Tag Archives: Pearl Harbor

Terribly Advanced for 1941

Imperial Japanese Navy Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” Type 97 carrier bomber’s bombing computer.

“This was standard equipment in the cockpit of the Nakajima B5N2 ‘Kate’ carrier attack bomber. This may be one of the few surviving examples of this piece of equipment. Complete and functional, this Type 97 computer uses a Seikosha timer to calculate the dropping of up to six bombs at one of three pre-set intervals. The aircraft commander also served as the bombardier in the B5N and set in the middle of the pilot and rear gunner/radio operator. Time to target would be calculated using an optical sight, then the computer set to run and drop the bombs upon the commander’s flip of a switch on this box – designed to be swiped with a gloved hand. The timer started and the computer-controlled the dropping of the bombs.”

Sauce.

B5N2 torpedo bomber taking off from IJN carrier Zuikaku

In the first wave at Pearl Harbor, 40 Kates attacked with aerial torpedoes, sinking four battleships (USS California, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Nevada) while 49 B5N2s attacked with high-level bombs, destroying USS Arizona with a crucial hit.

In the second wave, 54 Kates attacked airfields, each dropping one 534-lb. bomb and either a second 534-lb. bomb or six 133-lb. bombs.

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

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Warship Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020: Pickin up a Submarine 6-Pack

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. 2, 2020: Pickin up a Submarine 6-Pack

Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-60939

Here we see the brand-new but humble Buckley-class destroyer escort USS England (DE-635) off San Francisco, California, on 9 February 1944 during her shakedown period. Small in nature and seemingly uninspiring, this 1,700-tons of rock and roll spent just 675 days in commission but in that time racked up an amazing record that included 10 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Those kinds of things happen when you sink six of the emperor’s submarines in battle during a 12-day period.

With some 154 hulls ordered, the Buckleys were intended to be cranked out in bulk to counter the swarms of Axis submarines prowling the seas. Just 306-feet overall, they were about the size of a medium-ish Coast Guard cutter today but packed a lot more armament, namely three 3″/50 DP guns in open mounts, a secondary battery of 1.1-inch (or 40mm), and 20mm AAA guns, and three 21-inch torpedo tubes in a triple mount for taking out enemy surface ships. Then there was the formidable ASW suite to include stern depth charge racks, eight depth charge throwers, and a Hedgehog system. Powered by responsive electric motors fed by steam turbines, they could make 24-knots and were extremely maneuverable.

Class-leader, USS Buckley (DE-51), cutting a 20-knot, 1,000-foot circle on trials off Rockland Maine, 3 July 1943, 80-G-269442

Our ship, despite first impressions, was not named for the country bordering Scotland and Wales but for one promising junior officer, Ensign John Charles England, IV, D-V(G), USNR. Mr. England, a Missouri native, volunteered for the Reserves at 19 as an apprentice seaman then, as an alum of Pasadena City College, was picked for midshipman’s school and earned his commission nine months later following a stint on the battleship USS New York (BB-34).

Ensign John C. England, USNR, NH 85190

Transferred to the West Coast after radio school, England in the radio room of USS Oklahoma (BB-37) on that fateful morning that would go on to live in infamy. Mr. England, just days before his 21st birthday, survived the triple torpedo strike on Oklahoma but voluntarily re-entered to the stricken battlewagon four times, returning the first three of those with other shipmates.

The photograph was taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack. The view looks about east, with the supply depot, submarine base, and fuel tank farm in the right-center distance. A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford Island (center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left): Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California. On the near side of Ford Island, to the left, are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed, and Utah is listing sharply to port. Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and over the Navy Yard at right. U.S. Navy planes on the seaplane ramp are on fire. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry. Official U.S. Navy photograph NH 50930.

England never made it back from his last sortie, and in 2016 was reburied next to his parents in Colorado Springs.

England’s grieving mother, Thelma, christened the destroyer escort named in his honor in San Francisco Harbor at Bethlehem Steel on 26 September 1943, and the new warship was commissioned on 10 December.

USS England (DE-635) slides down the building ways at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, San Francisco, California, during launching ceremonies on 26 September 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-51896

USS England (DE-635) Off San Francisco, California, on 9 February 1944. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-60938

Same, 19-N-60940

19-N-60941

Just four months after she was commissioned, England arrived to begin convoy duty out of Guadalcanal and was very soon in the thick of a Japanese effort to trap Halsey’s carriers in a briar patch of torpedoes as they approached the Palaus. The plan would see seven mainly Kaisho-type (RO-100 class) coastal submarines deployed in a picket line between the Admiralty Islands to Truk, ready to seal the deal.

Tipped off by CDR Joe Rochefort’s Station Hypo, England would sail in a three-ship hunter-killer task force alongside newly completed sisterships USS Raby (DE-697) and USS George (DE-697).

As summarized by DANFS:

On 18 May 1944, with two other destroyers, England cleared Port Purvis on a hunt for Japanese submarines during a passage to Bougainville. During the next 8 days, she was to set an impressive record in antisubmarine warfare, never matched in World War II by any other American ship, as she hunted down and sank 1-16 on 19 May, RO-106 on 22 May, RO-104 on 23 May, RO-116 on 24 May, and RO-108 on 26 May. In three of these cases, the other destroyers were in on the beginning of the actions, but the kill in every case was England’s alone. Quickly replenishing depth charges at Manus, England was back in action on 31 May to join with four other ships in sinking RO-105. This superlative performance won for England a Presidential Unit Citation, and the assurance from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral E. J. King, “There’ll always be an England in the United States Navy.”

For a more detailed essay on the slaying of the above six-pack of submersibles, see RADM Samuel J. Cox’s H-Gram on the subject, H-030-1.

Following the wild success of her hunter-killer group, England would spend the next several months in a more low-key mode, busy doing unsung work escorting troop and cargo convoys into the Philippines and along the Manus-Ulithi sea-lanes.

Then, on 23 March, she would sail for Okinawa, serving in the screen for, ironically, USS New York, during the pre-invasion bombardment of that Japanese stronghold. There on the early morning of 27 March, she fought off her first of four progressively more dire air attacks.

Detached later that same day to return to Ulithi to escort the cruisers USS Mobile and USS Oakland to join TG 58.2, England would arrive back on station off Okinawa where she remained, observing and protecting the fleet, shepherding another group of ships in from Saipan, and dropping Hedgehogs on sonar contacts.

On the late-night of 25 April, England fought off a four-aircraft kamikaze strike coming out of the low moon. One of the aircraft crashed just 20 feet off of the tin can.

A third attack, on 28 April, splashed a bogie within 800 yards.

On 9 May, England’s luck wore out and she was attacked by a trio of Japanese dive bombers, which her AAA batteries managed to swat down. However, one of these crashed squarely into the escort’s starboard side, just below the bridge, and had its bomb explode shortly after.

The Japanese aviator at the stick likely felt no pain as, in her after-action report, England‘s skipper noted that, “When the Val hit it had been seriously damaged by the ship’s gunfire. One wheel had been shot off, the plane was afire, and the Jap[anese] in the forward cockpit was observed to be slumped over his controls as if dead.”

The ensuing fight to save the ship was successful but left 37 of her crew dead or missing at sea, and another 25 seriously injured.

USS England (DE-635) Damage from a Kamikaze hit received off Okinawa on 9 May 1945. This view, taken at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, on 24 July 1945, shows the port side of the forward superstructure, near where the suicide plane struck. Note scoreboard painted on the bridge face, showing her Presidential Unit Citation pennant and symbols for the six Japanese submarines and three aircraft credited to England. Also, note the fully provisioned life raft at right. 80-G-336949

Burned-out officers’ stateroom in the forward superstructure, from a Kamikaze that hit near her bridge while she was off Okinawa on 9 May 1945. This view was taken at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, on 24 July 1945. 80-G-336950

This photo shows the interior of the wrecked deckhouse just forward of the bridge, looking toward the #2 3″/50 gun. Photographed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 24 July 1945.

Fire damage in the pilothouse, near where a Japanese Kamikaze struck England while she was off Okinawa on 9 May 1945. This view was taken at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, on 24 July 1945. 80-G-336952

England would have to be towed to Kerama Retto, then was able to make Leyte. After further repairs, she limped the long way home to Philadelphia for reconstruction to an APD high-speed transport, a “green dragon,” for the final push on the Japanese Home Islands.

What a difference two years makes! USS England (DE-635) off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, on 21 July 1945. She was there for repairs after being hit by a Kamikaze off Okinawa on 9 May 1945. 80-G-336947

VJ Day interrupted this plan and she was instead decommissioned on 15 October 1945. Left in an unrepaired state, she was essentially unusable and was sold for scrap, 26 November 1946.

The name “England” would return to the Navy List in 1962 after a 17-year hiatus from ADM. King’s promise, assigned to the Leahy-class destroyer leader/guided-missile cruiser DLG/CG-22, which would go on to serve 31 years during the Cold War.

A starboard bow view of the guided-missile cruiser USS ENGLAND (CG 22) underway, 1/10/1983 NARA 6404285

England’s wartime diaries and reports are digitized and available in the National Archives.

She is also remembered in maritime art and in scale model form.

(Image from Jane’s Fighting Ships 1971-72 via Navsource)

USS England by Paul Bender

 To this date, England’s record has not been bested

Specs:

Drawing prepared by the Bureau of Ships for a camouflage scheme intended for escort ships of the Buckley (DE-51) class. This plan, approved by Captain Torvald A. Solberg, USN, is dated 7 September 1944. It shows the ship’s port side. Note that this camouflage scheme calls for painting the ship’s starboard side in the darker tones of Measure 32. #: 19-N-104889

Displacement: 1400 tons (light), 1740 tons (full)
Length: 300′ (wl), 306′ (oa)
Beam: 36′ 9″ (extreme)
Draft: 10′ 6″ (draft limit)
Propulsion: 2 “D” oil-fired Express boilers, G.E. turbines with electric drive, 12000 shp, 2 screws
Speed: 24 kts
Range: 6,000 nm @ 12 knots
Complement: 15 / 198
Armament:
3 x 3″/50 Mk22 (1×3)
1 1.1-inch “Chicago Piano” AA
8 x 20mm Mk 4 AA
3 x 21″ Mk15 TT (3×1)
1 Hedgehog Projector Mk10 (144 rounds)
8 Mk6 depth charge projectors
2 Mk9 depth charge tracks
200 depth charges

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

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

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

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St. Louis, arriving

Over the weekend, in an understated COVID-era ceremony, the latest USS St. Louis joined the fleet.

She is the 7th such vessel to carry the name and SECNAV made sure to touch on the missions of the first one, the 19th Century 24-gun sloop-of-war, rather than the two 20th Century cruisers with the same legacy. Because mission.

“Nearly 200 years after the first ship to bear the name was launched, today we commission the seventh USS St. Louis,” said Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite. “Much like that sloop of war did in 1828, LCS-19 and her crew will protect the U.S. and our interests near and abroad. Whether conducting counter-narcotic operations in the Caribbean or working to enhance interoperability with partners and allies at sea, USS St. Louis will provide maneuverability, stability, and lethality in today’s era of Great Power Competition.”

St. Louis is the 22nd LCS to be delivered to the Navy, and the tenth of the Freedom-variant to join the fleet and is the seventh ship to bear the name. The first St. Louis, a sloop of war, was launched in 1828. It spent the majority of its service patrolling the coasts of the Americas to secure interests and trade. In addition, it served as the flagship for the West Indies Squadron working to suppress piracy in the Caribbean Sea, the Antilles, and the Gulf of Mexico region.

Of course, the most celebrated St. Louis in U.S. Navy history was past Warship Wednesday Alum “Lucky Lou,” the Brooklyn-class light cruiser that was the first to clear the Channel at Pearl Harbor and went on to earn 11 battle stars in WWII before going on to serve Brazil as the Lobster War flagship Almirante Tamandaré for another quarter-century.

Warship Wednesday Feb. 5, 2020: Witness to the Sunrise

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. 5, 2020: Witness to the Sunrise

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 63918

Here we see the wreck of the battleship USS Arizona (BB-39), burned out and sunk in Pearl Harbor on 10 December 1941, three days after she was destroyed during the 7 December Japanese raid. In the background is the light cruiser USS Saint Louis (CL-49), in the center, and, to the left, the old USS Baltimore (ex-Cruiser No. 3), which had been laid down some 50 years previously. Baltimore was unique in the fact that she had been ringside for the expansion of Japanese naval power in her lifetime.

A British design from Armstrong, the warship that would become the fourth USS Baltimore was the third modern protected cruiser built for the U.S. Navy, following in the wake of near-sister USS Charleston (C-2) and the one-off USS Newark (C-1).

Built at William Cramp and Sons, Philadelphia for a cost of $1,325,000, Baltimore was laid down 5 May 1887 and commissioned into the fleet 7 January 1890. Some 327-feet long and tipping the scales at 4,400-tons, she was reasonably fast, at 21-knots, had a smattering of armor that ranged from 2-to-4-inches, and toted a decent armament for her size: a quartet of 8-inch guns and another half-dozen 6-inch guns as well as smaller anti-boat guns and a brace of early torpedo tubes.

U.S.S. Baltimore en route to G.A.R. encampment, Boston, with President Harrison on board LOC

Baltimore In New York Harbor, with the Statue of Liberty in the right distance, circa 1890 during the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition NH 69174

Baltimore In New York Harbor 1890 NH 61696

Her first mission, after shakedown, was to carry the body of Swedish steam engine pioneer John Ericsson from New York back to Stockholm for interment. The Navy carried the body of the man who sketched out the design of the USS Monitor with a Swedish flag hoisted on every ship of the squadron.

Baltimore leaving New York Harbor on 23 August 1890, en route to return the remains of John Ericsson to Sweden. USS Boston is in the left-center, flying the Swedish ensign from her mast peak. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 69176

This event was turned into a painting in 1898.

“The White Squadron’s Farewell Salute to the Body of John Ericsson, New York Bay, August 23, 1890”. Oil on canvas, 36″ by 54″, by Edward Moran (1829-1901), signed and dated by the artist, 1898. It depicts USS Baltimore (Cruiser # 3) departing New York Harbor to return the remains of John Ericsson to his native Sweden. Note the Swedish ensign flying from the ship’s foremast. Painting in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection. Gift of Paul E. Sutro, 1940. KN-10851 (Color).

Returning to the East Coast after a series of European stops and port calls to show the flag, Baltimore was dispatched to join the South Pacific Station in 1891. There, while in Valparaíso, Chile to protect U.S. interests during the tension caused by the Chilean revolution, a group of sailors on Libo at a local saloon were attacked by a local mob, leaving one bluejacket, coal heaver William Turnbill, dead and another 17 injured.

Attack on American sailors at Valparaíso 1891

The resulting incident and investigations were later made right through diplomatic channels and a monument erected and indemnity paid.

Meanwhile, Baltimore became a standard fixture in the Pacific and was reassigned even further West to join the Asiatic Squadron in 1893, becoming squadron flagship of RADM Joseph S. Skerrett on her arrival.

Baltimore anchored at Yokohama, Japan, 1894, while serving as flagship of the Asiatic Station. Donation of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt, USN (MC), 1933.NH 56326

It was while in Japanese waters that the tensions between that Empire and old Imperial China boiled over into outright war over then nominally independent Korea. Baltimore was in the thick of it, cruising the waters between the two battle lines, observing the war and protecting American interests. A detailed account at the NHHC, taken largely from her deck logs, makes for interesting reading. This included landing and marching 21 Marines in combat order more than 30 miles overland to Seoul, then in the Hermit Kingdom, to guard the legation compound.

After the war ended in 1895, Baltimore was sent back to the West Coast for overhaul and, by late 1897 was back with the fleet, ultimately sailing from Hawaii as the chances of war with Spain escalated. She joined Commodore George Dewey’s squadron in Hong Kong on 22 April 1898 on the eve of the conflict, where she was hastily repainted in haze gray and made ready for battle.

Just a week later, on 1 May, she steamed into Spanish-held Manila Bay just behind Dewey’s flagship, USS Olympia, and soon was engaging both shore batteries vessels of the Royal Spanish Navy.

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898. With Manila, Philippines, in the top center, and the Spanish fleet in the upper right, the U.S. Navy ships listed descending on the left to bottom are Colliers; USS McCullough; USS Petrel; USS Concord; USS Boston; USS Raleigh; USS Baltimore; and USS Olympia – signaling “Remember the Maine.” Color lithograph by Rand McNally. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Hit by enemy shells at least five times during the action, Baltimore nonetheless suffered “no serious injury to any officer or man,” in the battle. She then went on to spend most of the next year convoying troop and supply transports, providing naval gunfire support to U.S. troops, and bombarding Filipino insurgents throughout the Philippines.

By 1901, she was sent back to the states for overhaul at the New York Navy Yard.

Baltimore Underway in New York Harbor, circa 1903. The Statue of Liberty is dimly visible in the right distance. NH 83962

By 1904, after stints in the Caribbean and Med, she was back on Asiatic Station, where she once again kept tabs on the Japanese fleet as the growing force pounded not one but two of the Tsar’s modern squadrons down under the waves.

Baltimore’s crew, hard-serving volunteers sandwiched between the age of the wood-and-sail Navy and the age of the new steel-and-steam fleet, were captured in time in several period photos between 1904 and 1906.

Baltimore’s Marine Guard in heavy marching order, during her Asiatic Fleet deployment, circa 1904-1906. They were equipped for winter expeditionary party duty, with horseshoe rolls containing their blankets rolled in rubber ponchos. They are armed with Krag-Jorgenson rifles (M1898) and bayonets and wear woven double loop cartridge belts. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Capt. Nathan Sargent. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 95652)

Two Chief Petty Officers enjoy a game of Acey-Deucy on deck, circa 1904-06. The man at left wears an Ex-Apprentice’s figure-eight knot badge on his right sleeve. Note coiled fire hose and sewing machine in the background. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 42. NH 101372

The Wireless Office and Operators, circa 1904-1906. Note the early radio equipment and the rating badge of the First-Class Electrician’s Mate seated in the center. NH 101374

Local peddlers on board the cruiser, at Tangier, Morocco, circa May 1904. Note the adjustable boat cradles overhead, and ventilation fittings in the hammock stowage bulwark at left. NH 101338

Crewmen pose with cleaning equipment, circa 1904-1906. About half of these men appear to be smoking pipes. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 28. NH 101345

Sailors and Marines from the ship’s crew at the rifle range, Auckland, New Zealand, circa 1904-1906. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 47. NH 101377

Ping-Pong gunnery sighting practice on one of the ship’s three-inch rapid-fire guns, circa 1904-1906. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 47. NH 101373

In 1907, Baltimore, pushing twenty years on her hull, was sent back to the U.S. where she spent the next several years in training, receiving ship and reserve roles. By 1913, with much more modern cruisers joining the fleet, the aging Baltimore was rerated as a minelayer, converted to carry up to 180 mines.

Her 1914 Janes entry, where she is listed on a page titled “Old Second Class Cruisers” 

When the Great War swept across the planet, Baltimore was brought back from ordinary and spent much of 1915 and 1916 in mining experiments and training with the fleet, voyaging from New England to the Caribbean and back.

USS Baltimore (Minelayer, originally Cruiser # 3). In Hampton Roads, Virginia, 10 December 1916 NH 54427

USS Baltimore (Minelayer, originally Cruiser # 3). In Hampton Roads, Virginia, 10 December 1916 NH 54427

Once the U.S. entered the conflict in 1917, Baltimore became the flag of RADM Joseph Strauss, Commander, Mine Force, and, along with the converted cruiser USS San Francisco, and steamers-turned-minelayers USS Roanoke, USS Candaiga, USS Shawmut; USS Quinnebaugh, USS Housatonic, USS Canonicus, USS Aroostook, and USS Saranac, would sortie across the Atlantic to sew the Great North Sea Mine Barrage. An idea of then Asst. SECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt, the immense mine battery was kicked off by Baltimore on the night of 13/14 April 1918.

Before the end of the war, the Mine Force dropped 70,177 mines into the North Sea and surrounding waters, many under Baltimore’s watchful eyes. At least 900 were carried there in her own holds. Much more on this period is documented in the ship’s DANFS entry. 

Mine handling operations onboard Baltimore, 1920. Note what appears to be a mine elevator at left. Donation of Cmdr. Christopher Noble, USN (Retired), February 1967. NH 56330

By the end of WWI, Baltimore was back in U.S. waters and in late 1919 was ordered, once again, to join the Pacific fleet. She spent the remainder of her active career operating from San Francisco, and she was placed out of commission there on 15 September 1922, after 32 years’ service.

With what appears to be a minesweeper moored alongside to starboard, ex-Baltimore lies off Ford Island awaiting disposition, 21 September 1939; less than two years later, the veteran of the Battle of Manila Bay would witness the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-410165

Stricken from the Navy list on 14 October 1937, she was sent to Hawaii where she spent the next half-decade as a hulk at Pearl Harbor. Her name was recycled for the heavy cruiser USS Baltimore (CA-68), which was laid down 26 May 1941, and her bell, silver service, and relics removed.

Unmanned and forgotten, she was just off Battleship Row when the Japanese rounded Diamondhead on 7 December 1941. The old cruiser was sold in February 1942 for scrap, after which she had much of her upper structure removed for recycling, then her hull was towed out to sea and scuttled on 22 September 1944 off the south shore of Oahu in 537 meters of water.

The Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) has extensively documented her wreck site, now studded with sea life.

Her bell is currently on display at the Independence Seaport Museum.

Baltimore is, of course, remembered in maritime art.

USS Baltimore (C 3) artwork by an unknown artist. NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 56328

USS Baltimore (Cruiser # 3) at right Chromolithograph by Armstrong & Company, after a watercolor by Fred S. Cozzens, published in Our Navy Its Growth and Achievements, 1897. It depicts Baltimore departing New York harbor to carry the remains of John Ericsson to his native Sweden, in August 1890. At left, flying the Swedish flag at her forepeak and firing a salute, is USS Boston. Collection of Captain Glenn Howell, USN, 1974. NH 334-KN

The “Battleship” Baltimore in Stockholm Harbor by Anders Zorn

Since 1980, the name Baltimore was carried by a Los Angeles-class attack submarine (SSN-704) which was decommissioned 1998. Hopefully, the Navy will name a 7th Baltimore soon.

Specs:

Drawing courtesy of Robert Jensen via Navsource http://www.navsource.org/archives/04/c3/c3.htm

Displacement 4,413 tons
Length: 327 feet 6 inches
Beam: 48 feet 7½ Inches
Draft: 19 feet 6 inches
Maximum draft fully loaded:23 feet, 11 ½ inches
Propulsion: Horizontal triple-expansion engines, 10,064 hp. 2 shafts, four double-ended cylindrical boilers
Speed: 21.5 knots
Coal bunker capacity: 1,143.87 tons
Normal coal supply: 400 tons
Coal endurance at 10 knots: 7,212 nautical miles
Armor: 4″ steel on the slopes, deck; 3″ Conning tower, 2”-gun protection.
Compliment: 36 Officers and 350 Enlisted Men (as designed)
Armament: (as-built)
4 x 8″/35cal breechloading guns
6 x 6″/30cal breechloading guns
4 x 6 pounder (57mm) rapid-fire guns
2 x 3 pounder (47mm) rapid-fire guns
2 x 1 pounder (37mm) rapid-fire guns
4 x 37 mm Hotchkiss revolving cannon
Two Gatling Guns
One 3-inch field piece (for landing parties).
Five 14″ torpedo tubes
Armament: (1914)
12 x 6″/40
4 x 6 pounders
180 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!

Dorie Miller to be remembered in a new carrier

The (A)SECNAV over the weekend announced that, in honor of MLK Day, USS West Virginia Pearl Harbor hero cook PO3 Dorie Miller will be the namesake of a new Gerald Ford-class carrier, the future CVN-81.

Of course, it does kinda rub me a skosh the wrong way as far as naming conventions go, with aircraft carriers generally named after famous battles, other aircraft carriers, and presidents. Traditionally, destroyers and frigates were named in honor of naval heroes up to and including Medal of Honor winners. In fact, Miller formerly had a Cold War-era Knox-class frigate named after him (DE/FF-1091)

USS Miller (DE/FF-1091) underway off Cape Henry, Va., on 20 May 1974. (U.S. Navy photograph K-103414, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.) NHHC K-103414

Still, in my mind, it is far better to name a carrier for Miller than for Carl Vinson and John Stennis, as have been done in the past, just saying.

Sure, you can argue that Vinson and Stennis both held and pulled important purse strings while in Capitol Hill for the military– but they never had to face down an incoming Japanese Val with a machine gun they were never trained to use.

As noted by Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly’s office:

This will be the second ship named in honor of Miller, and the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African American. This will also be the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of a Sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.

“In selecting this name, we honor the contributions of all our enlisted ranks, past and present, men and women, of every race, religion and background,” said Modly. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, ‘Everybody can be great – because anybody can serve’. No one understands the importance and true meaning of service than those who have volunteered to put the needs of others above themselves.”

On Dec. 7, 1941, Miller was collecting laundry on the battleship West Virginia (BB-48), when the attack from Japanese forces commenced. When the alarm for general quarters sounded he headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it. Miller was ordered to the ship’s bridge to aid the mortally wounded commanding officer, and subsequently manned a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition. Miller then helped move many other injured Sailors as the ship was ordered abandoned due to her own fires and flaming oil floating down from the destroyed Arizona (BB-33). West Virginia lost 150 of its 1,500 person crew.

Miller’s actions during the attack earned him a commendation from then Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox and the Navy Cross, which was presented to him personally by Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at the time.

Nimitz stated: this marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I’m sure the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.

“Doris Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation, and his story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue the watch today,” said Modly.

In 1943, Miller died aboard USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) when the ship was hit by a torpedo and sank off Butaritari Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.

The future USS Doris Miller and other Ford-class carriers will be the premier forward asset for crisis response and humanitarian relief, and early decisive striking power in major combat operations. The aircraft carrier and the carrier strike group will provide forward presence, rapid response, endurance on station, and multi-mission capability throughout its 50-year service life.

Meanwhile, USS Gerald R. Ford is apparently making good progress when it comes to launches and traps on Hornets, Greyhounds and T-45 Goshawks, working through teething problems on its Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch Systems (EMALS) and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG), which is good news as far as the class itself goes.

Hopefully, they will get the bugs worked out before the next “big one,” a factor that could help deter just such an event.

Radar Plot from Station Opana

Radar Plot from Station Opana, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii December 7, 1941. NARA 2600930

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers staged a surprise attack on U.S. military forces at Pearl Harbor Hawaii. In less than three hours, the United States suffered more than 2,400 casualties and loss of or severe damage to 188 airplanes and 8 battleships. At one station, Army privates were running the radar and at 7:02 a.m., a large white blip appeared. The privates marked this activity and the continuing movements of incoming planes. Pvt. Joseph Lockard reported this to the Information Center, but a group of American B-17s were due to arrive that day from San Francisco, and Lockard was told to forget about what he saw.

It was only after arrival at camp that they received word that at 7:55 a.m. the Japanese had begun dropping bombs on Pearl Harbor. They realized that the planes they had been tracking on the radar plot were not American, but the Japanese attacking force. They had witnessed the start of World War II for America, but they hadn’t realized it.

(Text adapted from “Congress Investigates: Pearl Harbor and 9/11 Congressional Hearing Exhibits” in the September 2011 National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) publication Social Education)

A Handgun That Saw Hell

On 7 December 1941, the Mahan-class destroyer USS Shaw (DD-373) was in the old New Orleans YFD2 drydock at the Pearl Harbor Naval Yard. Soon after the Japanese attack began, she suffered three direct hits by 500-pound bombs and two more that landed inside the dock itself. Within 20 minutes, the resulting inferno, fueled by wooden shoring and blocks under her hull, reached her forward magazine.

The resulting spectacular explosion, caught on cameras across at Ford Island, blew Shaw’s bow off and filled the holed dock with  water and blazing fuel oil.

USS SHAW exploding Pearl Harbor. NARA 80-G-16871

In the days after the attack, a civilian employee at PHNY found a battered and burned Colt M1911 transitional model on the deck of YFD2 that remained above water. Besides Shaw’s 1936-dated bell which is at the U.S. Navy Museum in Washington, the pistol is part of the destroyer’s legacy and remains at Pearl today.

(NPS)

More in my column at Guns.com.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor

U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Here we see the 125-foot Active-class patrol craft USCGC Tiger (WPC-152) in 1928 during Prohibition. One of a class of 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” cutters rushed into completion to deal with rumrunners, these choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in time of war and Tiger would be there the moment the balloon went up over Pearl Harbor.

These cutters were intended for trailing the slow, booze-hauling mother ship steamers of “Rum Row” along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. Constructed for $63,173 each, they originally had a pair of 6-cylinder 150hp Superior or Winton diesel engines that allowed them a stately speed of 10 knots, max, but allowed a 4,000nm, theoretically Atlantic-crossing range– an outstanding benefit for such a small craft.

For armament, they carried a single 3″/23 cal deck gun for warning shots– dated even for the 1920s– as well as a small arms locker that included everything from Tommy guns to .38s. In a time of conflict, they could tote listening gear and depth charge racks left over from the Great War, but we’ll get to that later.

Taking advantage of one big contract issued on 26 May 1926, they were all built within 12 months by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey (although often listed as “American Brown Boveri” due to their owners at the time, the Swiss Brown Boveri corporation).

Named like the rest of the class in honor of former historic cutters, our craft recycled the moniker only used previously by the Civil War-era 100-foot steam tug Tiger which had been bought in 1861 for $9,000 from the Patapsco Steam Co. by the Revenue Marine Service– the forerunner of the Coast Guard– and used to patrol Chesapeake Bay and the approaches to New York City alternatively during the conflict, boarding “with revolvers” as many as 20 craft a day in search of contraband and rebel blockade runners.

The brand-new USCGC Tiger was NYSB Hull No. 346 and was completed on 29 April 1927. Placed in commission on 3 May, she operated out of Coast Guard Base Two at Stapleton, New York, hitting Rum Row with a vengeance in the closing days of the war on illegal liquor. As the Volstead Act was repealed, she transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, for more traditional coastal SAR and fisheries patrol work, arriving there on 6 June 1933.

Durable for their size, Tiger and her sisters were well-liked by their crews and would go on to soldier on for several more decades. Constructed with 3×3 Douglas fir frames on a steel hull, they gained a reputation for being solid ships but were considered too slow (go figure) and were subsequently re-engined in the late 1930s with their original 6-cylinder diesels replaced by more powerful 8-cylinder units on the same beds that gave the vessels three additional knots or so. This left them with a changed profile, as they picked up a large (for their size) stack just behind the wheelhouse.

The 125-foot cutter Dexter, post-conversion. Note the stack.

By 1940, Tiger was assigned to the Hawaii Territory along with her sister Reliance (WPC-150), where they soon picked up depth charges, Lewis guns, and grey paint from the Navy. Such equipped, the class was redesignated as Coast Guard submarine chasers (WSC). The Coast Guard was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Navy Department on 1 November 1941, making the lead-up to WWII official.

Speaking of lead up, both Tiger and Reliance, along with the 327-foot cutter Taney (WPG-37) were assigned to the Navy’s Inshore Patrol Command under CDR John Wooley along with four old destroyers and four minesweepers. This group was tasked by Pacific Fleet boss ADM Husband E. Kimmel to patrol the shoreline around Pearl Harbor and keep an eye peeled for both spies and saboteurs as well as strange periscopes.

That brings us to the morning of 7 December 1941.

On patrol off Oahu that morning, Tiger, under the command of CWO William J. Mazzoni, received a flash from the destroyer USS Ward, a fellow member of the Inshore Patrol Command, around 0645 claiming destruction of an unidentified submarine trying to come through the nets into Pearl– one it had been searching for since 0357 after it had been reportedly spotted by the minesweeper Condor. Said periscope turned out to be one of the series of Japanese midget subs sent to attack Battleship Row at the beginning of the air assault.

USS Ward, The First Shot, by Tom Freeman

The Japanese Striking Force had five Type A midget submarines for the attack, which was transported on larger Type I submarines. These submarines were launched the night before the attack. USS Ward (DD-139) spotted one of the submarines trying to enter the harbor before dawn and was sunk.

This put Tiger on alert and she soon made ready for a real-live shooting war.

At 0720, just after passing the Barber’s Point buoy, Tiger’s WWI-era listening gear picked up a contact now believed by some to be Japanese midget submarine HA-19, a two-man Type A boat that was bumping around off reefs with a broken compass.

At 0753, as the first wave of 183 armed Japanese carrier planes swung around Barber’s Point, allowing a view into Pearl Harbor and the seven slumbering dreadnoughts below, CDR Mitsuo Fuchida ordered the radioman in his Kate torpedo bomber to tap out the later-infamous “Tora, Tora, Tora” (tiger, tiger, tiger) signal, the code words back to the Japanese fleet that the inbound airstrike had caught the Americans unaware.

While still looking unsuccessfully for subs, right around 0800, Tiger started receiving fire that fell within 100 yards of her, with Mazzoni radioing Pearl that he saw Japanese warplanes inbound overhead.

Author James C. Bunch, in his 1994 work Coast Guard Combat Veterans: Semper Paratus, says that “USCGC Tiger (WSC-152) was, by a few seconds, the first U.S. vessel to be fired upon in Pearl Harbor.”

Suffering no casualties from their early interactions with the Emperor’s submariners or aircrew, Tiger also inflicted no damage on the Japanese that day, being out of range of the carnage going on the harbor. Nonetheless, she did come under ineffective fire later that day from U.S. Army shore batteries that were amped up and loaded for bear.

The next day, HA-19 was recovered, aground on Waimanalo Beach in eastern Oahu. Manned by ENS Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, the midget submarine had depleted its batteries on the evening of 7 December and was abandoned. Its scuttling charge failed, Sakamaki became the only Japanese serviceman captured in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Inagaki’s body was recovered later.

(Japanese Type A midget submarine) Beached in eastern Oahu, after it unsuccessfully attempted to enter Pearl Harbor during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after 8 December 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. : 80-G-32680

Surviving her baptism of fire, Tiger would still be very busy throughout December on the search for Japanese submarines off Hawaii, which at the time were running wild in the area. Sadly, this meant picking up the pieces left in their wake.

On 21 December, Tiger arrived at Kahului, Maui, with the 30 survivors of the sunken Matson Navigation Co. steamer SS Lahaina (5645grt). The waterlogged mariners had nine days earlier fallen prey to the Japanese submarine I-9 under CDR Akiyoshi Fujii, who had sunk her in a prolonged surface action 700 miles NE of Oahu. During their wait for rescue two of the crew had committed suicide by jumping from their overcrowded lifeboat while another two died of exposure.

It would not be the only time Tiger performed such a vital mission.

On 28 December, Tiger rescued one of the two lifeboats of the Matson steamer SS Manini (3545grt) which had been torpedoed and sunk 11 days prior by I-75/I-175 (CDR Inoue) while en route from Hawaii to San Francisco. The previous day, the cutter had picked up 13 men and the first officer of the Lykes steamer SS Prusa (5113grt) which had been torpedoed and sent to the bottom by I-172 (CDR Togami) on 16 December.

Tiger remained based out of Honolulu for the duration of the war on local patrol and antisubmarine duties in the Hawaiian Sea Frontier.

Tiger received one battle star for her wartime service.

By the end of the war, Tiger, like her sisters, had been fitted with both radar and sonar as well as upgrading their 3″/23 hood ornament for a more functional 40mm/60 Bofors single, their Lewis guns for 20mm/80s, and augmenting their depth charges with Mouse Trap ASW rocket devices.

The somewhat incorrect Jane’s listing for the class in 1946, showing a prewar image and listing their 1939 armament.

Decommissioned 12 November 1947, Tiger was sold 14 June 1948.

As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they served during the war, and two, Jackson (WSC-142) and Bedloe (WSC-128), were heroically lost in the 14 September 1944 hurricane off Cape Hatteras while aiding a torpedoed tanker.

These pint-sized warships were regular players on the frozen Greenland Patrol fighting the Germans in the “Weather War,” served as guard ships in places as diverse as Curacao and the Aleutians, were credited with at least one submarine kill, and performed air-sea rescue duties. Ten were refitted as buoy/net tenders during the war and reverted to patrol work afterward while two served as training ships.

Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors crowding her bow.

While some, like Tiger, were disposed of in the late 1940s, others remained in USCG service into the 1960s and 1970s.

Boston: “125 ft CGC cutter LEGARE (WSC-144) which fought 20-40 foot waves to take a 79-foot fishing vessel MARMAX in tow, is now proceeding to her home port, New Bedford”

The last example in commission, USCGC Cuyahoga (WPC/WSC/WIX-157), was tragically lost in 1978 in a collision while working as the OCS training ship at Yorktown.

Photo of Cuyahoga in the 1970s in its role as an Officer Candidate School training vessel, in white livery with the now-traditional racing stripe. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Epilogue

With her service to the country over with, Tiger later made the Pacific Northwest in her civilian life and by the 1960s was a coastal tug with Northland Marine Lines of Seattle, under the name Cherokee and later Polar Merchant. Her sister USCGC Bonham (WPC/WSC-129) worked alongside her as Polar Star.

Previously USCGC Bonham (WSC-129) as tug Polar Star

Remaining active until at least 2012, Tiger/Polar Merchant was sold in poor condition to the Tyee Marina in Tacoma Washington where she was stripped, stuffed with styrofoam, and installed as a breakwater.

Still located at Tyree with everything above the deck removed, Tiger remains afloat and is one of the few surviving warships that was present at Pearl Harbor on that Infamous Day. Her hulk is moored next to the museum ship USS Wampanoag/USCGC Comanche (ATA/WMEC-202).

There has not been another USCGC Tiger.

Specs

(1927)
Displacement: 232 tons
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 7.5 ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder, 150 hp Winton diesels (300hp total), twin screws
Speed: 10 knots, max
Range: 4,000 nm at 7 knots, cruise, with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 2 officers, 20 men
Armament:
1 × 3″/23 caliber gun forward, small arms

(1945)
Displacement: 320 tons (full load)
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 9 ft
Propulsion: Two 8-cylinder, 300 hp Cooper-Bessemer EN-9 diesels (600hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 5 officers, 41 men
Sensors: QCN-2 sonar, SO-9 radar
Armament:
1 × 40 mm/60 (single), forward
2 × 20 mm/70 (single), wings
2 × depth charge tracks, stern
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward

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Battleship No. 39 Reopens

The USS Arizona Memorial has been closed since May 2018 for a $2.1 million stabilization and limited reconstruction, but it will be reopened on September 1, 2019 (Sunday). The National Park Service, in coordination with the Navy and contractors, completed the final phase of construction this month, with CPO selectees putting the finishing touches on the monument.

“The National Park Service is excited to welcome our visitors back to the USS Arizona Memorial very soon,” said Pearl Harbor National Memorial Acting Superintendent Steve Mietz in a statement. “It is a great honor to share the stories of the men of the USS Arizona, and all of those who served, suffered and sacrificed on Oahu on December 7, 1941. That is the cornerstone of our mission here, and restoration of public access to this iconic place is critical as we continue to tell their stories and honor their memory,” Mietz said.

The Tombstones of Battleship Row

In the 1930s, the Navy built 16 fixed concrete moorings to relieve congestion at Pearl and to provide additional berthing space for capital ships. Established in pairs designated F1 through F8, North and South, the eight along Ford Island’s southeast side became known as the famed “Battleship Row.”

Today, the quays remain as tombstones to the opening act of the Pacific War. However, they were important far past 7 December 1941.

As noted by the NPS:

From the quays, American salvage workers accomplished unprecedented feats in the recovery of sunken battleships. Workers raised the USS California, USS West Virginia, and righted and refloated the USS Oklahoma. Extensive salvage work was performed on the USS Arizona. The quays were the foundations of the recovery, which lead ships like the West Virginia fighting throughout the remainder of World War II.

Now, as noted by the Park Service, “for the first time since 1941, the fleet moorings of Battleship Row are being examined, repaired, and architecturally reviewed in order to preserve these historic structures. It’s all part of a joint program with the Concrete Preservation Institute and the National Park Service to preserve and restore the moorings along Battleship Row.”

More on that, here 

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