Category Archives: Ships and the Sea

Passages. Sad Passages.

Brownsville, Texas
It is where ships go to die.
Forrestal and Saratoga are unrecognizable.
Constellation arrived a couple of weeks ago.
The three Good Ships I made cruises on are in the queue. Independence, Ranger and Kitty Hawk.
Yeah.
It hurts.
Old friends they are to so many who chose the sea.
The times are indeed, a changing.
Passages.

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Filed under Carriers, Good Ships, History, Lex, Navy, Really Good Stuff, Remember, Sea Stories, Shipmates, Ships and the Sea

Her final voyage: Navy’s first super-carrier USS Forrestal begins journey to the scrapyard after being sold for ONE CENT

Having served in Independence and Ranger, this does tug at the heart strings a bit. I did serve in those years with men who were aboard Forrestal during the tragedy of 1967.

The Navy has paid one cent under a contract to have the 60-year-old vessel dismantled by All Star Metals in the Gulf port of Brownsville.

The decommissioned aircraft carrier Ex-USS Forrestal, pictured in 2010, is now on its final voyage to the scrap heap in Texas
The decommissioned aircraft carrier Ex-USS Forrestal, pictured in 2010, is now on its final voyage to the scrap heap in Texas

Tugboat Alex McAllister pushes the USS Forrestal into the Delaware River on the aircraft carrier's final voyage from Navy Shipyard in south Philadelphia
Tugboat Alex McAllister pushes the USS Forrestal into the Delaware River on the aircraft carrier’s final voyage from Navy Shipyard in south Philadelphia
The times are indeed a changin……………………………

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Filed under Good Ships, History, Navy, Remember, Sea Stories, Ships and the Sea

Treasure Map

I’m currently reading Theodore Roscoe’s United States Submarine Operations In World War 2. This particular edition was probably a first edition published in 1949(!) by the United States Naval Institute Press. It’s even looks like it was published in 1949:

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From the preface:

This volume is not the official operational history. Strictly speaking, it is not a history, nor is it to be studied as such. Herein, in the narrative form, the reader will the inspiring saga of submarining. For the student, the technical side is featured. And many aspects of submarine warfare which would ordinarily be excluded from a purely historical text are detailed and discussed.

It’s in my care for now, on loan from the Pritzker Military Library. I wanted to see if there are historical parallels between the sub campaign in the pacific to seeing how reasonable it would be to use SSNs/SSKs to contain the PLAN within the first island chain.

Going through the first chapter I found this enclosed in the book:

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It’s an unknown newspaper clipping detailing the moorings of Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941 at 7:55am.

The other side of the clipping features an ad for a book called “Home Before Dark” by Eileen Bassing. According to a quick Google search it was first published in 1957.

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That leads me to believe the map and newspaper were published in 1957.

The map itself is very interesting as it details most of the ships in port and even tells I what some witnesses were doing moments before the attack.

Even more unusual, the paper left a stain on the page which makes me believe maybe it hasn’t been seen since 1957. Who knows.

Anyway, this is a treasure map and maybe, if the reader know more than I, of some historical significance.

Just amazing…you never know what you’re going to in and on these books.

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Filed under Books, Navy, Sea Stories, Shipmates, Ships and the Sea, Submarines, Uncategorized

Operation End Sweep (part 2)

3-1-2010 11-51-59 PM

A map of North Vietnam with the shaded areas representing mined areas.

Part 1.

It was never the intention of the Nixon Administration to make sweeping mines in the South China Sea a political issue. Nevertheless, on 16 May 1972, the Washington Evening Star quoted Nixon as saying “the mines will go when the POWs (Prisoners of War) are free.” SECSTATE Kissinger saw that eventually minesweeping could be used to help bring our POWs home because the DRV (Democratic Republic of Vietnam) were the one that initially raised the mine sweeping issue in connection with handing over the POWs. By 15 December, 1972 the White House told SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) that the JCS (Joint Chiefs of Staff) should review it’s minesweeping plans for North Vietnam. On 20 December, the JCS responded to the Whitehouse and SECDEF by saying clearing the mines posed an “undue risk to Naval personnel.” However, by that time the peace processes was faltering and Operation Linebacker II commenced, resulting in an increased mining of the waters off North Vietnam. Eventually the DRV did return to the peace table and on 27 January DRV signed a “Mine Clearing Protocol” as part of the so-called Paris Peace Deal.

The most important issues directly related to OES (Operation End Sweep) in the protocol were:

Article 3: consult immediately on relevant factors and agree upon the earliest possible target date for the completion of work.

Article 4: set a meeting between Naval representative from the US and DRV “At a later date. (these meeting actually began before the protocol was signed).” During this time the US Navy gave some rudimentary technical details on how the Destructor mines worked.

Article 5: Specified that DRV should actively participate in clearing/sweeping inland waterways using equipment and training that was given to them by the US.

By 5 February a “Haiphong Clearing Committee” had met to discuss the technical details of minesweeping the Haiphong area. These meetings took place on TF-78 Task Force 78) ships.

On February 6th, MSOs entered and swept the anchorage where the larger ships of TF-78 would stay. USS Impervious swept the area and marked with the path with buoys. Sweeping in the vicinity of the anchorage continued south of Grand Norway Island on the 7th.

Sweeping the northern ports over the southern ports and inland waterways but the problem was the large between in the minefields the DRV had charted and the minefields that the US Navy charted. The sweep plan stated only areas where known mines were and/or had self-destructed or sterilized would be swept. By 7 February the LPH and LPDs arrived at the anchorage while other airborne units continued training at Subic Bay. Another DRV point of contention was the insistence on the Navy giving the DRV towing gear and earth moving equipment to dig-up and move buried mines. However, at the time, the US was unwilling to allow this.

The first merchant ship departed Haiphong around the 7th, before sweeping of area had even begun. These shallow draft ships were empty (having already unloaded military equipment before the mining began) and used US supplied minefield charts to make the run into the South China Sea at high tide. Even before US Navy sweeping operations began, the NVN (North Vietnamese Navy) used Soviet supplied “closed loop” mine sweeping gear to sweep portions of the port of Haiphong.

On 21 February, airborne mine seeping assets arrived on-scene. The first airborne sweep by an HM-12 CH-53D (with a UH-1E in the lead) occurred on  27 February. Meanwhile on 23-25 February, Raydist equipment was installed ashore at Do Son, Cat Bai and Dinh Vu. These were transported ashore by CH-46s from HMM-165. A fourth Raydist was installed on board the fleet tug, USS Tawasa (ATF-92).

Early in the morning on the 28th, sweeping operations stopped because the POWs were not being returned per agreement. OES was being used as the “carrot” to get the DRV to return the POWs but the DRV wanted mine sweeping equipment for sweeping the inland waterways on their own. Agreement to this was reached on 5th March and operations resumed on the 6th.

Magnetic Orange Pipe 1

Magnetic Orange Pipe

3-1-2010 11-51-38 PM Northern ports and villages were swept for the next 6 weeks. Airborne unit Alfa swept the Haiphong area using the MK-105 sweeping gear. Unit Bravo, using the MOP swept the Cua Cam area. On a side note, airborne units, Charlie and Delta never trained with the MK-105 gear.

3-1-2010 11-53-25 PM On 9 March at 1240 local, the first and only mine swept, a MK-52, detonated behind in the vicinity of a MK-105 being towed behind a CH-53D.  Most of the deployed mines by the time of OES had already self-sterilized.

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MK-52 mine.

On the 13th, the Soviet merchantman, Zayson transited the Haiphong channel inbound.

On the 17th, the USS Enhance, had an engine room fire. Enhance was anchored in the outer approach to Passe Henriette. USS Safeguard assisted and brought the Enhance under tow. That same day an HM-12 CH-53D lost it’s tail rotor and crashed. All the crew were recovered.  After this all CH-53s (throughout the US Navy and USMC) were grounded and inspected. On March 25 a MK-105 undertow collided with a “civilian” 12ft wooden skiff. There were no injures but there was some minor damage to the –105.

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An HM-12 CH-53D Super Stallion.

Another CH-53S was lost on 2 April due to a tail rotor failure. It splashed down in Haiphong harbor and the crew was recovered. As a result, a more extensive inspection of all OES CH-53s occurred. Pitch change rod end assemblies were replaced and gearbox inspections were increased to every 10 flight hours. Flights resumed on 6 April.

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The USS Washtenaw County seen transiting the main channel in Haiphong harbor.

By 14 April the USS Washentaw County transited Haiphong’s main shipping channel to demonstrate is navigability but by the 17, this was cut short again because the DRV failed to meet the agreed to cease-fire in Laos and Cambodia. On the 24th, elements of TF-78 departed the area for Subic Bay.

On 24, April the USS Force had and engine fire and sunk about 770 miles east of Guam, on it’s way to OES. The crew was recovered by a Norwegian merchant ship.

Taking TF-78 off the line allowed for TF-78 to undertake a reassessment of OES.  The Navy estimated that most of the mines had self sterilized by the first week of May. As of the 16 April, in the Haiphong area 3 days each of sweeping at Cua Cam and Lach Tray channels and 2 additional transits by Washtenaw County in the main shipping channel were all that remained to be done. In the Hon Gai and Cam Pha, 6 and 2 days, respectively, of airborne screening remained. Remaining operations would be conducted as a check sweep because all mines completed their self-sterilization period of 6 months. There was also an assessment of equipment that the Navy had given to the DRV.

Operations resumed on 20 June and an agreement was also in place to give the DRV more equipment for sweeping the inland waterways, which, by now, they were going to do on their own. Most of the check sweeping was done around Lach Huyen and on the  26 mine sweeping in the north by Haiphong was finished. On 28 June operations shifted to Vinh. Alfa swept near Hon La and Bravo swept Quang Khe.

On 4 July the fatality of OES occurred when a flight deck crewman on the USS Ogden caught in the closing stern door of a CH-53 that was taking off.

Finally, Operation End Sweep, wound down by 20 July 1973. The closing dispute between the Navy and the DRV was over bulldozers. The DRV wouldn’t accept the condition of the TD-6 bulldozers. The TD-6s were thought, by the DRV, to be in poor material condition. There was a final meeting on 18 July 1973 to resolve this issue but nothing ever came of it.

Elements of TF-78 left the DRV for Subic Bay and on 27 July 1973 TF-78 was dissolved 6 months to the day it was formed.

In total, the Haiphong area accounted for 70% of the tow hours. The 3 northern port areas required 87% of the tow hours. Generally the sweeping was carried out to a 95% certainty that no live mines remained.

Here’s a summary of End Sweep units:

CH-53Ds: 37 aircraft

13 USN HM-12

24 USMC HMM-463 and HMM-165

Ocean Minesweepers (MSOs): 10

Mine Flotilla 1 Western Pacific

  Engage (MSO-433)

  Force (MSO-445

  Fortify (MSO-446)

  Impervious (MSO-449)

  Inflict (MSO-456)

West Coast

  Enhance (MSO-437)

  Leader (MSO-490)

  Illusive (MSO-448)

Naval Reserve Training Force ships, based in Hawaii

  Conquest (MSO-480)

  Esteem (MSO-438)

  Washtenaw County (MSS-2)

p.s.

I was trying to find out exactly who the only fatality was. I was unable to find out. If anyone does know, please let me know.  I’d like to dedicate these posts to his sacrifice.

For more information on the different elements of OES see the following:

The Naval Historical Society’s page on OES.

Wikipedia’s page.

Navsource.org has a few more pics of the vessel involved.

102 Minesweepers has some good stuff.

Eagle One has some good info on the history of airborne minesweeping.

Finally, some more history of airborne mine countermeasures here.

2 books provide context and further information:

Hartman’s “Weapons That Wait: Mine Warfare in the US Navy” and the Naval Historical Society’s “Operation End Sweep: A History of Minesweeping Operations in North Vietnam.”

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Filed under History, Naval Aviation, Navy, Ships and the Sea

The United States navy, circa 1812

frigates

There I was sat up in bed this morning, reading my current bedtime read of Patrick O’Brian, when I came upon a passage that I thought I must share with my Lexican pals, for t’was they – well the Navy guys anyway –  it made me think of and smile when I read it:

Picture the time, it is 1812 during the reluctant Britain/America `war that should never have happened` and a British warship under the command of the legendary Captain Jack Aubery (aka “Lucky Jack”) is on the trail of an American warship that has been raiding whalers in the South Atlantic. A sail is spotted on the horizon and crafty Captain Jack reduces sail to remain just below the horizon, plotting a course to intercept the next day.

At first dawn there she lay, placidly holding her course under the low grey sky……. Jack was on deck in his nightshirt……his whole heart and soul had been turned to the chase – he had been engaged in naval war for more than twenty years and he was very much of a sea-predator, perfectly single-minded when there was the near liklihood of violent action – and now in his most natural voice in the world he said, “Good day to you, master gunner. I fear there will be no great chance of expending your stores this morning.”                    The rising sun proved that he was right: It showed a line of figures leaning along the stranger’s rail in easy attitudes, some with moustaches, some smoking cigars. The United States Navy, though easy-going and even at times verging upon the democratic, never went to such extremes as this; and indeed the chase turned out to be the `Estrella Polar`, a Spanish merchantman from Lima  for the River Plate and Spain.

Yes, `easy going verging upon the democratic` is one thing, but leaning along the rail, moustachio’d and smoking cigars?  No, not The United States Navy.

I enjoyed that.

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Filed under History, Humor, Navy, Sea Stories, Ships and the Sea, Uncategorized

The Law of the Sea

Nature, at best, is neutral it is often said.  The sea, even less so.  I have been through storms in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and have seen high seas in the Pacific as well as standing on that great ocean’s eastern shores and witnessed  strong fury that actually pales in comparison to some of nature’s real efforts. But one thing I have learned is to give Davey Jones his due and not venture out where there be dangerous waters.  Now, most of my experience was on the ample hulls of large, grey steel apartment houses, with airports conveniently located on the roof.  At actual displacement of around 100,000 tons and most measuring over 1,000 feet in length, the fact that we took rolls and damage made me a true believer in our real place in the scheme of all things aquatic.

We sometimes forget that for centuries upon centuries, humans have ventured forth upon the waters on vessels much smaller, more frail and even more at the mercy of the seas.  This morning, a recreation of one of the most well-known vessels of the 19th Century and those who remain on her, stands in deep peril off our shores as Hurricane Sandy churns the deep enroute to landfall:

HMS Bounty Crew Abandons Ship

For them, and all who venture forth, let us join in the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer:

Dear God, be good to me;
The sea is so wide,
And my boat is so small.

May they all come to shore in one piece.

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Filed under Faith, Shipmates, Ships and the Sea

Down to the Seas

A brief and rain-swept trip last weekend took The Doctor and me to the south shores and harbors of Cape Cod.  Though the weekend was good for staying inside, with winds, storms and low ceilings, whenever one did venture out, there was an unforgettable smell and taste in the air: The smell of the sea.  I grew up at the ocean’s edge, nestled on a small patch of land between one of the world’s great harbors and the ocean.  I grew up with this as part of my very center core:

So, when my way found me at sea over the years, it was only natural that I made it my “standing personal order” that when I did not find my way to the “roof” as part of my day’s work, I always found a way to stand for a while, be it on a weather deck or even just in the hangar bay, to watch the sea.  When, many years later, I finally was able to take SNO, SNT & The Doctor to sea, I took each of those few, precious days to stand at the rail, near sunset, and again just look out.  It is salutatory in its therapeutic effect upon the soul.

My friend Bill “Pinch” Paisley has a talent for capturing such moments.  So, as we all sail into this weekend, I’d like to share a picture he took from USS Truman’s fantail a few years’ back:

Not bad for a fighter puke.  Enjoy the time you have, wherever this finds you all.

“Sea Fever” by John Masefield

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

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Filed under Carriers, Ships and the Sea