Tag Archives: korean war

Queen City Slammer

Here we see, 70 years ago today, the Cleveland-class light cruiser USS Manchester (CL-83) alongside the ammunition ship USS Mount Katmai (AE-16) at Wonsan Harbor, Korea, on 3 May 1951. To save time the re-arming took place within sight of enemy-held Wonsan. Rows of propellent canisters can be seen on the deck of Mount Katmai, projectiles, and canisters on the deck of Manchester.

NARA 80-G-428168.

USS Manchester (CL-83) replenishing ammunition while alongside USS Mount Katmai (AE-16) in Wonsan harbor, North Korea, within sight of enemy gun batteries, circa early 1951. Note projectiles on deck on both ships, powder tanks stacked on Mount Katmai, and wooden planks laid on Mount Katmai’s decks. It appears that projectiles are being brought on board Manchester, while empty powder tanks are being carried off of her. Projectiles are being hoisted into Manchester’s turret number two (in the lower left). NH 97184

Completed too late for use in WWII, Manchester was commissioned on 29 October 1946. All of her 26 sisters were decommissioned before the Korean War with Manchester being the only active Cleveland during the conflict.

And she was very active.

Operating with TF 77, she provided support for the Inchon landings in September 1950, go on to bombard North Korean troop concentrations on Tungsan Got, supported the invasion at Wonsan, stood by for the evac of Hungnam then switched back to the Wonson area to lend her guns to the blockade there.

In her second tour in Korea, the cruiser covered the grounded Thai corvette Prasae where she prevented the vessel from being swarmed by Norks. In addition, “Manchester patrolled along the Korean peninsula shelling military targets in areas such as Chinampo, Chongjin, Tong-Cho‑Ri as well as regularly returning to Hungnam, Songjin, and Wonsan to add to the destruction of those tightly held enemy positions,” notes DANFS.

Although completed with catapults for seaplanes, they had been removed by Korea and replaced with a wooden deck for a whirlybird.

Sikorsky HO3S helicopter, of squadron HU-1, lands on the cruiser’s after deck after a gunfire spotting mission off the Korean coast, March 1953. Note Manchester’s wooden decking with aircraft tie-down strips and hangar cover tracks; 6/47 triple gun turrets; 5/38 and 3/50 twin mounts in place of WWII-era 40mm Bofors– the only such Cleveland to receive this conversion. NH 92578

Speaking of which, one of Manchester’s choppers, an H03S1, flown by enlisted pilot Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic ADC(AP) Duane “Wilbur” Thorin of HU-1, became a lifesaver of international renown. Besides earning a DFC in saving 126 Thai sailors from Prasae over the course of 40 sorties, the NHHC elaborates that he:

[M]ade over 130 rescues in hostile territory before his helicopter crashed under fire during an attempted rescue in February 1952 and he was captured. He escaped from a POW camp in July 1952 but was recaptured. He was awarded a Silver Star and two more DFCs for his rescues. With his trademark green scarf, he was the inspiration for the fictitious Chief Petty Officer (NAP) Mike Forney in James Michener’s book, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, played by Mickey Rooney in the movie adaptation. Thorin was commissioned after the war and served as an analyst at the National Security Agency.

On Manchester’s third Korean war tour, she was again a regular sight on the gunline, often dueling with enemy shore batteries.

USS Manchester (CL-83) returns enemy counter-battery fire with her forward turret’s 6/47 guns, while operating off the North Korean east coast, March 1953. Note life rafts and floater nets stowed atop turret two. NH 97186

USS Manchester (CL-83) fires the left 6/47 gun of turret three at enemy shore batteries while operating off Wonsan, North Korea. NH 97185

USS Manchester (CL-83) engaging shore batteries off Wonsan, North Korea. Note splash from an enemy shell that has hit over. The small island on right is Hwangto-Do. 80-G-483203

She wrapped up her last tour just a week before the truce at Panmunjom.

A lone sailor observes the enemy coastline as the cruiser USS Manchester (CL-83), her shore bombardment completed, steams away from Wonsan Harbor. Photo and caption released by Commander Naval Forces Far East, under date of 7 July 1953. NH 97187

In all, she earned nine battlestars for the conflict and suffered no major battle damage. It would be her only war, being decommissioned 27 June 1956 after just 10 years of service and was scrapped four years later.

Of the rest of the Clevelands, most never left 1940s mothballs and were sent to the razor blade factory by 1960. Five were given a new lease on life and modified post-Korea as Galveston- and Providence-class guided missile cruisers, going on to see duty in the Vietnam era– with some receiving shells from USS Mount Katmai (AE-16) ironically. Just one of the class, the converted USS Little Rock (CL-92/CLG-4/CG-4), is preserved, serving since 1977 as a museum ship at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park.

Referred to as the “Queen City” reportedly due to being the most populous city in northern New England, Manchester, New Hampshire’s name is currently carried by an Independence-class littoral combat ship, LCS-14, commissioned in 2018.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

Photograph A 31788 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Here we see the crew of the Royal Navy light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) tooling up snowballs while frosty Fleet Air Arm Sea Furies and Fireflies sit by in cold storage, some 70 years ago this month. Don’t let the snap fool you, the British carrier at the time was off Korea, which was ridiculously hot when it came to combat, and both her crew and airwing were doing their part.

Theseus was one of 16 planned 1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot-long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25-knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers were lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies or remain on station in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

Capable of carrying up to 52 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry. Click to very much big up so you can read the details. 

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Two were completed as a peculiar RN invention of a “maintenance carrier,” intended just to repair and ferry but not operate aircraft. Some were immediately transferred to expanding Commonwealth fleets. Suddenly, the Australians, Canadians, and Indians became carrier operators. The Dutch (then Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader Colossus was sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Laid down 6 January 1943 at the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland, the same yard that built the famous Cunard liners RMS Campania and RMS Lucania, the mighty 32,000-ton carrier HMS Implacable (R86), and two-thirds of the infamous “Live Bait Squadron” cruisers, HMS Cressy and HMS Aboukir, Theseus came too late for the war, entering the fleet 9 February 1946. She was the third RN warship to carry the name of the mythical Athenian king, following in the footsteps of a ship-of-the-line that fought at the Nile and a Great War-era protected cruiser of the Edgar class.

Originally assigned to serve in the British Pacific Fleet, she sailed for Singapore to serve as the flagship for the 1st Carrier Squadron in the Far East. The brand-new carrier made a splash in Australia and the Western Pacific on her arrival.

HMS Theseus, Gibraltar 25th February 1947 on the way to the Pacific. Deck hockey on the Flight Deck, on the port side of the carrier island. Note the Sea Otter amphibious aircraft

HMS Theseus (R64) 11 July 1947 arriving in Australia. State Library of Victoria – Allan C. Green collection of glass negatives. H91.250/183

The same day, H91.250/181. Note her starboard elevated 40mm Bofors mounts.

And another, H91.250/179. Again, note her Bofors and extensive raft collection. Keep in mind that, while this was 1947, there were still plenty of unaccounted-for sea mines left around the world from the war, and tensions between the East and West were ramping up, with the Berlin Airlift approaching.

However, as soon as she arrived, the Admiralty was forced, due to dire post-war cost-cutting measures, to pull most of its capital ships back to Home Waters. Subsequently, the Fleet Air Arm Naval Air Bases in Ceylon and Singapore were closed, and Theseus returned prematurely from abroad.

Nonetheless, she would be back soon enough.

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel, Theseus’s sister, HMS Triumph, happened to be in Japanese waters with the rump occupation fleet of Task Force 95 and soon, in conjunction with the American Essex-class fleet carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), was performing air strikes on North Korean airfields within a week of the outbreak of the conflict.

As for Theseus, she had served in UK waters as Flagship of the 3rd Aircraft Carrier Squadron, Home Fleet, and trained with Vampire jet aircraft. On 14 August, she cast off from Plymouth to relive the understrength and rapidly wearing-out Triumph.

HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea carrying 23 Furies from 807 Squadron and 12 Fireflies from 813 Squadron, 17th Carrier Air Group, beginning strikes on North Korean targets on 9 October 1950. The day before, RADM William Gerrard “Bill” Andrewes, a Jutland veteran on his third war, arrived aboard and raised his flag.

THE KOREAN WAR 1950-1953 (KOR 638) A raid in progress on warehouses on the waterfront at Chinnampo in North Korea by Fairey Firefly aircraft from HMS THESEUS. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205020623

By 10 October, one of her planes, Sea Fury VW628, had been lost in a strike against the Chang-you railway bridge but its pilot, LT Stanley Leonard, was recovered by an American helicopter, a novelty, and returned (eventually) to the ship.

Speaking of helicopters, a U.S. Navy HO3S-1 (Sikorsky S-51) was assigned to Theseus to act as a ResCap plane guard in place of Sea Otter floatplanes, a mission they had also conducted with Triumph.

As noted in an excellent article on the subject by the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia:

HU-1’s first RN plane guard detachment consisted of one helicopter a few mechs, who doubled as aircrew, and one pilot, a Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Engine Mechanic Dan Fridley. Fridley was called a naval aviation pilot, to distinguish him from a naval aviator. Naval Aviators were officers, and Naval Aviation Pilots were enlisted men. ADC(AP) Fridley went the whole hog for Theseus, painting the Union Jack, “ROYAL NAVY” and “HMS THESEUS” on the side. The British tars, having no previous close-up experience with this new-fangled thing called a helicopter dubbed her “The Thing,” an appellation Fridley and his crew quickly embraced, going so far as to add that name to the rest of the whirlybird’s livery.

A USN HU-1 aboard HMS Theseus in the Korean campaign. Christened “The Thing” by RN sailors who had never seen such a contraption, the helicopter was on loan for SAR duties. Note the nickname painted on the side, and, further aft, the Union Jack and the words “HMS Theseus”. The helicopter transferred to HMAS Sydney when first Theseus and then Glory were relieved on Station. Via Fleet Air Arm of Australia.

As noted by a reunion site for the carrier:

The American helicopter rescue service cannot be too highly praised. Lts. Leonard, Humphreys, Keighley-Peach and Bowman were picked up behind enemy lines by these grand helicopter crews and Lts. Hamilton, Pinsent and Mr. Bailey and Acmn. II Loveys were picked up out of the sea by them. Lt.-Cdr. Gordon-Smith and Lt. Kelly were picked up by destroyers.

It was the stuff of newsreel footage.

The Thing was not the only American whirlybirds carried by Theseus. She also embarked helicopters from USS Worcester (CL-144) who specialized in counter-mine operations, another innovation.

By November 1950, with the North Koreans on the ropes, things kicked into high gear as hundreds of thousands of Chinese “Volunteers” poured across the Yalu River, starting an entirely new war for those tired of the old one.

And all of it in bitterly cold winter weather with snow and ice present.

HMS THESEUS IN WINTER WEATHER OFF KOREAN COAST. 8 DECEMBER 1950, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS OFF THE WEST COAST OF KOREA. (A 31790) On the flight deck of HMS THESEUS, Firefly, and Sea Fury aircraft covered with snow on the deck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162768

From Air Space Historian on the intensity of air ops from what was essentially a CVL:

Between 9 October and 5 November 1950, Theseus’ Furies (avg 19.3) made 492 sorties. From 5 December to 26 December, 423 Fury sorties were flown by an average of 19.6 aircraft. From 7 January 1951 to 23 March, 20.8 Furies flew 718 sorties, for a total of 1634 sorties over 98 days of operation (of which only 65 days were suitable for flying). All told, Theseus launched 3,500 sorties on 86 days during its seven-month deployment. During the first six months, Theseus’ air wing dropped 829,000 lbs. of explosives and fired 7,317 rockets and “half a million rounds of 20mm ammunition.” In recognition of these efforts, Theseus and the 17th Carrier Air Group was awarded the Rear-Admiral Sir Denis Boyd trophy for 1950 for “outstanding feat of naval aviation”

HMS Theseus Operating in Korea. 18 March 1951, on Board the Carrier at Sasebo, Japan. Vice Admiral W G Andrewes, KBE, CB, DSO, Commander of the British Commonwealth and Allied Fleet in Korean Waters, also responsible for the naval blockade of Korea, inspects the Marine Guard onboard HMS THESEUS. He is accompanied by Captain R S L Muldowney, RM, who commands the Marine detachment in THESEUS, and the Commanding Officer Captain A S Bolt, DSC, RN. The Marines are, left to right: Bugler J Noyes, Windsor, Berks; Sgt J Money, Deal, Kent; Marine G A Reckless, Rochdale, Lancs; Cpl A R Mead, Budliegh, Salterton, Devon; Marine J Neal, Portsmouth, Hants; Marine A D Whicker, Finsbury Park, London; Marine G P Quinn, Liverpool; Marine G Stevenson, Hatfield, Herts.

The British light fleet aircraft carrier HMS Theseus (R64) approaches Sasebo, Japan at the end of her deployment in Korea. Admiral A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command Far East, inspects the ship’s company who are formed up to spell out the ship’s name for the camera. April 1951. IWM A31901.

A stern-shot of the same image. Note the recognition stripes on her air wing, an easy solution borrowed from 1944 to try and avoid blue-on-blue air combat with so many different types of planes aloft over Korea

On 23 April 1951, sistership HMS Glory arrived from the UK to relieve her, with Bill Andrewes remaining behind to carry on the British efforts with the UN forces. Throughout the war, Commonwealth-manned Colossus and Majestic-class light carriers endured off the coast– the Admiralty tasking them rather than larger flattops to save money– with Glory being replaced by HMS Ocean and HMAS Sydney, while HMCS Warrior transported replacement aircraft from Britain. In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget carriers during the Korean conflict.

Her epic Korean tour over, Theseus sailed back for Portsmouth, arriving 29 May 1951, having been away from home for 285 days. In 215 days at sea, rotating back to Japan five times to re-arm and re-provision, she steamed 36,401 miles. She is mentioned extensively in the U.S. Navy’s history of the conflict.

Her Korean Campaign saw:


Number of Deck Landings: 4,594
Number of Catapult Launchings:  3,593
Number of Hours Flown: 10,189
Number of Flying Days: 114
Average number of Hours per Pilot: 268
Her scorecard:

Destroyed— 93 Junks, 153 Railway Trucks, 25 Railway Bridges, 485 Buildings, 73 Road Trucks, 66 Store Dumps, 6 Railway Tunnels, 17 Warehouses, 33 Gun Positions, 16 Road Bridges, 13 Railway Engines, 8 Tanks, 3 Railway Stations, 19 Factories, 5 Power Stations, 10 Command Posts, 4 Railway Sheds, 2 Jetties, 3 Cars, 1 Hangar, 5 Roadblocks, 12 Carts, 51 Barrack Buildings, 2 Steam Rollers, 2 Omnibuses, 1 Tug, 1 Excavator, 1 Floating Bridge, 1 “Bulldozer,” 1 Pump House.

Damaged— 18 Road Bridges, 77 Junks, 69 Railway Wagons, 1 Gun Position. 35 Buildings. 2 Store Dumps, 22 Warehouses, 34 Road Trucks, 1 Tractor, 15 Railway Bridges, 5 Railway Tunnels, 1 Airfield Runway, 4 Tanks, 18 Barrack Buildings, 1 Excavator, 4 Railway Sheds, 5 Factories, 10 Vehicle Revetments, 42, Sampans.

 

Peace

After an extensive refit and working back up, Theseus was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet in February 1952 to relieve sistership HMS Ocean, which was being prepared for service in Korea.

HMS THESEUS AT TRIESTE. NOVEMBER 1952, THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS FLOODLIT DURING A VISIT TO TRIESTE. (A 32386) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163257

The aircraft carrier HMS THESEUS leaving Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta. Astern are HMS GLASGOW, HMS CUMBERLAND, and HMNZ BLACK PRINCE. July 1953 IWM A 32611

In September 1953, she responded to the Paphos earthquake in Cyprus, which had left 50,000 without food or water. Her crews and embarked Dragonfly helicopters were just the ticket in the humanitarian crisis, buzzing around lending a hand while bringing aid and medical attention.

Theseus entering Malta starboard bow circa 1953 via Clydeships 201607061331400.C3

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Theseus and her sister Ocean should be re-tasked from operating fixed-wing aircraft and refitted for helicopters and a battalion-sized element of marines, then deemed “Commando Carriers,” a concept akin to a U.S. LPH. 

This brings us to…

Suez Crisis: Operation Musketeer.

After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, our two new commando carriers were part of the Anglo-French intervention, embarking troops and stores for passage to Cyprus and then on to North Africa. There, Whirlwinds and Sycamores from their decks took part in an early combat experiment in vertical envelopment from the sea, seizing Port Said.

Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) is shown with a crowded deck of Westland Whirlwind and Bristol Sycamore helicopters of the joint RAF/Army unit which operated alongside Royal Navy helicopters from her flight deck, November-December 1956. Note the French hospital ship in the background. IWM A 33639.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade [actually a mortar bomb] before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. Note his sand goggles, Pattern 37 webbing, and Denison smock– all looking very WWII. IWM A 33636.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. Note the desert goggles and MK V STEN gun of the Marine closest to the camera as well as the 2-inch patrol mortar with bomb tubes on deck. A 33635

British Royal Marines of 45 Commando loading into Royal Navy Westland Whirlwinds aboard the Colossus-class light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) to assault Egyptian positions during the Suez

Royal Navy Westland Whirlwind helicopters taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from the commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) during “Operation Musketeer”. November 1956. IWM A 33640.

After the Suez Crisis abated, she withdrew elements of the Army’s 16th Parachute Brigade from Egypt to Malta.

Troops, probably from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Port Said Egypt embarking on HMS THESEUS for the journey to Malta after the withdrawal from the crisis zone. Note the MK III “turtle” helmets on their packs and all of the No. 4 Enfields. The Brits had officially adopted the inch-pattern FN FAL, the L1A1 SLR, two years prior but they were not widespread at the time of the Suez and the old bolt guns were still around for some time, especially in support units. IWM HU 104203

After spending another year at Portsmouth in the Training Squadron, Theseus was mothballed in October 1957, having served just 11 years with the fleet. Paid off the next year, she was laid up until sold to BISCO for breaking-up at Inverkeithing, arriving at the breakers yard on 29 May 1962.

The last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 then scrapped. The final vessel of her class sent to the breakers, the third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang.

Since 1958, there has not been a Theseus in the Royal Navy.

A memorial marker to the six men lost from Theseus in Korea is in Cobham Hall at the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

She is also remembered in maritime art.

HMS Theseus by John S Smith. Via the Illustration Art Gallery https://bookpalace.com/acatalog/info_SmithJSCarrierLL.html

HMS Theseus by Ivan Berryman. Two Fairey Firefly fighter-bombers of 810 Sqn, Fleet Air Arm, overfly the carrier HMS Theseus during the Korean War. Via Ivan Berryman.com https://www.ivanberryman.com/ivan_berryman_art.php?ProdID=3212

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The Far-Reaching UN Forces in Korea and the Things they Carried

With this month being the 70th anniversary of the rush by the Free World to help keep the fledgling Republic of Korea from forced incorporation by its Communist neighbor to the North, it should be pointed out that the UN forces that mustered to liberate Seoul and keep it so carried an interesting array of arms. Gathered ultimately from 21 countries you had a lot of WWII-era repeats such as No. 3 and No. 4 Enfields carried by Commonwealth troops as well as M1 Garands/Carbines toted by American and a host of Uncle Sam-supplied countries.

But there were most assuredly some oddball infantry weapons that were used as well.

One historical curiosity was the initial contingent supplied by the Royal Thai Army, who left for Korea in October 1950 wearing French Adrian-style “sun” helmets and armed with 8x52mm Type 66 Siamese Mausers that were actually versions of the bolt-action Japanese Type 38 Arisaka built before WWII at Japan’s Koishikawa arsenal.

Note their French-style helmets, U.S.-marked M36 packs, and Japanese Showa-period rifles. Ultimately, more than 10,000 Thai troops would serve in the Korean War alongside U.S. forces, fighting notably at the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. (Photo: UN News Archives)

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Coming home from the Forgotten War

As appropriate with the 70th anniversary of the Korean War this month, the DOD reports: 

In the largest repatriation of South Korean soldiers’ remains from the Korean War, 147 such remains were returned to South Korea following an honor ceremony last week at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.

Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and [South Korea’s] Ministry of National Defense Agency for KIA Recovery and Identification have jointly worked on the remains, as being ROK soldiers who had often died alongside U.S. troops.

MAKRI and DPAA scientists have conducted joint forensic reviews and validated 147 remains as being of South Korean origin.

In a mutual exchange, six Americans identified on South Korean battlefields were transferred to U.S. custody at Osan.

Honor Guard from UN countries participates in a dignified transfer as part of a repatriation ceremony at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, June 26, 2020. The United Nations Command in Korea remains committed to enforcing the 1953 UN Armistice Agreement and overseeing activities such as this repatriation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Noah Sudolcan)

2019 Coming in hot!

Happy New Year to one and all, hope yours gets off to a bang.

Battleship USS New Jersey BB-62 firing a six-gun salvo at an enemy troop concentration near Kaesong, Korea, 1 January 1953.

And also a happy 131st birthday to the man, the myth, the legend, John Cantius Garand, the ultimate New Year’s Baby

The Canadian-born engineer worked at Springfield Armory starting from 1919 (a century ago this year) until he retired in 1953, first on a number of full-auto light machine guns, then on his more famous semi-auto in its various forms.

Always remember to put them up clean

If ever there was a lesson in why you should store your guns in good condition, here we see the Iowa-class battlewagon, USS New Jersey (BB-62), as she was put to pasture after her WWII service.

The Sailors are removing the muzzle seals from two of her forward turret’s 16″/50cal Mark 7 guns, while she was being reactivated at the Naval Supply Depot, Bayonne, Oct. 1950, for use in Korea.

New Jersey, of course, would go back into retirement following Korea, only to be recommissioned a third time for Vietnam, and a fourth in the 1980s to help the Reagan-era 600-ship Navy make weight.

Warship Wednesday, August 16, 2017: Possibly the most Devil Dog carrier, ever

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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 16, 2017: Possibly the most Devil Dog carrier, ever

Here we see the Commencement Bay-class escort carrier, USS Sicily (CVE-118), as she enters San Diego Bay on her return from her first deployment to the Korean War zone, 5 February 1951. Note the Marine Corps F4U Corsairs, OY-2 Sentinel spotter planes and the early Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter on deck. The aircraft to the rear are Grumman AF-2W Guardians, an early ASW plane. The baby flattop had already marked her place in Marine Corps history when this image was taken.

Of the 130 U.S./RN escort carriers– merchant ships hulls given a hangar, magazine, and flight deck– built during WWII, the late-war Commencement Bay-class was by far the Cadillac of the design slope. Using lessons learned from the earlier Long Island, Avenger, Sangamon, Bogue and Casablanca-class ships. Like the Sangamon-class, they were based on Maritime Commission T3 class tanker hulls (which they shared with the roomy replenishment oilers of the Chiwawa, Cimarron, and Ashtabula-classes), from the keel-up, these were made into flattops.

Pushing some 25,000-tons at full load, they could make 19-knots which was faster than a lot of submarines looking to plug them. A decent suite of about 60 AAA guns spread across 5-inch, 40mm and 20mm fittings could put as much flying lead in the air as a light cruiser of the day when enemy aircraft came calling. Finally, they could carry a 30-40 aircraft airwing of single-engine fighter bombers and torpedo planes ready for a fight or about twice that many planes if being used as a delivery ship.

Sound good, right? Of course, and had the war ran into 1946-47, the 33 planned vessels of the Commencement Bay-class would have no doubt fought kamikazes, midget subs and suicide boats tooth and nail just off the coast of the Japanese Home Islands.

However, the war ended in Sept. 1945 with only nine of the class barely in commission– most of those still on shake down cruises. Just two, Block Island and Gilbert Islands, saw significant combat, at Okinawa and Balikpapan, winning two and three battle stars, respectively. Kula Gulf and Cape Gloucester picked up a single battle star.

With the war over, some of the class, such as USS Rabaul and USS Tinian, though complete were never commissioned and simply laid up in mothballs, never being brought to life. Four other ships were cancelled before launching just after the bomb on Nagasaki was dropped. In all, just 19 of the planned 33 were commissioned.

The hero of our tale, the only ship in the U.S. Navy ever named after the island of Sicily, or more correctly the 1943 military campaign for that island, was laid down at Todd-Pacific Shipyards, Tacoma, Washington, 23 October 1944 and commissioned 27 February 1946. Ironically, seven earlier sisters were decommissioned the same year.

Arriving on the East Coast in July 1946 after shakedown and outfitting Sicily served in the Atlantic Fleet in a number of support and ASW roles, experimenting new types and tactics for the next three years while stationed at Norfolk. By 1950, she was one of the few escort carriers still in active service and embarked big AF-2W (TB3F-1S) Guardians (at 22,000-lbs takeoff weight, the largest single-engine piston-powered carrier aircraft, and likely the largest aircraft period, operated from escort carriers), aboard.

USS SICILY (CVE-118) at New York City, September 1947. Courtesy of The Marine Museum, Newport News, Va. Ted Stone Collection. Catalog #: NH 66791

Navy blimp K-125 operations aboard USS Sicily (CVE 118) during the recent maneuvers in the Caribbean. As the blimp descends, the flight deck crewmen take hold of the handling lines and bring her to rest on the deck of the ship, released April 6, 1949. U.S. Navy Photograph, 80-G-707078, now in the collections of the National Archives.

On 3 April 1950, Sicily was reassigned to the Pacific Fleet, arriving at San Diego later that month. While preparing for summer exercises, the North Koreans crossed over into South Korea and the balloon went up.

Gregory “Pappy” Boyington’s famous Black Sheep Squadron, VMF-214, then under Major Robert P. Keller, were given orders to embark for Korea on Sicily as soon as possible. While the Corsairs weren’t front-line fighters in the burgeoning jet age, they could still perform CAS, interdiction, and armed reconnaissance missions and look good doing it.

The ship was commanded by noted WWII aviator, Capt. John S. Thach (USNA 1927), inventor of the “Thach Weave”, a tactic that enabled the generally mediocre U.S. fighters of 1942 to hold their own against the Japanese Zero.

Captain John S. Thach and Lieutenant J.V. Hames, USMC, on board USS Sicily (CVE 118) during Inchon Invasion. Lieutenant Hanes is a member of VMF-214) and is from Santa Monica, California. 80-G-420280

With a line up like Thach and the Black Sheep, you know what happened next.

On 3 August 1950, a group of 8 F4U-4B Corsairs from VMF-214 became the first Marine squadron to see action in Korea, launching from Sicily and executing a raid against DPRK positions near Inchon. At the time, the little jeep carrier was flagship of Carrier Division (CarDiv) 15.

U.S. Marine Corps F4U-4B Corsair fighter-bomber Receives final checks to its armament of bombs and 5-inch rockets, just prior to being catapulted from USS Sicily (CVE-118) for a strike on enemy forces in Korea. The original photograph is dated 16 November 1950, but was probably taken in August-October 1950. Note battered paint on this aircraft. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-419929

The withdrawal of the marines from the Chosin Reservoir to Hungnam was covered by Corsairs from Sicily. HVAR rockets and napalm make good party favors.

Speaking of that napalm smell…

One of the Black Sheep pilots at the time was 1Lt. Donald “The Great Santini” Conroy, a storied figure who entered the Marines as an enlisted man in WWII and later retired as a full colonel in 1974 after pushing A-4s in Vietnam. More on Conroy later.

National Archives footage of VMF-214 on board Sicily, United States Naval Photographic Center film #246. (no sound)

The jeep carrier also supported SAR ops via helicopters and recon/spotting missions with OY-2s.

USS Sicily (CVE-118) launches a U.S. Marine Corps OY-2 Sentinel spotter plane during operations in the Yellow Sea, off the west coast of Korea, 22 September 1950. Sicily was then supporting the campaign to recapture Seoul. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-420239

The Black Sheep eventually left and Sicily picked up the Death Rattlers of VMF-323 for her second tour with the 7th Fleet, from 13 May to 12 October 1951.

F4U-4 Corsair aircraft of VMF-323 lined up on the flight deck of USS Sicily (CVE-118) in waters off MCAS Sesebo, Japan. 1951. Note the rattlesnakes painted on some aircraft, due to the squadron’s nickname “Death Rattlers”.

F4U-4 Corsair aircraft of VMF-323 armed with bombs, napalm tanks and HVAR rockets are launched for a mission from the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118) off Korea, in 1951.

On her third tour in Korea, 8 May to 4 December 1952, she had a few new tricks up her sleeve.

In late August 1952, Sicily took aboard the Sikorsky HRS-1 helicopters of Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 (HMR-161) and tested the first vertical envelopment (moving combat-ready Marines from ship to shore via whirlybird) combined with an amphibious assault in what was termed Operation “Marlex-5” off the coast of Inchon. While the tactic had been trialed in California earlier that year with HMR-162, the op with Sicily was the first time it was used overseas, much less in a combat zone.

USS Sicily (CVE-118) launches U.S. Marine Corps HRS-1 helicopters during Operation Marlex-5 off the west coast of Korea in the Inchon area. Photo is dated 1 September 1952. Nearest HRS-1 is Bureau # 127798. It wears the markings of squadron HMR-161. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-477573

U.S. Marine Sikorsky HRS-2 helicopters lined-up ready on the flight deck of the escort carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118). Note U.S. Marines on the Sicily’s elevator. U.S. Navy photo. Navsource NS0311818

On 4 September 1952, the Checkerboards of Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (VMF-312) moved from airfields ashore to Sicily’s decks and over the next several days their Corsairs had a number of run-ins with North Korean MiGs. The hardy Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, which could do Mach 0.87 at sea level and had a pair of 23mm cannon supplemented by a big 37mm mount, was a brawler.

Well about that…

On 10 September, Marine Capt. Jesse Folmar in his F4U-B (BuNo 62927) destroyed a North Korean MiG-15 in aerial combat over the west coast of Korea while flying with his wingman. Outnumbered 4:1 the two Marine Corsairs were outnumbered by eight MiGs.

From VMF-312’s unit history:

Folmar and Walter E. Daniels were attacked by eight MIG-1 5s which made repeated firing runs on the slower F4Us as they tried to get out of the area. After one of the MIGs completed a run on the Corsairs, instead of breaking off to the side, the jet pulled up directly in front of Captain Folmar’s guns. A quick burst of the 20mm cannon soon had the MIG ablaze and heading for the ground. The kill marked the first time an American had downed a jet fighter with a propeller-driven aircraft. Another MIG retaliated with a burst of 37mm fire which forced Captain Folmar to bail out, but he was rescued and returned to the ship. Captain Daniels’ plane was not hit and safely landed on board the carrier.

It was quite a feat.

While USAAF, Soviet and British piston-engine fighters chalked up something like 150~ German Komets and Me262 kills in the latter stages of WWII, the MiG was a much more formidable adversary. There were few comparable events.

The Brits, in their only air-to-air victory in Korea, chalked up a similar action to Folmar’s when on 9 August 1952, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Lt. “Hoagy” Carmichael of 802 Squadron downed a Nork MiG 15 while flying a Sea Fury of the carrier HMS Ocean, while in Vietnam Navy A-1 Skyraiders accounted for several MiG-17s.

Sicily’s Guardians, of Navy Reserve Anti-Submarine Squadron VS-931, also gave unsung service, conducting maritime patrol and keeping an eye out for submarines. Two of the big sub hunters, with their four-man crews, were lost while on Sicily‘s third war cruise– BuNo 124843 and 126830– though their crews were saved.

The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Sicily (CVE-118) underway, with Grumman AF-2S and AF-2W Guardians of SV-931, circa in October 1952, en route to Hawaii. Photo by LtJG Philip Nelson, USN via Wiki

Sicily finished the war in the United Nations Escort and Blockading Force, deploying to the Far East from 14 July 1953 to 25 February 1954.

USS Sicily (CVE-118) photographed at the Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, circa February 1954, with USS Yorktown (CVA-10) at right and eleven LCM landing craft in the foreground. Grumman AF Guardian anti-submarine aircraft are parked on Sicily’s flight deck. Douglas AD Skyraider attack planes are parked aft on Yorktown’s flight deck. Catalog #: NH 97318

USS Sicily (CVE-118) underway with F4U aircraft parked aft, April 1954. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97317

And just like that, with a tad over eight years of service, five Korean War battle stars, and legends under her belt, Sicily was decommissioned 4 Oct 1954. Though retained in mothballs until 1960, the days of the short-deck carrier were over for the jet powered Navy and newer purpose-built Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ships, with about half the crew of the Sicily and her sisters, were being commissioned to carry Marine helicopters into battle. Like the Commencement Bay-class, the Iwo’s were named after battles.

On 31 October 1960, Sicily was sold to the Nicolai Joffe Corporation for scrap.

Of the rest of the Commencement Bay-class, most saw a mixed bag of post-WWII service as Helicopter Carriers (CVHE) or Cargo Ship and Aircraft Ferries (AKV). Most were sold for scrap by the early 1970s with the last of the class, Gilbert Islands, converted to a communication relay ship, AGMR-1, enduring on active service until 1969 and going to the breakers in 1979. Their more than 30 “sisters below the waist” the other T3 tankers were used by the Navy through the Cold War with the last of the breed, USS Mispillion (AO-105), headed to the breakers in 2011.

As for Sicily‘s heroes, their tales endure.

MiG-killer Folmar’s deeds from Sicily in 1952 were commemorated in a painting by Lou Drendel, which now hangs at the Naval Air and Space Museum in Pensacola.

The Aviator himself was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame and is buried in Foley, Alabama, passing away in 2004.

Remember the (literal) Black Sheep pilot, The Great Santini? Conroy’s son, Southern storyteller Pat Conroy, later based Lt. Col. Bull Meechum, USMC (played by Robert Duvall in the movie) as the wild man Marine Corps pilot with a host of family issues on his father in a book and film of the same name.

Conroy, who called MCAS Beaufort home and graduated from the Citadel, filled his works with many references to Marines and, obliquely, to his father. Col. Conroy is buried at Beaufort and in later life he attended book signings alongside Pat, inking “The Great Santini” with his signature.

Of Sicily‘s Marine squadrons, all are still around. VMFA-312 flies F/A-18Cs based out of MCAS Beaufort (Santini’s base) while the Black Sheep of VMA-214 are pushing AV-8Bs out of Yuma until they get their shiny new F-35Cs. The Death Rattlers of VMFA-323? They are assigned to Miramar and still deploy on carriers regularly, as their Hornets are a part of Carrier Wing 11.

Meanwhile, the Korean People’s Army Air Force remain the last military operator of the MiG-15, as some things never change.

Specs:


Displacement:
10,900 long tons (11,100 t) standard
24,100 long tons (24,500 t) full load
Length: 557 ft. (170 m)
Beam:
75 ft. (23 m)
105 ft. 2 in (32.05 m) flight deck
Draft: 30 ft. 8 in (9.35 m)
Propulsion: 2-shaft geared turbines, 16,000 shp
Speed: 19 knots (22 mph; 35 km/h)
Complement: 1,066 officers and men
Armament:
2 × 5″/38 caliber guns (1 × 2)
36 × 40 mm Bofors gun (3 × 4, 12 × 2)
20 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons
Aircraft carried: 34

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Godspeed, Col. Glenn

149 combat missions in WWII and Korea, splashed  3 MiGs, picked up 6 DFCs and 18 Air Medals. Also did some space stuff.

149 combat missions in WWII and Korea, splashed 3 MiGs, picked up 6 DFCs and 18 Air Medals. Also did some space stuff.

He wasn’t sure whether the flaming debris was the rocket pack or the heat shield breaking up. “Fortunately,” he told an interviewer,“ it was the rocket pack – or I wouldn’t be answering these questions.”

May Tear Washer

I passed through Athens, Alabama a few days ago and if you ever get a chance, check out the museum there. Its a great collection. In the back room they have something that I promise no other museum has… the maytear.

“Maytear” Washingmachine at the Alabama Military History/Veterans Museum in Athens, Alabama. Is a reproduction of a machine built by the 1343rd (Combat) Engineer Battalion of the Alabama National Guard during the Korean War. Built from a gas engine, a belt, a few wheels, and two 55-gal drums, it was pretty effective, but “May Tear”

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