Tag Archives: naval gunfire support

Codename Snake Eyes and Jungle Green

Royal Marines exercise “Codename Snake Eyes” circa 1960 documentary– in Color!— by the Central Office of Information for the Admiralty. A great way to spend a half-hour. 

The exercise involves a combined-arms amphibious attack on a fictitious Mediterranean island nation that looks suspiciously like Cyprus, complete with an airfield and radar station.

It is jolly good stuff, complete with pipe smoking, beards, Denison smocks, a wet predawn paradrop from an RAF Boxcar by SBS frogmen, Fleet Air Arm Vampires launched from an RN carrier conducting rocket attacks to soften things up, dory-landed (and Enfield/Sterling-armed!) Royal Marines from 45 Commando leaping ashore from LCVPs to complete a rock face free climb, then reinforced by Wessex helicopter-delivered 40 Commando (“choppers may be useful but they have no natural dignity”), finished off by LCM-landed 42 Commando (who finally have some FN FALs/L1A1s) on the third wave after NGFS from gun-armed cruisers.

And that’s just in the first 10 minutes!

Enjoy.

For a less varnished but no less fascinating look at Royal Marines at the sharp end, check out “Jungle Green,” a 1964 BBC documentary following an isolated 25-man long-range patrol/listening post of 40 Commando and their two Iban trackers some 50 miles deep in the bush in Borneo during the very Vietnam-ish Konfrontasi, the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation.

Cruising the Beach

Allied warships of Bombarding Force ‘C’, which supported the landings in the Omaha Beach area on June 6, 1944, as part of Operation Neptune/Overlord.

The picture was taken from the frigate HMS Holmes (K581). IWM photo A 23923. McNeill, M H A (Lt) Photographer

The column is led by the battlewagon USS Texas (BB-35) (far left, with Flag, RADM Carleton F. Bryant, aboard), with the Town-class light cruiser HMS Glasgow (C21), the battleship USS Arkansas (BB-33), Free French La Galissonnière-class cruisers George Leygues and Montcalm (Flag French RADM Jacques Jaujard aboard) following. The destroyers/escorts Frankford, McCook, Carmick, Doyle, Endicott, Baldwin, Harding, Satterlee, Thomson, Tanaside, Talybont, and Melbreak, also part of Force C, are nearby and some would move dangerously close to the beach that day.

In all, Group C alone would hammer the Germans at Omaha Beach with over 13,000 shells of 3-inch bore or higher inside of 11-hours, even being criticized after the fact:

Fire Support by individual units was generally satisfactory. MONTCALM, GEORGES LEYGUES, and GLASGOW in particular rendered quick and accurate support. TEXAS contributed valuable 14-inch fire, though in some instances cruiser fire might have been used instead. In one case an inexperienced spotter called for but did not receive, battleship main battery fire on a machine gun nest. It is possible that the fire support ships, in general, delivered call fire in too great a volume and too quickly with regard to available ammunition. It is believed that equivalent results would usually have been attained by more deliberate fire. The problem is often a difficult one, as calls for fire are usually urgent and the natural procedure is to deliver the quickest support. The solution appears to lie in the indoctrination of Shore Fire Control Parties in the proper use of the “deliberate fire” and “fire slower” groups (AEF Assault Signal Code), and, possibly, the introduction of code groups, similar to the “duration of fire” code groups, indicating the rate of fire.

Warship Wednesday, May 12, 2021: Linguine with Clam Sauce

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

Warship Wednesday, May 12, 2021: Linguine with Clam Sauce

Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-472496

Here we see the lead ship of her class of motor torpedo boat tenders, USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6/AVP-28), anchored in the Leyte Gulf of the Philippines in December 1944 with a brood of her PT boats alongside. Don’t let the designation think she couldn’t fight. With destroyer lines and comparable armament, she would both defend her boats and deliver shore bombardment during WWII.

Originally laid down as Barnegat-class small aircraft tender AVP-28 on 17 April 1942 at Lake Washington Shipyard, Houghton, Washington just four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on 1 May 1943 she was reclassified AGP-6, her role switched to taking care of PT boats instead.

The 41 Barnegats were 2,500-ton, 311-foot armed auxiliaries with destroyer lines capable of floating in 12 feet of water. They had room for not only seaplane stores but also 150 aviators and aircrew. Their diesel suite wasn’t fast, but they could travel 8,000 miles at 15.6 knots. Originally designed for two 5-inch/38-caliber guns, this could be doubled if needed (and often was) which complemented a decent AAA armament helped by radar and even depth charges and sonar for busting subs. All pretty sweet for an auxiliary.

While we’ve covered them in the past to include the former “Queen of the Little White Fleet,” USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38); the horse-trading and gun-running USS Orca (AVP-49), and the 60-year career of USS Chincoteague (AVP-24) but, as noted already, Oyster Bay was to be a somewhat different animal.

CPT Robert J. Bulkley, Jr., USNR’s superb work on wartime PT-boats, “At Close Quarters” speaks to the conversion of Oyster Bay and her three direct sisters, USS Mobjack (AGP-7), USS Wachapreague (APG-8), and USS Willoughby (APG-9):

Beginning with the Oyster Bay, commissioned in November 1943, four ships originally laid down as seaplane tenders were completed as PT tenders by their builder, the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton, Wash. These were 310 feet long, about 2,800 tons. They were fine, sleek ships, built along destroyer lines, and each carried, in addition to antiaircraft batteries, two 5-inch guns. Though they were faster than the ungainly LST type, they had limited shop space and had no means of raising a PT from the water unless they towed a drydock. In certain types of operations, however, where speed and firepower were required, they proved superior to the LST type.

Besides the provision for 48 replacement torpedoes, the PT boat tenders had other improvements that enabled them to support over a dozen “mosquito boats” at any given time. Modified from the standard Barnegat layout, the Oyster Bays lacked a windscreen/splinter shield around the front of the bridge and, instead of the normal #2 5″/38DP Mark 30 mount forward of the bridge, mounted a pair of twin 40mm Bofors. Their sterns were also different, to accommodate a larger torpedo and engine repair shop.

For comparison, look at this image of Barnegat.

USS Barnegat (AVP-10) underway off the coast of Brazil on 4 April 1944. The ship is painted in the two-tone Measure 22 camouflage scheme. Note the star and bar aircraft insignia on the bow aft of the hull number. Photographed from an aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 16. 80-G-361055

And contrast it to our subject:

USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6) photographed off the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 28 November 1943, shortly after commissioning. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-54733

Besides the pair of twin 40mm Bofors forward of the bridge, another pair were about amidships, while four single 20mm Oerlikons were aft. Photo from the same series as above, 19-N-54734

A 5″/38 Mark 21 pedestal mounting without the characteristic armored shield of the Mark 30s, was pointed over her stern. The Mark 21, in almost all uses, was disliked as it didn’t have a dedicated shell hoist, was manually trained, and elevated, and had a lower rate of fire. In most images of the Oyster Bays, they are shown cased. Also, note the stern depth charge racks. 19-N-54735.

Commissioned 17 November 1943, Oyster Bay would spend the rest of the year in shakedowns on the West Coast, notably taking the following load of duty munitions aboard for her battery, in addition to tons of .50 cal BMG and 48 Mk. 13 Mod 2A torpedoes for her PT boats and shells set aside for structural test firing:

600 rounds 5″/38 ser
100 rounds 5″/38 illum
19,200 rounds 40mm AA service
31,680 rounds 20mm HEI, service
15, 840 rounds 20mm HET, service

She was headed to war.

Leaving San Diego in early 1944 for Milne Bay, Oyster Bay would pick up two full torpedo boat squadrons, MTBRon 18 and MTBRon 21, then escort them to Admiralty Islands where the little armada would arrive 10 March.

There, Bulkley notes:

Although the 1st Cavalry Division, under Maj. Gen. Innis P. Swift, had landed on Los Negros 10 days before, the island was not yet under control. The perimeter defenses of the harbor were still in dispute. Snipers still fired occasionally at the tender and PTs at anchor. Fortunately, there were no casualties.

USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6) tending PT boats, likely of Squadrons 18 and 21, in Seeadler Harbor, Admiralty Islands, on 25 March 1944. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: SC 271592

With her boats immediately heavily involved in the landings on Japanese-held Pityilu Island, the tender was called upon to plaster the holdouts there with 60 rounds of 5-inch on 14 March. She later evacuated 42 wounded Army personnel to the field hospital on Finschafen before heading back to the line.

By April, Oyster Bay, supporting MTBRon 7 and MTBRon 18, was moved up to Hollandia where her boats would pitch in on the fight against Japanese barge traffic, landed several Army scouting parties, and made nightly patrols, later joined there by MTBRon 12 in May.

June brought a shift to operate from Wakde.

For the first eight nights located there, high altitude Japanese bombers came in to keep the troops awake, and, aided by the Army’s searchlights ashore, Oyster Bay‘s 5-inch crews tried to reach for the phantoms. On the night of 13 June, 29 5-inch shells at a choice bomber were rewarded with a 500-pound bomb that exploded just 100 yards off the ship’s bow, killing one and injuring two. However, the smoking bomber reportedly crashed into the hills south of the ship. Her 5-inchers would do more work for the Army, providing NGFS on the nights of 23 and 25 June. Turned out that it pays to have a vessel with a 13-foot draft and 5-inch guns.

The following month, while anchored off Brisbane, a RAAF Vultee Vengeance dive bomber flying at mast level would clip Oyster Bay, an act that proved fatal to the Australians aboard and would put the tender at Hamilton Warf for repairs.

By September saw Oyster Bay, joined by sistership Mobjack, with CDR Selman S. Bowling (USNA 1927), Commander Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons, Seventh Fleet, flying his flag from the tender a shift to Morotai in the Halmaheras where they would support 41 PT’s of MTBRons 9, 10, 18, and 33.

Off Morotai later that month, her gun crews were busy. Against a low-flying Japanese Betty bomber, they logged 140 40mm and 487 20mm rounds expended with the plane observed to “lurch violently” and to be last seen losing altitude over land. In return, four small bombs were observed to strike within 700 yards of the ship.

On 13 October, Oyster Bay, and her sisters Wachapreague and Willoughby, again with Bowling aboard, gathered a group of 45 mostly new PT boats from MTBRons 7, 12, 21, 33, and 36, then set off from Mios Woendi in the Schouten Islands southeast of Biak (codenamed Stinker) in a combat-ready convoy for the Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, with the boats repeatedly being refueled en route.

PT-194, “Little Mike,” of MTBRon 12, refuels from an Oyster Bay-class tender, USS Wachapreague (AGP-8), en route to Leyte Gulf. 80-G-345815

They arrived there at dawn on October 21, a day after the major assault landings on the island of Leyte. Bulkley would describe this 1,200-mile voyage as “the largest and longest mass movement of PTs under their own power during the war, and every one of the 45 boats covered the full distance under its own power.”

USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6) tending PT boats in Leyte Gulf in October or November 1944. The boat approaching at the right is PT-357, “Dianamite” of MTBRon 27. NH 44315

Check out this close up of the boats from the above image, each 80-foot Elco types equipped with four Mk 13 type modified aircraft torpedos, which were much lighter than the old tubes

USS Oyster Bay (AGP-6) anchored in Leyte Gulf, late 1944 with PT boats alongside

The PT boats were soon not only involved in supporting the landings in the Gulf, carrying out liaison missions with local guerilla scouts and parties, as well as performing extensive escort and reconnaissance duties but would also play a role in the Battle of the Surigao Strait.

The 45 odd PT boats sent to the Leyte Gulf in October were important when it came to liaising with local anti-Japanese guerilla groups, who had been fighting the Emperor’s troops since 1942.

In that engagement, 39 PTs, in 13 three-boat sections, waited to sucker punch VADM Shōji Nishimura’s battleship/cruiser force on 24 October in what would be a late-night/early morning melee that would be joined by a larger American force and seal Nishimura’s fate. During this “tripwire” action, PT-137 (” The Duchess” under LTJG Mike Kovar of MTBRon 7, sailing from Oyster Bay) landed a Mk 13 in the boiler room of the Japanese Nagara-class light cruiser Abukuma in the pre-dawn darkness which forced the 5,600-ton vessel to try to make for Dapitan for repairs, escorted by the destroyer Ushio. Found limping along by USAAF B-24s the next morning, Abukuma would be on the bottom by noon.

With VADM Jesse B. Oldendorf’s larger force crossing the Japanese “T” the next morning, Nishimura was killed during the battle when his flagship, the Yamashiro, was sunk after being hit multiple times from the U.S. battleships.

Battle of the Surigao Strait, October 1944. PT boats are active not only in spotting and attacking Japanese naval forces attempting to force Surigao Strait but also in picking up survivors. Japanese from naval craft, clinging to debris, approach a boat for rescue. PT Boat shown is “Death’s Hand” PT-321, of MTBRon 21, underway from Oyster Bay. Note her heavily armed and creatively dressed crew. 80-G-47001

Very soon after arriving at the Leyte Gulf, the American force became target number one for successive waves of Japanese air attacks, often numerous times a day. In Oyster Bay‘s 21 November war diary, the ship reported 221 air raid alerts in the preceding 40 days putting a “severe physical and mental strain on all hands.”

As at Morotai, her gun crews were successful, spotting enemy planes close enough to take a shot at on no less than 23 occasions in October and November. On 25 October, she credited downing a Val. On 21 November, a Jake. On 26 November, she bagged three Zekes. During the same period, PTs 195, 522, and 324 were each credited with a plane while being “tended.”

Japanese plane hits the water in the bay near Tacloban, Leyte, P.I., PTs brought down this Japanese plane exploding as it hits the water. Left, PT-boat tenders USS OYSTER BAY (AGP-6) and USS HILO (AGP-2). 80-G-325823

December saw the air raids abate, slacking down to an average of “just” three per day.

She would continue her operations in the Philippines, participating in the invasion of Zamboanga in March 1945, supporting her PT boats in Sarangani Bay, Mindoro, where they carried the war to the Japanese in the Davao Gulf for the first time since 1942. Then came Samar and a quiet period of mop-up work. From 18 May to 6 August, she reported “tender operations without incident.”

By mid-August, with the Japanese throwing in the towel, her crews and those of her related MTBRons were involved in the work of “decommissioning PT-boats,” which meant stripping and burning.

The fate of most of the PT boats in WWII. More than 100 were burned in the Philippines alone

On 10 November 1945, Oyster Bay hoisted her anchor, broke out her homebound pennant, and departed the PI for the West Coast, with 120 passengers aboard.

She had earned five battle stars for her war in the Pacific.

Steaming into San Francisco Bay just after Thanksgiving, she would be decommissioned on 26 March 1946. With the task of tending PT-boats no longer seen as a thing, she was re-designated while in mothballs to a seaplane tender in 1949, picking up her intended AVP-28 hull number for the first time.

Laid up in Stockton, it was decided by the State Department and the Pentagon a few years later that Oyster Bay was going on to live a second career, abroad.

Bound for Italia!

Transferred to the government of NATO-allied Italy 23 October 1957 to help rebuild that country’s navy from the ashes of the old Regia Marina. As such, Oyster Bay was stripped of her armament, sent packing with just a 3″/50 forward, and, after a brief overhaul and sensor upgrade at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard, became the support ship Pietro Cavezzale (A-5301).

She later picked up two 40mm guns and a tripod mast was installed in place of the original mast and went on to grace the pages of Jane’s Fighting Ships for the next 36 years. While the ships around her changed, she remained the same. 

Jane’s 1973 entry.

Cavezzale was frequently photographed around the Med during those years and was used as a floating base for Italian frogmen of COM.SUB.IN., the successors to the famed Decima Flottiglia MAS of WWII.

She got operational with her divers in 1982, supporting a deployment to Lebanon under the auspices of the UN.

In 1984, she again shipped out, responding to the demining operations in the Red Sea, where a suspected Libyan merchant ship littered the waters with infernal devices. Using Soviet/East German “export” bottom mines of a type not previously known in the West, the mystery vessel’s deadly seeds damaged at least 17 ships. There, she would support three Italian minehunters operating predominantly in the Gulf of Suez for two months as part of the international effort (Operation Harling/Operation Intense Look) to clear the waters.

Kept on the rolls long past her prime– almost all her sisters had long been sent to the scrappers– Oyster Bay/Cavezzale was decommissioned in October 1993 and sold for dismantling in February 1996, bringing a very active 43 years to a close.

Epilogue

Oyster Bay’s activities are mentioned extensively in Bulkley’s “At Close Quarters” (pgs. 71, 73, 222, 227, 230, 239, 246, 250, 259, 368-369, 373, 377, 392, 394, 426, 429, 434.)

Going back to the original source material, most of her war diaries, her war history, and engineering drawings are digitized and available online in the National Archives.

An amazing scale model diorama, created by Carl Musselman, was produced in 2004 depicting Oyster Bay and her brood in her Leyte Gulf days.

Via Carl Musselman

A total of 18 Barnegats transferred to Coast Guard in the 50s and 60s to become the “Casco” or “311” class (for their length) of heavy weather endurance cutters, WHEC, with pennant numbers 370 to 387. Many were renamed traditional USCG names, e.g after past Treasury Department Secretaries. Many of these were subsequently transferred a second time to overseas allies such as the Republic of Vietnam and the Philippines. 

As for Oyster Bay‘s immediate PT-boat tender sisters, Mobjack transferred to the U.S. Department of Commerce after the war as the ocean survey ship Pioneer (OSS31) and operated with the Coast and Geodetic Survey for 20 years off the West Coast before meeting the scrapper in 1966.

The Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship PIONEER III, ex-USS Mobjack, via the NOAA Photo Library. While Oyster Bay was transferred to Italy in the 1950s, her three sister PT-boat tenders would serve various American maritime branches well into the late 1960s and early 1970s.

USS Willoughby (AGP-9) went on to serve as the USCGC Gresham (WAVP/WHEC/WAGW-387), through 1973 before being scrapped in Holland, seeing service in Vietnam where it was found that her 5-inch forward mount could still provide NGFS in shallow water when needed. Funny thing.

The former PT boat tender Willoughby made into the cutter USCGC Gresham. USCG Photo

Finally, USS Wachapreague (AGP-8), also served with the Coast Guard as USCGC McCulloch (WAVP/WHEC/WAGW-386) before transfer to the South Vietnamese Navy in 1972 as Ngo Kuyen (HQ-17). When Saigon fell, she was one of the diasporas of former RVN vessels to make the sad trip to the Philippines where she was eventually taken into Filipino service as Gregorio de Filar (PS-8) for a few years. In poor condition, she was slowly stripped of anything useful and faded away sometime in the 1980s.

When it comes to the Barnegat class, they have all gone on to the breakers or been reefed with the final class member afloat, ex-Chincoteague (AVP-24/WHEC-375)/Ly Thuong Kiet (HQ-16)/Andres Bonifacio (PF-7) scrapped in the Philippines in 2003. None remain above water.

Specs:

Camouflage Measure 31, Design 10P drawing prepared by the Bureau of Ships for a camouflage scheme intended for motor torpedo boat tenders of the AGP-6 (Oyster Bay) class. This plan, approved by Captain Torvald A. Solberg, USN, is dated 22 May 1944. 80-G-172868 and 80-G-172876.

(1944)
Displacement 1,766 t.(lt) 2,800 t.(fl)
Length 310′ 9″
Beam 41′ 2″
Draft: 12′ 3″ (full load) 13′ 6″ (limiting)
Speed 18.6 knots. Fuel Capacities: Diesel 1,955 Bbls; Gasoline 71,400 Gals
Propulsion: two Fairbanks Morse Diesel 38D8 1/4 engines, single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gear, two propellers, 6,080shp
Ship’s Service Generators: two Diesel-drive 100Kw 450V A.C., one Diesel-drive 200Kw 450V A.C.
Radars: SL, SC-2, ABK
Sonar: YG homing equipment, QC sonar,
Complement: 215 but with accommodations for 152 men of accompanying PT Boats
Armament:
1 x 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12 in Mark 30 shielded mount, forward
1 x 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12 in Mark 21 open mount, aft
8 x 40mm/60 Bofors in 4 x twin mounts
4 x 20mm/70 Oerlikon singles
2 x stern depth charge racks, some plans show 2 DT throwers but likely not fitted.

Changes before transfer to Italy
Radars: RCA SPS-12 air search radar, I-band navigation radar
Armament:
1 x 3″/50 DP mount, later two 40mm mounts added

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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.