Tag Archives: steam navy

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle & the Forgotten Ocean

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, Oct.5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle and the Forgotten Ocean

U.S. National Archives photo 80-G-446967

Above we see the crew of the British Colossus-class light aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) on deck for an inspection by Field Marshal Earl Alexander, the British Defense Minister, on 14 June 1952. Ocean was at the time off the Korean coast– a peninsula where she was highly active some 70 years ago– and she has Hawker Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fairey Fireflys of 825 Squadron aboard. It looks like the light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) is off her stern.

Ocean is often forgotten when it comes to British carriers, as it seems everyone just cares about the ones that were active in WWII and the Falklands and forgot about everything between 1946 and 1982, however, she was important in naval history– being the first flattop to host a jet (intentionally) as well as probably the last to have a combat-ready biplane take off from her deck. As you can tell in the above, she also saw a good bit of combat as well.

Ocean 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 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.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry with 12 of the 16 sisters listed.

Capable of carrying up to 45 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

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 (later passed on to the Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader HMS Colossus was even sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Our Ocean, a long time coming

The fifth HMS Ocean in the Royal Navy since 1761 was laid down in Scotland on 8 November 1942 at Alexander Stephen & Sons Limited in Glasgow. However, she was a slow build-out and wasn’t launched until after D-Day, with the Australians showing an interest in acquiring her. (While the Australian deal fell through, they did ultimately operate no less than three of her sisters after the war.)

Ocean was captured by noted English painter, Sir Henry George “Harry” Rushbury, at the time, while Sir Henry was working as an official war artist– a job the 56-year-old had done in the Great War as well– around the port of Glasgow.

Shipbuilding, Glasgow, a view looking up at the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) under construction from the quayside. A crane transporting a component onto the deck of the ship looms above while cables and wires cross from the ship to the quay, by Sir Henry Rushbury, 1944. © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/23522

This left the Admiralty to commission Ocean on 8 August 1945, three months after the war ended in Europe and just a week before the surrender of the Empire of Japan in World War II was announced by Emperor Hirohito on 15 August.

The aircraft carrier HMS Ocean at sea, late 1945. IWM A 30618

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JULY 1945, AT SEA. (A 30619) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161723

Although it had been intended to rush her to join the British Pacific Fleet as a dedicated night fighter carrier in the last push to take down Japan, that plan evaporated soon after she was commissioned and Ocean, therefore, spent the rest of 1945 in home waters at Rosyth as a trials ship, including the final embarkation of the iconic Fairey Swordfish “Stringbag” torpedo bomber that had won laurels at Taranto and against the Bismarck early in the war.

Capable of just 140 knots when wide open, while dated when it came to any sort of warfare in WWII, the Fairey Swordfish became a formidable ASW asset against surfaced U-Boats due to their low-speed and stable flight. Ocean was the last British carrier to operate the type. IWM A 24981

She was also the trials ship for the new twin-engine De Havilland Sea Hornet F.20, with prototype PX219– the full naval version– conducting carrier deck trials on board Ocean in late 1945 with renowned test pilot Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown at the controls. The plane was notable for being the fastest production piston-engine aircraft ever put into service.

The Sea Hornet was designed with cues from the successful De Havilland DH98 Mosquito and powered by a pair of massive 2,070 hp Merlin engines. Brown would later describe it as “Like flying a Ferrari in the sky.”

Winkle Brown also made a bit more history on Ocean in 1945, just before the year was out.

On 4 December 1945, he made the world’s first carrier landing by a jet, bringing the second prototype De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, No. LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean.

De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, on 3 December 1945.

Peacetime service

Deployed to the Mediterranean Fleet in late 1945 with a wing of Seafires and Fireflys, Ocean left her aircraft behind in Malta to run troops to Singapore the next summer, then responded that October to the stricken destroyers HMS Saumarez (G12) and HMS Volage (R41), both of which had been damaged by Albanian infernal devices while conducting mine-clearing operations in the Corfu Channel.

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JUNE 1948, GRAND HARBOUR, MALTA. (A 31456) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162475

In 1948, Ocean covered the British withdrawal from their troublesome Palestine mandate-– leaving the Jews and the Arabs to fight it out in the war that followed.

A rare sight post-1945: three British carriers at sea. HMS Ark Royal (R09), HMS Albion (R07), and the little HMS Ocean (R68) bringing up the rear. IWM

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel in June 1950, Ocean’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. By October, another sister, HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea to join her, with her two dozen Sea Furys logging almost 500 sorties a month by December and a whopping 3,500 sorties in just 86 days. 

Soon, Ocean was being prepped to head to the Pacific to give her sisters some relief.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION. 1951, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN AS SHE RECEIVED HER NEW COMMISSION TO JOIN THE MEDITERRANEAN FLEET. (A 31944) Some of the aircraft of Nos 807, 810, and 898 Squadrons, were stowed on HMS OCEAN’s flight deck after the first landing on the light fleet carrier’s new commission. HMS OCEAN sailed from Portland and joined the 2nd Aircraft Carrier Squadron at Malta on August 3rd. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162892

HMS Ocean. Firefly F.R.5s of 810 squadron ranged on deck, engines running ready for takeoff. Commander (Flying) observes from FlyCo. Working up in the Mediterranean from September 1951 to April 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

On April 5th, 1952, HMS Ocean passes the liner Empress of Australia while leaving Grand Harbor, Malta for the Far East. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

HMS Ocean passing through the Suez Canal on passage to East Asia, May 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

Her first tour off Korea would run from May to November 1952, with Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fireflys of 825 Squadron embarked.

ON BOARD HMS OCEAN DURING OPERATIONS IN KOREAN WATERS. 10 JULY 1952. (A 32250) A Firefly of 825 Squadron landing on HMS OCEAN on return from attacking enemy targets. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163137

HMS OCEAN IN KOREA, 1952 – 1953 (KOR 32) A Hawker Sea Fury, with RATOG (Rocket Assisted Take Off Gear), taking off from the carrier HMS OCEAN in Sasebo Harbour, Japan. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205191739

THE ADMIRAL PAID A VISIT. 11 JULY 1952, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN. DURING PATROLS OFF KOREA REAR ADMIRAL A K SCOTT-MONCRIEFF, DSO, FLAG OFFICER SECOND IN COMMAND, FAR EAST STATION, TRANSFERRED FROM HIS FLAGSHIP HMS BELFAST TO HMS OCEAN AND SPENT 4 DAYS ABOARD WHILE HER AIRCRAFT ATTACKED TARGETS IN NORTH WEST KOREA. (A 32243) HMS OCEAN at speed, with planes ranged on deck, in the Yellow Sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016293

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32259) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016296

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF, AND ONBOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN, AS SHE TOOK PART IN OPERATION PRESSURE PUMP, TARGETING THE NORTH KOREAN CAPITAL OF PYONGYANG. (A 32261) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016298

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32262) Sea Furies and Fireflies ranged on the flight deck of HMS OCEAN. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163145

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32260) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016297

The Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) approaching the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) off Korea, before the transfer of RADM Alan Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command, Far East Station from his flagship Belfast to Ocean to observe air operations against targets in north-west Korea. IWM A 32244

HMS Ocean at flying stations, a Sea Fury is on the catapult ready to launch. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

West coast of Korea. At least 33 Sea Furys and Fireflies with WWII D-day style invasion stripes were applied to avoid misidentification as North Korean aircraft, ready to launch as part of Operation Pressure Pump, on 11 July 1952, targeting railways outside the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. IWM KOR 27

On 9 August 1952, FAA LT Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, who flew Corsairs at the end of WWII, was at the controls of his Sea Fury and logged the only official victory of a piston-engine aircraft over a jet fighter during the Korean War. His four-plane section was attacking railroad facilities near Chinnampo when they were jumped by eight MiG-15s, leaving at least one of the latter burned into the countryside and two others reportedly smoking. While today the kill is usually credited to Carmichael’s young No. 4, Sub-LT Brian “Shmoo” Ellis, the fact remains that on that day a Sea Fury from Ocean bested a MiG and all four British aircraft returned safely to their carrier, where they received a “pretty euphoric” welcome, whereas the MiGs could not say the same. 

From 802 Squadron’s War Diary for the Day: 

Lieutenant Carmichael, Lieutenant Davis and Sub-Lieutenants Haines and Ellis started the ball rolling this morning by flying the first AR of the patrol. By 0600 they had entered the area and had commenced their Hanchon and Pyongyang to Chinnampo rail search. By 0630 they had reconnoitered as far south as Chinji-ri, a small village about 15 miles north of Chinnampo. As they meandered down the line, checking the bridge state as they went, they suddenly saw eight jet bogies to the north. Almost immediately the bogies were identified as MiGs – and were closing. By this time drop tanks were fluttering earthwards and the flight had assumed proper battle formation and No.4 – Sub Lieutenant Ellis – had noticed a shower of red tracer streaming past both sides of his fuselage. He cried “Break” over the R/T and the flight commenced a “Scissors”. It was soon apparent that four MiGs were after each section of two Furies but by continuing their break turns our aircraft presented practically impossible targets to the enemy who made no attempt to bracket.

‘On one occasion a MiG came head-on to Lieutenant Carmichael and Sub Lieutenant Haines – they both fired –  it broke away and proceeded to go head-on to Lieutenant Davies and Sub Lieutenant Ellis – they both fired and registered hits. On another occasion, a MiG pulled up in front of Ellis with its air brakes out and he was amused to find the range closing. He gave a long burst and noticed hits on the enemy’s wings. The aircraft then proceeded northwards and a reduced speed with two other MiGs in company. Meanwhile, the flight, still in its battle formation, managed a dozen or so more firing passes at the MiGs head-on. The dog fight lasted 4-5 minutes and then the MiGs disappeared as quickly as they had arrived – as they departed an aircraft was seen to crash into a hillside and blow up. At first Lieutenant Carmichael thought it was one of his flight and ordered a tell-off. However when No.4 came up “loud and clear” it was realized that the Royal Navy had shot down its first communist aircraft. Lieutenant Carmichael as flight leader is being credited with its destruction officially but the rest of the flight are claiming their quarter as well’

“Sea Fury – MiG Encounter” by Robert Taylor: Flying an 805 Sqn. Sea Fury from HMS Ocean in Korean waters, 1952, Hoagy Carmichael became the first piston engine pilot to destroy a jet aircraft during the war, when he downed a North Korean MiG-15.

Royal Navy Fairey Firefly FR.IV from 825 Naval Air Squadron flying a reconnaissance mission from HMS Ocean (R68) along the eastern seaboard of Korea. 16 September 1952. IWM KOR29

In all, Ocean would log 5,945 sorties in her first Korean tour, dropping 3,884 500/1000-pound bombs and launching 16,490 rockets– not bad for a light carrier with just two squadrons of single-engine aircraft embarked.

After some downtime, she would return to Korean waters from May to November 1953 with two new squadrons aboard– 807 (Sea Furys) and 810 (Firefly).

The British and Australians would keep a light carrier or two off Korea throughout the conflict, all from the same class. Besides Theseus, Triumph, and Ocean, HMS Glory would clock in for a tour in 1951 while the Australian HMAS Sydney would also get into the act. Lending a hand, the Canadian sister, HMCS Warrior, transported replacement aircraft to Korea from Britain. Another sister, the Centaur-class maintenance carrier HMS Unicorn (I72), spent most of the war ferrying aircraft, troops, stores, and equipment in support of Commonwealth efforts in Korea and became likely the only aircraft carrier in history to conduct a shore bombardment when she engaged North Korean observers coastwatchers at Chopekki Point with her QF 4-inch Mk XVIs.

In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget flattops during the Korean conflict.

The war is over – HMS Ocean moored at Sasebo in October 1953.

HMS Ocean with her paying off pennant streaming from her mast sailing from Sasebo on October 31st, 1953, for the voyage home to the UK, via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

One last hurrah for Empire!

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Ocean and her sister Theseus 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. CVHE of the period or later LPH.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION (circa August 1954). (A 31947) Naval air-sea rescue Supermarine Supermarine Sea Otter taxis into a pickup position alongside HMS OCEAN before being hoisted on board. The Supermarine Sea Otter was the last biplane amphibian in Fleet Air Arm service. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162895

This brings us to the 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.

A Westland Whirlwind helicopter of the joint Royal Air Force/Army unit is leaving the Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Ocean (R68) with troops for Port Said during the Suez Crisis. November 1956. IWM A 33643

With the Egyptian affair wrapped up, the British chose to pull back “West of Suez” in 1956 and, other than a Baltic cruise that gave the Soviets some heartburn when she called at Helsinki, just over the horizon from Leningrad, Ocean’s days were numbered. Just 13 years old, she was laid up in 1958 and soon nominated for disposal, being sold for scrap in 1962.

Epilogue

Few relics of Ocean remain today.

A large scale model of Ocean is on display in the city of her birth, housed at the Glasgow Transport Museum.

She is remembered in maritime art.

“Ocean Firefly” HMS Ocean in the Korean war, by Roy Gargett

She was outlived by the legends that flew from her deck. 
 
“Winkle” Brown went on to be dubbed the “world’s greatest test pilot,” a title he earned after flying a whopping 487 types (a record verified by Guinness) over his career, interrogating Goering, becoming the only Allied pilot to fly both the rocket-powered Me 163 and more advanced Me 262, and making 2,407 carrier traps while testing the arrestor wires on more than 20 British flattops. He died at Redhill, Surrey, England, on 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years. The Vampire he landed on Ocean is preserved at Yeovilton. 
 

Captain Eric M. Brown with his De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

 
Commander Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, OBE, DSC, would go on to command 806 Squadron in the 1960s and retire from service in 1984. He passed in 1997, aged 73. His young No. 4 over Chinnampo (now known as Nampo) in 1952, Sub-LT Brian “Schmoo” Ellis, was still alive as late as 2018 and being hailed for his deeds over Korea. (For the record when it comes to prop vs. jet combat, a Marine Corsair of VMA-312 would also later down a MiG in Korea and U.S. Navy Skyraiders would bag a MiG-17 over Vietnam on at least two occasions in the mid-1960s)
 
Meanwhile, Ocean’s four hard-working Korean War squadrons– 802 NAS and 807 NAS (Sea Fury); along with 810 NAS and 825 NAS (Fireflys)– would endure for the most part long past the time their carrier was scrapped: 
 
  • 802 Squadron would fly Sea Hawk FB5s from HMS Albion on top cover during Suez and was then disbanded in 1959. 
  • 807 Squadron would upgrade to Supermarine Scimitars and became well-known for running their new jets hot in airshows across the UK. They would also fire the first British Sidewinder in 1961. 
  • 810 Squadron would fly Hawker Sea Hawks from HMS Bulwark in the Suez, ending several Egyptian MiGs on the runway. Later flying Fairey Gannets before transitioning to become a rotary winged unit, they would fly Sea Kings as late as 2001. 
  • 825 Squadron became a helicopter squadron in 1960 and, after flying Sea Kings during the Falklands, is still around as the Royal Navy’s Operational Conversion Unit for the new AW159 Wildcat. 

As for Ocean’s sisters, the last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 and then scrapped. The Australians kept HMAS Melbourne (R21)/ex-HMS Majestic, on hand until 1980, including using her with A-4 Skyhawks and S-2 Trackers in the Vietnam-era (her bones, sold for scrap for a paltry A$1.4 million, would be slowly picked over by the Chinese for 15 years, jump-starting their domestic carrier program). The third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, also a Skyhawk/Tracker carrier, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang. The Indian ex-INS Vikrant/ex-HMS Hercules, which has used Sea Harriers as late as 1997, was saved briefly as a museum ship and then scrapped in 2014 ending the era of these well-traveled light carriers. While no less than five American carriers of the same vintage are preserved, there are no British-built carriers as museum ships.

The Admiralty in 1993, perhaps in recognition of Ocean’s work as a commando carrier at Suez, named the new 23,000-ton Vickers-built one-of-a-kind helicopter carrier HMS Ocean (L12). Although not capable of launching heavily loaded Sea Harriers due to the fact she didn’t have a ski-jump, the new Ocean would for a time be the only British flattop in operation, following the decommissioning of the old Harrier carrier HMS Illustrious (R06) in 2014.

Capable of hosting as many as 20 helicopters including a mix of Wildcats, Merlins, Chinook, and Apaches, HMS Ocean (L12) was in active service with the Royal Navy between 1998 and 2018, the last four as its fleet flagship and the closest thing the Brits had to a carrier.

Decommissioned in 2018, both Brazil and Turkey wanted the ship with the former winning out. She currently operates as NAM Atlântico with an airwing of EC725s, S-70B Seahawks, and AS350s.

The Royal Navy has not had an “HMS Ocean” since, something that should change, in my opinion.


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 am a member, so should you be!

After 60 years you’re still the most beautiful ship in the world

As we covered in a past Warship Wednesday on the Italian Navy’s historic nave scuola (training ship) Amerigo Vespucci (A5312), according to legend, while sailing in the Med in the 1960s, the 80,000-ton Forrestal-class supercarrier USS Independence, on a deployment with the Sixth Fleet duty in support of President John F. Kennedy’s firm stand on the newly-established Berlin Wall, came across a strange tall ship at sea.

The carrier flashed the vessel, Vespucci, with the light signal asking, “Who are you?” The answer, “Training ship Amerigo Vespucci, Italian Navy,” came back. Independence was said to have replied, “You are the most beautiful ship in the world.”

AMERIGO VESPUCCI Italian Training Ship, Sails past USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62) in the Mediterranean, 12 July 1962. The Navy later used this image on recruiting posters and advertising in the 1960s and 70s. USN 1061621

Well, in a salute to that exchange, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) transited the Adriatic Sea alongside Vespucci on 1 September to commemorate the (just passed) 60th anniversary of the 1962 meeting between Indy and Italy’s senior national vessel.

As related by the Marina Militare, the signal from the big American flat top remained very similar: “Amerigo Vespucci, after 60 years you’re still the most beautiful ship in the world”

The Navy also marked the Bush’s 25 August passage through the Strait of Gibraltar with a nice time-lapse video. 

Of note, the GHWBCSG is comprised of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, Destroyer Squadron 26, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55).

“The GHWBCSG is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Europe area of operations, employed by U.S. Sixth Fleet to defend U.S., allied and partner interests.” 

Speaking of carrier news…

In case you missed it, the Indian Navy’s third aircraft carrier– after the Kiev-class INS Vikramaditya (ex-Admiral Gorshkov) and Centaur-class INS Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes)– and first to be indigenously built, the brand new INS Vikrant (R11), was commissioned last week on 2 September after a 23-year planning and construction period.

The new $3 billion (which is a bargain compared to a $13 billion Ford-class CVN) carrier runs 860 feet overall and hits the scales with a 45,000-ton displacement, making her roughly the size of an old Essex-class fleet carrier of WWII or a current LHA/LHD but sans landing equipment. Using a COGAG suite of four LM2500 gas turbines– the same as an Arleigh Burke— she can make 30 knots. 

She actually compares well to the new $7.4 billion 65,000-ton British Queen Elizabeth class carriers, although it should be pointed out that the QEs operate F-35s (if they ever get enough of them). 

The Indian carrier’s armament is Italian/Israeli/Russian, electronics are from all over Europe, and her air group (for now) will be 30-ish STOBAR ski-jumped MiG-29Ks and a few Kamov Ka-31 ASW helicopters. However, this is set to change as the Indians are receiving MH-60Rs from the U.S. and it is between Dassault Rafale-M and the F-18E/F (with odds going towards the cheaper French option). 
 
Boeing recently completed ski jump tests with a Super Hornet loaded with two 500lb laser-guided bombs, AIM9Xs, and AIM-120s.
 

Bay Area Ranger, Ranger, and Ranger

Here we see the old ferry house across from Vallejo at Mare Island, California, about 1892. The Alert-class gunboat USS Ranger (PG-23) is in the right background, with the crew’s hammocks and washing hung out to dry. Authorized by the 42nd Congress the bark-rigged iron-hulled steamer would have an exceptionally long life that would see her serve multiple generations of bluejackets of all stripes.

Photograph from the William H. Topley Collection. Courtesy of Mr. Charles M. Loring, Napa, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 68678

Next, we see the unique USS Ranger (CV-4), the first American aircraft carrier built from the keel-up Entering Hunter’s Point drydock, San Francisco, California, on 2 March 1937.

Note .50 caliber AA machine guns (uncovered) along the flight deck, forward. Note also” 5″ guns and saluting guns at the bow (port and starboard). At the time, she was the first carrier to be docked with planes aboard. NH 51826

Finally, we have the Forrestal-class supercarrier USS Ranger (CVA-61) passing under the San Francisco Bay Bridge on her return to the States on 17 June 1971.

This is from the 1970–71 Cruise Book. Via Navsource/ John Slaughter, Webmaster USS Ranger History & Memorial site

Have a great weekend, guys!

Basswood of the Pacific

Here we see the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Basswood (WAGL-388, later WLB-388) underway during World War II. Marianas Section, off Victor Wharf, Agana Heights, Guam, late 1945.

Library of Congress photo HAER GU-3-1.

Commissioned on 12 January 1944, Basswood was one of 39 180-foot Balsam-class seagoing buoy tenders built from 1942–1944, specifically being one of the 20 improved Class C (Iris) subvariants. She is fairly well armed to tend navigational aids, with her 3″/50 gun visible pointing over her stern while” Y-gun” depth charge throwers are clearly visible on her starboard side. If you look to her stack– under her mast with an SL1 radar system– you can see two 20mm Oerlikons mounted. Unseen are two Mousetrap ASW rocket systems as well as a QBE-3A sonar suite. Several former Warship Wednesday alumni from the same class got to use those weapons during the war.

Capable of a blistering 13-knots, Basswood would go on to have a long career in the Western Pacific, supporting nuclear weapons testing during Operations Greenhouse (1951), Castle (1954), and Redwing (1956). She also completed three deployments to Vietnam in 1967, 1971, and 1972, earning a trio of both Vietnam Service Medals and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medals.

The Coast Guard Cutter Basswood works a buoy as busy Vietnamese fishermen travel to open sea and their fishing grounds from Vung Tau harbor during her 1967 deployment. The cutter battled monsoon weather for a 30-day tour to establish and reservice sea aids-to-navigation dotting the 1,000-mile South Vietnamese coastline. USCG Historian’s Office photo

Decommissioned 4 September 1998 after 54 years of service, she was disposed of in 2000, eventually scrapped.

The Mighty B Comes Home for a Visit

Official caption: “The Almirante Didiez Burgos (PA-301), a Dominican Republic navy’s Cutter, sails into Museum Park Marina in Miami, Florida, Nov. 10, 2021. The Dominican Republic’s navy visited Miami to enable the next generation of Dominican commissioned officers to learn about U.S. Coast Guard.”

Not too shabby for being 78 years in service. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Estrada)

If you are a fan of WWII USCG vessels, Burgos is immediately recognizable as a 180-foot seagoing buoy tender of the Balsam/Mesquite-class.

We’ve covered them before in past Warship Wednesdays and they gave lots of service during not only the war but well into the 1990s. 

Built as USCGC Buttonwood (WAGL-306/WLB-306) in Duluth, Minnesota on the Great Lakes, she commissioned 24 September 1943– heading almost immediately for the Pacific.

USCGC Buttonwood tied up after her commissioning- 27 September 1943. Her wartime armament included a 3″/50, two Oerlikons, depth charge tracks, two Mousetraps, four Y-guns, an SL-2 radar, and WEA-2 sonar. Not bad for a 900-ton auxiliary that had a top speed of 13 knots. USCG Historian’s Office photo

She arrived at Guadalcanal in May 1944 and alternated her aids-to-navigation duty with salvage and survey work, often under fire as she moved forward with the fleet. “Mighty B” endured a reported 269 attacks by Japanese aircraft, including 11 air raids in one day, being credited with downing two enemy aircraft with her AAA guns.

On Christmas 1944, she went to the assistance of the burning Dutch troopship Sommeisdijk, which had been hit by a Japanese torpedo, and rescued 182 men.

M.V. SOMMELSDIJK. Built for the Holland America Line and used as a Troopship, the SOMMELSDIJK is shown arriving at San Francisco, California, about 1943. After the war, she returned to commercial service for the line until her scrapping in 1965. Description: Catalog #: NH 89834

Other than her WWII service, Buttonwood had a very active Cold War– providing aids to navigation for military tests sites throughout the Pacific– and the War on Drugs.

USCGC Buttonwood underway in 1960. Note she still has her 3″/50 over the stern but now has a black hull, a common feature of ATON ships in USCG service even today. USCG Historian’s Office photo

For instance, during Korea:

At the outbreak of the Korean War, Buttonwood was re-equipped with sonar gear, guns, and depth charges. Though she was never directly involved with combat, Buttonwood was prepared and trained with the Navy by participating in “war games”. These games often seemed like “cat and mouse” where Buttonwood was tracked by Navy submarines and she, in turn, tried to detect the submarines with sonar equipment. The K-guns and depth charges were subsequently removed in the mid-1950s.

Buttonwood served with the Coast Guard until 2001, and was extensively surveyed for posterity before she was turned over to the Dominicans, who seem to have taken good care of her over the past two decades.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

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, Nov. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

Here we see a member of the 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” Active-class Coast Guard cutters rushed into completion to deal with bootleggers during Prohibition, the USCGC Alert (WSC-127), as she appeared in 1950 coming back into her homeport at Morro Bay, still largely in her WWII configuration. These choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in times of war and Alert did her part during the conflict.

She is back in the news this week, and not in a good way.

The class

These cutters were intended for trailing the “Blacks,” 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 and M1903 Springfields. In a time of conflict, it was thought 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 long held by the Coast Guard and its preceding Lighthouse Service, Revenue Marine, and Revenue Cutter Services.

A long line of Alerts

The first Alert was a 58-foot, 75-ton schooner built by Christian Bergh of New York in 1818 for $6,000. Constructed of live oak, red cedar, and locust, she spent her career policing waters off New England. She was armed with a 32-pound carronade said by some to have been recovered from the wrecked sixth-rate flush-decked sloop-of-war HMS Hermes

Revenue Cutter Alert (1818)

The second Alert was a larger, 74-foot, 120-ton schooner that entered service in 1829. Carrying six guns– a mix of 12-pounder, 4-pounders, and 3-pounders– she participated in both the Nullification Controversy in 1832 and the Mexican War in addition to the service’s efforts to suppress the illegal slave trade and piracy at sea.

The third Alert (2 x 12 pounders) was also a schooner, purchased from consumer trade in 1855, that was later seized in January 1861 while at the docks in Mobile, Alabama by “state authorities.” Up-armed with a 32-pounder, her career with the Confederate Navy was short, as she was captured by the powerful Merrimack-class screw frigate USS Roanoke the following October and scuttled.

The fourth Alert was a small (40-foot, 10-ton) centerboard sloop that entered service in 1877 and served off the East Coast until 1896, one of the service’s final all-sail-powered vessels.

The fifth Alert was a 62-foot, 19-ton wooden-hulled steam launch acquired by the Revenue Cutter Service in November 1900. She spent seven years on quarantine duties out of Gulfport, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama when her crew transferred to a newly constructed vessel of the same name.

The sixth Alert, a 61-foot, 35-ton steel-hulled steam launch built at Mobile in 1907 was a regular in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound, hauling around National Guard troops to and from the local coastal forts and operating directly under Navy control during the Great War, keeping an eye out for the Kaiser’s submarines. She was sold in 1920 then the subject of our tale, the seventh USCGC Alert, picked up the mantle.

Meet WSC-127

The seventh Alert was placed in commission on 27 January 1927 then proceeded to her first homeport at Boston, “holding sea trials, formation drills, anchorage drills, and gunnery practice en route.” The new cutter continued operating out of Boston as a unit of Division One, Offshore Patrol Force, a Prohibition enforcement unit, until mid-November 1928, when she was ordered to the West Coast, arriving at Oakland in early 1929.

Transiting from New London, Connecticut to California was a 6,000-mile sortie via the Panama Canal that involved not only Alert but her sisterships Bonham, Ewing, Morris, and McLane.

As Prohibition fizzled and the need for Alert to stalk “Blacks” dissolved, her homeport shifted to Ketchikan, Alaska Territory, in May 1931. She would spend the rest of the decade there involved in the Bering Sea Patrol and other enterprises that came with service in the rough and tumble Northern Pacific frontier.

While her homeport changed to Alameda in 1940, she remained on call for Bering Sea patrols as needed. However, war intervened and, after the Coast Guard was shifted to the Navy Department’s control that year, she was assigned to the Navy’s Western Sea Frontier for the conflict.

This saw her armament boosted to include a 40mm Bofors, a pair of 20mm Oerlikons, depth charges, and (eventually) radar and sonar fits. By the end of the war, Hedgehog devices were installed. 

“A Coast Guard Gun Crew On The Alert, 1/6/1943.” The gun is a single 20mm/80 Oerlikon with a 60-round drum mag. USCG photo in the National Archives 26-G-01-06-43(3)

The 125-foot 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. Alert and her sisters had a similar appearance.

Once the panic of 1941 and 1942 subsided, Alert’s wartime duty along the California coast consisted primarily of keeping an eye peeled for wayward mines and missing aircrews.

125 ft. Active-class “Buck and a Quarters,” via 1946 Janes

Postwar, in 1949 Alert was stationed at Morro Bay, where she would spend a decade and participate in the notable SAR cases of DeVere Baker’s series of Lehi rafts that aimed to make it from the West Coast to Hawaii.

Alert also made the rescue of one Owen H. “Curley” Lloyd, a Bodega Bay commercial fisherman, and his deckhand Manual Texiera, whose 50-foot longliner, Norwhal, was lost following a collision with a whale.

In 1959, then moved to San Diego, where she would finish her career. This concluding chapter in her service– by then Alert had been with the Coast Guard for over four decades– was hectic.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

An estimated 90 percent of her underway time is spent assisting distressed small craft skippers. The remainder is generally allotted to disabled members of San Diego’s commercial fishing fleet. Most of the cutter’s 65 to 70 rescue cases each year emanate within a 25-mile radius of Point Loma. During 1966, three emergencies involving American boatmen necessitated runs along nearly the entire length of Baja California’s 750-mile peninsula. Carrying a crew of three officers and 25 enlisted men, the 290-ton Alert boats a beam of 24-feet. While cruising at 10 knots, she has a range of 2,300 miles. Her twin 400-horsepower diesel engines can develop a top speed of 19 knots.

A former crewman noted that the aforementioned press release was overly optimistic about her top speed. The crewman noted: “Now I spent two tours for a total of 4 years as her radioman back in the late 50s and mid 60s and having been qualified as an underway OOD I can tell you for sure she would not get a kick over 13 kts.”

Alert was decommissioned 10 January 1969 and sold before the year was out to Highland Laboratories of San Francisco for $30,476.19, which was a rather good amount of coin for a well-worn vessel that amounted to about half of her original construction cost.

The eighth Alert was soon to keep the name warm and was commissioned on Coast Guard Day—4 August 1969– while the seventh Alert was still awaiting disposal. That vessel, a 210-foot Reliance-class medium endurance cutter (WMEC-630) is still in service 52 years later!

“U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alert (WMEC 630) sails near Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, while participating in a three-day North American Maritime Security Initiative exercise, March 1, 2020. NAMSI is a tri-national effort by forces of the United States, Canada, and Mexico to improve mutual capacity for operational coordination. U.S. Coast Guard photo.”

Museum failure

The seventh Alert was kept in California for years and was a regular sight along the coast.

As noted by a now-folded Old Cutter Alert website for a group that aimed to make her a museum ship, most of her systems and equipment were still original to 1926 late into her civilian life:

The Alert was purchased from the Coast Guard in 1969 by Highland Film Labs and Mr. Barry Brose signed the receipt for her. The Alert was then maintained in her original Coast Guard condition, which was essentially unchanged from 1945, and was very active in San Francisco Bay maritime activities. The Alert was utilized by the sea scouts for training purposes, and occasionally she made appearances in the news, television shows, and movies.

Since 1990, the Alert sat unused and many of her systems became inoperable. In early 2005, the Cutter Alert Preservation Team, Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed and took over ownership of the Alert, and after eighteen months of overdue maintenance by devoted C.A.P.T. chief engineer Mike Stone, the Alert was once again operable and seaworthy.

A home was finally found for the Alert in the Pacific Northwest, and After a shakedown cruise to the Faralon Islands off the California coast in early 2005, the Alert headed north. This was her first open ocean voyage in over 35 years and other than some rough seas and a balky port engine the voyage was uneventful. After a short stay in Coos Bay and Rainier Oregon, the Alert finally arrived at her final destination… Portland, Oregon.

Alert at Vancouver 2007. Note that she is in her USCG scheme complete with a buff mast and stack with a black cap and insignia. Also, note the (surely deactivated) 40mm Bofors forward.

ex-CGC Alert (WMEC-127), 2012. Note the “Save the Old Alert” banner, covered Bofors (?) and extensive awnings. 

The group had her for well over a decade, then seemed to fold away around 2019, never achieving plans to ensure that:

“The future for the Alert will consist of museum-type tours of the ship and her systems, overnight stays for youth and veterans groups (she has berthing for over thirty-five persons plus three officer’s staterooms); and of course remaining operational to conduct on the water activities as a goodwill ambassador of her home port of Portland, Oregon.”

Since then, parties unknown have slowly stripped her as she left to the homeless with the resulting vandalism that comes with that. She was the location of an encampment dubbed “The Pirates of the Columbia,” by the media and locals that was only rousted out last year– a rare pushback in Portlandia.

Images posted by Cody Parsons online this summer of Alert’s poor condition

Over the past few months, the Coast Guard and DEQ have been removing petroleum, oil, and lubricants on board in preparation to dispose of the now-derelict vessel.

Then, reports surfaced this week that she is now on the bottom.

Via the Nautical History Preservation Society: “It’s with great sadness that we announce the sinking of the Alert. The cause is under investigation, vandalism is under suspicion. The vessel seemed very sound on the crews’ previous visit a few months ago. The NHPS will be holding an emergency board meeting to determine the next steps. We will be posting updates.”

“This exemplifies the broken dreams of many people,” said Scott Smith, emergency response planner for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “[Alert] got into a worse and worse condition.”

It is a shame.

The rest of the story with the Buck and a Quarters

As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they all 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.

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

With her service to the country over with, Tiger–a Pearl Harbor veteran– 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. This cutter went through the Panama Canal in 1929 with Alert on their 6,000nm trip from East to West Coast.

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).

Another sister ship that sailed with Alert through the Panama Canal in 1929, ex-USCGC Morris (WSC/WMEC-147), like Alert, has been bopping around the West Coast in a series of uses since the 1970s including as a training ship with the Sea Scouts and as a working museum ship in Sacramento.

USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) late in her career. Note her 40mm Bofors forward, which was fitted in 1942. (USCG photo)

We wrote how she was for sale on Craigslist for $90K in 2019, in decent shape.

Now, she has been saved, again.

The Vietnam War Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, announced in May that they have officially taken the title of the historic ship intending to continue her operations, and have been slowly moving her to the Gulf.

Small victories for small ships…

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 gals 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: twin 400HP General Motors 268a 2-cycle diesel engines, (800hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gals 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 (removed 1950s)
2 × depth charge tracks, stern (removed 1950s)
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward (removed 1950s)


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!

Just when DID the Battleship Era End?

In one of the battleship groups that I am a member of on social media, the subject of the “end of the battleship era” came about with the suggestion that, after the Battle of the North Cape in December of 1943, the importance of post-Washington Treaty battleships had diminished so significantly that any WWI vintage battleship would have sufficed for the remainder of the war as battleships became shore bombardment (which the Iowas were still around for as late as Desert Storm) and anti-aircraft platforms rather than meant to kill other battleships in surface warfare.

Of course, this neglected the glaring fact that the October 1944 Battle of Surigao Straits existed.

As far as my take, I’d argue that the end of the “battleship v. battleship era,” in which opposing vessels of the type could have possibly met in combat, was the mid-to-late 1950s.

Between the three Sovetsky Soyuz-class (Project 23) battleships still somewhat under construction until the late 1940s (canceled 47-49), as well as the elderly Great War-era Gangut-class dreadnoughts (Petropavlovsk/Volkov, stricken 1953; Gangut/Oktyabrskaya Revolutsiya, stricken 1956; and Sevastopol stricken 1957), and the old Italian Cavour-class battleship Giulio Cesare which was taken over after WWII as Novorossiysk until she blew up in 1955, the Soviets had several kinda operational battlewagons as well as some intermittently on the drawing board.

The Soviet battleship Sevastopol underway, circa 1947-48. Note her much-changed profile from the Great War era she came from

Meanwhile, arrayed against the Red Banner Fleet were a number of active NATO-controlled battleships including the Turkish battlecruiser Yavuz (old SMS Goeben, retired 1950, scrapped 1973), two French Richelieu-class battleships (Richelieu and Jean Bart moved to reserve in 1957), the Royal Navy’s HMS Vanguard (retired in 1960), USS Mississippi (still in commission as a test ship until 1956 and retaining her No. 4 turret with working 14-inch guns as late as 1952), and the four Iowas (mothballed between 1955 and 1958, although they would make a rapid comeback). Plus, the reformed Italian Marina Militare (which was a NATO fleet from the organization’s first days) still had the ancient Andrea Doria and Caio Dulio on the rolls as late as 1956. Going even further, the U.S. Navy had 11 very recently modernized dreadnoughts (nine with 16-inch guns) of the Tennessee, Colorado, SoDak, and North Carolina classes in mothballs but still on the Naval List as mobilization assets until 1959. 

Jean Bart in true color, anchored at Toulon during the late 1950s after her brief participation in the Suez Crisis and the termination of her short service life

In short, had there been some sort of East vs. West dustup in the early days of the Cold War, especially in the Black Sea/Eastern Med, it could have resulted in a scenario where battleship-on-battleship violence could have occurred as late as 1956 or so.

Or at least that is my take on the debate, anyway. 

Warship Wednesday, August 18, 2021: The Last Sub Killer

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, August 18, 2021: The Last Sub Killer

National Archives photo 80-G-442833

Here we see a starboard bow view of the Balao-class fleet boat USS Spikefish (SS-404) underway on the surface on 5 June 1952 when she operated from New London making training cruises along the east coast from Bermuda to Nova Scotia. Commissioned in the twilight of the conflict, she is notable in naval history for sinking the final submarine lost by the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II, some 76 years ago this week.

The Balao Class

A member of the 180+-ship Balao class, she was one of the most mature U.S. Navy diesel designs of the World War Two era, constructed with knowledge gained from the earlier Gato-class. U.S. subs, unlike those of many navies of the day, were “fleet” boats, capable of unsupported operations in deep water far from home. The Balao class was deeper diving (400 ft. test depth) than the Gato class (300 foot) due to the use of high yield strength steel in the pressure hull.

Able to range 11,000 nautical miles on their reliable diesel engines, they could undertake 75-day patrols that could span the immensity of the Pacific. Carrying 24 (often unreliable) Mk14 Torpedoes, these subs often sank anything short of a 5,000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their deck guns. They also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

Some 311-feet long overall, they were all-welded construction to facilitate rapid building. Best yet, they could be made for the bargain price of about $7 million in 1944 dollars (just $100 million when adjusted for today’s inflation) and completed from keel laying to commissioning in about nine months.

An amazing 121 Balaos were completed through five yards at the same time, with the following pennant numbers completed by each:

  • Cramp: SS-292, 293, 295-303, 425, 426 (12 boats)
  • Electric Boat: 308-313, 315, 317-331, 332-352 (42)
  • Manitowoc on the Great Lakes: 362-368, 370, 372-378 (15)
  • Mare Island on the West Coast: 304, 305, 307, 411-416 (9)
  • Portsmouth Navy Yard: 285-288, 291, 381-410, 417-424 (43)

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the sub-killing USS Greenfish, rocket mail slinger USS Barbero, the carrier-slaying USS Archerfish, the long-serving USS Catfish, the U-boat scuttling USS Atule, and the frogman Cadillac USS Perch —but don’t complain, they have lots of great stories.

Spikefish!

The first (and only) U.S. warship named for the common label for the striped Pacific marlin, Spikefish was laid down on 29 January 1944 at Portsmouth; launched on 6 March 1944, and commissioned on 30 June 1944.

Her christening sponsor was a true “Rosie” with a compelling backstory, Mrs. Harvey W. Moore. The widow of LT Harvey Wilson Moore, Jr., a submariner lost with USS Pickerel (SS-177) off Honshu the previous April, she was a welder at PNY and affixed Spikefish’s christening plate to the boat’s bow before ditching her leathers for the champaign ceremony.

Mrs. Moore. NARA 12563144, 12563137, and 12563134.

Commissioning day, 30 June 1944, finds the Spikefish (SS-404) off Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard. Note her single 5″/25 over the stern and her 40mm single on the sail. National Archives photo # 80G-453355

After workups, Spikefish arrived in Pearl Harbor the week before Halloween 1944 to prepare for her 1st War Patrol.

Setting out in mid-November with 24 Mark 18-2 torpedoes to conduct an anti-shipping sweep through the Kuril Islands and the Sea of Okhotsk, she didn’t have much luck as Japanese Maru traffic by this stage of the war had been halted as most of it was on the bottom of the Pacific by then. The highlight of her time in the area was being socked in a six-day gale and stalking two merchant vessels on Christmas Eve into Christmas that turned out to be Russian. She ended her 48-day, 9,976-mile fruitless patrol at Midway on New Year’s Day 1945. As noted by Submarine Force Pacific, even though “Spikefish on this patrol underwent the rigors of cold, rough weather in the Kurile Island areas at this time of year without the satisfaction of contact with the enemy…the award of the Submarine Combat Insignia for this patrol is not authorized.”

Setting out on her 2nd War Patrol on 26 January, Spikefish was ordered to patrol off the Ryukyu Islands.

On 24 February, Spikefish encountered a mixed convoy of six cargo ships protected by four escorts and conducted a submerged attack, firing all six forward tubes at two of the freighters, three of which were heard to hit. While it is not known if she sank anything, she did have to dive deep to withstand an 80-depth charge attack over the span of four hours.

Spikefish sighted another convoy on the morning of 5 March while working in tandem with her sister ship USS Tilefish (SS-307), fired another six torpedoes with no confirmed results, and took another pounding. Meanwhile, Tilefish bagged a Japanese minesweeper.

Spikefish ended her patrol at Pearl Harbor on the 19th and was credited at the time with damaging a 5,000-ton Sinsei Maru-type cargo ship in her first attack. She had traveled 11,810 miles in 54 days. With space limited in barracks, her crew was put up at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which surely was horrible.

On 3 May 1945, Spikefish departed from Guam for her 3rd War Patrol and was ordered to patrol east of Formosa where she was assigned lifeguard station duties as the Fleet’s big carrier task forces were at the time hammering the Japanese province. U.S. submarines rescued 504 downed airmen– to include future President George Bush–  during WWII lifeguard duty. 

Spikefish managed to pull a downed pilot (Ensign H.O. Cullen, USNR 390961, an FM-2 Wildcat pilot off the escort carrier USS Sargent Bay (CVE-83)) from the drink on 7 June. On the same patrol, our submarine conducted a fruitless attack on a passing cargo ship and rained 29 5-inch shells on the Miyara airstrip on Ishigaki Jima from a range of 10,000 yards.

USS Spikefish (SS-404) rescues Ens. Cullen (in the raft, lower right), VC-83, five miles off Ishigaki Jima, 7 June 1945. NS0308306. Via Navsource

Spikefish ended her 3rd patrol after 55 days and 13,709 miles in Guam on 13 June 1945.

She began her 4th, and most historically significant war patrol, on 8 July 1945, ordered to operate in the East China and Yellow Seas.

Besides dodging random Japanese aircraft and at least 19 floating mines (marksmen firing rifles from her cigarette deck detonated/sank at least six and hit four others that failed to explode), combat opportunities were slim, with most surface contacts proving to be Chinese junks which the sub sent on their way with the gift of a carton of cigarettes. She surfaced off Surveyor Island in the Yellow Sea on the night of 24 July and bombarded random points with 39 5-inch and 60 40mm shells from a range of about 4,500 yards, with the intent of hitting a supposed Japanese radar site.

On the pre-dawn of 11 August, Spikefish came across a 250-ton sea truck dead in the water. Closing to within 1,500 yards and ascertaining it was an awash Japanese Sugar Dog (SD) type wooden-hulled coaster, the sub opened with 5-inch (15 rounds, 5 hits), 40mm (28 rounds), and 20mm (20 rounds) on the vessel at close range. The craft was quickly sent to the bottom and Spikefish recovered three survivors, including the skipper who said the vessel was homeported in Korea.

Then, tipped off by Ultra intelligence provided by the FRUMEL team at Melbourne, came a two-day stalk of Japan’s only completed Type D-2 Modified “Tei-gata Kai” (Project Number S51C) transport submarine, I-373 while on her inaugural tanker run to Takao, Formosa.

I-370 Type D1 submarine by Takeshi Yuki via Combined Fleet. The 18 planned Type D submarines, 241-foot/2,200-ton boats could carry five Kaiten manned torpedoes of the Shinchō Tokubetsu Kōgekitai topside and carry 85-100 tons of freight or gasoline to blockaded far-flung outposts. Only 13 were completed 1944-45 and nine of those subsequently lost during the war. I-373 was the only one completed as a tanker.

Foreshadowing EW of today, Spikefish was able to track the zigzagging and doubling back I-373 some 200 miles SE of Shanghai in part due to the impulses of the Japanese submarine’s Type 13 air-search radar picked up on her primitive APR warning gear. The end game was played at 0424 on 14 August when the American sub let lose a full salvo of four Mk. 14-3A and two Mk. 23 torpedoes at 1,500 yards, with at least two hits.

After surfacing and passing through a debris field just after dawn, a single survivor, coated with oil, was taken aboard, the remaining 84 Japanese submariners were lost. The recovered Japanese sailor identified the lost sub as the non-existent I-382.

As noted by H-Gram 051, Spikefish claimed the last of 128 Japanese submarines lost during the war while her sister ship, USS Torsk (SS-423) went on to claim the final surface warfare vessel:

Later that day, having penetrated the heavily mined Tsushima Strait, Torsk torpedoed and sank Japanese escort ship CD-47 and then did the same to CD-13, using new acoustic homing torpedoes and passive acoustic torpedoes. CD-13 was the last Imperial Japanese Navy ship sunk by the United States before the surrender, going down with 28 crewmen. (Other Japanese ships would be sunk by U.S. mines in the weeks after the surrender.)

At 0800 on 15 August, just over 27 hours after I-373 was sent to the bottom, Spikefish was notified by COMSUBPAC to cease hostilities. She put into Saipan on 21 August to turn over her two prisoners after a 44-day patrol, her war over. Spikefish received three battle stars for World War II service.

Besides claiming the last Axis/Japanese submarine sent to the bottom in WWII, Spikefish can arguably tote the title of the last warship to have sunk an enemy submarine in combat with the narrow exception of the Korean submarine infiltration stranding incidents in 1998 and 1996. While one day there may be an unlikely bombshell about one of the five Cold War-era submarines still on Eternal Patrol (K-129, Thresher, Dakar, Scorpion, and Minerve; four of which were all lost in 1968), Spikefish still holds the trophy.

When it comes to Spikefish’s sisters, of the schools of Balaos which were commissioned, 10 were lost in the war during operations while another 62 were canceled on the builders’ ways as the conflict ended. In 1946, the Navy was left with 120 units.

Jane’s entry on the Balao class, 1946

Postwar

Transferring to the East Coast, she was given a short refit at Portsmouth then in February 1946 was assigned to Submarine Squadron 2 at New London where she trained new personnel at the sub school, making regular training cruises along the east coast from Bermuda to Nova Scotia for the next 17 years, alternating with runs down to Key West to perform service for the Fleet Sonar School.

Portside view of the Spikefish (SS-404), 1950s. Note that her topside armament has all been removed and she has large sonar domes installed on her deck.

This streak as a school ship was only broken by two short refits/yard periods and a five-month deployment to the Med under the 6th Fleet in 1955, possibly the last such active overseas service for a non-GUPPY Balao. She earned the Navy Occupation Service Medal (Europe) for this cruise, which included exercising with the British submarine HMS Trenchant (P-331), being an OPFOR for the Greek Navy’s ASW forces off Crete, and port calls at Malta, Cartagena, Monaco, and Gibraltar.

Photograph of Spikefish undated. NHHC Photograph Collection, L-File, Ships.

Spikefish, as she looked in the late 50s with a large bubble trunk entrance on her foredeck.

Spikefish diving, photos by Larry Thivierge, Royal Canadian Navy, taken from HMCS Lanark off the coast of Newfoundland/Labrador, via RCN History.

“US Navy submarine USS Spikefish on display at Port of Tampa on McKay St. near 13th St banana docks, circa the late 1950s.” Original Kodachrome by photographer Hector Colado courtesy of Tampa native Yvonne Colado Garren via Tampapix. https://www.tampapix.com/tampa50s.htm

“A good view of the Peoples Gas tanks at 5th Ave. and 13th Street, Ybor City. The smaller tank was built in 1912 for the Tampa Gas Co. and at the time, its 212-foot height made it the tallest structure in Tampa. The tanks were disassembled in 1982 because they were no longer needed for storage and their upkeep was costly.” Original Kodachrome by photographer Hector Colado courtesy of Tampa native Yvonne Colado Garren via Tampapix. https://www.tampapix.com/tampa50s.htm

With so much time spent educating new bubbleheads, on 18 March 1960, Spikefish became the first United States submarine to record 10,000 dives, an impressive safety record that earned her the title of “The divingest Submarine in the World.” As she was the repeated target for scores of destroyers and ASW aircraft, she was probably the “Most depth charged Submarine in the World” as well, albeit they were simulator charges rather than the real thing as she had rained on her back in 1945.

It seems Mrs. Moore and her fellow tradespeople were good at their welding.

Spikefish (SS-404) at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, circa the early 1960s, Courtesy of Jay Jones EM3, Roberts (DE-749). via Navsource.

Bill Bone, a Spikefish vet of that period, speaks of his experience on the aging diesel boat in Key West in 1960-61, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He confirms that Spikefish didn’t even have a snorkel conversion in place at the time but did carry warshot torpedos just in case:

Spikefish was redesignated an Auxiliary Research Submarine and renumbered AGSS-404 (auxiliary, submarine) in 1962, was decommissioned on 2 April 1963 at Key West, and was struck from the Navy list on 1 May 1963.

Epilogue

Spikefish was subsequently sunk as a target off Long Island, New York, SSE of Montauk point in about 255 feet of water on 4 August 1964, just past her 20th birthday. Ironically, she was sent to the bottom by another submarine. 

Eastern Search & Survey has extensively surveyed her wreck via side-scan sonar noting:

Due to residual buoyancy from air trapped in her hull, USS Spikefish moved on the bottom in the weeks after it sunk, making it difficult for Navy divers to locate the wreck and inspect the damage caused by the experimental torpedo that sunk her, a MK 37-1. Damage from this torpedo is still visible in these scans on the starboard side just aft of amidships. Also, note the shadows and faint reflections of nets that drape the wreck.

Note torpedo damage on the starboard side, just aft of amidships Via Eastern Search Survey

Her war history, patrol reports, logbooks, and positional reports are digitized in the National Archives. 

Finally, she has a small public Facebook group for vets and families of vets. 

Eight Balao-class submarines are preserved (for now) as museum ships across the country.

Please visit one of these fine ships and keep the legacy alive:

-USS Batfish (SS-310) at War Memorial Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
USS Becuna (SS-319) at Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
USS Bowfin (SS-287) at USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu, Hawaii.
USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. (Which will not be there much longer)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is hopefully in the process of being saved and moved to Kentucky)
USS Lionfish (SS-298) at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.
-USS Pampanito (SS-383) at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in San Francisco, California, (which played the part of the fictional USS Stingray in the movie Down Periscope).
USS Razorback (SS-394) at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Specs:
(1944)
Displacement: 1,570 tons (std); 1,980 (normal); 2,415 tons submerged
Length: 311 ft. 8 inches
Beam: 27 ft. 3 inches
Operating depth: 400 feet
Propulsion: diesel-electric reduction gear with four Fairbanks Morse main generator engines, 5,400HP, two Elliot Motor Co. main motors with 2,740HP, two 126-cell main storage batteries, two propellers.
Speed: 20 surfaced, 10 submerged
Fuel Capacity: 113,510 gal.
Range: 11,000nm @ 10 knots surfaced, 48 hours at 2 knots submerged, 75-day patrol endurance
Complement 7 officers 69 enlisted (planned), actual manning 10 officers, 76 men
Radar: SV. APR and SPR-2 receivers, TN tuning units, AS-125 antenna, SPA Pulse Analyzer, F-19 and F-20 Wave Traps, VD-2 PPI Repeater (1946 fit), Mark III Torpedo Data Computer
Sonar: WFA projector, JP-1 hydrophone (1946 fit)
Armament:
(1944)
10 x 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 28 torpedoes max, or up to 40 mines
1 x 5″/25 deck guns (wet mount)
1 x 40mm guns (wet mount)
1 x 20mm gun (wet mount)
2 x .50 cal. machine guns (detachable on six mounting points)

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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

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

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, August 4, 2021: The Grand Old Lady of the North

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, August 4, 2021: The Grand Old Lady of the North

USCG Photo, National Archives & Record # 26-G-5608

As today is the 231st birthday of the founding of what today is known as the U.S. Coast Guard, you knew this was coming! Here we see the floating football that is the Wind-class Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAG/WAGB-282) mustering up all available power from her six engines to penetrate a pressure ridge in the Bearing Sea during the winter season, July 1953. Note her twin 5″/38 mount forward and her Hedgehog ASW system at the platform under the bridge. Pretty stout armament for an iceboat, but we’ll get into that.

How the “Winds” came to blow

When World War II started, the U.S. Navy was up to the proverbial frozen creek as far as icebreaking went. While some foreign powers (the Soviets) really liked the specialized ships, Uncle Sam did not share the same opinion. However, this soon changed in 1941 when the U.S., even before Pearl Harbor, accepted Greenland and Iceland to their list of protected areas. Now, tasked with having to keep the Nazis out of the frozen extreme North Atlantic/Arctic and the Japanese out of the equally chilly North Pac/Arctic region (anyone heard of the Aleutians?), the Navy needed ice-capable ships yesterday.

The old (read= broken down) 6,000-ton British-built Soviet icebreaker Krassin was studied in Bremerton Washington by the Navy and Coast Guard. Although dating back to the Tsar, she was still at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world. After looking at this ship and the Swedish icebreaker Ymer, the U.S. began work on the Wind-class, the first U.S. ships designed and built specifically as icebreakers.

Set up with an extremely thick (over an inch and a half) steel hull, these ships could endure repeated ramming against hard pack ice. Just in case the hull did break, there were 15-inches of cork behind it, followed by a second inner hull. Now that is serious business. These ships were so hardy that one, USCGC Westwind (WAGB 281), almost 30 years after she joined the fleet, was heavily damaged by ice in the Antarctic’s Weddell Sea. About 120 feet of the port-side hull was gashed when brash ice forced the ship against a 100-foot sheer ice shelf. The gash was two to three feet wide and was six feet above the waterline. The crew patched the side, there were no injuries, and the breaker returned home under her own power.

At over 6,000-tons, these ships were bulky for their short, 269-foot hulls. They were also bathtub-shaped, with a 63-foot beam. For those following along at home, that’s a 1:4 length to beam ratio. Power came from a half-dozen mammoth Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder diesel engines that both gave the ship a lot of power on demand, but also an almost unmatched 32,000-mile range (not a misprint, that is 32-thousand). For an idea of how much that is, a Wind-class icebreaker could sail at an economical 11-knots from New York to Antarctica, and back, on the same load of diesel…twice.

A photo of USCGC Eastwind, circa 1944. Note how beamy these ships were. The twin 5-inch mounts on such a short hull make her seem extremely well-armed. USCG Photo

To help them break the ice, the ship had a complicated system of water ballasting, capable of moving hundreds of tons of water from one side of the ship to the other in seconds, which could rock the vessel from side to side in addition to her thick hull and powerful engines. A bow-mounted propeller helped chew up loose ice and pull the ship along if needed.

With a war being on, they just weren’t about murdering ice, but being able to take the fight to polar-bound Axis ships and weather detachments as well. For this, they were given a pair of twin 5″/38 turrets, a dozen 40mm Bofors AAA guns, a half dozen 20mm Oerlikons, as well as depth charge racks and various projectors, plus the newfangled Hedgehog device to slay U-boats and His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s I-boats. Weight and space were also reserved for a catapult-launched and crane-recovered seaplane. Space for an extensive small arms locker, to equip landing parties engaged in searching remote frozen islands and fjords for radio stations and observation posts, rounded out the design.

Two of the class, Eastwind and Southwind, operated against teams of German scientists and military personnel who attempted to establish weather stations in remote areas of Greenland late in the war.

As noted by the USCG Historian’s Office on this chapter of “The Weather War,”:

On 4 October 1944 Eastwind captured a German weather station on Little Koldewey Island and 12 German personnel. On 15 October 1944 Eastwind captured the German trawler Externsteine and took 17 prisoners. The trawler was renamed East Breeze and a prize crew sailed her to Boston.

Our Wind

Northwind was ordered from Western Pipe & Steel Co., Los Angeles, (Builder’s Number CG-184) for $9,880,037 and her keel was laid 10 July 1944, the same week the Allies were fighting for Saint-Lo in France and Saipan in the Pacific. Impressively, she was finished in 54 weeks, commissioning 28 July 1945, just a fortnight before the Japanese threw in the towel. As such, her war service was negligible.

However, she was soon on the cutting edge of modern polar operations. Stationed in Boston, she landed her aft 5-inch mount to clear her decks for a large helicopter platform to accommodate a primitive HNS helicopter of the type the  Coast Guard had pioneered the use of in 1944-45.

Original caption: Preparing for Arctic Cruise, 1946. Especially rigged and outfitted for its arctic cruise, the Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind, is shown in New York Harbor before she sailed last spring. The helicopter, which is proving valuable in the work in hand, needs only a small “platform” on which to take off or land and both operations can be carried on while the vessel is steaming at full speed. NARA 26-G-4936

Shown here just before leaving to participate in the Navy expedition to the North Pole, the Coast Guard Cutter Northwind lies at anchor in New York’s harbor, June 26, 1946. Note the NYC skyline to include the Empire State Building. NARA 26-G-4937

Then came a deployment in the form of Operation Nanook, under the command of Captain Richard Cruzen. The destination: Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, where Northwind would field the first helicopter seen in that part of the world.

As detailed by the Coast Guard Aviation Association

The task force was made up of two Navy AK transports modified for sub-zero operations, fully equipped to construct the stations. In addition, the Seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, with two PBM seaplanes, was part of the Taskforce as was the submarine Atule which conducted tests and carried out operations under the ice in Baffin Bay and to the north. The wooden-hulled net tender Whitewood was used as a survey ship. The Coast Guard ice breaker Northwind joined the group north of the arctic circle providing escort and navigation through the ice fields. The Northwind had on board an HNS helicopter piloted by Coast Guard Aviation Pilot 1/c John Olsen. This was a precursor of things to come in polar operations.

Sikorsky HNS-1 helicopter, CGNR 39047, lifts off from the deck of USCGC Northwind on 1 September 1946, during Operation Nanook. Note insignia of what appears to be an Eskimo girl seated astride a polar bear, with the words “Arctic Annie.” Photograph by Photographer’s Mate Second Class P.R. Zimmerman, USN. 80-G-636441

Inset of the Sikorsky’s insignia.

In November 1946, Capt. Charles Ward Thomas, the famed skipper of her sistership USCGC Eastwind during the Weather War with the Germans, assumed command of Northwind. During the Thomas years, Northwind would participate in Operation High Jump, the fourth Byrd expedition to the Antarctic, and subject of the Academy Award-winning motion picture, “The Secret Land.”

Highjump and the follow-on Windmill operation in 1947-48 to this day were the largest naval task forces to operate in Antarctica, consisting of 13 ships including an aircraft carrier and 33 aircraft. Many crackpot legends hold it was to scout out possible secret Nazi bases in the region where Hitler, who was still thought missing at the time, may have escaped to via U-boat.

Northwind spearhead of the expedition, clearing the way through the Ross Sea ice pack for Navy cargo ships. For the mission, she carried both a Grumman J2F Duck floatplane and a whirlybird.

Original caption: Coast Guard ‘Copter Scouts for Leads. From the deck of the Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind, the ship’s helicopter takes off, to look for the “leads” in the ice packs, into which the super ice crusher can smash her way, opening a passage for the thin-hulled vessels of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition. Here the Northwind is followed by the Merrick, Yancey, and the Mt. Olympus. The ‘copter proved of special value, being able to hover and study ice conditions for the benefit of the Northwind’s skipper.” 1/1/1947 NARA 26-G-5024

Sikorsky HNS-1 helicopter, CGNR 39043, landing on the deck of USS Northwind (WAG-282) on 2 January 1947. 80-G-612006

It was during Highjump that Northwind successfully completed the first major rescue mission involving a submarine, freeing USS Sennet (SS-408) along with the supply ships Yance and Merrick, who were stuck in a thick ice flow in the Antarctic Circle.

USS Sennet (SS-408), needing a hand during Operation High Jump

7 January 1947- Operation Highjump, Coast Guard icebreaker NORTHWIND completed the first rescue mission involving a submarine. USS Sennet (SS-408) supply ships Yance and Merrick

Original caption: “The Northwind Hits It! The Antarctic. The World of Ice. With her diesel-electric motors, with power ranging up to 10,000, going full blast, the Coast Guard’s icebreaker Northwind charges the ice pack at top speed. Following the terrific crash, the Northwind rides half a ship’s length up onto the ice before she is stopped. She backs away and charges again and again until the area is broken up and ready for the thin-hulled vessels which follow her. This arduous duty of the Northwind was a day after day routine, as her part of the work of the Byrd Expedition to the Antarctic. This photo was taken from the Northwind’s helicopter, which proved so valuable in scouting out loads in the ice, far in advance of the ships.” 1/5/1947. Note the J2F Duck on her deck. NARA 26-G-03-18-47(7)

On 15 January 1947, Northwind’s chopper made the first helicopter flight to the base “Little America” in Antarctica. The pilot was LT James A. Cornish, USCG and he carried Chief Photographer’s Mate Everett Mashburn as his observer.

Icebreaker USS Northwind (AGB-5) cuts across the bow of USS Mount Olympus (AGC-8) to clear a path for her, through pack ice off the Ross Sea, Antarctica 1947-02-28 L45-209.06.01.

Original caption: Cargo being transferred from the USS Philippine Sea to the Coast Guard Ice-Breaking Cutter Northwind, on Operation Highjump, the Navy’s venture of exploration to the Antarctic. The Coast Guard Ice-Breaker has the task of opening lanes through heavy ice when other vessels with thinner plating could not force their way through. NARA 26-G-5062

Stationed in Seattle from 1947 to 1973, she fell into a cycle of polar ice operations, alternating trips from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In 1948, with the Northwind, Captain Thomas re-established the annual Bering Sea Patrol, which had been discontinued during the war, conducting the first such patrol in eight years, and compiled an oceanographic report of the waters navigated in the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Northwind’s crew, by nature of the cutter’s work, saw some amazing things.

Original caption: “The Antarctic. The World of Ice. Desert of Death. Seldom indeed has the eye of man looked at this bleak desert of ice. This is a tiny portion of the limitless icepack that stands guard around the Antarctic continent. The Coast Guard’s icebreaker Northwind smashes its way into the virgin ice, making a passage for the thin-hulled vessels which made up the central group of the Byrd Expedition to the Antarctic.” 1/11/1947. NARA 26-G-03-18-47(11)

Original caption: “Bering Sea Patrol, its scenery on the grand scale for the Northwind as she roses into an Alaskan fjord. Views rivaling the ethereal beauty of the Alps, are typical of the stale and abound fringed coasts of Alaska.” 11/14/1948 NARA 26-G-5300

Original caption: The Artist is Mother Nature – On a refueling mission in Alaskan waters, the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) passes snow-capped Mt. Shishaldin in this picturesque scene, taken on the Bering Sea side of the Aleutian Islands. Mt. Shishaldin is one of 80 active volcanoes in the Aleutians. 11/26/1950 NARA 26-G-5477

Her Cold War career (see what I did there) consisted largely of a series of Operation Deep Freeze resupply missions to the Antarctic, alternating with Bering Sea patrols with the latter including missions to install and support the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line.

Original caption: Postman Artic Style. Swooping down over the ice, a Coast Guard PBY from the Air Detachment at Kodiak, Alaska, makes an aerial pick-up of the Northwind’s mail. Note the plane’s tailhook, poised to snatch the line. The postman had to ring only once. On the first attempt, he hooked the line from which the mailbag was suspended. Members of the Northwind’s crew crouch on the ice as they steady the vertical poles which hold the line. 7/12/1953. NARA 26-G-5613

Northwind and USS Glacier (AGB-4), the Navy’s last icebreaker, working ice during the winter 1953 Bearing Sea Expedition. Original caption: “In this solid field of ice in the Bering Sea, the two icebreakers try a tandem method of breaking ice. Ramming, backing, and ramming again, the vessels try forcing their wayside by side in a parallel line.” NARA 26-G-5609

McClure Strait and CGC Northwind. 13 August 1954 – The USCGC Northwind breaks the west-to-east entrance to previously impassable McClure Strait, the ice-locked western entrance to the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. Pushing along the southern edge of the Strait, the icebreaker heads toward Mercy Bay, about halfway to Banks Island. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind, commanded by Captain William L. Maloney, USCG, made the first passage through McClure Strait from west to east between August 13 – 21, 1954. The Navy icebreaker USS Burton Island, commanded by Comdr. Everett Trickey, USN, executed the first passage through the Strait from east to west between August 11 – 16. Both ships accomplished the historical fete while conducting oceanographic and hydrographic surveys in the Beaufort Sea and McClure Strait areas on a Joint U.S. – Canadian Expedition participated in by scientists from both countries. The U.S. ships were the first to push through McClure Strait, connecting the Arctic Ocean and Viscount Melville Sound. McClure Strait was the only link left unconquered by explorers who for more than 450 years sought the famed Northwest Passage route between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The ships left San Diego on July 12 and returned to Seattle on September 29, 1954. NARA 26-G-5676

The 269-foot cutter also performed standard Alaska patrol tasks, such as holding “floating courts” that roamed from port to port and providing a modicum of military presence in far-away towns as needed.

Original caption: “This is the main street of the far northern little frontier-like town of Nome, Alaska, on the 4th of July 1955. Natives and Servicemen watch a parade that shows a group of sailors from the Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind marching. The icebreaker was at Nome from July 1 to 6, en route to the Arctic with a Navy Pacific Task Force on last summer’s Military Sea Transportation Service’s sealift operations for the “Dew Line” (Distance Early Warning) radar stations. Leaving Seattle July 16 this year for the summer “Dew Line” operations, the Northwind’s crew will not be at Nome to participate in holiday celebrations.” NARA 26-G-5732

USCGC Northwind in Antarctic waters, 16 December 1956. K-21429.

USCGC Northwind and USS Glacier (AGB-4) in Antarctic waters, 26 December 1956. K-21428.

Crew members from U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) hold the first pistol tournament ever held in the Antarctic (January 10, 1957). Chilled thumbs pulled the triggers at targets lined up at McMurdo Sound. During the tournament, a light breeze blew down some of the targets. USNS Private John R. Towle (T-AK-240), a U.S. Navy cargo ship, lies to the back. Operation Deep Freeze was from December 1956 to April 1957. Official U.S. Coast Guard Photograph.

Original caption: “A closeup view from the stern of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind shows all four sections and the weatherproof door of her new telescopic helicopter hanger. The aluminum hanger is 67 ft. long, 23 ft. wide, and 21 ft. high. These measurements are gauged with the size of the Coast Guard’s largest helicopter in use – the gas turbine HH-52A “flying boat” helicopter. The icebreaker Northwind which is based in Seattle and works in the frigid Arctic region most of her time is the first American ship to carry this type of hangar. It was previously developed and used by the Canadian Ministry of Transport, however, here, the Northwind is carrying the hangar on an extended mission into the Bering Sea and the Arctic where it will undergo initial cold weather experiments.” 6/17/1963. NARA 26-G-6034

Original caption: “A starboard broadside view of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind shows her newly installed telescopic helicopter hanger in the closed extended position. The icebreaker is seen here en-route to the Bering Sea and the Arctic on an extended mission which will keep her away from her homeport in Seattle for a few months. During that time the hanger will receive initial experience in colder weather operations.” 6/17/1963 NARA 26-G-6033 

In 1965, Northwind pulled another “first.” That July, she conducted an oceanographic survey between Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland and was the first Western vessel to operate in the Kara Sea off the Soviet Union.

Between 1966 and 1989, Northwind hosted a series of Icebreaker Support Section (IBSEC) deployments, each consisting of a pair of Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguards, which picked up a red (officially orange) paint scheme.

USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282) in the ice, circa 1967. Note her retracted hangar with an HH-52 tail poking out. The second Sea Guardian is likey the aircraft taking the photo. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1977. NH 85275.

USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282) nighttime photo, in the ice, circa 1967. Note her extended hangar. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson. NH 85274.

Between 9 June and 22 September 1969, Northwind transited 14,000 miles from the Bering Sea through the Northwest Passage then made it back to Seattle via the same route, the first vessel to conduct both a West-to-East and East-to-West transit of the Northwest Passage in a single season.

From 1973 to 1975 Northwind underwent extensive machinery modernization and electronic modification at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland, which included landing the rest of her WWII-era heavy armament (she still had a small arms locker and four stowed .50 cal M2s) and picking up the familiar red-hull seen on today’s American icebreakers.

USCGC Northwind breaking ice at Winter Quarters Bay January 1977 via Antarctica New Zealand.

From 1978 to 1989, Northwind was stationed at Wilmington, North Carolina, and used for general ice-breaking, including in the Great Lakes, which her lack of fixed gun mounts kept her under Canadian treaty restrictions. Rather than Bering Sea cruises, she alternated Deep Freeze trips with Arctic East cruises, sailing in Baffin Bay and supporting Thule AFB in Greenland with side trips to Iceland and Norway.

Operation Deep Freeze 80. Antarctica. From left to right, the icebreakers USCGC Glacier (WAGB 4), Northwind (WAGB 282), and Polar Sea (WAGB 11) moored in the ice below Mount Erebus. Photographed by PH2 Jeff Hilton. January 5, 1980. 428-GX-K-129186.

Northwind, 1982, Inglefield Bredning, Greenland Tracy Glacier in the background

Clocking in on the war on drugs at a time when the service was hull poor, on 4 November 1984 Northwind seized the P/C Alexi I off Jamaica for carrying 20 tons of marijuana, becoming the first icebreaker to make a large narcotics seizure.

USCGC Northwind in Baffin Bay on 10 July 1986. USCG Photo.

It was during her 1986 cruise that Northwind assisted in a joint Denmark-U.S. relocation operation, shuttling arctic musk ox around Greenland via her Sea Guards, likely another first.

Seamen move a crated musk ox into position aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB 282) during a joint Denmark-US relocation operation, 7/10/1986. Note her WWII-era wooden decks and the sex orientation markings on the crates. TSgt Jose Hernandez. DFST8708199

An HH-52A Sea Guard helicopter from the US Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB 282) airlifts a crated musk ox to its new habitat during a joint Denmark-US relocation operation, 7/10/1986. TSgt Jose Hernandez. DFST8708196

Northwind outlived her seven sisters. Weather War vets Eastwind and Southwind/Atka, along with the former Navy-owned Staten Island, Burton Island, and Edisto were all scrapped in the 1970s. In the Frozen North, the Canadian Coast Guard’s CCGS Labrador lingered until 1987. Only USCGC Westwind (WAGB-281), who had served the Soviets for six years under Lend-Lease as Severni Polius (North pole), endured, surviving another decade on the salvaged parts of her sisters.

Northwind, “The Grand Old Lady of the North,” was decommissioned on 20 January 1989, just shy of 44 years with the service and 11 months after Westwind was taken out of service. She had no less than 27 skippers and never saw a period of mothballs until she was shipped off in 1990.

After a decade floating in the James River, ex-Northwind was scrapped at International Shipbreakers, Port of Brownsville, Texas in 1999.

Epilogue

Like Northwind, the other members of her class pulled down several “firsts.” For instance, USCGC Eastwind (WAGB-279) was the first Coast Guard cutter of any type to circumnavigate the globe after departing Boston on 25 October 1960 bound for Antarctica and arriving back in Boston 5 May 1961. This was followed up by a similar Antarctic summer cruise by her sistership, USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) [ex-USS Atka (AGB-3)] in 1968-1969.

While all eight Winds have long been scrapped, their unarmed half-sister, USCGC Mackinaw, which broke ice on the Great Lakes for six decades, is a floating museum in Michigan, and her grandfather, the old now 98-year old Krassin, is preserved at Saint Petersburg.

A bell from Cutter Northwind, perhaps from our icebreaker, is on display behind the Highland County Historical Society building in Hillsboro, Ohio, a town that made such bells for the Navy and Coast Guard.

The bulkhead on Northwind where various IBSEC avdets chronicled their cruises among the icebergs from 1966 to 1989 was removed after the cutter was decommissioned and restored by ATC Mobile personnel (where the IBSEC was stationed) in 1991. The bulkhead art is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. 

There is also a public FB group on the ship. 

She is remembered in maritime art in the USCG’s collection. 
 

“Northwind” by David Rosenthal. The icebreaker Northwind breaks a pressure ridge in the permanent polar ice pack on its last mission before decommissioning. The mission was to break a path through the ice for the research vessel “PolarBjorn” as far north as possible.

“Arctic Cutter” by Ellen Leelike. The Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind is shown at work doing its specialty.

With the Coast Guard building a new class of Polar Security Cutters, basically modernized and better-armed icebreakers, it would be nice if they brought the old “Wind” names back. 

Specs:

Winds, 1946 Jane’s entry

Winds, 1973 Jane’s entry

Displacement: 6,515 tons (1945)
Length: 269 ft oa
Beam: 63 ft 6 in
Draft: 25 ft 9 in max
Installed power (1945): 6 × Fairbanks-Morse model 8-1/8OP, 10-cylinder opposed-piston engines at 2,000 shp (1,500 kW), each driving a Westinghouse DC electric generator.
Propulsion: (1945) 2 × Westinghouse Electric DC electric motors driving the 2 aft propellers, 1 × 3,000 shp (2,200 kW) Westinghouse DC electric motor driving the detachable and seldom-used bow propeller.
Propulsion (1973): Four 3,000 horsepower DeLaval diesel engines, two GE electric motors
Speed: Top speed: 13.4 knots (1967)
Economic speed: 11.6 knots
Range: 32,485 nautical miles
Complement:
21 officers, 295 men (1944)
13 officers, 2 warrants, 160 men (Post-1967 USCG service)
14 officers, 137 crew + room for 12 scientists and 14 AvDet personnel (Post 1975)
Sensors and processing systems:
Radar:
SA-2, SL-1 (1944, removed 1949)
SPS-10B; SPS-53A; SPS-6C (1967)
Sonar: QCJ-8 (1944-45)
Armament:

(1946)
4 × 5″/38 (twin mounts)
12 × 40mm/60 (3 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks
6 × “K” guns
1 Hedgehog
M2 Browning machine guns and small arms (1944)
Aircraft carried: 1 Grumman J2F Seaplane, later two helicopters in telescoping hangar

(1967)
1 x5″/38 single mount
20mm Mk 16 cannons (singles)

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!

Italy Finally has an Aircraft Carrier

Italy got into the seaplane tender biz in February 1915 when they bought the aging 392-ft./7,100-ton Spanish-built freighter Quarto and, as Europa, converted the vessel to operate a half-dozen or so FBA flying boats. Taking part in the Battle of the Strait of Otranto against the bottled-up Austro-Hungarian fleet in 1917, she was discarded after the war.

In 1925, Rome bought the incomplete passenger/mail steamer Citta di Messina and, sending her to the La Spezia for completion, produced Giuseppe Miraglia.

Italian seaplane carrier Giuseppe Miraglia entering Taranto. Look at all those Macchis…

She wasn’t a giant ship, just under 400-feet long with a light draft of 4,500-tons. But Miraglia was fast enough for naval use (21 knots) and with enough room for as many as 20 seaplanes of assorted sizes. Her war was lackluster, ending it under British guns at Malta.

Meanwhile, Italy’s first planned aircraft carrier– a respectable 772-foot leviathan by the name of L’Aquila (Eagle) converted from an unfinished ocean liner– was left under construction at Genoa in 1943.

Italian aircraft carrier Aquila in drydock at Genoa in 1942. She would never be completed

Although it was envisioned she would carry up to 56 aircraft, the Italian eagle was never completed and finally scrapped at La Spezia in 1952. A sistership, Sparviero, never even got that far, making Miraglia the sole Italian aviation ship fielded in WWII.

After flirting with Vittorio Veneto in the 1970s and 80s, a so-called “helicopter cruiser” capable of carrying six SH-3D Sea Kings or larger numbers of smaller whirlybirds; the Italian government placed an order for several AV-8B Harriers in 1990 for use on the newly completed 13,000-ton ASW carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi, returning the country’s fleet to a fixed-wing capability that it hadn’t seen since Miraglia steamed for exile in Malta in 1943.

Today, it is thought that the carrier 27,000-ton Harrier carrier Cavour will retire her aging AV-8Bs for a squadron of operational Italian F-35Bs by 2024, right at 99 years after Miraglia was conceived. Except the vessel won’t be beholden to seaplanes or Harriers, a first.

Speaking of which, on 30 July, the first Italian F-35B landed on Cavour while the now-Lightning carrier was operating in the Gulf of Taranto.

On the journey to get there: 

In related news, the current operational British Lightning carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), entered the tense waters of the South China Sea last week, with F-35Bs of RAF 617 Squadron and the USMC’s VMFA-211 taking to the air during the evolution. 

« Older Entries