Tag Archive | Military

Warship Wednesday, Aug 5, 2020: Number 52

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

Warship Wednesday, Aug 5, 2020: Number 52

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Patrol

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

As detailed by DANFs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Black Ghost of the Gulf Coast takes her final ride

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

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

USCGC Salvia, 1948.

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

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

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

As detailed by the Coast Guard Historian’s office:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warship Wednesday, July 22, 2020: A Hard 73 Days

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

Warship Wednesday, July 22, 2020: A Hard 73 Days

U.S. Navy Department Photograph. Catalog #: NH 42868

Here we see the Clemson-class “four-piper” destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) sometime during the early 1920s. This humble flush-decker was completed too late for one World War but made up for it in her brief 10-week career in a second.

One of the massive fleets of Clemson-class flush decker destroyers, like most of her sisters, Peary came too late to help lick the Kaiser. An expansion of the almost identical Wickes-class destroyers with a third more fuel capacity to enable them to escort a convoy across the Atlantic without refueling, the Clemsons were sorely needed to combat the pressing German submarine threat of the Great War. At 1,200-tons and with a top speed of 35 knots, they were brisk vessels ready for the task.

The subject of our story today was the first warship named after RADM Robert Edwin Peary, famed for his Arctic explorations in which he went down in the history books as being in the first successful dash to the North Pole.

This guy.

Peary died in February 1920, and his crossing of the bar gave natural inspiration to the naming of a new destroyer in his honor. USS Peary (DD-226) was constructed at William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, and launched 6 April 1920– two months after the famed explorer’s passing– sponsored by his daughter, Mrs. Edward Stafford. The new tin can was commissioned on 22 October 1920.

USS Peary (DD-226) at anchor, circa 1921.NH 50902

After shakedown, Peary passed through the ditch and kept going, assigned to the Asiatic Fleet for the rest of her service. With her shallow draft, she spent most of that period providing the muscle to the exotic “Sand Pebbles” Yangtze Patrol Force.

See the world! View at Amoy, China taken from Kulangsoo showing the port and U.S. destroyers anchored there, circa 1928. Two of the ships identifiable are USS PEARY (DD-226), on right, and USS PRUITT (DD-347) on left. Sightseeing Sailors in crackerjacks and Marines in dress blues are on the foreground. NH 50709

This sometimes-tense peacetime service, which saw lots of bumping up against increasingly cold Japanese forces in the region during the latter’s undeclared war with China, turned very hot after 7 December 1941.

Less than 48 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Peary was caught in Cavite Naval Yard in the Philippines during a Japanese high-altitude bomber strike on the yard.

As noted by her damage report of the incident her foremast caught a 250-pound bomb dropped from about 25,000 feet. The bomb detonated on impact with the mast and rained the vessel’s decks with a deadly storm of shrapnel which in turn started a fire that was quickly extinguished.

The effect was to destroy her gun director, torpedo director, degaussing girdle, sound gear, radio receivers, bridge overheads, charts, sextants, and navigational equipment– so possibly the most devastating 250-pound bomb in naval history!

The ship’s skipper and Engineer Officer were severely injured and sent ashore for hospitalization. Her XO was dead. Just two days later, her torpedo officer, the most senior afloat, was steaming her around the harbor without defenses to avoid another Japanese attack.

On 14 December, LCDR John Michael Bermingham (USNA 1929), the former XO of the Peary’s sister ship, USS Stewart (DD-224), who had completed his tour on 1 December and was in Manila waiting for transportation home., became Peary’s new skipper. The plan– displace and live to fight another day.

Escape and Regroup

As the Japanese poured into the Philippines, the Asiatic Fleet increasingly was pressured out of the islands. Ordered to proceed to Australia for repair, Peary’s masts were removed and the ship camouflaged with green paint and palm fronds in an effort to avoid Japanese bombardiers on the way. LT. William J. Catlett, Jr. a Mississippian and the ship’s First Lieutenant, held on to her original commissioning pennant.

In such a manner, the damaged Peary managed to survive very close air attacks on both the 26th and 27th of December. In both incidents, she reportedly only avoided enemy bombs and torpedoes which passed as close as 10 yards.

By New Year’s 1942, she was safe in Darwin. Well, reasonably safe anyway.

Patched up, she soon joined in an ill-fated effort by way of Tjilatjap and Koepang in the Dutch East Indies to resupply Australian forces on Timor in early February. The force consisted of the Northampton-class “medium” cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) and the two Australian sloops, HMAS Warrego and HMAS Swan.

C 1942-02. The Timor Sea. USS Peary. The photograph was taken from HMAS Swan by a member of the crew probably during the abortive Koepang voyage. AWM P01214.008

Darwin, Nt. C.1942-02. USS Peary and USS Houston (CA-30) in the Harbor. These Ships, together with HMAS Swan and HMAS Warrego Formed the Naval Escort of the Convoy Which Made an Unsuccessful Attempt to Reinforce the Timor Garrison. Houston was sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea less than a month after this image was taken. AWM 134952

Looking from the Australian Bathurst Class Corvette, HMAS Warrnambool (J202), towards the American Northampton class heavy cruiser, USS Houston (CA30) (right), with the Destroyer USS Peary (DD226) alongside. AWM P05303.011

Houston and Peary sailed back towards Tjilatjap on 18 February, but Peary soon broke off her escort to chase a suspected submarine, and burned up so much oil in doing so that she was diverted back to Darwin instead of continuing with Houston back to Java.

The hard-working tin can arrived in Australia late that evening, with her crew no doubt eager to have a quiet morning the next day after being at sea since the 10th.

The Attack on Darwin

The Japanese air raid on Darwin on 19 February 1942, by artist Keith Swain. Japanese aircraft fly overhead, while the focus of the painting is the Royal Australian Navy corvette HMAS Katoomba, in dry dock, fighting off the aerial attacks. Peary can be seen in the distance to the right. AWM ART28075

Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who had also led the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, was in the air over Darwin 73 days after.

As noted by the Australian War Memorial:

Early on the morning of 19 February, 188 aircraft were sighted by observers on Bathurst and Melville islands to Darwin’s north. The attack on Darwin began when Zero fighters began strafing an auxiliary minesweeper, HMAS Gunbar, as it passed through the boom protecting the entrance to Darwin harbor. Soon, ships in the harbor and buildings and installations ashore came under attack. For 40 minutes the aircraft bombed and machine-gunned the harbor and town. They shot down nine of the 10 United States Army Air Force P-40E Warhawks over the town and sank eight of the 47 ships in the harbor, including the motor vessel Neptuna. Its cargo included 200 depth charges which exploded as the ship lay beside the Darwin wharf. Another victim was the US Navy destroyer USS Peary which sunk with great loss of life.

LCDR Bermingham, aboard Peary at the time, managed to slip anchor and get his ship underway. The four-piper tried to build up steam and maneuver in the restricted water of the harbor while her crew filled the air with as much lead as they could, but Peary was hit with at least five bombs. Incredibly, her stern may have been blown off very early in the action, as recently it was discovered that her props and shafts are several kilometers from where she rests today on the seafloor.

Nonetheless, by all accounts, the doomed ship kept fighting.

USS PEARY (DD-226) afire shortly after being attacked. Courtesy of Arthur W. Thomas NH 43644

Darwin Raid, 19 February 1942 Wharf and SS NEPTUNIA burning at left. USS PEARY (DD-226) and SS ZEALANDIA can be seen faintly at right. Courtesy of Arthur W. Thomas NH 43657

USS PEARY (DD-226) afire and beginning to drift from where she was moored at the time of the attack. Australian hospital ship MANUNDA is at right. Courtesy of Arthur W. Thomas NH 43651

The description from DANFS tells the tale as:

At about 10:45 a.m. on 19 February Peary was attacked by single-motored Japanese dive bombers and suffered 80 men killed and 13 wounded. The first bomb exploded on the fantail, the second, an incendiary, on the galley deckhouse; the third did not explode; the fourth hit forward and set off the forward ammunition magazines; the fifth, another incendiary, exploded in the after engine room. A .30 caliber machine gun on the after-deck house and a .50 caliber machine gun on the galley deck house fired until the last enemy plane flew away. Peary sank stern first at about 1:00 p.m.

A .30-06 Lewis gun, recovered from the wreckage and now in the collection of the NHHC, may very well have been the above-mentioned machine gun.

In a two-page war diary held in the collection of the National Archives, Peary’s crew’s actions were described by doctors on the nearby Australian hospital ship Manuda as being heroic, speaking of “gun crews who remained at the stations firing their anti-aircraft guns until the water came up around them, and then swam away as the ship went down. No men abandoned ship until the ship sank completely under them.”

The Aftermath

Of the more than 60 Japanese air raids on Darwin in 1942-43, the 19 February strike went down in history as the most deadly, credited as the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia.

A third of the dead were American.

Kaname Harada, a Zero pilot who saw the attack on Peary, later said, “It was a dive-bomb attack from 5000m and the plume of smoke went up 200m in the air. When the smoke was gone, there was nothing left.” Harada would be shot down over Guadalcanal and died in 2016, aged 99. The four Japanese carriers that participated in the attack on Darwin whose planes sent Peary to the bottom– Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, and Sōryū— were later “scratched” at Midway.

Bermingham and at least 80 of Peary’s crew went down with the ship, reportedly leaving just 54, mostly injured survivors, struggling in her oil slick. The late skipper’s family was posthumously presented his Navy Cross and an Evarts-class destroyer escort was named in his honor the next year.

John Bermingham. Of note, the Navy Cross recipient was in the same class at Annapolis with Robert A. Heinlein.

Speaking of legacies, Peary’s name was soon installed on a new Edsall-class destroyer escort (DE-132) with LT. Catlett providing the old destroyer’s pennant and the departed explorer’s widow breaking the bottle. After an active career, DE-132 was scrapped in 1966.

In 1972, a Knox-class destroyer escort/fast frigate, DE-1073/FF-1073, became the third USS Richard E. Peary and served two decades with the Pacific fleets then another quarter-century with the navy of Taiwan, only being expended in a submarine exercise last week.

In 2008, an MSC-crewed 40,000-ton Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ship, USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE-5), received the name fit for a destroyer.

As for her sisters, seven Clemsons were lost at the disaster at Honda Point in 1923, and 18 (including six used by the British) were lost in WWII including one, USS Stewart (DD-224), which was famously raised by the Japanese and used in their Navy only to be recaptured by the USN and given a watery grave after the war.

Those Clemsons not sold off in the 1930s or otherwise sent to Davy Jones were scrapped wholesale in the months immediately after WWII. Sister USS Hatfield (DD-231) decommissioned 13 December 1946 and was sold for scrap 9 May 1947 to NASSCO, the last of her kind in the Navy.

The final Clemson afloat, USS Aulick (DD-258), joined the Royal Navy as HMS Burnham (H82) in 1940 as part of the “Destroyers for Bases” deal. Laid up in 1944, she was allocated for scrapping on 3 December 1948.

None are preserved and only the scattered wrecks in the Western Pacific, Honda Point, the Med and Atlantic endure.

For more information on the Clemsons and their like, read CDR John Alden’s book, “Flush Decks and Four Pipes” and/or check out the Destroyer History Foundation’s section on Flushdeckers. 

In memoriam

Resting in just 87 feet of water on a silty seabed, Peary was extensively salvaged– ironically by a Japanese firm– in 1959 and 1960. Today, however, the remains are protected by Australia’s Heritage Conservation Act which brings heavy fines ($50,000) and threats of jail time to souvenir-seeking skin divers.

In Darwin, an extensive memorial in the city’s Bicentennial Park– centered around one of the Peary’s 4-inch guns pointing towards the site where she remains as a war grave– was erected in 1992. The event was attended by an honor guard provided from FF-1073.

Further, in 2012 on the 70th anniversary of her loss, a plaque was lowered to the seabed over her hull.

The Peary memorial is frequented by both U.S. and Australian forces.

Commanding Officer HMAS Coonawarra, Commander Richard Donnelly, lays a wreath at the USS Peary Memorial Ceremony. Defense personnel joins local dignitaries in Darwin to commemorate the Japanese air raids on the city on 19 February 1942, the largest single attack by a foreign force on Australia. RAN Photo

Lt. Col. Matthew Puglisi, the officer in charge, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, places a wreath at the USS Peary monument. The USS Peary lost 89 of its crewmembers after an air raid by Japanese forces at Darwin Harbor, Feb. 19, 1942. USMC Photo by Sgt. Sarah Fiocco

Specs:

Inboard and outboard profiles for a U.S. Navy Clemson-class destroyer, in this case, USS Doyen (DD-280)

Displacement:
1,215 tons (normal)
1,308 tons (full load)
Length: 314 ft. 4.5 in
Beam: 30 ft. 11.5 in
Draft: 9 ft. 4 in
Propulsion:
4 × boilers, 300 psi (2,100 kPa) saturated steam
2 geared steam turbines
27,600 hp (20,600 kW)
2 shafts
Speed: 35.5 knots
Range: 4,900 nmi (9,100 km) @ 15 knots
Crew: (USN as commissioned)
8 officers
8 chief petty officers
106 enlisted
Armament:
(1920)
4- 4″/51 cal guns
1 x 3″/23 cal AAA
12 × 21-inch torpedo tubes (4 × 3) (533 mm)

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

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Warship Wednesday, July 15, 2020: 3 Names, 5 Flags, 6 Wars

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

Warship Wednesday, July 15, 2020: 3 Names, 5 Flags, 6 Wars

Here we see Avtroil, a humble member of the Izyaslav-subclass of the Imperial Russian Navy’s Novik-class of fast destroyers, afloat in the Baltic around 1917. He (Russian ships are addressed as male, not female) would go on to have a complicated life.

Built for the Tsar

Ordered as part of the 1913 enhanced shipbuilding program– the Tsar had a whole fleet to rebuild after the twin disasters of Port Arthur and Tshuma after all– the Izyaslavs were part of an envisioned 35-ship destroyer build that never got that big. Nonetheless, at 1,440-tons with five 4-inch guns and nine 450mm Whitehead torpedo tubes in three batteries, these 325-foot greyhounds were plenty tough for their time. Speaking of which, capable of 35-knots on their turbine suite, built with the help of the French Augustin Normand company, they were about the fastest thing on the ocean. Hell, fast forward a century and they would still be considered fast today.

Class leader Izyaslav. He would later wear the name “Karl Marx” after the Revolution, because why not?.

In the end, only three Izyaslavs would be finished to include Avtroil and Pryamislav, before the Russians moved on to more improved Noviks to include the Gogland, Fidonisni and Ushakovskaya subclasses. They were curious ships outfitted by a multinational conglomerate, as the Russian Imperial Navy’s purchasing agents seemed to have loved variety. They had Vickers-made Swiss-designed Brown-Boveri steam turbines, Norman boilers, and British/Italian armament produced under license at Obukhov.

Laid down in 1913 at Becker & Co JSC, Revel, while Russia was under the Romanov flag, he was completed in August 1917 as the property of the Russian Provisional Government, which was still nominally in the Great War, in effect changing flags between his christening and commissioning.

His new crew sortied with the battleship Slava to fight in the Battle of Moon Sound (Moonsund) in October, one of the Kaiser’s fleet’s last surface action. While Slava didn’t make it out alive, Avtroil did, although he exchanged enough licks with the Germans to carry away three 88mm shell holes in him.

Fighting for the Reds

When the Russian Baltic Fleet raised the red flag in November to side with Lenin’s mob, Avtroil followed suit as he sat in fortified Helsingfors (Helsinki), hiding from the Germans.

To keep one step ahead of said Teutons, he joined the great “Ice Cruise” in February 1918 to Kronstadt, the last bastion of the Russian fleet in the Baltic.

Painting of the famed icebreaker Yermak opening a way to other ships on the Ice Cruise, seen as the chrysalis moment for the Red Navy. The fleet withdrew six battleships, five cruisers, 59 destroyers and torpedo boats, and a dozen submarines from former Russian bases in Estonia and Finland, eventually back to Kronstadt.

When the Great War ended and the Russian Civil War began, the British moved in to intervene on the side of the newly formed Baltic republics and the anti-Bolshevik White Russians. On 24 November 1918, RADM Sir Edwin Alexander Sinclair was dispatched to the Baltic with the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron (five C-class light cruisers) of which HMS Cardiff was his flagship, the 13th Destroyer Flotilla (nine V and W-class destroyers) and, because the Baltic in WWI was a mine war at a level no one had seen before, the 3rd Minesweeping Flotilla (seven minesweepers) as well as two minelayers and three tankers. Sinclair also brought newly surplus military aid– to include 100 Lewis guns, 50 Madsen LMGs 5,000 P14 Enfields, and 6.7 million rounds of ammunition– as a gift to bolster the locals against the Reds.

This put the Red Fleet, the most reliable unit in the Soviet military, on the front line of a new war in the Baltic.

Avtroil was assigned to a special task force consisting of the 7,000-ton Bogatyr-class protected cruiser Oleg and his Novik/Ilyin-class destroyer half-brother Spartak (Sparticus, ex-Kapitan Kingsbergen, ex-Kapitan Miklukho-Maklay).

While scouting close to Estonian waters to assess the British disposition near Aegna and Naissaar on the night of 26 December, Spartak bumped into five Royal Navy destroyers. Attempting to escape, the Russian destroyer ran aground at Kuradimuna, and, surrendering, was towed to Tallinn (recently renamed Revel).

The next morning, Avtroil was sent to look for the overdue Spartak. Acting on tips from shore stations who sent sightings of the Russian destroyer to Tallinn, the British destroyers HMS Vendetta and HMS Vortigern are dispatched to intercept. Seeing these on the horizon, Avtroil attempted to beat feet to the East and the safety of Korndstadt but, after a 35-minute chase, ran into a returning patrol of the cruisers HMS Calypso and HMS Caradoc, accompanied by the destroyer HMS Wakeful. The crew of Avtroil struck their red flag near Mohni Island.

They didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter, as the hapless crews of the Russian ships couldn’t coax more than 15 knots out of their speedy destroyers. You have to keep in mind that the most radicalized Red sailors came from the harshly-treated stokers and engineering space guys, many of whom volunteered for Naval Red Guard units who fought on land during the Civil War. This left the Russian Baltic Fleet poorly manned in technical ratings, poorly led (the crews shot their officers and senior NCOs wholesale in 1917, replacing them with 850 assorted Sailors’ Committees), and poorly maintained. No wonder a small British squadron ran rampant over the Gulf of Finland in 1918-19!

Oleg managed to slip through the net only to be sunk six months later by British torpedo boats at anchor.

AVTROIL, right, surrendering to a British destroyer in the Baltic, possibly HMS Wakeful (H88). Naval History and Heritage Command NH 47620

AVTROIL, left, photographed in the Baltic Sea, captured by a British destroyer, right, most likely Wakeful. Wakeful would later be sunk off Dunkirk, torpedoed by the German submarine U-30 on 29 May 1940, taking 638 soldiers and 85 members of the Ship’s Company with her. Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. NH 94210

Welcome to Estonia!

The British towed their second prize in as many days to Revel, the former Russian naval base turned Tallinn, the new Estonian capital. There, the Soviet crews were interned. Those captured Russians who wanted to return home were later exchanged with the Reds for 17 British servicemembers, nine who participated in the raid June 1919 raid on Kronstadt, and eight downed aircrewmen lost in the August/September floatplane raids on the Bolshevik fortress.

Adm. Sinclair arrived in Tallinn on 28 December 1918 for the inspection of the captured destroyers.

THE BRITISH NAVAL CAMPAIGN IN THE BALTIC, 1918-1919 (Q 19334) A sentry aboard the Royal Navy cruiser HMS CARADOC at Reval (Tallinn), showing ice-covered decks. December 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205253750

The captured vessels were soon turned over to the nascent Estonian Navy. On 2 January 1919, RN Capt. Bertram Sackville Thesiger, the skipper of Calypso, met with the brand-new Commander of the Estonian Navy, Capt. Johan Pitka, onboard the uncrewed Avtroil to discuss the transfer. Avtroil would be renamed EML Lennuk while Spartak would become EML Wambola on 4 January 1919.

Destroyer Avtroil in Estonian waters

Estonian destroyer Wambola (ex-Spartak) on the dock at Tallinn. While of a similar design, layout, and armament to Avtroil, he had German-made Vulkan boilers and AEG turbines

Repaired and under a new flag– Avtroil’s third for those keeping track at home– they would sail against the Reds later that summer until Moscow recognized Estonia’s independence the next year.

Eventually, cash-strapped Estonia– which had suffered through the Great War, German occupation, their own short but brutal campaign for independence and following reconstruction– looked at their surplus Russian destroyers and decided to pass them on for more than what they had in them.

From the frozen Baltic to the steaming Amazon

Laid up since 1920, they were sold to Peru in April 1933 for $820,000, leaving the Estonian Navy with only a single surface warfare ship, the Sulev— which was the once-scuttled former German torpedo boat A32. The tiny republic used the money, along with some public subscription, to order two small, but modern, coastal minelaying submarines from Britain.  

Spartak/Wambola became BAP Almirante Villar while Avtroil/Lennuk would become BAP Almirante Guise, ironically named after a British-born Peruvian naval hero that had fought at Trafalgar.

The reason for the Peruvian destroyer purchase was that Lima was gearing up for a border conflict with Colombia that never really got much past the skirmish stage. Nonetheless, they did serve in a wary blockade of the Colombian coast and exchanged fire with a group of mercenaries squatting on what was deemed to be part of Peru, by the Peruvians, anyway.

ALMIRANTE GUISE Peruvian DD, 1915 Caption: In Colon Harbor, Panama, 26 June 1934, transiting to the Pacific.. She was formerly the Estonian DD LENNUK and Russian DD AVTROIL NARA 80-G-455951

Same as above, different view. 80-G-455952

Same, stern. Note mine-laying stern, range clocks, men on deck. 80-G-455949

Once in the Pacific, the destroyers were modernized, mounting some Italian-made Breda 20mm AAA guns. Apparently, the Peruvians were also able to get 4-inch shells and torpedoes from the Italians as well. Peru at the time only had a small (~3,000-ton) pair of old protected cruisers, making the repurposed Russian tin cans their most valuable naval assets.

Callao, Peru during the division of Cruiser Division 7 under Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, USN, May 26 to 31, 1939. Ships from left to right are Peruvian Cruisers CORONEL BOLOGNESI (1906-1958) and ALMIRANTE GRAU (1906-1958), behind BOLOGNESI), destroyers ALMIRANTE, VILLAR (1915-c1954), ex Estonian VAMBOLA ex Russian SPARTAK) and ALMIRANTE GUISE (1915-c1947), ex Estonian LENNUK, ex Russian AVTROIL, and USS TUSCALOOSA (CA-37), SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38), and QUINCY (CA-39). NH 42782

Cruiser BAP Almirante Grau (3,100t, circa 1907, 2x6inch guns), destroyers of BAP Villar and BAP Guise, and an R-class submarine of the Peruvian Navy during naval maneuvers in 1940. The floatplanes are two of six Fairey Fox Mk IVs bought by the Peruvian Air Force in 1933 along with four Curtis F-8 Falcons during tensions with Colombia. The Peruvian Navy operated three Douglas DTB torpedo bomber floatplanes and at least one Vought O2U Corsair. Colorized by Diego Mar/Postales Navales

The low-mileage pre-owned tin cans were put to more effective use in the “Guerra del 41,” the Ecuadorian–Peruvian War. Almirante Guise carried out patrols in front of the Jambelí channel, bombarded Punta Jambelí and Puerto Bolívar, and supported the Peruvian advance on El Oro. Meanwhile, his near-brother Almirante Villar was on convoy duty and fought a one-sided surface action against the elderly Ecuadorian gunboat BAE Abdón Calderón (300t, c1884, 2x76mm guns).

Once the conflict with Ecuador died down, another one was just kicking off. Under U.S. pressure, Peru broke off relations with the Axis powers in January 1942 and, while friendly to the Allies and increasingly hostile to the Axis, only declared war against Germany and Japan in February 1945. The Peruvian Navy was the only force “active” in the conflict, engaging in armed neutrality patrols throughout 1942-43. For those keeping score, WWII would be the Russian destroyers sixth-ish conflict following the Great War, the Russian Civil War, Estonian Independence, the Colombian skirmishes, and the Guerra del 41.

In the 1946 Jane’s, the two Russo-Estonian brothers were listed as Peru’s only destroyers.

Meanwhile, Avtroil’s two brothers back in the Motherland would not have such a sedate Second World War. Izyaslav, naturally renamed Karl Marx, was sunk by a German air raid in August 1941. Pryamislav, renamed Kalinin after Stalin’s favorite yes man, was lost in a German minefield the same month near the island of Mokhni in the Gulf of Finland. Ironically, it was Mokhni where the British had captured Avtroil two decades prior.

The last of his kind, Avtroil, and his half-brother Almirante Villar, would endure for another decade.

Almirante Guise via the Dirección de Intereses Marítimos-Archivo Histórico de Marina

Decommissioned in 1949, they were slowly scrapped above the waterline through 1954. Their hulks reportedly remain off Peru’s Isla de San Lorenzo naval base/penal colony. Their names were later recycled for a pair of Fletcher-class destroyers, USS Benham (DD-796) and USS Isherwood (DD-520), acquired in the 1960s and used into the 1980s.

Avtroil/Guise is remembered both in Russian maritime art and Peruvian postal stamps.

The British also have a souvenir or three. His Soviet flag is in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich while other objects are in the IWM.

Specs:


Displacement: 1,350 long tons, 1,440 full. (Listed as 2,200 late in career)
Length: 325 ft 2 in (listed as 344.5 in 1945)
Beam: 30 ft 10 in (listed as 31.5 in 1945)
Draft: 9 ft 10 in (listed as 11.8 in 1945)
Propulsion: 2 Brown-Boveri steam turbines driving 2 shafts, 5 Norman boilers, 32,700 shp
Speed: 35 knots max (on trials). Listed as 30 knots even late in career.
Oil: 450 tons, 2,400 nm at 15 knots
Complement: 142
Armor: 38mm shields on some of the 4-inch guns
Armament:
(as of 1918)
5 x 1 102mm L/60 Pattern 1911 Vickers-Obukhov guns
1 x 1 76mm AA mount M1914/15
3 x 3 450mm Whitehead torpedo tubes
2 x Maxim machine guns
80 Model 1912 naval mines.
(1945)
5 x 1 102mm L/60 Pattern 1911 Vickers-Obukhov guns
2 x 20 mm/70cal Breda AA guns
3 x machine guns

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

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

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

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

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I’m a member, so should you be!

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. 

Warship Wednesday, July 8, 2020: Service Guarantees Citizenship

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

Warship Wednesday, July 8, 2020: Service Guarantees Citizenship

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 108363

Here we see the Wickes-class tin can USS Roper (Destroyer No. 147) in an undated overhead bow-on shot early in her career. As yesterday was the 113th birthday of her most famous crewmember, it only seemed important to shine some light on this often-overlooked but well-traveled warship.

Roper was one of the iconic first flight of “Four Piper” destroyers that were designed in 1915-16 with input from no less an authority as Captain (later Admiral) W.S. Sims. Beamy ships with a flush-deck, a quartet of boilers (with a smokestack for each) were coupled to a pair of Parsons geared turbines to provide 35.3-knots designed speed– which is still considered fast today, more than a century later. The teeth of these 314-foot, 1250-ton greyhounds were four 4-inch/50 cal MK 9 guns and a full dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes.

They reportedly had short legs and were very wet, which made long-range operations a problem, but they gave a good account of themselves. Originally a class of 50 was authorized in 1916, but once the U.S entered WWI in April 1917, this was soon increased and increased again to some 111 ships built by 1920.

Roper was laid down on 19 March 1918, at the height of the German’s Michel Offensive in France, at the William Cramp & Sons yard in Philadelphia. She was the first ship to carry the name of LCDR Jesse M. Roper (USNA 1872) who, as skipper of the gunboat USS Petrel in 1901, lost his life in a fire attempting to rescue a trapped seaman.

However, USS Roper came too late to join the Great War, commissioned on 15 February 1919. Nonetheless, after shakedown, she crossed the Atlantic and served in the Med and the Black Sea during the tumultuous period that included the breakup of the old Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire coupled with the heartbreak of the Russian Civil War.

Roper, pre-1922. NH 108361

Transferring to the Pacific Fleet, Roper would be placed decommissioned in 1922 and rest in mothballs until 1930 when she was refit and reactivated. In contrast to her quiet time during the 20s, the 1930s would be a time of active participation in a series of fleet problems and maneuvers that ranged from the Eastern seaboard to the Caribbean and Alaska.

An undated overhead image of Roper underway, likely early in her career and after her 1930 reactivation. Note her stern depth charge racks. NH 108364

From the same set, with a good overview of her guns and profile. NH 108362

Enter Mr. Heinlein

With a tradition that his family fought in every American war going back to the days of Bunker Hill, Robert Anson Heinlein, born in Missouri in 1907, entered the U.S. Naval Academy as a Mid in 1925. He had a bit of family support on campus, as his brother Rex had been admitted the previous year, a factor that led Robert to have to pester U.S. Sen. Jimmy Reed to burn another service academy appointment on a Heinlein, reportedly hitting the senator with over 50 letters.

The younger Heinlein, “Bob” to his classmates, was an expert rifleman and a member of the fencing team, winner of the 1927 Epee medal. Academically 5th in his class of 243, he graduated 20th due to demerits with the 1929 class– one that included the future RADM Edward J. O’Donnell, RADM Warner S. Rodimon and VADM James H. Flatley– and has a very entertaining page in that year’s Lucky Bag. Headed to the fleet, the newly minted ensign shipped out for one of the choicest assignments, the brand-new carrier USS Lexington (CV-2).

LEXINGTON at the fleet concentration, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaiian Islands, 16 February 1932. Heinlein would have been aboard her at the time. NH 67634

Lex’s skipper, while Ensign Heinlein was aboard, was the taciturn Ernest J. King, future WWII CNO. This cheerful guy:

Captain Ernest J. King, USN, Commanding officer of USS LEXINGTON (CV-2), is shown the Olympic Cup by Chief Gunner Campbell, on 5 September 1931. The cup had recently been won by LEXINGTON’s runabout crew. 80-G-462576

In 1933, Heinlein left the mighty turbo-electric carrier for the much smaller and almost in comparison “retro” tin can, Roper, where he would serve as gunnery officer until he left the Navy on a medical discharge due to a case of TB.

Over the course of 46 novels and dozens of short stories, Robert Heinlein was always flanked by what he learned and remembered from his days as an Annapolis Mid and as a young line officer in the fleet.

Of course, Bob would settle for a career as a renowned science fiction author; winner of several Hugo Award prizes for groundbreaking science fiction. He was able to loop back around during WWII as an aeronautical engineer at the Navy Aircraft Materials Center at PNSY, bringing fellow sci-fi legends Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp with him to do their part.

Meanwhile, Roper had a war of her own to fight

Off Cape Cod on 7 December 1941, the Great War-era destroyer was soon on convoy duty during the height of what the German U-boat skippers deemed “The Happy Time” of Operation Drumbeat (Paukenschlag) due to the widespread availability of targets in American waters. As such, this included several instances of picking her way through floating wreckage and rescuing lifeboats crammed with U-boat survivors.

USS Roper (DD-147) Escorting a convoy, out of Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1942. Ships of the convoy are visible on the horizon. Roper is wearing Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage. NARA 80-G-K-580

USS ROPER (DD-147) View taken while underway in Hampton Roads, on convoy escort duty, circa 1942. Note camouflage. 80-G-K-467

On the night of 13-14 April 1942, Roper made a weak sonar contact in shallow water off North Carolina’s Bodie Island lighthouse, inside an area dubbed “Torpedo Junction” due to the high rate of submarine actions in the region and began prosecuting it. The contact turned out to be the Type VIIB German U-boat U-85 of 3. Flottille. Realizing he was caught in the shallows with no room to move, the sub’s skipper, Oblt. Eberhard Greger, made for the surface to fight it out, making turns for 17 knots while snapping a torpedo from its aft tube at his pursuer– from just 700 yards away- which only narrowly missed, running down the port side of the oncoming tin can’s hull.

The engagement went down to deck guns at a range of 2,100 yards, with Roper’s forward 3-incher busting the sub’s pressure hull just aft of the conning tower on her third round as one of her .50-caliber Brownings, manned by a Chief Boatswains Mate, kept the Germans from their own guns. The U-boat disappeared below the waves, stern first, before Roper’s torpedo tubes could be brought to bear.

A painting of the destroyer USS Roper (DD-147) engaging the German Type VII submarine U-85, during the night of 13/14 April 1942, near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Artist unknown. Image from the 1967/68 Edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/147.htm

Greger and crew apparently attempted to abandon ship as it was going down but, in a sad fog of war incident, all perished as Roper’s crew, in the dark and fearing another U-boat was in the area due to another, albeit unrelated sonar contact, continued depth charging the area after the sub submerged for the final time. When dawn broke, Roper’s crew recovered 29 bodies, which were later interred at Hampton National Cemetery.

Roper’s attack report is in the National Archives and makes for interesting reading. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/133887377

The wreck and war grave that is U-85 is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and protected as part of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. In just 100 feet of water, she is a popular dive site.

With her “kill” Roper became an inaugural member of the U.S. Navy’s sub-busting club in the Atlantic War, although the milestone of the lonely battle was kept secret until after the war. She was in good company, as her sister ship, USS Ward (DD-139), fired the first U.S. shots of the Pacific War, sinking a Japanese midget submarine outside of Pearl Harbor just before the attack there.

The rest of Roper’s 1942 was spent in less eventful coastal patrol and escort service, shifting to riding shotgun on Caribbean-to-Mediterranean convoys building up Allied forces in North Africa and the 1943 push to Sicily and Italy.

In October, entered Charleston Navy Yard for conversion to her next role, that of a WWII littoral combat ship.

Green Dragon Days

With the changing pace of the new naval war, the Roper, as with most of her class, was converted to other uses, being too small for fleet work. She lost her 4-inch guns, which went on to equip armed merchant ships, as well as her torpedo tubes. Also leaving were half of her boilers, which dropped her speed down to 25-knots. She was given a trio of newer high-angle 3-inch/50 guns, one 40 mm AA gun, and five 20 mm AA guns, and the capability to carry up to 300 Marines or soldiers for a brief period. In this new role, she was re-designated as a high-speed amphibious transport (APD-20). Where her torpedo tubes once were, she now carried four 36-foot LCP landing craft on davits.

Such converted, these ships, usually painted in an all-over alligator green scheme, became known as “Green Dragons.”

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Quarter. File 11-21-43-4.” Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Bow, Down View. File 11-21-43-6. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Bow. File 11-21-43-2. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Starboard Bow. File 11-21-43-7. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

US Navy Yard, SC, November 21, 1943. USS Roper, (APD-20) Stern View. File 11-21-43-5. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum

These conversions had a hard war. They transported troops to beachheads, served as escorts for transports and supply vessels, conducted anti-submarine patrols and survey duties, operated with Underwater Demolition Teams and commando units, performed messenger and transport duties, conveyed passengers and mail to and from forward units, and were involved in minesweeping operations.

On 13 April 1944, Roper steamed across the Atlantic to join the massing 8th Fleet at Oran and subsequently landed units of the reformed French Army on the Italian coast at Pianosa on 17 June. By August, she was part of the Dragoon Landings in southern France, landing troops on Levant Island with TF 86/Sitka Force. Her charges were 14 officers and 269 men of the elite “Black Devil” commandos of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force who landed, and subsequently fought the small Battle of Port Cros in which they captured the five forts on the islands from the German Army.

Roper’s report of landing operations on the Ile du Levant with Sitka Force is digitized and in the National Archives. 

Reaping the Devine Wind

With the days of amphibious landings in Europe at an end in 1945, Roper sailed for the Pacific for the first time in WWII. Just three days after arriving at Nakagusuku Bay on the southern coast of Okinawa, she was hit by a Japanese kamikaze, a Zeke that was being pursued by three F4U Corsairs, the latter being a factor that prevented AAA fire from being directed at the incoming suicide plane. The Zeke hit Roper’s forecastle at 0922 on 25 May, starting fires in the CPO and Wardroom country which were extinguished in about an hour but left her forward magazines flooded. Her First Lieutenant, Lt. (JG) Thomas Walsh, was killed on deck via flying debris. Ten of her crew were lightly wounded with seven being evacuated to the hospital ship USS Relief. 

USS ROPER (APD-20) as damaged by a suicide plane attack, 26 May 1945. The plane’s port wing had sheared off and entered the ship’s starboard side, making a 6-foot hole about f-feet above the waterline. The fuselage of the Zeke glanced off the ship’s forecastle and exploded 30 feet off her beam. The plane’s propeller chewed several 3-foot-long gashes in the forecastle’s deck. The pilot’s helmet, jacket, and “pieces of his anatomy” were found hanging from Gun. No. 1. Courtesy of Admiral H.W. Hill. NH 66192

Roper’s kamikaze report is digitized and available in the National Archives. 

Of her class, 13 of her sisters were sunk in WWII, most early in the war while trying to stem the Japanese tide off Guadalcanal or, in the case of two, due to German U-boats in the Atlantic. The famous Ward, similarly, converted to an APD, was sunk off Ormoc in the Philippines on 7 December 1944 by a kamikaze. A similar fate befell sister USS Palmer (DD-161/DMS-5) in the Lingayen Gulf. Likewise, sister USS Dickerson (DD-157/APD-21) was so badly hit by a kamikaze in April 1945 off Iwo Jima that she was scuttled.

As for Roper, ordered back to the States to complete her own kamikaze repairs, she departed the Ryukyus on 6 June and reached San Pedro a month later. With the end of the war, her those repairs were not undertaken, and she was instead decommissioned on 15 September 1945 and scrapped the following year.

Roper earned four battle stars during World War II and the largest part of her currently in existence is an anchor that is on display at an entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There has not been a second USS Roper on the Navy List.

Most of Roper’s WWII war diaries, as well as a set of her plans, are in the National Archives. 

Today no Wickes-class tin can survive. The last one afloat, USS Maddox (DD–168), was scrapped in 1952 after serving in the US, then RN, then Canadian, then Soviet navies.

However, one of the class, USS Walker (DD-163), has been given new life in the excellent alternate history series Destroyermen written by Taylor Anderson. It is, um, science-fiction. Go figure.

As for Heinlein, whose wartime work for the Navy ironically included kamikaze detection and defense, died in 1988, aged 80. His body was eventually cremated, and his ashes scattered over the Pacific from the deck of a warship. Before that, he addressed the Mids in 1973 during which he noted:

What you do have here is a tradition of service. Your most important classroom is Memorial Hall. Your most important lesson is the way you feel inside when you walk up those steps and see that shot-torn flag framed in the arch of the door: ‘Don’t Give Up the Ship.’ If you feel nothing, you don’t belong here. But if it gives you goose flesh just to see that old battle flag, then you are going to find that feeling increasing every time you return here over the years… until it reaches a crescendo the day you return and read the list of your own honored dead – classmates, shipmates, friends – read them with grief and pride while you try to keep your tears silent.

In 2001, Virginia Heinlein, who had a long naval history herself and was the prototype of the strong female characters in many of her husband’s novels, endowed the Robert Anson Heinlein Chair in Aerospace Engineering at Annapolis.

Specs:

USS Roper (DD-147): Booklet of General Plans – Inboard Profile / Outboard Profile. National Archives Identifier: 109188795 https://catalog.archives.gov/id/109188795

(As completed)
Displacement: 1,247 long tons (1,267 t)
Length: 314 ft 4 in
Beam: 30 ft 11 in
Draft: 9 ft 10 in
Propulsion: 2 × geared steam turbines, 2 × shafts
Speed: 35 kn
Complement: 231 officers and enlisted
Armament:
4 × 4 in /50 cal guns
2 × 3 in /50 cal anti-aircraft guns
12 × 21 in torpedo tubes (4×3)

(1943, APD conversion)
Speed: 25kn
Complement: 180 officers and enlisted, up to 300 troops for short periods
Armament:
3 x 3inch/50
1 x 40mm Bofors
5 x 20mm Oerlikons

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

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

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

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

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Guns of the U.S. Army, 1775-2020

While you may know of today’s standard U.S. Army infantry rifles, and those of the 20th Century, how about those present at Lexington and Concord or the line of Springfield muskets from 1795 through 1865? What came after?

For all this and more, check out the easy 2,000-word primer I did for this last weekend at Guns.com.

Warship Wednesday, July 1, 2020: The Hunchback of Nord Virginia

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

Warship Wednesday, July 1, 2020: The Hunchback of Nord Virginia

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. LC-DIG-PPMSCA-33402

Here we see the steam ferry-turned-gunboat USS Hunchback somewhere on the James River, likely in late 1864. Note leisurely sitting officers on the lower deck with the sailors carefully posing assorted nautical actions above, complete with spyglasses. The only U.S. Navy warship to bear the name (so far), she was extensively chronicled by Matthew Brady (or someone of his group) in period photographs during the Civil War.

A wooden-hulled sidewheeler steamer, Hunchback was constructed in New York in 1852 for use by the New York and Staten Island Ferry Company. Some 179-feet overall, she could make 12 knots, making her a reliable– and fast– way to move people and light cargo around the boroughs of the bustling metropolis.

Side-wheel ferry Hunchback in commercial service, in 1859. Note horses and carts on her stern and passengers enjoying the upper deck chairs. Image from Maritime New York in Nineteenth-Century Photographs, P.11, Pub. by E. & H. T. Anthony-Johnson, Dover Publications Inc., New York, via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/09949.htm

Purchased by the Navy 16 December 1861, she sailed to Hampton Roads soon afterward and was commissioned there two weeks later, retaining her peacetime name. She joined such interesting vessels on the Naval List as USS Midnight, and USS Switzerland, likewise taken up from trade with their names intact, a necessary evil as some 418 existing ships were purchased for naval use by the Union fleet during the war in addition to the more than 200 new vessels ordered from various yards.

Armed with a trio of soda-bottle-shaped IX-inch Dahlgren smoothbore shell guns (two forward, one stern) and a fearsome 100-pound/6.4-inch West Point-made naval Parrott (capable of a 7,800-yard range) over her bow, she was assigned to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron as a fourth-rate gunboat and by 5 February was in combat– only six weeks after her purchase– using her newly-mounted cannon to bombard Fort Barrow in support of Gen. Burnside’s invasion of Roanoke Island. She reportedly had to move in close to the Confederate works and received extensive punishment from the rebels in exchange.

No rest for the weary, her shakedown cruise continued with supporting landings up the Chowan River throughout the next month, coming to a head with a sortie up the Neuse River to New Bern where she and other gunboats of the Squadron engaged batteries and landed troops, capturing the key depot.

“The Battle at Newbern– Repulse of the Rebels, March 14, 1862.” Line engraving, published in Harper’s Weekly, 11 April 1863, depicting the action at Fort Anderson, Neuse River, North Carolina. U.S. Navy gunboats Hunchback, Hetzel, Ceres, and Shawsheen are firing from the river at Confederate forces, as Union artillery and infantry move into position on the near shore. NH 95121

Hunchback continued to see hot service in the sounds of North Carolina through September 1863, especially up the Chowan. During her 20 months in Tar Heel waters, she broke up the Confederate siege of Washington (N.C.) on the Pamlico River, helped defend Fort Anderson, captured at least four small ships, and engage rebels in an extended action below Franklin, Virginia.

It was against Franklin that one of her crew, Ohio-born bluejacket Thomas C. Barton, earned the Medal of Honor. His citation read,

“When an ignited shell, with cartridge attached, fell out of the howitzer upon the deck, S/man Barton promptly seized a pail of water and threw it upon the missile, thereby preventing it from exploding.”

Barton would go on to rise to Acting Master Mate and perish aboard the old 74-gun ship of the line USS North Carolina in 1864, likely from illness. It should be remembered that most of those who died in the Civil War did so from disease and sickness, rather than bullet and shrapnel.

Withdrawn from the line in late 1863, Hunchback would make for Baltimore where her war damage was repaired, her hull corrected, and her steam plant overhauled.

Thus reconditioned, the armed ferry returned to the fleet in May 1864, towing the new Canonicus-class monitor USS Saugus up Virginia’s James River where the armored beast, along with her sisters Canonicus and Tecumseh, could support operations against Richmond and defend against Confederate ironclads.

The 500-ton Hunchback would continue her time in the James River, based at Deep Bottom, for the next 10 months and was used as a fire engine of sorts, splitting her time running supplies and dispatches up the river while pitching in to provide brown water naval gunfire support along the muddy banks whenever the Confederates obliged to come within range. Her most notable action on the James was on 30 June when accompanied by Saugus, she clashed with Confederate batteries at Four Mills Creek.

It was during this Virginia period, sometime between May 1864 and March 1865, that she hosted a photographer, often chalked up as Matthew Brady– or at least someone associated with him, perhaps Egbert Guy Fowx. Notably, and something that is backed up by muster rolls that state many of her crew were enlisted “on the James River,” her complement included several apparent recently freed slaves.

Ship’s officers and crew relaxing on deck, in the James River, Virginia, 1864-65. Formerly attributed to Mathew B. Brady. One man is playing the banjo in the foreground, another is holding a small white dog, while others are reading newspapers. Men seated in the center appear to be peeling potatoes. Many crewmen are wearing their flat hats in the style of berets and most have no shoes, a standard practice in naval service until the 20th Century. About a fifth of this ship’s crew appears to be African Americans. Also, note the two IX-inch Dahlgrens to the port and starboard. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-2011. Catalog #: NH 59430

Some of the ship’s officers and crewmen pose on deck for the novelty of a photograph, while she was serving on the James River, Virginia, in 1864-65. Note swords, folding chairs, and details of the officer and enlisted uniforms to include informal straw hats at a jaunty angle. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-470. NH 51955

Deck of gunboat Hunchback on James River attributed to Matthew Brady. Note the detail of the ensign’s jacket and Model 1852 Officer’s Sword as well as the beautiful bottle-shaped IX-inch Dahlgren on a wooden Marsilly carriage with its crew tools and three shells on deck. The smoothbore beast weighed around 4.5-tons and used a 13-pound black powder charge to fire a 73-pound shell or 90-pound solid shot to 3,450 yards. LOC ARC Identifier: 526212

Boilermakers at work on Hunchback. Note the portable furnace and anvil. Formerly attributed to Mathew B. Brady, via The Met, accession no. 33.65.323

Officers at work on the Hunchback. These include a pair of Acting Ensigns aboard ship under a canopy. Note the sponge and ramrod for a naval gun overhead as well as a gun rack filled with muskets just inside the P-way. The elevation screw of what looks to be the ship’s single 6.4-inch Parrot is to the far left. Formerly attributed to Mathew B. Brady, via The Met, accession no. 33.65.321

Brady/Fowx apparently found the ship’s landing guns fascinating.

Gunners loading a 12-pounder Dahlgren smooth-bore howitzer, which is mounted on a field carriage. Note three of the gun crew appear to be teenage (or younger) “powder monkeys.” Also, observe the roping around the wheels to provide traction on the ship’s wooden decks. Photographed in the James River, Virginia, 1864-65. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-6193. NH 59431

Two bosuns–wearing their photo best to include crisp cracker jacks and brogans– standing by a Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled howitzer mounted on an iron field carriage. Note Hunchback’s walking beam steam engine pivot mechanism overhead. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-635. NH 59434

Two of the ship’s officers standing by a Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled howitzer mounted on an iron field carriage. Note M1852 officer’s swords and very informal uniforms. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-639. NH 59432

Loading drill on a Dahlgren 12-pounder rifled howitzer mounted on an iron field carriage. Note the combination sponge/ramrod in use and monkey at right with powder can. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-620. NH 59433

Two of the ship’s officers seated in folding chairs on the upper deck. Note the excellent view of Hunchback’s walking beam mechanism at right and 12-pounder Dahlgren smooth-bore howitzer in the background. The original photograph has Brady negative number B-613. Name “Rand” appears, erased on the back of the image. NH 59435

Just before the end of the war on 17 March 1865, Hunchback was sent back to her old stomping grounds in the coastal sounds of North Carolina– loaded with solid shot and three spar torpedoes (mines) in case she ran into a rebel ironclad— resulting in once again being sent up the Chowan River to clear the way for Sherman, who was marching North.

RADM David Porter, in writing to Commodore William H. Macomb, was blunt about the flotilla’s ability to halt any expected sortie by the Confederate ram CSS Neuse, sistership of the infamous CSS Albemarle— which was in fact not a threat at the time.

By 1 April, Hunchback made contact up the Chowan with advanced scouts of the 1st New York Mounted Rifles, part of the Army of the James pushing South, near Stumpy Reach (Point?), where her war effectively ended.

On 1 June, Hunchback was “sent north” on orders from Porter, along with at least 20 other converted steamers, no longer needed for any sort of naval service, and swiftly disarmed and decommissioned at New York 12 June 1865.

She was sold 12 July 1865 to the New York & Brooklyn Ferry Co., was renamed General Grant in 1866, and remained in service until 1880. While some records have her on the Brooklyn-to-New York ferry run for the next 15 years, the City of Boston has records of her purchase, for $23,000 in December 1865, to the East Boston Ferry Company.

Her final fate is unknown, but as she was a wooden-hulled vessel, it is not likely she endured much beyond the 1880s.

The muster rolls of the Hunchback, as well as extensive disapproved pension applications for her former crew members, are in the National Archives.

Specs:

Painting/Computer-generated imagery by Orin 2005, via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/09949.htm

Displacement: 517 tons
Length: 179 ft.
Beam: 29 ft.
Depth of Hold: 10 ft.
Propulsion: One 40-inch bore, 8-foot stroke vertical walking beam steam engine; twin sidewheels
Speed 12 knots
Crew: Listed as “99” although some muster rolls have her with as many as 125 aboard
Armament: Hunchback was listed in naval returns as having 7 guns, however, DANFS just lists:
3 x 9-inch guns
1 x 100-pounder 6.4-inch Naval Parrott rifle
She also carried at least two if not three 12-pounder landing guns, as extensively shown in photos, which could explain the apparent discrepancy.
In 1865 she also apparently carried a spar torpedo

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, June 24, 2020: ‘You are the most beautiful ship in the world’

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

Warship Wednesday, June 24, 2020: ‘You are the most beautiful ship in the world’

Photo via the Marina Militare

Here we see the Italian Navy’s historic nave scuola (training ship) Amerigo Vespucci (A5312) during the vessel’s 1992 at-sea campaign, specifically the Colombiadi, a Tall Ship regatta organized on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Pushing almost a full century in service, the Vespucci is most assuredly “old school.”

Designed in 1925 for the old Royal Italian Navy, the Regia Marina, Vespucci was to replace the aging Flavio Gioia-class incrociatore (cruiser) of the same name. The former Amerigo Vespucci, a 2,750-ton iron-hulled steam barque carried 13 guns and was laid down in 1879, the first such Italian warship named in honor of the 15th Century explorer who figured out the American continent was, in fact, not Asia.

The Regia Marina’s first Amerigo Vespucci, shown here in 1903 while ranked as a corvette, served from 1882 until 1928, first as the fleet flagship, then a solid 26-years as a training ship for the students of the Royal Naval Academy, the Accademia Navale in Livorno.

The new Vespucci was designed by Francesco Rotundi as was her near-sister, the slightly larger Cristoforo Colombo, taking pains to model them on the old Sicilian (Sardinian) Navy’s 84-gun ship-of-the-line Re Galantuomo (Monarca), a key vessel in 19th Century Italian naval lore. If Rotundi’s name rings a bell, he was the naval engineer who drew up the plans for the interwar modernization of the WWI-era Caio Duilio– and Conte di Cavour-class dreadnoughts as well as the construction of the new Littorio/Vittorio Veneto-class fast battleships.

Some 329-feet in length over the bowsprit, Vespucci’s main mast towered 177 feet into the air and, when fully rigged, she carried more than 20 holona canvas sails. While she had two white-painted “gun decks” fitted with more than 200 portholes rather than cannon ports, she was completed only with saluting guns and a few vintage black powder display pieces. She carries a life-size figurehead of the ship’s namesake explorer in golden bronze, has teak decks, and ornate embellishments from her bow to stern, some covered in gold foil.

In a nod to 20th Century shipbuilding techniques, her hull, masts, and yards were steel (although her tops are wood) and the vessel was designed from the start with an “iron topsail,” an auxiliary diesel-electric plant of two 6-cylinder FIAT Q 426 engines coupled with a pair of dynamos to supply electricity for her radios, navaids, loudspeakers, sounding gear and lights. The electricity in turn could also be used to spin up a pair of Marelii motors on a single shaft– good for up to 10.5 knots. She carried enough diesel to cruise 5,400 nm at a breathtaking 6-knots without breaking out the first sheet.

Launch of Amerigo Vespucci

Built at the Royal Shipyard of Castellammare di Stabia, Vespucci was commissioned as part of the Divisione Navi Scolastiche (School Ships Division) on 6 June 1931, joining her sister Cristoforo Colombo with the task of training Italian naval cadets.

La navi scuola Vespucci (left) e Colombo (right) all’ancora a La Spezia, 1935 (Archivio storico Marina Militare)

Italian Sail Training ships- AMERIGO VESPUCCI and CRISTOFORO COLOMBO. Italy, Circa 1936. NH 111394

Vespucci sailed on her first annual training cruise, to Northern Europe, late in the summer of 1931. As noted by the Italian Navy, “from 1931 to 2006 the Amerigo Vespucci performed 79 training cruises for the 1st Class Cadets of the Naval Academy: 42 in North Europe, 23 in the Mediterranean, 4 in the Eastern Atlantic, 7 in North America and 1 in South America within the only circumnavigation of the globe carried out between May 2002 and September 2003.”

While not a warship in the traditional sense of the term, Vespucci and her sister trained the officers that manned Italy’s battleships and cruisers in a series of surface actions throughout the first few years of WWII, as well as many of the young gentlemen of the Italian submarine force and Decima MAS who wreaked havoc on the British fleet during the conflict.

As for the tall ships, however, they spent the war on training missions close to shore at Pula and, gratefully, survived to come through the other side.

The Regia Marina training ship Amerigo Vespucci repaired in the port of Brindisi following the armistice of 8 September 1943.

Once the war was over, and the Allies began carving away the most choice cuts of the old Italian fleet in 1949, Cristoforo Colombo was awarded to the Soviets along with the old battleship Giulio Cesare, the cruiser Duc’a De Aosta, two destroyers, three torpedo boats, two submarines, and assorted auxiliaries for a token fee. Colombo was renamed Dunaj (Danube) and worked with the Red Navy’s Black Sea Fleet for a decade.

Arriving in Odessa, 1949, former COLOMBO, soon to be named DUNAJ

Falling into disrepair in the 1960s after Colombo was handed over to the merchant marine school at Odessa, the graceful Italian tall ship was slowly dismantled by 1971.

Meanwhile, Vespucci returned to service with the reformed (i.e. non “Royal”) Italian Marina Militare. She resumed her overseas training cruises in 1951, equipped this time with a modest armament of four American-supplied 3″/50 guns and a single 20mm cannon to provide the ship’s cadets with some underway ordnance training.

Amerigo Vespucci in Rotterdam, Bestanddeelnr 912-9445

Playing a role in the XVII Olympiad, held in Rome that year, she transported the Olympic flame from Greece to Italy, an important healing moment between the two countries a generation after WWII. Vespucci, placed at the disposal of the Games’ Organizing Committee, embarked the flame on 13 August at Zeas with the torch carried aboard by an Italian naval cadet in a whaleboat and, sailing across the Ionian Sea, arrived at Syracuse on the 18th.

According to legend, while sailing in the Med in the 1960s, the 80,000-ton Forrestal-class supercarrier USS Independence, on a deployment with the Sixth Fleet duty in support of President John F. Kennedy’s firm stand on the newly-established Berlin Wall, came across a strange tall ship at sea. The carrier flashed the vessel, Vespucci, with the light signal asking, “Who are you?” The answer, “Training ship Amerigo Vespucci, Italian Navy,” came back. Independence was said to have replied, “You are the most beautiful ship in the world.”

AMERIGO VESPUCCI Italian Training Ship, Sails past USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62) in the Mediterranean, 12 July 1962. The Navy later used this image on recruiting posters and advertising in the 1960s and 70s. USN 1061621

In 1964, she was extensively refitted at La Spezia, given new engines, generators, radars, rigging, and refurbished below deck areas.

Afterward, she became increasingly visible overseas, taking part in international tall ship events in 1976, 1981, 1985, and 1986, crossing the Atlantic at least twice in that period.

The Italian cruiser Garibaldi (C551) passing Vespucci off Naples, 1968

Photograph of the Italian vessel Amerigo Vespucci visiting Finland 25 Aug 1965. By Pentti Koskinen, Finnish archives

Amerigo Vespucci (Italy) in New York Harbor during OpSail 76. Photo by Marc Rochkind via Wiki Commons

A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3B-95-LO Orion (BuNo 154576) from Patrol Squadron VP-23 Seahawks flying over the Italian Naval Academy sailing ship Amerigo Vespucci in 1976. The P-3B 154576 was later sold to Norway. U.S. Navy photo by PH1 R.W. Beno, U.S. Navy. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation No. 2004.NAI.055.001

A port beam view of the Italian training ship AMERIGO VESPUCCI (A 5312) in New York harbor during the International Naval Review, 7/4/1986 NARA DNST8701314

Today, Vespucci is only armed with two 6-pounder saluting guns in pivot mountings on the deck, forward of the mainmast, although her small arms locker is interesting and recent pictures show that she still carries at least two-dozen WWII-era Beretta MAB38/42 submachine guns, used by her ship’s watch.

Further, she is still hard at work at age 89, very much a part of the Italian fleet.

Luigi Durand de la Penne (ex-Animoso) destroyer and the training ship Amerigo Vespucci both of the Italian navy.

The Alpino FREMM frigate docked near the Amerigo Vespucci training ship. Italian Navy, 2018.

Specs:

1:84 scale model of Italian training ship Amerigo Vespucci at the Hamburg IMMM

Displacement:
4,146 t (4,081 long tons) full load (DWT)
3,410 t (3,360 long tons) gross tonnage
1,203 t (1,184 long tons) net tonnage
Length:
329 ft 9 in LOA including bowsprit
270 ft overall, hull
229.5 ft pp
Beam: 51. ft
Height: 177.2 ft
Draught: 22 ft
Sail Rig: (original) 21 sails, 22,600 sq. ft. of canvas
(current) Up to 26 sails, 28,360 sq. ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder FIAT Q 426 engines, Two Marelli motors, 1,900 shp 1 shaft (1931),
Two 4-stroke, 8-cylinder FIAT B 308 ESS diesel engines (1964)
Engineering (since 2016)
2 × diesel engine generator MTU 12VM33F2, 1,824 bhp each
2 × diesel engines generator MTU 8VM23F2, 1,020 bhp each
1 × Electrical Propulsion Engine (MEP) ex Ansaldo Sistemi Industriali (NIDEC ASI) CR1000Y8 (1,010 bhp)
Speed:
Sails, 10 to 15 knots
Engines, 10 knots
Sensors: 2 × navigation radars GEM Elettronica AN/SPN-753(V)5, current
Complement: Up to 470
15 officers
64 NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers)
185 sailors
130 Naval Academy Cadets and Support Staff (when embarked)
Armament:
(1951)
4 x 3″/50cal singles
1 x 20mm cannon
(Today)
Small arms, saluting guns

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

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

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

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

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

I am a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, June 17, 2020: Mohican Motorboat

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

Warship Wednesday, June 17, 2020: Mohican Motorboat

Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN (Medical Service Corps), 1974. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 78973

Here we see the future section patrol craft, USS Chingachgook (SP-35), described in the 1916 photo as a “Submarine Chaser,” flying a Yachting Ensign but with a pair of deck guns installed, presumably as part of the popular civilian preparedness movement, in preparation for service with the new Naval Coast Defense Reserve.

The tradition of the Navy quickly acquiring commercial or consumer vessels in times of war and, after a quick retrofit with a few guns and, perhaps, a coat of paint, placing them back into service as a patrol craft or armed dispatch boat, dates back to the Revolutionary War. The tactic remained through the Civil War and saw a huge resurgence in the brief conflict with Spain in 1898. During the latter fashionable little war, whole squadrons of yachts, readily made available by scions of Wall Street, became plucky auxiliary patrol boats sent willingly into harms’ way.

Fast forward to the Great War and the terrifyingly incremental lead up to America’s involvement in that terrible conflict, and the Navy Department took steps in that period of armed neutrality to expand their reach.

Under provisions of the “Big Navy” Act of August 29, 1916, which established the Naval Reserve Force to be composed of six classes:

First. The Fleet Naval Reserve.
Second. The Naval Reserve
Third. The Naval Auxiliary Reserve
Fourth. The Naval Coast Defense Reserve
Fifth. The Volunteer Naval Reserve
Sixth. Naval Reserve Flying Corps.

The Naval Coast Defense Reserve was to be composed of:

“Members of the Naval Reserve Force who may be capable of performing special useful service in the Navy or in connection with the Navy in defense of the coast shall be eligible for membership in the Naval Coast Defense Reserve.”

The NCDRF, seen today as opening the door for women to serve in the Navy, also started cataloging in at first hundreds and then later thousands of craft like the Chingachgook for future inclusion in the fleet.

Dubbed “Section Patrol” craft, these boats were given SP hull numbers that they typically did not carry while they retained their pre-war civilian names. Reporting to the Naval Districts they were mobilized in, they would be responsible for keeping an eye peeled for spies, saboteurs, submarines, and assorted other strange goings-on. Keep in mind the Black Tom Island explosion had occurred on July 30, just under a month before the Act was put into effect and German cells were active along both coasts to one degree or another. 

As for Chingachgook, she was built by the Greenport Basin & Construction Co. of Long Island— best known for fishing craft, tugs, and yachts– in 1916, not as a civilian craft, but in hopes of offering her as a prototype sub-buster along motor yacht lines to the U.S. Government. Some 60-feet long, she could make a reported 40 knots on her two 300hp Sterling gasoline engines.

The below 23 January 1917 image shows Chingachgook, not yet in Navy service, lifted out of the waters of New York’s East River and placed on a truck for transport to the Motor Boat Show at Grand Central Palace. Note her stern gun, “10” pennant number on her pilothouse, and twin screws/rudders. Keep in mind that Bannerman’s military surplus, located in Manhattan, would sell both vintage and modern artillery pieces of all kinds, cash and carry, as the NFA of 1934 was still decades away.

War Department image 165-WW-338A-19, LOC ARC Identifier: 45513537

Our hearty little craft, of course, borrows her name from the supporting character of Chingachgook, the fictional Native American warrior featured in four of James Fenimore Cooper’s five Leatherstocking Tales, including his 1826 novel, The Last of the Mohicans.

Chingachgook was purchased by the Navy 25 May 1917 from Theodore W. Brigham of Greenport– six weeks after the U.S. entered the war– and placed in service on 6 June 1917, assigned to the 3rd Naval District (New York) for patrol duty. At least nine other dissimilar Greenport-built motorboats went on to become SP craft including USS Ardent (SP-680), USS Atlantis (SP-40), USS Beluga (SP-536), USS Perfecto (SP-86), USS Quest (SP-171), USS Sea Gull (SP-544), USS Uncas (SP-689), USS Vitesse (SP-1192), and USS Whippet (SP-89).

Chingachgook underway at high speed, October 1916. Like the first image in the post, she is flying yachting flags but is armed with a Colt M1895 “potato digger” machine gun forward and a small (1-pounder) cannon aft, probably for service with the pre-World War I Coast Defense Reserve. Note, while the mate up front is in naval-style crackerjacks, the two men in her wheelhouse are wearing boaters and bespoke suits. Photographed by Edwin Levick, of New York City. NH 101040

Chingachgook’s wartime service ended just two months later.

As noted by DANFS: “On 31 July 1917 her gasoline tank exploded, injuring members of the crew and igniting the ship. A survey of 13 October found her hull worthless and beyond repair, and she was subsequently disposed of by burning.”

She was struck from the Navy Register 19 February 1918.

A one-off design, the Navy went much bigger on their 110-foot sub chaser designs which, like the smaller Chingachgook that preceded them, were wooden-hulled gasoline-engined vessels developed by yacht makers that were intended to be mass-produced in small boatyards. The subsequent “splinter fleet” of SCs grew into the hundreds by 1919.

Later, in WWII, the Navy also used hundreds of small trawlers, yachts, drifters, former Coast Guard Cutters and the like in the same role as the Great War’s myriad Section Patrol craft, but typically designated them as Patrol Yachts (PYc), Patrol Craft (PC), Civilian Vessels (ID), or Yard Patrol Craft (YP) which were, perhaps, more descriptive terms, some of which continue to this day.

As for the Greenport Yacht & Shipbuilding Company, which is still in business, they went on to build coastal minesweepers, subchasers, and LCM landing craft in WWII.

Specs:
Displacement: 13 tons
Length: 60 feet
Beam: 10 feet
Draft: 3 feet
Propulsion: Two 300hp Sterling gasoline engine, two shafts.
Speed: 40 knots (although listed as “22 mph” by some sources)
Armament: One 1-pounder (37mm) and one Colt 30.06 machine gun

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