Category Archives: Navy

Doolittle Raid: 75th anniversary

The Doolittle raid was 75 years ago today. 80 men in 16 B-25 Mitchells took off of the USS Hornet (CV-8) on April 18, 1942 to attack mainland Japan.

The Navy has a good write-up here. (These U.S. military histories are an important resource.)

Of the 16 B-25s: “15 crashed in occupied China, where the Japanese inflicted brutal reprisals against the Chinese populace in Chekiang province. One B-25 landed intact at Vladivostok, where the Soviets interned it and its crew.”

The reprisals were indeed brutal.  The Chinese paid the biggest price of all.

Of the Raiders, 3 were killed in combat, 8 captured (of which 3 were killed, and one died in captivity).

The Soviets were unwilling to release the crew they recovered until the end of the war. While that may seem strange now, they were not at war with Japan. To send them home would risk them being seen as participants. (A few years later, they disassembled and duplicated the B-29 from one that they got that way.)

USS Hornet got back safely, but did not survive the year. The one currently on display in Alameda, California, is the USS Hornet (CV-12), which was commissioned the next year.

Patrolling the seas in a new era

Found via OldNFO J.L. Curtis, who says Hawaii’s last P-3 squadron is leaving: “1937-2017… 80 years of maritime patrol squadrons is ending this week.”

This is one of history’s milestones. That was the first takeaway.

From Stars & Stripes: Last 3 planes from Navy patrol squadron to depart Hawaii for new home in Washington state.

This part was funny to me:

“This is an old bird, and I think we’re lucky that we’re catching and being able to be a part of this, because the new P-8s and new aircraft that are coming out now, they tell you what’s wrong through a computer,” said Young, who’s deploying with VP-9. He said he likes the fact that the P-3 is “old-school. It’s mechanical.”

I know that feeling. There were still P-3Bs flying when I was in the Navy, and I remember thinking that very same thing about their avionics. (I suppose the difference between a P-3B and P-3C didn’t matter as much to those in the cockpit.)

But I see this as more than wistful memories of P-3s. The Navy will still be flying those for a few more years. They just won’t be doing it out of Hawaii in significant numbers. Instead, they will only have a P-3C detached from Whidbey Island, Washington, until two P-8A Poseidons replace them. Only two.

It’s not so much about the P-3s leaving. They’ve had various types of aircraft before that. Think of the squadrons of PBYs flying out of there in WWII, then Marlins in the 1950s, P-2s and P-3As during the Vietnam War, followed by the P-3B through P-3E’s (although, apparently, VP-9 stopped with the P-3C). It is patrol operations in Hawaii that are practically closing up shop.

Part of this is that the Navy’s needs and budgets have changed. I’m hoping that another part is in greater capabilities of newer technologies. Perhaps some of that will be in the P-8. Then there are the roles played by the new satellites and drones.

Even here, the robots are taking over. That was the second takeaway.

Working to undo a stupid idea

I signed a petition via OldNFO J.L. Curtis:

Restore the Traditional Navy Rating Specialty Titles Disestablished on 9/29/2016

For 241 Years Navy personnel have been identified by their Job specialty, known as a “Rating”. The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates, and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country. Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations just senselessly erased this tradition. One only has to visit Navy social media pages to see the disgust and outrage of current and former personnel. One by one current leadership continues to erode the very things that set the Navy apart from the other services. Mr. President, I and the others signing this petition request you use your authority to restore to our Sailors what they have earned.

Basically, a Petty Officer Third Class would normally have been referred to as Gunners Mate Third Class (or whatever their rating happened to be). Now they would just be Petty Officer Third Class. Tradition is a big deal in the Navy. You’d think they’d understand this.

Stars and Stripes mentions the petition and indicates that the brass is not thinking of changing their minds.

Interesting fact: Navy ID cards only give the rank, e.g. PO1 (for Petty Officer First Class), and not the rating. The reason for this is that the Geneva Conventions require that you present your ID card to the enemy upon capture, and you’re not supposed to tell them what your job is.

Submarine HMS P311

There’s a tradition in the U.S. Navy that a lost submarine is considered “still on patrol.” I don’t know if it’s common to other navies, too.

Now there’s news that Royal Navy submarine HMS P311 has been found off the coast of Sardina.* She was last seen in 1942; all 71 men lost. (Via Glenn Reynolds.)

As fate would have it, the boat was hit by a mine. Chillingly, the crew was very likely alive until they ran out of air. I would prefer to think they died trying to MacGyver a way out. It’s worse to contemplate anything else.

Wikipedia’s only image has the boat crowded out by another sub. You can barely see it. (The one you think you see is actually the HMS Sibyl.) The newspaper story had to use the HMS Trespasser, the P311’s twin. It’s a shame that any WWII warship wouldn’t have a dozen pictures in the public domain.

This was one of only ten WWII Royal Navy submarines not to have a name. It would have been Tutankhamen.

Rest in peace.

* Coincidentally, the only time I’ve been to Sardinia, I got there by submarine.

Over the sea

OldNFO J.L. Curtis has a striking photo from a P-3 Orion:


That’s its shadow over a ship.

The fact that it’s a black-and-white photo doesn’t necessarily help guess the age. The Navy still uses them (big 70mm cameras) for clarity’s sake. And while that’s obviously not today’s mega-cruise liner, even if that is a passenger ship (which it almost certainly is not), there are still older ones somewhere out in the world.

It’s an intriguing photo, and I just had to borrow it.

RV Neil Armstrong and RV Sally Ride

Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride
Writer and former P-3 aviator J.L. Curtis (“OldNFO”) has a post connecting space and the Navy that is worthy of note.

Two new Oceanographic Research vessels are under construction or development: RV Neil Armstrong (AGOR-27) and RV Sally Ride (AGOR-28). These paintings are the “commissioning lithos.”

Neither one of these names needs an introduction, but I will say that Armstrong was a former Navy test pilot.

Science fiction writers, always on the hunt for names for future ships, will now have to note that these names are taken for the next few decades, and they won’t be getting the “USS” designation. “RV” stands for Research Vessel. It’s a safe bet that more than a few sci-fi novels already have ships named after these two.

USS Reuben James

USS Reuben James (DD-245)

USS Reuben James (DD-245)

On this day in 1941, the USS Reuben James (DD-245) was sunk by the German submarine U-552 while escorting a convoy bound for the U.K. As the U.S. was not yet at war, this is an example of how history is messy. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard typically escorted convoys up to Iceland, which President Roosevelt had declared to be the extent of U.S. territorial waters (it’s 12 nautical miles today).

For its part, the U-552 was aiming for a merchant ship, which was certainly a lawful target in a war, and all the more so if carrying arms.

A few months later, on December 11, Germany’s declaration of war mentions the Reuben James incident as a provocation, as well as earlier battles with destroyers USS Greer (DD-145) and USS Kearny (DD-432). (The war with Japan was not mentioned.) This wasn’t America’s first engagement in the war. It’s simply the first where we lost a ship. 115 hands were lost. Only 44 survived.

Woody Guthrie wrote a song to show outrage over the sinking. Both he and Pete Seeger had been vehemently anti-war until earlier that June when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, forcing Stalin (and Guthrie and Seeger) to change sides. Prior to that, they were recording anti-war songs like “‘C’ For Conscription.” (It’s probably generally assumed that song was written to oppose the draft during the Vietnam War, but it was earlier sung to oppose entry into WWII.)

Reuben James was a sailor who fought in 1804 in the First Barbary War, serving under (and saving the life of) Lt. Stephen Decatur himself. Those were the days of swords and hand-to-hand combat. Two other ships had his name: USS Reuben James (DE-153), in service 1943 to 1947, and USS Reuben James (FFG-57), in service 1986 to 2013. I hope there will be more.

USS Somerset (LPD 25)

USS Somerset
USS Somerset was commissioned yesterday. What’s the significance?

PHILADELPHIA (NNS) — USS Somerset (LPD 25), the Navy’s newest amphibious transport dock ship, commissioned during a formal ceremony at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, March 1.

USS Somerset represents the heroic actions of the 40 crew and passengers of United Flight 93, honoring their collective sacrifice and the tremendous courage displayed in the face of overwhelming adversity. Had it not been for their brave actions, the terrorists would have likely reached their intended target and countless more lives may have been lost.

Flight 93 crashed into Somerset County, Pennsylvania, on September 11, 2001.

USS New York and USS Arlington were also named in honor of the victims of 9/11. A small amount of the steel from the World Trade Center went into building USS New York. All three are San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks, which means they carry U.S. Marines into combat zones.

The PBY Catalina

Consolidated PBY Catalina (source Wikipedia)

Consolidated PBY Catalina (source Wikipedia)

I’ve had the PBY Catalina as a sort of web page emblem for a while, but I’ve never been on one. My book is set during WWII, but this plane never makes an appearance.

I have, however, been a naval aircrewman as a P-3C inflight-technician. And the P-3C, also a patrol plane used for anti-submarine warfare, is a direct descendant of the PBY. So, I am connected in that way.

It was during my time in the Navy that I was temporarily assigned to the Naval Air Test Center and sent to the Bahamas for ten days. (I had an extraordinary amount of good luck back then.) The NATC reasoned that the Navy would save money on jet fuel if we stayed in a nearby hotel rather than fly to the test range each time. We flew a test flight every other day.

It was on an off-day that the airport called our plane commander, asking us to move our plane to a different parking spot. I went along to be the plane director. This means using hand signals to help the pilot to the exact spot. It was then, on my day off, that I got to see a PBY Catalina parked nearby.

I was enthralled. The blister observer windows near the back make it distinctive. My side window on the P-3C was much larger than a commercial airline passenger’s window, but it’s put to shame by the observer windows on the PBY. I wonder if the crew seats had cup-holders back in WWII.

It’s a beautiful aircraft. I’ve never seen one again.