Tag Archives: Iwo Jima

Warship Wednesday (on a Tuesday), Dec. 7, 2021: Of RADM Helm & PO1c Hirano

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday (on a Tuesday), Dec. 7, 2021: Of RADM Helm & PO1c Hirano

Official U.S. Navy Photograph 116-19, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 97450

Here we see the Bagley-class destroyer USS Helm (DD-388) as she comes alongside the escort carrier USS Makin Island (CVE-93) during the Iwo Jima operation, 24 February 1945. The little tin can had been in the fight since the very beginning, firing shots at multiple incoming Japanese aircraft at Pearl Harbor, some 80 years ago today. In all, she spent the entire Pacific War in a combat zone save for two months. 

The eight vessels of the Bagley class (including Blue, Henley, Mugford, Patterson, Ralph Talbot, and Jarvis besides Helm) were ordered as part of FDR’s 1934 “New Deal” program and laid down near-simultaneously the next year at four different Naval Shipyards, two on the East Coast (Boston and Norfolk) and two on the West (Puget Sound and Mare Island). Some 341-feet overall, they were 1,500-tonners in design to comply with the assorted naval limitation treaties of the era. However, they had a very impressive torpedo tube battery (16 tubes in four quadruple platforms) as well as four 5″38s and could make 36 knots with ease.

Compared to the previous classes, they had less powerful machinery but stronger hulls and better stability. Unlike many pre-WWII destroyer classes, the Bagleys uncharacteristically kept all their torpedo tubes and 5-inch guns for the entire war, whereas other classes usually traded such armament for more AAA guns. Instead, the Bagley’s just piled it on, reaching well over 2,245-tons by 1943.

Laid down by Norfolk Navy Yard 25 September 1935 alongside sistership USS Blue (DD-387), the subject of our tale was named for James Meredith Helm (USNA 1875).

USS Helm keel-laying. From the Hampton Roads Naval Museum

Helm commanded the stately gunboat USS Hornet (formerly the yacht Alicia) during the Spanish-American War, capturing a Spanish steamer and three contraband schooners as well as playing a key role in the Battle of Manzanillo. Promoted to Rear Admiral Helm during the Great War, he commanded the 4th Naval District headquartered at League Island Navy Yard in Philadelphia. Helm was moved to the retired list in 1919 after 44 years of service and died in 1927, just eight years before the only warship to bear his name was laid down. A Navy Cross winner, he is buried in Arlington

USS Blue (DD-387), left, and USS Helm (DD-388) ready for christening, in Drydock # Two at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 27 May 1937. Note that the drydock is already partially flooded. Blue appears to have her guns and torpedo tubes installed, and both ships’ Mark 33 main battery gun directors are in place atop their forward superstructures. NH 61903

Helm commissioned 16 October 1937, LCDR P. H. Talbot in command.

USS Helm (DD-388) photographed circa 1937-39. Note the dark paint on her forward 5/38 gun mounts. Also note her two forward guns are in turrets while the aft mounts are open, as with the rest of the class. NH 61888

By 1939, she was stationed on the West Coast and, along with her seven sisters, was at Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December 1941.

Pearl Harbor

Of the 30 destroyers inside Pearl Harbor when the Japanese first wave came at 0755, eight were Bagleys. While her classmates were all tied up or moored, Helm was underway from berth X-7 for deperming buoys at West Loch some 30 minutes before the attack. Since deperming could affect the ship’s compasses, two whaleboats containing every magnetic compass and chronometer issued to the ship were left behind– not the best way to start a war.

Helm’s location during the attack, steaming at the bottom left past Hospital Point to the West Loch Channel. Via SW Maps

As detailed in her after-action report, Helm spotted the first enemy plane at 0759, with a bomb dropping and hitting a hanger at Ford Island. By 0805, her aft pair of water-cooled .50-caliber machine guns had opened up and soon her 5-inchers would join the fight.

Just five minutes later, at 0810, they drew blood.

From her report:

In main channel steaming toward entrance. Fire from port after machine gun, manned by HUFF, W.C., GM.2c, 337 00 90, hit plane approaching from south. Plane veered sharply, caught fire, and crashed behind trees near Hickam Field. Ordered all boilers lighted off.

More on this plane later.

Over the next hour, Helm had a very hectic time of it, spotting an unusual submarine conning tower at 0817 and again at 0819, then duly firing on said tower off Tripod Reef until it submerged. Shortly afterward, the men on after guns and amidships observed a torpedo pass close under the stern on a northwesterly course.

It is unknown which of the nine suspected Japanese midget subs this was, or if it was damaged. However, most scholars believe it was the Type A Kō-hyōteki-class midget HA. 19. Crewed by Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, the hapless and damaged craft eventually was scuttled after which Inagaki drowned and Sakamaki was captured, the only Japanese POW from the Pearl Harbor attack and the first of the war. 

Japanese Type A midget submarine HA.19 Beached on Oahu after it went aground following attempts to enter Pearl Harbor during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after 8 December 1941. 80-G-17016

By 0830, Helm reached the harbor entrance and spent the next hour “Steaming on various courses and speeds off harbor entrance, steering by hand, firing intermittently at enemy planes, and searching for submarines, numerous large splashes being observed close at hand.” At 0915, a bomber from the Japanese second wave landed some near misses on the destroyer which popped seams and sheared rivets, so not only did she not have any magnetic nav gear, but she also had to contend with flooding and engineering casualties.

In all, she fired 90 rounds of 5-inch and 350 of .50 caliber during the attack

Once the smoke cleared, Helm was reunited with her two whaleboats and the seven men who manned them– they had withstood Japanese strafing runs and then later assisted in transporting casualties from Ford Island to the hospital landing. The destroyer had fired at numerous Japanese aircraft and is generally credited with downing the one seen smoking out at 0810. The plane, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero Model 21 fighter (c/n 5289), tail code AI-154, flown by PO1c Takeshi Hirano from the carrier Akagi, ultimately clipped coconut palm trees and crashed into the ordnance maintenance shop at Fort Kamehameha. It is one of the most photographed of the Japanese planes at Pearl Harbor. 

Interior of the cockpit of a Zero which crashed into Building 52 at Fort Kamehameha, Oahu, during the 7 December 1941 raid on Pearl Harbor. The pilot, who was killed, was NAP1/c Takeshi Hirano. The plane’s tail code was AI-154. Note the U.S. manufactured Fairchild Radio Compass in the upper center (Compass Model RC-4, Serial # 484). It was tuned in on 760 KC. 80-G-22158

Listed as “Japanese aviator—identity unknown” Hirano was interred at Schofield Barracks Cemetery two days later as his Zero, partially stripped by souvenir hunters, was hauled off to the Hawaiian Air Depot hangar for inspection. AI-154 was shipped the next year to Wright Field in Ohio for more study and its final disposition is unclear, although pieces of it have popped up on eBay over the years. 

After the war, 25 Japanese aviators and three submariners who had been interred around Pearl Harbor were repatriated home.

Back to Helm

Soon after the attack on Pearl, Helm assisted the carrier USS Saratoga as a plane guard then was dispatched to retrieve some very isolated Department of the Interior workers from Howland and Baker Islands, retrieving a total of six men via whaleboat in late January 1942 and fighting off a Japanese Yokosuka H5Y (Cherry) flying boat in the process. Helm reported that it wasn’t necessary to destroy the installations left behind on the islands as the Japanese had already done so.

USS Helm (DD-388) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 26 February 1942, just two weeks after her solo rescue mission to the Pheonix Islands. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. #19-N-28728

Helm then went further West, escorting convoys to the New Hebrides and New Caledonia.

USS Helm (DD-388) at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 6 April 1942. Photographed by USS Tangier (AV-8). 80-G-266840

She rescued 13 survivors from the cargo ship SS John Adams (7,100 tons) on 9 May, adrift after the Liberty ship was sunk by I-21. Helm then picked up four men from the fleet oiler USS Neosho (AO-23), sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea on 17 May. These men were taken to Brisbane, Australia, where Helm joined British Rear Admiral Crutchley’s Task Force 44 on 19 May.

Survivors from SS John Adams, sunk by a Japanese submarine about 125 miles southwest of Noumea, New Caledonia, on May 5, 1942. Rescue made by USS Helm (DD 388). Photographed May 9, 1942. 80-G-32126

She transitioned to the horrific naval fighting off Guadalcanal and participated in the Tulagi operation, shielding the landing on Blue Beach, and firing 103 5-inch shells at Hill 281 during naval gunfire support.

Ships maneuvering during the Japanese torpedo plane attack on the Tulagi invasion force, 8 August 1942. Several Japanese Navy Type 1 land attack planes (Betty) are faintly visible at left, center, and right, among the anti-aircraft shell bursts. The destroyer in the foreground appears to be USS Bagley (DD-386) or USS Helm (DD-388). A New Orleans class heavy cruiser is in the left distance, with a large splash beside it. The column of smoke in the left-center is probably from a crashed plane. NH 97751

During the nightmare that was the Battle of Salvo Island, Helm stood by the wrecked cruiser USS Astoria, and brought 175 survivors from USS Vincennes and USS Quincy to transports off Guadalcanal and withdrew with the remainder of the force to Noumea on 13 August.

On 29 November 1943, along with sistership Ralph Talbot and two Australian destroyers, she bombarded the Japanese positions during a night raid on Gasmata, New Britain, ripping off 403 5-inch shells. The next month she supported the landings by the 1st Marine Division on Borhen Bay.

On the night of 9 July 1944, with the cruiser USS Oakland, she fired 225 rounds of 5-inch on Japanese positions on occupied Guam.

September saw her extremely active off Iwo Jima, alternating hitting shore targets with NGF with neutralizing enemy shipping, sinking a small Maru on the morning of 2 September with 95 rounds then bagging another that afternoon with a further 78 rounds.

Helm engaged a suspected Japanese submarine on 28 October while screening RADM Davison’s carrier Task Group 38.4 in the Leyte Gulf, resulting in a “B” assessment. It is likely that Helm, with USS Gridley in support, sent the Emperor’s Type B3 submarine I-54 to the bottom, presumed lost with all 107 hands. Others think it may have been I-46, also reported missing in the same place and time. 

Helm was credited with shooting down a Japanese Oscar on 5 January 1945 while off Manila and six men were wounded when the doomed aircraft slammed into the searchlight platform.

Kamikaze attack on USS Helm (DD 388). The plane was shot down and crashed into the sea. Portside of the ship, off Luzon, Philippines, approximately 17:15. Photograph by USS Wake Island, released January 5, 1945. 80-G-273082

A Japanese plane makes a suicide attack on a Bagley class destroyer, west of the Philippines on 5 January 1945. The ship is probably USS Helm (DD-388), which was slightly damaged by a Kamikaze on that date. Note anti-aircraft shell bursts in the vicinity. Photographed by USS Steamer Bay (CVE-87). 80-G-273114

By the end of the war, Helm counted an impressive 11 battle stars for Pearl Harbor, Tulagi, Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Bismarck, Marianas, Carolines, Iwo Jima, Leyte, Luzon, and Okinawa.

She returned to the United States on 19 November 1945, then sailed back to Pearl Harbor where she decommissioned on 26 June 1946.

The destroyer was used that summer as a target ship during the Crossroads atomic tests in the Pacific along with sisterships Mugford and Ralph Talbot. While the latter two were radioactive after the tests and scuttled in deep water off Kwajalein, Helm was clean enough to allow her hulk was sold to Moore Dry Dock Co., Oakland, Calif., in October 1947 for scrapping.


Most of Helm’s war diaries and reports, along with her 12-page war history are digitized in the National Archives. 

Of her sisters, Jarvis, Blue, and Henley were lost in combat while the rest of the class was either expended in post-war tests or scrapped by 1948, no longer needed.

Few pieces of Helm remain, with her commissioning plaque on display at Hampton Roads Naval Museum. 

While Hirono’s Zero may have largely vanished, there is still a larger trophy of Helm’s Pearl Harbor experience around. HA-19 is today on display at The National Museum of the Pacific War.

The HA-19, also known as Japanese Midget Submarine “C” by the US Navy, a historic Imperial Japanese Navy Type A Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarine displayed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas

A tribute plaque to Helm is located near HA.19 at the National Museum of the Pacific War.


Camouflage Measure 32, Design 1D. Drawing prepared circa 1944 by the Bureau of Ships for a camouflage scheme intended for destroyers of the DD-380 (Gridley) class. Ships known to have worn this pattern included USS Bagley (DD-386), USS Helm (DD-388), USS Mugford (DD-389), and USS Ralph Talbot (DD-390). 80-G-150620/21

Displacement “1,500 tons” 2,245 tons (full)
Length: 341′ 4″ (oa)
Beam: 35′ 6″
Draft: 12′ 10″ (Max)
Machinery: 49,000 SHP; 2 sets General Electric geared steam turbines, 4 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 2 screws
Speed: 38.5 Knots
Range: 6500 NM@ 12 Knots on 337 tons of fuel oil
Crew: 158.
Sonar: QCA fitted 1942
Radar: SC, SG, Mk 12.22 added after 1945
4 x 5″/38AA DP Mk 12
4 x .50 cal water-cooled MG
16 x 21-inch torpedo tubes (4×4)
2 x Stern depth charge racks (20 dcs)
4 x 5″/38AA DP
2 x 2 40mm/56 Mk 1.2 Bofors
6 x 20mm/70 Mk 4 Oerlikons
16 x 21-inch torpedo tubes (4×4)
4 x K-gun style depth charge throwers (44 dcs)

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The Forgotten Iwo Jima Joes

While everyone remembers Iwo Jima as being a Navy-Marine Team win– the Marine’s monument at Arlington includes the iconic flag-raising on Mt. Suribachi as its centerpiece– there were also some Army troops involved in the campaign.

The 147th Infantry Regiment is an Ohio Army National Guard unit that dates back to 1861 when it formed as the 6th Ohio Infantry and went on to fight at Chickamauga. After suiting up again to fight against Spain in 1898, march into Mexico on the hunt for Pancho Villa in 1916, and slug it out with the Germans on the Western Front, the 147th was called back to federal service for a fifth time in 1941 when it formed the fourth regiment of the 37th Infantry Division. When that unit was converted from a “4-brigade “square” to a 3-brigade “triangle” the 147th was cut and would spend WWII a free agent of sorts.

After seeing the elephant alongside Marine units at Guadalcanal and being used as a garrison force on Emirau, Saipan, Tinian, and Eniwetok against isolated Japanese hold outs and raids, the 147th was tapped in to relieve exhausted Marine units on Iwo Jima some 29 days after D-Day.

The unit arrived offshore 75 years ago today on 20 March 1945, some 2,952 strong.

Make no mistake, while in many places you would think that an island would be safe a month after it was hit by three Marine divisions when the 147th arrived there was still a lot of work to do. For instance, just three days after the Army troops arrived, the Japanese launched a 300-man banzai attack into a rear-area near a hospital that had to be fought off by a combination that included Army Air Force pilots, Navy Seabees, and Marine pioneers.

OFFICER BIVOUAC AREA of the 21st Fighter Group following the Japanese attack on 24 March 1945. Note bullet-marked tents. (USAF 70576 AC)

Relieving the 3rd Marine Division in place after landing on Purple Beach, each of the regiment’s three battalions was assigned a sector to pacify and clear.

As told by in Douglas Nash’s “Army Boots on Volcanic Sands

On its first day of combat, patrols from the 1st Battalion (147th) killed 23 Japanese while being guided into their new area by Marines familiar with the area. Japanese troops probed their defensive positions that evening, randomly tossing hand grenades that kept everyone awake in their foxholes.

Over the next several weeks, the Ohioans would use Marine-developed “corkscrew and blowtorch” tactics against the warren of Japanese cave positions, a method that blended grenades, submachine guns and flamethrowers with the occasional bazooka, light machine gun and satchel charge thrown in for good measure.

Soldiers from the 147th Infantry engaging heavily fortified Japanese positions on Iwo Jima with an M1918 BAR and M9 bazooka

147th Infantry Regiment flame Thrower attack 8 Apil 1945

Caves of Iwo Jima by Army Artist Hans Mangelsdorf

By the end of the month, the regiment would suffer eight killed and 53 wounded, garnered while killing 387 Japanese and capturing 17 of the Emperor’s troops in the process.

In April, when a platoon of Japanese-speaking Nisei volunteers was attached to help coax out isolated and starving troops, the 147th took into custody 664 Japanese troops but still killed another 963 who couldn’t be talked into surrender.

Army troops clear cave on Iwo Jima with Thompson submachine guns. The man in the foreground is likely a Nisei terp.

Soon, the 147th would also relieve the 5th Marine Division and by 20 April was the only ground combat unit left on the island. They would continue their mopping up and garrison operations there through VJ-Day, in all accounting for nearly 2,500 (some say 6,000) Japanese troops while, says Nash, “the number who died in sealed up caves will never be known.”

In turn, the 147th would suffer 15 killed and 144 wounded in their often brutal Iwo Jima campaign. While elements of the unit would be siphoned off for assignments in Burma and on Tinian, the latter guarding the A-bomb, the Ohioans still on Iwo in September 1945 would deploy to newly-captured Okinawa for more mopping up duties there before returning home to the U.S., piecemeal, in 1946.

Captured Japanese Anti-Aircraft Gun, Iwo Jima, 1945 Mount Suribachi in the background.

The 147th Regiment (Regional Training Institute) is still a unit of the Ohio National Guard. Their motto is Cargoneek Guyoxim – Always Ready.

Amazingly, some of the last holdouts on Iwo Jima didn’t throw in the towel until 1949!

Welcome aboard, Woody

Named for MoH recipient Cpl. Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the U.S. Navy commissioned its newest expeditionary sea base– USS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams (ESB 4) in Norfolk, Virginia over the weekend.

Importantly, Williams, who earned his decoration while holding onto a 70-pound M2 flamethrower on Iwo Jima, where he used it like a surgeon, is the last MoH recipient from the Pacific War.

Hand salute to Woody

One of the most popular weapons used to root out the Japanese on Iwo Jima, 75 years ago this week, was the M2 flamethrower, and with good reason.

Defending the fortress was Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s 21,000 Japanese troops, which had largely evacuated the civilian population on Iwo and has spent months preparing the island’s difficult terrain to best resist the amphibious assault. They dug 16 miles of tunnels, broken up into 1,500 different bunkers, underneath the island. Most would never leave on their own two feet.

Flamethrowers were useful in routing the defenders from the honeycomb of underground tunnels and bunkers on the island, a tactic that evolved into what was known as the “blowtorch and corkscrew,” method.

Marine CPL Hershel “Woody” Williams, the last living Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific War, carried a 70-pound M2 on Iwo Jima and used it like a surgeon to successfully take on a network of reinforced concrete pillboxes, with four riflemen in support.

He is currently 96 years old.

In all, the Medal of Honor was presented to 22 Marines and five Sailors for their actions on Iwo Jima, many of those given posthumously. Adm. Chester Nimitz observed after the hellish battle that, “uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020: Hannah on the Beach

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, Feb. 19, 2020: Hannah on the Beach

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, Catalog #: 80-G-304721

Here we see a Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver scout/dive-bomber of VB-80 from USS Hancock (CV-19) flying over two battleships of the invasion fleet, 75 years ago today, during strikes on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945. The brand-new Essex-class fleet carrier was less than a year old but “Fighting Hannah,” as she was known by her crew, was well on her way to earning a long list of well-earned honors.

One of eighteen Essex-class carriers completed during World War II, CV-19 was the fourth U.S. Navy warship named after Founding Father John Hancock.

Besides being the famous inaugural signatory of the Declaration of Independence, Hancock is also a key father of the Marine Corps, having signed the commission of Samuel Nicholas, the Corp’s first officer and Commandant of Marines, inked on behalf of the Continental Congress 28 November 1775, some 18 days after the organization was founded.

The Massachusetts-native and first governor of the Commonwealth would have no doubt approved of the fact that the carrier with his name was built by Bethlehem Steel in Quincy, a city that was his own place of birth in 1737.

Laid down 26 January 1943, the 35,000-ton, 888-foot carrier, a “long-hull” version of the class, was launched 364 days later and commissioned 15 April 1944. In all, she was built in just under 15 months.

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) Launching at the Bethlehem Steel Co. Yard, Quincy, Massachusetts, 24 January 1944. NH 75626

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) In Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, on 15 April 1944. NH 91546

In June 1944, while in the Caribbean, she picked up Carrier Group Seven (CVG-7), composed of a “Sunday Punch” of 36 F6F Hellcats of VF-7, 36 SB2C Helldivers of VB-7, and 18 TBF Avengers of VT-7, which would remain her airwing for the rest of the year.

After shakedown, Hancock joined Halsey’s 3d Fleet at Ulithi on 5 October and was raiding Okinawan and Formosan airfields a week later before shifting to lend a hand in the huge operation that was the liberation of the Philippines.

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) SB2C-3 Helldiver of VB-7 flies below the overcast along the Eastern Coast of Formosa, en route to attack shipping at Kurin Ko, the principal North Coast Port, 13 October 1944. Note the twin gun pod under the plane’s wing, and nickname “Satan’s Angel” by its cockpit. At this time, Hancock’s airwing used an upside-down horseshoe for its tail code. 80-G-281326

Covering Army operations in the PI, she became the flagship of Fast Carrier Task Force 38, 17 November 1944 when VADM “Slim” McCain came on board.

Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. Commander task force 38, in his quarters aboard USS HANCOCK (CV-19). 80-G-294462

Surviving a “severe typhoon 17 December and rode out the storm in waves which broke over her flight deck, some 55 feet above her waterline,” Slim would take Hannah and a collection of her sister ships on an epic voyage through the South China Sea that we have talked about previously. This included sinking numerous Japanese tankers and transports and, along with her sisters, the Katori-class light cruiser Kashii.

Japanese Convoy of tankers and transports hit and left burning by carrier-based planes of task force 38, 15 miles south of Cam Ranh Bay, taken by planes from USS HANCOCK (CV-19), 12 January 1945 80-G-300706

Japanese Cruiser KASHII sinking off the coast of French Indochina after attack by SB2Cs from carriers of task force 38. The ship is in a large convoy of tankers and transports hard-hit in the action, 12 January 1945. Taken by a plane from USS HANCOCK (CV-19) 80-G-300683

By mid-February, Hannah had turned North and was raiding airfields near Tokyo with her CVG-80 air group reportedly downing 83 enemy planes in two days.

Then came Iwo Jima where her aircraft plastered the Japanese naval bases at Chichi Jima and Haha Jima on 19 February.

As noted by DANFS: “These raids were conducted to isolate Iwo Jima from air and sea support when Marines hit the beaches of that island to begin one of the most ‘bloody and fierce campaigns of the war. Hancock took station off this island to provide tactical support through 22 February, hitting enemy airfields and strafing Japanese troops ashore.”

USS HANCOCK -CV-19 and USS WASP CV-18 At Ulithi Anchorage, circa Mid-March 1945. Photographed from USS WEST VIRGINIA #: 80-G-K-3814

Then came more raids on Japan proper and support of the invasion of Okinawa, with CVG-6 aboard. There, she encountered the Divine Wind.

“A suicide plane cartwheeled across her flight deck on 7 April and crashed into a group of planes while its bomb hit the port catapult to cause a tremendous explosion. Although 62 men were killed and 71 wounded, heroic efforts doused the fires within half an hour enabling her to be ‘back in action before an hour had passed.”

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) afire after being hit by a kamikaze attack off Okinawa, 7 April 1945. Note fires burning fore and aft, and TBM Avenger flying over the carrier. Photographed from USS PASADENA (CL-65). 80-G-344876

Casualties are buried at sea on 9 April 1945. They were killed when Hancock was hit by a Kamikaze while operating off Okinawa on 7 April. 80-G-328574

Steaming back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, Hancock was back off Japan running airstrikes by 10 July.

A striking photograph shot by an aircraft off USS Hancock (CV 19) captures an attack against the Japanese battleship Ise. A flight deck is visible on the aft part of the ship reflecting her conversion to a hybrid aircraft carrier. 7/28/1945

Although “Fighting Hanna” did not enter Tokyo Bay until 10 September, her planes flew overhead during the formal surrender on board the battleship Missouri. She earned four battle stars in her short but very busy wartime service.

With the war ending, Hancock, just 16 months old, became a means of transport for Magic Carpet trips, shuttling nearly 10,000 GIs, Marines, and Sailors around the Pacific through January 1946.

A peacetime baseball game on Hannah’s empty deck in 1946.

She then did the same for aircraft for another few months until she was inactivated in Seattle just before her 2nd birthday.

A new war

Decommissioned officially on 9 May 1947, Hancock rested at her moorings until the Korean War sparked her reactivation.

Towed to Puget Sound in December 1951, she was given a new strengthened flight deck and updated aircraft handling gear with the addition of blast deflectors to become, what DANFS says was the “first carrier of the United States Fleet with steam catapults capable of launching high-performance jets,” when she finished her Project SCB-27C (Two Seven-Charlie) conversion 15 Feb 1954. On top of this, she received a further SCB-125 update at San Francisco in 1956 which added an enclosed bow and an angled flight deck. Her British-built C11 steam cats were the most advanced in the world at the time.

With this, she was dubbed an attack carrier (CVA-19). After conversion, she was much different in topside profile, a carrier of the jet era. Gone were her myriad of twin 5-inch, quad 40mm guns, and Oerlikons as well as her number three centerline elevator, the latter replaced by one with a deck-edge type of greater capacity. Her primary AAA weapons were new twin radar-controlled 3-inch/50 Mk 22 guns capable of firing 50 rounds per minute. Her island had been reconstructed to fit and operate the more modern radar.

USS Hancock (CVA-19) underway at sea on 15 July 1957. She was then serving with the Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific. There are seven FJ Fury, ten F2H Banshee (two different models); two F7U Cutlass, fifteen AD Skyraider, and three AJ Savage aircraft on her flight deck. Note the corner 5-inch singles and twin Mk 22 3-inchers behind them. NH 97539

Uncle Milty and a new singer named Elvis, or something, even held a show on Hancock, the pride of the Navy.

Hannah was even used as a testbed for launching early nuclear-capable Regulus cruise missiles from carriers. The big Vought-built turbojet-powered missile weighed nearly 7-tons and had a 22-foot wingspan. Carrying a W27 warhead– a development of the Mark 27 nuclear bomb for the A-3 Skywarrior and A-5 Vigilante with a 2-megaton yield– Regulus had a 500-nm range on a one-way trip.

The theory was that an unconverted straight-deck WWII Essex— the Navy had a few extras at the time– could be modified to carry 40 or 50 of these missiles in their hangar spaces and serve as a floating Regulus battery.

XSSM-8 Regulus, guided, taken aboard USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a tactical training mission at Naval Air Station, North Island, California, August 1, 1954. 80-G-648762

Being lifted on board 80-G-648764

Elevator and hangar trials on the missile’s railed launcher 80-G-648775


On deck. Note the JATO booster rockets on the side. 80-G-648792

Launched 17 October 80-G-648793

Then came Vietnam

Color photo of USS Hancock (CVA-19) leaves Pearl Harbor on 19 February 1962 with CVG-21 aboard on a West Pac cruise. Photo via USS Hancock (CVA-19) 1963 cruise book available at Navysite.de

An epic photo of catapult crewmen positioning an A-4C Skyhawk for launch, 24 March 1965. The carrier was then operating in Southeast Asian waters. Photographed by PH1 Jean Cote and PHC Robert Moeser. This A-4C appears to be BuNo. 149508. Markings below the cockpit indicate that the plane’s assigned pilot was LCDR Olof M. Carlson. USN 1110178-B

Aerial view of USS Hancock (CVA-19) passing under the Golden Gate Bridge on April 17, 1963. Note her assorted wing of A-4s, E-1s, F-8s, and huge A-3s. 

Hump Day! A-4 Skyhawks of three squadrons- the VA-55 Warhorses, VA-164 Ghost Riders, and VA-212 Rampant Raiders- pictured during combat operations on board USS Hancock (CVA 19) off Vietnam in 1972. (NNAM photo)

In all, Hancock would complete nine deployments to Vietnam in a day under 11 years, eight with Carrier Air Wing 21 (CVG/CVW-21), and one with CVW-5, a wing typically associated with the much larger USS Midway. The deployments typically ran about eight and a half months, although some were longer.

*21 Oct 1964 – 29 May 1965
*10 Nov 1965 – 1 Aug 1966
*5 Jan 1967 – 22 Jul 1967 (CVW-5)
*18 Jul 1968 – 3 Mar 1969
*2 Aug 1969 – 15 Apr 1970
*22 Oct 1970 – 3 Jun 1971
*7 Jan 1972 – 3 Oct 1972
*8 May 1973 – 8 Jan 1974
*18 Mar – 20 Oct 1975

Hancock’s wings in this period typically consisted of two squadrons of F-8 Crusader “gunfighters,” three attack squadrons of A-4E/F Skyhawks, and dets of RF-8 photo birds, EKA-3B electric Whales, E-1B Stoofs with a roof, and SH-3 Sea King helicopters. On her first three deployments, Hannah carried a squadron of A-1 Skyraiders and a det of A-3Bs Skywarriors in place of an A-4 squadron.

A well-worn A-1A Skyraider “Spad” of VA-215, “The Barn Owls,” is brought up to the Hancock’s catapult, while operating off the coast of Vietnam, 6 May 1966. Photographed by Photographer’s Mate Third Class Worthington, USN 1120337

When it came to going air-to-air with the Vietnam People’s Air Force, Crusaders from Hancock earned that dubious distinction first when they tangled with MiG-17s on 3 April 1965.

Via the NNAM: An F-8J Crusader of Fighter Squadron (VF) 211 pictured over the Gulf of Tonkin as it returns to the carrier Hancock (CVA 19) following a combat air patrol. Note the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the fuselage mount. During the Vietnam War, VF-211 was known to return to their carrier with AIM-9s missing from their arsenal given the fact that the squadron was credited with shooting down seven enemy MiG-17 fighters in air-to-air combat. Now designated VFA-211, the Fighting Checkmates celebrate their 75th birthday this year, having been established as Bombing Squadron (VB) 74 in 1945.

The shadow of a U.S. Navy RF-8A Crusader photograph recon plane passes near a burning Communist Vietnamese PT boat after it was blasted by U.S. Seventh Fleet aircraft from aircraft carriers USS Midway (CV 41) and USS Hancock (CV 19). This was one of the five PT boats destroyed by U.S. Navy aircraft on April 28, 1965. The boats were spotted in the Song Giang River near the Quang Khe Naval Base (located some 50 miles north of the 17th Parallel) despite heavy camouflage. A total of 58 Navy aircraft (28 strike and 30 support types) took part in the day-long attack. All were recovered safely. USN 711478

VA-55 A-4Fs on the deck of USS Hancock (CV-19) in an undated photograph UA 462.31

Aerial view of the attack aircraft carrier, USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) while operating in the South China Sea, 15 June 1966. Chief Photographer J.M. McClure, photographer USN 1118793

How many jets can you cram on a WWII carrier? USS Hancock (CVA-19) with Carrier Air Wing 21, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, August 2, 1969, bound for Westpac and her fifth Vietnam cruise

Color photo of A-4F Skyhawks being launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a strike in Vietnam in 1969. The A-4F on the starboard catapult was assigned to Attack Squadron VA-55 War Horses, the one on the port catapult to VA-164 Ghost Riders. Navy photograph from the 1969-70 cruise book.

An F-8 Crusader Fighter Aircraft arrives for a recovery onboard the attack aircraft carrier USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) 13 March 1971 while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin. K-88448

She aged and became one of the smallest attack carriers on the line while many of her sisters were relegated to ASW taskings, training, or the scrap pile.

An aerial view of three carriers of three different generations – Forrestal-class Supercarrier USS Ranger (CVA 61) in the foreground, the Essex-class USS Hancock (CVA 19) to the left, and Midway-class USS Coral Sea (CVA 43)- at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 1971

She celebrated 25 years with the fleet.

USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) In San Francisco Bay, California, upon her return from her 1968-1969 deployment to the Western Pacific, 3 March 1969. Crewmen in the formation of “44-69” on the flight deck signify 25 years of service. Photograph by Photographer’s Mate Second Class Winfield S. Frazeur. USN 1141660

Then she celebrated 30 years with the fleet.

USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) With men of VA-55 and crew members in the formation of “44-74” in honor of the ship’s thirty years of service. The photo was taken on 3 January 1974 by PH1 Cook. NH 84727

She would earn 13 Vietnam battle stars along with five Navy Unit Commendations and was present for the endgame in April 1975 when Saigon fell.

USS Brewton (FF-1086) and USS Bronstein (FF-1037) steam with USS Hancock (CV-19), which has an air wing of F-8s, A-4s, and E-1s of CVW-21 aboard. WesPac, 1975.

Landing her CVW-21 airwing for a final time, she took aboard five Marine helicopter squadrons and flew a mix of 25 CH-46s, UH-1s, AH-1 Cobras, and CH-53s into South Vietnam for Operation Frequent Wind, evacuating American and allied civilians and personnel.

Hancock launched the first helicopter wave of TF76 at 1244 on 29 April. Two hours later, the Marine aircraft landed at the U.S. Defense Attaché Office compound in Saigon.

Refugees from South Vietnam debark U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters of HMH-463 on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CV-19/LPH-19?) during Operation Frequent Wind, before the fall of Saigon. 29 April 1975. Photo by Arthur Ritchie via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/19.htm

In all, Hannah would recover 2,500 souls during the operation and famously ditch several empty South Vietnamese military helicopters over the side to make room for more.

USS Hancock returned from her final West Pac cruise on 20 October 1975 when she sailed under the Golden Gate on her own steam.

In all, Hannah had 26 commanding officers, most of which went on to wear stars. She had fought her way across the South China Sea in WWII from Indochina to Tokyo, launched wonky experimental cruise missiles from her deck, hosted the Pelvis before he was cool, flexed her muscle for Uncle in the Taiwan and Laos crises of the 1950s, and both opened and closed Yankee Station. In the end, perhaps no carrier spent more time in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict than USS Hancock. 

On 12 December 1975, CVW-21, a veteran of eight of Hancock’s Vietnam cruises (and one on sister ship USS Bon Homme Richard), was disestablished and has not been seen since.

On 30 January 1976, Hancock herself was decommissioned and sold for scrap before the end of the year. By the end of 1977, she had been scrapped in Southern California. A veterans’ association is alive and well to keep her memory alive. 

Her bell is on display in front of the ComNavLant Office Building in Norfolk, VA

She is also commemorated both in her WWII configuration and in SCB-125 conversion format in scale models by Trumpeter, Dragon, and others.

Of her sisters, the wooden-decked Hancock outlived all in the fleet except the training carrier USS Lexington and 1950s latecomer USS Oriskany. Even with that, the newer (and steel-decked!) Oriskany was laid up just eight months after Hannah. Today, four Essex-class flattops survive as museums in various states of repair: Yorktown, in South Carolina; Intrepid, in New York City; Hornet, in California; and Lexington in Texas. Please visit them.

There has not been a fifth USS Hancock but confusingly the Navy christened USS John Hancock (DD-981), a Spruance-class destroyer, at Pascagoula in 1977. After solid service, that greyhound was decommissioned at age 20 while still young and disposed of by dismantling– but that is another story.


USS HANCOCK (CV-19) photographed in 1944 while wearing camouflage pattern 32/3a. The photo is superimposed over a cutaway drawing of the forward hull of a typical “ESSEX” class carrier of that time. Catalog #: 80-G-334743

(As built, via Navypedia)
Displacement: 27,100 tons standard
Length: 888 feet overall
Beam: 93 feet waterline
Draft: 28 feet 7 inches, light
8 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp
Speed: 32.7 knots
Range: 14,100 nmi at 20 knots
Complement: 2,631 officers and enlisted crew. 3448 total with aircrew and Marine det.
Sensors: SK-2, SC-2, (1 – 2)x SG, SM, 2x Mk 12/22 radars
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
4 × twin Mk 32 5 inch/38 caliber guns around the island
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts, two on each corner
8 × quadruple Mk 1/2 Bofors 40 mm guns
46 × single Mk 4 Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
91–103 aircraft
Displacement: 41,200 tons fully loaded
Length: 910 feet overall
Beam: 147′ 6″ feet deck
Draft: 35 feet
8 × boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp
Speed: 28ish knots
Complement: 3050 plus aircrew and Marines
Sensors: SPS-12, SPS-8, SPS-10, 4x Mk 25, 4x Mk 35 radars, SLR-2 ECM suite
(Updated in the 1960s to SPS-30, SPS-37, SPN-10 radars, WLR-1, ULQ-6 ECM suites)
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts
11 × twin 73″/50 Mk 33 RF AA guns
70-80 aircraft

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Is it 1991 again?

So three things happened over the weekend.

#1 & #2, the Navy christened two brand new Virginia-class SSN’s on the same day (Saturday) some 500 miles part when they broke bottles at Newport News for the future USS Delaware (SSN 791) at 10 a.m and at Groton for the future USS Vermont (SSN 792) at 11 a.m. Importantly, Delaware is the last of the Block III Virginia’s and Vermont is the first of the Block IVs as these boats increasingly replace the old 688s.

181020-N-LW591-159 Groton, Conn. (Oct. 20, 2018) Ship sponsor Gloria Valdez, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisitions), breaks a bottle of wine produced by a Vermont vineyard to christen the Virginia-class, fast-attack submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Vermont (SSN 792), during a ceremony at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut. PCU Vermont is the third U.S. Navy vessel to be named in honor of the state of Vermont and the 19th Virginia-class, fast-attack submarine. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Steven Hoskins/Released)

And in the “welcome to Red Storm Rising, redux:”

For the first time in nearly 30 years, a U.S. aircraft carrier entered the Arctic Circle Oct. 19 to conduct operations in the Norwegian Sea.

“Accompanied by select ships from Carrier Strike Group Eight (CSG-8), the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) traveled north to demonstrate the flexibility and toughness of U.S. naval forces through high-end warfare training with regional allies and partners. USS America (CV 66) was the last ship to operate in the area, participating in NATO exercise North Star in September 1991.”

181019-N-EA818-0127 NORWEGIAN SEA (Oct. 19, 2018) An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the “Sunliners” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81, launches from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). For the first time in nearly 30 years, a U.S. aircraft carrier has entered the Arctic Circle. Accompanied by select ships from Carrier Strike Group Eight (CSG- 8), Harry S. Truman traveled north to demonstrate the flexibility and toughness of U.S. naval forces through high-end warfare training with regional allies and partners. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley/Released)

HST will be taking part in Trident Juncture, which sprawls across Norway and the surrounding areas of the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea, including Iceland and the airspace of Finland and Sweden from Oct. 25 to Nov. 23.

More than 50,000 participants – including 14,000 U.S. service members – are expected to participate, utilizing approximately 150 aircraft, 65 ships, and more than 10,000 vehicles in support of the exercise.

Part of the surge is an amphibious landing in Iceland that includes Iwo Jima‘s Amphibious Ready Group:

Which was not lost on MCT:

Everything old is new again…I feel like I should be playing Harpoon, optimized for Windows 2.11.

Vintage machine gun saved from the torch and put on display

LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton and Jane Sullivan-DePaoli pose with the Japanese Type 99 light machine gun recovered by her father from a pillbox on Iwo Jima. (Photo: Livingston County War Museum)

LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton and Jane Sullivan-DePaoli pose with the Japanese Type 99 light machine gun recovered by her father from a pillbox on Iwo Jima. (Photo: Livingston County War Museum)

An Illinois military museum has managed to save a historic machine gun, captured by an area Marine during World War II– but only after a local sheriff rescued it from the ATF first.

The Livingston County War Museum in Pontiac last week placed their newly-acquired Type 99 light machine gun on public display, surrounded by photos and memorabilia that once belonged to the man who brought it home from Iwo Jima.

That Marine, John Sullivan, helped silence the weapon in 1945– attested by the damage visible on the bipod and carrying handle of the 23-pound 7.7mm machine gun. And its a pretty interesting tale of how the gun got from the sands of Iwo to the museum.

Read the rest in my column at Guns.com