Tag Archives: lewis gun

95 Years Ago: Jan Hollander on the Szechnen Road

As with all Western navies of the day, the Dutch had special marching order equipment to supply sailors for landing divisions in a sort of light infantry (Matrozen van de Landingsdivisie), and a great example of which are these series of shots of sailors from the Java-class light cruiser Hr.Ms. Sumatra alongside Dutch Marines (Korps Mariniers) on post in war-torn 1927 Shanghai overlooking the Szechnen Road on the bridge over Soochow Creek near the Main Post Office.

Five sailors in marching order including cartridge pouches on leather webbing and puttees, with a Marine and a local “mascot” who may have been brought with the ship from the Dutch East Indies. As the Royal Navy and U.S. Navy did with ships stationed in the Far East, as much as a fifth of the personnel aboard Dutch ships in the region at the time were drawn from local recruits. Note the Geweer M. 95 6.5mm Dutch Mannlichers with their distinctive early model (pre-1905) 19-inch OEWG hooked quillon bayonets. NIMH 2173-224-044

NIMH 2173-224-132

Mugging for the camera, with two Marines and two sailors. Note the Lewis gun and mass of rickshaws in the background. NIMH 2158_061470

The Dutch, along with other European, Japanese, and American forces, were active in the city during the panic that saw the rebellious Reds of the Shanghai Commune crushed by Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT troops. Sumatra’s sailors were ashore and on post from 19 February to 12 May 1927.

The Rifles of Pearl Harbor

On that sleepy Sunday morning 80 years ago, which was interrupted by incoming waves of Japanese warplanes, a lot of the response came from individuals fighting with nothing more than rifles.

The crew abandoning the damaged battleship USS California (BB-44) as burning oil drifts down on the ship, at about 1000 hrs on the morning of 7 December 1941, shortly after the end of the Japanese raid. The capsized hull of the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is visible at the right. Note the Sailors to the left with rifles. Official U.S. Navy Photograph NH 97399

The most important American base in the Central Pacific, Pearl Harbor was home to the bulk of the Pacific Fleet along with significant Army units. Although a war warning had been sent to the base after intelligence pointing to a looming attack following months of deteriorating relations with the Empire of Japan, it would not be read until hours after the attack had ended.
 
Thus, the fleet and bases were more concerned with threats of sabotage and in capturing spies, rather than warding off 360 incoming Japanese planes armed with bombs and torpedoes. Ships and heavy guns were offline, their crews relaxing on a quiet peacetime morning. This left those on duty able to resist at first with just the arms at hand.

Most common was the M1903 Springfield, a bolt-action .30-06 with an internal 5-shot magazine. The Springfield was used by the Marines and held in the Navy’s small arms lockers and armories. Even lighthouse keepers and NPS park rangers, in the months before the attack, were issued M1903s “on loan from the Army” and .45s for use in patrol work along the coastline.

Lesser encountered was the M1 Garand. A new rifle adopted by the Army in 1937 to replace the M1903, it too was chambered in .30-06 but loaded from an eight-shot en-bloc clip. Not all soldiers in Hawaii in 1941 had the new rifle, and many still relied on the M1903.

Two three-brigade “triangular” infantry divisions were in Hawaii at the time, the newly formed 25th Infantry Division (from the 27th and 35th Infantry Regiments of the old “square” Hawaiian Division and the 298th Infantry Regiment of the recently federalized Hawaii National Guard) and the 24th Infantry Division (made up of the 19th and the 21st Infantry Regiment from the old Hawaiian Division and the 299th Infantry Regiment from the Hawaii Guard). The TO&E for a 1941 triangular infantry division allowed for 7,327 M1 Garands, meaning there should have been at least 15,000 or so of the new guns in the territory.

Other .30-caliber firearms on hand that day included M1918 BARs, M1917 watercooled heavy and aircooled M1919 light machine guns, along with Lewis guns, the latter a light automatic rifle that fired from a 47-round magazine and was still in use by the Navy.

Gordon Prange, in his book on the attack, “At Dawn We Slept,” detailed that General Walter Short, head of the Army’s forces in Hawaii, was so fixated on countering sabotage from perceived local threats that his ordnance department refused to issue ammunition in practice, believing that as long as it was safely locked up and safely guarded it could not be tampered with.

Clips vs. Clips!

Part of the problem resulting from the ongoing switchover from the M1903, which used five-round stripper clips to charge the bolt-action rifle, to the new semi-auto M1 Garand, which used eight-shot en bloc clips, was that .30-06 ammo on hand was often prepacked in bandoliers for the older rifle.

As detailed in a 2002 American Hangunner article by Massad Ayoob, Marine Pvt. Le Fan recalled they had been handed M1 Garands that morning but the only ammo that could be had was clipped for the M1903.
 
“I opened the receiver of my Garand and put one round into the chamber and closed it,” said Fan. “I recall one Japanese pilot coming over, and he waved at us as he did. He was very low – less than 100 feet high – because he was going to Battleship Row. They would wave at us, and we were throwing .30 caliber rounds at them as fast as we could, from single shots because we could not fire semi-automatic. I fired 60 rounds because I recall this particular bandolier that I got had 60 rounds in it.”

The Army Clocks in

Some 43,000 soldiers were on active duty in Hawaii in December 1941. At Fort Kamehameha, named for Hawaii’s national hero, attacking Japanese Zeroes were seen to come in as low as 50 feet off the ground. By 0813, soldiers had set up machine guns on the base’s tennis courts.
 
Now 103 years old, Joe Eskenazi was a 23-year-old Army private at Schofield Barracks who woke up that Sunday morning with a start. “I look up, and I see a Zero (aircraft) flying over my head. He was flying so low that I think I could see his goggles,” Eskenazi recalled in a recent interview. “I said, ‘Oh my God. That’s a Zero fighter going by us,’ and then I saw bombs drop.” His next move was to grab his M1 Garand rifle and some ammo and jump in a truck with other soldiers. Using his rifle on a low flying Zero, just moments later, “I started to see the dirt kicking up only three feet away from the door.”

USAAF Personnel with a “WE WILL KEEP EM FLYING” sign at the entrance to the damaged base engineering shop at Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu Hawaii – December 1941. Note the early M1 Garand. At this point in the rifle’s production, Springfield Armory, has just cranked out 429,811 guns. LIFE Magazine Archives – Bob Landry Photographer

Prange retells the account of Lt. Stephen Saltzman at Schofield Barracks who, with Sgt. Lowell Klatt, grabbed two BARs and “too mad to be scared” engaged a low-flying Japanese plane whose own machine guns were winking at the men on the ground. The plane pulled up to avoid high-tension wires, then crashed on the other side of the building. When Saltzman and Klatt approached the wreck, they found the two aviators inside to be dead. The author notes that “of the four aircraft which fell to Army guns” during the Japanese first wave, “all succumbed to machinegun or BAR fire when they screamed down to strafe within range of these relatively limited weapons.”

The Navy fights back

“Gunners on board seaplane tender USS Avocet look for more Japanese planes, at about the time the air raid ended. Photographed from atop a building at Naval Air Station Ford Island, looking toward the Navy Yard. USS Nevada is at right, with her bow afire. Beyond her is the burning USS Shaw. Smoke at left comes from the destroyers Cassin and Downes, ablaze in Drydock Number One.” Note the Lewis gun on top of Avocet’s wheelhouse. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32445

Tied up at the Navy Yard was the cruiser USS New Orleans, which sounded General Quarters at 0757 immediately after seeing enemy planes dive-bombing Ford Island. While men scrambled to bring the ship’s 1.1-inch “Chicago Piano” battery online,” the Japanese were fired at with rifles and pistols from the fantail.” By 0810, the quantity of fire coming from the cruiser was credited with causing Japanese aviators to turn away or to drop their bombs erratically, causing the bombs to fall into the water between the ships
 
During the raid on Pearl Harbor, the destroyer USS Dewey was moored at berth Xray-2, under overhaul. Nonetheless, her crew, after observing Japanese torpedoes hit the old battleship USS Utah nearby at 0755, sounded General Quarters and by 0802 was firing .50 caliber machine guns at enemy planes while the ship’s gunners’ mates moved to install the firing locks in the destroyer’s larger guns. Meanwhile, “The bridge force fired [Browning] Automatic Rifles and rifles.”
 
The gunboat USS Sacramento, moored port side to berth B-6 at the Navy Yard, was not able to get her 4-inch guns into the fight but instead gave the men of the battery “rifles, Browning Automatic Rifles, and Thompson submachine guns” and got to work. At one point during the attack, an aircraft some 300 yards from the ship was seen to burst into flames.
 
Sacramento’s crew alone fired:

  • 1,950 rounds .50 cal. tracer
  • 4,000 rounds .50 cal. armor-piercing.
  • 2,000 rounds .45 cal. Thompson sub-machine guns.
  • 5,473 rounds .30 cal. armor-piercing.
  • 2,887 rounds .30 cal. tracer.
  • 3,000 rounds .30 cal. ball.

 
Submarines, with few topside weapons, even got into the act. The crew of the USS Dolphin, as early as 0800, used rifles and machine guns against Japanese planes. Meanwhile, ashore at the Submarine Base, sailors manned “250 rifles, 15 [Browning] Automatic Rifles and 15 machine guns, maintaining a continuous fire,” that accounted for “two low flying torpedo planes.”
 
Even ships not normally considered in the front lines of the battle fleet lent their lead. The minesweeper USS Rail, nested at the Coal Docks next to four other sweepers on that Sunday morning “Opened fire with .30 Cal. machine guns and Rifles and Pistols 20 minutes after attack on Pearl Harbor.”
 
The minelayer USS Pruitt, moored at berth 18 at the Navy Yard undergoing a routine overhaul, had all her armament and machinery disabled and most of the ship’s crew in barracks. Even with all those strikes against it going into a real-life shooting war, Pruitt’s crew shook it off and made ready.

From Pruitt’s report on the attack:

“The initial surprise of the attack passed quickly, and all personnel began arming themselves with all available small arms in the ready locker. The only arms immediately available were .30 caliber machine guns, Browning automatic rifles, service rifles, and service pistols. Within an incredibly brief time, men were equipped and firing at low-flying attacking planes…Three low flying Japanese fighter planes were shot down in the immediate vicinity of this vessel apparently by small caliber weapons.”

 
The battered old tugboat, USS Ontario was moored in the Repair Basin with no fuel onboard and all machinery disabled as she was in overhaul. The vessel had “no offensive or defensive power at the beginning of the attack except for some 30 caliber ammunition in the Abandon Ship Locker.” The “aught six” was soon being fed into a dozen Springfield M1903s as “Members of the deck force were given all rifles and opened fire on all low flying enemy planes.” Lacking any helmets, “Those who manned the small arms and remained exposed, firing upon low flying aircraft, exhibited willing personal bravery.”
 
The destroyer tender USS Thornton was moored port side to dock at the Submarine Base’s berth S-1 and sounded General Quarters at 0756. Using the ship’s landing force weapons – four .50 caliber machine guns, three .30 caliber Lewis guns, three BARs, and 12 Springfield M1903s – her crew commenced firing at 0758. It was noted that an enemy torpedo plane was shot down, with Thornton’s report saying “This plane burst into flames and fell into the water. The torpedo fell clear, but was not launched.”
 
Aboard the repair ship USS Medusa, whose crew were by 0805 firing at enemy planes crossing “not over 100 feet” above and a periscope spotted just 1,000 yards away, some 21 Springfield rifles were used to arm a patrol of men ashore who were eagerly looking for downed Japanese aviators and survivors of midget submarines sunk in the harbor.
 
The survey ship USS Sumner, a vessel normally tasked to make charts, armed members of her crew “with rifles and B.A.R.s” then stationed them in the ship’s two masts to “act as snipers.”
 
At the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, home to giant PBY Catalina flying boats, “Three rifles were manned immediately” as others retrieved machine guns from planes, eventually setting up two nests in semi-protected spots near the hangar. “Under continuous attacks by the enemy, machine gun and rifle crews manned their guns and all other personnel worked to disperse planes and to save material,” reads the report from one of the base’s squadrons.

A photographer seems to have caught at least some of that, leaving some of the most iconic images from the day. 

“Rescue operations after the first attack and before bombing at Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay. Pulling a partially burning PBY aircraft from the center of fire area.” Note the Sailor on the left with an M1903. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32837

“Planes and a hangar burning at the Ford Island Naval Air Station’s seaplane base, during or immediately after the Japanese air raid. The ruined wings of a PBY Catalina patrol plane are at the left and in the center. Note men with rifles standing in the lower left.” Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-19944

“Sandbagged .30 caliber machine gun emplacement with gun crew on alert, at the seaplane base near Ford Island’s southern tip, soon after the Japanese attack.” The gun is a superfast-firing ANM2, pulled from an aircraft. Note the beached battleship, USS Nevada, in the distance. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32492

“Sailors at Naval Air Station Ford Island reloading ammunition clips and belts, probably around the time of the attack’s second wave.” Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32497

Tell it to the Marines

Marines, both in shipboard detachments and ashore, were in the fight from the beginning. There were approximately 4,500 Marines stationed at Pearl Harbor and its vicinity on that fateful morning, and official report recalled, “practically to the last man, every Marine at the base met the attack with whatever weapon there was at hand, or that he could commandeer, or even improvise with the limited means of his command. They displayed great courage and determination against insurmountable odds.”

“At their barracks, near the foundation of a swimming pool under construction, three Marines gingerly seek out good vantage points from which to fire, while two peer skyward, keeping their eyes peeled for attacking Japanese planes. Headgear varies from Hawley helmet to garrison cap to none, but the weapon is the same for all — the Springfield 1903 rifle.” Lord Collection, USMC via the NPS.

“View at the Pearl Harbor Marine Barracks, taken from the Parade Ground between 0930 and 1130 hrs. on 7 December 1941 looking toward Battleship Row. Smoke in the distance is from the burning USS Arizona (BB-39). Navy Yard water towers are in the left-center, with flags flying from a signal station atop the middle one. In the center of the view, Marines are deploying a three-inch anti-aircraft gun. Other Marines, armed with rifles, stand at the left.” U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 50928


The admiral in command of the mine force at Pearl Harbor, in his report, noted that one Japanese plane was observed “shot down by Marines with rifles at Main Gate,” confirmed by the crew of the minelayer USS Sicard.

As noted by the National Park Service of the Marine air group at Ewa Field, fighting off an attacking wave of Zeroes led by future Japanese air ace Yoshio Shiga from the decks of the aircraft carrier Kaga:


Firing only small arms and rifles in the opening stages, the Marines fought back against Kaga’s fighters as best they could, with almost reckless heroism. Lieutenant Shiga remembered one particular Leatherneck who, oblivious to the machine gun fire striking the ground around him and kicking up dirt, stood transfixed, emptying his sidearm at Shiga’s Zero as it roared past. Years later, Shiga would describe that lone, defiant, and unknown Marine as the bravest American he had ever met.


Marines reportedly manned stations with rifles and .30-caliber machine guns taken from damaged aircraft and the squadron ordnance rooms. Specifically, the fighting at Ewa saw Marine Pfc. Mann, “who by that point had managed to obtain some ammunition for his rifle, dropped down with the rest of the Marines at the garage and fired at the attacking fighters as they streaked by.”

Effectiveness

To be sure, the act of firing at planes – even low-flying ones made of canvas without self-sealing fuel tanks – with rifles and pistols was not ideal, but, with larger armament offline due to the surprise nature of the attack, it was a tangible way for the crews to fight back, even as the fleet’s mighty battleships were being sent to the bottom.
 
Aboard the minelayer USS Breese, the ship’s post-battle report admitted as much about the crew’s use of rifles against the attacking planes saying, “although its effectiveness is doubtful it served a means of satisfying the offensive spirit of the crew.”
 
Just after the destroyer USS Blue got underway during the attack, two Japanese planes swooped in at mast-height and one of the attackers was seen to flame out under heavy fire from the ship’s guns, crashing near the Pan Am landings in Pearl City. During the pass, a young officer on the bridge was so excited he threw his binoculars at the passing plane, saying later he was “just kind of mad.”
 
While only 29 Japanese planes failed to return to the Japanese carriers after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 74 including 41 bombers were damaged, some extensively. You can bet a lot of that damage consisted of holes roughly .30 caliber in diameter.
 
Finally, the rifles would be put to use the following day, in a more somber task.

“A Marine rifle squad fires a volley over the bodies of fifteen officers and men killed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay during the Pearl Harbor raid. These burial ceremonies took place on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack.” Navy Catalog #: 80-G-32854

Among the 2,403 Americans killed, 2,008 were sailors, 218 were soldiers, 109 were Marines and 68 were civilians, according to a National World War II Museum Pearl Harbor fact sheet. Total casualties were almost 3,600.

You Don’t See a Semi-Auto DP-28 Everyday

While at the GDC warehouse last month, I had a chance to run across this bad boy.

Rick Smith’s Texas-based Smith Machine Group has been in the business of breathing life back into historical military guns for well over a decade and their DP series guns have long been one of their primary staples. Their complete DPM semi-automatic rifle is built using a surplus Polish kit with a new receiver, a new chrome-lined barrel, and their own fire-control group.

The semi-auto rifle was built off a Polish Circle 11 marked kit dated 1953 and is chambered in 7.62x54R. Firing from a closed bolt, it still has a gas piston operating system and uses an internal hammer.

While heavy, it has zero recoil when fired from the prone position and due to its 47-round pan magazine has a very low profile when compared to other magazine-fed semi-autos.

More in my column at Guns.com.

100 Years Ago Today: Ishar Singh, VC

Via Under Every Leaf:

War Office, 25th November 1921.

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned: —

No. 1012 Sepoy Ishar Singh, 28th Punjabis, Indian Army

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 10th April, 1921, near Haidari Kach (Waziristan). When the convoy protection troops were attacked, this Sepoy was No. l of a Lewis Gun- Section. Early in the action he received a very severe gunshot wound in the chest, and fell beside his Lewis gun. Hand-to-hand fighting having commenced, the British officer, Indian officer, and all the Havildars of his company were either killed or wounded, and his Lewis gun was seized by the enemy.

Calling up two other men he got up, charged the enemy, recovered the Lewis gun, and, although, bleeding profusely, again got the gun into action.

When his Jemadar arrived he took the gun from Sepoy Ishar Singh, and ordered him to go back and have his wound dressed.

Instead of doing this the Sepoy went to the medical officer, and was of great assistance in pointing out where the wounded were, and in carrying water to them. He made innumerable journeys to the river and back for this purpose. On one occasion, when the enemy fire was very heavy, he took the rifle of a wounded man and helped to keep down the fire. On another occasion he stood in front of the medical officer who was dressing, a wounded man, thus shielding him with his body. It was over three hours before he finally submitted to be evacuated, being then too weak from loss of blood to object.

His gallantry and devotion to duty were beyond praise. His conduct inspired all who saw him.

Lewis, by way of Savage

Savage Arms during the Great War made Lewis guns for the Canadians (in .303), the Tsar of Russia (in 7.62x54R), and the U.S. Army & Navy (in .30-06), the latter in both M1917 (ground) and M1918 (air) variants.

In all, it was a thing of beauty as far as light machine guns went.

Fold-out. Lewis Machine Gun 30-U.S. Government Airplane Model 1918, in Papers on Aeronautics. L’Aerophile Collection, Science, Business and Technology Division, Library of Congress 

Buy another $100 War Bond, quick!

Colonel Lewis’ light machine gun, a pre-WWI design, though snubbed by the Army was well-liked by the Navy and Marines and was still used to one degree or another on a number of U.S. Navy vessels early in WWII. Case in point below:

(Office of Emergency Management Collection. Lot-3474-14. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-USE6-9717)

Original caption, “There goes a $100 war bond. A $100 bond buys 2,000 rounds of steel-jacketed .30 caliber shells for this naval gun. Two-thousand rounds can bring down plenty of Japanese airplanes”

For reference, 2,000 rounds of new Federal 150-grain M2 ball these days goes for about $2300.

Buy bonds!

Hell for leather

The Great War saw the U.S. Army balloon from 100,000 regulars who were spending most of their time in the Philippines and along the border with Mexico, to a modern fighting force of nearly 3 million– and this from a country that had a population less than a third of what we have today.

With so many hardlegs pulled from the fields, factories, police forces and offices, many women stepped forward to do their part for the war effort. While Germany was still an ocean away, very real threats of sabotage by enemy agents and U-boats stalking towns up and down the East Coast led to mobilization of home guards and auxiliary police units.

One of the most interesting is the “Cavalry Corps of the American Woman’s League for Self Defense” in New York City.

A troop-sized unit of some 20 horse-mounted uniformed women organized by one Ethel May Schiess, the group performed messenger and scouting duties in the city through the end of 1918. If there were serious landings in the NYC area by the Germans, they no doubt would have become a noteworthy irregular partisan unit.

Original Caption: Cavalry corps of the American Women's League for Self Defense. Cavalry Corps of the American Woman's League for Self Defense held its first public drill in the 1st Field Artillery Armory, Broadway and 60th Street, New York. Miss Ethel May Schiess, who is seen in the front, put the 20 prospective scouts and message bearers through their paces, while the 1st Field Artillery band played. Photographer: Kadel and Herbert

Original Caption: Cavalry corps of the American Women’s League for Self Defense. Cavalry Corps of the American Woman’s League for Self Defense held its first public drill in the 1st Field Artillery Armory, Broadway and 60th Street, New York. Miss Ethel May Schiess, who is seen in the front, put the 20 prospective scouts and message bearers through their paces, while the 1st Field Artillery band played. Photographer: Kadel and Herbert

Original Caption: New York's female cavalry drilling in city streets. The American Woman's League for Self Defense who have organized a cavalry troop, started outdoor drilling in the streets adjacent to the 1st Field Artillery at 67th St. & Broadway, New York, where their first lessons were received under the supervision of army officers. Photo shows Captain Ethel Schiess giving orders to the troop. Photographer: Western Newspaper Union

Original Caption: New York’s female cavalry drilling in city streets. The American Woman’s League for Self Defense who have organized a cavalry troop, started outdoor drilling in the streets adjacent to the 1st Field Artillery at 67th St. & Broadway, New York, where their first lessons were received under the supervision of army officers. Photo shows Captain Ethel Schiess giving orders to the troop. Photographer: Western Newspaper Union

For an article I did on the similar and very well-armed women’s machine gun squad police reserves of New York City over at Guns.com, click here.

WRENing it up, WWII Coastal Forces style

The Women’s Royal Naval Service was formed in the last couple years of the Great War, and grew to some 5,000 auxiliarists by Armistice Day. Shortly afterward, the group was disbanded until Hitler came a calling.

Standing back up in 1939, the renewed force grew much larger in their Second World War, swelling to some 75,000 at the corps’s peak in late 1944. (Note, this is twice the current strength of the combined active and reserve members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines)

Besides such misogynistic tasks as administrative, clerical, food service and communication support work, a group of women were known as Quick Ordnance (QO) WRENs. These “QO girls” or “Ordnance Wrens” were gunners mates in all but name, specializing in maintaining small arms up to 3-pounder Hotchkiss mounts and were tasked with cleaning, inspecting and repairing QF 2-pounder (40mm) and QF 1-pounder pom-poms, Lewis and Vickers machine guns, as well as rifles and handguns.

As such, they provided invaluable support to the fleet of thousands of Motor Launch (ML), Coastal Motor Boat (CMB), Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB), Motor Anti-submarine Boat (MASB), Motor Gunboat (MGB), Steam Gunboat (SGB), Fast Patrol Boat (FPB) and Fast Training Boat (FTB) craft of the Coastal Forces.

For the lads behind those guns, battling German U-boats and S-boats up and down the coast and in the Channel, they owed their lived to the Wrens.

WOMEN ON THE HOME FRONT 1939 - 1945 (A 13209) The Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS): Wren Armourers, whose jobs included the overhaul, maintenance and serving of guns, pictured testing a Lewis gun at Lee-on-Solent Naval Air Station. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205193235

(A 13209) The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS): Wren Armourers, whose jobs included the overhaul, maintenance and serving of guns, pictured testing a Lewis gun at Lee-on-Solent Naval Air Station. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205193235

WOMEN'S ROYAL NAVAL SERVICE. MAINTENANCE WRENS MAINTAIN SMALL ARMS UP TO 3 POUNDER HOTCHKISS FOR ALL TYPES OF SMALL CRAFT - MTB, MGB, ML, MOS AND MASB. THESE GIRLS KNOWN AS QO (QUICK-FIRING ORDNANCE) WRENS BOARD THE BOATS AS SOON AS THEY COME IN AFTER AN OPERATION, TO STRIP AND CLEAN THE LEWIS AND 0.5 VICKERS MACHINE GUNS. (A 12187) A QO Wren removing a 0.5 Vickers machine gun turret for servicing. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205145632

A QO Wren removing a 0.5 Vickers machine gun turret for servicing. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205145632

WOMEN'S ROYAL NAVAL SERVICE. MAINTENANCE WRENS MAINTAIN SMALL ARMS UP TO 3 POUNDER HOTCHKISS FOR ALL TYPES OF SMALL CRAFT - MTB, MGB, ML, MOS AND MASB. THESE GIRLS KNOWN AS QO (QUICK-FIRING ORDNANCE) WRENS BOARD THE BOATS AS SOON AS THEY COME IN AFTER AN OPERATION, TO STRIP AND CLEAN THE LEWIS AND 0.5 VICKERS MACHINE GUNS. (A 12193) A QO Wren stripping and cleaning a Lewis Gun on board a coastal craft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205145638

A QO Wren stripping and cleaning a Lewis Gun on board a coastal craft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205145638

WOMEN'S ROYAL NAVAL SERVICE. MAINTENANCE WRENS MAINTAIN SMALL ARMS UP TO 3 POUNDER HOTCHKISS FOR ALL TYPES OF SMALL CRAFT - MTB, MGB, ML, MOS AND MASB. THESE GIRLS KNOWN AS QO (QUICK-FIRING ORDNANCE) WRENS BOARD THE BOATS AS SOON AS THEY COME IN AFTER AN OPERATION, TO STRIP AND CLEAN THE LEWIS AND 0.5 VICKERS MACHINE GUNS. (A 12189) A QO Wren stripping and cleaning Lewis Guns on board a coastal craft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205145634

(A 12189) A QO Wren stripping and cleaning Lewis Guns on board a coastal craft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205145634

WOMEN'S ROYAL NAVAL SERVICE. MAINTENANCE WRENS MAINTAIN SMALL ARMS UP TO 3 POUNDER HOTCHKISS FOR ALL TYPES OF SMALL CRAFT - MTB, MGB, ML, MOS AND MASB. THESE GIRLS KNOWN AS QO (QUICK-FIRING ORDNANCE) WRENS BOARD THE BOATS AS SOON AS THEY COME IN AFTER AN OPERATION, TO STRIP AND CLEAN THE LEWIS AND 0.5 VICKERS MACHINE GUNS. (A 12198) Installing the 0.5 Vickers machine gun into the gun turret after servicing it. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205145643

(A 12198) Installing the 0.5 Vickers machine gun into the gun turret after servicing it. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205145643

WRENS working a pom-pom, and not the cheerleading kind

WRENS working a pom-pom, and not the cheer-leading kind

wrens-rn-20mm-motor-launch

The WRENs were disbanded as a special corps when and integrated into the regular Royal Navy in 1993.

Warship Wednesday May 18, 2016: Spanish gunboats a-go-go

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 of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, May 18, 2016: Spanish gunboats a-go-go

NHC NH 45328

NHC NH 45328

Here we see the General Concha-class cañonero (gunboat) Elcano shortly after she became the USS Elcano (PG-38) because of the activities of one Commodore Dewey. She would go on to serve 44 hard years in total.

Laid down 3 March 1882 by Carraca Arsenal, Cadiz, Spain, Elcano was a small warship, at just 157’11” between perpendiculars (165-foot overall length), and tipping the scales at just 620-tons with a full load. Slow, she could only make 11-ish knots. However, what she could do was float in just 10 feet of water and carry two 120mm low angle guns, a single 90mm, four Nordenfelt QFs, and two Whitehead torpedo tubes around the shallow coastal littoral of the Philippines where the Spanish were having issues with the locals that often involved gunplay.

120mm 25cal Hontoria M1879 (left) in Spanish service. Elcano mounted two of these guns

120mm 25cal Hontoria M1879 (left) in Spanish service. Elcano mounted two of these guns. Note the opulent wheelhouse.

Sisters, designed for colonial service, included General Concha, Magallanes, and General Lezo, they were officially and maybe over ambitiously listed as “Crucero no protegido de 3ª clase” or 3rd class protected cruisers.

Class leader, Cañonero de la Armada Española General Concha, 1897

Class leader, Cañonero de la Armada Española General Concha, 1897

Described as “pot-bellied,” Elcano had a quaint Victorian-era ram bow and carried a mixed sailing rig for those times when coal, never plentiful in the PI, was scarce. She was commissioned into the Armada Española in 1884, arriving in Manila late that year. Like most of the 18 or so Spanish ships in the region (to include sister General Lezo), she was commanded by Spanish officers and manned by Filipino crews.

Cañonero español Elcano at commissioning. The Spanish liked dark hulls

Cañonero español Elcano at commissioning. The Spanish liked dark hulls

Her peacetime service was quiet, spending more than a dozen years puttering around the archipelago, waving her flag and showing off her guns. Then came the Spanish-American War.

Just five days after a state of war between the U.S. and Spain began, on 26 April 1898, El Cano came across the U.S.-flagged barque Saranac—under one Captain Bartaby—carrying 1,640 short tons (1,490 t) of coal from Newcastle, New South Wales, to Iloilo, in the Philippines for Dewey’s fleet, and captured the same with a shot across the bow.

You see the good Capt. Bartaby, sailing in the days without wireless and being at sea for a week had missed the announcement of hostilities and said into Iloilo harbor to the surprise of El Cano‘s skipper, who dutifully placed the ship under arrest. Bartaby was able to cheat a Spanish prize court by producing convenient papers that Saranac had been sold for a nominal sum to an English subject just days before her capture, though she had sailed into a Spanish harbor with the Red White and Blue flying. We see what you did there, Bartaby, good show.

Dewey lamented this loss of good Australian coal, which was hard to find in the Asiatic Squadron’s limited stomping grounds after the Brits kicked them out of Hong Kong. Incidentally, the Saranac was the only U.S. ship captured during the war compared with 56 Spanish vessels taken by Yankee surface raiders.

Speaking of which…

The rest of Elcano‘s very short war was uneventful save for being captured during the Battle of Manila Bay on 1 May 1898 along with the rest of the Spanish Pacific Squadron under Admiral Patricio Montojo after Dewey battered his way into the harbor.

ELCANO at Cavite Navy Yard, Philippine Island Description: Courtesy of D. M. MC Pherson, Corte Madena, California. 1967 Catalog #: NH 54354

ELCANO at Cavite Navy Yard, Philippine Island. Note the extensive awnings. Description: Courtesy of D. M. MC Pherson, Corte Madena, California. 1967 Catalog #: NH 54354

Her three sisters all had more final run-ins. General Concha fought at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and narrowly escaped capture only to wreck herself on a reef off Morocco in 1913. General Lezo was ruined by a magazine explosion and sank just after Manila Bay. Magallanes, escaping destruction in Cuba, was discarded after sinking at her dock in 1903.

As for Elcano, her Spanish/Filipino crew was quickly paroled ashore at Cavite, and she languished there for six months under guard until being officially taken over by the U.S. Navy on 8 November.

USS ELCANO (PG-38) at Cavite Navy Yard, Philippine Island circa 1900, before being refitted for the U.S. Navy. Note she has been white-washed and her awning shown above in Spanish service deleted. Description: Courtesy of LCDR John E. Lewis, 1945. Catalog #: NH 54353

USS ELCANO (PG-38) at Cavite Navy Yard, Philippine Island circa 1900, before being refitted for the U.S. Navy. Note she has been white-washed and her awning shown above in Spanish service deleted. You can also make out her starboard torpedo tube door just above the waterline. Description: Courtesy of LCDR John E. Lewis, 1945. Catalog #: NH 54353

Refitted for use to include swapping out her Spanish armament for American 4″/40cals (and plugging her 14-inch bow tubes), she was commissioned as USS Elcano (Gunboat No. 38) on 20 November 1902– because the Navy had a special task for the shallow water warship.

You see, once the U.S. moved into the PI, they used a series of captured and still-floating near-flat bottomed former Spanish gunboats (USS Elcano, Villalobos, Quiros, Pampanga, and Callao) to protect American interests in Chinese waters. These boats, immortalized in the book and film the Sand Pebbles, were known as the Yangtze Patrol (COMYANGPAT), after the huge river system they commonly haunted. The first modern patrol, started in 1903, was with the five Spaniards while two more gunboats, USS Palos and Monocacy, built at Mare Island in California in 1913, would later be shipped across the Pacific to join them while USS Isabel (PY-10) would join the gang in 1921.

Elcano was based in Shanghai from February 1903, her mission was to protect American citizens and property, and promote friendly relations with the Chinese– sometimes promoting the hell out of them when it was needed. She kept this up until 20 October 1907 when she was sent back to Cavite for a three-year refit.

During this time, she served as a tender to 1st Submarine Division, Asiatic Torpedo Fleet, with the small subs of the day having their crews live aboard the much larger (dry-docked) gunboat.

USS Shark (Submarine # 8) In the Dewey Drydock, Olongapo Naval Station, Philippines, circa 1910. The gunboat Elcano is also in the drydock, in the right background. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 86963

USS Shark (Submarine # 8) In the Dewey Drydock, Olongapo Naval Station, Philippines, circa 1910. The gunboat Elcano is also in the drydock, in the right background. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 86963

Recommissioned 5 December 1910, Elcano took up station at Amony in China and resumed the monotony of river cruises in China’s decidedly strife-ridden countryside that included bar fights with British gunboat crews, welcoming visiting warlords with an open hand (and a cocked 1911 under the table), sending naval parties ashore to rescue random Westerners caught in riots and unrest, besting other USN ships’ baseball teams to the amusement of the locals, and just generally enjoying the regional color (though libo groups were ordered to always go ashore in uniform and with canteens).

In August 1911, Elcano and the rest of the patrol boats were joined by the cruisers USS New Orleans and Germany’s SMS Scharnhorst and Gneisenau in Hankow for the unrest that came along with the anti-monarchist putsch that ended the Manchu dynasty.

There, Elcano participated in an impromptu naval review along with other arriving vessels from Austro-Hungary, Japan, France, Russia, and a six-ship task force dispatched by the British. The ceremony’s true purpose: keep an eye on the nearly one dozen semi-modern Chinese warships in the harbor to make sure a repeat of the Boxer Rebellion didn’t spark. During this period, Elcano‘s men joined others in the International Brigade, sending 30 bluejackets with their Colt machine guns in tow to help guard the Japanese consulate. They were relieved ashore later in the year by a company of the British Yorkshire Light Infantry and a half-regiment of Siberian Cossacks shipped in for the task.

While on the Yangtze River Patrol, circa 1917. Description: Courtesy of Arthur B. Furnas, Corte Madera, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69694

While on the Yangtze River Patrol, circa 1917. Description: Courtesy of Arthur B. Furnas, Corte Madera, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69694

During the Christmas season, circa December 1917, while in the Philippines. Note the Christmas tree on the bow and the other decorations aboard the ship. Description: Courtesy of Arthur B. Furnas, Corte Madera, California, 1969 Catalog #: NH 69697

During the Christmas season, circa December 1917, while in the Philippines. Note the Christmas tree on the bow and the other decorations aboard the ship.  She would keep up this tradition for years. Description: Courtesy of Arthur B. Furnas, Corte Madera, California, 1969 Catalog #: NH 69697

Elcano would get a short break from Chinese waters when the U.S. entered WWI, being recalled to Manila Bay to serve as a harbor gunboat, patrolling around Corregidor from April 1917-Nov. 1918, just in case a German somehow popped up. Then, it was back to the Yangpat.

Meanwhile in China, as the putsch of 1911 turned into open revolution and then Civil War, Elcano and her compatriots in the Yangpat were ever more involved in fights ashore, landing troops in Nanking in 1916 along with other nations during riots there, in Chungking in 1918 to protect lives during a political crisis, and again in March 1920 at Kiukiang (now Jiujiang on the southern shores of the Yangtze), where Elcano‘s sailors acted alone, and then at Ichang where she landed a company of Marines for the task and remained as station ship and floating headquarters until September 1922.

Some of the ships of the U.S. Navy's Yangtze River Patrol at Hangchow during the 1920s, with several local junks and sampans also present. U.S. Navy ships are (from left to right): USS Isabel (PY-10); USS Villalobos (PG-42); and USS Elcano (PG-38). Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 67127

Some of the ships of the U.S. Navy’s Yangtze River Patrol at Hangchow during the 1920s, with several local junks and sampans also present. U.S. Navy ships are (from left to right): USS Isabel (PY-10); USS Villalobos (PG-42); and USS Elcano (PG-38). Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 67127

Chinese general visiting Elcano. The commanding officer of Elcano is seen waiting to greet him at the top of the gangway, Ichang, China, circa 1920's. Also note how they have to walk right into the muzzle of the 4-incher when coming aboard-- very subtle. Look up: Gunboat diplomacy. Description: Catalog #: NH 68976

Chinese general visiting Elcano. The commanding officer of Elcano is seen waiting to greet him at the top of the gangway, Ichang, China, circa the 1920s. Also, note how they have to walk right into the muzzle of the 4-incher when coming aboard– very subtle. Lookup: Gunboat diplomacy. Catalog #: NH 68976

Ship's baseball team going ashore, in China, during the early 1920s. Description: Courtesy of Frederick Cornman, Valois, New York, 1971. Catalog #: NH 77142

Ship’s baseball team went ashore, in China, during the early 1920s. Courtesy of Frederick Cornman, Valois, New York, 1971. Catalog #: NH 77142

Rare today is a bluejacket who was a member of the Noble and Exclusive Order of the Brotherhood of Mighty River Rats of the Yangtze c.1903-1941. Photo via The Real Sand Pebbles.

Rare today is a bluejacket who was a member of the Noble and Exclusive Order of the Brotherhood of Mighty River Rats of the Yangtze c.1903-1941. Photo via The Real Sand Pebbles.

These two letters from Elcano sailors from the 1920 volume of Our Navy, the Standard Publication of the U.S. Navy. Note the mention of the ship’s baseball team, hooch at $1.20 a quart, and the retelling of how 60 bluejackets cleared the streets of Kiukiang by bayonet point:

elcano lettersDuring this service, Elcano proved a foundry for future naval leaders. Stars rained upon her deck, as no less than six of her former skippers went on to become admirals including Mississippian– later Vice Adm– Aaron Stanton “Tip” Merrill, who picked up the Navy Cross at the Battle of Blackett Strait in 1943 by smashing the Japanese destroyers Murasame and Minegumo without a single casualty.

Airing her sails in Chinese waters during the 1920s. She was undoubtedly one of the last warships with canvas in the fleet. Description: Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson, Corte Madera, California, 1972. Catalog #: NH 75577

Airing her sails in Chinese waters during the 1920s. She was undoubtedly one of the last warships with canvas in the fleet. Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson, Corte Madera, California, 1972. Catalog #: NH 75577

In dry dock at Shanghai, China, circa early 1920's note the 4"/.40 caliber gun (lower) and the 3-pounder (above) Description: Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson, Corte Madera, California, 1969 Catalog #: NH 68978

In dry dock at Shanghai, China, circa early 1920’s note the 4″/.40 caliber gun (lower) and the 3-pounder (above) Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson, Corte Madera, California, 1969 Catalog #: NH 68978

In dry dock, at Shanghai, China, during the early 1920s. Note 4"/40 gun. Description: Courtesy of Frederick Cornman, Valois, New York, 1971. Catalog #: NH 77143

In dry dock, in Shanghai, China, during the early 1920s. Note stern 4″/40 gun. Courtesy of Frederick Cornman, Valois, New York, 1971. Catalog #: NH 77143

Between 1923-25, armed landing teams from Elcano went ashore and stayed ashore almost a half-dozen times in two extended periods in Shanghai during the unrest and street fights between rival factions.

Armed guard, photographed in Chinese waters, during the early 1920s. Note Lewis machine guns. Description: Courtesy of Frederick Cornman, Valois, New York, 1971. Catalog #: NH 77144

Armed guard from Elcano, photographed in Chinese waters, during the early 1920s. Note Lewis machine guns. Courtesy of Frederick Cornman, Valois, New York, 1971. Catalog #: NH 77144

In March 1927, Elcano along with the destroyers USS William P. Preston, USS Noa, and the RN’s HMS Emerald took a “mob of undisciplined Nationalist soldiers” under intense naval gunfire outside of Nanking when the American Consul General John C. Davis and 166 others were besieged at the Standard Oil compound on Socony Hill.

It would be Elcano‘s last whiff of cordite.

By 1926, the seven veteran river gunboats were all worn out and the navy went shopping for replacements. With dollars always short in the Navy budget, it just made sense to build these new boats in China, to save construction and shipping costs. These new ships consisted of two large 500-ton, 210-foot gunboats (USS Luzon and Mindanao); two medium-sized 450-ton, 191-foot boats (USS Oahu and Panay), and two small 350-ton, 159-foot boats (USS Guam and Tutuila).

Once the new gunboats started construction, the five old Yangtze Patrol ships’ days were numbered. In November 1927, Elcano became a barracks ship in Shanghai for the newly arriving crews of the PCUs and by 30 June 1928, she was decommissioned after some 14 years of service to Spain and another three decades to Uncle Sam.

At Ichang China. Note trees on mastheads Description: Courtesy of Lt. Commander Merrill, USN, 1928. Catalog #: NH 54352

At Ichang China. Note trees on mastheads. Courtesy of Lt. Commander Merrill, USN, 1927. Catalog #: NH 54352

Elcano was stripped of all useful material, some of which went to help equip the new Yangpat boats then towed off the coast and disposed of in a sinkex by gunfire on 4 October 1928. Two of her former companions in arms suffered the same fate. Villalobos (PG-42), model for Richard McKenna’s San Pebbles, was likewise sunk by naval gunfire on 9 October 1928 and joined by the ex-Spanish then-USS Pampanga (PG-39) on 21 November. The days of Dewey’s prizes had come and gone, with the Navy getting a good 30 years out of this final batch.

Of the other Spanish armada vessels pressed into U.S. Navy service, Quiros (PG-40) was previously sunk as a target in 1923, and Callo (YFB-11) was sold at Manila the same year where she remained in use as a civilian ferry for some time.

The website, Sand Pebbles.com, keeps the memory of the Yangpat and her vessels alive while scrapbooks and uniforms are preserved in the hands of private collectors.

However, in Nanjing, on an unidentified monument there, is a series of Navy graffiti left by those Yankee river rats, if you look closely, you can just make out USS Elcano under USS Chattanooga.

USS_Chattanooga_Nanjing graffitti I recently found inscribed upon a Chinese monument in Nanjing (Former Yangtze river capital 'Nanking')

They were there.

Group of crewmembers visit a joss house, in China, during the early 1920s. Description: Courtesy of Frederick Cornman, Valois, New York, 1971. Catalog #: NH 77147

Group of Elcano crewmembers visit a joss house, in China, during the early 1920s. Courtesy of Frederick Cornman, Valois, New York, 1971. Catalog #: NH 77147

In one last comment on the vessel, the American ensign from the barque Saranac, captured during Elcano‘s Spanish career, is currently located at the Spanish Naval Museum in Madrid, a cherished war trophy from that one-sided conflict.

Bandera Saranac capturada cañonero Elcano en Filipinas en 1898 Museo Naval Madrid

The Spanish foreign ministry has, politely, declined to return it to the U.S. on several occasions over the past 120 years.

Specs:

Displacement: 620 long tons (630 t)
Length: 165 ft. 6 in (50.44 m)
Beam: 26 ft. (7.9 m)
Draft: 10 ft. (3.0 m)
Installed power: 1,200 ihp (890 kW)
Propulsion:
2 × vertical compound steam engines
2 × single-ended Scotch boilers
2 × screws
Rig: Schooner
Speed: 11 kn (13 mph; 20 km/h)
Complement:
Spanish Navy: 115
U.S. Navy: 99-103
Armament:
As commissioned:
2×1 120mm/25cal Hontoria M1879
1x 90/25 Hontoria M1879
4×1 25/42 Nordenfelt
2x 356mm TT (bow)
1902:
4×1 4″/40
4×1 3pdr (37mm) guns
2x Colt machine guns
1x 3-inch Field gun for landing party along with Lewis guns and rifles, handguns, and cutlasses

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Photo source © IWM A 6312 taken by Lt. L C Priest. Colourised by Joshua Barrett from the UK.

Photo source © IWM A 6312 taken by Lt. L C Priest. Colourised by Joshua Barrett from the UK.

Commander Lionel James Spencer Ede DSO RN, Commander of Minesweeping and Patrol, Dover, testing a rarely seen stripped Lewis Machine Gun probably on board HMS ML 297  1941. These guns usually have their water jackets wrapped around the barrel and forend. The dated armament was common on the launches.

ML297 was a Fairmile B-class motor launch, the 112-foot workhorse of the RN of which a staggering 650 were completed during the War.

Originally tasked as anti-invasion gunboats in the dark days of 1940, they were to slaughter German landing craft near shore with WWI surplus QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss (47mm / L40) cannon and similarly vintage machine guns.

Once Hitler called off Operation Sea Lion, the Brits found use for the launches as subchasers crammed full of depth charges, minesweepers with a few basic trawls, and then finally as rescue motor launches, beach control and ambulances during the subsequent Allied amphibious landings in Europe.

Hampton, J A (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer - Imperial War Museum Collections Search A 23877 Caption: "With the motor launch ML 303 in the foreground, a large number of landing craft approach the beaches during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Several other large ships can be seen in the distance."

Hampton, J A (Lt) Royal Navy official photographer – Imperial War Museum Collections Search A 23877 Caption: “With the motor launch ML 303 in the foreground, a large number of landing craft approach the beaches during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Several other large ships can be seen in the distance.”

As for the good Lt. Cdr. Spencer, he retired from the RN 10 Oct 1953 at the end of 28 years service after holding several wartime commands including HMS Salamander, Blyth and Rhyl.

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