Tag Archives: Vietnam

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022: Come Hell or Low Water

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

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 07, 2022: Come Hell or Low Water

U.S. Army Photo 111-CCV-113-CC43650. National Archives Identifier: 100310246

Above we see the Benewah-class self-propelled barracks ship USS Colleton (APB-36), some 55 years ago this month on 24 September 1967, moored in South Vietnam’s My Tho River. A collection of floating piers and docks sister the big, armored converted LST, to her small craft brood of the Mobile Riverine Force. Alongside her are at least 10 LCM-6 landing craft converted to Armored Troop Carriers (aka “Tango” boats), four CCB (aka “Charlie” boats) communication/control monitors, and a helicopter-pad equipped Aid Boat. Note the quad 40mm Bofors fore and aft on Colleton along with two 3″/50s flanking her helicopter pad as well as her location near shore.

Colleton had to be one of the most formidable vessels to even be labeled a “barracks ship” and these days would pull down the designation of an Expeditionary Sea Base, although she was much better armed.

About those APBs…

The Old Navy’s primary receiving ship/barracks ships, based at naval stations and shipyards to house blue jackets between homes, were usually just hulked warships, their topsides covered over by dormitories. 

U.S. Navy frigate, USS Constitution, photographed while serving as a receiving/barracks ship in Boston, circa 1905. Detroit Photographic Company, circa 1891-1912. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

USS Chicago (IX-5) at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, October 20, 1926. Chicago was originally commissioned in 1889 as a protected cruiser was classified as CA-14 in 1920 and became a barracks ship at Pearl Harbor after decommissioning in 1923. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-1010827

With the U.S. military swelling to a multi-million man force in WWII– much of it to be sent far overseas into often remote areas such as isolated Pacific islands with no infrastructure– the Navy quickly realized that barracks ships would be needed. Soon, starting in FY 1942, a class of 40 non-self-propelled Barracks Ships (APL hull numbers) were begun. Dubbed the APL-2 and APL-17 types, they were simple 2,000-ton, 260-foot, covered barges with a two-story barracks built on top.

APL-17, under tow to her next location, 8 October 1944. Able to accommodate 500 or so troops or sailors, these barracks barges had three generators for lights, cooling, and amenities but no engines and a 71-man crew made up primarily of Ship’s Servicemen– Barber (SSMB), Laundryman (SSML), Cobbler (SSMC), and Tailor (SSMT)– rates along with a few engineering rates and GMs. For defense, as they were to be forward deployed, was a battery of 20mm Oerlikons on the roof and some M1919 mounts to cover the water. 

Midway into the numbering sequence for the APLs, starting with APL-35 and running through APL-40, it was decided to create a run of larger, self-propelled barracks ships. These would become the Benewah-class authorized as APL-35 (soon morphed to APB-35) and 15 sisters soon following.

To avoid reinventing the wheel, the Benewahs were all 4,000-ton, 328-foot, LST-542-class landing ship tanks, or AKS-16 class general stores issue ships (which used the same hull and machinery). They were able to steam at 12 knots and had a decent self-defense capability including two twins and four single 40mm/60 Bofors as well as a mix of smaller cannon and machine gun mounts. Gone was the landing and beaching gear and added was a double-deck troop accommodation for 28 officers and 275 enlisted as well as galley and recreation facilities for those embarked as well as the 137-man crew.

For a time still termed APLs then “LST (Modified)” they eventually became APBs by the time they joined the Navy List.

Ten of the class were quickly converted to APBs post-commissioning while still at their builders including USS Wythe (APB-41) (ex-LST-575), Yavapai (APB-42)(ex LST-676), Yolo (APB-43)(ex LST-677), Presque Isle (APB-44)(ex LST-678), Accomac (APB-49)(ex LST-710), Cameron (APB-50)(ex LST-928), Blackford (APB-45)(ex AKS-16), Dorchester (APB-46)(ex AKS-17), Kingman (APB-47)(ex AKS-18), and Vanderburgh (APB-48)(ex AKS-19). These ships made it to the fleet first and some were sent into the thick of the action by 1944.

USS Yavapai (APB-42) at anchor off the coast of Okinawa in the summer of 1945. Note the magnificent view of a DUKW six-wheel amphibian in the foreground. Photo from the NARA US Army Air Force photo collection.

This left Benewah, Colleton, Marlboro (APB-38), Mercer (APB-39), and Nueces (APB-40) to be built as barracks ships from the keel up rather than converted.

USS Mercer (APB-39) and USS Marlboro (APB-38) under construction at Boston Navy Yard, 3 January 1945. Note the two-level superstructure running nearly the entire length of the ship with the pilot house onthe  top forward. The destroyer at the top is USS Babbitt (AG-102) and across the channel, there is probably a British battleship. NARA Identifier NA 38329801

However, this meant that the five-pack of fresh-built Benewahs, Colleton included, were only completed post-VJ-Day.

Speaking of which, Colleton, authorized, on 17 December 1943 as Barracks Ship (non-self-propelled) APL-36 and later reclassified to APB-36 on 8 August 1944, was laid down, on 9 June 1945 at Boston Naval Shipyard and “completed” in September 1945. As she wasn’t needed, she was never commissioned and was placed immediately in reserve at Boston, her bunks never slept in, an ensign never flown from her. She would slumber for 22 years, just in case.

She earned her name from the county and river in South Carolina, near the vital entrance to Port Royal.

Preliminary chart of Port Royal entrance. Beaufort, Chechessee, and Colleton Rivers, South Carolina From a trigonometrical survey under the direction of A. D. Bache, Superintendent of the survey of the coast of the United States. Triangulation by C. O. Boutelle, Assist. Hydrography by the parties under the command of Lieuts. Commdg. J. N. Maffit and C. M. Fauntleroy, U.S.N, Assists. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division: G3912.P62 1862. U5 CW 389.2

Good Morning, Rat Sung Special Zone!

On 1 April 1966, Naval Forces, Vietnam, was established to control the Navy’s units in the Army’s II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. This eventually included the Coastal Surveillance Force (Task Force 115), River Patrol Force (Task Force 116), and Riverine Assault Force (Task Force 117). The latter unit formed the naval component of the joint Army-Navy Mobile Riverine Force.

Patterned after the French naval assault divisions, or Dinassauts, which performed well in the Indochina War from 1946 to 1954, the MRF consisted of an Army element– 2d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division (augmented by the 3rd Brigade after mid-1968), and a Navy element– River Assault Squadrons 9 and 11 along with River Support Squadron 7– under COMUSMACV’s overall direction.

The “Old Reliables” of the 9th Infantry Division were reactivated on 1 February 1966 and arrived in Vietnam on 16 December 1966 from Fort Riley, Kansas, and would spend most of their time “in-country” with wet boots, motored around the Vietnamese river complex via the Navy.

Original Caption: 26 September 1967, My Tho River, Republic of Vietnam: “Soldiers from the 9th Infantry Division’s ‘Riverines’ assault a heavily wooded area. The Soldiers were brought to the beach head by an Armored Troop Carrier landing craft.” Note the CAR-15 (XM-177) in the hands of the platoon leader, the Marlboros and bug juice in the bands of their M1 helmets, and the general lack of shirts/blouses. U.S. Army photo 111-CCV-113-CC43676, NARA 100310250

As detailed in By Sea, Air, and Land » Chapter 3: The Years of Combat, 1965-1968 from The Navy Department Library:

Each 400-man assault squadron, divided further into two river assault divisions, marshaled a powerful fleet of five monitors. Each monitor was protected with armor and equipped with .50 caliber, 40-millimeter, and 20-millimeter gun mounts, two 40- millimeter grenade launchers, and an 81-millimeter mortar. Another two or three similarly armed and armored craft served as command and control boats. A total of 26 Armored Troop Carriers that mounted .50-caliber machine guns, rapid-fire grenade launchers, and 20-millimeter cannons transported the Army troops. Also installed on the former amphibious landing craft were helicopter landing platforms. A number of craft mounted flame throwers [dubbed “Zippo” boats] or water cannons [dubbed “Douche” boats] to destroy enemy bunkers. A modified armored troop carrier functioned as a refueler for the river force. Beginning in September 1967, to augment the firepower of these converted landing crafts, each squadron was provided with 8 to 16 newly designed Assault Support Patrol Boats for minesweeping and escort duties.

By the end of 1967, each river assault squadron contained 26 ATCs, 16 ASPBs, five Monitors, two CCBs, one Aid Boat, and one refueller (a modified LCM).

An Assault Support Patrol Boat (ASPB) of Task Force 117 moves slowly up the outboard side of an Armored Troop Carrier (ATC). The ATC is sweeping for Vietcong command detonated mines during a Mobile Riverine Force search and destroy mission. The boats are assigned to River Assault Flotilla One, 16 December 1967. USN 1132289

Army infantrymen of the Second Brigade, Ninth Infantry Division return to a U.S. Navy Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) of River Assault Flotilla One, Task Force 117, after conducting a reconnaissance in force mission in the Rung Sat Special Zone in October 1967. USN 1132292

A group of riverine craft consisting of ASPB and Armored ATCS makes a firing run on a suspected enemy position. The craft is part of Commander Task Force 117. K-74760

However, the MRF needed mother ships, and the first, USS Whitfield County (LST 1169), clocked in to support River Assault Squadron 9 at Vung Tau in January 1967. The utility of this put the Navy on a course that would bring its APBs out of mothballs and sent them  to Southeast Asia

Converted to provide a mobile operating base for river patrol squadrons and serve as a command ship in support of Amy infantry battalions, Colleton was finally commissioned on 28 January 1967, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

Colleton’s ultimate conversion included upgraded habitation amenities, a large amidship helicopter pad for supporting aircraft (primarily Army and Navy UH-1s), expanded 18-bed sick bay facilities, and some quickly installed electronics and commo gear. Her WWII-era guns, well-greased but never fired, were put back in service as threats from Viet Cong sappers and NVA PT boats were a real thing.

From the Mobile Riverine Force Association:

After a complete paint job (green Army olive drab), several hundred square feet of bar armor was fabricated to cover the bridge and operations area. This had to be constructed entirely by ship’s company from angle iron and ½-inch steel bars. The month of May [1967] also saw the installation of 8-50 caliber and 12 7.62mm machine guns to the armament of the ship. She also acquired three ammo pontoons to be used as a mooring place for the small boats of the River Assault Squadrons and as assembling points for troops about to be embarked in the Armored Troop Carriers (Tango’s).

She was soon joined by Benewah who had been laid up at Green Cove Springs, Florida since 1956, and the ship was recommissioned, on 26 February 1967 and sent to Vietnam.

USS Benewah (APB-35). In the Soi Rap River, the BENEWAH lies at anchor with her assault ships nesting alongside, 24 October 1967. K-41574

USS Colleton (APB-36) with a full dozen Armored Troop Carrier LCM-6 conversions– including one outfitted as an Aid Boat– alongside while in the Mekong Delta. L45-55.02.01

Mekong Delta, Republic of Vietnam. Soldiers of the joint U.S. Army-Navy mobile riverine force get a “hosing down” to remove Mekong Delta mud as they return to their floating home base, a self-propelled barracks ship, after completing a mission during Operation Coronado Nine. Photographed by PH1 L.R. Robinson, December 1967. 428-GX-K42765

“Mother Ship: the USS Colleton’s bow, quad 40mm gun mount, loaded and fully manned during the ship’s movements up and down the Delta. It was also partially manned from 6 PM to 6AM every night at anchor. Three different crews taking shifts. We slept in the gun mount when we were able. Most nights we were usually awake and firing, off and on, in support of Army infantry. Sleep was not an option then.”– Dennis Noward

As detailed in Riverine Warfare, The U.S. Navy’s Operations on Inland Waters:

By late May 1967, the five ships that formed the initial Mobile Riverine Base had arrived in the Delta. These include two self-propelled barracks ships, the USS Benewah (APB 35) and USS Colleton (APB 30); a landing craft repair ship, USS Askari (ARL 30); the barracks craft APL 26; and a logistics support LST assigned on a 2-month rotational basis by Commander Seventh Fleet.

These five ships provided repair and logistic support, including messing, berthing, and working spaces for the 1,900 embarked troops of the 2d Brigade, and the 1,600 Navy men then assigned to TF-117. Benewah served as the Mobile Riverine Force flagship. By mid-June, 68 boats had joined the force and others arrived every few days (the full complement of 180 river assault craft was reached in 1968).

Thus, beginning June 1967, it was possible to conduct six to eight search and destroy missions per month, each lasting 2 or 3 days. (A number were joint United States-South Vietnamese.) On each of eight separate operations during the year, more than 100 Viet Cong were killed.

Sisters Mercer (also laid up in Green Cove Springs) and Nueces (laid up in Orange, Texas since 1955) would soon follow by 1968.

USS NUECES (APB-40) commissioning ceremony at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 3 May 1968. Note the 40mm Bofors mount. USN 1132322

PBR alongside USS Colleton APB-36, near Dong Tam, 1969

USS Colleton -APB-36 and her cluster of river boats. Mekong Delta-1969. Note, that the photo has been reversed.

PBRs alongside USS Colleton APB-36 Near Dong Tam 1969

The four barracks ships, augmented by a rotating force of LSTs (Caroline County, Kemper County, Vernon County, Washtenaw County, Windham County, Sedgwick County, and the aforementioned Whitfield County), and supported by the landing craft repair ships USS Askari (ARL-30) and Satyr (ARL 23) and a couple of yard tugs, would form the hard nucleus that the MRF would operate from throughout 1967 through 1969.

Notably, Colleton was the only one of her sisters outfitted as a pseudo-hospital ship. Arriving in the theater just days before the Tet Offensive, she managed 890 combat casualties from 29 January 1968 to May 1968 alone. Of these patients, 134 were admitted to the ship’s ward, and 411 evac’ed after stabilization.

Seaman Arthur Melling, the coxswain of Monitor 92-1, is loaded onto a “dust off” medevac Huey from an Aid Boat LCM after he was wounded. Helicopters could evacuate wounded MRF Sailors and Soldiers to medical care in a matter of minutes. Melling was evacuated to USS Colleton (APB 36) which had an operating room and medical facilities. Putting flight decks onto Armored Troop Carriers to turn them into Aid Boats was another example of adapting equipment to the demands of the battlefield. Official U.S. Navy photo (XFV-2530-B-6-68)

Then came the policy of Vietnamization, which aimed to reduce American involvement in the country by transferring all military assets and responsibilities to South Vietnam. With that, the MRF soon changed hands, and, with “the locals” taking over its tasks, the MRF faded away and its support ships went home.

The riverine craft of commander Task Force 117 is moored alongside the self-propelled barracks ship USS Colleton (APB-36) pending the ceremony in which the craft will be turned over to the Republic of Vietnam at Dong Tam. The photo was taken on June 14, 1969. K-74723

Armored Troop Carrier (ATC) with the current U.S. crewmen and the Vietnamese future crewmen aboard await the word to lower the U.S. Flag and raise The Republic of Vietnam Flag during ceremonies in which the Riverine task force 117 craft are to be turned over to the RVN at Dong Tam.The photoo was taken on June 14, 1969. K-74731

OG-107 clad Navy personnel of Commander, Task Force 117, stand in formation during ceremonies in which their riverine craft was turned over to the Republic of Vietnam Forces, in July 1969. Taken at Dong Tam, Republic of Vietnam. Note the insignia patch of River Assault Division 111, on the shoulder of the nearest man with the motto “Come Hell or Low Water” and the rocker “Mekong Marauders.” K-74726

The four barracks ships earned no less than a combined total of 27 campaign stars for Vietnam War service in addition to seven Combat Action Ribbons, a Presidential Unit Citation, seven Navy Unit Commendations, and one Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation. To this were added a host of RVN awards and decorations including multiple Gallantry Crosses and Civil Action Medals. Not bad for floating hotels.

Colleton transited back home, arriving at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for decommissioning in December 1969. Back in mothballs at Bremerton for a few years, she was struck from the NVR in 1973 when it became apparent that she would not have to return to Vietnam, and was sold for $172.226.62, to American Ship Dismantler’s Inc. of Portland, Oregon, for scrapping.

As for the 9th ID, they incurred 2,624 causalities in Vietnam and were brought home and inactivated in 1970 with the Vietnamization of the MRF, then reactivated in 1972 then served as a state-side equipment testing unit at Ft. Lewis, Washington until 1991. There are 10 Soldiers of the 9th ID or its component units in Vietnam still listed as missing in action, some vanished during MRF operations.
 
For more on the arrival and first year of the 9th ID in Vietnam, see George L. MacGarrigle’s Combat Operations: Taking the Offensive, October 1966–October 1967, The United States Army in Vietnam (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 1998), 14–15, 117. 

Epilogue

The U.S. Navy has only had a single USS Colleton on its list and as far as I can tell there is little in way of relics around from her life.

As noted by the MRF Assoc, “She was a good ship and will always be remembered by all who served and lived on her in Vietnam, Navy and Army alike.”

Of her sisters, they would prove to be extremely hard to kill indeed. The pair of APBs that arrived in Vietnam to support the MRF in 1968, Nueces and Mercer, once they left Southeast Asia, they only made it as far as Japan and are still there. Nueces is still in Yokosuka while Mercer is in Sasebo, providing berthing and messing assistance to U.S. Forces Japan. Of course, they long ago landed their guns and were officially decommissioned in 1970, redesignated APLs as they are no longer self-propelled.

APL-39, ex-Mercer, moored at SRF Det., Sasebo Japan, 13 December 2012. (By Bob Gregory, Dep Requirements & Special Programs Officer, COMPACFLT N43, via Navsource) and APL-40, ex-Nueces, moored pier side, at Ship Repair Facility Yokosuka, Japan, date unknown. US Navy photo.

Specs:

Displacement 2,189 t., 4,080 t.(fl)
Length 328 feet
Beam 50 feet
Draft 11′ 2″
Fuel Capacity: Diesel 2,975 Bbls
Propulsion: 
two General Motors 12-567A Diesel engines
double Falk Main Reduction Gears
five Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C. Ship’s Service Generators
two propellers, 1,800shp
twin rudders
Speed: 12 kts.
Complement: 
Officers 12
Enlisted 129
Berthing Capacity:
Officers 26
Enlisted 275
Armament (1945)
four single 40mm AA gun mounts
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
twenty .50 and .30 cal machine guns


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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, Jan. 19, 2022: It’s Easy As 1-2-3

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, Jan. 19, 2022: It’s Easy As 1-2-3

(Shorter WW this week as I am traveling to Vegas for SHOT. We’ll be back to our regular programming next week).

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 94372

Here we see the Oregon-City class heavy (gun) cruiser USS Albany (CA-123), in her original condition, just off her birthplace as seen in an aerial beam view from the Boston Lightship, 19 January 1947– some 75 years ago today.

And a following three-quarter stern view shot, taken the same day as the above. Note the advanced Curtiss SC Seahawk floatplanes, the last of the Navy’s “slingshot planes.” They were retired in 1949. NH 94373

Albany, the fourth such U.S. Navy warship to carry the name of that Empire State capital city– the fifth is a Los Angeles-class attack submarine (SSN-753) commissioned in 1990 and still in active service– was laid down during WWII at Bethlehem Steel’s Quincy, Massachusetts yard. However, she only commissioned nine months after VJ-Day, joining the fleet on 15 June 1946 in a ceremony at the Boston Navy Yard.

The brand new 13,000-ton warship became something of a Cold War-ear “peace cruiser,” and as far as I can tell, she never fired her mighty 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Mark 12s in anger.

Although in commission during Korea, she spent the 1950s alternating “assignments to the 6th Fleet with operations along the east coast of the United States and in the West Indies and made three cruises to South American ports.”

Decommissioned in 1958 after 12 years of service, she was sent back to the Boston Navy Yard for an extensive reconstruction and conversion to a guided-missile cruiser, landing her 8-inchers for MK 11 (Tartar) and MK 12 (Talos) GMLS missile launchers, only retaining a couple of 5″/38s for special occasions.

In 1962, she emerged with her hull number rightfully changed to CG-10.

She looked dramatically different.

A great period Kodachrome of USS Albany (CG-10), conducting sea trials on October 18, 1962. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Image: 428-GX-KN-4076.

USS Albany (CG-10) became the first ship to fire three guided missiles simultaneously when she launched Tartar and Talos surface-to-air missiles from the forward, aft, and one side of the ship while in an exercise off the Virginia Capes, 20 January 1963. U.S. Navy photo, Boston NHP Collection, NPS Cat. No. 15927

Missing Vietnam, she would continue to make cruises to the Mediterranean, later operating from Gaeta, Italy, where she served as flagship for the Commander, 6th Fleet, for almost four years.

Decommissioned for the last time on 29 August 1980, she was stricken five years later and, when efforts to turn her into a museum never came to fruition, Albany was sold in 1980 for her value in scrap metal.

The USS Albany Association has an extensive amount of relics from the vessel and the NHHC has a nice sampling of photos curated on the lucky warship.


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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

The 175mm God of War, or at least Southeast Asia

Official Caption: Ready for Firing – The 30-foot tube of the 175mm gun points the direction. Its 150-pound projectile will travel up to 20 miles. Date: 1969.

That year, the Marine Corps retired the aging M53 gun and converted all the 155mm Fires batteries to 175mm Gun Batteries after the 12th Marines had enjoyed the support of Army 175s in Vietnam in 1967-68.

Note the flak vests and M1 helmets without blouses, and the on-gun rack for the M16A1s. Source: 1stMarDiv [1st Marine Division] Photog: LCpl A. C. Prentiss Defense Dept. Photo (Marine Corps)

The M107 175 mm self-propelled gun was a 28-ton beast that could move over roads at up to 50mph (in theory) and was able to hurtle 147-pound shells to 25 miles, far outclassing 155mm and 105mm pieces and rivaling the impractically large 203mm guns and naval gunfire support from 6- and 8-inch guns on cruisers and 5-inch guns from destroyers/frigates.

SGT Max Cones (gunner) fires an M107, 175mm self-propelled gun, Btry C, 1st Bn, 83rd Arty, 54th Arty Group, Vietnam, January 1968. (U.S. Army photo)

The guns could lay lots of warheads on foreheads so to speak. In 1968’s six-day Operation Thor, Marine artillery averaged 4,000 rounds per day into the target area from 155, 175, and 203mm guns, in addition to 3,300 daily naval gunfire support shells and 2,400 tons of ordnance dropped by aircraft every 24 hours.

Post-Vietnam, the Army updated their remaining M107s to 8-inch guns for use in Europe for another decade along the Fulda Gap, dubbing the new vehicle M110A2s, while the Marines went back to lighter, towed 155mm guns.

Other than use by the IDF against various neighbors and by the Iranians against the Iraqis in the 1980s, the only combat saw by the M107 was by the Army and Marines in Vietnam– where several captured in 1975 are still in arsenal storage.

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 1st, 2021: Fortunate Son, the Army Flat Top Edition

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

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 1st, 2021: Fortunate Son, the Army Flat Top Edition

Photo by SP4 Ingimar DeRidder, 69th Sig Bn, via U.S. Army CMH files.

Here we see USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVN-1), a 14,000-ton floating aircraft maintenance depot, anchored in Cam Ranh Bay, 12 November 66. Note at least three Army UH-1 Hueys on her deck. The Veteran WWII-era Curtiss-class seaplane tender, disarmed and manned by civilian mariners, was the closest thing the Army had to an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War.

The two Curtiss-class tenders, which include class leader USS Curtiss (AV-4) and her sistership USS Albemarle (AV-5) — the latter would become the above-shown Army flattop– were the first purpose-built seaplane tenders constructed for the Navy, with the previous vessels being repurposed minesweepers and destroyers. Ordered in 1938, they were laid down side-by-side at New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey, and were commissioned in November and December 1940.

USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) (Foreground) and sistership USS CURTISS (AV-4), fitting out at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. CURTISS departed Philadelphia on 2 January 1941 for shakedown, ALBEMARLE on 28 January. Both ships had been commissioned there in November/December 1940. USS TRIPPE (DD-403) and a sistership are at right; OLYMPIA (IX-40) is visible in the reserve basin at the top, along with an EAGLE boat. Note NEW JERSEY (BB-62) under construction in slipway at far left; two motor torpedo boats are visible just to the left of ALBEMARLE’s bow. NH 96539

USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) passing south yard, Sun shipyard, Chester, PA., c 1941. NH 57783

The newly-commissioned USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) on her shakedown cruise, anchored at Havana Harbor, Cuba, on 22 February 1941, “dressed” for Washington’s birthday. Note Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes on the flight deck, aft. NH 96538

Some 527-feet long (keep in mind destroyers of the age were in the 300~ foot range), they had a very wide 69-foot beam and drew over three fathoms under their hull when fully loaded. Packed with four high-pressure boilers that pushed a pair of geared turbines, they could make a respectable 19.7 knots, which was faster than most auxiliaries of the era, and steam for 12,000 miles at 12 knots– enough to halfway around the globe. Equipped with CXAM-1 radars from the time they joined the fleet, at a time when many of the world’s best cruisers and battleships didn’t have such luxury gear, they were well-armed with four 5″/38 singles and an array of Bofors and Oerlikons.

One of Albemarle’s four 5″/38 DP mounts, note the 40mm Bofors tub in the distance. By the end of WWII, they would carry 20 40mm and 12 20mm guns for self-defense against enemy aircraft, more than most destroyers. Not bad for a “tender”

But of course, their main purpose was to support a couple squadrons of patrol bombers such as PBY Catalina or PBM Mariner flying boats, with a large seaplane deck over the stern and extensive maintenance shops in the superstructure forward.

A U.S. Navy Martin PBM-1 Mariner of Patrol Squadron 55 (VP-55) is hoisted on board the seaplane tender USS Albemarle (AV-5), in 1941. Note the Neutrality Patrol paint scheme on the aircraft and the sailors manning the handling lines. U.S. Navy National Naval Aviation Museum photo NNAM.1986.014.022

The third (and last) such U.S. Navy ship named Albemarle— after the sound in North Carolina, a traditional naming structure for seaplane tenders– she commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 20 December 1940, CDR Henry Maston Mullinnix in command.

Graduating first in the USNA Class of 1916, Mullinnix was a destroyerman until he switched to Naval Aviation in the 1920s. Leaving Albemarle in early 1941 to be the skipper of Patrol Wing Seven, he would go on to command the carrier Saratoga in the Pacific before making RADM. He was killed aboard USS Liscombe Bay (CVE-56) as Task Force Commander off Makin Island on 24 November 1943 when the escort carrier was sent to the bottom by Japanese submarine I-175.

With the Americans and British becoming increasingly cooperative despite U.S. neutrality, Albemarle was dispatched soon after her shakedown to patrol Greenland and the western Atlantic, arriving 18 May 1941 with the PBYs of patrol squadron VP-52 at Argentia, Newfoundland. It should be noted that, just two days later, the Royal Navy was bird-dogging the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen across the North Atlantic. Soon, VP-71, VP-72, and VP-73 would join the tender.

Little Placentia Harbor, Argentia, Newfoundland. USS Albemarle (AV-5), with an AVD alongside, in the harbor, circa 1941. Note PBY Catalinas in the foreground. NARA 80-G-7448

Greenland Expedition by USS Albemarle (AV 5) May-September 1941. East Coast of Greenland with PBY Catalina making observations, May 25, 1941. The PBYs performed long reconnaissance missions to provide data for convoy protection. Caption: Greenland – A Mysterious Land of Mountain and Ice. Majestic fjords indent the coast serrated by rocky buttes some of which are precipitous cliffs attaining elevations of two to three thousand feet. 80-CF-73186-6 Box 126.

Her crew earned the American Defense Service Medal for the ship’s peacetime actions in the Atlantic, 23 Jun 41 – 22 Jul 41, 15 Aug 41 – 1 Nov 41.

She was one of the unsung Brotherhood of the F.B.I. “The Forgotten Bastards of Iceland,” and survived a strong (hurricane-force) storm there in January 1942.

WAR!

After a refit on the East Coast, she would spend most of the rest of 1942 and the first half of 1943 running around much warmer climes, delivering aeronautical material and men to naval air bases in the Caribbean and the Pacific coast of South America, as well as in the northern South Atlantic.

OS2U Kingfishers aboard USS Albemarle AV-5, 14 May 1942

Her relatively fast speed enabled her to keep ahead of U-boats and she, ironically, would carry back captured German submariners from sunken boats– killed by patrol bombers– to POW camps in the U.S.

Crossing the Line Neptunus Rex Party onboard USS Albemarle (AV 5). September 28, 1942. NARA 80-G-22195, 80-G-221182, 80-G-22193

USS ALBEMARLE (AV-5) underway in the Atlantic, with a PBY Catalina on her seaplane deck, 30 December 1943. 80-G-450247

Her role as a high-speed aviation transport continued with convoys to North Africa in 1943, delivering 29 dive bombers on one such trip.

U.S. Navy seaplane tender USS Albemarle (AV-5) underway in the Atlantic Ocean on 10 August 1944. She is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 5Ax. The photo was taken by a blimp of squadron ZP-11. 10 August 1944. Note her heavy armament for an aviation support ship. 80-G-244856

Same as above. Note the array of emergency brake-away rafts. She carried a 1,000+ man complement and often carried 200 or more transients. 80-G-453347

Post War Mushroom Collecting

In May 1945, just after VE-Day, she was detailed to begin carrying flying boat squadrons from the Atlantic Theatre to the U.S. for transfer to the Pacific Theatre, which was still active. Likewise, our broadly-traveled seaplane tender was planned to receive extra AAA mounts and gear in preparation for her own transfer Westward to take part in the final push to Tokyo. Her sistership, Curtiss, had a much more active war in the Pacific, being in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and going on to earn seven battlestars supporting island-hopping operations.

However, VJ-Day halted things and, when Albemarle finally arrived at Pearl Harbor in November 1945, it was to join the “Magic Carpet” fleet returning American veterans home from the Pacific. This would include carrying the entire 658th Tank Destroyer/Amphibian Tractor Battalion back from the Philippines, landing them at San Francisco on 13 January 1946.

She went on to support Operation Crossroads Atomic tests, moored in Kwajalein lagoon during the Able and Baker drops at Bikini Atoll, and otherwise taking part in staging for and follow up from those mushrooms from May to August.

After a brief East Coast stint, she was back in the Pacific with Joint Task Force Switchman, arriving at Eniwetok in March 1948 to serve as a floating lab ship for the triple nuclear tests during Operation Sandstone– “X-Ray” with an experimental 37 kt A-bomb made from a 2:1 mix of oralloy and plutonium. (15 April 1948), the 49 kt oralloy “Yoke” (1 May 1948) and 18 kt oralloy “Zebra” (15 May 1948) bombs.

Swapped back to the East Coast after the conclusion of the tests, she was attached to the New York Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet, decommissioned on 14 August 1950 and berthed at Brooklyn where she rested for six years. Meanwhile, sistership Curtiss, who had operated helicopters in Korea, was decommissioned on 24 September 1957 and would only leave mothballs again in 1972 when she was scrapped.

Seamaster

Albemarle was recommissioned at Philadelphia on 21 October 1957 after a 20-month conversion to be able to operate the planned Martin P6M Seamaster jet-equipped flying boats. Intended to be a nuclear deterrent, the Seamaster program was one of the Navy’s top priorities.

Martin P6M Seamaster. Just 12 of these strategic bombers in the guise of high-speed mine-laying flying boats were made. They could carry a 70-kt B28 nuke to a combat radius of 700 miles.

However, as Seamaster never reached the fleet, Albemarle ended up spending the next three years quietly tending more traditional Martin P5M Marlin flying boats off and on while participating in operations with the Atlantic Fleet. As Seamaster was canceled– it turned out the Polaris FBM submarines were a better idea– she was placed out of commission, in reserve, on 21 October 1960 before being laid up with the James River Fleet. Transferred to MARAD, Albemarle was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 September 1962 and likely would have been scrapped.

However, her special services were soon needed by someone else.

Vietnam War – Project Flat Top – USNS Corpus Christi Bay

On 7 August 1964, MARAD transferred ex-Albemarle back to the Navy and six months later she was transferred to the Navy’s Military Sea Transportation Service (which became today’s MSC in 1970), entered on the NVR as USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH-1). She was sent to the Charleston Naval Shipyard for an $11 million conversion to become a maintenance depot at sea for Army helicopters in Vietnam.

The idea was that, instead of shipping damaged helicopters back to the U.S. for refit, Corpus Christi Bay could, with her 32 on-board repair and fabrication shops, blueprints for every model helicopter in service, and cargo of 20,000 spare parts, could rework them. Meanwhile, her sister Curtiss, which had been laid up since 1957 and had been stricken in 1963, was robbed of everything useful to keep Albemarle/Corpus Christi Bay in shape.

USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH-1) In port, probably at the Charleston Naval Shipyard, South Carolina, in 1966. Photographed by Captain Vitaly V. Uzoff, U.S. Army. This ship was originally USS Albemarle (AV-5). Official U.S. Army Photograph, from the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Military Sealift Command collection. Catalog #: NH 99782

Delivered for sea trials in December 1965, on 11 January 1966 she was placed into service.

Dubbed an Aircraft Repair Ship, Helicopter as part of “Project Flat-Top,” Corpus Christi Bay lost her seaplane ramp, had her superstructure reconstructed to include a 50×150 ft. landing pad to accommodate just about any of the Army’s choppers. Damaged helos could be dropped via sling loads from CH-47s or CH-5s or barged out to the ship and lifted aboard by a pair of 20-ton cranes. All her remaining WWII weapons were removed. She picked up extensive air conditioning, a cobbler shop, barbershop, modern dining facilities, a dental clinic and medical center staffed by Army flight surgeons, and other amenities that the Navy’s flying boat aviators of 1940 could have only dreamed of.

The MSTS crew would be just 130~ civilian mariners and 308 green-uniformed helicopter techs of the Army’s specially-formed 1st Transportation Corps Battalion (Seaborne), which she picked up at Corpus Christi, Texas on 22 January.

 

As a lesson learned from the sinking of the former Bogue-class escort carrier-turned transport USNS Card (T-AKV-40) in 1964 by Viet Cong sappers, the MSTS made assorted security changes to vessels operating for extended periods in Vietnamese ports. This included helmets and flak vests for topside personnel, sandbags around the bridge, grenade screens secured on portholes, extra medkits and firefighting equipment kept at the ready, bilge and ballast pumps warmed up, and towing wires ready for a tow without assist from the ship’s crew. In addition to this, her Army techs maintained an extensive small arms locker to include several machine guns to replace damaged ones on gunships.

She had two Hueys assigned to her full-time for liaison work, Flattop 086 (68-16086), and Flattop 045 (69-15045).

Corpus Christi Bay operated out of Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam as a Floating Aircraft Maintenance Facility, or FAMF, arriving 2 April 1966, and would remain overseas until 19 December 1972, spending almost seven years overseas, rotating crews and Army maintainers out regularly.

USNS Corpus Christi Bay at dock during the Vietnam War era, TAMUCC collection

As a seaborne asset of the United States Army Material Command, she was designated a floating Helicopter Repair Depot. Ostensibly manned by civilian merchant mariners of the MSTS, she was still owned by the Navy but, for all intents and purposes, was an Army ship.

Army Veteran Peter Berlin remembers her fondly and in detail:

The Floating Aircraft Maintenance Facility was designed for use in contingency operations, initially for backup direct support and general support and provided a limited depot capability for the repair of aircraft components. It was equipped to manufacture small machine parts and also to repair items requiring extensive test equipment operating in a sterile environment such as avionics, instruments, carburetors, fuel controls, and hydraulic pumps. The mobility offered by the ship also contributed to the effectiveness of aircraft support since it could move from one deep water port to another as the density of aircraft units shifted with changing tactical situations. The guys aboard this FAMF could fix anything..

Ultimately determined by MSC to be “in excess of current and future requirements”. Corpus Christi Bay was taken out of service in 1973 and berthed in ready reserve status at Corpus Christi, Texas.

Corpus Christi Bay served six tours of duty in the Republic of Vietnam and earned four Meritorious Unit Commendations. Determined by MSC to be “in excess of current and future requirements,” she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 31 December 1974, just two weeks after she returned to Corpus Christi from overseas. On 17 July 1975, she was sold to Brownsville Steel and Salvage, Inc. for the princely sum of $387,777 and subsequently scrapped.

Epilogue

The Army is a good caretaker of the vessel’s relics, with a scale model, the ship’s bell, and other artifacts on honored display at the Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas, an important cradle of Army aviation maintenance. Former members of the ship’s crew meet at CCAD from time to time. 

The USS Albemarle bell, which stands at the entrance of the CCAD Headquarters along with other relics from her day as USNS Corpus Christi Bay.

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum this month unveiled a large scale model of Corpus Christi Bay, saluting her service.

A private Facebook group, the USNS Corpus Christi Bay Alliance, is out there for Vets to reconnect. 

Her Navy war history and logbooks are digitized in the National Archives while the Army has numerous films of her Vietnam “Project Flat-Top” days in the same repository. 

And, of course, you didn’t come all this way and not expect this:

Specs:

Jane’s 1946

Jane’s 1973

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

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Get Your BBQ on this weekend

I’ve heard of steel beach picnics, but maybe this is more of an aluminum beach event.

Official caption: “Cam Ranh Bay, Republic of Vietnam. Engineman Second Class D.W. Kirkpatrick barbecues some chicken (could be pizza) on a charcoal grill on the fantail of U.S. Navy Fast Coastal Patrol Craft (PCF 68) during a run on Cam Ranh Bay, July 1968.”

NARA Photo: 428-GX-K54697

Of the 193 PCFs fielded during the Vietnam era, two are preserved in the U.S., in a salute to the famed Brown Water Navy of that conflict. 

Also, a few Swift boats are still in operation, in Southeast Asia. 

 

 

You Don’t See a Semi-Auto DP-28 Everyday

While at the GDC warehouse last month, I had a chance to run across this bad boy.

Rick Smith’s Texas-based Smith Machine Group has been in the business of breathing life back into historical military guns for well over a decade and their DP series guns have long been one of their primary staples. Their complete DPM semi-automatic rifle is built using a surplus Polish kit with a new receiver, a new chrome-lined barrel, and their own fire-control group.

The semi-auto rifle was built off a Polish Circle 11 marked kit dated 1953 and is chambered in 7.62x54R. Firing from a closed bolt, it still has a gas piston operating system and uses an internal hammer.

While heavy, it has zero recoil when fired from the prone position and due to its 47-round pan magazine has a very low profile when compared to other magazine-fed semi-autos.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Warship Wednesday, April 28, 2021: Kan-do Kangaroo

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday to look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and 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, April 28, 2021: Kan-do Kangaroo

Official U.S. Navy Photographs NH 98383 and NH 98391, from the Naval History and Heritage Command collections. (Click to big up)

Here we see what a difference 19 years make! The brand-new Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Canberra (CA-70) underway in Boston harbor, 14 October 1943, clean and ready for WWII; compared to the Boston-class guided-missile cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2) underway at sea during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 28 October 1962.

When the early shitstorm of 1939 World War II broke out, the U.S. Navy, realized that in the likely coming involvement with Germany in said war– and that country’s huge new 18,000-ton, 8x8inch gunned, 4.1-inches of armor Hipper-class super cruisers– it was outclassed in the big assed heavy cruiser department. When you add to the fire the fact that the Japanese had left all of the Washington and London Naval treaties behind and were building giant Mogami-class vessels (15,000-tons, 3.9-inches of armor), the writing was on the wall.

That’s where the Baltimore class came in.

These 24 envisioned ships of the class looked like an Iowa-class battleship in miniature with three triple turrets, twin stacks, a high central bridge, and two masts– and they were (almost) as powerful. Sheathed in a hefty 6 inches of armor belt (and 3-inches of deck armor), they could take a beating if they had to. They were fast, capable of over 30-knots, which meant they could keep pace with the fast new battlewagons they looked so much like as well as the new fleet carriers that were on the drawing board as well.

While they were more heavily armored than Hipper and Mogami, they also had an extra 8-inch tube, mounting nine new model 8-inch/55 caliber guns whereas the German and Japanese only had 155mm guns (though the Mogamis later picked up 10×8-inchers). A larger suite of AAA guns that included a dozen 5 inch /38 caliber guns in twin mounts and 70+ 40mm and 20mm guns rounded this out.

In short, these ships were deadly to incoming aircraft, could close to the shore as long as there were at least 27 feet of seawater for them to float in and hammer coastal beaches and emplacements for amphibious landings, then take out any enemy surface combatant short of a modern battleship in a one-on-one fight.

Originally laid down on 3 September 1941 by Bethlehem Steel Corp of Quincy, Mass., as the third USS Pittsburgh, the subject of our tale was renamed USS Canberra on 16 October 1942 in honor of the Kent-class heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra (D33) of the Royal Australian Navy (while CA-72 would go on to be named Pittsburgh until stricken in 1973).

The move was to pay respect to the cruiser which– struck by two Japanese torpedoes and 20 8-inch salvos of gunfire while fighting alongside American ships and under the tactical command of RADM Richmond K. Turner– was lost at the Battle of Savo Island off the Solomon Islands two months prior and was the first time that a U.S. naval vessel was named for a foreign capital city.

The Australian Minister to Washington, Sir Owen Dixon, somberly presented the American ship with a special plaque to represent its RAN namesake (which had itself been the first to carry the name “Canberra”) and his handsome wife dutifully performed the christening ceremony in 1943.

USS Canberra commissioned on 14 October 1943, CPT Alexander R. Early (USNA 1914) in command. After completing her wartime shakedown in the Caribbean (90 percent of her crew had never been to sea and were fresh “off the farm”) and a yard period in Boston afterward, she was on the way to the Pacific.

USS Canberra (CA-70) underway, circa late 1943. NH 45505

USS Canberra (CA-70) underway in Boston harbor, Massachusetts, 14 October 1943. Note the ship’s two aircraft cranes, stern 40mm quad gun mount offset somewhat to port and arrangement of 8/55, 5/38, and 40mm guns aft and amidships. NH 98386

Her war got real when she escorted the carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) to plaster the Japanese stronghold at Eniwetok in February 1944 then proceeded to protect the amphibious landings there.

After a pollywog party while crossing into the South Pacific, she worked interchangeably with the legendary USS Enterprise (CV-6) and the newer Essex-class USS Lexington (CV-16) for attacks on the islands of Palau, Truk, and Yap as well as supporting the troop landings at Tanahmerah Bay on New Guinea. Then came more “softening up” raids on Marcus Island, Wake, Guam, and Iwo Jima.

During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, she was one of the units who used searchlights and star shells to guide American carrier air wings back to the fleet from the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.” Afterward, Canberra and her OS2N Kingfisher floatplanes performed extensive lifeguard duties for aircrews of ditched and lost planes, rescuing young aviators who had started the battle on squadrons from Yorktown, Lexington, Wasp, and Belleau Wood but ended it in life rafts.

Then came more work in the Carolines before shifting back to the PI, where she accompanied her carrier task force to Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Negros, and Bohol Islands.

USS Canberra (CA-70) operating with Task Force 38 in the Western Pacific, 10 October 1944, three days before she was torpedoed off Formosa. Her camouflage is Design 18a in the Measure 31-32-33 series. 80-G-284472

It was while on station roughly equidistant from Okinawa, Formosa, and Northern Luzon– within easy flight range of all three, on Friday the 13th, October 1944, her crew spied a late afternoon/early evening attack at approximately 1833 by a group of Japanese torpedo bombers. Although her AAA crews splashed three of the incoming planes, one was able to drop a fish that contacted our cruiser.

Damage chart from her torpedo strike. Much larger version here. 

Believed to be a Type 91, Mod. 3 torpedo, it hit below her armor belt at the engineering spaces and blew a jagged hole in her side, killing 23 men outright. Due to the location of the wound, a whopping 4,500 tons of water flooded her after fireroom and both engine rooms, leaving the cruiser dead in the water. (Read the extensive damage report, here)

Saved by heroic DC efforts, Canberra, along with the likewise torpedoed light cruiser USS Houston (CL-81), was towed to safety over the next several days under a CAP flown by the aircraft of the carriers Cabot and Cowpens. Nonetheless, during the initial retirement to Ulithi, the crippled cruisers were subjected to repeated Japanese air attacks, with Houston suffering another torpedo hit before it was over.

USS Canberra (CA-70) under tow toward Ulithi Atoll after she was torpedoed while operating off Okinawa. USS Houston (CL-81), also torpedoed and under tow, is in the right background. Canberra was hit amidships on 13 October 1944. Houston was torpedoed twice, amidships on 14 October and aft on 16 October. The tugs may be USS Munsee (ATF-107), which towed Canberra, and USS Pawnee (ATF-74). NH 98343

USS Canberra dry-dock ABSD-2 at Manus after the Japanese torpedo attack.

In the end, Canberra would remain under repair in forward bases then at Boston Naval Yard until after VJ Day. Ordered back to the post-war Pacific Fleet, a refreshed Canberra arrived at San Francisco on 9 January 1946 then was placed out of commission at Bremerton on 7 March 1947 and mothballed.

She earned seven battle stars for her WWII service. Captain Early, her wartime skipper, would earn a Naval Cross and retire as a rear admiral in 1949, a veteran of both world wars in big-gunned ships. 

USS Canberra (CA-70), a chart of the ship’s operations in the Pacific Ocean with the Fifth and Third Fleet, from 14 February to 19 November 1944. Drawn by Quartermaster J.L. Whitmeyer, USNR. NH 78680

The Missile Age

The Baltimore class cost Uncle Sam an estimated $39.3 million per hull in 1940s War Bond-backed dollars. It made sense in the 1950s to try and get some more use out of these all-gun cruisers in an increasingly Atomic world. With that, Canberra and her sister ship USS Boston (CA-69) were tapped in 1951 to become the U.S. Navy’s first guided-missile warships in fleet service, dubbed CAG-1 (Boston) and CAG-2, respectively.

The conversion radically changed the aft of the vessels, deleting their 143-ton No. 3 8-inch turret and after twin 5-inch DP mount. Also stripped off were all the 40mm and 20mm AAA guns, replaced by six (later reduced to four) of the new 3″/50 twin Mk. 22s. Also deleted were the seaplane provisions and accompanying hangar, catapults, and crane.

Aerial photographs of USS Canberra in 1943, top, and 1967, bottom. Note her helicopter platform, angled to the starboard to provide for boat storage space. Immediate CAG sistership Boston did not have such an arrangement.

The superstructure was modified with their twin funnel arrangement morphed into a single stack and their pole mast replaced with radar mast topped with a powerful air search radar.

Two giant Terrier missile systems–capable of firing two missiles every 30 seconds– were installed over the stern along with two giant AN/SPQ5 radar directors for them. Below deck, a massive rotating magazine/workroom, capable of holding 144 missiles, was created. Keep in mind that the VLS-equipped Ticonderoga-class cruisers of today only have 122 cells.

USS Canberra (CAG-2) fires a Terrier guided missile during First Fleet demonstrations for Secretary of the Navy Paul H. Nitze, off the U.S. West Coast in December 1963. KN-8743

USS Canberra fires a Terrier guided missile, February 1957. Photo NH 98398

Official period caption: “Super radars (AN/SPQ5) for guidance on terrier missiles installed onboard USS Canberra (CAG-2). The radars have massive, turret-like antennae and resemble giant searchlights. Developed for the U.S. Navy by the Sperry Gyroscope Company, the long-range, high-altitude missile guidance systems are a part of the U.S. Navy’s program directed toward the fleet with highly reliable missiles to combat supersonic jet aircraft. The super radar is giving an exceptionally high performance for tenacious stable guidance of supersonic missiles whether fired singly or in salvoes at individual or multiple enemy attackers. The systems combine many automatic radar functions in each unit and either system can control the missiles from a single launcher or battery, which fires the terrier missile or both radars can track different target groups simultaneously. It also includes flexible modes of scanning the air space many miles beyond the horizon, providing the advantage of early warning. Thus, individual targets can be selected from close flying groups and tracked with great distances while the missiles are launched and guided with extreme accuracy.” USN Photograph 670326 released May 3, 1957.

The two-stage missile weighed 1.5 tons and was 27 feet long over the booster but had a speed of Mach 3 and a range of over 17 miles. Besides the 218-pound warhead, it could carry a W45 tactical nuke in the 1KT range. Not bad for just a decade off WWII.

Terriers were huge!

Seen here aboard the USS Providence (CLG-6) in 1962.

The conversions cost $15 million per hull or about half their original cost. Canberra was re-commissioned on 15 June 1956 at Philadelphia and looked quite different from when she was last with the fleet.

USS CANBERRA (CAG-2) entering Hampton Roads, Virginia, 1950s. K-20598.

The Kangaroo opened her pouch for the brass as needed, hosting Ike for his 1957 Bermuda conference with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower with his Naval Aide, Captain Evan P. Aurand, USN, onboard a launch taking them to USS Canberra (CAG-2), 12 March 1957. NH 68550

USS Canberra CAG-2 carrying President Eisenhower on a trip to Bermuda – March 1957 LIFE Magazine – Hank Walker Photographer

President Dwight D. Eisenhower practicing his golf game, while onboard USS Canberra (CAG 2) en route to Bermuda for a conference, 14 March 1957. The driving target and protective netting have been rigged on the main deck, just to starboard the ship’s Number Two eight-inch gun turret. NH 68555.

After a mid-cruise in the Caribbean and an extended deployment to the Mediterranean, she served as the ceremonial flagship for the selection of the Unknown Serviceman of World War II and Korea in 1958.

USS Boston sailors render honors as the casket is transferred to USS Canberra prior to ceremonies on board Canberra to select the Unknown Serviceman of World War II. Virginia Capes on 26 May 1958. NH 54117

Hospitalman William R. Charette selects the Unknown Serviceman of World War II, during ceremonies on board USS Canberra, 26 May 1958

Then came another mid cruise, and stints in the Med, where she was often used as a flagship. A 1960 circumnavigation saw her visit her “home” in Australia for the first time and the next year she was on the line off Cuba, where she hosted RADM John W. Ailes, head of the blockade err quarantine task force.

A beautiful Kodachrome of USS Canberra (CAG-2) underway on 9 January 1961. KN-1526

Then came her second shooting war, and she did lots of shooting.

Southeast Asia

Off Vietnam in February 1965 screening carriers of TF77, Canberra became the first U.S. Navy vessel to relay an operational message via communication satellite via the Syncom 3 system and prototype Hughes Aircraft terminals to reach the Naval Communications Station in Honolulu, 4,000 miles away. She followed it up with a confirmed xmit to USS Midway (CVA-43), which at the time was some 6,000 miles away.

By March 1965, she shifted away from Yankee Station to take up a spot on the evolving gun line just off the coast of Vietnam during Operation Market Time. This included proving overwatch for air raids into the country and Sea Dragon naval gunfire support, a mission the Navy had thought for sure was dead.

As noted by DANFS, “While supporting these operations Canberra carried out six fire support missions making her the first U.S. Navy cruiser to use her guns in warfare since the Korean War.”

In this role, the old WWII bruiser and others of her kind and vintage found steady employment. Between February 1965 and December 1968, Canberra shipped out for Vietnam’s littoral waters on five deployments, with her guns heavily in demand.

Off the coast of North Vietnam, the eight-inch guns of the USS CANBERRA (CAG-2) frame the “Terrier” missile launchers of the USS LONG BEACH (CGN-9). Photographed by Chief Journalist R.D. Moeser, USN. USN 1121640

USS Canberra (CAG-2) Eight-inch guns of Turret # 2 firing, during a Vietnam War gunfire support mission, March 1967. Note the two outgoing projectiles in the upper right corner. Photographed by Chief Journalist R.D. Moeser, USN. USN 1142159

USS Canberra (CAG-2) crewmen sponge out an 8/55 gun of Turret # 2, following Vietnam War bombardment operations, March 1967. USN 1122618

USS Canberra (CAG-2): A ball of fire lights up USS Canberra (CAG-2) as a three-gun salvo is fired toward North Vietnamese targets, March 1967. Accession #: L45-42

The POW Savant

One of Canberra’s bluejackets had the misfortune of falling into the hands of the North Vietnamese through a freak accident and became a POW in the Hanoi Hilton.

Seaman Apprentice Douglas Hegdahl spent two years in a hell hole but was released earlier than a lot of other prisoners– as he wasn’t seen as being much of a threat and was one of the few conscripts in NVA hands–and carried irreplaceable intel back home. You see, as an EM in a prison camp full of 256 officers, he was given nearly free rein of the place and could interact with the other Americans. As such he (amazingly) memorized their names, capture dates, method of capture, and personal information despite feigning illiteracy during his captivity.

As described by Erenow:

Petty Officer Second Class Douglas Hegdahl was quiet and self-effacing. Unlike most American prisoners, who had been shot from the sky, he had been rescued from the sea. Serving aboard the USS Canberra, he had disobeyed orders and crept up on deck to watch a night bombardment. As he stepped past a five-inch gun, it discharged. He lost his footing and fell into the Gulf of Tonkin. The warship steamed away into the darkness.

Vietnamese fishermen picked him up and turned him over to the authorities, who thought him so clueless that his North Vietnamese guards called him “the incredibly stupid one.” But once released, he turned out to be a gold mine of information. To the tune of “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” he had memorized the names of more than two hundred prisoners. Thanks to him, scores of American families would find out for the first time that their sons and husbands and fathers were still alive. Within a few days of the press conference, Hanoi’s treatment of the prisoners began to improve— “a lot less brutality,” one captive remembered, “and larger bowls of rice.”

From Piloten im Pyjama, an East German propaganda film shot in the glorious Democratic Republic of Vietnam:

“Douglas Brent Hegdahl maintaining the cleanliness of the camp. Hegdahl is the only American draftee in custody in the DRV. The sailor fell overboard from a warship where he was serving as a draftee and was fished out of the water a short time later by Vietnamese fishermen. Now Hegdahl is sharing the life of the captured air pirates.”

The End

By July 1969, Canberra had been redesignated as an all-gun cruiser, picking up her old hull number (CA-70) and her Terrier missile systems and related equipment were removed. Although she was found to still be in good condition, she was instead pulled from service as part of a big pull down by the Navy to liquidate older vessels.

On 2 February 1970, Canberra was decommissioned at San Francisco, was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 31 July 1978, and sold for scrap two years later.

Epilogue

Doug Hegdahl is still alive, aged 74. He left the Navy in the 1970s after working as a SERE instructor, a job he had particular knowledge. 

One of the USS Canberra’s screws was saved and is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro.

Her ship’s bell was presented to the Government and Commonwealth of Australia the day before September 11th to mark the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty Alliance in a ceremony between President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. It is now on display at the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney, where Bush visited the bell in 2007.

White House photo by Tina Hager.

Further, in 2000, a plaque commemorating USS Canberra was installed at the Australian War Memorial.

She is also remembered in maritime art.

Painting of USS Canberra (CAG-2) departing San Diego Bay, in 1963 by artist Wayne Scarpaci titled Silvergate Departure

When it comes to such artwork, a 1928 watercolor of HMAS Canberra, which was presented to USS Canberra and carried aboard until she was decommissioned, is now in the custody of the NHHC. 

NH 86171-KN HMAS Canberra (Australian heavy cruiser, 1928) Watercolor by F. Elliott. This painting was received from USS Canberra (CA-70) in 1970.

A vibrant USS Canberra reunion association is set to have their meeting in Pittsburgh this year while the HMAS Canberra association remembers the service of their American cousins fondly.

While the Royal Australian Navy is currently on their third HMAS Canberra, a 28,000-ton LHD, the U.S. Navy is set to soon receive their second. PCS USS Canberra (LCS-30), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, recently took to the water of Mobile Bay and is set to commission in 2023. Her name was announced at a Feb. 2018 meeting between President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Specs:

 

(1946 Jane’s)

(As-built)
Displacement: 14,500 long tons (14,733 t) standard; 16,000 tons full load
Length: 673 ft. 5 in
Beam: 70 ft. 10 in
Height: 112 ft. 10 in (mast)
Draft: 26 ft. 10 in
Propulsion: 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, four GE geared steam turbines with four screws = 120,000 shp
Speed: 33 knots
Fuel: 2,500 tons
Complement: 61 officers and 1,085 sailors
Armor: Belt Armor: 6 in
Deck: 3 in
Turrets: 3–6 inches
Conning Tower: 8 in
Aircraft: 4 floatplanes (Kingfishers) 2 catapults, one crane over the stern, below deck hangar for two aircraft
Armament:
9 × 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Marks 12s (3 x 3)
12 × 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12s (6 x 2)
48 × 40 mm Bofors guns
28 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons

(As CAG)
Displacement: 17,500 full load
Length: 673 ft. 5 in
Beam: 70 ft. 10 in
Height: 112 ft. 10 in (mast)
Draft: 26 ft. 10 in
Propulsion: 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, four GE geared steam turbines with four screws = 120,000 shp
Speed: 33 knots
Fuel: 2,500 tons
Complement: 73 officers, 1,200 enlisted
Armor: Belt Armor: 6 in
Deck: 3 in
Turrets: 3–6 inches
Conning Tower: 8 in
Aircraft: Deck space for helicopter
Radar: SPS-43 forward, SPS-30 aft pole mast
Armament:
6 × 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Marks 12s (2 x 3)
10 × 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12 (2 x 2)
8 × 3″/50 (7.62 cm) Mark 22 AAAs (4 x 2)
2 x Terrier twin rail SAM launchers (144 missile magazine)

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Fairly Well Preserved Ammo for 50 Years in the Drink

Vietnamese media recently reported on a pile of vintage small arms ammo that was recovered from the mud of the Tiền River that looks like it just came from the factory. 

Local media showed members of the Vietnamese Army inspecting the ammo, reportedly illegally salvaged from the river near Thuong Phuoc on the Cambodian border and confiscated by Border Guards. It has been underwater for decades, purportedly in a deep-sixed PCF, perhaps one that was put there in 1975 by its ARVN crew during the final days of the regime. 

The fact that it was in fresh water and likely covered by a layer of mud surely helped but either way, you have to hand it to the quality of those green ammo cans, much of which likely dated to WWII anyway. 

“We won’t forget about Irregular Warfare, we promise”

The DOD last week made a big deal of putting out a 12-page summary of the “Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy.”

The IW Annex details that irregular warfare endures, even as the military pivots from two decades of counter-insurgency and nation (re)building to near-peer Great Power Competition, and that the Pentagon will keep IW skills sharp as “an enduring, economical contribution to America’s national security, and will remain an essential core competency of the U.S. Department of Defense.”

The paper goes on to detail that the American way of war in the past was to build COIN skills and asymmetric warfare assets when we needed it (see Seminole Wars, Plains Wars, Philippine pacification, Banana Wars, Vietnam, El Salvador/Nicaragua, Afghanistan, and Iraq), then put it aside and essentially throw away the manual when we didn’t need it on a daily basis any longer, requiring the military to start from scratch the next time. In each case, the lost muscle memory had to be regained with blood.

“In short, the IW Annex is a road map for deterrence and provides off-ramps for the U.S. in options short of kinetic warfare,” said a DOD official in firm language via a related press release.

No, really guys, we mean it this time

Sgt. Maj. Raymond Hendrick (left), Asymmetric Warfare Group Adviser, explains specifics of the blast radius of the man-portable line charge system during a training exercise just outside of Forward Operating Base Zangabad, Afghanistan, Oct. 20, 2013. (U.S Army photo by Cpl. Alex Flynn)

And in pure DOD logic, the word also surfaced last week that the Army will be disbanding both the Asymmetric Warfare Group and the Rapid Equipping Force as it transitions from counterinsurgency operations to better concentrate on “multi-domain and large-scale combat operations.”

AWG, for those following along at home, was founded in 2006 to help the Army gain an edge in low-key COIN and hearts-and-minds type operations through learning lessons that could be applied quickly to simultaneously save Joes and ghost Tangos. Similarly, REF– formed in 2002 as the Desert Storm/38th Parallel-oriented Army was faced with a new war of movement against fast-moving groups of guys armed with nothing more advanced than AK47s, IEDs, and cell phones– was designed to get urgently needed capabilities such as UAV jammers and MRAPs into the field in 180 days or less.

Insert Benny Hill chase scene, here.

Happy Birthday, Snake, the hardest laboring gunship in the Free World

“Cobras At Night” Vietnam Era, by Robert T. Coleman, March 1968. Acrylic on board, 18″ x 24″ depicting AH-1 Cobra gunships working 2.75-inch rockets amongst the locals.

Cobras At Night Robert Coleman 1968 US Army CMH

U.S. Army Center of Military History

Robert T. Coleman attended college at the Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He volunteered for the draft and traveled to Vietnam as part of Combat Artist Team VI from February to March 1968. We have talked about the Vietnam Combat Artist program extensively in the past.

As for the Cobra, the Snake first flew 7 September 1965 and over 2,000 were built of all types through 2019 with single-engine versions still being flown in Bahrain, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey while the twin-engined Super Cobra endures with the U.S. Marines and will continue to do so for some time.

STRAIT OF HORMUZ (Aug. 12, 2019) An AH-1Z Viper helicopter attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) takes off during a strait transit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4).  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck/Released)

Not bad for a platform that dates back some 55 years.

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