Tuesday, September 25, 2007

HMS Apollo/HMAS Hobart

The HMS Apollo was one of three 7,105-ton “Modified Leander class” light cruisers built in England for the Royal Navy. The Apollo was built at Devonport, England, and was commissioned in January 1936. She carried eight 6-inch guns, eight 4-inch guns, eight 21-inch torpedo tubes, and had a maximum speed of 32 knots. The “Modified Leander class” was almost identical to the original Leander class of light cruisers except that her main engines were arranged in a different manner, resulting in two instead of one funnel being used on board the ship. The Modified Leanders were also slightly bigger, with a length of 562 feet and a beam of almost 57 feet. While in the Royal Navy, the HMS Apollo was assigned to the North American and West Indies Station and then, in September 1938, she was transferred to the Australian Navy. She was renamed the HMAS Hobart (after a city in Tasmania) and arrived in Australia in December 1938.

The Hobart participated in various patrols and naval exercises until the start of World War II. After the war started in September 1939, the Hobart patrolled off the coast of Australia and the East Indies, and sailed in the Indian Ocean to protect troop convoys. Because of her speed and range, the Hobart was also used to search for enemy surface raiders, which were a major problem for Allied merchant convoys early in the war. In April 1940, she was sent to the Red Sea for several months to fight against Italian forces in the area and then was ordered to the Mediterranean in August 1941. While in the Mediterranean, the Hobart supported the British campaign in North Africa, reinforced the Island of Cyprus and assisted in operations against Syria.

Once war began with Japan in the Pacific on December 7, 1941, the Hobart was sent back to the Pacific and would spend the rest of the war there. The Hobart participated in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, acting as part of the covering force for the American aircraft carriers on the scene. She was attacked by eight Japanese twin-engine torpedo bombers and 19 heavy bombers on 7 May, but managed to escape damage by taking highly effective evasive action and providing stiff anti-aircraft fire, which resulted in the destruction of three enemy aircraft.

On 7 August 1942 the Hobart was part of the Cruiser Covering Force for the American assault on Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. She successfully evaded tenacious attacks by Japanese bombers and inflicted heavy damage on Japanese forces through accurate shore bombardments and anti-aircraft fire.

The Hobart was then used extensively as an escort in the Coral Sea area, protecting the important South Pacific merchant convoys and guarding New Guinea against enemy surface raiders. On 20 July 1943, while steaming west of the New Hebrides as part of Task Force 74, the Hobart was suddenly hit by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. Her after hull was badly damaged and there were several casualties, but the sturdy ship remained afloat. The Hobart was escorted for preliminary repairs to Espiritu Santo and then eventually made it to Sydney, Australia, for more extensive and permanent repairs. The Hobart did not return to service until December 1944.

On 24 April 1945, the Hobart supported the landings at Tarakan in Borneo and then on 11 May she supported the Australian assault on Wewak in New Guinea. She also took part in the amphibious landings at Cebu, the Philippines. When Japan finally surrendered on 2 September 1945, the Hobart was part of the Allied fleet in Tokyo Bay.

For almost two years after the war the Hobart took part in the occupation of Japan. The Hobart was decommissioned in December 1947 and placed in reserve. In 1953 she was converted into a training cruiser for the Australian Navy, but this assignment ended in 1956 and she was once again placed in reserve. The HMAS Hobart was sold for scrapping in February 1962 and, in an ironic twist of fate, was broken up for disposal in Japan, the same country that almost destroyed her 19 years earlier.

The HMAS Hobart made a substantial contribution to the Allied war effort during World War II, although few people today know her name. She also escorted many merchant convoys and supported several amphibious assaults. Although these were unglamorous jobs, they were also dangerous jobs that were vital to winning the war in the Pacific. A fine ship with a fine history, the Hobart deserves to be remembered.


Figure 1 (Top): British Light Cruiser HMS Apollo at Miami, Florida, 1 February 1938. This ship later became HMAS Hobart. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, Top): HMAS Hobart (formally HMS Apollo) in a harbor, circa 1938-1939. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): HMAS Hobart in a view taken at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, on 23 July 1943, showing damage inflicted when she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on 20 July. Photographed from off the port side, showing the ship's badly distorted stern and after 6-inch guns. Deck planking has been removed by the ship's crew. Note: the size of the torpedo hole; Jacob's ladder at left; and draft markings at right. Collection of Admiral Harry W. Hill, USN (Retired), 1976. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): HMAS Hobart in a view taken at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, on 22 July 1943, showing damage inflicted when she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on 20 July. Photographed on the quarterdeck, looking forward from about 207 frame port side, showing the ship's badly distorted after deck and the after 6-inch gun turrets. Collection of Admiral Harry W. Hill, USN (Retired), 1976. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The HMS Leander was a 7,289-ton light cruiser that was commissioned into the Royal Navy in March 1933. She was the lead ship of a class of five light cruisers and was built at Devonport, England. The Leander was armed with eight 6-inch guns, four 4-inch guns, eight 21-inch torpedo tubes, and she had a crew of 570. With a length of almost 555 feet and a beam of 55 feet, the Leander was a fast ship, capable of steaming at 32 knots with all six of her boilers going at once. The Leander served in the Royal Navy until April 1937, when the ship was transferred to New Zealand and became the HMNZS Leander.

During World War II, the Leander worked primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and on 27 February 1941 she located and destroyed the Italian auxiliary cruiser RAMB 1 near the Maldive Islands. The Leander then went on to serve in the East Indies and the South Pacific from 1941 to 1943. On the night of 13 July 1943, the Leander was part of an American naval task force under the command of Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth that was steaming off the coast of Kolombangara in the Solomon Islands. In Ainsworth’s task force were the light cruisers USS Honolulu, USS St. Louis and HMNZS Leander, along with ten US Navy destroyers. Shortly after midnight on 13 July, the Allied task force slammed into a Japanese task force of one light cruiser (the Jintsu), five destroyers and four destroyer transports, which were trying to reinforce Japanese forces at Vila on the island of Kolombangara. The US Navy always found it difficult to fight at night during the early part of the Pacific war and this battle was no exception. All of the Allied warships pounded the Japanese light cruiser Jintsu, which suffered numerous hits and eventually sank. This was the only Japanese loss of the evening. But the Japanese destroyers fired a large number of torpedoes at the Allied warships and scored several major hits. Torpedoes hit all three of the Allied light cruisers. The American destroyer Gwin was also hit by a torpedo and was so severely damaged that it had to be scuttled the next morning. Both the Honolulu and the St. Louis were both hit in the bow and both ships were forced to leave the area and return to Pearl Harbor for major repairs, putting them out of the war for several months. Although the Leander took a major torpedo hit that killed 28 crewmembers, she was able to maintain a speed of 10 knots and was escorted out of the area by the US destroyers Radford and Jenkins. That night the Japanese successfully completed their mission by landing 1,200 troops on Vila and reinforcing the garrison there, making this a significant defeat for the Allies. But the Allied fleets would continue bleeding the Japanese Navy of both ships and men until they were finally forced to abandon the Solomon Islands.

The Leander made it back to New Zealand for temporary repairs and then it steamed all the way to the Boston Navy Yard in Charlestown, Massachusetts, for her permanent repairs. Work on the ship took place from early 1944 to August 1945, by which time the war in the Pacific was basically over. Since the war had ended and New Zealand didn’t seem to have any use for this ship, the Leander was sent back to England in the fall of 1945, where she was returned to the Royal Navy. In December of 1949 the Leander, which was totally rebuilt in the United States just four years earlier, was sold for scrapping.

The Leander showed how even smaller navies, like the Royal New Zealand Navy, could make significant contributions to a major war effort. This light cruiser also showed how quickly ships, even totally refurbished ships, were disposed of after the war was over.


Figure 1 (Top): British Light Cruiser HMS Leander underway in harbor, circa the mid-1930s. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle): HMNZS Leander underway in Gatun Lake, Panama Canal, 19 July 1937. Note the Supermarine "Walrus" aircraft on her catapult, amidships and her recently-installed twin four-inch anti-aircraft gun mounts. Leander had been loaned to the Royal New Zealand Navy a few months earlier. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Bottom): HMNZS Leander in Suva harbor, Fiji, in February 1942. Photographed from USS Curtiss (AV-4). USS Chicago (CA-29) is in the background, at right. Note Leander's pattern camouflage, and the PBY "Catalina" flying boat on the water in the far right distance. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

USS Onondaga

Named after a lake and a county in New York State, the USS Onondaga was a double-turreted monitor that was launched 2 July 1864 by Continental Iron Works, Greenpoint, New York, under subcontract from George W. Quintard. She was commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 24 March 1864. The Onondaga was 226 feet long, almost 50 feet wide, carried two 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and two 8-inch Parrott rifles, and had a crew of 150. The Onondaga left New York on 21 April 1864 and arrived at Hampton Roads, Virginia, two days later. She was attached to the James River Flotilla, which supported General Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign against the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.

On 24 November 1864, the Onondaga, along with the monitor USS Mahopac, attacked Confederate artillery positions on the James River at Howlett, Virginia, and attacked the same position again on 5 and 6 December. In January 1865, most of the ships in the James River Flotilla were reassigned to Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fleet for the upcoming attack on Fort Fisher, North Carolina. The Onondaga was the only monitor left to guard the Union forces on the James River against Flag Officer John K. Mitchell’s Confederate James River Squadron.

As soon as the bulk of the Union warships left the James River Flotilla in January 1865, the Confederate Navy made its move. The Confederate ironclads Virginia No. 2 and Richmond, the gunboat Drewry and the torpedo boat Scorpion all steamed down the river, heading towards the Onondaga. The Onondaga moved a little downriver so that there was more room for the monitor to maneuver and then she waited for the Confederate ships to come within range. Suddenly, all of the Confederate ships ran aground in a section of the river called “Trent’s Reach” after trying to avoid some obstructions that were in the river itself. Seeing that the enemy warships were temporarily immobilized, the Onondaga, along with some Union artillery that was positioned on shore, began bombarding the Confederate ships. The gunboat Drewry blew up and the torpedo boat Scorpion had to be abandoned. But the two Southern ironclads managed to free themselves from the mud and retreated back up the river.

For the rest of the war the Onondaga supported the Union troops trying to take Richmond. After General Lee was forced to abandon the Confederate capital and Union troops were finally able to capture the city, the Onondaga was relieved of its duties and sent back to New York for decommissioning on 8 June 1865. Then, in an unusual turn of events, the United States government, by an Act of Congress, sold the Onondaga back to her builder George W. Quintard on 7 March 1867. Quintard then resold the monitor to France for service in the French Navy. The French also called her the Onondaga and the only major modification made to the ship was replacing her American cannons with 9.4-inch rifled guns. The Onondaga remained in French service for the next 36 years and was finally scrapped in 1903, making her the longest lived of the larger American monitors built during the Civil War. After serving in two navies for almost 40 years, the Onondaga proved just how tough monitors could be.


Figure 1 (Top): USS Onondaga on the James River, Virginia, in 1864-65. Note the pulling boat at her stern, with oars manned. Photographed by the Matthew Brady organization. Photograph from the Collections of the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, Top): USS Onondaga on the James River, Virginia, 1864-1865. Note the rowboat in the foreground, manned by Union Soldiers, and the obstructions across the river in the right distance. Photograph taken by Brady & Company. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): “USS Onondaga,” watercolor by Oscar Parkes. Courtesy of Dr. Oscar Parkes, London, England, 1936. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): French coast-defense monitor Onondaga, at Brest, France, circa the later 1860s or the 1870s. She was originally the USS Onondaga, commissioned in 1864 and sold to France in 1867. Courtesy of William H. Davis. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on the photograph for larger image.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

USS Bainbridge (DD-246)

Named after an American naval hero, the destroyer USS Bainbridge was built in Camden, New Jersey, and was commissioned in February of 1921. After serving in the Western Atlantic and the Caribbean, the Bainbridge was sent to the Mediterranean and headed toward Turkey, a country that was going through some political turmoil at that time. On 16 December 1922, while steaming off the coast of Constantinople in the Sea of Marmora, the Bainbridge came to the assistance of the French military transport Vinh-Long, which was burning and in danger of sinking. The Bainbridge’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Walter A. Edwards, took quick and decisive action by steaming close to the Vinh-Long and placing the bow of his ship next to the bow of the French transport. By this time the Vinh-Long was burning fiercely and some of her powder magazines had already exploded in the ship’s stern, causing the fire to spread towards the bow where most of the ships crew and passengers had gathered to be rescued. Edwards quickly began transferring the people from the Vinh-Long on to the Bainbridge and he and his ship managed to save almost 500 people from the stricken French transport. The Bainbridge left the area with the survivors just as the raging fire consumed the rest of the Vinh-Long. The Bainbridge brought all of the survivors back to Constantinople and had them transferred to a French armored cruiser. For his heroism and quick actions, Lieutenant Commander Edwards was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Bainbridge returned to the United States in 1923 and was stationed in the Atlantic. She also made occasional trips to the Caribbean and the Panama Canal. The Bainbridge steamed off the coast of Nicaragua in 1927 during some political unrest there and she was also used as a training ship for Naval Reservists. The destroyer was placed out of commission from December 1930 to March of 1932 and then was placed in reserve. The Bainbridge was re-commissioned in 1933 and in 1934 was transferred to the Pacific, where she stayed until she was decommissioned once again in November of 1937.

After war broke out in Europe in September of 1939, the Bainbridge was again re-commissioned. She was sent to take part in Neutrality Patrols in the Panama Canal Zone until mid-1940 and was then based in Key West, Florida. Throughout most of 1941 the Bainbridge patrolled the North Atlantic, where she escorted convoys to and from Iceland. After America was brought into the war on 7 December 1941, the Bainbridge was assigned to escort ships in both the Atlantic and the Caribbean. She continued doing this until 1943, when she began escorting convoys between the United States and North Africa. Later that year the Bainbridge was attached to an escort group that was built around the escort aircraft carrier USS Santee (CVE-29), which was very successful in sinking several German U-boats. The old and worn-out destroyer was decommissioned for the last time in July 1945 and was sold for scrapping in November of that same year.

The Bainbridge was one of those small warships that had an uncanny knack for saving people, whether it was from the burning decks of the Vinh-Long or by protecting defenseless merchant ships in the U-boat infested Atlantic. A lot of people owe their lives to the Bainbridge and that alone makes it worth remembering.


Figure 1 (Top): USS Bainbridge (DD-246) underway circa 1921. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, Top): USS Bainbridge off Constantinople, Turkey, on 16 December 1922, with 482 survivors of the French transport Vinh-Long on board. The French ship had burned in the Sea of Marmora earlier that day. Bainbridge is flying her ensign at half-mast height, in mourning for the victims of the disaster. Donation of Frank A. Downey, 1973. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): Lieutenant Commander Walter Atlee Edwards, USN, receives the Medal of Honor from President Calvin Coolidge, in ceremonies on the White House lawn, Washington, D.C., on 2 February 1924. Also present, standing beside the President, is Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby. Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long is in left center, behind President Coolidge. LCdr. Edwards was awarded the medal for his actions in rescuing survivors from the burning French transport Vinh-Long in the Sea of Marmora, Turkey, on 16 December 1922. He was then commanding USS Bainbridge. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): USS Bainbridge in New York Harbor, 19 August 1943, with the Manhattan skyline in the right distance. Note that the ship carries a Hedgehog launcher just aft of her forward 3"/50 gun. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.