Tag Archives: WWII

The Old Breed’s Last Bolt-Action Battle

Some 80 years ago this month, a scratch force of Marines waded ashore on a little-known island in the Pacific, with their beloved ’03s in hand, determined to stop the Rising Sun.

Some eight months after Pearl Harbor was attacked, and long after Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines fell to the Japanese onslaught during World War II, the Allies in the Pacific moved to seize the initiative and launched the first Allied land offensive in the Theater as well as the first American amphibious assaults of the war. Between Aug. 7 and Aug. 9, 1942, some 11,000 men of the newly-formed 1st Marine Division landed on the beaches of Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Japanese-occupied Solomon Islands, a chain of islands far closer to Australia than to Tokyo. There, the Marines aimed to seize an airfield the Japanese were carving out of the jungle and use it for their own fighters and bombers.

However, while the Army in 1937 had opted to switch to the M1 Garand from the M1903 Springfield– a bolt-action .30-06 adopted during the administration of Teddy Roosevelt– the Marines were slower to move towards the semi-auto battle rifle. It was only in Feb. 1941, just ten months before Pearl Harbor, that Marine Gen. Alexander Vandegrift wrote that he considered the Garand reliable enough to arm his Marines. With that, it wasn’t until after America was in the war that the Corps officially adopted the M1 Garand and later the M1 Carbine.

“Captured Japanese Battle Flag, Guadalcanal Airfield, circa 1942.” (Photo: Thayer Soule Collection/Marine Corps History Division)

Guadalcanal Campaign U.S. Marines rest in the field on Guadalcanal, circa August-December 1942. Most are armed with M1903 bolt-action rifles and carry M1905 bayonets along with USMC 1941 pattern packs. Two men high on the hill at the right have vests to carry patrol mortar shells and one in the center has a World War I-style hand grenade vest. The Marine seated at the far right has an M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)

More in my column at Guns.com.

Warship Wednesday, July 26, 2022: 146 Miles SSW of Biloxi

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, July 26, 2022: 146 Miles SSW of Biloxi

(Photo: Deutsches U-Boot-Museum / Stiftung Traditionsarchiv Unterseeboote, Cuxhaven-Altenbruch)

Above we see 28-year-old Oberleutnant zur See (=Lieutenant) Hans-Günther Kuhlmann on the running bridge of DKM U-166, a brand new German Type IXC U-boat, circa 1942. The good Oblt. Kuhlmann was U-166‘s sole skipper during WWII and he, his submarine, and all 51 of her hands, have been sleeping along the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for 80 years as of this week, although how they got there was the subject of contention.

One of the 54 Type IXCs completed during the war, U-166 was laid down at Seebeckwerft A.G. (Yard # 705) in Bremerhaven at the mouth of the Weser River on 6 December 1940 just after the Battle of Britain served up the first German defeat. At some 1,232 tons, she was not a big boat, running just 251 feet overall. However, the class was well designed and capable of 13,450-nm cruises on their economical diesel engines. Able to carry 22 torpedoes and a 4.1-inch deck gun with 180~ shells as well as a Flak armament, they were deadly and efficient killers when it came to stalking Allied merchantmen. While most of these boats could carry as many as 66 mines, all could also carry TMC-type torpedo mines in the place of a fish.

Commissioned on 23 March 1942, she spent the next two months in the 4. Flottille training squadron out of Stettin on the Baltic, then chopped on 1 June to Korvkpt. Günther Kuhnke’s 10. Frontflottille at Lorient in occupied France.

An AGFA video exists of her sea trials.

Arriving on 10 June after a combat sortie from Kristiansand in occupied Norway, her first war patrol was uneventful.

U-166 with her commander, Han-Günther Kuhlmann (bareheaded, top), before her patrol. Image courtesy of the PAST Foundation.

Spending a week in France stocking up and enjoying the local sights, U-166 sailed for her second (and final) war patrol on 17 June 1942.

Making for the Gulf of Mexico via the Florida Straits, U-166 drew her first blood when on 11 July 1942 she shelled and sank the unescorted and unarmed Dominican two-masted schooner Carmen (84 tons), which had been carrying a mixed cargo of maize, mahogany, and cedar, about 8 miles northeast of Gaspar Hernández, DR. The Dominicans had declared war on Germany four days after Pearl Harbor, for reference, and Carmen was one of four Dominican-manned ships sent to the bottom by U-boats during the conflict. While the country never sent troops overseas to help the Allies, at least 100 Dominicans signed up with the U.S. military during the war.

Two days later, U-166 fired her first warshot torpedo, ending the career of the unescorted and unarmed Ford Motor Company’s SS Oneida (2,309 tons), sailing empty from Puerto Rico to Cuba, while steaming about two miles north of Cape Maysi, Cuba. The steamer sank in minutes, but 23 survivors were able to make it safely to shore.

On 16 July, U-166 would claim her third vessel in a week, stopping the Miami Fish & Ice Co’s unarmed trawler Gertrude (16 tons) about 30 miles northeast of Havana, a port to which she was carrying a load of fresh onions. Putting her three-man crew into their motor launch and pointing them towards the shore, Gertrude was sent to the bottom with a scuttling charge or gunfire (reports vary).

Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, U-166 quietly laid nine TMC mines off Port Eads/South Pass, at the southern tip of the Mississippi River on the Louisiana coast. This was considered the boat’s primary mission, as each of these massive 2,400-pound mines could break the back of a merchantman and potentially block the Mississippi– not to mention cause a massive panic as, in typical U.S. Navy fashion, there was nowhere near enough mine countermeasures assets available to safeguard the domestic sea frontier. However, although Kuhlmann’s special mission was successful on its face, in a stroke of luck for mariners in the area, none of the mines ended up making contact and the field was cleared post-War after Allied panels were given access to Kriegsmarine records logging some 43,636 mines sown worldwide in at least 1,360 minefields.

Anyway, after delivering his eggs to the mouth of the Mighty Miss, Kuhlmann & Co. decided to stick around and pursue targets of opportunity for his remaining torpedoes. This brings us to the…

Robert E. Lee

Constructed for “Ice King” banking and shipping magnate Charles Wyman Morse for his Eastern Steamship Lines, the sistership 5,100-ton passenger liners SS George Washington and SS Robert E. Lee were put into service with Eastern’s Old Dominion Line. In 1937-38, they were making four regular sailings weekly between NYC’s Pier 25 to Norfolk’s Pier S at a cost of $12 one way or $16.50 round trip.

SS Robert E. Lee and her sister George Washington were simple one-stack, three-decker 373-footers that, besides work-a-day transport of almost 400 passengers on each coastwise trip, could run fresh produce as cargo from Virginia to New York City by the next day and return with garments, furniture, and dry goods from the North.

A June 1924 detail from the Marine Review on SS Robert E. Lee and her sister George Washington, noting they could carry almost 250,000 bales of cargo (1,700 tons) loaded through 10 cargo elevators as well as 322 “white and colored” passengers along with 58 in steerage. Capable of 16 knots, they were fast for their type and time.

Just weeks after Pearl Harbor, Lee and Washington were taken up by the War Shipping Administration under contract by the Alcoa Steamship Co. and converted to carry up to 778 troops, typically on shuttle runs from U.S. East Coast ports to assorted Allied Caribbean bases and Bermuda. This conversion included a dark paint scheme, degaussing equipment to help avid mines and magnetic exploders on torpedoes, lots of Carley floats rigged to break loose topside if needed, and a single 3″/50 DP mount with its accompanying Naval Guard crew.

Sailing from Trinidad on 21 July for Tampa with eight officers, 122 crewmen, six armed guards, and 268 passengers– including 115 waterlogged mariners of the sunk tankers Andrea Brovig (Sunk by U-128 on 23 June), Høegh Giant ( U-126 on 3 June), and Stanvac Palembang (U-203 on 11 July)– along with 47 tons of general cargo and personal effects, Lee was part of Intracoastal Convoy TAW-7. However, just short of Florida, TAW-7 was dispersed, and she was carved out and diverted, escorted by the brand-new (commissioned 15 June) PC-461-class submarine chaser USS PC-566 riding shotgun, for New Orleans.

USS PC-566, via The Ted Stone Collection, Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA. She would spend her entire career in the Florida-Caribbean area on patrol and escort duty and as a training ship out of Miami then go on to be sold to Venezuela in June 1961 and serve for another decade.

It was on the late hours of 30 July, about 45 miles southeast of the entrance to the Mississippi River and 146 miles south-by-southwest of the Biloxi lighthouse, that U-166 would see its biggest prize.

Firing a single torpedo, Lee was as unlucky as the men of the three tankers that she carried, and the ship soon sank, taking 25 souls with her.

As detailed by Uboat.net:

Lookouts had spotted the torpedo wake about 200 yards away before it struck just aft of the engine room. The explosion destroyed the #3 hold, vented through the B and C decks, and wrecked the engines, the radio compartment, and the steering gear.

The badly damaged Robert E. Lee first listed to port then to starboard and finally sank by the stern about 15 minutes after the torpedo hit. One officer, nine crewmen, and 15 passengers were lost. The survivors…abandoned the ship in six lifeboats, eight rafts, and five floats and were soon picked up by USS PC-566, USS SC-519, and the tug Underwriter and landed in Venice, Louisiana.

The end of U-166

Immediately after Lee was hit, her escorting 173-foot subchaser PC-566, with her green crew under the command of LT Herbert Gordon Claudius, USNR, dropped five depth charges across a sonar contact, circled back and dropped another five, then proceeded to pick up survivors after the contact disappeared in deep water and a large– reportedly 200 feet wide– oil slick was observed.

PC-566‘s depth charge runs were considered (at the time) ineffective, but U-166 never made it back to Lorient.

As Claudius and his crew had been rushed into service and had not received any formal ASW training yet, his reported “kill” was dismissed as unlikely. The new skipper was stripped of his command, sent to Sonar school to ride a desk, and admonished “for breaking radio silence twice prior to his arrival” and for “not being in the proper patrol station, nor that any proven system of attack was followed.” Further, the Navy said, “it is not considered probable that any except minor damage could have been sustained by the submarine.”

Post-war U.S. Navy analysis of German records chalked up the killer of Oblt. Kuhlmann’s boat as a Coast Guard Grumman J4F-1 Widgeon seaplane (the same type of plane from “Tales of the Golden Monkey”), #V212, from Coast Guard Air Station Biloxi.

The Coast Guard flew some 25 Widgeons, numbers V197 through V221 from 1941 to 1950, purchased from Grumman for $75,000 each. V203 is pictured here. Equipped with twin inverted Ranger L-440 engines, the J4F-1 was a high wing all-metal monoplane with a range of 750 miles at a pokey 135 miles per hour. It was modified to carry a crew of two and a single 325-pound depth charge under the inboard right wing. Alternatively, a bomb, raft, or droppable SAR gear could be carried in that position.

Piloted by Chief Aviation Pilot Henry C. White with RM1 George H. Boggs as a crewmember, V212 was forward deployed from an outlying grass field at Houma, Louisiana owned by Texaco, and reported depth charging a surfaced German U-boat on 1 August, two days after Robert E. Lee was lost and about 100 miles away from that killing field.

As detailed by CG Aviation History:

They were at 1,500 feet at the base of a broken cloud deck 100 miles south of the Houma base. Through the open windows of their twin-engine Grumman J4F-1 Widgeon amphibian, they could see about 10 miles across the hazy gulf sea. White had just turned to the northeast to set up a ladder search for the assigned area and moments later they saw a surfaced German submarine. White started to maneuver the Widgeon behind the sub for a stern attack, but it immediately became obvious that as soon as White and Boggs had seen the sub, the sub had seen them, and the U-boat began to slide underwater in a crash dive. White banked sharply to starboard and from a half mile away began his dive towards the sub fully aware that he had only a sole depth charge under his wing and that he would have but one try.

At an altitude of 250 feet, the single depth charge was released. Boggs stuck his head out of the window and watched the depth charge fall into the Gulf waters, its fuse set to explode 25 feet below the surface. He estimated it entered the water 20 feet from the submarine on the starboard side. Boggs saw a large geyser of water rise from the explosion. White later wrote that the submarine was visible during the entire approach being just under the water and still clearly visible when the depth charge was released. When they circled back around, they saw only a medium oil slick. German records obtained after the war verified that the U-166 had been sunk in that area at the beginning of August. White and Boggs were given credit for the sinking.

Coast Guard Air Station Biloxi was an 18-acre seaplane base founded at Point Cadet on Back Bay in 1934 and remained in service until 1966 when the land and its 12,000 square-foot hangar and barracks were turned over to the city.

The above image is from 1941. In the far back of the hangar pictured above is a twin-engine PH-2 Hall Aluminum Flying Boat, either V-166 or V-170. Next to it is the single-engine JF-2 Grumman Amphibian V-143. A brand new twin-engine JFR-2 Grumman Amphibian, V-184, pokes its nose into the sunshine.

Biloxi Coast Guard Air Station would become the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum. The structure was destroyed in Katrina

A stylized 1940s postcard made from composite photographs showing two J2F Ducks, three airborne J4F-1 Widgeons, and an RD-4 Dolphin at USCG Air Sta Biloxi at Point Cadet. After 1966, the old hangar was used by the city for concerts and festivals until it was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina

The destruction of U-166 by V212 went down in Coast Guard (and Grumman) history and was celebrated for the rest of the 20th Century. This led V212– which had been sold on the commercial market in 1948 when the USCG got out of the Widgeon game and later flown as a commercial airliner (N212ST) in Alaska– to be acquired by the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola in 1988 and preserved, reverted to her WWII USCG livery.

In all, from 1942 into 1943, no less than 24 German U-boats patrolled the Gulf of Mexico– the American Sea– sinking 56 Allied vessels of which 39 are in the coastal waters of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. U-166 has the distinction of being the only German submarine lost in the Gulf.

Epilogue

In 1986, Shell Offshore found two likely shipwrecks on a deep tow survey in one of their leased oil fields due south of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 5,000 feet of water. It was thought that one was possibly the remains of the bauxite freighter SS Alcoa Puritan, another World War II casualty lost in the same rough area as Robert E. Lee, sunk by U-507 about 15 miles off the entrance to the Mississippi River in May 1942.

In 2001, deep water HUGIN 3000 AUVs of C&C Technologies working pipeline survey along the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi Canyon for BP and Shell (the Mississippi Canyon is home to well MC 252, the infamous Deepwater Horizon well), found a single-stack ocean liner and, less than a mile away, a broken submarine.

This was the first time U-166 was reported found.

In 2003, a more extensive search in conjunction with NOAA extensively documented the sites.

In 2010, U-166 was briefly revisited during the Lophelia II study, where archaeologists collected additional ROV videos, still photos, core samples, and biological samples and re-examined the test platforms that had been deployed on site since 2003.

Finally, in 2014, as part of a National Geographic Explorer-funded effort that was turned into a one-hour special, Robert G. Ballard surveyed the U-boat and suggested that one of PC-566’s depth charges had wrecked the bow and likely detonated several torpedo warheads.

Further analysis by the Naval History and Heritage Command agreed. It turned out PC-566 was the only one of the 343 PC-461 class submarine chasers to be credited with sinking a U-boat.

The Navy (posthumously) awarded Capt. Claudius, USNR (ret), the Legion of Merit Medal with a combat “V” for sinking U-166.

This also brought some closure to Kuhlmann’s widow. Following the film crew documenting the discovery of the U-boat, she donated an ample collection of images from Kuhlmann’s service to The National WWII Museum in New Orleans through the PAST Foundation, where it is preserved as part of the story.

Some personal images of Kuhlmann in the collection of The National WWII Museum.

Down the coast in Biloxi, U-166 has always had a special place in the city’s lore, as for years it was celebrated as the base where V212, the long-thought dispatcher of the boat, was assigned. The City’s Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum— located on the grounds of the old Coast Guard Air Station at Point Cadet– has exhibits on the base, its aircraft, and history, as well as the barrack’s tower, saved after Hurricane Katrina.

(Photo: Chris Eger)

Since 2005, the Seafood Industry Museum has been in the possession of a 45-foot U-boat model, constructed for the film U-571, that has been dedicated to U-166 (although it depicts a German Type VII U-boat) after a rework in 2008 from volunteers of the Tullibee Base Submarine Veterans and those of Seabee Base Gulfport.

The U-571 model next to the old tower from the USCG Air Sta Biloxi barracks. (Photo: Chris Eger)

As for V212, the NHHC revised the record book and cited that the Coast Guard seaplane likely had attacked but failed to sink U-171, a Type IXC sistership of U-166 that was operating in the same area at the time and reported being bombed by a “Flugboot” (flying boat) on 1 August with slight damage. U-171 went on to sink the tanker R. M. Parker Jr. (6,779 tons) two weeks later off the Louisiana coast, then was herself lost just short of Lorient when she struck a mine just miles short of the end of her maiden war patrol.

Speaking of losses, of U-166’s sister boats, 50 of 54 were lost, almost all to Allied ASW efforts. Only four survived the war and a single example, U-505, is the only one of two of her class (U-534 was sunk in 1945 and then salvaged by the British in 1993) preserved. Of all places, U-505 is in Chicago.

4 June 1944 Tug USS Abnaki (ATF-96) tows U-505 photo from USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) Note the large U.S. Ensign flying from U-505’s periscope. 80-G-324351

And finally, Robert E. Lee’s sister, George Washington, survived the war and lived a second life in the Pacific until the mid-1950s.

George Washington’s entry in “U.S. Troopships of WWII.” After the war, she was acquired by the Alaska Transport Company (ATCo.) to run between Seattle and Alaska until ATCo went bankrupt in 1948. A French company named CGT bought her in 1949, renamed her SS Gascogne (Gascoigne), ran her in the Caribbean for a while, then in 1952 sold her to Messageries-Maritimes, who operated her in Indochina until she was scrapped in Hong Kong in 1955.

Specs:

Displacement:
1,144 t (1,126 long tons) surfaced
1,257 t (1,237 long tons) submerged
Length:
251 ft 10 in o/a
192 ft 9 in. pressure hull
Beam:
22 ft 6 in o/a
14 ft 7 in pressure hull
Height: 31 ft 6 in
Draught: 15 ft 4 in
Installed power:
4,400 PS (3,200 kW; 4,300 bhp) (diesels)
1,000 PS (740 kW; 990 shp) (electric)
Propulsion:
2 shafts
2 × diesel engines
2 × electric motors
Range:
13,850 nmi at 10 knots surfaced
63 nmi at 4 knots submerged
Test depth: 230 m (750 ft)
Complement: 4 officers, 44 enlisted
Armament:
6 × torpedo tubes (4 bow, 2 stern)
22 × 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedoes
1 × 10.5 cm (4.1 in) SK C/32 deck gun (180 rounds)
1 × 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 AA gun
1 × twin 2 cm FlaK 30 AA guns


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The Free Dutch vs The Emperor in the East Indies

Following the fall of the Netherlands East Indies, the remnants of the Dutch colonial army– the KNIL– and Royal Dutch Navy fell back to Australia to regroup and carry on the fight for independence from exile. They were the lucky ones. Of the 42,000 European POWs taken by the Japanese in the East Indies in early 1942, almost one in five (8,200) would die before liberation.

This rag-tag group of survivors would carry on the war– with the Dutch submarine force being especially active— while the land forces would reform. Ultimately, in the liberation of Borneo in 1945, a 3,000-strong force dubbed 1ste Bataljon Infanterie and the Technisch Bataljon of the KNIL, landed on the beaches alongside Allied troops. Before that, the unit had its baptism of fire supporting the Americans at Biak.

Australian and Dutch units land in Borneo on the island of Tarakan. On April 30, 1945, units of the Australian Imperial Forces 9th Division and the KNIL land on the island of Tarakan of Borneo, starting the first combined Australian and KNIL attack on the Japanese army in Dutch- India. The photo shows Captain FE Meynders, commander of the 2nd Company of the 1ste Bataljon Infanterie of the KNIL, discussing the progress of the Tarakan campaign with Mr. L. Broch, war reporter for the Dutch news agency Aneta, on the beach of Lingkas on Tarakan Island.

However, before the 1ste Bataljon Infanterie and the Technisch Bataljon went back to the East Indies, the islands were often visited by Free Dutch forces running a clandestine war that gets no attention.

Meet the NEIFIS & the Korps Insulinde

The Netherlands East Indies Forces Intelligence Service, or NEIFIS, was formed in Australia from KNIL remnants starting in April 1942, some 80 years ago this month.

Regrouping of exiled Dutch/Dutch East Indies soldiers in Perth, Australia. Inspection by, among others, lieutenant commander of the first-class JAFH Douw van der Krap. Van der Krap was later assigned to the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEIFIS) as head of Division II; Internal Security & Security.

Besides counterintelligence duties such as censoring mail of Dutch refugees in the region and vetting volunteers, they soon formed commando units in conjunction with MacArthur’s Inter-Allied Services Department (ISD) that, dropped covertly via coasters and submarines on beaches in the East Indies, and later by parachute into the interior, they tried to gather intel on the Japanese and ignite a guerilla resistance in the archipelago.

NEIFIS was eventually given its own clandestine operations unit, dubbed the Korps Insulinde. Drawn initially from 150 men of the 1st Battalion, Koninklijke Brigade “Prinses Irene,” which had trained in England in 1940-41 then had been shipped to the Pacific, arriving at Ceylon just after the fall of Java, these Free Dutch went commando quite literally, and served alongside the SOE’s Force 136 Intelligence in the region. Ultimately, No. 2 (Dutch) Troop of the No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando would contribute volunteers to the enterprise as well.

In all, the Korps Insulinde would muster no less than 36 teams made up of 250 agents. They made 17 landings in Sumatra alone in 1943-44, in addition to operations in Borneo, the Celebes, New Guinea, and Java.

Members of the Korps Insulinde, made available to the Netherlands Forces Intelligence Service (NEIFIS), patrolling a fordable area in the vicinity of Merauke, New Guinea. Second from left is possibly First Lieutenant Infantry of the Royal Dutch East Indies Army J. de Roo. 2.9.1944. Note the American weapons and uniforms. NIMH AKL027827

Some of the operations performed by the Dutch:
 
Operations Tiger I-VI (Java) November 1942- July 1943, 10 men landed in six different teams. It is thought all members were captured and shot as none were seen again.
 

An IDS report on Tiger II

 
Operation Lion (1942) Celebes, all men missing in action. The follow-on Operation Apricot which landed in January 1945 to find the Lion commandos was also unlucky but was able to extract via Cataline after losing just one man.
 
Operation Flounder (1942)  Ceram Island, eight men, at least two executed
 
Operations Walnut I-III (1942-43) Aroe Islands, all teams presumed killed
 
Operation Oaktree/Crayfish (1942–44)– saw Dr. Jean Victor de Bruyn, a Dutch colonial district officer who had escaped in early 1942, return via Australian flying boat insertion in November 1942 with rifles and ammunition to organize and train native Papuan guerillas that spent the next 22 months raiding and ambushing Japanese positions, pillaging supplies and destroying ammunition dumps. Dr. De Bruyn was withdrawn by PBY in July 1944 from Hagers lake, escaping advancing Japanese once again
 

Dr Jean Victor de Bruyn and his native Papuan soldiers in Dutch New Guinea, 1943. Note the five soldiers in KNIL uniforms. Never stronger than a platoon, De Bruyn’s partisans tied down a battalion-strong Japanese force

 
Operation Whiting (1943) A joint six-man Dutch/Australian force was sent in to establish a coast watching station above Hollandia in February. By October, they had been captured and publicly beheaded. 
 

A photograph found on the body of a dead Japanese soldier showed Indonesian Private (Pte) M. Reharin, a member of the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) Forces wearing a blindfold about to be beheaded with a sword by Yunome Kunio. The execution was ordered by Vice Admiral Kamada, the commander of the Japanese Naval Forces at Aitape

 
Operation Prawn (1944) landing seven men of a NEFIS shore party from the Dutch submarine K XV on the coast of Sorong, New Guinea. 
 
Operation Firetree (1945) involved a 10-man NEIFIS team landing on the Soela Islands to access the situation. The detailed report on the shore party by its English-speaking Christian Ambonese commander, LT (and future Indonesian minister) Julius Tahija, shines a light on the types of operations these groups conducted. 
 

A page from the Firetree after action report

 
Operation Inco (1945) Dutch submarine K XV landed and extracted a small NEIFIS shore party at six different places along the Damar islands off Java for recon. 
 
Operation Opossum— April 1945, a 10-man Z Special Unit op with 3 Dutch officers attached to the island of Ternate near Borneo to rescue the Sultan of Ternate, Muhammad Jabir Syah. The sultan and his family were taken to Morotai by PT boat. 
 
Operation Parsnip (1945) a five-man NEIFIS shore party landed from Dutch submarine K XV on the north coast of Java. They were picked up almost immediately by the Japanese and two commandos were killed.
 
Operations Platypus I-XI (1945) involved small 2-man teams of mixed Australian and Dutch commandos inserted by folboats, prahu canoes, and rubber dinghies from submarines along the Balikpapan area of Dutch Borneo between March and July then resupplied by air as needed. This is one of the more successful operations and most operators survived. The companion all-Australian Operations Python I-V, Agas, and Semut, involving about 90 Z Special Unit Commandos operating deep into the interior of British Borneo and Sarawak, were likewise successful. 
 
As noted by the Australian War Memorial: 
 
These operations were at best dangerous, and at worst suicidal. The series of landing parties on Java known as “Tiger I–VI” were captured and executed almost to a man. Similar fates befell the “Walnut” ( Aroe Islands ) and “Whiting” (Dutch New Guinea) groups, and in all, nearly 40 lives were lost.
 
However, some successful operations were undertaken. In general, however, they tended to be those involving groups already cut off behind enemy lines, reasonably well-armed, and acting as guerrillas. The “Oaktree” party, in particular, based in the remote country of central Dutch New Guinea, and under the command of the redoubtable Captain J.V. de Bruijn, remained a thorn in the side of the Japanese for more than two years between 1942 and 1944. This group was able to supply valuable intelligence, tie-down a superior enemy force, and maintain the prestige of the Dutch among the inhabitants of the area. Sadly, it was the exception rather than the rule.
A Dutch commando is a character, Lieutenant J.A. (Jan) Veitch, in the 1982 Australian war sleeper, Attack Force Z, featuring an Australian Z Special Unit team in a covert operation based on Operation Opossum, where a team of commandos rescued the local sultan on the Japanese-occupied island of Ternate near Borneo.
 
 
In the end, the NEIFIS and Korps Insulinde would accept the surrender of some 15,000 Japanese troops on Sumatra. 
 
Speaking of the end, post VJ-Day, the NEFIS and Korps Insulinde would soon morph into the Korps Speciale Troepen to fight the budding Indonesian insurgency into 1950, then grow into today’s modern Korps Commandotroepen. 
 
But that is another story. 

Warship Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2022: Jesse James of the Java Sea

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, Mar. 30, 2022: Jesse James of the Java Sea

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #NH 99230

Here we see the Salmon-class fleet submarine USS Sturgeon (SS-187) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 3 May 1943. Note the barrage balloon in the right background as it is just 18 months past Pearl Harbor and just over a year past when Japanese Navy submarine I-17 shelled the Ellwood Oil Field to the South in Santa Barbara. While the Cold War-era USS Sturgeon is well known to the current generation of naval enthusiasts, her WWII namesake gets little attention.

The Salmon class boats, and the successive very similar 10-boat Sargo class submarines, set the Navy on the road for the mass-produced WWII “fleet boats” of the Gato, Balao, and Tench classes. Some 308 feet in length, they were the first American boats able to hit 21 knots while surfaced, meaning they could help screen and scout for the fleet, and conduct a lengthy 75-day/11,000nm patrol without refueling/replenishment. They took with them a 3″/50 DP deck gun capable of sinking a small craft under 500 tons as well as space available for 24 torpedoes stored both in the hull and in topside deck storage. This put the whole Pacific at the feet of these vessels, and it was no surprise that Admiral Hart’s Philippine-based Asiatic Fleet in 1941 included all 16 Salmon and Sargo-class boats. 

The six boats, all with fish names beginning with an “S” (Salmon, Seal, Skipjack, Snapper, Stingray, Sturgeon) were ordered in 1936 from three yards: Electric Boat (SS 182-184); Portsmouth (SS 185,186), and Mare Island (SS 187) with our vessel being the sole West Coast model.

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

Salmon class subs USS Stingray (SS-186), foreground Operating in formation with other submarines, during Battle Force exercises, circa 1939. The other three submarines are (from left to right): Seal (SS-183); Salmon (SS-182) and Sturgeon (SS-187). Collection of Vice-Admiral George C. Dyer, USN (Retired). NH 77086

Same as the above, Submerging. NH 77089

Sturgeon, named for the large, bony-plated fish with an elongated body. It is found in both fresh and saltwater, was the second such vessel in the Navy with that name, the first being an early E-class submarine (SS-25) that was christened USS Sturgeon but was renamed USS E-2 before she entered the fleet in 1911 and went on to make four war patrols against the Germans in 1918.

Laid down at Mare Island on 27 October 1936, our Sturgeon was sponsored at launch by the wife of a Great War Navy Cross holder who retired as a vice admiral.

USS Sturgeon (SS 187) was launched by Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, CA. Note St. Vincent Church in distance and the temporary “S6” designator on her hull. Via Mare Island Navy Museum

Commissioned on 25 June 1938, she was assigned to SubRon 6 and conducted her shakedown along the coast of Latin America, then made two summer squadron cruises (1939 and 1940) to Hawaii with the Pacific Fleet.

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) arriving at Pearl Harbor pre-war, likely on summer maneuvers in 1939 or 1940. Note the Somers-class destroyer USS Sampson (DD-394) in the distance. An East Coast-based tin can, Sampson was in Hawaii for both the 1939 and 1940 fleet exercises. 

It was around this time that LCDR William Leslie “Bull” Wright (USNA 1925), a colorful six-foot-three cigar-chomping Texan, arrived as her skipper.

A brand new beautiful West Coast submarine, the Navy detailed her to help film the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer action movie, Thunder Afloat, whose plot involved a piratical submarine, played by Sturgeon on screen.

Stock footage of Sturgeon surfacing, her crew dutifully barefoot and bare-chested, firing her deck gun at targets unseen and resubmerging all within a couple of minutes, was reused in other films for years.

On 18 November 1941, the submarine tender USS Holland (AS-3) with Salmon, Swordfish (SS-193), Skipjack, and our Sturgeon, arrived at Manila and formed SubDiv 21 of the Asiatic fleet.

War!

Sturgeon was moored in Mariveles Bay at the southern tip of Bataan on 7 December 1941, then put to sea the next afternoon to patrol an area between the Pescadores Islands and Formosa. After missing a chance at a target on the third day of the war, she spotted a Japanese cruiser escorting a coastwise invasion convoy on 18 December– the whole reason the Salmons were in the PI– but her attack was spoiled, and she received her first depth charge attack instead.

From her First War Patrol records:

Bull Wright and company returned to embattled Mariveles Bay on Christmas, then left again just three days later for her second war patrol.

Hart ordered Sturgeon and two other S-boats to patrol off Tarakan, Borneo, in the oil-rich Netherlands East Indies, with the hope of sniping Japanese convoys in the Makassar Strait. Meanwhile, other members of his submarine forces were left to try to run the blockade around the PI to keep Bataan in the fight. 

While Sturgeon claimed torpedo hits that were not borne out by post-war examination boards– and after believing she sank a Japanese ship, signaled to Pearl Harbor “Sturgeon no longer virgin!”– she ended her second war patrol at Surabaya on Java on 13 February 1942. She was then was forced to head for Australia within the week due to the looming fall of Java. She sailed with sisters Sturgeon and Stingray, escorting Holland, and the destroyer tender USS Black Hawk (AD-9) safely to Fremantle. Bull Wright received a Navy Cross. 

Departing on her third war patrol on the Ides of March, she headed for the Makassar Strait once again and, 80 years ago today, chalked up her first confirmed kill, that of the Japanese AK Choko Maru (842 GRT) off Makassar city.

Another notable incident of this patrol was to put ashore LT Chester William “Chet” Nimitz Jr. (yes, that Nimitz’s son) and a small search party looking for evading Australian personnel on Japanese-held Java.

Her fourth war patrol, which began on 5 June 1942 from Freemantle, would be both successful and incredibly tragic.

Montevideo Maru

Constructed at Nagasaki in the 1930s, the 7,266 ton, twin-screw diesel motor vessel passenger ship MV Montevideo Maru was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a troop transport in the early days of the war, supporting the landings at Makassar in February 1942 and was part of the Japanese seizure of New Britain. The vessel and her two sisters were well-known to U.S. Naval Intelligence before the war.

Via ONI 208J.

Sailing 22 June unescorted for Hainan Island off China, Montevideo Maru ran into Sturgeon eight days later. Our submarine pumped four fish into the “big fella” in the predawn hours of 1 July, after a four-hour stalk, with young Nimitz as the TDC officer.

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

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

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

DANFS does not mention Montevideo Maru‘s cargo.

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

A new skipper

On 13 August, Bull Wright left his submarine, replaced by LCDR Herman Arnold Pieczentkowski (USNA 1930), who would command Sturgeon for her 5th and 6th war patrol.

Of the Piaczentkowski period, only the 5th patrol, which sank the Japanese aircraft ferry Katsuragi Maru (8033 GRT) off Cape St. George on 1 October 1942 with a spread of four torpedoes, was the boat’s only success.

IJN Katsuragi Maru had just delivered A6M fighter aircraft to Bougainville when Sturgeon found her. Struck by at least three torpedoes, she carried two crew members and 27 ship gunners to the bottom. Here she is seen in an ONI photo taken in 1937 as she passed through the Panama Canal. NH 111553

On Christmas 1942, Sturgeon was sent to California for a five-month refit that would include swapping out her original diesels for a more reliable set of GM Detroit’s, relocating her main deck gun from aft of her sail to forward, and installing new sensors and equipment.

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) At the Hunters Point Navy Yard, San Francisco, California, 23 April 1943, following overhaul. White outlines mark recent alterations, among them the relocation of Sturgeon’s 3/50 deck gun, installation of watertight ready service ammunition lockers in her sail, and fitting of 20mm machine guns. Note the large concrete weight on deck, indicating that Sturgeon was then undergoing an inclining experiment to check her stability. 19-N-46405

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 3 May 1943. Note the barrage balloon and tall radio towers to the right. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. 19-N-46400

USS Sturgeon (SS-187) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 3 May 1943. Ship in the left-center distance is the Fulton-class submarine tender USS Bushnell (AS-15), which was then completing her post-commissioning outfitting. Of note, Bushnell would remain in service until 1970 and be expended in a 1983 SINKEX– appropriately enough sent to the bottom by submarines. NH 99231

Another new skipper and five more patrols

Getting back into the war in June 1943, Piaczentkowski would command Sturgeon for her 7th patrol– another quiet one despite being in Japanese home waters– then leave the boat on 6 August, replaced by LCDR Charlton Lewis Murphy (USNA 1932) who had already commanded the old R-boat USS R-7 (SS-84) on the East Coast.

Murphy and the gang would embark on a fruitless 8th war patrol then strike the Empire hard on the 9th. Conducted in Japan’s Home Waters, Sturgeon sank the transport Erie Maru (5493 GRT) on 11 January 1944, blew both the bow and stern off the destroyer Suzutsuki— killing 135 including the tin can’s skipper– four days later, then sank the transport Chosen Maru (3110 GRT) before the month was up. This earned Philadelphia-born Murphy a Navy Cross. 

On her 10th patrol, she sank the Japanese transport Seiryu Maru (1904 GRT) north of Chichi Jima on 11 May 1944.

Her 11th patrol, like her encounter with the Montevideo Maru, would earn the boat a degree of infamy.

Toyama Maru

Built in 1935 at Nagasaki as a 7,090-ton cargo ship for Nippon Yusen Kaisha, K. K. (NYK) Line, Tokyo, MV Toyama Maru was requisitioned by the Imperial Army as Army No. 782 in January 1941 to help move troops to Manchuria.

Japanese cargo ship Toyama Maru at the dock in Vancouver before the war. Photograph by Walter E. Frost, Vancouver City Archives CVA 447-2781.

Departing Koniya on 29 June 1944 for Naha as part of Convoy KATA-412, Toyama Maru was transporting over 6,000 men of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade’s 298th IIB, 299th, 300th IIB, and 301st IIBs and a cargo of gasoline in cans, all of which would have proved a formidable reinforcement to the defenders on Okinawa.

Would have.

Sturgeon found her the same day and, four torpedoes later, she was ablaze and sinking, carrying some 5,400 IJA troops and ship’s crew members to the bottom in very short order– often described as the greatest loss of life in a ship sunk by a U.S. submarine. As payment for the title, Sturgeon’s crew withstood an estimated 273 depth charges and aircraft bombs between 29 June and 3 July, as the boat’s war history says, “All went for naught, for she was as tough-skinned as the fish whose name she bore.”

Murphy’s report on Toyama Maru sinking

As noted by RADM Cox in H-Gram 33, “Yanagi Missions and Submarine Atrocities”:

Of 6,000 Japanese troops of the 44th Independent Mixed Brigade on board, over 5,400 died, the highest death toll of any ship sunk by a U.S. submarine (and the fourth highest of any ship sunk by a submarine of any nation. The two highest tolls were German ships packed with thousands of civilian refugees sunk by Soviet submarines, and the third-highest was a Japanese “hell ship” crammed with thousands of Allied prisoners of war and native forced laborers unknowingly sunk by a British submarine).

Sturgeon ended her final patrol when she returned to Pearl Harbor on 5 August 1944 then was sent back to California for further overhaul, with it being likely those 273 depth charges and bombs left more damage than the war history would imply. Sent to the East Coast in early 1945, she ended the war as a training boat with SubRon 1 out of New London.

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

She was decommissioned on 15 November 1945.

Epilogue

Ex-Sturgeon was sold for scrapping, on 12 June 1948, to Interstate Metals Corp., New York, New York, just short of 12 years after she was laid down.

Her class was very successful– and lucky– with all six boats still afloat on VJ Day, earning a total of 54 battle stars after completing 70 war patrols:

  • Class leader Salmon (nine battle stars, 11 patrols) was a constructive loss due to battle damage after a late war surface action with Japanese surface escorts that earned her the Presidential Unit Citation, was soon disposed of in late September 1945.
  • Seal (10 battle stars, 11 patrols) was used as a Naval Reserve training ship after the war and sold for scrapping in 1956.
  • Skipjack (seven battle stars, 10 patrols) was sunk as a target twice after the war, the first time at Bikini atoll in 1946 and then, raised and examined, off California in 1948.
  • Snapper (six battle stars, 11 patrols) assisted with training for a while post-war then was sold for scrap in 1948.
  • Stingray, with an impressive one dozen battle stars after 16 war patrols (the record for any American submarine), was scrapped in 1946 but two of her GM diesels were saved and are now part of the Gato-class museum sub USS Cod (SS-224) in Cleveland.

Speaking of relics and museums, few relics are around of the Sturgeon, but her war patrol reports are digitized and in the National Archives.

Her war flag is preserved at the USS Bowfin Museum in Hawaii.

There is also a smattering of period art.

Sturgeon Herz Postcard via the UC San Diego Library

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

In late 1945, an author by the name of Carl Carmer, after sitting with Bull Wright, would pen the 119-page “Jesse James of the Java Sea,” which is filled with gems reportedly from the mouth of the submariner including, “You fire a fish, and it hits or misses. You sink one or get pasted. There isn’t much variety in our pattern, you know.”

Another anecdote about Bull:

He passed in 1980 in Corpus Christi, a Texan to the end.

Her other Navy Cross-earning skipper, the quieter CDR Charlton Lewis Murphy, who commanded the boat during her 8th-11th War Patrols and chalked up five big marus including the brigade-carrying Toyama Maru, ended the war on the USS Carbonero (SS-337) and retired as a rear admiral before passing in 1961, aged 53.

Don’t worry, we aren’t throwing rocks at Piaczentkowski, he too would earn a star before he retired.

Speaking of admirals, Chet Nimitz would skipper two submarines of his own after he left SturgeonUSS Haddo (SS-255) and USS Sarda (SS-488)— then retire as a one-star in 1957, commanding SubRon 6– which was ironically the old Sturgeon’s first squadron. He saw the 21st century and passed in 2002.

The third, and so far, final, USS Sturgeon was the lead ship (SSN-637) of the last class of American submarines named for fish. Ordered in 1961, she had a career more than twice as long as “our” Sturgeon and was decommissioned in 1994, earning two Meritorious Unit Commendations and a Navy Unit Commendation. Her sail is preserved at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington, while her control center is now on display at the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut, giving her the distinction of stretching from coast to coast.

A starboard bow view of the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS STURGEON (SSN-637) underway off Long Island, N.Y, 2/1/1991 Photo by PH1 Grant. National Archives Identifier:6467979

As for Montevideo Maru, in July 2012 a new memorial by Melbourne sculptor James Parrett was dedicated on the grounds of the Australian War Memorial to commemorate those Australians who died in the defense of Rabaul, and those who later died as prisoners in the sinking of the Japanese transport.

Specs:

Displacement: 1,449 tons Surfaced; 2,198 tons Submerged.
Length: 308 feet
Beam: 26 ft. 2 in.
Draft 14′ 2″
Watertight Compartments: 7 plus conning tower.
Pressure Hull Plating: approx. 11/16 in. mild steel.
Propulsion:
4 main motors with 2,660 shaft horsepower (Hoover, Owens, Rentschler Co. diesels replaced in 1943-1944 with four General Motors 278A diesel engines
4 Elliot Motor Co. electric motors, 3,300 hp
2 126-cell main storage batteries.
Maximum Speed: 17 knots surfaced; 8.75 knots submerged.
Cruising Range: 11,000 miles surfaced at 10 knots.
Submerged Endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots.
Fuel Capacity: 96,025 gallons.
Patrol Endurance: 75 days.
Operating Depth: 250 feet.
Complement: 5 Officers 50 Enlisted
Armament:
Torpedo Tubes: 4 bows; 4 sterns.
Torpedo Load, Max: 20 internal, 4 external (later removed)
Deck Guns:
1 x 3″/50-cal Mk21 (relocated in 1943)
2 x .50 caliber M2 machine guns
2 x .30 caliber M1919 machine guns


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Warship Wednesday, March 2, 2022: Burnt Java

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, March 2, 2022: Burnt Java

NIMH photo

Here we see the Koninklijke Marine naval docks at Soerabaja (Surabaya), on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. The photo was taken 80 years ago today, 2 March 1942, from the coal jetty towards the West. With the Japanese fast approaching, the Dutch started the destruction of the yard at 11:30 am and you can make out the 1,500-ton dry dock sunk along with the patrol boats P19 and P20. The new 2,500-ton drydock is listing to the right with a cloud of smoke from the Perak oil tanks in the background.

While the scuttling of the Vichy French fleet at Toulon in 1942, and the self-destruction of the Royal Danish Navy at its docks in Copenhagen in 1943 to keep them out of German hands are well-remembered and often spoken about in maritime lore, the Dutch wrecking crew on Java at Soerabaja and Tjilatjap gets little more than a footnote.

Dominated by the Dutch for some 125 years before the Japanese effort to uproot them, Java was one of the centerpieces of the Indonesian archipelago in 1942 and a principal base for the colonial forces. While Borneo, Sumatra, and other islands may have had more resources– including natural rubber and pumping 20 million barrels a year of oil– Java was the strategic lynchpin. Defended by the (nominally) 85,000-man Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) along with their own air force, the ML-KNIL, it was the Dutch Navy and its shore-based long-range patrol craft of the MLD naval air service that was the colony’s first line of defense.

Japanese invasion map of the Netherlands East Indies cropped to show the landings and attack on Java. Note the location of the Dutch naval bases and how far the island is from Darwin. (OSS Collection Stanford University)

However, with the ML-KNIL/MLD’s aircraft swatted from the sky, and the Dutch navy’s largest units– the cruisers Hr.Ms. De Ruyter and Java— sunk at the Battle of the Java Sea on the night of 28 February along with following on Battle of Sunda Strait on 1 March that saw two Allied cruisers sent to the bottom, Java was wide open and future war criminal Gen. Hitoshi Imamura’s 16th Army started landing on the island at three points directly after.

While Dutch Lt. Gen. Hein Ter Poorten’s force of three KNIL divisions and a mixed brigade worth of British/Australian/American reinforcements would seem on paper to be an even match for Imamura’s troops, the Japanese had the momentum from the start and by 8 March, the Dutch radio station at Ciumbuluit signed off with “Wij sluiten nu. Vaarwel tot betere tijden. Leve de Koningin!” (We are closing now. Farewell till better times. Long live the Queen!)

This effectively ended the short-lived ABDACOM command, severed the Malay-Timor barrier protecting Australia, and was the near-height of the Japanese success in the South Pacific. In March 1942, the Japanese would mount no less than 17 air raids on Western and Northern Australia.

Unescapable

The noose around Java was tight and several vessels that tried to break out failed.

The Japanese cruisers Takao and Atago found the old destroyer USS Pillsbury (DD-227) near nightfall on 2 March and sent her to the bottom with all hands.

At roughly the same time, the Japanese heavy cruiser Maya, accompanied by destroyers Arashi and Nowaki, found the British destroyer HMS Stronghold (H50) trying to escape from Tjilatjap to Australia and sank her, recovering 50 survivors.

The Australian Grimsby-class sloop HMAS Yarra (U77) was escorting a convoy of three British ships (the depot ship HMS Anking, the British tanker Francol, and the motor minesweeper HMS MMS 51) and survivors from the Dutch ship Parigi, from the fighting in Java to Fremantle when they were attacked on 4 March by three Japanese heavy cruisers– Atago, Takao and Maya, each armed with ten 8-inch guns– and two destroyers. The 1,080-ton sloop gave her last full measure but was unable to stop the massacre of the convoy and the Japanese were especially brutal, with reports of close-range shelling by the two Japanese destroyers, was witnessed by 34 survivors on two rafts. The blockade-running Dutch freighter Tawali, rescued 57 officers and men from Anking that night, while the escaping Dutch steamer Tjimanjoek found 14 further survivors of the convoy on 7 March, and two days later 13 of the sloop’s ratings were picked up by the Dutch submarine K XI (a vessel that would go on to serve with the British in the Indian Ocean through 1945).

Persian Gulf, August 1941. Aerial port side view of the sloop HMAS Yarra II. She would be sunk along with her three-ship convoy while trying to escape Java on 4 March 1942. (AWM C236282)

Survivors

To be sure, the last large Dutch surface ship in the Pacific, the cruiser Hr.Ms. Tromp had escaped destruction and would serve alongside the Allies for the rest of the war, while her sister Jacob van Heemskerck, arriving too late to be sunk in the Java Sea, would duplicate her efforts.

Likewise, several Dutch submarines had managed to evade the Japanese dragnet and make for Australia, where they would continue their war.

Others, under an order of the Dutch navy commander on Java, RADM (acting) Pieter Koenraad, were ordered to attempt to escape after receiving the code KPX. (Koenraad and his staff embarked on the submarine Hr.Ms. K-XII, which made it to Australia safely, and from there he left for England, returning to Java in 1945 with the Free Dutch forces)

The 500-ton net-tender/minesweeper Hr.Ms. Abraham Crijnssen, capable of just 15 knots and laughably armed, famously decided to try for Australia camouflaged as a small island, leaving Java on 6 March with a volunteer crew and made it to safety on 20 March.

Personnel covered the ship in foliage and painted the hull to resemble rocks. The ship remained close to shore during the day and only sailed after sunset, sometimes traveling less than 50 miles a night. “Mijnenveger Hr.Ms. Abraham Crijnssen (1937-1961) gecamoufleerd in een baai (Soembawa) in Indische wateren in 1942.” (NIMH 2158_000014 and 2158_028298)

The scuttling itself

This left all the vessels too broken, under-armed, or small to break through the Japanese blockade and make it 1,200 miles across dangerous waters to Australia. Not wanting them to fall into the hands of the Japanese, the Dutch and their Allies took the wrecking ball to over 120 vessels on Java at Soerabaja, Tanjon Priok, at Tjilatjap on 2 March.

The largest of these under Dutch naval control, Hr.Ms. Koning der Nederlanden, was a 70-year-old 5,300-ton ramtorenschip ironclad that had been disarmed and turned into a barracks ship in 1920. She hadn’t left the harbor in generations under her own steam, so this was a no-brainer.

The Hr.Ms. Koning der Nederlanden originally mounted a pair of Armstrong 11-inch rifled muzzle-loading guns in each of her two turrets and was protected by 8-inches of iron plate. Used as an accommodation ship for the flotilla of Dutch submarines in the islands, she was set on fire and sunk at Soerabaja on March 2. (Photo NIMH)

Other large ships sent to the bottom were a group of Allied merchantmen trapped in the harbors to include three 7,000-9,000-ton Dutch Java-China-Japan Lijn line cargo ships– Tjikandi, Tjikarang, and Toendjoek— scuttled as blockships. In all, 39 merchantmen were torched, mostly small Dutch coasters and empty tankers, but including three British Malay vessels (SS Giang Seng, Sisunthon Nawa, and Taiyuan) that had escaped Singapore, the 1,600-ton Canadian freighter Shinyu, and the small Norwegian tramps, Proteus and Tunni.

The two most potent Dutch combat vessels left in Java, the Admiralen-class destroyers (torpedobootjagers) Hr.Ms. Banckert and Witte de With, did not survive the day. These 1,650-ton Yarrow-designed boats were built in the late 1920s and, capable of 36 knots, carried four 4.7-inch guns and a half-dozen torpedo tubes. Both had been severely mauled in surface actions with the Japanese and were unable to evacuate to Australia. The Dutch built eight of these destroyers and lost all eight in combat with the Germans and Japanese within 22 months of Holland entering the war.

Hr.Ms. Banckert seen in better days (Photo NIMH)

Hr.Ms. Witte de With (Photo NIMH)

Marine docks in Soerabaja. The photo was taken from the warehouse towards the East. Start of the destruction 11:30 am. The 3,000-ton dry dock with the destroyer Hr.Ms. Banckert is seen sinking. The dock had been torpedoed by Hr.Ms. K XVII before the submarine was able to submerge and make for Freemantle with the port’s commanding admiral aboard. On the right is the 227-ton tug/coastal minelayer Hr.Ms. Soemenep.

Speaking of destroyers, the old four-piper Clemson-class destroyer USS Stewart (DD-224) had been severely damaged at Badung Strait, only making it to Soerabaja with her engine room still operating while submerged. Written off, her crew was evacuated to Australia on 22 February and the ship, stricken from the Navy List, was left to the Dutch to scuttle.

USS Stewart (DD-224) steaming at high speed, circa the 1920s or 1930s. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 61898

The Dutch, who had a huge submarine fleet in the region, had three small “K” (for Koloniën or Colonial) subs scuttled at Soerabaja, the 583-ton circa 1923 KVII-class Hr.Ms. K X, the 828-ton circa 1926 K XI-class Hr.Ms. K XIII, and the 1,045-ton circa 1934 K XIV-class Hr.Ms. K VIII.

Colonial Submarine Hr.Ms. K X seen here upon arrival at Surabaya. In the background both the Java class light cruisers (Java and Sumatra) and on the far right a Wolf-class destroyer. 25 December 1924. Fast forward over 17 years later and the little sub was in repair at the same port and unable to get underway for Australia

Onderzeeboot Hr.Ms. K X

Onderzeeboot Hr.Ms. K VIII in drydock

De onderzeeboot Hr.Ms. K XIII op zee

The Hr.Ms. Rigel, a 1,600-ton unarmed local government-owned (gouvernementsvaartuig) yacht used by the Dutch governor-general that had been converted to a minelayer, was too fine to let the Japanese have but too slow to make run the blockade. She ended her career on 2 March as a blockship at Tanjong Priok.

Hr.Ms. Rigel in her prewar livery (Photo NIMH)

When referencing mine craft, the ten Djember (DEFG)-class auxiliary mijnenvegers (minesweepers), small 100-foot vessels of just 175-tons constructed specifically for work in the islands, were all either scuttled or left wrecked on the builders’ ways in Java. Similarly, the five even smaller 74-ton Ardjoeno-class auxiliary minesweepers, the twin 150-ton Alor and Aroe, and the twin 145-ton Ceram and Cheribon, were in the same lot, with the Dutch sinking these as well.

Minesweepers of the 3rd Division, auxiliary minesweepers of the Alor-class in action in the Dutch East Indies in 1941. These were all sunk by their crews on 2 March 1942. Small vessels like these had no hope of storing enough fuel to make it 1,200 miles to Allied lines. (Photo NIMH)

The Alors were built as regional police vessels (politiekruisers) for use in coast guard roles and were outfitted as sweepers in 1939 under naval command. (Photo NIMH)

One great unrealized hope that could have spoiled the Japanese landings was the 17 TM-4 class of motor torpedo boats. Begun at Navy Yard Soerabaja in 1940, they were small and quick vessels, just 63-feet long with a 5-foot draft, they could make 36 knots.

TM-4 klasse motortorpedoboot Hr.Ms. TM 8 portside. Note her two stern torpedo tubes and two forward light machine guns.

Motortorpedoboot Hr.Ms. TM 5 Hr.Ms. TM 8 en Hr.Ms. TM 6. Note the exhaust pipes for their three gasoline aviation engines, salvaged from old seaplanes

Motortorpedoboot Hr.Ms. TM 5 op hoge vaart met op achtergrond Hr.Ms. TM 8

TM8 getting on the plane

As the islands were cut off from Europe due to German occupation of their homeland, much use of surplus parts was made. This included Lorraine Dietrich gasoline engines from condemned 1920s Dornier Wal and Fokker T-4 aircraft as well as Great War-vintage 17.7-inch torpedo tubes from scrapped Roofdier-class destroyers and Z-class torpedo boats.

Their only other armament was twin Lewis guns. “Motortorpedoboot Hr.Ms. TM 5 (1940-1942), Hr.Ms. TM 8 (1940-1942) en Hr.Ms. TM 6 (1940-1942) afgemeerd.”

Just 12 TM-4s were completed by March 1942, and they were all scuttled, while the other half-dozen were left unfinished onshore.

In the same vein as the TM-4s, the Dutch had planned to build at least 16 130-ton B-1-class subchasers at three different yards around the colony. These 150-foot motor launches, armed with a 3-inch popgun, some AAA pieces, and 20 depth charges, would have gone a long way towards providing the Dutch some decent coastal ASW. However, none were complete in March 1942 and the work done by the time of the fall of Java was disrupted as much as possible.

As a stopgap before the B-1s were complete, the Dutch had ordered eight small wooden-hulled mosquito boats from Higgins in New Orleans.

The Dutch Higgins boats substituted 16 depth charges for the more familiar torpedo tubes used on these vessels’ follow-on brothers as the Navy’s PT boats. They also had a 20mm gun and four .50 cals, in twin mounts with plexiglass hoods. Classed as OJR (Onderzeebootjager= Submarine hunter), the first six arrived as deck cargo in December 1941 and February 1942 but saw little service.

Onderzeebootjager Hr.Ms. OJR 4 (1941-1942) wordt te New Orleans a/b van het ms Poelau Tello gehesen voor verscheping naar Ned. Indië

Two had been lost in gasoline explosions and the Dutch scuttled the remaining four in Java (OJR-1, OJR-4, OJR-5, and OJR-6) on 2 March.

Incidentally, the two undelivered Higgins boats (H-7 and H-8) were delivered after the fall of the Dutch East Indies to the Dutch West Indies where they patrolled around Curacao.

Onderzeebootjager Hr.Ms. H 8 (1942-1946) op weg van New Orleans naar Curaçao

The local Dutch government had several small patrouillevaartuigen gunboats at their disposal outside of naval control, dubbed literally the Gouvernementsmarine or Government’s Navy. Dubbed opiumjager (opium hunters), they engaged in counter-smuggling and interdiction efforts around the archipelago as well as tending aids to navigation, coastal survey, and search and rescue work. Once the war began, they were up-armed and taken under navy control and switched from being gouvernementsvaartuig vessels. Small patrol boats scuttled in Java on 2 March 1942 included the Hr.Ms. Albatros (807 tons), Aldebaran (892 tons), Biaro (700 tons), Eridanus (996 tons), Farmalhout (1,000 tons), Fomalhaut (1,000 tons), Gemma (845 tons), Pollux (1,012 tons), and Valk (850 tons).

Flotilla vessel (opium hunter of the Gouvernements-navy) Valk

The arrival of the submarine Hr.Ms. K XIII in the Emmahaven. In the background is the survey ship Eridanus of the Gouvernementsmarine (GM). Taken over by the Navy in September 1939, Eridanus was converted to a gunboat and later scuttled at Soerabaja on 2 March 1942, along with the submarine shown.

Epilouge 

In all, of the more than 120 ships destroyed by the Dutch on Java, almost 90 were small vessels under 1,000-tons such as the Djembers, the TM torpedo boats, and the assorted coastal patrol, subchasers, and minelayers. Many of their crews were marched into Japanese POW camps to spend the next four years in hell, while a small trickle was able to escape on their own either into the interior– keep in mind that about half of the rank and file in the Dutch Far East fleet were local Indonesians– or manage somehow to make for Allied-controlled areas.

The Japanese were able, as the war dragged, to raise and salvage many of the scuttled vessels and return them to service in the IJN. Likewise, several of the TMs and B-1s that were left unfinished were eventually launched under the Rising Sun flag.

Of the larger ships, the destroyer Hr.Ms. Banckert was raised by the escort-poor Japanese in 1944, partially repaired, and put in service as the patrol craft PB-106. On 23 October 1945, VADM Shibata Yaichiro, CINC, Second Southern Expeditionary Fleet, surrendered Java to Free Dutch Forces, and Banckert/PB-106 was returned to the Dutch, who promptly sank her in gunnery exercises.

The stricken Asiatic Fleet destroyer, ex-USS Stewart, whose hull had been broken and her crew had left her scuttling to the Dutch, was also salvaged by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and entered service as Patrol Boat No. 102 in 1943, rearmed with a variety of Dutch and Japanese weapons and her funnels retrunked into a more Japanese fashion. Found at Kure after the war, she was taken over by a U.S. Navy prize crew in October 1945 and steamed under her own power (making 20 knots no less!) across the Pacific to Oakland.

Her old hull number repainted and a Japanese meatball placed on her superstructure, she was sunk by the Navy in deep water in May 1946.

Ex-USS Stewart (DD-224) under attack while being sunk as a target on 24 May 1946. Airplanes seen include an F4U Corsair in the lead, followed by two F6F Hellcats. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-702830.

When the Dutch returned to Java in 1945, besides resuming control of the few vessels still around that had been refloated by the Japanese– craft which were soon discarded– they embarked on a campaign to salvage many of the rest, with hulks shipped off to Australia where they were broken into the 1950s. 

Remains of former Dutch submarine K VIII, Jervoise Bay, Cockbum Sound, Western Australian in 1956 after being blowup for scrapping.


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Warship Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022: Long Lance in the Night

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, Feb. 16, 2022: Long Lance in the Night

Australian War Memorial photo 305183

Here we see Hr.Ms. Java was under attack by Japanese Nakajima B5N “Kate” high altitude bombers from the light carrier Ryujo in the Gaspar Straits of what is today Indonesia, some 80 years ago this week, 15 February 1942. Remarkably, the Dutch light cruiser would come through this hail without a scratch, however, her days were numbered, and she would be on the bottom of the Pacific within a fortnight of the above image.

Designed by Germaniawerft in Kiel on the cusp of the Great War, the three planned Java class cruisers were to meet the threat posed by the new Chikuma-class protected cruisers (5,000-tons, 440 ft oal, 8x 6″/45, 26 knots) of the Japanese Navy.

The response, originally an update of the German Navy’s Karlsruhe class, was a 6,670-ton (full load) 509.5-foot cruiser that could make 30+ knots on a trio of Krupp-Germania steam turbines fed by eight oil-fired Schulz-Thornycroft boilers (keep in mind one of the largest oil fields in the world was in the Dutch East Indies). Using 18 watertight bulkheads, they were fairly well protected for a circa 1913 cruiser design carrying a 3-inch belt, 4-inches on the gun shields, and 5-inches of Krupp armor on the conning tower.

Jane’s 1931 entry on the class, noting that “The German design of these ships is evident in their appearance.”

Their main battery consisted of ten Mark 6 5.9-inch/50 cal guns made by Bofors in Sweden, mounted in ten single mounts, two forward, two aft, and three along each center beam, giving the cruisers a seven-gun broadside.

Cruiser Java model by Oliemans

Unless noted, all images are from the Dutch Fotoafdrukken Koninklijke Marine collection via the NIMH, which has a ton of photos digitized.

Dutch cruiser Hr. Ms. Java, note her shielded 5.9-inch guns

The 5.9/50 Bofors mounts had a decent 29-degree elevation for their period, used electric hoists, and a well-trained crew could fire five 101-pound shells per minute per mount, giving the Java class a theoretical rate of fire of 50 5.9-inch shells every 60 seconds. Holland would go on to use the same guns on the Flores and Johan Maurits van Nassau-class gunboats.

Java delivering a broadside, 1938

Gunnery exercise aboard the Light Cruiser Hr.Ms. Java somewhere near Tanjungpriok, 1928.

The 5.9/50s used an advanced fire control system with three large 4m rangefinders that made them exactly accurate in bombarding shore targets.

Night firing on Java. These ships carried six 47-inch searchlights and the Dutch trained extensively in fighting at night.

The cruisers’ secondary armament consisted of four 13-pounder 3″/55 Bofors/Wilton-Fijenoord Mark 4 AAA guns, one on either side of each mast, directed by a dedicated 2m AA rangefinder. While– unusually for a cruiser type in the first half of the 20th century– they did not carry torpedo tubes, the Java-class vessels did have weight and space available for 48 sea mines (12 in a belowdecks hold, 36 on deck tracks), defensive weapons that the Dutch were very fond of.

Designed to carry and support two floatplanes, the class originally used British Fairey IIIFs then switched to Fokker C. VIIWs and Fokker C. XIWs by 1939.

Note one of Java’s Fokker floatplanes and the straw hat on the sentry

While the Dutch planned three of these cruisers– named after three Dutch East Indies islands (Java, Sumatra, and Celebes) — the Great War intervened and construction slowed, with the first two laid down in 1916 and Celebes in 1917, they languished and were redesigned with the knowledge gleaned from WWI naval lessons. Celebes would be canceled and only the first two vessels would see completion.

Java— ironically laid down at Koninklijke Maatschappij de Schelde (today Damen) in Flushing on 31 May 1916, the first day of the Battle of Jutland– would not be launched until 1921 and would spend the next four years fitting out.

Dutch Light Cruiser HNLMS Java pictured at Vlissingen in 1924. Note her triple screws

Dutch Light Cruiser HNLMS Java pictured at Vlissingen in 1924

Dutch Netherlands Light Cruiser HNLMS Java pictured at Vlissingen in 1924

Java Vlissingen, Zeeland, Nederland 1924

The crew of Java in Amsterdam, 1925, complete with European wool uniforms. Queen Wilhelmina and Princess Juliana of the royal family visit the ship. Sitting from left to right are: Commander M.J. Verloop (aide-de-camp of Queen Wilhelmina?), Captain L.J. Quant (commanding officer of Java), Queen Wilhelmina, Princess Juliana, Vice-Admiral C. Fock (Commanding Officer of Den Helder naval base), and Acting Vice-Admiral F. Bauduin (retired, aide-de-camp “in special service” of Queen Wilhelmina). Standing behind Captain Quant and Queen Wilhelmina is (then) Lieutenant-Commander J.Th. Furstner, executive officer and/or gunnery officer. (Collection Robert de Rooij)

A happy peace

Making 31.5-knots on her trials, Java commissioned 1 May 1925 and sailed for Asia by the end of the year. Her sistership Sumatra, built at NSM in Amsterdam, would join her in 1926.

Java at Christiania-fjord, Norway, during shakedown, circa 1925

The two sisters would spend the next decade cruising around the Pacific, calling at Japan and Australia, Hawaii, and China, showing the Dutch flag from San Francisco to Saigon to Singapore. Interestingly, she took place in the International Fleet Review at Yokohama to celebrate the coronation of Japan’s Showa emperor, Hirohito, in 1928.

In a practice shared by the Royal Navy and U.S. fleet in the same waters, the crew of the Dutch cruisers over these years took on a very local flavor, with many lower rates being filled by recruits drawn heavily from the islands’ Christian Manadonese and Ambonese minorities.

The Bataviasche Yacht Club in Tandjong Priok, Batavia. Fishing prahu under sail in the harbor of Tandjong Priok. In the background the cruiser Hr.Ms. Java. Remembrance book of the Bataviasche Yacht Club, Tandjong Priok, presented to its patron, VADM A.F. Gooszen, October 19, 1927.

S1c (Matroos 1e Klasse) J.G. Rozendal and friends of cruiser Hr.Ms. Java during an amphibious landing (Amfibische operaties) exercises with the ship’s landing division (landingsdivisie) at Madoera, 1927. Note the anchor on their cartridge belts, infantry uniforms with puttees and naval straw caps, and 6.5x53mm Geweer M. 95 Dutch Mannlichers. A really great study.

Dutch Navy tropical uniforms via ONI JAN 1 Oct 1943

Java Tandjong Priok, Batavia, Java, Nederlands-Indië 8.27

Kruiser Hr.Ms. Java crew via NIMH

Note the extensive awnings, essential for peacetime cruising in the Pacific

Kruiser Hr.Ms. Java met een Dornier Do-24K maritieme patrouillevliegboot op de voorgrond

The Koninklijke Marine East Indies Squadron including Java and the destroyers De Ruyter and Eversten arrived in Sydney on 3 October 1930 and remained there for a week. The ships berthed at the Oceanic Steamship Company wharf and Burns Philp & Company Wharf in West Circular Quay. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the “unfamiliar spectacle” of the Dutch squadron’s arrival.

Night scene with HNLMS Java berthed at West Circular Quay wharf, October 1930. Eversten is tied up next to her. Samuel J. Hood Studio Collection. Australian National Maritime Museum Object no. 00034761.

Day scene of the above, without the destroyer

Dutch light cruiser Hr.Ms Java, Sydney, Octo 1930. Note the 5.9-inch gun with the sub-caliber spotting gun on the barrel. The individuals are the Dutch Consul and his wife along with RADM CC Kayser. Australian National Maritime Museum.

Dutch cruiser HNLMS Java, berthing with the unfinished Sydney Harbour Bridge as a background, circa 1930

Java Tandjong Priok, Batavia, Java, Nederlands-Indië 8.31.32. Note she is still in her original scheme with tall masts and more rounded funnel caps.

Hr.Ms. Java Dutch cruiser before reconstruction. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

During the early 1930s, both Java and Sumatra were slowly refitted in Surabaya, a move that upgraded the engineering suite, deleted the deck mine racks and saw the old manually-loaded 3″/55 Bofors quartet landed, the latter replaced by a half-dozen automatic 40mm Vickers Maxim QF 2-pounders on pedestal mounts in a Luchtdoelbatterij. 

Water-cooled and fed via 25-round cloth belts, the guns had been designed in 1915 as balloon-busters and could fire 50-75 rounds per minute.

Note the sunglasses of the operator closest to the camera

Note the range finder

With problems in Europe and the Dutch home fleet being cruiser poor– only able to count on the new 7,700-ton HNLMS De Ruyter still essentially on shakedown while a pair of Tromp-class “flotilla leaders” were still under construction– Java and Sumatra were recalled home to flex the country’s muscles in the waters off Spain during the early and most hectic days of the Spanish Civil War, clocking in there for much of 1936-37.

They also took a sideshow to Spithead for the fleet review there.

Groepsfoto van de bemanning van kruiser Hr.Ms. Java, 1937

By 1938, Java was modernized at the Naval Dockyard in Den Helder. This dropped her Vickers balloon guns for four twin 40/56 Bofors No.3 guns, soon to be famous in U.S. Navy service, as well as six .50 cal water-cooled Browning model machine guns. Also added was a Hazemeyer (Thales) fire control set of the type later adopted by the USN, coupled with stabilized mounts for the Bofors, a deadly combination.

Talk about an epic photo, check out these Bofors 40mm gunners aboard Java, circa 1938. Note the shades.

With Franco in solid control of Spain and tensions with the Japanese heating up, our two Dutch cruisers returned to Indonesian waters, with the new De Ruyter accompanying them, while the Admiralty ordered two immense 12,000-ton De Zeven Provinciën-class cruisers laid down (that would not be completed until 1953.)

Java 7.16.38 Colombo, Ceylon, on her way back to the Dutch East Indies

Kruiser Hr.Ms. Java stern

Kruiser Hr.Ms. Java manning rails coming into Soerabaja, returning from her two-year trip back to Holland

Kruiser Hr.Ms. Java (1925-1942) te Soerabaja 1938

Java. Port side view, moored, circa 1939. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 80902

Java moving at high speed circa 1939 with a bone in her teeth. NH 80903

War!

De kruiser Hr.Ms. Java in Nederlands-Indië. at anchor after her major reconstruction. Note she has shorter masts and additional AAA batteries, among some of the most modern in the world at the time.

Of note, U-Boat.net has a great detailed account of Java’s war service. 

When Hiter marched into Poland in September 1939, most of Europe broke out in war, but Holland, who had remained a staunch neutral during that conflict and still hosted deposed Kaiser Wilhelm in quiet exile, reaffirmed its neutrality in the new clash as well. However, that was not to be in the cards and, once the Germans marched into the Netherlands on 10 May 1940– the same day they crossed into Luxembourg and Belgium in a sweep through the Low Countries and into Northern France, the Dutch were in a major European war for the first time since Napolean was sent to St. Helena, whether they wanted it or not.

At that, Java dispatched boarding parties to capture the German Hapag-freighters Bitterfeld (7659 gt), Wuppertal (6737 gt), and Rhineland (6622 gt), which had been hiding from French and British warships in neutral Dutch East Indies waters at Padang.

Post-modernized Kruiser Hr.Ms. Java with Fokkers overhead. The Dutch Navy had 23 Fokker CXIV-W floatplanes in the Pacific in 1941

Cooperating with the British and Australians, Java was engaged in a series of convoys between the Dutch islands, Fiji, Singapore, and Brisbane, briefly mobilizing to keep an eye peeled in the summer of 1941 for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, which was incorrectly thought to be in the Indian Ocean headed for the Pacific.

One interesting interaction Java had in this period was to escort the Dutch transport ship Jagersfontein to Burma, which was carrying members of the American Volunteer Group, Claire Chennault’s soon-to-be-famous Flying Tigers.

While working with the Allies, a U.S. Navy spotter plane captured some of the best, last, images of the Dutch man-o-war.

Java (Dutch Light Cruiser, 1921) Aerial view from astern of the starboard side, August 1941. NH 80906

Java. Aerial view starboard side, circa August 1941. NH 80904

Java. Aerial view starboard side, circa August 1941 NH 80905

Once the Japanese started to push into the Dutch colony, simultaneously with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Philippines, Java found herself in a whole new shooting war.

Escorting troopship Convoy BM 12 from Bombay to Singapore from 23 January to 4 February 1942, Java then joined an Allied task force under the command of Dutch RADM Karl W.F.M. Doorman consisting of the cruiser De Ruyter (Doorman’s flagship), the new destroyer leader Tromp, the British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Hobart, and ten American and Dutch destroyers. The mission, from 14 February: a hit and run raid to the north of the Gaspar Straits to attack a reported Japanese convoy.

As shown in the first image of this post, the little surface action group was subjected to repeated Japanese air attacks in five waves, and in the predawn hours of 15 February, the Dutch destroyer HrMs Van Ghent ripped her hull out on a reef, dooming the vessel. Cutting their losses, Doorman split up his group, sending half to Batavia and half to Ratai Bay to refuel.

Four days later, essentially the same force, augmented by a flotilla of Dutch motor torpedo boats and two submarines, were thrown by Doorman into the mouth of the Japanese invasion fleet on the night of 19/20 February 1942 in the Badoeng Strait on the south-east coast of Bali. The outnumbered Japanese force, however, excelled in night combat tactics and were armed with the Long Lance torpedo, a fact that left Doorman’s fleet down another destroyer (HrMs Piet Hein) and the Tromp badly mauled and sent to Sydney for emergency repairs.

Then, on 27 February, Doorman’s Allied ABDACOM force, reinforced with the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth and the heavy cruiser USS Houston, sailed from Surabaya to challenge the Japanese invasion fleet in the Java Sea.

While that immense nightmare is beyond the scope of this piece, Java and De Ruyter‘s portion of it, as related in the 1943 U.S. Navy Combat Narrative of the Java Sea Campaign, is below:

Immediately after the loss of the (destroyer) Jupiter our striking force turned north. At 2217 it again passed the spot where the Kortenaer had gone down that afternoon, and survivors of the Dutch destroyer saw our cruisers foam past at high speed. Encounter was ordered to stop and picked up 113 men of the Kortenaer’s crew of 153. It was at first intended to take them to Batavia, but upon learning of a strong Japanese force to the west the captain returned to Surabaya.

The cruisers of our striking force were now left without any destroyer protection whatever. This dangerous situation was aggravated by the fact that enemy planes continued to light their course with flares. But Admiral Doorman’s orders were, “You must continue attacks until the enemy is destroyed,” and he pressed on north with a grim determination to reach the enemy convoy.

It is doubtful if he ever knew how close he did come to reaching it in this last magnificent attempt. The convoy had in fact remained in the area west or southwest of Bawean. At 1850 a PBY from Patrol Wing TEN had taken off to shadow it in the bright moonlight. At 1955 this plane saw star shells above 3 cruisers and 8 destroyers on a northerly course about 30 miles southwest of Bawean. As these appeared to be our own striking force no contact report was made.69 At 2235 our PBY found the convoy southwest of Bawean. Twenty-eight ships were counted in two groups, escorted by a cruiser and a destroyer. At this moment Admiral Doorman was headed toward this very spot, but it is doubtful if he ever received our plane’s report. It reached the Commander of the Naval Forces at Soerabaja at 2352, after which it was sent on to the commander of our striking force; but by that time both the De Ruyter and Java were already beneath the waters of the Java Sea. At 2315 the De Ruyter signaled, “Target at port four points.” In that direction were seen two cruisers which opened fire from a distance of about 9,000 yards. Perth replied with two or three salvos which landed on one of the enemy cruisers for several hits. The Japanese thereupon fired star shells which exploded between their ships and ours so that we could no longer see them.

Shortly afterward the De Ruyter received a hit aft and turned to starboard away from the enemy, followed by our other cruisers. As the Java, which had not been under enemy fire, turned to follow there was a tremendous explosion aft, evidently caused by a torpedo coming from port. Within a few seconds the whole after part of the ship was enveloped in flames.

The De Ruyter had continued her turn onto a southeasterly course when, very closely after the Java, she too was caught by a torpedo. United States Signalman Sholar, who was on board and was subsequently rescued, reported having seen a torpedo track on relative bearing 135°. There was an extraordinarily heavy explosion followed by fire. Perth, behind the flagship, swung sharply to the left to avoid a collision, while the Houston turned out of column to starboard. The crew of the De Ruyter assembled forward, as the after part of the ship up to the catapult was in flames. In a moment, the 40-mm. ammunition began to explode, causing many casualties, and the ship had to be abandoned. She sank within a few minutes. For some time, her foremast structure remained above the water, until a heavy explosion took the ship completely out of sight.70

The torpedoes which sank the two Dutch cruisers apparently came from the direction of the enemy cruisers and were probably fired by them. Both Sendai and Nati class cruisers are equipped with eight torpedo tubes.

Of our entire striking force, only the Houston and Perth now remained. They had expended most of their ammunition and were still followed by enemy aircraft. There seemed no possibility of reaching the enemy convoy, and about 0100 (February 28th) the two cruisers set course for Tandjong Priok in accordance with the original plan for retirement after the battle. On the way Perth informed Admiral Koenraad at Soerabaja of their destination and reported that the De Ruyter and Java had been disabled by heavy explosions at latitude 06°00′ S., longitude 112°00′ E.71 The hospital ship Op ten Noort was immediately dispatched toward the scene of their loss, but it is doubtful if she ever reached it. Sometime later Admiral Helfrich lost radio contact with the ship, and a plane reported seeing her in the custody of two Japanese destroyers.

Epilogue

The post-war analysis is certain that Java was struck by a Long Lance torpedo fired from the Japanese cruiser Nachi. The torpedo detonated an aft magazine and blew the stern off the ship, sending her to the bottom in 15 minutes with 512 of her crew. The Japanese captured 16 survivors.

Nachi would be destroyed by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft in the Philippines in 1944, avenging Java’s loss.

Japanese cruiser Nachi dead in the water after air attacks in Manila Bay, 5 November 1944. Taken by a USS Lexington plane. National Archives photograph, 80-G-288866. Note, Nachi also took part in the Battle of the Java Sea and played a major role in sinking the Dutch light cruiser Java.

Sistership Sumatra, who had escaped Java Sea as she was under refit in Ceylon, was later sent to the ETO and, in poor shape, was sunk as a blockship off Normandy in June 1944, her guns recycled to other Dutch ships.

In December 2002, a group from the MV Empress, searching for the wreck of HMS Exeter, found that of Java and De Ruyter, with the former at a depth of 69 meters on her starboard side. Shortly afterward, the looted ship’s bell surfaced for sale in Indonesia. It was later obtained by the Dutch government and is now on display in the National Military Museum in Soesterberg.

The names of the 915 Dutch sailors and marines killed at the Battle of the Java Sea at installed at the Kembang Kuning, the Dutch Memorial Cemetery in Surabaya, Indonesia, while in Holland the Dutch Naval Museum has a similar memorial that includes the recovered bell from De Ruyter and other artifacts.

In 2016, the Dutch government reported that the hulks of both Java and De Ruyter had been illegally salvaged to the point that the war graves had virtually ceased to exist.

Now more than ever, the expression “On a sailor’s grave, there are no roses blooming (Auf einem Seemannsgrab, da blühen keine Rosen)” remains valid.

Drawing Afbeelding van kruiser Hr.Ms. Java en onderzeeboot Hr.Ms. K IX

Java cruiser Fotoafdrukken Koninklijke Marine postcard

Koninklijke Nederlandse Kruiser Hr.Ms. Java, Marinemuseum Den Helder A003a 789.2

Specs.


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Warship Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022: Banana Sub-Buster

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, Feb. 9, 2022: Banana Sub-Buster

U.S. Navy Photo 19-LCM-70554.

Here we see, proudly flying her Tricolor, the Free French Navy’s (FNFL) croiseur auxiliaire/Q-ship Cap des Palmes while off Mare Island, California, 21 July 1944. Seen above in her most powerful final form as a fighting ship, her war was already largely over.

Built by Helsingör Vaerft (Burmeister & Wain) in Denmark, she was designed from the keel up as a partially refrigerated “bananier” fruit carrier, ordered by the French shipping firm, Compagnie Fraissinet.

Compagnie Fraissinet – Navire Bananier Cap des Palmes

The 2,900-ton (4,200 full-load) freighter, some 330-feet in overall length, was capable of sustaining 17 knots for a 10,000-mile voyage– fast enough to get a load of bananas from French Equatorial Africa to Europe in less than a week, without stopping, then head back as soon as she was unloaded. Her specialty was a twice-a-month Libreville to Algiers/Marseilles run.

War!

This speed and range, in 1939, made her ideal for conversion to a fast troop carrier/auxiliary cruiser, and she was taken up from trade that year by the French Navy, requisitioned in Libreville. Her initial conversion amounted to a fast coat of grey paint, the addition of some codebooks and an extra radio, and two elderly 90mm/50 cal Mle1877 De Bang pattern field guns on M1916 carriages. Strapped down fore and aft of the wheelhouse, each gun had but 24 shells. A pair of 13.2mm machine guns were also added.

Used to escort coastwise and South Atlantic convoys until the Fall of France, she was in European waters when the Republic made peace with the Axis in June 1940. She was dispatched by the Vichy government to carry troops from Dakar in Senegal to Libreville in Gabon along with the submarine Ponceletin in September 1940 to beef up security in that colony (and help disperse French naval assets even further out of German reach). Locked into that latter port by an Allied blockade, the armed freighter was boarded by marins from the 800-ton Free French aviso (sloop) Commandant Dominé (A15) in November and was captured without a fight, by what seems to be a mutual agreement.

Joining De Gaulle

Call to action for the FNFL

One of the larger vessels under the 4,500-strong FNFL’s control (besides the disarmed old battleships Paris and Courbet), De Gaul and company sought to have Cap Des Palmes upgraded and up-armed by the British, who didn’t have time and space for such foolishness.

Dispatched to the Pacific, where the French colonies of Polynesia and New Caledonia had declared for De Gaulle and whose officials were concerned about an increasingly aggressive Japan, she cruised through the Caribbean and the Panama Canal in July-August 1941, accompanied by the 900-ton minesweeping sloop (avisos dragueur de mines) Chevreuil (A10).

These two ships, in addition to the cruiser submarine Surcourf, which was lost on the way to the Far East, and the “super destroyer” (which the FNFL referred to as a light cruiser) Le Triomphant, were the only Free French warships in the Pacific at the time. Notably, Le Triomphant would be recalled to the Atlantic by 1943 after spending most of 1942 being essentially rebuilt in Australia, leaving Cap Des Palmes and the little Chevreuil holding the bag.

Cap Des Palmes was the first FNFL ship to reach the New Caledonian port of Noumea, arriving there on 5 November 1941 with a team of De Gaullist officers aboard. It was a big boost for the locals, a sign they hadn’t been forgotten. For example, before the vessel arrived, the port’s main garrison consisted of just 30 French soldiers besides local troops. 

November 5, 1941, Cap des Palmes arrived in Noumea

Bigger, stronger, better…

Once in the Pacific, the British had made some sort of half-hearted promise to upgrade Cap Des Palmes at Singapore, but she spent the rest of 1941 shuttling military supplies, troops, and workers between the French Pacific colonies, New Hebrides, and Australia. Meanwhile, once Japan entered the war in December, Singapore soon fell and the little French banana boat never did get her Royal Navy overhaul. The closest she got was a quick refit in Australia, which saw depth charges and more machine guns added.

Recognizing the change in the winds of war, Cap Des Palmes was briefly turned into a prison ship, transporting over 300 Japanese citizens who were found in the French colonies to Australia post-Pearl Harbor.

The vessel was then very active throughout 1942 in a series of yeoman services, used on a regular Nouma to Sydney run supporting Allied interests. In addition, she was used to installing coastwatcher assets throughout the islands– men whose work would become vital with the Japanese push into the Solomons and New Guinea.

In November 1942, she was sent to Mare Island for a refit and conversion to a Q-ship with her profile changed to mimic a Soviet freighter.

The Free-French “cargo ship” Cap des Palmes of the cie. de Nav Fraissinet, Marseilles, at San Francisco, California. About 1942. Note that you can see at least six skyward 20mm AAA guns. She also had several larger guns and six torpedo tubes hidden by false bulkheads and crates. NH 89860

She picked up a new radio set, a pair of 6″/50 (15.2 cm) Mark 6/8s leftover from the 1900s, as well as two 3″/50s, eight Oerlikons, six 21-inch torpedo tubes (in twin 3-tube launchers), and well as four depth charge throwers. She was also fitted with seaplane support facilities, although she never carried one. To her crew were added a U.S. Navy technical team consisting of an officer, four petty officers, and four sailors, who “all spoke French, being of Canadian origin or Acadian.”

She also had been given new accommodations for her 140-man crew, with an account saying, “The interior fittings for the crew have been completely modified, making the facilities very comfortable. The hammocks had been replaced by berths, refectories, and canteens were installed, and the Cap des Palmes was the first ship in the French Navy to be equipped with individual meal trays.”

Her new skipper was Capt. Georges Cabanier, late of the famed Free French submarine Rubis.

As noted by a former tankerman, whose oiler came across the French Q-ship in 1943:

At Suva, we fueled the French cruiser Cap des Palmes, which we were supposed to meet, and she escorted us up the coast. She had nothing but 20-millimeter guns visible. However, her foredeck, which was built up to look like lifeboats and rafts, concealed cleverly disguised 6-inch guns. On closer inspection, we also found that more ‘lifeboats’ on her afterdeck were 6-inch guns.

Operational from April 1943 onward, she worked on the periphery of the U.S. Third Fleet in the South Pacific around Guadalcanal, frequently part of Task Unit 35-1-8, and, on 16 May 1943, she is believed by some to have sunk a Japanese submarine although this was never officially vetted by post-war commissions. The engagement consisted of seven depth charges tossed on a persistent sonar contact, roughly at 17° 34 South and 169° West, about midway between Samoa and Fiji. Certainly not very convincing, but a possible engagement.

The only Japanese submarine reported missing around the time and in the area Cap Des Palmes was active, RO-102, believed lost somewhere Southeast of New Guinea– several hundred miles away. That boat’s end is listed by the scholars over at Combined Fleet as follows:

RO-102 is often listed as lost in action against PT-150 and PT-152 off Lae on 13/14 May 1943. In reality, the PT-boats’ adversary was I-6, who survived the encounter. Some sources confuse her with I-18, sunk by USS Fletcher (DD-445) off San Cristobal on 11 February 1943. The circumstances surrounding the loss of RO-102 remain unknown.

On 2 June 1943, the Imperial Japanese Navy declared Ro-102 to be presumed lost south of Rabi, with all 42 men on board, and struck her name from their Navy List the next month. Her wreck has thus far never been found.

In August, Cap Des Palms again engaged a suspected submarine, at 21° 40 South and 164° 08 East, then worked in conjunction with aircraft to bird-dog (but didn’t get any hits on) what later turned out to be IJN I-17, sunk on 19 August 1943 by HMNZS Tui (T234) and American Kingfisher float-planes of VS-57.

Nonetheless, our banana boat survived her time in some of the hairiest parts of the Pacific in 1943, typically sailing alone, and was sent back to Mare Island in April 1944 for a further update.

She emerged in July with a snazzy new camo scheme, a surface search radar, and yet another different profile.

French ship Cap Des Palmes, broadside, port, while off Mare Island, California, 21 July 1944. 19-LCM-70555.

Bow-on view, same day. 19-LCM-70558

French ship Cap Des Palmes, stern view, while at Mare Island, California, 21 July 1944. 19-LCM-70559.

Get a look at that big 6-incher

A great view of her aft gun tubs

Note her masts and radar

For more information about Cap Des Palmes and the Free French Navy in the Pacific during WWII, check out Peter Igman’s article in Apr. 2009 issue of The Navy. 

In May 1945, it was decided to send Cap des Palmes back home for a refit at Brest, in preparation for the big push against Japan. Her cruise home found her stopping at Sydney, Melbourne, Freemantle, Tamatave (Madagascar), Diego Suarez, Aden, Suez, and Port Said, arriving in Saint-Nazaire three weeks after VJ-Day.

From 8 August 1941 to 26 September 1945, Cap des Palmes was underway for 984 days under FNFL’s banner and was recommended for the Ordre de la Division by VADM Lemonnier, Chief of the General Staff of the Navy.

Still under naval orders, she returned to the Pacific and, from 13 February to 15 March 1946, Cap des Palmes sailed from Toulon to Saigon as a troopship, carrying troops to fight in Indochina, then made the return trip to Toulon, arriving there in June.

She was disarmed, stripped of her military equipment, and returned to her owners on 19 July.

Epilogue

The U.S. National Archives has a few documents from the wartime service of Cap Des Palmes, mostly from her stints at Mare Island.

The French Navy, meanwhile, has maintained an enduring series of guard boats, patrol ships, and surveillance frigates in the Pacific, including one stationed in Noumea itself, since WWII.

Sold by Fraissinet to the Compagnie Maritime de Navigation Fruitièr (which still exists), she was renamed Banfora in 1957, later transferring to a Moroccan registry under the same name.

Banora

While shipping a load of oranges from Africa to West Germany, she sprang a leak and sank under tow off Spain’s Cape Villano, 17 November 1965. A total loss, her crew was saved.

She is, however, remembered in a variety of maritime art. 

The ex-banana boat Cap Des Palmes, arrives in Nouméa Harbor, On 5 November 1941, the first Free French vessel to arrive in the isolated colony. By Roberto Lunardo

Another by Roberto Lunardo, showing her wartime colors

Specs:

Displacement: 2983 grt (Lloyds) over 4,150 as a cruiser
Length: 330 feet
Beam: 44 feet
Draft: 17 feet
Propulsion: 1 x 9 cyl. B&W 2SCSA diesel engine, 4500shp, 3 Auxiliaries of 450 HP, 1 shaft, 1 screw, cruiser stern
Speed: 18 knots maximum (decreased to 14.5 during the war)
Merchant crew: ~36
Wartime complement (FNFL): 2 officers, 20 petty officers, 120 quartermasters, and sailors.
Armarment:
(1940)
2 x 1 – 90mm field guns
2 x 1 – 13.2mm MGs

(after 1942)
2 x 1 – 152/50 Mark 6/8 (ex USN)
2 x 1 – 3″/50 (ex USN)
8 x 1 – 20/70 Oerlikon (ex USN)
2 x 3 – 533 TT (ex USN)
4 DCT


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Warship Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022: Lucky Herndon

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, Feb. 2, 2022: Lucky Herndon

Historic Norfolk Navy Yard Film Collection, Serial #11-19, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins, via Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

Here we see the brand spanking Gleaves-class destroyer USS Herndon (DD-638) entering the Elizabeth River at Norfolk Naval Shipyard some 80 years ago this week on the occasion of her launching.

Herndon’s launching program, via “Lucky Herndon.com.” Why was she so lucky? We’ll get to that.

The Gleaves class is an unsung group of some 62 destroyers who began construction pre-WWII and completed into the first stage of the war. With the huge building of the follow-on Fletcher– and Sumner-class destroyers, the Gleaves are often forgotten. What should never be forgotten is the sacrifice these ships made, with no less than 11 of the class lost during WWII.

Slight ships of just 2,395 tons, and 348-feet of steel hull, they were packed with a turbine-powered 50K shp plant that gave them a theoretical speed of over 37 knots and a 6,500-mile range at an economical 12 knot cruising speed for convoy or patrol work. Armed with as many as five 5″/38 DP mounts, up to 10 torpedo tubes, ASW gear, and AAW batteries, they were ready for almost anything and could float in as little as 13 feet of seawater, able to get inshore when needed.

Herndon was named for 19th-century sea-going hero and explorer, CDR William Lewis Herndon. Born in 1813 and admitted to Annapolis as a 15-year-old Mid, he was both cousin and brother-in-law to Matthew Fontaine Maury, the “Father of Modern Oceanography and Naval Meteorology,” and as such participated in a lot of the Navy’s charting work as a young officer. Hailed for his performance of the brig Iris during the war with Mexico, Herndon later led a two-year expedition to the Valley of the Amazon, traveling over 4,000 miles in the process and penning a 414-page report of the area, one of the first works detailing its biodiversity. Given leave while still on the navy’s rolls in 1855, he was the skipper of the ill-fated SS Central America, which went down in a heavy gale off Cape Hatteras 7 September 1857. A prominent chapter in maritime lore, Central America was one of the noted instances of “women and children” loaded into lifeboats as the men stood stoically by and went to the bottom. Herndon was last seen standing by his doomed ship’s wheelhouse as it went down.

He was honored posthumously with a monument at Annapolis, was the father-in-law of future President Chester A. Arthur, the towns of Herndon, Virginia, and Herndon, Pennsylvania, were named for him, and the Navy issued his name to two destroyers, No. 198 (which went on to become HMS Churchill after the bases-for-destroyers deal and was sunk by a U-boat in the White Sea in 1945) and the subject of our Warship Wednesday, the latter was sponsored at her 1942 launching by Miss Lucy Herndon Crockett, great-grandniece of the late CDR Herndon.

In this image, she is sitting on the destroyer ways at the yard, preparing for her launch on 5 Feb 1942. Next to her is the battleship Alabama (BB 60) on the main ways, she would be launched two weeks later.

Commissioned 20 December 1942, CDR (later RADM) Granville A. Moore (USNA 1927) in command, Herndon was ready to get in the war.

USS Herndon (DD-638) in March 1943. 80-G-45379

Husky

Post-shakedown, Herndon escorted a convoy from New York to Casablanca, returning to New York on 14 May 1943 escorting a tanker.

Sailing from Norfolk on 8 June, she reached Algiers on 24 June and prepared for a key role in the Sicilian campaign, Operation Husky. There, she covered the landings of Maj, Gen. Troy Middleton’s 45th (Thunderbird) Infantry Division, traded blows with shore batteries and was heavily involved in defending the cruiser USS Philadelphia (CL-41) from a series of air wild raids from German aircraft while off Palermo.

Sketches of air attacks USS Herndon 7.31.43 8.1.43, From her reports, now in the NARA. Note that these were all inside about 36 hours

Remarkably, neither our destroyer nor Philadelphia was seriously damaged in Husky. Luck example #1.

Overlord

Following her stint in the barrel off Sicily, Herndon was pulled back to the British Isles and spent nine months crisscrossing the Atlantic from New York to various British ports, shepherding troopships headed to Europe. The greyhound was no doubt a welcome sight for the GIs aboard those vessels.

Dispatched to “Bald-headed Row” off Omaha Beach, she was part of Fire Support Unit Four (Task Unit 125.8.4), consisting of the destroyers Hobson, Corry, Shubrick, and Fitch. Assigned to NGFS Station No. 4 for the landings, Herndon faced the guns just east of the Carentan Estuary and was with the first assault wave to enter the fray off Omaha on D-Day. Her targets included No. 42 (an infantry position with three pillboxes, one casemate, one anti-tank gun, two shelters, and two 150mm guns in open emplacements), a tough nut for the Dog landing area.

Opening fire at 0550 on June 6, 1944, some 40 minutes before H-hour, Herndon dumped 212 rounds of 5-inch in just 40 minutes. She followed this up with two further fire missions before 0735, firing 42 and 53 rounds respectively, silencing the German batteries.

During the support, she was just 6,000 yards off the beach at Grandcamp le Bains, steaming at 5 knots, with splashes from shore batteries falling as close as 600 yards, although leaving the ship unharmed. Others were not so lucky and sister ship USS Corry (DD-463) was sunk within sight of Herndon, the tin can ripped apart by 8-inch shells in her engineering spaces amidships that left jagged foot-wide holes in the deck.

Her report from that day is stunning:

Tom Wolf, an NEA war correspondent who bunked with Cronkite during their time in Europe, was aboard Herndon for D-Day writing, “They call her ‘Lucky Herndon.’ This is the destroyer which led the Allied naval armada in the assault on Fortress Europe. Such were the risks that her sisterships were betting 10 to 1 against Herndon’s coming out whole.”

Wolf’s Lucky Herndon article, via Lucky Herndon.com.

Headed back to refill her magazines on D+1, Herndon returned to Omaha on 8 June, dodging German glider bombs while bomber-dropped mines were sown around her. The destroyer USS Meredith (DD-726), near her, struck one of these infernal devices and sunk the next day, her seams busted. Nonetheless, Herndon delivered a further 592 rounds of 5-inch at German targets ashore on 8 June alone, heading back to Plymouth the next day for more shells.

Assigned next to screen the battlewagons USS Texas and USS Nevada along the “Dixie Line,” German E-boat and U-boat attacks were a fear and, while part of that screen, sistership USS Nelson (DD-623), had her stern and No. 4 mount blown off by a torpedo on 13 June. Remaining part of the line through the 19th, Herndon had a brief pause until her next landings.

Dragoon & FDR

Herndon was part of the joint task group (TG 88.2) screening carriers on 15 August when the invasion of southern France, Operation Dragoon, was begun. Acting as plane guard for the British baby flattops HMS Hunter and HMS Stalker on D-Day, she did not have as eventful a time off the Riveria as she did off Palermo and Normandy. She remained in the Med as a convoy escort into October. Again, her luck held.

As detailed by DANFS:

Returning to the States 12 November, she conducted battle exercises in Casco Bay and escorted convoys along the Atlantic coast through February 1945. In that month. Herndon escorted President Roosevelt on the first leg of his historic voyage to Yalta.

Then came the End Game

On to the Pacific!

The veteran destroyer and her crew passed through the Panama Canal on 28 April 1945, just over a week away from VE-Day, and arrived at San Diego on 15 May where she once again clocked in as a carrier plane guard, this time in U.S. waters. Herndon sailed to Eniwetok on 12 July and, no doubt gratefully for her crew, spent the next month escorting convoys between relatively quiet Eniwetok, Guam, and Saipan.

VJ-Day found her as part of DESRON 16 assigned to Task Group 10.3 anchored at Buckner Bay, Okinawa where she was soon sent, acting as an escort to the cruiser USS Louisville (CA-28) to ride out a typhoon at sea.

By 7 September, with the seas calmed, Louisville and Herndon were dispatched to the port of Dairen (Dalian) in Manchuria’s Liaodong peninsula, to help supervise the evacuation of Allied POWs in the area. Arriving there on the morning of 11 September, then a week later headed across to the old treaty port of Tsingtao to accept the surrender of Japanese naval assets in the area, consisting of about a dozen escorts and merchantmen in various conditions.

At 1445 on 16 September IJN VADM Kaneko and the Japanese surrender party came aboard Herndon, followed a half-hour later by RADM Thomas Greenhow Williams “Tex” Settle (USNA 1918), an aviation pioneer of some renown, who had his flag aboard Louisville. By 1540, the unconditional surrender document was signed, ending the Japanese occupation of Tsingtao that had been a reality since the emperor’s troops captured it from the Germans in 1914.

Rear Admiral T.G.W. Settle, USN, left, looks on while Vice Admiral Kaneko, IJN, signs document of surrender turning over 12 Japanese ships to U.S. control: 6 DD and AM and 6 merchantmen. The ceremony took place on the forecastle of USS HERNDON (DD-638) at Tsingtao, China, on 16 September 1945. Description: Courtesy of Vice-Admiral T.G.W. Settle, USN ret., 1975 Catalog #: NH 82027

Transferring prize crews, Louisville and Herndon got underway on 22 September with the most intact of the surrendered ships, the Momi-class second-rate destroyers Kuri and Hasu, Subchasers No. 23 and 38, Minesweeper No. 21, and the freighter Shonan Maru, then escorted the little Japanese flotilla to Incheon (Jinsen), Korea, where they would be demilitarized.

Herndon would spend the remainder of 1945 patrolling the Korean and China coasts and assisting the repatriation of Japanese soldiers and the movement of Chinese Nationalist troops.

On 5 December 1945 she was tasked to become a “Magic Carpet” vessel, picking up returning Veterans from Shanghai, Eniwetok, Okinawa, and Pearl Harbor, and arriving at San Diego two days after Christmas. Arriving at New York on 15 January 1946, she was decommissioned on 8 May and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, first at Philadelphia, then at Orange, Texas.

She never was hit even though she fought in the Med, Atlantic, and Pacific, including supporting all three large amphibious landings in Europe.

Epilogue

Herndon received three battle stars for World War II service. Stricken from the Navy List in June 1971, she was expended in a naval weapons test off Florida on 24 May 1973. The remainder of her class suffered similar fates, and none are preserved as museums.

Her five-page War History and diaries are digitized in the National Archives. Likewise, there are at least two different veterans and family community groups.

Before her sinking, parts of the ship including her wheel, the rudder indicator, and the ship’s bell, were removed and loaned in the 1980s to the Herndon (Virginia) Historical Society by the U.S. Navy.

They are currently on display in the town’s Depot Museum and additional donated artifacts include flags, photographs, shell casings, muster rolls, and an anchor log. Also, note the display of CDR Herndon. 

The Herndon High School Band attended the 75th anniversary of the D-Day events in Normandy, France, in 2019, and each member carried a photograph of one of the veterans who served aboard the Herndon as they march in France. The band carried the ensign that flew aboard the ship off Omaha Beach.

Historical Documentary of the first ship to approach the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and the trip of the Herndon High School Marching Band to honor it on the 75th anniversary, in 2019:

Speaking of D-Day, her skipper during Husky and Overlord, CDR Granville Alexander Moore, earned a silver star for that latter operation, retired from the Navy as a rear admiral in 1957 while Chief of Staff at the Navy War College. Teaching at the Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Pete for 13 years, he died there in 1983.

Meanwhile, the 21-foot tall Herndon Oblisk at Annapolis, dedicated to our destroyer’s namesake, remains the focus of the annual “plebes-no-more” ceremony, where first-year cadets race to climb the top and place a dixie cup on its pinnacle.

“Plebes,” or freshmen, from the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2010 celebrate after conquering the annual Herndon Climb. This event symbolizes the successful completion of the midshipmen’s freshman year. The plebes must use teamwork, strategy, and communication to climb to the top of the 21-foot obelisk and replace the traditional “plebe” cover with a midshipman’s cover. Midshipman 4th Class Jamie Schrock, from Detroit, reached the top in 1:32:42. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Christopher Lussier

Specs:

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


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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. 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.

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

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Warship Wednesday, 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!

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