Tag Archives: Royal Navy

It’s That Time of Year Again! ICEEX 2022 Is Here

ICEEX 2022 has begun in the Arctic Ocean on Friday, 4 March after the building of Ice Camp Queenfish and the arrival of two U.S. Navy fast-attack submarines, the aging (awarded in 1982!) Cold Warrior that is the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Pasadena (SSN 752) and the much more modern Virginia-class attack submarine USS Illinois (SSN 786).

Welcome to the Order of the Blue Nose!

BEAUFORT SEA, Arctic Circle (March 5, 2022) – Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Pasadena (SSN 752) surfaces in the Beaufort Sea, kicking off Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022. ICEX 2022 is a three-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies, and partner organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mike Demello/Released)

BEAUFORT SEA, Arctic Circle – Virginia-class attack submarine USS Illinois (SSN 786) surfaces in the Beaufort Sea March 5, 2022, kicking off Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022. ICEX 2022 is a three-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies, and partner organizations. (U.S. Navy photo 220305-N-ON977-1158 by Mike Demello/Released)

More here.

Keeping up appearances down South

Last week the 5,000-ton ice patrol ship HMS Protector (A173) [ex-Polarbjørn] called at a place called Grytviken, located on a frozen splinter of land called South Georgia, an isolated British territory far closer to the Antarctic continent than Europe and a base of operations for the British Antarctic Survey.

The place holds two claims to fame, one dating back 100 years ago, where Shackleton (yes, “the” Shackleton) was interred, the other being the 1982 spark that started the Falkland Islands War– during which two different battles were fought for South Georgia. 

Via the Royal Navy:

Sailors from HMS Protector paid tribute to legendary Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton – a century after he died pushing the boundaries of polar research.

Crew of the icebreaker held a memorial service at his graveside on the island of South Georgia – the latest stop for the survey ship as she heads to the frozen continent for a summer of scientific research.

The explorer – a Royal Navy reservist – died after suffering a heart attack aboard his ship Quest at the beginning of an expedition to circumnavigate Antarctica in January 1922.

He was buried in Grytviken cemetery, where Protector’s sailors – dressed in woollen sweaters in keeping with early 20th Century polar explorers – gathered for a service of remembrance to celebrate Shackleton’s achievements.

Importantly, Protector’s crew held their service just three weeks shy of the centennial of Shackleton’s death.

Designed for long Polar expeditions and for supporting subsea work, the Norwegian-built Protector was acquired with just a decade on her hull.

She has several small craft including two with two boats that are equipped with jet drives, GRP hulls, and bow ramps– great for landings in isolated areas

Her name has some teeth to it as she is armed with four GE M134 mini-guns, five GPMGs, and sports a helicopter deck and room for a platoon of Royal Marines who can move around at ease on three embarked Haaglund BV206 snowcats and a quartet of small boats– the largest of which is named after Shackleton’s own James Caird

She has several topside small arms mounts

As well as extensive helicopter facilities. She is carrying two drones for her current mission.

Protector now heads even further South, on to Antarctica.

Codename Snake Eyes and Jungle Green

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

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

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

And that’s just in the first 10 minutes!

Enjoy.

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

Warship Wednesday, July 21, 2021: Luckiest of the Italian Heavies

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

Warship Wednesday, July 21, 2021: Luckiest of the Italian Heavies

Here we see the Zara-class incrociatore (heavy cruiser) Gorizia of the Regia Marina, with her sister Fiume, anchored in Venice circa September 1937. The Palazzo Ducale is in the distance to the left, where the visiting British County-class cruiser HMS London (69) rests in a place of honor pierside. Note the whaleboat in the foreground with the duster of the Royal Navy, which called on the City of Canals that summer under the flag of VADM Sir Charles Kennedy-Purvis. Of course, the British would revisit Italian harbors several times just a few years later, but under much less cordial terms, and often at night.

The four Zaras were impressive in scale, at some 599-feet in length overall, and had an “official” Naval Treaty standard weight of 10,000-tons, although their actual full load weight was closer to 14,500 tons. Using eight British pattern Thornycroft boilers and a pair of Parsons steam turbines, they could make 32 knots even with a very strong armor scheme (up to 5.9-inches) for interbellum cruisers.

The primary armament for these Italian heavies was eight 8″/53 Model 1927 Ansaldos, mounted in four twin turrets. These guns had a range of about 34,500 yards firing 270-pound AP shells and, due to the electrically-powered training and elevation and hydraulically powered rammers used in their mountings could fire as fast as 3.8 rounds per minute per gun– very respectable for the era.

Heavy cruiser Gorizia, 1941, with members of her crew clustered in front of her forward 8 inch mounts. Although excellent guns, the very tight mountings limited the spread of shell fire. 

Secondary armament consisted of 16 3.9″/47 O.T.O. Model 1928 DP guns in eight twin shielded mounts. Basically, an unlicensed version of the old Austro-Hungarian Navy’s Skoda K10/K11 that the Italians fell in love with when they saw it on war prizes in 1918, O.T.O. had revamped the design into a decent AAA piece with a ceiling of 33,000 feet. 

Incrociatore Zara pezzi da 100 47 mm O.T.O. mod.1928

Unlike most cruisers built in the first half of the 20th Century, the Zara class did not carry any torpedoes, but they did, awkwardly, have a bow-mounted catapult for two single-engine floatplanes.

Italian heavy cruiser Zara incrociatori pesanti classe Zara in navigazione. Photographer Miniati, Bruno 1939, Alinari archives. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Richard Worth, in his Fleets of World War II, notes that the Zaras had a lot of attributes that set them up for success.

They were handsome ships, dry and stable, with the most endurance among Italian cruisers (5,000+ miles at 16 knots). With 13 percent of their tonnage devoted to protection, they showed an excellent concentration of metal; only American cruisers had thicker belt armor. The guns were paired too closely but they otherwise performed well. If the Italians had persisted in designs like this one, they could have deployed a powerful fleet indeed.

Laid down at O.T.O. Livorno on 17 March 1930, Gorizia was completed just 21 months later on 23 December 1931.

The class, among the most advanced and formidable in the world during the “Treaty” era, was a favorite of the U.S. ONI, and several period photos are in the collection of the Navy Heritage Command, likely gleaned from open sources by Naval attaches in Europe before the war.

Italian ship: GORIZIA. Italy – CA (Zara class). Italian fleet in the harbor of Naples. Catalog #: NH 111423

The four Zara class heavy cruisers, seen during the late 1930s, possibly at the now-infamous May 1938 “H Review” along the Gulf of Naples in which Il Duce tried very hard to impress his little Austrian buddy with the funny mustache. The four ships are (unidentified as to order in the photograph): ZARA (1930-1941); FIUME (1930-1941); GORIZIA (1930-1944); and POLA (1931-1941). NH 86333

The Four Italian ZARA Class Heavy Cruisers at Naples. The late 1930s, all four sister cruisers at anchor from front to back: FIUME (1930-41), ZARA (1930-41), POLA (1931-41), and GORIZIA (1930-44.) NH 86432

The “four sisters” of Italian heavy cruisers. From left to right: GORIZIA (1930-1944), POLA (1931-1941), ZARA (1930-1941), and FIUME (1930-1941) at Naples, circa 1938. One of the Italian Navy’s training ships, AMERIGO VESPUCCI (1930) or CRISTOFORO COLOMBO (1928), appears in the distance to the right. NH 86577

Italian ship: Heavy cruiser GORIZIA. Italy – CA (Zara class). Photographed during 1935 in the Suez Canal. NH 111424

GORIZIA (Italian Heavy Cruiser, 1930-44) Photographed at a fleet review before World War II, possibly at Naples in 1938. Three other heavy cruisers and three destroyers appear in the background. NH 86107

GORIZIA (Italian heavy cruiser, 1930-1944) Detail view of the ship forward superstructure, seen from the starboard side in a pre-World War II photograph. Note sailors waving. NH 86304

In the decade prior to WWII, the Zaras in general and Gorizia, in particular, was very busy, spending much time lending Franco a quiet hand in the Spanish Civil War, to include intercepting the fleeing Republican fleet out of Cartegena–consisting of the cruisers Miguel de Cervantes, Libertad, and Mendez Nuñez, along with eight destroyers and two submarines– in March 1939, which was desperately trying to make a friendly exile in Soviet Russia via the Black Sea. Instead, the Spanish had to settle for internment in French Tunisia where its commander, ADM Miguel Buiza, later volunteered for the French Foreign Legion, a force swelled at the time with former Republicans.

It was during the Spanish Civil War that Gorizia let the cat out of the bag on the fact of how outside of the naval treaty limits they were. While holding station off Spain in August 1936, she suffered an avgas explosion that blew out parts of her bow, forcing her to put into British Gibraltar for emergency repairs.

There, dockyard workers and RN personnel were easily able to ascertain that she was grossly overweight and up-armored from her “public” specs and quietly reported it up the chain, although the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, never took up the matter with Rome.

In another prelude to the Big Show, Gorizia accompanied the rest of her class to help support the quickly accomplished Italian invasion of Albania in April 1939 while the British fleet, a force that saw itself as the Lion of the Med, was infamously “lolling about in Italian harbors.”

The Main Event

When Italy entered WWII against France and Britain as one of the Axis Powers in June 1940, the Zara class was in for a wild ride.

Italian battlefleet off Gaeta in 1940 showing four Zara class cruisers, two Trento class cruisers, and Bolzano

The very next month, the four sisters managed to come out of the Battle of Calabria against the British fleet without damage and, that November, were all clustered in Taranto when British Swordfish torpedo bombers famously penetrated the harbor and smacked around the Italian battleships, again surviving without a scratch. In the follow-on Battle of Capo Teulada, Gorizia fired a dozen salvos and bird-dogged the British squadron with her seaplanes, with no real effect on either side.

Gorizia’s luck continued to hold when, missing the Battle of Cape Matapan in March 1941 as she was escorting convoys to Libya, all three of her sisters, Pola, Zara, and Fiume, were sacrificed needlessly to the guns of British battleships, with horrendous loss of life. All that 5.9-inch plate was of no use against point-blank hits from 15-inch guns, it turned out, a lesson the Brits had previously handed out to Von Spee’s squadron in the Falklands in 1914.

Fiume, a Zara-class heavy cruiser sunk during Battle of Cape Matapan, 29 March 1941, painting by Adam Werka

The only survivor of her class, Gorizia fought at both inconclusive surface actions known as the battles of Sirte, again without taking hits in either.

Gorizia opens fire with her 8in guns on British forces at the Second Battle of Sirte, 22 March 1942

Gorizia cruiser class Zara, in Messina, March 23, 1942, after 2nd Sirte

The U.S. Navy’s ONI 202 listing for Italian ships, released in early 1942, carried Gorizia.

Endgame

Her luck ran out on 10 April 1943.

The last two operational Italian heavy cruisers, Gorizia, and the Trento-class Trieste, were subjected to an attack by 84 Algerian-based B-17Fs of the 15th Air Force’s 301st Bombardment Group (Heavy) and 97th Bombardment Group (Heavy), while anchored near Sardinia’s Caprera Island.

As noted at the time by the War Department:

The Italian heavy cruiser Trieste was sunk & the heavy cruiser Gorizia was severely damaged when Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Northwest African Air Forces attacked them as they lay at anchor at the Naval base of La Maddalena on the Northern coast of 4/10. The attack was made by one of the largest formations of Fortresses ever to be put into the air. Both vessels received direct hits. Reconnaissance photographs taken since the attack show Gorizia still afloat but in badly damaged condition with several tugs alongside and a large amount of oil spreading over the water around her. It is apparent that she will be out of action for a long time. The Fortresses, which were unescorted, all returned safely to base.

“The Italian heavy cruiser Gorizia was severely damaged when planes of the 342nd Bomb Squadron, 97th Bomb Group, 15th Air Force attacked as it lay at anchor at the Naval Base of La Maddalena on the northern coast of Sardinia on 10 April 1943.” (U.S. Air Force Number 3A26988, via NARA)

“The 11,000-ton Italian cruiser Gorizia lying off La Maddalena harbor of Northern Sardinia. One of the largest Flying Fortress formations badly damaged the Gorizia with direct hits on April 10. Its sister ship, the 10,000-ton Trieste was sunk on the same raid. Lines around Gorizia are anti-torpedo nets.” (U.S. Air Force Number 24037AC, via NARA)

“Here, the stern and bow of the cruiser Gorizia are dimly seen through the smoke and flames of many bombs burst on her deck and in the water around her.” (U.S. Air Force Number A23879AC, via NARA)

“Here, the bow of the Trieste is seen high out of the water as she receives a direct hit on the stern and many other bombs burst around her.” (U.S. Air Force Number 23879AC, via NARA)

In the attack, the Fortresses landed at least three 500-pound bombs on Gorizia, with one penetrating the rear super firing turret and the other two the armored deck next to the port side superstructure. Meanwhile, near-misses wracked the hull and caused limited flooding. She suffered 63 deaths and 97 wounded.

Two days later, on 12 April, emergency repairs were effected, and Gorizia steamed for La Spezia where she entered dry dock on 4 May.

It was while high and dry in La Spezia that word came in September of the Italian surrender to the Allies. As the Germans moved in to seize the harbor, the ship’s skipper mulled an order to flood the dock and further scuttle the already heavily damaged ship but was not able to carry it out. Either way, the Germans found her in poor condition and simply moved Gorizia, sans crew, from the dry dock to the harbor, where they left her to swing at her anchors near the similarly abandoned Bolzano.

With aerial photography showing the (believed) still mighty cruisers afloat in La Spezia despite several raids from B-25s and could nonetheless be used as block ships by the Germans, a team of volunteer co-belligerent Italian X MAS Flotilla frogmen, working in conjunction with the British, infiltrated the harbor’s “defenses” on the night of 21/22 June 1944 by means of Chariot human torpedoes and SLC speedboats with the aim of sinking same. Codenamed Operation QWZ, just two British/Italian Chariots made it into the harbor and only one found her target. Hint, it was not Gorizia.

While Bolzano went to the harbor bottom, the abandoned Gorizia escaped mining and still had enough compartments intact to remain afloat until the Allies liberated the harbor in April 1945.

“Italian light cruiser Gorizia First Caught It Off Sardinia from 15th Air Force, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, later from North American B-25 Mitchells At La Spezia.” (U.S. Air Force Number 57668AC, via NARA)

Epilogue

Surveyed and considered wrecked, Gorizia, although the last Italian heavy cruiser not underwater in 1945, was passed over both by the Allies’ prize committee and the newly-formed post-war Marina Militare.

Gorizia is not listed in the 1946-47 Jane’s Fighting Ships entry for Italy.

Stricken from the naval register on 27 February 1947, she was subsequently raised and slowly broken up for scrap.

The modern Italian Navy has not recycled the name, that of an often controversial former Austrian border town and Great War battleground which now sits astride the Slovenian line. The Marine Militare does have a short memorial page to the old cruiser, though.

Several period postcards are in circulation with particularly good views of the vessel. 

You have to admit, the Zaras had beautiful lines

Gorizia continues to sail in plastic as she has been the subject of several scale model kits including those by Tauro and Trumpeter, which have resulted in some interesting maritime art.

Specs:
Displacement: 13,660 t (standard), 14,460 t (full)
Length: 599 ft. (overall)
Beam: 67 ft.
Draft: 23 ft.
Propulsion: 8 Thornycroft boilers, 2 Parsons turbines, 2 propellers, 95,000 hp
Speed 33 knots
Range: 5,434 nm at 16 knots
Crew: 31 officers and 810 sailors
Armor:
vertical belt, turrets: 150 mm; horizontal: 70 mm
Aircraft: 2 Piaggio P6bis seaplanes, later replaced by Macchi M.41, CANT 25AR, CMASA MF6, and finally (1938) IMAM Ro.43. Bow catapult
Armament:
4 x 2 203/53 Mod. 1927
6 x 2 100/47 OTO Mod. 1928 (Skoda M1910)
4 x 1 40/39 mm QF Vickers-Terni pattern AAA pom-pom guns
14 x 20/65 mm Breda Mod. 35 AAA guns
8 x 13.2 mm Breda Mod. 31 machine guns

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Warship Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

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

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020: A Snowball in Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless, she would be back soon enough.

Korea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As noted by a reunion site for the carrier:

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

It was the stuff of newsreel footage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Korean Campaign saw:


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

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

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

 

Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

This brings us to…

Suez Crisis: Operation Musketeer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is also remembered in maritime art.

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

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

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Lots of cold bubbleheads this month

Scheduled to last five weeks, ICEX 2018 has kicked off with a joint NATO effort to show readiness in the Arctic.

The Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL) and the Canadian Defence Forces have set up Ice Camp Skate on a floe drifting in the Arctic Ocean.

“The base will serve as a temporary base for submarine operations, including under-ice navigation and torpedo exercises. The camp consists of shelters, a command center and infrastructure to safely house and support more than 50 personnel at any one time.”

Ice Camp Skate (March 5, 2018) A Royal Canadian DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft delivering supplies and personnel flies over Ice Camp Skate during camp build during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018. ICEX 2018 is a five-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Airman 1st Class Kelly Willett/Released)

“With every ICEX we are able to build upon our existing experience and continue to learn the best way to operate in this unique and harsh environment,” said Rear Adm. James Pitts, commander, Undersea Warfighting Development Center (UWDC). “We are constantly testing new tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) under the ice, and this exercise allows us to do so on a larger scale and alongside our U.K., joint and academic partners.”

USS Hartford (SSN 768) surfaces in the Arctic Circle near Ice Camp Sargo during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2016. She will make a return to the ice this year, along with some company

Three submarines– Seawolf-class fast attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) from Bangor, Wash., the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN 768) from Groton, Conn., and the Royal Navy Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Trenchant (S91)— will conduct multiple arctic transits, a North Pole surfacing, scientific data collection and other training evolutions during their time in the region.

The floating ice station also conducts oceanography experiments, as shown below with personnel from NAL, University of Alaska Fairbanks and Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC) Science collecting data through the floe.

There are Hearts of Oak guarding the Queen

The group, drawn from across the Navy to include the Fleet Air Arm and HMs Submarines, trained for two weeks under the eye of instructors from the Coldstream Guards

A scratch group of 48 RN officers, NCOs and sailors are this week guarding Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, The Tower of London and St James’s Palace as a unit for the first time. The duty traditionally falls to one of the five Foot Guards Regiments from the Army’s London Garrison Household Division, but this is believed to be the first time the Royal Navy are mounting the Queen’s Guard– though Sir Walter Raleigh was appointed Captain of the Queen’s Guard in 1587.

The Royal Marines, meanwhile, have completed the Queen’s Guard on at least three occasions.

The sailors are “dressed in pristine navy blue double-breasted greatcoats with white belts, white caps, white gaiters and black boots” with SA80 (L85 Enfield) rifles and bayonets, complete with white and brass sheaths, in tow.

“The sight of sailors undertaking public duties in our capital city is a sign that the Royal Navy is back where it belongs, at the very heart of national life,” said First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones.

So what have the Guards been doing while the RN is on the watch? Well, at least one small group of Grenadier Guards have been hanging out in Africa fighting poachers in Liwonde National Park in Malawi. Armed with AK-47s and the like, armed poachers have killed over 100 park rangers in the past year.

The Grenadiers have been working “side by side with teams from African Parks and the Malawian Department of National Parks and Wildlife to mentor the Rangers. With 548 km2 of woodland and dry savannah to cover, a tactical shift to long-range patrols has paid off. During the three-month period, the teams removed 362 snare traps, two gin traps and more than 700 meters of illegal fishing nets in the park.”

Nine poacher camps have also been destroyed and a number of suspects arrested. So there’s that.

HMs derpy (but deadly) sharks

Thousands of Motor Launch (ML), Coastal Motor Boat (CMB), Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB), Motor Anti-submarine Boat (MASB), Motor Gunboat (MGB), Steam Gunboat (SGB), Fast Patrol Boat (FPB) and Fast Training Boat (FTB) craft served in the RN’s often forgotten Coastal Forces during WWII.

Scrapping with the Germans S- and E-boats up and down the English Channel and French coast, as well as birddogging U-boats and supporting both overt and covert landings in occupied Europe, these “splinter boats,” supported by legions of WRENs ashore, had a lot of pluck.

Though these, just two days before D-Day, look a little derpy.

AT A COASTAL FORCES BASE, HMS HORNET, GOSPORT, 4 JUNE 1944. (A 23969) Ships with ‘a bite’. Clever camouflage on the bows of MTB’s at HMS HORNET, Gosport. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205187106

The Big E, 62 years ago today

(Photo via Fleet Air Arm Museum, click to big up)

Here we see the crew of the Audacious-class fleet carrier HMS Eagle (R05), spelling the ship’s name, as her aircraft are arrayed on the flight deck, 4 August 1955, the day before the ship’s visit to Naples. She went on in short order to prove herself in the Suez crisis.

Later that month, her carrier air group made up of Westland Wyverns, Douglas Skyraiders, Hawker Sea Hawks and de Havilland Sea Venoms flew a record 201 sorties in one day, which is not bad for a flattop of any era. The lead ship of her class of large carriers for the Royal Navy, she was laid down at Harland and Wolff in Belfast (makers of the Titanic) during WWII but was only commissioned in 1951.

Along with her sister, HMS Ark Royal, Eagle was the largest warship operated by the British navy– at 55,000-tons fl– until the Queen Elizabeth-class takes to the waters in coming years.

Eagle was paid off in January 1972 at Portsmouth after only 20 years and 4 months of service, and was promptly stripped of reusable equipment to keep her sister in working order for another decade, before being scrapped in 1980.

It could be argued that if Eagle and Ark Royal, with airwings of Fleet Air Arm Buccaneers and F-4 Phantoms, would have been operational in 1982, at which point they would have been in their early 30s, then the Argentinians would have never taken a second look at the Falklands.

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