Tag Archives: navy

Warship Wednesday, Jan.20, 2021: Bruised Georgie

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, Jan.20, 2021: Bruised Georgie

Australian War Memorial Photo 100014

Here we see the ancient and battered Regio incrociatore corazzato (armored cruiser) San Giorgio, some 80 years ago this week, scuttled and burning after air attacks at Tobruk, Libya, 22 January 1941. The anti-torpedo nets around the wreck reportedly held 39 British fish of various types in their mesh.

Named after Saint George, the patron saint of Genoa, San Giorgio was ordered for the Regia Marina in 1904, during the height of the Russo-Japanese War, and at the time was the largest and strongest armored cruiser in the Italian fleet.

Designed by naval engineer Edoardo Masdea, San Giorgio and her near-sister San Marco were beefy 10,000-ton beasts swathed in as much as 10 inches of armor. They carried four 10″/45 Elswick-pattern Modello 1908 in a pair of turrets as the main battery, eight 7.5″/45 Modello 1908s in four twin turrets as a secondary battery that itself was powerful enough for a heavy cruiser, and a tertiary armament of 20 rapid-fire 76mm and 47mm guns meant to defend against torpedo boats– then seen as the most dangerous non-battleship threat. Speaking of torps, they had three small tubes of her own, below the waterline in period fashion, and at least two steam cutters that could carry torpedos as well.

Powered by 14 Blechynden boilers trunked through two sets of paired funnels, San Giorgio could make 23 knots and steam for over 6,000 nm on a full coal load at about half that.

Janes of the era listed the class under the battleships section. Click to big up

Laid down in 1907 at Regio Cantieri di Castellammare di Stabia in Naples, she was completed 1 July 1910.

Cover of the magazine La Tribuna Illustrata 9 August 1908, showing the launch of San Giorgio

She was a good looking ship and appeared numerous times in postcards of the era. 

Embarrassingly, the brand-new ship on 12 August 1911, following exercises in the Gulf of Naples, ran aground on the shoal of Gaiola, a rocky outcrop some 18 feet deep. As she did so while making 16 knots, she had five forward compartments flooded and took on 4,300 tons of water. Recovering the vessel required much effort and it took a full month to refloat.

Lightened and patched up, she was pulled free on 15 September by the battleship Sicily.

The resulting investigation hit the skipper– the well-placed Marquis Gaspare Alberga– and XO with a slap on the wrist while the navigator got three months in the brig.

Quickly patched up, she took part in the latter stages of the Italian-Turkish War, operating along the Libyan coast.

San Giorgio firing her guns during the Italo-Turkish War 1912

In March 1913, she was part of the international squadron that escorted the remains of former Danish prince William, who served as Greek King George I from 1863 onwards, back home to Athens. George had been assassinated while walking in Thessaloniki, shot in the back of the head by a socialist who later fell to his death from a police station window.

Transfer of the body of King George I on the Greek Royal yacht Amphitrite escorted by three Greek destroyers, Russian gunship Uralets, German battlecruiser SMS Goeben, British cruiser HMS Yarmouth, French cruiser Bruix and Italian cruiser San Giorgio. Painting by Vassilios Chatzis.

Remarkably, San Giorgio soon grounded once again off Sant’Agata di Militello in the strait of Messina in November 1913 but, while another black eye, was more easily freed than the 1911 crack up.

Der italienische Panzerkreuzer San Giorgio im November 1913 in der Straße von Messina gestrandet.

The card translates to “O ship, twice locked in the tenacious branch of the treacherous cliff and returned twice to the loving mother who embraces you,” which makes you think it was issued sometime after her second grounding.

Another war

When Italy joined the Great War in 1915 on the side of Britain, France, and Russia, San Giorgio was soon very active against the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the southern Adriatic. This involved defending the Otranto line and Venice but got hot with a surface raid on the Italian port of Durazzo in October 1918 along with her sistership San Marco and the cruiser Pisa.

At the end of the conflict, she sailed triumphantly into Pola to take the surrendered Austrian fleet under her guns.

San Giorgio class (Italian Armored cruiser), center. RADETZKY Class (Austrian Battleship), built in 1908 (right). The photograph was taken about 1919, Pola Yugoslavia Description: Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson 169 Birch Avenue, Corte Madera, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 68218

Peace

An aging ship, San Giorgio by the 1920s was increasingly used for training purposes and extended overseas cruises for midshipmen from Livorno.

On such a run in 1924-25, she carried crown prince Umberto of Savoy abroad on a round-the-world voyage to take a company of the San Marco Battalion to Shanghai to protect the international delegation there.

Crown Prince Umberto boarding the San Giorgio for the voyage to South America, 1924. Illustration by A. Beltrame

After 1931, her sister, San Marco, was disarmed per the various London and Washington Naval Treaties– back when Italy was still in the ill-fated League of Nations. Like the U.S. Navy battleship Utah (BB-31/AG-16), she was repurposed as a floating target ship, an easy conversion for a vessel that had armor coating almost every surface, even the deck.

Italian Target Ship ex-Armored Cruiser SAN MARCO, capable of being radio-controlled. She would go on to be captured by the Germans in 1943 when Italy pulled out of the war, then later scuttled at Spezia. Interestingly, she used a different engineering suite from San Giorgio, being powered by Parsons steam turbines, and Babcock & Wilcox boilers. NH 111446

By 1936, she was assigned to the Italian task force off Spain during the Spanish Civil War and, with the Supermarina seeing the writing on the wall, withdrawn from the line the next year for modernization.

Spending nearly two full years at Ansaldo in Genoa, the cruiser was extensively rebuilt and modernized. Her boilers, replaced by more modern oil-fired examples, were reduced from 14 to eight, which allowed two funnels to be removed. She also picked up new electronic gear, landed most of her 1910-era small guns in favor of new 100/47mm OTO Mod 1928 DP twin mounts, and sealed up her torpedo tubes.

Italian Ship: SAN GIORGIO. Italy – OCA. (San Giorgio Class). 1939. Note her vastly changed appearance from the original Great War era vessel. NH 111445

And it was just in time.

George’s final war

Deployed from Italy to the Eastern Libyan fortress port of Tobruk, arriving on 13 May 1940 while the country was still at peace. Remember, Italy didn’t join WWII until 10 June 1940 when Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg has already fallen and France was on the verge of collapse, leaving Britain alone against Hitler and Mussolini.

Two days after the Italians clocked in, the British light cruisers Gloucester (62) and Liverpool (C11) swung by Tobruk and engaged the port and San Giorgio in an ineffective long-range artillery duel, with neither side connecting. Before the end of the month, HMS Parthian (N75), arriving in the Med from China station in May 1940, made it close enough to fire two torpedoes at the big Italian that did not connect, leaving the British sub to settle with sinking the Italian submarine Diamante near Tobruk on 20 June.

San Giorgio‘s skipper at the time, Capitano di Fregata Rosario Viola, reinforced her exposed decks with sandbags and ordered a triple layer of torpedo nets around the hull, then mounted as many extra guns and lookouts as he could.

This had mixed results as, on late in the afternoon of 28 June, her gunners were involved in a friendly-fire incident in which a pair of SIAI-Marchetti SM79 Sparvieros had the bad luck of coming in low and out of the sun over the port in the wake of a British bomber strike. One Sparviero was blown from the sky– flown by no other than fascist darling and big aviation advocate Italo Balbo, then serving as Libya’s governor-general.

Oof.

Balbo/Sparvieros.

Still, the attacks came. 

5 July, Swordfish torpedo bombers of 813 Squadron from HMS Eagle attacked Tobruk in a combined attack with the RAF at dusk, sinking the destroyer Zeffiro and the freighter SS Manzoni but missing San Giorgio.

Swordfish from Eagle’s 824 Squadron conducted a night raid on 27 October, seeding the harbor with mines.

San Giorgio was still Tobruk in early 1941, which was probably the worst time and place to be an Italian cruiser. After a terribly run invasion of Egypt, the Italian 10th Army had just been thoroughly defeated by the British Western Desert Force at Bardia and the stragglers, largely formed around the 61st (Sirte) Infantry Division by 7 January were encircled in Tobruk and subject to heavy bombardment.

San Giorgio, after the Balbo shootdown, was placed under the command of Capitano di Fregata Stefano Pugliese, a 40-year-old who had spent 25 of those in the Navy, including as skipper of the “pirate” submarine Balilla during the Spanish-American war and as XO of the light cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi during the Battle of Calabria. The port commander, RADM Massimiliano Vietina, ordered Pugliese to remain in the besieged port as a floating artillery battery and lend his cruiser’s heavy guns to the wobbly perimeter.

Over the next two weeks, as the Italian lines crumbled and air attacks by Blenheims escorted by Gladiators and Hurricanes owned the skies, San Giorgio did her best. Sealed into the harbor by the destroyer-screened Great War Erebus-class monitor HMS Terror, who occasionally lobbed 15-inch shells into Tobruk, the Italian cruiser was heavily damaged but continued to both contribute to the flak clouds and ground defense.

When it came to AAA, her biggest contribution was from five twin 100/47 high-angle guns, augmented by three 20mm Bredas and four 13.2mm mounts. Over the course of 291 air raid warnings during her time at Tobruk and 115 engagements, she fired a whopping 13,000 100 mm rounds and 120,000 from the smaller pieces. Her crew claimed 47 aircraft hit or shot down (not sure if Balbo’s plane is included in that tally).

Note the sandbagged AAA positions and covering on deck as well as the torpedo net boom

Twin OTO 100mm DP mount

Her big guns fired over 100 shells from the big 10-inch guns and 360 from her 7.45s.

Finally, when the end was near on the night of 21/22 January, Pugliese signaled the ship abandoned, after ordering the crew to wreck everything they could find for two hours, then led a small party, primarily of volunteer junior officers and NCOs, back to blow the vessel’s magazines. Two men, Torpedoman 1st Class Alessandro Montagna and 2nd Lt. Giuseppe Buciuni, were lost in the explosion due to a delayed fuse.

Epilogue

The ship, through a combination of magazine explosions and bunker fires, burned for days.

Members of C Company (mostly from 14 Platoon), Australian 2/11th Infantry Battalion, part of the 6th Division having penetrated the outer defenses of Tobruk, assemble again on the escarpment on the south side of the harbor after attacking anti-aircraft gun positions, 22 January 1941. San Giorgio is one of the plumes in the background. Burning fuel oil tanks at the port are the second. AWM

These photos were taken on 25 January, four days after the ship was scuttled. AWM

One of the better shots soon circled the globe, tagged in four languages. Big news for the struggling Brits in 1941. 

Once the wreck cooled, there were extensive surveys and relic hunting done by Allied troops.

The wreck of the Italian Armored Cruiser San Giorgio in Tobruk Harbor, sunk by RAF and RN aircraft. Photographed by Robert Milne taken from HMAS Vendetta. AWM

AWM photos.

To honor the crew and the vessel, San Giorgio was awarded the Medaglia d’oro al Valor Militare, Italy’s highest recognition for military valor, by the Royal Decree of King Umberto on 10 June 1943. Only seven other units– the five daring torpedo boats of the Dardanelles Squadron: Spica, Centaur, Perseo, Astore, Climene; MAS Flotilla Alto Adriatico, and the submarine Scirè— received the MOVM in gold during the war.

The two men lost in San Giorgio’s scuttling were similarly decorated, posthumously.

Her surviving ~700 crew, meanwhile, spent the rest of the war in a British POW camp in India. Many would receive decorations for their actions for Tobruk. The crew was decorated with five Silver MVMs as well as 16 Bronze and 237 War Crosses.

“Four Italian ratings captured from San Giorgio, 31 January 1941.” AWM

Pugliese, who returned home to a hero’s welcome in 1945 and a MOVM of his own, later went on to rise to the rank of vice admiral in the postwar Italian fleet and in the 1960s would become commander of the NATO naval forces in the central Mediterranean– which ironically included British vessels.

In 1951, the then-independent Libyan government of King Idris came to an agreement with Rome to salvage the cruiser’s hulk. During the recovery, it was reported that 39 torpedoes and a huge amount of other UXO were found in the nets and on the seabed around the ship.

Refloated by a scrapper who intended to haul it back to Italy, while under tow by the tug Ursus the wreck started taking on water and broke her lines, taking a deep plunge some 140 miles north of Tobruk in some of the deepest water in the Med.

Relics of the cruiser are few.

San Giorgio‘s ceremonial ensign, presented to the ship in 1911 by Duchess of Genoa, Isabella Maria Elisabetta di Baviera, was spirited past the blockade out of Tobruk by a volunteer crew of six officers, three sailors and the ship’s dog, “Stoppaccio,” and made it back to Italy aboard a requisitioned trawler, Risveglio II. If anyone can find an image of the banner, please let me know.

When the Axis retook Tobruk in 1942 once Rommel was on the scene, the Italians inspected the wreck of the cruiser and, finding three 100/47mm guns still sound, recovered them and put them back in circulation.  

A 12-minute wartime film, Vita e fine della San Giorgio, The Life and end of the San Giorgio, can be seen online at the Italian national archives and includes much footage of the vessel.

The Australian War Memorial has a brass pistol grip and trigger from one of San Giorgio‘s direction finders that were salvaged by the crew of the destroyer HMAS Vendetta (I96), as well as an Italian naval officer’s dress sword engraved to the ship.

AWM

The U.S. National Archives has numerous naval attaché reports on San Giorgio in their collection.

As for the Italian Navy, the Regia Marina faded away in 1945 and was replaced by the Marina Militare Italiana, which still honors the famous armored cruiser’s memory. Since then, the Italians have very much kept the name alive on their naval list, commissioning a 5,000-ton light cruiser/destroyer leader/training ship (D 563) in 1955.

SAN GIORGIO (D 562), Italian DL, in New York Harbor for the International Naval Review, 4 July 1976. Originally laid down as a Roman Captain-class light cruiser in WWII, by 1965 she was a training ship that took summer midshipmen cruises around the globe– replicating her namesake’s 1920s and 1930s mission. She was retired in 1979 and sold to the breakers in 1987. K-114252

In 1987, the Italian Navy christened the class leader of a new series of 8,000-ton amphibious transport docks (L9892) which are all still in service and going strong.

Specs:

(1910)
Displacement: 10,167 tons (standard), 11,300 (full)
Length: 462 ft 3 in (o/a)
Beam: 69 ft 0 in
Draught: 24 ft 1 in
Machinery: 14 Blechynden boilers, 2 shafts, 2 vertical triple-expansion steam engines, 19,500 ihp
Speed: 23 knots
Range: 6,270 nmi at 10 knots on 1500 tons of coal, (Carried 50 tons naphtha for boats)
Complement: 32 officers, 673 enlisted men
Armor:
Belt: 7.9 in
Gun turrets: 6.3–7.9 in
Deck: 2.0 in
Conning tower: 10.0 in
Armament:
4 Elswick 10.0 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (2×2)
8 Armstrong 7.5 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (4×2)
18 single Armstrong 76 mm guns
2 single Vickers 47 mm guns
2 Colt 6.5mm machine guns
3 x 17.7 in torpedo tubes
Embarked torpedo boats

(1940)

Displacement: 9,232 tons
Length: 459 ft.
Beam: 69 ft 0 in
Draught: 22.5 ft.
Machinery: 8 boilers, 2 shafts, 2 VTE, 18,000 ihp
Speed: 18 knots
Complement: 700
Armor: (Augmented by sandbags and extensive anti-torpedo nets)
Belt: 7.9 in
Gun turrets: 6.3–7.9 in
Deck: 2.0 in
Conning tower: 10.0 in
Armament:
4 Elswick 10.0 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (2×2)
8 Armstrong 7.5 in/45 Mod. 1908 guns (4×2)
10 100mm/47 OTO Mod. 1928 DP (5×2)
12 Breda 20mm/65 Mod. 1935 AAA guns (6×2)
10 Breda Mod. 31 13.2mm machine guns (5×2)

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, Jan.13, 2021: Of Hurricat and Hoverfly

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, Jan.13, 2021: Of Hurricat and Hoverfly

National Archives Photo 80-G-159942

Here we see a very early Sikorsky R-4 rotorcraft (BuNo 46445), a type designated the HNS-1 helicopter by the U.S. Navy and the Hoverfly I by the Royal Navy, comes in astern of the red duster-flying British Motor Vessel Daghestan during tests on Long Island Sound in early January 1944. The pilot is LCDR Frank A. Erickson, Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot No. 1, while his passenger in the two-man craft is Army Brig. Gen. Frank Lowe, the latter of whom was on special duty with the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program.

Sure, Daghestan is a merchie, but she truly deserves her place in a Warship Wednesday as you shall see.

Wartime construction built for the Hindustan Steam Shipping Co. Ltd, of Newcastle to replace a lost ship of the same name, MV Daghestan was a 7,200-ton Santa Rosa SR-3 type grainer with four holds. Laid down at William Doxford & Sons Ltd., Pallion, as Yard No. 674, she was completed in August 1941. As a British cargo ship plying the North Atlantic during the “Happy Times” of Donitz’s U-boat wolf packs, her life expectancy outlook was mixed at best, and she was soon on regular convoy runs.

Freighter SS Daghestan going south 13 January 1942 out of Halifax. She has a pair of 3-inch guns on her stern and carried smaller portable Lewis guns for AAA work. It is hard to tell, but she also should have a catapult over her bow. H.B. Jefferson Nova Scotia Archives 1992-304 / 43.1.4 11

Soon after she was completed, Daghestan was one of eight privately-owned British merchies that, along with 27 Ministry of War Transport-owned ships, were selected for use in the Catapult Armed Merchantman program. The CAM ships were a desperate effort by the Brits to counter long-ranging German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor patrol bombers of Fliegerführer Atlantik who were prowling the sea lanes between Canada and Ireland, bird-dogging convoys who had no air cover.

Carrying a low-UHF band sea search radar and a 2,000-pound bomb load, the Condor could remain aloft for 14 hours, ranging some 2,200 miles from bases in occupied France, haunting not only the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel but pushing out to the Irish Sea and North Atlantic proper as well.

Egbert Friedl Scalemates box art

The ungainly Condors proved extremely effective in both cueing U-boats and plinking freighters on their own, reportedly taking credit for some 365,000 tons of Allied shipping between June 1940 and February 1941 via low-altitude bomb drops on slow-moving targets.

Winston Churchill described the Condor as the “Scourge of the Atlantic” and penned a March 1941 memo to the MOD saying:

  1. We must take the offensive against the U-boat and the Fokke Wulf wherever we can and whenever we can. The U-boat at sea must be hunted, the U-boat in the building yard or in dock must be bombed. The Fokke Wulf, and other bombers employed against our shipping, must be attacked in the air and in their nests.
  2. Extreme priority will be given to fitting out ships to catapult, or otherwise launch, fighter aircraft against bombers attacking our shipping. Proposals should be made within a week.

As with the other CAM ships, Daghestan had a short 85-foot catapult fitted over her bow, just past her forward cargo hatch– these mini aircraft carriers were still expected to carry their full cargo load on escort missions. Her aircraft, mounted on the cat for a single-use launch, was a decrepit “Sea Hurricane Mk. IA,” an aircraft essentially on its last legs and otherwise unfit for further front-line service but still flyable enough to take on a slow and relatively lightly armed Condor in a one-on-one dogfight.

Sea Hurricane I Merchant Ship Fighting Unit aboard a Catapult Armed Merchant Gibraltar IWM CH6918

Sea Hurricane I aboard a CAM ship

Modified by General Aircraft Limited to be carried by CAM ships, these Sea Hurricanes, typically referred to as Hurricats or Catafighters, were given more than 80 modifications including an easily removable canopy (as the pilot likely had to ditch at sea), a 44-gallon overflow fuel tank to extend the plane’s range (which might make it able to reach shore) and an on-board rapidly deployable dinghy for logical reasons. About 50 such Hurricanes were converted, assigned to the RAF’s purpose-formed Merchant Ship Fighter Unit, and manned by volunteers.

To give the aircraft a little extra boost, they have a rocket-assisted take-off.

The catapult was angled to starboard over the bow, both to prevent the blast from its rockets smoking the superstructure, and to reduce the risk of the pilot being overtaken by the ship, should the Hurricat wind up ditching on launch.

One of the pilots assigned to Daghestan during her CAM service, Alec Lumsden, reportedly told his son that “his back was never the same” after being catapult certified.

Sea Hurricane Ia MSFU LUB A Lumsden V6802 MV Daghestan Atlantic Sep-Oct 1941

Between August 1941 and August 1942, Daghestan shipped out on at least seven Atlantic convoys as a CAM ship, often with similarly equipped vessels to help share the load.

While she did not have to launch her Hurricat, at least nine combat launches from other CAM ships took place during the conflict, resulting in nine downed German aircraft, thus proving the concept. When it came to the Hurricats themselves, eight of the nine launched ditched at sea, with seven pilots recovered alive. The ninth aircraft, on a Murmansk convoy, was close enough to Russia to make shore– after splashing two He 111s out of Norway.

Sea Hurricane I Merchant Ship Fighting Unit MS Empire Faith summer 1941-01

Regardless, with the increased use of escort carriers, the CAM project was phased out by 1943, leaving Daghestan and her fellow Hurricat-carrying partners to land their catapults and bid the RAF goodbye. She went on to pull at least another seven convoys with just her guns for protection by October 1943, but that doesn’t mean she was done with aviation.

Enter the whirlybird

Igor I. Sikorsky’s attempts to create a practical helicopter got a big boost from the Army in December 1940 when they gave him $50,000 for his XR-4 concept aircraft, itself a development of his earlier VS-300. The helicopter first flew on 14 January 1942, with Sikorsky chief test pilot Les Morris at the controls. The first production aircraft, 41-18874, was adopted by the Army in May 1942.

By 1943, more advanced versions of the R-4 were fielded, and the aircraft was theorized to be able to carry small bombs or casualty litters.

Soon, floats were fitted to make the eggbeater amphibious, leading to tests from the decks of the hastily converted freighter SS Bunker Hill and the troopship USS James Parker. From there, the Coast Guard and Navy ordered a trio of YR-4Bs while the Royal Navy signed on for seven. In the end, the Navy would up this to a full 20 aircraft, designating it the HNS-1 (Helicopter, Navy, Sikorsky, model 1) while the British Fleet Air Arm, in conjunction with the RAF, would eventually buy 45.

The first British ship to operate them was our humble Daghestan.

Coast Guard LCDR Frank A. Erickson, an unsung aviation pioneer, trained at Sikorsky Aircraft Company’s plant at Bridgeport then by November 1943 was aboard Daghestan, which was anchored in Long Island as a floating testbed for the YR-4 series. With her bow catapult long removed, she now carried a stern helicopter pad.

MV DAGHESTAN (British freighter) Lies anchored in Long Island (top), while a Sikorsky HSN-1 (BuNo 46445) landing in the water (below). Note, she now has four elevated gun tubs as her two original stern tubs were replaced by the landing pad. Photograph received in January 1944 but was likely taken in late 1943. 80-G-159947

In all, Erickson would conduct shipboard trials with the R-4 while eventually training 102 helicopter pilots and 225 mechanics, including personnel from the Army Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and the British Army, Royal Air Force, and Navy.

HNS-1 in Flight. Note the litter. (Coast Guard Historian’s Office)

He also made history on 3 January 1944 when he rushed much-needed plasma by helicopter from Battery Park to a hospital in Sandy Hook through a severe winter storm. The plasma, used to treat injured sailors from the damaged destroyer USS Turner (DD-648), was a literal lifesaver.

U.S. Navy Sikorsky HSN-1 (BuNo 46445) Landing on board the British MV DAGHESTAN in Long Island Sound, likely in late 1943. Pilot: Lieutenant Commander Frank A. Erickson, USCG. Note details of the landing platform; markings and color scheme on HNS-1. 80-G-159946

BuNo 46445 takes off from a platform constructed on board the British MV, DAGHESTAN, then anchored in Long Island Sound. Pilot: Lieutenant Commander Frank A. Erickson, USCG; Note details of cameraman and platform. Photograph received January 1944 but was likely taken in late 1943. 80-G-159940

As for our ship, she solidified her place in naval lore when she left New York in convoy HX 274 on 6 January 1944, headed to Liverpool, with two Royal Navy-manned R-4s aboard, ready to fight. Daghestan’s choppers were fitted with floats and believed to have flown convoy-protection trials from the ship during the voyage.

Note the two R-4s on her stern. This is during the Jan 6-22 convoy to the UK, the first with helicopter support. Her platform looks to have been greatly extended to support the embarked airwing

FAA marked FT835 YR-4B ex 42-107246, on Daghestan

FAA-marked R4 NNAM 1993.501.073.092

The trials must have been successful as the Brits soon deployed other R-4s, dubbed Hoverfly Is, with the escort carrier HMS Thane (D48) at the end of December 1944.

In the meantime, our freighter was back to her more traditional convoy runs, sans choppers. Typically carrying Canadian wheat/grain/flour and mail, she crossed the Atlantic at least 18 times* headed West to Britain, and then returned back east again with largely empty holds.

*Convoys, via War Sailors.com:

ON 11 Liverpool to New York (Halifax) Aug. 30- Sept 11, 1941, CAM
HX 151 Halifax to Liverpool Sept 22-Oct. 7, 1941 CAM with fellow CAM Empire Spray
HX 160 Halifax to Liverpool Nov. 15-30, 1941 CAM with five other CAM ships!
HX 170 Halifax to Liverpool Jan. 13-28, 1942 CAM along with Empire Spray
HX 187 Halifax to Liverpool April 26- May 8, 1942 CAM along with Empire Foam and Primrose Hill
HX 194 Halifax to Liverpool June 14-26, 1942 CAM along with Empire Day
HX 203 Halifax to Liverpool Aug 16- 28 1942 CAM (with Clyde Commodore aboard)
HX 210 Halifax to Liverpool Oct. 1-16, 1942
HX 216 Halifax to Liverpool Nov. 19-Dec. 6, 1942
ON 159 Liverpool to New York (Halifax) Jan 4-20, 1943
HX 225/226 Halifax to Liverpool Feb. 8-24, 1943
ON 170 Liverpool to New York (Halifax) March 3-20, 1943
HX 252 Halifax to Liverpool Aug 14-28, 1943
ON 203 Liverpool to New York (Halifax) Sept. 22-Oct 8, 1943
HX 274 New York to Liverpool Jan 6-21, 1944 helicopter mission
HX 282 New York to Liverpool March 6-22, 1944
HX 292 New York to Liverpool May 19-June 2, 1944 (96 ship convoy!)
HX 299 New York to Liverpool July 11-24, 1944
ON 223 Belfast to New York Aug. 2-16, 1944
HX 305/306 New York to Liverpool Aug. 31-Sept. 17, 1944
HX 319 New York to Liverpool (Hull) Nov. 9-25, 1944
HX 342 New York to Liverpool April 1945

Coming through the war in one piece, Daghestan was disarmed and soon back on the commercial trade with Hindustan Steam.

SS Daghestan at the dock, Vancouver, Dec. 20, 1951. City of Vancouver Archives, Walter Frost photo. CVA 447-4171

Sold in 1957 to Asimarfield Shipping Corporation of Monrovia, she left her Red Duster behind for a Liberian flag as MV Annefield for another decade of service.

As MV Annefeld, via the Coll. of Hans Hoffman, courtesy of Sunderland Ships

On 21 February 1969, MV Annefield was delivered to Isaac Manuel Davalillo in Castellon, Spain, where demolition began in May.

Various wartime reports on Daghestan are in NARA and the IWM but are not available online.

Specs:

Displacement: 7248 grt, 4389 nrt, 10325 dwt
Length: 442.9 ft.
Beam: 56.5 ft.
Draft: 27.4 ft. (35.5 depth of hold)
Propulsion: Oil 2SA 3cyl (600 x 2320mm), 1 screw
Speed:
Armament
(1941-43)
2 x 3-inch guns
Lewis guns
(1943-45)
4 x AAA guns, possibly 40mm or 3-inch DP
Aircraft:
1 x Sea Hurricane (single use) CATODITCH, Aug 1942-Aug 1943
1-2 R-4 series helicopters (stern deck, no hangar) Nov 1943- Jan 1944

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!

MK VIs of the Black Sea

SANTA RITA, Guam (May 8, 2019) Three Mark VI patrol boats attached to Coastal Riverine Squadron (CRS) 2, maneuver in formation during a training evolution near Apra Harbor. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey Adams)

It looks like Ukraine will be the next operator of the MK VI patrol boat.

Via DOD Contract Awards:

SAFE Boats International LLC, Bremerton, Washington, was awarded a $19,969,119 not-to-exceed, firm-fixed-price, undefinitized contract action for long lead time material and associated pre-production and planning support for two MK VI patrol boats to be delivered to the government of Ukraine. Work will be performed in Rock Hill, South Carolina (69%); Kent, Washington (21%); Woodinville, Washington (5%); Bellingham, Washington (4%); and Seattle, Washington (1%), and is expected to be completed by December 2022. Fiscal 2020 Title 10 Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funding in the amount of $5,463,500 was obligated at award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity. (Awarded Dec. 31, 2020)

The U.S. Navy Mark VI patrol boat is a very well-armed successor to classic PT boats of WWII (sans torpedoes), Nasty boats of Vietnam, and Cold War-era PB Mk IIIs. The Mk IIIs, a heavily armed 65-foot light gunboat, was replaced by the Mk V SOC (Special Operations Craft)– a somewhat lighter armed 82-foot go fast– and the 170-foot Cyclone-class patrol ships.

Now the Navy coughed up the idea for the Mk VI back in 2012, and plan on obtaining as many as 48 of these boats and are deployed in two separate strategic areas of operation: Commander, Task Force (CTF) 56 in Bahrain and CTF 75 in Guam.

At $10 million a pop, they are about three times as expensive as USCG 87 foot WPBs and with much shorter legs, but they have huge teeth. Notice the 25mm MK38 Mod 2 forward and aft, the M2 RWS mount atop the wheelhouse, and the four crew-served mounts amidships and aft for Dillion mini-guns, M240Gs, MK19 grenade launchers, or other party favors. Of course, these would be toast in a defended environment like the China Sea but are gold for choke points like the Persian Gulf, anti-pirate ops, littoral warfare against asymmetric threats, etc.

They also provide a persistent capability to patrol shallow littoral areas for the purpose of force protection for U.S. and coalition forces, as well as safeguarding critical infrastructure.

Warship Wednesday, Jan.6, 2021: Of Camels, Williwaws, and 6-inch Salvos

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

–As I am traveling for work and have an abbreviated period of downtime this week, we likewise have an abbreviated WW this week as well, sorry–

Warship Wednesday, Jan.6, 2021: Of Camels, Williwaws, and 6-inch Salvos

U.S. Army Signal Corps – Photograph USA C-627 from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives. A much better resolution example of this shot is SC 229057, but it is not in color. 

Here we see the Omaha-class light cruiser USS Concord (CL-10), some 78 years ago today as she stood off Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, on 6 January 1943, “for a South Pacific destination.” A fine ship with beautiful lines, she did not see much of World War II until the final acts of the Pacific War.

The fourth Concord was a “peace cruiser” built at William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia, and commissioned on 3 November 1923. Used to range the globe on flag-waving missions while abiding by the various naval limitations treaty of the interwar period, she was named in honor of the famous scrap between the Americans and British troops during the “Shot Heard Round the World.”

What an epically great image! Talk about “Join the Navy, See the World”. USS Concord (CL-10) At the edge of the desert off the North African coast, with local camel troops in the foreground, circa late 1923 or early 1924. During her maiden cruise at that time, Concord steamed through the Mediterranean Sea and returned to the United States by way of the Suez Canal and the Cape of Good Hope. Donation of Franklin Moran, 1967. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 64647

When the balloon went up in the Pacific on 7 December 1941, Concord was at sea headed to Mare Island from Pearl Harbor for an overhaul, or else she may have been a target on day one.

Her armament and armor sparse but her legs long, she was assigned to Task Force 81 in early 1942 after she completed her yard availability. If you haven’t heard of TF81, there is a reason as it was the patrol force off the Pacific coast of South America, a definite backwater.

As the flag of the group, which was later renamed Task Force 93 in 1943, she would carry RADM Byrd, the famed polar explorer, around the Southeast Pacific on a tour of possible seaplane bases in the remote region.

USS Concord (CL-10) Hoists a Grumman J2F (wearing the nickname: “The Galloping Ghost”) during flight operations at Hanga Roa, Easter Islands, in support of Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s South Pacific Base Examination Cruise, 10 November 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-K-2343

By March 1944, Concord shipped to the frozen North, where she joined Task Force 94 (later 92) in Alaskan waters.

USS Concord (CL-10) Underway in Puget Sound, Washington, 1 November 1944. Her camouflage is Measure 33, Design 2f. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-75591

From there, her war heated up some and she was used extensively over the next year to raid the Japanese northern islands, conducting a series of anti-shipping sweeps through the Sea of Okhotsk and shore bombardments in the Kuriles and elsewhere.

In some of these rounds of shore bombardment, she would expend in excess of 500 6-inch shells per sortie.

During her 1944-45 tour in the Northern Pacific, Concord would often face thick fog banks and “100-knot Williawas” at sea in her unsung area of the war.

From her War History:

Except when weather conditions entirely prohibited, the Concord took to the rugged sub-arctic seas in the best tradition of New England sailormen. With a handful of destroyers and from one to five other cruisers– old like herself– the Concord was regularly on the prowl approximately 10 days each month, operating well over 1,000 miles west of Attu, the nearest U.S. base, and without any air cover of any sort.

Interestingly enough, she was credited by some with firing the last salvo of the war at 8:06 p.m., 12 August 1945 (Japan Time).

After supporting the occupation landings at Ominato, Japan, between 8 and 14 September, Concord sailed through the Canal Zone one final time before ending her career at Philadelphia, where she was decommissioned on 12 December 1945.

She was sold to Patapsco Scrap Co., Bethlehem, PA for the amount of $67,228 on 21 January 1947, receiving just one battle star for World War II.

Since Concord’s passing, her name was recycled one final time, issued to a combat stores ship (AFS-5), commissioned in 1968, which served for four decades.

Her diaries and histories are online at NARA.

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, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

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, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

Photograph A 31788 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

Here we see the crew of the Royal Navy light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) tooling up snowballs while frosty Fleet Air Arm Sea Furies and Fireflies sit by in cold storage, some 70 years ago this month. Don’t let the snap fool you, the British carrier at the time was off Korea, which was ridiculously hot when it came to combat, and both her crew and airwing were doing their part.

Theseus was one of 16 planned 1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot-long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25-knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers were lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies or remain on station in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

Capable of carrying up to 52 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry. Click to very much big up so you can read the details. 

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Two were completed as a peculiar RN invention of a “maintenance carrier,” intended just to repair and ferry but not operate aircraft. Some were immediately transferred to expanding Commonwealth fleets. Suddenly, the Australians, Canadians, and Indians became carrier operators. The Dutch (then Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader Colossus was sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Laid down 6 January 1943 at the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland, the same yard that built the famous Cunard liners RMS Campania and RMS Lucania, the mighty 32,000-ton carrier HMS Implacable (R86), and two-thirds of the infamous “Live Bait Squadron” cruisers, HMS Cressy and HMS Aboukir, Theseus came too late for the war, entering the fleet 9 February 1946. She was the third RN warship to carry the name of the mythical Athenian king, following in the footsteps of a ship-of-the-line that fought at the Nile and a Great War-era protected cruiser of the Edgar class.

Originally assigned to serve in the British Pacific Fleet, she sailed for Singapore to serve as the flagship for the 1st Carrier Squadron in the Far East. The brand-new carrier made a splash in Australia and the Western Pacific on her arrival.

HMS Theseus, Gibraltar 25th February 1947 on the way to the Pacific. Deck hockey on the Flight Deck, on the port side of the carrier island. Note the Sea Otter amphibious aircraft

HMS Theseus (R64) 11 July 1947 arriving in Australia. State Library of Victoria – Allan C. Green collection of glass negatives. H91.250/183

The same day, H91.250/181. Note her starboard elevated 40mm Bofors mounts.

And another, H91.250/179. Again, note her Bofors and extensive raft collection. Keep in mind that, while this was 1947, there were still plenty of unaccounted-for sea mines left around the world from the war, and tensions between the East and West were ramping up, with the Berlin Airlift approaching.

However, as soon as she arrived, the Admiralty was forced, due to dire post-war cost-cutting measures, to pull most of its capital ships back to Home Waters. Subsequently, the Fleet Air Arm Naval Air Bases in Ceylon and Singapore were closed, and Theseus returned prematurely from abroad.

Nonetheless, she would be back soon enough.

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel, Theseus’s sister, HMS Triumph, happened to be in Japanese waters with the rump occupation fleet of Task Force 95 and soon, in conjunction with the American Essex-class fleet carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), was performing air strikes on North Korean airfields within a week of the outbreak of the conflict.

As for Theseus, she had served in UK waters as Flagship of the 3rd Aircraft Carrier Squadron, Home Fleet, and trained with Vampire jet aircraft. On 14 August, she cast off from Plymouth to relive the understrength and rapidly wearing-out Triumph.

HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea carrying 23 Furies from 807 Squadron and 12 Fireflies from 813 Squadron, 17th Carrier Air Group, beginning strikes on North Korean targets on 9 October 1950. The day before, RADM William Gerrard “Bill” Andrewes, a Jutland veteran on his third war, arrived aboard and raised his flag.

THE KOREAN WAR 1950-1953 (KOR 638) A raid in progress on warehouses on the waterfront at Chinnampo in North Korea by Fairey Firefly aircraft from HMS THESEUS. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205020623

By 10 October, one of her planes, Sea Fury VW628, had been lost in a strike against the Chang-you railway bridge but its pilot, LT Stanley Leonard, was recovered by an American helicopter, a novelty, and returned (eventually) to the ship.

Speaking of helicopters, a U.S. Navy HO3S-1 (Sikorsky S-51) was assigned to Theseus to act as a ResCap plane guard in place of Sea Otter floatplanes, a mission they had also conducted with Triumph.

As noted in an excellent article on the subject by the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia:

HU-1’s first RN plane guard detachment consisted of one helicopter a few mechs, who doubled as aircrew, and one pilot, a Chief Petty Officer, Aviation Engine Mechanic Dan Fridley. Fridley was called a naval aviation pilot, to distinguish him from a naval aviator. Naval Aviators were officers, and Naval Aviation Pilots were enlisted men. ADC(AP) Fridley went the whole hog for Theseus, painting the Union Jack, “ROYAL NAVY” and “HMS THESEUS” on the side. The British tars, having no previous close-up experience with this new-fangled thing called a helicopter dubbed her “The Thing,” an appellation Fridley and his crew quickly embraced, going so far as to add that name to the rest of the whirlybird’s livery.

A USN HU-1 aboard HMS Theseus in the Korean campaign. Christened “The Thing” by RN sailors who had never seen such a contraption, the helicopter was on loan for SAR duties. Note the nickname painted on the side, and, further aft, the Union Jack and the words “HMS Theseus”. The helicopter transferred to HMAS Sydney when first Theseus and then Glory were relieved on Station. Via Fleet Air Arm of Australia.

As noted by a reunion site for the carrier:

The American helicopter rescue service cannot be too highly praised. Lts. Leonard, Humphreys, Keighley-Peach and Bowman were picked up behind enemy lines by these grand helicopter crews and Lts. Hamilton, Pinsent and Mr. Bailey and Acmn. II Loveys were picked up out of the sea by them. Lt.-Cdr. Gordon-Smith and Lt. Kelly were picked up by destroyers.

It was the stuff of newsreel footage.

The Thing was not the only American whirlybirds carried by Theseus. She also embarked helicopters from USS Worcester (CL-144) who specialized in counter-mine operations, another innovation.

By November 1950, with the North Koreans on the ropes, things kicked into high gear as hundreds of thousands of Chinese “Volunteers” poured across the Yalu River, starting an entirely new war for those tired of the old one.

And all of it in bitterly cold winter weather with snow and ice present.

HMS THESEUS IN WINTER WEATHER OFF KOREAN COAST. 8 DECEMBER 1950, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS OFF THE WEST COAST OF KOREA. (A 31790) On the flight deck of HMS THESEUS, Firefly, and Sea Fury aircraft covered with snow on the deck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162768

From Air Space Historian on the intensity of air ops from what was essentially a CVL:

Between 9 October and 5 November 1950, Theseus’ Furies (avg 19.3) made 492 sorties. From 5 December to 26 December, 423 Fury sorties were flown by an average of 19.6 aircraft. From 7 January 1951 to 23 March, 20.8 Furies flew 718 sorties, for a total of 1634 sorties over 98 days of operation (of which only 65 days were suitable for flying). All told, Theseus launched 3,500 sorties on 86 days during its seven-month deployment. During the first six months, Theseus’ air wing dropped 829,000 lbs. of explosives and fired 7,317 rockets and “half a million rounds of 20mm ammunition.” In recognition of these efforts, Theseus and the 17th Carrier Air Group was awarded the Rear-Admiral Sir Denis Boyd trophy for 1950 for “outstanding feat of naval aviation”

HMS Theseus Operating in Korea. 18 March 1951, on Board the Carrier at Sasebo, Japan. Vice Admiral W G Andrewes, KBE, CB, DSO, Commander of the British Commonwealth and Allied Fleet in Korean Waters, also responsible for the naval blockade of Korea, inspects the Marine Guard onboard HMS THESEUS. He is accompanied by Captain R S L Muldowney, RM, who commands the Marine detachment in THESEUS, and the Commanding Officer Captain A S Bolt, DSC, RN. The Marines are, left to right: Bugler J Noyes, Windsor, Berks; Sgt J Money, Deal, Kent; Marine G A Reckless, Rochdale, Lancs; Cpl A R Mead, Budliegh, Salterton, Devon; Marine J Neal, Portsmouth, Hants; Marine A D Whicker, Finsbury Park, London; Marine G P Quinn, Liverpool; Marine G Stevenson, Hatfield, Herts.

The British light fleet aircraft carrier HMS Theseus (R64) approaches Sasebo, Japan at the end of her deployment in Korea. Admiral A.K. Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command Far East, inspects the ship’s company who are formed up to spell out the ship’s name for the camera. April 1951. IWM A31901.

A stern-shot of the same image. Note the recognition stripes on her air wing, an easy solution borrowed from 1944 to try and avoid blue-on-blue air combat with so many different types of planes aloft over Korea

On 23 April 1951, sistership HMS Glory arrived from the UK to relieve her, with Bill Andrewes remaining behind to carry on the British efforts with the UN forces. Throughout the war, Commonwealth-manned Colossus and Majestic-class light carriers endured off the coast– the Admiralty tasking them rather than larger flattops to save money– with Glory being replaced by HMS Ocean and HMAS Sydney, while HMCS Warrior transported replacement aircraft from Britain. In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget carriers during the Korean conflict.

Her epic Korean tour over, Theseus sailed back for Portsmouth, arriving 29 May 1951, having been away from home for 285 days. In 215 days at sea, rotating back to Japan five times to re-arm and re-provision, she steamed 36,401 miles. She is mentioned extensively in the U.S. Navy’s history of the conflict.

Her Korean Campaign saw:


Number of Deck Landings: 4,594
Number of Catapult Launchings:  3,593
Number of Hours Flown: 10,189
Number of Flying Days: 114
Average number of Hours per Pilot: 268
Her scorecard:

Destroyed— 93 Junks, 153 Railway Trucks, 25 Railway Bridges, 485 Buildings, 73 Road Trucks, 66 Store Dumps, 6 Railway Tunnels, 17 Warehouses, 33 Gun Positions, 16 Road Bridges, 13 Railway Engines, 8 Tanks, 3 Railway Stations, 19 Factories, 5 Power Stations, 10 Command Posts, 4 Railway Sheds, 2 Jetties, 3 Cars, 1 Hangar, 5 Roadblocks, 12 Carts, 51 Barrack Buildings, 2 Steam Rollers, 2 Omnibuses, 1 Tug, 1 Excavator, 1 Floating Bridge, 1 “Bulldozer,” 1 Pump House.

Damaged— 18 Road Bridges, 77 Junks, 69 Railway Wagons, 1 Gun Position. 35 Buildings. 2 Store Dumps, 22 Warehouses, 34 Road Trucks, 1 Tractor, 15 Railway Bridges, 5 Railway Tunnels, 1 Airfield Runway, 4 Tanks, 18 Barrack Buildings, 1 Excavator, 4 Railway Sheds, 5 Factories, 10 Vehicle Revetments, 42, Sampans.

 

Peace

After an extensive refit and working back up, Theseus was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet in February 1952 to relieve sistership HMS Ocean, which was being prepared for service in Korea.

HMS THESEUS AT TRIESTE. NOVEMBER 1952, THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS THESEUS FLOODLIT DURING A VISIT TO TRIESTE. (A 32386) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163257

The aircraft carrier HMS THESEUS leaving Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta. Astern are HMS GLASGOW, HMS CUMBERLAND, and HMNZ BLACK PRINCE. July 1953 IWM A 32611

In September 1953, she responded to the Paphos earthquake in Cyprus, which had left 50,000 without food or water. Her crews and embarked Dragonfly helicopters were just the ticket in the humanitarian crisis, buzzing around lending a hand while bringing aid and medical attention.

Theseus entering Malta starboard bow circa 1953 via Clydeships 201607061331400.C3

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Theseus and her sister Ocean should be re-tasked from operating fixed-wing aircraft and refitted for helicopters and a battalion-sized element of marines, then deemed “Commando Carriers,” a concept akin to a U.S. LPH. 

This brings us to…

Suez Crisis: Operation Musketeer.

After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, our two new commando carriers were part of the Anglo-French intervention, embarking troops and stores for passage to Cyprus and then on to North Africa. There, Whirlwinds and Sycamores from their decks took part in an early combat experiment in vertical envelopment from the sea, seizing Port Said.

Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) is shown with a crowded deck of Westland Whirlwind and Bristol Sycamore helicopters of the joint RAF/Army unit which operated alongside Royal Navy helicopters from her flight deck, November-December 1956. Note the French hospital ship in the background. IWM A 33639.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade [actually a mortar bomb] before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. Note his sand goggles, Pattern 37 webbing, and Denison smock– all looking very WWII. IWM A 33636.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. Note the desert goggles and MK V STEN gun of the Marine closest to the camera as well as the 2-inch patrol mortar with bomb tubes on deck. A 33635

British Royal Marines of 45 Commando loading into Royal Navy Westland Whirlwinds aboard the Colossus-class light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) to assault Egyptian positions during the Suez

Royal Navy Westland Whirlwind helicopters taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from the commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) during “Operation Musketeer”. November 1956. IWM A 33640.

After the Suez Crisis abated, she withdrew elements of the Army’s 16th Parachute Brigade from Egypt to Malta.

Troops, probably from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers at Port Said Egypt embarking on HMS THESEUS for the journey to Malta after the withdrawal from the crisis zone. Note the MK III “turtle” helmets on their packs and all of the No. 4 Enfields. The Brits had officially adopted the inch-pattern FN FAL, the L1A1 SLR, two years prior but they were not widespread at the time of the Suez and the old bolt guns were still around for some time, especially in support units. IWM HU 104203

After spending another year at Portsmouth in the Training Squadron, Theseus was mothballed in October 1957, having served just 11 years with the fleet. Paid off the next year, she was laid up until sold to BISCO for breaking-up at Inverkeithing, arriving at the breakers yard on 29 May 1962.

The last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 then scrapped. The final vessel of her class sent to the breakers, the third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang.

Since 1958, there has not been a Theseus in the Royal Navy.

A memorial marker to the six men lost from Theseus in Korea is in Cobham Hall at the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

She is also remembered in maritime art.

HMS Theseus by John S Smith. Via the Illustration Art Gallery https://bookpalace.com/acatalog/info_SmithJSCarrierLL.html

HMS Theseus by Ivan Berryman. Two Fairey Firefly fighter-bombers of 810 Sqn, Fleet Air Arm, overfly the carrier HMS Theseus during the Korean War. Via Ivan Berryman.com https://www.ivanberryman.com/ivan_berryman_art.php?ProdID=3212

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!

Distant Escort

Distant Escort: The cruisers HMS Sheffield (C24) and HMS Jamaica (44) along with the King George V-class dreadnought battleship HMS Duke of York (17) on patrol along the Convoy Route to Russia.

Painting by maritime artist John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993), via the Imperial War Museum London (LD7427-001) Courtesy of the Art UK Trust. ‘ 

Just over the horizon from the convoys, such sluggers would be on tap in case German surface raiders sortied out from occupied Norway to ambush passing by on the way to Murmansk, with the idea to bushwack said Kriegsmarine vessels.

Of note, the wrecking crew of Duke of York & Co would deliver Winston Churchill an excellent Boxing Day present in 1943 by utterly smashing KMS Scharnhorst in just such an engagement at what became known as the Battle of North Cape, some 77 years ago today. 

Another of Hamilton’s paintings:

The Battle of the North Cape: HMS ‘Duke of York’ in Action against the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943, by John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993) via the Imperial War Museum London. Painted 1972, transferred from the Belfast Trust, 1978.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020: All I Want for Christmas is a New SSK

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

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020: All I Want for Christmas is a New SSK

Photo via the Taiwanese MNA

Here we see the beautifulTench-class diesel attack sub, ROCS Hai Shih (SS-791) of the Republic of China Navy during a celebration at Keelung Port last summer. Formerly USS Cutlass (SS-478), the Taiwanese boat is the oldest operational submarine in the world, at some 76 years young, and is set to continue to hold that title for a few more years.

Designed by the Bureau of Ships in conjunction with the Portsmouth Navy Yard and Electric Boat, the Tenches were the epitome of WWII U.S. Navy fleet boats. Some 311-feet overall, these 2,000-ton boats were an enlarged version of the preceding Balao-class. Strong, with 35-35.7# high-tensile steel pressure hull plating and eight watertight compartments in addition to the conning tower, they had a 400-foot operating depth. Their diesel-electric arrangement allowed a surfaced speed of just over 20-knots and a submerged one of 8.75 while a massive fuel capacity granted an 11,000nm range– enough to span the Pacific.

Some 80 Tenches were planned (some reports say over 120) but most– 51– were canceled in the last stages of the war when it became clear they would not be needed.

Janes’s referred to the class in 1946 somewhat curiously as the Corsair-class.

With construction spread across three yards– Boston NSY, Electric Boat and Portsmouth– the subject of our tale, the first and only U.S. Navy ship to be named after the Cutlass fish, was laid down at the latter (as were most of those that were completed) and commissioned 5 November 1944.

After shakedowns, she headed for the Pacific and left out of Pearl Harbor on her maiden war patrol on 9 August 1945 from Midway. By the night of the 14th she reached the Kurile Islands, some 1,700 miles to the West.

As described in her 17-page patrol report, by 0700 on 15 August, Cutlass received the initial news that the Japanese may be surrendering while surfaced seven miles offshore of the enemy’s coastline.

As noted by a history of Cutlass on a reunion site:

Everyone was at his station when the Chief Radioman yelled up the open hatch from the control room, ‘Sir, they are celebrating, in New York; the war is over”

Nonetheless, Cutlass was still in an active war zone and soon busied her crew with the task of sinking floating mines, a sport she spent the next two weeks pursuing. After detonating one such floating device on the 24th, her log noted, “the explosion came as a surprise because the mine was old, rusty and filled with barnacles.”

Mooring at Midway again on 27 August, Cutlass’s war was effectively over and the next month she departed the Pacific for the East Coast, hosting curious visitors for Navy Day in New York on 24 September.

USS Cutlass, likely in 1948, with only one 40mm gun mounted. USN photo # 80-G-394300 by Cdr. Edward J. Steichen

Spending most of the next two years on a spate of service around the Caribbean– tough duty– she entered Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in March 1949 for modernization.

A New Life, a New Look

She was to become a GUPPY, specifically an SCB 47 GUPPY II series conversion, ditching her topside armament, picking up a new sail, better batteries, and, most importantly, a snorkel.

Of the 48 GUPPY’d WWII diesel boats that were given a second life in the Cold War. Cutlass was one of the 14 Type II conversions

Cutlass (SS-478) port side view, circa the 1950s with stepped “Portsmouth Sail” as an early Guppy type. Photo courtesy of John Hummel, USN (Retired) via Navsource.

In her Cold War career, she spent the early 1950s at Key West, then shifted to Norfolk for the bulk of her career before returning to Florida to cap it. This included hosting President Truman on at least one occasion in March 1950.

Via NARA

Note the differences in sails. Cutlass (SS-478), Trutta (SS-421), Odax (SS-484), Tirante (SS-420), Marlin (SST-2) & Mackerel (SST-1), alongside for inspection at Key West. Wright Langley Collection. Florida Keys Public Libraries. Photo # MM00046694x

USS Cutlass (SS-478) Torpedoman’s Mate Second Class William Meisel prepares to load a torpedo in one of the submarine’s torpedo tubes, circa 1953. Photographed from inside the tube. #: 80-G-688314

Cutlass: Quartermaster Seaman Ronald Petroni and Henry Seibert at the submarine’s diving plane control, circa 1953. 80-G-688318

On 28 June 1961, Cutlass was given the task of testing Mark 16 War Shot torpedoes, by sinking the ex-USS Cassiopeia (AK-75) (Liberty Ship, Melville W. Fuller, Hull No. 504), 100nm off the Virginia Capes. She did so with a brace of four fish, earning the sub the distinction of claiming 10,000 tons on her tally sheet.

She would later receive the partial GUPPY III treatment in the early 1960s to include a tall, streamlined fiberglass sail and fire control upgrades but not the distinctive BQG-4 PUFFS passive ranging sonar. This much-changed her profile for the third time in as many decades. 

USS Cutlass (SS-478), early 1960s NH 82299

Cutlass photographed 9 May 1962, while operating with USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN (CVS-29). USN 1107442

Cutlass (SS-478) at Genoa Italy, 29 June 1968. Note the windows in the sail. Photo courtesy of Carlo Martinelli via Navsource

USS Cutlass (SS-478) photographed circa 1970. NH 82301

Busy throughout the 1950s and 60s, she would hold the line during the Cuban Missile Crisis and deploy to the 6th Fleet on Med cruises at least four times, one of which she would extend by a tour around the Indian Ocean, operating with the Pakistani Navy– a fleet that would go on to use a few of her sisters (losing PNS/M Ghazi, ex-USS Diablo in the Bay of Bengal in 1971).

She ended her career as part of the rusty and crusty GUPPYs of SUBRON12 in Key West, tasked primarily with being a target vessel for destroyers, aircraft, and SSNs to test out their sonar and fire control on, often making daily trips out to the Florida Straits to be the “fox” for the hounds.

An anecdote from that time:

While on these operations, CUTLASS was a target for destroyers going through Refresher Training. During the week CUTLASS would outwit the destroyers by firing beer cans from the signal gun, so as to give the destroyers a false target for their Sonar while the CUTLASS evaded them. Then on Saturday CUTLASS went out to get “Sunk” so as to allow the destroyers to pass their exercise.

On her last Med Cruise in early 1972, she was able to get close enough to the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt to fire a signal flare within torpedo distance of her in an exercise, to the reported dismay of FDR’s destroyer screen. It wasn’t just American carriers the 28-year-old diesel boat counted coup upon that cruise, she also came close enough to the Soviet Moskva-class helicopter carrier Leningrad to get a snapshot. 

Nonetheless, she was not long for the U.S. Navy. 

Another New Life

Finally, as SUBRON12 was disbanded and the last GUPPYs were liquidated in the early 1970s, many were gifted to U.S. allies overseas. With that, Cutlass was refurbished, her torpedo tubes sealed, then was decommissioned, struck from the Naval Register, and transferred to Taiwan under terms of the Security Assistance Program, 12 April 1973. 

There, she was renamed Hai Shih (Sea Lion) (SS-1) and was intended to serve as an ASW training platform, essentially an OPFOR for Taiwan’s destroyer and S-2 fleet.

1973 entry in Jane’s, noting that Cutlass and Balao-class near-sister USS Tusk (SS-426), were the country’s first submarines.

As a matter of course, the long-held belief is that the Taiwanese soon got both Cutlass and Tusk’s combat suite up and running with a combination of assistance from freelance Italian experts and West German torpedoes.

While the GUPPY combat record in 1982 wasn’t impressive, it should be noted that even old SSKs can prove extremely deadly in a point defense role of an isolated island chain when operating on home territory. They can basically rest with almost everything but their passive sonar off and wait for an enemy invasion force to get within torpedo range. After all, there are only 13 beaches that are believed suitable for an amphibious landing in Taiwan.

She recently underwent extensive refurbishments of her hull, electronics, and navigational systems to allow her to continue operations for another six years. 

Those tubes sure look well-maintained for being sealed dead weight.

Check out the below video of Cutlass/Hai Shih in action (go to the 2:58 mark).

 

While Taiwan currently has Cutlass on the books until 2026 (Tusk is sidelined as a pier-side trainer) and operates a pair of 1980s vintage Dutch-built Zwaardvis/Hai Lung-class boats, the country is set to produce their own design moving forward and is requesting MK-48 Mod6AT torpedoes and UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles from the under FMS sales. 

It would be interesting if Cutlass came “home” in 2027 after her then-54-year career with Taipei. At that point, she will be well into her 80s.

As for her remnants in America, the Cold War logbooks, WWII war diaries, and ship drawings of USS Cutlass remain in the National Archives, with many of them digitized. Two of her classmates, the “Fleet Snorkel” converted USS Requin (SS-481) and USS Torsk (SS-423), are preserved as museums in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, respectively. 

A Cutlass reunion site was updated as late as 2018 and has some interesting ship’s lore archived. 

Specs:
(1945)
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
Sonar: WFA projector, JP-1 hydrophone
Armament:
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 28 torpedoes max or up to 40 mines
1 x 5″/25 deck gun
2 x 40mm guns
2 x .50 cal. machine guns

(1973, as GUPPY II+)
Displacement: 1,870 tons (std); 2,420 tons submerged
Length: 307.5 ft.
Beam: 27 ft. 3 inches
Propulsion: 3 Fairbanks Morse (4) (FM 38D 8 1/8 x 10) diesels, 2 Elliot electric motors, 504 cell battery, 5400 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 18 surfaced, 15 submerged
Range:  
Complement: 80
Armament:
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft

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, Dec. 16, 2020: Fascist Bananas & Partisan Peace gulls

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

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020: Fascist Bananas & Partisan Peace Gulls

Here we see former Marshal of the WWII Yugoslav Red Partisan forces, Josip “Tito” Broz, reviewing his naval honor guard aboard the converted minelayer/training vessel Galeb (M11), likely during the mid-1950s. Note the Mausers with fixed bayonets and AAA mount at the top of the image. You have to wonder if Tito could faintly smell bananas.

About that…

The Regia Azienda Monopolio Banane, or Royal Banana Monopoly Company, was formed in 1935. Headquartered in Mogadiscio (Mogadishu), Italian Somaliland, its sole (peacetime) purpose was to ship its namesake elongated yellow berries from Africa to Europe, having secured the sole concession for the practice from the Ministero delle Colonie.

RAMB was busy shipping bananas from Somali ports as far south as Chisimaio (Kismayo) to a half-dozen Italian markets via the Suez Canal, and running back passengers and freight to the Continent on the return trip.

At its peak, the company was running seven vessels. These included three small Swedish-built freighters– Capitano Bottego, Capitano Antonio Cecchi, and Duca degli Abruzzi— as well as four larger Italian-crafted purpose-built refrigerated fruit carriers, the latter all imaginatively named after the company in sequential order.

Built by Ansaldo and CRDA Monfalcone, the four Rambs could carry 2,418 tons of cargo in refrigerated holds and had accommodations for up to 30 or so passengers in 12 air-conditioned cabins.

La motonave bananiera RAMB III alle prove in mare Oct 1938

The fun thing about RAMB was that, in line with Italian naval practice to keep their Royal concession, all of their ships were to be transformed into auxiliary cruisers in case of war, with weight and space reserved from guns and shells. The smaller freighters were each to pick up four 102/45mm pieces and a smattering of 13.2mm Breda AAA guns. The bigger Ramb-class banana haulers would get an equal number of larger 120/40mm guns along with their Bredas. The guns, in peacetime, would be crated in RAMB’s dockside warehouses in Massawa and Naples in equal numbers to allow for a rapid issue.

In 1939, the last year of commercial operations, RAMB shipped nearly 50,000 tons of Somali bananas to Europe, the company’s best season, ever. 

Then came war

When Mussolini took the plunge to enter the war against the British and French in June 1940, as the latter was on the ropes and dizzy, Ramb III was the only one of her class that was in the Med, the rest being in the Red Sea. Quickly requisitioned in Genoa by the Regia Marina and renamed the uninspiring D6, she soon found herself protecting convoys to support Italian forces in Libya before the end of the month– in tandem with the smaller company ship Cecchi.

Eventually, she tangled with the British.

On the night of 11/12 November, a few hours after the British raid on Taranto, Ramb III/D6 was escorting four freighters with the old Giuseppe La Masa-class torpedo boat Fabrizi when they stumbled across an RN squadron consisting of the cruisers Orion, Ajax, and Sydney, along with the destroyers Nubian and Mohawk. It was no contest, with the Brits cued to the darkened Italians by Ajax’s Type 279 radar.

HMS Dido, Ajax, and Orion in action off Crete, 21 May 1941, by Rowland John Robb Langmaid, via the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. The November 11/12 night action surely looked much like this.

While Fabrizi turned toward the three cruisers, and although hit repeatedly, she fired torpedoes, one of which just missed Sydney astern, Ramb III/D6 attempted to draw the darkened warships off into a nearby minefield.

Within 30 minutes all four of the merchantmen were ablaze and Ramb, after firing some 80~ shells against the vastly stronger Brits, withdrew through the mines, and arrived alone at Bari the next morning.

More convoy actions followed and Ramb III/D6‘s luck ran out on the night of 30 May 1941 when a pair of torps from the T-class submarine HMS Triumph (N18) blew her bow off as she swayed at anchor at Benghazi. Quick damage control kept her from sinking and in August she was towed in reverse some 500 miles across the Med and up the Adriatic to Trieste for repairs.

The auxiliary cruiser D6 (banana boat RAMB III) towed aft by a tug back to Italy after a British torpedo from HMS Triumph removed her bow.

Reconstructed, she returned to service and was almost sunk again by a British sub when HMS Turbulent (N98)Triumph’s sistership– fired a torpedo at her off Palermo on 1 February 1943 while D6 was saving survivors from the sunken freighter Pozzuoli. That fish missed.

Bananiera ‘Ramb III’ – incrociatore ausiliario in Mar Rosso

Her service to the Italian fleet ended on 8 September 1943, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

As for the rest of the RAMB fleet, most were blocked in Italian East Africa and were lost following the fall of the colony in 1941.

Of Ramb III’s sisterships, Ramb I operated as an armed merchant in the Red Sea and was ordered to sail to Japan after the fall of Massawa to the Allies but was sunk in the Indian Ocean in a one-sided surface action with the cruiser HMNZS Leander before she could get that far.

Italian ship Ramb I sinking in 1941, after being dispatched by Leander.

Ramb II did make it to Japan and was scuttled by her crew in Kobe after Italy threw in the towel on the war. Later refloated by the Japanese and returned to service as the transport Ikutagawa Maru, she was sent to the bottom off Indochina by carrier strikes from Task Force 38 in January 1945.

Ramb IV had been captured by the British in Massawa, where she was serving as a hospital ship, but was sent to the bottom of the Med 13 months later to the day by German bombers.

As for RAMB the monopoly, the war ended its operations and the concern was formally dissolved in 1945, although Italy continued to grant then-independent Somali exporters licenses to ship their produce to Europe into the 1960s. Somali bananas vanished from the market with the harvest collapsing during the 1980s famine and cycles of ensuing civil war but are starting to make a comeback.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

German service

At anchor in Trieste when the Italians backed out of the war, Ramb III/D6 was swiftly taken into service by the Germans, who were in occupation of the port, after a sharp skirmish that left her crew prisoner. Renamed Kiebitz in November, she was up-armed with some extra 37mm Bredas, and turned into a minelayer, sowing some 5,000 of the infernal devices along the Dalmatian coasts and the northern Adriatic over the next year.

Kiebitz

On 13 July, while doing such minenwerk, she lost power and drifted into two of her own eggs, damaging her. After limping back to port– running astern with her bow blown off– she was patched up and was back at it a couple months later.

Her third career wrapped up on 5 November when RAF Baltimores plastered Fiume, sending the minelayer Kuckuck, subchaser G104, and our banana boat to the bottom of the harbor, where she would rest in 66 feet of muddy water.

“Rijeka under aerial bombardment by Royal Air Force planes, 1944. Fiume (Rijeka), Yugoslavia. c. 1944. One of the RAF Baltimore aircraft over the harbor during the air attack. Bombs can be seen exploding on the port rail facilities and in the water nearby. South African Air Force and RAAF Baltimore aircraft of the Desert Air Force attacked shipping in the Adriatic harbor, scoring hits on a 3,000-ton ship, another vessel and demolishing warehouses.” AWM C355608

However, many of her mines are still active and very much in service.

German UMB Naval mine (Rijeka Croatia). Photo courtesy of Aleksandar Stancin via Gue.com

Yugoslav rebirth

With Fiume firmly changed to the Croatian Rijeka, Yugoslavia inherited our smashed boat and, finding her salvable, raised the vessel in 1947.

She was reconstructed in Pula over a four year period as a schoolship and minelayer with Burmeister & Wain diesels and a mix of recycled German surplus and American armament (4 x 1 – 88/45 SK C/32, 4 x 1 – 40/60 Mk 3, 6 x 4 – 20/65 as per Navypedia). Her new name: Galeb (Seagull).

 

Via Muzej Grada Rijeke

Via Muzej Grada Rijeke

As Galeb, she became a favorite of Tito’s, being pressed into service as a de facto presidential yacht. She carried the fearless leader to London, Egypt, India, and elsewhere, appearing often in newsreels of the day.

Meeting of President Tito with the Yugoslav Ambassador to Greece Radoš Jovanović, during his visit to Greece, June 2, 1954, aboard Galeb. Note the 40mm Bofors in the background. Museum of Yugoslavia Inventory number: 1954_029_030

While carrying Tito over the course of three decades, Galeb would have the head of the Yugoslav state on board for 318 days, covering 86,062 nautical miles. 

Eventually, she would be disarmed and assume a full-time emissary duty, a ship of state as Yugoslavia navigated the murky waters between East and West, entertaining everyone from Gaddafi to Elizabeth Taylor. In all, she hosted more than 102 kings, presidents, and prime ministers. 

Her 1976 Jane’s entry, literally on the last page of the book.

This beautiful period shot shows the immaculate Galeb late in her career passing Castello Aragonese in Taranto– a port she used to be awfully familiar with.

In 1976, a documentary, Peace Ship Galeb (Brod Mira Galeb), was filmed aboard her.

After Tito died in 1980, Galeb was used less and less, with Montenegro getting the old girl in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

She then fell into serious disrepair. 

Via Muzej Grada Rijeke

Passing hands several times since then, the Croatian city of Rijeka purchased the derelict vessel in 2009 and has been trying to refit it as a museum ship for the past decade.

Now, after a $9.6 million effort, she is ready to be a showboat once again.

“I expect the ship to be completed for its new purpose in the first half of 2021,” Rijeka Mayor Vojko Obersnel told Reuters. “Its command deck, the premises used by Tito, and the engine room will become a museum. The other parts of the ship will serve as a hotel with bars and a restaurant,” he said.

Specs:

(1940)
Displacement: 3,667 GRT, 2,179 NRT
Length: 383 ft 2 in
Beam: 49 ft 7 in
Depth: 24 ft 8 in
Propulsion:
2 × 9-cylinder FIAT marine diesel engines, 7200 hp, twin screws, 1250 tons fuel oil
Speed:
19.5 knots (maximum) 17.0 knots (cruising)
Capacity: 2418 GRT (refrigerated, four holds), 12 air-conditioned cabins (two luxury, 10 twin steerage, 32~ passengers)
Complement: 120
Wartime Armament:
4 x 120 mm (4.7 in) guns
2 x 13.2 mm anti-aircraft guns
3 x Breda 37mm guns (added 1944)

(1952)
Displacement: 5,182 standard, 5,700 full
Length: 384.8 ft
Beam: 51.2 ft
Depth: 148.f ft
Propulsion:
2 × Burmeister & Wain diesel engines, 7200 hp, twin screws,
Speed: 17 kts
Armament:
4 x 1 – 88/45 SK C/32
4 x 1 – 40/60 Mk 3 Bofors
6 x 4 – 20/65 Oerlikon
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!

Goodbye RIVRONs, hello MESF

The Navy announced recently they have “officially changed the name and mission of the Coastal Riverine squadrons to reflect their role amid a new era of great power competition; they are now known as the Maritime Expeditionary Security Force.”

The prerequisite moto video, tying the new units to the old Brown Water PBR gang of Southeast Asia (although the SWCC guys of SBT22 will most likely dispute ownership of this lineage, as they carried the dim candle of the small boat shop at Rodman for decades):

“As we maintain a connection to our legacy we must honor those warriors that come before us and learn from their heroism,” said RADM Joseph DiGuardo, commander NECC, “we must continuously evolve to meet the needs of the Navy and the Nation for Great Power Competition, crisis, and conflict. The change to Maritime Expeditionary Security Force clearly articulates the mission of our sailors to reinforce lethality in the blue water and dominate in the littorals.”

The MESF now consists of two groups; one in San Diego and one in Virginia Beach. The force includes two expeditionary security detachments in Guam and Bahrain, seven Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadrons, and 31 Maritime Expeditionary Security Companies.

The original three Coastal Riverine squadrons of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (RIVRON 1, 2, and 3) were all formed in 2006-07, modeled after the Marines Small Craft Company (SCCO) of 2D MAR Div– then the only specialized small boat company in the Marines– which had been disbanded the year prior although that forgotten unit of Devil Dogs in tiny boats had been bloodied and proved their mandate in the marshes and reservoirs around Haditha, fighting the kind of war that was familiar to Vietnam. Their Riverine Assault Craft, zodiacs, and Raider boats were handed over to the Navy, although Big Blue soon bought lots of new go-fasts.

Marines from Small Craft Company tether their Riverine Assult Crafts together during a break in training. Marines from Small Craft Company, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, demonstrated their capabilities to Paraguayan Marines in the Joint Training Exercise Unitas. The exercise was conducted in Asuncion, Paraguay. USMC Photo by LCPL Tyler J. Mielke. 29/09/1999

“People think it’s money or manpower problems, but no one knows for sure why they’re getting rid of us,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Brian Vinciguerra, who had spent 14 years with the SCCO, on the occasion of the unit’s disbandment in Feb. 2005. “The capabilities we provided to the Marine Corps, Special Forces, and Navy SEALS in Iraq are too big to be gone for long. We’re leaving an avenue of approach open for the enemy now,” he said. “I think Small Craft Company will be back in a few years when people realize what we brought to the fight.”

Now, after a similar 14-year run, the Navy’s trio of RIVRONs have a name change, and, notably, are moving to more 80+ foot platforms such as the MKVI. Not a lot of “river” about that.

Oh well, at least SBT22 and NAVSCIATTS are still around, keeping that lamp tended for the next time.

Warship Wednesday (on a Monday), Dec. 7, 2020: Battle Tug Edition

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

Warship Wednesday (on a Monday), Dec. 7, 2020: Battle Tug Edition

Photographed by Vernon M. Haden, San Pedro California. Donation of Ted Stone, 1977. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 85837

Here we see, resplendent with her peacetime fancy hull number and with her #1 3″/50 mount trained rakishly to port and #2 mount to starboard, the “Old Bird” Lapwing-class minesweeper USS Vireo (Minesweeper No. 52) with assembled officers, crew, and mascot, circa winter 1934. Don’t let this seeming refugee from a TinTin comic fool you, Vireo always seemed to be there when it counted, even when she couldn’t always tip the scales when needed.

Inspired by large seagoing New England fishing trawlers, the Lapwings were 187-foot ships that were large enough, at 965-tons full, to make it across the Atlantic on their own (though with a blisteringly slow speed of just 14 knots).

They could also use a sail rig to poke along at low speed with no engines, a useful trait for working in a minefield.

Lapwing-class sister USS Falcon AM-28 in Pensacola Bay 1924 with the Atlantic submarine fleet. Note her rig

Not intended to do much more than clear mines, they were given a couple 3″/23 pop guns to discourage small enemy surface combatants intent to keep minesweepers from clearing said mines. The class leader, Lapwing, designated Auxiliary Minesweeper #1 (AM-1), was laid down at Todd in New York in October 1917 and another 53 soon followed. While five were canceled in November 1918, the other 48 were eventually finished– even if they came to the war a little late.

Speaking of which, our subject, the first on the Navy List named for the small green migratory bird, was laid down on 20 November 1918 by the Philadelphia Navy Yard and commissioned on 16 October 1919, with Navy Cross-recipient, LT Ernest Robert Piercey, USN, in command– the first of her 21 skippers across an unbroken span.

USS Vireo (AM-52) Anchored in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 1920. NH 43603

Vireo would spend a decade on the East Coast performing the typical routine duties of a peacetime minesweeper– pulling targets; transporting men, mail, and materiel; repairing buoys and beacons; and operating with the fleet on annual maneuvers.

This was broken up by towing several former German warships to sea off the Virginia capes in the summer of 1921, where they were sunk by Army aircraft in attempts by Billy Mitchell to prove that capital ships were vulnerable to attack from the air– an ironic footnote to her story that you will get later.

Phosphorus Bomb Test 1921 Sinking of the Cruiser Frankfurt and SMS Ostfriesland

Phosphorus Bomb Test, 1921 Sinking of the Cruiser Frankfurt and SMS Ostfriesland

It was about that time that the Navy figured out these economical little boats with their shallow draft (they could float in ten feet of seawater) could be used for any number of side jobs and started re-purposing them.

Six of the “Old Birds” were reclassified as salvage ships (ARSs) while another half-dozen became submarine rescue ships (ASRs). The Coast Guard picked up USS Redwing for use as a cutter during Prohibition while the U.S. Coast & Geographic Survey acquired USS Osprey and USS Flamingo and the Shipping Board accepted USS Peacock as a tug.

USS Vireo (AM-52) In the harbor, March 1922. USS Rail (AM-26) is in the left background. NH 50207

A few were retained as minesweepers in the reserve fleet, some used as depot ships/net layers, one converted to a gunboat, another to an ocean-going tug, three were sunk during peacetime service (USS Cardinal struck a reef off Dutch Harbor in 1923 while USS Curlew did the same off Panama in 1926 and USS Sanderling went down in 1937 by accident in Hawaii) while nine– including past Warship Wednesday alumni Avocet and Heron included– became seaplane tenders.

As for Vireo, she was one of the few who was never sidelined. Tasked to support the Puerto Rican – Nicaraguan Aerial Survey, serving as an ersatz seaplane tender to three Loening amphibian airplanes, in early 1931 then detailed transferred to the Pacific Fleet, she remained busy her entire career.

Group photograph of the officers and the sailors of the Puerto Rican-Nicaraguan Aerial Survey group in front of Vireo, 24 January 1931 in their whites. Note the officers with their swords, and chiefs in double-breasted jackets. She has the traditional U.S. aviation roundel on her bow, typical of seaplane tenders in this era, but does not have her twin 3-inch guns mounted which are in the photo at the top of this post. National Archives photo 80-G-466337

USS Vireo Docked in San Juan, 6 February 1931, a better view of her seaplane tender markings

USS Vireo (AM-52) in a West Coast port, 1932. Note she has dropped the tender premise and is back to being a sweeper now, with her big hull number back. NH 50320

In 1940, with the fleet’s general shift from California to Hawaii as part of the decay of relations with the Empire of Japan, Vireo moved to Pearl Harbor and was involved in the pre-war buildup on Palmyra and Johnston Island.

The Day that would live in Infamy

On 7 December 1941, Vireo along with three sisterships, Rail (AM-26), Bobolink (AM-20), and Turkey (AM-13) were tied up at the coal docks at Pearl Harbor in upkeep status. Three other sisters converted as seaplane tenders and submarine rescue ships, Avocet (AVP-4), Swan (AVP-7) and Widgeon (ASR-1) were at the submarine rail. Meanwhile, a seventh sister, Grebe (AM-43), was in overhaul.

From the ship’s action report, signed by skipper LCDR Frederick Joseph Ilsemann, about that Infamous Day 79 years ago, in which Vireo claimed at least one of the 29 Japanese aircraft swatted down during the attack:

About 0800 an explosion was heard. This was investigated. Immediately planes bearing the Japanese insignia was seen. General Quarters was immediately sounded and at about 0815 a second group of enemy planes flew over toward Hickam Field. This vessel immediately opened fire and expended 22 rounds of 3″ A.A. ammunition.

About 0830 this vessel brought down one enemy plane flying forward of the bow, toward seaward, over Hickam Field, from left to right. The bursts of #2 A.A. gun of this vessel were definitely spotted in the path of this plane and the plane was seen to land in the vicinity of Hickam Field. 400 rounds of .30 caliber Machine Gun ammunition was expended. Battery consists of 2-30 caliber machine guns, and 2-3″/50 A.A. guns.

There was no damage to this vessel nor loss of life. At 0830 there was one personnel casualty to the radioman, PRICE, Aubrey Evan, RM2c, USN, on watch at the telephone on dock astern of this vessel. He received a shrapnel wound in jawbone and neck. This casualty was immediately transferred to the hospital at Pearl Harbor and returned to duty this date.

This vessel was immediately put into Condition ONE at General Quarters, engines put together and ship made ready for getting underway.

During the action, the conduct of all officers and the crew was commendable. Everyone did his job 100%. There was no hysteria but commendable coolness and control.

At 1348 this vessel received orders to get underway and to report to Commander Base Force at Ten-ten dock. This vessel was ordered to West Loch to bring u 5″, 3″, and .50 cal. ammunition for the U.S.S. California which was badly in need of ammunition. At 1455 while waiting for ammunition to arrive at the Ammunition Depot, West Loch, hauled an ammunition lighter loaded with 14″ powder away from Ammunition Depot dock, where it was a menace, and moored it alongside the old Navajo. Returned to Depot, picked up ammunition and delivered it to U.S.S. Argonne at 1730.

At 2100 moored alongside U.S.S. California and commenced salvage work.

View of USS California (BB-44), taken a day or two after the Japanese raid. USS Bobolink (AM-20), at left, USS Vireo (AM-52), and YW-10 are off the battleship’s stern, assisting with efforts to keep her afloat. The “birds” would stay at California’s side for three days. Morison noted in his book, “Although minesweepers Vireo and Bobolink closed the battleship and applied their pumps, and numerous ‘handy billies’ (portable gasoline-driven pumps) were obtained from other vessels, California slowly settled.” Collection of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, USN(Retired), 1975. NH 95569

Tragically, late that night Vireo was one of the ships that filled the skies over Pearl Harbor with ack-ack on the report of approaching unidentified aircraft.

At about 2110 anti-aircraft fire commenced and a plane was seen shot down and an aviator fell astern of this vessel. This vessel immediately rescued the aviator and identified him as an Enterprise aviator who had been shot down. A dispatch was immediately sent to assure control that planes in the air were Enterprise planes. The aviator was transferred to the U.S.S. California and then to the hospital.

Ensign Eric Allen, Jr., USN (1916-1941) USNA class of 1938. On 12 August 1940, the day after he reported to NAS Pensacola to commence his flight training. He had just come from a tour of duty in USS TRENTON (CL-11). Ultimately assigned to VF-6 in ENTERPRISE (CV-6). He was shot down by U.S. anti-aircraft fire on the night of 7 December 1941 at Pearl Harbor; picked up by USS VIREO (AM-52), he died at the Ford Island Dispensary soon thereafter. NH 96617

Over the next several months, Vireo supported the Pearl Harbor salvage effort whenever she was not off conducting minesweeping and patrol operations in the Greater Hawaii area, including runs to Johnston Island and the Port of Hilo.

Midway

With a huge naval clash on the horizon, on 28 May 1942, under secret orders, Vireo left Pearl at nine knots to escort the tanker Kaloli (AOG-13) to Midway Island. During the voyage, Vireo was reclassified as an ocean-going tug (AT-144) and would arrive at the atoll on 3 June, ordered to hold up off Hermes Reef and await orders.

The next day saw the pivotal stage of the battle there, with the Japanese losing four carriers in exchange for Yorktown (CV-5) which was left dead in the water. With the carrier ordered largely abandoned, Viero was called into action to take the stricken American flattop in tow, arriving at 1135 on 5 June and getting underway by 1308– at three knots, a 1,350-ton minesweeper hauling a crippled 30,000-ton leviathan. The next day, the destroyer Hammann (DD-412) came alongside Yorktown to help with the salvage task while five other tin cans provide a screening force.

That is when Japanese Type KD6 submarine I-168 came on the scene.

As noted by Combined Fleets:

I-168 arrives and sights the carrier and her screen. For seven hours, LCDR Tanabe Yahachi skillfully makes his approach, steering by chart and sound with only a few periscope sightings. Undetected, he penetrates the destroyer and cruiser screen. At 1331, from 1,900 yards, he fires two torpedoes at the overlapping formation, followed by two more three seconds later. The first torpedo hits HAMMANN, breaks her back and sinks her in about four minutes. As she goes down, her depth charges explode and kill 81 of her 241-strong crew. At 1332, the next two torpedoes strike YORKTOWN starboard below the bridge. The fourth torpedo misses and passes astern.

Battle of Midway, June 1942 Diorama by Norman Bel Geddes, depicting the explosion of depth charges from USS Hammann (DD-412) as she sank alongside USS Yorktown (CV-5) during the afternoon of 6 June 1942. Both ships were torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-168 while Hammann was assisting with the salvage of Yorktown. USS Vireo (AT-144) is shown at left, coming back to pick up survivors, as destroyers head off to search for the submarine. 80-G-701902

DANFS:

Vireo freed herself from the carrier by cutting the towing cable with an acetylene torch and then doubled back to commence rescue operations.

Up her sides clambered carriermen and destroyermen alike, while she maneuvered near the carrier’s canting stern to take on board members of the salvage party who had chosen to abandon the carrier from there. She then proceeded to secure alongside the wounded flattop in the exact spot where Hammann had met her doom. Yorktown rolled heavily, her heavy steel hide pounding the lighter former minecraft’s hull with a vengeance as the ships touched time and time again during the rescue operations. This mission completed, battered Vireo stood away from the sinking carrier, which sank shortly after dawn on the 7th.

Her rudder damaged by Hammann’s depth charge seaquake, Vireo ran aground on her way back to Midway harbor and after she made it back to Pearl under her own power, she was given a complete overhaul and drydocking.

USS Vireo (AT-144) At Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, following repairs from Battle of Midway and overhaul, 20 August 1942. Catalog #: 19-N-34748

James Claude Legg, Lieutenant USN ID photo taken circa 2 May 1942. Lieutenant Legg commanded USS VIREO (AT-144) during the Battle of Midway, earning a Navy Cross for his performance of duty in towing the damaged USS YORKTOWN (CV-5). From service record book in NMPRC, St. Louis, MO., 1984. Catalog #: NH 100171

As for I-168, the Japanese boat would never see the end of the war, presumed lost with all 97 hands in the area north of Rabaul after she is hit by four torpedoes from USS Scamp (SS-277) in 1943.

The Rest of the War

Overhauled and assigned to ComAmphibForSoPac, the now green-camouflaged painted Vireo set out for the Guadalcanal area on 12 October, to take part in resupply operations for the Marines of the Cactus Air Force at Henderson Field. The little convoy, consisting of the freighters Alchiba (AKA-23) and Bellatrix (AKA-20), was screened by the gunboat Jamestown (PG-55) along with the destroyers Meredith (DD-434) and Nicholas (DD-449), with the freighters and Jamestown each pulling “a barge carrying barrels of gasoline and quarter-ton bombs” without any air cover whatsoever at 10-knots.

I repeat, pulling “a barge carrying barrels of gasoline and quarter-ton bombs” without any air cover whatsoever at 10-knots.

On the 15th, the world’s most flammable convoy was warned that a Japanese carrier task force was headed its way and was ordered to turn around with Meredith and Vireo breaking off in one element with a fuel barge in an (expendable) effort to keep the Marines flying. They got close, within 75 miles of Guadalcanal, before they spotted Japanese scout planes.

The skipper of the destroyer, LCDR Harry Hubbard, feeling the slow minesweeper-turned-tug was a sitting duck, ordered the ship abandoned and, with the vessel’s fuel barge tied to it, was going to send her to the bottom so that she wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Japanese then beat feet. That’s when 38 aircraft (21 low-level bombers and torpedo planes, 8 dive bombers, and 9 fighters) from the carrier Zuikaku arrived on the scene and, concentrating on Meredith, sent her to the bottom with no less than 14 bombs and 7 torpedoes– enough ordnance to sink the Bismarck!

Remarkably, the abandoned Vireo, saved from one of Meredith’s torpedoes by none other than the Japanese, was still afloat.

From RADM Samuel J. Cox’s H-Gram 011:

However, Vireo was drifting away, and only one raft-load of Meredith and Vireo survivors reached the tug, where they were later rescued. The other rafts, filled with burned and mangled Sailors, became a preview of what would happen to Sailors on the USS Juneau (CL-52) and USS Indianapolis (CA-35) later in the war. As the rafts and wreckage drifted for three days and three nights, numerous Sailors died from wounds, exposure, salt-water ingestion (and resulting mental incapacity and hallucinations), and from particularly aggressive shark attacks. One shark even jumped into a raft and ripped a chuck from an already mortally wounded Sailor. There was not enough room on the rafts, so the less-injured Sailors treaded water, hanging on to the rafts, and had to fight off the sharks as best they could. Most of the injured, including burned and blinded Hubbard, perished in the rafts.

Finally, the destroyers USS Grayson (DD-435) and USS Gwin (DD-433) found 88 survivors of Meredith and Vireo adrift. (About another dozen had earlier been found on the Vireo.) However, 187 from Meredith and 50 from Vireo died in a desperate attempt to get fuel to the Marines on Guadalcanal.

Grayson recovered Vireo and the other barge and returned them to Espiritu Santo. During her return, the Vireo was manned by a salvage crew from the Grayson and survivors from Meredith and Vireo. The intact fuel barge, recovered by the tug Seminole, was delivered to Henderson Field under escort by Grayson and Gwinn, meaning the mission was ultimately somewhat successful if pyrrhic.

With a largely new crew, Vireo remained at the sharp end, coming to the assistance of the cruisers Pensacola (CA-24) and Minneapolis (CA-36) following damage they received at the Battle of Tassafaronga.

Near the USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) when that Gleaves-class destroyer was hit by three Japanese bombers in April 1943, Vireo came tried unsuccessfully to rescue the crushed tin can but had to break the tow when she dived to the bottom just short of Tulagi.

Nonetheless, Vireo continued in her role and came to the assistance of the Battle of Kula Gulf’s “cripples division,” the broken cruisers Honolulu (CL-48), St. Louis (CL-49), and HMNZS Leander, towing the bowless Honolulu in to Tulagi.

USS Honolulu (CL-48) in Tulagi Harbor, Solomon Islands, for temporary repair of damage received when she was torpedoed in the bow during the Battle of Kolombangara. USS Vireo (AT-144) is assisting the damaged cruiser. 80-G-259446 (More detail on the curious sign, penned by Captain Oliver O. “Scrappy” Kessing, USN, commander of the Tulagi Naval base, here)

Then came the support of the liberation of the Philippines, and other hairy stops on the island-hopping campaign to Tokyo (see= Okinawa, see= kamikazes).

VJ Day came with Vireo in the PI, as her war history notes:

The news of the cessation of hostilities between the Allies and the Japanese left everyone aboard just a little bit bewildered, anxious to get started home, and with rosy visions of the plastic post-war world. This missive leaves the Mighty V at Manila, the burned and ruined Pearl of the Orient, the Japs defeated, the Vireo still very very much afloat and still towing strong.

Jane’s 1946 entry on the three Old Birds still around which were classified at the time as tugs, Owl, Vireo, and Woodcock. They would soon be retired.

When the war came to an end, the old tug, surplus to the needs of the Navy, arrived at San Francisco on 5 February 1946 and reported to the Commandant, 12th Naval District, for disposition. That disposition was that she be declared surplus and disposed of, stricken 8 May and transferred to the Maritime Commission the next year. Her ultimate fate is unknown, but there is a report that she was headed to Latin America in early 1947, intended to be converted for service as a Panamanian-flagged lumber boat carrying hardwoods between Long Beach and Panama.

Epilogue

As for the rest of her class, other “Old Birds” served heroically in the war.

Pearl Harbor vet Avocet would spend most of the war in Alaskan waters, caring and feeding PBYs while fending off Japanese air attacks during the Aleutians Campaign. Heron received the Navy Unit Commendation for saving the damaged destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) in the Molucca Strait and repeatedly fighting off a horde of attacking Mavis seaplanes in the process. Six of the class– Tanager, Finch, Quail, Penguin, Bittern, and Pigeon, were lost in the Philippines invasion as part of the doomed Asiatic Fleet. Scuttled at Corregidor, a 36-foot whaleboat from Quail filled with 18 officers and men, but sailing with virtually no charts or navigational aids, transversed 2,060 miles of often Japanese-held ocean reaching Australia after 29 days. The Germans sank USS Partridge at Normandy and sent both Gannet and Redwing via torpedoes to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Most of the old birds remaining in U.S. service were scrapped in 1946-48 with the last on Uncle Sam’s list, Flamingo, sold for scrap in July 1953.

Some lived on as trawlers and one, USS Auk (AM-38) was sold to Venezuela in 1948, where she lasted until 1962 as the gunboat Felipe Larrazabal. After her decommissioning, she was not immediately scrapped and is still reported afloat but abandoned in a backwater channel. She is likely the last of the Lapwings.

Vireo’s name was recycled for a Bluebird-class minesweeper (MSC-205) which, commissioned at the naval station at Tacoma, Wash., on 7 June 1955. The little boat would see some hot action in Vietnamese waters during Operation Market Time, engaging in surface actions with North Vietnamese smuggling trawlers. She was decommissioned in 1975 and went on to serve the nation of Fiji as the Kuva for another decade.

USN 1131998 USS VIREO (MSC-205)

There has not been a Vireo on the Navy List since 1975, a shame. However, much of the ship’s WWII war diaries are available in digitized format in the National Archives

Corsair Armada released a scale model of this hard to kill old bird.

Specs:

Seagoing Minesweeper plan 1918 S-584-129

Displacement: 950 tons FL (1918) 1,350 tons (1936)
Length: 187 feet 10 inches
Beam: 35 feet 6 inches
Draft: 9 feet 9 in
Propulsion: Two Babcock and Wilcox header boilers, one 1,400shp Harlan and Hollingsworth, vertical triple-expansion steam engine, one shaft. (1942: Two Babcock and Wilcox header boilers, one 1,400shp Chester Shipbuilding 200psi saturated steam vertical triple expansion reciprocating engine.)
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph); 12~ by 1936. 14 again after 1942.
Range: 1,400 nm at 14 knots on 275 tons fuel oil
Complement: 78 Officers and Enlisted as completed; Up to 85 by 1936
Armament:
(1919)
2 × 3-inch/23 single mounts
(1928)
2 x 3″/50 DP single
2 x .30-06 Lewis guns
(1944)
2 x 3″/50 DP single
Several 20mm Oerlikons and M2 12.7mm mounts

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!

« Older Entries