Tag Archives: seabees

Behind the scenes of being a ‘Bee stuck in the mud of Camp Shelby

Spending most of my life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, interacting with friends and co-workers who had spent time as one of the Navy’s most unsung sailors– Seabees– has been common as about half of the Bees in the country are based in Gulfport. Lots of great guys who always seem to have a sense of humor, and for good reason.

You often see those sad, tan and green convoys heading from Gulfport up Highway 49 to Camp Shelby, a Guard base that always felt stuck in 1943 to me, so they could get their annual field combat training in.

Which, knowing Gulf Mississippi, is always wet and miserable. 

180820-N-ZI635-258 CAMP SHELBY, Miss. (Aug. 20, 2018) Seabees stand inside their fighting position during Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133’s field training exercise (FTX) at Camp Shelby. FTX provides a robust training environment where Seabee forces plan and execute multiple mission essential tasks including convoy security, force protection, and camp buildup prior to deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class George M. Bell/Released)

You know what they say, “If it ain’t raining, we ain’t training.”

Speaking of which, the Navy just posted a great 13-minute doc following the Bees of historic Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 (NMCB 133) on a recent three-week FTX at Shelby, which sounds better than it is.

Warship Wednesday, March 3, 2021: Crossing the Delaware to See the World

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, March 3, 2021: Crossing the Delaware to See the World

Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Here we see the Old Glory flying from the stern of the four-piper Omaha-class light (scout) cruiser, USS Trenton (CL-11) as she sits in dry dock at South Boston’s Charleston Navy Yard, 6 December 1931. Note the narrow destroyer-like beam, her four screws, and the curious arrangement of stacked 6-inch guns over her stern. She would specialize in waving that flag around the globe

The Omaha class

With the country no doubt headed into the Great War at some point, Asst. Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt helped push a plan by the brass to add 10 fast “scout cruisers” to help screen the battle line from the enemy while acting as the over-the-horizon greyhound of the squadron, looking for said enemy to vector the fleet to destroy.

As such, speed was a premium for these dagger-like ships (they had a length-to-beam ratio of 10:1), and as such these cruisers were given a full dozen Yarrow boilers pushing geared turbines to 90,000 shp across four screws. Tipping the scales at 7,050 tons, they had more power on tap than an 8,000-ton 1970s Spruance-class destroyer (with four GE LM2500s giving 80,000 shp). This allowed the new cruiser class to jet about at 35 knots, which is fast today, and was on fire in 1915 when they were designed. As such, they were a full 11-knots faster than the smaller Chester-class scout cruisers they were to augment.

Artist's conception of the final class design, made circa the early 1920s by Frank Muller. Ships of this class were: OMAHA (CL-4), MILWAUKEE (CL-5), CINCINNATI (CL-6), RALEIGH (CL-7), DETROIT (CL-8), RICHMOND (CL-9), CONCORD (CL-10), TRENTON (CL-11), MARBLEHEAD (CL-12), and MEMPHIS (CL-13).Catalog #: NH 43051

The Artist’s conception of the final class design, made circa the early 1920s by Frank Muller. Ships of this class were: OMAHA (CL-4), MILWAUKEE (CL-5), CINCINNATI (CL-6), RALEIGH (CL-7), DETROIT (CL-8), RICHMOND (CL-9), CONCORD (CL-10), TRENTON (CL-11), MARBLEHEAD (CL-12), and MEMPHIS (CL-13).Catalog #: NH 43051

For armament, they had a dozen 6″/53 Mk12 guns arranged in a twin turret forward, another twin turret aft, and eight guns in Great White Fleet throwback above-deck stacked twin casemates four forward/four aft. These guns were to equip the never-built South Dakota (BB-49) class battleships and Lexington (CC-1) class battlecruisers, but in the end were just used in the Omahas as well as the Navy’s two large submarine cruisers USS Argonaut (SS-166)Narwhal (SS-167), and Nautilus (SS-168).

Besides the curious 6-inchers, they also carried two 3″/50s DP guns in open mounts, six 21-inch torpedo tubes on deck, another four hull-mounted torpedo tubes near the waterline (though they proved very wet and were deleted before 1933), and the capability to carry several hundred sea mines.

Mines on an Omaha class (CL 4-13) light cruiser Description: Taken while the ship was underway at sea, looking aft, showing the very wet conditions that were typical on these cruisers' after decks when they were operating in a seaway. Photographed circa 1923-1925, prior to the addition of a deckhouse just forward of the ships' after twin six-inch gun mount. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist's Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99637

Mines on an Omaha class (CL 4-13) light cruiser Description: Taken while the ship was underway at sea, looking aft, showing the very wet conditions that were typical on these cruisers’ after decks when they were operating in a seaway. Photographed circa 1923-1925, before the addition of a deckhouse just forward of the ships’ after twin six-inch gun mount. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist’s Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99637

Triple 21-inch torpedo tubes on the upper deck of an Omaha (CL 4-13) class light cruiser, circa the mid-1920s. The after end of the ship's starboard catapult is visible at left. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist's Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99639

Triple 21-inch torpedo tubes on the upper deck of an Omaha (CL 4-13) class light cruiser, circa the mid-1920s. The after end of the ship’s starboard catapult is visible at the left. Donation of Ronald W. Compton, from the collection of his grandfather, Chief Machinist’s Mate William C. Carlson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99639

The subject of our tale was the second U.S. Navy warship named for the New Jersey city famous for the small but pivotal Christmas 1776 battle after Washington crossed the Delaware. The first to blaze that trail on the Naval List was a steam frigate commissioned in 1877 and wrecked by a hurricane in Samoa in 1889.

USS Trenton (1877-1889) Making Sail, probably while in New York Harbor in the mid-1880s. The original print is a letterpress reproduction of a photograph by E.H. Hart, 1162 Broadway, New York City, published circa the 1880s by the Photo-Gravure Company, New York. NH 2909

Authorized in 1916, the new USS Trenton wasn’t laid down at William Cramp & Sons in Philadelphia until August 1920, finally commissioned on 19 April 1924.

Her four-month shakedown cruise ran some 25,000 miles, taking the shiny new cruiser as far as Persia before popping in at the choicest ports in the Mediterranean, circumnavigating the continent of Africa in the process, and ending at the Washington Naval Yard.

USS Trenton (CL-11) photographed circa the mid-1920s. NH 43751

Before her freshman year was up, two of her plankowners would earn rare peacetime Medals of Honor– posthumously.

From DANFS:

While Trenton carried out gunnery drills about 40 miles off the Virginia capes on 24 October 1924, powder bags in her forward turret exploded, killing or injuring every man of the gun crew. The explosion erupted with such force that it thrust open the rear steel door and blew five men overboard, one of whom, SN William A. Walker, drowned. During the ensuing fire, Ens. Henry C. Drexler and BM1c George R. Cholister attempted to dump powder charges into the immersion tank before they detonated but the charges burst, killing Drexler, and fire and fumes overcame Cholister before he could reach his objective, and he died the following day.

After repairs and mourning, Trenton spent the next 15 years enjoying much better luck, busy sailing around the globe, participating in the standard peacetime work of Fleet Problems, exercises, foreign port calls, and the like. During much of this period, she served as a cruiser division flagship. About as hairy as it got during these happy days was putting a landing force ashore in China during unrest, a trip to take Marines from Charleston to Nicaragua in 1928, and responding to a 1930 revolt in Honduras during the Banana Wars.

USS TRENTON (CL-11) Carrying the U.S. secretary of the navy and the president of Haiti pass in review of the U.S. fleet, off Gonaives, Haiti, about 1925. USS ARIZONA (BB-39) is the nearest battleship. NH 73962

USS Trenton (CL-11) Flagship of Commander Light Cruiser Divisions, Scouting Fleet, underway at sea in April 1927. She has the Assistant Secretary of the Navy on board. NH 94168

USS Trenton in dry dock, South Boston, Dec 6, 1931, Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection.

Another of Leslie Jones’ superb shots, note her weapon layout.

A great view of her rudder and screws from the same collection.

And a bow-on shot, sure to be a hit with fans of dry docks. The slim profile of the Omahas is in good display here.

USS TRENTON (CL-11) In Pearl Harbor during the later 1930s. Color tinted photo, reproduced by the ship’s service store, Submarine Base Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa 1938. Collection of Rear Admiral Frank A. Braisted, USN ret., who was TRENTON’s commanding officer in 1937-38 NH 91636-KN

USS TRENTON (CL-11) in San Diego Harbor on 17 March 1934. NH 64630

USS TRENTON (CL-11) view taken at Sydney, N. S. W., in February 1938, during her visit to that port. Note that the ship is “dressed overall” with the Australian flag at the main. Also note French BOUGAINVILLE-class sloop astern. Courtesy of the Oregon Army National Guard, Oregon Military Academy, 1975. NH 82486

View of the commemorative map of the nearly 20,000-mile cruise made from San Diego, U. S. A., to Australia, and back to San Diego, from late 1937 to early 1938. Cruise made by sisterships USS TRENTON (CL-11), USS MILWAUKEE (CL-5), and USS MEMPHIS (CL-13). Courtesy of the Oregon Army National Guard, Oregon Military Academy, 1975. Catalog #: NH 82488

USS TRENTON (CL-11) Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, served in her as ComCruDiv Two from 9 July to 17 September 1938. He has signed this photo. NH 58114

Fita-Fita Guards handling USS Trenton’s lines at Naval Station, Tutuila, Samoa, March 31, 1938. Ironically, a warship of the same name was destroyed in Samoa in 1889 by Neptune. NARA # 80-CF-7991-2

USS Trenton (CL-11) in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, circa early 1939. Photographed by Tai Sing Loo. Trenton is carrying SOC floatplanes on her catapults. Donation of the Oregon Military Academy, Oregon National Guard, 1975. NH 82489

By June 1939, with the drums of war beating in Europe, our cruiser joined Squadron 40-T, the dedicated task force organized to protect American interests during the Spanish Civil War.

USS TRENTON (CL-11) View taken at Madeira, in the Azores, circa 1939. Note motor launch in the foreground. Courtesy of the Oregon Army National Guard, Oregon Military Academy, 1975. NH 82487

She was swinging at anchor in the idyllic French Riviera port of Villefranche-sur-Mer when Hitler marched into Poland in September.

Squadron 40-T, view taken at Villefranche-Sur-Mer, France, circa 1939, showing USS TRENTON (CL-11) and an unidentified U.S. “Four-pipe” destroyer in Harbor. NH 82493

Over the next 10 months, she would spend much of her time in neutral Portuguese waters awaiting orders, typically as squadron flagship with an admiral aboard. When finally recalled home in July 1940, following the collapse of the Low Countries to the German Blitzkrieg, Trenton carried exiled Luxembourger royals to America at the behest of the State Department.

Switching Europe for Asia, Trenton was ordered to the Pacific in November, and she was soon busy escorting transports carrying men and equipment to the Philippines with stops at scattered outposts such as Midway, Wake Island, and Guam, all of which would soon become battlegrounds.

WWII 

By the time the balloon went up on 7 December 1941, our cruiser was moored at Balboa in the Panama Canal Zone, where she had been assigned on orders of ADM Stark to be ready to prowl the Eastern Pacific for enemy shipping and commerce raiders in the event of a real-live war.

Her first mission of WWII was to escort the joint Army-Navy Bobcat Force (Task Force 5614) to the French colony of Bora Bora in late January 1942, an operation that saw the first use of the Navy’s new Seabee units.

U.S. Navy ships in Teavanui Harbor in February 1942. The town of Vaitape is in the left-center. The cruiser and destroyer on the right are USS Trenton (CL-11) with four smokestacks, and USS Sampson (DD-394). An oiler is in the center distance. #: 80-G-K-1117.

While fast and with long legs, the Omaha class cruisers were under-armed and under-armored for 1940s fleet actions, a role that relegated them to the periphery of the conflict. As noted by Richard Worth in his Fleets of World War II:

The fleet sought a way to turn the Omahas into something valuable. Proposals included a conversion to carrier-cruiser hybrids or a complete reconstruction into aircraft carriers. A more realistic plan would have specialized the ships as AA escorts, retaining their twin mounts with a new DP battery of seven 5-inch guns, but the navy didn’t bother.

With that, Trenton kicked her heels for most of the war ranging from the Canal Zone to the Straits of Magellan, visiting the west coast ports of South America, the Juan Fernandez Islands, the San Felice chain, the Cocos, and the Galapagos, keeping an eye peeled for Axis vessels which never materialized.

USS TRENTON (CL-11) Underway off Bona Island in the Gulf of Panama, 11 May 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Bow view. #: 19-N-44442

Same series, #: 19-N-44439

Same series, # 19-N-44440. Note, her seaplanes appear to be Kingfishers

In the same series, note the depth charge racks on her stern, something you don’t see a lot of on a cruiser. #: 19-N-44438

Following a two-month refit at Balboa, she shipped North for San Francisco in July 1944, cleared to finally get into the action.

When she left Panama, she had her war paint on.

USS Trenton (CL-11) underway in the Gulf of Panama, 14 July 1944. She is wearing camouflage Measure 33, Design 2f. #: 19-N-68655

USS Trenton (CL-11) in San Francisco Bay, California, 11 August 1944. Note her large SK annetnna atop the mast. The SK was a surface search radar capable of picking up a large airborne target, such as a bomber, at 100nm and a smallish surface contact, for example, a destroyer, at 13nm. She is wearing camouflage Measure 33, Design 2f. # 19-N-91697

Arriving at Adak in the Aleutian Islands on 2 September 1944, she joined the North Pacific Force as a unit of Cruiser Division One. She would soon be running amok in the Japanese Kuriles chain, alongside other members of her class such as sisterships USS Richmond and USS Concord (CL-10), who had, like Trenton, up to that time had spent most of the war in the Southeastern Pacific.

From her Trenton’s official War History, which is online at the National Archives:

Trenton fired her first shots against the enemy on 5 January 1945 in a bombardment of shore installation at Surubachi Wan, Paramushiru. There followed more shore bombardments against Kurabu Zaki, Paramushiru, on 18 February; Matsuwa on 15 March and 10 and 11 June. On this last raid, Trenton, along with other units of Task Force 92, made an anti-shipping sweep inside the Kurile chain during daylight hours of 11 June before firing the second night’s bombardment. Targets on these islands included fish canneries, air strips, and hangars, radar and gun installations, and bivouac areas. Aerial reconnaissance showed substantial damage inflicted in these shellings by Task Force 92.

Trenton’s guns got a heck of a workout during this period. For instance, in the 15 March raid on Matsuwa alone, they fired 457 Mk. 34 high capacity, 18 Mk. 27 common, and 14 Mk. 22 illum shells in a single night. This was accomplished in 99 salvos fired at an average rate of 4.95 salvos per minute, or 22.45 shells per minute. A star shell was set to burst every sixth salvo, providing “excellent illumination,” while the ship used her SG radar to furnish ranges and bearings and Mk 3 radar to check range to the land from fire bearings with correction adjusted accordingly. The firing was done from 13,000 yards and ran for just 21 minutes. Not bad shooting!

The cruiser also helped put some licks in on Japanese surface contacts.

Again, her War History:

Trenton’s last war-time action occurred 23 to 25 June, when the task force again made an anti-shipping sweep along the central Kuriles. With the force split over a wider area, the other unit made contact with the enemy inside the chain. By sinking five ships out of a small convoy [the auxiliary submarine chasers Cha 73, Cha 206, and Cha 209, and guard boat No. 2 Kusunoki Maru, sunk; and the Cha 198 damaged], Task Force 92 disclosed the presence of U.S. Naval Forces in the Sea of Okhotsk and set off a wave of alarm in the Japanese press and radio. Fear of this “formidable task force prowling the northern home waters of Japan,” coupled with the increased attacks by Task Forces 38 and 58 to the south, convinced the Japanese that they were at last surrounded and added to their discouragement which led to the surrender in August.

Epilogue

Steaming for San Francisco to get an overhaul in for the final push on the Home Islands, Trenton was there when the war ended. Ordered to proceed to Philadelphia via the Canal that she spent most of the war protecting, she arrived there just before Christmas 1945 and was decommissioned. Like the rest of her class, there was little use for her in a post-war Navy filled with shiny new and much more capable cruisers, so they were liquidated entirely and without ceremony.

Of her sisters, they proved remarkably lucky, and, though all nine saw combat during the war– including Detroit and Raleigh who were at Pearl Harbor– none were sunk. The last of the class afloat, USS Milwaukee (CL-5) was sold for scrap at the end of 1949, mainly because after 1944 she had been loaned to the Soviets as the Murmansk.

As for Trenton, she was stricken from the Navy List on 21 January 1946 and later sold for $67,228 to the Patapsco Scrap Co. along with sistership Concord, who reportedly fired the last naval bombardment of the war.

Trenton had a string of 15 skippers in her short 21-year career, four of whom would go on to put on admiral’s stars including ADM “Old Dutch” Kalbfus who commanded the battlefleet on the eve of WWII, the long campaigning VADM Joseph Taussig, and ADM Arthur Dewey Struble who led the 7th Fleet during the miracle landings at Inchon.

One of the most tangible remnants of the vessel is the State silver service that she carried for most of her career. Originally made for the first battleship USS New Jersey (BB-16) in 1905 by Tiffany & Co., Trenton became caretaker of the 105-piece set when she was commissioned as the obsolete Virginia class of pre-dreadnought was disposed of as part of the Washington Naval Treaty in 1920. Trenton turned the set back over to the Navy during WWII for safekeeping and it was eventually presented to the Iowa-class battlewagon (BB-62) post-war. Today half the set, which is still owned by the Navy, is at the New Jersey Governor’s Mansion while the other half is on display in a secure case in the captain’s quarters of the Battleship New Jersey museum.

Silver service of USS NEW JERSEY then on USS TRENTON, 1933. NH 740

Her war diaries and reports are largely available online in the National Archives in a digitized format.

The Navy has recycled the name “Trenton” twice since 1946. The first for an Austin-class amphibious dock (LPD-14) which served from 1971 through 2007 and is still in service with the Indian Navy as INS Jalashwa (L41), a name which translates roughly into “seahorse.”

An undated file photo of a starboard bow view of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Trenton (LPD 14) underway. Trenton was one of several ships that participated in Operation Praying Mantis, which was launched after the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) struck an Iranian mine on April 14, 1988. (U.S. Navy photo 30416-N-ZZ999-202 by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Bates/Released)

The fourth and current Trenton is an MSC-operated Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport (T-EPF-5), in-service since 2015.

Specs:

1946 Jane’s plan, by which time only Milwaukee was still in service– with the Soviets!


Displacement: 7,050 long tons (7,163 t) (standard); 9,508 full load
Length: 555 ft. 6 in oa, 550 ft. pp
Beam: 55 ft.
Draft: 14 ft. 3 in (mean), 20 feet max
Machinery: 12 × Yarrow boilers, 4 × Westinghouse reduction geared steam turbines, 90,000 ihp
Range: 8460 nm at 10 knots on 2,000 tons fuel oil
Speed: 35 knots estimated design, 33.7 knots on trials
Sensors: SK, 2 x SG, 2 x Mk 3 radars fitted after 1942
Crew: 29 officers 429 enlisted (peacetime)
Armor:
Belt: 3 in
Deck: 1 1⁄2 in
Conning Tower: 1 1⁄2 in
Bulkheads: 1 1⁄2–3 in
Aircraft carried: 2 × floatplanes (typically Vought O2U-1 then Curtiss SOC Seagulls), 2 amidships catapults
Armament:
(1924)
2 × twin 6 in /53 caliber
8 × single 6 in /53 caliber
2 × 3 in /50 caliber guns anti-aircraft
6 × triple 21 in torpedo tubes
4 × twin 21 in torpedo tubes
224 × mines (capability removed soon after completion)
(1945)
2 × twin 6 in/53 caliber
6 × single 6 in/53 caliber
8 × 3 in/50 caliber anti-aircraft guns
6 × triple 21 in torpedo tubes
3 × twin 40 mm Bofors guns
14 × single 20 mm Oerlikon cannons

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!

The Frigates Will Endure

Sure, the Resolute Desk is cool, but it isn’t this cool.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Russell Smith (MCPON), recently met a group of Seabees who have been working on a special project for the past couple of weeks.

From MCPON:

Today ended with a visit to a small team of Seabees, charged with constructing two desks – one for the Vice President, and one for the Secretary of the Navy.

King Bee, Force Master Chief Del Terrell and his crew built both desks from wood (live oak and Douglas fir), copper, nails and more harvested from CONSTITUTION during the 2017 dry docking. SECNAVs desk additionally contains wood from two other of the original six frigates, CONSTELLATION and CHESAPEAKE.

This small crew has taken their craft to a place that almost defies explanation, leaving me speechless. The talents our Sailors have is stunning.

We build we fight! Hooyah SeaBees!

75 Easters Ago: Mount Suribachi

Easter morning on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima:

Catalog #: USN 49025

Caption: Their ardor undampened by a drizzling rain, Marines and Navy Seabees attend open-air divine services atop Mount Suribachi on blood-stained Iwo Jima. Covered by a poncho, a small organ provides musical accompaniment while a small choir sings hymns. Even as Chaplain Alvo Martin conducted these Easter services, on 1 April, fellow Marines and Army troops were swarming ashore on Okinawa, hundreds of miles away.

Insignia pop-quiz

Super common in Gulfport and Port Hueneme, as well as anywhere the FMF is moving into new digs overseas, but less frequently encountered elsewhere, this insignia may stump some:

Give up?

It’s the Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia, issued to qualified Naval Construction Force members since 1993.

It incorporates the old-school WWII Seabee “We build, we fight” motto of the sailor bee with a Tommy gun as well as an M1903 Springfield (one of the few times the Springer makes it to patches or insignia) and a cutlass. Interestingly, Seabees often carried all three weapons in WWII, using M1928 and M1 Thompsons, the 1903A3 and, on occasion, ship’s cutlasses (the latter as machetes). They were also the only ones to actually use a Sedgely glove gun in combat!

The more you know…

And yes, the ‘Bees do get a fair amount of field training at Camp Shelby, sucking in the mud.

(U.S. Navy photo 180820-N-ZI635-258 by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class George M. Bell/Released)

We build, we fight,

This is why Seabees hate Camp Shelby:

Remember, at Shelby, you can always use your E-tool as a paddle. (U.S. Navy photo 180820-N-ZI635-258 by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class George M. Bell/Released)

Offical caption: “CAMP SHELBY, Miss. (Aug. 20, 2018) Seabees stand inside their fighting position during Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133’s field training exercise (FTX) at Camp Shelby. FTX provides a robust training environment where Seabee forces plan and execute multiple mission essential tasks including convoy security, force protection, and camp buildup prior to deployment.”

Spread out across 130,000 acres of Mississippi pine forest, gumbo mud swamp and Afrika Korps POW camp carved out of even more rugged DeSoto National Forest, Shelby is the largest state-owned training center in the country and I have spent much time there. Established during the Great War, the famous 38th Infantry “Cyclone” Division formed there before deploying to the Western Front. During WWII the even more famous 442nd RCT and 100th “One Puka Puka” Bn trained there before heading to eternal glory in Europe at places like Hill 140, Castellina and Vosges Mountains.

Since then, Guard units from around the Southeast trained there for the Sandbox– as well as the Gulfport-based Seabees, who attend regular FTXs there among the WWII Q-huts and hummingbird-sized mosquitos.

However, the base does have a great museum on site, open to the public, and you don’t even have to get your feet dirty to check it out.

The Bora Bora battleship batteries at 75

Back in the days of the Great White Fleet, the six Connecticut-class pre-dreadnought battleships (Connecticut, Louisiana, Vermont, Kansas, Minnesota, and New Hampshire; BBs 18-25) were initially designed by BuOrd to carry a secondary battery of twenty-four new model 7″/44 (17.8 cm) Mark 1 rapid-fire naval guns. Designed around 1900, they could rocket out four 165-pound AP shells a minute to 16,500-yards and were considered able to penetrate 9.6-inches of armor at point blank range.

Postcard of USS Connecticut (BB-18) from 1909, the casemated guns above her waterline are 7-inchers.

Postcard of USS Connecticut (BB-18) from 1909, the casemated guns above her waterline but below her decks are 7-inchers.

In actuality, the ships only mounted 12 each in the hull casemates on completion due to topside weight issues, with the slightly longer 7″/45 Mark 2 being the gun of choice. The only other vessel to carry these popguns were the follow-on USS Mississippi and her sistership USS Idaho, which were quickly sold to Greece in 1914.

When WWI came, 54 of these older guns were dismounted to be used in France as tractor and train-mounted mobile artillery though they did not make it there before the Armistice, and indeed not all were converted as such.

Seven-inch tractor mount, Mark five Caption: Developed during World War I. Gun in preparation for proof firing, barrel at 40 degrees elevation. The first gun to be fired at the Naval Proving Ground, Dahlgren, Virginia, was this 7-inch caterpillar gun. Taken on a glass plate in October 1918. This gun is still (December 1963) on the station, though no longer used, it is a tourist attraction. Description: Catalog #: NH 70232

Seven-inch tractor mount, Mark five Caption: Developed during World War I from casemated guns taken from the Connecticut-class battleships. Gun in preparation for proof firing, barrel at 40 degrees elevation. The first gun to be fired at the Naval Proving Ground, Dahlgren, Virginia, was this 7-inch caterpillar gun. Taken on a glass plate in October 1918. This gun is still (December 1963) on the station, though no longer used, it is a tourist attraction. Description: Catalog #: NH 70232

USS Minnesota (Battleship # 22) At the Philadelphia Navy Yard, circa 1919. Note that all of her 7-inch broadside guns have been removed. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 61215

USS Minnesota (Battleship # 22) At the Philadelphia Navy Yard, circa 1919. Note that all of her 7-inch broadside guns have been removed. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 61215

The Connecticuts? They were used as training ships after scant WWI service and under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty, they were all sold for scrap by 1924 and broken up– but their Mark 2 7/45″ guns were saved. Still sitting around at the opening stages of WWII, some (originally from USS New Hampshire) were mounted at Ft. Derussy at Pearl Harbor. Others went to the Azores and USVIs.

Then, eight were sent to Bora Bora, northwest of Tahiti in French Polynesia’s Society Islands just weeks after the war in the Pacific set off. Known as “Operation Bobcat” the Navy maintained a supply force of up to 7,000 men on the island for the duration of the war. The eight 7/45’s were set up in two, four-gun batteries overlooking strategic points around the island to protect it against potential Japanese attack.

Seabees placing a Navy 7”/45 Gun on a hill overlooking Teavanui Harbor, circa February 1942. The town of Vaitape is on the point of land at right. National Archives photograph, 80-G-K-1125 (Color).

Seabees placing a Navy 7”/45 Gun on a hill overlooking Teavanui Harbor, circa February 1942. The town of Vaitape is on the point of land at right. National Archives photograph, 80-G-K-1125 (Color).

Emplacing a Navy 7"/45 gun on a hilltop over looking Teavanui Harbor, February 1942. Catalog #: 80-G-K-1119 Copyright Owner: National Archives

Emplacing a Navy 7″/45 gun on a hilltop overlooking Teavanui Harbor, February 1942. Catalog #: 80-G-K-1119 Copyright Owner: National Archives

two-four-gun-batteries-of-7-inch-coastal-defense-guns-on-bora-boras-heights-were-emplaced-by-seebees-in-wwii-all-are-still-there
These guns never fired a shot in anger and the U.S. pulled out 2 June 1946, turning the airstrip (French Polynesia’s only international airport until 1960), new port facilities and guns over to the locals.

The century-old guns are still there and are a popular tourist attraction, now celebrating their 75th year on the island this month. A little of the Great White Fleet still on watch.

0221 7inch-45-mark-ii