Tag Archives: Okinawa

Warship Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Just a Little DASH

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, April 14, 2021: Just a Little DASH

NARA KN-1814

Here we see a great original color photo of the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Hazelwood (DD-531) with an early torpedo-armed Gyrodyne-equipped Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter hovering over her newly installed flight deck, 22 March 1961. Hazelwood was an important bridge in tin can history moving from WWII kamikaze-busters into the modern destroyers we know today.

Speaking of modern destroyers, the Fletchers were the WWII equivalent of the Burke-class, constructed in a massive 175-strong class from 11 builders that proved the backbone of the fleet for generations. Coming after the interwar “treaty” destroyers such as the Benson- and Gleaves-classes, they were good-sized (376-feet oal, 2,500 tons full load, 5×5″ guns, 10 torpedo tubes) and could have passed as unprotected cruisers in 1914. Powered by a quartet of oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers and two Westinghouse or GE steam turbines, they had 60,000 shp on tap– half of what today’s Burkes have on a hull 25 percent as heavy– enabling them to reach 38 knots, a speed that is still fast for destroyers today.

USS John Rodgers (DD 574) at Charleston, 28 April 1943. A great example of the Fletcher class in their wartime configuration. Note the five 5″/38 mounts and twin sets of 5-pack torpedo tubes.

LCDR Fred Edwards, Destroyer Type Desk, Bureau of Ships, famously said of the class, “I always felt it was the Fletcher class that won the war . . .they were the heart and soul of the small-ship Navy.”

Named in honor of Continental/Pennsylvania Navy Commodore John Hazelwood, famous for defending Philadelphia and the Delaware River against British man-o-wars in 1777 with a rag-tag assortment of gunboats and galleys, the first USS Hazelwood (Destroyer No. 107) was a Wickes-class greyhound commissioned too late for the Great War and scrapped just 11 years later to comply with naval treaty obligations.

Portrait of Commodore John Hazelwood by Charles Willson Peale 1779 NH 77362-KN

The subject of our tale was laid down by Bethlehem Steel, San Francisco on 11 April 1942– some 79 years ago this week and just four months after Pearl Harbor. She was one of 18 built there, all with square bridges, as opposed to other yards that typically built a combination of both square and round bridge designs. Commissioned 18 June 1943, she was rushed to the pitched battles in the Western Pacific.

Aft plan view of the USS Hazelwood (DD 531) in San Francisco on 3 Sep 1943. Note her three aft 5″/38 mounts, depth charge racks, and torpedo tubes.

Forward pan view of the USS Hazelwood (DD 531) in San Francisco on 3 Sep 1943. A good view of her forward two 5″ mounts.

By October 1943, she was in a fast carrier task force raiding Wake Island.

Switching between TF 52 and TF 53, she took part in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands, Kwajalein, and Majuro Atolls in the Marshall Islands, then came the Palaus. Next came the Philippines, where she accounted for at least two kamikazes during Leyte Gulf.

Hazelwood in Measure 32, Design 6d during WWII

In early 1945, she joined TF 38, “Slew” McCain’s fast carrier strike force for his epic Godzilla bash through the South China Sea, followed up by strikes against the Japanese home islands.

Then came Okinawa.

While clocking in on the dangerous radar picket line through intense Japanese air attacks, she became the center of a blast of divine wind.

From H-Gram 045 by RADM Samuel J. Cox, Director, NHHC:

As destroyer Hazelwood was steaming to assist Haggard (DD-555) on 29 April, three Zekes dropped out of the overcast. Hazelwood shot down one, which crashed close aboard, and the other Zeke missed. The third Zeke came in from astern. Although hit multiple times, it clipped the port side of the aft stack and then crashed into the bridge from behind, toppling the mainmast, knocking out the forward guns, and spraying flaming gasoline all over the forward superstructure. Its bomb exploded, killing the commanding officer, Commander Volkert P. Douw, and many others, including Douw’s prospective relief, Lieutenant Commander Walter Hering, and the executive officer and ship’s doctor.

The engineering officer, Lieutenant (j.g.) Chester M. Locke, took command of Hazelwood and directed the crew in firefighting and care of the wounded. Twenty-five wounded men had been gathered on the forecastle when ammunition began cooking off. Because of the danger of imminent explosion, the destroyer McGowan (DD-678) could not come alongside close aboard. The wounded were put in life jackets, lowered to the water, and able-bodied men dove in and swam them to McGowan. Only one of the wounded men died in the process. Hazelwood’s crew got the fires out in about two hours and McGowan took her in tow until the next morning, when Hazelwood was able to proceed to Kerama Retto under her own power and, from there, to the West Coast for repairs. Although Morison gives a casualty count as 42 killed and 26 wounded, multiple other sources state 10 officers and 67 enlisted men were killed and 36 were wounded. Locke was awarded a Navy Cross.

“USS Hazelwood survives two suicide plane attacks. US Navy Photo 126-15.” Okinawa, Japan. April 1945

USS Hazelwood (DD-531) after being hit by a kamikaze off Okinawa, 29 April 1945. Accession #: 80-G Catalog #: 80-G-187592

USS Hazelwood (DD-531), June 16, 1945. Damaged by kamikaze on April 29, 1945. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-323986

Notably, two of her sisterships– USS Pringle (DD-477) and USS Bush (DD-529)— had been sunk by kamikaze aircraft off Okinawa less than two weeks before the attack on Hazelwood and three more– USS Luce (DD-522), USS Little (DD-803), and USS Morrison (DD-560)— would suffer a similar fate within the week afterward. Life was not easy for Fletchers working the picket line in the Spring of 1945.

Sent to Mare Island for repairs, Hazelwood was decommissioned on 18 January 1946 and entered the Pacific Reserve Fleet at San Diego, her war over.

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

The heavily damaged Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS Hazelwood DD-531 passes under the Golden Gate Bridge on her way to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs – June 1945. LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

Note the total lack of superstructure and the temporary open bridge rigged.  LIFE Magazine Archives – Thomas Mcavoy Photographer

She received 10 very hard-earned battle stars for her World War II service.

She was luckier than 19 of her sisters who were sunk during the conflict, along with five others who, like her, suffered extreme damage and somehow remained afloat but were beyond economic repair once the nation came looking for a peace dividend. This works out to a loss rate of about 14 percent for the class.

DASH

By the time the Korean War kicked off, and the Soviets were quickly achieving parity on the high seas due to a rapidly-expanding snorkel-equipped submarine arm, 39 improved square-bridge Fletchers were taken out of mothballs and, through the project SCB 74A upgrade, a sort forerunner of the 1960s FRAM program, given new ASW weapons such as Hedgehog and Weapon Alpha in place of anti-ship torpedo tubes, deleted a 5-inch mount (earning the nickname of “4-Gun Fletchers) and swapped WWII-era optically-trained 40mm and 20mm AAA guns for three twin radar-guided 3-in mounts.

The Navy had something else in mind for Hazelwood.

Recommissioned at San Diego on 12 September 1951, she was sent to the Atlantic for the first time to work up with anti-submarine hunter-killer groups while still in roughly her WWII configuration.

USS Hazelwood (DD-531) in the 1950s, still with 40mm Bofors, at least one set of torpedo tubes, and all 5 big guns. USN 1045624

By 1954, she was back in the Pacific, cruising the tense waters off Korea, which had just settled into an uneasy truce that has so far held out. Then came a series of cruises in the Med with the 6th Fleet.

Ordered to Narragansett Bay in 1958, she was placed at the disposal of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory to help develop the Navy’s planned anti-submarine drone. Produced by Gyrodyne Co. of America, Inc., of Long Island, New York, it was at first designated DSN-1.

It made the world’s first free flight of a completely unmanned drone helicopter, long before the term “UAV” was minted, at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River in August 1960, and Hazelwood provided onboard testing facilities, with her stern modified for flight operations with the removal of her torpedo tubes and two 5-inch mounts and the addition of a flight deck and hangar– the first time a Fletcher carried an aircraft since the brief run of a trio of catapult-equipped variants.

QH-50 prototype over Hazelwood, 1960, NARA 80-KN 1814

“U.S. Navy’s First Helicopter Destroyer Conducts Exercises. USS Hazelwood is the Navy’s first anti-submarine helicopter destroyer, steams off the Atlantic coast near Newport, Rhode Island. Attached to Destroyer Development Group Two, Hazelwood is undergoing extensive training exercises to acquaint her crew with air operations. Her flight deck is designed to accommodate the DSN-1 Drone Helicopter (QH-50) scheduled for delivery from Gyrodyne Company of America, Inc. Soon, an HTK Drone Helicopter with a safety pilot, developed by the Kaman Aircraft Company, is being used for training exercises until the DSN-1 Drone becomes available. Through the use of drone helicopter and homing torpedo, Hazelwood will possess an anti-submarine warfare kill potential at much greater range than conventional destroyers.” The photograph was released on 1 September 1959. 428-GX-USN 710543

According to the Gyrodyne Helicopter Historical Foundation, “the DASH Weapon System consisted of the installation of a flight deck, hangar facility, deck control station, CIC control station, SRW-4 transmitter facility, and fore and aft antenna installation” and could carry a nuclear depth charge or Mk44 torpedo.

Via Gyrodyne Helicopter Historical Foundation

USS HAZELWOOD (DD-531) Photographed during the early 1960s while serving as “DASH” test ship. NH 79114

 

Anti-Submarine Demonstration during the inter-American Naval conference, 1-3 June 1960. An HS-1 Seabat helicopter uses its sonar while S2F and P2V patrol planes fly over USS DARTER (SS-576), USS CALCATERRA (DER-390), and USS HAZELWOOD (DD-531). The demonstration was witnessed by Naval leaders of 10 American nations. USN 710724

USS HAZELWOOD (DD-531) during the early 1960s. Note her bright, modern-style hull numbers. NH 79115

Hazelwood received two lengthy respites from her DASH work, brought about by pressing naval events of the era. The first of these was the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962, serving as Gun Fire Support Ship for Task Force 84 during the naval quarantine of the worker’s paradise.

The second was in April 1963 when the newly built attack boat USS Thresher (SSN-593) failed to surface. Hazelwood was one of the first ships rushed to begin a systematic search for the missing submarine, escorting the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s RV Atlantis II to the site and hosting several of the lab’s scientists and equipment aboard.

After her search for Thresher, Hazelwood returned to her job with the flying robots, completing over 1,000 sorties with DASH drones in 1963 alone and helping develop the Shipboard Landing Assist Device (SLAD). That year, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara approved budgeting for enough aircraft to provide two plus one backup aircraft for each of the Navy’s 240 FRAM-1 & 2 destroyers in addition to development models.

By 1965, DASH drones were being used for hour-long “Snoopy” missions directing naval gunfire with real-time video in Vietnam at the maximum range of the ship’s 5-inchers.

With the drone, designated QH-50, ready for fleet use, Hazelwood’s work was done. Instead of a gold watch, she got what so many of her class ended up with– disposal.

Epilogue

Hazelwood decommissioned on 19 March 1965, just as the QH-50 program was fully matured and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Stricken 1 December 1974, she was subsequently sold 14 April 1976 to Union Minerals & Alloy, New York, and broken up for scrap.

Her plans, war diaries, 1950s logbooks, and reports are digitized in the National Archives. She is remembered in maritime art.

Kamikaze attacks on USS Hazelwood (DD 531), shown battered but still afloat, April 29, 1945. Artwork by John Hamilton from his publication, “War at Sea,” pg. 256. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Gallery, accession 88-66-K.

A reunion blog for her crew remained updated until 2019.

The rest of her surviving sisters were likewise widely discarded in this era by the Navy, who had long prior replaced them with Knox-class escorts. Those that had not been sent overseas as military aid was promptly sent to the breakers or disposed of in weapon tests. The class that had faced off with the last blossom of Japan’s wartime aviators helped prove the use of just about every anti-ship/tactical strike weapon used by NATO in the Cold War including Harpoon, Exocet, Sea Skua, Bullpup, Walleye, submarine-launched Tomahawk, and even at least one Sidewinder used in surface attack mode. In 1997, SEALS sank the ex-USS Stoddard (DD-566) via assorted combat-diver delivered ordnance. The final Fletcher in use around the globe, Mexico’s Cuitlahuac, ex-USS John Rodgers (DD 574), was laid up in 2001 and dismantled in 2011.

Today, four Fletchers are on public display, three of which in the U.S– USS The Sullivans (DD-537) at Buffalo, USS Kidd (DD-661) at Baton Rouge, and USS Cassin Young (DD-793) at the Boston Navy Yard. Please try to visit them if possible. Kidd, the best preserved of the trio, was used extensively for the filming of the Tom Hanks film, Greyhound.

As for the DASH, achieving IOC in late 1962, it went on to be unofficially credited as the first UAV to rescue a man in combat, carrying a Marine in Vietnam who reportedly rode its short skids away from danger and back to a destroyer waiting offshore. However, due to a lack of redundant systems, they were often lost. By June 1970, the Navy had lost or written off a staggering 411 of the original 746 QH-50C/D drone helicopters built for DASH. Retired in 1971 due to a mix of unrealized expectations, technological limitations for the era (remember, everything was slide rules and vacuum tubes then), and high-costs, OH-50s remained in military use with the Navy until 1997, soldiering on as targets and target-tows. The last operational DASH, ironically used by the Army’s PEO STRI-TMO, made its final flight on 5 May 2006, at the SHORAD site outside the White Sands Missile Range, outliving the Fletchers in usefulness.

A few are preserved in various conditions around the country, including at the Intrepid Air & Space Museum.

Ever since USS Bronstein (DE/FF-1037) was commissioned in 1963, the U.S. Navy has more often than not specifically designed their escorts to operate helicopters, be they unmanned or manned.

Specs:
Displacement 2,924 Tons (Full),
Length: 376′ 5″(oa)
Beam: 39′ 7″
Draft: 13′ 9″ (Max)
Machinery, 60,000 SHP; Westinghouse Turbines, 2 screws
Speed, 38 Knots
Range 6500 NM@ 15 Knots
Crew 273.
Armament:
5 x 5″/38 AA,
6 x 40mm Bofors
10/11 x 20mm AA
10 x 21″ tt.(2×5)

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Warship Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020: Hannah on the Beach

Here at LSOZI, we are going to 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, Feb. 19, 2020: Hannah on the Beach

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, Catalog #: 80-G-304721

Here we see a Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver scout/dive-bomber of VB-80 from USS Hancock (CV-19) flying over two battleships of the invasion fleet, 75 years ago today, during strikes on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945. The brand-new Essex-class fleet carrier was less than a year old but “Fighting Hannah,” as she was known by her crew, was well on her way to earning a long list of well-earned honors.

One of eighteen Essex-class carriers completed during World War II, CV-19 was the fourth U.S. Navy warship named after Founding Father John Hancock.

Besides being the famous inaugural signatory of the Declaration of Independence, Hancock is also a key father of the Marine Corps, having signed the commission of Samuel Nicholas, the Corp’s first officer and Commandant of Marines, inked on behalf of the Continental Congress 28 November 1775, some 18 days after the organization was founded.

The Massachusetts-native and first governor of the Commonwealth would have no doubt approved of the fact that the carrier with his name was built by Bethlehem Steel in Quincy, a city that was his own place of birth in 1737.

Laid down 26 January 1943, the 35,000-ton, 888-foot carrier, a “long-hull” version of the class, was launched 364 days later and commissioned 15 April 1944. In all, she was built in just under 15 months.

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) Launching at the Bethlehem Steel Co. Yard, Quincy, Massachusetts, 24 January 1944. NH 75626

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) In Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, on 15 April 1944. NH 91546

In June 1944, while in the Caribbean, she picked up Carrier Group Seven (CVG-7), composed of a “Sunday Punch” of 36 F6F Hellcats of VF-7, 36 SB2C Helldivers of VB-7, and 18 TBF Avengers of VT-7, which would remain her airwing for the rest of the year.

After shakedown, Hancock joined Halsey’s 3d Fleet at Ulithi on 5 October and was raiding Okinawan and Formosan airfields a week later before shifting to lend a hand in the huge operation that was the liberation of the Philippines.

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) SB2C-3 Helldiver of VB-7 flies below the overcast along the Eastern Coast of Formosa, en route to attack shipping at Kurin Ko, the principal North Coast Port, 13 October 1944. Note the twin gun pod under the plane’s wing, and nickname “Satan’s Angel” by its cockpit. At this time, Hancock’s airwing used an upside-down horseshoe for its tail code. 80-G-281326

Covering Army operations in the PI, she became the flagship of Fast Carrier Task Force 38, 17 November 1944 when VADM “Slim” McCain came on board.

Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. Commander task force 38, in his quarters aboard USS HANCOCK (CV-19). 80-G-294462

Surviving a “severe typhoon 17 December and rode out the storm in waves which broke over her flight deck, some 55 feet above her waterline,” Slim would take Hannah and a collection of her sister ships on an epic voyage through the South China Sea that we have talked about previously. This included sinking numerous Japanese tankers and transports and, along with her sisters, the Katori-class light cruiser Kashii.

Japanese Convoy of tankers and transports hit and left burning by carrier-based planes of task force 38, 15 miles south of Cam Ranh Bay, taken by planes from USS HANCOCK (CV-19), 12 January 1945 80-G-300706

Japanese Cruiser KASHII sinking off the coast of French Indochina after attack by SB2Cs from carriers of task force 38. The ship is in a large convoy of tankers and transports hard-hit in the action, 12 January 1945. Taken by a plane from USS HANCOCK (CV-19) 80-G-300683

By mid-February, Hannah had turned North and was raiding airfields near Tokyo with her CVG-80 air group reportedly downing 83 enemy planes in two days.

Then came Iwo Jima where her aircraft plastered the Japanese naval bases at Chichi Jima and Haha Jima on 19 February.

As noted by DANFS: “These raids were conducted to isolate Iwo Jima from air and sea support when Marines hit the beaches of that island to begin one of the most ‘bloody and fierce campaigns of the war. Hancock took station off this island to provide tactical support through 22 February, hitting enemy airfields and strafing Japanese troops ashore.”

USS HANCOCK -CV-19 and USS WASP CV-18 At Ulithi Anchorage, circa Mid-March 1945. Photographed from USS WEST VIRGINIA #: 80-G-K-3814

Then came more raids on Japan proper and support of the invasion of Okinawa, with CVG-6 aboard. There, she encountered the Divine Wind.

“A suicide plane cartwheeled across her flight deck on 7 April and crashed into a group of planes while its bomb hit the port catapult to cause a tremendous explosion. Although 62 men were killed and 71 wounded, heroic efforts doused the fires within half an hour enabling her to be ‘back in action before an hour had passed.”

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) afire after being hit by a kamikaze attack off Okinawa, 7 April 1945. Note fires burning fore and aft, and TBM Avenger flying over the carrier. Photographed from USS PASADENA (CL-65). 80-G-344876

Casualties are buried at sea on 9 April 1945. They were killed when Hancock was hit by a Kamikaze while operating off Okinawa on 7 April. 80-G-328574

Steaming back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, Hancock was back off Japan running airstrikes by 10 July.

A striking photograph shot by an aircraft off USS Hancock (CV 19) captures an attack against the Japanese battleship Ise. A flight deck is visible on the aft part of the ship reflecting her conversion to a hybrid aircraft carrier. 7/28/1945

Although “Fighting Hanna” did not enter Tokyo Bay until 10 September, her planes flew overhead during the formal surrender on board the battleship Missouri. She earned four battle stars in her short but very busy wartime service.

With the war ending, Hancock, just 16 months old, became a means of transport for Magic Carpet trips, shuttling nearly 10,000 GIs, Marines, and Sailors around the Pacific through January 1946.

A peacetime baseball game on Hannah’s empty deck in 1946.

She then did the same for aircraft for another few months until she was inactivated in Seattle just before her 2nd birthday.

A new war

Decommissioned officially on 9 May 1947, Hancock rested at her moorings until the Korean War sparked her reactivation.

Towed to Puget Sound in December 1951, she was given a new strengthened flight deck and updated aircraft handling gear with the addition of blast deflectors to become, what DANFS says was the “first carrier of the United States Fleet with steam catapults capable of launching high-performance jets,” when she finished her Project SCB-27C (Two Seven-Charlie) conversion 15 Feb 1954. On top of this, she received a further SCB-125 update at San Francisco in 1956 which added an enclosed bow and an angled flight deck. Her British-built C11 steam cats were the most advanced in the world at the time.

With this, she was dubbed an attack carrier (CVA-19). After conversion, she was much different in topside profile, a carrier of the jet era. Gone were her myriad of twin 5-inch, quad 40mm guns, and Oerlikons as well as her number three centerline elevator, the latter replaced by one with a deck-edge type of greater capacity. Her primary AAA weapons were new twin radar-controlled 3-inch/50 Mk 22 guns capable of firing 50 rounds per minute. Her island had been reconstructed to fit and operate the more modern radar.

USS Hancock (CVA-19) underway at sea on 15 July 1957. She was then serving with the Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific. There are seven FJ Fury, ten F2H Banshee (two different models); two F7U Cutlass, fifteen AD Skyraider, and three AJ Savage aircraft on her flight deck. Note the corner 5-inch singles and twin Mk 22 3-inchers behind them. NH 97539

Uncle Milty and a new singer named Elvis, or something, even held a show on Hancock, the pride of the Navy.

Hannah was even used as a testbed for launching early nuclear-capable Regulus cruise missiles from carriers. The big Vought-built turbojet-powered missile weighed nearly 7-tons and had a 22-foot wingspan. Carrying a W27 warhead– a development of the Mark 27 nuclear bomb for the A-3 Skywarrior and A-5 Vigilante with a 2-megaton yield– Regulus had a 500-nm range on a one-way trip.

The theory was that an unconverted straight-deck WWII Essex— the Navy had a few extras at the time– could be modified to carry 40 or 50 of these missiles in their hangar spaces and serve as a floating Regulus battery.

XSSM-8 Regulus, guided, taken aboard USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a tactical training mission at Naval Air Station, North Island, California, August 1, 1954. 80-G-648762

Being lifted on board 80-G-648764

Elevator and hangar trials on the missile’s railed launcher 80-G-648775

80-G-648767

On deck. Note the JATO booster rockets on the side. 80-G-648792

Launched 17 October 80-G-648793

Then came Vietnam

Color photo of USS Hancock (CVA-19) leaves Pearl Harbor on 19 February 1962 with CVG-21 aboard on a West Pac cruise. Photo via USS Hancock (CVA-19) 1963 cruise book available at Navysite.de

An epic photo of catapult crewmen positioning an A-4C Skyhawk for launch, 24 March 1965. The carrier was then operating in Southeast Asian waters. Photographed by PH1 Jean Cote and PHC Robert Moeser. This A-4C appears to be BuNo. 149508. Markings below the cockpit indicate that the plane’s assigned pilot was LCDR Olof M. Carlson. USN 1110178-B

Aerial view of USS Hancock (CVA-19) passing under the Golden Gate Bridge on April 17, 1963. Note her assorted wing of A-4s, E-1s, F-8s, and huge A-3s. 

Hump Day! A-4 Skyhawks of three squadrons- the VA-55 Warhorses, VA-164 Ghost Riders, and VA-212 Rampant Raiders- pictured during combat operations on board USS Hancock (CVA 19) off Vietnam in 1972. (NNAM photo)

In all, Hancock would complete nine deployments to Vietnam in a day under 11 years, eight with Carrier Air Wing 21 (CVG/CVW-21), and one with CVW-5, a wing typically associated with the much larger USS Midway. The deployments typically ran about eight and a half months, although some were longer.

*21 Oct 1964 – 29 May 1965
*10 Nov 1965 – 1 Aug 1966
*5 Jan 1967 – 22 Jul 1967 (CVW-5)
*18 Jul 1968 – 3 Mar 1969
*2 Aug 1969 – 15 Apr 1970
*22 Oct 1970 – 3 Jun 1971
*7 Jan 1972 – 3 Oct 1972
*8 May 1973 – 8 Jan 1974
*18 Mar – 20 Oct 1975

Hancock’s wings in this period typically consisted of two squadrons of F-8 Crusader “gunfighters,” three attack squadrons of A-4E/F Skyhawks, and dets of RF-8 photo birds, EKA-3B electric Whales, E-1B Stoofs with a roof, and SH-3 Sea King helicopters. On her first three deployments, Hannah carried a squadron of A-1 Skyraiders and a det of A-3Bs Skywarriors in place of an A-4 squadron.

A well-worn A-1A Skyraider “Spad” of VA-215, “The Barn Owls,” is brought up to the Hancock’s catapult, while operating off the coast of Vietnam, 6 May 1966. Photographed by Photographer’s Mate Third Class Worthington, USN 1120337

When it came to going air-to-air with the Vietnam People’s Air Force, Crusaders from Hancock earned that dubious distinction first when they tangled with MiG-17s on 3 April 1965.

Via the NNAM: An F-8J Crusader of Fighter Squadron (VF) 211 pictured over the Gulf of Tonkin as it returns to the carrier Hancock (CVA 19) following a combat air patrol. Note the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the fuselage mount. During the Vietnam War, VF-211 was known to return to their carrier with AIM-9s missing from their arsenal given the fact that the squadron was credited with shooting down seven enemy MiG-17 fighters in air-to-air combat. Now designated VFA-211, the Fighting Checkmates celebrate their 75th birthday this year, having been established as Bombing Squadron (VB) 74 in 1945.

The shadow of a U.S. Navy RF-8A Crusader photograph recon plane passes near a burning Communist Vietnamese PT boat after it was blasted by U.S. Seventh Fleet aircraft from aircraft carriers USS Midway (CV 41) and USS Hancock (CV 19). This was one of the five PT boats destroyed by U.S. Navy aircraft on April 28, 1965. The boats were spotted in the Song Giang River near the Quang Khe Naval Base (located some 50 miles north of the 17th Parallel) despite heavy camouflage. A total of 58 Navy aircraft (28 strike and 30 support types) took part in the day-long attack. All were recovered safely. USN 711478

VA-55 A-4Fs on the deck of USS Hancock (CV-19) in an undated photograph UA 462.31

Aerial view of the attack aircraft carrier, USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) while operating in the South China Sea, 15 June 1966. Chief Photographer J.M. McClure, photographer USN 1118793

How many jets can you cram on a WWII carrier? USS Hancock (CVA-19) with Carrier Air Wing 21, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, August 2, 1969, bound for Westpac and her fifth Vietnam cruise

Color photo of A-4F Skyhawks being launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a strike in Vietnam in 1969. The A-4F on the starboard catapult was assigned to Attack Squadron VA-55 War Horses, the one on the port catapult to VA-164 Ghost Riders. Navy photograph from the 1969-70 cruise book.

An F-8 Crusader Fighter Aircraft arrives for a recovery onboard the attack aircraft carrier USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) 13 March 1971 while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin. K-88448

She aged and became one of the smallest attack carriers on the line while many of her sisters were relegated to ASW taskings, training, or the scrap pile.

An aerial view of three carriers of three different generations – Forrestal-class Supercarrier USS Ranger (CVA 61) in the foreground, the Essex-class USS Hancock (CVA 19) to the left, and Midway-class USS Coral Sea (CVA 43)- at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 1971

She celebrated 25 years with the fleet.

USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) In San Francisco Bay, California, upon her return from her 1968-1969 deployment to the Western Pacific, 3 March 1969. Crewmen in the formation of “44-69” on the flight deck signify 25 years of service. Photograph by Photographer’s Mate Second Class Winfield S. Frazeur. USN 1141660

Then she celebrated 30 years with the fleet.

USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) With men of VA-55 and crew members in the formation of “44-74” in honor of the ship’s thirty years of service. The photo was taken on 3 January 1974 by PH1 Cook. NH 84727

She would earn 13 Vietnam battle stars along with five Navy Unit Commendations and was present for the endgame in April 1975 when Saigon fell.

Landing her CVW-21 airwing for a final time, she took aboard five Marine helicopter squadrons and flew a mix of 25 CH-46s, UH-1s, AH-1 Cobras, and CH-53s into South Vietnam for Operation Frequent Wind, evacuating American and allied civilians and personnel.

Hancock launched the first helicopter wave of TF76 at 1244 on 29 April. Two hours later, the Marine aircraft landed at the U.S. Defense Attaché Office compound in Saigon.

Refugees from South Vietnam debark U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters of HMH-463 on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CV-19/LPH-19?) during Operation Frequent Wind, before the fall of Saigon. 29 April 1975. Photo by Arthur Ritchie via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/19.htm

In all, Hannah would recover 2,500 souls during the operation and famously ditch several empty South Vietnamese military helicopters over the side to make room for more.

USS Hancock returned from her final West Pac cruise on 20 October 1975 when she sailed under the Golden Gate on her own steam.

In all, Hannah had 26 commanding officers, most of which went on to wear stars. She had fought her way across the South China Sea in WWII from Indochina to Tokyo, launched wonky experimental cruise missiles from her deck, hosted the Pelvis before he was cool, flexed her muscle for Uncle in the Taiwan and Laos crises of the 1950s, and both opened and closed Yankee Station. In the end, perhaps no carrier spent more time in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict than USS Hancock. 

On 12 December 1975, CVW-21, a veteran of eight of Hancock’s Vietnam cruises (and one on sister ship USS Bon Homme Richard), was disestablished and has not been seen since.

On 30 January 1976, Hancock herself was decommissioned and sold for scrap before the end of the year. By the end of 1977, she had been scrapped in Southern California. A veterans’ association is alive and well to keep her memory alive. 

Her bell is on display in front of the ComNavLant Office Building in Norfolk, VA

She is also commemorated both in her WWII configuration and in SCB-125 conversion format in scale models by Trumpeter, Dragon, and others.

Of her sisters, the wooden-decked Hancock outlived all in the fleet except the training carrier USS Lexington and 1950s latecomer USS Oriskany. Even with that, the newer (and steel-decked!) Oriskany was laid up just eight months after Hannah. Today, four Essex-class flattops survive as museums in various states of repair: Yorktown, in South Carolina; Intrepid, in New York City; Hornet, in California; and Lexington in Texas. Please visit them.

There has not been a fifth USS Hancock but confusingly the Navy christened USS John Hancock (DD-981), a Spruance-class destroyer, at Pascagoula in 1977. After solid service, that greyhound was decommissioned at age 20 while still young and disposed of by dismantling– but that is another story.

Specs:

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) photographed in 1944 while wearing camouflage pattern 32/3a. The photo is superimposed over a cutaway drawing of the forward hull of a typical “ESSEX” class carrier of that time. Catalog #: 80-G-334743

(As built, via Navypedia)
Displacement: 27,100 tons standard
Length: 888 feet overall
Beam: 93 feet waterline
Draft: 28 feet 7 inches, light
Propulsion:
8 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp
Speed: 32.7 knots
Range: 14,100 nmi at 20 knots
Complement: 2,631 officers and enlisted crew. 3448 total with aircrew and Marine det.
Sensors: SK-2, SC-2, (1 – 2)x SG, SM, 2x Mk 12/22 radars
Armor:
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
Armament:
4 × twin Mk 32 5 inch/38 caliber guns around the island
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts, two on each corner
8 × quadruple Mk 1/2 Bofors 40 mm guns
46 × single Mk 4 Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
91–103 aircraft
(1956)
Displacement: 41,200 tons fully loaded
Length: 910 feet overall
Beam: 147′ 6″ feet deck
Draft: 35 feet
Propulsion:
8 × boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp
Speed: 28ish knots
Complement: 3050 plus aircrew and Marines
Sensors: SPS-12, SPS-8, SPS-10, 4x Mk 25, 4x Mk 35 radars, SLR-2 ECM suite
(Updated in the 1960s to SPS-30, SPS-37, SPN-10 radars, WLR-1, ULQ-6 ECM suites)
Armor:
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
Armament:
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts
11 × twin 73″/50 Mk 33 RF AA guns
70-80 aircraft

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Unprintable Phraseology

In the interest of, Happy Friday, here is this May 1945 U.S. Army Signal Corps image of an M4 Sherman tank crew from the Library of Congress.

"A tank sunk in 5 feet of water waits for towing equipment. The Tank Commander gives vent to his feelings with a string of unprintable phraseology, while his driver uses a helmet to bale out the interior. Okinawa."

111-SC-209070

Offical caption:

“A tank sunk in 5 feet of water waits for towing equipment. The Tank Commander gives vent to his feelings with a string of unprintable phraseology, while his driver uses a helmet to bale out the interior. Okinawa.”

April Fools, Pearl Harbor edition, 74 years on

NHC # 80-G-K-4707

Here we see crewmen on watch on a 40mm quad Bofors gun mount while their ship was supporting the invasion of Okinawa, 1 April 1945, some 74 years ago today.

Their vessel: the Colorado-class battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48).

Commissioned in 1923, WV was transferred to the Pacific Fleet on the eve of WWII and was on Battleship Row on December 7, 1941, catching seven Type 91 aerial torpedoes and two Type 99 No. 80 Mk 5 bombs in the Japanese attack. Tragically, she lost 106 men that day, with some still trapped aboard heard still hammering away inside her hull an amazing 16 days after the attack.

Raised, she was repaired and modernized, her crew reformed from fresh recruits and salty veterans. Rejoining the war with a fresh purpose on 14 September 1944, she left Pearl Harbor heading West. Over the course of the following year, she earned five battle stars, proving that reports of her destruction were very much inaccurate.

Five musicians from her band were later temporarily transferred to USS Missouri to play at the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay the following September.

Ace in a Day Death Rattler is one of the fewest of the few left

1stLt-Jeremiah-Joseph-Jerry-O-KEEFE
One of the last remaining fighter aces from the “Greatest Generation” received the Congressional Gold Medal at age 91 Friday for his actions over Okinawa in World War II.

As a 21-year-old Marine lieutenant stationed on the recently captured Japanese island of Okinawa, Jeremiah “Jerry” Joseph O’Keefe started Easter Sunday, April 22, 1945, by volunteering to assist the Chaplin with the morning’s service. By the time the sun set that fateful day, the young aviator from Mississippi would come face to face with the enemy for the first time and shoot down five Japanese dive-bombers in a row to earn the title of ace.

There were only 118 Marine WWII fighter pilots. Further, of the 1,447 total U.S. aces since 1918, just 77 are still with us.

One of the last remaining fighter aces from the “Greatest Generation” received the Congressional Gold Medal at age 91 Friday for his actions over Okinawa in World War II.

1st Lt. Jerry O’Keefe, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, late of VMF-323 (the Death Rattlers) received Congressional recognition Friday for his service in helping disrupt Japanese kamikazes. His military awards to include the Navy Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal are visible in the background. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

I was on hand Friday covering the ceremony for Guns.com and 1LT O’Keefe was very gracious.