Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Figure 1: USS Barry (DD-248) enters the water during her launching at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation shipyard at Camden, New Jersey, on 28 October 1920. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Barry (DD-248) at anchor, circa the 1920s or 1930s. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Barry (DD-248) photographed in March 1928. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Barry (DD-248) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during the late 1920s or early 1930s. Donation of Franklin Moran, 1967. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Barry (DD-248) in San Diego harbor, California, about 1930. Ships in the right background are USS Kane (DD-235) and USS Fox (DD-234). US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Barry (DD-248) off Gonaives, Haiti, circa the 1930s. She is dressed with flags for some special occasion. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1966. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Barry (DD-248) nested with other destroyers in San Diego harbor, California, circa 1932-1935. Two fuel oil barges are moored alongside Barry. The airship in the distance is either USS Akron (ZRS-4) or USS Macon (ZRS-5). US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Barry (DD-248) photographed circa the 1920s or 1930s. Several merchant vessels are in the distance. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Barry (APD-29) off Norfolk, Virginia, 9 February 1945. Photographed by Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Barry (APD-29) off Norfolk, Virginia, 9 February 1945. Photographed by Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Barry (APD-29) off Norfolk, Virginia, 9 February 1945. Photographed by Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia. Note her pattern camouflage. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after Captain John Barry (1745-1803), one of the American naval heroes from the Revolutionary War, the 1,215-ton USS Barry (DD-248) was a Clemson class destroyer that was built by the New York Shipbuilding Company at Camden, New Jersey, and was commissioned on 28 December 1920. The ship was approximately 314 feet long and 31 feet wide, had a top speed of 35 knots, and had a crew of 122 officers and men. Barry was armed with four 4-inch guns, one 3-inch gun, depth charges, and 12 21-inch torpedo tubes.
After being commissioned, Barry was placed in reserve status for nearly a year. After that, the ship was assigned to active duty with the Atlantic Fleet in November 1921. With the exception of a deployment to the Mediterranean from 1922 to 1923, and with several months of operations in the Pacific between 1925 and 1932, Barry spent her first dozen years in the western Atlantic and the Caribbean, primarily as a unit of the Scouting Fleet. In July 1933, Barry was transferred to San Diego, California. For the rest of the decade, she was assigned to bases on both the east and west coasts of the United States.
After war began in Europe in September 1939 and the situation there gradually deteriorated in 1940, Barry was assigned to the naval defenses of the Panama Canal. She remained there until America entered the war on 7 December 1941. After that, Barry was assigned to escort and anti-submarine missions against German U-boats in the Atlantic. In early 1942, Barry escorted convoys in the Caribbean between Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Panama. She also escorted ships from Curacao to Trinidad. Later that year and throughout the first half of 1943, Barry was assigned to escort duties in the south Atlantic while based at Trinidad.
From July to November 1943, Barry was part of TG (Task Group) 21.14, a “hunter-killer” group which steamed along the north Atlantic convoy shipping lanes in search of German submarines. The group conducted two sweeps (30 July to 10 September 1943 and 28 September to 8 November 1943) during which aircraft from USS Card (CVE-11), the escort carrier attached to the group, sank eight German U-boats. Barry and the destroyer USS Goff (DD-247) rescued survivors from the destroyer USS Borie (DD-215) when she was mortally damaged and sank after ramming the German submarine U-405.
But then Barry was sent back to the United States and was converted into a high-speed transport at the Charleston Navy Yard at North Charleston, South Carolina. The conversion took place from 31 December 1943 to 17 February 1944 and the ship was re-classified APD-29. Barry left the east coast on 13 April 1944 and sailed to Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria, arriving there on 30 April. The ship and crew practiced amphibious landings until 14 August, when the ship joined the Allied invasion force for southern France. Between 15 and 20 August 1944, Barry landed troops on the islands of Levant and Port Cros, as well as on the mainland of southern France. From August to December 1944, Barry served on escort duty in the western Mediterranean and then returned to the United States, arriving at Norfolk, Virginia, on 23 December.
After a brief overhaul, Barry left Norfolk and headed south, entering the Pacific Ocean via the Panama Canal. She eventually made her way to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and arrived there on 24 March 1945. Barry underwent some additional amphibious training in the Hawaiian Islands for several weeks before being sent west to Okinawa, where she arrived on 16 May 1945. Once there, the ship performed patrol and escort duties during the occupation of that island.
On 25 May 1945, Barry was on patrol 35 miles northwest of Okinawa when two Japanese suicide planes headed straight for her. The first kamikaze was shot down by the ship’s gunners. But the second plane hit its target, striking Barry just below her bridge. Twenty-eight crewmen were wounded by the explosion and the flying shrapnel. The explosion of the plane’s gasoline tanks and the bomb it was carrying ignited fuel oil that was leaking from Barry’s ruptured oil tanks. The massive fire crept along Barry’s deck and headed towards the ship’s forward magazine. With the total loss of power and no way of putting the fires out, the commanding officer ordered the ship to be abandoned. At 1340 hours, roughly 40 minutes after Barry had been hit by the kamikaze, crewmen lowered all lifeboats and abandoned ship. As far as is known, all hands made it safely off the ship.
But then an interesting thing happened. Water that was entering the ship from some of the battle damage actually flooded the forward magazine, preventing the ship from blowing up. The fire was gradually burning itself out and at approximately 1500 hours a skeleton crew, along with men from USS Sims (APD-50) and Roper (APD-20), re-boarded the ship in an attempt to salvage it. The last of the fires were extinguished by 0630 the next day.
Barry was towed to Kerama Retto Island on 28 May but was found to be too extensively damaged to warrant repair or salvage. After being stripped of all useful guns and equipment, the ship was decommissioned on 21 June 1945. But later that same day, Barry was towed from Kerama Retto harbor and was going to be used as a decoy for other kamikazes. Evidently the plan worked, because while under tow the ship was again attacked by Japanese suicide planes and sunk, along with her escort, LSM-29. Even though just a floating hulk, Barry managed to prevent enemy kamikazes from attacking other, more valuable American targets off the coast of Okinawa that day. USS Barry received the Presidential Unit Citation as a unit of TG21.14 and four battle stars for her actions in the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Figure 1: USS Barnes off Orchard Point, Washington, 8 March 1943. Photograph taken by Naval Air Station, Seattle, Washington. Note her pattern camouflage. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Head-on view of USS Barnes off Orchard Point, Washington, 9 March 1943. Speed 10 knots. Courtesy Seattle Branch of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Barnes (CVE-20) underway in 1943, en route to the western Pacific. Note her deck load of USAAF P-38 “Lightnings” (their wings removed to maximize numbers on deck) and P-47 “Thunderbolts.” US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Centerline view of USS Barnes (CVE-20), Navy Yard Mare Island, California, 10 October 1943. Mare Island Navy Yard, California, photo # 7105-43. Source: Mare Island Naval Shipyard Ship Files, San Francisco NARA. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Barnes (CVE-20) with US Army P-47D "Thunderbolt" fighters parked on the carrier's flight deck for transportation to the Pacific war zone, 15 October 1943. Six Navy PV-1 "Ventura" patrol bombers are parked aft. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: Grumman F6F-3 "Hellcat" fighter goes over the side of USS Barnes (CVE-20), 22 October 1943, after the pilot attempted to regain flying speed after receiving the "cut" signal from the Landing Signal Officer. The pilot, Ensign Olinyock, A-V(N), and a crew member, F1c Olin Victor Bulgrin, were killed in this accident. Several other crew members were injured. Note triangular flight deck crash barrier supports partially extended below the plane. Official US Navy Photograph, National Archives collection. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Barnes (CVE-20) with Grumman TBF "Avenger" aircraft parked on her flight deck, 8 January 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, Naval History and Heritage Command collection. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a sound located on the southern tip of Florida, the 15,700-ton USS Barnes (CVE-20) was a Bogue class escort carrier that was built by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Company and was commissioned at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, on 20 February 1943. The ship was approximately 465 feet long and 69 feet wide, had a top speed of 16.5 knots, and had a crew of 890 officers and men. Barnes was armed with two 5-inch guns, eight twin 40-mm gun mounts, and 27 single 20-mm gun mounts. When used as an escort carrier, Barnes normally carried 24 aircraft. But this number increased dramatically if the ship was used as a bulk transport for aircraft.
After her shakedown cruise, Barnes left San Diego, California, for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and arrived there on 26 April 1943. The ship then acted as a transport and carried aircraft to Noumea, New Caledonia, and reached that port on 10 May. Barnes stayed there for only three days before going on to Espiritu Santo, reaching that destination on 15 May. She then returned to San Diego on 3 June 1943.
Barnes conducted two more “ferry” missions, transporting aircraft, men, and supplies that summer. The first destination was Brisbane, Australia, and the second was Hilo, Hawaii, as well as Pearl Harbor. The ship sailed to Alameda, California, on 2 September 1943. Barnes returned to Pearl Harbor with more aircraft on 18 October and steamed off the coast of Hawaii on training exercises until the first week of November. After her training exercises were completed, Barnes ended her duties as an aircraft transport and began her new role as an escort carrier. The carrier embarked Fighting Squadron (VF) 1’s Grumman F6F-3 “Hellcats” and set sail on 10 November 1943 with Task Force (TF) 53 for the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. On 19 November, Barnes was assigned to Task Group (TG) 53.6, which also included the escort carriers USS Nassau (CVE-16), Sangamon (CVE-26), Suwanee (CVE-27), and Santee (CVE-29). The specific target for this Task Group was the island of Tarawa.
At 0751 hours on 20 November 1943, Barnes turned into the wind and began catapulting the first of 16 Hellcat fighters off its deck. For the next three days, her aircraft would strafe and bomb Japanese positions on Tarawa as well as assist in providing Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) over the Task Group. Barnes’ aircraft pounded away at bloody Tarawa, assisting the Marines during their assault on that little island. Aircraft from escort carriers throughout the Task Group tried to assist the Marines as best they could, but the Japanese were very well dug in and they were also fighting to the death. Finally, after three days of horrific battle, the Marines managed to secure the island, but at a terrible cost. Approximately 1,000 US Marines were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded. The entire Japanese garrison on the island, more than 4,600 men, was wiped out with the exception of only 17 men who were captured. In approximately 76 hours, a total of almost 6,000 men lost their lives. It was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the US Marine Corps.
Barnes left Tarawa on 30 November 1943 and reached Pearl Harbor on 5 December. After spending three days there refueling, loading supplies, and making some repairs, Barnes set sail for California on 8 December and arrived at San Diego on 14 December. After undergoing some more repairs, Barnes left for the South Pacific and delivered another load of aircraft to the New Hebrides Islands. After delivering this cargo at Espiritu Santo on 5 January 1944, the ship remained there a few days before returning to San Diego on 27 January 1944 for an overhaul.
From February to May 1944, Barnes delivered more aircraft to Espiritu Santo and then went on to the Marshall Islands. She also transported replacement aircraft to the carrier USS Hornet (CV-12) as well as to other fleet carriers. Barnes returned to America’s west coast via Pearl Harbor and docked at San Pedro, California, on 21 May. She spent the last week in May undergoing more repairs at the dockyard there.
From June to July 1944, Barnes resumed ferrying aircraft to Pearl Harbor and to the Marshall Islands and in August she carried aircraft to the Admiralty Islands. On 16 September 1944, Barnes was assigned to the Third Fleet in an area southeast of the Palau Islands. Barnes commenced flight operations to deliver aircraft to the larger fleet carriers. This was one of the most important functions of the escort carriers in the Pacific. The larger fleet carriers would lose aircraft either because of battle losses, battle damage, or mechanical failures. The escort carriers delivered new aircraft to the fleet carriers, thereby insuring that a steady stream of new aircraft could be delivered to the front line carrier battle groups and their squadrons. At approximately 1120 hours on 16 September, Barnes commenced flight operations to deliver aircraft to the larger carriers and completed this task by 1640. During this time, she catapulted off 40 planes for delivery to four large carriers. Smaller destroyers or destroyer escorts were then used to bring the pilots back to Barnes after they delivered their aircraft. The following day, Barnes flew off 17 additional planes for delivery to other carriers. Once all of her aircraft were delivered, Barnes returned to Manus in the Admiralty Islands.
For the rest of the war, Barnes delivered aircraft, personnel, and supplies to other fleet aircraft carriers and bases throughout the Pacific. Barnes had just left Pearl Harbor and was headed towards Guam when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945. After reaching her destination on 21 August, Barnes went to Manus and then to Saipan and back to Guam before returning to the United States. The ship arrived at Alameda on 12 September 1945. Barnes then sailed back to the Far East on 10 October, making stops at Pearl Harbor, Guam, and Saipan before reaching Yokosuka, Japan, on 27 October. Once there, the escort carrier loaded captured Japanese aircraft for transportation back to the United States. Barnes arrived back at Alameda on 14 November.
Although originally assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet, Barnes reported to the Commander, Atlantic Fleet, for temporary duty on 2 December 1945. After being sent to Norfolk, Virginia, the ship was ordered to Cristobal in the Panama Canal Zone on 4 January 1946. After transiting the Panama Canal on 9 January, Barnes made her way to San Diego, arriving there on 18 January. After making another journey delivering cargo and personnel to the Philippines and Guam, Barnes returned to San Diego on 28 March.
Barnes returned to the east coast via the Panama Canal on 16 April 1946. She eventually made her way to Boston, Massachusetts, on 11 May. Once there, Barnes was decommissioned on 29 August 1946. Even though she was re-classified an “escort helicopter aircraft carrier” and was re-designated CVHE-20 as of 12 June 1955, the ship never returned to service. The ship’s name was struck from the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and USS Barnes was sold for scrapping on 1 October of that same year.
Although ships like Barnes did not see an enormous amount of fighting during World War II, it would have been difficult for the US Navy to win the war without them. Transport escort carriers kept the larger fleet carriers constantly supplied with aircraft, thereby preventing the larger fleet carriers from having to return to base for more planes. This allowed the larger fleet carriers to stay at sea for longer periods of time because their air groups could remain in action almost indefinitely (or until the ships ran out of ammunition, fuel, and provisions). The role of the transport escort carrier usually went unnoticed during the war, but it still was a vital one for the US Navy.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Figure 1: S.S. Robert L. Barnes in merchant service circa 1917, before acquisition by the US Navy. Alexander McDougall built her as the prototype "rectangular ship" or "sea-going canal boat," with a plain, low hull and a superstructure that could be removed to pass under canal bridges. This steamer was placed in commission as USS Robert L. Barnes on 19 October 1918. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Robert L. Barnes (AO-14) at Guam, probably in 1932. Note the extensive use of awnings. Collection of Roscoe C. Stevens. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Robert L. Barnes (AO-14) at Guam in the 1920s or 1930s with the usual awnings rigged over her deck. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. Berle Spurlock, 2007. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Robert L. Barnes (AO-14) at Guam in the 1920s or 1930s. Note the ship's barge, with sailing gear rigged, in foreground. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1970. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Captain Alexander McDougall designed the 5,380-ton civilian steel tanker SS Robert L. Barnes for the Robert Barnes Steam Ship Company. The ship was built in less than four months in 1917 by the McDougall-Duluth Company at Duluth, Minnesota, a company that was little more than a large blacksmith shop. What made SS Robert L. Barnes unique was that it was a prototype for a “rectangular ship,” or “sea-going canal boat.” The ship had a simple, low hull with a “portable” superstructure that could be removed to pass under the bridges of the New York State canals. McDougall had previously invented the unusual “whaleback” freighter, of which more than 40 were built. The whalebacks served as both steamers and barges and were built between 1888 and 1898. Robert L. Barnes had a simple design and was fitted with a steam engine that was built in 1888. This unusual vessel also was built 42 feet short to pass through the Welland Canal on her trip to New York from Duluth. Robert L. Barnes was approximately 258 feet long and 43 feet wide, had a top speed of 8.5 knots, and had a crew of 46 officers and men. Originally designed to carry 3,000 tons of coal, the ship was converted to carry oil soon after construction was completed.
Robert L. Barnes was inspected and taken over by the US Navy on 29 June 1918 and was commissioned as an oiler at New York on 19 October. US Navy inspectors, though, noted that she was probably not “structurally strong enough” for seagoing service with the Naval Overseas Transportation Service (N.O.T.S.). Despite that, Robert L. Barnes was assigned to the Fifth Naval District and left New York on 12 March 1919 for Hampton Roads, Virginia. After making a visit to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the ship returned to New York and then steamed to Norfolk, Virginia, on 18 April 1919 to begin an extensive overhaul at the Norfolk Navy Yard. On 4 September 1919, Robert L. Barnes was assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service. After being overhauled and almost re-built, Robert L. Barnes left Norfolk on 21 November 1919 for San Pedro, California, via the Panama Canal.
Robert L. Barnes eventually left California and delivered a shipment of diesel fuel to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The ship left Pearl Harbor on 8 April 1920 with a load of fuel oil for the naval station at Guam. Robert L. Barnes arrived at Apra Harbor, Guam, on 27 April and continued serving as an oil storage vessel at Apra Harbor. Robert L. Barnes was assigned to be the “Station Ship” for Guam, but was designated a cargo ship (AK-11). In July 1921, she was re-designated more accurately as an oil depot ship and her designation was changed to that of an oiler (AO-14). Robert L. Barnes remained at Guam during most of the years leading up to World War II, except for a few years (1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1930, and 1934) when she was towed to the Cavite Naval Yard in the Philippines for overhauls. Her designation was changed once again to miscellaneous auxiliary (AG-27) in July 1938. While at Guam, Robert L. Barnes assisted in the salvage of the grounded US Army transport U.S. Grant in May 1939.
Robert L. Barnes was floating peacefully at anchor at Guam when war broke out in the Pacific on 7 December 1941. The next day, Japanese aircraft attacked the island, bombing and strafing the old oiler. Although the Japanese didn’t score any direct hits, the ship sustained much damage topside and was leaking badly. But the ship was still afloat when the Japanese invaded the island and Robert L. Barnes was captured by the enemy on 10 December 1941, after she was abandoned by her crew. The Japanese repaired the ship and used her as an oiler. The ship somehow managed to survive the war, even though she was officially struck from the Navy List on 24 July 1942. Robert L. Barnes was sold to British mercantile interests and served as SS Fortune and M.T.S. No. 2 from 1945 to 1949. The ship then was scrapped in 1950. Not a bad career for a former “sea-going canal boat” that originally was built to simply navigate the canals of New York State.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Figure 1: Painting of the Bonhomme Richard by artist Geoff Hunt. The painting depicts Bonhomme Richard, commanded by Continental Navy Captain John Paul Jones, probably just before her famous duel with the British warship HMS Serapis, commanded by Royal Navy Captain Richard Pearson, off Flamborough Head, England, on 23 September 1779. Click on photograph for larger image. You can see other works of art by Geoff Hunt here: http://www.brooksartprints.com/Huntlist.html
Figure 2: Model of Bonhomme Richard by Alain Benoit. Click on photograph for larger image. You can find out more about this model and Mr. Benoit’s work at this web site: http://www.shipmodel.com/models/bonhomme-richard-full-hu
Figure 3: Battle between Continental ship Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis, 23 September 1779. Oil on canvas, 21" x 28," by Thomas Mitchell (1735-1790), signed and dated by the artist, 1780. It depicts Bonhomme Richard (center), commanded by Continental Navy Captain John Paul Jones, closely engaged with HMS Serapis, commanded by Royal Navy Captain Richard Pearson, off Flamborough Head, England. Firing at right is the Continental frigate Alliance, while at left the British Countess of Scarborough is engaging the American Pallas.The original painting is in the US Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland. It was donated by the US Naval Institute in 1949. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Bonhomme Richard and HMS Serapis by William Gilkerson. The two ships are nearing each other for the final fight. Courtesy of the Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: “He slowly drove his jibboom into Serapis’ mainmast” by William Gilkerson. About a half hour into the battle, Serapis tried to cross the bow of Bonhomme Richard, but, blanketed by the American’s sails, Serapis lost way. Jones, seeing an opportunity to board, placed his ship’s bow into the British ship’s side. The boarding party was beaten back, and the ships separated. Courtesy of the Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: "The Ordeal Of John Paul Jones Crew Of The Bonhomme Richard Repelling Boarders From HMS Serapis, September 23, 1779," by Anton Otto Fischer (1882 - 1962). With Bonhomme Richard and Serapis now locked in a death struggle, John Paul Jones’ crew tries desperately to fight off the British crew from Serapis. Click on photograph for larger image. For more examples of Fischer’s extraordinary artwork, go to this web site: http://www.americanartarchives.com/fischer.htm
Figure 7: John Paul Jones bids goodbye to his victorious ship, Bonhomme Richard. Painting by Percy Moran. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: Captain John Paul Jones, Continental Navy (1747-1792). Portrait by Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942),1906. The original painting is in the US Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland. Many biographies have been written about this great man, but the best one still seems to be Samuel Eliot Morison’s John Paul Jones, published by Little, Brown, and Company, 1959. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
The 998-ton Bonhomme Richard was originally built as a merchant ship in 1766 under the name Duc de Duras for the French East India Company. She was purchased by King Louis XVI in early 1779 and placed at the disposal of Captain John Paul Jones of the Continental Navy for operations against the British. Louis XVI, along with France’s Minister of Marine, Monsieur Gabriel de Sartine, gave Jones authority to “use his own judgment” in determining when and where he would sail and what he would then attempt to do. As soon as Jones received the ship, he renamed it Bonhomme Richard in honor of Benjamin Franklin, then the American Commissioner to Paris and author of Poor Richard’s Almanac. The almanac was published in France under the title Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard.
Bohomme Richard was a sturdy ship but slow, a defect that would haunt her in the coming days. The ship was approximately 152 feet long and 40 feet wide and had a crew of 322 officers and men. Bonhomme Richard was armed with six 18-pounder, 28 12-pounder, and eight 9-pounder cannons. After receiving his ship, Jones spent the next few months selecting his officers, recruiting a crew, and transforming Bonhomme Richard into a frigate. Jones also now bore the honorary title of commodore since several warships had been placed under his overall command. Bonhomme Richard, along with the other ships in Jones’ command, left L’Orient, France, on 19 June 1779 and their first mission was to escort a convoy of transports and merchantmen to various ports along the coast of the Bay of Biscay. The new American frigate Alliance and three French warships, the frigate Pallas, the brig Vengeance, and a cutter taken from the British named Le Cerf, were all part of the squadron under the command of John Paul Jones sailing on board his flagship Bonhomme Richard.
Soon after Bonhomme Richard left L’Orient, a major storm developed. The ships had to battle heavy seas that night and Bonhomme Richard and Alliance collided in the dark. Although both ships sustained substantial damage, each was able to continue with their mission. As the ships proceeded to their destinations, British warships approached the French and American squadron. However, upon seeing the strength of Jones’ force, the British backed off and left the area. Unfortunately, Jones now realized just how slow Bonhomme Richard was because it could not chase any of the faster British warships. After delivering all of the French merchant ships safely to their destinations, Jones and his ships returned to L’Orient on 1 July 1779.
Both Bonhomme Richard and Alliance needed to be repaired. Bonhomme Richard needed a new bowsprit and Alliance needed her mizzenmast repaired. By the end of July 1779, both the American and the French ships were ready for sea again. At this point, the size of the squadron actually grew. Bonhomme Richard sailed with Pallas, Vengeance, and Le Cerf to the waters off the Ile de Groix, where Alliance waited with the French privateers Monsieur and Granville. Shortly after 14 August 1779, the seven warships left the Ile de Groix and sailed northwest toward the southwestern coast of Ireland. Four days later, Monsieur captured a ship and she left the squadron and headed back to France with her prize.
On 20 August 1779, Bonhomme Richard captured the merchant ship Mayflower and Jones sent the brigantine back to L’Orient with a prize crew. On the afternoon of 23 August, Jones and his squadron captured the brig Fortune which was bound for Bristol, England, and sent her back to France as well. But on that same day, Jones had a major problem with the captain of one of the ships in his squadron, the frigate Alliance. Pierre Landais, captain of the Alliance, was a former officer in the French Navy who had gone to America under the sponsorship of Silas Deane, an American diplomat in France. Landais received a captain’s commission in the Continental Navy from Congress’ Marine Committee, which generally approved commissions through connections and political influence rather than ability. On that day, Landais requested to pursue a ship that had been sighted in shoal water near the coast of Ireland. But Jones thought the move too dangerous and risked exposing Alliance in shallow waters that were patrolled by enemy warships. As a result of this decision, Laindais, on the afternoon of 24 August, visited Bonhomme Richard and insultingly berated Jones while announcing that he would obey no future orders from the commodore. Instead, he would follow his own judgment in all matters.
Needless to say, this outburst didn’t sit well with Jones. Unfortunately, France was an ally and Jones’ rank of commodore was a symbolic one. He really only commanded Bonhomme Richard. As a result of the fight between Landais and Jones, several of the ships in Jones’ squadron left. Granville, the other French privateer, left to take a prize and never returned. Pallas, the French frigate, broke her tiller at night and dropped out of sight. Landais took Alliance off in pursuit of prizes on his own and he didn’t return until the end of August. Worse, word had spread of French and American warships in the area, so the British Admiralty sent its own ships to seek them out. Jones’ squadron of seven ships was now reduced to the Bonhomme Richard and Vengeance.
Bonhomme Richard and Vengeance continued to sail in a northerly direction west of the New Hebrides and then headed for Cape Wrath, the northwestern tip of Scotland. On the afternoon of 30 August 1779, Jones sighted three ships on his port bow and gave chase. The next day he captured one of them, the transport Union. Shortly after that, Alliance reappeared with a prize of her own named Betsy. Landais celebrated the reunion by repeating his refusal to obey Jones and by speaking of a duel once both men reached shore. Pallas rejoined the squadron on the night of 1 September and the next day Vengeance captured an Irish brigantine returning from Norway.
On 3 September 1779, the squadron passed between the Orkney and Shetland Islands and then, after sending two of their prizes to Bergen, Noway, turned south to begin the last part of their cruise around the British Isles. Alliance took two more small prizes and Landais, after refusing to confer with Jones on board Bonhomme Richard, left the squadron once again. The weather deteriorated on 4 September and forced the warships away from the dangerous and rocky shores of Scotland. For the next nine days, Bonhomme Richard did not see any ships. On 13 September, Bonhomme Richard caught two ships leaving Scotland carrying coal. A few days later, Bonhomme Richard captured a collier and the sloop Speedwell off the coast of Whitby, England. Jones ordered that all valuables be removed from the ships and ordered the prizes to be scuttled, but one of the French captains released the sloop after obtaining a ransom from the sloop’s captain.
On the night of 21 to 22 September 1779, Bonhomme Richard captured another collier and drove a second ship ashore south of Flamborough Head, Yorkshire, England. Jones also captured a British brigantine inbound from Rotterdam, Holland. Early on the morning of 22 September, the squadron sighted a group of merchant ships, but slight winds prevented Bonhomme Richard from pursuing them. That evening, Jones reversed course and headed back north to Flamborough Head to look for Pallas which had fallen behind while chasing some ships. Shortly before dawn on 23 September 1779, a lookout spotted the return of Alliance and Pallas.
Bonhomme Richard and her consorts moved slowly northward until early afternoon when a stillness fell over the squadron. At roughly 1500 hours on 23 September 1779, a lookout on board Bonhomme Richard shouted down in a bellowing voice to Jones that a large group of ships was approaching from the north. Jones, guided by information obtained from the captains of some of his captured ships, concluded that these vessels belonged to a 41-ship convoy coming from the Baltic under the protection of the British frigate HMS Serapis, commanded by Captain Richard Pearson, Royal Navy, and the sloop-of-war HMS Countess of Scarborough. Eager to go after such big targets, Jones ordered that maximum sail be used to close with the enemy. But the wind was so light that it took three and a half hours before the ships reached striking distance.
At approximately 1830 on 23 September 1779, one of the greatest battles in naval history was about to begin. Bonhomme Richard rounded Serapis’ port quarter and, after an exchange of shouted questions and answers between Jones and Pearson to establish identity, Bonhomme Richard opened fire with a salvo from her starboard broadside guns. Serapis was the superior ship compared to Bonhomme Richard. Serapis was faster, more maneuverable, and carried a far greater number of 18-pounder cannons. Almost immediately after Bonhomme Richard fired, Serapis replied with a devastating broadside of her own. After the first or second broadside from Bonhomme Richard, two of her 18-pounder cannons exploded, killing many men and neutralizing the rest of her largest guns for fear that they too would explode. The explosions also caused substantial damage to Bonhomme Richard. But Bonhomme Richard unleashed two or three more broadsides, attempting to rake the Serapis’ bow and stern.
John Paul Jones was now in trouble. Realizing that he was outgunned by his more powerful and faster opponent, Jones reasoned that his only chance of victory was to move alongside Serapis so that he could board the British ship and have his sharpshooters pick off the British officers and men. Bonhomme Richard neared Serapis and then collided with her in a way that the British warship’s anchor was embedded into the hull of the American vessel, locking the two ships together.
At this point, with some cannons still firing at point blank range and with the crews of the two ships shooting at each other, Captain Pearson shouted over the side to John Paul Jones, “Has your ship struck?” (meaning: are you going to surrender?) John Paul Jones then uttered perhaps the greatest reply in all of naval history, shouting right back, “I have not yet begun to fight!”
John Paul Jones was not about to give up the battle, let alone his ship. With the two ships now locked together in a deadly embrace, Jones shouted, “Well done, my brave lads, we have got her now; throw on board her the grappling irons and stand by for boarding.” For four hours the crews of the two ships fought each other. At one point, the sails of both ships were on fire and the battle had to be suspended while damage control parties on both ships fought the flames. Once that was done, the battle resumed.
With the loss of his 18-pounders, Jones had no cannon left except three 9-pounders on the quarterdeck, one of which he helped pull from the port side with his own hands. Jones’ biggest advantage was the good marksmanship of the French Marine musketeers on deck and the seamen and gunners in the fighting tops. The fighting top was a platform located at the top end of the lower masts on a sailing warship. In battle, this position was manned by Marines or sailors with rifles and muskets. From the fighting tops, these men would fire down on the decks of enemy vessels. Because of their fast and accurate shooting, Serapis had no men alive on deck and her open-deck battery of ten 6-pounders was deserted. But Serapis’ 18-pounders below deck were banging away, blowing huge holes in Bonhomme Richard. It was amazing Bonhomme Richard was still afloat given all of the structural damage she sustained. With the two ships still locked together, the only thing keeping Bonhomme Richard’s sails up were the sails and rigging on board Serapis.
Jones personally directed the fire of one of the 9-pounders on deck, since so many of his crew were either dead or wounded. At one point, Jones was so exhausted that he sat down to rest on a hencoop, when a sailor came up to him and said, “For God’s sake, Captain, strike!” Jones paused and leaped to his feet and said, “No, I will sink, I will never strike!” He then resumed command of the 9-pounder cannon.
Jones’ incredible will, the expert marksmanship of his men in the tops, and his Marines proved to be decisive. They picked off so many British gunners that the British were having trouble manning their cannons. Jones then directed the fire of his last three 9-pounders, loaded with double-headed shot, against the Serapis’ mainmast. After a big explosion, Captain Pearson was almost ready to surrender. He tried his luck one more time, shouting to Jones, “Sir, do you ask for quarter?” And Jones replied, “No, sir, I haven’t as yet thought of it, but I’m determined to make you strike.” Pearson tried to have his men board Bonhomme Richard one last time, but were beaten back again by Jones’ crew.
By 2200, the battle continued to drag on. The situation on board Bonhomme Richard seemed hopeless to almost every officer except the captain. With a sinking ship that was on fire and almost every cannon silenced except three 9-pounders, and with the enemy still firing a good number of their own cannons, Bonhomme Richard’s situation was desperate. But Jones continued to have his few remaining guns fire at the Serapis’ mainmast. Then, at roughly 2230, Serapis’ mainmast began to tremble and Captain Pearson lost his nerve. Seeing the condition of his own ship and his men, Pearson walked over to his own staff and pulled down his flag. At this point, Serapis’ mainmast cracked and fell overboard, carrying with it her mizzen topmast. The battle was finally over.
Some of Bonhomme Richard’s crew boarded Serapis and Captain Pearson was brought on board of what was left of Bonhomme Richard. Pearson was introduced to John Paul Jones and at that point the defeated British captain handed over his sword to Jones, who promptly returned it with a few gracious words about his gallant fight. Jones then invited Pearson below into his wrecked cabin to drink a glass of wine. Such were the ceremonial manners of 18th century naval warfare.
As for the other ships in Jones’ squadron, only Pallas rose to the occasion and attacked HMS Countess of Scarborough. After a battle lasting two hours, Countess of Scarborough also surrendered. The rest of Jones’ squadron decided to take no major part in the battle, much to the anger of Jones. But it still was a huge victory. Between the two British ships, Jones captured 504 prisoners, including 26 officers. Serapis was in terrible condition, with most of her spars and sails and rigging cut away and her dead and dying men lying all over her decks. But the condition of Bonhomme Richard was even worse. Her rudder was barely hanging on to the ship, her stern frames and transoms were almost entirely shot away, the quarterdeck was about to fall into the gunroom, at least five feet of water was in the hold and increasing rapidly, and her topsides were gone. The timbers of her lower deck were blown to pieces and the ship was sinking. Jones and his crew tried to save Bonhomme Richard, but the damage was just too great. Jones transferred his flag and surviving crewmen to Serapis and on 25 September 1779, Bohomme Richard sank beneath the waves. Jones took his prisoners and his ships to the neutral port of Texel, Holland.
Final casualties were heavy by 18th century standards. Bonhomme Richard lost 150 men killed and wounded out of a total of 322. Serapis lost roughly 100 killed and 68 wounded. Although Captain Pearson lost two warships, he had accomplished his mission. The Baltic convoy made it through without a loss. Pearson was eventually acquitted at a court martial and was presented with a magnificent silver vase by the Russia Company out of gratitude for saving the convoy. Pearson was later knighted by King Georg III. Not bad for the man who lost the battle. Actually, Great Britain probably didn’t want to admit that it had lost a major naval battle to an American captain off her own shores.
As for John Paul Jones, in honor of his victory he received a special sword and medal from Louis XVI as well as the title “Chevalier.” Jones accepted the high honor, along with all the other praises and gifts that were bestowed upon him in Louis XVI’s court. In 1787, the Continental Congress resolved that a gold medal be struck in commemoration of Jones’ “Valor and brilliant services” and it was presented to Chevalier John Paul Jones. Unfortunately, he never again was given a major command in the Continental Navy. In 1788, Jones decided to go to Russia where Catherine the Great made him a rear admiral in her navy. He hoped that command of a battle fleet in Russia would qualify him for higher command if and when the United States built a permanent Navy. Although he successfully commanded the Black Sea Squadron in the Dnieper River, court intrigues forced Jones to leave Russia. In 1790, Jones returned to Paris and died almost penniless on 18 July 1792. It was a sad, sad end to a brilliant naval war hero who deserved much better from the United States.
John Paul Jones and Bonhomme Richard’s great victory over Serapis not only proved that the United States could project naval power overseas, but that it could also fight the Royal Navy off its own shores and win. This was a tremendous morale boost not only for the Continental Congress, but also for the people in a collection of colonies trying to become a nation. The Royal Navy, masters of the seas and the most powerful fighting force in the world, could be beaten in their own backyard, and John Paul Jones on board Bonhomme Richard proved that.