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Warship Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman, and his .45

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

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman and his .45

With this month marking the Navy’s 246th Birthday, the 79th anniversary of the loss of USS Hornet (CV-8) at the Battle of Santa Cruz (a ship commissioned 80 years ago today), and the 77th anniversary of the loss of USS Princeton (CVL-22) in the Philippine Sea, I’m breaking from our typical Warship Wednesday format to bring you the story of a Colt Government model in the Navy’s archives and the resilient young officer who carried it.

The below pistol itself at first glance would seem to be an otherwise ordinary M1911A1 Colt Military, martial marked “US Army” and “United States Property” along with the correct inspector’s marks. The serial number, No.732591, falls within Colt’s circa 1941 production range.

Accession #: NHHC 1968-141 (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

We often say, “if only a gun could talk,” but in this case, the voyage through history that the above .45ACP took is well-documented.

Also joining the fleet in 1941 was Ensign Victor Antoine Moitoret, a Californian who was admitted to the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1937 and graduated with the Class of ’41.

Moitoret’s first ship was the brand-new aircraft carrier USS Hornet, which he joined three months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ushered America into World War II.

Moitoret served as an assistant navigator on Hornet during the flattop’s secret mission to carry the Doolittle Raiders to bomb Tokyo in 1942— possibly best remembered among today’s youth as the third act of Jerry Bruckheimer’s 2001 film “Pearl Harbor”– and was also aboard the carrier for the massive naval victory at Midway (where Hornet was something of a mystery).

Flanked by torpedo boat escorts, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942, just five weeks before the Battle of Midway. (Photo: U.S. National Archives 80-G-16865)

When Hornet was irreparably damaged by enemy torpedo and dive bombers during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942, Moitoret was armed with the above pistol while serving as the carrier’s Officer of the Deck on the bridge. The young officer still had it buckled around his waist when he was pulled out of the ocean more than two hours after Hornet went to the bottom in 17,500 feet of water off the Solomon Islands, carrying 140 sailors with her.

Moitoret’s pistol belt, consisting of an M1936 Belt, M1918 Magazine Pocket, and russet leather M1916 Holster. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Two years later, Moitoret, with his relic of the lost Hornet still with him, was a lieutenant aboard the new light carrier USS Princeton, fighting to liberate the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

USS Princeton (CVL-23) steaming at 20 knots off Seattle, Washington, 3 January 1944. Moitoret was a plankowner of the new flattop, which had originally been laid down as the Cleveland-class light cruiser Tallahassee (CL-61) (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Historical Center. Catalog #: NH 95651)

In October 1944– almost two years to the day that Hornet was lost– Moitoret was on the bridge of Princeton when the ship was hit by a Japanese bomb and was wounded by shrapnel from the resulting explosion.

According to his Silver Star citation for that day, Moitoret “remained on board for a period of seven hours, fighting fires, maintaining communication with other ships in the area, preserving confidential publications and obtaining all available lengths of fire hose for use where most needed.”

Leaving his second sinking aircraft carrier, Moitoret reportedly kissed the hull of Princeton before boarding a whaleboat, one of the last men off the stricken ship.

After the war, he remained in the Navy through the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring in 1972 at the rank of Captain. On 30 May 1999, while aged 80, he delivered the Memorial Day Address to the assembled cadets at Annapolis, continuing to serve as a proud link in the long blue line up to the very end.

Moitoret died in 2005 and is buried at Fort Bayard National Cemetery in New Mexico, next to his wife, Rowena, and son, Alan.

His well-traveled sidearm and pistol belt are in the collection of the NHHC, held in the Headquarters Artifact Collection

As noted by the Navy,

“The central theme of this year’s 246th Navy Birthday and Heritage week is ‘Resilient and Ready,’ which speaks to the Navy’s history of being able to shake off disaster, such as the loss of a ship or a global pandemic, and still maintain force lethality and preparedness. It allows the messaging to showcase readiness, capabilities, capacity, and of course the Sailor—all while celebrating our glorious victories at sea and honoring our shipmates who stand and have stood the watch.”

Happy Birthday, Navy, and a slow hand salute to Capt. Moitoret.

Back to our regular Warship Wednesday format next week.

***
 
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The cold and quiet of the South Pacific at 17,500 feet

USS Hornet (CV-8) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory, probably in June or July 1942. Note the pattern of her Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage

Best known for her role in the Doolittle Raid just weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Yorktown-class aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) was the seventh such vessel to carry the storied name for the U.S. Navy, going all the way back to 1775.

Commissioned 20 October 1941, her career was all too brief, ending in a hail of torpedoes as part of the Battle of Santa Cruz Island in the Solomons on 26 October 1942, aged just two years and six days. She took 140 of her 2,200-man crew to the bottom with her.

“With the loss of Hornet and serious damage to Enterprise, the Battle of Santa Cruz was a Japanese victory, but at an extremely high cost,” said retired RADM Samuel Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command. “About half the Japanese aircraft engaged were shot down by greatly improved U.S. Navy anti-aircraft defenses. As a result, the Japanese carriers did not engage again in battle for almost another two years.”

Now, 77 years later, she has been discovered in the cold and dark embrace deep below, remarkably intact. Her guns still look ready to fire. An International Harvester plane tractor still has tread on its tires and gives the impression it would turn over if only you could get to it to crank it. An F4F Wildcat rests in her debris field, its wings still folded for storage.

Photos from RV Petrel.

“As America’s Navy once again takes to the sea in an uncertain world, Hornet‘s discovery offers the American Sailor a timeless reminder of what courage, grit, and commitment truly look like,” said Vice Chief of Naval Operations ADM Bill Moran. “We’d be wise as a nation to take a long, hard look. I’d also like to thank the crew of Petrel for their dedication in finding and honoring her sacrifice.”

A well used Avenger, 74 years ago

Here we see, aboard the brand-new Essex-class fleet carrier USS Hornet (CV-12), the starboard side of TBM-1C #95 (BU# 25216), showing a rapidly-filling “scoreboard” of bombing and torpedo missions. Taken on Hornet’s flight deck, 7 August 1944. While the plane and carrier were freshly minted, the squadron was among the oldest active torpedo units in the Navy and had a score to settle.

Here is a better shot of TBM-1C#95:

Two U.S. Navy Grumman TBF-1C “Avenger” of Torpedo Squadron 2 (VT-2) pass over the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-12) prior to entering the pattern for recovery on board the carrier. Note the mission markings on the aircraft, as well as the white dot on their tails indicating assignment to USS Hornet. VT-2 operated from Hornet during that carrier’s initial combat actions between March and September 1944. This included the “Mission Beyond Darkness” in the June 1944 during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, as well as strikes against the Palaus, Carolines, the Bonin Islands, New Guinea, and the Marianas. Date between March 1944 and September 1944 Source U.S. Navy National Naval Aviation Museum photo No. NNAM.1996.253.1089

TBM-1C’s, by the way, were Grumman G-40s built under license by the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors Corporation. While I can’t find out the disposition of this particular Avenger, she was part of VT-2 of Air Group 2, which was long associated with the stricken USS Lexington (CV-2) and reformed after that carrier was lost in the Coral Sea in 1942.

Torpedo Squadron 2 (VT-2) in the “old days” before WWII, back when they flew Douglas TBD Devastators from CV-2 and were the first squadron in the Navy to do so, in Oct. 1937

VT-2 reformed in 1943 with Avengers and shipped aboard Hornet from March 1944 to October 1944. The new Hornet (herself renamed after another recently lost carrier) and her reformed group saw heavy combat in 1944 from the Palau Islands, Wakde, Sawar, Sarmi, the dreaded Truk, Ponape, the 4 trips to Bonin Islands, Guam, the landings at Saipan, and finally the big landings in the Philippines, where she and companion carriers chalked up a kill on the Japanese aircraft carrier Hiyō.

More about that storied deployment here

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Dwight Shepler

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Dwight Shepler

Dwight C. Shepler was born in Everett, Massachusetts, in 1905 and studied art at Williams College then became a member of the American Artists’ Group and the American Artists Professional League. When the war came, the 36-year-old bespectacled Shepler volunteered for the Navy and, in recognition of his skills and education, was assigned to the sea service’s Combat Art Section as an officer-artist.

As noted by the Navy, “he first traveled with a destroyer on Pacific convoy duty. From the mud of Guadalcanal, through the years of the Allied build-up in England, to the memorable D-Day on the French coast, he painted and recorded the Navy’s warfare.”

Artwork: “Gunners of the Armed Guard” Artist: Dwight C. Shepler #80 NARA

Artwork: “Liberator Fueling” Artist: Dwight C. Shepler #119 NARA

Field Day at Scapa Flow, a Northern British Base NARA DN-SC-83-05415

“Four Sisters of Londonderry” showing a four-pack of brand new U.S. Navy Benson-class destroyer destroyers including USS Madison (DD-425) USS Lansdale (DD-426) and USS Hilary P. Jones (DD-427) Artist: Dwight C. Shepler #97 – The U.S. National Archives (1983-01-01 & 1983-01-01)

Scapa Anchorage, in the collection of the National Archives, shows Shepler’s talents as a landscape artist. You almost don’t notice the Royal Navy battleships and cruiser force

The same can be said with this work, entitled St. Mawes Rendezvous, NARA DN-SC-83-05410

But then, there is war…

He observed the landings at Normandy in the ETO and Ormoc Bay and Lingayen Gulf and operations at Corregidor and Bataan in the PTO.

Opening the Attack Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Dwight C. Shepler; 1944 D-Day D Day Arkansas French cruisers George Leygues and Montcalm. NHHC 88-199-ew

“The Battle for Fox Green Beach,” watercolor by Dwight Shepler, showing the Gleaves class destroyer USS Emmons(DD 457) foreground and her sistership, the USS Doyle, to the right, within a few hundred yards of the landing beach, mixing it up with German shore batteries on D-Day

Heavy propellers of a Rhine Ferry are swung aloft as Seabees complete the assembly of the pontoons which make up the strange craft at the invasion port somewhere in England. Drawn by Navy Combat Artist Lieutenant Dwight C. Shepler, USNR. Artwork received 12 June 1944. NHHC 80-G-45675

Task Force of Two Navies” Watercolor by Dwight Shepler, USNR, 1943, depicting U.S. and British warships in the Pentland Firth during an operation toward the Norwegian coast, coincident with the Sicily invasion, July 1943. Alabama (BB 60) is in the lead, followed by HMS Illustrious and HMS King George V. Three British carrier-based fighters (two “Seafires” and a “Martlet”) are overhead. Official USN photo # KN-20381, courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC, now in the collections of the National Archives.

“First Reconnaissance – Manila Harbor. Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Dwight Shepler; 1945; Framed Dimensions 31H X 39W. Two PT’s prowled inside the breakwater entrance of Manila Harbor on February 23, 1945, first U.S. Naval vessels to enter in three years. Treading the mine-strewn waters of Manila Bay, PT’s 358 and 374 probed into the shoal harbor waters where countless enemy vessels sat on the bottom in mute testament of the severity of the fast carrier strikes of the fall of 1944. Manila smoked and exploded from the final fighting in Intramuros and the dock area.” (NHHC: 88-199-FY)

Minesweeper Before Corregidor Cleaning a pathway through the mines off Bataan peninsula, these hardy little minesweepers can work under severe Japanese coastal bombardment. Despite Army air cover overhead, the enemy shore guns sank the motor minesweeper YMS-48 and damaged the destroyers, Fletcher and Hopewell. On the following day, a naval task group landed Army troops on the peninsula and a short time thereafter resistance ceased on Corregidor and Bataan.Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by Dwight C. Shepler; 1945; Framed Dimensions 30H X 39W Accession #: 88-199-GK

Preparations For Getting Underway DN-SC-83-05402

He also did a number of historic scenes for the branch.

Watercolor painting by Dwight Shepler of the USS South Dakota in action with Japanese planes during the Battle of Santa Cruz which took place October 11-26, 1942.

This image was used in a number of adverts during the War.

The Spider and the Fly — USS Hornet CIC at Midway. During World War II, battles were won by the side that was first to spot enemy airplanes, ships, or submarines. To give the Allies an edge, British and American scientists developed radar technology to “see” for hundreds of miles, even at night.Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Dwight Shepler; 1945; Framed Dimensions 28H X 40W Accession #: 88-199-GN

Japanese dive bomber swoops down in a kamikaze attack on USS Hornet (CVA 12) and is disintegrated by the ships anti-aircraft fire before it can hit the carrier. This is a copy of a watercolor painted by Lieutenant Dwight C. Shepler, USNR, Navy Combat Artist, from memory of an actual combat experience. Photographed released August 10, 1945. U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-700121

On 5 September 1813, the schooner Enterprise, commanded by Lieutenant William Burrows, captured the brig HMS Boxer off Portland, Maine in a twenty-minute action that saw both commanding officers die in battle. Enterprise’s second in command, Lieutenant Edward R. McCall then took Boxer to Portland, Maine. USS Enterprise versus HMS Boxer in action off the coast of Maine. Artist, Dwight Shepler. Enterprise was commanded by Lt William Burrows. Unfortunately, NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 47013-KN

For his service as a Combat Artist, the Navy awarded Shepler the Bronze Star. He left the branch in 1946 as a full Commander, USNR, having produced more than 300 paintings and drawings.

U.S. Navy artists, (left to right), Lieutenant William F. Draper, Lieutenant Dwight C. Shepler, and Lieutenant Mitchell Jamieson, conferring with Lieutenant Commander Parsons in the Navy Office of Public Relations, Washington, D.C., November 20, 1944. NHHC 80-G-47096

After the war, he continued his career as a pioneer watercolorist of the high ski country and later served as president of the Guild of Boston Artists.

Dwight Shepler, Mount Lafayette, and Cannon Mountain, N. H., n.d., watercolor, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Ford Motor Company, 1966.36.179

He died at age 69 in Weston, Mass. His works are on wide display from the Smithsonian to the Truman Library and various points in between. His oral history is in the National Archives.

Thank you for your work, sir.

A sinking Helldiver

“Mission Beyond Darkness” by Robert Taylor.

“Mission Beyond Darkness” by Robert Taylor.

“In the foreground the SB2C Helldiver of Lieutenant Ralph Yaussi, its tanks dry, has ditched near the carrier USS
Lexington. As Yaussi and his gunner James Curry clamber out of the sinking aircraft, the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Anthony, her 24-inch searchlight ablaze, is moving in to make the pick-up. The chaos and confusion of that infamous night during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, springs back to life in this stunning painting.”

For the record, Anthony served until 1946 then was decommissioned and transferred to the West German Navy as Zerstörer 1 (D170) in 1958 where continued on until 1976, one of the last Fletchers in service. She was sunk by U-29 as a torpedo target in the Mediterranean on 16 May 1979, certainly one of the last occasions of a German U-boat sinking an American destroyer.

As for Yaussi, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as Pilot of a plane in Air Group Two, embarked in USS Hornet (CV-12), in the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, on 20 June 1944, as reflected in the above painting. He passed away at age 89 and is buried in Los Angeles.

Lady Lex, and Yaussi’s old ship the Hornet, endure as museum ships.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Tom Lea

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sunday, I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, and the like that produced them. As always, remember to click to embiggen.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Tom Lea

With this edition coming on Memorial Day weekend, I felt it best to highlight one of the most somber artists to ever cover a military subject. Further, this incredibly skilled painter did so not from photographs or through dry research, but from his own first-hand experience garnered at sea both frozen and aflame and on the bloody sand.

Thomas Calloway “Tom” Lea, III was born in El Paso, Texas on 11 July 1907. Growing up in that rough and tumble border town during the era of Poncho Villa, he had to have an armed escort to school over remarks his father, the mayor, made during that time. Leaving home in the 1920s, Lea studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and under noted muralists (remember this later).

In the 1930s, he got his first steady work as a WPA artist, painting murals in federal buildings across the state as well as in such far off places as Washington D.C., New Mexico, Illinois, and Missouri.

Mural on North Wall, West Texas Room, 1936. Oil on canvas, 7 X 13 feet. Hall of State, Dallas

Mural on North Wall, West Texas Room, 1936. Oil on canvas, 7 X 13 feet. Hall of State, Dallas

In 1941, LIFE Magazine asked him to sketch troopers of the El Paso-based 8th Cavalry Regiment (1CAV DIV), which he did and in turn evolved into other requests to supply images of aviators and cannoncockers at nearby bases.

Corporal Butler, 8th Cavalry and his mount, 1941, by Tom Lea. It shows the striker of Maj. Gen. Innis P. Swift's aide, who was a friend of Lea's family.   Swift, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innis_P._Swift later went on to command I Corps in the Pacific. A colorful character who rode with Pershing chasing Villa in 1916, Swift ordered the depicted horse soldier to ride from Fort Bliss direct to Lea's house so that he could be sketched.

Corporal Butler, 8th Cavalry and his mount, 1941, by Tom Lea. It shows the striker of Maj. Gen. Innis P. Swift‘s aide, who was a friend of Lea’s family. Swift later went on to command I Corps in the Pacific. A colorful character who rode with Pershing chasing Villa in 1916, Swift ordered the depicted horse soldier to ride from Fort Bliss direct to Lea’s house so that he could be sketched while standing dismounted in his studio. Image via the Lea Institute.

By the fall, he was afloat on a U.S. Navy destroyer bobbing along the Atlantic Ocean on the very active Neutrality Patrol in which the man from West Texas saw the world from the heaving decks of Uncle’s tincans.

A Time and a Place, Argentina Bay, Newfoundland, 1941. This ship, the tender USS Prairie with three destroyers moored with her, was his first view of the fleet. Published in LIFE in May 1942, he captioned it "Like a fierce mother with three children sits the big supply ship, blinking a message to the newcomers with her high starboard light ..." Oil on canvas, 25 x 40 Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia

A Time and a Place, Argentina Bay, Newfoundland, 1941. This ship, the tender USS Prairie (AD-15) with three destroyers moored with her, was his first view of the fleet. Published in LIFE in May 1942, he captioned it “Like a fierce mother with three children sits the big supply ship, blinking a message to the newcomers with her high starboard light …” Oil on canvas, 25 x 40 Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia

Tossing the cans, by Tom Lea, depicting the firing of a K gun depth charge thrower

Tossing the cans, by Tom Lea, depicting the firing of a Y gun depth charge thrower

Next, he shipped out on one of the “original 8” carriers of the U.S. Navy, USS Hornet (CV-8) for a 66-day run across the Pacific. There, in fierce service off Guadalcanal in late summer 1942, he spent more than two months on a front line carrier in the thick of the war and sketched as he found.

USS Hornet by Tom Lea

USS Hornet by Tom Lea

navy plane captian

He observed the sinking of the Wasp on Sept. 15, 1942

He observed the sinking of the Wasp on Sept. 15, 1942.

Carrier ace Silver Somers, by Tom Lea

Carrier ace Silver Somers, by Tom Lea

in blue gleam of a battle light tom lea an american dies in battle tom lea a bomb explodes below deck tom lea

On 21 October, he left the Hornet, pulling away on a fleet oiler that would land him back at Pearl Harbor. The cleared sketches would appear in LIFE in March and April 1943, sadly, after the carrier had been sunk. You see, the ship in which Lea had spent those hectic two months was sent to the bottom, sunk in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942– just five days after he left.

As told by Lex

Back at Pearl Harbor, Lea showed Admiral Nimitz some of his drawings. One of them was the one above. Underneath the drawing, he inscribed a quotation from Deuteronomy: “Moreover the Lord thy God shall send the hornet among them, until they that are left, and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed.”

Admiral Nimitz looked at the drawing for a long time, then turned his head to Lea, and said: “Something has happened to the Hornet.”

That was how Lea found out that the aircraft carrier he had been on, together with his friends, perished.

This he immortalized in a painting ran by LIFE of how he pictured the ship going out– fighting.

“An aircraft carrier is by her very nature a very peculiar warship, for she belongs not wholly to the sea nor sufficiently to the sky.” “Without heavy deck guns or stout armor, she is physically the most vulnerable of warships, carrying within her the seeds of her own destruction. Whenever she goes to sea she is loaded with bombs, shells and high-octane gasoline, all concealed behind her thin steel plates. ” “Such a ship was the Hornet. She feared bombs, but also know that probably only torpedoes would sink her.” “There is no way to describe how terrible a torpedo seems as it heads for a carrier. It leaves a strange wake, a rather thin, white, bubbly line like fluid ice, cold as the death is presages. Against the ship’s side, it explodes with an appalling concussion and a wild flash of pink flame. Within the ship, there is a terrible wrenching. Decks and bulkheads are twisted like tissue paper, and all things not secured by iron bolts are smashed.” “The Hornet died under a moonlit sky on a shining tropical sea. She had been hit by two waves of Jap planes, the first in the morning, the second in the afternoon… Then came the last order: ‘Abandon ship.’ The men went over the side on knotted lines, down to life rafts, to floating debris, or simply to the water.” “Behind them their ship died a smoking death.” “The great carrier was not alone. She had destroyers and cruisers with her, and they aided in the work of hauling the Hornet’s crew from the sea. In a few hours, it was all over. Those whose fate it was to live were alive, and those who had to die were dead.” “A tropical sunset colored the hulk of the carrier and the stars came out faintly. After dark she went down.” -LIFE Magazine, “HORNET’S LAST DAY: Tom Lea paints death of a great carrier”

“An aircraft carrier is by her very nature a very peculiar warship, for she belongs not wholly to the sea nor sufficiently to the sky.” “Without heavy deck guns or stout armor, she is physically the most vulnerable of warships, carrying within her the seeds of her own destruction. Whenever she goes to sea she is loaded with bombs, shells and high-octane gasoline, all concealed behind her thin steel plates. ”
“Such a ship was the Hornet. She feared bombs, but also know that probably only torpedoes would sink her.”
“There is no way to describe how terrible a torpedo seems as it heads for a carrier. It leaves a strange wake, a rather thin, white, bubbly line like fluid ice, cold as the death is presages. Against the ship’s side, it explodes with an appalling concussion and a wild flash of pink flame. Within the ship, there is a terrible wrenching. Decks and bulkheads are twisted like tissue paper, and all things not secured by iron bolts are smashed.”
“The Hornet died under a moonlit sky on a shining tropical sea. She had been hit by two waves of Jap planes, the first in the morning, the second in the afternoon… Then came the last order: ‘Abandon ship.’ The men went over the side on knotted lines, down to life rafts, to floating debris, or simply to the water.”
“Behind them their ship died a smoking death.”
“The great carrier was not alone. She had destroyers and cruisers with her, and they aided in the work of hauling the Hornet’s crew from the sea. In a few hours, it was all over. Those whose fate it was to live were alive, and those who had to die were dead.”
“A tropical sunset colored the hulk of the carrier and the stars came out faintly. After dark she went down.”
-LIFE Magazine, “HORNET’S LAST DAY: Tom Lea paints death of a great carrier”

 

Next, fate found him landing with the 7th Marines at the green hell that was Peleliu. The 11 paintings he produced from that front line horror are some of the most haunting military art of all time and should be viewed by any politician who claims there is no alternative to starting a war.

"GOING IN - FIRST WAVE" "For an hour we plowed toward the beach, the sun above us coming down through the overcast like a silver burning ball....Over the gunwale of the craft abreast of us I saw a Marine, his face painted for the jungle, his eyes set for the beach, his mouth set for murder, his big hands quiet now in the last moments before the tough tendons drew up to kill." Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“GOING IN – FIRST WAVE” “For an hour we plowed toward the beach, the sun above us coming down through the overcast like a silver burning ball….Over the gunwale of the craft abreast of us I saw a Marine, his face painted for the jungle, his eyes set for the beach, his mouth set for murder, his big hands quiet now in the last moments before the tough tendons drew up to kill.” Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

"2000 YARD STARE" "Down from Bloody Ridge Too Late. He's Finished - Washed Up - Gone" "As we passed sick bay, still in the shell hole, it was crowded with wounded, and somehow hushed in the evening light. I noticed a tattered Marine standing quietly by a corpsman, staring stiffly at nothing. His mind had crumbled in battle, his jaw hung, and his eyes were like two black empty holes in his head. Down by the beach again, we walked silently as we passed the long line of dead Marines under the tarpaulins. He left the States 31 months ago. He was wounded in his first campaign. He has had tropical diseases. He half-sleeps at night and gouges Japs out of holes all day. Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded. He will return to attack this morning. How much can a human being endure?”  Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“2000 YARD STARE” “Down from Bloody Ridge Too Late. He’s Finished – Washed Up – Gone”
“As we passed sick bay, still in the shell hole, it was crowded with wounded, and somehow hushed in the evening light. I noticed a tattered Marine standing quietly by a corpsman, staring stiffly at nothing. His mind had crumbled in battle, his jaw hung, and his eyes were like two black empty holes in his head. Down by the beach again, we walked silently as we passed the long line of dead Marines under the tarpaulins. He left the States 31 months ago. He was wounded in his first campaign. He has had tropical diseases. He half-sleeps at night and gouges Japs out of holes all day. Two-thirds of his company has been killed or wounded. He will return to attack this morning. How much can a human being endure?” Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

"THE BLOCKHOUSE" "There were dead Japs on the ground were they had been hit. We walked carefully up the side of this trail littered with Jap pushcarts, smashed ammunition boxes, rusty wire, old clothes, and tattered gear. Booby traps kept us from handling any of it. Looking up at the head of the trail, I could see the big Jap blockhouse that commanded the height. The thing was now a great, jagged lump of concrete, smoking." Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“THE BLOCKHOUSE” “There were dead Japs on the ground were they had been hit. We walked carefully up the side of this trail littered with Jap pushcarts, smashed ammunition boxes, rusty wire, old clothes, and tattered gear. Booby traps kept us from handling any of it. Looking up at the head of the trail, I could see the big Jap blockhouse that commanded the height. The thing was now a great, jagged lump of concrete, smoking.” Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

The Peleliu Invasion by Tom Lea

The Peleliu Invasion by Tom Lea

"THIS IS SAD SACK CALLING CHARLIE BLUE" "We found the battalion commander [Lt Col Edward H. Hurst, CO, 3/7]. By him sat his radioman, trying to make contact with company commands. There was an infinitely tired and plaintive patience in the radioman's voice as he called code names, repeating time and time again, 'This is Sad Sack calling Charlie Blue. This is Sad Sack calling Charlie Blue.' “Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“THIS IS SAD SACK CALLING CHARLIE BLUE” “We found the battalion commander [Lt Col Edward H. Hurst, CO, 3/7]. By him sat his radioman, trying to make contact with company commands. There was an infinitely tired and plaintive patience in the radioman’s voice as he called code names, repeating time and time again, ‘This is Sad Sack calling Charlie Blue. This is Sad Sack calling Charlie Blue.’ “Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

"SUNDOWN AT PELELIU" "Sick Bay in a Shellhole. The Padre Read, 'I am the resurrection and the Light' " "The padre stood by with two canteens and a Bible, helping. He was deeply moved by the patient suffering and death. He looked very lonely, very close to God, as he bent over the shattered men so far from home. Corpsmen put a poncho, a shirt, a rag, anything handy, over the grey faces of the dead and carried them to a line on the beach to await the digging of graves." Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“SUNDOWN AT PELELIU” “Sick Bay in a Shellhole. The Padre Read, ‘I am the resurrection and the Light’ “The padre stood by with two canteens and a Bible, helping. He was deeply moved by the patient suffering and death. He looked very lonely, very close to God, as he bent over the shattered men so far from home. Corpsmen put a poncho, a shirt, a rag, anything handy, over the grey faces of the dead and carried them to a line on the beach to await the digging of graves.” Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

"COUNTER-ATTACK" “I do not know what time it was when the counterattack came. I heard, in pauses between bursts of fire, the high-pitched; screaming yells of the Japs as they charged, somewhere out ahead. The firing would grow to crescendo, drowning out the yells, then the sound would fall dying like the recession of a wave. Looking up, I saw the earth, the splintered trees, the men on their bellies all edged against the sky by the light of the star shells like moonlight from a moon dying of jaundice. The phone rang. A battalion CO reported the Jap's infiltration and the beginning of the counter attack. He asked what reserves were available and was told there were none. Small arms fire ahead of us became a continuous rattle. Abruptly three star shells burst in the sky. As soon as they died floating down, others flared to take their place. Then the howitzers just behind us opened up, hurling their charges over our heads, shaking the ground with their blasts." Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“COUNTER-ATTACK” “I do not know what time it was when the counterattack came. I heard, in pauses between bursts of fire, the high-pitched; screaming yells of the Japs as they charged, somewhere out ahead. The firing would grow to crescendo, drowning out the yells, then the sound would fall dying like the recession of a wave. Looking up, I saw the earth, the splintered trees, the men on their bellies all edged against the sky by the light of the star shells like moonlight from a moon dying of jaundice. The phone rang. A battalion CO reported the Jap’s infiltration and the beginning of the counter attack. He asked what reserves were available and was told there were none. Small arms fire ahead of us became a continuous rattle. Abruptly three star shells burst in the sky. As soon as they died floating down, others flared to take their place. Then the howitzers just behind us opened up, hurling their charges over our heads, shaking the ground with their blasts.” Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

"THE PRICE" "Lying in terror looking longingly up the slope to better cover, I saw a wounded man near me, staggering in the direction of the LVTs. His face was half-bloody pulp and the mangled shreds of what was left of an arm hung down like a stick, as he bent over in the stumbling, shock-crazy walk. The half of his face that was still human had the most terrifying look of abject patiences I have ever seen. He fell behind me, in a red puddle on the white sand." Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“THE PRICE” “Lying in terror looking longingly up the slope to better cover, I saw a wounded man near me, staggering in the direction of the LVTs. His face was half-bloody pulp and the mangled shreds of what was left of an arm hung down like a stick, as he bent over in the stumbling, shock-crazy walk. The half of his face that was still human had the most terrifying look of abject patiences I have ever seen. He fell behind me, in a red puddle on the white sand.” Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

"We saw a Jap running along an inner ring of the reef, from the stony eastern point of the peninsula below us. Our patrol cut down on him and shot very badly, for he did not fall until he had run 100 yards along the coral. Another Jap popped out running and the marines had sharpened their sites. The Jap ran less than 20 steps when a volley cut him in two and his disjointed body splattered into the surf." Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“We saw a Jap running along an inner ring of the reef, from the stony eastern point of the peninsula below us. Our patrol cut down on him and shot very badly, for he did not fall until he had run 100 yards along the coral. Another Jap popped out running and the marines had sharpened their sites. The Jap ran less than 20 steps when a volley cut him in two and his disjointed body splattered into the surf.” Life Collection of Art WWII, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Base sketch for the above, from the UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

Base sketch for the above, from the UTSA Libraries Special Collections.

From the El Paso Times:

After taking his paintings to Life headquarters in New York, Tom heard what happened: The paintings were lined up so the managing editor Daniel Longwell could review them. Longwell entered, looked, and said: “Print every damn one of them in color, and I never want to see them again.”

It was also his last wartime assignment.

After the war he remained active and produced art for books and novels, while trying his hand as an author and historian.

Marrakech Tom Lea 1947

Marrakech Tom Lea 1947

Muster at Bore 60  1973 tom lea

Muster at Bore 60 1973 tom lea

And There He Was by Tom Lea

And There He Was by Tom Lea

Tom Lea following his last wartime tour as a LIFE artist correspondent - landing on the island of Peleliu with the 1st battalion 7th Marines. On the easel is The Price, 1944.

Tom Lea following his last wartime tour as a LIFE artist correspondent – landing on the island of Peleliu with the 1st battalion 7th Marines. On the easel is The Price, 1944.

Much as he was born in El Paso and lived most of his life there, he also passed away there in 2001 at age 93. He is buried in the city next to his wife, whose portrait reportedly took him the longest of all paintings to complete.

tom-lea

Today, his trail of murals are celebrated across the Lone Star State while the Tom Lea Institute is located in El Paso  which produces the annual Tom Lea Month celebration in the city.

His work is on public display a numerous U.S. Army museums and bases, the Smithsonian, the White House, as well as galleries and museums across the Southwest.

Thank you for your work, sir.

Warship Wednesday April 22, 2015: The Music City wingman

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 April 22, 2015:  The Music City wingman

USS Nashville (CL 43) (in the distance), as seen from the island of USS Hornet (CV 8) (looking aft)

Here we see a famous still taken from a 16mm film of a group U.S. Army Air Force B-25 Mitchell bombers loaded on the deck of the carrier USS Hornet (CV-8), April 18, 1942– roughly about 73 years ago this week. The ship in the background? The unsung but always there wingman that is the Brooklyn-class light cruiser USS Nashville (CL-43), the hero of our story.

An answer to the Japanese Mogami-class cruisers of the 1930s that carried an impressive 15 6-inch guns, the seven cruisers of the Brooklyn-class were an excellent design that proved more than capable in service. Although a “light” cruiser, these 606-foot long 12,200-ton vessels were among the largest ever built to be called such and took everything the Germans and Japanese could throw at them in WWII.

Overhead of USS Brooklyn CL-40 in June 1943. Note the turret configuration

Overhead of class-leader USS Brooklyn CL-40 in June 1943. Note the turret configuration

Carrying an armored belt that ran from 2-inches over the deck to 6.5 on their turrets, they were reasonably well sheathed to take on anything but a heavy cruiser or battleship in a surface action. Eight boilers feeding a quartet of Parsons steam turbines gave these ships an impressive 100,000 shp, which allowed them to touch 33-knots– fast enough to keep up with even the speedy destroyers. Capable of covering 10,000 miles on a single load of fuel oil, they could range the Pacific or escort Atlantic convoys without having to top off every five minutes. Four floatplanes allowed these ships to scout ahead and tell the fleet just what was over the horizon.

Finally, an impressive main battery of 15 6″/47DP (15.2 cm) Mark 16 guns in a distinctive five triple turret scheme introduced with the class, gave them teeth. These guns with their 130-pound super heavy shell had almost double the penetration performance when compared against the older 6″/53 (15.2 cm) AP projectiles used for the Omaha class (CL-4) light cruisers. Further, they could fire them fast. One Brooklyn, USS Savannah (CL-42) during gunnery trials in March 1939 fired 138 6-inch rounds in just 60-seconds.

USS Nashville (CL–43) was laid down 24 January 1935 by New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, NJ, and commissioned 6 June 1938. A quick shakedown in Europe on the brink of WWII saw her bring some $25 million in gold bars back from the UK, which was deposited in US banks.

When the war broke out, she found herself on neutrality patrols in the Northern Atlantic, often popping up in German U-boat periscopes. She escorted Marines to occupy Iceland in 1941 and after Pearl Harbor received orders to link up with the nation’s newest carrier, Hornet, and escort her to the Pacific.

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A view of her just 18 days before the Doolittle Raid. Click to big up

Arriving at Naval Air Station Alameda on 20 March 1942, Nashville stood by while Hornet had part of her Naval airwing offloaded and 16 Army B-25s, 64 modified 500-pound bombs, and 201 USAAF aviators and ground crew transferred aboard.

Putting to sea on April 2, the task force commanded by Vice Adm. Halsey consisted of the Hornet with her escort Nashville, the carrier Enterprise with her three companion heavy cruisers Salt Lake City, Northampton, and Vincennes, as well as a group of destroyers and tankers headed West for points unknown and under great secrecy.

View looking aft from the island of USS Hornet (CV 8), while en route to the mission's launching point. USS Gwin (DD-433) is coming alongside, as USS Nashville (CL-43) steams in the distance. Eight of the mission's sixteen B-25B bombers are parked within view, as are two of the ship's SBD scout bombers. Note midships elevator, torpedo elevator, arresting gear and flight deck barriers in the lower portion of the photo, and 1.1" quad anti-aircraft machine gun mount at left. Naval History & Heritage Command photo (# NH 53289).

View looking aft from the island of USS Hornet (CV 8), while en route to the mission’s launching point. USS Gwin (DD-433) is coming alongside, as USS Nashville (CL-43) steams in the distance. Eight of the mission’s sixteen B-25B bombers are parked within view, as are two of the ship’s SBD scout bombers. Note midships elevator, torpedo elevator, arresting gear and flight deck barriers in the lower portion of the photo, and 1.1″ quad anti-aircraft machine gun mount at left. Naval History & Heritage Command photo (# NH 53289).

After refueling from the tankers on April 17, the four cruisers and two carriers raced towards Japan. The plan was to launch the first raid on the Home Islands to score a propaganda victory following a string of defeats across the Pacific in the first four months of the war.

However, the group was sighted while still far out to sea. The quick-shooting Nashville rapidly engaged the Japanese ship, Gunboat No. 23 Nittō Maru, and sank her with 6-inch shells, but the little 70-ton boat got off a warning via radio on her way down.

Nito Maru Sunk by Nashville

Nito Maru Sunk by Nashville

The 16 bombers lead by Jimmy Doolittle quickly launched into history and the six ships of the task force turned back for safer waters.

Nashville however, still had a long war ahead of her.

As the flagship of the pitifully outgunned Task Force 8, she defended Alaska during the Japanese feint there during the Battle of Midway, and soaked the frozen invaders on Attu and Kiska with 6-inch shells before sailing back and joining the main fleet.

Nashville firing on Kiska, August 8th 1942; the bombardment was run in a racetrack pattern, and Nashville is just turning

Nashville firing on Kiska, August 8th 1942; the bombardment was run in a racetrack pattern, and Nashville is just turning. Click to big up

She visited the same naval gunfire across the South Pacific and socked Japanese bases at Munda, Kolombangara and New Georgia, covered the landings at Bougainville and the Bismarck Archipelago and just generally popped up everywhere the action was thickest. She covered the raids on the Marcus Islands and Wake; served as McArthur’s flagship for the Hollandia Operations, covered Toem, Wakde, Sarmi Ares, Biak, Mortai, Leyte, Mindoro, et; al.

Broadside view of the USS Nashville (CL 43) off Mare Island on 4 August 1943. She was in overhaul at the shipyard from 4 June until 7 August 1943. U.S. Navy Photo #5624-43.

Broadside view of the USS Nashville (CL 43) off Mare Island on 4 August 1943. She was in overhaul at the shipyard from 4 June until 7 August 1943. U.S. Navy Photo #5624-43.

Leyte Invasion, October 1944 - General Douglas MacArthur (right, seen in profile) on the bridge of USS Nashville (CL 43), off Leyte during the landings there in late October 1944. Standing in the center (also seen in profile) is Lieutenant General George C. Kenney. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives - USA C-259

Leyte Invasion, October 1944 – General Douglas MacArthur (right, seen in profile) on the bridge of USS Nashville (CL 43), off Leyte during the landings there in late October 1944. Standing in the center (also seen in profile) is Lieutenant General George C. Kenney. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives – USA C-259

Her Marine detachment had a very active service history which is chronicled here.

On 13 December 1944, she took a kamikaze hit on her portside while in the PI that caused over 300 casualties- a third of her crew– but she remained afloat and operational, a testament to both the ship and her sailors.

The ships of her class were known to take a licking and keep on ticking.

Sister USS Honolulu (CL-48) was torpedoed at the Battle of Kolombangara on July 12–13, 1943, and again at Leyte in October 1944 but in each case remained afloat and operational. Classmate USS Boise (CL-47) took a number of hard hits at close range during the Battle of Cape Esperance in 1943. Two 7.9-inch shells from the heavy cruiser Kinugasa exploded in Boise‍ ’​s main ammunition magazine between turrets one and two. The resulting explosion killed almost 100 men and threatened to blow the ship apart– but she finished the battle under her own steam and survived the war.

Another sister, USS Savannah (CL-42), was clobbered by a massive 3,000-pound German Fritz-X bomb while operating in the Med in 1943. Hitting Savannah amidships, it blew the bottom out of the cruiser but she remained afloat and later returned to operations after a rebuild.

USS Savannah (CL-42) is hit by a German radio-controlled glide bomb, while supporting Allied forces ashore during the Salerno operation, 11 September 1943. The bomb hit the top of the ship's number three 6"/47 gun turret and penetrated deep into her hull before exploding. The photograph shows the explosion venting through the top of the turret and also through Savannah's hull below the waterline. A motor torpedo boat (PT) is passing by in the foreground. When you think that a pair of Fritz-X's completely destroyed the 45,000-ton Vittorio Veneto-class battleship Roma, its impressive that a 12,000-ton light cruiser survived such a hit.

USS Savannah (CL-42) is hit by a German radio-controlled glide bomb, while supporting Allied forces ashore during the Salerno operation, 11 September 1943. The bomb hit the top of the ship’s number three 6″/47 gun turret and penetrated deep into her hull before exploding. The photograph shows the explosion venting through the top of the turret and also through Savannah’s hull below the waterline. A motor torpedo boat (PT) is passing by in the foreground. When you think that a pair of Fritz-X’s completely destroyed the 45,000-ton Vittorio Veneto-class battleship Roma, its impressive that a 12,000-ton light cruiser survived such a hit.

One lucky young Radioman 3rd Class aboard Nashville that day who survived the kamikaze hit, Jason Robards, went on to an acting career and an Oscar. Robards had earlier in the war just missed Pearl Harbor by two days then had his cruiser, fellow Doolittle raid vet Northampton, sunk from under him at the Battle of Tassafaronga. It was while on Nashville that Robards emceed for a Navy band in Pearl Harbor, got a few laughs and decided he liked being in front of an audience.

Following repairs, Nashville was back in the front lines, covering the Balikpapan and Brunei Bay operations in June and July 1945. In the months after the war, she was flag of TF73, made an extensive visit to war torn China, conducted two Magic Carpet rides home (one of which saw her take a foundering troopship with 1200 soldiers aboard under tow in heavy seas) and was decommissioned 24 June 1946, after a very hectic 8-year active duty career.

Nashville in Sydney 1944. Note measure 32/21d camo scheme

Nashville in Sydney 1944. Note measure 32/21d camo scheme. Click to big up

In all she won 10 battlestars for her active 41-month long Pacific War.

The Navy, flush with more modern cruisers, soon divested themselves of the seven lucky Brooklyn’s.

Two, Honolulu and Savannah, were scrapped, while the other five were part of a large post-war cruiser acquisition by the “ABC Navies” of South America.

USS Boise (CL-47) and Phoenix (CL-46) went to Argentina.

USS Philadelphia (CL-41) went to Brazil.

Class leader Brooklyn along with her wingman Nashville went to Chile in 1951.

While in South America, Nashville served as the Capitán Prat (CL-03) and later as the Chacabuco with the same pennant number. She remained on active duty until 1984 and was scrapped the next year at age 46, one of the last unmodified WWII-era big gun ships afloat at the time.

The cruisers Almirante Latorre https://laststandonzombieisland.com/2014/12/03/warship-wednesday-december-3-2014-the-scandinavian-leviathan/   (ex-Swedish Gota Lejon), Prat (formerly USS Nashville), and O'Higgins (formerly USS Brooklyn) underway

The cruisers Almirante Latorre  (ex-Swedish Gota Lejon), Prat (formerly USS Nashville), and O’Higgins (formerly USS Brooklyn) underway in Chilean service. Click to big up

1970s Chilean battle fleet at play. Possibly the best collection of WWII ships then afloat. Prat/Nashville is to the left. The cruisers Almirante Latorre https://laststandonzombieisland.com/2014/12/03/warship-wednesday-december-3-2014-the-scandinavian-leviathan/   (ex-Swedish Gota Lejon),  is center with her distinctive superstructure, and  and O'Higgins (formerly USS Brooklyn) to the image's right. Click to big up

The 1970s Chilean battle fleet at play. Possibly the best collection of WWII ships then afloat. Prat/Nashville is to the left. The cruisers Almirante Latorre (ex-Swedish Gota Lejon), is center with her distinctive superstructure, and and O’Higgins (formerly USS Brooklyn) to the image’s right. Click to big up

In all she was one of the most decorated of her class and outlived most of her classmates. She survived her Argentine sisters Boise/ Nueve de Julio (scrapped 1978) and Phoenix/ General Belgrano (sunk in the Falklands May 1982). She also survived her Brazilian partner Philadelphia/Barroso (scrapped in 1973).

Only Brooklyn/O’Higgins, who was finally retired in 1994, outlasted her, although many of Nashville‘s parts were cannibalized to keep that ship afloat for its final decade.

In Chile, her ship’s bell is on display as are two of her main guns.

Ship’s Bell, Museum in Chile

Ship’s Bell, Museum in Chile

In the states, Nashville is remembered by a veterans group who maintain an excellent website in her honor and relics from her are on display at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville about a mile from Music City Center.

A book, Humble Heroes has been written about her that is an excellent read.

Specs

Displacement: 9,475 tons (8,596 tons)
Length:     608 ft. 4 in (185.42 m)
Beam:     61 ft. 8 in (18.80 m)
Draft:     19 ft. 2 in (5,840 mm)
Propulsion:
Geared Turbines
Four screws
100,000 hp (75,000 kW)
Speed:     32.5 kn (37.4 mph; 60.2 km/h)
Complement:     868 officers and enlisted
Armament:     15 × 6 in (150 mm)/47 cal guns,
8 × 5 in (130 mm)/25 cal guns,
20 × Bofors 40 mm guns,
10 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
Armor:
Belt:5 in (130 mm)
Turrets:6.5 in (170 mm)
Deck:2 in (51 mm)
Conning Tower:5 in (130 mm)
Aircraft carried: 4 × floatplanes
Aviation facilities: 2 × catapults

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