Tag Archives: vintage warships

Warship Wednesday, April 21, 2021: Let’s Vote on It

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, April 21, 2021: Let’s Vote on It

Library and Archives Canada 4951041

Here we see a beautiful original color photo of the Improved Fiji-class (alternatively described as Colony-class, Mauritius-class, or Ceylon-class) cruiser HMCS Quebec (31) in Copenhagen, Denmark, on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, 21 April 1954– some 67 years ago today. She battled the Germans, Italians, and Japanese withstood the divine wind and “Fritz X” only to have her reputation mired in undeserved controversy.

A borderline “treaty” cruiser of interwar design, the Fijis amounted to a class that was one short of a dozen with an 8,500-ton standard displacement. In WWII service, this would balloon to a very top-heavy weight of over 11,000. Some 15 percent of the standard displacement was armor. As described by Richard Worth, in his Fleets of World War II, the design was much better off than the previous Leander-class cruisers, and essentially “the Admiralty resolved to squeeze a Town [the immediately preceding 9,100-ton light cruiser class] into 8,000-tons.”

With a fine transom stern, they were able to achieve over 32 knots on a plant that included four Admiralty 3-drum boilers driving four Parsons steam turbines, their main armament amounted to nine 6″/50 (15.2 cm) BL Mark XXIII guns in three triple Mark XXI mountings in the case of our cruiser and her two immediate full sisters (HMS Ceylon and HMS Newfoundland).

The standard Fiji/Colony-class cruiser had four Mark XXI turrets, as shown in the top layout, while the “Improved Fijis/Ceylon-variants of the class mounted three, as in the bottom layout. Not originally designed to carry torpedo tubes, two triple sets were quickly added, along with more AAA guns, once the treaty gloves came off. (Jane’s 1946)

Ordered from Vickers-Armstrong’s, Walker in March 1939, just six months before Hitler sent his legions into Poland, Quebec, our subject vessel was originally named HMS Uganda (66) after that African protectorate. A war baby, she commissioned 3 January 1943.

HMS Uganda sliding down the slipway at the Walker Naval Yard, 7 August 1941. Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM ref. DS.VA/9/PH/12/17).

HMS UGANDA, MAURITIUS CLASS CRUISER. JANUARY 1943, SCAPA FLOW. (A 22963) Broadside view. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155098

After workups and interception patrols on the lookout for German blockade runners, in May she escorted the RMS Queen Mary (with Churchill aboard) across the Atlantic for a meeting with President Roosevelt at what later became known to history as the Washington Conference.

Transferred to the Mediterranean for service with the 15th Cruiser Squadron, she helped escort convoy WS31/KMF17 on the way before arriving in Malta with Admiral Cunningham aboard on 4 July. Then came the Husky landings in Sicily, where she was very busy covering the landings of the British 1st Airborne Division near Syracuse, rescuing 36 survivors from the hospital ship Talamba, and delivering naval gunfire support.

Cruisers HMS Orion and HMS Uganda on patrol with Mount Etna towering in the distance, some 40 miles away. Taken from HMS Nubian, 12th July 1943. The ships had bombarded Augusta the previous day.

A pom-pom crew of HMCS Uganda examining Kodak pictures. Note the “tropical kit” to include sun helmets and shorts. NAC, PA 140833

Then came the Avalanche landings at Salerno in September, where she provided NGFS for the British X Corps. Four days after reaching the beachhead, she was hit by a 3,000-pound German Fritz X precision-guided, armor-piercing bomb at 1440 on 13 September. Passing through seven decks and through her keel, it exploded under her hull, crippling but not quite killing the ship. When the smoke cleared, amazingly just 16 men of Uganda’s complement were dead.

The damage was very similar, albeit much less costly in lives, to the hit that the same-sized treaty cruiser USS Savannah (CL-42) suffered off Salerno two days prior. In the Fritz attack on that Brooklyn-class light cruiser, the early smart bomb hit the top of the ship’s number three 6/47-gun turret and penetrated deep into her hull before its 710-pound amatol warhead exploded. The damage was crippling, blowing out the bottom of the ship’s hull, immediately flooding her magazines– which may have ironically saved the ship as it prevented them from detonating– and killed 197 of her crew. In all, she would spend eight months being rebuilt.

As for Uganda, she was moved to Charleston Naval Shipyard in South Carolina for extensive repairs– just in time to become the most capable warship in another navy.

Oh, Canada!

By 1944, the Royal Canadian Navy could rightfully claim to be about the third strongest in the world when it came to warship tonnage. However, it was almost all in small escorts such as sloops, corvettes, frigates, and destroyers as well as armed yachts, trawlers, and torpedo boats. The RCN did have three armed merchant cruisers– the “Prince” class Canadian National Steamships passenger liners, which, at 6,000 tons, carried a dozen 6-, 4- and 3-inch guns, as well as depth charges and assorted Bofors/Oerlikons– but Ottawa had no proper cruisers on its naval list.

To rectify this, the brand-new light cruiser HMS Minotaur (53), transferred to Royal Canadian Navy in July 1944, and became HMCS Ontario (C53), although she did not finish working up in time to contribute much to the war effort. She was soon joined by Uganda, who kept her name when she was recommissioned 21 October 1944– Trafalgar Day– but replaced HMS with HMCS.

Uganda’s new crew, drawn from throughout the Canadian fleet, was assembled in 80-man teams and shipped out on a range of British 6-inch cruisers to train on their vessel while it was being repaired. These included a team that, while on HMS Sheffield, braved the Murmansk run and the Boxing Day 1943 fight against Scharnhorst. Curiously, and a bone of contention with the crew, she carried an RN duster rather than a Canadian ensign.

The Canadian cruiser would be commanded by Capt. Edmond Rollo Mainguy, who had previously served on several large RN warships including the battleship HMS Barham in the Great War.

Dispatched for service with the British Pacific Fleet, which was preparing for the final push against Japan, she stopped in the UK for sensor upgrades on the way, swapping Type 284 and 272 radars for newer Type 274 for fire control and Types 277 and 293 for surface warning and height finding. Nonetheless, the choice of the ship for tropical service, as it at the time lacked both onboard exhaust fans for air circulation and a water distillation plant capable of supporting the crew, was questionable. Belowdecks, when not on duty, many men simply wore “a towel and a pair of shoes.”

Regardless, she was a beautiful ship and her crew, most of whom were Battle of the Atlantic vets, were ready to fight.

A great shot of HMCS Uganda with a bone in her teeth. H.F. Pullen Nova Scotia Archives 1984-573 Box 1 F/24

British light cruiser HMS UGANDA underway. 14 October 1944. IWM FL 17797

HMS UGANDA, BRITISH CRUISER. 1944, AT SEA. (A 27728) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205159166

HMCS Uganda in 1945 while in the British Pacific Fleet. IWM ABS 698

She joined the BPF on 9 March, arriving that day in Sydney via the Suez and the Indian Ocean. Joining British TF 57 as part of the U.S. 5th Fleet, Uganda soon became a close escort for the fleet’s carriers, particularly HMS Formidable and HMS Indomitable. This included fighting off kamikaze raids, delivering NGFS, and acting as a lifeguard for downed aviators as the fleet pushed past Formosa, through the Philippines, and on to Okinawa.

Task Force 57 at anchor, HMS Formidable (foreground) and HMS Indomitable w 4th Cruiser Squadron- (L to R) Gambia, Uganda, and Euryalus-San Pedro Bay, Leyte April 1945

Japanese aircraft attacking H.M.C.S. UGANDA. Ryukyu Islands, Japan, 4 April 1945. LAC 3191649

Bombardment by H.M.C.S. UGANDA of Sukuma Airfield on Miyoko Jima, 4 May 1945, the ship’s QF 4 in (102 mm) Mark XVI guns in action. LAC 3191651

Decks of HMCS Uganda after her bombardment of the Sakishima Island airstrip of Sukama, south of Okinawa, 12 May 1945, with her 6-inch guns swamped with powder tubes. The ship in the distance is her Kiwi-flagged sistership, HMNZS Gambia (48). (Photo: CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum, VR2014.1.1)

Ratings sleep amidst 4-inch shells on HMCS Uganda, 1945 (Photo: CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum, VR2014.1.26)

HMCS UGANDA and HMS FORMIDABLE, the latter burning after a Kamikaze airstrike, May 9, 1945, Royal Canadian Naval photograph. (CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum /Photo Catalogue VR2014. 1.24 from the museum collection.)

Life aboard the ship continued to decline for the crew. Compounding the uncomfortable heat aboard– which led to rounds of tropical bacteria, viruses, and fungus infections among the crew– the BPF had logistical issues trying to supply its ships. This led to mechanical issues as spare parts were not available and poor food.

As noted by Bill Rawling’s A Lonely Ambassador: HMCS Uganda and the War in the Pacific, a 25-page article in The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du nord, VIII, No. 1 (January 1998), 39-63, one firsthand report of the time detailed:

In the tropics everything multiplied — of a crew of 900, two men were detailed for spraying cockroach powder through the mess decks to at least try to control them. It was not out of the ordinary to be munching on your de-hydrated peas and carrots to feel a sharp “crunch.” That was another roach being broken up. Flour deteriorated into a life form — a tiny worm with a white body and a little black head. It would be found in the bread which was baked aboard ship. At first, we would pick the worms out, but as we were told, and came to realize, they would not hurt us, we just ate them with the bread and called it our meat ration for the day.

This set the stage for what became known as the “Uganda Episode.”

As explained by the Naval and Marine Museum at CFB Esquimalt:

Prime Minister Mackenzie King announced on 4 April 1945 that the Canadian Government no longer intended to deploy personnel, other than volunteers, to the Pacific Theatre. The “Volunteers Only” policy, as it was called, required that all naval personnel specifically re-volunteer for service in the Pacific Theatre before they would be dispatched to participate in hostilities.

On the eve of the vote, in which it seemed many of Uganda’s crew were on the fence about going home, Capt. Mainguy reportedly gave a tone-deaf speech that went as high as a lead balloon with one crew member’s recalling that he, “Called us four flushers and quitters. Those who were in doubt soon made up their minds at a statement like that.”

The June 22 crew vote found that 556 of Uganda’s men preferred to head home, while just 344 re-volunteered to stay in the Pacific despite the daunting risk of kamikaze attack and a war that, at the time, was expected to drag out at least another year. With the prospect of swapping out so many of the cruiser’s complement while still deployed a non-starter, the plan was to send her back to Esquimalt, update her for continued service, and sail back to the war with a reformed crew in time to join Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyūshū which was slated for November.

Relieved on station by the British cruiser HMS Argonaut on 27 July, ironically the Japanese signaled they were ready to quit the war just two weeks later, making the Uganda vote– which left a bitter pill with the RN– almost a moot subject. Uganda arrived at Esquimalt on 10 August, the day the Japanese officially threw in the towel.

While labels of mutiny and cowardice were unjustly lobbed at her crew by historians, her skipper would go on to become a Vice Admiral.

Better years

Postwar, Uganda would spend the next two years in a training role.

Cruiser HMCS Uganda photographed on 31 November 1945.

A color shot of HMCS-Uganda (C66) as seen from the Canadian aircraft carrier HMCS Warrior circa 1946, note the Fairey Firefly and Maple Leaf insignias. LAC-MIKAN-No 4821077

Transferred to the reserves in August 1947, her slumber was brief.

Recommissioned as a result of the Korean War on 14 January 1952 as HMCS Quebec (C31), she soon sailed for Halifax to continue her service, notably under a Canadian flag and with belowdecks habitability improvements.

Guard of Honor and Band at the recommissioning of H.M.C.S. QUEBEC, Esquimalt, British Columbia, 14 January 1952 LAC 3524549

For the next four years, she was a global traveler, heavily involved in NATO exercises.

HMCS QUEBEC coming alongside for a ship-to-ship transfer receiving supplies from HMCS Magnificent, during  Exercise Mainbrace in 1952. LAC 4951392

A closer view, from HMCS Magnificent. Note the carrier’s 40mm mount and the folded wing of a fighter, likely a Hawker Sea Fury judging from the pair of wing-root 20mm cannons. LAC 4951382

H.M.C.S. QUEBEC heeling in rough seas during exercises. 18 Sept 1952 LAC 3524551

HMCS Quebec (C-31) leads HMCS Magnificent (CVL-21), HMAS Sydney (R-17), and multiple destroyers as they return from the Queen’s coronation, July 1953

Sperry radar scan of Gaspé Bay anchorage, HMCS Quebec 12 July 1953 LAC 3206158

HMCS QUEBEC Parading the White Ensign in Rio-South America cruise, 1954. Note the Enfield rifles, with the rating to the right complete with a chromed bayonet. Also, note the local boy to the left giving a salute to the RCN duster. LAC 4950735

Port broadside view of H.M.C.S. QUEBEC after having been freshly painted by ships’ company, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 29 June 1955 LAC 3524552

She also became the first Canadian naval ship to circumnavigate Africa, during her 1955 cruise. In 1946, she had claimed the first such Canadian warship to “Round the Horn” of South America.  

King Neptune and the pollywogs! Original color photo of HMCS QUEBEC’s crossing the line equator ceremony during her fall cruise to South America, 1956. LAC 4950734

HMCS Quebec (C-31) and USS Newport News (CA-148) at Villefranche.

With all-gun cruisers that required a 900-man crew increasingly obsolete in the Atomic era, Quebec was paid off 13 June 1956 and laid up in Nova Scotia. Four years later, she was sold for her value in scrap metal to a Japanese concern.

She is remembered in period maritime art, specifically in a piece by official war artist Harold Beament, who was on the RCNVR list and later president of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

HMCS Uganda in Drydock, Esquimalt, during a post-war refit. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-1030

Today, the RCN remembers Quebec fondly. Narrated by R.H. Thomson, the script in the below tribute video is based on a memoir by LCDR Roland Leduc, RCN (Ret’d) who served on the post-war cruiser. 

An exceptional veterans’ site is also online, with numerous photos and remembrances. 

For a great deep dive into HMS Uganda, especially her 1945 service, check out Bill Rawling’s A Lonely Ambassador: HMCS Uganda and the War in the Pacific, a 25-page article in The Northern Mariner/Le Marin du Nord, VIII, No. 1 (January 1998), 39-63.

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Sailing on Hermes for the Falklands

Timely now due to the fact that, as this is written, the famous old WWII-era HMS Hermes (95) is being slowly cut to pieces in the shallows of Alang, is the below video that was just posted online.

This great 24-minute color film story, from the AP Archives, was filed 21 May 1982 as the British Operation Corporate Task Force was heading to liberate the Falklands.

It starts out with some interesting shots of the force as a whole as it pulled out of Portsmouth, then soon switches to life on the Hermes. The film crew goes from her flight deck where Harriers are buzzing around working up with some live-fire exercises while underway, to the hangar deck and down to engineering, talking to assorted ratings including a 16-year-old snipe who is bummed that his planned 10-day libo was canceled to go fight the Argies.

One interesting part, at the 17:17 mark, shows Hermes training a 100 man group, drawn from the crew, as an internal security force, equipped with SLRs and other small arms. The thought at the time, from the officer over the training, was that the volunteers could be utilized as a landing force ashore if needed, ready to guard ammo dumps, prisoner control, etc. Even with the prospect of possible ground combat on the horizon, three times the amount of tars needed for the force volunteered. To put that into perspective, keep in mind that the light carrier only had a 500– 2,100-man crew.

Ohio CRRCs

The Navy has recently released a sizzle reel and some additional images of the exercise earlier this month of Force Recon Marines and their combat rubber raiding craft (CRRCs) on the converted boomer USS Ohio (SSGN 726) off Okinawa. 

(U.S. Marine Corps photos by Sgt. Audrey M. C. Rampton)

Notably, there are some rare detailed shots of Ohio’s lockout chamber, converted Trident SLBM tubes, being used to store the CRRCs and their outboards.

 

The Titanic and Lusitania of the Baltic

From the Royal Navy:

While on operations in the Baltic, HMS Echo mapped two shipwrecks from the Second World War. Using her specialized multibeam echo sounder, the ship was able to show the destruction caused to German ships Wilhelm Gustloff and Goya.

HMS Echo (H87), a 3,700-ton multi-role hydrographic survey ship commissioned in 2003.

Goya was a 5,000-ton Norwegian freighter, sent to the bottom by Soviet submarine L-3, taking “over 6,000” souls to the bottom with her

The 25,000-ton German liner Wilhelm Gustloff, sunk by Soviet submarine S-13, took over 9,400 people to a watery grave, the worst maritime disaster in history

The ships were used in Operation Hannibal – a mass seaborne evacuation of German civilians and soldiers from East Prussia in 1945 during an effort to escape the onrushing Soviet Red Army. Around 16,000 lives were lost when Wilhelm Gustloff and Goya sunk after being hit by Russian torpedoes.

Sub-Marine ops, Back In style

The Marines have been rubber boating around, a skill they are used to as each Battalion Landing Team for years has typically included a designated “Boat Company,” trained to run about on 15-foot Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC, or “Crick”).

What is interesting about this is that they recently did so in conjunction with a converted boomer in the Philippine Sea, embarking on some expeditionary training. The standard Dry Deck Shelters used by the Navy’s submarines are each able to carry an SDV minisub for use by SEALs– or four CRRCs, enough to carry a platoon-size Marine maritime raid force.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Feb. 2, 2021) The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Ohio (SSGN 726), deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, rendezvous with a combat rubber raiding craft, attached to U.S. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance Company, III Marine Expedition Force (MEF), for an integration exercise off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. The exercise was part of ongoing III MEF-U.S. 7th Fleet efforts to provide flexible, forward-postured, and quick response-options to regional commanders. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Audrey M. C. Rampton)

“This training demonstrates the ability of Force Reconnaissance Marines in III MEF to operate with strategic U.S. Navy assets,” said III MEF Force Reconnaissance Company Commanding Officer Maj. Daniel Romans. “As the stand-in force in the first island chain, it is critical that Force Reconnaissance Marines are capable of being employed across a myriad of U.S. Navy platforms in order to enhance the lethality of the fleet in the littoral environment. Reconnaissance Marines have a proud history of working with submarines and we look forward to sustaining these relationships in the future.”

It is not a dramatically new concept.

On 17 August 1942, just nine months after Pearl Harbor, 211 Marines of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion embarked aboard the submarines USS Argonaut and Nautilus crept ashore at Makin Island and did what the Raiders were meant to do– hit hard in the most unexpected area they could find and jack up a small Japanese garrison.

Then of course, throughout the 1950s and 60s, Marines on submarines were a regular sight…

Reconnaissance scouts of the 1st Provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force load into a rubber boat from Greenfish, a submarine of the Pacific fleet as they leave on a night mission against “enemy” installations on the island of Maui. The training afforded the Marines of the Task Force, which is based at the Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, is the most versatile offered to Marines anywhere October 7, 1954. Note the classic WWII “duck hunter” camo which had by 1954 been out of use for almost a decade except for special operations units. (Sgt D.E. Reyher DEFENSE DEPT PHOTO (MARINE CORPS) A290040.)

Well, that’s a wrap for Hermes

Laid down at Vickers late during WWII, the Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) languished on the builder’s ways and was only completed post-Suez, joining the Royal Navy in 1959. Converted to a “commando carrier” then made a default Harrier carrier, she spearheaded the British operation to liberate the Falklands in 1982– an operation that probably could not be pulled off without the aging flattop.

Moving to India, she continued to serve as the INS Viraat (R22) for another 31 years, only retiring in 2017 after 58 years of service, making her arguably the longest-serving carrier in naval history. For reference, USS Enterprise (CVN-65) “only” served 56 years and the smaller USS Lexington (CV-16), the famed Blue Ghost, served 48. Similarly, HMS/HMAS Vengeance/NAeL Minas Gerais tied Enterprise at 56– although it was under three different flags– before she was towed off to the shipbreaking yards at Alang.

Speaking of Alang, the final effort to save Hermes/Viraat is disbanding, as it has been confirmed the dismantling of the old girl there is too far advanced to try to make a go of it.

She deserved better.

The Sad Irony Surrounding a Submarine

Here we see the former Imperial Japanese Navy’s Type B3 “cruiser submarine” I-58 at the American-occupied Sasebo Naval Arsenal, Japan, 28 January 1946, some 75 years ago today.

U.S. Marine Corps Photograph. NHHC USMC 139990

A large boat by WWII standards, some 357-feet overall, I-58 was completed 7 September 1944. Besides her six torpedo tubes and 19 Type 95 torpedos, she could also accommodate as many as four Kaiten human-torpedoes on her deck.

Under the command of LCDR Mochitsura Hashimoto throughout her career, she took part in the unsuccessful attack on Guam in January 1945 as well as Operation Ten-Go off Okinawa, which was also unsuccessful. As a hat trick in failed missions, two of her Kaiten tried to make a run on the 6,214-ton cargo ship Wild Hunter, escorted by the Sumner-class destroyer USS Lowry (DD-770) north of Palau on 28 July, without luck.

Then, to Hashimoto’s great surprise, late on the night of 29 July he came upon the unescorted heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35). The mighty ship, identified at the time by I-58’s nav officer as an Idaho-class battleship– whose profile it did resemble– was not zigzagging and only steaming at 12 knots. What Hashimoto of course did not know was that it had just dropped off the key components of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs to the B-29 base carved out of windswept Tinian Island.

Firing all six tubes at the Indy, a lucky ship that had hosted FDR on peacetime cruises, at least two hit, and the cruiser sank just after midnight on 30 July. While I-58 would make a number of further attacks on other American vessels before the end of the conflict, Indianapolis was her only success.

Surrendered and disarmed after VJ Day, on April Fool’s Day 1946, I-58, long stripped of all usable equipment and material, was towed from Sasebo to an area off the Gotō Islands by the submarine tender USS Nereus and scuttled in 660 feet of water.

As for Hashimoto, he had already controversially testified at the December 1945 trial of Charles B. McVay III, the commanding officer of Indianapolis, saying that zigzagging would have made no difference in his attack on the cruiser– a key charge in the case against McVay.

The son of a Shinto priest, the former submarine commander and Imperial Japanese Naval Academy graduate would himself become a priest as well. Ironically, most of his family had been killed in the A-bomb drop over Hiroshima.

In a 1990 trip to Pearl Harbor to attend a December 7th commemoration, he told a survivor of the Indianapolis that, “I came here to pray with you for your shipmates whose deaths I caused,” and spent the rest of his life involved in the effort to clear McVay’s name.

Hashimoto died in 2000, aged 91, only a week before McVay’s posthumous exoneration.

Warship Wednesday (on a Monday), Dec. 7, 2020: Battle Tug Edition

Here at LSOZI, we 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 (on a Monday), Dec. 7, 2020: Battle Tug Edition

Photographed by Vernon M. Haden, San Pedro California. Donation of Ted Stone, 1977. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 85837

Here we see, resplendent with her peacetime fancy hull number and with her #1 3″/50 mount trained rakishly to port and #2 mount to starboard, the “Old Bird” Lapwing-class minesweeper USS Vireo (Minesweeper No. 52) with assembled officers, crew, and mascot, circa winter 1934. Don’t let this seeming refugee from a TinTin comic fool you, Vireo always seemed to be there when it counted, even when she couldn’t always tip the scales when needed.

Inspired by large seagoing New England fishing trawlers, the Lapwings were 187-foot ships that were large enough, at 965-tons full, to make it across the Atlantic on their own (though with a blisteringly slow speed of just 14 knots).

They could also use a sail rig to poke along at low speed with no engines, a useful trait for working in a minefield.

Lapwing-class sister USS Falcon AM-28 in Pensacola Bay 1924 with the Atlantic submarine fleet. Note her rig

Not intended to do much more than clear mines, they were given a couple 3″/23 pop guns to discourage small enemy surface combatants intent to keep minesweepers from clearing said mines. The class leader, Lapwing, designated Auxiliary Minesweeper #1 (AM-1), was laid down at Todd in New York in October 1917 and another 53 soon followed. While five were canceled in November 1918, the other 48 were eventually finished– even if they came to the war a little late.

Speaking of which, our subject, the first on the Navy List named for the small green migratory bird, was laid down on 20 November 1918 by the Philadelphia Navy Yard and commissioned on 16 October 1919, with Navy Cross-recipient, LT Ernest Robert Piercey, USN, in command– the first of her 21 skippers across an unbroken span.

USS Vireo (AM-52) Anchored in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, January 1920. NH 43603

Vireo would spend a decade on the East Coast performing the typical routine duties of a peacetime minesweeper– pulling targets; transporting men, mail, and materiel; repairing buoys and beacons; and operating with the fleet on annual maneuvers.

This was broken up by towing several former German warships to sea off the Virginia capes in the summer of 1921, where they were sunk by Army aircraft in attempts by Billy Mitchell to prove that capital ships were vulnerable to attack from the air– an ironic footnote to her story that you will get later.

Phosphorus Bomb Test 1921 Sinking of the Cruiser Frankfurt and SMS Ostfriesland

Phosphorus Bomb Test, 1921 Sinking of the Cruiser Frankfurt and SMS Ostfriesland

It was about that time that the Navy figured out these economical little boats with their shallow draft (they could float in ten feet of seawater) could be used for any number of side jobs and started re-purposing them.

Six of the “Old Birds” were reclassified as salvage ships (ARSs) while another half-dozen became submarine rescue ships (ASRs). The Coast Guard picked up USS Redwing for use as a cutter during Prohibition while the U.S. Coast & Geographic Survey acquired USS Osprey and USS Flamingo and the Shipping Board accepted USS Peacock as a tug.

USS Vireo (AM-52) In the harbor, March 1922. USS Rail (AM-26) is in the left background. NH 50207

A few were retained as minesweepers in the reserve fleet, some used as depot ships/net layers, one converted to a gunboat, another to an ocean-going tug, three were sunk during peacetime service (USS Cardinal struck a reef off Dutch Harbor in 1923 while USS Curlew did the same off Panama in 1926 and USS Sanderling went down in 1937 by accident in Hawaii) while nine– including past Warship Wednesday alumni Avocet and Heron included– became seaplane tenders.

As for Vireo, she was one of the few who was never sidelined. Tasked to support the Puerto Rican – Nicaraguan Aerial Survey, serving as an ersatz seaplane tender to three Loening amphibian airplanes, in early 1931 then detailed transferred to the Pacific Fleet, she remained busy her entire career.

Group photograph of the officers and the sailors of the Puerto Rican-Nicaraguan Aerial Survey group in front of Vireo, 24 January 1931 in their whites. Note the officers with their swords, and chiefs in double-breasted jackets. She has the traditional U.S. aviation roundel on her bow, typical of seaplane tenders in this era, but does not have her twin 3-inch guns mounted which are in the photo at the top of this post. National Archives photo 80-G-466337

USS Vireo Docked in San Juan, 6 February 1931, a better view of her seaplane tender markings

USS Vireo (AM-52) in a West Coast port, 1932. Note she has dropped the tender premise and is back to being a sweeper now, with her big hull number back. NH 50320

In 1940, with the fleet’s general shift from California to Hawaii as part of the decay of relations with the Empire of Japan, Vireo moved to Pearl Harbor and was involved in the pre-war buildup on Palmyra and Johnston Island.

The Day that would live in Infamy

On 7 December 1941, Vireo along with three sisterships, Rail (AM-26), Bobolink (AM-20), and Turkey (AM-13) were tied up at the coal docks at Pearl Harbor in upkeep status. Three other sisters converted as seaplane tenders and submarine rescue ships, Avocet (AVP-4), Swan (AVP-7) and Widgeon (ASR-1) were at the submarine rail. Meanwhile, a seventh sister, Grebe (AM-43), was in overhaul.

From the ship’s action report, signed by skipper LCDR Frederick Joseph Ilsemann, about that Infamous Day 79 years ago, in which Vireo claimed at least one of the 29 Japanese aircraft swatted down during the attack:

About 0800 an explosion was heard. This was investigated. Immediately planes bearing the Japanese insignia was seen. General Quarters was immediately sounded and at about 0815 a second group of enemy planes flew over toward Hickam Field. This vessel immediately opened fire and expended 22 rounds of 3″ A.A. ammunition.

About 0830 this vessel brought down one enemy plane flying forward of the bow, toward seaward, over Hickam Field, from left to right. The bursts of #2 A.A. gun of this vessel were definitely spotted in the path of this plane and the plane was seen to land in the vicinity of Hickam Field. 400 rounds of .30 caliber Machine Gun ammunition was expended. Battery consists of 2-30 caliber machine guns, and 2-3″/50 A.A. guns.

There was no damage to this vessel nor loss of life. At 0830 there was one personnel casualty to the radioman, PRICE, Aubrey Evan, RM2c, USN, on watch at the telephone on dock astern of this vessel. He received a shrapnel wound in jawbone and neck. This casualty was immediately transferred to the hospital at Pearl Harbor and returned to duty this date.

This vessel was immediately put into Condition ONE at General Quarters, engines put together and ship made ready for getting underway.

During the action, the conduct of all officers and the crew was commendable. Everyone did his job 100%. There was no hysteria but commendable coolness and control.

At 1348 this vessel received orders to get underway and to report to Commander Base Force at Ten-ten dock. This vessel was ordered to West Loch to bring u 5″, 3″, and .50 cal. ammunition for the U.S.S. California which was badly in need of ammunition. At 1455 while waiting for ammunition to arrive at the Ammunition Depot, West Loch, hauled an ammunition lighter loaded with 14″ powder away from Ammunition Depot dock, where it was a menace, and moored it alongside the old Navajo. Returned to Depot, picked up ammunition and delivered it to U.S.S. Argonne at 1730.

At 2100 moored alongside U.S.S. California and commenced salvage work.

View of USS California (BB-44), taken a day or two after the Japanese raid. USS Bobolink (AM-20), at left, USS Vireo (AM-52), and YW-10 are off the battleship’s stern, assisting with efforts to keep her afloat. The “birds” would stay at California’s side for three days. Morison noted in his book, “Although minesweepers Vireo and Bobolink closed the battleship and applied their pumps, and numerous ‘handy billies’ (portable gasoline-driven pumps) were obtained from other vessels, California slowly settled.” Collection of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, USN(Retired), 1975. NH 95569

Tragically, late that night Vireo was one of the ships that filled the skies over Pearl Harbor with ack-ack on the report of approaching unidentified aircraft.

At about 2110 anti-aircraft fire commenced and a plane was seen shot down and an aviator fell astern of this vessel. This vessel immediately rescued the aviator and identified him as an Enterprise aviator who had been shot down. A dispatch was immediately sent to assure control that planes in the air were Enterprise planes. The aviator was transferred to the U.S.S. California and then to the hospital.

Ensign Eric Allen, Jr., USN (1916-1941) USNA class of 1938. On 12 August 1940, the day after he reported to NAS Pensacola to commence his flight training. He had just come from a tour of duty in USS TRENTON (CL-11). Ultimately assigned to VF-6 in ENTERPRISE (CV-6). He was shot down by U.S. anti-aircraft fire on the night of 7 December 1941 at Pearl Harbor; picked up by USS VIREO (AM-52), he died at the Ford Island Dispensary soon thereafter. NH 96617

Over the next several months, Vireo supported the Pearl Harbor salvage effort whenever she was not off conducting minesweeping and patrol operations in the Greater Hawaii area, including runs to Johnston Island and the Port of Hilo.

Midway

With a huge naval clash on the horizon, on 28 May 1942, under secret orders, Vireo left Pearl at nine knots to escort the tanker Kaloli (AOG-13) to Midway Island. During the voyage, Vireo was reclassified as an ocean-going tug (AT-144) and would arrive at the atoll on 3 June, ordered to hold up off Hermes Reef and await orders.

The next day saw the pivotal stage of the battle there, with the Japanese losing four carriers in exchange for Yorktown (CV-5) which was left dead in the water. With the carrier ordered largely abandoned, Viero was called into action to take the stricken American flattop in tow, arriving at 1135 on 5 June and getting underway by 1308– at three knots, a 1,350-ton minesweeper hauling a crippled 30,000-ton leviathan. The next day, the destroyer Hammann (DD-412) came alongside Yorktown to help with the salvage task while five other tin cans provide a screening force.

That is when Japanese Type KD6 submarine I-168 came on the scene.

As noted by Combined Fleets:

I-168 arrives and sights the carrier and her screen. For seven hours, LCDR Tanabe Yahachi skillfully makes his approach, steering by chart and sound with only a few periscope sightings. Undetected, he penetrates the destroyer and cruiser screen. At 1331, from 1,900 yards, he fires two torpedoes at the overlapping formation, followed by two more three seconds later. The first torpedo hits HAMMANN, breaks her back and sinks her in about four minutes. As she goes down, her depth charges explode and kill 81 of her 241-strong crew. At 1332, the next two torpedoes strike YORKTOWN starboard below the bridge. The fourth torpedo misses and passes astern.

Battle of Midway, June 1942 Diorama by Norman Bel Geddes, depicting the explosion of depth charges from USS Hammann (DD-412) as she sank alongside USS Yorktown (CV-5) during the afternoon of 6 June 1942. Both ships were torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-168 while Hammann was assisting with the salvage of Yorktown. USS Vireo (AT-144) is shown at left, coming back to pick up survivors, as destroyers head off to search for the submarine. 80-G-701902

DANFS:

Vireo freed herself from the carrier by cutting the towing cable with an acetylene torch and then doubled back to commence rescue operations.

Up her sides clambered carriermen and destroyermen alike, while she maneuvered near the carrier’s canting stern to take on board members of the salvage party who had chosen to abandon the carrier from there. She then proceeded to secure alongside the wounded flattop in the exact spot where Hammann had met her doom. Yorktown rolled heavily, her heavy steel hide pounding the lighter former minecraft’s hull with a vengeance as the ships touched time and time again during the rescue operations. This mission completed, battered Vireo stood away from the sinking carrier, which sank shortly after dawn on the 7th.

Her rudder damaged by Hammann’s depth charge seaquake, Vireo ran aground on her way back to Midway harbor and after she made it back to Pearl under her own power, she was given a complete overhaul and drydocking.

USS Vireo (AT-144) At Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, following repairs from Battle of Midway and overhaul, 20 August 1942. Catalog #: 19-N-34748

James Claude Legg, Lieutenant USN ID photo taken circa 2 May 1942. Lieutenant Legg commanded USS VIREO (AT-144) during the Battle of Midway, earning a Navy Cross for his performance of duty in towing the damaged USS YORKTOWN (CV-5). From service record book in NMPRC, St. Louis, MO., 1984. Catalog #: NH 100171

As for I-168, the Japanese boat would never see the end of the war, presumed lost with all 97 hands in the area north of Rabaul after she is hit by four torpedoes from USS Scamp (SS-277) in 1943.

The Rest of the War

Overhauled and assigned to ComAmphibForSoPac, the now green-camouflaged painted Vireo set out for the Guadalcanal area on 12 October, to take part in resupply operations for the Marines of the Cactus Air Force at Henderson Field. The little convoy, consisting of the freighters Alchiba (AKA-23) and Bellatrix (AKA-20), was screened by the gunboat Jamestown (PG-55) along with the destroyers Meredith (DD-434) and Nicholas (DD-449), with the freighters and Jamestown each pulling “a barge carrying barrels of gasoline and quarter-ton bombs” without any air cover whatsoever at 10-knots.

I repeat, pulling “a barge carrying barrels of gasoline and quarter-ton bombs” without any air cover whatsoever at 10-knots.

On the 15th, the world’s most flammable convoy was warned that a Japanese carrier task force was headed its way and was ordered to turn around with Meredith and Vireo breaking off in one element with a fuel barge in an (expendable) effort to keep the Marines flying. They got close, within 75 miles of Guadalcanal, before they spotted Japanese scout planes.

The skipper of the destroyer, LCDR Harry Hubbard, feeling the slow minesweeper-turned-tug was a sitting duck, ordered the ship abandoned and, with the vessel’s fuel barge tied to it, was going to send her to the bottom so that she wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Japanese then beat feet. That’s when 38 aircraft (21 low-level bombers and torpedo planes, 8 dive bombers, and 9 fighters) from the carrier Zuikaku arrived on the scene and, concentrating on Meredith, sent her to the bottom with no less than 14 bombs and 7 torpedoes– enough ordnance to sink the Bismarck!

Remarkably, the abandoned Vireo, saved from one of Meredith’s torpedoes by none other than the Japanese, was still afloat.

From RADM Samuel J. Cox’s H-Gram 011:

However, Vireo was drifting away, and only one raft-load of Meredith and Vireo survivors reached the tug, where they were later rescued. The other rafts, filled with burned and mangled Sailors, became a preview of what would happen to Sailors on the USS Juneau (CL-52) and USS Indianapolis (CA-35) later in the war. As the rafts and wreckage drifted for three days and three nights, numerous Sailors died from wounds, exposure, salt-water ingestion (and resulting mental incapacity and hallucinations), and from particularly aggressive shark attacks. One shark even jumped into a raft and ripped a chuck from an already mortally wounded Sailor. There was not enough room on the rafts, so the less-injured Sailors treaded water, hanging on to the rafts, and had to fight off the sharks as best they could. Most of the injured, including burned and blinded Hubbard, perished in the rafts.

Finally, the destroyers USS Grayson (DD-435) and USS Gwin (DD-433) found 88 survivors of Meredith and Vireo adrift. (About another dozen had earlier been found on the Vireo.) However, 187 from Meredith and 50 from Vireo died in a desperate attempt to get fuel to the Marines on Guadalcanal.

Grayson recovered Vireo and the other barge and returned them to Espiritu Santo. During her return, the Vireo was manned by a salvage crew from the Grayson and survivors from Meredith and Vireo. The intact fuel barge, recovered by the tug Seminole, was delivered to Henderson Field under escort by Grayson and Gwinn, meaning the mission was ultimately somewhat successful if pyrrhic.

With a largely new crew, Vireo remained at the sharp end, coming to the assistance of the cruisers Pensacola (CA-24) and Minneapolis (CA-36) following damage they received at the Battle of Tassafaronga.

Near the USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) when that Gleaves-class destroyer was hit by three Japanese bombers in April 1943, Vireo came tried unsuccessfully to rescue the crushed tin can but had to break the tow when she dived to the bottom just short of Tulagi.

Nonetheless, Vireo continued in her role and came to the assistance of the Battle of Kula Gulf’s “cripples division,” the broken cruisers Honolulu (CL-48), St. Louis (CL-49), and HMNZS Leander, towing the bowless Honolulu in to Tulagi.

USS Honolulu (CL-48) in Tulagi Harbor, Solomon Islands, for temporary repair of damage received when she was torpedoed in the bow during the Battle of Kolombangara. USS Vireo (AT-144) is assisting the damaged cruiser. 80-G-259446 (More detail on the curious sign, penned by Captain Oliver O. “Scrappy” Kessing, USN, commander of the Tulagi Naval base, here)

Then came the support of the liberation of the Philippines, and other hairy stops on the island-hopping campaign to Tokyo (see= Okinawa, see= kamikazes).

VJ Day came with Vireo in the PI, as her war history notes:

The news of the cessation of hostilities between the Allies and the Japanese left everyone aboard just a little bit bewildered, anxious to get started home, and with rosy visions of the plastic post-war world. This missive leaves the Mighty V at Manila, the burned and ruined Pearl of the Orient, the Japs defeated, the Vireo still very very much afloat and still towing strong.

Jane’s 1946 entry on the three Old Birds still around which were classified at the time as tugs, Owl, Vireo, and Woodcock. They would soon be retired.

When the war came to an end, the old tug, surplus to the needs of the Navy, arrived at San Francisco on 5 February 1946 and reported to the Commandant, 12th Naval District, for disposition. That disposition was that she be declared surplus and disposed of, stricken 8 May and transferred to the Maritime Commission the next year. Her ultimate fate is unknown, but there is a report that she was headed to Latin America in early 1947, intended to be converted for service as a Panamanian-flagged lumber boat carrying hardwoods between Long Beach and Panama.

Epilogue

As for the rest of her class, other “Old Birds” served heroically in the war.

Pearl Harbor vet Avocet would spend most of the war in Alaskan waters, caring and feeding PBYs while fending off Japanese air attacks during the Aleutians Campaign. Heron received the Navy Unit Commendation for saving the damaged destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) in the Molucca Strait and repeatedly fighting off a horde of attacking Mavis seaplanes in the process. Six of the class– Tanager, Finch, Quail, Penguin, Bittern, and Pigeon, were lost in the Philippines invasion as part of the doomed Asiatic Fleet. Scuttled at Corregidor, a 36-foot whaleboat from Quail filled with 18 officers and men, but sailing with virtually no charts or navigational aids, transversed 2,060 miles of often Japanese-held ocean reaching Australia after 29 days. The Germans sank USS Partridge at Normandy and sent both Gannet and Redwing via torpedoes to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Most of the old birds remaining in U.S. service were scrapped in 1946-48 with the last on Uncle Sam’s list, Flamingo, sold for scrap in July 1953.

Some lived on as trawlers and one, USS Auk (AM-38) was sold to Venezuela in 1948, where she lasted until 1962 as the gunboat Felipe Larrazabal. After her decommissioning, she was not immediately scrapped and is still reported afloat but abandoned in a backwater channel. She is likely the last of the Lapwings.

Vireo’s name was recycled for a Bluebird-class minesweeper (MSC-205) which, commissioned at the naval station at Tacoma, Wash., on 7 June 1955. The little boat would see some hot action in Vietnamese waters during Operation Market Time, engaging in surface actions with North Vietnamese smuggling trawlers. She was decommissioned in 1975 and went on to serve the nation of Fiji as the Kuva for another decade.

USN 1131998 USS VIREO (MSC-205)

There has not been a Vireo on the Navy List since 1975, a shame. However, much of the ship’s WWII war diaries are available in digitized format in the National Archives

Corsair Armada released a scale model of this hard to kill old bird.

Specs:

Seagoing Minesweeper plan 1918 S-584-129

Displacement: 950 tons FL (1918) 1,350 tons (1936)
Length: 187 feet 10 inches
Beam: 35 feet 6 inches
Draft: 9 feet 9 in
Propulsion: Two Babcock and Wilcox header boilers, one 1,400shp Harlan and Hollingsworth, vertical triple-expansion steam engine, one shaft. (1942: Two Babcock and Wilcox header boilers, one 1,400shp Chester Shipbuilding 200psi saturated steam vertical triple expansion reciprocating engine.)
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph); 12~ by 1936. 14 again after 1942.
Range: 1,400 nm at 14 knots on 275 tons fuel oil
Complement: 78 Officers and Enlisted as completed; Up to 85 by 1936
Armament:
(1919)
2 × 3-inch/23 single mounts
(1928)
2 x 3″/50 DP single
2 x .30-06 Lewis guns
(1944)
2 x 3″/50 DP single
Several 20mm Oerlikons and M2 12.7mm mounts

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108 years ago today: 356 millimeters of BOOM

Here we see an early Watervliet-made 14-inch (356mm)/34 caliber M1907 “disappearing” seacoast gun of the U.S. Army Coastal Artillery at Fort Hancock’s Sandy Hook Proving Ground on the New Jersey coast, 27 November 1912.

Photo: George C. Bain Collection. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Official caption:

“The first coast defense gun of 14” bore has just been tested at Sandy Hook. 14” were also on U.S. Navy ships and the Army has been working for a long time to adapt that size of the weapon to the coast defense in Manila Harbor.”

The gun was lit off for the first time the same day.

“In the first test of the gun, six shots were fired in three minutes and forty-five seconds. The projectile fired weights 1660 pound and is 65 inches long. The only point at which the new gun has not the advantage is in the trajectory point at which is more curved and the speed of the shot which is somewhat less.”

Photo: George C. Bain Collection. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

With a range of 25,000 yards, a full dozen M1907s on disappearing carriages were deployed overseas, four in Hawaii and eight in the Panama Canal Zone.

By comparison, the best U.S. Naval guns afloat in 1912, the 12″/50 Mark 7s aboard the newly-built USS Wyoming (B-32) and USS Arkansas (BB-33), fired an 870-pound shell to a theoretical maximum of 24,000 yards, meaning that the Army could out-gun the Navy until at least the 14″/45 Mark 1 guns of the USS New York (B-34) brought parity in 1914. It was not until the Colorado-class battleships, with their 16″/45cal guns firing a 2,100-pound shell to 40,000 yards, that the sea service managed to turn the tables in 1921.

In the 1950s, all of the M1907s were removed from Army service, leaving only their mounting pits behind.

US Army document World War I Fortifications of the Panama Canal – 14-Inch DC Gun Emplacement (Battery BUELL), shown in 1965.

Eight further examples, using a longer version of the same gun, the M1910 14″/40cal, were mounted on the same M1907 disappearing carriage, and emplaced at Fort Frank and Fort Hughes in Manila Bay as well as Fort MacArthur outside of Los Angeles.

Four more 14″/40s, dubbed the Model 1910, were emplaced on twin turning M1909 mounts in the “concrete battleship” that was Fort Drum in Manila Bay, as well.

The M1909 mount being tested at Sandy Hook Proving Ground, New Jersey before shipment to the PI. Only two of these mounts were ever constructed and, to the credit of the Army, are both still in existence despite an epic trial by combat.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020: Ely’s Shotgun

Here at LSOZI, we 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, Nov. 18, 2020: Ely’s Shotgun

U.S. Navy Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Lot 918-2. Also, at NHHC as NH 76511

Here we see a famous shot, taken in Hampton Roads, Virginia some 110 years ago this week, of aviation pioneer Mr. Eugene Burton Ely flying his “Hudson Flyer” Curtis pusher aeroplane— the first to take off from a warship of any kind. While Ely flew from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2), a storied ship we have covered in the past, this Warship Wednesday is focused on the unsung first carrier plane guard– the Paulding-class tin can USS Roe (Destroyer No. 24), visible in the background.

The 21-vessel Pauling class, built across four years from 1908 to 1912 were smallish for torpedo boat destroyers, tipping the scales at just 742-tons. Overall, they ran 293-feet long, with a razor-thin 26-foot beam. Using a quartet of then-novel oil-fired Normand boilers (although a range of other boilers was experimented with) pushing a trio of Parsons direct-drive steam turbines, they could gin nearly 30-knots when wide open, although they rattled and rolled while doing so. This earned them the “flivver” nickname after the small and shaky Ford Model Ts of the era. Armament was five quick-firing 3″/50 cal guns and a trio of twin 450mm torpedo tubes, to which depth charges would later be added.

Constructed by four different yards at the same time, the class had vessels completed with either four or three stacks, of which Roe was in the latter category.

The 1914 Jane’s entry for the class, note the varied boiler fit and funnel scheme.

Roe was the first ship named in honor of RADM Francis Asbury Roe (USNA 1848) who explored the Northern Pacific and fought off Chinese pirates on the brig USS Porpoise before the Civil War, during which he served first as XO of the gunboat USS Pensacola before skippering the gunboat USS Katahdin in the fight against the Confederate ram CSS Arkansas. He finished the war as captain of the sidewheeler USS Sassacus and again fought a second Rebel ironclad, CSS Albemarle. Post-war he helped escort the French out of Mexico and exercise gunboat diplomacy in Brazil. Promoted to Commodore in 1880, he gained his star on the retired list in 1885 and is buried at Arlington.

CDR Roe 1866 (NH 46948-KN) and RADM Roe, retired, 1893, at age 70 (NH 103530-KN)

Laid down by Newport News Shipbuilding on 18 January 1909, USS Roe commissioned 17 September 1910, built for $642,761.30, which adjusts to about $17 million in today’s dollars.

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) Ready for launching, at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company shipyard, Newport News, Virginia, 24 July 1909. Collection of the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy. NH 103520

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) Sliding down the ways during her launching, at the Newport News Shipbuilding Company shipyard, Newport News, Virginia, 24 July 1909. The original print is a halftone reproduction. Collection of the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy. NH 103519

Like the coal-fired Smith-class that preceded them, the Pauldings used a layout of three Parsons turbines with a high-pressure center turbine exhausting to two low-pressure “cruising” turbines on outboard shafts, with the latter used to conserve fuel at low speeds.

The above shows USS Flusser (DD-20)’s engines under construction in 1909 showing the three-shaft/turbine arrangement. Photo from Bath Iron Works – General Dynamics Company.

Roe was a testbed for her type, being the first of her class to run trials and enter service although she was technically the third ordered. Departing from the standard quartet of Normand boilers, she was fitted instead with Thornycroft boilers, two in each engine room, fed by Sirocco forced draft fans. Each room was supplied with 22 oil sprayers and two oil heaters, doing away with coal.

“The enlisted man in the navy is said to be very much interested in oil fuel and in the consequent abolition of the dirty job of ‘coaling ship,’ an expression which will now have to give way to ‘oiling ship,” noted the October 1910 Marine Review.

Designed for a top speed of 28-to-29-knots, she bested that on her all-oil-fired suite of geared turbines, making headlines.

Attached to the Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet after commissioning, Roe would spend the next six years in a cycle of winter maneuvers in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, followed by summers cruising off the mid-Atlantic and southern New England sea coasts, completing exercises, interspaced with downtime spent in reserve with a reduced complement– a common fate for the vessels of the rapidly-expanding manpower-poor American steel Navy of the era.

USS Roe In port, circa 1910-1915. NH 43764

USTBD Roe with a bone in her mouth, 1911, NARA 165-WW-335E-20

That’s not to say during that time she didn’t see some interesting events.

In November 1911, Roe, with her paint still fresh, was partnered with a quartet of other vessels in an aviation experiment. Besides the already mentioned scout cruiser Birmingham, the little task force included the torpedo boats USS Bailey (TB-21) and the USS Stringham (TB-19), and Roe’s recently completed sistership, USS Terry (Destroy No. 25). The two destroyers were selected to accompany Birmingham and to follow the course of Mr. Ely’s aeroplane and render service if necessary while the two torpedo boats were ordered to standby as backups.

On that fateful day in the Chesapeake Bay, as superbly detailed in an essay by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Roe embarked the aviator’s wife, Mabel Ely, a collection of naval officers, “and a corps of newspapermen from Washington to cover the flight, as well as Brig. Gen. Allen (who may have been aboard Birmingham).”

While the short flight went off without any disastrous hitches, Roe stood by a recovered Ely after the event and was the immediate host to the celebration for the daring young man and his flying machine.

The launch took Ely and the officers to the Roe, where, gathered in the mess room, they were photographed by cameramen. Everyone congratulated Ely and they talked about the flight as they returned to Norfolk.

“The spray got on my goggles,” Ely explained, “so that I could not see or tell which direction I was going for a time. When I got my goggles clear I saw I was heading for a beach that looked like a convenient landing place, so I kept on.” “The splash in the water was my own fault. “The front push rod was a little longer than the one I am used to and I didn’t handle it quite right. Then of course the fact that the ship was not under way was a great disadvantage to me.” The naval officers agreed. They were unanimous in declaring that the flight was rendered much more difficult by the fact that the ship had not gotten underway when the aeroplane left her deck. They observed that Ely had lost all the advantage of the head-on breeze. If the ship had been going ten knots the aeroplane would have arisen much easier. “Had it been necessary I think I could have started right back and landed on the Birmingham” he said. “I think the next test along this line might be that of landing on a ship in motion. There should be no difficulty in accomplishing this. This would mean that an aeroplane could leave the deck of a ship, fly around and then return to the starting point.” While discussing the flight someone brought it to his attention that Ryan had offered a prize of $500 for the first flight made by a USAR member from the deck of a warship more than one mile out at sea to shore. Ely said he had not heard of the prize

Her initial flight activities behind her, Roe got back to fleet work.

In January 1912, Roe, along with four other destroyers battled a two-day storm at sea off Bermuda that scattered the group. As a result, Roe suffered some pretty gnarly damage from a rogue wave during the storm, crumpling two of her three funnels.

USS Roe, Showing Stacks Damaged by Storm, Brooklyn Naval Yard 1/22/1912 LOC 6880371 + 6281761, along with Jan. 9, 1912 edition of the NY Herald

She frequented Pensacola throughout 1916 in further support of the Navy’s aviation operations, with local newspapers in that Navy town running numerous articles on her activities pier-side. Her crew’s “strong” baseball team even repeatedly crossed bats with the local Pensacola Peps and Old Timers clubs.

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) Ship’s officers and crew, circa 1915-1916. The two officers in the center are possibly (from left to right): Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Aaron S. Merrill, and Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Guy C. Barnes, Roe’s commanding officer. Note the African American stewards in the right corner and the ship’s mascots including a pit-bull in the life ring. The original photograph, by Rox, 518 So. Palafox, Pensacola, Florida, was printed on a postal card, which was mailed at Pensacola on 23 September 1916 with the message: Look natural? Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1982. NH 93718 + Article from the Pensacola Journal, Aug. 4, 1916

When America finally joined the Great War, Roe was ready on day one, seizing the interned 5,800-ton German steamer SS Hohenfelde on behalf of the U.S. Shipping Board, 6 April 1917, at Savannah, Georgia, the same day that Congress responded with the declaration of War requested by President Wilson. The fine British-built Hohenfelde was captured in fairly good shape and would go on, like most captured German ships in 1917, to be repurposed for U.S Navy use, entering the fleet as the cargo ship USS Long Beach (AK-9), 20 December 1917.

Meanwhile, Roe made ready to go “Over There,” sailing for France in early November 1917, where she would spend the next year on coastal patrol and escort duty.

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) Laying a smokescreen, before World War I. Photographed by Waterman. Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1985. NH 100400

Oiling ship! USS Roe (Destroyer # 24), at right, taking on oil from USS Warrington (Destroyer # 30), at sea off the coast of Brest, France, 1 June 1918. Note Warrington’s dazzle pattern camouflage. NH 41760

She crossed paths with at least one German submarine. Per DANFS:

On 8 August 1918, Roe went to the rescue of the U.S. freighter Westward Ho, a 5,814-ton steamer, which had been torpedoed in the Bay of Biscay by U-62 (Kapitänleutnant Ernst Hashagen commanding) while en route from New York to LaPallice, France, in convoy HB-7. The destroyer took on board the 46 members of the sunken ship’s crew. While in formation the next day, 9 August, Roe received a signal of “submarine ahead.” The ship maneuvered until a wake was visible on which she dropped depth charges, but with no discernible results.

USS Roe (Destroyer # 24) On patrol in 1918. She is painted in dazzle camouflage. Collection of Peter K. Connelly. Courtesy of William H. Davis, 1967. NH 64986

Arriving back in the States on 1 December 1918, she was given a much-needed overhaul at Charleston then was placed out of commission exactly a year later on 1 December 1919.

In all, Roe only served nine years and three months with the fleet but in that abbreviated decade had been the Navy’s inaugural plane guard, survived a tempest, and fought in at least one shooting war. With that, she joined her fellow low-mileage greyhounds in mothballs.

Panoramic of the Reserve Fleet Basin, Philadelphia Navy Yard, PA, ca. 1920-1921. Visible are a vast number of laid-up destroyers including USS Sturtevant (DD-240), USS Roe (DD-24), and USS Gregory (DD-82). NHHC S-574

Rum Row

As deftly retold in a paper by the USCG Historians Office, the service, then part of the Treasury Department, was hard-pressed to chase down fast bootlegging boats shagging out to “Rum Row” where British and Canadian merchants rested in safe water on the 3-mile limit loaded with cases of good whiskey and rum for sale.

Rumrunners in Canada and in the Bahamas had the cry, “For some, there’s a fortune but others will die, come on load up the ship boys, the Yankees are dry.”

This led the agency to borrow 31 relatively new destroyers from the Navy, an act that would have been akin to the USN transferring most of the FFG7 frigates to the Coast Guard during the “cocaine cowboy” days of the 1980s.

From the USCG Historian:

In the end, the rehabilitation of the vessels became a saga in itself because of the exceedingly poor condition of many of these war-weary ships. In many instances, it took nearly a year to bring the vessels up to seaworthiness. Additionally, these were by far the largest and most sophisticated vessels ever operated by the service and trained personnel were nearly nonexistent. As a result, Congress authorized hundreds of new enlistees. It was these inexperienced men that made up the destroyer crews and contributed to the service’s greatest growth prior to World War II.

A total of 31 destroyers served with the Coast Guard’s Destroyer Force. These included three different classes, the 742-ton “flivver-class,” “1,000-ton class”, and the 1,190-ton “Clemson-class” flush-deckers. Capable of over 25 knots, the destroyers had an advantage in chasing large rumrunners. They were, however, easily outmaneuvered by smaller vessels. The destroyers’ mission, therefore, was to picket the larger supply ships (“mother ships”) and prevent them from off-loading their cargo onto smaller, speedier contact boats that ran the liquor into shore.

Via The Rum War at Sea, USCG

Roe was reactivated and transferred to the Treasury Department on 7 June 1924 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for service with the Coast Guard and was among the first group of destroyers loaned to the Coast Guard for the war on booze. Commissioned as CG-18 at the New York Navy Yard 30 May 1925, she was stationed at Boston.

As described by CDR Malcolm F. Willoughby, USCGR, ret, in The Rum War at Sea, the 229-page 1964 work on this period in Coast Guard history, these destroyers, which in many cases were mothballed in poor shape, were run on a shoestring once transferred, at least until a larger force was literally created from scratch.

Outside of a half dozen old-time Coast Guard men, the crew were enlisted and shipped directly from the recruiting office to the ship. They might have been shoe salesmen or clerks one week, the next week they were on board a destroyer with the rating of apprentice seaman or fireman third class. Great were the difficulties of running a specialized ship with an inexperienced crew.

U.S. Coast Guard destroyers at the New York Navy Yard, 20 October 1926 These former U.S. Navy destroyers were transferred to the Coast Guard to help fight the illegal rum-running traffic along the East Coast. They are (from left to right): USCGC Monaghan (CG-15, ex USN DD-32); Unidentified; USCGC Roe (CG-18, ex USN DD-24) with a damaged bow; USCGC McDougal (CG-6, ex USN DD-54); and USCGC Ammen (CG-8, ex USN DD-35). Courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, San Francisco, California, 1969. NH 69025

One of Roe’s most curious cases during her career as a Coastie involved that of the two-master John R. Manta— who in 1925 had been the “last vessel to complete a whaling voyage in New England.” Found aground in shallow water off Nantucket in May 1929, once towed in, the converted whaler was founded to have no Americans aboard, no manifest, no log entries, and, besides a few guns and bottles of booze, also held 11 “aliens all in exhausted conditions” hidden in a compartment secreted under a linoleum deck. Each had paid a whopping $250 for their undocumented passage– $3,800 in today’s greenbacks.

USCGD Roe CG-18 at sea. Coast Guard destroyers typically spent 60-day cruises at sea, scouting long-range sweeps along their patrol zone in a lookout for motherships which they would picket in a game of interference as the vessels were typically beyond the jurisdictional 12-mile limit. DVIDS Photo 1119155

In poor condition, Roe was placed in a reduced-manning status 25 October 1929, her now-experienced crew transferred to the newly-fielded Coast Guard destroyer Trippe (CG-20), a Paulding class sistership who had served in the Navy as USS Trippe (DD-33).

Officially returned to the Navy on 18 October 1930, she was returned to the Navy List and stored in Philly but never rejoined the fleet. Instead, she was stricken and sold for scrap in 1934 per the London Naval Treaty, a fate shared by the rest of the class.

Her engineering drawings are in the National Archives along with 100 pages of work orders.

RADM Roe’s name was reissued to the new Sims-class destroyer (DD-418), commissioned 5 January 1940. The hardy new tin can served from Iceland to the Torch Landings and Iwo Jima, earning six battle stars during World War II. She was sold in 1947 to the breakers. There has not been a third Roe on the Navy List.

USS Roe (DD-418) Underway at sea, circa 1943-1944. NH 103528

Specs:
Displacement:
742 long tons (754 t) normal
887 long tons (901 t) full load
Length: 293 ft 10 in
Beam: 27 ft
Draft: 8 ft 4 in (mean)
Installed power:12,000 ihp
Propulsion:
4 × Thornycroft boilers
3 × Parsons Direct Drive Turbines
3 × screws
Speed:
29.5 kn
31kt on Trials
Range: 2175(15) on 225 tons of oil
Complement: 4 officers 87 enlisted U.S. service. 75 in Coast Guard
Armament:
5 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 caliber Mark 3 low-angle guns
6 × 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes (3 × 2)
Depth charges, in two stern racks and one Y-gun projector, added in 1917, removed in 1924

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