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US Navy Light Cruisers 1941-45, Mark Stille .Covers the five classes of US Navy light cruisers that saw service during the Second World War, with sections on their design, weaponry, radar, combat experience. Nicely organised, with the wartime service records separated out from the main text, so that the design history of the light cruisers flows nicely. Interesting to see how new roles had to be found for them, after other technology replaced them as reconnaissance aircraft [read full review]
Survivability and armour
Talk about the vehicle's armour. Note the most well-defended and most vulnerable zones, e.g. the ammo magazine. Evaluate the composition of components and assemblies responsible for movement and manoeuvrability. Evaluate the survivability of the primary and secondary armament separately. Don't forget to mention the size of the crew, which plays an important role in fleet mechanics. Tips for preserving survivability should be saved for the "Use in battle" section.
If necessary, use a graphic template to show the most well-protected or most vulnerable points in the armour.
Write about the ship’s mobility. Evaluate its power and manoeuvrability, rudder rerouting speed, stopping speed at full tilt, with its maximum forward speed and reverse speed.
Workhorses: The Brooklyn Class Light Cruisers
The Brooklyn Class Light Cruisers were the most modern cruisers in the US inventory when war broke out in on December 7 th 1941. The ships were built under the provisions of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. Displacing 9700 tons to remain within treaty limitations they mounted a powerful armament of fifteen 6” guns mounted in 5 turrets, three forward and two aft. Their design, especially their armament was designed in response to the large Mogami Class light cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy which initially mounted the same main battery before being converted to Heavy Cruisers. The layout of the main battery in both classes of cruisers was identical.
Pre-war shot of Honolulu, typical of Brooklyn Class
Authorized in by Congress in 1933 the ships were designed with a large transom which housed the aircraft hangar with twin catapults and crane. This was a departure from previous US cruisers which housed the aircraft and their volatile fuels midships which would prove a liability in combat against the Japanese in the Solomons campaign. The new hangar design was carried forth on all new cruisers and battleships built by the US subsequent to the Brooklyn Class.
There were 9 ships in the class, one of which the Wichita was completed as a Heavy Cruiser mounting nine 8” guns in triple turrets and is considered a separate one ship class. In addition to their main battery they mounted eight 5” 25 caliber dual purpose guns and a light AA battery which was continuously increased throughout the war. Their steam turbines produced 100,000 shaft horsepower to give the ships an official speed of 32.5 knots which was exceeded by some of the ships.
The ships Brooklyn CL-40, Philadelphia CL-41, Savannah CL-42, Nashville CL-43, Phoenix CL-46, Boise CL-47, Honolulu CL-48, St. Louis CL-49 and Helena CL-50 were involved in some of the most intense combat of the war serving in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Of the ships one, the Helena was lost in surface combat and several others taking severe damage without sinking. Half of the surviving ships of the class would serve in foreign navies for many years following the war a testament to their toughness and utility.
The lead ship of the class the Brooklyn served exclusively in the Atlantic and Mediterranean where she engaged Vichy warships during the invasion of North Africa and took part in the landings at Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Southern France where she provided naval gunfire support to troops ashore. Following the war she was decommissioned in January 1947 and transferred to the Chilean Navy in 1951 under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. She was renamed O’Higgins and served until decommissioned in January 1992 and sold for scrap. She sank while being towed to India for scrapping in November 1992.
Philadelphia had a similar career to Brooklyn. Launched in 1936 and commissioned in 1937 she too served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean supporting the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Southern France. She was decommissioned in February 1947 and transferred to Brazil in 1951. Renamed Barroso she served until 1973 and sold for scrap.
Late war view of St Louis
Savannah was launched in May 1937 and commissioned in March 1938 and like Brooklyn and Philadelphia served exclusively in the Atlantic and Mediterranean supporting amphibious landings, searching for German commerce raiders and blockade runners and supporting various escort missions. At Salerno she was struck and severely damaged by a German FX-1400 radio guided bomb which struck her number 3 gun turret penetrating to the lower handling room where it exploded tearing a large hole in the ship’s bottom and opening a seam in the ship’s side. Her crew performed heroically to control the damage and get the ship to Malta but she lost 197 sailors in the attack. Following temporary repairs she returned to the United States for repairs and modernization which were complete in September 1944. She served in a number of capacities in the Atlantic and was decommissioned in February 1947, stricken from the Navy List in March 1959 and sold for scrapping in January 1966.
Nashville was launched in October 1937 and commissioned in June 1938 initially serving in the Atlantic until her transfer to the Pacific Fleet in February 1942. While in the Atlantic she took part in the Neutrality Patrols and following the commencement of hostilities continued convoy escort duties. Her first mission in the Pacific was to escort the Carrier Hornet CV-8 on her mission to launch Colonel Jimmy Doolittle’s Army Air Force B-25s on the Tokyo raid. Nashville sank a scout vessel which had discovered the task force. On return from the mission she was assigned to the defense of the Aleutians until November 1942. She then was transferred to the South Pacific where she participated in raids and bombardments of Japanese shore installations until while shelling Vila Airfield on Kolombangara on the night of 12 May 1943, she had an explosion of powder charges in one of her forward turrets, killing 18 and injuring 17. The damage required her to be sent to Bremerton for repair and modernization and she would return to duty in August to join carrier task forces in raids in the Central Pacific before again moving to the South Pacific where she participated in the New Guinea campaign and as well as other missions until May of 1944. She took part in the invasion of Leyte and the Battle of Leyte Gulf guarding beachheads and transports and fending off Kamikazes while providing naval gunfire support to troops ashore. While conducting similar operations off Negros Island she was struck by a Kamikaze with two bombs aboard. Nashville was struck on one of her port 5” mounts the bombs exploding above her deck. The blazing aviation fuel and explosions killed 139 crew members and wounded 190. Following repairs at Bremerton she went back to the Southwest Pacific lending her battery to landings at Brunei Bay, Borneo, and protecting carriers in the Makassar Straits. She was decommissioned in June of 1946 and sold to Chile in January 1951 where she was renamed Captain Prat where she served until she was decommissioned in May 1982 and sold for scrap in April 1983.
Phoenix was launched in March of 1938 and commissioned in October of the same year. She became part of the growing Pacific Fleet and was the first modern light cruiser assigned in the Pacific. She was at Pearl Harbor on December 7 th 1941 and would serve throughout the war in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific and was engaged in heavy operations around New Guinea and other islands in the area frequently involved in shore bombardment, amphibious assaults and raids and having to engage attacking Japanese aircraft. In September 1944 she was assigned to the covering force of old battleships assigned to 7 th Fleet for the invasion of the Philippines. As part of this force under Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf she took part in the destruction of the Japanese Southern Force at the Battle of Surigo Strait where her gunners aided in the sinking of the Japanese battleship Fuso. Phoenix continued operations with 7 th Fleet in the Southwest Pacific supporting shore operations and fighting off swarms of Kamikazes without damage to herself. Following the war she was decommissioned in July 1946 and transferred to the Argentinean Navy in April 1951 where she was renamed 17 de Octubre and later General Belgrano. She received a number of modifications while in Argentine service including ASW helicopters and the Sea Cat Air Defense missile system. Still in active service at the time of the Argentinean invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 she was sent to sea with two destroyers. She was discovered by the British attack submarine HMS Conqueror torpedoed and sunk on May 3 rd 1982 with the loss of 323 men, ending a 44 year career of service to the United States and Argentinean Navies.
Boise was launched in December 1936 and commissioned in August 1938. Following her shakedown cruise she was assigned to the Pacific Fleet. On December 7 th 1941 she was in the Philippines after having completed a convoy escort mission. She was sent south to join the rest of the Asiatic Squadron and our Australian, British and Dutch Allies to for the ABDA (American, British, Dutch, and Australia) task force opposing the southern advance of the Japanese aimed at Java and the Dutch East Indies. She struck an uncharted shoal on January 29 th while conducting operations in the Sape Strait forcing her to return to the United States for repairs. This probably prevented Boise from sharing the fate of most of the rest of the squadron including the HMS Exeter, USS Houston, HMAS Perth and Dutch light cruisers DeRuyter and Java, most of which were sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea in February. After repairs she returned to the South Pacific where she took part in a number of actions including the Battle of Cape Esperance where she helped sink the Japanese Heavy Cruiser Furutaka and destroyer Fubiki. She was damaged in this action and returned to Philadelphia for repairs. Following her repairs she was dispatched to support the landings on Sicily before returning to the Pacific where she served from January 1944 to June of 1945 conducting almost non-stop operations around New Guinea, Borneo and the Philippines. She returned to San Pedro for overhaul and was there when the war ended. She decommissioned in July 1946 and sold to Argentina in January 1951 and commissioned as Nuevo de Julio in 1952. She served until 1978 when she was decommissioned and was sold for scrap in August 1981.
Honolulu had one of the most active careers while engaged in operations against Japanese Naval units with far less time devoted to gunfire support missions. She was at Pearl Harbor on December 7 th 1941 and following that took part in convoy escort missions until she went north to screen Alaska from Japanese attack in May 1942 a task that she engaged in until November. She then reported to the South Pacific and was part of operations against the Japanese Fleet in the Solomons. She took part in the Battle of Tassafaronga, the Battle of Kula Gulf where she helped sink a destroyer and the Battle of Kolombangara where she was instrumental in sinking the Sendai class light cruiser Jintsu and a destroyer. She then supported amphibious operations in the Central Pacific including Saipan and Guam and the Leyte Gulf landings in the Philippines. While operating off Manus Island she was stuck by an aerial torpedo receiving heavy damage which required her withdraw to the United States for major repairs which were still being completed when the war ended. She decommissioned in February 1947, stricken from the Naval Register in November 1959 and sold for scrap.
St. Louis was launched in April 1938 and commissioned in May 1939. After time conducting neutrality patrols at the onset of the war in the Atlantic she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet in November 1940. She was at Pearl Harbor on December 7 th 1941 and was one of the few major fleet units to get underway and out to sea during the attack. She supported carrier operations and convoy escort missions until she was sent north to that Aleutians where she operated until October when she returned to the States for a brief overhaul before being assigned to operations in the Solomons. Operating on a nearly nonstop basis against the Tokyo Express she took part in the Battle of Kula Gulf and the Battle of Kolombangara where she received partial credit for the sinking of the Japanese light cruiser Jinstu. During the battle she was torpedoed in the bow and after temporary repairs returned to the Mare Island. Following repairs St. Louis returned to the Solomons in November 1943. She was struck by a bomb which killed 20 crew members on January 14 th requiring her to return to Purvis Bay for repairs. The repairs complete she returned to the Solomons until June when she took part in the invasion of the Marshalls at Guam and Saipan. She damaged her number three propeller and had to return to the States for repair following the Guam bombardment. Upon her return she served at Leyte Gulf until she was hit by two Kamikazes in a short span receiving heavy damage and resulted in the loss of 15 sailors killed, 1 missing and 43 wounded. She again sailed for repairs and returned to action against the Japanese home islands and Okinawa. Following this she supported operations against Japanese installations on the Asian mainland. Following the war she took part in the Yangtze River patrol force and then returned to the United States in January 1946. She was decommissioned in June 1946 and transferred to Brazil in January 1951 being commissioned as Tamandare. She was decommissioned in June 1976 and sold for scrapping in 1980. While being towed to Taiwan for scrapping she sank on August 24 th 1980.
Helena firing at Kula Gulf just before being torpedoed and sunk
The Final ship in the class, Helena was launched in August 1939 and commissioned in the following month. She was at Pearl Harbor and mooed at the 1010 Dock where she was hit by a torpedo and damaged. After repairs she reported to the South Pacific and the Guadalcanal campaign. She escorted carriers. Helena had the most modern surface search radars and at Battle of Cape Esperance in Iron Bottom Sound, Helena had sunk cruiser Furutaka and destroyer Fubiki. She then took part in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in which a weaker American force turned back a Japanese force with heavy losses on both sides including the Japanese Battleship Hiei and the American cruisers Atlanta, Juneau and 4 destroyers. Helena continued operations in the Solomons and at the Battle of Kula Gulf was sank by Japanese torpedoes fired by destroyers on July 5 th 1943. 168 of her sailors were lost in the action. Helena was the first US Navy ship to be awarded the Naval Unit Commendation.
The General Belgrano ex-USS Phoenix sinking after being torpedoed by HMS Conqueror at the Battle of Falkland Islands
The class found its niche in the war primarily in shore bombardment and Naval Gunfire Support as well as in the sharp surface actions in the South Pacific. Only one, Helena was lost. Six were transferred to South American Navies making and served for many years in those navies. None survive today but the ships were instrumental in the success of many operations.
Usage in battles
The Brooklyn is easily the strongest ship in War Thunder. Combining adequate protection with unparalleled firepower, it can hold its own most other cruisers without much threat to itself. If isolated, a Brooklyn can be taken down by a group of cruisers or even destroyers via ammo racking. If, however, the Brooklyn is integrated into a team of CLs, the chance of defeating it becomes far lower.
The main threats to the Brooklyn are the Kirov, Southampton, and Furutaka. It is advised to engage these targets first and other cruisers second the Kirov and Furutaka have sufficient firepower to threaten a Brooklyn, and the Southampton's armour dampens the firepower advantage of the Brooklyn.
Pros and cons
- Great broadside firepower for a cruiser
- Fairly resilient to small-calibre rounds
- Has one of the best turret protections of every ship in the game
- Can't carry torpedoes
- Very light anti-aircraft defence (not including the 5-inch guns)
- Rather slow compared to PT boats
- Large target overall
USS Wyoming (BB 32)
USS WYOMING was the first of two WYOMING-class battleships. Named after the state of Wyoming, she was the third ship to bear the name but only the second named after the state. The first WYOMING was named after the valley in Luzerne County in eastern Pennsylvania. Under the terms of the 1930 London Treaty, WYOMING was "demilitarized" in early 1931, becoming a training ship, with the new hull number AG 17. During World War II, she served as Gunnery Training Ship. Throughout the war, she operated in the Chesapeake Bay area, reportedly firing off more ammunition than any other US Navy ship. Her remaining 12-inch guns were replaced with more 5-inch and smaller weapons in early 1944, reflecting an increasing emphasis on anti-aircraft requirements. In July 1945 she became an experimental gunnery ship with what soon became the Operational Development Force, serving in that capacity until August 1947, when she decommissioned. USS WYOMING was sold for scrapping in October 1947.
|General Characteristics:||Keel laid: February 9, 1910|
|Launched: May 25, 1911|
|Commissioned: September 25, 1912|
|Decommissioned: August 1, 1947|
|Builder: William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding, Philadelphia, Penn.|
|Propulsion system: twelve Babcock & Wilcox coal-fired water-tube boilers with oil spray, 28,000 shp four Parsons steam turbines|
|Length: 562 feet (171 meters)|
|Beam: 93.3 feet (28.42 meters)|
|Draft: 29.7 feet (9.02 meters)|
|Displacement: approx. 27,243 tons full load|
|Speed: 20.5 knots|
|Armament as BB 32 WW1: twelve 12-inch (305mm)/50 caliber Mark 7 guns in six twin mounts twenty-one 5-inch (127mm)/51 caliber guns four 3-pounder 1.85-inch (47mm)/40 caliber saluting guns two 21-inch (533mm) torpedo tubes|
|Armament as AG 17 1931: six 12-inch (305mm)/50 caliber Mark 7 guns in three twin mounts sixteen 5-inch (127mm)/51 caliber guns four 3-pounder 1.85-inch (47mm)/40 caliber saluting guns two 3-inch (76mm)/50 caliber AA guns|
|Armament as AG 17 1944: ten 5-inch (127mm)/38 caliber guns in five twin mounts four 3-inch (76mm)/50 caliber AA guns four 3-pounder 1.85-inch (47mm)/40 caliber saluting guns six 40mm Bofors guns four 20mm Oerlikon guns two Mk-17 rocket launchers|
This section contains the names of sailors who served aboard USS WYOMING. It is no official listing but contains the names of sailors whose information have been submitted for display on this website.
USS WYOMING (Battleship No. 32) was laid down on 9 February 1910 at Philadelphia, Pa., by William Cramp & Sons launched on 25 May 1911 sponsored by Miss Dorothy Eunice Knight, the daughter of former Chief Justice Jesse Knight of the Wyoming Supreme Court and commissioned at the Philadelphia (Pa.) Navy Yard on 25 September 1912, Capt. Frederick L. Chapin in command.
WYOMING departed Philadelphia on 6 October 1912 and completed the fitting-out process at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., before she joined the fleet in Hampton Roads, Va. Reaching the Tidewater area on 30 December 1912, she became the flagship of Rear Adm. Charles J. Badger, Commander, United States Atlantic Fleet, soon thereafter. Sailing on 6 January 1913, the new battleship visited the soon-to-be-completed Panama Canal and then conducted winter fleet maneuvers off Cuba before she returned to Chesapeake Bay on 4 March.
After gunnery practice off the Virginia capes, on the Southern Drill Grounds, WYOMING underwent repairs and alterations at the New York Navy Yard between 18 April and 7 May 1913. She then participated in war games off Block Island (7-24 May), a period of activity broken by repairs to her machinery, carried out at Newport, R.I., (9-19 May), before she underwent more repairs at Newport. She then visited New York City (28-31 May) for the festivities surrounding the dedication of the monument honoring the battleship MAINE, destroyed in Havana harbor on 15 February 1898.
Shifting to Annapolis, Md., on 4 June 1913, WYOMING embarked a contingent of Naval Academy midshipmen and took the young officers-to-be on a summer cruise off the coast of New England that lasted into late August. Disembarking the "middies" at Annapolis (24-25 August), WYOMING then conducted torpedo and target practices on the Southern Drill Grounds, out of Hampton Roads, into the late autumn. She was docked at New York for repairs (16 September-2 October) and then ran a full power trial as she headed south to Norfolk to resume exercises off the Virgina capes before sailing for Europe on 25 October.
Reaching Valetta, Malta, on 8 November 1913, the dreadnought visited Naples, Italy, and Villefranche, France, during the course of her Mediterranean cruise. She then left French waters astern on the last day of November and reached New York on 15 December.
WYOMING then underwent voyage repairs at the New York Navy Yard, remaining there through the end of 1913. Getting underway on 6 January 1914, the battleship reached Hampton Roads on the morrow and spent the next three days coaling to prepare for the annual fleet exercises in warmer Caribbean climes.
WYOMING exercised with the fleet, out of Guantanamo Bay and Guacanayabo Bay, Cuba (26 January-15 March 1914), before setting her course northward for Cape Henry, Va. She then ranged with the fleet from the Southern Drill Grounds, off the Virginia capes, to Tangier Sound, for gunnery drills and practices. She remained engaged in that routine until 3 April, when she headed for the New York Navy Yard and an overhaul.
After that period of repairs (4 April-9 May 1914), WYOMING subsequently embarked a draft of men for transport to the fleet, departed Hampton Roads on 13 May, and headed for Mexican waters. She reached Veracruz on 18 May, less than a month after American Sailors and Marines had occupied that Mexican port.
WYOMING remained at Veracruz over the months that ensued, into the late autumn of 1914, before she returned northward. After conducting exercises off the Virginia capes en route, she put into the New York Navy Yard on 6 October and then underwent repairs and alterations that lasted until 17 January 1915.
Shifting down the coast upon completion of that yard period, WYOMING left Hampton Roads in her wake on 21 January 1915 for the annual exercises in Cuban waters and in the Caribbean. Returning to the Tidewater area on 7 April, the battleship carried out tactical exercises and maneuvers along the eastern seaboard, primarily off Block Island and the Southern Drill Grounds, into the late autumn, when she again entered the New York Navy Yard for an overhaul.
After repairs lasting from 20 December 1915 to 6 January 1916, WYOMING got underway on the latter day, bound for war games in the Southern Drill Grounds. She subsequently headed farther south, reaching Culebra, Puerto Rico, on 16 January. After visiting Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 27 January, WYOMING put into Guantanamo Bay on the 28th and then operated in Cuban waters, off Guantanamo and Guacanayabo Bays and the port of Manzanillo, until 10 April, when she sailed for New York.
WYOMING remained in the New York Navy Yard (16 April-26 June 1916) undergoing repairs she then operated off the New England coast, out of Newport, and off the Virgina capes through the remainder of 1916. Departing New York on 9 January 1917, WYOMING then conducted routine maneuvers in the Guantanamo Bay region through mid-March. She departed the Caribbean on 27 March and was off Yorktown, Va., when the United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917.
Over the months that ensued, WYOMING served in the Chasepeake Bay region as an engineering ship until until 13 November 1917. On that day, Rear Adm. Hugh Rodman broke his flag in NEW YORK (Battleship No. 34) as Commander, Battleship Division 9. After preparations for "distant service," WYOMING, NEW YORK, DELAWARE (Battleship No. 28), and FLORIDA (Battleship No. 30) sailed for the British Isles on 25 November and reached Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands, on 7 December 1917. Although retaining their American designation as Battleship Division 9, those four dreadnoughts became the 6th Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet upon arrival in British waters.
WYOMING carried out maneuvers and tactical exercises with the units of the British Grand Fleet until 6 February 1918. On that day, she got underway with the other ships of the 6th Battle Squadron and eight British destroyers to guard a convoy routed to Stavanger, Norway. En route, WYOMING dodged torpedo wakes off Stavanger, on 8 February but reached Scapa Flow safely two days later. In the following months, WYOMING continued to patrol off the British Isles, guarding the coastwise sea lanes against the danger posed by the still-powerful German High Seas Fleet.
Between 30 June and 2 July 1918, WYOMING operated with the 6th Battle Squadron and a division of British destroyers, guarding Allied minelayers as they planted the formidable North Sea Mine Barrage. Later, WYOMING returned to the Firth of Forth, where she was inspected by the King of England, His Majesty George V, along with other units of the Grand Fleet.
Although American and German capital ships never met in combat on the high seas, they nevertheless made a rendezvous. On 21 November 1918, ten days after the armistice ended World War I, WYOMING, NEW YORK, TEXAS (Battleship No. 35), and ARKANSAS (Battleship No. 33) joined the Grand Fleet as it escorted the German High Seas Fleet into the Firth of Forth to be interned following the cessation of hostilities.
Later, WYOMING, hoisting the flag of Rear Adm. William S. Sims, Commander, Battleship Division 9, sailed on 12 December 1918 from Portland, England, bound for France. The following morning, she and other battleships rendezvoused with GEORGE WASHINGTON (Id. No. 3018) off Brest, France. Embarked in the transport was the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, en route to the Paris Peace Conference.
After serving in the honor escort for the President and his party, WYOMING returned Adm. Sims to Plymouth, England, along with the newly appointed Ambassador to Great Britain. Debarking her distinguished passengers on 14 December, the battleship loaded 381 bags of mail and, within a few hours, sailed for the United States. Reaching New York City on Christmas Day 1918, she remained there through New Year's Day 1919. On 13 January 1919, she became the flagship of Battleship Division 7, 3rd Squadron, and broke the flag of Rear Adm. Robert E. Coontz.
WYOMING departed New York on 1 February 1919 and, following winter maneuvers in Cuban waters, returned north, reaching New York on 14 April. However, she stood out to sea soon thereafter, getting underway on 12 May to serve as a link in the chain of ships stretching across the Atlantic to guide the NC-boats on their flight across that ocean. After completing her duty as plane guard and meteorological station, WYOMING returned to Hampton Roads on the last day of May.
Later embarking midshipmen and taking them on their southern cruise in the Chesapeake Bay-Virginia capes area, WYOMING entered the Norfolk Navy Yard on 1 July to prepare for service in the Pacific. On that day, she became a unit of the newly designated Pacific Fleet, assigned the duty as flagship for Battleship Division 6, Squadron 4. On the morning of 19 July, the fleet, led by flagship NEW MEXICO (Battleship No. 40), got underway for the Pacific. Transiting the Panama Canal soon thereafter, the fleet reached San Diego, Calif., on 6 August.
Shifting to San Pedro, Calif., three days later, WYOMING operated out of that port into the autumn. After an overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash. (15 September 1919-19 April 1920), WYOMING returned to her base at San Pedro on 4 May. Over the next few months, the battleship exercised off the southern California coast. During that time, she was reclassified BB 32 on 17 July 1920.
Departing San Diego on the last day of August 1920, WYOMING sailed for Hawaiian waters and conducted exercises and maneuvers there through September. Returning to San Diego on 3 October, WYOMING subsequently conducted tactical evolutions off the western seaboard, ranging north to Seattle. Departing San Francisco, Calif., on 5 January 1921, WYOMING, over the ensuing weeks, conducted further drills, exercises, and maneuvers reaching from Panama Bay to Valparaiso, Chile, and was reviewed by the President of Chile on 3 February. Returning north via Panama Bay and San Pedro, WYOMING arrived at the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 18 March and remained there into the summer.
Upon completion of repairs, WYOMING headed south and, on 2 August 1921, reached Balboa, Canal Zone, where she embarked Rear Adm. Hugh Rodman and members of the commission to Peru for transportation to New York City. Reaching her destination on 19 August, she disembarked her passengers and, that afternoon, broke the flag of Adm. Hilary P. Jones, the Commander in Chief, United States Atlantic Fleet.
Over the next 41 months, WYOMING operated primarily in the Atlantic, off the eastern seaboard of the United States, participating in Atlantic Fleet exercises, ranging from the coast of New England to the Virginia capes. She took part in the routine winter maneuvers of the fleet in Caribbean and Cuban waters, serving at various times as flagship for Vice Adm. John D. McDonald, Commander, Battleship Force and, later, Commander, Scouting Fleet, and his successors, Vice Adm. Newton A. McCully and Vice Adm. Josiah S. McKean. During that time, the ship received routine repairs and alterations at the New York Navy Yard and conducted a midshipman's training cruise in the summer of 1924, cruising to Torbay, England Rotterdam, Holland Gibraltar and the Azores.
Departing New York on 26 January 1925, the battleship conducted battle practice in Cuban waters, out of Guantanamo Bay, and then transited the Panama Canal on 14 February to join the Battle Fleet for exercises along the coast of California. WYOMING next sailed for Hawaiian waters and operated in those climes from late April to early June. After a visit to San Diego (18-22 June), the battleship returned to the east coast via the Panama Canal, and arrived back at New York City on 17 July to resume operations off the coast of New England. Following those training evolutions with a cruise to Cuba and Haiti, WYOMING underwent an overhaul at the New York Navy Yard (23 November 1925-26 January 1926). During her yard period, Cmdr. William F. Halsey, Jr., reported on board as the battleship's executive officer. The future fleet admiral served in WYOMING until 4 January 1927.
WYOMING subsequently took part in the Fleet's annual winter maneuvers in the Caribbean and then returned northward, reaching Annapolis on 29 May 1927 to embark midshipmen for their summer training cruise. After touching at Newport, R.I. Marblehead, Mass. Portland, Maine Charleston, S.C. and Guantanamo Bay, WYOMING returned to Annapolis on 27 August, disembarking the officers-to-be upon arrival. The ship then put into the Philadelphia Navy Yard for modernization.
Converted from a coal burner to an oil burner, WYOMING also received new turbines, blisters for added underwater protection against torpedoes, and other alterations. Completing the overhaul on 2 November 1927 and heading south for Norfolk, WYOMING then underwent a post-modernization shakedown cruise to Cuba and the Virgin Islands before returning to Philadelphia on 7 December. Two days later, she hoisted the flag of Commander, Scouting Fleet, Vice Adm. Ashley H. Robertson.
Over the next few years, WYOMING operated out of Norfolk, New York, and Boston, making training cruises for the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NROTC) units hailing from Yale, Harvard, Georgia Tech, and Northwestern. That duty took her from the Gulf of Mexico to Nova Scotia and into the Caribbean, as well as to the Azores.
During the course of that duty, she departed Hampton Roads on 12 November 1928, and, on the night of 13 and 14 November, picked up eight survivors of the sunken British merchant steamship VESTRIS. She landed them at Norfolk the following day, 15 November.
Relieved as flagship of the Scouting Force on 19 September 1930, WYOMING then became the flagship of Rear Adm. Wat T. Cluverius, Commander, Battleship Division 2, and performed that duty until 4 November. After then hoisting the flag of Rear Adm. Harley H. Christy, Commander, Training Squadron, Scouting Fleet, the battleship conducted a training cruise into the Gulf of Mexico, during which she visited New Orleans.
Returning north after that cruise, WYOMING was placed in reduced commission at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 1 January 1931 to prepare for demilitarization and conversion to a training ship in accordance with the 1930 London Treaty for the limitation and reduction of naval armaments. During that process, WYOMING lost her blisters, side armor, and the removal of guns and turret machinery from three of her six main battery turrets. On 21 May 1931, WYOMING was relieved of her duties as flagship for the Scouting Force by the new heavy cruiser AUGUSTA (CA 31) and by her sister ship ARKANSAS (BB 33) as flagship of the Training Squadron.
WYOMING subsequently visited Annapolis upon the completion of her demilitarization and, between 29 May and 5 June 1931, embarked Naval Academy midshipmen for a cruise to European waters. Sailing on 5 June, the ship was in the mid-Atlantic 10 days later, when she went to the aid of the foundering ice-cutting submarine NAUTILUS, commanded by the famed British Arctic explorer, Sir Hubert Wilkins. WYOMING took the disabled submersible in tow and took her to Queenstown, Northern Ireland. Later in the course of the cruise, the former battleship visited Copenhagen, Denmark Greenock, Scotland Cadiz, Spain and Gibraltar, before she returned to Hampton Roads on 13 August. During her cruise, she had been redesignated from a battleship, BB 32, to a miscellaneous auxiliary, AG 17, on 1 July 1931.
Over the next four years, WYOMING continued summer practice cruises for Naval Academy midshipmen and training cruises for NROTC midshipmen with units from various universities. Her service took her throughout the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as to northern European ports and into the Mediterranean.
There were, however, new jobs for the old campaigner. On 18 January 1935, she embarked men of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, at Norfolk, for the winter-spring landing assault practices at Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal Zone. In almost every succeeding year, WYOMING took part in amphibious assault exercises, as the elements of the Fleet Marine Force and Navy developed tactics for use in possible conflicts of the future.
Departing Norfolk on 5 January 1937, WYOMING transited the Panama Canal headed for San Diego soon thereafter and spent the following weeks engaged in assault landing exercises and gunnery drills at San Clemente Island, off the coast of California. On 18 February 1937, during the culminating phase of a multi-faceted (land, sea, and air) exercise, a shrapnel shell exploded prematurely as it was being rammed into one of the ship's 5-inch broadside guns, killing six marines and wounding 11. Immediately after the explosion, WYOMING sped to San Pedro, where she transferred the wounded men to the hospital ship RELIEF (AH 1).
Completing her slate of exercises and war games off the California coast on 3 March 1937, WYOMING stood out of Los Angeles harbor on that day and headed back to the east coast. Returning to Norfolk on the 23rd of the same month, the ship served as temporary flagship for Rear Adm. Wilson Brown, Commander, Training Squadron, from 15 April to 3 June, during the preparations for the upcoming Naval Academy practice cruise. Putting to sea on 4 June from Hampton Roads, WYOMING reached Kiel, Germany, on 21 June 1937, where she was visited by officers from the German armored ship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE. Her embarked midshipmen subsequently toured Berlin before WYOMING sailed for home on 29 June, touching at Torbay, England, and Funchal, Madeira, before returning to Norfolk on 3 August.
After local exercises, WYOMING disembarked her midshipmen at Annapolis on 26 August 1937. For the next few months, WYOMING continued in her role as training ship, first for Naval Reserve units and then for Merchant Marine Reserve units, ranging from Boston to the Virgin Islands and from New York to Cuba, respectively, before she underwent an overhaul at the Norfolk Navy Yard (16 October 1937-14 January 1938).
For the next three years, WYOMING continued her operations out of Norfolk, Boston, and New York, visiting Cuban waters, as well as Puerto Rico and New Orleans. In addition, she conducted a Naval Academy midshipman's practice cruise to European waters in 1938, visiting Le Havre, France Copenhagen and Portsmouth, England. Ultimately, on 2 January 1941, WYOMING became the flagship for Rear Adm. Randall Jacobs, Commander, Training, Patrol Force, and continued in her training ship duties into the autumn months.
In November 1941, WYOMING embarked on yet another phase of her career-that of a gunnery training ship. She departed Norfolk on 25 November 1941 for gunnery training runs out of Newport, R.I., and was off Platt's Bank when the Japanese attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet as it lay at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, in addition to local naval and military targets on Oahu.
Putting into Norfolk on 28 January 1942, WYOMING sailed out into the lower reaches of Chesapeake Bay on 5 February to begin gunnery training drills in that area that would carry her through World War II. So familiar was her appearance in that area that WYOMING earned the nickname of the "Chesapeake Raider." Assigned to the Operational Training Command, United States Atlantic Fleet, the former dreadnought provided the platform on which thousands of gunners trained in guns, ranging from 5-inch to .50-caliber.
Refitted at Norfolk (12 January-3 April 1944), WYOMING took on a different silhouette upon emerging from that yard period the rest of her 12-inch turrets were removed, and replaced with twin-mount 5-inch guns in addition, newer models of fire control radars were installed. She resumed her gunnery training activities on 10 April 1944, operating in the Chesapeake Bay region. The extent of her operations can be seen from a random sampling of figures in a single month, November 1944, WYOMING trained 133 officers and 1,329 men in antiaircraft gunnery. During that month, she fired 3,033 5-inch shells, 849 3-inch 10,076 40-millimeter 32,231 20-millimeter 66,270 .30-caliber and 360 1.1-inch. She claimed the distinction of firing off more ammunition than any other ship in the fleet, training an estimated 35,000 gunners on some seven different types of shipboard weapons.
On 30 June 1945, WYOMING completed her career as "Chesapeake Raider" when she departed Norfolk for the New York Navy Yard and alterations. Leaving the yard on 13 July 1945, she entered Casco Bay soon thereafter, reporting for duty to Vice Adm. Willis A. Lee, Commander, Composite Task Force 69. She fired her first experimental gunnery practice at towed sleeves, drone aircraft, and radio-controlled targets, as the largest operating unit of the force established to study methods and tactics for dealing with the Japanese kamikazes. Upon the sudden death of Vice Adm. Lee as he was being taken out to WYOMING on board the admiral's barge on 25 August, the reins of that important command passed to Rear Adm. Robert P. Briscoe. Subsequently, Composite Task Force 69 became the Operational Development Force, United States Fleet, on 31 August.
Even after the broadening of the scope of the work of the force to cover all the operational testing of new devices of fire control, WYOMING remained the backbone of the unit through 1946. On 11 July 1947, WYOMING entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and was decommissioned on 1 August 1947. Her men and materiel were then transferred to MISSISSIPPI (AG 128) (ex-BB 41).
America's historian takes Casablanca: in November 1942, US warships blasted a hole in Vichy defenses to reach Morocco--with historian Samuel Eliot Morison in the heat of the battle.
THE LARGEST US MILITARY OPERATION OF WORLD WAR II to date was still fresh in Samuel Eliot Morison's mind. "My experiences . were most exciting," Morison wrote to a friend about the Battle of Casablanca in late 1942. "My ship bore the brunt of the fighting near Casablanca--we were shooting from 6 A.M. to 2:30 P.M. on the 8th November, and were only hit once, though frequently] straddled--and just dodged five torpedoes. We silenced a shore battery that I think could have broken up the landing operation and helped to disable or sink about 7 Vichy naval vessels."
Morison's ship was the light cruiser USS Brooklyn (CL-40), and it was smack in the middle of the invasion of North Africa--not the place you'd expect to find a 56-year-old Harvard history professor. He was there through the intervention of the president of the United States. Impressed by Morison's historiography, in 1938 President Franklin Roosevelt had asked him to help organize his presidential papers. By 1941 Roosevelt considered Morison "an old seafaring friend."
The professor's career was in its prime. His 1942 book Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus, published to critical acclaim, would win the Pulitzer Prize for biography. Believing in a hands-on approach to history research, Morison had retraced much of Columbus's route to the Americas, covering the nautical mileage aboard two different ships, including a 147-foot schooner that he sailed himself.
In March 1942, Morison approached Roosevelt with a unique idea. He wanted to put his hands-on research method to work again--this time, on a history of the US Navy's wartime operations, viewed from the inside. His conditions were: no censorship, except as required for security reasons and full access to all naval vessels, bases, and personnel, and to all reports, public and private. Roosevelt agreed, and in May Morison locked his Harvard office and was commissioned a lieutenant commander in the US Naval Reserve.
Eager to test his new role as a historian-participant, Morison first served aboard a destroyer. As his ship escorted a convoy across the Atlantic, the United States had already decided to launch its first great offensive outside the Pacific. The Joint Chiefs of Staff originally had planned an attack across the English Channel on German-occupied France in the summer of 1942 to gain a foothold for a full-blown invasion in 1943. British leaders were nervous about confronting the Germans prematurely, however, and wanted to strike elsewhere first. Finally, against the wishes of US military leaders, but driven by the need to have American troops engaged somewhere against the Western Axis powers, Roosevelt endorsed a British scheme to invade French North Africa.
The plan, codenamed Operation Torch, called for landings at Oran and Algiers, and in Morocco, to capture Casablanca. The choice of Morocco, more than 1,000 miles from the nearest German troops, reflected an American fear: being trapped inside the Mediterranean in the event that Axis forces suddenly descended on Gibraltar and cut off the strait that separated the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. In 1942 Casablanca was a major naval base and the main Atlantic port for the maritime forces of the Vichy French regime. The uncompleted Vichy battleship Jean Bart was docked there. She was immobile, but the four powerful 15-inch guns in her forward turret worked just fine. The Vichy force at Casablanca also included 1 light cruiser 3 super-destroyers, which were nearly the size of small cruisers 7 fleet destroyers 3 sloops and 11 submarines. Four major shore batteries ringed the harbor. A US Army assessment noted, "Casablanca was so strongly defended that direct frontal assault would have been extremely costly."
The naval armada assigned to deliver a US Army corps to Morocco, Task Force 34, sailed from several US ports on October 23, 1942. Morison, who was aboard the modern light cruiser Brooklyn as a member of the captain's staff, was one of 150 select officers who attended the pre-invasion conference. Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, commander of the operation's naval forces, gave a briefing that Morison described as "calm and reasoned." Major General George S. Patton, Jr., led the army contingent and offered what Morison termed "a typical 'blood and guts' oration."
The invasion force consisted of 1 fleet carrier and 4 escort carriers, 3 battleships, 7 cruisers, 38 destroyers, 8 minesweepers, and 4 submarines. There were 29 troop transports, 5 tankers, 1 tug, 1 seaplane carrier, and 1 former banana boat serving as an improvised tank transport. The fleet carried 37,305 of Patton's men and 250 tanks. Morison wrote of the armada: "a brave sight, it was, from air or sea." To enemy submarines, he acknowledged, it was "a tempting sight from under the sea."
The Vichy French had a wary eye on the largely British force gathering at Gibraltar, but they believed the preparations were for a convoy heading eastward. They knew nothing of Hewitt's armada. So the American task force was utterly unexpected when it suddenly materialized off the African coast on November 8. "We actually arrived at our designated position for the landing operations 8 minutes ahead of schedule, after logging 4500 miles, and took Morocco completely by surprise," Morison wrote. "They thought we were set for Dakar."
Hewitt was responsible for conducting three widely separated landings. Portions of his fleet would sail to Mehdla, 95 miles north of Casablana, and to Safi, 140 miles south the main force would land at Fedala, 15 miles north of Casablanca. Hewitt assigned Task Group 34.1--led by the battleship USS Massachusetts (BB-59), with the heavy cruisers USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) and Wichita (CA-45) and four destroyers--to contain the Vichy fleet in Casablanca. The group was also to guard against a sortie by the jean Barfs fully functional sister battleship, the Richelieu, based at Dakar, 1,400 miles south. Task Group 34.9, meanwhile, was to provide fire support for Patton's landings at Fedala. It included Hewitt's flagship, the heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA-31), along with the Brooklyn (Morison's ship), and four destroyers. Six destroyers screened the transports, and a light cruiser and five destroyers escorted the aircraft carriers USS Ranger (CV-4) and Suwannee (CVE-27).
AS 20 TRANSPORTS GATHERED off Fedala, Morison remembered that not one light shone on shore. There was "only a pungent smell of charcoal smoke [that] floated out with the offshore breeze to suggest that land lay within striking distance," he wrote. "Africa was never so dark and mysterious to ancient sea rovers as she seemed that night. " The Americans had trouble loading their landing craft in the pitch black and navigating to their launch points. On the positive side, the sea was unusually calm. The first boats hit the beach around 5:40 A.M., an hour behind schedule, but an hour before dawn. Having hoped they would meet no resistance, the Americans made no preliminary bombardment
By this time the French knew something was up. Early that morning a Vichy coastal convoy blundered into the US landing force, and its escort, the sloop Estafette, got into a short, one-sided firefight with an American destroyer. Estafette surrendered and signaled the news to its headquarters. The Vichy command, which was also receiving reports of motorboats offshore and unidentified aircraft overhead, ordered five submarines out to investigate. Headquarters was reportedly uncertain whether it was facing Germans, British, or Americans.
Morison enjoyed a position on the Brooklyn's bridge. As the ship patrolled beyond the transport area, he assessed her mood as one "of restlessness and subdued eagerness." He saw searchlights ashore, poking into the sky before the landing craft got underway. The outline of the Atlas Mountains emerged into view.
THEN A MACHINE-GUN BATTERY on Cape Fedala opened up. The Brooklyn raced into firing position and lofted a spread of star shells in an effort to illuminate the target area. The flares failed to penetrate the early-morning haze along the coast, but the Brooklyn still loosed her first salvo, at 6:22. "This little comer of the world, so hushed and dark and silent for five hours, was now split with blinding gun flashes, shattered with machinegun fire, shaken by the crash of heavy ordnance," Morison wrote. On the other side a crewman aboard a Vichy submarine leaving Casablanca's harbor for reconnaissance observed, "The horizon to the northeast . suddenly lit up with the blinding flashes of large naval guns."
The Vichy shore battery known as El Hank discharged a long-range salvo at the Massachusetts' Task Group 34.1 at 7:01. Three minutes later the Massachusetts and Tuscaloosa engaged the Jean Bart from a range of nearly 14 miles, while the Wichita targeted El Hank from 12 miles out. At 7:08 the Jean Bart joined the fray. The French used different-colored dyes in their shells so they could spot where they landed, and the Jean Bart's initial broadsides were seen splashing orange 600 yards off the Massachusetts's starboard bow. The Ranger's SBD Dauntless dive-bombers, sent up in case the French resisted, now joined the action.
The American bombardment wreaked havoc among the ships and submarines docked in the crowded harbor. Two submarine captains arrived at the jetty just as a 500-pound bomb exploded nearby both were killed. Three submarines rushed to sea to join the five already underway, one of them moving just before a 16-inch shell pulverized her berth. A trio of liners loaded with refugees from Dakar had just docked that night. When the first American shells screamed into the harbor, the last 400 passengers scrambled to safety. Shells and bombs eventually sank all three liners, along with seven other merchant vessels. A Vichy officer described the scene in the commercial harbor as "a massacre." The Massachusetts hit the Jean Bart seven times. Several shells failed to explode, and the worst damage the heavily armored Vichy battleship suffered was her turret jamming. She managed to fire only eight rounds before that problem took her out of action.
Soon the Massachusetts' group slipped over the horizon, 16 miles northwest of the harbor entrance and 25 from the transports off Fedala--too far away to fulfill its principal mission of containing the Vichy warships. Although the Vichy destroyers had been in the line of fire for much of the morning bombardment, they had been raising steam and gathering their crews. At 8:15 Vichy Rear Admiral Raymond Gervais de Tafond, an experienced commander who had fought the Italians and defeated a British destroyer flotilla off Syria in June 1941, led the super-destroyers Milan and Albatros and the fleet destroyers Brestois, Boulonnais, Fougueux, Frondeur, and L'Alcyon out the harbor channel under billowing clouds of black smoke. The light cruiser Primauguet and the destroyers Tempete and Simoun remained in port for hasty repairs to minor damage. The super-destroyer Malin was undergoing maintenance and was unable to sail. Lafond planned to lead his destroyers northeast along the coast, with the rising sun behind him, and attack the vulnerable transports, which had come closer to shore and anchored to speed up their offloading.
Four of the Ranger's F4F Wildcat fighters reported the Vichy column at 8:18. The flight leader then led his group on a strafing run. "I could see the Tricolor on the stem of the last ship growing larger . " he recalled. "I started firing at about four thousand feet as my hits began to travel down the center line of the last ship in column. I could see the tracers were squirting on the decks and bouncing off. I almost felt that I was running into my own ricochets." Although Vichy flak downed this enterprising pilot as he finished his run, his flight wounded Admiral Gervais de Lafond and killed more than a score of key gunnery and communications personnel. A few fighters, however, were hardly enough to turn back the powerful Vichy warships.
A report of Vichy destroyers barely five miles from the American transports and coming on fast alarmed Hewitt. He had expected the Massachusetts to deal with problems like this. Hewitt swung the Augusta's bow toward the enemy and ordered full speed. At that moment a crane was lifting Patton's landing craft, and sailors were loading his personal equipment in preparation for putting him ashore. Suddenly, Augusta unleashed a long-range salvo. The jolt completely wrecked Patton's fragile boat. "It had to be cut away, contents and all," Hewitt later wrote.
Morison described what came next with excitement: Task Group 34.9's destroyers led the way "with their main batteries yap-yapping, dancing ahead like two fox terriers, followed by the queenly Augusta with a high white wave-curl against her clipper bow, her 8-inch guns booming a deep 'woof-woof' and finally the stolid, scrappy Brooklyn, giving tongue with her six-inchers like ten couple of staghounds, and footing so fast that she had to make a 300-degree turn to take station astern of her senior." One of Morison's shipmates recalled "several [Vichy shells] passed so close to our superstructure that you could hear them go by."
The moment was even more acute for the US soldiers waiting in their landing craft. By this time the French were just three miles away--point-blank range in a naval engagement--and the landing craft twisted and turned helplessly as unfriendly shells splashed around them. US forces conducted dozens of major amphibious landings during the war, but this was the only time enemy warships attacked loaded American landing craft. Vichy shells damaged several boats and sank at least one before Hewitt's cruisers intervened.
Gervais de Lafond had already driven off three US destroyers, setting one, the USS Ludlow (DD-438), ablaze in the process. But faced with a pair of cruisers, he turned his flotilla about and headed back down the coast, plunging into roiling clouds of black smoke from oil tanks burning onshore. He hoped to lure the Americans into the range of El Hank's heavy guns. Hewitt had other responsibilities for his own group, however, and wanted to preserve his limited stocks of ammunition to support the troops ashore should that become necessary. He radioed the Massachusetts group and ordered it to deal with the enemy column.
At 9:00 the Vichy light cruiser Primauguet got underway. Stiffened by this reinforcement, Lafond reversed course to thrust again toward the landing zone. All this time, Task Group 34.1 had been closing at 30 miles per hour, and the Massachusetts finally opened fire at 9:18 from 11 miles northwest of the Vichy column. Having passed the baton, the Augusta and Brooklyn withdrew to resume their screening and fire support duties.
To the frustration of the American gunners, the French commenced a deadly game of hide and seek, darting out of the smoke to fire a few quick rounds and ducking back under cover. For nearly 40 minutes shells passed back and forth without effect. El Hank's 7.64-inch cannons supported the Vichy destroyers. The following chronology from the Massachusetts' log indicates the danger:
0943: Enemy shells were falling within fifty yards of the ship on both sides.
0945: Shell fragments were falling close aboard.
0951: Fall of enemy shells becoming heavy.
DESPITE ALL this, the Americans scored the first hit: a 16-inch round smashed into the Fougueux at 9:40, staving in the destroyer's bow. Minutes later the Tuscaloosa landed an 8-inch shell on the same unfortunate vessel and another on her sister, the Frondeur, which was approaching to render assistance. Shortly before 10:00 three 16-inch shells blasted the Vichy flagship, Milan, wrecking her engines and igniting an uncontrollable fire that consumed the whole forward section. At the same moment, the Massachusetts was sailing west of El Hank when "a shower of wooden splinters so stunned [her] executive officer . that it took him a few seconds to realize the ship had been hit." A 7.64-inch projectile penetrated one deck and detonated against the underlying protective deck, scattering splinters and starting a small fire. One sailor's locker disintegrated into fragments ranging in size from a pea to a matchbox. Three minutes later, the executive officer spotted four torpedoes, courtesy of the submarine Meduse, boiling toward him on a collision course. Overriding the captain's orders, he maneuvered the 40,000-ton behemoth so that one torpedo slipped past within yards of the starboard side while another passed at a slightly greater distance to port.
AS THE MASSACHUSETTS AGAIN headed west and out of sight, the destroyer Boulonnais, followed by the Brestois, took the opportunity to rush the transports again. The Vichy division commander, the captain of the Brestois, and that destroyer's two senior officers had been wounded by the Ranger's aircraft, so the division's fifth in command ended up giving orders. Hewitt, learning of the Vichy offensive foray from a carrier aircraft, again abandoned efforts to put Patton ashore and returned to the fight with Brooklyn and three destroyers.
As the Brooklyn rushed to intervene, she nearly ran into a spread of five torpedoes launched by the Vichy submarine Amazone. The nimble light cruiser dodged the threat with a just-in-time 90-degree turn. The Amazone's captain, who would visit the cruiser a year later at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, could not understand how he missed such an easy shot. At 10:10 the Boulonnais launched more torpedoes at the Brooklyn from seven miles away. But two minutes later the Brooklyn's rapid-firing six-inch guns walloped the Boulonnais with a crippling broadside of six shells. The Vichy destroyer skewed to a stop and began to settle.
The Augusta engaged next, forcing Patton to witness more naval action. "I could just see them. all firing and going like hell in big zig-zags," he recalled. "You have to put cotton in your ears. Some of the people got white but it did not seem very dangerous to me--sort of impersonal." What Patton regarded as "big zigzags," Morison described as "radically evasive courses: ellipses, snake tracks, and figure eights."
Aboard the Brooklyn, Morison and the rest of the crew experienced a moment of apprehension when El Hank briefly targeted their ship. The shore battery's salvo, "far higher than anything she [the Brooklyn] had been dodging, shot up off her starboard bow," Morison recounted. At that moment, three large ships appeared over the western horizon. Panicky thoughts raced immediately to the same fear: the Richelieu and her cruisers. But the ships were the Massachusetts, Tuscaloosa, and Wichita. Still 17 miles off, Massachusetts flung a broadside toward the Vichy warships through a thick screen of smoke.
Damage accrued on both sides, but the French got the worse of it. Three 8-inch rounds from the Augusta passed through the Primauguet at 10:20 A.M., but failed to explode. Another struck the Brestois, causing some minor flooding. At 10:46 a 5.45-inch round from the Albatros bounced off one of the Brooklyn's 5-inch mounts, wounding six men and coating the area with red dye. "At the first sight of the vicinity where we were hit, I got sick!" recalled one of the cruiser's crewmen.". here the disabled gun stood was a mass of red, which I thought to be blood."
At 11:03 the Massachusetts ceased fire. She had expended 60 percent of her 16-inch ammunition and needed to conserve the rest in case Richelieu showed up. The Tuscaloosa and Wichita continued to press the enemy, closing to eight miles. The Boulonnais rolled over and sank at 11:10. Five minutes later the Frondeur, L'Alcyon, and Albatros formed up to deliver a torpedo attack against the American heavy cruisers, while El Hank covered them. The Wichita recorded the shore battery's fire as "very deliberate, resulting in many straddles on cruisers and destroyers of Task Group 34.1." Nonetheless the cruisers broke up the attack at 11:25, when an 8-inch round slammed into the Frondeur, disabling an engine and cracking the hull. Taking on water fast, the destroyer limped back to port and capsized the following night. A retaliatory round from El Hank rumbled through the Wichita from port to starboard at 11:28, sparking fires and wounding 14 men.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn and Augusta had returned to the transports. "We had lunch," Patton commented. "Naval war is nice and comfortable." After dining, Patton, at long last, made it ashore.
The Brestois, L'Alcyon, and Albatros continued to mill around a few miles north of the harbor jetty, trying to guard the Milan, Frondeur, and Primauguet as they retired toward protected waters. The Fougueux and Boulonnais had sunk, and their survivors floated in rafts and small boats further offshore. A shell from an American cruiser hit Primauguet, destroying a boiler. Then, at 11:40, dive-bombers landed two 500-pound bombs on the Albatros and one on the Primaguet. The Milan and Brestois were targets of another bomb shortly afterward. At 11:50 reports of the dreaded Richelieu prompted the Tuscaloosa and Wichita to sail west to investigate. But the Americans kept a careful eye on the collection of cripples stranded around the harbor entrance, and the Ranger's aircraft continued to harass them. Of Gervais de Lafond's original force, only L'Alcyon remained intact.
An hour later, the large sloop La Grandiere and the smaller sloops La Gracieuse and Commandant Delage ventured from the harbor to rescue survivors. The destroyers Tempete and Simoun emerged, staying just off the harbor entrance, hoping the sight of fresh targets would lure the Americans into El Hank's range. For the third time, the Augusta and Brooklyn rushed southwest to counter an enemy intrusion. The Brooklyn opened fire at 1:15 P.M. and Augusta followed 10 minutes later. The two American cruisers zigzagged, shooting at ranges that varied between 7.5 and 12 miles, while the French returned fire sporadically from behind smoke. The Ranger's ubiquitous bombers buzzed overhead and at 1:30 landed a direct hit on La Grandiere.
By 2 p.m. the Augusta's spotters reported that the target ships were all smoking and seemed badly damaged. Satisfied, Hewitt broke off and headed back for the transport area. This gave the Vichy warships respite, during which a tug towed the Albatros back toward the port so she could beach herself near the Primauguet and Milan.
The Wichita and Tuscaloosa returned from their Richelieu hunt, and at 2:44 the Wichita shelled the Primauguet's wreck from 10 miles, but failed to register any more hits. With El Hank's guns straddling their targets frequently, the cruisers prudently withdrew, ending the fight at last.
MORISON CALLED THE EXPERIENCE "a joyful day of battle" and was lavish in his praise. The Augusta's performance was "outstanding." The destroyers were "well-handled." His own ship was "typical for intelligently directed and courageously sustained aggressive action." He was likewise gentle in his criticism. He did not stress, for example, that on three occasions Vichy submarines narrowly missed major American warships. He did not try to explain how the admiral commanding the Massachusetts' Task Group 34.1 failed to carry out his mission to contain the Vichy warships. Nor did he account for the way the Richelieu, a good three days away, kept distracting the Americans from the task at hand. It was enough that the ships turned in credible performances and shot well under difficult circumstances. The landings were sloppy, but they succeeded. Although it would be another two days before Casablanca surrendered, and a few exciting moments were still in store, the Naval Battle of Casablanca and its landings were a successful action and a great victory for the US Navy at a time when victories had been rare.
There was another victory at Casablanca, too: the confirmation of Morison's belief that the historian-participant had a valuable role to play. Morison would serve for the rest of the war aboard 13 other vessels, ranging from PT (patrol torpedo) boats to battleships. He experienced another naval battle in the Pacific, at Kolombangara, in July 1943. His opinions, descriptions, and, most of all, his vividly told stories, all recorded in his 15-volume History of U.S. Navy Operations, have influenced generations of historians and readers. His baptism by fire at the Battle of Casablanca set the tone.
Vincent P. O'Hara of Chula Vista, California, has written numerous books and articles on WWII naval actions. Last year, he wrote the introduction to the US Naval Institute Press's republication of Morison's Operations in North African Waters, October 1942-June 1943, Volume II in History of United States Naval Operations in World War II.
USS Cummings (DD-365)
Figure 1: USS Cummings (DD-365) underway at sea, 29 November 1937. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Cummings (DD-365) underway in San Diego harbor, California, 11 April 1938. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Cummings (DD-365) underway at sea during the later 1930s. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Cummings (DD-365) photographed by Ted Stone, circa the later 1930s. Courtesy of the Mariners Museum, Newport News, Virginia, Ted Stone Collection. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Cummings (DD-365) photographed by Ted Stone, circa the later 1930s. Courtesy of the Mariners Museum, Newport News, Virginia, Ted Stone Collection. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Case (DD-370), USS Shaw (DD-373), USS Cummings (DD-365), and USS Tucker (DD-374) with USS Brooklyn (CL-40) behind in Auckland, New Zealand, March 1941. Courtesy Gary Hines. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: 3 September 1944 the day Cummings participated in an attack on Wake Island. Note light gun shields forward, no shields aft. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: A series of images from the collection of Garold White, whose father served on board Cummings during World War II. The first is Cummings’ “Scoreboard.” Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: A Japanese vessel that surrendered to Cummings. Courtesy Garold White. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: More of the crew from the Japanese vessel that surrendered to Cummings. Courtesy Garold White. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: A Japanese pilot that had been shot down by Cummings. Courtesy Garold White. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after Andrew Boyd Cummings, a Union naval hero who was killed during the Civil War, USS Cummings (DD-365) was a 1,465-ton Mahan class destroyer that was built by United Shipyards at New York City and was commissioned on 25 November 1936. She was approximately 341 feet long and 35 feet wide, had a top speed of 36 knots, and had a crew of 158 officers and men. Cummings was initially armed with five 5-inch guns, four .50-caliber machine guns, 12 21-inch torpedo tubes, and depth charges, although this armament was substantially modified during World War II.
Following a shakedown cruise in the Atlantic, Cummings was assigned to the Pacific in the fall of 1937. Aside from attending US fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean in 1939, Cummings spent the next six years of her career in the Pacific. She was based at Pearl Harbor in April 1940 and made a trip that took her to Samoa, New Zealand, and Tahiti in March and April 1941. But as war drew closer in the Pacific, Cummings spent most of her time patrolling the waters off the coast of Hawaii.
Cummings was docked at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard when the Japanese attacked on 7 December 1941. Although bombs exploded ahead and astern of her, no direct hits were scored on the ship. Flying bomb fragments, though, did cause some minor damage. Cummings quickly built up steam and left Pearl Harbor. She then spent the rest of 1941 and the first four months of 1942 escorting convoys between Hawaii and the US mainland. In May 1942, Cummings was sent to the south Pacific, where she was assigned to patrol and escort missions during the struggle for Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. Cummings went back to San Francisco for an overhaul in the fall of 1943 and then was assigned to the Aleutian Islands. Cummings patrolled the Aleutians for several weeks before returning to Pearl Harbor on 21 December.
During January and February 1944, Cummings escorted US aircraft carriers during the Marshall Islands campaign and then worked with the British Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean from March to May. Cummings returned to Hawaii to resume duties in the central Pacific and in July 1944 she escorted the heavy cruiser USS Baltimore (CA-68) as it carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Hawaii and Alaska and then back to the US mainland. Roosevelt was on board Cummings for several days in August during trips between Seattle, Washington, and the Puget Sound Navy Yard. While on board Cummings, President Roosevelt broadcast a nationwide address from the forecastle of the ship.
Cummings participated in the raids on Wake and Marcus Islands in September and October 1944 and she escorted aircraft carriers during the invasion of Leyte in October. Cummings then operated in the Marianas and Bonin Islands areas, taking part in patrol, escort, and air-sea rescue missions. She also was part of the assault on Iwo Jima in February and March 1945 and provided gunfire support for the troops on shore. In September 1945, after Japan surrendered, Cummings supervised the occupation of the island of Haha Jima, part of the Bonin Islands. On 19 September 1945, Cummings was sent back to America, making stops in San Pedro, California Tampa, Florida and finally Norfolk, Virginia. She was decommissioned on 14 December 1945 and sold for scrapping on 17 July 1947.
Cummings received seven battle stars for her service during World War II. She was at Pearl Harbor on the very first day of the war on 7 December and she was with the US Navy in Japanese waters when the war ended in 1945. She was a typical destroyer, taking on numerous escort, patrol, and shore bombardment duties during the war. She even transported the President of the United States, an honor few ships can boast. But once the war was over and she was no longer needed, Cummings was quickly decommissioned and scrapped, a fate that claimed many fine ships. Although she no longer exists, her career is still worth noting.
US Marines at 5in/ 40 broadside guns of USS Brooklyn (CL-40) - History
(Battleship No. 33: dp. 27,243 1. 562' b. 93'1 1/2" dr. 28'6" s. 21.05 k. cpl. 1,036 a. 12 12", 215", 2 21" tt. cl. Wyo)
The third Arkansas (Battleship No. 33) was laid down on 25 January 1910 at Camden, N.J., by the New York Shipbuilding Co. launched on 14 January 1911 sponsored by Miss Nancy Louise Macon and commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 17 September 1912, Capt. Roy C. Smith in command.
The new battleship took part in a fleet review by President William H. Taft in the Hudson River off New York City on 14 October, and received a visit from the Chief Executive that day. She then transported President Taft to the Panama Canal Zone for an inspection of the unfinished isthmian waterway. After putting the inspection party ashore, Arkansas sailed to Cuban waters for shakedown training. She then returned to the Canal Zone on 26 December to carry President Taft to Key West, Fla.
Following this assignment, Arkansas joined the Atlantic Fleet for maneuvers along the east coast. The battleship began her first overseas cruise in late October 1913, and visited several ports in the Mediterranean. At Naples, Italy, on 11 November 1913, the ship celebrated the birthday of the King of Italy.
Earlier in October 1913, a coup in Mexico had brought to ower a dictator, Victoriano Huerta. The way in which Huerta ad come to power, however, proved contary to the idealism of President Woodrow Wilson, who insisted on a representative government, rather than a dictatorial one, south of the AmericanMexican border. Mexico had been in turmoil for several years, and the United States Navy maintained a force of ships in those waters ready to protect American lives.
In a situation where tension exists between two powers, incidents are bound to occur. One such occurred at Tampico in the spring of 1914, and although the misunderstanding was quickly cleared up locally, the prevailing state of tension produced an explosive situation. Learning that a shipment of arms for Huerta was due to arrive at Veracruz, President Wilson ordered the Navy to prevent the landing of the guns by seizing the customs house at that port.
While a naval force under Rear Admiral Henry T. Mayo was already present in Mexican waters, the President directed that the Atlantic Fleet, under Rear Admiral Charles J. Badger, proceed to Veracruz. Arkansas participated in the landings at Veracruz, contributing a battalion of four companies of bluejackets, a total of 17 officers and 313 enlisted men under the command of Lt. Comdr. Arthur B. Keating. Among the junior officers was Lt. (jg.) Jonas H. Ingram, who would be awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism at Veracruz, as would Lt. John Grady, who commanded the artillery of the 2d Seaman Regiment.
Landing on 22 April, Arkansas's men took part in the slow, methodical street fighting that eventually secured the city. Two Arkansas sailors, Ordinary Seamen Louis 0. Fried and William L. L. Watson, died of their wounds on 22 April. Arkansas's battalion returned to the ship on 30 April, and the ship remained in Mexican waters through the summer before setting course on 30 September to return to the east coast. During her stay at Veracruz z, she received calls from Capt. Franz von Papen, the German military attache to the United States and Mexico, and Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock, on 10 and 30 May 1914, respectively.
The battleship reached Hampton Roads, Va., on 7 October, and after a week of exercises, Arkansas sailed to the New York Navy Yard, for repairs and alterations. She then returned to the Virginia capes area for maneuvers on the Southern Drill Grounds. On 12 December, Arkansas returned to the New York Navy Yard for further repairs.
She was underway again on 16 January 1915, and returned to the Southern Drill Grounds for exercises there from 19 to 21 January. Upon completion of these, Arkansas sailed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for fleet exercises. Returning to Hampton Roads on 7 April, the battleship began another training period in the Southern Drill Grounds. On 23 April, she headed to the New York Navy Yard for a two-month repair period. Arkansas then left New York on 25 June bound for Newport, R.I. She conducted torpedo practice and tactical maneuvers in Narragansett Bay through late August.
Returning to Hampton Roads on 27 August, the battleship engaged in maneuvers in the Norfolk area through 4 October, then sailed once again to Newport. There, Arkansas carried out strategic exercises from 5 to 14 October. On 15 October, the battleship arrived at the New York Navy Yard for drydocking. Underway on 8 November, she returned to Hampton Roads. After a period of routine operations, Arkansas went back to Brooklyn for repairs on 19 October. The ship sailed on 5 January 1916 for Hampton Roads. Pausing there only briefly, Arkansas pushed on to the Caribbean for winter maneuvers.
She visited the West Indies and Guantanamo Bay before returning to the United States on 12 March for torpedo practice off Mobile Bay. The battleship then steamed back to Guantanamo Bay on 20 March and remained there until mid-April. On 15 April, the battleship was once again at the New York Navy Yard for overhaul.
On 6 April 1917, the United States entered World War I on the side of the Allied and Associated Powers. The declaration of war found Arkansas attached to Battleship Division 7 and patrolling the York River in Virginia. For the next 14 months,
Arkansas carried out patrol duty along the east coast and trained gun crews for duty on armed merchantmen.
In July 1918, Arkansas received orders to proceed to Rosyth, Scotland to relieve Delaware (Battleship No. 28). Arkansas sailed on 14 July. On the eve of her arrival in Scotland, the battleship opened fire on what was believed to be the periscope wake of a German U-boat. Her escorting destroyers dropped depth charges, but scored no hits. Arkansas then proceeded without incident and dropped anchor at Rosyth on 28 July.
Throughout the remaining three and one-half months of war, Arkansas and the other American battleships in Rosyth operated as part of the British Grand Fleet as the 6th Battle Squadron.
The armistice ending World War I became effective on 11 November. The 6th Battle Squadron and other Royal Navy units sailed to a point some 40 miles east of May Island at the entrance of the Firth of Forth. Arkansas was present at the internment of the German High Seas Fleet in the Firth of Forth on 21 November 1918.
The American battleships were detached from the British Grand Fleet on 1 December. From the Firth of Forth, Arkansas sailed to Portland, England, thence out to sea to meet the transport George Washington, with President Wilson on board. Arkansas-along with other American battleships escorted the President's ship into Brest, France, on 13 December 1918. From that French port, Arkansas sailed to New York City, where she arrived on 26 December to a tumultuous welcome. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels reviewed the assembled battleship fleet from the yacht Mayflower.
Followin an overhaul at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Arkansas joined the fleet in Cuban waters for winter maneuvers. Soon thereafter, the battleship got underway to cross the Atlantic. On 12 May 1919, she reached Plymouth, England thence she headed back out in the Atlantic to take weather observations on 19 May and act as a reference vessel for the flight of the Navy Curtiss (NC) flying boats from Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland, to Europe.
Her role in that venture completed, Arkansas proceeded thence to Brest, where she embarked Admiral William S. Benson, the Chief of Naval Operations, and his wife, on 10 June, upon the admiral's return from the Peace Conference in Paris, before departing for New York. She arrived on 20 June 1919.
Arkansas sailed from Hampton Roads on 19 July 1919, assigned to the Pacific Fleet. Proceeding via the Panama Canal, the battleship steamed to San Francisco, where, on 6 September 1919, she embarked Secretary of the Navy and Mrs. Josephus Daniels. Disembarking the Secretary and his wife at Blakely Harbor, Wash., on the 12th, Arkansas was reviewed by President Wilson, on the 13th, the Chief Executive having embarked in the famed Oregon (Battleship No. 3). On 19 September 1919, Arkansas entered the Puget Sound Navy Yard for a general overhaul. Resuming her operations with the fleet in May 1920, Arkansas operated off the California coast. On 17 July 1920, Arkansas received the designation BB-33 as the ships of the fleet received alphanumeric designations. That September, she cruised to Hawaii for the first time. Early in 1921, the battleship visited Valparaiso, Chile, manning the rail in honor of the Chilean president.
Arkansas's peacetime routine consisted of an annual cycle of interspersed with periods of upkeep or overhaul. The battleship's schedule also included competitions in gunnery and engineering and an annual fleet problem. Becoming flagship for the Commander, Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet, in the summer of 1921, Arkansas began operations off the east coast that August.
For a number of years, Arkansas was detailed to take midshipmen from the Naval Academy on their summer cruises. In 1923, the battleship steamed to Europe, visiting Copenhagen, Denmark (where she was visited by the King of Denmark on 2 July 1923) Lisbon, Portugal and Gibraltar. Arkansas conducted another midshipman training cruise to European waters the following year, 1924. In 1925, the cruise was to the west coast of the United States. During this time, on 30 June 1925, Arkansas arrived at Santa Barbara, Calif, in the wake of an earthquake. The battleship, along with McCawley (DD-276) and Eagle 34 (PE-34) landed a patrol of bluejackets for policing Santa Barbara, and established a temporary radio station ashore for the transmission of messages.
Upon completion of the 1925 midshipman cruise, Arkansas entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard for modernization. Her coalburning boilers were replaced with oil-fired ones. Additional deck armor was installed, a single stack was substituted for the original pair, and the after cage mast was replaced by a low tripod. Arkansas left the yard in November 1926 and, after a shakedown cruise along the eastern seaboard and to Cuban waters, returned to Philadelphia to run acceptance trials. Resu ing her duty with the fleet soon thereafter, she operated from Maine to the Caribbean on 5 September 1927, she was present at ceremonies unveiling a memorial tablet honoring the French soldiers and sailors who died during the campaign at Yorktown in 1781.
In May 1928, Arkansas again embarked midshipmen for their practice cruise along the eastern seaboard and down into Cuban waters. During the first part of 1929, she operated near the Canal Zone and in the Caribbean, returning in May 1929 to the New York Navy Yard for overhaul. After embarking midship- men at Annapolis, Arkansas carried out her 1929 practice cruise to Mediterranean and English waters, returning in August to operate with the Scouting Fleet off the east coast.
In 1930 and 1931, Arkansas was again detailed to carry out midshipmen's practice cruises in the former year she visited Cherbourg, France Kiel, Germany Oslo, Norway and Edinburgh, Scotland in the latter her itinerary included Copenhagen, Denmark Greenock, Scotland and Cadiz, Spain, as well as Gibraltar. In September 1931, the ship visited Halifax, Nova Scotia. In October, Arkansas participated in the Yorktown Sesquicentennial celebrations, embarking President Herbert Hoover and his party on 17 October and taking them to the exposition. She later transported the Chief Executive and his party back to Annapolis on 19 and 20 October. Upon her return, the battleship entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where she remained until January 1932.
Upon leaving the navy yard, Arkansas sailed for the west coast, calling at New Orleans, La., en route, to participate in the Mardi Gras celebration. Assigned duty as flagship of the Training Squadron, Atlantic Fleet, Arkansas operated continuously on the west coast of the United States into the spring of 1934, at which time she returned to the east coast.
In the summer of 1934, the battleship conducted a midshipman in lymouth, England Nice, France Naples, going to Annapolis in August, where she manned the rail for lt as he passed on board the yacht Nourmalhal, and was present for the International Yacht Race. Arkansas' cutter defeated the cutter from the British light cruiser HMS Dragon for the Battenberg Cup, and the City of Newport
In January 1935, Arkansas transported the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, to Culebra for a fleet landing exercise, and in June conducted a midshipman practice cruise to Europe, visiting Edinburgh, Oslo (where King Haakon VII of Norway visited the ship), Copenhagen, Gibraltar and Funchal on the island of Madeira. After disembarking Naval Academy midshipmen at Annapolis in August 1935, Arkansas proceeded to New York k. There she embarked reservists from the New York area and conducted a Naval Reserve cruise to Halifax, Nova Scotia in September. Upon completion of that duty, she underwent repairs and alterations at the New York Navy Yard that October.
In January 1936, Arkansas participated in Fleet Landing Exercise No. 2 at Culebra, and then visited New Orleans for the Mardi Gras festivities before she returned to Norfolk for a navy yard overhaul which lasted through the spring of 1936. That summer she carried out a midshipman training cruise to Portsmouth England Goteborg, Sweden and Cherbourg, before she returned to Annapolis that August. Steaming thence to Boston, the battleship conducted a Naval Reserve training cruise before putting into the Norfolk Navy Yard for an overhaul that October.
The following year, 1937, saw Arkansas make a midshipman practice cruise to European waters, visiting ports in Germany and England, before she returned to the east coast of the United States for local operations out of Norfolk. During the latter part of the year, the ship also ranged from Philadelphia and Boston to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, and Cuban waters. During 1938 and 1939, the pattern of operations largely remained as it had been in previous years, her duties in the Training Squadron largely con- her to the waters of the eastern seaboard.
The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 found Arkansas at Hampton Roads, preparing for a Naval Reserve cruise. She soon got underway and transported seaplane moorings and aviation equipment from the naval air station at Norfolk to Narragansett Bay for the seaplane base that was to be established there. While at Newport, Arkansas took on board ordnance material for destroyers and brought it back to Hampton Roads.
Arkansas departed Norfolk on 11 January 1940, in company with Texas (BB-35) and New York (BB-34), and proceeded thence to Guantanamo Bay for fleet exercises. She then participated in landing exercises at Culebra that February, returning via St. Thomas and Culebra to Norfolk. Following an overhaul at the Norfolk Navy Yard (18 March to 24 May), Arkansas shifted to the Naval Operating Base (NOB), Norfolk, where she remained until 30 May Sailing on that day for Annapolis, the battleship, along with Texas a, New York, conducted a midshipman training cruise to Panama and Venezuela that summer. Before the year was out, Arkansas would conduct three V-7 Naval Reserve training cruises, these voyages taking her to Guantanamo Bay, the Canal Zone, and Chesapeake Bay.
Over the months that followed, the United States gradually edged toward war in the Atlantic early the following summer after the decision to occupy Iceland had been reached, Arkansas
accompanied the initial contingent of marines to that place. That battleship, along with New York, and the light cruiser Brooklyn (CL-40) provided the heavy escort for the convoy. Following this
assignment, Arkansas sailed to Casco Bay, Maine, and was pres- cruise to Italy, and to Gibraltar, returning prceeding thence to Newport, R. I there when the Atlantic Charter conferences took place on board Augusta (CA-31) between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. During the conference, the battleship provided accommodations for the Under Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, and Mr. Averell Harriman, from 8 to 14 August 1941.
The outbreak of war with the Japanese attack upon the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor found Arkansas at anchor in Casco Bay, Maine. One week later, on 14 December, she sailed to Hvalfjordur, Iceland. Returning to Boston, via Argentia, on 24 January 1942, Arkansas spent the month of February carrying out role exercises in Casco Bay in preparation for her role le as an escort for troop and car go transports. On 6 March, she arrived at Norfolk to begin overhaul. Underway on 2 July, Arkansas conducted shakedown in Chesapeake Bay, then proceeded to New York City, where she arrived on 27 July.
We battleship sailed from New York on 6 August, bound for Greenock, Scotland. Two days later, the ships paused at Halifax, Nova Scotia, then continued on through the stormy North Atlantic. The convoy reached Greenock on the 17th, and Arkansas returned to New York on 4 September. She escorted another Greenock-bound convoy across the Atlantic, then arrived back at New York on 20 October. With the Allied invasion of North Africa, American convoys were routed to Casablanca to support the operations. Departing New York on 3 November, Arkansas covered a troop convoy to Morocco, and returned to New York on 11 December for overhaul.
On 2 January 1943, Arkansas sailed to Chesapeake Bay for gunnery drills. She returned to New York on 30 January and began loading supplies for yet another transatlantic trip. The battleship made two runs between Casablanca and New York City from February through April. In early May, Arkansas was drydocked at the New York Navy Yard, emerging from that period of yard work to proceed to Norfolk on 26 May.
Arkansas assumed her new duty as a training ship for midshipmen, based at Norfolk. After four months of operations in Chesapeake Bay, the battleship returned to New York to resume tier role as a convoy escort. On 8 October, the ship sailed for Bangor, Ireland. She was in that port throughout November, and got underway to return to New York on I December. Arkansas then began a period of repairs on 12 December. Clearing New York for Norfolk two days after Christmas of 1943, Arkansas closed the year in that port.
The battleship sailed on 19 January 1944 with a convoy bound for Ireland. After seeing the convoy safely to its destination, the ship reversed her course across the Atlantic and reached New York on 13 February. Arkansas went to Casco Bay on 28 March for I gunnery exercises, before she proceeded to Boston on 11 April for repairs.
On 18 April, Arkansas sailed once more for Bangor, Ireland. Upon her arrival, the battleship began a training period to prepare for her new role as a shore bombardment ship. On 3 June, Arkansas sailed for the French coast to support the Allied invasion of Normandy. The ship entered the Baie de la Seine on 6 June, and took up a position 4,000 yards off "Omaha" beach. At 0552, Arkansas's guns opened fire. During the day, the venerable battleship underwent shore battery fire and air attacks over ensuing days she continued her fire support. On the 13th, Arkansas shifted to a position off Grandcamp les Bains.
On 25 June 1944, Arkansas dueled with German shore batteries off Cherbourg, the enemy repeatedly straddling the battleship but never hitting her. Her big guns helped support the Allied attack on that key port, and led to the capture of it the following day. Retiring to Weymouth, England, and arriving there at 2220, the battleship shifted to Bangor, on 30 June.
Arkansas stood out to sea on 4 July, bound for the Mediterranean. She passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and anchored at Oran, Algeria, on 10 July. On the 18th, she got underway, and reached Taranto, Italy, on 21 July. The battleship remain there until 6 August, then shifted to Palermo, Sicily, on the 7th.
On 14 August, Operation "Anvil" the invasion of the southern French coast between Toulon and Cannes, began. Arkansas provided fire support for the initial landings on 15 August, and continued her bombardment through 17 August. After stops at Palermo and Oran, Arkansas set course for the United States. On 14 September, she reached Boston, and received repairs and alterations through early November. The yard period completed on 7 November, Arkansas sailed to Casco Bay for three days of refresher training. On 10 November, Arkansas shaped a course south for the Panama Canal Zone. After transiting the canal on 22 November, Arkansas headed for San Pedro, Calif. On 29 November, the ship was again underway for exercises held off San Diego. She returned on 10 December to San Pedro.
After three more weeks of pre parations, Arkansas sailed for Pearl Harbor on 20 January 1945 One day after her arrival there, she sailed for Ulithi, the major fleet stagin area in the Carolines, and continued thence to Tinian, where she arrived on 12 February. For two days, the vessel held shore bombardment practice prior to her participation in the assault on Iwo Jima.
At 0600 on 16 February, Arkansas opened fire on Japanese strong points on Iwo Jima as she lay off the island's west coast. The old battlewagon bombarded the island through the 19th, and remained in the fire support area to provide cover during the evening hours. During her time off the embattled island, Arkansas shelled numerous Japanese positions, in support of the bitter struggle by the marines to root out and destroy the stubborn enemy resistance. She cleared the waters off Iwo Jima on 7 March to return to Ulithi. After arriving at that atoll on the 10th, the battleship rearmed, provisioned, and fueled in preparation for her next operation, the invasion of Okinawa.
Getting underway on 21 March, Arkansas began her preliminary shelling of Japanese positions on Okinawa on 25 March, some days ahead of the assault troops which began wading ashore on 1 April. The Japanese soon began an aerial onslaught, and Arkansas fended off several kamikazes. For 46 days, Arkansas delivered fire support for the invasion of Okinawa. On 14 May, the ship arrived at Apra Harpor, Guam, to await further assignment.
After a month at Apra Harbor, part of which she spent in drydock, Arkansas got underw on 12 June for Leyte Gulf. She anchored there on the 16th, and remained in Philippine waters until the war drew to a close in August. On the 20th of that month, Arkansas left Leyte to return to Okinawa, and reached Buckner Bay on 23 August. After a month spent in port, Arkansas embarked approximately 800 troops for transport to the United States as part of the "Magic Carpet" to return American servicemen home as quickly as possible. Sailing on 23 September, Arkansas paused briefly at Pearl Harbor en route, and ultimately reached Seattle on 15 October. During the remainder of the year, the battleship made three more trips to Pearl Harbor to shuttle soldiers back to the United States.
During the first months of 1946, Arkansas lay at San Francisco. In late April the ship got underway for Hawaii. She reached Pearl Harbor on 8 May, and stood out of Pearl Harbor on 20 May, bound for Bikini Atoll, earmarked for use as target for atomic bomb testing in Operation "Crossroads." On 25 July 1946, the venerable battleship was sunk in Test "Baker" at Bikini. Decommissioned on 29 July 1946, Arkansas was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 August 1946.
US Marines at 5in/ 40 broadside guns of USS Brooklyn (CL-40) - History
Duel between CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge by Edward D. Walker. Buy the print.
Off Cherbourg, France in 1864, two old shipmates squared off in the greatest maritime clash of the Civil War
by DON HOLLWAY
as appeared in the Early Fall 2014 issue of CIVIL WAR QUARTERLY magazine
“The pirate ship Sumter , Capt. Semmes, entering the Bay of Gibraltar—her last voyage as a ‘Confederate’ steamer.”
Capt. Raphael Semmes, CSS Sumter and CSS Alabama
A s sails gave way to steam and paddle side-wheels to screw propellers, warfare at sea no longer depended on the whims of wind or current, but still on those of landlubber politicians. Even lying at anchor in a foreign harbor, Cmdr. Raphael Semmes of the Confederate States Navy had been perfectly outmaneuvered. His bark-rigged screw steamer, CSS Sumter , had spent the latter half of 1861 as the first Confederate high-seas commerce raider, capturing or sinking 18 Union ships from Cuba to Brazil. But she had spent the first months of 1862 in the British port at Gibraltar, blockaded by Federal warships more securely than had she sheltered at Charleston or Mobile.
Cdr. Raphael Semmes and the officers of CSS Sumter .
Note early-style dark blue uniforms, changed to gray in 1862. Seated, left to right: 1st Lt. William E. Evans Cdr. Raphael Semmes, Commanding and 1st Asst. Engineer Miles J. Freeman. Standing, left to right: Surgeon Francis L. Galt Lt. John M. Stribling 1st Lt. John M. Kell, Executive Officer Lt. Robert T. Chapman and 1st Lt. Becket K. Howell (Marine Corps). U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 42383.
Semmes (known to his crew as “Old Beeswax” for his finely tipped moustaches) and the Sumter had twice before escaped Union blockades, beating the USS Brooklyn from New Orleans in June 1861 and the USS Iroquois from Martinique in November. At Gibraltar, however, he’d been checkmated. “If a neutral merchant showed any inclination to supply the Sumter with anything she needed,” Semmes wrote in his memoirs, “. a runner was forthwith sent round to him by the [US] Federal Consul, to threaten him with the loss of his American—i.e. Yankee—trade, unless he desisted. Such was the game now being played in Gibraltar, to prevent the Sumter from coaling. I resolved to lay her up, and proceed to London, and consult with my Government as to my future course.”
The Laird shipyard on the Mersey River, across from Liverpool, around the time of the Alabama’s construction.
In England Semmes and his executive officer, Lt. John Kell, learned from Confederate Commissioner James Murray Mason of a new ship being built on the Mersey River near Liverpool. Confederate foreign agent Cmdr. James Bulloch had covertly financed her construction, through the sale of Southern cotton, as “Hull 290.” She would be an all-wood, bark-rigged (foremasts rigged square, mizzenmast fore-and-aft), 220-foot sloop of 1050 tons displacement. Two 300hp steam engines driving a single two-bladed propeller would give her 13 knots. Much as Semmes admired her, though, she was Bulloch’s ship. Semmes was on his way home when he received word from Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate States Navy, that Bulloch was more useful on land than at sea, and Semmes was to “. assume command of the new ship which was being built on the Mersey, to be called the Alabama .”
Plan of CSS Alabama , including pivot gun mounts
Lt. John M. Kell of the Alabama
As a midshipman aboard the USS Albany John McInstosh Kell had been court-martialed by Capt. Victor M. Randolph for refusing menial duty. Then-Cdr. Semmes served as his lawyer, unsuccessfully. Kell was dismissed from the Navy, but later reinstated and served under Commodore Matthew Perry in Japan. He was the first U.S. Naval officer to offer his service to the Confederate States of America, and Semmes requested him specifically to serve as First Lieutenant (a position, not a rank) and executive officer on the Sumter and Alabama.
“She was a perfect steamer and a perfect sailing ship, at the same time,” marveled Semmes. “. The Sumter , when her fuel was exhausted, was little better than a log on the water, because of her inability to hoist her propeller, which she was, in consequence, compelled to drag after her. The Alabama was so constructed, that in fifteen minutes, her propeller could be detached from the shaft, and lifted in a well contrived for the purpose, sufficiently high out of the water, not to be an impediment to her speed. When this was done, and her sails spread, she was, to all intents and purposes, a sailing ship. On the other hand, when I desired to use her as a steamer, I had only to start the fires, lower the propeller, and if the wind was adverse, brace her yards to the wind, and the conversion was complete.”
British law forbade English citizens from equipping or manning warships for foreign belligerents alleging that Hull 290 (launched on May 15th as the HMS Enrica) was to be a Confederate warship, Ambassador Adams convinced British Foreign Secretary Earl John Russell to impound her. “It will, doubtless, be a matter of some delicacy, and tact, to get the Alabama safely out of British waters, without suspicion,” wrote Semmes, “as Mr. [Charles Francis] Adams, the Northern Envoy [US ambassador to England], and his numerous satellites in the shape of consuls and paid agents, are exceedingly vigilant in their espionage.”
The Enrica raises steam on the Mersey. By Edward D. Walker
Customs officials were on their way to Liverpool when Enrica, still unfinished and hosting a luncheon party of civilians, ladies, and friends of the builders, weighed anchor for what was to be a brief river cruise. Had she returned to port she would have been embargoed. Instead she put her guests off on a harbor tug, raised steam, and took off—supposedly—for Nassau, Bahamas.
But Semmes and Bullock actually redezvoused with her at Terceira Island in the Azores, where Enrica stood taking aboard a full armament of cannons from the tender CSS Agrippina. In contrast to the old Napoleonic-era men-of-war, firing broadsides of sometimes over 100 guns, Alabama mounted just eight. Her six 6.4-inch, 32-pound smoothbores would have served as the main armament of Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory just 60 years earlier, but they were dwarfed by Alabama’s main guns. These numbered just two, designed by Captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely of the British Army, arms merchant to the CSA. With cast iron barrels and breeches wrapped in wrought iron or steel bands, they were so heavy they had to be mounted directly amidships for proper sea-keeping, manhandled on a complex system of pivots and tracks to one side or the other and locked down prior to battle. The aft 8-inch smoothbore fired a 68lb shot or 42lb shell the forward 7-inch rifle fired a longer 100lb shot or 85lb shell.
The Alabama carried six, and Kearsarge four, 32-pounder cannon, almost unchanged since the Napoleonic era. Each worked by an 11-man crew, they had a range of about a mile less than half that with any accuracy. This gun and carriage was aboard the USS Cairo (a sister ship of the Benton ) when she was sunk by two electrically fired mines in the Yazoo River near Vicksburg in Dec. 1862. Ship and guns were salvaged in the early 1970s both shown here at the Cairo National Historic Park near Vicksburg.
Rifled Blakely Pivot Gun
This 4.5-inch Blakely rifle was part of the Confederate defenses of Fort Pulaski, GA—a land mount, but illustrative of the slide mechanism and pivot tracks. Alabama carried a much larger 7-inch rifled Blakely forward and an 8-inch smoothbore aft. Pivot guns of that size were so massive that they had to be mounted amidships and only swung to one side or the other just before battle.
Semmes’ commission as Captain of CSS Alabama with orders to “attack, subdue, scuttle and take all ships of the United States of America”
On Sunday, August 24th, newly promoted Captain Semmes called his largely English crew to the quarterdeck. A band played “Dixie” as he read aloud his commission from Jefferson Davis, President, CSA, Enrica's Union Jack was lowered and and the Alabama’s Stars and Bars were run up. “Now, my lads, there is the ship. She is as fine a vessel as ever floated there is a chance that seldom offers itself to a British seaman, that is, to make a little money,” he told them. “We are going to burn, sink and destroy the commerce of the United States. Your prize money will be divided proportionately. Any of you that thinks he cannot stand to his gun, I do not want.”
Lt. Kell signed eighty hands to join the Sumter veterans. “The Alabama will be a fine ship, quite equal to encounter any of the enemy’s steam-sloops,” their captain logged, “. and I shall feel much more independent in her, upon the high seas, than I did in the little Sumter .”
The Alabama in the North Atlantic
USS Benton off Natchez, Mississippi, July 1864
“Commodore Foote's Gun-boat Flotilla on the Mississippi”
Line engraving after a sketch by Alexander Simplot, published in Harper's Weekly, 1862. Ships are identified below the image as (from left to right): Mound City, Essex, Cairo, Saint Louis, Louisville, Benton, Pittsburgh and Lexington .
Capt. John Winslow of the USS Benton and Kearsarge
While Semmes steamed off to seek glory, an old friend of his was languishing in the backwaters of the naval war. In 1861 Commander John A. Winslow, USN, had been assigned to the Western Gunboat Flotilla at Cincinnati, intended to sail down the Ohio and wrest control of the Mississippi. He had not been confident of the outcome: “Our [ironclad] gunboats are heavy, some fifteen or sixteen guns, 8 inch, and 9 inch, and 42 pound rifle guns, but it is doubtful whether we can get down the river, on account of the draft of water, without first taking out the guns.”
On his first venture downstream in command of the flagship Benton , she grounded on a sandbar 30 miles south of St. Louis. As Winslow attempted to winch her off, a link of 1&half-inch chain parted with such force that one shard flew 500 feet another struck him in the left arm, tearing away much of the muscle. “It was a great mercy that the bolt did not strike me on the body,” he wrote home, “as it would have made an end of me.”
Sent home to Roxbury, Mass., to recuperate, he did not return to duty until the summer of 1862. He was promoted to captain in July and might even have expected command of the flotilla, but he was passed over, possibly due to his increasingly dim view of superiors up to and including President Abraham Lincoln. After the Union defeat at Second Bull Run that August, Winslow (who had been born and raised in Wilmington, NC) told a reporter for the Baltimore American , “I’m glad of it. I wish the Rebs would bag Old Abe, too. Until something drastic is done to arouse Washington we shall have no fixed policy.”
Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles narrowly declined to prosecute Winslow for insubordination or even treason, but at the end of October wrote him, “You are hereby detached from the Mississippi Squadron and placed on furlough. You will regard yourself as awaiting orders.”
Home again in Massachusetts, Winslow surely felt his punishment weighing on him. He was bedridden with Mississippi malaria and an inflammation of his right eye (of which he would eventually lose sight) when Welles found a suitably out-of-the-way posting for him: command of the USS Kearsarge , which under Capt. Charles W. Pickering had failed to do more than corner the slow little Sumter . (That same month Sumter was sold to the British, and under the Union Jack eventually resumed service to the Confederacy as the blockade-runner Gibraltar .) CSS Alabama chases down Yankee clipper.
You Can Run by Tom Freeman. Buy the print. The Alabama had been wreaking havoc among the Atlantic whaling fleet, taking twenty prizes up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Newfoundland to Bermuda, of total value approximately equal to the cost to build her. (Among them, captured and burned on Sept. 9th, was the whaling bark Alert , made famous in the 1840 memoir Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.) Another reason Welles might have chosen Winslow to hunt Confederate raiders, particularly the Alabama , was that he and Semmes not only knew each other, they had briefly even been cabin mates.
In 1846, as young lieutenants during the Mexican War, each had assumed his first command. Winslow took over a captured Mexican sloop renamed the USS Morris , and Semmes the brig USS Somers (infamous for an 1842 midshipmen’s mutiny under captain Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, which led directly to the founding of the US Naval Academy and may have served as inspiration for Melville’s Billy Budd ). Each, however, lost their ships: the Morris on a reef in a storm, and the Somers , while chasing a Mexican blockade-runner, capsized in a sudden squall. Both officers were completely exonerated of the losses, but spent time together in the doghouse aboard the American flagship, Cumberland (later the first ship sunk by the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia) . “It is a joke now,” Winslow wrote, “. so I frequently say, ‘Captain Semmes, they are going to send you out to learn to take care of ships in blockade,’ to which he replies, ‘Captain Winslow, they are going to send you out to learn the bearing of reefs.’” Both lieutenants were promoted to commander in 1855. In December 1860 Winslow’s appointment as Inspector of the 2nd Lighthouse District was signed by Semmes, as Secretary of the US Navy Lighthouse Board. The next month, however, when the country sundered, the old friends took opposite sides.
USS San Jacinto in the North Atlantic
Built to experiment with new propulsion concepts, the San Jacinto was plagued with prop trouble and mechanical failures throughout her service, but became infamous in November 1861 when her Capt. Charles Wilkes waylaid the British mail packet HMS Trent . Firing two shots across the bow to persuade the British to heave to, Wilkes sent a boarding party to illegally seize two Confederate diplomats and their secretaries before permitting the packet to be on her way. Little over a year later, the Federals hoped to bully the Alabama in the same manner.
In December 1862 Winslow shipped out from New York aboard the 3,360-ton ex-passenger steamer USS Vanderbilt (which, despite her side wheels, mounted twelve 9-inch smoothbores and two 12-inch rifles and, able to do 14 knots, was probably the US Navy ship most feared by Semmes) for his rendezvous in the Azores with the Kearsarge . Meanwhile, Semmes and the Alabama rendezvoused with the Agrippina in Fort Royal, Martinique, where they were nearly bottled up by the USS San Jacinto . This screw frigate, mounting eleven big guns, could throw twice the Alabama’s weight of shot, but Semmes was unimpressed. “We paid no sort of attention to the arrival of this old wagon of a ship,” he wrote. “She was too heavy for me to think of engaging her. but we had the speed of her, and could, of course, go to sea whenever we pleased.” On the rainy night of Nov. 19th the Alabama made good on his brag, slipping past in the dark. Not until the 21st were the Federals even sure she was gone.
Dec. 7, 1862: The Alabama captures the U.S. Mail Steamship Ariel
On December 7th, the day Winslow entrained for New York and the Azores, Alabama lay in wait for “California steamers” transiting the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola, from New York to Panama for West Coast gold. She ran down the side-wheel steamer Ariel, owned by no less than Cornelius Vanderbilt himself, carrying 140 US Marines with all their gear. Semmes reaped 124 muskets, 16 swords and $10,000 in Federal cash— Alabama’s largest single haul of the war—and released the ship under a $261,000 bond (worth $6.3 million today) payable on demand when the Confederacy won the war. Even more importantly, Ariel’s cache of New York newspapers, less than a week old, announced that a 30,000-strong army under Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks was embarking for a likely invasion of Texas, at Galveston.
“To transport such an army, a large number of transport ships would be required,” Semmes reasoned. “. As there were but twelve feet of water on the Galveston bar, very few of these transport ships would be able to enter the harbor the great mass of them, numbering, perhaps, a hundred and more, would be obliged to anchor, pell-mell, in the open sea. Much disorder, and confusion would necessarily attend the landing of so many troops, encumbered by horses, artillery, baggage-wagons, and stores. My design was to surprise this fleet by a night-attack, and if possible destroy it, or at least greatly cripple it. Half an hour would suffice for my purpose of setting fire to the fleet, and it would take the [Union] gun-boats half an hour to get up steam, and their anchors, and pursue me.”
His information wasn’t quite fresh enough, however. On New Years Day the Texans under Maj. Gen. J. Bankhead Magruder counterattacked and repelled the invaders. By the time the Alabama arrived, at dusk on the 11th, lookouts perceived no enemy armada (the main force of troops having disembarked at New Orleans instead), but merely a half-dozen warships, maintaining a sullen blockade.
The USS Harriet Lane, center, being attacked by the CSS Bayou City and CSS Neptune at the Battle of Galveston. (U.S. Naval Historical Institute)
USS Westfield, aground on a sandbar, blows up, killing Union Fleet Commander William B. Renshaw and twelve members of his crew.
Federal forces had blockaded Galveston in October 1862 and soon forced the garrison to evacuate, but without reinforcements could hold no more ground than could be covered by their ships' guns. Before Banks’ 30,000 men arrived, at 3:00 AM on Jan 1st Confederate forces under Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder retook the city by land, while in a savage night battle two Southern cottonclads engaged the Union fleet of six ships. The Bayou City rammed the Harriet Lane, and her complement of infantry stormed across to take the Federal vessel by storm. Union Fleet Commander William B. Renshaw ran his flagship USS Westfield aground on a sandbar, and in attempting to prevent its capture accidentally blew up himself and twelve members of his crew. The rest of the fleet abandoned their troops onshore, who surrendered. Banks’ army was forced to disembark in New Orleans. The US Navy had resumed its blockade when, at dusk on Jan. 11, the Alabama appeared on the horizon.
“I certainly had not come all the way into the Gulf of Mexico, to fight five ships of war, the least of which was probably my equal,” wrote Semmes. “. Whilst I was pondering the difficulty, the enemy himself, happily, came to my relief for pretty soon the look-out again called from aloft, and said, ‘One of the steamers, sir, is coming out in chase of us.’”
The 1,100-ton converted passenger ferry USS Hatteras had taken Alabama for a hapless blockade-runner, and churned out alone in pursuit. Semmes’ mission was to destroy Union merchant shipping, but he wasn’t above picking a fight with the proper foe. “She was evidently a large steamer,” he wrote of the Hatteras , “but we knew from her build and rig, that she belonged neither to the class of old steam frigates, or that of the new sloops, and we were quite willing to try our strength with any of the other classes.”
Easily capable of outrunning the iron-hulled side-wheeler, Semmes shortened sail and only put on enough steam to appear catchable, luring Hatteras ever further out to sea. After twenty miles, under cover of dusk, he took in his sails, unlimbered his guns and came about to await his would-be captor.
Union Lt. Cmdr. Homer C. Blake was beginning to think something amiss. Turning to bare his own broadside, such as it was—a mere pair of 32-pounders and two even smaller rifled guns—he called across the water, “What ship is that?”
The Confederates replied, “This is her Britannic Majesty’s steamer Petrel. ”
“If you please, I will send a boat on board of you.”
“Certainly, we shall be happy to receive your boat,” Semmes answered and, as the Union boarding crew put down and began rowing across, turned to Executive Officer Kell. “I suppose you are all ready for action?”
“We are,” said Kell, “the men are eager to begin, and only awaiting your word.”
Semmes gave it. Kell stood up and shouted through his bullhorn, “This is the Confederate States steamer Alabama !” and the raider let fly a full broadside.
CSS Alabama and the USS Hatteras off Galveston, Jan. 11, 1863.
The Fatal Chase by Tom Freeman.
Built in 1861, the sidewheel passenger steamer St. Mary was purchased by the U.S. Navy that September, renamed the Hatteras and converted into a gun boat carrying four 32-pounder cannon and a 20-pounder rifled cannon, under Commander George F. Emmons. No pushover, in January 1862 the Hatteras made a highly successful raid on the harbor at Cedar Keys, Fla, burned seven small blockade runners, destroyed the important Florida Railroad terminus, and captured 14 of the 22-man garrison, including the commanding officer. Over the course of the year the Hatteras captured seven more blockade runners, mostly off Vermilion Bay, Louisiana. Emmons even put four of his own men on board the prize 20-ton sloop Poody and rechristened her Hatteras Jr. —an ex-blockade runner now enforcing the blockade.
The crew of the Hatteras , having smelled trouble, answered immediately. The men in the cutter ducked as shot and shell flew low overhead in both directions. Giving throttle, the two warships conducted a running gunfight at ranges right down to 25 yards, so close their crews traded shots with muskets and revolvers. Several shells from Hatteras went through Semmes’ cabin and one passed narrowly over his head on the quarterdeck, but none struck below the waterline. The battle could only end one way. “The action was very sharp and exciting while it lasted, which was not very long,” wrote Semmes, “for in just thirteen minutes after firing the first gun, the enemy hoisted a light and fired an off[side]-gun, as a signal that he had been beaten. We at once withheld our fire, and such a cheer went up from the brazen throats of my fellows, as must have astonished even a Texan, if he had heard it.”
The men of the Galveston fleet did hear, if not the cheers of the Southerners, the reports of their big pivot guns and, seeing their flashes on the horizon, realized Hatteras had stumbled into a fight. Raising anchor and steaming out in all haste to assist, they passed the little cutter—its crew, as might be imagined, stroking with all their might for shore—but found no trace of the Alabama .
“As soon as the action was over, and I had seen the [ Hatteras ] sink,” wrote Semmes, “I caused all lights to be extinguished on board my ship, and shaped my course again for the passage of Yucatan.” In the morning the US flagship Brooklyn, already humiliated in Semmes’ escape from New Orleans, found the Hatteras resting on the shallow bottom of the Gulf with a pennant still flying from the tip of her mainmast, a few feet above the waves.
(Uncovered by hurricanes and storms and discovered in the 1970s, today the Hatteras’ 210-foot hull is buried in three feet of sand, 60 feet underwater, 20 miles off Galveston. The remains of her 500-hp engine and two iron paddle wheels remain accessible and, as an important underwater archaeological site, the Hatteras is the subject of investigation by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Texas Historical Commission, and Texas A&M University at Galveston.)
Semmes put Capt. Blake and his crew, of which two had been killed and five wounded, ashore in Kingston, Jamaica. (His own crew suffered but one man wounded.) While Alabama took on coal and repairs, her captain enjoyed an island holiday with his admiring British hosts.
A Mohican -class sloop-of-war, the Kearsarge was among the Union warships that blockaded Semmes’ first raider, the Sumter, at Gibraltar in 1862. Winslow was to have taken command in December of that year, but Kearsarge was laid up in Cádiz for repairs and did not rendezvous with her new captain in the Azores until April 1863. It was in the Azores that Winslow took his executive officer’s advice and added chain armor to her sides.
USS Kearsarge in the Azores
Drawing made by Midshipman Edward E. Preble, while at Fayal, Azores, opposite Mount Pico, in 1864, before the battle with CSS Alabama . Preble was Navigating Officer during that action.
By March, Winslow, still stuck in the Azores, was grumbling, “The Kearsarge has been in [dry] dock, repairing at Cadiz, long enough to have built a vessel in the United States, and I am not aware that she has yet got out.” In finally delivering his ship to her new master, Capt. Pickering managed to pass the brand new raider CSS Georgia, on her shakedown cruise from Scotland around the southern end of England to the island of Ushant, off France. (Pickering would top his career as captain of the screw sloop USS Housatonic the following February, when she was sunk in Charleston harbor by the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. ) Come the handover on April 8th, Winslow had plans ready to put into action.
Dahlgren Pivot Gun
Kearsarge m o u n t e d t w o 1 1 - i n c h D a h l g r e n s m o o t h b o r e s o n p i v o t m o u n t s . E a c h n e a r l y 1 3 &half f e e t l o n g , w e i g h i n g 1 5 , 7 0 0 p o u n d s a n d c r e w e d i n a c t i o n b y n o l e s s t h a n 2 5 m e n , t h e y b u r n e d 2 0 p o u n d s o f b l a c k p o w d e r w i t h e v e r y s h o t .
Kearsarge’s armament would be no great advantage over the Alabama . She mounted only four 32-pounders, though her main pivot guns were larger than Semmes’: two 11-inch smoothbores designed by Capt. John Dahlgren of the Navy Ordnance Department. Each, made of one piece of cast iron weighing nearly eight tons, could fire a 166lb shot or 133lb explosive shell 2,300 yards, or through four inches of steel and twenty inches of oak. Wooden bulkheads being no longer sufficient against such weaponry, Winslow determined to make his ship into an ironclad. His executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. James S. Thornton, had served as exec on Capt. David G. Farragut’s flagship, USS Hartford, during the Union naval assault on New Orleans in April 1862, when she grounded under the guns of Fort St. Philip and only an improvised iron mail of heavy chains hung over her sides kept her from being shot to pieces. Thornton now proposed the same protection for the Kearsarge .
Kearsarge executive officer Lt. Cdr. James S. Thornton
Thornton had served as exec on Capt. David G. Farragut's flagship, USS Hartford, at the Battle of New Orleans in April 1862, when she grounded under the guns of Fort St. Philip and only an improvised iron mail of heavy chains saved her. He proposed the same armor for the Kearsarge
Chain armor as installed on the side of the sloop-of-war USS Brooklyn.
Kearsarge’s armor consisted of nearly 750 feet of 1.7-inch single-link iron anchor chain, enough to protect the central 50 feet of hull, six feet down to the waterline, outside her engine- and boiler-rooms. Concealed behind one-inch planking painted black to match the upper hull’s color, this chain mail was practically invisible.
“We remained ten days. at Fayal [in the Azores], where we were employed putting on a cuirass, or rather plating our vessel for some thirty feet each side, to protect our machinery,” Winslow wrote. “This plating consists of our heavy [spare anchor] chains, suspended close together, which are hung to the sides of the vessel, and makes a complete armor for protection against shot, etc.” Once overlaid with a veneer of planks streamlined with beveled edges all around, from any distance the armor was nearly invisible.
Meanwhile the Alabama had ranged down the coast of South America on what would be her most lucrative raid. Preying on merchant traffic coming up from Cape Horn, since February Semmes had captured or burned 19 vessels, on several occasions two or even three a day. By mid-May, when Winslow was finishing up his armor in the Azores, Alabama was carrying no less than four ships’ crews prisoner, and stopped off in Bahia, Brazil, to put them ashore and take on coal. By complete coincidence she was met by the Georgia, fresh from Ushant on her maiden raid also by coincidence, Alabama’s sister ship CSS Florida was just up the coast at Pernambuco. The Confederates had formed an inadvertent South Atlantic Squadron. Though all three raiders were on separate missions and soon parted company, the possibilities must have made themselves plain to Semmes. Capturing seven more ships in the South Atlantic by the beginning of June, he transferred spare crewmen and a pair of captured cannon to the 350-ton bark USS Conrad and rechristened her the raider CSS Tuscaloosa. “Never, perhaps, was a ship of war fitted out so promptly before,” he recounted proudly. “The Conrad was a commissioned ship, with armament, crew, and provisions on board, flying her pennant, and with sailing orders signed, sealed, and delivered, before sunset on the day of her capture.” The Confederate high-seas raiders were beginning to reproduce.
Confederate Raiders in the South Atlantic
Built in 1862 as the 600-ton fast merchantman Japan , like the Alabama the Georgia just barely escaped British waters before impoundment. Cdr. Matthew Fontaine Maury met the supply ship Alar off Ushant, where he took on two 100-pounders, two 24-pounders and one 32-pounder cannon. Over the summer of 1863 the Georgia zig-zagged down and back up the Atlantic, taking nine prizes along the way. She was not an ideal raider, however, and when plans fell through to transfer her armament to CSS Rappahannock , she was ultimately captured by the frigate USS Niagara off Portugal. She was wrecked off Maine in January 1875.
Sister ship to the Alabama , the Florida under Captain John Newland Maffitt was almost as infamous. She broke the Union blockade of Mobile twice—once sailing in to take on stores and gun accessories, and out again on Jan. 16, 1863, just a few days after the Alabama sank the Hatteras . Florida captured 37 prizes. One became the converted raider CSS Clarence , which took six US ships the last of these, the USS Tacony , was also converted and captured 15 more. Meanwhile, in neutral harbor at Bahia, Brazil, on the night of October 7, 1864 Flori da was illegally boarded and captured by the crew of the U.S.S. Wachusett . Taken to Newport News, she was sunk under suspicious circumstances, probably to prevent her from being returned to the protesting Brazilians and thence to the Confederate Navy.
No photos of the USS Conrad , renamed CSS Tuscaloosa after her capture, are known to exist. (Shown is the Swedish bark Sigyn , built in 1887 and now a museum ship in Turku, Finland, of similar tonnage and performance.) Under Lt. John Low, on July 31, 1863 Tuscaloosa captured the USS Santee with a cargo of rice and bonded her for $150,000. In December she put in at Simon’s Bay, South Africa, and was impounded by local authorities as an uncondemned prize in violation of British neutrality. Low and his crew were released. After the war the ship was returned to the US Navy. A better-known CSS Tuscaloosa was an ironclad serving in Mobile Bay until scuttled to prevent capture in 1865.
Global Sensation: The Alabama in Cape Town
Captain Semmes of the Alabama , Cape Town, South Africa, August 1863
Lt. Kell leans near the ship’s wheel, with several crewmen visible in the background and one (near Kell’s right knee) poking his head out from below.
First Lieutenant John McIntosh Kell
Taken at the same point of the deck, but on the port side of the 8-inch Blakely. Looking aft, Kell with his hat removed and hand on the breech-rope of the aft eight-inch Blakely, notably pointed toward the stern. Left foreground is the engine-room skylight, with bars over the glass. Also of note is the laundry hanging in the rigging.
Crew of the Alabama
Taken a few steps to port and sternward of the above shot (the slide and pivot-track for the Blakely are still visible, lower left) and within the same few minutes judging by the shadows of the gun and gun-room skylight. The untidy lines on the deck by have been stowed and a barrel has moved in front of the chest behind the main figure.
Those in the crew photo were long described as Semmes, foreground, and Second Lieutenant Richard Armstrong leaning on the hoist over the skylight, but the main figure is now thought to be the captain’s secretary, W. Breedlove Smith, with Sailing Master Irving Bulloch by the wheel. Crew further aft by the stern flag-locker are unknown.
By the time she reached Cape Town, South Africa, in August 1863, Alabama was an international sensation. “Three hearty cheers were given for Captain Semmes and his gallant privateer,” declared the Cape Town Argus . “This, upon the part of a neutral people, is, perchance, wrong. It was not, perhaps, taking the view of either side, Federal or Confederate, but in admiration of the skill, pluck, and daring of the Alabama , her captain, and her crew, who afford a general theme of admiration for the world all over.”
News from home, however, was all bad: Gettysburg and Vicksburg lost, the Mississippi under Federal control from the Ohio to the sea. “From the whole review of the ‘situation,’” Semmes wrote, “I was very apprehensive that the cruises of the Alabama were drawing to a close. As for ourselves, we were doing the best we could, with our limited means, to harass and cripple the enemy’s commerce, that important sinew of war but the enemy seemed resolved to let his commerce go, rather than forego his purpose of subjugating us.”
3,360-ton passenger steamship turned heavy cruiser: USS Vanderbilt
Though he again enjoyed British hospitality, Semmes tarried around the Cape no longer than was necessary to obtain coal and repairs. The Vanderbilt was hunting him (on Sept. 11th they passed just over the horizon from each other), and he was loath to be trapped again under blockade. Reasoning his foe would lie in the shipping lanes toward Madagascar, he set out due east and, blown before southern midwinter gales, Alabama covered 2,840 miles in two weeks, turning up northwest of Australia toward the East Indies.
Alas, the long reach of the US Navy extended even to that part of the world. The screw sloop USS Wyoming , fresh off a victory over the upstart Japanese, was haunting the Sunda Strait in hopes of intercepting the Alabama . Semmes was in the mood for a fight. “ Wyoming is a good match for this ship,” he wrote in October. “I have resolved to give her battle. She is reported to be cruising under sail—probably with banked fires—and anchors, no doubt, under Krakatoa every night, and I hope to surprise her, the moon being near its full.”
The Alabama and Wyoming, however, never crossed paths. Nor was there precious little quarry either. Semmes had been too successful: American ships either stayed in harbor waiting for him to vacate the area, or “sold” themselves to neutral nations, putting themselves beyond capture. Alabama ranged as far as Singapore and Vietnam, but through November and December took only six vessels.
CSS Alabama , December 1863
One of the few actual photos of the Alabama , taken in Singapore just before Christmas 1863. Stainless Banner hangs from the gaffsail arm.
“Sea-life is becoming more and more distasteful to me,” Semmes wrote. “The fact is, I am reaching an age when men long for quiet and repose.” (A Cape Town paper had written, “He is 53 but looks much older.”) With his ship’s innards weeping seawater, her bottom peeling copper and trailing algae, and her crew growing surly, he decided enough was enough: “Well, we are on the sea once more, with our head turned westward, or homeward. Shall we ever reach that dear home which we left three years ago, and which we have yearned after so frequently since? Will it be battle, or shipwreck, or both, or neither? And when we reach the North Atlantic, will it still be war, or peace? When will the demon-like passions of the North be stilled?”
USS Kearsarge at anchor, circa 1860s, location unknown.
Winslow and the Kearsarge spent that winter attempting to singlehandedly blockade England, Ireland, France and Spain. They left the Florida in drydock at Brest, France, to try catching the Georgia at Queenstown, Ireland, but the Georgia put in at Cherbourg instead. Winslow gained nothing but sixteen Irishmen who wished to join his crew. When Her Majesty’s Foreign Office got wind of it, Winslow was accused of signing them in violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act. “The English all hate this ship,” he wrote, “and took bold of this act to try and make something out of it. This thing has cost me more writing than would fill a quire of paper.”
He declared the new hands to be stowaways and put them back ashore, but the damage was done. By April Winslow was being accused in the House of Lords of violating British neutrality, to which he answered in the press, calling the Irishmen in question “miserable trash” and calling into question British motives in the dispute, with his usual tact managing to offend everyone involved. Even as the CSS Rappahannock (ex-HMS Victor ) put in at Calais and the Aggrippina at Plymouth, England and France both forbade the Kearsarge to anchor within their ports for more than 24 hours at a time. With an international incident on his hands, Ambassador Adams felt compelled to submit a full report to Washington. Winslow’s career prospects were not improved by his complete inability to capture, destroy or even detain a single enemy ship while he was distracted with legalities, in February both the Florida and the Georgia escaped harbor. “If we had more ships here,” wrote the near-disgraced captain, “we certainly could have got the Georgia or Florida .”
Port side view, USS Kearsarge at anchor, location unknown.
Injury was added to insult in Ostend, Belgium, where a harbor pilot managed to bounce Kearsarge off a local fishing boat, a bridge and a pier before running her aground. “The accident was so egregious a blunder,” Winslow reported, “as led the officers to say the pilot was bribed for no person of the meanest capacity could not have prevented it.”
He put in at Flushing, Netherlands (modern Vlissingen) for repairs. His letters reveal that, like his old friend Semmes, the travails of war were wearing him down. “I find I have not the health that I had, and that ‘Mississippi fever’ has done its work, with my old blind eye, and a constitution which is extremely susceptible to cold, which always increases the inflammation in eye and ears, I am fast running down hill.”
“My intention now was to make the best of my way to England or France,” Semmes had decided, “for the purpose of docking and thoroughly overhauling and repairing my ship.”
Kearsarge was lying in the Scheldt Estuary when, on June 12th, Winslow received word that the Alabama had put in at Cherbourg.
Quai de l'Entrepôt (Warehouse Wharf), Cherbourg, France
In an era when few warships could go a year and a half without putting in for an overhaul, Alabama had been at sea for 22 months without seeing as much as a dry dock, let alone a home port. Her beams were splitting, her decks were sagging, her boilers were corroded with salt water and her bottom was dragging barnacles, seaweed and copper plating.
But this was 1864, not 1862. Then, victory had seemed within the South’s grasp, and the European powers had been sympathetic, even encouraging. No longer. “The last batch of newspapers captured were full of disasters,” Semmes wrote. Chattanooga had fallen. Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman had invaded Georgia. Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart had been killed at Yellow Tavern. And in the Wilderness, new Northern commander-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant had proven the Union willing to wage a bloody war of attrition, no matter how high the cost, on land as at sea. In almost two years of voyaging, the Alabama had captured or almost 70 American ships, valued at $5,500,000 (about $80,000,000 today), but as Semmes saw it no amount of loss, financial or otherwise, could deter the North: “Might it not be, that, after all our trials and sacrifices, the cause for which we were struggling would be lost? Might not our federal system of government be destroyed, and State independence become a phrase of the past the glorious fabric of our American liberty sinking, as so many others had done before it. The thought was hard to bear.”
Cherbourg was not a civilian but a military port, and France was no longer eager to host a belligerent vessel. Alabama would be permitted to repair, or coal, but not both, and she was to be on her way as soon as possible. With the Confederacy’s most notorious high-seas raider finally in a pot, however, the US Navy promptly slammed shut the lid. The Alabama dropped anchor on June 12th on June 14th, the Kearsarge took up station outside the Cherbourg breakwater.
But neither was this the same Raphael Semmes who had submitted to blockade two years earlier. He and Lt. Kell talked over their options, which were few. They had orders to avoid combat. They could remain in port, in which case more Federal cruisers would flock to Winslow’s aid and see to it the Alabama rotted at anchor. Or they could fight. If they were defeated, the outcome for the Confederacy would be the same: one ship lost. A victory, on the other hand, would not only be momentous for Semmes and his crew, who could turn the Kearsarge , if captured, into a fresh new raider for the Confederacy it would be a public relations coup that might even sway the European powers back to her side. And there was a good chance the Alabama would be victorious, for on paper at least she and the Kearsarge were an even match in size, crew and armament. Historians have debated whether Semmes was aware of Winslow’s chain cladding in his memoirs he claimed to have learned of it only after the fact, though it seems to have been common knowledge aboard his ship. He may simply have discounted their existence as rumor, or decided that it made no difference. For the Alabama , to deny battle was tantamount to defeat. “The combat will no doubt be contested and obstinate,” Semmes wrote, “but the two ships are so equally matched that I do not feel at liberty to decline it. God defend the right, and have mercy upon the souls of those who fall, as many of us must.”
Capt. Raphael Semmes, CSS Alabama
Accordingly, he sent word ashore: “I desire to say to the U. S. consul that my intention is to fight the Kearsarge as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements. I hope these will not detain me more than until tomorrow evening, or after the morrow morning at furthest. I beg she will not depart before I am ready to go out.”
Semmes used the interval to choose coal over repairs, filling the bunkers around his ship’s machinery with an extra 150 tons of Welsh anthracite as his own kind of armor. He sent ashore five bags of gold sovereigns, about $5,000 each, bonds from his surviving victims, and a collection of ships’ chronometers taken from the rest. Meanwhile the Kearsarge prowled back and forth outside the breakwater, Winslow running gun drills and reordering his ammunition stores for easy access.
Built in 1858 for the Duke of Leeds at the John Laird shipyard (the same which built Alabama in 1862), Deerhound was built of steel and displaced about 190 tons, with three masts, a screw-propeller, and engines of about seventy horsepower. In her usual trim she could steam at twenty knots, about two knots faster than Alabama herself.
Word of the impending fight spread across France. A new rail line from Paris had just opened Cherbourg’s hotels filled with tourists eager to witness history. (French Impressionist painter Edouard Manet, usually claimed to have watched the fight from a boat, likely did not arrive until after the battle and rendered his famous depiction later, from spectator accounts.) On Friday the English yacht Deerhound steamed in from the Isle of Jersey to meet her owner, John Lancaster of the Lancashire Union Railway, who had brought his family from holiday in St. Malo to see the show.
The first ironclad ship to be laid down, although the British armoured frigate HMS Warrior was completed first. Couronne saw no combat in the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s, but by World War I was a barracks ship in Toulon. She served in various functions for over 70 years and was not scrapped until 1934.
Saturday, June 18th, was stormy with heavy seas preluding combat, but Sunday dawned clear. By 6:10 AM the Alabama’s boilers were lit by 7:50 she had sufficient steam and at 9:45 she set out for open water. The Deerhound , with the Lancaster family aboard, accompanied her from the anchorage, as did several little harbor pilot boats crowded with paying customers. The French ironclad Couronne, on hand to enforce the host’s neutrality, escorted the little fleet out past the breakwater’s western tip.
The Kearsarge was about five miles out in the Channel. Captain Winslow had finished the morning inspection and was about to conduct Sunday services when Quartermaster Charles Butts, keeping an eyepiece trained landward, called, “She’s coming!”
Seeing for himself, Winslow ordered the crew drummed to general quarters and the Kearsarge further out to sea. He had strict instructions not to let any battle infringe on French territorial waters, and for once was following orders to the letter.
USS Kearsarge vs. CSS Alabama , 19 June 1864
By Alfred C. Howland (1838-1909)
To the 19,000 spectators, picnickers and vacationing families watching from the high ground around Cherbourg, especially to the west around the famous Chapel of St. Germain on the point of Querqueville, it must have seemed the Federals were running for it. The betting was running hot and heavy, with the odds favoring the Alabama . Peddlers were doing a land-office business in camp-stools, telescopes and cheap binoculars.
The wind was blowing from the west, though that mattered little to steamers, which fought with furled sails the current was flowing at about three knots to the southwest. At the three-mile limit the Couronne sheered off to stand guard. The Deerhound and the pilot boats stayed in trail for a close-up view of the action as the Alabama closed on her enemy.
Winslow had gone to his cabin and traded his uniform cap for an old, weather-beaten one, as though determined to battle his old friend as he had so often battled the sea. Kearsarge was now six or seven miles from shore. Her boilers were running at a high heat. Her guns were loaded with shells on 5-second fuzes. The 11-inch Dahlgrens had been pivoted over to starboard. Gun ports were lowered. Cannoneers stood with their lanyards in hand. Lt. Thornton had ordered sand scattered across the deck, lest it become slippery with blood. The ship’s officers shook hands and went to their posts. Taking up station at the foot of the mizzenmast, Winslow ordered the Kearsarge to come about and asked for full steam.
Observers could see black smoke gush from the Union ship’s stack as she turned bow-on to the enemy. (Unlike Alabama’s clean-burning anthracite, Kearsarge ran on bituminous coal from Newcastle.) There could be no doubt now that Winslow intended to make a fight of it.
The ships were about a mile and a quarter apart. Calling his crew aft, Semmes had stepped up on a gun carriage, much as he had that first time in the Azores, two years before. “Officers and seamen of the Alabama ! You have, at length, another opportunity of meeting the enemy—the first that has been presented to you, since you sank the Hatteras ! In the meantime, you have been all over the world, and it is not too much to say, that you have destroyed, and driven for protection under neutral flags, one half of the enemy’s commerce, which, at the beginning of the war, covered every sea. This is an achievement of which you may well be proud and a grateful country will not be unmindful of it. The name of your ship has become a household word wherever civilization extends. Shall that name be tarnished by defeat? The thing is impossible! Remember that you are in the English Channel, the theatre of so much of the naval glory of our race, and that the eyes of all Europe are at this moment, upon you. The flag that floats over you is that of a young Republic, who bids defiance to her enemies, whenever, and wherever found. Show the world that you know how to uphold it! Go to your quarters.”
All of the guns were loaded with solid shot. One of Alabama’s port-side 32-pounders had been rolled over to fire to starboard, and both her big Blakely pivot guns were also turned that way. The forward 7-inch rifle had the advantage of range over any other gun in the battle, including even the Kearsarge’s Dahlgrens, and Semmes was determined to strike the first blow.
The ships were about a mile apart when, at about 11:00 AM, he ordered Alabama over to port. As her bow swung away and she heeled, the starboard gunners raised their muzzles to compensate, realizing their captain, right out of the box, was going for the Holy Grail of a gunfight at sea. With the Kearsarge coming straight at them, he intended to “cross the T”: bring a full broadside to bear on the enemy’s bow and rake her, stem to stern.
Semmes attempts to “cross the T”
At that range it went unrecorded, and possibly unseen, how many of the little 32-pounders fell short. At least one round—probably from the 7-inch rifle—went high, snapping a line high up in the Kearsarge’s fore-top rigging.
“Hold your fire, Mr. Thornton,” Winslow said. “Steady as you go.”
With no Union reply, Semmes had his men reload and fire another salvo. Their aim was again surprisingly high, but so was their rate of fire. With the ships closing rapidly, Winslow knew they would soon pour it into the Kearsarge .
“The range if you please, Mr. Thornton,” he said. The order was passed to the crew of a 30-pound Parrot rifle on the forecastle, the smallest but longest-ranged of the Union guns. Its crew of US Marines fired a shot, more for appearances than effect.
Winslow knew the moment was upon him. He ordered, “Sheer to port!”
Even as the Union ship peeled away to pass them by, the Confederates got off a third broadside, but the total effect was nil. The Kearsarge had survived the interval of her disadvantage the two sloops, passing each other on their starboard sides, were less than a thousand yards apart when Winslow ordered, “Fire at your pleasure!”
Kearsarge sheers to port, opens fire.
It was about twelve minutes into the battle. Kearsarge unleashed her first broadside to immediate effect. A 32-pound shell went through the Alabama’s forward pivot-gun port, ripped the leg off one of the gun’s crew, ricocheted off its slide and wounded a man at another gun.
As the two ships passed, Winslow ordered the wheel hard over. The Kearsarge answered, banking hard to starboard. Having nearly had his bow crossed, Winslow intended to turn the tables and cross the enemy’s stern. But Semmes had the same idea the Alabama was likewise turning to starboard. The two ships swung around after each other’s tails, on opposite sides of a circle, broadside to broadside.
“He’s got to fight now!” Winslow declared. “Old Beeswax can’t straighten out and head for shore without getting raked.” He ordered his 32-pounders to clear the enemy’s decks, and his pivot guns to shoot low and open her up under the waterline.
Battle between USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama ,
by W.F. Mitchell
Semmes did likewise: “I had directed my men to fire low, telling them that it was better to fire too low than too high, as the ricochet in the former case—the water being smooth—would remedy the defect of their aim, whereas it was of no importance to cripple the masts and spars of a steamer.”
“The remainder of the fight,” Kell recalled, “occurred at a distance of not more than 500 yards.” Newspapers claimed afterward that Semmes intended to carry the battle the old-fashioned way, by closing and boarding, but in the age of steam that was only possible if the victim had a crippled engine, screw, or rudder. A faster ship could always maintain distance a slower ship could simply stop, let the faster pass, and cross behind it to fire. Off Cherbourg the Kearsarge , with her four-bladed prop and her freshly careened bottom, had the advantage of speed over the Alabama’s two-bladed prop and fouled hull. Only by a masterful job of sailing could Semmes keep Winslow from gaining on him around the circle and crossing his wake.
Battle of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama 1864 .
by Jean-Baptiste Henri Durand-Brager (1814-1879)
A Union shot cut away the Alabama’s spanker gaff (top rearmost sail), from which flew the ship’s Stainless Banner, white with a Southern Cross in the canton. The Union gunners cheered to see it fall the Confederates cheered to see another run up the mizzenmast.
“When we got within good shell range,” Semmes reported, “we opened upon him with shell.” At about 11:20 the forward 7-inch Blakely put an explosive round into the Kearsarge amidships, but her chain armor bounced the round up and out through the engine room skylight. The Union crew had no time to celebrate their close call before another 7-inch round struck aft, shuddering the entire ship.
“Mr. Thornton!” called Winslow. “See what damage that one did!”
Thornton had barely left his post when the Confederates’ aft 8-inch Blakely landed a shell near the Kearsarge’s aft pivot gun. When the smoke cleared, three Union crewmen lay sprawled on the deck, two with horribly broken legs (one later died) and one with an arm nearly torn off.
Few of the Confederate shells, however, had such explosive effect. “I should have beaten [Winslow] in the first thirty minutes of the engagement,” declared Semmes later, “but for the defect of my ammunition, which had been two years on board, and become much deteriorated by cruising in a variety of climates.”
Thornton reported a shell from the Alabama’s 100-pounder had lodged in the ship’s sternpost, a dud. Had it gone off, it would surely have opened the Kearsarge up to the sea as it was, the ship’s rudder was nearly jammed, requiring four men to turn her wheel, preventing her from gaining the Alabama’s stern and finishing the fight.
by Tom Freeman. Buy the print.
So far the Alabama had suffered just one man killed and two wounded, a nicked mainmast and the lost gaffsail. On the other hand, those Confederate shells striking the Kearsarge’s vital area amidships were having little effect against her armored hull. “This planking had been ripped off, in every direction, by our shot and shell, the chain broken, and indented in many places, and forced partly into the ship’s side,” Semmes learned later. “She was effectually guarded, however, in this section, from penetration.”
“Mr. Kell,” Semmes called, “our shells strike the side of the enemy’s ship but they fall into the water. Try solid shot.”
“Perceiving that our shell, though apparently exploding against the enemy’s sides, were doing him but little damage,” Semmes reported, “I returned to solid-shot firing, and from this time onward alternated with shot, and shell.”
The Confederates poured it on, firing at almost twice the rate of the Union gunners. A 100-pounder round blew a hole through the Kearsarge’s stack, letting black coal smoke pour low over the deck. Two 32-pound shells entered right through the Federals’ own 32-pounder ports, miraculously not striking a single crewman even though one caromed completely across the deck and started a fire in the opposite side hammock netting.
A Dahlgren gun crew aboard the Kearsarge .
Executive Officer Thornton remembered, “. Nothing could restrain the enthusiasm of our men. Cheer succeeded cheer caps were thrown in the air or overboard jackets were discarded sanguine of victory, the men were shouting as each projectile took effect: ‘That is a good one!’ ‘Down, boys!’ ‘Give her another like the last!’ ‘Now we have her!’ and so on, cheering and shouting to the end.”
“Sound the alarm for fire quarters,” Winslow ordered. As men doused the flames, the gun crews remained steady, waiting patiently for the smoke to clear, taking their time, taking careful aim.
Watching through his scope, Semmes said, “Confound them they’ve been fighting twenty minutes, and they’re cool as posts.”
“My position was near the eight-inch gun,” recalled Kell. “An eleven-inch shell from the Kearsarge entered a port hole and killed eight of the sixteen men serving that gun.” When the smoke cleared he saw, “The men were cut all to pieces, and the deck was strewn with arms, legs, heads and shattered trunks. One of the mates nodded to me as if to say, ‘Shall I clear the deck?’ I bowed my head and he picked up the mangled remains of the bodies and threw them into the sea.” Kell ordered a 32-pounder crew to take over the Blakely, and the battle went on.
Kell orders a 32-pounder crew to take over the 8-inch Blakely after half its crew is killed.
Painting by Gregory Manchess. Buy the print.
Another too-high shot from the Alabama released the Stars and Stripes to unfurl at the Kearsarge’s mainmast.
“The hidden armor of the Kearsarge ,” Kell realized later, “prevented the Alabama’s shot from doing serious damage.”
For Winslow’s Dahlgrens, the range was practically point-blank, and every hit meant at least an 11-inch hole through the Alabama’s wooden bulwarks, a 133lb shell exploding. “Mr. Thornton!” he ordered. “Aim a trifle more below her waterline.”
A Union shell that should have taken the Alabama right in the engine room instead exploded in her packed bunker. For a moment a thick cloud of black coal dust enveloped the deck, but as it blew away aft the crew could see Semmes’ improvised inner armor had worked. They were still in the fight. Alabama , though, was taking on water.
The two ships had turned four or five complete circles, firing continuously into each other and drifting all the while on the current to the southwest. The Kearsarge had gradually come around and was threatening to cross Alabama’s stern. Kell called down to the engine room for more steam and was told the boilers would explode if fed any more coal. The 7-inch Blakely, a small gun firing a big shell, had overheated. A shell fragment cut Semmes’ right hand. He is reputed to have offered a reward to anyone who knocked out the Kearsarge’s aft pivot gun.
Winslow’s own 1864 map of the battle shows the Alabama’s course from Cherbourg and the ships’ maneuvers.
Suddenly the Confederate gun crews, stripped to the waist, streaming sweat and black with powder grime, were doused with seawater and Alabama jolted sideways. An 11-inch shell had entered her below the waterline.
It came at the worst moment. Five minutes sooner, or later, and the Alabama would have been pointed toward land. Instead she had begun another circle and was now facing seaward. The Kearsarge , across the circle, was already pointed toward shore, perfectly positioned to cut her off.
“For some few minutes I had hopes of being able to reach the French coast,” reported Semmes, “for which purpose I gave the ship all steam, and set such of the fore-and-aft sails as were available.”
A shot having smashed her steering gear, the Alabama answered the helm reluctantly. Semmes ordered a jib sail unfurled at the bow to quicken her turn. The forecastle hand who obeyed was, upon exposing himself, immediately disemboweled by a shell fragment. He held his guts in with one hand long enough to release the sail with the other, before falling to the deck dead.
The Alabama , sluggish and water-laden, finally managed to come around, only to find the Kearsarge off her port bow, between her and safety. Semmes’s pivot guns were now facing the wrong way to port he had only the remaining pair of 32-pounders. Winslow, having kept him to starboard the entire time, had a full broadside ready to fire from just 400 yards. He ordered Thornton, “Stand by with the grape.”
Two views of the last phase of battle (the only moment both ships pointed in the same direction). Alabama , her furnaces doused with rising seawater, unfurls jib sails in an effort to come about toward shore. View at left tends to take Winslow at his word that the Confederates fired port-side shots. At this point the raider was already sinking by the stern (right).
And at this moment a Confederate engineer came up from below to report the rising water had reached Alabama’s furnaces. The ship had lost power.
Semmes ordered Kell below to assess the damage. The lieutenant remembered, “The holes in the side of the poor old Alabama were large enough to admit a wheelbarrow.” He rushed back up to tell Semmes she had at most ten minutes left on the surface.
“Strike the colors, Mr. Kell,” Semmes told him, “it will not do in the nineteenth century to sacrifice every man we have on board.”
Sinking of the CSS Alabama
by Andy Thomas. Buy the print.
Battle of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama
Color lithograph by Louis Prang & Company, 1887
Boat from Alabama announcing her surrender and asking for assistance
Even as the Alabama’s flag came down, the Kearsarge hit her with one last broadside. Afterward Winslow insisted the Confederates’ two port-side 32-pounders had opened up on him and, thinking their flag had been shot away again, he merely replied in kind. “It is charitable,” Semmes wrote afterward, “to suppose that a ship of war of a Christian nation could not have done this, intentionally.”
He sent a gig boat across to request assistance. Winslow’s lifeboats had all been shot to pieces it would take the Federals several minutes to unlimber their sailing launch and second cutter, a suspicious delay in the Confederates’ opinion, but Winslow permitted the gig to go back for survivors. Meanwhile the Deerhound , which throughout the battle had remained a mile or so to windward, moved in under the Kearsarge’s stern to offer aid. “Yacht ahoy,” answered the Federals, “lend a hand to save the people.” The French pilot boats joined the rescue.
Kearsarge and Alabama by Julian O. Davidson (1853-1894)
This 1891 painting notably shows the side bulkheads of both ships folded down to allow the pivot guns’ muzzles to swing outboard, though the arrangement of guns on the Alabama’s deck appears to be in error (the bow gun was mounted much closer to the mainmast) and the CSN ensign she’s flying was retired in 1863 in favor of the Stainless Banner.
The Battle of the Kearsarge and the Alabama, by Eduard Manet, 1864
Manet, usually said to have watched the battle from a boat, likely did not arrive until afterward and rendered his famous depiction from spectator accounts.
By now the Alabama was rapidly settling by the stern. “There was no fear nor hurry-up on the part of the men,” Kell remembered later. “Everything was done quietly, as if the crew were preparing for an ordinary ship inspection.” The officers saw the wounded into the boats, flung their swords into the sea and jumped after them.
Shortly before 1:00 PM, about five miles off the Cherbourg breakwater, the CSS Alabama suddenly reared up out of the water. Her bottom showed green with algae and copper patina. Her damaged mainmast snapped from the strain. Then, swiftly, she slid below the surface of the Channel. 26 of her crew died with her, several going down with the ship. “After swimming off a few yards, I turned to see her go down,” remembered Kell. “As the gallant vessel, the most beautiful I ever beheld, plunged down to her grave, I had it on my tongue to call to the men who were struggling in the water to give three cheers for her, but the dead that were floating around me and the deep sadness I felt at parting with the noble ship that had been my home so long deterred me.”
Semmes picked up by a boat from the Deerhound
He, Semmes and about forty of the crew managed to reach the Deerhound , where owner Lancaster and his crew took them aboard. Asked where he wanted to go, Semmes requested Southampton, England.
Some of Winslow’s officers informed him the Deerhound was making off, but he refused to believe she carried surrendered prisoners of war, let alone Semmes himself. After the Kearsarge put in at Cherbourg, he accused the English yacht of serving as a Confederate tender, in violation of neutrality, setting off an entirely new battle. The United States demanded the return of her rightful prisoners. England, where the Confederates were treated as heroes, refused. After the war, in an international court, Washington filed for “ Alabama Claims,” reparations for damages caused by British-built commerce raiders. In arbitration, the US won heavy damages.
In late 1984 the French minesweeper Circé , clearing 40-year-old mines, located a sunken ship in the vicinity of the battle. Robot subs and scuba divers revealed it to be the Alabama , lying 180 feet down and about 30 degrees to starboard, partly sheltered by undersea sand dunes. The US, France and England all laid claim, but what had been international waters in 1864 was, 120 years later, within France’s 12-mile limit. Strong tides will prevent the wreck from ever being raised, but today Alabama artifacts can be found on both sides of the Atlantic, including the ship’s bell, the 7-inch Blakely (found with a shell still in the barrel) and several of her 32-pounders. The dud shell embedded in the Kearsarge’s sternpost, which was presented to Pres. Lincoln, now resides at the Washington Navy Yard.
Alabama’s propeller and lifting frame
The depth of sediment rapidly decreases toward the stern to the approximate level of the propeller shaft. About half of the propeller is exposed along with the top of the brass frame that lifted it clear of the water when the Alabama was under sail.
ROV sonar image of the wreck site.
The depth of water makes work at the site both complex and hazardous. Even in summer, water temps only reach about 50°F. Visibility ranges from 100 feet to zero.
Fishing nets fouled on the wreck
Much of the damage to the Alabama since 1864 has been caused by trawling snagging on the wreck.
“She had never had a home within the country she so gallantly served,” Kell said years later of the Alabama , “. No foe men ever trod her deck as victor.”
Semmes ran the blockade to return to the Confederacy, was promoted to Rear Admiral and commanded an ironclad in the James River Squadron, but had to destroy his ships to prevent their capture. He even served as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army—the only American officer to hold both ranks simultaneously—but the Rear Admiral and Brigadier General was commanding nothing more than a muddy trench near Danville, VA when word arrived of the surrender at Appomattox.
Winslow, his reputation and career revived by his victory over the Alabama , also made rear admiral. He commanded the US Navy’s Pacific Squadron until 1872. Within a year of retiring, he died of a stroke and was buried under a slab of granite from Mt. Kearsarge, NH, for which his ship had been named. (The Kearsarge served, on and off, as a Navy showpiece until she struck a reef in February 1894. She is the only Navy ship named for the mountain four others have been named after her.) There is no record that he and Semmes ever met again.
Not long after the war Semmes (who died in 1877 of food poisoning) wrote of his old friend and greatest adversary, “I had known, and sailed with him, in the old service, and knew him then to be a humane and Christian gentleman. What the war may have made of him, it is impossible to say. It has turned a great deal of the milk of human kindness to gall and wormwood.”
Stainless Banner of CSS Alabama , 3 9 i n c h e s a t t h e h o i s t b y 6 4 i n c h e s a t t h e f l y . Sold at Sotheby’s, New York, in 2011 for $218,500
.” Interview by Captain John McIntosh Kell. CSS Alabama Digital Collection. W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library, The University of Alabama. Web. Accessed May 2014. http://www.lib.ua.edu/content/libraries/hoole/digital/cssala/kell2.htm
Ditzel, Paul C. The Ruthless Exploits of Admiral John Winslow: Naval Hero of the Civil War. New Albany, IN: FBH. ISBN 19910925165050
Edge, Frederick Milnes, An Englishman’s view of the battle between the Alabama and the Kearsarge. An account of the naval engagement in the British Channel, on Sunday June 19th, 1864. New York: Anson D.F. Randolph, 1864. (Nabu Public Doman Reprints) ISBN 9781175921567
Ellicott, John Morris. The Life of John Ancrum Winslow: Rear-admiral, United States Navy, who Commanded the U.S. Steamer “Kearsarge” in Her Action with the Confederate Cruiser “Alabama”. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905. Google E-book
Guérout, Max. “The Wreck of the C.S.S. Alabama.” National Geographic Dec. 1994: 66-83.
Lardas, Mark. CSS Alabama vs USS Kearsarge: Cherbourg 1864 . Botley, Oxford: Osprey Pub., 2011. ISBN 9781849084925
Semmes, Raphael. Memoirs of Service Afloat: During the War Between the States. Baltimore: Kelly, Piet & Company, 1869. Google E-Book.
Semmes, Raphael. The Cruise of the Alabama and the Sumter. Scituate, Maine: Digital Scanning, Inc. 2001. (Originally published 1864.) ISBN 1-58218-354-6 Google E-Book
Sinclair, Arthur. Two Years on the Alabama. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1896. Google E-book
Winslow, Capt. John Ancrum. Report of the Secretary of the Navy. Rep. Washington, DC 1864: Government Printing Office
Wyllie, Arthur. The Union Navy. Raleigh, NC: Lulu, 2007. ISBN 1430321172. Google E-book
Author/illustrator/historian Don Hollway has been published in Aviation History, Excellence, History Magazine, Military Heritage, Military History, Civil War Quarterly, Muzzleloader, Porsche Panorama, Renaissance Magazine, Scientific American, Vietnam, Wild West, and World War II magazines. His work is also available in paperback, hardcover and across the internet, a number of which rank extremely high in global search rankings.
A single US Merchant Marine ship rescued 14,000 in the Korean War
The SS Meredith Victory might be the luckiest and most important ship of the entire Korean War. The Merchant Marine vessel carried men and materiel that saved US troops in the Pusan Perimeter, protected the supplies around Inchon harbor, and pulled off the “Christmas Miracle” – the largest single ship rescue evacuation of refugees in history.
Merchant Mariners might be history’s biggest unsung heroes. The Korean War in 1950 was not going well for the United Nations forces. American troops were relegated to a small corner of the Korean Peninsula, barely holding off the Communist onslaught as North Korea fought to push them into the sea and out of the war. In what came to be known as the Pusan Perimeter, American and South Korean forces held the line until the Americans could relieve them.
In true joint force action, the Army and Marines, supported by the Navy and Air Force, planned a landing at Inchon, behind the North Korean lines. The enemy around Pusan practically dissipated as the Army broke out of the Pusan Perimeter while Marines were landing at Inchon. Within two weeks, the UN forces had partially retaken Seoul and cut off the enemy’s supply and communications ability.
The unsung heroes of the Merchant Marine were part of the Inchon Landing force as well. If it weren’t for them, the whole thing might have fallen to the bottom of the ocean. The day before the landings at Inchon, a massive typhoon hit the coast of the Korean Peninsula, just off of which lay the United Nations invasion fleet. Hurricane-force winds slammed the boats supporting the invasion. Among them was the SS Meredith Victory, a merchant marine ship carrying men and supplies for the landing. Were it not for the ship’s crew’s skill at saving the ship, the entire invasion might never have happened.
The UN fleet off the coast of Inchon, Korea.
But that’s not the last time history called the Meredith Victory. By the end of 1950, the Chinese had intervened in the war and were pushing UN forces back to the south. Along with those retreating troops came thousands of North Korean refugees fleeing the repressive Communist regime. By the time the Meredith Victory arrived in Hungnam Harbor, the docks were packed with refugees and soldiers fleeing the Chinese.
“The Koreans on the dock, to me, that’s what we were there for, that was our job. The problem was how we [were] going to get them aboard,” remembered Burley Smith, a Merchant Mariner, the third mate aboard the Meredith Victory. “There were too many people and not enough time to get them all loaded. It looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.”
North Korean refugees crowd the harbor at Hungnam, December 1950.
By this time, the Army had already left, and the Chinese were being held back by Naval gunfire. The crew of the Meredith Victory began loading passengers aboard this ship meant to house 59 people. The crew worked around the clock, loading the masses of people on to her decks. They managed to get all 14,000 onto the ship and safely away from the harbor before the Army blew the port facilities.
The ship traversed the coast of Korea, on the lookout for mines, enemy submarines, and North Korean fighter planes. By the time the ship got to Geoje Island, every single refugee was alive – and five more were born along the way. It was a Christmas miracle.