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Warship Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020: Of Stars and Moonstone

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, Sept. 23, 2020: Of Stars and Moonstone

Here we see the Archimede-class diesel-electric submarine, Galileo Galilei (SS90) of the Regia Marina, at Aden in 1940, after the Italian boat mixed it up with a plucky British trawler. A heroically fought warship (note the shell hole in her busted sail), she went on to work to have a curious third (yes, third) life.

The Italian Navy sometimes gets a lot of rocks thrown at it for the fleet’s overall performance in the two world wars but make no mistake, the force was competent when it came to undersea warfare. Italy had a robust domestic sub-building capability and throughout the first few decades of the 20th Century supplied boats to customers not only in Europe but in the Americas as well. Then, of course, they also fielded working midget subs and frogman-driven human torpedoes, which were used with great skill.

The four boats of the class– Archimede, Galileo Ferraris, Galileo Galilei, and Evangelista Torricelli— were all built by Franco Tosi at Taranto in the early 1930s and named for famous men of science who, more often than not, were accomplished in the field of astronomy.

Launch of RIN Galileo Galilei in Taranto 19 March 1934 via http://www.naviearmatori.net/

Updated versions of the previous Settembrini-class, the Archimedes went some 1,200-tons when submerged. They were classic Mediterranean boats, just 231-feet in length. Speedy, they could make 17-knots on the surface and they had long legs, capable of a 10,000 nm range. Armament was a pair of 3.9-inch deck guns and eight torpedo tubes, four each in the bow and stern of the boat.

A row of Italian submarines at Naples, Italy, just before the 5 May 1938 naval review. The first several vessels are large submarines, possibly of the Archimede class, in which case they would include FERRARIS (1934-1941) and GALILEI (1934-1946). NH 86240

The focus of our tale, Galileo Galilei, commissioned 16 October 1934. However, her time in peacetime service was limited as she was soon to fly a black flag of sorts.

Franco’s jackals

After being used in 1936 in a form of “underwater piracy” fighting a semi-secret war against socialist Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War as Sottomarini Legionari (Submariners Legion) allies to the fascist Nationalists, the Italian Navy officially sold two of their submarines directly to Franco’s government in 1937 and loaned four others. This was mainly because the Republican Almirante Cervera-class light cruiser Miguel de Cervantes caught two torpedoes from sistership Torricelli that November while anchored off the port of Cartagena but survived, and, when she was repaired, was found to have fragments in her hull from said fish with Italian markings.

Italian submarines. Archimede Class. NH 111495

Under the nominal “command” of a Spanish flag officer, the quartet of loaned boats still had their Italian crews, though they flew the colors and wore the uniforms of their adopted new country. The boats sold included class leader Archimede, who sailed as the submarino General Mola; and Torricelli, who sailed as General Sanjurjo. Those loaned included Galileo Galilei, who sailed as the uninspired General Mola II; sister Galileo Ferraris, who sailed as the equally uninspired General Sanjurjo II; along with the Perla-class subs Onice and Iride who sailed as (Aguilar Tablada and Gonzalez Lopez, respectively, with pennant numbers L1 through L6.

Fighting for Franco was lackluster, and the Italian-manned boats bagged several small steamers but failed to repeat the success seen against Miguel de Cervantes–although Iride did fire a torpedo at the British H-class destroyer HMS Havock, who she mistook for a Republican tin can and received a 9-hour depth charge attack for her misidentification.

With that, the four returned to Italy in February 1938, their Spanish Navy service over. Archimede/General Mola and Torricelli/General Sanjurjo would remain behind, the property of Franco’s government, which very much wanted to keep them as those two units had accounted for a variety of fairly important merchantmen during the Civil War.

Back in the spaghetti

With half their class still under a Spanish flag, the two Galileos (Galileo Ferraris and Galileo Galilei) resumed their Italian service including their old names and pennants on Rome’s naval list. When the Axis country entered the war against France and Great Britain on 10 June 1940, some 10 months after the conflict kicked off, Galileo Galilei was part of Italy’s doomed Red Sea Flotilla. Based along the coast of Italian Somaliland and Eritrea, it consisted of a handful of destroyers, subs, and torpedo boats, and were no match for a British squadron, but they could close off the Suez Canal to merchant traffic.

Just hours after receiving word that a state of war existed between Italy and the Allies, Galileo Galilei, part of the LXXXI Squadriglia Sommergibili out of Massawa, undertook her inaugural WWII patrol under the command of Capitano di Corvetta Corrado Nardi and promptly came across the Norwegian-flagged James Stove (8,215 tons) under British charter to the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company, off Djibouti, sending the enemy tanker to the bottom with three torpedoes on the 16th. Nardi had stopped the vessel on the surface and allowed her crew to board lifeboats before letting his fish fly, the very application of the cruiser rules. A British report on the incident had the Norwegian skipper relay that Nardi “spoke courteously and behaved in the Chief Officer’s words as a ‘Perfect Gentleman’.”

While Galileo Galilei made her escape, some 34 mariners from the James Stove were picked up about an hour later by the 600-ton armed trawler HMT Moonstone (T 90) and landed in the British colonial Aden that same day.

HMT Moonstone underway. Formerly the 151-foot Hull-based cod trawler Lady Madeleine, she could only make 11-knots, but she carried a 4-inch gun, ASDIC listening gear, and depth charges, making her deadly enough. Further, her crew of regulars had been in steady service since August 1939, with Boatswain W.J.H. Moorman, RN, in command. AWM FL 16385.

Two days later, the Italian sub stopped the (then neutral) Yugoslav freighter Drava and, finding no reason to send her to the bottom, let her go about her way. However, Drava reported her interaction with the green-painted Italian sea serpent, and later that night the destroyer HMS Kandahar (F28), along with No. 203 Squadron RAF Blenheims out of Aden, were soon bird-dogging Galilei.

Moonstone soon joined in on the morning of the 19th.

As detailed by Paul Lund in his 1971 work, Harry Tate’s Navy: Trawlers Go to War:

[J]ust before noon, Moonstone’s ASDIC operator reported a strong submarine echo and the trawler immediately steamed to the attack, dropping depth‑charges; but again, the enemy escaped. Then, barely an hour later, the trawler regained contact and dropped more depth‑charges. The explosions had scarcely subsided before the submarine, a big ocean‑going boat, suddenly heaved itself to the surface a mile astern, streaming the Italian flag from a pole above its conning tower.

Moonstone wheeled hard round and steamed full‑ahead with all guns fixing, some of the crew even joining in with rifles as the distance between the two vessels narrowed. Though the submarine, which was fully three times the size of Moonstone, quickly returned fire, the hail of lead and shell from the trawler prevented the Italians from getting to their big gun, and finally, Moonstone’s four‑inch crashed a shell into the conning tower, killing all inside it. Some of the Italians began to wave white clothes in surrender, while others scrambled into the wrecked tower to haul down the flag.

There were far too many Italians for the trawler’s small crew to handle, so after warning the enemy commander not to scuttle or she would reopen fire, Moonstone stood off while Kandahar raced in to take the prisoners aboard and fix a tow to the big submarine, the Galileo Gafflei [sic]…

Kandahar then towed Moonstone’s prize to Aden, where it was warmly received as it was the RN’s first enemy submarine captured in the War.

The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Kandahar (F28) preparing to take the Italian submarine, Galileo Galilei, in tow after it was captured in the Gulf of Aden by the trawler HMT MOONSTONE. The submarine’s periscope was spotted, and an attack was made with depth charges which forced it to the surface. The submarine was then captured. IWM A109

Boatswain (later LCDR) Moorman and his XO, Midshipman M.J. Hunter, would receive the DSC for his battle with the Italian sub while PO Frederick Quested, in charge of the 4-inch gun crew that cracked her sail, received the DSM. As for Moonstone, she would survive the war– including operations in the evacuation from Crete– and eventually return to the fishing fleet, ending her days in the 1960s as the trawler Red Lancer.

Nardi and 15 of his crew lay dead after the battle. Their war had lasted nine days. They would not be alone.

During WWII, some 116 Italian submarines sailed against the Allies or supported those that did, chalking up 130 ships sunk for a total of some 700,000 tons of shipping. In exchange, they lost 96 of their submersibles, many with all hands, their hulls cracked on the seafloor. Some 3,000 submariners of the Regina Marina are still on eternal patrol.

Via the 1943 ONI Guide, confusing Torricelli with the Brin-class submarine that recycled the name 

Under the White Duster

Galileo Galilei‘s sole Red Sea patrol had logged just 160 miles on the surface and 35 submerged. However, even with her damaged sail and in reportedly poor material condition (the Italians don’t seem to have overhauled the boat after her Spanish service, as the Norwegian master of the James Stove had reported very foul exhaust and “a cloud of black smoke hung about her all the time she was visible”), the British nonetheless put their prize to as good a use as possible.

As detailed by Stephen Roskill in his The Secret Capture: U-110 and the Enigma Story:

The prize was a very valuable one and from her we obtained intelligence regarding the disposition of other Italian submarines in the Red Sea and Indian ocean. As a result, we caught and sank the [Brin-class submarine] Torricelli on 23rd June and [her sister] the Galvani, which was patrolling the Persian Gulf to catch our tanker traffic, on the following day…

…In December 1940, Galilei was brought up the Red Sea by a British crew and passed through the Suez Canal to Alexandria, where her hull and equipment were thoroughly inspected.

Used for two years as a floating battery charger for HMs submarines at Port Said, the Italian boat was eventually repaired enough to put to sea by June 1942. Christened HMS X.2, then HMS P. 711, she was equipped with British Type 286W radar and Type 129 sonar, then used for training out of Alexandria for the rest of the war.

She was broken up in 1946 without ceremony. Her ship’s motto was “Pur cieco vedo” (While blind I see)

Epilogue

As for Galileo Galilei‘s sisters, Galileo Ferraris was sunk 25 October 1941 off Gibraltar an RAF Catalina with the destroyer HMS Lamerton for the lay-up. Meanwhile, the two units sold to Spain in 1937, Archimede/General Mola and Torricelli/General Sanjurjo, would endure until 1959, far outliving the Regia Marina.

They were still carried in the NATO submarine spotting guide long after WWII.

Specs:

From “The Italian submarines between the two world wars” by Alessandro Turrini – MariStat / UDAP – 1990, for gc Sergio Mariotti

Displacement: 986 t (surfaced) 1,259 t (submerged)
Length: 231 ft 4 in
Beam: 22 ft 6 in
Draft: 13 ft 6 in
Installed power:
3,000 bhp (2,200 kW) (diesels)
1,100 hp (820 kW) (electric motors)
Propulsion:
2 Tosi diesel engines with a total of 3,000 HP
2 Ansaldo electric motors with a total of 1400 HP. 124-cell battery
Speed: 17 knots (surfaced) 7.7 knots (submerged)
Range:
10,300 nmi at 8 knots (surfaced) on 100 tons diesel oil
105 nmi at 3 knots (submerged)
Test depth: 300 ft
Crew: 6 officers, 49 non-commissioned officers and sailors
Armament:
2 × single 100mm/43cal Mod. 1927 deck guns
2 × single Breda Mod. 31 13.2 mm MGs
8 × 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes (4 bow, 4 stern) 16 torpedoes

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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, Sept. 16, 2020: Haida Maru

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, Sept. 16, 2020: Haida Maru

Cordova Historical Society.

Here we see the Tampa-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter/Gun Boat Haida (WPG-45) at the dock in Cordova, Alaska Territory likely in the 1930s. Only 240-feet long, Haida had a long and interesting career that, while it only ran along the West Coast north and south from Oakland to Nome, spanned 26 very busy years.

The four Tampas were designed as the USCG’s first true “multi-mission” cutters, vessels that would be able to perform constabulary work in far-flung U.S. territorial waters, run the newly established post-Titanic International Ice Patrol, serve as gunboats for the Navy in time of war, and perform the service’s traditional SAR, derelict destruction, and at-sea towing roles. For their use in time of conflict, each carried a pair of 5″/51-caliber guns with a provision for a third as well as a 3’/50– big medicine for vessels that before the Great War typically ran 6-pounders. Running a novel turbo-electric drive, they could make (up to) 16.2 knots. Some 240-feet long with a plumb bow and counter stern, they weighed 1,506-tons on builder’s trails.

Guns on USCGC Tampa, note the big 3-incher. The class also carried two 5-inch guns 

Rush-ordered to take on the fleet of Rum Runners coming down from Canada and up from Mexico during Prohibition, all four of the class– Tampa, Mojave, Modoc, and Haida— were built side-by-side on the West Coast by Oakland’s Union Construction Company. The first keel was laid on 27 September 1920 and the last of the four was commissioned 14 January 1922– the entire class delivered in just under 16 months for $775,000 per hull with the armament provided by the USN from stores at Mare Island Navy Yard.

These “proof of concept” ships in turn led to a larger class of 10 multi-mission 250-foot Lake-class cutters ordered in 1927 at $900,000 a pop, and finally, seven fast 327-foot $2.4-million Secretary-class cutters ordered starting in 1935.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian,

Haida was first stationed at Seattle, Washington, and began a peacetime career on the annual Bering Sea Patrols. She first sailed to Unalaska, the headquarters for the Patrol, and then sailed on her assigned tasks, which included acting as a floating court for the inhabitants of the isolated areas she sailed, caring for the sick, conducting search and rescue activities, checking on aids to navigation, regulating fisheries, and other duties.”

U.S. Judge Simon Hellenthal on U.S. Cutter Haida, outbound from Dutch Harbor in 1940 – conducting floating court. Via Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center AMRC-B1990-014-5-Pol-20-51

Aerial view of Seward, Alaska, taken from Bear Mountain. The Coast Guard Cutter Haida is tied up at the dock. 1923-1930. Original size of photograph: 5 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ Seward Community Library SCLA-1-1504

Haida in Unalaska. For her prewar career, she carried USCG-standard scheme including a gleaming white hull and superstructure, buff stack, mast and vents; and black caps with wooden decks. Via NOAA Collection from Van Woert album

A hand-embossed photo of Haida, likely in the 1930s. USCG Historians Collection.

For much of the year, especially before 1939, the random Seattle-based cutters were the only “military” force in Alaska, and on occasion, her skipper was dual-hatted as the United States Commissioner for the Territory. 

Which meant parades. Here, an armed a contingent from HAIDA march in the 4th of July parade in downtown Juneau c.1936.

The Haida’s warrant officers photographed on her quarterdeck. The photo is dated 04 August 1926. Note their distinctive Treasury Service swords. Provided courtesy of Ray Sanford in the Coast Guard Historians Collection

Grandaddy of NorPac SAR

It was on this hardy tasking in the frozen north that Haida shined when it came to pulling souls from the peril of the sea. In 1928, she along with the old (1911) 190-foot cutter Ungala and lighthouse tender Cedar, went to the assistance of the grounded Alaska Packers’ windjammer Star of Falkland on remote Akun Island. 

“Star of Falkland Rescue by Tom Hall” The Coast Guard cutter Haida and the lighthouse tender Cedar prepare to rescue the passengers and crew from the sailing vessel Star of Falkland near Unimak Pass, Alaska on May 23, 1928. The Star of Falkland, a commercial fishing ship, was returning for the fishing season from its winter port in San Francisco when it ran into high winds and fog and struck stern first on rocks at Akun Head near Unimak Pass. The 280 Chinese cannery workers and 40 crewmen spent a night of terror while the ship pounded on the rocks – eight passengers committed suicide. The next morning, the U. S. Lighthouse Service buoy tender Cedar and the Coast Guard cutter Haida arrived on the scene and managed to take all the passengers off Star of Falkland without loss of life. This rescue is one of the most successful in Coast Guard history, and one of the few instances where the United States Coast Guard and one of its future integrated agencies worked together to perform a major rescue. (USCG Art Collection)

Haida also rescued the crew of the steamship Victoria grounded off Pointer Island, British Columbia on 30 December 1934, the survivors of the Patterson, which went aground and was smashed “to pieces” near Lituya Bay in 1938

Patterson aground at Cape Fairweather, Alaska, 1938. Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society

And others…

Her crew even trialed some of the first “Gumby” style exposure suits.

A state-of-the-art military issue survival suit issued onboard cutters on Arctic duty. Shown is a member of Coast Guard Cutter Haida wearing one of the survival suits. U.S. Coast Guard Collection.

Taking a break from saving lives, investigating volcanos, warning the Graf Zeppelin of weather from 1,800 miles away, conducting rowboat crew races in Ketchikan, and otherwise policing Alaska, Haida supported a polar leg of the U.S. Army’s daring Around The World Flight and exercised with the fleet, showing just how “joint” the USCG could be.

Two of the Army’s World Cruisers on the water at Atka, Alaska, on 5 May 1924 with Coast Guard Cutter Haida in the background. The Aleuts of Atka, being unfamiliar with flying apparatus, applied the term “thunder-bird” from their mythology to the Cruisers. National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution Photo Number: NASM USAF-11533AC

One period newspaper article covered her annual cruises thus:

Haida Back After Long Stay At Sea: Weathers Four Storms And Has Busy Night In Dutch Harbor Gale”

After nearly two months’ absence from Juneau during which she cruised into the shadow of the Arctic Circle and back again for 6,200 miles on the log, the Coast Guard cutter Haida is back at her moorings at the Government Wharl. She sailed from Juneau to Attu, the outermost island in the Aleutian chain. Other points on Haida’s voyage were Seward, Kodiak, Chignik, Unalaska. Chemofski. Atka, Nome, Sabonga, and King island.”

The Haida, during Bering Sea Patrol. took medical aid to many, gave help to two storm-tossed vessels, saved two men from drowning. worked on a third who did not revive, and weathered four severe storms heightened by winds at 80 mph or better. One of the gales blew so hard that the plates of the ship were battered and damaged.”

On Armistice Day in Dutch Harbor, the old Alaska Line vessel Northwestern, now a temporary floating barracks and powerhouse at the navy base, nearly broke away from her moorings as an 80-mph wind lashed the harbor. The Haida crew made the Northwestern safely fast to the dock with a 12-inch hawser. and also secured the Wildlife Service vessel Penguin. On the same night, the cook from the Penguin fell overboard from the Northwestern’s plunging gangplank. A Haida resuscitation crew worked for three hours but were unable to revive him.

At Nome, two of the Alaska Line freighter Sutherland’s crew were pulled from the icy waters of the Bering Sea when they fell overboard, Haida crew making the rescue. At Chignik, ship’s doctor Dr. L.W. Brown saved three of four cases of septic throat, stemming an epidemic, and assisted a woman in childbirth.

Then came war

Before Pearl Harbor the entry of the U.S. into WWII, the Coast Guard had been assigned to the Neutrality Patrols in the Atlantic (5 Sept 1939), ordered to stand up the Greenland/Iceland adjacent Atlantic Weather Observation Service (Jan 1940), lost 10 of its fairly new Lake-class cutters to the Royal Navy as part of Lend-Lease Program (April 1941), stood up the Greenland Patrol against German weather stations in the Arctic (July 1941) and was officially transferred to the Navy by executive order (1 November 1941).

This saw the 240-foot cutters converted for war with depth charges, additional guns, sonar, and radar. Modoc, Mojave, and Tampa— who had been stationed on the East Coast before the war– were assigned to the Greenland Patrol to chase Germans.

U.S. Coast Guard Combat Cutter, The Tampa, which patrols the North Atlantic, in the resumption of the International Ice Patrol World.” Accession #: L41-03 Catalog #: L41-03.02.02

Meanwhile, humble Haida, dubbed Haida Maru by her crew, was tasked to patrol the Pacific Northwest and Alaskan waters, assigned to NOWESTSEAFRON.

CGC Haida in the Bering Sea sometime in 1945. Note her wartime appearance and armament including camo scheme. Photo courtesy of Jack Alberts in the USCG Historian’s Collection.

Haida’s wartime armament was considerable for a tub her size, at the end including four 40mm Bofors mounts for AAA, two depth charge racks, four Y-guns, and two Mousetrap ASW mortars in addition to her 5-inch guns. However, with her weight now pushing almost 2,000-tons, her 20+-year-old GE electric motor did not push her at blistering speeds.

As described in Fern Chandonnet’s Alaska at War, 1941-1945: The Forgotten War Remembered:

On one eastbound escort– remembered by crew member Robert Erwin Johnson– the Haida steamed straight ahead at about 14 knots while the steamship being escorted zigzagged back and forth to avoid overtaking her escort.

Haida prosecuted various possible Japanese submarine contacts, dropping ASW weapons on at least four of them in 1943, at a time when assorted Japanese boats were in fact in that part of the North Pacific, while escorting troopships and freighters to Alaska.

By 1944, she began a regular albeit boring job of manning Weather Station “A” at fortnightly intervals through March 1946, an important facet of trans-oceanic shipping and air traffic.

With the end of the war at hand and the USCG chopped from the deep-pocket FDR-era Navy to the strapped-for-cash post-conflict Treasury Department, all four Tampas were deemed surplus, replaced by a baker’s dozen of newer 255-foot Owasco-class cutters. As such, they were all decommissioned in 1947 and thereafter sold for breaking.

Haida was sold in 1948 and later scrapped in 1951 by the Puget Sound Bridge and Dredging Company, within sight of her traditional Seattle home port. One of her crew, Robert Erwin Johnson, penned a book of his war experience, Bering Sea Escort: Life Aboard a Coast Guard Cutter in World War II.

Her plans and logbooks are in the National Archives, with most of the latter fully digitized. 

Specs:

The Coast Guard Cutter HAIDA’s sister, MODOC, seen in pre-1941 arrangement. USCG

Displacement: 1,506 tons (trial); 1,955 tons (1945)
Length: 240 feet oa (220 ft at waterline)
Beam: 39 feet
Draft: 13′ 2″ (designed) 17′ 9″ max (1945)
Machinery: 1 x General Electric 2,040 kVa electric motor driven by a turbo-generator; 2 x Babcock & Wilcox, cross-drum type, 200 psi, 750° F superheat
Performance:
Maximum speed/endurance: 16.2 knots on trial (1921)
Maximum sustained: 15.5 knots, 3,500 mile radius (1945)
Economic speed/endurance: 9.0 knots @ 5,500 mile radius (1945) on 87,400 gal fuel oil
Complement:
14 officers, 2 warrants, 80 men (1945).
Electronics: (1944)
Detection Radar: SA
Sonar: QCJ-3
Armament:
1921: 2 x 5″/51 single mounts; 2 x 6 pounders; 1 x 1 pounder
1942: 2 x 5″/51 single mounts; 1 x 3/50 (single); 2 x .50 caliber machine guns; 4 x “Y” guns; 2 depth charge tracks.
1943: 2 x 3″/50 single mounts; 4 x 20 mm/80 (single); 2 x depth charge tracks; 4 x “Y” guns; 2 x mousetraps.

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

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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.

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

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About Time, Fusiliers Marins edition

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

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

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

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

More here. 

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020: From the Kattegat to Rabaul

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, Sept. 9, 2020: From the Kattegat to Rabaul

RAN Photo

Here we see Admiralty V-class destroyer HMAS Vendetta (I96) of the Royal Australian Navy as she hosts pre-surrender discussions off Rabaul, 75 years ago this month. Representatives include Col. Takahashi, aide to Gen. Hitoshi Imamura, commander Eighth Area Army; and Capt. Sanagi, Japanese Navy; with Brig. Gen. E.L Sheehan, Staff First Army; and CDR Morris, RAN, commanding officer of the minesweeper HMAS Ballarat. Vendetta at the time was the last of her type from the “Scrap Iron Flotilla” in the Australian Navy and the only examples of her class still in service were on the other side of the globe.

The “V&Ws” numbered over 100 destroyers ordered during the Great War for the Royal Navy, of which just 67 were completed. The Admiralty V-class subtype, of which Vendetta was a member, accounted for 23 of those hulls. Tipping the scales at around 1,500-tons when fully loaded, they were slim vessels of just 312-feet in overall length. Capable of 34-knots on a turbine powerplant, they carried a quartet of QF 4-inch Mk V guns and 2 triple 21-inch torpedo tube mounts for enemy ships traveling on the surface, and 50 depth charges to account for U-boats below it.

Then-HMS Vendetta (F29) was laid down at Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland in November 1916, just after the British first used tanks along the Somme front in France. She commissioned on 17 October 1917, a couple weeks before the Reds seized the Winter Palace in Russia from Kerensky’s government.

Vendetta in a heavy swell. The 312-foot vessel only had a 29-foot beam, giving it a nearly 11:1 length-to-beam ratio

HMS Vendetta, then pennant No. F29, June 1919 (IWM Q73903).

HMS Vendetta, June 1919 (IWM Q73907).

Assigned to the Grand Fleet’s mighty Thirteenth Destroyer Flotilla, she soon scrapped with German minesweepers operating in the Kattegat. Such brushes along the great minefields in the North Sea were dangerous to each side, e.g. one of Vendetta’s sisters, HMS Vehement, was lost to one of those infernal devices.

Detached to support the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron along with HMS Medway, Vendetta took part in the elusive fleet action at the Helgoland Bight on 17 November 1917.

Just days after the Kaiser threw in the towel, Vendetta was dispatched on 24 November 1918 to the Baltic as part of British RADM Sir Edwin Alexander Sinclair’s force of cruisers and destroyers, detailed to intervene in the breakaway former Russian Baltic states.

Allied Craft at Copenhagen – HMS Vendetta and boats from the Montcalm by Cecil George Charles King, 1919, IWM ART1657

There, she fought the Reds on several occasions including playing a big part in the capture of the Russki destroyers Spartak and Avtroil.

AVTROIL, left, photographed in the Baltic Sea while surrendering to British Naval Forces in Dec. 1918. The smaller destroyer on her right is a British V&W, possibly Vendetta but likely Westminster. Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. NH 94210

The Russians managed to somewhat even up the score by sinking the V-class sistership HMS Vittoria, sent to the bottom by Bolshevik submarine Pantera off Seiskari Island. Vendetta and sistership HMS Westminster (L40) also rescued 430 of the 441 crew from the sinking C-class light cruiser, HMS Cassandra, after that vessel struck an uncharted German mine in the Gulf of Finland. Mines also claimed another of Vendetta’s sisters, HMS Verulam.

Interbellum 

Following her Baltic service, Vendetta spent the next 14 years in a variety of missions ranging from towing surrendered German warships to escorting royal personages and waving the White Ensign around Europe. In 1923, she again proved an excellent lifeguard, saving the crew of the wrecked merchant ship Imperial Prince off Scotland.

Note her pennant number had changed to D69

In 1933, Vendetta and three of her aging sisters–Voyager, Waterhen, and Vampire— were decommissioned from Royal Navy service and transferred to the Australians where, along with the 2,000-ton Scott-class destroyer leader HMS Stuart, they formed the Australian Destroyer Flotilla. The ships were replacements for the even smaller S-Class destroyers (Stalwart, Success, Swordsman, Tasmania, and Tattoo) and the flotilla leader Anzac, which were in turn scrapped.

Royal Australian Navy destroyers in the Brisbane River September 1936, including Vendetta. Queensland State Archives 202

HMAS Vendetta (D69), the 1930s, by Allan Green, via State Library of Victoria under the Accession Number: H91.108/2832

In 1939, she was tasked to escort the body of former Prime Minister Joseph Lyons from Sydney to Tasmania where he was buried on 13 April.

The flower-draped coffin of former Prime Minister Joseph Lyons on the quarterdeck of HMAS Vendetta, 11 April 1939. Note the paravanes on each side of her stern, and depth charges. (RAN Photo)

HMAS Vendetta at the Funeral of Hon. J.A. Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia, via the State Library of New South Wales, Item 23899

To the Med

Obsolete by the time World War II came around, the Australian tin cans were dispatched to fight the Germans and Italians, seeing heavy action along the North African coast with the British Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean where they served as part of the “Wobbly 10th” Destroyer Division, their original armament augmented by a smattering of .303-caliber Lewis and Vickers pattern machine guns, which were basically spitballs against air attack.

Torpedomen on Vendetta at Napier, New Zealand. Note the twin Lewis gun AAA mount to the left and depth charge “ashcans” to the right. AWM P00363.002

HMAS Vendetta wearing her first pattern disruptive camouflage and wearing her D69 pennant number. Her pennant number later changed to I69 in May 1940. This starboard side view shows that she retains her full 4-inch gun armament, but the 2 pounder AA gun initially mounted abaft the funnel has been replaced by a quadruple .50 cal Vickers MKIII. Her aft torpedo tube mount has been replaced by a 12 pounder AA gun. Twin .303 Lewis guns have been added in the bridge wings. She has been camouflaged in what appears to be dark grey (507a) and light grey (507c) with a thin band of medium grey separating them. (RAN Photo)

They served in the battles of Matapan and Calabria, helped evacuate Greece and Crete, bombarded the Libyan coast, escorted no less than a dozen convoys between Alexandria and Malta, and put in work as the “Tobruk Ferry Service” running the Axis blockade of besieged Tobruk under heavy fire.

HMAS Vendetta laying a smokescreen, often her best tactic to avoid Italian and German tactical aircraft AWM P00219.010

The Tobruk Ferry, HMA Ships Parramatta, Waterhen and Vendetta, June 1941. Painting by Phil Belbin courtesy of the (Australian) Naval Heritage Collection.

Troops bunked down in the open on the top deck of the destroyer HMAS Vendetta on one of her voyages to the besieged port city of Tobruk. The Vendetta was one of several Australian ships that operated a shuttle service between Tobruk and various ports in Egypt. The service, which became known as the Tobruk ferry or Tobruk taxi, brought much-needed reinforcements and supplies to the city and took away wounded soldiers. The Vendetta made the voyage 39 times in the period 1941-05 to 1941-08, more than any other vessel. AWM P01810.002

It was during this period that the rag-tag Australian greyhounds were referred to as the “Scrap Iron Flotilla” by none other than German propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels.

The war in the Med, for sure, took a toll on the squadron.

Men on HMAS Vendetta watching the destroyer HMS Defender (H07) going down off Tobruk, 11 July 1941.

On 29 June 1941, Waterhen was heavily damaged by Axis aircraft and she sank the next day, the first RAN ship lost to combat in World War II.

Looking to increase her AAA suite by any means available, Vendetta’s crew installed a locally acquired second-hand Italian 20mm/65 Breda and installed it amidships.

A captured Italian Breda 20mm/65 anti-aircraft cannon mounted amidship, aft of the 12-pounder high angle anti-aircraft gun that replaced the aft torpedo tubes on the Australian V class destroyer HMAS Vendetta. (photographed by Robert Milne, HMAS Vendetta) AWM

Finally, with their machinery shot and suffering from breakdowns, the three remaining RAN V&Ws were sent back home for refit in late 1941.

There, while at Ghost Island, Vendetta had a stick of Japanese bombs fall just 200 yards away from her at 04:20 on 8 December 1941. A whole new war had begun.

The Pacific!

The brunt of the Japanese war machine was not kind to the Allies in 1941 and 1942. Vendetta’s sister, Voyager was damaged beyond repair by Japanese bombers off Timor. Another sister, Vampire was sunk on 9 April 1942 by Japanese aircraft while escorting the doomed carrier HMS Hermes from Trincomalee.

Her refit, which included more AAA guns, wrapped up by September 1942, Vendetta was tasked with a variety of convoy escort duty– shepherding 19 different convoys in ten months– and coastal patrol work around the Australian continent for most of 1943, routine work that was nonetheless vital.

By 1944, she shifted to New Guinea waters where her expendability, low draft, and high speed suited her for the role of a destroyer transport, a concept the U.S. Navy at the time repeated in their APD “Green Dragons” with old flush-deckers. In this role, she landed both uniformed set-piece ANZAC units to the shifting front as well as delivered shadowy AIB Special Unit officers and guerillas behind the lines in New Britain and the Solomon Islands.

HMAS Vendetta landing troops and stores at Madang, 2 May 1944. Of note, she carried 1,927 troops and 95 tons of supplies from Langemak to Madang during this period (RAN Photo)

Madang, New Guinea. 2 May 1944. Troops of the 5th Australian Division disembarking from HMAS Vendetta at the wharf. The movement to Madang was all done by sea; destroyers, barges, Liberty ships, corvettes, and motor launches being used. AWM 030212/06

Deemed by this time an “escort destroyer” Vendetta landed her torpedo tubes for even more AAA mounts and acquired a Type 272 surface search radar.

Vendetta continued her New Guinea taskings into 1945, providing naval gunfire support, escorting slow convoys, and engaging in coastal anti-submarine patrols, increasingly boring duty as the war wound down in the area. By September, she embarked Brigadier Sheehan and his staff to negotiate the Japanese surrender at Rabaul, a task that was completed by 6 September.

Pre-surrender Discussions Aboard HMAS Vendetta. Original Caption: at Sea Off Rabaul, New Britain. 1945-09-04. Lieutenant E. Germaine, Royal Australian Navy, Holding the Swords and Dirks of the Japanese Envoys During Pre- Surrender Discussions Aboard HMSA Vendetta. AWM 095722

The surrender ceremony itself took place on the new fleet carrier HMS Glory, after which Imamura was detained and tried for war crimes in his time at Rabaul including the execution of Allied prisoners of war. He served seven of a ten-year sentence imposed by an Australian military court.

Off Rabaul, New Britain, Corsair aircraft coming up in the lift to the flight deck of carrier HMS Glory. The Corsairs provided air cover during the signing of the surrender of all Japanese forces in New Guinea, New Britain, and Solomons 6. September 1945 (Australian War Memorial) Surrender of Japanese forces in the Bismarck Archipelago and New Guinea was formally accepted on board by the Australian General Sturdee at Rabaul. AWM 095740

Following the surrender, Vendetta stood by to retrieve Allied POWs.

Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. 1945-09-07. After the Japanese surrender, Allied prisoners, most of them in an emaciated condition, were picked up at Rabaul by HMAS Vendetta and brought to Jacquinot Bay. They were then taken by RNZAF air-sea rescue boat to 2/8 Australian General Hospital. NGX310 AIB Special Unit Coastwatcher CAPT. John Joseph “Mangrove” Murphy, above, the only Australian prisoner of war in Rabaul, was there from 1942 when he was captured after landing by submarine in the Gazelle peninsula. AWM 095817

Postscript

Her final war concluded, the veteran Vendetta was paid off 27 November 1945, having steamed 120,639 miles during her Pacific campaigns alone. She earned seven battle honors under RAN service in WWII, trading licks with all three of the primary Axis powers. This added to her previous service against the Kaiser and the Bolsheviks.

Scrapped above the waterline, her hulk was scuttled in 1948.

As for her Royal Navy Admiralty V-class sisters, four— HMS Venetia, Vimiera, Vortigern, and Venetia— were sunk in by the Germans in British waters during WWII. The remainder were still afloat at VE-Day but were soon discarded.

Vendetta’s name was recycled for a new 3,600-ton Daring-class destroyer (D08) which was commissioned in 1958. The ship battle honors for service in Malaysia (1964-66) and Vietnam (1969-70) and was paid off in 1979.

Vendetta (D08) making a replenishment approach on the fleet oiler, HMAS Supply, in a heavy swell. Can you see the resemblance to the original HMS/HMAS Vendetta?

Further, the Royal Australian Navy band today has the dedicated Scrap Iron Flotilla Theme as part of their repertoire.

Specs:


Displacement: 1,090 tons standard, 1,470 full
Length: 312 ft
Beam: 29 ft 6 in
Draught: 9 ft. 8 in standard, 11 ft 9 in deep
Machinery: 3 Yarrow boilers, twin Brown-Curtis turbines, twin screws = 27,000 shp
Speed: 34 knots
Range: 3,500 nmi at 15 knots
Complement: 6 officers 133 ratings as designed, larger in WWII as AAA guns were added
Armament:
(1917)
4 x single QF 4-inch Mk V guns
1 x single QF 2 pdr (40 mm) Mk II pom-pom anti-aircraft gun
2 x triple 21-inch torpedo tubes
2 depth charge rails, 4 depth charge throwers= 50 depth charges
(1944)
2 x single QF 4-inch Mk V guns
2 x single QF 2 pdr (40 mm) Mk II pom-pom anti-aircraft guns
4 x 20mm/65 Oerlikons
7 x .303 Vickers and Lewis guns
Depth charges

(Note, at least one 40mm/60 Bofors single is shown on Vendetta in 1945)

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Warship Wednesday Aug 26, 2020: Hazard Pay

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, Aug 26, 2020: Hazard Pay

George Bain Collection. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Here we see the experimental submarine USS Plunger (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 2) broadside with what looks like her entire crew on deck, 115 years ago this month. The tiny boat, only 64-feet long, was only the second official submarine that the U.S. Navy-owned and some of the most iron-willed men of the 20th Century would walk her decks.

After Revolutionary War forerunners such as the David Bushnell Turtle and Civil War beasts like the oar-powered Alligator and the follow-on hand-cranked Intelligent Whale, on 3 March 1893, Congress authorized the first “submarine torpedo boat” to be built for the U.S. Navy. Irish inventor and early submarine expert John P. Holland won the design competition in 1895 to build the craft, which he intended to be a submarine with triple propeller shafts powered by a steam engine with a retractable smokestack!

General arrangement plans, dated 4 September 1895 steam-powered submarine, NHHC 19-N-11812

A 150-ton, 85-foot-long steel beast with a pair of early torpedo tubes, the craft spent five years at Holland’s yard before the contract was canceled. Instead, the first U.S. Navy submarine became Holland’s personally-funded Holland VI prototype, a 53-footer with a gasoline engine for puttering around on the surface and an electric motor for use while under the waves. This vessel would go on to be the USS Holland (Submarine Torpedo Boat No. 2, or SS-1), which had a reloadable 18-inch torpedo tube with three torpedoes as well as a dynamite gun.

Following immediately on the heels of the Holland was Plunger, effectively a more advanced version of the Navy’s first submarine, being larger, faster, and capable of carrying five torpedoes.

USS Plunger SS-2 Midship Section 9.19.1903 NARA cross-section 

Using a 160-hp Otto gasoline engine, Plunger could streak along at about 8 knots on the surface while churning 7 knots while submerged on a set of Electro Dynamic electric motors. Period photos gave her the illusion of being a speedy craft.

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), going full speed ahead, August 30, 1905. From the bottom of the keel to the top of her sail, she was just shy of 14 feet high, not counting her masts. George Bain Collection. LC-USZ62-89964

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), passing the presidential yacht USS Sylph (PY-5), August 30, 1905. George Bain Collection, LOC

Laid down on 21 May 1901 at Elizabethport, N.J., by the Crescent Shipyard of Lewis Nixon, a subcontractor for Holland, Plunger commissioned at the Holland Company’s Long Island yard on 19 September 1903, Lt. Charles P. Nelson in command.

USS Plunger (Submarine # 2) outboard of USS Shark (Submarine # 8) At the Electric Boat Company facility, New Suffolk, Long Island, New York, in 1902. Note the surface navigation lights of these two submarines, and their differing superstructure arrangements. NH 42621

She was something of a novelty and was assigned to the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, R.I., for experimental torpedo work.

As noted by DANFS,

“Plunger operated locally from that facility for the next two years, a period broken only by an overhaul at the Holland yard at New Suffolk between March and November 1904. Besides testing machinery, armament, and tactics, the submarine torpedo boat also served as a training ship for the crews of new submersibles emerging from the builder’s yards.”

USS Plunger (Submarine # 2) Officer in the submarine’s conning tower hatch, circa the early 1900s. Published on a contemporary picture postal card. Courtesy of Alfred Cellier, 1977. NH 85735

On 22 August 1905, she had the distinction of visiting former Secretary of the Navy and then-current President Teddy Roosevelt at Oyster Bay. The Old Bull Moose spent some time aboard, taking the conn himself and even submerging five times in the shallow water, the first President to dive on a submarine while in office.

The story made national news.

Roosevelt wrote from Oyster Bay to Hermann Speck von Steinberg:

“I myself am both amused and interested as to what you say about the interest excited about my trip in the Plunger. I went down in it chiefly because I did not like to have the officers and enlisted men think I wanted them to try things I was reluctant to try myself. I believe a good deal can be done with these submarines, although there is always the danger of people getting carried away with the idea and thinking that they can be of more use than they possibly could be.”

To another correspondent, he declared that never in his life had he experienced “such a diverting day … nor so much enjoyment in so few hours.”

According to the Navy, a sitting president would not cruise on a commissioned U.S. Navy submarine again until Dwight D. Eisenhower dropped in on the USS Seawolf (SSN 575) in 1957–ironically a boat that LT James Earl “Jimmy” Carter was to be engineering officer on. 

Further, Plunger’s 1905 presidential dive would prove vital to submariners’ wallets for the next century, as noted by FTGC(SS) Larry Smith, a submarine vet from the 1970s and 80s.

The Naval hierarchy in 1905 considered submarine duty, neither unusual nor dangerous, and classified it as shore duty. Therefore, submariners received twenty-five percent less pay than sailors going to sea in Destroyers, Cruisers and similar surface ships.

Roosevelt’s two-hour trip on Plunger convinced him that this discrimination was unfair. He described submarine duty as hazardous and difficult, and he found that submariners “have to be trained to the highest possible point as well as to show iron nerve in order to be of any use in their positions…”

Roosevelt directed that officer service on submarines be equated with duty on surface ships. Enlisted men qualified in submarines were to receive ten dollars per month in addition to the pay of their rating. They were also to be paid a dollar for every day in which they were submerged while underway. Enlisted men assigned to submarines but not yet qualified received an additional five dollars per month.

Roosevelt did not dilly-dally once he made a decision. He issued an Executive Order directing the extra pay for enlisted personnel. This was the beginning of submarine pay!

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), alongside tug Apache, August 30, 1905

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), with crew on deck, August 30, 1905. George Bain Collection

USS Plunger (Submarine #2, later A-1), with crew on deck, August 30, 1905. USS Slyph to the left. George Bain Collection

Submarine Boat Plunger 1905 L.H. Nelson Company news photo NYPL collection

USS Plunger (Submarine Torpedo Boat # 2) Hauled out of the water at a Navy yard, circa 1903-1905. USS Alabama (Battleship # 8) is in the right background. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Cahn, 1990. NH 102428

In 1907, Plunger was under the command of one very young and very wet Ensign Chester Nimitz who lead a huge crew of one Chief and five sailors.

USS Plunger (Submarine # 2) Underway off the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., circa 1909. Note the canvas “fighting top” platform. This print is autographed in red ink by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, who was one of Plunger’s Commanding Officers, specifically at the time the image was taken. NH 49357-KN

Nimitz would go on to successively command three other boats after leaving PlungerUSS Snapper, USS Narwhal, and USS Skipjack— remaining in the submarine service until 1913 at which point he was in command of the Atlantic Submarine Flotilla.

The small but hearty young boat served for ten years in more or less active duty, then spend almost another ten in mothballs as a target before she was scrapped in 1922.

She spent the Great War hoisted aboard the hulk of the former Civil War monitor USS Puritan, then more than 50-years old, a blend of the Navy’s past and future if there ever were one.

Full Circle

The little submarine’s name was quickly recycled for the Porpoise-class fleet boat, USS Plunger (SS-179), which was ordered in 1935. Off Diamond Head when Japanese planes attacked on 7 December 1941, she scored an important victory for the country when she sent a Japanese freighter to the bottom just weeks afterward while on her first war patrol.

USS Plunger (SS-179): Members of the submarine’s crew display her battle flag. The man seated in the center appears to be wearing a Japanese sailor’s hat. The photograph is dated 21 June 1943, following Plunger’s sixth war patrol. 80-G-72010

After earning 14 battle stars across 12 war patrols in WWII, she entered reserve in 1945 and was sold for scrap in 1957.

In 1960, retired Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, trekked down to at Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California to speak at the keel-laying ceremony of the new Permit-class attack boat, USS Plunger (SSN-595), the third such submarine to carry the name, bringing the story of Submarine No. 2 full circle.

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, speaks at the keel-laying ceremony of USS PLUNGER (SSN-595) at Mare Island Naval Shipyard at Vallejo, California, 2 March 1960. The third Plunger would go on to decommission 2 February 1990 after earning four Navy Unit Commendations as well as multiple Meritorious Unit Commendations, Battle Efficiency, and other awards. NH 58448

Nimitz was of course something of a sentimental man, often signing photos of ships he had a connection with. In his papers, which were turned over to the Navy after his death he had kept this snapshot.

USS Plunger alongside a coal dock at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., July 1906. The names of three of the submarine’s Commanding Officers are written on the print: Lieutenants C.P. Nelson, P.P. Bassett, and C.W. Nimitz. The print was presented to Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz by Chief Torpedoman’s Mate H.J. Chagnot, USN (Retired), who wrote on its reverse: “Admiral Nimitz: Remember this old battle wagon? As I remember it you were skipper of it after ‘Juggie Nelson. You may keep this for yourself if you see fit. Sorry to hear about English he was my skipper on the old ‘D-3’ and O-4.” Collection of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 62730

Specs:

USS Plunger (Submarine # 2) Hauled out of the water, during the early 1900s. Note the bollard in the foreground, made from an old muzzle-loading cannon. Courtesy of the Electric Boat Company, Groton, NH 42622

Displacement: 107 long tons (109 t)
Length: 63’10”
Beam: 11’11
Draft: 10’7″
Propulsion: 160-hp Otto gasoline engine, Electro Dynamic electric motors.
Speed: 8 kn surfaced, 7 kn submerged
Complement: 7 (1 officer, 1 chief, 5 sailors)
Armament: 1 × 18 in (460 mm) torpedo tube, with four reloads.

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, August 19, 2020: Under New Management

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, August 19, 2020: Under New Management

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-490371

Here we see Japanese and U.S. naval officers negotiate the surrender of Mili Atoll, a collection of 92 coral islands in the Marshall Island group, aboard the Cannon-class destroyer escort USS Levy (DE-162), some 75 years ago this week. While numerous such isolated garrisons would lay down their arms in the months to come, Mili Atoll is often described as the first surrender of pre-WWII Japanese territory– rather than islands such as Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Saipan which were taken by force without surrender– making this moment historically significant.

Some 116 Cannons were ordered during WWII from late 1942 onward, with the class sandwiched between the more numerous Buckley– and Edsall-class destroyer escorts. Fundamentally diesel-powered corvettes built for convoy work, they were 1,600-ton, 306-foot vessels with a long range– 10,000nm at 12-knots– and fast enough at 21 knots to keep up with a convoy. Geared to ASW work, they bristled with depth charges and hedgehogs. To ward off surface threats, they had a trio of 21-inch torpedo tubes while a variety of open 3″/50 cal and 40mm Bofors mounts could poke holes in kamikazes.

Levy and her sisters could float in just 11 feet of water, which would make them very useful in the littoral space of the Pacific’s far-flung islands.

USS Levy (DE-162) on delivery, 12 May 1943, Port Newark. Note her three 3″/50s, one forward and two aft, as well as her triple torpedo tube turnstile just aft of her stack. NHHC L45-164.05.01

Our tin can to this day is the only warship named for Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy, a hero remembered today chiefly as the US Navy’s first Jewish flag officer but should be perhaps best known as the 19th Century “Author of the Abolition of Flogging in the Navy of the United States” and the man who purchased and later restored President Jefferson’s near-ruined Monticello. An experienced mariner sailing under a Navy appointment issued by President Madison in the War of 1812, Levy served on the USS Argus, raiding off the British coast, and ended that conflict on an RN prison hulk. He went on to fight pirates and slavers, then command the Mediterranean Squadron before his death in 1862, aged 70.

Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy, his ornate circa 1850 sword buckle in the NHHC’s collection of relics, and a portrait of him as a lieutenant.

USS Levy (DE-162) was laid down 19 October 1942 by the Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Newark, N.J., sponsored at launch the elderly niece of the late Commodore Levy, and commissioned 13 May 1943.

Her wartime service was fairly sedate, arriving in the Society Islands 19 August 1943 and spending the next 16 months escorting and screening oilers during various fueling operations in the South and Central Pacific theaters– a vital if an unglamorous task that saw her pursuing suspected sonar contacts and fighting off interloping Japanese aircraft seeking to bag her charges. As such, she followed the fleet in the support of the Hollandia operation and the strikes against Truk, Statwan, and Ponape; took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea; and was there with the 3d Fleet during the conquest of the western Carolines and the liberation of Leyte.

She retired to San Diego in December 1944 for an overhaul, then pointed back West to rejoin the push.

Levy’s 1945 saw quite a bit more detached service. The hard-working DE helped blockade and bombard the remaining Japanese-held atolls in the Marshalls and assisted in the rescue of 238 waterborne Marshallese natives who had escaped from enemy-held Jaluit.

Mili Atoll. 

On 12 August 1945, Levy arrived off Japanese-controlled Mili Atoll while the war was still very much active– the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) was damaged by an aerial torpedo in Buckner Bay, Okinawa that very same day, for example.

Mili had been a German colony from the 1880s until the Great War when ownership passed to the Empire of Japan under the League of Nations’ South Seas Mandate. Since then, it had become an important Japanese radio station and seaplane base with a ~5,000 man Army/Navy garrison and, located 2,875 miles East of Tokyo and 2,286 miles West of Pearl Harbor, is often included in the conspiracy theory over the 1937 disappearance of aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

Mili’s location midway between Hawaii and Japan made it the logical choice for one of the earliest raids on Japanese bases by American carriers, struck by aircraft from USS Yorktown (CV-5) just seven weeks after Pearl Harbor. The Atoll would later be plastered in the last eighteen months of the war by a ceaseless bombing campaign conducted by long-range American aircraft and the occasional plastering by U.S. warships– including famously the USS Iowa.

On 13 August 1945 at 1220, Levy was the last U.S. Navy ship to bombard Mili Atoll, retiring shortly after. Two days later, it was announced that Japan had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.

On the morning of 19 August– 75 years ago this week– a PBM Mariner arrived alongside the destroyer escort with seven officers aboard, headed by CAPT. Harold Bartley Grow (USNA 1912) acting under the authority of RADM (later VADM) William Keene Harrill (ComMarGilArea) and less than two hours later, Levy received a whaleboat from Mili carrying LCDR Toyda and LT. Hutsu of the Japanese Navy under a white flag. After a brief negotiation, the Japanese officers left Mili made for shelter at nearby Majuro Atoll, then under U.S. control.

Dispatched again to Mili with Grow’s team embarked on 21 August, on the next morning IJN CPT Masanori Shiga, LCDR Hiroshi Tojuno, and LT Horoshi Otsu came aboard Levy, signing the surrender document at 1300 sharp.

Japanese Navy CPT Masanori Shiga signs the surrender document for Mili Atoll, Marshalls, onboard USS Levy (DE-162), 22 August 1945. To the right of CPT Shiga is (left to right): LT E.R. Harris, USNR; LTCOL G.V. Burnett, USMCR, and CPT H. B. Grow, USNR, senior U.S. officer present. Also, note the Lucky Strikes. 80-G-490369

Afterward, Levy anchored in Mili lagoon and got to work with the business of peace.

She remained there for the rest of the week, her crew busy removing “all arms up to and including 13mm machine guns, swords, and bayonets” while building a new dock. At noon on the 28th, RADM Harrill and his staff arrived and at 1405, Levy’s armed honor guard hoisted the colors on Mili, firing a 21-gun salute, as the disarmed Japanese stood by.

Surrender of Japan, Mili Atoll, Marshall Islands, August 22, 1945. Flag Raising Ceremony by U.S. Navy occupation forces at Millie Atoll, Marshall Islands. 80-G-338449

Mille Atoll, Marshall Islands, shown these sailors from USS Levy (DE 162) in their whites and landing gaiters pointing with pride to their sign, which reads, “We always welcome Seabees and Marines” 28 August 1945. This beachhead became the first Japanese territory in World War II to formally surrender to United States forces. Shown (left to right): SM2 Abe Klotzman; YN2 Irwin Schwartz; Coxswain Henry Jendrzejanski, and EM2 Kenneth Werton. All the sailors were Navy Reserve. 80-G-338460

Everett Greenbaum, a Navy man who later went on to be a comedy writer who worked on M*A*S*H* among other shows, was stationed at Naval Air Station Majuro, where CAPT. Shiga was taken as an EPW, and the two’s lives became intertwined with Greenbaum later saying, “Insisting on moving into my tent, Captain Shiga committed Hara- karri with my toenail clippers.”

Back to our destroyer escort.

On the 29th, just a day after raising the flag on Mili, Levy fired up her diesels and served as the platform for Grow to negotiate the surrender of the 2,000 men under IJN RADM Nisuke Masuda on Jaluit Atoll. While Levy left that atoll after Masuda’s party retired, tasked with other missions, her sistership USS McConnell (DE-163) received the Japanese surrender on 5 September. Masuda would go on to commit ritual suicide on the eve of a war crimes trial for the execution of captured American aircrews during the conflict.

At the time of his and Jaluit’s surrender, however, Levy had her hands full, liberating the Japanese-held American territory at Wake Island.

Accompanied by the destroyer escorts USS Charles R. Greer (DE-23) and USS Lehardy (DD-20), Levy on 2 September took aboard a party that included Marine BGEN Lawson H. M. Sanderson, Marine COL. Walter L.J. Bayler– often termed “the last man off Wake Island,” which he had left on 21 December 1941– and nine other officers along with 25 war correspondents including representatives of the New York Times and LIFE Magazine.

04 September 1945: Wake Atoll – USS Levy anchored off Wake Island. A barge carrying Japanese officers approaches Levy to surrender the Island. The surrender proceedings took place aboard Levy. LIFE Magazine Archives via Navsource.

The Japanese surrender party came aboard on 4 September at 0740 and IJN RADM Shigematsu Sakaibara, 65th Base Garrison commander, signed the surrender documents at 0819.

RADM Shigematsu Sakaibara, former commander of the Japanese garrison forces at Wake, signs the surrender document that makes Wake American once again. Note the Lucky Strikes. Marine Corps photo in the National Archives. 127-GR-60-133687

As white-gloved Japanese officers in their full dress uniforms saluted, the American flag was raised over the island by Levy’s honor guard at 1348.

Raising the U.S. flag over Wake Island on 4 September 1945, as a U.S. Marine Corps bugler plays Colors. This was the first time the Stars and Stripes had flown over Wake since its capture by the Japanese on 23 December 1941. The officer saluting in the right foreground is RADM Shigematsu Sakaibara, Japanese commander on Wake. Colors carried by the U.S. party, right background, include the U.S. Marine Corps flag. Photographed by R.O. Kepler, USMC. NH 96813

Shigematsu would later become a convicted war criminal sentenced to death by a military tribunal in connection with his actions on Wake Island, which included the execution of 98 U.S. civilian workers who had been kept on the island for forced labor. He was hanged on Guam in 1947. At the end of his trial, the 48-year-old career officer said the hearings were “unfair” but “I obey with pleasure.”

Levy got underway from Wake on 11 September, her war concluded. She was soon transferred to the Atlantic, where on 14 November she joined the St. John’s River Group, 16th Fleet, at Green Cove Springs, Florida, and was placed In Commission, In Reserve.

For her 30 months of service, almost all spent in the Pacific war, the vessel earned five battlestars.

She was decommissioned 4 April 1947 and retained as part of the Atlantic Inactive Fleet at Norfolk, until she was stricken on 2 August 1973. The historic vessel was sold for scrap on 18 June 1974 to the Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md for $94,666.66, as part of a bid for her and five other destroyer escorts.

Postscript

Of her sisters, just 72 of the planned Cannons were built. One, USS Roche (DE-197) was lost to a Japanese mine during the war, a remarkable string of luck. Most of the others were soon given away as military aid.

An amazing 54 of the class were transferred around the globe, with the economical destroyer escorts serving with no less than a dozen navies. Three of those, USS McAnn (DE-179) in Brazil, USS Slater (DE-766) in New York (who spent 40 years in the Hellenic fleet), and USS Hemminger (DE-746) in Thailand– the latter nominally still in service– are preserved as museums.

Of late, Slater has been undergoing an extensive refurb and looks great, please visit her if you can.

USS Slater is the only destroyer escort preserved in North America– and is Levy’s sistership

When it comes to direct relics of Levy, at least one of her wartime ensigns are preserved in private collections and the Mili Atoll surrender pen is in the Naval History and Heritage Command’s holdings.

This pen can be seen in the Mili Atoll surrender signing photos. NHHC 07-598-P

It looks as if almost all her war diaries have been digitized in the National Archives and are available online.

Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy and the destroyer escort named for him should be remembered in a new destroyer or frigate, and I have written both my Congressional delegation and the SECNAV’s office on the fact.

Specs:

USS Levy (DE-162) underway in the Pacific Ocean, circa in 1944

Displacement:
1,240 tons standard
1,620 tons full load
Length: 306 ft
Beam: 36 ft
Draft: 11 ft full load
Propulsion:
4 GM Mod. 16-278A diesel engines with electric drive
6,000 shp (4,500 kW), 2 screws
Speed: 21 knots
Range: 10,800 nautical miles at 12 knots
Complement:
15 officers
201 enlisted men
Armament:
3 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 guns (3×1)
2 × 40 mm AA guns (1×2)
8 × 20 mm AA guns (8×1)
3 × 21 in. torpedo tubes (1×3)
8 × depth charge projectors
1 × depth charge projector (hedgehog)
2 x depth charge tracks

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

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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.

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

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I’m a member, so should you be!

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.

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 am a member, so should you be!

St. Louis, arriving

Over the weekend, in an understated COVID-era ceremony, the latest USS St. Louis joined the fleet.

She is the 7th such vessel to carry the name and SECNAV made sure to touch on the missions of the first one, the 19th Century 24-gun sloop-of-war, rather than the two 20th Century cruisers with the same legacy. Because mission.

“Nearly 200 years after the first ship to bear the name was launched, today we commission the seventh USS St. Louis,” said Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite. “Much like that sloop of war did in 1828, LCS-19 and her crew will protect the U.S. and our interests near and abroad. Whether conducting counter-narcotic operations in the Caribbean or working to enhance interoperability with partners and allies at sea, USS St. Louis will provide maneuverability, stability, and lethality in today’s era of Great Power Competition.”

St. Louis is the 22nd LCS to be delivered to the Navy, and the tenth of the Freedom-variant to join the fleet and is the seventh ship to bear the name. The first St. Louis, a sloop of war, was launched in 1828. It spent the majority of its service patrolling the coasts of the Americas to secure interests and trade. In addition, it served as the flagship for the West Indies Squadron working to suppress piracy in the Caribbean Sea, the Antilles, and the Gulf of Mexico region.

Of course, the most celebrated St. Louis in U.S. Navy history was past Warship Wednesday Alum “Lucky Lou,” the Brooklyn-class light cruiser that was the first to clear the Channel at Pearl Harbor and went on to earn 11 battle stars in WWII before going on to serve Brazil as the Lobster War flagship Almirante Tamandaré for another quarter-century.

Warship Wednesday, Aug 5, 2020: Number 52

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 5, 2020: Number 52

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, taken by Stephen F. Birch, now in the collections of the National Archives Catalog #: 80-G-49466

Here we see the bow of the Balao-class fleet boat USS Bullhead (SS-332) approaching a Chinese junk to pass food to its crew, during her first war patrol, circa March-April 1945. Of the 52 American submarines on eternal patrol from World War II, Bullhead was the final boat added to the solemn list, some 75 years ago this week. In another grim footnote, Bullhead was also the last U.S. Navy vessel lost before the end of the war.

A member of the 121-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were ‘fleet’ boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.

Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5,000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their deck guns. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

Some 311-feet long overall, they were all-welded construction to facilitate rapid building. Best yet, they could be made for the bargain price of about $7 million in 1944 dollars (just $100 million when adjusted for today’s inflation) and completed from keel laying to commissioning in about nine months.

An amazing 121 Balaos were rushed through five yards at the same time, with the following pennant numbers completed by each:

  • Cramp: SS-292, 293, 295-303, 425, 426 (12 boats)
  • Electric Boat: 308-313, 315, 317-331, 332-352 (42)
  • Manitowoc on the Great Lakes: 362-368, 370, 372-378 (15)
  • Mare Island on the West Coast: 304, 305, 307, 411-416 (9)
  • Portsmouth Navy Yard: 285-288, 291, 381-410, 417-424 (43)

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish the long-serving USS Catfish, the sub-killing USS Greenfish, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

Commissioned 4 Dec 1944, Bullhead’s war diary reports that the “training at New London was of little value because of the bad weather, shallow water, and restricted areas. Ten practice approaches were made and three torpedos fired.”

Bullhead

The ship proceeded to Key West with sister USS Lionfish and had better training opportunities in Panama, where she fired 26 practice torpedos. From The Ditch to Pearl, she continued training while shaking down. From Pearl to Guam, in the company of USS Tigrone and USS Seahorse, the trio would join USS Blackfish there and, on 21 March 1945 “Departed Guam for first war patrol to wage unrestricted submarine warfare and perform lifeguard service in the northern part of the South China Sea.”

Her first skipper and the man who would command her for her first two patrols was CDR Walter Thomas “Red” Griffith (USNA 1934), a no-nonsense 33-year-old Louisianan who had already earned two Navy Crosses and a Silver Star in command of USS Bowfin earlier in the war.

An officer on the bridge, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. He may be Commander Walter T. Griffith, who commanded Bullhead during her first two war patrols. 80-G-49448

An officer looks through one of the submarine’s periscopes, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. Note the shorts. 80-G-49459

Aboard Bullhead as she headed for war with her Yankee wolfpack was veteran newsman Martin Sheridan. One of the first reporters who enlisted as a noncombatant with the Army, Boston Globe correspondent Sheridan reported on Pacific conflicts for the North American Newspaper Alliance and was the only newsmen to go to see combat on an American fleet boat, covering Bullhead’s entire 38-day inaugural war patrol. He had the benefit of a Navy photographer among the crew, Stephen F. Birch.

A War Correspondent chatting with crewmen in the submarine’s galley, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. He is probably Martin Sheridan, who rode Bullhead during her first war patrol in March-April 1945. Note War Correspondent patch on his uniform, “Greasy Spoon” sign, and pinups in the background. This photo was taken by Stephen F. Birch. 80-G-49455

Via Birch’s camera, the candid moments of Bullhead’s crew hard at work under the sea were very well-documented, something that is a rarity. The photos were turned over to the Navy Photo Science Laboratory on 20 June 1945, just seven weeks before the boat’s loss.

A crewman examines medical supplies, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. Note the copy of Navy Ordnance Pamphlet No. 635 in the lower right. 80-G-49453

Treating an injured crewman, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. 80-G-49454

A crewman talks with an injured shipmate, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. 80-G-49450

Church service in the submarine’s after torpedo room. 80-G-49458

Crewman reading in his bunk, atop a torpedo loading rack in one of the submarine’s torpedo rooms. Note the small fan in the upper left. 80-G-49457

A crewman washing clothing, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. Note the small lockers above the washing machine. 80-G-49451

A crewman writes a letter home as another looks on, in one of the submarine’s berthing compartments. 80-G-49449

Officer takes bearings on the submarine’s bridge, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. 80-G-49446

Crewmen loading .50 caliber machine gun ammunition, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. 80-G-49447

Bullhead’s First Patrol was active, bombarding the Japanese radio station on Patras Island twice with her 5-inch gun with the first string delivered from 4,700 yards, Griffth noting, “The first 18 rounds landed beautifully in the area near the base of the radio tower with one positive hit in the building nearest to the tower.”

While conducting lifeguard duty, she only narrowly avoided friendly fire from the very aviators she was there to pluck from the sea. One B-24 came dangerously close.

Nonetheless, on 16 April, she rescued a trio of American airmen at sea off Hong Kong, recovering them from the crew of a Chinese junk to which they thanked with cigarettes and C-rations. They were from a downed B-25 of the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group, 5th Air Force.

Rescue of three injured crew from a downed B-25 with the help of Chinese fishermen, during a Pacific war patrol, circa Spring 1945. Note the Asian small sailing craft alongside the submarine. For the record, the aviators were 2LT Irving Charno (pilot), 2LT Harold Sturm (copilot) and SGT Robert Tukel (radioman) 80-G-49461

Putting in at Subic Bay on 28 April, Bullhead landed the recovered aviators as well as Sheridan and Birch, refueled, rearmed, and restocked, then departed on her Second War Patrol just three weeks later.

On 30 May, she destroyed her first vessel, a two-masted lugger of some 150-tons, in a surface action in the Gulf of Siam. The ship was scratched with 12 rounds of 5-inch, 16 rounds of 40mm, and 240 rounds of 20mm.

She would break out her guns again on 18 June when she encountered the camouflaged Japanese “Sugar Charlie” style coaster Sakura Maru No.58, 700 tons, off St. Nicholas Point near the Sunda Strait. In a 20 minute action, it was sent to the bottom.

The next day, Bullhead came across a three-ship convoy with picket boats and went guns-on, sinking Tachibana Maru No.57, another Sugar Charlie, while the rest of the Japanese ships scattered.

One of the most numerous small Japanese merchant vessels, especially in coastal trade, was Sugar Charlie variants, in ONI parlance.

On 25 June, a third 300-ton Sugar Charlie was sunk by gunfire in the Lombok Strait. Hearing the cries of her crew, she picked up 10 men who turned out to be Javanese and “stowed them in the empty magazine” and later landed ashore.

The next day she fired torpedos unsuccessfully on a Japanese ASW vessel and received a depth charging in return for her efforts.

Of interest, all of the vessels sent to the bottom by Bullhead were in surface gun actions.

On 2 July, Bullhead put into Fremantle, Australia, marking her Second War Patrol as a success. There, Griffith and some others left the vessel.

Fremantle was a submarine hub in the WestPac during WWII, with Allied boats of all stripes to include British and Dutch vessels, mixing with locals and Americans. In all, some 170 Allied subs at one time or another passed through Fremantle between 1941 and 1945.

Final Patrol

With a new skipper, LCDR Edward Rowell “Skillet” Holt, Jr (USNA 1939), Bullhead departed Australia on her Third Patrol on 30 July, ordered to patrol the Java Sea.

As detailed by DANFs:

She was to transit Lombok Strait and patrol in the Java Sea with several other American and British submarines. Bullhead rendezvoused with a Dutch submarine, Q 21, on 2 August and transferred mail to her. Four days later, the submarine reported that she had safely passed through the strait and was in her patrol area.

When all U.S. and Allied subs in the Pacific were ordered to cease fire and return to port on 13 August, Bullhead was the only submarine not to acknowledge receipt of the message.

No further word was ever received from her, and, on 24 August, she was reported overdue and presumed lost.

Her name was struck from the Navy list on 17 September 1945. Bullhead received two battle stars for her World War II service.

Postwar analysis of Japanese records revealed that a Mitsubishi Ki-51 Sonia dive bomber of the Japanese Army Air Force’s 73rd Independent Flying Chutai, depth-charged a submarine off the Bali coast near the northern mouth of Lombok Strait on 6 August [ironically the same day that an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima].

The pilot claimed two direct hits and reported a gush of oil and air bubbles at the spot where the target went down. It was presumed that the proximity of mountains shortened her radar’s range and prevented Bullhead from receiving warning of the plane’s approach. The submarine went down with all hands, taking 84 with her.

Her crew was among the 375 officers and 3,131 enlisted men lost on the 52 submarines during the war. To put this in perspective, only 16,000 men served in the submarine force during the conflict.

Legacy

Sheridan, the war correspondent, would go on to write a book about his time with the crew of the Bullhead after the war. Entitled Overdue and Presumed Lost, it was originally published in 1947 and reprinted by the USNI Press in 2013. The hard-living writer died in 2004 at age 89.

At least 16 one-time members of her crew, mostly plankowners, didn’t make Bullhead’s eternal patrol and in 1981 the Washington Post chronicled their enduring haunting by that fact.

Griffith, who lived to become a post-war rear admiral reportedly told a friend, “My boys shouldn’t have gone down without me. All so young. I should have been with them.” He later took his own life in a Pensacola motel, aged 54.

As for the three aircrewmen Bullhead plucked from the Chinese junk? As far as I can tell, Irvin Chano, Harold Sturm, and Robert Tukel all apparently survived the war and lived long lives.

Memorials exist for the Bullhead and her crew at the Manila American Cemetery, the National Submarine Memorial (West) in Seal Beach, California and at the National Submarine Memorial (East) in Groton as well as in San Diego and the dedicated USS Bullhead Memorial Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 1997, Congress noted her sacrifice in the official record.

Bullhead’s engineering plans, reports of her early patrols, and notes on her loss are in the National Archives.

Although Bullhead’s name was never reused, eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which may not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also on borrowed time)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Specs:

Displacement:
1,848 tons (1,878 t) surfaced (as built);
2,440 tons (2,479 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft as built; 307 ft.
Beam: 27 ft 4 in
Draft: 17 ft
Propulsion:
4 × General Motors Model 16-278A V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
4 × high-speed General Electric motors with reduction gears
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
Speed:
(Designed)
20.25 knots surfaced
8.75 knots submerged
Range: 11,000 nautical miles surfaced at 10 knots
48 hours at 2 knots submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement: 10 officers, 70–72 enlisted
Armament:
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
6 forward, 4 aft
24 torpedoes
2 × 5-inch (127 mm) /25 caliber deck guns
1x Bofors 40 mm and 1x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
two .50 cal. machine guns

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Black Ghost of the Gulf Coast takes her final ride

The 180-foot Balsam-class buoy tender USCGC Salvia (WAGL/WLB-400) gave 47 years to the Coast Guard, 28 to the Navy, and will continue to serve in a different purpose moving forward.

Laid down at Duluth, Minnesota’s Zenith Dredge on 24 June 1943 as a member of the Iris subclass, she commissioned 19 February 1944 at a cost of $923,995. She would spend the rest of WWII assigned to the 5th Coast Guard District, stationed at Portsmouth, Virginia, and used for general ATON duty under Navy orders.

USCGC Salvia, 1948.

From 1 November 1945 until her decommissioning in 1991, USCGC Salvia was homeported in Mobile, where the ship did a lot of buoy relocation for constantly-working Corps of Engineer dredges working from Pensacola to Gulfport. The vessel was known as “The Black Ghost of the Gulf Coast” or, unofficially and for logical reasons, “The Spit.”

Salvia seen sometime after the “racing stripe” became standard in 1967 and her decommissioning in 1991

Besides over four decades of thankless ATON work, the buoy tender conducted law enforcement duties as needed and was called to assist in SAR on several notable occasions in waters that are heavily traveled by fishing and commercial vessels.

As detailed by the Coast Guard Historian’s office:

From 20-23 April 1951, Salvia assisted following the collision between the tankers Esso Suez and Esso Greensboro.

From 5­9 April 1953, Salvia searched for the wreck of National Flight 47 off Mobile Point.

From 30 October-2 November 1958, Salvia assisted USS Instill (AM-252).

From 17-18 November 1959, the cutter searched for National Flight 967, famously lost between Tampa and New Orleans.

In late August 1965, Salvia provided men and equipment to fight a fire on the Liberian MV Arctic Reefer off Choctaw Point, Mobile.

From 7-8 December 1968, Salvia searched for survivors from the lost USCGC White Alder, saving three men.

Retired in 1991, Salvia was given to the Navy to be used as an unnamed salvage hulk in Little Creek.

Finally, the gutted and worn vessel was put up for auction by the GSA last year with a final realized price of $18,100. Ownership eventually passed to N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ Artificial Reef Program

Now, renamed “Brian Davis” she was sunk last week off the coast of North Carolina as a part of an artificial reef (Memorial project AR-368) in about 70 feet of water approximately 20 miles due east of Wilmington. The three-year project was funded by donations from the diving community as well as Coastal Recreational Fishing License funds.

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