Tag Archives: Vietnam

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.


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.



(1946 Jane’s)

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
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
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.

Blooper getting it done, 52 years ago today

“Bloop!: A Marine grenadier fires an M-79 round into a sniper’s position in Hue as 1st Marine Division Leathernecks advance toward the Citadel.” 22 February 1968

Official USMC photo by Lance Corporal R. J. Smith. From the Jonathan Abel Collection (COLL/3611), Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections.

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020: Hannah on the Beach

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

Warship Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020: Hannah on the Beach

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, Catalog #: 80-G-304721

Here we see a Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver scout/dive-bomber of VB-80 from USS Hancock (CV-19) flying over two battleships of the invasion fleet, 75 years ago today, during strikes on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945. The brand-new Essex-class fleet carrier was less than a year old but “Fighting Hannah,” as she was known by her crew, was well on her way to earning a long list of well-earned honors.

One of eighteen Essex-class carriers completed during World War II, CV-19 was the fourth U.S. Navy warship named after Founding Father John Hancock.

Besides being the famous inaugural signatory of the Declaration of Independence, Hancock is also a key father of the Marine Corps, having signed the commission of Samuel Nicholas, the Corp’s first officer and Commandant of Marines, inked on behalf of the Continental Congress 28 November 1775, some 18 days after the organization was founded.

The Massachusetts-native and first governor of the Commonwealth would have no doubt approved of the fact that the carrier with his name was built by Bethlehem Steel in Quincy, a city that was his own place of birth in 1737.

Laid down 26 January 1943, the 35,000-ton, 888-foot carrier, a “long-hull” version of the class, was launched 364 days later and commissioned 15 April 1944. In all, she was built in just under 15 months.

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) Launching at the Bethlehem Steel Co. Yard, Quincy, Massachusetts, 24 January 1944. NH 75626

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) In Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, on 15 April 1944. NH 91546

In June 1944, while in the Caribbean, she picked up Carrier Group Seven (CVG-7), composed of a “Sunday Punch” of 36 F6F Hellcats of VF-7, 36 SB2C Helldivers of VB-7, and 18 TBF Avengers of VT-7, which would remain her airwing for the rest of the year.

After shakedown, Hancock joined Halsey’s 3d Fleet at Ulithi on 5 October and was raiding Okinawan and Formosan airfields a week later before shifting to lend a hand in the huge operation that was the liberation of the Philippines.

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) SB2C-3 Helldiver of VB-7 flies below the overcast along the Eastern Coast of Formosa, en route to attack shipping at Kurin Ko, the principal North Coast Port, 13 October 1944. Note the twin gun pod under the plane’s wing, and nickname “Satan’s Angel” by its cockpit. At this time, Hancock’s airwing used an upside-down horseshoe for its tail code. 80-G-281326

Covering Army operations in the PI, she became the flagship of Fast Carrier Task Force 38, 17 November 1944 when VADM “Slim” McCain came on board.

Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. Commander task force 38, in his quarters aboard USS HANCOCK (CV-19). 80-G-294462

Surviving a “severe typhoon 17 December and rode out the storm in waves which broke over her flight deck, some 55 feet above her waterline,” Slim would take Hannah and a collection of her sister ships on an epic voyage through the South China Sea that we have talked about previously. This included sinking numerous Japanese tankers and transports and, along with her sisters, the Katori-class light cruiser Kashii.

Japanese Convoy of tankers and transports hit and left burning by carrier-based planes of task force 38, 15 miles south of Cam Ranh Bay, taken by planes from USS HANCOCK (CV-19), 12 January 1945 80-G-300706

Japanese Cruiser KASHII sinking off the coast of French Indochina after attack by SB2Cs from carriers of task force 38. The ship is in a large convoy of tankers and transports hard-hit in the action, 12 January 1945. Taken by a plane from USS HANCOCK (CV-19) 80-G-300683

By mid-February, Hannah had turned North and was raiding airfields near Tokyo with her CVG-80 air group reportedly downing 83 enemy planes in two days.

Then came Iwo Jima where her aircraft plastered the Japanese naval bases at Chichi Jima and Haha Jima on 19 February.

As noted by DANFS: “These raids were conducted to isolate Iwo Jima from air and sea support when Marines hit the beaches of that island to begin one of the most ‘bloody and fierce campaigns of the war. Hancock took station off this island to provide tactical support through 22 February, hitting enemy airfields and strafing Japanese troops ashore.”

USS HANCOCK -CV-19 and USS WASP CV-18 At Ulithi Anchorage, circa Mid-March 1945. Photographed from USS WEST VIRGINIA #: 80-G-K-3814

Then came more raids on Japan proper and support of the invasion of Okinawa, with CVG-6 aboard. There, she encountered the Divine Wind.

“A suicide plane cartwheeled across her flight deck on 7 April and crashed into a group of planes while its bomb hit the port catapult to cause a tremendous explosion. Although 62 men were killed and 71 wounded, heroic efforts doused the fires within half an hour enabling her to be ‘back in action before an hour had passed.”

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) afire after being hit by a kamikaze attack off Okinawa, 7 April 1945. Note fires burning fore and aft, and TBM Avenger flying over the carrier. Photographed from USS PASADENA (CL-65). 80-G-344876

Casualties are buried at sea on 9 April 1945. They were killed when Hancock was hit by a Kamikaze while operating off Okinawa on 7 April. 80-G-328574

Steaming back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, Hancock was back off Japan running airstrikes by 10 July.

A striking photograph shot by an aircraft off USS Hancock (CV 19) captures an attack against the Japanese battleship Ise. A flight deck is visible on the aft part of the ship reflecting her conversion to a hybrid aircraft carrier. 7/28/1945

Although “Fighting Hanna” did not enter Tokyo Bay until 10 September, her planes flew overhead during the formal surrender on board the battleship Missouri. She earned four battle stars in her short but very busy wartime service.

With the war ending, Hancock, just 16 months old, became a means of transport for Magic Carpet trips, shuttling nearly 10,000 GIs, Marines, and Sailors around the Pacific through January 1946.

A peacetime baseball game on Hannah’s empty deck in 1946.

She then did the same for aircraft for another few months until she was inactivated in Seattle just before her 2nd birthday.

Decommissioned officially on 9 May 1947, Hancock rested at her moorings until the Korean War sparked her reactivation.

Towed to Puget Sound in December 1951, she was given a new strengthened flight deck and updated aircraft handling gear with the addition of blast deflectors to become, what DANFS says was the “first carrier of the United States Fleet with steam catapults capable of launching high-performance jets,” when she finished her Project SCB-27C (Two Seven-Charlie) conversion 15 Feb 1954. On top of this, she received a further SCB-125 update at San Francisco in 1956 which added an enclosed bow and an angled flight deck. Her British-built C11 steam cats were the most advanced in the world at the time.

With this, she was dubbed an attack carrier (CVA-19). After conversion, she was much different in topside profile, a carrier of the jet era. Gone were her myriad of twin 5-inch, quad 40mm guns, and Oerlikons as well as her number three centerline elevator, the latter replaced by one with a deck-edge type of greater capacity. Her primary AAA weapons were new twin radar-controlled 3-inch/50 Mk 22 guns capable of firing 50 rounds per minute. Her island had been reconstructed to fit and operate the more modern radar.

USS Hancock (CVA-19) underway at sea on 15 July 1957. She was then serving with the Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific. There are seven FJ Fury, ten F2H Banshee (two different models); two F7U Cutlass, fifteen AD Skyraider, and three AJ Savage aircraft on her flight deck. Note the corner 5-inch singles and twin Mk 22 3-inchers behind them. NH 97539

Uncle Milty and a new singer named Elvis, or something even held a show on Hancock, the pride of the Navy.

Hannah was even used as a testbed for launching early nuclear-capable Regulus cruise missiles from carriers. The big Vought-built turbojet-powered missile weighed nearly 7-tons and had a 22-foot wingspan. Carrying a W27 warhead– a development of the Mark 27 nuclear bomb for the A-3 Skywarrior and A-5 Vigilante with a 2-megaton yield– Regulus had a 500-nm range on a one-way trip.

The theory was that an unconverted straight-deck WWII Essex— the Navy had a few extras at the time– could be modified to carry 40 or 50 of these missiles in their hangar spaces and serve as a floating Regulus battery.

XSSM-8 Regulus, guided, taken aboard USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a tactical training mission at Naval Air Station, North Island, California, August 1, 1954. 80-G-648762

Being lifted on board 80-G-648764

Elevator and hangar trials on the missile’s railed launcher 80-G-648775


On deck. Note the JATO booster rockets on the side. 80-G-648792

Launched 17 October 80-G-648793

Then came a new war.

Color photo of USS Hancock (CVA-19) leaves Pearl Harbor on 19 February 1962 with CVG-21 aboard on a West Pac cruise. Photo via USS Hancock (CVA-19) 1963 cruise book available at Navysite.de

An epic photo of catapult crewmen positioning an A-4C Skyhawk for launch, 24 March 1965. The carrier was then operating in Southeast Asian waters. Photographed by PH1 Jean Cote and PHC Robert Moeser. This A-4C appears to be BuNo. 149508. Markings below the cockpit indicate that the plane’s assigned pilot was LCDR Olof M. Carlson. USN 1110178-B

Aerial view of USS Hancock (CVA-19) passing under the Golden Gate Bridge on April 17, 1963. Note her assorted wing of A-4s, E-1s, F-8s, and huge A-3s. 

In all, Hancock would complete nine deployments to Vietnam in a day under 11 years, eight with Carrier Air Wing 21 (CVG/CVW-21), and one with CVW-5, a wing typically associated with the much larger USS Midway. The deployments typically ran about eight and a half months, although some were longer.

*21 Oct 1964 – 29 May 1965
*10 Nov 1965 – 1 Aug 1966
*5 Jan 1967 – 22 Jul 1967 (CVW-5)
*18 Jul 1968 – 3 Mar 1969
*2 Aug 1969 – 15 Apr 1970
*22 Oct 1970 – 3 Jun 1971
*7 Jan 1972 – 3 Oct 1972
*8 May 1973 – 8 Jan 1974
*18 Mar – 20 Oct 1975

Hancock’s wings in this period typically consisted of two squadrons of F-8 Crusader “gunfighters,” three attack squadrons of A-4E/F Skyhawks, and dets of RF-8 photo birds, EKA-3B electric Whales, E-1B Stoofs with a roof, and SH-3 helicopters. On her first three deployments, Hannah carried a squadron of A-1 Skyraiders and a det of A-3Bs Skywarriors in place of an A-4 squadron.

A well-worn A-1A Skyraider “Spad” of VA-215, “The Barn Owls,” is brought up to the Hancock’s catapult, while operating off the coast of Vietnam, 6 May 1966. Photographed by Photographer’s Mate Third Class Worthington, USN 1120337

When it came to going air-to-air with the Vietnam People’s Air Force, Crusaders from Hancock earned that dubious distinction first when they tangled with MiG-17s on 3 April 1965.

Via the NNAM: An F-8J Crusader of Fighter Squadron (VF) 211 pictured over the Gulf of Tonkin as it returns to the carrier Hancock (CVA 19) following a combat air patrol. Note the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the fuselage mount. During the Vietnam War, VF-211 was known to return to their carrier with AIM-9s missing from their arsenal given the fact that the squadron was credited with shooting down seven enemy MiG-17 fighters in air-to-air combat. Now designated VFA-211, the Fighting Checkmates celebrate their 75th birthday this year, having been established as Bombing Squadron (VB) 74 in 1945.

The shadow of a U.S. Navy RF-8A Crusader photograph recon plane passes near a burning Communist Vietnamese PT boat after it was blasted by U.S. Seventh Fleet aircraft from aircraft carriers USS Midway (CV 41) and USS Hancock (CV 19). This was one of the five PT boats destroyed by U.S. Navy aircraft on April 28, 1965. The boats were spotted in the Song Giang River near the Quang Khe Naval Base (located some 50 miles north of the 17th Parallel) despite heavy camouflage. A total of 58 Navy aircraft (28 strike and 30 support types) took part in the day-long attack. All were recovered safely. USN 711478

VA-55 A-4Fs on the deck of USS Hancock (CV-19) in an undated photograph UA 462.31

Aerial view of the attack aircraft carrier, USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) while operating in the South China Sea, 15 June 1966. Chief Photographer J.M. McClure, photographer USN 1118793

How many jets can you cram on a WWII carrier? USS Hancock (CVA-19) with Carrier Air Wing 21, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, August 2, 1969, bound for Westpac and her fifth Vietnam cruise

Color photo of A-4F Skyhawks being launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a strike in Vietnam in 1969. The A-4F on the starboard catapult was assigned to Attack Squadron VA-55 War Horses, the one on the port catapult to VA-164 Ghost Riders. Navy photograph from the 1969-70 cruise book.

An F-8 Crusader Fighter Aircraft arrives for a recovery onboard the attack aircraft carrier USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) 13 March 1971 while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin. K-88448

She celebrated 25 years with the fleet.

USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) In San Francisco Bay, California, upon her return from her 1968-1969 deployment to the Western Pacific, 3 March 1969. Crewmen in the formation of “44-69” on the flight deck signify 25 years of service. Photograph by Photographer’s Mate Second Class Winfield S. Frazeur. USN 1141660

Then she celebrated 30 years with the fleet.

USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) With men of VA-55 and crew members in the formation of “44-74” in honor of the ship’s thirty years of service. The photo was taken on 3 January 1974 by PH1 Cook. NH 84727

She would earn 13 Vietnam battle stars along with five Navy Unit Commendations and was present for the endgame in April 1975 when Saigon fell.

Landing her CVW-21 airwing for a final time, she took aboard five Marine helicopter squadrons and flew a mix of 25 CH-46s, UH-1s, AH-1 Cobras, and CH-53s into South Vietnam for Operation Frequent Wind, evacuating American and allied civilians and personnel.

Hancock launched the first helicopter wave of TF76 at 1244 on 29 April. Two hours later, the Marine aircraft landed at the U.S. Defense Attaché Office compound in Saigon.

Refugees from South Vietnam debark U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters of HMH-463 on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CV-19/LPH-19?) during Operation Frequent Wind, before the fall of Saigon. 29 April 1975. Photo by Arthur Ritchie via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/19.htm

In all, Hannah would recover 2,500 souls during the operation and famously ditch several empty South Vietnamese military helicopters over the side to make room for more.

USS Hancock returned from her final West Pac cruise on 20 October 1975 when she sailed under the Golden Gate on her own steam.

In all, Hannah had 26 commanding officers, most of which went on to wear stars. She had fought her way across the South China Sea in WWII from Indochina to Tokyo, launched wonky experimental cruise missiles from her deck, hosted the Pelvis before he was cool, flexed her muscle for Uncle in the Taiwan and Laos crises of the 1950s, and both opened and closed Yankee Station. In the end, perhaps no carrier spent more time in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict than USS Hancock. 

On 12 December 1975, CVW-21, a veteran of eight of Hancock’s Vietnam cruises (and one on sister ship USS Bon Homme Richard), was disestablished and has not been seen since.

On 30 January 1976, Hancock herself was decommissioned and sold for scrap before the end of the year. By the end of 1977, she had been scrapped in Southern California. A veterans’ association is alive and well to keep her memory alive. 

Her bell is on display in front of the ComNavLant Office Building in Norfolk, VA

She is also commemorated both in her WWII configuration and in SCB-125 conversion format in scale models by Trumpeter, Dragon, and others.

Of her sisters, the wooden-decked Hancock outlived all in the fleet except the training carrier USS Lexington and 1950s latecomer USS Oriskany. Even with that, the newer (and steel-decked!) Oriskany was laid up just eight months after Hannah. Today, four Essex-class flattops survive as museums in various states of repair: Yorktown, in South Carolina; Intrepid, in New York City; Hornet, in California; and Lexington in Texas. Please visit them.

There has not been a fifth USS Hancock but confusingly the Navy christened USS John Hancock (DD-981), a Spruance-class destroyer, at Pascagoula in 1977. After solid service, that greyhound was decommissioned at age 20 while still young and disposed of by dismantling– but that is another story.


USS HANCOCK (CV-19) photographed in 1944 while wearing camouflage pattern 32/3a. The photo is superimposed over a cutaway drawing of the forward hull of a typical “ESSEX” class carrier of that time. Catalog #: 80-G-334743

(As built, via Navypedia)
Displacement: 27,100 tons standard
Length: 888 feet overall
Beam: 93 feet waterline
Draft: 28 feet 7 inches, light
8 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp
Speed: 32.7 knots
Range: 14,100 nmi at 20 knots
Complement: 2,631 officers and enlisted crew. 3448 total with aircrew and Marine det.
Sensors: SK-2, SC-2, (1 – 2)x SG, SM, 2x Mk 12/22 radars
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
4 × twin Mk 32 5 inch/38 caliber guns around the island
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts, two on each corner
8 × quadruple Mk 1/2 Bofors 40 mm guns
46 × single Mk 4 Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
91–103 aircraft
Displacement: 41,200 tons fully loaded
Length: 910 feet overall
Beam: 147′ 6″ feet deck
Draft: 35 feet
8 × boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp
Speed: 28ish knots
Complement: 3050 plus aircrew and Marines
Sensors: SPS-12, SPS-8, SPS-10, 4x Mk 25, 4x Mk 35 radars, SLR-2 ECM suite
(Updated in the 1960s to SPS-30, SPS-37, SPN-10 radars, WLR-1, ULQ-6 ECM suites)
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts
11 × twin 73″/50 Mk 33 RF AA guns
70-80 aircraft

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!

Jolly Rogers and tigerstripes

AP Wire Photo: 4 August 1964

Dig the M1 carbines and tiger stripe camo. Hallmarks of the mid-1960s Mike Force units.

Official caption:

Skull and Crossbones on the Cambodian border. Two leaders of a special South Vietnamese government platoon, identified by the Skull and Crossbones kerchief they wear, lead [a] group along a canal that marks the Cambodian border in the Plain of Reeds west of Saigon. The special outfit undertakes terrorist actions against the Viet Cong villages.

Both the Vietnamese Rangers (Biệt Động Quân) and Special Forces (Lực Lượng Đặc Biệt) used tigerstripe as did the “Sea Tigers” of Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps (TQLC) and Green Beret-organized CIDG units.

Of the latter, Mike (Mobile Strike) Force units, recruited from Hmong, Nung, and Montagnard peoples, often used Jolly Rogers in their locally-made insignia and “M.F.” patches.

Australian SAS belt kit, as worn in Vietnam by Don Barnaby, F Troop, 2 Sqn SASR

Description via AWM:

A composite webbing set, consisting of standard US pattern waist belt, metal buckle and ‘H’ harness suspender. The suspender has been modified with the addition of five nylon webbing M79 40 mm grenade pouches, cut from a US Air Force survival vest, which are attached vertically down each front suspender strap. A blackened round brass press button secures each grenade pouch cover.

Worn at the back of the belt is a large Australian 1937 Pattern basic canvas pouch and a British 1944 Pattern water bottle and carrier. In place of the standard Australian issue basic pouches at the front are twin US Special Forces M16 5.56 mm magazine pouches and two compass pouches, one containing insect repellent.

Attached to the 1937 Pattern pouch is another compass pouch, containing another insect repellent container and inside the pouch is a field dressing. The webbing set has been hand camouflaged by adding random blotches of green and black paint. A US issue plastic M6 bayonet scabbard is also attached.

Photograph from the Australian War Memorial, and is their property and copyright. They have a great collection of his gear on hand.

2 SQN, SASR packing list 1971,from “Vietnam ANZACs” Kevin Lyles, Osprey Publishing, 2004:

Equipment carried by each patrol member:

Weapon and ammunition, to include at least two XM148/203 and two L1A1 SLR per patrol

Compass & Map
Emergency/survival pack
Shell dressing (FFD)
Emergency smoke containers x 2
Water containers

The following to be carried on the belt or in pockets, not in pack:

UHF radio (secured by cord)
Individual sheath knife
Shell dressings (FFD)
Ammunition (except Claymores)
Smoke grenades

Ammunition, minimum scales per man (weapon dependent)
7.62mm 160 rounds
5.56mm 200 round
40mm HE & Canister x 10
40mm purple smoke x 2
M34/M67 x 1

Grenades (per patrol)
Red Smoke x 5
Yellow smoke x 5

Australian SAS captain Peter Shilston as Mike Force company commander–note the WWII-style BAR belt used for 20 round M16 mags and tiger camo

Navy completes Vietnam War book series

USS Saint Paul bombarding communist positions off Vietnam, Oct 1966

With the publication last week of End of the Saga: The Maritime Evacuation of South Vietnam and Cambodia, the Naval History and Heritage Command has announced the completion of its nine-year, nine-book series titled The U.S. Navy and the Vietnam War.

All books in the U.S. Navy and the Vietnam War series are available online for free download as 508-compliant PDF files, MOBI versions for Kindle devices, and the ePub for most other readers. Readers can download their free copy and enjoy them on the go. If you want a hard copy, you can purchase one from the Government Printing Office (GPO).

The series traces its roots to the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, which directed the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

The titles in the series include (with pdf hyperlinks in the titles):

1.) The Approaching Storm: Conflict in Asia, 1945-1965

2.) Nixon’s Trident: Naval Power in Southeast Asia, 1968-1972

3.) The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War

4.) Navy Medicine in Vietnam: Passage to Freedom to the Fall of Saigon

5.) Combat at Close Quarters: Warfare on the Rivers and Canals of Vietnam

6.) Naval Air War: The Rolling Thunder Campaign

7.) Knowing the Enemy: Naval Intelligence in Southeast Asia

8.) Fourth Arm of Defense: Sealift and Maritime Logistics in the Vietnam War

9.) End of the Saga: The Maritime Evacuation of South Vietnam and Cambodia

Enjoy, and get to reading.


Know anybody with some Oerlikon parts gathering dust?

They basically need everything you see above in gray…

I recently talked to Clark Perks, development director at the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial and he has an 888-foot battlewagon full of armament that includes nine massive 16-inch and 12 5-inch guns, but what they are missing is a complete 20mm Oerlikon cannon.

They have the gun itself, they just need the mount and shield and can work to fab one from an original if they could work out the loan…

More in my column at Guns.com

P.S. They just got their 40mm quad mount restored– and it even fires.

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