Monday, December 31, 2007

USS Michigan

Figure 1: USS Michigan, date and place unknown. U.S. Navy photo from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Michigan, circa 1844. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Wolverine (ex-Michigan, 1844) photographed in a Great Lakes harbor in 1913, while she was escorting the replica of Perry's flagship Niagara on her centennial tour. Wolverine was then assigned to the Pennsylvania Naval Militia. Courtesy of Tom Parsons, 2007. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: USS Wolverine (ex-Michigan, 1844) photographed in a Great Lakes port in 1913, while she was escorting the replica of Perry's flagship Niagara on her centennial tour. Wolverine was then assigned to the Pennsylvania Naval Militia. Courtesy of Tom Parsons, 2007. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

The USS Michigan was the US Navy’s first iron-hulled warship and was designed by shipbuilder Samuel Hart. The ship was built in pieces at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1842 and was shipped overland to Erie, Pennsylvania, where she was put together. While being launched on 5 December 1843, the Michigan slipped down the ways but stopped short of the water. Hart and the builders tried to force the ship into the water throughout the rest of the day, but the ship would not budge. As darkness came, everyone gave up and left. But when they returned the following day, they discovered that during the night the Michigan had slid down the remaining section of the ways and was floating peacefully some distance offshore in Lake Erie! The ship was retrieved and final construction began on the steamer. The USS Michigan was commissioned on 29 September 1844 and was almost 164 feet long, 27 feet wide, and had a crew of 88 officers and men.

The Michigan (which was armed with only one 18-pounder cannon) was built by the US Navy for the defense of Lake Erie against two armed British steamers that were based in Canada. The Michigan was based in Erie throughout her career and her patrols took her all over the Great Lakes. In May 1851, she assisted in the arrest of James Jesse Strange, who had created his own dissident Mormon colony on Beaver Island at the head of Lake Michigan. Strange was soon freed, but 5 years later on 19 June 1856 he was assassinated by two members of his “colony.” The murderers escaped to the USS Michigan for sanctuary but, for some reason, they were not arrested and were eventually freed.

Throughout the Civil War, the Michigan provided security and stability on the Great Lakes and made sure any British forces in Canada stayed in Canada. The Michigan also guarded against any potential attacks by Confederate spies or raiders who were plotting to attack Union ships on the Great Lakes. In the fall of 1864, a covert Confederate attack actually did take place. A Southerner named John Yates Beall, along with 20 of his men, boarded the steamer Philo Parsons on Lake Erie as passengers and quickly seized the ship. They then used this ship to capture and burn another steamer, the Island Queen. But in a separate incident, the Michigan’s Captain, Commander John C. Carter, managed to capture the Confederate agent for the Lake Erie region, Captain Charles H. Cole of the Confederate States Navy. After capturing Cole, Commander Carter discovered that Cole and Beall were going to use the captured Philo Parsons to free Confederate prisoners who were being held on Johnson’s Island (located on the coast of Lake Erie, 3 miles from the city of Sandusky, Ohio). When Beall discovered that Cole was captured and that the plot had been revealed, he took the Philo Parsons to Sandwich, Canada, and had her stripped and burned. After the failure of this mission, no further raids were attempted by Southerners on the Great Lakes.

After the Civil War, the Michigan continued patrolling the Great Lakes. On 17 June 1905, she was renamed USS Wolverine to free up her name for a new battleship that was being built. The Wolverine was decommissioned on 6 May 1912 and was turned over to the Pennsylvania Naval Militia as a training ship. She functioned in this capacity for the next 11 years. On 12 August 1923, a major engine breakdown ended the ship’s naval career. In 1927, the Wolverine was pushed up onto a sandbank in Erie Harbor and loaned to the City of Erie as a relic. She was sold to the Foundation for the Preservation of the Original USS Michigan on 19 July 1948. But when not enough money could be obtained to preserve and restore the ship, the Wolverine was cut up and sold for scrap in 1949. It was a sad end for the US Navy’s first iron-hulled warship, which had survived for more than 100 years.

Monday, December 24, 2007

USS Rich (DE-695)

Figure 1: USS Glennon (DD-620), at right, after her stern was blown off by a mine off Normandy on 8 June 1944. USS Rich (DE-695), a U.S. PT boat, a British motor launch, and a U.S. "Auk" class minesweeper are standing by. Rich soon hit another mine, which also destroyed her stern, and was then sunk by a third mine. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: “Christmas decorating at a Naval Hospital.” Ensign Audrey Etie, a Navy Nurse, and two patients decorate a small tree, 25 December 1944. Seaman Second Class Robert S. Whitaker, a survivor of USS Rich (DE-695), sunk during the June 1944 Normandy invasion, is at left. Another Normandy veteran, Ship's Cook Third Class John Elliot Hunter, is at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after Ralph M. Rich, a decorated naval aviator who distinguished himself during the Battle of Midway, the USS Rich (DE-695) was built at the Defoe Shipbuilding Co. in Bay City, Michigan, and was commissioned on 1 October 1943. The Rich was a 1,400-ton Buckley class destroyer escort with a crew of 215 officers and men. Her primary missions were convoy escort and antisubmarine warfare and her armament consisted of three 3-inch guns, four 40-mm guns, eight 20-mm guns, two depth charge tracks, eight depth charge projectors, one “hedgehog-type” depth charge projector and three 21-inch torpedo tubes. The Rich was 306 feet long, almost 37 feet wide and had a top speed of 24 knots.

After a shakedown cruise off Bermuda, the Rich escorted ships along the East Coast of the United States until the end of February 1944. She then escorted ships across the Atlantic to England, completing three round-trip crossings by May. On 12 May 1944 she started her final trip across the North Atlantic, reaching England on 23 May. At that point she was assigned to “Operation Neptune,” which was the naval phase of the invasion of Normandy.

On “D-Day,” 6 June 1944, the Rich escorted and screened the naval bombardment group of Task Force 125, which was assigned to provide gunfire support for the landings on “Utah” Beach. She continued screening these ships until the morning of 8 June. She then was ordered to assist the destroyer USS Glennon (DD-840), which had struck a mine northwest of the Saint-Marcouf Islands off the coast of Normandy. Shortly after reaching the Glennon, and while trying to assist the damaged destroyer, the Rich struck two mines. The first blew off approximately 50 feet of her stern and the second one exploded under her hull, just forward of amidships. The order was given to abandon ship and a few minutes later what was left of the Rich sank beneath the waves. Of her crew of 215, 90 were killed and 73 were wounded.

In Figure 3, above, a survivor from the USS Rich (Seaman Second Class Robert S. Whitaker, who was still recovering from his wounds) celebrates Christmas 1944 with a US Navy nurse and another hospital patient who survived the Normandy invasion. Certainly Seaman Second Class Whitaker had a lot to be grateful for that Christmas, since so many of his shipmates were not as fortunate as he was. But this picture shows that, regardless of the war or the era, Christmas represents a little bit of home to our men and women in uniform. This Christmas, with US forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should all take some time to remember the many men and women in our armed services who are unable to spend the holidays with their loved ones. A safe and Merry Christmas to them all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

USS Vixen (PG-53)

Figure 1: USS Vixen (PG-53) at Portland, Maine, in 1945. Photograph by YN3 Mell Nelson, who served on CINCLANTFLT staff under ADM Jonas H. Ingram during World War II. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: The Vixen at Philadelphia, 11 April 1944. US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: The Vixen in 1943. US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: The M/V Regina Maris (formerly USS Vixen) at Pireus, Greece, in 2001. Photograph by Alekis Lindström via Michael Vincent. Click on photograph for larger image.

Originally known as the Orion, this 3,097-ton steel hulled yacht was built in 1929 by Krupp Germania Werft at Kiel, Germany. An American wool manufacturer named Julius Forstmann purchased the ship and the US Navy then purchased it from him on 13 November 1940. The ship was renamed the USS Vixen (PG-53) and was converted into a gunboat by the Sullivan Drydock and Repair Company at Brooklyn, New York. The Vixen was slightly over 333 feet long, had a beam of approximately 46 feet and had a top speed of 15 knots. She was armed with four 3-inch guns, seven .50-caliber and 2 .30-caliber machine guns, and carried a crew of 279 officers and men. The Vixen was commissioned on 25 February 1941 and headed for her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean on 5 March.

After her shakedown cruise, the Vixen went to New London, Connecticut, where she became the flagship of Rear Admiral Richard S. Edwards, who was the Commander of Submarines for the Atlantic Fleet. While acting in the role of flagship, the Vixen traveled all over the eastern seaboard of the United States throughout 1941, returning to New London on, ironically, 6 December 1941, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Vixen stayed in New London until 20 December and was then ordered to go to the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC, where she became the flagship for Admiral Ernest J. King, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet. She officially assumed this role on 30 December 1941 and would continue functioning as Admiral King’s flagship until 17 June 1942.

After a brief overhaul, the Vixen became the flagship for the Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll. Admiral Ingersoll boarded his new flagship on 21 July 1942 and immediately began visiting all of the naval bases under his command. The Vixen steamed from Maine to the Caribbean while Ingersoll directed operations against German U-boats that were decimating Allied shipping off America’s east coast. By maintaining close contact with all of his area commanders, Ingersoll was able to determine how and where to deploy his forces to combat the U-boat menace. Gradually, he was able to turn the tide against the U-boats, but only after terrible losses were sustained by the Allied merchant fleets.

Ingersoll was relieved as Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, on 15 November 1944 by Admiral Jonas H. Ingram. Admiral Ingram also made Vixen his flagship, using this tough gunboat as his base of operations against the German U-boats for the rest of the war. After the war ended in 1945, the Vixen remained in the Navy but was decommissioned on 24 May 1946. She was transferred to the War Shipping Administration and was sold on 21 January 1947. The Vixen was converted into the cruise ship Orion (her original name) in 1950. In 1964, the Orion was purchased by the Epirotiki Lines and was completely rebuilt and renamed Argonaut. She enjoyed much success as a cruise ship and in 1996 was sold to a company in Egypt. Renamed the MV Regina Maris, the old gunboat was used for cruises in the Red Sea. As of June 2002, she was laid up at Alexandria, Egypt, and was on the market for sale. Whether serving as a flagship (for four American admirals) or as a cruise ship (transporting people for over 50 years), the Vixen certainly had a rich and extremely long career.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

USS Marietta (PG-15)

Figure 1: Broadside view of the USS Marietta in Mare Island channel, 16 October 1897. U.S. Navy photo PG 15 001-10-1897. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: The Marietta circa July 1910. Courtesy U.S. Warships of World War I. Click on Photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: Bow view of the Marietta at Mare Island, 21 September 1897. U.S. Navy photo PG 15 001-9-1897. Click on Photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: A 26-foot steam cutter built by Mare Island for the Marietta. U.S. Navy photo PG 15 004-1895. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after cities in Ohio and Georgia, the USS Marietta (PG-15) was a 1,000-ton gunboat of the Wheeling class and was built at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco, California. She was commissioned on 1 September 1897 and was almost 190 feet long, 34 feet wide and had a top speed of 13 knots. The Marietta was armed with six 4-inch guns, one 3-inch gun, four 6-pounders, two 1-pounders and one machine gun. She was a well-armed gunboat for her size and, with a crew of 140 officers and men, was well suited to protect American lives and property in unstable countries around the world.

After a short assignment with the US Pacific station, the Marietta left San Francisco on 19 March 1898 for Callao, Peru, where she was to obtain sufficient coal supplies for the US Battleship Oregon (BB-3). The Oregon was stopping there on its way to join the North Atlantic Squadron, which was steaming off the coast of Cuba at that time. The Marietta moved on to Valparaiso, Chile, on 31 March and finally rendezvoused with the Oregon on 6 April. The two ships then made a remarkable journey around the tip of South America and headed north, stopping in Bahia, Brazil, on 11 May. Once there, the Marietta and the Oregon parted company, with the gunboat headed for Key West, Florida, and the battleship moving on towards Cuba. The Marietta reached Key West on 4 June and, after a short stop there, quickly joined the blockade of Havana Harbor.

On 2 September 1898, the Marietta arrived in Boston for an overhaul but was sent right back to Cuba on 10 October. For the next eight months, the Marietta patrolled the Caribbean, visited numerous Latin American ports and helped clear mines from Cuban waters. On 17 October 1899 the gunboat was sent from Virginia to the Philippines via the Suez Canal. The Marietta arrived in Manila on 3 January 1900. While in the Philippines, the Marietta supported American troops in putting down the Philippine insurrection. She also patrolled the local waters, escorted ships within the Philippine Island chain and assisted various military expeditions and landings. The Marietta was sent back to the United States via the Suez Canal on 3 June 1901 and arrived in Boston on 17 September.

The Marietta’s next tour of duty sent her to the Caribbean, where she spent 17 months protecting American interests in Colombia, Haiti, Jamaica, Venezuela, Trinidad, Curacao and Honduras. She also carried mail to various American legation officials in the region and was sent back home to Boston 10 April 1903. On 9 March 1904, the Marietta was sent to Panama during that nation’s revolution against Colombia. She protected American interests there until June, when she was sent to Gibraltar to join the US Navy’s European Squadron. In December 1904 she was sent back to the United States and arrived at League Island, Pennsylvania, on 31 December. After being decommissioned for a while, the Marietta was recommissioned on 14 May 1906 and sent to the West Indies. For the next five and a half years the Marietta would patrol the islands in the Caribbean while also visiting numerous Latin American ports.

On 4 November 1911, the Marietta was sent to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and placed in reserve. On 27 May 1912, the gunboat was given to the New Jersey Naval Militia, but two days later was again recommissioned at the New York Navy Yard. For the next two years, the Marietta was assigned to the Caribbean and the western Atlantic and in February 1916 she was part of the American task force sent to fight Mexican insurgents in Vera Cruz, Mexico. The Marietta returned to the United States shortly before America’s entry into World War I and was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet for patrol and convoy duty. She was sent to Europe to escort convoys in 1918 and stayed there until being ordered to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she was decommissioned for the last time on 12 July 1919. The Marietta was sold on 25 March 1920. The USS Marietta may have been a small ship, but she had a busy, rich history that was common among US gunboats at that time.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

USS Indiana (BB-58)

The USS Indiana (BB-58) was a 35,000-ton South Dakota class battleship built at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company in Newport News, Virginia, and was commissioned on 30 April 1942. Even though she was a large battleship (680 feet long with a beam of over 108 feet), the Indiana had an impressive top speed of 27 knots. She was heavily armed with nine 16-inch guns, 20 5-inch guns, 24 40-mm guns and 16 20-mm guns. With a crew of 2,500 officers and men, this was indeed a formidable warship.

On 28 November 1942, after a shakedown cruise in the Atlantic, the Indiana was sent to the Pacific via the Panama Canal and screened the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga for the next eleven months. The Indiana also supported the American naval campaign in the Solomon Islands. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 21 October 1943, but was sent back into action on 11 November to support the American invasion of the Gilbert Islands. The Indiana screened the carriers taking part in the Battle for Tarawa Island and then in late January 1944 she bombarded Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands for eight days prior to the invasion of that island, which took place on 1 February.

On 1 February 1944, the Indiana was given the risky task of refueling four destroyers at night. At 0420, she was steaming at nineteen knots when the Indiana’s Commanding Officer, Captain J.M. Steele, announced by radio to the other ships in the task force that he was turning left and slowing down to fifteen knots. Then, after seeing some ships in the task force bearing down on the Indiana, Captain Steele decided to turn his ship to the right. Unfortunately, he didn’t tell the rest of the ships in the task force that he was making this new turn. Approximately seven minutes after executing the second turn, the Indiana was rammed by the battleship USS Washington. Both ships saw each other seconds before the collision and tried to turn to avoid the impact, but it was too late. The Washington’s bow smashed into the after portion of the Indiana’s starboard side. Four men were killed on board the Indiana and six were killed on board the Washington. The Indiana’s starboard hull side was smashed in and carved open by the impact, while almost 60 feet of the Washington’s forward hull was sliced off, causing the main deck to slope down into the water. Fortunately, because of superb damage control on both ships, both the Washington and the Indiana remained afloat. The Indiana was sent back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, but the more seriously damaged Washington was sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Washington State to have a new bow welded to the ship. It is a tribute to the industrial might of this nation that the Washington was repaired in roughly three months and the Indiana was back in action in only two months. Captain Steele, though, was not so fortunate. He was relieved of his command, court-martialed for his actions, and found guilty. Steele was never given another command at sea and he spent the rest of his career (which ended in 1946) on land.

The Indiana, meanwhile, went on to take part in the massive American attack on Truk (29-30 April 1944) and she bombarded Saipan on 13-14 June 1944 as part of the Marianas Islands campaign. The Indiana also screened the carriers that were part of the massive American armada and she endured numerous enemy air attacks, downing several Japanese aircraft. She protected the American carriers and remained part of this task force for 64 days. The Indiana then went on to bombard the Palau Islands and took part in the invasion of the Philippine Islands (12-30 September 1944). The Indiana was then sent to Bremerton, Washington, for a badly needed overhaul, arriving there on 23 October.

By 12 December 1944, the Indiana was back at Pearl Harbor and was attached to the American invasion fleet bound for Iwo Jima. She took part in the bombardment of Iwo Jima on 24 January 1945 and then, after providing gunfire support for that operation, went on to support and screen carriers during the invasion of Okinawa. From 1 July to 15 August 1945 the Indiana supported air strikes against the Japanese home islands and she also bombarded targets along the Japanese coastline. She steamed into Tokyo Bay on 5 September 1945, three days after the Japanese surrendered. With the war over, she was quickly sent back to the United States and reached San Francisco on 29 September 1945. The Indiana was placed in reserve and was decommissioned on 11 September 1947 and placed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet. This proud warship, which received nine battle stars for her service in World War II, was stricken from the Navy List on 1 June 1962 and sold for scrap. The USS Indiana was purely a wartime battleship that had an illustrious career during World War II, but wasn’t able to find a place in the modern post-war years.


Figure 1 (Top): USS Indiana (BB-58) steaming with Task Force 58.1 on 27 January 1944, en route to attack Taroa Island airfield, Maloelap Atoll, Marshall Islands. Taken by a USS Enterprise (CV-6) photographer. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, Top): USS Indiana steaming with Task Force 58.1 on 27 January 1944, en route to attack Taroa Island airfield, Maloelap Atoll, Marshall Islands. Taken by a USS Enterprise (CV-6) photographer. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): USS Indiana at Pearl Harbor on 13 February 1944, showing damage to her starboard side received in collision with USS Washington (BB-56) on 1 February 1944. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): Bombardment of Kamaishi, Japan, 14 July 1945. USS Indiana fires a salvo from her forward 16-inch guns at the Kamaishi plant of the Japan Iron Company, 250 miles north of Tokyo. A second before, USS South Dakota (BB-57), from which this photograph was taken, fired the initial salvo of the first naval gunfire bombardment of the Japanese Home Islands. The superstructure of USS Massachusetts (BB-59) is visible directly behind Indiana. The heavy cruiser in the left center distance is either USS Quincy (CA-71) or USS Chicago (CA-136). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.