Tag Archive | warship wednesday

Warship Wednesday (on a Tuesday), Dec. 17, 2019: The Count’s Bones

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

Warship Wednesday (on a Tuesday), Dec. 17, 2019: The Count’s Bones

Photo by Ensign Richard D. Sampson, USN. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 51977

Here we see the aftermath of this very day in history some 80 years ago– the scuttled German “pocket battleship” SMS Graf Spee, resting on the bottom in 25 feet of water off the harbor of Montevideo, Uruguay, following the 1939 Battle of the River Plate.

While internet warships commentators and naval museum fans will fight to the death that Graf Spee and her fellow 1930s-era Deutschland-class “Panzerschiff” (armored ships) were an abomination when compared to regular battleships– vessels the Germans were unable to build due to Versallies limits– they did pack a half-dozen bruising 11-inch SK C/28 guns and another eight 5.9-inch SK C/28 guns in a 16,000-ton hull with a minimum of 3.9-inches of belt armor.

While incapable of holding off even a serious pre-dreadnought battlewagon, by nature of their 28-knot speed and amazing 16,000nm range (at 18 knots!) they were ideal for commerce raiding and able to chew up anything that could catch them that was smaller than a battlecruiser.

Admiral Graf Spee Preliminary artist’s impression of the ship by Dr. Oscar Parkes, Editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, circa 1932. When completed in 1936, Admiral Graf Spee’s superstructure differed from that shown here. NH 91874

Named after Vizeadmiral Maximilian Johannes Maria Hubert Reichsgraf (Count) von Spee, who was lost at the December 1914 Battle of the Falkland Islands along with his two sons, our pocket battleship was laid down 1 October 1932 at Reichsmarinewerft, Wilhelmshaven when Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg was still Germany’s president, she was commissioned 6 January 1936 after the Machtergreifung brought Hitler to power. In a nod to the latter, she picked up a giant bronze Nazi eagle on her stern to complement her Von Spee coat of arms on her bow, a blend of Kaiser and Fuhrer, if you will.

Admiral Graf Spee moored in the harbor, circa 1936-1937. Note the coat of arms mounted on her bow. NH 81110

Her brief peacetime career was filled with intrigues as the ship participated in the Spanish Civil War and the lead up to the Big One in 1939.

Kriegsmarine Panzerschiff Admiral Graf Spee in Spithead U.K. 1937. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

With that, she was soon at her job of reaping British merchantmen in the Atlantic and had sunk nine such vessels (taking care to preserve the lives of their mariners) before a force of three much smaller British cruisers– HMS Exeter, HMS Ajax, and HMNZS Achilles-– fought a running battle with the big German at sea off the coast of Uruguay near the mouth of the River Plate on 13 December.

While all four ships involved were damaged, they were all still afloat at the end of the engagement with 36 of the Graf Spee‘s complement killed and the Royal Navy consigning 72 of their own to the sea at the end of the day.

Watercolor by Edward Tufnell, RN (Retired), depicting the cruisers HMS Exeter (foreground) and HMNZS Achilles (right center background) in action with the German armored ship Admiral Graf Spee (right background). Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. Donation of Melvin Conant, 1969. NH 86397-KN

HMS ACHILLES against the ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE off River Plate. by John S. Smith, via Royal New Zealand Navy

Admiral Graf Spee vs Ajax, Achilles, and Exeter, painting by Adam Werka

For a more detailed account of the battle, which would be wasted here, see the Royal Navy’s “The Battle of the River Plate: An Account of Events Before, During and After the Action Up to the Self Destruction of the Admiral Graf Spee, 1940” at the National Archives. It is 16-pages including three great maps.

Suffering from over 30 hits from the British guns, the German vessel needed time to lick her wounds and bury her dead ashore.

Admiral Graf Spee anchored off Montevideo, Uruguay in mid-December 1939, following the Battle of the River Plate. NH 59657

Denied a lengthy stay in neutral Montevideo, German CPT Hans Langsdorff believed a British bluff that a much stronger force was waiting for him offshore and scuttled his vessel on 17 December to comply with the local demand that he leave the port in 72 hours. This included misinformation that the battlecruiser Renown was offshore when, in fact, she was not.

With most of his crew looking on from shore, Graf Spee began to sink, ablaze. She would burn for three full days.

As Graf Spee only had enough fuel for about one more day of steaming anyway, and the Uruguayans would not transfer any more, it was an academically sound choice to scuttle the German ship. Even if it managed to break out, she would have been dead in the water the next day in a very unfriendly South Atlantic more than 6,000 miles from home. Instead of a watery grave, the surviving crew of the pocket battleship lived to see another day.

Of course, the Battle of the River Plate was the first chance since the loss of the auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi the month before for the Royal Navy to exact some measure of revenge for that ship’s heroic stand against the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst.

And on the 18th of December in a broadcast to the Nation, Churchill would compare the tragic but heroic end of Rawalpindi to the inglorious scuttling of the German pocket-battleship Admiral Graf Spee in Montevideo Roads (the day before) with the comment, “Once in harbour she had the choice of submitting in the ordinary manner to internment, which would have been unfortunate for her, or, of coming out to fight and going down in battle, like the Rawalpindi, which would have been honourable to her”.

On 19 December, two days after Graf Spee settled in the muck of the river, Langsdorff led 1,038 men across the border with Argentina into exile, where they would be held together under local custody. Despite telling the local press that he was “satisfied,” Langsdorff, a Great War veteran who earned his Iron Cross at Jutland, fatally shot himself in his Buenos Aires hotel room with his Mauser pocket pistol. He was lying on Graf Spee‘s battle ensign.

Some 300,000 Argentines attended the 45‐year‐old captain’s funeral.

Funeral procession of Captain Hans Langsdorff NH 85636

On 2 February 1940, just six weeks after the German ship was scuttled, the brand new light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50), with the U.S. Navy still officially neutral in the conflict, called on Montevideo while on her shakedown cruise. Soon, a boarding party that included ENS Richard D. Sampson motored over to the wreck and boarded her to collect what intel they could. After all, the Germans still had two other sisterships to Graf Spee in active service at the time.

Ship’s Number Two 10.5cm/65 twin anti-aircraft gun mount (port side, amidships), photographed on board her wreck on 2 February 1940 by Ensign Richard D. Sampson, USN, of USS Helena (CL-50). The shield of her Number Four 15cm/55 gun is partially visible in the lower right. Her port side crane is in the upper left. NH 50959

Photograph of the mounting for a 20mm machine gun, on the upper platform of the ship’s forward superstructure, with a sketch showing the location of that platform’s two machine gun mounts. NH 51979

Photograph of the ship’s forward broadside (15cm gun) director, with a USS Helena crew member sitting on it. The view looks aft, with the forward superstructure in the background. The director has partially collapsed to starboard. The sketch below shows the director’s arrangement, extending down to the main deck. NH 51982

Photograph of a shell hole in the ship’s forward superstructure tower, made by an eight-inch shell fired by the British heavy cruiser Exeter. The hole was described as large enough to crawl through. NH 51986-A

Photograph of the interior of the ship’s forward superstructure tower, showing damage caused by an eight-inch shell fired by the British heavy cruiser Exeter during the Battle of the River Plate. Cut wires and the absence of a fire control tube were noted on the original report in which this image appeared. NH 51987-A

Photograph of the ship’s partially collapsed smokestack, with its searchlight platform, seen from the after port end of the forward superstructure. The aircraft recovery crane’s boom is in the lower right. NH 51991-A

Graf Spee would be partially broken up above the waterline in situ, with its good German steel ironically– according to legend– going on to be used to make Ballester Molina M1911-ish pistols in Argentina for a British SOE contract.

Ian McCollum over at Forgotten Weapons opines on that in the below:

As Graf Spee‘s 1942-43 salvage was done by a British contractor, much of her salvageable secrets were uncovered.

Today, numerous parts of the ship are on public display around Latin America including a large salvaged optical rangefinder, telegraphs and several small deck guns. One of her anchors stands at a memorial in Montevideo. Further, hundreds of small relics of the vessel are in personal collections around the world.

Her 880-pound stern eagle was recovered by divers in 2006 as part of a government effort to further scrap the ship but has been the subject of much bickering over its final ownership, and it has been in storage onshore ever since.

It is set to be auctioned off in the coming weeks to comply with a court order with possible winners paying upwards of $30 million for the item, which includes a large swastika in the dirty bird’s talons.

Of Graf Spee’s foes at the River Plate, HMNZS Achilles‘ Y-turret was preserved when (as the Indian cruiser INS Delhi) she was scrapped at the end of the 1970s, and since the mid-1990s has been sitting outside HMNZS Philomel (a Royal New Zealand Navy shore station) at Devonport, Auckland. HMS Exeter (68) was sunk during the Second Battle of the Java Sea, 1 March 1942 and her wreck has been destroyed by illegal salvagers. However, Exeter’s bell, removed in a 1940 refit, is on display at the White Ensign Club in Portsmouth. HMS Ajax (22), scrapped in 1949, has her bell on a monument in Montevideo, donated by ADM Sir Henry Harwood and Sir Eugen Millington-Drake, the latter responsible for circulating the rumors that a large British force was off the port in 1939, waiting for Graf Spee.

Of the more than 1,000 Graf Spee sailors shipwrecked in South America in 1939, nearly 200 managed to escape their loose Argentine custody and, either make for Chile and other points North, or return to Germany by other means. One of these, KKpt Jürgen Wattenberg, reached Germany in May 1940 and would join the U-boat arm only to be captured again in 1942 when his submarine was sunk by the British, spending the rest of the war in the clink in Arizona. Another, Oblt.z.S Friedrich Wilhelm Rasenack, managed to make it back home by June 1941 and would later write a book about his former ship.

In all, between the sailors who never left and those who returned to Latin America after seeing how bad life was in post-war Allied-occupied Germany, some 500 survivors settled in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. They established large colonies in Bariloche, Villa Belgrano, and Cumbrecita, among others. The Waldschanke club in Buenos Aires still held raucous Graf Spee crew reunions well into the 1970s.

The last survivor of pocket battleship’s 1939 crew died at age 89 in Montevideo in 2007.

As for Langsdorff, to this day, his crew’s descendants regularly visit his grave in Argentina’s La Chacarita National Cemetery in Buenos Aires to commemorate him, with many holding that his decision saved their father’s or grandfather’s respective lives.

“The affection, gratitude and unwavering trust of many former Spee soldiers in many encounters over the years have made me proud and defined my joy at the rescue of the many men by my father,” the Captian’s 82-year-old daughter, Nedden, recently told German media. “So I hope one will find a way for him to be honored publicly as well.”

His actions are still celebrated in the German navy today.

“In this respect, it is a historical example of timeless soldierly virtues,” the spokesman for the German Defense Ministry said. “These are recognized in the Bundeswehr and his example is used at the naval school in Mürwik, in teaching and training, to support the young officer candidates in their personal confrontation with the political, legal and ethical dimensions of the military and naval service.”

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Internationales Maritimes Museum in Hamburg has an extremely detailed 1:100 scale model of Graf Spee, built by master Helmut Schmidt, on display on deck 5 of the museum. It is the closest thing to a memorial to the ship in her home country.

Photo: Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg


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.

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Hermes everlasting no more

Laid down at Vickers late during WWII, the Centaur-class fleet carrier HMS Hermes (61/R12) languished on the builder’s ways and was only completed post-Suez, joining the Royal Navy in 1959.

Centaur-class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (R12) bouncing around the North Atlantic with her bow mostly out of the water in 1977.

However, she more than earned her stripes as the elderly flagship of the British task force sent to reclaim the Falklands in 1982 before going on to serve in the Indian Navy as INS Viraat (R22) for another impressive 31 years, only retiring in 2017 after 58 years of service. Sadly, it seems like she is bound for the breakers.

As noted by the HMS Hermes/INS Viraat Museum Ship Appeal, the group planning to bring the historic carrier back home to England:

The Indian Government has put INS Viraat/HMS Hermes up for sale for scrap in an e-auction on the 17th Dec 2019.

We have been attempting to delay the auction in order to put forward a satisfactory bid from the UK however there are clauses in the sale that would need the Indian Government to make some serious changes to the schedule which now appear very unlikely.

Viraat is not for sale outside of India and the vessel is not to be towed out of Indian waters for any reason. The successful (Indian) bidder has to undertake to remove the vessel from her current berthing in Mumbai within 30 days of a successful purchase.

I am really sorry for this news. We are currently campaigning against the schedule but are unlikely to win.

Continuity in ships’ tradition, across both sides of the Atlantic

This week saw the christening of the new Ford-class carrier, USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) sponsored by no less a person than Caroline B. Kennedy, JFK’s daughter, and the late President’s only living child.

As you may well remember, a smaller Ms. Caroline also sponsored the new Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier, USS John F. Kennedy (CVA-67) in May 1967, some 52 years ago.

While CVN-79 is expected to be completed in 2022, CV-67 has been on red lead row since 2007 and is nominally set to be preserved as a museum ship.

Meanwhile, in Portsmouth, HMS Prince of Wales (R09) was commissioned this week as the Royal Navy’s second 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class carrier, the largest class of warships ever to carry the White Ensign.

Aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth at Portsmouth this week

The last HMS Prince of Wales (53), a King George V-class battleship, was famously lost 77 years ago this week on 10 December 1941 by Japanese air attack off Kuantan, in the South China Sea

The stricken battleship’s original bell, salvaged in 2002, is on permanent display in the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s gallery.

The relic will be scanned and cast by Cammell Laird to provide a new bell for the aircraft carrier that bears her name.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019: Last Hurrah of the Pope’s Navy

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Dec. 11, 2019: Last Hurrah of the Pope’s Navy

National Library of Rome.

Here we see the pontifical steam corvette Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception) at the Papal port of Civitavecchia in 1860. She was the final ship of the Papal Navy (Marina Pontificia).

On 17 November 1860 King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia (who would be crowned King of unified Italy as a whole four months later) decreed that the Sardinian, Partenopea, Sicilian, Tuscany and Pontifical fleets would be merged into a new Royal Italian Navy, the Regia Marina. However, the body would not be made official until Victor sat on the unified throne in March 1861 following the proclamation of the formation of the Kingdom of Italy.

While the Papal Navy dates to the 9th Century and fought an epic series of engagements (see= the Battle of Lepanto) against the Ottomans and various pirate forces over its existence, most of that is far out of our scope. Operating steamers since the 1830s and proving themselves off Egypt, as far as I can tell the largest, most modern and best-equipped vessel the Pope ever fielded was the Immacolata Concezione.

Constructed by Thames Iron Works & Shipbuilding Co., Orchard Yard, Blackwall in 1859, she was intended as an armed yacht capable of carrying Pope Pius IX on visits from Rome abroad, for instance to the Holy Land. Some 178-feet long, she was powered by a single steam engine with an auxiliary brigantine schooner rig and armed with eight 18-pounders.

From the August 20, 1859 edition of The Illustrated London News.

Cardinal Wiseman and a “distinguished gathering of Catholics saw her off from the Thames ironworks at Blackwell,” notes a 1939 archival article.

The new corvette (pirocorvetta) was the flagship of the 300-man Papal Navy, and, as taken below from the 1869 Statesman’s Yearbook, remained its most important vessel.

In her term of service, Immacolata Concezione was used to suppress smuggling on the Lazio coast and clocked in against the Piedmontese in 1860.

The 1860s era uniforms of the Pontifical fleet, very similar to those of England of the same period.

However, all good things must come to an end and the Papal States, landlocked and confined to a portion of Rome by 1870, had no need of a Navy any longer.

With that, Pius largely disbanded the force but ordered Immacolata Concezione to sail in secret from Civitavecchia for friendly Toulon under the command of CAPT. Alessandro Cialdi, where she would remain a fleet-in-exile. The French allowed the move until Pius died in 1878. At the same time, the Regina Marina carried the vessel on their naval list to save face.

The newly installed Pope Leo XIII, with the Holy See lacking a “sea” port for eight years, ordered Immacolata Concezione disarmed and sold in November 1878 to the Dominican St. Elme school in Arcachon, France– an ecclesiastical naval college– for 50,000 francs, so that the school could utilize it for their cadets. Her naval flag (Bandiera Pontificia) was carried back to the Lateran Palace, where it remains today.

Said Dominican maritime college, though no doubt noble, could not afford the upkeep on such a fine vessel and sold the Immacolata Concezione to commercial interests in 1882, reportedly for double what they paid for it. The school went defunct shortly after.

The ship’s ultimate fate is not known, although she is reported by some sources to have been around until as late as 1905 in one form or another. One of her boats is in the collection of the Museo Nazionale Scienza e Tecnologia “Leonardo da Vinci” in Milan.

Nonetheless, Immacolata Concezione is well-remembered for a few different reasons.

While still in Papal service, she conducted some of the first serious research into aquatic pollution. This was done by Angelo Secchi in 1865 during a summer cruise around the med, with the literal blessing of the Pope. The Secchi disk, invented by the scientist that year, remains in use today.

Further, the Papal Navy is seen by the modern Italian Navy of today, the Marina Militare, as a forerunner and is counted as part of its historical lineage.

The more you know…

Displacement: 652 tons
Length: 178.8 ft.
Beam: 26.57 ft.
Propulsion: 150hp steam engine, one screw, 12 knots. Auxillary sail rig.
Crew: 46 to 52
Armament: 8 brass 18-pounder cannons

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!

Graf Spee’s SMS Scharnhorst found off Falklands

Scharnhorst and her sister were very distinctive with their four large funnels.

The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust has for the past half-decade been looking for the German battle fleet of Adm. Maximilian Graf von Spee lost near the South Atlantic British colony on 8 December 1914. It looks like the charity has hit paydirt in a sort by finding the armored cruiser SMS Scharnhorst, the flagship of Spee’s doomed German East Asia Squadron.

Scharnhorst, built in Hamburg in 1905, was the first to be sunk when the Germans met with VADM Doveton Sturdee’s battlecruiser squadron, hammered below the waves by the much stronger HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible.

Battle of the Falkland Islands, 1914 by British Artist William Lionel Wyllie, showing Scharnhorst slipping below the waves as Gneisenau battles on

Sinking of the Scharnhorst, 1914, painted by Admiral Thomas Jacques Somerscales currently on display at the Royal Museums Greenwich

In all, over 2,200 German sailors perished on the sea that day, including von Spee himself and his two sons – Heinrich aboard the Scharnhorst’s sister ship Gneisenau, and Otto aboard the smaller cruiser Nürnberg.

The Scharnhorst was discovered on the third day of the research vessel Seabed Constructor’s search, 98 nautical miles southeast of Port Stanley at a depth of 1610 meters.

Armoured Cruiser SMS Scharnhorst composite. Via Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Her silhouette is perfect. Via Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Her bow, note the casemated guns. Via Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Another bow shot, note the teak planking is still intact. Via Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Her 8..3″ main guns, at apparently max elevation. Via Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Note the “Krupp” tag. Via Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Wilhelm Graf von Spee, the current head of the Graf von Spee family, said:

“Speaking as one of the many families affected by the heavy casualties suffered on 8 December 1914 at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, the discovery of SMS Scharnhorst is bittersweet. We take comfort from the knowledge that the final resting place of so many has been found, and can now be preserved, whilst also being reminded of the huge waste of life. As a family, we lost a father and his two sons on one day. Like the thousands of other families who suffered an unimaginable loss during the First World War, we remember them and must ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain.”

Bad Day for Old Museum Ships

USCGC Bramble WLB 392, back in her pre-2019 Port Huron days

The retired U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bramble (WLB-392), a WWII-era veteran of the Bikini tests and the historic 1957 voyage through the Northwest Passage left federal service in 2003. She then spent a quiet life as a museum ship in Port Huron, Michigan for years.

Then, in 2018 she was sold to a man who wanted to repeat the famous five-month trek of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Storis, SPAR and Bramble, along with the crew of the Canadian icebreaker HMCS Labrador from May to September of 1957.

He even hired a documentary film crew to cover the whole thing with the name “Bramble Reborn” 

The bad part is, Bramble’s new owner ran out of funds, and the ship was seized for debts run up with the Epic Shipyard in Mobile, Alabama and other creditors. She was sold at public auction for $80,000 on Wednesday, her future unknown.

Tragically, the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’soffice had put the ship’s 1944-dated bell in safekeeping when she was decommissioned in 2003 and only returned it to the museum in 2014. Now, it may be gone, along with the vessel, for good.


The LA Times reports that the former Soviet SSK B-427, which has been part of three different maritime museums since she was decommissioned in 1994 and is currently docked adjacent to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, “is expected to be sold soon to an anonymous buyer, with plans to remove the rusting sub by mid-May. The 48-year-old Russian Foxtrot-class submarine, known as the Scorpion, had hosted paying visitors for 17 years before it fell into such disrepair that it became infested with raccoons and was closed to the public in 2015.”

Oregon relics

Battleship Oregon in the Willamette River in Oregon, 20 April 1941, after she was, ironically, preserved whole as a museum ship since 1925. 

In a (possibly) bright spot, the 20-foot-high smokestacks of the old USS Oregon (Battleship No. 3) have been stored on private property for nearly a decade at the Zidell Yards in South Waterfront. An effort is being made to install them in Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, where the Spanish-American War/Great War vessel’s mast has stood since 1956. However, the plan seems to be faltering.

A proposed design for adding the USS Oregon’s smokestacks to its memorial (which currently features just the mast) at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. (Courtesy of Oregon Maritime Museum)

Hopefully, they will find a home there. If not, they too could go to the scrapper.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor

U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office

Here we see the 125-foot Active-class patrol craft USCGC Tiger (WPC-152) in 1928 during Prohibition. One of a class of 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” cutters rushed into completion to deal with rumrunners, these choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in time of war and Tiger would be there the moment the balloon went up over Pearl Harbor.

These cutters were intended for trailing the slow, booze-hauling mother ship steamers of “Rum Row” along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. Constructed for $63,173 each, they originally had a pair of 6-cylinder 150hp Superior or Winton diesel engines that allowed them a stately speed of 10 knots, max, but allowed a 4,000nm, theoretically Atlantic-crossing range– an outstanding benefit for such a small craft.

For armament, they carried a single 3″/23 cal deck gun for warning shots– dated even for the 1920s– as well as a small arms locker that included everything from Tommy guns to .38s. In a time of conflict, they could tote listening gear and depth charge racks left over from the Great War, but we’ll get to that later.

Taking advantage of one big contract issued on 26 May 1926, they were all built within 12 months by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey (although often listed as “American Brown Boveri” due to their owners at the time, the Swiss Brown Boveri corporation).

Named like the rest of the class in honor of former historic cutters, our craft recycled the moniker only used previously by the Civil War-era 100-foot steam tug Tiger which had been bought in 1861 for $9,000 from the Patapsco Steam Co. by the Revenue Marine Service– forerunner of the Coast Guard– and used to patrol Chesapeake Bay and the approaches to New York City alternatively during the conflict, boarding “with revolvers” as many as 20 craft a day in search of contraband and rebel blockade runners.

The brand-new USCGC Tiger was NYSB Hull No. 346 and was completed on 29 April 1927. Placed in commission on 3 May, she operated out of Coast Guard Base Two at Stapleton, New York, hitting Rum Row with a vengeance in the closing days of the war on illegal liquor. As the Volstead Act was repealed, she transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, for more traditional coastal SAR and fisheries patrol work, arriving there on 6 June 1933.

Durable for their size, Tiger and her sisters were well-liked by their crews and would go on to soldier on for several more decades. Constructed with 3×3 Douglas fir frames on a steel hull, they gained a reputation for being solid ships but were considered too slow (go figure) and were subsequently re-engined in the late 1930s with their original 6-cylinder diesels replaced by more powerful 8-cylinder units on the same beds that gave the vessels three additional knots or so. This left them with a changed profile, as they picked up a large (for their size) stack just behind the wheelhouse.

The 125 foot cutter Dexter, post-conversion. Note the stack.

By 1940, Tiger was assigned to the Hawaii Territory along with her sister Reliance (WPC-150), where they soon picked up depth charges, Lewis guns, and grey paint from the Navy. Such equipped, the class was redesignated as Coast Guard submarine chasers (WSC). The Coast Guard was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Navy Department on 1 November 1941, making the lead-up to WWII official.

Speaking of lead up, both Tiger and Reliance, along with the 327-foot cutter Taney (WPG-37) were assigned to the Navy’s Inshore Patrol Command under CDR John Wooley along with four old destroyers and four minesweepers. This group was tasked by Pacific Fleet boss ADM Husband E. Kimmel to patrol the shoreline around Pearl Harbor and keep an eye peeled for both spies and saboteurs as well as strange periscopes.

That brings us to the morning of 7 December 1941.

On patrol off Oahu that morning, Tiger, under the command of CWO William J. Mazzoni, received a flash from the destroyer USS Ward, a fellow member of the Inshore Patrol Command, around 0645 claiming destruction of an unidentified submarine trying to come through the nets into Pearl– one it had been searching for since 0357 after it had been reportedly spotted by the minesweeper Condor. Said periscope turned out to be one of the series of Japanese midget subs sent to attack Battleship Row at the beginning of the air assault.

USS Ward, The First Shot, by Tom Freeman

The Japanese Striking Force had five Type A midget submarines for the attack, which were transported on larger Type I submarines. These submarines were launched the night before the attack. USS Ward (DD-139) spotted one of the submarines trying to enter the harbor before dawn and was sunk.

This put Tiger on alert and she soon made ready for a real-live shooting war.

At 0720, just after passing the Barber’s Point buoy, Tiger’s WWI-era listening gear picked up a contact now believed by some to be Japanese midget submarine HA-19, a two-man Type A boat that was bumping around off reefs with a broken compass.

At 0753, as the first wave of 183 armed Japanese carrier planes swung around Barber’s Point, allowing a view into Pearl Harbor and the seven slumbering dreadnoughts below, CDR Mitsuo Fuchida ordered the radioman in his Kate torpedo bomber to tap out the later-infamous “Tora, Tora, Tora” (tiger, tiger, tiger) signal, the code words back to the Japanese fleet that the inbound airstrike had caught the Americans unaware.

While still looking unsuccessfully for subs, right around 0800, Tiger started receiving fire that fell within 100 yards of her, with Mazzoni radioing Pearl that he saw Japanese warplanes inbound overhead.

Author James C. Bunch, in his 1994 work Coast Guard Combat Veterans: Semper Paratus, says that “USCGC Tiger (WSC-152) was, by a few seconds, the first U.S. vessel to be fired upon in Pearl Harbor.”

Suffering no casualties from their early interactions with the Emperor’s submariners or aircrew, Tiger also inflicted no damage on the Japanese that day, being out of range of the carnage going on the harbor. Nonetheless, she did come under ineffective fire later that day from U.S. Army shore batteries that were amped up and loaded for bear.

The next day, HA-19 was recovered, aground on Waimanalo Beach in eastern Oahu. Manned by ENS Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, the midget submarine had depleted its batteries on the evening of 7 December and was abandoned. Its scuttling charge failed, Sakamaki became the only Japanese serviceman captured in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Inagaki’s body was recovered later.

(Japanese Type A midget submarine) Beached in eastern Oahu, after it unsuccessfully attempted to enter Pearl Harbor during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after 8 December 1941. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. : 80-G-32680

Surviving her baptism of fire, Tiger would still be very busy throughout December on the search for Japanese submarines off Hawaii, which at the time were running wild in the area. Sadly, this meant picking up the pieces left in their wake.

On 21 December, Tiger arrived at Kahului, Maui, with the 30 survivors of the sunken Matson Navigation Co. steamer SS Lahaina (5645grt). The waterlogged mariners had nine days earlier fallen prey to the Japanese submarine I-9 under CDR Akiyoshi Fujii, who had sunk her in a prolonged surface action 700 miles NE of Oahu. During their wait for rescue two of the crew had committed suicide by jumping from their overcrowded lifeboat while another two died of exposure.

It would not be the only time Tiger performed such a vital mission.

On 28 December, Tiger rescued one of the two lifeboats of the Matson steamer SS Manini (3545grt) which had been torpedoed and sunk 11 days prior by I-75/I-175 (CDR Inoue) while en route from Hawaii to San Francisco. The previous day, the cutter had picked up 13 men and the first officer of the Lykes steamer SS Prusa (5113grt) which had been torpedoed and sent to the bottom by I-172 (CDR Togami) on 16 December.

Tiger remained based out of Honolulu for the duration of the war on local patrol and antisubmarine duties in the Hawaiian Sea Frontier.

Tiger received one battle star for her wartime service.

By the end of the war, Tiger, like her sisters, had been fitted with both radar and sonar as well as upgrading their 3″/23 hood ornament for a more functional 40mm/60 Bofors single, their Lewis guns for 20mm/80s, and augmenting their depth charges with Mouse Trap ASW rocket devices.

The somewhat incorrect Jane’s listing for the class in 1946, showing a prewar image and listing their 1939 armament.

Decommissioned 12 November 1947, Tiger was sold 14 June 1948.

As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they served during the war, and two, Jackson (WSC-142) and Bedloe (WSC-128), were heroically lost in the 14 September 1944 hurricane off Cape Hatteras while aiding a torpedoed tanker.

These pint-sized warships were regular players on the frozen Greenland Patrol fighting the Germans in the “Weather War,” served as guard ships in places as diverse as Curacao and the Aleutians, were credited with at least one submarine kill, and performed air-sea rescue duties. Ten were refitted as buoy/net tenders during the war and reverted to patrol work afterward while two served as training ships.

Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors crowding her bow.

While some, like Tiger, were disposed of in the late 1940s, others remained in USCG service into the 1960s and 1970s.

Boston: “125 ft CGC cutter LEGARE (WSC-144) which fought 20-40 foot waves to take a 79-foot fishing vessel MARMAX in tow, is now proceeding to her home port, New Bedford”

The last example in commission, USCGC Cuyahoga (WPC/WSC/WIX-157), was tragically lost in 1978 in a collision while working as the OCS training ship at Yorktown.

Photo of Cuyahoga in the 1970s in its role as an Officer Candidate School training vessel, in white livery with the now-traditional racing stripe. U.S. Coast Guard photo


With her service to the country over with, Tiger later made the Pacific Northwest in her civilian life and by the 1960s was a coastal tug with Northland Marine Lines of Seattle, under the name Cherokee and later Polar Merchant. Her sister USCGC Bonham (WPC/WSC-129) worked alongside her as Polar Star.

Previously USCGC Bonham (WSC-129) as tug Polar Star

Remaining active until at least 2012, Tiger/Polar Merchant was sold in poor condition to the Tyee Marina in Tacoma Washington where she was stripped, stuffed with styrofoam and installed as a breakwater.

Still located at Tyree with everything above the deck removed, Tiger remains afloat and is one of the few surviving warships that was present at Pearl Harbor on that Infamous Day. Her hulk is moored next to the museum ship USS Wampanoag/USCGC Comanche (ATA/WMEC-202).

There has not been another USCGC Tiger.


Displacement: 232 tons
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 7.5 ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder, 150 hp Winton diesels (300hp total), twin screws
Speed: 10 knots, max
Range: 4,000 nm at 7 knots, cruise, with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 2 officers, 20 men
1 × 3″/23 caliber gun forward, small arms

Displacement: 320 tons (full load)
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 9 ft
Propulsion: Two 8-cylinder, 300 hp Cooper-Bessemer EN-9 diesels (600hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 5 officers, 41 men
Sensors: QCN-2 sonar, SO-9 radar
1 × 40 mm/60 (single), forward
2 × 20 mm/70 (single), wings
2 × depth charge tracks, stern
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward

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