Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Figure 1: USS Nashville (CL-43) in the Hudson River, New York City, in 1939. The Palisade Amusement Park is in the right distance. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Nashville (CL-43) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, on 1 April 1942. She is wearing Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Nashville (CL-43) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, on 4 August 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Doolittle Raid on Japan, April 1942. USS Nashville (CL-43) firing her 6-inch main battery guns at a Japanese picket boat encountered by the raid task force, 18 April 1942. Photographed from USS Salt Lake City (CA-25). Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Nashville (CL-43) bombarding Kiska Island, Aleutians, on 8 August 1942. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: Leyte invasion, October 1944. General Douglas MacArthur's flagship, USS Nashville (CL-43), anchored off Leyte during the landings, circa 21 October 1944. Nashville wears camouflage Measure 33, Design 21d. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: Leyte invasion, October 1944. General Douglas MacArthur (right, seen in profile) on the bridge of USS Nashville (CL-43), off Leyte during the landings there in late October 1944. Standing in the center (also seen in profile) is Lieutenant General George C. Kenney. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Nashville (CL-43) crewmen cleaning up the port side 5-inch gun battery, after the ship was hit in that area by a Kamikaze on 13 December 1944, while en route to the Mindoro invasion. Note fire damage to the guns and nearby structure. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Nashville (CL-43) underway in Puget Sound, Washington, on 25 March 1945. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after the capital of the state of Tennessee, the 9,475-ton USS Nashville (CL-43) was a Brooklyn class light cruiser that was built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at Camden, New Jersey, and was commissioned on 6 June 1938. The ship was approximately 608 feet long and 61 feet wide, had a top speed of 32 knots, and had a crew of 868 officers and men. As built, Nashville was armed with fifteen 6-inch guns, eight 5-inch guns, and eight .50-caliber machine guns.
After being commissioned, Nashville went on a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean. In early August, the ship steamed to northern Europe for a goodwill visit, arriving at Cherbourg, France, on 24 August 1938. Nashville continued her trip to Portland, England, where 25 million dollars in British gold bullion was placed on board the ship. The cruiser left Portland on 21 September and arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York, nine days later. Once there, she unloaded the gold and on 5 October went to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for an overhaul.
In the spring of 1939, Nashville brought American representatives for the Pan American Defense Conference to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and then carried them back to Annapolis, Maryland, on 20 June 1939. On 23 June, the cruiser left Norfolk, Virginia, for the Pacific via the Panama Canal, arriving at San Pedro, California, on 16 July. Nashville remained based there for two years. In February 1941, Nashville and three other cruisers brought US Marines to garrison Wake Island. Then on 20 May, she left Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for the east coast, arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, on 19 June to escort a convoy carrying Marines to Iceland.
From August to December 1941, Nashville was based at Bermuda and escorted “neutrality patrols” in the central Atlantic. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Nashville steamed to Casco Bay, Maine, where she escorted a troop and cargo convoy to Iceland. She then continued escorting convoys between Bermuda and Iceland until February 1942.
On 4 March 1942, Nashville rendezvoused with the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) off the coast of Virginia and escorted the carrier to California via the Panama Canal. The ships arrived at San Diego, California, on 20 March. Hornet and Nashville then left San Diego on 2 April under the command of Admiral William Halsey. What made this trip different was that Hornet was carrying a full load of 16 US Army Air Corps B-25 bombers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle. On 13 April 1942, Hornet and Nashville rendezvoused with Task Force 16 just north of Midway Island in the Pacific. The big task force set course for Japan.
On 17 April 1942, when the American warships were 1,000 miles from Japan, the small destroyers were detached from the group and told to return to Pearl Harbor. Nashville, along with the other cruisers in the task force, accompanied the carriers Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6) on a high-speed run to the launching point for the B-25 bombers. On 18 April, the task force was sighted by a Japanese picket boat, which reported the position of the task force before being sunk by scout planes from Enterprise. A second scout boat then was spotted and sunk by Nashville’s guns. But now the planes had to be launched since the element of surprise was lost. Doolittle’s planes were launched that day 150 miles short of their intended destination and in heavy seas. As soon as all of the bombers were launched, all of the ships in the task force reversed course and headed back to Pearl Harbor. They all returned unharmed to Pearl Harbor on 25 April 1942. The famous “Doolittle Raid” also turned out to be a major success (perhaps not militarily in terms of the number of targets destroyed, but it certainly was a huge morale boost for the American people at a time when all the war news looked pretty grim).
Nashville left Pearl Harbor on 14 May 1942 and became the flagship of Task Force 8, which was given the job of defending Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Nashville arrived at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on 26 May and then sailed to Kodiak two days later to join other units of the task force. On 3 and 4 June, Japanese carrier planes struck Dutch Harbor, but Nashville and her task force were unable to make contact with the enemy due to a heavy fog. Major Japanese naval forces were withdrawn from the area after Japan’s huge defeat at Midway, but as the Japanese departed the area they left occupying forces behind on the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska. From June to November 1942, Nashville patrolled the north Pacific and participated in the attack on Kiska on 7 August in which heavy damage was inflicted on Japanese shore installations.
On 22 November 1942, Nashville left the Aleutians and returned to Pearl Harbor. The ship was transferred to the south Pacific, where she took part in raids against Japanese bases in the central Solomon Islands. While shelling New Georgia and Kolombangara on the night of 12-13 May 1943, an explosion in one of her gun turrets killed eighteen of her crewmen. Nashville left the Solomon Islands and returned to the United States, going to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California, for repairs.
Nashville left Mare Island on 6 August 1943 and returned to Pearl Harbor on 12 August to join a carrier task force for strikes on Marcus and Wake Islands. After those raids were completed, Nashville returned to the south Pacific in October 1943. During the next year, Nashville participated in amphibious landings at Bougainville, New Britain, northern New Guinea, Morotai, and Leyte, providing gunfire support and frequently serving as General Douglas MacArthur’s combat flagship. While en route to the invasion of Mindoro, the Philippines, on 13 December 1944, Nashville was hit by a Japanese kamikaze. The aircraft crashed into her port 5-inch gun mount, with both of the plane’s bombs exploding about ten feet off the deck. Gasoline fires and exploding ammunition made her midships area an inferno, but although 133 men were killed and 190 wounded, her remaining 5-inch guns continued to provide antiaircraft fire. The damaged cruiser limped back to Pearl Harbor and from there went to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington, for extensive repairs. Nashville remained in the shipyard from January to March 1945.
Nashville returned to active duty in May 1945 and participated in operations in the East Indies and the South China Sea during the last months of World War II. In mid-September 1945, soon after Japan surrendered, Nashville arrived at Shanghai to support the removal of Japanese forces from China. After leaving the Far East in November 1945, Nashville made two voyages to America’s west coast as part of “Operation Magic Carpet,” helping to bring home US service personnel from the Pacific.
Nashville was ordered to steam to the Atlantic in January 1946, where she was inactivated at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The ship was decommissioned on 24 June 1946, but remained in reserve until 1950. After being overhauled at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, USS Nashville was sold to Chile on 9 January 1951 and renamed Capitan Prat. The ship was an active unit of the Chilean Navy until 1982. In 1983 the cruiser was renamed once again and became Chacabuco, but was sold for scrapping shortly after that.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Figure 1: HMS Cockchafer at Wanhsien, China, 1926. The Insect class gunboat HMS Cockchafer assists in the rescue of British hostages from two British merchant ships that were taken by a local Chinese warlord in August 1926 on the Yangtze River at Wanhsien. The painting shows Cockchafer as she is shelling Wanhsien with another British gunboat, HMS Widgeon, in the distance. The hostages were rescued by a naval boarding party on board the steamer SS Kiawo, which was used to retrieve the hostages while the gunboats provided covering fire for the actual rescue. All of the British hostages were saved. This painting is from Yangtze River Gunboats, 1900-1949, p. 17, and was published by Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2011. The illustration was done by Tony Bryan and the text in the book was written by Angus Konstam. This book is highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about gunboats on the Yangtze River. Click on the photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: HMS Cockchafer underway in the company of HMS Cricket, HMS Glowworm, and HMS Cicala, circa 1939 to1945. Royal Navy photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London, England. Click on the photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: HMS Cockchafer on the Yangtze River, China, date unknown. Royal Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: HMS Cockchafer on the Yangtze River, China, date unknown. Royal Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a large, brown, European beetle, the 645-ton HMS Cockchafer was an Insect class gunboat built in 1915 by Barclay Curle & Company at Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was approximately 237 feet long and 36 feet wide, had a top speed of 14 knots, and had a crew of 53 officers and men. Cockchafer also had a draft of only 4 feet, allowing her to steam in very shallow waters, such as rivers. As built, Cockchafer was armed with two 6-inch guns, two 12-pounder guns, and six machine guns, but this armament varied over the years.
After being commissioned, Cockchafer was based at Brightlingsea and patrolled off the southeast coast of England during World War I. After the war ended, Cockchafer and some of her sister ships were sent to support White Russian (or anti-communist) forces on the Dvina River in northern Russia from 1919 to 1920. On 17 January 1920, Cockchafer, along with four other Insect class gunboats, were ordered to sail to China to be stationed on the Yangtze River. The shallow draft on these gunboats made them ideal ships for patrolling the Yangtze and their primary duty was to protect British lives and property along the river.
China in the 1920’s and 1930’s was wracked by political, military, and criminal turmoil. There were warlords, pirates, corrupt generals, and nationalist troops all preying on civilian shipping on the Yangtze for profit. Most of the time, gunboats from various western nations (as well as Japan) were the only forces available to maintain order on the Yangtze. One of the most notorious incidents where a British gunboat had to step in to rescue British citizens and property involved Cockchafer.
On 29 August 1926, a sampan carrying Chinese soldiers capsized while trying to illegally board the British river steamer SS Wanliu near the city of Wanhsien on the upper Yangtze River. The incident sparked an immediate confrontation between the local warlord, General Yang Sen, and Great Britain. HMS Cockchafer, under the command of Lieutenant Commander L.S. Acheson, happened to be nearby and immediate action was taken. Acheson ordered a boarding party to take back Wanliu, which they did. The British sailors boarded Wanliu, disarmed Yang’s troops, and forced the unarmed troops off the ship. Upon being freed, Wanliu quickly left the area.
Normally, that would have been the end of the matter. But General Yang, who was outraged not only at the loss of Wanliu but also at the way his troops were humiliated in the subsequent rescue, struck back. He seized two British merchant ships, SS Wanhsien and SS Wantung, which were docked off Wanhsien, and took both the ships and their crews’ hostage. Lieutenant Commander Acheson did not have enough sailors to board and take both ships, so he radioed for help. Soon another British gunboat, HMS Widgeon, carrying the British consul from Chungking arrived on the scene. Negotiations between the British consul and General Yang rapidly deteriorated. By 2 September 1926, General Yang brought in roughly 20,000 troops into Wanhsien and they were taking up positions along the shore, directly opposite the two British gunboats. Eleven cannons of various calibers were also brought into the city, one within 50 yards of the shoreline.
On Sunday afternoon of 5 September 1926, Cockchafer drifted near SS Wanhsien and Widgeon moved into position about 150 yards away from SS Wantung. Suddenly, steaming up the river was a merchant steamer, SS Kiawo, and apparently there was a British naval crew on board. The ship had been commandeered by the Royal Navy at Ichang, armed with cannons and machine guns, and manned by seamen from the cruiser HMS Despatch and the gunboats HMS Scarab and Mantis. Commander F.C. Darley was placed in command of both Kiawo and of the whole operation that was about to begin. On board Kiawo there were roughly 110 officers and men facing a Chinese field army on shore.
Kiawo steamed right alongside SS Wanhsien’s starboard quarter and the British sailors jumped over the railings and boarded the merchant ship. But General Yang’s men were waiting for them and opened fire on the British sailors. For almost an hour, both sides fired at each other at point-blank range. During the first few minutes, the British seamen suffered heavy casualties, but then they rallied and the Chinese soldiers began to fall. Commander Darley was last seen with a pistol in each hand, leading the second wave of the boarding party over Wanhsien’s bloody deck, getting off two shots before his body was riddled with bullets. The British sailors continued the fighting as Chinese troops began firing from shore.
By this time, both Cockchafer and Widgeon opened fire on the shoreline and on the city itself. The gunboats were hitting Chinese gun positions and hitting as many troops along the shoreline as possible. There was a hail of gunfire coming from the shore, with one bullet hitting Lieutenant Commander Acheson in the back on board Cockchafer’s bridge. For more than two hours, Acheson lay on the deck directing operations throughout the battle. After almost an hour of fighting, Kiawo cast off from SS Wanhsien, having rescued the British officers from the merchant ship. During the confusion of the battle, the officers from the nearby SS Wantung were able to jump off their ship and swim to Kiawo. With all of the hostages rescued, Cockchafer’s and Widgeon’s firing began in earnest. Since the British could not retrieve the two merchant ships and since they did not want General Yang to keep them, the gunboats shelled them mercilessly. Both of the merchant ships were almost blown to pieces. The gunboats also continued firing on Chinese troop positions both along the waterfront and inside Wanhsien.
Once the battered Kiawo steamed out of range, the gunboats ceased fire. Casualties during the assault were heavy. Of the 110 British officers and men at the start of the attack, 20 percent were casualties. Out of 7 officers, 3 were killed and 2 wounded. Four sailors died and 13 were wounded. Approximately 250 Chinese troops were killed during the attack with another 100 civilians killed in the crossfire between the opposing sides. The quick and accurate shelling from Cockchafer and Widgeon subdued much of the Chinese small arms fire, keeping British casualties a lot lower than they could have been.
The action at Wanhsien turned into a major diplomatic and international incident, with the Chinese claiming that “thousands” of “helpless” Chinese were killed. But the Royal Navy did not back down from the attack, claiming they had every right to protect their citizens and their ships.
Cockchafer remained on the Yangtze until 1939. She was going to be converted into a minelayer, but was instead transferred to the East Indies Squadron. In 1941, Cockchafer participated in the landings of British and Indian Army troops at Basra, Iraq, during the British invasion of that country during World War II. The gunboat was also used to host the regent of Iraq, Amir Abdul Illah, who had to flee Baghdad because of an assassination plot.
Cockchafer also participated in the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, codenamed Operation Countenance, from 25 August to 17 September 1941. The purpose of the invasion was to seize the Iranian oil fields for the Allied war effort.
In 1943, Cockchafer was assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet at Malta. She assisted in supporting Operation Husky, which was the invasion of Sicily. Once the invasion of Italy had taken place, Cockchafer was used for harbor defense duties in Taranto, Italy, in late 1944. In 1945, the gunboat was ordered to steam to the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean and support operations in Burma. After the war with Japan ended in August 1945, Cockchafer was sent to Singapore where she was placed in reserve. In 1949, HMS Cockchafer, a remarkable gunboat that saw service all over the world, was sold for scrap and broken up.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Figure 1: CSS Arkansas (1862). Sepia wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1904. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: CSS Arkansas (1862). Nineteenth century photograph of a sketch by S. Milliken, CSN. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: CSS Arkansas (1862). Line engraving after a drawing by J.O. Davidson, published in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, page 573, depicting the ship fitting out off Yazoo City, Mississippi, in June-July 1862. Assisting in the work is the CSS Capitol. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: CSS Arkansas engaging USS Carondelet, 15 July 1862. Line engraving published in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, page 574.This action, which took place in the Yazoo River, Mississippi, left Carondelet seriously damaged. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: "Battle between the Carondelet and Arkansas." Engraving published in Rear Admiral Henry Walke's Naval Scenes and Reminiscences of the Civil War in the United States (1877), depicting USS Carondelet in action with CSS Arkansas on the Yazoo River, Mississippi, 15 July 1862. Walke commanded Carondelet at this time. Note that Arkansas is depicted with greatly exaggerated freeboard. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: CSS Arkansas running through the Union fleet above Vicksburg, Mississippi, 15 July 1862. Line engraving after a drawing by J.O. Davidson, published in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, page 556. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: "The Rebel Ram 'Arkansas' Running Through the Union Fleet off Vicksburg." Line engraving published in Harper's Weekly, 1862, depicting the passage of CSS Arkansas through the Federal fleet above Vicksburg, Mississippi, on 15 July 1862. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: "The Union Gun-boat 'Essex' (Commander Porter) Destroying the Rebel Iron-clad Ram 'Arkansas,' in the Mississippi." Line engraving published in Harper's Weekly, 1862. CSS Arkansas was run ashore and burned to prevent capture when her engines failed during this encounter with USS Essex, on 6 August 1862. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after the state of Arkansas, the 800-ton CSS (Confederate States Ship) Arkansas was a twin-screw ironclad ram that was partially built in 1861 by J. T. Shirley at Memphis, Tennessee. The ship was approximately 165 feet long and 35 feet wide, had a top speed of 8 knots, and had a crew of 200 officers and men. Arkansas was armed with two 9-inch smoothbore cannon, two 9-inch 64-pounders, two 9-inch shell guns, two 6-inch rifled cannons, and two 32-pounder smoothbore cannons.
This Confederate warship was still under construction when the Union fleet began to near Memphis in May of 1862. As a precaution, Arkansas was towed up the Yazoo River to Yazoo City, Mississippi, for completion. On 26 May 1862, Lieutenant Isaac Newton Brown, CSN (Confederate States Navy), took command of Arkansas and quickly completed construction of the ship. Boilerplate iron, thick timber, and railway iron were used throughout the ship, making it very difficult for cannon shot to penetrate her sides. Yet despite her size and weight, Arkansas was quite maneuverable and fast for an ironclad ram. As soon as Arkansas was completed, Lieutenant Brown was determined to take the fight to the Union Navy.
On 15 July 1862, Lieutenant Brown took Arkansas boldly down the Yazoo River where he soon encountered three Union warships, the gunboats USS Carondelet and USS Tyler, and the ram USS Queen of the West. Arkansas did not hesitate and quickly attacked the superior force. First, Arkansas neared Carondelet, Commander Henry Walke, USN, in command. Arkansas scored several hits on Carondelet’s unprotected stern, severely disabling the ship and forcing it to run aground to prevent her from sinking. Arkansas then turned her attention to Tyler, which was near the stricken Carondelet. The two ships traded shots, but Arkansas inflicted substantial damage to Tyler, forcing her to retreat with many casualties.
Arkansas then left the Yazoo River and entered the mighty Mississippi River. What met her was a sight to behold. A large array of Union warships lay in front of her, just outside the range of the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Lieutenant Brown decided to run the Federal blockade and head for the protection of Vicksburg. Although it looked like suicide, the Confederate warship started steaming past the Union warships. Both sides were shooting at each other and the Union ships scored many hits on Arkansas. But the timber and iron on board the Confederate ram held together and Arkansas steamed right through the Union line, eventually reaching the safety of Vicksburg. Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory said of the event, “Naval history records few deeds of greater heroism or higher professional ability than this achievement of the Arkansas.”
Although Arkansas made it to Vicksburg, she was badly damaged. Some repairs were made, but on 22 July 1862, Arkansas was attacked by the Union warships USS Queen of the West and the ironclad USS Essex. Arkansas was hit again, although not severely damaged in this battle. By this time, Arkansas was in serious need of an overhaul and extensive repairs. But with few Confederate warships available, Arkansas was ordered to steam down the Mississippi and assist Confederate forces in an attack on Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While carrying out this mission on 6 August 1862, CSS Arkansas suffered a severe machinery breakdown during another gun battle with the Union ironclad Essex. Unable to escape, Arkansas drifted ashore and had to be burned to prevent her capture by Union forces.
CSS Arkansas showed that warships built by the Confederate States were tough and heavily armed. But the Confederates did not have the industrial base to either maintain them or build a lot of them. So no matter how good their ships were, they could simply be overwhelmed by the Union Navy’s superior numbers and huge manufacturing capacity. This should be a stern warning to all those individuals who place their faith in “quality” over “quantity.” In the end, you can have the best gunboat in the world, but it will always be overwhelmed by superior numbers.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Figure 1: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Balao (SS-285) returns to a Pacific base following a successful war patrol, circa early 1945. The location is probably Guam. Note USS LCT-1000 in the right distance. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, USN, Commander Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet (center), on board USS Balao (SS-285), welcoming the submarine back to port from a successful war patrol, circa early 1945. Location is probably Guam. Balao's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Robert K.R. Worthington, is to the right of Vice Admiral Lockwood, facing the camera. Note 4-inch deck gun, with a Japanese flag and six "hash marks" painted on its barrel. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: Submarine crewmen wave their newly delivered mail, as their "boat" returns to port from a successful war patrol, circa early 1945. Location is probably Guam. The returning submarine is probably USS Balao (SS-285). Note USS LCT-1062 in the left distance, and .30-caliber and .50-caliber machine guns mounted at the submarine's deck edge. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Balao (SS-285) photographed circa 1952. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1974. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Balao (AGSS-285) exercising with a Brazilian S2F anti-submarine airplane and H-34 (HSS-1) helicopter off Key West, Florida, 7 March 1961. The Brazilian helicopter is flying over the submarine in this view. Balao is a unit of Submarine Squadron Twelve, whose insignia is visible on her fairwater, directly over her hull number. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Balao (SS-285). View of USS Balao's "sail,” with Submarine Squadron Twelve insignia, circa 1963. Removed shortly before Balao was expended as a target in 1963, this structure has been on exhibit at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC, since about the middle 1960s. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC. Main entrance to the Navy Memorial Museum, circa summer 1978. This entranceway, located between the building's two southern wings, was demolished and rebuilt to another design in 1981-1982. Note the three submarine periscopes located in the museum's southwestern wing, and the old anchor mounted in front of that wing. Large metal plaque above the "Navy Memorial Museum" sign identifies the building's previous use, as the Naval Gun Factory's Breech Mechanism Shop. At right is the conning tower fairwater ("sail") of USS Balao (SS-285), which was relocated to another part of the Navy Yard in 1982 and again in 2001. This photograph was received by the Naval Photographic Center in January 1979. Official US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a small, slender fish, USS Balao (SS-285) was the lead ship in a large class of American submarines built during World War II. Balao weighed in at 1,526 tons on the surface and 2,414 tons submerged. She was approximately 311 feet long and 27 feet wide, had a top speed of 20 knots on the surface and 8.75 knots submerged, and had a crew of 66 officers and men. Balao was armed with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, one 4-inch and one 40-mm deck gun, and two .50-caliber machine guns. Balao was built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard at Kittery, Maine, and was commissioned on 4 February 1943.
After undergoing her shakedown cruise off the coast of New London, Connecticut, Balao was sent to the Pacific to begin her war against the Japanese. Balao’s first three war patrols originated from Brisbane, Australia, and took place between July 1943 and January 1944. She scoured the area between the Caroline and Bismarck Islands, but was not able to sink any ships, although an attack on a Japanese convoy on 23 October 1943 resulted in a wartime credit for one ship that was not confirmed in post-war review.
Balao left Brisbane for her fourth patrol in February 1944. This time, though, the submarine had much better luck. Balao was patrolling the area north of New Guinea on 23 February when she spotted a small convoy of two enemy freighters and one small escort. Balao fired six torpedoes at the larger of the two freighters, scoring three hits. The small escort steamed towards the submarine, but Balao left before an attack could take place. Balao later returned to the area where the ship went down and found one Japanese survivor and took him on board. The survivor told the Americans that they had sunk the 5,857-ton passenger cargo ship Nikki Maru and that she had sunk rapidly after being hit. A few days later, shortly after midnight on 28 February, Balao crept up on some more Japanese ships and sank the 2,723-ton freighter Shoho Maru and the 6,803-ton passenger cargo ship Akiuro Maru.
Balao made two more war patrols (her fifth and sixth), this time while based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from April to early August 1944. She sank an armed trawler and rescued several downed US pilots off the Palau Islands. After that, Balao was sent back to the United States and on 20 August arrived at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, for a major overhaul. Once the overhaul was completed, Balao returned to Pearl Harbor and arrived there on 15 November.
Balao left Pearl Harbor on 4 December 1944 on her seventh war patrol and rendezvoused with two other American submarines, USS Spot (SS-413) and USS Icefish (SS-367). Together these three ships formed a small “wolfpack” and made their way to the Yellow Sea between China and Korea. Up until 2 January 1945, the only things the submarines spotted were fishing boats and floating mines. But on that day Balao sighted the masts of a sailing vessel. It was a three-masted schooner and Balao surfaced to attack. Balao fired three torpedoes, two of which missed, but the third hit the schooner squarely amidships and the ship sank immediately. On that same day, Balao located a larger ship on her radar and successfully crept up on her. Early the next morning, Balao got in close to the ship and fired six torpedoes. Three of them hit the target, but the ship, which looked like a tanker, refused to sink. As the tanker sat dead in the water and helpless, Balao circled like a wolf coming in for the kill. Balao fired seven more torpedoes at the tanker and scored three more hits, but, incredibly, the ship refused to go down. Finally, Balao came in close to the ship and fired three more torpedoes, scoring one more hit. This appeared to be the final blow and the ship went down after that. Although the Balao’s captain thought he had “bagged” a tanker, post-war records show that it was, in fact, the 5,244-ton freighter Daigo Maru. Balao patrolled independently after that and on 19 January 1945 she arrived at Apra Harbor, Guam, for some repairs alongside the submarine tender USS Apollo (AS-25).
Balao began her eighth war patrol on 27 February 1945 by joining three other American submarines and heading for the East China and Yellow Seas. On 18 March, Balao located a 188-ton trawler and sank it with gunfire. The next morning, Balao attacked a convoy of four Japanese transports that were guarded by four escorts. Balao fired 10 torpedoes at three of the targets. The men on board Balao heard four of their torpedoes hit and they later received credit for sinking the large 10,413-ton transport Hakozaki Maru. Later that same afternoon, Balao surfaced to attack a group of small trawlers. The submarine sank one trawler with gunfire and left the three others burning. On 26 March, Balao sank the 880-ton cargo ship Shinto Maru No. 1 using gunfire and then returned to Guam for fuel, provisions, and torpedoes.
Balao’s two final combat cruises, from May to August 1945, produced no major results for the submarine, but she did manage to save several American pilots who were forced down over the ocean. Balao was sent back to the US east coast at the end of August 1945, shortly after the war with Japan ended. She was decommissioned a year later and joined the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
Balao was re-commissioned on 4 March 1952 at the US Naval Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut. After her shakedown training, Balao was sent to Key West, Florida. There she served primarily as a training ship for antisubmarine and Special Development Forces in the Key West and Guantanamo Bay operating areas. For the next ten years, she served as a target in training exercises for anti-submarine forces and regularly visited ports around the southern United States. Balao made a South American cruise from January to March 1957 and participated in exercises with local navies. Then in 1959, USS Balao played a “starring role” in the movie “Operation Petticoat,” with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. Balao was the famous “pink submarine” in that motion picture and became a celebrity within the fleet, at least for a little while.
Balao was re-classified AGSS-285 in April 1960 and continued participating in training exercises for the next three years. She deployed to the Mediterranean in mid-1962 and served at sea in the western Atlantic during the Cuban Missile Crisis later that year. USS Balao was decommissioned on 1 August 1963 and her name was struck from the Navy list that same day. Her hulk was sunk off the coast of northern Florida on 6 September as a target. However, before she was sunk, Balao’s conning tower fairwater (which is the superstructure that surrounds and conceals the conning tower, also known as the “sail”) was removed from the ship. It was preserved and has been on exhibit at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC, since the mid-1960s. USS Balao received nine battle stars for her service during World War II, but no Oscar nominations for her role in the movie “Operation Petticoat.”