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Warship Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2019: Putting the Yeoman back into the Einmann-Torpedo

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week.take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2019: Putting the Yeoman back into the Einmann-Torpedo

Photos: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe, Poland, unless otherwise noted

Here we see one Walther Gerhold, a smiling young sailor just past his 23rd birthday in August 1944. Note his Marine-Schreiber (yeoman) rate, Matrosenobergefreiter rank (roughly equivalent to E4 or Petty Officer Third Class) Zerstörerkriegsabzeichen (Destroyer War Badge issued 24.12.42 along with his original Iron Cross II. Class) and, around his neck, a newly-awarded Knight’s Cross. Our good Schreibobergefreiter had just been decorated for single-handedly depriving the Allies of one, albeit well-used, light cruiser off the Normandy coast, a feat that led to his Ritterkreuz.

This is his ride:

Gerhold joined the Kriegsmarine on 16 October 1940 and served as a yeoman in administrative tasks in various torpedo boat units, seeing a share of hot action on T 111 and T 20 which resulted in an EAK as well as a bonus fractured collarbone that sidelined him to shore duty in late 1943 at the Baltic seacoast base at Heiligenhafen. Ready to get back into something other than pushing paper, in early 1944 he volunteered for a new force then being assembled from across the German Navy, the Kleinkampfverbänden der Kriegsmarine (Small Combat Units of the Navy). The group was to contain some 794 officers and 16,608 NCOs and men, although throughout 1944-45 fewer than 10,000 passed through the ranks of the organization.

With Germany largely out of the large surface combatant business, these men would take a page from the operations of the Italians and Japanese and become combat divers and operate such desperate weapons as midget submarines (Seehund, Hecht, Biber, Molch); motorboats filled with explosives (Linse), and manned torpedoes.

To inspire the troops, a series of Kampfabzeichen der Kleinkampfmittel badges were created in seven different grades and clasps for service in the unit, all featuring a sawfish.

The first such German-produced manned torpedo was inventor Richard Mohr’s’ idea to take a pair of electrically driven G7e torpedoes and make a stand-alone weapon system from them. The 533mm G7e could run at a speed of 30 knots for 7.5kms on its Siemens AEG-AV 76 9 kW DC electric motor and 52-cell battery. By using one “war shot” torp filled with 616-pounds of Schießwolle 36 high explosive, the top-mounted fish of the pair ditched the warhead for a tiny cockpit for a human operator who could squeeze into the body of the 21-inch-wide torpedo.

Our trusty yeoman being unbolted from inside his manned torpedo. Note the Draeger rebreather and the *tight* fit

With the motor of the top “mother” torpedo adjusted to run at a more economical rate, the battery would last long enough to give the contraption a theoretical 40-ish mile range at 3.2- to 4.5-knots.

The device, branded the Neger (partially a racist take on Mohr’s last name and partially because the craft were painted in a matte black finish), the volunteer pilot would be shoehorned into the driver’s seat of his one-man semi-submersible (the vessel would run awash and could not fully submerge on purpose) and a plexiglass dome bolted closed over his head from the outside.

Note the trolly. These could be launched from a dock, a small vessel, or even a beachfront

21-inches wide, 24-feet long, and 5-feet high, you are looking at 2.7-tons of batteries, sheet metal, man and explosives

Effectively trapped inside their bubble with no way to get out, it was estimated that as much as 80 percent of Negerpiloten were lost in missions, mostly due to suffocation. Navigation instruments were nil other than a compass, and the weapon was aimed by lining up a mark on the tip of the craft with the general direction of the target. Due to their low vantage point in the water, operators could typically see less than two miles.

Note the “aiming” post on the front of the short craft

The concept of their use, owing to their low-speed, poor operator visibility and total lack of protection, was that the weapons were to be used in large flotillas– with several dozen common in one mission– and at night, which further reduced the range of the pilot’s Mark I eyeballs. Once lined up on target, a mechanical lever would (hopefully) release the underslung war shot G7e for its moment and book it for home before the sun came up.

In March 1944, the first trial copy of Mohr’s double-torpedo was ready for trials carried out by veteran U-boat ace Oberleutnant Johann Otto Krieg who was not impressed. Nonetheless, the device was put into rapid production and the first combat unit– to be commanded by the unfortunate Krieg– was stood up as K-Flottille 361. Consisting largely of desk types (see Gerhold) and some rear echelon Army troops, 40 volunteer pilots and some 160 support crew were hastily trained.

On the night of 19/20 April, a group of 37 Neger operating from Nettuno on the Italian coast was released to attack Allied ships at the Anzio beachhead.

It was crap.

None of the Negerpiloten in the sortie released his torpedo. Three of the devices were lost. Worse, a fully-intact model washed up to fall into American hands.

Shifting operations to Favrol Woods (west of Honfleur) in Normandy by train just after the D-Day invasion, on the night of 5/6 July a force of 24 Negers sortied out against the Mulberry Harbors defense line. The result was much better than at Anzio.

The 1,400-ton Captain-class frigate HMS Trollope (K575) has hit near Arromanches at about 0130 on 6 July and later written off. Some sources put this on Gerhold while others attribute the attack to a German E-boat. What is known for sure is that about an hour later the manned torpedoes sank the two Catherine/Auk-class minesweepers HMS Magic (J 400) and HMS Cato (J 16), with Cato stricken while responding to Magic‘s distress.

Not to be outdone, on the clear moonlit night of July 7/8, K-Flottille 361 managed to muster 21 Neger boats for a repeat attack. During the action, the Auk-class minesweeper HMS Pylades (J 401) was sunk and 4,300-ton Free Polish cruiser ORP Dragon (D 46)-– formerly the RN’s Danae-class cruiser HMS Dragon, launched in 1917– so extensively damaged that she was written off and used as a breakwater for Mulberry.

HMS DRAGON (British Cruiser, 1917) NH 60926

While Gerhold was given credit for the destruction of Dragon at the time by the Germans, 19-year-old Midshipman Karl-Heinz Potthast, captured in the aftermath of the attack and placed in a British POW camp, has subsequently been credited by most with the damage inflicted to the aging warship.

On the way back to their base, the Negers, running high in the water without their torpedoes, bumped into a group of well-armed and much more maneuverable British Motor Torpedo Boats. In the light of the cloudless full moon, their plastic bubble cockpits glowed like a beacon on the surface of the sea and it was easy pickings. Although the HMC MTB-463 was lost to what was thought to be a mine during the brawl, just nine manned torpedoes made it back to be recovered by Germans.

Gerhold, tossed around by the explosions and in a leaky craft filled with stale air, sea water, oil slick, toxic battery fumes and human waste (there was no head on board, after all), was picked up from the water near Honfleur by ‘Heer soldiers, his device’s power supply exhausted.

Note the rubber outer suit, wool inner suit, headgear and Draeger rebreather. The later Marder type human torpedo allowed the pilot to open his own canopy from inside. How innovative!

There were a few other, less spectacular victories, chalked up to Herr Krieg’s manned torpedo suicide squad:

-Some sources attribute the sinking of the 1,800-ton I-class destroyer HMS Isis (D87) on 20 July off Normandy to K-Flottille 361 torpedoes, although it was more likely to have come from a mine.

-The 1,300-ton Hunt-class destroyer HMS Quorn (L66), sunk 3 August, succumbed to a human torpedo during a combined attack on the lone British tin can by a determined force of E-boats, Linse explosive motorboats, Einmann-torpedoes, and aircraft.

-On the same night, the 7,000-ton British EC2-S-C1 class Liberty ship SS Samlong was hit by a torpedo purposed to have been fired by KF-361 pilot Oberfernschreibmeister (telegraph operator) Herbert Berrer. German records say “Berrer sank on 3.8.44 in the Seine Bay with a one-man torpedo despite strong enemy security a fully loaded 10,000-ton freighter. Already on 20.4.44 Berrer sunk in front of the landing head in Nettuno another enemy ship [which was false].” Samlong was written off as the victim of a mine.

-Further up the coast, off Ostend, the Isles-class armed trawler HMS Colsay (T 384) met with a Neger on 2 November and was sent to the bottom.

For the survivors, in a Germany faced with the prospect of the Allies just months away from Berlin and no news to report, it was decoration time.

Most of the pilots were given the EAK II, while two– “cruiser killer” Gerhold “freighter buster” Berrer– were given Knights’ Crosses in a ceremony attended by none other than K-Verbande commander VADM Hellmuth Heye and Kriegsmarine boss Adm. Karl Dönitz himself in August. Oberleutnant Johann Krieg, 361’s skipper, was also given a Knights Cross.

The presentation of the Knight’s Cross was made by Konteradmiral Hellmuth Heye.

Adm Karl Donitz 7th in the second row and a glum Adm Hellmuth Heye 1st from the left second row, surrounded by German K-fighters. Note Walther Gerhold to Donitz’s left.

The awards were important in the terms of recognition for the downright insane task the manned torpedo pilots accepted.

Less than 600 Ritterkreuz were issued by the Germans in WWII, many posthumously. Only 318 of these went to the Kriegsmarine, almost all successful U-boat/destroyer/S-boat commanders and senior officers killed in battle. In fact, just three enlisted sailors picked up the decoration besides Berrer and Gerhold– Bootsmannsmaat Karl Jörß who commanded a flak team on a bunch of crazy F-lighter ops in the Med in 1943 and had already received two iron crosses, lead machinist Heinrich Praßdorf who saved submarine U-1203, and Oberbootsmannsmaat Rudolf Mühlbauer who did the same on U-123.

As such, the decorations and deeds of K.361 spread wide across what was left of the Reich.

The covers of The Hanburger Illustrierte – 22.Juli 1944 and The Berliner Illustrierte 8.3 1944

In all, just 200~ Negers were made, and most that got operational did so on one-way trips. An advanced version, the upgraded Marder (Marten), capable of diving to 90 feet, was produced to replace the more beta version of a human torpedo that was the Neger, was fielded. Two Marder-equipped K-Verband units in the Med, K-Flottille 363 and 364, tried to give the Allies grief from August- December 1944 but wound up losing almost all their craft with nothing to show for it.

The Marder’s controls were luxurious compared to the Neger. Still, not even enough room for a sandwich and a dual purpose bottle of schnapps. Good thing a few tabs of Pervitin or “Panzerschokolade” doesn’t take up a lot of space!

A Marten. Note how much longer the vessel was than the Neger. An easy way to tell them apart is to remember that the Negers look like two torpedoes sistered together– because they were. Martens had an actual mini-sub carrier, complete with trim and ballast tanks, attached to a torpedo. NH 85993

K-Verbande attacks got even more desperate in the final months of the war, with victories even slimmer. While midget subs like the Molch and Seehund were built in larger numbers, they never had much luck operationally. Overall, it could be argued that the Einmann boots of K.361 were the most effective fielded by the force. Of the five K-fighters who received Knights Crosses, three were part of Kleinkampf-flottille 361.

In the end, these naval commandos and their all-guts David vs Goliath style operations earned the Kriegsmarine, long the redheaded stepchild to the Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht, and Waffen-SS as seen by the Chancellery, a bit of redemption. In one of the final acts of the war, Hitler ordered Donitz to form a bodyguard for him drawn from K-units due to his distrust of the SS Leibstandarte. The company-sized force never made it to the bunker in Berlin as there was no safe place for them to land. They later surrendered with Donitz, who had inherited the role of President of Germany, at the Naval Academy at Mürwik in May.

Post-war, dozens of the German human torpedoes were captured, but few retained.

Marders and Molch onshore at Lynes, Denmark. Via The Illustrated London News of 11 August 1945

One on display at the Verkehrsmuseum in Speyer, Germany.

Further, the craft have been the subject of numerous scale models.

Of the men behind the devices, K.361 commander Johann Krieg was wounded in the last days of the war and captured by the British. He later joined the West German federal navy (Bundesmarine) in 1956 and retired from the Ministry of Defense in 1975 with the rank of Fregattenkapitän. He died in 1999.

Midshipman Karl-Heinz Potthast, the battered young man who is today usually credited with the hit on ORP/HMS Dragon, made numerous connections in England while a POW and returned to his studies in Germany post-war. Later, he became a noted historian and educational theorist, earning the Bundesverdienstkreuz from the Bonn government in 1985 for special achievements in the spiritual field. He died in 2011.

Gerhold, after he picked up his Knights Cross, managed a transfer to Norway and resumed his life as a yeoman with a promotion to Schreibermaat, having had enough of the torpedo biz. He was repatriated home in June 1945 and later, living in Westphalia, became a police officer. He often autographed a number of period “Einmann-Torpedo!” postcards and magazine articles for collectors and was active in veteran’s groups. As for the debate between whether he crippled Dragon or it was the work of Potthast, camps are divided and Gerhold largely took credit for sinking HMS Trollope. He died in 2013.

As far as a legacy, today Germany’s Minensuchgeschwader/Minentaucher, coastal mine warfare units, still carry the swordfish logo of the K-Verbande units. With the thousands of mines still bobbing around in the Baltic and the North Sea, they are very active. Likewise, Draeger-equipped Kampfschwimmer frogmen of the German Navy’s Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM) carry the lineage of the old K-fighters as well—and still get lots of work with mini-subs and the like.

Specs:


Displacement: 2.7-tons FL
Length: 24-feet
Beam: 533mm
Draft: 533mm x 2 plus a bubble
Complement: Einmann
Machinery: AEG-AV 76 Electric motor 9kW, 52-cell battery.
Range: 40~ nm at 4 knots.
Armament: One G7e electric torpedo, aimed via eyeball

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

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

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

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Warship Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2019: The good doctor’s fine ‘Frida

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2019: The good doctor’s fine ‘Frida

NH 73392

Here we see the fourth-rate scout patrol vessel USS Elfrida at the New York Navy Yard, circa 1899, just after the Spanish-American War. A steel schooner with fine lines, she looks like a gentleman’s yacht that would be more at home on Lake Champlain if it was not for her mix of 3-pdr and 1-pdr deck guns.

Speaking of which…

Prior to the dustup with the decaying Spanish Empire, Elfrida was the personal pride of one Dr. William Seward Webb, founder of Shelburne Farms and President of the Wagner Palace Car Company of New York (that latter of which later became Pullman).

This guy:

Webb came from the best family.

His father, a Whig, held the rank of general (as did his grandfather) and was minister to Austria, Brazil and other points of interest– importantly brokering a deal with Napoleon III to get French troops out of Mexico. Webb’s older brother was the likewise meticulously groomed and well-dressed Union Brig. Gen. Alexander S. Webb, who famously earned the MOH at Gettysburg at the head of the Philadelphia Brigade on Cemetery Ridge.

When your brother has a monument at Gettysburg, your dad got the French out of Mexico, and your granddad picked up a star from Washington himself, you may come from an illustrious family.

Studying medicine in Europe, the younger Webb acquired a love of Mozart and Schutzen target rifle shooting, both of which he brought back to the U.S., usinb the latter as “Inspector General of Rifle Practice” for the Vermont militia with the state rank of colonel.

Built at a cost of $100,000 by the Harlan & Hollingsworth Company Wilmington, Delaware (the same firm built yachts for customers such as Charles Morgan, William Astor, and W. K. Vanderbilt) Elfrida was launched at the yard on 13 April 1889.

She was reportedly the “first steam yacht ever built with both a detachable stern and bow” so that Webb could use her on to pass through the narrow canals to Lake Champlain. She went just 117-feet long overall, closer to 102 at the waterline.

Finished in paneled red mahogany, “Colonel” Webb’s double stateroom was aft and three others were set aside for guests– each with its own lavatory. The crew had another trio of staterooms forward but had to share a head.

Electrically lit and steam-heated, the very modern schooner carried telegraph for use when close to line and used a triple expansion engine as an “iron mainsail” complete with a steam plant consisting of a compact Hazelton vertical water tube boiler that generated 160 pounds of steam. Her speed was about 10ish knots.

Photograph of the Webb family steam yacht Elfrida, with the crew, docked at Steam Yacht Elfrida at Quaker Smith Point at Shelburne Farms on Lake Champlain. Julie Edwards (Shelburne Farm’s archivist) writes on 06-03-2008 that the image ( depicts Elfrida I, the darker hulled vessel and the image would date c. 1888-1898. UVM photo SF1026

A favorite of the Lake Champlain Yacht Club (which still exists today) Elfrida was the commodore’s ship for the regatta off Plattsburg, New York in August 1897 attended by no less a personage as President William McKinley along with Vice President Garret Hobart in tow.

Webb also apparently packed a fairly loud “yacht gun,” as one did, to celebrate during “the season.”

When the “Splendid little war” came just the very next summer, Webb did his personal duty and sold Elfrida on 18 June 1898 to the Navy for the relatively paltry sum of $50,000. Refitted at New York Navy Yard with a single 3-pounder 47mm gun and a pair of 1-pounder 37mm pieces, she was commissioned less than two weeks later, on 30 June, and immediately put to service on coastal patrols between New York and New London.

As the war was short and the Spanish never made it up to the Northeast, she was placed out of commission 14 September 1898, service in her first war complete.

DANFS says she was used by the Naval Militia in Connecticut and New Jersey to train seagoing militiamen from 1899 to 1908 in the days prior to the establishment of the Navy Reserve. Typical summer cruises would range a week or two and often proved eventful, with the New York Times reporting one such 1903 voyage encountering a “frightful” storm at sea.

In 1908, our 20-year-old armed patrol yacht was decommissioned and her powerplant swapped out for a new 200ihp engine powered by two boilers with an increased speed of 14 knots.

By 20 August 1909, along with the old torpedo boat USS Foote (TB-3), Elfrida was assigned to the North Carolina Naval Militia, a force she belonged to as a drill and school ship until the U.S. entered the Great War in April 1917. While there, her armament was upgraded to a single 6-pounder 57mm rapid-fire mount.

USS ELFRIDA at New Bern NC circa 1909-13 as North Carolina naval militia ship. Postcard via Valentine Souvenir Co. NH 94934

North Carolina Naval Militia, Elizabeth City Detachment, 1907. BM2 Leonard K. Rutter, standing on the far left, back row, has his uniform preserved at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

In 1914, the 32 ships allocated to the 19 various Naval Militias were diverse and somewhat motley. These ranged from the old cruiser USS Boston (3,000 tons, 2×8 inch, Oregon Naval Militia) and the shallow draft monitor USS Cheyenne (3,255 tons, 2×12 inch, Washington Naval Militia) to the downright puny yacht USS Huntress (82 tons, 2×3 pdrs, Missouri NM) and everything in between. Notably, several of the ships were on the Great Lakes training reservists in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. Like Elfrida, most had a SpanAm War pedigree.

When Congress declared war on the Kaiser in April 1917, the remobilized Elfrida (SP-988) returned to the active fleet and resumed her 1898 mission of coastal patrol, rated, along with the old 100-ton ex-Spanish Navy gunboat USS Sandoval as, “suitable for harbor defense only.”

On 25 August 1917, she suffered an explosion while making the passage from Norfolk to Yorktown, Virginia, killing one and injuring two others. This likely limited her wartime career and, after a stint assigned to the 5th Naval District to patrol to take charge of a fleet of motorboats tending the submarine nets at York River Upper Barrier, she was demobilized at the end of 1917. Before the war was even out, she was decommissioned 31 March 1918 and sold 11 May 1918.

Her final fate is unknown.

As for the esteemed Dr. Webb, he passed in 1926, aged 75, but his model farm at Shelburne, Vermont, where Elfrida was often docked, is today a National Landmark non-profit institute that does research into sustainable farming techniques.

Elfrida‘s plans and those of 207 other Holling & Hollingsworth built vessels, are in the collection of the Mariners’ Museum Library in Newport News.

Specs:

Her 1914 Jane’s entry, under North Carolina’s Naval Militia

Displacement: 164 to 173 tons
Length (between perps) 101′ 6″
Length (on deck) 117′ 0″
Beam molded 18′ 0″
Depth at side 12′ 6″
Draft: 7′ 9″
Machinery (As built)
Engine triple expansion engine 10½”xl6″x24″/ 16″ 200hp, Hazelton boiler
Dia. of wheel 6′ 4″
Pitch 8′ 6″
Coal: 12 tons, as built (listed as 23 max in Navy service)
Speed: 10.5 knots as built, 14 knots after 1909.
Crew: Unk in civilian service, likely 20-25 in Naval service.
Armor: None
Armament:
(1898)
1 x 47mm 3-pounder
2 x 37mm 1-pounders
*Note, Jane‘s listed this as standard through her career
(1911)
1 x 57mm 6-pounder

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, Feb. 20, 2019: Nimitz’s first Ranger, or, the wandering ghost of the Nantucket coast

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019: Nimitz’s first Ranger, or, the wandering ghost of the Nantucket coast

Collection of Francis Holmes Hallett via NHHC NH 93484

Here we see “Sunset on the Pacific,” a colored postcard circulated around 1910 showing the Alert-class gunboat USS Ranger (PG-23) at anchor looking West. The bark-rigged iron-hulled steamer would have an exceptionally long life that would see her serve multiple generations of bluejackets of all stripes.

One of the narrow few new naval ships built after the Civil War, the three-ship class was constructed with funding authorized by the 42nd Congress and listed at the time as being a Sloop of War. Powered by both sail and steam, they were 175 feet long, displaced 541 tons and were designed to carry up to a half-dozen era 9-inch guns split between broadsides. The trio were the last iron warships to be built for the U.S. Navy, with follow-on designs moving to steel.

While under construction, the armament scheme was converted to a single 11-inch smoothbore Dahlgren rifle, two 9-inch Dahlgrens, one 60-pounder Parrott, a single 12-pounder “boat” howitzer that weighed only 300-pounds in its carriage, and one Gatling gun– the latter two of which could be sent ashore by a naval landing party to conduct business with the locals as needed. Speaking of which, she could afford to send her small Marine detachment as well as up to 40 rifle-armed sailors away as needed to make friends and influence people.

Alert, Huron, and Ranger were all completed at the same time, with the middle ship lost tragically on her first overseas deployment off the coast of North Carolina 24 November 1877 near Nag’s Head.

Ranger was constructed at Harlan & Hollingsworth, and, commissioned 27 November 1876, was the 4th such vessel to carry the name.

The preceding two Rangers saw service in the War of 1812 while the original was the 18-gun ship sloop built in 1777 and commanded by no less a figure than John Paul Jones for the Continental Navy. Famously, on 14 February 1778, that inaugural Ranger received a salute to the new American flag given by the French fleet at Quiberon Bay.

Poster calling for volunteers for the crew of USS RANGER, Captain John Paul Jones, then fitting at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for her cruise into European waters. It quotes the resolution of Congress of 29 March 1777 establishing pay advances for newly recruited seamen. Description: Courtesy of Essex Institute Salem, Mass., owners of the original poster. NH 52162

Once our new, 4th, Ranger was commissioned, she was assigned to the Atlantic Station briefly before setting sail for the Far East where she would join the Asiatic Station, leaving New York for the three-month voyage to Hong Kong on 21 May 1877 via the Suez.

USS RANGER photographed before 1896. From Bennett, “Steam Navy of the U.S.” NH 44604

The crew of USS RANGER. Historical Collection, Union Title Insurance Company, San Diego NH 108286

Returning to the states in 1880, she was converted for survey work at Mare Island and spent the two decades slow-poking from Central America to the Northern Pacific and back while engaged in hydrographic duties. A ready ship in an area where no other U.S. flags were on the horizon during that period, she often waved the Stars and Stripes as needed in backwater Latin American ports while alternating between getting muscular with trespassers in the Bearing Strait and Alaskan waters.

While laid up between 1895 and 1899, the 20-year-old gunboat was modernized and landed her Civil War-era black powder shell guns and Gatling for a much more up-to-date battery of six 4-inch breechloaders and an M1895 Colt “potato-digger” machine gun.

USS RANGER, now with a gleaming white hull, photographed after she received 6 4-inch breech-loading rifles in 1897. After this refit, she could be distinguished from her sister ALERT by her funnel casin NH 44605

USS RANGER off the Mare Island Navy Yard, circa 1898, with her cutters in the water. NH 71743

USS Ranger Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, circa 1900. CDR Wells L. Field was her skipper at the time. The original print is color tinted, lightly. NH 73386

By 1905, with the Russians and Japanese getting all rowdy in the Yellow Sea and adjacent areas– with resulting battered Russian ships increasingly hiding out in the U.S.-controlled Philippines– Ranger received a refit at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and set sail for Cavite for her second stint on the Asiatic Station. However, a cranky propulsion plant kept her largely in ordinary until she was sent back to the U.S. in 1908, arriving in Boston on 12 December via the Suez Canal. She was decommissioned the same day and laid up in Charlestown.

With a perfectly good 30-year-old three-master in the harbor and little regular work she could accomplish, the Navy turned Ranger over to the state of Massachusetts for use as the pier side training ship for the Massachusetts Nautical Training School in Boston on 26 April 1909, a role she would maintain until the Great War.

When the U.S. entered the international beef with the Kaiser in April 1917, Uncle eventually remembered he had the ole Ranger on the Navy List and called her back to active service as a gunboat along the New England coast, renaming her USS Rockport in October. This changed again just four months later to USS Nantucket.

USS Nantucket (PG-23, ex-Ranger) anchored off Naval Air Station Anacostia, District of Columbia, on 7 July 1920. Note her wind sail ventilators. 80-G-424466

In July 1921, she was reclassified from a gunboat to an auxiliary with the hull number IX-18 and loaned back to the Massachusetts Nautical School. Over the next 19 years, she became a regular fixture around Boston and the waters up and down the Eastern seaboard.

USS NANTUCKET (PG-23) then loaned to the State of Massachusetts for use at Massachusetts Nautical School, 1933 Description: Courtesy of Mr. Gershone Bradford Catalog #: NH 500

Leslie Jones the renowned photographer with the Boston Herald-Traveler, must have been taken with the Ranger/Rockport/Nantucket during his tenure with the paper and he captured her on dozens of occasions in the 1920s and 30s.

USS Ranger, later USS Rockport and USS Nantucket (PG-23 IX-18), was a gunboat of the United States Navy seen at Charleston Navy Yard. Photo by Leslie Jones Boston Public Library

Training ship Nantucket with the wind in her sails. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Training ship Nantucket 1923, firing a salute. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Training ship Nantucket leaving Boston Harbor for a cruise around the world 1923-05-17 Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Mass. nautical training ship Nantucket preparing for around the world trip at Charlestown Navy Yard 4.29.1928. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Secretary of the Navy Curtis Dwight Wilbur aboard training ship Nantucket in the late 1920s. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Training ship Nantucket 1928 at berth at North End waterfront note battleship in the background. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Cadets hauling line on the deck of the training ship Nantucket off Provincetown. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Bow view of the training ship Nantucket in drydock at Navy Yard. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Training ship Nantucket: landing force drill with bayonets. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Training ship Nantucket in Provincetown Harbor Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Training ship Nantucket in Charlestown Navy Yard 1930. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Sailors in the rigging of the training ship Nantucket at the Navy Yard, Jan 1931. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

USS Nantucket, Mass. Training ship, at Navy Yard Jan 1932. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Training ship Nantucket being reconditioned from a barkentine to a bark at Charlestown Navy Yard April 1932. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

Cadets working with sextants on the deck of the training ship Nantucket while off Provincetown. Boston Public Library Leslie Jones Collection

When the clouds of war came again in 1940, Nantucket was taken back over by the Maritime Commission on 11 November 1940 for as a school ship at the new Merchant Marine Academy established at Kings Point, NY, after which her name was removed from the Navy Register for good.

Renamed T/V Emery Rice in 1942, the high-mileage bark gave all she could until she was damaged by the unnamed hurricane of September 1944, and after that was relegated to use as a floating museum ship.

At age 82, Ranger/Rockport/Nantucket/Rice was stripped and sold for scrap in 1958 to the Boston Metals Co. of Baltimore.

During her time in the Navy, she had nearly a dozen commanders (four of which would go on to wear stars) in addition to training legions of sailors and young officers for maritime service for two different schools. One of the most significant to do his time on the old girl was none other than later Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, who served on the ship as a newly-minted ensign from 12 August to 12 December 1908, on her trip home from the PI to Boston, before young Chester began instruction in the budding First Submarine Flotilla.

Besides her records maintained in the National Archives Ranger‘s original engine — the only example of its type known to be still in existence—was saved from destruction and is on display at the American Merchant Marine Museum in Kings Point as a national landmark.

As noted by the As noted by the AMSE

The horizontal compound engine of the Emery Rice is a unique survivor typical of the period 1840 to 1880. The 61-ton back-acting engine has an unconventional configuration in that its two cranks lie close to their cylinders and two off-center piston rods straddle the crank-shaft in a cramped, but efficient, arrangement.

The cylinder bores are 28.5 and 42.5 inches. The stroke is 42 inches. With saturated steam at 80 pounds per square inch gauge and a condenser having 26-inch mercury vacuum, 560 indicated horsepower were produced at 64 revolutions per minute. The engine was designed by the bureau of steam engineering of the U.S. Navy and built by John Roach & Sons of Chester, Pennsylvania, for the U.S.S. Ranger, as the iron-hulled ship was first known.

Dr. Joshua M. Smith, Ph.D., director of the museum, kindly provided the below for use with this post.

Photo: American Merchant Marine Museum

Photo: American Merchant Marine Museum

Photo: American Merchant Marine Museum

Photo: American Merchant Marine Museum

Interestingly, two subsequent USS Rangers, coastal escorts SP-237 and SP-369, would be in service at the same time during the Great War–while our Ranger was serving as Rockport/Nantucket! The next Ranger was one of the ill-fated Lexington-class battlecruisers and never made it to commission. Finally, her name was recycled for not one but two famous aircraft carriers, CV-4 (1934-47) and CV-61 (1957-2004), the latter of which was only scrapped in 2017. Hopefully, there will be another soon.

As for her sisters, 60 sailors from the wreck of the Huron are buried together in Section Five of the United States Naval Academy Cemetery in well cared for lots while the ship herself is protected by federal mandate in her watery grave. A highway marker near Nag’s Head mentions her loss.

Alert continued to serve in the Navy as a submarine tender until she was decommissioned 9 March 1922 after a very respectable 47 years of service. She was sold three months later for scrap and I can find no trace of her today. During her time in service, Alert had 23 official captains, including future RADM. William Thomas Sampson, known for his later victory in the Battle of Santiago. Our subject outlived her by more than three decades.

As for King’s Point, the institution is still in cranking out USMM officers today and Ranger‘s original school, the Massachusetts Nautical School, is now the Massachusetts Maritime Massachusetts Maritime Academy located in Buzzards Bay on Cape Cod– Ranger‘s old stomping ground.

Specs:
Displacement: 1,202 long tons
Length: 175 ft. (53 m)
Beam: 32 ft. (9.8 m)
Depth of hold: 15 ft. (4.6 m)
Draft: 13 ft. (mean)
Installed power: Five boilers driving 1 × 560 ihp, 64 rpm compound back-acting steam engine
Propulsion: 1 × 12 ft. diameter × 17.5 ft. pitch propeller, auxiliary sails
Speed: 10 knots under steam
Complement: 138 officers and enlisted (typically including a 15 man Marine detachment until 1898).
Armament:
(1875)
1x 11 in (280 mm) Dahlgren gun
2 x 9 in (230 mm) Dahlgren guns
1x 60 pdr (27 kg) Parrott rifle
1x 12 pdr (5.4 kg) boat howitzer
1x Gatling gun for landing party
spar torpedoes for her steam launch (provision deleted after 1889)
(1897)
6x 4-inch breech-loading rifles
4x 6-pounder 57mm guns
1x Colt M1895 potato-digger type machine guns for landing party
(1921)
4x 4″/50 mounts

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Warship Wednesday Aug 17, 2016: The quiet but everlasting Alert

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday Aug 17, 2016: The quiet but everlasting Alert

Photo by William Henry Jackson/Detroit Publishing Company, Via LOC LC-D4-21686 [P&P]

Photo by William Henry Jackson/Detroit Publishing Company, Via LOC LC-D4-21686 [P&P]

Here we see the Alert-class Federal warship USS Alert around 1901, an iron gunboat rigged as three-masted barque. She would go on to serve from Arctic tundra to Pacific tropics– and everywhere in between– and between her and her sister would put in over 100 years of service to the nation.

One of the few new naval ships built after the Civil War, Alert was built with funding authorized by the 42nd Congress and listed at the time as a Sloop of War. Powered by both sail and steam, she was the leader of a three-ship class and was 175 feet long, displaced 541 tons and were designed to carry up to a half-dozen Civil War surplus 9-inch guns split between broadsides.

Laid down at John Roach & Sons Shipbuilders in Chester, PA in 1873, Alert was commissioned 27 May 1875.

While under construction, her armament scheme was converted to a single 11-inch smoothbore Dahlgren rifle, two 9″ Dahlgrens, one 60-pounder Parrott, a single 12-pounder “boat” howitzer that weighed only 300-pounds in its carriage, and one Gatling gun– the latter two of which could be sent ashore by a naval landing party to conduct business with the locals as needed. Speaking of which, she could afford to send her small Marine detachment as well as up to 40 rifle-armed bluejackets on such festivities, but more on this later.

Alert had two sisters completed at the same time, one, Huron, was built at Roach and lost tragically on her first overseas deployment off the coast of North Carolina 24 November 1877 near Nag’s Head.

Although the Life Saving Service had been started three years prior to the Huron running aground, due to massive under funding the Service only manned stations in North Carolina for three winter months beginning December 1; one week too late to be of help to the crew of the Huron. The outrage over the Huron tragedy prompted Congress to fund the Service year-round. The Life Saving Service eventually evolved into the modern U.S. Coast Guard.

The second sistership to Alert, Ranger, was constructed at Harlan & Hollingsworth and commissioned 27 Nov 1876.

The trio were the last iron warships to be built for the U.S. Navy, with follow-on designs moving to steel.

Alert at the Boston Navy Yard in 1875. Note details of her iron hull; boat. Note her dark overall scheme, which she would keep for most of the 19th Century. Catalog #: NH 57105

Alert at the Boston Navy Yard in 1875. Note details of her iron hull; boat. Note her dark overall scheme, which she would keep for most of the 19th Century. Catalog #: NH 57105

Alert‘s first decade was quiet, being assigned to the Training Squadron where she carried Annapolis mids on summer cruises until being assigned to the exotic Asiatic Station in May 1876. There she would continue operations from China to Australia and Japan for more than a decade, only venturing back to the West Coast for regular overhauls.

In 1882, she was embarrassingly involved in a nighttime crack up with the Japanese ship Jingei, a side-paddle steamer that served as the Imperial yacht for Emperor Meiji. It was the Jingei‘s fault and no members of the court were aboard at the time.

alert laundry day

Besides fighting the occasional Chinese pirate gangs on the water and warlords ashore, improving U.S. charts of the region, showing the flag, and just generally protecting American interests from Hawaii to Singapore to Alaska, Alert had to come to the rescue of lost and wrecked vessels from time to time.

This included responding to the disastrous 1889 hurricane in Samoa that left German, British and U.S. naval vessels alike wrecked and battered. Once she arrived, her crew helped perform repairs on the immobilized USS Nipsic and escorted her back to Hawaii.

Photographed after the Samoa hurricane of March 1889. She was configured thus until 1899. Catalog #: NH 586

Photographed after the Samoa hurricane of March 1889. She was configured thus until 1899. Note her white scheme and her extensive awnings in the tropical heat. Catalog #: NH 586

Following this effort, the 15-year-old gunboat with lots of miles on her hull sailed for Mare Island for refit.

In dry-dock at the Mare Island navy yard, about 1890. Catalog #: NH 71061

In dry-dock at the Mare Island navy yard, about 1890. Catalog #: NH 71061

And from the stern-- In dry-dock at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, about 1890. Note her huge rudder and prop Photograph from the William H. Topley Collection. Courtesy of Mr. Charles M. Loring, Napa, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 68684

And from the stern– In dry-dock at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, about 1890. Note her huge rudder and prop Photograph from the William H. Topley Collection. Courtesy of Mr. Charles M. Loring, Napa, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 68684

In 1891, with seals in Alaska facing near-extinction, the U.S. and Britain formed a joint 11-ship Bering Sea Squadron that operated in the area to enforce a prohibition on hunting over the summer. During this period, Alert intercepted and ejected dozens of interloping vessels from the exclusion zone.

Spending the next few years summering in Alaska chasing poachers and wintering in the Pacific Squadron’s stomping grounds in Korea and China, Alert was transferred to operate off the coast of Mexico and Central America in 1895, where she would spend the majority of three rough and tumble years in the politics of the banana Republics.

During this time, in 1898 Nicaragua’s President Zelaya decided to extend his tenure for still another term, the local U.S. consular agent requested Alert to anchor in the harbor of Bluefields, and stand by in case of an attack on the city.

On the morning of 7 February, the American flag rose union downward over the consulate– a sign of distress. In answer to this signal, an expeditionary force of 14 Marines and 19 Sailors was landed by Alert, Gatling gun in tow. On the following day, the government forces agreed to guarantee the safety of all foreigners, and the landing party was withdrawn, though she remained on station there through April.

Returning to Mare Island, she remained on guard against a possible Spanish attack (there was something of a war going on with Spain at the time) but when no such attack likely after Mr. Dewey’s actions in Manila Bay, Alert was decommissioned and partially disarmed on 4 June 1898.

After three years in ordinary, she was used as a training ship after 1901 and loaned off and on to the California Naval Militia until 1910.

USS Alert. View was possibly taken onboard USS Albatross when she traveled in the Pacific Northwest during that year to study Alaska. LOC

USS Alert. View was possibly taken onboard USS Albatross when she traveled in the Pacific Northwest with Albatross to study Alaska.

During this period, her Civil War-era guns had been landed and replaced with what appear to be a half-dozen long barreled 6-pounders (57mm) though I can’t tell if they are Hotchkiss or Driggs-Schroeder models. As Mare Island was home to a number of vessels decommissioned after the SpanAm War at the time which carried both of these models, this should come as no surprise.

Photographed about 1901. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Catalog #: NH 57108

Photographed about 1901. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Catalog #: NH 57108

Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, about 1901. Catalog #: NH 57109

Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, about 1901. Catalog #: NH 57109

Postcard photo, probably taken while she was serving as California State Naval Militia Training Ship, 1906-1910. Note she still has some cannon mounted. Courtesy of Commander D.J. Robinson, USN (Ret), 1978 Catalog #: NH 86255

Postcard photo, probably taken while she was serving as California State Naval Militia Training Ship, 1906-1910. Note what appear to be 57mm 6-pdrs mounted. Courtesy of Commander D.J. Robinson, USN (Ret), 1978 Catalog #: NH 86255

Once again emerging from ordinary, Alert was further converted to allow for transient sailors and became one of the Navy’s first official submarine tenders (AS-4), placed back in full commission 1 July 1912.

Post card image of USS Alert (Submarine Tender #4) moored at San Pedro, CA. The submarines alongside are "F" class boats, circa 1916. Note the wicker deck furniture over her extensive awnings. http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/36/3604.htm Via Navsource: Photo - Ron Reeves Caption - Ric Hedman

Post card image of USS Alert (Submarine Tender #4) moored at San Pedro, CA. The submarines alongside are “F” class boats, circa 1916. Note the wicker deck furniture over her extensive awnings.  Via Navsource: Photo – Ron Reeves Caption – Ric Hedman

USS Alert (Submarine Tender #4), serving as tender for the Third Submarine Division of the Pacific Fleet, laying alongside the wharf at Kuahua, U.S. Naval Station, Pearl Harbor, 22 August 1917. K-3 (Submarine #34) and K-4 (Submarine #35) are identifiable alongside; the unidentifiable "boat" is probably either K-7 (Submarine #38) or K-8 (Submarine #39).Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 42542

USS Alert (Submarine Tender #4), serving as tender for the Third Submarine Division of the Pacific Fleet, laying alongside the wharf at Kuahua, U.S. Naval Station, Pearl Harbor, 22 August 1917. K-3 (Submarine #34) and K-4 (Submarine #35) are identifiable alongside; the unidentifiable “boat” is probably either K-7 (Submarine #38) or K-8 (Submarine #39). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 42542

Ship's baseball team, 1917.

Ship’s baseball team, 1917. Note her deckhouse. Photo via San Diego City Archives.

This mission ended for her when the U.S. entered World War I and, for the first time in decades, she left the Pacific and made her way to the waters of her birth along the Eastern seaboard, briefly serving as a depot ship in Bermuda for outbound convoys to the Great War in Europe.

USS Alert. In port, circa late 1918 or early 1919. Note the old cannon used as a bollard in the left foreground, and the submarine chaser (SC) tied up astern of Alert. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2006. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 104155

USS Alert. In port, circa late 1918 or early 1919 showing her legacy scrollwork on her bow. Note the old cannon to the far left of the image used as a bollard, and the submarine chaser (SC) tied up astern of Alert. Also note what looks to be a Driggs Ordinance Co. Mark II 1-pounder (37mm) on Alert’s port side forward deck. Originally designed to splash small torpedo boats in the 1880s, by 1918 this would be more of a saluting piece than anything though it could still scratch the conning tower paint of one of the Kaiser’s U-boats if needed. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2006. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 104155

With the war winding down, she reverted to the Pacific Squadron, once again serving as a submarine tender until she was decommissioned 9 March 1922 after a very respectable 47 years of service. She was sold three months later for scrap and I can find no trace of her today.

During her time in service, Alert had 23 official captains, including future RADM. William Thomas Sampson, known for his later victory in the Battle of Santiago.

As for her sisters, 60 sailors from the wreck of the Huron are buried together in Section Five of the United States Naval Academy Cemetery in well cared for lots while the ship herself is protected by federal mandate in her watery grave. A highway marker near Nag’s Head mentions her loss.

Alert‘s other classmate, USS Ranger, (later renamed USS Rockport and USS Nantucket PG-23/IX-18), was involved in the Barrundia Affair with Guatemala, patrolled the coast during WWI, and served as the training ship for first the Massachusetts Nautical Training School then the Merchant Marine Academy, only passing to the scrappers in 1958.

Ranger‘s original engine —  the only back-acting type known to be still in existence—was saved from destruction and is on display at the American Merchant Marine Museum in Kings Point, New York.

The last of her class.

112-TV-Emery-Rice-Steam-Engine-1873_page6_image5

Specs:

alert classDisplacement: 1,202 long tons
Length: 175 ft. (53 m)
Beam: 32 ft. (9.8 m)
Depth of hold: 15 ft. (4.6 m)
Draft: 13 ft. (mean)
Installed power: Five boilers driving 1 × 560 ihp, 64 rpm compound back-acting steam engine
Propulsion: 1 × 12 ft. diameter × 17.5 ft. pitch propeller, auxiliary sails
Speed: 10 knots under steam
Complement: 138 officers and enlisted (typically including a 15 man Marine detachment until 1898). Berthing for 200 after 1901.
Armament:
(1875)
1 × 11 in (280 mm) Dahlgren gun
2 × 9 in (230 mm) Dahlgren guns
1 × 60 pdr (27 kg) Parrott rifle
1 × 12 pdr (5.4 kg) howitzer
1 × Gatling gun
spar torpedoes for her steam launch (provision deleted after 1889)
(1901)
6 small pieces in gundeck broadside, possibly 6 pdrs or 3-inchers
(1912)
Largely disarmed other than saluting pieces (1-pdrs) and small arms.

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.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, 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 it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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