Category Archives: historic preservation

Statues With Limitations: Part Three


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am continuing my series about statues and monuments which was fueled by the controversy regarding various Confederate monuments and memorials, most which are in the South but many others in states that remained loyal to the Union, were not states at the time of the Civil War, or which were in areas be they North or South which were heavily pro-Union and which sent more soldiers to fight for the Union then they did the Confederacy. 

It is interesting to see how memory and myth cloud history when it comes to monuments, especially those to the Southern Confederacy, a nation that was described by its Vice President, former US Senator Alexander Stephens in these words:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” 

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who so many monuments are dedicated was not happy with his Vice President’s remarks, not because he didn’t believe them not to be true but because their honesty could hurt the cause of the Confederacy abroad. He noted:

“That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.” 

The fact is that the vast majority of the Confederate monuments, be they located in the former eleven Confederate states, or place that were not a part of the Confederacy were not built to honor the several hundred thousand Confederate dead, but to remind Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites wherever the were erected. This can be seen by the periods during which they were constructed. Only a few were built in the first two decades following the war, and some of those, including the monument in Portsmouth, Virginia were built by the wives, mothers, and children of the fallen. Honestly as to those I understand why they are where they are, and while I think that 150 years later, unless the context of their construction and monuments or historical narratives to the victims of the Confederacy and the institution of Souther Slavery are placed alongside, I am hard pressed to explain why they remain in places of honor. 

But honestly, those memorials are but a minority. Most of the Confederate monuments that spark such freak controversy today were erected anywhere from 30 to 150 years after the war. The periods that they were built are interesting of themselves. The biggest spike in construction began in the immediate aftermath of the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that legalized Jim Crow and the second during the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement beginning around 1948. The chart below provides a good representation of when the Confederate monuments were built. 

As I mentioned in my first two articles of this series I am not of the opinion that the monuments should be destroyed, nor do I think that they should be torn down by protesters. I think that each monument should be examined based on its historical merit. Since the vast majority happen to be from the days of the Confederate resurgence after Plessy and in the height of the Dixiecrat response to the Civil Rights movement beginning after Brown v. Board of Education which overturned Plessy in 1954. So today I am going to use the example of the monuments in Hampton Roads area as a teaching point. 

Virginia where I live has 223 Confederate monuments, the most of any state. That is in a sense understandable due to it being the largest state in the Confederacy as well as the site of its capital. There are three major public monuments located in South Hampton Roads as well as a number of monuments in local cemeteries throughout the area.

The one located in Portsmouth is the oldest and the most interesting from a historical point of view. Planning and fund raising for it began in the late 1860s shortly after the war and it was dedicated on the site where slaves were whipped and punished in the town square. It was dedicated in 1893. The head of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter say that it was placed there when a church where it was planned to be located backed out. I do not know the veracity of that claim. That being said the location is still problematic, especially since Portsmouth is heavily African American and many of the Black families there trace their roots to the slaves of the city’s ante-bellum times. The monument itself is one of the most interesting monuments that I have seen. It is an imposing sight in the old court square. At its center is an obelisk on which is inscribed To Our Confederate Dead. The obelisk is surrounded by four statues representing an infantryman, a cavalryman, an artillleryman, and a sailor. I think that it would fitting if this monument was moved in its entirety to a cemetery in the city where Confederate war dead are buried. It could be replaced by any number of monuments, perhaps one to the city’s war dead from the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, and the current wars which have been going on since 2001. 


Norfolk’s monument is located within a block of where the slave auctions, the slave jail, the slave infirmary, and a few blocks from the docks where the were shipped to other destinations. This is important because Norfolk was the leading port in the slave trade from about the 1830s until the outbreak of the Civil War. The monument is over 80 feet tall and is capped by the figure of a defiant Confederate soldier holding a sword and the Confederate flag. At its base are engravings of the Confederate Battle Flag and a dedication to Our Confederate Dead. Despite those words this monument can only be described as a monument to White Superority and should be removed and replace with a monument to all of the city’s war dead. The statue adorning the top could go to a museum. 


In Virginia Beach the Confederate Monument is outside the old Princess Anne County Courthouse where slave auctions were held, and which is on the grounds of the current Virginia Beach Municipal complex. In older times it would have been seen by all entering the city hall or courts for any reason. It is over 20 feet tall and topped by the statue of a Confederate infantryman. Unlike the other monuments dedicated to the dead, this one is dedicated to Our Confederate Heroes. Now it is in a distinctly less visible location and one has to go out of their way to find it. I think it could remain where it is but only if there was monument to the victims of slavery who were bought and sold there. That would provide context for it. 


That monument was erected in 1905 during the height of the re-establishment of White Rule and White Sumpremacy after Plessy. One other, in the Denbeigh section of Newport News stands at site of the old Warwick County Courthouse. Denbeigh was named after the Denbeigh Plantation and the county seat was moved to Newport News when Denbeigh and Warwick county consolidated with the independent cit of Newport News in 1958. The courthouse is now a museum and the monument was dedicated in 1909 to the men of Company H, 32nd Virginia Infantry Regiment. The regiment, recruited from the Peninsula in early 1861 had a number of companies farmed out to the artillery was reconstituted as a small, 7 company regiment in 1862. It was decimated at Antietam and served to the end of the war with the Army of Northern Virginia where five officers and forty-two enlisted men surrendered with Robert E. Lee on April 9th 1865. Since this monument is dedicated to a specific unit which distinguished itself in numerous engagements, including Antietam, and Petersburg that relocating it to one of those battlefields would be completely appropriate. 

Admittedly all of these monuments served a twofold purpose, in the case of Portsmouth, from what I have read was that those who began to contribute money for the monument was to honor the fallen. By the time it was built that purpose was also mixed with the political desire of many whites to re-establish White Supremacy. The same is true with the other monuments in the public square. As to monuments located in cemeteries where Confederate soldiers are interred it is only fitting that they remain where they are. 

As to what should be done with each monument there are options, but what can actually be done with them are dictated by State Law which stipulates that localities can erect monuments but cannot “disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.” That is a problem for the Virginia legislature to deal with and truthfully I believe that they should amend the law to allow municipalities to remove, alter, or relocate monuments. 

As a historian I think that all can serve as teaching points and that whatever is done with them that their context in relation to slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow needs to be clarified as part of teaching history and in the process expunging the myths of the Lost Cause and the Noble South from the historical narrative. 

I want to make a couple of points. First I do not think it is wrong for the relatives and descendants of those who fell in any war to want to remember them. I have traveled throughout Europe and I have seen the monuments in city squares that list the dead from wars dating back to the Napoleonic periods and before. Even if I disagree wth the cause that they fought for I will not forbid their descendants to honor their memory, even if I refuse to honor the military service of my ancestors who rebelled against the Union in 1861. 

I think that the Confederate monuments in Portsmouth, Newport News, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach can serve a purpose greater than for which they were originally constructed. I have described what I think would be best done with each, but I believe that with some modifications that each could remain where they are now so long as there are monuments to those who were the victims of slavery, those who were the unwilling conscripts recruited for that immoral and inhuman cause, and those who opposed that cause, before, during, or after the war. 

The same is true for many other of the Confederate monuments throughout the South. But, at the same time we have to address the monuments to Confederate leaders which built during the same time period as these generic representations of Confederate soldiers. The fact is that the leaders of the Confederate rebellion against the United States are much more responsible for the deaths of three quarters of a million soldiers and the devastation of the South than any ordinary soldier. These leaders include the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, secessionist politicians like Henry Benning and Alexander Stephens, and military leaders like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Braxton Bragg. I see little reason for monuments to men who were responsible for such great suffering to remain in places of honor. 

But honestly even this is not enough, for to fully tell the story we have to also honor the Southern Unionists like George Thomas and John Buford who did not forsake their oaths the the country, and men like Robert E. Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, Billy Mahone, and John Mosby who fully reconciled to the Union, and who were deomonized and then written out of Southern history. 
So anyway, I will deal specifically with monuments to Confederate leaders another time, but I think this is enough for now. That being said, any monuments to the leaders of the Confederacy or those who served during that rebellion need to be held to the bar of history, otherwise we mock all of their victims, and yes, even the sacrifices of the innumerable Johnny Rebs who died in a war that most had little or nothing to gain from. 

Peace 

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, historic preservation, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Statues With Limitations: Part Two


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Alexander Pope wrote “Monuments, like men, submit to fate.” 

Two days ago I began a series regarding the Confederate Monument Controversy. I was going to begin today’s article by going directly into what I think should be done with these monuments but think that a little bit more background and context is necessary. That context is best put in the difference between history and memory. History, is made by people because it has real world effects cannot be erased because for good or bad its effects always are with us. Memory on the other hand is often selective and tends toward sentimentally. Because of that, memory often leads to the preservation of things that provide us with a certain sense of comfort, things that buttress our innate sense of superiority. 

Statues and monuments themselves have to be taken in their historical context: especially what they meant to the people that erected them and the era in which they were constructed. From time immemorial people and nations have erected statues and monuments to dieties, empowers, kings, generals, and yes, even philosophers and historians. They have also sought to commemorate the lives of soldiers who died in various wars, in part to honor their dead as did the ancient Athenians at Kerameikos, but more often to build upon a sense of national myth and purpose, to link the sacrifices of yesterday’s leaders, or soldiers to their current generation’s political, social, and even spiritual urges.

Some religions like Judaism and Islam have traditionally frowned upon the erection of statues and images that represented their dieties, their saints, or their leaders, fearing that such images could lead to idolatry. There was even a constroversy in the Christian Church, the Iconoclast Controversy, which dealt with this matter which took more than a hundred years to resolve. 

In Western society, especially since the Romans there has been a conscious attempt by nations to built statues and monuments to their leaders and other men, as women seldom rated such honor, whether they actually deserved honor or not. As such there are monuments in prominent places to men with political, social, hereditary, or economic connections who when compared to their contemporaries, or others, before or after them, have done little to be heirs to such honor. This does not mean that they were necessarily bad people, or even unworthy of the honor of their time, but rather that they are undeserving of perpetual honor in the most public of locations, or in places unconnected with where they made their name. 

Cemeteries and museums are the best places for statues which have past their effective life in the public square. Removing them does nothing to harm history, nor does it write them out of history. I like how the Old Testament writers of the books of the Kings and Chronicles end their discussions of the kings of Israel and Judah. They note that these men’s lives and deeds, good and evil, are written about and where they were buried to be with their ancestors. An example of the is Jesus, one of the kings of Israel in the book of Second Kings: “Now the rest of the acts of Jehu, all that he did, and all his power, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?”

Since the Jews of the Old Testament did not build statues to their leaders for fear of idolatry the ensured through the oral, and later the written tradition that these leaders, the good and the bad, were remembered for their work and contributions. The Islamic tradition is quite similar. 

The ancient Greeks, particularly those of Athens chose to use the cemetery as a place to remember their dead. In dedicating the Mount Auburn Cemetery during the Greek revival, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted: 

“The Greeks exhausted the resources of their exquisite art in adorning the habitations of the dead. They discouraged internments within the limits of their cities; and consigned their relics to shady groves, in the neighborhood of murmuring streams and merry fountains, close by the favorite resorts of those who were engaged in the study of philosophy and nature, and called them, with the elegant expressiveness of their own beautiful language, cemeteries or “places of repose.”

Cemeteries are always places where the dead can be honored or remembered, where their descendants can find comfort and even sense the presence of their departed ancestors. 

But the public square is another matter. Times change, governments and governmental types change. The statues that the early colonists of the British American colonies erected to King George III had no place in the new republic and were removed. Monuments to Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin where removed from their places of prominence in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania once those countries escaped Soviet domination. 

Statues in public places dedicated to specific individuals or events tend to have a shelf life which means that they regardless of who they are dedicated to need to be periodically re-examined to see if they should remain in their current place of honor or be moved to a different location. But the United States is a comparatively young country, our oldest monuments are likewise comparatively new, and many pale in comparison to those of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In those areas multiple civilizations and empire have risen and fallen, massive monuments have been erected, toppled, or faded away. Many surviving monuments now are in museums, collections of antiquity representing fallen civilizations, or have been moved from places of honor and replaced by ones that more appropriately represent the national culture and experience. 

As we approach the first quarter millenium of our experiment as a republic it is a good time to look at what we have commemorated with monuments and make considered decisions about each of them, and not just Confederate monuments. Obviously many, especially those that deal with our founding as a nation and our founders need to stay, but others should be replaced, or removed to more appropriate venues, or in cases of monuments that memorialize the more shameful parts of our history, maybe leave them and place other monuments and markers to explain the historical context and promote history versus myth. Likewise if we decide to remove them, what replaces them should be well thought out. This actually goes beyond the monuments themselves but has all to do with history, historical preservation, and the narrative that a community wants to communicate about its history, its values, and yes, even its future, for those monuments for good or bad are part of what bind generations together. 

As no point do I think they should be destroyed, even those to men who were evil, or represented evil causes. It think in the cases of truly evil men that their statues should be placed in parks, at eye level with other statues like them. The process then allows people to view them not as exalted figures, but people with feet of clay. A number of Eastern European countries have done this with statues of Stalin, Lenin, and others from the Soviet era. 

The placement or monuments is of more importance than their existence, and their contexts matter. Honore De Balzac noted: “With monuments as with men, position means everything. 

So anyway, tomorrow I will wrap this up by dealing with the Confederate Monument Controversy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Iconic Destroyers of the Fletcher Class

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again I continue to take some time off and re-post some articles from the deep abyss of my archives about some of the greatest warship classes in history. In the past few days I have posted articles about different U-Boat types, the Wickes and Clemson Class destroyers, and the Japanese Fubuki Class destroyers. Today, an article about possibly the most iconic destroyer class ever made, the United States Navy Fletcher Class

I hope that you have a great day. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The USS Fletcher DD-445

If ever a class of warships can define a ship type the destroyers of the Fletcher Class were that. The most numerous of all United States Navy destroyer classes the Navy commissioned 175 of these ships between June 1942 and February 1945. There were two groupings of ships the 58 round or “high bridge” ships and the 117 square or “low bridged” ships. It was a sound design that would be modified for use in the later Allen M. Sumner and Gearing Class destroyers. Eleven shipyards produced the ships fast, heavily armed and tough the ships would serve in every theater of the war at sea but would find their greatest fame in the Pacific where many became synonymous with the courage and devotion of their officers and crews.

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USS Stevens one of the 6 Fletchers equipped with an aircraft catapult

The ships were a major improvement on previous classes of destroyers and were equal or superior to the destroyers of our allies and our enemies in the war. At 2050 tons displacement and 2900 tons full load the ships were significantly larger than preceding classes and were designed to mount a superior anti-aircraft armament to compliment their main battery of five 5” 38 caliber dual purpose guns and ten 21” torpedo tubes. 376 feet long and flush decked they were an exceptionally tough class of ships which was demonstrated often in the brutal surface battles in the South Pacific, Leyte Gulf and in the battles with Kamikazes off the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. They were the first destroyers of the US Navy which were built with radar as part of the initial design.

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USS O’Bannon DD-450 in 1961

The anti aircraft armament was increased throughout the war. Initially this was composed of: 4 x 40mm Bofors in two twin-mounts and 6 to 13 x 20mm Oerlikon in single-mounts. By June of 1943 new ships of the class mounted 10 x 40mm Bofors in five twin-mounts 7 x 20mm Oerlikon in single-mounts. As the Kamikaze threat became dire ships returning to the United States for refit lost one of their torpedo tube mounts and had their AA armament increased to 14 x 40mm Bofors in three twin and two quad mounts and 12 x 20mm Oerlikon in six twin mounts. One of the more unusual experiments was to equip six ships with a catapult for a float plane. This eliminated some of their AA guns and one torpedo tube mounting. It was not successful and the mounts were removed before the end of the war.

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USS Nicholas in action at Kula Gulf

The first ships of the class saw action in the Solomons during the Guadalcanal campaign. Fletcher and O’Bannon took part in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal where O’Bannon was one of several destroyers that ganged up on the Japanese Battleship Hiei at ranges as low as 500 yards causing heavy damage to the Battleship which was sunk by naval aircraft the following day. The O’Bannon would be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for her actions around Guadalcanal which read:

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O’Bannon

“For outstanding performance in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the South Pacific from October 7, 1942, to October 7, 1943. An aggressive veteran after a year of continuous and intensive operations in this area, the U.S.S. O’BANNON has taken a tremendous toll of vital Japanese warships, surface vessels and aircraft. Launching a close range attack on hostile combatant ships off Guadalcanal on the night of November 13, 1942, the O’BANNON scored three torpedo hits on a Japanese battleship, boldly engaged two other men o’ war with gunfire and retired safely in spite of damage sustained. During three days of incessant hostilities in July 1943, she gallantly stood down Kula Gulf to bombard enemy shore positions in coverage of our assault groups, later taking a valiant part in the rescue of survivors from the torpedoed U.S.S STRONG while under fierce coastal battery fire and aerial bombing attack and adding her fire power toward the destruction of a large Japanese naval force. In company with two destroyers, the O’BANNON boldly intercepted and repulsed nine hostile warships off Vella Lavella on October 7, 1943, destroying two enemy ships and damaging others. Although severely damaged, she stood by to take aboard and care for survivors of a friendly torpedoed destroyer and retired to base under her own power. The O’BANNON’s splendid acheivements and the gallant fighting spirit of her officers and men reflect great credit upon the United States Naval Service.”

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DESRON 23

The Fletcher class composed all of DESON 23 the Little Beavers commanded by Commodore Arleigh “31 knot” Burke. The squadron which covered the initial landings at Bougainville in November 1943 fought in 22 separate engagements during the next four months. During this time the squadron was credited with destroying one Japanese cruiser, nine destroyers, one submarine, several smaller ships, and approximately 30 aircraft. Under Burke the squadron was composed of USS Foote (DD-511), USS Charles Ausburne (DD-570), USS Spence (DD-512), USS Claxton (DD-571), USS Dyson (DD-572), USS Converse (DD-509) and USS Thatcher (DD-514). At the Battle of Cape St. George the squadron intercepted a Japanese force of 5 destroyers sinking 3. At the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay the ships were in action as part of Task Force 39 based around Cruiser Division 12 comprised of the Cleveland Class Light Cruisers Montpelier, Cleveland, Columbia and Denver the took part in the sinking of the Japanese Light Cruiser Sendai and a destroyer. For their efforts DESRON 23 would be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation which stated:

“For extrordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Solomon Islands Campaign, from November 1, 1943, to February 23, 1944. Boldly penetrating submarine-infested waters during a period when Japanese naval and air power was at its height, Destroyer Squadron TWENTY THREE operated in daring defiance of repeated attacks by hostile air groups, closing the enemy’s strongly fortified shores to carry out sustained bombardments against Japanese coastal defenses and render effective cover and fire support for the major invasion operations in this area. Commanded by forceful leaders and manned by aggressive, fearless crews the ships of Squadron TWENTY THREE coordinated as a superb fighting team; they countered the enemy’s fierce aerial bombing attacks and destroyed or routed his planes; they intercepted his surface task forces, sank or damaged his warships by torpedo fire and prevented interference with our transports. The brilliant and heroic record achieved by Destroyer Squadron TWENTY THREE is a distinctive tribute to the valiant fighting spirit of the individual units in this indomitable combat group and of each skilled and courageous ship’s company.”

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USS Johnston DD-557

Fletcher’s served heroically with “Taffy-3” in the Battle of Samar at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Taffy-3 which was composed of 6 escort carriers, the Fletcher Class destroyers Hoel, Johnston, and Heermann and 4 destroyer escorts was assigned the task of providing close air support for troops ashore and anti-submarine protection for transports. On the morning of October 25th Admiral Halsey took Third Fleet north to engage a Japanese carrier force believing a Japanese surface force of battleships and cruisers to have withdrawn after being heavily hurt by submarine and air attacks. The carrier force had few aircraft and was considered a decoy by the Japanese. This left the San Bernardino Strait unguarded and the Japanese surface force which by now was comprised of 4 battleships including the Yamato as well as 6 heavy and 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers doubled back going through the strait during the early morning hours of the 25th. Just before dawn a patrol aircraft spotted the Japanese force and at 0659 Yamato opened fire on the task group.

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USS Hoel DD-533

The three Fletcher’s and the Destroyer escort Samuel B Roberts were launched into a suicidal counter-attack against the Japanese force. Led by Johnston under the command of Ernest E. Evans the little ships engaged their vastly superior foe as the escort carriers edged away as they launched and recovered their aircraft to keep a continuous air assault on the Japanese force. Johnston scored numerous hits with her 5” guns on the Heavy Cruiser Kumano and when she reached torpedo range launched her 10 “fish” one of which blew off Kumano’s bow and another of which crippled Kumano’s sister Suzuya before she was hit in quick succession by a 14” shell from the Battleship Kongo which hit her engine room and three 6” shells from Yamato which struck her bridge. Evans kept the crippled ship in the fight drawing fire away from other attacking destroyers and fending off a Japanese destroyer squadron that was trying to flank the carriers. Johnston continued to be hit and was abandon at 0945 sinking 25 minutes later with 186 of her crew. Evans did not survive and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

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USS Heermann DD-532 in action at Samar

Hoel under the command of Commander Leon S. Kintberger took on the Battleship Kongo and a column of cruisers lead by the Heavy Cruiser Haguro. Hoel’s torpedo attack on Kongo forced that ship to turn away and torpedo hits were claimed on the Haguro, although that ship remained in action and the Japanese denied any torpedo damage from the attack. The Japanese concentrated on Hoel sinking her at 0855 taking all but 86 of her crew to a watery grave.

Heermann under Commander Amos Hathaway threw herself into the fight engaging Japanese battleships and cruisers. Heermann engaged Heavy Cruiser Chikuma with her guns while mounting a torpedo attack on Haguro. She then attacked the Japanese battleships directly engaging Haruna and forcing Yamato to head away from the action for 10 minutes as she was bracketed by two of Heermann’s torpedoes running on a parallel course. She engaged the other battleships at such close range that they could not hit her and broke off to intercept a column of cruisers. Once again she engaged Chikuma in a bloody duel with both ships taking heavy damage. Crippled by a series of 8” shell hits from the heavy cruisers Heermann was down heavily at the bow, so much so that her anchors dragged the water. Carrier aircraft joined the battle and Chikuma withdrew from the fight and sank during her withdraw. Heermann then engaged Heavy Cruiser Tone before that ship, also damaged by air attack withdrew from the fight. Though she was heavily damaged the Heermann was the only destroyer to survive the action. Despite their terrible losses the ships and aircraft of Taffy-3 sank 3 heavy cruisers and a destroyer and heavily damaged 3 battleships and 3 heavy cruisers.

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Just a bit wet, USS Halsey Powell unrep with USS Wisconsin

For their heroic actions which kept the Japanese from getting to the vulnerable transports Taffy-3 including the valiant destroyers Johnston, Hoel, Heerman and Destroyer Escort Samuel B Roberts was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation which read:

“For extraordinary heroism in action against powerful units of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, Philippines, October 25, 1944. Silhouetted against the dawn as the Central Japanese Force steamed through San Bernardino Strait towards Leyte Gulf, Task Unit 77.4.3 was suddenly taken under attack by hostile cruisers on its port hand, destroyers on the starboard and battleships from the rear. Quickly laying down a heavy smoke screen, the gallant ships of the Task Unit waged battle fiercely against the superior speed and fire power of the advancing enemy, swiftly launching and rearming aircraft and violently zigzagging in protection of vessels stricken by hostile armor-piercing shells, anti-personnel projectiles and suicide bombers. With one carrier of the group sunk, others badly damaged and squadron aircraft courageously coordinating in the attacks by making dry runs over the enemy Fleet as the Japanese relentlessly closed in for the kill, two of the Unit’s valiant destroyers and one destroyer escort charged the battleships point-blank and, expending their last torpedoes in desperate defense of the entire group, went down under the enemy’s heavy shells as a climax to two and one half hours of sustained and furious combat. The courageous determination and the superb teamwork of the officers and men who fought the embarked planes and who manned the ships of Task Unit 77.4.3 were instrumental in effecting the retirement of a hostile force threatening our Leyte invasion operations and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

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USS Isherwood (DD-520) underway in heavy weather as she comes alongside the heavy cruiser USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) in August 1943. National Archives and Records Administration. Photo # 80-G-79429. [Navsource]

During the war 19 of the class were lost and 6 damaged so badly that they were not repaired. 44 of the ships were awarded 10 battle stars or more while 19 were awarded Naval Unit Commendations and 16 Presidential Unit Citations. Following the war all were decommissioned and placed in reserve. Many were re-commissioned during the Korean War and served through Vietnam. Some of these ships were modernized with newer ASW weapons and re-designated Escort Destroyers (DDE) while others had their air search radar modernized and were re-classified as Radar Picket Destroyers or (DDR). The last Fletcher in US Service decommissioned in 1971. 52 were sold or transferred under military assistance programs to other navies in the 1950s. The ships served well and the last one in active service the Mexican Navy Destroyer Cuitlahuac the former USS John C Rodgers DD-874 was decommissioned in 2001.

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Ex USS Twinning in Republic of China Navy Service, note weapon modifications

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Zerstörer Z-1 Rommel

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USS Kidd as Museum and Memorial

Four are currently open as memorial ships the USS Cassin Young DD-793 at Buffalo NY, the USS The Sullivans DD-537 at Boston MA and USS Kidd DD-661 at Baton Rouge LA can be seen in the United States. The Cassin Young is berthed at the old Charlestown Naval Yard in Boston across the pier from the Frigate USS Constitution. The the Greek destroyer Velos the ex-USS Charette DD-581 is located in Athens. The John Rodgers was scrapped in Mexico in 2011.

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Greek Destroyer Velos ex-USS Charente 

The Fletcher Class really symbolizes more than any class of destroyer the classic look of what a destroyer should be. Their clean lines and classic design are iconic not just in this country but in the 15 other countries that they would serve in during the following years. Their amazing record and service in World War Two and in the following years in both the US Navy and the navies of our Allies is one that will probably never be surpassed.

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USS Cassin Young

I have visited the Cassin Young in Boston; it is well worth the time to see. I hope that I might see The Sullivans and Kidd in the coming years.

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The Zerstörer Z-4 ex USS Dyson in heavy seas

I salute the ships of the class and the officers and sailors that served on them in peace and war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under historic preservation, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

The Dawn of the Future: The Type XXI U-Boats

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing to go back deep into the archives to re-publish articles about warships which helped change history. As I mentioned, the last few days have been very busy and I am doing some things to assist co-workers after a traumatic event at work, and to continue working on my Civil War texts. This article deals with the U-Boat Type XXI which was the harbinger of the modern submarines that ply the depths of the oceans today. I do hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

Throughout history there have been ships that have changed the course of Naval strategy and made previous types of ships obsolete overnight, the USS Monitor, the HMS Dreadnought and USS Nautilus are three, but add to the list the German Type XXI U-Boats which forever changed the way that submarines were built around the world.

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The Type XXI was designed in 1943 in order to regain the initiative and thereby reassert German naval power in the Atlantic in order to turn the tide against the Allies. By 1943 the Allies had turned the tide against the Germans as the Type VII and Type IX U-Boats took heavy losses against naval units and convoys which now had air support at every stage of their trek across the North Atlantic. These boats had to surface for prolonged periods in order to recharge their batteries and had limited range, speed and endurance when submerged. The advent of the Escort Carrier, long range patrol bombers and hunter killer groups of Destroyers and the new Destroyer Escorts took a great toll on the U-Boat Force.

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U-3008 in U.S. Navy Service

In order to meet the challenge the Germans opted for new technology based on the high speed hydrogen powered Walter turbines for underwater operations. Since these turbines which could produce a high underwater speed had a short endurance the designers modified the design to use conventional diesels but equip the boats with batteries that had three times the capacity of previous boats. The boats were a radical change from all previous submarine designs which were basically surface ships with the ability to operate underwater for limited periods of time. The Type XXIs were really the first true submarines. They could operate at underwater speeds that were faster than many of their opponents, had a streamlined design which facilitated higher submerged speed of 18 knots and silent running making them very difficult to track. They could remain underwater for 11 days while only needing 5 hours to recharge their batteries when using the schnorkel device.

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The Wilhelm Bauer the former U-2540 in 1960

The Type XXI had a full streamlined hull and conning tower and even equipment which were externally mounted such as the radio antennae, hydrophones, DF Ring and forward planes were fully retractable. They had no deck guns and their twin 20mm flak guns mounted in a streamlined housing on the conning tower. The German designers eliminated the traditional open bridge in favor of three small openings for the watch officer and 2 lookouts. They had a superior silent running ability and at 15 knots were quieter than the US Navy Balao Class doing 8 knots. They had a 1 inch thick steel aluminum alloy pressure hull with a designed crush depth of 280 meters (919 feet), a greater designed crush depth than any previous submarine.

They incorporated other innovations which would be incorporated into the post-war submarines of the victorious Allied powers. Among these innovations were semi-automatic hydraulic torpedo reload system which allowed three 6 torpedo salvos to be fired in less than 20 minutes where prior U-Boats had manual reloads and took over 10 minutes to reload a single torpedo. To make the fullest use of this capability the German equipped the boats with an advanced passive and active sonar system called the called Gruppenhorchgerät and Unterwasser-Ortungsgerät NIBELUNG mounted in the bow. The improved passive system enabled the boats to close to where they could emit short active sonar bursts to fix the target location. They could fire from a depth of 160 feet. The torpedoes themselves were an advanced design called the LUT or Lageunabhängiger Torpedo. The LUT was a guided torpedo that could be fired from the U-Boat regardless of the target’s bearing as it was programmed to steer an interception course programmed by the torpedo computer.

Submarines influenced by the Type XXI:

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USS Gudgeon a Tang Class submarine

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Polish Submarine ORP Orzel a WHISKEY Type Submarine

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USS Nautilus on trials

The Type XXI boats were unique in production as they had no prototype and went directly in production. They were assembled from prefabricated sections built from factories around Germany and transported to the major shipbuilding yards. This was efficient but caused problems that slowed final assembly as many of the factories had no experience building U-Boats and quality suffered because the exacting specifications required by the Kriegsmarine. Likewise Allied air strikes on German factories and rail networks hampered production. Yet even in spite of these difficulties 119 Boats were completed although only four were rated as combat ready and only two were fully operational at war’s end. Of these only one embarked on a war patrol. Most were destroyed in air attacks while in port or scuttled by the Germans to prevent their capture. Eight Type XXIs were taken over by Allied navies at the end of the war where they were used to evaluate technology for use in future submarines. The U.S. Navy Tang Class boats were heavily influenced by the Type XXI as were the GUPPY upgrades to Balao and Tench class boats. The first nuclear submarines of the U.S. Navy, the Nautilus, Seawolf and the Skate Classes all incorporated design features of the Type XXIs. The Soviet Union developed its 613 and 614 project submarines which became the type known by NATO as the WHISKEY class from the Type XXIs that they received following Germany’s surrender. In 1957 the Federal Republic of Germany raised the scuttled U-2540 and commissioned her as the research submarine Wilhelm Bauer. That boat was operated by both the Bundesmarine and civilian crews until her decommissioning in 1982. She is now a museum ship open to the public in Bremerhaven.

The Type XXIs were the first true submarines and influenced every submarine constructed since. Though introduced too late in the war to make a difference they were truly a wonder-weapon.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Predators of the High Seas: The U-Boat Type IX

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I mentioned yesterday I am kind of taking some time away from politics and all the other stuff I could write about to go back to one of my passions, the great warships of history. I am busy at work and I am continuing to work on my Civil War texts but I’m not ready to post any of the new material from those just yet. Last night I wrote about the U-Boat Type VII, the most numerous, and one of the most successful type of submarines ever produced. Today, an older article dredged up from my archives about the U-Boat Type IX, which was one of the most successful types of submarines ever built. This is a tribute to them and their brave crews, who though fighting for an evil cause demonstrated bravery and courage even when the odds were stacked against them, most of who never saw home again. 

Have a great day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Lorient, U-Boote U-123 und U-201 auslaufend

U-123 returning from patrol

As the Kriegsmarine began its expansion in the mid-1930s the new U-Boat arm developed several types of submarines. The Type IX class was designed in 1935-36 as a long range attack boat and was larger had a greater range and were more heavily armed than the more numerous Type VII boats. The Kreigsmarine designers envisioned a submarine capable of operating far from German bases for extended periods of time. The design of these boats was derived from the two boat Type 1 class and incorporated lessons learned from that class. 283 boats of the type were constructed between 1937 and 1944 and the Kriegsmarine continuously sought to improve the type which resulted in five distinct models within the class.

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Type IXA The first group referred to as the Type IXA or simply the Type IX was comprised of 8 boats built by AG Weser of Bremen. Ordered in 1936 the group was part of the Kriegsmarine’s Plan Z rearmament plan which began when the Nazi Government announced that it would no longer abide by the Treaty of Versailles. The initial 8 boats had a 1032 ton standard displacement were 251 feet long and were armed with six 21” torpedo tubes with 22 torpedoes. They had a 105mm deck gun with 110 rounds as well as a 37mm and 20mm anti-aircraft gun. They were the first German submarines equipped with a double hull which increased survivability and seaworthiness. They were powered on the surface by two MAN M9V40/46 supercharged 9-cylinder diesel engines that produced 4,400 shp as well as two SSW GU345/34 double-acting electric motors for underwater operations. As in all diesel-electric boats the diesels were used to recharge the batteries for the electric motors while the boat was operating on the surface. They had a maximum speed of 18.2 knots on the surface and a range of 22,354 miles at 10 knots. Underwater they had a maximum speed of 7.7 knots and range of 166 miles at 4 knots. The official maximum diving depth was 230 meters or 750 feet. Of the 8 boats of this type 6 were sunk during combat operations and two scuttled at the end of the war by their crews to prevent their capture by the Allies. The most successful of the Type IXA boats was the U-37 was the most successful boat of the type sinking 53 merchant ships for a total of 200,124 tons as well as two warships, the Sloop HMS Penzance and French Submarine Q-182.

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Crew members of U-107 in Torpedo Room

Type IXB The next group was the IXB of which 14 boats were built by AG Weser Bremen. This was the most successful class of U-boats, or for that matter any class of submarines based on tonnage sunk per boat during the Second World War. Each of these ships sank over 100,000 tons of Allied shipping. They were slightly larger than the IXA boats and had a significantly longer operational range of 24,600 miles on the surface at 10 knots. The U-107 of this class had the most successful war patrol of any U-Boat in the war sinking nearly 100,000 tons of Allied shipping off Freetown Sierra Leone while U-103 sank over 237,000 tons of Allied shipping during 11 war patrols over the course of 4 years. These boats were involved in Operation Drumbeat off the coast of the United States in early 1942.

U-Boot U-123 in See

U-123 Gun Crew

Type IXC The Type IXC was a further improvement of the type with additional fuel capacity and longer range. They displaced 1120 tons and 54 of the boats were commissioned of which 19 were equipped as minelayers with a capacity of 44 TMA or 66 TMB mines. The boats were built by AG Weser Bremen, Seebeckwerft Bremen and Deutsche Werft Hamburg. The U-505 of this type is the only surviving intact Type IX and was captured by a boarding team from the Escort Carrier USS Guadalcanal on June 4th 1944. Her capture was kept secret from the Germans and her crew kept as POWs in a separate POW Camp. The story of the crew and their encounter with the game of baseball is recorded in Gary Moore’s book, Playing with the Enemy: A Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, and a Field of Broken Dreams. The book is being turned into a movie entitled Playing with the Enemy which is scheduled to be released in 2011. She is preserved at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

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U-848 under attack by USN Aircraft

Type IXC/40 This was a further refinement of the IXC with slightly greater range and surface speed. It was the most numerous type of the class built with 87 being built by AG Weser Bremen, Seebeckwerft Bremen and Deutsche Werft Hamburg. The remains of the U-534 of the class are displayed at Woodside Ferry Terminal in Birkenhead England after being raised from the North Sea in 1986.

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U-534

Type IXD The final type in the Type IX Series was the Type IXD. This was a significantly larger boat than the others in the class 287 feet long with a standard displacement of 1610 tons. They were unique in that they had two sets of diesel engines, one for cruising and the other for high speed runs and battery recharge. There were three variants within the type, the IXD1 which were all converted to transport use due to problems with their engines, the most numerous variant the IXD2 and the IXD42 which had greater horsepower. Thirty Type IXs were commissioned with a further six Type IXD42s which were ordered with only one commissioned by the end of the war.

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U-505 at the Museum of Science and Industry in 2005 (Jerry Atherton)

During the war surviving boats would receive increased anti-aircraft armament, the Schnorkel device which allowed them to operate on diesel power while submerged as well as better electronics and detection devices. Most of the boats which survived the war were scuttled by the Allies in Operation Deadlight. The U-511 was sold to Japan in 1943 and U-862 taken over by the Japanese after the German Surrender in May 1945. Both survived the war and were scuttled by the Allies. U-1231 was taken over by the Soviet Navy and served as the B-26 after the war.

The sailors of these U-Boats like all submarine sailors endured many hardships and during the war approximately 75% of the 40,000 U-Boat sailors never returned from patrol, forever interred in the deep with their proud boats.

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If They Destroy Our History…

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Destruction of Palmyra

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Note: I wrote and scheduled the posting of this article before the attacks in Paris. 

The great American writer John Steinbeck asked, How will we know it’s us without our past?”

I have a very profound sense of the necessity of preserving our culture and history, and not just American, European, or Christian history, culture, art and literature. Cultural monuments and the great works of art and architecture belong to all of us, regardless of our religion, ideology, race, or nationality. They are a part of our common humanity, our common heritage; they must be protected, and when they are destroyed, it impoverishes all of us. Thus when a group, be it a group of political, racial, or religious extremists, decide to erase those monuments to humanity, it is an assault on all of us.

This has been done numerous times throughout history by various conquerors. In the past century it has happened all too often, and it has been happening with startling regularity in the areas controlled by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Shrines sacred to Moslems, Christians, and Jews; wonders of the ancient world that give us a glimpse of the magnificent past, are destroyed, while other artifacts are looted, and sold in order to fund even more cultural destruction.

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The Islamic State are committing human atrocities that defy the imagination; ethnic and religious cleansing, forced conversions, rape and murder on a massive scale. In spite of that they can never succeed, unless they destroy the memory of the past.

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Kristelnacht

Hitler and other despots tried this. Hitler and his Nazi criminal state attempted to exterminate, and then eradicate the memory of the Jews from Europe. He was not successful, but given more time, he might have succeeded. I think that it speaks volumes about the real intent of the Islamic State. George Clooney, who plays the American professor Frank Stokes in the film told his team members:

“You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed.”

That is why defeating the Islamic State matters. It is not just about geopolitics, or oil, it is about protecting who we are and human beings.

Have a great weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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