Tag Archives: WWII

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022: Ozzie Bird Boat

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, Jan. 26, 2022: Ozzie Bird Boat

RAN Photo

Here we see something of an ugly duckling, the Royal Australian Navy’s seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross in Hobart around 1930 with five of her six early Supermarine Seagull amphibians aloft. She is considered by many to be the first aircraft carrier of the RAN, sparking a tradition that endures almost a century later.

Purpose-built for her role at the Cockatoo Docks, she was the size of a small cruiser, weighing some 7,000-tons (full load) on a 444-foot long steel hull. She was the largest ship built in dominion at the time. Powered by a quartet of Yarrow boilers driving a pair of Parsons steam turbines, she could make 22.5 knots which was reasonably fast for the age. She carried four QF 4.7-inch Mk VIII naval guns with two forward and two over her stern as well as a variety of Vickers 40mm pom-poms and .303-caliber machine guns, equivalent to a decently armed destroyer.

However, her primary purpose and armament was her airwing of up to nine (six active, three stowed in reserve) floatplanes or amphibians. These would augment and support the RAN’s two planned new Kent (County) class heavy cruisers, HMAS Australia (I84/D84/C01) and HMAS Canberra (I33/D33), who would also carry the same type of catapult-launched/crane recovered seaplanes as Albatross. In fact, it was felt that Albatross could operate in conjunction with those two cruisers in the Pacific, with the seaplane carrier forward deploying to anticipated areas in advance of the more capable surface ships to screen their operations with her aircraft. Besides, her cruise speed was the same rate as the warships. 

Her aviation facilities included safe stowage of 9,967 gallons of avgas– enough for at least 80 sorties for the planned floatplanes she would carry– a large forward hangar space, a centerline black powder catapult that launched over the bow, and two (later three) large cranes capable of lifting aircraft aboard.

The 1931 Jane’s entry for Albatross.

She was a much-updated revised design of the first seaplane/aircraft carrier, the Great War-era HMS Ark Royal.

Albatross, the only Australian warship ever named for the large and iconic seabird, was laid down in 1926 and commissioned on 23 January 1929.

The launch of the Royal Australian Navy’s first seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross on 23 February 1928 at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in Sydney. Australian National Maritime Museum’s Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Object no. 00035168

It was originally thought Albatross would carry and operate RAN’s fleet of six Fairey 111D seaplanes, which they had received starting in 1921. One was awarded the Britannia Trophy in 1924 by the Royal Aero Club for circumnavigating Australia in 44 days.

The Fairey III could carry up to 500 pounds of bombs as well as two .303 guns. When used in a pure recon role, sans bombs, they had a 1,500-mile range on 123 gals of gas, which was long legged for the 1920s. Here are IIIFs floatplanes of No. 47 Squadron on the Blue Nile at Khartoum before departing for a series of exploratory flights over Southern Sudan on 8 July 1930. The aircraft pictured are J9796, J9809, and J9802. RAF MOD Image 45163722

However, the Supermarine Seagull III, an amphibian design by Reginald Joseph Mitchell— father of the Spitfire– superseded the Fairy floatplane before Albatross entered the fleet, with nine of the flying boats delivered by 1927. Able to remain aloft for five-hour patrols, the Seagull III was the direct antecedent of the Walrus (Seagull V), one of the best amphibians of WWII. 

As explained by the Fleet Air Arm Association of Australia in reference to the Seagull III:

A total of nine of these aircraft were delivered to the RAAF 101 Fleet Cooperation Flight, who worked closely with the RAN. Of the nine, two were wrecked in (separate) storms whilst at mooring, one crashed after entering a spin during a gunnery spotting exercise (fatal) and six survived for eventual retirement.

Six Seagulls were attached to HMAS Albatross in 1929, but their low freeboard and relatively low powered engine gave poor performance at sea, including the ability to only operate in relatively low sea states.

Wings folded, a Seagull Mk III is lowered onto the foredeck of “Australia’s first aircraft carrier,” the seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross, RAN 1929-1938. Notes on photo: HMAS CERBERUS Museum. It has been kindly made available to the Unofficial RAN Centenary 1911-2011 photo stream courtesy of the Curator, Warrant Officer Martin Grogan RANR. The photo also appears in Topmill Pty Ltd book ‘Aircraft Carriers and Squadrons of the Royal Australian Navy [Topmill, Sydney] edited by Johnathan Nally, p8; also, in Ross Guillett’s book ‘Wings Across the Sea [Aerospace Publications, Canberra 1988] p33.

A great image showing much detail of Albatross’s amidships as she lifts a Seagull Mk III aboard. Note the Naval Number 0 five-cross flag flying, and her two deck guns sandwiched among her cranes. Image via State Library of NSW

A Seagull III amphibian moored in calm water via FAAA

Note the 4.7-inch guns, which surely proved a hassle to plane operations. Nonetheless, she would use them for NGFS at Normandy. 

Although she never operated with more than nine aircraft, measurements of her hangar deck allowed for as many as 14 folded Seagulls.

Albatross’s RAN career was not lengthy, with LCDR Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd)’s Naval History Homepage detailing that she completed trials and workups in 1929 to include embarking the Governor-General and wife for a visit to the Australian Mandated Territories in the Pacific then completed a series of local deployments. The next couple of years were spent in a cycle of winter cruises to the New Guinea area, spring cruises in coastal Australian waters, and various fleet exercises.

HMAS Albatross seen at the fleet exercise area in Hervey Bay, Queensland, “we think this image may have been taken around 1931.” Photo: Collection of the late CPO Bill Westwood, courtesy John Westwood, RANR 1965-1967. 

HMAS Albatross craning an amphibian aboard.

HMAS Albatross maneuvering away from Garden Island dockyard (RAN image)

HMAS Albatross. State Library of Victoria – Allan C. Green collection

She was a very beamy ship

Two Supermarine Seagull III amphibians taxi near HMAS Albatross at Hervey Bay, QLD. (RAN image)

In April 1933, her Seagulls were disembarked, and the vessel was reduced to reserve status, used occasionally to tend visiting seaplanes. While in reserve in 1936 she was briefly reactivated for the installation and testing of a new catapult then returned to storage.

In 1937, the Australian government brokered a deal to swap the still very young and low-mileage Albatross to the British Admiralty in partial payment for the recently completed Leander-class light cruiser HMS Apollo, soon to be the HMAS Hobart (D63). The cruiser arrived in Australia at the end of 1938– and went on to earn eight battle honors for her WWII service: “Mediterranean 1941”, “Indian Ocean 1941”, “Coral Sea 1942”, “Savo Island 1942”, “Guadalcanal 1942”, “Pacific 1942–45”, “East Indies 1940”, and “Borneo 1945,” while Albatross, recommissioned 19 April 1938, waved goodbye to Sydney for the last time that July.

HMAS Albatross about 1938, likely on her way to England. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Meet HMS Albatross

Arriving at Portsmouth in September 1938, Albatross was paid off by the Australians and officially transferred to the Royal Navy, a force that promptly put her in reserve with a wartime mission being to provide air surveillance with a force of Walrus amphibians. Her reserve time would be short, as she was fully manned and commissioned as HMS Albatross in June 1939 on the lead-up to Hitler marching into Poland.

Outfitted with six (later nine) Walruses of 710 Naval Air Squadron, she was dispatched in September 1939 to West Africa with a homeport at Freetown– along with visits to Bathurst in the Gambia and French naval base at Dakar– tasked with searching for German blockade runners, U-boats, and commerce raiders plying the South Atlantic.

Artwork, Supermarine Walrus MKI RN FAA 710NAS 9F HMS Albatross W2771. Note the Walrus was a pusher type rather than the Seagull III’s tractor type, and had an enclosed cabin.

HMS ALBATROSS (FL 3052) Underway, coastal waters. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205120269

When France fell in June 1940, Albatross carried Jutland veteran RADM George Hamilton D’Oyly Lyon (CiC Africa Station) to Dakar to try and negotiate the neutralization of the French Fleet there, and her aircraft shadowed the incomplete but still dangerous battleship, Richelieu.

Except for a brief refit in Mobile, Alabama, Albatross would maintain her quiet Freetown outpost station for 31 months until, fresh from her Dixie overhaul, she was assigned to the East Indies Station in May 1942 for trade defense against the Japanese and long-ranging German and Italian raiders/submarines.

Notably, she detached one of her planes at Trinidad (Supermarine Walrus W2738 9A ‘Audrey III’), designated 710 NAS ‘Y’ Flight, which proceeded to the Falklands to provide that island chain its sole air defense/patrol asset for the first part of 1942 against the (remote) possibility of a Japanese naval assault on the windswept South Atlantic colony. 

After sailing around the Cape of Good Hope with convoy WS18– and dodging Axis minefields– she was soon part of South African-born RADM Edward Syfret’s Force H for Operation(s) Ironclad/Stream Line Jane, the seizure of the Vichy French colony of Mayotte, the port of Diego-Suarez, and the island of Madagascar, where the Japanese hoped to base long-ranging Kaidai-type submarines.

The extended Madagascar operation was a sideshow, historically significant as it was the first British amphibious assault since the disastrous landings in the Dardanelles in 1915. During the seven-month campaign, Albatross provided care and feeding for her pack of 710 NAS Walruses used in ASW patrols against Japanese RADM Noboru Ishizaki’s 8th Submarine Squadron and five locally-based Vichy subs as Syfret had the large the aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious and HMS Indomitable— equipped with a mix of Martlets, Albacores, and Swordfish– for heavy lifting and to cover the landings themselves.

Embarrassingly, the old battleship HMS Ramillies was heavily damaged while in the “protected” Diego-Suarez harbor at the end of May after Japanese midget submarines, launched from IJN I-16 and I-20, penetrated the layered defenses.

USN ONI image of Albatross 1942 with a CVS (carrier, anti-submarine) designation

Post-Madagascar, Albatross would continue her Indian Ocean service as a headquarters and combined operations training ship at Bombay until July 1943 when, as the Japanese threat to the region had receded, she was sent back to European waters. The Walruses of 710 Squadron were put ashore at Kilindini and ferried to Nairobi before the ship sailed without aircraft, the squadron disbanding at RNAS Lee-on-Solent soon after arrival.

Arriving at Devonport in September, Albatross was paid off for conversion from a seaplane tender to a floating repair ship, a change that included the removal of her catapult and forward main armament while her hangar space was converted to workshops. As she would be sent in harm’s way still, a Type 286 air search radar was fitted as was a half dozen Oerlikons.

Assigned to Force S for the upcoming Operation Neptune, the RN’s support of the D-Day landings at Normandy, she was part of the huge invasion fleet on 6 June 1944 on “The Longest Day.” Her role would be to help install and tend the Gooseberry 5 (Sword Beach) breakwater while plying her repair services there for small craft.

She had a busy month, as noted by Mason, logging an air attack from a German Me109, taking shore fire that killed one rating, providing naval gunfire support and AAA defense of the anchorage, surviving the infamously fierce gale of 19 June, and saving 79 craft from total loss while enabling 132 others to resume service off the beachhead.

By July, Albatross was given a short break to resupply and was then back at it, working repairs off Juno Beach. There, in the pre-dawn darkness of 11 August, she was hit by a new type of German long-range/low-speed circling torpedo– a G7e/TIIID Dackel (dachshund) fired by S-boats (S79, S97, and S177 engaged in the attack, with 10 torpedos fired) of out of Le Harve that killed 66 men and left her with a 15-degree list.

Towed to Portsmouth by a “Free Dutch” salvage tug, Albatross spent most of the remainder of the war under repair with the eye to keep her around as a minesweeper tender. However, as the conflict soon wound down, on 3 August 1945 she was paid off to the reserve and laid up at the Isle of Wright.

Post War career

Placed on the Disposal List in 1946, she was sold to the South Western Steam Navigation Company for continued merchant use. Initially named SS Pride of Torquay in line with a plan to convert her to a floating casino by the Chatham Dockyards, in October 1948 she was bought at auction by the Greek-owned China Hellenic Lines, and she soon became SS Hellenic Prince, ostensibly to recognize the birth of Prince Charles in November, himself the son of Greek nobility, WWII-naval veteran Prince Phillip. Her bread and butter would be to carry World War II refugees to new lives abroad.

SS Hellenic Prince

Reuben Goossens, who details the lives of classic 20th Century liners, has an interesting page covering Hellenic Prince’s short career with the CHL and Pacific Salvage Co. Ltd, which included turning “migrant voyages into a living hell” from Europe to Australia that included allegations of mutiny and a stint as a troopship taking Commonwealth ground forces to Kenya to fight the Mau Mau.

He notes this about the vessel:

The completed 6.558 GRT (Gross Registered Tons) SS Hellenic Prince was certainly no luxury liner, was able to accommodate up 1,200 persons in 200 cabins and dormitories with up to 20 persons, as well some eight and some 4 bunk cabins all having the most basic of facilities, yet all accommodations were fully air-conditioned. The spacious Dining Room seated 560 persons and this venue at certain times also was used as a lounge area, for there were no formal lounges, but there were two Cinemas for entertainment. In the three bays of her hangar deck there were three separate Hospitals – one for men, one for women, and an isolation Ward for sick children who would most likely have come out of one of the concentration camps of post-war Europe.

SS Hellenic Prince (former HMAS Albatross), in rough condition, between 1949 and 1951. State Library of Victoria.

Sold to a British Ship-breaker in 1954, ex-HMAS/HMS Albatross was broken up in Hong Kong where she arrived in tow on 12th August 1954. As far as I can tell, there is little that remains of her in terms of relics.

A Portuguese sister?

Portuguese Navy Capt. Artur de Sacadura Freire Cabral was famed for the first flight across the South Atlantic Ocean in 1922– a 5,200nm trip from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro that took 79 days to log 62 hours of flight time! His aircraft was dubbed Lusitania, a Fairey III-D seaplane specifically outfitted for the journey and, if you remember, the same type of aircraft the Australians intended to operate from HMAS Albatross.

Portugal this month celebrated the centennial of that feat. 

Sadly, Cabral would disappear two years later while flying over the foggy English Channel and never be recovered.

In a salute to him, the Portuguese Navy in 1931 planned the acquisition of a seaplane tender based on Albatross to be constructed at an Italian yard. To be built at Cantieri Riunii dell Adriatico at Trieste as part of an extensive naval shipbuilding program, funding was never realized and all we have is the 1931 Jane’s entry for the vessel.

Sacadura Cabral, based on HMAS Albatross, per Janes.

Epilogue

Albatross is remembered in Australia via a variety of maritime art.

HMAS Albatross operating her Sea Gull III amphibian aircraft. Painting by Phil Belbin. (RAN Naval Heritage Collection)

HMAS Albatross watercolor by John Alcott. AWM ART28074

The Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, including four squadrons of helicopters (723, 725, 808, and 816) along with one of UAVs (822X Squadron), and the Fleet Air Arm Museum, are located at a shore establishment near Nowra, New South Wales. The base, originally formed in 1942 by the Royal Australian Air Force as RAAF Nowra, was transferred to the RAN in 1944 and commissioned in 1948 as HMAS Albatross, recognizing the name of the old seaplane carrier.

RAN MH-60R crew with 725 Squadron at HMAS Albatross

Further, the RAN would revisit aircraft carrier operations with the Colossus-class light aircraft carrier HMS Vengeance (as HMAS Vengeance, from 1952 to 1955) along with the Majestic-class light aircraft carriers HMS Majestic (as HMAS Melbourne, from 1955 to 1982) and HMS Terrible (as HMAS Sydney from 1948 to 1973), spanning a solid 34 years of running fixed-wing flattops.

Today, the RAN’s pair of Canberra-class LHDs, big ships of some 27,500-tons and 757-feet overall length, can carry as many as 18 helicopters and it is thought they could eventually operate F-35B models, continuing the legacy the humble Albatross began a century ago.

September 2021, HMAS Sirius (AO-266) conducts a dual replenishment at sea with HMAS Canberra (LHD-2) and USCGC Munro (WMSL-755), during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021. (RAN Photo by LSIS Leo Baumgartner)

Specs:

As seaplane tender/carrier
Displacement: 4,800 tons (standard), 7,000 full
Length 443 ft 7 in
Beam: 58 ft molded, 77.75 ft at sponsons
Draft:
1930: 16 ft 11.5 in
1936: 17.25 ft
Propulsion: 4 × Yarrow boilers, 2 x Parsons Turbines, 12,000 shp, 2 shafts
Speed: 22 knots
Range:
4,280 nm at 22 knots; 7,900 nm at 10 knots on 942 tons of oil
Complement: 29 RAN officers, 375 RAN sailors, 8 RAAF officers, 38 RAAF enlisted
Armament:
4 x 120/40 QF Mk VIII guns
2 x single 2-pounder (40-mm) pom-poms (later replaced by quadruple pom-poms in 1943)
4 x 47/40 3pdr Hotchkiss Mk I saluting guns
Aircraft carried: 9 aircraft (six actives, three reserves)

As Hellenic Prince (1949-54, Lloyd’s specs)
Tonnage: 6.558 GRT.
Length: 443.7 ft
Width: 61ft
Draught: 17.25 ft
Propulsion: 4 × Yarrow boilers, Parsons Turbines, 12,000 SHP
Speed: 17 knots service speed, 22 maximum.
Passengers: around 1,000, but up to 1,200 maximum in Steerage.
Crew: 250


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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.

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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022: It’s Easy As 1-2-3

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

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022: It’s Easy As 1-2-3

(Shorter WW this week as I am traveling to Vegas for SHOT. We’ll be back to our regular programming next week).

Naval History and Heritage Command NH 94372

Here we see the Oregon-City class heavy (gun) cruiser USS Albany (CA-123), in her original condition, just off her birthplace as seen in an aerial beam view from the Boston Lightship, 19 January 1947– some 75 years ago today.

And a following three-quarter stern view shot, taken the same day as the above. Note the advanced Curtiss SC Seahawk floatplanes, the last of the Navy’s “slingshot planes.” They were retired in 1949. NH 94373

Albany, the fourth such U.S. Navy warship to carry the name of that Empire State capital city– the fifth is a Los Angeles-class attack submarine (SSN-753) commissioned in 1990 and still in active service– was laid down during WWII at Bethlehem Steel’s Quincy, Massachusetts yard. However, she only commissioned nine months after VJ-Day, joining the fleet on 15 June 1946 in a ceremony at the Boston Navy Yard.

The brand new 13,000-ton warship became something of a Cold War-ear “peace cruiser,” and as far as I can tell, she never fired her mighty 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Mark 12s in anger.

Although in commission during Korea, she spent the 1950s alternating “assignments to the 6th Fleet with operations along the east coast of the United States and in the West Indies and made three cruises to South American ports.”

Decommissioned in 1958 after 12 years of service, she was sent back to the Boston Navy Yard for an extensive reconstruction and conversion to a guided-missile cruiser, landing her 8-inchers for MK 11 (Tartar) and MK 12 (Talos) GMLS missile launchers, only retaining a couple of 5″/38s for special occasions.

In 1962, she emerged with her hull number rightfully changed to CG-10.

She looked dramatically different.

A great period Kodachrome of USS Albany (CG-10), conducting sea trials on October 18, 1962. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Image: 428-GX-KN-4076.

USS Albany (CG-10) became the first ship to fire three guided missiles simultaneously when she launched Tartar and Talos surface-to-air missiles from the forward, aft, and one side of the ship while in an exercise off the Virginia Capes, 20 January 1963. U.S. Navy photo, Boston NHP Collection, NPS Cat. No. 15927

Missing Vietnam, she would continue to make cruises to the Mediterranean, later operating from Gaeta, Italy, where she served as flagship for the Commander, 6th Fleet, for almost four years.

Decommissioned for the last time on 29 August 1980, she was stricken five years later and, when efforts to turn her into a museum never came to fruition, Albany was sold in 1980 for her value in scrap metal.

The USS Albany Association has an extensive amount of relics from the vessel and the NHHC has a nice sampling of photos curated on the lucky warship.


If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022: Royal Dutch Shelling

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, Jan. 12, 2022: Royal Dutch Shelling

Here we see a sentry of the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (KNIL), the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, overlooking the lengthy coastline of what is today Indonesia, in January 1941. While this is a warship blog, and we’ll cover an ill-fated class of minesweepers of the Imperial Japanese Navy in it, the KNIL holds a special place in this week’s post, now 80 years after the fact.

But we’ll get to the Dutch colonial forces in a minute.

First, let’s talk about the Japanese No.13 class minesweepers.

Built at three domestic yards– Fujinagata, Mitsui Bussan, and Hitachi– the four original Project number I3A/No. 13s were small vessels, hitting the 533-ton mark on a 242-foot long hull. Capable of 20 knots on a pair of coal-fired Kampon boilers and triple expansion reciprocating engines, they could either sweep mines via traditional mechanical minesweeping gear (i.e., paravanes) or lay mines, capable of carrying 40 of the latter.

Outfitted as light escorts and sub chasers, they mounted a pair of 4.7″/45 3-Shiki light guns, a pair of heavy machine guns, and three dozen depth charges between racks and throwers.

 

The four units of the class all carried sequential numbers rather than names: W-13 (13-go), W-14 (14-go), W-15 (15-go), and W-16 (16-go).

W-13 scanned from Maru Special, V. 50, via Combined Fleets.

Completed in 1933 and 1934, all four gave quiet peacetime service in Japanese home waters. By June 1941, the quartet was collectively assigned to MineSweepDiv 11 in RADM (later VADM) Hirose Sueto’s 2nd Base Force in VADM Takahashi Ibo’s Third Fleet.

Sent to the Pescadores Islands in early December 1941, they were part of Operation “M,” the Japanese attack on the Philippines where they swept mines, escorted troopships and supported the landings around Luzon and the Lingayen Gulf.

After the New Year, with another invasion convoy loading up for operations further South, the four No. 13s made ready for a rendezvous with history.

Tarakan!

The island port city of Tarakan, on the Northeast corner of Borneo, today is home to more than a quarter-million inhabitants in Indonesia. Dating back over a thousand years to the old Tidong kingdom, the Dutch moved in in the 1860s and, noticing oil, by 1905 had formed Koninklijke Nederlandsche Petroleum Maatschappij— later dubbed Royal Dutch Shell– making Tarakan one of its primary fields.

By the 1920s, Tarakan was producing something like five million barrels of light sour crude oil a year. Something like 13 percent of Japan’s pre-WWII oil imports came from the port alone.

Boortorens op Tarakan, vermoedelijk van de N.V. Tarakan Petroleum Maatschappij, 1930s.

Olietanks van de Bataafsche Petroleum Maatschappij te Tarakan, 1930s.

Protecting all this was the KNIL.

The late 1930s recruiting posters for the KNIL, showing the pre-1938 uniform and the early WWII uniform, with the latter including a version of the M1936 helmet, complete with leather neck guard.

Formed in 1814, by 1929, the KNIL– a separate organization from the European-based Dutch military– numbered some 38,568 men, with Europeans accounting for about a fifth of that while native troops, heavily recruited from Christian Manadonese and Ambonese minorities, made up the balance.

The banner of the KNIL’s 7th Infantry Battalion (7e bataljon infanterie) that defended the island of Tarakan near Borneo against the Japanese in 1942. Note the M37 uniform with leather equipment, Hembrug Geweer M. 95 6.5mm “Dutch Mannlicher” carbines and distinctive klewang cutlasses that doubled as jungle machetes. The banner of the 7th was decorated in 1849 with the Military William Order. NIMH 2155_022352

As noted by Marc Lohnstein in his Royal Netherlands East Indies Army 1936-1942, besides oil, “The Dutch colony was a global exporter of strategic materials, providing 29 percent of the world’s rubber, 20 percent of its tin, and 97 percent of the anti-malarial drug quinine.”

With Japanese eyes on the colony, it was decided to ramp up the KNIL both in terms of men and equipment. By early 1942, after the fall of European Holland to the Germans, the force stood at some 122,600 men, evenly split between Europeans and Indonesians, with about a third of those being regulars and the remainder more recently joining the colors.

With klewangs and Mannlichers at the ready, KNIL in a hedgehog position in the field, so they can not be surprised from behind, Dutch East Indies (August 1, 1939) The force wore brown bamboo hats, turned up on the side, from 1912-33 when they switched to a more jungle friendly green color that they entered the war with in 1942.

Getting equipment was another challenge.

As the regular Dutch Army was howitzer-poor, the Navy saved the day and provided new (to them) coastal guns for the KNIL. With the disarmament/disposal of a half-dozen assorted “pantserdekschepen” protected cruisers built around the turn of the century, the Dutch Navy gifted the KNIL a stockpile of Krupp-made 5.9″/37cal, 4.7″/37cal, and 3″/40cal guns for use in shore-based coastal artillery (kustartillerie) emplacements. Low angled and slow to reload, they were simple to use, and shells were readily available. Further, as we shall see, they could still be effective.

Practice with a 7.5 cm gun. Probably aboard the minelayer Hr.Ms. Medusa (1911-1964) or Hr.Ms. Hydra (1900-1921). Image dated 1916. NIMH 2204-005-005

7.5 cm naval gun emplaced on Tarakan, early 1942. Note the overhanging tree cover, which made highly effective camouflage. 2158_037834

Rear of 12 Lang 37 kustgeschutdeck (12 cm L37, or 4.7″/37cal) gun, No. 1, aboard the protected cruiser (pantser-dekschip) Hr.Ms. Holland (1898-1920). NIMH 2158_040898

Dutch Army (Koninklijke Landmacht) coast artillery back in the Netherlands with a recycled 4.7″/37cal (12 cm Krupp) naval mount, around 1930. These were also used by the KNIL in the Dutch East Indies. NIMH 2155_007214

An old Krupp 15 Lang 40 kustgeschut (5.9″/37cal) naval mount in KNIL use, circa 1930s. These guns were often extensively camouflaged and emplaced in concrete batteries.

Native soldier of the Coastal and Anti-Aircraft Artillery Corps of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army in field uniform. (Inlandse soldaat van het Korps Kust- en Luchtdoelartillerie van het Koninklijk Nederlands-Indisch Leger in veldtenue.) 1938. NIMH 2155_082314b

Now, with the stage set, let us talk about the…

Battle of Tarakan island

Japan declared war on the Netherlands East Indies on 10 January 1942; and the Japanese invasion force was on the horizon, planning to hit the beaches at numerous places, assisted by parachute landings at strategic points.

The Dutch East Indies campaign, early 1942, with Tarakan, circled.

At Tarakan, KNIL Lt. Col. Simon de Waal had the 7th Battalion augmented by four coastal artillery batteries– two of ex-naval 3″/40s and two of 4.7″/37s. His only air power was a quartet of recently arrived Brewster Buffalos. The Dutch Navy was also on hand with a minelayer, the 1,300-ton Hr.Ms. Prins van Oranje and a few lumbering Dornier Do 24 flying boats. All told, the Dutch had about 1,200 men at Tarakan, not counting the sailors.

Heading their way was Maj. Gen. Shizuo Sakaguchi’s reinforced brigade that had previously taken Mindanao in the Philippines, standing about 6,000-strong– including a battalion of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Special Naval Landing Forces. Escorting the Sakaguchi force (loaded in 14 transports) was RADM Shoji Nishimura’s covering force including the Sendai-class light cruiser Naka, 10 destroyers, a dozen patrol craft/minesweepers (including all four No. 13s), and two large seaplane tenders. The operation was under the overall command of RADM Sueto Hirose, fresh off the success of the invasion of Batan and the Camiguin Islands in the Philippines.

Just after the Japanese declaration of war, a Dutch flying boat spotted the incoming task force over the horizon and De Waal ordered his engineers to set the oil fields alight. This, naturally, put Hirose, Nishimura, and Sakaguchi in a foul mood even before they started sending troops ashore in the predawn hours on 11 January under the illumination of thousands of tons of oil flickering in the red-black sky.

The ground combat was never in real doubt, with the inexperienced Dutch outnumbered 5:1 by better-equipped, combat-tested foot soldiers of the Empire. By noon on 12 January, De Waal had ordered his troops to lay down their arms after 36 hours of maneuvering and artillery duels across beaches, oil fields, and jungles. Sakaguchi only lost seven soldiers. Meanwhile, Prins van Oranje, attempting to withdraw during the night of the 11th, was caught by a patrolling Japanese destroyer and gunboat and sent to the bottom, with heavy casualties.

However…

CDR Yamazumi Wakito’s MineSweepDiv 11’s W-13, W-14, W-15, W-16, along with CDR Kanaoka Kunizo’s MineSweepDiv 30’s W-17 and W-18 (near sisters of the No. 13s) were sent to clear the Mengacu Channel between the island of Tarakan and the coast of Borneo.

What Wakito and Kunizo did not know was that there were still batteries of 3- and 4.7-inch guns on the tip of the island that hadn’t gotten the word that the fight was over, due to cut telegraph lines.

Three of De Waal’s four coastal artillery batteries were located at Peningki and Karoengan on the South West coast of Tarakan Island with Peningki mounting two three-gun 3-inch batteries under CAPT J.W. Storm van Leeuwen while Karoengan had four 4.7-inch guns. It was the latter, under reserve LT Josephus Petrus Aloysius– a South African Boer from Adrichem who volunteered for military service at the Dutch counsel in Pretoria in 1940– who caused the most havoc.

As detailed on Combined Fleets:

Rear Admiral Hirose’s forces are warned that the Dutch coastal artillery battery at the south end of the island may not be aware of the Dutch offer to surrender. Hirose’s force is cautioned that “it would be dangerous to proceed to the Tarakan pier”, but the warning is ignored. Six minesweepers enter the bay and are fired on by the Dutch battery. LT Miyake Tadayoshi’s W-13 and LT Yoshimoto Yoshikuni’s W-14 are hit by 4.7 inch shells and sink with most of their crews.

Besides the two minesweepers sunk, at least one landing craft was also hit by a Dutch shell, killing a total of 156 Japanese sailors in the action– by far the bulk of the losses in the battle for Tarakan.

Sea Battle of Tarakan Island, Japanese propaganda painting by Minoru Tanabe, 1942.

In reprisal for the engagement between the Japanese mine craft and the ancient Dutch batteries, after the final surrender the next day, the deadly accurate crews were executed on 19 January. The body count and story of the condemned men varies widely. 

As detailed by one source:

The Japanese naval commander promised amnesty for the gun crews and based on this promise the Dutch Island Commander managed to persuade the gun crews to surrender. The Japanese Army Commander on the other hand was too brutal to have the prisoners turned over to him. So, he ordered to tie the men into small groups of three. Sometime later they were thrown into the water where all 219 Dutch soldiers drowned.

Another report is more graphic but has a lower body count, closely akin to the number of Japanese killed on the minesweepers:

Not long hereafter a Japanese interpreter and lieutenant Colonel Simon de Waal announced to the troops assembled at the Kampong Baru barracks, that the Japanese Army needed approximately 150 men of the POW’s to be transported to the Island of Java where they would be deployed in navigation operations and assisting in the transport of military arms and equipment. Every single POW assembled at the barrack had clearly heard this announcement. Alas, the truth turned out differently which came to light two days later.

After the Dutch officer and the interpreter had finished their announcement, about 150 men of the POW’s (which officially was determined as 168 men later) were horded into Japanese Army trucks, without any registration or identification, and taken to the harbor area. Here they were ordered onto a Japanese naval vessel. This vessel was then directed to the first light buoy, where on the same morning the two Japanese Destroyers [minesweepers] were sunk by the Dutch artillery.

The Japanese then stopped the engine and ordered the POWs to line up at the railing of the vessel. They were then all blindfolded and had both hands tied behind their backs. Subsequently every POW was killed by bayonet and thrust into the sea….

Donald Kehn, in his work, In the Highest Degree Tragic: The Sacrifice of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet in the East Indies during World War II, covers Tarakan in detail and holds that the men of the KNIL selected for reprisal were cast from the deck of the cruiser Naka, Nishimura’s flagship

Naka went on to be sunk west of Truk by three waves of SB2C Helldivers and TBF Avengers from the carrier USS Bunker Hill and TBFs of VT-25 of the carrier Cowpens, 18 February 1944.

While the local Indonesian troops were eventually paroled in an olive branch towards Tokyo’s imperialist Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere which would replace European colonies with those controlled by Japan, the Europeans captured in the Dutch East Indies would spend the rest of the war in a series of internments and mass executions.

Of the 42,000 European POWs taken by the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies in 1942, almost one in five (8,200) would die before liberation. The locals weren’t much better off under their new Emperor with an estimated 2.5 million Indonesians perishing during the war from famine while 200,000 romusha forced laborers were exported out of the colony, with many of those simply disappearing in the process.

Meanwhile, the sinking of W-13 and W-14 was a big boost to the Allies back home, with the New York Times on 14 January running on the center of the front page: 

Tarakan, off Northeastern Borneo, has fallen to a Japanese assault of overwhelming power, but the one prize for which the invader has paid so heavily in ships, planes, and men — the island’s oil -is still many a month out of his grasp, it was announced tonight.

Epilogue

Besides the 4 million barrels of fuel oil and aviation gasoline found in abandoned Allied storage tanks scattered throughout the region, Dutch East Indies crude oil became crucial to the Japanese war effort. According to Robert Goralski and Russell W. Freeburg in their excellent work, Oil & War: How the Deadly Struggle for Fuel in WWII meant Victory or Defeat, “In all, the captured fields could produce 116,000 barrels a day, enough to make Japan self-sufficient in oil.”

In addition to shipping oil to Singapore for use locally by the IJN throughout the Coral Sea and Guadalcanal campaigns, much was sent back to Japan directly, keeping the country in the war. Even as late as the summer of 1943, with the fields under constant air attack from B-24s, mines being sown off the terminals by RAAF PBY Catalina flying boats out of Darwin, and the tankers being sent to the bottom by Allied submarines at an unsustainable rate, Goralski notes that “Despite the shipping difficulties, about 90 percent of the oil consumed in Japan itself, by then 74,000 barrels a day, was coming from Borneo’s fields and refineries.”

Finally, once the vice had constricted this flow to a trickle, Goralski observed that “The crucial campaigns of 1944 were lost by the Japanese primarily because of no fuel.”

Even though the oil was no longer getting out, the Dutch East Indies were still under Japanese occupation. The Borneo Campaign in 1945 led to the eventual liberation of Tarakan. Operation Oboe One saw the Australian 9th Division’s 26th Brigade group– along with the “Free Dutch” the Ambonese 3e Compagnie, Technisch Bataljon, KNIL– totaling a combined 12,000 men, hit the beaches at Tarakan on 1 May 1945. The opposing Japanese force, just 2,200-strong, was outnumbered over 5:1, a familiar ratio to 1942, only reversed. Within three weeks, the principal fighting was over and only 250 Japanese were captured, the rest killed, missing, or gone underground.

The NIMH holdings have some 300+ images relating to “Tarakan” in their files, with most coming from the liberation and its immediate aftermath.

This one is my favorite:

“KNIL troops have been dropped off on the landing beach of Lingkas with some vessels of the invasion fleet and are going inland,” Tarakan, East Borneo, Dutch East Indies, May 1945. NIMH 2155_019811

Meanwhile, the old batteries were captured relatively intact by Australian commandos, still with pre-1940 shells in the ready mag.

“Tarakan Island, 1945-05-27. One of Two 7.5cm Krupp Essen Dutch coastal defense guns made 1913 taken by a patrol comprising members of 8th Section and C Troop Hq, 2/4th Commando Squadron (attached to the Australian 9th Division), which penetrated to the Cape Djoeata Area.” 2/4th CS saw extensive service during the liberation of Tarakan, suffering heavy casualties with 56 men being killed or wounded in the operation– more than half its ranks. AWM photos.

The Japanese also found a use for some of the old 5.9-inch shells.

“Tarakan Island, 1945-05-22. A Japanese booby trap made from a captured 5-inch Dutch naval shell set at the edge of the path on the Elbow Feature. If exploded, it would cause a landslide of a large section of the road.” AWM 108083.

Of the two remaining No. 13s, W-16 was blown apart by a mine at Celebes in 1943 while the last of the class, W-15, caught a torpedo at Kyushu in 1945 from the Balao-class submarine USS Tilefish (SS-307) and never sailed again.

Of the three Japanese officers in primary command at Tarakan, RADM Sueto Hirose ended the war as a vice admiral in charge of the base force at Sabang, surrendered his sword to the British at Malaya, and died in 1968, having escaped war crimes scrutiny. Likewise, the Army commander, Sakaguchi, survived the war as well, and “It is unclear whether Sakaguchi was ever brought to account for this atrocity. The third senior commander at Tarakan in 1942, RADM Nishimura, head of the covering force, was killed in the Surigao Strait in October 1944 when his flagship, the battleship Yamashiro, was sunk after being hit multiple times from the U.S. battleships.

Meanwhile, De Waal emerged from a Japanese POW camp to become known as “The Hero of Tarakan” and became a key figure in the war between the Netherlands and Indonesia that lasted between 1945 and 1949, rising to the rank of major general. When the KNIL was disbanded in 1950, he retired. De Waal was knighted and received the Militaire Willemsorde, the highest Dutch award for valor, for Tarakan. He died in 1970 at the age of 74. 

The Loenen Memorial Cemetery in the Netherlands, formed in 1949, has a monument to 215 men of the KNIL thrown from the Japanese cruiser Naka. The names of the known are listed while 125 unknowns, mostly Indonesians, are lost to history.

The monument was dedicated by the Tarakan Remembrance Association in 2012

In 2019, the Dutch Defense Ministry presented posthumous Mobilization War Crosses to the families of seven who had been identified in recent years.

Finally, while it is very likely the Japanese wrecks were long ago stolen by scrap iron pirates notorious in the region, the Dutch guns of the Tarakan battery, marked “1902 Fried. Krupp” on the breech, are still standing guard, 80 years later.


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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022: 15-Star Floating Haberdashery

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, Jan. 5, 2022: 15-Star Floating Haberdashery

Courtesy of Naval Institute collection, Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 94444.

Here we see the Sims-class destroyer USS Morris (DD-417), some 80 years ago today, as the tin can sits at the Charleston Navy Yard in South Carolina, on 5 January 1942. According to DANFS, at the time “she was equipped with the first fire control radar to be installed on a destroyer.” She is being refitted before sailing for the Pacific, barely a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, as witnessed by her Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage pattern. While Morris had already been highly active in the tense stand-off that was the Atlantic Neutrality Patrol, her pivot to the Pacific would be much more of a shooting war.

The Sims were handsome 1930s ships, a dozen 2,300-ton (fl), 348-foot greyhounds sandwiched between the smaller Benham-class and the slightly heavier Benson-class which used largely the same hull but a different engineering suite. Speaking of engineering, the Sims-class used a trio of Babcock & Wilcox boilers to push Westinghouse geared turbines at 50,000 shp, capable of making 37-knots, and were the last single-stack destroyers made for the Navy.

Designed around a dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes, they could also carry five 5″/38 DP MK 12 guns in a mix of enclosed and open MK 30 mounts– though in actuality they were completed with a smaller array of eight tubes and four main guns, augmented by increasingly heavy AAA and ASW suites. When you threw early radar sets into the mix– an advantage that opposing Axis destroyers could not boast– and you had a serious little surface combatant.

Built during the immediate lead-up to the U.S. entry into WWII, the 12 ships were ordered from seven yards to speed up completion, and half were commissioned in 1939, the other half in 1940.

Named in honor of Robert Morris, a member of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety and Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Navy had already bestowed Mr. Morris’s name to a pair of Revolutionary War vessels, then the follow-on U.S. Navy, doubling down as a salute to Commodore Charles Morris (who fought at Tripoli in 1805 and stormed the HMS Guerriere from the decks of the USS Constitution in 1812) gave it to two circa 1840s schooners, a Herreshoff-built early Coast Torpedo Boat (TB-14), and a Clemson-class destroyer (DD-271). This made “our” Morris the seventh such ship to carry the name.

The seventh Morris (DD‑417) was laid down at the navy yard, Norfolk, Va., 7 June 1938; launched 1 June 1939; sponsored by Mrs. Charles R. Nutter, great‑granddaughter of the late Commodore Charles Morris; and commissioned 5 March 1940.

Haze grey and big hull numbers: USS Morris (DD-417) circa 1940. Note she has not been fitted with radar yet and has shields on her Nos. 1, 2, and 5 Mark 30 5-inch mounts while her Nos. 3 and 4 5-inch mounts are unshielded Mark 30 Mod 1 variants. Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. NH 94441

Morris, flagship of DESRON 2, followed her shakedown with routine training schedules until the summer of 1941 when she joined the North Atlantic Patrol, keeping the sea lanes open and helping run convoys to U.S.-occupied Iceland, walking the razor-sharp line of neutrality. Keep in mind this was a sort of pseudo war, as the old four-piper destroyer USS Reuben James (DD-245) was sunk by a torpedo from German submarine U-552 near Iceland on Halloween 1941, six weeks before the United States had officially joined the war.

What a difference a year makes! USS Morris (DD-417) At Navy Yard, Boston, Mass, 3 September 1941. Note that she has landed her No. 3 mount and only has four 5-inchers at this point. Also, note the extensive depth charge collection. She had been serving with the North Atlantic Patrol during this period. Description: Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. NH 94443.

USS Morris (DD-417) Convoy to Iceland, view of two of the screens of TF-15, C. 7 September 1941. These are two of the following sisterships: ANDERSON (DD-411), WALKE (DD-416), MORRIS (DD-417), MUSTIN (DD-413), or O’ BRIEN (DD-415). NH 47006.

USS Morris (DD-417) Convoy to Iceland, September 1941. Officers on Bridge of USS TUSCALOOSA (CA-37) look on as two Destroyers, possibly WALKE (DD-416) and MORRIS (DD-417) hunt down a submarine contact, circa 8 September 1941, while en route to Iceland with T.F. 15. NH 47009.

USS Morris (DD-417) In drydock at the Charleston Navy Yard, South Carolina, in January 1942. She is being refitted before sailing for the Pacific. Note signal flags airing, details of her 5/38 gun houses, and her Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage pattern. Identifiable destroyers in the background are USS Tillman (DD-641), commissioned 9 June 1942; probably USS Beatty (DD-640), commissioned 7 May 1942; probably USS Hobson (DD-464), commissioned 22 January 1942; along with Sims-class sisters USS Anderson (DD-411), USS Hammann (DD-412), and USS Mustin (DD-413). Photograph # 19-N-26590 from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

She and several of her sisters with DESRON 2, after they arrived in Hawaii, became part of battleship-and-cruiserman RADM Frank Jack Fletcher’s soon-to-be famed Task Force 17, centered around the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). As such, Morris guarded Yorktown as her planes struck at enemy shipping in Tulagi Harbor and in the Lousiade Archipelago.

Coral Sea

By early May, Morris was part of the first major sea battle of the Pacific, the Battle of the Coral Sea, downing one attacking Japanese plane and sending another off trailing smoke in the first fleet-to-fleet combat in which the surface vessels involved never saw each other. Proving how deadly the enemy aircraft were, her class-leader and sister, USS Sims, was lost.

It was not the only loss at the Coral Sea, as the huge battlecruiser-turned-flattop USS Lexington (CV-2) was scuttled after a serious fire. Going to the carrier’s assistance, Morris went alongside the blazing and exploding Lexington to rescue some 500 survivors under extremely hazardous conditions, with the smaller ship suffering damage to her superstructure.

Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. Smoke rises soon after an explosion amidships on USS Lexington (CV-2), 8 May 1942. This is probably the explosion at 1727 hrs. that took place as the carrier’s abandonment was nearing its end. Ships standing by include the cruiser Minneapolis (CA-36) and Sims-class destroyers Morris (DD-417), Anderson (DD-411), and Hammann (DD-412). 80-G-16669.

USS Lexington (CV-2), Battle of the Coral Sea. View from USS Minneapolis (CA-36) as USS Morris (DD-417) and a second unknown destroyer assist with crew rescue from the stricken carrier. Critically damaged, USS Phelps (DD-360) was ordered to sink “Lady Lex” by torpedoes. Note the Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplane on Minneapolis.

Midway

Less than a month later, with her superstructure patched up at Pearl Harbor, Morris was front and center for the Battle of Midway. There, Morris shot down her second confirmed Japanese plane but lost another sister, Hammann, with the latter sunk by a Japanese torpedo.

Again, Morris was sent in to save souls from a sinking carrier, with Yorktown sent to the bottom.

Again, she rescued over 500 Sailors.

This produced an almost identical image, a doppelganger scene fit for Dante.

Battle of Midway, June 1942. Two Type 97 shipboard attack aircraft from the Japanese carrier Hiryu fly past USS Yorktown (CV-5), amid heavy anti-aircraft fire, after dropping their torpedoes during the mid-afternoon attack, 4 June 1942. Yorktown appears to be heeling slightly to port and may have already been hit by one torpedo. Photographed from USS Pensacola (CA-24). The destroyer at left, just beyond Yorktown’s bow, is probably USS Morris (DD-417). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. 80-G-32242

Her plankowner skipper, CDR Harry B. “Uncle Beanie” Jarrett (USNA ’22), was given the Navy Cross following the twin carrier rescues. 

USS Morris (DD 417), damage to ship after alongside emergency collisions with carriers at the Coral Sea and Midway, August 9, 1942. 9-LCM-651-8

Santa Cruz

Following a refit at Pearl, Morris was active again in early October, participating in the Buin-Faisi-Tonolai raid and an independent sweep through the Gilbert Islands where she took a large armed merchantman under fire then had to break the engagement after Japanese aircraft came on the scene. Two days later, she rejoined TF17 in time for another sea battle.

The Battle of Santa Cruz, on 25 October 1942, was an especially tough row to hoe for Morris. She was confirmed to have downed six Japanese aircraft during the engagement– at the time setting a record of 8 “kills” among U.S. Navy destroyers in the theater.

Sadly, she would come to the assistance of a third sinking American aircraft carrier, pulling alongside the blazing USS Hornet (CV 8), and “although ammunition aboard the damaged carrier was exploding fiercely and she was being subjected to vicious dive-bombing attacks by enemy planes,” Morris took aboard 550 of her complement before pulling away.

Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942. USS Hornet (CV 8) listing after the Japanese attack assisted by destroyers to bring her fires under control. Photographed from USS Pensacola (CA 24). 80-G-33895.

This was the third time the little escort would stand by to rescue hundreds of fellow Bluejackets from the turbulent, oil and debris-littered, waters. This led to her crew willingly passing on every stitch of clothing they weren’t wearing to the survivors. Such an expenditure of uniforms across two years of combat led her skipper to remark, “It seems safe to say that the turnover in wearing apparel was greater aboard Morris than any other ship then operating or thereafter to operate in the Pacific Ocean.”

From Morris’s War History, addressing the repeated call to duty to tend hundreds of carrier sailors and aircrew plucked from the water.

Her skipper, LCDR Randolph B. Boyer (USNA ’27), would receive the Navy Cross for the action.

LCDR Randolph B. Boyer, Commanding Officer of USS Morris (DD 417), following being awarded the Navy Cross on January 3, 1943, by RADM Frederick C. Sherman for meritorious and heroic action rendered survivors of USS Hornet (CV 8) during the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, October 26, 1942. The ceremony, conducted onboard Morris, honored two officers and four enlisted men for their work in rescuing survivors adrift in the sea and for helping to extinguish “raging fires” on the carrier. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-33892

She closed out the year off Guadalcanal and for eight weeks was engaged in escorting supply units to the Russell Islands. By May 1943, she was detached for the liberation of Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands, then was sent back to Mare Island for an extensive two-month overhaul that left her looking different.

USS Morris (DD-417) Broadside view of the ship, 21 October 1943 after alterations at Mare Island Navy Yard California. Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. Note her No. 3 5-inch mount has lost its armored shield, but the destroyer still has her 2×4 twin torpedo turnstiles amidships. NH 94445.

USS Morris (DD-417) In San Francisco Bay, 21 October 1943. Look at that big, beautiful SG radar array. At this point, her mainmast stood at 90 feet above her keel. That’s some height on a ship that only runs 348-feet overall. Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. NH 94446.

A Fourth Carrier Tragedy

In November 1943, Morris joined an air support group consisting of a trio of Casablanca-class “jeep carriers,” USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56), USS Coral Sea (CVE-57), and USS Corregidor (CVE-59) in the Gilbert Islands offensive, during which, for a fourth time, our destroyer went to aid a sunk flattop.

On the early morning of 24 November 1943, Liscome Bay’s munitions were detonated by a torpedo from the Japanese submarine I-175 and sank in an extremely short amount of time— 20 minutes according to some reports– carrying 644 men including RADM Henry M. Mullinnix and Pearl Harbor Navy Cross earner Doris Miller to the bottom. Only 272 of Liscome Bay’s crew were pulled from the oily water, while the responding destroyers dodged further torpedo wakes from I-175.

Back to work

USS Morris (DD-417) Underway at sea on 6 December 1943. Note her rough paint, especially on the bow, her skyward No.2 5-inch mount, and tarps over her No. 3 5-inch mount. NH 107277

Kicking off 1944, on 30 January 1944 Morris led a column of warships in a shore bombardment mission against Wotje– and was bracketed by Japanese shore batteries for her efforts.

She then provided NGF support off Namur, reportedly wiping out a Japanese counterattack force from an adjacent island. Further 5-inch work was delivered in supporting the western New Guinea landings, the Biak Island operation, pounding enemy guns on Noemfoor Island and then at Cape Sansapor and operations against Halmahera and Morotai on the lead up to the liberation of the Philippines where, as part of 7th Fleet, she fought off kamikazes.

USS Morris (DD-417), with her second stint in camo, this time in the new Measure 32C/2C, seen at Humboldt Bay in October 1944. The destroyer in the background is a Fletcher-class also in Design 2C. NARA photos via USNDazzle.

As part of the 5th Fleet for the push on Okinawa, she arrived off Kerama Retto with TG 51.11. on April Fool’s Day, 1945. Six days later she felt the divine wind.

As detailed in RADM Samuel J. Cox’s H-044-2: “Floating Chrysanthemums”—The Naval Battle of Okinawa:

Destroyer escort Witter was operating with destroyer Gregory (DD-802) on anti-submarine patrol duty off southern Okinawa when they were attacked by two Japanese aircraft at 1612. Gregory shot one down and Witter gunners hit the other, but the burning plane kept coming and hit Witter at the waterline, with the plane’s bomb exploding in the forward fire room, and killing six crewmen and wounding six. Damage control parties got the flooding under control and Witter was steaming on her own power toward Kerama Retto at ten knots, accompanied by Gregory, destroyer Morris (DD-417), Richard P. Leary (DD-664), and the tug Arikara (ATF-98).

Morris detached from the group, but then came under attack by a single Kate torpedo bomber. Although Morris gunners hit the Kate repeatedly, it kept coming and crashed on the port side between 5-inch gun mounts Number 1 and 2, igniting stubborn fires that took two and a half hours to put out. Richard P. Leary arrived to assist and escorted Morris to Kerama Retto. Morris suffered 13 killed and 45 wounded. 

USS Morris (DD-417) was hit by a ‘Kate’ that came in low off the port bow and blew a hole completely through her forecastle between mounts 51 and 52. Morris with a tug alongside is seen at Kerama Retto, on 7 April 1945. Despite the gaping hole that reached almost down to the waterline, it was decided to make her seaworthy again, and work commenced immediately to render her able to steam across the Pacific. Photo via NARA.

USS Morris (DD-417) Damage received from a kamikaze hit off Okinawa, 6 April 1945. 80-G-330101

USS Morris (DD-417) Showing damage inflicted by a Japanese suicide plane while operating off Kerama Retto after much of the debris had been cleared away in early 1945. Courtesy of Naval Institute photo collection. NH 94447.

From her War History on the strike: 

On 22 May, some three weeks after VJ Day she started out across the Pacific and on 18 June entered the Hunters Point Drydock, San Francisco. “Declared neither seaworthy nor habitable, she was decommissioned 9 November; struck from the Naval Register 28 November; stripped and sold to Franklin Shipwrecking 2 August 1947 and then resold to the National Metal & Steel Corp., Terminal Island, Calif., 17 July 1949.”

Epilogue

Morris received 15 battle stars for her action in World War II while pulling almost 2,000 Sailors from sinking ships or the ocean waves. While this battle star figure is outstanding, and one of the highest in the fleet, she was surpassed by her sister Russell (16 stars), a testament to the wringer this class was put through.

The war was especially hard on her class, with Sims sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea, Hammann sunk at Midway while trying to screen USS Yorktown, O’Brien ultimately sunk by a torpedo she picked up trying to screen the carrier USS Wasp off Guadalcanal, Walke lost in the same campaign, and Buck sunk by a German U-boat. 
 
With the Navy flush with Fletcher and Gearing class destroyers– which were brand new in many cases and much more capable– the rest of the Sims were on the chopping block. Russell and Roe, undergoing lengthy refits like Mustin‘s when the war ended, never saw service again and were instead sold for scrap.
 
The four still-mobile Sims left in active service by early 1946: Mustin, Hughes, Anderson, and Wainwright joined 13 other tin cans from two other classes at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands to take part in the Operation Crossroads atomic tests.

Joint Task Force One press release chart depicting scrap costs of Operation Crossroads. (U.S. Naval Institute)

The ships were stripped of useful equipment as well as ceremonial items such as bells, nameplates, and commemorative plaques. At Bikini, without crews or ordnance but with a sampling of goats and chickens aboard, the fleet touched the sun.

CDR Harry Bean Jarrett, Morris’s first c/o and the man who was in charge of the destroyer for both the Coral Sea and Midway (along with the corresponding rescues from the doomed aircraft carriers Yorktown and Lexington), ended the war in charge of nine Fletchers in the famed DESRON 53, who aggressively covered the landings across the Marshall and Marianans Islands. He retired in 1954 as a Vice Admiral and commander of Commander Carrier Division Four, and passed in 1974, aged 75. He is buried at the USNA’s Cemetery, and the Perry-class frigate USS Jarrett (FFG-33) was named in his honor.

Sadly, her skipper for the Hornet rescue, Capt. Randolph Boyer, was lost post-war on August 16, 1947, when the converted B-17 he was aboard along with Ambassador George C. Atcheson, crashed while en route from Hawaii to Japan.

The Commissioning Pennant that Morris had fluttering in the breeze above Tack Force 17 at the Battle of the Coral Sea and at Midway, where Morris attended to the broken carriers Lexington and Yorktown in tandem, is preserved in the NHHC collection.

The esteemed destroyer’s 12-page War History and most of her monthly war diaries are digitized in the National Archives.

She has a Memorial Wall plaque at the National Museum of the Pacific War, in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Location: East Wall, Courtyard. Row: 2. Section: Past 19C.

A small group of Vets and families associated with the destroyer noted in May 2021 that, “Les Wawner has passed away at 100. To our knowledge, he was the last of our USS Morris DD-417 sailors.”

She is also remembered in maritime art.

January 30, 1944, 0630 hours, “Destroyer Morris under fire from Japanese shore batteries on Wotje Island in the Marshall Islands.” Painting by Frank McCarthy.

Unfortunately, the Navy has not (*seriously) reissued the name, so the 7th Morris is, as of 2022 at least, the last on the Naval List to carry it. Certainly, it would be befitting for an as-yet-to-be-named Burke.

*A 173-foot PC-461-class submarine chaser, USS PC-1179, was renamed as the eighth USS Morris in 1956 while she was in mothballs at Astoria, and never served in commission with the name, scrapped just five years later.

Specs:

USS Morris (DD-417) Booklet of General Plans – Outboard Profile, as updated at Mare Island 10.24.43, with SG radar installed.


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The Rifles of Pearl Harbor

On that sleepy Sunday morning 80 years ago, which was interrupted by incoming waves of Japanese warplanes, a lot of the response came from individuals fighting with nothing more than rifles.

The crew abandoning the damaged battleship USS California (BB-44) as burning oil drifts down on the ship, at about 1000 hrs on the morning of 7 December 1941, shortly after the end of the Japanese raid. The capsized hull of the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB-37) is visible at the right. Note the Sailors to the left with rifles. Official U.S. Navy Photograph NH 97399

The most important American base in the Central Pacific, Pearl Harbor was home to the bulk of the Pacific Fleet along with significant Army units. Although a war warning had been sent to the base after intelligence pointing to a looming attack following months of deteriorating relations with the Empire of Japan, it would not be read until hours after the attack had ended.
 
Thus, the fleet and bases were more concerned with threats of sabotage and in capturing spies, rather than warding off 360 incoming Japanese planes armed with bombs and torpedoes. Ships and heavy guns were offline, their crews relaxing on a quiet peacetime morning. This left those on duty able to resist at first with just the arms at hand.

Most common was the M1903 Springfield, a bolt-action .30-06 with an internal 5-shot magazine. The Springfield was used by the Marines and held in the Navy’s small arms lockers and armories. Even lighthouse keepers and NPS park rangers, in the months before the attack, were issued M1903s “on loan from the Army” and .45s for use in patrol work along the coastline.

Lesser encountered was the M1 Garand. A new rifle adopted by the Army in 1937 to replace the M1903, it too was chambered in .30-06 but loaded from an eight-shot en-bloc clip. Not all soldiers in Hawaii in 1941 had the new rifle, and many still relied on the M1903.

Two three-brigade “triangular” infantry divisions were in Hawaii at the time, the newly formed 25th Infantry Division (from the 27th and 35th Infantry Regiments of the old “square” Hawaiian Division and the 298th Infantry Regiment of the recently federalized Hawaii National Guard) and the 24th Infantry Division (made up of the 19th and the 21st Infantry Regiment from the old Hawaiian Division and the 299th Infantry Regiment from the Hawaii Guard). The TO&E for a 1941 triangular infantry division allowed for 7,327 M1 Garands, meaning there should have been at least 15,000 or so of the new guns in the territory.

Other .30-caliber firearms on hand that day included M1918 BARs, M1917 watercooled heavy and aircooled M1919 light machine guns, along with Lewis guns, the latter a light automatic rifle that fired from a 47-round magazine and was still in use by the Navy.

Gordon Prange, in his book on the attack, “At Dawn We Slept,” detailed that General Walter Short, head of the Army’s forces in Hawaii, was so fixated on countering sabotage from perceived local threats that his ordnance department refused to issue ammunition in practice, believing that as long as it was safely locked up and safely guarded it could not be tampered with.

Clips vs. Clips!

Part of the problem resulting from the ongoing switchover from the M1903, which used five-round stripper clips to charge the bolt-action rifle, to the new semi-auto M1 Garand, which used eight-shot en bloc clips, was that .30-06 ammo on hand was often prepacked in bandoliers for the older rifle.

As detailed in a 2002 American Hangunner article by Massad Ayoob, Marine Pvt. Le Fan recalled they had been handed M1 Garands that morning but the only ammo that could be had was clipped for the M1903.
 
“I opened the receiver of my Garand and put one round into the chamber and closed it,” said Fan. “I recall one Japanese pilot coming over, and he waved at us as he did. He was very low – less than 100 feet high – because he was going to Battleship Row. They would wave at us, and we were throwing .30 caliber rounds at them as fast as we could, from single shots because we could not fire semi-automatic. I fired 60 rounds because I recall this particular bandolier that I got had 60 rounds in it.”

The Army Clocks in

Some 43,000 soldiers were on active duty in Hawaii in December 1941. At Fort Kamehameha, named for Hawaii’s national hero, attacking Japanese Zeroes were seen to come in as low as 50 feet off the ground. By 0813, soldiers had set up machine guns on the base’s tennis courts.
 
Now 103 years old, Joe Eskenazi was a 23-year-old Army private at Schofield Barracks who woke up that Sunday morning with a start. “I look up, and I see a Zero (aircraft) flying over my head. He was flying so low that I think I could see his goggles,” Eskenazi recalled in a recent interview. “I said, ‘Oh my God. That’s a Zero fighter going by us,’ and then I saw bombs drop.” His next move was to grab his M1 Garand rifle and some ammo and jump in a truck with other soldiers. Using his rifle on a low flying Zero, just moments later, “I started to see the dirt kicking up only three feet away from the door.”

USAAF Personnel with a “WE WILL KEEP EM FLYING” sign at the entrance to the damaged base engineering shop at Wheeler Army Airfield on Oahu Hawaii – December 1941. Note the early M1 Garand. At this point in the rifle’s production, Springfield Armory, has just cranked out 429,811 guns. LIFE Magazine Archives – Bob Landry Photographer

Prange retells the account of Lt. Stephen Saltzman at Schofield Barracks who, with Sgt. Lowell Klatt, grabbed two BARs and “too mad to be scared” engaged a low-flying Japanese plane whose own machine guns were winking at the men on the ground. The plane pulled up to avoid high-tension wires, then crashed on the other side of the building. When Saltzman and Klatt approached the wreck, they found the two aviators inside to be dead. The author notes that “of the four aircraft which fell to Army guns” during the Japanese first wave, “all succumbed to machinegun or BAR fire when they screamed down to strafe within range of these relatively limited weapons.”

The Navy fights back

“Gunners on board seaplane tender USS Avocet look for more Japanese planes, at about the time the air raid ended. Photographed from atop a building at Naval Air Station Ford Island, looking toward the Navy Yard. USS Nevada is at right, with her bow afire. Beyond her is the burning USS Shaw. Smoke at left comes from the destroyers Cassin and Downes, ablaze in Drydock Number One.” Note the Lewis gun on top of Avocet’s wheelhouse. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32445

Tied up at the Navy Yard was the cruiser USS New Orleans, which sounded General Quarters at 0757 immediately after seeing enemy planes dive-bombing Ford Island. While men scrambled to bring the ship’s 1.1-inch “Chicago Piano” battery online,” the Japanese were fired at with rifles and pistols from the fantail.” By 0810, the quantity of fire coming from the cruiser was credited with causing Japanese aviators to turn away or to drop their bombs erratically, causing the bombs to fall into the water between the ships
 
During the raid on Pearl Harbor, the destroyer USS Dewey was moored at berth Xray-2, under overhaul. Nonetheless, her crew, after observing Japanese torpedoes hit the old battleship USS Utah nearby at 0755, sounded General Quarters and by 0802 was firing .50 caliber machine guns at enemy planes while the ship’s gunners’ mates moved to install the firing locks in the destroyer’s larger guns. Meanwhile, “The bridge force fired [Browning] Automatic Rifles and rifles.”
 
The gunboat USS Sacramento, moored port side to berth B-6 at the Navy Yard, was not able to get her 4-inch guns into the fight but instead gave the men of the battery “rifles, Browning Automatic Rifles, and Thompson submachine guns” and got to work. At one point during the attack, an aircraft some 300 yards from the ship was seen to burst into flames.
 
Sacramento’s crew alone fired:

  • 1,950 rounds .50 cal. tracer
  • 4,000 rounds .50 cal. armor-piercing.
  • 2,000 rounds .45 cal. Thompson sub-machine guns.
  • 5,473 rounds .30 cal. armor-piercing.
  • 2,887 rounds .30 cal. tracer.
  • 3,000 rounds .30 cal. ball.

 
Submarines, with few topside weapons, even got into the act. The crew of the USS Dolphin, as early as 0800, used rifles and machine guns against Japanese planes. Meanwhile, ashore at the Submarine Base, sailors manned “250 rifles, 15 [Browning] Automatic Rifles and 15 machine guns, maintaining a continuous fire,” that accounted for “two low flying torpedo planes.”
 
Even ships not normally considered in the front lines of the battle fleet lent their lead. The minesweeper USS Rail, nested at the Coal Docks next to four other sweepers on that Sunday morning “Opened fire with .30 Cal. machine guns and Rifles and Pistols 20 minutes after attack on Pearl Harbor.”
 
The minelayer USS Pruitt, moored at berth 18 at the Navy Yard undergoing a routine overhaul, had all her armament and machinery disabled and most of the ship’s crew in barracks. Even with all those strikes against it going into a real-life shooting war, Pruitt’s crew shook it off and made ready.

From Pruitt’s report on the attack:

“The initial surprise of the attack passed quickly, and all personnel began arming themselves with all available small arms in the ready locker. The only arms immediately available were .30 caliber machine guns, Browning automatic rifles, service rifles, and service pistols. Within an incredibly brief time, men were equipped and firing at low-flying attacking planes…Three low flying Japanese fighter planes were shot down in the immediate vicinity of this vessel apparently by small caliber weapons.”

 
The battered old tugboat, USS Ontario was moored in the Repair Basin with no fuel onboard and all machinery disabled as she was in overhaul. The vessel had “no offensive or defensive power at the beginning of the attack except for some 30 caliber ammunition in the Abandon Ship Locker.” The “aught six” was soon being fed into a dozen Springfield M1903s as “Members of the deck force were given all rifles and opened fire on all low flying enemy planes.” Lacking any helmets, “Those who manned the small arms and remained exposed, firing upon low flying aircraft, exhibited willing personal bravery.”
 
The destroyer tender USS Thornton was moored port side to dock at the Submarine Base’s berth S-1 and sounded General Quarters at 0756. Using the ship’s landing force weapons – four .50 caliber machine guns, three .30 caliber Lewis guns, three BARs, and 12 Springfield M1903s – her crew commenced firing at 0758. It was noted that an enemy torpedo plane was shot down, with Thornton’s report saying “This plane burst into flames and fell into the water. The torpedo fell clear, but was not launched.”
 
Aboard the repair ship USS Medusa, whose crew were by 0805 firing at enemy planes crossing “not over 100 feet” above and a periscope spotted just 1,000 yards away, some 21 Springfield rifles were used to arm a patrol of men ashore who were eagerly looking for downed Japanese aviators and survivors of midget submarines sunk in the harbor.
 
The survey ship USS Sumner, a vessel normally tasked to make charts, armed members of her crew “with rifles and B.A.R.s” then stationed them in the ship’s two masts to “act as snipers.”
 
At the Naval Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, home to giant PBY Catalina flying boats, “Three rifles were manned immediately” as others retrieved machine guns from planes, eventually setting up two nests in semi-protected spots near the hangar. “Under continuous attacks by the enemy, machine gun and rifle crews manned their guns and all other personnel worked to disperse planes and to save material,” reads the report from one of the base’s squadrons.

A photographer seems to have caught at least some of that, leaving some of the most iconic images from the day. 

“Rescue operations after the first attack and before bombing at Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay. Pulling a partially burning PBY aircraft from the center of fire area.” Note the Sailor on the left with an M1903. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32837

“Planes and a hangar burning at the Ford Island Naval Air Station’s seaplane base, during or immediately after the Japanese air raid. The ruined wings of a PBY Catalina patrol plane are at the left and in the center. Note men with rifles standing in the lower left.” Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-19944

“Sandbagged .30 caliber machine gun emplacement with gun crew on alert, at the seaplane base near Ford Island’s southern tip, soon after the Japanese attack.” The gun is a superfast-firing ANM2, pulled from an aircraft. Note the beached battleship, USS Nevada, in the distance. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32492

“Sailors at Naval Air Station Ford Island reloading ammunition clips and belts, probably around the time of the attack’s second wave.” Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. #: 80-G-32497

Tell it to the Marines

Marines, both in shipboard detachments and ashore, were in the fight from the beginning. There were approximately 4,500 Marines stationed at Pearl Harbor and its vicinity on that fateful morning, and official report recalled, “practically to the last man, every Marine at the base met the attack with whatever weapon there was at hand, or that he could commandeer, or even improvise with the limited means of his command. They displayed great courage and determination against insurmountable odds.”

“At their barracks, near the foundation of a swimming pool under construction, three Marines gingerly seek out good vantage points from which to fire, while two peer skyward, keeping their eyes peeled for attacking Japanese planes. Headgear varies from Hawley helmet to garrison cap to none, but the weapon is the same for all — the Springfield 1903 rifle.” Lord Collection, USMC via the NPS.

“View at the Pearl Harbor Marine Barracks, taken from the Parade Ground between 0930 and 1130 hrs. on 7 December 1941 looking toward Battleship Row. Smoke in the distance is from the burning USS Arizona (BB-39). Navy Yard water towers are in the left-center, with flags flying from a signal station atop the middle one. In the center of the view, Marines are deploying a three-inch anti-aircraft gun. Other Marines, armed with rifles, stand at the left.” U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 50928


The admiral in command of the mine force at Pearl Harbor, in his report, noted that one Japanese plane was observed “shot down by Marines with rifles at Main Gate,” confirmed by the crew of the minelayer USS Sicard.

As noted by the National Park Service of the Marine air group at Ewa Field, fighting off an attacking wave of Zeroes led by future Japanese air ace Yoshio Shiga from the decks of the aircraft carrier Kaga:


Firing only small arms and rifles in the opening stages, the Marines fought back against Kaga’s fighters as best they could, with almost reckless heroism. Lieutenant Shiga remembered one particular Leatherneck who, oblivious to the machine gun fire striking the ground around him and kicking up dirt, stood transfixed, emptying his sidearm at Shiga’s Zero as it roared past. Years later, Shiga would describe that lone, defiant, and unknown Marine as the bravest American he had ever met.


Marines reportedly manned stations with rifles and .30-caliber machine guns taken from damaged aircraft and the squadron ordnance rooms. Specifically, the fighting at Ewa saw Marine Pfc. Mann, “who by that point had managed to obtain some ammunition for his rifle, dropped down with the rest of the Marines at the garage and fired at the attacking fighters as they streaked by.”

Effectiveness

To be sure, the act of firing at planes – even low-flying ones made of canvas without self-sealing fuel tanks – with rifles and pistols was not ideal, but, with larger armament offline due to the surprise nature of the attack, it was a tangible way for the crews to fight back, even as the fleet’s mighty battleships were being sent to the bottom.
 
Aboard the minelayer USS Breese, the ship’s post-battle report admitted as much about the crew’s use of rifles against the attacking planes saying, “although its effectiveness is doubtful it served a means of satisfying the offensive spirit of the crew.”
 
Just after the destroyer USS Blue got underway during the attack, two Japanese planes swooped in at mast-height and one of the attackers was seen to flame out under heavy fire from the ship’s guns, crashing near the Pan Am landings in Pearl City. During the pass, a young officer on the bridge was so excited he threw his binoculars at the passing plane, saying later he was “just kind of mad.”
 
While only 29 Japanese planes failed to return to the Japanese carriers after the attack on Pearl Harbor, 74 including 41 bombers were damaged, some extensively. You can bet a lot of that damage consisted of holes roughly .30 caliber in diameter.
 
Finally, the rifles would be put to use the following day, in a more somber task.

“A Marine rifle squad fires a volley over the bodies of fifteen officers and men killed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay during the Pearl Harbor raid. These burial ceremonies took place on 8 December 1941, the day after the attack.” Navy Catalog #: 80-G-32854

Among the 2,403 Americans killed, 2,008 were sailors, 218 were soldiers, 109 were Marines and 68 were civilians, according to a National World War II Museum Pearl Harbor fact sheet. Total casualties were almost 3,600.

Warship Wednesday (on a Tuesday), Dec. 7, 2021: Of RADM Helm & PO1c Hirano

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 (on a Tuesday), Dec. 7, 2021: Of RADM Helm & PO1c Hirano

Official U.S. Navy Photograph 116-19, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 97450

Here we see the Bagley-class destroyer USS Helm (DD-388) as she comes alongside the escort carrier USS Makin Island (CVE-93) during the Iwo Jima operation, 24 February 1945. The little tin can had been in the fight since the very beginning, firing shots at multiple incoming Japanese aircraft at Pearl Harbor, some 80 years ago today. In all, she spent the entire Pacific War in a combat zone save for two months. 

The eight vessels of the Bagley class (including Blue, Henley, Mugford, Patterson, Ralph Talbot, and Jarvis besides Helm) were ordered as part of FDR’s 1934 “New Deal” program and laid down near-simultaneously the next year at four different Naval Shipyards, two on the East Coast (Boston and Norfolk) and two on the West (Puget Sound and Mare Island). Some 341-feet overall, they were 1,500-tonners in design to comply with the assorted naval limitation treaties of the era. However, they had a very impressive torpedo tube battery (16 tubes in four quadruple platforms) as well as four 5″38s and could make 36 knots with ease.

Compared to the previous classes, they had less powerful machinery but stronger hulls and better stability. Unlike many pre-WWII destroyer classes, the Bagleys uncharacteristically kept all their torpedo tubes and 5-inch guns for the entire war, whereas other classes usually traded such armament for more AAA guns. Instead, the Bagley’s just piled it on, reaching well over 2,245-tons by 1943.

Laid down by Norfolk Navy Yard 25 September 1935 alongside sistership USS Blue (DD-387), the subject of our tale was named for James Meredith Helm (USNA 1875).

USS Helm keel-laying. From the Hampton Roads Naval Museum

Helm commanded the stately gunboat USS Hornet (formerly the yacht Alicia) during the Spanish-American War, capturing a Spanish steamer and three contraband schooners as well as playing a key role in the Battle of Manzanillo. Promoted to Rear Admiral Helm during the Great War, he commanded the 4th Naval District headquartered at League Island Navy Yard in Philadelphia. Helm was moved to the retired list in 1919 after 44 years of service and died in 1927, just eight years before the only warship to bear his name was laid down. A Navy Cross winner, he is buried in Arlington

USS Blue (DD-387), left, and USS Helm (DD-388) ready for christening, in Drydock # Two at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 27 May 1937. Note that the drydock is already partially flooded. Blue appears to have her guns and torpedo tubes installed, and both ships’ Mark 33 main battery gun directors are in place atop their forward superstructures. NH 61903

Helm commissioned 16 October 1937, LCDR P. H. Talbot in command.

USS Helm (DD-388) photographed circa 1937-39. Note the dark paint on her forward 5/38 gun mounts. Also note her two forward guns are in turrets while the aft mounts are open, as with the rest of the class. NH 61888

By 1939, she was stationed on the West Coast and, along with her seven sisters, was at Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December 1941.

Pearl Harbor

Of the 30 destroyers inside Pearl Harbor when the Japanese first wave came at 0755, eight were Bagleys. While her classmates were all tied up or moored, Helm was underway from berth X-7 for deperming buoys at West Loch some 30 minutes before the attack. Since deperming could affect the ship’s compasses, two whaleboats containing every magnetic compass and chronometer issued to the ship were left behind– not the best way to start a war.

Helm’s location during the attack, steaming at the bottom left past Hospital Point to the West Loch Channel. Via SW Maps

As detailed in her after-action report, Helm spotted the first enemy plane at 0759, with a bomb dropping and hitting a hanger at Ford Island. By 0805, her aft pair of water-cooled .50-caliber machine guns had opened up and soon her 5-inchers would join the fight.

Just five minutes later, at 0810, they drew blood.

From her report:

In main channel steaming toward entrance. Fire from port after machine gun, manned by HUFF, W.C., GM.2c, 337 00 90, hit plane approaching from south. Plane veered sharply, caught fire, and crashed behind trees near Hickam Field. Ordered all boilers lighted off.

More on this plane later.

Over the next hour, Helm had a very hectic time of it, spotting an unusual submarine conning tower at 0817 and again at 0819, then duly firing on said tower off Tripod Reef until it submerged. Shortly afterward, the men on after guns and amidships observed a torpedo pass close under the stern on a northwesterly course.

It is unknown which of the nine suspected Japanese midget subs this was, or if it was damaged. However, most scholars believe it was the Type A Kō-hyōteki-class midget HA. 19. Crewed by Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, the hapless and damaged craft eventually was scuttled after which Inagaki drowned and Sakamaki was captured, the only Japanese POW from the Pearl Harbor attack and the first of the war. 

Japanese Type A midget submarine HA.19 Beached on Oahu after it went aground following attempts to enter Pearl Harbor during the 7 December 1941 Japanese attack. The photograph was taken on or shortly after 8 December 1941. 80-G-17016

By 0830, Helm reached the harbor entrance and spent the next hour “Steaming on various courses and speeds off harbor entrance, steering by hand, firing intermittently at enemy planes, and searching for submarines, numerous large splashes being observed close at hand.” At 0915, a bomber from the Japanese second wave landed some near misses on the destroyer which popped seams and sheared rivets, so not only did she not have any magnetic nav gear, but she also had to contend with flooding and engineering casualties.

In all, she fired 90 rounds of 5-inch and 350 of .50 caliber during the attack

Once the smoke cleared, Helm was reunited with her two whaleboats and the seven men who manned them– they had withstood Japanese strafing runs and then later assisted in transporting casualties from Ford Island to the hospital landing. The destroyer had fired at numerous Japanese aircraft and is generally credited with downing the one seen smoking out at 0810. The plane, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero Model 21 fighter (c/n 5289), tail code AI-154, flown by PO1c Takeshi Hirano from the carrier Akagi, ultimately clipped coconut palm trees and crashed into the ordnance maintenance shop at Fort Kamehameha. It is one of the most photographed of the Japanese planes at Pearl Harbor. 

Interior of the cockpit of a Zero which crashed into Building 52 at Fort Kamehameha, Oahu, during the 7 December 1941 raid on Pearl Harbor. The pilot, who was killed, was NAP1/c Takeshi Hirano. The plane’s tail code was AI-154. Note the U.S. manufactured Fairchild Radio Compass in the upper center (Compass Model RC-4, Serial # 484). It was tuned in on 760 KC. 80-G-22158

Listed as “Japanese aviator—identity unknown” Hirano was interred at Schofield Barracks Cemetery two days later as his Zero, partially stripped by souvenir hunters, was hauled off to the Hawaiian Air Depot hangar for inspection. AI-154 was shipped the next year to Wright Field in Ohio for more study and its final disposition is unclear, although pieces of it have popped up on eBay over the years. 

After the war, 25 Japanese aviators and three submariners who had been interred around Pearl Harbor were repatriated home.

Back to Helm

Soon after the attack on Pearl, Helm assisted the carrier USS Saratoga as a plane guard then was dispatched to retrieve some very isolated Department of the Interior workers from Howland and Baker Islands, retrieving a total of six men via whaleboat in late January 1942 and fighting off a Japanese Yokosuka H5Y (Cherry) flying boat in the process. Helm reported that it wasn’t necessary to destroy the installations left behind on the islands as the Japanese had already done so.

USS Helm (DD-388) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 26 February 1942, just two weeks after her solo rescue mission to the Pheonix Islands. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. #19-N-28728

Helm then went further West, escorting convoys to the New Hebrides and New Caledonia.

USS Helm (DD-388) at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 6 April 1942. Photographed by USS Tangier (AV-8). 80-G-266840

She rescued 13 survivors from the cargo ship SS John Adams (7,100 tons) on 9 May, adrift after the Liberty ship was sunk by I-21. Helm then picked up four men from the fleet oiler USS Neosho (AO-23), sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea on 17 May. These men were taken to Brisbane, Australia, where Helm joined British Rear Admiral Crutchley’s Task Force 44 on 19 May.

Survivors from SS John Adams, sunk by a Japanese submarine about 125 miles southwest of Noumea, New Caledonia, on May 5, 1942. Rescue made by USS Helm (DD 388). Photographed May 9, 1942. 80-G-32126

She transitioned to the horrific naval fighting off Guadalcanal and participated in the Tulagi operation, shielding the landing on Blue Beach, and firing 103 5-inch shells at Hill 281 during naval gunfire support.

Ships maneuvering during the Japanese torpedo plane attack on the Tulagi invasion force, 8 August 1942. Several Japanese Navy Type 1 land attack planes (Betty) are faintly visible at left, center, and right, among the anti-aircraft shell bursts. The destroyer in the foreground appears to be USS Bagley (DD-386) or USS Helm (DD-388). A New Orleans class heavy cruiser is in the left distance, with a large splash beside it. The column of smoke in the left-center is probably from a crashed plane. NH 97751

During the nightmare that was the Battle of Salvo Island, Helm stood by the wrecked cruiser USS Astoria, and brought 175 survivors from USS Vincennes and USS Quincy to transports off Guadalcanal and withdrew with the remainder of the force to Noumea on 13 August.

On 29 November 1943, along with sistership Ralph Talbot and two Australian destroyers, she bombarded the Japanese positions during a night raid on Gasmata, New Britain, ripping off 403 5-inch shells. The next month she supported the landings by the 1st Marine Division on Borhen Bay.

On the night of 9 July 1944, with the cruiser USS Oakland, she fired 225 rounds of 5-inch on Japanese positions on occupied Guam.

September saw her extremely active off Iwo Jima, alternating hitting shore targets with NGF with neutralizing enemy shipping, sinking a small Maru on the morning of 2 September with 95 rounds then bagging another that afternoon with a further 78 rounds.

Helm engaged a suspected Japanese submarine on 28 October while screening RADM Davison’s carrier Task Group 38.4 in the Leyte Gulf, resulting in a “B” assessment. It is likely that Helm, with USS Gridley in support, sent the Emperor’s Type B3 submarine I-54 to the bottom, presumed lost with all 107 hands. Others think it may have been I-46, also reported missing in the same place and time. 

Helm was credited with shooting down a Japanese Oscar on 5 January 1945 while off Manila and six men were wounded when the doomed aircraft slammed into the searchlight platform.

Kamikaze attack on USS Helm (DD 388). The plane was shot down and crashed into the sea. Portside of the ship, off Luzon, Philippines, approximately 17:15. Photograph by USS Wake Island, released January 5, 1945. 80-G-273082

A Japanese plane makes a suicide attack on a Bagley class destroyer, west of the Philippines on 5 January 1945. The ship is probably USS Helm (DD-388), which was slightly damaged by a Kamikaze on that date. Note anti-aircraft shell bursts in the vicinity. Photographed by USS Steamer Bay (CVE-87). 80-G-273114

By the end of the war, Helm counted an impressive 11 battle stars for Pearl Harbor, Tulagi, Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Bismarck, Marianas, Carolines, Iwo Jima, Leyte, Luzon, and Okinawa.

She returned to the United States on 19 November 1945, then sailed back to Pearl Harbor where she decommissioned on 26 June 1946.

The destroyer was used that summer as a target ship during the Crossroads atomic tests in the Pacific along with sisterships Mugford and Ralph Talbot. While the latter two were radioactive after the tests and scuttled in deep water off Kwajalein, Helm was clean enough to allow her hulk was sold to Moore Dry Dock Co., Oakland, Calif., in October 1947 for scrapping.

Epilogue

Most of Helm’s war diaries and reports, along with her 12-page war history are digitized in the National Archives. 

Of her sisters, Jarvis, Blue, and Henley were lost in combat while the rest of the class was either expended in post-war tests or scrapped by 1948, no longer needed.

Few pieces of Helm remain, with her commissioning plaque on display at Hampton Roads Naval Museum. 

While Hirono’s Zero may have largely vanished, there is still a larger trophy of Helm’s Pearl Harbor experience around. HA-19 is today on display at The National Museum of the Pacific War.

The HA-19, also known as Japanese Midget Submarine “C” by the US Navy, a historic Imperial Japanese Navy Type A Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarine displayed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas

A tribute plaque to Helm is located near HA.19 at the National Museum of the Pacific War.

Specs:

Camouflage Measure 32, Design 1D. Drawing prepared circa 1944 by the Bureau of Ships for a camouflage scheme intended for destroyers of the DD-380 (Gridley) class. Ships known to have worn this pattern included USS Bagley (DD-386), USS Helm (DD-388), USS Mugford (DD-389), and USS Ralph Talbot (DD-390). 80-G-150620/21

Displacement “1,500 tons” 2,245 tons (full)
Length: 341′ 4″ (oa)
Beam: 35′ 6″
Draft: 12′ 10″ (Max)
Machinery: 49,000 SHP; 2 sets General Electric geared steam turbines, 4 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 2 screws
Speed: 38.5 Knots
Range: 6500 NM@ 12 Knots on 337 tons of fuel oil
Crew: 158.
Sonar: QCA fitted 1942
Radar: SC, SG, Mk 12.22 added after 1945
Armament:
(1937)
4 x 5″/38AA DP Mk 12
4 x .50 cal water-cooled MG
16 x 21-inch torpedo tubes (4×4)
2 x Stern depth charge racks (20 dcs)
(1945)
4 x 5″/38AA DP
2 x 2 40mm/56 Mk 1.2 Bofors
6 x 20mm/70 Mk 4 Oerlikons
16 x 21-inch torpedo tubes (4×4)
4 x K-gun style depth charge throwers (44 dcs)


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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.

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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021: From Casablanca to Taipei

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. 17, 2021: From Casablanca to Taipei

U.S. Navy Photo #80-G-219560 from the United States National Archives

Here we see the future Cannon/Bostwick-class destroyer escort USS Carter (DE 112) launching at the Dravo Corporation yard in Wilmington, Delaware, 29 February 1944.

Named for a 20-year-old TBF gunner, AOM3 Jack Carter (2686624), who was lost at sea during the Torch Landings after searching for a Vichy French submarine, Mrs. Evelyn Carter Patterson sponsored the new tin can, the late aircrewman’s aunt.

Carter was a TBF Avenger gunner flying from VGS-27 on the escort carrier USS Suwannee (ACV/CVE-27), which has spent the preceding days raining 325-pound depth charges on French cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and even ground targets between Fedala and Casablanca in Morocco. The carrier’s report from the accident on the morning of 10 November 1942, via NARA

What were the Cannons?

USS Cannon (DE-99) Dravo builder’s photo. USN CP-DE-99-19-N-51457

The Cannon class, ordered in 1942 to help stem the tide of the terrible U-boat menace in the Atlantic, was also known as the DET type from their Diesel Electric Tandem drive. The DET’s substitution for a turbo-electric propulsion plant was the primary difference with the predecessor Buckley (“TE”) class. The DET was in turn replaced with a direct drive diesel plant to yield the design of the successor Edsall (“FMR”) class.

Besides a heavy ASW armament, these humble ships carried a trio of Mk.22 3″/50s, some deck-mounted torpedo tubes to be effective against larger surface combatants in a pinch, and a smattering of Bofors/Oerlikon AAA mounts.

In all, although 116 Cannon-class destroyer escorts were planned, only 72 were completed. Some of her more well-known sisters included the USS Eldridge, the ship claimed to be a part of the infamous Philadelphia Experiment. The vessels were all cranked out in blocks by four yards with Carter— along with class leaders Cannon and Bostwick— among the nine produced by Dravo.

Getting into the war

Commissioned 3 May 1944, with LCDR Francis John Torrence Baker, USNR (Sewickley, Pa.) as her only wartime skipper, Carter reported to the Atlantic Fleet. After two months of shakedowns to Bermuda and back, her first turn in the barrel was, appropriately for her namesake, shepherding Convoy UGS 50 bound for North Africa as the flagship of Escort Division (CortDiv) 79, a task she would repeat before the year was out with Convoy UGS 63 from Norfolk to Gibraltar, arriving at Oran to have Christmas dinner there three days late due to heavy storms.

On her way back through the Med returning home, she had a close brush with one of Donitz’s wolves when U-870 (KrvKpt. Ernst Hechler) pumped a torpedo into the Liberty ship SS Henry Miller on 3 January 1945.

From Carter’s War History, in the National Archives:

While Miller was a constructive loss with no injuries to her crew and managed to unload her cargo once towed to port, this was balanced out three months later when U-870 was herself sunk by Allied bombs while dockside at Bremen. 

Notably, with the likelihood of engaging a German cruiser or surface raider slim to none by this stage of the war, Carter landed her torpedo tubes at Philadelphia Navy Yard.

She was then assigned to regular antisubmarine patrols from Casco Bay in early 1945 as part of an all-DE submarine Killer Group, a tasking she would conduct for the remainder of the war in the Atlantic. It was with this that she was part of the endgame, moving against the last U-boat offensive against the Eastern Seaboard, one that the brass thought (falsely) might contain V1/V2 rocket carrying subs.

The rumors, mixed with intel that seven advanced U-boats, assigned to Gruppe Seewolf, the last Atlantic Wolfpack, were headed across the Atlantic, sparked Operation Teardrop, an extensive barrier program of ASW assets that ranged the East Coast in early 1945. In the end, Gruppe Seewolf was a dismal failure and the German rocket submarine program never got off the drawing board.

From Carter’s War History, on the engagement she shared with USS Neal A. Scott (DE 769) west of the Azores against U-518, an experienced and successful Type IXC under Oblt. Hans-Werner Offermann, on her seventh patrol. The submarine would not have an eighth:

In May, Carter and her group oversaw the surrender of two U-boats– U-234 (Kptlt. Johann-Heinrich Fehler) and U-858 (Kptlt. Thilo Bode), the latter a Type IXC/40 that had never successfully fired a torpedo in anger, and, true to form, was the first German warship to surrender to U.S. forces without a shot.

U-234, on the other hand, was a big Type XB U-boat built as a long-range cargo submarine with missions to Japan in mind. Commissioned 2 March 1944, she left Germany in the last days of the war in Europe with a mysterious cargo that included dozen high-level officers and advisors, technical drawings, examples of the newest electric torpedoes, one crated Me 262 jet aircraft, a Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb, and 1,210 lbs. of uranium oxide. She never made it to Japan as her skipper decided to make it for Canada instead after the fall of Germany. Two Japanese officers on board committed suicide and were buried at sea while the sub– packed with her particularly important glow-in-the-dark stuff– surrendered south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland on 14 May, a week after VE Day.

Former U-234 is torpedoed by USS Greenfish (SS-542), in a test, on 20 November 1947, 40 miles northeast of Cape Cod.

Former U-234 is torpedoed by USS Greenfish (SS-542), in a test, on 20 November 1947, 40 miles northeast of Cape Cod.

Speaking of Japan, after three weeks in New York City, during which the veteran destroyer escort saw “an almost complete turnover in personnel” as it was thought “the Carter would be readied for Pacific duty,” instead the tin can was dispatched to Florida to clock in for lifeguard work on plane guard duty for new aircraft carriers working up in the warm waters down south, carrying 64 members of the USNA’s Class of 1946 with her on their Mid cruise.

Post-VJ Day saw Carter make for the big round of victory celebrations including “Nimitz Day” in Washington, D.C. (where 10,000 locals visited the ship), followed by Navy Day in Pensacola anchored alongside with USS Guadalcanal (CVE 60), Floyd B. Parks (DD 884), and Gunnel (SS 253) where the tiny warship, her glad rags flying, was “open for inspection with myriads of people getting the thrill of being on a warship.”

With the fighting over, at least for now, Carter continued her role as a plane guard in Florida into April 1946, where she was placed “out of commission in reserve” at NAS Green Cove Springs in the St. Johns River and added to the 500-strong mothball fleet that swayed at a series of 13 piers built there just for the purpose.

Carter received one battle star for World War II service.

Jane’s 1946 listing for the 57 strong semi-active Bostwick class, including Carter and noting numerous transfers to overseas allies.

A long second life

While Carter’s initial service would last 23 and ¾ months, others could desperately put the low-mileage destroyer escort to good use.

Ultimately 14 of the Cannon/Bostwick class went to France and Brazil during the war, followed by another eight to the French– who apparently really liked the type– four to Greece (including USS Slater which returned home in the 1990s to become the only destroyer escort afloat in the United States), three to Italy, two to Japan, six to the Dutch, three to Peru, five to the Philippines, two to South Korea, one to Thailand, and two to Uruguay.

When it comes to Carter, she and three sisters: Bostwick, Thomas (DE-102), and Breeman (DE-112), in a short ceremony on 14 December 1948, were transferred to Nationalist (Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT) China. Carter became Tài zhāo (also seen transliterated as Taizhao, T’ai Chao, and Tai Chao) after the capital city in central Jiangsu province in eastern China, with the hull/pennant number DE-26.

The four destroyer escorts were soon put into emergency use. During the last phase of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the 26 loyal ships of the ROCN engaged in the protection of supply convoys and the withdrawal of the Nationalist government and over 1 million refugees to Taiwan.

Carter/Tài zhāo was captured in great detail during this time period in Nationalist use by LIFE magazine.

In this image, she still has her 3″/50 Mk22s up front

Fuzing 40mm Bofors rounds. Note the traditional crackerjack and flat cap used by the Nationalists

Crackerjacks combined with M1 helmets and US Navy Mk II talker helmets

The No. 3 mount now has an additional 3″/50 rather than the 40mm Bofors it held as Carter. Also, that is A LOT of depth charges for those 8 throwers and two rails! Ash cans a-go-go

Needing bigger guns for the work envisioned of them, the Chinese quickly upgraded their two forward 3-inchers to a pair of 5″/38 singles in open mounts, as well as substituting the stern 40mm mount for one of the same which gave the ships a 2+2 format with twin 5-inchers over the bow and a 5-inch over a 3-inch over the stern. 

The 1950s saw the fleet heavily involved in the pitched and tense engagements around Kinmen (Quemoy), Matsu (where Carter/Tài zhāo fired 160 5-inch shells against a Red artillery battery ashore), and the Yijiangshan and Dachen Islands in the Taiwan Straits as well as the clandestine Guoguang operations in which the KMT tried to retake the mainland by landing would-be guerilla organization teams in Red territory.

Propaganda shells fired into Red-controlled areas. By John Dominis LIFE

In all, Carter and her three sisters continued to hold the front lines of the Taiwan Straits for 25 years and, for the first decade of that, were the most powerful assets available to the ROCN, a title they held until two Benson-class destroyers (USS Benson and USS Hilary P. Jones) were transferred in 1954. They were also later fitted in the 1960s with Mk.32 12.75-inch ASW torpedo tubes for Mk 44s– which were a lot more effective than depth charges.

Taizhao anchored at the Kaohsiung Xinbin Wharf, late 1940s.

Jane’s 1973-4 listing for the Taiwan Bostwicks, including Carter.

As part of the pressure on Communist China in the tail end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Nixon administration transferred a huge flotilla of more advanced warships to Taiwan between late 1970 and early 1973 that included two GUPPY’d Tench-class submarines (one of which is still active), five Gearing-class destroyers, six Sumner-class destroyers, four Fletchers, and USS McComb (DD-458)— a late Gleaves-class destroyer that had been converted to a fast minesweeper. With all these “new-to-you” hulls, the long-serving destroyer escorts could be retired and, by the end of 1973, Carter and her three sisters in Formosan service had been disposed of for scrap.

While Tài zhāo’s name was not recycled by the ROCN– probably as it is the name of a 4-million person city on the mainland– the ChiCom People’s Liberation Army Navy has had two Taizhous including a Type 053 frigate commissioned in 1982 and a Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyer (ex-Vnushitelnyy) commissioned in 2005.

PLAN destroyer Tài zhāo, photographed by the Japanese in 2015.

Epilogue

A number of Carter’s WWII war diaries, as well as her war history and plans, are in the National Archives.

Besides the museum ship USS Slater (DE-766), now sitting dockside in Albany New York, and the pier side training ship USS Hemminger (DE-746) (now HTMS Pin Klao DE-1) in Thailand, there are no Cannon-class destroyer escorts still afloat.

USS Slater is the only destroyer escort preserved in North America– and is Carter’s sistership

The Destroyer Escort Sailors Association honors the men of all the DEs, regardless of class. Sadly, their 45th annual convention last year was their last as their numbers are rapidly declining.

In 1967, Revelle released a 1:248 scale model of “Nationalist Chinese frigate Tai Chao,” complete with box art that showed her racing among bracketed ChiCom shell plumes, no doubt a fitting tribute to those years of the warship’s life spent fighting an undeclared shadow war in the Taiwan Straits.

Specs:

Cannon class DE’s via USS Slater.com

Displacement: 1,240 tons standard, 1,620 tons full load
Length: 306.1 ft
Beam: 36.1 ft
Draft: 11.5 ft full load
Propulsion: 4 GM Mod. 16-278A diesel engines with electric drive 4.5 MW (6000 shp), two screws
Speed: 21 knots
Range: 10,800 nm at 12 knots
Complement: 15 officers 201 enlisted men
Armament:
(1944)
3 × single Mk.22 3″/50 caliber guns
3 × twin 40 mm Mk.1 AA gun
8 × 20 mm Mk.4 AA guns
3 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
1 × Hedgehog Mk.10 anti-submarine mortar (144 rounds)
8 × Mk.6 depth charge projectors
2 × Mk.9 depth charge tracks


If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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I’m a member, so should you be!

Duck Boat

This picture just screams old-school cool.

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

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

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

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

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

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman, and his .45

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

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman and his .45

With this month marking the Navy’s 246th Birthday, the 79th anniversary of the loss of USS Hornet (CV-8) at the Battle of Santa Cruz (a ship commissioned 80 years ago today), and the 77th anniversary of the loss of USS Princeton (CVL-22) in the Philippine Sea, I’m breaking from our typical Warship Wednesday format to bring you the story of a Colt Government model in the Navy’s archives and the resilient young officer who carried it.

The below pistol itself at first glance would seem to be an otherwise ordinary M1911A1 Colt Military, martial marked “US Army” and “United States Property” along with the correct inspector’s marks. The serial number, No.732591, falls within Colt’s circa 1941 production range.

Accession #: NHHC 1968-141 (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

We often say, “if only a gun could talk,” but in this case, the voyage through history that the above .45ACP took is well-documented.

Also joining the fleet in 1941 was Ensign Victor Antoine Moitoret, a Californian who was admitted to the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1937 and graduated with the Class of ’41.

Moitoret’s first ship was the brand-new aircraft carrier USS Hornet, which he joined three months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ushered America into World War II.

Moitoret served as an assistant navigator on Hornet during the flattop’s secret mission to carry the Doolittle Raiders to bomb Tokyo in 1942— possibly best remembered among today’s youth as the third act of Jerry Bruckheimer’s 2001 film “Pearl Harbor”– and was also aboard the carrier for the massive naval victory at Midway (where Hornet was something of a mystery).

Flanked by torpedo boat escorts, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942, just five weeks before the Battle of Midway. (Photo: U.S. National Archives 80-G-16865)

When Hornet was irreparably damaged by enemy torpedo and dive bombers during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942, Moitoret was armed with the above pistol while serving as the carrier’s Officer of the Deck on the bridge. The young officer still had it buckled around his waist when he was pulled out of the ocean more than two hours after Hornet went to the bottom in 17,500 feet of water off the Solomon Islands, carrying 140 sailors with her.

Moitoret’s pistol belt, consisting of an M1936 Belt, M1918 Magazine Pocket, and russet leather M1916 Holster. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Two years later, Moitoret, with his relic of the lost Hornet still with him, was a lieutenant aboard the new light carrier USS Princeton, fighting to liberate the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

USS Princeton (CVL-23) steaming at 20 knots off Seattle, Washington, 3 January 1944. Moitoret was a plankowner of the new flattop, which had originally been laid down as the Cleveland-class light cruiser Tallahassee (CL-61) (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Historical Center. Catalog #: NH 95651)

In October 1944– almost two years to the day that Hornet was lost– Moitoret was on the bridge of Princeton when the ship was hit by a Japanese bomb and was wounded by shrapnel from the resulting explosion.

According to his Silver Star citation for that day, Moitoret “remained on board for a period of seven hours, fighting fires, maintaining communication with other ships in the area, preserving confidential publications and obtaining all available lengths of fire hose for use where most needed.”

Leaving his second sinking aircraft carrier, Moitoret reportedly kissed the hull of Princeton before boarding a whaleboat, one of the last men off the stricken ship.

After the war, he remained in the Navy through the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring in 1972 at the rank of Captain. On 30 May 1999, while aged 80, he delivered the Memorial Day Address to the assembled cadets at Annapolis, continuing to serve as a proud link in the long blue line up to the very end.

Moitoret died in 2005 and is buried at Fort Bayard National Cemetery in New Mexico, next to his wife, Rowena, and son, Alan.

His well-traveled sidearm and pistol belt are in the collection of the NHHC, held in the Headquarters Artifact Collection

As noted by the Navy,

“The central theme of this year’s 246th Navy Birthday and Heritage week is ‘Resilient and Ready,’ which speaks to the Navy’s history of being able to shake off disaster, such as the loss of a ship or a global pandemic, and still maintain force lethality and preparedness. It allows the messaging to showcase readiness, capabilities, capacity, and of course the Sailor—all while celebrating our glorious victories at sea and honoring our shipmates who stand and have stood the watch.”

Happy Birthday, Navy, and a slow hand salute to Capt. Moitoret.

Back to our regular Warship Wednesday format next week.

***
 
If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International
 
They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm 
 
The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.
 
With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.
 
PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.
 
I’m a member, so should you be!

Warship Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021: A Minesweeper Dressed as a Frigate for Halloween

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, Sept. 29, 2021: A Minesweeper Dressed as a Frigate for Halloween

Photo via Secretaría de Marina (SEMAR)

Here we see the Valle-class patrulla oceánica ARM Valentín Gómez Farías (PO-110) of the Armada de México stirring the bottom as she gets underway for a regular offshore patrol circa 2020. In the background, far more modern Durango-class OPVs remain at the dock, content for the old lady to take the watch. Now in her 79th year afloat, the former Auk-class minesweeper is still on the job.

The Auks were a prolific series (95 hulls) of oceangoing escort minesweepers that were essentially slight upgrades of the preceding USS Raven (AM-55) and USS Osprey (AM-56), the latter of which was the first ship sunk off Normandy on D-Day. Some 1,250 tons, these 221-footers could make 18 knots on their diesel-electric plant and carried a 3-inch gun forward as well as a couple of 40mm Bofors AAA mounts amidships, their sterns clear for sweeping gear. Added to this were 20mm Oerlikons and depth charges, giving these ships an armament roughly equivalent to the larger 2,500-ton Tacoma-class patrol frigates or 1,800-ton Buckley-class destroyer escorts of the day, which is impressive.

While class leader USS Auk (AM-57) was built at the Norfolk Navy Yard, the other 94 were farmed out to at least nine small commercial yards around the country. Easy to construct, they were turned out rapidly.

USS Auk (AM-57) Off the Norfolk Navy Yard circa May 1942. NH 84027

Long before she was Farías, the subject of our tale was launched as USS Starling (AM-64) by the General Engineering and Drydock Co., Alameda, on 11 April 1942; and commissioned on 21 December 1942 after a 17 month construction period. As with all American minesweepers of the era, she carried the name of a bird and was the second such vessel on the Naval List to do so, with the previous USS Starling being a 141-foot fishing boat converted during the Great War for use as a coastal minecraft.

The only known WWII-era photo of Starling:

NH 89203 USS Starling AM-64

As a well-armed minesweeper built on the West Coast in 1942, it was obvious Starling would soon be deployed to the meatgrinder along the front lines of the War in the South Pacific.

Joining a convoy to Pearl Harbor in January 1943, she was soon in heavy use throughout the Solomons, and Guadalcanal was involved in patrol work, coastal escort duty, and, of course, clearing mines when found. Working with sisterships USS Dash (AM-88) and Constant (AM-86), she swept Ferguson Passage off Kolombangara in late October, destroying at least 135 Japanese mines. The group then cleared the minefield in Kula Gulf and swept Vella Gulf into November.

Then came more convoy duty well into mid-1944 when Starling transitioned to the Southern Attack Force for Operation Forager, the amphibious assault against Japanese-occupied Guam, and the follow-on Mariana and Palau Islands campaign through mid-October.

Off Guam in June as part of the anti-submarine screen for Task Group 53.3, she spent much of her time on alert against Japanese airstrikes.

This brought comment by her skipper in the report for the landings of:

After a refit on at Mare Island– that included a radar installation– Starling sailed for the Marshall Islands in February 1945 to join Minesweeper Group I, TG 52.4, for the invasion of the Ryukyus and was off Okinawa by early April. Next came a full month of aggressive zigzagging, patrolling station, constant underwater sound search (she dodged a torpedo track on 8 April), night radar search, and fighting at every opportunity, with the crew never far from their stations. There, besides supporting the landings with Mine Squadron Five, she was engaged in no less than three documented anti-aircraft actions.

The first, at sunrise on 6 April, saw her 40mm, 20mm, and .50 caliber batteries open on a Japanese A6M5 (Zeke) that dived on the ship from 5,000 feet and caught fire as it plunged to her deck, ultimately crashing 3,000 feet behind the steaming minesweeper. The sweeper recovered the body of a Japanese Navy petty officer and transferred the papers collected from the body to an intelligence group on the nearby command ship USS Eldorado (AGC-11) then buried the man at sea with full military honors.

The second attack, by three Japanese Yokosuka P1Y Ginga (Frances) bombers who approached on the night of 22 April at an altitude of 1,000 feet, saw Starling open up with everything she had, expending three 3-inch, 18 40mm, 250 20mm, and 40 .50 cal rounds inside of eight seconds. The results, one Frances splashed down 25 yards dead ahead of our minesweeper, which suffered no damage herself.

The third attack, a morning rush by a sole Japanese Nakajima B5N (Kate) bomber approaching just 300 feet off the deck on 4 May saw the plane “disintegrated and splashed” in a hail of 3-inch and 40mm fire. The Kate had initially approached a nearby troopship off Kerama Retto, but Starling’s fire seemingly caused it to divert and go after the minesweeper.

Whereas several destroyers survived hits from kamikazes, some even after multiple strikes, such damage would be fatal for a 221-foot minesweeper. Case in point, one of Starling’s sister ship, USS Swallow (AM-65), was sunk by a kamikaze near Okinawa, 22 April 1945– the same day Starling fought off the three Frances– sent to the bottom just three minutes after the Japanese plane impacted. Another sister, USS Sentinel (AM-113), was lost due to German Messerschmitt Me-210 bombers off Anzio.

USS Sentinel (AM-113) sinking off Sicily, on the morning of 10 July 1943. NH 89208

Starling also came to the rescue while off Okinawa. When the transport USS Pinkney (APH-2) was rocked by an explosion on her stern from a low-flying kamikaze on 28 April, our minesweeper moved in to assist in firefighting, recover casualties, provide AAA screen for future attacks, and cover the whole scene in a smokescreen cover.

After her time in the barrel, Starling then sailed for the Philippines. From Leyte, the ship moved to Iwo Jima and back to Okinawa which she reached on 18 August, three days after hostilities ended. She then switched to post-war clean-up, sweeping Japanese sea mines off the China coast, from 7 September to 30 October before switching operations to Japan’s home waters for similar duties throughout the rest of the year.

Mothballs and a new life

No less than 11 Auks were lost during the war to a variety of causes including mines and submarines. The butcher’s bill carried USS Skill (AM-115), torpedoed by U-593 off the North African coast in 1943, and three sweepers in British service lost to German midget subs off Normandy.

Auk-class minesweeper USS Tide (AM-125) sinking off Utah Beach after striking a mine during the Normandy invasion, 7 June 1944. Note the Elco 80-foot PT boat coming to her aid. 80-G-651677

With 21 other sisters transferred to overseas allies for good, the Navy was left with 63 remaining Auks in 1946. One of these, ex-USS Toucan (AM-387), sailing with the Republic of China Navy as ROCS Chien Men (PCE-45), was lost in an engagement with Chicom naval assets in 1965.

The entry from Jane’s 1946.

Starling received three battle stars for World War II service and was placed “in reserve, out of commission,” on 15 May 1946 in San Diego. Towed to Long Beach in 1948, she lingered in mothballs where she was, along with the rest of her class, administratively reclassified a Fleet Minesweeper (Steel Hull) and received hull number MSF-64 in 1955.

Struck from the Naval Register 1 July 1972, ex-USS Starling (MSF-64) was sold to the Republic of Mexico on 16 February 1973 along with nine of her sisters. The Mexicans apparently really liked the class as they had already bought 10 laid-up Auks on 19 September 1972. Together, the 19 WWII-era escort minesweepers, their armament reduced to just the forward 3-inch gun and two 40mm Bofors, would be more patrol craft than mine warfare ships.

Jane’s entry on the class in Mexican service, 1973.

While under a Mexican flag, the Auks were first designated as corbetas (corvettes) with “C” pennant numbers, then as a Guardacostas Cañonero, a coastal gunboat, with IG pennant numbers. Starling, therefore, became ARM Valentín Gómez Farías (IG-11) and has served in the Mexican Pacific fleet ever since, spending her entire life in that body of water.

The class:

  • USS Starling (AM-64) transferred as ARM Valentín Gómez Farías (C79/IG11/P110)
  • USS Herald (AM-101) as ARM Mariano Matamoros (C??/IG17/P1??)
  • USS Pilot (AM-104) as ARM Juan Aldama (C85/IG18/P116)
  • USS Pioneer (AM-105/MSF-105) as ARM Leandro Valle (C70/IG01/P101)
  • USS Sage (AM-111) as ARM Hermenegildo Galeana (C86/IG19/P117)
  • USS Sway (AM-120) as ARM Ignacio Altamirano (C80/IG12/P111)
  • USS Symbol (AM-123) as ARM Guillermo Prieto (C71/IG02/P102)
  • USS Threat (AM-124) as ARM Francisco Zarco (C81/IG13/P112)
  • USS Velocity (AM-128/MSF-128) as ARM Ignacio L. Vallarta (C82/IG14/P113)
  • USS Champion (AM-314/MSF-314) as ARM Mariano Escobedo (C72/G03/P103)
  • USS Chief (AM-315/MSF-315) as ARM Jesús González Ortega (C83)
  • USS Competent (AM-316) as ARM Ponciano Arriaga (C??/IG04/P1??)
  • USS Defense (AM-317) as ARM Manuel Doblado (C73/IG05/P104)
  • USS Devastator (AM-318) as ARM Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada (C74/IG06/P105)
  • USS Gladiator (AM-319/MSF-319) as ARM Santos Degollado (C75/IG07/P106)
  • USS Spear (AM-322) as ARM Ignacio de la Llave (C76/IG08/P107)
  • USS Roselle (AM-379/MSF-379) as ARM Melchor Ocampo (C78)/Melchor Ocampo (IG10)/Manuel Gutiérrez Zamora (P109)
  • USS Scoter (AM-381) as ARM Gutiérrez Zamora (C84)/ARM Melchor Ocampo IG16/ Felipe Xicoténcatl (P115)

 

ARM Manuel Gutiérrez Zamora (IG-10)/USS Scoter (AM-381) in Mexican service, 1980s wearing her glad rags. The other 18 of the class would have a similar profile into the 1990s

In 1994, Starling/Farías was updated to pennant GC-79 after the ship received a modernization that included two new Caterpillar 3516B diesel engines, commercial navigation radars, marine GPS and electronics; and an elevated stern deck to support a light helicopter. The platforms were for the dozen 12 Bo105-CBS helicopters the Mexican Navy acquired from MBB in West Germany in the late 1980s.

They can carry rockets and machine gun pods and have a surface search radar in the nose

(April 29, 2009) A Mexican BO-105 Bolkow helicopter fires 2.75-inch high-explosive rockets in a sinking exercise that took place during UNITAS Gold. This year marks the 50th iteration of UNITAS, a multi-national exercise that provides opportunities for participating nations to increase their collective ability to counter illicit maritime activities that threaten regional stability. Participating countries are Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, Mexico, Peru, U.S., and Uruguay. USCG Photo 090429-G-6464J-330

Farías later changed in 2001 with the redesignation of a Patrulla Oceánica, pennant PO-110.

Farías, in new format

Farías

Today, at least eight of the 19 Auks in Mexican service have long since been retired, their components used to keep their re-engined sisters in operation.

However, 11 of these hardy mine boats are still in service, known as the Valle class although Valle herself was hulked in 2008. Those still around have had a similar upgrade to the same helicopter deck/Catapiller diesel format as Farías.

Former Auk class minesweeper USS Champion (AM-314 / MSF-314) transferred as ARM Mariano Escobedo (C72 / G03 / P103)

Former Auk class minesweeper USS Defense (AM-317) transferred as ARM Manuel Doblado (C73/IG05/P104)

ARM Valentín Gómez Farías and two other Auks/Valles. Note the cased 40mm Bofors. Mexico at this point is one of perhaps just two or three navies that still operate the WWII 3″/50 and 40mm platforms

Mexico is the last country to operate the Auks in any form, with the Philippines retiring the last of their two examples in 2020. They remain hard at work in trying to root out smugglers crossing Mexican waters and engage in multinational exercises such as RIMPAC and UNITAS frequently.

ARM Valentín Gómez Farías (PO-110) keeping up with the Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Winnipeg FFH-338, and an unidentified Reliance-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, 2015

The Krogen 42 trawler liveaboard MY Dauntless, during its circumnavigation of the globe in 2018, was the recipient of a literal “shot across the bow” from the old minesweeper turned OPV that “splashed a hundred feet off our bow. Thick black smoke poured from the funnel of the WWII vintage ship as she pushed thru the seas at her full speed of 18 knots.”

Kinda nice to know the old girl is still out there.

As far as her echoes in the U.S., I can find no veterans group, as there are likely few if any of her WWII crew still around on this side of Poseidon. The only ghost of her in the country is her engineering drawings and war diaries in the National Archives. 

Specs:

Displacement 890 t.
Length 221′ 2″
Beam 32′ 2″
Draft 10′ 9″
Propulsion: Two 1,559shp ALCO 539 diesel-electric engines, Westinghouse single reduction gear, two shafts.
Speed 18.1 kts
Complement 105
Armament:
(1943)
One 3″/50 Mark 20 dual-purpose gun mount
2 x 40mm gun mounts, single
8 x 20mm guns, single
2 x depth charge tracks
5 x depth charge projectors

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