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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

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, Nov. 30, 2022: Crescent City Blues

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives, 80-G-216014.

Above we see the lead ship of her class, the heavy cruiser USS New Orleans (CA-32) camouflaged at Tulagi in the then hotly contested Solomon Islands, shortly after she was torpedoed during the Battle of Tassafaronga on 30 November 1942– some 80 years ago today. Note that her stern is riding high and that her forward end is low in the water as the Japanese Type 93 Long Lance she caught had severed her bow between # 1 and # 2 eight-inch gun turrets, killing 182 men and lopping off almost a fifth of her length.

About the class

Classified as the “Second Generation of Treaty Cruisers” by Friedman who has an entire chapter on the subject in his USNI Press U.S. Cruisers book– a bible on the subject– the seven New Orleans class vessels came after America flirted with the more cramped and often extremely lightly armored Pensacola class (Pensacola and Salt Lake City) Portland class (Portland and Indianapolis), and Northampton-class (Northampton, Chester, Louisville, Chicago, Augusta, and Houston) cruisers. For reference, the P-colas, which carried 518 tons of armor, had just 4-inches of armor at their thickest, with just a maximum of 2.5 inches on their turret face and 1.25 inches on the conning tower, making them vulnerable to 5-inch shells and derided as being “tin clads” or “eggshell” cruisers.

Some 588 feet overall with a 61-foot beam, the New Orleans class carried 1,507 tons of protection (three times as much as Pensacola) and ran a belt and central conning tower that carried up to five inches of plate while the thickest parts of the turret faces went eight, making them capable of withstanding hits from the 8-inch shells of the day– if they were fired from far enough away.

In a further improvement, while carrying nine 8″/55 Mark 9 main guns of the same type as the previous U.S. Treaty heavy cruisers, the New Orleanses carried them in better-designed turrets with more room and would be upgraded during the war to Mark 12, 14, or 15 guns.

8-inch guns of the New Orleans-class cruiser USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), Norfolk, VA. December 1940

As noted by Friedman concisely, “The New Orleans class represented a shift in U.S. cruiser priorities toward protection, gained in part because of a determined use of the entire available treaty tonnage.”

Speaking to which, while rated as 10,000 tons on paper– in line with the Washington Naval treaty limits– during WWII they pushed almost 13,000 when fully loaded and carrying scores of AAA guns for which they weren’t designed. By comparison, the standard weight of the 585-foot P-Colas and 600-foot Northamptons were just 9,138 and 8,997 tons, respectively, leaving a lot of treaty weight on the table.

USS New Orleans artist impression by I.R. Lloyd, circa early 1930s NH 664

USS New Orleans (CA-32) builder’s model, photographed circa 1936. NH 45123 and NH 45122.

Earlier heavy cruisers USS Salt Lake City (CA-25) and USS Pensacola (CA-24), left, alongside USS New Orleans (CA-32) to the right, seen nested together at Pearl Harbor, 31 October 1943. Ford Island is at the left, with USS Oklahoma (BB-37) under salvage at the extreme left, just beyond Salt Lake City’s forward superstructure. Note the radar antennas, gun directors, and eight-inch guns on these three heavy cruisers as well as how much different their bridges, turrets, and masts are. The rounded roofs of early Mark 9 twin and triple turrets of USS Salt Lake City and USS Pensacola contrast greatly with the later turrets of USS New Orleans on the right.80-G-264236

They also had extensive floatplane facilities including two catapults and a large hangar, with corresponding avgas bunkerage and aviation magazines. They typically operated up to four Seagulls, though the number of catapults and extremely dangerous gasoline stores were whittled down late in the war and only a pair of floatplanes carried.

New Orleans class mate USS Quincy (CA-39) looking forward over the boat deck from the secondary conn over her hangar, while the ship was at the New York Navy Yard after her last overhaul, 29 May 1942. Crude # 1 in white circle (center) marks the location of the 5″/25cal loading practice machine. Other notable items includeboats and boat cradle in foreground; four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes atop the catapults; crated food piled by the after smokestack; and USS Marblehead (CL-12) at left. NHHC 19-N-30725

 

Curtiss SOC Seagull scout-observation aircraft leaves the port catapult of a New Orleans-class heavy cruiser, circa 1942

Our subject

The Mississippi River city of New Orleans, the site of two different battles in 1815 and 1862, had previously lent her name to a ship-of-the-line that was begun the same year as the former and sold while still in the stocks over 20 years past the latter.

Then came a protected cruiser — laid down by Armstrong in England as Amazonas for the Brazilian Navy— that was rushed into service in 1898 and would remain in the line through the Great War. 

U.S. Navy protected cruiser, USS New Orleans (later PG 34 and CL 22), port bow. Reproduction of a painting by Koerner & Hayes, circa 1897-98.

As such, our cruiser is the only the second USS New Orleans to reach the fleet. Laid down on 14 March 1931 at the New York Navy Yard, she was commissioned on 15 February 1934.

A great pre-war shot of the USS New Orleans shows her profile. NH 660

Her brief peacetime period took her as far as Scandinavia, a showboat for the Navy and the country before finding herself increasingly after 1936 in Pacific waters.

May 1934– heavy cruiser USS New Orleans at Stockholm along with the pansarskeppet Gustav V Sverige. Marinemuseet Fo39197

A superb image of USS New Orleans (CA-32) in English waters, in about June 1934. Note her gunnery clock and no less than four Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes on her catapults. Photographed by Wright & Logan, Southsea, England. Donation of Captain Joseph Finnegan, USN (Retired), 1970. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 71787

USS New Orleans (CA-32) in port, circa 1937. Note the broad band painted on her after smokestack, probably a recognition feature. NH 50757

Cruiser USS NEW ORLEANS (CA-32) under St John Bridge, Portland

War!

In it from the very first bullet, on 7 December 1941, New Orleans was moored at Berth 16, Navy Yard Pearl Harbor undergoing engine repairs on shore power.

As noted by her report of the attack:

At 0757 sighted enemy planes “dive bombing” Ford Island and went to General Quarters immediately. At 0805 sighted enemy torpedo planes on port quarter flying low across our stern. Rifle fire and Pistol fire was opened from our fantail as the first planes flew by to launch their torpedoes at the battleships. This ship saw several planes launch their torpedoes headed in the direction of the battleships. Our 1.1/75 battery and Machine Guns aft were manned in time to actually fire at three or four enemy planes passing our stern. About 0810 all batteries, except the 8″ battery, were in action engaging such enemy planes a presented themselves as targets.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 9 February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor. NH 97846

Lightly damaged– her crew found no less than 29 small holes in her above water-line hull and superstructure due to flying fragments but she suffered no casualties– with the Pacific Fleet’s battleships out of service, she was soon expected to fill the gap along with her sisters.

She was soon escorting convoys throughout the South Pacific and screened the carrier USS Yorktown at Coral Sea (taking 580 of Lexington’s survivors off) in May, USS Enterprise at Midway in June, and was standing by USS Saratoga at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942.

USS New Orleans underway during exercises in Hawaiian waters, 8 July 1942. This was just weeks after Midway, where she screened Enterprise. Note the extensive float nets and rafts on her superstructure and turrets. 80-G-10115

When Sara was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, New Orleans spent almost 12 weeks escorting the precious flattop back to Pearl, waiting for her to be repaired (and picking up more AAA guns of her own), then escorting her back to the Solomons.

As the Japanese had fought a string of cruiser/destroyer vs cruiser/destroyer night actions at Savo Island in August (with three of New Orleans’s sisters– Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes— lost in minutes), Cape Esperance in October (Salt Lake City lost) and Guadalcanal in November (Portland and sister San Francisco seriously damaged) in which the U.S. attrition rate when it came to heavy cruisers became untenable, it was inevitable that New Orleans would soon find herself in a scrap. One that would be the last large surface ship clash of the Solomons campaign.

This brings us to…

Tassafaronga!

RADM Carleton H. Wright’s Task Force 67– including the heavy cruisers USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Northampton (CA-24), and USS Pensacola (CA-26), the light cruiser USS Honolulu (CL-48) and the destroyers USS Drayton (DD-366), USS Fletcher (DD-445), USS Maury (DD-401), USS Perkins (DD-377), USS Lamson (DD-367), and USS Lardner (DD-487)— had a rendezvous with destiny when it acted against a partially surprised and all-around inferior (on paper) Japanese “Tokyo Express” force of RADM Raizō Tanaka’s eight cargo-burdened destroyers of the IJN’s DesRon2 on the night of November 30, 1942, on the surface of Iron Bottom Sound near Lunga Point.

It went…badly.

As described by the National Museum of the Navy:

U.S. force of five cruisers and six destroyers intercepted eight Japanese destroyers bringing reinforcements to Guadalcanal and were crippled by a brilliantly executed Japanese torpedo counterattack. Heavy cruiser Northampton was sunk, while Pensacola, New Orleans, and Minneapolis were badly damaged. The Japanese only lost the destroyer Takanami. In this action, the last of the Guadalcanal campaign’s five major surface battles, the Japanese once again demonstrated their tactical superiority at night. The Navy was learning though, as would be demonstrated in 1943.

It turned out that, while the New Orleans class had better armor than the first generation of American Treaty Cruisers, they suffered from a lack of below-waterline protection and dramatic bow loss ran in the family, at least at Tassafaronga.

Sister Minneapolis, who scored many of the hits on Takanami, took two torpedo hits from Japanese destroyers, one on the port bow, the other in her number two fireroom, and her bow collapsed.

USS Minneapolis (CA-36). En route to Pearl Harbor for repairs, circa January 1943. She had lost her bow when hit by Japanese torpedoes during the Battle of Tassafaronga, off Guadalcanal on 30 November 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, 80-G-44544.

New Orleans also took her lumps.

Detailed from DANFS:

When flagship Minneapolis was struck by two torpedoes, New Orleans, next astern, was forced to sheer away to avoid collision, and ran into the track of a torpedo which ripped off her bow. Bumping down the ship’s port side, the severed bow punched several holes in New Orleans’ hull. A fifth of her length gone, slowed to 2 knots, and blazing forward, the ship fought for survival. Individual acts of heroism and self-sacrifice along with skillful seamanship kept her afloat, and under her own power she entered Tulagi Harbor near daybreak on 1 December.

For New Orleans, her Battle Damage Report is stark:

  1. During the night of 30 November 1942, NEW ORLEANS was a unit of a task force which engaged a Japanese force in the action subsequently named the Battle of Lunga Point. NEW ORLEANS, firing with her main battery and steaming at 20 knots, had just started to swing to the right to avoid MINNEAPOLIS when a torpedo struck the port bow in way of turret I and detonated.
  2. The torpedo detonation was followed immediately by a second and much heavier detonation. As a result, the bow, including turret I, was severed almost completely between turrets I and II. It swung out to port and tore loose, probably due to the starboard swing of the ship. It then floated aft and banged against the port side. Holes were torn in the shell at frames 53, 130 and 136 and the port inboard propeller was wrecked.

That secondary explosion was later determined to be from one of New Orleans’s aviation bomb and mine magazine, A-502-1/8-M, which “contained the 160-pound demolition charge and forty-nine 100-pound bombs” and that of an adjacent small arms magazine, A-502-M, which contained five 325-pound depth bombs.

From her battle damage report

She limped into Tulagi some eight hours after the battle and remained there shoring up her bow with coconut logs under a camo net for 11 days.

Port bow view as she entered Tulagi harbor about 8 hours after being struck by a torpedo, 1 December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA-32) under camouflage at Tulagi, December 1942

USS New Orleans (CA 32) Cruiser shown soon after the battle. 80-G-44447

Minneapolis did much the same, with the help of Seabees. 

New Orleans then slowly sailed for Sydney, Australia, arriving on Christmas Eve 1942, her crew finally getting some much-needed rest. She would remain there until March, when, after a temporary stub bow was fitted in dry dock, she left for Puget Sound and arrived on the West Coast on 3 April 1943 after stops at Pago Pago and Pearl Harbor

USS New Orleans (CA 32) comes into the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, for a new bow after battling with Japanese warships in Southwest Pacific. In this view, she is almost ready for joining to a new bow. The photograph was released 11 January 1944. 80-G-44448

USS New Orleans (CA-32) steams through a tight turn in Elliot Bay, Washington, on 30 July 1943, following battle damage repairs and overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. She is likely “creating a slick” for recovering a sea plane– making a smooth patch of becalmed water for the aircraft to land upon. NH 97847

USS New Orleans (CA-32) off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, following battle damage repairs and overhaul, 5 August 1943. NH 97848

Back in the fight

After post-rebuild workups, New Orleans sailed 5-6 October 1943 with RADM Alfred E. Montgomery’s Task Force 14 to shell Japanese-occupied Wake Island.

Wake Island Raid, October 1943. A heavy cruiser’s 8-inch guns bombard Wake, as seen from USS Minneapolis (CA-36), 5 October 1943. The two following ships are (in no particular order): USS San Francisco (CA-38) and USS New Orleans (CA-32). National Archives photograph, 80-G-81973

New Orleans would also help support Allied landings at Hollandia and the invasion of the Marianas.

Saipan Invasion, June 1944. Units of Cruiser Division SIX bombard Saipan on 14-15 June 1944. The nearest ship is USS New Orleans (CA-32). Beyond her is the light cruiser USS St. Louis (CL-49). 80-G-K-1774

She would lend her increased AAA batteries to help swat down Japanese aircraft during the Battle of the Philippine Sea while revisiting her old days of screening carriers. Then came the big shows in the Philippines and at Iwo Jima.

USS New Orleans (CA-32) at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 8 March 1945. The city of Vallejo is in the background. Note the ship’s welded bow structure (forward of her second 8/55 triple gun turret). This replaced her original riveted construction bow, which was lost during the Battle of Tassafaronga at the end of November 1942. Circles mark recent alterations to the ship. 19-N-80232

A rare shot at the same time and place as the above that shows her hangar open. Note that her portside catapult has been landed by this time in her career.

After a final wartime refit at Mare Island, she was back at it, hammering Japanese positions at Okinawa and was at Subic Bay when hostilities ceased.

After supporting the post-war occupation of Korea and Manchuria, she made two trips back stateside on Magic Carpet missions returning Pacific War vets to the U.S. Arriving at Philadelphia Navy Yard in March 1946, she spent an 11-month period preparing for mothballs and was decommissioned 10 February 1947.

She had earned 17 battle stars for her war– tying for third most in the theater– and gained a new bow.

From her nine-page War History in the National Archives.

Of her seven-ship class, only four were still in commission on VJ Day and three of those were so grievously damaged in action against the Japanese off Guadalcanal that they had to be extensively rebuilt. Only sister USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), which had “luckily” fought most of her war in the ETO, was never damaged in battle.

The remainder of the New Orleans class in the 1946 edition of Janes.

Cruisers and other warships laid up in the Philadelphia Yard Reserve Fleet Basin, circa 1947. The outboard ship in the left group is USS St. Louis (CL-49). Ships in the background include (in no order): USS San Francisco (CA-38), USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37), USS Minneapolis (CA-36), USS New Orleans (CA-32), USS Louisville (CA-28), and USS Portland (CA-33). Courtesy of “All Hands” magazine. Catalog NH 92254

After spending 12 years along Philly’s red lead row, the vaunted USS New Orleans had her name struck from the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and was sold for scrapping on 22 September 1959 to the Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md. Similar fates were met by her three remaining sisters at the same time.

Epilogue

Our cruiser was remembered by the (apparently now defunct) USS New Orleans Reunion Association and most of her war diaries along with some architectural and engineering drawings are digitized in the National Archives.

Her ship’s bell– presented to the cruiser by the Louisiana State Museum in 1933– is on display in New Orleans City Hall, just outside the Mayor’s Office.

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has other artifacts including a piece of the coconut log shoring from Tulagi.

With the old New Orleans sent to the breakers, the Navy soon recycled her name for a new Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship commissioned in 1968 and would go on to serve three decades.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans (LPH-11) underway in San Diego Bay, California (USA), on 16 June 1988. AH-1 Cobra, CH-53E Sea Stallion, and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters line the flight deck. In the background is the submarine tender USS McKee (AS-41) and the submarine rescue ship USS Florikan (ASR-9). Date 16 June 1988. NH 107677-KN

Then came the Ingalls-built USS New Orleans (LPD-18), a massive 25,000-ton San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, commissioned in the Crescent City in 2007 and still in service.

The U.S. Navy (Pre-Commissioned Unit) San Antonio Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) sails beneath the Huey P. Long Bridge as it moves on the Mississippi River towards New Orleans, La., on March 5, 2007, in preparation for its commissioning ceremony on March 10, 2007. MCS Kurt Eischen, USN.


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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022: Black Sea David and Goliath

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, Nov. 23, 2022: Black Sea David and Goliath

Above we see about half of the crew of the 97-ton Bulgarian torpedo boat Drazki (a name also seen in the West as Druzki, Drzki, and Drsky), some 110 years ago this week after they seriously damaged the fine 4,000-ton British-built Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye at the Battle of Kaliakra during the Balkan Wars, one of the best examples of a humble torpedo-armed fast attack craft landing a confirmed and debilitating hit on a much larger enemy warship. Note the shrapnel hole in Drazki’s aft stack.

The Early Bulgarian Navy

Founded on 13 January 1899 as the first modern maritime arm of what was then the Principality of Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Navy was cut from whole cloth with a dash of assistance from German, French, and Russian naval experts. Just a dozen years old at the start of the eight-month First Balkan War with Turkey, in which Bulgaria was allied in the Balkan League with Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro against the “Sick Old Man of Europe,” the Bulgar fleet was tiny by all comparisons.

In fact, it fits on a single page of Jane’s Fighting Ships with lots of white space left over.

Besides a couple of armed coasters, spar-torpedo launches, and river gunboats, the Bulgarian Navy could count just the French Chantier-built “cruiser” Nadezhda (715t, 2×4″ guns, 17 kts) — a craft that held the first Bulgarian wireless telegraph station and doubled as a royal yacht– and six Schneider & Creusot-built Drazki-class torpedo boats (Drazki, Smeli/Smyeli, Hrabri/Khrabri, Shumni, Letyashti, Strogi) and which had been shipped to Varna in sections and assembled there by the Bulgars in 1907-08.

Bulgarian Drazki class boats under assembly via Varna Maritime Museum

The six 124-foot Drazki boats used a pair of Temple/Norman water-tube boilers trunked into two stacks to generate 2,000 shp on their sole VTE engine, capable of making turns for 26 knots on a single screw. Armament was three torpedo tubes– one in the bow, two on a stern turnstile directed to opposing sides, with no reloads– and two 3-pounder (47mm) Schneider M1902 low-angle guns arranged port and starboard behind the closet-sized wheelhouse. capable of floating in just under nine feet of water, they were ideal for littoral combat.

With a normal coal supply of 11 tons, they could steam for 500 miles at 16 knots. However, they could overload with as much as 27 tons of coal, stretching their legs past 1,000.

As it turned out, the Battle of Kaliakra, fought some 30 miles from Varna, would be the first fleet action for the Bulgarian Navy when, on 21/22 November 1912 (Nov. 7/8 Gregorian), the Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye (commanded by Hussein Rauf Bey) and two destroyers were escorting a convoy of two cargo ships from Constantinople to Constanta and, presenting the Bulgarian fleet an ultimatum to surrender the next morning, the Bulgarians came out to play.

The Ottoman cruiser (classified as a battleship by the Turks) Hamidiye and its commander, Captain Hüseyin Rauf Bey, early 1900s

In a running night action with Captain Dimitar Dobrev’s (an officer who has survived the sinking of the Russian cruiser Dmitry Donsky at Tsushima in 1905) torpedo boat squadron consisting of Drazki and three of her sisters– Letyashti, Smeli, and Strogi— the Bulgarians pressed their attacks increasingly closer but failed to make a hit against the big Turk.

Letyashti, leading the charge with Dobrev aboard, fired and missed at 1,500 feet then pulled away.

Smeli closed to within 1,000 feet and missed, earning a shrapnel hit that wounded her executive officer.

Strogi held her fish until she got to within 300 feet, then missed.

Finally, Drazki, the last in line and last to attack and commanded by Midshipman 1st Class (Acting LT) Georgi Petrov Kupov, closed to within 150-200 feet, effectively point-blank range, and landed a torpedo against Hamidiye. The Turkish armored cruiser was hit in her bow, the explosion opening a 10-foot hole and allowing the Black Sea to flood the vessel. Covered by the Turkish destroyers, Hamidiye, bow almost underwater, was able to retire back home carrying eight dead and 30 wounded with her.

According to most accounts, it was only the fact that the Black Sea was exceptionally calm that night that the Turkish cruiser didn’t head for the bottom.

Catching a hit in her stack from the Turkish torpedo boat destroyer screen, Drazki and company would sail back to Varna by dawn and a heroes’ welcome, the Ottoman blockade of the Bulgarian coast effectively broken.

The photograph of the crews of the torpedo boats that attacked the Turkish cruiser “Hamidiye” on November 8, 1912.

It would be the only significant Bulgarian naval action of the Balkan Wars and Hamidiye, after repairs, would transition to the Aegean and fight the Greeks.

Two World Wars, and Beyond

Drazki and her sisters would, somewhat confusingly, not attempt to block the Romanian Danube River landings during the Second Balkan War in 1913, a task left to a force of four smaller gunboats that, when confronted with a larger Romanian force centered around the gunboat Grivița and backed up by several monitors, elected to scuttle instead.

When Bulgaria threw its lot in with the Germans and Austrians in 1915– largely to get at Serbia– the Bulgarian Navy was tasked with a mine/counter-mine war with the Russian Black Sea Fleet during the Great War that was heavy with nighttime mine-dropping in Russian-held areas and daytime sweeping in their own. In this, Shumni and Letyashti would be lost.

In Sept. 1916, Drazki and three of her sisters would conduct a series of battalion-sized amphibious landings against the Romanians, who had just entered the war on the other side– a bit of payback for 1913.

Meanwhile, the small Bulgarian cruiser Nadezhda, sent to occupy Sevastopol along with the Turko-German fleet in April 1918 following Russia’s withdrawal from the war, would be left there in 1920 and seized by the Reds who eventually scuttled her.

With the Bulgarian Navy disbanded as part of the 1919 Treaty of Neuilly, the four remaining Drazki class torpedo boats lost their torpedo tubes and became river gunboats as part of the country’s Danube Flotilla– officially under police control for interior counter-smuggling duties, their crews listed as civilians. In this lightened configuration and with a half-bunker of coal, they were able to float in as little as 4.25 feet of freshwater.

Jane’s 1931 Bulgarian Listing, showing the four remaining Drazki patrol boats.

By World War II, the Drazkis, thoroughly obsolete, still served as patrol boats.

Cadets from the Navy of H.V. school on the decks of the patrol boats Hrabri, Smeli and Drazki, port of Varna, 1941

On 15 October 1942, due to improper storage of powder on board Drazki, she suffered an explosion and sank at the quay in Varna. Nonetheless, she was soon raised and repaired.

Smeli would founder at sea in May 1943 while the other three boats were captured by advancing Soviet Red Army forces at Varna on 9 September 1944. Two, Drazki and Hrabri, were placed into Soviet service (‘temporarily requisitioned’) for the remainder of the war (with Drazki picking up the name Ingul and Hrabri as Vychegda), then would be repatriated in July 1945. To comply with the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, they were again disarmed.

The Bulgarians would keep the three sisters around in one form or another until 1954– an impressive 47-year run for vessels of a type that typically only lasted a decade.

Epilogue

Drazki’s daring young skipper during the attack on Hamidiye, LT Georgi Kupov, after leading the above-mentioned amphibious assaults during the 1916 Romanian campaign, became the Bulgarian Navy’s chief of staff in September 1917, a job he held until the navy was dissolved in 1919. During the interwar period, he served as commander of the Danube Flotilla and then taught Astronomy and Spherical Trigonometry at the country’s Maritime School until 1944 when the Soviets arrested him although he was soon released.

Георги Петров Купов. He passed in 1959, aged 74, and is well-remembered in Bulgaria

Ironically, Hamidiye, which had been seized by the British for seven years as part of the Treaty of Sèvres after the end of the Great War, was returned to Turkish service in 1925 and would solder on as a training cruiser through 1947. 

The Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye. She would only be scrapped in 1966 after a spell as a museum ship.

Speaking of which, in 1957, it was decided by the People’s Republic of Bulgaria to preserve Drazki as a museum ship for her role in 1912 but, as the three ships had largely been dismantled, the current ship that carries the legacy is mostly the hull of Strogi with the topside of Drazki and parts of Hrabri.

Kupov, 72 at the time, was present at her grand opening.

She looks good for all the Frankenstein nature of her current form, maintained by the Varna Maritime Museum.

And, importantly, her Battle of Kaliakra-perforated stack endures.

Druzki and the Battle of Kaliakra have been a favorite subject for Bulgarian illustrators over the years.

The Bulgarian Navy recycled her name at least twice, once in 1950 for a guardship (strazhevik) and then in 2004 for the Wielingen-class frigate Wandelaar, which was acquired that year after the Belgian Navy retired her.

BLACK SEA (May 14, 2017) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79), background, and the Bulgarian navy frigate Drazki (F41) conduct maneuvers during a passing exercise. Oscar Austin is on a routine deployment supporting U.S. national security interests in Europe and increasing theater security cooperation and forward naval presence in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean Spratt/Released) 170514-N-AX546-1037


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!

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022: Of Baklava & Inflatable Intruders

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, Nov. 16, 2022: Of Baklava & Inflatable Intruders

Archive of the Naval Museum of Greece

Above we see the French-built Protefs-class submarine Υ/Β Τρίτων (Triton) (Υ5) of the Royal Hellenic Navy, part of the “Free Greek” forces in exile in the Second World War, while docked in Port Said in August 1941 following the German occupation of her homeland. Both the Greek Navy and merchant fleet would provide solid service fighting with the Allies during the war and, in this effort, many to the bitter end including the subject of our tale, lost 80 years ago today.

Greek subs, 1886-1940

The Greek Navy began its long love affair with submarines when it bought the Swedish-built Nordenfelt steam-powered submersible in 1886 for £9,000.

Swedish Nordenfelt I normal buoyancy at the Ekenberg shipyard. Tekniska museet submarine

The small 64-foot boat was less than ideal, requiring 12 hours to build up enough steam to sail and without the ability to fully submerge but it was nonetheless equipped with a single 14-inch tube for a Whitehead automobile torpedo (which could only make 10 knots and carried a 40-pound guncotton warhead), sparking the nearby Ottoman Turks to buy their own, larger, 100-foot Nordenfelt. Remaining in service until the 1900s, the Greeks later ordered a pair of more modern subs from France.

In 1910, with their Nordenfelt experiment in the rearview, the Greeks ordered two new subs from the Schneider Shipyards in Toulon– Delfin and Xifias. Some 162 feet overall and 450 tons displacement, they could make 12 knots on the surface and carried five 17.7-inch torpedo tubes.

Loading of torpedo on Greek submarine Xiphias 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Greek submarine Xiphias at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Greek submarine Xiphias in diving tests at Toulon 26 June 1913 Bibliothèque Nationale de France 

Ordered just before the Balkan Wars, Delfin was rushed into action with a green crew and in December 1912 made an unsuccessful torpedo attack on the Cramp-built Ottoman light cruiser Mecidiye, an incident commonly regarded as the first recorded launch of a self-propelled torpedo by a submarine in battle. The torpedo reportedly broached and sailed past the cruiser without doing any damage.

Fast forward to the Great War and both Delfin and Xifias were seized by the French in 1916. Returned after the war, they were in such poor shape that the Greeks simply scrapped them in 1919.

They would soon be replaced one-for-one with a new class, also ordered in France in 1925. Built to a Schneider-Laubeuf design based on the French Circé 600t class, they were named Y/B Katsonis (Y1) and Papanikolis (Y2). Some 204 feet overall– which is about perfect for a Mediterranean-sized boat (for reference, modern German Type 209s run 211 feet while Type 214s are 213 footers) — they used Schneider-Carels diesels to make 14 knots on the surface and 9.5 submerged (which proved less in practice). Mounting a 4″/40 Schneider deck gun protected in a shielded barbette built into the leading edge of the conning tower, their torpedo armament consisted of four 21-inch bow tubes (2 internal, 2 externals) and two bow tubes (both external) with stowage for 7 torpedoes and 100 shells for their 4-inch gun. They had a dive depth of 240 feet and were capable of two-week patrols.

Via Jane’s, 1931 ed

The Greeks then doubled down with the more advanced four-boat Protefs class, ordered from Ateliers & Chantiers de la Loire and CNF in 1927 (wait for it) France for £119,000 per hull. Built to a Loire-Simonot design, they were rough copies of the French Sirene-class 600 Series boats with minor changes. They would all carry nautical-tied names drawn from Greek mythology: Y/B Protefs (Y3), Nirefs (Y4), Triton (Y5), and Glafkos (Y6). Just shy of 1,000 tons, they were slightly larger than the Katsonis class and ran 225 feet long overall.

Powered by twin Sulzer diesels and electric motors, they could make a stately 14 knots on the surface and 9.5 submerged. With a dive depth of 275 feet, they were armed with eight 21-inch tubes (6 bows, 2 sterns, with space for 8-10 torpedoes) all inside the pressure hull, along with a topside 4″/40 Schneider shielded tower gun and a 40/39 2-pounder mount oriented over the stern.

Via Jane’s, 1931 ed

Triton and Glafkos were delivered and commissioned in France in 1930, the last two Greek submarines that would be completed as new construction until 1972– something we will get to in a minute.

War!

The Greek Navy entered the war with two old (circa 1908) Mississippi-class pre-dreadnought battleships (14,000t, 4×12″ guns, 17 knots), Kilkis (ex-Mississippi) and Lemnos (ex-Idaho) that had been largely disarmed and turned to training/barracks hulks, four minelayers, two old cruisers, 10 assorted destroyers, a few torpedo boats, and 6 submarines.

In a precursor to the Italian invasion, the elderly protected cruiser Helli/Elli was sunk at anchor off the island of Tinos by the Italian submarine Delfino in August 1940. The hulked Kilkis and Lemnos were sunk at their moorings in Salamis by German Stukas in April 1941, sitting ducks in a shooting gallery. Other ships were crippled in Greek waters by Luftwaffe aircraft.

Photo #: NH 77440 Greek battleships Kilkis and Lemnos Sunk in the basin of the Greek naval base at Salamis after they were hit by German air attacks on 23 April 1941. Seen from the harbor pier following the arrival of the German army. Kilkis, the former USS Mississippi (Battleship # 23), is in the foreground. Lemnos, ex-USS Idaho (Battleship # 24), is in the distance, with her guns removed. Franz Selinger, via the U.S. Naval Institute, provided photograph and some caption information. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

One bright spot was the Greek submarine forces’ efforts to attack Axis merchant shipping, especially Italian during the six-month Greco-Italian War before the Germans got involved.

Protefs bagged the Italian troop transport Sardegna (11,452t) in December 1940 off Brindisi, which was carrying part of the 7th “Lupi di Toscana” (“Wolves of Tuscany”) Infantry division to Albania. Sadly, Proteus was sunk immediately after this attack, rammed, and sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Antares. All 48 crew members were lost.

This did not deter Greek dolphins and Papanikolis deep-sixed the freighter Firenze (3945t) and Italian sailing vessel Antonietta before the month was out while Katsonis sank the coaster Quinto (531t) in the Adriatic on New Year’s Eve.

Triton hit the seas hard on six Adriatic/Ionian war patrols from Greek ports, credited by Greek sources as sinking the Italian Adua-class submarine Neghelli on 19 January 1941 (post-war Allied panels credit the British destroyer HMS Greyhound with her fate, however, as noted by Uboat.net, “the results of the attack were inconclusive and there is no absolute certainty of her fate.”)

Triton underway

Triton would also log two unsuccessful torpedo attacks on Italian freighters off the Albanian coast on 20 March 1941 before sinking the transports Carnia (51541t) and Anna Capano (1216t) on 23 March in the Adriatic Sea about 30 nautical miles east of Cape Galo.

The photo shows the commander of the submarine “Triton” LCDR D. Zepos, HN, together with the Commander of Submarines Captain Ath. Xiros at the Salamina Naval Station. Submarine NCOs stand behind. Naval History Service. Zepos would command the boat through March 1941, a period in which she is sometimes credited with sinking an Italian submarine and two tankers.

Nonetheless, Mussolini’s legions were successfully able to send 400,000 men, another 50,000 beasts, and 500,000 tons of supplies to the Greek front– a full 22 divisions– by April 1941, primarily by sea. They only lost 23,000 tons of shipping to the Greek navy’s submarines, amounting to seven merchant vessels and a submarine. It was a losing game that was finished once the Germans entered the contest.

As the country was being overrun, the Greeks under ADM Epaminondas Kavadias were able to sortie their surviving cruiser and default flagship Georgios Averof, six destroyers, and the five remaining submarines to Alexandria and Malta from where they would continue the struggle.

The fight goes on

While the obsolete Averof spent most of the rest of the war safely in harbor, the Greek subs and tin cans were assigned RN pennant numbers by the British and went on to operate in the Mediterranean under Admiralty control. Triton’s first mission was to carry urgently needed medical supplies to trapped British, Australian, and Greek troops on Crete, then, after a refit in Alexandria, Triton went out again in September 1941. The refit was key as the Greek submarines had reportedly all missed their 10-year mid-life overhauls due to peacetime budgetary constraints in the late 1930s and were mechanically suspect because of this.

September 1941. Triton Submarine in Alexandria

In her first six war patrols from Greece (Oct 1940-April 1941) Triton racked up 1,147 hours underway with about half that submerged, and (by Greek sources) had sunk an Italian submarine (Neghelli) and two merchies (Carnia and Capano). In her 7th-15th war patrols, all under British orders between June 1941 and November 1942, she logged another 2,626 hours (with about two-thirds of that submerged) and was credited with just four small coastal vessels off Thera and failed attacks on two large Italian merchies. This was largely because she was tasked with landing agents and commandos behind Axis lines on most of those patrols or running supplies through the German gauntlet around Malta with offensive anti-shipping activities secondary to those missions.

Heraklion

Triton carried a multinational early SAS raiding party as part of Operation Albumen to German-occupied Crete in June 1941, with the goal of the commandos hitting the Luftwaffe field at Heraklion.

The six-man group was led by French-speaking British Army reserve Major George Jellicoe (yes, ADM Jellicoe’s son), a parliamentarian on loan from the Coldstream Guards to L Detachment, Special Air Service at the invitation of David Stirling himself; four Free French commandos –Maj. Georges Bergé, Jacques Mouhot, Pierre Léostic, and CPL Jack Sibard— and Free Greek Army 2LT Kostis Petrakis, the latter a Cretan officer who would serve as a guide.

The Heraklion attack was timed to coincide with similar efforts at three other Crete airfields at Kasteli, Tympaki, and Maleme, to reduce German bombers available on the eve of an important convoy operation through that part of the Med. Of note, the Maleme team was delivered to Crete by the Greek sub, Papanikolis.

They were heavily loaded with satchels of dozens of Lewes bombs, a specialty incendiary device named for British SAS legend Jock Lewes, but lightly armed with just a Colt .45 each and a single sub gun for the whole patrol. The plan was that they would evade capture for a week or more among the locals and then be recovered by small boat.

Jellicoe, who in 1990 recorded an oral history of his WWII service for the Imperial War Museum described the Triton part of the operation as follows:

We sailed on a Greek submarine– the Triton— bought from the French in the ’20s. She was then getting a bit long in the tooth and was quite small. She was about 15 years old. I don’t think I’d recommend anybody wanting comfortable Aegean travel taking passage in a small Greek French-built submarine…Any case, we took passage in the Triton, which was very well commanded by an absolutely first-rate Greek naval officer [LT Epameinóndas Kontogiánnis], to Crete.

I remember my first sight of Greece was through the periscope of the Greek submarine on the northeast coast of Crete. We came in a bit closer to Heraklion– there was a westerly wind blowing…The submarine surfaced, we had our two or three rubber boats which we paddle in in. We thought we were going to be about a mile offshore, but it was actually about two miles, so we had a very long paddle in, indeed. We then landed– there was nobody on the beach, the beach was clear. Mouhot and I, we undressed and swam out with the rubber boats, loaded with shingle and rock, then we sank them.

After rough going inland and the “dis-imbalance” of an overload of equipment, they evaded a German patrol but nonetheless were able to reach the airfield and, in penetrating the wire outside of the field, were busted by another German patrol. Mouhot hit on the idea of rolling over and loudly snoring to give the impression they were drunken Cretan peasants, which the Jerries bought and moved on, allowing them to proceed with their havoc. Using an RAF air raid by a brace of Blenheim bombers as cover, Jellicoe and company placed their charges on a motor pool filled with 20 trucks as well as a staging area with 23 German Ju-88 bombers and then, as he says, “had the pleasure of marching out in what we thought was good German formation out of the main gate” back to their lay-up hide to wait for the devices to explode.

While not of the Crete operation, this artwork gives a good flavor of a similar operation in Egypt, depicting Robert Blair “Colonel Paddy” Mayne, SAS, shown placing a Lewes bomb on an aircraft in one of the desert airfields raids. The Lewes bomb was a blast-incendiary field expedient explosive device, manufactured by mixing diesel oil and Nobel 808 plastic explosive. Created by LT Jock Lewes, one of the original members of L Detachment SAS in 1941. Via Stirling’s Desert Triumph – The SAS Egyptian Airfield Raids 1942 by Osprey Publishing.

As for Jellico’s team, the Germans executed 62 local Cretans as a reprisal– despite the fact the British had taken pains to leave behind tell-tale objects such as helmets and food wrappers to take credit for the attacks. Betrayed by a local villager, the Germans ambushed the commando patrol, resulting in the death of 17-year-old Free French commando Pierre Léostic being killed, and the other three Frenchmen being arrested after trying to shoot their way out of a German sweep. Interrogated by Luftwaffe officers for a week at Heraklion, they would be sent to German POW camps as they were in uniform, with Bergé ending up at Colditz with David Stirling of all people. Meanwhile, Jellicoe and the Greek officer, Petrakis, escaped back to Egypt with the three other (intact) SAS commando patrols after being exfiltrated 10 days after the raid via a caique run by John Campbell and “Paddy” Leigh Fermor’s operation.

Endgame

Returning to the tale of Triton, sailing on her 15th war patrol, her 9th under British control, the boat was tasked with landing five Greek agents and 750 pounds of war material on the southeastern coast of Evia then, once free of her passengers and cargo, proceed to look for targets of opportunity. Spotted while stalking a German convoy at Kafireas on the evening of 16 November 1942 and attempting an attack on the 5,700-ton Romanian freighter Alba Julia, our submarine became locked in a six-hour/49 depth charge nighttime running battle with the German destroyer ZG3/Hermes (former Greek British G-class destroyer, Y/B Vassilefs Georgios) and the auxiliary subchaser (U-Jäger) UJ-2102 (converted ex-yacht Brigitta, owned by Evgenios Evgenidis) that ended with Triton dead in the water and slugging it out on the surface, Kontogiannis reportedly ordering his crew to abandon ship while he fired at the Germans from the fairwater with a revolver.

At least 20 of her crew and two Allied officers (LT. Andrew Carter, from the South African Naval Forces, and an RN LT Cole, likely as commo/liaison officers) were killed in the action, their bodies carried to the bottom after UJ-2102 rammed her.

Among the fallen:

Vice-Captain A. DANIOLOS
Vice-Captain K. ANNINOS
Ensign Eng. I. STARAKIS Kelefstis
Tor. P. BINDERIS Kelefstis
Mech. N. PAVLAKIS
Petty Officer Second Arm. A. KOUSOULAS
Petty Officer Second Fire. T. BAGIOS Under-
Secretary Second Elector S. SCHOINAS
Under-Secretary Second Elector P. PAPATHANASIOU
Under-Secretary Second Elector D. KAKANDRIS
Diopos Arm. H. BAKIRTZIS
Diopos Tor. N. MERETZIS
Diopos Tor. C. CHARITOS
Diopos Note. I. KYVELOS
Diopos Tel. B. PALOURIS
Diopos Mech. E. PATRIARCHEAS
Diopos Mech. A. TSITSAKOS
Sailor Electrician M. GEDEON
Sailor Electrician I. GEDEON
Sailor TH. MASTROGIANNIS

Two men, Nikolaos Maroulas (Chief electrician) and Dimitros Papadimitriou (electrician mate), escaped by swimming three miles to nearby Evia where they found refuge in the village of Thymiani, then to Allied lines in the Middle East.

The Germans captured at least 17 Greek submariners (some sources say 27, some 28), including Kontogiannis and LT Christos Soliotis, and sent them to the Marlag-Milag Nord, a site near Bremen that housed mainly British Merchant Navy and Royal Navy personnel.

Kontogiannis

They were liberated in late April 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division.

She is remembered by a seaside monument at Karystos.

Epilogue

Of Triton’s two Protefs -class sisters that escaped Greece, Nereus would finish the war with the Italian freighter Fiume (662 GRT) to her credit and was decommissioned on 3 May 1947.

Glavkos, credited with sinking two small vessels in 1941 and damaging the German merchant Norburg (2392 GRT) off Crete, was bombed, and sunk by German Ju-88s of II./KG77 in Malta on 4 April 1942.

Glavkos

As for the older Katsonis and Papanikolis, they would account for at least 15 small vessels including the shifty Spanish/German merchant San Isidro/Labrador (322 GRT) while under British control. Like Triton, they would also land assorted agents and commandos as needed. It was on one such mission that Katsonis was sighted by German submarine chaser UJ 2101 on 14 September 1943 and sent to the bottom, taking down 32 men with her while UJ 2101 rescued 14 survivors, including the British W/T operator. Papanikolis outlived her sister and was decommissioned post-VE Day.

Greek submarine Y1 Katsonis

All told, of the six Greek subs that started WWII in 1940, four would be lost in combat and of her small corps of ~300 prewar professional submariners, fully half would perish.

For those curious, George Patrick John Rushworth Jellicoe, 2nd Earl Jellicoe, Baron Jellicoe of Southampton, KBE, DSO, MC, PC, FRS, FRGS, FRSGS, ended the war as commander of the Special Boat Regiment and eventually hung up his uniform as a brigadier. He passed in 2007, aged 88, having served 68 years in Parliament and having an assault boat (“Jellicoe Inflatable Intruder Mark One”) named in his honor.

An informative book on the junior Jellicoe is Windmill’s “A British Achilles” with a foreword by Paddy Fermor no less, the officer who took him off the beach in Crete after the Heraklion operation.

In the Historical Museum of Crete, in the WWII section, there is a special tribute to the Heraklion airfield raid and the “62 martyrs” that followed the op. The portraits of those executed are displayed.

The Greek submarine force 1942-present

The British made up Greek losses after 1942 and by the end of the conflict, the Greek exile Navy consisted of no less than 26 warships and auxiliaries.

This would include seven submarines starting with the captured Italian submarine Perla, which was turned over to the Greeks in 1943 and renamed Y/B Matrozos (Υ-7). The new V-class boat HMS Veldt was transferred to the Greek Navy upon completion on 1 November 1943 and renamed Pipinos (P-71). Sistership HMS Vengeful would become Y/B Delfin in April 1945, while HMS Untiring would become Y/B Xifias and HMS Upstart would switch colors as Y/B Amfitriti in July 1945. Two further V-class boats, HMS Virulent and HMS Volatile, would become Y/B Argonaftis and Y/B Triaina in 1946.

Greek submarine RHS Pipinos at a quay WWII IWM FL17464

The six British boats would make up the post-war Greek submarine program, as shown by this 1946 Jane’s entry.

The current Greek submarine service badge emulates one of these late-war British boats.

Hellenic (Greek) Navy’s current submarine badge

Post-war, the Americans stepped in as the British boats were retroceded and transferred several Gato, Tench and Balao-class GUPPY’d diesel subs, including USS Hardhead (transferred to Greece as Papanikolis 26 July 1972; sold for scrap 1993), USS Jack (transferred to Greece as Amfitriti 21 April 1958; sunk as target 5 September 1967), USS Lapon (transferred to Greece as Poseidon 10 August 1957; retired April 1976), USS Scabbardfish (transferred to Greece as Triaina 26 February 1965; stricken 1980). and USS Remora (transferred to Greece as Katsonis on 29 October 1973; stricken 1993).

Protefs (S-78) (Greek Navy), ex USS Lapon (SS-260) in 1961

Hellenic Navy submarine Y/B Katsonis (S-115) in the Corinth Canal. She is the former Tench-class Guppy III updated USS Remora (SS-487)

In the late 1960s, Greece decided it had enough of the GUPPY life and ordered a series of new Type 209/1100 diesel boats from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) in West Germany. One of these advanced SSKs was named Y/B Triton (S112) and commissioned in 1972.

The current Triton is part of a four-boat class that includes Y/B Glaukos (S110), Nireus (S111), and Protefs (S113), all very familiar names indeed. In addition, the Greeks have purchased the three-boat Poseidon class (Type 209/1200), the one-off Y/B Okeanos (Type 209/1500AIP), and the four Papanikolis class (Type 214) from Germany as well, showing just how important Athens considers a strong submarine force.

And they know how to use them. 

Transport ex-Evros (A-415), sunk by SST-4 torpedo from the Hellenic Navy submarine Y/B Pipinos (S-121) off Karpathos island.

Triton’s WWII colors endure. They had been saved by Oberleutnant zu See (der Reserve) Gero Kleiner, the skipper of the subchaser that sank her. He had been presented with the wrecked banner by a German sailor snatched who them down before the submarine went to the bottom in 1942. Holding on to his trophy for 30 years, he handed it over to Greek naval representatives in a short service in 1972 at the Naval School of Murwik in Kiel when her Type 209 replacement was launched.

They are preserved in a Greek museum at Salamis.

Kleiner, aged 67 at the time, had to make do with just the DKiG he was decorated with for sinking Triton, handing over her flag in 1972 to Greek ADM Ioannis Maniatis with a simple “this belongs to you.” Notably, the Greeks were the first to order the Type 209, picking up four of the original 209/1100s followed by another four 209/1200s.


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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022: The Charging Frenchman of Casablanca

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, Nov. 9, 2022: The Charging Frenchman of Casablanca

Above we see the French Duguay Trouin-class light cruiser Primauguet charging to her destruction against a much stronger American force outside of Casablanca during the Torch Landings, some 80 years ago this week. While the French Navy in WWII, and in particular the French Vichy forces, get kind of a backhanded bad wrap in English sources of the conflict as being milquetoast when it came to heroics, Primauguet is certainly the exception to that tired trope.

Lacking modern cruisers following the Great War and still saddled with far-flung colonies in the Pacific, Africa, the Americas, and the Indian Ocean, France began building several very similar classes of light cruisers for both commerce protection and “showing the flag.” Dusting off the circa 1912 La Motte-Picquet-class cruiser design that was never built, and blending it with lessons from the post-war American Omaha-class and British Emerald-class stiletto-hulled cruisers that did leave the drawing board, the French ordered the three Duguay-Trouin-class ships in 1922. The ships included Duguay-Trouin, Lamotte-Picquet and Primauguet.

Exceptionally light indeed, these 7,249-ton (standard) vessels on 604-foot-long hulls were lithe.

With a 1:10 beam-to-length ratio and a quartet of Parsons geared turbines driven by eight super-pressurized Guyot boilers, speed was their main defense. Designed with a top speed of 34.5 knots, which they could hit for an hour or so in testing. Primauguet herself logged 33.06 knots on a 6-hour speed trial in 1925, harvesting 116,849 shp while carrying a full load of fuel and stores. They also proved capable of steaming for a 24-hour period at 30 knots at half power. Meanwhile, they had comparatively short legs, only capable of 4,500nm of steaming at 15 knots.

Look at those hull lines. Here, Lamotte-Picquet seen in drydock.

When it came to armor, they had extraordinarily little but at least had 21 watertight compartments and were considered good seaboats. The smaller (557 foot, 6500t) training cruiser Jeanne d’Arc, laid down in 1928, used roughly the same hull form, a down-sized version of the Duguay-Trouin’s engineering suite which enabled 25 knots, and the same topside gun armament.

French Duguay-Trouin-class light cruiser Primauguet on 28 of Juli 1939. Note her twin forward 6-inch gun turrets, the gunnery clock on her tower, and the tropical dress of her crew

Their main armament was a full dozen 21.7-inch torpedo tubes in four triple mountings on deck amidships with 24 fish carried (12 loaded and 12 in the magazine). They also had two picket boats armed with 17.7-inch torpedoes as well. For anti-submarine defense, they carried depth charges.

Two single-engine floatplanes could be carried for the stern Penhoët-type air-powered catapult and it seemed the French used or evaluated at least a dozen distinct types of these across the mid-1920s through 1942 with mixed results. The country fielded no less than 50 assorted “Hydravion de reconnaissance” types in the first half of the 20th Century and I’ve seen or read of the Duguay-Trouin class with CAMS 37, Donnet-Denhaut, Loire 130 and 210, Gourdou-Leseurre GL-810/812/820 HY and GL-832, FBA 17 HL 2, Latecoere 298, and Potez 452 types aboard.

Visitors aboard the French light cruiser Lamotte-Picquet in East Asia. Note the tropical helmets on her crew and the single-engine flying boat (she carried a couple Potez 452 in 1936-39) on her catapult. The marching band is dressed in outlandish tropical grass skirts and seems to be leading a parade, which may be the start of a crossing-the-line ceremony.

Primary gun armament was eight new 155 mm/50 (6.1″) Model 1920 rapid-fire guns arranged in four very narrow twin mounts (2 bow, 2 aft) and space for 1,220 shells in their magazines. Capable of firing a 124.6-pound HE or AP shell to 28,000 yards, the designed rate of fire was six rounds per minute per gun although the practical rate of fire was about half that. Secondary batteries were just four 3-inch AAA guns and four machine guns.

Bow Turrets on Lamotte-Picquet. Note the director and large searchlight above it. ECPA(D) Photograph. Besides the Duguay Trouin class, the French only used the 6.1″/50 Model 1920 on the training cruiser Jeanne D ‘Arc and the carrier Bearn.

Jane’s 1931 listing on the class.

The Duguay Trouins proved the basis for French cruiser design throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.

As mentioned above, the type was shrunk down to create the training cruiser Jeanne D ‘Arc, and it was also upsized to make the first French heavy cruisers (croiseur de 1ere classe), the Duquesne and Tourville (10,000t std, 627 oal, 62 ft beam, 8×8″/50, 118,358.4 shp to make 34 knots). These Duquesne and Tourville used almost the same engineering suite (8 guyot boilers, 4 turbines, trunked through two funnels), the same thin bikini-style light armor plan that only covered gun magazines, deck, and the CT; arrangements for two scout planes on a single rear catapult, and the same 4×2 main gun arrangement for the main battery with torpedo tube clusters amidship. Then came the later heavy cruisers Suffern, Colbert, Foch, and Dupleix which were basically just the Duquesne class with slightly better armor arrangement in exchange for a lower speed.

A French Navy recruiting poster, featuring the country’s modern style of light and heavy cruisers. Beautiful, fast, modern, but very lightly armored.

Primauguet

Laid down at the Brest Arsenal on 16 August 1923, our cruiser was named after Hervé de Portzmoguer, a 15th-century pirate and privateer who was best known to history under the nom de guerre “Primauguet.”

A traditional French naval name, it had already been used by a brig and corvette in the early 19th century, a circa 1882 Laperouse-class protected cruiser, and a Great War fast troop transport.

Commissioned on April Fool’s Day 1927, she was immediately dispatched on a seven-month circumnavigation of the globe to show the flag, returning home at the end of the year.

Sent to the Indochina station in 1932, a common one for her class, she remained in East Asia until 1937 when she returned to metropolitan France.

Primauguet on a port visit to Douala, Cameroon, in February 1932 to mark the inauguration of the port

Crew picture onboard the French light cruiser Primauguet, Shanghaï, 1930s

Light cruiser Primauguet. Note what looks to be a CAMS 37 biplane floatplane

Primauguet 1930s Saigon

Primauguet 1930s Saigon

She was designed to span the seven seas and she did that.

War!

Once WWII broke out, based with the French Atlantic fleet out of Brest she sailed for a series of convoy protection missions and found herself protecting colonies and possessions in the West Indies in May 1940 when the Germans swept through the Low Countries. Once European Holland collapsed, Primauguet landed sailors and Marins in the Dutch Antilles to guard the Aruba oil fields for the Allies. Relieved by a British gunboat, she rushed to France just in time to participate in the evacuation of French forces from the mouth of the Gironde, one step ahead of the German advance, and took part of the Banque de France‘s gold reserves to Dakar in the French West African stronghold of Senegal, where she was when the French government capitulated.

Part of the Vichy-controlled fleet by default, she eventually made a sortie up the coast to Libreville where she was intended to operate with the cruisers Georges Leygues, Montcalm and Gloire against Free French forces only to have that operation fall apart once the British got involved and, by November 1941, was in Casablanca with Leygues, in desperate need of an overhaul.

She was still in reduced status when the Allies arrived in force off North Africa some 80 years ago this month for the Torch Landings.

Torch

The French got one heck of a shellacking from the combined Allied fleet, spearheaded by the U.S. Navy who brought the fleet carrier USS Ranger and four rapidly converted large oilers turned auxiliary carriers (Sangamon, Suwannee, Chenango, and Santee) along with three battleships (the old USS Texas and USS New York as well as the brand-new So Dak-class fast battlewagon USS Massachusetts). In the ~52-hour period between dawn on 8 November and noon on 10 November, the French Vichy fleet in North Africa, spread out between Casablanca, Oran, and Bizerte would lose:

The incomplete Richelieu-class battleship Jean Bart
The destroyers Albatros, Typhon, Epervier, Tramontane, Tornade, Milan, Frondeur, Fougueux, Boulonnais, and Brestois
The submarines Diane, Danae, Ariane, Oréade, Argonaute, Amphitrite, and Actéon
The minesweepers Surprise and Lilias
The submarine chasers V 88, P13, and Dubourdieu
The armed trawlers La Bonoise, L’Ajaccienne, La Setoise, La Toulonnaise, Sentinelle, and Chene
The tug Pigeon and Tourterelle
The cargo ships Spahi, Divona, Dahomey, Cambraisien, Ville du Havre, Saint Pierre, and Lipari
The ocean liners Savoie Marseille/Ile De Edienruder and Porthos
The tankers Saint Blaize and Ile D’Quessant

Oh yes, and Primauguet.

It wasn’t much of a fight, with the four operational carriers (Chenango carried Army P-40s on a ferry run), along with the serious spotter-plane corrected offshore gunline provided by 16-inch guns of USS Massachusetts and the eight-inch guns of the heavy cruisers USS Augusta, USS Wichita, and USS Tuscaloosa plastering the French vessels at their moorings or just as they tried to make to the sea. One of the latter was the subject of our warship Wednesday.

The U.S. Navy’s wartime ONI sheet on the Duguay Trouin class would describe their protection as “practically nil except for thin gun shields, splinter-proof conning tower, and double armored deck.” This, of course, was lifted word-for-word from previous Jane’s listings. They just weren’t made to take punishment, either in the form of 500-pound bombs, 8-inch shells, or 16-inch shells.

Even in her largely inoperable state, Primauguet was the largest French warship to get underway during the Allied invasion, and went out firing, although her short sortie ended in a literal blaze of glory.

Primauguet’s final charge

As detailed by RADM Samuel Cox’s H-013-3 Operation Torch— The Naval Battle of Casablanca H-Gram:

At 1000, as the French destroyers bobbed and weaved in the smoke screen, the French light cruiser Primauguet sortied, and the Massachusetts and Tuscaloosa closed in on the destroyer action and one of them finally hit a French destroyer, the Fougueux, which blew up and sank. About the same time, the El Hank shore battery hit Augusta with an 8-inch round that fortunately did little damage. Shortly afterward, Massachusetts was almost hit by multiple torpedoes from an unidentified French submarine, while Tuscaloosa narrowly avoided four torpedoes from the French submarine Medusa, and Brooklyn dodged five torpedoes from the French submarine Amazone at the same time she and three U.S. destroyers were engaging the Primauguet and the remaining five French destroyers. At 1008, Brooklyn was hit by a dud shell, but got payback at 1112, when she hit the French destroyer Boulannais with a full salvo, causing her to roll over and sink.

By 1100, Massachusetts had expended 60 percent of her 16-inch shells and began to conserve ammunition as a hedge in the event the French naval forces at Dakar, West Africa (including the battleship Richelieu) showed up unexpectedly. By this time, the French ships’ luck had begun to run out under the hail of U.S. fire. The light cruiser Primauguet had been hit multiple times by Augusta and Brooklyn, including three hits below the waterline and one 8-inch hit on her number 3 turret, and she made a run for the harbor. The destroyer leader Milan had been hit five times and also made for port. The destroyer Brestois was also hit by Augusta and U.S. destroyers; she made it into the harbor, only to be strafed by Ranger aircraft and sank at the pier at 2100.

At 1115, the three remaining French ships, destroyer leader Albatross, and destroyers Frondeur and L’Alcyon formed up to conduct a coordinated torpedo attack on the U.S. cruisers, but the attack was broken up by Tuscaloosa and Wichita, although Wichita was hit by a shell from El Hank and had to dodge three torpedoes from a French submarine. Frondeur was hit aft, limped into port, and was finished off by strafing. Albatros was hit twice by shells, then by two bombs from Ranger aircraft and was left dead-in-the-water. Of the seven French surface combatants that sortied, only L’Alcyon returned to port undamaged.

At 1245, the French navy vessel La Grandier (Morison called it an “aviso-colonial” whatever that is, but it was said to resemble a light cruiser from a distance) and two coastal minesweepers sortied from Casablanca. Their mission was actually to rescue French survivors from the morning engagement, but their movement was interpreted as a threat. Two French destroyers that had not been engaged in the morning, the Tempête and Simoun, milled about smartly around the breakwater trying to lure U.S. ships back into range for El Hank, for which the U.S. ships had gained a healthy respect by this time. AugustaBrooklyn, destroyers, and aircraft attacked the rescue ships, which managed to avoid being hit. In the meantime, a French tug came out and began to tow Albatros into port, but Ranger aircraft strafed, bombed, and forced Albatros to be beached. Ranger aircraft also repeatedly strafed the now grounded Milan and Primauguet. A direct bomb hit on Primauguet’s bridge killed the commanding officer, executive officer, and eight officers, and wounded Rear Admiral Gervais de Lafond.

Although the French had put up a spirited fight, and U.S. reports indicate admiration for their professionalism, the battle ended up very one-sided. The French scored one hit each on the MassachusettsAugustaBrooklynLudlow, and Murphy, none of which caused major damage and only the three deaths on Murphy. The French also destroyed about 40 landing boats, most as a result of strafing by French aircraft in the early morning. The French lost four destroyers sunk, and the battleship Jean Bart disabled, the light cruiser Primauguet heavily damaged, burned out, and aground, and two destroyer leaders damaged and aground. 

With a loss of about 90 of her reduced crew and twice as many wounded, Primauguet would burn all night. Her, wreck, along with the other Vichy French Navy and commercial ships in Casablanca harbor, would become well-documented by U.S. Naval forces in the coming days.

French light cruiser Primauguet beached off Casablanca, Morocco in November 1942. She had been badly damaged during the Battle of Casablanca on 8 November and is largely burned out forward. What appears to be shell damage is visible at her main deck line amidships, just aft of her second smokestack. In the left distance are the French destroyers Milan (partially visible at far left) and Albatros, both irreparably damaged and beached closer to shore. The latter is flying a large French flag from her foremast. 80-G-31607

French destroyer Milan (partially visible, right), destroyer Albatros (center), and light cruiser Primauguet (upper center) beached off Casablanca, Morocco on 11 November 1942. All had been badly damaged during the Battle of Casablanca on 8 November. Photographed from a USS Ranger (CV-4) plane. 80-G-32400

French Navy and commercial ships in Casablanca harbor, Morocco after the battle of 8 November 1942. The two damaged 1500-tonne destroyers at left wear identification codes T62 and T22 (capsized … she may be Frondeur). Another ship of that class is alongside the quay in the right center. Among the merchant ships present are Endome (left), Delaballe (center, inboard), and Wyoming (center, outboard). All wear neutrality markings. Outside the harbor are the beached light cruiser Primauguet (left center), destroyer Albatros and destroyer Milan (closest to the beach). 80-G-32407

Casablanca harbor, Morocco, and vicinity on 16 November 1942, eight days after the 8 November invasion and the naval battle there. Among the ships outside the harbor entrance are three U.S. Navy destroyers, a minesweeper, and (in the center) the torpedoed USS Electra (AK-21) with USS Cherokee (AT-66) off her bow. Closer to shore are three beached French warships (from right to left): light cruiser Primauguet, destroyer Albatros, and destroyer Milan. Inside the harbor, with sterns toward the outer breakwater, are eight U.S. Navy ships. They are (from left to right): two minesweepers, USS Terror (CM-4), USS Brooklyn (CL-40), USS Chenango (ACV-28) with a destroyer tied to her starboard side, USS Augusta CA-31), and a transport. 80-G-1003967

French destroyer Albatros beached off Casablanca, Morocco on 4 December 1942. Beyond her stern is the French light cruiser Primauguet. Both ships were badly damaged during the Battle of Casablanca, on 8 November 1942. Albatros’ third smokestack has been destroyed and Primaguet is largely burned out forward. Note the railroad line and signal in the foreground and shipping in the right distance, including at least two French commercial freighters and, partially visible at far right, what appears to be USS Electra (AK-21) lying very low in the water. She had been torpedoed by the German submarine U-173 on 15 November. 80-G-30649

French Cruiser Primauguet outside of Casablanca Harbor March 1943 Duguay-Trouin-Class LIFE J R Eyerman

French Cruiser Primauguet outside of Casablanca Harbor March 1943 Duguay-Trouin-Class LIFE J R Eyerman

French Map of Casablanca Harbor after the Battle, note Primauguet on the left outside of Casablanca Harbor from a post-war French Service Historique de la Marine about the Allied landings in North Africa.

Epilogue

Eventually, Primauguet’s above-water structures were salvaged in 1951 and scrapped post-war while her hull was allowed to silt over. A UXO operation in 2001-02, conducted by a joint Moroccan-French team, penetrated her magazines and removed over 1,600 intact 6-inch and 75mm shells along with 251 cases of assorted power charges.

Her sister Lamotte-Picquet, in Indochinese waters since 1935, fought the Japanese-allied Thai Navy to a standstill at the oft-forgotten 1941 clash at Ko Chang. Laid up in 1942 in Saigon, she was sunk by the Allies in early 1945.

Dugay-Trouin class light cruiser Lamotte-Picquet in the Saigon River, 31 January 1939 note GL-810 series floatplane

Class leader Duguay-Trouin, interned with the British in June 1940 in Alexandria, sat out the war until early 1943 when she was turned over to the Free French following the fall of the Vichy regime. Refitted by the Allies in time for the Dragoon Landings along the French Riveria in August 1944, she was ordered to Indochina after the war and participated in NGFS operations there against the Viet Minh insurgents until 1952.

French cruiser Duguay-Trouin 1946 Janes

Today, the museum ship USS Massachusetts carries the scars from two French shell hits received in the Battle of Casablanca. The first was a 7.9-inch shell from the El Hank shore battery that was fired at an estimated range of ~28,000 yards. The second was one of Primauguet’s 6-inchers.

As detailed by the Museum:

At 1057, BIG MAMIE received a hit on the starboard quarter at Frame 85. The shell ricocheted from the deck and burst over 20 mm Group 13. A small fire caused by the burst was brought immediately under control by the Damage Control Repair party. No personnel casualties were sustained as personnel at group 13 had previously been shifted to the unengaged side. This hit was fired from the French cruiser Primauguet.

The French Navy remembered the name of the old pirate and the vessels that carried it into battle via the Georges Leygues (F70 type)-class frigate Primauguet, which was in service from 1986 through 2019.

French guided missile destroyer, Primauguet (D 644), a member of the Georges Leygues class (Type F 70).

Perhaps they will bring the name back one day.


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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022: The Loss of Trap Ship K

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, Nov. 2, 2022: The Loss of Trap Ship K

Above we see a circa 1917 Willy Stöwer painting depicting a dashing German U-boat of the Kaiserliche Marine encountering the British Q-Ship Headley at sea, with the crew pretending to abandon ship to sucker the submarine in close enough to be pounded under the waves by hidden Vickers guns and 12-pounders. While the British extensively used Q-ships/Mystery Ships– heavily armed gunboats disguised as merchantmen– despite Stöwer’s propaganda piece, the Germans also had a few Qs of their own during the Great War, one of which is the subject of our piece this week.

Rather than “Q-ship,” a code name that referred to the British vessels’ nominal homeport in Queenstown, Ireland, the Germans used the term “U-Boot-Falle Schiff,” literally “Submarine Trap Ship” with each further described simply on naval lists and orders as a support/supply ship (Hilfsschiff). In stark contrast to the no less than 366 British Qs (of which 61 were lost in action while they only took down 14 U-boats for their sacrifice), the Germans only had eight trap ships and five of those were very small coasters and trawlers of under 1,000 tons.

As all were merchant vessels converted to decoys, the Admiralstab decided to keep the ships’ prewar names and simply designate their wartime service with a letter designation as Hilfsschiff A, B, C, well, you get the drift, with the letter typically drawn from the first of the vessel’s name. They often also had alter-identities that would include fake name boards, flags, and shifting profiles.

The Hateful Teutonic Eight:

  • SS Alexandra (Hilfsschiff A) (1909, 1615 t, 4-10,5 cm L/35 guns)
  • SS Belmonte (B, fake name Antje) (1914, 193 t, 2-105/35) three-masted schooner
  • SS Friedeburg (F, fake name Anna) (1912, 211 t, 2-10,5 cm L/35) three-masted schooner
  • SS Hermann (H) (1901, 5000 t, 4-10,5 cm L/35)
  • SS Kronprinz Wilhelm (K, fake named Gratia, then Marie) (1914, 2560 t, 4-10,5 cm L/35)
  • SS Oder (O) (1897, 648 t, 2-10,5 cm L/35)
  • SS Primula (P) (1904, 834 t, 2-10,5 cm L/35)
  • SS Triumph (T) (1907, 239 t, 2-88/27)

Belmonte, Hilfsschiff B, of the German Navy as a submarine trap around 1916 with her 4.1-inch gun

The Germans also had about 20 armed Vorpostenboot (outpost boats), small trawlers that often illegally flew a Dutch flag and served as something of an early warning picket and were sometimes used in sabotage actions such as cutting submarine cables and landing/extracting agents, but, while interesting, they are beyond the scope of what we are covering.

Here, a Vorpostenflottille heading out in 1917.

Of the eight trap ships, Kronprinz Wilhelm/Hilfsschiff K, was the most interesting and most successful, and, as she was sunk by British destroyers in the Kattegat some 105 years ago today (2 November 1917), she is our primary focus.

Meet Hilfsschiff K

Ordered for the Stettin Rigaer Dampfschiff Gesellschaft, a small Baltic passenger, and merchant shipping company that ran a regular route from Stettin to Riga from 1874 until 1937 when it merged with Gribel, Kronprinz Wilhelm was a small cargo steamer with a few passenger berths.

Constructed in 1914 by Stettiner Oderwerke (Yard No. 654), she was 252 feet long and powered by two boilers and a single engine that developed 1,500 hp, making her able to chug along at 14 knots.

SS Kronprinz Wilhelm of the Stettin-Riga line

SS Kronprinz Wilhelm of the Stettin-Riga line

Once the war shut down her cargo route (although the Germans would occupy Riga in 1917 and remain there in one form or another until almost a year after Versailles), Kronprinz Wilhelm was soon requisitioned by the German navy for further use.

One of the largest trap ships, she entered service on 12 November 1915 as Hilfsschiff K and was assigned to the I. Handels-Schutz-Flottille (1st Trade Protection Flotilla) in the Baltic. Her armament was a quartet of 4.1-inch SK L/35 guns recycled from the casemates of turn-of-the-century Kurfüst Friedrich Wilhelm-class pre-dreadnoughts. These were hidden behind fake bulkheads and under on-deck dummy crates.

Her profile was also changed with a second funnel.

The British also did the same thing, so it is likely that the tactic was borrowed after reports from U-boats of the Q ships, after all, Stower knew about it.

Q ship disguises, in this case, on the HMS Farnborough

Hilfsschiff K was tasked with quietly escorting small convoys to Sweden with her “SS Gratia” disguise intact and embarrassingly ran aground in Swedish waters in January 1916. When responding Swede destroyers found out she had four popguns aboard and reported as such to the press, her cover was blown. This led Hilfsschiff K to get a new skipper– Leutnant (der Reserve) Julius Lauterbach, late of a series of Far East escapades.

Herr Lauterbach

Prisenoffizier Lauterbach, des Kleinen Kreuzers SMS Emden

Lauterbach was a Hamburg-America Line officer who joined Admiral Graf Spee’s Squadron when the war broke out and went on to be assigned to the cruiser, SMS Emden. Serving as a prize officer with the famed raider, in November 1914 he assumed command of the seized Admiralty chartered British coaler SS Exford with 5,500 tons of fine Welsh coal aboard and when the planned meet-up to refuel Emden two weeks later fell through after the latter was sunk by the Australian Navy, surrendered his 16-man prize crew to the armed British merchant cruiser Empress of Japan. Imprisoned in Singapore, he escaped during a mutiny of Indian troops there (which some reports say he had a hand in) in February 1915 and made his way across Asia back home.

As he had largely only ever had experience with merchant ships, it made sense to put the hero Lauterbach in charge of Hilfsschiff K once she was repaired.

Back in the Baltic Again!

Sailing alternatively as the “SS Marie,” Hilfsschiff K went on to a string of successes. On 27 May, she rammed and severely damaged the Russian Bars-class submarine Gepard after he fell for the German trap ship, and three months later had a tangle with the managed to damage the British E-class submarine HMS E43 which was operating from the Russian Baltic ports.

The Imperial Russian submarine Gepard and cruiser Oleg in Reval, 1915. The former was damaged by a 4-inch shell and ramming from Hilfsschiff K in early 1916.

Hilfsschiff K was also credited (erroneously) with sinking HMS E18 the same summer after the British boat disappeared while on a patrol off the Estonian coast, but after E18‘s wreck was discovered off Hiiumaa, her hull busted by a mine, this was dispelled.

Regardless, Hilfsschiff K was by far the most successful German trap ship. However, if you live by the gun, you can also die by the gun.

Tasked with protecting German fishing vessels from British gunboats in the Kattegat cod grounds between Denmark and Sweden. There, on the late night of 2 November 1917, Hilfsschiff K met with the 15th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet and made battle with the shiny new destroyer leader HMS Parker (1916, 1700 t, 4-4.1 inch) under Captain Rafe G. Rowley-Conwy, together with the companion S and R-class destroyers Sorceress, Ready, Rigorous, Rocket, Rob Roy, and Trenchant, in a running engagement, complicated by rough weather, that stretched from around 9 p.m. to just before midnight.

At the end of the day, Hilfsschiff K and eight German trawlers (Frankfurt, Frisia, Emmy, Makrele, Julius Wieting, Seadler, Sonne, and Walter) were at the bottom while the British suffered only a few splinters and zero casualties. Of the trap ship’s 81-man crew, 28 were killed or missing while the British plucked 64 prisoners (some of them crewmembers from the lost trawlers) from the icy waters, taking them back to the UK for the duration of the war. Danish steamers, arriving at the site of the battle the next morning, pulled bodies, wreckage, and 17 additional German survivors– Lauterbach included– aboard.

Epilogue

Julius Lauterbach (später Lauterbach-Emden) would evade internment, return to Germany from Denmark, and go on to be promoted to Kapitänleutnant. Subsequently, he was given command of the raider SMS Mowe, although the war ended before he could ever try to break out with her.

He spent the last days of the Great War writing a sensationalized autobiography, “1000 Pds. Kopfpreis – tot oder lebendig” (£1000 Head Prize – Dead or Alive) which dealt principally with his time as the former prize officer of the famous SMS Emden, a ship that had much more name recognition than Hilfsschiff K. As part of that, he often toured around Weimar-era Germany on lecture tours about his experiences, often appearing in conjunction with Count Felix Graf von Luckner, “Der Seeteufel” of the commerce raider SMS Seeadler

Lauterbach passed in 1937 in Sonderborg, aged 59. From what I can tell, he never served in the interwar Reichsmarine or follow-on Kriegsmarine

In July 1920, the British Admiralty would grant HMS Parker and the rest of her flotilla a bounty for sinking the “Auxiliary Cruiser Kronprinz Wilhelm.”

The wreck of Kronprinz Wilhelm was discovered in 1999. Resting in just over 100 feet of water off Torekov, Sweden it has become a popular dive site, inhabited by large eels and cod. At least two of her 4.1-inch guns and “piles” of shells are reported intact.


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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, Oct.19, 2022: Baron Carl’s Commando Taxi Service

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, Oct.19, 2022: Baron Carl’s Commando Taxi Service

Photo via the Netherlands Institute for Military History (NIMH) in The Hague, No. 2158_008953

Above we see the K XIV-class submarine (onderzeeboot) Hr.Ms. K XV of the Royal Dutch Navy (Koninklijke Marine) during an exercise in the Dutch East Indies, shown transporting V-2, a Fokker C-VII W light naval reconnaissance floatplane, on her deck on 29 June 1935. Built expressly for overseas service, she would round the globe, sideline one of the emperor’s tankers, and deliver sneaky commando types behind enemy lines throughout the upcoming war.

Paid for by the oil-rich government of the Dutch East Indies in 1930 to serve as “colonial” submarines with the “K” for “Koloniën,” the five K XIV-class boats were designed by Dutch Navy engineer J. J. van der Struyff, who already had the smaller 0 9 and K XI-classes under his belt.

A bit larger and more modern than previous Dutch classes, they leveraged input from across Europe. Using a pair of 1,600 hp German-made MAN diesel engines and two 430 kW domestically built Smit Slikkerveer electric motors lined up on two shafts, these 1,045-ton vessels could push their 241-foot welded steel hulls at speeds approaching 17 knots on the surface (they made 19 on trials) and nine while submerged. The plant enabled them to cruise at an impressive 10,000nm at 12 knots, ideal for West Pacific patrols.

Using double hulls with a test depth of 250 feet, they carried both search and attack periscopes provided by Stroud and a periscopic radio antenna that could be used while submerged. Ideally, for their intended use around the 18,000-island East Indies archipelago, they could float in just 13 feet of water and submerge in anything over 50.

When it came to armament, they were outfitted with help from the British, including tubes for a batch of 200 Weymouth-built dialed-down Mark VIII torpedoes (dubbed II53 in Dutch service) that could hit 42 knots and carry a 660-pound warhead– not bad performance for the era.

A British-made II53 torpedo on board the destroyer Hr.Ms. Evertsen in 1929. The Dutch used these on both surface ships and subs. NIMH 2173-224-077

The torpedo tube layout in the class was interesting, and not repeated in another Dutch class. They mounted eight 21-inch torpedo tubes–four bows (two on each side of the hull), two in the stern, and a twin external trainable mount forward of the conning tower– with room for 14 fish.

Hr.Ms. K XIV, seen in a Colombo drydock in December 1942, shows a good view of her bow tubes and the inset cavity forward of the fairwater for her trainable twin tubes.

A good view of the twin tubes mounted outside of the hull under the deck, prior to installation in 1931.

Besides their torpedoes, they were armed with a Swedish 88mm/42cal Bofors No.2 deck gun and two British Vickers 2-pdr QF Mark II (40mm/39cal) large-bore AAA machine guns, the latter contained in neat disappearing installations, a novel idea for guns that weighed over 500-pounds including a water-cooled jacket.

The crew of Dutch submarine Hr.Ms. K XV with her 40mm Vickers “ack-ack” machine gun in position and 88mm Bofors gun pointing over the bow. Note the mixed crew, common for boats in the colonies. Circa late 1930s. NIMH 2158_005757

The first three boats– K XIV, K XV, and K XVI— were ordered from Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij on the same day in 1930 as Yard Nos. 167-169. The final two– K XVII and K XVIII— were ordered in 1931 as Yard Nos. 322 and 322 from neighboring Wilton-Fijenoord, Schiedam. All five were complete and ready to deploy by early 1934.

Dutch submarine Hr.Ms. K XV central control 1935 NIMH 2158_005759

Dutch submarine K XV at Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij Jan 1931 NIMH 2158_008934

Dutch submarine K XV at Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij Feb 22 1934 NIMH 2158_008935

Commissioning of Hr.Ms. K XV at the Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij, 30 December 1933. On the right is her sister, K XVI, fitting out. Note the large “15” on her fairwater and the caps over her stowed Vickers guns. Note the winter heavy blue uniforms, soon to be discarded. NIMH 2158_008948

With the class complete, they self-deployed as a unit some 9,000 miles for the East Indies, stopping along the way at Lisbon, Cádiz, Palermo, Port Said, Suez, Aden, and Colombo. In theory, they could have done this on one tank of diesel oil without having to refuel.

The departure of the submarines Hr.Ms. K XIV and sister Hr.Ms. K XV from Den Helder, Holland, for the Dutch East Indies, 7 February 1934. In the background can be seen sisters K XVI and K XVII, waiting offshore. NIMH 2158_008920

Dutch submarine K XV on the Tagus River, Lisbon, likely on her way to East Asia. Photo via the Direcção-Geral de Arquivos of Portugal.

The arrival of Hr.Ms. K XV in Surabaya, April 1934. In the background is the destroyer Hr.Ms. Van Nes, which would be lost in February 1942, was sunk by Japanese aircraft. The white ship in the distance is Hr.Ms. Koning der Nederlanden, a 70-year-old 5,300-ton ramtorenschip ironclad that had been disarmed and turned into a barracks ship in 1920. NIMH 2173-223-089.

DOZ 3 (Divisie Onderzeeboten), consisting at this time of the colonial submarines Hr.Ms. K-XIV, Hr.Ms. K-XV and Hr.Ms. K-XVI, seen here in anti-aircraft exercises ca 1938. Note you can see both Vickers 40mm being extended from the sail. You have a good view of the trainable twin external torpedo mounts via the opening just under the deck forward of the 88mm gun and the large escape hatches (drägervests) near the bow and aft of the saii. NIMH 2158_019998

Dutch submarines including sisters K XVI, K XIV, K XII, and K XV (1933-1946) along with the older (circa 1925) and smaller (216-feet/688 tons) Hr.Ms. K XI, alongside the supply ship Hr.Ms. Zuiderkruis, circa 1936. Of note, the obsolete little K XI, armed with more primitive Italian-made I53 torpedoes, would complete seven war patrols in WWII. Meanwhile, the 2,600-ton Zuiderkruis would escape from Java in February 1942 and spend the rest of WWII in Ceylon, operating as a depot ship and transport for the British Eastern Fleet. She would return home in 1945 and go on in 1950 after Indonesia’s independence to become the flagship of the Indonesian Navy (as Bimasakti) and President Soekarno’s personal yacht. NIMH 2158_019986

The sisters spend the lead-up to World War II in a series of exercises and drills, their history noting the most important occasion in the “happy time” being the 23-ship September 1938 naval review associated with the 40th coronation Jubilee of Queen Wilhelmina held in Soerabaja for the benefit of visiting French and British admirals.

Onderzeeboot Hr.Ms. K XV in Nederlands-Indië ca late 1930s. Note the awning and tropical whites. NIMH 2158_008950

Dutch submarine K XV in Soerabaja circa 1939. Note the sealed hatch for her 40mm Vickers machine gun in the sail. Also, it seems like one of her sisterships is tied next to her with a floatplane stored on her bow similar to the top 1935 image. NIMH 2158_008951

War!

On 10 May 1940, German swarmed over neutral Holland’s borders and, within a week, had overrun the country despite the best efforts of the Dutch Army and the Queen joined the government in exile in Britain. This left the Dutch East Indies in an odd place, as the country was at war with Germany but largely on its own as there were few Germans to fight in the Pacific. The closest thing was the scare later that year that the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer would transition to the area, one that would not materialize. One that did was the deployment of five auxiliary cruisers (HSK) — Orion, Pinguin, Komet, Atlantis, and Michel —although only one, Komet, would capture a Dutch ship, the freighter Kota Nopan, near the Galapagos Islands.

Then came the increasingly close encroachment of the Japanese including moving into Vichy French-controlled Indochina in September 1940. This was obviously a springboard for further aggressive expansion.

On 25 November 1940, K XV would welcome her fourth and final skipper, Luitenant ter zee 2e klasse Carel Wessel Theodorus, Baron van Boetzelaer. Born in 1905, the good baron had received his commission and spent 11 years in the navy before arriving on board. He would remain her commander throughout the war.

By November 1941, it was clear to everyone across the Pacific that the Japanese– cut off from American commodities including av gas since June 1940– were preparing to take the East Indies from the Dutch.

With that in their mind, DOZ 3 was sent from Soerabaja to guard the oil fields off Tarakan along the coast of Borneo against supposed Japanese intrusions on 18 November 1941. There, the trio of submarines received the flash at 08:07 on 8 December that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and both the U.S. and the Dutch government in exile– to which the Dutch East Indies was loyal– had declared war on the Empire.

Ordered to remain submerged as much as possible during the day and maintain a brisk patrol schedule, the Dutch subs, working in conjunction with Dutch Navy Dornier Do 24 flying boats and Dutch Army Martin B-10 bombers, were soon sinking Japanese transports and small craft in the South China Sea. The first Japanese ship to feel Dutch lead was the fishing lugger Celebes Maru No. 3, forced to beach on Tobi Island on the afternoon of 8 December after being strafed by a Dornier, while the first submarine kill was of the transport Awajisan Maru (9,794 GRT) sent to the bottom on 12 December by the old Hr.Ms. K XII off the Malayan coast.

Before the year was out, Dutch subs in the region would account for 21 Japanese warships and auxiliaries (78,639 tons all told) exchanging four of their own number (O 16, O 20, K XVI, and K XVII) in the process. 

K XV achieved the last significant success of the KM in East Indian waters during the Indonesian campaign when, during her 4th war patrol on 1 March 1942, she attacked the 15,400-ton Japanese Navy Notaro-class oiler SS Tsurumi just after the Allied defeat in the Java Sea and the withdrawal from the Dutch East Indies.

From Combined Fleets:

Bantam Bay, E of Nicholas Point. That same day, Dutch Ltz/II Carel W. T. Baron van Boetzelaer’s submarine Hr.Ms. K-XV attacks TSURUMI. Van Boetzelaer fires two torpedoes. At least one hits and damages TSURUMI. This causes a hole with a length of 12.5 meter and depth of 5 meter below the waterline from ribs [frames] 108 to 128 on the port side, a square 1.5 meter hole from ribs 109 to 111 on the starboard, other small holes below the waterline and over a dozen points of breakage and distortion of the inner partition wall rib material.

Tsurumi would have to spend two months in occupied Singapore before she would sail again and K XV, who survived a 60-depth charge attack directly after the tanker was hit, would live to fight again.

Regrouping

While the Dutch subs had inflicted lots of damage on the Japanese, the fall of the Dutch East Indies to the onslaught left the remaining boats without a home. Sisters K XV and K XIV made it out and, along with the three smaller boats K VIII, K IX, and K XI, would retire to Ceylon and operate from there. The four boats would remain there alongside their depot ship Colombia. Meanwhile, the larger oceangoing (and snorkel-equipped) “O” boat Hr.Ms. O 19, which had made for Australia, was sent to Britain for extensive work (and so that the Brits could examine both her snorkel and German-made Atlas Werke sound gear firsthand).

Hr.Ms. K XV in dry dock at Colombo, Ceylon, late April 1942. Note her twin stern tubes near the top of her deck and two shafts on each side of the centerline rudder. NIMH 2158_008980

Getting back in the fight, K XV would embark on her 5th War Patrol from Ceylon and conduct her first “special mission” landing one LT Henri Emile Wijnmalen on the West coast of Japanese-occupied Sumatra on 12 May with an aim to link up with guerilla groups inland. Wijnmalen never made his planned rendezvous with the Dutch sub 12 days later, having been captured by the Japanese on the 16th and allowed to commit suicide after an extended period of torture and interrogation. He would be posthumously awarded the Bronze Lion in 1951.

While K VIII, K IX, and K XI would remain with the British in the Indian Ocean, conducting local patrols and training duties, it was decided to send the newer K XV and K XIV to the U.S. for extensive modernization.

This saw K XV leave Colombo on 1 August for Philadelphia via the Cape of Good Hope and a slow South Atlantic cruise, arriving at Philly on 1 November. The subsequent update saw her equipped with a new sonar fit, and the deletion of her topside torpedo tubes and an escape hatch in the interest of hull integrity. Also gone were her complicated 40mm Vickers mounts, replaced with simpler “wet” 20mm Oerlikons.

While in post-refit shakedown, one of her officers, Ltz. I Dirk van Beusekom, was killed in a torpedo accident at New London and buried at Arlington with full military honors.

Then came a trip to Dundee, Scotland for more updates and to pick up a British Type 291W radar and take on a load of Mark VIII torpedos. 

Hr.Ms. K XV in the Atlantic Ocean, late June 1943. NIMH 2158_008971

Dutch submarine Hr.Ms. K XV 1943-44 NIMH 2158_008966

Hr.Ms. K XV loading a torpedo, 1943-44. NIMH 2158_008967.

Bow tube room of the submarine Hr.Ms. K XV, 3 October 1943. Note the Queen’s portrait and the mixed crew, made up, like most colonial warships, of a combination of Indonesian and Europeans. NIMH 2158_004350

On 4 November 1943, K XV pulled out of Holy Loch, bound for East Asia once again via the Med and Suez, arriving at Colombo on Christmas.

She was soon back in the special mission business, working with the Australian-based Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service, or NEIFIS, whose business was running resistance and surveillance networks in the Dutch East Indies. This saw K XV busy schlepping Indonesian commandos around the islands and generally avoiding all contact with the Japanese.

K XV participated in at least six operations, typically landing small parties by folbots under the cover of darkness and beating feet, a task that was often impossible if local patrols were encountered or the beach was not suited. Sometimes, the mission would involve landing a shore party in the pre-dawn morning, submerging, and moving back in the following night to exfil the commandos, only to drop them a few miles further down the coast the next morning. Other times, a two-man recon team would be put ashore for the day, then make contact later that night via blinker lamp to either land the rest of the party and supplies for an extended stay or pick up the two men and keep looking for a better spot.

It must have been an interesting spectacle to see the good Baron Boetzelaer, clad in tropical whites, reeking of diesel, and pouring sweat, anxiously peering out over those enemy-held beaches for signs of either returning commandos or rushing Japanese as he puffed away on his pipe.

  • Operation Prawn. April 1944. Landing seven commandos at the coast of Sorong, New Guinea.
  • Operation Apricot. January 1945. Landing 10 commandos at the coast of the Djiko Doped Bay, northeast Minahassa, in the Celebes.
  • Operation Firtree/Poppy. February-March 1945. Involved a 5-man NEIFIS team landing on the Soela Islands to access the situation there. The detailed report on the Firtree shore party by its English-speaking Christian Ambonese commander, LT (and future Indonesian minister) Julius Tahija, shines a light on the types of operations these groups conducted. The companion 5-man Poppy team tried repeatedly to land at Wijnskoopbaai on Java.
  • Operation Parsnip. June 1945. K XV attempted three times to land a NEFIS shore party on the coast of Mandalika, the north coast of Java.
  • Operation Inco I. July 1945. Landed a shore party at six separate places along on coast of the Damar islands.

Hr.Ms. K XV in the Far East, circa 1944-45. Note her deck gun. NIMH2158_008975

Work on the deck of submarine Hr.Ms. K XV in the Indian Ocean, circa 1944. Engineer Corporal Samson Socraya and Sailor Pardo prepare a sea turtle for soup. As a side, that is a tremendous amount of meat. NIMH 2158_008974

Provisioning in Freemantle before leaving on a mission, in early 1945. NIMH 2158_008973

She also got a couple of kills, such as while on her 8th War Patrol in April 1944 when she sank a small Japanese patrol vessel off Waigeo Island by naval gunfire and fired a small coastal sailing ship. In all, she would complete 13 war patrols.

Hr.Ms. K XV presumably at Bass Strait (Tasmania) Dec 1944 NIMH 2158_008964

In September 1945, following the Japanese surrender, she was one of the only pre-war Dutch naval vessels to return to the liberated Dutch East Indies.

K XV returns to Tandjong Priok (the port of Batavia ) in 1945, more than three years after escaping the invading Japanese. Lieutenant C W T van Boetzelaer is possibly the officer in the peaked cap. AWM Accession Number: P00039.015

Conducting the occasional post-war sovereignty patrol, by April 1946 she was laid up at Soerabaja, used as a floating generator.

Retired and disarmed submarine ex-Hr.Ms. K XV lists at the quay in Soerabaja, Republic of Indonesia, on 20 September 1950, four years after decommissioning. Ready to be destroyed, she would be sold for scrap in December and towed out to the Java Sea the following January, headed for the breakers. NIMH 2158_008930.

Epilogue

K XV‘s British style Jolly Roger, or bloedvlag in Dutch parlance, is preserved.

Her jolly roger details 13 daggers, one for each commando landing, two depth charge attacks with 67 cans counted, a warship sunk by naval gunfire, and two hits on merchantmen. “WP 13” denotes 13 war patrols.

Of her four sisters, all gave hard service in East Asia in WWII, opposing the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies. Three were lost during the conflict.

Hr.Ms. K XVI sank the Japanese Fubuki-class destroyer Sagiri on Christmas Eve 1941 then was, in turn, sunk by the Japanese submarine I-66 on Christmas Day, lost with all hands.

Hr.Ms. K XVII was believed lost in a newly laid Japanese minefield on or about 21 December 1941 in the Gulf of Siam and is still on patrol with 38 crewmembers. There are wild rumors she was lost in the “cover-up” in the Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory, but they are, most assuredly, groundless.

Hr.Ms. K XVIII in January 1942 sank the Japanese transport Tsuruga Maru (7,289 tons) and just missed the cruiser Naka but was crippled in a depth charge attack the next morning. Scuttled in Surabaya when that key Dutch stronghold fell in February, she was later refloated by the Japanese and put back in service as an air warning picket hulk in the Madoera Strait, then sent to the bottom a final time in June 1945 by the British submarine HMS Taciturn.

Class leader Hr.Ms. K XIV (N 22) was the most successful when it came to chalking up “kills,” is credited with three Japanese troopships — SS Katori Maru (9,848 tons), SS Ninchinan Maru (6,503 tons), and SS Hiyoshi Maru (4,943 tons)– sunk along with a fourth — MS Hokkai Maru (8,416 tons)– damaged in late December 1941 alone. Updated in America like K XV, she spent the rest of the war in Freemantle and would damage the 4,410-ton Japanese minelayer Tsugaru and bag numerous small vessels. She was retired in 1946, having completed nine war patrols. Also, like K XV, she languished in Soerabaja during the Dutch war against Soekarno, then was towed out and sunk in deep water following independence.

Hr.Ms. onderzeeboot K XIV (1933-1946) z.g.n. getrimd dieselen. NIMH 2158_005756

The K XIV class Bloedvlaggen.

In all, “Free Dutch” submarines accounted for 168,183 tons of enemy shipping and warships between May 1940 and August 1945, sinking no less than 69 ships– a figure that doesn’t count the myriad of small craft they also sent to the bottom. They also lost 16 boats, with seven on eternal patrol.

In an ode to these old K boats, Indonesian rice (Indische rijsttafel) is a staple meal on Dutch submarines today.

As for Baron Boetzelaer– the only Dutch officer to remain in charge of his warship throughout the war– he went on to become an aide-de-camp adjutant and chamberlain to Queen Beatrix, later serving as naval attaché in London and commanding the cruiser Hr.Ms. Tromp in the 1950s. He would retire as Chief of Staff Inspector General in 1958 and pass in 1987, aged 82.

Kapitein ter zee C.W.Th., Baron van Boetzelaer, seen in 1953 as skipper of the cruiser Hr.Ms. Tromp.

LTZ.I Dirk van Beusekom, KMR, killed at New London in 1943, remains one of the few Dutch military figures buried at Arlington, forever 35.

Specs:

Schaalmodel van Hr.Ms. K XVIII NIMH 2158_054141

(As-built)
Displacement: 865 tons surfaced; 1045 tons submerged
Length: 241 ft 7 in
Beam: 21 ft 4 in
Draught: 12 ft 11 in
Propulsion
2 x 1,600 bhp diesel engines
2 x 430 kW electric motors
Speed: 17 knots surfaced, 9 submerged
Range: 10,000 nmi at 12 knots on the surface
Complement: 38
Armament
4 x 21-inch bow torpedo tubes
2 x 21-inch stern torpedo tubes
2 x 21-inch external-traversing torpedo tubes forward of the conning tower
1 x 88 mm gun
2 x 40 mm guns (replaced with 1 x 20 mm gun during WWII)


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Warship Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022: Stuck in the Middle

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, Oct. 12, 2022: Stuck in the Middle

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 97800

Above we see the camouflaged brand-new Gleaves (Bristol)-class destroyer, USS Duncan (DD-485), en route from her builder’s yard at Kearny, New Jersey, to be delivered to the Navy, on 15 April 1942. Note that her radar antenna has been edited out by a wartime censor. Commissioned the next day, her naval career would last but 179 tense days, and she would be forever retired into the shark-infested waters off Savo Island some 80 years ago today.

The Gleaves class is an unsung group of 66 destroyers and fast minesweepers who began construction pre-WWII and completed in the first stage of the war. With the huge building of the follow-on Fletcher– and Sumner-class destroyers, the Gleaves are often forgotten. What should never be forgotten is the sacrifice these ships made, with no less than 17 of the class lost during WWII or damaged to the point that they were written off as not worth repairing.

Slight ships of just 2,395 tons, and 348 feet of steel hull, they were packed with a turbine-powered 50K shp plant that gave them a theoretical speed of over 37 knots and a 6,500-mile range at an economical 12-knot cruising speed for convoy or patrol work. Armed with as many as five 5″/38 DP mounts, up to 10 torpedo tubes, ASW gear, and AAW batteries, they were ready for almost anything and could float in as little as 13 feet of seawater, leaving them able to get inshore when needed. With 269 berths and only 24 apprentice strikers out of their planned 293-man crew having to rig hammocks, the class was modern for their era, part of the “New Navy.”

USS Gleaves (DD-423): Booklet of General Plans – Inboard & Outboard Profile, 6/23/1939, as modified 1945. Note the SG and SC-3 radar rigged on the top of the mast as well as the Mk 28 radar antenna on the gun director atop the wheelhouse. National Archives Identifier: 167816741

Our Duncan was named for 19th Century naval hero Silas Duncan, who lost his right arm at Lake Champlain while assigned to USS Saratoga in 1814 but would go on to later serve on the Independence, Hornet, Guerriere, Cyane, and Ferret, then command the sloop USS Lexington on overseas stations in the 1830s. His name was honored previously by the Navy in the circa 1912 Cassin-class destroyer USS Duncan (DD-46) which earned a reputation on U-boat patrols in the Great War.

Laid down at the Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Company in the Garden State on 31 July 1941, the second USS Duncan was launched just seven months later. Federal built several Gleaves and later Fletcher-class destroyers in World War II, setting records for both: 137 days on the 1,630-ton Gleaves-class USS Thorn (DD-647) and 170 days from keel to commissioning on the Fletcher USS Dashiell (DD-659).

USS Duncan (DD 485), keel being laid at Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Kearny, New Jersey, July 30, 1941. 19-LC-Box44-485.

Also launched on the same day were sisters USS Hutchins (DD 476) and USS Guest (DD 472) at Boston Naval Shipyard, and USS Lansdowne (DD 486) — the latter at Federal in the slip alongside Duncan.

USS Duncan (DD-485) en route from her builder’s yard at Kearny, New Jersey, to be delivered to the Navy, 15 April 1942. Note her stern depth charge racks. NH 97801

Commissioned 16 April 1942, just a week after the fall of Bataan in the Philippines, Duncan was placed under the command of LCDR Edmund B. Taylor (USNA 1925) a burly All-American who boxed, played football and lacrosse at Annapolis and had served almost all of his 17 years in a series of surface warfare assignments ranging from battleships to tin cans– interrupted in the early 1930s by a stint coaching ball and instructing gunnery back at the Academy.

Ducan raced through her shakedowns in the Caribbean while aiding in the escort of convoys between GTMO and Cristobal, then sailed for the South Pacific where the battle to take Guadalcanal was raging. She arrived at Espiritu Santo on 14 September and joined TF 17/18 to cover the transports carrying the 7th Marine Regiment to reinforce besieged Guadalcanal.

Duncan was next to the doomed aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) the next day when she was burning and listing Southeast of San Cristobal Island after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The loss of Wasp was a hugely traumatic event to the Navy, having already seen Lexington and Yorktown sent to the bottom within the four months prior.

Loss of USS Wasp (CV-7), 15 September 1942. Sinking of USS Wasp (CV 7) after being torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-19 on 15 September 1942. She was engaged in covering the movement of supplies and reinforcements into Guadalcanal Island. Photograph released on 27 October 1942. 80-G-16352

Duncan picked up survivors from the carrier, transferring 701 officers and men to other ships, and 18 wounded and two bodies to the base hospital at Espiritu Santo the following day.

The Express

Less than three weeks later, Duncan would be steaming as part of the cruiser-destroyer force of RADM Norman Scott’s Task Force 64 (TF Sugar) consisting of the heavy cruisers USS San Francisco and USS Salt Lake City, the light cruisers USS Boise and USS Helena, along with the destroyers Farenthold, Buchanan, Laffey, and McCalla. The job? Stop the nightly Japanese resupply efforts to their garrison fighting in the jungles of Guadalcanal– the Tokyo Express.

USS Duncan (DD-485) underway in the south Pacific on 7 October 1942. Photographed from the escort carrier USS Copahee (ACV-12), which was then engaged in delivering aircraft to Guadalcanal. NH 90495

Sailing from Espiritu Santo and reaching the vicinity of Savo Island by 11 October, they were soon to contact the Express. At 1810, scout planes from the American cruisers spotted two enemy cruisers and six destroyers (actually the three heavy cruisers Furutaka, Aoba, and Kingusagasa, along with the destroyers Fubuki and Hatsuyuki, covering six destroyers and two seaplane tenders loaded with reinforcements and cargo).

By 2325, after creeping up on the Japanese force, Helena’s SG radar made contact at 27,000 yards out– heady stuff for the era. Just before midnight, Helena was requesting permission to fire, and, at 2346, both of Helena’s batteries opened on separate but unspecified targets while Salt Lake City joined in on a contact just 4,000 yards to her starboard. Soon after, the swirling scrap between the two surface action groups that went down as the Battle of Cape Esperance became disjointed and confusing– an understatement– with searchlights and gun flashes cracking across the night sky and torpedoes filling the water.

During the action, Duncan was one of the ships that may have plastered the cruiser Furutaka.

As noted by Combined Fleets:

At 2235, Rear Admiral Goto’s three cruisers and two destroyers are picked up by Captain Gilbert C. Hoover’s USS HELENA’s radar. Scott reverses course to cross the Japanese “T”. Both fleets open fire. ComCruDiv 6, Rear Admiral Goto, thinking that he is under “friendly-fire”, orders a 180-degree turn that exposes each of his ships to the Americans’ broadsides.

Flagship AOBA is damaged heavily. Admiral Goto is mortally wounded on her bridge. After AOBA is crippled, Captain Araki turns FURUTAKA out of the line to engage Captain (later Vice Admiral) C. H. McMorris’ USS SALT LAKE CITY. LtCdr E. B. Taylor’s USS DUNCAN (DD-485) launches two torpedoes toward FURUTAKA that either miss or fail to detonate. She continues firing at the cruiser until she is put out of action by numerous shell hits. At 2354, FURUTAKA receives a torpedo hit to port side that floods her forward engine room.

Destroyer FUBUKI is sunk and HATSUYUKI damaged. Captain E. J. Moran’s USS BOISE, USS SALT LAKE CITY and USS FARENHOLT (DD-491) are damaged.

About 90 shells hit FURUTAKA, jamming her No. 3 turret in train and starting several fires. Several shells penetrate the engine rooms. The Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedoes ignite as well. The fires draw more gunfire.

12 October 1942:

Around 0040 FURUTAKA goes dead in the water. After the battle flag is lowered, the order is given to abandon ship. At 0228 (local), FURUTAKA sinks stern first 22 miles NW of Savo Island, at 09-02N, 159-33 E. Thirty-three crewmen are killed and 225 counted as MIA. Captain Araki and 517 survivors are rescued by HATSUYUKI and by DesDiv 11’s MURAKUMO and SHIRAYUKI (of Admiral Joshima’s Reinforcement Group).

Duncan’s report, filed after the fact, details how at one point she was in the crossfire between the two battlelines, bracketed by cruisers at effectively point-blank distances on both sides of her beam:

In the end, wrecked by several large-bore shell hits at close range (thought to be from cruisers under both flags), the charred hulk of Duncan was abandoned and sunk just short of Savo Island just before noon on 12 October. McCalla, one of her sisters, managed to search for and save 195 men from the oil-soaked waters once dawn broke– with rifle parties on deck having to fire at sharks seen circling men in the water.

Some 48 of Duncan’s crew were lost with the ship and remain on duty. Due to the shell hits on her wheelhouse and chart room, of her 13 officers aboard during the battle, all but four were killed or seriously wounded. Of her enlisted, at least 35 of those rescued by McCalla, about one in five, were listed as wounded.

Duncan received just one battle star (Second Savo) for her brief, though eventful, World War II service.

Epilogue

Taylor, Duncan’s sole skipper, earned the Navy Cross for his actions during the Battle of Cape Esperance. His citation read:

For extraordinary heroism during action against enemy Japanese naval forces off Savo Island on October 11, 1942. Although his ship had sustained heavy damage under hostile bombardment, Lieutenant Commander Taylor, by skillful maneuvering, successfully launched torpedoes which contributed to the destruction of a Japanese cruiser. Maintaining the guns of the Duncan in effective fire throughout the battle, he, when the vessel was finally put out of action, persistently employed to the fullest extent all possible measures to extinguish raging fires and control severe damage.

Taylor would soon be given a second destroyer, the newly commissioned Fletcher-class tin can USS Bennett (DD-473), and the rank of captain. Taking Bennett into harm’s way, he soon earned a bronze star operating in the Bismarck Archipelago on a night raid to engage Japanese shore batteries and ammo dumps near Rabaul. He then went on to command DESDIV 90 and DESRON 45, adding a silver star to his salad bar in the Philippines. This consummate surface warrior would end the war as an aide to Forrestal. Post-war, he commanded the heavy cruiser USS Salem (CA-139), was commander of the ASW Force during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and retired in 1966 as a vice admiral.

His son, Capt. Edmund Battelle “Ted” Taylor Jr., was aboard a helicopter that developed engine trouble and crashed as it attempted to land on the cruiser USS Providence off Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin in May 1972 and is listed as missing in action. Vice Admiral Edmund Battelle Taylor passed the next year, aged 69, in Virginia Beach.

As for her sisters, the surviving Gleaves were slowly placed in mothballs or given away as military aid to overseas allies in the 1950s, with the last in active U.S. service, USS Fitch (DD-462/DMS-25), decommissioned in 1956. Most of those sent to the reserve was later scrapped or sunk as targets in the 1970s. Of those sent overseas, the last to be disposed of was ex-USS Lardner (DD-487), who finished her second life as the Turkish Navy’s Gemlik in 1982. No Gleaves-class destroyers are preserved.

The Navy, as it did often in the darkest days of WWII, quickly re-issued the name of the heroically lost destroyer. The third (and final) warship named in honor of Master Commandant Silas Duncan, a new Gearing-class destroyer, USS Duncan (DD-874), was commissioned on 25 February 1945. She was launched by the same distant cousin that launched “our” Duncan, would see brief service in WWII prior to D-Day, earning seven battle stars off Korea, picking up a FRAM II conversion, and standing guard on Yankee Station in Vietnam before she was retired in 1971.

USS Duncan (DD-874) at Pearl Harbor, circa the mid-1960s. Retired after a busy 26 years, she was disposed of in a 1981 SINKEX. NH 74033.

This latter Duncan maintains a veteran’s association that honors the memory of both destroyers.

Specs:

(As-built)
Displacement: 1,630 tons
Length: 348 ft 3 in
Beam: 36 ft 1 in
Draft: 13 ft 2 in
Propulsion: four boilers; two Allis Chalmers Turbines, 50,000 shp, two propellers
Speed: 37.4 knots
Range: 6,500 nautical miles at 12 kt
Complement: 208 designed. Wartime: 16 officers, 260 enlisted
Armament:
4 × 5 in/38 cal guns (1 deleted in 1945)
4 x 40mm Bofors in two twin mounts.
7 x 20mm Oerlikon in single mounts.
Torpedo Tubes: 5 x 21-inch in one quintuple mount (deleted in 1945)
ASW: 2 racks for 600-lb. charges; 6 “K”-gun projectors for 300-lb. charges, three Mousetrap devices.


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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, Oct. 5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle & the Forgotten Ocean

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, Oct.5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle and the Forgotten Ocean

U.S. National Archives photo 80-G-446967

Above we see the crew of the British Colossus-class light aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) on deck for an inspection by Field Marshal Earl Alexander, the British Defense Minister, on 14 June 1952. Ocean was at the time off the Korean coast– a peninsula where she was highly active some 70 years ago– and she has Hawker Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fairey Fireflys of 825 Squadron aboard. It looks like the light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) is off her stern.

Ocean is often forgotten when it comes to British carriers, as it seems everyone just cares about the ones that were active in WWII and the Falklands and forgot about everything between 1946 and 1982, however, she was important in naval history– being the first flattop to host a jet (intentionally) as well as probably the last to have a combat-ready biplane take off from her deck. As you can tell in the above, she also saw a good bit of combat as well.

Ocean was one of 16 planned “1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers” for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot-long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25 knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies or remain on station in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry with 12 of the 16 sisters listed.

Capable of carrying up to 45 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Two were completed as a peculiar RN invention of a “maintenance carrier,” intended just to repair and ferry but not operate aircraft. Some were immediately transferred to expanding Commonwealth fleets. Suddenly, the Australians, Canadians, and Indians became carrier operators. The Dutch (later passed on to the Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader HMS Colossus was even sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Our Ocean, a long time coming

The fifth HMS Ocean in the Royal Navy since 1761 was laid down in Scotland on 8 November 1942 at Alexander Stephen & Sons Limited in Glasgow. However, she was a slow build-out and wasn’t launched until after D-Day, with the Australians showing an interest in acquiring her. (While the Australian deal fell through, they did ultimately operate no less than three of her sisters after the war.)

Ocean was captured by noted English painter, Sir Henry George “Harry” Rushbury, at the time, while Sir Henry was working as an official war artist– a job the 56-year-old had done in the Great War as well– around the port of Glasgow.

Shipbuilding, Glasgow, a view looking up at the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) under construction from the quayside. A crane transporting a component onto the deck of the ship looms above while cables and wires cross from the ship to the quay, by Sir Henry Rushbury, 1944. © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/23522

This left the Admiralty to commission Ocean on 8 August 1945, three months after the war ended in Europe and just a week before the surrender of the Empire of Japan in World War II was announced by Emperor Hirohito on 15 August.

The aircraft carrier HMS Ocean at sea, late 1945. IWM A 30618

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JULY 1945, AT SEA. (A 30619) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161723

Although it had been intended to rush her to join the British Pacific Fleet as a dedicated night fighter carrier in the last push to take down Japan, that plan evaporated soon after she was commissioned and Ocean, therefore, spent the rest of 1945 in home waters at Rosyth as a trials ship, including the final embarkation of the iconic Fairey Swordfish “Stringbag” torpedo bomber that had won laurels at Taranto and against the Bismarck early in the war.

Capable of just 140 knots when wide open, while dated when it came to any sort of warfare in WWII, the Fairey Swordfish became a formidable ASW asset against surfaced U-Boats due to their low-speed and stable flight. Ocean was the last British carrier to operate the type. IWM A 24981

She was also the trials ship for the new twin-engine De Havilland Sea Hornet F.20, with prototype PX219– the full naval version– conducting carrier deck trials on board Ocean in late 1945 with renowned test pilot Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown at the controls. The plane was notable for being the fastest production piston-engine aircraft ever put into service.

The Sea Hornet was designed with cues from the successful De Havilland DH98 Mosquito and powered by a pair of massive 2,070 hp Merlin engines. Brown would later describe it as “Like flying a Ferrari in the sky.”

Winkle Brown also made a bit more history on Ocean in 1945, just before the year was out.

On 4 December 1945, he made the world’s first carrier landing by a jet, bringing the second prototype De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, No. LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean.

De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, on 3 December 1945.

Peacetime service

Deployed to the Mediterranean Fleet in late 1945 with a wing of Seafires and Fireflys, Ocean left her aircraft behind in Malta to run troops to Singapore the next summer, then responded that October to the stricken destroyers HMS Saumarez (G12) and HMS Volage (R41), both of which had been damaged by Albanian infernal devices while conducting mine-clearing operations in the Corfu Channel.

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JUNE 1948, GRAND HARBOUR, MALTA. (A 31456) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162475

In 1948, Ocean covered the British withdrawal from their troublesome Palestine mandate-– leaving the Jews and the Arabs to fight it out in the war that followed.

A rare sight post-1945: three British carriers at sea. HMS Ark Royal (R09), HMS Albion (R07), and the little HMS Ocean (R68) bringing up the rear. IWM

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel in June 1950, Ocean’s sister, HMS Triumph, happened to be in Japanese waters with the rump occupation fleet of Task Force 95 and soon, in conjunction with the American Essex-class fleet carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), was performing air strikes on North Korean airfields within a week of the outbreak of the conflict. By October, another sister, HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea to join her, with her two dozen Sea Furys logging almost 500 sorties a month by December and a whopping 3,500 sorties in just 86 days. 

Soon, Ocean was being prepped to head to the Pacific to give her sisters some relief.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION. 1951, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN AS SHE RECEIVED HER NEW COMMISSION TO JOIN THE MEDITERRANEAN FLEET. (A 31944) Some of the aircraft of Nos 807, 810, and 898 Squadrons, were stowed on HMS OCEAN’s flight deck after the first landing on the light fleet carrier’s new commission. HMS OCEAN sailed from Portland and joined the 2nd Aircraft Carrier Squadron at Malta on August 3rd. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162892

HMS Ocean. Firefly F.R.5s of 810 squadron ranged on deck, engines running ready for takeoff. Commander (Flying) observes from FlyCo. Working up in the Mediterranean from September 1951 to April 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

On April 5th, 1952, HMS Ocean passes the liner Empress of Australia while leaving Grand Harbor, Malta for the Far East. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

HMS Ocean passing through the Suez Canal on passage to East Asia, May 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

Her first tour off Korea would run from May to November 1952, with Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fireflys of 825 Squadron embarked.

ON BOARD HMS OCEAN DURING OPERATIONS IN KOREAN WATERS. 10 JULY 1952. (A 32250) A Firefly of 825 Squadron landing on HMS OCEAN on return from attacking enemy targets. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163137

HMS OCEAN IN KOREA, 1952 – 1953 (KOR 32) A Hawker Sea Fury, with RATOG (Rocket Assisted Take Off Gear), taking off from the carrier HMS OCEAN in Sasebo Harbour, Japan. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205191739

THE ADMIRAL PAID A VISIT. 11 JULY 1952, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN. DURING PATROLS OFF KOREA REAR ADMIRAL A K SCOTT-MONCRIEFF, DSO, FLAG OFFICER SECOND IN COMMAND, FAR EAST STATION, TRANSFERRED FROM HIS FLAGSHIP HMS BELFAST TO HMS OCEAN AND SPENT 4 DAYS ABOARD WHILE HER AIRCRAFT ATTACKED TARGETS IN NORTH WEST KOREA. (A 32243) HMS OCEAN at speed, with planes ranged on deck, in the Yellow Sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016293

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32259) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016296

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF, AND ONBOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN, AS SHE TOOK PART IN OPERATION PRESSURE PUMP, TARGETING THE NORTH KOREAN CAPITAL OF PYONGYANG. (A 32261) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016298

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32262) Sea Furies and Fireflies ranged on the flight deck of HMS OCEAN. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163145

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32260) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016297

The Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) approaching the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) off Korea, before the transfer of RADM Alan Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command, Far East Station from his flagship Belfast to Ocean to observe air operations against targets in north-west Korea. IWM A 32244

HMS Ocean at flying stations, a Sea Fury is on the catapult ready to launch. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

West coast of Korea. At least 33 Sea Furys and Fireflies with WWII D-day style invasion stripes were applied to avoid misidentification as North Korean aircraft, ready to launch as part of Operation Pressure Pump, on 11 July 1952, targeting railways outside the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. IWM KOR 27

On 9 August 1952, FAA LT Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, who flew Corsairs at the end of WWII, was at the controls of his Sea Fury and logged the only official victory of a piston-engine aircraft over a jet fighter during the Korean War. His four-plane section was attacking railroad facilities near Chinnampo when they were jumped by eight MiG-15s, leaving at least one of the latter burned into the countryside and two others reportedly smoking. While today the kill is usually credited to Carmichael’s young No. 4, Sub-LT Brian “Shmoo” Ellis, the fact remains that on that day a Sea Fury from Ocean bested a MiG and all four British aircraft returned safely to their carrier, where they received a “pretty euphoric” welcome, whereas the MiGs could not say the same. 

From 802 Squadron’s War Diary for the Day: 

Lieutenant Carmichael, Lieutenant Davis and Sub-Lieutenants Haines and Ellis started the ball rolling this morning by flying the first AR of the patrol. By 0600 they had entered the area and had commenced their Hanchon and Pyongyang to Chinnampo rail search. By 0630 they had reconnoitered as far south as Chinji-ri, a small village about 15 miles north of Chinnampo. As they meandered down the line, checking the bridge state as they went, they suddenly saw eight jet bogies to the north. Almost immediately the bogies were identified as MiGs – and were closing. By this time drop tanks were fluttering earthwards and the flight had assumed proper battle formation and No.4 – Sub Lieutenant Ellis – had noticed a shower of red tracer streaming past both sides of his fuselage. He cried “Break” over the R/T and the flight commenced a “Scissors”. It was soon apparent that four MiGs were after each section of two Furies but by continuing their break turns our aircraft presented practically impossible targets to the enemy who made no attempt to bracket.

‘On one occasion a MiG came head-on to Lieutenant Carmichael and Sub Lieutenant Haines – they both fired –  it broke away and proceeded to go head-on to Lieutenant Davies and Sub Lieutenant Ellis – they both fired and registered hits. On another occasion, a MiG pulled up in front of Ellis with its air brakes out and he was amused to find the range closing. He gave a long burst and noticed hits on the enemy’s wings. The aircraft then proceeded northwards and a reduced speed with two other MiGs in company. Meanwhile, the flight, still in its battle formation, managed a dozen or so more firing passes at the MiGs head-on. The dog fight lasted 4-5 minutes and then the MiGs disappeared as quickly as they had arrived – as they departed an aircraft was seen to crash into a hillside and blow up. At first Lieutenant Carmichael thought it was one of his flight and ordered a tell-off. However when No.4 came up “loud and clear” it was realized that the Royal Navy had shot down its first communist aircraft. Lieutenant Carmichael as flight leader is being credited with its destruction officially but the rest of the flight are claiming their quarter as well’

“Sea Fury – MiG Encounter” by Robert Taylor: Flying an 805 Sqn. Sea Fury from HMS Ocean in Korean waters, 1952, Hoagy Carmichael became the first piston engine pilot to destroy a jet aircraft during the war, when he downed a North Korean MiG-15.

Royal Navy Fairey Firefly FR.IV from 825 Naval Air Squadron flying a reconnaissance mission from HMS Ocean (R68) along the eastern seaboard of Korea. 16 September 1952. IWM KOR29

In all, Ocean would log 5,945 sorties in her first Korean tour, dropping 3,884 500/1000-pound bombs and launching 16,490 rockets– not bad for a light carrier with just two squadrons of single-engine aircraft embarked.

After some downtime, she would return to Korean waters from May to November 1953 with two new squadrons aboard– 807 (Sea Furys) and 810 (Firefly).

The British and Australians would keep a light carrier or two off Korea throughout the conflict, all from the same class. Besides Theseus, Triumph, and Ocean, HMS Glory would clock in for a tour in 1951 while the Australian HMAS Sydney would also get into the act. Lending a hand, the Canadian sister, HMCS Warrior, transported replacement aircraft to Korea from Britain. Another sister, the Centaur-class maintenance carrier HMS Unicorn (I72), spent most of the war ferrying aircraft, troops, stores, and equipment in support of Commonwealth efforts in Korea and became likely the only aircraft carrier in history to conduct a shore bombardment when she engaged North Korean observers coastwatchers at Chopekki Point with her QF 4-inch Mk XVIs.

In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget flattops during the Korean conflict.

The war is over – HMS Ocean moored at Sasebo in October 1953.

HMS Ocean with her paying off pennant streaming from her mast sailing from Sasebo on October 31st, 1953, for the voyage home to the UK, via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

One last hurrah for Empire!

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Ocean and her sister Theseus should be re-tasked from operating fixed-wing aircraft and refitted for helicopters and a battalion-sized element of marines, then deemed “Commando Carriers,” a concept akin to a U.S. CVHE of the period or later LPH.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION (circa August 1954). (A 31947) Naval air-sea rescue Supermarine Supermarine Sea Otter taxis into a pickup position alongside HMS OCEAN before being hoisted on board. The Supermarine Sea Otter was the last biplane amphibian in Fleet Air Arm service. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162895

This brings us to the Suez Crisis (Operation Musketeer). After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, our two new commando carriers were part of the Anglo-French intervention, embarking troops and stores for passage to Cyprus and then on to North Africa. There, Whirlwinds and Sycamores from their decks took part in an early combat experiment in vertical envelopment from the sea, seizing Port Said.

Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) is shown with a crowded deck of Westland Whirlwind and Bristol Sycamore helicopters of the joint RAF/Army unit which operated alongside Royal Navy helicopters from her flight deck, November-December 1956. Note the French hospital ship in the background. IWM A 33639.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade [actually a mortar bomb] before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. Note his sand goggles, Pattern 37 webbing, and Denison smock– all looking very WWII. IWM A 33636.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. Note the desert goggles and MK V STEN gun of the Marine closest to the camera as well as the 2-inch patrol mortar with bomb tubes on deck. A 33635

British Royal Marines of 45 Commando loading into Royal Navy Westland Whirlwinds aboard the Colossus-class light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) to assault Egyptian positions during the Suez

Royal Navy Westland Whirlwind helicopters taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from the commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) during “Operation Musketeer”. November 1956. IWM A 33640.

A Westland Whirlwind helicopter of the joint Royal Air Force/Army unit is leaving the Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Ocean (R68) with troops for Port Said during the Suez Crisis. November 1956. IWM A 33643

With the Egyptian affair wrapped up, the British chose to pull back “West of Suez” in 1956 and, other than a Baltic cruise that gave the Soviets some heartburn when she called at Helsinki, just over the horizon from Leningrad, Ocean’s days were numbered. Just 13 years old, she was laid up in 1958 and soon nominated for disposal, being sold for scrap in 1962.

Epilogue

Few relics of Ocean remain today.

A large scale model of Ocean is on display in the city of her birth, housed at the Glasgow Transport Museum.

She is remembered in maritime art.

“Ocean Firefly” HMS Ocean in the Korean war, by Roy Gargett

She was outlived by the legends that flew from her deck. 
 
“Winkle” Brown went on to be dubbed the “world’s greatest test pilot,” a title he earned after flying a whopping 487 types (a record verified by Guinness) over his career, interrogating Goering, becoming the only Allied pilot to fly both the rocket-powered Me 163 and more advanced Me 262, and making 2,407 carrier traps while testing the arrestor wires on more than 20 British flattops. He died at Redhill, Surrey, England, on 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years. The Vampire he landed on Ocean is preserved at Yeovilton. 
 

Captain Eric M. Brown with his De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

 
Commander Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, OBE, DSC, would go on to command 806 Squadron in the 1960s and retire from service in 1984. He passed in 1997, aged 73. His young No. 4 over Chinnampo (now known as Nampo) in 1952, Sub-LT Brian “Schmoo” Ellis, was still alive as late as 2018 and being hailed for his deeds over Korea. (For the record when it comes to prop vs. jet combat, a Marine Corsair of VMA-312 would also later down a MiG in Korea and U.S. Navy Skyraiders would bag a MiG-17 over Vietnam on at least two occasions in the mid-1960s)
 
Meanwhile, Ocean’s four hard-working Korean War squadrons– 802 NAS and 807 NAS (Sea Fury); along with 810 NAS and 825 NAS (Fireflys)– would endure for the most part long past the time their carrier was scrapped: 
 
  • 802 Squadron would fly Sea Hawk FB5s from HMS Albion on top cover during Suez and was then disbanded in 1959. 
  • 807 Squadron would upgrade to Supermarine Scimitars and became well-known for running their new jets hot in airshows across the UK. They would also fire the first British Sidewinder in 1961. 
  • 810 Squadron would fly Hawker Sea Hawks from HMS Bulwark in the Suez, ending several Egyptian MiGs on the runway. Later flying Fairey Gannets before transitioning to become a rotary winged unit, they would fly Sea Kings as late as 2001. 
  • 825 Squadron became a helicopter squadron in 1960 and, after flying Sea Kings during the Falklands, is still around as the Royal Navy’s Operational Conversion Unit for the new AW159 Wildcat. 

As for Ocean’s sisters, the last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 and then scrapped. The Australians kept HMAS Melbourne (R21)/ex-HMS Majestic, on hand until 1980, including using her with A-4 Skyhawks and S-2 Trackers in the Vietnam-era (her bones, sold for scrap for a paltry A$1.4 million, would be slowly picked over by the Chinese for 15 years, jump-starting their domestic carrier program). The third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, also a Skyhawk/Tracker carrier, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang. The Indian ex-INS Vikrant/ex-HMS Hercules, which has used Sea Harriers as late as 1997, was saved briefly as a museum ship and then scrapped in 2014 ending the era of these well-traveled light carriers. While no less than five American carriers of the same vintage are preserved, there are no British-built carriers as museum ships.

The Admiralty in 1993, perhaps in recognition of Ocean’s work as a commando carrier at Suez, named the new 23,000-ton Vickers-built one-of-a-kind helicopter carrier HMS Ocean (L12). Although not capable of launching heavily loaded Sea Harriers due to the fact she didn’t have a ski-jump, the new Ocean would for a time be the only British flattop in operation, following the decommissioning of the old Harrier carrier HMS Illustrious (R06) in 2014.

Capable of hosting as many as 20 helicopters including a mix of Wildcats, Merlins, Chinook, and Apaches, HMS Ocean (L12) was in active service with the Royal Navy between 1998 and 2018, the last four as its fleet flagship and the closest thing the Brits had to a carrier.

Decommissioned in 2018, both Brazil and Turkey wanted the ship with the former winning out. She currently operates as NAM Atlântico with an airwing of EC725s, S-70B Seahawks, and AS350s.

The Royal Navy has not had an “HMS Ocean” since, something that should change, in my opinion.


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