Tag Archives: vintage warships

Rafale-ly speaking…

The Hellenic Air Force will begin operating its new (to them) French-made Dassault Rafale fighters after January 19 when a half-dozen aircraft are expected to arrive home at their Tanágra Air Force Base. Two dual-seat Rafales will be joined by four single-seat Rafales for the ferry flight home this week. Ultimately 18 Rafales, at a cost of $2.35B (US), will augment advanced F-16C/D Blk52s, as well as older Mirage 2000-5 models, and fill the gap left with the looming retirement of the country’s last 33 elderly F-4E Phantoms.

The first Rafale of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) was formally delivered last July. This is one of the 12 refurbished ex-French Air Force Rafale B models configured to the latest F3R standard, that will be delivered to the HAF along with six newbuild fighters by 2023. (Photo: Dassault Aviation/C Cosmao)

The Greeks really like Dassault, having a nearly 50-year relationship with the company that includes ordering 40 Mirage F1s in 1974, then 40 Mirage 2000s in 1985, and finally 15 Mirage 2000-5s in the year 2000.

More Rafales on more carriers?

Speaking of Rafales, the Indian Navy is testing the Rafale M (carrier variant F3-R) at their ashore jump ramp facility in Goa with an eye to buying at least two dozen of the little fighters for use from the country’s new STOBAR indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), INS Vikrant, set to commission later this year.

Keep in mind that the Indian Navy has had 60 years of continuous fixed-wing carrier operations under their belt, including combat use. 

Rafael M calendar illustration

Odds are, as many as 100 Rafale Ms could be bought if the price is right, with the French birds replacing cranky Russian-made MiG-29K fighters already in use on India’s equally cranky 45,000-ton Gorshkov-class flattop, INS Vikramaditya, and providing squadrons for the new Vikrant and planned follow-on INS Vishal, the latter ship expected in the 2030s. Each of the new carriers is to be capable of holding 36 fixed-wing fighters in addition to ASW helicopters and liaison aircraft.

The Indian Navy has 45 MiG-29KUB carrier-based multirole fighters and was looking to acquire 57 more, with the possibility of building them locally, but that is increasingly unlikely. Plan A right now seems to be fielding variants of the F/A-18E or the French Rafale M instead.

The Indians are also looking at the larger F-18E/F Super Hornet, but, as the IAF already ordered 36 Rafale B/Cs and are standing them up in two operational squadrons this year, don’t hold your breath. However, as the Indians are buying 22 MH-60Rs from Sikorsky, with the blessing of the USN, for ASW use, anything is possible.

A Peek Inside that Rusty Philippine LST Reef Outpost

We’ve talked about the old BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57) several times in the past few years, you know, the Philippine Navy’s reefed landing ship that is used as a desolate outpost against the Chinese military might pushing into the PI’s EEZ. Well, PI SECDEF Delfin Lorenzana posted some images of a special airlift of Christmas dinner to the garrison last week.

While most of us celebrated Christmas with our families, there are others who did not have that chance to do so, like our soldiers who are manning our islands in the West Philippine Sea. So that they may have something to celebrate with, the Philippine Navy airdropped foodstuffs, including lechon [roasted baby pig], for their noche buena.

What can be seen in a light platoon (24~) men worth of Marines and supporting Navy common/corpsmen in the ship’s topside jury-rigged tin and wood structure.

On the bright side, it looks like the ship is intact after Super Typhoon Rai/Typhoon Odette, which claimed more than 400 lives in the archipelago earlier this month. Further, it shows that the vessel is in helicopter range of the PI Navy’s five short-legged AW109E light helicopters, aircraft capable fo carrying FN-made rocket and machine gun pods, especially important because the Chinese have been making it hard to accomplish seaborne resupply.

The PI last May acquired two Leonardo AW159 Lynx Wildcat ASW-capable helicopters, which could prove further use to the fleet.

Basswood of the Pacific

Here we see the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Basswood (WAGL-388, later WLB-388) underway during World War II. Marianas Section, off Victor Wharf, Agana Heights, Guam, late 1945.

Library of Congress photo HAER GU-3-1.

Commissioned on 12 January 1944, Basswood was one of 39 180-foot Balsam-class seagoing buoy tenders built from 1942–1944, specifically being one of the 20 improved Class C (Iris) subvariants. She is fairly well armed to tend navigational aids, with her 3″/50 gun visible pointing over her stern while” Y-gun” depth charge throwers are clearly visible on her starboard side. If you look to her stack– under her mast with an SL1 radar system– you can see two 20mm Oerlikons mounted. Unseen are two Mousetrap ASW rocket systems as well as a QBE-3A sonar suite. Several former Warship Wednesday alumni from the same class got to use those weapons during the war.

Capable of a blistering 13-knots, Basswood would go on to have a long career in the Western Pacific, supporting nuclear weapons testing during Operations Greenhouse (1951), Castle (1954), and Redwing (1956). She also completed three deployments to Vietnam in 1967, 1971, and 1972, earning a trio of both Vietnam Service Medals and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medals.

The Coast Guard Cutter Basswood works a buoy as busy Vietnamese fishermen travel to open sea and their fishing grounds from Vung Tau harbor during her 1967 deployment. The cutter battled monsoon weather for a 30-day tour to establish and reservice sea aids-to-navigation dotting the 1,000-mile South Vietnamese coastline. USCG Historian’s Office photo

Decommissioned 4 September 1998 after 54 years of service, she was disposed of in 2000, eventually scrapped.

Prince of Wales, Repulse Remembered

The preserved bells of the backbone of Force Z, the battlewagons HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse – sunk on 10 December 1941 – have been put side-by-side on display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth to mark the 80th anniversary of the tragedy.

The bells had spent six decades at the bottom of the Pacific.

(MoD Crown Copyright)

At least 842 men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines died when the two capital ships were lost to the Japanese air attack off Malaysia – just three days after the shock of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some 330 men went down with Prince of Wales, 512 with the Repulse.

The bells were recovered 20 years ago by Royal Navy divers – with the full support of survivors – as the wrecks were being plundered by unscrupulous salvagers and souvenir hunters.

“We hope our visitors take a moment to reflect on the enormity of the loss,” said Victoria Ingles, senior curator at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. “Ship’s bells are held in great affection by the crew and it was so important that both were retrieved, with permission, from the wreck sites in 2002. Their display is a fitting tribute to the many lives lost.”

Diving the Forgotten Battlewagon

While everyone is quick to point out that there were eight American battleships in and around Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, there was actually a ninth– past Warship Wednesday alumni, USS Utah.

Battleship Number 31, USS Utah, at rest in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba, January 1920.

Built as a 22,000-ton Florida-class dreadnought, Battleship # 31 was disarmed of her impressive battery of ten 12-inch guns in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty in 1931, converted to a radio-controlled target ship, and redesignated AG-16.

Although it was unlikely she would have gotten her teeth back in WWII had she not rolled over and sank following hits by Japanese aerial torpedos, the old Utah was, like Arizona, never fully salvaged. A few years after the attack her hull was partially righted and moved closer to Ford Island, where she remains today. Some 58 members of her crew died during the attack, and a memorial is in place, but it is not open to the public.

A birds-eye view of the USS Utah Memorial with the flag at half-mast. NPS photo

Utah is often described as “The Forgotten Ship of Pearl Harbor.” 

However, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in partnership with the National Park Service – Submerged Resource Center, recently conducted the first-ever virtual interactive live-dive of the USS Utah. The dive included NPS divers and U.S. Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One (MDSU 1), including a 1940s vintage Mark V hard hat rig that is often used to inter remains on Arizona.

Mirage Before the Storm, 80 Years Ago Today

The new C-in-C of the Eastern Fleet, Adm. Sir Thomas Spencer Vaughan “Tom” Phillips GBE, KCB, DSO, (short guy, hands on hips) watches his flagship, the brand new (and still not fully complete) King George V-class HMS Prince of Wales, fresh from catching the Bismarck, berth at Singapore on 4 December 1941. The second officer on the Admiral’s right (holding briefcase by his side) is Chief of Staff Rear Admiral A F E Palliser.

Prince of Wales, being the flagship of Force Z, was given the best berth alongside the West Wall of the Naval Base, opposite the main office buildings. Meanwhile, her companion, the Renown-class battlecruiser HMS Repulse was left moored out in the stream like some sort of ugly cousin.

It was a happy time, as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific” seemed even more impenetrable with the arrival of the two battlewagons. Surely the Japanese would take notice and steer clear, looking for easier targets. 

Just six days later, both of the proud capital ships would be on the bottom with a loss of 840 of HMs officers and men – including Tom Phillips and flagship captain John Leach. The spell was broken. 

Palliser, meanwhile, would survive, go on to command the British part of the ill-fated ABDACOM, then ride a desk at Trincomalee and New Delhi before ending the war as Fourth Sea Lord– Chief of Supplies and Transport.

Philippines flexing over demands they unreef their ancient LST

We’ve talked in the past about the 2,000-tons of tetanus shots that is the mighty BRP Sierra Madre (L-57), formerly the ex-USS Harnett County LST-821, which has been grounded on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Reef) in the South China Sea since 1999, serving as a forward base for a squad-sized group of PI Marines and a Navy radioman. The move came as a counterstroke to China’s controversial, and likely unlawful, armed occupation of Mischief Reef— barely 200 kilometers from the Philippine island of Palawan– in 1995.

Well, in recent weeks, the Chinese have aggressively prevented resupply and rotation of the guard force on the Sierra Madre, warning off civilian vessels approaching the condemned LST with water cannons.

Finally, on 22 November, two civilian boats, Unaizah May 1 and Unaizah May 3, were able to tie up next to the Sierra Madre and unload, while a Chinese coast guard ship in the vicinity sent a RIB with three persons to closely shadow the effort, taking photos and videos, acts the Philipines described as “a form of intimidation and harassment.”

To this, China says Ayungin Shoal is “part of China’s Nansha Qundao (Spratly Islands)” and has told the PI to quit the reef and scrap the rusty outpost.

From Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana on China’s demand to remove BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal:

Ayungin Shoal lies within our EEZ where we have sovereign rights. Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 UNCLOS which China ratified. China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of. 

Furthermore, the 2016 Arbitral award ruled that the territorial claim of China has no historic nor legal basis. Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing.

With that, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, Lt. Gen. Andres Centino, on Monday said that his leadership would ensure better living conditions of the troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre, refurbishing the vessel in place as a permanent government post. 

Mic drop.

The Mighty B Comes Home for a Visit

Official caption: “The Almirante Didiez Burgos (PA-301), a Dominican Republic navy’s Cutter, sails into Museum Park Marina in Miami, Florida, Nov. 10, 2021. The Dominican Republic’s navy visited Miami to enable the next generation of Dominican commissioned officers to learn about U.S. Coast Guard.”

Not too shabby for being 78 years in service. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Estrada)

If you are a fan of WWII USCG vessels, Burgos is immediately recognizable as a 180-foot seagoing buoy tender of the Balsam/Mesquite-class.

We’ve covered them before in past Warship Wednesdays and they gave lots of service during not only the war but well into the 1990s. 

Built as USCGC Buttonwood (WAGL-306/WLB-306) in Duluth, Minnesota on the Great Lakes, she commissioned 24 September 1943– heading almost immediately for the Pacific.

USCGC Buttonwood tied up after her commissioning- 27 September 1943. Her wartime armament included a 3″/50, two Oerlikons, depth charge tracks, two Mousetraps, four Y-guns, an SL-2 radar, and WEA-2 sonar. Not bad for a 900-ton auxiliary that had a top speed of 13 knots. USCG Historian’s Office photo

She arrived at Guadalcanal in May 1944 and alternated her aids-to-navigation duty with salvage and survey work, often under fire as she moved forward with the fleet. “Mighty B” endured a reported 269 attacks by Japanese aircraft, including 11 air raids in one day, being credited with downing two enemy aircraft with her AAA guns.

On Christmas 1944, she went to the assistance of the burning Dutch troopship Sommeisdijk, which had been hit by a Japanese torpedo, and rescued 182 men.

M.V. SOMMELSDIJK. Built for the Holland America Line and used as a Troopship, the SOMMELSDIJK is shown arriving at San Francisco, California, about 1943. After the war, she returned to commercial service for the line until her scrapping in 1965. Description: Catalog #: NH 89834

Other than her WWII service, Buttonwood had a very active Cold War– providing aids to navigation for military tests sites throughout the Pacific– and the War on Drugs.

USCGC Buttonwood underway in 1960. Note she still has her 3″/50 over the stern but now has a black hull, a common feature of ATON ships in USCG service even today. USCG Historian’s Office photo

For instance, during Korea:

At the outbreak of the Korean War, Buttonwood was re-equipped with sonar gear, guns, and depth charges. Though she was never directly involved with combat, Buttonwood was prepared and trained with the Navy by participating in “war games”. These games often seemed like “cat and mouse” where Buttonwood was tracked by Navy submarines and she, in turn, tried to detect the submarines with sonar equipment. The K-guns and depth charges were subsequently removed in the mid-1950s.

Buttonwood served with the Coast Guard until 2001, and was extensively surveyed for posterity before she was turned over to the Dominicans, who seem to have taken good care of her over the past two decades.

New Eagle for the Eagle

As we have touched on in past Warship Wednesdays, “America’s tall ship,” the United States Coast Guard Barque Eagle (WIX-327) is a 295-foot, three-masted training vessel assigned to the USCGA to serve as a schoolship for future Coast Guard and NOAA officers (as well as a smattering of cadets from overseas allies).

Built by Blohm and Voss in Hamburg, she entered service in the Gorch Fock-class segelschulschiff Horst Wessel in 1936, training the officers for the rapidly expanding Kriegsmarine.

Horst Wessel

Somehow surviving WWII, she was taken over by a USCG crew at Bremerhaven in 1946 and sailed to this side of the Atlantic where she has been active ever since. Today she is both the oldest Coast Guard vessel and the only one on active duty that participated in WWII, albeit under another flag.

She still had holdovers from her wartime service until recently, swapping out her original German-made diesel about 30 years ago for a Caterpillar D399 that was itself upgraded for a more efficient MTU 8V4000 in 2018.

Speaking of upgrades, she has just been fitted with a new figurehead.

Which is at least her fifth…

Her original German eagle figurehead

The massive figurehead was modified to carry the USCG crest in its talons, a more appropriate symbol.

Ditching the original eagle figurehead (which is now in the USCGA Museum), in 1952, the barque received the smaller eagle from the old revenue cutter-turned training vessel Salmon Chase.

Her original German figurehead is on display at the USCGA Museum

Chase’s 1890s era eagle fitted to Eagle. She carried it from 1952-70.

In 1971, it was decided to upgrade the figurehead and preserve the historic one from the Chase. With that, a copy of Chase’s was made of fiberglass and painted gold.

The fiberglass addler

It proved less than resilient and was severely damaged in heavy seas. I mean, it’s fiberglass.

In time for the Bicentennial in 1976, the damaged figurehead was replaced with a new 12-foot long one, carved of Honduras mahogany and weighing almost a ton. Gilded in gold, it served for 45 years and was just removed at the Coast Guard Yard last month.

The figurehead of the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle is seen on a foggy Sunday morning at the Coast Guard Yard, Baltimore, Nov. 17, 2013. The Eagle, a 295-foot barque home-ported in New London, Conn., is a training ship used primarily for Coast Guard cadets and officer candidates. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lisa Ferdinando)

The new figurehead is being fitted at the USCG Yard and should be ready for sea shortly.


Duck Boat

This picture just screams old-school cool.

Sadly, I ran across this on a Hungarian military forum of all places, a venue I typically haunt to find great pictures of Central European firearms. It had no source or explanation and reverse image sources come up with nothing so I have it here for our enjoyment.

It seems to show U.S. Marines in M1942 Frog Skin pattern (AKA “Beo Gam” or “Duck Hunter”) camo tearing ocean for a simulated beach landing from an assault boat (“Landing Craft, Rubber”) with everyone getting as low to the deck as possible. You can count nine M1 Garands. Also, dig the Johnson commercial outboard. I’d place the image likely in the mid-1950s, when the USMC was very much into putting the Marine back into the Navy’s diesel submarine fleet.

For comparison, check out this image of USS Greenfish (SS-351):

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.)

Great stuff, and, as ususal, if anyone has any other feedback or details, please let me know.

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