Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Figure 1: USS Pittsburgh (CA-72) underway in November 1944. Her camouflage is Measure 33, Design 18d. Official U.S. Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Pittsburgh en route to Guam for temporary repairs, shortly after she lost her bow in a typhoon on 5 June 1945. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Pittsburgh’s detached and capsized bow under tow toward Guam in June 1945. It had broken loose in a typhoon on 5 June. While under salvage, Pittsburgh's bow was humorously called "USS McKeesport" and "suburb of Pittsburgh". Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the Collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: The Pittsburgh's detached and capsized bow (at left) under tow toward Guam in June 1945. It had broken loose in a typhoon on 5 June. Two fleet tugs seen at right are probably USS Munsee (ATF-107) and USS Pakana (ATF-108). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the Collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Pittsburgh anchored in Suda Bay, Crete, 8 May 1952. Photographed from a USS Midway (CVB-41) aircraft. Pittsburgh's gun directors still have World War II era fire control radars. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Pittsburgh underway, 11 October 1955. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the Collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
The 13,600-ton USS Pittsburgh (CA-72) was a Baltimore-class heavy cruiser built by the Bethlehem Steel Company at Quincy, Massachusetts, and was commissioned on 10 October 1944. The Pittsburgh was approximately 674 feet long and 70 feet wide, had a top speed of 33 knots, and had a crew of 1,142 officers and men. She was armed with nine 8-inch guns, twelve 5-inch guns and 48 20-mm guns.
After a shakedown cruise along America’s east coast and the Caribbean, the Pittsburgh left for the Pacific via the Panama Canal on 13 January 1945. She reached Ulithi atoll in the Caroline Islands on 13 February and joined a task force that was centered around the carrier Lexington (CV-16). The Pittsburgh screened aircraft carriers during strikes on the Japanese home islands and then took part in the American invasion of Iwo Jima. After Iwo Jima was secured, the Pittsburgh’s task force was sent back to Japan to bombard airfields and other military installations on Kyushu on 18 March. However, disaster struck on 19 March when a Japanese air raid on the carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) succeeded in severely damaging the carrier. The Franklin was ablaze and in danger of sinking, but the Pittsburgh steamed at 30 knots to assist the carrier in any way possible. Once arriving on the scene and after rescuing 34 of the Franklin’s men who were floating helplessly in the water, the Pittsburgh, along with the cruiser Santa Fe (CL-60), assisted in fighting the Franklin’s fires and managed to get a tow line on board the stricken carrier. After the tow line was secured, the Pittsburgh began pulling the Franklin to safety. The carrier’s crew tried to restore power while the Pittsburgh used her antiaircraft guns to fight off Japanese air attacks. The Pittsburgh continued towing the carrier until noon on 20 March, when what was left of the Franklin’s crew was able to cast off the tow line after regaining some power in her engines and extinguishing her fires. Captain John E. Gingrich, the Pittsburgh’s commanding officer, was at the conn for 48 hours during this operation and the assistance provided by the Pittsburgh and the Santa Fe undoubtedly played an enormous role in saving the Franklin.
From March to June, the Pittsburgh escorted carriers that were assigned to the invasion of Okinawa. On the evening of 4 June 1945, Admiral William F. Halsey’s Third Fleet, which had just completed pounding the Japanese on Okinawa and Kyushu, was hit by a violent typhoon southeast of the Ryukyu Islands. During the early morning hours of 5 June, Rear Admiral Joseph J. Clark’s Task Group 38.1 (which included the Pittsburgh) was right in the middle of the storm. All the ships in the Task Group were being tossed around and battered by the 70-plus knot winds and 100-foot waves. Just before 0600 on 5 June, the floatplane on the Pittsburgh’s port catapult was blown off. Approximately 30 minutes later the cruiser was hit by two very large waves and her bow broke away in front of her forward gun turret. Miraculously, all watertight bulkheads had been closed and the crew was at battle stations, so no lives were lost when the bow was torn away from the ship. Excellent damage control by the Pittsburgh’s crew prevented any significant flooding and the ship rode out the rest of the storm by keeping her stern to the wind.
After the typhoon ended, the Pittsburgh was able to steam to Guam, arriving there on 10 June. The cruiser was fitted with a temporary “stub” bow (the same type that was used previously on the torpedoed cruisers Minneapolis and New Orleans during the Guadalcanal Campaign) and the repairs were completed in approximately two weeks. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh’s original bow was still afloat! From 6 June to 11 June, the fleet tug Munsee (ATF-107) and her sister ship Patana (ATF-108) towed the more than 100-foot long bow to Guam, where anything of value (such as the ship’s anchors) was salvaged from the structure.
The Pittsburgh left Guam on 24 June and was sent to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, arriving there on 16 July. However, the war ended before a new bow could be attached to the cruiser. Once final repairs were completed, the Pittsburgh was placed in commission but in reserve on 12 March 1946. She was decommissioned on 7 March 1947.
During the Korean War, the Pittsburgh was called back to active duty. The cruiser was recommissioned 25 September 1951 and was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. She twice deployed to the Mediterranean Sea in 1952 and 1953, with her second cruise also taking her to the Indian Ocean. The Pittsburgh returned to Norfolk, Virginia, for a major modernization overhaul and joined the Sixth Fleet at Gibraltar on 19 January 1954. After a tour of duty in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, the Pittsburgh was sent to the Pacific and cruised in the Far East from November 1954 to February 1955. Following operations off America’s west coast, the Pittsburgh was decommissioned at Bremerton, Washington, on 28 August 1956. The Pittsburgh remained in the Pacific Reserve Fleet until July 1973 and was sold for scrapping in 1974. A tough veteran that served the US Navy for 30 years, the Pittsburgh endured the horrors found in both war and nature and still remained afloat.
Posted by Remo at 9:04 AM
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Figure 1: USS Casco (AVP-12) running trials off Vashon Island in Puget Sound, Washington, on 3 March 1943 upon completion of battle damage repairs. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Casco in Puget Sound, Washington, on 3 March 1943 upon completion of repairs. She had been torpedoed by the Japanese submarine RO-61 in the Aleutian Islands on 30 August 1942. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Casco in Puget Sound, Washington, on 3 March 1943 upon completion of repairs. She had been torpedoed by the Japanese submarine RO-61 in the Aleutian Islands on 30 August 1942. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Casco in Massacre Bay at Attu Island in the Aleutians in about May 1943 soon after the U.S. recaptured the island. A PBY-5A "Catalina" patrol bomber is taking off on a patrol. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a bay on the coast of Maine, the USS Casco (AVP-12) was a 1,766-ton Barnegat-class small seaplane tender and was built at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington. She was commissioned on 27 December 1941 and was approximately 311 feet long and 41 feet wide, had a crew of 215 officers and men, and was armed with four 5-inch guns (as well as an assortment of smaller-caliber guns).
After a shakedown cruise off the northwest coast of the United States, the Casco was sent to Sitka, Alaska, and arrived there on 5 May 1942. Her primary duties were to perform surveys in the waters around the Aleutian Islands, act as a seaplane tender and lay moorings for seaplanes. Based at Cold Bay in the Aleutians, she also supported seaplanes in Dutch Harbor, Chernofski Harbor, Kodiak, and Nazan Bay. While at anchor in Nazan Bay on 30 August 1942, the Casco was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine RO-61. The explosion killed five crewmen and wounded 20 others. But excellent damage control by the remainder of the crew managed to slow the flooding long enough so that the ship could be beached to prevent her from sinking. The Casco was refloated on 12 September and, after emergency repairs at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak, was sent to Puget Sound for more permanent repairs and a complete overhaul.
The Casco was sent back to the Aleutian Islands in March 1943 and became a seaplane tender for Fleet Air Wing Four in Constantino Harbor, Amchitka. In May the Casco went to Attu, where she tended to seaplanes that were conducting antisubmarine patrols and search missions that were in direct support of the Army’s invasion of Attu. One of the most important responsibilities of the seaplanes was to guard against any Japanese reinforcement of the Aleutian Islands and the Casco supported these aircraft (usually under horrible weather conditions) until November 1943, when she was sent back to Bremerton, Washington, for yet another overhaul.
The Casco then was sent to the Marshall Islands in February 1944 as a seaplane tender for patrol squadrons based at Majuro and Kwajalein during their occupation and was later sent to Eniwetok in September. The Casco was temporarily assigned to carry cargo for the buildup to the invasion of the Philippines, where she traveled between Saipan, Ulithi, and the Palaus until November. The ship then returned to seaplane tender duties in the Palau Islands until January 1945 and then at Ulithi until April. After a brief overhaul in Saipan, the Casco arrived in Kerama Retto (located next to Okinawa) on 25 April and acted not only as a seaplane tender, but also as tender for motor torpedo boats, all of which were assigned to the invasion of Okinawa.
The Casco was sent to the West Coast in July 1945 for two months of repairs. She returned to the Philippines from October 1945 to April 1946 and was then assigned as a training ship based at Gelveston, Texas. The Casco was decommissioned on 10 April 1947 but then was transferred to the US Coast Guard on 19 April 1949. She was re-designated the cutter Casco (WAVP-370, later WHEC-370) and for the next 20 years worked out of Boston, Massachusetts. This tough ship was returned to the Navy in March 1969 and was expended as a target in May of that same year.
A rugged and versatile Navy seaplane tender during wartime and a reliable Coast Guard cutter during peacetime, the USS Casco served for almost 30 years. Though ships like these rarely get the recognition they deserve, they definitely had long and extremely useful careers.
Posted by Remo at 10:03 AM
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Figure 1: USS Alaska (CB-1) photographed from USS Missouri (BB-63) off the U.S. east coast during their shakedown cruise together in August 1944. Note her Measure 32 camouflage. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Alaska photographed in the summer or fall of 1944, probably in the Hampton Roads area, Virginia. Copied from an original print included in the Fifth Naval District's "War Diary of Open Intelligence Branch of District Intelligence Office". U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Alaska photographed from the air on 13 November 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia. Warships at the Base piers, circa August 1944. Among them are: USS Missouri (BB-63), the largest ship; USS Alaska (CB-1), on the other side of the pier; USS Croatan (CVE-25), and destroyers of the Fletcher and "Four-Pipe, Flush-Deck" classes at the next pier. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
The USS Alaska (CB-1) was the first of the 27,500-ton Alaska-class “large cruisers” and was built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at Camden, New Jersey. The ship was launched in August 1943 and was commissioned on 17 June 1944. The Alaska was approximately 808 feet long and 91 feet wide, and had an excellent top speed of 31.4 knots and a crew of 2,251 officers and men. She was armed with nine 12-inch guns and twelve 5-inch guns, plus numerous smaller-caliber guns.
The Alaska-class warships (of which six were ordered in September 1940) were a new class of warship, originally designed to fulfill duties that were unsuitable for either a battleship or a heavy cruiser. They would have two primary missions normally carried out by heavy cruisers: protecting carrier groups against enemy cruisers and aircraft and operating independently against enemy surface forces. Their large size and guns were ideal for both of these missions and they were designed to stand up to the larger Japanese cruisers that were being developed during the early part of the war. However, once the Alaska was built, it resembled a large cruiser rather than a battleship or a battlecruiser. It didn’t have the multiple layers of compartments and special armor along the sides and below the waterline that protected battleships against torpedoes and underwater gunfire hits. But the Alaska, like other cruisers, did have aircraft hangers and a single large rudder. Although the single rudder made her difficult to maneuver, the side armor the Alaska did have covered more of the hull than was standard in other US cruisers.
After an extensive shakedown cruise in the Chesapeake Bay area and the Caribbean, the Alaska was sent to the Pacific and joined the US Pacific Fleet in January 1945. From February to July 1945, the Alaska provided anti-aircraft protection for the fast carrier battle groups as they attacked the Japanese home islands. The Alaska also took part in the assaults on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, providing anti-aircraft protection and bombarding shore targets with her 12-inch guns. In July and August 1945 the Alaska, along with her sister ship the USS Guam (CB-2) and four light cruisers, conducted anti-shipping raids in the East China Sea.
After the Japanese surrendered, the Alaska remained in the Pacific to support the occupation of Japan, China and Korea. She returned to the United States in December 1945 and on 17 February 1947 was placed out of commission and in reserve at Bayonne, New Jersey. Not needed in the post-war American fleet, the Alaska was never re-commissioned and was finally sold for scrapping in June 1960.
Only two of the proposed six Alaska-class large cruisers were completed (the Alaska and the Guam). The USS Hawaii (CB-3) was partially built but never completed and was eventually scrapped. The three other ships in the class were canceled, primarily to free up steel and other resources for more urgently needed escorts and landing craft. Although the Alaska did an excellent job in carrying out its primary missions of carrier protection and surface strike, she never did come into contact with any enemy warships. It’s a pity that the Alaska wasn’t built in time to take part in the deadly naval surface battles that took place off the coast of Guadalcanal. A ship with her heavy armor and large guns could have made a considerable contribution in that conflict.
Posted by Remo at 8:26 AM
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Figure 1: Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. USS Avocet (AVP-4) at Berth Fox-1A, at Ford Island, prior to 1045 hrs. on 7 December, when she moved to avoid oil fires drifting southward along the shore of Ford Island. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. Gunners on board USS Avocet (AVP-4) look for more Japanese planes at about the time the air raid ended. Photographed from atop a building at Naval Air Station Ford Island, looking toward the Navy Yard. USS Nevada (BB-36) is at right, with her bow afire. Beyond her is the burning USS Shaw (DD-373). Smoke at left comes from the destroyers Cassin (DD-372) and Downes (DD-375), ablaze in Drydock Number One. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. USS Nevada (BB-36) headed down channel after being attacked by Japanese dive bombers. Photographed from Ford Island, with USS Avocet (AVP-4) in the foreground and the dredge line in the middle distance. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. USS Nevada (BB-36) aground and burning off Waipio Point, after the end of the Japanese air raid. Ships assisting her, at right, are the harbor tug Hoga (YT-146) and USS Avocet (AVP-4). Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a long-legged, web-footed shore bird, the USS Avocet (AM-19) was a 950-ton Lapwing-class minesweeper that was built by the Baltimore Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company, Baltimore, Maryland, and was commissioned on 17 September 1918. She was approximately 180 feet long, 35 feet wide, and had a top speed of 14 knots and a crew of 72 officers and men. The Avocet originally was armed with two 3-inch guns, but would eventually receive several .30 caliber machine guns as well.
From July to October 1919 the Avocet, along with three other minesweepers (the USS Quail, Lark, and Whippoorwill), was sent to Europe and assigned to minesweeping duties in the North Sea, clearing away deadly mine fields that were laid during World War I. The Avocet acted as the flagship of the small minesweeping division and had to battle horrible weather while trying to avoid hitting old British contact mines. The four minesweepers were based primarily in Kirkwall, England, and clearing the old North Sea Mine Barrage proved to be a tedious yet extremely dangerous task for all of the ships involved. The Avocet itself came perilously close to being blown to pieces by one of these mines. On 1 October 1919 the Avocet was sent to Brest, France, on the first part of her journey back to the United States. She left France with the minesweeper USS Thrush on 16 October and, after making stops in the Azores and in Bermuda, the two ships finally arrived in New York City on 17 November. On 24 November, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels reviewed the ships of the Minesweeping Squadron and praised them for their accomplishment of clearing the North Sea Mine Barrage. The next day the Avocet led nine of her sister ships to Charleston, South Carolina, arriving there on 28 November and she remained there throughout the rest of the year.
In 1920 the Avocet was assigned to the Pacific Fleet. She arrived in San Diego in January 1920 and was shifted to various west coast ports until August 1921, when she was sent to Pearl Harbor. In October 1921, she left Pearl Harbor and arrived on 2 November at Cavite in the Philippine Islands to join the Asiatic Fleet’s minesweeping detachment. The Avocet was based at Cavite until she was placed out of commission on 3 April 1922. The Avocet was re-commissioned at Cavite on 8 September 1925 and converted into an auxiliary aircraft tender assigned to the Asiatic Fleet’s air squadrons. She not only tended to aircraft, but also participated in training exercises as well (usually towing targets). In May 1928 the Avocet was sent to China as a plane tender and to provide towing and target services for the larger American warships based there. For the next few years, the Avocet spent most of her time in China and the Philippines, either tending planes or towing targets. In 1932 the Avocet was sent to Pearl Harbor, where she was stationed at the Fleet Air Base and tended to large amphibious aircraft, also known as “flying boats.” Although the Avocet did make trips to California and to Alaska, Pearl Harbor was her primary base of operations for most of the 1930s. In March 1938 the Avocet was reclassified from AM-19 to AVP-4, officially becoming a small seaplane tender. From 1938 to 1941 the Avocet shifted operations between Pearl Harbor and San Diego, but by June 1941 she was, once again, based at Pearl Harbor.
On the morning of 7 December 1941, the Avocet was moored to the port side of the Naval Air Station dock at Pearl Harbor. At approximately 0745, the security watch on board the ship spotted Japanese planes bombing the seaplane hangers at the south end of Ford Island. General Quarters was sounded and the ship’s crew sprang into action. Ammunition was brought up from below and the crew quickly opened fire with the two 3-inch guns and machine guns. Remarkably, the first shot from the Avocet’s starboard 3-inch gun scored a direct hit on a Japanese aircraft that had just scored a torpedo hit on the battleship California (BB-44) moored nearby. The plane streaked down from the sky and crashed on the grounds of the naval hospital. The Avocet was not far from the battleship Nevada (BB-36), which was desperately trying to leave the harbor. As the Nevada tried to break away from where she was moored, numerous Japanese planes attacked it. The Avocet, being so close to the Nevada, tried to assist her by shooting at the attacking planes. During the attack, the Avocet fired 144 rounds from its 3-inch guns and 1,750 rounds from its .30 caliber machine guns.
Once the Japanese attack ended, the Avocet was ordered to use her pumps and fire hoses to help fight the raging fires that were spreading throughout the California and the Nevada. After steaming alongside the California and assisting with that fire, the Avocet was then directed toward the seriously damaged Nevada. Mooring to the Nevada’s port bow at 1240, the Avocet assisted in the beaching of the battleship to prevent it from sinking in the main channel. The Avocet proceeded slowly ahead, pushing the battleship aground while, at the same time, using its fire hoses to help fight the Nevada’s fires. For two hours the Avocet continued to pour water onto the Nevada, eventually extinguishing most of the flames. After that, the Avocet went to the assistance of the cruiser Raleigh (CL-7), which was torpedoed alongside Ford Island during the attack. The Avocet steamed alongside the stricken cruiser at 1547 and remained there throughout the night providing steam and electricity.
The Avocet stayed at Pearl Harbor until May 1942, when she was sent to Alameda, California, for a major refit. On 24 July 1942, the Avocet set sail for Kodiak, Alaska. While in Alaskan waters, the Avocet supported PBY Catalina flying boats of Fleet Air Wing 4 by tending and fueling planes. She also transported people, plane parts, ordnance, and supplies, performed patrol duties and participated in survey work. In addition, the Avocet participated in rescue missions and salvage operations (she assisted the seaplane tender Casco after it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and towed it to safety). The Avocet underwent overhauls at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in November 1942 and July 1944, but, aside from that, she spent the rest of the war in the Aleutian Islands. On 7 October 1945, the Avocet left the Aleutians for Seattle, Washington, and arrived there on 16 October. The ship was inspected on 20 November 1945 and was found to be “beyond economical repair.” The Avocet was worn out. She was decommissioned on 10 December 1945 and sold to the Construction and Power Machine Company in Brooklyn, New York, on 12 December 1946 to be used as a hulk. The Avocet was eventually scrapped a few years later.
The remarkable thing about a ship like the Avocet is that she spent most of her life helping other ships, planes, and people. Whether it was clearing mines in the North Sea, assisting as an aircraft tender, towing targets during fleet exercises, helping stricken warships during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, or performing patrols, salvage operations and rescue duties off the coast of the Aleutian Islands, the Avocet helped a lot of people throughout its lifetime. That certainly is an admirable legacy.
Posted by Remo at 8:37 AM