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Warship Wednesday, May 31, 2023: USS Fallout

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

Warship Wednesday, May 31, 2023: USS Fallout

Photo courtesy Jim Merritt.


Above we see a great 1968 image of the Edsall-class destroyer escort-turned-radar picket, USS Falgout (DER-324) with a bone in her teeth during a Westpac deployment. Some 25 years old at the time, of note her christening occurred 80 years ago this week. 

A vessel that saw combat against the Germans while on convoy duty during WWII, she would continue to serve in Korea and as a Cold Warrior, seeing the atomic starburst no less than nine times.

The Edsall class

A total of 85 Edsall-class destroyer escorts were cranked out in four different yards in the heyday of World War II rapid production with class leader USS Edsall (DE-129) laid down 2 July 1942 and last of class USS Holder (DE-401) commissioned 18 January 1944– in all some four score ships built in 19 months. The Arsenal of Democracy at work–building tin cans faster than the U-boats and Kamikazes could send them to Davy Jones.

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Edsall (DE-129) underway near Ambrose Light just outside New York Harbor on 25 February 1945. The photo was taken by a blimp from squadron ZP-12. Edsall is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 3D. U.S. Navy photo 80-G-306257

These 1,590-ton expendable escorts were based on their predecessors, the very successful Cannon-class boats but used an FMR type (Fairbanks-Morse reduction-geared diesel drive) propulsion suite whereas the only slightly less prolific Cannons used a DET (Diesel Electric Tandem) drive. Apples to oranges.

edsallArmed with enough popguns (3×3″/50s, 2x40mm, 8x20mm) to keep aircraft and small craft at bay, they could plug a torpedo into a passing enemy cruiser from one of their trio of above-deck 21-inch tubes, or maul a submarine with any number of ASW weapons including depth charges and Hedgehogs. Too slow for active fleet operations (21 knots) they were designed for coastal patrol (could float in just 125 inches of seawater), sub-chasing, and convoy escorts.

Meet Falgout

The hero of our story, USS Falgout, is the only ship named for Seaman 2c George Irvin Falgout, a resident of Raceland, Louisiana who was a posthumous recipient of the Navy Cros for his actions while serving on the heavily damaged cruiser, USS San Francisco (CA-38) at Guadalcanal in November 1942. Falgout reportedly “remained at his gun, blazing away at a Japanese aircraft until it crashed his station.”

His citation:

The only ship named in his honor was constructed by Consolidated Steel Corp, Ltd., Orange, Texas (all the Edsalls were built at one of two Texas Gulf Coast yards) and sponsored at launch by his sister, Mrs. H. J. Guidry. She was commissioned on 15 November 1943 with an all-Coast Guard crew under CDR Henry A Meyer, a Coast Guard regular who earned his first thin gold stripe in 1931.

The CNO, ADM Ernest J. King, had, in June 1943, ordered the Coast Guard to staff and operate 30 new (mostly Edsall-class) destroyer escorts on Atlantic ASW duties, trained especially at the Submarine Training Centers at Miami and Norfolk. Each would be crewed by 11 officers and 166 NCOs/enlisted, translating to a need for 5,310 men, all told.

By November 1943, it had been accomplished! Quite a feat.

The USCG-manned DEs would be grouped in five Escort Divisions of a half dozen ships each, 23 of which were Edsalls:

  • Escort Division 20–Marchand, Hurst, Camp, Crow, Pettie, Ricketts.
  • Escort Division 22–Poole, Peterson, Harveson, Joyce, Kirkpatrick, Leopold.
  • Escort Division 23–Sellstrom, Ramsden, Mills, Rhodes, Richey, Savage.
  • Escort Division 45–Vance, Lansing, Durant, Calcaterra, Chambers, Morrill.
  • Escort Division 46–Menges, Mosley, Newell, Pride, Falgout, Lowe.

These ships were soon facing off with the Germans in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Following shakedown along the East Coast and the Caribbean– where Falgout picked up 11 survivors from the American tanker Touchet that was torpedoed and sunk on 3 December 1943 by German U-boat U-193— our new destroyer escort was bound for the Med in February 1944 as part of the escort of Convoy UGS 32 to Casablanca, and returned to New York with GUS 31.

Then came Convoy UGS 38 out of Hampton Roads to Bizerte in Tunisia in April. This crossing proved much more contentious and suffered from German air attacks by waves of Junkers and Heinkel bombers with the Benson-class destroyer USS Landsdale (DD-426) sunk after hits from torpedo-carrying Ju 88s on the night of the 20th. Falgout expended no less than 600 rounds of 20mm and 16 rounds of 40mm on bombers that came close enough to swat.

While on the next homeward bound convoy, GUS 39, Falgout’s sistership USS Menges (DE 320), was hit by a G7es acoustic torpedo from U-371 on 3 May. The German fish destroyed a third of the tin can, and created casualties of a third of the ship’s crew but would amazingly survive the war. Just two nights later, the Buckley-class destroyer escort USS Fechteler (DE-157), would be sunk near Falgout by German submarine U-967, with the bulk of the crew rescued.

Not all the Coast Guard-manned DEs would come through to VE-Day. USS Leopold (DE-319) of CortDiv 22 was torpedoed by U-255 and later sank in the North Atlantic, 400 miles south of Iceland on 10 March 1944, with a loss of 13 officers and 158 men. Two other classmates with Navy crews, USS Frederick C. Davis (DE-136) and USS Fiske (DE-143), would also be lost in the Atlantic to U-boats.

Falgout would make two further roundtrips to Bizerte and back followed by three to Oran and back, although not coming as close to death as on UGS 38/GUS 39. Notably, however, she did pluck four Ju88 crewmembers from the water following a raid on GUS 45 in July 1944.

USS HAMUL (AD-20) Caption: At Bermuda in early 1944, while serving as flagship of the DD-DE shakedown group (CTG-23.1). Alongside are: CALCATERA (DE-390), PRIDE (DE-323), FALGOUT (DE-324), ALGER (DE-101), and EICHENBERGER (DE-202). Description: Collection of Captain D.L. Madeira, 1978. Catalog #: NH 86271

She was in Oran when the news of the German surrender was received.

Her final WWII skipper was a young LCDR Henry C Keene, Jr.,(USCGA 1941), who had been aboard the Treasury-class cutter USCGC Bibb (WPG-31) earlier in the war when that vessel plucked 235 survivors (and a dog) from U-boat-infested waters in the North Atlantic. Keene would later retire in 1965 as commander of Ketchikan CG Base and go on to be a noted Superior Court judge in Alaska. Meanwhile, the good CDR Meyer, who was the greyhound’s first commander, would continue his career with the Coast Guard for at least until 1956, retiring sometime later as a full captain.

For her 14 convoys, Falgout received one battle star for her wartime service, her only casualty being EM3c James G. O’Brien who died in a 1944 accident while on libo in Casablanca, falling from a second-story window.

After limited post-war service, during which she spent most of 1946 “in commission, in reserve” in Charleston with a caretaker crew (the USCG was returned to the Treasury Department in December 1945, and most of its wartime personnel discharged and Navy-owned ships returned) Falgout was classified “out of commission, in reserve” 18 April 1947 and lowered her flag.

The Edsall class, 1946 Janes.

Break out the white paint.

With the dramatic surge in air and maritime traffic across some downright vacant stretches of the Pacific that came with the Korean War, the USCG was again tapped to man a growing series of Ocean Stations. Two had been formed after WWII and the Navy added another three in 1950, bringing the total to five.

These stations would serve both a meteorological purpose– with U.S. Weather Bureau personnel embarked– as well as serve as floating checkpoints for military and commercial maritime and air traffic and communication “relay” stations for aircraft on transoceanic flights crisscrossing the Pacific. Further, they provided an emergency ditch option for aircraft (a concept that had already been proved by the Bermuda Sky Queen rescue in 1947, which saw all 69 passengers and crew rescued by the cutter Bibb.)

As detailed by Scott Price in The Forgotten Service in the Forgotten War, these stations were no picnic, with the average cutter logging 4,000 miles and as many as 320 radar fixes while serving upwards of 700 hours on station.

Ocean station duty could be monotonous at one moment and terrifying the next, as the vessels rode out storms that made the saltiest sailors green. One crew member noted: “After twenty-one days of being slammed around by rough cold sea swells 20 to 50 feet high, and wild winds hitting gale force at times, within an ocean grid the size of a postage stamp, you can stand any kind of duty.”

A typical tour was composed of arriving at Midway Island for three weeks on SAR standby, three weeks on Ocean Station Victor midway between Japan and the Aleutian Islands, three weeks on SAR standby at Guam, two weeks “R and R” in Japan, three weeks on Ocean Station Sugar, three weeks on SAR standby Adak, Alaska, and then back to home port.

To stand post on these new ocean stations and backfill for other cutters detailed to the role, the Navy lent the USCG 12 mothballed Edsalls (Newell, Falgout, Lowe, Finch, Koiner, Foster, Ramsden, Rickey, Vance, Lansing, Durant, and Chambers), nine of which the service had originally operated during WWII.

To man these extra vessels and fill other wartime roles such as establishing new LORAN stations and pulling port security, the USCG almost doubled in size from just over 18,000 to 35,082 in 1952.

The conversion to Coast Guard service included a white paint scheme, an aft weather balloon shelter (they would have to launch three balloons a day in all sea states), and the fitting of a 31-foot self-bailing motor surfboat for rescues in heavy weather. The USCG designator “W” was added to the hull number, as was the number 100, therefore, our vessel went from USS Falgout (DE-324) to USCGC Falgout (WDE-424).

Falgout’s sister, the Edsall-class USS Durant (DE-389/WDE-489/DER-389) in her Coast Guard livery. Note the WWII AAA suite is still intact. Falgout carried the same white and buff scheme.

Falgout was on loan to the Coast Guard between 24 August 1951– the second Edsall so converted– and 21 May 1954, in commission for duty as an ocean station vessel out of Tacoma, Washington.

Schenia notes that she pulled eight patrols in this period including two on OS Queen, two on OS Sugar, one on OS Nan, and two on OS Victor in addition to serving as the policing cutter for the International Cruiser Race Regatta in British Columbia in 1952 and the Lake Washington Gold Cup Race in 1953.

Besides nine Edsalls, two similarly loaned ex-Navy seaplane tenders, two 180-foot buoy tenders, and nine existing 255-foot/327-foot Coast Guard cutters also clocked in on Pacific Ocean station detail, with a total of 22 vessels and their crews earning the Korean Service Medal during the conflict. The Pacific Ocean station cutters in all assisted over 20 merchant and Navy vessels in distress, including one transoceanic airliner during the war.

The USCG-manned Edsalls were all retrograded to the Navy in 1954, with the last, Chambers, striking 30 July. It turned out that the Navy had other plans for these humble vessels, now double war vets.


Falgout, laid back up after her 32 months of USCG service during Korea, was picked to become a radar picket ship, and given a new lease on life, reclassified into the Navy at Mare Island on 28 October 1954 as DER-324.

The DER program filled an early gap in the continental air defense system by placing a string of ships as sea-based radar platforms to provide a distant early warning line to possible attack from the Soviets. The Pacific had up to 11 picket stations while the Atlantic had as many as nine. A dozen DEs became DERs (including Falgout) through the addition of SPS-6 and SPS-8 air search radars to help man these DEW lines as the Atlantic Barrier became fully operational in 1956 and the Pacific Barrier (which Falgout took part in) by 1958.

To make room for the extra topside weight of the big radars, they gave up most of their WWII armament, keeping only their Hedgehog ASW device and two Mark 34 3-inch guns with aluminum and fiberglass weather shields.

DER conversion of Edsall (FMR) class ships reproduced from Peter Elliot’s American Destroyer Escorts of WWII

Detail of masts. Note the WWII AAA suite, one of the 3″ guns, and centerline 21-inch tubes have been landed

Her conversion complete, Falgout was recommissioned on 30 June 1955.

30 June 1955: Mare Island NSY, Vallejo, Cal. – Radm. Frederick L. Entwistle, USN (Commander, Mare Island Naval Shipyard) is commissioning speaker at the ceremony marking USS Falgout’s re-commissioning. Lcdr. Walter P. Smiley is on the far right of the photo. (U.S. Navy photo #DER-324-063055-1TH) via Darryl Baker, Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum, via Navsource.

30 June 1955: Mare Island NSY, Vallejo, Cal. – Colors are raised aboard USS Falgout at Mare Island after her conversion at the shipyard. (U.S. Navy photo #DER-324-063055-3TH) via Darryl Baker, Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum, via Navsource.

She was assigned to Seattle as a homeport, with orders coming from the Continental Air Defense Command, heading out to serve regular radar picket in the Early Warning System.

USS Falgout (DER 324) underway

In March 1959, this changed to duty out of Pearl Harbor.

On 31 January 1961, she received her 10th skipper, LCDR Samuel Lee Gravely Jr., a mustang who enlisted in 1942 and went through NROTC in 1944 to earn his commission. Gravely had previously served on USS PC-1264 in WWII, then aboard the battleship USS Iowa during Korea and the cruiser USS Toledo (CA-133), and served as executive officer and acting commander of the destroyer USS Theodore E. Chandler (DD-717) immediately before taking command of Falgout. This act, noted by the NHHC, put Gravely as the first African-American to command a combat ship.


In late 1962, Falgout, with Gravely as skipper, was detailed to Joint Task Force 8, operating out of Pearl Harbor, for Operation Dominic.

Sparked by the Soviet resumption of nuclear testing after the 1958–1961 moratorium, Dominic would see no less than 31 air dropped, high-altitude rocket, parachuted, and underwater tests of prototype and existing weapons (including the first Polaris SLBM war shot) carried out over the Eastern Pacific spanning from the coast of California to Christmas and Johnston Island.

Falgout would closely participate (sometimes within 90 miles of the detonation) in at least nine of these tests, all off Johnston Island as part of TU 8.3.6, while she would be a more distant weather ship (over 500 miles away) for much of the remainder of the other tests, in the latter tasked with chasing off Soviet spy trawlers.

The Defense Nuclear Agency’s 432-page report on Operation Dominic I compiled in 1983, has the below rundown of Falgout’s nine hottest experiences:

Notably, of the more than 80 Army, Navy, and Coast Guard vessels that took part in or supported Dominic I, only 16, Falgout included, had personnel with “suspect” radiological film badges.

And the detonation maps for Tightrope (Operation Fishbowl, less than 20 kt), Housatonic (9.96 Mt), Calamity (800 Kt), Chama (1.6 Mt), and Bumping (11.3 Kt):

Dominic Chama blast, 18 October. B-52 Airdrop; 11,970 Feet detonation. This was a free-fall LASL test of the Thumbelina device in an Mk-36 drop case. 

Another shot of Chama. This was a test of a lightweight small-diameter device, possibly a replacement for the W-38 (the 2-4 Mt warhead for the Atlas and Titan I missiles). The results are variously described as “thoroughly successful” while the yield was reported to be below the predicted value.

Tightrope. Nike Hercules Missile Airburst; 69,000 Feet. Carrying the LASL-designed W-31 air defense warhead.

Continued service

Brushing the dust off Dominic off her decks, Falgout would continue to be based out of Pearl for the rest of the decade.

USS Falgout (DER 324) at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, June 1963

DE-397 Wilhoite Feb 1966 Pearl Harbor with Falgout DER 324

From 1966 to 1969 Falgout rotated to service along the coast of Vietnam where she served in Operation Market Time, attempting to interdict Viet Cong maritime traffic. This would include the TEE SHOT V operation which saw our tin can serve as a mother ship in Qui Nhon Bay to two 50-foot PCFs including berthing for two spare PCF crews.

A stalwart of the Brown Water Navy in Vietnam: the PCF. Here, PCF-94 of Coastal Division 11in the Gulf of Thailand, March 1968. USN 1130655

As detailed by NHHC, TEE SHOT V “was established in the coastal area from Dong Phu village south to Chanh Oai village to detect and capture or destroy any hostile craft attempting to exfiltrate the area…During the operation a total of 2,448 junks were detected, 1,210 inspected and 484 boarded. Twenty-three persons and six junks with a total of seventeen tons of salt were apprehended and delivered to VNN authorities.”

On 10 October 1969, Falgout was decommissioned at Mare Island after just over 14 years of service to the Navy and four to the USCG under Navy orders. Her fellow DERs shared a similar fate, either laid up in mothballs or transferred to overseas allies.

USS Falgout and Canberra laid up at Stockton, California on 20 May 1972. The bow of USS Canberra (CA-70) is visible astern. Probably photographed by Ted Stone. Courtesy of Ted Stone, 1980. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 90588

1973 Janes on the Edsall class DERs.

On 1 June 1975, Falgout was struck from the NVR then in early 1977 was towed out to sea off the coast of California and sunk as a target.


Few relics of Falgout remain, although much of her deck logs and WWII war history is digitized in the National Archives.

As for LCDR Gravely, once he left Falgout in 1963, he went on to complete 38 years of service, command USS Taussig (DD-746), USS Jouett (DLG-29), Naval Communications Command, Cruiser-Destroyer Group Two, the Eleventh Naval District, Third Fleet, and the Defense Communications Agency.

In 1976, while serving as commander of the Third Fleet, he was promoted to Vice Admiral. He passed away in 2004 and is buried in Arlington.

The Flight II Burke, USS Gravely (DDG 107), is named for him. Here seen Oct. 26, 2013, with an MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter from the “Swamp Foxes” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 74 overhead. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Billy Ho/Released) 131026-N-QL471-333

As for the rest of the Edsalls, the former Coast Guard-manned USS Forster (DE/DER-334/WDE-434) may possibly still be afloat in Vietnam as the pier side trainer Dai Ky, while ex-USS Hurst (DE-250) which has been in the Mexican Navy since 1973, is still in use limited use as the training ship ARM Commodore Manuel Azueta (D111).

The final Edsall in U.S. waters is USS Stewart (DE-238). Stricken in 1972, she was donated as a museum ship to Galveston, Texas on 25 June 1974 and has been there ever since, today she is celebrating the 80th anniversary of her 1943 commissioning.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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.

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Warship Wednesday, May 17, 2023: Hugo’s Everlasting Clouds

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

Warship Wednesday, May 17, 2023: Hugo’s Everlasting Clouds

Swedish Marinmuseum photo identifier D 8751

Above we see a nice view of the Royal Swedish Navy drawn up at Karlskrona, circa 9 July 1904, dressed for Queen Sofia’s 68th birthday. The line includes an array of immaculate coastal battleships (pansarbat) and cruisers to the left including Oden, Aran, Wasa, Tapperheten, Thule, Thor, and Gota; the sleek new Yarrow-built destroyer (Sweden’s first) Mode, center, and, foreground, the 850-ton torpedkryssare (torpedo cruiser/torpedo boat tender) Psilander.

Directly in front of the dowdy Psilander is the old training brig Falken. To the right, floating like clouds, are the twin new gleaming skeppsgossefartygeten (ships boys ships) Najaden and Jarramas.

While everything you see has long since been scrapped, the two tall ships have endured.

HM Övningsfartyg

Designed by famed Swedish naval engineer Hjalmar Hugo Lilliehøøk– who had a hand in every single one of the above vessels– Najaden (Swedish for Naiad, or water nymph) was the first of the twins and was built at Orlogsverftet in Karlskrona in Sweden in 1897 as a training ship (Övningsfartyg) for the Swedish Navy. As such, she would be at the disposal of the Skeppsgossekaren (The Ship’s Boy Corps), a formation that dated back to 1685 and was responsible for recruiting, raising, and training young boys in the art of seamanship.

The beautiful three-masted full-rigger– claimed by many to be the smallest made– Najaden was compact, at just 160 feet overall, counting her bowsprit, and could carry a full 24 sheets including jibs and staysails although the typical 16-sheet rig used covered over 8,000 sq. ft. of canvas by itself.

With a draft of just 12 feet, she was capable of speeds as fast as 17 knots, her main mast towering 82 feet above her deck.

Swedish Royal Navy sail training ship HMS Najaden

At some 335 tons, she was much larger than the circa 1877-built Falken (Falcon), which drew only 110 tons on her 77-foot length. This allowed Najaden to carry a crew of 20-25 professional cadre and as many as 100 naval cadets and boy sailors, easily three times those on the smaller Falken. Her typical complement was 118, including 92 boys. Her regular year-round crew consisted of 5 officers, 6 NCOs, a ship’s doctor, and 14 ratings, almost all of which served as instructors as well.

For an armament, used primarily for training and signaling, she carried a small arms locker of rifles and pistols, a pair of 3-pounder 47mm guns, and a quartet of 1-pounder 37mm pieces.

Najaden proved so successful that an updated sister ship, Jarramas, was ordered from the same yard in 1899. The pair differed in construction when it came to hull material, with Najaden sporting an iron hull and Jarramas using steel. As such, Jarramas was the last sailing vessel to be built at Orlogsverftet, the end of an era. She carried the name of King Charles XII’s famed circa 1716 frigate, which was a Swedish corruption of the Turkish word for “mischievous.”

Jarramas proved even faster than her sister, logging 18.3 knots on at least one occasion. Neither ship was ever fitted with engines although by most accounts they did have generators for electrical lights and ventilation fans.

Övningsskepp typ Jarrasmas och Najaden

Jarramas under segel. Note the colorized accents to the flags and bow crest. D 14975_1

Jarramas under inspektion D 8874

Jarramas MM01916

HM Övningsfartyget Jarramas DO14939.126

Every spring the ships were rigged to run summertime trips to Bohuslän on Sweden’s West Coast or along the Gulf of Bothnia on the East Coast, stopping at various Baltic ports. Happy duty.

Najadens besättning 1902 D 8766


During the Great War, both ships canceled their summer trips and were used by the Swedish Navy as receiving ships and dockside training vessels, their classroom space was used to school recruits.

Once the guns of August fell silent again, they resumed their former schedules.

Najaden 1923 D 15061_14

Najaden 1923 D 15061_12

Najaden 1923 D 15061_3

Jarramas 1924, Lübeck D 15061_49

Gruppbild ombord Najaden 1923 D 15061_2

Swedish Royal Navy sail training ship HMS Najaden photographed off Karlskrona in 1933, sister Jarramas in the distance

Jane’s 1931 listing for Falken, Najaden, and Jarramas. Falken would be disposed of in 1943 after 66 years of service.

In 1939, the old Skeppsgossekaren was replaced by the newer Sjömansskolan, which still exists.

Najaden at the time was demasted and laid up, used during WWII as a stationary receiving ship.

Postwar, she was then towed to Torekov just south of Halmstad to serve as a breakwater. Her name was quickly reissued to a Neptun-class submarine that would commission in 1943 and serve through the 1960s.

Neptun-class Ubat Najaden underway, July 1953, at Hårsfjärden.

Meanwhile, Jarramas lingered in service until 1948, including use as a training ship in protected waters during WWII.

Post War Rescue

Najaden, in poor material condition and without her masts, canvas, or rigging, was saved by an outpouring of support by the people of the west coast city of Halmstad, who in the 1950s paid for a non-sailing restoration at Karlskrona that saw new masts stepped and some of her rigging plan restored.

She endured this “town ship” mission until 2013, during which she was twice again rebuilt (1989 and 1990-1996) and would host sea scouts, festivals, local events, and parties. A floating fixture of the community. In 2014, she was sold to a new group of enthusiasts who towed her to a new homeport in Fredrikstad in Norway, where her preservation continues.

Although not seaworthy, she is still used for seminars and conferences, lectures, concerts, and other activities, lying by the quay.

They hope to one day make her seaworthy once again, under a Norwegian flag. Of note, when she was built, Norway and Sweden were unified, so in a sense, she has a bit of Norwegian heritage as well. 

As for Jarramas, replaced by the new 128-foot training schooners HMS Gladan (S01) and HMS Falken (S02) in 1947, her days in the Swedish Navy came to an end.

However, just as Najaden was saved at Halmstad, Jarramas was saved by the city of Karlskrona where she was preserved as a museum ship and coffee shop of all things. Extensively renovated over the years, she reportedly requires extensive continuous maintenance, which led her to be taken over by the Marinmuseum in 1997.

Today, Jarramas is the centerpiece of the Marinmuseum in Karlskrona, preserved as Sweden’s last full rigger, alongside the minesweeper HMS Bremön, the motor torpedo boat T38, the Cold War era fast attack craft HMS Västervik, and the submarines HMS Neptun and HMS Hajen.

The minesweeper Bremön (rear), the FAC Västervik, and the full rigger Jarramas at the pier by the Marinmuseum in Karlskrona.

It’s great to see that both sisters are still with us.

Meanwhile, the Swedes still use the gleaming white circa 1940s skolfartyg schooners Gladan and Falken as the nation’s tall ship training squadron.

HMS Falken (S02)

They are assigned to the Skonertdivisionen at the Naval Academy and are based in Karlskrona, nearby the old Jarramas.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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!

Warship Wednesday, May 10, 2023: The Sleazy B

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

Warship Wednesday, May 10, 2023: The Sleazy B

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 56568

Above we see a view of the slipway at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., some 105 years ago this week, of the Wickes-class four-piper USS Breese (Destroyer No. 122) just after she was launched on Saturday 11 May 1918. Completed too late for the war she was intended for; our humble little tin can would be very busy in the next one.

The Wickes

Breese was one of the iconic first flight of “Four Piper” destroyers that were designed in 1915-16 with input from no less an authority as Captain (later Admiral) W.S. Sims. Beamy ships with a flush deck and a quartet of boilers (with a smokestack for each) were coupled to a pair of Parsons geared turbines to provide 35.3 knots designed speed– which is still considered fast today, more than a century later.

The teeth of these 314-foot, 1,250-ton greyhounds were four 4-inch/50 cal MK 9 guns and a full dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes.

They reportedly had short legs and were very wet, which made long-range operations a problem, but they gave a good account of themselves. Originally a class of 50 was authorized in 1916, but once the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, this was soon increased and increased again to some 111 ships built by 1920.

Wickes class USS Yarnall (DD-143): Booklet of General Plans – Inboard Profile / Outboard Profile, June 10, 1918, NARA NAID: 158704871

Wickes class USS Yarnall (DD-143): Booklet of General Plans – Main Deck / 1st Platform Deck / S’ch L’t P’f’m, S’ch L’t Control P’f’m, Fire Control P’f’m Bridge, Galley Top, After Dk. House and 2nd Platform Deck. / June 10, 1918, Hold NARA NAID: 158704873

Wickes class. A close-up of her stern top-down view of plans shows the Wickes class’s primary armament– a dozen torpedo tubes in four turnstiles and stern depth charges.

Meet USS Breese

Our warship is the only one named in honor of Kidder Randolph Breese.

Mr. Breese, a Philadelphian, was appointed a Navy midshipman at the age of 15 and saw wartime service on the sloop USS Saratoga off Mexico before his appointment to Annapolis. He later went on to join Commodore Perry’s Japan voyage and in the Paraguay Expedition in the antebellum period of the young republic. Civil War service included serving on the USS San Jacinto during the Trent affair, then with RADM David Dixon Porter for Vicksburg and Fort Fisher. Post-war assignments were varied and included inspecting the battle-damaged ironclad Huascar and command of the Torpedo Station at Newport, where he passed in 1881 at the rank of captain, aged a well-traveled 50.

Laid down on 10 November 1917 at Newport News, she was launched on 11 May 1918 with Mrs. Gilbert McIlvaine, the late Capt. Breese’s daughter, as sponsor, and commissioned on 23 October 1918, just three weeks before the Great War ended.

Notably, she was built side-by-side with her sister USS Gamble (DD-123) and the two were launched on the same day.

Newport News Ship Building Company, Newport News, Virginia. Caption: USS Breese (DD-122) and USS Gamble (DD-123) on the ways between November 1917 and May 1918. Description: NH 43018

USS Breese (DD-122), double launching with USS Gamble (DD-123) at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Newport News, Virginia on 11 May 1918. NH 56567

With the line still hot, just five minutes after she was launched, workmen began putting down the keel plates for sistership USS Bagley (DD-185) on the ways that Breese had just vacated while USS Clemson (DD-186) had her plates installed on Gamble’s freshly vacant berth.

Still, our brand new destroyer was able to get some wartime service in, effectively spending her shakedown on convoy escort duty with the Atlantic Fleet Cruiser Force.

USS Breese (DD-122) photographed circa November 1918, dressed in flags. Note her dazzle camouflage, which she would shed within a year. NH 42836

Immediately after the war wound down, Breese along with Gamble and several of their sisters Destroyer Division 12, would deploy to Cuban waters for most of 1919.

USS Gamble (DD-123) and USS Breese (DD-122) photographed circa 1919, probably at Balboa, Panama, Canal zone. Courtesy of Jack Howland, 1983 NH 94956

USS Breese (Destroyer # 122). Photographed circa 1919. Note that she still wears a small hull number (“122”) in its World War I position below the bridge, as well as a large number in the post-war location on the bow. Courtesy of Jim Kazalis, 1981. NH 92527

Div 12, with Breese along with it, then set out for the Pacific Fleet, where they would be active out of San Diego for the next two years.

USS Breese (DD-122) moored to a buoy circa 1920. NH 56572

USS Breese (DD-122) in San Diego, California, circa 1920. Note her single 3″/23 “anti balloon gun” behind her forward 4-incher. Courtesy of Mr. Donald M. McPherson, Corte Madera, California NH 56573

USS Breese (DD-122) photographed circa 1920. NH 61910

Destroyers nested at San Diego, CA circa 1920; from L-R: USS Radford (Destroyer No. 120), USS Sproston (Destroyer No. 173), USS Breese (Destroyer No. 122), USS Badger (Destroyer No. 126) and USS Montgomery (Destroyer No. 121). NH 50241

Destroyer Divisions 13, 15, 14, 11, and 10 moored in nests, off San Diego, California, circa 1922. Ships in the left foreground nest include (from left to right): USS Breese (DD-122); USS Radford (DD-120); USS Gamble (DD-123); USS Farquhar (DD-304); USS Robert Smith (DD-324); USS Montgomery (DD-121); and USS Lamberton (DD-119). The leftmost ship in the nest at right is USS Kennison (DD-138). Courtesy of ESKC Joseph L. Aguillard, USNR, 1969 NH 69514

Three Wickes (Lamberton) Class Destroyers during a public event at an unknown west coast port, maybe San Diago Ca in the early 1920s. From the left is USS Lamberton DD-119 (lead ship of the modified Wickes Destroyers), USS Breese DD-122, and USS Radford DD-120. Ships were part of Destroyer Force Division 12, Pacific Fleet

U.S. fleet in Balboa, Panama, early 1920s. The center of the photo is the battleship USS New Mexico BB-40, then a cluster of flush deck destroyers including USS Ramsey DD-124, USS Montgomery DD-121, USS Breese DD-122, USS Lamberton DD-119, and USS Gamble DD-123. In the background are the battleship USS Mississippi BB-41, the tin cans USS O’Bannon DD-177, USS MacKenzie DD-175, USS Hugan DD-178, USS Anthony DD-172, and several other destroyers and another battleship in the far distance.

With the Navy flush with destroyers and few destroyermen billets to go around, Breese was decommissioned on 17 June 1922 after just short of four years of service and laid up.

Destroyers refitting at Mare Island. View taken circa 1921-22. Many of these ships are being modified to place the after 4/50 gun atop an enlarged after-deckhouse. Ships present include (listed from the foreground): USS Lamberton (DD-119); unidentified destroyer; USS Breese (DD-122); USS Radford (DD-120); unidentified destroyer; USS Elliot (DD-146); USS Tarbell (DD-142); USS Yarnall (DD-143); USS Delphy (DD-261); USS McFarland (DD-237); USS Litchfield (DD-336); USS Kennison (DD-138); USS Lea (DD-118); and two unidentified destroyers. Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen Farenthold, USN (MC), 1932. NH 50325

Welcome to the Mine Forces

After nearly a decade on red lead row, Breese was taken out of mothballs and redesignated a fast destroyer minelayer (DM-18) on 5 January 1931. This saw her head to Mare Island for a general overhaul and conversion.

The Navy had previously converted 14 Wickes and Clemson class ships to this designation in 1920, with the simple swap out of having their torpedo tubes replaced with tracks that could carry approximately 80 1,400-pound Mark VI moored antenna mines (of which the Navy had 50,000 left over from the Great War) to drop over the side.

As noted by Destroyer History.org:

Among the lessons World War I offered the US Navy was the possibility that fast ships could be effective in laying minefields to disrupt enemy operations. The surplus of flush-deckers at the end of the war provided an opportunity to experiment.

The original 14 circa 1920 rated destroyer-minelayers were slowly replaced throughout the 1930s by a smaller group of eight converted flush-deckers taken from mothballs– USS Gamble (DM-15)(DD-123), USS Ramsey (DM-16)(DD-124), USS Montgomery (DM-17)(DD-121), USS Breese (DM-18)(DD-122), USS Tracy (DM-19)(DD-214), USS Preble (DM-20)(DD-345), USS Sicard (DM-21)(DD-346) and USS Pruitt (DM-22)(DD-347).

Jane’s 1931 entry on the type. Note Breese is misspelled as “Breeze.”

Curiously, these ships would retain their white DD-hull numbers but wear mine-force insignia on their bow, outwardly looking much more destroyer than minelayer.

Wickes-class destroyer USS Ramsey (DM-16)(DD-124) view was taken by Tai Sing Loo, at Pearl Harbor, T. H., circa 1930. Note that she is fitted out as a minelayer (DM) and retains her DD-hull number while wearing mine-force insignia on her bow. NH 49953

In addition to these minelayers, a number of Wickes/Clemson class flush deckers were converted during the WWII era to other tasks including eighteen fast minesweepers (DMS), fourteen seaplane tenders (AVD), and six fast “Green Dragon” transports (APD) plus test ship Semmes (AG 24, ex-DD 189) at the Key West Sound School and damage control hulk Walker (DCH 1, ex-YW 57, ex-DD 163) which was reclaimed from commercial service as a dockside restaurant at San Diego.

All eight of the active destroyer-minelayers were formed into Mine Squadron 1 headed up by the old minelayer USS Oglala (CM 4), flagship of Rear Admiral William R. Furlong, commander of Minecraft for the Battle Force of the Pacific Fleet, and forward-based with “The Pineapple Fleet” at Pearl Harbor, where a new conflict would soon find them.


All MineRon1’s ships were swaying at their berths at Pearl’s Middle Loch on 7 December 1941 when the Japanese attack came in. The squadron was divided into two divisions, with MinDiv2 consisting of Gamble, Montgomery, Breese, and Ramsay.

The response by Breese, among others, was immediate. From her after-action report:

At 0755 two dive bombing planes approached Ford Island from the west at an altitude of 200 ft., in horizontal flight and bombed the sea plane hangar and adjacent gasoline tanks on the west end of Ford Island. The general alarm was sounded, and the anti-aircraft battery manned. This ship opened fire with 50 cal. machine guns at 0757, the first ship to open fire in the Middle Loch area.

In all, Breese got off 1,700 rounds .50 cal. AP/tracer and 45 rounds from her single 3″/23 cal. AAA gun which had been designed primarily to shoot down balloons. Her crew also broke out the light machine guns reserved for use by the landing force– three 30 cal. Lewis machine guns and three M1918 Browning Automatic Rifles. The ship claimed one “kill.”

Four planes were observed by this officer as they were shot down in the Middle Loch area. One of these was hit by a 3″ projectile from this ship, which blew the after part of the fuselage away the remainder of the plane crashed into the west bank of the channel in flames.

By 0917, with an unidentified submarine sighted in the middle of the channel northwest of Ford Island, Breese got underway towards where a periscope had been sighted. She spent the rest of the morning hunting down sound bearings and dropped 11 depth charges on what were thought to be contacts, and Breese may have had a hand in accounting for one of the five Japanese Type A kō-hyōteki midget subs lost in the attack.

Her casualties that day included two gunners suffering minor injuries while working the 3″/23 and minor splinter damage to the ship’s rigging. Likewise, all seven of her DM sisters came through the Japanese strike’s fury and were ready for service. However, Oglala capsized through a series of strange events but would be quickly raised and returned to service as an engine repair ship.

DANFS is almost criminally short on Breese’s subsequent wartime service, summing it up as :

Breese operated in the Central Pacific from 7 December 1941 until 10 October 1944. She then extended her sphere of duty westward to include various islands in the Marianas-Philippine area and continued to serve as a minelayer and patrol ship until 7 November 1945.

Her nine-page War History, in the National Archives, shed much more light on the service.

She would lay one of the first American offensive minefields of the Pacific War, in French Frigate Shoals, and spend much of 1942 on ASW patrol around Hawaii. This would include a sortie to Midway along with USS Allen and USS Fulton, where the three ships picked up 81 men and three officers from the lost carrier USS Yorktown.

Then came some real excitement, detailed via some excerpts from her War History:

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Tucker (DD-374) sinking on 4 August 1942. Tucker had struck a mine in the area on 3 August 1942, breaking her keel. She was being towed by a motor launch from Espiritu Santo to beach her before she sank when she jack-knifed amidships about 3 1/2 hours later and sank off the northwest corner of Malo Island. The destroyer minelayer USS Breese (DM-18) is standing by, in the foreground. Photographed from a seaplane based on USS Curtiss (AV-4). NH 77031.

Breese (DM-18) underway on 11 December 1943. Note by this point in the war she had three stacks rather than four. NH 107270

Her 7 May offensive mine efforts are detailed by Destroyer History.org:

On 7 May, Radford led GamblePreble and Breese in an offensive operation to the New Georgia Group. Approaching Kolombangara from the south through Ferguson Passage, the three laid 250 mines in 17 minutes across narrow Blackett Strait, a well-known route of the Tokyo Express to Vila. The following night, three unsuspecting destroyers of veteran Japanese Destroyer Division 15—which had conducted more Tokyo Express operations to Guadalcanal than any other division—ran into it from the east at 18 knots enroute home from their advance base at nearby Vila plantation. Kuroshio sank immediately; class leader Kagero and division flagship Oyashio were disabled. Despite rescue barges sent out from Vila, they remained exposed to attacks by American aircraft, which found and bombed them the following day. Both eventually sank.

Then came a very busy string of island-hopping campaigns. 

Breese (DM-18) 22 April 1944 off Aitape, New Guinea. Note her small “18” hull number, reduced stacks (three rather than four), and green camouflage, much like that seen on the APD fast transports of the time. National Archives photo SC259984

Among the eight flush-deck destroyer minelayers, the class earned 44 Pacific battle stars. Breese accounted for 10 of these by herself, including:

  • 7 Dec 41 Pearl Harbor–Midway
  • 12 May 43 – 13 May 43 Consolidation of Southern Solomons
  • 29 Jun 43 – 25 Aug 43 New Georgia-Rendova-Vanunu occupation
  • 1 Nov 43 – 8 Nov 43 Occupation and defense of Cape Torokina
  • 12 Oct 44 – 20 Oct 44 Leyte landings
  • 4 Jan 45 – 18 Jan 45 Lingayen Gulf landing
  • 16 Feb 45 – 7 Mar 45 Assault and occupation of Iwo Jima
  • 25 Mar 45 – 30 Jun 45 Assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto
  • 5 Jul 45 – 31 Jul 45 3d Fleet operations against Japan

In August and September 1945 Breese swept mines in the East China Sea “Klondike” areas and Van Dieman Straits in the Kyushu-Korean area.

Then, she headed home for good.

She transited the Panama Canal and put into New York on 13 December 1945. She was decommissioned on 15 January 1946 and sold on 16 May 1946.


Breese’s war diaries, plans, and war history are preserved in the National Archives.

Meanwhile, the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s gallery contains her ship’s bell.

(US Navy Photo by Max Lonzanida/Released)

Breese’s Pearl Harbor skipper, LCDR Herald Franklin Stout (USNA 1926) would go on to earn two Navy Crosses in the Solomon Islands with the “Little Beavers” of DESRON 23 ( Squadron) as skipper of the new Fletcher-class tin can USS Claxton (DD-571). He retired in 1956 as a rear admiral and passed away in 1987, aged 83. The Pascagoula-built destroyer USS Stout (DDG-55) is named after him and has been in service since 1994.

Of the eight flush-deck destroyer minelayers, two were lost during the war, including Breese’s twin, USS Gamble, who was so severely damaged off Iwo Jima while screening the old battleship Nevada that she was towed to the Marianas and scuttled off Guam. The other loss was Navy Unit Commendation recipient USS Montgomery (DM-17)(DD-121), who fouled a drifting mine in Palau in late 1944 and was decommissioned shortly after limping back home.

Besides Gamble and Montgomery, at least 11 other Wickes class destroyers were lost during World War II in U.S. service. The remainder were scrapped between 1945 and 1947.

Today no Wickes-class tin cans survive. The last one afloat, USS Maddox (DD–168), was scrapped in late 1952 after serving in the US, then RN, then Canadian, then Soviet navies.

However, one of the class, USS Walker (DD-163), has been given new life in the excellent alternate history series Destroyermen written by Taylor Anderson.

There has never been another USS Breese.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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Warship Wednesday, May 3, 2023: Where Dewey and Halsey Intersect

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

Warship Wednesday, May 3, 2023: Where Dewey and Halsey Intersect

Via the estate of Lieutenant C.J. Dutreaux, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. WHI.2014.21

Above we see the splinter-riddled and abandoned Spanish Navy Velasco-class unprotected cruiser (crucero desprotegido) Don Juan de Austria as she appeared some 105 years ago this week, her hull on the bottom of Manila Bay, the first week of May 1898. Lost on the same day with two of her sisters of the “Escuadra Negra,” she would go on to serve a further two decades, albeit under a different flag.

The Velasco class

Built in three Spanish yards (La Carraca, Cartagena, and Ferrol) as well as at the Thames Iron Works in Blackwall, these very slight cruisers were meant for overseas colonial service and diplomatic representation in Spain’s far-flung global territories, not for combat against the armored fleets of modern states. Ridiculously small vessels by any measure, they ran just 210 feet overall with a 1,100-ton displacement. However, they could float in just two fathoms, which was important for their taskings.

Beautiful three-masted iron-hulled barque-rigged steamers with a bowsprit, they carried a quartet of British Humphrys cylindrical boilers to feed on a pair of horizontal compound steam engines that could turn a centerline screw for speeds up to 15 knots, although they typically only made about 12-13 in practice.

The eight-ship class included Velasco, Gravina, Cristóbal Colón, Isabel II, Don Antonio de Ulloa, Don Juan de Austria, and Infanta Isabel, all traditional Spanish naval heroes and regal names.

Only the first two, Velasco and Gravina, carried their maximum armament of a trio of British-made Armstrong M1881 BL 6-inch guns and two smaller 70mm/12cal Gonzalez Hontorias.

Cruiser Gravinia, Spanish Velasco class. The period illustration shows her sailing rig

The six follow-on vessels would carry a more homogeneous four-gun battery of 4.74-inch/35 cal M1883 Hontorias in single shielded mounts amidships, augmented by four five-barreled 37mm Hotchkiss anti-torpedo boat gatling guns, another quartet of 3-pounder Nordenfelts, and two 14.2 inch Schwartzkopff torpedo tubes along the beam.

Period line drawing of Conde de Venadito, note the two broadside sponsons supporting her 4.7-inch guns

The four 12-cm. B. L. Hontoria M1883s on the last six cruisers of the class had a range of 10,500 meters but were slow to reload. Here, is a blistered example seen on the Spanish Cruiser Isla de Cuba.

Our subject, named for the 16th-century Bavarian-born illegitimate son of King Charles I of Spain who went on to become a noted general and diplomat, was laid down at the Arsenal del Cartagena in 1883 and completed in 1889.

Constructed and delivered between 1879 and 1891, they saw much overseas service, with sister Infanta Isabel— the first metal-hulled warship built in Spain– especially notable for her appearance in American waters during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World.

Infanta Isabel in New York. (1893), Note the great view of her guns and masts

Infanta Isabel at the International Columbian Naval Review in New York in April 1893. Description: Courtesy of Ted Stone, 1981.NH 92029

Infanta Isabel in New York 1893

Spanish Velasco-class Unprotected Cruiser Infanta Isabel towing Nao Santa María out of Havana April 1893

Another, Conde de Venadito, would later transport the remains of Christopher Columbus from Havana to Seville at around the same time.

Cruisers Sánchez Barcaíztegui and Conde de Venadito, Havana, 1895

Spanish Cruiser of the Infanta Isabel Class photographed in U.S. waters, likely either Conde de Venadito or Infanta Isabel, with the river steamer Angler in the background, circa the 1880s or 1890s. NH 46866

As noted by the above images, the class typically carried a gleaming white scheme, which led to sisters assigned to the Philippines who carried more practical, black-painted hulled derided as “the Black Squadron.”

Sadly, they would also prove extremely unlucky to their crews. The English-built Gravina would be wrecked in a typhoon while in Philippines waters in 1884 just three years after she was completed. Meanwhile, the Carraca-constructed Cristóbal Colón ran aground in the Los Colorados shoal near Mantua Pinar del Río Cuba in 1895 then was destroyed by a hurricane before she could be pulled free.

Some saw extensive combat.

For instance, Conde de Venadito provided naval gunfire support during the Margallo War against the Rif in Morocco in 1893. Ulloa was continually active against Philippine insurgents in Mindanao in 1891 then again in 1896-97 in the Tagalog Revolt. Similarly, Velasco would unleash her guns on insurgents in Manila in 1896 and in Bacoor, Vinacayan, Cavite, Viejo, and Noveleta the following year.

Others fought Cuban rebels and those trying to smuggle munitions to them from time to time prior to 1898.

This brings us to…

The Crucible of the Spanish-American War

While fine for service as station ships in remote colonial backwaters, a floating sign to the locals that Spain’s enduring empire still had a modicum of prestige remaining, they just couldn’t slug it out with other modern warships of any size. Of the eight Velascos, two had been lost in pre-war accidents. Conde de Venadito, Isabel II, and Infanta Isabella were in Cuba, with the latter laid up in need of a refit.

Meanwhile, Velasco, Don Antonio de Ulloa, and our Don Juan de Austria were in the Philippines where they had been for a decade.

Their fight in the Battle of Manila on 1 May 1898 was brief.

Don Juan de Austria was the first Spanish ship in Admiral Don Patricio Montojo’s battleline to spot Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron, at 0445.

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898. With Manila, Philippines, in the top center, and the Spanish fleet in the upper right, the U.S. Navy ships listed descending on the left to bottom are: Colliers; USS McCullough; USS Petrel; USS Concord; USS Boston; USS Raleigh; USS Baltimore; and USS Olympia – signaling “Remember the Maine.” Color lithograph by Rand McNally. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Placed adjacent to the old Aragon-class wooden cruiser Castilla (c1869, 3342t, 4×5.9-inch guns, 2×4.7-inch guns) to give that ship some protection, by 0630 both vessels were taking hits and were increasingly disabled by American shells (at least 13 large caliber hits on Don Juan de Austria alone) that also killed or wounded several men. By 0830, both were abandoned.

A U.S. Navy boarding party from the gunboat USS Petrel went aboard later that day and set her upper works on fire.

Halftone reproduction of an artwork by E.T. Smith, 1901, depicting a boat party from USS Petrel setting fire to Spanish gunboats near the battle’s end. The party was under the direction of Chief Carpenter’s Mate Franz A. Itrich, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for this operation. Copied from Deeds of Valor, Vol.II, page 354, published by the Perrien-Keydel Co., Detroit, Michigan, 1907. Photo #: NH 79948

Wreck of the Spanish cruiser Castilla off Cavite, shortly after the battle. In the background are (left-to-right): the cruisers USS Olympia, USS Baltimore, USS Raleigh, and two merchant ships. Copied from the USS Baltimore album, page 27. NH 101344

Sister Don Antonio de Ulloa got an even tougher beating, receiving 33 hits (four 8-inch, three 6-inch, one of 5-inch, and the rest of 3- and 6-pounder). Her commander, Capt. José de Iturralde, was killed as were half of her 130-man crew. In a pyrrhic victory, one of her 3-pounder Hotchkiss rifles was credited with firing the last shot at Dewey’s fleet in the battle.

Wreck of Spanish cruiser Don Antonio de Ulloa NHHC WHI.2014

Later that day, Velasco, laid up pending repairs and without her guns installed, was destroyed while anchored in the company of the gunboat General Lezo in the Spanish yard at Cavite.

Wreck of Spanish cruiser Velasco at Cavite, May 1898. NHHC WHI.2014.24

Meanwhile, sisters Infanta Isabella and Conde del Venadito, in poor condition in Cuban waters, survived the war (largely because they did not fight) with the latter hulked soon after her return to Spain. Isabel II, who fought in the battles of San Juan and survived, was likewise scrapped just a few years later.

By 1907, only Infanta Isabella remained in Spanish service from the eight-ship class.

Infanta Isabella’s 1914 entry in Jane’s. She had been rebuilt between 1910 and 11, removing her tubes, old machinery, and guns and replacing them with a single Skoda 70 mm gun and 10 Nordenfelt 57 mm guns. Once she returned to Spain, she continued extensive overseas service in the Canary Islands, the Gold Coast, and Guinean possessions, soldiering on until 1926, a full 39-year career, benefiting from parts from the stripped Conde del Venadito and scrapped Isabel II.

But the battered Don Juan de Austria would sail again.

U.S. Service

Salvaged and repaired in nearby Hong Kong, our Spanish cruiser was commissioned into American Navy as USS Don Juan de Austria on 11 April 1900. Re-rated as a gunboat due to her small size and low speed, she was rearmed with American ordnance to include two 4-inch mounts, eight rapid-fire 6-pounders, and two rapid-fire 1-pounders. Her waterlogged Spanish machinery was replaced with four straight-away cylindrical boilers, and one 941ihp horizontal compound engine, allowing her to make 12 knots.

In this respect, she mirrored another raised Spanish cruiser, the second-class protected cruiser USS Isla de Luzon, which was also one of Admiral Montojo’s warships lost in Manila Bay. A third Spanish cruiser, the Alfonso XII-class Reina Mercedes, sunk as a blockship in the entrance channel of the harbor at Santiago de Cuba, was also raised and put into U.S. Navy service under her old name, becoming USS Reina Mercedes despite the fact she could not even sail under her own power and would serve her second career wholly as a receiving/barracks/prison ship. In each case, the old Spanish Navy names were carefully retained to highlight the fact they were war trophies.

More mobile than USS Reina Mercedes, which earned the unofficial title of the “Fastest Ship in the Navy,” USS Don Juan de Austria did manage to get around quite a bit once her name was added to the Navy List. Her first American skipper was CDR Thomas C. McLean, USN, fresh off his job as commanding officer of the torpedo station at Newport, Rhode Island.

Officers of USS Don Juan de Austria. Photograph taken while at Canton, China, circa September 1900. Note her newly installed USN quarterdeck board. The officers listed are numbered as follows: 1. Lieutenant Junior Grade John D. Barber, Asst. Paymaster, USN; 2. Naval Cadet Allen Buchanan, USN; 3. Lieutenant John L. Purcell, USN; 4. Ensign William L. Littlefield, USN; 5. Naval Cadet Ralph E. Pope, USN; 6. Lieutenant Henry B. Price, USN; 7. Commander Thomas C. McLean, USN, CO; 8. Lieutenant Harold A. Haas, Asst. Surgeon, USN; and 9. Lieutenant Armistead Rust, USN. NH 104885

She soon spent the next three years alternating between standing station off China to protect American interests there, and action in the Philippines where the U.S. was fighting a tough insurgency throughout the archipelago. 

USS Don Juan de Austria in Chinese waters circa 1900. Note she now has a white hull, two much-reduced masts, and extensive awnings. NH 54544


She was employed in the Philippines in general duties in connection with taking possession of the newly acquired territory, supporting Army operations against the insurgent native forces, transporting troops and stores, blockading insurgent supply routes, and seizing and searching various towns to ensure American control.

USS Don Juan de Austria photographed in the Philippine Islands, circa 1900. Inset shows one of the ship’s boats. Courtesy of Captain R. E. Pope, USN (Ret.) NH 54546

In this, her crew could be nearly halved to send as many as 75 bluejackets ashore as an armed landing force. 

Her crew would even take into custody one of the insurgency’s leaders.

Aguinaldo, a cousin of Emilio, Guiando, Captured by the Don Juan De Austria 1900. NH 120409

She departed Hong Kong on 16 December 1903 for the United States, sailing by way of Singapore, Ceylon, India, the Suez Canal, and Mediterranean ports to arrive at Portsmouth Navy Yard on 21 April 1904, where she was placed in ordinary for 18 months’ worth of repairs and refit. This saw her small 4- and 1-pounders removed, and another four 4-inch mounts added, giving her a total of six. Four Colt machine guns were also added.

In December 1905, a young Midshipman by the name of William Frederick Halsey, Jr. (USNA 1904) was transferred to the USS Don Juan de Austria. Promoted to ensign while aboard her the following February, Mr. Halsey served as the gunboat’s watch and division officer for the next two years.

USS Don Juan de Austria, the scene in the wardroom with officers reading circa 1906. Tinted postcard photo. Courtesy of Captain Ralph C. McCoy, 1974. NH 82781-KN

USS Don Juan de Austria, a group photo of the ship’s officers and crew, circa 1907. The officer at the extreme lower right is Ensign William F. Halsey. Note the breechblock of the 4-inch gun to the left. Courtesy of the U. S. Naval Academy Museum NH 54547

Assigned to the Third Squadron, Atlantic Fleet, USS Don Juan de Austria with Halsey aboard would spend most of 1906 off the Dominican Republic “to protect American interests,” clearly swapping being a colonial Spanish cruiser to one on the same mission for the White House.

However, with a new series of much more capable small cruisers joining the fleet, such as the 4,600-ton scout cruiser USS Chester (CL-1)-– which packed eight 5- and 6-inch guns, carried a couple inches of armor protection, and could make 26 knots– Don Juan de Austria was no longer needed for overseas service. With that, she was placed out of commission at the Portsmouth Navy Yard on 7 March 1907. As for Halsey, he joined the brand new USS Kansas at her commissioning five weeks later and made the World Cruise of the Great White Fleet in that battleship.

Nonetheless, the Navy still needed functional warships for state naval militias to drill upon in the days prior to the formation of the USNR, and USS Don Juan de Austria soon shipped by way of the St. Lawrence River to Detroit, where she was loaned to the Michigan Naval Militia.

Likewise, the former Spanish cruiser USS Isla de Luzon, was also loaned at this time to the Illinois Naval Militia, stationed at Chicago, meaning both of these one-time Armada vessels were deployed to the Great Lakes in the decade before 1917.

Our little cruiser became a regular around Detroit and Windsor.

Don Juan de Austria (on the right) is seen looking upriver from the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit, Michigan during the Parke Davis Excursion. Sometime between July 1907 and April 1917. Library of Congress photo LC-D4-39089

USS Don Juan de Austria, pre WWI postcard, likely while in Naval Militia service. Courtesy of D.M. McPherson, 1976 NH 84404

USS Don Juan de Austria postcard photo, taken while serving as Michigan Naval Militia Training Ship in the Detroit River, circa 1910. Courtesy of Kenneth Hanson, 1977. NH 86031

USS Don Juan de Austria, photographed during the Perry centennial Naval parade, 1913, possibly at Erie, Pennsylvania. She was a training ship of the Michigan Naval Militia at the time. Courtesy of Rear Admiral Denys W. Knoll USN ret., Erie Pennsylvania. NH 75676

Great War recall

USS Don Juan de Austria, 1914 Janes. Compare this to Infanta Isabella’s entry from the same volume above. Note by this time her armament had morphed to two 4″/40 rapid fire mounts, eight 6-pounder rapid fire mounts, two 1-pounder rapid fire mounts and she would later also carry two temporary 3-pounders.

Once the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, USS Don Juan de Austria would soon leave her familiar birth in Detroit and sail for Newport, where she became a patrol asset for use off of New England.

USS Don Juan de Austria, ship’s Officers, and Crew pose on board, circa 1917-1918. Photographed by C.E. Waterman, Newport, Rhode Island. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2008. NH 105498

Under the command of a USNRF lieutenant, by August 1918 she was escorting slow convoys to Bermuda and a group of submarines back to Newport. Among her final missions was, in April 1919, to escort the ships carrying the 26th Infantry “Yankee Division,” formed from New England National Guard units, back from “Over There” and German occupation duty back home to Boston.

USS Don Juan de Austria in the foreground leading USS America (ID # 3006) up Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, on 5 April 1919, the 26th INF Div aboard. The transport is the former 22,000-ton German Hamburg-America liner SS Amerika, seized by the Navy at Boston in April 1917 where she had been interned for three years. NH 54586

Similarly, Isla de Luzon was used as a recruit training ship in Chicago until September 1918 when she arrived at Narragansett Bay for assignment to the Naval Torpedo Station. There, armed with torpedo tubes for the first time since 1898, she would pull duty with the Seamen Gunner’s Class through the end of the year and remain a yard craft for the Station until disposed of in mid-1919.

USS Don Juan de Austria was decommissioned at Portsmouth on 18 June 1919 and sold on 16 October 1919 to one Mr. Andrew Olsen. She lingered until 1926 when mention of her arose as “abandoned.” I have no further information on her final disposition although it is marginally conceivable, she may have been converted to a tramp steamer.


Few items remain from the Velascos besides a handful of removed Spanish guns that have been on display, typically in small American towns, since 1898.

Also saved is the Hotchkiss rifle captured from the Spanish cruiser Don Antonio De Ulloa which fired the last shot at Dewey’s fleet, preserved at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.

They endure in period maritime art. 

Spanish Armada’s Training Squad before the Spanish-American War of 1898, although the represented ships never sailed together. Oil on canvas painted and signed with initials A.A. by Antonio Antón e Iboleón, around 1897. From left the Battleship Pelayo with insignia, followed by the cruisers Cristóbal Colón, Infanta María Teresa, and Alfonso XIII; to the right, the cruiser Carlos V with insignia, Oquendo and Vizcaya. On the starboard side of the Pelayo sails the Torpedo-gunboat Destructor, and two Terror-class torpedo boats sail on the bows of the Carlos V.

USS Don Juan de Austria almost outlasted her sisters, the Cadiz-built Infanta Isabel, which was only stricken by the Spanish in 1926, and Count of Venadito, which, hulked in 1902, was sunk as a target by the battleship Jaime I and the cruisers Libertad, Almirante Cervera, and Miguel de Cervantes in 1936.

A fitting end to the class.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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.

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I’m a member, so should you be!

Montevideo Maru, found

Class leader USS Salmon (SS-182) running speed trials in early 1938. Note the S1 designator. NH 69872

As covered in past Warship Wednesdays, the hard-charging Salmon-class fleet submarine USS Sturgeon (SS-187), under command of LCDR William Leslie “Bull” Wright (USNA 1925), a colorful six-foot-three cigar-chomping Texan, made a name for herself in the early days of the Pacific War. After an early attack on a Japanese ship just after Pearl Harbor, she flashed “Sturgeon no longer virgin!”

It was on her fourth patrol that she came across the 7,266-ton, twin-screw diesel motor vessel passenger ship MV Montevideo Maru which had been used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a troop transport in the early days of the war, supporting the landings at Makassar in February 1942 and was part of the Japanese seizure of New Britain.

Via ONI 208J.

Sailing on 22 June unescorted for Hainan Island off China, Montevideo Maru ran into Sturgeon eight days later. Our submarine pumped four fish into the “big fella” in the predawn hours of 1 July, after a four-hour stalk, with young LT Chester William “Chet” Nimitz Jr. (yes, that Nimitz’s son) as the TDC officer.

Tragically, in what is now known as the “worst maritime disaster in Australian history,” Montevideo Maru was a “Hell Ship,” carrying more than 1,000 prisoners of the Japanese forces, including members of the Australian 2/22nd Battalion and No.1 Independent Company of the incredibly unlucky Lark Force which had been captured on New Britain.

All the prisoners on board died, locked below decks. Of note, more Australians died in the loss of the Montevideo Maru than in the country’s decade-long involvement in Vietnam.

Sturgeon, of course, was unaware that the ship was carrying Allied POWs and internees.

DANFS does not mention Montevideo Maru‘s cargo.

Four days later, Sturgeon damaged the Japanese oiler San Pedro Maru (7268 GRT) south of Luzon, then ended her 4th war patrol at Fremantle on 22 July.

Sturgeon earned ten battle stars for World War II service, with seven of her war patrols deemed successful enough for a Submarine Combat Insignia.

Bull Wright, who earned a Navy Cross for his first patrol, never commanded a submarine again– perhaps dogged over the Montevideo Maru, or perhaps because he was 40 years old when he left Sturgeon— and he retired quietly from the Navy after the war as a rear admiral. Although a number of WWII submarines and skippers with lower tonnage or fewer patrols/battle stars under their belt were profiled in the most excellent 1950s “Silent Service” documentary series, Bull Wright and Sturgeon were noticeably skipped.

Now, Montevideo Maru has been discovered in her resting place off the Philippines. An expedition team, led by Australian businessman, maritime history philanthropist, explorer, and director of not-for-profit Silentworld Foundation, John Mullen, found the hell ship’s wreck earlier this month.

Warship Wednesday, April 19, 2023: Norway’s Fair-haired Bruiser

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

Warship Wednesday, April 19, 2023: Norway’s Fair-haired Bruiser

Norwegian Marinemuseet image MMU.942036

Above we see the proud crew of the Royal Norwegian Navy Tordenskjold-class panserskipet (battleship) KNM Harald Haarfagre (also seen as Harald Hårfagre) posed around her aft 8.26-inch Armstrong main gun in the fall of 1914. Besides the large range clock on the mast, note the crews’ German-style wool jumpers and flat caps, as well as the uniforms of the officers, arrayed to the right.

Coastal battleships

Ordered from Sir WG Armstrong, Mitchell & Co’s Low Walker yard in 1895 as Yard Nos. 648 and 649, respectively, Harald Haarfagre and Tordenskjold at the time were the largest warships envisioned for the Norwegian fleet. Essentially smallish slow armored cruisers, the pair went 304 feet long overall (279 at the perpendiculars), displaced some 3,800 tons, and were swathed in up to 8-inches of Harvey steel armor– including a 174-foot long by 6.5 foot 7-inch main belt.

The cost was on the order of $925,000 per ship.

Armstrong blueprint for Norwegian Tordenskjold Class Coastal Defense Ship HNoMS Harald Haarfagre

Harald Haarfagre by Geoff Gray, pg 60 in the 1900 edition of Brassey’s Naval Annual. Their peacetime Norwegian livery was of black hulls with yellow funnels and gun shields, and white superstructure and masts.

Lead Ship, Coastal Defence Ship HNoMS Tordenskjold at Armstrong Whitworth & Co. Ltd Yards. (Low Walker Shipyard), Newcastle upon Tyne, March 18th, 1897. 

Tordenskjold at Armstrong Whitworth & Co. Ltd Yards. (Low Walker Shipyard), Newcastle upon Tyne, March 18th, 1897.

Panserskipet Harald Haarfagre, via Tyne Museum. Note the ram bow

Powered by three cylindrical boilers driving two R & W Hawthorn Leslie Co-built engines, each on their own screws, they were rated for 16 knots– surpassing this by hitting 17.2 on builder’s sea trials in 1897.

Built for the often narrow confines of Norway’s craggy and unpredictable coast, they could float in just 16.5 feet, which is comparably shallow for a well-armored steel-hulled warship.

The sisters carried a single 8.2″/44 Armstrong B forward and a second aft in well-protected turrets clad in up to 8 inches of armor and fed by electric hoists from magazines well below deck.

HNoMS Tordenskjold at Armstrong Whitworth & Co. Ltd Yards. (Low Walker Shipyard), Newcastle upon Tyne, March 18th, 1897, showing her stern 8.2″/44 Armstrong turret.

Their main guns proved a common focal point for crew and wardroom portraits over the years.

Offisersbesetningen på PS Harald Hårfagre 1897. Note the 12-pounder in the background. MMU.940805

Panserskipet Harald Hårfagre første offiserbesetnig 18. Des 1897 9.mars 1898. Note the 12-pounders in the background MMU.942040

Panserskipet Harald Hårfagre besetnigen 1899 MMU.942037

Panserskipet Harald Hårfagre besetningen 1910 MMU.942035

Panserskipet Harald Hårfagre besetningen 1921 MMU.942034

Secondary and tertiary batteries included six 4.7″/44 Armstrong Model Y guns in shielded mounts, six shielded Armstrong N 12-pounder singles, six Hotchkiss 37mm three-pounders in fighting platforms on the masts, and two submerged torpedo tubes (17.7 inch in Haarfagre and 18 inch in Tordenskjold) along the beam for Mr. Whitehead’s devices.

Harald Haarfagre, seen in Horten, October 1903, with a good view of her gun decks. Note the 4.7″/44s and smaller 12-pounders along with the three-pounders in the mast. Also note the extensive small boat storage facility, with most boats apparently off-ship at the time of the photo. Photo via Norsk Maritimt Museum, Anders Beer Wilse Collection.

Another Anders Beer Wilse photo from the same period at Horten shows her crew in gun-loading exercises in summer whites towards the stern of the gun deck. Note the 4.7-inch Armstrong on deck, with the 12-pounders above. Also, note the crew’s bayonets and Krag rifles at the ready on racks. The officers stand ready with sabers. Note the ornate “For Konge Og Fedreland Flaggets Heder!” (For the honor of the King and Fatherland Flag) crest. Photo via Norsk Maritimt Museum, Anders Beer Wilse Collection.

Panserskipet Harald Hårfagre Styrbord side MMU.940381

They were seen by many at the time as being effectively just miniature versions of the British circa 1892 Centurion class battleships (10,000 tons, 390 ft oal, 2×2 10 inch, 9-12 inches armor, 17 knots).

Centurion class battleship HMS Barfleur, 1895. The Tordenskjolds were about half as heavy but of a similar arrangement and with smaller guns. Symonds and Co Collection, IWM Q 20993.

As such, the Tordenskjolds were considered a close match for the three new Swedish Oden class pansarbats, or coastal battleships (3400 tons, 278 ft oal, 1 or 2x 10″/41, 9.5 inches of Creusot or Harvey armor, 16 knots). This was important as, although the two countries were a United Kingdom under a Swedish king since 1814, the union’s dissolution was on the horizon, and some thought it could lead to bloodshed.

Tordenskjold was named in honor of Peter Jansen Wessel Tordenskiold, the famed 18th Century Scandinavian admiral and naval hero who perished at the ripe old age of 30 in a duel. Meanwhile, Haarfagre was named for the famed “Harald Fairhair” (Haraldr inn hárfagri), the storied 9th Century first king of a united Norway.

Portrayed by Peter Franzén in the recent Vikings TV show, the semi-fictionalized Harald is celebrated throughout Norway and Iceland going back to the sagas of his era, and numerous monuments stand throughout Norse lands honoring the old king, his reputation is akin to King Arthur in the Anglo-Saxon culture.

Quiet peacetime service

Completed in early 1898 and delivered to the Norwegian navy, the twin Tordenskjolds remained the strongest ships in that fleet until the two slightly heavier (4,100-ton) Armstrong-built Norge class panserskipene were delivered in 1901. 

1931 Jane’s listing for the Norge class and Tordenskjolds, very similar ships built by the same yard, only differing in armor type (Krupp vs Harvey) and engineering plants. The Norwegians regarded all four ships as sisters of the same class. Note the 3-inch AAA guns mounted on the turrets, added in 1920.

This quartet of Norwegian coastal battleships would serve side-by-side for three decades, giving the country the bulk of its maritime muscle going into the tense six-month 1905 crisis with Sweden that almost led to a real shooting war between the two and the ultimate founding of today’s Norway and Royal Norwegian Navy, with the cipher of Sweden’s King Oscar II being replaced by that of his grandnephew, Prince Carl of Denmark who would rise to the Norwegian throne under the regnal name of Haakon VII.

The new Royal Norwegian Navy in 1905, besides the four coastal battleships, included 34 coastal torpedo boats (led by the unique torpedobåtjager Valkyrjen), a dozen gunboats of assorted types, and four elderly monitors.

Norwegian torpedo boats. 1900. The country had these craft as the backbone of littoral naval forces at the time

Had it gone to war against Sweden, they faced at the time not only the three Odens, but also four larger Aran-class coastal battlewagons, the one-off battleship Dristigheten, the three old but reconstructed Svea-class coastal battleships, five 800-ton destroyers labeled by the Swedes as torpedo cruisers (torpedokryssare), a small Italian-built submarine, and about 40 assorted torpedo boats. Although the Swedes had the advantage in terms of big guns, the Norwegians would surely have fought on their home turf which would have been interesting, to say the least.

Besides the 1905 crisis, the panserskipene also would stand guard over Norway’s coast during the Great War, enforcing Oslo’s neutrality against all comers. This came as the British seized a new pair of 5,000-ton 9.4-inch gunned Bjørgvin-class coastal battleships that were building in the UK. Of note, the planned KNM Bjørgvin and KNM Nidaros would enter RN service as the monitors HMS Glatton and HMS Gorgon and never flew a Norwegian flag.

Other than that, before 1940 at least, the Tordenskjolds were happy ships, and many peacetime photos exist from that period, often calling at other European ports.

Norwegian Norway coastal battleship Tordenskjold. How about that beautiful bow scroll

Norwegian Panserskipet Tordenskjold, note her stern scroll

HNoMS Harald Haarfagre

Skaffing på banjeren på PS Harald Hårfagre MMU.940449

HNoMS Harald Haarfagre 

HNoMS Harald Hårfagre or HNoMS Tordenskiold at the roadstead of Trondhjem 1906

Panserskipet Harald Hårfagre, Aktenfra MMU.940387

Køyestrekk om bord i PS Harald Hårfagre MMU.940448

Harald Haarfagre crew at mess. Photo via Norsk Maritimt Museum, Anders Beer Wilse Collection.

Harald Haarfagre’s crew practice signals. Photo via Norsk Maritimt Museum, Anders Beer Wilse Collection.

Harald Haarfagre’s bridge, circa 1903. Note her extensive brass fittings and the impressive whiskers of her officers and quartermasters

The Norwegian coastal defense ship HNoMS Harald Haarfagre in drydock at Karljohansvern naval base, 1903. Photo via Norsk Maritimt Museum, Anders Beer Wilse Collection.

The Norwegian coastal defense ship HNoMS Harald Haarfagre in drydock at Karljohansvern naval base, 1903. Photo via Norsk Maritimt Museum, Anders Beer Wilse Collection.

Harald Haarfagre in dry dock, 1903. Note her extensive bow scroll. Photo via Norsk Maritimt Museum, Anders Beer Wilse Collection.

In the 1920s, they were modestly modernized, landing their old low-angle 37mm guns and dated torpedo tubes in exchange for a pair of more modern 76mm AAA guns.

By the early 1930s, with defense kroner at an all-time low, the Norwegians decided it was better to partially strip and sideline the older Tordenskjolds and sort of modernize the better-protected Norge class panserskipene (which were transferred to a reserve status), as the fighting line of old had been augmented by six American L-class coastal submarines built under license at Karljohansvern and a planned eight fast new Sleipner– and Ålesund-class destroyers.

This saw Tordenskjold and Harald Haarfagre land most of their armament (which was recycled in many cases for use in coastal forts) and retained for use as training vessels and accommodation hulks at Karljohansvern (Horten), out of commission.


When the Germans blitzed into Norway in April 1940 without a declaration of war, in an action billed as a preemptive move to forestall Allied occupation, the toothless Tordenskjold and Harald Haarfagre were captured. The vessels had raw recruits and some reactivated retired reserve cadres on board, and, lacking all but a few small arms, were captured intact.

This inglorious fate came as their near-sisters Eidsvold and Norge, hopelessly obsolete, were sunk in very one-sided surface engagements with the Kriegsmarine.

Panserskipet Eidsvold and Norge at Narvik in early April 1940, still with their range clocks. Reactivated from mothballs the previous year and undermanned, they were outdated and outclassed by just about any period cruiser or battleship, and lost their only battle. A total of 276 men died on these two vessels, while just 96 were plucked from the freezing water, the largest single loss of life for the Norwegian navy in WWII

The Germans soon converted the captured pair of old “bathtubs” to floating batteries (Schwimmende Batterien or Schwimmende Flakbatterie, or Norwegian luftvernskrysser) with Tordenskjold rechristened as Nymphe, and Harald Haarfagre as Thetis. The conversion saw a much modernized German armament of six 4.1-inch SK C/32 guns, two 40mm Bofors guns, and nine 20mm Oerlikon guns– the latter two salvaged from Norwegian stores.

PS HARALD HÅRFAGRE ombygget til tysk luftvernskrysser THETIS i Tromsø 1945 MMU.940250

Flakschiff Nymphe, German Anti-Aircraft Ship, 1940. Formerly Norwegian Tordenskjold, anchored in a Norwegian harbor during World War II. Note her 105mm A.A. guns with camouflaged barrels, and crew members standing in formation on deck. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 71445

Flakschiff Nymphe, German Anti-Aircraft Ship, 1940. Formerly Norwegian Tordenskjold, surrounded by torpedo defense nets, in a Norwegian harbor during World War II. Note her camouflage. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 71444

Their German naval service, which was restricted to the Norwegian littoral and apparently included protecting Tirpitz and other key Kriegsmarine surface ships against RN Fleet Air Arm and RAF raids during the war, is poorly documented.

Nonetheless, the sisters survived the war, with Tordenskjold/Nymphe bombed and deliberately run aground by her German crew at Helleford in May 1945 to prevent sinking.

Harald Haarfagre/Thetis was still capable of steaming and, returned to limited Norwegian service, would carry German POWs back to their Fatherland post-war.

Both ships remained as barracks and accommodation vessels (losjiskip) as late as 1948, when the last two Norwegian panserskipene were broken up at Stavanger.


The dozen German 4.1-inch SK C/32 guns salvaged from Harald Haarfagre/Thetis and Tordenskjold/Nymphe were recycled for use in vessels such as thCorvettete Nordkyn and in coastal forts. At least one survives.

This German BVV-made 10,5cm SK C/32, Nr 755, circa 1932, was used as the main gun on board the corvette Nordkyn until 1956, then was dismounted and transferred to the Coast Artillery (Kystartilleriet) who mounted it at Fort Tangen (HKB Langesund), located at the far end of Langesundstangen, as cannon 3 in 1966.

Active into the 1990s, it is preserved today. MMU.071018

They also were immortalized in period maritime art.

Hårfagre and Tordenskjold, surrounded by torpedo boats, by Zacharias Martin Aagaard, circa 1902

Today, Harald Haarfagre is remembered by the Norwegian military as the shore establishment KNM Harald Haarfagre at Stavanger, tasked with training both Navy and Air Force personnel since 1952.

They have the old battleship’s circa 1897 bell on their quarterdeck for ceremonies.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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!

Warship Wednesday, April 12, 2023: Wind Them Up

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

Warship Wednesday, April 12, 2023: Wind Them Up

Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 85018, Courtesy of Donald McPherson, 1976.

Above we see USS Winder (PCS-1376), the leader of her class of 89 very interesting Patrol Craft, Sweepers, seen in a World War II image, likely while on coastal escort out of Miami in 1944-45.

You’ll note that, although she is only 136 feet long overall, she is very well armed with both twin Mousetrap ASW rocket racks and a 3″/50 DP mount forward, four 20mm Oerlikon singles amidships, a 40mm Bofors aft, four depth charge projectors, and two depth charge racks over her stern.

These criminally forgotten little patrol boats went on to serve a myriad of roles in the Cold War.

Meet the 1376s

With the British 105-ft Admiralty-type motor minesweepers (MMS) making a good impression on the U.S. Navy– after all, the Royal Navy ordered more than 300 of those hardy 295-ton wooden coastal mine hunters from 1940 onwards and used them for everything from gunboat to light salvage in addition to their mine warfare roles– the idea of a PCS seemed a good one to the Americans.

With wooden hulls to counter magnetic influence mines, the 105-ft Admiralty-type motor minesweepers were very successful– and easy to make by small commercial shipyards. Here a 105, Motor Minesweeper J 636, is underway in British coastal waters. IWM A 14421

Whereas the Admiralty 105s typically only carried a few Oerlikons in addition to their sweep gear and acoustic hammer, the Americans needed something with longer legs and, they felt, a lot more firepower. As described above, they got it with a mix of 3-inch, 40mm, and 20mm guns as well as the capacity to carry as many as 50 depth charges to feed their racks and K-guns.

Hampton (PCS-1386), 4 November 1944, As completed. Line drawing by A. D. Baker III from U.S. Small Combatants: An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman, Russian version.

Plus, there was Mousetrap.

The Mk 20 Mousetrap anti-submarine rocket system is both loaded/ready to fire and stowed on a similarly sized PC. The projectiles were 7.2 inches in diameter and weighed 65 pounds with an explosive charge of 31 pounds. Unlike the Hedgehog weapon, the Navy classified the projectile as a rocket, as it utilized propellant that burned for 0.2 to 0.7 seconds.

They carried an SF-1 type radar (some later fitted with more advanced SO-1 or SU-1 sets) and a QHA sonar set (later upgraded to the more mine-sensitive FM sonar in some ships).

First fielded in 1942, the SF-1 was a 10cm 150 kW surface search radar good out to 16nm. Here, USS PCS-1389 is seen on 12 December 1944, showing an updated SO-1 radar antenna. NH 64671

Simple and cheap, their engineering suite consisted of a pair of General Motors 8-268A diesel engines, generating 800hp, using Snow and Knobstedt single reduction gear, turning two shafts. This enabled a top speed of 14 knots but meant the cruising speed was still in the 12-13 knot range.

Constructed by firms as diverse as the Burger Boat Co of Manitowoc, Tacoma Boat, Western Boat in Tacoma, Astoria Marine Construction Co., Bellingham Marine Railway & Boatbuilding Co, Wheeler Shipbuilding of Long Island, Robert Jacob Shipyard in the Bronx, Greenport Basin & Construction Co in Connecticut, W.F. Stone & Son Shipyard in Alameda, and the Gibbs Gas Engine Co of Jacksonville, these warships could be made fast and without tying up a lot of precision slipways or using tough-to-source material.

Our class leader was laid down on 13 October 1942 as PC-1376 at Wheeler on Long Island, soon reclassified to PCS-1376 while still under construction, and commissioned on 9 July 1943.

As befitting an overgrown armed yacht built on Long Island, her skipper was LT J. P. Morgan III, USNR, (Harvard 1940), the great-grandson of robber baron J. Pierpont Morgan and son of Junius Spencer Morgan III– the latter at the time an OSS officer. Along with three other officers (two ensigns and an LT jg) and 54 enlisted, they provided PC-1376‘s first crew.

Check out the rates, for those curious, as seen in the ship’s war diary:

Her first ammo draw from Iona Island on the Hudson River included 296 3-inch shells (270 service, 16 target, 2 practice, 8 dummy), 1,784 40mm shells (1760 service, 16 target, 8 dummy), 2,800 rounds of .45 for the Tommy guns and M1911s in her small arms locker; and 1,800 rounds of .30 caliber for her M1903A3 rifles. This did not include depth charges, Mousetrap bombs, and 20mm ammo.

The class leader had a rather boring war career, being ordered for duty as a school ship at the Submarine Chaser School located in Miami after she completed her shakedown. She would spend the rest of the war there, alternating between use as a training bot and in coastwise patrol, riding shotgun on convoys from Miami to Cuba and back.

But our story is about all the 1376s.

The rest of the class…

USS PCS-1421 in San Francisco Bay, 2 March 1944. 19-N-66847

USS PCS-1423. Note her Mousetraps ready to fire. World War II photograph. NH 89237

USS PCS-1424 photographed by her builder, Burger Boat Company, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on 24 November 1943. NH 96491

USS PCS-1424 photographed by her builder, Burger Boat Company, at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on 24 November 1943. Note that she is fitted with Mousetrap anti-submarine rocket launchers forward. NH 97492

A baker’s dozen became Control Submarine Chasers (PCSC) almost as soon as they were completed. This conversion was simple, removing the 40mm mount to allow a radio shack to be built. In this role, they could better control swarms of inshore landing craft headed toward the beach.

A sort of mini amphibious command ship.

This was detailed by the NHHC further in its coverage of the Iwo Jima landings:

The Iwo Jima operation provided the first test of the amphibious forces’ newly formed permanent control organization. This organization was established following the Marianas campaign, where it was realized that proper control of the ship-to-shore movement of the amphibious craft had become a continuing 24-hour-a-day task, requiring specially trained control personnel and specially equipped control vessels.

The control organization for the Iwo Jima operation consisted of the Transport division, Transport Squadron, and Central (Amphibious Group or Force) Control Officers, permanently assigned to the staff of their respective commanders. This organization now parallels the echelons of both the beach party and the shore party. Control officers were embarked in the same ships as their opposite number in the beach and shore party, giving the maximum amount of time for coordination and understanding of each other’s problems prior to the landing.

Each control officer was provided with a control vessel (PCE, PCS, PC, or SC) which had been previously equipped with special communication facilities and provided with a control communication team and advisors from the troops. The control vessels were obtained and equipped, and the personnel were trained in their specialized duties, well in advance of the operation. As a result, for the first time the task of controlling the ship-to-shore movement, both during the assault and unloading phases, was handled by a “professional.” In addition, the control-equipped craft was provided to the different troop staffs for use as floating command posts.

Another 33 became Auxiliary Motor Minesweepers (YMS), renumbered YMS 446-479. This involved landing most of their ASW weapons and loading up on the sweeping gear.

USS YMS-475 (ex PCS-1447) and USS YMS-461 (ex PCS-1448) In San Francisco Bay, California, shortly after the end of World War II, circa late 1945 or early 1946. YMS-475 was disposed of in 1947 and YMS-461 was later transferred to South Korea as Hwaseong (PCS 205). Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1976. NH 84992

USS LST-277 sails in the background while USS PCS-1404, is being refueled while en route to Saipan, by an unidentified vessel, on 15 June 1944. US National Archives Identifier 193832778 US Army Air Corps photo # A63650A.C.

Some managed to get some real trigger time in, for instance, USS PCS-1379 participated in the invasion of Peleliu and Angaur Islands, shelled Japanese targets on Eil Malk and in the Abappaomogan Islands, then saddled up for the Okinawa campaign.

PCS-1391 took part in the Leyte and Lingayen Gulf operations in the Philippines, serving as a landing craft direction vessel. Then at Okinawa, she carried Maj. Gen. Pedro del Valle, the Commanding General of the First Marine Division, to the beach during the initial assault landings.

USS PCS-1391 photographed circa 1945-1946. Courtesy of William H. Davis, 1977. NH 85160

Okinawa Campaign, shipping as seen from the beach in May 1945. Most ships present appear to be amphibious types. USS PCS-1391 is just to the right of the exact center, with USS LCI(L)-77 partially hidden behind her bow. 80-G-K-16204

PCS-1452 participated in operations at the Marianas, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. She had lots of company, as no less than 10 of her class were present at the latter two operations.

YMS-481 (exPCS-1462) was lost to Japanese shore batteries off Tarakan, Borneo, on 2 May 1945.

YMS-478 aground after taking fire from a shore battery at Tarakan, Borneo.

PCS-1396 was damaged off Okinawa by a Japanese Kamikaze but would shrug it off and continued serving until 1949.

PCS-1407, PCSC-1418, PCS-1440, PCS-1454, PCS-1461, and YMS-472 were lost to the September-October 1945 Typhoons Ida and Louise off Japan and Okinawa.

PCS-1435 was present in Tokyo Bay during the Japanese surrender ceremony in September 1945.

PCS-1445 would serve with the 7th Fleet for the last ten months of the war then spend another eight months as the harbor entrance control vessel for the Yangtze River at Shanghai.

Jane’s 1946 listing on the type.

Some would serve in the Korean conflict as mine hunters, with PCS-1416 for instance clearing a channel more than 60 miles inland from the Yellow Sea and up the Taedong River to Chinnampo.

Catching names

Oddly, while many were laid up in the 1950s, they picked up a series of names, typically those of small towns. This non-inclusive list shows some of the variety. Sadly, many of these towns have never had another warship named in their honor.

  • Provincetown (PCS 1378)
  • Rushville (PCS 1380)
  • Attica (PCS 1383)
  • Eufaula (PCS 1384)
  • Hollidaysburg (PCS 1385)
  • Hampton (PCS-1386)
  • Beaufort (PCS 1387)
  • Littlehales (AGSC 7, ex-PCS-1388)
  • Deming (PCS 1392)
  • Sanderling (MHC 49)
  • Dutton (AGSC 8, ex-PCS-1396)
  • Coquille (PCS 1400)
  • McMinnville (PCS 1401)
  • Elsmere (EPCS 1413)
  • Swallow (MSC[O] 36)
  • Prescott (PCS 1423)
  • Verdin (MSC[O] 38)
  • Conneaut (PCS 1444)
  • Waxbill (MHC 50)
  • John Blish (AGSC 10)
  • Medrick (AMc 203)
  • Minah (MHC 14)

Shifting duties and designations

Postwar, besides utility work, many became naval reserve training vessels, with their shallow draft allowing them to be stationed well inland. For example, PCS-1423 was stationed at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and PCS-1431 in Louisville.

Louisville, KY, 1958, U.S.Navy sub chaser USS Grafton (PCS 1431) passing 

Their designations often shifted to Coastal Minesweepers (AMc), or Motor Minesweepers (AMS) in the late 1940s, designations they carried until they were decommissioned and struck.

Another quartet became Coastal Surveying Ships (PCS-1388, PC-1396, PC-1404, and PC-1457 became AGSC 7/8/9/10).

Survey ship USS Littlehales (AGSC 7, ex-PCS-1388) Courtesy of D.M. McPherson. NH 51413

Three of the ships, PCS-1393, PCS-1456, and PC-1465, would be reclassed no less than four times as a YMS, then an AMS, then a Coastal Minesweeper Underwater Locator (AMCU), and finally a Coastal Minehunter (MHC)– carrying five different pennant numbers in 12 years.

PC-1413 and PC-1431 would be reclassified as Experimental Patrol Craft Sweepers (EPCS).

At least three picked up the curious designation of Coastal Minesweeper, Old (MSC(O)).

By this time, their fit had changed significantly, shedding most of their guns and Mousetrap devices in lieu of a large Hedgehog ASW device forward (which it was thought could also prove effective in minefield destruction).

USS PCS-1445 underway off the U.S. west coast. She has been fitted with a Hedgehog mounting forward, in place of her 3/50 gun. NH 96492

USS PCS-1400 off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, 24 January 1947. She was later named USS Coquille. Note her Hedgehog. NH 55385

USS Rushville (PCS-1380), 26 August 1959, showing her postwar fit, which saw all her weapons landed. USN 1043655

USS Eufaula (PCS-1384), late in her career, with Hedgehog. Note she still has DC racks and projectors as well. USN 1043656

USS Deming (PCS-1392), 1959. Note the Hedgehog, depth charge racks, and not much else. USN 1043658

USS PCS-1387 photographed circa the late 1940s, with extensive awnings in place. This ship was renamed Beaufort (PCS-1387) in February 1956 and used as a naval reserve training ship in St. Petersburg, Florida until 1967. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1976. NH 85019

Moving on…

While some were disposed of by scrapping as soon as 1947, the Navy would look to transfer others to allies and other missions.

One, PC-1458, served both as a Navy survey ship (AGS-6), in 1944, then was transferred to the Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1948 as USC&GS Derickson, serving until 1954.

USC&GS Derickson, NOAA photo

Two other ships of the class, PC-1405 and PC-1450, were also transferred to the survey and named USC&GS Bowie (CSS 27) and USC&GS Hodgson (CSS 26), respectively. Bowie served until 1967 when she was scrapped, and Hodgson was transferred the following year to South Korea for further service.

USC&GS Bowie (CSS 27) (bow visible at left) and USC&GS Hodgson (CSS 26), circa 1965. NOAA photo

One, PCS-1425, was transferred by the WSA to the Puget Sound Naval Academy in 1947 to serve as a training vessel. At the same time, PCS-1445, formerly of the Yangtze squadron, went to Texas A&M.

As with any WWII-era American warship smaller than a heavy cruiser, several were transferred to the Allies as Lend Lease.

The Russians got a full dozen PCSs in 1945 which were active well into the late 1950s, serving as dive boats, degaussing ships, as well as mine vessels. Unlike most larger vessels, these were never repatriated.

Three were handed over to the Philippines at Subic Bay post-war as military aid (USS PCS-1399, USS PCS-1403, and PC-1404) and served into the late 1960s.

The Japanese got one (PCS-1416) while the South Koreans picked up five (PC-1426, PCS-1428, PCS-1443, PC-1445, and PCS-1448) and continued to use them into the 1970s. Meanwhile, Turkey got PCS-1436.

The end game

January 1958, left to right: ex-Rushville, ex-Deming (PCS 1392), and two unidentified PCS’/YMS’ at Mare Island awaiting transfer to civilian buyers.

The last in Navy inventory was McMinnville (PCS 1401), placed out of service and struck from the Naval Register in August 1962. Sold the next year to a group of treasure hunters in south Florida, she remained in the Keys as a yacht for another 20 years.

Ex-USS Prescott (PCS-1423) ashore after its towing vessel, the fishing craft Sea King, struck a rock jetty at Barnegat Inlet, New Jersey, and sank in February 1963. The Prescott had just been purchased from the Navy at Brooklyn, New York. She was later pulled free and, converted to a trawler, and would remain active into the 1980s. UA 455.12

Others were bought up at auction by fishing companies and converted to that life, bumping around with nets and dredges as late as the 1990s, often under Caribbean nation or Panamanian flags. 

One, ex-PCS-1438/YMS-470/AMS-37/MSC(O)-37, was bought by General Motors in 1959 and used as a corporate yacht in California, then was acquired by Windjammer Cruises to operate as the M/Y Royal Taipan out of Hawaii. She was famously almost lost at sea in 1990.

As for class leader Winder (PCS 1376), she was decommissioned after the war in February 1947, used for a time as a Naval Reserve training vessel at Norfolk, then was laid up in Florida where she was struck in 1957 and sold. Her ultimate fate is unknown. I’d like to think that she is still out there somewhere in some sort of low-pressure use. 

As far as I can tell, there are no surviving PCS-1376s afloat and they left behind few relics to prove they even existed, save for some war diaries in the National Archives.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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!

Warship Wednesday, April 5, 2023: Jackie’s Toys

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 5, 2023: Jackie’s Toys

Above we see the British C-class coastal submarine HMS C-27 (57) in the Spring of 1916 as she rides like a beached whale aboard a barge in Russia on her way, via inland lakes and rivers, from Archangel to Petrograd (St. Petersburg), where she would join a flotilla of similar boats in an aim to put the Eastern Baltic off limits to the German High Seas Fleet. You wouldn’t know it by the looks of her, but this little sub had already chalked up one of Kaiser Willy’s U-boats.

Sadly, C27 was lost 105 years ago today, at the hands of her own crew.

The tiny C boats

A slightly better and larger follow-up to the 13-strong A-class (200t, 105 ft, 2×18 inch TT, 11.5 kts) and 11-unit B-class (316t, 142 ft, 2×18 inch TT, 12 kts), the C-class boats went some 300 tons and ran 143 feet overall. Powered by a 600hp Vickers gasoline (!) engine on the surface and a single 200hp electric motor when submerged, the C1, as built, could make 13 knots.

HMS C25. Note the pennant number on the hull is 30 digits off of the name.

Manned by up to 16 officers and crew, they still just carried two 18-inch torpedo tubes with no reloads (although they were designed to carry an extra pair of “fish”) and no deck gun.

HMS C11. Note her two tubes at the bow under caps

British C class submarines Grimsby

These boats were known at the time in naval circles as “Fisher’s Toys” as Jackie Fisher fancied them instead of minefields for harbor and roadstead defense against enemy sneak attacks.

Five of the boats (C12 through C16) were even fitted with three airlocks and enough emergency dive gear for the entire complement should the boat bottom be unable to surface. Certainly, a forward-looking concept. This was later changed to a planned underwater egress via a hatch in the torpedo compartment.

Crew members of the submarine HMS C7 wearing their Rees Hall escape apparatus, dating from the 1900s. “There is no record of the apparatus ever having been used.”

These boats were seriously meant for coastal work, as they could float in just 12 feet of water while on the surface, and they often made appearances in river systems and small littoral harbors.

British submarine HMS C13 moored at Temple Pier, London. July 1909 National Maritime Museum Henley Collection.

A view looking west from Victoria Embankment towards Waterloo Bridge. Three C Class submarines are berthed alongside Temple Stairs, with two torpedo boats moored in Kings Reach at the time of the Thames Naval Review. 23 July 1909. RMG P00045

HM Submarine C34 (66) alongside HMS Victory to supply electric current from her generators to power lights and a “cinematograph lantern” for movie night for the cadets’ movie night.

The 38-vessel* class was split into three flights constructed in the half-decade between 1905 and 1910, with the first 18 boats (C1-C18) running a Wolseley 16-cylinder horizontal opposed main engine that allowed a 1,500nm surface radius. The second (C19-30), and third (C31-38) flights were equipped with a more efficient Wolseley-Vickers 12-cylinder engine that gave a better 2,000 nm radius while proving a knot faster (14 surfaced, 10 submerged).

*Two additional units were later built to a modified design for the Chilean government in Seattle and then later taken over by the Canadians (as HMCS CC1 and HMCS CC2) and should be considered their own separate class as they had different engineering and an additional stern torpedo tube along with four bow tubes rather than two.

Boy sailors having submarine instruction in the engine room in a C-class submarine in Portsmouth. IWM Q 18868

Most were built by Vickers, as they were a Vickers design, at Barrow, although six were constructed by the Royal Dockyard at Chatham as sort of an educational run.


HMS C14 (44)


HMS C38 (68)


HMS C31 (61)

The class was soon outpaced by the follow-on D and E-classes, which were almost twice as large, could make 16 knots on the surface, and carried safer diesel engines– the C-class submarines were the last class of gasoline-engined submarines in the Royal Navy.

Jane’s 1914 entry for the RN’s 75~ odd submarines, of which the Cs made up fully half of those numbers.

These little boats were tricky as they had very low freeboard while surfaced and the Submarine Force had both tremendous growing and teething pains at the same time. This cost lives as HMS C11 was sunk in a collision with the collier Eddystone in the North Sea in 1909, with only three survivors. In the same incident, HMS C16 and C17 collided but remained afloat. Four years later, HMS C14 was lost in a collision with a coal hopper in Plymouth Sound but was later salvaged and returned to service.

Nonetheless, some of these boats became among the first of HM Submarines to operate in the Pacific as HMS C36, C37, and C38 were transferred to Hong Kong in February 1911 to operate with the China Squadron. Ironically, the Japanese were building a series of almost identical boats at the same time, having bought the plans from Vickers.

By the time the Great War kicked off in August 1914, the remaining C-class boats were generally tasked with coastal defense and training duties in home waters while the larger craft were given more dynamic offensive missions. They did prove deadly in some cases, with HMS C15 for example torpedoing the highly successful German UC-65 (106 ships sunk for 125,000 tons) in the English Channel in November 1917.

U Boat Trap

Suggested in April 1915 by Acting Paymaster F. T. Spickernell, Secretary to VADM Sir David Beatty, as a method to combat German U-boats haunting the British Home Islands, the idea was to team up a trawler in RN service with a small coastal submarine– the Cs were ideal for this– with the fishing boat serving as bait to draw in said Hun to be bashed by waiting C-boat.

As underwater communication was non-existent at the time, and even hydrophones were still a new concept, the trawler, and C-boat were attached by a telephone line. The concept was that the trawler, being too small for the German to waste a torpedo on but still an inviting target, would soon be confronted by surfaced U-boat that would dispatch the fisherman via deck guns or a landing party. Either way, this would set up the idle and unsuspecting German to be zapped by the shadowing C-boat’s submarine volley.

Eight trawlers and a corresponding number of C-boats were tasked to operate from four ports: HMS C26 and C27 were to work with trawlers from Scapa Flow; C14 and C16 from the Tyne; C21 and C29 from the Humber; and C3 and C34 from Harwich.

Put together in May, this “U-Boat Trap” technique soon proved effective, with HMS C24, operating with the trawler Taranaki, sinking U-40 in the North Sea off Eyemouth on 23 June 1915.

This was followed up by our HMS C27, under the command of LCDR Claude Congreve Dobson, along with the trawler Princess Louise, ending the career of U-23 in the Fair Isle Channel between Orkney and Shetland on 20 July. She made good on this after missing a shot at U-19 the month prior.

As detailed in Martin Gibson’s War and Security Blog on the Royal Navy in the Great War:

The trawler was captained by Lieutenant L. Morton, but Lieutenant C. Cantlie and Lieutenant A. M. Tarver were also on board in order to train the crew. Cantile, who was the only regular officer of the three, the others being peacetime merchant marine officers who were members of the Royal Navy Reserve, took command during the subsequent operation.

At 7:55 am on 20 July Cantlie telephoned Dobson to tell him that a U-boat had been spotted 2,000 yards away. The phone then broke down; Dobson waited five minutes before slipping the cable; contact had not been restored, and he could hear gunfire.

The U-boat, which was U40, had fired one warning shot before firing at the trawler. She stopped, raised the Red Ensign, and dipped it as a sign of surrender, whilst her crew prepared to abandon ship in an apparent panic. This was in accordance with the plan, which was to trick the Germans and hopefully persuade them to come closer. It worked so well that U40 stopped near the trawler.

The trawler’s crew did not know where C27 was, but she was only 500 yards away on U40’s starboard beam when Dobson raised her periscope. He fired a torpedo, but U40 then started her engines, and it passed under her stern. He fired another that hit and sank U40. The British rescued 10 survivors, including her captain, Oberleutnant Hans Schulthess, and two other officers.

The British Naval Staff Monograph, written after the war for internal Royal Navy use only, stated that the prisoners ‘gave a good deal of information, not only of a technical character…but also on the general work of German submarines’, which it suggests may have been a result of their good treatment.

However, the U-Boat Trap results were mixed, with HMS C33 mined off Great Yarmouth while operating with the armed trawler Malta on 4 August. This was repeated when HMS C29 was lost when her companion trawler, Ariadne, strayed into a minefield in the Humber on 29 August. These losses, coupled with the increasing German wariness to fall for the bait of trawler decoys and larger Q-ships, led to the end of the program.

Nonetheless, the RN had other plans for C-27.

Headed East

With Tsarist Russia’s main ports in the Black Sea closed down by the entrance of the Ottomans to the war, and the Germans controlling the Baltic, the Imperial Russian Navy was effectively bottled up except the obsolete and neglected Siberian Flotilla. As an attempt to aid the Russians via their extra naval capacity, Britain and France attempted to force the Dardanelles and break into the Black Sea in a fiasco that was soon followed up by the slow-moving Salonika campaign.

At roughly the same time as the Gallipoli misadventure, the Royal Navy was sending a few small E-class boats through the Baltic to give the Russians some extra torpedo tubes to throw at German shipping.

Three British E-class boats in mid-October 1914 attempted the dicey journey into the Baltic through the Oresund Strait separating Denmark from Sweden, against tough German opposition. This saw HMS E-11 forced to turn back while HMS E-1 and E-9 got through to Reval in the Gulf of Finland.

SUBMARINE WARFARE DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 114325) The Royal Navy’s submarine E1 in Russia during the First World War. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205356741

Iced in over the winter, the following summer they soon torpedoed and sank a German collier, and badly damaged the destroyer SMS S-148, the battlecruiser SMS Moltke, and the cruiser SMS Prinz Adalbert. Such exploits brought a meeting with the Tsar, and boxes of Russian decorations including the St. George, the country’s highest.

In late 1915, E-1 and E-9 were joined by E-8, E-18, and E-19, while sister E-13 was disabled after she ran aground in Danish waters and interned.

E18 Arriving off Dagerort, 12-9-1915. Note the extensive camouflage applied. Photo: Royal Navy Submarine Museum

They were assigned the steamers Cicero, Emilie, and Obsidian to serve as tenders and a home (away from home) for the British submariners and support staff.

By October, they waged a campaign to disrupt iron ore traffic from Lulea in Sweden to German ports and sank ten merchantmen over three weeks. The month ended with E-8 sinking Prinz Adalbert when a spread of torpedoes sent her magazine to the heavens, carrying almost 700 of the cruiser’s complement with it. The following month, E-19 hit the German light cruiser Undine with two torpedoes, sinking her south of the southern Swedish town of Trelleborg.

While the five Es were busy, a further four smaller C-class boats (our C27 along with HMS C26, C32, and C35) were given the mission to join them. However, since it was unlikely they could force the Oresund, they were stripped of as much weight as possible to give them increased buoyance, then towed to Archangel in the frozen Russian North, and finally taken by barge down the Dvina and across Lakes Onega and Ladoga to the Gulf of Finland where they would take the water once again and be ready to almost double the British submarine flotilla in the Baltic.

The thing is, this boondoggle, which sounded good on paper to someone, took almost 18 months to carry out and by the time the C-boats were ready for action in early 1917, the Tsar had been deposed, and things were getting downright weird in Russia. Nonetheless, the British boats were still as active as they could be, even while the now revolutionary Russian fleet was content to sit on its hands. As such, C32 was lost in October 1917 in the Gulf of Riga but claimed at least one German merchant sunk.

As the Bolsheviks swept to power in November 1917, and soon signed first a truce and then a peace with the Germans, the Kaiser’s troops started swarming through the Baltics and landing in Finland in March 1918. With the remaining British subs backed into a corner with no options, they made one final sortie to scuttle.

HMS E18 leaving Reval for the last time on May 25th, 1916

HMS E-18 had already been lost to German activity in May 1916, leaving E-1 and E-9 to be scuttled in the Gulf of Finland off the Harmaja Lighthouse on 3 April, followed by E-8 and C-26 on 4 April, and our C27 and C35 on 5 April. E-19 was sunk on 8 April. The supply ship Emilie was sunk on the northwest side of Kuivasaari on the 9th. The maintenance ships Cicero and Obsidian were sunk southwest of Bändare on the 10th, ending the carnage.

This left the flotilla’s 150~ remaining members to exfiltrate with the nominal help of the Reds back to Murmansk, where most soon became part of the British interventionist forces that would operate on the White Sea and the Dvina against the Reds well into 1919.

The flotilla’s senior officer, E-19‘s skipper CDR Francis Newton Allen Cromie, stayed behind in Petrograd where he was officially a naval attaché but nonetheless assumed the vacant portfolio of the British ambassador. There, he helped interface with assorted counter-revolutionary types, only to be killed by Cheka agents when the Reds raided the embassy in August 1918.

C-27‘s final commander, LT Douglas Carteret Sealy, survived the war and revolution but would be lost on HM Submarine H42 when she was rammed while submerged near Gibraltar by the “V” Class destroyer HMS Versatile in 1922.

For a deeper dive (see what we did there?) into the British Baltic boats, see Baltic Assignment: British Sub-Mariners in Russia 1914-1919, by Michael Wilson.


Of the other 35 C-class boats built for the Royal Navy that entered the war, several failed to emerge on the other side after the Armistice. As covered, C26, C27, C32, and C35 were scuttled in the Baltic to avoid capture, while C29 and C33 were lost in 1915 while on the U-boat Trap detail.

Other wartime losses included:

  • HMS C31 was sunk by a mine off the Zeebrugge on 4 January 1915, lost with no survivors
  • HMS C16 sunk after being rammed at periscope depth by destroyer HMS Melampus off Harwich on 16 April 1917
  • HMS C17 collided with the destroyer HMS Lurcher the following month and sank.
  • HMS C34 was sunk by U-52 in the Shetlands while on the surface on 17 July 1917. Her sole survivor ended the war in a German POW camp.
  • HMS C3 was packed with explosives and rammed into the viaduct at Zeebrugge on 23 April 1918, blasted sky high, with her skipper earning the VC.

LT Richard Douglas Sandford VC HM Submarine C3, Zeebrugge Raid, 22 – 23 April 1918 IWM Q 104329

The two dozen enduring C-boats left on the Admiralty’s list in 1919 were soon disposed of, largely through sale for dismantling. They were just too obsolete for further use, even though the oldest hull in the batch had just 15 years on its frames.

HMS C4, converted in secret by D.C.B. Section at the RN Signals School at Portsmouth into an unmanned vessel controlled remotely by an operator in a nearby aircraft, was the only surviving C-class submarine not to be scrapped at the end of the Great War. Still, she only lingered until 1922 when she went to the breakers.

The wrecks of the British Baltic flotilla, our C27 included, have largely been found and well documented over the years, with some even raised for scrap or attempts to put back into service, with unsatisfactory results.

Today, the C-class is best remembered in a series of period maritime art that still stirs emotions.

“HMS Bonaventure and Submarines” circa 1911 by William Lionel Wyllie. RMG PW2083. Inscribed, as title, and signed by the artist, lower right. The ‘Bonaventure’ (1892) was a second-class protected cruiser converted to a submarine depot ship in 1907. This finished watercolor shows the ship in her 1911-14 condition. Both the ‘Bonaventure’ and the trawler tender on the left are flying large red flags, advising other vessels to keep clear of a submarine operating area. The submarine with the number ’61’, lying close to ‘Bonaventure’, is the ‘C31’, launched on 2 September 1909 and lost by unknown causes after leaving Harwich for the Belgian coast on 4 January 1915. What appears to be a practice torpedo is in the foreground and an unidentifiable submarine is on the left. As the circumstances indicate, the drawing is of an exercise off the English coast, probably in the Channel from the relatively high ground behind.

“Near the Dardanelles, English, and French warships in the harbor of Malta,” by Alexander Kircher, with C22 and C26 in the foreground.

“A fleet of submarines passing HMS Dreadnought,” by Charles Edward Dixon, circa 1909. The closest boat is HM Submarine C-14

“The submarine ‘C15’ fundraising for the Gosport war effort” by William Lionel Wyllie. RMG PV3490

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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!

Warship Wednesday, March 29, 2023: The Republic’s Lightning

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, March 29, 2023: The Republic’s Lightning

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 64202

Above we see the French torpedo boat cruiser (croiseur porte-torpilleurs) Foudre (Lightning) circa 1901 with a half-inflated free balloon on her quarter deck and numerous 59-foot steam-powered torpedo boats arranged in her complicated gantry system. About as interesting a warship as has taken to the waves, Foudre would be a chameleon of sorts when it came to naval technology, all of which has sadly been almost forgotten.

Torpedo Boat Carrier Race

In 1878, the Royal Navy purchased the incomplete merchant steamer British Crown (Yard 7A, C7) while on the builder’s ways at Harland & Wolff in Belfast. The 390-foot, 6,400-ton iron-hulled merchantman was originally to be a cargo hauler, but her owner ran into physical limitations before she could be completed. The Admiralty picked her up for a bargain and converted her to HMS Hecla, a new type of experimental “torpedo depot ship and floating factory” that would carry and support a series of at least four small 2nd class torpedo boats.

Besides her torpedo boats, she was given enough topside armament to be considered a small cruiser. This included five 6.32-inch (64pdr) MLRs and a 4-inch (40pdr) breechloader, along with enough small arms to send a company-sized force of Tars ashore.

HMS Hecla (British Torpedo Depot Ship, 1878) Note torpedo boats on deck. NH 60288

Lessons from Hecla’s service led the Admiralty in 1888 to order from the Portsmouth Dockyard a more purpose-built “enhanced Hecla type” a 350-foot 6,820-ton steamer dubbed HMS Vulcan. Much faster (20 knots vs 12 knots) than Hecla, Vulcan could also carry more than twice the number of boats (9) while mounting a very decent armament of eight 4-inch QF guns, 12 Hotchkiss 3 pounders, and six torpedo tubes for Mr. Whitehead’s deadly steel fish. Also, unlike the unprotected Hecla, Vulcan carried an armored conning tower as well as up to four inches of plate over her machinery spaces.

H.M. steel twin-screw torpedo depot ship Vulcan

The TBs used by the two British carriers were a class of one dozen wooden-hulled craft (WTB Nos. 1-12) of some 56 feet and 14 tons that carried either a pair of 14-inch torpedoes in dropping gear or one in a centerline tube and a couple of Mr. Maxim’s water-cooled machine guns. Essentially steam-powered picket boats that carried a single locomotive boiler, they were among the largest carried by RN warships for launching via davits.

Between Hecla and Vulcan, it was thought the Royal Navy could use the vessels to set up an instant blockade of an enemy seaport or coastline, or deploy to a disputed land and establish a working naval base virtually upon arrival. Alternatively, they could be used to raid an enemy roadstead at night, with the cruisers closing to within 15 miles or so just after sunset, putting their boats in the water, then retrieving the survivors after the attack and beating feet as soon as possible after the attack.

Enter Foudre

With such a capability out there in British hands, the French moved to field a similar vessel in 1890, ordering Foudre from Soc de la Gironde, Bordeaux.

Some 389 feet overall, she hit the scales at 6,000 tons (full). Powered by twin VTEs fed by a staggering 24 boilers, she could make 19.5 knots at least on trials.

Swathed in Harvey nickel steel armor up to five inches thick, she had a decent gun armament of eight 4-inch M1891s located one fore, one aft, and six in sponsons, as well as two batteries of smaller anti-boat guns.

She carried eight 100/45 M1891 Canet guns in shields

However, her boats were her main battery.

A closer inset of NH 64202, the first image in the post, shows two of Foudre’s embarked Type A torpedo boats under the gantry with their funnels folded down.

The French had six old torpilleur-vedette spar boats but wanted something better. This led to ordering designs from Thibaudier & Normand domestically with seven built at Creusot (Lettered A, B, D-I) and Yarrow in England, with the latter being a single boat (Letter C) constructed of an early Webster’s process aluminum. The fact that they were lettered set them easily apart, as the more than 200 larger torpedo boats in the French Navy, capable of independent operations, were all numbered. 

Their length was 59 feet overall with a single stern-mounted 14-inch torpedo tube (with no reloads) oriented to fire either over the port side just off-center for banking shots at an enemy ship or downward from the bow.

Taking on a torpedo

Note the downward-sloped bow tube

Note the folding funnel and detail of the slanted bow tube

Other than the torpedo, the boats had no other armament to save weight. Speed on these boats was a paltry 16 knots with a range of about 100 miles, a performance that was largely in the hands of how effectively the vessels’ seven-man crew worked their boiler.

The difference in weight between the Creusot boat (11.5 tons) and the Yarrow-built aluminum craft (9.5 tons) was significant. However, the English boat was a failure due to electrolytic action with the salt water.

Yarrow built torpilleur-vedette a embarquer “C” for the torpedo boat cruiser Foudre. Note the offset funnel to allow for the slanted topside tube, and the armored wheelhouse, clad in a 4mm plate to protect the skipper and helmsman. She used a hull skin and frames of aluminum from 1mm to 5mm thick. Via Feb. 1895 Cassier’s drawing.

Foudre would be completed and enter service in September 1897 and based at Toulon, would spend the next four years in a series of fleet operations and experiments.

A great clear shot of her around 1900. NH 63905

And during balloon trials off Toulon in 1901. Note her forward 4-inch gun

It was discovered that her boats were so large and unwieldy that they proved hard to launch rapidly, or in any sea state, while conversely, they were too small and slow to prove much practical value in anything more than coastwise operations. This led Foudre to be laid up by 1902 after just a few years of service.

But don’t worry, the French soon found many other uses for her.

Sub-transport and conversion

Recommissioned in March 1904, she had her aft gantry works removed and, with four of her old torpedo boats loaded forward and the newly built small (70 tons, 2×17.7 inch tubes) Naiade-class submarines Lynx (Q23) and Protee (Q16) aft, sailed for Saigon in French Indochina where she disembarked the menagerie.

1904 with Lynx and Protee aboard under canvas

1904 with Lynx and Protee aboard. Note the white “colonial” scheme

She would repeat the trip the following year with the subs Perle (Q17) and Esturgeon (Q18) and four more TBs.

Finished with her Asian excursions, Foudre was reclassified as a floating repair ship in 1907 and then converted to become a minelayer in 1910, although she was also used to transport troops back and forth from Africa.

“Foudre will transport the troups of the Armée d ‘Afrique to France. 2-6-10” Note her gantries are gone and the forward deck house is much more visible.

Likewise, her British counterparts, HMS Hecla and Vulcan, would be soon converted from their primary mission into becoming submarine and destroyer tenders.

To the skies!

A pet project of the forward-looking VADM Auguste Boué de Lapeyrère, who had fought with the Marines ashore against the Germans as a cadet in 1870 and then later commanded the torpedo boat Volta in its fight against the Chinese sloop Fou-Sing in 1884, Foudre set her mine warfare role aside and soon became part of the budding Aéronavale, the French Navy’s air arm.

Long experimenting with balloons, by December 1911 she had become a full-fledged seaplane carrier capable of transporting, launching, and recovering up to four small floatplanes. This included large (30×15-foot) on-deck hangars, below-deck workshops, and cranes to lift the aircraft aboard and down to the sea.

This feat made her the first seaplane carrier in history, predating the British HMS Hermes and the seaplane antics aboard USS Mississippi by over a year, and the Japanese Wakamiya by nearly three.

Her arrangement as a seaplane carrier. Note she still has her stern 4-inch gun but her forward has been removed and she now has a large hangar center deck. Her forward deck house has been deleted as well. 

In the summer of 1912, she supported trials of the Voisin Canard (Duck) amphibie floatplane, equipped with Fabre floats, under the control of aviation pioneer LT Pierre Cayla. Foudre’s skipper at the time was Capt. (later VADM) Louis Fatou.

Cayla would later go on to lead the 1re Escadrille de Bombardement on the successful attack on the Pechelbronn oil complex in 1915, one of the first practical uses of strike aircraft, and earn the Legion D’Honneur.

In November 1913, she had a 113×24-foot wooden deck installed to launch a small single-seat Caudron G.3 biplane. Powered by an 80hp Rhone engine, the G.3 was light, with just a 1,600-pound maximum loaded weight, but could carry a small bomb.

Boarding a Caudron G.3 Type J on the Foudre. Note the hole cut in the wings for the lifting hook

Boarding a Caudron G.3 Type J on the Foudre. Note the hole cut in the wings for the lifting hook

She conducted at least one take-off of the aircraft from her deck on 8 May 1914, with Rene Caudron at the stick.

While this was four years after Eugene Ely’s historic flight in his Curtiss pusher airplane from the cruiser USS Birmingham at Hampton Roads, it was a first for the French.


Jane’s 1914 entry on Foudre.

Soon after the Great War began, Foudre landed her aircraft ramp, thus ending her G.3 operations, and joined the fleet as a sort of do-all vessel deployed to the eastern Med. In this work, she clocked in as an auxiliary cruiser, a troop transport, a tender and depot ship for seaplanes, destroyers, and submarines; and basically, any other mission that came up.

She was attached to the allied fleet for the Dardanelles operations and in October 1915 evacuated 4,000 Armenian refugees from Antioch to Port Said, thus helping to document the genocide perpetrated by the Ottomans.

By 1916, she was a floating headquarters and depot ship for the Armée d ‘Orient, the French expeditionary corps in Salonika, and would continue in that role for the remainder of the conflict.

Post-Armistice, she was heavily involved in occupation duties in the former Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian regions. A floating ship of state to protect the Republic’s interests everywhere from Syria to the Adriatic. 

The French torpedo boat carrier Foudre (L. 1895) at Spalato (Split, Yugoslavia), in 1919. NH 64205

After the war, she was used as an aviation school ship.

By August 1921, the former torpedo boat carrier/submarine transport/repair ship/minelayer/aircraft carrier/headquarters ship was retired and scrapped.


Little of the old Foudre still exists, other than a collection of period postcards, some of which used early photoshop techniques to overlay assorted airplanes. 

Since then, the French have recycled her name for an American-built Casa Grande-class landing ship dock (A646, ex HMS Oceanway) that was active in the 1950s and 60s.

TCD Foudre (A646) moored on the Saigon River, French Indochina in 1955. Note the F4U Corsairs on her deck. Built at Newport News in 1942-43, she was Lend Leased to the Royal Navy as HMS Oceanway (F-143) and landed U.S. troops on Omaha Beach on D-Day. The French operated her from 1952 to 1969. Photo: Georges Demichelis via Navsource.

The name was used again as the class leader (L9011) of a similar type of LPD that served the French Navy from 1990 through 2011. As LPDs are every bit the same sort of “all things to all people” multitool that our Great War era Foudre was, the logic is obvious.

TCD Foudre (L9011). The ship now serves in the Chilean Navy.

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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!

Warship Wednesday, March 22, 2023: Herr Ericsson’s Original Tin Can

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, March 22, 2023: Herr Ericsson’s Original Tin Can

Naval History and Heritage Command Photo NH 52307

Above we see the circa 1892 image of John Ericsson’s experimental war vessel, “Destroyer” testing her “submarine artillery” by the firing of an inert shell into the flooded drydock at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to be recovered later.

The Swedish-born inventor and mechanical engineer had just passed on to the great drawing board in the sky the previous March, aged 85, and is best known for the U.S. Navy’s first screw-propelled steam-frigate USS Princeton in 1843 and the Civil War-era USS Monitor— the world’s first armored ship with a rotating turret, with his penultimate warship, Destroyer, most often falling through the cracks of history.

John Ericsson (1803-1889). Photographed by the Matthew Brady studios, 1862 & 1863. Naval History and Heritage Command: NH 305 & NH 482

Ericsson spent the last 12 years of his life working on Destroyer, which he envisioned would be the ideal harbor defense vessel, particularly for his beloved New York.

A compact iron-hulled beast of some 130 feet in length with a narrow 17-foot beam and the ability to float in just 11 feet of water, she carried a 70-foot “wrought iron breastwork of great strength near the bow” as a defense to allow for bow-on close-in attacks with a sort of innovative albeit not effective centerline underwater cannon. She could be built for about the cost of a small gunboat and crewed by as few as a dozen men.

Ericsson’s Destroyer. View of this experimental ship showing submarine gun projectiles on deck. Taken at the New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. USS Maine of Spanish-American War fame is fitting out in the left background. Detriot Bain News Service image LOC LC-D4-20348

The Destroyer’s “submarine gun” was a whopper.

With a 16-inch diameter bore and a 30-foot barrel that was eight feet below the waterline, it fired a 26-foot long projectile crafted of spruce and pine timbers and sheathed with thin metal. In all, it weighed 1,500 pounds of which 300 was gun cotton payload. Alternatively, a smaller, 10-foot-long projectile was designed as well.

Ericsson’s Destroyer plan of submarine gun for this experimental ship, dated 7 October 1890. NH 54252

John Ericsson’s “Destroyer” Longitudinal section of the ship’s bow, showing the underwater gun and its projectile torpedo, circa 1881. Note the “inflated air bags” in the bow and original pneumatic feeder tubes for the gun. NH 84476

It was thought by Ericsson that the gun could be fired at a target from some 500 feet away. To keep the projectiles on a level course, they were fitted with “hydrostatic bellows” in the center along with two horizontal rudders.

The method of the launch was originally to be via a piston that would be actuated by a steam line but this was eventually changed to a 40-pound explosive (black powder) charge. The energy produced by such a projectile at damaging speeds was estimated to be something on the order of 2,000,000 foot-pounds.

The idea was Destroyer’s hull would be ballasted down when operational to have as low a freeboard as possible, only exposing the armored plate iron deck house. Voids were to be filled with blocks of cork and inflated rubber airbags to allow for buoyancy even with a penetrated hull.

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view showing the submarine gun and pneumatic loading mechanism, taken circa 1890. NH 54251

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view shows the breech mechanism of the submarine gun. Taken about 1890. NH 54248

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view shows the breech mechanism of the submarine gun. Taken about 1890. NH 54249

Uncrated projectile and body. NH 52494

In an initial low-pressure light load test in April 1886, Ericsson himself declared that “the submarine gun has proved a perfect success” after its inert projectile ran 300 feet into a suspended net in less than three seconds, a speed of about 59 knots. “The effect produced by exploding a loaded projectile remains to be ascertained, but this trial an individual is not permitted to make, hence I now desire to hand the Destroyer over to the Government.”

Built on spec with $150,000 ($5 million in today’s dollars) coughed up by foundry owner and Ericsson friend Cornelius Henry DeLamater (who also died in 1889)– and was the guy who built the steam boilers and machinery for both USS Princeton and USS Monitor— Ericsson proposed in 1886 to sell the vessel and its patents to the Navy for “modest sum” of $220,000. Not much of a profit although there would presumably be royalties involved as well should the patents be utilized on a wide scale. 

In the end, it turned out that Destroyer and her related submarine artillery still needed another $30,000 in funds from the Navy to be made ready for a firing trial after the death of both Ericsson and DeLamater. At the time, that was about the cost of a harbor tug (four were ordered that year at a cost of $35K each).

By this stage, the prototype warship and her gun were the assets of the independent Ericsson Coast Defense Company.

The thing is, other, more proven, locomotive torpedoes had already far surpassed Destroyer’s gun and the world was awash in small, steam-driven, torpedo boats that used Mr. Whitehead’s deadly and economical devices.

They had even been proven in warfare already, with the Ottoman ship Intibah sunk in 1878 by Russian torpedo boats carrying Whiteheads. Even the U.S. Navy had ordered one, USS Cushing (Torpedo Boat No. 1), from Herreshoff in Rhode Island in 1886, and the 140-foot craft was undergoing experiments by 1890 at the Naval Torpedo Station in Newport.

USS Cushing torpedo boat experiments, ca. 1890, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

The E.W. Bliss Company of Brooklyn had stood up the same year, and, using Whitehead’s patents under license, had won a 100-unit contract for American-made 18-inch (diameter) torpedoes.

The number of torpedo boats in service or building around the globe topped 1,000 in 1889-90, from a Navy Department report published in the NYT. Of course, many of these were very small coastal steam launches with no overnight/rough weather/blue water capability, but they could still carry a “fish.”

Argentinian sailors with a Whitehead torpedo, Fiume, Austria, 1888. At the time this picture was taken, torpedo boats were in all of the world’s major– and many minor– fleets.

Meanwhile, Ericsson’s body was repatriated to his native Sweden, carried on the deck of a modern new U.S. Navy cruiser that was very much the descendant of his USS Princeton and USS Monitor.

“The White Squadron’s Farewell Salute to the Body of John Ericsson, New York Bay, August 23, 1890”. Oil on canvas, 36″ by 54″, by Edward Moran (1829-1901), signed and dated by the artist, 1898. It depicts USS Baltimore (Cruiser # 3) departing New York Harbor to return the remains of John Ericsson to his native Sweden. Note the Swedish ensign flying from the ship’s foremast. Painting in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection. Gift of Paul E. Sutro, 1940. Official U.S. Navy Photograph. National Archives photograph, KN-10851 (Color).

Subaquatic Shooting

The Government Torpedo Board then embarked on a series of experiments in the Spring and Summer of 1892 with the late Mr. Ericsson’s Destroyer. The board, who watched the trials from the vessels’ deck, consisted of Commander George Albert Converse (USNA 1861, later RADM) and lieutenants T.C. McLean and C.A. Bradbury. Each shot was triggered at the drop of CDR Converse’s handkerchief.

Initial tests were done in March in Brooklyn’s Erie Basin, with a few inert rounds fired into a net with a modest 20-pound charge of black powder.

The May-June 1892 tests at the Brooklyn Navy Yard saw Destroyer moored off the mouth of the Simpson wooden dry dock, which was flooded, and its gates locked opened. Inside the dock was a series of six 40×20-foot nets, at 100-foot intervals. The nets were made of 1/4-inch manila cordage. At each net stood a team of bluejackets who, holding an attached rope to gauge the vibration of the projectile hitting the net, stood ready with a chronograph in hand to be used to help calculate velocity through the docks.

The below images described as “circa 1890” were actually in May-June 1892.

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard circa 1890. The projectile is shown. NH 52495

Projectile body. NH 52496

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard circa 1890. Assembly of warhead and projectile body. NH 52497

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view shows the breech mechanism of the submarine gun open and the shell ready to load. Note the net slicers on the tip. Taken about 1892. NH 54246

Ericsson’s Destroyer interior view showing shop facilities and a projectile for the submarine gun, taken circa 1890. Note the projectile along the bulkhead. It was thought the vessel could carry up to 15 shells. NH 54250

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. The firing of a shell. NH 52305

NH 52306

View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. Firing of a shell into the drydock to be recovered later. NH 52311

Ericsson’s Destroyer. View during tests of her submarine gun at New York Navy Yard, circa 1890. The projectile is in a drained drydock. NH 52313

Firing 20 inert cigar-shaped projectiles, with charges not exceeding 25-30 pounds of black powder, tests were conducted from as close as 100 feet off the dock to as far as 600 feet away, with the latter showing a lateral spread of 22 feet on average. The warheads, carrying equivalent ballast rather than guncotton, were topped with four razor-sharp net cutters. It was thought able to penetrate at least one steel mesh net, as in most tests the wooden bolts zipped through at least five of the six of the manila nets.

Muzzle velocity was estimated by the board to be around 300 feet per second, which translates to about 204 mph. At the 1,200-pound test weight, that’s kinetic energy of something like 2,097,963 ft./lbs.– remarkably close to Mr. Ericsson’s estimates.

There were some glaring failures, including projectiles that sank after they filled with water, some that nosedived just after launch, and others that decelerated rapidly and were caught in the first couple of nets, or came too fast and broached over the nets.

As noted by the New York Times, “Of the 20 shots fired, 15, at the maximum range of 600 feet, were sufficiently accurate in flight to have sunk the underwater hull of an average-sized vessel.”

The craft was taken into Naval custody, although not formally purchased, then tugged for more experiments at the Newport Naval Torpedo Station, where CDR Converse’s team would continue to keep Destroyer into late 1893. This involved testing anti-torpedo nets constructed by the Washington Gun Foundry and a series of nine live submarine gun shells fabricated by the Continental Iron Works of Brooklyn.

This came after a public outcry when “the majority of foreign warships present in the World Columbian Naval Review fleet carried torpedo nets” while no American ship was fitted with one.

Sale and overseas service

In October 1893, Flint Co. of New York City bought Destroyer from the Ericsson Coast Defense Company for resale to Brazil, where a civil war/revolution that included a naval aspect was afoot. Converse dutifully handed the vessel back to ECDC president Ericsson F. Bushnell (the son of Cornelius Scranton Bushnell of USS Monitor and Intelligent Whale fame) later that month and she was towed back to NYC by the tug Scandinavia.

Seafaring adventurer Joshua Slocum, soon after to be the first person to sail single-handedly around the world, accepted the job to take Destroyer to Brazil with a scratch crew that included a Royal Marine officer on furlough who was never without his Colt revolver and sword, a Brazilian “count” whose only redeeming quality “was a good judge of a hotel,” and a handful of other hardy souls.

Supported by the freighter Santuit, Slocum was “navigator in command” and set out on 7 December, arriving at Pernambuco on 20 January 1894, with a weeklong layover in Martinique to make repairs following a hairy incident during a storm in which the vessel was nearly lost at sea.

Destroyer never made it into much active service with the Brazilians, and Slocum, recalling in a self-published pamphlet on the trip, would say:

Concerning the last days of my worthy old ship, there is little more to say. The upland navigators at the Arsenal at Bahia, having observed the New York crew put the Destroyer in the basin and out again with dispatch, undertook, like some tropical quadrupeds, to do the “trick” themselves. Whether from pure cussedness or not this time, I can’t say, but they stove a great hole in her bottom, having grounded her on a rock, “accidentally,” they said.

Alas! for all our hardships and perils! The latest account that I heard said that the Destroyer lay undone in the basin. The tide ebbing and flowing through her broken hull–a rendezvous for eels and crawfish–and now those high and dry sailors say they had a “narrow escape.”

In handwritten notes to a copy found in 1997, Slocum would also detail:

When I returned to Brazil, later, in the Spray [the 36-foot sailboat he rounded the globe in] and inquired about a balance of wages due me from the Destroyer some $600 or more: The officer I addressed said “Captain so far as we are concerned we would give you the ship and if you care to accept it we will send an officer to show you where she is – I know very well where she was, as I have already said at the bottom of the sea.”


While Ericsson’s Destroyer was borrowed by the Navy for about 20 months in 1892-93, she was never commissioned as USS Destroyer, nor given a crew. The Navy did, however, name its second torpedo boat (TB-2), USS Ericsson, after the late inventor in 1897. Later, a Great War-era O’Brien-class torpedo boat destroyer (DD-56) and a WWII-era Gleaves-class destroyer (DD-440) would carry the same name.

USS Ericsson, (TB-2) alongside USS Cushing (TB-1), November 1900. Catalog #: 19-N-14-24-10

USS Ericsson (DD-56) circa 1916. NH 77909

The third USS Ericsson (DD-440), a Gleaves-class destroyer, was pretty enough to star on a 1941 Naval Reserve poster by Matt Murphey. UNT World War Poster Collection

Sadly, today the name of this titan of naval technology rides on an MSC-manned Kaiser-class oiler, USNS John Ericsson (T-AO-194), which has been in service since 1991. If ever a destroyer should be named for a man, it is Mr. Ericsson. 

170718-N-OY799-016. CORAL SEA (July 18, 2017) The Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Ericsson (T-AO 194) is underway alongside the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), as part of a replenishment-at-sea during Talisman Saber 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released)

Since Ericsson’s Destroyer, the Navy has commissioned no less than 1,087 destroyer (DD/DDR/DL/DLG/DDG) series vessels and another 588 destroyer escort (DE) types spanning from USS Bainbridge, laid down on 15 August 1899, by Neafie and Levy Ship and Engine Building Company at their shipyard in Philadelphia, to the next set to come to life, the future guided-missile destroyer USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) accepted from Ingalls shipbuilding last November.

She is scheduled to be commissioned, Saturday, May 13 in Key West Florida.

USS Bainbridge (DD-1) was the first ship commissioned as a destroyer in the United States Navy, authorized on May 4, 1898, three days after the commencement of the Spanish-American War. She served most of her active life in the Asiatic Station. In World War I she was based at Gibraltar, where she served as an escort ship for Allied shipping out of the Mediterranean Sea. Bainbridge was decommissioned at the end of the war in 1919 and sold. Lithograph by C. F. Kenney; C. 1950. NHHC 07-572-A

PCU USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123) during sea trials. HII photo

Ships are more than steel
and wood
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
them know
That some ships have a

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 am a member, so should you be!

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