Category Archives: Navy Ships

Long Range Predators: The U-Boat Type IX

U-123 returning from patrol

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is late and while I want to write a follow up article to my last on COVID-19 tonight was not the time. So instead I am republishing a very old article about the Type IX U-Boats of the German Kriegsmarine in World War II. I wrote about the Type VII boats last week. The class was one of the most successful classes of all submarines which served in the Second World War. The Type IXB variant which comprised 14 boats were the most success of all submarine classes produced by any nation with an average of 100,000 tons of shipping sunk by the ships of the class. U-123 sank 43 ships totaling over 220,000 tons in 12 war patrols. U-107 made one of the most successful single war patrols by a submarine of any Navy sinking sinking over 100,ooo tons of shipping during a single 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. The boats grew from just over 1000 tons to nearly 1800 tons, with corresponding increases in speed, range, and armament. The final variant had an operational range of over 30,000 miles. This made them the boat of choice for long range missions, including transport missions to Japan.

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.

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-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 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.

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.

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 IXD2s were commissioned with a further six Type IXD42s which were ordered with only one commissioned by the end of the war.

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.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under germany, History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, World War II at Sea

“Therefore Never Send to Know for Whom the bell Tolls, it Tolls for Thee” The Victims, Costs, and Threat of COVID-19


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On December 31st the Chinese Government reported the first death from nouveau Coronavirus 19, or COVID 19. By the end of January there were over 12,000 cases and 259 deaths. The first infected American arrived from China in the middle of January. At first, the American Government led by the Trump Administration paid little attention to it or downplayed its significance. It did that until the bottom began falling out of the stock markets, bond markets, and the oil market, the latter was not due to Coronavirus but the productions and price oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The Trump Administration finally labeled the situation a health emergency at the end of January, but did nothing to prepare.  Belatedly, it began to organize a response led by Vice President Pence at the end of February, but even still the President in his speeches and tweets continued to downplay the situation as members of his political, religious, and media cult amplified his message, until a week ago.

The day I wrote my first article about Coronavirus, March 8th there had been almost 110,000 cases and nearly 3800 deaths. That was an increase of 98,000 cases and over 3500 deaths in just 38 days.

Around midnight last night, there were nearly 198,500 cases and just shy of 8,000 deaths, 7,987 to be exact. So in ten days there were around 100,000 new cases, and close to 4200 new deaths. As of this evening there are a total of 218,721 cases, of which 125,392 are currently active. 93,329 are closed, meaning either recovery or death. Of the closed cases, 8,983 or 10% have died. This means there were over 20,000 new cases and almost 1,000 deaths since last night. Italy was hit hardest in the past day, over 4,200 new cases and 475 deaths.  In other European countries the numbers are spiking, and are about a week or two behind Italy in the progression of the disease.

Since last night the United States, in which testing capabilities are being expanded, there are now a total of 9,301 cases, with 2,890 of them being reported in the last day, and a total of 152 deaths, 43 since yesterday. Our numbers are about two or three weeks behind Italy, and despite the measures to quarantine, shut down, or shelter-in-place enacted by state and local governments there is no uniformity to those actions in light of the limited guidance or funding provided by Federal agencies.

In the United States, we were not prepared despite the warnings of experts that such a deadly pandemic would happen. The country was underprepared and unready for such a condition of affairs. Despite the recent flurry of action by Trump and his administration dithered and denied any real emergency or crisis for over two months, not taking precautions, not ramping up production of test kits, N-95 masks, surgical masks, other personal protective gear for first responders, hospital personnel, or nursing home workers, nor did it anticipate the need for anti-viral disinfectants, cleaners, or urge Americans to begin wearing surgical masks in order to mitigate the possible transmission of the virus.  Nor did it take of whole of government approach to the developing crisis until last week. Even with that move there is much confusion and bureaucratic infighting.

Frankly, most departments are still trying to make sense of what they need to do. Today the Navy was ordered to prepare the Hospital Ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy for deployment. Both are converted supertankers built in 1974 and 1975 before being purchased and converted and equipped as 1000 bed hospital ships in 1987. They are approaching 50 years old. They are equipped with operating rooms ICU beds, and medical and surgical wards, Radiology suites, and a full range of labs, but it takes a lot to staff them and make them ready to deploy. In addition to normal pre-deployment activities everyone deploying on them will need to be test for Coronavirus before they set foot on the ship to ensure that they do not become “plague ships.”  Comfort will deploy to New York, and Mercy to a yet to be determined West Coast metropolis. It will take at least a week, and probably more to make them ready to deploy. The crews of the ships are Merchant Marine Officers, deck, and engineering personnel, but the physicians, nurses, other providers, and technicians will leave their duty stations in Naval Hospitals and Clinics which are already at critical manning levels. They have to be augmented by activated Naval Reserve Medical personnel, Uniformed Public Health Service Officers, civilians employees of Navy Medicine and medical personnel from Humanitarian Service Organizations. There also has to be a Navy Security detachment, communications section, and an aviation detachment with its helicopters, as well as Chaplains and Mental Health Providers. These ships seldom deploy at the same time so the demands on Navy Medicine will be quite severe in Navy Medical Centers, Hospitals, and clinics.

Likewise, the administration ordered the activation of a number of mobile field hospitals. There are a number of types and sizes of such self-contained units which can be deployed by air sea, or ground. But like the Navy’s Hospital ships they draw almost all of their medical personnel from active duty hospitals, and mobilized reservists. Likewise,  the reserve and National Guard field hospitals depend on the very civilian health professions working in hospitals and private practices already dealing with the pandemic.

While China has flattened its infection and death curves due to its draconian police power to enforce the will of the government over the past few weeks, COVID-19 has spread across the globe. This includes all  50 U.S. States, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. The numbers are expanding exponentially in Europe and the United States, and today, two members of the House of Representatives announced that they had tested positive for the virus. With every passing day that curve will spike in the United States and Europe, and evidence in other countries suggest that a second wave of the virus is spreading in countries that did pretty well in the first wave.

On Friday, the President attempted to contain the damage with a press conference where he again minimized the threat, denied personal responsibility for anything, and then spoke to supporting financial markets, which briefly caused a rally on Wall Street, which collapsed as he and the administration began to acknowledge the truth of the matter and he turned the answering of medical, logistic, and disaster response to experts, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, and even Vice President Pence seemed to eclipse Trump as more presidential. Over the weekend the President looked like a man who knew that he was in way over his head, even when he blustered and tweeted. Despite the actions being planned to mitigate the economic, public health, and personal costs of the virus, the damage was done. On Monday the stock markets took their heaviest losses ever, gained a little bit back Tuesday, and crashed again today.

Scrambling to find a way out of the situation the Administration and Congress, thanks largely to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have been attempting to work out a stimulus bill which hopefully, would directly benefit all Americans, not just the banks, oil companies, and financial industries. Congress passed a measure to provide paid sick leave for all, and the Treasury Department is arguing for direct monetary payments to Americans who are now being hit with the full reality of an uncontrolled pandemic, massive business closures, job losses, and quarantine in some cities and states. The details of that are still to be worked out, but even that may not be enough to save some people from financial disaster.

Today the President used his authority to use the 70yearold Defense Production Act to force companies to make more respiratory ventilators, testing kits, and personal protective gear for medical personnel. But none of these measures can make up for the lack of ICU beds, General Medical beds, that are a feature of our mostly for profit medical industry. Hospitals have lost their ability to surge because maintaining an unused surge capacity is too expensive, until you really need it. Now, thirty years after the end of the Cold War, even the military medical system too has little surge capacity because like its civilian counterparts it has adopted the business models of civilian medical corporations.  Fewer staff, fewer beds, and less surge capacity.

The economy is taking massive hits, large numbers of the people who can least afford it are being laid off with little chance of going back to work anytime soon.

This is especially true of the airline, cruise, hotel, entertainment, hotel, and restaurant industries. In the restaurant industry nearly 15 million jobs are at stake, by the time it abates, there could be 50 million job losses in the hotel, restaurant, and entertainment sectors as local, state and the Federal government begin shutdowns of these businesses. Sadly most of the workers are living paycheck to paycheck, work for minimum wage and tips. Many are single parents, students, and people who chose the jobs because they liked dealing with people, or who were working to support themselves to get a better paying and more stable career. We know a lot of them. Good people, hard working people who constantly get screwed regardless of whether they work for large or middle sized companies who do not value them as people, or local restaurants which do not have large financial reserves, but it will expand as commercial food suppliers lose their corporate restaurant, entertainment, hotel and resort customers who will have no need of their supplies until the situation gets better.

Hopefully the measures being worked out will not only include direct payments to Americans, support for the restaurant, hotel, entertainment, and travel industries which employ far more people than the oil companies, and financial industries, as well as a provision for paid sick leave which is standard in most countries of the world.

But my friends, every one of these victims of Coronavirus and government incompetence is a real person. Many will recover from the virus but will suffer long term effects. Many will die, leaving behind friends, families, and holes in the community. Others, not infected by the virus will lose their jobs, businesses, or people that they love and care about. These people are not just numbers no matter what country or industry they live or work in. They are real live, men and women, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.

Behind every number there is a name, and a life connected to others. John Donne put it so well in his No Man is an Island:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

For me and Judy, these are not numbers or statistics, they are friends, neighbors, and even family.

I am old enough to have worked as a hospital chaplain during two pandemics, and seen people die. I helped write the Army personnel policies for HIV infected personnel and worked with many so they could remain in the service back in 1987 and 1988. I worked in a homeless shelter for abysmal wages caring for those with less working for a board of 30 very well off members who didn’t value me as a person. I have been a company commander in the Army at the young age of 25 with just two years of active duty service before I took command. I have also done two combat tours, seen things most Americans have never seen, been shot at by rockets, machine guns, and small arms, all while unarmed. During this current pandemic I am essential personnel. A chaplain cannot telework. Ministry involves real contact with real people, in the flesh. This involves risks, I am almost 60, but I will take them but attempt to mitigate them in order to care for those who be they military.

The sad thing is that I will have friends and family members who will despite the overwhelming evidence downplay the situation, ignore it, or claim it to be “fake news.” Unfortunately, many will become victims of it or be the typhoid Mary’s of our day, spreading the virus without even knowing they have it.

Ignorance and negligence carry a heavy human price. As stupid and senseless as it may be to some, I have to speak out. As Sophie Scholl, who died as a peaceful resistance leader at the hands of the Nazis when she was just twenty-two years old wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Nothing is safe now. The fantasy world that we lived in since the fall of the Berlin Wall is over. Pandemics and economic crashes are real, as is the potential for military conflict over areas of vast natural resources, and regions where ancient racial and religious scores are still aching to be settled.

Those are unpleasant facts, and until a vaccine is available that can treat the disease, we have to flatten the rate of infection, and the best way to do that is to  practice appropriate levels of  social distancing. The includes attempting to maintain a six foot separation, no hand shaking, and not going to work if you are sick. Actions taken by various, state, county, and local governments, include closing schools and universities and moving to online education, canceling large festivals, shows, and sporting events, and the voluntary shutting down of professional sports leagues, and prestigious tournaments. In response to these measures many restaurants, hotels, and entertainment centers have had to shut down, or limit services.

We were in a locally owned restaurant with a bar tonight when police entered the establishment to make sure that it was observing the state set number of no more than ten patrons inside. The manager on duty was warned and the three or four excess patrons, most who had been there a long time paid up and left. Once the people left the restaurant, the manager locked the door to ensure that no excess people would enter without a corresponding number leaving. The penalty after the warning would have been a $5,000 fine. The place will either set strict limits and hire security to enforce it, or shift to take out.

As we drove around our Town Center, all the major restaurants were closed. They cannot remain open except for take outs or delivery. Many other restaurants that depend on the volume of customers to make a profit are closed. In our area alone thousands of restaurant employees have been laid off. Likewise, movie theaters, museums, zoos, and concert venues shut down. Outside of our area both GM and Ford have shut down their American assembly plants, laying off thousands of workers, airlines have cut back the number of flights and at least one has shut down all of its overseas services. On Sunday I drove by a local mega church which had empty parking lots because they were being responsible and cancelled their services. That was a strange sight.

With people losing their jobs at such a rapid rate there is a likelihood that the rising real estate market could also suffer price devaluation, and while HUD has banned evictions or foreclosures until the end of April, the market could crash as it did in 2008.

As the disease begins to impact the military, infect service members, their families, and our Civilian Workers, it will degrade readiness. Important exercise with allies have already been cancelled, and soon deployments could be impacted, even if military action is required. Transfers are all now on hold, temporarily duty for schools, command visits, inspections, and other operations are now suspended unless they have a direct impact on combat operations. The movement of trainees to their new duty stations or technical schools is now suspended. New recruits cannot go into training and within weeks the effects will be felt throughout the military.

The President called this a wartime situation. If it really is he should declare a Stop Loss to keep as many military personnel ready in case of conflict. Worldwide economic crises often trigger insanely violent nationalistic movements, and subsequent wars. The possibility of that becomes greater as countries become unstable, and local conflicts could quickly become regional conflicts involving open, and undeclared enemies of the United States attacking our friends, allies, and vital interests in the world, which include natural resources not available in the United States, and yes, those include materials used in products that we all depend on.

I started this last night but was too tired to finish it. Hopefully this will help my readers better understand the very real impact that this virus will have on our society. It knows no class, profession, religion, ethnic, political, or racial division. A lot of people will be infected, and many will die. By the time it passes it will probably impact every one of us, if not directly, but because of it sickening and killing relatives and friends, or impacting our personal lives in terms of employment, earnings, and maybe even how we live.

I do a lot of listening, and I hear a lot of conspiracy theories spouted by people who know nothing of this virus, nothing of the powers of local, state and the Federal government in time of national emergency that it is useless to try to convince them that they are wrong.  Most of the time I I listen but don’t comment because I realize that it won’t do any good.

But I am done for tonight. I could write a lot more, and probably will do weekly updates on this crisis.

So until tomorrow, be careful out there.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Filed under Diseases Epidemics and Pandemics, ethics, Foreign Policy, History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, national security, natural disasters, Navy Ships, Political Commentary, state government agencies, us army, US Navy

Predators and Workhorses: The U-Boat Type VIIc

U-96

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When it comes to World War II and the ships of the German Kriegsmarine many Naval history buffs focus on the mighty battleships Bismarck and Tirptiz, sometimes the other major surface warships, or the massive battleships that never left the drawing board. However, for me it is the U-Boats, the German submarine fleet, which came very close to winning the war for Germany.  So for the next few nights I am going to be posting about some of the types of German submarines, or Unterseebooten, U-Boats. 

The signature warship of the German Kreigsmarine of the Second World War has to be the U-Boat Type VIIC, the most numerous type of submarine ever produced by any Navy.  568 of these U-Boats would be commissioned between 1940 and 1945 as well as 91 of the Type VIIC/41.  The Type VIIC was developed from the prewar Type I and Type VIIA and VIIB classes.

Compared to contemporary American submarines of the Gato class they were smaller, mounted fewer torpedo tubes and had a shorter range. However the American boats were designed for the vast expanse of the Pacific while the German boats for the most part were operated in the smaller confines of the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

U-1023

They displaced a mere 769 tons on the surface and 871 tons submerged and were 67.1 meters (220.14 feet) long. The boats had a single pressure hull and the VIIC could dive to a maximum depth of 230 meters (754 feet) and had a crush depth of 250-295 meters (820-967 feet).  The VIIC/41 could dive to 250 meters or 820 feet and a crush depth of 275-325 meters (902-1066 feet).  This was deeper than any allied submarines of the period and a testament to their sound construction.

Admiral Dönitz greeting U-94 in 1941

The Type VIICs were armed with a C35 88 mm/L45 gun with 220 rounds for surface actions and various types and numbers of anti-aircraft guns. The standard configuration for torpedo tubes was 4 bow mounted tubes and 1 stern mounted tube although a small number only carried 2 forward and none aft. They carried a maximum of 14 torpedoes and could carry 26 TMA Mines which would be laid at approaches to various ports.

U-966 under air attack

The Type VIIC was powered by two supercharged Germaniawerft, 6 cylinder, 4-stroke M6V 40/46 diesel engines on the surface producing between 2,800 to 3,200 horsepower which gave the boats a 17.7 knot maximum speed on surface. For submerged operations the boats were powered by one of a number of different electric motors whose batteries were charged by the diesels. The electric motors produced 750 horsepower (560 kW) and could drive the boats a maximum of 7.6 knots. In 1944 many of the surviving boats were equipped with the schnorkel apparatus which allowed them to use their diesel engines underwater at shallow depths.  The had a range of 8190 miles at 10 knots surfaced which gave them a decent amount of operational flexibility for their Atlantic operations.

The last Type VII- U-995 (Type VIIC/41) German U-Boat Memorial Laboe Germany

During the war the German U-Boat force suffered grievous losses many of which were Type VIICs. The VIICs performed excellently in combat and many survived engagements that would have sunk less tough boats. The most famous of the Type VIICs of all variants is probably the U-96 which was featured in the epic submarine film Das Boot. A number had post war careers in several navies and the last active VIIC the U-573 which served in the Spanish Navy as the G-7 was decommissioned in 1970 and sold for scrap over the objections of those that wanted to purchase her as a memorial.  The only surviving Type VIIC is the U-995at Laboe Germany where she is a memorial to all the U-Boat Sailors of the Second World War.  Two full sized mock ups one for exterior scenes and one for interior scenes were constructed for Das Boot and the exterior mock up was also used in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

                                                 The Death of HMS Barham  
During the war U-Boats of all types sank nearly 3000 Allied ships including 175 warships among which were the carriers HMS Glorious, HMS Ark Royal and HMS Eagle and the Battleships HMS Barham and HMS Royal Oak. The Germans lost nearly 800 U-Boats of all types and over 28,000 U-Boat Sailors, about 75% of the force.

The films Das Boot and The Enemy Below are excellent reminders of the courage of the men that operated these submarines during the war. Though the Nazi Regime was evil the men of the U-Boat Service often displayed courage and ingenuity in the face of overwhelming odds and they nearly won the war for the Germans.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under germany, History, Military, Navy Ships, nazi germany, World War II at Sea

The Clash of the Ironclads: The Battle of Hampton Roads at 158 Years

800px-the_monitor_and_merrimac1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Yesterday and today mark the 157th  anniversary of an event which changed naval warfare forever, the Battle of Hampton Roads. It was a watershed event which ended the reign of the great wooden ships which plied the oceans of the world under massive fields of canvas sails. 

It took place about 10 miles from my current office, which is just a few hundred yards from Drydock Number One, at Naval Station Norfolk, in Portsmouth, Virginia, then called Gosport. It was here that the Confederate Navy, salvaged the wreck of the Steam Frigate USS Merrimac, razed her to the waterline, and constructed an ironclad casemate over her and recommissioned as the CSS Virginia. 

On March 9th 1862, two very strange looking ships joined in battle. This is the story of the Battle of Hanpton Roads and the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. This is their story, and the story of the men who designed and commanded them. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

On the morning of March 8th 1862 the CSS Virginia steamed slowly from her base at at the former US Navy Shipyard, Gosport, in Portsmouth, Virginia into Hampton Roads at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Her mission, break the Union blockade.

Awaiting her was a US Navy squadron of wooden warships including the steam Frigate USS Minnesota, the Sloop of War USS Cumberland and Frigate USS Congress and a number of smaller vessels. Together these ships mounted over 100 heavy guns, and were backed up by the shore batteries at Fort Monroe, on the Hampton side of Hampton Roads.

The Ships, Their Captains, and Designers 

The CSS Virginia was an armored ram built from the salvaged remains of the large steam frigate USS Merrimack, which had been burned at Gosport (Now Norfolk) Naval Shipyard when the Navy abandoned the shipyard to keep her from being captured by the Confederates after Virginia had seceded from the Union on April 20th 1861.  She was raised in May and the wreck was placed in what is now called Drydock Number One, at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which is the oldest Drydock in the Western Hemisphere, a historic landmark, and still in use on May 30th 1861. Upon inspection it was determined that her hull below the waterline was intact and her engines serviceable. Since Merrimac was the largest ship, wrecked or intact, with serviceable steam engines and boilers; Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory decided that she would be converted into an ironclad.

Her design was that of Lieutenant John Mercer Brooke, a former U.S. Navy officer, and Naval Constructor John L. Porter, who had been a civilian employee of the Navy at Gosport. The design was an ironclad ram, with a massive casemate armored with four inches of Iron and 24 inches of Oak and Pine, which protected her battery of six 9” Dahlgren smoothbores, which were at the Naval Yard, and four 7” Brooke Rifled Guns, designed by LT Brooke and modeled on the design of the Parrot Rifled Gun, used by both sides during the American Civil War.

Her stem and stern nearly underwater, a V Shaped breakwater was mounted forward of the casemate, and an iron ram mounted below the waterline, a throwback in Naval design which had been abandoned since the Middle Ages when cannons became the weapon of choice. This was because the Confederates discover that the guns mounted on her might not be effective against Union ironclads which were being designed. Her design would be the prototype for almost all future Confederate Ironclads.

         Iron Plates from CSS Virginia at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard

However, she was plagued with unreliable engines which had been condemned by the US Navy, even before she was burn and sunk, were scheduled to be replaced during her refit at Gosport. As such, her design limited her to a coastal defense role, and her engines limited her to a speed of 5 to 6 knots. Her turning radius was over a mile and it took her 45 minutes to make a complete circle. Though lethal to wooden ships in enclosed waters, she was hardly a threat to Union maritime supremacy. In heavy seas she would have been a death trap to her crew.

Her Captain, Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan was a former U.S. Navy Captain originally from Maryland. In expectation that Maryland would secede from the Union, he resigned his commission on April 22nd 1861. When Maryland did not secede he attempted to withdraw his resignation but was rebuffed by Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. Thus  he left the Navy in May 1861 and joined the Confederate Navy in September 1861. He was appointed commander of the James River Squadron in February 1862 and selected CSS Virginia as his flagship. His Executive Officer was Lieutenant Catsby ap Jones. 

The USS Monitor

However, Virginia’s plans had been leaked to the US Navy by a Union sympathizer at Gosport, and taken to Washington, DC, by a freed slave named Mary Louvestre in February 1862. She met with Welles and sped the efforts of the Navy to complete and commission a number of ironclad ships of different types, but most importantly Welles pushed the Navy and builders to speed up the completion of the USS Monitor. 

Monitor was the brainchild of the Swedish Engineer John Ericsson, who had a troubled history with the US Navy. He invented the Screw Propeller for steamships, an idea rejected by the British Royal Navy, but then recruited by the ambitious American, Captain Robert F. Stockton to come to the United States. His propellers were first used on USS Princeton, for which he also designed a 12” breech loaded, rotating gun named Oregon. The gun which he designed was built in England and used hoop construction, also known as built up construction to pre-tension the breech. This method involved placing red-hot iron hoops around the breech-end of the weapon thereby allowing the gun to take a higher powder charge than previous cast iron weapons, which relied on using thicker iron to take an increased charge, making the weapon larger and heavier without increasing its strength.

However, Stockton moved to ensure that Ericsson was not acknowledged as the primary designer. Likewise, he decided that “his” ship should have two 12” guns, Ericsson’s and his own, which used the older technology and heavier iron, but without the tensile strength of Ericsson’s gun. Its huge size made it the more impressive looking weapon, but with the tendency common to such weapons, to burst.

However, Stockton’s gun was hastily built and had only a few test firings before demonstrating it before President John Tyler, his future wife Julia, former First Lady Dolly Madison and an assortment of cabinet officers, congressmen, and their families, numbering close to 400 on February 27th 1844. While coming back up the Potomac River, Stockton personally fired a shot in honor of George Washington at Mount Vernon. Stockton pulled the lanyard and the left side of the breech blew out, sending large fragments of cast iron, killing Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer, Secretary of State Abel Upshur, Chief of the Navy Board of Construction and Repair, Captain Beverley Kennon. Senator Thomas Hart Benton, Captain Stockton, and another 14-18 crew members and visitors were wounded.

Stockton, who had a benefactor in President Tyler, blamed Ericsson who went on to many other accomplishments, but who refused any dealings with the Navy until Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles convinced him to design an ironclad in 1861. Ericsson responded with yet another revolutionary design which was at first ridiculed by naval experts. Ericsson based the hull of the ship on that of shallow draft Swedish lumber barges, but constructed completely of iron and not equipped with sails. He armed the ship with a heavily armored turret mounting two powerful 11” Dahlgren guns, which rotated a full 360 degrees. The turret was designed to mount two 15” Dahlgren guns, but they were not yet available. Had those guns been ready, Monitor might have sunk the Virginia.

Monitor was completed in under 100 days as Ericsson had promised. She was laid down on October 25th 1861, launched on January 30th, and commissioned on February 25th 1862. Her Captain was Lieutenant John Worden. Worden had served in the Navy since 1834, and he would go on to many great accomplishments, finishing his career as a Rear Admiral, having commanded another monitor, USS Montauk, Superintendent of the Naval Academy, Commander of the Mediterranean Squadron, and President of the Naval Institute.

However, in February 1862 the relatively old lieutenant took Monitor to sea two days later, but the deployment was cut short by a steering failure, which resulted in the ship returning to New York for repairs. She sailed for Hampton Roads again on March 6th and she would arrive on the evening of March 8th, not long after Virginia had wreaked havoc on the Union ships at Hampton Roads. His Executive Officer was Lieutenant Samuel Dana Greene, son of the future Union General and hero of Culp’s Hill at the Battle of Gettysburg, George Sears Greene. 

The Battle

 

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During the ensuing fight of March 8th Virginia rammed and sank Cumberland which though fatally wounded disabled two of Virginia’s 9” in guns. Virginia destroyed Congress by gunfire which burned and blew up and appeared to be in position to destroy Minnesota the following day as that ship had run hard aground. The losses aboard Cumberland and Congress were severe and included the Captain of the Congress and Chaplain John L. Lenhart of Cumberland, the first US Navy Chaplain to die in battle. During the battle Virginia had several men wounded including her Captain, Franklin Buchanan who during the action went atop the casemate to fire a carbine at Union shore batteries. He was wounded by a bullet in the leg and though he survived he missed the next day’s action.

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Due to the coming of darkness and a falling tide the acting commander of Virginia, Lieutenant Catsby Ap Roger Jones her executive officer took her in for the night. During the night Monitor, under the command of Lieutenant John Worden arrived and took up station to defend Minnesota.

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The next morning Virginia again ventured out and was intercepted by the Monitor. The ships fought for over three hours, with Monitor using her superior speed and maneuverability to great effect. During the battle Monitor suffered a hit on her small pilothouse near her bow blinding her Captain Worden.  Monitor’s executive officer, Lieutenant Dana Greene, took command. Neither side suffered much damage but the smokestack of Virginia was pierced in several places affecting her already poor engine performance.  Jones broke off the action and returned to Gosport for repairs while Monitor remained on station, still ready for battle.

Gideon Welles wrote after the battle: “the performance, power, and capabilities of the Monitor, must effect a radical change in naval warfare.”

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It did. The battle showed the world the vulnerability of wooden warships against the new ironclads. Monitor in particular revolutionized naval warfare and warship construction. From that time on the truly modern ships were fully iron and later steel, with revolving turrets, and within twenty years without sails, even as a back up to their steam engines.

Her defining mark was the use of the armored gun turret which over the succeeding decades became the standard manner for large ships guns to be mounted. Turrets like the warships they were mounted upon grew in size and power reaching their apex during the Second World War, only to be superseded by the next revolution in Naval warfare, the Aircraft Carrier.

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Both Virginia and Monitor reached less than glorious ends. Virginia had to be destroyed by her crew to prevent her capture just over two months after the battle on May 11th 1862. Monitor survived until January 31st 1862 when she sank during a heavy storm off Cape Hatteras North Carolina with the loss of 16 of her 62 man crew. The remains of two of those men, recovered during the salvage of Monitor’s engines, turret, guns and anchor were interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8th 2012. The relics from Monitor and some from Virginia are displayed at the Mariners Museum in Newport News (http://www.marinersmuseum.org )while one of Virginia’s anchors resides on the lawn of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond. Two of her iron plates are on display at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Those early ironclads and the brave men who served aboard them revolutionized naval warfare and their work should never be forgotten.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy

“I Was Sure That I Could Not Afford to Fail” Admiral Samuel Gravely and the Desegregation of the Navy

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I remember the service of Vice Admiral Samuel Gravely, a pioneer in the desegregation of the Navy and one of the first Black Naval Officers, not to mention the first to achieve Flag Rank. He was a man who, like Jackie Robinson in Baseball, knew how much was riding on his shoulders. For him failure did not reflect just on him, but on every Black man, and later woman who desired to become a Naval Officer.

Free Blacks had served in the Navy since the American Revolution and were not segregated as they later were in the Army. While none could become officers, they served in nearly every enlisted rating, alongside whites, until President Woodrow Wilson, ordered the Navy to only employ Blacks as mess stewards in 1915. Wilson, the first American President to come from a Southern State since the Civil war also greatly restricted opportunities for Blacks in the Civil Service and hosted a screening of D.W. Griffith’s monumental film commemorating White Supremacy, the Lost Cause, and the Noble South, Birth of a Nation. With the rollbacks in opportunities for Blacks in the Navy, their numbers in service dwindled, and then the Second World War broke out, and the debate regarding the integration of the military began anew, but nowhere was the resistance to Blacks serving, was in the Navy, despite the heroism of men like Dorie Miller who manned a machine gun on the USS West Virginia and attempted to save the life of his mortally wounded Captain, actions for which he was awarded the Navy Cross, which was after long delay upgraded to the Medal of Honor

Gravely wrote later:

“I was sure that I could not afford to fail. I thought that would affect other members of my race if I failed anywhere along the line. I was always conscious of that, particularly in midshipman school and any other schools I went to…I tried to set a record of perfect conduct ashore and at sea.” 

Things have changed much since 1942 when following the attack on Pearl Harbor a young black college student from Richmond Virginia enlisted in the Navy. Samuel Gravely Jr. was the son of a postal worker and Pullman porter while his mother worked as a domestic servant for white families in Richmond. His mother died unexpectedly when he was 15 in 1937 and he remained to help care for his siblings as his father continued to work. Balancing the care of his family with his education he enrolled in Virginia Union College, a Baptist school in Richmond.

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Fireman Apprentice Samuel Gravely Jr

It is hard to imagine for most of us now to comprehend the world that the young Gravely grew up in. Segregation was the norm. Blacks in the south and many other locations faced personal as well as intrenched institutional racism. Violence against blacks was quite common and the Ku Klux Klan was strong.

The military was still segregated and a great gulf existed between white military personnel and blacks. Though the selective service law of 1940 called for the conscription of people regardless of race, creed or color the services enjoyed much latitude in determining how minorities could serve. The Secretary of the Navy at the time, Frank Knox resisted integration. Knox determined that African Americans would remain segregated and serve only as Mess Stewards to “prevent undermining and disruptive conditions in the Navy.” Knox told President Roosevelt in the presence of black leaders that “because men live in such intimacy aboard ship that we simply can’t enlist Negroes above the rank of messman.”

That sentiment to maintain the status quo of segregation was especially strong in both the Navy and the Marine Corps. The leaders of both services resisted attempts to broaden the ability for African Americans to serve and urged that blacks serve in the Army, not the Naval Service.  Marine Corps Commandant Major General Thomas Holcomb agreed with this stance. He commented:

“If we are defeated we must not close our eyes to the fact that once in they [Negroes] will be strengthened in their effort to force themselves into every activity we have. If they are not satisfied to be messmen, they will not be satisfied to go into the constriction or labor battalions. Don’t forget the colleges are turning out a large number of well educated Negroes. I don’t know how long we will be able to keep them out of the V-7 class. I think not very long.”

But President Franklin Roosevelt was not deterred and by April 1942 changes were announced to allow African Americans to serve in other capacities. Even so, the African Americans selected for ratings other than messman were to be segregated and commanded by White Officers and Petty Officers.

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The USS PC-1264 and its crew, Gravely is the lone black officer

Gravely enlisted in the Navy under these conditions. Serving as a Fireman Apprentice after receiving training as a Motor Machinist in San Diego, he worked in menial jobs. In 1943 Gravely was one of only three sailors in his unit to be selected for the V-12 officer training program. He was the only black to make the cut. He was commissioned as an Ensign on December 14th 1944 and assigned to train black recruits at Great Lakes despite the fact that the vast majority of his class went to sea. This was mainly due to the policy set forth by the General Board in 1942 that prescribed:

“(a) the white man will not accept the negro in a position of authority over him; (b) the white man considers that he is of a superior race and will not admit the negro as an equal; and (c) the white man refuses to admit the negro to intimate family relationships leading to marriage. These concepts may not be truly democratic, but it is doubtful if the most ardent lovers of democracy will dispute them, particularly in regard to inter-marriage.”

Despite this by 1945 the Navy was beginning to change. Gravely was chosen to serve on one of two ships assigned to the “experiment” of seeing how blacks in general ratings could serve at sea. The USS Mason (DE 539) and the USS PC-1264 were assigned black crews with majority white officers, except that Gravely was assigned to PC-1264. Though his commander was pleased with his service Gravely, who had been denied admittance to Officer Clubs and many other “white only” facilities resigned from the Navy in 1946. He believed that the inherent discrimination of the Navy left him no place for advancement. He returned to complete his bachelors degree at Virginia Union.

In 1949, following President Truman’s integration of the military Gravely was asked by the Navy to return to active duty. But the end of the old order was foreshadowed by a Navy pamphlet published in 1944 entitled The Guide to the Command of Negro Personnel. That publication included the statement that ”The Navy accepts no theories of racial differences in inborn ability, but expects that every man wearing its uniform be trained and used in accordance with his maximum individual capacity determined on the basis of individual performance.”

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Gravely’s commands (top to bottom) USS Theodore E Chandler, USS Taussig and USS Jouett

Gravely accepted the offer to return to active duty and never looked back. He worked hard for respect and used his natural talents, personality and size to command respect. He was a man who would blaze the way for other African Americans, and later women and most recently gays to go on to greater things. Gravely would go on to command three ships. He was the first African American Naval Officer to command a Navy warship, the USS Theodore E Chandler (DD 717), the first to command a Navy ship in combat, the USS Taussig (DD 746) and the first to command a major warship, the USS Jouett (CG 29). Promoted to flag rank he eventually became the first Black to command a Fleet when he took command of 3rd Fleet. He retired in 1980 and passed away in 2004.

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Commander Gravely and his officers on USS Taussig

Gravely gave his parents and conditions of his upbringing much credit for his success. He believed that those conditions which forced him to “capitalize on his strong points, build his weak areas and sustain the positive self-esteem and self-worth that his parents instilled in him as a young child.”

He was a great leader. LCDR Desiree Linson who interviewed him for her Air Command and Staff College project noted that Gravely like many other great military leaders before him learned to manage the image that he presented, be a caretaker for his people, what we would now call a mentor. He said “[If I was CNO] my responsibility would be to make sure enlisted men and families were taken care of. I would do everything in my power to make sure.”

His pursuit of excellence, self confidence and mastery of professional skills empowered him in an institution where he was still an anomaly and where racism still existed. He believed in effective communication, especially verbal communication and in building teams and in being a good follower, listening, learning and proactively anticipating the needs of his superiors. Gravely was also a believer in personal morality and self discipline and preparedness. He said:

“I did everything I could think of to prepare myself. If the opportunity came, I would be prepared for it. [The question would not be] “Why didn’t you prepare for this opportunity.” I would be prepared for whatever opportunity that came. If it came, fine. If it did not, fine, but I would be prepared if it did come.”

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The USS Gravely

Vice Admiral Gravely blazed a trail for those that followed him and set an example for all Naval Officers to follow. He did it under conditions that most of us could not imagine. I am proud to serve in the Navy that he helped to make.  His vision, service and memory are carried on in this navy and in the ship that bears his name, the USS Gravely DDG-107.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, History, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, Navy Ships, Political Commentary, racism, US Marine Corps, US Navy

The Pinnacle of Naval Superiority or Obsolescence: The Battle Cruisers of 1920 and the Aircraft Carriers of 2020

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Artists Depiction of G3 Battlecruiser 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The next few days I will be reflecting on the old year and the coming new year, but tonight I decided to tweak and republish an article from about four years ago dealing with the battle cruisers being built by Great Britain, Japan, and the United States after the First World War. They represented the pinnacle of naval design for their era and would have been far superior to their adversaries had technology and war remained static. As Admiral Ernest King noted:

“Nothing remains static in war or military weapons, and it is consequently often dangerous to rely on courses suggested by apparent similarities in the past.”

As the First World War ended a new Naval Race was heating up. The United States had announced its intention during the war to build a navy second to none while Imperial Japan was making plans for a fleet that would give it superiority in the Western Pacific. The British, though still be far the largest naval power in the world were burdened by the massive costs of war and empire, but also seeking to maintain their naval dominance and to that end they were in the process of building a class of massive super-Dreadnought battleships, and Battle Cruisers.

Much of each powers actions in the coming years would be based on internal politics, foreign policy, and the simple economics of how much each power could afford to spend on their militaries after such a costly war. The result was the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 which limited the signatories to specific numbers, tonnage, and armaments each Navy would be allowed. Do to those reasons the massive Battle Cruisers planned by Britain, the United States and Japan were canceled. The Japanese and Americans would choose to convert two of their incomplete ships to aircraft carriers, while the British would convert the already completed ships of the Courageous Class battlecruisers (Courageous, Glorious, and Furious) into aircraft carriers as though none of the G3 ships had been laid down.

The ships known as the G3 battle cruisers were first designed by the British Royal Navy as a compliment to the all big gun Dreadnought battleships. The Battle Cruiser concept was for a ship of roughly the same size and firepower as a Battleship, but sacrificed armor protection for greater speed, endurance and range.  The United States and Japan joined in the Battle Cruiser race before and during the war. However, Britain the United States had concentrated on building battleships during the war but following the war began to design and build its own classes of massive battle cruisers.

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HMS Invincible Blowing Up at Jutland 

During the war the weaknesses of the battlecruisers as a type were exposed during the Battle of Jutland where three British Battle Cruisers, the HMS InvincibleHMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary blew up with the loss of most of their crews; of the 3311 officers and sailors on the ships only 26 survived. The HMS Lion was almost lost in a similar manner but the heroic actions of her crew saved her from her sisters fate. The British ships had glaring deficiencies in armor protection and the arrangement of their ammunition magazines and hoists which certainly contributed to their loss. Their German counterparts on the other hand proved much tougher and though all sustained heavy damage while engaging British Battleships and Battle Cruisers, only one the Lützow was lost. She absorbed over 30 hits from large caliber shells and only lost 128 crew members. However, though a battle cruiser Lützow, and other German battle cruisers wer designed for relatively short range operations which meant they neither sacrificed armor protection, speed, or firepower as did the British ships which were designed for missions far and wide, needing more displacement for fuel and crew supplies, often sacrificing armor protection in order to maintain their high speed capabilities.

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HMS Hood

As the war progressed other Battle Cruisers were built, the British launched the HMS Repulse and HMS Renown and completed the HMS Hood shortly after the war was over. The Japanese built the four ship Kongo class from a British design, the first of which, the Kongo was completed in a British yard, the others Haruna, Hiei, and Kirishima were built in Japanese yards. The Kongo Class would prove to be the workhorses of the Battle Force of the Imperial Japanese Navy, all seeing significant combat action.

As the powers embarked on the next Naval Race planners and naval architects designed ships of massive firepower, better protection and higher range and speed. All would have been better classed as Fast Battleships, a better description of the Kongo Class or the Hood than previous ships.

The British designed and funded the G3 class in 1921, while the Japanese began work on the Amagi Class, and the United States the Lexington Class. However the construction and completion of these ships as Battle Cruisers was prevented by the Washington Naval Treaty.

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The treaty, which was ratified in 1922 limited the United States and Great Britain to a maximum of 525,000 tons in their battle ship fleets and 125,000 tons in aircraft carriers.  The Japanese agreed to a limit of 315,000 tons and the French and Italians 175,000 tons each. Tonnage for battleships was limited to a maximum of 35,000 tons with a limitation on guns size to 16 inches.  Since the bulk of the ships planned or being built by the US and Japan exceeded those limits they would be effected more than the British whose post war shipbuilding program had not begun in earnest, in fact the G3 Class had just been approved for construction and there is no proof that construction had begun on any of the ships.

The G3 class would have comprised four ships and been similar to the N3 Class Battleships. They were very well balanced ships and would have mounted nine 16” guns in three turrets on a displacement of 49,200 tons and deep load of 54,774 tons. They had an all or nothing protection plan meaning that the armored belt was concentrated in vital areas around the armored citadel, conning tower, turrets and magazines and engineering spaces. Their armor belt would have ranged from 12-14 inches, deck armor from 3-8 inches, conning tower 8 inches, barbettes 11-14 inches, turrets 13-17 inches and bulkheads 10-12 inches. Their propulsion system of 20 small tube boilers powering 4 geared steam turbines connected to 4 propeller shafts would have produced 160,000 shp with a designed speed of 32 knots.

The four ships, none of which were named were ordered between October and November of 1921. Their construction was suspended on November 18th 1921 and they and the N3 Battleships were cancelled in February 1922 due to the limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty. Many concepts of their design were incorporated in the Nelson Class battleships which were a compromise design built to stay within the limits of the treaty.

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Amagi Class as Designed, Akagi as Completed (below) 

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The four planned Japanese Amagi Class ships would have mounted ten 16” guns on a displacement of 47,000 tons at full load. Their propulsion system 19 Kampon boilers powering four Gihon turbines would have given them a maximum speed of 30 knots, They would have had less protection than the G3 ships being more of a traditional Battle Cruiser design. As a result of the Washington Naval Treaty the Japanese elected to convert two of the ships, the Amagi and Akagi to aircraft carriers. Amagi was destroyed on the ways during the great Tokyo earthquake and Akagi was completed as a carrier. The other two vessels were scrapped on the ways. To replace Amagi the Imperial Navy selected the incomplete Tosa Class battleship Kaga. 

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The United States Navy planned the six ship Lexington Class. These ships would have mounted eight 16” guns on a ship measuring 874 feet long and 105 feet in beam, displacing 43,254 tons at full load, or nearly the size of the Iowa Class battleships. They would have had a maximum speed of 33 knots being powered by 16 boilers which drove 4 GE electric turbines producing 180,000 shaft horse power. Theirs was a massive engineering plant and while the class did not have as heavy armor protection as either the G3 or Amagi classes, they were superior to them in speed as well as endurance. Upon ratification of the Washington Naval Treaty four of the six ships were cancelled and the remaining two, the Lexington and Saratoga competed as aircraft carriers.  Had any of the ships been completed as Battle Cruisers it is likely due to their speed that they would have operated primarily with the the carriers that the US Navy built during the 1930s.

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One can only speculate what the navies of World War II would have looked like had the Washington and the subsequent London Naval Treaties not been ratified. One can also only imagine how the war at sea would have been different had the ships completed as carriers been completed as Battle Cruisers. It is certain had the Royal Navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the United States Navy Not Converter These ships, that Naval Aviation would have take years, or maybe more than decades to reach its potential.

However that was not to be, of the planned 14 ships of these three classes only three were completed, all as aircraft carriers, ships that helped to forge the future of naval operations and warfare for nearly a century. Thus the uncompleted ships are an interesting footnote in naval history yet have their own mystique.

                 HMS Queen Elizabeth 

Yet nothing remains static. The carriers have ruled the waves since December 7th 1941. But the massive aircraft carriers which have ruled the seas since the Second World War are not necessarily invincible and depending on how technology progresses could be heading into obsolescence, and may end up serving in support roles or being paid off. Yet that being said the United States is continuing to construct carriers of the Ford Class, the British the Queen Elizabeth Class, while the Chinese and Indian Navies pursue the development of new super carriers, while the French Navy operates the CVN Charles De Gaulle.  

But with the development of more and more relatively cheap, long range, and maneuverable land based anti-ship missile systems, and the capabilities of modern submarines we have to ask the legitimate question, is the aircraft carrier’s reign of the seas in jeopardy? This is a good question, but not the only one because since World War II there have been no carrier versus carrier engagements on the high seas. There are some places that are outside the range of land based anti-ship weapons, although submarines may prove a problem for surface forces to deal with, and for carriers their survival.

But since there have been no carrier versus carrier actions since the Second World War it would be interesting to see how the current carriers now operational or being developed would fare against each other if such an encounter occurred. It would be a test of air wings, ship design, and the protective capabilities of their escorts, as well as the cyber realm, on, above, and below the surface. Until such an engagement occurred all opinions, even those done in computer simulations are at best guesses as most of the weapons systems have never been tried in actual combat against peer competitors. Thus, like the carriers and their escorts designed before the Second World War, they will have to be tested in combat to see if they are still relevant in their designed role, or if they will be relegated to support roles which could be done by less costly alternatives such as the LHA/LHD type ships of the United States, France, Japan, and South Korea, or the the Sea Control Ship derivations in other smaller Navies in Europe and Asia.

Perhaps to meet some missions smaller and cheaper carriers will be developed, or existing platforms modified to carry more capable aircraft as the Japanese are doing with their Izumo and Hyuga Class “Helicopter Destroyers,” and the South Koreans are doing with their two Dokto Class LPH (Landing Platform Helicoptor) both of which may soon begin to operate the F35B fighter aircraft purchased from the United States, the same aircraft with will operate from United States Navy LHAs and LHDs as well as the British Queen Elizabeth Class. 

JMSDF “Helicopter Destroyer” Kaga 

Thus, one might wonder if the large new aircraft carriers currently being built by the United States, Britain, China, India, and other nations will also be displaced by advancing technology as were the battlecrusiers of the 1920s. It is a question that must be asked. There are certainly arguments for them, but what would the effect be on the United States Navy if one of the Nimitz or Ford Class carriers was sunk by the Chinese, or evening the Iranians? My guess is that it would be the same kind of shock that hit the Royal Navy after Jutland, and the U.S. Navy after Pearl Harbor.

I still believe in the aircraft carrier, as a weapon of deterrence, support of operations ashore, and against enemy ships on the high seas. But eight decades is a long run for any weapons system, and it is possible that despite the major power’s investment in carriers, that their reign may be coming to an end, at the same time it may be too early to count out the Super Carriers. Perhaps their mission will be modified to support smaller ships in sea control missions and reserved for potential combat with countries which have no answer to them, or against similar platforms in open ocean battles.

USS Gerald R. Ford 

I believe that the future has not been decided in relation to the aircraft carrier and much of that will have to do with how the operators of such vessels adapt to a changing world with many more threats, in order to maximize their capabilities while minimizing the dangers to such expensive national security assets. This is the aspect of war and national security that is within the control of human beings. I think of Admiral Arleigh Burke’s words at times like this:

“For in this modern world, the instruments of warfare are not solely for waging war. Far more importantly, they are the means for controlling peace. Naval officers must therefore understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice, without unleashing the powerful instruments of destruction and chaos that they have at their command.”

he other possibility is that the navies that operate them decide that they are too expensive, and that their vulnerabilities outweigh their capabilities. This was the case in the 1920s with the battlecruisers then under construction.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, national security, Navy Ships, News and current events, US Navy, World War II at Sea

Christmas Tragedy: The Senseless Loss of the Scharnhorst at North Cape

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is the Second Day of Christmas or as it is also known, the Feast of St. Stephen; and Boxing Day, oh for the days of Ali and Frazier… but I digress…

Christmastide is a joyous time for many, but in the course of history there have been times that military men have fought and died in hopeless battles far from their families. Thus it is often a time of sorrow, especially for those that die alone. Among those who died alone in the Arctic darkness of December 26th 1943 were the officers and crew of the German battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

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The Scharnhorst along with her sister ship Gneisenau were the product of the naval architects of Germany who in the early 1930s designed some of the most beautiful as well as deadly warships of the Second World War.  Following Germany’s rejection of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles the Kreigsmarine enacted a building program to enlarge and modernize the German Navy which then was composed of obsolete pre-Dreadnaught battleships and a few modern light cruisers and destroyers.   The first major units constructed were actually begun by the predecessor to the Kreigsmarine, the Reichsmarine Of the Weimar Republic.  These were the Deutschland class Armored Ships, sometimes called “Pocket Battleships” and later reclassified as Heavy Cruisers. These ships were designed to replace the old pre-Dreadnaught battleships and incorporated electric welds to reduce displacement, diesel engines for extended cruise range to enable them to serve as commerce raiders and a battery of six 11” guns.  While an advance over anything in the German inventory they were outclassed by the British battle cruisers Hood, Renown and Repulse.

However, the first true capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau They were classed as battleships by the Germans, but in reality they were battle cruisers because of their light main battery of 11” guns as opposed to the 14”, 15” or 16” batteries of other nations battleships.  In fact, their main battery was Despite this in displacement and armor protection of the ships was comparable to other battleships of the era and their designed speed of 31.5 knots was superior to almost all other battleships of the era including the British King George V Class and the US Navy’s  North Carolina class.  Only the massive battlecruiser HMS Hood was their superior in speed and firepower.

As built Scharnhorst and Gneisenau displaced 31,000 toms, however at full combat load they both weighed in at nearly 38,000 tons and were 772 feet long.  They had an armor belt that was nearly 14 inches thick.  Armed with a main battery of nine 11” guns and a secondary armament of twelve 5.9 inch guns they also mounted a powerful for the time anti- aircraft battery of fourteen 4.1 inch guns, 16 37mm and 16 20mm anti-aircraft cannons.  Additionally they mounted six 21” torpedo tubes and carried three Arado 196 A3 scout planes.  The main battery was eventually to be replaced by six 15” guns but this never occurred; Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed due to Hitler’s anger after the failure of a German task force during the Battle of the Barents Sea in December 1942.

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Scharnhorst firing at HMS Glorious 

Laid down on 15 June 1935 and launched 3 October 1936 Scharnhorst was commissioned 7 January 1939.  Her sister Gneisenau was laid down 6 May 1935, launched 8 December 1936 and commissioned 21 May 1938.  Upon the commencement of the Second World War the two sisters began a reign of destruction on British shipping. In November they sank the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Rawalpindi During Operation Weserübung the pair surprised sank the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and her two escorting destroyers, the only time a Fleet carrier was caught and sunk by battleships during the war.   From January to March 1941 they conducted Operation Berlin against British merchant shipping in the North Atlantic sinking 22 ships before returning to base.

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Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during Operation Cerebus

While in the port of Brest Gneisenau was bombed and torpedoed requiring extensive repairs.  Due to the exposed location of the port the German high command decided to return the ships to Germany along with the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen.  The operation was called Operation Cerberus and it took place from 11-13 February 1942. The ships made a dash up the English Channel which was unsuccessfully contested by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. However, both Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were damaged by mines and needed subsequent repairs.  While undergoing repairs in Kiel Gneisenau was further damaged by the Royal Air Force requiring repairs in or to steam to the port of Gotenhafen for repair and conversion.  Although some work was completed she was decommissioned and sunk as a blockship on 23 March 1945.  Following the war she was raised by the Poles and scrapped.

Scharnhorst was repaired following Operation Cerberes and in March 1943 was transferred to Norway where along with Tirpitz, Admiral Scheer, Lutzow (the former Deutschland), Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen she became part of a “fleet in being” poised to strike the Allied convoys bound for Russia.

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Admiral Bruce Fraser

The German surface ships were a potent force that if the circumstances allowed could devastate the Russia bound convoys and the Commander of the British Home Fleet, Admiral Bruce Fraser was determined to entrap and destroy any of these ships that threatened any convoy. As such in December 1943 Fraser formed a task group built around the HMS Duke of York to be ready to pounce on any German raider that threatened the convoys. His intent was to catch any of these ships, especially Scharnhorst and trap them between the convoys and their base, in conduction with a second task group centered around the cruisers HMS Belfast, HMS Norfolk, and HMS Sheffield, Known as Force One, and destroy the German battleship.

The key to British the British operation was Enigma the German code machine and cipher system which they had acquired from captured U-Boats, and which British code-breakers had mastered. The Germans decided to send Scharnhorst and five destroyers to locate and destroy convoy JW-55B which had been spotted by Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft. Because of Enigma, Fraser knew that Scharnhorst would attempt to intercept the convoy and put his plan to set the trap in motion.

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Scharnhorst and her escorts set sail on Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey to conduct Operation Ostfront. But Bey was new to command, he had been promoted to Konteradmiral on the day the force sailed, having taken the place of Admiral Oskar Kummetz who had left for Germany to take a long convalescent leave. Bey was an experienced commander, but all of his experience was on destroyers. He was a torpedo expert, but had never served aboard a battleship, or even a cruiser, and he was a a novice when it came to the large caliber guns aboard the Scharnhorst. His position was made worse by the fact that the task force staff had been thinned out by the Navy, for few expected it to be sent in combat.

However, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, had decided that given the right conditions, specifically that an exposed convey without heavy support which could be engaged with a high degree of success could be attacked. This convoy was JW-55B, which had been spotted by a German weather observation aircraft on the 22nd Of December. However, the weather was so foul that no further spotting of it or any other British ships was made. There was no question that further air reconnaissance was possible, Berlin was satisfied that the convoy had no support, as German Historian Wolfgang Zank wrote that Berlin followed its motto: “Was nicht gemeldet wird, ist auch nicht da” or “What isn’t reported, isn’t there.” 

Bey wasn’t convinced while still transiting Alta Fjord, he radioed Berlin to inform the high command of how the weather would interfere with the operations of his five destroyers, after all he was a destroyerman and had commanded destroyers in such weather. He was attempting to get the mission called off, but Berlin insisted on the attack. Dönitz replied “I believe in your attacking spirit. Sieg Heil!” With no recourse, Bey put to sea.

However, his destroyers could not keep pace with Scharnhorst so Bey detached them and sailed alone to fight the enemy.

Since Fraser knew that the Germans were coming he had the convoy to temporarily reverse course. This action caused Bey to find nothing where he expected the convoy to be, but he did encounter and engage at long range Fraser’s cruisers including HMS Norfolk, HMS Sheffield both veterans of the the hunt for and sinking of the Bismarck and the HMS Belfast. Scharnhorst’s guns damaged the heavy cruiser Norfolk, but the radar directed fire of the British cruisers landed a hit which knocked out her search radar leaving the German ship virtually blind as the weather worsened and darkness set in.

Bey, thinking he had shaken his pursuers, set course for Alta Fjord at full speed, however, Belfast had maintained contact and Fraser with Duke of York closed the distance and at 1617 her radar picked up the German at a range of 45,500 yards. By 1632 she was 29,700 yards away. Scharnhorst was oblivious to the danger, and at 1648 Belfast illuminated the German ship and Duke of York opened fire at just under 12,000 yards scoring hits which disabled Scharnhorst’s forward turrets and destroyed her airplane hanger. Bey changed course and increased speed, briefly opening the range and momentarily giving the Germans hope, but that was not to be.

At 1820 Duke of York struck a devastating blow on the German ship. A 14” shell pierced the armored belt and exploded in Scharnhorst’s number one boiler room reducing her speed to just 10 knots. Quick repairs were made enabling the ship to steam at 22 knots, but now she was vulnerable to torpedo attacks by the British destroyers.

When he did not find the convoy in the expected location Bey detached his destroyers to expand the search area, leaving Scharnhorst alone to face the enemy.

Rear Admiral Erich Bey

At about 0900 on December 26th 1943 the cruisers of Force One discovered Scharnhorst and the  Battle of North Cape was on. Though little damage was suffered in the first engagement, the radar of Scharnhorst was knocked out, leaving her not only without air support or escort, but blind.

HMS Duke of York underway, and firing her main battery

Scharnhorst attempted to flee, but Fraser’s Duke of York  and her four escorting destroyers destroyers intercepted her. Without radar in the blinding snow squalls Scharnhorst was surprise by their appearance. Duke of York’s first radar direct salvos knocked out her forward main battery but the German ship appeared to be making a getaway when a shell from Duke of York hit her number one boiler room and reduced her speed to barely ten knots. Although the German engineers and damage control teams made some repairs and were able to bring her speed back up to 22 knots, the British ships rapidly made up the distance enabling the British destroyers to launch torpedo attacks.

Knowing the ship was doomed Admiral Bey dispatched a message to the high command of the Kriegsmarine: “We will fight on until the last shell is fired.” 

While Scharnhorst attempted to fight off her attackers and escape she was struck by torpedoes from several destroyers as being punished at distance of under 10,000 yards by Duke of York’s 14″ shells, as well as the 6″ shells of HMS Belfast and HMS Jamaica. Savaged by at least 13 hits by Duke of York’s 14” shells and numerous torpedo hits, incapable of further resistance, the German ship capsized and sank, her massive screws still turning at 1945 hours with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew. Admiral Bey was not among the survivors, though he was spotted in the water

As she sank bow first survivors attempted to abaneon ship. Günter Sträter, who survived amd was rescued noted:

“In the water now the sailors were looking to get the rafts”,… those  who found a place on the rafts sang both verses of the song: ‘On a sailor’s grave, there are no roses blooming.’ I did not hear cries for help. It all happened exactly and without panic. “

Survivors were rescued by the British destroyers HMS wreck was discovered on October 3rd 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway. Of the ships engaged, only HMS Belfast survives, as a museum ship in the Thames River in London.

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Survivors of Scharnhorst 

Admiral Fraser praised the gallantry of the German ship to his officers later that night saying: “Gentlemen, the battle against Scharnhorst has ended in victory for us. I hope that if any of you are ever called upon to lead a ship into action against an opponent many times superior, you will command your ship as gallantly as Scharnhorst was commanded today”

After the battle Grand Admiral Erich Raeder who had authorized the sortie was relieved as commander in chief of the navy and was replaced by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz who commanded the U-Boat forces. Hitler was furious and ended most surface naval operations.

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Memorial to Scharnhorst and her crew at Kiel and the HMS Belfast moored as a Museum ship in the Thames River, London 

I have written many times about the tragedy of war, on land and at sea. Having served in combat zones on land and having been shot at by the enemy, as well as having served at sea on a cruiser I have a sense of what these men must have gone through on that final day of their lives. Though I am a realist and know that such tragedies will likely occur again, in fact I expect them and predict that the United States Navy will see its share of nautical disasters when it faces well equipped and trained opponents.

All that being said, I really do pray for the day that war will be no more and that those who serve in harm’s way will never have to do so again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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