Tag Archives: naval history

An Unwanted Sword, 76 Years Ago Today

17 September 1945: Surrender of Borneo at Bandjermasin. The Japanese major general, a career officer in his full uniform with some 2,500 of the Emperor’s troops under his command, attempted to hand his family sword to the senior Allied officer on the scene, a malarial temporary lieutenant colonel in field dress with rolled-up sleeves and a bush hat, who, after suffering the loss of one out of four men in his battalion in the preceding campaign to reach that moment, ordered the general via an interpreter to place his sword on the ground before of the Australians.

Note the Digger with his Enfield revolver at the ready. Photo by Corp. Robert Eric Donaldson, AWM 118033

“Major General Michio Uno, Imperial Japanese Army, Commanding the Japanese 37th Army Forces in the area, lays his sword at the feet of NX349 Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Ewan Murray Robson, CBE, DSO, Commanding Officer, 2/31 Infantry Battalion during the Japanese surrender ceremony on the local sports ground. Also identified is Warrant Officer Class 2 Arthur Pappadopoulos, Interpreter with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS), GHQ beside Robson, and on the extreme left, behind Lt Col Robson is Warrant Officer Class 1 George Hawkins.”

Part of the 25th Brigade, 7th Division, the 2/31st was formed just as the 70th Battalion (Australia) after Dunkirk in England from assorted Australian non-infantry types and trained to be infantry to defend the British Isles against a looming invasion by Hitler. Renamed the 2/31st, following the end of the Battle of Britain, the unit was sent to North Africa then served in the Syrian campaign before being rushed back to defend Australia in early 1942 after Japan entered the war.

This photograph from State Library Victoria is of the 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion walking in high cane along the Banks of the Brown River, circa 1943. When the Japanese arrived in Papua, their goal was to make their way across the Kokoda Track and form a base from which to attack the mainland of Australia. The Kokoda campaign is remembered as one of the most difficult operations in Australian military history – a campaign that cost the lives of many soldiers.

After being decimated through two years of fighting in the fierce jungle during the New Guinea campaigns, the reconstituted battalion landed at Green Beach at Balikpapan along with the rest of the 7th Division on 2 July 1945. Overcoming fierce Japanese opposition as they pushed inland from the beach, they were again in the Green Hell of jungle fighting, suffering the highest casualties of any Allied unit in the Borneo campaign, with nearly a quarter of the battalion killed or injured. On the way, they liberated a huge camp at Kandangan, which held Dutch women and children that had been interned since 1942, as well as a second large camp that held some 2,000 Indian POWs captured in Burma.

Soldiers of the Australian 2/31st Battalion passing through the town of Bandjermasin in Borneo as they took responsibility for the area from the Japanese. “They are being given an enthusiastic welcome by local civilians.” AWM photo 118018

The 2/31st Battalion received 22 battle honors for its service during the war, and its members earned a VC, three DSOs, four MCs, one DCM, and a score of MMs. It was disbanded in March 1946, and the unit, assembled from “odds and ends” had never since uncased its flag.

Its commander, Lt. Col. Murray Robson had been mustered out even before then, discharged in November 1945, his war service at an end. A solicitor by trade and a member of the NSW parliament, he had joined the Australian militia at age 33 as a reserve lieutenant three weeks after Hitler crossed into Poland in 1939 and, serving with the 2/31st since June 1940, earned the DSO in New Guinea after being wounded in Syria and mentioned thrice in dispatches.

No word on whatever became of Major General Uno’s katana.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021: Hurricane ASW

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, Sept. 15, 2021: Hurricane ASW

 

U.S. Navy photo in the Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-71001

Here we see the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Hyman (DD-732) moored at Kusaie (Kosrae) Island in the Carolines (now Micronesia), 8 September 1945. Her twin forward 5″/38cal DP Mark 38 mounts are skyward with an ensign in between them as the party assembled on her deck are gathered to receive the surrender of Lt-Gen. Yoshikazu Harada of the Imperial Japanese Army and his 4,500 assorted men ashore.

The Sumners, an attempt to up the firepower on the previous and highly popular Fletcher-class destroyers, mounted a half-dozen 5″/38s in a trio of dual mounts, as well as 10 21-inch torpedo tubes in a pair of five-tube turntable stations. Going past this, they were packed full of sub-busting and plane-smoking weapons as well as some decent sonar and radar sets for the era.

Sumner class layout, 1944

With 336 men crammed into a 376-foot hull, they were cramped, slower than expected (but still capable of beating 33-knots all day), and overloaded (although they reportedly rode wildly when in light conditions), but they are fighting ships who earned good reputations for being almost indestructible.

Our vessel was the only warship named for LCDR Willford Milton Hyman (USNA ’24), skipper of the destroyer USS Sims (DD-409) during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Sims, while escorting the tanker USS Neosho, was attacked by three vicious waves of Japanese aircraft from two carriers who had been alerted the American ships were a carrier and a cruiser. Struck by three bombs, Hyman ultimately rode his command to the bottom. His family was presented with a posthumous Navy Cross. His third wife (he was a surface warfare man), Edwige, an Army nurse during the war, was the sponsor of the USS Hyman and present at both her launching and commissioning.

Laid down at Maine’s Bath Iron Works on 22 November 1943, USS Hyman was commissioned just under seven months later on 16 June 1944, a war baby in every sense of the term. After shakedowns along the East Coast, she steamed via the Canal Zone and San Diego to Pearl Harbor, arriving there 12 October 1944.

USS Hyman (DD-732) is seen in an aerial view from the starboard off Race Point wearing 31/25D on July 21, 1944. Hyman had been commissioned on June 16, 1944, and was probably conducting trials. The colors are haze gray, ocean gray, and black. NARA 80-G-237943.

Same as above. 80-G-310154

USS Hyman DD-732 1944, note her camo. NARA 80-G-310152

After further exercises, escort duty, and training evolutions, Hyman saw her first combat off Iwo Jima, delivering close-in naval gunfire support from 19 February through the end of the month, supporting the Marines ashore with her 5-inch battery while taking time to recover Ensign Louis Radford, a Hellcat pilot from the Saratoga who ditched his F6F at sea because of lack of fuel. Speaking of aviators, during this period Hyman worked together with an airborne spotting plane from USS Wake Island to adjust her fire, hammering Iwo with 574 rounds of 5-inch and an equal number of 40mm shells on 20 February alone.

From her war history:

Via NARA

Then came a short period of comparative rest in the Leyte Gulf, where she refueled and rearmed. Next, she sailed for Okinawa, arriving on April Fool’s Day.

The plan of the day, 31 March 1945: “Tomorrow we will reach the objective. We are now well in enemy territory and may expect any type of reception.”

Indeed, on 5 April, Hyman came across a Japanese midget submarine off Okinawa’s Zampa Misaki point that surfaced and unsuccessfully fired a torpedo at our destroyer from a range of 1,500 yards, which the tin can was able to maneuver to “just slip clear.”

The next day, things got bad. From the NHHC’s H-044-2 “Floating Chrysanthemums”—The Naval Battle of Okinawa

Destroyer Hyman was covering the transport area when she was attacked by four kamikazes at 1612 on 6 April. Hyman shot down three of the kamikazes but was hit by the fourth on her torpedo tubes, which resulted in a massive explosion and flooded the forward engine room. As damage control parties stopped the flooding and put out the fires, Hyman’s gunners, along with gunners on destroyer Rooks (DD-804), which had come to Hyman’s aid, helped to down two more kamikazes. Rooks had already shot down five Japanese aircraft earlier in the day and would remain in nearly constant action off Okinawa until late June, suffering no hits and no casualties in an incredible lucky streak. Hyman suffered 12 killed and over 40 wounded, but the ship was saved.

As a sobering aspect, she was luckier than several of her sisters. Between December 1944 and May 1945, USS Cooper, USS Mannert L. Abele, and USS Drexler were all sunk in the Pacific– the latter two by kamikazes.

After emergency repairs at Kerama Retto, Hyman arrived on one engine at San Francisco on 16 May 1945 and would spend the next nine weeks under extensive rebuild and refit.

USS Hyman in San Francisco Bay, 20 July 1945. U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships photo 19-N-87168

Steaming back to the frontlines for the next round of fighting, she arrived at Pearl Harbor the day of the Japanese surrender, 15 August. Ordered to Kwajalein, she had some cleanup work to do.

Island hopping for signatures

The Kusaie Fortress, as the Japanese described the windswept 43 sq. mile island, was garrisoned by the three-battalion 3,800-strong 2nd South-Seas Detachment composed largely of the 107th Infantry Regiment reinforced by some light artillery and a company of Type 95 tanks, along with a 700-man Imperial Japanese navy unit who was largely there to man some elderly 8cm/40 Armstrong (3rd Year Type) naval guns and refuel/repair seaplanes and occasional cargo vessels. Commanded by Lt. Gen. Yoshikazu Harada, the outpost was formerly part of the Spanish and Imperial German empires, but the Japanese had ruled it by mandate since 1919, so they had lots of time to prepare.

Gratefully for all involved, the place was a backwater of WWII and, other than the occasional bombing mission by Navy PBYs in 1944 and 1945, it was left to wither on the vine. Hyman received the surrender of Japanese forces on Kusaie on 8 September, as shown in the top image of this post. Commodore Ben Wyatt accepted on behalf of Nimitz.

The surrender document for Kusaie Fortress, via the National Archives.

Hyman, leaving LT PF Woodhouse behind as military governor of Kusaire, steamed the next day for Kwajalein, then left again on 10 September bound for Ponape Harbor, where they met with the destroyer escort USS Farquhar (DE-139) which was standing guard off the Japanese territory.

Like Kusaie, Ponape was a backwater that had been bombed and bombarded– including by the fast battleships USS Massachusetts, Iowa, Alabama, and North Carolina. The garrison consisted of some 6,000 men of the 52nd Brigade and some 2,000 Japanese navy personnel. They had more than 20 artillery pieces including some large 15 cm/50 41st Year Type naval guns and would have been a tough nut to crack had the fortress been taken by amphibious assault.

Lt-Gen. Masao Watanabe of the Imperial Japanese Army and his aides arrived aboard Hyman with IJN CAPT Jun Naito in tow to negotiate the surrender of Ponape Island on 11 September 1945. After a short ceremony signed by Commodore Wyatt and witnessed by DESDIV Commander, CAPT A.O. Momm, who assumed the post of military governor of the outpost, the deed was done.

The surrender document for Ponape Fortress, via the National Archives.

The event was richly recorded in snapshots by Hyman bluejacket Willie Starnes. 

Willie Starnes collection showing Watanabe et. al at Ponape aboard Hyman. Via Navsource. http://navsource.org/archives/05/732a.htm

Hyman remained in the area as a station ship, assisting in the occupation and repatriation of the Japanese forces until arriving at Eniwetok the day after Christmas 1945.

Jane’s entry for the class in 1946.

Korea and the Cold War

While whole flotillas of American destroyers entered mothballs in the late 1940s, Hyman remained very active. She conducted Mediterranean deployments in 1947 and 1948, the latter as part of a large carrier and cruiser group to support the U.N. Peace Force in Palestine. Stationed in Algiers (across the Mississippi River from New Orleans) with a reduced crew in 1949, she spent the next two years supporting the NRF operations, sailing with reservists on two-week annual cruises in the Gulf of Mexico.

Once the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel, she once more went on a war footing and, taking part in workups along the East Coast, set out for another Med cruise.

Hyman off the Boston Lightship, 5 July 1950, while she was engaged in maneuvers and training for front-line deployment. NARA 24743383

USS Hyman (DD-732) underway off the Boston Lightship, Massachusetts (USA), on 5 July 1950. She still very much has her WWII layout including 21-inch quintuple torpedo tubes. NARA 24743385

Her ticket came up for Korea in October 1951, just 90 days after returning from the Med deployment, and she arrived off Wonsan to start delivering some sweet shore bombardment there against North Korean/Chinese targets and batteries on 6 November. While on such duty two weeks later, she engaged in a gunnery duel with shore batteries on the Kalmo Pando peninsula, “sustaining minor shrapnel damage during the close-in exchange.”

USS Hyman (DD-732) Ship’s forward 5/38 guns aimed at targets on the Korean coast, during bombardment operations in February 1952. Note U.S. flag painted atop mount 52. 80-G-440142

Her Korean operations concluded, she left the gun line in late February 1952 and arrived back on the East Coast via Ceylon, Saudi Arabia, Italy, and France on 21 April. Keeping that op-tempo up, she was back in the Med for a five-month deployment in 1953.

Such hard use saw her modernization downplayed, and she never officially received a full FRAM II upgrade as at least 33 of her sisters did. Nonetheless, she did around this time swap out her WWII anti-air batteries swapped out for modern radar-directed 3-inch DP mounts, while her sonar and torpedo tubes were similarly upgraded.

USS Hyman (DD-732) Underway during the early or middle 1950s. This photograph was received by the Naval Photographic Center in December 1959 but was taken several years earlier. Note that the ship still carries 40mm guns (replaced by 3/50s by mid-decade) and 20mm guns but has a tripod foremast and SPS-6 radar (both typically fitted during the early ’50s). She never did receive the FRAM treatment. NH 107139

The rest of her 1950s included several Midshipman cruises, another Med deployment, and participation in the huge International Naval Review that came as part of the 350th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement in 1957.

Mercury, Cuba, and Betsy

In April 1961, Hyman was detailed to support the unmanned Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) launch, deploying to the Azores in hopes of retrieving the unmanned Boilerplate #8 capsule. However, only 43 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, MA-3’s mission ended in a rain of fiery debris falling back to Earth, with the capsule recovered just a mile off Florida.

After yet another Med cruise in 1962, our non-stop greyhound cut short her post-deployment refit to join the Naval quarantine of Castro’s Cuba during the Missile Crisis in October-November of that year. 

Hyman is listed as a NASA recovery ship for the Mercury-Atlas 9 (MA-9) mission in May 1963 that carried USAF Major Gordon Cooper in his Faith 7 capsule on 22 orbits– the longest American space flight at that time. Operating with COMDESDIV 122 embarked, she spent three days launching weather balloons in the area east of Cape Canaveral and reporting what she found. While the primary recovery ship was the carrier Kearsarge, on the other side of the globe off Midway, Hyman was ready off the Florida coast should the capsule have fallen short on launch.

Then came another Med cruise.

Destroyer USS Hyman (DD-732) photographed in Genoa, Italy, on May 14, 1964, during her 11th deployment with the Sixth Fleet. The ship was armed with six 5″/38s distributed in three double turrets, and six 3″ guns distributed in two double and two single turrets, in addition to depth charges and Mark 44 or Mark 37 torps. (Photo by Carlo Martinelli)

Same day, place, photographer as above. Note that she does not have the DASH drone pad over her stern as many of her sisters did at this time, and retains her third 5″/38 mount. 

In March 1965, with the fleet gaining whole squadrons of new post-WWII Mitscher, Forrest Sherman, Charles Adams, and Farragut-class destroyers, and Hyman not fully FRAM’d, our high-mileage warship was sent down to New Orleans to serve as an NRF training platform again. She was tied up there when Hurricane Betsy, the first Atlantic storm to produce over $1 billion in damages, hit Louisiana on 9/10 September as a Category 4 storm, with wind speeds reaching up to 175 mph.

Hyman’s deck log from the night of the storm recalls winds over 70 knots, a slow-speed collision with an unnamed adrift merchant ship, being hit by a floating crane, and other adventures. Nonetheless and despite her material damage, the destroyer and her scaled-down crew responded to the disaster-struck city and helped with the immediate recovery.

Via NARA

Then came a call to help find the barge MTC-602, which broke loose from its moorings up the river around Baton Rouge and sank. While not normally a task for a destroyer, MTC-602 had a cargo of some 600 tons of chlorine gas cylinders aboard, estimated to be capable of killing tens of thousands if the cylinders were damaged.

Working in tandem with the Coast Guard, Navy S-2 Trackers, and dive teams from both the Army Engineering Corps and the Navy Seabees in Gulfport, Hyman used her active sonar and fathometer to help find the submerged barge, probably the only time a destroyer purposely pinged the bottom of the Mississippi River.

Ultimately, MTC-602 was located and raised, her chlorine still safe, and a big Bravo Zulu went out to all involved.

From the House. Committee on Public Works. Special Subcommittee to Investigate Areas of Destruction of Hurricane Betsy report:

From the December 1965 All Hands:

Her hull inspected and patched up in nearby Orange, Texas, Hyman returned to her reservists in 1966, a task she was busy in for a couple more years, but the writing was on the wall.

Still, she was ready for anything right up to the last. On 16 March 1969, she put to sea off Venice at the mouth of the Mississippi to respond to a wide-scale search for the lost Liberian-flagged cargo ship SS Vainqueur which had sunk 134 miles southwest of South Pass in the Gulf of Mexico the night before as a result of a boiler room explosion. 

The 12,000-ton Vainqueur at Congress Wharf in New Orleans. She sank while carrying a cargo of premium Louisiana cane sugar

Hyman located and rescued 24 survivors. 

March 16, 1969 Hyman deck log re: SS Vainquer. Via NARA

Less than seven months after the Vainquier rescue, Hyman was decommissioned and stricken on 14 November 1969, Her stripped hulk was sold 13 October 1970 to the Southern Scrap Material Co., of New Orleans, for $66,989, which works out to roughly $30 per ton.

Epilogue

Her war history, a 70-page report of her time in hell off Okinawa, and most of her deck logs and diaries are digitized and online in the National Archives.

A pristine ensign that may have flown over one of the destroyer’s surrender ceremonies was sold at auction last year. 

The ship and her crew have several small memorial pages and groups.

The town of Newcastle, Indiana has a memorial in her honor as well as a detailed scale model on display in a park building. Erected in 2010, it has the names of her 12 shipmates killed off Okinawa in 1945, as well as six bluejackets lost at sea or in Korea.

USS Hyman DD732 Marker

There is some maritime art of Hyman in circulation.

Dean Ellis (1920 – 2009) “USS Hyman”

Faith 7, the spacecraft from the last Mercury mission, which Hyman helped recover in 1963 is on display at the Houston Space Center.

Kosrae and Ponape have been part of the U.S.-protected Federated States of Micronesia since the Reagan administration and have known peace since 1945. They are noted for a wealth of biodiversity and are home to several endemic species of birds and giant snails.

USS Hyman’s arrival in Kosrae 1945. Mt. Mutunte (358m) is in the background then and now

The only Sumner-class sister of Hyman preserved in the country as a museum ship, USS Laffey (DD-724), is located at Patriots Point in Charleston, South Carolina. Hyman’s veterans often meet there on reunions. Please pay Laffey a visit of your own if you find yourself in the Palmetto State.

Specs:

Displacement: 2610 tons standard displacement
Length: 376’6″
Beam 40’10”
Draft 14’2″
Machinery: 2-shaft G.E.C. geared turbines (60,000 shp), 4 Babcock & Wilcox boilers
Maximum speed (designed) 36.5 knots, actual usually about 33.
Range: 3300 nautical miles (5300 km) at 20 knots on 504 tons fuel oil
Complement: 336
Sensors: SC air search radar, SG surface search radar, QGA sonar
Post modernization: Variable Depth Sonar (VDS), SQS-20, SPS-40
Armament:

(1944)
3 x 2 5″/38 dual-purpose guns (in 3 × 2 Mk 38 DP mounts)
2 x 4, 2×2 40mm Bofors AA guns
11 20mm Oerlikon AA guns
2 x 5 21″ torpedo tubes
6 depth charge throwers
2 depth charge tracks (56 depth charges)

(1956, post-modernization)
6 x 5 in/38 cal guns (in 3 × 2 Mk 38 DP mounts)
2 x 2, 2 x 1 3″/50 Marks 27, 33
2 x triple Mark 32 torpedo tubes for Mark 44 torpedoes
2 x single 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes for Mark 37 torpedoes

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Warship Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021: Horsefly of the Fjords

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, Sept. 8, 2021: Horsefly of the Fjords

Here we see the artillerieschulschiff (artillery school ship)  Bremse of the German Reichsmarine shortly after commissioning in 1931. Roughly equivalent to a small, unarmored, and torpedo-less cruiser or large destroyer leader in size and characteristics, she was a very interesting ship whose war would last two short, often painful, years.

With her German name meaning roughly “horsefly,” she was the third Bremse in the German fleet, following in the footsteps of an 1880s gunboat and a Brummer-class cruiser that was surrendered at Scapa Flow and never left.

With the post-Great War Reichsmarine allowed by the Treaty of Versailles to maintain a gunnery training ship, the old (circa 1907) artillerieschulschiff SMS Drache (800 tons, 4×4″ guns, 11 knots) was soon replaced by a model that offered more bang for the type.

Moving past the simple gunboat style of her predecessor, the vessel that would become Bremse would be light, at just 1,870-tons, run 345-feet in overall length, and have a narrow 31-foot beam, drawing less than 10 feet of water under normal loads. While her secret plans allowed for a set of torpedo tubes in the event of war (which were never fitted) her peacetime main battery was a quartet of low-angle 10.5 cm/55 (4.1″) SK C/28 guns (the first post-WWI naval gun developed by Germany and used by the Type 23/Wolf class torpedo boats) and four 20mm/65 C30 AAA mounts with weight and space reserved for four 37mm SK C/30 mounts as well. She could also carry up to 156 EMA-type mines or smaller numbers of the larger EMC (102) or UMA (132) types. It was thought that she would be able to carry a small floatplane and crane, but this was never fit.

While the Reichsmarine dearly wanted the new “Ersatz Drache” to have a steam turbine plant and make upwards of 30 knots, it was agreed that this would draw too much attention from London and Paris when used on what was supposed to be an auxiliary ship and, instead, it was decided to give Bremse a unique all-diesel plant made up of eight MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Numberg) M8Z 30/44 two-stroke double-acting marine diesel engines with Vulkan gearboxes. Generating 26,800 hp directed down twin shafts, this allowed the new gunnery ship to make 27+ knots (she hit 29.12 on trials) and steam for 8,000 miles at a still very fast for the day clip of 19 knots.

The Reichsmarine, similarly, would use MAN diesels exclusively to power the Deutschland-class panzerschiff large cruisers, with eight very similar M9Z 42/58 engines providing 56,800 hp to push those 14,000-ton pocket battleships to a speed of 26 knots and allow a 10,000 nm range at 20 knots. Essentially, Bremse had this same engineering suite, only scaled down. 

One of the 24 nine-cylinder MAN M9Z 42/58 engines built for installation in Deutschland-class cruisers, eight apiece. Bremse used eight slightly smaller eight-cylinder MAN M8Z 30/44s. Such similarity allowed the vessel to double for engineering training for the pocket battleships.

With a peacetime crew of eight officers and 190 sailors, she could carry another 90 trainees to sea with her. In wartime, with extra armament added, this would swell to 300. Her hull was divided into 15 watertight compartments with a central and two auxiliary damage control centers.

Laid down at Reichsmarinewerft Wilhelmshaven in April 1930, she was launched the following January, sponsored by VADM Wilhelm Prentzel– the last commander of the old cruiser SMS Bremse during WWI– and commissioned 14 July 1932.

Soon, after her first training summer, it was decided to modify the design as she was top-heavy. This led to several changes to her superstructure, stern, and masts while her 4-inch guns were replaced with excellent 12.7 cm/45 (5″) SK C/34 guns, the same that would be mounted on the German navy’s Z1, Z17, and Z35 (Types 1934, 1936 and 1936B) destroyer classes and some T61 class torpedo boats.

Artillery training ship Bremse after her modifications. Note her different guns and changed mast, superstructure

Her peacetime service, assigned to the Schiffsartillerieschule in Kiel, was a proving ground for the rebuilding surface fleet of the Kriegsmarine. Her first five interbellum skippers– Paul Fanger, Bernhard Liebetanz, Erhard Tobye, Wilhelm Matthies, and Eberhard von Goetze– all became senior German admirals during WWII.

Artillerieschulboot Bremse (Artillery training sloop) via M. Dieterle & Sohn, Kiel 1935

In addition, she served as a soft target for the top-secret 48cm Dezimeter-Telegraphie DeTe-Geraet “grey switchboard” marine radar tests before ADM Raeder in the summer of 1935. This led to the development of the first experimental FuMO 22 sets that the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee would carry to sea in late 1937.

Movie Star

Bremse was loaned in the summer of 1939 to support the Max Kimmich (brother-in-law of Joseph Goebbels) propagandistic film, Der letze Appell (The Last Rollcall) which focused on a fictionalized account of the HAPAG resort steamer Königin Luise (2,160 tons) which had been converted just before the outbreak of the Great War to become an auxiliary minelayer (hilfsminenleger), camouflaged in the livery of a British Great Eastern Railway steamer, her topside armament consisting of a pair of obsolete Hotchkiss 37mm revolver cannons.

Leaving Emden on August 4, 1914– the day England entered the war in Belgium’s defense– to lay 200 mines in the Thames estuary, she was predictably intercepted the next day while “throwing things overboard” by the Active-class scout cruiser HMS Amphion (4,000 tons, 10×4″ guns) and the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla (HMS Lance, Linnet, Landrail, and Lark).

HMS Amphion, note her four stacks. IWM Q 43259

After a brief engagement that amounted to the first Royal Navy shots fired in the war, Königin Luise was sent to the bottom due to a mix of open sea valves and British shells. On 6 August, however, Amphion herself struck one of the German mines and became the Royal Navy’s first casualty.

Bremse, which was a lighter vessel by half due to her lack of armor and reduced armament but was roughly the same overall length, was fitted with two fake stacks to emulate the circa 1911 British warship for the production.

Artillery training ship Bremse as British cruiser Amphion on the set of the never-finished feature film Die Letzte Appell, just weeks before WWII

Alas, although the film sucked up a huge amount of reichsmarks for the time, it was never finished and there are no video references to this Goebbels-era naval epic. The world is likely the better for it. 

WAR!

By the time things went sour in September 1939, Bremse had already landed her Amphion faux stacks and soon got underway on a series of mine-laying missions in the Baltic and escorting coastal convoys while keeping an eye peeled for smugglers.

In March 1940, she was transferred west to Kiel where she was being assembled under Gruppe III (RADM Hubert Schmundt) for Operation Weserubung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway.

For her role, she would escort some 1,900 troops of the Wehrmacht’s 69. Infanterie-Division and their bicycles to the key Norwegian port of Bergen. Of those, a company of the division’s 159th Infantry regiment was embarked directly aboard Bremse. Gruppe III would also include the sistership light cruisers Köln and Königsberg, the Type 24 torpedo boats Wolf and Leopard, the MTB tender Karl Peters, and two armed trawlers (Schiffs 9 and 18).

Set for the early morning of 9 April, Weserubung had a lot of moving parts and required just about every ship the Germans had to pull off. Gruppe III’s prong to Bergen is circled.

The Germans didn’t think the Norwegians would put up much resistance or that Britain and France would be able to do much in the theater. This would prove wrong.

At 0358, the ~300 Norwegian reservists at Kvarven Fort (augmented by some 80 at Fort Hellen) opened fire with their elderly 8.3-inch Krupp (!) guns and hit Bremse at least one if not two times (accounts vary) along with two very near misses, Karl Peters was also hit once, and Königsberg hit three times. Had Kvarven been able to get their shore-mounted Whitehead torpedo tubes working, it could have proved disastrous for the Gruppe III (see the battle between the Norwegian Oscarsborg Fort and the German heavy cruiser Blücher the same morning).

While the Germans were able to knock out the Norwegian forts through a mix of infantry action and counterbattery fire by 0700, 16 British Blackburn Skua dive bombers of 800 and 803 NAS, launched from RNAS Hatston in the Orkney islands, arrived the next day and sent the already heavily damaged Königsberg to the bottom with hits from at least five 500-pound bombs.

From the ONI’s September 1940’s Information Bulletin Vol. XV111 No. 3, on the German Occupation of Norway:

On 17 April, Skuas of 803 NAS returned to Bergen and bracketed Bremse with a series of bombs that caused minor distress but no serious damage. She would also be hit two days later by a small bomb dropped by one of the Royal Norwegian Navy’s handful of operational Heinkel He 115N seaplanes, but it would fail to detonate. The Norwegians would try again with the same results. 

Special Hobby No. SH48110 1:48 Heinkel He-115B Box Art by Stanislav Hajek. Both the Norwegians and Germans flew these in the same air in 1940, with mixed results.

Sent down the coast to the Herøysund strait on 20 April where the Norwegians were holding out at the seaside canning village of Uskedal, Bremse and the armed trawler Schiff 221, with members of the 69th Infantry aboard, engaged the fearless Norwegian Trygg-class torpedo boat HNoMS Stegg (256 tons, 2x76mm guns, 4x450mm tubes) in a lopsided surface action that left Stegg ablaze with her keel on the bottom of the fjord. In mopping up, the old minelayer HNoMS Tyr (290 tons, 1x 4.72″ gun) was captured by boarding parties before her crew could scuttle her and towed back to Bergen with a German crew.

The scorecard for the Germans at the end of Weserubung, as reported by ONI in Sept. 1940, which incorrectly record Bremse as being sunk. The Kriegsmarine alone would suffer some 5,300 casualties, lose one heavy and two light cruisers along with 10 destroyers and numerous minor vessels, in addition to crippling others. It was a pyrrhic naval campaign that the German surface fleet would struggle to bounce back from.

Bremse spent a period in drydock after her first stint in Norwegian waters

Heading back to Kiel for repairs, Bremse was to take part in Zeelow (Sealion) the planned invasion of Britain post-Dunkirk, but when that fell through, she was again sent to Norwegian waters, arriving in Stavanger in November. However, just a week later she ran aground and required six months’ worth of repair in Bergen to make right again. When she emerged from the yard, she carried the now-classic German “Baltic” camouflage of dark gray with zigzag black and white stripes.

Artillery training ship Bremse in Baltic type camouflage. Kirkenes, August 1941

In support of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, she was escorting coastwise convoys to Kirkenes, the closest occupied Norwegian port to the vital Soviet base at Murmansk, and crossed paths with the British carrier HMS Victorious on 30 July in the Barents Sea, fending off Albacore torpedo bombers of 817 and 827 NAS without damage.

She would continue her hazardous Northern Norway convoy and support duties in the face of an attack from the Soviet Northern Fleet submarine K-2 and another from the British T-class submarine HMS Trident.

Her luck would run out on the early morning of 7 September.

Battle of Cape Nordkinn

The British Fiji-class light cruiser HMS Nigeria (60), along with the Arethusa-class light cruiser HMS Aurora (12), with 30 6- and 4-inch guns and 12 torpedo tubes between them, were involved in operations to Spitzbergen and Bear Island (Operation Gauntlet) to land Canadian troops to demolish mines and evacuate Russian and Norwegian nationals, when they came across one of Bremse’s convoys near Cape Nordkinn just after midnight. Guided by radar in the pre-dawn darkness, the engagement opened at just after 0200 at a range of under 2,000m, and, in the ensuing blackness and smoke, Nigeria apparently rammed Bremse, shearing the front of the cruiser’s bow off.

Nigeria, in drydock at Tyne after the battle. She would spend three months under repair.

By 0430, the battle had ended, with Bremse surviving numerous salvos at point-blank range before slipping under the waves.

It was a tactical win for the Germans, however, as the unprotected convoy of troopships was allowed to slink away over the horizon while Nigeria and Aurora retired to Scapa Flow at a speed of 15 knots, handicapped by Nigeria’s damage. Soon after dawn, German armed trawlers arrived in the debris field left behind and recovered 37 survivors of Bremse’s crew, all enlisted.

Epilogue

The only ship of her kind, Bremse was not survived by any sisters.

The Kriegsmarine named a Minensuchboot 1935-class minesweeper (M 253) after the lost training ship in late 1941. She would survive the war, work for the post-war German Minesweeping Administration under Allied observation, and was then ceded to France in 1947 who kept her around as Vimy for a decade. Sold to the West German Bundesmarine in 1956, she was renamed Bremse (F 208) for use as a coastal escort and finally sold for breaking in 1976, one of the last of that fleet’s WWII-era Kriegsmarine vessels.

Bremse (F 208) in West German service in the early 1960s

Finally, the East German Volksmarine’s sea border guard would name a class of 10 coastal patrol boats after the humble horsefly during the Cold War.

The training ship’s bell and most relics went to the bottom of the Barents Sea with her, but one of her prizes from 1940, the Norwegian minelayer Tyr, survived the war and endures as the coastal ferry Bjørn-West today. Likewise, the Bergen forts, maintained for much of the Cold War, are preserved as museums

Specs: 


Displacement 1,870 tons
Length 345 ft
Beam 31 ft
Draft 9 ft
Propulsion: 8 MAN diesel engines, two shafts, 28,400 shp
Speed 29.1 knots on trials, reportedly 23 by 1941
Range 8,000 nautical miles @19kts on 357 tons of diesel oil
Complement: 192 + 90 trainees (peace), 300 (wartime)
Armament:

(1932)
4 x 10.5 cm/55 (4.1″) SK C/28
4 x 20mm/65 FlaK 30
Weight saved for 4 x 3.7 cm SK C/30 AA guns
102-156 mines depending on the type

(1941)
4 x 12.7 cm SK C/34 naval guns
4 x 3.7 cm SK C/30 AA guns
8 x 20mm/65 FlaK 30
Mines

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 1st, 2021: Fortunate Son, the Army Flat Top Edition

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, Sept. 1st, 2021: Fortunate Son, the Army Flat Top Edition

Photo by SP4 Ingimar DeRidder, 69th Sig Bn, via U.S. Army CMH files.

Here we see USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVN-1), a 14,000-ton floating aircraft maintenance depot, anchored in Cam Ranh Bay, 12 November 66. Note at least three Army UH-1 Hueys on her deck. The Veteran WWII-era Curtiss-class seaplane tender, disarmed and manned by civilian mariners, was the closest thing the Army had to an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.

The two Curtiss-class tenders, which include class leader USS Curtiss (AV-4) and her sistership USS Albemarle (AV-5) — the latter would become the above-shown Army flattop– were the first purpose-built seaplane tenders constructed for the Navy, with the previous vessels being repurposed minesweepers and destroyers. Ordered in 1938, they were laid down side-by-side at New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey, and were commissioned in November and December 1940.

USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) (Foreground) and sistership USS CURTISS (AV-4), fitting out at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. CURTISS departed Philadelphia on 2 January 1941 for shakedown, ALBEMARLE on 28 January. Both ships had been commissioned there in November/December 1940. USS TRIPPE (DD-403) and a sistership are at right; OLYMPIA (IX-40) is visible in the reserve basin at the top, along with an EAGLE boat. Note NEW JERSEY (BB-62) under construction in slipway at far left; two motor torpedo boats are visible just to the left of ALBEMARLE’s bow. NH 96539

USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) passing south yard, Sun shipyard, Chester, PA., c 1941. NH 57783

The newly-commissioned USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) on her shakedown cruise, anchored at Havana Harbor, Cuba, on 22 February 1941, “dressed” for Washington’s birthday. Note Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes on the flight deck, aft. NH 96538

Some 527-feet long (keep in mind destroyers of the age were in the 300~ foot range), they had a very wide 69-foot beam and drew over three fathoms under their hull when fully loaded. Packed with four high-pressure boilers that pushed a pair of geared turbines, they could make a respectable 19.7 knots, which was faster than most auxiliaries of the era, and steam for 12,000 miles at 12 knots– enough to halfway around the globe. Equipped with CXAM-1 radars from the time they joined the fleet, at a time when many of the world’s best cruisers and battleships didn’t have such luxury gear, they were well-armed with four 5″/38 singles and an array of Bofors and Oerlikons.

One of Albemarle’s four 5″/38 DP mounts, note the 40mm Bofors tub in the distance. By the end of WWII, they would carry 20 40mm and 12 20mm guns for self-defense against enemy aircraft, more than most destroyers. Not bad for a “tender”

But of course, their main purpose was to support a couple squadrons of patrol bombers such as PBY Catalina or PBM Mariner flying boats, with a large seaplane deck over the stern and extensive maintenance shops in the superstructure forward.

A U.S. Navy Martin PBM-1 Mariner of Patrol Squadron 55 (VP-55) is hoisted on board the seaplane tender USS Albemarle (AV-5), in 1941. Note the Neutrality Patrol paint scheme on the aircraft and the sailors manning the handling lines. U.S. Navy National Naval Aviation Museum photo NNAM.1986.014.022

The third (and last) such U.S. Navy ship named Albemarle— after the sound in North Carolina, a traditional naming structure for seaplane tenders– she commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 20 December 1940, CDR Henry Maston Mullinnix in command.

Graduating first in the USNA Class of 1916, Mullinnix was a destroyerman until he switched to Naval Aviation in the 1920s. Leaving Albemarle in early 1941 to be the skipper of Patrol Wing Seven, he would go on to command the carrier Saratoga in the Pacific before making RADM. He was killed aboard USS Liscombe Bay (CVE-56) as Task Force Commander off Makin Island on 24 November 1943 when the escort carrier was sent to the bottom by Japanese submarine I-175.

With the Americans and British becoming increasingly cooperative despite U.S. neutrality, Albemarle was dispatched soon after her shakedown to patrol Greenland and the western Atlantic, arriving 18 May 1941 with the PBYs of patrol squadron VP-52 at Argentia, Newfoundland. It should be noted that, just two days later, the Royal Navy was bird-dogging the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen across the North Atlantic. Soon, VP-71, VP-72, and VP-73 would join the tender.

Little Placentia Harbor, Argentia, Newfoundland. USS Albemarle (AV-5), with an AVD alongside, in the harbor, circa 1941. Note PBY Catalinas in the foreground. NARA 80-G-7448

Greenland Expedition by USS Albemarle (AV 5) May-September 1941. East Coast of Greenland with PBY Catalina making observations, May 25, 1941. The PBYs performed long reconnaissance missions to provide data for convoy protection. Caption: Greenland – A Mysterious Land of Mountain and Ice. Majestic fjords indent the coast serrated by rocky buttes some of which are precipitous cliffs attaining elevations of two to three thousand feet. 80-CF-73186-6 Box 126.

Her crew earned the American Defense Service Medal for the ship’s peacetime actions in the Atlantic, 23 Jun 41 – 22 Jul 41, 15 Aug 41 – 1 Nov 41.

She was one of the unsung Brotherhood of the F.B.I. “The Forgotten Bastards of Iceland,” and survived a strong (hurricane-force) storm there in January 1942.

WAR!

After a refit on the East Coast, she would spend most of the rest of 1942 and the first half of 1943 running around much warmer climes, delivering aeronautical material and men to naval air bases in the Caribbean and the Pacific coast of South America, as well as in the northern South Atlantic.

OS2U Kingfishers aboard USS Albemarle AV-5, 14 May 1942

Her relatively fast speed enabled her to keep ahead of U-boats and she, ironically, would carry back captured German submariners from sunken boats– killed by patrol bombers– to POW camps in the U.S.

Crossing the Line Neptunus Rex Party onboard USS Albemarle (AV 5). September 28, 1942. NARA 80-G-22195, 80-G-221182, 80-G-22193

USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) underway in the Atlantic, with a PBY Catalina on her seaplane deck, 30 December 1943. 80-G-450247

Her role as a high-speed aviation transport continued with convoys to North Africa in 1943, delivering 29 dive bombers on one such trip.

U.S. Navy seaplane tender USS Albemarle (AV-5) underway in the Atlantic Ocean on 10 August 1944. She is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 5Ax. The photo was taken by a blimp of squadron ZP-11. 10 August 1944. Note her heavy armament for an aviation support ship. 80-G-244856

Same as above. Note the array of emergency brake-away rafts. She carried a 1,000+ man complement and often carried 200 or more transients. 80-G-453347

Post War Mushroom Collecting

In May 1945, just after VE-Day, she was detailed to begin carrying flying boat squadrons from the Atlantic Theatre to the U.S. for transfer to the Pacific Theatre, which was still active. Likewise, our broadly-traveled seaplane tender was planned to receive extra AAA mounts and gear in preparation for her own transfer Westward to take part in the final push to Tokyo. Her sistership, Curtiss, had a much more active war in the Pacific, being in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and going on to earn seven battlestars supporting island-hopping operations.

However, VJ-Day halted things and, when Albemarle finally arrived at Pearl Harbor in November 1945, it was to join the “Magic Carpet” fleet returning American veterans home from the Pacific. This would include carrying the entire 658th Tank Destroyer/Amphibian Tractor Battalion back from the Philippines, landing them at San Francisco on 13 January 1946.

She went on to support Operation Crossroads Atomic tests, moored in Kwajalein lagoon during the Able and Baker drops at Bikini Atoll, and otherwise taking part in staging for and follow up from those mushrooms from May to August.

After a brief East Coast stint, she was back in the Pacific with Joint Task Force Switchman, arriving at Eniwetok in March 1948 to serve as a floating lab ship for the triple nuclear tests during Operation Sandstone– “X-Ray” with an experimental 37 kt A-bomb made from a 2:1 mix of oralloy and plutonium. (15 April 1948), the 49 kt oralloy “Yoke” (1 May 1948) and 18 kt oralloy “Zebra” (15 May 1948) bombs.

Swapped back to the East Coast after the conclusion of the tests, she was attached to the New York Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet, decommissioned on 14 August 1950 and berthed at Brooklyn where she rested for six years. Meanwhile, sistership Curtiss, who had operated helicopters in Korea, was decommissioned on 24 September 1957 and would only leave mothballs again in 1972 when she was scrapped.

Seamaster

Albemarle was recommissioned at Philadelphia on 21 October 1957 after a 20-month conversion to be able to operate the planned Martin P6M Seamaster jet-equipped flying boats. Intended to be a nuclear deterrent, the Seamaster program was one of the Navy’s top priorities.

Martin P6M Seamaster. Just 12 of these strategic bombers in the guise of high-speed mine-laying flying boats were made. They could carry a 70-kt B28 nuke to a combat radius of 700 miles.

However, as Seamaster never reached the fleet, Albemarle ended up spending the next three years quietly tending more traditional Martin P5M Marlin flying boats off and on while participating in operations with the Atlantic Fleet. As Seamaster was canceled– it turned out the Polaris FBM submarines were a better idea– she was placed out of commission, in reserve, on 21 October 1960 before being laid up with the James River Fleet. Transferred to MARAD, Albemarle was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 September 1962 and likely would have been scrapped.

However, her special services were soon needed by someone else.

Vietnam War – Project Flat Top – USNS Corpus Christi Bay

On 7 August 1964, MARAD transferred ex-Albemarle back to the Navy and six months later she was transferred to the Navy’s Military Sea Transportation Service (which became today’s MSC in 1970), entered on the NVR as USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH-1). She was sent to the Charleston Naval Shipyard for an $11 million conversion to become a maintenance depot at sea for Army helicopters in Vietnam.

The idea was that, instead of shipping damaged helicopters back to the U.S. for refit, Corpus Christi Bay could, with her 32 on-board repair and fabrication shops, blueprints for every model helicopter in service, and cargo of 20,000 spare parts, could rework them. Meanwhile, her sister Curtiss, which had been laid up since 1957 and had been stricken in 1963, was robbed of everything useful to keep Albemarle/Corpus Christi Bay in shape.

USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH-1) In port, probably at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, South Carolina, in 1966. Photographed by Captain Vitaly V. Uzoff, U.S. Army. This ship was originally USS Albemarle (AV-5). Official U.S. Army Photograph, from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Military Sealift Command collection. Catalog #: NH 99782

Delivered for sea trials in December 1965, on 11 January 1966 she was placed into service.

Dubbed an Aircraft Repair Ship, Helicopter as part of “Project Flat-Top,” Corpus Christi Bay lost her seaplane ramp, had her superstructure reconstructed to include a 50×150 ft. landing pad to accommodate just about any of the Army’s choppers. Damaged helos could be dropped via sling loads from CH-47s or CH-5s or barged out to the ship and lifted aboard by a pair of 20-ton cranes. All her remaining WWII weapons were removed. She picked up extensive air conditioning, a cobbler shop, barbershop, modern dining facilities, a dental clinic and medical center staffed by Army flight surgeons, and other amenities that the Navy’s flying boat aviators of 1940 could have only dreamed of.

The MSTS crew would be just 130~ civilian mariners and 308 green-uniformed helicopter techs of the Army’s specially-formed 1st Transportation Corps Battalion (Seaborne), which she picked up at Corpus Christi, Texas on 22 January.

 

As a lesson learned from the sinking of the former Bogue-class escort carrier-turned transport USNS Card (T-AKV-40) in 1964 by Viet Cong sappers, the MSTS made assorted security changes to vessels operating for extended periods in Vietnamese ports. This included helmets and flak vests for topside personnel, sandbags around the bridge, grenade screens secured on portholes, extra medkits and firefighting equipment kept at the ready, bilge and ballast pumps warmed up, and towing wires ready for a tow without assist from the ship’s crew. In addition to this, her Army techs maintained an extensive small arms locker to include several machine guns to replace damaged ones on gunships.

She had two Hueys assigned to her full-time for liaison work, Flattop 086 (68-16086), and Flattop 045 (69-15045).

Corpus Christi Bay operated out of Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam as a Floating Aircraft Maintenance Facility, or FAMF, arriving 2 April 1966, and would remain overseas until 19 December 1972, spending almost seven years overseas, rotating crews and Army maintainers out regularly.

USNS Corpus Christi Bay at dock during the Vietnam War era, TAMUCC collection

As a seaborne asset of the United States Army Material Command, she was designated a floating Helicopter Repair Depot. Ostensibly manned by civilian merchant mariners of the MSTS, she was still owned by the Navy but, for all intents and purposes, was an Army ship.

Army Veteran Peter Berlin remembers her fondly and in detail:

The Floating Aircraft Maintenance Facility was designed for use in contingency operations, initially for backup direct support and general support and provided a limited depot capability for the repair of aircraft components. It was equipped to manufacture small machine parts and also to repair items requiring extensive test equipment operating in a sterile environment such as avionics, instruments, carburetors, fuel controls, and hydraulic pumps. The mobility offered by the ship also contributed to the effectiveness of aircraft support since it could move from one deep water port to another as the density of aircraft units shifted with changing tactical situations. The guys aboard this FAMF could fix anything..

Ultimately determined by MSC to be “in excess of current and future requirements”. Corpus Christi Bay was taken out of service in 1973 and berthed in ready reserve status at Corpus Christi, Texas.

Corpus Christi Bay served six tours of duty in the Republic of Vietnam and earned four Meritorious Unit Commendations. Determined by MSC to be “in excess of current and future requirements,” she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 31 December 1974, just two weeks after she returned to Corpus Christi from overseas. On 17 July 1975, she was sold to Brownsville Steel and Salvage, Inc. for the princely sum of $387,777 and subsequently scrapped.

Epilogue

The Army is a good caretaker of the vessel’s relics, with a scale model, the ship’s bell, and other artifacts on honored display at the Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas, an important cradle of Army aviation maintenance. Former members of the ship’s crew meet at CCAD from time to time. 

The USS Albemarle bell, which stands at the entrance of the CCAD Headquarters along with other relics from her day as USNS Corpus Christi Bay.

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum this month unveiled a large scale model of Corpus Christi Bay, saluting her service.

A private Facebook group, the USNS Corpus Christi Bay Alliance, is out there for Vets to reconnect. 

Her Navy war history and logbooks are digitized in the National Archives while the Army has numerous films of her Vietnam “Project Flat-Top” days in the same repository. 

And, of course, you didn’t come all this way and not expect this:

Specs:

Jane’s 1946

Jane’s 1973

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Arisakas Still at Work

The Japanese Type 38 (as in the 38th year of the Meiji period) rifle, was first adopted in 1906 by the Emperor’s troops after feedback from the recent wars with Qing-dynasty China and Imperial Russia. Almost 3 million of these simple bolt-action 6.5x50mm rifles would be made at three Japanese arsenals (Tokyo, Kokura, Nagoya) as well as one in Japanese-occupied Korea (Jinsen) and Manchuria (Mukden) until as late as 1944. While you would think that these all went into Japanese military hands, you would be incorrect as lots were exported abroad including 728,000 to Russia of all places during the Great War; 150,000 to the UK to arm British sailors in the same conflict; 200,000 to Republican China in 1917-18; 24,000 to Estonia in the 1920s.

One of the lesser-known Arisaka rifle contracts was from the government of Siam, now Thailand, which had ordered several aircraft, naval vessels, and small arms from the increasingly powerful Asian power in the 1930s. The Thais bought 50,000 “Type 66” (Type 38s chambered in Bangkok’s domestic 8x52R caliber) in 1924 from the Tokyo Army Arsenal. These were later augmented by a smaller quantity of 6.5×50-chambered guns provided as military aid in WWII. Post-war, some of each were converted to 30.06 M2, of which the government had a lot of due to close relations with the U.S., and dubbed Type 83/88s. They even carried them to war in Korea in the 1950s. 

It would seem that at least some of those (probably non-firing) Arisakas are still soldiering on in Thailand as training rifles, as witnessed by these recent photos:

The above green-uniformed/bereted troops are members of the NST, or Military Student Training Supervisory Authority. The program, which runs for five years, is coordinated by local Territorial Defense Commands in the country and trains young men and women 17-25 with some 40-to-80 hours of field/classwork per year instead of joining the military proper for a period of active service (Thailand has conscription). After completion of the NST period, members transition to a non-drilling reserve. 

Besides the Arisakas, the NST also uses lots of M1 Carbines, M1 Garands, and M60 GPMGs in their live-fire and fieldwork, which is run by local cadres from active-duty units. Besides the Vietnam-era hardware, they also run locally-made ALICE gear, M1956 style bottle canteens, and the like. 

Just when DID the Battleship Era End?

In one of the battleship groups that I am a member of on social media, the subject of the “end of the battleship era” came about with the suggestion that, after the Battle of the North Cape in December of 1943, the importance of post-Washington Treaty battleships had diminished so significantly that any WWI vintage battleship would have sufficed for the remainder of the war as battleships became shore bombardment (which the Iowas were still around for as late as Desert Storm) and anti-aircraft platforms rather than meant to kill other battleships in surface warfare.

Of course, this neglected the glaring fact that the October 1944 Battle of Surigao Straits existed.

As far as my take, I’d argue that the end of the “battleship v. battleship era,” in which opposing vessels of the type could have possibly met in combat, was the mid-to-late 1950s.

Between the three Sovetsky Soyuz-class (Project 23) battleships still somewhat under construction until the late 1940s (canceled 47-49), as well as the elderly Great War-era Gangut-class dreadnoughts (Petropavlovsk/Volkov, stricken 1953; Gangut/Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya, stricken 1956; and Sevastopol stricken 1957), and the old Italian Cavour-class battleship Giulio Cesare which was taken over after WWII as Novorossiysk until she blew up in 1955, the Soviets had several kinda operational battlewagons as well as some intermittently on the drawing board.

The Soviet battleship Sevastopol underway, circa 1947-48. Note her much-changed profile from the Great War era she came from

Meanwhile, arrayed against the Red Banner Fleet were a number of active NATO-controlled battleships including the Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz (old SMS Goeben, retired 1950, scrapped 1973), two French Richelieu-class battleships (Richelieu and Jean Bart moved to reserve in 1957), the Royal Navy’s HMS Vanguard (retired in 1960), USS Mississippi (still in commission as a test ship until 1956 and retaining her No. 4 turret with working 14-inch guns as late as 1952), and the four Iowas (mothballed between 1955 and 1958, although they would make a rapid comeback). Plus, the reformed Italian Marina Militare (which was a NATO fleet from the organization’s first days) still had the ancient Andrea Doria and Caio Dulio on the rolls as late as 1956. Going even further, the U.S. Navy had 11 very recently modernized dreadnoughts (nine with 16-inch guns) of the Tennessee, Colorado, SoDak, and North Carolina classes in mothballs but still on the Naval List as mobilization assets until 1959. 

Jean Bart in true color, anchored at Toulon during the late 1950s after her brief participation in the Suez Crisis and the termination of her short service life

In short, had there been some sort of East vs. West dustup in the early days of the Cold War, especially in the Black Sea/Eastern Med, it could have resulted in a scenario where battleship-on-battleship violence could have occurred as late as 1956 or so.

Or at least that is my take on the debate, anyway. 

Warship Wednesday, August 25, 2021: At Least the Middle Bit is Still There

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, August 25, 2021: At Least the Middle Bit is Still There

From the collection of James A. Senior, RCN, via For Posterity Sake. 

Here we see the Improved A-class/River-class destroyer, HMCS Saguenay (H01/D79/I79) entering Willemstad Harbor, Netherlands Antilles, during her 1934 cruise. The Royal Canadian Navy’s first “new” warship, she would lose large portions of herself on two different occasions during WWII but prove to be one very tough tin can.

In 1927, the Admiralty ordered nine new A-class (Active, Acasta, Arrow, Ardent, et. al) destroyers from a series of five firms around the UK– spread out those contracts– all laid down within a few months of each other. Powered by two Parsons geared steam turbines, each with their own shaft, using steam provided by three Admiralty water-tube boilers equipped with superheaters, these 1,350-ton (standard) 323-foot greyhounds were extremely fast, able to hit 35 knots. Armed with four QF 4.7″/45cal Mk IX singles and a pair of quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes, they could hold their own. Able to (kind of) sweep mines, they initially carried little ASW gear as, after all, when they were designed, the Versailles Treaty had barred Germany from making or owning U-boats.

By 1928, Ottawa moved to order a pair of modified A-class destroyers of their own. Dropping the superheaters, they had a slightly longer range while keeping the same speed on an improved hull that was both three feet shorter and better suited to withstand ice– a very Canadian problem. They also had a redesigned superstructure to keep the ships drier, among other minor changes from both the builder (slab-sided funnels) and the Canadians. These two new vessels, Saguenay, and Skeena were named after Canadian river systems and were never “HMS” but rather “HMCS” vessels. As the other A-class ships had “H” pennant numbers originally, Saguenay and Skeena became H01 and H02 on the RCN’s list.

Tadoussac Landing and mouth of the Saguenay River 1901 via LOC ppmsca-18100-18111

Built at Thornycroft in Hampshire, Saguenay launched on 11 July 1930 and was commissioned on 21 May 1931, with sister Skeena, crafted at the same yard, taken into service three weeks later.

They were the first warships built entirely to Canadian specifications and made a big splash when they arrived “home” for the first time on 3 July.

A Happy Peace

Canada’s Navy Arriving! Destroyer Saguenay leading Skeena and Champlain. 3 July 1931. By J. Hayward. H.F. Pullen Nova Scotia Archives 1984-573 Box 1 F/3

Great profile photo of HMCS Saguenay near Montreal, P.Q., 1932. LAC 3399174

HMCS Saguenay, Montreal, P.Q., 1932. LAC 3399173

HMCS Saguenay at Montreal, P.Q., 1934. Note her early H01 pennant number. LAC 3399179

HMCS SAGUENAY (K156) visiting Chicoutimi, present-day Saguenay, in Quebec

In the winter of 1934, HMCS Skeena, HMCS Saguenay, HMCS Champlain, and HMCS Vancouver took part in Winter exercises off South America.

Two years later, the RCN escorted the pilgrimage to and provided the Royal Guard for King Edward VII at the Vimy memorial unveiling, the first such honor for the service. As it would turn out, that detail was provided entirely by Saguenay’s tars. It should be noted that this detail was the first armed Canadian military contingent in France for the first time since the end of the Great War.

The Naval Historical Section would later emphasize the significance of the decision:

” …here was something more than a ship; here was a symbol – a symbol of Canada’s faith that her future was inexorably bound to her sea-borne trade – of a maturing nation’s acceptance of responsibilities commensurate with her development as a world power – of a people’s belief that peace and prosperity were rooted firmly in pre-paredness and the ability to defend, if necessary, her ocean seaways.

The dedication of the Vimy Memorial. HMCS Saguenay provided the Royal Guard, seen to the far right – 1936. Courtesy of Bob Senior. Via For Posterity Sake.

“The Royal Guard represented roughly one-third of the Saguenay’s entire complement and consisted of three officers, three petty officers, and 60 ratings (sailors). The Officer of the Guard was Lieutenant (later Rear-Admiral, OBE) Hugh Francis Pullen, RCN, while Lieutenant Morson Alexander Medland, RCN, served as the Colour Officer (the guard carried a white naval ensign ashore with it) and Gunner (T) Patrick David Budge, RCN, served as the Second Officer of the Guard. The three petty officers were Robert Brownings (who formed the right guide), Charles J. Kelly, and Frederick W. Saunders (who, by 1953, was a chief petty officer honoured with the George Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal). The remainder of the guard incorporated five leading seamen, two leading stokers, 30 able seamen, 11 stokers, 10 ordinary seamen, one signaler, and one telegraphist, all of whom were RCN regulars.”

Ship’s company, HMCS Saguenay in the King’s Guard of Honour, at Vimy Memorial unveiling, July 1936. LT Hugh Francis Pullen, future RADM, in command (source: Canadian Geographic Journal)

WAR!

When Canada entered WWII, Saguenay and Skeena were part of the soon-to-be famed “Barber Pole squadron,” Escort Group (EG) C-3, operating out of St. John’s, Newfoundland, so named due to the red and white band carried on the aft funnel. Both ships had their ASW armament increased considerably.

She began the war as D79, later changed in 1940 to I79

She was part of the very first Halifax convoy, HX001, sailing 17 September 1939, just over a fortnight after the war started.

Taking a break from her convoy work, Saguenay, working with the cruisers HMS Orion and Caradoc, intercepted the  German tanker Emmy Friederich in the Yucatan Straight on 23 October. Formerly the Clyde-built tanker Borderer, Friederich was sailing from Tampico loaded with cargo to keep the pocket battleship Graf Spee in the surface raiding biz but scuttled herself at the sight of the Allied warships. As remembered by every naval history nerd, it was Graf Spee’s lack of fuel that forced her endgame in the South Atlantic seven weeks later.

HMCS Saguenay I79 with a disruption paint scheme. From the collection of CPO Lloyd Wallace. Courtesy of Peter Hanlon. Via For Posterity Sake.

HMCS Saguenay (I79), between 1940 and 1942 note her “barber-pole” ring on her stack and the new I79 pennant on her side

Returning to Halifax to resume local escort duty, over the next 25 months, Saguenay would ride shotgun on a whopping 84 Atlantic convoys, mostly to and from Halifax and Liverpool but also Sydney, Nova Scotia (SC) convoys, as well as Halifax-to-St. John coastwise runs (HJ).

You can’t walk on glass that long and not get cut.

Sailing from Axis-occupied Bordeaux, the Italian submarine Argo was part of the Italian BETASOM group, the submarine was a member of spaghetti wolfpack “Giuliani,” along with the Giuliani, Tarantini, and Torelli, assigned interdiction duty off the coast of Ireland.

On 1 December 1940, while some 300 miles from the Irish coast during escort of HX47, Argo sighted our little destroyer and hit her with a torpedo, removing 20-25 feet of her bow structure and killing 21 of her crew. Remarkably, good damage control allowed the ship to withdraw from her escort duties and proceed to Barrow in Furness under her own power with HMS Highlander in escort. She would spend the next five months in extensive repair and reconstruction.

HMCS Saguenay, likely at Barrow-in-Furness, after catching an Italian torpedo and losing all her bow forward of her guns. Via the Alberta Maritime Museum

Via Regia Marina.net, from the entry on R. Smg. Argo: 

At 04.49 on December 1st, Captain Crepas sighted a silhouette very low on the horizon. Concerned that it could be another Italian submarine, Captain Crepas sent a message with the on-board light. Once the ARGO was close enough, the unit was recognized as a two-stack destroyer and the attack commenced immediately. A single torpedo (the Italians tended to use only one weapon and this was often not sufficient in sinking the enemy vessel) was launched and it hit the target squarely. A second torpedo was also launched later on, giving the impression that the target was destroyed. Once back to the surface, the crew of the ARGO picked up numerous debris indicating the vessel in question as H.M.C.S. Sagueney (D79). Only 10 days later, the German submarine command (B.d.U.) received information that H.M.C.S. Saguenay, despite having been seriously damaged, had been towed back to England. After the war, the Royal Navy added that the destroyer was part of the escort for convoy HG.47 and that it had reached Barrow in Furness on December 5th (five days after the attack), confirming this information.

Four days after hitting Saguenay, Argo sank the British freighter Silverpine (5,066 tons) while on the same patrol, her only “kill” of the war. She was scuttled in September 1943 after Italy left the war and the Germans arrived at Monfalcone.

Remembering the loss of Saguenay’s brush with Argo. Via the CFB Equimalt Museum VR1991.83.4

Back to work

Returning to Atlantic convoy work, in August 1941 Saguenay was part of the escort for the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, carrying Churchill to Newfoundland to meet with FDR.

Able Seamen Brignull and E. Groombridge relaxing aboard the destroyer HMCS Saguenay at sea, 30 October 1941. Note the gun mount. LAC 3576679

Personnel preparing to fire depth charges as the destroyer HMCS Saguenay attacks a submarine contact at sea, 30 October 1941. Built without any such weapons, by 1940 she carried 70 depth charges for use in her stern racks (more on this later) and projectors. LAC 3576681

In January 1942, while on Convoy OS52, she suffered more damage at the hands of Neptune, taking heavy wave hits to her superstructure which required another four-month stint in crowded, overworked repair yards. (The fact that the Atlantic itself was a combatant against all sides in the Battle of the Atlantic was not to be overlooked. Sadly, Saguenay’s  closest sister Skeena was storm wrecked in Iceland in 1944.)

Saguenay returned to service with Convoy HX191 in May.

Her last convoy duty was with HJ018, during which on 15 November 1942 she was accidentally rammed by the American freighter SS Azra (the requisitioned 1,700-ton Danish cargoship Marna) 50 miles Southeast of Cape Spare, Newfoundland. In that collision, Saguenay lost her stern when her depth charges exploded but, in a weird twist of fate, took her assaulter with her, as two of the fused charges exploded under the hull of Azra, sending the freighter to the bottom. The reeling Canuck in turn took Azra’s waterlogged crew members onboard.

The damaged stern of the destroyer HMCS Saguenay. Saguenay was rammed by SS Azra south of Cape Race and lost her stern when her depth charges exploded. November 18, 1942. LAC 3264016

HMCS SAGUENAY I79 after collision Azar

Saguenay, disabled but amazingly suffering no casualties, was taken in tow to St John for repair. After a survey, the battered destroyer was declared beyond economic repair and her structure was sealed to allow the vessel to be towed to Halifax.

HMCS Saguenay stern in dry dock, Via CFB Esquimalt Museum VR993.59.10

Still, most of her equipment was intact and, although not able to steam, was useful as a training hulk, a mission she spent the rest of the war accomplishing at to HMCS Cornwallis at Digby, Nova Scotia. There, she was used in the shoreside schooling of new ratings in seamanship and gunnery from October 1943 until July 1945 when she was paid off, meaning thousands of Canadian tars cycled through her compartments on the way to the fleet.

Further, her first two skippers, Percy W. Nelles and Leonard W. Murray, both served as admirals during the Battle of the Atlantic, with the former rising to Chief of the RCN Naval Staff during the conflict.

The Canadian role in the Battle of the Atlantic is often overlooked but was key to the overall Allied victory in WWII. As noted by the Veterans Affairs Canada:

More than 25,000 merchant ships safely made it to their destination under Canadian escort, delivering approximately 165 million tons of supplies to Europe. The Royal Canadian Navy helped sink more than 30 enemy submarines but at a steep price. They lost approximately 2,000 sailors during the war. The Royal Canadian Air Force was also hit hard, losing more than 750 personnel over the Atlantic. More than 1,600 merchant mariners from Canada and Newfoundland were killed during the battle. Civilians were not spared either. On October 14, 1942, 136 people died when the ferry SS Caribou was torpedoed as it crossed from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.

Epilogue

After the war, Saguenay was sold for breaking up by International Iron and Metal at Hamilton, Ontario, and was towed there in early 1946.

Of the 11 A- and Improved A-class destroyers, besides Skeena, six were lost during WWII to include two, Acasta and Ardent, sunk in a surface action with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau off Narvik; Achates lost in the Barents in a one-sided fight with the German cruiser Admiral Hipper; Acheron lost to a mine, Arrow wrecked in an explosion in Algiers, and Codrington sunk by German bombers off Dover during the Battle of Britain. Of the remaining three “As” — Active, Antelope, and Anthony— obsolete for postwar work, they were soon paid off and scrapped by 1948.

Saguenay has an extensive entry maintained at For Posterity’s Sake, a Royal Canadian Navy Historical Project. 

Relics of Saguenay exist today, such as her bell, which is on public display in Halifax.

The bell for HMCS Saguenay H01/D79/I79 is located at the Naval Museum of Halifax, CFB Halifax. Photo courtesy of Brian Lapierre, via For Posterity Sake

In celebration of her history and status as Canada’s first warship that wasn’t a hand-me-down, Royal Mint Canada earlier this year announced a special $C50 silver coin in her honor, designed by artist Glen Green.

The old “Barber Pole” badge of Saguenay’s St. John’s-based squadron was retained with pride by the postwar Canadian Navy and is still in use by Atlantic units.

In 1956, the Royal Canadian Navy commissioned a new Halifax-built St-Laurent-class destroyer HMCS Saguenay (DD/DDH 206). Like her WWII namesake, she specialized in ASW and, in a funny coincidence, while on a 1986 NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea, she collided with the West German Type 206A coastal submarine U-17 (S196). Gratefully, there were no fatalities on either side and both warships went on to serve several more years.

HMCS Saguenay was paid off on 31 August 1990 after 34 years of Cold War service and was scuttled four years later for use as a recreational divers’ wreck off Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. (Photo: RCN)

Specs:

Destroyer HMCS Saguenay Canadian Navy Heritage website. Image Negative Number E-80027

Displacement: 1,337 long tons (1,358 t)
Length: 321 ft 3 in o/a, 309 ft. p/p
Beam: 32 ft 9 in
Draft: 10 ft
Speed: 35 knots (as built), 31 knots by 1943
Complement: 181
Radar: None originally, Type 286 search and Type 271 range finding by 1943
Armament:
(1930)
4 x QF 4.7″/45cal Mk IX guns (A, B, X, Y mounts)
2 x 4 tubes for 21-inch torpedoes
2 x QF 2-pounder 40 mm pom-pom guns
(1942)
2 x QF 4.7″/45cal Mk IX guns (B, X mounts)
1 x QF 3-inch 20 cwt 12-pounder AAA gun (in place of aft torpedo tube turn stall)
1 x 4 tubes for 21-inch torpedoes
6 x 1 20 mm Oerlikon AAA guns
Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar (in former A mount)
Depth charges (70) and Y-guns

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Farewell, Broadsword/Greenhalgh

Following 16 years of service with the Royal Navy and another 26 with the Marinha do Brasil, the veteran Type 22 frigate HMS Broadsword (F 88)/ fragata Greenhalgh (F 46) was retired on 10 August 2021.

Frigate HMS Broadsword, Irish Sea, 1990. Taken by Royal Yacht photographer contributed by Harvey Page, via the HMS Broadsword Association

Broadsword was laid down at Yarrow 7 February 1975, intended to face off with the growing Red Banner Fleet in the North Atlantic, and joined the RN in 1979– just in time to face off against the nominal Western-allied Argentine Navy in the South Atlantic.

During the Falklands conflict, Broadsword stood by the stricken HMS Coventry, recusing 170 of that destroyer’s crew. Broadsword was hit by one bomb herself, which bounced through the frigate’s helicopter deck before exploding just off her stern. In retribution, Broadsword was credited with downing an Argentine Dagger and a partial kill on an A-4C Skyhawk.

After continued Cold War service, and a stint enforcing UN sanctions off Yugoslavia in the 1990s, she was decommissioned on 31 March 1995 and sold to the Brazilian Navy three months later. She had been the second and final Broadsword in the Royal Navy, following in the footsteps of HMS Broadsword (D31), a Weapon-class destroyer launched in 1946 and broken up in 1968. Jeffrey Archer’s novel First Among Equals mentions the frigate and the ship has a very active veterans association. 

She is also remembered extensively in maritime art for her Falklands service.

David Lidd-HMS ‘Broadsword’ Rescuing Survivors from HMS ‘Coventry’, 25 May 1982.

HMS ‘Broadsword’ with HMS ‘Hermes’ by John Alan Hamilton via MoD (c) Mrs. B.G.S. Hamilton (widow); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Renamed “Greenhalgh” in honor of Brazilan naval hero João Guilherme Greenhalgh, fragata Greenhalgh (F 46) continued to deliver another quarter-century of service in the South Atlantic, familiar stomping grounds for the warship. The name had previously been used for a British-built torpedo boat in the 1900s as well as a Marcílio Dias-class destroyer that operated against the Germans in WWII. 

Brazilian frigate Greenhalgh F-46, former HMS Broadsword of Falklands fame

Warship Wednesday, August 18, 2021: The Last Sub Killer

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, August 18, 2021: The Last Sub Killer

National Archives photo 80-G-442833

Here we see a starboard bow view of the Balao-class fleet boat USS Spikefish (SS-404) underway on the surface on 5 June 1952 when she operated from New London making training cruises along the east coast from Bermuda to Nova Scotia. Commissioned in the twilight of the conflict, she is notable in naval history for sinking the final submarine lost by the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II, some 76 years ago this week.

The Balao Class

A member of the 180+-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were “fleet” boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.

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

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

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

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

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

Spikefish!

The first (and only) U.S. warship named for the common label for the striped Pacific marlin, Spikefish was laid down on 29 January 1944 at Portsmouth; launched on 6 March 1944, and commissioned on 30 June 1944.

Her christening sponsor was a true “Rosie” with a compelling backstory, Mrs. Harvey W. Moore. The widow of LT Harvey Wilson Moore, Jr., a submariner lost with USS Pickerel (SS-177) off Honshu the previous April, she was a welder at PNY and affixed Spikefish’s christening plate to the boat’s bow before ditching her leathers for the champaign ceremony.

Mrs. Moore. NARA 12563144, 12563137, and 12563134.

Commissioning day, 30 June 1944, finds the Spikefish (SS-404) off Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard. Note her single 5″/25 over the stern and her 40mm single on the sail. National Archives photo # 80G-453355

After workups, Spikefish arrived in Pearl Harbor the week before Halloween 1944 to prepare for her 1st War Patrol.

Setting out in mid-November with 24 Mark 18-2 torpedoes to conduct an anti-shipping sweep through the Kuril Islands and the Sea of Okhotsk, she didn’t have much luck as Japanese Maru traffic by this stage of the war had been halted as most of it was on the bottom of the Pacific by then. The highlight of her time in the area was being socked in a six-day gale and stalking two merchant vessels on Christmas Eve into Christmas that turned out to be Russian. She ended her 48-day, 9,976-mile fruitless patrol at Midway on New Year’s Day 1945. As noted by Submarine Force Pacific, even though “Spikefish on this patrol underwent the rigors of cold, rough weather in the Kurile Island areas at this time of year without the satisfaction of contact with the enemy…the award of the Submarine Combat Insignia for this patrol is not authorized.”

Setting out on her 2nd War Patrol on 26 January, Spikefish was ordered to patrol off the Ryukyu Islands.

On 24 February, Spikefish encountered a mixed convoy of six cargo ships protected by four escorts and conducted a submerged attack, firing all six forward tubes at two of the freighters, three of which were heard to hit. While it is not known if she sank anything, she did have to dive deep to withstand an 80-depth charge attack over the span of four hours.

Spikefish sighted another convoy on the morning of 5 March while working in tandem with her sistership USS Tilefish (SS-307), fired another six torpedoes with no confirmed results, and took another pounding. Meanwhile, Tilefish bagged a Japanese minesweeper.

Spikefish ended her patrol at Pearl Harbor on the 19th and was credited at the time with damaging a 5,000-ton Sinsei Maru-type cargo ship in her first attack. She had traveled 11,810 miles in 54 days. With space limited in barracks, her crew was put up at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which surely was horrible.

On 3 May 1945, Spikefish departed from Guam for her 3rd War Patrol and was ordered to patrol east of Formosa where she was assigned lifeguard station duties as the Fleet’s big carrier task forces were at the time hammering the Japanese province. She managed to pull a downed pilot (Ensign H.O. Cullen, USNR 390961, an FM-2 Wildcat pilot off the escort carrier USS Sargent Bay (CVE-83)) from the drink on 7 June. On the same patrol, our submarine conducted a fruitless attack on a passing cargo ship and rained 29 5-inch shells on the Miyara airstrip on Ishigaki Jima from a range of 10,000 yards.

USS Spikefish (SS-404) rescues Ens. Cullen (in the raft, lower right), VC-83, five miles off Ishigaki Jima, 7 June 1945. NS0308306. Via Navsource

Spikefish ended her 3rd patrol after 55 days and 13,709 miles in Guam on 13 June 1945.

She began her 4th, and most historically significant war patrol, on 8 July 1945, ordered to operate in the East China and Yellow Seas.

Besides dodging random Japanese aircraft and at least 19 floating mines (marksmen firing rifles from her cigarette deck detonated/sank at least six and hit four others that failed to explode), combat opportunities were slim, with most surface contacts proving to be Chinese junks which the sub sent on their way with the gift of a carton of cigarettes. She surfaced off Surveyor Island in the Yellow Sea on the night of 24 July and bombarded random points with 39 5-inch and 60 40mm shells from a range of about 4,500 yards, with the intent of hitting a supposed Japanese radar site.

On the pre-dawn of 11 August, Spikefish came across a 250-ton sea truck dead in the water. Closing to within 1,500 yards and ascertaining it was an awash Japanese Sugar Dog (SD) type wooden-hulled coaster, the sub opened with 5-inch (15 rounds, 5 hits), 40mm (28 rounds), and 20mm (20 rounds) on the vessel at close range. The craft was quickly sent to the bottom and Spikefish recovered three survivors, including the skipper who said the vessel was homeported in Korea.

Then, tipped off by Ultra intelligence provided by the FRUMEL team at Melbourne, came a two-day stalk of Japan’s only completed Type D-2 Modified “Tei-gata Kai” (Project Number S51C) transport submarine, I-373 while on her inaugural tanker run to Takao, Formosa.

I-370 Type D1 submarine by Takeshi Yuki via Combined Fleet. The 18 planned Type D submarines, 241-foot/2,200-ton boats could carry five Kaiten manned torpedoes of the Shinchō Tokubetsu Kōgekitai topside and carry 85-100 tons of freight or gasoline to blockaded far-flung outposts. Only 13 were completed 1944-45 and nine of those subsequently lost during the war. I-373 was the only one completed as a tanker.

Foreshadowing EW of today, Spikefish was able to track the zigzagging and doubling back I-373 some 200 miles SE of Shanghai in part due to the impulses of the Japanese submarine’s Type 13 air-search radar picked up on her primitive APR warning gear. The end game was played at 0424 on 14 August when the American sub let lose a full salvo of four Mk. 14-3A and two Mk. 23 torpedoes at 1,500 yards, with at least two hits.

After surfacing and passing through a debris field just after dawn, a single survivor, coated with oil, was taken aboard, the remaining 84 Japanese submariners were lost. The recovered Japanese sailor identified the lost sub as the non-existent I-382.

As noted by H-Gram 051, Spikefish claimed the last of 128 Japanese submarines lost during the war while her sistership, USS Torsk (SS-423) went on to claim the final surface warfare vessel:

Later that day, having penetrated the heavily mined Tsushima Strait, Torsk torpedoed and sank Japanese escort ship CD-47 and then did the same to CD-13, using new acoustic homing torpedoes and passive acoustic torpedoes. CD-13 was the last Imperial Japanese Navy ship sunk by the United States before the surrender, going down with 28 crewmen. (Other Japanese ships would be sunk by U.S. mines in the weeks after the surrender.)

At 0800 on 15 August, just over 27 hours after I-373 was sent to the bottom, Spikefish was notified by COMSUBPAC to cease hostilities. She put into Saipan on 21 August to turn over her two prisoners after a 44-day patrol, her war over. Spikefish received three battle stars for World War II service.

Besides claiming the last Axis/Japanese submarine sent to the bottom in WWII, Spikefish can arguably tote the title of the last warship to have sunk an enemy submarine in combat with the narrow exception of the Korean submarine infiltration stranding incidents in 1998 and 1996. While one day there may be an unlikely bombshell about one of the five Cold War-era submarines still on Eternal Patrol (K-129, Thresher, Dakar, Scorpion, and Minerve; four of which were all lost in 1968), Spikefish still holds the trophy.

When it comes to Spikefish’s sisters, of the schools of Balaos which were commissioned, 10 were lost in the war during operations while another 62 were canceled on the builders’ ways as the conflict ended. In 1946, the Navy was left with 120 units.

Jane’s entry on the Balao class, 1946

Postwar

Transferring to the East Coast, she was given a short refit at Portsmouth then in February 1946 was assigned to Submarine Squadron 2 at New London where she trained new personnel at the sub school, making regular training cruises along the east coast from Bermuda to Nova Scotia for the next 17 years, alternating with runs down to Key West to perform service for the Fleet Sonar School.

Portside view of the Spikefish (SS-404), 1950s. Note that her topside armament has all been removed and she has large sonar domes installed on her deck.

This streak as a school ship was only broken by two short refits/yard periods and a five-month deployment to the Med under the 6th Fleet in 1955, possibly the last such active overseas service for a non-GUPPY Balao. She earned the Navy Occupation Service Medal (Europe) for this cruise, which included exercising with the British submarine HMS Trenchant (P-331), being an OPFOR for the Greek Navy’s ASW forces off Crete, and port calls at Malta, Cartagena, Monaco, and Gibraltar.

Photograph of Spikefish undated. NHHC Photograph Collection, L-File, Ships.

Spikefish, as she looked in the late 50s with a large bubble trunk entrance on her foredeck.

Spikefish diving, photos by Larry Thivierge, Royal Canadian Navy, taken from HMCS Lanark off the coast of Newfoundland/Labrador, via RCN History.

“US Navy submarine USS Spikefish on display at Port of Tampa on McKay St. near 13th St banana docks, circa the late 1950s.” Original Kodachrome by photographer Hector Colado courtesy of Tampa native Yvonne Colado Garren via Tampapix. https://www.tampapix.com/tampa50s.htm

“A good view of the Peoples Gas tanks at 5th Ave. and 13th Street, Ybor City. The smaller tank was built in 1912 for the Tampa Gas Co. and at the time, its 212-foot height made it the tallest structure in Tampa. The tanks were disassembled in 1982 because they were no longer needed for storage and their upkeep was costly.” Original Kodachrome by photographer Hector Colado courtesy of Tampa native Yvonne Colado Garren via Tampapix. https://www.tampapix.com/tampa50s.htm

With so much time spent educating new bubbleheads, on 18 March 1960, Spikefish became the first United States submarine to record 10,000 dives, an impressive safety record that earned her the title of “The divingest Submarine in the World.” As she was the repeated target for scores of destroyers and ASW aircraft, she was probably the “Most depth charged Submarine in the World” as well, albeit they were simulator charges rather than the real thing as she had rained on her back in 1945.

It seems Mrs. Moore and her fellow tradespeople were good at their welding.

Spikefish (SS-404) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, circa the early 1960s, Courtesy of Jay Jones EM3, Roberts (DE-749). via Navsource.

Bill Bone, a Spikefish vet of that period, speaks of his experience on the aging diesel boat in Key West in 1960-61, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He confirms that Spikefish didn’t even have a snorkel conversion in place at the time but did carry warshot torpedos just in case:

Spikefish was redesignated an Auxiliary Research Submarine and renumbered AGSS-404 (auxiliary, submarine) in 1962, was decommissioned on 2 April 1963 at Key West, and was struck from the Navy list on 1 May 1963.

Epilogue

Spikefish was subsequently sunk as a target off Long Island, New York, SSE of Montauk point in about 255 feet of water on 4 August 1964, just past her 20th birthday. Ironically, she was sent to the bottom by another submarine. 

Eastern Search & Survey has extensively surveyed her wreck via side-scan sonar noting:

Due to residual buoyancy from air trapped in her hull, USS Spikefish moved on the bottom in the weeks after it sunk, making it difficult for Navy divers to locate the wreck and inspect the damage caused by the experimental torpedo that sunk her, a MK 37-1. Damage from this torpedo is still visible in these scans on the starboard side just aft of amidships. Also, note the shadows and faint reflections of nets that drape the wreck.

Note torpedo damage on the starboard side, just aft of amidships Via Eastern Search Survey

Her war history, patrol reports, logbooks, and positional reports are digitized in the National Archives. 

Finally, she has a small public Facebook group for vets and families of vets. 

Eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

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

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

Specs:
(1944)
Displacement: 1,570 tons (std); 1,980 (normal); 2,415 tons submerged
Length: 311 ft. 8 inches
Beam: 27 ft. 3 inches
Operating depth: 400 feet
Propulsion: diesel-electric reduction gear with four Fairbanks Morse main generator engines, 5,400HP, two Elliot Motor Co. main motors with 2,740HP, two 126-cell main storage batteries, two propellers.
Speed: 20 surfaced, 10 submerged
Fuel Capacity: 113,510 gal.
Range: 11,000nm @ 10 knots surfaced, 48 hours at 2 knots submerged, 75-day patrol endurance
Complement 7 officers 69 enlisted (planned), actual manning 10 officers, 76 men
Radar: SV. APR and SPR-2 receivers, TN tuning units, AS-125 antenna, SPA Pulse Analyzer, F-19 and F-20 Wave Traps, VD-2 PPI Repeater (1946 fit), Mark III Torpedo Data Computer
Sonar: WFA projector, JP-1 hydrophone (1946 fit)
Armament:
(1944)
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 28 torpedoes max, or up to 40 mines
1 x 5″/25 deck guns (wet mount)
1 x 40mm guns (wet mount)
1 x 20mm gun (wet mount)
2 x .50 cal. machine guns (detachable on six mounting points)

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

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

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

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

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Warship Wednesday, August 11, 2021: The Guacolda-class submarines, via Quincy, Mass

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
 
Warship Wednesday, August 11, 2021: The Guacolda-class submarines, via Quincy, Mass

Original caption: July 4, 1917, Boston (Charlestown) Navy Yard, “Six British subs bottled up in Navy Yard because of U.S. Neutrality are given to the Chilean government in exchange for a Man of War which could not be built by England.”

The Chilean flag was hoisted in that day over six Holland-type submarines, marking the creation of the Chilean Navy’s submarine branch, which has the motto, “Semper Fidelis.” Photo by Leslie Jones, via Boston Public Library, Print Department. Note the famed “original six” frigate USS Constitution in the background. 

Ordered in 1914 from the Fore River Yard at Quincy, Massachusetts, once the Great War kicked off, then-neutral Uncle Sam interned HMS H11 through HMS H20 for the duration of hostilities (or at least, it turned out, American neutrality), despite the fact they did not have their torpedo tubes installed.

Holland 602 type submarines designed to meet Royal Navy specifications, nine other 150-foot/360-ton H-class boats were built by Vickers Canada in Monreal for the Admiralty while another 23 were ordered from Vickers, Cammell Laird, Armstrong Whitworth, and William Beardmore in Britain.

HM Submarine H.4, one of the Canadian Vickers-made boats, at Brindisi, August 1916. Notably, H4 sank U-boat UB-52 in the Adriatic on 23 May 1918, one of the biggest wins for the class. Photograph SP 578 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums

Of the 10 Yankee “H” boats, the British eventually transferred two, later christened HMCS CH-14 and CH-15, to Canadian service, while HMS H11 and H12 were cleared to sail after the U.S. entered the war in April 1917 only to be scrapped shortly after the conflict.

CH14 and CH15, Canadian submarines 1920-22

Likewise, the Canucks laid up their H-boats by 1922 and disposed of them soon after.

The remainder, H13 along with H16 through H20, were transferred to the Chilean government to partially compensate for Chilean vessels under construction in Britain that were seized in 1914 (such as the dreadnoughts Almirante Latorre/HMS Canada and Almirante Cochrane/HMS Eagle) for the fight against the Kaiser.

Commissioned into the Chilean Navy as Guacolda (H1), Tegualda (H2), Rucumilla (H3), Guale (H4), Quidora (H5), and Fresia (H6), on 28 March 1918, the flotilla set sail for Valparaíso on its maiden voyage under the command of RADM Luis Gomez Carreño.

These obsolete craft remained in service in Latin American waters through WWII, with the last only scrapping in 1949. Rucumilla had a particularly interesting rescue/salvage after she was lost at sea. 

As far as I can tell, they were the last pre-WWI Holland design sent to the breakers, and probably the last to submarines to carry 18-inch tubes on active duty. Of note, the Brits completed H21 and above with 21-inch tubes, some of whom continued to serve in WWII. 

Chilian Guacolda (Holland 602/H-class) submarines, via Jane’s 1946

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International
 
They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm 
 
The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.
 
With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.
 
PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.
 
I’m a member, so should you be!
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