Category Archives: World War II at Sea

The Battle of North Cape: The Death of the Scharnhorst

Schlachtschiff "Scharnhorst"

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have posted a number of articles dealing with the tragedy of war during the Christmas season and I am continuing that on this day which is often called the Second Day of Christmas or the Feast of St. Stephen.

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 sorry, 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.

Schlachtschiff "Scharnhorst"

Scharnhorst in port

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 Reichsmarineof 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 truly capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Rated as battleships, 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.  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 although Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed.

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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 Gneisenauwas 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 EnigmaFraser knew that Scharnhorst would attempt to intercept the convoy and put his plan 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. Since Fraser knew that the Germans were coming he had the convoy to temporarily reverse course which caused the Germans to miss the convoy. 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.

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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.

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HMS Duke of York firing at Scharnhorst

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 surprised. 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 she still attempted to fight off her attackers and escape she was struck by torpedoes from several destroyers as well as was pummeled by the at 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 hits and incapable of further resistance the German ship capsized and sank at 1945 hours with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew.  Her wreck was discovered 3 October 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway.

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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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Take Increased Devotion… Pearl Harbor at 75, a Personal Reflection

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I never will forget the day that I took a Navy launch from Naval Station Pearl Harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was Easter Sunday, March 26th 1978, the day before my 18th birthday and I was in Pearl Harbor as part of a Naval Junior ROTC Cadet Cruise. Cadets from my school sailed aboard the USS Frederick LST-1184 from San Diego to Pearl, and remained there for a week until returning to San Diego aboard the USS Gray FF-1054.

I honestly don’t know how many young people ever have had that kind of adventure, but for me I know that those three weeks were profoundly important in who I am today, but the one that constantly reverberates in me is the visit to the Arizona Memorial. Back then there was no visitor center on Ford Island, nor was the USS Missouri moored where the USS Oklahoma was that fateful Sunday. The day was sunny with partly cloudy skies, the sunlight reflected on the placid waters of Pearl Harbor. As the launch, manned by Sailor’s in Dress Whites neared Ford Island the bridge like white memorial loomed ahead, the rusty barbette of the battleship’s “C” turret rose slightly out of the water aft of the memorial, and the mooring quay with the USS Arizona inscribed upon it glinted in the bright morning sunlight. To our rear cruisers and destroyers lined the piers of the Naval Station.

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Alighting from the launch I went aboard the memorial at the entry room and walked across the bridge and the assembly room before entering the shrine. As I walked slowly across the bridge I peered into the water below thinking about all the men still entombed in the wreck. Pausing in the shrine I read the names of the 1,177 men killed aboard Arizona that Sunday morning, one of those was the ship’s chaplain, Captain Thomas Kirkpatrick. It was a pivotal moment for me. I had begun to feel a call to the ministry but in that moment I was sure that I wanted to serve as a Navy Chaplain. I remember finding a post card that I had sent my grandparents from the USS Gray when we returned to San Diego, my words were “Dear Ma Maw and Pa Paw, I think I am supposed to be a Navy Chaplain.” I laughed when I saw it because I was then serving as a Chaplain in the Army Reserve. Sadly, when my grandmother died in November 1996 I was deployed, and that simple postcard, my link with that part of my past was discarded by family members who did not think enough to read it, or if they did didn’t give enough of a damn about me to save it. I should have taken it when I had the chance, but sometimes I am too sentimental. 

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It took me a while to get there, my long strange trip included a 17 ½ year detour in the U.S. Army before I became a Navy Chaplain in February 1999.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of the ground that was hallowed at Gettysburg in his Gettysburg Address. The wreck of the Arizona is also hallowed. Despite our best efforts we cannot consecrate it more than the men who served aboard her that day seventy-five years ago, but we can as Lincoln said so well be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

For me that means to continue to serve as a Chaplain in the Navy, never forgetting that the duty of a Chaplain is with his or her Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen, especially when they go in harm’s way.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pearl Harbor, Tactical Success, and Failure


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those who have followed my writings since I began this site in 2009 know how much I study and think about the Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The fact is I am kind of a Pearl Harbor geek. Ever since I read Walter Lord’s classic treatment of the attack, Day of Infamy, back in 7th Grade I was hooked and I began to read everything that I could about the attack. Then in 1978 I was privileged to be part of a Navy Junior ROTC cruise to Pearl Harbor and back. I visited the USS Arizona Memorial on Easter Sunday of that year. I have never forgotten peering into the aqua waters of Pearl Harbor and looking down into the wreck of the Arizona as I looked upon the names of the officers and sailors who died aboard her that Sunday morning in 1941. 

The battleships of the Pacific Fleet, including Arizona which were moored on battleship row were unprepared for the onslaught of torpedoes and bombs unleashed by the Japanese Naval aviators that morning. The Japanese had prepared a diabolical set of weaponry that would wreak havoc on the ships moored on Battleship Row. 

The Japanese had learned well from the British Royal Navy attack on the Italian Fleet moored at Taranto earlier in the year. Pearl Harbor was shallow, so the Type 91 aerial torpedoes used by the Imperial Navy were modified to allow them to be dropped from the Nakajima BN5 “Kate” torpedo bombers against targets inshallow waters. The modification was simple. Commander Minoru Genda worked with other specialist in order to modify the torpedos with a wooden fins that kept them from hitting bottom. Likewise 16″ armor piercing shells from the Nagato class battleships were modified to be dropped from other Kates operating as level bombers at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet. 


The combination proved deadly. Some 19 torpedoes found their mark on the Battleships California, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Nevada, as well as the gunnery training ship Utah, light cruiser Raleigh, and light cruiser Helena. Meanwhile some 24 of the modified armor piercing shells found their targets on Battleship Row or the far side of Ford Island. 

When all was said and done every one of the Battleships moored along Ford Island as well as the USS Pennsylvania were sunk or heavily damaged during the attack. Tactically the Japanese achieved remarkable success, but their strategic goals remained unfulfilled. The Aircraft Carriers of the Pacific Fleet were not in port on that Sunday morning; likewise the Japanese neglected to attack the fuel oil tank farm on Ford Island, or the submarine base at Pearl Harbor. The omissions of the Japanese High Command in regard to the attack helped doom their empire in the coming months and years. 


Technical marvels which provide tactical successes are important, but when those who unleash those devices without fully comprehending the strategic situation, or forgetting the other military, informational, diplomatic, and economic policy aspects of war and conflict will find that their short term tactical success will prove less than successful. The U.S. Navy was able to recover and within a year had wrested the initiative from the Japanese and was rolling back the initial Japanese success at Coral, Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal. Four of the six aircraft carriers and both battleships involved in the attack were at tepee bottom of the Pacific by November 1942. In the meantime the United States recovered. All of the battleships except Oklahoma and Arizona returned to action, and some, like West Virgina, California, Tennessee, Maryland, and Pennsylvania wrought havoc on the Japanese at the Battle of Surigao Strait, while Nevada returned to the fight in North Africa, and Normandy before going back to the Pacific. The carriers which the Japanese failed to sink at Pearl Harbor, as well as the submarines proved to be decisive in the battle against Japan. 

The Japanese Navy concentrated their attacks at Pearl Harbor on the America battleships and in the process lost the war. The Japanese, for all of their tactical and operational acumen neglected the larger factors of diplomacy, information, military power, and economics when they attacked the United States and its allies on December 7th 1941. Weapons and tactics are only one part of the equation, something that many war “buffs” fail to appreciate. 

Have a great day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Beautiful and Deadly: The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau

DVM 10 Bild-23-63-01

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am continuing to write and research on a number of topics which I will be posting soon. So until then I am reposting another article from the depths of my vault about one of my passions, great warships. This article is about the German Battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

I hope you enjoy,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The naval architects of Germany 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.

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Scharnhorst Class Diagram 

The next and first truly capital ships built by the Kriegsmarine were the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau battleships which in reality 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. 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 North Carolina class. Only the British Hood was their superior in speed.

gneisenau battery

Gneisenau Main Battery

As built they 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 although Gneisenau was taken in hand to mount the new weapons but the conversion was never completed.

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Scharnhorst in Action Against 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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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. This was Operation Cerberus and it took place from 11-13 February 1942 and involved the ships making a dash up the English Channel which was unsuccessfully contested by the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy although 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.

Gneisenau sunk

Gneisenau Sunk as Blockship

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. On Christmas Day 1943 under the command of Rear Admiral Erich Bey the Scharnhorst set sail with several destroyers undertook Operation Ostfront and the ensuing battle became known as the Battle of North Cape. This was to be an attack on two Russia bound convoys; however the orders were intercepted and decoded by the British which allowed Scharnhorst to be intercepted by the battleship HMS Duke of York four cruisers and a number of destroyers as she closed with the convoy after Bey had detached his escorting destroyers. While attempting to escape she received damage that impacted her speed and maneuvering capabilities and was sunk with the loss of all but 36 of her 1968 man crew. Her wreck was discovered 3 October 2000 some 70 miles north of North Cape Norway.

Thus ended the careers of two of the most beautiful ships to grace the seas, though their careers were short they both survived frequent heavy battle damage to return and fight again. Perhaps their greatest weakness was the inability of the German Navy to provide them adequate escort and the Luftwaffe being unable to protect them against air strike while in port.

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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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Modern and Deadly: The Japanese Fubuki Class Destroyers

battledestroy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I mentioned the past few days I am taking a little bit of a break from current events and I am going back to my archives to re-publish older articles about great classes of warships. I am a Navy officer as well as a Navy brat. I grew up with an appreciation for all things navy and various classes of warships that made history. Today, a post about a class of Japanese destroyers that set a standard for the world and can truly described as the first modern destroyers, the Fubuki Class

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Fubuki

IJNS Fubuki

The Imperial Japanese Navy set the standard for destroyer construction in the 1920. While the United States Navy and British Royal Navy were fully stocked with their First World War design destroyers the Imperial Navy’s General Staff issued a requirement for a class of large destroyers which would complement the new classes of modern cruisers being built for the navy. The requirement called for a 2000 ton ship capable of 39 knots with a 4000 mile range at 14 knots that could carry a large number of torpedoes and a heavy gun armament. The program was designed to give the numerically inferior Imperial Navy a qualitative superiority against any opponent.

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WWII Office of Naval Intelligence images for Fubuki Class variants

The 24 ship Fubuki Class was such a quantum leap over other contemporary destroyers that the Imperial Navy referred to them as the Special Type. Their large size, heavy armament and high speed made them equal to many of the light cruisers of the time. The design was modified to carry more guns and torpedoes on an increased displacement and the result was a 388 foot long 1750 ton ship armed with six 5” 50 caliber guns in weather proof and splinter proof mounts. On the initial 10 ships of the class the guns could only be elevated 40 degrees which made them less than effective as anti-aircraft guns but in the succeeding two groups of ships the mounts were an improved type which allowed them to elevate each gun separately to 75 degrees. The ammunition magazines were below the gun mounts and ammunition was passed to the guns by hoists. This gave them a decided edge in rate of fire over other destroyers which had open or partially shield mounts dependant on ammunition passers carrying ammunition to them.

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Close up of IJNS Sagiri

The light anti-aircraft armament when built was two Type 93 13mm machine guns. In the years before the war and during the war this was increased in some cases up to twenty-two 25mm anti-aircraft guns and 10 of the Type 93 machine guns. In 1944 surviving ships of the class had their X- 5” gun mount removed to facilitate more of the 25mm guns, radar and additional depth charge capacity.

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IJNS Ikazuchi

The nine 24” torpedo tubes in triple mounts were able to be reloaded while in battle a capability not shared by other destroyers. They carried a total of 18 torpedoes which initially were the Type 8 but these were replaced by the oxygen powered Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedoes before the war. These torpedoes had a higher speed, longer range and heavier warhead than torpedoes produced by other navies. These torpedoes would become the scourge of Allied navies during the war in the brutal surface engagements of 1942.

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IJNS Yugiri

Due to the modifications made to the design which put more armament on a smaller displacement than the original design made them unstable in heavy seas and resulted in longitudinal hull weakness that resulted in the class being rebuilt between 1935 and 1937. The rebuild increased their displacement to 2050 tons standard and over 2400 tons full load and resulted in a slight reduction of their speed.

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IJNS Hibiki

The class was built in three groups and each is sometimes referred to as a separate class as each incorporated improvements over the preceding group. The first 10 ships of the class which are sometimes referred to as the Fubuki Class were of less complex design than subsequent ships. They were feet long had a smaller bridge and exposed gunfire control room. The second group of 10 ships commonly referred to as the Ayanami Class had an enlarged bridge structure which enclosed previous exposed positions to include the gunfire control room, range finders and included a range finder tower. They also were the first ships to receive the improved Type B gun mounts. The final subtype of the class, the Akatsuki Class comprised just 4 ships and was distinguished by a smaller forward funnel, larger boilers and unique splinter proof torpedo tube mount housing.

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IJNS Ayanami

The ships of the class participated in every major campaign of Japan’s war in the Pacific as well as operations against China in the 1930s. One ship the Miyuki was lost in a collision with another destroyer in August 1934. All remaining ships of the class except the Hibiki and Ushio were lost in action during the war. Four the Fubuki, Ayanami, Yuguri and Ataksuki were sunk in surface actions. Eight ships the Usogumo, Shirakumo, Isonami, Shikinami, Sagiri, Sazanami, Inazuma, and Ikazuchi were lost to Allied submarines. Seven ships, the Shirayuki, Hatsuyuki, Murakumo, Uranami, Asagiri, Oboro and Akebono were sunk by aircraft, while the Shinonome and Amagiri fell victim to mines.

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The demilitarized IJNS Ushio after the war

Hibiki was given to the Soviet Union following the war and served in that Navy until either 1953 or 1963 depending on the source. She was scrapped. Ushio surrendered to the Allies was demilitarized and scrapped in 1948.

The Amagiri played a role in the life of future President John F Kennedy when she rammed and sank his PT-109 in the Blackett Strait on August 2nd 1943. Her commanding officer at the time Lieutenant Commander Kohei Hanami attended Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

The Fubuki Class destroyers set a standard in destroyer construction that other navies around the world sought to emulate. Fast and powerful they and their brave crews fought gallantly in the Second World War and though they fought in a losing cause, they deserve to be remembered as do all those who go down to the sea in ships.

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

Flush Decks and Four Pipes: The Classic Wickes and Clemson Class Destroyers

USS Ward 1919

USS Ward DD-139

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have so  much I could write about right now but instead I am going to go back to the well and dredge up an older post about some iconic warships. I guess that you can say that I am kind of taking a bit of a break from the present to remember the past, but be assured, a lot of stuff is percolating in my mind, so be expecting some new material sometime soon, but for the next few days, unless something really dramatic happens I will be continuing to re-pubish some older articles about historic warships that I find fascinating. 

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

USS_Pope_(DD-225)

USS Pope DD-225

The destroyers of the Wickes and Clemson classes defined the destroyer force of the U.S. Navy. In 1916 with the advent of the submarine as an effective weapon of war the Navy realized that its pervious classes of destroyers were insufficient to meet the new threat. Likewise the lack of endurance of earlier destroyers kept them from vital scouting missions since the U.S. Navy unlike the Royal Navy or Imperial German Navy maintained few cruisers for such missions.

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USS Paul Jones DD-230 late war note 3 stacks and radar

The Naval Appropriation Act of 1916 included the authorization of 50 Wickes Class destroyers to compliment 10 new battleships, 6 battlecruisers and 10 light cruisers with the goal of building a Navy second to none. The new destroyers were designed for high speed operations and intentionally designed for mass production setting a precedent for the following Clemson class as well as the destroyer classes built during the Second World War.

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USS Boggs DMS-3

The Wickes Class had a designed speed of 35 knots in order to be able to operate with the new Omaha Class light cruisers and Lexington Class Battlecruisers in the role of scouting for the fleet. They were flush-decked which provided additional hull strength and their speed was due to the additional horsepower provided by their Parsons turbines which produced 24,610 hp. They were 314’ long and had a 30 foot beam. Displacing 1247 tons full load they were 100 tons larger than the previous Caldwell class ships. They were armed with four 4 inch 50 caliber guns, one 3” 23 caliber gun and twelve 21” torpedo tubes.

uss crosby apd 17

USS Crosby APD 17

Although they were very fast they proved to be very “wet” ships forward and despite carrying an additional 100 tons of fuel they still lacked range. Due to the realization the U-Boat war required more escorts the order for Wickes Class ships was increased and 111 wear completed by 1919.

The Wickes Class was followed by the Clemson Class which was an expansion of the Wickes class being more tailored to anti-submarine warfare. They had a greater displacement due to additional fuel tanks and mounted the same armament had identical dimensions and were capable of 35 knots but had a larger rudder to give them a tighter turning radius. 156 ships of the class were completed.

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Honda Point Disaster 

In the inter-war years a number of each class were scrapped and 7 of the Clemson Class from DESRON 11 were lost in the Honda Point Disaster of September 8th 1923.

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Many of the ships never saw combat in either war as numerous ships were scrapped due to the limitations of the London Naval Treaty. Of the 267 ships of the two classes only 165 were still in service in 1936. As new destroyers were added to the navy in the 1930s a number of ships from each class were converted to other uses. Some became High Speed Transports (APD) and carried 4 LCVP landing craft and a small number of troops, usually about a company sized element. Others were converted to High Speed Minelayers (DM) or High Speed Minesweepers (DMS). A few were converted to Light Seaplane Tenders (AVD). Those converted to other uses had their armament reduced with dual purpose 3” 50 caliber guns replacing the 4” guns and the removal of their torpedoes. Those which remained received 6 of the 3” guns to replace their original gun armament and lost half of their torpedo tubes. During the war all would have light additional anti-aircraft armament and radar installed.

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USS Stewart DD-224 after return from Japanese service

In 1940 19 of the Clemson Class and 27 of the Wickes Class were transferred to the British Royal Navy under the Lend Lease program. Some of these would see later service in the Soviet Navy being transferred by the Royal Navy serving after the war with those ships being scrapped between 1950 and 1952.

uss pope final moments

The ships of these classes performed admirably during the Second World War despite their age. The USS Ward DD-139 fired the first shots of the war when it engaged and sank a Japanese midget sub outside of Pearl Harbor. The 13 ships of the Asiatic Fleet’s DESRON 29 took part in six engagements against far superior Japanese Navy units while operating in the Philippines and then in the Dutch East Indies as part of the ABDA Command including the Battle of Balikpapan where the USS John D Ford DD-228, USS Pope DD-225, USS Paul Jones DD-230 and USS Parrot DD-218 sank 4 Japanese transports. During that campaign 4 of these gallant ships were sunk in battle and a 5th the USS Stewart DD-224 was salvaged by the Japanese after being damaged and placed in a floating drydock at Surabaya following the Battle of Badung Strait. She was placed in service as a patrol ship by the Imperial Navy. She was discovered by U.S. Forces after the surrender and returned to the U.S. Navy.

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HMS Cambeltown (ex USS Buchanan DD-131) at St Nazaire

Whether in the Atlantic or the Pacific the ships contributed to the Allied victory. The former USS Buchanan DD-131 which had been transferred to the Royal Navy where she was re-named the HMS Campbeltown and used in the Saint-Nazaire Raid. For the raid she was altered in appearance to look like a German Möwe class destroyer was rammed into the only drydock on the Atlantic capable of holding the Battleship Tirpitz. The mission was successful and the drydock was unusable by the Germans for the rest of the war.

During the war they served in every major campaign and when no longer fit for front line service were used in escort roles in rear areas as well as in a variety of training and support roles. By the end of the war the surviving ships of both classes were worn out and a number were decommissioned and some scrapped even before the end of hostilities. Those that survived the war were all decommissioned by 1946 and most scrapped between 1945 and 1948.

During Second World War 9 of the Wickes Class were sunk in battle, and 7 were sunk or destroyed in other ways. 5 were later sunk as targets and the remaining ships were all scrapped. A total of 20 of the Clemson Class were lost either in battle or to other causes including those lost and Honda Point.

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USS Peary Memorial

The brave Sailors that manned these ships in peace and war become fewer in number every day as the Greatest Generation passes. It is a sad testimony that none of these ships were preserved as a memorial; however the Australians have a memorial at Darwin dedicated to the USS Peary DD-226 which was sunk with 80 of her crew during the Japanese raid on that city’s port on 19 February 1942. The memorial has one of her 4” guns pointed in the direction of the wreck of the Peary. A memorial to the USS Ward which showcases her #3 4” gun which sank the Japanese midget sub is located on the Capitol Grounds in St. Paul Minnesota.

The ships of the Wickes and Clemson classes were iconic, and their crews were heroic. Though none are left we should never forget the valiant service of these ships during both World Wars.

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Filed under History, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war one