Friday, October 28, 2011

USS Arkansas (BM-7) Commissioned 109 years Ago Today

The third ship to be named after the "Natural State" was commissioned 109 years ago today, 28 October, 1902.

USS Arkansas (BM-7) was a single-turreted "New Navy" Monitor, designed after the Civil War had shown that the days of wooden-hulled sailing warships was over.

She was also one of the last monitors built in the world.

Because of their design, monitors were not ocean-going and the development of the iron-hulled, ocean-going "dreadnaught" brought the monitor age to an end.

USS Arkansas served much of her career as a training ship for midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. She was re-named USS Ozark on 02 March 1909 and the name was freed up to be used on the battleship USS Arkansas (BB-33) when her construction started in 1910.

USS Ozark was assigned to the District of Columbia Naval Militia from 1910-1913. After that, she began conversion to a submarine tender, to support the rapidly growing submarine force.

As a submarine tender, USS Ozark operated along the US East Coast and off the Gulf Coast of Mexico. She sailed throughout Central America as far as the Panama Canal Zone.

In January, 1916, USS Ozark was serving as a tender for USS E-2 (SS-25). E-2 was having new, experimental batteries installed at the time. On the morning of 16 January, 1916, these batteries exploded. E-2's Commanding Officer, LT Charles Maynard "Saavy" Cooke, a native Arkansan, was aboard Ozark at the time of the explosion and personally led rescue and firefighting teams into the still burning submarine, saving the lives of nine men.

USS Ozark was decommissioned in 1919.

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Memoriam - USS Darter / USS Shark / USS Tang - Lost 24 October 1944

24 October 1944 was the single worst day for the U.S. Submarine Service in World War II. Three submarines were lost.

Their stories have been told before on this blog, and can easily be found elsewhere, but a brief summary is:

USS Darter (SS-227) ran aground and was scuttled. Fortunately, the entire crew was saved.

USS Tang (SS-306) was sunk by a "circular run" of her own torpedo.

USS Shark (SS-314) was sunk by Japanese forces.

Graphic courtesy of the National War College Military Image Collection

Monday, October 17, 2011

In Memoriam - USS Escolar (SS-294) - October 17, 1944

The career of USS Escolar (SS-294) was tragically short. She set out on her first patrol on September 23, 1944 under the command of Cmdr. W. J. Millican, leaving Midway to conduct operations in the Yellow Sea alongside Croaker (SS-246) and Perch (SS-313) as part of a wolf pack known as "Millican's Marauders".

On September 30, a message was received from Escolar, stating that she had engaged a gunboat; however, the message was abruptly cut off, and no further communications were received by U.S. shore bases from Escolar. However, Perch and Croaker maintained short-range radio contact with Escolar until October 17, after which they were unable to raise her by radio. She was not heard from again and was reported as presumed lost November 27.

It is believed that Escolar was the victim of Japanese mines laid in the Yellow Sea, as post-war investigations into Japanese anti-submarine warfare records found no mention of her.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In Memoriam - USS Dorado (SS-248) - Sunk 12 October 1943

Commissioned on 28 August 1943, USS Dorado (SS-284) left the submarine base at New London, CT on 06 October, 1943 bound for the Panama Canal.

She never arrived.

There are three possible causes of Dorado's loss:
  1. U-214, a German submarine, laid mines outside the entrance the Panama Canal only a few days before Dorado's scheduled arrival and Dorado may have struck one of them.

  2. She may have been accidentally sunk by U.S. aircraft. A PBM Mariner conducted two attacks on surface submarines on the night of 12 October. However, one of those attacks was actually on U-214, as she recorded the attack in her log book, which survived the war.

  3. She may have suffered some kind of operational accident, such as an uncontrolled dive, a fire, or a "circular run" of her own torpedoes (a fate that claimed two other American submarines during the war).
Since no debris was found at the time, it is generally believed that Dorado fell victim to U-214's mines. However, until her final resting place is located, the truth will never be known.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In Memoriam - USS Wahoo (SS-238) - Sunk 11 October 1943

Commissioned in May, 1942, USS Wahoo (SS-238) had little success on her first two war patrols.

However, on 31 December, 1942, LCDR Dudley W. "Mush" Morton took command.
Over the next three war patrols, Wahoo attacked a number of Japanese ships, sinking twelve, despite the defective and unreliable torpedoes that plagued American submarines during the period.

In addition, Wahoo took time to stop and assist the crew of a becalmed fishing vessel, providing them with food and water.

On her seventh war patrol in the Sea of Japan in September 1943, Wahoo sank four more ships. However, she was apparently damaged during one of her attacks and began leaking oil.

While exiting her patrol area through the narrow La Perouse Strait on the northern end of the Japanese home islands, Wahoo was spotted by a shore battery, then by a Japanese anti-submarine aircraft, which reported seeing an oil slick on the surface which allowed them to spot the conning tower. The aircraft dropped two bombs and reported a "gushing of oil and bubbles." Over the next seven hours, Japanese aircraft conducted fourteen attacks, dropping a number of bombs. Japanese patrol ships also dropped depth charges. A translation of the Japanese attack report, along with photographs, is available online.

Wahoo was lost with all hands.

CDR Morton is credited with sinking 19 ships for a total of 55,000 tons, making him the third most successful submarine commander in World War II. He received four Navy Crosses, the last one posthumously.

Despite being lost before a reliable torpedo was in the hands of the submarine fleet, Wahoo ranks seventh among all submarines in World War II in terms of number of ships sunk.

Beginning in 1990, an international group began searching for Wahoo's final resting place. She was located in 2005 and based on the underwater photographs, positively identified in 2006. On 08 July 2007, the U.S. Navy, as part of a joint exercise with the Russian Navy, held a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of Wahoo's loss.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

In Memoriam - USS S-44 (SS-155) - Sunk 07 October 1943

Commissioned in 1925, USS SS-44 (SS-155) completed four war patrols during World War II. She sank three ships and damaged a fourth.

IJN Kako

One of the ships sunk was the heavy cruiser Kako, sunk on 10 August 1942. The previous night, Kako and three other cruisers had participated in the first Battle of Savo Island, sinking four Allied heavy cruisers, damaging a fifth cruiser and damaging two destroyers with only moderate damage to themselves.

Kako was the first major Japanese warship sunk by the single-handed action of an American submarine, and S-44's successful attack pointed the way for the successful prosecution of the war against the Japanese Navy.

S-44 departed on her fifth war patrol on 26 September, 1943 out of Attu, Alaska. During the night of 07 October, S-44 made radar contact with a vessel that the crew believed was a small merchant ship. The decision was made to attack on the surface and sink the small vessel with the submarines 4"/50-caliber deck gun.

S-44's 4"/50 Deck Gun

Unfortunately, the "merchant ship" turned out to be the Ishigaki, a Shimushu-class escort armed with three large guns and four machine guns. Outgunned, S-44 attempted to submerge, but was unable to do so before being hit in the control room, the forward battery compartment, and elsewhere throughout the submarine.

The order to abandon ship was given, and a pillow case was put up as a makeshift flag of surrender. The shelling continued and only eight men made it into the frigid Arctic waters before S-44 sank. Two men were picked up by Ishigaki and remained prisoners of the Japanese until the war ended.

Ishigaki was sunk by USS Herring (SS-233) on 31 May 1944.

All photographs courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center

Monday, October 03, 2011

In Memoriam - USS Seawolf (SS-197) - Sunk 03 October 1944

USS Seawolf (SS-197), under the command of LCDR A.M Bontier, was sunk by U.S. forces on 03 October 1944 while on her 15th war patrol. She was carrying supplies and 17 U.S. Army personnel to Samar, in the central Philippines.

On the morning of 03 October, a U.S. task group was attacked by the Japanese submarine Ro-41. USS Shelton (DC-407) was torpedoed and sunk in the attack.

Shortly after the attack, a plane from the escort carrier USS Midway (CVE-63), sighted a submarine on the surface, and dropped two bombs on it as it was submerging, even though the submarine was in an established safety zone for U.S. submarines. USS Rowell (DE-403) steamed into the area and detected the submerged Seawolf. Believing the submerged contact to be a Japanese submarine, Rowell attacked, even though the submarine tried to send a series of dashes and dots with her underwater signalling equipment. Rowell's attack resulted in an underwater explosion, and debris rose to the surface.

Seawolf was the only U.S. submarine known sunk by American forces in World War II. 102 men, including the 17 U.S. Army personnel, were lost.

After the war, it was learned by Ro-41 successfully escaped detection by US forces. She would be sunk with all hands by USS Haggard (DD-555) on 22-23 March 1945.

LCDR Bontier had been the Commanding Officer of USS Razorback when she was commissioned.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

October is National Archives Month - If You Love History, Thank an Archivist

October is National Archives Month.

Archivists are the people who work, largely "behind the scenes" to collect, catalog and preserve the many documents that a museum holds.

Cataloging is far more than just creating an inventory. Descriptions of the material are written to help future researchers decide if the material is relevant to their project. Often the material is digitized so that it can be made available through the Internet.

For example, AIMM has all of the World War II deck logs and patrol reports in digital format on the website. This way, if someone wants to look through the deck logs, they don't have to travel to Washington, DC to the National Archives to read the originals.

Creating digital copies also reduces wear and tear on fragile and rare originals. AIMM has only a few copies of the World War II cruise book.