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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019: The first of the Big W’s

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, Jan. 16, 2019: The first of the Big W’s

NH 97885

Here we see the one-of-a-kind U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Wichita (CA-45) amid a winter storm off Iceland in 1941-42. Note the PBY patrol plane on the deck of the seaplane tender from which the photograph was taken. The mighty and unique warship would earn a full baker’s dozen battlestars across multiple theaters in WWII, taking fire from the French, Germans and Japanese.

Sandwiched between the seven 588-foot/12,600-ton New Orleans (CA-32)-class cruisers of the 1930s and the 14 more modern 673-foot/17,000-ton Baltimore (CA-68)-class cruisers of the 1940s, Wichita was a standalone derivative of the basic design prepared for the 606-foot/12,400-ton Brooklyn (CL-40)-class of light cruisers, similar in characteristics and appearance but with three 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Mark 12 triple turrets instead of the five 6-inch turrets mounted in the Brooklyn.

Each of her guns could fire 3-4 shells per minute. At 260-pounds each, they could reach out to 31,860 yards. She carried 1,350 rounds in her magazine and later, off Okinawa, would run dry several times. Wichita (CA-45) class Turret sketch from OP-1112. Image courtesy of HNSA via Navweps

Designed to weigh 10,000-tons (this was still a Treaty thing) she would grow to carry over 13,000 tons during WWII.

The first U.S. Navy vessel named for the City of Wichita, Kansas, she was laid down at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1935 and completed on 16 February 1939, less than seven months shy of Hitler’s march into Poland.

USS WICHITA (CA-45) about 1940. Courtesy of The Marines Museum, Newport News, Va. Ted Stone Collection. Catalog #: NH 66793

Speaking of which, Wichita received her received her 66-piece silver service from officials in her namesake city (crafted for $3,000 by area jeweler Cleon A. Whitney) and, after a shakedown in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, she soon clocked in on FDR’s Neutrality Patrol in the North Atlantic in October. By the next year, with the specter of the Graf Spee running amok in the South Atlantic, Wichita soon became a facet in ports around Latin America, calling at everything from Curacao to Montevideo, Rio and Buenos Aires.

USS Wichita (CA 45) port view while at New York City Harbor, New York, pre-WWII LOC

Back in the frozen North by early 1941, the Navy’s roaming cruiser made her way to Iceland, then a Danish territory occupied by the British to keep the Kriegsmarine from doing the same thing. Sailing as part of Operation Indigo II in July, she was on hand for the transfer of the island to (then still neutral) U.S. protection. She would spend the next several months on what was termed the “White Patrol,” engaged in operations in Icelandic waters, spending much of her time swinging at anchor at wind-swept Hvalfjordur.

USS Wichita (CA-45) anchored at Seidisfjord, Iceland on 30 June 1942. Life Archives

Much like the ill-fated Sullivan brothers who went on to all perish on the light cruiser USS Juneau in 1942, Wichita had her own set of five siblings.

Five brothers who served on board the ship in 1941. The original caption released with this photograph reads: Five Brothers in service aboard USS WICHITA. Five Horton brothers, of Yemassee, South Carolina, who enlisted in the United States Navy at the recruiting station, Charleston, So. Car., and are now serving aboard the cruiser, USS WICHITA. They are (l to r standing) Edmund, Hal, and John; (l to r kneeling) William and Thomas. Their father, Thomas Daniel Horton, operates a general merchandise store at Yemassee, So. Car. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 52689

Once the U.S. entered the war post-Pearl Harbor, Wichita joined the British RN along with other U.S. Naval assets and put to sea to cover the movement of Convoys QP-11 and PQ-15, sailing to and coming from the vital lend-lease port of Murmansk with aid for Moscow, screening the merchantmen from the likes of German heavy cruisers and battleships operating from Norway as her SOC Seagull floatplanes, armed with depth charges, patrolled for shadowing U-boats.

At anchor in Scapa Flow in April 1942. USS Wasp (CV-7) is in the background. Catalog #: NH 97884

Operating with the British Home Fleet, in the vicinity of Scapa Flow, 22 April 1942. Note her camo scheme. 80-G-21010

USS Wichita (CA 45) anti-aircraft activity during a North Atlantic Patrol, 1942. She was commissioned with a very light battery of water-cooled .50-cal AAA guns, an armament that was stepped up significantly when she went to the Pacific. 80-G-405273

While the first two convoys passed without much danger, on the next two, westbound PQ-16 and eastbound QP-12, she had to chase off German Condor seaplanes with AAA.

Then came PQ-17 in July 1942.

Threatened by the battleship Tirpitz and heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper as well as swarms of He 111 bombers, the covering First Cruiser Squadron (CS1) consisting of the four Allied cruisers HMS London, HMS Norfolk, Wichita and USS Tuscaloosa, was ordered by the Admiralty to “withdraw to the westward at high speed,” while the convoy itself was to scatter and “proceed to Russian ports,” alone and unescorted. It was a disaster, and 24 of 36 of the merchantmen was sent to the bottom as the Germans chased them all the way to Murmansk. Churchill called it, “one of the most melancholy naval episodes in the whole of the war.”

Steaming through heavy weather, while operating as a unit of Task Force Four in the North Atlantic, September 1941. Photographed from USS Wasp (CV-7).

Nonetheless, Wichita was given a reprieve from convoy work as the Allies were planning something big.

By November, she was off North Africa as part of the Torch Landings, aimed to occupy Vichy French Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and drive Rommel back to Europe. She was to help seize Casablanca, which was thought to be an easy operation.

It was not.

Battle of Casablanca, 8-16 November 1942. USS Wichita (CA 45) straddled by three shells from Jean Bart during the battle. 80-G-38835

From DANFS:

However, the French decided to resist; and they proved stubborn. Ordered to attack at 0623, Wichita stood toward the North African coast, her spotting planes, Curtiss SOC’s, airborne to spot her fall of shot. French fighters, possibly Dewoitine 520’s or American-built Curtiss Hawk 75’s, attacked the “Seagulls,” and one had to make a forced landing. Its crew was picked up by one of the heavy cruiser’s escorts.

At 0704, the guns of the French battleship Jean Bart boomed from Casablanca harbor, as did the ones emplaced at El Hank. Although moored to a pier and still incomplete, Jean Bart packed a powerful “punch” with her main battery. Massachusetts subsequently opened fire in return at 0705, and Tuscaloosa did so shortly thereafter.

Wichita’s 8-inch battery crashed out at 0706, aimed at El Hank. Checking fire at 0723 when her spotting planes informed her that the French guns appeared to be silenced, the heavy cruiser shifted her 8-inch rifles in the direction of French submarines in Casablanca harbor. Subsequently checking fire at 0740, Wichita began blasting the French guns at Table d’Aukasha shortly before 0800.

After resumption of firing on French shipping in Casablanca’s harbor, Wichita received orders at 0835 to cease fire. At 0919, however, she opened fire again, this time directing her guns at French destroyers in harbor and at the light cruiser Primauguet. Later, at 1128, Wichita came within range of the French battery at El Hank, and the Vichy gunners scored a hit on the American cruiser. A 194-millimeter shell hit her port side, passed into the second deck near the mainmast, and detonated in a living compartment. Fragments injured 14 men, none seriously, and the resulting fires were quickly extinguished by Wichita’s damage control parties.

Torpedoes from a Vichy French submarine caused Wichita to take evasive action at 1139. Two “fish” went by a length ahead of the ship, and another passed deep under the bow or slightly ahead. After ceasing fire at 1142, Wichita received orders an hour later to attack French ships making for the harbor entrance at Casablanca. Accordingly, the heavy cruiser, aided by improved visibility and air spotting, again battered Primauguet, starting fierce fires that gutted a large part of that ship. At 1505, Wichita ceased fire; and her guns remained quiet for the rest of the day. That evening, she steamed seaward to avoid nocturnal submarine attacks and, over the ensuing days, patrolled offshore between Casablanca and Fedhala. Ordered to return to the United States, her task with “Torch” completed, Wichita sailed for Hampton Roads on 12 November.

Under repair well into 1943, she switched theaters and, sailing through the Panama Canal, arrived in the Pacific just in time to take a dud torpedo in a nighttime attack by Japanese planes off Rennell Island at the end of January!

Then came the Aleutian theater where she helped retake Attu, Kiska, and Adak, often serving as a flagship.

By January 1944, she was in the Marshall Islands, screening the carrier Bunker Hill. Then came a roll call of atolls filled with now-historic raids and landings– Yap, Woleali, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Hollandia, Wakde, Truk, the Carolines, Saipan, and Guam– where she knocked out Japanese aircraft and struck out with her big guns.

USS Wichita (CA-45). Underway at sea, 2 May 1944, during operations in the central Pacific. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 90428

Port side and after 5/38 guns of USS Wichita (CA-45) firing on enemy targets on Saipan, 26 June 1944. The guns’ simultaneous discharge indicates they are firing under director control. Note the 40mm gun mount at left, with ammunition loaded but no personnel present. 80-G-238240

During the famous “Marianas Turkey Shoot,” Wichita‘s gunners claimed assists on two Kates while one of her floatplanes rescued an American fighter pilot whose plane had been downed.

Then came more action in the Philippines in preparation for the landings at Leyte where Wichita came to the assistance of the larger cruiser USS Canberra (CA-70) that had caught a Japanese torpedo on 13 October, eventually taking the crippled vessel under tow. Once the tug USS Munsee took over, Canberra remained on tap to help screen “the cripple squadron” consisting of Canberra and the similarly torpedoed USS Houston (CL-81) for three days in the aftermath of the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Speaking of cripples, on 25 October, Wichita came across the damaged Japanese aircraft carrier Chiyoda and, in the company of the cruisers USS Santa Fe, Mobile, and New Orleans, along with nine destroyers, pummeled her until she slipped below the waves with 1,900 IJN officers and men aboard. Later that night, she sank the Akizuki-class destroyer Hatsuzuki off Cape Engaño.

USS Mobile (CL-63) firing on the Japanese destroyer Hatsuzuki, during the evening of 25 October 1944, at the end of the Battle off Cape Engaño. Photographed from USS Wichita (CA-45)

After a stint on the West Coast to repair damage and cobble her back together for the next big push, Wichita joined the gun line off Okinawa, where she would spend the rest of her war.

Again, from DANFS:

As an element of TU 54.2.3, Wichita covered minesweeping units in fire support sector four on 25 March, retiring to seaward for the night. As part of Fire Support Unit 3 the following day, Wichita was off Okinawa when lookouts spotted a periscope to starboard at 0932. Making an emergency turn to starboard, the heavy cruiser evaded the torpedo that was fired.

At 1350, Wichita commenced firing with her main battery, shelling Japanese installations on Okinawa, before she ceased fire at 1630 and retired to sea for the night. Soon after dawn the following morning, 27 March, several Japanese planes attacked the formation in which Wichita was proceeding; the heavy cruiser’s gunners shot down one. That morning and afternoon, Wichita again lent the weight of her salvos to the “softening-up” process; even her SOC joined in, dropping two bombs.

After floating mines, which had been delaying the start of the morning bombardment, had been cleared, Wichita resumed her bombardment activities on the 28th. The next day, the 29th, Wichita put into Kerama Retto to replenish ammunition. That rocky outcropping near Okinawa had been invaded to provide an advance base for the operations against the island. It was still in the process of being cleared of defenders even as Wichita entered the harbor, among the first ships to utilize the newly secured body of water. “You are the first to receive the keys of Kerama Retto,” radioed the senior officer present afloat to Wichita, “with scenery and sound effects.”

When she had replenished her stock of ammunition, Wichita resumed her shelling of the Japanese defenders on Okinawa, covering the movement of underwater demolition teams (UDT’s). She performed the same covering services for UDT’s the next day, 30 March, as well as bombarding selected targets ashore. On the 31st, Wichita shelled the beach area to breach the sea wall in preparation for the landings. That evening, the heavy cruiser retired to seaward to cover the approaching transports.

On Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, the day of the initial assault across the shores of Okinawa, Wichita provided neutralization fire on Japanese positions defending the southern beaches. She kept up a rapid, nearly continuous fire with everything from 8-inch to 40-millimeter guns. Near noon, her services temporarily not needed, she replenished ammunition.

After performing a call-fire mission on the 2d, Wichita replenished fuel and ammunition at Kerama Retto on the 3d. She subsequently took up a fire support station near le Shima and supported the minesweepers operating off that point on the 4th. During the night, Wichita fired harassment missions against the Japanese defenders. On the 5th, she was to join TG 51.19 east of Okinawa to carry out a bombardment of Tsugen Shima in company with Tuscaloosa, Maryland (BB-46), and Arkansas (BB-33), but the approach of enemy planes canceled the mission. That evening, though, Wichita shelled Japanese shore batteries at Chiyama Shima which had taken Nevada (BB-36) under fire earlier that day.

On 6 April, Wichita searched for troop concentrations, tanks, vehicles, and boat revetments on the east coast of Okinawa, targets of opportunity for her batteries. Shortly before sunset, a “Zeke” (Mitsubishi A6M5) came out of the clouds on the port quarter. The encounter was apparently one of mutual surprise, as Wichita’s commander later recounted: “We seemed nearly as much of a surprise to the plane as it did to us.” As the “Zeke” dove for the heavy cruiser’s bridge, antiaircraft fire reached up and tore the plane apart, it disintegrated over the ship and splashed in the sea off the starboard bow. There was no damage to the ship.

The following day, Wichita entered Nakagusuku Wan, a body of water later renamed Buckner Bay, during the morning to bombard a pugnacious shore battery. The enemy managed to land several shots “very close aboard the port side” but was ultimately silenced. For the next two days, Wichita carried out a similar slate of harassing fire on Japanese shore batteries, pillboxes, and other targets of opportunity. Underway for Kerama Retto on the afternoon of 10 April, the heavy cruiser replenished her ammunition supply that evening and returned to the bombardment areas the following day.

Wichita subsequently served four more tours of duty off Okinawa, her 8-inch guns providing part of the heavy volume of firepower necessary to support the troops advancing ashore against the tenacious Japanese defenders. She hit pillboxes, ammunition dumps, troop concentrations spotted by her observers aloft in one of her SOC’s, camouflaged installations and caves, waterfront areas suspected of supporting suicide boat launching ramps and harboring swimmers, as well as trenches and artillery emplacements. During that period, she was damaged twice: the first time came when a small caliber shell penetrated a fuel oil tank, five feet below the waterline, on 27 April. After repairs at Kerama Retto on 29 and 30 April (she had spent the 28th firing harassment rounds against Japanese positions ashore and making unsuccessful attempts to patch the hole), Wichita provided more harassment and interdiction fire before being hit by “friendly” fire during an air raid on 12 May. A 5-inch shell hit the port catapult, with fragments striking the shield of an antiaircraft director. Twelve men were injured, one so severely that he died that night.

Wichita was off the island when, on 15 August 1945, she received word that the war with Japan was over.

Following occupation and Magic Carpet duty, she was decommissioned on 3 February 1947.

The heavy cruiser was laid up at Philadelphia, where Wichita swayed in the brown, lead-streaked water until she was struck from the Navy list on 1 March 1959.

In August, she was sold for scrap, which was accomplished in Port Panama City, Florida. I believe that her silver service is at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum in her “hometown” as they have an exhibit to the vessel.

Rather than pass on her name to another warship, the second Wichita was a replenishment oiler (AOR-1) commissioned in 1969 and decommissioned on 12 March 1993. This later Wichita earned four battle stars for her Vietnam service and is currently being turned into razor blades and sheet metal for compact cars.

The most recent Wichita, LCS-13, was commissioned last week. She has big shoes to fill.

180711-N-N0101-376 LAKE MICHIGAN (July 11, 2018) The future littoral combat ship USS Wichita (LCS 13) conducts acceptance trials, which are the last significant milestone before a ship is delivered to the Navy. LCS-13 is a fast, agile, focused-mission platform designed for operation in near-shore environments as well as the open ocean. It is designed to defeat asymmetric threats such as mines, quiet diesel submarines, and fast surface craft. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin/Released)

Specs:

Operating in the Atlantic Ocean, out of Norfolk, Virginia, on 1 May 1940. Note the markings on her turret tops (bars on the forward turrets, a circle on the after turret). This scheme was used on several other heavy cruisers in 1939-40. NH 93145

Camouflage Measure 32, Design 14D scheme intended for USS Wichita (CA-45). This plan, approved by Captain Torvald A. Solberg, USN, is dated 28 June 1944. It shows the ship’s starboard side, exposed decks, stern and superstructure ends. Wichita was not painted in this camouflage design. Catalog #: 80-G-174773

Displacement 10,000 tons (designed), 13,240-fl
Length: 608 (oa) ft.
Beam: 61 ft.
Draft: 25 ft.
Machinery: 100,000 SHP; 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 4 Parsons steam turbines, 4 screws
Complement: 929 officers and enlisted
Armament:
(1941)
9 x 8″/55
8 x 5″/38 DP
8 x .50-caliber water-cooled.
(1945)
9 x 8″/55
8 x 5″/38 DP
24 × Bofors 40mm guns (4×4, 8×2)
18 × Oerlikon 20mm cannon
Seaplanes: 4
Armor: 6″ Belt, 8″ Turrets, 2 1/4″ Deck, 6″ Conning Tower.

Speed, 33.5 Knots, Crew 900.

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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019: That time an icebreaker took on a (pocket) battleship

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, Jan. 9, 2019: That time an icebreaker took on a (pocket) battleship

Here we see the hardy Soviet steel screw steamer/icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov with a homemade sail rig somewhere in the frozen Northern Sea Route in 1932. Built as a Canadian sealer, she sailed into maritime history when it came to polar exploration and met her end at the hands of a bruiser who was many times her match.

Ordered from the Scottish shipbuilding firm of D & W Henderson & Co., Glasgow as the SS Bellaventure by the Bellaventure S.S. Co. Ltd. of St. John’s Newfoundland in 1908, she was not very large (1132 grt / 471 nrt, 241-feet overall) but was designed to withstand the rigors of the polar seal trade. Completed the next year, she made seven trips searching for the lucrative marine mammals. Steam heated and electric-lighted, she could steam at 10 knots, burning through 13 tons of coal per day until her 292-ton bunker was bare. With accommodations for a 15-man crew, she could also accommodate 10 passengers in five staterooms that had access to a separate saloon that was “handsomely fitted up.”

“SS Bonaventure. First arrival from the seal fishery, March 28, 1911, with 26,289 old and young seals” via Newfoundland Quarterly”

Image from page 24 of “Newfoundland Quarterly 1909-11” (1909) https://archive.org/stream/nfldquart190911uoft/nfldquart190911uoft#page/n24/mode/1up

The S.S. Bellaventure, 467 tons, was engaged in the Canadian seal fishery for seven springs, 1909-1915. Her record year was 1910, 35,816 seals; her total was 112,135. Source: http://bonavistanorth.blogspot.com/2007/08/ss-bellaventure.html

When the Great War erupted, the Tsar was soon looking for ice-protected ships as the Ottoman Turks’ entry into the conflict shut off the Black Sea and, with the Baltic barred by the Germans, Russia was a proverbial boarded-up house that could only be entered by the chimney– the frozen Barents Sea harbor of Murmansk (then just a hamlet with primitive facilities) and the White Sea port of Arkhangelsk.

Purchased by Russia in 1916, she was renamed Alexander Sibiryakov in honor of a gold mine magnate who financed a number of improvements in Siberia as well as various scientific expeditions and historical research projects. As a shooting war was on, she was given a high-angle 76mm gun, largely for appearance sake as German U-boats and surface raiders were scarce in the Barents during WWI.

Note her gun tub forward. She would pick up a 45mm gun on the stern in 1942 as well as a couple of machine guns

Briefly used by the White Russians of Lt. Gen. Eugen Ludwig Müller (also often seen as “EK Miller” in the West) during his control of the Kola Peninsula where he had declared himself Governor-General of Northern Russia in the resulting power vacuum that followed in the wake of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Sibiryakov was operated for a time commercially by the British Ellerman’s Wilson Line concern (the British were propping up the Whites) and helped evacuate Muller and his bunch to Norway when the Bolsheviks captured his former fiefdom in 1920.

Sibiryakov was returned to the Reds who, from 1921 onward, sent her into the White Sea to support the Russian the hunting industry, and provide the various Soviet polar stations wintering of the Arctic Ocean with food, equipment, and fuel.

Academian and Hero of the Soviet Union Otto Schmidt, somewhere in the icepack, more about him below

The icebreaker managed to become the first ship in history to complete the 2,500-mile Northern Sea Route in one season when it was traveled by Otto Yulievich Schmidt’s expedition in 1932. The expedition left Arkhangelsk on July 28 commanded by CPT. Vladimir Voronin who, along with Schmidt and his deputy, Prof. Vladimir Wiese, rounded the North Land archipelago from the north and reached the Chukchi Sea in August. From there they had to power through solid ice, repair the hull in several places, free the prop (breaking her shaft) and finally sail the final leg out into the Bearing Strait at about the speed of flotsam on homemade sails made from tarps, old blankets and sheets after total engineering casualties, reaching Yokohama from there with the assistance of a tow from a Soviet fishing trawler in the Northern Pacific on 1 October.

When WWII came to Russia in 1941, courtesy of Barbarossa, Sibiryakov was taken up from academic and commercial service and placed in the Red Navy for the duration of the Great Patriotic War or her destruction, whichever came first.

Speaking of which, her still armed only with some machine guns and her 1915-vintage Tarnovsky-Lender 76mm popgun, she bumped into the Deutschland-class heavy cruiser (Panzerschiffe= armored ship, but commonly just termed “pocket battleship”) Admiral Scheer one day while out among the ice.

German Pocket Battleship DEUTSCHLAND Drawing of 1941 rig. Inset ADMIRAL SCHEER. German – CA (DEUTSCHLAND Class) 1941 NH 110853

The big German, at 15,000-tons, carried a half-dozen 28 cm/52 (11″) SK C/28 naval guns and knew how to use them.

Stern 28 cm/52 Turret on Admiral Scheer in mid-1939. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph # NH 80897.

Sailing as part of Operation Wunderland with three destroyers and a number of U-boats, Scheer aimed to penetrate the Kara Sea where they knew Soviets shipping tended to congregate as it was somewhat of a Russian lake, akin to the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S.– only a lot colder.

Encountering Scheer off Belukha Island near Middendorff Bay, the 13-knot icebreaker could not run and, rather than strike their flag, engaged the cruiser on 24 August. It was a short fight as Scheer‘s belt was 3.1-inches of armor while Sibiryakov‘s was – zero – in addition to the gross imbalance in armaments. It was all over within an hour.

Russian Icebreaker ALEXANDER SIBIRIEKOV Afire and sinking in the Barents Sea North of Murmansk after being attacked by the German cruiser ADMIRAL SCHEER in August 1942 survivors on the raft at right. NH 71384

Of the icebreaker’s 100~ man crew, only her skipper, 32-year-old Senior Lt. Anatoly Alekseevich Kacharava, and 18 crew members were pulled from the water by the Scheer while one man, a stoker by the name of Vavilov, was able to make it to shore on a leaky liferaft where he survived for a month among the polar bears on Belukha Island before he was finally rescued by a passing seaplane.

NH 71385 Sinking Of The Russian Icebreaker ALEXANDER SIBIRIEKOV as seen from Scheer, note rescued Soviet sailors on deck. The men would spend the next decade in German and Soviet camps.

Many of the Soviet mariners captured never made it home from German POW camps.

Worse, those who survived long enough to be repatriated after the war were sent to the gulag (thanks, Uncle Joe!) for several years as were many returning Soviet POWs. In 1961, Kacharava, along with the other survivor, was declared “rehabilitated” and awarded the Order of the Red Banner nearly two decades after their pitched battle. He returned to the merchant service, skippering ships along the Northern Sea Route, and headed the Georgian Shipping Company in the 1970s, retiring to Batumi.

Kacharava (1910-1982)

He died in 1982.

However, the act of trying to fight it out with a beast of a cruiser landed the humble Sibiryakov a solid spot in Russian naval lore and relics of the ship are venerated today in the country while she has been repeatedly portrayed in Soviet maritime art.

The battle of the icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov with the cruiser Admiral Scheer by PP Pavlinov, 1945.

The last fight of the icebreaker Alexander Sibiryakov 25 August 1942. By Michael Uspensky

As for Scheer, she was sunk by British bombers in 1945 and partially salvaged, with her remains currently buried beneath a quay in Kiel.

Specs:


Displacement: 1132 grt / 471 nrt (as designed)
Length: 241-feet
Beam: 35.8-feet
Draft: 16.9-feet
Engines: T3cyl (22.5, 37, 61 x 42in), 347nhp, 1-screw
Speed: 13 knots
Crew (1942) 100
Armament: 1 x 76mm Tarnovsky-Lender M1914/15 8-K gun, 1x45mm gun (added 1942), machine guns

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, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 (of 448)

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, Jan. 2, 2019: Splinter No. 330 of 448

Collection of George K. Beach, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 91189

Here we see the mighty 110-foot Submarine Chaser No. 330 of the U.S. Navy en route across the Atlantic, circa September-October 1918, to take the fight to the Kaiser’s unterseeboot threat. The hearty little class, more akin to yachts or trawlers than warships, were hard to kill and gave unsung service by the hundreds, with SC-330 one of the longer-lasting of the species.

In an effort to flood the Atlantic with sub-busting craft and assure the U-boat scourge was driven from the sea, the 110-foot subchasers were designed by Herreshoff Boat Yard Vice President, the esteemed naval architect Albert Loring Swasey (Commodore of the MIT Yacht Club in 1897) on request of Asst Naval Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1916 and rushed into construction the next year. It was believed the vessels could be rushed out via commercial boat yards at $500K a pop.

Submarine Chaser SC-49 parading with other Sub Chasers off an unknown East Coast port

Derided as a “splinter fleet” the SCs were built from wood (the most excellent Subchaser Archives says “Frame/floors: white oak. Planking: yellow pine. Deck planking: Oregon pine”), which, when powered by a trio of Standard 220-hp 6-cylinder gasoline (!) engines, a 24~ man crew could get the narrow-beamed vessel underway at a (designed) top speed of 18 knots, which was fast enough for U-boat work at the time.

View in the engine room, looking aft, circa 1918. Taken by Louis Harder, at The Naval Experimental Station, New London, Conn NH 44355

Armed with a 3″/23cal low-angle pop gun forward– which was still capable of punching a hole in a submarine’s sail or pressure hull out to 8,000 yards– a couple of M1895 Colt/Marlin or Lewis light machine guns for peppering periscopes, and assorted depth charges (both racks and projectors), they were dangerous enough for government work.

3-inch gun drill, Submarine Chaser operating in European waters, 1918 NH 124131

Deck scene aboard a U.S. Navy Submarine Chaser during World War I. Caption: This photo, taken from the top of the pilot house, shows the boat’s “Y” gun depth charge thrower aft of amidships and a 12-foot Wherry dinghy coming alongside (each chaser carried one as well as a liferaft stowed on the engine room trunk). The submarine chaser in the picture is not identified but may be USS SC-143. Original photograph from the collection of Mr. Peter K. Connelly, who was Boatswain on the SC-143 in 1918-1919. NH 64978

For finding their quarry, they were equipped with hydrophones produced by the Submarine Signal Company of Boston (which today is Raytheon), of the C-tube and K-tube variety.

As noted by no less authority than Admiral William S. Sims in a 1920 article reprinted in All Hands in 1954:

“The C-tube consisted of a lead pipe-practically the same as a water pipe which was dropped over the side of the ship fifteen or
twenty feet into the sea; this pipe contained the wires which, at one end, were attached to the devices under the water, and which, at the other end, reached the listener’s ears.”

When a cavitation submarine was near it “showed signs of lively agitation. It trembled violently and made a constantly increasing hullabaloo in the ears of the listener.”

C-Tube Illustration #2 Caption: This diagram shows the inner workings of a C-tube listening device. Original Location: Submarine Signal Company Descriptive Specifications of General Electric Company’s “C” Tube Set, RG 45, Entry 520, Box 338, National Archives, Washington, DC

C-Tube Illustration #1 The C-Tube over the side

“At work aboard a U.S. Navy submarine chaser (SC),” at the U.S. Naval Experimental Station, New London, Connecticut, circa 1918. Photo by Louis Harder, New London. NH 2460

Besides escorting coastal convoys (subchasers had short legs) and watching for surfaced boats, 3-packs of the hardy little vessels would drift and listen, their K-tubes and C-tubes in the water, depth charges at the ready.

From Sims:

The three little vessels, therefore, drifted abreast-at a distance of a mile or two apart-their propellers hardly moving, and the decks as silent as the grave; they formed a new kind of fishing expedition, the officers and crews constantly held taut by the expectation of a “bite.” The middle chaser of the three was the flagship and her most interesting feature was the so-called plotting room. Here one officer received constant telephone reports from all three boats, giving the nature of the sounds, and, more important still, their directions. He transferred these records to a chart as soon as they came in, rapidly made calculations, and in a few seconds, he was able to give the location of the submarine. This process was known as “obtaining a fix.”

This photograph captioned “Battle Formation of Sub-chasers”, seems to depict the vessels in a columnar formation, which would be unusual for engaging with a submarine. The battle formation was most commonly ships arranged in a line abreast. From the T. Woofenden Collection at subchaser.org. https://www.subchaser.org/battle-formation via NHHC

The first of the class, SC-1, was built at Naval Station New Orleans and commissioned in October 1917. Others were built at Mare Island, New York (Brooklyn), Charleston, Norfolk and Puget Sound Naval Yards; by Matthews Boat in Ohio, Hodgdon Yacht in Maine, Hiltebrant in Kingston, College Point Boat Works, Mathis Yacht in New Jersey, Barrett SB in Alabama, Great Lake Boat Building Corp in Milwaukee…well, you get the idea…they were built everywhere, some 448 vessels over three years.

110-foot subchaser under construction in Cleveland. Photo by Cleveland Parks

110-foot wooden submarine chaser being built at an unidentified shipyard. NARA 165-WW-506a-111

Our subject, SC-330, was handcrafted with love by the Burger Boat Co., Manitowoc, Wisconsin— the only such craft built by the yard– and commissioned 8 February 1918. Of note, Burger is still in the yacht biz today.

She cut her teeth with the early submarine hunter-killer group centered around the Paulding-class four-piper destroyer USS Jouett (DD-41) on the East Coast.

Assigned to Division 12 of Submarine Chaser Squadron 4 for service overseas during the Great War, SC-330 headed overseas in September 1918, ending up in the Azores.

U.S Navy Submarine Chasers at sea in August 1918. NH 63449

Submarine chasers at sea in European waters during World War I NH 2687

Rushed into service, at least 121 of the 110s made it “Over There” before Versailles, including no less than 36 that operated in the Med from the island of Corfu. Not bad for ships that only hit the drawing board in late 1916.

The boat carried two officers, a CPO, five engine rates, three electricians (radiomen), a BM, a QM, 3 hydrophone listeners, a couple of guys in the galley, and 5-7 seamen. Crews were often a mix of trawlermen serving as rates, Ivy League yachtsmen as officers, and raw recruits making up the balance. In many cases, the Chief was the only regular Navy man aboard. Life was primative, with no racks, one head and hammocks strung all-round.

Most crews went from civilian life to getting underway in just a few months. The fact that these craft deploying to Europe did so on their own power– effectively in a war zone as soon as they left brown water on the East Coast– with very little in the way of a shakedown is remarkable.

Subchaser refueling, on the voyage from the Azores to Ireland

Fueling sub chasers at sea, 1918. Capable of an 880-mile range on their 2,400 gallons of gasoline, each chaser needed to refuel 4-5 times while on a crossing of the Atlantic. Pretty heady stuff in the day. NH 109622

In an Azores harbor with other ships of the U.S. and foreign navies, circa October 1918. The six sub chasers in the left center of the view, with bows to the camera, are (from left to right): SC-223, SC-330, SC-180, SC-353, SC-331 and (probably) SC-356. Ships nested with them, to the right, include a bird type minesweeper and two converted yacht patrol vessels. The four sailing ship masts to the extreme right probably belong to the French Quevilly, which was serving as station tanker in the Azores. Collection of George K. Beach, who was a crewmember of USS SC-331 at the time. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 99742

Mosquito fleet U.S. Navy submarine chasers of the “Mosquito Fleet” at the Azores, circa 1919. Naval History and Heritage Command NH 67714

The ships did what they could and, when used in a littoral, performed admirably. For example, a squadron of 11 of these chasers screened the British-French-Italian naval forces during the Second Battle of Durazzo in Oct. 1918, destroying mines that threatened the bombarding ships and driving off an Austrian submarine trying to attack the Allied fleet.

However, when in open ocean, things could get really real for them.

As noted by an Irish site referencing the 30 110s under Capt. A.J. Hepburn that arrived in August 1918:

The 110 foot subchaser was a fine sea boat, but was never designed to withstand the wild Atlantic seas off Ireland. Constant leaks from decks and windows, choking petrol fumes in the officers quarters, and constant seasickness from the rolling motion, were the lot of crews of these craft.

In heavy weather they would be almost awash, with only the pilot house showing above the waves. The depth charge racks were felt to be too heavy and made the vessels prone to taking seas over the stern. Many reports of German submarines from coastwatchers and others were actually subchasers ploughing through heavy seas.

Subchaser in heavy seas, showing how, from a distance, it could be mistaken for a u-boat

Once the war ended, SC-330 was sent back to the states, served in Gitmo for a time, and was laid up in the Gulf Coast in 1919.

Submarine chasers awaiting disposition. Caption: Part of the hundreds of World War I submarine chasers tied up at the Port Newark Army Base, New Jersey, awaiting disposition, 13 May 1920. Those identified include: USS SC-78, USS SC-40, USS SC-47, USS SC-143, and USS SC-110. Description: Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. Catalog #: NH 69166

SC-330 caught a reprieve. In the summer of 1920, she was sent up the Mississippi River system and served on semi-active duty through the 1920s and 30s, training Naval Reservists in the Midwest. As such, the little boat and those like her cradled the USNR through the interwar period, and, without such vessels, WWII would have looked a lot different.

S-330 underway in Midwestern waters, during the 1920s or 1930s. Sign on the building in the right distance reads Central Illinois Light Co. Note that she has lost her depth charges and Y-gun, not needed for use on the Mississippi River. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 41996

Three of the 110s that made it to WWII service: USS SC-330; USS SC-412; and USS SC-64, in port, circa the 1920s or 1930s. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Note the difference in lettering, with some using abbreviations (“S.C. 64”) and some not (“SC412”) Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Photo #: NH 103096

Of her 448 sisters, more than 100 were transferred to the French during the war, some to the Coast Guard in the 1920s, and most liquidated by the early 1930s as they grew long in the tooth. Wood vessels with gasoline engines weren’t highly desired by the Navy at the time, after all.

USCGC Vaughan, ex-USS SC-152, was built by the Gibbs Gas Engine Co., Jacksonville, FL but served her career in Coastie White off Key West and San Diego during Prohibiton. With Volstead on its way out, she was decommissioned 28 March 1928 and sold. Her end is similar to most SCs., discarded before they had 10 years on their rapidly deteriorating wooden hulls.

Few of the 110s survived the Depression on Uncle’s inventory and SC-330 was the only one of her 100-ship block (from SC 301-400) to serve in WWII, likely continuing her role as a training ship. As most of her life had been spent in freshwater– usually wintering ashore to keep out of the ice– the likely contributed to her longevity.

SC-330 out of the water for maintenance, from an article in the Marengo-Union Times relating a 1940s interaction with the vessel at St. Louis, MO http://marengo-uniontimes.com/news/1567-what-did-you-do-in-the-war-daddy

Only about a dozen or so 110s were carried on the Naval List during the Second World War. (The other 12 were: SC-64, SC-102, SC-103, SC-185, SC-412, SC-431, SC-432, SC-437, SC-440, SC-449, SC-450, SC-453, one of which was lost and three were retired before the end of the war. In addition, SC-229 and SC-231 were in USCG service as the cutters Boone and Blaze, respectively). Most were in YP or training duties, although some did mount ASW gear to include mousetrap bomb throwers and depth charges, just in case.

SC-330, was one of the last four of her type in service, decommissioning and struck from the Navy Register 22 June 1945, then transferred to the War Shipping Administration on 8 October 1946. (The only longer-lasting 110s were: SC-431 transferred to WSA on 12/9/46, SC-437 on 3/21/47, and SC-102 on 1/3/47).

While these craft are all largely gone for good, extensive plans remain of the vessels in the National Archives.

For more on these craft, please visit Splinter Fleet and The Subchaser Archives.

Specs:


Displacement: 85 tons full load, 77 tons normal load
Length: 110 ft oa (105 ft pp)
Beam: 14 ft 9 in
Draft: 5 ft 7 in
Propulsion: Three 220 bhp Standard gasoline engines (!) as built, replaced by Hall & Scott engines in 1920.
Speed: 18 kn as designed, 16 or less in practice
Range: 880 nmi at 10 kn with 2,400 gallons fuel
Complement: Two officers, 22-25 enlisted
Sonar-like objects: One Submarine Signal Company C-Tube, M.B. Tube, or K Tube hydrophone
Armament:
1 × 3 in (76 mm)/23-caliber low-angle gun mount, fwd (2 designed, only one mounted in favor of Y-gun aft)
2 × Colt/Marlin M1895 .30-06 caliber machine guns (some seen with Lewis guns)
1 × Y-gun depth charge projector, depth charge racks

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Bad day for museum ships

A few of the last of their kind, which had been planned to be turned into floating museum ships, will now have another fate.

In Jacksonville, a group has been trying for years to obtain the USS Charles F. Adams (DDG-2) to install downtown as a museum.

(DDG-2) Underway at high speed while running trials, 31 August 1960. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 106724

The first of her extensive class of 23 ships– to include spin-offs for the West German and Royal Australian Navies– Adams was ordered in 1957 and commissioned three years later. Leaving the fleet in 1990, she has been rusting away at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard ever since.

Adams as she looked in 2008. Remember, this was a decade ago. Imagine what she looks like today! The Navy may have made the right call on this one (Via Wiki)

Now, the ship has moved from museum hold to the scrap list.

From Jax:

“Unfortunately, the United States Navy has reversed course and determined the ex USS Adams will not be donated to the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association (“JHNSA”) as a museum in Jacksonville but instead will be scrapped. This decision is counter to the Navy’s recommendation in 2014 that the ex USS Adams be released to the JHNSA for donation. We wish to thank Congressman Rutherford, Senators Rubio, and Nelson, Governor Scott, and all the City officials for their efforts with the Secretary of the Navy to have the ex USS Adams brought to Jacksonville. Although disappointed by this development, the JHNSA will continue to pursue bringing a Navy warship to downtown Jacksonville.”

The group has been collecting items to display including a not-too-far-from-surplus SPA-25G radar panel and Adams’ bell, but they want a ship to put them on. Perhaps a recently retired FFG-7?

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the final two members of the USCG’s WWII-era Balsam-class 180-foot buoy tenders have run out of time. USCGS Iris (WLB-395) and Planetree (WLB-307) were decommissioned after helping with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1995 and 1999, respectively, and have been sitting in the rusting quiet of the SBRF, Suisun Bay, CA mothballs fleet ever since.

While efforts have been off and on over the past couple decades to save one or both, they have been sold for scrap and are headed to Texas by the same long-distance sea tow.  As such, it will end more than 75 years of service tended by these vessels to Uncle.

Photo: Mike Brook, Tradewinds Towing, via USCGC Storis – Life and Death of a CG Queen

Finally, in a bright sign, the retired U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bramble (WLB-392) could be repeating her historic 1957 voyage through the Northwest Passage. Another of the “180s,” Bramble has been a museum ship in Port Huron for years but was recently sold to a man who wants to repeat the famous five-month trek of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Storis, SPAR and Bramble, along with the crew of the Canadian icebreaker HMCS Labrador from May to September of 1957.

Storis, fore, SPAR, and Bramble bringing up the rear. The NWP doesn’t look like this anymore.

Things are easier up there these days, and the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maple, a 225-foot Juniper-class seagoing buoy tender, did the trip in just 47 days last year with no icebreaking involved, so it’s not that hard to fathom.

Either way, you have to love Bramble‘s patch.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018: Churchill’s best Boxing Day gift

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, Dec. 26, 2018: Churchill’s best Boxing Day gift

National Museum of the U.S. Navy. Lot-3478-38 (2407×1750)

Here we see the King George V-class dreadnought battleship HMS Duke of York (17) in heavy seas, often captioned as firing her 14-inch guns at the distant German battleship Scharnhorst during the Battle of the North Cape, some 75 years ago today– Boxing Day, 1943. Her broadside of 10 BL 14-inch Mk VII naval guns could throw almost eight tons of shells at once.

Part of a class of five mighty battleships whistled up as Hitler was girding a resurgent Germany, Duke of York was ordered 16 November 1936, just eight months after the Austrian corporal-turned-Fuhrer violated the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Pact by reoccupying the demilitarized Rhineland. Built at John Brown and Company, Clydebank (all five KGVs were constructed at different yards to speed up their delivery), she commissioned 19 August 1941– as Great Britain remained the only country in Western Europe still fighting the Blitzkrieg. What a difference a few years can make!

Some 42,000-tons, these 745-foot long ships were bruisers. Capable of breaking 28-knots, they were faster than all but a handful of battleships on the drawing board while still sporting nearly 15-inches of armor plate at their thickest. Armed with 10 14-inch and 16 5.25-inch guns, they could slug it out with the biggest of the dreadnoughts of their day, possibly only outclassed by the American fast battleships (Washington, SoDak, Iowa-classes) with their 16-inch guns and the Japanese Yamatos, which carried 18-inchers.

HMS Duke of York, one of five King George V-class battleships

HMS Duke of York in drydock at Rosyth, Scotland.

HMS Duke of York (17), showing off her unusual quadruple turret as she departs Rosyth, 1942

Her first assignment, once she was commissioned, was to carry Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill to the United States in mid-December 1941 to confer with London’s new ally, President Roosevelt.

HMS Duke of York visits America to transport Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill to the United States, mid-December 1941. Note the Anti-Aircraft pom-pom guns in the drill. The photograph released January 27, 1942.

HMS Duke of York puffing a smoking “O” from her Y turret during exercises off Scapa Flow. This photo was taken aboard HMS Bedouin on 27 February 1942 and if you ask me is from the same set that the first image in this post is. The next day, Duke of York would cut short her work upon a sighting by HMS Trident of the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugene steering for Trondheim in Norway. Trident winged the latter, sending her running for Lofjorden. At 1830 hours on 28 Feb, Duke of York, the light cruiser Kenya, and destroyers Faulknor, Eskimo, Punjabi and Eclipse sailed from Scapa for Hvalfjord, Iceland, to join the Home Fleet and carry out her first operational sortie. IWM A 7549

By March 1942, she was active in the Battle of the Atlantic, sailing from Hvalfjord northwards around Iceland to provide distant cover for convoy PQ 12 against the threat posed by German heavy cruisers (Hipper, Prinz Eugen, Scheer), and battleships (Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and Gneisenau) possibly operating from Norway.

Battleship HMS Duke of York in heavy seas on a convoy escort operation to Russia, March 1942. In all, she would screen 16 convoys from March 1942 to December 1943, with breaks to cover landings in North Africa and Sicily and escort the Italian fleet to captivity.

Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen, USN, Commander, Task Force 99 Visits with a British Vice Admiral on board HMS Duke of York, probably at Scapa Flow. The photo is dated 22 April 1942. USS Wasp (CV-7) is in the right background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-21027

With the planned Torch landings in North Africa, in October 1942, Duke of York was sent to Gibraltar as the new flagship of Force H, from where she would lend her might to the Allied effort in the Med.

Force H warships HMS Duke of York, Nelson, Renown, Formidable, and Argonaut underway off North Africa, November 1942.

From there, she was later involved in the Operation Husky landings in Sicily in July 1943, again as flagship. She would end up escorting the Italian fleet to Alexandria, Egypt after their surrender in September.

HMS Duke of York leading the Italian Fleet to Alexandria for surrender left to right Italia, Vittorio Veneto, Cadorna, Montecuccoli, Da Recco, Eugenio Di Savoia, and Duca d’Aosta – 14 September 1943

With no rest for the weary, Duke of York was then again off Norway, this time screening the carrier Ranger on her raids there— the only time American carrier aircraft would strike Europe during the War.

Royal Navy battleship, HMS Duke of York, underway astern of USS Ranger (CV 4), September 1943. Note the TBM Avengers on deck. #80-G-88048 (2048×1641)

Remaining on-call for convoy escort, Duke of York would be screening JW 55B on the Russian run past Norway when she would meet her biggest boogeyman.

The German battleship Scharnhorst at the time was the only serious naval asset the Kriegsmarine had at the time as Bismarck had been sunk in May 1941, the pocket battleship Graf Spee run to ground in 1939, Scharnhorst‘s sister Gneisenau crippled by a British air raid in 1942, the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer in Wilhelmshaven for major overhaul, Tirpitz left nearly condemned after a British X-Craft mini-submarine raid in Sept 1943, and the pocket battleship Lutzow in Kiel under repair until after the new year. The two remaining Hipper-class heavy cruisers were likewise deployed to the Baltic in support of operations against the Soviets.

With that, the epic 11-hour running fight that was the Battle of North Cape stretched out between the guardians of JW 55B (Duke of York along with heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk, light cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Sheffield and HMS Jamaica, and the destroyers HMS Savage, Scorpion, Saumarez, Opportune, Virago, Musketeer, Matchless, and HNoMS Stord) and the unescorted Scharnhorst.

The 38,000-ton Scharnhorst, with her 13-inch armor belt and battery of nine 11-inch guns, was no match for Duke of York, however, she could make 31-knots, which gave her a slight advantage in speed during the running fight. Nevertheless, the British radar sets mounted on their ships meant she could never shake her pursuers. Almost her entire crew, including KAdm. Erich Bey, would be lost in the cold sea off North Cape, Norway.

While the German battlewagon parted Duke of York‘s hair so to speak with her own 11-inch guns– passing shells through her masts, severing wireless aerials– the British battleship, in turn, used her own radar-controlled guns to get deadly serious with 52 salvos on her opponent, straddling her on 31 of them and inflicting terrific damage.

Sinking of the Scharnhorst, 26 December 1943 by Charles Pears via Greenwich RMS. The action began at 0900 and went to nearly 2000. Duke of York is seen to the left, Scharnhorst over the central horizon. Illum shells light the final scene. http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/12177.html

In the end, it was too much for any ship and Scharnhorst, crippled, blind, burning, and outnumbered 13-to-1, was sunk by a brace of 19 torpedoes fired by the British destroyers Opportune, Virago, Musketeer, and Matchless at near point-blank range. Just 36 of her nearly 2,000-man crew was saved. As far as I can tell, it would be the last significant British surface action to involve battleships.

Cobb, Charles David; The Sinking of the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943; absorbing torpedoes from British and Norwegian destroyers National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth. http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-sinking-of-the-scharnhorst-26-december-1943-25967

“The last moments of the ‘Scharnhorst’ are recorded in this painting as fire takes hold of her and she is listing to starboard. Her guns are trained to port and her bridge tower glows in the light of the flames that rage through most of her length. In the right background are three destroyers and in the left background is a cruiser, probably the ‘Jamaica’. This painting was commissioned by the artist for publication in the ‘Illustrated London News’.” http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/13726.html Object ID BHC2250 from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. The artist is Charles Eddowes Turner

The Battle of the North Cape: HMS ‘Duke of York’ in Action against the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943, by John Alan Hamilton (1919–1993) via the Imperial War Museum London. Painted 1972, transferred from the Belfast Trust, 1978.

Gun crews of HMS DUKE OF YORK under the ship’s 14-inch guns at Scapa Flow after the sinking of the German warship, the SCHARNHORST on 26 December 1943.

Given a refit for service in the Pacific, Duke of York would sail in April 1945 for the Far East, arriving in Sydney on 29 July.

Forward turrets of Duke of York during a refit at Rosyth in 1945. Note the 2pdr on “B” turret and the 20 mm Oerlikon guns at left. This would be her configuration for the Pacific Theatre. IWM Photograph A20166.

Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser waving his telescope in greeting as HMS Duke of York entered Sydney Harbor. July 1945

She would move to Japanese Home waters for the final push and helped screen Allied carrier task forces in the weeks before VJ Day.

HMS Duke of York in Guam Harbor, August 1945. She was there to allow Adm. Sir Bruce Fraser, RN, C-in-C British Pacific Fleet, to present the order of Knights Grand Cross of the Bath (GCB) awarded by King George VI to Adm. Chester Nimitz.

Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser with Admiral Nimitz after the investiture on board the DUKE OF YORK at Guam. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161320

In the end, she was one of 10 Allied battleships— eight American and her sister HMS King George V (41)— in Tokyo Bay during the Japanese surrender ceremony, 2 September 1945.

HMS Duke of York and King George V silhouetted against Mount Fuji 1945 IWM

WITH THE BRITISH NAVY IN THE FAR EAST. AUGUST AND SEPTEMBER 1945, ON BOARD HMS EURYALUS AND HMS DUKE OF YORK, AND ASHORE WITH THE BRITISH NAVY IN THE FAR EAST. (A 30576) Naval air might on parade when more than 1,000 Allied naval aircraft flew over HMS DUKE OF YORK as she proceeded on her way to Tokyo. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161681

Warships of the U.S. Third Fleet and the British Pacific Fleet in Sagami Wan, 28 August 1945, preparing for the formal Japanese surrender a few days later. Mount Fujiyama is in the background. Nearest ship is USS Missouri (BB-63), flying Admiral William F. Halsey’s four-star flag. British battleship Duke of York is just beyond her, with HMS King George V further in. USS Colorado (BB-45) is in the far center distance. Also, present are U.S. and British cruisers and U.S. destroyers. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, 80-G-339360, now in the collections of the National Archives.

The above photo was immortalised by martime artist Charles David Cobb

Cobb, Charles David, 1921-2014; Japanese Surrender, Tokyo Bay

Japanese Surrender, Tokyo Bay USS Missouri HMS Duke of York HMS King George V Mount Fuji Tokyo Bay Charles David Cobb via National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth

Retiring to Hong Kong, she was present there for the reoccupation of the colony from Japanese forces.

View of Hong Kong harbor from Mount Victoria. The battleship at anchor is the HMS Duke of York.

 

The flagship of the British Pacific Fleet, HMS Duke of York. Pictured at Woolloomooloo Wharf November 23, 1945. At this point, she was just four years old and had fought the Italians, Japanese and Germans (2222×1700)

HMS Duke of York at Hobart, Tasmania, 1945

Returning to the UK, Duke of York deployed as Home Fleet Flagship until 1949 then became Flagship of the Reserve Fleet for two years until reduced to Reserve status in November 1951.

HMS DUKE OF YORK AT MADEIRA. APRIL 1947, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL. HMS DUKE OF YORK, FLAGSHIP OF THE HOME FLEET VISITED MADEIRA DURING THE SPRING CRUISE OF THE HOME FLEET. (A 31304) The Commander in Chief, Admiral Sir Neville Syfret, KCB, KBE, inspecting Portuguese troops at Madeira. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162328

Laid-up in the Gareloch, she was placed on the Disposal List and sold to BISCO for scrapping, arriving at Faslane on 18 February 1958, less than 22 years after she was ordered. Her three surviving sisters (sister Prince of Wales was sunk by the Japanese in December 1941 in the South China Sea) were likewise disposed of at the same time.

Specs:
Displacement:42,076 long tons (42,751 t) deep load
Length:
745 ft 1 in (overall) 740 ft 1 in (waterline), Beam: 103 ft 2 in
Draught: 34 ft 4 in
Installed power: 110,000 shp (82,000 kW)
Propulsion:
8 Admiralty 3-drum small-tube boilers
4 sets Parsons geared turbines
Speed: 28.3 knots
Range: 15,600 nmi at 10 knots
Complement: 1,556 (1945)
Radars:
(1942)
1 x Type 273/M/P Surface search
1 x Type 281 Long range air warning
6 x Type 282 Pom-pom directors
1 x Type 284/M/P Main armament director
4 x Type 285/M/P/Q HA directors
( Radars added between 1944–1945)
Type 281B
2 × Types 277, 282 and 293 radars added.
Armament:
10 × BL 14 in (360 mm) Mark VII guns
16 × QF 5.25 in (133 mm) Mk. I DP guns
48 × QF 2 pdr 40 mm (1.6 in) Mk.VIII AA guns
6 × 20 mm (0.8 in) Oerlikon AA guns
Armor:
Main Belt: 14.7 inches
Lower belt: 5.4 inches
Deck: 5–6 inches
Main turrets: 12.75 inches
Barbettes: 12.75 inches
Bulkheads: 10–12 inches
Conning tower: 3–4 inches
Aircraft carried: 4 × Supermarine Walrus seaplanes, 1 catapult

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Warship Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018: Nimitz’s pogy boat

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

Photo by Harry Berns, Official photographer of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co., Manitowoc, WI., courtesy of Robert E. Straub, RM2SS, Guavina SS-362 (August 1944 to August 1946). Photo i.d. courtesy of John Hummel, USN (Retired). Via Navsource

Here we see the Balao-class diesel-electric fleet submarine USS Menhaden (SS-377) underway during sea trials in Lake Michigan, January 1945. One of 28 “freshwater submarines” made by Manitowoc in Wisconsin during WWII, she cut her teeth in the depths of the Great Lakes but was soon enough sent off to war. Before her career was said and done she would participate in three of them and help aid the next generation of bubbleheads well into the Red October-era.

A member of the 128-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.

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 5000-ton Maru or warship by surfacing and using their 4-inch/50 caliber and 40mm/20mm AAA’s. The also served as the firetrucks of the fleet, rescuing downed naval aviators from right under the noses of Japanese warships.

We have covered a number of this class before, such as the rocket-mailing USS Barbero, the carrier-sinking USS Archerfish the long-serving USS Catfish and the frogman Cadillac USS Perchbut don’t complain, they have lots of great stories

Like most pre-Rickover submarines, the subject of our tale today was named for a fish. Menhaden, commonly called pogy, is a small and greasy fish of the herring family found in the Lakes, as well as in the Atlantic and Gulf. Where I live in Pascagoula, we have a menhaden plant that processes boatloads of these nasty little boogers to mash for their oil, which is later used in cosmetics (remember that next time you see lipstick) and for fish oil supplements.

I give you, menhaden, in its most common form…I take it every day. Omegas and all that.

Her insignia, like almost all those on the WWII fish boats, is great.

Insignia: USS MENHADEN (SS-377) Caption: This emblem originated in 1944, prior to MENHADEN’s commissioning. It features a fish wearing an Indian war bonnet and carrying a tomahawk with a torpedo for a head. The idea for this design developed because the Menhaden fish was a staple food of the Manitowoc Indians. The ship was built at Manitowoc, Wisconsin. This embroidered patch emblem was received from USS MENHADEN in 1969. Description: Catalog #: NH 69767-KN

Laid down by Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co., Manitowoc, Wis., 21 June 1944, USS Menhaden was commissioned 366 days later 22 June 1945, Navy Cross recipient CDR David H. McClintock in command.

Menhaden, the last of the Manitowoc‑built boats to have commissioned service during World War II, trained in Lake Michigan until 15 July. Thence, she was floated down the Mississippi River to New Orleans where she departed for the Canal Zone on 27 July. She conducted extensive training out of Balboa during the closing days of the war against Japan, and between 1 and 16 September cruised to Pearl Harbor for duty with SubRon 19. Photo via Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

While she may have been commissioned (as it turns out) too late for the war, her crew was far from green.

USS Darter (SS-227), a Gato-class submarine commissioned in 1943, in her 13 months of existence won a Navy Unit Commendation and four battle stars across a similar number of war patrols, credited with having sunk a total of 19,429 long tons (19,741 t) of Japanese shipping. While a part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Darter sank the massive 15,000-ton Japanese heavy cruiser Atago and seriously damaged her sister, the cruiser Takao, directly impacting the outcome of the fleet action. However, she paid a price and, hard aground in the Philippines, had to be abandoned.

USS DARTER (SS-227) Caption: Aground on Bombay Shoal, off southwest Palawan. Note damage caused by her crew’s attempts to scuttle her. DARTER had gone aground on 24 October 1944, after a successful attack on the Japanese fleet, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. From U.S. Submarine Losses, World War II, page 113. #: NH 63699

In order to retain their high esprit de corps, the entire Darter crew was ordered to Wisconsin to take over Menhaden, fleshed out by 20 new blue jackets.

As it turned out, this gave the new ship with her crack crew of salty veterans a unique rendezvous with destiny.

You see some four years prior, at Pearl Harbor just three weeks after the bloody attack that crippled the U.S. battleship force in the Pacific, Adm. Chester William Nimitz, Sr. (USNA 1905), who cut his teeth on cranky early submarines before the Great War and by 1939 was the chief of the Bureau of Navigation, assumed command of the U.S Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) on the orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, replacing the outgoing Adm. (reduced to RADM) Husband Edward Kimmel. As a nod to his early days (and because no battleships were available), Nimitz hoisted his flag first on the Tambor-class submarine USS Grayling (SS-209).

USS Grayling (SS-209). The signed inscription reads, “At Pearl Harbor on 31 Dec. 1941 hoisted 4-star Admiral’s flag on U.S.S Grayling and took command of U.S. Pacific Fleet. C.W. Nimitz, Fleet Admiral, USN” NH 58089

Nimitz, of course, would be slightly better remembered than Kimmel and would hold his job until replaced at Thanksgiving 1945 by ADM Raymond A. Spruance. That’s where Menhaden comes in.

Arriving at Pearl on 16 Sept 1945 after their trip down the Mississippi River to New Orleans from the Great Lakes and a run through the Canal, Menhaden was chosen to host the change of command between Nimitz and Spruance.

As noted by the Navy,

Although untried in combat, she was one of the newest boats in the Submarine Service and incorporated the latest improvements in submarine design and equipment. Moreover, her “gallantly battle‑tested” crew epitomized the “valor, skill, and dedicated service of submariners” during the long Pacific war. Thus, on her deck that morning Fleet Admiral Nimitz read his orders assigning him to duty as Chief of Naval Operations, and his relief, Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, read orders making him CINCPAC and CINPOA.

In a change of command ceremony, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, is relieved as Commander-in-Chief Pacific-Pacific Ocean Area (CINCPAC-CINCPOA) by Admiral Raymond A. Spruance on board USS MENHADEN (SS-377) moored at Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, 24 November 1945. Shown here boarding the submarine is Fleet Admiral Nimitz followed by Admiral Spruance. the sub on the opposite side of the pier is USS DENTUDA (SS-335). Description: Catalog #: NH 62274

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance relieves Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, as Commander-in-Chief Pacific-Pacific Ocean Area (CINCPAC-CINCPOA)onboard USS MENHADEN (SS-377) moored at Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, 24 November 1945. Standing in line, L To R, are Vice Admiral J.H. Newton, Vice Admiral C.H. McMorris, Rear Admiral D.C. Ramsey, Commander James Loo, and Lieutenant Sam L. Bernard. All USN. Here, Admiral Spruance reads his orders. Description: Catalog #: NH 62272

USS MENHADEN (SS-377) Caption: In Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 24 November 1945, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, hoisted his 5-star flag on MENHADEN and turned over command of U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean areas to Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN. The writing on the photo is Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s. Description: Catalog #: NH 58081

The brand-new submarine and her crew of vets operated out of Pearl Harbor for just four months then received orders for San Francisco where she was decommissioned 31 May 1946 and mothballed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet after less than a year of active duty.

In 1951 the still “new-old-stock” fleet boat was taken back out of storage for use in Korea, recommissioning at Mare Island 7 August 1951, earning the Korean Service Medal and UN Service Medal.

However, as before, she didn’t get any licks in and remained on the West Coast for most of the conflict, converting the next year to a “Guppy IIA” modification, which she would carry the rest of her career. Nimitz attended the recommissioning ceremony as an honored guest, the second time the young boat would fly the flag of a five-star admiral.

USS MENHADEN (SS-377) Caption: Off the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, California, 4 May 1953, after her “Guppy 11A” conversion. Note change in the sail, the addition of a snorkel, and removal of deck guns, etc. Description: Catalog #: NH 90862

After her first West Pac deployment starting in Sept. 1953– picking up the China Service Medal for services to the Chinese Nationalist Navy Vessels in Formosa– Menhaden would rotate back and forth between training operations off California and patrols in the troubled waters off Korea and Taiwan, keeping tabs on Chinese and Soviet assets in the region and just generally serving as “the powerful seagoing arm of freedom in the Far East,” as DANFS notes. She completed four lengthy West Pac deployments by 1964.

Menhaden (SS-377) underway, c. 1961. Her sail would later be further streamlined. via Navsource

Then came two tours in the waters off Vietnam (Nov 1964-May 1965 and Aug 1966-Feb 1967), seeing her active shooting war for the first time, and was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal with two campaign stars.

As far as WWII diesel boats, the late 1960s and early 1970s were not kind to them. The last two Gato-class boats active in the US Navy were USS Rock and USS Bashaw, which were both decommissioned Sept 1969. The last Balao-class submarine in United States service was USS Clamagore (SS-343), which was decommissioned June 1973. The final submarine of the Tench class, as well as the last submarine which served during World War II, in fleet service with the U.S. Navy, was USS Tigrone (SS/AGSS-419) which decommissioned June 1975.

That’s where Menhaden was given a reprieve of sorts, remaining in (sort of) service with the Fleet well past her sisters had gone to the breakers. Decommissioned 13 August 1971, her name was taken off the Naval List two days later and she was again in mothballs.

By 1976, she was transferred to the Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station in Keyport, Washington who would use her as a surface and submerged target ship for another decade. In this role, she had her engines and batteries removed and she was painted bright yellow.

A literal Yellow Submarine.

Under tow to the Naval Torpedo Station, Keyport, Washington, 28 December 1976, where it will be used as a surface and submerged target to obtain data on torpedo effects. The sub is painted yellow to enable easier damage assessment. Tug is a torpedo retrieval boat. KN-25569

Ex-Menhaden (SS-377) at the Explosive Handling Wharf, Naval Submarine Base, Bangor, Washington, in the early 1980s. Text courtesy of Dave Carpenter. Photo courtesy of Les Guille. Via Navsource

By the late 1980s, even Menhaden, known around Keyport as “The Hulk” was no more, and she was scrapped by 1988. As far as I can tell, she was the last WWII-era diesel sub in use by the Navy in any form.

A port bow view of the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Chicago (CG-11) laid up at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington (USA). To the left of Chicago is the submarine USS Menhaden (SS-377), another submarine and the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34). To the right is USS Hornet (CVS-12). National Archives and Records Administration cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 6450775. DN-SC-90-03977

Lots of remnants and tributes to the ship endure.

The National Museum of the Pacific War, home of the Nimitz Museum in Texas, has some artifacts from the Menhaden. There is an extensive crew/reunion site for the vessel (here) and a historical marker on the north bank of the Milwaukee River, on The Manitowoc County 28 Boat Memorial Walk, adjacent to her sister, the USS Cobia, at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum.

At the USS Bowfin submarine museum and park in Honolulu (a sister ship of Menhaden), they have a war-bonnet wearing pogy donated to the site by one of Menhaden’s skippers.

Via Bowfin Museum

From the Bowfin Museum:

The sub’s emblem displays the head of the fish Menhaden, decorated with a war bonnet that honors the Manitowoc Indians who used said fish for food and fertilizing their fields. Dale C. Johnson, who was one of USS Menhaden’s commanding officers (1964), was raised on the Yakima Indian Reservation, and when childhood friends learned of his occupation on such a boat, they arranged to have a war bonnet made and sent to Johnson and his crew. A pattern maker from USS Sperry carved the fish head, fin, and torpedo-tomahawk, which when added to the war bonnet, made the emblem three-dimensional and to be displayed on festive occasions. Commander Johnson has since donated his treasure to the USS Bowfin Museum and Park, where it is on display today

Although Menhaden is no longer afloat, 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 is, sadly, set to sink as a reef in the next few months)
USS Ling (SS-297) at New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. (Which is also in poor shape)
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.

The Navy List has not carried the name of another Menhaden, which is a shame.

Her first skipper, CPT. David Haywood McClintock (USNA 1935) retired from the Navy in 1965 and died in 2002 at the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Michigan, aged 89.

Specs:

Balao-Class USS Menhaden shown in model re-fitted as a remotely-controlled, unmanned acoustic test vehicle, known as the ‘Yellow Submarine’ serving with the Naval Underwater Systems Center until she was scrapped in 1988 Via ARC Forums

Displacement:
1,848 tons (1,878 t) surfaced
2,440 tons (2,479 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft
Beam: 27 ft 4 in
Draft: 17 ft
Propulsion:
(1945)
4 × General Motors Model 16-278A V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
4 × high-speed General Electric motors with reduction gears
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
(1953): Snorkel added, one diesel engine and generator removed, batteries upgraded
Speed:
(Designed)
20.25 knots surfaced
8.75 knots submerged
(Post-GUPPY)
Surfaced:
17.0 knots maximum
13.5 knots cruising
Submerged:
14.1 knots for ½ hour
8.0 knots snorkeling
3.0 knots cruising
Range: 11,000 nautical miles surfaced at 10 knots
Endurance:
48 hours at 2 knots submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement:10 officers, 70–71 enlisted
Armament:
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
6 forward, 4 aft
24 torpedoes
1 × 5-inch (127 mm) / 25 caliber deck gun
Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
(1953)
10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes, 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.

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, Dec. 5, 2018: 41 and his paddle-wheel flattop

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, Dec. 5, 2018: 41 and his paddle-wheel flattop

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-41715

Here we see the training aircraft carrier USS Sable (IX-81) moored in an icy Great Lakes harbor, probably Buffalo, New York, on 8 May 1943, the day she was placed in commission. Of note, she and a similar vessel– responsible for training thousands of budding Naval aviators in the fresh water of the Lakes– were the last paddle-wheel, coal-fired U.S. Navy ships on active duty.

Yes, paddle-wheeled.

Coal-fired.

Aircraft carriers.

In the 1920s, the Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Company (D&C) ordered a large side-wheel excursion steamship, Greater Buffalo, from the American Ship Building Company of Lorain, Ohio.

Built to a design by marine architect Frank E. Kirby, she was an impressive 518-feet overall with “26 parlors with bath; 130 staterooms with toilets; automobile capacity, 125; 650 staterooms; crew of 300 including officers.” Some 7,300 tons, she used 9 coal-fired boilers to power her inclined compound steam engine suite, which in turn drove 35-foot paddlewheels.

She was a gorgeous and well-appointed ship in Great Lakes service, often carrying as many as 1,500 paying passengers per excursion on the Lakes in the summer seasons between 1925 and 1942.

Her lounge

Hotel Buffalo wagon meets the Greater Buffalo as the liner arrives in Buffalo, N.Y., on the first trip of the 1942 season– the ship’s last (Detroit Free Press)

In late 1942, a plan to convert large Great Lakes steamers to training carriers in the 9th Naval District, far away from threatening U-boats and mines, was hatched and Greater Buffalo, along with fellow Kirby-designed Seeandbee, were acquired by the War Shipping Administration and fitted for flight.

S.S. Greater Buffalo arrives in Buffalo, N.Y., on Aug. 6, 1942, to be converted into aircraft carrier USS Sable (IX-81). Note the three funnels, you will see these again.

Seeandbee went on to become USS Wolverine (IX 64) while Greater Buffalo would be USS Sable (IX 81). While Wolverine picked up a 550-foot long Douglas-fir aircraft deck, Sable would be given a nice steel flight deck, as well as an island superstructure. The fact they did not have a hangar, elevators, or magazine did not matter too much, as they were just for the role of practicing traps and launches.

A great before and after. USS Wolverine (IX-64) at Buffalo, New York, in early 1942 just after completion. At left is the stern of SS Greater Buffalo, just beginning conversion to USS Sable (IX-81). Photo courtesy of C.C. Wright. Catalog #: NH 81059

The 518-foot deck, hundreds of feet shorter than those used on fleet carriers, was considered OK in an “if you can dodge a wrench” kind of way, and given eight arrestor wires as a bonus safety measure, which no doubt came in handy. As of note, even the old Langley‘s flight deck was 542-feet long. Still, for aviators headed to “jeep” carriers, it was spacious (e.g. the Bogue-class escort carriers had just a 439-foot long flight deck.)

Converted at the Erie Plant of the American Shipbuilding Co., Buffalo, N. Y.; Sable was commissioned on 8 May 1943, CPT. Warren K. Berner (USNA 1922) in command, and became one of only two coal-fired paddle-wheelers in Navy service. As such, she was a throwback to an early time.

Sidebar: The Navy exits coal

The first oil-burning American destroyer, USS Paulding (DD-22), was commissioned in 1910, at the same time the new USS Nevada-class battleships were planned for solely oil as fuel. In 1914, the last American battleship that was coal-fired, USS Texas (BB-35), was commissioned– the final large warship built for the U.S. Navy to rely on West Virginia’s finest and even she had a mix of 14 Babcock & Wilcox coal-fired boilers with 6 Bureau Express oil-fired boilers. In the mid-1920s, most of the battleships kept after the Washington Naval Treaty that did not burn oil was extensively converted to do so. Likewise, by the early 1930s, the old “peace cruisers” that smoked bricks were put to pasture. By 1940, the only purpose-built warships I can find on the Naval List still set up to burn coal were the old patrol gunboats Sacramento (PG-19) and Tulsa (PG-22), each of which, due to their 12-knot speed and light low-angle armament, were of marginal use outside of waving the flag in times of peace. Further, every single one of the Navy’s aircraft carriers burned oil. Yes, even the converted collier USS Langley (CV-1), was turbo-electric.

For reference, the iron paddlewheel gun-boat USS Wolverine, ex-USS Michigan, had been the last Navy paddle wheeler before Wolverine/Sable, and she left the fleet in 1923.

United States Navy sidewheel steamer USS Wolverine, ex-USS Michigan, in a Great Lakes port in the 1900s. Laid down in 1842, she spent her career– including the Civil War, in the Lakes. Wolverine was decommissioned on 6 May 1912, although the Navy kept her as an auxiliary until 1923.

Now back to our story.

For a sidewheeler, Sable was a deceptively good-looking aviation ship.

USS Sable (IX 81) formerly the Greater Buffalo, commissioned as a training ship on May 8, 1943, on the Great Lakes for carrier pilots. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, 80-G-41716, now in the collections of the National Archives.

80-G-354765: USS Sable (IX-81) underway on the Great Lakes, June 1945. See the funnels?

Similarly, Sable was made ready for bluejackets and aviation crews, picking up several experienced hands from the recently-lost USS Lexington.

Crews’ Quarters scene, taken on 8 May 1943, the day the ship was placed in commission. Note the suspended pipe berths and bedding. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-41717

Sable’s Aviators’ Lecture Room, 3 June 1943. Officers present are Lieutenant Commander B.A. Bankert, Sable’s Air Officer (seated) and Lieutenant G.M. Cole, her Flight Deck Officer. Note the suspended pipe berths along the compartment’s bulkhead, and what appear to be dining room chairs used for student seating. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-41719

Sable departed Buffalo on 22 May 1943 and reached Chicago, Ill., her assigned home port, on 26 May 1943. Sable qualified her first two pilots just three days later– the first of many.

The training aircraft carrier USS Sable at the Navy Pier on Lake Michigan in Chicago

Importantly, the freshwater flattop served as a testbed for a revolutionary development in naval warfare for the age– an armed carrier-launched drone.

The Navy’s TDN-1 was a TV-guided remote-controlled assault drone developed by the Navy in 1942. Envisioned to operate from carriers under the control of a nearby TBM Avenger (or land-based with a PBY chase plane), the 37-foot-long twin-engine aircraft could carry either a 2,000-pound bomb or an aerial torpedo. The launches from Sable of the type are widely considered the first US drone to take off from an aircraft carrier– eat your heart out Stingray.

TDN-1 drones parked on the Sable’s flight deck, off Traverse City, Michigan, during flight tests on 10 August 1943. Note the inscriptions and cartoons on the aircraft noses, including Fatstuff and Coop’s and Roy on the nearer TDN, and Dilbert on the more distant one. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-387161

Sable (IX-81) Launching a TDN-1 drone while steaming off Traverse City, Michigan, during flight tests on 10 August 1943. Note this aircraft’s unoccupied cockpit. The TDN was intended for use as a television-guided attack drone. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-387174

In West Grand Traverse Bay, off Traverse City, Michigan, with two TDN-1 drones on her flight deck for tests, 10 August 1943. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-387151

When it came to training aircrews, accidents on Sable and Wolverine were to be expected.

As noted by the Navy:

Between 1942 and 1945, the years of the carriers’ operations, there were 128 losses and over 200 accidents. Although most losses resulted in only minor injuries, a total of eight pilots were killed. These numbers seem significant until it is considered that during that time over 120,000 successful landings took place, and an estimated 35,000 pilots qualified. The training program, in this light, was a huge success.

General Motors FM-2 Wildcat fighter Upended after a barrier crash onboard USS Sable (IX-81), during pilot training in the Great Lakes, May 1945. Another FM-2 is flying past in the top center. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Photo #: 80-G-354753

Additionally, Sable and her twin trained thousands of deck crews and landing signals officers in how to move, launch and recover aircraft in high tempo operations. Without such men, the war in the Pacific would have been impossible.

USS Sable: Landing Signal Officer, LT Whitaker, in action during training operations on the Great Lakes, May 1945.

In just two years, Sable made an amazing 50,000 landings alone. By comparison, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) only recently hit her 50,000th trap in 2012, 23 years after she joined the fleet.

SNJ Texan trainer makes the ship’s 50,000th landing on Sable, during training operations on the Great Lakes, May 1945. Catalog #: 80-G-354737

Among those trained on her decks was one TBM Avenger pilot, George H.W. Bush, who volunteered for flight training on his 18th birthday.

Flying from the light carrier USS San Jacinto (which was a “small” flattop but still had a longer deck, 552-feet, than Sable!), he completed 58 combat sorties, picking up the DFC and three air medals before VJ Day.

While Bush went on to a bright future, Sable would soon be forgotten in the victory.

Decommissioned on 7 November 1945, Sable was stricken from the list of ships on the Navy Register on 28 November 1945. Sold by the Maritime Commission to H. H. Buncher Co., Pittsburgh, Pa., on 7 July 1948, as a scrap hull, she was reported as “disposed of” on 27 July 1948. Likewise, the Navy decommissioned Wolverine on 7 November 1945 and she was sold for scrap in December 1947.

Other than her plans, which are in the National Archives, few relics of the ship exist today.

However, her legacy to aviation history may be more enduring.

It is estimated that well over 100 aircraft working from Sable and Wolverine were lost during the war due to accidents– as of course they were slow, small and unforgiving platforms filled with (by nature) fledging and unsure aviation hopefuls. By Navy records, at a minimum, the losses included: 41 TBM/TBF Avengers, one F4U Corsair, 38 SBD Dauntless dive bombers, four F6F Hellcats, 17 SNJ Texans, two SB2U Vindicators, 37 FM/F4F Wildcats and three experimental TDNs.

Many of these have been located over the years, providing fodder for aviation museums around the world as they airframes are in generally good condition due to fresh water immersion if the zebra mussels haven’t gotten to them. Many of the aircraft have been found in good condition with, for instance, “tires inflated, parachutes preserved, leather seats maintained, and engine crankcases full of oil. Often paint schemes are well preserved, allowing for easier identification.”

One such F4F-3 (BuNo 4039) lost from Wolverine and recovered in 1991 is on display in a “Sunken Treasures” scene in Pensacola as she would appear on the bottom of the Lakes.

In December 2012, a WWII aircraft, FM-2 Wildcat 57039 was discovered and salvaged in Lake Michigan. She had been lost by Ensign William Forbes on 28 December 1944 as he flew from Sable. She is being restored by the Air Zoo Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan (Photo: Michigan Tech)

As for Bush’s tie-in with the Sable and his Great Lakes area flight training, the Naval Air & Space Museum also has a restored N2S Stearman Kaydet, BuNo 05369, that he logged flights on from NAS Minneapolis.

The name “Sable” has not graced another U.S. Navy ship.

Specs:
Displacement 6,584 t.
Length 535 ft.
Beam 58 ft.
Propulsion
two compound reciprocating engines
Scotch boilers
Ship’s Service Generators
two turbo-drive 75Kw 120V D.C.
three turbo-drive 100Kw 120V D.C.
two sidewheels
Complement: 300 crew when in civilian service
Armament: none

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.

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