Tag Archives: naval gunfire support

Queen City Slammer

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

NARA 80-G-428168.

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

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

And she was very active.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warship Wednesday, April 28, 2021: Kan-do Kangaroo

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday to look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and 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, April 28, 2021: Kan-do Kangaroo

Official U.S. Navy Photographs NH 98383 and NH 98391, from the Naval History and Heritage Command collections. (Click to big up)

Here we see what a difference 19 years make! The brand-new Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Canberra (CA-70) underway in Boston harbor, 14 October 1943, clean and ready for WWII; compared to the Boston-class guided-missile cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2) underway at sea during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 28 October 1962.

When the early shitstorm of 1939 World War II broke out, the U.S. Navy, realized that in the likely coming involvement with Germany in said war– and that country’s huge new 18,000-ton, 8x8inch gunned, 4.1-inches of armor Hipper-class super cruisers– it was outclassed in the big assed heavy cruiser department. When you add to the fire the fact that the Japanese had left all of the Washington and London Naval treaties behind and were building giant Mogami-class vessels (15,000-tons, 3.9-inches of armor), the writing was on the wall.

That’s where the Baltimore class came in.

These 24 envisioned ships of the class looked like an Iowa-class battleship in miniature with three triple turrets, twin stacks, a high central bridge, and two masts– and they were (almost) as powerful. Sheathed in a hefty 6 inches of armor belt (and 3-inches of deck armor), they could take a beating if they had to. They were fast, capable of over 30-knots, which meant they could keep pace with the fast new battlewagons they looked so much like as well as the new fleet carriers that were on the drawing board as well.

While they were more heavily armored than Hipper and Mogami, they also had an extra 8-inch tube, mounting nine new model 8-inch/55 caliber guns whereas the German and Japanese only had 155mm guns (though the Mogamis later picked up 10×8-inchers). A larger suite of AAA guns that included a dozen 5 inch /38 caliber guns in twin mounts and 70+ 40mm and 20mm guns rounded this out.

In short, these ships were deadly to incoming aircraft, could close to the shore as long as there were at least 27 feet of seawater for them to float in and hammer coastal beaches and emplacements for amphibious landings, then take out any enemy surface combatant short of a modern battleship in a one-on-one fight.

Originally laid down on 3 September 1941 by Bethlehem Steel Corp of Quincy, Mass., as the third USS Pittsburgh, the subject of our tale was renamed USS Canberra on 16 October 1942 in honor of the Kent-class heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra (D33) of the Royal Australian Navy (while CA-72 would go on to be named Pittsburgh until stricken in 1973).

The move was to pay respect to the cruiser which– struck by two Japanese torpedoes and 20 8-inch salvos of gunfire while fighting alongside American ships and under the tactical command of RADM Richmond K. Turner– was lost at the Battle of Savo Island off the Solomon Islands two months prior and was the first time that a U.S. naval vessel was named for a foreign capital city.

The Australian Minister to Washington, Sir Owen Dixon, somberly presented the American ship with a special plaque to represent its RAN namesake (which had itself been the first to carry the name “Canberra”) and his handsome wife dutifully performed the christening ceremony in 1943.

USS Canberra commissioned on 14 October 1943, CPT Alexander R. Early (USNA 1914) in command. After completing her wartime shakedown in the Caribbean (90 percent of her crew had never been to sea and were fresh “off the farm”) and a yard period in Boston afterward, she was on the way to the Pacific.

USS Canberra (CA-70) underway, circa late 1943. NH 45505

USS Canberra (CA-70) underway in Boston harbor, Massachusetts, 14 October 1943. Note the ship’s two aircraft cranes, stern 40mm quad gun mount offset somewhat to port and arrangement of 8/55, 5/38, and 40mm guns aft and amidships. NH 98386

Her war got real when she escorted the carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) to plaster the Japanese stronghold at Eniwetok in February 1944 then proceeded to protect the amphibious landings there.

After a pollywog party while crossing into the South Pacific, she worked interchangeably with the legendary USS Enterprise (CV-6) and the newer Essex-class USS Lexington (CV-16) for attacks on the islands of Palau, Truk, and Yap as well as supporting the troop landings at Tanahmerah Bay on New Guinea. Then came more “softening up” raids on Marcus Island, Wake, Guam, and Iwo Jima.

During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, she was one of the units who used searchlights and star shells to guide American carrier air wings back to the fleet from the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.” Afterward, Canberra and her OS2N Kingfisher floatplanes performed extensive lifeguard duties for aircrews of ditched and lost planes, rescuing young aviators who had started the battle on squadrons from Yorktown, Lexington, Wasp, and Belleau Wood but ended it in life rafts.

Then came more work in the Carolines before shifting back to the PI, where she accompanied her carrier task force to Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Negros, and Bohol Islands.

USS Canberra (CA-70) operating with Task Force 38 in the Western Pacific, 10 October 1944, three days before she was torpedoed off Formosa. Her camouflage is Design 18a in the Measure 31-32-33 series. 80-G-284472

It was while on station roughly equidistant from Okinawa, Formosa, and Northern Luzon– within easy flight range of all three, on Friday the 13th, October 1944, her crew spied a late afternoon/early evening attack at approximately 1833 by a group of Japanese torpedo bombers. Although her AAA crews splashed three of the incoming planes, one was able to drop a fish that contacted our cruiser.

Damage chart from her torpedo strike. Much larger version here. 

Believed to be a Type 91, Mod. 3 torpedo, it hit below her armor belt at the engineering spaces and blew a jagged hole in her side, killing 23 men outright. Due to the location of the wound, a whopping 4,500 tons of water flooded her after fireroom and both engine rooms, leaving the cruiser dead in the water. (Read the extensive damage report, here)

Saved by heroic DC efforts, Canberra, along with the likewise torpedoed light cruiser USS Houston (CL-81), was towed to safety over the next several days under a CAP flown by the aircraft of the carriers Cabot and Cowpens. Nonetheless, during the initial retirement to Ulithi, the crippled cruisers were subjected to repeated Japanese air attacks, with Houston suffering another torpedo hit before it was over.

USS Canberra (CA-70) under tow toward Ulithi Atoll after she was torpedoed while operating off Okinawa. USS Houston (CL-81), also torpedoed and under tow, is in the right background. Canberra was hit amidships on 13 October 1944. Houston was torpedoed twice, amidships on 14 October and aft on 16 October. The tugs may be USS Munsee (ATF-107), which towed Canberra, and USS Pawnee (ATF-74). NH 98343

USS Canberra dry-dock ABSD-2 at Manus after the Japanese torpedo attack.

In the end, Canberra would remain under repair in forward bases then at Boston Naval Yard until after VJ Day. Ordered back to the post-war Pacific Fleet, a refreshed Canberra arrived at San Francisco on 9 January 1946 then was placed out of commission at Bremerton on 7 March 1947 and mothballed.

She earned seven battle stars for her WWII service. Captain Early, her wartime skipper, would earn a Naval Cross and retire as a rear admiral in 1949, a veteran of both world wars in big-gunned ships. 

USS Canberra (CA-70), a chart of the ship’s operations in the Pacific Ocean with the Fifth and Third Fleet, from 14 February to 19 November 1944. Drawn by Quartermaster J.L. Whitmeyer, USNR. NH 78680

The Missile Age

The Baltimore class cost Uncle Sam an estimated $39.3 million per hull in 1940s War Bond-backed dollars. It made sense in the 1950s to try and get some more use out of these all-gun cruisers in an increasingly Atomic world. With that, Canberra and her sister ship USS Boston (CA-69) were tapped in 1951 to become the U.S. Navy’s first guided-missile warships in fleet service, dubbed CAG-1 (Boston) and CAG-2, respectively.

The conversion radically changed the aft of the vessels, deleting their 143-ton No. 3 8-inch turret and after twin 5-inch DP mount. Also stripped off were all the 40mm and 20mm AAA guns, replaced by six (later reduced to four) of the new 3″/50 twin Mk. 22s. Also deleted were the seaplane provisions and accompanying hangar, catapults, and crane.

Aerial photographs of USS Canberra in 1943, top, and 1967, bottom. Note her helicopter platform, angled to the starboard to provide for boat storage space. Immediate CAG sistership Boston did not have such an arrangement.

The superstructure was modified with their twin funnel arrangement morphed into a single stack and their pole mast replaced with radar mast topped with a powerful air search radar.

Two giant Terrier missile systems–capable of firing two missiles every 30 seconds– were installed over the stern along with two giant AN/SPQ5 radar directors for them. Below deck, a massive rotating magazine/workroom, capable of holding 144 missiles, was created. Keep in mind that the VLS-equipped Ticonderoga-class cruisers of today only have 122 cells.

USS Canberra (CAG-2) fires a Terrier guided missile during First Fleet demonstrations for Secretary of the Navy Paul H. Nitze, off the U.S. West Coast in December 1963. KN-8743

USS Canberra fires a Terrier guided missile, February 1957. Photo NH 98398

Official period caption: “Super radars (AN/SPQ5) for guidance on terrier missiles installed onboard USS Canberra (CAG-2). The radars have massive, turret-like antennae and resemble giant searchlights. Developed for the U.S. Navy by the Sperry Gyroscope Company, the long-range, high-altitude missile guidance systems are a part of the U.S. Navy’s program directed toward the fleet with highly reliable missiles to combat supersonic jet aircraft. The super radar is giving an exceptionally high performance for tenacious stable guidance of supersonic missiles whether fired singly or in salvoes at individual or multiple enemy attackers. The systems combine many automatic radar functions in each unit and either system can control the missiles from a single launcher or battery, which fires the terrier missile or both radars can track different target groups simultaneously. It also includes flexible modes of scanning the air space many miles beyond the horizon, providing the advantage of early warning. Thus, individual targets can be selected from close flying groups and tracked with great distances while the missiles are launched and guided with extreme accuracy.” USN Photograph 670326 released May 3, 1957.

The two-stage missile weighed 1.5 tons and was 27 feet long over the booster but had a speed of Mach 3 and a range of over 17 miles. Besides the 218-pound warhead, it could carry a W45 tactical nuke in the 1KT range. Not bad for just a decade off WWII.

Terriers were huge!

Seen here aboard the USS Providence (CLG-6) in 1962.

The conversions cost $15 million per hull or about half their original cost. Canberra was re-commissioned on 15 June 1956 at Philadelphia and looked quite different from when she was last with the fleet.

USS CANBERRA (CAG-2) entering Hampton Roads, Virginia, 1950s. K-20598.

The Kangaroo opened her pouch for the brass as needed, hosting Ike for his 1957 Bermuda conference with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower with his Naval Aide, Captain Evan P. Aurand, USN, onboard a launch taking them to USS Canberra (CAG-2), 12 March 1957. NH 68550

USS Canberra CAG-2 carrying President Eisenhower on a trip to Bermuda – March 1957 LIFE Magazine – Hank Walker Photographer

President Dwight D. Eisenhower practicing his golf game, while onboard USS Canberra (CAG 2) en route to Bermuda for a conference, 14 March 1957. The driving target and protective netting have been rigged on the main deck, just to starboard the ship’s Number Two eight-inch gun turret. NH 68555.

After a mid-cruise in the Caribbean and an extended deployment to the Mediterranean, she served as the ceremonial flagship for the selection of the Unknown Serviceman of World War II and Korea in 1958.

USS Boston sailors render honors as the casket is transferred to USS Canberra prior to ceremonies on board Canberra to select the Unknown Serviceman of World War II. Virginia Capes on 26 May 1958. NH 54117

Hospitalman William R. Charette selects the Unknown Serviceman of World War II, during ceremonies on board USS Canberra, 26 May 1958

Then came another mid cruise, and stints in the Med, where she was often used as a flagship. A 1960 circumnavigation saw her visit her “home” in Australia for the first time and the next year she was on the line off Cuba, where she hosted RADM John W. Ailes, head of the blockade err quarantine task force.

A beautiful Kodachrome of USS Canberra (CAG-2) underway on 9 January 1961. KN-1526

Then came her second shooting war, and she did lots of shooting.

Southeast Asia

Off Vietnam in February 1965 screening carriers of TF77, Canberra became the first U.S. Navy vessel to relay an operational message via communication satellite via the Syncom 3 system and prototype Hughes Aircraft terminals to reach the Naval Communications Station in Honolulu, 4,000 miles away. She followed it up with a confirmed xmit to USS Midway (CVA-43), which at the time was some 6,000 miles away.

By March 1965, she shifted away from Yankee Station to take up a spot on the evolving gun line just off the coast of Vietnam during Operation Market Time. This included proving overwatch for air raids into the country and Sea Dragon naval gunfire support, a mission the Navy had thought for sure was dead.

As noted by DANFS, “While supporting these operations Canberra carried out six fire support missions making her the first U.S. Navy cruiser to use her guns in warfare since the Korean War.”

In this role, the old WWII bruiser and others of her kind and vintage found steady employment. Between February 1965 and December 1968, Canberra shipped out for Vietnam’s littoral waters on five deployments, with her guns heavily in demand.

Off the coast of North Vietnam, the eight-inch guns of the USS CANBERRA (CAG-2) frame the “Terrier” missile launchers of the USS LONG BEACH (CGN-9). Photographed by Chief Journalist R.D. Moeser, USN. USN 1121640

USS Canberra (CAG-2) Eight-inch guns of Turret # 2 firing, during a Vietnam War gunfire support mission, March 1967. Note the two outgoing projectiles in the upper right corner. Photographed by Chief Journalist R.D. Moeser, USN. USN 1142159

USS Canberra (CAG-2) crewmen sponge out an 8/55 gun of Turret # 2, following Vietnam War bombardment operations, March 1967. USN 1122618

USS Canberra (CAG-2): A ball of fire lights up USS Canberra (CAG-2) as a three-gun salvo is fired toward North Vietnamese targets, March 1967. Accession #: L45-42

The POW Savant

One of Canberra’s bluejackets had the misfortune of falling into the hands of the North Vietnamese through a freak accident and became a POW in the Hanoi Hilton.

Seaman Apprentice Douglas Hegdahl spent two years in a hell hole but was released earlier than a lot of other prisoners– as he wasn’t seen as being much of a threat and was one of the few conscripts in NVA hands–and carried irreplaceable intel back home. You see, as an EM in a prison camp full of 256 officers, he was given nearly free rein of the place and could interact with the other Americans. As such he (amazingly) memorized their names, capture dates, method of capture, and personal information despite feigning illiteracy during his captivity.

As described by Erenow:

Petty Officer Second Class Douglas Hegdahl was quiet and self-effacing. Unlike most American prisoners, who had been shot from the sky, he had been rescued from the sea. Serving aboard the USS Canberra, he had disobeyed orders and crept up on deck to watch a night bombardment. As he stepped past a five-inch gun, it discharged. He lost his footing and fell into the Gulf of Tonkin. The warship steamed away into the darkness.

Vietnamese fishermen picked him up and turned him over to the authorities, who thought him so clueless that his North Vietnamese guards called him “the incredibly stupid one.” But once released, he turned out to be a gold mine of information. To the tune of “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” he had memorized the names of more than two hundred prisoners. Thanks to him, scores of American families would find out for the first time that their sons and husbands and fathers were still alive. Within a few days of the press conference, Hanoi’s treatment of the prisoners began to improve— “a lot less brutality,” one captive remembered, “and larger bowls of rice.”

From Piloten im Pyjama, an East German propaganda film shot in the glorious Democratic Republic of Vietnam:

“Douglas Brent Hegdahl maintaining the cleanliness of the camp. Hegdahl is the only American draftee in custody in the DRV. The sailor fell overboard from a warship where he was serving as a draftee and was fished out of the water a short time later by Vietnamese fishermen. Now Hegdahl is sharing the life of the captured air pirates.”

The End

By July 1969, Canberra had been redesignated as an all-gun cruiser, picking up her old hull number (CA-70) and her Terrier missile systems and related equipment were removed. Although she was found to still be in good condition, she was instead pulled from service as part of a big pull down by the Navy to liquidate older vessels.

On 2 February 1970, Canberra was decommissioned at San Francisco, was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 31 July 1978, and sold for scrap two years later.

Epilogue

Doug Hegdahl is still alive, aged 74. He left the Navy in the 1970s after working as a SERE instructor, a job he had particular knowledge. 

One of the USS Canberra’s screws was saved and is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro.

Her ship’s bell was presented to the Government and Commonwealth of Australia the day before September 11th to mark the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty Alliance in a ceremony between President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. It is now on display at the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney, where Bush visited the bell in 2007.

White House photo by Tina Hager.

Further, in 2000, a plaque commemorating USS Canberra was installed at the Australian War Memorial.

She is also remembered in maritime art.

Painting of USS Canberra (CAG-2) departing San Diego Bay, in 1963 by artist Wayne Scarpaci titled Silvergate Departure

When it comes to such artwork, a 1928 watercolor of HMAS Canberra, which was presented to USS Canberra and carried aboard until she was decommissioned, is now in the custody of the NHHC. 

NH 86171-KN HMAS Canberra (Australian heavy cruiser, 1928) Watercolor by F. Elliott. This painting was received from USS Canberra (CA-70) in 1970.

A vibrant USS Canberra reunion association is set to have their meeting in Pittsburgh this year while the HMAS Canberra association remembers the service of their American cousins fondly.

While the Royal Australian Navy is currently on their third HMAS Canberra, a 28,000-ton LHD, the U.S. Navy is set to soon receive their second. PCS USS Canberra (LCS-30), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, recently took to the water of Mobile Bay and is set to commission in 2023. Her name was announced at a Feb. 2018 meeting between President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Specs:

 

(1946 Jane’s)

(As-built)
Displacement: 14,500 long tons (14,733 t) standard; 16,000 tons full load
Length: 673 ft. 5 in
Beam: 70 ft. 10 in
Height: 112 ft. 10 in (mast)
Draft: 26 ft. 10 in
Propulsion: 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, four GE geared steam turbines with four screws = 120,000 shp
Speed: 33 knots
Fuel: 2,500 tons
Complement: 61 officers and 1,085 sailors
Armor: Belt Armor: 6 in
Deck: 3 in
Turrets: 3–6 inches
Conning Tower: 8 in
Aircraft: 4 floatplanes (Kingfishers) 2 catapults, one crane over the stern, below deck hangar for two aircraft
Armament:
9 × 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Marks 12s (3 x 3)
12 × 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12s (6 x 2)
48 × 40 mm Bofors guns
28 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons

(As CAG)
Displacement: 17,500 full load
Length: 673 ft. 5 in
Beam: 70 ft. 10 in
Height: 112 ft. 10 in (mast)
Draft: 26 ft. 10 in
Propulsion: 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, four GE geared steam turbines with four screws = 120,000 shp
Speed: 33 knots
Fuel: 2,500 tons
Complement: 73 officers, 1,200 enlisted
Armor: Belt Armor: 6 in
Deck: 3 in
Turrets: 3–6 inches
Conning Tower: 8 in
Aircraft: Deck space for helicopter
Radar: SPS-43 forward, SPS-30 aft pole mast
Armament:
6 × 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Marks 12s (2 x 3)
10 × 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12 (2 x 2)
8 × 3″/50 (7.62 cm) Mark 22 AAAs (4 x 2)
2 x Terrier twin rail SAM launchers (144 missile magazine)

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Festina lente

RN photo of frigate HMS Active escorting Lanistes through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, mid-1987, on the Armilla patrol

The Royal Navy’s 12th HMS Active, a Vosper-built Amazon/Type 21-class frigate (F171), was a child of the Cold War.

Launched in 1972, she fought in the Falklands during Operation Corporate a decade later as part of an epic 93-day cruise in which Active not only weathered persistent Argentine airstrikes while supporting landings by British troops of 3 Commando and 5 Guards, but also closed with land positions in East Falkland to break out her relatively short-range 4.5-inch Mark 8 gun (max range 24,000 yards with an HE shell) on five occasions, softening up the Argies at Bluff Cove, Fitzroy, Berkley Sound, Mount Tumbledown, and Port Stanley in the last ten days of the conflict.

She was sold to the Pakistan Navy in 1994 and was renamed PNS Shah Jahan (DDG-186), where she served as a destroyer for another two decades.

Active/Jahan, pushing age 50, was sent to the bottom in the Northern Arabian Sea earlier this month on 12 January after a barrage of anti-ship missiles and torpedoes from an Agosta-class submarine and a Zulfiqar-class frigate.

While in RN service, her motto was Festina lente, Hasten Slowly.

Working the Gun Line

USS Beale (DD-471) crewmembers use a fire hose to cool the barrel of the ship’s forward 5″/38 cal gun. Note the jumble of empty shell casings near the gun mount. Possibly taken during Beale’s mid-1966 naval gunfire support operations off Vietnam. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 103718

During the Vietnam Conflict from just May 1965 to June 1968, U.S. surface warships fired over 1.152 million rounds of ammunition. One destroyer fired over 48 tons of ammunition in a 48 hour period – over 1,300 projectiles. Such high-tempo operations required destroyers providing naval gunfire support to replenish from AEs sometimes several times a week, and store shells temporarily on deck or in mess areas while clocking back in to answer calls on the gun line.

The barrels of the USS Boston, an 8-inch gun cruiser, were worn nearly smooth.

USS Boston (CA-69) Fires a salvo of eight-inch shells at enemy positions, while operating off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam during her 1969 deployment to the Western Pacific. Photographed from a helicopter flying nearby. This photograph was received by All Hands magazine on 12 November 1969.  NH 98300

Secretary McNamara announced that heavy cruisers due to be decommissioned would stay on the Naval List to add weight to the gun line.

This proved critical when the heavy cruisers USS Canberra and USS Newport News gave sustained support to ground forces combating the enemy’s Tet Offensive.

Forward 8-inch main guns of the heavy cruiser USS Newport News and spent cases after a mission off Vietnam.

In her last tour before decommissioning in 1970, the USS Saint Paul (CA-73), a Baltimore-class cruiser fired 3,000 rounds of 8-inch projectiles, often catching hell from shore batteries in return.

USS St. Paul (CA 73) fires at the Cong Phu railroad yard as it is bracketed by North Vietnamese shells in this August 1967 photo

The USS New Jersey, during her single 1968-69 deployment fired over 1,200 16-inch projectiles – proving especially effective in counter-battery fire against North Vietnamese Artillery.

"USS New Jersey in Vietnam" Painting, Tempera on Paper; by John Charles Roach; 1969; NHHC Accession #: 88-197-CE Launched in 1942, New Jersey (BB-62) saw service in WWII and Korea before being decommissioned in 1957. In 1968 she was reactivated and outfitted to serve as a heavy bombardment ship in Vietnam. At recommissioning, she was the only active battleship in the U.S. Navy. Between late September 1968 and early April 1969, she participated in Operation Sea Dragon, providing offshore gunfire support against inland and coastal targets. Soon thereafter, the Navy decided to reduce heavy bombardment forces in Southeast Asia. New Jersey was again decommissioned in December 1969.

“USS New Jersey in Vietnam” Painting, Tempera on Paper; by John Charles Roach; 1969; NHHC Accession #: 88-197-CE Launched in 1942, New Jersey (BB-62) saw service in WWII and Korea before being decommissioned in 1957. In 1968 she was reactivated and outfitted to serve as a heavy bombardment ship in Vietnam. At recommissioning, she was the only active battleship in the U.S. Navy. Between late September 1968 and early April 1969, she participated in Operation Sea Dragon, providing offshore gunfire support against inland and coastal targets. Soon thereafter, the Navy decided to reduce heavy bombardment forces in Southeast Asia. New Jersey was again decommissioned in December 1969.

This sparked Major General Jim Jones in the 1980s, who as a young Marine officer in Vietnam called in direct NGF support from New Jersey to save his unit, to recall about the 24-mile arc of the Black Dragon’s 16-inch gun range offshore, “Within that arc, the WAR evaporates; the enemy quickly learns that there are better places to be and things to do than to serve as a target for these fires that actually alter the terrain.”

Gratefully, we still have ironmen with us today who worked the shells and corrected the fire, and they are sharing their experiences.

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum has been running a great series of first-hand interviews with the men who worked the gun line.

John Uhrin, USS Cone (DD-866), recalls when sleep deprivation resulted in an unexpected target destroyed.

Bill Palmer, USS Goldsborough (DDG-20), recalls the near-constant operations necessary for ships on the gun line.

Herb DeGroft, a Marine NGFS aerial observer, discusses how calling naval gunfire support worked during his time in Vietnam. Interestingly, he flew almost exclusively with Army and Air Force FACs.

Jerry O’Donnell, USS Davidson (DE/FF-1045), describes arriving on the gun line under fire by the North Vietnamese.

Charlie Pfeifer, USS Richard S. Edwards (DD-950), recounts his experience on the gun line during the Tet Offensive.

Tony D’Angelo, USS St. Paul, details the satisfaction of rounds on target and the danger of swapping fuses on the ship’s guns.

Tony D’Angelo, USS St. Paul, remembers conducting harassment and interdiction fire, along with supporting the Marines near the DMZ, during his deployment to Vietnam.

Christmas Eve Fireworks Show

Somewhere off the DPRK on this day in 1950…

USS Missouri (BB-63) Forward turret fires a 16-inch shell at enemy forces attacking Hungnam, North Korea, during a night bombardment in December 1950 LSMR NH 96811

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 96811

USS Missouri (BB-63): Forward turret fires a 16-inch shell at enemy forces attacking Hungnam, North Korea, during a night bombardment in December 1950. In the background, LSMRs are firing rockets, with both ends of the trajectory visible. This is a composite image, made with two negatives taken only a few minutes apart. The photograph is dated 28 December 1950 but was probably taken on 23-24 December.

How you like me now?

Battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) firing her big 14″/45cal guns at Leyte on 20 October 1944, 75 years ago today, during the pre-invasion bombardment. Note her gunfire directors trained towards shore.

Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog # 80-G-288474.

Notably, Pennsylvania was present at Pearl Harbor and, while two destroyers next to her in drydock were not so lucky, was only lightly damaged and was ready for action at sea just six weeks after the attack.

Although a Great War-era battlewagon, she would prove her worth many times over in naval gunfire support across the Pacific, earning the nickname “Old Falling Apart” for her tendency to fire more ammunition than any other ship in such softening up operations.

The Gray Ghost arrives on Yankee Station

Official Caption: “The biggest and fastest guns operating in the Tonkin Gulf belong to the USS NEWPORT NEWS (CA-148). Her 8-inch/55 caliber rapid-fire guns rake North Vietnamese targets daily during Operation Sea Dragon. The NEWPORT NEWS arrived on Yankee Station in October 1967 to enter combat for the first time in her 19 years, 11 October 1967.”

Photographer, Journalist First Class Willard B. Bass, Jr. USN, Wed, Oct 11, 1967, 1127808 National Archives

Commissioned 29 January 1949, “The Gray Ghost from the East Coast,” was a 21,000-ton Des Moines-class heavy cruiser. The pinnacle of U.S. big-gun cruisers, only eclipsed by the ill-fated Alaska-class battlecruisers, Newport News and her sisters Des Moines and Salem (CA-139) carried nine 8″/55 cal Mk 16 RF guns in three 450-ton triple turrets that used automatic shell handling and loading to produce a rate of fire three times greater than that of previous 8″ (20.3 cm) guns.

They could zip out an impressive 10 rounds per minute, per gun, or 90 x 260lb shells in 60 seconds.

Oof.

Forward 8-inch main guns of the heavy cruiser USS Newport News and spent cases after a mission off Vietnam.

Newport News would fire more than 50,000 shells on her 1967 deployment including one incident on 19 December when she exchanged fire with as many as 28 separate North Vietnamese shore batteries, simultaneously, being bracketed by 300 enemy shells without taking a hit.

Newport News would return to Yankee Station two more times before she was decommissioned in 1975, the last all-gun heavy cruiser in US service. She was scrapped in 1993.

This week, however, a model of the Gray Ghost was moved into the gallery of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum by a contingent of sailors from the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG-64). The model is incorporated into a larger exhibit, “The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea: The US Navy in Vietnam, 1950-1975.”

The new exhibit opened on Wednesday.