1893, with her first port of register being Glasgow. Mr. Kennard was a well-known yachtsman, and his name and vessels can be found in numerous yachting and rowing calendars of the day.

From Llyod’s Register of Yachts 1901, see entry #206, with the 248 grt Christabel listed:

Unfortunately, Mr. Kennard would pass in 1903, aged 72, and sold his beautiful Christabel sometime prior, hence appearing in New England waters in the above circa 1902 image.

Christabel 8 September 1906, now with a white scheme, something else that would indicate new owners. Stebbins negative 17648

By 1909, she was listed as being owned by Mr. Walton Ferguson, Sr. of New York City. Ferguson was well known as President of St. John Wood-Working Company as well as Stamford Electric, Vice President of Stamford Trust Company, and a director of Union Carbide, in addition to a longtime Commodore of the Stamford Yacht Club.

From Lloyd’s Register of American Yachts, 1914, listing her as #575 under Mr. Ferguson still as 248 grt with an overall length of 164 feet and waterline length of 140:

By 1916, Christabel was one of at least two large yachts in the fleet of Irving Ter Bush, one of the wealthiest men on the planet and founder of Bush Terminal in Brooklyn, Bush Tower in Manhattan, and Bush House in London.

When the U.S. entered the war with Germany, Mr. Bush sold Christabel to the Navy Department in April 1917– some 105 years ago this month– and after a very short conversion period she was commissioned on 31 May 1917 at the New York Navy Yard, becoming USS Christabel (SP-162). Her skipper was a regular officer, LT Herbert Berhard Riebe (USNA 1906), whose prior experience was in cruisers and destroyers.

Her conversion saw her pick up a speckled gray paint scheme, two 3-inch deck guns, a pair of M1895 potato digger-style machine guns, and some depth charges. More on the depth charges in a minute.

She was in good company, as no less than 40 large steam and auxiliary yachts also designed by G. L. Watson were armed for wartime work– although most were by the Royal Navy.

Christabel is listed on the bottom left, along with her near sisters and cousins

Off to war!

Assigned to Squadron Three, Patrol Force, Atlantic Fleet even before she was commissioned, Christabel was one of eight hastily armed East Coast yachts– including USS Corsair (S. P. 159), Aphrodite (S. P. 135), Harvard (S. P. 209), Sultana (S. P. 134), Kanawha II (S. P. 130), Vedette (S. P. 163), and Noma (S. P. 131)-– being fitted out to go to France for the purpose of coastal convoy and anti-submarine work. Of these eight, Christabel had the dubious distinction of being both the oldest and slowest.

Shoving off to cross the Atlantic on 9 June, Christabel and five other patrol yachts arrived in Brest (via the Azores) appropriately on July 4th, 1917. With CPT (later RADM) William B. Fletcher, U.S.N., as squadron commander, the force made a splash due to their hastily applied camouflaged paint schemes, applied while underway in some cases.

Via “On the Coast of France,” by Joseph Husband, Ensign, USNRF:

Due to the unusually fantastic scheme of camouflage which disguised the ships of the Second Squadron, these yachts were commonly known as the ”Easter Egg Fleet,” every conceivable color having been incorporated in a riotous speckled pattern on their sides.

USS Christabel (SP-162) In port, circa 1918-1919. Taken by Carl A. Stahl, Photographer, USN. NH 300

Although often nursing cranky machinery– Christabel had almost 30 years on her engine and broke down often– she was part of no less than 30 coastal convoys, being particularly useful in the role of bringing up the rear of convoys and policing stragglers and survivors of lost vessels.

First, she saves

Speaking of saving lives, on the night of 17 April 1918, the U.S.-flagged cargo ship SS Florence H. (3,820grt) suddenly erupted in a brilliant fireball while at anchor in Quiberon Bay as her cargo of 2,200 tons of smokeless powder lit off. Several vessels in the harbor rushed to her aid, including Christabel. Although 45 of her complement and Naval Armed Guard perished, 78 men were rescued, although about half of those were extensively burned and injured. For the rescue, one of Christabel’s CPOs earned a DSC.

Chief Pharmacist Mate Louis Zeller, United States Navy. Member of the crew of the USS Christabel while on patrol duty off Brest, France, during World War I, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Admiral Wilson. Zeller dove into the water filled with burning exploding powder boxes from the Florence H., to rescue severely burned seamen, managing to accomplish this within seconds of a severe explosion. NH 63045

Then she attacks

Just a month after saving men from the Florence H., Christabel had a close brush with one of Kaiser Willy’s U-boats and at the time was credited with damaging it enough to put it out of the war.

Via “Account of the Operations of the American Navy in France During the War with Germany,” by VADM Henry Braid Wilson, United States Navy Commander, United States Naval Forces in France: 

On the afternoon of 21 May 1918, the CHRISTABEL, the smallest of the converted yachts operating in French waters, was escorting a slow ship which had dropped behind the north-bound convoy from La Pallice to Quiberon Bay.

This vessel, the British steamer DANSE, was about eight miles behind the convoy, making about seven and a half knots, with the CHRISTABEL on her port bow. The sea was smooth, weather clear with no wind.

When about two miles outside of Ile de Yeu a well-defined oil slick was sighted on the port bow. The CHRISTABEL cruised around it but saw nothing definite.

At 5 :20 p. m. The Officer-of-the-Deck and the lookout suddenly sighted a wake, about six hundred yards distant on the port quarter, the CHRISTABEL at this time being about 300 yards on the port bow of the DANSE.

The CHRISTABEL headed for it, making all possible speed—about ten and a half knots—whereupon the wake disappeared, and a number of oil slicks were seen.

The Commanding Officer followed this oil as well as he could and at 5:24 p. m., believing that his ship was nearly ahead of the submarine, dropped a depth charge, but no results were obtained although the charge exploded.

At 7:00 p. m. the convoy changed course following the contour of the land and was making about nine knots. The CHRISTABEL was astern, making about eleven knots to catch up.

At 8:52 p. m. the CHRISTABEL sighted a periscope about two hundred yards off the starboard beam. She turned and headed for it, whereupon the periscope disappeared.

At 8:55 p. m. a depth charge was dropped which functioned in ten seconds, followed by a second one a few moments afterwards.

Nothing followed the explosion of the first charge, but following the explosion of the second there was a third very violent explosion which threw up between the stern of the CHRISTABEL and the water column raised by the second charge, an enormous amount of water and debris.

The CHRISTABEL then turned and cruised in the vicinity and noticed a quantity of heavy black oil and splintered pieces of wood, with very large oil bubbles rising to the surface.

Nothing further was heard of this submarine, but, on May 24, 1918, an enemy submarine, the U. C. 56, arrived at Santander, Spain, in a very seriously damaged condition, and from such information as was received, it was believed that this was the vessel attacked by the CHRISTABEL.

German Submarine UC-56 (KptLt/in Wilhelm Kiesewetter). Caption: At Christabel, Spain where she interned herself, 24 May 1918, after injuries received in an encounter with a U.S. Patrol Yacht. The explosion of one of the Yacht’s depth charges was followed by a second detonation after which splinter wood and much heavy oil came to the surface. The UC-56 is primarily a mine-laying submarine, her elaborate camouflage is distinct in the photograph. NH 111101.

Christabel’s skipper, LT Riebe, earned the Navy Cross for the attack and was made an Honorary Commander in the OBE through the offices of the Admiralty. He retired from the Navy in 1938 as a Captain with the Bureau of Navigation, died in 1946, and is buried at Arlington.

Another of Christabel’s officers, Ensign Daniel Augustus Joseph Sullivan, USNRF, came away from the action earning one of just 21 Medals of Honor presented to U.S. Navy personnel in the Great War.

Medal of Honor citation of Ensign Daniel A.J. Sullivan (as printed in the official publication “Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy”, page 125):

For extraordinary heroism as an officer of the U.S.S. Christabel in conflict with an enemy submarine on 21 May 1918. As a result of the explosion of a depth bomb dropped near the submarine, the Christabel was so badly shaken that a number of depth charges which had been set for firing were thrown about the deck and there was imminent danger that they would explode. Ensign Sullivan immediately fell on the depth charges and succeeded in securing them, thus saving the ship from disaster, which would inevitably have caused great loss of life.

Portrait photograph, taken circa 1920. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism while serving in USS Christabel (SP-162) during action with a German submarine on 21 May 1918. He was a Naval Reserve Force Ensign at that time. Note the overseas service chevrons on his uniform sleeve. Sullivan would go on to serve in destroyers, and then in the U.S. Navy headquarters in London at the end of the war and into 1919, leaving the USNRF as an LCDR. He died on 27 January 1941 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. NH 44173

In September, VADM Wilson signaled Christabel she was entitled to carry a white star on her stack, denoting an enemy submarine kill. Only two other American ships in France, USS Fanning (Destroyer No. 37) and the yacht Lydonia (S. P. 700) would join the same club.

USS Christabel (SP-162) View of the ship’s smokestack, circa 1919. The star painted on it represents the German submarine she was then credited with having sunk during World War I. Note steam whistle on the forward side of the stack. NH 55162

Epilogue

Completing her war service, the little Christabel left Brest in early December 1918 and headed home. She would celebrate Christmas in Bermuda and arrive in New London, Connecticut on New Year’s Eve.

Placed in reserve at the Marine Basin in Brooklyn on 17 May 1919, she was disposed of the next month, and sold to the Savannah Bar Pilots Association for $22,510.

According to The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2 (June 1934), pp. 145-175, she was renamed for the first time in her life to Savannah and used as a pilot boat well into the 1930s. 

Christabel/Savannah‘s final fate is unknown, but she was apparently disposed of by the pilots before World War II.

Speaking of WWII, post-war research discounted Christabel’s role in damaging SM UC-56, but the minelaying U-boat still missed the rest of the conflict. Surrendered post-Armistice Day, she was turned over to the French and scuttled.

U-boats U-108 and UC-56, in Brest docks in 1918, turned over to the French under armistice terms, UC-56 in the foreground. NARA 45511774

The subject of much controversy, UC-56’s only success of the war was the marked and unarmed HMs Hospital Ship Glenart Castle, which sunk on 26 February 1918 with the loss of 162 including eight female nurses and 99 patients. The submarine reportedly attempted to cover up the action actions by shooting survivors in the water.

The British arrested her commander, KptLt/in Wilhelm Kiesewetter, as he was returning to Germany from Spain and tossed him in the Tower of London as a war criminal before eventually releasing him without trial. Kiesewetter, at age 61, was recalled in 1939 and is cited as the “oldest Kriegsmarine officer to command an operational U–boat,” having been the skipper of UC–1 from November 1940 to May 1941. “This boat was the ex-Norwegian submarine B-5, captured in 1940 and commissioned into the Kriegsmarine on 20 November 1940.”

Specs:

Tonnage: 248 GRT, 103 NRT
Length: 164 ft overall (per DANFS)
Beam: 22 ft
Draft: 9 ft 8 in (12.5 ft depth of hold) (listed as 11 ft. 3 in the draft in 1914 Lloyds
Installed power: 1-screw. T3Cyl. (13, 20 & 33 – 24in) 160lb. 53NHP triple expansion engine
Auxiliary sail rig: two-masted schooner
Speed: 12 knots
Complement (1917) 55 officers and enlisted men
Armament:
2 x 1 3″/23 caliber deck guns
2 x M1895 Marlin/Colt .30-06 machine guns
Depth charges


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The ‘Christmas Truce’ at 107

Merry Christmas, gentlemen.

Official caption: “British and German officers meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial ‘Christmas truce,’ Dec. 25, 1914. British troops from the Northumberland Yeomanry (Hussars), 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector.”

Photo by (Hon.) Harold Burge Robson, IWM Q 50721

A fairly decent doc on the encounter, below.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021: Behold, the Destroyerzooka

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, Sept. 22, 2021: Behold, the Destroyerzooka

Here we see the Soviet Orfey (Orpheus)-class destroyer Engels (formerly Desna) with his (Russian warships are always masculine by tradition) unique stern 12-inch (305mm) Kurchevsky pattern “Dynamo-Reactive” recoilless rifle, circa the summer of 1934. A tough little ship going past his goofy one-off experimental gun, he had an interesting life.

Background

With a shredded naval list after the Russo-Japanese War, having lost two out of three fleets, the Tsarist Imperial Navy needed new ships of every stripe in the 1910s as they were facing an increasingly modern Ottoman fleet in the Black Sea as well as the Swedes (always a possible opponent) and the German juggernaut in the Baltic. Part of the naval buildout was a series of 52 destroyers derived from the Novik.

Novik was a great destroyer for 1910. At some 1,600-tons full load, he could make 37.3 knots, which is still fast for a destroyer today, and carried four twin 18-inch torpedo tubes (eight tubes total) as well as four 4-inch guns.

The follow-on Orfey-class upgrade from Novik, planned to number 23 vessels, ended up being trimmed back to just 16 due to the Great War and Russia’s series of revolutions and civil war, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Some 1,440-tons when fully loaded, the 321-foot tin cans used a plant that had two Curtis-AEG-Vulkan turbines and four Normand-Vulkan boilers on two shafts to make 32 knots, making them still very fast for the age but slightly slower than the 6-boiler/3-turbine/3-shaft plant seen in Novik. However, they carried more torpedo tubes, a total of nine, in addition to their four 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns.

Ofrey class destroyer plan. These ships, benefiting from the Russo-Japanese war experience, had double the main transverse bulkheads of pre-1904 Russian destroyers with 12 watertight sections (each with their own pumping systems) as well as individually compartmentalized boilers, hence all the funnels. The keel was made of doubled 6mm steel sheets set at angles to each other, creating a double hull of sorts. Lacking true armor, the conning tower/bridge was made of half-inch ordnance steel sheets to provide splinter and small arms protection. Interestingly, the topside radio room (one 2 kW transmitter and two receivers) and two 45-cm searchlights were fed by a separate 10kW Penta kerosene dynamo protected centrally, rather than the rest of the ship’s power which was provided by two 20 kW turbo generators.

Desna, shown here in fitting out at the Kolpino Metalworks in Petrograd (Great War-era St. Petersburg) had nine 18-inch torpedo tubes.

Closer detail on those tubes

And even closer

His initial armament, as with the rest of the class, included four long-barreled 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns, one over the bow, and three crowding her stern. These could fire a 66-pound HE or 52-pound “Diving” shell at 12 rounds per minute, providing the crew was drilled properly, to a range of 17,600 yards. Two 150-shell magazines, fore, and aft, were installed below deck. The guns were directed by a 9-foot Barr & Stroud 30x stereoscopic rangefinder of RN F.Q. 2 pattern.

Laid down in November 1914, three months into the Great War, Desna was named after the famed tributary of the Dnieper that runs through Smolensk to Kyiv.

Commissioned 16 August 1916, he was rushed into operations and famously came to the defense of the heroic but obsolete Borodino-class battleship Slava during the long-running Battle of Moon Sound, in which the Russian battlewagon gave, by all accounts, a full measure against a much larger and more powerful German force.

Slava, after the Battle of Moon Sound

Helping to evacuate Slava’s crew, Desna fired torpedoes into the stricken battlewagon to prevent it from falling into German hands. Desna’s brother, Grom, was sunk during the operation.

Caption: A newly -completed Destroyer of the improved “Novik” Type, either DESNA (1915-1941) or AZARD (1916-1919). Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. Catalog #: NH 94295

Same, NH 94294

Same, NH 94296

Civil War

Becoming part of the Red Baltic Fleet by default during the Russian Revolution and Civil War, Desna took part in the “Ice Campaign” during which the force broke through the frozen Baltic to escape Helsinki ahead of the Germans in April 1918.

Based at the fortress island of Kronstadt, Desna took part in operations against the British in 1918-19. (During this period, brother Gavriil helped sink HM Submarine L-55 and three British torpedo boats, while brothers Konstantin and Vladimir/Svoboda were sunk in turn by British mines. Another classmate, Kapitan Miklucha Maklai/Spartak, was captured by the British and turned over to the Estonians.)

Then, in the continued evolution of counterrevolution, Desna and company fought against the Bolsheviks in the 1921 revolt of the Red Fleet.

Rudolf Franz’s 1936 painting depicts the storming of Kronstadt by the Red Army to put down the revolt. Over a thousand were killed on both sides and an estimated 2,100 rebellious sailors were executed or disappeared into labor camps.

In part to wipe out the stain of his role in the brutally suppressed Kronstadt revolt, Desna was renamed in 1922 to Engels, celebrating the German socialist philosopher of the same name who helped develop Marxism.

An ice-bound Engels

Then came several years of lingering operations and refits, as the Soviets were cash strapped for operational funds throughout the rest of the decade. During this period, classmates Orfey and Letun, in bad technical condition after Great War damage, were broken up after the Civil war.

Dynamo-Reactive!

In 1932, Engels was refitted and rebuilt, emerging two years later with a new engineering plant as well as a new gun over his stern in place of two of his 4-inchers.

A design came from the mind of weapon engineer Leonid Kurchevsky, who was fascinated with recoilless rifles. He had spent time in Stalin’s gulag system then emerged in 1929 to catch the eye of Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, the “Red Napolean” military theoretician who wanted to see Kurchevsky’s simple designs fitted on everything.

Kurchevsky and some of his recoilless rifles in the early 1930s.

The Kurchevsky gun fitted on Engels was awkward, only able to fire to port and starboard with a low train and elevation.

It fired a 660-pound shell to 14,000 yards but proved inaccurate, unreliable, and prone to malfunction. A larger 15-inch model was to be installed on a cruiser but never made it off the drawing board.

I mean, come on…

While some 2,000~ Kurchevsky guns were delivered, fitted to tanks and vehicles as well as ships, it turns out they sucked.

Via Global Security: 

Soon the “bubble” burst. It turned out that the armor-piercing shells of anti-tank DRP, even when fired at point-blank, were not able to penetrate armor thicker than 30 mm. The accuracy and range of field artillery guns do not meet the requirements at all. At the same time, the guns themselves are unreliable and unsafe during operation, there had been numerous cases of rupture of barrels during firing.

Aircraft and naval automatic cannons of the Kurchevsky caliber from 37 to 152 mm gave constant failures and delays during firing due to incomplete combustion of the nitro-fabric sleeves and the unreliable operation of the pneumatic recharge mechanism, which made this weapon absolutely not combat-ready. Soon all PDDs were removed from the troops and destroyed. By June 22, 1941, there was not a single Kurchevsky gun in service with the Red Army.

While Tukhachevsky was sacked in 1937 for other reasons and scapegoated as a Trotskyist in the Great Purge before WWII, Kurchevsky got the wrap at around the same time directly for his funky weaponry. Thrown back in the gulag the inventor was executed sometime in the late 1930s.

War, again, and again

With the Russians flexing against the Finns in the 1939-40 Winter War, Desna/Engels, his Kurchevsky gun landed, and his old 4-inchers reinstalled, bombarded Finnish positions and installations, a task for which his 9-foot draft no doubt assisted.

When the Germans invaded in 1941, Engels was used in coastal minelaying and convoy duty.

Just two weeks after Barbarossa kicked off, on 6 July, he and two other destroyers (Serditogo and Sil’nyy) clashed with two German minesweepers (M-23 and M-31) in what is known today as the Battle of the Irbensky Strait. Famed in Russian naval lore as it was the largest surface battle they fought in the Baltic in WWII; it is much less known outside of the Motherland. This is probably because all vessels involved sailed away after the engagement, a tactical draw.

Damaged extensively on 7 August 1941 by a 550-pound bomb dropped via Stuka, Engels was soon patched up and two weeks later sailed from Tallinn in occupied Estonia to Kronstadt as part of one of the desperate convoys headed north from the doomed port. That month, some 190 Soviet ships and 40,000 souls attempted to escape. The seaborne evacuation of encircled Tallin to Krondstadt and Leningrad went down in history as the “Soviet Dunkirk.” 

With the route obvious to the Germans and Finns, the Axis planted 2,000 mines in what became known as the Juminda Barrage. 

A German map from 1941 showing the location of the Juminda mine barrage

It was on this voyage that he stumbled across a German minefield off Cape Juminda, hitting one with his bow and shrugged it off, damage control successful. However, while the damaged destroyer was being rigged for towing by the icebreaker Oktyabr, Engels hit a second mine that exploded under her stern and triggered the aft 4-inch magazine. That was it and she rolled over and sank. 

Four days later, classmates Pobiditel/Volodarski and Azard/Artyom were lost in a similar minefield in the same Tallinn-to-Kronstadt run. Some 80 ships eventually hit mines in the Jumidia Barrage, with at least 21 Soviet warships, including five destroyers sent to the bottom in August alone. 

Epilogue

As with Desna/Engels, few Orfey-class destroyers made it out of WWII. Three units that survived by nature of serving with the Northern Fleet out of Murmansk and two more with the Pacific Fleet out of Vladivostok remained in service into the early 1950s but were soon discarded. The last remaining example of the class, Spartak, spent her final days in Peru’s Pacific coast as the Estonians had sold her to that Latin American country in the 1930s.

The class is remembered in some Soviet-era maritime art.

Meanwhile, a fishing net-wrapped wreck off Estonia’s Cape Yuminda, documented in 2016, could be the bones of Engels.

As for Leonid Kurchevsky, he was “rehabilitated posthumously in 1956” after the end of the Stalin regime. The next year, Marshal Tukhachevsky and his codefendants in the Purge trial were declared innocent of all charges and rehabilitated, posthumously.

Specs:


Displacement: 1,260 tons (standard) 1,440 tons (full load)
Length 321 ft 6 in
Beam 30 ft 6 in
Draught 9 ft 10 in
Machinery: 4 boilers (30,500 shp) 2 steam turbines, 2 shafts
Speed 32 knots
Range: 1,680 miles @21 knots
Complement: 150 (8 officers, 6 michman, 136 ratings)
Armament:
(1917)
4 x 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns in single unprotected mounts
1 x 40/39 Vickers AAA pom-pom anti-balloon gun
2 x Maxim machine guns (7.62×54)
9 x 18-inch torpedo tubes (3×3)
80 M1908 style sea anchor mines
10 depth charges

(1934)
1 x 12-inch recoilless rifle (experimental)
2 x 4″/60 Vickers-Obukhovski Pattern 1911 guns in single unprotected mounts
1 x 3″/28 Lender AAA
4 x 1 12.7mm/79 DK Heavy machine gun (drum fed)
9 x 18-inch torpedo tubes (3×3) with more modern 45-36Н torpedoes
2 x depth charge racks
58 mines

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

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Warship Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020: Franz Josef’s Sharpshooter

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020: Franz Josef’s Sharpshooter

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 87635

Here in the foreground of the above image, we see the Huszar-class torpesobootzerstörer SMS Scharfschütze of the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Navy, the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, in heavy seas, likely in the Adriatic around 1914. In a doomed fleet in which the surface forces saw very little actual combat during the Great War, Scharfschütze broke that mold.

The pre-Great War Austrian Kriegsmarine was strong in battleships (4 dreadnoughts, 14 pre-dreadnoughts), cruisers (2 armored, 10 protected/scout, 2 coastal defense), submarines (11) and torpedo boats (91) but was more sparse when it came to destroyers. In 1904, Vienna ordered a prototype destroyer from Yarrow, a 220-foot craft of some 400-tons based on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Akatsuki-class which had been delivered five years previously.

Japanese Akatsuki-class destroyer Kasumi (Mist) at Yarrow Shipbuilders, Clyde, Scotland on commissioning, 1902. The Austrian Huszars would be to the same design, albeit with a lighter armament. Colorized by Postales Navales

Capable of 28 knots, the prototype vessel, Yarrow Yard No. 1171, was lightly armed with a single 70mm Skoda-supplied gun forward, seven 47mm 3-pounders, and a pair of 17.7-inch torpedo tubes. This was notably less powerful than Akatsuki, which carried a 4-inch Armstrong gun and five Hotchkiss 6-pounders.

Delivered in September 1905, Austria accepted the new destroyer as SMS Huszar (Hussar) and soon began building a dozen licensed clones at three domestic yards with Yarrow-supplied powerplants.

Huszar-class torpesobootzerstörer SMS Wildfang with a bone in her teeth NH 87632

A 14th ship was laid down for the Chinese government in 1912 as part of another baker’s dozen tin cans. All of the Austrian ships were named for types of soldiers in the Dual Monarchy’s multi-ethnic military such as Ulan (Polish Uhlan lancers), Pandur (a Bosnian gendarme), Uskoke (a type of Croatian irregular) and Csikós (a type of Hungarian mounted troop).

The subject of our tale, Scharfschütze, was named for the classic Austrian Tyrolean sharpshooter.

This guy. Photo by the Austrian State Archives (Österreichischen Staatsarchiv)

Going into the history books, the name was also a traditional Austrian warship moniker. Most recently it had been used by gunboat on Lake Garda along the frontier between Italy and Austria. The vessel had been sold to Italy in the aftermath of the brief 1866 war along with the rest of the Garda flotilla for 1 million florins– a good deal more than what they were worth. After all, it didn’t make much sense to keep them as the Italians owned the lake they were on when the war was said and done.

Scharfschütze, Austrian Gunboat (Kanonenboot), 1860-69 “A unit of the Austrian Lake Garda flotilla photographed circa 1866. On 18 October 1866, she became the Italian BORGOFORTE.” Courtesy of the International Naval Research Organization Catalog #: NH 87484

Laid down at Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino (STT) San Marco outside of Trieste in April 1906, the new destroyer Scharfschütze was commissioned the next September.

Soon the ship, with a shallow draft of just slightly over 8-feet, was in use along the craggy coastline of the Balkans where Austria had gotten increasingly aggressive, annexing Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 from the ailing Ottoman Empire over the howls of most of Europe.

As the world sleepwalked towards the Great War, the Austrian Huszar-class destroyers were seen as smallish and under-armed when compared to contemporary greyhounds in their opposing fleets, a fact that in 1910 saw them land their 47mm guns in favor of larger 12-pounders and pick up a machine gun or two for use against the increasing threat posed by low-flying aircraft. At the same time, a larger (1,000-ton) class of tin cans with 4-inch guns, the Tátras, were laid down at a Hungarian shipyard.

During the Balkan Wars of 1912-14, in which a loose confederation of minor powers soundly beat the Turks only to turn on each other and lose half of their territorial gains, Scharfschütze was involved in blockading Albania. It was on this duty that, for one reason or another, she detained the lightly armed 156-foot Montenegrin royal yacht/gunboat Rumija, which had been carrying a cargo of captured Ottoman officers that the Austrian ship repatriated, likely to the great pleasure of the Turks.

Scharfschütze. The three-funneled cruiser in the back-ground is SMS Sankt Georg. NH 87636

War!

When the balloon went up and the lights went out across Europe in July 1914, the only Huszar classmate intended for the Chinese that was far enough along to complete, Lung Tuan, was seized and placed in Austrian service as SMS Warasdiner, after a type of Hungarian infantry common in the Seven Years War.

Scharfschütze, along with her sisters, joined the battlefleet in an abortive attempt to come to the aid of RADM Wilhelm Souchon’s hounded Mediterranean Division, composed of the battlecruiser Goeben and the cruiser Breslau. While Souchon famously skipped the Adriatic and made for Constantinople, Scharfschütze had to make do with coastal raids and patrols along her old stomping grounds off the rugged coast of Montenegro.

In doing so, she provided direct naval gunfire support for advancing A-H infantry, helped relieve the Franco-Montenegrin siege of Kotor from forces dug in along Mount Lovcen, shelled the monastery in Lastva where the Montenegrin headquarters was located at the time, helped destroy radio station towers along the coast, and screened the old battleship SMS Monarch, whose 9-inch guns were tasked with their own NGFS missions.

As Lovcen proved a tough nut for the Austrians to crack, our destroyer also screened the modern dreadnought SMS Radetzky, which was called in to lend her 12-inch guns to the campaign. Of note, Scharfschütze’s old foe, Rumija, was sunk during this time by Austrian torpedo boats.

Enter Italy

Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy were bound by the Triple Alliance agreement going back to May 1882 to come to each other’s aid in the event of a European war. This was key to Germany coming to Austria’s aid after the latter invaded Serbia in July 1914 but the more waffling Italy pumped the breaks when her statesmen realized they would have to stand against not only the upstart Balkan Slavs but also France and the might of the British Empire. Shopping around for a better deal, Italy broke her pact with the two Kaisers and turned against her former allies, siding with the Entente.

On 3 May 1915, Rome renounced the Triple Alliance and, perhaps to no one’s surprise, declared war against Austria-Hungary at midnight on 23 May, enticed by secret promises of slices of Austrian Alpine and Adriatic territory. London and Paris were fine with giving away Franz Josef’s land if it meant ending the war on a high note.

Of course, the entry of the Italian fleet into the conflict effectively bottled up the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine for the duration of hostilities, which made what came next even more dramatic.

The day the war turned hot for Italy, Scharfschütze was tasked with a special mission of retribution. Sailing with the light cruiser SMS Novara and two torpedo boats (SMS Tb 80 and Tb 81), they set out in the darkness for the Italian torpedo boat station at Porto Corsini, located just 60 nautical miles from the city of Pula, where the main Austro-Hungarian naval base on the Adriatic was located.

While the other ships remained just offshore, our destroyer crept past the outer mole in the predawn hours of 24 May and penetrated the inner harbor via the narrow Candiano canal, which only spanned 100 feet or so from shore to shore.

Once inside the harbor, Scharfschütze achieved complete surprise and opened with everything she had at around 03:20, sending two schooners to the bottom, damaging the lighthouse, destroying the semaphore station, the lifeboat station and various private homes while taking several Italian coastal batteries under fire.

A German postcard portraying the attack

While the goal of attacking the torpedo boats stationed there fell flat as the vessels weren’t in port, the Austrians did draw blood. A single Italian fatality, Navy electrician Natale Zen, killed in his bed by shrapnel was probably the first Italian killed in the conflict.

Scharfschütze making her way out of Porto Cortini, with flames behind her and Italian shells bracketing her by German maritime artist Willy Stower. The portrayal is off, however, as the whole raid took part in the dark

By 04:00, Scharfschütze reunited with Novara, screened by the cruiser’s guns, and withdrew for home. She suffered no casualties or reportable damage, a feat that brought decorations to her wardroom and crew, personally delivered pier side by the future and last Hapsburg Kaiser, Archduke Karl.

Of course, when compared to the scale of the global conflict, the raid was small potatoes and did not cause more than a pinprick’s damage to Italy’s war effort. Nonetheless, the audacity of sending a destroyer into an Italian harbor where it ran amok provided a useful victory to the flagging Austrian efforts and it was much celebrated in period propaganda.

Postscript

The rest of Scharfschütze’s war was active, with her tagging along on other, less successful coastal raids and in turn, finding herself in sharp surface actions against not only fast Italian MAS torpedo boats but also American subchasers and lived to tell the tale.

When the final act of the Great War played out and the Hapsburgs lost the throne amidst the Dual Monarchy’s disintegration as a country, the inventory of the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine that fell into the Entente’s hands was parceled out among its members.

From right to left are Austrian destroyers TURUL, WARASDINER, WILDFANG (with 4 funnels showing), A torpedo boat of the 74T Class, Torpedo boat 79T, and a group of 82F class torpedo boats. Photographed in the Gulf of Cattaro. NH 87633

Of the Huszár-class destroyers, two (Streiter and Wildfang) had been lost during the war. The survivors were doled out to France (Pandur and Reka), Greece (Ulan) and Italy who garnered the rest of the obsolete 1890s designed little tin cans to include Scharfschutze— the second time in Austrian naval history that a ship of that name was taken over by the country’s Roman foe to the South.

None of the ships survived the 1920s, having long since been scrapped as part of the interwar drawdown in naval tonnage.

Specs:

1914 Jane’s entry on the class.

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Gentleman Wormwood

Here we see a bespoke U.S. Army cavalry officer, leaning on his French-style soldier’s cane, somewhere in Europe during the Great War. He is sporting the latest in chemical warfare fashion to include a British Small Box Respirator, M1917 “Brodie” helmet, and a gun belt with an M1911 pistol in a Model 1912 Mounted (Cavalry) holster with the tie cord wrapped around the bottom. He completes the ensemble with 1908 Pattern breeches (Jodhpurs) and officer’s riding boots while a Model 1918 Mackinaw coat keeps him as warm as German artillery fire.

He seems strangely relevant today.

Souvenir of the Big Advance at Cambrai

Turned over in a police firearms surrender, a trophy Luger from a historic Great War battle on the Western Front is now in a museum.

The pistol, a 1911-marked DWM, was collected by the Wiltshire Police during the UK’s National Firearms Surrender this summer. While the majority of firearms collected will be torched, the Luger was passed to the famed Tank Museum in Bovington for them to display.

“Firearms handed into the police during surrenders are sent for ballistic tests to ensure they haven’t been used in crime and are usually then destroyed,” said Wiltshire Police Armourer, Jamie Ross. However, an exception was made for the Luger, which was transferred in unmolested condition. “This live firearm is a part of history and I know that it is a welcome addition to the collection at the Tank Museum,” said Ross.

The intact DWM Parabellum was made in 1911 and, brought back as a war trophy the UK, is in a holster marked “Souvenir of the Big Advance at Cambrai November 1917.” (Photo: The Tank Museum)

More in my column at Guns.com

Warship Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019: The Red-Shirted Scourge of the Ottomans

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019: The Red-Shirted Scourge of the Ottomans

Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Here we see the Italian Royal Navy (Regia Marina) armored cruiser (incrociatore corazzato), Giuseppe Garibaldi around 1904. She had a curious, if brief career, and could be taken as a bridge between 19th and 20th Century naval warfare, as she tangled with both Civil War-era ironclads and deadly U-boats.

Garibaldi came from a large and interesting class of cruiser designed by Edoardo Masdea, with good speed for the 1900s (19 knots), decent armor (up to 6-inches in sections), and a hybrid armament of one 10-inch gun forward and two 8-inch guns aft, along with a varied mix of casemate guns of all types, a quartet of torpedo tubes, and a ram bow.

They were handsome ships, with orders quickly made within a decade from Argentina, Italy, Spain, and Japan (who picked up two from Argentina’s contract). As a twist of fate, the first delivered was to Argentina, who named their new cruiser, ARA Garibaldi, after the famous Italian red-shirt-wearing patriot. This has the twist that, at the same time in the 1900s, Rome and Buenos Aries both operated sisterships with the same name.

The class-leading Argentine ARA Garibaldi, Photographed by A. Noack of Genoa, probably at Naples or Genoa before her departure for Argentina. Note that the ship does not appear to be flying any flags at all. Description: Catalog #: NH 88672 Colourised by Diego Mar

Further, the first Italian-service Garibaldi was sold before entering the fleet to the Spanish, who were eager for new warships to unsuccessfully defend their overseas Empire from Uncle Sam in 1897, thus making our subject Garibaldi the third such ship of the same class to carry the name.

To help visualize the mess, here is the fortune-cookie-sized-overview of name, country, and chronological order year, with our feature ship *asterisked to keep her straight:

-ARA Garibaldi ordered from Argentina 1895
-ARA General Belgrano from Argentina 1895
-ARA Pueyrredón from Argentina 1895
-ARA San Martín from Argentina 1895
-Giuseppe Garibaldi for Regia Marina 1895, sold to Spain as Cristóbal Colón 1897 (sunk 1898)
-Pedro de Aragon, ordered for Spain 1897, canceled 1898
-*Giuseppe Garibaldi for Regia Marina 1898
-Varese for Regia Marina 1898
-Francesco Ferruccio for Regia Marina 1899
-ARA Bernardino Rivadavia from Argentina 1901, sold to Japan as Kasuga 1903
-ARA Mariano Moreno from Argentina 1901, sold to Japan as Nisshin 1903

Our vessel was constructed at Gio. Ansaldo & C., Genoa, and commissioned 1 January 1901 and, soon joined by her two twin sisters in Italian service, Varese and Ferruccio, were a common sight in the deep-water ports of the Mediterranean from Alexandria to Gibraltar and back, often serving as division flagships.

Garibaldi in her original scheme, by late 1901 she carried a more muted grey scheme

It was while carrying the flag of RADM (later Grand Admiral/Naval Minister) Thaon di Revel, that Garibaldi joined in the naval bombardment of Ottoman-held Tripoli just four days into the Italo-Turkish War in October 1911. She sent a company-sized landing force ashore, one of the first modern Italian marine ops, to disable the Turkish big guns at Fort Hamidiye. It was part of a much larger assault, one of the most unsung in amphibious warfare history, and would leave the Italians in control of Libya until 1943.

Italian Navy landing companies landing on the beach of Tripoli, in October 1911 under the guns of Garibaldi and the rest of the fleet. The naval battalions would be followed by a Bersaglieri regiment, and ultimately the Italians would put a corps-sized force of 30,000 ashore that month. Source Garyounis University, ” The Martyr Omar al-Mukhtar Festival: Catalogue of Exhibition”, Arabic-English version, Benghazi, 1979, P.23. via Wiki Commons

Still, under Revel, Garibaldi and her two sisters would go on to give the Turks grief off Tobruk, in Syria, and the Dardanelles, as well as in the Aegean and the Levant. The biggest tangle of these would be in Ottoman-held Beirut. On 24 February 1912, Garibaldi and Ferruccio sailed into the Lebanese harbor and engaged a Turkish torpedo boat Ankara and the old ironclad Avnillah.

Italian cruisers Ferruccio and Garibaldi, bombarding Gunboat Avnillah & Torpedo boat Angora/Ankara in Beirut Harbour, Feb. 24, 1912

Built in England in 1869, the 2,300-ton central battery gunboat had fought in the Russo-Turkish War some 35 years previously and, while her original black powder muzzleloaders had been replaced with modern German Krupp 5.9-inchers, she still retained her legacy engineering suite which meant that she had been virtually stationary in the harbor for more than a decade.

Avnillah, in better days.

In the end, it was no contest and Garibaldi started the engagement with her 10- and 8-inch guns at 6,000 yards then moved in to finish off the old ironclad with a brace of Whitehead torpedoes at close range. Avnillah, settled on the harbor floor, ablaze, losing half her crew.

Turkish ironclad Avnillah, sunk in Beirut in 1912

French destroyer Hache in Beirut with a sunken Turkish ironclad Avnullah (Avnillah) in the background

Ferruccio, meanwhile, accounted for Ankara. During the fracas, several civilian craft were also damaged while hundreds of the city’s residents were killed or injured. The Italians suffered no injuries and sailed away to leave the locals to pick up the pieces.

Avnillah’s hulk was still visible inside the harbor mole four years later when the Royal Navy raided Beirut during the Great War.

Beirut, Lebanon. A seaplane of the R.N.A.S. Port Said Squadron obtaining hits with two 60-pound bombs during World War I. The wreck in the harbor is the Turkish Ironclad AVN-I ILAH, sunk on February 24, 1912, by the Italian Cruisers GARIBALDI and VARESE. NH 42779

NH 42780

Speaking of WWI, Italy was officially an Austro-German ally on paper as part of the so-called Triple Alliance but entered the conflict tardy and on the other side, which gave both Vienna and Berlin a bit of heartburn. On 23 May 1915, nine months into the war, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary followed by declarations of war on the Turks that August, Bulgaria in October, and Germany in 1916.

Just three weeks into Italy’s war against the Austrians, on 17 July 1915 a group of warships under the command of RADM Trifari, whose flag flew from Garibaldi, sailed from Brindisi on a mission to interdict the railway line between Sarajevo and Herceg Novi by shelling the railroads at Dubrovnik.

While offshore of the Croatian coast near Molunat, the task force was discovered in the early morning of 18 July by the Germaniawerft-made U-3-class submarine SM U-4, commanded by Linienschiffleutnant Rudolf von Singule of the K.u.K. Kriegsmarine. Singule, who had previously managed to put a fish into the British RN cruiser HMS Dublin without sinking her, was luckier when he pumped a torpedo into Garibaldi and she sank reportedly in minutes, taking 53 of her crew with her.

Her sinking became memorialized in the maritime art of the era.

The Sinking of the Italian Cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi, Painting, Gouache on Paper; By Charles Malfroy; 1915; Unframed NHHC Accession #: 70-671-D

Austrian propaganda painting of her loss, via Wiki Commons

Garibaldi’s flag was saved, as were 90 percent of her crew, and has for generations been a treasured relic of the Italian navy. Today it is held on public display at the Sacrario delle Bandiere del Vittoriano in Rome.

Via Wiki Commons

Of Singule, the Austrian who slew the mighty Italian flagship, he chalked up 22,000 tons of shipping while in the K.u.K and was recalled to serve in the German Kriegsmarine in WWII in a training role. He was reportedly “killed attempting to protect a woman from drunken Soviet soldiers on a street in Brünn (Brno, Czech Republic) five days before the German surrender,” in 1945.

Today, Garibaldi is at 122m just off the coast of Croatia, making her an advanced but reachable dive.

As for her 10 sisters, the Spanish Pedro de Aragon was never built while Cristóbal Colón was sunk by the Americans in the Spanish-American War. The Americans likewise sunk the Japanese Kasuga in 1945, which had long been turned into a training hulk, while the IJN Nisshin was expended in the 1930s as a test target. Of the Italian sisters, both survived WWI and served as training ships for naval cadets until they were replaced by the purpose-built sail training ships Amerigo Vespucci and Cristoforo Colombo. The original four Argentine sisters endured in one form or another through the 1930s with ARA Pueyrredón even remaining in the fleet till 1954, at which point she was pushing 60.

ARA Pueyrredon in Dublin in 1951. At this point, this pre-SpanAm War era vet was pushing her into her sixth decade at sea.

The name “Garibaldi,” naturally, was reissued to the downright lucky WWII-era Duca degli Abruzzi-class light cruiser Garibaldi (551), and, since 1985, to the 14,000-ton harrier carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi (C-551), both of which also served as fleet flagships.

Italian Navy ITS Giuseppe Garibaldi (C-551) with nine AV-8B Harrier II and one Sea King in the flight deck carrier

Specs:


Displacement: 7,350 tons, full load 8,100 tons
Length: 366 ft
Beam: 59 ft
Draft: 24 ft.
Engine 2 triple vertical expansion steam engines, 24 Niclausse cylindrical boilers, 14,713 ihp (trials), 2 propellers
Speed: 19.7 knots
Range 5,500 miles at 10 knots on 1,200 tons of coal
Crew: 555
Armament:
1×1 254 mm/40 caliber
1×2 203 mm/45 caliber
14 152 mm/40 caliber
10 76 mm/40 caliber
6 Hotchkiss Mk I 47mm/50 caliber 3-pdrs
2 Maxim MG
4 17.7-inch torpedo tubes
Armor, hardened steel, Harvey system:
bridge from 38 to 50 mm.
belt from 50 to 150 mm.
50 mm batteries.
turrets from 100 to 150 mm.
tower from 50 to 150 mm

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, May 29, 2019: About that new Marker in Times Square

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, May 29, 2019: About that new Marker in Times Square

USS CALIFORNIA (armored cruiser 6) NH 66738

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 66738

Here we see the beautiful Pennsylvania-class heavy cruiser USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6, later CA-6) with a bone her mouth and three pipes belching smoke, sometime between 1907 and 1909. Sadly, although she was likely still on her original coat of lead-based paint in the above image, she was already largely obsolete and would only see 11 years’ service before she met with disaster.

The Pennsylvanias, a class of six armored cruisers named, like battleships, after states, were big 15,000-ton/504-foot long bruisers built immediately after the lessons learned in the summer of sharp fleet actions and naval blockades that made up the Spanish American War. Larger than many of pre-dreadnought battleships of their day (for comparison, the three-ship Illinois-class battlewagons laid down in 1897 were only 12,500-ton/375-ft. vessels) they had lighter armor (4 to 9 inches rather than up to 16 inches on Illinois) and a lighter armament (8-inch guns rather than 13-inchers) but were much faster, with the cruisers capable of 22-knots while the battleships lumbered along at 16 knots. Several European powers of the day– notably England, Germany, and Russia– were also building such very large armored cruisers with an eye to protecting far-flung overseas possessions that did not require a battleship in times of peace and aggressively raiding their enemies’ merchant fleets once war was declared.

The Pennsylvanias‘ main battery consisted of two pairs of 8″/40 cal (203mm) Mark 5 guns in fore and aft turrets, which in turn were more powerful than the older but still very effective 8″/35 Mark 3s such as those used with terrific success against the Spanish at Manila Bay. These were later upgraded to even better 8″/45 Mark 6s after 1907. They could fire a 260-pound shell over 98.5-pounds of propellant out to 22,500 yards.

Admiral William B. Caperton, USN Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (center) With members of his staff on board USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) at San Diego, California, circa 1916-17. The ship's after 8"/45 twin gun turret is behind them. Those present are (from left to right): Lieutenant (Junior Grade) H.M. Lammers, USN; Captain R.M. Cutts, USMC; Medical Inspector E.S. Bogert, USN; Admiral Caperton; Pay Inspector J. Fyffe, USN; Lieutenant A.T. Beauregard, USN; and Paymaster C.S. Baker, USN. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Adm. W.B. Caperton. NH 83793

Admiral William B. Caperton, USN Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (center) With members of his staff on board USS California/San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) at San Diego, California, circa 1916-17. The ship’s after 8″/45 twin gun turret is behind them. Those present are (from left to right): Lieutenant (Junior Grade) H.M. Lammers, USN; Captain R.M. Cutts, USMC; Medical Inspector E.S. Bogert, USN; Admiral Caperton; Pay Inspector J. Fyffe, USN; Lieutenant A.T. Beauregard, USN; and Paymaster C.S. Baker, USN. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Adm. W.B. Caperton. NH 83793

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Breech of one of her 8"/45 guns, taken circa 1916. Her magazine carried 125 shells for each of the four tubes. These latter guns proved capable enough for the Army to use surplus specimens in the 1920s for Coastal Defense purposes. Courtesy of Chief Watch Officer James B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82995

USS California/San Diego (CA-6) Breech of one of her 8″/45 guns, taken circa 1916. Her magazine carried 125 shells for each of the four tubes. These latter guns proved capable enough for the Army to use surplus examples in the 1920s for Coastal Defense purposes. Courtesy of Chief Watch Officer James B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82995

As a very impressive secondary, these ships carried 14 6 “/50 cal Mark 6 breechloaders in casemated broadside, seven on each side. Add to this were 30 torpedo-boat busting 3″/50s and 47mm 3-pounders.

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Crew exercising one of the ship's 6"/50cal broadside guns, circa 1916. Note: gunsight in use; items posted on the bulkhead in the upper right, including safety orders, pennant bearing the ship's name, and Modern Girl/Stingy Thing poster. Notably, these guns would be stripped from the cruiser in 1917 and used to arm merchant ships. Collection of Chief Warrant Officer J.B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82997

USS California/San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Crew exercising one of the ship’s 6″/50cal broadside guns, circa 1916. Note gunsight in use; items posted on the bulkhead in the upper right, including safety orders, pennant bearing the ship’s name, and Modern Girl/Stingy Thing poster. Notably, these guns would be stripped from the cruiser in 1917 and used to arm merchant ships. Collection of Chief Warrant Officer J.B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82997

Then of course, as with every cruiser, battleship, and destroyer of the time, they also had torpedoes. This amounted to a pair of submerged 18-inch tubes firing Bliss-Leavitt type torpedoes.

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View in the torpedo tube room, with a torpedo tube at right, and torpedo afterbodies at left, circa 1916. Courtesy of Chief Watch Officer James B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82999

USS California/San Diego (CA-6) View in the torpedo tube room, with a torpedo tube at right, and torpedo afterbodies at left, circa 1916. Courtesy of Chief Watch Officer James B. Dofflemeyer, 1972. NH 82999

Constructed alongside her sister ship USS South Dakota at San Francisco’s Union Iron Works– their four classmates were built on the East Coast– USS California was only the second such ship with that name in the Navy, the first being a post-Civil War wooden steam frigates that proved to be made of improperly treated wood and, condemned, had to be scrapped after just five years of service.

Ordered in 1899, our more modern steel-hulled California commissioned 1 August 1907 at San Francisco’s Mare Island Navy Yard. Ironically, the exhibition of naval battles that made up the bulk of the Russo-Japanese War and the commissioning of HMS Dreadnought, during California‘s gestation period, largely showed that armored cruisers lacked a lot of value in modern warfare with a near-peer adversary. In short, Dreadnought-style battleships were fast enough to catch them and pummel them flat while new cruiser and destroyer designs of 1907 were also fast enough to elude them.

Still, upon commission, California promptly joined the Pacific Fleet where she spent her early life in a series of extended shakedowns and coastal cruises to seaside ports along the West coast “for exhibition purposes.”

USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Photographed circa 1908. NH 55011

USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Photographed circa 1908. NH 55011

The year 1909 saw what we would consider a West Pac cruise today, with stops in the Philippine Islands and China, and Christmas spent in Yokohama, Japan. The same year, the Navy ditched their gleaming white and buff scheme in favor of haze gray, which saw California‘s profile change drastically. Likewise, she landed most of her small 47mm guns, as the age of torpedo boat defense with such popguns had largely come and gone.

USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Underway in San Pablo Bay, California, 1909. Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN(MC). NH 55009

USS California (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Underway in San Pablo Bay, California, 1909. Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenholt, USN(MC). NH 55009

The next few years were spent in standardization cruises, target practice, maneuvers and the like, spread out from San Diego to Hawaii and Alaska, interrupted by another West Pac jaunt in 1912 and a bit of gunboat diplomacy off the Pacific coast of Nicaragua where she landed the First Provisional Regiment of Marines – 29 officers, 4 naval officers and 744 enlisted men under the command of Col. Joseph H. Pendleton, augmented by her own naval landing force.

San Diego in San Diego harbor, California, circa about 1910 to 1914. Arcade View Company stereo card. Courtesy of Captain Don Fink, 1983. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 94938

California in San Diego harbor, California, circa about 1910 to 1914. Arcade View Company stereo card. Note she has ditched her front pole mast for a lattice mast. Courtesy of Captain Don Fink, 1983. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 94938

California was re-named USS San Diego on 1 September 1914 to clear her original name for assignment to Dreadnought-style Battleship No. 44, a similar fate which befell all her five sisters.

As such, she lost her presentation silver service, which had been presented by the state when she was christened. This service went on to live on BB-44 and, removed in 1940 and stored ashore, are part of the U.S. Navy Museum’s Steel Navy exhibit today:

Back to our ship:

Notably, the rechristening of California to San Diego was the first use of the name “San Diego” for a naval vessel. She then became the flagship of the Pacific Fleet and participated in the opening of the Panama-California Exposition on 1 January 1915.

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Caption: Engraving issued for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, 1915. Courtesy of the US Army Military History Institute Catalog #: NH 91732

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Caption: Engraving issued for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, 1915. Courtesy of the US Army Military History Institute Catalog #: NH 91732

Admiral Thomas B. Howard (USNA 1873), Commander, Pacific Fleet, in his cabin aboard USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6), circa 1915. At the time he was only the fifth full admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy-- after Farragut, Porter, Dewey and Frank F. Fletcher. More than 220 have followed, somewhat diluting the brand. Courtesy of D.M. McPherson, 1976 NH 84403

Admiral Thomas B. Howard (USNA 1873), Commander, Pacific Fleet, in his cabin aboard USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6), circa 1915. At the time he was only the fifth full admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy– after Farragut, Porter, Dewey and Frank F. Fletcher. More than 220 have followed, somewhat diluting the brand. Courtesy of D.M. McPherson, 1976 NH 84403

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Off Guaymas, Mexico, 26 December 1915. Starting in 1913 and continuing through 1915, California was a common sight in Mexico's Pacific waters where was “observing conditions” brought about by the Mexican revolution and civil war. Photographed by Hopkins. Note Christmas tree mounted on her forecastle. Collection of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. NH 92174

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Off Guaymas, Mexico, 26 December 1915. Starting in 1913 and continuing through 1915, California was a common sight in Mexico’s Pacific waters where was “observing conditions” brought about by the Mexican revolution and civil war. Photographed by Hopkins. Note Christmas tree mounted on her forecastle. Collection of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. NH 92174

A deadly 1915 boiler room fire sent San Diego to Mare Island for extensive repairs and refit followed by a period in reserve in San Diego during which most of her crew was reassigned. During this time, she was able to squeeze in a rescue of 48 passengers from the sinking SS Fort Bragg.

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Photographed from an airplane in San Diego harbor, California, 28 March 1916. Collection of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. NH 92175

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Photographed from an airplane in San Diego harbor, California, 28 March 1916. Note her extensive awnings. Collection of Thomas P. Naughton, 1973. NH 92175

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Display illumination circa 1916. Courtesy of Chief Warrant Officer J.B. Dofflemeyer, 1972 NH 83106

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) Display illumination circa 1916. Courtesy of Chief Warrant Officer J.B. Dofflemeyer, 1972 NH 83106

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) As seen by Rear Admiral Francis Taylor, USN, from the living room window at 127 Riverside Drive, San Diego, in 1916. Description: Courtesy of Mrs. Francis Taylor. NH 70288

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) As seen by Rear Admiral Francis Taylor, USN, from the living room window at 127 Riverside Drive, San Diego, in 1916. Description: Courtesy of Mrs. Francis Taylor. NH 70288

When the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, San Diego‘s skeleton crew was fleshed out with a mix of some 400 new recruits straight from NTS San Francisco and Great Lakes as well as more experienced salts from California’s Naval Militia. After workups and training, she stood out on 18 July 1918 for the Atlantic and the Great War.

Arriving in New York in August, by 23 September she was the flagship of St. Nazaire, France-bound Troop Convoy Group Eight then in November did the same for Troop Convoy Group Eleven. February 1918 saw her as part of Britain-bound Convoy HK-26, followed by HX-32 and HX-37 by May, all of which made it across the pond successfully.

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View taken during the winter of 1917-18, while on patrol in the North Atlantic during World War I. During this period San Diego landed most of her casemated 6-inch guns as they tended to ship water in heavy seas. NH 83727

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View taken during the winter of 1917-18, while on patrol in the North Atlantic during World War I. During this period San Diego landed most of her casemated 6-inch guns as they tended to ship water in heavy seas. NH 83727

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View taken in the winter of 1917-18, looking forward from the bridge while on patrol in the North Atlantic during World War I. Note snow on the deck. NH 83728

USS SAN DIEGO (CA-6) View taken in the winter of 1917-18, looking forward from the bridge while on patrol in the North Atlantic during World War I. Note snow on the deck. NH 83728

Then, tragedy struck the mighty cruiser. While zigzagging off Fire Island, New York, she came across a mine sowed by the large German Deutschland-class “U‑Kreuzer” submarine SM U-156, the latter skippered by Kapitänleutnant Richard Feldt.

From DANFS:

At about 11:05 a.m. on 19 July 1918, San Diego hit a mine, the explosion sounding like “a dull heavy thud,” lifting the stern slightly and shaking the ship “moderately fore and aft.” The warship assumed an immediate six to eight-degree list, and she lost headway. The mine had exploded on the port side about frame 78, well below the waterline, rupturing the skin of the ship and deforming the bulkhead at that location, opening watertight door no.142 between the port engine room and no. 8 fireroom. Flooding occurred in the port engine room, adjacent compartments, as well as no. 8 fireroom, and San Diego then took on a 17½ degree list, water entering through an open gun port for 6-inch gun no.10.

At the outset, “the behavior of the ship did not convince me she was in much danger of sinking,” Capt. Harley H. Christy later wrote, but he soon received the report from the engineer officer that the ship had lost power in both engines. Loss of motive power “precluded any maneuvering to combat a submarine.” The list increased. “When I was convinced that there was no hope of her holding and that she would capsize,” Christy gave the order to abandon ship, the gun crews remaining at their stations “until they could no longer fire,” and the depth charges being “secured so that they would be innocuous.” San Diego’s sailors launched life rafts, whaleboats, dinghies and punts by hand, as well as mess tables, benches, hammocks and lumber – “ample material to support the crew” – “an evolution…performed in an orderly manner without confusion,” while the broadside gun crews fired about 30 to 40 rounds “at possible periscopes.”

With San Diego nearly on her beam ends, Capt. Christy, along with his executive officer, Cmdr. Gerard Bradford were the last to leave the ship. Bradford went down the port side, the commanding officer went over the starboard side by a rope, swinging down to the bilge keel then the docking keel before going overboard. Christy then watched his ship turn turtle, “in a symmetrical position with the keel inclined about ten degrees to the horizontal, the forward end elevated” before gradually sinking.

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Painting by Francis Muller, 1920. It depicts the ship sinking off Fire Island, New York, 19 July 1918. The cruiser sank in 28 minutes, the only major warship lost by the United States in World War I. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. NH 55012-KN

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6) Painting by Francis Muller, 1920. It depicts the ship sinking off Fire Island, New York, 19 July 1918. The cruiser sank in 28 minutes, the only major warship lost by the United States in World War I. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. NH 55012-KN

While almost all her 1,183 crew successfully made it off, six, largely from below deck engineering divisions, were claimed by Neptune and never recovered:

Fireman First Class, Clyde C. Blaine of Lomita, CA
Engineman 2nd Class, Thomas E. Davis of South Mansfield, LA
Seaman 2nd Class, Paul J. Harris, Cincinnati, OH
Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, Andrew Munson, St. Paul, MN
Engineman 2nd Class, James F. Rochet of Blue Lake, CA
Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class, Frazier O. Thomas of Charleston, WV

Excerpt from the map "Summary of Enemy Mining Activities on the U.S. Atlantic Coast" showing locations of mines found off the coast of Long Island, New York through 17 February 1919. U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office Map, now housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 37.

Excerpt from the map “Summary of Enemy Mining Activities on the U.S. Atlantic Coast” showing locations of mines found off the coast of Long Island, New York through 17 February 1919. U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office Map, now housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 37.

As for U-156, just two months after San Diego met her end at the hands of one of the submarine’s mines, the German raider was fittingly sunk in the Allied-laid Northern Barrage minefield on 25 September 1918, lost with all hands. She earned a bit of infamy for her attack on the small New England town of Orleans, Massachusetts, and several nearby merchant vessels.

Of San Diego‘s five sisters, all were sold for scrap in 1930–1931 in compliance with the limits of the London Naval Treaty. Speaking of scrap, in 1957 the Navy sold the rights to San Diego‘s wreck to a New York-based salvage company but six years later, after little work was done other than to loot small relics from her interior, the Navy canceled the award and reclaimed rights to the ship.

Located in shallow water, with the expanded use of SCUBA systems San Diego became a target for both skin divers and weekend unlicensed salvage operations. In 1965, her port propeller was removed without approval and subsequently lost. In 1973, her starboard prop was found to be detached.

As noted by the Navy, “Due to a combination of recreational divers going to extremes to secure artifacts (at least six people have died diving on the site) and professional rivalries between dive boat operators, the Navy was prompted to revisit the site and pursue further action to protect San Diego and other Navy wrecks being exploited.”

In 1992, the Coast Guard implemented an exclusion zone around the wreck due to reports of live ordnance being salvaged from the site, making it effectively off-limits. In 1995, the Navy performed the first of several extensive surveys of the wreck and three years later the San Diego was added to the National Register of Historic Places. A 2004 law protected her from desecration as a war grave. In 2017, the USS San Diego Project was kicked off to extensively survey and protect the wreck.

Side scan sonar image of the wreck site of USS San Diego collected by Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 in June 2017 as part of a training operation. The ship rests upside down on the seabed, and the starboard side is shown, with the bow to the right of the image.

Side scan sonar image of the wreck site of USS San Diego collected by Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 in June 2017 as part of a training operation. The ship rests upside down on the seabed, and the starboard side is shown, with the bow to the right of the image.

There are currently some 229 artifacts within the San Diego Collection under the management of NHHC ranging from ceramics, electrical light fixtures and pieces of the ship’s silver service to an M1892 brass bugle, USN-marked brass padlocks, Mameluke sword and even wooden pistol grips for a Colt 1911. Almost all were recovered illegally by recreational– and in some cases commercial divers– going as far back as the 1950s and later surrendered to the Navy. Many are on display at the USS San Diego Exhibit in the National Museum of the US Navy, which opened last year.

Caption: 181108-N-GK939-0049 WASHINGTON (NNS) (Nov. 8, 2018) Guests look at artifacts in the USS San Diego exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy. Bugles were used aboard U.S. Navy ships to issue commands intended for the entire ship’s company. The bugle recovered from the wreck may have been used to call San Diego’s crew to General Quarters and then to abandon ship in the last thirty minutes of the cruiser’s life. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lindsay A. Preston/Released)

Caption: 181108-N-GK939-0049 WASHINGTON (NNS) (Nov. 8, 2018) Guests look at artifacts in the USS San Diego exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy. Bugles were used aboard U.S. Navy ships to issue commands intended for the entire ship’s company. The bugle recovered from the wreck may have been used to call San Diego’s crew to General Quarters and then to abandon ship in the last thirty minutes of the cruiser’s life. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Lindsay A. Preston/Released)

In 2018, it was confirmed that the cruiser was sunk by a mine laid by U-156, putting persistent theories that she had been lost due to a coal bunker explosion or sabotage to rest. The event coincided with the 100th anniversary of San Diego’s sinking.

Retired Rear Admiral Samuel Cox, Director, Naval History and Heritage Command, speaks to Sailors aboard the USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) during a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the USS San Diego (ACR 6).

Retired Rear Admiral Samuel Cox, Director, Naval History and Heritage Command, speaks to Sailors aboard the USNS Grasp (T-ARS-51) during a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the USS San Diego (ACR 6).

Finally, over the recent Memorial Day Weekend, U.S. Navy officials in conjunction with the city of New York and the United War Veterans Council, unveiled the USS San Diego plaque in Times Square in front of Father Duffy’s statue. The plaque features the names of the 6 sailors lost on that fateful day along with a profile of the ship, the largest U.S. Naval vessel lost in the Great War.

Photo: UWVC

Photo: UWVC

Specs:

Jane's 1914 entry on Pennsylvania class armored cruisers, California included

Jane’s 1914 entry on Pennsylvania class armored cruisers, California included

Displacement:
13,680 long tons (13,900 t) (standard)
15,138 long tons (15,381 t) (full load)
Length:
503 ft 11 in oa
502 ft pp
Beam: 69 ft 6 in
Draft: 24 ft 1 in (mean) 26 ft. 6 in (max)
Installed power:
16 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
23,000 ihp (17,000 kW)
2075 tons of coal
Propulsion:
2 × vertical triple expansion reciprocating engines
2 × screws
Speed:
22 kn, range 5000(10)
Complement: 80 officers, 745, enlisted, 64 Marines as designed (1,200 in 1918)
Armor: All Krupp and Harvey steel
Belt: 6 in (152 mm) (top & waterline)
5 in (127 mm) (bottom)
Deck: 1 1⁄2 in (38 mm) – 6 in (amidships)
4 in (102 mm) (forward & aft)
Barbettes: 6 in
Turrets: 6 – 6 1⁄2 in (165 mm)
Conning Tower: 9 in (229 mm)
Armament:
(as built)
4 × 8 in (203 mm)/40 caliber Mark 5 breech-loading rifles (BL)(2×2)
14 × 6 in (152 mm)/50 cal Mark 6 BL rifles
18 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 cal rapid-fire guns
12 × 3-pounder (47 mm (1.9 in)) Driggs-Schroeder guns
2 × 1-pounder (37 mm (1.5 in)) Driggs-Schroeder saluting guns
2 × 18 inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes (submerged)
(1918)
4 × 8 in/45 cal Mark 6 BL rifles (2×2)
18 × 3 in/50 cal rapid-fire guns
2 x 1 76/52 Mk X AAA

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Still coming home

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission earlier this month held a ceremony at Messines Ridge British Cemetery for two unknown soldiers whose remains were recently recovered near the town of Wijtschate, south of Ieper, in the Belgian province of West Flanders.

Despite the best attempts by the Commission, the two lads were only identified as a member of the Royal Irish Rifles (Now part of the Royal Irish Regiment) and an unknown soldier of an unknown regiment, both of which will bear a headstone marked “Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.”

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